Friday, October 30, 2009

Boy In Static

Candy Cigarette (04.09, Fake Four/Circle Into Square)

For: Final Fantasy, The Notwist, Andrew Bird

Byline: Boy in Static craft something beautiful and intricate, their conservative group number seem to defy the fully realized grandiose sounds being pushed through the air on their third release.

I am going back to April for this one, but this album is more than worth mentioning even as we creep towards the years end. Boy In Static is a San Francisco based avante-pop duo of Alexander Chen on the Sequencers/drum machines/keys and Kenji Ross playing violin. Loosely associated with the Bay Area post-hip-hop collective anticon through tours and production from members of 13 & God, Boy In Static play a slightly frozen blend of outsider pop, 80's new wave rave ups and virtuoso musicianship. Chen's Bryan Ferry-like vibrato gives the an air of sophistication to each tale of star crossed killers, wartime bachelors, birthdate numerology and the inevitability of fate. In almost every track Kenji Ross's lilting violin lines steal the show from the programmed beats and ascending piano lines, layering each incredibly catchy pop tune with an irresistible pastiche of classical/pop experimentation. Chen and Ross craft something beautiful and intricate, their conservative group number seem to defy the fully realized grandiose sounds being pushed through the air on their third release. I know it sounds lame to talk about the hooks on a pop album, but seriously, the hooks. These are hooks in every sense of the word, meaning they keep you coming back for more and will not leave your head for days. I can't tell you how many times I have returned to "Star Crossed Killer" or "Young San Francisco". What came as a late surpise has become a fast staple in my required end of year listening and a comfortable autumn companion. Check out the awesome video below. CUUUUUTE!

Ryan H.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Flaming Lips: Embryonic & Retrospective

Embryonic (10.09, Warner Bros.)

For: late-Mercury Rev, Can, Boredoms

Byline: Hear it is.

In preparation for my review of Embryonic, I went on a retroactive odyssey through the Lips entire back catalogue, starting with 1986's Hear it Is and ending with 2009's Embryonic, 23 years of a band finding their sound. From their humble beginnings as the acid taking punk rockers sounding like the Replacements covering Captain Beefheart to their later studio experimentations turning into pop gold, the Flaming Lips have and will forever be your weird older brothers favorite band. I embarked on this journey because from the very onset ofthe disorienting Embryonic I felt like I had no grounding whatsoever on a musical past of the Flaming Lips. Up to this point I was really only familiar with their only two masterpieces The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots; I wondered, as the first squalor of feedback drenched guitar riff pierced my speakers, is this what their old stuff sounds like? I decided to investigate. I can assure you that Embryonic sounds NOTHING like anything they have ever done throughout their 12 albums.

Granted, Flaming Lips used to be a lot heavier, but heavy in that ubiquitous nineties tuneful way; sure they had their weird sonic freakouts but those were mostly throwaway tracks that were a conscious effort to dismantle to their overtly pop leanings. Do you think the Beatles actually listened to "Revolution #9" after they recorded it? I present to you "Hell's Angels Cracker Factory" off of 1989's Telepathic Surgery. It wasn't until 1999's The Soft Bulletin that Coyne and co. sutured their experimental studio sessions with their overt pop tunes that Wayne Coyne's now famous line "I play the recording studio" actually had any justifiable merit.

So, I guess this brings us to 2009. Embryonic is a beast of an album. Spanning two discs and 70 minutes, this is an album that you don't want to be cornered by. Recorded in a broken down mansion, Embryonic sounds much more live than any of their more recent albums, viscous, jagged guitar freakouts owe as much to 70's krautrock as it does to 2000's psychadelia in the vein of Espers and Wooden Shjips. In each composition you can actually hear the Flaming Lips playing together as a band. You can pin point the guitars, bass, drum, synthesizer...mellotron, something that was buried beneath layers of saccharine studio sheen in the past. This isn't to say that Steve Drozd and Wayne Coyne, the bands leading experimentalists, are muzzled by a primitivist break down of the bands expansive set. On the contrary, Drozd and Coyne, attack their instruments with each composition like they were discovering guitars again.

The grimy, gritty and sinister kraut groove of the stunning opener "Convinced of the Hex" finds Coyne's range reaching a robotic, monotone that bounces over a funked up bass line and start/stop guitar freak outs, a move that is repeated again in "See the Leaves". Once content to float in giant balls over the audience and manipulate giant life like puppets, Coyne draws deep into himself flaunting his insecurities and fatalism like the early 00's never happened. The slow plod through a terrifyingly expansive territory with one dark rumination on mortality after another is broken up periodically by moments of pure, unabashed genius. The MGMT assisted "Worm Mountain" is as bombastic and frighteningly huge as anything the Lips have ever composed with Scurlock and Drozd's manic percussion lapping over each other in frenzied waves. "Gemini Syringes" features a distant electronic soundscape filled with buzzing oscillators, tone generators and mathematician Dr. Thorsten Wormann's disembodied voice floating in and out like a ghost. "Sagitarius Silver Annoucnement" is a clear nod to Joy Division's own vision of grandiose darkness. The brooding, effects laden "Powerless" takes center stage on the album with a brooding minimalist guitar line, and a line "No one is ever really powerless" that may be the most hopeful statement on an album that turns "Do You Realize" fatalism-as-celebration completely on its ear.

Embroynic does not sound like a band at the tail end of their career. This album sounds like a mid-career stylistic 180 after a potentially horrendous bout with drug abuse and subsequent resurrection after a Syd Barret like seclusion. That was, like, so 10 years ago for the Flaming Lips. What makes this album so exciting and so jaw droppingly amazing is that this is the Flaming Lips through and through, the Flaming Lips that always teetered on the brink between madness and brilliance, battling addictions and agoraphobia while penning Oklahoma's official rock and roll song. After all the fog machine cloud lifts and after the janitor sweeps up all confetti from the stadium floor, this is all that remains of the Flaming Lips, a fragile group of misfits firing a confetti cannon of their mortal fears straight into the stratosphere and then turning the cannon on themselves. Square in the chest.

Ryan H.

Neon Indian

Psychic Chasms (Lefse, 2009)

For: Pictureplane, Ariel Pink, Gold Panda

Byline: Yet another strong, intriguing entry in lo-fi, bedroom-electronic pop in a year chock-full of outstanding work in a burgeoning genre. Originally Published on Used by permission from In Your Speakers LLC.

My headphones suck. I had a pretty nice pair of Shure ear buds for a while there (still under warranty... I hope...), but of course - what with planned obsolescence in our consumeristic society and all - they wore out leaving me with a two dollar set of black plastic junkers my girlfriend bought for a plane trip a couple of years ago in a seedy airport gift shop, which she is most graciously letting me borrow. I’m no earphone-expert, but these things sound awful. They carry almost no bass, and have literally no noise-isolating/canceling capabilities (making use of them on my daily bus commute almost pointless). To make things worse, these things aren’t just uncomfortable, they are excruciatingly painful. Normally, you couldn’t pay me to listen to music in them. But alas, the due date for this Neon Indian record review is looming over my weary head, so here I am... and somehow, listening to this album with these over-big, hard-plastic pellets stretching out my ear canal isn’t so bad. In fact, with its decidedly lo-fi approach, AM radio aesthetic, patchy synths, and crunchy drum tracks, Psychic Chasms would almost feel wrong on fancy expensive cans.

