Friday, December 26, 2008

Low - Christmas

maybe a little late, but here is a christmas album. review is by nigh of fame for more of his work click here.

low's 'christmas'
"I bought this on CD in Crash, one of my favourite record shops in the floating mothership with red and blue flashing lights of an habitual that I call home. It's only a small store, but they get lots of import and American-only release titles that you just can't get in the thoroughly pointless Virgin Megastore. As a result, they consciously cater to the town's more dedicated Maggots and Mansonites, emo kids, straight edgers and that very special brand of make-up abusing disaffected youth, the Brodie Dalle fan (Why? Just why?). Given Crash's effective city-wide monopoly, the guys there must make comedy oversize dessert spoonfuls of money from these poor waifs' demented desire to prove their individuality by buying records their friends approve of. That Crash doesn't confine itself to shooting fish in this particularly small peer pressure cash cow of a barrel, and also stocks stuff like Califone, Godspeed! and, of course, Low's Christmas, is one reason why I like the shop so much. Another is that the staff write kooky descriptions of nearly every CD they sell on tiny little labels no larger than a postage stamp and stick them on the cases. It's always in a rather nice, geometric hand. Always legible. I get terribly worried about the guy whose job this is -- like I say, they stock thousands of CDs...he must get terrible cramps. That he must listen to each CD too, in order to be able to write something at least vaguely relevant to the contents, and is then obliged to describe it in positive terms no matter his true opinion, can't be good for his psychological health either. For this, Low's yuletide hootenanny album, the little label read, "For those among you who will be spending Christmas alone." HOW CAN A TOTAL STRANGER KNOW SO MUCH ABOUT MY LIFE. So it transpired that Christmas was the first Low record I ever bought. It was February at the time. Which is all stupendously back to front, of course, as this album is no starting point for getting into the band and the holiest holy day of February is bloody Shrove Tuesday. Also known as "Quinquagesima". Being the 50th day before Easter. "Shrove" being the past tense of the verb "to shrive", which means "to hear the confession of and give absolution to (a penitent)". Which is_ obviously_ why English people eat pancakes to mark the occasion. "Crack open the Nesquick, my darling, I'm feeling_ absolved_!" In fact, I might never have persisted with Low if it hadn't have been for_ Christmas_'s spellbinding 'Long Way Around The Sea', a simple retelling of the three Jesus-curious Wise Guys' star-guided journeying awash in gorgeous musical illusion. The slightest of strummed guitar figures, Mimi's most captivating backing vocal, a keyboard part that barely quivers and vibrates gently through any loose objects in the vicinity of your speakers and I feel like I'm the one wandering the rolling Levant bearing garish trinkets and aromatic resinous exudations."

Low - Christmas (1999)

Monday, December 15, 2008

thoughts on 2008.

The supposed purpose of the year end list is a hard definition to establish. Some might say that it leaves the person crafting the list with time to summarize their thoughts and reach some form of closure for that year. Others may view the series of lists we are confronted with in 2008 as simply a self induced fellatio designed for critics and users alike to simply show off their varying degree of musical intellect. In a recent post on his blog, 'Pretty Goes With Pretty,' Scott Tennent illustrated that the main issue with the year end list is the concept of trust. The users who are digesting these summaries are faced with the decision to either accept the fact that every critic is establishing a list simply based on quality rather than posture or hyped "outliers." As negative as that outlook is, to deny the fact that the internet and its inset music criticism scene does not fall back on cyclical hype records is simply foolish. For example Bon Iver's 'For Emma, Forever Ago' a pretty standard folk album that does little to diverge from the norms of that genre has been heralded by websites like as one of the best records of the year. The impact websites like Pitchfork have then had on user based sites like or can be seen as it has been included amongst many people's year end lists as simply just an "easy listening" choice. Albums like Lil' Wanye's 'The Carter III' find themselves popping up on numerous lists, but users are left to decide by themselves if this is because Lil' Wayne has released a hip-hop opus or because sites like Pitchfork simply feel the need to express their rap knowledge with the most common denominator. If I'm sounding holier than thou I apologize, as I have found some of my favorite artists thanks to websites like Pitchfork or, and I'm sure even my list suffers from the same issues that I am outlining. There is a point in all of this though. In crafting my list this year I found that I had little desire to actually rate anything, rather simply summarize the sounds and uniqueness of great albums I have encountered in 2008. While, I may be saying that Off Minor's latest record is clearly my favorite of the year I do want to stress that this list is just a reflection of this current moment in time. When I look back at my lists from the past four years I find myself struggling to understand how an album like Black Dice's 'Creature Comforts' found its way to be in my top ten release of 2004. It is obvious that in 2004 I was focused in completely different realms of music than I am now. In my eyes there may be very little real value in this kind of exercise except for myself. This is simply a reflection of what albums have impacted me the most over the course of 12 months. I guess as readers hear these kinds of statements they may be put off people from venturing into my list, and that's okay. I feel like this a selfish act and while I hope there is some value in it for readers, they aren't the reason this was written. As I look at my fellow staff reviewers' lists and the lists released by numerous other publications I find myself jaded and lacking belief in the intentions of this format of summary.

In a roundabout approach, I'm going to begin this '08 summary by reexamining my favorite releases earlier than 2008. 2006 was marked by stunningly unique releases like Kayo Dot's 'Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue' and surprising takes on old sounds like Comets on Fire's 'Avatar.' Some of my favorite records of the decade so far were released in '06 so 2007 in my eyes had very hefty expectations. While, I wouldn't say the year completely reached those expectations, I will say that my favorite artists in '07 tried their hardest. Pharoahe Monch's long awaited 'Desire' fully expanded the vocabulary of 21st century hip-hop records with tracks like the conceptual 'Trilogy' sitting next to verbal linguistic exercises like 'What It Is?' Tartar Lamb, a Toby Driver-associated project, released the minimal 'Sixty Metonymies,' which helped further establish the sound that was hinted at on Kayo Dot's 'Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue.' Finally, Time of Orchids released the insanely complex and accessible 'Namesake Caution,' an album that is clearly a milestone in the history of avant-garde rock music. Summarizing 2007's musical output as a unit revealed that current trends point towards bands mixing various genres in completely juxtaposing ways. The dynamic between light and dark or heavy and quiet has revealed itself to be the motif of the '00s and 2007 and my favorite releases of the year fully embraced these dualities. Other records on my list, like Oh No's 'Dr. No Experiment' and 108's 'A New Beat from a Dead Heart' proved interesting during that year, but as time has passed they seem to have lost their luster. My 2007 record collection seems transitional, with bands like Kidcrash still working in the grandiosity and "epicness" that '06 seemed to embrace, but adding slight changes. The sounds were being tweaked with, but a full evolution had yet to come. In 2008 I saw a shift away from this idea. The avant garde was still clearly embraced, but, using the aforementioned Lil' Wanye and Kayo Dot as two drastic but similar reference points, we would see artists striving to be more accessible and embracing the more approachable sides of their sounds.

As I illustrated earlier, the list that follows this summary is simply a reference point to ten records I most enjoyed records this year. I'd say in terms of quality the only record to outshine everything else would be Off Minor's 'Some Blood.' If I was to create an objective list of my favorite bands Off Minor would obviously be at the top and with 'Some Blood' they simply expanded on everything that makes them great. Lyrically Jamie Behar muted the self-deprecation and began to step into more philosophical realms. The band as a whole has amped up their performances to the highest point of technicality creating a dynamic and unparalleled hardcore record. 'Some Blood' ranks itself among my favorite records of all time and in terms of reference points; in my eyes a hardcore record hasn't reached the heights of 'Some Blood' since Gospel's 'The Moon is a Dead World'. Other hardcore related highlights included ex-Funeral Diner related ...Who Calls So Loud, who fully expanded on the post-rock idea of emo that have been worked in with emo in recent years. Louisville's Young Widows crafted the most impressive Jesus Lizard tribute since David Yow himself with their second LP 'Old Wounds.' 'Old Wounds' also helps explain the derivative nature of 2008. While, nothing new is essentially being done on 'Old Wounds,' the conglomeration of post-hardcore with the sound Jesus Lizard and Big Black established resulted in a record that had a really new feeling despite being made up of old ideas. Young Widows' 'Old Wounds' represents an album that is truly a product of the 21st century; it looks back and forward at the same time.

