Archive for the '2007 Albums' Category

Nerdbound’s Somewhat Belated Top Albums of 2007

January 18, 2008

2007 has ended, and with it, I’ve lost my chance to listen to 2007 albums while they’re still fresh and new. This is a problem because 2007 was a year packed with music in a way that many recent years haven’t been. It felt like almost every top band in independent music (broadly construed) had an album that got released this year. It was my first year really attempting to track down every release I thought might be interesting and listen to them all. I failed, but it was a noble effort.

So I’m going to jot down my top albums of the year. There are a few caveats. For one, this was one of the strongest years in recent memory for metal, yet I did not get much metal onto this list. My listening habits have changed, and metal releases that would ordinarily have enthralled me seemed more distant this year. Additionally, the year was so strong for independent rock, that even fantastic metal releases did not make the cut.

Further, this is all just my opinion, and my opinion is biased by a love of experimental shit and angry motherfuckers. There’s a variety of stuff here, including some pretty twee pop, but that’s the exception not the rule. Of course, I would argue that I’m right to enjoy experimental and badass music. But some people don’t and they should not hate me for this.

Without further ado… Read the rest of this entry »

Muscles – Guns Babes Lemonade

November 7, 2007

Muscles - Guns Babes LemonadeYou know that Art Brut song “Emily Kane” about how the singer is still in love with his middle school crush? It’s pure unchained irrational exuberance (thanks, Greenspan) about naivete: Holding hands, thinking crushes will last forever — you know, sunny emotions, happiness, that shit. Somehow, Muscles has found a way to distill those things and stretch them out over an entire album. Well, actually the mood varies a bit more than that. But in general, the songs are about: ice cream, dancing; holding hands; ‘peace, love, ecstasy, unity, respect’; seizing the day; and having Muscles’s babies. Essentially, if the LCD Soundsystem wrote the great electronic/dance album about being old (nostalgia for old friends, love for New York), Muscles have just written the great electronic/dance album about being innocent. Perhaps just ‘a’ great album because there’s more competition (think Daft Punk: “Digital Love”). But it’s a damn good album.

The music uses synthesizers, but the memorable compositional thing is the use of vocals: Background voices yelp and glide at high pitches, with nothing close to ‘good’ singing technique; calls are responded to; vocal bits circle in and out of the mix; and the frontman yells his heart out at the top of the mix, sounding like he’s continually exhausted but orgasming. It’s so charismatic that it almost hides the artistic worth of the underlying material. And yeah, after all that discussion of the music’s mood and fun, I do need to mention that it’s seriously artistically valid. Jarringly so, in fact: You can tell it’s an indie-sort of record by the fact that things like ‘harmony’ are often seemingly ignored: Willful dissonance is not often associated with dance music, but here it’s brilliantly done. And as I say, the sheer charisma means you might not notice.

The best track is “Sweaty”. It’s hard to mention all the stuff that this track does right. The big shit is obvious: Both ‘peace, love’ etc. and a big refrain about holding hands with someone special are used successfully and will not make you barf. It’s unbelievably charismatic. And you could hypothetically dance to it, although it has totally the wrong emotional content and comes off as unbelievably irritating on the first listen… Anyway, the details are awesome too: Somewhere deep in the mix are tinkling synths waiting to be loved. And it’s SO dissonant. I love the way that the voices speak naturally, as though there are no notes that they’re trying to reach. Sometimes they’re hitting notes that fit the key of the surrounding music. Sometimes they aren’t. What, you care?

Hype Machine: Muscles

posted by nerdbound

Good Shit

October 20, 2007

So: Two general blog things of note.

First, both ninjajabberwocky and I have been really busy of late, and both simultaneously dropped the ball on getting posts up on this blog. This is a bad thing, so I’m putting something up.

Second, we’ve noticed that one of the reasons why our blogging has dropped off is that our posts have tended to be too formal. Thus, they take too long to make, and we don’t actually spend time doing it because it’s too… well, ‘intimidating’ is not quite the right word, but some word like that. Thus, this post is going to take me like 20 minutes to make. Hehe. But it’s still going to be good, I swear.

