October 25, 2008

Mount Eerie: "Lost Wisdom".

Lost Wisdom "is a quiet echo by the edge of the stream at dusk", in Mount Eerie's own words, and somehow I believe that coming from the pair of Phil Elverum and Julie Doiron, no matter how chilling the vocal and instrumental delivery of so calming a metaphor. 2008's daringly short Lost Wisdom seeks to display all there is to display behind the eyes of two soft-spoken emotional wellsprings, utilizing solemnity and...tedium? 

Our title track at once becomes a 21st-century exploration into Cash-inspired, backwoods desperation that Connor Oberst captured much more poetically as a pimple-faced grumpkin operating inside the attic of his parents' house after school, which is harsh yet painfully true, and the next couple tracks pass by nearly undetected. The album tracks prove to be sardonically lo-fi in quality, yet quirkily offset by their indie-mainstream folk-pop tendencies, and much of the fairly fresh lyrical content is entirely overshadowed by far too much pretense and musical banality, rendering the whole of this lo-fi offering simply a cheap, hasty attempt at hi-fi integrity and structure. "Who?" and "Flaming Home" bring to mind an uninspiring Sam Beam impression, as well as some disappointingly weak melodies and unemotionally-charged harmonies which offer very little of the impact that other folk-pop collectives, such as Calexico and Vetiver, so easily and eloquently achieve. In the same light, staying within the confines of lo-fi folk-pop, this hangs nicely on the lower bows of the sub-genres family tree; there is nothing inherently terrible about the record, and yet there is also a complete lack of originality wherever Lost Wisdom's creative juices do flow.

In summation: Lost Wisdom is the bootlegged coffeehouse cover of Every Day and Every Night, and I guess that inevitably makes Mount Eerie the new "Trite Eyes".

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October 22, 2008

The Notwist: "The Devil, You + Me".

Why would Markus Acher write a delicate, unabashedly and almost embarrassingly intimate album only to bear the title The Devil, You + Me? Well, it becomes apparent to the listener why the title was chosen, but here's a clue: The devil is the entity that takes great pleasure in savoring our agony, and where is agony first and foremost present? Obvious enough. Anywhere hearts are open and joyful, the devil lurks in the nearby darkness awaiting any opportunity to vilify and taint our happiness. This album's intimacy is at all times disparagingly overshadowed by a very real and present darkness, as much of The Notwist's material, and it only becomes more and more evident with each relatively short, though nonetheless succulent, track.

Of these, our introduction is not. "Good Lies" lends us the assumption that our dear friends The Notwist jumped on the Coldplay coffee cart just a little too late, though their percussive, Neu!-esque underbelly remains in tact just in case the change of direction doesn't end up working (which it doesn't); the result is half 12/Loup and half Plans, meaning half growling Deutschlandic innovation, half emotional insincerity. Luckily, "Gloomy Planets" radiates as a jazz-injected acoustic sparkler, combing through Markus Acher's inner-planetary frustrations and turmoil. "Alphabet" is a revisitation of early-post-Nook Notwist, complete with Motorik-driven guitars and percussion, debuting a kitschy organ growl and a processed drum loop that seems more unintentional than textural. "Gravity" is a glitchy and palatable romp through outer space, and "Sleep" features delicate guitar mingling, loopy hand drums and a seemingly ad-libbed vocal delivery that provides an interesting contrast to the well-orchestrated song structure. "Boneless" is my favorite track off the record, and showcases a single-octave piano intro, more staccato acoustic guitar, and perhaps The Devil, You + Me's most intimate chorus line.

The album definitely opens up on its second spin, and complements any krautrock, post-punk or indie rock fan's collection nicely. If you are new to The Notwist's indietronic, sour-kraut stylings, try Shrink or Neon Golden, or the magnificent 12, if you can find it. (Amazon is your best bet for anything Notwist, except for this release, which is widely available in record stores nationwide.)

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October 14, 2008

Oneida: "Preteen Weaponry".

