Like every good album, Part the Second has quite a story behind it. Toby Driver’s maudlin of the Well had released three avant-garde metal albums in the earlier part of the decade that were critically acclaimed and had reached a cult like status through word of mouth. Even so, the group splintered soon after and Driver went on to create his even more experimental outfit Kayo Dot whom he has been performing with ever since. Last summer, five years since maudlin of the Well went on hiatus, Driver posted on his blog saying that he was interested in recording a new album with the group, but was worried about the financial aspect. This announcement generated excitement amongst the fans and several donated a large amount of money to the band so that they could go through with the project. To repay this debt, Part the Second was released for free as a thank you to all the fans.
This album has a very different feel when compared to their other releases, which isn’t surprising considering that the musicians have spent the last five years working on other projects. Most notably, the “metal” aspect of their sound has been almost completely removed. The feedback drenched guitars and hash vocals have been replaced by orchestral accompaniments and Driver’s unique voice. The influence of Kayo Dot’s work is also noticeable, and indeed the sound of the album could be described as a fusion of maudlin of the Well and Kayo Dot.
All of this being said, the most important question is whether or not this new incarnation of maudlin of the Well sounds any good – and the answer is an unequivocal “yes”. Each song creates a unique atmosphere, filled with fascinating ideas. The album begins with “Excerpt from 6,000,000,000,000 Miles Before the First, or, the Revisitation of the Blue Ghost”, which is a deliberately paced affair that showcases the albums use of orchestral instruments. The sound is brilliantly layered and gradually builds up in intensity as the song continues before ending on a satisfying note with a beautiful guitar solo. Though the track is long at over 10 minutes, it never fails to keep the listener’s attention.
The album then proceeds with three shorter tracks that share a feeling of claustrophobia and paranoia. “Another Excerpt: Keep Light Near You, Even When Dying” once again features an orchestral-dominated beginning before moving onto a shredding guitar solo and ending with a faster paced but sparsely instrumented section. Similar techniques are used in “Rose Quartz Turning to Glass”, which is notable for its frantic drum pattern. “Clover Garland Island”, the last of the shorter tracks, begins with an overtly dissonant chord progression that later evolves into jazzy solos and a moody midsection that portrays a feeling of foreboding. Despite the ominous feel to parts of these tracks, they also all share a sense of beauty. They all are very organic in the way they flow between ideas.
The album ends with another epic, the 11 minute “Laboratories of the Invisible World (Rollerskating the Cosmic Palmistric Postborder)”. This song is the heaviest of the bunch, and is the closest the group gets to the metal sound that defined their earlier work. The guitar work is very jazzy, and the song gradually builds up to create an unsettling atmosphere, similar to earlier songs on the album.
Part the Second should please both devoted fans and newcomers alike. Some may mourn the loss of the metal side of their sound, but even though their methods may have changed, it still feels distinctly like a maudlin of the Well release should. It deftly creates an atmosphere that is both full of beauty and foreboding. Although it may not be as classic as 2001’s Bath and it’s companion album Leaving Your Body Map, it is certainly worthy of praise and stands as one of the most interesting releases of 2009.
Four More Great Albums of 2009 (Wiki) | (Last.FM) | (Myspace)
Yesterday & Today / The Ecstatic / Catacombs / Bitte Orca
 | [Kontackt / Downtown / Domino / Domino]
2009 is more than half way done now as we strut towards the end of July. If you are one of the few that has been keeping up with Mark and I on our blog, you would know that the music of the year has basically stranded us. Mark and I have become enveloped in work, Mark with his nerdy tech job at that place (I forget the name of it) and me working on some kind of indie film making career. It’s safe to continue telling you that we are unable to write reviews for all the good music that has been released this year. Not only has the music of 2009 been pretty amazing but we are only 2. Although we are amazing people, we cannot do all this work constantly. This is why we are also on the lookout for aspiring writers to hopefully contribute on a weekly basis. If you would like to maybe try writing a review, please email us:
We would be happy to have some new writers and some much needed help. But without further ado, we bring you another batch of unnoticed, terrific records of 2009.
