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Vladislav Delay Quartet – Self titled album review

Minimalists will rejoice in this singularly unique collection of sounds, winding through space and echoes, percussion and bass, electronica and wind instruments. Vladislav Delay Quartet is not really a first-effort. Sasu Ripatti has many albums – of mostly jazz-based efforts, but this is completely set apart from any previous works.

The opening track, “Minus Degrees, Bare Feet, Tickles” throws out a slow-moving wall of white noise which requires the listener’s patience as it evolves, using subtle feedback loops, analog reverb and static as the structure for its melody. Along the way, a simple percussive is introduced, but only to provide an anchor for the time signature.

“SantaTeresa” continues the unassuming drumbeat, adding a bass and cymbal and a clarinet-based reverb to its deliberate progression. By now, the listener should have jettisoned their expectations and settled in for a dreamy, complex ride. This track is nearly twelve minutes of thoughtful, meditative tension with unexpected interludes of a reedy clarinet taking the lead. Its really mind-consuming if you allow it to be.

“Presentiment” opens with tantalizing cello bass notes, with a deep piano (including some string-plucking) drifting along underneath. This piece would like you to think it has more purpose than the other tracks, but if you have been listening to the songs in track order, you’ll know it’s only because it has less of the chaotic feedback overlays of say, “Hohtokivi”. It is comparatively short, at a little over four minutes, but the abrupt conclusion will have you wanting to hit “replay” and get back in the conduit of sound.

The most intriguing arrangement on the album is “Louhous”, it’s ¾ time beat and initial noodling that bleeds into distinct layers of saxophone, electronic noise and echoing cymbals. It’s more urgent, wild music and fades off rather than ends, leaving a vague uneasiness about…well something.

“Salt Flat” begins the end with a bagpipe feeling, underlaid by slow organ and a ticking percussive. I thought this piece would have done better in the middle of the album, perhaps a calming influence after “Louhous”. This is thinking music, where the listener will find different moods and interpretations each time they listen, reflective of what they are feeling at the time. It’s extraordinary, really, that a single musical arrangement can be so accommodating and unpredictable at the same time.

This is more than a collection of random concordance. It has purpose and method, but it takes effort to unknot the threads of harmony that are buried in the music.

It’s worth the effort.

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press releases reviews

WU LYF – Go Tell Fire To The Mountain album review

Ach. What to say about Wu-Lyf that hasn’t been said. Well a lot apparently since they are a rather reclusive foursome from England. Perhaps they are so into making excellent, soul-searing music that they don’t really recognize the outside world…wait, that’s not it.

One listen-through to this release and I’m thinking its more of a gimmick to turn attention away from what they are trying to pass off as worldly, mysterious, Important music. Their newly-released album “Go Tell Fire OnThe Mountain” contains no fire at all and nothing to actually go tell anyone. I understand artists not wanting to give into commercialism, or to be free to express their own vision, but as I understand those concepts, there has to be some actual ability to demonstrate a talent that the masses, however large or small they may be, want.

LYF starts the album. Hm. Life? Is that what it’s supposed to be about? I was so distracted by the discordance of the arrangement after a very hopeful organ intro, that I almost welcomed Ellery Roberts’ vocals. Almost. I kept waiting for the whole thing to gel and get going, but…no. Okay. So maybe this wasn’t the best way to introduce their first album, but there would be better cuts, yes?

No.

Cave Song and Such A Sad Puppy Dog wander around, seeking a melody, some meaningful interludes, a decent percussion track, anything. Instead, these songs and most of the remaining tracks are a free-for-all of sounds, and not everyone seems to be on the same page or even playing the same song. As Roberts’ is the only vocalist I can discern, I’m going to recommend that he either rehab his voice (it is neither pleasingly gravelly or smoky dark…if that is what he is going for) or perhaps let someone else stand in for a song or two. It’s just not listenable.

Ethereal background moanings introduce Crowns For Me & Your Friends a la Doves, but the reverb on the too-earnest vocals and huge mish-mosh of sound is annoying and makes the lyrics hard to understand. I mean, good lyrics in a so-so musical background can get you through a lot, but a listener doesn’t even get to make that judgment here.

The last track Heavy Pop, opens with a couple repeated chords on a piano and finally Roberts brings in more earnest vocals. The song doesn’t seem that different than the openers, certainly not in a positive way and I was glad when it was over.

If I had to pick one song that I didn’t like less than the rest, it would be Concrete Gold, with the caveat that it, too, devolves into a gooey mess at the end.

