Saturday, August 17, 2013

Old Music 8-17-13

Warpaint - The Fool (2010)

The Fool superimposes dream-pop vocals against the sort of heavily emotive somber guitars of The Cure, and the result is lovely. The guitars and the surprisingly-active drumming give the music more muscle that you usually hear from dream-poppers, and perhaps this can only be called dream pop because of the thin-as-air vocals. Often the rhythm of the music seems to sway back and forth, at times coming across just as emotive and affecting as the vocals, which are always pretty and occasionally flat-out stunning. I wish I hadn't missed this three years ago.

Grooms - Prom (2011)

I found this while searching for their latest album, which was on a list of highly-rated new releases I was reading. It's definitely knee-deep in 90's alt. rock, especially the noisier fare, though it's generally pretty melodic. Sometimes it treads towards the more dreamy side of things, other times really amping up the low end and going for something heavier (the title track does this especially well). For an album that never really does anything especially unusual, I still found this pretty unpredictable and a thoroughly enjoyable listen. There's a sort of reckless abandon to their playing at times, which also appeals to me.

Hookworms - Pearl Mystic (2013)

Hookworms' debut album is a psychedelic rock album, not far removed from the sort of stuff Yo La Tengo have built a career around where the rhythm section lays down a midtempo groove and the guitars are just allowed to slobber all over the mix. Hookworms use their share of feedback and echo, but often instead have a sort of thin drone cover these songs, as opposed to a full-on guitar freak out. I'm actually a fan of this sort of music, especially when the guitars stumble across some interesting tones and textures, which Hookworms do at times. I think of Bailter Space, Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine as sort of the prime examples of the sort of powerful and interesting sounds a band can wring out of a guitar, and Hookworms have their moments. The first track, "Away/Towards", comes at you with waves of reverb that feel like they're advancing on you but never actually getting there. It's easy to get lost in this stuff as the sounds often approximate some really out-there mental images. It's imaginative music, but Hookworms don't seem to go all-in with the instrument, and things can get a bit dull on the quieter moments.

Capital Cities - In a Tidal Wave of Mystery (2013)

Capital Cities is a fun dance-pop album, with its share of hills and valleys. At its catchiest, this is the sort of stuff that might make you forget the moment's ills, songs that beg to be heard on dance floors on Friday nights. The first two tracks, in particular, are very good. At other points, things get awkward or even ugly. "Farrah Fawcett Hair" makes perplexing use of vocal samples and tacks on some brass instrumentation. It's a sort of schizophrenic approach to a funk-pop medley. There are a few other duds around the middle of the album as well, and a handful of tracks falling somewhere in between.

Capital Cities lack the subtlety of some of the better indie dance acts, which may not be an accident. I think these songs are designed to be immediate and to-the-point. They aren't going for textured sounds or complex rhythms, not trying to drop any jaws. This is pop music, and to do it well isn't necessarily an easy thing. I don't think Capital Cities are masters of the style, but there is loads of promise here and a few songs I'll keep in heavy rotation for a while.

Crash of Rhinos - Knots (2013)

Crash of Rhinos' second album seemed, at first, to be a what's-what of emo subgenres, surprising me because I'd enjoyed their debut (Distal, 2011). The first four tracks strongly recall, in order: The Promise Ring's midwestern-emo, the gruffly hollered vocal stylings of Hot Water Music, Joan of Arc's mellow guitar acrobatics, and Cap'n Jazz's spazzcore.

The seven subsequent tracks mostly stick within these parameters, sometimes shifting between styles within a song, but it's hard to fault Crash of Rhinos too much. Emo isn't exactly a forward-thinking genre. It's heroes of a decade (or more) ago are placed on pedestals and it's hard to image any of the more recent players of the genre ever reaching similar heights. Most modern bands of this ilk wear their influences on their sleeves and it's probably only because they spent the first four tracks reaching in four distinct directions within the purview of emo, that this thing seemed derivative.

