Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Jim O’Rourke once called the music of the Austrian imprint Mego a new form of “computer punk.” Featuring an impressive roster of artists—including O’Rourke’s own dreamy, sample-warping laptop music, the transmorphic, guitar-driven beauty of Fennesz, and the relentlessly aggressive, pummeling work of Kevin Drumm—this description made sense. In a world where computerized music is often reduced to simply a tool for dance or hip hop production, Mego’s artists seemed to be out to do precisely what the punks did with their style—take what was already there, and refigure musical familiarities into a new setting. The aim wasn’t to necessarily reinvent the language altogether, but to basically challenge the very understanding of what language specifically is and what its signifiers can mean when channeled in a different way. The results, though not always as outwardly aggressive as Kevin Drumm, were at least jarring and unexpected - a music that wasn’t quite environmental enough to be ambient but at the same time rarely straight forward or transparent, and absolutely never something you could call “ordinary.”
So why does In Stereo, the third album from this computer super-group and latest release on the resurrected Editions Mego, sound so ordinary so often? Is the fact that there’s really not much new and exciting going on with this record an indication that the sound of Mego has gone the way of punk music’s history? It’s easy to forget that the label was founded nearly a decade ago, so to think that this style has perhaps run its course isn’t terribly far-fetched. Still, these are very weird questions to be asking of a style of music not many people know a lot about. In fact, as difficult it is to write a fabulously favorable review for In Stereo, it is equally difficult to brush the album off entirely. The problem is that it’s so tough to know what’s going on in a record like In Stereo, and as such, it’s the kind of album that poses a lot of questions. Why did it take three people to create this? Who (the monster that is “Fenn O’Berg” consists of Christian Fennesz, Jim O’Rourke, and Peter Rehberg) does precisely what on the recording? How was this thing exactly made? Where do the sounds come from? Do we need to know to enjoy the music?
At the same time, however, it’d be criminal to forget some of the album’s truly great moments, like the nice addition of acoustic instruments into the music, most noticeable of which is the shocking entry of drums in “Part I” (which is actually, curiously, the album’s third track—it would have made an excellent overture to the album), but also includes piano and guitar, which are often cleverly disguised within folds of reverb and hum throughout In Stereo. And of course, with the laptop-heavyweights hard at work here, the record is composed and executed with a tremendous amount of care and expertise. In Stereo happens to be the band’s first attempt at a studio sound, rather than piecing together live edits. As such, the attention to sonic detail is simply stunning. A word of advice—don’t even bother listening to this on speakers. Plug this one straight into your best headphones and marvel at Fenn O’Berg’s mastery of the audible field—truly, the album’s saving grace. Sounds extend beyond simply “left” and “right” channels, as the album opens up a space that is over and above, underneath, behind, in front of, and all around the listener’s standard range. Somehow Fenn O’Berg’s textures feel like moments of privileged listening, like a majority of these sounds would be inaudible in any other setting than the one these three have so meticulously created.
What’s unfortunately lost, perhaps a result of scrapping that live state of improvisatory inspiration, is a sense of adventure and chance. There are small, rewarding surprises to be found in each track for sure, but upon repeated listens, these moments end up making too much sense to offer listeners something fresh to get excited about. In short, the album fits well into a genre that was created as a way for artists to specifically not fit well. Ultimately, In Stereo ends up doing only the things it should to be a decent electronic record and nothing more. It’s what the album doesn’t do that holds it back, which is only disappointing knowing what these three are all capable of—individually, but especially as a band. In a weird way, the biggest let down about In Stereo is that it’s just what you would expect.
Friday, March 26, 2010
Discolored Paintings (Self-Released, 2010)
For: Múm, Brian Eno, Gas
Byline: Creepier than it sounds like it might be. It’s a good thing.
How can I use the word “underwhelming” and make it sound like a compliment? I’m going to try really hard here.. check it - Silk Harbour’s album is totally underwhelming.. ...m..MANNNN!!