Yesterday & Today
Axel Willner, better known as simply The Field, electrifies his listeners with the experimental combination of ambient music and house techno. One might say his music is rhythmic and club suitable while also being dream like and disorienting. What’s not to love about that!? After the release of his critically acclaimed 2007 album entitled Here We Go Sublime, it seems that Willner has decided to look in different directions for his musical adaptation. That’s not to say that his sound has changed completely. He still incorporates that heavy electronic bass with single beat drums. The over dubs are still there too, giving his music that edgy, dark feeling. What’s different here though is the fact that he escapes the “trance only” persona that he was given by critics. On Yesterday & Today, Willner slows down the moods of the tracks and even covers a song with over dubbed vocals! Safe to say, Willner is a growing artist and his changing demeanor when it comes to his music is something to keep an ear on.
Is rap rejuvenating itself? As I dig deeper into the world of hip hop, I am beginning to come across some interesting gems that may support that theory. Or maybe I have just been lost outside the mix. Regardless, rap nowadays is pretty spotty. Most hip hop is the crap you hear on Hot 97 on FM radio as you drive to your suburb high school but at the same time, the rappers who actually have something insightful to say are overlooked. Now Mos Def surely isn’t noticed. He’s grown to fame rather quickly through his acting career as well as some television shows. His rap, however contemplative as it’s been over the years, always seem to carry a special significance to current events and Mos Def’s personal life. The Ecstatic is no different as listeners are exposed to Def’s outlook on love, politics, religion, and social conditions. His lyrics here may not be his best but they do stand for something. The lyrics along with beats created by Madlib, Oh No, Preservation and the late J Dilla give this record a nice spot for this year’s top records.
It’s funny that 2009 has forced us to take a vivid look into music’s historic past so that we could understand influences a bit better. 2009 almost seems to be a revival of that old psychedelic rock music of the 60’s with the return of Circulatory System and the continued success of the Beach Boys-esque Animal Collective. Cass McCombs continues this motif with his new record entitled Catacombs. His voice is so brilliantly satisfying for singer-songwriter music. If I hadn’t known any better, I would have said the record was recorded in the late 60’s alongside the likes of Bob Dylan or The Hollies because of its vocal driven qualities and direct lyricism. On Catacombs, McCombs easily connects to his listeners with suitable lyrics and that feeling of sitting out in the wild west next to a cowboy and his 16 year old acoustic 6 string. First and foremost, McCombs is a story teller and with his lyrics, we are welcomed into a world of peaceful easiness and raw integrity. Nowhere does this album shine bright like a Bon Iver or Iron & Wine record but it does carry with it a rather old school ingenuity that may have been lost years and years ago.
What’s interesting about Dirty Projectors is the fact that they make some of the most complex indie rock music sound fun and exciting while still maintaining a certain air of mystery and charm. Whether it’s the out of pitch vocals by front man Dave Longstreth or rhythms that play out of sync with the melody of a song, Dirty Projectors keep a wandering mind, well, wandering. They are by far unlike any other band in the world today and it’s not that they are incredible musicians, no, instead, they just have the ability to make pop songs sound like the most experimental thing you have ever heard. Track for track, Bitte Orca is probably their most accessible record to date and while DP’s stick to that unfamiliar sound, they also bring us some fun tracks for the summer making Bitte Orca a fun but also a challenging record. Keep your patience with it and in time you will find it’s core!
