Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Saturday, December 18, 2010
2. Matthew Dear- “Little People (Black City)”
3. Toro y Moi- “Still Sound”
4. Neon Indian- “Children of the Revolution (T. Rex cover)”
5. Waskerly Way- “Energy Legs”
6. Games- “Strawberry Skies (feat. Laurel Halo)”
7. The Ruby Suns- “Dusty Fruit”
8. Blackbird Blackbird- “Sunspray”
9. Beach Fossils- “Calyer”
10. My Teenage Stride- “Message”
11. Campfires- “Chasing Planets”
12. The Jameses- “Fifth Dimension”
13. Monster Rally- “Rainbow Rd.”
14. Tough Troubles- “Radiation Sickness”
15. Soft Powers- “I Began to Cringe at Eight Ten”
16. Still Corners- “Endless Summer”
17. Cough Cool- “Sucker”
18. Metal Mountains- “Structures in the Sun”
19. Mutual Benefit- “Nite Bike”
20. Nightlands- “300 Clouds”
21. Foxes in Fiction- “School Night”
22. Sunshower Orphans- “Sunnyside Blues”
23. Witch Gardens- “Standard Poodle”
24. Beach House- “I Do Not Care for the Winter Sun”
25. Candy Claws- “Snow Bridge”
26. Tape Deck Mountain- “Blue Xmas”
27. Banjo or Freakout- “Frosty the Snowman”
28. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band- “Autumn's Child”
Friday, December 17, 2010
Saturday, November 13, 2010
What is it about the end of the world that so fascinates us? Is it some innate sense of fatalism that our past few generations have been programmed with? Is it instead the sense of freedom from responsibility that the end of everything brings with it? Or even a simple sense of self-importance that makes us feel like the logical conclusion to humanity as we know it?
Maybe it's instead, as Sun Ra put it and Brutal Truth so emphatically agreed, “after the end of the world” that's the true focus of our fascination with the Apocalypse. Rather than waiting for the end of everything, we're waiting to be the golden ticket-holders left over when the rest of everything gets tossed in the Great Garbage Disposal of the Cosmos.
Whatever the case may be, that survival beyond the end is the focus of this collection of songs. Bookended by two songs about the post-nuke fallout, “Nuclear Winter (Dispatches)” and “Nuclear Winter,” rather than talk about the circumstances of its happening, the guts of this album instead focus on what goes on after the big one.
In terms of musical style, Natural Snow Buildings (a French duo made up musicians Mehdi Ameziane and Solange Gularte) craft an ever-shifting amalgam of acoustic drone, folk and post-rock grandeur well-suited to their subject matter. Previewing one or two tracks is by no means a proper introduction to the group (even one or two albums really doesn't do justice to the full scope of their talents,) since they cycle through minimal, tone-based droning, slow, string-heavy post-rock and eerie, vocal-augmented folk throughout the course of an album, all the while keeping, for the most part, a respectably even pace.
After the short noise/drone opening “Nuclear Winter” (which always sounds to me like it's going to lead into a Pig Destroyer album rather than one filled with post-rock and folk) come a pair of tracks, “If I Can Find My Way Through the Darkness...” and “...I Came Down Here,” which set the blueprint for the album's post-rock-leaning tracks with slow, orchestral instrumentals that echo and chime, moving ever forward like the protagonists in Cormac McCarthy's The Road.
What are by far my favorite tracks are the two vocaled folk tracks, “Sun” and “Guns & Rifles.” Don't make the mistake of assuming that these two are my favorites simply because they've got vocals; rather, they're my favorites because they've got damned excellent vocals. The first of the two, “Sun,” is a dark, eerie acoustic guitar track that's kept lovingly bare-bones, showcasing the humanity inherent in fret noise and the emotion-rich vocals of Ameziane. The fact that the arrangement doesn't move beyond letting the second guitar chime in atmospherically lets the lyrics hit that much harder, making sure that a line like “This fucking sun keeps staring at me” leaves you shivering. “Guns & Rifles,” on the other hand, takes longer to build, opening with strings and only revealing itself as a folk tune halfway through. This allows the band to further show their range, proving that they're more than a band that can just play several disparate styles of music. Because of its slower build, “Guns & Rifles” is a fuller song, with piano, strings and guitar all stacked onto the track before the unstable, heavy-hearted vocals make their appearance. When Ameziane says, “I remember many colors, many tortures,” we can't help but believe him, because we've been hearing it in his voice the whole time.
Similar to the album by the Body that I reviewed last month, Ghost Folks has no shortage of sampled-based tracks. “With A Stolen Red Lipstick Bible On Her Side” sports a lengthy piece presumably taken from an interview in which an old woman details her childhood wagon trip across America, complete with stories of encounters with Native American warriors and the murder of a farmer and his daughter. One track, “The Haunted Falls (Let Us Now Praise Harry Powell),” is entirely built from samples, and its 1:26 run time seems to be built entirely from gospel singing from The Night of the Hunter (Harry Powell being the sinister preacher who is the central character of that film, and who inexplicably announces himself, constantly, by singing gospel tunes.) Another sample, plopped near the beginning of “...I Came Down Here,” finds its speaker shift between detailing all of the things she'd change in the world (“I'd take every single hungry person and feed 'em, I'd take every single rich person and take away their money”) to discussing her own mortality (“After Kent State, I realized I could put on a cheerleader's sweater and an 'I Love America' pin and if he could even shoot, if he could even aim it wouldn't do me any good.”) These other voices lend humanity to the proceedings, peopling our post-apocalyptic world with more than the usual dust and echoes of post-rock and drone territory.
