Friday, January 29, 2010

Four Tet

There Is Love In You (Domino, 01.2010)

For: Fridge, Manuel Gottshing, Gas

Byline: Like the greatest of virtuosos, Kieren Hebden has proven himself a true genius of the medium, manipulating and representing these trajectories in a beautifully precise way that translates as both a prodigious mastery of craft, and real honest-to-god emotional depth. Originally posted on Used by permission by In Your Speakers, LLC.

If Kieren Hebden’s Four Tet project were a color model, it would have to be RGB. The reasons are simple - RGB is the additive color model. Red, Green and Blue light are superimposed on top of one another, and when mixed in varying degrees combine to form a vast array of colors, culminating in pure white. This is opposed to a model like CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and blacK) which is subtractive, starting with white and subtracting wavelengths to reveal color, culminating in pure black. RGB is commonly used in electronic media (hint, hint) like television and computer screens, while CMYK is more often found in print media using inks and pigments. For Hebden, the musical medium itself seems to be more like a screen than a sheet of paper - the black void of silence is the canvas upon which the combination of an assortment basic colors (synths, drums, bass, etc.) formulate a sweeping diversity of color (sound).

It may be a stretch of an analogy, but given the fact that the cover of Four Tet’s fantastic new record, There is Love in You, features small circles with Photoshop screenshots, grayscales, and RGB color wheels, filtering through them images of flowers and fabrics, I think it is fitting. Each track on the album begins with a blank canvas, a black void of silence, and slowly filters colorful textures one by one to create vast spectral expanses of sounds and moods. Instead of using complex or bloated chord changes, Hebden opts for methods practiced by composers like Manuel Göttshing, Wolfgang Voigt or Steve Reich with unchanging harmonic centers, using texture and volume to reveal the limitless potential the sonic spectrum contains within. Each element functions as an additive color - a guitar loop, melodic wind chimes, a toy piano, harp, synth wash or vocal sample - all carefully timed and systematically layered over a hypnotically grounded groove to wield beautifully fluctuating painted works of art. Tracks ebb and flow like the tide, building layers into swirling, controlled crescendos that are allowed to ride along with the current. Whether you’re on the dance floor or curled up in some blankets for a snooze, you’ll be gently swept away.

By a long shot, There is Love in You is Four Tet’s strongest, most consistently rewarding release to date, and there are a couple of key differences in Hebden’s approach that set it apart. First has already been touched upon - the groove. The beats are much less rooted in hip hop and are geared more towards the dance floor. Everyone’s familiar with the age old axiom of “less is more.” Four Tet seems to have really taken this to heart on the new record. Previous ‘Tet records have had the drums front and center, whether they were the hip down-tempo beats of Rounds or the vibrant, aggressive blasts of Everything Ecstatic, syncopation was always the key, and it certainly unlocked the door to some very funky moments. But switching to a largely four-on-the-floor base was a marvelous decision on Hebden’s part, as these foundations provide a much broader, more open forum upon which Hebden has been able to really stretch his legs.

These wider landscapes have also allowed for Hebden to display his mastery of subtlety, keeping the beats simple and tenderizing them gently with micro-fills in the snare or layered hi-hat patterns to keep things interesting. Standout track “Plastic People” starts with a Gas-like steady bass drum pulse and adds understated, jazzy comps - hand claps, rim knocks, and up-beat pulsing shakers. These elements are methodically added to, and subtracted from the beat, maintaining a forward motion in a way that’s hardly noticeable but endlessly preservative of the track’s substructure.

The other key difference is in Hebden’s use of vocals, a technique I’d not yet heard from any previous Four Tet outing, and which works wonders for the project’s overall aesthetic. Hebden uses vocals here like any other instrument or sample on the record. The medium of electronic music is inherently audible throughout these samples - melodies are fractured, cut up, re-arranged, looped - in a word, constructed. Vocals are thus simply another weapon in Four Tet’s vast arsenal of sonic elements, treating them as percussive and melodic instruments rather than mere vehicles for lyrics. The voices provide another function here as well by giving these tunes a certain amount of soul. Look no further than lead single, “Love Cry,” for an example. The samples here, however devised or artificially conceived, are delivered with some seriously convincing passion, sexualizing and intensifying the track’s rhythm, faintly recalling the sweaty stomp of Chicago house.

Whether it’s the lulling repetition of gorgeous harmonics, the lush, densely constructed textures, the entrancing vocals or the bewitching beats, There is Love in You is positively addicting. Stripping down has simultaneously beefed up Four Tet’s mastery of beauty, and it is the more focused attention to sheer sonic detail that does the trick. No matter how electronic Four Tet’s music is, there has always been an innate sense of naturalism within his work, and There is Love in You highlights this sensibility more than any other Four Tet record before it. The sound wave itself, not unlike a guitar string, drum head, piano key or vocal cord, is a tangible, natural element of the physical world. It is Four Tet’s instrument, and just like the greatest of virtuosos, Kieren Hebden has proven himself a true genius of the medium, manipulating and representing these trajectories in a beautifully precise way that translates as both a prodigious mastery of craft, and real honest-to-god emotional depth.

Craw'z 1/28/2010

Four Tet Myspace

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hot Congress Compilation 1

Hot Congress Compilation 1 (Hot Congress, 2009)

For: See Below

Byline: NOTE. This is not an endorsement for Scott Brown and his chiseled features.

I feel a little guilty about sitting on this for so long. I feel guilty because this is a totally amazing compilation and the good folks at Hot Congress are practically giving it away. Scratch that, they are giving it away! Hot Congress, while cool as an idea works even better in its execution. A group of friends living in Denver, playing in bands, working day jobs, trying to make ends meet say: screw it! we are doing it ourselves! Crawford, Tome's boy-wonder, is an integral factor in this collective, both as a founding member and as a player in the Vitamins, a band featured on the comp. Hot Congress is a collective in the truest sense of the word. A non-profit enterprise in which everyone works together to book shows, throw cd release parties, rep each other at any chance and contribute from recording to performing. Hot Congress can also be seen as a musical statement, like No New York in the late seventies, of what is happening in Denver in 2009. Although a certain aesthetic does not prevail, each band could not have reached the level of success that they have found in Denver without a little help from their friends. Or, they probably could. Every track on this comp. is solid. I will write a few sentences about each band featured. But before you go any further, download it here!