Other reviews of this band churn about the fact that they are ascetic and, perhaps politely, that their biggest selling point is that they have the ability to maintain mystique. Easy to do when they don’t have the musical talent to generate buzz – or sales.

Oh, I forgot…they are artistes and don’t want to be mainstream. We are safe.

I can be bored with a group and still find something to listen to. I can even say that something isn’t my cup of tea, recognizing talent in spite of my taste. I’m afraid WU-LYF falls into the distinct category of “Do Not Want.”

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reviews

Flogging Molly – Speed of Darkness album review

Flogging Molly’s fifth album, Speed of Darkness dropped earlier this month and hardcore fans who prefer the wilder Jameson and Guinness-type melodies may run smack up against this socially-conscious set of songs.

Irish flavor comes through in the drawn-out fiddle rifts, tin whistles  and lyrics salted with personal angst, longing and sharp-edged political jabs.

The stories told throughout the album alternate between the everyday struggles of the Everyman and pointedly dire warnings of the state of the economy. The plain language of “Don’t Shut “Em Down” is radio-ready with a hard drum and an ever-increasing tempo which matches the urgency of the lyrics, but “The Power’s Out” is my favorite as far as a perfect fusion between ominous predictions and pure Celtic accordion-backed power anthem.

“Present State of Grace” is musically lovely and lyrically shocking, with more instruments and voices joining in gradually. A happy sing-along kind of song, until you realize what exactly you are singing. Still, its probably as close to the older FM albums, if that was more your style.

I haven’t seen Flogging Molly in concert, although with their near-constant tour schedule in the last two years, it’s hard to understand how that could have happened. Kilt-attired moshers, oblivious to what is happening outside the concert venue, happily raising their glasses to rollicking drinking songs sound like the best people to party with. But I also like the songs to mean something, something I can sink my spiritual and communal teeth into, so if I get the chance to see these guys in concert, it’s music from this album I think I’d want to hear and finish off the night with cuts from Drunken Lullabies.

Even if somehow you missed them opening for, or headlining a show, Speed of Darkness has the meat and bones to carry you through til you, too, are wearing a kilt and Riverdancing your way through the night.

Recommended download.

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reviews

My Morning Jacket – Circuital album review

My Morning Jacket’s new release, which dropped on May 31st, is a collection of rock-ish songs, not hard by any means but definitely nothing like 2008’s Evil Urges. Sweet acoustic tracks like Wonderful are artfully arranged and speak of simple love, while the title track, Circuital takes over seven minutes to unwind its luxurious melodies and steady beat. Each song is a little different and the album lives up to it’s name, with a wide variety of tempos, instrument mixes and lyrical pictures.

Lead singer Jim James has a honeyed, silky voice that can take on the characteristics of Paul Simon, a George Harrison ( or perhaps a little McCartney), or a languid Lynyrd Skynyrd- inspired southern ballad. This album was recorded in a church gym, to give it a feeling of a live concert recording and the experiment in ambience manipulation is mostly successful.

Being their sixth full-length release, Circuital should feel like a template, a pattern of past efforts but MMJ is nothing if not ever-evolving. Their live shows are exuberant and packed with a wide range of material. Any of the tracks from this album are fine candidates for a live show and I recommend it for your playlist as well.

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reviews

Mark McGuire – A Young Person’s Guide To Mark McGuire album review

Mark McGuire released the double CD  A Young Person’s Guide to Mark McGuire on May 11, 2011, making it the thirty-first release of his young career. It’s a compilation retrospective of individual arrangements from limited earlier releases in older formats, such as cassettes and CD’s.

The opening track  “Dream Team” is a 17-minute voyage of harmonized distortion, with subtle vocals keeping the progression building. It’s a looped piece sure, but carefully shaped by delays, echoes and synthesizers. Evolving into distinct patterns, the driving beats that underpin the whole arrangements are the only constant – and then that changes. Its a wonderful piece to daydream to.

“Ghosts Around A Tree” is another long piece, opening with distant vocals, churchbells and jarring chords. Its an interesting juxtaposition of that eventually calms down to a soothing melody without you realizing a change has taken place.”Slipstreams”, on the other hand, is the shortest track and appears to be the middle of one of McGuires musical thoughts, submerging after just a minute and twenty two.The other 17 tracks vary in length and emotion, but any of them are excellent candidates for a house playlist.

McGuire’s music is satisfying on so many levels and perhaps it’s because he has had time to hone his craft with his prolific body of work, even outside his main group The Emeralds. His plans for further releases, this year alone would put even a driven artist to shame, and McGuire claims he is “winding down.” AYPGTMM is both an excellent introduction to the artist and a catch-up CD for listeners who need to fill gaps in their collections and in either case, is a must-have.