And there’s a lot of stuff in 2009 that’s been able to get away with sounding horrible. Who’s tired of the glo-fi scene yet anyway? A show of hands? Me neither. With artists like Pictureplane, Memory Tapes, YACHT, and Gold Panda garnering more and more national attention for their bedroom-pop saturated, pirated-software-executed nuggets of dance gold, Psychic Chasms writes a fitting chapter to the musical story of the year. We live in a time where young, musically creative minds have a greater access to information and home recording technology than ever before, and somewhat of a musical explosion has resulted. It’s a scene that simply ignores the news - all this hubub about a failing economy, stocks, unemployment? Today’s underground style and practice feels like a big F-U to a culture obsessed with money and having the biggest and best of everything. They don’t have it, they won’t have it, and they have way more fun because of it. So there.

But whereas a lot of the aforementioned artists are making sounds of a music-of-tomorrow style, utilizing free, DIY technology towards a cutting-edge sound that hasn’t really happened yet, Neon Indian’s take is the first that feels like it’s looking backwards. Like his hero Ariel Pink, Neon Indian’s Alan Palomo pushes his music back to an era of exite-o-color crime shows and blippy Atari video games by using waver-y, old-school synth tones and reverb-drenched vocals. Combined with big, punchy backbeats, some of Neon Indian sounds almost like Genesis blasting out of your Dad’s truck’s tape deck. It’s reminiscent of a time when crappy headphones like mine were maybe the latest in listening technology: a Walkman’s record in an iPod’s world. This makes Psychic Chasms one of the most nostalgic sounding albums of the year. It beckons memories of watching horrible B movies at ungodly hours, high on a mix of weed and Jolt cola. It’s microwave pizza and Slurpees while melting away a summer’s day on the couch playing the same damn level of Super Mario Bros. over and over and over to make sure you get all the secrets.

So there’s an attitude here as well, and it’s that of a youthfully-lazy, “I’m young, I don’t need a job yet, I have no real responsibility, so who cares?” perspective that feels oddly optimistic or at least insouciant. Life is going by at right about a million miles an hour, and it could make no difference in the world. As long as there good friends and sweet sounds, that should be more than enough to inspire getting out of bed in the morning (or staying in it all day). “Deadbeat Summer” absolutely nails this sentiment. With its squishy, syrupy mix of synths, drums and vocals Palomo gobs up a viscous texture more likely to slows the listener down than it might amp-n-ramp up a dance party, despite its enslaved reliance on a heavy pop groove.

Nowhere is the lo-fi recording style more present than on the album’s title track. The song begins with a glittery, glockenspiel-like vamp before dropping into the track’s heavy, four-beat stomp. The melody slices through via a flexible, static-laden synthesizer that buzz-saws its way straight into the back of your subconscious with a horrifying shriek and stays there. The song highlights another reason for Psychic Chasms’ ultimate success: Palomo has a knack for melody, and even though you can understand maybe 20% of what he’s actually singing, there’s a catchiness to these compositions that’ll have you mumble-humming for days.

The only problem is that these twelve tracks are ultra-homogenous, utilizing similar (if not exactly the same) drum and synth samples throughout. By the end, some of Palomo’s tricks are already tired - there’s tons of mod-wheel vibrato and pitch-bending in the synths, for example. As a result, regardless of how catchy it is or the head-nod factor of the beats, the potential for Psychic Chasms to retain any real lasting power is sketchy at best.. But the thing is that these tricks are really fun (just try to not love the ripping keyboard-as-guitar solo in “Terminally Chill”) and the music comes across as self-referentially ironic. There’s almost a joke to how old and battered the music sounds, and these techniques in performance are there as a smile-raising punchline. There’s also no questioning the fact that Palomo, when given the proper tools, is indeed a musical talent. The fact that he’s already gone through two other musical projects makes Neon Indian feel like a lovable pitstop on the creative highway to a long, successful career. Psychic Chasms does little more than point toward a promising future of consistently rewarding adventures in audio.

--Craw'z 10/29/2009

Neon Indian Official MySpace

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sean Patrick

Yellowcake (Andras Klang, 2008 r. 2009)

Byline: When everything is music, nothing is. And that’s the way it should be.

For: Oval, Nobukazu Takemura, Jim O’Rourke

My dictionary lists two definitions for the word “ambient.” The second is the more traditional one we’re all probably used to, especially in the business of music analysis and appreciation:

Ambient (noun) also ambient music: A style of instrumental music with electronic textures and no persistent beat, used to create or enhance a mood or atmosphere

It’s the first definition I find much more interesting, however:

Ambient (adjective [ attrib. ]): Of or relating to the immediate surroundings of something.

The first song off Sean Patrick’s Yellowcake - recently reissued by his own label, Andrasklang - embodies this definition to the T. Simply titled “Andras Silent Recording,” the album opens with four and half minutes of literally nothing: complete and utter silence. But the idea of recording nothing is ingenious because this silence is anything but - it’s a loud, busy, wondrous void that is pregnant with sound and meaning. Patrick invites listeners to take this record outside with headphones and let nature and its surroundings - the deafening clamor and noise of life itself - vibrate your ears through the ticking clock of time. This is “ambient” in the sense that it quite simply is the immediate surroundings of the listener. To record nothing is thus to essentially record everything. Patrick’s art is introduced as a defiant refusal to conform to or crystalize reality in a single shape or idea. This music, like nature, is never the same twice. It’s always changing, different, and as a result, Yellowcake is an always slightly obscured, yet infinitely rewarding and challenging listen.

But the best thing about the opening moments of Yellowcake is that it’s just the beginning. The album unfurls with what Patrick might call his more conventional style, lending itself better, perhaps, to the more traditional definition of “ambient music.” Consisting of whirling, backwards bell tones and nervous clicking-ratchets that tickle the senses, Patrick’s work recalls some of Oval’s best moments. Yellowcake has a random quality to it, as if a natural breeze plays the record. As such, the artist is disconnected from this music. The album’s title track opens with a struggling voice, searching desperately for words that just won’t come, hindered by the music’s own devices of manipulation, electronics swallowing any semblance of humanity whole as Patrick seems to let go and become one with an art that has a life of its own.

In a world where trends reign supreme, and themes, styles, messages, and ideas are constantly force-fed to a public desperate to make sense of, and latch on to some sense of order or direction, Sean Patrick’s Yellowcake feels like an essential album. It’s a calming aesthetic that recalls gentle backwoods afternoons, cabins with roaring fireplaces, wide open, rolling meadows, or really, insert-your-memories-here. It radically challenges straight-forward associations and champion’s personal experience above all else. People are a part of nature, and music is a byproduct of that sentiment. Everyone will have a different experience with Yellowcake, and that in and of itself makes it one of the most unique records I’ve come across in 2009.

