Archive for April, 2009

KARL SANDERS – Saurian Exorcisms (2009)

Posted in 2009 Music, Reviews on April 29, 2009 by monopolyphonic

51k7ll9vwl_ss500_ At last, some signs of life from The End Records. As many of you may know, I (until the last year or so) revered this label; the amount of wild, original material that bands on their roster put out was consistent to the point of being alarming. But lately, the label has been dealing more and more in hard-rock revivalists (Early Man, The Answer) and seemingly paradoxical fringe populist grabs (Mindless Self Indulgence, and, most recently and inexplicably, The Lemonheads) than it has been in the alluring weirdness of bands like Unexpect or Estradasphere. The Answer’s latest album, Everyday Demons, was one that I didn’t much care for one way or the other. All this makes Karl Sanders’ second solo album, Saurian Exorcisms all the more relevant; it’s the first album The End has put out in a while that’s worthy of bearing the label’s name.

Karl Sanders, for those of you who do not know, is the principal songwriter for the Egyptian-themed death metal band Nile (a band who, although both devastating and atmospheric, tend to get written off as a gimmick-driven vehicle far more than they should). Mr. Sanders released his first solo album, Saurian Meditation in 2004; that album contained some of the man’s finest musical work (particularly in the songs Of The Sleep of Ishtar and Dreaming Through The Eyes of Serpents). Now, some five years later, we have another solo album from the man, this one being even more naturalistic and expansive than its predecessor.

You’ll notice I used the word “naturalistic” in that last paragraph. No, that’s not a mistake; Saurian Exorcisms, like Saurian Meditation is not a metal album by any stretch of the imagination. But whereas Meditation married both Sanders’ love of Egyptian and Middle-Eastern folk with his love of electric guitar, Exorcisms is a strictly acoustic affair, with Sanders performing most of the barrage of instruments (which includes Baglama Saz and a custom Glissentar from Godin, as well as standard acoustic guitars as well as all manner of percussion/vocals). It’s a passionate, entrancing album and although it sometimes gets a little carried away with itself (Kali Ma could easily fit in a parody video of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), it’s great to hear an artist commit themselves as fully to their vision as Sanders does here, even if he does occasionally overstep his bounds.

It goes without saying that any fans of Nile need to check this (and Saurian Meditation) out, but for anyone out there who might be looking for a folk album that’s a bit left of center, Saurian Exorcisms just might be the thing you’re looking for.

CROCODILES – Summer of Hate (2009)

Posted in 2009 Music, Reviews on April 28, 2009 by monopolyphonic

Crocodiles - Summer of Hate You know, it pains me to have to bring up the failure of Wavves again, but when a band’s musical vision is as frighteningly scattershot and empty as Wavves’ is, well, it’s a good point of reference. Anyways, the following summation will (Lord willing) be the last time I have to reference the double-/triple-v project this year. So here goes.

In my review of the band’s two albums, I concluded that, essentially, all that they’re really doing is ravaging some very ordinary songs via the two albums’ no-fi production, and that I couldn’t really care less. Now that that’s out of the way, I think that Wavves would do well to take in the music of their fellow FatPossum labelmates Crocodiles, a band who’re tapping the same wellspring as them for inspiration, but whose songs are more sonically dexterous, more musically perspicacious, more jaggedly energetic, and ultimately, more alive. Summer of Hate is, quite simply, everything I wished that Wavves would be, but are not.

“So, what’s the deal with Crocodiles, and how come I’ve never heard of them before?”, you ask. Well, because the band (which consists of former members of the now defunct and criminally under-appreciated punk band The Plot To Blow Up The Eiffel Tower) just released Summer of Hate (their debut album) today. That answer your question? Good. So, musically, the band call to mind the pop era of decades past, but they alternate between playing their melodies and eviscerating them under a tidal wave of distortion and layers of guitar pedal haze. What’s more, the band’s (generally) cheery music is belied by their lyrics and song titles (the album, which again is called Summer of Hate, features songs like I Wanna Kill, Refuse Angels and Young Drugs). All this makes for an album that’s as fascinating as it is strangely unsettling.

If you’re at all into this whole new crop of lo-fi acts, Crocodiles are a band that you absolutely have to check out. Whether or not they’re the best thing to come from this lo-fi revival is admittedly debatable, but should you favor No Age or Vivian Girls over them, you’re still bound to love Summer of Hate; in case you’re unaware, that right there is called a win-win situation. So get behind it. Yeah.

