Halo Halo – Halo Halo album review

“We are a MULTI-COLOURED PUDDING! And a dance-sinawi-pop-trio from London.” That’s their elevator pitch, and they’re not about to offer up anything more illuminating, nor could they. Halo Halo’s ultra-cosmopolitan nature conforms to the anti-auspices of leader and multi-band minstrel Rachel Horwood. Her parents having emigrated from the Philippines, “halo-halo” refers to a garish Filipino dessert of assorted fruits and legumes, and, translating from Tagalog as “mix-mix,” it’s a phrase which represents twice over the unmoored nature of Halo Halo’s musical mixups. Their first full-length, the self-titled Halo Halo, unfolds as a rollicking, no-holds-barred multimedia scuffle. Between the crop-circle otherworldliness and crudely psychedelic groove of “Is It Shiny?,” the polyrhythmic 80s New Wave “Want 2 B,” and the sweltering-punk-slash-pseudo-kletzmer “Sunshine Kim,” the adjectives certainly start to pile up. Suffice it to say that no sound world is off limits as long as they can tack it to a steady click and keep jamming.

Which pretty much describes their composition process. The three young Londoners of Halo Halo play their instruments and voices like sound samples, hanging short melodic repetitions off of a fundamental rhythmic ostinato. Add in frequent drones and odd instrumentation and the result might sound strange to Western ears used to big beats and guitars strumming progressive harmonies. Occasionally it feels like ethnic tourism, whether it’s the irreverent polka take on Amerindian dance music (“Eagle”) or the pure-mutt “Djeddjehutyiuefankh,” which marries a wan electric banjo with shimmering Gamelan-esque bells and grumbling dijeredoo effects. Bandmate Gill Partington offers her take:

We didn’t consciously decide to try and sound a particular way or play in a particular style. It just comes out like that. One reason is that Jack and Rachel’s vocal harmonies are big part of our sound – sometimes they work as an extra instrument. But also maybe we sound distinctive because of Rachel’s banjo, which sounds quite different to a guitar. It isn’t tuned like a guitar, and has to be played in a different way, so it produces different kinds of melody. Another thing is that we are all drummers, so we all play in a way that is quite rhythmical, too.

Those craving meaningful lyrics need not apply. “I find writing lyrics the hardest thing, we’re all drummers but none of us are poets,” says drummer Jack Barraclough. So the album’s lyrical prowess lays pretty flat, with an obscure cultural reference here or there—”Taro Taro Taro” employs an old Japanese tale of a time traveling fisherman and “Djeddjehutyiuefankh” references the eponymous Egyptian mummy found with its heart mysteriously missing—but even in the most dramatic musical passages, like the ominous ritualism of “Comet,” any particularly profound message fails to emerge. In this wild romp of a record, the Halo Halo trinity have proven themselves sharp and daring, but while they dance around genre pointing their fingers and going “neener neener,” the youthful band has yet to transcend cheeky pop fun.

Daughn Gibson – Me Moan album review

With a voice normally reserved for serious TV crime-drama opening sequences, Daughn Gibson’s baritone rumbles will likely take some getting used to for most. Daughn’s singing style just hasn’t been prevalent outside more traditionally rural music. While Daughn does inspire images of life outside the city he thankfully doesn’t care much for tradition. Sample based music is a constant quest for new textures, sounds, and combinations thereof, with Me Moan Daughn Gibson dares to tread where most would laugh at the possibility of venturing.

He walks a lonely road for sure, and the folk trademarks don’t end there. Daughn is a man’s man, so-to-speak, who brings something unexpected to folk which was desperately needed. It may seem a gimmick to many but his electronic backdrops aren’t just backdrops, they are a piece of the whole. Sampling often gets overlooked lately with the excessive use of electronics as a way of “fixing” the performance of the artist or backing band, but here its part of the DNA. With proper attention the sampling and electronic creations can be as interesting and intriguing as the origins of a mysterious lyric that lingers in your brain. The ideas that Daughn communicates here are inseparable and the whole package can feel like a masterfully dissected Jenga tower where if one more piece was removed it would come crashing down.

By the third time the album broke my expectations it was clear to me that it wouldn’t topple over. Confidence in design is the hallmark of a visionary musician in my mind, and that confidence can provide a glow to their presence whether you’re listening in or watching them on stage. Not that he needs any help making a personable impression, as Daughn has that authentic rugged face and voice that many bar hopping open-mic’ers would smoke cartons to achieve.

In combining worlds that would rarely if ever intersect Daughn Gibson has achieved a number one spot on a list that he, himself, created, so its quite hard to say how good this album actually is since its the best of its kind. I would imagine that his futuristic blue collar tones will alienate those who like to adhere to strict genre guidelines, but Me Moan will be like an abandoned briefcase of unmarked hundred dollar bills to those of us who crave something new. Don’t think. Just take the money and run. Daughn would want it that way.