--Craw’z 10/27/2009

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ben Frost

By The Throat (10.09, Bedroom Communities)

For: The Fun Years, Jasper TX, Nico Muhly

Byline: I am putting all my eggs in this basket...Best album of the year. Originally Published on Used by permission from In Your Speakers LLC.

By The Throat is why I want to spend the rest of my life writing about music. There is an incredible feeling that comes along when you hear an album that you don’t want to put into words, not because it is some euphoric, beautiful or joyful experience but because it literally pins you down to your chair and does not let you come up for a breath. This is an album to be lived in. Avant-garde composer Ben Frost has completed something that is equally terrifying as it is breathtaking, claustrophobic as it is expansive, squarely rooted in the 21st century as it is timeless.

An Australian native, Ben Frost has been channeling the frozen expanses of his adopted home of Iceland for four years now. Frost is by far one of the most creative forces working between the margins of classical music, electronic and noise . Following his critically lauded 2007 release Theory of Machines, and a Risk-like takeover of almost every continent, Ben Frost returns with a diverse list of sonic co-conspirators that range from NY Golden-boy Nico Muhly to Swedish Death Metal band Crowspath, Arcade Fire drummer Jeremy Gara and Iceland’s best string quartet Amiina. Ben Frost also returns to thickly processed waves of brutal noise processed through the nihilism of Black Metal over traditional compositions and ephemeral electronics. Sort of like Machinefabriek remixing a Sunno))) track. Or Swans recording with William Basinski.

Teeth-baring wolves stalk both the front cover and provide moments of loaded punctuation to an equally teeth-baring screed of processed noise. By The Throat never really lets you come up for air. Compositions move from ominous to downright night-terror inducing in the blink of an eye. The album opener “Killshot” starts with layers of skittering electronics until a tidal-wave of harsh noise overcomes your headphones in precision terror. The move is so deliberate and ferocious you literally feel the sound being sucked in from all available outlets to announce the initial noise burst. The most ominous and understated track on the album is “The Carpathians”, a 3 minute ambient piece punctuated by howling and snarling wolves, manically bowed strings, and waves of thick processed guitars over the low rumble of pounded major chords on a deeply buried piano. The cacophony gives way to the repeated motif of a field recording of someone gasping for breath while an EKG machine beeps menacingly in the background on the following track “O God Protect Me”. The breaths eventually become more labored as the electronic beat slowly pulsing as a heartbeat eventually becomes more sporadic until it stops, dead in its tracks.

“Hibakusja” starts with a slight reprieve of mournful trumpets and plucked/strummed claviers before surrendering to darker territory. This track is the most evidently influenced by Neo-Classical composer Nico Muhly. the collaboration is spot on with Muhly directing the repeated themes in the style of classical minimalism while Ben Frost layers heavily processed Cellos and field recordings of fractured breathing and harsh feedback. Of everything that Nico Muhly has contributed to this year from Antony & the Johnsons, Mew to Grizzly Bear, his collaborations with Ben Frost allow his sophisticated melodies to run their full course, not being restricted to pop music.

Ben Frost has the uncanny ability to announce clearly what his intentions are yet leave you completely stunned in the process. A super-low electronic bass hit announces without fail when the track is about to make an abrupt shift between themes. Between the two tracks “Peter Venkman I & II” there are about a dozen tempo changes, introductions of various instruments/sounds, a vocal choir that comes lapping in and out of the audio field like waves. Every such change is marked by a similar low bass hit, a pretty gutsy move seeing that most musicians shock by pulling a weak slight of hand before switching a tempo up. The effect is not unexpected but it is still awe inspiring.

I compare this album very favorably to Sunno)))’s last track “Alice” on Monoliths & Dimensions. The track starts off as a metal track and ends as a piece of classical music, the change comes so subtly it takes a few minutes to realize the change. Ben Frost follows a similar course, a track that 30 seconds ago was so brutal and terrifying gives way to a beautiful coda of classical music before you can gather your battered senses and begin to recognize what is happening. The seemingly ease in which Ben Frost moves between genres is one that displays Frost’s virtuosity in each chosen genres and re-contextualizing the disparate parts into a distinct patchwork of 21st century ideas. This is minimalism for the post-apocalypse. This is the best album of 2009.

Ryan H.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Clientele

Bonfires on the Heath (Merge, 2009)

For: Yo La Tengo, The Zombies, Love

Byline: Grab it while Autumn is... cold! Originally Published on Used by permission from In Your Speakers LLC.

One sad thing about the Clientele: Nobody seems to like them. While critics love the brit-dream-psych-poppers, it’s tough to find a real fan of the band anywhere in day-to-day music-lover circles. Seeing the group open up for Spoon a few years back, I remember they actually got some heckling from an impatient audience member who came to rock out, asleep. In a way, this makes some sense. Because the band’s sound is light, airy, and laid-back, by nature the music doesn’t jump out and smack listeners upside the head. Nine out of ten Clientele songs are almost too easy to listen to. They’re generally soft, reserved, wildly inoffensive, and the group tends to play a lot of ballads.

Ironically, these are all the same reasons the Clientele are a fantastic band, but it’s only half the story. While it’s a simple task to play one of their records on a cool fall night, and let their lovely arpeggios and delicate strings lull you into sweet slumber, it’s equally as easy to get intensely lost in the band’s subtle technique: the way the bass and guitar grapple for harmonic dominance a-la Galaxie 500; the jazzy, augmented and diminished chord voicings; or Alasdair MacLean’s often brilliant, Keats-ean reflections.

It’s all here in spades on Bonfires on the Heath, the band’s fourth proper long-player (fifth, if you count the excellent singles collection, Suburban Light). As such, the new record probably won’t win over any naysayers, even though it stands as one of the group’s strongest efforts to date in an already impressive catalog. It’s a frustrating thing when talent goes unappreciated, but Bonfires is a record that finds a band well-settled into its niche, while unearthing new ways to explore an already rock-solid, established sound. It does so by adding instruments, voices, and a fresh batch of outside influences to its repertoire, somehow filling out the quartet’s harmony while gently retaining its mysterious draw and openness.

The first thing you’ll notice is the addition of trumpets to the band’s ensemble. On album opener “I Wonder Who We Are,” this may not be the best thing; MacLean’s “Bah Ba-Da Ba-Ba-Ba-Dah” percussive vocals are admittedly a bit cringe-worthy as the song bounces along in happy-go-lucky fashion. Later on, however, the trumpets lend a helping hand to the Latin-flavored “I Know I’ll See Your Face,” easily the most exciting track on the album with its light syncopation, bossa nova feel, thrilling turn-arounds and elegant classical guitar work.

Not a new addition, but strengthened and used perhaps to greater effect than on the band’s previous album, God Save the Clientele, is the prominence of pianist Mel Draisy. Her beautiful melodic motifs fill in the spaces between MacLean’s phrases, musically manifesting the vivid dreamscapes the singer finds himself lost in. Her voice is the perfect counter to MacLean’s as his smoky tenor and her breathy alto wrap around each other with a pastoral beauty that feels timeless.

