Monday, 16 May 2011
Deafheaven are one of the latest American bands to continue an exciting new wave of black metal. This, their debut album, shows obvious influences from the post-rock and shoegaze genres. "Violet" opens the album with a slow, warm swirl of beautiful guitar melodies - before the blastbeats kick in and vocalist George Clarke begins to howl tirelessly and at full force. But this flurry of aggression and despair doesn't come with the intention of taking the listener by surprise. Instead it comes off as a logical progression within the context of the song.
"Roads to Judah" consists of four tracks and clocks in at around thirty-eight minutes overall. The songs are lengthy, but they don't overstay their welcome. The post-rock influence is apparent in the way that these songs expand and contract. Every track here builds up to a climax and successfully balances out fury with moody reflection. This is a dramatic record in every sense of the word. "Roads to Judah" evokes euphoria, melancholia and rage - sometimes all at once. "Tunnel of Trees" turns "Violet" on its head, beginning with a galloping burst of guitars, drums and screams before retracting into a meditative calm, exploding into a huge crescendo once more and finally winding down the album with a simplistic yet decorative keyboard outro.
The band improves upon their already excellent 2010 demo release with this debut. The songs have much more room to breathe and evolve. The vocals are buried deeper within the mix too, and as a result there's a stronger feeling of harmonious interplay between the musicians. Deafheaven favour beauty over brutality with "Roads to Judah". It's exciting that a record which can be loosely defined as "black metal" can sound so inviting. It does well to demonstrate that this kind of music doesn't have to be ugly or unapproachable to newcomers. This is one of 2011's highlights and is thoroughly recommended to anyone who is interested in powerful, emotive or grand music.
"Roads to Judah" is out now on Deathwish.
Friday, 25 February 2011
Enough time has passed since the innovative release of Radiohead's seventh album "In Rainbows" as a pay-what-you-want download. It felt like a true event, a historical moment in music (and internet) history. There weren't any reviews available prior to the album's release. No "leak culture". Everybody got to hear it at the same time, critics included. The listeners could judge for themselves. Then came the general consensus: the band had done it again. All the waiting, the hype, justified. Remember, this is the same band that brought us 1997's "OK Computer" and 2000's "Kid A", two albums placed among the best ever recorded by critics and music fans alike. In short: people expect a lot from Radiohead.
So what was to come next? Apart from the usual rumours, all listeners had to go by were two download-only tracks in the form of "Harry Patch (In Memory of)" and "These are my Twisted Words". These songs were nice stand-alone pieces, but they didn't satisfy that underlying hunger for a new, full-length Radiohead LP. Finally, on Valentine's Day, Radiohead released a typically cryptic message on their "Dead Air Space" blog: "THANK YOU FOR WAITING". The post contained a link to preorders of the new album, which would be released the same week in a similar fashion to "In Rainbows", this time as a paid download. Like the last record, an extravagantly packaged, deluxe version of the album is also available. As soon as the album was made available for download on February 18th, the rush of critic and fan first impressions followed.
"The King of Limbs" sounds like Radiohead as we now know them post-"OK Computer". This is their shortest album at eight tracks spanning just over thirty-seven minutes. It's also a logical follow-up to "In Rainbows" in that it's simple, accessible, brief. Their electronic lean is ever-present too. Most of these tracks are dominated by a repetitive beat structure matched to subtle guitar melodies, and, of course, Thom Yorke's charismatic vocals. The most logical point of comparison is actually Yorke's solo album, 2006's "The Eraser", in that "The King of Limbs" is quite minimalist. It doesn't sound as packed as Radiohead's past work. Sadly, it doesn't sound as passionate either. There isn't a moment here as powerful as, say "Nude" or "Reckoner" from their last album. "Lotus Flower" and opener "Bloom" come very close. These are the strongest two tracks on the album, mainly because they progress and evolve more than the other tracks, and they have clear peaks. Yorke's stronger vocal performances on these songs also help.
Everything else can simply be described as "solid". Read: there is not one bad track here, but there's a worrying lack of defining moments. Most of the songs on the album comfortably retreat into a single hook or melody. It's a sad thing, but the songwriting on "The King of Limbs" comes across as some of the least adventurous in Radiohead's career. The result is a good album, not a great album. Radiohead will always unfairly be held up to their past work. The quality of "The King of Limbs" is excellent by any other band's standards, but the problem with being repeatedly brilliant is that people will always expect you to be game-changing.
