Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Adelyn's pick of the month: Mew

No More Stories/Are Told Today/I'm Sorry/ they washed away//No More Stories/The World is Grey/I'm Tired/Let's Wash Away (Sony, 09.09)

For: Black Moth Super Rainbow, Pinback, Late - Era Sunny Day Real Estate, Rush

Byline: 2009's most addictive and massive album yet.

Mew has really outdone themselves. They have successfully put out an album with a title longer than Marnie Stern's This is It and I am it and You are it and So is That and He is It and She is It and It is it and That is That and A Silver Mt. Zion's He Has Left Us Alone but Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of our Rooms. They have also tied themselves for having one of the most awesomely bad album covers since their 2005 release And the Glass Handed Kites.

Musically, however, No More Stories is one of 2009's most exciting, unabashedly huge albums. Positioned somewhere between 70's swooning prog-rock and Radiohead's daring pastiche, Mew is as accessible as they are beguiling. No More Stories starts out a BMSR type skittering back beat with a thick, sugary rush of synths and backwards-yet-sung-forwards vocals on the track "New Terrain". More than a few listens later and I am still not sure how they are recording the vocals. "Introducing Palace Players" has an insanely off-kilter, math time signature and Pinback style fractured guitar riffs buried under a glorious overload of synths, glockenspiels, and saccharine processed vocals of Jonas Bjerre's affable Danish accent. And a choir singing the chorus on "Silas the Magic Car" and "Sometimes Life Isn't Easy", I think I went into a diabetic shock of awesomeness.

No More Stories finds Mew and their most pared down with only three members. The conservative amount of personnel makes a mockery of bands that feel the need to fill their ranks with 6-9 to achieve a sound that does not even half-way reach the musical complexity and sheer gargantuan quality of Mew's studio output. No More Stories is one of the most addictive and melodious albums this year. The tunesmenship here is incredible. They never let the legion of time signature change ups, multi-instrument pile ups, or an occasional vocal choir get in the way of incredibly catchy choruses and basic pop song structures. I know it sounds cliche, but Mew has something for everyone. And in era of self indulgent tripe, that says a lot.

Ryan H.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

German Shepherd

Alpine Melodies (09.09, Sunrise Acoustics)

For: Amplifier Machine, Jasper TX, Machinefabriek

Byline: Eponomania! Beautiful guitar drones from perennial TOME fav.

Some people don't believe in auetuers. I do. I really like works of art that call as much attention to how they are made as to why. There is a great scene in Ingmar Bergman's late film Persona where the classic close up shot is reversed. Instead of the audience seeing the camera close in on the actress Liz Ullman's face, we are treated to Ullman's point of view as Bergman (himself) comes in for the shot. Likewise, German Shepherd's output has been an admittedly personal exploration between personal output and public consumption. Preferring buried tones, warped sounds, and a recording aesthetic that spills slowly out of his subconscious onto analog tape, letting the listening audience into a deeply personal space. There is no holding the audience at arms length by polished recording equipment or bombastic noise bursts. You are keenly aware of the manufactured aspect of what you are listening to. That is a really exciting thing, it is almost a personal invitation to see how German Shepherd thinks, how he is creating what you are listening to. The aspect of recording seems like an afterthought. Well, at least that's what I think

You know how everything sounds muffled after an extremely loud show or when you are pumping up your bike tire to 120 psi and it pops? His Looping guitar drones are buried at such a fidelity that everything sounds far away and distant. It is both beautiful and eerie, as if stumbling onto a band practice in the middle of an abandoned warehouse. Unlike Times New Viking's sham promise of "25% better fidelity", German Shepherds promise of "less hiss, more cicada" actually holds it's weight. Gone is the omnipresent buzz (which I really liked) and replaced is a shimmering glow of a "new" 8 track recorder. Always favoring decaying and warped studio equipment and instruments, the addition of some minimal synth lines on the centerpiece "Ryan Hall (and his Norwegian Anorak)" are a welcome addition. "Green Pine" features a repeated atonal piano line similar to Lamonte Young before its tone and pitch are completely mutated by slowing it way down before its eventual demise. A move similar to William Basinski's "Disintegration Loops" where tones and notes take on a totally different character before they literally disintegrate. "Lagom" is in familiar territory of previous albums "Beehive" and "Two", explorative guitar lines are propped up by beautiful drones and guitar loops while natural field recordings are sampled intermittently.