Predictably, the album slows down about halfway through as the group wades through soft, flowery ballad territory. These songs, while pretty and heartfelt can get boring with subsequent listens, and are wisely kept brief and broken up by the rousing “Sketch,” an instrumental British-invasion throwback with a driving beat and ecstatic electric guitars. It’s a style that’s come up in just the last couple of Clientele releases, and once again works well for the band. Here, on tracks like “Share the Night,” it allows the sometimes timid-sounding guitarist in MacLean to let loose and rip some serious solos, embellishing the blissed-out psychedelia that has come to define the band’s catalog.

For the bulk of the album, though, Bonfires is at its best when drawing on the the hazy, autumnal melancholy of 2003’s The Violet Hour. And speaking of autumn, from now on the Clientele are simply not allowed to release another album in any other month but October. Yes, there is a track called “Harvest Time,” and the music itself has a crisp air to it; not icy, freezing cold or anything extreme like that, but just chilly. You can almost see MacLean’s whispy breath emanating from your speakers in a soft cloud. It’s also the time of year when the days grow shorter and sleepier, and lyrics lend to this feeling as well. He’s almost sleepwalking through these 12 tracks. “I cannot tell you what I saw / I was somebody else,” MacLean laments on “Never Saw Them Before,” tricking himself by bringing otherworldly hallucinations into his waking state.

The album’s timing may also have a connection to the notion that Bonfires may be the band’s swan song, as MacLean has sadly hinted at in interviews. The reverb-drenched, surreal texture of the music evokes vivid images of memories long past, bringing them back to life in creepy dream-sequence stanzas set in familiar places. “Kids are jumping bonfires on the heath / How am I going to get myself to sleep?” sings MacLean on the title track, haunted with youthful ghosts of his own past,“Laughing windows up and down the hall, and the walls are closing in on me.” It’s a season of penultimate change, a no-turning-back point as the vivid greens slowly fade to hushed reds and browns, mocked by the exuberance of a life before it, and confronted with death ahead. While Bonfiresis another prime example of a wonderful band doing wonderful things, it hardly feels final or like a defining statement in any way. Here’s hoping for more beautiful music from the Clientele in many autumns to come.

--Craw'z 10/23/2009

Merge Records

A Place To Bury Strangers: Exploding Head/Show Review

Exploding Head (10.09, Mute)

For: My Bloody Valentine, Jesus & the Mary Chain, The Cure

Byline: So loud. You don't even know.

As I walked outside the Urban Lounge on 10.21.09 following the Place To Bury Strangers/All The Saints show, I was hit square in the face by something huge and oppressive. Silence. It was louder than any of APTBS guitar freak outs or minimal three chord ear lobe destryoers. APTBS played so loud that silence hurt my ears. I have combined my record review of A Place To Bury Strangers for the sole reason that the two listening experiences are not mutually exclusive. In fact they should go hand in hand. Listening to Exploding Head entertains the idea that this shoegaze/noise band could be menacingly loud, the massive riffs speak for themselves. Cornered in the same space with them and they will leave you messed up, nursing a black eye and a ruptured ear drum. Unleash these untempered waves of post-Loveless waves of processed guitar waves of noise through some huge amps in a tiny venue and you have a nuclear holocaust.

I had the opportunity to sit down with APTBS frontman/guitarist Oliver Ackerman and bassist Jono to discuss their recording process, his guitar effects company and signing to legendary imprint Mute. As their music would suggest otherwise, they were all super friendly guys my interview and photos will be up on in the coming week. Local noise/funk renegades Laserfang opened the sparsely packed Urban Lounge before the Alabama/Atlanta band All The Saints took the stage. All The Saints blew me away, sounding like a cross between Smashing Pumpkins and Lightning Bolt, stood on their own and matched APTBS with their frentic energy, brooding angst and virtuoso playing. By the time APTBS took the stage smoke machines were going, the lights were off and everyone was silent. A forced silence because talking during APTBS show is literally impossible. This is the first show I ever used ear-plugs (cotton balls) and I am glad I chose to only take 3 years off of my hearing longevity instead of 5. Halfway through their set you really begin to notice how oppressive the noise is, like someone standing on your chest. The experience is truly awe-inspiring, instead of the show being a communal act, being drowned in sound forces you to crawl inside yourself, making the event a very personal experience. Ackerman flailed around the stage like he was on fire unleashing brutal tirades of squalor effectively flattening all those complicated hearing mechanisms in our ears.

A Place to Bury Strangers do not just take their cues from legendary bands like My Bloody Valentine or Jesus and the Mary Chain or the Dead C. They encapsulate everything I love about those bands. The beguiling simplicity that unfolds as you dig deeper into a track. APTBS has a sound that is endlessly deep, listen to a song a million times and you will never get to the bottom of it. Oliver Ackerman can record a 100 layer guitar track in about five hours. That is dangerous.

A cursory listen to Exploding Head does not do this band justice. To listen to the album in the manner intended I would suggest turning off all the lights in a room filled floor to ceiling with amps while sitting cross legged in front of a strobe light.

Ryan H.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Do Make Say Think

The Other Truths (Constellations, 10.09)

For: A Silver Mt. Zion, Valley of the Giants, Lymbyc Systym

Byline:A glorious soundscape of hope, lament, and near-religious revelry from decade-old Canadian post-rock legends. Originally Published on Used by permission from In Your Speakers LLC.

Approaching Post-Rock with a strictly critical eye is tricky for me. As a whole, I have felt the six full-length albums of Do Make Say Think more than I have actively listened to them. The band has a way of crafting slow-building songs centered around several separate instrumental movements that coalesce in a crescendo that borders on religious catharsis. There is a rapturous, glorious, quasi-spiritual movement through the entire Do Make Say Think catalog. Returning two years after releasing their greatest album to date, You You are a History in Rust, Do Make Say Think stick largely to the script, sculpting textured sonic landscapes of hope-filled power chords, heralding trumpets and a patience that lets the songs build up to their absolute breaking point, then selling it all on an incredible climax.

With each successive release there is an aspect that sets a new Do Make Say Think album apart from its predecessor. For example, their self-titled debut is by far the most jazz/dub influenced album they have released; Goodbye Enemy Airship the Landlord is Dead saw the introduction of a ruddy baritone saxophone; You You are a History in Rust saw the introduction of vocals, etc. Now, ten years later, their sixth release, Other Truths is largely an extension and a culmination of those themes. The album consists of four tracks, titled simply: “Do,” “Make,” “Say,” and “Think.” Three of these clock in at over ten minutes. The first track “Do” is by far the most hurried and straightforward track they have ever produced. It seems like a stark departure for a band that lets songs build slowly for seven or eight minutes until things really start getting heavy. The song starts with a simple guitar line that is repeated throughout the entire song before a slightly more distorted riff is piled on top, something like mid-tempo Mogwai. These lines are repeated until Do Make Say Think’s celebrated polyrhythmic, dual-drumming frenzy guides the track at a breakneck pace for the next six minutes. A few breakdowns are conservatively placed, but the track is propelled heavenward by a furious backbeat courtesy of drummers Dave Mitchell and James Payment.