In terms of rap, the praise Detroit has received for years is finally matching the music of the region. Starting off with what is easily the best rap album of the year, Black Milk's 'Tronic' established the sound that the area has come to represent. To speak in rap stereotypes, the East has always represented the more serious side of the music with the West and South embracing the more accessible side of the music. It is telling then that the remaining compass direction of these regional areas, the North, creates lyrically impressive yet heavily beat-based records. In today's mismatching music environment the area has thrived with releases like Elzhi's 'The Preface' or Invincible's 'Shapeshifters'. Notable is that both of these albums were produced by Black Milk as Detroit has seemingly found their resident underground producer with the passing of Dilla. Other impressive rap-related releases came primarily from the hands of Madlib who has continually proved that he is the best producer in the genre. Remixing the classic Madvillainy resulted in one of the most creative and questionable records of the year and his work with Erykah Badu helped propel "New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)" to help revitalize the neo-soul genre.

Regarding the more avant garde elements of metal, 2008 saw lots of groups moving towards more accessible, or at least less metal sounds. Kayo Dot's 'Blue Lambency Downward' saw the band blending their previous sound with more traditional rock elements. The title track sees the Toby Driver-led group playing around with motifs that are clearly influenced by the '70s psych rock sound. Krallice, a black metal act formed between Mick Barr and Colin Marston, saw those two very abstract artists combining their talents to record what is probably their most accessible and melodic work. Mick Barr also released 'Annwn' under his Ocrilim moniker, an album built on the methods of minimalism mixed with the concepts of heavy metal shredding. Doom metal was punctuated by ASVA's 'What You Don't Know is Frontier' representing the full emotional power that can be put into a record of that genre. Out of Nadja's typical flurry of releases the rerecording of 'The Bungled & The Botched' revealed itself to be a impressive evolution of the band's sound with Aidan Baker no longer relying on enormous noisescapes for his catharsis, but rather taking a more varied route. In what was seemingly an overwhelming trend, all of my favorite metal musicians took a step towards the more accessible with their records this year and thankfully proved the metal doesn't always have to be regarded as a stagnant, one-dimensional genre.

Other notable releases include The Drones' 'Havilah.' 'Havilah,' like 'Gala Mill,' is an album concerned with atmosphere and subtle nuances. Lyrically, Gareth Liddiard has basically been unmatched for the last couple of years and tracks like 'The Minotaur' and 'Penumbra' continue to prove this. The band has harnessed some of their loudness and the album is certainly again much more accessible than the band's previous work. I am actually very surprised that the Pitchfork crowd didn't latch on to this record. Like Sun Kil Moon's 'April,' perhaps it is too serious or legitimate for the type of crowd who only rewards music that is for the moment. Flying Lotus, an artist whose debut '1983' I heavily praised in 2006, did catch on with Pitchfork audiences with his Warp Records-associated 'Los Angeles.' Flying Lotus streamlined the hip-hop out of his sound and while losing some of the power of '1983' his sound continues to prove one of the most refreshing in that gray area of electronic influenced hip-hop. Dual-minded Pygmy Lush played up their folk side on this year's 'Mount Hope' a fantastic lo-fi record full of endless anthems. Finally Fennesz's 'Black Sea' played up his traditional mix of noise and electronics to craft an ambient minimal masterpiece.

In conclusion, 2008 has come to be one of my favorite musical years of the decade. Of course with releases from nearly all my favorite artists that doesn't come as a surprise, but what has caught me unexpected is how drastically different many of my favorite band's sounds have become. Off Minor, Kayo Dot, The Drones all of these groups did giant adjustments to their sound and continued to prove why I hold them in such high regard. As in 2006, I find myself curious about 2009 as I have held this year in such high regard. Hopefully, next year will continue to show artists attempting to be more original rather than staying with the difference that made them established in 2008.

A special thanks to Nick Greer, Scott Tennent, gabbagabbahey, and bg5000 for help with the words.

for the full article go here

Friday, December 5, 2008

Nadja - Radiance of Shadows

Nadja has been a group that over the past few years has impressed me time and time again. Residing in some realm of shoegaze, post-punk and doom metal the duo comes off insanely heavy, melodic and depressing. This is certainly not music to party to and as I lay awake now at 3 AM, stoned, drunk, and somewhat disgruntled it resides as an epic exploration of minimal feelings. The emotions associated with this kind of music only can rival those we associate with film and literature and that is certainly a telling part of Nadja's appeal. In more elegant terms I turn to Julian Cope:
nadja's 'radiance of shadows'
"When RADIANCE OF SHADOWS appeared late last year, its stupendous existence was in opposition and total defiance of a floundering Doom Metal scene that was barfing up endless Khanate and Burning Witch re-runs like a dying cat coughing up hairballs behind the sofa. Instead, the highly prolific Nadja duo of Aidan Baker and Leah Buckareff delivered, on this their umpteenth release, an even more spectacular and majestic and essential piece of work than any in their already packed five-year existence, shoe-horning into their noise three vast fall-of-empires soundscapes of eternal beauty, each close to a half-hour in length and each one sounding like a cross between the very end of every great Goth album (the dying embers of the Nefilim's ELYZIUM springs immediately to mind), the very end of every great post-punk album (Joy Division's CLOSER through an "Over the Wall" filter, anyone?), simultaneously summoning up spectral armies of long dead ancestors AND drawing down the still-to-be-born future generations, intrigued by all the commotion being kicked up down here by this North American husband-and-wife duo. Brothers and sisters, regarding this RADIANCE OF SHADOWS album, I could simply wax lyrical for a coupla thousand words until the purple prose light came on my laptop and/or my stock of hyperbolic mythological metaphors ran out and I'd been forced to create some kind of fake Indo-European patois or even resort to employing a different alphabet to allude to this band's otherness. I could even reach for the works of John Donne and Andrew Marvell and simply copy out a bunch of verses and say: "Here you go, it's like a sonic version of that little lot". However, this would be cheating. So I shall, instead, keep this review extremely short and state simply that RADIANCE OF SHADOWS contains some of the most shattering and emotionally exhausting music ever laid down, and that its incredible usefulness lies in the fact that however tiring your day was listening properly to music of such extraordinary intensity brings to their knees those listeners who are still standing upright, turns those who are seated into ritually slaughtered and slouching bogmen, and delivers those already recumbent straight to the Land of Nod. Employing this record as an early evening meditative device, I regularly wake around 3.30am totally disorientated and overwhelmed at the sheer volume of this music (however far down I turn the volume knob), by then probably on its seventh iTunes rotation. Whether or not Nadja can sustain this level of essential release is not my problem, because I've already got enough to last several lifetimes, thank you very much. However, as I was declaring the very same thing two or three releases ago, the appearance of RADIANCE OF SHADOWS is certainly evidence that Aidan and Leah's work will only get better, whatever "better" might mean in this marvellously uncontextualizable context. This music is so momentous that it could be the soundtrack to a movie about the whole Jewish nation fleeing Egypt, or the Turkish forced marches of their desperate victims during the Armenian Genocide of the early 20th century, or future Moon landings, or even describe the cries of the Atlanteans 9,700 years ago as the comet impacted and forced their culture under the waves for that final time. Such new peaks have been reached by the sonic and emotional excess contained within the three epic pieces presented in this new Nadja album that each track is in severe danger of becoming a 21st century equivalent of Richard Strauss's "Also Sprach Zarathustra" or "O Fortuna" from Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana"; ubiquitous presences across whole swathes of contemporary media. Moreover, lazy film makers of the future who instead of utilizing one of the three tracks from this new Nadja album thoughtlessly employ extracts of the aforementioned for old time's sake, will be severely rapped on the knuckles by the powers that be, thereafter to be sent off to isolation wards to meditate on their misdeeds." - Julian Cope of Head Heritage

