Monday, June 28, 2010

Digital Millennium Copyright Act

To the people of the interwebs-
I got an email today, after having not posted on this blog in some time, that one (ha!) of my posts was in opposition to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and was taken down. Which got me thinking- shit, I really should have kept up with this. Too bad that my secret's out, and further posts will probably be taken down. To all who have read, supported, and downloaded: thank you.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Itch- An Illusion of Grandeur From a One Trick Pony

    As the music industry becomes further decentralized (blame it on illegal file-sharing, unfair pricing, record companies or economic depression, the result is the same), power has shifted from A & R to artists themselves, and from press releases to fan buzz. But every change comes with its consequences: for every godawful group of hacks who would have been shoved down the throats of listeners a decade ago, we’re left with a lot of promising raw talent that’s too small to get picked up, even by niche reviewers and the blogosphere at large. Case in point: Itch, a Leeds quartet who linger somewhere between the harrowing lo-fi tundra of Modest Mouse circa-This is a Long Drive For Someone With Nothing to Think About and sloppy schizophrenia of pre-Ugly Organ Cursive.

    However, to pigeonhole them as such would be a grave discredit. Their sonic canvas is dotted with math-rock, the chaotic elements of early screamo and the occasionally danceable passage (see: “Tom Dick and Harry”), only made cohesive by singer/guitarist Mike Milner’s commanding voice. All at once, their music is daring, passionate and well-crafted, but unlike the math-rock scene they are arguably part of, they don’t feel the need to beat their listeners over the head with any of it. Their most recent release, An Illusion of Grandeur from a One Trick Pony, is a heady and personal 11-track journey, the last leg of which, “Never in a Million Years”, will silence any naysayer, and cement a love of this perfect late-night record. That is, if the initial one-two punch of “Big Clever” and “Here Comes the Cavalry” don’t set up roost in the replay section of your brain first.

    But of course it’s never that simple. As in the not-far-gone days of old, some bands just slip through the cracks, and groups like Itch show the limits of the blogosphere (their most daunting enemy may yet be the search engine). Despite the fast and free trade of information and opinions it offers, net buzz still can’t outmatch a caring fanbase with their boots on the ground. Considering the quality of this record (their third) and their tenure (they formed in 1998), it’s tough not to feel that the boys from Leeds were given the short end of the stick. Digital downloads of the album can be found on (£7), and a physical release is available on Tip Toe Records (£8).

An Illusion of Grandeur from a One Trick Pony

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Murder be Death- Good Morning, Magpie

    Of all the possible adjectives - cinematic, brooding, gothic- that have been thrown at Bloomington, Indiana quartet Murder by Death “optimistic” had never been one of them. At least that was true until the release of their most recent full-length, Good Morning Magpie. It’s as though the band stepped out of the alt-country nightmare that had been plaguing since 2000 and realized that life wasn’t so bad. Not only is the tone dramatically shifted, but Magpie does not follow a narrative structure, instead focusing around a few recurring themes such as being down and out, looking at the bright side of being down and out and swilling whiskey.

    Album opener “Kentucky Bourbon” introduces the listener to both Murder by Death’s capacity to make a beautiful piece of music and their love of liquor. The following track, “As Long as there is Whiskey in the World” will immediately confuse longtime listeners with its beery-eyed and Quixotic chorus: “as long as there is whiskey in the world/we can drink away the heartache we can drink away the girls/who we long to love but will never touch.” Where Adam Turla’s gruff howl on past records would spin these words into a tale of alcoholism, revenge or depression, the new decade has softened his delivery and his outlook, and Turla and his cast of lyrical noir personas seem content in their situations.

    Contrary to popular critical belief, “changed” and “got worse” don’t always serve the same function in reviewing, and Murder by Death prove this beyond a shadow of a doubt. The dramatic (and probably fan-reducing) change in tone with Magpie feels neither artificial nor uncalled for. As all bands age, they grow- some become bloated and outlive their relevance. Murder by Death instead seem only leaner and more honed with each record, and album highlights “Foxglove”, “On the Dark Streets Below” and “King of the Gutters, Prince of the Dogs”, are all the evidence needed.

    That being said, nailing down the songwriting process usually results in better musicians, but not necessarily a better record. Magpie is still dwarfed by their massive 2003 release Who Will Survive and What Will be Left of Them. Even if Magpie were a much less tolerable record, its refusal to follow the blueprint of ten years worth of material makes it praiseworthy. It represents an important and risky step for a band on the doorstep of popular consciousness.