Repeated listens have actually had me liking this more and more, and I suspect that genre enthusiasts who aren't immediately enamored based on these obvious influences may come around once they realize the passion and enthusiasm is there, not to mention the competent playing. The second to last track, "Lean Out", is a meditative pseudo-ballad complete with pianos and hushed vocals, a beautiful outlier on a solid-but-safe album.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Black Angels - Indigo Meadow (2013)

The Black Angels wouldn't be terribly distinguishable from your average bluesey garage rock band, save for the fact that they're obviously fans of latter-era Beatles. Indigo Meadow is competently played and written, though I do think the guitars lack a certain punch during the louder parts. I am no connosieur of blues rock or psychedelic pop, so a band that mixes the two shouldn't be up my alley, but this is a fine album with some particularly solid moments and a few clunkers. "Love Me Forever" and "War on Holliday" feature awkward melodies, while "Don't Play With Guns" is the catchiest song here and "Black Isn't Black" builds to a nice climax. I don't particularly care for the vocal effects they're so fond of (they do something to give the voice an echoey robotic sound), which really brings the album down at times. None of their other stylistic choices are a big problem for me, though the album seems to want for energy at times. Still, this is a mostly hook-filled record and probably among the better bands you could lump in with the post-White Stripes blues rock clan.

Monday, July 22, 2013

CFCF - Music for Objects (2013)

CFCF is a Canadian electronic musician who seems to prefer EPs over full-lengths, having put out just one LP (in 2009), but otherwise kept fairly busy with short releases and guest appearances. Music for Objects is eight songs (24 minutes) long, each with everyday objects for song titles. The goal was to create tracks that "sound like" these objects. He constantly relies on fluttering piano and brass instrumentation, and of course, programmed beats and waves of synth noise. In a sense, this is successful as the sounds are generally about as mundane as the objects they're titled after. I'm sure there is a way one could sonically interpret keys, cameras, glass or perfume in an interesting way, but I don't hear any such magic here. Nothing in the sounds, textures or the spaces between is anything other than plain.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

STRFKR / Orbital

STRFKR - Miracle Mile (2013)

Basically synth-pop with the beats boldly front and center. The vocals tend to either sound like a group of kids or one snotty adolescent is singing. It pulls from the basic indie synth-pop playbook quite a bit, which is really me saying my standards for electronic music (or pop music that leans electro) are impossibly high, because a rock band can mold the standard rock elements into something magical rather more easily. Mood is a big deal with all music, but perhaps especially with this type, and poppy electronic music whose atmosphere reminds me of what might be playing at your local Forever 21 on a Saturday doesn't do a whole lot for me. To their credit, they have molded these populist electronic elements into cohesive songs, full of hooks with beats that work, but it's among the more simple, more mindless, executions of this style. Kind of a third-rate Cut Copy/Passion Pit clone. I often feel a little silly while listening to stuff like this. Sometimes that effect is offset by some interesting sounds that pop up or some sentiment in the lyrics I can identify with but I didn't find that here.

Orbital - Green Album (1991)

An hour and seventeen minutes of what they apparently call "acid techno" seems like way too much. This is the first album released by this project, which is still active and made up of a set of brothers. It takes a certain kind of boldness to put out a debut record this lengthy and I think they back it up because this definitely didn't feel tiring or drawn out in the slightest. The first thing I noticed is that the sound, while not feeling totally foreign to me, is in a sort of unique place as far as electronic music goes. I listen to a lot of dark, noisy and abrasive electronic stuff and a good amount of bright, happy dancable stuff, but this is somewhere in between. It has these techno beats that we all know too well but a synthesizer sound that can be a bid moody and even eerie. They make heavy use of samples and while I'm not well-versed in sample-based music, I felt like they generally contributed to the mood these songs aim for. And that's really what makes this so good; it creates a really convincing atmosphere. Far from being shallow dance-floor music, the sounds themselves seem to actually communicate emotion. Also to their credit, these songs feel relatively complex, at least by IDM standards. I think something in the way they've layered one sound upon another creates a rather dense atmosphere. Not only that, but the songs definitely evolve from beginning to end, which is good because most of them are between six and nine minutes long and they really have to go somewhere if they're going to justify those track lengths. All in all, one of the better electronic records I've heard and I look forward to discovering the rest of their discography.