Achille Lauro "Cardboard Divas": It doesn't hurt that this bands lead singer sounds like a mix between DM Stith and Yoni Wolf. The one-two punch of the buried organ and staccato guitars are absolutely leveling.

Kissing Party "I Just Want to Get Out of This Body": Rivaling SLC's Sleepover for cutest band name ever, Kissing Party marry the adorable twee sensibilities of the aforementioned twee revivalists and a strong Shoegaze sheen over the guitar and vocals.

Lil Slugger "There's No Id in This City": Whoa, I went to high school with these guys. I was in drummer Justin Couch's first band, and we were called Ill Dorado, and we were as awesome as the band name. Apparently there is a life after high school english project bands. Unhinged squalls of noise brim over mind-tangling time signature changes and start-stop song dynamics. Lil Slugger take cues from some of art rock's most important and enduring weirdos to churn out some impressive noise-pop gems.

Vitamins "Sequined Dress": Definitely the best cut from their 2009 EP "Songs For Stems Cells". Lizzy Allen's ethereal voice floats deftly over a massive back beat (that bass line will destroy you) and swooning guitar neck bending.

Action Packed Thrill Ride "In This River": The opening guitar line sounds like it could be the lead in to a Phil Spector doo-wop mini-orchestra. Instead APTR's own skewed pop sensibilities take this line and turn it into a quasi-ballad, quasi down-tempo indie rock slowburner. Delight.

The Jim Jims "Horny": The name says it all right? Dear Vile Blue Shades, you have some new tourmates and best friends. That synth line straight kills me every time.

The Pseudo Dates: "Songbirds": A woozy slice of blissed out dream pop that gathers steam until its ultimately triumphant release towards the end of the track.

Breakfastes "Ageless": Far and away my favorite track on the compilation. The twin guitar attack and soaring male-female vocals inadvertently throw my fist into the dash of my car as I pound out the massive noise breakdowns to the rolling eyes of my wife.

Ken Arkind "Maggie": An interesting move here. A spoken word track. Interestingly, a spoken word track that doesn't suck. "Maggie" is a hilarious/sad/accusatory/ultimately redeeming poem of a young man's torrid love affair with the City of Angels. I'm talking L.A. Concrete jungle where dreams are made of.

Action Friend: "Aren't You Scrumptious?" Is that a question? Threat? Either way the uncontained noise freakouts that punctuate an otherwise swinging post-jazz, Thrill Jockey-esque instrumental track, are bite-sized morsels of saccharine sweet noise candy. Man, I can really run a food analogy into the ground.

Fissure Mystic: "Young Psychedelic Flowers" A darkly psychedelic tribute to sixties flower child aesthetic filtered through the noise attacks of Sonic Youth. "Peel all your psychedelic skin off" that line will stick with me for years.

Ryan H.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Beach House

Teen Dream (01.2010, Sub Pop)

For: Mazzy Star, Fleetwood Mac, Grizzly Bear

Byline: Witness the rise of indie rock’s newest leading lady. Victoria Legrand, meet indie rock stardom. Indie rock stardom, Victoria Legrand. Lush dream-pop and a surprising turn towards volume on the Baltimore duo's third album. Originally published on Used by permission by In Your Speakers, LLC.

What marks Teen Dream as a truly great record is the sea change from 2008’s masterpiece sophomore album Devotion. While the core framework of Alex Scalley’s meandering guitar lines, Victoria Legrand’s slinking organ lines and breathy, late-night croon remain; a full transfusion of life-blood has been performed. All ten tracks are immediately gripping and attention demanding, Teen Dream doesn’t live in your CD player like Devotion did. What was immediately reassuring, comforting and familiar about that album soon became ubiquitous in my life. I had that sucker on wherever and whenever, to the point that I forgot I was listening to it. Teen Dream has no interest in letting that happen. From the album's first breath, Beach House has moved past the easy dream-pop qualifiers and into deeper, more mysterious territory.

Victoria Legrand’s voice has matured from being a key component to Beach House’s lush, sonic palette to its driving agent. Moving beyond the seemingly obvious Hope Sandoval comparisons, Legrands’s voice has taken on a sultry, soulful quality. Her velvet-draped coo is still present, but when it is time to bring the emotional point home, she bellows as if possessed by the spirit of Dinah Washington. This sister’s got soul. Following the suit of his musical partner’s renewed vigor, Alex Scalley’s guitar work has become more fuzzed out, more omnipresent and far more muscular. Formerly content with following Legrand’s dime-store organ, Scalley’s guitar work of major chord riffing and shoegaze tendencies now wrap the compositions neatly together in a down blanket of aural warmness that carries each song determinedly towards a newfound compositional clarity. Teen Dream doesn’t misstep once, each arrangements is airtight and completely lucid.

“Zebra” opens the album with a driving plucked guitar line before Scalley and Legrand float in with a delicious vocal harmony. It is breathtaking the way Victoria broods over that first syllable of “You Know You’re Gold,” holding it just long enough to deliver a wink and a nod to songstresses of old. She repeats this through the line “Oasis child/born so wild.” Joni Mitchell, Grace Slick, and Caithlin De Marrais have walked this path before, pouring themselves into a single note or bearing their souls in such a way to put extra emphasis on a vowel. More than a tribute to rocks sisters in arms, Teen Dream exudes the compositional confidence of a band well in its stride. “Silver Soul” features Scalley’s discovery of the reverb pedal on his chugging rhythm guitar line and diving, mournful lead guitar. Scalley’s guitar work comes close to stealing the show on a few tracks.

Compared to the subdued Devotion there are some downright rockin' moments conjured up between them. The cymbal crashes and rushes of distortion on “Walk in the Park” and “10 Mile Stereo” (the album's best track) accompany Legrand’s powerful voice. Her enunciation when she bellows “They carry us on/forever” creates a powerful, declarative punctuation on an even more powerful record. “10 Mile Stereo” boasts some of the album's most transcendental tremolo picked guitar lines that lead bands like Mono and Mogwai to cathartic heights. This virtuosity is displayed again on “Walk In the Park” where Scalley and Legrand push each other into rushes of emotional release.