There have been a bunch of good albums which have come out in the past couple of months. A couple of them are pretty generally known: Kanye West’s Graduation, Radiohead’s In Rainbows, etc. I wanted to put up a few more albums that I’ve been listening to which not enough people are talking about:Les Savy Fav - Let's Stay Friends

First and foremost: Les Savy Fav’s Let’s Stay Friends. It’s some fucking great post-punk styled indie rock. Les Savy Fav have often been compared with Fugazi, who are one of my favorite bands ever, and it’s usually a good comparison. But here they don’t sound like it: They’ve gone really pop, compared to their other stuff. And it’s great news, which is rare. “Patty Lee” is a truly great pop song which is kinda a perfect example of how the album sounds: The angular guitars are still there, but they’re hidden under melodies and good singing. There are still some more aggressive tracks though, which are still awesome. And the rhythm section is fucking awesome, of course. That’s basically why the album matters: The rhythms are so tight that the songs will be driven into your head.

Sunset Rubdown - Random Spirit Lover

Sunset Rubdown’s Random Spirit Lover is amazing, and it’s hard to explain why. The songs are a mess. They don’t sound like anything else I’ve heard, which is a plus. But if I heard any of these songs alone, I would find them annoying and scattered. However, the album generates its own particular mood, within which the songs makes sense. The first third is just good pop music, but in the middle third of the album, starting with “Colt Stands Up, Grows Horns”, the songs become really experimental. And I keep thinking: I wish I knew why this is good music.

There are a couple of other great albums I want to at least mention, although they’re both very not-mainstream-listenable. A Place to Bury Strangers are this new band whose self-titled debut is brilliant. It’s basically shoegaze/Jesus and Mary Chain-style music, but along with beautiful lush pop feedback, it has a bunch of industrial noisy angry feedback. “To Fix the Gash in your Head” is one of my favorite tracks of the year. It’s almost danceable, but is about kicking someone’s head in. Between the Buried and Me are the other band I feel that I must mention, because their Colors is the best metal album of the year. For a lot of people, that’s like saying ‘the best knife to the stomach’ but if you give it a chance, there’s so much innovation behind the screaming. Seriously.The Boo Radleys - Giant Steps

The other album I want to mention is not a new release, but some 90’s stuff I’d never heard before. It’s the Boo Radley’s Giant Steps. Highest recommendation possible for this album, I swear. The stylistic variety is so great, it’s mind-boggling, but the songs all fit together too. It ranges from Beach Boys to 90’s alt rock to jazz to psychedelia to Britpop to guitar noise. And it’s all uniformly excellent. Best thing I’ve heard in a long time.

I’m not really feeling like uploading a lot of tracks, but here’s Hype Machine/YouTube:

Hype Machine: A Place to Bury Strangers – To Fix The Gash in your Head
YouTube: The Boo Radleys – Lazarus

posted by nerdbound

Electrelane – No Shouts, No Calls

July 18, 2007

Electrelane - No Shouts, No CallsAfter the first listen, this album was good. By the second or third listen, it was one of the best of the year, and it just keeps climbing in my estimation with each time I play it. It’s a very vulnerable and delicate sort of album, which is not the sort of thing I usually go for (understatement). But there is power here too, and creativity. Never before have I heard an album that so ably blurs the lines between melody, harmony, and texture. Bass lines are hummable, vocal parts are used for harmony, and these and other musical elements alternate and rotate control of the melody, which is always central. These are not the kind of melodies you’re thinking of though, precisely because melodic voices often dive into harmony and repetition. The album’s minimal, natural sound and fantastic arrangements makes little things that otherwise might fade into the mix sublime. The sound uses droning, propulsive rock as a technique, but not as a controlling element. Previous albums have been accused of copying Stereolab, but this one, to me, sounds nothing like any Stereolab I’ve ever heard. Even the droning guitars are usually just a part of the system of interlocking melodic lines. This is no droning rock record with some pop bits mixed in: the droning is merely the often-brilliant texture beneath a shockingly melodic sound (or sometimes, the melody itself).

I’d never heard Electrelane before this album, but hearing it inspired me to go listen to their older material. At least on a first listen, nothing else is the achievement that this record is, although that’s not really fair, because never before have they seemed to be trying to make this record. Axes really is a droning rock record, strongly influenced by Kraut-rock. While The Power Out is more pop-influenced, it doesn’t have the natural, free sound and strong sense of identity that this record has (although “Enter Laughing” and some other tracks come close). Instead, it sounds like Stereolab (French pop drones) made a bit more punk. That’s a cool sound too of course, but No Shouts, No Calls is a brave step away from their influences. The sound isn’t entirely accessible, but more because it’s so personal and thoughtful than because its genre is drone or punk, and not pop.

