Monday, 22 December 2014

Dragons of Disgust Best albums 2014 (Top 10)


So here it is. Let's not waste any time; here is Dragon of Disgust's top ten albums of 2014.

 
10. Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty (Sub Pop)


Shabazz Palaces seem to have as much in common with the cosmic stargazing of Sun Ra or sci-fi techno of Drexiya than they do with contemporary hip hop. Lese Majesty music aims for a point where the line between technology and biology is blurred. Listening to the album is taking a trip to another world that I don't fully understand, song titles and lyrics are often impenetrable, but a definitely enjoy my time there and feel compelled to explore further.

 




9. Clark – Clark (Warp)

I wouldn't have figured Clark for my favourite Warp Records release this year when Aphex Twin and Flying Lotus have both put out albums. Still Clark has a formidable discography behind him and his self titled sees him pushing forward as tracks like Unfurla balance grit and euphoria into a potent club destroying beast. Elsewhere techno, ambient and noise get a look in on Clark's most addictive and complete record.







8. Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra – Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything (Constellation)

Apart from having the best album title of the year, Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything is also the most passionate and political record from the past twelve months. There world seems to be in a strange place between harrowing events that have made the news recently, but there hasn't been a lot of political music. So I am glad that Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra have managed to construct a passionate and heartfelt argument for the role of the musician and the artist in the modern day. Delivered with the musical prowess of their sister act Godspeed You! Black Emperor and desperate punk rock urgency.


7. Caribou – Our Love (City Slang)

Whilst Swim still contained some of the heady psychedelic pop of earlier Caribou, Our Love is undeniably a purer electronic album, full of drum machines and analog tones and Can't Do Without You, one of the year's most addictive listens. Our Love is an affirming mixture of Jialong's instant pleasures and Swim's details and intricacies brought together with Snaith's pop-indebted heart. It makes for an album brimming with positivity that effectively taps into dance music's loved-up sense of togetherness that only the sour-faced individual wouldn't want to be part of.




6. Bohren & Der Club Of Gore – Piano Nights (Ipecac)

A lot of albums on this list are big sounding things, about filling space and crating an intensity with it. Piano Nights is the complete opposite. It's an album that lets seconds fall between notes and soft drum hits. Their music could could be played in an dark, underground jazz club in some Lynchian dream sequence, serene but with an undeniable tension behind it. The piano leads, your ears wait for the next chord to fill the space, and to linger and echo on in the strange, beautiful darkness Bohren & Der Club Of Gore have created.


 

5. Klara Lewis – Ett (Editions Mego)


My favourite debut of 2014 come from relative unknown (at least to me) Klara Lewis. A massive jigsaw puzzle of a record pieced together from found sounds that somehow manages to be both familiar and alien. You may hear and engine or a voice in the sounds as they form a rhythm that bares some dance music influence but is lacking any discernible beat. Unlike any other albums this year Ett has been a gateway into an unknown place.


 



4. Todd Terje – It's Album Time (Olsen)

Great albums can play your emotions, tug at your heartstrings and bring you to tears. It's Album Time, didn't do any of that, it just wants you to dance about with a big goofy grin on your face. Inspired by Giorgio Moroder type early dance music, latin jazz, seventies prog-rock excess and a contemporary approach to genre-hopping. It's an album is awe of other times, that could only be made now. Highlights include The hyperactive technicolour visions of Delorean Dynamite and Inspector Norse and the electro pop ballad Johnny and Mary featuring Brian Ferry.



3. Scott Walker & Sunn O))) – Soused (4AD)

Whilst taking different approaches Scott Walker and Sunn O))) have both made music filled with terror but there was still something about this collaboration that seemed unlikely. Soused is a massive success though, mainly for pushing both groups into places they don't usually go. Sunn O))) are pushed into melodic territory whilst Walker is limited to just a normal rock band to play with, rather than the large cast that make up his recent solo albums. With these limitations they manage to make something utterly compelling, disconcerting and terrifying and like the best horror, you just can't turn away.


 
2. Grouper – Ruins (Kranky)


It's no surprise to see Grouper on this list as I'm consistently enamoured by everything the Portland based musician puts out. Still Ruins managed to exceed my expectations, an album of delicate piano and that quiet voice, free of effects pedals. For an artist whose entire discography can described as intimate with this collection of tracks you find yourself leaning in closer that before to hear hushed vocals that flow around piano melodies. Tracks like Holding exemplify this hard to define, emotive compositions, full of melancholy, solitude and longing but somehow manages to be powerful and affirming in it's quietest statements.


1. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness (Jagjaguwar)

Angel Olsen's second album not a huge departure from her debut Half Way Home as much as a continuation of the themes she had already began to explored, love, loss and a sense spirituality are the biggest concerns here, but musically there is something more immediate at play here. Her lyrics are worth pouring over, revealing there meaning slowly over many listens and you hear just as much meaning in her voice, as it wavers or lingers on a note, as in her lyrics. And it's in her voice that her real strength lies, allowing straightforward lines like 'Won't you open a window sometime / What's so wrong with the light', near the end of the album's last track Window, to carry a real weight to them. Whilst tracks like White Fire and Enemy reaffirm what Olsen made clear on that debut EP, all she needs is a guitar and her voice to impress, it's clear that also knows how to write a rough, noise-ridden rock song. In the middle of the album on Lights Out as she sings 'If you don't feel good about it then turn around' you know Angel Olsen isn't looking back for a second.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Dragons of Disgust Best albums 2014 (40-11)




Before I get to THE VERY BEST ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2014 I thought I'd highlight just how much superlative music has come out in the last twelve months. I've listened to a lot of records that deserve to be championed and given the full attention of your ears so here are thirty of 'em. The numbers really aren't all that important.


40. Lone – Reality Testing (R&S)
39. Luke Abbott – Wysing Forest (Border Community)
38. Paul White – Shaker Notes (R&S)
37. The Phantom Band – Strange Friend (Chemikal)
36. Tobacco – Ultima II Massage (Ghostly)
35. Wildbirds & Peacedrums – Rhythm (The Leaf Label)
34. A Sunny Day In Glasgow – Sea When Absent (Lefse)
33. Pye Corner Audio – Black Mill Tapes Volumes 3 &4 (Type)
32. Timbre Timbre – Hot Dreams (Full Time Hobby)
31. Earth – Primitive & Deadly (Southern Lord)
30. Goat – Commune (Rocket)
29. The Budos Band – Burnt Offering (Daptone)
28. Actress – Ghettoville (Ninja Tune)
27. Aphex Twin – Syro (Warp)
26. Fatima Al Qadiri – Asiatisch (Hyperdub)
25. Wild Beasts – Present Tense (Domino)
24. Future Islands – Singles (4AD)
22. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There (Jagjaguwar)
23. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – PiƱata (Stone's Throw)
21. Gazelle Twin – UNFLESH (Anti-Ghost Moon Ray)
20. Eyedress – Hearing Colours (Self-Released)
19. Kiasmos – Kiasmos (Erased Tapes)
18. Lawrence English – Wilderness of Mirrors (Room 40)
17. Lockah – Yahoo or the Highway (Donkey Pitch)
16. Flying Lotus – You're Dead! (Warp)
15. Owen Pallett – In Conflict (Domino)
14. The Body – I Shall Die Here (RVNG Intl.)
13. Leon Vynehall – Music For The Uninvited (3024)
12. A Winged Victory For The Sullen – Atomos (Erased Tapes)
11. FKA Twigs – LP1 (Young Turks)


Top ten coming soon. Can you handle the suspense?