Radiohead's work has a funny way of making you reconsider its value as time goes by. Many people who initially dismissed "Amnesiac" and "Hail to the Thief" came back around. Similarly, fans are always changing their minds about the order of their favourite Radiohead albums. Hopefully, with time "The King of Limbs" could reveal itself to be much more. You only have to take heed of Yorke's final warning at the album's close: "If you think this is over then you're wrong".
"The King of Limbs" is out now. You can download it from The King of Limbs website.
Monday, 6 September 2010
It's been over three years since abstract hip-hop veteran El-P dropped his second full-length LP "I'll Sleep When You're Dead", and it still looks like fans will have to wait a little bit longer until he releases a true follow-up. Right now, though, we get the "weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3", an instrumental album which demonstrates El's love for and synth-fiddling and production.
This mix is the third in a series which was previously only available in limited numbers at shows. This time around, El-P has decided to commercially release the third (and best) mix in the series. What's more, retail versions of the album come with a download code for "weareallgoingtoburninhell" and "weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixx2", so purchasing megamixxx3 effectively means you're getting the entire series, which is nothing to be sniffed at.
The first thing to note is that on this album, El steps away from the mic completely. The decision to leave his own vocal tracks off definitely works better here than it does on the other two megamixxxes. Previously, El's vocals popped up here and there, which often felt out of place - it almost felt like two different types of album were fighting against each other for your attention. With megamixxx3, though, the soundscapes have much more room to breathe. This record feels like a true, free-flowing song-cycle and a totally separate work of art.
El-P's twisted humour is apparent from the intro "Take You Out at the Ball Game", which gives way to "Whores: The Movie", an explosive and atmospheric banger that demands to be heard. Everything blends together perfectly on this album - it's crafted in order to carry you right through to the end with no hiccups along the way. The overall mood is similar to the one set on El-P's sublime debut album "Fantastic Damage". It's apocalyptic, fierce and funky, with odd sparks of sci-fi beauty and reflection (see: "Time Won't Tell). This album would almost be terrifying if it weren't for the straight-up ill beats. There's definitely a retro, mid-80s vibe on here too - El-P sounds like he's paying homage to the golden age of big beats. As well as the original tracks present on this mix, El-P has included a stripped version of "How to Serve Man", a joint that appeared on the fourth Definitive Jux compilation. There's also instrumental leftovers in the form of "I Got This" and "Driving Down the Block" - remixes he had been working on for other artists. These aren't intrusive at all and fit the bill well with their horn-blares, tightly programmed drums, synth-lines, bass-burrs, and whatever else.
"weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3" will not fully satisfy fans who are expecting a "true" El-P record - this is not the time for that. However, if you go in with the mindset that this is a different kind of project where El-P still leaves his mark, you'll find that it's another great addition to his vast portfolio. This doesn't just include his solo albums, but also his previous role in Company Flow, his soundtracks and his remix work. El-P is widely respected in hip-hop for a reason - his talent extends far beyond the mic. This is simply further proof that he can do no wrong.
"weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3" is out now on Gold Dust Media and includes a download code for the first two megamixxxes.
Friday, 27 August 2010
The melancholy months are setting in, but Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin aren't ready to let go of the summer vibes just yet. This is their fourth record of feel-good indie rock and finds the band at their most inviting.
The appropriately titled "Back in the Saddle" is aptly placed at the forefront of the set and it instantly grabs and stuns. It's a summer anthem as anthemic as they come, but with a sly, progressively structured backbone. It definitely gets this LP off to a jump-start and shows that this is a band that want to be heard at this stage in their career. "Sink/Let It Sway" doesn't let the quality standard slip either, with its clean guitars, keyboard melodies, and a truly irresistible chorus. SSLYBY have their influences close to their hearts throughout this release - the overall vibe captures the mood of the laid-back catchy, guitar-driven indie acts of the 90s. Think Pavement with less of the mid-tempo jangling and more of the enthusiastic vocal hooks.