Good Morning, Magpie

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Gorillaz- Plastic Beach

    What do you get when you cross the frontman of Blur with a circus of respected recording artists from The Fall’s Mark E. Smith to Mos Def? The first Gorillaz studio album in five years, or How Damon Albarn Learned To Stop Worrying And Keep Make Dull Music. Plastic Beach’s minute-long “Orchestral Intro”, in conjunction with the first ‘true’ track, “Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach (ft. Snoop Dogg)” acts as a less-than-positive bellwether. By titles alone, it’s not hard to see that this is intended to be an immersive listening experience, but your ears will confirm that the pop dictionary lacks separate entries for ‘ambient’ and ‘milktoast’.

    The vast majority of Plastic Beach consists of canned, highly synthetic boops and beeps, layered enough to seem promising, and then poured like boiling oil over a host of very unwilling guest appearances. Snoop’s performance is incongruous to say the least, Mark E. Smith adds nothing more than the apparent soundbite “where’s north from ‘ere”, Bobby Womack has no earthly business singing the way he does, on this or any record, and Lou Reed’s half-spoken appearance on “Some Kind of Nature” sounds about as hopeful as your chances of staying awake through sixteen tracks of dull, overly British electropop.

    For the most part, the successful tracks still come straight from Albarn and his ‘bored-of-being-tired, tired-of-being-bored’ vocals. “Rhinestone Eyes” sets the high water mark on the Plastic Beach. But the aforementioned track, and others really share more in common with Albarn’s other post-Blur project, The Good, The Bad, and The Queen, from whence Albarn contracted erstwhile collaborator and Clash bassist Paul Simonon to help with Plastic Beach, and whose presence is entirely unnoticeable.

    Granted, Albarn retains some grace for inventiveness, pitting artists against others to create new and incongruous results. In a way, he’s genre-sampling. It’s too bad that most of these My First Chemistry Lab mash-ups are about as impressive as a baking soda and vinegar volcano. De La Soul’s otherwise acceptable performance on “Superfast Jellyfish” is reduced to cloying nonsense by Gruff Rhys’ autotuned accompaniments, and Mos Def’s slick delivery over the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble sounds like living in low-cost housing between an illegal techno club and a New Orleans street fair. How Albarn thought these combinations sounded good is just as jaw-dropping as these artists’ choice to participate in this floundering grey fleck of pop mediocrity.

Non-Skipping Album To Come Soon

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Joan of Arc Presents: Don't Mind Control

    Ever been to a Chinese buffet? To extend that experience to a separate sense, grab a copy of Joan of Arc’s new eighteen track “Don’t Mind Control”, which sports a cast of over forty different musicians in the Chicago indie scene who have, at one time or another, collaborated with Tim Kinsella, frontman of Joan of Arc. However, the tracks here aren’t a group effort with Tim as ringmaster. Instead these are individual submissions by those former collaborators’ present musical outlets. So, like the aforementioned buffet, some of this will be a delicious bargain, some will be disturbingly absent of any recognizable flavor whatsoever, and some of it will leave you curled over in a Port Authority bathroom stall for the next few hours.

    Among those reigning in the unfortunate last category is A Tundra’s “The Doug McComb Over”, which sways between lazy honky tonk and asinine twang. The ‘we gave my girlfriend a part in this song’ female vocals are the real poop-cherry on top. Most disappointing is that many of the tracks just meander like blindfolded infants in a laundry basket full of broken glass. As entertaining as that sounds, tracks like “Oakley” “Uwar” and “Kickstart” come off as either acid-damaged fumbling or willful laziness.

    Now for the bargains: Owen’s (AKA Mike Kinsella) submission, “No More No Where” reaches the same addicting loner-catharsis which has propelled his previous work, and Euphone’s “Friends in Common” hits on a spacey pocketed groove. Cale Parks’ “Long Looks” recalls the highly-orchestrated high of bands like Menomena. Tim’s solo effort provides the 3D glasses to properly see into the mind of an insane person, while Vacations give a jaunty tour through innocent math-rock.

    Viewed as an album, Don’t Mind Control is unforgivably inconsistent in both tone and quality, which begs the question- why was this released under the banner of Joan of Arc? JOA has always been the product of Tim Kinsella “and friends”, but this pushes the definition a bit too far. A better title might have been A Whole Slew of Bands, Some of Which Are Good: An Introduction to the Chicago Scene. Obviously the phrasing could use some work, but the sentiment remains: this is not an album, it’s a sampler. Those already inducted into the cult of Kinsella would do good to browse these tracks for new fodder, but anyone looking for newer JOA should just buy 2009’s Flowers.

