Archive for the 2009 Music Category

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
-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.

VOIVOD – Infini (2009)

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

Voivod - Infini As far as metal bands are concerned, Voivod are unique in that they exist in that rarified space between the utterly weird and the commercially viable; they’re perhaps the strangest band to ever have the thrash tag attached to them, and although they’re not as revered as, say, underground legends Dark Angel (or above-ground mainstays Slayer), they’ve consistently delivered in their 25 years as a group. Infini is being publicized as Voivod’s final album (in addition to featuring the final musical contributions from founding guitarist Piggy, who died of colon cancer in 2005), and it’s a fitting, if somewhat anti-climatic, farewell.

You see, Voivod’s return with their eponymous 2003 release was startlingly strong; that album brimmed over with vitality, the runoff of which spilled into 2006’s Katorz. On Infini, the band occasionally sound as if they’re in danger of hitting empty, but none of the songs here falter unforgivingly. Indeed, the majority of them are quite memorable; while thrashier songs like Volcano show that the band can still deliver the speed metal goods, it’s the slower, more discordant songs that are the most enjoyable to listen to (such as Room With A V.U. and In Orbit).

While it might not be as impressive as some of the other metal that’s been released this year, Voivod don’t really need to impress anyone at this point. They’re stayed true to their roots for an astounding amount of time, and Infini is the sound of a band tapping those roots dry – how many other thrash bands from the 80’s can say the same?

TORTOISE – Beacons of Ancestorship (2009)

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

Tortoise - Beacons of Ancestorship It really isn’t worth trying to figure out what made Tortoise’s previous album (2004’s It’s All Around You) so dramatically unappealing. So I won’t get into any ruminations on that topic here, save to say that, in the aftermath of its release, Beacons of Ancestorship (even though the album was, presumably, not yet conceived) quickly became an extraordinarily important album for the band, if for no other reason than to illustrate which future paths the band might walk. And so, I waited patiently, and my patience was rewarded – now that Beacons of Ancestorship is here, I can breathe again, feeling once again safe and comfortable with the band’s future.

Beacons of Ancestorship deftly highlights why the band’s disruptively atypical minimalist approach to their music is as hypnotic as it is: namely, that no one else but them can do it with getting bogged down in the musical doldrums. There’s a little bit of everything on display here – tight krautrock, greasy, elastic synths, worldbeat flourishes, proggy guitar spasms, expansive ambient backdrops and much more (including the use of a Wilhelm Scream on Yinxianghechengqi), all rolled into a collection of songs that are as musically adventurous as they are aurally euphoric (again, a combination that few, if any other bands could attain, let alone sustain). Each song brings with it some new, unanticipated wonder, be it the weird, borderline-ominous swagger that drifts through The Fall of Seven Diamonds Plus One (a song that would make a wondrously villainous motif for Harmony Korine, were he ever to decide to helm an acid western), or the delicate synth pads on de Chelly, a song that would be peaceful if it wasn’t so insistent on plunging itself into dissonance at the most (in)opportune moments (somewhere, John Congleton is smiling).

In addition to being another grand entry into the Tortoise canon, Beacons of Ancestorship also (for better or worse) illuminates what makes Tortoise’s music so inaccessible to some. As a rule, Tortoise don’t deal in direct pathos (something which I confess to love more often than not, particularly when it’s done skillfully, as in the new albums by Mono and maybeshewill), and they don’t fashion empty abstractions masquerading as something deeper, either; they’re always at their best when they’re texture-centric, and thankfully, there’s no better encapsulation of Beacons of Ancestorship than the phrase “texture-centric.”

THE MARS VOLTA – Octahedron (2009)

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

The Mars Volta - Octahedron Back in 2008, I kicked this blog off on a crotchety note by reviewing The Mars Volta’s The Bedlam In Goliath; my words were less than kind. Given the aimless nature of that album (coupled with that of Amputechture, and roughly 35 minutes of Frances The Mute), I fully expected to hate Octahedron, and so I anticipated it with an odd mix of anxiousness and hostility. Imagine my surprise then, when I discovered that Octahedron is the sanest, most compelling collection of music they’ve released since their 2003 debut, De-Loused In The Comatorium.

Whereas Amputechture and The Bedlam In Goliath seemed exist merely to revel and celebrate the excesses of prog (and therefore, to not reap anything by utilizing them with so little direction/discretion), Octahedron is a musical breath of fresh air; it creates its atmospheres through carefully-orchestrated drifts and breezes of sound, instead of constantly churning the same heady whirlwind in circles for 75 minutes. And speaking of, Octahedron is the shortest Mars Volta album to date, clocking in at only 50 minutes – their newfound musical directness results in an album that is remarkably tangible, and wouldn’t you know it, tangibility in this case equates to enjoyability.

