Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Antlers - Hospice

The Antlers initially released Hospice in March 2009. When they eventually signed to label Frenchkiss Records in August that year, they put out the remastered version of Hospice. Originally a Peter Silberman solo project, The Antlers became a fully fledged band when keyboardist Darby Cici and drummer Michael Lerner were welcomed in. Hospice also featured bass work by Justin Stivers on this album. Hospice tells a depressing story in first person narrative. It's spoken in the point of view of a Hospice worker. The lyrical representations are obscured by Peters ability to silently spark rumours about the people and factual lyricism within Hospice. Analogies are used to space out the conceptual idea. In this world, the only way forward is going backwards. That's the theme for this album and the tracks follow a broad story line, each descending on different tales and separate events. The album eventually ends up in pure delusion and sadness that the listener should be able to feel the narrators passion and loss.

The three minute opening track, 'Prologue', begins with swaying soundscapes and industrial-esque sounds which create a vivid atmosphere and dream world. I compare it to an episode of Doctor Who, with the tardis entering an alternative hazy reality. Where all hope is lost and only failure shines. The vocal harmonies send shivers down my spine and the pure energy shows a strong adrenaline rush from the listener.

'Kettering' has a defining piano riff which sounds sparse and distorted. The lo-fi style is present and Peter's vocals sound both reverberated and clear. The lyrical content is incredibly dense and Peter sings it perfectly. He has an extensive vocal range and this song shows the listener what to expect. The lyrics are  interpreted differently which is something I personally like about this album. One line hits me every time, "They kept you sleeping and even, and I didn't believe them when they called you a hurricane thunderclap". It's all well and good writing a personal meaningful song without any explanation to the listener, but writing something with a specific amount of imagery just kills me.

Sylvia Plath was an American novelist who wrote some amazing poetry and short stories including the aged classic 'The Bell Jar'. I've read the story behind her death many times. The thing that always stuck out was her ability to control her personal depression with care for her children. She separated herself from her children by putting damp cloths and towels under the door so the children wouldn't be effected in Plath's suicide. To me, this shows compassion and humanity within Plath who had severe depression leading up to her death in 1963. Her son Nicholas Hughes committed suicide in March 2009, the same month Hospice was initially released. You may ask how Plath's story fits into Hospice. I cannot answer any questions because I don't know and Peter doesn't express details. So the song 'Sylvia' starts with distortion and sparse shoegaze like sounds. it's not long before the dynamics kick in. The chorus is elevated with further distortion and a thick drum beat. Peter's verse gives the impression of sadness and loss. The whole theory behind the song is undisputed. it's something I admire.

It takes superb musicianship to compose beautiful instrumentals which mixes indie rock with dream pop and noise. The three part 'Atrophy' begins with a very basic, shortened piano riff placed above the distorted soundscapes. Peter's vocals are again cur to perfection and have a sense of urgency. Drumming picks up as does the cleanliness of the guitar and piano. Eventually the track fades into a messy section of noise which reminds me of waterfalls and rivers. The painfully beautiful synthesizer melodies cut through me like a blunt knife as the track trickles on with sparse high pitched effects which could be passed off as a Boredoms instrumental. The track then fades out and incomes the simplistic acoustic guitar. The progression is common for this kind of 'hangover' material. Peter sings clearly as his vocals sound empty. It's just Peter and his guitar in an empty hallway. Purely beautiful and the seven minutes which just passed are lost in time.

'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' makes an appearance on the enigmatic track 'Bear'. Where many indie based bands focus on teenage angst and popularity with girls and money. Peter sings about pregnancy and exclusion with relationships and their effect between personal lives. it explains how the idea of a child changes a person almost instantly. Peter's hauntingly stylistic vocals sound harsh and desperate as his story surrounds the effects of abortion. Some have interpreted this song differently to others. With focus on the word 'bear', listeners can either imagine it meaning a baby or the spread of cancer. I say it's about about abortion due to the opening similarities to the aforementioned Twinkle Twinkle. The track has a very climatic ending with high pitched vocals and a repeated chorus. The lyrics aren't necessarily deep, but they're very imaginative. The idea of representing a cub in the lyrics  shows deep understanding of human nature and the abusive attitudes young adults have towards the treatment of an unborn child.

Floating around the world of Hospice is the atmospheric 'Thirteen'. With delicate reverb effects and dream pop rhythms, the track shows immense ability to create a sound which represents depression perfectly. The twinkling guitar stands out and fades as the next 'act' begins. The final minute features vocals by NYC folk artist Sharon Van Etten. Her high pitched vocals sounds beautiful over the sparse backdrop of reverb

Simplistic mandolin chords are used on  the monotonous 'Two'. The mandolin has been heavily effected to give it a friendly and full sound. The song follows a simple pattern and the vocals stand strong with perfect flow. The lyrics follow several constructed reasons of illness. Some people notice the ideas of anorexia, some the comparisons to bipolar. Overall the track is about the patient dying of cancer. That's the consensus of the whole album and you shouldn't be construed in interpretations. The whole concept is based around the marriage to a cancer patient and her eventual failure to fight the cancer leading to her terrible death. The instrumental is very simple and the guitar stands out as something completely different to me. The bass is strong and comes in at the right time, as does the Phil Spector-esque drum beat. It describes anger and indifferent opinions between both patient and carer, it's one hell of a read. Poetry.

'Shiva' has a lovely keyboard riff which sounds extremely sensitive and eerie. The track is much slower compared to the previous few, it's also far quieter in terms of style. The light acoustic guitar works well with Peter's desperate lyrics. With the lyrics representing the eventual death of the patient. The way the lyrics are set out leave the listener feeling lost and alone and unable to accurately explain the song. I personally think the carer is grieving over his loss. Staring at the place she once rested, imagining it as a coffin. The narrator shows great emotion as the song sways between the patients being taking control of the narrator, almost as if they have switched positions.