Don't Mind Control

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Ghost of a Thousand-

New Hopes, New Demonstrations

    Hey internet, I’m back at school, which means both quality free time and less motivation to update this blog. That said, I’ll still try to post a review here as much as I can. I’m not throwing in the towel quite yet, I’m just plugging it under the door so the cops can’t smell the good food I’m cooking. On today’s menu: a British hardcore band who go by the handle of The Ghost of a Thousand. A thousand whats, you might ask? Even they probably don’t know, but they’re sure angry about it. Their debut This is Where the Fight Begins was about as heavy as they come, and even trying to keep up with singer Tom Lacey would cause most to scream blood. These Britains brought back the pain, the noise, and the dissonance from that first release, and covered it in boiling oil until it confessed to having some rock and metalcore influences, and then let themselves on fire in protest.

    Besides unleashing a few new riffs from their veritable bag of tricks, New Hopes, New Demonstrations has a much higher production value, and it gives the band room to stretch out. And stretch out they do, sometimes even not shouting! As incredible as the prospect of identifiable lyrics is, they seem to always place the worst lyrics in the quiet passages, meaning the ten comprehendible words are also the dumbest. As well, the grit that This is Where the Fight Begins brought to the party was also integral to its success- Lacey’s voice was like drinking spoiled milk, and every bass drum hit was a kick to the stomach. Did someone say milkshakes?

    Some of the influences they bring out on this sophomore effort meld effortlessly, and others turn sour right away. The twang of “Moved as Mountains, Dreamt of by the Sea” makes the anvil vocals practically tear the skin from your eyes, but the misplaced indie intro of “Nobody likes a Hero” wears as comfortably as a steel wool sweater. Overall, it’s hard to consider New Hopes, New Demonstrations a more fulfilling album. Obviously, no band should continue to rewrite their first album over and over, but the sound they have now isn’t quite at the level of completeness as it was two years prior. They are a band in transition, and hopefully they’ll come out even stronger on the other side of it.

New Hopes, New Demonstrations

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

EP Blast! #2

Thumbnail- s/t EP

[can't find the album art]

    Nine tracks, and thirty-five minutes of music. I have no idea how this doesn’t qualify as a full-length. Either way, this is pretty much what you would expect from a screamo group: noisy and chaotic, with under-produced drums. Thumbnail come strapped to give you a headache, and leave you with an aneurysm. When they’re not making a lot of earth-shattering noise, they slow down the feedback for another build, which makes the whole EP a flatline affair. Lots of the same, but it’s not terribly good or bad. Recommended for fans of Saetia, Mohinder, and other bands of that ilk.

Born Ruffians- s/t EP

    A pretty bare-bones group who follow in the vein of The Pixies. Singer Luke LaLonde has one of those manic voices that is fucking terrible and unforgettable at the same time; guy sounds like he ran a marathon before each track. There are oddly southern qualities to them, despite being from Canada, and “Piecing it Together” strikes a long-forgotten Talking Heads sound (a compliment). Lyrics are relatably unpoetic, and successful for that reason, and “This Sentence Will Ruin/Save Your Life” is catchier than pink-eye in a frat house. Long story short, Born Ruffians are immensely fun, albeit none too inventive.

Engine Down/ Twelve Hour Turn- split EP

    Engine Down are a total anomaly, more a springboard than anything else. They formed out of Sleepytime Trio [great band]. After they broke up, Keeley Davis went on to join Sparta [okay band] and Cornbread Compton moved to Cursive [another great band]. How they didn’t get more recognition is evinced by their six-minute submission to this split- it’s gorgeous and brutal at once, but clearly appeals to a niche market. Damn shame. Twelve Hour Turn follow a tough act with the surprisingly melodic “Wide Awake”, and the disappointingly similar “Flowers for the Dead”. Thumbnail would kill to be these guys.

O Lucky Man!- When I Was Young I Would Type Your Name Just to See it in Front of Me

    A very mathy duo from Berkeley who make the noise of ten musicians. Zach Hill-style drumming peppers this whole (long-windedly titled) EP, jumping from blast beats to warpspeed jazz so quickly that beats and fills become one. The guitarwork here is similarly busy and difficuly to follow. Because they never settle into any comfortable passages, it ends up sounding more like a good ol’ King Crimson circle jerk. If they could reign themselves in a bit, they might end up somewhere between Make Believe and Maps & Atlases, but they sound too much like they want to prove their chops.

Catch 'Em All! Again!