Back in 2002, you might remember the formation of a rather sweet, indie pop band known as Reverie Sound Revue. The group, led by the adored Lisa Lobsinger, who would later go on to join Broken Social Scene (just like every other Canadian recording artist), released just one album which was a self titled EP. Since 2003, the EP has been a cult success and quickly built up a large fan base. But after just three short lived years, Reverie Sound Revue disbanded and moved onto each of their own personal projects away from the band. As Lobsinger joined Broken Social Scene full time on stage, the rest of the members of Reverie Sound Revue including Patrick Walls, Marc De Pape, Bryce Gracey, and John-Marcel de Waal obtained degrees in mathematics, engineering, electronics, architecture and art. Thankfully, after repeated communication through emails, phone calls, and the random event of physical, face-to-face words, the band decided to record some new tracks and see if they could amount to what they had originally intended. Now, almost 8 years later, Reverie Sound Revue have released their first LP, which is self titled like their EP, and they seem to have almost perfected a craft that they abandoned all those years ago.
The real talent in Reverie Sound Revue lies with their non forced musical honing. The name of the band fits perfectly with their musical output as nothing goes too far and it never comes up short. The band’s name, which is basically a more complex way of saying “Day Dream Sound Theater”, is the ideal name for the group. Their musical style is calm and delightful and rather then having each member of the band showcase their skills on their instruments, they decide to be simple and let Lobsinger take control of each song with her sweet, murmured vocals. Now, it’s not that we haven’t heard these types of vocals before. Actually, Lobsinger’s voice is rather common but it doesn’t affect the music negatively at all. Instead, her voice mutters maturity and beauty in every note. After a few tracks on Reverie Sound Revue, we can tell that she has come a long way in her songwriting and vocal integrity. She knows that when she sticks to keeping her vocals with the dazing melodies of the guitars and drums, she can create something special for her listeners and on Reverie Sound Revue, she has just about perfected this.
Upon first listen to Reverie Sound Revue, you are conflicted with its sound. Is it dream pop? Not really. Is it indie pop? Well yes, but it’s much more complex then that. Math rock seems to be the only tag missing. The guitars on the album ring in irregularly while drums beat in seductively. They don’t ever get to be as complex as a band like Minus The Bear where guitars are tapped and loops are formed but everything seems to point towards math rock instrumentally. The calm drifting chord structures and lo-fi bass rhythms are so elegantly achieved here with great success. Especially on tracks such as “We Are the Opposite of Thieves”, “Prelude To A Debut” and “An Anniversary Away” where the melodies follow an atypical rhythm and guitars chime in beautifully as if they were reggae in nature, musically the band seems to blend together better than ever before. Lobsinger’s voice self harmonizes and overlaps so triumphantly and gorgeously. The guitars seem to sing along with her while the rest of the instruments run circles around the melodies.
The songwriting seems to have grown tremendously as well. Lobsinger has escaped the indie pop handcuffs that once left her dormant and has grown to a great level of musical adventurism. This obviously comes with the 8 years of experience she gained while on the road with Broken Social Scene but whatever the case, it has made her a much more well rounded musician and songwriter. She returns to this album with a great sense of pride and confidence as she sings out “You don’t exist / if I don’t see you / death is open / to echo avenues” on the track “You Don’t Exist If I Don’t See You”. Lobsinger has evolved from little innocent, Canadian girl singing about the attraction to a guy across the room to singing about life, death, happiness, and sadness. It’s all here on the album as her emotions have been unleashed and we are invited to listen to what she really has to say for the first time.
After 8 years, Reverie Sound Revue has finally delivered their first LP. Maybe the fact that we had to wait all this time to hear a second recording could be a bit of an illusion but the ingredients are actually there. Where the album starts to hurt a bit is in the repeated sound from track to track. After all this time you would think that each song would have it’s independence from one another but at times you find yourself forgetting that a track has even changed. But does this necessarily hurt the record? The album does flow nicely in and out of some pretty notes that give it the reverie sound the band has been hoping to bring out for all these years but next time around, they should work on creating a more ambitious work as they have the skills it takes to create a record beyond what they have here. For their EP they had the talent down and for this LP they have the sound down to a science. In time, if Reverie Sound Revue can create a more vivid record that has a solid direction to its music and theme, there is no telling what they can do artistically. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another decade.
