Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Philadelphia Experiment - Kurt Vile, Rosetta, Free Energy

Greetings! - Back from the Keystone state and I would like to dedicate this section of the TOME to two good friends, Theo Wheeland and Devin King, both residents of Philadelphia, PA. This goes out to them, and to all those of you living in the City of Brotherly Love. These three albums came out this year, were written about by me and Crawf, but have yet to see the light of day on the TOME, so with out further ado....

Kurt Vile

Square Shells EP (Matador, 05.2010)

For: Bruce Springsteen, Wooden Shjips, Blues Control

Philly's Constant Hitmaker's 2009 release Childish Prodigy was rightly praised up and down on the TOME last year. Mr. Vile's combination of strumming singer-songwriter looseness and blues madman howl paired with his psych-drone experimentation (ran through the ubiquitous analog fuzz of 2009) was incredibly refreshing take on the genre, yielding some immediate summer jams. Square Shells largely picks up where Childish Prodigy left off, but with this new batch of songs, the omnipresent lo-fi pall of tape-hiss is gone, leaving Vile's unadorned voice to carry the bulk of the songs. Kurt Vile is one of the few singers in this realm, who, when stripped of the auspices of the lo-fi aesthetic, has more than enough talent to remain a listenable and downright talented singer. No Age pulled off a similar transition last year with their incredible Losing Feeling EP. Vile's voice strikes a keen resemblance to the lazy strummers of Lou Reed, the nasally sneer of Bob Dylan, and a less-paranoid Nebraska-era Bruce Springsteen (minus the obvious Suicide influence). The bulk of the album is made up of strummed acoustic numbers are interspersed throughout the EP. Kurt Vile, more than anything is known as a talented and innovative guitar player, a close listen on most of these laid-back acoustic songs reveal a buzzing hive of guitar drones, looped effects, and deep-buried backwards weirdness that characterized the amazing Childish Prodigy. These moves are less apparent on this EP, but the hardest found corners of backtracked bizarreness offer the greatest rewards. One track that shows its hand on its onset is the album's most memorable song, "Invisibility: Nonexistent". Starting with a 4-4 electronic beat and a distorted wash of guitar that gradually fades into a picked acoustic guitar line and a bevy of sustained guitar tones floating in and out, the song reveals itself, for the first three minutes at least, as Kurt Vile's best written song. His voice has never sounded this naked, or honest, and his lyrics are the most heartbreakingly candid of his career, he sings, "there is no peace in the songs they sing/maybe comfort is to come traveling/I find it in a dog/I find in a drug/I find it, but I don't know where to put it/then it's gone." After these confessions Vile retreats back behind his wall of noise guitar drones, letting his eastern-influenced guitar ragas be his voice in communicating a palpable feeling of sadness. Kurt Vile is ingenious, here's to hoping the full-length exceeds our already lofty expectations.

Ryan H.



The Determinism of Morality (Translation Loss, 05.2010)

For: Isis, Pelican, Envy

Originally published on www.inyourspeakers.com. Used by permission from inyourspeakers, LLC.

Please read the full review here

In a recent and excellent interview with SLUG magazine, Rosetta guitarist Matt Weed said, “I’m getting more intentional in figuring out how you can communicate hope in the format we are using.” The format, for those unfamiliar with the Philadelphia quartet, is genre-blurring metal that relies heavily on atmospherics and soaring shoegaze-influenced guitars to create sprawling tracks that move from brutally heavy to immediate and cathartic. A Determinism of Morality coalesces the ambient segues and straightforward metal of their wildly ambitious debut double LP and expands on the melodic genre-meld of 2007’s Wake/Lift...

