Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Have A Nice Life - Deathconsciousness

Inherently in the realm of music criticism, two issues will always become extremely evident in most reviews. One, the writer will most likely alter his opinions based on other reviews: a record like My Bloody Valentine's "Loveless" may have never gained as much press as it has recently if some reviewer hadn't commented on Kevin Shields' ridiculous spending budget, or the fact that the group supposedly perfectly defined and destroyed the "shoegaze" genre. In my opinion, vast generalizations that are linked through the mainstream and underground music communities towards records are usually just bullshit. In just examining 2008's releases so far, Protest the Hero's "Fortress" has been heralded a classic almost unanimously amongst seventeen year old boys who probably spend more time playing Call of Duty 4 than they do artistically appreciating records for doing nothing but creatively combining a bunch of other band's ideas into an hour long "epic". I am not going to say this is a negative thing, I believe everyone is allowed to gauge what is important to them. But, when someone whose tastes consist of solely groups representing what I believe to be the downfall of modern music starts referencing a band I fawn over, like say, Off Minor, it does make me question my own legitimacy. In turn this questioning leads me to be less forthcoming with the bands that I feel are amazing. I originally said there are two issues every music critic has to deal with and while vast generalizations based on other reviews is a large one, the other is related to the point I just made. Lots of critics will praise albums that very little of the public knows solely for that reason. It makes sense, critics are constantly reading reviews that spew praise all over records that have "changed lives" and "impacted people emotionally more than anything", so why would they not copy that attitude and apply it to what they have found? I guess at this time I'll get a little personal and say why I am discussing this.

As a "music critic" myself I often find myself attempting to publicize records that I feel are cutting edge, provoking, and most of all emotional expressions. In almost every one of my reviews, I reference these ideas. If anyone talks to me about music it is clear to them that I am not one for stoic records. So, when I see fans of a band like Protest the Hero latching on to records that I feel like I have helped bring to the masses it bothers me. In a sense, it makes me want to stop reviewing. Because, it cheapens these records I've pined for over for days, weeks, months, years to understand. I was literally counting down the hours today to get home and listen to the record that this review covers, because it is already that special to me. It hurts when people declare something like Kayo Dot unworthy or if someone with a negative persona latches on to a group like Converge, because then I challenge my own conception of those records. In summary of those feelings, I suppose it comes down to the fact that we all must live with our own opinions on things and therefore just be happy that we've created such beautiful relationships with the art in our lives. Music criticism then becomes utterly useless and most of what I talk about is inane, but maybe someone will feel these reactions and in turn, go out and find their own, "Deathconsciousness". Maybe then I can feel like this review proved a point, as music in my eyes isn't about mass consumption, but rather establishing special relationships with those things that reflect something new, something provoking, something emotional, and most of all something real. As an example, I present Have a Nice Life's "Deathconsciousness".

"Deathconsciousness" is probably a perfect record. At the time of this review, I haven't really had enough time to digest it to declare it that, but I can't really think of any way for it to be better. The production, the tones, the chord choices, the vocals, the lyrics, the concepts, everything is stunningly brilliant and just laughably remarkable. If needed to provide examples, I could do it for every track. The slow and steady build that is "Bloodhail" tossing its way between a propulsive Joy Division-esque rhythm section and beautiful dual vocals, the drums that kick in and take "The Big Gloom" to a whole different spectrum of gorgeousness than the tracks preceding it even hinted at; there are so many great moments on this record I could talk about them for days. Well, I'm obviously getting ahead of myself. Have a Nice Life "is, was, and always will be Dan and Tim" as their myspace states and "Deathconsciousness" is essentially their five year discography, a dual-disc debut album that deals with a variety of concepts relating to religion, death and theories attached to those two ideas. Intensely personal in delivery, this is a record that is basically a collaboration of ideas ranging from industrial to post-punk to post-rock. A common thread would be Canada's patron saints of avant-doom Nadja, but even that duo don't possess the massive love of the melodic that Have a Nice Life demonstrates all over their debut. Tracks like "Hunter" show the group's massive devotion to their specific style of eighties soundscapes, but also echo with an earnestness that can only be related to the group's supposed leader Dan Barrett's punk-laden past, as he formerly did time in the relatively obscure post-hardcore group In Pieces. If anything, Have a Nice Life can be described as the perfect example of the suffix "post" in regards to all of the music that has come out in the indie circuit since 1980. It is taking all of the concepts that have made underground music what it is and strangling them in such a way that it creates something of a reminder of what progression actually means.

