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!


All three of you may have noticed I didn't do a post yesterday.
The only explanation i give is this:

Post to come later today

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Menomena- Friend and Foe

    Any of you who watch bad 70’s karate movies will be familiar with the words “drunken master”. For those who aren’t, it’s a fighting style which seeks to imitate the stumbling unpredictability of being completely shithoused, but maintaining impeccable balance so as to overcome one’s opponents while confusing them. If the aforementioned is the result of kung-fu monks and alcohol, then Menomena is what happens when black-belt music students find LSD. The only apt comparison to their heavily orchestrated and reeling style is The Flaming Lips, but Coyne & Co. are just their logical jumping off point. On Friend and Foe, this Portland trio takes quirky layering, slaps on some inside-out guitars, and fills in the cracks with saxophones, trombones, glockenspiels, jingling keys, and whatever else they can claim to play. Gadzooks! Unlike the similarly off-the-walls Man Man, whose knack for secondary instrumentation is dotted with nonsense call-and-response shouts, Menomena’s recordings remain downtempo, professional, and somehow natural.

    The cool thing about Menomena remains that they don’t have a “frontman” per se. Every one of the three members takes singing duties in turn (and sometimes concurrently, for harmonizing purposes), and each are capable of playing at least 10,000 instruments each. So that might seem like an overstatement, but who are you going to believe, your common sense or the internet? Moving onward- percussionist Danny Seim (who I would like to believe is somehow related to Hella’s Spencer Seim), lends some genius beats and keeps up with dozens of come-and-go orchestrations without overplaying. This is especially true of the gorgeous “Wet and Rusting”, a rainy day soundtrack candidate which lays acoustic guitars, synths, and mirages of piano over a sad-eyed spider’s web bass.

    As you may have guessed, this is a musician’s album. Everything in their composition is both tremendous and unique, but the lyrics aren’t quite at the same level. Their words compliment the music well, and all three singers have equally enthralling voices, but “Oh in the morning/I stumble/my way towards/the mirror and my makeup/it's light out/and I now/face just what I'm made of” is about the best this record has to offer, making lyrics a negligible stumbling block. This is more than made up for by the consistency of Friend and Foe, which remains impressive throughout (as opposed to the last few reviews, which have been top-heavy let-downs). I’ve been waiting to say it: Friend and Foe is phenomenomenal.

Friend and Foe

Saturday, January 16, 2010

mewithoutYou- [A--> B] Life

    Doesn’t it suck being told what to think? What an ego that must take. One issue of particular sensitivity for such speech is religion [whodda thunk?!]: whether it’s the Devil Wears Prada telling me I ought to believe in god, or Cursive telling me I’m doing it right, the result is the same- preachy people sound like twits. I realize the irony of preaching about preaching; this blog is actually a ruse to find recruits for my new MetaChurch. Regardless, between both ends of the twit spectrum, there are a select few who can talk about the great beyond without judgment, and among the finest of this lot is the Philly-based post-hardcore group mewithoutYou.

    “Experimental” doesn’t really do these guys justice. More accurately, they’re about twenty different genres baked together (somehow) logically, with a ripped-from-the-heart confessional spoken word poetry glaze. Despite sounding a lot tastier, that’s not quite as easy to say. Opener “Bullet to Binary” has the sci-fi bleeps and a menacing guitar which act as a perfect set up to Aaron Weiss’ vocals, which have been reported to set microphones aflame from a distance of up to sixty feet. Each track flows into the next on A to B Life, and the followup “The Ghost” is the kick to the gut while you’re still down. Weiss channels a throatier Guy Picciotto with “You were a song that I couldn't sing/you were a story I couldn't tell/I've only ever loved myself/But I've loved myself so well” on “Nice and Blue”, where the world’s slowest pickslide sounds like splitting the spine of a brand new hardcover.

    While A to B is mostly aggressive, mewithoutYou have the good sense to quiet down here and there to make the hard parts sharper. “Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt” could pass for downbeat Pinback, until it expands into a massive alt-country crescendo. “Gentlemen” strikes back viciously after the instrumental “A” with the words “And through a garden overgrown/Oh, it's a long walk home/I said I'd not come back /Well I'm coming back-” and the pause before “And you'd better be alone” is guaranteed to send you shivering, next day delivery. This record pushes the bounds of post-hardcore by incorporating a lot of unlikely candidates (like the Slash-style solo on “Be Still Child” and the RX Bandits synths of “We Know Who Our Enemies Are”) which makes it a sometimes tough but remarkable listen.