The dark and twisted 'Wake' opens with a small vocal segment which plays as the underlining back drop for the eventual piano and painfully beautiful lyrics. To me, this song is like a landfill of emotions which have been dumped on the narrator from his patients death. She pay be gone, but her problems and affects are still present with the carer who has to live on. The song is a slow ride striking your emotions. It takes a while to fully grasp the intended details and lyrical analogies, but as time passes you start to feel the connection between reality and the fantasy. Where the listener is exposed to a story of death, the initial background is based on Peter's relationship with a previous girlfriend. He has been in isolation and the only way to express his feelings was to use an analogy as constructed as this. it's a wonderful track and it plays with your emotions. The final refrain stands strong as Peter screams, "Don't ever let anyone tell you you deserve that".

As the album draws to a close, I cant help but feel slightly lonely. The depressive first half leaves me disastrously emotional over the spectacular compositions and beautiful lyrics. The ending few tracks are slightly uplifting as the narrator copes with the death. The final track 'Epilogue' used reverb on the vocals and takes the chorus down a notch with calm vocals and slower timing. You begin to see the realism behind Peter's lyrics. The idea of having a loving relationship for so long, then for it to be broken up and you're all alone, it's unnerving and I never want to feel the pain of dramatic loss. Peter's falsetto rings hard in my ears as the track closes with simplistic guitar and eerie vocals which cap off the album perfectly. 


The Cribs - Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever

In the time it took me to write this review.. I could have eaten breakfast, had a shower, phoned my friend, tidied my shit pile of a room and then eat lunch. Instead I'm reviewing what could be the most pretentious Indie album of all time. Yes, It's that one by that band called The Cribs. The band who ironically released a single a few years prior called 'Hey Scenesters!', about the Indie scene and following trends and being generic. The Cribs basically fall back on their initial rebellion and release an album of Indie songs. Imagine David Cameron spending recent years fighting off the Labour party, then secretly voting for them in the general election. That's what The Cribs are.

Thunderous guitar hooks and energetic drumming can be heard almost instantly on the opener 'Our Bovine public'. The Jarman brothers can give a good harmony but it's overused. Even in a simplistic track the backing vocals just stick to me as necessary for the chorus. The song has a nice little left sided guitar but it's far too heavy on the ear which is a common theme on this album. The following track follows in the same fashion. 'Girls Like Mystery' has that hard hitting bass riff striking through the song. The guitar work is pretty standard and the song just passes over my ear before I have to to grasp anything other than the pretty simplistic and bland pre-chorus.

People will mention 'Mens Needs' when thinking about The Cribs. They're associated with it purely because of that Indie hype generation in 2007 where bands were charting Indie 'anthems' left right and centre. So the NME regime picked this song up and hyped it to the point of insanity. Don't get me wrong, it's a decent song with a stylistic chorus. The guitar riff sticks in my mind and it always brightens up my day whenever I hear it. It's a straight up Indie song with Lot's of distortion and fast playing guitar towards the end of the song to give it that cataclysmic effect of denouement.

"Oh my god, what is that awful noise!", was my initial reaction to 'Moving Pictures' when hearing it blasting out of my friends Apple earphones at school. This song has a blasting guitar riff on the left side but eventually flows over to the right as well. It's heavily distorted and incredibly overpowering. Producer Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand has really fucked them over with this song. The actual written content is by far the best on the album but the instrumental just doesn't fit and the vocals are incredibly hazy compared to previous track. I think Alex didn't want The Cribs overtaking his own band.

My eyes cant help but notice the album cover. To me, It represents the album perfectly. Two people.. One boy, one girl.. Late at night, who have just gone to the picture house and are arguing that she cheated on him and they've now broken up but staring at each other with both hate and love. She's saying goodbye to him.. (She's also taller than him). Anyway, the cover reminds me of 1960's Folk legend Fred Neil's Bleecker & MacDougal. 'Im A Realist' has an ear catching introduction. The use of reverb is a welcomed entry, just hearing the more melodic sounds as the band descend into a vigorous love song with well produced guitar which work spectacularly well with the bass giving a great sound effect on the ear.

'Womens Needs' has a recognisable bass riff which is very simple but sets up the song well. Then the guitar work enters and sounds miraculously like the riff on Moving Pictures except well mixed and much quieter. The vocal harmonies enter as the song progresses with clapping and a steady drum beat allowing Gary Jarman to give his vocal with ease. A striking guitar solo breaks through in the background but is obscured by the high quality bass. The song ends in traditional style with distorted riffs and energetic drumming.

The faster and  brighter 'My Life Flashed Before My Eyes', has a great guitar sound which is completely different to the other guitar effects which have previously been used. It's a more refined song and allows the guitar to take control and lead the song. This guitar takes the lead here and it just has an extended pattern over a small riff which is what The Cribs do so well. They know how to play their music and this song just proves their ability to compose great sounding instrumentals. The structure is lacking but overall, this song is one of the best and one of my favourites.

Finally the song with Lee Ranaldo from Sonic Youth. With a keen instrumental and a American-esque teen angst style, Lee Ranaldo delivers perfectly a track filled with hate and anger at society and commercialism. It's enjoyable but the song doesn't exactly stick part from the chorus. 'Shoot The Poets' has a ballad feel to it. it's a little forced because of that ballad idea of a closing track. The 'hangover' so to speak. So this album has always been recognised as the bands strongest. It has a very catchy tune with Mens Needs and the energetic Women's Needs caps the duo perfectly. We hear some great guitar sounds throughout with catchy drumming and decent vocal delivery. Everything is done to the bands expectations but it's at a mediocre rate.


Sunday, 29 January 2012

THE NEW LAW - The Fifty Year Storm

American duo Adam Straney & Justin Neff have made quite a name for themselves in their brief musical career amidst the gently intimate limelight that is downtempo-orientated trip-hop. Like their fellow two-man predecessors - Bent, Thievery Corporation and Tosca to name a few - the Seattle-based producers have managed to unearth an organically balanced concoction of instrumental melodies, delicate vocals and processed beats.