“Make” is a classic Do Make Say Think slow burner. Starting with an ominous guitar line, the drums roll over their beats like they were stumbling home drunk. Each step has an awkward extra half step or slight hiccup before slowly building into a tribal backbeat as surging synths build from deep beneath the audible surface. Vocals from the Akron/Family chant in a strange mixture of Yiddish lullaby/Avett Brothers vocal harmonies. The track is most reminiscent of fellow Canadian post-rock bands A Silver Mt. Zion and, Charles Spearin side project, Valley of the Giants. “Make” is the first track on the album to showcase their seriously beefed up horn and woodwind section, which announce themselves in bombastic bursts of ecstatic revelry that drive the song into the most dizzyingly climactic crescendos.

The timing on this album is impeccable. After a straight-up barn burner of an ending on “Make,” “Say” is introduced as a type of Edward Burtynsky photograph or Akira Kurosawa film; while it is easy to get lost in the grandeur of the whole, each detail emerges slowly with repeated viewings/listenings. “Say” is by far the most instrumentally complex track, full of twisting peaks and valleys, several song arcs, tempo shifts and acoustic break downs. The song is largely held together by a type of floor-staring somberness of eight musicians locked in an elegiac communion with the infinite. Somber horns bleat out like a dirge while all acoustic instruments (guitars, banjos, slide guitars) are bowed and bent like drooping heads of wheat. Rising from the lament comes a chiding, hopeful braid of vocals by DMST side project Lullabye Arkestra. The last track “Think” is a fitting coda to the album, an eight-minute ode to the project these friends started ten years ago. Built around two guitars and drums, “Think” serves as rumination on the history of the band and, perhaps, the Canadian post-rock movement as a whole.

Other Truths as an album is much like Do Make Say Think as band—easy to love, harder to explain why. Albums like these are meant to be felt. Both self evident and cryptic, blissful and somber, cacophonous and restrained, Do Make Say Think do not show their hand on first listen. Several thorough listens and you get what they are doing, but nothing can replace that moment when the first swell and burst of sound penetrates you to the core. This album will destroy you.

Ryan H.

A blast from the past.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Arms and Sleepers

Matador (Fake Chapter, 11.09)

For: Styrofoam, The One AM Radio, Alias

Byline: Melancholy electronic pop drifting out of the foggy shores of the Northeast.

In 1978 Brian Eno set out to create an entirely new genre of electronic music centered around discreet minimalism and ubiquitous sounds that were to be played strictly as background music in airports and other places of mass transit in order to subconsciously calm people as they rushed from one location to another. In many ways his Music for Airports projects failed because they have been taken from being piped into airports to being ravenously devoured and dissected by electronic music fans. Like Music for Airports I feel like brooding, moody electronic-pop comprised of electronic programming with melancholy live instrumentation is made for a distinct time and place: rainy mornings in coastal towns. Coming from the respective towns of Portland, ME and Boston, MA, the duo of Arms and Sleepers have encapsulated the contemplative ennui that descends on the East Coast. Combining virtuoso electronic programming, buzzing synths, chopped up organic beats with the occasional live percussion, xylophones, soaring post-rock guitars and a virtual slew of geographically dislocated contributers, Matador weaves a tight knit sweater of aural warmness around a chilly coffee shop morning. Shelley Short (of the other Portland), Tom Brosseau, Uzi and Ari (of SLC and Europe fame), notably on "The Architekt" with features the cooing vocals of Uzi and Ari members Catherine Worsham and Ben Shepherd. Arms and Sleeper's textured slices of coastal living nostalgia and ephemeral dreaminess recall a very specific geographical location out of the constructs of sound and atmospherics. An absolutely beautiful album. I have only spent a week in Portland, ME but Matador comes close to physically recreating the dreaminess of that Northeastern sea side hamlet. Or metropolis. However you want to look at it.

Ryan H.

Arms and Sleepers Myspace

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Silver Antlers/Seven Feathers Rainwater

Silver Antlers/Seven Feathers Rainwater Split EP (Moondial, 09.09)

For: High Wolf, Animal Collective, Niagara Falls

Byline: Showcase of SLC's finest murkiest, haziest drones and textured tribal beats.

I think I start every review of a band from Utah by saying how amazing 2009 has been in terms of releases from SLC artists. I just can't get over how incredible some of the music coming out of the Beehive State is. Seven Feathers Rainwater is no exception, trust me, birthed into the fraternal "New Weird Utah" held down by mainstays Stag Hare, Silver Antlers, Navigator, Chaz Prymek, Hew Mun, etc... SFR shares a similar noise palate and deserves to be uttered in the same breath as the above luminaries. SFR's murky drones, tripped out by Eastern influenced samples and ragas, are really some of the most straight up enjoyable moments in SLC's experimental hadj towards Mecca. Looped piano drones, scattered woodwinds, wordless vocals and unfettered bursts of noise punctuate the SFR opener "Sun Rain", my vote for best album on the track. The song takes an unexpected sentimental turn right around the middle of the track as acoustic guitars, dancey percussion and the impeccable timing of Noah Lennox-esque cooing fade in and out of the lusciously textured drones. This was my first time hearing Seven Feather Rainwater and needless to say, SFR is about as good as they come. TOME fav. Silver Antlers, picks up where he left off on his year-end-best-of topper Black Blood of the Earth. With this two song offering, Silver Antlers, reigns in and compresses some of the most exciting moves from BBOTE into bite size morsels of swelling guitar drones and soaring solos meets tribal meditations meets the Algerian Desert Desert blues of Terakaft at a Qawalli festival. Silver Antlers straddles a line between Western blues inspired metal riffs and the contemplative percussion and spiritualism of Eastern musical traditions. This split is a mystical journey in the vein of doomsday calendars, feathered serpents, far east shamanism and all the wonderful oddities of Salt Lake City. There is no excuse for taking this journey because Moondial is hosting this split for free! If you are feeling generous, dust off that old cd-tape-radio boombox and order it from the small-run-tape-only Moondial (see below)!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Cotton Jones

Rio Ranger EP (10.09, Quite Scientific)

For: Glenn Campbell, Elvis Perkins, Cass McCombs

Byline: A Delicious 5 song offering of male-female harmonies and an existentialist take on country music from Michael Nau’s side-project-turned-main-project. Originally Published on Used by permission from In Your Speakers LLC.

For the longest time I thought Cotton Jones was an ironically named Swedish singer-songwriter who left his post-rock band to cash in on burgeoning bearded folk-pop scene here in the States. I have no idea how I formulated this biography, but I was pretty much convinced. Then someone told me that Cotton Jones (formerly The Cotton Jones Basket Ride) was, in fact, Michael Nau of Page, France’s side-project-turned-main-project. So that’s where that guy went! I was pretty smitten after Page, France’s 2005 Hello, Dear Wind, I probably ended up at more Page, France shows in 2006 then I can remember. Listening to the Rio Ranger EP made me recall all the reasons why I fell in love with Page, France all those years ago.

