British electronic one man band Bomb The Bass are back with a new album. While I find the end result to be intriguing, this style of electronic music always leaves me wanting more.
A lot of this has to do with the fact that so much of the emphasis in this music is on texture, to the point that other things tend to get left out. In essence, I feel like what I’m hearing is a set of glorified bed tracks.
The ideas that are put forth are generally interesting and musical, but the whole thing kind of starts to sound the same after a while. There is a drone-like bassline, some keyboard vamps, and spacey vocals, and after that track ends, we move on to the next one.
Part of the problem is one of tempo. All of the tempos feel the same, to the point the whole thing feels like one giant remix recording with separations engineered to give the impression of actual individual tracks.
The thing is, is that there are many interesting moments on each track, little bits of inspired musical insight that make me wonder why he didn’t allow his muse to have completely free reign over the whole record. Or perhaps inspiration struck and then receded into the background on each track, forcing the use of lots of recycled filler on each track.
Suddenly, when all seems lost to a sort of complacent mediocrity, the track ‘We Are Lost’ kicks into gear. While it isn’t a completely flawless statement, listening to this track gives insights into what could have been.
Canadian indie-rockers Hooded Fang play really bouncy post-punk sounding music. Something about the way the rhythm section coheres reminds me of a happy version of Joy Division. The drums are simple but right on and the bass lines are percussive and rhythmic, and they work perfectly together. The vocalist is nothing at all like Ian Curtis, his vocal style being more melodic and in a higher register, with more of a head voice quality to it.
Something about this bands music reminds me of the type of music Wes Anderson would pick for one of his movies. There is something timeless about the music they make, as the post-punk aspect of the music really does have a ‘live from the late-late seventies feel’ to it.
While every review I write reminds me just how sheltered I am in relation to the state of things in the world of ‘underground’ music right now, I also know that I haven’t heard anything this simple and direct but also as simultaneously musically satisfying as this in a while. This is straight up rock and roll, with minimal studio wizardry and whole lot of rocking out. Nothing is exceptionally complicated or overwrought, and everything gels in an engaging way. I suspect that this is a band that sounds many times better live. Not that the album is bad, because it’s not, but the way the energy comes across is telling that this group of musicians thrives in a live environment. So, listen to the recordings, and then go to the show, and be happy.
The melodic musings of one Fred Thomas find an outlet on One Kiss Ends It All, the new album by the Michigan musical mastermind; yet another collection of generally well written tunes to add to an already sizable output. There is an overriding sense of melancholy that permeates the whole experience of listening to this album, as if the listener is privy to some kind of reminiscence.
The opening track possesses some kind of ethereal magic attached to it, some kind of psychedelic spiritual something that drifts in the ether. From there, we move on to a string of ‘dated-yet-new’ sounds which are subject to the meticulous production values he is apparently known for. Vocals are layered with psycho-acoustic spaciousness, while instrumental tracks are subject to various fading and flanging effects.
The music sounds like sixties pop passed through Pro Tools. The amount of production work on one track as ofttimes stunning in its depth. The man obviously spent a lot of time planning the whole album; there is an overriding sense of architecture to the whole thing, not just a bunch of songs with some album art tacked on top. The overriding sense of songcraft is well suited to the recent antiquity of the style.
On top of the production wizardry and obvious love of crafting an album as a self-contained musical unit, the songwriting is really solid. While borrowing liberally from music traditions of the very recent past, Thomas manages to personalize the experience. Gifted with a strong sense of melody, he welds this melodic sensibility to a rhythmicized chordal style well suited to the demands of his idiosyncratic medium.
Lombok is the name of an island in the Indonesian archipelago. It is also the name of a musical project created by Owen Hooper, a Canadian citizen who spent time living in Jakarta, the capital of Java, another island in the the Indonesian archipelago. It is a chronicle of his time there.
The music has a largely dream pop type of feel to it, very ethereal in terms of its tone color and moderate in its tempo. Hooper’s vocals are very prominent throughout, and the melodic arcs and phrasing of the vocal line comprise a big portion of the ‘pop’ part of the description of his music.