[A--> B] Life

Friday, January 15, 2010

Prefuse 73- Vocal Studies+ Uprock Narrative

    So here we are, at day fifteen, halfway through this project, and still miles away from St. Alfonso’s legendary pancake breakfast. Grabbed this record from Every Bunny Nestle, another one of the great and supportive blogs I’ve found along the way, and realized how perfectly it fits as the mid-point milestone: track nine, “Last Light” features Sam Prekop of The Sea and Cake [review #3 ], and “Blacklist” has guest vocals from Aesop Rock [review #4]. However, this won’t solely fulfill my need to derive artificial nostalgia from something that’s barely two weeks old. Vocal Studies + Uprock Narrative falls into a genre both alien to this blog, and mostly unmined by yours truly.

    The aforementioned genre is what’s known as IDM, or Intelligent Dance Music. Such nomenclature rightly places a divide between this “smart” dance music, and the rest of the insipid garbage. But this is both a blessing and curse, because when a whole genre is out to prove something, it not only reacts in contrast, but becomes one-dimensional. Good thing Prefuse 73, AKA Guillermo Scott Herren, is less concerned with letting everyone know how cool he is, and more interested in groove. Rather than the Aphex Twin knob twiddling weirdness, Prefuse finds an easy-going balance between organic bounce, and inorganic interruptions, rounded out with some of the “vocal studies” mentioned earlier, from Aesop Rock, MF Doom, and Mikah 9.

    Boot-stomping intro “Radio Attack” sets the precedent with never-sit-still drums and a constantly evolving and seemingly bottomless sample cache. The occasional unrecognizable rap sample leaks in, either taking hold of the beat, or slithering by underneath at, adding an all-too-absent human element. Mikah 9 transfuses “Life/Death” with a high-speed dose of the former, but the real pièce de résistance is “Blacklist”, where Doom and Aesop take Prefuse’s haymaker drum machines and hitch them to a buggy on the way to the sun. As if their performance wasn’t impressive enough, Doom reminds listeners “keep in mind this flow is used for practice, even so it’s still top-choice on the tracklist”.

    For anyone curious about electronic music, this is a fantastic album for expanding your horizons. There’s not a bad track on here. But as someone who craves a gritty, no-budget EP, IDM can sometimes feel empty and soul-dead. Prefuse manages to put enough heart in to impress ‘crossover’ fans, but this probably won’t get many more listens from me.

Vocal Studies + Uprock Narrative

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Beauty Pill- The Unsustainable Lifestyle

    Okay, no band has the right to call themselves a ‘collective’ if they’ve heard DC’s The Beauty Pill. Besides a rotating cast of characters, with Chad Clark being the epicenter, the group is listed as having ties to Smart Went Crazy, Del Cielo, Most Secret Method, The Dance Party, Bald Rapunzel, Druids, Casino Action, Soccer Team, The Routineers, Faraquet, Medications, Ida, Jon Langford, and Heat Better Scream. Holy Christ on an indie sandwich! But ‘having ties with’ is hardly the same as ‘sounds like all of’, seeing as how The Unsustainable Lifestyle plays like a matured Smart Went Crazy, with the occasional spidery Faraquet riff. While ‘mature’ is often the keyword for a band succumbing to The Great Grey Monotony, in this example, it means a honed and more self-aware redux of Con Art without any of its former aggression.

    The record opens with “Goodnight for Real”, an arduous but rewardingly listen that features the albums’ namesake: “There's a band on stage tonight/And every note they play turns it's back to you/But still you wanna add them to the sad list of things you've said "Yes" to/And they don't wanna save your life/They just want to distract you for a while/And the new dance craze is the same as the old one: The unsustainable lifestyle”. This first verse sets the tone for the coming ten tracks. The loose group of The Beauty Pill are all standard bearers of a scene that never got enough attention to sustain itself, and they’re half-past caring.

    Stylistically, the maturation of these musicians manifests itself in interesting ways. The piano loop on “Won’t You Be Mine” recalls jazz-inspired hip-hop, “The Western Prayer” features an oddly tribal bass, and “Such Large Portions”, which contrasts angelic female vocals with a sideways guitar hook, could pass for a Polvo track off In Prism. But the lyrical quickness of the latter track (“Pain deferred is pain amplified/And fear rides shotgun, but always wants to switch sides/"Come on, darlin'. You can sleep while I drive...") is countered by the jawdroppingly insipid “Prison Song”.