I am bringing a lot of attention to the noisier aspects of the new Beach House album because they stand out from their previous work. With that said, even at their loudest moments, Beach House arrangements are more lush and full then earsplitting or cacophonous. In fact they are largely just more emotionally expressive. Beach House can still play intricately-orchestrated dream pop like it's 2007. The two singles “Used to Be” and “Norway” are clear examples. Both songs have breathtaking flourishes that require incredible attention to detail. Legrand’s breathy Erin Ferin-like vocals are matched with pitch shifted organ lines that dip in time with Scalley’s winding guitar lines that droop to meet her husky lilt. The chorus is built on that same interplay between the atmospheric guitar work and the percussion-like vocal lines. “Used to Be” is the most organ/piano-centered arrangement, boasting both a galloping drum pattern and sing-song melody that both follows and sometimes leads the upright piano.

Teen Dream may be one of the most hotly anticipated albums of 2010; with the duo’s move to Sub-Pop Records, their ties to the incredibly prolific Baltimore music scene, and the notice given to them from the likes of Grizzly Bear and Julian Casablancas. 2009 was a year of hyped-to-the-hilt albums, delivering on all fronts, and with Beach House’s new work, it looks like 2010 is off to a great start.

Ryan H.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The American Dollar

Atlas (Yesh, 01.2010)

For: This Will Destroy You, Lymbyc Systym, Arms & Sleepers

Byline: Glowing electonic ballads lead post-rock and shoegaze into its most logical and terrifying qualifier driven sub-sub genre. Post-post-rock.

I would start off this review by cracking a joke about the strength of the American Dollar, but that would require referring to Atlas as weak and failing on the global market. (Insert rimshot sound here). Atlas is the American Dollar under the Clinton administration. The American Dollar have produced a stunningly gorgeous record. Skirting the lines somewhere between the crescendo-driven excesses of post-rock, the aural sheen of shoegaze, and the skittering electronics and ascending/descending piano lines of bands like The Album Leaf and tourmates Arms and Sleepers. The American Dollar force the moments of brooding soundscapes, stirring washes of synths, and the straight-for-the-throat, Top Gun Anthem soaring guitar heroics into three-half minute chunks of pure headphone noise candy. Before passing The American Dollar off as one of those electronic bands that use electric guitars for that emotional punch-in-the-face crescendo that post-rock sells all for, tracks like "red letter" make me wonder why I even applied that post-rock tag to begin with. The song is constructed around downright "wobbly" dubstep tempo before layering some serious Vangelis like synth bombs on top and masticated guitars that are chewed up and spit out the other end of a sequencer. What do we call this, "dub-gaze"? Regardless, The American Dollar has ventured into waters only swimmable by a few bands who can marry electronics and shoegaze guitars without sounding contrived. M83, you have laid a wonderful, treacherous pathway.

Ryan H.


H.A.G.S. EP (Self-Released, 02.2010)

For: Beirut, Dark, Dark, Dark, A Hawk and a Hacksaw

Byline: Bramble Had A Great Summer. 6 fully realized songs birthed on a bike tour and remembered and sung on chilly winter nights.

Please Note: This is obviously not the record cover. But a Lisa Frank binder drawing, as art for their upcoming EP becomes available, I will replace this picture. Sadly.

There is something inherently comforting knowing that no matter how bleak our prospects look there are kids somewhere riding their bikes down the coast from Seattle to L.A singing songs about summer, surf, and sand. That as bad as things get there will be somebody willing to flip off despair and sing love songs at the top of their lungs as they cruise naked down a California highway. Nomadically minded SLC stalwarts James Miska and Chaz Prymek have collaborated to create an album that spills over with youthful exuberance and unchecked enthusiasm. What started as diversionary side project on their 2009 bike tour from Seattle to California has turned into a collaborative-four piece with instruments including, but not limited to, guitar, banjo, charanga, accordion, and various pieces of percussion. The collaborative nature of this album has produced some exciting results, in fact, H.A.G.S. sounds nothing like a Chaz Prymek or James Miska album, although the first 30 seconds of Chaz's signature acoustic guitar on "Fruit of the Moon" may fool you. Bramble incorporates the barely-held-together looseness of an Eastern European busking family band, the subversive positivism of an anarcho-folk-punk band, and the swelling a cappella choruses of a campfire sing-along. The first swell of voices on "Colors" sends a chill up my spine on every listen. Probably the most ambitious busking band in the world, H.A.G.S. is meticulously recorded with the fidelity never getting in the way of capturing every nuance of James Miska's heavenly voice or the group counterpoint shouts, whoops, and hollers. Like Zach Condon's latest indigenous exploration of native music in Oxaca, Mexico, Bramble weave in the ramshackle harmonies of the Eastern Bloc with a driving (salsa, meringue, raggeton?) beat that pulses with the collective energy of four musicians saying F U to a rapidly deflating sense of optimism in this country. I am probably a better person for listening to this album.

Ryan H.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Geidi Primes (Arbutus Records, 2009)

For: Broadcast, Cocteau Twins, tUnE-yArDs

Byline: Genre-mixing, continent-hopping, underworld-spelunking tunes that gel an impressive range of instrumentation and styles into something that embraces, yet stands reactionary to the wonderful world of pop.

Claire Boucher’s press release to the TOME self-describes her music thusly: “I make weird pop music under the name Grimes.”

So... there’s just not a lot to go on here at first glance. But from the opening moments of her daring new record (released by Montreal’s Arbutus Records via cassette tape), if anything this assertion is a grossly modest understatement. Geidi Primes is about the weirdest of weird I might be willing to lump in with something anyone might even remotely consider to be “pop music.” Ukelele patterns, spooky multi-tracked vocals, gently rolling keyboard delays, funky drum beats and nervous percussion flood the headphones in a dizzying way that manages a calming composure throughout. The real draw here is especially the vocals, which display a fantastic versatility ranging from a vibrato-less, apathetic quality that reminds me of Broadcast, to soaring falsetto accompaniments recalling the Cocteau TwinsElizabeth Frazer, always employing a mastery of melodies that at times border on heartbreaking and at others find themselves in the realm of Asian, melodic minor modes.