Nadja - Radiance of Shadows (2007) Part 1
Nadja - Radiance of Shadows (2007) Part 2

Monday, December 1, 2008

Unwound - Corpse Pose / Everything is Weird

The task of making one great record is not as difficult as it seems. While, I'm not trying to say that creating an expression of art is an easy task I believe if one is artistically inclined then they can easily craft something great throughout their career. What is hard in the realm of music is to remain a relevant and respected act. The band in my eyes that represents a continual sound of progression paralleled with a linear sense of quality is Unwound.
'Corpse Pose' in essence represents Unwound's complete sound pre-Leaves Turn Inside You. Combining angular guitar riffs that seem to illicit Gang of Four with the steady monotone of Justin Trosper the track comes off as the bridge between the aggressive Fugazi minded post-hardcore and the more laidback an artistic nature of post-punk groups like Sonic Youth. Unwound simply being described as the meeting point of Fugazi and Sonic Youth would probably be a better relation, but who really cares. 'Corpse Pose' is especially accented but some very heavy synth playing that helps draw out the melodic nature of the song's chorus in a very subtle yet intelligent way. B-side 'Everything is Weird' is far less structured than 'Corpse Pose' and as a fellow reviewer says "('Everything is Weird') is also awesome, with lots of stabs and a krautrocky ending drenched in xylophone & vibraphone; think Black Flag meets Philip Glass." If you are interested in more Unwound Time Isn't On My Side recently posted the band's supposed magnum opus 'Leaves Turn Inside You'.

Unwound - Corpse Pose / Everything is Weird (1991)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Black Milk - Tronic

Current trends in hip-hop supposedly point towards the South currently dominating the genre. Lil' Wayne replacing Eminem as the rapper most adored by white fans. T.I. releasing an album with six successful singles that hardly became redundant. Signs are certainly motioning towards the South being in some type of acclaimed "golden age" at the moment. While the assessment has grounds, the opposite opinion also has its validity. Able to be mentioned in the same breath as Eminem, Lil’ Wayne has gorged himself on success and will likely never see the same amount of popularity that he does today. T.I., while releasing a solid record this year, has at the same time given into his pop indulgencies and seems to be transforming into a legitimate Nelly. Pimp C's passing in late 2007 also puts a huge hole into the constantly consistent Southern rappers that have been performing since the early '90s (i.e. Devin the Dude, Scarface, etc.). One could paint the picture that Southern rap is in reality grasping at the straws of its former popularity and has fully lowered itself on the sword of marketability. What does this have to do with Black Milk's 'Tronic'? Direct relations aren't really what can be drawn from this assessment of the current rap game, but what we can understand is that Detroit, with the help of Black Milk and other individuals, has positioned itself to be the next huge rap scene. Black Milk's two most appreciated acts over the past two years has been his work on Phaorahe Monch's 'Desire' and Elzhi's 'The Preface,' both of which were bookmarked by a variety of other work as well as Milk's solo LP 'Popular Demand.' 'Tronic' certainly stacks up against those two releases and his first solo record as a fully realized version of Black Milk's vision. While 'Tronic' may not be the hip-hop classic that its early internet buzz has illustrated it to be, the album has revealed itself to be yet another great rap record featuring the association of one of the best producers currently in the genre.

black milk
Keeping with the theme of production, we should first bring up J. Dilla. Dilla is probably the most appreciated hip-hop artist from Detroit and Black Milk, being one of his students, wears the Detroit sound on his sleeve. While 'Popular Demand' and other Black Milk work certainly seemed to full embrace Dilla's sound, 'Tronic' is Milk attempting to reach out for something different. Heavy on the synthetics, 'Tronic' comes off as almost a sophisticated take on Kanye West. The album kicks off with the epic 'Long Story Short' which features Black Milk recounting his stance from unknown MC to the savior of Detroit hip-hop. After the more sentimental intro though, 'Tronic' becomes a very different album revolving on intensely dense beats that feel like a catchier version of Def Jux material. Tracks like 'Overdose' clearly show an electronica influence, relying on a crescendoing beat to build even more intensity into the producer's rhymes. 'Tronic' succeeds in offering a variety of different hip-hop environments, from the extremely poppy 'Without U' to the Phaorahe Monch, Sean Price, and DJ Premier assisted 'The Matrix.' While Black Milk certainly suffers from the same negatives most producers-turned-MCs do, he is able to keep the listener's attention and certainly give the impression that he can actually hold his own on a track with three of the most inventive artists in the hip-hop field.
black milk's 'tronic'
Perhaps I haven't fully explained the sophistication of 'Tronic.' The album is a cohesive connection between underground and mainstream rap, featuring guests from Royce Da 5'9 to Colin Munroe. Black Milk once again proves he is probably second only to Madlib in terms of producing beats that actually sound like hip-hop should in 2008. All in all, I would be very surprised if any hip-hop album reaches this level of precision this year. Black Milk has simply made a completely unique statement in what is typically a pretty stale genre, and with 'Tronic' he has confirmed his status as one of the best. As ‘Losing Out’ attests, Detroit is hungry, and perhaps the Midwest will finally break out with the success of artists as inventive and interesting as Black Milk.

Black Milk - 'Tronic' (2008)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Drones - Havilah

A constant comment on the Drones seems to concern how they will never achieve mainstream acceptance - that the group has carved out a niche in rock that is simply too abrasive for the average music listeners. While there is truth to that sentiment, the complete lack of awareness concerning the band is puzzling. The fact that websites like Pitchfork haven’t turned 'Havilah' or any of the band’s previous records into yet another one of their flavor of the week "classics" leaves the band's blend of blues and indie rock feeling authentic. 'Gala Mill,' the group's previous release, revealed itself to be a fantastic album over time. Cuts like 'Jezebel' came off as rubbish with lead vocalist Gareth Liddiard presiding over most of the tracks with his shoddy cockney accent. When confronted with the actual dense, dark tales, Liddiard bellows, though it is tough not to be fascinated with his picture of Aussieland. 'Gala Mill' seemed to echo the images of an artist like Bruce Springsteen in his attempt to embrace and reflect a cultural dialect through music. In turn, 'Havilah' has lightened up the gloom of The Drones, positioning itself as the band’s third great album in a row.

the drones' 'havilah'
To declare Gareth Liddiard the most imaginative lyricist currently performing may be somewhat of a frivolous statement, but is certainly valid when examining his discography. 'Jezebel,' his masterpiece, was applauded immensely after ‘Gala Mill’s’ release. For those unfamiliar with the opener of 'Gala Mill,' it is a vicious recollection of numerous battles all focused through the prism of a man simply wishing to see his lover again. Recalling everything from World War 1 to fallen Iraqi War victim Daniel Pearl, the track remains singular in its post 9-11 examination of world affairs. 'Havilah' attempts to take a less formidable approach on the world and Liddiard seems to have replaced his anger with longing. 'Oh My' spits lines like "People are a waste of food" over a gloriously bizarre instrumental that marks itself up as one of the poppiest moments in The Drones discography. ‘I Am The Supercargo' reflects the ideas of cargo cults in epic proportions. 'Cold and Sober' acts as the ballad of the album with Liddiard slowly wailing over beautifully distorted guitar. ‘The Minotaur,’ the first single, seems to be the only track in the more aggressive fashion of the band’s older recordings punctuated by the great verse:

‘i have the same old dream
about a tunnel by my bed

from where the stench of shit of minotaurs

yawns like lewd and evil breath
but instinct and a map
has set to work inside my head

instead of shedding tears

i've learned to drink and piss instead'

-the drones – ‘the minotaur’

The brilliance of the lyrics on 'Havilah' is so overwhelming that the record perceivably could’ve been just as touching had it been released as a novella. Luckily, instead we are giving an instrumental backing that features some of the best dual guitar interplaying in years. That Liddiard has seemingly defined his generation in lyrical modernism is impressive, but place upon that the fact that he and recently acquired guitarist Dan Luscombe are playing some of the most interesting and melodic guitar lines since the references points of 'Surfer Rosa' and 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere' is just admirable. Fiona Kitschin and Michael Noga head an impressive rhythm section that helps propel 'The Minotaur' into serene post-punk. The band also uses a variety of extended percussion techniques on tracks like 'The Drifting Housewife' extending the vocabulary of 'Gala Mill' and 'Wait Long by the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By.'