Impact-wise, an album hasn't hit me this hard since I heard Kayo Dot's "Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue" in late 2005. Not to say that there is any common thread between the two bands; Kayo Dot's massive shifts of grandiose proportion do not inspire any of the moments on "Deathconsciousness" in the slightest. This is an album that deals in minimal composition, and the expression of moods. It shifts and moves in the way one would expect someone's life to, and while the acoustic, solemn tracks like "Who Would Leave Their Son Out in the Sun?" are not extremely provoking conceptually, they just feel so natural that they can't be faulted. Continuing with the description of this being life-like, there are clear attempts at creating extremely energetic yet mood-based music on disc two of the record entitled "The Future". The track of the same name and "Waiting for Black Metal Records to Come in the Mail" are prime examples of songs that shift between guitar parts that resemble Fugazi and Ride and melodies that wouldn't sound out of place on the next Killers record. Obviously, those namedrops make the second disc sound like shit, but it is the perfect counterpoint to the obviously atmospheric first disc which is heavily drawn-out compositions that rely on slow blossoming into beautiful climaxes, "A Quick One Before the Eternal Worm Devours Connecticutt" being a key example.

To dive further into the relations between both discs, there is a steady sense of progression that follows its way through the entire record, beginning with the acoustic-laden intro of disc one and ending with the epic closure of disc two. The album in its entirety only clocks in at an easy hour and twenty five minutes, but in reality feels like it could go on for eternity. The songs never feel long and when one does continue for more than five minutes it is usually for good reason, which is more to say than a lot of bands that are playing this particular facet of "drone" music. Have a Nice Life know their limits, and they know what works and that is why "Deathconsciousness" succeeds.

So, what does or did "Deathconsciousness" teach me? Is it that records simply can surprise me or that when critical acclaim isn't applied that I have to clearly generate some to overstuff an average album? Is it that Have a Nice Life is a complete emotional replica of my current situation and that the overwhelming melancholy and despair of the album is part of my inner being? No, I don't really think there is anything that can be said about this record besides the fact that it is stunningly personal. In turn, it made me want to make this review stunningly personal, and that is what "Deathconsciousness" essentially did: inspire me. This record is draining, it is intelligent, it is an amazing composition, but most of all it is an inspiring, subdued lo-fi masterpiece that almost perfects the idea of home recording. The group of people involved with the production and creation of this record have shown through their music that they have no pretensions and are just trying to share what they've done with people that they think will appreciate it. Maybe in a sense, that is what my goal in music criticism is all about: to help similar-minded people find similarly enjoyable things. A simple concept brought to mind by a simple record.

Have a Nice Life - 'Deathconsciousness' Disc 1 (2008)
Have a Nice Life - 'Deathconsciousness' Disc 2 (2008)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Top Ten of 2007: 108 - A New Beat from a Dead Heart

the hardcore reunion seems to have become in vogue as of late. i'm not going to back up that claim with anything other than the recent Suicide File reunion that took place in Chicago. from the slew of youtube footage it does seem like a rather sincere event, but one has to question how effective or ethical a reunion for a hardcore band is. i mean, in its premature stages wasn't hardcore all about constantly pushing ahead? i'm not saying i wouldn't have loved to seen The Suicide File play some of their hits from the classic 'Twilight', but that reach for nostalgia in my opinion is sort of elevating the band to a status of being above their fans in some way which kind of attacks the one sacred thing i ask for in all of music, emotional expression. oh well, at least we know a band like 108 isn't pretending in the slight as we can tell by their first reunited release 'A New Beat from a Dead Heart'.
i'm guessing if you've ever read a review of 108 it mentions their religion, how they were an anomaly (i keep using that fucking word) in hardcore because of their eastern religious beliefs, something to that effect. i guess that is important, i mean when i saw them late last year they were burning incense and playing the typical drone chants that have come to define 'indian' music. in all honesty thought, i don't really give a shit about this groups religious beliefs. they could be declaring for the prosecution of all jews and if they played as intense and well composed music as they do on 'A New Beat from a Dead Heart', i'd still be down with the record. obviously, the time and signing to Deathwish has provoked a more modern take on their sound. tracks like 'Three Hundred Liars' and 'Martyr Complex' evoke a sound that is based in old 108, but with an obvious Converge/Ballou influence behind the guitars. mark that to the fact that Kurt produced the album, and while it is apparent upon first listen it isn't really distracting. basically this is a hardcore group that originally flirted with metal and now has seemingly fallen in love with that genre of music. a welcome change and a passionate record that i wasn't exactly expecting from a group that had been gone from the scene for so long.
108's 'A New Beat from a Dead Heart'
while in the view of last year, 'A New Beat from a Dead Heart' is clearly a top ten record, in 108's own discography it certainly is not the highlight. a New York band that was obviously one of the strongest impacts on the mid-90s hardcore sound 108 has a fabulous string of albums from 'Songs of Separation' to 'Threefold Misery' all under produced gems of religious exploration in the field of aggressive music. an extremely unique take on an otherwise agnostic sound.