I guess if I’d have to place this in a “now” context, Grimes follows suit with what tUnE-yArDs accomplished last year in that one-woman-band-makes-booties-shake sort of way. But Boucher’s style is decidedly different and unique in that these songs are a.) much more reserved, and b.) have a twisted, darkly gothic attitude in them. A lot of this stuff feels very 80s-Cure style, with simple pop grooves and flattened synth foundations mixed with 808-clapped backbeats and hip hop bass. “I don’t want to break your heart in the dark,” Boucher sings on “Feyd Raucha Dark Heart,” embracing the haunted ghost that love can so often be. Fav track: “Grisgirs.” It’s got a beat that just won’t quit, hypnotically pounding like the tell-tale heart beneath a wooden floor of a piano hook and soft, contemplative singing. Overall, this shouldn't work - there's a blend of contrasting styles, instrumentation (from electric guitars to accordions and back again), and emotions that just seem counterintuitive to one another. The amazing thing is that it does work. Marvelously. Give this gal a few years to hone her skills, tighten up the song structures and stretch her legs, and you're looking at a potentially massive career in creativity.

A side note - “Rosa,” which sounds like an obvious pick for first single off this collection, only plays through half the track! Read: Dear Grimes, plz resend.


--Craw’z 1/20/2010

Free Download of Geidi Primes

Grimes Official MySpace

Arbutus Records

**Note - Arbutus Records has since re-uploaded the free digital copy of Geidi Primes! The link above is associated with this new download. Hooray!! Thank you to Grimes and Arbutus Records!!!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lindstrøm & Christabelle

Real Life is No Cool (Smalltown Supersound, 2010)

For: Michael Jackson, Michael Jackson, Michael Jackson, Gorgio Morodor, Michael Jackson

Byline: Lidstrøm’s latest collaboration is a delightful fusion of his space-disco grooves with tight pop-song structures. Both a thoughtful reminder of Michael Jackson’s finer moments and an exciting glimpse into the future of the pop song as we know it. Originally published on Used by permission from In Your Speakers, LLC.

2009 trivia time! What famous pop star died in 2009? If you it took you more than .0002 seconds to answer, you probably shouldn’t be reading this article. Actually, you’re probably not even alive. Healthcare, Afganastan, the crumbling economy and subsequent recession... sorry, but 2009 will not be remembered for these things. So, excuse me if I mention the king of pop about a dozen times throughout the course of this review, but sliding in at tail end of the year, Lindstrøm & Christabelle have produced the most fitting tribute to Michael Jackson’s best work I can think of. For a man who sadly made himself most famous many years, slip-ups, scandals, and embarrassments after his fabled hey-day, L & C seemed focused on the true gifts Jackson gave to his fans and the music world at large: that of ass-shakin’, toe-tappin, fun-lovin’, and truly brilliant songsmanship.

One thing I think a lot of people have seem to forget about the best work Jackson produced: he didn’t produce it. Quincy Jones did. Now, there’s no questioning that the songwriting and delivery of Thriller is still without parallel (and shall remain so for quite some time). But it’s absolutely crucial to remember that without Jones’ skillful arranging of the various parts and pieces that make up the epic symphonies of pop Jackson sang over, the album simply could never have held it’s own weight. Jones found a way to balance Jackson’s charismatic bravado by firing back on all cylinders with blasting horns, tight rhythm sections, and exuberant, brilliant layers of sonorous texture.

It’s in this spirit of the fully-formed, lush dance tune that Lindstrøm takes his cue, filtering this sensibility through a truly 2009 vibe (if not forward-thinking, or even futuristically ahead of its time), and in doing so, by pairing with a highly skilled vocalist in Christabelle, he has succeeded in the crafting of 2009’s finest pop album (this record was released in Europe December of last year, stateside this month)... even though it’s not exactly pop. And the most impressive thing about Lindstrøm’s effort here is that, unlike Jones, he doesn’t have the benefit of a studio’s worth of equipment, and an industry’s worth of musicians at his disposal. Real Life is No Cool ends a year shrouded in the loss of pop music’s most-tragic of stars by paying tribute to not the man, but the music behind the man, and the real reason Michael Jackson was so great.

But Real Life is No Cool is an interesting, if not somehow puzzling career move for Lindstrøm, who made perhaps his biggest splash to date with last year’s brilliant Where You Go I Go Too - a magnum-opus of space disco meanderings, three sprawling tracks totaling almost an hours worth of unstoppable dance beats and hypnotically breathing (even psychedelic) textures. It’s arguable that Lindstrøm thrives best in these more open modes (the pop song is admittedly a quite “closed” form in and of itself), and what’s important here is that he doesn’t lose complete sight of his signature sound with Christabelle by his side. “Looking for What,” opens the album with Christabelle’s voice seismically splashing like waves against a coast of nothingness, all backwards and doubled, and looped. It’s a full minute before she finally makes some intelligible sense as the beat slowly solidifies into that classic Morodor pulse. “What should we do? Should we start?” She repeats as if the two are treading on somewhat unfamiliar ground. The song lasts a full six minutes, which is a healthy-dose for anything with the “pop” tag on it, yet it’s uniquely relatable in the pop forum.

The song ends with a ramschackle of sampled ideas, as if the duo truly is searching for that quintessential “what,” before finding it, sliding quickly into the stomping-raver “Lovesick.” It’s an immensely satisfying track with a throbbing forward motion, yet relaxed and sloooooowly lurching beat. A word of caution: watch your head on this one. By no fault of your own, you may find it slamming uncontrollably into the nearest solid object directly in front of you (try not to listen to it in front of, say, a brick wall). Christabelle is at her flirtiest, most luscious, absolute sexiest on this cut, snuggling her whisper right up against your ear - a tantalizing siren’s call to the dance floor.

If the ghost of Thriller haunts any one particular track, it’s “Baby Can’t Stop.” It’s got a stretchy bass line and some supremely tight horn hits that hammer down a hook so sharp it’s guaranteed to make Peter Pan pee his pants. Lindstrøm’s never had a track quite like it, dead solid proof that he, however near-perfect in the space-disco format, can throw down in the radio, club-ready ring with some serious authority.