Album Review:Brian Eno – The Drop/Neroli/Nerve Net/The Shutov Assembly


(All Saints Records)

Arguably Brain Eno's most recognisable piece of music from the nineties was only five seconds long. He'd been hired by Microsoft to create the start-up sound for Windows 95. Though he still managed to put out a lot of work during this period, as well as producing record with U2 and reuniting with collaborator David Bowie. Still, his own solo releases from this period may be amongst his most eclectic releases as these recent reissues on All Saints Records seem to highlight.

Brian Eno is known for many things not limited to Roxy Music, his own forays in Ambient music and production for the likes of The Talking Heads, Coldplay and U2. Though his solo and collaborations work is were he has reached critical acclaim for his novel approached, be it in the experimental pop of Here Come The Warm Jets or Another Green World, where his pop music enter more left field and ambient realms.

Nerve Net is the earliest of these reissues, originally released in 1992, and sees Eno taking on some of the styles he help to popularise, merging blissful spacey electronica with strange pop and sampled loops. The first track Fractal Zoom is not a world away from the looping drum patterns of My Bloody Valentine's Soon, which came out only a year earlier on Loveless. It balances a darker ambient sound with softer layered vocals and centred with a solid funk-inflected bass line. Whilst some of the sounds show they're age others are forward thinking, Wire Shock has chopped up vocals arranged into a rhythm, still a staple of contemporary electronica whilst The Roil, The Choke, one of the few tracks to feature Eno's voices prominently, is one of the best tracks here, with more in common with his music from the seventies with echoes of tracks like The Ship and On Some Faraway Beach.

Niroli is a purely ambient one track album, named after a plant oil and made at a time when Eno was obsessed by smells and fragrances and even developed his own perfumes. The hour long piece of music is slight enough to fit in along side Eno's Ambient series. Like those works, such as Music for Airports there is still enough here to capture your attention in odd minor key flourishes, but its submerged sound can sink into the background just as easily. In fact Eno claimed in the linear notes for Airports that he aimed to make music “as ignorable as it is interesting” and Niroli easily fits the same bill and could have been included under the same series, maybe as Music for Daydreams.

The original cover for The Drop featured some of the worst album artwork ever made, a computer made image that is more clip art than virtual reality. Thankfully the computer-indebted music that makes up the album fares a little better. Brian Eno described the music on The Drop as jazz made by an alien who'd only heard descriptions of jazz music and the album mostly succeeds in creating music that is alien and familiar. It seems to continue some of the synthesized jazzier moments of Nerve Net over a collection of short tracks, like sketches and ideas laid out that loop into focus before fading out. Whilst it doesn't all work, some of the ideas like dreamy Spanish guitar chords that ring out on Dutch Blur or Boomcubist which has echoes of In Dark Trees are interesting enough to recall Music For Film or Eno's defining moment Another Green World. The Drop seems to aim for that kind of varied experimentation but never reaches the same quality or consistency.

The Shutov Assembly is a glacially cold piece of ambient music, made up of shorter pieces that offer more variation than his longer form works. It's cold textures could see it sit alongside the frozen soundscapes of Biosphere's Substrata. On tracks like Stedelijk and Alhondiga notes linger and echo like sounds bouncing between the walls of a vast cavern as distant hums fall in and out of the background, it's never busy and sees Eno push his interest in texture and space to the forefront. Shutov makes for a slow and solitary listen that seems a suitable fit for short winter days.

All of these albums are packed with bonus tracks and alternate versions, many are forgettable and easy to pass over, but some offer interesting ideas and pretty moments. Tracks like Prague on The Shutov Assembly see Eno using a solo piano rather than electronic textures creating a more melodic take on the albums frozen sculpture. Nerloi features another hour long track, New Space Music, made of low hums and tones that gently shift between tones whilst being void of any obvious melodic lines, it's ever shifting noises create a hypnotic effect.

Even when he doesn't always hit the mark these reissues that to their extensive linear notes full of interview and essays allow an insight into the thought processes and ideas that sparked these releases which seem to be, at least in a few cases, more interesting than the finished result. That's where Eno's brilliance lies, in trying unexpected things and taking different routes. These albums are a mixed bag of Brian Eno's nineties output. It does show a musical range and a willingness to explore, though not every gambit hits the mark, it still displays a singular talent.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Album Review:Scott Walker + Sunn O))) – Soused


(4AD)

At one point on Brando, the opening track from Soused, Scott Walkers' unique and heavy-hearted croon infers that 'A beating would do me the world of good' alongside a beat made from the lashings of a whip. It's a line that drips of violence and masochism and stands as a good warning of the sonic punishment that you can hear over over the album's fifty minutes.

Soused is a collaboration between former pop star and now Avant-Garde artist Scott Walker and earth-shattering drone worshippers Sunn O))). The drone group had sought out Scott Walker for their 2009 album Monoliths & Dimensions (which seemed to incorporate disparate arrangements and instrumentation one of Scott's albums) but conflicting schedules got in the way. Walker since wrote some material with the band in mind and when they finally got together they recorded it over a week. It shows through the album, it lacks in detail but makes up for it with a rawer immediacy.

Brando's first thirty seconds make you wonder just what you've gotten yourself into. High synthesizer's ring out over guitar lead melodies like some dreamy ballad from an eighties David Lynch film. It then falls to silence before those familiar heavy waves of drone pile in over a one note bass pulse and that whip lash beat. Scott Walker's voice carries a horror like a man brought to the edge of sanity by some horrific, unspeakable experience. At this point it become clear whether you will become enraptured or repulsed by the mesmeric dark guitars and vivid, haunted scenes that form the core of Soused.

As much as Scott Walker has gained a reputation as a meticulous, serious artist punching away slabs of meat as he hides away recording his albums, his music does a have a humorous and playful side that often come out through his use of language with lines like 'Leaping like a river dancer's nuts' in the Sabbath like proto-metal of Bull. Other tracks give themselves up completely to painting a picture with only a black and grey colour palette. The biblical Herod 2014 repeats a haunting mantra, 'She's hidden her babies away' over slow ghostly moans that carry the promise of a forthcoming terror. The beat-less track builds with what sounds like squealing, pained horn sounds and industrial sounds of clattering, shuffling machinery with colossal doom riffs that create unease without a drumbeat to hang on to.

Fetish begins with Walker's voice in near silence, punctuated with sharp staccato jabs that could have come from an old film's soundtrack paying homage to Psycho's shower scene. Dissonant and jagged art rock riffs and harsh screeching horns pick up the track as drums crash and tumble in a perfect exercise in loud and quiet dynamics as the song writing seems to tell a story in itself. Lullaby is a haunting drifting ending to Soused, more likely to inspire hellish nightmares if listened to before bedtime as it's quiet lulls are split between harsh dissonance and Walker's tortured wails.

In many ways this is one of the most accessible records in both Walker's and Sunn O)))'s recent output as they are both confined to a more rigid rock band set up. Sunn O)))'s heavy drones a pinned to drumbeats and Scott uses a smaller range of sounds to complements his twisted narratives. It's still alienating listen for the uninitiated, but for those who like their music with an undercurrent of horror this may well be a good introduction for these artists who exist at the far reaches of experimental rock music as Soused is a focused and compelling for those who can take the beating.