OK, it’s really hard to make that sound nice, but take note - this descriptor is meant in the best of ways possible. Look, almost all ambient albums are “growers” by default, and Discolored Paintings - the debut disc from the mysterious Josh Todd (aka Silk Harbour, whom I suspect is from the UK due to the .co.uk suffix of his e-mail address - NO MYSPACE ¡Viva la revolución!) - is one of these inside and out, through and through. Prepare to not be blown away - be as patient as the music when listening, for the rewards shall be many and they shall be great. The majority of the record is hushed, understated, controlled, reserved, and slow-blooming - and these are all the best things about Silk Harbour’s distinct sound, which makes its way from Eno’s ambient series, to Múm’s pastoral, chiming glockenspiels. Discolored Paintings is full of warm tones, hushed and subtle melodic motifs, backwards synths, choral bliss, and beautifully arranged strings. But there’s a dark and eerie side to Silk Harbour as well - Discolored Paintings is perhaps best enjoyed during the late hours on the shores of a still, black sea. Colors are mixed deep, dark, and murky. Synthetic harmonies swell into thick fogs where Silk Harbour’s delicate, unsettled touches of staccato jabs can easily play pranks on the mind - are there creatures to be found hidden deep in the abyss? “A Horizon of Broken Teeth,” is the straight-up creepiest. A desperate, pseudo-digitalized voice gasps a note of unintelligible lyrics beneath sonar blips, tumefying, stormy electronics and galloping drum samples. All told, Discolored Paintings adds up to a strong affair, despite the minor flaw of being slightly inconsistent style-wise. The album’s title track comes last, and the song bizarrely drops a chill-wavy/hip-hop beat (complete with a slick hook) into the album’s final minutes. Ironically, it’s one of the cooler tracks on the album - it's just that it sits a little strange among the record’s otherwise constant bulk of measured ambience.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Love Him (02.2010, Illegal Art)
While Aldo Kapi may be fake, Okapi is the real deal. While he doesn’t have the pre-recorded oeuvre of a Kyrgyz composer to plunder, he does the sum of the recorded 20th century to freely sample from. Okapi extracts moments of sweeping orchestral swells and passages to underpin his avant-garde sample-based compositions. The recurrence of these snippets of classical music is one of the few constants in Okapi’s shifting-sand soundscapes, a checkpoint to catch the listener up after his most scatter-shot noise collages. When confronting his subject head-on Okapi emerges with flashes of lucidity: bowed strings over a frantic break-beat or plucked violins and horns put through a blender. At its most abstract, however, Love Him turns into somewhat of a gimmick, a contest of Okapi against himself to see how many anachronous and forgotten genres he can cram into a 4-minute song. Balkan punk, 20’s commercial jingles, homemade sound effects, kitsch vocal samples, sweeping ballroom pieces, and 8-bit glitch breaks all compete for top-billing during their brief moment of arrival before they depart back into the ether.
Love Him, for all of its overreaching aims and fraudulent claims, still has songs, real songs that are tightly structured and incredibly enjoyable experiments. “Ti Chiamero ’10” is one of those songs. Starting with a glitchy microhouse beat that broods under a sea of squiggly pitch-shifted horn-blasts and a recurring piano-line, sort of like an absurdist Pantha Du Prince, a gypsy violin sweeps in, stopping the piece dead in it tracks with a swirling air of Arabian Nights sensuality. For all of the coherency of tracks like “Ti Chiamero” there is an album full of tracks like “The Next!” that are simply thrilling genre mash-ups for the sake of thrilling genre mash-ups. “The Next!” starts with a wound-down orchestral swell that breaks into a post-industrial rave up. The title track “Love Him” is another song-song that imbeds itself deep in your subconscious. Swelling strings, electronic blips and bloops, and skittering electronics swirl and build into a teetering crescendo before an auditory cue pops the tension and the sound drops out only to slowly build back up again.
In many ways Love Him retains this “false summit” approach album-wide, building giant monuments to melody and rhythm only to dash them to pieces and run off with some wild hair of a new musical idea. Few musicians could withstand this haphazard race from genre to genre without relegating them to the “sound collage artist” dungeon. Okapi, on the other hand, engages his material enough to allow his pillaged pieces to make definite musical statements before being bulldozed beneath a million voices clamoring to be heard. Okapi also has a strong sense of when to let songs be songs, and when to let his proclivities for madcap sound effects and avante-turntabilism reign supreme.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Draumalandid (Bedroom Communities, 03.2010)
“Dreamland” and its fraternal “Draumalandid” (“Draumalandid” translates to “dreamland” in English, but you already guessed that) share a repeating motif built around weaving violin lines that are evocative of the muted grey-green vanishing point where Iceland becomes one with the winter cloudscape. “Beyond The Moss” allows the tension that runs concurrent with the prettier passages to break completely free, creating a world full of creaks and moans, light brushing drum strokes and interpolative flares of flurried cello strings. The beauty and tension that personify the album and its environs are often fought out in the small segues that break up the album. On the side of beauty we have “I Offer Prosperity and Eternal Life” with its heaven-curved ascending chord progression and barely-there piano line; and on team terror we have “Economic Hitman” whose upper register strings hold the anxiety of a Hitchcock thriller.