Overall, Christabelle - while solid - is not the album’s true draw, as Lindstrøm kind of over-shines the vocals throughout the album. He sounds great with a vocalist, but this still feels more like a Lindstrøm album than it does a collaboration, especially when he recycles an old single, 2003’s “Music In My Mind,” which originally appeared on the It’s a Feedelity Affair singles collection, and reappears here as a new mix with the Christabelle’s vocals included, which seems almost like an afterthought.

Though 2009 may go down in history with the stain of tragedy painted across the old man’s sash (out with the old...), the cold and final chapter of December has brought the warmth of a fun, sweaty night’s out to the club with Real Life is No Cool. It’s a record to to listen to and remember why we love to dance, and stands tall and strong among the Gwen Stafani’s of our generation, who seem to toss dance music’s more important innovators in the waste basket. Lindstrøm’s take on the style is simultaneously old and new, as though looking back in time has opened a wonderful and exciting new door. With each subsequent release, Lindstrøm has miraculously improved and is ever-closer to making leaving his mark permanently stamped in the history books.

--Craw'z 1/19/2010

Lindstrøm Official Website (via Feedelity)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Shark Attack!! Surfer Blood

Astro Coast (Kanine, 2010)

Was I misquoted? I guess I did say Astro Coast was one of the best releases of 2010 so far. What date is it today? Oh - Jan. 15th you say? So far, iTunes is telling me that I’ve collected 14 albums with release dates that fall within this 12-month block we find ourselves in currently, and two of those are re-issues. And yes, this is one of the brightest of this tiny bunch (to put it in perspective, I collected well over 200 for 2009, and I fully expect that number to be superseded this year) - so maybe that isn’t saying a lot.

Here’s what I hear in the youthful, excited and triumphant debut from these Palm Beach alterna-rockers. I hear the power-punch of Blue Album era Weezer, and I hear the melodic tunefulness of the Shins, and I hear the shimmery, reverb/echoed textures of Real Estate. It’s all mished and mashed together into bite-sized (shark-bite sized? Sometimes - dig the 6 min. plus “Slow Jabroni”) chunks of meaty, muscly pop songs. But these muscly pop songs at times have the added edge of a tropical flavoring - soca patterns (from Trinidad) in the drums, light syncopation in the guitar lines - that add a sense of delight to the woes of teenage lovelorn seclusion, of which this style is predictably reminiscent. Ryan’s right to call “Swim” the album’s best track, but he’s wrong when he forgets numbers like “Harmonix” and “Fast/Slow Jabroni,” tracks that display a band that exhibits refreshing confidence. This is indeed a young band, but it’s a young band fully buying into its style, aware of precisely what it’s ripping off and when, and exploiting these borrowed moments to their full extensions to create a sound that I, for one, can totally get behind.

Here’s where things go South: tracks like closer “Catholic Pagans” almost borrow a bit much. The chord progression seems stale on the first listen, as if we’ve all heard it a thousand times before (and we have). Thus, for a debut, though Surfer Blood crafts a strong, confident album with Astro Coast, there’s a sense that the group could go one of two directions - into simple, easy power-pop stardom, or develop and diversify their skills into something critics may hope to call challenging.

Craw'z (01/15/2010)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Battle Royale: Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood dropped their debut album Astro Coast on tuesday to a salivating public who was introduced to this young band via their incredible single "Swim (to reach the end)". The release saw something very interesting happen here on the TOME, Ryan and Crawford ended up disagreeing (!) on the worth of this album. This rarely happens so we thought we would mark the occasion by a good old fashioned grudge match. Crawford says its one of the best releases so far this year, Ryan says, "meh". Ryan's slovenly argument is presented below. Stick around for Crawford's rejoinder tomorrow. Like this scary shark cover Surfer Blood is severing limbs and once unanimous musical enthusiasm for releases.

Surfer Blood comes to us dressed in a similar package that Girls did last year. A band with an absolutely killer single and cool back story (although waaay less crazy than Girls) in the year previous drops their long awaited debut albums with tunes with nostalgia turned to 11. By now you know the story, freshmen dorm-mates at University of Florida record album in their room, the appropriate hype machines take notice, release single, we salivate over debut. Now debut drops and I apologize, I really do, I just can’t get behind this young band. Although Crawford disagrees sincerely, I can’t help but notice the distinct Vampire Weekend influence. And I am not saying that Vampire Weekend is the worst band in the world, but the whole precious poly-rhythm afro-pop thing, when is that going to run its course? I can’t even really get into the whole Nineties alternative rock tag without getting caught up on the staccato guitar playing and start-stop time changes that comes close to near Talking Heads worship. I mean they use a pan-flute for goodness sakes! The albums saving grace is “Swim (to reach the end)”, where is that raw aggression and super-awesome reverby vocals on that anthemic chorus on the rest of the album? Instead we are left with vapid tales of lust and David Lynch on the cowbell heavy “Twin Peaks”, the uninspired “Anchorage”, and the carbon copy VW stylings on “Take It Easy”. All I can say is that I am glad this wasn’t recorded two years ago or it would be covered beneath a grating sheen of distortion instead of the relatively clean recording we get here. They say youth is wasted on the young, so it will be very interesting to see where these rag-tag group of non-surfers take their music in the coming years. I will be all ears.

Ryan H.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Lars Ludvig Löfgren

Heterochromia (Häleri, Re-issue 01.10)

For: Francois Virot, Shout Out Louds, The Kinks

Byline: Sunny, fuzzed out pop from Sweden. Stor!

You have to hand it to those Scandinavians, they are still trying. While American slacker-jangle-pop Kinks throwback bands have stopped trying to actually sound like they care about playing their instruments, burying subtle moves under wavves of static and for-the-jugular choruses, Swede Lars Ludvig Lofgren's lo-fi British-Invasion inspired pop-ramblers still sound like he still gives a cuss about actually making music. Running against the grain of his Scandinavian Classic rock revivalist peers, who carry the torch music would be if rock music actually sustained the exploration-based Blues of Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. Dungen a logical step anyone? Instead of following that vein of classic rock Lofgren has decided to wander down the alley of Beatle-esque melodies and Kinks style drum-tight songwriting and arrangements filtered through the Lo-fi slacker pop of the late 00's.