There’s something charming about uninhibited and shameless love albums that are filled with dolorous tracks. We’ve all heard it before: the protagonist’s quest for love is filled with bumps along the way, and with it come a wide array of emotions, but ultimately in the end - it gives all the more meaning to love. Zeus may be the king of gods, but I tell you now, Cupid certainly reigns supreme over humans, and new album LP from Discovery is yet another affirmation of this. Lyrics bursting with teenage adulation over electro pop, the album isn’t bashful at all to show an adoration for love.
Discovery is the collaboration between Ra Ra Riot’s frontman Wes Miles and Vampire Weekend’s keyboardist/producer Rostam Batmanglij. Batmanglij most certainly takes authority with the musical production, and Miles’ style and voice complements his direction very effectively. Batmanglij was likely overlooked in the enormously successful debut, Vampire Weekend, despite the fact that Vampire Weekend wouldn’t be nearly as successful without him. His precision on the keyboard was unmatched, and his production of Vampire Weekend had an airy undertone amongst the light-hearted instrumental arrangements. The pop hits stood on their own, and didn’t seek or demand any kind of attention. Rather it seemed to be the result of just some guys playing music for the sake of playing music.
Discovery on the other hand has a different direction from Batmanglij. The album is bursting with sound, and is rather creative, ambitious, and unorthodox. He’s seemingly flexing his musical muscles as his synthesizer gets heavy exposure throughout LP. The production skews from the norm similar to the way an art pop record is produced; time signatures are slowed at times and the beat can take unforeseen side roads. LP can be engaging like when album opener “Orange Shirt” hits, which pulls you right in and builds the tempo higher and higher in what makes for a great opening track. Yet a chunk of the album may gradually grow on some, as the intricacies of the production may take time to show themselves. These intricacies and aforementioned side roads are what makes LP such a great listen. Take an instantly engaging album such as Röyksopp’s Junior. Successive listens to the explosive “The Girl And The Robot” may prove to tire, while Discovery’s unique and fresh production may keep interest for a tad longer.
Let’s focus on the songs for a second though. Without a doubt, “So Insane” highlights Miles and Batmanglij’s compatibility. The tempo takes leaps and stalls but wonderfully gives itself to Miles’ voice. In about the first third of the song, the tempo slows and slows to a defining pause where Miles’ delivers a sly “Hold up.” Batmanglij’s gives the assist again and again to Miles’ who follows through expertly. “Swing Tree”, similar to “Osaka Loop Line”, takes vocal samples and quickly repeats or pulses them, while soft vocal samples are used intermittently to backdrop the electronic arrangement; it makes for an engaging and layered track. “Orange Shirt’s” bashing cymbal is a great way to open the album, and give an introduction to love’s frustration as Miles’ voices an unenviable situation with a girl (“Every text I get from you is so so serious.”).“Can You Tell” from Ra Ra Riot is redone in LP as “Can You Discover?” Batmanglij’s slowed down the pace here behind Miles’, and unfortunately makes the track a bore when compared to the violin’s lively and pretty buildup Ra Ra Riot had. Discovery brought a couple friends as well into the album: Vampire Weekend’s frontman Ezra Koenig and Dirty Projectors’ Angel Dreadoorian guest.
I don’t mean to dote on one member over the other, but Batmanglij’s work on this album is tremendously layered and engaging; Discovery proves to be a very worthwhile side project for himself and Miles. Miles’ style and delivery complements the music, and he’s a standout force himself on the album. Either way you look at it, these guys teaming up, as random as it seems, was well worthwhile. We’re left with an ambitious synth-heavy album whose search for love feels every bit as spirited as the music pounding away behind it.