If an economy falls and no one wants to hear about it, does it still make a sound? Valgeir Sigurðosson juggles the tensions of runaway economic and environmental blight that mark Iceland with the country’s inherent splendor. On an album with vocals being conscientious objectors, Sigurðosson speaks for both. Although a movie soundtrack, the music on of Draumalandid both stands alone and speaks to the collaborative nature that has marked every Bedroom Community release.
(please read full review here)
Monday, March 22, 2010
I Hope I Can Feel Something Like That One Day (Self-Released, 03.2010)
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Hardships and Head Trips (Catalyst Act, 03.2010)
Summertime really is easy when the living is easy. A time when you plan impromptu road trips while packing great cruising albums to listen to as you drive with the windows down bobbing your head to the entrancing beat with no end in sight. Might I suggest, as you start to plan any outing, to add King Rhythm's Hardships & Head Trips to that quintessential album list. King Rhythm is a hydra of disparate styles that come together to make a distinctive progressive hip-hop statement. Hardships & Head Trips incorporates psychedelic funk, scuzzed out guitar licks (reminiscent of Kid Koala’s totally not rap-rock, rap-rock project 2009 project The Slew); all while maintaining an edge on classic soul standards. Rhythm’s beats are reminiscent of Dan The Automator and Kid Koala’s production work on Deltron 3030, but incorporate oddball musical genres that make broad overtures to Cincinnati’s rap duo Atmosphere. Though all the tracks make cohesive statement, making listening to the entire album quite easy, "Current Floor aka Kid do the Brick" and "Mad and Hating (for Syd)" are personal favorites. The songs are a source of energy and determination, and you cannot help but start moving first with your head and slowly the rest of your body following suit until it is in one fluid movement with the beat. King Rhythm's album is definitely a requisite for your warm weather soundtracks.
Friday, March 19, 2010
Tomorrow In A Year (Mute, 02.2010)
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Waves (Darla, 10.09)
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
And these are valid concerns. One problem is that little of the album relates back to its referenced titles. One may listen to a track like “Swimming” and hear the trudging beats that juggle dizzyingly back and forth, the screeching hisses of steam, the lightly chimed major chords and…we’re swimming? “Friends of Friends” is another odd one - an opera singer’s voice is sampled and placed amid police sirens. Make no mistake, it’s a cool effect, but where are we now, and why are these two in the same room? “Tunnels” provides another puzzle: the act of being in an underground corridor is transformed into a grandiose action-film chase scene. “Lackadaisical” is a whole other story... maybe not such a good idea to actually call one of your songs "lazy," especially when the track is anything but: relaxing, mellow, laid back? Yes, yes, and yes - but it's also a masterfully moody and meditative piece of work, full of atmospheric, bendable synths, and an Air-like groove that floats right along.
The misnaming of tracks is but a petty crime, though. The real issue here is whether or not it’s worth finding yourself within these ambient environments at all. The good thing is, for much of the album, exploring these soundscapes is an overwhelmingly pleasant experience. Witches feels like the rift between a satellite and its home base. An open air of frequencies that translate collages of static with brief glimpses of holographic images that flicker to life only to disappear again in the starlight. Unfortunately, FUR doesn’t always deliver on this front either. Songs create these soundscapes and let them just sort of sit there. “Blood” is probably the most troubling cut, starting, coasting on, and clumsily ending around a basic major triad, all the while disguising itself as complex with noodling synths that accomplish little in the way of actual sonic progression. The beat (an area where FUR excels in other spots on the album) does little to make the experience worthwhile, a stuttering mess that feels bloated and overwhelmed when sized up with its harmonic counterpart....
...In an attempt to make a broad, sweeping evaluation of FUR, one could compare this album to Manitoba’s 2001 record, Start Breaking My Heart. Though his talent was never in question, the bedroom-electro results of Dan Snaith’s debut pointed more to its source material than it did to his own music. All it took was one more record for the artist to explode out of this shell and really use that skill toward something utterly unique and creative. I have high hopes for FUR—the pieces are all there, you can tell the guy listens to the right stuff, and it’s great to hear a debut that’s this polished and sonically detailed. What’s missing here are real songs. FUR songs.
Monday, March 15, 2010
For: Stars of the Lid, Tim Hecker, William Basinski
Byline: Loscil's Endless Falls is to rainy spring days as Fennesz's Endless Summer is to summer sunsets.