"Stuart Gets Lost Dans Le Metro" marks a surprising shift, at least temporarily. It sets a refreshing and gentle melancholic mood for the first moment of Let It Sway's second side. It comes in with a flurry of keyboard stabs and acoustic guitar with soft, solemn vocals. It glides along quietly like the current transition from Summer to Autumn, and it's probably the most memorable moment on the album just because it is such a notable and successful gear shift.
The rest of the album returns to the familiar territory established in its first act, which is something of a pity given the promising style the band had just hinted at. This would be more of a well-rounded record if it had more of a balance between moods. Still, they do the power-pop stuff well. "Phantomwise" sounds like something Weezer could have come out with in the mid-90s, and yes, we've heard it all before, but when it's done so well it proves pretty hard to turn down when you're in the right mood. Let It Sway is primarily focused on positivity, and it suits SSLYBY well here. They sound comfortable.
Let It Sway knows what it is and mostly goes for it with successful results. It's rare that an album so conventional can still stop you in your tracks a good few times along the way, so this may well be the answer if you're looking to fight off your seasonal-affective disorder with some strong, energetic melodies. Who knows, it could well be your soundtrack to next summer.
"Let It Sway" is out now on Polyvinyl.
Monday, 23 August 2010
Georgia-based indie-pop veterans of Montreal can't be faulted for their productivity. Since forming in 1996 they've produced a steady output of albums and EPs, gaining popularity and acclaim within indie circles. Across their discography, founder Kevin Barnes has incorporated a wide amount of themes and ideas into their music. 2007's Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? was a concept album which partly documented Barnes' fictional transformation into his gender-bending alter ego Georgie Fruit. That album was flowing with creative energy, and though it was upbeat and camp, it also contained an unmistakable darkness within. Its follow up, Skeletal Lamping, continued this concept, placing Barnes' fictional character within a wild landscape which shifted its structure constantly. Within each track was a dozen other little songs and segments. It perhaps didn't match the immediacy of its predecessor, but it was still clear that the band had not run of ideas at that stage in their career.
Of Montreal's tenth LP False Priest is different both sonically and structurally from their previous couple of efforts, yet they're still undoubtedly the same band with the same ideals. The playfulness and the humour are both still present, yet the band are somewhat reserved here. The songs on False Priest are still catchy, though they're less windy and therefore easier to take in on first listen. This also means that they hold up less to repeated listens. Barnes' falsetto is played up straight from the opening song "I Feel Ya Strutter". He always had a knack for staying on the right side of irritating on previous albums, but since the songs on False Priest are more linear and less adventurous, one may have less time for him here. Lyrically, he parodies the overt sexuality associated with funk and R&B, which is fun at first, but the silliness can sometimes overstay its welcome.
The best tracks by far on False Priest are the ones with female vocals. Janelle Monáe appears on two tracks, and her delivery is smooth and sensual, particularly on the chorus of "Enemy Gene". She works well when she duets with Barnes, who in turn sounds more reserved, which works much more in his favour on this album. Solange Knowles also delivers an impressive, soulful performance on "Sex Karma". These guest spots are well sequenced and provide the necessary respite from the more tiresome moments on the album, where of Montreal can end up sounding a little flat. The fantastical characteristics of their earlier releases are kept to a minimum. This isn't totally a completely harmful move - the lead single "Coquete Coquette" is reasonably hooky with a solid riff, but that's about it - it's far removed from the band's best work. There's less of the flowery arrangements and more focus on live instruments overall, which makes everything less exciting. That darkness mentioned earlier is gone, spare a few lyrical sprinkles on "Godly Intersex". There's nothing here that can match "The Past is a Grotesque Animal" from Hissing Fauna, or even "No Conclusion" from its follow up EP, Icons, Abstract Thee.
of Montreal are probably due a detour like this every once in a while - they certainly sound like they're still having quite a lot of fun - it's just that sometimes this mood does not extend beyond the band's own little sphere. It's unclear whether or not the band will push further in this direction on future releases, but at least the band don't have intentions to stop releasing music any time soon - there are already plans to bookend this album with an EP titled The Controller Sphere, which is due for release in spring 2011. Until then, we'll just have to make do with feeling slightly underwhelmed.
"False Priest" will be released on 13/9/10 on Polyvinyl.