    The Beauty Pill essentially represents a haven where Chad Clark can take his awkward melodies, and brace them with atmosphere and body. The Unsustainable Lifestyle accomplishes this, making it a much more consistent affair then any of Smart Went Crazy’s output, but at the cost of being less interesting. First timers, please listen to Con Art instead.

The Unsustainable Lifestyle

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Monsters of Folk- s/t

    Man, supergroups really blow. In recent memory, Them Crooked Vultures’ debut was godawful. It’s an unfortunate condition of the music industry that these things happen to sell. But even in the direst of straights, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. This just so happens to be Monsters of Folk, the “supergroup” which holds She & Him’s M. Ward, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, and Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis and Conor Obert in its employ. As the name suggests, this is a folk outing; a chance for these four luminaries to try on the shoes of their heroes and walk fifteen tracks.

    Now, supergroup or not, it’s a common pitfall that one man’s ego stands figurehead for an entire band, usually resulting in fights, substance abuse, disbandments, and revenge sex. Monsters of Folk do the unthinkable and actually collaborate. Each song on here is clearly a group effort, despite the wildly different styles of their homebase bands, while still having a few songs which showcase one artist’s style more. And amongst the call and response gospel and Bob Dylan play-by-numbers tracks, there is an everpresent sense that these guys really enjoy what they’ve set out to do, especially when trading verses on “Say Please”, which is one synth part short of a folksy slow dance.

    Depending on your taste, this album will have something for you. The surf and muscle cars vibe of “Whole Lotta Losin’” (which is essentially a fuzz Beach Boys rip-off) with its fun-in-the-sun harmony and one note piano is easily countered with nautical bluegrass tune, “Man Named Truth”. Oberst truly shines on “Temazcal” and “Map of the World”, which should be enough to rope in any curious Bright Eyes fans, and the infectiously melancholy riff on “Ahead of the Curve” could entice even a die-hard metalhead.

    While this record is essentially four guys getting to shamelessly play the styles that influenced them, they can’t help but plant their own stamp on top of the mix. This self-titled release never reduces itself to aping or parody. It’s just honest songwriting from the American heartland, which has the good sense to look back at its roots and also let new branches flourish. A respectable, albeit sometimes bland affair, Monsters of Folk is a record that sinks in fully with time. If another release from these four guys is ever on the horizon, expect greatness.

Monsters of Folk

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dälek- Absence

    Remember the first time you heard GZA’s Liquid Swords? Dälek, one of the few good rap groups from of dirty Jersey, is like that: harrowing, dark, and above all, creepy. Absence takes that vibe and drives it straight into the brick wall of its logical conclusion. But more importantly, the beats here are utterly soul-crushing. Dälek forgo the fast and fancy flows of many of hip-hop’s innovators, instead opting for a lumbering, deliberate narration, as though they’ve already taken you apart and can break you to psychological dust at the moment of their choosing. In their words: “I drop the fist and guns and us this tongue to combat”. All the while, intense washes of noise provide an impregnable atmosphere that should have been outlawed by the Geneva Convention.

    Dälek’s lines ride an inner-tube down the stream of consciousness, spanning many topics in any given song, but one of the opt-revisited subjects is the class system, and the world going to shit in general. “Ever Somber” opens with, “Terrain disfigured/ Pressure temple, tempt to tap trigger/ Must contend with this diseased mind and drown liver/Cradle soul eternal type land of two rivers/Considered quite embittered by whole corrupt system.” Well, needless to say, Dälek aren’t happy campers, but if you want feel-good rap, you’re reading the wrong blog anyhow.

