press releases reviews

Carbon Based Lifeforms – Twentythree album review

Throughout the course of the 4 full-length albums released by Sweden-based ambient group, Carbon Based Lifeforms, we’ve seen an impressive compilation of music; the diversity of which lies in the details rather than stylistic approach.  And though their third release, Interloper, seemed to indicate a departure from the largely beat-less syrup of sonic soup, their most recent long-play release, Twentythree, clearly marks a definitive return to the days of Hydroponic Garden (2003).

Through a calculated, precise and economical use of sonic space, band members, Johannes Hedberg and Daniel Segerstad sculpt soundscapes that – for the most part – induce visions of rainforests and prehistoric swamps bursting at the seems with the unrealized potential for organic life.  In contrast to the majority of the record is “Somewhere In Russia,” which seems more post-apocalyptic than pre-civilization.  Crackling, broken remnants of once-comforting string passages are picked apart by cacophonic synth tones as the track closes with a broken-down, cold and removed atmospheric view of earth and the lifeless dust of a past civilization torn asunder by misuse of power and technology.

Immediately following, a stark and startling contrast lies in “Terpene” which paints an aural portrait as natural and bleak as the colder months of Sweden’s rolling landscapes.  Hollow, sweeping synth pulses bare unmistakable likeness to the harsh gusts of wind so common among icy plains the world over while euphonic melodies float effortlessly among the brittle sonic beds like ice carried on vast expanses of frigged water.  A strange middle ground between the two extremes of which this record is comprised – between planetary innocence and post-apocalyptic darkness – lies in “Inirtia,” which blends both organic and mechanized tones as if to indicate some incarnation of futuristic communion between man and machine – as though the two worlds presented have found a way in which to coexist.

Though this review, simply by it’s very nature could never hope to touch upon all which are present, many more intricacies and implementations of sonic detail exist throughout this record.  Luckily, for those willing to put in the effort, Twentythree is a goldmine of aural pleasure just waiting to be discovered.


Shlohmo – Bad Vibes review

Imagine a hazy, tortured Death Cab for Cutie record – let’s say for the sake of example, Transatlanticism – put through a meat grinder and subsequently strewn throughout a rainforest somewhere along the Amazon River.  That is, in a nutshell, what Bad Vibes sounds like; or more appropriately, what it feels like.  Bad Vibes is the sophomore full-length release from LA-based producer and artist, Shlohmo, and though baring undeniable likeness to his 2010 Debut entitled, Shlohmoshun Delux, this release takes on an entirely new atmosphere.

Considerably darker and drearier in tone than previous works, Bad Vibes seems to stay away from the overly complex hip-hop rhythms he’s seemed to favor in the past.  Instead, Shlohmo seems to prefer an omnipresent sub bass pulse that warps the emanating sonic wall into the nauseating ebb and flow commonly associated with seasickness.

Another discrepancy between this work and those prior is the apparent shift from an industrial sonic pallet towards one drenched in the sounds of nature.  Album opener, “Big Feelings” is a semiconscious walk through the jungle with bird-calls and rainy static wafting throughout the track.  Shortly afterwards on “It Was Whatever,” the birdcalls come back, though this time accompanied by primal, ethereal howls and percussion that sounds strangely organic.

If you’re reading this and growing disheartened because you’ve lost the industrial rhythmic mastermind incarnate as the original Shlohmo you will find solace in tracks such as “Just Us” and “Trapped In A Burning House” which seem to pay homage to his earlier releases by way of grinding sythn beds and considerably more prominent percussive elements.

However, I for one am truly enjoying the new sounds.  Shlohmo is a field-recording fanatic and it seems only fitting that the sounds of our natural world find their way into a genre that’s been almost exclusively made up of cheap synth loops and poorly constructed percussion sequences.  This album offers a new side to a still-green producer and more importantly pushes the boundaries of an entire genre into new and exciting territory.  Who knows, maybe there’s hope for electronic music after all.


James Ferraro – Night Dolls With Hairspray review

The debate over the boundaries and definitions of what can be considered ‘art’ has been raging without conclusion for literally hundreds of years, and in today’s technological climate it’s easier than ever for so-called artists and musicians to make noise that is to them alone considered music.  One such culprit in this crime against true artistic expression has been the birth of a slew of genres focused primarily if not solely on the idea of finding sounds throughout our world and combining them in some allegedly planned-out amalgamation combined with screaming or chanting some semblance of vocal trash over the top.

I’m not claiming that these genres are completely devoid of interesting or even creative gems as I firmly believe that any style of music will be riddled with at least a few luminaries that set a relatively un-touched standard of true artistic greatness.  Sadly, however, this is not the norm.  I’ve recently come across an album by an artist named James Ferraro that has left me simply stunned for almost all the wrong reasons.

