Monday, March 30, 2009

Dubstep roundup: Loudspeaker Speaker Meets Clearly Human - Joker/2000F

Like Ten Feet Tall (07.08, Broken Twilight)
Digidesign/You Don't Know What Love Is (02.09, Hyperdub)

Byline: Dubstep super package

For: Burial, Skream, Kode 9, the soundtrack to any Guy Ritchie Movie

If you were coherent in 2006 you read the two words Burial and Dubstep  in the same sentence in almost every critics year-end-best-of reviews. If you didn't know what either were you probably faked it and claimed your allegiance to both, I know I did. It is now 2009 and dubstep is still a nebulous term to me. I like a lot of groups that would be considered "dubstep", or have dub characteristics low end frequency drum and bass, squashed percussion, the ever present ultra chilled out four on the floor tempo, haunted house synths, the keyed up vocal samples. But I still get nervous talking to people about dubstep, I am totally out of my element. I don't have a shaved head, a cockney british accent, I don't own a track jacket nor do I drop acid. But sans the cultural qualifications I present one album and a b-side that represent the best of a genre from both sides of the pond. Loudspeaker Speaker Meets Clearly Human cut a broad swatch through America's past fascination with surf, funk, psychedelic, rocksteady and Police sitcom theme songs, creating a spooky, downtempo amalgamation perfect for walking through busy midwestern cities in the middle in the glaring mid morning sun. On the opposite of the pond and the sub-genre, Joker and 200of play the type of dubstep made for the club or for Kanye West's new sampling venture. Super keyed up, autotuned vocals lace heavy hitting percussion and West Coast Gangsgta rap synths creating the perfect club banger for London basement nightclubs or making the rearview mirror of the car next to you shake with each unbelievably deep hit of each beat. Highly recommended. 

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Laura Gibson

Beasts of Season (2.09, Hush Records)

Byline: Beautifully subdued masterpiece from the gem of the Northwest

For: Julie Doiron, Colin Meloy, Sarah Hammond

Beasts of Seasons is a beautifully subtle, or a subtlety beautiful, record from Portland's most precious singer/songwriter. Back from a whirlwind tour supporting Decemberists and Portland's native George Byron, Colin Meloy, Laura Gibson seems to have taken a few cues from her much fawned over tour mate. But where Colin Meloy gets his kicks from overly verbose, thesaurus nerd browbeating, Laura's simple songs are much more beautiful and much more elegant. Beasts of Season opens with the haunting "Shadows on Parade" that unfolds from a simple guitar line with layers of distortion and feedback just beneath the surface, to a sprawling 7 minute odyssey in which Laura's frail yet clear voice floats up from the depths in order to save you from despair. Laura's velvety, smokey voice is the vehicle that propels the album forward, never raising above a polite croon it rises clear above her simple guitar lines and beautifully subdued instrumentation from her HUSH records counterparts as well as other Portland luminaries, guests include members of: Norfolk and Western, The Decemberists, Eyvind Kang (on violin!), Menomena, and Laura Gibson. Oh to be talented and well liked in Portland. The album is broken into two parts: (I) Communion Songs, and (II) Funeral Songs, in her own words Laura describes the pairing as, "in looking back over these songs, I found two themes arising; First, reaching towards something outside of ourselves, be it a lover or god or family (Communion Songs) and second, dealing with the idea of ultimate aloneness and acceptance (Funeral Songs)." Could Laura Gibson also be one of the kindest, most affable people making music right now? The verdict is still out but I would put her on top of my list.

Lymbyc Systym/This Will Destroy You

Field Studies (3.09, Magic Bullet Records)
Carved By Glaciers (Re-release 3.09, Magic Bullet Records)

Byline: Brothers in arms.