Album Review:Caribou – Our Love


(City Slang)

Caribou is the long standing project of Dan Snaith, an artists who was always effectively balanced the producer and musician roles. He's always had a pop core to his music, even when exploring krautrock tangents on The Milk of Human Kindness, which could lead him to crossing over into being an altogether bigger act and with his fifth album, 2010's Swim, he finally did it, showing up on the soundtrack to the FIFA video game series, moving up in festival bills and reaching a whole new audience with his turn towards dance music. His most recent release was 2012's Jialong diversion into immediate dance music under his Daphni moniker. The William Onyeabor sampling Ye-Ye in particular was one of his best tracks as well has the most direct example of intent from his dance floor excursions.

Whilst Swim still contained some of the heady psychedelic pop of earlier Caribou, Our Love is undeniably a purer electronic album, full of drum machines and analog tones, but for all that it still bares a something very human at it's centre, one of Caribou's real strengths. Opening track Can't Do Without You quickly settles into a locked 4/4 groove sounding distant like a party in the next room as a sample repeats the song's title before breaking out of it's filters. Drums kick in as synthesizers rise and swirl under and around Snaith voice, shrouded in echo.

The title track brings in an almost disco feel, with Snaith's falsetto, computerised soul vocals and Arcade Fire and solo violinist Owen Pallet contributing string arrangements that seem to interrupt the track at just at the right moments. It then takes a turn as it a British house breakdown with obligatory pitch shift vocal takes over, with an energetic like that of previous single Odessa on a gritty club rush. Jessy Lanza, who was responsible for one of last year's best debut albums Pull My Hair Back, appears on Second Chance. That track buries it's mid-tempo R&B beat under Lanza's voice with widescreen synthesizers that melt and reform around her voice to a dizzying effect.

The persistent grooves of beat workout Mars and the frustratingly short loved-up house of Julia Brightly show how far he's come as a producer as they just rely on machine rhythms with Snaith's reverb affected vocals left aside. Back Home delves into analog theatrics, part John Carpenter score, part melancholy synth-pop. Building around a triumphant lead line, placing layers of beats and melody on top of each other, it's a welcome change, slowing down the tempo but still providing on of Our Love's biggest peaks.

Low-key closing track Your Love Will Set You Free sneaks in some guitars to add a little funk to the filtered and phased vocals. Ending with a refrain of the song's title 'Your love will set you free' fades out as a mantra as a beat winds down. It's a tidy conclusion that backs up Our Love, a big declaration for losing yourself in dance. Not only has Caribou effectively tapped in to dance music rhythms he's brought his own soul into it and made it his own. The results make Our Love an affirming mixture of Jialong's instant pleasures and Swim's details and intricacies brought together with Snaith's pop heart. It makes for an album brimming with positivity that effectively taps into dance music's loved-up sense of togetherness that only the sour-faced individual wouldn't want to be part of.

Album Review:Flying Lotus – You're Dead!


(Warp)

Concept albums in electronic music are few and far between (and generally in music since the seventies) though hip-hop seems has a couple of examples with albums like Deltron 3030. Still, L.A. beat maker, label-owner and more recently rapper Steve Ellison, better known as Flying Lotus, is no stranger to big ideas. Showing himself as a consistently creative producer since breaking out with his second album, the urban grit-fused Los Angeles and following it up with the heady jazz psychedelics of Cosmograma and Until The Quiet Comes' more softer dream state Flying Lotus has gone further into making music that contains that spur of the moment feel of jazz with the laboured perfection of electronica.

His latest release You're Dead! Is his concept album, based on ruminations and pondering into the afterlife. Life, or existence, after death is an idea explored in everything from Hinduism to the Jedis in Star Wars but may not be a widely explored topic in music. Flying Lotus takes it on with the wide-eyed enthusiasm of his Auntie, Alice Coltrane's, forays into spiritual jazz.

It begins with a low earthy drone before the track breaks out into a number of false starts like its trying to settle on an idea to begin with. The result can sound overwhelming like it's through it's many, many sounds at you all at once, and serves as an apt taster of what to expect for the next forty minutes. You're Dead! is mad and excessive enough to have as much in common with prog-rock (yes, really) than anything with the current L.A. Beat scene. There are even a couple of lead lines from electric guitars showing up here and there. Still, there are no five minute solos here, tracks are short and sharp, skipping from one idea to the next.

In demand serial collaborator and Kendrick Lamar appears on Never Catch Me and justifies his contribution with the best verses on You're Dead!. He raps 'Ain't no blood pumpin' no fear, I got hope inside of my bones', the lines tumble and free fall over a constantly evolving Footwork beat. On the next track Snoop Dogg shows up to deliver his distinct, blazed rhymes alongside Lotus' rapper alter-ego Captain Murphy on a track that lurches forward with a stoned, stomping beat. There are some familiar collaborators for regular listeners, Thundercat and Niki Randa appear, with Thundercat's distinctive fret-hopping bass playing, which has been a constant in the last two Flying Lotus albums, featuring throughout the record.

At the albums centre is Coronus, The Terminator ushering in the albums' more introspective, meditative second half by providing a cut of lush and dream-like slowed down soul, taking the tempo down a notch and bringing in some layered vocals which segues perfectly into the equally sedate Siren Song featuring Angel Deradoorian of The Dirty Projectors' voice jumping to and fro. Herbie Hancock appears on Moment of Hesitation which lets go of its beat trappings and becomes a rhythmic jazz freak-out. Pong-style bleeps of carry Ready Err Not before the album introduces some more standard but still appreciated beat driven fare with tracks like Turtles, Obligatory Cadence and closer The Protest.

For all it's indulgences it just about manages to stay on the right side things, staying playful and thoughtful with it's many ideas that blur genre and style into a strange but complete whole, leagues ahead of any contemporaries. The many jumping off points and collaborators make for a jumbled and intense listen, lacking the cohesiveness of lotus' other albums but it's twists and turns are always interesting. His push into more real instrumentation really pushes to set it out as something different from his back catalogue and through its many faces it only goes to reinforce how unknowable death is. If Flying Lotus is right about anything on You're Dead!, wherever it leads, the afterlife will be a wild trip.

Album Review:Thurston Moore – The Best Day


(Matador)


For all the downsides of Sonic Youth's members calling an indefinite hiatus on the long running band in 2011, it has allowed the band's member to branch out and try new things. Sonic Youth's three decades of noise rock lasted through New York's undergrounds no-wave heyday, through grunge, MTV and into the digital age. Sonic Youth's distortion and dissonance hast always been a constant, influencing scores of groups in the process.

Free of that influence though still carrying a reputation to live up to, the band members have all embarked on their own projects. Lee Ronaldo has put out two solo albums of R.E.M-esque indie rock, whilst Kim Gordon went down a more experimental route with her more abstract noise project Body/Head. Meanwhile, Thurston Moore has been equally busy, joining two bands Chelsea Light Moving and Black Metal supergroup Twilight over the last three years.

Now he has a new solo album following his last, the Beck-produced acoustic affair Demolished Thoughts, with The Best Day. This new album comes with a few changes, a recent move to London has prompted Moore to gather a new backing band. It's no surprise to see Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley here (he also appeared on Ronaldo's solo albums) but Moore also drafts Guitarist James Sedwards of Nought and My Bloody Valentine's Debbie Googe on bass.