“The Greater Times” did not impress me on a first listen, but it’s a grower, like many of the songs here. It builds very slowly, and beautiful melodic moments often occur only once or twice, as the melody continually meanders. The quantity of ideas here is impressive, and I think that might be why the song has grown on me so much. The lyrics also make this song a success: references to childhood and romance create a friendly atmosphere of innocence. The song really becomes superb around the two-minute mark: “You say you don’t know / What love means / Any more” is a beautiful “Modern Romance”-esque statement which grounds much of the rest of what is said on this album. It’s a call back to romantic comedies. You know, the ones where a cute guy and a cute girl who aren’t very personally compatible (they’re complete opposites, and hate each other at first) are drawn together by this inexplicable ‘love’ stuff. I’m not exactly a romantic, but the sentiment here is powerful, perhaps because, like “Modern Romance”, it doesn’t so much describe how this ‘love’ stuff is supposed to work as criticize its absence. The modern world is a big thing to criticize, but the album creates a little space where dreams of love seem grounded in reality. Which is kinda nice.

“To the East” is the single, and it is brilliant. The melodies are so well-arranged that every few seconds there’s another fantastic moment. When they sing “The East’s not so far away. / It could be home!” at 2:25, or “Come back / Come back / COME BACK / oh, to me!” a minute and some later, the emotion and beauty are both very real. “After the Call” follows, and is the first track that speeds up the pace and increases the sound of the guitar in the mix. It rocks, even beneath the fragile cries of “What can I do?” The contrast between the insistent rock guitars and the beautiful bedroom vocals makes for an incredible sound. The sense that the band really cares about the music shows through in the music’s insistent propulsion and emotional depth.

“Tram 21” is one of those tracks that’s almost an instrumental: vocals are present, but not lyrics, and instead the voices are used as texture and harmony. A great riff, then a guitar melody (I think that’s the ‘real’ melody, to be honest, and the vocals are just faking it), suddenly gaining in force. Then a chorus of ooh’s and ah’s forming a second melodic line. Then a second set of ooh’s and ah’s for more harmonic force. It’s a completely brilliant mood piece, full of ups and downs. The following track, “In Berlin” is perhaps the best track: it builds on a delicate arpeggio, adding strings, and slowly crescendoing to a brilliant climax: “You are all I long for this winter / and you are all I need”. The blend of sounds is intricate and seamless. “At Sea” is the joyous follow-up: “They say / There’s always tomorrow”, they sing, and then the guitar just starts bouncing.

“Between the Wolf and the Dog” begins as the hardest rocker on the album with an awesome riff, but when the vocals come in, they contrast strongly, somewhat softening the piece, and completely altering its feel. “Saturday” follows, creating a mood of innocence and wonder with a very simple yet gorgeous piano melody. However, it’s “Cut and Run” which really takes that mood and runs with it, achieving near-perfection. Acoustic (w/ ukelele!), it sounds like nothing else on the album, but is small, thoughtful, and ridiculously sweet. It’s a beautiful piece of bedroom sing-along indie pop, and the fact that it is this good is a testament to Electrelane’s song-writing.

Often, music about romance fails because it’s too delicate and wimpy, or because it’s over-emotional to the point where it glorifies destructive emotions (like the feeling of despair following a breakup). Either way, it can come off as brainless or whiny. This is highly successful music about romance, because it’s based on calls for strength and intelligence, with strong and intelligent music to back it up. It argues for romance, not because romance is a cure-all, but because romance is something worth working hard to achieve. And that’s a sentiment that even a real cynic can’t help but admire and treasure.

9.0/10

MP3: Electrelane – In Berlin
MP3: Electrelane – Cut And Run

posted by nerdbound

Astounding Album Alert: Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam

July 17, 2007

AnimalCollective-Band1

ninjajabberwocky and I used to disagree on the issue of whether or not Animal Collective was really all that good. The disagreement is now officially at an end: I have finally come around to seeing that they’re pretty damn good. The reason is their new album, Strawberry Jam, which is a revelation, sounding totally new and fresh. On a first listen, it’s pretty fucking phenomenal. I re-listened to their older stuff, and it still doesn’t really fully click with me, but this album is a pretty clear classic, I have to say. It’s a bigger, louder record than any they’ve done before. Yeah, that means that it can be a bit annoying in places… But by and large it miraculously isn’t. It’s a record that needs to be listened to.

