Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fever Ray

Fever Ray (03.09, Rabid)

Byline: Cold, infectious electronic-pop from Sweden's crowned queen of pitch-shifted creepiness.

For: The Knife... obviously, Lali Puna, Antarctica

Karin Dreijer Andersson... what can you say? The sister and half of the celebrated Swedish electronic duo The Knife, a mother, a former Swedish pop icon... Now, left to her own devices to create a creepy, sparse album that is centered around her heavily affected, pitch-shifted voice. The effect is a stunningly creepy album that is as cold as the rolling Swedish tundra (Northern Sweden, during the winter). Fever Ray follows a similar vein of Silent Shout but on Codene after watching "Stalker" by Andrei Tarkovsky.  Karin's voice mostly steals the show here, but Karin is a genius behind the boards. I have always found the Knife's percussion fascinating, I mean what self respecting group (besides the Blue Man group of course) uses steel drums? WTF moments are littered throughout the album, like "is that a super heavily processed cowbell and glockenspiel"? Every synth hit is in the lowest register, a Knife trademark, but Karin's solo output takes these deep bass hits let each track meander a bit allowing the listener to sink into the sound while never fully becoming at ease. Each beat seems like a forced breath that is rattling through hospital machinery, the rhythmic pulse of an uncertain life. Yikes. Needless to say there is a certain creepy quality that I can't put my finger on, from the album art work to the opening track,to the super scary music video, Karin's voice and sinister atmospherics even turn familiar landmarks into something unknown. This is not an album that you want to walk your dog to late at night, trust me. But highly recommended. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Daisuke Miyatani

Fragments (07.08, Creation-Centre)

Byline: My Wedding Present to Everyone!

For: The Number, Shugo Tokumaru, Miki Odagiri, the instrumental parts of American Football

One good reason to get married is the presents. I'm not saying it is the only reason to get married, but if you need something to tip the scales on the big decision, truth be told you get a lot of free/awesome stuff. So, to my friends who sent presents or happy thoughts to us as we got married this month I offer Fragments by Daisuke Miyatani as a virtual fist bump or high five. Although the sentiment is there, in no way does Fragments get beyond a nice short hug, a brief assurance of the connection between two people. Clocking in at barely over 8 minutes this little fragment of beautiful acoustic/ambient warmth is a ready companion to reading by the fire, slowing your heart rate in a crowded airport, or expanding your knowledge of a growing list of talented  Japanese ambient artists who create indulgent escapes into the warmth of an analog fuzz bath. Field recordings of industrial landscapes and birds are buried under the muted pall of intricately picked guitars and found-percussion, creating a pastoral little slice of auditory heaven. I have to admit I am a sucker for two things: 1) sounds of waves crashing 2) back tracked guitar parts. Both are fully present on "Genkide-ne" Creation-Centre is always a great place to go when you need new music and are willing to be surprised by anything. A wordless thank you to you all.

Prefuse 73

Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian (4.09, Warp)

Byline: Prog Rock as Hip-Hop party mix-tape.

For: Daedelus, El-P, NEU!, Yes

Scott Heron a.k.a Prefuse 73 proves that instrumental hip-hop can take listeners into a different world without the use of Biblically inspired half-tanks-half-armadillos or trite tales of a future society in which music is banned. No where on this album is a made up mythology about a doomed alien race sung in a made up language (I'm looking at you Magma). While it is easy to pick on prog rock, it is even easier to point the finger at electronic producers who put style over substance; who use cheap thrills to replace multi-tracked studio wizardry that pushes the boundaries designed to keep hip-hop, electronic music, and rock and roll in their respective camps. If anyone can jump these fences and propel the mix-tape to the status of an electronic album proper, it is Mr. Heron. I have to admit I have not followed everything that he has done, but what I have dug deeply into Vocal Studies + Uprock and  One Word Extinguisher. Everything She Touched... follows a similar trajectory; corralling chopped up wordless vocals, amazing analog produced snippets of elegant instrumentation on top of gritty hip-hop beats, and allowing everything to flow together into a tapestry in which each thread is clearly visible. Prefuse warrants the Prog comparison not only by the shear breadth of musical ideas (29 tracks!) but the desired effect of transportation when the album is listened to as a whole. I applaud Prefuse 73 for making it almost impossible to listen to this album in fragments, most songs clock in at under a minute, save a few stand alone long players. Each fragment is pregnant with countless musical ideas that lesser producers would be happy to churn out 4 minute tracks on. Plus, if Prefuse 73's return isn't enough to go nuts over, Zach Hill does all the live drumming. Living La Vida Loca!

