Archive for the 'nerdbound' Category

Deerhunter’s Microcastle is perfect

June 4, 2008

I’ve heard all kinds of rumors about when this album is supposed to be released: August, October, Novemeber… It’s a moot point now because it has leaked. The cover art isn’t even out yet. But whatever: None of this is important. What is important is that this is one of the best releases of the decade: it’s currently in my top 3 of the 2000’s for sure. I really can’t praise it enough.

Look, I have finals going on right now, so there’s no way that I can really make a review right now that does justice to how great this is. In fact, this album is already interfering with my finals because I keep putting it on when I’m supposed to be working and drifting away listening to it. If I flunk all my classes, at least I get to be sublimely happy while doing it.

A brief history of Deerhunter: They release a debut album that is harsh and unfriendly. Nobody notices. They experience a bunch of in-band tension and nearly do not release their second album. What is eventually released, 2007’s Cryptograms, comes from a couple of different sessions and varies wildly in style and aim. The first half alternates between long ambient meditations and hard-as-nails post-punk where the band locks into a killer groove. The second half is largely psychedelic pop. Pitchfork loved it, and, after many many listens attempting to understand it, so did I. But it’s a hard album to listen to because of its enormous stylistic variance and the fact that it’s easy to feel a little… bored by the white noise noodling. A lot of people just heard it and went “WTF?” That said, “Cryptograms”, “Octet” are perfect, and many other songs are absolutely riveting and sound totally fresh. The band also got a reputation for their weird live shows in which the frontman, Bradford Cox, would show up in women’s clothing and discuss his feelings and… Deerhunter followed this album with the Fluorescent Grey EP, which lacks any of the ambient noodling and has a few good songs in its short length. Pitchfork and I love it too.

Bradford Cox has been spending most of this year doing solo work under his moniker Atlas Sound. The 2008 release Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel is a good album, but IMO not as good as his Deerhunter work (although some love it more). It certainly lacks the confusing lack-of-centeredness of Cryptograms and has a number of good pop songs, but lacks the awesome grooves that come from having a band.

My co-blogger and I had the privilege of seeing Atlas Sound live when they came to Stanford campus. We were both favorably impressed, and I liked his album more afterwards. He let his songs be less ambient and more dance-y because that was what the crowd wanted, and that displayed the pop hooks underlying them to great effect. I also got the impression that Bradford Cox is awesome: There is a story involved. Atlas Sound was going to open for the Breeders at a festival the next weekend, so Bradford was wearing a Breeders T-shirt. My co-blogger was wearing a Pixies tee. So of course, Bradford called him on it. He asked the crowd which was better (we thought it was the Pixies, to his dismay. We were also right) and challenged my co-blogger to an arm-wrestling competition. Any discussion of this arm-wrestling match would be incomplete if it didn’t mention a) that (from what I understand) Bradford is gay, cross-dresses for shows, and said that the arm-wrestling match would determine who was the more masculine (yay subversion!) and b) has Marfan syndrome, a disease which (I believe) makes him look a bit strange and stops him from having much muscle.

My co-blogger let him win for a moment, but then crushed him. We talked to him a bit after the show and he was really cool.

So up until I heard this album, I liked the band but their recorded output all left me unfulfilled. Cryptograms was too hard to love, Grey was too short, and Blind lacked the band and rock tendencies. Nevertheless, I was convinced that Deerhunter was AWESOME and had tons of potential. They have now proved me right. This album is Deerhunter at their tightest.

The new album is far more immediate than any of their past work. This can be seen through the production, which is much brighter and up-front, and the music which finally captures their sound. They describe themselves as ambient punk, but this is the first time that those two completely different styles of music have come together so well. Songs still vary quite a bit from the more ambient to the more psychedelic pop to the more punk but they now all sound like the same band. Part of that comes from the excellent sequencing. The first third is more pop-oriented. It slides from there into a more ambient middle section. Unlike Cryptograms though, every song is short and sweet and has a pop hook somewhere. Frankly, each of the short songs in the middle is absolutely gorgeous, shocking me every time I hear them. Finally, just before the ambient music becomes too much to take the guitars hit HARD and you’re thrust into “Nothing Ever Happened,” and the more raucus final third. But even at their most rock-oriented, you can hear their ambient textures which mean that these rock songs continually change and never get old. You hear them a second time and notice a little bit more of the subtext, the hidden sounds, the sort of little Easter eggs which are always there in truly great music.