The one track on the album that I can't help but label a glaring misstep is the one simply titled “...” Barely classifiable as music except for the fact that it's bookended by tracks that are indeed music and it can't be seen to serve any other purpose, the average experience while listening to this track will be 3:21 spent trying to decide what's going on (and if you illegally downloaded the album, that time will be spent trying to figure out if the version you grabbed was somehow corrupted.) The only audible sounds seem to be recorded through the wall of another room, or on a hill in a brisk wind, and the only explanation for the track's inclusion on an album would seem to be either that the band was pressed for time in finding an eleventh track or that the recording itself had such a special significance to the band that they felt the need to include it despite the fact that it's barely listenable and that you'll probably think the album has stopped entirely if you're not listening through headphones.
This is by no means a perfect album, and it may frustrate those without the patience to sit through a 65-minute drone/folk/post-rock survival course, but it offers such a unique experience, as well as one that I keep coming back to, that I highly suggest an examination of the full range of its charms before you deem it not your cup of rare, scavenged Tetley tea bags.
Saturday, November 6, 2010
5. Moss- Sub Templum [Longest track: 35:31]
“Ritus,” this record's opener, all ebb-and-flow guitar throb, shimmering, candle-lit keys and arcane whispering, sets the stage nicely for an album full of Victorian, Satanic-leaning drone that's rife with foreboding from front to back.
The second, and second-longest, track on the album, “Subterraen,” realizes the fear and horror that the first track hinted at, like the 20 minutes of exposition in the beginning of horror film finally broken by the audience's first taste of blood. The band howls like some shadowed, lumbering Elder God, with the moments of drone adding to the tension like the details always artfully absent from H.P. Lovecraft stories. He always tells us it's for our sanity, but the wondering makes it work sort of the opposite.
“Dragged to the Roots” continues where “Subterraen” left off, if at a slightly increased lumber than the latter track. The album's unease is brought to a head with “Gate III: Devils From the Outer Dark,” which begins with a weighty guitar crush and builds on the already dark vibe with a spoken incantation similar to that of “Ritus,” the vocalist's British accent heightening the horror. Several minutes into the track, that incantation seems to have borne fruit, with the unearthly howls of the vocalist seemingly channeling the song's title devils. This song more than any realizes the band's Satanic drone vibe, and at 35:31 is the most gratifying on the record.
Of the other albums on this list, none can convey the constant sense of dread and unease that this album does, even with the genre's proclivity for producing unsettling sounds. Whether your perfect soundtrack to an October evening alone with Lovecraft, or just a drone record for when you've got an hour and fifteen minutes to kill, Sub Templum is a perfect example of doom metal done right.
4. Earth- Earth 2 (Special Low Frequency Version) [Longest track: 30:21]
If you haven't heard Earth's first LP, Earth 2, and can't or don't want to spend the money or time to buy or download it, I've got a solution for you.
Find an old rotary telephone, hook it up to a landline (preferably a poor one, for maximum effect,) and call up a friend who has recording software. Once the call connects, make a series of deep, long buzzing sounds with your mouth like “bzzzvvvvvvvv, bzzzzvvvvvv, bzzzzvvvvv” and have your friend record them through the telephone. On another track, have your friend record you screaming, with several seconds of space between each. Next, have him or her loop your buzzing over 15 or 20 minutes, and have your screaming come in at around the 7 minute mark and last for around 1 minute intervals, returning every 3 minutes. Drive over to your friend's house and play the track with the computer's subwoofer at maximum volume, and you have just created your own Earth 2 (Special Low Frequency Version).
Joking aside, this is a great album. It's just not one that's always particularly easy to listen to. Its run time totals 1:13:00, its track listing has only 3 songs, and its musical content, as described in the introduction, consists of only electric guitar and voice. Being one of the pioneers of the drone doom style, this record's strength doesn't come from its variety, but rather from some spiritual and emotional quality created by the tone and repetition of the guitar, cauterized by the screamed vocal interjections. As the album nears its middle, one feels as if one is deep in some intense form of meditation, both ready to speak in tongues and reach perfect Zen consciousness.
Like some of the greatest films of 40 years ago, this album is best experienced through a healthy suspension of disbelief. As long as you don't go in to the experience demanding a perfect album, you'll find something arguably better: a great one.
This album holds the dual honors of being both the most melodic record on this list and the least melodic record that Sleep have ever produced. While it may sound fairly tame on a list bookended by the piercing, Lovecraft-inspired Satanic howl of Moss and the extreme, deathgrowl-vocaled crush at the heart of “Sangre/Humanos” from Corrupted's Llenandose de Gusanos, this record singlehandedly derailed Sleep's career, seemingly on an upswing since the success of Sleep's Holy Mountain.