As the guitarist for The War On Drugs, Kurt Vile understands what it’s like to be under looked. The bands 2008 debut, Wagonwheel Blues, was unnoticed by many, even with favorable reviews. Though he gets little press, Kurt Vile continues to put out albums frequently, and will be releasing his third in two years on Matador Records this fall. His dreamy, lo-fi take on folk rock, perfected by Neil Young and Bob Dylan, is a refreshing take on the psych-folk genre. God Is Saying This To You…, his second full length release, is a perfect example of the slow improvement good artists make on their way to releasing something spectacular. The album is a bit more melancholy then his debut album, Constant Hitmaker. Rather than giving you a sense of daytime serenity, God Is Saying This gives off a feel of late night hours, basking under a strong moonlight. The folk guitar playing, mixed in with distant, hazy vocals, gives Kurt Vile an impressive signature sound that is too good to pass up on.
The album as a whole is relatively short clocking in at 28 minutes. Seven of the songs on this album are less than two minutes. However, the lengthier songs seem to be the best, even though they are in the minority. “Beach On the Moon” (Recycled Lyrics) is a slightly melancholy take on Kurt Vile’s own “Freeway”. It’s a perfect example of the change in pace from Kurt Vile’s last album; it’s a slower, less jubilant take on the lyrics of “Freeway” sounding more like Neil Young then Tom Petty. “My Best Friends (Don’t Even Pass This)” is a soothing but dreary song that also shows a slowed down Kurt Vile. With glum lyrics like “My best friends don’t even pass this way again / I think I must have insulted them”, you see a slightly less euphoric message then the one Constant Hitmaker seemed to give off. Kurt Vile’s ability to change gears in his tone, while still playing with the same dreamy, lush sound that powers the rest of his music is all part of the very talented package.
With all this praise of the sadder parts of the album, you would think that the cheerful songs aren’t worth your time. This assumption would be completely ridiculous of course, as Kurt Vile is excellent at creating fuzzy, happy songs as we learned from Constant Hitmaker. With songs like “Red Apples” and “Songs For John D”, Kurt Vile puts a positive spin on his lo-fi folk, playing dreamy fuzz over excellent, relaxed guitar that overshadows his almost inaudible singing. Kurt Vile certainly isn’t belting any of these songs out powerfully, and instead almost muttering some of the lyrics. Instead of this being irritating, he manages to make his singing pleasant, like he’s playing just for you.
Kurt Vile has a modest background, and it seems to be a background that he is proud of. He’s spoken about past jobs he’s had, such as working a forklift. He couldn’t go to college because he “cannot pay attention,” and used to smoke a lot of weed (though he claims to have stopped for the most part). Kurt Vile embraces his musical upbringing, and credits his father for introducing him to John Denver. On God Is Saying This To You…, Kurt Vile plays music that could probably define his own life, relaxed and without much limitation. As guitarist for War on Drugs, he displays his guitar playing prowess. With his solo work, Kurt Vile doesn’t seem to feel the need to impress anyone. Content on just playing how he feels, God Is Saying This showcases a variety of moods and emotions that come from Kurt Vile. No matter what he feels though - you will always get a sincere feeling of relaxation from the talented guitarist. It’s too bad that it couldn’t be any longer, but for now we’ll just have to relax, and play it again.
About a week ago, I was in my office (bedroom that contains a laptop) listening to a brand new album from the backwoods band Mountains whose music builds upon emotional solitude and loneliness. Mountains is the ongoing collaboration between Apestaartje cofounders Brendon Anderegg and Koen Holtkamp as they were trying to find an outlet for their acoustic and ambient music. Now, as I sat in my office chair (just a normal chair) and turned on the new album entitled Choral, I closed my eyes, lit a fragrance candle, and enjoyed the peaceful harmonies that Mountains has to offer. As the silence filled the room and the flicker of the flame on the candle started to slowly groove in tune with the beautiful experience, my house mate decided to barge in and interrupt my moment of musical meditation to ask me a question about the music. “What is it about ambient music that you find so good?” Now, at first, I would have taken the everyday route of going through all the aspects of what makes a musical number good as I normally do but with ambient music it’s just not that simple.
