Saturday, August 17, 2013
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.
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.
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.
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
Monday, July 22, 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
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.
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.
Saturday, February 23, 2013
Autechre - Exai (2013)
Autechre are known for releasing overlong albums, but this beast right here has17 tracks and breaks the two-hour mark by about half a minute. Their sound has always been one I’ve enjoyed immensely, but in small doses. Theirs is a rather unique take on electronic music; it’s not meant to be danced to and shuns repetitive, blaring beats for a more scattershot noisy-synthesizer approach. There are a lot of sounds that vaguely resemble a DJ scratching, although they’re created by synthesizers. A lot of otherworldly sounds, but no real sense of rhythm, or at least none that last especially long. Overall, their music is dark, eerie and unpredictable, with a lot of low-end sounds. I haven’t explored their extensive discography in its entirely, my collection consisting of three LPs and an EP from various points in their career. This is music for a specific place and time, perhaps more so than most music since the mood it creates isn’t one I’m in especially often. It is highly creative though and hits the spot when the mood is right.
Indians - Somewhere Else (2013)
I have never had to deal with two artists/bands of the same name in my iTunes library, but adding this record almost made it happen me as I have a sludge metal album by a band called Indian there already. Thankfully, Indians went the plural route and saved me from this minor inconvenience though the name is slightly misleading because Indians is one guy, from Denmark, and his music, far from being primitive, makes heavy use of electronics and other modern recording effects. Still, there’s an intimacy and even minimalism to the music that makes it a modern album that feels a bit desolate.
The sound could, with a stretch, be called dream pop. The term bedroom pop also fits, sort of, but that term still doesn’t quite feel legitimate to me. I struggled a bit deciding what genre to label this in my library, finally settling on "indie pop" because I didn't want to think about it anymore. The vocals is heavily reverbed (think Youth Lagoon but less so) and it comes off very somber. He sings rather softly over soft music, generally a bed of synth noise and notes, with occasional percussion. Some tracks are built around an acoustic guitar, with a sound manipulated to be the loudest thing on the record. Whatever he's singing, sounds emotionally fragile, and the music conjures a sense of melancholy. Despite this, the music avoids sounding mundane and the singer manages to avoid sounding like a baby. It's weird, but this is incredibly mellow and chilly music that puts me in a pleasant state of mind.
Saturday, February 9, 2013
It's getting to the point where Bad Religion are just starting to go through the motions. I think that's almost the consensus among their fanbase, kind of in the way established artists can keep releasing music without strongly affecting their legacy, for better or worse. For a lot of people, Bad Religion are the handful of albums they put out between 1988 and 1993, and anything they do two decades later isn't going to enhance or tarnish that body of work. There is probably some disagreement over when an artist like this reaches the point where who they are is set in stone and any subsequent releases are either so bad that listeners ignore them in favor of the classics or decent enough but still not quite measuring up to vintage [insert artist here]. For me Bad Religion was releasing exciting music up until 2004, after which point either they changed or my view of them did. I know that they aren't about variety, or melody, and that I should have known not to expect those things from True North. However, those things have incidentally happened over the years (songs like "Sorrow," "American Jesus", "Whisper in Time" are catchy and have an intense passion to them not present in all their songs). Bad Religion is all about pointed messages crammed into the same blueprint. If they can deliver their lyrics in the mold of a 2-minute, fast, virtually amelodic, punk song, then they've done their job. It's a sort of tightly-wound punk rock, and on True North, it comes across as sort of unpersonal. It's fast but it isn't messy, or raw, or impassioned. It's about as clean as music can get and still be undeniably punk. I'm not really feeling it; I guess is what I'm driving at.
Psychedelic folk artists tend to be rather prolific. This is Grouper's tenth album in nine years, and her fifth in the last three, and I tend to look at these artists' releases as them sort of dumping music and ideas on us rather than ceremoniously crafting a record. It is irrational to associate the speed with which they put out music with the effort put in, but I do. Fortunately, I'm not deaf to the merits of the music and the viewpoint I just described almost always fades upon my actually hearing the album. Grouper (otherwise known as Elizabeth Harris) has put out a few records I really enjoy. She does this sort of droning ambient folk very well. This is an eerie listen but it also has a warmth to it in places. It's pretty and haunting and I like it.