    Beats on A-class opener “Distorted Prose” and “Asylum (Permanent Underclass)” recall the work of Throbbing Gristle, while “Culture for Dollars” falls somewhere between My Bloody Valentine’s spaced-out reverb-fest and the hallucinations of late-career Boredoms. Despite being an overused go-to reviewer term, nothing fits these beats better than ‘sound collage’. Terror-and-death electronics mix with blasts of a bad trip, trashcan drums, and skilled scratching, with an obeliskeen bass riding the whole thing to scorched earth victory. What this duo does with sound is enviable. However, there are distinct moments when they lose focus. The low-mixed vocals, as well as the four-minute instrumental “Kroner” often make this record sound like a guy rapping inside a factory, rather than a rap album with industrial beats. But, for the sake of the unique vibe that Absence alone possesses, these few hiccups are forgivable. “Opiate the Masses” puts all their skills on display. Nails on a chalkboard easily segue into chiming euphoria, whilst fraternizing with confident lines and eerie sound bites. Dälek make rap like no one else. This is a record to have bad dreams to.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Vampire Weekend- Contra

    Well, shit. This was going to be my golden opportunity to put the hipster jackoffs in their place by lambasting this record, but early on, two things occurred to me- 1) No one reads this blog or cares about my opinion 2) Contra isn’t as awful as I had assumed it would be. There, I said it. And you won’t need to know the Konami code to get through it, either.

    The major focus of the album has shifted away from guitar-driven cutesy indie pop. Instead, Vampire Weekend let loose their formerly subdued affection for worldbeat, baroque, and electronic music, at the cost of most of their lyrical cleverness. Example: singer Ezra Koenig opens the album with the line “In December, drinking horchata/ I'd look psychotic in a balaclava”, complete with the highbrow vocal trills that make Vampire Weekend instantly recognizable.

    Contra is undoubtedly the result of tremendous studio post-production in a highly controlled environment. For this reason alone, the album lacks any real passion. Even the blaring mariachi horns on “Run” tuck themselves glassy-eyed into the thoroughly vaccinated mix. Percussion takes the same treatment, and comes off sounding mechanical, as though the band constructed a massive clockwork octopus out of cogs of pretension to beat each drum head in time. The real nail in the coffin is their choice to autotune to the quick-tongued “California English”, making an already below-average song sound like trash.

    Despite the many weaknesses of Contra, Vampire Weekend deserve some credit. They were blasted into the public consciousness as indie darlings, are now signed to XL, and are managed by the same guy as The White Stripes, and still have the good sense left to say “fuck no, we’re not writing the same album again”. As a quick listen through Contra will tell you, they took the immobility of their stardom as an excuse to experiment. Ok, I can dig it. But for every new African tribal rhythm or pseudo-Mozart arpeggio that exceeds expectations, ten more fall completely flat. “Giving up the Gun” stands out as the worst offender. Predictable bass and boom-chick drums are glued together into a lame dance track, which is comparably painful to listening to your grandmother discuss her bowel movements. You’re bound to hear this record, whether you want to or not, and it’s not tremendously good. Wait for album three and hope they have their shit together by then.


Saturday, January 9, 2010

EP Blast! #1

Modest Mouse- No One’s First and You’re Next

    We’ll, I had left these guys for dead before their ship even sank, following the release of Good New For People Who Love Bad News, and just like the title of that album, this EP, and the full-length between then, Modest Mouse seem to have traded the sideways mescaline wisdom and lo-fi roots of their past for one-note wit. “Whale Song” harkens back to their Moon & Antarctica days, but only as an unconvincing imitation. A B-sides collection fit for superfans, and those who enjoyed the last two albums, but without any real standout tracks, it's more of the same.

Thousandaires- s/t

    What a voice! Somewhere between Sparta’s Jim Ward, and Against Me’s Tom Gable. Musically, expect an ‘up the punx’ Bear vs. Shark, without the wonky horns and keyboard interludes. In short, this EP is volatile. They know how to go from playing a shimmery arpeggio to burying their fist in your nose, all with the skill to make you not want to punch back. There isn’t a single low point on here, and the choruses are anthemic without being artificial. These guys will hopefully blow up very soon. Only complaint: there are only three songs on here. We want more.

Kudrow- Lando

    It looks as though Jeff Rossenstock might have to eat his own words. Based on the performance of Kudrow’s first EP, Lando, side projects might yet be successful. Following in the footsteps of BTMI, Kudrow are a low-budget, trashy venture, but rather than the ‘do it in post’ way he filled out tracks for Bomb, Lando remains a stripped-down, no-nonsense affair. The three-piece gives serious nods to lo-fi, Pavement, having fun, and being broke, without even a hint to ska. Rossenstock’s vocals are as impassioned as ever, making this EP a must for fans of BTMI, garage rock, and handclaps.