You have to understand that ambient music isn’t for everybody. Ambient music is spotty, and you have to pick and choose your moments in life to take in the full experience. Brian Eno said it best when he commented that ambient music could be “actively listened to with attention or as easily ignored, depending on the choice of the listener.” Ambient music is often times thrown into the mix of post rock, especially as of late. Although I agree with the musical tags for the most part, both genres have major differences. Many people have an issue with ambient music because it’s basically just a repeating function from the instruments without a peak, while post rock normally builds to a peak and then comes crashing down with excitement. It’s quite easy to understand why some people find ambient music boring and overdrawn. Long compositions that build and build to an infinite nowhere can be hard for some people to take.
What you are truly experiencing is no less than a musical storm. When you hear Choral, you begin to hear the slight stroke of a single keyboard note, the rains of the chimes and harmonies, and drawn out buzzing of bass notes which all encapsulate you. As acoustic guitars begin to take pace with the electronics by track two, you are already part of a voyage with the music. Thunder and lightning begin to strike down as we hear the drifting sounds of experimental tape loops and the fading noises of what sounds like a running tape as it scratches against the reels within. Our emotions at this point are running wild just because of the sounds that drift our minds off from reality. The sun rises during the beautiful string arrangement and acoustic chords that repeat vividly in “Telescope”, and as though the after storm is blowing a sycamore tree side to side, “Add Infinity” brings back the guitar with some nice finger picking and swaying harmonies.
Choral, meaning a musical ensemble of singers, is the perfect title for the album. Although it doesn’t necessarily refer to human vocalists harmonizing in a choir, it does personify nature drawing inspiration from storms and their aftermath. Ambient music is one of the few genres of music around that enable a listener to escape from whatever world they are in and build their own story to a musical undertone. This is what makes ambient music so worthwhile and beautiful. Ambient music takes wave, and hits you over and over again using simple tape loops and electronics while also coming across complex and amplified. Mountains seem to do it bigger though. They take their music to a new high, atop the mountain of the ambient music chain if you will and explore a treasured sound within. They seem to escape the boundaries that had once jailed the genre and add new sensations of sound to their music to spotlight the beautiful sounds of the nature within.
So the gears seem to be really moving now as we hit mid ’09. There’s good reason to be excited about Teengirl Fantasy, whose CD-R is currently getting handed out at shows. This Ohio duo have crafted a CD that has been slowly destroying my ear drums as I keep the volume maxed to hear just all the intricacies and subtleties Teengirl uses here. CD-R’s ability to craft great music without taking themselves seriously gives them a remarkable charisma. Whether it’s going to be an official album or not, it’s an extraordinarily fun piece and brings in a diverse range of styles with its own personal touch.
What surprises me is how well Teengirl is able to keep pace. The album’s energy takes off in the middle portion of the album, but the beginning is able to work wonderfully up to that. A slow or simpler paced track however doesn’t bode well for Teengirl Fantasy. Instead, they incorporate a wide array of sounds toward a unified direction. Take the second track “Now That’s What I Call Vol. 2”: It resembles The Field as pulsating ambience comes and goes, but expands itself as the tempo rises and falls and vocal samples navigate the track like a summer breeze: welcoming, gentle, and easily overlooked. Teengirl show a very beautiful side of themselves, but uses this buildup to switch gears flawlessly into the fun and house friendly “Azz Klapz” where techno pushes the track forward, but the meat is within the tribal drums, cymbals, and the woman’s vocals (“Oh you so nasty!”). Next tracks “Hoop Dreams” and “Gasmaskk” are characteristic of Dan Deacon where the sound has a cartoon innocent manner to it, but also is packed full of different sounds that rise and fall repeatedly. Teengirl then lets the beat head downwards with following track “Portofino”. Rolling drums and a warm synthesizer build their way up to an engaging hook as Rich Boy’s “Throw some D’s on that bitch!” is sampled.
