Archive for the ‘2013 mini-reviews’ Category

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Recent Releases Rounded-up: Black Hearted Brother, The Stargazer Lilies, Youth Code, Wooden Shjips, Sean Proper, more

November 21, 2013

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Black Hearted Brother: Stars Are Our Home

As if knowing the debut album by alumni of Slowdive (!) and Seefeel (!) could hardly live up to expectations, Black Hearted Brother decided to far surpass them. Quite simply, this might be the best shoegaze album I’ve heard all year. It very well might even be the best indie/rock album I’ve heard in the last ten, but that would risk committing some pretty bold hyperbole. So let’s leave it at the best 2013 has to offer.

Drawing from krautrock, shoegaze, space-rock and 60 years of pop music traditions, soaring melodies glide over expansive sonic landscapes that somehow manage to be evocative of the past without being derivative (though “If I Was Here To Change Your Mind” definitely takes a page from the Spiritualized songbook). Ironically, this might be the only shoegaze record in the last few years that doesn’t bear almost too-strong a Slowdive influence. At times the album toes the stadium rock line (Verve and Suede are hinted at), but the mood is kept intimate and sincere.

Bands like Arcade FireColdplay or Muse could take a lesson here on how to paint with broad, epic strokes without coming off as brash poseurs and do gentle without seeming like ineffectual drips—but I doubt they’d have much interest in doing so. Anyway, Stars are our Home is a ball hit way out of the park.

5 Space pop masterpieces out of 5 Master shoegazers back at work

The Stargazer Lilies: We Are The Dreamers

If you were, say, a shoegaze stormtrooper, We Are The Dreamers is the shoegaze you’re looking for. Don’t let any strange old dream-pop Jedi hermits tell you otherwise. Do these ex-Soundpool members lay it on thick as honey? Sure, they do. They may as well have named the band The Shoegazer Lilies. But thank god. Melodies! Washes of filtered reverb! Sweet as nectar vocals! It’s everything great about nu-gaze front-runners Soundpool (and Slowdive and Cocteau Twins, naturally), but refined and distilled into a tonic to rival the best releases on 4AD and Creation in their heyday. If not for Black Hearted Brother, this would be the shoegaze record of the year.

4.85 Languid psychedelic waterbeds out of 5 Dream ships aloft on solar winds

Youth Code: Youth Code

This could very well be my new favourite record of the year. The year in question being 1987. Though in that case it has some stiff competition with Front 242‘s Official Version and Nitzer Ebb‘s That Total Age. Not to mention Skinny Puppy‘s Cleanse, Fold and Manipulate. These are all artists referenced by the brilliant EBM revivalists Youth Code who take an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to the genre. Gloriously regressive and devolutionary. True, there’s nothing quite as immediately catchy as “Headhunter” or “Violent Playground” on the LP (though “Let The Sky Burn” is pretty damn close), but it’s not entirely necessary to have earworm hooks in EBM—just that jackhammer, chest compressing, beat and that mechanical bass sound peppered with guttural screams and old movie samples. Plus, it gives the duo somewhere to grow on the next album which I’m already salivating for.

4.875 Cyberpunk jackhammers out of 5 Howling emaciated Belgian canines

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Recent Releases Round-up: Lorde, Haim, Emiliana Torrini, Hookworms, Joanna Gruesome, Mazzy Star

October 9, 2013

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Venom P. Stinger: 1986-1991

It’s sort of a truth that every time I listen to some vicious Aussie swamp rock by the likes of Birthday Party, Scientists or, thanks to this new double disc compilation, Venom P. Stinger, it sure makes followers like Slug Guts and Bird Blobs sound a bit silly and anemic. Not that those bands are terrible. Or silly or anemic in the least. They’re relatively amazing as far as contemporary rock’n’roll goes. But, damn, Venom P. Stinger really tore it the fuck up in the years between 1986 and 1991 — enough so that there’s nothing left for the new generation to improve upon. Which is no fault of the new generation.

And that said, for all my bitchin’ about new generation bands (across all genres) not being able to “write ’em like they used to,” the guys in Venom P. Stinger honestly didn’t produce much better. Much less a tune you can whistle, there isn’t even an attention-getter like “Release The Bats” on here (The Birthday Party’s flagship song isn’t exactly a whistleable tune in itself) . So, then, where’s my beef? Why do I keep going back to bands like The Fall, Scratch Acid or even Venom P. over the new breed?