'i try most nights to get you out of my mind
but you're still there silent by my side most the time

i can't help that i let you down
it's too long and too late

and i can't help if i broke your heart
it's too long and too late'

-the drones - 'your acting's like the end of the world'

'Havilah' ends with the haunting 'Your Acting's Like the End of the World.' The most upbeat track on the record, the lyrics tell a completely different story. Ending with the aforementioned verse, we get the feeling Liddiard is somewhat haunted by these hopeless characters he is constantly conjuring. The Drones revolve in a world that is both light and dark. The band’s music reflects the realistic nature of situations in the embellished tradition of the blues. Perceiving events as global and immense as the first lunar landing, the track ‘Penumbra’ recollects Buzz Aldrin in a stark acoustic number. Perhaps that is where the Drones have succeeded flawlessly over their last three records - conjuring up images that are both so seemingly personal yet widely accepted that the listener can do nothing but relate. Whether they have or not, ‘Havilah’ will remain as yet another great record from one of the most talented acts currently playing rock music.

the drones

The Drones - 'Havilah' (2008)

(sorry for the RapidShare link the file was too big for mediafire.)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Goodbye, Blue Monday - 7"

goodbye, blue monday's self titled 7"

I am originally from Pennsylvania. During my search for various emo bands I've invested time in finding groups that originated there. Frail, The Spirit Assembly, Ethel Meserve all of these bands have been groups I've grown to love mainly because of their association with my home state. Goodbye, Blue Monday is an off shoot of Frail in some form. I originally got this record from a blog post on Used Bin Forever. The album represents that midwest emo sound that is so prevalent in many Pennsylvania bands like Frail and Ethel Meserve. The group isn't as spastic as Cap'n Jazz or Spy vs. Spy instead relying on building up more melodic portions in the style of more indie based groups like Mineral and The Get-Up Kids. Great pretty unknown record though. 'Chicago Coin' is clearly the highlight.

Goodbye, Blue Monday - Goodbye, Blue Monday (1996)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

90 Day Men - 1975 - 1997 - 1978

90 Day Men's '1975-1997-1978'
If 90 Day Men is a name unfamiliar to you I suggest that you immediately download 'To Everybody' and 'Panda Park'. Uniquely progressive 90 Day Men over their three album career produced a variety of sounds and coming off somewhat as a psychedelic post-hardcore band. '1975-1997-1978' is devoid of all those fancy genre names though acting somewhat as the strict derivative of Louisville and the respective Chicago math rock scenes. 'Sink Potemken' comes off much like a Slint b-side. Opener 'My Trip to Venus' foreshadows the band's pop sensibility anchoring everything dissonant and unpleasant out of the math rock genre and coming off as entirely beautiful. Reference points are made on 'Streamlines and Breadwinners' to the legendary Vidablue or Ten Grand how ever you wish to label them. Conclusion 'Hey, Citronella!' reveals the progressive tendencies that the band would fully build on with their first LP. Fantastic EP and definitely a great foreshadow for the rest of the band's career.

90 Day Men
'Sweater Queen' reminds me of a mid '90s emo song. The band comes off sounding like a more placcid Maximillian Colby and that is probably a good description for this entire album. Although I think it would certainly be a stretch to label the band as 'emo', they certainly ride that line between post-hardcore and emo very well.

90 Day Men - '1975-1997-1978' (1998)

Monday, October 13, 2008

a moment for..

fugazi's 'long divsion'

"it's a long time coming,
it's a long way down,
it's long division,
crack and divide.
this is a parting,
some separation,
we lay in pieces,
cracked to survive.
i'm not your villain,
not your adversary,
i'm not your reason to crack and divide.
it's long division,
crack and divide."

-fugazi - 'long division'

Friday, September 26, 2008

Young Widows - Old Wounds

Louisville's music scene has always been seen as defining a more sophisticated version of aggression. Bands from the area tend to be associated with "math rock", a sound that groups like Rodan and Slint created in the early '90s. In the current music scene in Louisville applying this generic influence to a heavy base of post-hardcore seems to be the new style. Pusher, Breather Resist, these bands all represent an extremely noisy complex brand of hardcore that in today's climate is strikingly original. In turn the Louisville sound has provided the scene with a national following. Young Widows is perhaps the most esteemed collective in Louisville these days featuring the entire instrumental bulk of Breather Resist with guitarist Evan Patterson taking up vocal duties. Young Widows originally sounded like yet another Jesus Lizard clone on their debut 'Settle Down City', but with 'Old Wounds' they have crafted something between the stolid side of Fugazi and repetitive style of groups like the Melvins and Big Black.

young widows
'Old Wounds' begins with the pulsating bass tone of Nick Theineman. 'Took a Turn' is the opener and definitely one of the highlights with its perfectly composed dynamics. Patterson's guitar tone shows itself half way through the track in pure fabricated noise that shifts in and out of the music creating bursts of industrial sounding melody. 'Old Skin' follows showing the band hasn't lost any of their aggression from the Breather Resist days. Hammer ons and a relentlessly heavy beat from Jeremy McMonigle make the track an excellent transition from the more subdued intro. Speaking of the sound of this record Kurt Ballou and the band took a different approach to recording it as they recorded all of the songs both live and at Godcity Studios. I don't know how much this technique was used in terms of layering the record, but the production on this record is probably the best Ballou has done since 'The Moon is a Dead World'. Every tone on this record is absolutely pristine. 'The Guitar' which is built off simply chord strumming and Patterson's reminiscence on his instrument is accented by brilliant overlaying melodies that sound just as lush and distant as they would on a Ride album.

‘Old Wounds’ is strictly ‘90s influenced it seems. The ideas here are all from the last decade, but something feels different. Young Widows aren’t simply saying silence is a dangerous sound like those before them. ‘Old Wounds’ has crafted something desolate and fractured out of the past. The record sounds completely of this era and with its distant sound yet dark imagery crafts a perfect record for a nation and area that is suffering economic turmoil. In turn it should provide very little shock that the stories on this record seem like an update on Big Black’s ‘Songs About Fucking’ which came out during another Republican spawned economic crisis.

young widows' 'old wounds'
In terms of criticisms there are little. 'Old Wounds' represents a band feeling comfortable in their own skin and stretching out their ambitions. In return they've crafted an excellent sounding and composed post-hardcore record that has clearly been getting a deserved amount of acclaim. Perhaps 'Old Wounds' is not Young Widows' 'Liar', but as they continue to stretch their limbs into areas that aren't Jesus Lizard influenced their sound and persona swell. Suppose that should've been expected though since the band is from Louisville.

Young Widows - 'Old Wounds' (2008)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I Hate Myself - 2 Songs

i hate myself's '2 songs'
I Hate Myself was a Gainesville emo band. their claim to fame seems to be the penchant the band had for satire and how they incorporated it into their image. I Hate Myself played subued hardcore that is reminiscint of Saetia in the angst department. this seven inch is less layered than their other releases and instead is very simple both in composition and production evoking a Mineral type feel. Two tracks are on this record. 'Drama in the Emergency Room' is a slow building track that jumps between loud and quiet dynamics before finally collapsing in the final repetition of "doctor". 'Darren's Roof' is a brooding counterpoint to the more strung out 'Drama in the Emergency Room'. distorted verses make up the majority of the track. the guitar playing on this record always seemed to remind me of Modest Mouse in some ways 'Darren's Roof' especially the track feeling like a more menacing 'Dramamine' both in sound and topic.

