Archive for May, 2009

GRIZZLY BEAR – Veckatimest (2009)

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

Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest Some albums don’t let you in right away; Grizzly Bear’s previous album, 2006’s Yellow House, was one such album. Try as I might, I couldn’t penetrate that album’s delicate forlorn threshold for the better part of a month, but when I finally did, I was grateful that I remained as patient with the group for as long as I was. Yellow House, as beautiful and intricate as it is, is a bit of a reclusive affair; the songs there sound as if they drifted into being, up from the dimly-lit corners of some abandoned ancestral home just before dawn. There’s an indefinable sadness that exists in that album, and that Grizzly Bear kept such a tight reign over it was the reason for my initial difficulties in divining the beauty it contained.

Veckatimest is the polar opposite – it’s lively and inviting, and seems to spring forth out of necessity than out of some abstract, ethereal sorrow. It’s a vast improvement over Yellow House, if for no other reason than it simply feels more like an album than Yellow House did. Everything on Veckatimest is more fleshed out – the pop songs are poppier (Two Weeks and While You Wait For The Others make Knife from Yellow House practically fade from memory), while the chamber material is far more muscular and intriguing (Cheerleader would fit well on a Belle & Sebastian album, were B&A ever to record an album with Brian Wilson). In short, Veckatimest is proof that musical cloud cover isn’t always the best idea.

I mean, think about it: Deerhunter did a similar switch-up last year with Microcastle, an album that’s far superior to their previous album, the delightful but murky Cryptograms. One year later, Grizzly Bear have followed them, lifting their musical veil, and allowing us to experience them unfiltered by any sort of compositional or emotional restraints. So despite being more natural in essence than Yellow House, in a weird way, Veckatimest feels as if it’s been culled from a dream – it’s imaginative and whimsical, yet remarkably clear and prescient. And if you happen to be the one dreaming it, please, do yourself a favor: don’t wake up.

THINK ABOUT LIFE – Family (2009)

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

Think About Life - Family With Family, Think About Life just might have created the weirdest, most consistently restless and strangely wonderful (anti)dance album of the year. And I mean that as a compliment as much as any one person can; Family is chock full of groove and snarling rhythm, but instead of it being relaxed and sensual, it’s angular and agitated. If TV on the Radio took a bunch of uppers and then went out to play a Motown cover set at the local dive bar, it would probably sound something like this: trashed, mad and sublime. All of this is even harder to wrap one’s around given that Think About Life’s eponymous 2006 debut is such a thoroughly different album, sounding more like a fuzzed-out, reclusive twin of The Faint than a disco/funk fever dream; Think About Life was focused, heart and mind, on the fringes of the dance floor, but Family is violently in love with the feet below and the lights above.

Considering the overabundance of energy present here, it’s should come as no surprise that Family is at its best when it’s going for broke, treating all restraints as something best dealt with while hungover the next morning. And since most of the album runneth over with such a gleeful lack of moderation, it’s hard not to love. The album only really ever loses momentum in two songs, Sweet Sixteen and The Veldt (a song which, despite stealing the “you-can’t-not-love-it” melody of My Girl, still falls flat). These songs are alright by themselves, but taken in the context of the rest of the album, they seem dreadfully out of place – when an album is as unabashedly drunk on the bliss and glory of all incarnations of dance music (new and old) as Family is, opting to take a trek out to the dance floor sober here and there isn’t a smart move.

Family is an album that was destined from its inception to be fiercely divisive; it’s equally likely to be a wondrous event of musical harmonic convergence for some and a complete turn-off for others. If you’d love to hear the texture and atmosphere of Cut Copy, the refined beauty of Hercules and Love Affair, the jittery spasms of Girl Talk and the cerebral funkiness of !!! all rolled into one compact, hyperwound release, well, Family will make your dreams come true. But if you’d rather take in those bands separately, you’d best keep moving. This party’s not for you.

THE PAPER CHASE – Someday This Could All Be Yours (Vol. 1)

Posted in 2009 Music, Reviews on May 27, 2009 by monopolyphonic

The Paper Chase - Someday This Could All Be Yours (Vol. 1) John Congleton’s take on pop music is truly demented; there’s no angst or longing to be found in any of his music, only bloodshed and despair. Rather than using imagery to which a collective majority might be able to connect with, Congleton’s thematic material revels in the devilishly obtuse. His melodies are twisted, snapping forth like rusted shrapnel into a series of always-open wounds. That these melodies are often as hooky and infectious as sane pop music makes everything all the more alarming.