Their label redlighted the album because of its length, lack of multiple tracks and sheer extremity compared to their previous efforts. Even re-cut as the inferior Jerusalem, the label wouldn't accept it, and the band, refusing to compromise further, retreated into inactivity and eventual disbandment. Bootlegs of the Jerusalem cut of the album surfaced in metal circles, but it wasn't until 2003 that the album received a proper release as Dopesmoker, packaged with the bonus of a never-before-released live track called “Sonic Titan.”
It's a tragedy that this album took so long to release, not only because the band might have continued making records if Dopesmoker had been well-received, but because it's a damn good album. It trades in all of the melody and most of the Black Sabbath worship of Holy Mountain (still the band's finest moment) for even slower riffs, a droning vocal delivery that's admittedly jarring on first listen, and a silly-yet-triumphant narrative about a stoner exile mirroring the biblical Jewish one which follows a caravan of “weed priests” in search of a stoner Holy Land (hence the alternate title.)
It takes a listen or two to get used to this incarnation of Sleep's sound, and one can understand why a label would initially balk at releasing it, but upon further listens it becomes apparent that Sleep were on to something. The tragedy is doubled by the fact that none of the members' post-Sleep output compares to their former band's catalog (sorry, High on Fire fans), and one is left only to wonder how awesome, stoney and droney a fourth Sleep album might have turned out to be.
2. Boris- Absolutego [Longest track: 1:05:35]
I'm not one to mince words, so we might as well get one thing out of the way: There's more Earth worship on this record than a picnic full of druids. Due to that fact, it might seem strange that Earth 2, a major inspiration for this album, is all the way at the four spot, while this record is one position away from number one. However, there are a few things that this record boasts of which Dylan Carlson's album is in short supply. Two of the more important of those things are drums and Japanese people.
Absolutego also carries a sense of importance and propulsion that keeps your interest better over one hour-and-five-minute track than any of the fifteen-minute to half-an-hour pieces on Earth 2. The feedback-flooded droning spaces are well tempered by peaks of discernible riffs, pounding drums and cathartic howls.
The real surprise, however, is that while you'll be pleased every time the band's playing reappears on the track, this is the rare minimalist metal performance where you're not just waiting for it. Boris' strength on this album is the ability to convey emotion through both negative and positive space, exuding as much energy when they're letting their guitars feed back as they are when they're playing them.
1. Corrupted- Llenandose de Gusanos [Longest track: 1:13:55]
What makes an album the best doom metal release ever (for purposes of this list, anyway; you can't really expect me to choose)? The longest, slowest song ever written? One single riff, repeated over the full playing time of four discs? Real honest-to-God monks, chanting in the key of that riff for half of one of those discs? Guest vocals from serial killers?
It's undeniable that all of those things are cool, but unfortunately that was a trick question; the truth is, the real secret is that the band making the record has to be Corrupted. Corrupted's mixture of sludge vitality and doom creep, all cut liberally with a streak for drone and the avant-garde, make them the perfect group to achieve a proper balance between doom metal and its relative genres without sounding boring or self-serving.
Despite that balance, the album itself opens on what many headbanger dictionaries would define as a boring note. For the first five minutes of “Sangre/Humanos,” we as listeners are given nothing more than plaintive piano-plinking. At around the five-and-a-half mark, that plinking is joined by a low-register mumbling. Those two rather un-metal neighbors keep each other company until the near-maddening point of almost the 17-and-a-half minute mark, when finally, serendipitously our old friend feedback makes an entrance, ushering in the belles of the ball, doom metal riffs themselves. When those leaden riffs begin to land, it's like the entire fragile world built by the last fifteen-plus minutes is beginning to disintegrate in clouds of smoke and feigned ambience. The cathartic entrance of these elements makes the preceding 17 minutes, which on paper seem incredibly tedious, become absolutely essential to the gravity of the rest of the composition.
Thus begins the doom metal track proper, as much time as it took to appear. What continues to impress me, no matter how many times I listen to this and other Corrupted recordings, are the vocals. Corrupted's vocalist's style, in contrast to that of other bands on this list, seems more suited to a death metal or goregrind recording than the genre the band plays. However, the vocals complement the somber, oppressive atmosphere, creating an occult vibe not unlike Moss's entry at the number 5 spot. The vocals seem carefully weighted to mesh with the piano, guitar and drums on the track, never letting over-emotion or unnecessary aggression draw away from the aggregate.
After the 50 minutes of “Sangre/Humanos” has completely drained the blood from your body, the ambient, 74-minute “El Mundo” hovers over it in disbelief, conveying in pure wordless feeling what the former track did with doom metal and piano.