In 'High Noon', the duo explored the narrow bustling avenues of hip-hop and electronica, all of which, conjured up in a fluid fusion of jazz and downtempo harmonies. Their third album, 'The Fifty Year Storm' takes a break from its jazzy construct, moving its geographic sway this time away from the western hemisphere of influence. Comprising of thirteen tracks, of which all vary in length and overall construct, one would be forgiven to expect the album takes a lot more experimental and improvisational turn than their previous releases. But where the duo continue to follow in facading a sense of surreality and mystification, it is their influences and change in direction that takes charge of these compositions. For better, and for worse.

'I've Seen Some Mean Faces', the album's opener unveils this with little hesitation, the album's signature change of eastern guitar strings and deep-bass percussion rolling on a heavily refined mix of break-offs and unrolling mumbles. 'Get Your Gun' likewise drifts through the sandy rustling of beats atop a muddle of string arrangements. The pace is straightforwardly intense, very little pause for breath ever present. 'Voyage' and 'Constellations' though give gentle nods to their previously less-energetic chillout material, the overall direction of sound leans more towards a sense of formulaic exploration, over differing experimentation.

It's only halfway through the record that we depart from the sandstorm and the desert of eastern sound, that we venture into 'Opium Den', a more open composition out-pushing its hip-hop beats and melodic layering between the keys and chords of a piano. Here, the struggle; the rummage of control feels anxiously nervy, almost unsettling as the track progresses.

'Blood Red Sky' on the contrary fixes this, the drastic beating of piano keys and shuddering drums maintaining the status quo of previous tracks. 'Three Sheets To The Wind', returning to the nurtured vibe of eastern music here, demonstrates a more successful execution of this east-meets-west fusion. And considering it stands as the album's shortest track, it makes its simple use of sampled horn instrumentation and wavering electronics, that much more memorable.

Later tracks, however, appear to signal a lack of idea-generation and, maybe, motivation to excel the choice of sound's overall execution. 'Descent Into Fire' starts with a brief strum of guitar strings - passionately-rattling percussion leading on into the track's main body of sound. Here though is where the track loses near all its mystery and previously-established passion, a breakbeat-esque beat and cloud of vocals hidden almost secretly at the back of the mix appearing to whitewash the entirety of the song's vibe. The final self-titled composition, following on from this, feels less thought-over, all the album's natural and geographic flow melting away into a concretive guessing of synth machines, work stations and titled 30-second loops.

This field of instrumental music - downtempo trip-hop, instrumental chillout hip-hop, whatever genres you want to take a pick at - will always run the risk of falling flat on its face. Regardless of its background influences and foreground detailing, it's always a challenge to create an intrigue from something built on loops and sampling. It could be that THE NEW LAW simply haven't found their ideal place in this genre yet. It's not a total sink into wild waters - they've already displayed remarkable levels of constructive instrumentation on both their previous record and on this - but concerning the bigger picture of 'The Fifty Year Storm', maybe it's best they leave the eastern World away from the DAWs, at least for the time being.


Gretchen Peters - Hello Cruel World

The world of folk has taken a steady step down since the legendary period in the 60's and 70's. Just recently, a new wave of singer-songwriters have taken mainstream success with artists like Cat Power and Aimee Mann reaching to wider audiences with their strong saddening lyrical themes and easy listening style of music. Gretchen Peters follows in those same footsteps with this record. Aimee Man has been compared to Gretchen tirelessly in the past and it's easy to see why when you listen to the opening track 'Hello cruel World'. Where Aimee Man brought her music to a wider audience with the enduring Magnolia soundtrack, Gretchen is yet to be recognised worldwide for her musical output. That's not to say she's unheard of, she will be participating in a tour of UK in March this year in support for this album.

'Saint Francis' has some lovely finger-picking and layered vocal harmonies to give the song a melancholy feel. The light percussion is common for this kind of recording and the drumming only adds to the light flavor and sweet lyrical metaphors. it's a lovely track full of exciting vocal melodies, something to look out for on this album.  Further finger-picking is performed on 'The Matador'. it has some brilliant electric guitar segments and an orchestral instrumental piece. Where others in the genre fail to grab my attention, Gretchen manages to hold my thoughts aimed directly at her beautiful Tennessee vocal.

We're introduced to the alternative country legend Rodney Crowell. he was a member of Emmylou Harris's band for three years. Gretchen sings sweetly as the duet kicks in with an aged country guitar riff and slow bass work. The whole track is raises during the chorus with electric guitar. Sparse moments of adult contemporary shine through here. The duo have a combined age of 117, so they have many topics to sing about. Both are credited songwriters and have both been awarded with awards in both songwriting and country music, Gretchen even being awarded a Grammy. We all know awards are meaningless unless it's something worthy of artistic reasoning, but winning a Grammy award for songwriting is a huge achievement for anybody. I'm a huge fan of songwriters ranging from the delicate sweetness of Jimmy Webb to the experiences of Leonard Cohen, writing a song is one of many ways people can give back to society.

The same country styles are heard on the following track 'Paradise Found'. With it's mellow drum beat and wah wah left sided guitar, the track makes for a brilliant, laid back track. Imagine laying on a beach during sunset, that's this track. That same vibe is heard on 'Woman On The Wheel'. It has a simplistic guitar progression with all the characteristics of a bland, repetitive folk song.

'Five Minutes' opens with delicate, clear piano. It then descends into the sustained finger picking then Gretchen sings about kicking the habit, smoking. It's a lyrical track with many references to literal figures and personal love. Revolving the romantic lyrics around the idea of a smoking break. 'Camille' has a darker feel. The eerie piano work sounds carefully composed with Gretchen's vocals sitting on top with great emphasis on the chorus. We hear some brilliant Jazz structure on this song.

