Saturday, February 23, 2013

New Music 2-23-2013

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

New Music 2-9-13

Bad Religion - True North (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.

Grouper - The Man Who Died in His Boat (2013)

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.

My Bloody Valentine - mbv (2013)

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

Now Playing 2-1-13

Early Day Miners - Let Us Garlands Bring (2002)

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."

Early Day Miners - All Harm Ends Here (2005)

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.

For Against - December (1988)

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.

Bluetile Lounge - Half-Cut (1998)

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 - Super Deluxe (1996)

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.

Morella's Forest - Ultraphonic Hiss (1996)

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.