Just thought I’d post that brief note. A review will probably follow from one of us later. We’re both really swamped right now, so less is getting written here than we would like, but it’ll pick up again in a couple days, I feel. Meantime, do yourself a favor and give this album a spin.

MP3: Animal Collective – Peacebone
MP3: Animal Collective – For Reverend Green

posted by nerdbound

Interpol – Our Love to Admire

July 13, 2007

Interpol - Our Love to AdmirePeople don’t want to listen to ‘derivative’ music because sounds that they’ve heard before get boring, and because for some reason (artistic integrity? a connection between sound innovation and other musical abilities and talent?), those who first develop a new type of sound are often the best at that sound. This Interpol album is derivative, just like all past Interpol albums, but it’s neither boring nor without talent, so it’s not really a problem, any more than [insert indie band here] sounding a bit like the Pixies makes them suck.

Yeah, they sound a bit like Joy Division and the Cure. Sure. But Interpol keep expanding their sound, and this is their most varied album yet. Indeed, while bits of it sound like Turn on the Bright Lights, and bits of it sound like Antics, most of it sounds totally fresh. Both previous albums had only one sound, repeated with slight variations across the album, but this album has several different, strong styles. Our Love to Admire moves from influence to influence, thought to thought, better than any of their previous work. It has its own emotional and stylistic arc, created by some great sequencing. It’s no Closer, and it isn’t as good as the A-side of TotBL either (few things are as good as either of those), but it’s a very talented piece of work.

And to be honest, Interpol now sound less like their supposed influences than ever before, and sound more like U2 and arena rock. So, by any good indie logic, Interpol have gone from being derivative to being derivative sell-outs. Sigh. Regardless, my point is simple: Interpol use their influences well, just as they have in the past, and combine them with real song-writing talent. There is a backlash against them which I think stems not from this album, but from Antics and the move to a major label. The first album made them sound like they were geniuses, and the second just wasn’t as fresh. Rather than growing on people, it shrank under close inspection: The obvious conclusion is that they’re overrated. Now they’re on a major label sounding more like 80’s U2. Uh-oh. Time to talk about how some supposed ‘magic’ is gone from their sound.

But they’ve got a great sound here: “Pioneer to the Falls” is moody, and builds from a slow riff to keyboards, horns, and choirs while never sounding fake. “No I in Threesome” is great fun with a stylish keyboard bit that just collapses under massive guitars. This is a good time to mention that the lyrics are no longer as gloomy and existential. If what you loved about Interpol was the sense of ‘urban decay’, or whatever, conveyed by their lyrics, well, it ain’t here (or at least not until the end of the album). But honestly, I’ve always felt that Interpol were overrated as lyricists: A few good songs, and a large number that are just awful. I mean, “NYC” is considered brilliant by some, but it’s not a song you can sing along to without feeling like an idiot (“subway is a porno?”). It’s good to hear Interpol expanding their vocabulary, even if a song about a threesome is perhaps a bad direction for them to be heading (the last thing Interpol needs is more tongue-in-cheek hipster irony… at least not until they develop a sense of humor).

Both “Heinrich Maneuver” and “Mammoth” are fantastic tunes. “Heinrich” sounds too much like every other Interpol song (damn catchy though), but “Mammoth” is brand fucking new: “Spare me the suspense” repeated over a jumpy bass and guitars that drone hypnotically if dissonantly in a song of surprising grace and thoughtfulness. The switch to major key at 1:45 and again later is pretty welcome too. It’s a truly awesome track. The middle of the album drags a bit. “All Fired Up” makes me happy though, with its great bass line, and “Rest My Chemistry” is a good albeit slightly too slow and repetitive album centerpiece. The last two tracks, though, are both excellent. They’re a return to the gloom, but with more pop elements than Interpol has ever used with that sound before. Both are also structured interestingly, with a lot of action happening in the small details: Quiet keyboard lines enter and exit, guitars bend and wave, moments of silence stretch, tension and sorrow mix. Good shit.

7.7/10

MP3: Interpol – Mammoth
MP3: Interpol – Wrecking Ball

posted by nerdbound

Liars – Liars

July 11, 2007

Liars - LiarsLiars are one of the best rock bands producing music today for one simple reason: They are not bound by anyone’s expectations, any particular style, or any one attitude, modus operandi, set of influences, etc. They create a concept for a sound, flesh it out, come up with ideas that that sound is good for expressing, and make an album. Afterwards, they wipe the slate clean and start from scratch again. Name another band that does that and get a gold star. And please tell me who they are so I can listen to them, as no one is that original. Seriously.

