Thursday, June 3, 2010

Record Review: Caribou

[2010, Merge]

This one took a little while to grow on me. I instantly loved lead single "Odessa," but for a long time I thought "Sun" was irritating (it's since become a favorite from the record). Caribou (the project of Dan Snaith) largely eschews the traditional guitars/drums/keyboards setup featured predominantly on Andorra in favor of experimental house that's heavily influenced by Arthur Russell's Calling Out of Context. I had a lot of trouble finding something to talk about with this album, but after weeks of delays (sorry), I finally had a solid angle to work with. Read the whole thing (it's not that long) over at In Review Online.

Buy it

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Record Review: Beach House

Beach House
Teen Dream
[2010, Sub Pop]

This will most certainly be making my best of 2010 list. A wider breadth of emotions is prevalent, but Victoria Legrand's sadness is still palpable in her plaintive strains. Alex Scally's guitar work offers a greater stylistic range as well, including some nice lightly distorted tones that work well in their given situation. Read the full review over at In Review Online.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Best of the decade: 2000-2009

Joanna Newsom
[Drag City, 2006]

This is likely my final piece of writing for Tiny Mixtapes, so I think it's important that the featured writing is on one of my favorite albums of not only the past decade, but of all time. If you want read me rhapsodizing about Joanna Newsom (and you do, right?!), Go Here. I guess I'm a fanboy.

If you don't own this record, at the very least in mp3 form, please go listen to it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Year-End Festivities: The best electronic-ish releases of 2009

Yeah... I'm really late. I developed some kind of aversion to blogging for a short while, so I postponed posting here until now. More 2009 highlights to come, as well as new content. Thanks for sticking with me.

tim hecker an imaginary country
Tim Hecker: An Imaginary Country

This was a bit of a disappointment when compared to the masterpiece that is Harmony in Ultraviolet, but an excellent experimental ambient album no less. Hecker paints from a familiar palette of static-laced field recordings, overdriven organs, aqueous rumblings, etc., but the feel here is pretty far removed from past albums. "Borderlands" alone makes this album worth checking out, sounding unlike anything the artist has written thus far. Frigid piano chords shiver over Hecker's frozen tundra using some excellent DSP techniques, and hollow bell-like tones sound in the distance. Evocative as all Tim Hecker albums are, An Imaginary Country is an excellent journey through a truly fantastic world.

Bibio: Ambivalence Avenue

I debated writing this in a different post, but enough of it is purely electronic to qualify it for this list. Stephen Wilkinson completely reinvented himself on this record, and I'd say it's for the better. He retains elements of past recordings, but incorporates many stylistic elements from his new labelmates at Warp. The songwriter included a few folky tunes, some excellent pop numbers, and several instrumental hip hop cuts that would jibe well alongside Flying Lotus or J Dilla on a mix. Here's what I've written about this album in the past.

Kreng: L'Autopsie Phénoménale De Dieu

If the foreboding title and cover art alone didn't inform you, this is without a doubt one of 2009's most unsettling albums. A bizarre combination of musique concréte, jazz and aria samples, found sounds, prepared (and traditional) piano, and minimal string arrangements that recall Ligeti and Arvo Pärt. Though the pieces were conceived for avant-garde theatre and dance troupes, L'Autopsie Phénoménale De Dieu is a work that holds up when decontextualized (I've not seen the pieces which the album accompanies). The TMT message board was constantly buzzing about this guy, but I never got around to listening until about a month ago. The Chopin prelude that "Meijse en Auto" (the song that initially grabbed my attention) is based upon is beautiful and sorrowful enough as is, but when combined with what sounds like a woman crying over a telephone and a languorous, funereal snaredrum and ride cymbal pattern, it's one of the most despairing things I've ever heard. Not for the faint of heart, but highly rewarding and very innovative.