His most recent release entitled, Night Dolls With Hairspray is a painfully lo-fi, endlessly frenetic example of what I consider to be seriously unfulfilled potential. It’s clear that Ferraro has an ear for catchy melodies and rhythms and “Buffy Honkerburg’s Answering Machine” is one place where those favorable traits break through the overlying rubbish, however the sonic quality of the album as a whole leaves much to be desired.

Furthermore the musicality on this release is embarrassing.  With the sheer power of today’s digital editing platforms, there is no excuse for edits that even in the days of analog editing would have stood out as the worst of the worst.  Rarely on this album does a song end with anything more than a simple cut-off at a seemingly random point and time after time the listener can hear how poor placement of samples noticeably interrupts the flow and groove of otherwise decent tracks.

With most music I am able to find at least one thing I can appreciate, however this album proved to be an enormous and ultimately unfulfilled challenge.

James Ferraro - Night Dolls With Hairspray review


Portugal. The Man – In The Mountain In The Cloud album review

Since inception in 2004, Portugal. The Man have been aging like a fine wine, showing noticeable improvement with each new project they undergo.  On July 19th, 2011, the band released their 6th studio full-length entitled, In The Mountain In The Cloud on Atlantic Records in cooperation with guitarist/producer John Hill.  With a new label, a perfected and experienced lineup and a new producer, the resulting album is both reassuring and artfully crafted.

Too often bands reach a major record deal and find their sound sacrificed for the sake of mass appeal, but Portugal. The Man will surely find no such fate.  Compared to earlier releases (especially sophomore album, Church Mouth) this project shows favorable musical maturity and cohesive songwriting and compilation while also maintaining refreshing diversity.  For a while, back in 2007, I was of the opinion that this band was little more than a few weird kids out of Portland with serious hard-ons for Led Zeppelin, and though hints of that influence still peak through from time to time this is clearly a group of artists who are have found a sound all their own.

From the almost-ska brass section on “Everything You See” to the sincerely original melodic lead guitar on album closer, “Sleep Forever,” nothing about this release feels like a sell-out or gimmick, nor does it feel like their copying their influences.  Furthermore, “Got It All” reminded me of a combination of classic rock and retro-pop ensemble The Magic Numbers while “Head Is A Flame” is reminiscent of ambient noise and stacked, high-pitched vocals so common among Shins records.

Also apparent on this release is the much-needed shift in sonic production.  Whereas previous records could be quite literally painful to listen to, this album maintains their signature lo-fi sound without tearing your ears apart in the process.

From it’s diversity and appreciable progress to the masterful ease with which Portugal. The Man pulls off every single track this album is proof that this is a band guaranteed to illustrate longevity and success in all ventures they pursue.

press releases reviews

Zomby – Dedication review

Dubstep is a genre I’ve generally avoided because of what I’ve perceived to be homogenous monotony, lack of appreciable variation and the general dearth of stimulation for the musical mind.  I admittedly wrote the scene off as an ecstasy-infused, computer-driven block of noise with which I would rather not associate.  I firmly believe all musical genres have at least an inkling of something to appreciate but I’ve struggled to list examples for this specific classification beyond the notion that some producers and artists showed noticeable creativity in their programming and loops.  That said I am sincerely impressed with Zomby’s July 11th release, Dedication.

This album is a frenetically diverse collection of what seem to be undeveloped musical ideas produced to create starkly differing sonic textures, and though the tone and timbre may change considerably from track to track, the transitions (many of which are seamless) and flow of the album as a whole is remarkably cohesive.  Notably impressive is the transition between “Alothea,” a rhythmically complex song rife with whispy percussive elements and “Black Orchid,” which features a retro-sounding synth to exhibit a profound example of musical antanaclasis but remains otherwise relatively devoid of rhythmic drive.

Diversity on this album consists of both mood and instrumental variance, both of which can be largely attributed to the uncharacteristically organic choice of instruments on many of the tracks.  Primarily, the second-to-last cut, “Bisquiat” is comprised almost solely of acoustic piano and what sounds like cello (though it’s most likely synthesized) featuring very minimal electronic percussion or traditional dubstep mainstays.  Another prime example of surprising instrumentation can be found in “Salamander” which features sounds resembling wood blocks, vibraphone and vocal “whoo’s” to build quite possibly the most jungle-y track on the record.

The last several years have seen dubstep shifting into what most listeners begrudgingly label as post-dubstep and where this album falls I’m not entirely certain.  Wherever you choose to file this album, I think it’s a positive improvement for this musical style and I personally hope to see it referenced as an example rather than an exception to the genre.