It's weird how context dictates the way people respond to an album. My Bloody Valentine's last record came out 22 years ago and more or less defined one of my favorite genres, and though Loveless (1991) isn't my favorite shoegaze album, it's definitely one of the better ones. It sounds like this album could have come out in 1993, which isn't to say it sounds old (this genre doesn't feel stuck in a specific time period anyway), but there's nothing here to suggest the band has undergone any radical metamorphoses. Whatever people would expect a two-decade layoff to do for a band doesn't surface in the sound of this album, which is solid. It's on the poppier end of the genre and if one thing changed from Loveless to mbv, it's that this one feels a bit mellower. They apply great effects on the vocals, at times, that give them a sense of airiness, and they don't often bury the vocals under layers of guitar noise. The guitar sound is never too dense in its texture. It doesn't create an atmosphere that is totally immersive, stunningly beautiful or haunting. A lot of these guitar tones are pretty, but the album as a whole just sort of feels pleasant, which has probably disappointed the many people who expected something profound. Definitely inferior to their last album but I hadn't taken it for granted that it would be and it'll be worth more listens for sure.
Saturday, February 2, 2013
A lovely slowcore record, though perhaps not as slow and bleak as the style can get. Their sound has a warmth to it that I love, particularly on the last song, "A Common Wealth" which is almost 18 minutes and doesn't overstay its welcome at all. Very tastefully done, with hypnotic guitar melodies and occasional surprises like the especially climactic second half of "Offshore" and harmonica on "Summer Ends."
The fourth of this band's seven albums, and the second one I've listened to is almost of comparable quality to Let Us Garlands Bring. It feels a bit lighter, the guitars less lively and playful, which lessens the impact somewhat. More emphasis on vocals doesn't totally suit them either, but this is still very pretty, chilled-out indie rock.
I read about this band on a list of "essential" shoegaze records, although it really seems to have more in common with the sort of gothy post-punk that bands like The Cure play. As such, it doesn't create much in the way of atmosphere, instead feeling like moody, vocal-centric pop songs with a post-punk aesthetic. There are elements of shoegaze, but the guitars stay pretty low in the mix, which is a shame because they sound pretty good. Definitely has some good moments, but if a 35-minute record feels a bit long, that's a problem.
Half-Cut is the second of two records put out by this little-known band. Some of the most bleak, sad music I've heard. The vocals are monotone, the music plods along slowly and the guitar tones are very expressive. These songs move slowly, but the intensity (read: volume) ebbs and flows in a way that makes this a pretty exciting listen. A friend of mine recommended this band to me a while ago, just got around to them recently.
Morella's Forest were another shoegaze discovery, and a great one at that. This record may become one of my favorites of the genre. This is a female fronted band and the vocals sound a bit twee but the guitars get very noisy, starting with the first track, "Hang Out," which will make your ears bleed if you listen too loud. For all its intensity, the record has some real variety. "Wonder Boy" is a slower tune whose verses have a guitar part that, for some reason, reminds me of Weezer's "Sweater Song." The album mellows out in the middle, with "Oceania" letting the vocals take center stage and "Puppy Luv" sounding like one of Kim Gordon's contributions to a Sonic Youth album. They're great when they let the guitars run wild, and they're great when playing power ballads. I wonder how many other brilliant alt-rock relics the 90s are hiding.
This band's second album, released just four months after their first. Significantly poppier than their debut; though it has its noisy parts, they're fewer and further between. Instead pop hooks abound and they aren't bad but the album does feel a bit too... precious at times. While inferior to their debut (and most shoegaze/noise pop/dream pop albums are), it's solid in its own right. The album feels like it flows by pretty quickly, ending with a ten-minute song that makes up more than 25% of the albums length, easily my favorite song here, mainly because it's more of that great guitar sound they do so well. That cover art makes me think of boy bands for some reason.