Speak To The Wild begins with echoing harmonics, the guitars chime and ring recalling some of Sonic Youths high points like the Jim O'Rourke produced Murray St. It all follows a simple but driving two chord riff as Moore jumps between lead lines, setting up a melodic tone that much of the album follows. The title track delivers upbeat riffing that recalls early post-punk like Television, with a bit of New York glam-rock power chords, it even breaks into a surprisingly big melodic solo at one point, which might possibly be Moore's most melodic lead line in his thirty odd years and thankfully it never goes to overboard as his cool keeps the whole thing grounded.

The11 minute long epic Forevermore builds on a droning riff with a constant drum beat and Neu!-like repetition. Full of sharp, serrated lead lines and violent peaks, it's exciting and justifies it's length. Detonation manages to recall some of E.V.O.L and Sister era Youth with a downright nasty sounding ascending lead with aggressive more-shouted-than-sung vocals that isn't to far away from a Liars track. The instrumental Grace Lake transforms from a major key the a distortion fed beast that, whilst not doing anything new, has some the the album's best riffs.

It's still missing something from his main band though, maybe the variety of vocalists or the call and response guitar riffs between Lee and Thurston. But there is something here that makes me think maybe it is the kind of record Sonic Youth could still be making. Amongst it all there's Those who are looking for a fix of music from Moore's former band may get it from The Best Day, it carries that noise rock torch and fills it with reflection and hope with a few unexpected turns and a personal feel to what you'd expect from a Sonic Youth record but retaining enough similarity that would have made a worthy addition to their catalogue.

Album Review:Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Singer's Grave A Sea of Tongues


(Domino)

Will Oldham, better known as Bonnie “Prince” Billy, or Palace Brothers or a whole load of other names, makes country folk music that digs deep into existential themes and religion, on a search for an answer to unknowable questions. Through his two decades long career his music has become bigger, more accomplished and his new album Singer's Grave A Sea of Tongues is a perfect showcase for his progression, but for all that Billy can still draw you in as he did when it was just his voice and an acoustic guitar.

Singer's Grave A Sea of Tongues is Bonnie "Prince" Billy's tenth proper album, though there is a lot more Oldham material around out there, and offers some new songs, along with some updates of older songs. Those updated tracks originally appeared on 2011's Wolfroy Comes To Town, a stripped down affair with a small backing band that featured Emmett Kelly and Angel Olsen, and here those songs become bigger, filled out with strings, slide guitar, banjos and gospel style backing vocals. It isn't that different but is a little more fleshed out similar to how Townes Van Zandt updated his songs over his albums.

The result is a lot lighter than say I See A Darkness' weighty existential folk, but it's not all bright as familiar themes of death and religion resurface. We Are Unhappy paints images of religious apocalypse with it's vivid lyrics, 'Mind, it is going/ and faith is destroyed/ It's emptiness showing/ God's cruelty deployed'. The dark lyrics are evened it out with the contrast of a lightly picked chord progression backed with a banjo and Gospel choir.

The album begins with Wolfroy's last track Night Noises a slow and tumbling track, powered by big, sustained piano chords. Quail And Dumplings is another track getting a fix-up, and prominently featured the vocals of Angel Olsen. This version sounds fuller as Oldham takes over Olsen's verse and adds a string section for the tale of aspiration as Billy softly pines for a better future with a chorus of 'We got empty tummies but it won't always be/ One day it's gonna be quail and dumplings for we'. The meal may seem like something from another era but it's theme of wanting what you don't have is timeless.

It's not all misery as Whipped shows, with an altogether brighter side of Oldham, contains a joyous refrain of “I'm in Love”. The music is often upbeat too, Mindlessness almost prog-folk main hook could have come from a wild sea shanty and is worthy of a drunken jig with it's plucked violin and drum rolls. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's musical ability is on display on Mew Black Rich (Tusks), a downcast and contemplative turn that shows some searing, emotive violin soloing that really lifts the song into something that could have come from The Dirty Three.

Singer's Grave A Sea of Tongues is, like a lot of Oldham's work , an often affirming listen, with the updated songs becoming much warmer with the bigger backing band in tow. Some may be disappointed that the album isn't just dedicated to new material but all the songs here are full of life, light and dark, and really seem to serve Billy's intent. It may not pack the emotional gut-punch of I See A Darkness, but it's clear that he, and this latest collection of folk songs, is still intent on finding answers.

Album Review:J Mascis – Tied To A Star

(Sub Pop)


Dinosaur Jr's return brought little in the way of surprise, but that didn't stop their last few records being a great summation of everything that there are good at. Hook-laden, melodic and catchy the band justified this second wind continuing what the had started two decades earlier. Whilst having split his work over numerous groups and guest appearances through the decades. He's shown up on albums by Strand of Oaks and Fucked Up as well as, most surprisingly, in Richard Ayoade's film The Double this year alone – it still took till 2011 for Mascis to put together his first solo album Several Shades of Why.

For one of the forefathers of grunge and a slacker style of indie rock, an acoustic record doesn't sound like an obvious fit for Mascis, known for his guitar solos and distortion pedals. Tied To A Star not too far removed form his main band, even the artwork is by Mark Spusta who has contributed artwork to the last few Dinosaur jr. records. This is no bad thing, this album that is likely to keep Dinosaur fans sated, despite being a toned down and mostly acoustic affair. Tracks like Every Morning could have been straight from a Dinosaur Jr album, upbeat and backed with drums.

Heal The Star centres around a discordant chord progression would fit right in on one of their earlier records. It switches things up near the end as a percussive focus takes over on the bridge as a droning guitar takes on an almost middle eastern sound. Wide Awake's lush folk finger picking and gentle backing vocals from Cat Power is the kind of gentle experiment that justifies going solo. Backed with slide guitar and drums that crash in at the song's peak, it does show that Mascis can do soft and sincere songs.

Stumble keeps a rumble and buzz of an electric guitar alongside the acoustic, balancing the stripped back feel with a wash of noise set in the background as the lyrics bare a resemblance to The Vaselines' Jesus Don't Want Me For A Sunbeam. There is the odd turn into less tread sound on Tied to A Star with instrumental country riffing on Drifter. Trailing Off shows he can't help let loose with the occasional ripping guitar solo but if you're a fan of his then you'll know it's hard to dislike his concise, melodic and never showy playing style.

Not a radical leap into new territory, Tied To A Star is instead a great showcase for an under-rated, inventive and consistent songwriter just doing what he's always done and doing it well. Sometimes sweet, sometimes emotional but never cloying. He is still at his best with a foot on a distortion pedal but J Masics is not to be written of with an acoustic either.

Album Review:All Saints Records - Greater Lengths (compilation)


(All Saints Records)

All Saints Records spent the nineties curating and gathering together lost and new ambient releases. Picking up out of print records that weren't getting the treatment the deserved out of obscurity and shedding light onto music that roughly falls under the ambient genre. The label had some trouble later on when it found itself owned by a major label unwilling to invest in it but All Saints has emerged once more, teaming up with one of the defining electronic labels Warp records.