Experimental rock has seen many changes in trend and variation, ranging from long drone-fests to current-day reminiscences of the archetypical 1960's sound, complete with big, echoey toms, single-note guitar attacks and minimalist-folk vocal accompaniment. The latter can be attributed to Oneida's latest offering, 2008's Preteen Weaponry and the first of the Thank Your Parents album triptych, and yet there's something else there, between the cracks and crevices of every spacey feedback loop and processed gurgle; call it a "modern flare", if you will. The "flare" I am referring to is that subtle melding of old tones with new ideas, which effectively digs up the skeletons of sonic deliveries past, dusts them off lightly, and utilizes them as if they'd never retired beneath the weight of all those years. Oneida is quite an appropriate example of just one of the many outfits in indie rock music who've groped around on The Beach Boys' musical mistress, though with Preteen, it doesn't sound like some bratty braggard still hopped-up from "getting to second base"; no, this kid's got the real story to back it up.

The "weaponry": three lengthy movements of slow-building, kraut-infused sunshine pop, minus the vocals, minus the "sunshine". You could shrug Oneida off as one more (dare I say it?) pretentious post-rock progeny, but you'd just be wrong; while there are some definite influences allowing Preteen its essence, it's the band's "flare" that truly lays claim to any advancements in psych folk and experimental rock, some of the group's earlier releases, such as Happy New Year or The Wedding, being among them. 

In other words: Oneida knows how to use the weapons of the past to deliver the goods of the future, and Preteen Weaponry is proof of this. All three tracks function as one song, so seat yourself and space out in the midst of this groovy new release. Who needs Animal Collective anymore, anyway?

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October 12, 2008

The Sea And Cake: "Car Alarm".

The Sea and Cake's newest release, Car Alarm, is now available for pre-order on thrilljockey.com. Songs are now uploaded as well - listen in full before you buy!

October 9, 2008

Goldmund: "Two Point Discrimination".

Type artist Keith Kenniff has always been one to wear his shroud of mystery obligingly, as his multiple monikers/stylistic variation/virtuosity might attest, and 2007’s Two Point Discrimination strays nary a step from that path laden with shadows and personal demons, not surprisingly. Under his piano-ballad project title Goldmund, Kenniff sees your heartbreak turned heartache and raises you a dejected soundscape to suit your overly emotional mentality. The music contained within Goldmund’s latest EP would soar above the clouds, would conjure up images of heaven and the Almighty, if it weren’t so consumed by the heavy blanket of melancholy that chokes every note of its grandeur. This property, though off-putting descriptively, lends the music every bit of its majestic insolubility and effectiveness in deteriorating that thick, coagulated membrane around our hearts caused by too many years of unemotionally impacting pop rock and cheesy poofs. Where 2005’s Corduroy Road explored life’s delicacy and subtlety by recognizing and showcasing the pieces for their musical textures instead of their weight or strength as melodic piano instrumentals, Two Point Discrimination works to strip them even more of their musical casings and instrumental confines, opting for more experimental techniques and a continued use of atonality to flesh out these beautifully moving anti-ballads. The result is a mini-album crafted out of the ashes of despair and hopelessness, long after the sting has diminished yet resonating closely enough to draw out the mournful afterbirth that initially fed our inner-turmoil. Yes, it’s dark, it’s a party-pooper, and it will undoubtedly evoke those things from within that otherwise have no benefit to our eight-to-five reality, but that’s exactly what makes it so necessary, and so refreshing. Two Point Discrimination proves that healing can be found “leading from light to shadow”, and that only then will we “see as one”.

October 3, 2008

Naked City: "Grand Guignol".

Here's a favorite of mine from the archives; Naked City's 1992 release Grand Guignol.

Next time the devil comes around, don't challenge him with a fiddle - challenge him to a drum-off. The opening track to this daunting project, "Grand Guignol" sounds like the lord of the underworld versus some prospective initiate into the bowels of hell; all the while, a wind whispers in the background. The track suddenly explodes to life, in a colorful burst of cymbals, crunchy guitar slathered in overdrive and laden with a light tremolo a la Frisell, and a soft organ that seems as out of place as that flinch you can't seem to remove from your face. I know, it's abstract...but this is unconventional beauty we are witnessing here.

Soon, the whispered wind drones once again, followed by some timpany death knolls and (AAAGH!) another noisy outburst from a few possessed instruments. As is Zorn's way, you can expect another ten minutes of this. Zorn is notorious for his avant-jazz mastery, and a compulsive need to shock and bewilder the listener out of their brainwashed conceptions of what music truly is. You always learn something in a fight. You may learn that music can be the sum of all its equals and counterparts, contained within one lengthy movement; it isn't classical, and it's not rock - but those are some heavy riffs, and the sudden sparseness encasing a shrill saxophone cry off in the distance? It's one track, and why shouldn't it be? Just imagine a mad scientist in a laboratory, laughing maniacally and hunched over a white-sheeted creation, soon to unleash itself upon its unsuspecting victims; that's Zorn in the studio. You thought saxophonists were all cozily post-bop, huh?