The final three songs are far darker than previous songs on this album. The cold 'Natural Disaster' has beautiful vocals and the tear worthy lyrics mention several natural disasters. It's a very dark lyrical theme and sensitive. Gretchen delivers the vocal perfectly. further darkness surrounds the string filled 'Idlewild'. With it's disastrous lyrics, the vocal delivery outweighs the repetitive instrumental of very basic percussion and left sided guitar. It's similar with the final track 'Little World'. We hear some extended delicate piano playing and desperate vocals, but again the basic instrumentation gets on my nerves.


Thursday, 26 January 2012

Chairlift - Something

In the last few years I've been beaten down, laughed at and shouted at for my discouraging musical opinion. My narcissism has increased in the past year due to my uncontrollable ability to discuss music. When people aim the word 'pretentious' my way, I fight it with vicious music opinions and destroy all forms of anger directed my way with name dropping. I use the 'name drop' trick when people begin to smoother me with pop propaganda like how 'Lady Gaga is the best musician ever' and 'You listen to obscure music to be different'

So without angering the masses.. Chairlift return from a four years absence since the gleeful debut 'Does You Inspire You', which found it's way onto my Ipod in 2008. The pop hooks and sparse instrumentation left the debut album in chronic failure due to the substantial amount of filler surrounding the track 'Bruises'. This time around, Chairlift are one man down and the twee lyrics have been replaced with hatred and self disbelief. The opening track 'Sidewalk Safari', opens with a synth riff and simplistic drum beat which reminds me of the 80's New Wave period. The track has a respectful structure with a layered atmosphere. The vocals are far more mature and they've been effected stupidly past the point of normal. The rawness from Does You Inspire You has instantly been lost due to the strategic production taken care of by Alan Moulder, the man behind some of the most successfully shoegaze and dream pop albums. Some people have been naming 'Something' a Dream Pop album. I combat that by drawing comparisons to the 80's New Wave/Synth Pop days and the Pop structures which are present here. There may be some synthesizer layers and dark bass work, but that doesn't make it Dream Pop.

The five minute 'Wrong Opinion' opens with jungle-esque percussion and a hard bass riff. I like the eerie atmosphere initially, it sounds very tribal. Eventually the soft, passionless vocals enter with that common drum beat we hear day in day, out on MTV. The track reminds me of Cocteau Twins with the layered, ethereal vocals. This is a positive, but the other than that comparison, the tracks just goes straight over my ear. The bass is far too overpowering and the left sided industrial-esque sounds are way too left field for this type of recording. It just doesn't work with the mainstream beat and ethereal vocal style.

'I Belong In Your Arms' is the name of the third track, this is also bellowed out during the chorus which features some dream pop like synthesizer work, again.. Just because it has some layered synthesizer doesn't make it dream pop. You can hear that verse/chorus/verse structure here which is a trend in Chairlifts non-experimental attitude towards music. Yes, this album is different to the debut, but that's mainly due to the loss of a key member and compact sound helped by Alan Moulder. The synthesizers sound bright and give a dense atmosphere. This album is just released in 2012, it should have been released in 1981. even if it was, you wouldn't be able to tell the differences. Nothing innovative or original is included on this album, it's one long piece of unoriginal, bland synth pop.

 'Take It Out On Me' has some nice synthesizer hooks and an enjoyable chorus, but the middle part is long winded and meaningless. Then we hear the dark, emo like track 'Ghost Tonight'. Initially, I hear something alike Evanescence, but after the first five seconds I hear some Tears For Fears like synth hooks but with a hard hitting bass and effectless drum beat. 'Cool As A Fire' is a slow synthetic track with delicate syntehsizers using the strings to the obscured vocals perfectly. This is one of my favourite tracks because it's more melodic and harmonic. 

 The single 'Amanaemonesia' is far brighter and faster than anything the bands ever put out. As much as I enjoy some segments, I cant help but notice the clash between the verse and chorus. The chorus is extremely bright and fast paced with parallel synths to the vocals, yet the verse is incredibly dark and dreary. You may mention good dynamics when describing this, but the structure just clashes completely. I do like the sound however.

'Met Before' reminds me of a 7" Phil Collins record I may or may not own.. The fast paced drumming is fresh and works with the layered vocal harmonies. This is a nice track with decent lyrics, it's a shame it's under three minutes long because I enjoy that synth pop feel. The use of acoustic guitar makes an entrance on 'Frigid Spring'. although the song never really takes off, the beat is enjoyful and the imagery shines bright. It gives me the image of a girl standing on a beach overlooking the sea at dusk with her hair blowing in the wind, looking for her husband who hasn't returned from a fishing trip. 

As far as dream pop goes, 'Turning' is the closest track to warrant the label. The dark vocals sound like Kate Bush on a drunken night out. The synthesizer is atmospheric and the track takes in many soundscapes, using these sounds to the bands advantage. the track doest exactly grab my attention, the lack of instrumentation and with the vocals being obscured by the heavy synth sounds, the track just goes straight past me. finally, 'Guilty As Charged' ends the album on a dark note. Obviously written about her past relationship with the ex band member Aaron Pfenning. I'm almost certain they didn't break up by mutual consent. Just listening o the song gives the listener a one sided opinion from Caroline, some could say It's the... Wrong opinion?

This album is an improvment from the bands debut, without question. The electronic influences have taken control and they've managed to keep that pop aesthetic by creating a modern synth pop album. Although it doesn't suit to my tastes, I can see how others may enjoy this album to it's full potential. Personally I'm not a fan of the modern synth pop sounds and dark lyrical themes on top of mainstream drum beats. it's just unoriginal and straight up boring. Maturity has settled which gives the band a serious image, but I loved that childish themes from Does You Inspire You. This albums pink and black and blue.. And it's for you.