I Hate Myself - 2 Songs (2000)

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Drones - Custom Made

seven inches represent an "extended play" for artists. in my opinion the seven inch is probably the hardest format to make a great record on because you don't have time to develop a running sound. where on a full album artists are able to throw in some filler between two great songs that isn't a possibility with seven inches. that is why i've decided to examine a seven inch weekly on here supposedly every sunday evening. i doubt this will actually occur as even the first post is being constructed past the "due date.", but who really cares. hopefully this will provide more great music for the few people that indulge my lengthy discussions.

the drones' 'custom made'

the first seven inch i'll be posting will be a recently materialized idea on ATP Records called Custom Made. it is basically a series of seven inches that will call for its roster of bands to put together a four song sampler with new and old material as well as covers. the first band to be involved with the series is a group that goes by the name The Drones. in my opinion, probably the best "rock" band currently active. The Drones hail from Australia where they've mashed a variety of sounds into some kind of cohesive devotion to American blues with a hefty amount of influence from groups like The Birthday Party. Neil Young styled guitar leads are all over their plethora of records, but the differences between 'Gala Mill' their latest and their debut are vast. 'Gala Mill' was a collection of expansive Australia folk lore while 'Here Comes the Lies' was essentially a blues cover album by a group that adores feedback. 'Custom Made' contains examples of all of these sounds opening up with a great remake of 'Cockeyed Lowlife of the Highlands'. Dissonant guitar lines abound the song introduces us to the aggressive side of The Drones with vocalist Gareth Liddiard howling his oddly cockney accent all over the track. Psychedelic guitar fills abound the song explodes into the next track 'I Don't Ever Want to Change' from 'Gala Mill. 'I Don't Ever Want to Change' is basically the hit of this record. It has a pop structure with a relaxed verse that explodes into a raging chorus. Commentary of the lyrics point to Liddiard commenting on a specific type of Australian who seeks peace in nature from their self destructive urban life. The track is a superb addition in terms of segue the noiser side of The Drones into the more composition based side of The Drones. 'I Drink' a cover of Charles Aznavour's 'Je Bois' is a track only The Drones could play. The track stutters in a variety of angular rhythms while Liddiard recounts his past indulgence in liquor. Finally we have the closer of this seven inch set, a ballad in only the way The Drones could do 'Shark Fin Blues'.

the drones' 'shark fin blues'

Every second of 'Shark Fin Blues' has purpose. From the cascading guitar intro to the bridge of las. This track is truly one of The Drones' finest moments and where it truly succeeds is in the lyrics. Liddiard sets the stage of some type of shipwreck with the narrator looking on,

'a harpoon's shaft is short and wide
a grappling hook's is cracked and dry
i said, why don't you get down in the sea
turn the water red like you want to be?

'cause if i cry another tear i'll be turned to dust

no the sharks won't get me they don't feel loss

just keep one eye on the horizon man,
you best not blink
they're coming fin by fin
until the whole boat sinks.'

-the drones - 'shark fin blues'

The Drones - 'Custom Made' (2007)

Monday, September 8, 2008

...Who Calls So Loud - ...Who Calls So Loud

...who calls so loud's self titled
Funeral Diner encapsulated a dense and nostalgic view of hardcore. Their seminal release 'The Underdark' was anchored by its dynamic songwriting as well as a fantastic drum performance by Ex-Portraits of Past member Matt Bajda. When the group broke up guitarist Dave Mello and aforementioned Matt moved on to a new project under the name ...Who Calls So Loud. Their debut definitely makes the fact clear that members of the band were previously involved in Funeral Diner. The record is a combination of thoughtful longing and intense build ups. While there certainly are a lot of similar threads connecting Funeral Diner and ...Who Calls So Loud there are also numerous key differences. First off ...Who Calls So Loud isn't as dense as "The Underdark" the guitars act more as melodic anchors than heavy distorted sound scapes. 'Sleep-like' plays out this idea when it breaks into a serene bridge featuring lush guitar parts with drummer Matt releasing a flurry of impressive fills. The band also seems to take a more introspective look in terms of the lyrics. Funeral Diner's lyrics most of the time came across as very dark and preachy words on the current state of society where ...Who Calls So Loud's don't echo accusation. 'Any Color I Want' encapsulates this idea;

'it's been years since i've stood on your porch.
several memories flash all at once.
i don't even know if you still live here.

attached is everything you've written me.

i've highlighted all the lies.'
...who calls so loud - 'any color i want'

If 'The Underdark' represented what the Half Moon Bay breeds ...Who Calls So Loud is attempting to portray how the members of that community were actually bred. The record as a whole echoes lost sentiments and forgotten peers. The music is desolate and while it is not as basic as a standard hardcore affair it feels human in how it gradually builds itself up just to fall back into a more appropriate section. Highlights of the record include '' which speaks on feelings of life's futility. The cycling guitar portions in the introduction of the track help slowly cascade the song into the rolling repetition of 'there was a presence.' The song has probably the heaviest section of the record when it expands into its conclusion which almost echoes the feel of a breakdown. From that apex of heaviness the record drifts into the slide guitar of 'Assume the Power Focus' which is such a startling shift in feel that it works excellently.

...who calls so loud
Complaints on this record are easy to assume. The band isn't living up to the complexity of their former incarnation, the sound is too typical for a post rock influenced emo group, the lyrical content is trite, etc. While there is some validity in some of these statements listeners should examine ...Who Calls So Loud's debut album for simply what it is; a continued development of the sound Funeral Diner was striving to create and in that regard it succeeds.

...Who Calls So Loud - ...Who Calls So Loud (2008)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Richmond is a Hole

richmond, virginia
Richmond, Virginia and its surrounding areas have over the past twenty years been a great source of aggressive mostly hardcore based music. Groups like Gwar, Municipal Waste, and Undertow have all left their own mark on the scene. Perhaps the most universally acclaimed group from the area though is emo based pg.99 who personified an extremely aggressive and chaotic sound of hardcore that can even now be seldom mimicked. pg.99 and their sister project City of Caterpillar are two of the most important late '90s hardcore groups in terms of influence so of course when their specific members are release something new it causes some form of anticipation. Pygmy Lush's 'Mount Hope' and Verse En Coma's 'Rialto' are both records that encapsulate what their former bands were about in ideals, but in terms of sound these two records are far removed from their humble beginnings. Pygmy Lush has removed the heavier side of their sound and created a completely acoustic record. Verse En Coma on the other hand has crafted a record that seems like a lighter Malady.

On the topic of Malady one must realize that the group was essentially the successors to City of Caterpillar. When Malady’s self titled came out there were definitely a lot of people disappointed with CoC’s sound not being kept in full. While Malady's self titled debut release does embrace the dynamics that were present in City of Caterpillar there is also a pronounced rock influence on the record. 'Yeah' the second track on the record starts off with an introductory guitar part that would not seem out of place on a Third Eye Blind album. If you're looking for sonic comparisons Malady is a tamer more controlled Gospel. If Gospel was Yes than Malady would be Zeppelin. The group can play their instruments, but they certainly aren't doing anything remarkable on the record in technical terms. That isn't the point with Malady though as the band has harnessed their influences of post rock and shoegaze using subtle tricks like layering their vocals to give stronger accents to the shifting nature of their songs. Where City of Caterpillar would extend a song for four extra moments to build to that final crescendo Malady inserts a repeating riff or a double vocal attack that quietly and more abruptly ends the developing guitars. Malady's attitude and song construction seems based in mid '90s hardcore, but their actual sound only flirts with the post-hardcore of Unwound and Fugazi instead the band is more set sounding like a really lo-fi Hot Snakes. The guitarists are playing as two separate people, but come together as one with their layered melodies. Drummer Johnny Ward does not play busy instead allowing the album to groove with the help of exceptional bassist Kevin Longendyke and finally there is vocalist Chris Taylor.