Some sinister jazz takes over from here, and Frisell's gated guitar swell really dishes out the creep-factor. "Prophetiae Sybillarum" sees a chimey-synth beneath a jazzy Parisian saxophone melody. "The Cage" is a bit unsettling, if you imagine the walls closing in around you and think, "Is this really what I am going to die listening to?"

Luckily, "Louange à l'éternité de Jésus" is an enormously interesting listen, combining an oafy, clock-chime sounding chord progression with a crawling dissonant melody floating gently atop. It's as if something sinister is waiting around the corner, but both you and this sinister force keep looking around different corners at the same time, missing each other completely. This comedic light, once shed upon such a dark subject, serves a humiliatingly hilarious blow to the validity of evil itself.

Suddenly, Yamatsuka Eye erupts from beneath the sheet Zorn (the mad scientist) was laboring and chuckling over, a bug-eyed derelict with a fire hose for a trachea and more energy than the combined caffeine-highs of every paying customer at your local Starbucks. Some ridiculously harsh grind ensues, and Zorn's sax battles Frisell's guitar for "most uncharacteristically neurotic use of an instrumental piece". As is Zorn's way, the band travels through many different genres in one mind-numbing short track, sometimes ranging from noise rock, jazz and surf, usually spanning a mere thirty chaotic seconds. Prepare to listen numerous times - or allow yourself to become victimized. "The Prestidigitator" is especially intriguing - how many genres can you count? I counted about seven, even a couple seconds of showtune-esque musical arrangement! "Torture Garden" is another exceptionally brutal arrangement. "Sack of Shit" is probably my favorite of these short musical attacks. "Dead Dread" is interesting in its psychotic obscenity and strangled vocal rants. Really, Zorn is relentless and uncompromising, and just when you think it's all over, he unleashes "Speedfreaks" on your poor fractured psyche (at this point); Want to listen to every style of music all at once? Done, in just under a minute.

Zorn, his monster, and his cohorts all wish you pleasant dreams.

>>Link to my original review on rateyourmusic.com.

October 2, 2008

Larry Young: "Unity".

Per my review of Wayne Shorter's 1966 hard-bop classic, here's my review of Larry Young's contribution to that legendary year in Jazz music.

Any jazz record featuring Elvin Jones and his solo breaks is a guaranteed success.

Well, 1966 has a new face in my book, and one that I am pretty positive I will be staring at for quite some time into the future. That face would be Larry Young's Unity, a fairly standard Blue Note release, produced and contributed to by trumpeter Woody Shaw and experimental saxophonist Joe Henderson. One listen concludes a fairly straight-forward approach similar to much of Herbie Hancock's earlier work, though there is a thin layer of experimentation in random momentary flashes that you will probably miss if you're not listening intently. I've never been one to scrutinize any classic or modern jazz release, because I allow myself just a pinch too much of an emotional high, which is pretty much what jazz is all about to me, but like Coltrane's A Love Supreme or Shorter's Speak No Evil, there is something there, under the surface music; something containing pure energy, pure talent, pure love. It isn't necessarily meant to be listened to, exactly; it's meant to be experienced as a whole. People make jazz way too hard. What is hard about true love, freedom, happiness? They're there, and we experience them, whether we think we do or not. To the highest degree, Unity is another classic release I have only recently discovered that I immediately recognized that spiritual element contained somewhere within.

If you didn't know any better, you'd mistake Henderson for Coltrane. It's a little eerie, honestly. Henderson seems to be speaking Coltrane's language most of the time, and yet there obviously isn't that little spark, that brightness that Coltrane conjures up soulfully. Then again, Larry Young is indeed under the spotlight here, just as Coltrane was in his recordings, so I can't expect too, too much from Henderson. Woody Shaw shines at times, though mostly weaves a melodic tapestry over which Young can freely improvise, and that's ok - I am digging that soft organ. It's refreshing. Overall, the whole album seems to take Coltrane captive at times, yet does not allow his influence to keep the music from sounding Dave Holland-esque the majority of the time. These are good qualities, and like I said, the album shines Young's light into the world, and one that seems just as bright now as it did then.

>>Link to my original review on rateyourmusic.com.

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