Friday, April 10, 2009

DM Stith

Heavy Ghost (3.09, Asthmatic Kitty/Touch and Go)

Byline: Don't give up! 10th time is a charm!

For: Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors, Antony & the Johnsons, Black Heart Procession

Proving to be the most polarizing release of the year (at least until the new Grizzly Bear drops), Heavy Ghost has garnered equal amounts of praise and derision. On one hand critics are calling it the Kid A of 2009, on the other a unrecognizable wad of self pretentious caterwauling. Writing this review has been a rock in my shoe ever since I picked it up last month.Be ye warned, Heavy Ghost is a difficult album, Stith never fully shows his cards, keeping melodies and time signatures aloof all the while his vocal crooning hits all over the boards never quite touches down anywhere. This is the type of tuneless complexity and extensive vocal vamping have launched the careers of Grizzly Bear and the Dirty Projectors into the critics hearts as well as the receiving end of their vicious attacks. Thinking the latter two are somewhat overrated, I went into this album with trepidation. The first nine listens I simply could not wrap my head around his shifting melodies, his multi tracked instrumentation, Sung Tongs style free-form strummed guitar lines; I would get furious and have to turn it off. Then, on the 10th go, a miracle happened. The light-bulb flashed, I opened myself up and let DM Stith's ghost inhabit my being for 45 minutes. I began to notice things I took for granted like: the driving bass line of "Creekmouth", the "Spinning Plates" style backwards eeiriness of "Spirit Parade", the unspeakable beauty of the hushed strings and stirring chorus of "Fire of Birds".  Suddenly the unnecessarily complex braid of multi tracked vocals, guitars, and studio weirdness were compelling and exciting, not pretentious and tedious.  You rarely see this amount of depth and dedication to a singular artistic vision, albeit an allusive, even mystical one, in a debut album.I am a believer in DM Stith and I thank him for making me work for his love, and I promise you dear listener, if you give it your all, you can believe too.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Animal Hospital

Good or Plenty, Streets + Avenues (02.09, Mutable Sound)

Byline: Fully fleshed out orchestrated drones from brilliant multi-instrumentalist Kevin Micka.

For: Aidan Baker, Amplifier Machine, Eluvium

Besides being a frequent cause for derision from my fiance, music that falls into the "ambient-drone" category is a staple for me. It lends itself to heavy headphone affairs in which I can be completely lost in washes of synths and looped guitar distortion to a diligent companion to late night War and Peace read-a-thons with Addy. The only downside is that when I hear an amazing instrumental album I immediately get a sense of sadness once the giddiness goes away, I think, when am I going to listen to this again? When can I recapture the thrill of the first time I heard this? The good thing about bands that fall into the ambient drone camp is that they always retain a sense of "newness" at every listen, without recognizable hooks or melodies each song is a limitless resource of sounds and musical ideas that gather weight with each listen. Animal Hospital's Good or Plenty is an album in which every song is as fresh and exciting as it was on first listen (as exciting as an ambient drone album can be). is a remarkable recording full of sunny, beautifully recorded instrumental forays into sound and texture. Kevin Micka is a masterful sound manipulator, taking seemingly standard song arrangements of guitars, drums, turntables, hand claps and the human voice and creates looping soundscapes that are rife with discovery. Never giving into the temptation to let his wanderings turn into an irrelevant wad of noise, Micka lets his instruments prop up each song giving them of a depth of a fully fleshed out pop song. His layers of shiny guitar washes over processed feedback and manipulation put him in the ranks of Aidan Baker and Christian Fennez, while his aural dexterity and dedication to creating beautiful soundscapes recall a Talk Amongst the Trees era Matthew Cooper.  Good or Plenty is what I am guessing is a companion to his full length put out on the amazing Barge Records earlier this year, I'm guessing they both go in my list of favorite instrumental albums of the year.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Monday, April 6, 2009

Swan Lake

Enemy Mine (3.09, Jagjaguwar)

Byline: Canadian supergroup that is exactly the sum of it's parts, and that's a good thing.