Dave Gahan – Hourglass album review

Dave Gahan, formerly of Depeche Mode fame, released his second solo effort Hourglass in October 2007. While the record garnered mostly favorable reviews, it can be difficult to disassociate Gahan from his work with Depeche Mode. While Hourglass is certainly reminiscent of the group, there are undeniable qualities separating it from the Depeche Mode catalog. The end result is respectable electronica, with urgent percussion and Gahan’s signature croon for style.

The album opener, “Saw Something” does a fine job acquainting the listener with Gahan’s vocal and lyrical style, but did not seem to fit the album as a whole. It easily could have introduced an entirely different record, with more airy pop qualities. The whole of Hourglass is slow and mechanical, pounding along with force and constancy. The percussion is mostly to thank in this instance. It laid an immense foundation, with the rest of the instrumentation following its lead. The mechanical din of synthesized instruments nodded at Gahan’s Depeche Mode past, though remained undeserving of any “industrial” classification. Organic instruments were featured on Hourglass, and were blended in with the rattling homogeny of the other instrumentation. They served a seemingly supplementary purpose to the whole of the album.

The record seemed to exist more as a collection of songs rather than a purposefully arranged album. Though not to be taken as a fault, necessarily, it seemed that Hourglass was lacking in any real direction, with strikingly similar tracks backed up against one another, amounting to an unfortunate monotony that consumed the middle of the release. The standout tracks offered a different range of sound, from noisy oscillations during “Deeper and Deeper” to more melodic tunes such as “Miracles.” Hourglass seemed to shift attention from atmosphere and feeling (per the droning interludes in between songs) to the musical and lyrical content, perhaps further attributing the lack of focus that subtly haunts it. The tracks flowed well into one another, but could be more easily compared to mounting an exercise bike for fifty minutes rather than a trek from points A to B.

Hourglass would most likely be a more fulfilling listen to fans of Gahan’s other work or the Depeche Mode catalog, but from an outside perspective (or one unfamiliar with his other works) it seems to fade into the overwhelming mass of electronica releases . However, despite its apparent flaws (however minor or major they could be perceived), there are equally as many redeeming qualities to be found and enjoyed. Hourglass is a testament to musicians who have found their forte, but may forever work in the shadow of their prior efforts.

The Lumineers at Edgefest 2013

Have you ever been to an outdoor festival that should have been rained out? Have you ever stood in a field with thousands of other sopping wet party-goers waiting for the last band of the day, thinking to yourself, ‘I’ve got this far. I can make it another hour’?
Last night Edgefest was nearly obliterated by the rain. Rivers of rain and cried tears pooled in the park’s crevices, wet teenagers who couldn’t feel anything anymore anyway huddled under tarp that they ripped down from the fencing, and I actually picked up empty garbage bags from the ground and wrapped them around my shoulders to try to shield myself from the monsoon. Covered in a massive sheet of plastic, I crouched down and tried not to think about how cold and tired I was, how much I was looking forward to a warm bath and as many fuzzy layers as I could get my hands on. Water came off of me in streams. It got to the point where I was weighing how much The Lumineers actually meant to me – what I was willing to put myself through in order to hear them live…

When the filler music died down, and the crowd began to rush the stage, I stood and wandered closer; shaking the plastic wrap and feeling the falling water soak my feet. Pink flood lights beamed out over us, illuminating the rain in the darkened sky. The band picked up their instruments and as soon as the first few notes were strummed I knew what they playing; CCR’s ‘Have You Ever Seen the Rain.’ I closed my eyes and let the music wash over me. At no other time in my life has that song meant so much. Isn’t that the exact reason why we chase live music? To feel that perfect moment of calm amidst the chaos? To feel like the universe has purpose? How else could such a moment be designed?

Never in my life have I experienced such a concert moment; a song so perfectly chosen, one so soothing and so nostalgic, one that delivered such a sense of interconnectedness with not only the band, but the sky, and the day, and every decision that led up to the first words being sung. The Lumineers played that song for us, as a thank you for weathering the storm, and I looked onto them with new appreciation. Not only are they musicians with some great songs, they are a band who understands the magic of music.

Editors – The Weight Of Your Love album review

At the risk of sounding like someone who judges a book by its cover, I’ll admit that I cringed upon initially reading the title of both this band and their latest album. The band name “Editors” brought to mind a bunch of stuffy people stiffly playing instruments and halfheartedly whining about something, and the album name “The Weight of Your Love” makes it sound like what they were halfheartedly whining about was a failing relationship. But I was wrong–their whining is actually quite soulful. You can hear the pain in lead singer Tom Smith’s voice as he whines that he is “a lump of meat/with a heartbeat.” Despite the soulfulness, it should be said that I listened to the first five songs of The Weight of Your Love three times over due to an iTunes glitch and didn’t even notice until the third time around, when I thought, “Wait a minute, that pathetic line about the lump of meat with the heartbeat sounds vaguely familiar.”