As an engineer and producer, Congleton usually takes a straightforward, no-nonsense approach to the material at hand, so it sort of makes sense that The Paper Chase exists in the manner it does; it serves as Congleton’s own personal playground, where he can behead the guilty and conjure demonic spirits to his heart’s content. Given all this, it’s a little difficult to take in Someday This Could All Be Yours (Vol. 1), as the music here is decidedly more elegant and corporeal than anything that he’s done in the past. It almost sounds…human…in parts (though if it were, it would still no doubt belong in an asylum).

Someday This Could All Be Yours (Vol. 1) is the first of a two-part album series dealing with all manner of plagues, disasters and extinctions. So thematically, it’s already more rigid than its predecessors, which (although undeniably cohesive) functioned as little more than some loosely-related collections of Hell – past albums by The Paper Chase have shared the same torments and suffered the same fears, but everything else in them was wickedly ambiguous. Now that’s not the case here, but fortunately, Someday This Could All Be Yours (Vol. 1) htis more often than it misses.

The songs here work best when Congleton & co. keep their black hearts focused on the supernatural, as opposed to the natural. Songs like I’m Going To Heaven With or Without You (The Forest Fire) and We Have Ways To Make You Talk (The Human Condition) carry the same ominous burdens as the band’s earlier work, while songs like The Common Cold (The Epidemic) and Your Money or Your Life (The Comet) feel flat at their best and downright silly at their worst (it’s an exercise in extremes – the apocalypse is infinitely more terrifying than the common cold or a swarm of bees any day of the week). The album’s best song, The Laying of Hands, The Speaking of Tongues (The Mass Hysteria) works as well as it does because it not only is focused on the otherworldly, but it plays forth like some wayward occult exorcism that will end not in salvation but in flames. Now that’s something you don’t hear everyday.

Seeing as how Someday This Could All Be Yours (Vol. 1) is only part of a whole that I don’t yet know the totality of, it’s a little difficult to pass judgement on it (though I have no doubt the album itself, were it self-aware, would relish the opportunity to be judged). I can only say that it’s a bit weaker and more uneven than previous efforts by The Paper Chase, but when the songs throttle mercilessly into high gear, the band has never sounded better. And it’s just as well, too. Not all extinctions are created equal.

SUNN O))) – Monoliths & Dimensions (2009)

Posted in 2009 Music, Reviews on May 26, 2009 by monopolyphonic

Sunn O))) - Monoliths & Dimensions There are a lot words that people who aren’t familiar with extreme music will attribute to Sunn O))) upon first listening to them, but the first word that comes to my mind when I think about Sunn O))), though, is quite different: spiritual. Sunn O))) are an incredibly spiritual band, but not in the way you think – Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley aren’t out to serenade your soul; they’re out capture it. And on Monoliths & Dimensions, the band imprison it in the most primal and elegant dungeon they’ve ever fashioned.

Beyond their signature, apocalyptic low-end drones, Sunn O)) augment this, their newest album, with damn near everything in musical existence: conch shell players, various choirs, swaths of horns and strings, pianos, synths, organs, tamburas, flutes and clarinets, and the demented vocals of Mayhem vocalist Attila Csihar. But given that this is a Sunn O))) album, none of these instruments fit into these pieces the way you might think. When all is said and done, the band up not with an orchestral album, but with four monstrous, ravaging hymns, old as the Earth, and every bit as cunning, vicious and unforgiving.

Sunn O)))’s music has always been unrelentingly visceral, but listening to Monoliths and Dimensions is an awe-inspiring and terrifying experience, akin to staring down an insatiable black hole. Horrifying, yes, but there’s something strangely beautiful and poetic about it, something that certainly hasn’t been exhibited on any of their previous albums. It’s always a great surprise when a band you think you have figured out manage to surprise you. It’s even better when they damn near unravel your spirit doing it.

JOHN VANDERSLICE – Romanian Names (2009)

Posted in 2009 Music, Reviews on May 25, 2009 by monopolyphonic

John Vanderslice - Romanian Names John Vanderslice is not your typical troubadour; his music is expansive and cerebral, and his lyrics are tightly wound narratives that dodge abstraction and convention in equal measure. So while tradition may not play a central part of his style, don’t make the mistake of thinking that he can’t whittle things down to the basics of man + guitar and be every bit as affecting as he is when he’s forging electronic, atypical melodies; to back up this claim, I cite Moon Colony Bloodbath, an album you probably haven’t heard (but I have, ’cause I purchased on the recent Gone Primitive tour), as it’s a collaborative, vinyl/tour-only EP between John Vanderslice and Mr. John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats. That album features minimal electro-trickery from Mr. Vanderslice, and considering the album’s about secret organ-harvesting colonies on the moon, copious amounts of electo-trickery would not be out of place.