Much like the way I felt Why There Are Mountains is relatively indescribable is how I feel about CD-R. While I could throw references at you all day long for both albums, they each share a quality to encapsulate a diverse range of sound and present it in their own manner. This time however, Teengirl Fantasy is bringing in sounds all over the electronic genre instead of the indie genre. The beginning of the album shares its roots with low key ambient techno (see: The Field), but soon builds its way into house and experimental electronic music (see: Dan Deacon). As it nears the end, even dubstep is incorporated into “Dubjam (Tuff Mix)” and the vocal sample used in “Sandpillz” sounds like something Kode-9 would be sampling.
Suffice to say the strength of CD-R lies in their songs’ accessibility that don’t sacrifice any kind of substance. The forefront of the music shines, but Teengirl Fantasy rewards those who dig deeper (aka turning the volume up) because of the intricacy lurking below the surface where a multitude of sounds are coming and going. For the electronic friendly, I couldn’t tell you a better summer album right now than CD-R. It’s an electronic mash with mesmerizing beats and engaging hooks that keep the summer barbecue fun going, while still holding onto the tranquil beauty of a summer night. And if you want to get to know Teengirl a little better (I suggest you do), check out the official Teengirl Fantasy site.
Three Great Albums of 2009 (Wiki) | (Last.FM) | (Myspace)
Manners / Avoid The Light / Veckatimest
 | [Frenchkiss Records / Anger Management / Warp]
So once again, Mark and I have found ourselves behind on all the releases we have heard so far this year. It’s not like the two of us brilliant and sexy guys can review every album that allows us inside. No, instead, we pick and choose which albums we feel are the most interesting to write about. Although our ratings seem to be a bit ridiculous with all the “#.#” ratings, we do work hard to bring you the most didactic (my word of the day) and thought provoking album reviews our college minds can come up with. From time to time though, we will miss out on some of this year’s best new music which is why we decided to post some mini reviews every now and then on the albums that are amongst the best so far this year. We hope you enjoy. Good day.
Passion Pit uses catchy electronic dance beats to captivate listeners into a dream woven fun parade. Manners may not be an innovative record for the electronic indie scene but my God, they are fun to listen to! This debut record explodes with excitement as soon as you start up the first track, “Make Light” and once “Little Secrets”, the second track on the record starts, you’ll be captivated by the clever lyrical composition and fun dance beats. “The Reeling” serves as the biggest standout track on the album, mixing simple house beats with some 80’s pop rhythms and it is bound to get you moving on the dance floor if you weren’t already. Think MGMT on ecstasy and you’ve got Passion Pit!
Long Distance Calling-
Avoid The Light
2008 seemed to be the year for folk music as artists such as Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Horse Feathers, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Sam Amidon, and The Tallest Man On Earth were only just some, yes, some of the folk artists who released critically acclaimed albums. This year seems to be going in a different direction as post rock and ambient music has taken over. With albums from Mono, Wixel, The Appleseed Cast, Apse, Tortoise, and The Life And Times already being released within the Post Rock guidelines and with much more post rock on the way before year’s end, it’s safe to say that 2009 could shape up to be a post-rock kind of year. Long Distance Calling, a German band with as much potential in their musical abilities as I could even define, have released the best post-rock album so far this year in Avoid The Light. The long compositions on the record, which are all filled with heavy guitar riffs and guitar fills as well as some intense drumming, make this album archaic in the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor while it also builds to a hard rocking sensation. The tracks are all well organized and terrifically composed as the band never comes up short on build ups and never run a track too long. It meets all the criteria that makes up a great post-rock album and rather then go the Mono route and bore their listeners to death with everlasting build-ups, Long Distance Calling presents us with intense sound that rattles your brain in a coordinated fashion. The highlight is “The Nearing Grave” which features some guest vocals by Jonas Renkse of the band Katatonia. This album could be a hidden gem this year!