The album features many songs that are more minimal in their aims (such as Copernicus, a somewhat eerie but strangely beautiful ballad of sorts), and it’s great to hear the band devote more time to their contemplative side. Of course, lest you think the album is devoid of all signs of prog, you’d be mistaken; Cotopaxi packs plenty of polyrhythms and guitar cacophony in its three minutes, and it’s not just haphazardly thrown out into the ether, as was the case on pretty much every song the band have written since 2006. No, the madness here is structured, and the difference between Cotopaxi and something like, say, Wax Simulacra (from Bedlam) is the difference between spilling a dozen paint cans onto a canvas and a work by Jackson Pollack. Also worth mentioning is that the album closes with one of the band’s finest prog compositions to date, Luciforms. The song emerges out of nothingness and slowly builds to a cerebral, omni-instrument freakout. It’s brilliant, frightening, glorious, and a perfect way to send the album off.

Perhaps it’s not so unusual that the moment The Mars Volta stop trying to impress you with their (undeniable) technical prowess and their steadfast devotion to defying modern musical norms, is the exact moment when they’re most likely to reach you. For my part, I hope that Octahedron is not a one-off anomaly (the band have been touting it as their “acoustic” album, a claim both dubious and a little more difficult to refute than perhaps it should be), but rather, the sound of an ensemble regaining their footing.

COMITY – You Left Us Here (2009)

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

Comity - You Left Us Here What comes to mind when you think of the French? My guess it that it’s probably anything but metal (though there are a few notable groups to have arisen from this region of the world, chief among them being Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord, plus, you know, all things Neige). And if for some reason, metal is the answer, I’m almost certain that you’re not thinking of Comity, a criminally unknown group who’ve released two blisteringly elaborate albums that mix Isis-style guitar heights with the unabashed thrill of grindcore. It’s been three years since the band released As Everything Is A Tragedy (a single song broken up into 99 tracks – imagine if The Dillinger Escape Plan reworked Cephalic Carnage’s Halls of Amenti – that’s kind of what it sounds like). I was a little dismayed to discover that their new album, You Left Us Here, is only a one song EP, but even though it clocks in at under twenty minutes, in true Comity fashion, it’s a damn interesting (if all too brief) ride.

Forsaking the grindcore aspect almost entirely, the band work here more with tone and texture, as opposed to speed. The album, from a purely musical standpoint, is reminiscent of Kayo Dot in many ways – Comity here show the same love for wringing the life out of sustained tones, making them writhe and spasm violently before jumping ship from one to the other when you least expect it. On top of (and working against) this unusual progression the demon-rat growling of lead singer Thomas, who pushes against the music until it gives way and caves into something new.

That pretty much sums up what the band do on You Left Us Here. Parts of me did miss some of the elements of the band’s earlier styles (though their are a few grind segments here, as well as some post-metal atmosphere in a few places, as well), but overall, the album works great for what it is. It’d be great to hear a whole album done in this style, but if all that ever comes of it is the one EP, then so be it. If nothing else, it’d make the title all the more apt.

COALESCE – Ox (2009)

Posted in 2009 Music, Reviews on June 17, 2009 by monopolyphonic

Coalesce - Ox It’s been ten years since Coalesce’s last album, 0:12 Revolution in Just Listening. A lot has happened to the hardcore scene since then. The Dillinger Escape Plan, for example. Also, too many Hatebreed albums. But the one thing that hasn’t changed is the simple, declarative power of a two-minute beatdown. This is the medium Coalesce worked best in; that they managed to cram such unorthodox, complex songs in such a short runtimes is merely icing on the cake. Given all this, I’d be laying if I didn’t say that Ox feels like a bit of a letdown. The band don’t sound any worse on their first album in a decade, but unfortunately, the material on Ox doesn’t stand out, either.

I lay most of the blame for this squarely on the album’s production. The songs lack punch and depth; they sound flimsy, as if you could blow on them and they’d evaporate into a stream of angry dust or something. Furthermore, the band seem to have turned their apparent contempt for the hardcore formula into one itself. All the songs blend into each other, and you’re not left with any sort of lasting impression of an album as a whole, but instead, only of one long, repetitive track. There’s nothing wrong with repetition, but I’m of the opinion that there’s little room for it in the hardcore medium. If you’ve got sixteen different two-minute sections, make them count. Don’t retread your steps needlessly – in the end, that last bit is all I really got out of Ox, and it’s a damn shame, because I know the album could’ve been so much more.

Coalesce’s impact on the hardcore scene is undeniable, but you wouldn’t guess it from listening to Ox. The album doesn’t sound like it towers above some of the band’s newer contemporaries, it sounds as if it belongs amongst them. This isn’t a bad thing, but I expected more. And expectations are a bitch – just ask Jamey Jasta.