CRYPTACIZE – Mythomania (2009)

Posted in 2009 Music, Reviews on April 23, 2009 by monopolyphonic

Cryptacize - Mythomania Cryptacize’s debut album, Dig That Treasure was an album that went unloved by me. How unloved? Well, I received my copy as a parting gift from a radio station that I was interning at (the album didn’t fit the format of the station, so they gave it to me – would it have made any difference if they knew that the album did not, in fact, fit the format of any station? Probably not). I listened to it a few times, and promptly sold it to the local CD store. Dig That Treasure was a frustrating vapid and terminally passive album, and I’ve got no use for such a thing in my album collection. So, out of little more than morbid curiosity, I picked up the band’s newest album, Mythomania; while it isn’t exactly a decision I regret, it’s certainly one I’d have to think about in greater detail, were I able to go back and do it again.

On Mythomania, Cryptacize are no longer working diligently at creating as little as is humanly possible with their music; instead, they’ve opted to take a new direction, and create some half-hearted Calexico songs and mix them up with some half-hearted Animal Collective songs. While that might not sound like a very pleasant listening experience, it’s a marked improvement over their debut, in the sense that these songs (despite being rudimentary emulations), actually have a pulse. However, the biggest problem with Cryptacize’s music remains unchanged: the compositions here are as sloppy and incoherent as on Dig That Treasure (the difference being that the band has breathed some energy into them this time around). Nothing on the album seems to gel together. It kind of reminded of a later-period Mars Volta songs in that regard – a handful of ideas tossed into a single song that stop and start with a total lack of grace.

It’s a shame, because I think that if Cryptacize were to think a little bit harder about their music before they wrote it, they’d craft some wonderful songs. Sadly, though, I have yet to see anything of the sort from the band. Even if you know the musicians in the band from their other projects, I’d recommend grabbing a few songs of iTunes or something, before you commit to owning the entire album in any format. Whether you’re new to the band, or are having your first encounter with them, Mythomania is probably not what you’re expecting.

MY DYING BRIDE – For Lies I Sire (2009)

Posted in 2009 Music, Reviews on April 22, 2009 by monopolyphonic

My Dying Bride - For Lies I Sire For better or worse, My Dying Bride remains the only band in the UK death/doom holy trinity (Anathema, Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride – now that’s a godhead!) to have not strayed too far from their roots; they haven’t delved into bleak, acoustic minimalism like Anathema have, and they also haven’t taken a sojourn into synth-laden industrial dance music as Paradise Lost did. No, My Dying Bride have, more or less, remained on the same trajectory, and they’ve been quite successful with it. For Lies I Sire is the band’s tenth studio album, and while it doesn’t quite match the eloquence or the terminal woe of Turn Loose The Swans or The Angel and The Dark River, it’s a fine entry into the band’s sorrowful canon, and if it does nothing else, it proves that My Dying Bride know well enough not to fix what isn’t broken.

If you’ve heard a My Dying Bride album, you know full well what to expect: mid-tempo doom that’ll sometimes switch gears to a higher tempo, Aaron Stainthorpe’s speak/sing vocal delivery (his elongated enunciation calls to mind Scott Walker, were he to have been stuffed full of mood stabilizers and then forced to sing), the occasional death growl, and lots and lots of gloom. Of course, there are a few notable exceptions, chief among these being the band’s use of violin in some of the songs. It’s a nice touch most of the time, though there are a few spots where the tone of the violin sounds manipulated somehow, and it takes a little bit to figure out what instrument is actually making that sound.

My Dying Bride are a band who have been enormously influential in the metal scene, and they’ve never released an album that’s disappointed me to date. So, if you’re a metal fan, and have somehow managed to not know who My Dying Bride are over these least 19 years, well…you know what to do. I don’t have to spell it out.

CAMERA OBSCURA – My Maudlin Career (2009)

Posted in 2009 Music, Reviews on April 21, 2009 by monopolyphonic

Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career So, having just reviewed the newest Papercuts album, You Can Have What You Want yesterday, I certainly didn’t expect another pop album to come along so quickly that would be able to contest it, but that’s undeniably the case: Camera Obscura’s newest album, My Maudlin Career, is every bit as enjoyable as the Papercuts album, maybe even more so, as there’s an elegance to it that You Can Have What You Want (although a lovely collection of recordings), is lacking at its core.