Of Montreal - Paralytic Stalks

This is the eleventh Of Montreal album called Paralytic Stalks, a name which doesn't surprise me to be honest knowing the past album titles. This was recorded entirely in Athens, Georgia. More specifically it was mostly recorded in lead singer Kevin Barnes home. He was originally part of the Elephant Six collective in the late 90's before Of Montreal gained a slight amount of Indie success and recognition by the upcoming hipster society of planet Earth. The sound here is far more compact and experimental than previous Of Montreal albums. The vocal harmonies and delay add to the heavy drumming which sounds very 70's esque in terms of the Progressive Rock style.

The band have taken a look back at their earlier material, with darker lyrics and a mixed blend of musical genres. The album is very psychedelic and progressive, which can be heard instantly with the opening track, 'Gelid Ascent'. This song is very Pink Floyd/Genesis sounding. With it's rhythmic sythesizer and layered guitar work, the song sounds compact and worldwide at the same time. The sound is just catastrophically huge. The drums are very dark and work with the bass very well, it's the progressive rock structure in it's entirely, just with pop indications and a high pitched delayed vocal. It's an excellent opening to the album.

Lyrical themes are far darker and personal on this album. The second track 'Spiteful Intervention' is magnificent in terms of lyrical flow and vocal structure. Kevin's vocals are outstanding here, he goes through stages of high pitched vocals, deep vocals, desperate vocals and achingly beautiful rhythmic harmonies. The lyrics stick as his voice directs the song,"I spend my waking hours, haunting my own life". The pure imagery created outweighs the actual musical content from the gleeful instrumental, "All I have is asthmatic energy". Vocal samples have been looped and heavily effected to create a synthetic dark atmosphere during the pre-chorus. His vocals are extremely noticeable on this song, they;re a real stand out and the lyrics work extremely well with the aforementioned instrumental. The strings shine bright along with the rapid drumming and heavy bass. This is a real standout track on the album and personally, it's my favourite from this album and from what I've heard so far, my favourite from January 2012.

'Dour Percentafe' keeps that same melancholy sound, with a greater emphasis on structure. This song has an impressive chorus which is extremely uplifting and has heavily effected vocals. Kevin sounds like David Bowie throughout the track. It's that glam rock feel and 80's pop like drumming which gives this song a nostalgic feel. 'We Will Commit Wolf Murder' is far more darker than the previous two tracks. it has a flowing, experimental drumming pattern with obscure bass playing on the right side. This song uses dynamics to great effect, with a progressive synthetic feel towards the breakdowns and the vocals are obscured by the experimental drumming. The back half is far more Melody than the first with melodic strings entering and piano closing the track with great effect. After a short while the song actually enters into a completely different musical style, much like the days of King Crimson. Heavy bass enters and a sticking compact sound flows with the feminine vocals which sound very 90's club-esque.

The poetic 'Malefic Dowery' brings a personal, self hatred lyrical love theme, "Love is not a debtor as prison, you don't have to serve a sentence to pay back what you've been given". Then the following verse, "Now I live in fear of your schizophrenic genius It's a tempestuous despot  That I can't seem to propitiate". The imagery is purely fanatical. This is the reason why Of Montreal are loved by so many, they create such sonic instrumental sounds, but behind the scenes, behind those swirling flute sounds we hear these intelligent, amazing lyrics. it's something you wont hear on BBC Radio 2 at four in the afternoon, that's for sure. This song has magnificent piano which is reverbed to give it that eerie feel. The whole track is one beautiful look back and easy listening-esque piece of baroque.

It's not long before the experimental drones and psychedelic subsonic textures enter. With the back half fast approaching, it's only common and knowledgeable that the level of 'pop' would drop catastrophically. The opening three minutes of 'Ye, Renew The Plaintiff' contain poppy beats with a happier vocal before descending into a prog fuelled adventure of vocal melodies and sample loops working alongside funky bass and synthesizers. The back half is far darker and the orchestral instrumentation is reminiscent of 60's horror movie soundtracks. The dark, left to right flow of string jabs and twinkling synthesizers give the track an eerie feel among the ever present Indie drum beat and bass.

We hear a further glam rock instrumental with the arpeggio fuelled 'Wintered Debts'. The lyrics are again self-hating and extremely personal. Kevin's vocals are tired and depressive. The reverberated piano adds that Bowie feel. The vocal harmonies improve as the trick brightens up with a layered vocal segment and tremendous synthetic section which sounds like a 60's northern soul come down session. The lyrics are again incredibly personal, "All my life I've been betrayed by my mothers religion". It's a recurring theme for the album and it's not the first time darker lyrical themes have taken charge of Of Montreal musical output. The well received and by fare most Of Montreal album, Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, had dark, hatred and painful lyrical topics. 

The 13 minute ending called 'Authentic Pyrrhic Remission', begins with a dance like beat with a no-wave style. Vocal harmonies and childish 'la la la la' harmonies are the focus here. Kevin the begins with a short vocal segment before the track turns experimental and destroys all modern structural ideas with obscure industrial instruments and scary string work which plays deep with synthesizer melodies. This last for several minutes before the final, three minutes of piano. This is were Kevin sings his heart out for the last time, looking back and looking down. It has lots of deep lyrics about being in 'exile' and such. It's a very saddening album which sums up the album perfectly.

This album is filled with tasteful synthesizer hooks and vocal loops. Electric and acoustic guitar is rarely used, when it is, it's minimal. The electronic aspects are present and the drums are both experimental and mainstream-esque. Progressive rock shines through on the opening track and a darker lyrical theme allows the more personal and melodic side of Kevin to shine through the twee instrumentals. it's certainly an album to look out for on the end of year lists.


Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Tribes - Baby


If you think this is going to be a joyful and exciting review, think again. I see this album and compare it to the disgusting amount of indie rock drivel. Prior to this album's release, the band took time playing some of the middle range festivals in the UK such as Underage Festival, Bestival and Latitude (where I saw them live). The band play unoriginal love songs in an indie rock style with high production value and refined drumming. They are a traditional four piece and originate from Camden, London, how very interesting..

the opening track is called 'whenever'. It's a hip, less fun version of The Vaccines to be honest. With a grunge-esque guitar riff which sounds remarkably like early The Strokes and Interpol. They have that post-punk revival sound even if it's minimal. The song has lots of delay on the vocals and plenty of reverb, with a depressing vocal style much like Kurt Cobain, except.. British. The chorus sounds like McFly mixed with a bit of Sum41 which annoys the **** out of me!

