Archive for the 'experimental' Category

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

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

Feist, Grizzly Bear @ The Fillmore, San Francisco, 2007 June 26

July 14, 2007
photo courtesy of Muhammad Asranur

Visuals, baby. That’s what it was all about at this show. I’d bought tickets for my girlfriend Nicole and me with confidence that we’d hear a great show, and of course the music was great – a perfectly harmonized flood of sound flooring the audience at every turn – but what made this show amazing was how good it looked.

It starts when Grizzly Bear trudges up, slouching with a jaded weariness, staring gauntly out into the audience. After briefly announcing that they have just arrived from Portland, they silently turn to their instruments. The drums strike up and the guitar strings begin plucking their way into “Easier”, the first track from their 2006 album Yellow House. The song chugs steadily away for a while, the musicians silent and tight-lipped. Then, as the aural atmosphere coalesces, one by one each man slowly raises his head to gaze up into the lights, eyebrows lifting precariously, jaws finally wrenching open to deliver a magnificent mixture of moans and croons and wails, light and airy yet exquisitely piercing. The overall effect is to free the notes from their crude human sources – chords seemingly drift up out of nowhere, and ethereal voices layer on one by one, with bass/clarinet/flute player Chris Taylor’s almost imperceptible falsetto ringing in the echoing background of every beautifully blending chord.

Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor on flute
photo courtesy of Muhammad Asranur

As the set progresses, Grizzly Bear’s weariness seems to melt away as they become the heavenly vessels of a rare sonic purity. Taylor especially is an amazing spectacle to watch, his eyes shut beneath his pale hair, mouth stretched wide open in a Charlie Brown-sized wail as he clenches his hands tight over the edges of his bass guitar, which bucks and twitches with every crest and valley in his fluctuating falsetto. Drummer Christopher Bear too provides phenomenal stage energy; his body taut and twisted at an odd angle from all the tension within, he releases energy in incredible bursts of speed, sticks flying through the air to bottom out the songs with quick, pounding beats. Whereas on the album, percussion was relegated to the backseat for the swirling harmonies, here the beats are at the helm, driving and controlling the mood of each song. The songs overflow beyond their album instantiations throughout the set, especially an expansive, messily loud take on “Little Brother.” Thirty minutes of heavenly harmonies and textures, and then the band vanishes from the stage after some thank you’s, leaving the air ringing with the silent echoes of their performance.

After a short break, Feist’s backup band emerges under a dim blue light, scuttling across the stage to their places. The light beats of the xylophone begin, playing in the familiar pattern of “Honey Honey”. Feist enters and bends down to one mic, singing: “Ah-ah-ahh, ha-ah, ah-ah.” Her voice comes echoing back at her through the speakers, strained and fuzzy, reflecting off the walls as she stands still, listening carefully. And then she bends down again, a sweet harmony dropping from her lips into the mic, where it locks tight against the repeating melody. Feist lowers her head four more times, each time adding yet another harmony until the hall is filled with notes reverberating against every surface, clinging to one another in a beautifully fragile chord. And then, taking up the other microphone, she finally breathes the lyric into the aural fold: “Honey, honey, up in the trees, fill the flowers deep in his dreams…”

You know the way Feist’s voice is sultry and seductive, yet breathily girlish, seemingly encompassing all the romantic fancies of a seven-year-old girl in a summer dress running through the field as daisy petals swirl around her? Witnessing that voice in action is all that and more. The way she tilts her head from side to side, hair shaking out in a delicate wave behind her; the way she playfully punches pow-pow-pow along with the drumbeats; the way she peeks out demurely from behind her bangs with a spark of mischief in her eyes; the way she sways all across the stage, slow and mesmerizing during the quiet pieces but in wild joyful arcs for the upbeat numbers, stabbing at her guitar as she stamps her feet and flicks her hips back and forth. Innocent, girlish exuberance radiates from her in all directions, flowing through the crowd and infecting everyone with a silly childish energy.

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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

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