For: Sunset Rubdown, Wolf Parade, Frog Eyes, Destroyer...Duh

A trapping that most music writers fall into, myself included, is the overuse of the adjective "masterpiece". I know the feeling of the immediate rush and infatuation that comes with the promised delivery of an over-hyped album or a completely original discovery that brings along the same type of exultant pride that I'm sure a father feels when his son hits a line drive in Tee-ball. The immediate response is to label the album as either the end-all-be-all of a subcategory or an exploration into a previously unknown musical vista. It is a "masterpiece" right, at least until the next masterpiece comes along. So, I am going to try to avoid this repetition and call Swan Lake's new album as a "great album", a "competent album", an album with a lot of expectation and a lot of payoff. Swan Lake, of course, is the partnership between three of the most original musical visionaries in independent music today, the batting order goes like this: Casey Mercer of  manic front man of Frog Eyes, Spencer Krug, the prolific mastermind behind Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown, and Daniel Bejar, the hyper literate poet known as Destroyer and member of that other Canadian supergroup The New Pornographers. The partnership, sustained by a cordial friendship and desire to push the limits of fractured pop songs and virtuoso playing avoids the pitfalls of previous supergroups, the desire to transcend the parts of the sum and play something completely different. The great thing about Swan Lake is they sound exactly how they would sound like if Casey, Spencer, and Daniel got together and made a record, each member doing what they do best, nobody pushing or pulling for space. This  individualistic spirit is not lost in the communal vibe of "Paper Lace" and "Warlock Psychologist" where all members are on the same page creating a beautiful racket. A far cry from 2006's frustrating Beast Moans. 

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Kill and Eat

Green Bushes (4.09, Alright Now)

Byline: Endlessly listenable experimental jazz

For: Him, P;ano, Lil Slugger

The elevator opens into a penthouse overlooking the city at night. A young woman in a sparkling red dress steps out and views the expanse. Eventually, her gaze lands on the back of a mans head as he sits in an black leather sectional with his back towards the elveator's door. He is dressed in a black suit, his bare shin is visible just above the sockline. His fingers are slightly tapping his drink as his head bobs and sways to a slinky piano piece on the stereo. A muted trumpet solo begins, its notes flourish and then diminish as a buried drum set keeps the time with lazy brush strokes and an occasional top hat ring. As the trumpet solo bows out the tempo picks up and the piano and the drums reach a restrained climax. He raises his head in exultation from a result of the exuberance of the music and the booze now sloshing out of his glass. He hears a voice behind him, "hello", says the woman in the red dress. "I'm sorry, I just sort of let myself in..."

This moment brought to you by "Green Bushes", the first track off Kill and Eat's album "Green Bushes".  Sans artwork, I thought I would bring you into the world that Kill and Eat's late night jazz brought me into. Kill and Eat make the kind of restrained brilliance that either inspire trances or brilliant movie scenes (see above). An expansive and tuneful three tracks that recall the breezy nonchalance of p;ano with the same shapeshifting ambiance of Brian Eno.  A true listening pleasure perfect for doing aforementioned swanky activities or completely zoning out, getting lost in warm, fuzzy repetition. Tres Sexy.

Friday, April 3, 2009

the Monks

The Early Years 1964-1965 (4.09, Light in the Attic)

Byline: Feverish Proto-punk from America's legendary Ex-Pats. It's beat time, It's hot time, It's monk time!