But Liars are that original. Their first album (They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top) was famous for its fuck-you attitude: Dance-y Gang of Four-influenced punk rock that was purposely dissonant and harsh. Yet behind the nasty sounds was something accessible and funky. The album is a lot of fun. Their second album (They Were Wrong, So We Drowned) is made up of atonal noise arranged with little care for logic or accessibility. It was music that lived for one purpose: To make you hate it (Yeah, it’s their weakest album by far. But yeah, it’s still highly interesting if you can handle it). Their third album (Drum’s Not Dead) was all about Krautrock-style rhythm and propulsion, focusing on tribal drumming and an artsy vocal/story concept: A high voice representing doubt (Mt. Heart Attack), and a bass voice representing confidence (Drum) clashing and conversing. Don’t laugh, it totally works, and doesn’t even come off as all that pretentious.

So: dissonant dance-punk, atonal noise, tribal Krautrock opera, and here comes album 4, a self-titled album (a declaration that this is the real sound of the band, rather than an artistic project with a specific purpose? Maybe we’ll find out if album 5 is similar… but I doubt it), and the question is, what kind of record is it? Well, the record uses sounds and techniques that the band has gained familiarity with on each of its three records, but the main thing that sets it apart is its variety: This is the first Liars record that is not one concept, but many songs with many different sounds. There’s plenty of noise and dissonance to go around, but it also sounds like a fucking rock record. And the fun, so long absent, is back. It sounds like Liars trying to make an early Sonic Youth record but discovering that they’re too schizophrenic: both too mean and too chill. It’s like they’re on a pendulum swinging from Big Black through Sonic Youth to the Jesus and Mary Chain and back.

The first track is incredible: “Plaster Casts of Everything” retains the propulsive beat and repetition of Drum’s Not Dead but transports it away from psychological drama and the avant-garde and returns it to music that sounds more human. It’s fucking exciting and loud and cool, and that’s before the breakdown three minutes in, after which, holy shit.

“Houseclouds” is the biggest shift for Liars: It’s chilled-out! Who knew that Liars could pull that one off? “I won’t be gone” and “We’ve just begun”, they sing over a funky beat and wandering bass, as the song’s use of instrumentation and voices shifts from bare to filled-out and back. While “Leather Prowler” is a more typical (although excellent) banging noise-drama, “Sailing to Byzantium” returns to a laid-back sound, and is a fantastic track. I really have to compliment the sequencing of the album: Where Liars’ use of noise used to be overwhelming, it’s now more evenly spaced out between numbers that don’t try to bash the listeners’ brains out. And the more relaxed sound is a huge success, spawning some of the best tracks on the album.

The next tracks are the confluence of the two sounds: “What Would They Know” alternates a happier atmosphere with shrieking dissonance, while “Cycle Time” breaks into a great pop hook half-way through, although it’s obscured by feedback. “Freak Out” and “Pure Unevil” sound like a near-direct lift from the Jesus and Mary Chain: Happy pop, guitar noise, and all that. That’s not a bad thing really, and there is one major twist: If the Jesus and Mary Chain sounded like they were too cool to really try to make music, the taut Liars rhythm section leaves no doubt that want their music to affect you.

But the next track is the highlight of the album. “Clear Island” is so non-derivative that it’s hard to describe. Chanting vocals set atop guitars that remind me of nothing so much as the earth shifting and rotating beneath the foundations of the piece. The tension is incredible: Despite multiple breakdowns, it never feels like the piece gives you a chance to take a breath. And there’s this rising guitar line about 1:15 in which just kills, leading into the frantic chorus: “Come save me!/ Come save me!/ Come save me!/ My heart.”

“The Dumb in the Rain” is a typical atmospheric piece of noise, but “Protection” returns to the “Sailing to Byzantium” sound (although it’s less about a cool vibe and more about strangled beauty), ending the album majestically. The verdict: It’s perhaps the easiest Liars record to listen to, but is still hugely demanding, and requires that you can really like dissonance and see beauty in ugliness. But if you have the necessary mental and physical stamina, it’s a rare record that manages to be both exciting and propulsive, and affecting and deep. A powerful meeting of everything that makes Liars great.