Following this we hear 'We Were Children'. This track has a catchy guitar riff but it begins to annoy me after five to seven seconds when the vocals enter and the song deteriorates into a love song accompanied by a lack of musical skill and an experienced audio engineer. here's the thing.. There's mass amounts of indie rock bands, yet Tribes manage to make it big with a contract on Island Records. It's frustrating to know because this song is basically a simple, four chord love song with poor layered vocals and underlining bass. 

'Corner of an English Field' is by far the best track on the album. The opening chords sound very Arctic Monkeys-esque with that slowed down drumming and smooth vocals. I can withstand this chorus because it's actually raised and features some decent guitar work for a brief five second moment. The lyrics could be written by a seven year old, that's being complimentary. The easy rhymes sound forced and pathetic. The song does have a happy vibe and a summer feel, so don't ask why this is being released in January.

The next track, 'Half Way Home' is far more melodic. it features that guitar work heard on the previous track. The last third is definitely better than the previous thirds on this track. The melodic feel and finger picking sound phony with the depressive vocal. 'Sappho' opens with "Met this girl last night...", this more a less sums up the album. The track then breaks indie records for having good dynamics and decent guitar riffs working with left sided guitar.

'Himalaya' has a decent sound, but it's nothing special. We've heard it all before in the last 10/20 years. Those comparing the sound to Nirvana need to get a hearing aid. The sound here is punk like, but ultimately, it's pop. It sounds very poppy ans that's something fans need to become accustom to. People have been recently comparing them to The Vaccines and The Maccabees, so the pop comparison is definitely there. 

The back half is far worse than the first. It's plagued with well produced distortion and pop-punk structures in sound, lyrics and image. It's as if Blink-182 combined forces with Sum 41, creating the a super group, then allowing Busted & McFly in. 'Alone or With Friends' tricks the listener into believing the band are 'deep' and 'emotional'. The guitar progression works well and the drumming is the best on the album.. But the whole feel and image just rots my music filled brain with mimicry pretentious lyrics and tacky guitar solo's.

Without being too harsh on the young lads, I think the album is flawed by lack of life experience and musical influence (...and musical skill). One thing's almost guaranteed, the follow up will be substantially better than Baby.



Iceage - New Brigade

Iceage are a Punk/Post-Punk nostalgia band from Copenhagen, Denmark. The band consists of five members, yes.. Five members and it's Punk, what the actual fuck. Their sound is reminiscent of the late 70's and early 80's Punk sound, taking influence from artists on either side of the scale such as Joy Division and Wire. They bring in modern sound production influences and create a sonic, loud and noisy Punk album with great guitar riffs and accessible bass work.

The opening track called 'White Rune' is a thunderous guitar song, with an absolutely incredible mind blistering sound. It reminds me of a Boredoms experimental piece with the white noise and heavy drumming. There's a lack of reverb and exaggerated use of distortion. this sound definitely has that Japanese-esque sound which can be mingled with Punk. It;s an instant favourite by myself and a sand out track on the album.

Many of the songs follow the same pattern they've all got the same drum opening the guitar work, then vocals, then bass and that's the style they have instead of the legendary original Post-Punk sound of opening guitar work building upon that. This albums only 25 minutes long and was recorded in four days, so the grit and raw production techniques show through incredibly well.

They bring in Lot's of layers of distortion and this crates that textual style of noise and hard hitting sound. It's far too distorted and in your face to gain a wide, acceptable audience. It's straight forward punk, but it's 40 years too late. 

I pay my respects to the band for creating an album of worthy punk material for 2011, which has been critically acclaimed by many. Personally, I feel the album lacks in character and stand out tracks. Without some form of middle ground, the album falls. It's flawed by fast paced drumming and the 'in one ear and right out the other' sound. The track 'Remember' is a perfect example of the fast drumming and stylistic vocal with a memorable opening guitar riff, just to explode into Noise and layers which makes every individual instrument unrecognisable.

Nothing sticks. The guitar riff's, the bass, the overpowering drums, the aged vocals.. It's all just on big drop of nostalgia. I enjoy my punk rock, noise rock and post-punk, but this album is far behind in terms of lyrical content, production techniques, sound and cultural status. I do enjoy some tracks. The opening two tracks sound fantastic and are the ones likely to bring you back. One of the advantages this album has over others is it's short length, at just 25 minutes you can easily listen to the album several times before forming opinions.


Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Ani DiFranco - Which Side Are You On?

After a long hard look into 2012 Folk albums, I began to realize the lack of releases scheduled for this year. With Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes releasing major albums in 2011, it left available space for the veteran songwriter Leonard Cohen to take centre stage with his album and Ani DiFranco with her seventeenth effort. The feminist icon returns after a four year absence since 2008's Red Letter year. She has released a string of prosperous albums in the 00's amounting a hefty amount of independent Folk material. The album is entitled 'Which Side Are You On?', which is also the name of the third track. This title has been taken from a Florence Reece song of the same name, re-written by AniDifranco featuring banjo by Folk legend, Pete Seeger.

The enigmatic opening, 'Life Boat', brings to light a sparse, lubricated sound to the album. Instead of the dense electric guitar fans may be used to, we're exposed with raw acoustic guitar and right sided twinges on upright bass. The sound is very fulling as her distinctive vocals take focus with real passion. It's a smooth sound which is a common theme for this album, so far, so good.

Ani Difranco gives a stylistic, poet vocal on the second track 'Unworry'. The song is very fast paced and features sparse drumming with raw electric guitar riffs on the left with upright bass on the right. The lyrical theme is very independent towards Ani DiFranco. Lot's of references to politics and the current state of civilization. The track is very easy listening and incredibly mainstream-esque. It sounds remarkably like a Dido/PJ Harvey mash-up. 

