September 29, 2009

Jim O'Rourke: "The Visitor".

Famed Chicagoland Producer/Experimental artist Jim O'Rourke returns with what appears to be a head-on collision between 1997's Bad Timing and 2001's Insignificance, judging by the album cover - more than probably promising a new inductee to 2009's "Best of" hall of fame.

O'Rourke's fascination with John Fahey is perhaps never as forefront as The Visitor twinkles to life - an amalgam of steel and acoustic guitar accented tenderly by a sustained piano and brushed percussion.

Absent of any of Insignificance's sarcastic, growling pop, The Visitor plays like a live folk guitarist's improvisational dream set. The subtleties of O'Rourke's softer, impressionistic side - evident in earlier tracks such as "Movie on the Way Down" from 1999's Eureeka - sparkle between glimpses into a redesigned Americana-folk feel for the 21st Century experimental underground (Bill Frisell meets Gershwin meets Talk Talk).

Side B of O'Rourke's 38 minute-long instrumental "The Visitor" slips some impressively tasteful, dynamic arrangements into the mix, including a playful auto-wah electric guitar and staccato string accompaniment towards the close of The Visitor.

As predicted, The Visitor tops the "Best of 2009" charts along with Tortoise's Beacons of Ancestorship and Extra Golden's Thank You Very Quickly. Highly, highly recommended.

Order The Visitor now on LP and CD from Chicago's Drag City label.


September 27, 2009

Rain Machine: "Rain Machine".

What's worse than this decade's favorite soulless neophytes The Arcade Fire? The horrid lot of second-rate whiners who don't realize that there is absolutely nothing beautiful about Bruce Springsteen and post-punk once sandwiched between enough overly-emotional glam-rock aesthetic to annoy even the likes of David Bowie and his entire lineage; enter Kyp Malone's (TV on the Radio) Rain Machine. To be "fair", Malone is pretty into it, judging by the less than a minute-long intro comprised of nothing but an uninspired, whistled jingle and a sack full of assorted percussion instruments.

Seemingly drawing in inspiration from nineties acts like Sponge, eighties stars such as Springsteen and recent sixties and seventies folk throwbacks as Fleet Foxes and Beach House, Rain Machine projects a fair enough homage to said inspirations, but completely lacks any structure of its own. This is not always a bad thing, but acts wrapped in such song-heavy skins as Arcade Fire and Fleet Foxes better well ante up. Rain Machine lacks a hand at all.

Rain Machine is a valiant effort, though its efforts are not clearly defined or fully actualized, leaving this reviewer puzzled - bewildered as to what the album intends to portray and why. Tracks such as "Give Blood" lean toward a southern alt-gospel style, perhaps best showcased by Nashville band Lambchop, complete with choral accompaniment and sparse percussion, though ultimately, the effort is overturned as more poor orchestration, croons and meandering melodies obfuscate any interest it's awarded.

Good examples of the Arcade Fire formula shine through tracks such as "Smiling Black Faces" and "Hold You Holy", as Malone incorporates driving post-punk percussion paired with shrieking vocals, female "hoorays!" and an unimpressive layering of plunking acoustic guitars, twanging banjos and growling overdriven electrics.

And what do you get when you add alt-rock, alt-gospel and post-punk together? Folk-rock revival. I know, it isn't a logical progression from A to D...but it's a justified description of the album's shifting aesthetic. "Driftwood Heart" packs up those southern-fried falsettos, shakes off the vest and pocket watch, and dips its unfocused musical catastrophe into a ten-ton vat of reverb - a particularly unattractive thing to behold.

Thankfully, Malone saved the interminably boring two-chorded anti-ballad for the latter half of the album, punishing those snotty, overly-critical types (such as?) with a rather miserable attempt at minimalist artistry in "Love Won't Save You"- resulting in a painfully long tirade about who-knows-what-or-why. Nearly eight minutes later, those that are still standing are doing so atop buckling knees.