Being from Glasgow, it is easiest to compare Camera Obscura to Belle & Sebastian, as both bands share a love for blissfully refined pop, in addition to a regional proximity. But unlike Belle & Sebastian, Camera Obscura favor a less modern production and simpler arrangements (though they’re certainly not lacking in the strings/horns department). So, in that regard, My Maudlin Career more closely resembles Jens Lekman’s latest album, Night Falls Over Kortedala – not only is the music similar, but content-wise, both albums share an affinity for the classic boy v. girl pop thematics (as opposed to the thorough narratives which make up much of Belle & Sebastian’s oeuvre).

Now, I’m in a bit of a tricky position here – gun to my head, which album should you go out and purchase if you’re inclined to here some pop and don’t want to sift through the radio: My Maudlin Career or You Can Have What You Want. Well, after thinking about for a bit, I’m going to have to say whichever one a quarter will get you. Yes. A quarter. To figure it out, all you need to do is flip it. That should do it.

PAPERCUTS – You Can Have What You Want (2009)

Posted in 2009 Music, Reviews on April 20, 2009 by monopolyphonic

Papercuts - You Can Have What You Want I am jealous of Jason Quever; he lives in a simpler time, a time when pop (in all its splendor and glory) was everything. Now, after pondering it for a while, I can say that yes, I do prefer our modern musical era, but the allure of the realm that Quever works in is almost too great to resist. Much like Beach House, Quever’s music is firmly crystalised in the dreamy pop of generations past, and he sounds as if he himself emanating from the yellowed-edges of old LP sleeves in father’s basement.

You Can Have What You Want (much like its predecessor, 2007’s Can’t Go Back), is an album full of deft and wonderful melodies that will often have you doing a double-take just to make sure the recording you’re listening to is really from 2009 (Dictator’s Lament, for example, is reminiscent of Crimson and Clover in its vocal melody). The instrumentation Quever uses is diverse without being flashy (guitar/bass/drums, and the occasional organ line), and the album sounds warm and rich (plenty of reverb, and a nice, spacey mix that’s thankfully not overly loud like so much modern recording is).

Now, let it be known that I don’t hold anything against modern pop (there’s a lot of different directions you can take it, after all). But there’s something about Papercuts’ music that seems almost timeless. And given that, I can safely recommend this album to damn near anyone. Yeah. Anyone. You know who you are.

GNAW – This Face (2009)

Posted in 2009 Music, Reviews on April 19, 2009 by monopolyphonic

Gnaw - This Face Doom supergroups are not as uncommon as you might think. Back in 2001, Teeth of Lions Rule The Divine formed – the band (which takes its name from a song by Earth), featured Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley from Sunn O)))/Burning Witch, Lee Dorian from Cathedral and Justin Greaves of Electric Wizard (and now the folk-doom band Crippled Black Phoenix). And this year, we’re going to be treated to a release by Shrinebuilder (an ensemble featuring members of Neurosis, Sleep and Melvins, plus guitarist/vocalist Wino – how can this not be awesome?). But until Shrinebuilder comes to pass, we have This Face, the debut album of Gnaw.

So, who makes up Gnaw? Well, there’s Alan Dubin (formerly of Khanate and OLD), Jamie Sykes (Thor’s Hammer/Burning Witch), for starters. For a doom supergroup, that’s a good base. But Gnaw’s sound is not what you’d expect from looking at the pedigree of the aforementioned members (though This Face certainly won’t take anyone familiar with them by surprise) – it’s the other members that make the group unique. The hazy, industrial layers of grime and ambient electro-torture come courtesy of two contributing sound designers (Jun Mizumatchi and Brian Beatrice), and Carter Thornton (a man who’s knack for making homemade instrumental weirdness rivals that of ex-Sleepytime Gorilla Museum percussion wizard Moe! Staiano).

The album sounds as if it’s being transmitted directly from Hell; Dubin’s screams have never sounded as ear-shriekingly painful as they are here, and the atmosphere of the album isn’t overly dense; the entire thing sounds like a wave of bong-smoke that’s starting to disperse outward of its own accord. Overall, This Face owes its greatest aural debt to Khanate, a band who have the distinction of creating the only I’ve heard music that actually sounds like dying. If Merzbow took some Khanate material and shredded it digitally, and then John Congleton produced it, it would probably sound something like this.

While Gnaw is the unfortunate position of being deemed “too extreme” by some, and “not extreme enough” by others, most metal fans will find the album to be somewhere in the middle (and consequently, enjoy the hell out of it). Anyways, to sum it up: another great metal album of 2009? Hell yeah!