Tuesday, 10 August 2010
Japanese noise veterans Boris have become well known for their dramatic genre shifts between albums as well as their collaborations with other artists. Their album with Sunn O))), Altar, successfully blended the sounds that both groups had always harnessed. The relentlessness of Sunn O)))'s signature extended noise pieces made room for the softer segments brought into the mix by Boris, and the album ended up coming across as a somewhat "lite" version of the music both bands had been famous for at the time. This isn't to say that Altar was a compromise for Sunn O))) and Boris - it was in fact a sensible starting point for anyone unfamiliar with their sounds and would bode well for weaning listeners onto their respective back-catalogues.
BXI, the new four-song collaboration between Boris and The Cult vocalist Ian Astbury, is a little different. It finds itself more in line with the bizarre 80s glam-rock revival sound Boris have recently associated themselves with at times on their latest full length, Smile. Hence, Astbury's vocal contributions are well suited here, and much of the material sounds like long lost Cult recordings. It feels as if there is a conscious decision on the part of Boris to make BXI sound this way, which is no bad thing. These vibes are directly revisited on the only track Astbury leaves untouched, a cover of the 1985 song he wrote, "Rain", with Boris guitarist Wata's whispers replacing his trademark croon. The song is given a blackened yet gentler makeover here, and would make an interesting comparison for fans of The Cult.
The rest of this short twenty-minute set is strong overall. It's filled with moody 80s guitar riffs and crashing drums. A collaboration of this nature may seem unsuited as a concept, but Astbury taps into Boris's sound very well and the music seems to be built for his performance. His vocals here retain the power that they had on The Cult's classic singles, and the nostalgic sonics explored by Boris closely mimic a familiar alternative rock sound. Even better, Boris do not come across as negatively as they have on some of their patchy and over the top recent work. The length of this EP also means that the songs can progress without feeling like a retread of what has just come before. BXI is another successful collaborative Boris effort. It is a nice little addition to their back catalogue and is recommendable to fans of both Boris and The Cult. Think about that for a second - it's an unlikely marriage of crowds.
"BXI" will be released on 16/8/10 on CD from Southern Lord. A vinyl version will follow in September.
Friday, 16 July 2010
This is the third album from avant-garde freak-orchestra Chrome Hoof, and at this stage in their career the group have solidified their shift from the electronic roots of their early days as a duo towards a beefier full-band sound. The addition of new members over the years (there are now ten members in the band) has turned them into a more playful outfit overall.
This evolution does not necessarily mean that they sound like a completely new outfit - instrumental track "Vapourise" is an all-out disco-synth onslaught and could get away with being played in the most standard of clubs. There is still an electronic element to Chrome Hoof, but the variety of genres brought into the mix has increased tenfold. One track, "Sea Hornet" goes through a number of baffling sections, from jazzy breakdowns to cheese-synth onslaughts and back again. "Bunkers Paradise" is also a good example of many of these styles rolled into one, and the overall results are bizarre to say the least.
Lola Olafisoye's vocal style ranges from menacing whispers to excitable squeals. These can prove interesting, but the lack of commitment to one style can be tedious at times. Thankfully, the vocals are placed aside at just the right moments, giving way to a variety of interesting instrumental sections. However, these sections too are too shifty and slippery - as soon as one section gains momentum, the direction of this music will completely shift and a new section will be unwillingly forced upon you. The band obviously does this on purpose - everything they do is undoubtedly calculated and tight, but it more often than not verges towards dodgy-prog territory. This is most tedious on the ten minute long "Witches Instruments And Furnaces", which winds through a number of different messy passages and comes off as an endurance test more than anything. It is Crush Depth's biggest offender and demonstrates why this band needs to have more focus.
Crush Depth is certainly an interesting bag of different odd sounds and there is some material in here to be savoured, but sometimes it comes across as if Chrome Hoof are trying to hard to come across as weird and unpredictable. The band's tinfoil sci-fi image doesn't suggest a willingness to tone this down much. Note, it will be interesting to see these songs performed live - the band as a living, breathing entity will likely captivate and they will most likely put on a show to remember, but once the initial novelty of their recordings wear off, Chrome Hoof's schizophrenic attitude towards making music is ultimately a frustrating experience for this reviewer.
"Crush Depth" is out now on Southern Records.