The xx: xx

Upon initial listens, "Crystalised" was very underwhelming. I dismissed the group (as many have) as yet another UK buzz band who've gotten too much press too quickly. While they may have garnered an unbearable amount of exposure before having time to adjust (one of the original four members quit after an exhausting festival circuit), they show remarkable maturity and restraint on their debut album. Smart, sexy, and surprisingly honest, xx is one of 2009's most surprising releases. These eleven songs delve deeply into the minds of twenty-somethings, admittedly not very fertile ground for truly profound material, but the simple candidness in both lyrical content and delivery is often disarming (though entirely welcome). Musically, xx shows a nascent band who've already crafted and almost perfected their own aesthetic, an austere blend of stark MPC beats, clean guitar and bass lines, and soft, sultry vocal interplay. Yield to the hype.

john wiese
John Wiese: Circle Snare [EP]

Prolific LA based noise auteur John Wiese shows a remarkable amount of restraint on this effort. Not nearly as great as Soft Punk, but a solid and intriguing EP no less. Here's what I wrote for Tiny Mixtapes' Year-End Fest:
Circle Snare stood in stark contrast to John Wiese’s watershed release, Soft Punk. Although there was empty space between sounds, Circle Snare was insular and claustrophobic, delivering profound psychoacoustic effects when listened to on headphones. There were certainly passages of chaos and emotional catharsis, but they felt well-deserved after the long segments of silence punctuated by abrupt, small sounds. While noise is overtly harsh and often considered impersonal to the uninitiated, Wiese’s expressions on this album were very human — almost uncomfortably so. His chopped-up, sampled breathing sounded absolutely malicious as it skittered between channels, and when he unleashed waves of pummeling noise, it was with brute physicality. The three-part title suite unfurled steadily, initially hinting at the inclusion of traditional tonality. This notion was quickly dispelled as the drone was shattered into thousands of indiscernible fragments, pitch-shifted drum machines moaned, and mangled tape loops screeched and yowled like feral cats. Possibly the most noticeable aspect of the release was the absence of the sadism found so frequently in the genre. Wiese allowed his listener some respite quite often (by way of near-silence), making Circle Snare one of the most patient, restrained sets of noise music released in 2009.

Jon Hopkins
Jon Hopkins: Insides

This British composer/producer certainly has an ear for texture. Massive bass assaults yield to placid, elegiac piano miniatures, only to be succeeded by glitchy IDM workouts. The melding of organic strings with rich synthetic pads and drums works very well for Hopkins. It's a shame that his contributions to Coldplay's Viva La Vida are conflated with and overshadowed by those of Brian Eno (both men produced, and though I'm a huge Eno fanboy, I'd venture to say that Hopkins' synth contributions were much more essential than Eno's). Insides almost feels a bit too long at times, but the incredible highlights alone are worth your time.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

In Review Online's best of 2009

Hey, look -- I contributed a blurb about Mount Eerie's excellent Wind's Poem to InRO's end-of-2009 coverage. I've been pretty bad about posting as usual, but I imagine you expect that by now. Launching a tumblr soon. Not really sure why, or whether it'll subsume this blog here. Details forthcoming. For now, check out the staff's picks.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Record Review: Baroness

Blue Record
[2009, Relapse]

First thing's first: this is one of the best albums I heard in 2009, metal or otherwise. And yes, I listened to more than just "hipster metal" this year (the station had Dying Fetus, Eagle Twin and Gorgoroth in rotation, and, well, you've seen my love for that Converge record). Anyway, I'll point you in the direction of In Review Online for the full review. I try to avoid simply rhapsodizing about a record in reviews, but it was difficult to contain here... Blue Record is phenomenal.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Year End Festivities: Best Hard Rock Releases of 2009

The unfortunate overlook of great "loud rock" (be it hardcore, metal, or otherwise) in "indie rock" circles continued this year; I can't claim to have kept up much myself, but I'm very glad to have discovered what I'm spotlighting here.

axe to fall (med.)
Converge: Axe to Fall
I found out about this album from Pitchfork's hyperbolic, 8.5/10 review, but was shocked that Axe to Fall was denied "Best New Music" status. Sure, the band is signed to Epitaph records, but metal bands have formerly been given the distinction... I'm pretty certain (and disappointed) that Schreiber and crew were too worried about credibility to acknowledge such a great album. The reviewer even went so far as to name Converge "This generation's Black Flag," so I wouldn't be surprised if the review wasn't initially a few points higher.