Atari Teenage Riot – Is This Hyperreal? album review

Music has always played a major part in the arena of rebellion, protest and government opposition and in our modern society where music can reach more ears than a multi-million-dollar advertising campaign, its roll has become even larger.  Since their inception, bands such as Rage Against the Machine and Sonic Youth have been using the high-energy and youthful angst present in the hardcore and punk genres to ignite a unified opposition to the government and when Neo-Nazi influence grew throughout Berlin’s tecnno scene, Atari Teenage Riot took a similar approach in hopes of driving the social phenomenon towards a slightly less corrupt future.

Formed in 1992, the band released three full-lengths in ‘95, ’97 and ’99 and save two more recent compilations, the band has – until now – remained dormant, failing to put out anything until 2011 long-play, Is This Hyperreal?.  A definitive ‘protest album,’ this title features a seemingly straightforward compilation of digital music beds combined with distorted vocals sounding as though they’re being shouted over a crowd of demonstrators by way of a megaphone:  Sharing equal presence on the album, Nic Endo and Alec Empire both be heard shouting what are surely intended as shocking messages and calls to action.

Songs such as “Rearrange Your Synapses” and “Black Flags” assert battleground cries relating to topics along the lines of overt government control and society’s catatonic response to widespread corruption.  Breaking the monotony of this genre, several songs stand out as foils to the bulk of the album, most notably, “Shadow Identity” and title track, “Is This Hyperreal?”.

Surely, this is not an album for easy listening, but if you’re preparing to chain yourself to a bulldozer or show solidarity with WikiLeaks by hacking the Pentagon, this will certainly elevate both your heart rate and your desire to actively participate in a riot.  Those activities don’t necessarily align with my day-to-day routine, so I’ll be honest in saying that this isn’t an album I’ll be listening to very much, however, for what this band – this record – was intended to be, ATR has done a fantastic job in achieving their goal.


Taking Back Sunday – Taking Back Sunday album review

June 28th, 2011 saw the release of Taking Back Sunday’s eponymous, 5th Studio album as well as the band’s return to it’s (for all intents and purposes) original lineup.  Historically, TBS has been a group not afraid to alter their lineup for the benefit of the band but as of late 2010 and the initiation of work on this record, they have returned to something familiar.  In addition to the re-joining of original guitarist/vocalist John Nolan and bassist Shaun Cooper, the band has teamed up with Louder Now producer, Eric Valentine.  Though the personnel on this project are anything but new, the result is an album that shows considerable musical maturity and variance.

The album opens with “El Paso” which is undoubtedly the heaviest track the band has recorded to date, however, that weight is met with more sensitive, flowing cuts along the lines of “Since You’re Gone.”  Another theme that stands out on this record is the band’s definitive reference to rock icons and influences, Queen and The Who with tracks like “Sad Savior” where Adam Lazzara’s vocals bare unmistakable likeness to those of Freddie Mercury and on “Call Me In The Morning” which features an intro strongly evocative of “Baba O’Riley.”

Don’t think that this album exists devoid of musical pleasures for long-time fans though, there’s plenty of classic TBS to go around on this record.  For example, songs such as “This is All Now” and “Best Places to Be A Mom” showcase time-honored vocal call and response phrasings between Lazzara and Nolan.  Furthermore, the album as a whole holds up to the energy and power of earlier releases circa 2002, yet still manages to provide a stage on which the band can showcase the favorable progress they’ve made since the last time this lineup released a record.

Most TBS fans will tell you that the glory days were lived years ago when this now re-united lineup was fresh and energized, but I think it’s safe to say that the future of this band is once again looking bright.


Matthew Good – Lights of Endangered Species album review

Bandleader-turned-solo-artist, Matthew Good has been on the scene for almost 20 years now, and in that time he’s seen his share of both troubling failure and incredible success.  Since the disbanding of his highly successful self-titled group in 2002, Good has released five surprisingly strong solo records, however Lights of Endangered Species, the fifth and most recent, shines above the rest as a dynamic and exciting tour-de-force that far exceeded my expectations.

On this record, Good teamed up with long-time producer, Warne Linvesey and the benefits of the familiarity are starkly evident.  There isn’t a single element that feels out of place, which is surprising considering the vastly dissimilar moods laced effortlessly throughout the album, sometimes alternating four or five times in a single song.  Adding to the melodic and structural variance is the aural fidelity which dances playfully between trashy drum tones and sparkling symphonic and piano segments to create a constantly shifting sonic portrait committed to shattering the listener’s concept of where the song ‘should’ go.  Impeccable examples of this ebb and flow lie in “What if I Can’t See the Stars Mildred” and “Non-Populus.”