The songs themselves are fairly standard in structure, and the instrumentation and production sound like an update of eighties pop music, with a lot of sequenced drumbeats supporting synth driven lines and progressions. For added timbral interest, ‘We Don’t Know’ has a glockenspiel type effect present in its arrangement.
‘An Imagination’ features a very singer-songwriter intro, with the lead vocals supported by a harmonized keyboard vamp, before dissolving into the rhythm track of the main body of the song. For structural integrity, the chord progression of the intro shows up in the verse of the song itself.
While not necessarily the most innovative sounding release to come out in a while, the songs contained in this project are nonetheless quite melodic and engaging. While it definitely falls squarely within the domain of accessible pop music, it is quite listenable and intelligently crafted music. This is a real labor of love.
Charging out the gate in their usually gentle way, The Dillinger Escape Plan has dropped another churning, complex, and musically satisfying chunk of musical stream of thought in our collective lap. At this point in time, with five albums under their belt and an extensive touring history playing with basically everyone, Ben Weinman and company have proved their ability as one of the most potent acts in current experimental metal.
If anything, the artistic statement on this record is more concentrated and aggro, while also giving vent to the more ‘literate’ aspects of the music. They have gotten even better at abruptly switching moods and maintaining some type of internal logic and cohesiveness that have been hallmarks of their music practically since the beginning. Check out the juxtaposition of the verse, transition and chorus on ‘Nothing’s Funny’. Another example of this is between tracks, as evidenced by the shift between ‘One of Us Is the Killer’ and ‘Hero of The Soviet Union’. ‘One of Us’ is in that style that is almost pop in its sensibility, while ‘Hero’ is straight up aggro grind brutality, and they both work.
In some ways, I wince whenever I hear these guys referred to as a ‘metalcore’ band, because most metalcore bands suck, and Dillinger doesn’t. I can’t think of any other bands who can balance sheer aural aggressiveness with melodic beauty and emotional vulnerability so artfully and consistently. This is a metal band that functions like a modern classical ensemble.
Take Time, Jim Guthrie’s newest album, starts off in a fairly exciting way but quickly runs out of steam. The first track, ‘Taking My Time’, unfolds in a very unique way, and the rest of the album proceeds to not live up to the promise hinted at by that first track.
The first line of the second song, ‘What a Difference a Day Made’ could be changed to ‘What a Difference a Song Made’. In fact, the second track sets the context of mediocrity in which the rest of the album largely functions.
Even a song with a fairly interesting intro and melodic art as ‘Never Poor’ does not escape this malaise of mid-tempo insipidness; though there is an attempt at the timbral variety of the first track, the whole thing is so emotionally neutral and lacking in expressive depth that the potential of the track peters out.
This happens again and again as the album unfolds: tracks that offer so much promise, due to certain visionary touches in the arrangements, are allowed to bleed to death through a resulting lack of emotive life. The biggest problem is one of tempo. There is literally one tempo for this album, a slow-mid-tempo that just sucks the life out of the music.
Though this is a little more interesting than most anything by Matt Pond PA, it’s of a similar boring nature. I have a feeling that one positive benefit of this album is that it will help your grandparents fall asleep at night, carried to the realms of sleep on a carpet of indistinct blandness.
Apparently there is a tritone in the opening riff of the song ‘Lucky Loki’, the first track off Obsidian Spectre. At any rate, the first track does a great job of setting the tone for the rest of the album. Cross is like some awesome bastard child of an illicit tryst between Black Sabbath, Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd, and a male version of Nico from Velvet Underground. The vocals imply a sort of ‘serious mystical insight’ quality to the rest of the music, due to the detached quality of the delivery and the utterance of such statements as ‘It is golden in my eye’.
Above all else, Cross rocks out. They share that one quality in common with Hooded Fang, while playing a style of rock and roll that is nothing like Hooded Fang. This is straight up rock and roll, which, in this case, is a definite act of revivalism. This band’s sound goes further back in time than Hooded Fang, to the late sixties, and the music, aided by the stoned mystical quality, is like some sort of amplified accompaniment to a rite of magick conducted by Aleister Crowley and filmed by Kenneth Anger.