The work of most ambient/drone musicians change on the tiniest hinges. When an artist this arena takes a step, no matter how minute, in an exciting new direction, it pays to take note. Noise is an unconquerable domain, so we should pay attention when an artist finds new ways of channeling it and processing it. Alpine Melodies is a beautiful peek into the act of creation, pre-thought out ideas of melody and tone met with improvisation and experimentation. Probably the best experimental album of the year. Pick this one up. Only 100 copies made. Super handmade and awesome.

Ryan H.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Kurt Vile

Childish Prodigy (10.09, Matador)

Byline: All Aboard the Freak Train!!
Originally published on www.inyourspeakers.com Used by permission from
In Your Speakers Media LLC

For: Bruce Springsteen, Wooden Shjips, Blues Control

Question: What do you get when you take equal parts Bob Dylan, Suicide-inspired-Nebraska-era-Bruce-Springsteen, Jay Reatard, Yo La Tengo, No Wave pioneers Mars, Wooden Shjips, and Times New Viking? If you guessed Kurt Vile you either: A) read the top of this review, or B) have a basic grasp on the English rhetorical structure or C) read way too many music reviews. Either way, good for you. However, it doesn’t take a genius to fall head over heels for Kurt Vile (real name, no gimmicks). On one hand Kurt Vile plays straight ahead rock and roll. Recorded cheaply, played loudly over the din of a roadside dive bar, as you, the only one who has even heard of Kurt Vile in Missoula, MT, hug the amplifier closely to drown out the clink of glasses and incessant drunken banter. On the other hand, listening to Childish Prodigy is a pretty cerebral experience. It takes a fair command of our musical past to pick out the hazy, druggy drones inspired by fellow psych-noisemakers Wooden Shjips (inspired by The Velvet Underground), the primitive rhythmic guitar playing of Mars and other No Wave luminaries, as well as the Bob Dylan-like sneer that starts high in the nasal cavity and the Boss’ whoops and caterwauls when he was on that whole Suicide kick.

Phew, that is enough name-dropping for one review. Needless to say, you get what you bring to the table of Philadelphia’s Constant Hit Maker. You want a tough posturing, driving with the windows down, bad-ass summer jam, he’s got those in spades. You want to get lost in a shimmering, hazy guitar drone that is buried under mounds of reverb and analog tape? You have come to the right place, my friend.

Childish Prodigy starts with the monstrous, menacing “Hunchback” that contains some of the most amazing riffs this side of Dungen, as well as Kurt Vile’s paranoid, forced nasally delivery. “You’ve got me floppin’ and flippin’ around like a fish on a ship”, you can almost feel the spit on your face as Kurt forcibly expels these threats/warnings out towards…You? An EX-Lover? Society at large? “Dead Alive” the next song on the album has some of the best Talking-Blues of Bob Dylan or Townes Van Zandt over a reverb soaked single guitar line. “Stop sweatin’ it, and knit me a sweater”. Yes, sir.

The sweet, sun soaked, guitar drones that I promise are featured prominently on “Overnite Religion”, “He’s Alright”, and the instrumental “Goodbye, Freaks”. I know hazy has been an overused adjective, but there is a slightly blurry, bleary, quality to the guitar drones that sound far away; similar to when you are coming out of surgery. These sunny, oscillating drones buoy an album of hard-driving, tough talking songs steeped in the blues and seventies Heavy Metal. “Inside Lookin’ Out” is the most obviously blues influenced ode the ramblers past. It starts out with a Gospel stomp before a heavily processed harmonica makes its entrance. Kurt spares not the shredding of his vocal chords as he howls, “You call it the rumblings/I call it the falling downs/I got the blues so baaaad!” Pretty heavy stuff.

While it may be easy to lump Kurt Vile in with the rest of the Lo-Fi minimalists, Kurt keeps some aces up his sleeve that present themselves with some beautiful where did that come from instrumentation. An amazing saxophone solo is buried under the last half of the songs best track “Freak Train”, trumpets and horns bounce over some delicious descending chords and softly cooed female vocals. Kurt’s voice, which is so painfully naked in most songs, hides some very clever and subtle overdubs and multi-tracking that takes multiple listens to pin-point.

Kurt Vile, Philly’s Constant Hit-maker, does nothing to disappoint on his Matador release. There are few albums in which I can say that every song is killer. It would be a shame if Childish Prodigy is lumped into the either-or category of bands like Times New Viking or Freak-Folk bands like Woods. Kurt Vile is something totally different, if the name dropping in the beginning of the review didn’t tip you off on the type of musical legacy that Kurt is an obvious extension of, a once over of Childish Prodigy will.