Overall, what makes Llenandose de Gusanos a cut above the rest of the albums on this list is the ability to distill and amalgamate such a variety of styles and sounds into one cohesive package. While other albums on this list may contain similar components, none live up to the presence and sheer power of vintage Corrupted. If you disagree, then go ahead and tell me what other doom metal band shared a split with Discordance Axis and 324. No, seriously.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Real Estate- “Out of Tune”
Happy New Year- “Twins”
Velvet Davenport- “Run (feat. Ariel Pink)”
The Nightgowns- “Narwhal Aerobics”
Magic Places- “Through the Map Room Door”
The Declining Winter- “Killer”
Chao- “Baked Apples (Demo)”
Sun Airway- “Your Moon”
Sweet Bulbs- “Kissing Clouds”
Slow Animal- “Saturday Mourning”
Fergus & Geronimo- “Harder Than it's Ever Been”
Weekend- “Coma Summer”
Guards- “Swimming After Dark”
Kurt Vile- “In My Time”
Deerhunter- “Memory Boy”
Shimmering Stars- “Sun's Going Down”
Eternal Summers- “Salty”
Sleep ∞ Over- “La-Rose”
Cloudy Busey- “Pound Your Town to Hell”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.- “Nothing But Our Love”
Heavy Hawaii- “Sleeping Bag”
Outer Limits Recordings- “I'm an Alien”
oOoOO- “Burnout Eyess”
Clive Tanaka y su Orquestra- “Neu Chicago”
Philip Seymour Hoffman- “Duckfangs Tickle My Ankles”
Winter Drones- “Between the Leaves”
Wild Eyes- “Death Mouth”
Friday, October 22, 2010
Times New Viking- “No Room to Live”
Eternal Summers- “I'll Die Young for Rock 'n' Roll”
Surf City- “Kudos”
Fair Ohs- “Hey Lizzie”
Spectrals- “Chip a Tooth (Spoil a Smile)”
Foxes in Fiction- “Bathurst”
Gauntlet Hair- “Out, Don't...”
Blackbird Blackbird- “Summer Heart”
Small Black- “New Chain”
Saharan Gazelle Boy- “Halfhair Girl”
Dada Trash Trash Collage- “Two Eyes”
Procedure Club- “Art of Ignoring”
Yellow Ostrich- “Libraries”
Fox Hands- “Nosebleed”
of Montreal- “Enemy Gene”
Porcelain Raft- “Tip of Your Tongue”
Coma Cinema- “Greater Vultures”
All Saints Day- “You Can't Be Alone”
Beach House- “White Moon (iTunes Session)”
Wet Wings- “Sleep-Tight”
A Sunny Day in Glasgow- “So Bloody, So Tight”
Kurt Vile- “Ocean City”
Coolrunnings- “When I Got High With You”
Avey Tare- “Heather in the Hospital”
We Like Cats- “Money Dubby Money”
Salem- “King Night”
School of Seven Bells- “Heart is Strange”
Museum of Bellas Artes- “Watch the Glow”
Husband- “Love Song”
Slow Animal- “Godz”
Velvet Davenport- “Warmy Personal Routine”
La Sera- “Never Come Around”
Tennis- “South Carolina”
Coma Cinema- “Her Sinking Sun”
Thee Oh Sees- “You Are in My Glass”
Twin Sister- “All Around and Away We Go”
No Joy- “No Joy”
The Proper Ornaments- “Recalling”
Avey Tare- “Lucky 1”
My Bloody Valentine- “Soon”
Otouto- “W. Hillier”
Perfume Genius- “Mr. Peterson”
Xiu Xiu- “I Luv the Valley OH!”
Ólöf Arnalds- “Innundir Skinni”
Devendra Banhart- “Pumpkin Seeds”
Why?- “A Sky For Shoeing Horses Under”
Parenthetical Girls- “Young Throats”
Small Black- “Photojournalist”
Beach Fossils- “Face It”
Ponchos- “This World is Not My Home”
Stoned Boys- “Dead Friends”
Beggars in a New Land- “The Barnyard”
Procedure Club- “Dictionary of Psychology”
Fox Hands- “Branches”
School of Seven Bells- “Face to Face on High Places”
Gem Club- “Sevens”
Computer Magic- “Victory Gin”
Candy Claws- “The Sun is My Girl”
Dead Gaze- “Take Me Home or I Die Alone”
Dan Deacon- “Snookered”
Neon Indian- “Sleep Paralysist”
Botany- “Feeling Today”
Twin Sister- “The Other Side of Your Face”
The Antlers- “Kettering”
Best Coast- “Boyfriend”
LCD Soundsystem- “Losing My Edge”
Lullatone- “The Bedtime Beatbox”
Das Racist- “Puerto Rican Cousins”
Shabazz Palaces- “Barksdale Corners”
Aesop Rock- “Coffee (Clean)”
Shad- “Yaa I Get It”
Brown Study- “Just Be”
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Biases are one of the many things wrong with modern society. They fuel unnecessary and corrosive racial, political and social hatred, promote segregation and division, and keep us from becoming fully realized and well-rounded individuals. If you let them, they also keep you from enjoying some damned excellent bands.