Cotton Jones is Page, France stripped to the brass tacks. While Page, France could reach dizzying crescendos, Cotton Jones seems content with a determined, slow trundle through of country standards. Michael Nau’s honey-soaked, Townes Van Zandt affable drawl is the most prominent instrument on this collection of 5 songs. Rio Ranger starts off with “Only Minutes Young”, easing into a shuffling waltz-time signature before Nau’s voice croaks in lines about old fashioned being a state of mind instead of an aesthetic choice. Watching the slow progression of Nau from wide-eyed folk-pop wunderkid playing with a religious fervor to a wise, salty troubadour makes this line actually believable. The second track “Nicotine Canaries” features the quasi-processed percussion and underwater synth soundsacpe that recall Animal Collective or Here We Go Magic. A wonderful move on an unexpectedly lovable album.

“Always Feeling Good” is Whitney McGraw doing her best Emmylou Harris impression. Her voice, which has always been a sort of secret weapon, is displayed in full force on this track with minimal backing instrumentation. “Don’t Got a Lot of Time” complimenting vocals recall the sophisticated barroom sing along quality of She & Him, but way better. The final track, “Where you Stop for a Minute” has one of Nau’s irresistible one-liners that turn well-worn clich├ęs in terms of genre and content into borderline Koans. “Home is where you stop for a minute/and clean your teeth”. Print that on a mug or something.

The former heir to Pedro the Lion’s open ended spiritual struggles has just evolved into our generations Glenn Campbell. An existentialist country singer.

Cotton Jones Myspace

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Adelyn's pick of the month: Owen

New Leaves (10.09, Polyvinyl Records)

For: American Football, Aloha, Damien Jurado

Byline: Sounds of settling.

After fronting some of the most influential, scene-starting bands such as American Football and The One Up Downstairs, spending most of his adult life touring, writing trechent critiques of himself his L'enfant Terrible of a stage persona, Mike Kinsella is ready to settle down. Recently wed and house broken, New Leaves is his homage to the normal life with all its moments of domestic bliss and pangs of regret from leaving his carefree young-adulthood behind. Lyically, these themes have been trod heavily by his earlier works, but Owen writes songs like he writes melodies, pulling out unseen truths out of repeated lines in a single key.

Up to this point Mike Kinsella's most complex song arrangements have been a product of his cottage industry recording set up. Acoustic guitars, pedals, occasional percussion and synths strewn about his mom's living room while he tries not to sing loud enough to wake anyone else in the house up. However, recording leisurely over the span of two years have led him into the legit studios of Brian Deck (Iron & Wine), Tim Iseler (Wilco) and Graeme Gibson (Califone). The new found clarity and professionalism shows, but it is difficult to describe how. Mike Kinsella has a perfectly idiosyncratic and immediately recognizable sound palate used in every release. His intricately plucked, repeating guitar lines are uniquely Kinsella (I'm pretty sure I've used 'Kinsella-like' as an adjective). Sometimes, additional instrumentation can be a sophisticated way of saying burying great ideas under the weight of too many great ideas. But on New Leaves even his most produced arrangements still have room to breathe. For example, "Amnesia and Me" steers into a decidedly country/americana direction with it's slide guitars and rhythm and blues breakdown. Stronger strummed guitars, a deep bass section and a nice electronic pitter-patter mark the confident "A Trenchant Critique" while a swooning Andrew Bird-esque bowed violin make the track almost unbearably good.

Mike Kinsella, by his own admission, is prematurely cantankerous. New Leaves while promoting a newfound thematic foil of marriage and settling is still not without its slow burn of subdued wanderlust. Like John Steinbeck said, "When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch...Nothing has worked." Or as Mike Kinsella says, "I always thought I would end up owning my own boat before a home."

Ryan H.


Two Sunsets (Domino, 10.09)

For: Gentle Waves, Orange Juice, Daisuke Miyatani

Byline: Glasgow’s The Pastels and Tokyo’s Tenniscoats bridge the gap be-twee-n C86 guitar pop and today’s Japanese orchestral folk. Orignially published on used by permission from In Your Speakers LLC.

If you were in High School when CMJ’s C86 cassette came out you will love this album. If you were in High School when Belle and Sebastian’s Fold Your Hands Child You Walk Like a Peasant you will love this. If you have an ear for woozy, fragile-as-an-eggshell pop melodies centered around jangley guitar lines and sing-song male/female vocals…So the cyclical nature of this review goes. Two Sunsets is a collaboration of legendary twee-pop all-stars The Pastels, who rival Sonic Youth for being the longest running, musically relevant band today, and likeminded Japanese duo the Tenniscoats. Two Sunsets is a major accomplishment for both Geographically challenged bands.

The collaboration started innocently enough. A simple studio exploration of two bands who shared a mutual admiration for each other. Fans who recognize and forgive The Pastels loquacious crawl towards a perfect album (this is their first proper release in 11 years!) shouldn’t be surprised that Tenniscoats took the Bull by its proverbial horns in this collaborative tag team. They also shouldn’t be surprised that this took 2 years to release. But what we have is definitely worth the wait.

Two Sunsets starts with a gentle instrumental track that pays homage to the two bands hometowns, “Tokyo Glasgow” and sounds exactly you would think a creative collaboration between the two capitols of mope-core pop and lullaby-core orchestral folk would sound like. Sort of like Daisuke Miyatani meets the Gentle Waves meets Teenage Fanclub. Fluttering minor-key piano lines dip in and out of a skeletal guitar and organ riff that serves as the back bone of the track while some muted trumpets and some unidentified woodwind (which makes numerous appearances on the album) drive the track along its Sunday afternoon canter.

A track-by-track tag team of Japanese and English vocals follow a linear path while Saya Takashi’s childlike lullaby compliments Katrina Mitchell’s velveteen coo. Stephen McRobbie and Teenage Fanclub’s Gerard Love’s restrained guitar lines weave a protective blanket of warmness over the entire recording. The most rewarding moments on Two Sunsets are when the unexpected flourishes, the “yeah that might sound cool” studio experimentation, take over the entire space between your headphones. For example, 70’s Spaghetti-Western harmonica and dulcimer compete for space over Gerard Love’s twinkling guitar lines in the last minute and a half of “Song for a Friend”. A really wonderful thing happens when you have to wonder when something was recorded.

Since we are on the topic of the most arresting song on the album, “Song for a Friend”, there is a moment when Stephen McRobbie’s heavily accented Glasgow croon replaces Saya Takashi’s tiny Japanese voice that takes my breath away. “Vivid Youth”, the first single off the album is a perfect accompaniment for watching sparks ascend and die out against the back drop of a starry summer night. Michell’s husky bedroom melody lilts gently over a bouncy bass line and sort of seventies T.V show jazzy guitar line. The only problem with this track is that it sounds the most like the Pastels. Where did you put those cute Tenniscoats? The great strengths about this record is that neither band really sound like themselves. Together in a collaborative embrace they take on each others signature characteristics and become a new entity all together. So when the Tenniscoats darling instrumentation and sing songy voices are gone, it is way too soon to call this a new Pastel’s record.