For: The Album Leaf, Sigur Ros, Daedelus

While relatively short offerings the re-release of Carved by Glaciers and the recently released European tour split EP with Austin's This Will Destroy You chronicle a band in it's gradual evolution to one of the most creative groups putting out music today. I was completely floored by the Lymbyc Systym's 2007 albums Love your Abuser and its subsequent remix album and was ecstatic when I saw they would be recording with like-minded, albeit heavier, quartet This Will Destroy You who put out an amazing album in 2008 on Magic Bullet. For those of you not yet stoked on the Lymbyc Systym (the only reason being you have not heard them) let me introduce you: The Lymbyc Systym are two brothers from Arizona who put out the same kind of compelling, instrumental wizardry that combines live drumming and instrumentation with programmed beats and synths that made The Album Leaf and The One AM Radio big time. The complexity and creativity of the Bell brothers produce albums that are infinitely listenable and enjoyable. Carved By Glaciers, while a debut, is a rare album that displays a young band confident in the sound, style, and direction of their music with a fraternal interaction that was conceived and nurtured through a lifetime of making music together. The remixes by Her Space Holiday and The American Analog Set are worth the price of admission. Fast forward to 2009 with TWDY. While a little heavier with new addition of shoegaze electric guitar thrown in the mix here and there The Lymbyc Systym feels like a band that has been making music together for a long time and not a young band in mid stride. 

The Antlers

Hospice (3.09, Self Released)

Byline: Best album of 2009 so far, maybe until dec. 31st.

For: Neutral Milk Hotel, Antony & the Johnsons, The best moments of concept albums like Five-Eight's "The Good Nurse" or Cursive's "Domestica"

So much of the reception of music is tied up in physical location and mood. Listening to The Antlers for the first time was one of those moments in which all four elements converged into a perfect storm that allowed an album like Hospice to seep into my soul. I was driving to Salt Lake City from Seattle to find an apartment for my bride to be and myself. Having read a glowing review on Forest Gospel, I decided to pick up Hospice a few days earlier to listen to on my road-trip. I ended up listening to it 3 times, not to mention the times I repeated the tracks "Bear" and "Two" over and over. The first time I listened to it I was immediately swept away by Peter Silberman's haunting falsetto rising out of a beautiful cacophony of swelling guitars and electronics.  I was driving through the sprawling fields and farms of Central Washington. The songs rise and swell from pretty little claustrophobic moments where Silberman is breathing into your ear to the most triumphant crescendos of The Arcade Fire. The second time I listened to it I was driving through South Eastern Idaho in the middle of the night. Without any visual distractions I was cornered with Hospice, and thats when it decided to bare its teeth. Hospice is not an album to be taken lightly, the running narrative deals with the grimmest aspects of aging, dementia, the obligatory disconnection that comes with old age, primarily dealing with two characters, the narrative perspective shifts between a young hospice worker and the patient dying in the Hospice workers care. I can't think of a more humbling experience than to provide care for those who are dying and want to die. The subject matter is not easy to get through, all the physical ugliness of humanity is coupled with the overarching beauty of humanity and the power of connection and memory. When you get the album it does something to you. It is the most emotionally resonant projects I have heard in a long time, almost on the same level as Arvo Part's Alina or Jeff Buckley's Grace. Hospice  It is a powerful humanist  statement set in one of the most overexposed yet less understood setting of the hospital and the even more written about yet even less understood concept of dying. I fear that writing about albums close to my heart may reveal more about myself than about the album, but with the fear of over exposure I can't help put this out there.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Neko Case

Middle Cyclone (ANTI-, 3.09)

Byline: Don't pass her off as another lame Starbucks corporate image booster.

For: Liz Phair, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch

It's true, before I met my fiance Neko Case seemed like the woman of my dreams. While all of my freshmen dorm mates put up the latest Sports Illustrated swimsuit model I had a page I ripped out of The Big Takeover with Neko in a long black dress reclining wistfully on a couch with her long red hair draped over the divan. I was first smitten in high school when my good friend Justin returned with rave reviews after seeing her play a free show in Denver. On a whim I purchased Blacklisted and was immediately smitten by her commanding, almost guttural, voice that rang clear as a bell through the clang of steel guitars and some what odd instrumentation for a country album. Neko Case has settled onto a nice place in the suburbs after making it out of the Alt-Country ghetto with the release of Blacklisted. Her appeal is universal, from the intense indie-cred of her Canadian supergroup The New Pornographers, to soccer moms and college kids who heard her much touted Fox Confessor Brings the Flood supported heavily by Starbucks, to her legions of aging No Depression fans who pine for the days of Whiskeytown and Uncle Tupelo. Neko Case is a true stateswoman for her generation. Middle Cyclone is a true testament to why. Neko draws upon the expansive conceit of nature in order to pen semi autobiographical tunes that are life affirming, heartbreaking, and at times comical. her songs follow her own volatile paths through her career and the lives of those she loves, "I have waited with a glaciers patience/smashed every transformer with every trailer/65 miles wide/still you are nowhere" to "The next time you say forever I'm going to punch you in the face". Her new found use of nature per metaphor is as far ranging as her childhood home of the Northwest. Songs swell into mountainous choruses and then shrink into the wooded seclusion of a spooky path through the forest where the only sounds made are your feet along the soft wet earth. Plus, the album cover gets my best of 2009 so far.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Hoyt Street by Chaz Prymek

New Video for Chaz Prymek's upcoming album.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Crystal Antlers

Tentacle (3.09, Touch and Go)

Byline: Totally blissful scuzzed out Rock and Roll.