malady's self titled debut.
Chris Taylor has an extensive resume. pg.99, Pygmy Lush, Mannequin all feature his vocal meeting point between extremely aggressive screams and rather gruff singing. In Malady his vocal performance is crucial to the band's success. His vocals not representing the visceral nature of pg.99 here instead coming off much like Adam Drooling of Gospel in their background nature. Taylor is low in the mix, but his voice suits it. His spoken word build up in 'The World is a Tomb' helps the song reach new levels when the beat finally breaks. His repetition of the numbers '56, 17, 27, and 12' makes 'Bad Life' a strong contender for the best track on the record and this is all without mentioning the vivid detail of the lyrics he is actually yelling. Taylor clearly has a way of coming off like Tom Waits and in his lyrics you can see the imagery of Waits seen through the lens of Richmond and surrounding Virginia. Malady's self titled is a record with stories that echo drop outs, burn outs, and those left behind. Taylor's bridge in 'Bad Life' clearly representing the purpose behind his words,

'but from womb to grave
and everything in between

it gets real fucking mean,

and you wonder why i drink?

i wonder why we're not all drunks
sunk in our dumps where nothing changes.'

malady – ‘bad life’

Malady's debut record is a sharp commentary on the nature of towns like Richmond. The type of record that leaves the listener only hoping that the emotion the band is pouring into playing is what helps them deal with the issues on the record. In a long line of extremely fragmented views of today through the guise of post-hardcore Malady stands. Echoing the sentiments of 'The Underdark' and 'The Moon is a Dead World' Malady reflects the cold reality of our pain and desolation, but in doing that helps us examine ourselves. Certainly a record worthy of being the successor of City of Caterpillar and more importantly establishing the members of Malady as people to watch not only because of their past, but because of what their future might entail.

city of caterpillar
Verse En Coma represents Malady and City of Caterpillar's future. Featuring 3/4ths of the original City of Caterpillar line up as well as 3/5ths of Malady, 'Rialto' was a record most have been looking forward to for a very long time. In early 2006 with the release of the track 'Young Ones' (which has now been renamed as 'In a Factory) it was obvious that Verse En Coma was clearly tonally in line with Malady. What Verse En Coma does differently though is remove the post-hardcore sounds that are present in Malady and instead embraces the more alternative and grungy side of that band. Saying that Richmond and its surrounding areas are essentially playing grunge filtered post-rock is certainly not going to win them any new admirers, but I'm sure the bands could really care less. Verse En Coma is a lyrical reminiscent journey that is in sharp contrast to Malady's themes. Malady represented the desolation of the rural nature of areas like Richmond where Verse En Coma embraces that nature and happily plays in fond memories of growing up in those areas. 'In a Factory' perfectly accents this telling the story of two lovers who find love at a small workplace with the band seemingly celebrating their rebellious blue collar nature. Malady's other half went on to join the group Pygmy Lush who certainly sonically represent Neil Young and Bob Dylan much more than Verse En Coma, but the lyrical themes of Verse En Coma are so strongly reminiscent that the group seems to be clear fans of the heart on sleeve styles of Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.

verse en coma's 'rialto'
In terms of Verse En Coma sonically, think Malady yet much softer. The strong shoegaze influence that Malady brought to the City of Caterpillar sound is present with Verse En Coma, but the places where the band should break heavy are replaced by even prettier sections like the conclusion of opener 'Through Ice Patches and Pine Trees'. 'Tiny Speakers' has a beautiful group vocal section that adds an even more intense layer to its conclusion. A key part that makes the sound of Verse En Coma a successful change is Ryan Parrish whose drum performance on 'Rialto' is absolutely amazing. The plodding post-punk of 'Disappearing Glaciers’ is cut extremely well with Parrish essentially playing fills over the entirety of the verse. His heavier more dynamic playing on 'In a Factory' makes that track such a successful anthem. Without the return of Parrish to this trio of players its doubtful Verse En Coma's new sound would sound as good as it does. On other important sound adjustments the guitar playing here is much more airy than Malady. Malady's debut had a strong devotion to riffs where as Verse En Coma sees the band instead playing hardcore tainted post-rock instead of the other way around. What is most surprising is that by switching to less hardcore oriented music that band has become even more unique with their only comparison in my mind being 2008's critical darlings Have a Nice Life. I guess the sound that Verse En Coma and Have a Nice Life both share comes from both bands having members that were previous involved with post-hardcore projects and are now attempting to do something that is more alternative and punk based. Whatever is the case 'Rialto' is a fine example of how to make an alternative rock record.

Pygmy Lush's 'Bitter River' was an interesting release in 2007. The most polarizing part of the record was how strange the material was. Where Chris Taylor would sometimes fully embrace his Tom Waits influence there were other times when the music of the group would sound even heavier than pg.99. Also, somehow on the record the group had somehow showed off how much they enjoy Elliott Smith and Birchville Cat Motel. Luckily 'Mount Hope' isn't that scatter brained. The group does delve into rockabilly and drones a few times, but overall this record seems to establish the softer folky sound that Pygmy Lush is going for. The sound is somewhere between the aforementioned Elliott Smith and Neil Young with the group taking strong melodic points from Smith and coming of as Young with their incorporation of lush electric guitar touches. Tracks like 'Frozen Man' and 'Tumor' clearly evoke a dedication to early Iron & Wine and other folk darlings, but Pygmy Lush manages to make 'Mount Hope' sound not like a hardcore band playing folk rather just a solid somewhat different folk record.

pygmy lush's 'mount hope'
'Mount Hope's' most successful track is opener 'Asphalt'. A calmly orchestrated acoustic guitar track with a nice snare backing that is accented by Chris Taylor's deeply effected vocals. The song basically features what sounds like two looped acoustic guitars for its entirety that almost echo Ben Chansy's finger picking style. Where 'Bitter River' had extremely mournful acoustic tracks, 'Asphalt' is bright sounding. Lyrically it still represents the darkness that has begun to become associated with the group, yet it isn't as ominous as 'Bitter River'. Tracks like 'Send Bombs' seemed to represent a disconnected sadness where 'Asphalt' is simply reminiscing about lost,

'i'm sleeping in a basement;
it's cold and undusted.
the pictures are hanging

all my walls like a guillotine.

i know you know there is nowhere.
laying down here trying to think of nothing, i know you know there is nowhere to go.'
pymgy lush - 'asphalt'

A strength of 'Mount Hope' is although its feeling is essentially the same through its entirety the way the band makes you feel that way is not always the same. 'Red Room Blues' is a mammoth of a track with its length being just over eight minutes. Beneath mumbles of 'the bottles collecting old dust like trophies.' and other such personal images Pygmy Lush slowly builds soft blissful drones that eventually overtake the entire track. It is a beautiful technique that Six Organs of Admittance somewhat explored, but Pygmy Lush is much more simple and blissful in their delivery of acoustics counter pointed with noise. 'Red Room Blues' is immediately followed by the Tom Waits devoted 'Mount Hope' and Pygmy Lush's more eccentric nature comes out. The rockabilly territory that 'Mount Hope' represents is also revisited later on the album with the track 'Butch's Dream'.

‘Mount Hope’ sees Pygmy Lush at their most peaceful. Gone are the outbursts of screams and palm muted power chords. As the band has essentially been touring as a loud and soft entity, one assumes their next record will be entirely loud. While, I am excited it is kind of disappointing to think that the group will not revisit the beautiful sounds they did in making ‘Mount Hope’. Perhaps that adds to the intimate impact of ‘Mount Hope’ as it does feel like something that could’ve just been cast into any of the member’s closets. If one thing can be said about ‘Mount Hope’ it is certainly the most sincere record made by the members involved and that is saying something considering the alumni.

