Archive for May, 2008

THE PINEAPPLE THIEF – Tightly Unwound (2008)

Posted in 2008 Music, Reviews on May 31, 2008 by monopolyphonic

The Pineapple Thief - Tightly Unwound With each new release, The Pineapple Thief have moved closer and closer to recapturing the pop/prog perfection that they displayed on 137 and Variations on a Dream. It’s not that the band have ever taken a step backwards in the quality department – 2006’s Little Man was a dense flurry of abstract pop, veiled with the same electronic manipulation that made Radiohead a household name. And 2007’s What We Have Sown called the bluff that 25+ minute prog songs were a dead medium, and that Dream Theater and the InsideOut B-List had killed them.

Tightly Unwound doesn’t have any 25+ minute prog songs like the title track of What We Have Sown, although it does have Too Much To Lose, the 16 minute track which close out the album, and which is, in its own way, every bit as breathtaking – it opens like a strung-out ballad, culled from a forlorn alleyway. Suddenly, the ballad pulls itself up, as if realizing it’s got business to attend to, and heads off to some dark place, obscured by tight drum work and reverb-soaked samples. It’s a harrowing experience, and by the time it closes (with singer Bruce Soord singing “No, I don’t want to hurt you” against a thunderous backdrop), you’re left feeling like you’ve been watching a gritty film noir serial, cut from nightmares and pieced together in a storm.

It’d be hard to gauge where Tightly Unwound ends up based upon how it starts; My Debt To You is a soft, mostly-acoustic song where the focus is on Soord’s voice, and little else. From a purely musical standpoint, Soord’s voice is intriguing; it’s like a mix of Thom Yorke and Steven Wilson, and when he harmonizes himself (as he does in the chorus: “here’s my debt to you”), it’s extraordinarily catchy, regardless of the weight of the song (he harmonizes himself again in Shoot First, a much more upbeat song, and the result is the same).

Overall, there’s a little more of a rock influence on much of Tightly Unwound: there’s nothing really “prog” about some songs, like Sinners, which at times displays an arena-rock level of energy. Then there’s songs like My Bleeding Hand, which sounds like what Muse could’ve been capable of on Black Holes and Revelations if they would’ve been more focused. But as great as both these songs are, some of the best material on Tightly Unwound comes as a complete surprise.

Like The Sorry State, a song that begins similarly to some of the others on the album but quickly differentiates itself through its use of flamenco guitar in the verses. It’s carried off later by a raw, yet controlled guitar solo, a solo that collides into another flamenco verse; at this point, everything in the song is blossoming, and it’s hard not to be captivated by it. And So Say All of you is another such song; it’s sandwiched between the two longest songs on the album, but it’s just as emotionally effective at a third of the runtime. It’s mostly low-key, almost a ballad, and then it picks up at the end, but only to come back down again. It’s not as beautiful as The Answers from 10 Stories Down, but then again, it doesn’t need to be. There’s an indescribable sadness that lingers in it, and to hear such a succinct display of emotion between such a mountain of it is only further proof of the band’s prowess.

If Too Much To Lose is the most progressive song on the album, it seems fitting that Different World, the second longest song (at 11 minutes), is its rival. While both songs share similar runtimes, the emotions they evoke could not be more different; Too Much To Lose is an incredibly dark and foreboding song, while Different World is lighter and more contemplative. What’s remarkable about it is how easily it moves from one section to the next. The string section in the middle gradually turns into a soft pop revelation, which fades away while only the piano lingers, before bringing the song back around again to a reprise of an earlier section. Before you know it, the song has gradually faded to nothing, and the solemn opening of And So Say All of You has begun.

The Pineapple Thief are one of the greatest treasures in the current underground music scene. They’re the kind of band that could potentially appeal to all kinds of music fans. Prog fans will like them for their detailed epics, while pop fans will rejoice at their sense of melody and harmony. People with more abstract tastes will admire their use of texture and structure, while still others will simply love the album for what is: a boundlessly enjoyable experience.

HD RATING: 10/10

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KAYO DOT – Blue Lambency Downward (2008)

Posted in 2008 Music, Reviews on May 28, 2008 by monopolyphonic

Kayo Dot - Blue Lambency Downwards With 2003’s Choirs of the Eye, Kayo Dot did the impossible: they made a deeply expressive, well-composed, engaging (and above all, endlessly replayable) experimental album, one that fused abstract metal with an indie sensibility, and interpreted it all with a classical, yet diverse and ever-changing, instrumentation. Choirs of the Eye is one of my favorite albums of all time, and honestly, once you’ve done the impossible, really the only thing you can do next is release Dowsing Anemone With Copper Tongue – a damn good, but thoroughly possible album.