This new compilation Greater Lengths seems to be a victory lap for the label following a series of reissues of long out of print records from the likes of Brian Eno, Harold Budd and Laraaji. The label has been a place for interesting experimental and ambient music with a well defined but wide-reaching aesthetic. This collection of tracks from the labels' back catalogue sets out to cover a variety of sounds in an attempt to sum up that aesthetic.

It's not all a continuation of Music for Airports though, Jon Hassel creates strange, almost mechanical jazz funk with his track Streetfaxx. Harold Budd's understated creations show how to create a lot with very little. Piano and acoustic guitar wash up against each other falling in and out of place on Afar. Else were Armenian folk artist Djivan Gasparyan creates a slow-burning and mournful atmosphere on Tonight whilst Roger Eno's contribution that opens the album, Amukidi, sound like a slowed down African vocal chant.

The label also seem to serve as a home for musicians wanting to attempt something a little different from their best know output with music from Led Zepplin bassist John Paul Jones, Velvet Underground member John Cale and Cluster and Harmonia's Hans-Joachim Roedelius' classical compositions. Brian Eno ambient work seems like a big touchstone for a lot of the artists on the label but his output here seems more concerned with more contemporary sounds, tapping into electronic trends with the digitised voices and drum machines on What Actually Happened?.

The second part of Greater Lengths is a remix album, as up and coming left-field musicians are given the chance to update and re-imagine decades old music of All Saints back catalogue. It's a more interesting prospect than most remix albums, as the old guard give up their creations to those that they may well have inspired as the contemporary artists assert a place for this music today. Gathering a variety of interesting underground artists Sun Araw, Ela Orleans and Odd Nosdam. All working in different genres they seem to have one thread in common, a focus on texture rather than melody.

Ambient synthesizer artist Motion Sickness of Time Travel breaks up and weaves Laraaji's Space Choir into something other the acoustic instruments of the original are hard to spot but the spectral, meditative remains. Bandshell transforms Jon Hassel's music into a distorted alien rhythm pulsating like tribal dance from some strange future while Ela Orleans keeps the positivity of Laraaji's Kalimba adds her own driven beat and layered vocals.

Personable transforms Harold Budd's imposing synthscape work-out Dark Star into a dreamy, wide-eyed and sprawling ambient techno cut whilst rising producer patten twists another Harold Budd track Mandan into something that bares almost no resemblance to the original as loops sound like their folding in on each other over a barely together beat with an effect that is wild and heady.

For those interested in exploring ambient music past Brian Eno's Ambient series then Greater Lengths could serve as a good introduction to dig further into a back catalogues of a host of important acts. The remixes are what I've found to be the most interesting part of the compilation. It does a great job of bringing together some of the best artists working on the fringes of electronica and in doing so not only highlights the past for contemporary experimental music but it's future as well.

Album Review:Djivan Gasparyan - I Will Not Be Sad In This World/Moon Shines At Night

(All Saints Records)


Looking up Djivan Gasparyan, possibly Armenia's most famous musical export, I learned about the instrument he plays is called the duduk. It's an instrument I'm sure you've heard but, if your like me, couldn't put a name to it. Due to it's use in soundtracks it's sound is tied to the Middle East but is not dissimilar to the oboe. Gasparyan himself has contributed to numerous soundtracks, including the Hans Zimmer's score for Gladiator, Peter Gabriel's soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ and cult hit The Crow. For him I think the instrument has a deep association. It's use dates back at least one and a half thousand years, if not as old as Armenia itself its been there for much of its history and Djivan seems to want to preserve it's historical and cultural importance in his music he plays.

Djivan Gasparyan performs traditional Armenian folk music garnering acclaim around the world including the title of People's Artist of Armenia in his homeland . Often playing solo, his music is often spiritual and soulful, both lonely and affirming. All Saints Records have been steadily making the back catalogue of experimental and ambient music readily available once more, the latest releases are Gasparyan's first two albums 1989's I Will Not Be Sad In This World and 1993's Moon Shines At Night.

Songs like Brother Hunter or the title track from I Will Not Be Sad In This World tempt me to use flowery language as the music evokes sparse, beautiful mountains rolling away in the horizon, but I’ll try to resist. There is a timeless quality to the music, untethered from any particular era, it could have been passed down for generations and even the song titles could be snippets from old folk poems.

Tracks from The Moon Shines At Night seem to cover a larger emotional range. Gentle drones underpin the melodies, that range from overbearing melancholy on the glacial paced Sayat Nova while Tonight adds a string section to create a peace that rises and falls in swells, ahead of the curve of contemporary ambient classical acts. The addition on vocals on 7th December 1988 make it feel part of a folk song tradition, taking out most of the instrumentation to leave only a hum behind an echoing voice which, despite the language barrier, is undeniably moving.

Whilst the music is subdued and meditative it still packs in a surprising amount of emotion, it isn't background music for an inner city yoga class. In fact it's emotional core is what has made the duduk and Gasparyan's playing such an obvious fit for film soundtracks. This isn't music to match any mood, it has a time and a place, maybe a contemplative evening, but I don't see how anyone couldn't appreciate the songs that wistfully unfurl like elegant and ancient tapestries.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Game Review – Gods Will Be Watching

(Deconsructeam/Devolver)

Gods Will Be Watching started out as an entry for the game jam Ludum Dare 26. It was made with the theme of Minimalism. The original game, which makes up a chapter of the full game, featured dishevelled band of individuals, amongst them a robot, doctor, engineer. Taking lead as Sgt. Burden you denote tasks to them, to find food, repair a radio and stave of madness to survive. It all took place in one screen a cold expanse of lonely woodland. It was a novel idea and more complete than most game jam results, capturing desperation and hopelessness.

It was picked up by Devolver Digital, of Hotline Miami and Shadow Warrior fame, to expand it into a full title with help from a crowd funding campaign. The game seemed a natural fit with the aesthetics of other Devolver games thanks to it's lo-fi pixel art and often grizzly violence. Now the full game has been released, Gods Will Be Watching is another game looking back on the point and click genre and like Kentucky Route Zero and, despite not having that much in common, doing something interesting with it.
Alright, maybe I'll talk.
The plot focuses around Sgt Burden, part of Everdusk, as he infiltrates a group deemed to be terrorists or freedom fighters depending on perspective. You along with a rotating team are placed in scenarios to complete from withstanding twenty days of torture to finding a base in the terror-stricken desert. While these scenarios are often interesting and inventive, they way they play out is often very similar, boiling down to managing resources and completing tasks within a time limit.

The game opens with a hostage situation. Sgt. Burden is tasked with taking care of the hostages ensuring they don't attempt an escape whilst holding of troops outside. All the while you have to assist in the hacking of a system to download a cure for a virus. Sound like a lot to manage? Well it is. Another scenario finds Burden stranded in a desert. Along with a squad of soldiers, you have to reach a military base within a time limit. Juggling these different objectives is where the challenge lies, scout ahead to ensure safety but burn through precious time. Soldier slowing you down? You can put him out of his misery. It's means more rations to go around at the expense of fire power to defend against enemies.

"Yes, the hostage situation is under control".
Often the solutions and answers to move forward only come apparent following failure, not a bad thing in itself, many games make death an important part of the game. Death has always been an interesting part of games, from Dark Souls to Devolver's own Hotline Miami, it can be an important part of figuring out how to progress but here it is just a frustration.