A few years ago, I fell prey to a bias of my own. In this case, it manifested itself in the belief that no good music came from Australia. To my understanding, Australians were incapable of taking themselves seriously, and from AC/DC, to shitty radio rock offerings, even as far as their grindcore was concerned, it seemed like all Aussies wrote about was hanging out, sitting around, being lazy and getting laid. While that's since been rendered moot by the likes of Warsore, my first introductions to bands like Captain Cleanoff left me feeling unfulfilled (most likely from being spoiled by the sophisticated lyrical fare of Discordance Axis and Pig Destroyer and the diverse topical contributions of Napalm Death and Brutal Truth.)
Like every good sudden conversion of opinion, of course, it was sparked by a chance encounter. In my case, that encounter was with the Kill's 2003 album Soundtrack to Your Violence, the very slab of grind ferocity before us today. After hearing “We Want Blood” on the band's Myspace, I was impressed enough to download the album, yet the song titles kept me at arm's length. Looking up the lyrics on Darklyrics (really the only place you should be looking for metal lyrics, anyway) confirmed my suspicions: “Dead Babies” was about liking abortion, “Fuck Emo” was about (you guessed it) disliking emo (although the song's suggestion that emo bands start playing grind instead is, was and ever shall be fucking hilarious, world without end, amen), and I can tell you the full lyrics to the 1:03 “Tracksuit Pants Are Thrash” from memory: “Tracksuit pants are thrash / We are white trash.” Not exactly Garcia Lorca, if you ask me.
Yet the music kept me coming back. The album was two minutes long of being Amber Gray, and it assaulted with a more thrash take on the same ferocity. The guitars buzzed like Insect Warfare with a kernel of interest in songwriting, and the vocals made up for the fact that they weren't delivered by Jon Chang by being truly unhinged in their approach; I couldn't help but picture the lyrics being bellowed in my face with each syllable.
What's more, I began to stop minding them. That's not to say that my ideology changed; I'm not about to write lyrics about liking wrestling (“We Want Blood”) or fat men who would probably beat the shit out of me (“Gore”), but the songs suddenly became funny instead of annoying. Buying the rare vinyl collection of a heroin addict? Hilarious. Writing songs about track suit pants being metal? Pretty hilarious too. Babies looking like aliens? Also actually pretty funny.
Realizing how awesome Soundtrack to Your Violence really was made me look back at albums like Symphonies of Slackness and admit that lyrical silliness couldn't alter the fact that they were, musically, pretty amazing. Eventually I'd branch out from Aussie grind, realizing that even something like lack of song titles (Arsedestroyer's Teenass Revolt) or writing utterly offensive, mindless material (Anal Cunt, anyone?) doesn't have anything to do with whether you can grind or not.
If you're just going to judge a band on whether their lyrics could stack up to Nabokov or not (honestly, if those were your lyrical standards, you'd listen to exactly zero bands), you're going to have to ignore the musical talent of a good percent of pretty great groups. Same goes if you judge them on members' gender, sexual preference, race, or national origin.
The Kill's Soundtrack to Your Violence is an album that pulls no punches. It grinds you from the first note and doesn't let up until its 13:28 runtime is up, with a sense of grinding purity that's really quite elegant. No instrumentals, no bullshit boring doom track to close the album, and even no need for dialogue samples, something that would only dilute the experience. Simply put, if you don't have a copy of this record either on your cd rack, in your digital music library or in your vinyl crates (does this thing even come on vinyl? I sort of doubt it), you've got an ugly, irreverent Aussie-sized hole in your grind collection that needs filling ASAP.
Saturday, October 2, 2010
Dan Deacon- “Wham City”
Guided by Voices- “Expecting Brainchild”
Best Coast- “Sun Was High (So Was I)”
The Hold Steady- “Your Little Hoodrat Friend”
Blue Water White Death- “Song for the Greater Jihad”
Devendra Banhart- “Poughkeepsie”
Grouper- “Heavy Water/I'd Rather be Sleeping”
Dirty Projectors- “I Will Truck”
Here we Go Magic- “I Just Want to See You Under Water”
The Ruby Suns- “Oh Mojave”
The Microphones- “Headless Horseman”
No Age- “Glitter”
Real Estate- “Younger Than Yesterday”
No Joy- “Heedless
HEALTH- “Die Slow”
Memory Tapes- “Plain Material”
Animal Collective- “Safer”
Jordaan Mason & the Horse Museum- “Avalanches”
Junip- “Rope and Summer”
Washed Out- “Belong”
Mi Ami- “Echonoecho”
The Mae Shi- “Massively Overwrought”
Arches- “Behind Close Blinds”
Twin Sister- “Meet the Frownies”
Friday, September 24, 2010
Some doom metal is called such for merely clinical reasons, i.e. its unsettlingly slow tempos, seismically heavy guitar tone, and dark lyrical themes. Other doom metal genuinely sounds like the end of the world.
Providence, Rhode Island doom/sludge cultists The Body occupy prime real estate in that latter category. In an age where virtually every event has musical accompaniment, if the world does decide to end in 2012 (spoiler alert: not betting on it), I wouldn't be surprised if somebody licensed The Body's newest LP All the Waters of the Earth Shall Turn to Blood as its official soundtrack.