It would appear that the members of Editors have been feeling the “weight” of something ever since they formed in 2002, or at least since 2007, when they released a song called “The Weight of the World.” Also contributing to the apparent overarching theme of relationship-related sadness are the track names “You Don’t Know Love,” “An Eye For An Eye,” and “Alone,” and the lyric “In that moment you realize that/Something you thought would always be there/Will die like everything else.” Man, talk about depressing. The titles of their 2005 song “Heads in Bags” and their 2009 song “Eat Raw Meat = Blood Drool” sound out of place with the rest of their songs, until you listen to the lyrics and realize that the lyrics of both of the aforementioned tunes appear to be about the weight of someone’s love, again (“We put our heads in bags for you/We go out of our way to help”). While I do have to give this band credit for the numerous creative ways they find throughout their songs to talk about a failing relationship (“Your bowling ball eyes have nothing to say/They knock me over again anyway”), the topic does begin to wear thin after a while.

If I’m in the mood to dwell on heartbreak and fleeting love, I think I’d rather read a fifteen-year-old girl’s diary or a Sarah Dessen novel than listen to Editors. And I would never rather read a Sarah Dessen novel.

Mood Rings – VPI Harmony album review

VPI Harmony, the whisper-y and effervescent new album from the genre-less Mood Rings is a great addition to the ephemerist movement. It’s not easy to pinpoint exactly where this influx of ambience-drowning bands began, but the growth itself has produced some great records and even more misused noise. Being successful as an ephemerist is all about finding the structure in the ocean.

For Mood Rings, ephemera was not always the mode, and it wasn’t until their first proper album that they turned down the buzzed over post-punk and waded into the stereophonic abyss. And given the fact that this has been a particularly great year for ephemerists, with Kurt Vile making his listeners go missing inside their iTunes libraries with Wakin On A Pretty Daze and My Bloody Valentine, arguably the greatest ephemerists of all time, returning with the wonderfully disembodied m b v, it should most definitely not be taken lightly that Mood Rings are carving out their own space in a crowded spotlight. It’s not easy to make ephemera compelling.

VPI Harmony is a consistently compelling record, built on small melodies that drift into each other and whispering vocals that lead you in circles. It’s also a good entry point for those trying to understand all these other, more complex ephemerists. Songs like “Pathos y Lagrimas” might take you double-digit listens to parse, but nothing ever gets too dense. This is ephemera lite.

The odd thing about ephemera is that it involves both control and restraint, you have to make sure all the moving parts are under control before you can know when its time to let them go rogue. More importantly, you can never let listener see the strings. It needs to be an environment rather than an arrangement, structured improv rather than scripted comedy. It’s because of this that VPI Harmony’s weakest moments are the more tightened ones, like the riff-y “Hollow Dye”, which sounds like a lower-fi Smith Westerns B-side. Even with that said, the song is still serviceable and doesn’t take things too far off track.

The album closes with a hypnotic back-burner called, “Charles Mansion”, and features just about every different kind of sound Mood Rings is capable of throwing at you. It’s almost like a commentary on the whole experience, pushing ephemera to its limits. Is it earnest or satirical? I’m not sure this album is interested in answering those kinds of questions, but as long as ephemerists keep making music that’s this easy to escape to, there’s no reason to even ask.

Kakkmaddafakka – Six Months Is A Long Time album review

Would you look at that! Another album from Norwegian feel-gooders Kakkmaddafakka. It’s 2013, it’s summertime, and the album is called Six Months is a Long Time. Putting aside the notion that six months is not actually that long you can find solace in the fact that the newest catalogue from Kakkmaddafakka is fun and bubbly. Summertime music should be easy-going, uncomplicated, and pleasingly melodic. Needless to say, Six Months is a Long Time fulfills all your summer anticipation.

If it’s a single that is short, catchy and easy to repeat look to second track, “Someone New.” A light and groovy guitar is matched with poppy and clear vocals. Give the song a few listens and you are sure to sing along from then on. Try singing it with a friend and the ‘wooos’ will be fun to harmonize and make your own. For another easy and quick number seek-out track seven, “No Song.” The chorus is just bubbly enough to please and not enough to upset. It’s stubbornly balanced and a little angsty. Immediately following “No Song” comes “Female Dyslexia” and again the pop textures make for an easy toe-tapper and head-bopper. The lyrics pertaining to boozing and tom-foolery make it an appropriate anthem for summer shenanigans.

