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Recent Release Round-Up: Soko, Aidan Baker, Classixx, Naam, Sigur Rós

June 27, 2013

2013MINIBANNER
More recent release reviews at THIS PAGE.

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Soko: I Thought I Was An Alien

I’m of the belief that all singer-songwriters should listen to I Thought I Was An Alien and take notes. Not notes on the lo-fi production, but copious notes just so they’re forced to pay attention to the inappropriately flayed-bare confessional tone of Soko‘s songs. This is exactly why we, as a species, tell stories. So that others can play voyeur and peek through the windows of our lives to glimpse a little bit of  truth to help makes sense about their own.

Soko probably won’t maintain many friendships as a result of this album. From experience, I suspect it’ll play like a wrecking ball tearing her personal life down to the foundations. But that’s what makes it spectacular art. It reminds me of the work of Stina Nordenstam, not because of the similarly fragile, icy vocals, but in the similarly honest presentation of deeply personal topics. This isn’t a happy album, though it is achingly beautiful. At times it’s youthfully naive (perhaps in the way that, as you grow older, you learn to keep these things private) but at others it’s wise beyond anybody’s years.

Joni Mitchell didn’t record Blue so that Jewel and Sheryl Crow could use acoustic guitars for as props in music videos, she must have been hoping she’d inspire more albums like this one.

5 Songs of Love and Hate out of 5 Memories of a Color

Aidan Baker: Already Drowning

Light as gauze and dense as concrete, Aidan Baker‘s post-post-rock collaborations with a series of female vocalists plays like a Wim Wenders film. And not just because the songs sound like they’d be right at home on the soundtrack to Until The End Of The World or Wings of Desire, but Already Drowning tells sprawling, interconnected, almost dreamlike pseudo-narrative that evokes spiritual euphoria against the background of existential angst.

It’s not too far removed from being a seductively soothing version of Scott Walker‘s Bish Bosh—that is to say, it’s a dramatic chamber cabaret that’s actually pleasant to listen to. Which I personally think is a huge plus. Masterpiece or not, I need to want to put an album on in order to consider it a successful piece of artistry. I have absolutely no qualms about putting the engagingly creepy, darkly beautiful, serenely paranoid, comfortingly challenging, Already Drowning on repeat any time (though might not be great running or workout music).

5 (x 8) Sirens’ songs out of 5 Cinematic soundscapes

Classixx: Hanging Gardens

Smooth, future-retro disco/house. Classixx are a little less organic than Breakbot though similarly tread the same path as Daft Punk and, again, do it better than our robot overlords did on Random Access Memories. The vocal collaborations are a bit more modern indie-rock flavoured than Daft Punk’s guests, but they all work better than that Panda Bear cameo.

Anyway, enough whinging about RAM. Everyone’s already forgotten about that album so Hanging Gardens might actually get some well-deserved attention. A party record that’s not too aggressive or built around contrived, ringtone-ready earworms, but also a sweet headphones record that sports some decent hooks (“I’ll Get You” cashes the cheque written by “Get Lucky“).

It’s Goldilocks-zone pop perfect for commuting on transit, reading or cutting a rug.

4 Retro robot DJs out of 5 Futuristic Eurodisco paradises

Club 8: Above The City

I hadn’t paid much attention to Club 8 in the past as I’d slotted them into a wanna-be Belle and Sebastian/wanna-be Cardigans pigeonhole. Which they did fit in. Not that there’s anything wrong with that goal—just not interested. But then I heard their catchy as sin indie-disco track “I’m Not Gonna Grow Old” from Above The City and decided to given them a chance.

Turns out I wasn’t far wrong in my original assessment only that the be’s they wanna have changed. Mostly it’s indie-electronic Beach Housey type bands now (especially on “Less Than Love” and “Straight As An Arrow” with their whoa-oh-oh hooks). And, oddly, Visage by way of Ladytron on “Stop Taking My Time” and “Into Air“. “Hot Sun” and “A Small Piece of Heaven” aren’t entirely un-Vampire Weekend-like with their yachts moored off the Ivory Coast feel. Most bizarre though is the album is riddled with strange atmospheric interludes which seems to be a bid for artistic respectability but just pointlessly stall the flow.

Actually, now that I think about it, “I’m Not Gonna Grow Old” steals the bassline (and kind of the hook) from Kylie‘s “Wow” but only manages to be worth about about half its weight in song.

2 Wanna-be’s out of 5 Misleading disco potentials

Orchid: The Mouths of Madness

Another pretty fine proto-metal/classic metal revivalism record. If you like Sabbath and Zeppelin, you’d probably enjoy it. If you’re a fan of like-minded revivalists Witchcraft and Kadavar, you’d definitely like it. Pretty stoner without being too desert, pretty heavy but not too doom. Not that there’d be anything at all wrong with it being more desert and doom, but it’s not. Just telling you what it is.

Orchid has a little more or a “new wave of British heavy metal” feel than someone like Kadavar might have and, at times, they almost sound like Metallica might have if they’d been around in 1970. Or Venom if they could actually play?

Anyway, it’s all that and done well with some pretty good tunes and some serious chops.

4 Judas Zeppelins out of 5 Fuzzy Led Maidens

Naam: Vow

I recently read Jim Jarmusch‘s 5 Golden Rules for Filmmakers. Rule #5 is:

Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination … Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is nonexistent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it … always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to.”