One can occasionally hear glimpses of the aforementioned EP’s fragility (sans the sci-fi menace) on Romanian Names, John Vanderslice’s seventh album, and the first one in a while that doesn’t deal thematically with 9/11 or the conflict in Iraq (topics which Vanderslice delved masterfully into on Pixel Revolt, and less masterfully into on Emerald City). It’s wonderful to hear John Vanderslice weave such improbable beauty out of songs like Too Much Time or Oblivion (songs that, in the hands of a lesser musician, would be unbearable), and to hear both those songs flanked by such comparatively simple songs like Sunken River Boat and C & O Canal is quite illustrative of the depths of John Vanderslice’s talent – as an artist, a lyricist, a producer. Trifecta? You betcha.

As John Vanderslice exists a bit off the singer/songwriter beaten path, trying to recommend him is a bit of a dicey proposition. There are those who (like me) will find his musical approach to be as lovely as it is endearing, and there are others who will find it too sterile to enjoy. But I’d bet money that the first group will outnumber the second any day of the week.

APOSTLE OF HUSTLE – Eats Darkness (2009)

Posted in 2009 Music, Reviews on May 24, 2009 by monopolyphonic

Apostle of Hustle - Eats Darkness Hey. So. There’s this band from Canada called Broken Social Scene. They kick ass. Also, they’ve had anywhere from 18 to 23 members over the past few years. And some of these members have other bands; some of these band kick an equal amount of ass (Stars, Metric), some are a bit more recognized (Feist) in the musical community, while others still are more obscure – that last one fits Apostle of Hustle, the solo project of BSS (lead?) guitarist Andrew Whiteman, like a glove. Whiteman released his first effort as Apostle of Hustle (Folkloric Feel) in 2004. That album, (and the follow-up, 2007’s National Anthem of Nowhere) were angular collections of pop that were most memorable for their density (an unusual, but not entirely uncommon, thing for pop music).

Eats Darkness is also chock full of dense Canadian pop, but Whiteman here pulls things back a bit, and occasionally presents us with songs that are comparatively simpler (Blackberry, Eazy Speaks) than his typical fare, but which are every bit as enjoyable as his denser songs are. Ordinarily, such an expansion of one’s musical horizons would be a commendable thing, but here, the juxtapositions don’t really work all that well. Worse yet, the album contains several profane-ridden, sample-centric interludes that feel terribly out of place (come to think of it, I’m not really all that sure they’d fit in anywhere).

If you’re into Broken Social Scene, Apostle of Hustle are definitely worth getting into, but I don’t know if I’d start with Eats Darkness; while it’s far from a bad album, it’s not as cohesive as the earlier ones. Typically, I’d expound a bit more information for you here, but really, that’s about all there is to say about that.

A HAWK AND A HACKSAW – Délivrance (2009)

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

A Hawk and a Hacksaw - Délivrance Given that Neutral Milk Hotel’s musical imagery possessed an extraordinary reverence for the dawn of the 20th century, it’s more than fitting that the folk music A Hawk and a Hacksaw (an ensemble founded by former NHM percussionist Jeremy Barnes) play isn’t American in origin (though the band certainly are). No, A Hawk and a Hacksaw are “old world” in the strictest sense; unlike associates Beirut (who sometimes ride their Eastern folk down a slope of Western pop), they shun the modern musical world as if it didn’t exist.

While it might sound as though I’m describing a niche genre here, Eastern folk has started to penetrate the modern musical scene in some form or another for quite some time now. Gypsy punks Gogol Bordello have shared the stage with Madonna and Devotchka were nominated for a Grammy for their work on the Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack, and that’s just from the past few years. But on Délivrance, their fifth album, A Hawk and a Hacksaw continue down the traditionalist path they’ve been forging for some time now, but it’s getting more and more difficult to follow them with each release. The Way The Wind Blows was an exquisite album, and their collaboration with The Hun Hangár Ensemble was as well, but Délivrance is fair, at its best, and a test of patience at it’s worst. This is due primarily to the fact the album rarely dips below 180 bpm, and while the musicianship and musical attention to detail here is stunning, it too often becomes a blur.

While it’s easy to admire the band for holding fast to the musical traditions of a region they don’t even inhabit (the band’s music is primarily Balkan in origin), it’s also difficult to praise them for it; Délivrance doesn’t feel like a folk album so much as a prolonged musical exorcism, a tarantella on a massive scale. I’m reminded of the end of Snow White (the German fairy tale, not the Disney bastardization): “and she danced and danced, until she fell down dead.”