Combichrist – Tacoma Dome – May 15, 2011

The Tacoma Dome in Tacoma, WA has a wooden roof and concrete floor, quite unlike a venue such as, say Seattle’s Showbox, whose wooden floors flex and vibrate with the louder acts.

Let’s just say the Dome’s floor flexed. AND vibrated when Combichrist opened for Rammstein on Sunday, May 15th 2011. It’s inexplicable to me, but I’d never  heard of this group ,and the first few lines of their opener had me thinking I’d have to endure a scream-fest.

Holy hell was I wrong.

Drummers Joe Letz and Trevor Friedrich kicked in the massive dual kits and I was in love.

This is power industrial/darkwave/techno.  OK, it’s metal too. But in a good way.

Andy LaPlegua’s rough, lazy vocals are perfectly complimented Z Marr’s scratchy-synthy keyboards and Abbey Nex’s ripping guitar work. This is house techno, sure, but with the group in full tats, body makeup and spiky leather, it’s a pretty specific house.  Favorites like “Shut Up and Swallow”, “What The Fuck Is Wrong With You People?” and “Get Your Body Beat” had the crowd in a frenzy for forty-five minutes, longer than most opening acts, and we could have done with forty five more.

Andy swaggered the full length of the abbreviated stage (Rammstein, if you are lucky enough to see the show, needs a LOT of room), the risers and as far out into the crowd as he could get. I’ve been told they play Seattle’s El Corazon and I can’t imagine this sound in that small venue.  Letz is a show unto himself, pouring water on the skins and letting the spray add to the impact of  his astonishing ability and when I could tear my eyes away from him, I found Friedrich climbing up his kit onto the brass.

Nex stalked  behind LaPlegua like a vampire after a virgin, unmistakably tall and menacing. He never seemed to be playing and y et these breathtaking riffs came from his amp.  Each succeeding song was better, louder and sexier than the previous and I was truly disappointed when their set ended.

Malevolently beautiful  is the term that comes to mind to sum up the Combichrist experience. It being coupled with my hyped expectations of Rammstein, which didn’t disappoint, was just a black-leather cherry on my industrial rock sundae addiction.

Their Making Monsters tour ends on June 4th in the US and  on July 3rd in the UK. If you  like any part of techno/industrial rock, Combichrist is required viewing.

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reviews

Here We Go Magic – January EP review

Here We Go Magic is an American group based in Brooklyn, New York. That’s what their Wikipedia entry says about them.  It also says that their previous efforts are generally stream-of-consciousness  and maybe some underlying electronic.

I’m glad I didn’t know that before putting the January EP release on my iPod and cruising home one night, because I would have had much different expectations.

There are only six tracks on the EP, mostly songs that didn’t make it onto their previous Pigeons release and opens with the song Tulips. It’s a pleasant enough song, on a march-beat,  kind of like a lite version of something  off the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s album, trippiness included.

Hands In The Sky is meatier, despite Luke Temple’s soprano, soft percussion and airy synths.  Lyrics crafted to tell a careful story of love and loss without sounding gloomy, the song blends wonderfully and too soon, it’s over. Hmmm. Perhaps that’s the point.

Song In Three is different still, with a 3/6 tempo and an electronic piano that jumps pleasingly between the flats and sharps. Background vocals by Kristina Lieberson, Peter Hale and Jen Turner provide a curtain of swirling chorus’ and just an extra bit of vocal emphasis here and there, when it’s least expected.

At just 2 minutes,  Hollywood  is the shortest track, utilizing only cymbals, an acoustic guitar and vocals to evoke nostalgia for better days. I don’t know that the real Hollywood is anything like that, but Magic certainly makes it seem possible.

Backwards Time is also very short, but it’s a quick run through a nice bassline and drum with fewer synths. It’s more energetic than the other songs, and there are times where you’d swear Temple was listening to The Police’s Synchoncity while composing.

The final track, Mirror Me,  is a disappointing close to the collection. Its muddled and Temple seemed to want to throw every instrument within reach into the mix, without really considering how they might sound.

It’s not a surprise that he is already at work on a full-length album to be released later this year. Overall,  the January EP is something  a new artist might start their career off with, while they are working on their first full album, because they would tend to have less material. Magic has two previous CD’s and should be evolved past producing remnant compilations. Hopefully the upcoming effort will be more substantial and demonstrate the maturity that a 3-year old band should have.