9.2/10

MP3: Liars – Houseclouds
MP3: Liars – Clear Island

posted by nerdbound

The New Pornographers – Challengers

July 11, 2007

They say that Challengers is the New Pornographers’ most ‘mature’ release yet. I suppose this makes sense if your vision of a ‘mature’ sound consists of songs that are – there is no other way to say this – just plain boring: less energetic and more contemplative, high on reflective repetition and low on the ornate frenzy that the Pornographers have become known for.

All this talk about New Porn and ‘maturity’ actually worries me a bit. That word has been bandied about so much lately when talking about the Pornographers, its constant and repeated use apparently signifying that the band have finally come into its own as a musical force, fulfilling the promise of their early work. But ‘mature’ for New Porn is not the same as ‘mature’ for other bands. When Twin Cinema came out, it was called ‘mature’ because it took their jangly, unfettered pop to whole new levels, filling out their sound and demonstrating a new variety in their songwriting. And yes, this did mean some more slow songs, but that wasn’t the heart of Twin Cinema‘s maturity. The maturity in Twin Cinema was an ability to seamlessly mix the calm with the frenetic, and to boldly march out the killer melody lines while keeping the soundscape soft and settled when called for by the song. Yet because the tempo of songs is the most obvious difference between Twin Cinema and the previous Mass Romantic and Electric Version, it seems as if everyone has equated ‘maturity’ and ‘seriousness’ with slow, ploddingly contemplative songs.

Well, if that’s maturity, then Challengers is certainly a product of adulthood. The album sounds as if the Pornographers read all those reviews of Twin Cinema and then decided, “Hey guys, let’s make a REALLY mature-sounding album by writing lots of quiet, contemplative songs inspired by our life experiences!”, forgetting that loads of gentle, dainty acoustic strums do not an album make.

This approach doesn’t merely fail on the album level either. In fact, what makes Challengers so incredibly frustrating is that every song has the potential to be an amazing showstopper tune. There are great riffs embedded in almost every track, but instead of unleashing them to fulfill their full primal glory, primary songwriter Carl Newman simply deploys them as endlessly cycling riffs that rotate and grind away beneath melodies with no direction and no climax.

Take for example “The Old Showstoppers”, the album’s second track – it seems primed for success at the beginning, with a riff that ranks among the Pornographers’ catchiest while still maintaining a unique, almost Western sensibility, but the song never takes that tense energy anywhere. Eventually the catchy riff switches off to a chorus that fails to strike the listener or appeal in any way, and by the time the riff returns, it’s a tired sound that only tells the listener that this song has no place else to go. The 3.5-minute title track, “Challengers”, offers a simple, pretty tune that would have worked much better on a track half that length, and even “Myriad Harbour”, the album’s most fun and electic song (though maybe that’s only because it sounds a little too similar to the Pixies’ “I Bleed”), only manages to rouse itself for a couple of stanzas before slumping back into a groove that is entirely too settled. In fact, “My Rights Versus Yours” and “Mutiny, I Promise You” are the only songs that have anything resembling a build-up of energy and tension, but even those level off about halfway through and rest at a lazy crest for the remainder of the tracks.

None of this is a slight to the band, which is plugging away with as much proficiency as ever – tight harmonies, steady guitars, and beautiful pop vocals. The trouble is that these songs just give them nowhere to go. It’s almost heartbreaking to hear all these elements being steadily layered on in the hopes of creating a full aural atmosphere, only for all the parts to sink into a malaise of sound with no direction or purpose.

If nothing else, the lyrics seem to have improved, but I have to admit that even this is somewhat of a disappointment. While it’s nice to see some poetics of substance (especially on “Myriad Harbour” and “Unguided”, Dan Bejar and Carl Newman’s respective odes to New York City), the sheer joy of Newman’s nonsensical word pudding on the previous albums was part of what made the New Pornographers such fun to listen to. The lyrics still work (especially on “Unguided” and “Adventures in Solitude”, among the best of the explicitly reflective tracks), concocting a sense of wonder and adventure unique to the Pornographers style, but that old glee is missing. Sure, it’s mature, but it’s also weary, and weary does not suit the Pornographers well.