This chosen aesthetic works decidedly well for his nasally, Francois Virot-like (minus that crazy-awesome whine that he does) vocals that recall fondly the brashness and those lovable British Invasion bands whose vocals were barely contained in the raucous sound of tinny guitars and shorting out amps. Heterochormia is relatively polite, however, sounding downright sunny at times, a perfect antidote for waiting for the bus in a glary, sub-zero winter day. "Opportunity Knocks" has the catchiest melody on the album, plus some killer descending chord guitar work on the chorus and a heart-warming guitar solo. "Across Your House" while thankfully never turning into those faux-folk front porch stompers that bands methodically contrive in order to sound "loose", has one of those shout-at-the-top-with-lump-in-your-throat of your lungs choruses that dive and then swell into complete revelry. There aren't too many records like this out there these days, straight across the board astute, proficient, and occasionally downright brilliant. If this came out a few years ago perhaps we could have side-stepped the attack of the clone lo-fi pop-punk bands that spawned seemingly overnight. Plus, this may be the best album cover of 2010 so far.

Ryan H.


Flowers of the Moon (Flight Approved, 2009)

Byline: Since when could psych-rock make yer toes a-tap? Since now.

For: Six Organs of Admittance, Sigur Rós, Tortoise

Denver’s Moonspeed are no strangers to the wonders of psychedelia. The album titleFlowers of the Moon should be a first indication that the band wants to lift its listeners up into the mysteriously unknown beauty of outer-space. But outer-space can also, of course, be considered a cold and desolate place. Moonspeed remedies this truth, however metaphorically, by planting flowers on the moon. Oof. What a clunky analysis of a record title. But in all seriousness, there’s a certain warmth here that comes hand-in-hand with Moonspeed’s expansive 11-members-and-counting instrumental set up. The kind of warmth you can only find in sun-soaked fields, blooming with spring-time optimism and romanticized visions of untarnished and beautiful nature. Warmth in the full, open chord strums of electric guitar. Warmth in the spacious, reverby, echoey vocals. Warmth in swathes of ambient, harmonic drones. Warmth in the cymbal swells and gently percussive rhythms. Warmth in the buzzy synths that drive pretty melodies like a safari tour guide through forests of instrumental meanderings. It’s warm. Get it?

Given the above description of the band’s spacious, meticulously captured sound, I can’t find much else to call it other than “psychedelic rock,” especially when you look at both the Jefferson-Starship-light-show-esque cover art and the subject matter being explored here. Tracks have titles like “Wandering Sun,” and “Magna-Save,” and a lyric in “Harvest,” almost writes itself - “There is nothing lonelier than looking at the stars, we are so small.” But here’s something - psychedelic rock, in all its previous forms, incarnations, and experiments has, generally, one thing commonly: slooooow tempos. Flowers of the Moon definitely has moments of these meditative grooves, but the best songs light a flame ‘neath the ol’ metronome and ramp up the beat into something you might even call toe-tapping. Opener “Silent Sky,” employs this technique right away, giving the listener that feeling of celestial traveling, like being in slow motion while stars fly by at ungodly speeds. “Golden Clock” is another nice example with a tasty hi-hat groove reminiscent of Tortoise’s “Swung From the Gutters” off TNT.

A blanket of solemnity soothes these songs in that tragically beautiful way. It’s clear that leader and songwriter Jeff Suthers finds a comfortable spot in the world of the melancholic, but what’s especially nice is how the music never comes out emotionally overbearing or depressing. This is music to listen to not when you’re feeling bad about yourself or the world, but rather when you’re in that hopeful state, perhaps looking beyond the desolate, polluted, sky-scraping monuments of civilization. Take it with you on a sunny day for a walk through the park, bask in its cozy aura and remember that here is only here. What’s out there must certainly be a place toward which we can always look forward.

--Craw’z 1/10/2010

Moonspeed Official Website (via Flight Approved)

Moonspeed Official MySpace

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Clipd Beaks

To Realize (01.10, Lovepump United)

For: Bardo Pond, Sweep the Leg Johnny, HEALTH

Byline: Oakland noise-rockers' latest album is a perfectly fuzzed-out triumph of a record. A sprawling metropolis of 70s-inspired drug-fueled jams, rhythm-centric post-punk, and wide-eyed experimentation in both form and function. Originally published on Used by permission from In Your Speakers, LLC.

Clipd Beaks claim that To Realize is “a tribute to love, to moving forward, to rejecting doom.” This is a head-scratching claim given the claustrophobic, frequently caustic moments of violence that erupt across the album's 11 tracks. Hailing from Oakland, Clipd Beaks layer disorienting, swirling drones over tight, sinister grooves and frantic tribal drumming. Their lyrics, delivered in a scratchy caterwaul, paint broad strokes of surrealistic imagery like “screaming reptiles” and “clouds that become mushrooms”. It would seem this laundry list of nihilistic elements would render the Beak’s earlier claim null. I mean, where does “murdering the apocalypse” fit into love, moving forward, and rejecting doom? How does that line amount to more than vapid, posturing, word-vomit of two very dire things? To answer these questions we can fall back onto the old form vs. functionality argument. The form (i.e. heavily rhythmic post-punk married with churning, dark, psychedelic drones) seemingly defies the function (i.e. the cathartic release that comes from pushing your deepest fears, regrets, disgusts through your speakers into the air through performance). But it is through these seemingly incongruous elements that any catharsis is achieved. How can we move past a world full of depleting resources and a sense of doom gnawing on our once glowing optimism without confronting them head on? Even though To Realize dwells on the negative aspects of life it is only to take ownership of them, embody them for a time, and then move past them. This is achieved surprisingly well on their third release, and first for the(awesome) Lovepump United label, as form and functionality, while seemingly at odds, come together for a triumphant release. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this on my best of list in December 2010.