The seven minute choral introduction to album opener “A Body” is like a rapturous, heavenly light, bathing us one last time before the band, a punishing duo of guitar and drums, opens the earth to swallow us whole for the remaining two-and-half minutes of the track. This song sets the stage for the rest of the record, coupling destructive, anti-social, truly doom-laden metal with unusual, atmospheric and unsettling sonic partners.
Third track “Empty Hearth,” for example, chops up actual doomsday cult chanting (from this collection, for those who just can't get enough doomsday cults) into a glitchy, inhuman counterpoint to the duo's industrial crunch that, once you get past the chanting's creepiness factor, is actually kinda catchy.
The chorus from “A Body” return multiple times, to near-transcendent effect, first on more straight-ahead doom song “Even the Saints Knew Their Hour of Failure and Loss” and again on the jaw-dropping closer “Lathspell I Name You.” Elsewhere, on “Song of Sarin, the Brave,” a straight-outta-Jonestown fanatic (or possibly William S. Burroughs or somebody, who knows) rants about pain and suffering over the band's mood-setting metallic creep, bowing out from time to time to let them storm back into the foreground.
That isn't to say that this record is great simply because of its non-metal aspects. Yes, the way those parts are integrated elevates the record, and they're certainly excellent additions that create a compelling listening experience, but the true praise goes to the band themselves. This LP would be nothing without the excellent principle performers, as well as their sense of aesthetic and considerable curatorial skills. The expressive vocal howls and heavy yet diverse guitar work lend body to The Body, and the outstanding, creative drum work propels this apocalyptic, nihilistic obelisk of an album to sludgy, outsider doom metal genius.
All the Waters of the Earth Shall Turn to Blood is similar in many ways to last year's surprise metal masterpiece, Liturgy's black metal/shoegaze bar-raiser Renihilation (which if you check back to my year-end list for 2009, you'll notice that I tragically slept on, waiting until Zmaj's year-in-retrospect kicked me in the ass enough that I went and got it) in its transcendent, almost religious quality, rendering classic-quality metal alongside atmospheric touchstones that combine to create a wholly new experience in their respective genres. Also like that album, All the Waters of the Earth Shall Turn to Blood is a strong contender for album of the year, and barring a rush of genius in the next three months (i.e. Orphan or the new Pig Destroyer record) it should rank heavily on many metal year-end lists.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Animal Collective- “Leaf House”
Lower Dens- “Blue & Silver”
Pill Wonder- “Wishing Whale”
Why?- “These Few Presidents”
Small Black- “Weird Machines”
Growing- “Green Flag”
Light Pollution- “Good Feelings”
Dan Deacon- “Paddling Ghost”
Tickley Feather- “Sorry Party”
Cloudland Canyon- “Mothlight pt. 2”
M83- “Run into Flowers”
Guards- “Long Time”
Joanna Newsom- “ '81”
Beach Fossils- “Youth”
Thee Oh Sees- “Ghost in the Trees”
Gauntlet Hair- “I Was Thinking...”
The Tallest Man on Earth- “Walk the Line”
We Like Cats- “Meow Hear Me Roar”
Waskerly Way- “Cat Alert”
Reading Rainbow- “Wasting Time”
Toro y Moi- “Blessa”
Neutral Milk Hotel- “Song Against Sex”
Weed Diamond- “I Can't Understand You, Girl Bear”
Ólöf Arnalds- “Englar Og Dárar”
Gang Gang Dance- “Nomad for Love (Cannibal)”
Eternal Summers- “Pure Affection”
Beach House- “D.A.R.L.I.N.G.”
John Peel kinda ruled. He basically served as the main media force in promotion of grindcore as a fledgling genre*, giving Napalm Death, Carcass, S.O.B., Extreme Noise Terror, Bolt Thrower and myriad others radio support that, let's face it, wasn't going to come from anywhere else any time soon. For many of these groups, their Peel Sessions serve as a priceless artifact of a level of energy and ferocity soon forgone for other goals (most of the above-mentioned grinders' next stop was by-and-large something akin to death metal, although the exact definition of that term varied by group) and by some not matched on other studio releases.
Enter Agathocles. After 25 years, it hardly even seems fair to bother with an introduction. For almost the whole of that time period, they've been faithfully producing socially and politically targeted grindcore LPs, splits and 7”s with varying degrees of punk, death metal and experimentation mixed among them, characteristically recorded in varying degrees of low fidelity.
This session, as Peel's almost always do, finds the band riding an energy and songwriting peak. Two years prior, the group had released what I consider their career statement in terms of LPs, the diverse, 44-song lo-fi grind opus Razor Sharp Daggers. Thus, many of the cuts come from that record, along with 1997's Thanks for Your Hostility, whose “Be Your Own God” offers the highlight performance from Peel Sessions 1997.
While Peel's Sessions were all exclusive performances for radio, they were less live performances than exclusive demos, since the bands took most of a full day to record them. For that reason, this album offers the best-recorded performance we've ever heard from Agathocles. Coupled with the fact that these songs were performed and largely written during a portion of the band's most creative period, it makes this record perfect for everyone from the die-hard completist Agathocles acolyte, the sometimes Agatho-fan who feels like there's always been something missing in their understanding of the group, and the newcomer who's always been too daunted by the pages-long discography to even know where to start.