'Which Side Are You On?' begins with banjo performed by the aforementioned Folk legend, Pete Seeger. He adds his touch with supporting vocals. Ani sings passionately about politics as the instrumental speeds up with an appetising guitar riff and marching styled drums. The track is a standout on the album and the repeated phrase of "Which side are you on now?" only captivates the anarchist, rebellious style the song portrays.

As with many albums, the level of memorable content drops after the first few tracks. This is a common trend in Ani DiFranco's previous material. Don't be alarmed, the album doest completely smoothed out into Folk obscurity and Adult Contemporary nonsense, it actually improves lyrically, which gives the listener something to focus on other than a decent sounding instrumental. The sparkling 'Splinter', allows Ani DiFranco to express her childlike vocals and sharp vocal delivery. The instrumental is very itchy, with shivering percussion and left sided guitar work. Again DiFranco expresses her softer touch on 'Promiscuity'. The song has fast paced vocals with a distinctive drumming pattern with various percussion breaks and dynamical changes.

The sweet melody and reverberated piano notes in 'Albacore' leave me breathless. The pure beauty in sound goes hand in hand with the astounding lyrics. The string work towards the later half of the track are very wild and could be used in numerous animated soundtracks for Pixar. Following this, 'J' enters with a funky vibe and ever present left sided guitar.  I adore the soft breakdowns and upright brass here. The song does pass lightly over the ear without anything too overpowering or light. It's a general album track with strong lyrics and a decent instrumental.

I sense a Cat Power, slowcore feel towards the final tracks on this album. The slower, sadder and more melodic tracks bring emotion into action. Ani DiFranco has taken her time writing these songs, this does show through in these closing songs. 'Hearse' is as sad as the name suggests. The weak guitar riff works well with the followed up string arrangement to the right, with Ani DiFranco giving her all, helpess vocal. Again we hear heartfelt lyrics on the agonisingly beautiful 'Mariachi'. The vocals are very distinctive on this track, strengthening a strong guitar progression.

The dark and twisted 'Amendment' brings out the problematic visions of diversity, civil rights, abortions and everything related to the treatment of women. Sure, it's a decent instrumental with a nice smooth chorus, but it's not my cup of tea lyrically. In my opinion, it's a little bias towards human rights. I do love her vocals and she means what she sings which is something hard to come by in today's music output. The album ends with the slow 'Zoo'. It has several notable lyrical references to society and personal grievances. I love her vocal effort which has a sense of hurting and disbelief. The guitar riff is satisfying and the bass is used magnificently well to end the album on a sad note.


Monday, 23 January 2012

Telefon Tel Aviv - Immolate Yourself

Whenever the topic of "background" comes up, the subject always derives from what happened in the past; what sparked an album's creation; its concept, its context, its stylization, all of it reminiscing on something that occurred in a time that feels almost long-forgotten when the album in question is at last completed. Whether it be the professional and personal trauma of Roger Waters in the Floyd's The Wall, or Thom Yorke's psyche and creativity spiraling into an abyss on Kid A, albums built on experience always reflect the past and that which already happened.

It's rare that you find an album that speaks volumes not of the past, but of the future. Or rather, you as the listener believe - perceive, even - that it does. Telefon Tel Aviv, the (former) duo of Joshua Eustis & Charles Cooper, in January 2009 released Immolate Yourself. Literally meaning 'to sacrifice yourself', the album comes as a departure from their usual middle-of-the-road, run-of-the-mill melodic IDM mixture, breathing new life - just as quickly as it sucks it back out - into scene-setting and point-of-view that doesn't trip into the field of "concept" albums.

Two days after its release though, Cooper was found dead, an autopsy later revealing that it was not an act of suicide, as had been believed at the time.

Fans and critics alike were (and probably still are) left reeling in a sound that was once of two men's creation. What they would find would be both hauntingly beautiful, yet calmly unnerving. Immolate Yourself, is an uneasy waver of empathetic electronics, anxious layerings of instrumentation and vocals that, at the best of times, come off as desperately hopeful. Quite a connotatively bad mix on paper yes, but where your typical IDM album may shudder with badly-dressed experimentalism and wavering fields of subject matter, Immolate Yourself on the other hand executes this in as deep and meaningful a sorrowful attitude one can only replicate from the death of someone close.

Opener 'The Birds' makes no hesitation to present this darker-veilled atmosphere of emotion. Foggy layerings of analogue synths are broken apart only by the rising of jagged beats and ghostly vocals wavering to and fro either pattern. If it's not the elevation of this composition that gives it its sentimental vibe, it's the later slush of drums that intensify its atmosphere that here becomes no brighter than a hazy gloom. Follower 'Your Mouth' builds on this surrounding and, with great enormity, escalates its humming bass and drums, that sound almost clogged up, with a horn-like billowing of melodic electronics. It's only when the liberating stretch of strings and creakingly non-sensical vocals steal the [gloomy] spotlight does the track really come as close to hitting emotive personification, as electronic music can get.

'M' while less hopeless in its idealized nature, still provides a similar cloud of obscurity, its repetitive jargon of vocals falling behind a willow of ambiguous synths and blossoming hand-clapping drums. 'Mostly Translucent' on the other hand shows the album's more delicate and, in result, vulnerable side. A bubbling bass provides the backdrop to a song struggling its way through the dust and fog of its finely-tuned beats and claustrophobically-congested layers of sound.