Malady - Malady (2004)

Verse En Coma - Rialto (2008)
pygmy lush link removed; check out for ways to purchase the record as well as hear 'Asphalt'

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Flying Lotus - Los Angeles

For those who are familiar with Flying Lotus’ specific style of electronica, 'Los Angeles' can be marked simply as Steve Ellison's Warp record. Ellison has slowly been moving himself among the L.A. hip hop scene attempting to craft something that sounds like the meeting point of Aphex Twin and Madlib. Daedalus and Gaslamp Killer can also be seen as clear relations to FlyLo as they should considering all three artists are common performers in the L.A. music scene. '1983' represented a more clearer view of Ellison's take on instrumental hip-hop, 'Reset' was marked by the decision to move Flying Lotus into a more beat heavy existence, and with 'Los Angeles' we begin to see the artist reveling in the perceived intelligence of his label peers like Prefuse 73 and Autechre.

flying lotus

Opener 'Brainfeeder' shows clearly that this is going to be a different type of Flying Lotus record. Absolutely no percussion is used through the songs entire minute and a half length which seems daring for a producer who is known for his superbly crafted rhythms. The track is highlighted by the swirl of dynamic synths that help the second track 'Breath.Something/Stellar Star' slowly and perfectly shift in as a follow up. Noticeable about the first two tracks also is how deeply FlyLo has seemed to delve into his atmosphere. He is pressing for a more psychedelic feel and 'Breath' demonstrates this with synths that sound like wandering Theremins. 'Melt!' mixes chants with a very tribal drum feel and encompasses the influence it seems Bollywood has had on Ellison and 'Golden Diva' leaves an unremarkable impression of Boards of Canada. As the record reaches the midpoint it starts reaching for more rhythm based pieces. 'Riot' is a heavy bass aided track that uses steel drums and hand claps to create a massive low end. The song slowly evolves until the bass bridges into a seemingly random pattern as the drums around it come to a steadier beat. The track then leaves the more upbeat rhythm and concludes with a drifting synth barrage. 'GNG BNG' comes off as mix between the pioneering sounds of early New York DJs and Beat Konducta's recent forays. 'Parisian Goldfish' finishes off the trio of dance heavy tracks as FlyLo's most club based composition yet. As a whole the variety of sounds found on the record are what 'Los Angeles' success stems from with tracks as relaxing as 'Sexslaveship' before what seems like improvised vocals on 'Testament'. . 'Los Angeles' finishes off with a variety of vocal performances included a meet up with one of Ellison's early collaborators. ‘Los Angeles’ ends on a positive note with the simply beautiful 'Auntie's Lock/Infinitum' which is made even more luscious with a vocal performance from Laura Darlington. The track drifts the otherwise cluttered sonic palate into a serene and simple finish and I could not see the record ending any other way.
flying lotus' 'los angeles'
Flying Lotus has once again proved that he is an artist that can consistently reinvent himself and make his new sound just as effective as it was before. While I wouldn't say this record succeeds in providing the same level of consistent quality I think '1983' did, it is pretty hard to criticize 'Los Angeles' as anything other than a great record. Ellison's developments as always have entertained me enough that I'm willing to remain excited for his next release. Until then ‘Los Angeles’ remains as one of the best examples of “instrumental hip-hop” in 2008.

Flying Lotus - 'Los Angeles' (2008)

Red Sparowes - Aphorisms

Red Sparowes has always come off as one of the more literate post rock bands. While their record concepts have ached of forced thoughtfulness the music the group produces has never felt the least bit cluttered. Most post rock groups simply attempt to bend the minor scale as far as it will go while Red Sparowes take a much more tonal approach to their sound. At times this works brilliantly creating beautiful soundscapes with unanticipated twists. Other times the band is left sounding extremely unmoving; example being their first LP which while interesting suffered due to its seemingly useless noise interludes. Luckily "Aphroisms" suffers none of the group’s flaws from their debut instead mimicking the more developed side of their second LP. As post rock bands have become a dime a dozen it is always great to hear a band be as good as Red Sparowes at their own little niche of the genre. Important to Red Sparowes is the sophistication of their songs not the textural beauty and this is why they come off as a more intelligent version of groups like Explosions in the Sky and Russian Circles.
red sparowes' 'aphorisms'

"Aphorisms" is an important record for Red Sparowes because of the loss of previous guitarist Josh Graham. Graham is known for his textural tone as well as his involvement in Neurosis and Battle of Mice. In my opinion he is one of the more successful post metal guitarists due to his ability to craft dynamically heavy yet melodic displays. This helped Red Sparowes in the past as the metal edge was beefed up in part because of Graham. On "Aphorisms" we can feel the change of sound yet it doesn't come off as a bad one. Red Sparowes have just grown a little lighter as well as a little more rhythm based. This change may have nothing to do with the departure of Graham but whatever the reason "Aphorisms" is a great EP showcasing Red Sparowes evolving sound. Drummer David Clifford provides a dynamically interesting performance that helps blend the soft and loud changes effortlessly. Guitarists Bryant Meyer and Andy Arahood create gorgeous melodies that echo traces of math rock complexities. “Error Has Turned Animals to Men, and to Each the Fold Repeats” is a perfect example with its hallowing guitar laden conclusion being both cathartic and compositionally developed. In all honesty this EP probably represents the group at their most efficient. The band has honed in the lengths of their songs and put a more prominent effort in being a little more emotionally and it pays off in heaps.

red sparowes performing 'a message of avarice rained down upon us and carried us away into false dreams of endless riches'

Fans of Red Sparowes that have yet to hear this record may be feeling a little anxious do to how radical I've kind of implied it sounds. To be honest this simply isn't as vastly different from their other material as I imply. The lengthy song titles are here with the opener being label as "We Left the Apes to Rot, But Find the Fang Grows Within" and the basic structure of the songs are the same as before. Said opener is a trip between a mathy introduction that forms its way into one of the band's most gorgeous sections through a transition of white noise. "Aphorisms" comes off as a record where the band is using the same pieces as always just sort of mixing up how those pieces are arranged. This philosophy reveals itself to be both the records strength and flaw. In terms of the Red Sparowes discography "Aphorisms" should probably be labeled as the most cohesive piece, but in terms of the entire genre of post rock the group is simply not doing anything original here. The band is simply a very good example of modern post rock and if you are approaching the record with anything but that in mind be prepared for a disappointment.

Red Sparowes - Aphorisms (2008)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cold World - Dedicated to Babies Who Came Feet First

Cold World's previous effort 'Ice Grillz' was a novel, simplistic portrayal of rudimentary hardcore fused with a hip-hop presence. It included everything from Wu-Tang Clan samples to the drummer stepping up to DJ the group’s productions. The record was a solid if not gimmicky work and somewhere along the line the hype behind the group caught up to Deathwish. In turn we are presented with the well anticipated record 'Dedicated to Babies Who Came Feet First' which compared to the debut features a much more prominent metal influence as is usually for the bands on Deathwish. Going a little off subject, Paint it Black's 'New Lexicon' released earlier this year kind of gave me hope for the new Cold World. Dalek producer Oktopus was heavily involved in the production of that record and it feels so appropriately. Cold World as well is certainly not negatively affected by this idea of rap and hardcore fusing as one. 'Dedicated' presents an atmosphere that is simply nonexistent in any other hardcore group. Subtle lyrical references to rap classics, random incorporations of electronic drums, the excellent and raw sounding samples. Cold World is easily feeding their supposed image, but beyond that they also possess the ability to write some damn good songs.

cold world's 'dedicated to babies who came feet first'
In examining the sound presented on this record we only need to look at the title track. Starting off with a punk based riff that would sound more at place on their debut the track lyrically presents us with an image of the rural area of Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. Like most of Pennsylvania Wilkes Barre is a mix of city life with the enormous amount of rural areas that the state is known for. The issues that lead singer Dan Mills touches on seem to be a meeting point between these two environments. Musically the song brilliantly uses samples in its chorus with the calls of 'my life, my life, my life, my life'. Transitioning straight from the chorus into a bridge featuring Blacklisted vocalist George Hirsch provides a great counterpoint to Dan Mills somewhat redundant vocals. The song breaks into an excellent breakdown as it finishes off in an epic manner. While I love how sparingly the samples are used on this record it does seem like the best songs on the record succeed by implementing some form of hip-hop into otherwise by the book hardcore. 'Liars, Thieves' is another clear highlight with its drum machine transitions making the group come off as a legitimately interesting rap / hardcore hybrid and not the least bit nu-metally.