Deconstructeam is aware of this frustration with the conclusion of the plot getting a little to meta for it's own good, referring to the repeated failures and deaths of the legendary Sgt. Burden. In fact the end sequence seems like the biggest let down after an interesting negotiation scenario the fate of a planet is decided by a fight, turn-based where you have to figure out the opponents moves and respond offensive or defensively, whilst having a bit of a back 'n' forth discussion about morality and slavery. It all feels a bit silly, like James Bond monologuing his philosophical beliefs and chasing down Goldfinger, especially when the consequences of your failure have already been hammered home, slowing down the already turn-based combat.

Gods will be frustrated
Whilst the decisions you make can be simplified to either taking a survivalist or moral approach there is a weight an consequence to your decisions. Kill the straggling soldier slowing you down in the desert and you will be given a quiet moment of reflection as one of his comrades will pick up his dog tags. These actions and their consequences don't hold up as well over the same game, as a character you didn't make it through one chapter will return in the next. It holds the plot together but takes something away from the approach you spent the last half an hour wrestling with.

I did like that with the games lack of hints I took to writing down effective or ineffective strategies on paper which made me think back to older point and click/adventure games. With stunning music full of synth washes and sci-fi arpeggios that fit the games tone perfectly and detailed, gory pixel animations, there is still a lot to like about Gods Will Be Watching. It falls short of the original game jam's promise but still takes an interesting approach to moral decisions, shame about the execution.

Album Review:Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty

(Sub Pop)

Over the last five or so years hip-hop seemed to have made a lot of space for the stranger and weirder side of the genre to show. Alongside the rise of bedroom producers like Lil B or Odd Future and acts like Death Grips that show that there are till many ways to approach, interpret and reinvent the genre. Shabazz Palacees are made up of Ishmael Butler of Digable Planets and Tendai Maraire, two artists that have been peddling their own unique takes of hip hop for over two decades now, well before this new outsider hip hop emerged, and manage to create some of the most unique music around..

Shabazz Palaces seem to have as much in common with the cosmic stargazing of Sun Ra or sci-fi techno of Drexiya than they do with contemporary hip hop. The group's debut, 2011's Black Up, appeared with song structures that avoided conventions with dense electronic influenced beats. It balanced a left field with the approachable as glittering synths and samples twisted beyond easy recognition make for an alien feel while synthesizer bass lines and treated vocals hint at a synthetic and artificial world. Shabazz Palaces music aims for a point where the line between technology and biology is blurred, and they're getting even closer on their follow up Lese Majesty.

Forerunner Foray features the kind of electronic futurism of acts from the Hyperdub roster in the blips and bleeps that rise and fall over the beat, broken apart by soulful female vocals stretched out to a crawl. They Come In Gold hits harder and stranger, a vocal is twisted into a melody under lines like 'we converse in ancient languages' as they map out a psychedelic interstellar journey.

Lese Majesty's beats flit between the loose and easy J Dilla style to the rigid drum machine beats. #CAKE opts for machine noises and 4/4 808 whilst Colluding Oligarchs stumbles and lurches forward with an off-centre rolling drum beat. The way the duo use samples isn't just as a backdrop for the lyrics, they feel integral to the immersion that Lese Majesty demands, as sounds often swallow up the voices or at least take equal space in the dense production. The album blends together into one ever-changing shape, retreating then re-emerging in a new form, MindGlitch Keytar TM Theme appears like a lost post-punk record, jagged and uneasy before Motion Sickness floats forth almost beat-less, bleeps of spaceship computers abound, over a bass line light enough to sound like it exists in zero gravity.

Listening to the album is taking a trip to another world that I don't fully understand, song titles and lyrics are often impenetrable, but a definitely enjoy my time there. Lese Majesty is an intricate and detailed place that demands that you invest your time to explore. Amongst a style that has embraced lo-fi grit, noise and experimentation more than ever in recent years, Shabazz Palaces shows a pair of musicians that can do strange and make it sincere in a way that outs the newcomers to shame.

Album Review:Mogwai – Come On Die Young (Reissue)

(Chemikal Underground)

Mogwai's second album begins with a clip of Iggy Pop talking about the burgeoning punk rock genre “it's a term that's based on contempt, it's a term that's based on fashion, style, elitism, Satanism and everything that's rotten about rock 'n' roll”. It is easy to see the sample intended as a parallel to the post-rock tag that had been stuck on to their debut Young Team, a term they have dismissed both in interviews and musically with their follow up record Come On Die Young.

Fifteen years on and Mogwai are now amongst the most established bands to have emerged in instrumental rock and a formidable live act but over the course of their career the Scottish band have never taken the easy path and for better or worse all of their albums have distinctly different.
1997's Young Team, which took on shoegaze, metal and the sounds of forward thinking acts like Slint, Bark Psychosis and Talk Talk, won the band critical acclaim. Huge sweeping creations like the seventeen minute long Mogwai Fear Satan or the violent and harsh riffs of Like Herod. Since then they have stripped their songs down to no frills essentials on Rock Action and taken their most ambient shift scoring the soundtrack to the French television show The Returned.

Instead of an easy follow up where they continue to construct the builds, crescendos and big shifts in dynamics that would define post-rock the band have never taken the easy route. On 1999's Come On Die Young they sidestepped their noisey debut's ferocious immediacy and put together a selection of restrained and subtle tracks that unravel over multiple listens. The album is now getting the reissue treatment, and seen in a much fairer light of their whole discography can be regarded as one of their finest successes.

Guitarist Stuart Braithwaite provides vocals on Cody, starting the album unpredictably, having as more in common with slowcore acts like Codeine and Low as it does with anything anything on Young Team. The track mixes whisper soft, tender vocals with the equally unexpected pining sound of a slide guitar. In fact a distortion pedal isn't triggered until the fifth track, Kappa, and even then it's overshadowed by harshly struck, clean guitars. The whole album has an order but with it's laboured limits there is variation. The shorter moments like chiming echo of piano keys Oh, How The Dogs Stack Up or Spaghetti western outro of Punk Rock/Puff Daddy/AntiChrist help hold the album together.

That's not to say the band don't let loose at times, Ex-Cowboy is as heavy as Mogwai have ever been. As riffs give way to harsh machine-like noise and drum rolls they prove they are still capable of creating the kind of thrilling noise-laden cacophony that few other other bands can manage and here, amongst the serene sounds of tracks like Cody these moments are all the more striking. It followed by two more aggressive tracks. A sparse and melancholy piano melody carries Chocky, as drums cascade around it, threatening to turn the track into something louder and more dangerous but just about manages to restrain itself whilst Christmas Steps delivers melodic hardcore punk riffing, taking the band back to the loud quiet dynamics of Young Team.

Amongst the extensive additional material accompanying Come On Die Young is the Travels In Constants EP, originally released in 2001, which seems to fit in well with the album despite having a slightly different feel, the first track Untitled sounds like Neu!'s more electronic moments given a moody update and shows the electronic touches that would become more apparent on later Mogwai albums. Another bonus track, Hugh Dallas hold up alongside the album tracks, featuring Braitwaite's vocals placed amongst echoing guitars, beginning at a mournful dirge before before swelling up to offer up a visceral and emotive climax that still manages to surprise like the first strike of thunder from a slow-moving storm.