With a possible twee revival looming in the future -2009 has already been graced by releases by It Hugs Back, Vivian Girls and SLEEPOVER – Pastels/Tenniscoats take us back to time when “Indie” simply meant a straight ahead guitar rock band and to have “fragile” or “delicate” or even “cute” used as an adjective was both a patch of honor on your tweed jacket as well as insult hurled your way by punks with shaved heads. Ah, to be in 1986 again. Too bad I was only 2 when that happened.

Ryan H.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Human Quena Orchestra

The Politics of the Irredeemable (Crucial Blast, 2009)

Byline: If you hate society and you know it, clap your hands! You're not alone... HQO is here for you.

For: Sunn O))), Earth

It’s tough out there. Given general woes in the current state of things (folks taking pay cuts, having rent raised, spending more on pretty much everything everywhere, while having less than ever to buy the essentials with, watching the unemployment rate consistently, systematically rise... etc...), things just aren’t looking so hot for the country right now. Sometimes I’m at a loss for words. Modern society, when taken as the huge gulp-of-a-whole it is, can be a pretty scary place. It’s like a bully that can kick you when you’re down. You play by its rules, and when you play, you still end up losing.

It’s hard to deny that society is a little bit more than messed up sometimes. As such, a band like Human Quena Orchestra seems here for a dual purpose: as in the true spirit of the gothic attitude, their art is as much about ripping everything down as it is building something new. It’s about a terrifying cry of refusal, while being simultaneously a cathartic acknowledgement of an excruciating purgatory. But with song titles like “Progress,” or “Assention,” it can also about the future.

Though it’s a cultivated fact (I talked with the group at one of their shows) that the band has never listened to Sunn O))), a review of The Politics of the Irredeemable without mention of the black-drone Gods, doesn’t seem plausible. Like Sunn O))), HQO is a band who also relies on heavy excess of bass and sheer volume to get its message across. On a certain level, it’s cool to know that artists are generating sounds like this completely independent of one another. The majority of the record is a menacing sonic assault. Take the colossal, 12 min. plus album opener, “Progress.” With its sparse feedback and low-drone, the song creates a desolate, flat, post-apocalyptic wasteland and pummels it with nuclear explosions. And it’s in this environment we find a sole character - a voice screaming in a pain-with-rage mix of enthusiasm and dread.

Picking apart the record as a concept album seems tumultuous given the exhausting experience it can be making it through the entire album. There’s a lot here that sounds exactly like what you heard a mere ten minutes earlier... But as a whole, Politics does have an arc and shape to it, from its deep, dusty valleys (see “Denial pt. 1") to its towering peaks of layered feedback and pure destruction (see “Denial pt. 2”). Overall the art at its core seems to be the story of a struggle. It’s a voice deep inside the subconscious of the insane man in all of us. It rejects the logic of waiting in line at the DMV to pay a ticket so that we can keep driving ourselves to work every day, so that we can pay to drive our cars. If the HQO wants to rid society of “society” and call it “progress,” maybe this is more optimistic music than it at first seems to be. Indeed, the record’s final moments are in a very obviously major key, as if humbled by its previous gauntlet, symbolizing perhaps a peaceful bliss to be found - a light at the end of the tunnel.

After all, life is good - remember?

The Human Quena Orchestra Official MySpace

--Craw 10/12/2009

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Boys Noize

Power (10.09, Boys Noize)

For: Justice, HEALTH, Chemical Brothers

Byline: Come on feel the Noize! Originally published on Used by permission from In Your Speakers Media LLC

If we could somehow quantitatively measure all the hype this new Boys Noize album has received over the past two years in a sort of numerical representation we would probably have to invent a new number. Something like Elevenity-million, or whatever Glenn Beck used to describe the number of people at the Tea Party Protest this month. But seriously, whoever is head of PR for Boys Noize records deserves a raise. Alexander Ridha, German DJ wunderkid otherwise known as Boys Noize has pulled all the right moves since his 2007 dancefloor ready debut Oi Oi Oi. He has remixed everyone from Snoop Dogg to Feist, as well as well known club-banger remixes of Bloc Party and the Kaiser Chiefs. He has been on the other end of the remix by Justice and SebastiAn, as well as sampled for Estelle’s Kanye-graced crossover hit “American Boy.” Maybe it’s just the fact that DJ mastermind’s Boys Noize cuts are so fresh that this type of calculated hype building has been a purely organic, word-of-mouth process. To quote Jay-Z “the streets is A&R’ing this.”

Devoid of singular instruments or recognizable samples to place within the realm of reference, an instrument-by-instrument breakdown is a little tough. I can’t very well say, “that part where it’s all like ‘bu-bu-bu-ping-ping-ping, is really tight.” What I can say is that if this is pumped at extremely high volume at a dance club everyone will be on the floor. Listening to Power should be a communal act, however, a careful headphones listen yields itself to unexpected treasures from a strictly techno/electronica album. The opener “Gax” has a fluttering, ascending keyboard line that is about as elegant and exciting as Justice’s “DVNO”. This song could sell Jaguwars and Mercedes Benzs. “Jeffer” has a rare vocal sample that ties together the most punchy, outright dancy song on the album. A high frequency turn-table scratch punctuates the entire raver of a track. “Transmission” is so 3008, a dystopian computerized voice starts the track with some “Everything in its Right Place” randomized babbling before giving way to a “Motorik” beat taken straight from the ilk of Kraftwerk or Neu! “Transmission” is a very noticeable nod in both feeling and form to Joy Division’s classic “Transmission”, the self named track could either be considered a homage or a reworking of the Joy-less post-punk band. Either way it shares a similar free-floating guitar track and monotone drum sample, however, recontextualized into pure danceable bliss. Do you remember the awkward dancing of the crowds in the Ian Curtis biopic Control? Boys Noize’s “Transmission” would have the exact opposite effect.

A fantastic departure from pure love-for-the-club odes is “Trooper”, a virtual case-study in precision noise terrorism. Perhaps I am listening to this song through the ears as ardent noise fan, but I can’t help but recognize the unrelenting, tribal drumming of HEALTH or the Black Dice cleverly disguised in this track. Around 2:15 the drumming gets much more distorted and the noise-comparisons become more apparent. A really fantastic and unexpected move.

When Boys Noize makes stylistic moves, they are big moves. From classic minimalism of “Streetlights” to the micro-house groove of “Nerve”; whenever Ridha goes in he goes big. The result is a stunning Techno/Electronica album that stands up with some of the best cuts of Daft Punk, Crystal Method, Justice or 2009’s surprise success of Gold Panda. Expect this to be pounding from LA to Ibiza for years to come. If you can’t make it to the Balearic Islands this year, you can put on Power and pretend you are there. B.Y.O glowsticks.

Ryan H.

Download Rozz Box

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Taken By Trees

East of Eden (08.09, Rough Trade)

For: Hanne Hukkelberg, Panda Bear, Paul Simon's Graceland

Byline: Concrete's front-woman takes a Hajj to Pakistan, comes back with 2009's most evocative and addictive album.