So where does “hope” exist in a genre so casually associated with violence (both musically and lyrically) and cultural isolation? How does a metal band turn the conceit back on itself without, you know, going all Stryper on us? I can pinpoint it down the exact second. After about 1:30 of subtle major chord riffing over Bruce McMurties all-over-the-place snare rolls and plodding bass drum kicks on the song “Revolve,” titanic gang vocals rip through the track at 1:43, in a moment that splits the difference between a rolling-in-the-aisles Pentecostal outburst and a gladiatorial war cry. It is in this moment that Rosetta’s mission, their whole raison d’etre, makes sense. A declarative statement of purpose and personal evolution coming out of a genre so rigidly transfixed in its own cultural baggage that expressing anything outside of the basal line of general worldly dissatisfaction seems impossible and woefully uncool. A total abandonment of principles, man....

....It is safe to say that Rosetta are not working in a vacuum. While being informed by peers Tombs, Cave-In, Balboa, and Pelican, Rosetta stand apart in their ability to combine their influences seamlessly while pushing into sonic terrain that is relentlessly optimistic, exploring emotions that exist on the periphery of metal....

...Being a non-musician in the world of music journalism sometimes has its advantages. For example, most music, no matter how ill-executed, still retains a sense of mystery for me, just for the sheer fact that I can’t do it. While I rely heavily on musician friends to help me navigate through some of the technical aspects of basic musical structure, I still engage music on a purely emotional level, a subjective knee-jerk reaction tempered by years of over-analyzing and a commitment to listening to an album at least three times before even beginning to formulate an opinion. Hearing Rosetta for the first time is an experience in which the pure emotional release cuts through any formulaic breakdown of the elements going into the music. All other considerations go out the window; sometimes it is better to listen to music in a cloud of unknowing.


Free Energy

Stuck on Nothing (DFA, 04.2010)

For: Girls, T. Rex, Citay

Originally published on www.inyourspeakers.com. Used by permission from inyourspeakers, LLC.

Please read the full review here

Free Energy are a new band out of Philadelphia, and one with the luckiest luck in the entire free world, getting miraculously placed on the distinguished DFA record label, and having its debut album gorgeously produced and released by the one and only James Murphy. Or—and this is the one I’m having trouble with—Free Energy is just a truly kick ass band. Why is it so hard for me to admit one, and recoil with defeat on the other? Does the good outweigh the bad, or is this one just not even worth your time?

For one, and I’ll get this over quick, it’s a bit disheartening and totally annoying that you can hum “Louie Louie” over several of the album’s tracks (especially “Bang Pop”—a clear exercise in simpleton, numskull high-fivery). It’s also a bummer that both “Dream City” and “All I Know” are extremely close to being utter ripoffs of T. Rex classics—see the latter group’s “Mambo Sun” in particular. “Dark Trance,” has a melody I swear Rivers Cuomo owns the copyright on... the list just goes on and on.

But the band gets some bonus points for sounding amazing, which is likely due primarily to the production work of James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem. Guitars are not only appropriately shredded track to track, dueling and solo alike, but they’re also mixed and processed wonderfully in brilliant hi-fidelity stereo. Everything is thick, full, and crisp. “Bang Pop” makes use of subtle effects like slap-back that make the guitars pop like neon colors. Some clever arrangements of strings, horns, and auxiliary percussion save a track like “All I Know,” keeping some of the less-than-original compositions at least mildly interesting. And I have to give some love for the panning drum fills on “Bad Stuff”—just cheesy enough to raise a smile.

Additionally—and this is the key to Free Energy—there are the lyrics to buoy this one up a bit. Ultimately, there’s nothing terribly evil going on with Free Energy—at least nothing as insidious as with a band like Jet. At first, it seems like these guys are performing a similar function, writing pop tunes about getting wasted and chasing tail. But upon repeated listens, there seems to be an underlying optimism that finds its way into these tracks’ subconscious. And it’s a feeling that uplifts, excites, and inspires, rather than just give the listener a boner. “If you wanna get high, just open your eyes” is the kind of line that reminds us it’s not simply enough to be alive, but rather, it becomes endlessly important in this soul-sucking media overload of culture to recognize that we’re alive and remember why that is important. This album is about seizing life moment by moment through a refusal to sit still. It is about abandoning authority, and championing a neglect for inhibitions above all else. It’s wind in your hair, foam in your glass, and a summer’s worth of freedom.


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