Piglet- Lava Land

    Oh, you wanted math-rock? Piglet have that covered, in spades. This won’t be your sing-along EP of the century, but Piglet find ways to keep your attention through strictly instrumental means. If you get a hard-on when Maps and Atlases’ upcoming album gets mentioned, bring a change of boxers for Lava Land. Their prowess and synergy here are astonishing. Lots of jazzy drum hits, plenty of complicated guitar taps. This is also the only ‘true’ EP of this list that gives any real attention to tone. When Piglet play, flaxen-haired baby math-rock angels are given an extra set of wings.

Catch 'Em All!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Capsule- Blue

    Want to know what kind of music a sexually abused child who grew up listening to sped-up Castavet sounds like? Okay, so that might not be the best way to make this record sound appealing, but then again, the tortured breakneck introversions of Capsule aren’t for everyone. It’s a record both difficult to categorize, and at times, difficult to listen to. This is music from another, angrier planet, where song structure is not fully understood, and chords of an even remotely major variety are punishable by death.

    Most tracks go by in a furious blur of raucous guitars, and drums beaten within an inch of their lives, stopping and starting on a whim. There are hints of Sleepytime Trio screamo, metalcore, and experimental a la Blood Brothers at their loudest, with Fall of Troy stabbings. The lyrics are similarly incomprehensible, as mid-album monster “Determinal” amounts to the single line “Some chains intaken...Trust in weight to drag to heave no sky no witness”. Likewise, “Cobalt Connection” is comprised of the words “All hail next expurgator to frame his place over the fire so we shed/Transhumance /You left us slaves so we shed.” Transhumance?! Are you fucking kidding me? For those unaware, ‘transhumance’ is, according to Wikipedia, the seasonal movement of people with their livestock over relatively short distances, typically to higher pastures in summer and to lower valleys in winter. What this song has to do with animal herding is beyond anyone’s best guess. With or without looking up the words, you’ll be left scratching your head, as buried, screams-of-the-eternally-damned vocals are the status quo on Blue.

    The ten track assault of Blue is only broken by the slow, booby-trapped soundscape of “Title Track”, which lumbers along like an axe murderer in the obligatorily abandoned warehouse/metalshop, making way for their album closer “Going Home”, a twelve-minute behemoth which has every intention of grinding your bones to make its bread.

    Even after close analysis, I still cannot distinguish what is it about Blue that makes it so compelling. It seems that Capsule are trying their darndest to make this an unappealing, brutish mess, and yet it becomes somehow personal. It’s your mess. Like that closet you don’t want to clean, but can still find everything in. As mentioned, this is absolutely not a record that everyone will like, but it stands as an interesting experiment in left-of-center music that’s worth a heady listen.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Dr. Dog- We All Belong

    “Man, the 60’s were such a hip, groovy time; peace and love man, like, when shit gets too heavy, you gotta just go with the flow, man, like, just feel the music, brother”. If these are things you’ve ever thought or said, do yourself a favor and pick up Dr. Dog’s We All Belong, it will be a serious boost to your spiritual groove. Throw your parents’ record collection in a blender and made liberal use of the ‘frappé’ setting, and amongst the sound of shattering vinyl, you just might hear a track of two of this record.

    Be warned: We All Belong may cause extreme nostalgia for a time period you may or may not have lived through. Even on the first listen, songs on this record felt familiar, immediately producing the necessary number of jiggawatts to throw me back to my Beatles-filled childhood. But beneath the happy remembrances, there’s a certain soullessness in the music- these guys, passionate as they may be, are doing their best impressions of a handful of styles that were already strip-mined by more popular bands forty years prior, putting Dr. Dog in the regrettable category of ‘revisionists’. Vocals span from the ‘my throat is so dusty, since I just got off my motorcycle’ southern groan, to a decent John Lennon impression sans-English accent, and even some falsetto parts which recall Wayne Coyne. All the while, the rest of the band submits multi-layered Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young harmony to fill out each track.

    “My Old Ways” is nearly a Pet Sounds B-side, shimmering with that lost-and-found California beach vibe, and the verse riff on “Alaska” is a tumbleweed “Hey Joe”. McCartney bass turns rise and fall through “Keep a Friend”, followed by “The Girl”, which is another attempt to sublimate stale Beatlemania. “I don’t ever want to go back/ To the old days/ Leaving the dead underground”. Apparently the irony of their lines is utterly lost on them.