Negatives can be easily found on this record though. Singer Mills is an easy mark for the sometimes lacking heaviness of the group. The two backing vocalists do a good job of providing a heavier edge, but the lead of Cold World is certainly not the band's strong point. Other complaints can be filed towards the fact that Cold World isn't really presenting anything new besides the incorporation of some hip-hop gimmicks. The music here is basically derivative of mid-90s hardcore groups like Biohazard and Life of Agony and while those aren't bands that have seen a revival lately it is still not going to provide the group with as much respect as say a group like Paint it Black or Modern Life is War. The mid-tempo approach leaves some songs coming off as simply imitations of the actual classics on the album. Still, I don't think Cold World is going for something entirely new with this record and rather splicing together a supposed image of NYHC with the more urban side of that city's music and in that regard it works flawlessly.

cold world

All issues aside Cold World should be applauded with the rest of the Deathwish roster for releasing what has seemingly become a trend of consistent, interesting hardcore records. 'Dedicated to the Babies Who Came Feet First' isn't going to change anyone's mind about hardcore, but for those fans who have long worn out their copy of 'Urban Discipline' will find themselves right at home with tracks like 'Roaches and Rats'. Cold World's worldly perception obviously elicits their namesake and their entire sound is devoted to presenting that idea as a reality. If one thing can be said about 'Dedicated to Babies Who Came Feet First' it is that they have certainly done that.

Cold World - Dedicated to Babies Who Came Feet First (2008)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Andrew Hill - Black Fire

Andrew Hill is my favorite jazz composer. His arrangements, his groups, everything about the man I throughly adore. When I heard about his death last year it saddened me a great deal because even in his old age he was still a marvel of a player and more importantly still releasing relevant jazz music. 'Black Fire' followed Hill's most celebrated achievement 'Point of Departure' and while that album is probably one of the best avant garde jazz records of all time the rest of Hill's discography is certainly not something to scoff at. Simply looking at the rhythm section of this record you know you are in for a treat. Two of the most inventive jazz musicians of the period Roy Haynes and Richard Davis bring a extremely tight performance to this record and in my opinion easily surpassing Davis' performance with Tony Williams on 'Point of Departure'. Where 'Point of Departure' comes off as a more compositional record, 'Black Fire' seems to showcase the more meandering improvisations of Hill's music and in that light it comes off as a fantastic journey.

Andrew Hill's 'Black Fire'
Describing the actual tone of the album; "It wasn't unusual in the mid-60s for Blue Note albums to include original compositions, but sometimes these compositions were pretty generic: a modal number, a "Sidewinder" clone, a blues number, etc. But not here -- each of Hill's tunes is distinct from those generic categories, and from the other tunes on the album. Hill's tunes include weird twists and turns, starts and stops, alternating sections with clashing ideas or moods, unpredictable rhythms, and of course a touch of Monk. "Subterfuge" is a percussive, claustrophobic piano trio performance. "McNeil Island" is another trio performance, but this time Roy Haynes sits out. Joe Henderson plays very lyrically on this one. "Black Fire" is a waltz, alternating an upbeat theme with a darker one. It's interesting to see how the soloists adjust to the frequently adjusting moods in their solos. "Pumpkin" (introduced by a striking Richard Davis bassline) and the sorta-Latin "Cantarnos" both feature intense, passionate melodies. " - GB (user on

This is a fantastic record and a great exploration into the stranger areas of jazz for any fans of the genre. Perhaps not a great starting point for Jazz or even Hill, but a very solid record once you become accustomed to what exactly this man's philosophies on music are.

Andrew Hill - Black Fire (1964)

Off Minor - Some Blood

In terms of concepts Off Minor's latest 'Some Blood' is not an album I'd label as comforting. Where there previous records tackled very specific areas of the band's social interactions 'Some Blood' is a more visceral, more encompassing, and in general more mature effort. This assertion puzzles me because it seems that as time passes hardcore bands tend to start off being a little more accusing and end being more introspective. Perhaps, the most impressive part of Off Minor is in fact the length of their existence and how focused and similar their message has been over all of that time. 'To An Ex' may seem to be walking along ground that was covered on the groups' first record 'The Heat Death of the Universe', but that album exposed the personal trials of the band in a very short direct way. The songs presented on 'Some Blood' are dealing with overarching concepts of social commonality. Off Minor is one of few bands that speak directly to the hearts of a community while at the same time applying moments that are so moving that it creates a certain brand of philosophy. 'Everything Explicit' examines the tragedy of words left unsaid not in a selfish way rather mournfully examining the issue. It is important to take note of the ages of this band and their contemporaries because most people playing this type of music simply aren't breaking thirty. In turn this leaves Off Minor with a little more to prove than your average hardcore band. Simply judging by the bands the members of Off Minor have been in the group is certainly going to have a certain amount of anticipation surrounding their releases. So, when the group stretches out and exposes itself with a track as bare and uncharacteristic as 'Practice Absence' it is both surprising and common place. Off Minor is a radical thinking version of a high school genre and on 'Some Blood' the groups' trademark blend of 'jazz like' phrasing with extreme aggression has reached a point of finality.
Jamie Behar
‘Some Blood’ is proof that the band has blended their previous sounds into one all encompassing effort. Opener 'Neologist' proves this perfectly in its short span of nearly three minutes jumping from traditional Off Minor heavy sections that are juxtaposed by a gorgeous interlude that succeeds at being both technical as well as transcendent. 'No Conversationalist I' cycles through more chord progressions than were found on the entirety of 'Group Sex'. The title track finds the visceral voices of Jamie Behar and Steve Roche taking a backseat to some more relaxed spoken vocals that help ease the listener through the rapid transitions found throughout the song. The key improvement on this record though seems to be the care taken in producing it. On Off Minor's last record 'Innominate' the drums seemed to appear simply as a toms and cymbal, while here we experience an extremely organic sounding set that helps emphasize the always moving bass lines of Kevin Roche. While previously the guitar and bass seemed to either tonally sound distorted or clean on 'Some Blood' the group seems to be stretching out their sonic palette. 'Practice Absence' represents this best with its multitude of layered guitar pieces that incorporate varieties of effects as well as singing portions that sound dissimilar to anything Off Minor has done to date. If this record is in fact Off Minor's final document let it be known that they have full evolved their sound into something completely unique from any current trend in hardcore.
Off Minor's 'Some Blood'
The final aspect I'd like to shed light on in regards to 'Some Blood' is the intelligence of its lyrics. Where most of their contemporaries are simply echoing usual white suburban male issues, Off Minor has crafted a literate assessment of hardcore values. As I said early 'Everything Explicit' is a muse on the deterioration of relationships but how the group actually visualizes this is what makes them such a special band.

'as we live these linear lives,
unidirectional, towards an inevitable end
we must make everything explicit.
that's how we left it: unsaid,
i'm at a loss for words.'

For simply the vocabulary alone Off Minor should be applauded. But, when you examine the actual things they are saying you being to understand why this group is held in such high regards. Few hardcore bands will ever have the honor of saying that every single one of their records is an essential buy and Off Minor is one of the few. In terms of quality in regards to quantity the last group to have such a solid discography in my opinion would either be Unwound and Fugazi and simply putting a band on that level is guarantying people to question my judgment. I don't mind though, I can unabashedly say Off Minor is my favorite band and that no contemporary group speaks as effectively as them. As the group themselves say

'this is not injustice.
this is poetic license
permitted by a nation's silence.'

Off Minor - Some Blood (2008)
(link takes you to digital ordering site for the record. Off Minor pulled a Radiohead so donate what you will.)