So now I’ll just mention a few highlights. “Nothing Ever Happened” is probably my favorite, with its awesome guitar soloing, and solid groove. But “Little Kids” is a close second: It returns more to the themes and style of Blind and is absolutely transcendent. By which I actually mean that it sounds kinda spiritual in its lifting-upwards of innocence, increasingly submerged in static. “These Hands” is a brilliant little shoegaze track. It uses some beautiful textures: what sound like strings but might not be, underlining vocal wails and guitar noise. “Agorophobia” is also great: It’s more like psychedelic pop, but is more driving than typical for such music. “Never Stops” and “Saved By Old Times” both rock pretty damn hard, while still having great pop hooks, and “Twilight at Carbon Lake” is a beautiful drifting closer, which feels like it’s going to float away before the guitars come crashing in for the shoegaze-esque (reminding me of Ride) finale.

It’s a wonderful thing to listen to a record that is this good. You can stream some tracks at their Myspace.


posted by nerdbound


Fleet Foxes Are Awesome

March 15, 2008

Fleet Foxes - Sun GiantI suppose I’m a bit late to this party, now that Pitchfork has already given Best New Music status to their Sun Giant EP. But shit, a) sometimes the Fork has bad taste, and this is not one of those times, b) I’ve heard that not everyone reads Pitchfork (really? But don’t you want to be cool? Oh wait…), and c) their forthcoming Ragged Wood LP is similarly great. As in, it is the best album of 2008 so far.

Describing the music is tough. It’s folk music: not 60’s-style folk music, but something older. Of current artists, it most reminds me of Califone, Sufjan Stevens, Grizzly Bear, etc. Kinda folk music with a bit more rock influence than any of the acts mentioned before (although still not very much rock as such… As I say, it’s hard to describe. But it’s definitely livelier). While Califone and Grizzly Bear often sound fractured and muted, Fleet Foxes even at their quiet moments sound like they’re winning. It’s very spiritual-sounding music, in the old “Simple Gifts” sense. Their MySpace calls it “baroque harmonic pop jams.” Not too bad, actually.

Honestly, what they remind me of most (emotionally, not at all stylistically) is Nirvana’s live acoustic cover of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.” That’s kinda a bizarre reference, I’m aware, but the two are similar in that both artists seem to believe that they’re something powerful (as opposed to merely ‘pretty’ or ‘personal’) in old folk music classics, and they bring out that power. It’s emotional music, and not always happy music, but it’s never whiney music because it’s not about the personal emotions of the artist. It’s about the emotions of the artist’s culture, the collective unconscious. It grafts a connection between the listener and some much bigger shit.

Many of their songs (such as “Blue Ridge Mountains”) alternate between soft, weary, nearly a cappella parts and big, ridiculously happy parts with the whole band. The emotional tension between the two styles is a lot of what makes the songs work so well. It makes the ‘sad’ here sound more like ‘ loss and redemption’ than ’emo’ and the ‘happy’ more like ‘at one with the birds’ than… well, however ‘happy’ is usually defined.

I actually like the Sun Giant EP a bit more than Ragged Wood. It’s a little artier, has a couple of amazing hooks, and is (of course, given its shorter running time) more consistent. As of now,”Mykonos” is my favorite Fleet Foxes song, due largely to its unusual song structure. It starts as a big, happy tune that slowly breaks apart, before voices enter a capella in the middle with what could be a totally different song. The drum sound is fantastic, and both sections have great hooks. It’s kinda like having two songs in one, but the two sections play off each other in interesting ways. “Drops in the River” and “English House” are also fantastic.

That said, Ragged Wood is the greater achievement. Every song on it is a success. “Ragged Wood” and “Quiet Houses” are big and exciting, and probably my favorite (given my rarely downbeat mood). “Ragged Wood,”like “Mykonos,” sounds like several songs in one, with hooks galore. At least two or three guitar parts that are beautifully combined with the vocal melodies: in parts, it really swings too. “White Winter Hymnal” wins the contest for most memorable hook, a big circling choral bit; while “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” and “Meadowlark” are just gorgeous in their simplicity. “He Doesn’t Know Why” and “Heard Them Stirring” sound like they’re going stratospheric.

I could literally praise every song here individually. No two are alike, and none fails.


posted by nerdbound

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.


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

posted by nerdbound

Astounding Album Alert: Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam

July 17, 2007


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.


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.


MP3: Liars – Houseclouds
MP3: Liars – Clear Island

posted by nerdbound

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.


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

posted by nerdbound