Ryan H.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Times New Viking

Born Again Revisited (09.09, Matador)

For: High Castle, Pink Reason, The Thermals

Byline: Rip it up and start again. Originally published on www.inyourspeakers.com Used by permission from
In Your Speakers Media LLC

Musical trends have the life span of sea monkeys in 2009. Blogging compresses musical timelines to a fraction of a second as we all know. Last summer Deerhunter, Women, No Age, and the newly formed Wavves were on the forefront of critics best-of-lists or on the receiving end of harsh derision. These bands buried their skeletal pop hooks and unabashed love for imported Garage Rock under audaciously bad recording equipment and the vicious pale of tape hiss. By this time, however, Times New Viking were elder statesmen in the scene that they didn’t even realize they helped form. After shredding ear-drums on renowned noise label Siltbreeze for 3 years they jumped ship to quasi-major Matador in an impeccably timed move. 2008’s “Rip it Off” was received warmly by major music publications and by critics across the board.

Fast forward 2009. Summer is over folks. Fall is here. The Lo-Fi revolution of 2008 is pretty much lurching towards its languished death. The previous mentioned bands have either jumped to major labels (Sub-Pop, Fat Possum), suffered rock star breakdowns (Wavves), or have stepped out from beneath their gauze of terrible recording equipment (Iran). The Lo-Fi aesthetic has been appropriated into other genres, namely through synth heavy dance music (JJ, Neon Indian, Javelin) This is exactly the same trajectory that Grunge went through. But that took 10 years and spanned two decades.

So, with the Lo-Fi revolution going the way of Prog Rock, why would a new album by Times New Viking matter in 2009? Well, to quote T.I “I run this city, clearly”. (Replacing, of course, the subject “I” with Times New Viking). Times New Viking, in a sense, typify and represent the best qualities of the whole sound. Times New Viking don’t just write catchy pop punk songs and then bang them out on a drunken night on some cheap analog recording equipment. (Or maybe they do). The reverb and tape hiss are utilized just as naturally as Sonic Youth buries major chord riffing under layers of feedback or the way My Bloody Valentine uses layers and layers of reverb to create a terrifyingly huge wall of sound.

While casual or first time listeners may be taken aback at first listen by the grating quality of the massive amount of noise being captured and processed through 20 year old technology, just beneath the surface there are some delicious things happening. First, these guys can write hooks. Hooks the Kinks would be jealous of. The resurgence of Brix Smith’s Hammond organ credits the Zombies and the Thirteenth Floor Elevators as sonic co-conspirators “No Time, No Hope” and “Move to California” have the sneering brashness of Scandinavian Garage bands mixed with the in your face nihilism of Black Flag. Good luck trying to get these songs out of your head. The tune craft and pop sensibilities have always floored me. If not apropos for the kind of racket being made at least they give you something to come back to.

Second, these guys know how to rock out. I saw them in a tiny venue (more of a garage) on a cold February night in 2008. I am still getting my hearing back. Mark Ibold had a tattoo that said Led Zeplin – Zeppelin, apparently a botched tattoo attempt. Spiky, discordant punk songs have always carried a little bit more piss and vinegar when male/female voices trade each stinging barb. “Born Again Revisited” has them in spades thankfully. If you feared the unknown on “Born Again Revisited, “(No) Sympathy” and “Something Moore” will assuage even the most ardent noise purest.

The case for the relevance of Times New Viking in an era of musical genres that are marked for expiration at the date of conception is one of originality. Times New Viking started in 2005 as a rejection of overly polished, self-indulgent indie rock careerism. They formed, in spite of themselves, as a rejection against the same success that has been dogging them since 2005. 4 years later and everyone is wondering what Times New Viking’s next move is going to be. They just turned everything up to 10 and didn’t touch a dial.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Animal Hospital

Memory (03.09, BARGE Records)

For: Birchville Cat Motel, Silver Antlers, Chaz Prymek

Byline: The aural equivalent of watching old super 8 wedding footage that you found in the attic of long dead family members. Incredibly beautiful.

I know that this is waaay after the fact, but I am still hoping that for some of you Animal Hospital's Memory is a new experience. I initially read about Kevin Micka in an awesome Forest Gospel review (if you want an excellent song by song break down, seriously, read this article), and then after picking up his other amazing 2009 release Good or Plenty, Streets + Avenues on Mutable Sound and being really impressed by it, Kevin Micka kind of floated away from my consciousness. It wasn't until I realized that I had special ordered this album at a local record store a half year ago that I began my another Animal Hospital obsession. Memory is released by Barge recordings, that as a rule, only puts out killer recordings, as such their releases are insanely selective. Their last release previous to Memory was 2008's drone masterpiece Baby, It's Cold Inside by the Fun Years. This is their latest.

