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

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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


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


We dig music.

July 2, 2007

My co-author nerdbound set me on the task of writing the first post while he went off to watch One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. That bastard. The first post is, of course, one of the most difficult literary forms to satisfy. Its purpose is to explain what the hell we’re doing here while not boring the shit out of the reader. To do this, it must both inform and entertain, inspire yet titillate. And God knows titillating is hard enough on its own without an extra requirement for simultaneous profundity.

So instead of starting with something of my own, I instead turn to a paraphase of “I dig music,” the inspirational semi-last words of Russell Hammond of Stillwater. I could also turn to his subsequent choice of last words – “I’m on drugs!” – but we’re family-friendly folks here at Elastic Resonance, embodying the good values of old-time Americana. Or not, considering that neither Mike nor I really likes country. (Carrie Underwood’s pretty cute though.)

Here’s what we do like – indie rock, pop, punk, metal, folk, hip hop, classic rock, electronica, dance, trance, pants (no, really, pants are very useful things), and every point along the WTF spectrum, from the poppy insanity of Architecture in Helsinki to the dense atmospherics of Liars. We’ll cover everything from album reviews to mp3 samples to concert news to rants on random music-related topics. And sometimes we’ll even talk about cheese. God, I love cheese.

So stick around while we get on our feet and get the site running. Things look bare now, but I promise good shit is coming soon. We hope you dig it as much as we dig our music.

posted by ninjajabberwocky