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reviews

Dominik Eulberg – Diorama album review

Ethereal synth tracks drifting around the percussion, with off-synch vocal pauses scattered throughout are Dominik Eulberg’s trademark style. It’s evocative of relaxation tapes, only more subtly layered and deliberate.

Dom is best described as an electonica club DJ who has developed a penchant for mixing deep rhythms and natural sounds into a weave of trance/dance. There is some beautiful stuff on this album, not just the individual arrangements themselves but within the pieces are  verses that, by themselves, are worth listening to. 

This is his fourth album, containing eleven tracks.  His cover art is visually stunning, preparing the listener for where he proposes to take them.  This music is best on a shuffled loop, as there isn’t a strict progression order. They are as the title states, showpieces in and of themselves, lovingly crafted as a slice of time and set against a backdrop of buzzy reverb bass, electronic  keyboarding and lilting strings.

The last track, Metamorphose, stands out due to the piano work and simple build up to the end.

Even if you don’t like electronica and especially if your only experience with it is from the high-energy club house mixes, this will surprise you and most likely end up on your playlist rotation. It’s definitely worth downloading the album, but give yourself a treat and get the CD for the album art, too.

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Whitesnake – Forevermore album review

Whitesnake’s latest release Forevermore  is the band’s eleventh album and its release coincides with a European tour. I first listened to it on a long drive home.

The opening track, Steal Your Heart Away, is classic Whitesnake: heavy, hard and loud, and when I heard it, I had great expectations.

Sadly, most of the rest of the songs are hardly distinguishable from one another. Uninspired arrangements with the same bridges and riffs, predictable lyrics and a theme so saccharine I got a cavity just listening to one dreary, dreamy song after another.  Whoever the chick is that they are singing about better be worth all the disappointed fans.

It wasn’t until the ninth track, Dogs In The Street, that I heard something different. Hey! It’s music! Not Pop-40 mush. Solid guitar work by Doug Aldrich and Reb Beach showcase the whining, screaming fretwork that distinguishes rock metal bands from every other garage band.

Fare Thee Well slows the tempo significantly and David Coverdale’s vocals are a perfect gravelly match to some sweet acoustical guitar. It’s a ballad in the right pitch to belt out at karaoke or in the car, complete with air guitar and is a standout.

Whipping Boy Blues is a return to vanilla lyrics and a so-so melody, although if you turn it up I suppose you could distort the words enough to perhaps enjoy the instrumental parts.

<Yawn> Are we there yet?

My Evil Ways refreshed me in time for the last few miles and I perked up considerably.  Some nice new lyrics,  some changeups on the tempo in the middle of the song and a ripping hard beat by drummer Brian Tichy set the backdrop for Aldrich’s amazing riffs. Now this is the kind of stuff what I thought I was gonna hear!

OK, so overall, maybe after 10 full-length albums, a band gets tired and lazy, but this is supposed to be Rock and Roll, not Mock and Mold. Note to ‘established’ bands:  don’t put a record out if it’s not the best stuff you’ve got. Fans have better things to do with their money. I can’t recommend the CD as a purchase. Better to listen to the tracks you like and buy the one (ok, there might be two) that you like. Not sure if I would spend the money on a concert ticket, either if this is the stuff they are going to play. Now maybe if the Captain and Tenille are headlining…….

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Elbow – Build A Rocket Boys! album review

The fifth album by Elbow is a nostalgic look back at days gone by, lyrics beautifully set against Guy Garvey’s wistful tenor and lush arrangements.

Elbow has always had an independent sense of music arrangement, using synth or percussion as just the right touch at the right time, instead of relying on one beat to carry the song. Neat Little Rows starts off with a rock bass beat, the time signature offset just enough to introduce Garvey’s writing:  ” Lay my bones in neat little rows..”

Lippy Kids has garnered a lot of positive attention, and for good reason. Aside from the baldly frank title, the song jabs at cultural notions of youth, making a case for dreams and schemes, remembering them before they get buried under the debris of life.

The group has the qualifications to become commercially successful, especially after the attention that their last album (“The Seldom Seen Kid”) generated, but the group remains on the edges of commercialism, preferring to have their listeners find their own way to the music. Deliberate and exacting in their delivery, breathtaking in the orchestration, Elbow maintains expectations with this release, with most fans (myself included) enthusiastically declaring them exceeded.

I especially loved the reprise of The Birds, with  a near-spoken vocal by John Moseley, an obviously older singer backed by an acapella choir. So simple, so symmetrical.

So Elbow. Well done, lads.