You’re less liable to notice all this if you listen to the album by itself, but in light of New Porn’s past achievements, this album is a disappointment. It’s frustrating to me, as a huge fan of the band; I wanted desperately to love this album, and the listening experience was only made worse by the fact that everywhere I looked I could catch the edges of little diamonds of incredible pop riffs and musical moments peering out, wanting nothing more than to escape the mud that obscured them. Challengers is pleasant to listen to and even moving at times, but it’s a frustrating step back for the band from their Twin Cinema glory.

We thought we lost you,” croon Newman and Kathryn Calder in “Adventures to Solitude.” “We thought we lost you. Welcome back.” Here’s hoping that on the Pornographers’ next outing, we can say the same to them.

5.6/10

MP3: The New Pornographers – Myriad Harbour
MP3: The New Pornographers – Unguided

posted by ninjajabberwocky

Shining – Grindstone

July 9, 2007

Shining - GrindstoneI feel the need to write about this album for one simple reason: It’s being ignored.

Pitchfork gave the previous Shining album In the Kingdom of Kitsch You Will Be A Monster an 8.3 and a “Best New Music” mention. They gave this one 7.6 and not even a “Recommended.” Other sites have followed suit in giving this Shining album a slightly lower rating than the last one. And the reason is clear: The last album was kinda weird, a hybrid of jazz, metal, post-rock, synthesizers, classical, prog rock, etc. It was a mess, although a very creative mess. But this new album is MESSIER: Bigger, louder, more structureless, less like jazz rock and more like prog rock in every sense of the word. You know, the good senses, like creativity, even brilliance; and the bad senses, like unbelievable pretension. To your average Pitchfork or blogosphere reader, the last album was a very weird bit of instrumental rock from an unheard-of band that is fun to name-check. You can keep it in your iTunes and feel superior. But this new album is SO weird that you actually have to LIKE the music. Shit. Besides, if you wanna name-check a progressive rock band, Battles are so much sexier right now.

The truth is this album is the most brilliant, original music I’ve heard this year. It is the unambiguously better album, both when compared to their previous album, and when compared to that new Battles LP. Perhaps the best reason why is the first track, which has the same name as their Kingdom of Kitsch album. It is so high-energy, so intense… And it just keeps piling on the hooks and adding new sections until you are blown away by the shear visceral pull of the song. It’s one of the most incredible moments in music of the year, sounding somewhat like the Boredoms playing with Fugazi.

The next two tracks keep up that energy, but are wisely peppered with a few moments where the music slows and the noises are quieter (track 3 includes a Bach harpsichord bit). These are contrasted with giant climaxes built on top of huge chugging riffs in the bass and squealing varied instrumentation up high. The music is indescribable, really.

The album is split neatly into three sections, because there are two tracks, spaced through the album, which are moments of near-silence with beautiful tinkling bells. The second section of the album is clearly the weirdest (and the weakest, although it remains consistently interesting). “Moonchild Mindgames” is essentially the sound of a horn and piano combo, while “The Red Room” is the jazziest metal (with saxophones! er, I think) you will ever hear. “Asa Nisis Masa” has some vocals that sound like humans trying to howl like wolves, and others that are heavily filtered. It’s easy to list weirdnesses like this, but I want to mention here that that’s not because the album is unfeeling: On the contrary, every song brings out specific emotional responses. The weirdness is just a necessary component to make you feel different emotions than you usually do. That’s why the music isn’t comfortable, but also why it’s great.

“Psalm” is another absolutely perfect musical moment on this album at the beginning of the third section. It begins so minimally and quietly, but it just keeps building. Two minutes in, a drum starts, and the music just grows, with mechanical and organic sounds all mixed in: beeps and boops and tense static set against the human voice and a chugging bass. At around 4:45, it breaks down, and sounds defeated and dead, barely managing to get out of the static. But by 5:10, it explodes and then KEEPS BUILDING, breaks down again, comes back EVEN BIGGER. It’s incredible.

It’s followed by an accelerating Bach solo played on a synthesizer. In case you were starting to take music seriously. I have to mention the Boredoms again, as this is music about immaturity and making noise for fun. It’s music to make you smile, and to make you think about Art and giggle. It’s Dada. It makes me say pretentious things like this and then laughs at me for it. Damn it.

“1-4-9” appears to be free improvisation with synths and everything else they could find. It creates a dense, strangely cave-like atmosphere, building into the riffs of the finale “Fight Dusk with Dawn”, where the fusion of rock, jazz, and artistic breakdown WTF moments could not be better. The emotions here are real and powerful, but so is the sense that emotions are ephemeral. It’s quite the mindfuck and definitely required listening.