Loscil may have given away too much by the rainstreaked windshield that adorns their newest release Endless Falls. Aside from the obvious mood of the album; quiet, building drones for quiet, rainy days; the rain obscuring the photographs object creates an effective metaphor for the buried, other-room effect of Loscils subdued output. After trading the perennial moodiness of the pacific northwest for the cut and dry seasons of the high country I have found myself really missing the rain and overcast skies of Seattle. Endless Falls was the perfect background music as I drove Addy around doing saturday errands during an all to uncommon rainy day. All to uncommon for these parts. It is not a stretch to say that this album was made for moments like these, Scott Morgan's drones border on the ethereal, muted tones of gray and green that blend together in some unmarked vanishing point. Rain, bookending the album, also serves as a perfect analogy for the overall effect of Morgan's music. Boomkat's excellent review of this album put it like this, "in the photograph a form of interference displaces the content of the picture as its true subject, and so it goes in Loscil's music. While Morgan's string sections and looping melodic gestures make up the fabric of these recordings it's the muffling and masking of them that draws the true beauty out of this music." Truth. Morgan's looped piano lines pulse up from the ether like sound filtering through a decibel ravaged eardrum. Percussion comes in surging orbs of shimmering electronics like the beats from a house-party next door, barely audible enough to make their presence felt but not enough to fully show their hand. Neo-classical washes of staticy synths and lilting violins overlay match the rhythmic lapping of gossamer electronic production. On the album's last track "The Making of Grief Point" Daniel Bejar from Destroyer (whom Morgan is the drummer for) shows up to deliver a spoken word piece. Loscil's Endless Falls is to rainy spring days as Fennesz's Endless Summer is to summer sunsets. Perfect addendums, immediately transportive masterpieces of time and place. I wouldn't be at all surprised if this ends up on my top 10 this year.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Processions (Bedroom Communities, 03.2010)
As the newest member on the Icelandic Bedroom Communities roster (there are four others: Ben Frost, Nico Muhly, Valgeir Sigurosson, and Sam Amidon) Bjarnason is in good company with artists who are grounded in classical music. Boasting two composers now, Muhly and Bjarnason, Sigurosson’s small imprint has a well founded reputation of putting out music that explores the edges of classical music while adhering with an academic rigidness to the practices of composition. Bjarnason, however, doesn’t seem interested in exploring the boundaries between classical music and experimental electronic like a majority of the Bedroom Communities artists. Bjarason writes music to fill concert halls, to score Lawrence of Arabia-like epics, yet fills a space that is intensely personal and emotionally transparent.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Colossus Archosaur (2010, Self-Released)
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Home Acres (Polyvinyl, 03.2010)
...Crawling out of the self-imposed Siberian exile is the sentiment on “Waterwheel,” a semi-mystic rumination on existence reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa’s short film Village of Watermills. Watermills, in that film, represent the concept of cyclic rebirth and the transitory nature of life. Lipple posits “two hands on the waterwheel/the cold creek runs through everyone from here.” I can dig that. While we may not have total control over the course of our lives, there are quite a few things that we can control, and while we may not immediately see the direct results of our actions, they do exist somewhere down the line. Moments like these make me glad I am listening to this album for the express purpose of revealing some of its mysteries to others. Even if the world ends (please let it end after March 9th so you can hear this) at least I got a glimpse of something really wonderful.
I wonder if Spring gets off on being withholding. It comes at a time when you are past looking forward to it; it comes when you are comfortably settled within the cool hues of gray winter skies. Home Acres, while decidedly overcast, still retains a lining of the group’s entry-level stabs at making sense of the universe. 2010 finds Aloha a little older and a little wiser, like your smart older brother saying, “look, I don’t have all the answers. I’m just as confused as you are.”
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Repulsive (Cyber Dude, 2010)
For: Black Dice, Mouse On Mars, Coil
Byline: Noisy, funky, extraterrestrial beats: Boy Fruit lays 'em down, you do 'em up.
I’m smiling right now. Know why? I’m listening to a song called “Alien Swing” by Jason Harmon - a.k.a. Boy Fruit - and it’s one of the most demonically twisted, yet utterly funky beats I’ve come across in some time. Boy Fruit comes to us from Ohio of all places. Wait... is that right? Ohio? Do aliens hang out in Ohio? Do they have raves there? If they do, Boy Fruit might have an established residence as permanent DJ for whatever club they get down at up there in... Maumee. I don’t even want to think about what goes on at these throw-downs, especially given the grotesque (yet enticingly amazing) album art shown above, but I’m happy nonetheless bumping their jamz.
