Sunday, 22 March 2015

Connan Mockasin - Faking Jazz Together

I've come to realise that I am exceedingly bad at meeting commitments and essentially what that means is I'm abandoning my "Best of 2014" series of posts. There's plenty more records I loved that I didn't even get to touch on (think Owen Pallet's "In Conflict", Timber Timbre's "Hot Dreams", Aphex Twin's "Syro", and Shabazz Palace's "Lese Majesty" among others) but I can't find the motivation to talk about them anymore. I want to keep things current, just write down the things I'm thinking in the moment.

That's why I'm sharing this excellent music video for Connan Mockasin's "Faking Jazz Together". Admittedly it's a few years old but I hadn't seen it until recently and I must say it has rapidly become one of my absolute favourite music video's of all time. Dark, haunting and completely otherworldly. The place that Connan inhabits is unlike anything any other artist has touched on.

Buy his album "Forever Dolphin Love" here and watch the masterpiece below (fullscreen and in HD)!

Friday, 20 February 2015

Best Albums of 2014 // Rock edition

So Beck just won 'Best Rock Album' at the Grammys. Obviously Beck's a talented guy but it can't help feeling like too little too late; a belated apology for past neglect. But it got me thinking: what great rock bands exist at the moment? I asked a few friends and I got “Queens of the Stone Age” and “Foo Fighters” with a ‘clasping at straws’ expression accompanying the latter. I feel like rock might be being a bit narrowly interpreted here but they kind of have a point. To the ordinary person, rock has faded from the radar by quite some measure. 

I’m gonna knock out a few more of my favourite albums of the year but I guess this post is also my attempt at defending rock from its slander, because if the Foo Fighters are the best we’ve got then rock really is dead...

Iceage: Plowing into The Field of Love

You could probably tell I was a bit excited about this one! I’ve almost reviewed “Plowing into the Field of  Love” in the abstract - just scroll back a bit for my loving words - but this album deserves more than a cursory mention so here’s some more thoughts. The first thing you might notice is that the lyrics are strikingly thoughtful for a Danish punk act. They’re also self-aggrandising to the point of parody. In the album’s opening, Elias declares himself a “stunner of a being so profound”. He casually suggests that he must be the “saviour”, the “second coming”. Only a track later we find Elias brazenly slurring out the line: “After all, I think it’s evident that I am God’s favourite one and now is the time I should have whatever I desire”. There’s something formidable about the character Elias builds; something unnerving in its unflinching self-assurance. The megalomaniacal power that the band yields is channeled through the anger in the arrangements. Horns blare, strings groan and pianos give voice to glimpses of vulnerability. Plowing into the Field of Love is emotionally devastating; it is a school bully with an abusive past.

The sound that Iceage have forged on this album is unlike the simple punk of their previous efforts. Healthy doses of Nick Cave and Sonic Youth are smeared all over this record. Give “How Many” a listen below (and note the very Sonic Youth influenced guitar intro!) or buy the record here.

Protomartyr: Under Color of Official Right

Protomartyr’s “Under Color of Official Right” is uncannily similar to Plowing into the Field of Love. Joe Casey has a set of pipes assembled by the same creator of Elias’s jaded vocal chords, but it’s a revised version: more predictable, more palatable. The sound the band creates is easier to pigeonhole too, a sort of amalgamation of Joy Division, The Strokes, and The Fall. This is Post-Punk in a more traditionalist form but it isn’t entirely derivative or uninteresting. The proof is in the songs, and they’re great, simply put.

Listen to Maidenhead below or buy the record here and take some time to enjoy what may be the most stunning album art of the year.

Morgan Delt: Morgan Delt

Morgan Delt’s self-titled LP is a short and sweet taste of psychedelia. Its 33 minutes ring with a faux-lo-fi buzz and the melodies that bubble over are anchored in strange, middle-eastern modes that resolve into perfect westernised pop. There’s moments that seem as though they could be TV ad worthy (see obstacle eyes) and other moments that come straight from the left field with unforgiving drug-addled sound. What is certain is that this album is a trip; it comes with it’s instances of darkness and terror, equally remediated with sunshine, bubblegum pop. It’s psychedelic rock that seems to break new grounds, if only subtly, because try as I might, I can’t think of anything else quite like it. 