Animal Hospital is known for looping guitar drones that weave around each other like two snakes while a bees nest of electronic and vocal manipulation buzz beneath the surface. On Memory Kevin Micka takes a similar approach, the opener "Good Times" begins with a delicate music box before giving way to a mournful guitar line reminiscent of SLC guitar hero Chaz Prymek's nomadic wanderings. "His Belly Burst", which I argue is the stylistic palette for the entire album, starts with a Warren Ellis like bowed Cello as Kevin Micka lays down a thick layer of electronic resonance. About half way through the 17 min. track Micka's guitar work gets intense. A repeated plucked cello, later joined by a repeated electric guitar chord that reminds me of Birchville Cat Motel's viscous breakdown of a single Iron Maiden riff in his epic "Drawn through Chanting Chords". This is about as heavy and intense as acoustic music can get. Although not as terrifying as Kingdom Shore.

After 3 more heavy hitters, including the albums only track with vocals "And Ever" we are treated to a delicious 4 minute segue. "A Safe Place" starts with a host of electronic percussion before totally surrendering to an incredibly beautiful guitar line and some looped wordless vocals. These are moments that send chills up my spine. The closer title track "Memory" is a rumination on everything experienced this far. Bottomless low-end frequencies run deep below the track while an acoustic guitar and looped vocal lines float down the slip stream. Micka useful percussion in this track consist of simply hand claps and the hollow body of an acoustic guitar. Beautiful stuff here. The album closes with a looped cello line that would make Arvo Part proud.

So, I know I didn't really give this album justice. Trying to describe something like this without telling how it made you feel is pointless. You can disregard all of my attempts to try and capture what this album sounds like and just know that listening to this album is the equivalent of watching an old super 8 wedding footage of long dead family members. Or finding a piece of paper in the street with your name on it. By far one of the most emotionally relevant pieces I have heard all year.

Ryan H.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Jim O'Rourke

Jim O’Rourke

The Visitor (Drag City, 2009)

Byline: WHERE. HAVE. YOU. BEEN?!?!

For: Jon Brion, Wilco, Archer Prewitt

Last I heard, Jim O’Rourke had sadly given up on recorded music entirely to pursue a steady film career. How I cried, how I wept. The Chicago musician/producer is behind a number of my very favorite albums - from his work with Stereolab in the 90s to Sonic Youth’s brilliant album Murray Street, and dozens of other solo recordings and collaborations in between. I never even saw one of Jim’s films (maybe out of spite), and when he officially left Sonic Youth a few years ago, I had all but given up hope on the man. Then, like some beautiful miracle, Drag City issued O’Rourke’s first album in over eight years just this week. Every once in a while, no matter how hard this world beats you down, no matter how crummy the economy gets, no matter how overwhelming life can seem - there will always be a glimmer of hope. This week it comes in the form of an orchestral-pop masterwork by one of today’s true authorities. He calls it ‘The Visitor.’

There’s not a lot of information to be gathered on Jim O’Rourke’s newest album from its face value. There’s no singing of lyrics, making the record’s theme a bit of a puzzle. There is but a single page of liner notes on the sleeve of the record printed in a rippled white/grey font on a black background, making some words nearly impossible to read. There are no official track titles (the album is basically a single, 38-minute piece split between two sides of the record) and though there’s a list of folks who helped and played, there are no specific instrument credits, which is surprising given the album’s huge range of live instrumentation. There isn’t even a title on the front of the jacket - just simply the Visitor’s beautiful cover image.

There is one truly revealing line to be found in the packaging, however. On the liner notes, towards the bottom of the page, and you have to kind of squint to see it, reads the humble instruction: “please listen on speakers, loud.”

And that’s it. That sums it up. After eight years of patient waiting for a new record to surface from him, fans are reintroduced to an O’Rourke who chooses to keep his profile low, and his musical drama high. “What have I been doing this whole time? Oh nothing, playing bass in Sonic Youth, helping Wilco out with two amazing records, making films, all that stuff. Whatever, it doesn’t matter. Crank this shit.” And doing so will not disappoint. At a high volume, the subtleties of the Visitor’s beautifully arranged woodwinds and horns reveals a music that shimmers and vibrates with life. To place the needle, turn up your volume dial and bathe in this album’s warm glow is a glorious thing to do in 2009.