So, what’s in store for the listener on Blue Lambency Downward? Well, it might be easier to start with what isn’t. While the new album is a great many things, one thing it isn’t is ferocious. This is the tamest album that Kayo Dot have released to date (which is odd, considering their move to Hydra Head Records). Here, the band’s trademark primal outbursts are, for the most part, conspicuously absent. They’re not absent entirely, however. There are a few sections in Clelia Walking that recall the opening death throes of Marathon, and parts of The Awkward Wind Wheel feel like little brothers of the ending of Aura on an Asylum Wall. But these sections are scarce, and relatively controlled. Overall, the tone of Blue Lambency Downward is much more subdued.

The song that sets this tone is the title track. Overall, it’s quiet, with a few moments wherein the band hint that they could erupt at any second, if they felt so inclined (my favorite of these is the middle section of the song, which sounds like the echoes of the Sunn O)))/Boris track Etna, as heard under fifty feet of ice). While the decibel levels here never ascend into the stratosphere (and lead vocalist/omni-instrumentalist Toby Driver never unleashes his bloodcurdling scream, a scream that puts even the dual wailing of Johnny and Jordan from The Blood Brothers to shame), the song still showcases what Kayo Dot are best at: composing remarkably intricate songs which emphasize texture over memorable melodies. At their core, this is what makes Kayo Dot who they are, and on Blue Lambency Downward, they’re not throwing away the recipe. They’re just altering a few ingredients.

And they succeed in their experiment, which more often than not brings us surprises, like when the band’s usually free-form motion locks into a light groove in parts of Right Hand is the One I Want – the instrumentation had me thinking “Tortoise”, but the relationship is distant, at best (you’ll notice I say some variation of “distant” a lot here – that’s because Kayo Dot’s sound is so confounding that, in a way, “distance” is the only thing there can be). Then there are things like the string sections of The Useless Ladder, which sound akin to what the theme from Psycho might sound like, were it to be fully rendered by a devious Dadaist trickster.

The band save their best for last. Over the course of eleven minutes, they seamlessly transform a simple beginning (consisting largely of a muted guitar which makes all kinds of unorthodox leaps from note to note) into a weirdly ethereal dance (I want to say waltz – it sounds waltz-like, but it isn’t in 3/4, so what does that make it?), before finally closing it out with a descending clarinet line. This ending is so understated, and yet so perfect, that you may wonder (as I found myself wondering) why you didn’t see it coming every step of the way.

Critics have always attempted to subvert Kayo Dot under the rational yet overly-used “art for art’s sake” line of reasoning. And those same critics will have a field day with Blue Lambency Downward, an album that revels in the atypical. Now, I’m not out to define art – I don’t have that kind of time on my hands. But I will say that the music Kayo Dot have created (including that on Blue Lambency Downward) has always triggered an emotional response from me. It evokes images in my mind, moods, even ideas. That’s gotta count for something*.

HD RATING: 9/10

* = Hint: it’s a nine.

NOTE: If you’re intrigued by what this album could be like, and would like to hear it (legally, of course), the album can currently be streamed here.

CRYPTACIZE – Dig That Treasure

Posted in 2008 Music, Reviews on May 15, 2008 by monopolyphonic

Cryptacize - Dig That Treasure There’s not a whole lot to Cryptacize’s first album; everything about it, from the music to the album art, carries with it an air of suggestive emptiness. Aesthetically, Dig That Treasure is peculiar, but not due to a devotion to weirdness or to an over-indulgence in pop ecstasies. Rather, it’s peculiar because of a constant, unyielding effort to splitting the difference between the two and walking way, way off into the horizon as a part of the process.

The music on Dig That Treasure walks the line between the shimmering harmonics of Animal Collective and the bright, delicate atmosphere of Grizzly Bear, but whittled down to their barest – and with little to no tempo. Standing in stark contrast to this are the crystal-clear and uncomplicated vocals, delivered either by Chris Cohen (formerly of Deerhoof) or Nadelle Torrisi. The end result is collection of songs that sound more like showtunes rejects than indie or pop songs; there’s the same vague expressiveness hinted at in each track, and whether or not each track fulfills itself by the end seems to come at random.

We’ll Never Dream Again is one of the successful tracks. It, like much of the album, is made up of an uncluttered minimalism. A quaint guitar line that sometimes pulses forward. Simple drum flourishes (there’s actually a drumbeat in part of this song). The dual vocals of Chris and Nadelle, moving back and forth from one another as the song goes on, forming a detached duet. Detached is a great way to describe most of the singing on the album. It’s flat, emotionless stuff, but it works every once in a while (as it does here – the tone of it is the perfect means to convey a great sadness, which is what the song is working with – it’s unexpected, and more affecting than perhaps it should be).