Listen to what Syd Barrett might sound like if overcome with a sudden world music obsession with the track “Turn My Grey Brain Green” below or buy it here.

Deerhoof: La Isla Bonita

Deerhoof are approaching legendary status in my mind. I can think of no other band that has continuously pumped out such excellent quality records for so very long. Most bands of Deerhoof’s tender age (in band years) become washed up legacy acts that occasionally release a token album for the chance to tour their greatest hits. Not Deerhoof. “La Isla Bonita” is just as loud, jarring, and inspired as anything they’ve ever put out. The album feels stripped down to a minimalistic core, like every sound on display is absolutely integral to the song. There are no unnecessary layers or filler riffs; it is all achingly essential and the band knows it. The confidence in the opening riff of “Last Fad” is almost an instrument in itself. With chords so dissonant and confrontational, the sweet vocal “aaahs” that breezily enter would sound off kilter if it weren’t for their overriding sense of: “we know exactly what we’re doing”. Truly, you have to trust in the madness, because Deerhoof are the most capable hands you could ever wish for to guide you through it all. 

As with most Deerhoof records, it may take a few listens before it really clicks but here’s "Last Fad". Pick up a copy here!

Mac DeMarco: Salad Days

Finally, I’ll mention in passing “Salad Days” by Mac DeMarco. I’m sure you’ve already heard it so I won’t say much but if you haven’t checked it out then expect an excellent summer guitar record with an analogue, tape-recorded sound and first-rate songwriting that even your mum will enjoy.

Here’s “Passing out the Pieces” and a sweet link for vinyl goodness. Thanks for reading and I hope you found something you enjoy!

Friday, 13 February 2015

In Defence of Guitars and Bad Vocalists...

A DJ can be loud but it’s difficult for that loudness to become anything more than volume. When guitars are loud, they’re straining under a mechanical force, groaning at the tug of strings, the bending of pitch and the raw distortion that contorts to a human cry. 

Standing drunk in a tavern near midnight, I looked into a strangers eyes and we drunkenly yelled the lyrics to “Forever” at each others faces. The lead singer of Iceage stumbled in a rage but maintained the collected cool of a weathered Johnny Depp. I felt, in that moment, complete elation. As a side note, I was really quite drunk, enough that the spewed out vocals of Elias Bender Rønnenfelt sounded near angelic. That aside, it occurred to me at once that rock music can’t be dead.

We need the creation of cacophonous noise. We wont always be satisfied when it’s peddled to us by the knob twiddling middle man. With all due respect to DJs, there’s something lost in a performance that doesn’t reveal its tricks. We see a man behind a laptop but the musical process is hidden, the laptop is not an extension of the performer but a shield that numbs the connection with the listener. The sound may still be filtered through dozens of digital effects but the fingers on the fretboard don’t lie; they bear the soul. When a performer controls all aspects of the sound at every moment, it ceases to be mere sound; it becomes a voice. 

I realise this all sounds very old fashioned and you’re probably picturing me as a beer-gut dad rocker, reclining on a throne of ACDC records, but what I’m defending here is not musicianship or dated genres. I’m defending the creation of sounds against the replication of them. A sound made from scratch holds the most entertainment in a live setting, but it also gives the audience more of the performer, warts and all. To me, a cello sounds best when it’s playing higher than its natural register. The way it labours to make sound is the same struggle inherent in human vocals. It’s the intensity that let’s us feel the emotions. It’s also why trained singers are often poor at making listeners feel something; they’re always in their natural register.

It’s fair to say that Elias of Iceage has no natural register. Every vocalisation he makes sounds as if he is wrestling with something stubborn and exceedingly unnatural. It’s a desperate duel between voice and guitar, but ultimately they don’t feel all too antagonistic. They’re both working to the same end: conveying feeling. 

My next post will be a couple of rock-ish albums that I enjoyed last year, obviously including Iceage’s stunning “Plowing into the Field of Love”. Have a drink or twelve and listen to ‘Forever’ below!