While working on his solo career, Good has also become known for his political views and though this release remains relatively neutral on the surface, songs such as “In A Place of Lesser Men” draw reference to socially poignant topics (i.e. apocalyptic theories, etc).  Other ways in which a bit of Good’s history comes to light is in the vocals which, when compared to past releases, seem tired and introspective – more like John Paul White (The Civil Wars) and less like the high-energy Bob Dylan-esque vibe we’ve grown accustomed to.  Furthermore, some of the more subdued tracks such as “How It Goes” and “Set Me On Fire” seem to indicate a possible shift in Good’s music as a whole towards the softer side.

Whether you’re a long-time fan of this man and his music or this is your first time listening, there’s something special about this record that can really only be understood by listening for yourself, and that’s exactly what I suggest you do.


Mercury Rev – Deserter’s Songs album review

In 1998, American alternative rock group, Mercury Rev released what they thought would be their last record.  Deserter’s Songs, recorded as a sort of final hoorah with little-to-no regard for public opinion, resulted in massive commercial and critical success effectively launching the band to heights previously unmatched.  Five years prior, lead singer, David Baker had left the group following the release of Boces and with his departure so left the darker, less-palatable side of the group – something that undoubtedly paved the way for the strange but accessible mood of Deserter’s Songs. Now, in May 2011 the group has re-issued the breakthrough record as a slew of collector’s items, bonus tracks, instrumental editions and the like.  This review however, will focus on the original album as released in 1998.

Listening now, its no wonder this gem saw such grand success.  A richly diverse album featuring a large helping of acclaimed musicians, Deserter’s Songs is an odd and delightful 45-minute-long trip through a vast array of genres, moods and soundscapes.  Tracks such as “Endlessly” and “Opus 40,” featuring Levon Helm on drums, bare striking resemblance to some of the Beatles more experimental cuts from albums like Revolver and Sgt Pepper’s. Adding to the Beatles evocation is Jonathan Donahue’s voice, which on some tracks sounds almost identical to John Lennon himself; high-pitched and wavering ever so slightly, I almost expected to hear him break into “I’m Only Sleeping.”

The album also features several traits similar to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon including lo-fi instrumental interludes, “I Collect Coins” and “Pick Up If You’re There” as well as orchestra laden album opener, “Holes”. Other tracks, such as “Hudson Line” featuring Garth Hudson (The Band) on Sax, are unmistakably reminiscent of Tom Petty.

It’s been three years since we’ve seen anything from Mercury Rev and this re-release is a splendid way for them to return to our ears.  Sometimes it takes a gentle reminder to bring us back to bands that have somehow gotten lost among the piles of records and this reminder is certainly one worth another listen.

press releases reviews

White Denim – D album review

Creating a proper jam-band record is an arduous task to say the least.  I’ve witnessed countless cases of frustration as so-called ‘jam sections’ extend well in to the 4-minute mark while band members disappear into a musical world that isn’t nearly as accessible or interesting as they seem to think. However, there’s something to be said for fulfilling musical expression that remains accessible to the listener, and that’s exactly what White Denim have accomplished with their fourth formal full-length.

This four-piece out of Austin, TX have been defined as many things since their inception in 2006 and yet D, the group’s most recent release seems to provide palpable evidence that theirs is a sound far too peculiar to allow straightforward categorization. Pulling influence from musically adept bands such as Rush and Phish, the melodies and rhythms are intricately complex.  Luckily this is a band that can pull it off; the obviously polished talent that each member exudes results in an unyieldingly tight and truly enjoyable wall of sound.

A perfect example lies in, “Anvil Everything,” a song vaguely evocative of CSNY’s “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” and in “Burnished,” where odd rhythms and complicated bass lines prove this band is more than capable of pulling off a few tricks. Intricate song structures also seem to be a favorite as illustrated by “Bess St.” featuring a meter shift from a simple 4/4 to a widely avoided 5/8.  However, the album does feature more straightforward tracks such as “River To Consider,” a 70’s-esque track featuring Jethro Tull-style flute and a dancable Latin rhythm that would sound at home on the soundtrack for Three’s Company.

Whether you’re an adamant proponent of jam bands or consider yourself of the “IT’S JUST NOISE!” persuasion, I think you’ll find something to appreciate on this album.  Some songs require more attention – more focus – from the listener, sure, but there are certainly a few cuts perfectly suited for placement on a relaxing mix tape.  I think more than anything this LP will provide a bit of much-needed variety to an otherwise static musical landscape.