The vocal payoff happens in much the same manner in No Coins, a semi-waltz that would sound right at home in the first sad scene of an animated Disney movie. Again, the simplicity of everything here makes it work. What better way to approach a song about poverty than with a bare palette?

However, it’s this same palette that is Dig That Treasure’s undoing. Even if the band had created an album that had made the most of this approach to music on every song, it still wouldn’t be great; for one thing, it would be horribly repetitive (which it is now), but it would be only slightly less bothersome that it was so. And that fact that Dig That Treasure is what it is has a lot else working against it.

The album fares better when the songs are more concrete (as they are on the title track, a fleeting, poppy ballad that is the album’s best song). But for most of the time, Cryptacize are being too abstract for their own good, and they wind up creating not songs, but little 3-to-4 minute chunks of musical stasis instead. Nowhere is this more apparent then on the opening track, Stop Watch, which has several false starts, and even more false conclusions. At four minutes, it’s the album’s longest song, and coincidentally, also its biggest blunder. Fortunately, either by chance or by decision, they get this mistake out of the way first, which is a good idea.

The band make the same mistake many more times on Dig That Treasure: on Water Witching Wishes, on Heaven is Human, on How Did The Actor Laugh?, on Cosmic Sing-a-long, and so on, and so on. None of these songs add up to anything, even though we’re fully aware that things are going on inside of them as we listen. But whatever keeps them in motion is lost between the speakers and the listener. And what we’re left with is a bland patch sound occasionally punctuated by music. This isn’t something I’d recommend to someone unless you’re looking to totally cleanse whatever sonic palette you may have accrued. In that respect, Cryptacize work quite well. As music, not so much.

HD RATING: 3/10

BRAIN DRILL – Apocalyptic Feasting (2008)

Posted in 2008 Music, Reviews on May 6, 2008 by monopolyphonic

Brain Drill - Apocalyptic Feasting So when you call your band Brain Drill, you’ve inevitably limited your musical palette considerably. You’re going to play either grindcore or death metal, and unless you want to be the laughing stock of the metal community, you better do it damn well (whatever “it” may be). As it happens, California’s Brain Drill happen to play the latter. And yes, they do it well. Even damn well.

The backstory: Brain Drill formed in 2005 and released Apocalyptic Feasting in February of 2008. Inexplicably, in less than a month, everyone but guitarist Dylan Ruskin left the band. I’m not sure why. If Apocalyptic Feasting winds up being the sole piece of work by which we are to judge the fruits of their labors, many people (myself included) will be left thinking of what could have been. As it stands, however, we can definitely look at what is.

If you’re a fan of Necrophagist or Gorguts, the technical death metal offered on Apocalyptic Feasting will be familiar musical territory. The guitar work is executed with surgical precision. The vocals are gurgle with menacing unintelligibility. The drumming is inhuman. Take note of that last statement especially. The drum work that’s displayed here is mind-boggling in its ferocity.

The best place to start here is the title track. It begins with a lightning-fast roar that somehow manages to kick the tempo up even further beyond its already breakneck pace, before toning it back down to only moderately maniacal. The breaks between tempo shifts are expertly punctuated by drum fills, courtesy of the aforementioned, possibly inhuman Marco Pitruzzella (there’s a ton of videos of him on youtube – check them out if you want your head to spin). By the time the song concludes, everything is moving at fuller-than-full-throttle – the guitars and drums are churning away, and the bass is leap-frogging from note to note, like it’s interpreting some kind of deformed etude from hell.

While there’s no denying that what Brain Drill are doing is death metal, it’s interesting to hear splashes from other genres show up in songs. There’s some thrash elements on the album opener, Gorification, especially when the main melody resurfaces midway through the song. The screeching vocals and pulsing, focused drum-beat at the beginning of The Depths of Darkness is very reminiscent of grindcore (as are the lyrics). And for any metalcore kids who might’ve gone far, far stray and somehow wound up here, The Parasites boasts two excellent breakdowns.

It should be stated that as brutal as Brain Drill get on Apocalyptic Feasting, they’d be even more so if the album had a fuller sound. The production on the album is thin (sometimes very thin) sounding, and the bass is sadly buried deep underneath the guitars (which is a shame, because when you can hear it, it – like the rest of the instruments here – is doing amazing things).