I have a pretty high-tolerance for things that could feasibly be played in a New Age Bookstore (my very first tape I ever bought was Enigma's "Return to Innocence"). Classic guitars, Gamelans, Didgeridoos, Indigenous flutes, Chimes, Crystals - none of this stuff really bothers me when it is put in a familiar context. I fall every time for albums by Stag Hare and Niagara Falls; if you cringe at the thought of a pan-spiritual pilgrimage to a third-world country by a Swedish musician known for unleashing "Young Folks" on the world, you would still probably dig East of Eden. Keep in mind, this isn't some dude with a ponytail aping some long dead musical tradition. This was recorded in Pakistan with traditional Qawwali musicians accompanying Victoria Bergsman through a sparkling Swedish avante-garde/Qawwali cultural exchange. I don't know which approach is more disingenuous. But Taken By Trees, whether it is authentic, ethical or whatever, is pure addictive ear candy and one of the most evocative releases of 2009.

"To Lose Someone" starts off the album with a full-throated Nick Cave like tale of loss, regret and suspected foul play. Before we can be bogged down by the subject matter a clamor of piping woodwinds, a sexy classical guitar line, and vocal accompaniment from late Qawwali legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan give the track an all access visa to a cosmopolitan village market. "Oh Anna" is interspersed with field recordings and a warm cooing chorus courtesy of fellow world-traveler Noah Lennox of Animal Collective/Panda Bear. "Watch the Waves" and "Grayest Love of All" benefit greatly by Bergsman's seemingly awestruck admiration of the Qawwali tradition. she does not try to mimic the vocal patterns or attempt to play the sitar, or anything that the west has been guilty of. Instead she brings her warm-bath vocal purr to the table and lets the musicians around her amaze her. In fact, this is the greatest strength of the album is that in all of this Bergsman remains a tourist. She keeps the collaborations at arms length, both contributing and sitting back and letting the compositions move her. This feeling of admiration explains the albums only misstep, "Wapas Karna", a field recording of a Qawwali singer that feels out of place on an album of dialectic exchange.

Indie-primitvism and responsible parenting a given a spiritual head-nod to Noah Lennox by Bergsman's stripped down cover of "My Girls", titled "My Boys". Somehow Taken By Tree's version seems truer to the songs spiritual core with its pan flutes, Xylophones and plucked classical guitars. The album ends on a meditative drone that reminds the listener, if you aren't in a deep meditative trance and haven't conversed with the Almighty, right about now would be a good time.

Ryan H.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I Like Where I Live

Coordinates EP (04.09, Slow Receiver)

For: M83, Trembling Blue Stars, 0=0

Byline: Introspective, shoegazey electro-pop from Glasgow.

If something was really, really awesome do you think it would be given away as free? Capitalism doesn't have a word or a place for things of really high quality being given away as free. If something is free it is labeled "complimentary" and usually involves plastic and overseas slave labor. Luckily the internet and a young Scot calling himself I Like Where I Live have leveled the playing field, putting out a downright charming EP for 100% gratis. I Like Where I Live play the same kind of upbeat M83 style shoegaze synths with a driving electronic back beat but filtered through the UV killing Scottish fog. Scottish Mope-Core has a way of turning a four-on-the-floor pop song into a floor-gazing, introspective act of cathartic release. Like knowing the world is at large is a pretty depressing place but dancing through unchanneled angst. "At Sea with the Microcat" has the type of unabashed sincerity and longing that could only express itself within the format of a dance track. Masking such personal feelings in the communal act of the dancy electro-pop song lets the introspective lyrics outside of the standard "kid-with-a-guitar-and-a-bunch-of-sad-songs" trope. The result are beautiful, aspiring and ultimately beautiful colleciton of songs that reach way beyond anything that we at the Tome expected.

Ryan H.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Peter Broderick: 2009 Round up

4 Track Songs/Music For Falling From Trees (Type Records/Erased Tapes, Western Vinyl)

For: Max Richter, Johann Johansson, Early Iron & Wine

Byline: Two incredibly beautiful instrumental and vocal pieces from the prolific Northwestern-via-Denmark composer.

2009 saw two criminally overlooked classics from the young multi-instrumentalist Peter Broderick. The prolific musician put out two stellar records of neo-classical and lo-fi songs, became a touring member of the Danish outfit Efterklang, moved to Denmark and is putting out a release with TOME fav. Machinefabriek later this year.

4 Track Songs - I kind of go crazy over things like this. I love the idea of self-prescribed limitations within recordings like TuNe-YaRdS n0-fi recording or Angil/Hiddntracks Oulipo like refusal to use the letter "E" in writing their album. Originally released in 2006 the story goes like this. Peter Broderick wanted to make an album exclusively using the range of the 4-track recording machine. To make this album he mandated that each track on the recording machine must be utilized by some sort of instrument. This should be a home-run for someone who loops at least 4 instruments on every live song right? The limitation, for Peter, is not in having to find a place to put that 3rd or 4th instrument over a simple guitar line. The limitation is not putting the 5th or 6th instrumental flourish in to accompany the track. The results are beautiful string, piano, banjo and guitar arrangements stripped down to the bare essentials and recorded with all the fuzzy warmth of analog tape. The songs sound purposefully minimal and simple, the sort of fragile beauty perfect for accompaniment on fall drives and reading in parks. His song-writing chops (which are featured prominently on his 2008 stunner "Home") are very much on display here, especially in songs like "The Cold" which has the same minimal quality as some of the best songs on "Home". His initial idea was to release this album for free on his myspace page. If you e mailed him he would send it to you free of charge. Unfortunately that didn't work out, no one really bought it. Now, since it has been picked up and distributed by Type records people are seeking this album out for purchase. Weird. But it is easy to see why.

Songs For Falling From Trees - SFFFT is a collection of songs written for a contemporary dance piece by Adrienne Hart. The piece narrates what Hart describes as, "the piece is set in a psychiatric hospital and centered around one man's struggle to retain his identity in the most extreme of circumstances." Peter scored this piece after retreating to a barn loft for a few weeks and produced one of the most beautiful piano/string pieces I have heard all year. The retroactively written piece has a narrative quality that is beautiful in parts and quite intense in others. It is amazing that this album can pull so much emotion and narrative flow out of a play that he scored sight unseen . This stuff really fascinates me, the impetus of an idea or a theme and a musician retreating for a few weeks with a few instruments in a barn and recording something that is debuted in concert halls in London and abroad. It makes overproduced production and lengthy recording sessions in Hawaii or some tropical locale seem like a joke. Without ever seeing the piece the album stands alone as a delightful and solemn listening experience.

Classical music in 2009 has been brought down from it's lofty place among concert halls and dusty corners of the library into it's rightful place among listeners who want to connect with something on a purely emotional and intellectual level. Composers like Peter Broderick are forging a new path that takes classical music out of it's perceived irrelevancy and back into the hands of young musicians willing to move beyond the tag of instrumental music as "classical" into something more amorphous and exciting. A live show by Peter Broderick is not to be missed.

Ryan H.