Side one of the Visitor wastes no time. The piece begins very subtly with just a rubato acoustic guitar theme (a theme that will return throughout the piece), but within 30 seconds instruments are layered on top - first piano, slide guitar, and bass, then finally drums roll together into a sweeping, grandiose waltz before the song suddenly stops on a dime and returns back to the piece’s acoustic roots. It’s a striking and telling moment for the piece as a whole, especially this early on, really setting the tone for how the music will eventually progress and unfold. It feels almost as though O’Rourke caught himself giving it away too early. It’s a technique that comes off as O’Rourke’s fuzzy image does - it’s shy, coy, smart, controlled, collected, self-conscious, kind of funny, and leaves you desperately wanting more.

And more is what patient listening delivers. From there, the record unveils its cyclical structure of sprout, bloom, sun-soak, molt, die, repeat. Like the seasonal changes, it’s a volatile musical landscape with soaring highs, rolling plateaus, and crashing lows. It’s a record of both cinematic high-drama, and self-effacing wit and acceptance. Sections of music grow up into shimmering climaxes of pure joy and ecstasy before waning into cold and wintery modal ambience - a mood of sadness and reflection that dominates side two.

Aside from the wonderful compositional technique and style O’Rourke has executed here, he’s also done a fine job of merely recording the album, and surrounding himself with astounding musicianship. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better sounding album all year. The drumming, for example, is phenomenal. As he has in the past, O’Rourke recruited the best in the business, Wilco’s own Glenn Kotche. Kotche’s drums are tightly tuned (with a soft, round bass drum and crisp but mellow snare) and expertly played. There are street-style sambas and linear, textural comping improvisations dotting the Visitor’s expansive sound.

Furthermore, every tone - from its fluttering flutes, to the warm, full brass - on the record sounds like it was given its own careful set of considerations and personal space. So although the ensemble of the album’s orchestration is seamless, each instrument is unique unto itself. Thus, with several listens, the album provides a different, equally rewarding experience as beautiful new layers are revealed over time.

The Visitor as a whole is everything O’Rourke fans have come to expect - a sparkling-clean sounding album who’s beauty is at times quite simply breathtaking. However, its one-track structure makes it almost too easy to digest. There’s meat here to chew on, but not nearly enough. It’s a return that is therefore both rewarding and fulfilling while also slightly empty and hollow-feeling. If this is all we get after eight years of patient waiting, after all, O’Rourke must be joking if he thinks this will tie us over for another stretch. Its autobiographical use of his previous styles in earlier works does affirm the fact that Jim O’Rourke was, and here continues to be, one of the most important voices in modern music. If only he spoke up more than once a half-decade. But this only begs the question... if he did, would it still sound this sweet?

--Craw 9/20/09

Drag City Official Website

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Crop Circles (06.09, Childhood Pet)

Byline: Do you know what a Polynya is? Read on.

For: Pram, Metric, Conifer Rock

"It's a Shame" by Talk Talk has a minute long intro that is one of the coolest moments in musical history. It could stand alone as a stop-gap between 80's new-wave and early 90's post-rock, but of course this is early Talk-Talk so before you know it they begini launching into one of their languished new wave ballads. I mention this because Polynya fall a similar trajectory. A killer intro that is rife with some cereberal experimentation that recall early nineties luminaries Cul-de-Sac or Pram before launching to into a pure mediocrity. Phoned in deadpan Male-Female vocals compete for who can sound more bored in a single track. Non-professionalism has nevert really bugged me. I live for crudely recorded limited run CD-R's. But when a band consciously works against rather than with their limited budgets a serious aesthetic lapse in principles has occured. If there is one thing that saves this album from a single listen is their use of live and electronic percussion towards the beginning and end of each track. This floating percussion augment the heavily processed guitar work that is reminiscant of TOME favs Conifer Rock. Experimentalism can only go so far however, and when your bread and butter monotone male-female vocals over reverb drenched guitars thing isn't working too well, it is best to go all in. I wish I could hear a whole album worth of intros to "Ribbon Dragon" and "Fan Fiction", but like all ok songs with great intros, conventions are the biggest thorn in the side. "It's a Shame" really.
Ok! You made it to the end of this review! A Polynya is: an open area of water surrounded by sea ice! They are also a band from Chapel Hill, NC who have an album out called Crop Circles.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Kid Koala presents The Slew

100 % (Self-Released/Ninja Tune, 09.09)

For: Led Zeppelin, Handsome Boy Modeling School, DJ Shadow

Byline: If Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock and Aerosmith couldn't bring together Rock and Roll with sample heavy hip hop, who could? Kid Koala rewrites the rules.