What truly makes this album, beyond even the prowess and cult status of the band, is Peel himself. His banter opens and closes the album, and though both are brief, it lends a certain magical, 25th-hour quality to the record that says, “This is a moment in time. This will never happen again, so enjoy it.” Peel's sheer enthusiasm for grindcore, coupled with his refined, British radio voice, give an authenticity to radio broadcasting that seems unable to be matched anywhere, in any country today. Take, for instance, the professional, NPR-announcer way in which he introduces the band on the album's first track.
“And uh, finally tonight we have a session for you from AGATH-ocles, as they must be called, rather than Aga-THO-cles. Brief pieces, by and large. This is --”
And instantly, the Belgians finish Peel's sentence, spewing forth the beginning of Razor Sharp Daggers' “A Start at Least” with characteristic vitriol and in blissfully uncharacteristic fidelity. That instant when the refined form of Peel's announcing voice and the pure form of grindcore meet rockets the listen forward, and Peel lets the band carry that momentum from there. Carry it they do, offering a tight, rewarding set whose recording and mix leaves the requisite grit and riverbed-muddy distortion intact, but ensure that nothing ever cuts out or gets buried, and that the drums are mic'd well enough to actually be discernible, instead of being the wall of kick drum and flailing cymbals some of their recordings are reduced to. The band is a ball of energy throughout the set, and even the rare moment where they actually slow down a bit, the 4:10 “Kill Your Fucking Idols,” the pacing and volatility of the other songs is maintained admirably.
Neither credentials from the Agathocles or John Peel fanclubs are required to enjoy this offering, but filling out applications for one or both by your first couple listens wouldn't be unusual, either. In either case, Agathocles' Peel Sessions 1997 is best taken as an artifact, a passport to a time before Peel's tragic passing in 2004 and a time when Agathocles were still receiving recognition as a grindcore band, rather than the record-churning, LP/7”/split machine many genre lifers have reduced them to.
*[Ed.: Not to mention countless other amazing groups of disparate genres, the names of which I can't even begin to enumerate here; the show's raw guest list includes every letter of the alphabet, plus numerals, most entries in double digits.]
Monday, September 13, 2010
of Montreal- “Suffer for Fashion”
Tame Impala- “Solitude is Bliss”
Memoryhouse- “To the Lighthouse”
Guided by Voices- “Kicker of Elves”
Real Estate- “Beach Comber”
Cloud Nothings- “Can't Stay Awake”
Thao With the Get Down Stay Down- “Bag of Hammers”
The Morning Benders- “Cold War (Nice Clean Fight)”
Neon Indian- “Deadbeat Summer”
Xiu Xiu- “Gray Death”
Galaxie 500- “Strange”
Josephine Foster- “Stone's Throw from Heaven”
Black Moth Super Rainbow- “I Think it is Beautiful That You Are 256 Colors Too”
Memory Tapes- “Bicycle”
Wet Wings- “Whisper Always”
Los Campesinos!- “Heart Swells/Pacific Daylight Time”
Devendra Banhart- “Aperpareplane (Early Recording)”
BARR- “The Song is the Single”
Twin Shadow- “Slow”
Ice Cream Shout- “Tattooed Tears”
SLEEP ∞ OVER- “Outer Limits”
Best Coast- “When I'm with You”
French Kicks- “Abandon”
Wild Nothing- “Chinatown”
Hotel Lights- “Norina”
Candy Claws- “Silent Time of Earth”
Sunset Rubdown- “Idiot Heart”
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
I've said it once, and I'll say it twice: grindcore is tough to pin down. As formulaic as the genre may seem to the untrained eye, no formula can explain anomalies like the inclusion of burly industrial experiments or poetry intros on Agathocles' Razor Sharp Daggers, the bouncy pop-punk/grind hybrid “Ten People” from Damage Digital's Moss, or the closing track to Slight Slappers' A Selfish World Called Freedom, “Vanette,” which segues from swirling noise into a sweet, keyboard-driven ballad dripping with 50s-style charm. And don't get me started on Brutal Truth, Exit-13, or Total Fucking Destruction. Grindcore's a genre that bands aren't afraid to let their other influences roam free in, too, and so it's only natural that hip-hop appeared in the mix by-and-by. The ways that these five selections employ hip-hop and grindcore are diverse as the genres themselves, and serve as a “For Dummies” guide of the way the two styles can be artfully melded together on a record.
5. S.O.B.- “Tukikage”
After their '80s glory days, S.O.B. lost more than a little of their thunder. The 1999 album that this track comes from, Dub Grind, features disappointingly little of either dub reggae or grindcore, although it does manage to pull off a nice experimental trick or two. This minimalist, dub-tinged hip-hop track is one of the brighter spots on the record, and hints at what this album could've been if the band took half of the risks they should have taken in making Dub Grind.