Saturday, January 5, 2013
With Sonic Youth "end[ed] for a while" (whatever that means), Ranaldo and Thurston Moore have done a good job holding us over. This record won't be mistaken for an SY record, but Ranaldo's guitar sounds great on these songs. Beneath the surface of what are generally basic rock songs is a dense atmosphere that gives this album tons of personality.
Not a band I've listened to extensively, nor one I really know much about, in part because they seem to incessantly genre hop within albums. I was immediately struck by how catchy these songs are; I've since come to terms with the fact that this is psychedelic rock with a middle-eastern flavor, not something I'd usually indulge in, but it's too infectious for me to care.
Any record that's over two hours will overstay its welcome. I never listen to this all the way through in one sitting, but this thing is pretty consistant in its plodding rhythms and general heaviness (not in the metal way). This band does dark and bleak better than most. I don't know why, somehow it's extremely, uncomfortably convincing.
One of my favorite metal albums of the year, and my favorite death metal. Kind of surprised me since I've never liked their stuff before (perhaps should relisten) but I'm clear on why Reign Supreme works so well for me. It's punishingly heavy, impressively technical and groove-laden. To my ears, more so than the dozens of other metal albums I've listened to this year. Usually, my favorite death metal album of a given year isn't among my 30 favorite.
26) Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory
A post-hardcore album that's more spacey than spastic, with an excellent, raw drum sound. Repetitive vocal lines that feel relatable, mainly by the way they're sung. They're learned a thing or two from Jawbreaker, Drive Like Jehu, and the like. Good company. The first half of the album is notably better than the second, to me anyway.
Lazy, blissful, synth-based "dance" music. It's dense and textured. There are vocals but they don't add much. Occasionally this hits upon a truly spectacular moment of noise, such as on the track "Sinful Nature."
A little odd it took this long to get to some folk music, though perhaps this has more of a country edge. This was a grower, but it feels so authentically rural. Rustic, charming, humble, and observant. The vocals are really pretty, especially when they harmonize. Not doing anything new, not pushing any boundaries, but definitely doing something special. I never tire of this stuff.
A double-album. One hour and fifteen minutes long, spread across 18 tracks. A band taming their atmospheric sludge metal into something mellower but, somehow, this is actually done to great effect. It's a lot of music, and a departure from their sound on their very good previous albums, but hardly a disappointment. One excellent song after another, each quite different from the last in sound but not quality.
If you're going to include techno beats in your music, burying them under layers of sythensizers is the way to go. It makes this a chilling album, not at all welcoming or personal in any way, but immersive nonetheless.
This was released on December 21, so I've only been listening to it a few days but am entirely convinced it deserves to be here. These songs, which may be called screamo, create such tension that the outbursts are actually less exhilarating than the build-ups. I don't know why it took them eight years to follow up their debut, but the wait was worth it.
Somewhere within the massive hype storm over this album are claims of this being one hell of a fist-pumper. That's about right. These songs are played with such enthusiasm that it's hard not to be reeled in by the feeling of positivity inherent in these chords.
Dark, somber folk songs. There's a real sense of melancholy here but it comes across as full of emotion and, thus, beautiful. The one upbeat song, "Chimes," is my favorite track, but the rest of this album creates a mood I find profoundly comforting.
I've listened to all five Pinback LPs but haven't spent enough time with their past work to really get to know them. To my ears, this isn't far removed from what they've been doing for over a decade now. It's breezy guitar-based indie rock with subtly complex rhythms. It typically doesn't sound like they put a lot of passion into their music, which isn't to say they don't, but the apparent laid back attitude doesn't mask some really catchy moments.
Another exciting metal album, but one harder to categorize than Baroness and Dying Fetus. Users of the website rateyourmusic have categorized this as progressive metal, avant-garde metal, sludge metal, post-hardcore and jazz-rock. This cocktail of subgenres gets us close. I certainly get the sludge and prog labels. It's a creative, trippy album with heavy riffs and great melodic bits, both of which are exciting.
