Candy Cigarette (04.09, Fake Four/Circle Into Square)
Friday, October 30, 2009
Candy Cigarette (04.09, Fake Four/Circle Into Square)
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Embryonic (10.09, Warner Bros.)
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 www.inyourspeakers.com. 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.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
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.
Monday, October 26, 2009
By The Throat (10.09, Bedroom Communities)
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.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Bonfires on the Heath (Merge, 2009)
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, not...er...fall 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.
Exploding Head (10.09, Mute)
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
The Other Truths (Constellations, 10.09)
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.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Matador (Fake Chapter, 11.09)
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Silver Antlers/Seven Feathers Rainwater Split EP (Moondial, 09.09)
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Rio Ranger EP (10.09, Quite Scientific)
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 www.inyourspeakers.com. 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 clichés 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.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
New Leaves (10.09, Polyvinyl Records)
Two Sunsets (Domino, 10.09)
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.
Monday, October 12, 2009
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?
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Power (10.09, Boys Noize)
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.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
East of Eden (08.09, Rough Trade)
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Coordinates EP (04.09, Slow Receiver)
Monday, October 5, 2009
4 Track Songs/Music For Falling From Trees (Type Records/Erased Tapes, Western Vinyl)