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Best Albums of 2014 // Kemialliset Ystävät: Alas Rattoisaa Virtaa

Kemialliset Ystävät throw synth lines like paint splatters on a canvas. They’ve been active for 20 years yet their brand of collage sound comes across like the frontier vision of a fresh new voice. The melodies on Alas Rattoisaa Virtaa chime with a world music pastiche and the vocal samples scattered throughout gleam with a vaporware polish. It sounds like listening to a million different synth presets over the course of 40 minutes, losing each sound in a frantic cycle of samples. Moments of tribalism give way to splashes of modern groove that evaporate on the brink of being danceable and hooks chirp away like happy afterthoughts in the pool of synth.

It can’t be understated how profoundly dense this music can be. The paint splattered canvas can appear chaotic on the first listen but it becomes apparent that the busy layering of sounds is not untamed. This music is ‘composed’, in the sense that you might well be able to rearrange it for orchestra. The question is: why would you? As it stands, Kemialliset Ystävät are painting with a palette that only electronic music can offer. The sounds that are mined on this album are vast and full of variation. They reject the rigidity of orchestras and simultaneously subsume them with flourishes of harp and strings throughout. Most importantly the sounds on show are amorphous, blurring the divide between what is and isn’t real and declaring the distinction utterly meaningless. Ala Rattoisaa Virtaa is an album that simply celebrates sound and sounds great doing it.

Check out the video for Kun rajat sulaa or listen to the whole album below. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Best Albums of 2014 // Ariel Pink: Pom Pom

Ariel Pink paces frenetically in faded stubbies and purple spike-studded high heels, gesticulating wildly at his crossdressing drummer before telling the audience that they’re all “fucking bogans”. That may have been the most intelligible thing he said all evening; with songs like “Exile on Frog Street” and “Plastic Raincoats at the Pig Parade” filed away in his cannon, intelligibility gives right of way to sheer visceral fun, and it’s all the better for it. 

It was perhaps an odd choice to shed the “Haunted Graffiti” moniker at the dawning of Ariel’s most extravagantly ‘anti-solo’ record, but as with last week’s Kimbra review, I can find no fault with the unbridled maximalism that’s put on display. Like Kimbra, Ariel is just too big for simple solo artistry and with Pom Pom, he’s more willing than ever to step away from the lo-fi home recordings of his earlier career. Where “Mature Themes” seemed to hark back to the Paw Tracks days with its insular, mellow recordings, “Pom Pom” ignites in billowing energy with the most glistening songwriting of his career. At a runtime of over an hour and with a total of 17 tracks, Pom Pom models itself after the bold, double album efforts of pop’s past, sounding like a tribute to the ethos that made The Beach Boys’ “Smile” and The Beatles’ “White Album” such grand artistic visions. It shares all the same hallmarks: catchy highlights, wild variety, silly diversions, experimental structures and a sense of journey and destination. This is an album that takes the listener on a trail through the mind of Ariel himself; a schizophrenic, giddy day-trip.

It would be easy to dismiss tracks like “Goth Bomb” or “Nude Beach a Go-go” as untrimmed fluff but, much like The White Album’s “Piggies” and “Rocky Raccoon”, they add to the bulk of the album and make it the experience it is from start to finish. If it were stripped to only 10 songs it would simply lack magic. 

The middle sequence of the album carries the lion’s share of these tracks and even in their brief runtimes, they dart back and forth through different ideas like a tuning radio. It sounds like a less cluttered and overwrought version of what Animal Collective were trying to create on “Centipede Hz”, except in place of the psychedelic electronics are the staples of a lifetime of eclectic music appreciation. Ariel shifts through surf rock, glam, disco, middle eastern vibes, advertising jingles, children’s tv theme songs, dub, blues, and power-ballads with such fluidity that nothing feels out of place. All expectations of what music should be are left at the door while Ariel is left to flex his formidably flexible mind. We hear what sound’s like pure Roger Waters vocals on the dark and brewing “Four Shadows” and a shimmering, sun-drenched outro on “Sexual Athletics” that resembles an amalgamation of The Beach Boys and Panda Bear. We’re even treated to a homage to The Beatle’s “A Day In The Life” with the orchestral swell of “Exile on Frog Street”. 