Not only is this an album of desperation and finely-measured obscurity, but it's also one of struggle. Struggle not just to move on, as the first pop-esque structural track 'Stay Away From Being Maybe' details - white-hot sparks of drums and breathless overlays meshing together almost monstrously - but also one of acceptance. Acceptance of, indeed, what has happened and what may happen, as a result. 'Your Every Idol' intensifies the scenario with its salvo of sluggish almost dopey tripping-over of drums and distant wailing of synths. True, some may perceive this as mere filler, and though the track does instigate a sense of voided lifelessness, it sets the scene fittingly for the album's highlight, 'You Are The Worst Thing In The World'. Like some demented variation on a pop song, the track's bobbing of somewhat energetic beats paves a path that is tread on with undiluted unconcealed anxiety. Unlike the former compositions which feel hidden and obscured, this is a track that bears no such secrecy, its lyrics "You know I'm not a blind man/But truth is the hardest thing to see" are executed with a voice almost bleeding with desperation. It's only on reflection afterwards does the true beauty of the track come into light: what is it that is the worst thing? A person? A thing? Or rather...as the album has expressed so strikingly, is it the experience of such a person or thing?

Whatever the case, there's no doubting the [potential] awkwardness that Immolate Yourself presents us with. It neither ignores what potentially might hit us nor does it immediately attack it lacking in thought or ideals? Instead, the album's sound blooms in a sort of tense variation on some kind of anxiety disorder. Three years later, the death of one half of the album's creator still strikes home with intense ferocity, magnified further by the album's resulting outlaying of emotive sound-scaping. Whether or not you want to perceive this as a kind of paradoxical response to Cooper's death, I leave to your own accord. But there's no denying this is a record that very few IDM artists are able to achieve; a record that tests both the edge of productive layering and the narrow confines of our vulnerable individual selves.


Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Russian Circles - Empros

Coming from a guy who's lived most of his musical life in the overlapping walls of electronic melodies, I must plead for forgiveness for my previous assumptions on the similarly linked-chain genre that is Metal. It's not easy to block out the default envisioning of black-and-white band photos; late-20s/early 30s long-haired apathetic creatives; power chords and deafening drum hits all encompassed in an album that, in some cases, has a cover one would assume a 6 year old had illustrated, let alone conjured up.

So here I am saying sorry. In its seemingly later years of a genre that continues to ride high (in strength, quite literally) the idea of metal as maximizing ear-busting boldness in sound has reinvented itself, no longer just teen-ridden angst in audio form. Last year, we had Japanese band, Envy, explode into life with their metal-driven fusion of post-rock and post-hardcore ventures on 'Recitation'. And here, quite possibly the dark-horse of 2011, is where we find another revitalized multi-genre three-piece present their follow-up. The band, is Russian Circles. The album, is 'Empros'

Anyone who is frustratingly picky on records based on track-numbers and track-lengths will find initial viewing of Circles to be both intriguing, yet carefully considered. Where most post-rock/instrumental rock bands focus their compositions to that of double-number minute lengths, the idea that this band may in all light bring something new to the table regarding the music's execution and length can either mean we are about to be graciously pleased, or sourly disappointed. How wonderful then it is, that we find these lesser-lengthened tracks are bursting with an energy that is neither sailing in ill-ridden noise nor dragged so comprehensively into the ground, much like many a fusion-of-genres record.

First track '309' is a pure octave-switching fluster of heavy-hitting chords and weighted drum hits. What sounds like a mere unleashing of stress or anger, or any other troubling state of emotion, in actuality creates an awe of mystery and purposeless discovery, as if (like the album cover) wavering through a forest, caught in the unexpected glimmer of sunlight and heat. The switching of acute tuning is what gives the track its lengthened listenability. If not strummed into submissive blurts of chords, then it's the narrowed twitches or squeezing of clouded strings that give the song its expansive performance.

Because, after all, as much as this is a recording, the way the guitars fluster, almost boldly and with little concern, give the sounds of the strings (mumbling of bass and flat-palmed percussion providing back-up) a more human and sentient affirmation that there is life to this structure...and in result, the structure has been cleverly thought-out.

'Mladek' examples this with perfect clarity; its initial mixture soon cut short by this almost abrupt wavering once more between differing chords and shifts in the musical scale. The darting of high-standing guitar strings fuse become lost in the rumble of chords and juggling of drum rhythms, later on in the track and before long, the composition is led into one of rock's more signature transitions to its finale. The track, however, seemingly refuses to end. Indeed, the final half-minute, in a chillingly breathless attempt, seemingly dies out as if fully depleted of its energy.

But the three-piece are not all heavy-hitting in their approach. 'Schiphol' demonstrates their more elegant and gentle side to melodic post-rock. Like their genre superiors Mogwai or God Is An Astronaut, behind a wavering of sailing electric guitars, simple strums of acoustic strings lead the track along a merry journey. The effect-heavy backing does just enough here to keep the track together and the picking of strings give the track that much-needed lift of life.

It doesn't take a genius to realize that the band have, maybe in initial stages, hoped for these sweepings of layered instrumentation to help keep the sound flowing. But where other acts may use it as a way to cover up a silence that in actuality, represents a lack of ideas or means to progress a composition forward, Russian Circles, however, use its eeriness and surreal envisioning to provide their more heavier sounds to break through and capture the listener's imagination. 'Batu', like some heavily layered, heavily maximized shoegaze song, blurts its power chord, drum-clashing progression over a wall of ceiling-high drones.

Closer 'Praise Be Man', the album's shortest song and, on reflection, weakest execution, presents to us a more grittier, rustier alternative to the band's use of held-on chords and melodic plucks of strings. It doesn't share the same passion and direct storytelling-esque nature to its sound, but it does give us a taste of the band's alternating direction in both the music's creation as well as its experimentation in effects and layering.

But if you're willing to look beyond this slight hiccup, and are willing to look beyond an outsider's doubtful tagging this as 'metal' or 'post-rock', what you'll find is that 'Empros' delivers to us more than just three men's extroverted outlaying of effect-driven heavy-hitting rock music. What lies in these six boldly crafted tracks in addition is something, that potentially is, stricken with swings of emotion and considerate after-thoughts. It's metal rock, it's post-rock. But without lyrics, and without vocals, through its changing sound, it expresses more than any word could.