If there are any weak links, it's the demo tracks, which are too similar to the finished versions to really reveal an insight into the bands process, just a little rougher around the edges. Still there are early versions of Rollerball and 7-25 which would later form part of Mogwai's soundtrack for the film Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait.

There have been a lot of bands that have played around with the same template that bands like Mogwai established in the nineties so it really does show how well Come On Die Young hold up fifteen years on that it still has an feel all of it's own. Eschewing some of what made Young Team such a success was a gamble, as the band reassessing the builds and distortion of Young Team and creating a different and more restrained approach. There is still an atmosphere that in a certain light creates a tense, uneasy drama and in another beauty.

Die-hard Mogwai fans may already own most of what is here as most of the extras have previously been released in some form but it is clear that some effort has gone into this reissue, gathering just about everything there is from this period in the band's history, clocking in at two and a half hours. The album itself is still the best part of the package but everything here stands up and adds a little more context around one of Mogwai's defining musical achievements where they realised that they quieter statements can be the most powerful.

Album Review:Drcarlsonalbion – Gold

(Oblique Italy)

A pioneer of both drone and ambient metal, Seattle musician Dylan Carlson has also shown himself to be a capable writer of interesting and innovative heavy music. Beginning his career with inspirations like early metal groups such as Black Sabbath and the Seattle music scene and groups like The Melvins, his main band Earth has, over twenty five years, developed and pushed itself into more varied sonic territory, especially over the last decade since their return from a hiatus caused by Carlson's drug addiction.

Gold is the first foray into soundtrack work for the Earth front man for a film of the same name. It comes amongst a productive time for Carlson, shortly before the release of his first solo album, funded through Kickstarter, and a new Earth album, both due before the end of the year. The film follows a band of German settlers, traversing the western frontier in hopes of striking gold on Canada's west coast. A familiar story unfolds, where the often environment and those that inhabit it become the main obstacles for the travelling group.

The twenty four tracks, titled Gold I through to Gold XXIV, that make up this soundtrack exists in a lonelier space to Carlson's usual work with Earth. Many of the tracks just featuring a single guitar, an effective representation of the vast and empty North American wilderness. Sparse percussion is used like punctuation for the riffs as splashes of cymbals pass by like clouds or a bass drum hits like distant thunder.

Whilst this isn't metal, the music does bare the hallmarks of Carlson's main project, Gold I establishes a guitar progression that reappears throughout Gold with slow tempo pentatonic riffs and a thick and carefully constructed guitar tone that crackles and splits like the dry ground under an oppressive sun. It does explore some of the directions that Earth has taken over the last decade, with the sound sun-baked country and drawn-out Morricone melodies dominating, twisted into a much more minimalist form.

The vast slide guitar chords of Gold VII ring out and echo like their being performed in a valley, it's the most identifiabley “western” moments on the soundtrack. Gold XII echoes about like an demo from the heyday of psychedelia, wah pedal-soaked guitar jams that sound lost and wandering. Some tracks barely hang around for more than thirty seconds, filling in the gaps between the longer tracks with soft hums of feedback and low drones rattling away, swathed in reverb.

Fans of Carlson's work should know what to expect from Gold for the most part, the thick and warm guitar sounds but the stripped down approach creates something a little different, for creating a lonely and vulnerable sound that could crackle and fall apart. There is something powerful that rings out in these singular riffs and isolated chord progressions, familiar styles that feel somehow other placed on their own with a result that is much more evocative than you'd expect from it's simple approach.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Album Review:Tom Vek – Luck


(Moshi Moshi)


London multi-instrumentalist Tom Vek gained a cult following with his 2005 debut We Have Sound with a modest reception it gained him a dedicated following who'd have to wait six years for a follow up. In 2011 he released Leisure Seizure and whilst it didn't win him further exposure it still shown an artist work keeping an eye on. Now he's got his third album in just under a decade, Luck, and whilst he isn't the most prodigious artist it might be enough to cement his cult status.

Jittery and agitated post-punk of Sherman (Animals In The Jungle), the first single form Luck really stands out. It has the kind of simple three note guitar line that would be at home on a track form the mid-2000s post-punk revival. Whilst it all sounds a bit like Bloc Party's first album it doesn't come across as old with a sharp synth line cuts in alongside a restless drum beat. As the song's title forms the track's chorus Vek's ability for creating urgency in his half-spoken deadpan vocals becomes apparent.

Broke stands as one of the more ambitious genre-hopping tracks, with big pop song keys and middle eastern scales mixing with big garage rock riffs and and messy drum beats, throwing a succession of hooks and riffs at you for it four minutes. Trying To Do Better brings together a mixture of heart on sleeve emotion and aggression from post-hardcore with electronic sounds that works way better than you think it will.

The songs keep themselves around the four minute mark and simple verse chorus pop structures which is both a strength and weakness. Vek's penchant for mixing up disparate genres keeps things interesting but you always feel you know it is often leading to a big chorus. He has never been striving for lyrical complexity and for the most part his straight up and simple approach works but there are a couple of lines like “If you say you didn't do it /I'll believe you didn't do it” on the chorus of Ton of Bricks that are hard to overlook. He started ahead of the curve with his mix of indie rock and electronica but now it's common place for bands to incorporate electronics and smart production in the mix with the tried and tested band dynamics.

Luck is a varied piece if work, covering enough musical styles to give nineties Beck a run for his money but the risk with that is you can lose out on cohesion and that's were it falls short. You'd be hard pressed to find another recent album that touches on such varied genres as tracks like the acoustic The Girl You Wouldn't Leave For Any Other Girl to the cut-up jungle beats and squelchy digital bass lines of You'll Stay where Vek pushes his electronic influences to the forefront. Even in the internet age that has brought about the blurring of genre lines when he's at his best Tom Vek's musical approach still sounds unique.



Album Reveiw:Tobacco – Ultima II Massage


(ghostly)

As popular music becomes increasingly electronic, it's also aided the rise of the computer as an instrument, along with digital instruments and interfaces. Whilst this is a prevalent trend there are always those acts who go against the tide. Eschewing modern equipment for analog synthesizers, tape machines and old drum machines, Tobacco would be one of them.

Tobacco is an offshoot of cult act Black Moth Super Rainbow allowing frontman Thomas Fec to take the BMSR aesthetic into a stranger and often darker place with his primitive bedroom hip-hop and no computer in sight. I became familiar with Black Moth Super Rainbow's 2009 album Dandelion Gum, an album full of sunny and pastoral electronic music. Tobacco seems like an outlet for a completely different side of Fec. He has provided beats for rappers like Aesop Rock, Beans and The Hood Internet and his last album Maniac Meat also featured Beck on two tracks, an artist who also made his own oddball take on hip-hop on his breakout album Odelay.

His third album under the Tobacco moniker Ultima II Massage sounds like a seedy video game title and it mostly lives up to that as opener Streaker begins with all the tact of a grubby adolescent. There is none of the perfect EQing and over-laboured sound that you can find in a lot of modern music, the bass drums thud clumsily like a drunken madman. When Tobacco does take a step back into something a little more chilled out it often sound like a Boards of Canada demo, like on Self Tanner with its hazy and slightly-off synth lines or the stoned beats of Beast Sting and Creaming For Beginners. The slinky and funky Lipstick Destroyer is the music Daft Punk might make if they were locked up in a basement after making Homework with an 4-track and some early hip hop records as a vocoder and a disco beat fight through fuzzy guitars whilst album closer Bronze Hogan could be the theme from a long forgotten 1980s straight to VHS film as a big guitar riff and keys jostle around.