9.2/10

MP3: Shining – In The Kingdom Of Kitsch You Will Be A Monster
MP3: Shining – Psalm

posted by nerdbound

Brief Reviews: Some Top Albums of the Year So Far

July 2, 2007

So, it works like this: We’re starting a blog in July of 2007. Given that we’re going to probably make comments like ‘ooooh, this is the best thing I’ve heard all year’, it makes sense to start by reviewing some of the things we’ve already heard this year. However, I’m not sure if I’m going to have the time to go back and review everything I’ve already heard. Thus, I’m going to put in some brief reviews for some albums I think are absolutely top-notch. If I do have time, I’ll make more beautiful and detailed reviews later.

Blonde Redhead - 23

Blonde Redhead — 23

This is my favorite album of the year so far. One of those really rare albums that works on two levels: You can enjoy it by letting all the beautiful textures wash over you, as the album creates its own ambient mood. Or, you can enjoy it by listening to it attentively. The songs work in this way too, and are filled with an enormous attention to detail. “23” is the standout track, with its strangely unpredictable melody and intense forward motion. “The Dress”, and “SW” are also excellent because of their beautifully dark moodiness. “The Dress” also is the home of one of my favorite downbeat lyrics of the year: “I love you less/ Now that I know you”: Wait, you mean no one has used that lyric before? Brilliant! “Publisher” is a fantastic piece as well, one that doesn’t sound that impressive on a first listen, but which gets under your skin. Frankly, the first 7 tracks of the album are just about perfect: the four above are the darker tracks, but “Dr. Strangeluv” and “Silently” are beautiful pieces of almost-happy pop, and “Spring and by Summer Fall” is huge, dramatic and moving. The album borrows from My Bloody Valentine and the shoegaze movement generally, both the use of vocals as a texture, rather than to communicate meaning, and the enormous swirling guitars. Yet it hardly feels like an homage to shoegaze: Instead, the methods of shoegaze are used to do something different. Despite the wall of sound, the songs have an astonishing clarity, used to create a sense of space and emphasize the freely meandering melodies. Gorgeous. 9.5/10

MP3: Blonde Redhead – 23

!!! -- Myth Takes

!!! — Myth Takes

This was my favorite release of 2007 before I heard Blonde Redhead, although it’s completly different. It’s an irrepressibly loud and happy album that longs to make you move — and to make you put it on repeat. “Heart of Hearts” is completely brilliant: I’ve listened to it over and over, much as I listened to “Pardon My Freedom” and “Guiliani” on previous !!! releases. The bass line fucking moves, and there’s this one bit at the end where ‘heart of/heart of’ is repeated until it sounds like ‘harder/harder’. That still cracks me up. Yeah, tracks 1 and 9 are just short transition pieces. But every other track is shockingly good. “Must Be the Moon” and “Bend Over Beethoven” also need to be individually mentioned as being totally addictive, the former because it’s the happiest, poppiest thing here, the latter because it’s the funkiest: eight minutes of pure dance-able gold. Basically, every track is fascinating, unlike previous releases, and a few are completely perfect in a way that !!! has rarely if ever achieved before. 9.3/10

MP3: !!! – Heart of Hearts

El-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead
El-P – I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead

What an amazing album: The first 8 tracks are all excellent, as is the last one. And several in between. Albums with a mood of political anxiety and bad-assitude do appeal to me much more than to some. I’m that kind of guy: I worry about politics and poor people and think it’s great when musicians actually get it right. And the overly masculine nature of the modern music industry, while not necessarily a good thing, often appeals to me more than it should: Fuck yeah, I wanna rip the fuckin’ system to bits, because violence is cool, y’know? So for me, anyway, this is one of the most interesting albums of the year because it so perfectly sums up that sense of dystopia that makes ‘1984’ and other political works so fascinating, and sounds so MAD about it. I put on the album, heard the beginning of “Tasmanian Pain Coaster”, and I was sold on the album: “This is the sound of what you don’t know killing you/This is the sound of what you don’t believe, still true”. It’s more pop than El-P’s other stuff in the underground hip-hop world, but that’s not a bad thing, and the production is too edgy for it to be completely accessible. This is both innovative music and a call to action, which is damn cool. 9.2/10

MP3: El-P – Tasmanian Pain Coaster

posted by nerdbound