4. Catheter- “False Sense of Judgement”
Sporting the smallest amount of hip-hop of any song on this list, this track serves as an example of the hip-hop appearance as accent, rather than as introduction or “Oh man, can't believe they did that!” hook. The brief, sparse beat that serves as this song's outro is one of those passing things that really doesn't ever get an explanation, serving to illustrate the sort of comfort with the genre grindcore bands have found in the 2000s.
3. Genocide- “Intifada”
Coming from the Mexican group's We Rape the Sky, We Rape the Hell LP (find it here at Cephalochromoscope if you don't have it on your harddrive,) this track is one of the most surprisingly well-produced on this list, and easily the best-sounding thing on Genocide's entire record. The other surprising thing about this track's brooding, Middle-Eastern beat is that it's so good, I'm almost disappointed when the grindcore section inevitably kicks in.
2. Magrudergrind- “Heavier Bombing”
Magrudergrind have always seemed to me a sort of more agile, neo-Spazz, and this reworking of This Comp Kills Fascists track “Heavy Bombing” (possibly the world's first grindcore remix, barring things like disc 2 of Agoraphobic Nosebleed's Altered States of America) does nothing if not prove that fact. Surly, metal-inflected beats build for most of the track, while an MC chants “It's getting' down to the grind/Magrudergrind” before the band explodes onto the track for roughly 30 seconds. Their supremacy doesn't last long, however, as the track gives way to hip-hop again, this time in the form of a dark, 90's style G-funk outro (think Snoop Dogg's “Murder was the Case” or “Serial Killa”) that encompasses the last 20 seconds of the song.
1. Spazz- “Camp Chestnut”
This is the track that started it all. When you think of combining grindcore and hip-hop, this should be the song that immediately comes to mind, sort of the “Bring the Noise” of hip-hop/grindcore pairings. A weird, trashy vocal-loop beat serves as the springboard for what might be one of the strangest collaborations in metal history. Several seconds in, Kool Keith appears on the track and starts shouting out Spazz. And then your mind explodes. Immediately after the explosion of your head, Spazz appears to grind what's left of it into powerviolence-scorched little bits. The full story of how the collaboration came about, as well as the “Autopsy, Def Leppard and Spazz” line from Dr. Octagon's “I'm Destructive” can be found here in this fascinating blog post by former Spazz guitarist Dan Boleri, which illustrates further the strange sort of overlap the two seemingly disparate genres have with each other. No one can quite explain why it works as well as it does, but melding hip-hop beats and grindcore fury seems to be a secret art that certain adventurous grinders are probably going to keep tucked away in their arsenal for the rest of the genre's history.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
When first hearing Junip's “Rope and Summit,” title track, presumable lead single, and opener of their newest EP, I'm not ashamed to admit that I thought, and possibly spoke aloud, the words, “HOLY SHIT I CAN'T WAIT TO HEAR THEIR ALBUM.” Yeah, I liked it that much.
This, before hearing that Junip is the project of José González, an artist I've always been sort-of indifferent to, almost to the point of dismissiveness.
This, while not knowing that the release the track is featured on is a mere four-song EP, not the full-album offering I'd been hoping for.
As a reviewer, forgive me if I focus on one track exclusively over others, but Junip's “Rope and Summit” is a track that's both refreshingly familiar and surprisingly inspired. Its tentative, folk-tinged openings and instrumentation build into a sparse, yet krautrock-energized, track that invites repeat listens by combining the former genre's plaintive guitars and the latter genre's insistent keyboards and drum patterns into an alluring combination of drive and mystery seldom heard in modern music. I can tell you it reminds me vaguely of Fleet Foxes and Yo La Tengo, although, truly, it probably won't sound like either of them when you listen to it. This is either the mark of an incredibly poor reviewer or an adept artist. I for one beg for your choice to err on the side of the latter, although the final decision is up to you.
The track that follows, “Far Away,” attempts to capitalize on the opener's momentum by beginning with an almost prog-rock jam as introduction, and while the motorik beat and suberb vocal contribution by González come close to living up to their tracklist predecessor, “Step in front of a runaway train/ Just to feel alive again” doesn't hold a candle to the stuck-in-my-head-ability of “Rope and summit, rope and summit” repeated over and over again, even though I STILL don't quite know what that track could be about, other than mountain climbing.
As for the third track of four, the eight-minutes-and-change “At the Doors,” if Yo La Tengo learned this song and decided to include it on their next record, one would be forgiven for insisting to friends that González and Co. had covered YLT and not the other way around, chronology be damned. For all its hypnotic, krautrock drive, the song fails to rise above its influences, and could've been written by any kraut-inspired indie group from the last two decades.
Closing track “Loops,” all softness and repetition, sounds like it could be exactly what the title implies, a palatable series of guitar and drum loops which vocals were applied over, despite its opening plea to “disconnect all loops.”
Ultimately, this EP is a prime candidate for the argument of single vs. longform. While offering an excellent single on the part of the title track, the rest of the album, for the most part, renders itself as only quietly enjoyable to the point that it might be soundtrack music. Rather than bringing into question José González and the two other obviously competent musicians who comprise the band, one wonders whether the current pressures of the music industry itself might have stunted this clearly promising offering, causing it to be released as a free download rather than a full-price album.