Like most post-punk bands the rhythm section dictates the mood and direction of the song. To Realize is no exception. “Visions” push the drum-circle like percussion to the forefront, creating buckling, hypnotic beats that fall all over themselves as the song jerks along. “Blood” takes on a minimalist interplay between a brooding bassline, skittering tom hits, and a primitive 2-beat progression. “Desert Highway Music” uses a similar concept of a driving bassline and minimalist drumming, but underneath is a buzzing, oscillating drone that runs circles around your headphones. Every song benefits greatly from the rhythm section being both the backbone and the driving agent. This rhythm-centric approach is not unlike post-punk legends This Heat or L.A drum-n-shout trio Foot Village.

Instrumentation comes in scathing waves on To Realize. These attacks on the senses borrow such atonal sensibilities from No Wave luminaries DNA and Mars to recent unclassifiable juggernauts, Sightings. The addition of squealing, bleating saxophones and trumpets on “Atoms” and “Jamn” seem apropos for this kind of instrumental expressionism. Finding a center to Clipd Beaks is a slippery thing to do. Dig deeper and you find another layer of reverb on top of the guitar, more slightly off beat drum hits, and the aural glue that keeps it all together, those hazy, buzzing drones. These tonal freak-outs, however, never lose track of themselves, the rhythm section is tight as a drum and keeps even the most viscous of free form exploration and druggy drones on a straightforward trajectory.

Probably the most pleasant surprise is that on an album so dedicated to tonal and textural exploration, Clipd Beaks songwriting is pretty top notch. The vocals take on a grating 90s grunge quality Layne Staley would approve of. The most readily accessible example of this is the first single off of To Realize, “Visions” which starts out, “Try to Believe/In Desperate Moments/When clouds become mushrooms/and statues that bleed.” If you think this surreal imagery would inspire a really cool, creepy literal music video, you are right. It is a good songwriter that makes the intangibles seem quite literal. It is refreshing to hear something as formulaic as grunge re-contextualized into something weird and par-for-the-course of late 2000’s experimental music.

To Realize is a perfectly fuzzed out triumph of a record. A sprawling metropolis of 70s-inspired drug-fueled jams, rhythm-centric post-punk, and wide-eyed experimentation in both form and function. Clipd Beaks are hard to resist and if there is any justice in 2010 they will be even harder to miss.

Ryan H.

Friday, January 8, 2010

New Video for If this House Fails by the Devil Whale

I was asked awhile ago by Devil Whale frontman Brinton Jones to contribute a music video to an artist blog they were contributing to in support of Propellerhead Recording software. Here is the result. This song is taken from their 2008 release "Like Paraders". Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Sleepover (2.09, Moon Dial)

For: Sarge, Tiger Trap, Sarah Records 1987-1995

Byline: As Twee as they wanna be.

In my interview with Gavin's Underground Blog I gave a list of SLC artists whose upcoming 2010 releases I was excited for. In that list I mentioned the obvious big names of artists who would be releasing albums this year: Silver Antlers, High Country, Chaz Prymek, Stag Hare...I can't believe I forgot Sleepover! If there has been a band that has garnered justifiable buzz here in SLC it has been the precious sounds of these twee renaissance harbingers. Playing a handful of shows between here and Provo, being featured in SLUG localized, and been given shout-outs up and down, the moment has finally arrived. The Sleepover album. Comin' straight out of C-86, Sleepover combine shambling, upbeat major chords, backed by a tight rhythm (probably better than any drummer you will hear in any recording labeled Twee), and Lydia Worden's incredible ear for melody and ability to deliver a killer chorus. The line-up is pretty prestigious: bassist Braden McKenna, mastermind behind Navigator, WYLD WYZYRDS, and his eponymous projects, along with drummer Stephen Walter who moonlights in just about every worthwhile band in SLC, and Lydia Worden who has debuted as Cousin Songs and her upcoming hip-hop solo project (!!!1!!!). Enough exposition, Sleepover's self-titled debut prove they are heirs to Tiger Trap's throne and, along with The Pains of Being Pure in Heart and It Hugs Back as riding the crest of second-wave twee revival. The misconception has always been that just because Twee music is cute and simple: Major chord dominant progressions with zero distortion, cardboard drums, and lyrics about crushes, crushes, and more crushes, that the whole package is cute and simple. This is simply not true with Sleepover. Bands at the mercy of a principal singer/songwriter can often feel like an insular projection of that sole agent. As such, Sleepover can be seen as time-capsule of the past year for Lydia Worden. Worden's Lyrics, while typically cast as upbeat and cutesy in twee, are in fact, often at odds with the upbeat chord progression she is hammering out. Themes of unrequited love and societal backlash towards her sexual orientation replace taking naps with kittens under trees and schoolgirl crushes (those sentiments are there, just not in spades). Her melodic cadence is laced with ennui and justifiable frustration. This however, does not take the music down a notch, in fact, it bolsters its jangly pop with something real and cathartic. With this said, Sleepover doesn't sink or swim on one factor, Braden's competent bass work breaks into moments of brilliance often rising to prominence in "And You" and their eponymous jam "Sleepover". And back to drumming, twee drummers mostly just show up to keep time, but Stephen Walter, while somewhat muzzled by the aesthetic, keeps the entire sound together with his steady sense of time. In short, Sleepover transcends the temptation to write them off as a nostalgic nod to an oft-maligned sub-genre and a time when talent was not a prerequisite to start a band, the combination of heartfelt and honest songwriting coupled with confident and pitch-perfect instrumentation show the depth of talent that goes into recording Sleepover. In an era where adherence to a genre is an anomoly, Sleepover stick to their twee guns and delve deep into themselves to fill out 2010's already impeccable track record of rewarding albums.

