Archive for March, 2010

NEWEEK – Vol. I

Posted in 2010 Music, podcasts on March 30, 2010 by monopolyphonic

Hey. So. This is podcast no. 2 for me. I decided to call this show Neweek, because I couldn’t think of a better name for it. Essentially, it’ll have a bunch of music on it that’s not metal (metal has it’s own thing).

So, what’s on this volume of Neweek? Well, new music from She & Him, Dum Dum Dum Girls, Erykah Badu, Goldfrapp and Jónsi (of Sigur Rós). Plus more. You can download it here (yes, I know, not being able to RSS something kind of makes it not a podcast, but I haven’t purchased the space upgrade yet, so forgive me).

Phase Two…

Posted in 2010 Music, podcasts on March 24, 2010 by monopolyphonic

EMPYREAN TWILIGHT – Vol. I

Posted in 2010 Music, podcasts on March 21, 2010 by monopolyphonic

Well, I told you it was coming. And now, here it is: hi-def audio’s very first podcast. I hope you enjoy it.

Podcasts are something I’ve been wanting to try out for awhile now, and since I fell behind on reviews, I figured now is as good a time as any to give it a shot. So, as the picture suggests, this podcast, Empyrean Twilight, is focused on metal. Subsequent podcasts will focus on other genres of music. In here, you’ll get a taste of new music from Burzum, Immolation, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Daughters, Dark Tranquility, Eluveitie and Finntroll.

You can check it out here. Get it before it’s gone (I’m going to purchase a WordPress upgrade soon, which will allow me to keep the files here).

It’s Coming…

Posted in 2010 Music, podcasts on March 17, 2010 by monopolyphonic

FRIGHTENED RABBIT – The Winter of Mixed Drinks (2010)

Posted in 2010 Music, Reviews on March 13, 2010 by monopolyphonic

Some albums demand your attention; they have a sense of urgency about them that’s hard to ignore. As it so happens, the words “hard to ignore” fit Frightened Rabbit’s last album, 2008’sThe Midnight Organ Flight, to a tee; that album moved mountains without much more than two guitars and Scott Hutchinson’s painfully frank lyrics. While the songs were simple, they had a depth to them that was undeniable. And on The Winter of Mixed Drinks, the band (having expanded from a trio to a quintet) take their sound and broaden it, making their songs even more resonant in the process. Gone is the beauty-through-simplicity approach that graced their earlier works – these songs cut deeper and speak louder. So while you might not be marveling at the band’s artful modesty, you’ll still be captivated by these songs all the same.

The biggest change on The Winter of Mixed Drinks is the abstraction of the guitars, and the addition of vocal harmonies; many songs on the album are wrapped up in a cocoon of guitar that sounds as if it was bred from a cross between Kevin Shields and Dave Sitek (circa 2006). This sound is most apparent on the album opener Things, and Yes, I Would and The Wrestle, while the vocal harmonies seem to rise up from within each song at some opportune moment, making the music therein sounding even more heavenly. Really, the only downside of the album to me is the first single, Swim Until You Can’t Reach Land – it feels too happy-go-lucky, and it doesn’t mesh with understated emotional rawness that the rest of the album conveys. Man, what is it with lead singles recently? And while we’re at it, what is it with songs named Swim in 2010?

Scottish rock might not be invading the US, as their British brethren did so many decades ago, but it’s definitely making an impression on the independent music scene. Between Frightened Rabbit, The Twilight Sad, and We Were Promised Jetpacks, earnest, forward-thinking rock from across the pond seems to be something that we’re seeing on a semi-regular basis. And I love it. I mean, this kind of music used to everywhere, but it seems to have abandoned our FM airwaves ages ago. Again, it all goes back to sincerity. Listening to any of the aforementioned bands, you get a feeling the music is simply the music – there’s nothing ulterior or artificial about. It seems to emanate from somewhere, and that makes it feel real. It’s nice to know that there are bands out their who still make rock to that end.