I think there’s an “authenticity” to these songs I don’t hear on a Slug Guts’ [substitute young indie buzz band of choice’s] record. Invariably these days young bands feel a bit like indie fashionistas trying to ride some long-discarded coattails, where Birthday Party and The Fall still feel like they were trying to be as unfashionable as possible and burn all the coattails to ash.

Which, of course, is a bit of rock’n’roll mythology as manufactured to a set of blueprints as the songs on a Savages or Wild Nothing record.

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Recent Releases Round-UP: King Krule, Valerie June, Crocodiles, Julianna Barwick, Medicine, David Lynch

September 13, 2013

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King Krule: 6 Feet Beneath The Moon

I first ran across Archy Marshall when he was still going by Zoo Kid. Really, it was just a photo that I ran across on Flickr that reminded me of a cross between the characters Baby Boom and Wizard in Julian Temple‘s 1986 film Absolute Beginners. But possibly trans. Anyway, I was all like “Fuck, yeah! Who’s this? Zoo Kid? He’s got a video? Let’s hit this shit up!” That’s what I was all like.

Then when I heard his jazzy Mark E. Smith meets art-damaged Billy Bragg meets punk-thug Morrissey, well, I was hooked. Kid could do no wrong in my book. Except I couldn’t find any Zoo Kid product and his Bandcamp songs were only streaming. Hey, kid, I just wanna give you my money. Anyway, I pre-ordered his first EP as King Krule as soon as it was announced. It was, admittedly, a bit of a letdown. But I wasn’t remotely deterred. So I’m probably not really a reliable witness when I say 6 Feet Beneath The Moon is everything I hoped it would be and is the hands-down album of the year. For whatever reason this stuff is just on a Kamikaze trajectory zeroing-in on my heart and soul. Marshall is an original,  the real deal, a true post-modern wizard of song.

Apparently Jana Hunter, on the other hand, thinks differently.

5 Mealy-mouthed troubadours out of 5 Misfit balladeers in smoke-filled diners

Valerie June: Pushin’ Against a Stone

I’d have been impressed if Valerie June had been good at any of the half-dozen styles she attempts on Pushin’ Against A Stone, but the fact she’s a master of bluegrass, trad-folk, indie-folk, soul, and blues is just kind of sickening. And the way the album opener “Workin’ Woman Blues” seamlessly blends bluegrass and West African funk, it’s perhaps the most successful attempt at world-fusion I’ve ever heard. On top of all that, she’s pretty easy on the eyes. God damn.

One-upping albums by the likes of Gillian Welch or Sharon Jones—fantastic as they are, they tend to be a tad samey-samey—Pushin’ Against a Stone album plays like a really well curated mix-tape from someone with a record collect consisting only of deep cuts. I took issue with Dan Auerbach‘s production on Hanni El Khatib‘s latest album but he knocks it out of the park here. Or, I suspect, June does the heavy lifting and he just pressed “record”, sat back and let her work her magic. It’s not polished, sanitized, Nashville magic either. There’s a gritty, outsider feel to the proceedings. Something like the underlying hint of danger in Tom Waits’ music before be went the full Beefheart.

The only flaw with the album is the songs themselves are all only really good. There’s nothing to rival the classics they might bring to mind like “Jolene“, “Fever” or “Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay“. But since there doesn’t really seem to be  anyone writing songs of that caliber anymore, she’s still ahead of the pack.

4.5 Versatile down home divas out 5 Complete histories of popular American song

Braids: Flourish//Perish

Only one track in as of yet, but the Björk influence that was an ingredient on Braids debut is in full effect, taking over the recipe. Not just in the fragile, lisy-whispy vocals, but in the skittery ambient electronics of the backing tracks.  By track four (“Hossak“) the Björkiness isn’t lessening. Not sure it’s getting more prevalent, but an innate Braidsiness isn’t coming to the fore either.

So, taken as a Björk album, how does it fare? Very well, actually.

It falls somewhere post-Post and pre-Medúlla. That is to say, it’s pretty much exactly Vespertine. That’s not precisely true, there are moments which are very Thom Yorke circa The Eraser (especially the merping synth bass and clacking drum stick rhythms on “Juniper“). But anyway, now that I’m at the end, I feel confident saying Flourish//Perish should please Björk fans (like myself) who’ve been waiting for another Vespertine. But I’m still waiting for Braids follow up to Native Speaker.