Axe to Fall opens with the brilliant hat-trick of "Dark Horse", "Reap What You Sow" and the title track, tearing through vintage Metallica thrash and hardcore blast beats while the guitarist furiously unfurls searing pull-off runs. Far removed from the more grind-oriented sound defining their earlier landmark album Jane Doe, the mid section delves into slower, sludge, post-rock and doom-inspired territory. They display immense technical ability throughout, shifting through time signatures with ease while performing with dexterity, but nothing about the album feels showy. Instead, it's raw, violent and passionate. Some momentum is lost on the Earth/Tom Waits homage "Cruel Bloom" and slow-building closer "Wretched World," but they offer a needed come-down after such a blistering album. If You haven't checked this one out yet, and consider yourself a fan of harder rock music, please listen.

Zu: Carboniferous
Zu rival Sunn O))) in heaviness on a lot of these tracks. Unlike Sunn O))), however, Zu is hardly about stasis or fixation on held tones. This prolific Italian experimental jazz trio teams up with The Melvins' King Buzzo and Ipecac label-head (and venerable experimental musician in his own right) Mike Patton for a lengthy, disorienting set of ten tracks. Carboniferous introduced me to the group, so I can't say how it compares to their past efforts (and they have a pretty exhaustive back catalogue, with fourteen albums that include collaborations with Fred Lonberg Holm, Nobukazu Takemura, Ken Vandermark, and others). Comprised of tight yet powerful, polyrhythmic drumming, distorted, layered saxophone and scuzzy electric bass, Carboniferous is the most simultaneously brutal, noisy and technically demanding piece of work I heard this year, but it's also very rewarding.

king of jeans
Pissed Jeans: King of Jeans
Maybe it was the band's name, or my initial reaction to hearing "Ice Cream" from 2007's Hope for Men (I was pretty close-minded to a lot of rock music offshoots at the time), but I likely wouldn't have checked out King of Jeans had it not entered heavy rotation at V89, where I was forced to play it during several shifts (only the first time was forced... I gladly returned to it -- and even hoped for it in my rotation -- during subsequent shifts). There's improved clarity in the mix, but the group fortunately retains their dirty sound. Singer Matt Korvette channels The Jesus Lizard's David Yow quite often, and it works well for him. Though he details pretty mundane topics (going to the gym, parties, and R-rated movies), Korvette manages to explore insecurities (body image, social interaction, sexuality, etc) that most can easily relate to.

monoliths & dimensions
Sunn O))): Monoliths and Dimensions
Sunn O))) as an idea had always fascinated me, but it wasn't until Monoliths and Dimensions that I'd truly loved one of their records. Probably one of the most appropriate album titles of 2009, Sunn O)))'s power is physically and emotionally draining. The core duo of Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson enlisted a slew of collaborators, including Australian experimental guitarist Oren Ambarchi, Hungarian vocalist Attila Csihar, Earth's Dylan Carlson, a Viennese women's choir, a string section, and countless others. Genuinely terrifying at times, the duo summons immense drones from their own guitars, but the most transcendent moment of the album comes with closing track "Alice." Dissonant guitar tones (presumably from Dylan Carlson) ring out and languish over a barren desert landscape, and as each brief guitar pattern decays, the horns and strings provide tense crescendos. Just over halfway through the song, though, the darkness begins to disperse with a major key tonal shift, ultimately yielding to three blissful minutes of harp, strings, Ambarchi's processed guitar, and orchestral flourishes. Without a doubt one of the best songs of the year, this is Sunn O))) at their best and most innovative, displaying immense patience (which they've always had) and compositional prowess.

blue record
Baroness: Blue Record
Last but certainly not least, Baroness' Blue Record was my fifth favorite album of 2009. I wrote about 600 words on it, but the review has yet to be published. Check back later this week for my (mostly) complete thoughts on it.