Despite these reference points, you would struggle to call this music derivative. Ariel’s sound is unlike anything else while simultaneously being everything else. Like the great works that inspired it, it manages to trace a journey through a tapestry of pop music that feels wholly greater than the sum of its parts.

This is the incredible new video for “Dayzed Inn Daydreams” featuring Rick Wilder of The Mau-Mau’s. Warning: it brings the feels.

You can grab a copy of Pom Pom over at 4AD

Friday, 16 January 2015

Best Albums of 2014 // Kimbra: The Golden Echo

Kimbra sits in an unfortunate middle ground. She doesn’t qualify for the pop adoration of mainstream artists like Taylor Swift and Beyonce and she lacks the subversive cool of truly underground 'pop-smiths' like Ariel Pink and St Vincent. The music sits in between the vitality of radio-friendly “Shake it off” hits and the high brow, art pop of the internet underground, leaving it abandoned somewhere that you might expect to find Florence and the Machine, or Lana Del Rey: entry level alternative. As a result, it remains uncool in the eyes of just about everybody, and no critic has any serious interest in aligning themselves with it. 

Herein lies the problem, because unlike Kimbra’s debut, The Golden Echo is actually really very good. It’s too weird and yet not quirky enough. It’s too complex and not deep enough. It’s too arty and not artistic enough. What it is, however, is good, and undeniably so, such that it makes Kimbra’s uncomfortable place in the music world seem as comfortable as her satin sheathed posture on The Golden Echo's stunning album art.

She reclines like a god with total control over her creative process, dragging the likes of Thundercat, Dave Longstreth, Bilal, and Matt Bellamy (unthinkable choice) into the mix, crafting a collaborative album that remains distinctly solo. There’s more layers happening here than your average Animal Collective record and married with the hollywood pop production, it can seem almost desperately cluttered with ideas. But for the most part, they’re good ideas and they're pedalled to the listener one after the other with seriously impressive efficiency. 

Just listen to the lead single below. Its maybe-ironic radio pop schtick is thunderously overthrown by the hard-hitting chorus and leaves you with a sense that you’re listening to something a bit special; something far removed from it’s safe, entry level contemporaries; and something unfairly burdened by it’s uncool aesthetic. "90s Music" is the sound that movies envisage as the dystopian future of music; hyper-produced and robotic; echoing the songs of the past.

The Golden Echo is a loveable mess and in a musical climate that discourages maximalism, ambition, and virtuosity it needs to be celebrated, if not for simply daring to be fun.

If you're not entirely sold on 90s Music then give Madhouse a listen. It sounds like a cross between Kate Bush and Prince and if that isn't enough to tide you over then this may not be for you...

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

A First Post

2014, the fairly unassuming year with its share of good releases and its deficit in anything ‘groundbreaking’. The critics hummed and hawed over petty feuds between The War on Drugs and Sun Kil Moon and boring guitar music continued to drone lifelessly from both camps. Like two dads bickering drunkenly to the mild amusement of almost nobody, music journalism picked sides to make a definitive statement in a climate where nothing definitive or statement worthy was happening. 

Socially conscious bloggers drove Ariel Pink’s newest release into a chasm of ‘problematic’ groupthink and strung him high for his complicity in the crimes of the patriarchal state. Commentary surged from all sides with some having the audacity to question, “wait, what was the sexist part?”. Meanwhile, albums were panned after the lippy missteps of their creators and critics proved that they are much more qualified to discuss the social context of music than the music itself, which nobody really remembers anyway. 

In the great year of mouthing off, even the reclusive enigma that is Richard D. James, rose forth from his 7 year hiatus to shed some unwanted light on his belief in the 911 conspiracy. 

I hope this year has taught us to offer art some asylum from it’s unstable environment. It isn’t art’s fault that it grew up around a bunch of assholes. Sometimes the kid with the immature, misogynistic, conspiracy obsessed father can be the most interesting of the lot. 

I can’t say I know what I want from this blog yet but I know I’ll be reviewing music. I can promise that much. And I mean music, the actual sound waves. 

A particular sound!