For: Bardo Pond, The Stooges, Early Trail of Dead

About 10 people and I saw the Crystal Antlers play an amazing set last November at Kilby Court. While the set was amazing it was a pretty strange situation. Local tween pop band Kid Theodore for some reason was scheduled to play their album release show that night while opening for the Crystal Antlers. I got there right as Kid Theodore finished their set and witnessed strangest exodus of fans from a music venue; moms with their kids, clean cut striped polo t shirts, and high school Kilby Court-ians filed from The Court like rats swimming from a sinking ship. All that was left in its wake was a tall kid in basketball shoes with his short girlfriend, a well dressed hispanic family, and a few late 20 metal heads who were smoking cigarettes outside waiting for Kid Theodore to finish, their like, fifth encore. As the Crystal Antlers filed in the left over Kid Theodore crowd had no idea what they were getting into, the lead singer looked like Jack Black's Mettallica worshipping little brother and a confidently strung out dude whose job in the band was apparently to dance and play fill in percussion,  by beating the crap out of a cowbell and tambourine. Needless to say within one minute of the Antlers glorious cacophony of swirling keyboards, virtuoso guitar lines, and Jefferey Bell's gruff howl the crowd dwindled down to me, the metal heads, and the well dressed hispanic family. The Antlers know how to make a racket, and make it equally as ear shredding as listenable. What puts The Crystal Antlers head and shoulders above their garage/psychedelic peers is their fearless embrace of pop music. Carnival like keyboards pile on top of each other, face melting guitar riffs, and brutal percussion get thrown into a blender while Bell channels Conrad Keely's Madonna era anguished howl/shout. Inexplicably, however, Tentacle never looses sight of its pop roots. As ferocious as things get the songs are all tethered to earth, instantly memorable and easily hummable. It is an amazing concept, while playing fast and reckless at speeds unsafe for any band they can still churn out great song in the traditional sense of the word. Tentacle is as fast as it is expansive and messy as it is polished, seriously recommended. 

Friday, March 6, 2009

Jasper, TX

Singing Stones (2.09, Fangbomb)

Byline: Strictly Analog. Ridiculously obscure Swede adds another shimmering masterpiece to his collection.

For: Machinefabriek, Sigur Ros, Amplifier Machine

Listening to Jasper, TX for the first time was a singular experience I had at a record store. 3 years ago I was perusing a local record store and met an employee who had similar musical tastes. We started chatting about musicians we found fascinating and then he paused, looked around, and whispered in a hushed tone..."Have you heard of Jasper, TX". I replied I hadn't and he took me over to his computer where he had I'll Be Long Gone Before My Light Reaches You streaming on his computer. I was entranced immediately, however, I was a fool not to special order it then and there. I tried several times after that to find Jasper TX in record stores across SLC but no avail. It wasn't until I read a glowing review of Black Sleep in Forest Gospel that I put my foot down and special ordered it, needless to say that it was a decision I will never regret. That brings me to 2009's Singing Stones (which I procured via a UK based music distribution site boomkat). I will do you all the favor of introducing you to Mr. Dag Rosenqvist, aka Jasper, TX. Singing Stones is filled to the brim with a shimmering pastoral beauty that Jasper TX has always hinted at and littered his ambient recordings with but never fully disclosed. There was always an ominous edge to his music. Now, Beautifully developed sound scapes of tape hiss and ambient electronic buzzing set the back drop for layers of restrained instrumentation. Looping guitar lines, electronic manipulation, hushed strings, occasional woodwinds, ambient field recordings and an aural sense of awe are now completely unhidden, as if Rosenqvist is finally coming clean with all of us there is so much beauty in the world, we just have to listen through the tape hiss to find it. Highly, highly, recommended.