    The bottom line here is that, while the music Dr. Dog make is well-crafted, they are fighting an uphill battle. Not only are they very clearly taking their cues from older bands, without really adding any new food for thought, but their influences come from bands who have entered the ‘cannon’- bands who’s auras have outgrown their body of work. Dr. Dog wrote themselves into second-class band status from the get-go, and they don’t disappoint.

We All Belong

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Good Luck- Into Lake Griffy

    Hey fellow members of the blogosphere. Today is my birthday, and I was strongly considering the laziness option and not writing a review, but persistence is the name of the game, so here’s some good ol’ indie rock to get you through the bleak winter months.

    Good Luck are an exuberant and gleeful indie three-piece, who excel in both witty optimistic lyricism and fancy guitar work. Think of them as Bloomington’s Algernon Cadwallader with a twangier, more competent singer. Bets are on Into Lake Griffy being this year’s Some King of Cadwallader, at least in terms of catchiness. Speaking of which:

Recipe for Good Luck vocals:

- 4 parts Built to Spill’s Doug Martsch circa There’s Nothing Wrong With Love

- 5 parts The Weakerthans’ John Samson

- 1 part high-register grit

[Shaken, not stirred , served in a paper cup]

    Lyrically, Good Luck make a list of their existential dilemmas and recite them with a wry smile. “How to Live Here” boasts the verse: “We all want to feel content/ but we need more than a place to shit and to lay a bed/If sometimes living doesn't terrify you, if love doesn't pulverize you, then where are you at? /Where's the power in that?/ Though it's been nothing but complicated /since the first time that two people dated /and your heart makes you deathly afraid /it's all you've got.” Their ability to take an apparently bleak scenario and turn it golden is their strength, and also makes Into Lake Griffy an ideal post-breakup record. “So we gathered up the broken stars, lit a spark, put them back up in the sky/If you can wish on their falling, imagine what you can do bringing them back to life.” Rad! Drums have the requisite busyness, but mixed low to make way for the melody.

    The sense of joy that pervades the whole record leans comparisons to Vampire Weekend, but avoids the over-clean, squeaky-sweet polish of their Mozart-esque debut. The ticklish speed might bring on some nostalgia for Tokyo Police Club’s first EP, but only in feel, not in content. There are bits of the new emo scene and pieces of the old lo-fi movement, but at the end of the day Good Luck don’t sound quite like anyone else, which is just the way it should be. Get on this record (preferably from NO Idea Records), you won’t regret it.

Into Lake Griffy

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Crime in Stereo- Explosives and the Will to Use Them

    Long Island is a cesspool. Everyone knows that, whether they’ve actually been or not. It’s a cultural wasteland, devoid of redeeming qualities. In spite of this, a handful of decent bands have risen out of its ashes. Brand New, Arrogant Sons of Bitches, Latterman, The Fad, On the Might of Princes, and Small Arms Dealer all call the aforementioned strip of noxious land home, as do Crime in Stereo. Inevitably drawing from the frustration of living on the tumor adjacent to New York proper, Crime in Stereo play a catchy and technical breed of melodic hardcore which came to fruition on their first full-length, Explosives and the Will to Use Them.

    Explosives has the intricacy to entice those who find solace in the newest wave of emo (this guy), i.e. Algernon Cadwallader, Snowing etc, the brute force to call in the Minor Threat kids, and even some interestingly anthemic parts to boot. While some of the album gets caught in the rut of lightspeed boom-chick-boom boom-chick punk drums and indistinct guitar chugging, they truly put their mark where it counts. Longwinded silly titles aside, “Warning: Perfect Sideburns Do Not Make You Dangerous” is like being thrown against your will into a g-force machine until you black out, complete with the threat of “So you fuckers say you want a war?”. Lyrically, each song is more of a rant than a piece of music, but when matched with gruff untrained vocals, it comes across as nothing less than sincere. One overarching message is “We’re punk rock! Look at the scene decaying”, which really changes nothing as they’re more or less preaching to the choir, and the punk scene has been decaying since its inception. Their songs get a huge boost when their content strays more towards drinking alone and broken hearts. The over-hard macho gang vocals sometimes accidently recall Black Flag’s “T.V. Party”, but even this is excusable after the blunt force trauma that the guitars deliver.

    Most of the songs on Explosives barely hit the 2:30 mark, and when combined with the speed of each track, the record is full-speed sprint down Punk Rock Ave. that will merit several repeated listens. Album ender “Arson at 563” tops everything with the chorus of, “So close but still haloed to crash the calm/It’s only one night so what’s the harm”, a barbed hook guaranteed to stay lodged in your cochlea for days.