For: 13th Floor Elevators, The Fugs, Devo, Johnny Thunders

The Monks' story is by nowlegendary. Five American GIs stationed in Berlin Germany became entranced with the beatnik lifestyle, got themselves dishonorably discharged, grew their hair long and cut out in the center in a friar fashion, they began bashing out proto-garage rants over frenetic church organ bleatings and Gary Burger's  screeching sermons that warbled like a possessed Bible thumper. Like most highly bands from the sixties with cult followings, people give the Monks more credit than they probably deserve. Yes, they were endlessly experimental and ridiculously ahead of their time. They created an unholy racket that legions of Beatles fans would be repulsed by, their songs were heavily rhythmic, eschewing much if any sense of melody. The bass lines are deep guttural drones that are either directly influenced by Indian ragas or southern jug bands. Their distortion and feedback squalls would eventually be hugely influential to Sonic Youth and No-New York's No Wave.  Burger's mostly nonsensical ramblings skirt the lines from Little Richard to David Koresh, from anti-war rants to nursery rhymes. But to start throwing around words like "Dadaist" to "surrealist" to describe a rock and roll band, who, by their own admittance, weren't really sure what they were doing is a little pretentious as well as calling them the godfathers of both punk and krautrock.  Granted, their version of anti-folk, old weird America, antisocial party killer music would go on to inspire some of the most forward thinking bands in the early sixties art scene in New York such as the Velvet Underground, Holy Modal Rounders, and the Fugs. Their influence in America never quite reached the status of the aforementioned bands but the Monks remain an essential ace in the sleeve of any music journalist looking for some instant credibility. Plus, to make this story stranger in 2006 lead singer Gary Burger was elected mayor of Turtle River, Minnesota


Hymn to the Immortal Wind (3.09, Temporary Residence/Human Highway)

Byline: Peerless Japanese Post-rock

For: Explosions in the Sky, Johann Johannsson, Red Sparrowes

Hymn to the Immortal Wind is a milestone achievement for post-rock. MONO puts to rest the somewhat justifiable lament that all post-rock are prisoners to their art form. How many times can ascending chords and towering crescendos be relevant or memorable when you have heard them a million times from a million like-minded bands? Don't get me wrong I love post-rock, when it is done well those ascending chords and crescendos can have a near religious, transcendent effect on me. Now, enter MONO's newest offering. Their much anticipated follow up to 2006's You are There and their second recording with Steve Albini, Hymn to the Immortal Wind is recorded with a 23 piece orchestra. The colossal musical ideas of MONO are fully fleshed out with an entire chamber orchestra of strings and occasional woodwinds. The orchestra fills in all the holes and simply gives more depth to all of MONO's movements: the pretty guitar parts are propped up and given new depth, the massive crescendos have even more clout as the powerful ideas of classical music meet the ferocity of post-rock. The two worlds coalesce in unspeakable beauty throughout the entire album but the most effective, in my opinion, is the third track "Silent Flight, Sleeping Dawn" in which woodwinds, piano, and strings are met by MONO's bottomless musical exploration. This subdued wanderer is followed by the slow-burning then pulverizing "Pure as Snow" where MONO's guitar parts travel from a mournful tranquility to an outright blizzard of distortion and devastating heaviness. Hymn to the Immortal Wind is a rare musical statement that at once defines and transcends a genre. Please do yourself a favor and listen to it unencumbered by any other distractions.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

From the Vaults: Simply Saucer

Cyborgs Revisited (1989, 2003, Sonic Unyon)

Byline: Forgotten paranoid Proto-punk classic from Canada's forward thinking Acolytes of America's Rust-belt punk explosion.

For: The Stooges, Husker Du, Blade Runner (the Movie)

"Here's some, uh, heavy metaloid music. It's called Illegal Bodies. It's a song of the future. It's, uh, when you don't have a metal body they won't allow you to walk the street." So posits Edgar Breau before Simply Saucer breaks into a flurry of palm-muted riffs, buzzsaw guitars, droning sonic freak outs, and manic assertions of mankind's eventual termination at the hands of rampant technology. If William Gibson fronted a psychedelic proto-punk band it would sound like this. Cyborgs Revisited is a compilation of archival recordings scattered through out the seventies. Sonic Unyon eventually did mankind a solid by releasing this pre-apocalyptic warning to us about the consequences of unchecked technology. The one of the best parts of this record are the song titles: Nazi Apocalypse, Illegal Bodies, Here Come the Cyborgs, Electro Rock. Behind the forward thinking - or blatantly sci-fi aped- ideas are actually forward thinking musical ideas. Cyborgs Revisited  touch on everything from Velvet Underground inspired psychedelic drones underneath British Invasion snarkiness to Can inspired sonic freak outs that would flatter Iggy Pop. Edgar Breau later took his ultra-conservative viewpoints into the political realm when he ran for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in 1999 under the uber-conservative Family Coalition Party. I have no idea if the ideas in Cyborgs Revisited helped or hurt him, all I know is that I would cross party lines if Edgar decided to run again, in America.