After such a drab intermission among an equally drab set of sonic constructions, it's no secret the last two tracks evade detection nearly altogether; perhaps Malone attempted a tribute album, but forgot the song list and decided to wing it? If so, Kyp, note to self: never do this again. A lot more focus on song structure, lyrical integrity and meaningful instrumentation could do wonders with even the most slovenly of indie-rock flops.


September 21, 2009

Beasties: "Beasties".

Over a year in compiling, here's the near-finished result of hours of improvisation and free-form expression. Equal parts apocalyptic post-rock, ambient drone, field noise and improvised melody, Beasties revels in its happy marriage between structure and chaos. Enjoy.

1. Intro (0:12)
2. Those (5:58)
3. Clip (7:54)
4. Fear (7:28)
5. Pelt In (3:16)
6. Heterotic-O (3:00)
7. 2910849 : Void (3:53)
8. Improv I (5:16)
9. Intro II (2:28)
10. The DIY Toadstool (3:33)
11. Improv I (Ambient Remix) (3:52)

Beasties - Beasties (2009)

September 17, 2009

Pete Yorn: "Back & Fourth".

Pete Yorn is mainstream music's last shining light; his surface-level lyrics settle nicely atop the jangly, post-REM alternative drive like a fresh coat of grabber yellow paint on a 1973 Mach 1 Mustang, proving that, among other proofs harder proven,

1) Rock and roll still exists,
2) Rock stars still cry and
3) Sparser instrumentation tightens up those heartstrings.

Back & Fourth starts off on a sad note, and doesn't ever really lift. "Don't Wanna' Cry" is a teary-eyed lament that contradicts itself quite blatantly as Yorn nearly bursts into tears at every twist of the soulful dirge. "Paradise Cove" trudges along like a self-loathing rejected lover at the end of his rope. "Close" offers the first quasi-bright light at the end of the tunnel, and features triumphant orchestration and hard-hitting drums.

Although the opening trio sets the stage for a true alt-country experience, "Social Development Dance" sees Yorn sinking back into his comfortable nostalgic pensiveness, at the hands of a tinkling bluegrass rock ballad, and "Shotgun" revisits Pete's poppy side so evident in tunes like the breakthrough "Strange Condition" off of 2001's Musicforthemorningafter.

"Last Summer" is Back & Fourth's big rocker, though the song still ebbs and flows behind Yorn's pent-up, near-emotional outbursts in lines like "We were great last summer / We cannot go back again". "Four Years" waltzes atop the last amber light of summer, celebrates a new era like two lovers reunited from distance and hardship. It's these latter tunes, and especially the closer "Long Time Nothing New", that really jab at the heart and soul of the listener, making the album officially Yorn's "Million Dollar Baby".

A clear DIY-ethic paired with thoughtful lyrics and twinkling orchestration creates the neo-classic in Back & Fourth, and although you may not find much in Yorn's stylistic delivery, there can be little argument regarding his rapid growth and maturity as a songwriter this fourth time around. Finally, a solid and clear-cut definition of Yorn through the successful melding of original song styles with lush lyrical delivery and tasteful instrumentation that sets Back & Fourth apart just enough to achieve noteworthiness. A much appreciated effort by Yorn.


September 9, 2009

Boredoms: "Super Roots 10".

Boredoms return with the newest installment to the Super Roots series, Super Roots 10. Produced, performed and designed by Yamataka Eye and Boredoms, this sunny little gem of an EP isn't your typical Boredoms release. Eye, known for his avant-garde vocals and rants, adds minimally to a swirling mixture of fuzzy synthesizer, driving house beats and crisp live drums that see the band releasing their Strawberry Jam, if you will. Equal parts world beat, shamanic/tribal vocal and synthy experimentation a la Tortoise's Beacons of Ancestorship. Featuring four remixes of the title track, each unique and electrifying in their own way, Super Roots 10 is sure to make many noise rock, experimental and indie rock lists upon release. Due for release on 9/29/09 as a limited double 12" on Thrill Jockey records.

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