Archive for September, 2009

WHY? – Eskimo Snow (2009)

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

Why? - Eskimo Snow Why? are not your typical hip-hop ensemble; their lyrics deal openly with loneliness, isolation and self-doubt (instead of grandstanding about their own magnificence), and Yoni Wolf delivers them with an airy quiver that’s somewhere between John Darnielle and Craig Finn; their lush, organic instrumentation eschews the club-ready production that’s become so indicative of the genre, and (last but not least) they currently reside on Anticon. Of course, even taking all this into consideration, their latest album, Eskimo Snow (recorded around the same time as last year’s excellent Alopecia) is still quite a bit of a departure for the band. But it also may very well be their greatest triumph.

Upon first listen, it’s hard to find anything hip-hop on Eskimo Snow, even though Yoni still spins some seriously deft wordplay around every other bend (I particularly love the following verse from On Rose Walk, Insomniac: “crossing states/on a spade opossum/with custom plates/and the paint rusting/like cussing saints/with strange customs…”). It’s the kind of passage you want to read aloud to people, just to hear the beauty of the sibilance as it drifts through the air. Musically, the band make great use of some really animated Phillip Glass-type melodies, which ascend and descend like discreet major-key revelations.

These melodies avoid becoming a one-dimensional gimmick by way of Yoni Wolf altering between treating the songs as closed-off confessionals and silver screen monologues; when he intones that he wishes he could feel “close to somebody, but I don’t feel nothing…” amidst the percussive flurry of his bandmates, he’s swinging for the fences. I’d love to hear his Oscar acceptance speech. But when the songs are more low-key and distant, Yoni belies them with a surprising amount of depth (as in the final verse of These Hands: “these hands/are my father’s hands, but smaller/soaked in paint thinner/until they’re so dry coming together/they make the sound of resisting each other…”). Imagery like that is becoming rarer and rarer in modern music (especially hip-hop), primarily because few people want to work on such a small scale. After all, why lament when you can laud?

Of course, the most remarkable thing about Eskimo Snow is how naturally the band arrived at it. You can practically trace the evolution from a song like Gemini (The Birthday Song), to Fatalist Palmistry (from Alopecia) over to a song like This Blackest Purse. Maybe that’s a source of power for the album – that it fools us into thinking that this was Why? the whole time, even if the Sanddollars EP says different.

MUSE – The Resistance (2009)

Posted in 2009 Music, Reviews on September 15, 2009 by monopolyphonic

Muse - The Resistance I haven’t been as active with this blog as I should’ve been in the past few months. There’s many reasons for that, and I won’t bore you with them. I think a part of the reason I’ve been so silent lately, though, is that much of the more recent music that’s come out hasn’t affected me much one way or the other. Muse, however, have changed all that – now, I’m aware it’s only September, but I’m calling it: The Resistance is the Worst Album of 2009. Congratulations, boys. You did it. I didn’t think you could possibly dial up the shit factor any farther after 2006’s Black Holes and Revelations, but like all directionless schmucks, you’ve risen below your previous monument to homogenous mediocrity. Bravo.

To call The Resistance an exercise in emulation (sorry Nils) is akin to calling Jacquerie a stern display of civil disobedience: it lacks power and avoids the truth. Muse here don’t just wear their influences on their sleeves (itself not a crime; it depends entirely on the sleeves and who’s doing the wearing) – they gut them and strip them of all vitality, and then haphazardly truss them across a selection of songs that couldn’t be more emotionally vacant and musically weary than if the whole sorry mess was composed in binary code.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I’m not the biggest fan of Black Holes and Revelations, but at least that album was striving to capture the specific feeling of a certain musical era (read: the synth-laden 1980’s). But here, Muse have no end goal in mind, no feelings they wish to evoke in their listeners. They just have a list of things they want copy, and come Hell or High Water, they’re gonna do it. The result is disastrous. They stride down a leaden path to nowhere. They assemble faulty simulacrums, disguise them as songs, and in the process, produce little else besides ennui.

Never in recent memory has an album been so thoroughly inexplicable and of so little consequence.
So, you’d like to hear what a Timbaland-produced Adore outtake would sound like? Undisclosed Desires, my friend. It’s all you never wanted – and more. Or, perhaps you’d like some flaccid balladry? The vomit-inducing I Belong To You, has got you covered. It features:

-a glossy and monstrously out of place hip-hop beat
-strikingly bad lounge piano
-hypergaudy strings
and
-a jazzy bass clarinet solo, intertwined with the aforementioned sections with all the care and thoughtful precision of a mental patient cutting themselves with a kitchen knife.

But wait, there’s more! Maybe you always wanted to hear Chris Martin duet with Freddie Mercury’s ghost, waxing Orwellian nonsense while a piano feigns melody over some stock Arabic theme? Say no more: it’s United States of Eurasia you’re looking for. Look upon it, and despair. Now, if cheesy neo-prog is more your thing, the three-movement closer Exogenesis, has got all the bases covered. It shamelessly rips off Gershwin, Chopin and Phillip Glass, while secretly pretending to be a Rush opus, assuming that Lifeson, Lee and Peart all overdosed on downers, and then wrote the song (songs? – whatever, it doesn’t matter).

I could go on like this. And on. And on. U2 noodling with Franz Ferdinand in a vacuum? Why, that’d have to be the soulless title track. A Poison power-ballad beamed into space via a Casiotone satellite? Guiding Light. But there’s no point, as it’s all indicative of something larger – you see, to me, The Resistance represents everything that’s wrong with modern music: an unyielding devotion to Things That Were. Not devotion to the spirit of these things, or the ideas behind them, but merely to the surface of them. Tones. Phrases. Beats. In other words, all the elements of music that will stand up if, and only if, there’s something intrinsic that wills them into existence. Then again, perhaps all this is suitable for the Age of the iPod, and perhaps it always has been. If that’s the case, then Muse’s logic here is actually sound, and they’ve crafted the album for the generation. I just wish the generation wasn’t this one.

So, for your benefit, a summary:

-If you’d like to hear synths doing some amazing things (and have FUN doing it), listen to Dan Deacon’s Bromst.
-If you’d like to hear a genuinely inventive and captivating slice of modern prog, check out Mew’s No More Stories….
-If you’d like to be musically complacent, you know what to do.