108 - 'a new beat from a dead heart'

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Top Ten of 2007: Oh No - Dr No's Oxperiment

J Dilla's somewhat posthumous release 'Donuts' was basically a critically adored record. to be completely honest, i wasn't very much of a fan. sure, i do enjoy my share of instrumental hip hop, Flying Lotus, DJ Shadow, and the record this post concerns are all in heavy rotation in my playlists, but 'Donuts' seemed lacking. J Dilla is also probably mostly known for his work with Madlib and associations with the artists on Stones Throw and in those avenues i really enjoy alot of his work, but 'Donuts' seemed like a bunch of half finished ideas thrown together to form some kind of 'beats no one wanted' collection. i guess it is strange that i appreciate 'Dr. No's Oxperiment' so much since essentially it just follows in the same structural footsteps as 'Donuts'. or maybe it isn't strange, since Oh No draws on a vast collection of european rock music, instead of twiddling away with hip hop cliches that have been around since 1991.
oh no
the album can basically be summed up in the first cut, 'Heavy' a swirling combination of a steady riff on a guitar and some middle eastern vocals. at first this will make any seasoned hip-hop head call bullshit since in fact Madlib (Oh No's brother) released his Bollywood devotion Beat Konducta Vol. 3 and 4 this year. call it brotherly rivalry or whatever, but Oh No is clearly a step ahead when it comes to dealing with this type of mixing of contemporary hip-hop with middle eastern influences and rock music. to build upon that, in my opinion Oh No is probably the most successful hip-hop producer to mix the two medium of rock and hip-hop in such a seamless way. every track on 'Dr. No's Oxperiment' is a combination of a few basic things like most sample based music, but Oh No makes you believe that it isn't, and there in fact lies the success.

oh no's 'dr no's oxperiment'
while this album doesn't get alot of play when i'm not inebriated or around other people, sometimes albums are simple good for those types of circumstances. this certainly is no 'Sixty Metonymies', it isn't sparse or complex in that type of sense. this is feel good music and music to move to, there are no lyrics so obviously the enlightenment of a record like 'Desire' isn't here. but, this is difficult music to compose and how Oh No has managed to do it impresses me the most. a great record and probably one of those records in my collection that will get endless play when i'm creating playlists for when i'm around other people.

(removed due to artist's wishes)

graf orlock show, i'm the douche in the v-neck
seattle was quite the experience. i attended a Graf Orlock show who i don't really enjoy, but i'd heard things about openers Ghostlimb and Dangers. lets just say those two groups didn't disappoint one bit and deserve much much much more respect and awareness than they seem to be given. Ghostlimb is sort of a cross between Ampere and His Hero is Gone if that even makes any sense, Nick uploaded one of their records a couple days back so check that out. Dangers was lyrically intelligent hardcore in the vein of a group like say Modern Life is War. as for records i picked up and was into i got the first Richard Youngs record and found a more developed love for the Sole and the Skyrider Band release. a fun trip which involved alot more than what is listed here.

Sunday, January 6, 2008


i'll be in seattle for the next ten days or so. hopefully be picking up some interesting records while i'm up there and also having some interesting times. when i return i will finish the rest of the write ups for my ten favorite releases of 2007 and perhaps throw in a couple of extra records. until then.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Top Ten of 2007: Meet Me in St. Louis - Variations on Swing

obviously, i dwell in music that takes itself to seriously. Meet Me in St. Louis, while serious do seem to have their own share of fun while playing their music. this in other words makes 'Variations on Swing' an anomaly in my favorite releases of this year solely based on how abstractly enjoyable it is. to me, this is how all pop music should sound. a series of microcosms inside a larger piece that is constantly progressing into something more and more. the range of influences that seem to become apparent on the first listen of this record range from pop-punk to glitchy electronica, not bad for a now instrumental quintet that seemingly popped up from nowhere. if you want similar artists, these guys sound like someone accidentally played the 33rpm 'Menos El Oso' at 45. they have their moments of lucidity, but mostly this is kind of embracing that whole idea of louder is better that currently is plaguing the recording industry. think of it as an underground Say Anything without the irony. there's humor here, but its not self realization in the form Max Bemis seems to embrace.

meet me in st. louis
in basic terms, 'Variations on Swing' instrumentally is the record At the Drive-in's 'Relationship of Command' should have been. highly technical, obtuse arrangements that easily transpose themselves into gloriously anthematic sections. heavy on riffing, but also heavy on a variety of other guitar techniques the two guitarists in this group aren't necessarily evoking Omar of ATDI but rather weaving their way through a quilt of Tera Melos, Million Dead, and Maps and Atlases. rhythm section of course effortlessly accents all of the gorgeous tones that the other two players are cascading over the forty five minutes of this record. Toby, the vocalist (now former) is the obvious anomaly (sorry for using that word again) in that his technique is kind of flawed, and his ability pales in comparison to the rest of his band mates. sort of a Tim Kasher of math rock, his lyrics echo that early Kinsella feel of nonsensical personal allusions. simply to declare this band as a derivative of their influence though would be a complete case of discredit.

meet me in st. louis's 'variations on swing'
what terms does this record hold in my year? car drives, easy listening, wanting something simple. certainly, some people won't find this record as easy to listen to as i do. in a sense it represents everything poppy about post-hardcore pushed to the very brink. of course, Hawthorne Heights already did that, so why even bring up 'Variations on Swing'? i guess just so i can act like i know a bunch of really unknown artists.

meet me in st. louis - variations on swing (2007)