Repulsive is the newest installment of Boy Fruit tunes, one of four releases he’s now compiled, all of which you can snag off his website (linked below). I haven’t had a chance to peruse any older material yet, but Repulsive would be an impressive introduction to any artist, so this may not be a bad place to start. The album sounds pitch-bent slightly downward, resulting in a mix that feels like it’s been constructed on a soft foundation of quicksand. Oddball, whirl-a-gig noises funnel dizzyingly around your ears beneath smart, melodic hooks that tightrope walk along a wire of atonality. Synths operate here like vocals, but those of an extraterrestrial mournfully moaning away. It’s all caked together like mud atop dimensionally-shifting tunnels of drone and a trudging groove. Though the whole thing meshes well and seems fully formed, it still drips at its sides and feels unstable... remember that alien thing that killed Lieutenant Yar? This stuff kind of sounds like that guy looked. It’s also similarly slow-moving, dark and strangely sinister in tone.
The coolest thing about Boy Fruit is that though this is indeed weirdo noise experimentalism, somehow the project filters these sentiments through pop music mainstays and forms. “YOY” is a waltz, “Lump Dump” feels inspired by dub-house, and so on. Multiple listens work to unearth questions with few answers - an infinite puzzle that’ll never quite be solved but is impossible to resist from trying. It’s no surprise that this came to us here at the TOME literally within days of another release by an artist called First Dog to Visit the Center of the Earth. The two seem to be somewhat in cahoots with one another, as FDVCE appears to have posted a pic of a couple in bed together on Boy Fruit's MySpace page - the female is denoted as Boy Fruit, the male as FDVCE. Yikes. Expect a run down of FDVCE in the coming days, but for now, just take note that if you like one, you’ll probably love the other. The main differences I hear have to do with function: Boy Fruit’s tendency to produce songs that feel more like singles might be the rowdy, party-crazy teenage little brother to FDVCE’s sprawling segues and conceptually artful nerdiness.
Ohio, though... srsly. Who knew?
p.s. Boy Fruit's MySpace page lists "Cyber Dude" as his record label. Hopefully it's not this Cyber Dude...
Monday, March 8, 2010
In Sea Remixes (Silber Records, 02.2010)
Thursday, March 4, 2010
Past Lives are in their element at their most experimental. “K-Hole” borrows heavily from the churning, chaotic soundscapes of this years Clipd Beaks album, or last year’s HEALTH. Heavy rhythmic breakdowns over clashing guitars are pinned to Blilie’s feathered cap as he propels the song along with a buoyant vocal cadence before breaking into a teeth-curling shriek on the chorus, like the Blood Brothers never broke up. The albums first single, “Hex Takes Hold” is a triumphant hurtle into XTC-meets-"Drums"-era-Liars, taking on a throat-grabbing chorus of backfired prophetic visions and pin-sticking voodoo apparitions. 60’s power-pop holds court in the surprisingly catchy “”Don’t Let the Ashes Fill Your Eyes” down to the Shangri-La-like “oooh-la-la-las.” “Paralyzer” is a kiss-off as much as it is a open-mouthed tongue-in-cheek ode to the 80’s power ballads that make mystical the mere appearance of a woman as a paralyzing sexual Medusa (think “Jessie’s Girl” or “Cherry Pie”). Replace the schlocky guitar theatrics with some serious down-tuned guitar rumblings and Tapestry of Webs is officially not The Blood Brothers 6th studio album.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Weapons EP (anticon, 02.2010)
No matter the mood or occasion I can revert back to this album. If I am mellowed out I can listen to the WEAPONS II or WEAPONS VII. Son Lux's classical use of string instruments in the first song, won my heart and imagination over. WEAPONS III (Polyphonic Remix) immediately reminded me of Matmos, in which the artists creatively utilize the sounds and beats around them to build an entire song. The Polyphonic Remix definitely achieved this goal.
The rumors are true. I am a sucker for hip-hop, hence the paper chain I have made to count down T.I.'s release date from prison (March 26!!!). So when I began listening to the Alias Remix of WEAPONS VI, I was completely captivated, and found myself nodding my head to the beat and waving my hands in the air like I just don't care. Beyond the incorporated use of hip-hop, I am pretty much a sap for classical string instruments and the majority of his songs incorporated such a use, which left my ears yearning for more. If anything, this album definitely left me wanting more Son Lux. My solution? Leaving it on repeat. Best. Idea. Ever.
Monday, March 1, 2010
Tomorrow Becomes You (Western Vinyl, 02.2010)