DIIV's songs seem to float through the air, striking upon some lovely guitar tones, but they have a real sense of momentum making this... exciting dream-pop. I didn't think those two terms could go together. Dream-rock, maybe?
A melange of electronic, folk, pop and a very fuzzy bass, the discovery of which was one of the my exciting listening experiences this year. The band is hard enough to describe that they have been called "art-rock." I accept that because I can do no better. The vocals have a snarky tone to them, at times, that actually reminds me of something that happens in mainsteam hip-hop. How that didn't bother me is a mystery.
Post-punk mixed with IDM is a terrific recipe, but I had that figured out last time this guy released an album (2010's Black City). Thanks to a deep, emotionless voice and bass-heavy beats, Matthew Dear's music feels incredible gloomy but catchy as well. Really interesting stuff, nothing quite hits me the same way.
Par for the course: two highly-engaging 20-minute orchestral guitar-based post-rock pieces, dense and incredibly emotive in ways only the best of this genre are. Grandiose and kind of overwhelming at times. Two shorter (14 minutes total) drone pieces too. Widely considered one of the most innovative bands of their style, I've never been blown away by them. There is some spectacular music here though and their back catalog has awesome moments as well.
I could just repeat anything good I've ever said about their music. I just really like their sound. It's thrilling music, really does something wonderful to my mind when its on.
John Darnielle's songs sometimes play like high-school poetry, albeit written by a highly-observant, articulate, emotionally reasonable youth (though he's 45 years old). He releases so much music, it's hard to keep up with, but the attitude of these songs is what makes him worth listening to. This is my favorite album of theirs since 2008.
Full of moments of rapturous beauty. I don't think there's a modern band of their kind who do this quite as well as they do, and they have lots of contemporaries.
Gloomy, heavily electronic solo album from the singer of Interpol. I think he sounds good over these tightly-wound beats and subdued guitar lines. Feels quite mechanical despite the prominent use of standard rock instrumentation.
Third record from my favorite contemporary folk singer, and it's easily my least favorite of the three. I think he's one of the best lyricists in recent memory and he plays lively, intricate guitar melodies. Previously it was usually just an acoustic guitar and a voice, but the use of electric guitars and light percussion doesn't totally diminish how lovely his songs can be.
Everyone in the world seemed to admore their first album and find dissappointment in this one; I think this one is better. This is still incredibly spacey, minimalistic music with soulful, conversational vocals, but it seems to have been done with a bit more feeling this time around.
Simone used to play the drums (and sing a few songs) in the Felice Brothers, along with two of his brothers. He left that band in 2009 to play music in which he'd play a more central role, which makes sense because his style is a lot smoother and more soulful than his brothers' more rustic approach to folk music. This album is full of dark and sorrowful lyrical themes but he sings in a such a calm tenor that it has a comforting effect.
After a few records that went too far in search of grandiose prog rock, they've gone back to basics. They rock pretty hard when they want to and this thing has tons of energy and momentum with a strong melodic sense. Their most intense record in years.
Nothing to say about this that doesn't get said every time they're talked about. Fifth consecutive album of incredible, over-the-top, abrasively heavy music. And as has become the norm, they really excite on the slower, quieter songs too.
Simple songs, sung so earnestly. It's hard not to find music like this uplifting. It's so full of positivity. Plus this has some supremely catchy songs ("Heartbreaker," "The Love You Love," "Heaven").
Impassioned post-hardcore of the highest order. For a "religious" band, they manage to avoid sounding preachy, shallow or closed-minded, which is why I can listen to them. Their lyrics are articulate and often pretty meaningful. The music is furious, catchy and pretty at various points.
It must not be easy to be an offshoot of a more-famous band. Shearwater was once a side-project of members of Okkervil River. The two bands sound nothing alike. Shearwater are very dramatic, even theatrical. It sounds bold to me, very intense at times, expansive, powerful. Other adjectives like that.