Remember when Public Enemy recorded those tracks with Anthrax? Or when Aerosmith preformed "Walk This Way" with Run-DMC? No? Well, me neither. All these were a little before my time. However, thanks to VH1 these moments are part of my musical history. Ok, how about Fred Durst and Method Man...Ahhh, now I'm in my demographic. The fact is the cross-pollination of musical ideas between Hip-Hop and Rock and Roll has never really been a new thing. But it has always seemed a bit schlocky, too insincere to have any lasting effect. Remember Rap-Rock? Where is Crazy Town today? So now, Kid Koala, renowned turntabilist and mastermind behind such projects as Deltron 3030, Lovage, as well as contributing to supergroups Gorrilaz and Peeping Tom as well as Brazilian electronic music legend Amon Tobin, wants to add his name to the list. And actually, The Slew (which sounds like a high school punk band) actually has the chops to pull it off. Kid Koala is all over the place pushing some of the wildest manipulated beats and left-field old blues sampled vocals as a general soundscape. The recruited rhythm section and guitarist are EX-Wolfmother members. The guitar lines are absolutely wicked, layering thick power chords that are subject to Kid Koala's viscous manipulation. The end product heavy, blues inspired rock album that is cut up in a million various ways. By being laid bare to such manipulation the different aspects of rock and roll are augmented and amplified. For instance Kid Koala weaves entire songs around a single chord and blast beat from the drums while his samples and turntables go crazy. Huge, boisterous, anthems that wouldn't sound out of place before a High-School football game or the intro to some gritty cop show on TV. So long after the fact and after so many failed experiments it seems as though Rock and Roll and electronic sampling are not mutually exclusive entities (as we all kind of hoped they were). The best thing about 100 % is that it is 100 % free!!

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Get Color (09.09, Lovepump United)

For: A Place to Bury Strangers, Abe Vigoda, Jesu

Byline: HEALTH flirts with late 80’s industrial sheen in 2007. Marries it in 2009. GET COLOR is their Noise-Industrial-pop love child.
Originally published on www.inyourspeakers.com Used by permission from
In Your Speakers Media LLC

As a year in music 2009 has seen two distinct trends. The first, and most rewarding, has been established bands reaching the pinnacle of their career by making epoch defining albums i.e Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, Dirty projectors. The second has been established bands making albums that fit consistently in their oeuvre both thematically and sonically, not really breaking new ground here, just churning out more consistent records (The Thermals, Yo La Tengo). What 2009 hasn’t seen a lot of are albums like “GET COLOR” by HEALTH.

The first 30 seconds of the single “Die Slow” had me checking wikipedia and running through “Crimewave” to make sure this was the same band. Perhaps this is a little dramatic but the sentiment remains the same. The song starts out with a processed guitar loop which seemed like familiar territory for a band that runs so many distortion pedals their stage floor looks like a whack-a-mole game. When the percussion kicks in all bets are off. A stuttering post-industrial backbeat comes in before androgynous, almost feminine vocals coming floating up from a Mariana trench of pure loudness. The chugging guitar riff sounds eerily similar to Stabbing Westward (I had to reach back to middle school for that reference.) This overtly shining layer of studio sweetness over unrestrained noise seemed like a brilliant, brilliant move.

It is easy to say that HEALTH has “changed” their sound since 2007’s blitzberg of brutal noise processed in loud, short punches to face. It is more apt to say that HEALTH has evolved into this menagerie of thick Industrial percussion, shoegazy guitars and vocals punctuated with HEALTH-associated standards such as massive bursts of violent noise and tribal drumming. Each song retains beloved elements that made HEALTH’s self titled album such an amazing feat of precision terror mixed with pop tendencies. For example “Severin” is the most straight ahead HEALTH track on the album starting from the very first second with ear splitting guitar feedback and frantic drumming, but sadly in an album full of completely new sounding tracks it sounds a little out of place. I feel strange using the adjective “beautiful” in a review of a HEALTH album but it feels so right. Like Post-Metal pioneers Isis, HEALTH cloaks shimmering layered soundscapes beneath the threatening auspices of noise; the knowledge that at any moment this pretty little breakdown full of vocal cooing, shimmering guitars and tribal drumming can be obliterated by the next ejaculation of noise makes you appreciate it even more.