Apocalyptic Feasting isn’t perfect. If you put the monstrous technical prowess aside, there’s really not a whole lot else on display with these songs. They all kind of come and go as one would expect them to, and there’s certainly not a lot of depth to them (again forgoing the technical madness contained therein). But the songs are fun to listen to (if death metal doesn’t displease you, that is), and after listening to a string of disappointing metal albums recently to review for this site, the insanity of Brain Drill is a much-welcomed breath of fresh air. Add to that the fact that the album has a brisk 35 minute runtime, as well as a tireless devotion to classic metal imagery (zombies, plagues and good ol’ fashioned blood and gore), and you’re left with a highly enjoyable (if a bit one-dimensional) metal album.

HD RATING: 7.5/10

THESE UNITED STATES – A Picture of Three of us at the Gate to the Garden of Eden (2008)

Posted in 2008 Music, Reviews on May 3, 2008 by monopolyphonic

These United States - A Picture of Three of us at the Gate to the Garden of Eden Everybody knows what folk is. Or, at least, everybody knows what folk should be. It should be simple. It should be forward-leaning. There should be some longing for something, anything. It should be poetic, yet lucid. Above all, it needs to feel human (if it’s not, how can it reflect all of the other aforementioned things?).

This brings me to These United States, a band who fall somewhere between Andrew Bird-esque folk, spacey jazz and lighter-than-air electro pop. A Picture of Three of Us is the band’s debut album, and it’s a promising one; on it, they deliver some truly captivating and diverse material.

Case in point: my two favorite songs off the album are both radically different. The first of these is First Sight, an absolutely lovely piece of electro-pop. While it lacks the grandeur of, say, Hallelujah from The Helio Sequence’s latest album, First Sight is ultimately the better song. It’s sweeter, and singer Jesse Elliot’s gentle voice (coupled with the rich imagery of his lyrics) evoke the sensation of something beautiful just over the horizon for a couple in love, a love that’s only beginning to blossom.

The second of these songs, Slow Crows Over, appears later in the album. Stylistically, it’s the antithesis of First Sight : an intricate multi-layered piece of soulful folk. It’s the kind of thing that Jack Johnson would do if he weren’t totally worthless. As the song progresses, Elliot’s voice gets buried under more and more echoes of himself, until the final repetition of the song’s ultimate statement brings the song to its end: “the bad sink back/I think the good go forward.”

Slow Crows Over is followed immediately by So High So Low So Wide So Long, one of many expansive folk songs that A Picture of Three of Us features. When I say “expansive”, I don’t mean that the songs cover a lot of ground in a lot of ways (the album sure does – the songs, by themselves, don’t necessarily)- I simply mean that they sound big; they occupy a definitive space. There’s no “me and a two-track in my living room” production to any of the songs on the album (nothing against that particular aesthetic – I should point out here that I’m a huge fan of Iron & Wine’s The Creek Drank The Cradle). That’s partly why these songs are so interesting: you can sense the movement in them, which only makes the vulnerability of Elliot’s lyrics all the more heartbreaking. Musically, So High So Low So Wide So Long drifts along, always shifting under a sturdy foundation of bass; sometimes, the song is a flutter of piano, sometimes it’s acoustic guitar (and sometimes it’s electric), other times, it’s a procession of quiet drumwork.

Hmm. Come to think of it “always shifting” is a good summation of the musical progression of the album in general. Why didn’t I say that earlier? Oh well. I’m saying it now. Elsewhere on the album, These United States try their hand at slower, jazzier songs, and the result is equally as pleasing. Jenni Anne is one such song; it’s laid-back and full of the rattling of exotic percussion, as Elliot sings “them and I/you and the sky/everybody’s got to die sometime.” It’s strange hear such a sentiment expressed against such an atypical musical backdrop, but for one reason or another, it works.

Only The Lonely Devil Knows is another such jazzy song, which, as it progresses, has most of the instruments break down into a glitchy falloff, while the drums (and occasionally an organ) keep moving forward studiously. Eventually, the drum tempo disappears completely, and the song (and the album) comes to a close.

In a way, the biggest flaw of A Picture of Three of Us (its lack of focus) is at odds with the album’s strongest quality (its musical diversity). There’s no doubt that it’s a great album, but it makes for an unusual listening experience; it’s disjointed to listen to the whole thing beginning to end, and when you do, you tend to notice some songs more, while other songs get lost in the shuffle. I’m not sure what the solution to this would be, or if there even is one; I don’t know if an entire album of These United States doing electro-pop or folk or jazz by itself would necessarily be good on its own. But I will say that, in any case, it’s great to hear that the band, with only one album, can do so much, so well.

HD RATING: 8.5/10