Eruption (Gonna Get My Hair Cut at the End of the Summer) has some of the more obvious vocal hooks (and some of the most discernible lines) like “Twist it like a pigtail/I can make your heart fail” along with a synth sound that is just gloopy. The song finds Tobacco liberally dropping “Motherfucker” like a teenager playing tough and reinforces a teenage viewpoint seems to come through a lot of this music, capturing an age where nothing is over thought and the world is still a strange place that you haven't quite figured out yet. There are a few tracks like Good Complexion that are a little closer to the sunnier psychedelia of Black Moth but for the most part Ultima will leave you feeling like you've taken a swim in a sewer.

It's a journey into a strange and grimy place, in fact if you have Chromesthesia I imagine you'd see the music as the yellow-brown stain left by tobacco, it's that dirty sounding. Whilst the retro and vocoder sound may seem to make Tobacco a one trick pony, there is a pretty surprising amount of variation and ideas in the lo-fi tunes that make up Ultima II Massage. It's gleefully strange, with song titles like Dipsmack, Spitlord and Video Warning Attempts that only seem to aid the oddness and make it all the more indecipherable. If you like your music a little on the weird side then it may well be worth taking a trip down this particular rabbit hole.

Album Review:Sharon Van Etten – Are We There



(Jagjagwuar)

Brooklyn singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten has gathered a dedicated following with her delicate and personal music since emerging with her debut album Because I Was In Love in 2009. Winning the adoration of fans, including musicians Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and reaching a larger audience with 2012's break through Tramp, which saw her opening for acts like Nick Cave and St. Vincent, Sharon Van Etten Returns with her fourth album Are We There and seems set to keep building upon her successes as she continues to refine her confessional style of songwriting.

Like the title and picture on the Are We There's cover, the album evokes a road trip with close friends, with plenty of space for laid back contemplation where daydreams and past mistakes find their way into the mind as you gaze out of windows. And like a journey, you move forward, whilst having space to reflect. In that respect this might be Sharon Van Etten's most personal and honest album yet, and that is from an artist who has already gained a reputation for her intimate song craft, taking a step back from the larger sound of Tramp, produced by Aaron Dessner of The National.

Her albums have always brought together a host of talented musicians. This time she has gathered Torres' Mackenzie Scott, Peter Borderick, Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg as well as borrowing Dave Hartley and Adam Granduciel from The War on Drugs to make up her band. After meeting putting together music for the HBO show Boardwalk Empire, Etten brought in Stewart Lerman to co-produce the album with his natural and unfussy style giving lots of space for Etten's voice to lead.

Taking Chances brings in The War On Drugs penchant for drum machines but it's Etten's voice and use of harmony that is the real strong point here. It allows here to have a depth and delivery that is all her own and it really helps that the song provides one of the albums best choruses with scuffled up guitars and keys adding some bite to the otherwise laid back beat. The stark and violent imagery of Your Love is Killing Me makes for one of Etten's most powerful songs to date. The lyrics 'Burn my skin so I can't feel you/Stab my eyes so I can't see' conjure suffering as her voice is outright defiant with drum rolls and soaring guitars backing her to an effect that feels emotionally cathartic.

Our Love, which follows Your Love is Killing Me, sounds a bit too light and breezy, just drifting by never really leaving it's mark. I Love You But I'm Lost leads with a piano and the kind of soul searching themes that Etten can make feel so relatable and Tarifa, named after a small Spanish town, continues to conjure up the ideas of isolation and introspection but backed by shining horns it feels bigger and brighter turn. Near the end of the album Break Me stands out with it's 6/4 drum rhythm and chiming Robin Guthrie guitars give it a dream pop feel that really complements Etten's layered vocals. Are We There closes with the sun-kissed americana of Every Time The Sun Comes Up, ending the album on a lighter note with it's lyrics bringing to mind youthful abandon as it sounds like all the albums collaborators join in on the chorus of 'Every time the sun comes up I'm in trouble'.

On Are We There, Etten is thoughtful and hopeful, introspective and confident. At times it feels so personal she is opening herself completely to the listener and musically she matches it with her most focused songwriting. At points the deeply personal lyrics make it feel like it's just you that she has chosen to share and confide in. Whilst it doesn't reach the same big high points as Tramp, Are We There still makes for an engrossing journey with one of the best singer songwriters around right now.



Saturday, 3 May 2014

Album Review:The Horrors – Luminous


(XL)

First impressions count for a lot, and that's especially true in the music world. The Horror's showed up in skinny black jeans looking like a band that spent too much time listening to Bauhaus. Amongst a wave of hype from outlets like NME, their debut album Strange House won them a host of fans with it's scruffy and dark post punk sound but while it impressed a lot of people it didn't seem like a sound that could sustain them. Then the band took a left field turn releasing the eight minute krautrock epic Sea Within a Sea, a track full of synthesizer rhythms and mesmeric looping drums, from the follow up record Primary Colours and really proved they were not a band to be overlooked. For the album they worked with Geoff Barrow and Chris Cunningham, delving into shoegaze and Jesus & The Mary Chain style noise pop and getting themselves a Mercury Music Prize nomination in the process.

2011's Skying explored new wave and British psychedelia leaning more on the electronics of keyboardist and synthesiser player Tom Cowan and saw the band becoming an ever more approachable act. The Horror's latest album Luminous continues to blend and refine these diverse influences in what might be their most polished and cohesive effort to date.

Chasing Shadows thunders into view after a short ambient passage with the huge sound that bands like The Verve and Ride would create. Anthemic and positive, this is The Horror's taking their sound out into the sunlight. The lyrics, often of relationships seem positive here, vocalist Faris Badwan captures that feeling of early romance as your mind plays out the future ahead of you. And its not just the lyrics that are positive, I See You starts of as the most pop minded track that the horrors have put together. Carried by layered synthesizer arpeggios and a big chorus before switching up to a glorious, hypnotically celebratory refrain of crashing drums and waves of ascending guitars.

Track like So Know You Know and In and Out of Sight are pretty much synth pop carried by the flickering sounds of analog electronics, the latter especially having a darker feel, as the bass and drums provide a danceable groove. Guitarist Joshua Hayward creates some of the most creative sounds I've heard in a while, following the Kevin Shields approach of utilising effects to make the instrument sound as little like a guitar as possible. On Jealous Sun he creates a sound like a string section recreating whale song before a sound like it's ripping itself apart amongst layers of distortion. Whilst Faris Badwan's voice can sometimes get a little lost amongst the noise on Luminous, on Change Your Mind, a song full of sixties pop atmosphere, the singer's gentle, pining croon shines through over a 6/4 drum shuffle. 'Hey, I'm still burning/Would you really walk away form me?' Badwan sings, momentarily bursting that positive bubble that Luminous seems to exist within.

Luminous is full of likeable tracks, none of which really let the album down and stands a s proof of a band that has shaken of it's early image and continue to go from strength to strength. They are one of those rare bands were you can see the indispensable contribution of each member, all of which seem to get an equal chance to shine on what is their most balanced album. It isn't as gritty as their debut or as noisey as Primary Colours, but Luminous is the strongest statement the band have made to date.

Originally posted on figure8magazine.co.uk