Grizzly Bear have never been your typical folk band. They seem to always march to the beat of their own drum, using experimental aspects in their music production and combining it with simplistic chord structure or repeated chords on piano. Is Grizzly Bear an amazing band in a world full of crowded folk musicians? No, but that’s not knocking them. Grizzly Bear just have a way of silently pushing the limits of the folk genre and fusing it together with many other musical sounds. What’s incredible about Veckatimest is that they do it so simply that it ends up being brilliant at the same time. Just listen to their vocal harmonies or background thunder-like drumming in songs such as “All We Ask”. The shape shifting sounds that protrude from the instruments brings out the loveliness of Daniel Rossen’s lyrics. One thing to note: check out “Two Weeks” and tell me you don’t hear Dr. Dre’s, “Still Dre” in those key notes. I knew you couldn’t! It’s alright though, the song’s still gorgeous and who ever trashed a band for borrowing?
I don’t really like calling Dredg progressive-rock. They’ve always seemed too poppy, too light, and too cliché to be classified as anything beyond the likes of alternative-rock. Dredg has a good loyal fan base, but their insistence that Dredg is doing something innovative or progressive gets me a little edgy. Perhaps being signed with Interscope subdued their artsy side, who knows. Regardless of it all we can forget about them being a progressive-rock band as new album The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusion hits this June. Bassist Drew Roulette describes the album as “a rock and roll record, filled with experimental journeys and eccentric jousts.” It’s a good way of putting it as Dredg primarily circulates around power ballads into oddly enticing transitions. Throughout the album, a number of their songs are merely instrumentals that highlight their ability as musicians to weave together melodies and pay tribute to their experimental side.
However most of the time, when Dredg’s songs hit, they are nothing more than simple power ballads ripe for radio play. For all the music that is highlighted in their instrumentals, it seems Dredg isn’t quite ready to merge their apparent gap of instrumental ability and a simple power hook. Take the single “Saviour” that starts out half-interestingly, but as the hook hits, “Looking for a saviour/Not one to save/Been looking for a saviour/One to retaliate”, it feels like a joke and digs its hole even deeper as Hayes passionately belts “open up” a number of times. Credit is due for how seamless they’ve transitioned (recovered) into the better electronic friendly instrumental “R U O K?” whose cold robotic voice is reminiscent of Kid A. Yet, most of these songs: “Saviour”, “Information”, “Ireland”, and so forth don’t bode any musical integrity. Chords, instruments, and lyrics change, but there’s scarce moments that I could pinpoint as the sound of Dredg.
This is an interesting side of The Pariah. They definitely have an ability to move between styles, but when they hit a style - it’s so utterly cliché. I’ve heard all of these songs somewhere before in the sense that they all sound vastly familiar (in related news, I’m offering a cash reward on where they got the melody from “Cartoon Showroom” from). If it’s not your typical formula of two stanzas of love + power ballad + repeat + experimental outro, then it’s a electronic transition, it’s a light hearted acoustic ballad, it’s a tender lonely moment into crashing hard rock (and visa versa). What I mean to say is that rather than developing their style or refining an established one, it’s a melting pot of unoriginality at every turn. There’s light to be found in “Mourning This Morning” where the music progresses much more naturally and flawlessly. It is the closest song I could find to Dredg playing out their instrumental potential in good steady rhythm.
Overall, Dredg has put together a catchy and, at times, interesting album; but their songs’ simplicity leaves the songs stagnant after successive listens. When Dredg transitions between their hooks, we see an area that we could brand Dredg, but more often than not they burrow into styles that have already been well developed. Instrumentals like “Drunk Slide” orchestrate their ability to craft an intricate melody, but only to be washed away by bland uninspiring power ballads such as its follow-up “Ireland”. You would think these ballads would give definition to the title: The Pariah, The Parrot, and The Delusion, where we would find why it’s called so. However what we’re left with is ambiguity that points in that direction, but no concrete central theme. Call me unjust, but when an album fills its pretentiously titled and correspondingly ambitious album with bland hooks, petty love lyrics, and no real developed style: it’s nothing short of a disappointment.