For something a little different from the other pop tracks, first turn the page to “Gangsta No More.” The reggae elements are great break among the otherwise poppy notion Six Months is a Long Time. Honestly, it is not the type of reggae that will not knock your socks off with a chill vibe but the off-beat is a great change of pace. Lastly, if sentimentality is your scene seek out track four, “Forever Alone.” Slow and steady, smooth and sweet, heartfelt and lonesome, it is a track to close your eyes to.

Overall, Kakkmaddafakka does not surprise with their new album. Instead, they provide a solid service to pop lovers everywhere who are tired of the bubblegum that plays on the radio. Pop is a generally easier medium but to do it right takes some skill. Six Months is a Long Time is arguably a decent try and you cannot discount a genuine effort.

Andrew Mason – Hardly Workin’ album review

Somewhere in the vast history of American pop culture lives the archetype of an older person who tries to fit in with a crowd of youngsters, often relying on their ‘hip lingo,’ peppered with several ‘groovies’ and the occasional ‘super-fly.’ This image alone strikes fear into the souls of most teenagers, and understandably causes that uncomfortable cringe to go creeping into the stomachs of the younger generation. This irking feeling is certainly present while listening to the biggest ‘face-palm’ of 2013 thus far, entitled Hardly Workin’.

Created by Andrew Mason, the co-founder of the ‘deal-of-the-day’ website Groupon, Hardly Workin’ essentially seeks to educate the younger generation about the world of business. While he certainly conveys some pertinent information, Mason does not seem to have many concerns about the musical value of his lyrics. The stale and seemingly forced lyrics of Mason’s songs reveal the unspoken stereotype toward music from businessmen of his ranks as he raps and crams his words into a rhythm with a consistently predictable vocal melody which often seems choppy and unorganized. Mason utters every single word without once sacrificing a single syllable for musical and phonetic purposes, and a chorus of talent female vocalists harmonizes with the hook of each song (because that’s what hit songs do, right?).

The trite and, for lack of a better term, corny nature of Hardly Workin’ would certainly coincide with the cheesy children’s programs you would find on a public television broadcast at three in the morning. Its overall composition and instrumentation and the gives the impression that a man who thinks that his success in his business will transfer over into the music industry, and represents his opinion of successful music based upon what he heard on Top 40 Radio. Although the lyrical and creative content from Mason is not necessarily outstanding, the work contributed by the musicians on the album is superb. The band is tight, and the musicians demonstrate their abilities on their instruments with occasionally grooving riffs and succinct solos.

Hardly Workin’ is certainly hardly working, and is exactly what you would expect to get from a businessman who wanted to to venture into the music industry. The motivational rock album seems like (and very well may be) a well-conceived joke, which put a respectable sum of money into the pockets of several welcoming studio engineers and session musicians. As a clear example of the fine line between the worlds of business and music, Andrew Mason’s Hardly Workin’ serves as a message to aspiring businesspeople in an ambitious, musical translation.

Relient K – Collapsible Lung album review

I have a bit of a soft spot for Relient K, a band that I first discovered way back when through their signature tracks “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been” and “Be My Escape.” The desperately emotional, self-deprecating tunes were fairly standard fodder in the heyday of emo — and whether they were referencing a lost love or the big man upstairs, the undertones were subtle enough to keep them relatable to all.

Fast-forward to a few years later. Although it will always hold a special place in my heart, I like to think I’ve moved on from the emo-scene phase. And having lost track of the band somewhere in between, I’m surprised to find that Relient K, with their seventh(!) release Collapsible Lung, seems to have done the same. Their brand of scene-punk retains its themes, but has been infused with elements of easygoing indie-pop and the combination is criminally infectious.

For the most part, the album is delightfully upbeat. Most of the songs are propped up by backtracks that clap along steadily, and lead singer Matt Thiessen’s voice oscillates between the pop-punk melodicism he is known for and an interesting pseudo-falsetto, elements which allow the band to blend in seamlessly with contemporary bands like Fun. This is most evident in songs like “P.T.L” (which stands for Part Time Lover, perhaps contrary to expectations founded in the band’s Christian roots). Another standout track is the cutesy, mid-album tune “Can’t Complain” whose quirky optimism is aggressively indie.

Collapsible Lung rolls along steadily at this pace until its final moments, when it inexplicably mellows out for the penultimate track, “Sweeter” before bringing back the buzz for the closing title track. The sudden change is not as welcome as one might expect, given that the pace of the album is anything but monotonous as is and “Sweeter” is kind of interrupting the good thing the band has going. Nevertheless, “Collapsible Lung” is a strong finish for the album to which it gave its name. The album wraps up as it began — giving an updated and infectious sound to a band that is as earnest and honest as ever.