4 Elfin chanteuses out of 5 Vespertines

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Recent Releases Round-up: Date Palms, Mood Rings, Ensemble Pearl, Jerusalem In My Heart, Rip Rig and Panic, Hawkwind

July 16, 2013

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Mood Rings: VPI Harmony

What I have little doubt will prove to be the best shoegaze/dream-pop record of the year, has doubtlessly the worst title of any album of the year. But by any other name, the rose would smell as sweet and all that. Like a good sized handful of nü-gaze bands, Mood Rings use Slowdive‘s smooth and fuzzy as velour formula  for a template. Unlike many of those bands, they write songs nearly as good as Slowdive. On repeat.

4.75 Lucid dream states out of 5 Sweet harmonies

Date Palms: The Dusted Sessions

After you hear a number of ambient/psych/drone/improv records over several years (or decades) you start to think there’s just nothing left to be done with the format. Then you hear a record that might not spin the genre on it’s head, but reminds you that people with talent can always find somewhere new to take it. This latest Date Palms offering is just such a release. Swirling, ethno-psych soundscapes that bridge neo-classical, spaghetti westerns and astral travelling in some kind of dessert ritual surrounding the annual solar eclipse (during which it was recorded in 2012!).

4.5 Post-psychedelics out of 5 Pre-historic shamans

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

June 27, 2013

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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

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Recent Release Round-Up: Willy Moon, Kadavar, Beacon, PacificUV

June 14, 2013

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Willy Moon: Here’s Willy Moon

Probably the most ridiculous album I’ve heard in a long while. In a good way. Post-modern rock’n’roll in the true, bigger-than-life, spirit of the ’80s. This isn’t any kind of arty, too-cool-for-school, post-punk revivalism. This is another kind of monster altogether. There’s not a grain of subtlety or artifice anywhere near this record. Not to say is a mature, personal, singer-songwriter album where Willy Moon lays his soul bare… No, no, this is pure superficial teenage rock’n’roll mayhem—but it’s shockingly sincere pure superficial teenage rock’n’roll mayhem.

In a way that makes you realize how everything you’ve been listening to is complete poser bullshit. Part ’60s garage-rock, part ’80s pychobilly, part ’90s sampledelic and all filtered through a contemporary pop strainer, probably the most surprising thing about Willy Moon’s debut is how abrasive and raw everything sounds. Judged on the material (and Willy’s sleek visage) alone, you’d expect a slick radio-friendly approach like Rick Astley meets Jive Bunny.

Which wouldn’t be an entirely inaccurate comparison in certain respects. The Ctrl-C/ Ctrl-V nature of Moon’s lyrics (play a spot the reference drinking game and see how long you last) and the retro-swing horn riffs aren’t all that different than Jive Bunny’s original mash-up “Swing The Mood“. But instead of being a reverent nostalgia kick, Here’s Willy Moon sounds like it was recorded in some kind of computerized juke-joint on the outskirts of a post-apocalyptic dystopia. Yet it’s a really fun juke-joint where you dance ecstatically while the city burns, oblivious—or in spite of—the desolation outside.

Like I said, the true spirit of the ’80s.

5 Rick Astley from Hells out of 5 Sigue Sigue Screamin’ Jay Transvision Sputniks

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Apparently Bi-weekly Round-Up of Recent Releases: Wild Nothing, Savages, Akron/Family, Purson, Still Corners, Shannon Wright, more

May 30, 2013

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Arrington de Dionyso’s Malaikat Dan Singa: Open The Crown

Arrington de Dionyso’s Malaikat Dan Singa: Open The Crown

I missed Old Time Relijun the first time around thinking, for some reason, that they were a relatively tame bluegrass revival act. I didn’t realize they were hillbillies of a different ilk, playing a sort of weird, off-kilter rockabilly blues more a kin to Blues Explosion than Be-Good Tanyas. Lately I’ve been exploring singer Arrington de Dionyso‘s exponentially weirder and more off-kilter solo records. His schtick is basically a magical melange of Captain Beefheart and Damo Suzuki era Can played in a sloppy Birthday Partyish post-punk/art-rock style very much in the K Records aesthetic (but with more passion and less twee smugness). What separates Dionyso’s music from merely being a sum of his influences is a bonus grab-bag of raw, ethic music influences—dancehall, dub, gamelan, various Asian vocal textures, etc. The result sounds like vintage, unearthed recordings of some crazed Thai Elvis impersonator having an on-stage breakdown while entertaining American G.I.’s on leave circa 1972. A spectacular, visceral mess. This is art school rock’n’roll of the highest caliber.

5 Velvet Elvis undergrounds out of 5 Captain eat your Beefheart outs

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