It is this tribal mystic quality that makes Cross so rad. For some reason, I want them to dress like Sunn O when they go on stage, in medieval monk’s robes, and use a disco ball and tons of black light paint. The songs are built on dirge-like riffs that wind through various sages of gravity. Go to the Telephone Explosion website, and revel in the eldritch mysticism that is Cross.
I, Monster is a musical behemoth, a visionary throwback to the psychedelic recast in the now. Trippy, tuneful, and textured, this British duo create beautifully intricate songs that are equally balanced in the production and songwriting departments.
Active for quite some time, the group has a fair sized discography under its belt. The fact of their experience is evident as each track spins out in a solidly constructed and well-paced manner. The 1975 aim to create ‘alternative pop’; I, Monster seems to create something like ‘alternative electronica’, which is a stupid way of describing their music, but it works somehow.
For a group that is so electronically influenced and prone to samples, there is a melodic sensibility at work that is downright surprising. For an example of this listen to ‘Checkou Luv’ or ‘Food For the Sea’- these sound like something Bowie might have tossed out into the world during his Hunky Dory era. The diatonic, chord-progression driven melodies and keyboard vamps almost possess a naive quality, in a way that is refreshing in its unfettered simplicity.
In good English underground music fashion, there are plenty of keyboard squelches and studio effects. At times, as on ‘Hey You Beautiful Land’, there is something of the spirit of Syd Barrett at work in the music, some early Pink Floyd-esque sensibility that shines through. What is interesting about the structure of ‘Hey You’ is that it possesses a quality of being an introduction to the next track, ‘She Sucks’. When ‘She Sucks’ kicks in, the mood totally changes. With this, belief in the bands unique genius is reinforced.
If all musicians currently making music possessed the talent, charisma, and songwriting chops of Sean Tillman, the world of music would be an amazing place to inhabit. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Fortunately, Tillman inhabits the little slice of the music ‘verse that he does, which is awesome.
Har Mar Superstar is a white R&B sex god in the body of a somewhat out of shape guy in his mid-thirties who, rumor has it, has a tendency to perform shows nearly naked. I’ve never actually seen him live, so I can only repeat what I have heard. What I do know is that this man can sing his ass off, and has a phenomenal sense of melodic development coupled with a solid command of the idiom he’s working in.
Bye Bye 17 is so danceable and infectious that, unless you really hate the faux-R&B style he works in, you can’t help but dig it. If you close your eyes and forget what year it is, you could possibly convince yourself that this record is a few decades old.
A great place to start is right in the middle, with the track ‘We don’t sleep’. The electronic clavichord coupled with the spoken word intro and that totally in the pocket bassline will get you bouncing along in your chair. When the vocals kick in, it becomes something else altogether. Other elements of fascination with that track include the horn parts and the brilliant rhythmic shift to a really lazy halftime feel on the chorus. The man is a genius.
Vanishing Point is an inadvertently funny walk down memory lane. If you were in high school in the nineties, you had at least an inkling of an idea who Mark Arm and company were. This was the band that helped Sub Pop get the ball rolling as a label, the band that was always right in the background of the big name acts of the grunge rock explosion of that time.
Listening to this album reiterates why Mudhoney were never that big. While there is that interesting mix of influences that lends this group its distinctive sound, the sound of their music isn’t all that attention grabbing. It’s loud and abrasive in a genuinely rock and roll kind of way, but it’s also kind of boring and uninteresting.
Part of the problem is that the musical agenda being pursued on this album is over and done with, and has been for some time now. Sure, there is a range of motion from straight up grunge to hardcore, but there’s really nothing new to say. It’s as if they stopped trying.
The other problem, for me at least, has to do with Mark Arm’s vocals. Yes, they’re like totally influenced by punk and all that, but the gratingly annoying in his vocal style is a bit too gratingly annoying. This is coupled with lyrics that are basically another variation on the angry, misunderstood loner; if they were well written, that would be one thing, but a hook like ‘douchebags on parade’ does not seem to have required that much skill. I used to wonder just how long someone could ride the wave of disaffected teen-aged angst. Now I know.