Oh yeah! I Almost Forgot: Albums I Missed in 2009

In 2009 I consumed more music than I have in my entire life. Holding down three music writing gigs will do that. There have been quite a few albums that have fallen through the cracks as a result. I have compiled 4 hype-mongering (and 1 local hype-mongering) albums that I accidently passed up in 2009. Please forgive my lapse in coolness.


jj no 2 (Sincerely Yours, 07.09)

I have to give it up to bands that can craft a sound so meticulous and textured that it creates its own internal spatiality. I am talking about “Ecstacy” the ambient club-drug banger that samples Lil’ Waynes infectious “Lolipop” just as effortlessly as it covers a line from Will Smith’s “Miami.” The vocals literally float over the slo-mo, pulsing synth line creating a scene with a broad sense of depth of field, the foreground and the background set in relief from each other. Listening to it on expensive headphones is totally addicting; in fact that goes for the whole album. If you were hoping for an ambient version of a Girl Talk album you will be sorely disappointed, if you were looking for the multi-cultural folk of Taken By Trees married with a sugary back beat of borrowed percussion from tropical nations (see: exploited) you came to the right place. Imperialist ambitions are sometimes cloaked in New-Age fetishization o f exotic tones and textures; an appropriation of Caribbean, raggeton and hip-hop on a liquid Balaeric house beat by some hip Swedes can be fodder for this idea. But who cares? This album is way too laid back to try to sell you something, way too cool to be self-aware. “Nothing matters when we’re dancing” right?

Ryan H.

Listen to Ecstasy Here

xx (Young Turks, 08.09)

I wouldn’t say I missed the boat on this one. It is still technically 2009 as I write this. I would say that the time was not right for this ultra-cool, ultra-young, ultra-sexy, ultra-British band to come into my life. Late August I was begrudgingly embracing the good-time summer 09 fuzz-punk bands and there was no room for a band with two lower case letters. The evocative, breathy vocals of Romy Madley Croft and the subdued croon of Oliver Sim trade lines like a young, self-aware Neville and Rodstat. Sometimes harmonizing, sometimes content to trade come-ons stalk each other like the sparse, rhythm-centric bass lines and the airy, meandering guitar lines. Croft’s lovers pant more than not steals the show, showcasing her penchant for siren like sensuality on the sexual healing ode “Shelter”. The xx are a tricky band to nail down, obviously rooted in post-punk, minimalist electronica, they often stray into modern R&B especially in their keyboard/beat heavy “Basic Space”. I pray that 2010 sees the xx writing songs for Leona Lewis. Can you imagine?

Ryan H.

These Are Powers

All Aboard Future (Dead Oceans, 02.09)

The first band in this section whose name doesn’t consist of two under case letters. And how! These Are Powers are Comprised of ex-Liars bassist Pat Noeker playing a prepared guitar with a toy action-figure (no joke), Anna Barie whose largely improvised vocal contributions evoke a more soulful Christabelle Solale minus the French accent, and Bill Salas on drums. To define These Are Powers in terms of genre would be impossible (thanks 2009), seeing as TAP are liberal mash-up of hip-hop, noise, 8-bit electronica and snarling No Wave bombed out dissections of composition. These Are Powers are loud, like shake your rearview mirror loud, every tonal space is so packed with noise on the heavy bass hits that there is barely enough room to breathe, much less think. Noecker’s screeching, guitar noise attacks at times skirt the edges of the various members electronic contributions, and others punctuate any hope of empty spaces or holes in the deeply rhythmic hip-hop freakouts. All Aboard Future push the beat heavy songs with the most recognizable verse/chorus arrangements to the front of the album leaving side B to wander in Gang Gang Dance territory creating brutal/exotic soundscapes of distorted guitars and non-western musical influences. I wish I was all aboard All Aboard Future earlier in the year, their opening slot for Mt. Eeire and Foundry Field Recordings, from what I hear, pretty much brought the house down. My friend with significant hearing loss told me at A Place To Bury Strangers Show that These Are Powers were the loudest band he had seen live. Now, that is saying something.

Ryan H.


Continent (Paper Bag, 10.09)

Continent, in it’s entirety, is both a nostalgic look back at the evolution of dance music as well as a snapshot of some of the current trends that wove themselves into the genre in 2009. And, of course, this is indicative of the decade to simultaneously move back in time as we look towards the future. Montreal-ian Mike Silver, most famous for his Crystal Castles and HEALTH remixes takes on the album proper for his debut release. Running about an hour-half his lengthy compositions run the gamut from Lindstrom-esque Space discos, chilled out Balaeric tracks, lukewarm dubstep, 80’s tv show themes replete with synth washes and cheesy soft-rock guitar solos (see: Keytar). The Balaeric islands are a watery graveyard where classically trained pianists shuffle off to die. Silver punctuates and builds his compositions around virtuosic descending and ascending piano scales. At the very brass tacks these piano lines provide a trustworthy base and an impressive exercise in tried and true musicianship. Sometimes the fluttering piano keys inspire involuntary eye-rolling, but I assume that is part of the package of an album so rooted in an era of such laughable excesses.

Ryan H.


Rejoice The Noise (Kilby Records, 12.09)

If there is one album that has consistently been the most enjoyable experience in backtracking (still much more to come) it has been Rejoice The Noise by SLC locals the Brothers Whittaker. Every virtuosic move is expertly calculated to simultaneously put a smile on your face and flip your lid (if flip your lid translates to the physical act of being totally impressed). To bring you up to speed Birthquake is comprised of three brothers who play blistering math-tinged post-rock in the vein of The F’ing Champs, Hella and A Minor Forest but with occasional woodwind accompaniment by Mark Herrera. Living in a day where huge emotional payoffs are manufactured by the most inorganic methods thinkable it is truly refreshing to be blown away by something as primitive as drums, bass, and a killer guitar solo. The excesses of a finger-tapped guitar solo, precision timed hand-claps, whistles, hell-on-wheels time changes all point to one end, celebration. Or revelry. Or rejoicing. This trifecta of fraternal familiarity is underwritten in the very fabric of the sound, as if each members internal clock is inherently understood by the other; this awareness provides for an album with nary a wasted moment. I can’t believe I have gotten this far without mentioning Mark Herrera’s incredible woodwind contributions. His tenor sax on “Farewell, Fare Thee Well, Well “ shreds like the Eighties never happened. Absolutely top-notch stuff.

Ryan H.

SLUG localized set.

Tome to the weather machine - interviewed on Gavin's Underground Blog

'Sup! Gavin - from Gavin's Underground on the City Weekly website - recently interviewed me regarding my blogz among other penetrating questions. You can read it here. As if you don't get enough of my complaining here... Plus I got to rep some of my favorite bands. Holla!

Ryan H.