The article is great advice for any artist working in any medium and I encourage you to read it. But I don’t think Naam could learn much from it since they’re already on the right track. In regards to that Goddard quote especially.

They’re a psychedelic rock band that knows their psychedelic history as well as some of my other current favourites (Kadavar, Orchid, Graveyard, Purson, etc), but they’re taking it somewhere new. It’s traditional progressive psych in the truest sense—it’s actually progressing somewhere. That isn’t to say they’re wholly original, they’re thieves celebrating their theft (I’m pretty sure the album intro “Silent Call” outright plagiarizes The Terminator theme of all things), but wherever they’ve taken things from it’s where they take them to that’s interesting.

4.375 Tangerine lizard kings out of 5 Pink hawkwind dreams

Jozef Van Wissem & Jim Jarmusch: Mystery of Heaven

Speaking of Jim Jarmusch, I’ve been meaning to write about this late-2012 release which I didn’t pick up in time to make my year-end list. The film-maker’s second collaboration with lute-player Jozef Van Wissem is pretty much similar to their first, which came out earlier in the year. Basically, Jarmusch drones feedback while Van Wissem plucks delicate psychedelic passages over top. The dark undertones provided by Jarmusch are the missing element in most of Van Wissems records that, while very pretty, tend to be overly repetitive and meander without arriving at a satisfying destination.

Jarmusch is the anchor he needs and the antidote to the slight saccharine quality his music sometimes has. Conversely, a record of Jarmusch’s minimalist solo drones might be a bit thin as well. Or, at the very least, nothing we haven’t heard from avant guitarists a million times over in the last couple of decades. Van Wissem’s lute adds a unique, captivating flavour to what would otherwise be a pretty standard set of noise drones. This is evidenced by the tracks Van Wissem plays 12-string electric guitar on which, while being some the album’s high points, are some of the least distinctive and original moments. Overall, this is a collaboration in the truest sense. And recommended for fans of avant-improvisation.

Bonus feature: spoken word segment by Tilda Swinton!

3.75 Renaissance drones out of 5 Noise faires

Sigur Rós: Kveikur

Last year’s Valtari was probably the first bona fide disappointment in the Sigur Rós discography. It sounded awfully lush and pretty but just sort of drifted along listlessly like the ghost ship on the cover. Just from the standpoint of engaging performance, Kveikur is a definite improvement. Where Valtari almost dared you to ignore its pillowy softness, Kreikur demands your attention with its harsh textures and bombastic arrangements.

The only problem is that the soft textures weren’t what was wrong with Valtari, it was a lack of strong material; a classic “treading water” album by a band with several genre-defining titles under the belts of their life jackets. Kreikur doesn’t improve much on this basic fault. The ideas, melodies, swells and emotions—strong as they sometimes are—are the same as those found on their previous albums.

It’s hard to find specific fault in the album—it’s still beautiful, harrowing, engaging, etc—yet nothing quite has that spark of excitement and forward momentum found on Ágætis Byrjun through Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust. The only song that really reaches the same heights is “Ísjaki” and it has a distinct “I’m pretty sure I’ve heard this before” quality to it. Perhaps because in the last decade so many other bands have started dipping into Sigur Rós’ bag of tricks.

But all meaningless whinging aside, most bands’ 7th album is quite a bit more washed-out and disappointing than this one. Like Valtari, it would have been a jaw-dropping debut. Sigur Rós have simply become victims of their own unavoidable legacy.

3.5 Candlewicks out of 5 Good Beginnings

Splashh: Comfort

It’s pretty safe to say that these guys really like the ’90s (and the late-80s). Third generation shoegazers Splashh‘s debut, Comfort, starts off with “Headspins“, which we’ll generously call an “homage” to The Pixies, and then takes you on a less specific tour of vintage shoegaze, dream-pop and UK indie sounds. Things tend to lean a little more towards the Creation Records side of things than the 4AD, if that matters to you. Either way, the record sounds pretty darn authentic, though it probably wouldn’t have stood out from the pack in 1990.

Splashh sound a bit like bandwagon jumpers who couldn’t figure out if Ride, Chapterhouse or Slowdive were the band they should be aping. But really, the worst thing about this pretty fine disc is the extra “h” on the end of the band’s name which unfortunately reminds me of hHead (who I assume were unknown in the UK).

Anyway, since there won’t ever be anymore pre-Blood Music Chapterhouse records in existence, this one fills a void nicely.

4 Chapterdives out of 5 Pixie rider fanclubs

Pia Fraus: Silmi Siland 1998 – 2008

Criminally under-appreciated second generation shoegazers Pia Fraus have provided, for your convenience, probably the best and possibly only shoegaze revival album you’ll ever need.

Rather than simply rehashing the usual grab-bag of first generation shoegaze classics, Pia Fraus’ records feel more like an extension—recording the albums you wished SlowdiveRide and, obviously, MBV would have carried on into the second half of the ’90s. This compilation gathers some of the brightest moments from their criminally difficult to locate back-catalogue. Difficult to locate physical copies that is; their Bandcamp provides easy access to digital copies of their entire discography which, if you have even a passing interest in shoegaze, is pretty much all essential listening. Or you could just pick up this compilation.

5 Souvlaki nowheres out of Loveless whirlpools

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