There are some downright pretty songs on this album. “Before Tigers” and “In Violet” are lost in a hazy, daydream of skittering electronic percussion, weird, processed guitar lines coming in from all angles. Located respectively in both the middle and the end of the album you can tell HEALTH has learned something about mixing album. Sometimes it is nice to let an album breathe. At times they sound closer to fellow NIN tour alumni Deerhunter than (amazing) label mates Pre.

The decidedly industrial approach that “GET COLOR” has taken is a genre that is criminally dismissed. With bands like HEALTH, Jesu and A Place to Bury Strangers (whose 2009 album rivals HEALTH for one of the loudest) channeling early Nine Inch Nails and Throbbing Gristle, is a Post-Industrial revival on the horizon? “GET COLOR” is a small victory for HEALTH, the amazing Lovepump United, and the post-everything noise genre.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Eskimo Snow ( 09.09, Anticon)

Byline: The most natural, convincing, and amazing transformation from outsider hip-hop to country-tinged Psych-pop Americana (barring of course Kid Rock)

For: Silver Jews, Dan Deacon, Neil Young?

Exactly half way through the album Yoni Wolf breaks the fourth wall and confidently sneers, "and I know saying all this in public should make me feel funny/but you gotta yell something out you'd never tell nobody". It is hard to imagine mustering the apathy or the sincerity to say something like this after breathing some of the most hyper-confessional lines that border exhibitionism and a cry for help. Yoni Wolf, however, weaves the ugliest parts of his body, his shallow grasp on mortality and his deepest fears into universal koans that make all of our concerns, flaws, and failures seem like crass excuses we give in order not to investigate deeper into ourselves and our relationship to the outside world. Why? can turn a phrase like it ain't no joke.

I would like to say I am intimately familiar with pretty much everything Why? has ever put out. When my wife and I first dated "Elephant Eyelash" was the first cd I ever gave her. Two years later she recently outed Why? as her favorite artist. This came as no surprise, there is hardly an occasion we are not listening to one of his three proper albums. For first time listeners and vets alike "Eskimo Snow" is a deceptively easy album to digest. His most "un-hip-hop" album ever is an understatement. Yoni Wolf's voice, which has always fluctuated between a hyper-punctual talk-rap cadence and an understated whiny croon, has finally found a mid range we can all live with. This new found voice is celebrated with some very "un-hip-hop" like traits. For example "One Rose" is an almost country music ode to death. Complete with slide guitars, bowed fiddles, picked guitars and Yoni's half-Howe-Gelb-half-Cass-McCombs drawl. This song is, however, not a complete departure for Why? His trademark malleted layered percussion and bells are featured here (and everywhere on the album) along with the repetition of the line from Odd Nosdam's 2007 Level Live Wires song "Kill Tone Two", "I never saw my parents try to make a thing like me/with time in the bathroom mirror I learned to accept my body".The whole album is incredibly live sounding. Where Why? found most of his best moments with studio experimentation, pitch-shifted vocals, processed everything, you won't find any of that here. In fact I'll bet everything translates almost verbatim when they perform these songs live. (I'll let you know in a month)

The single that pulls the whole thing together is the amazing "This Blackest Purse". While it may be the catchiest song on the album it is by far the most devastating. While none of the songs have the same catchiness as "Alopecia" or the bite of "Elephant Eyelash" one cannot marvel that this is by far Wolf and CO. most accomplished, elegant, and mature release to date. Recorded in Nashville by Lambchop's Mark Nevers, his precision instrumentation and generally subdued output reins in Why's? tendencies to chop up songs into a million ideas and lets each song unfurl slowly and gracefully. I don't want to give away too many one-liners or phrases from "Eskimo Snow", because there are moments on this album that everyone should experience, whether it makes you smile or sends a shiver up your spine. Astounding.

Ryan H.

This Blackest Purse (Thanks to Stereogum for hosting this mp3)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Things I almost forgot - a 2009 retrospective

Iran - Dissolver (02.09, Narnak)

For: Pavement, TV on the Radio, Track Star

Two things that everyone knows about Iran's 2009 offering. 1) It sounds nothing like their lo-fi reverb drenched bedroom pop of years past. 2) Iran is the side project of Tv on the Radio's Kyp Malone. These are two very important details that I did not know on the first spin. Without these two tasty morsels of info I was able to listen to Dissolver with fresh ears, devoid of expectations. What Dissolver is on first blush are a couple of jangly slacker indie rock songs from the late nineties Pavement mixed with some well timed power pop of Track Star and Walt Mink. The "whoo-hoos" and "come-ons", 4/4 waltz tempos during the blue-eyed soul ballads, darker, murkier songs towards the end of the album. Pretty standard fare. After the supplemental information is supplied you start to notice things, I'm not sure if I was listening to it through a TVOTR filter, but suddenly I heard David Sitek's (he produced it) mitts all over the negatives. Layered, distortion-laden guitar work under the surface, a few experimental tendencies towards the end, just the ush. Aaron Aites's voice morphed into Kyp Malone's ringing baritone, I suddenly couldn't distinguish the two. It would be nice to think that this album could stand alone from it's superstar doppleganger, but with all of its support Dissolver can't help from being filed in yeah-it's-pretty-good-I-guess category.