Explosives and the Will to Use Them

Monday, January 4, 2010

Aesop Rock- Float

    “So I heard y’all wanna float”, begins Aesop Rock’s second album, aptly titled *drumroll*, Float. We’ll, it’s not quite as strong a statement as being ‘ready to die’, or relating the shaolin slums of your birth, but it supplies a befitting color to the album that’s sets it apart from the hip-hop cannon. Combining minimalist beats with the abstract word salad flow of Busdriver, Aesop strikes a winning formula with skill and levity, carrying along a few interesting guests (Slug, Dose One & Vast Air) for the ride. This twenty track mammoth deserves all the acclaim it gets and then some.

    Float truly kicks in with “Big Bang”, which (like the rest of the album) Aesop unfolds like a modernist novel with the calm of a storyteller, ready at any moment to explode a into 10,000 word-per-minute lyrical cyclone. Yet unlike other hyper-literate artists (*ahem* Morrissey), he manages to remain unpretentious and hard-hitting. The lesson here is that his flow is jazz incarnate, wherein he continually overextends, oddly stresses, or pauses in unexpected places, only to save the momentum a few bars later. “Oxygen” sees Aesop casually debating himself about God, fishing, and lemonade, while “Basic Cable” bemoans modern society’s techno-dependency poetically, not pedagogically. “Plug it in, turn it on, be my mother when she's gone, great/wipe the spittle off my chinny-chin during the breaks/if I gotta go blind I'mma do it for the love of all television kind”. Solid.

    While the record remains easy-going, it doesn’t box itself into one style. “Skip Town” bounces along on a hazy reggae beat, the trifecta of “Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner with Blockhead” adds short instrumental breaks to the dense flows, and the dark, xylophone-laden jazz of “Spare a Match” is tastefully accompanied by a Digable Planets sample. He maneuvers each new style expertly, and his unconcerned delivery makes it sound easy.

    Aesop aside, Vast Air gives some solid lines amongst his posturing on “Attention Span”, namely, the uplifting hook "it’s the simple things in life that turn the peasants into leaders", one positive message of many on Float. Startlingly, Slug’s guest spot on “I’ll Be OK” is a let-down. He is audibly uncomfortable on the bouncy off-kilter jazz of Float, delivering two flat and uninspired verses which share nothing in common with his fantastic and self-loathing confessionals in Atmosphere. Fortunately, the only thing which truly upsets me about this record was not finding it sooner


Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Sea and Cake- Oui

      I recently took a friend of mine, Tony, who may know as the Motherfish Writer, to get a tattoo done. The shop was a nice enough place, but it happened to be located at the edge of one town which bordered several other towns, and without directions home, we manage to visit and then promptly leave four different towns in the matter of three wrong turns. The Sea and Cake’s Oui saunters through a similar predicament with style and grace, in the matter of measures slipping in and out of jazz, post-rock, prog, math-rock , all with a dreamy ambiance, and manages to find its way home without running out of gas. While the general vibe of the album doesn’t beg you to pay attention (it’s an ideal pre-sleep record), listen closely, and you shall be rewarded tenfold.

    The mostly instrumental Oui is, strictly speaking, one of the most peaceful records I own. Each instrument oozes high craft, and together they have been clinically proven to help listeners reach Super-Nirvana. Genre-blending and musicianship abound; it’s difficult to decide whether to file this next to their sister band Tortoise, Hatfield & the North, or Charlie Parker. Thankfully, Oui avoids the major pitfall of the genre- songs as long and dull as The Bible. By producing laid-back tracks within the range of the human attention span, Oui is both more digestible and more enjoyable. Even the longest song, “You Beautiful Bastard”, just misses the six minute mark, and not a beat of it is wasted idly ‘jamming’.

    While several of the tracks do contain vocals, The Sea and Cake mostly use this more as a form of instrumentation, letting lighter-than-air melodies mix with the jazz-inspired percussion and whirring synthesizer in the most economical way. This is a musician’s music. Expect none of the rawness or noise of your favorite punk band- this is the product of masterminds. Cutaway: Lex Luthor gleefully twiddles away at a MiniMoog. While this might not become your favorite record, its brilliance is beyond doubt, and despite calling Oui a great “pre-sleep” listen, I don’t consider that an insult. This record is a panacea to the busy mind, and instilling that sense of peace while retaining musical interest is a skill in its own right. Next time you’re feeling lazy on a weekend, spend the day in bed with The Sea and Cake, and hope your significant other understands.