BROKEN BELLS – Broken Bells (2010)

Posted in 2010 Music, Reviews on March 11, 2010 by monopolyphonic

Danger Mouse doesn’t ever seem to sit still; he seems to find himself working alongside artist after artist after artist without a break. In the past few years, he’s teamed up with Cee-Lo Green, MF Doom, and Sparklehorse (rest in peace, Mark), produced albums for Beck, The Rapture and Damon Albarn’s albums (Gorillaz’s Demon Days and the sole The Good, The Bad and The Queen album), and now, he’s working alongside The Shins’ James Mercer on this project, dubbed Broken Bells. I’m not sure how far back Mercer and Brian Burton (Danger Mouse’s birth name) go; Mercer did appear on last year’s weirdest collaboration, Dark Night of the Soul (Sparklehorse was the major co-conspirator for that project), but then again, so did almost everyone who’s anyone in indiedom. The real question is what kind of a collaboration will this be? Is Broken Bells merely a one-off stunt, the album a result of curious but fruitless pairing, or is the music here alive with genuine intrigue and wonder?

Well, upon first listen, the pairing’s certainly not fruitless, but it isn’t exactly jaw-dropping, either. Broken Bells feels like too calculated a release, as if some record company execs laid out a whole bunch of ground rules for not alienating anyone, and Mercer and Burton were only too happy to oblige. Broken Bells is an album of gentle pleasantries (Trap Doors) and rich vocal harmonies (October). It coasts along on slick, rigid beats, it’s overly-polished demeanor not breaking in the slightest over the course of ten songs. In other words, while it’s an enjoyable album, in a certain sense, it’s also totally unmemorable. None of the songs stand out from one another; they’ve all got a beat, but not a pulse. It’s, unfortunately, an album that doesn’t make much of an impression on you, which considering the two powerhouses behind its inception, is a colossal disappointment.

Sometimes, collaborations just work. Mono and World’s End Girlfriend got together and made Palmless Prayer, Mass Murder Refrain, which is the closest thing we’re likely to get to a Godspeed You! Black Emperor album in their absence. That collaboration was one of similar artists with a sympathetic aim. On the other hand, look at what David Byrne and Brian Eno did together; sure, their music wasn’t all that dissimilar from one another, but they certainly weren’t two of a kind, as artists. And yet, together, they made two wonderful, timeless albums. Broken Bells, by that metric, is a failure, in that it feels like little more than a novelty, one that’ll soon be forgotten.

GORILLAZ – Plastic Beach (2010)

Posted in 2010 Music, Reviews on March 11, 2010 by monopolyphonic

Gorillaz, the brainchild of former Blur frontman Damon Albarn, is a band that could only exists here, in the 21st century. Oh sure, they’re not the first virtual band (Alvin and the Chipmunks, anyone?), but they are the first one to take a serious (read: not novelty) approach to popular music; as a (faux) collective, Gorillaz have culled their influences together from all across the pop music spectrum, and have assembled them into two irreverent collections of material (2001’s Gorillaz and 2005’s Demon Days). All this, plus an elaborate set of fictional biographies and promotional material means that Gorillaz were bred, not born, to thrive in the digital age.

To begin with, I applaud Albarn for making good use of an orchestral intro (the first song is actually unceremoniously named Orchestral Intro, which downplays how well it actually works as a lead in to the album as a whole); after what These New Puritans did with their intro on Hidden, it’s nice to know that people still are capable of using that device in a positive manner. The album’s first real song, Welcome To The World of Plastic Beach (featuring the unimitable Snoop Dogg), has great flow to it and a vast, expansive feel; when Plastic Beach works best (as in the aforementioned track, Glitter Freeze, Cloud of Unknowing), these are the qualities it exhibits: laid-back momentum towards an endless horizon.

Sadly, there are multiple songs on the album that don’t seem to go anywhere (or at least, not anywhere intriguing); the chief offenders here are the two main singles, Stylo and Superfast Jellyfish. The latter is simply annoying with its cartoonish verses and samples; it belies the sincere pop that the rest of the album exemplifies when its on the right course. The former is simply a weak song; as a lead single, it lacks the drive of Clint Eastwood and the sexiness of Feel Good Inc., and is easily the least of these by comparison.

Plastic Beach, when it works, is an album that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that mood can do more for pop music than spectacle. This coming from a “band” that consists of four primate-anime hybrids, is quite an accomplishment. Nevertheless, Albarn (just as he did with past Gorillaz albums) fails to create an album of consistently memorable songs. Like its predecessors, Plastic Beach is notable most for its glittering highlights, and not for superiority through cohesiveness as a whole. That being said, Plastic Beach’s are among the best material the “band” has ever presented us with, so Plastic Beach is, by that definition, Gorillaz’s best album. But alas, by that same definition, it’s also imperfect, a flawed career best. Perhaps sometime in the future, we’ll get an out-and-out masterpiece from this virtual ensemble, but that day is not today.