Dan Deacon Bromst (03.09, Carpark)

For: Dan Deacon, Steve Reich, F-word Buttons

Bromst is a revelation. It only took me half a year to discover why. Dan Deacon's 2007 Spiderman of the Rings was the anthem to my summer. It was played everywhere from a trip to Las Vegas to shoot a documentary, to an impromptu trip to Antelope Island, and every Thursday before our community Four Square Game. The communal vibe of SMOTR capitalized on everyones desire for relentlessly uplifting music during occasions that call for such. With that said, I don't know if Bromst would be my go-to for those occasions. It is not that Bromst is a downer, just the opposite, it is one of the most incrediblely life-affirming albums of the year. It feels much more personal for me. More like a mantra than a soundtrack. Bromst expands on 2007's D.I.Y computer engineering, circuit bending, mad scientist meets Classically trained minimalist composer that is Dan Deacon to encorporate more live instrumentation: drumming, a hijacked player-piano, guitar washes, mallets, xylophones, etc...with made-from-scratch synths, delays, computer programs. Everything feels much more in control this time, everything is smoothed over a little, Dan Deacon is really singing underneath those pitch-shifted cartoon character voices. An almost Stag Hare like approach of chanted vocals make their entry to Dan Deacons songs, expanding on the more meditative feel of the album. Each song expands gracefully from hyper-minimalist lines to an almost Wagnerian wall of sound that crowds your headphones like being front and center in an opera. Absolutely stunning.

Hanne Hukkelberg - Blood From a Stone (Nettwerk, 04.09)

For: Bat for Lashes, Berntholer, The Knife

Percussion featured on Blood From a Stone: typewriters, train doors, bicycle spokes, flag poles, old refrigerators, etc... This plus the kitchen sink are featured oh-so-subtly on Norwegian Hanne Hukkelberg's newest album. Blood From a Stone stands well on its own without the Blue Man Group menagerie of found or recycled sound. Hukkelberg's arrangements are ridiculously complex palates of sonic experimentation that range from subdued pop, Kid A era Radiohead backwards experimentation, to spacious Metal soundscapes with Hukkelbergs powerful voice punctuating power chords. Buried deep below the surface the found sound aspect to Blood from a Stone is there to be sought out, not as a cheap gimmick. The strength of the album relies solely on Hukkelberg's powerful voice and beguilingly sparse-yet-overpowering compositions. A powerful addition to 2009's Scandinavian oeuvre.

Ryan H.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

High Castle

You're On Your Own Way (ZUM, 07.09)

Byline: Like that Fleetwood Mac song.

For: Black Eyes, Unwound, Early-Times New Viking

Finally, the Tome is bringing some noise. While the Tome output has mostly centered around some pretty quiet, pretty pretty bands and musicians, with Crawf's last "Throne of Bone" post and the new High Castle EP, the Tome is about to be flooded with some long overdue ear canal destruction. Hailing from San Francisco, High Castle is a three-piece unit that has a sound equivalent to a giant shark destroying the Golden Gate Bridge in just one bite. High Castle play punk-rock in the way it was meant to be played, loud, short and with the energy of an ADHD 12 year old. Taking cues from a earlier-noisier Times New Viking, High Castles dual vocals are cloaked beneath a downright vicious wall of noise that does not leave an ounce of space for ponderous drum breakdowns or half time chord progressions. It is all go all the time. The drumming has the same kind of depth and in your face brutality that keep bands like Unwound and Lightning Bolt blowing young kids minds today. High Castle is punk rock stripped down to the bare essentials. The guitar provide a necessary underpinning of discordance and distortion while the true heroes of the band, the drum and the voice, go to town all over what used to be your nice new stereo. "Frentic", like Jimmy Stewart on crank is a take away point. Loud is another. But with all my talk about loud and frentic, High Castle makes it a point to wrap all of this within one killer pop hook after another. "Are Fixed Gear Tricksters the New Rollerbladers?" gets my vote for song title of the year.

Ryan H.