Saturday, January 2, 2010

J.R. Ewing- Ride Paranoia

      Scandinavia, what is your problem? Between Refused and these guys, I’m halfway convinced that instead of doing the sensible thing and breeding supersoldiers, the entire Nordic region is wasting their precious time building high-pitched scream singers who excel at being both incomprehensible and grating. And if you were wondering who ‘these guys’ are, the answer is J.R. Ewing. On their second album, Ride Paranoia, they deliver a punk-infused haymaker dose of Big Black, with a healthy but less chaotic vaccination of Pg. 99. If those names mean nothing to you, something loud, dark and heavy this way comes.

    The album opens with the muscular “Repetition is Failure”, which for the first 30 seconds recalls Drive Like Jehu, before the briefest flash of Steve Albini vocals and a quick tempo change. All hell breaks loose soon thereafter, and the not-so-foreign tongue-out screaming commences, with some fairly sophisticated guitar to keep it balanced. By track three, it’s easy to treat Ride Paranoia like a phonecall from your mother- drown in out, with the assumption that you’ll be hearing more of the same. The boys from Oslo put some challenging harmony on display, and then fence themselves into it for the next thirteen tracks. To make matters worse, the record suffers from some of the blandest mixing this side of the pond, and it’s difficult to derive which parts are really carrying the song. Everything gets lost in a loose, grey mass of unspectacular and ill-produced noise. Songs like “Pre Summertime Blues” hands you a packet of gardening seeds and a spade when you were expecting to be tasting the fruits of a bands labors, e.g. there are hints of greatness that feel rushed or unfinished, which sadly, is more egregious than just making songs that suck. J.R. Ewing, you seemed like a different kind of band when we first met. We might have to see other people.

    Vocals aside, Ride Paranoia plays out like any given record Sparta have slapped their name on: there aren’t enough good parts to excuse the album's length, and in the worst of cases, its existence. No doubt , “Naked Pavements”, “Laughing with Daggers” and “Midnight Episode” are all strong tracks with an assertive, aggressive sound that could easily find their way into the hearts of punk and post-hardcore fanboys alike. However, Ride Paranoia’s 34 minutes play out like their fourth-to-last track, “The Same Exact Thing”.

Ride Paranoia

Friday, January 1, 2010

Grooms- Rejoicer

        First post: why not start with something recent, and something local. Brooklyn-based trio Grooms released their first full-length, Rejoicer, on Death by Audio this past October (okay, kind of recent), and its ten tracks sing with fuzzy, noisy goodness, letting the ugly sounds haunt, with the occasional moment of clarifying accidental beauty shinning through the murk in a way highly reminiscent of Sonic Youth in their prime. Out of tune guitars? Check. Atmosphere, and drive? Check. Alright, let’s get down to this.

The album opens with the off-kilter “Dreamsucker”, sporting grungy high-register bass, and a guitar which could pass for a natural disaster. When they’re not drowning in a wave of feedback, the three Brooklynites keep up the tension with dissonant interplay which desperately tries to achieve some sort of resolution, only to be forced back into swirling chaos. “At the Pool” plays like a hangover, featuring what sounds like a lazy cello, and the violent headache drumming one might associate with waking up to bright lights. Singer Travis Johnson practically begs the words,“I wanna be/ I wanna be”, before being crushed under a couple tons of molten guitar noise. The entire first half of Rejoicer is a noise-rock fan’s wet dream. It’s not too heavy-handed, but there’s still substance, and they maintain an acid-washed air about them, while creating songs with force. However, the conviction starts to wear down towards the bottom half of Rejoicer. They don’t get “into it” so much as “out there”. Points for experimenting with their sound, but the last five tracks, while listenable, essentially miss the mark.

All told, it might seem that is record is retracing familiar territory, and to some degree it is, but Grooms aren’t just another band who are content to wallow in the wake of noise rock without adding a little more danger to it. Despite the spontaneous feel, there is always the assurance that these compositions are fully intentional, and birthed by musicians with intimate knowledge of their craft. Combining the aforementioned influence of Sonic Youth with intricate interplay and burnout vocals, Rejoicer is a record which showcases the potential of a young band.