Friday, September 30, 2011

Clann Zú – Black Coats & Bandages

June 1, 2004 • G7 Welcoming Committee Records

It's always a shame when a band breaks up before their time. Too many stick around and create a lot of stale, uninteresting music, which is always disappointing, but it's worse when a band who consistently improves calls it quits when they're peaking. Black Coats & Bandages is Clann Zú's second and final album, on which they brought a much more cohesive sound that is probably among the best in the genre.

If you've heard their first album Rua you can tell that the band has matured quite a bit. The Irish folk sound that took over much of Rua got a bit too bombastic and over-done at times (not saying it's a bad album by any means); here, they're gotten much better at merging the folky stuff with the indie-rocky stuff to create a seamless sound, and it works very well. There is a lot more post-rock influence, drawing a lot from the early Mogwai / Slint camp, which is a sound I'm not tired of yet; there is even a bit of jazziness thrown in as well (including some nice piano and some actual saxophone on "From an Unholy Height", which sounds great). Such influences help bring in a lot of emotion into the songs without sounding stale, even in context of their first album. The song structures are still a bit unusual but there's barely any of the overdone quiet-loud-quiet-loud dynamics that plauge a lot of this style of music from the 2000s; more focus is spent on textures and mood, and it pays off.

Maybe because they have a better handle on what they are doing, the album flow and dynamics work flawlessly. There are some slow, melancholy pieces, some faster, rockier/jazzier pieces (still melancholy, though); it's nearly impossible to get bored listening to the album because so many different things happen, but there is almost never a point where anything feels out of place or contrived. The album flows as a whole much better than Rua and works a lot better when listened to in one go, which makes the experience much more immersive (and it's the way I almost always listen anyway).

If I had to make one minor complaint about the album, it's Declan de Barra's vocals. They aren't bad, but he didn't really mature his style along with the rest of the band as he can get overdramatic sometimes and hogs the spotlight. Case in point: "From Bethlehem to Jenin" starts as a very quiet and slow organ piece, but the way he sings over it doesn't fit as he's very loud and more dynamic than he should be. Once the guitars and drums come in, he calms down a bit, but I can't help feeling he ought to have tried a bit more to fit the atmosphere of the music. In fact, sometimes I feel that there are simply too much of the vocals at all, often coming in before the song has a chance to get started up.

Regardless, I can't find fault in any of the other musicians. The guitars convey a huge range of sounds (again, see Slint, and often hints of Godspeed), and the continued use of electric violin from Rua is very welcome. The drums are still good, if not better; sometimes they bring a bit of a math rock feel with some interesting polyrhythmic grooves that, again, don't feel out of place.

It is a shame the band broke up after this album, because they could probably have pulled off another really great album or two after Black Coats & Bandages, but we'll have to be satisfied with this and Rua; yet I think I'm okay with that. They carved a nice little niche in the indie rock world and I haven't heard a similar album of this quality yet.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Corrupted – Garten der Unbewusstheit

August 20, 2011 • Nostalgia Blackrain

Corrupted has had one hell of a run over their lifetime. Until recently, among countless splits and EPs, they've put out four absolutely excellent albums, something most bands can never claim. Their last effort, 2005's El mundo frio, has been one of my all-time favorite albums ever since I first heard it, and I thought they'd never be able to top it. In fact, I never really thought about them releasing an album again; it's been six years, and the last two releases (2007's twin singles "An Island Insane" and "Vasana") were pretty disappointing compared to their normal output. But then, out of nowhere, they pop back up again, quietly pushing another masterpiece out.

Now I'm not going to say that they did top the last one with Garten der Unbewusstheit, but I know they are coming pretty close. The opening track is actually very reminiscent of El mundo frio: A very long, slow buildup, gradually morphing into very dense guitars and drums, and you don't even notice it changing until it drops back into being soft again (no harp this time, unfortunately)... it sounds a bit typical of their style, but the atmosphere created is very intense with such a sprawling sound. It helps that the production is a bit simpler this time: there's no unusual instrumentation, a lot less dissonance and noise, maybe even fewer layers of guitar. Often that helps add to the feeling of heaviness, which works really well in "Gekkou no Daichi", which sounds a bit like Paso inferior, oddly enough.

Speaking of which, "Gekkou no Daichi" might be one of the best tracks I've ever heard from Corrupted. It's got a nice simple buildup, but in the middle of the song, by the time it's in full out slamming-bricks mode, it actually has a melody in it. I don't recall if they've actually done anything really melodic before, especially not in a major key, so it kind of came out of nowhere, but it is really welcome, adding a new layer of grandiosity to the piece and also giving it a sense of finality. Hopefully this just indicates finality of the album, and not the band, but it would make a great track to bow out on.

On my first listen I thought that Garten der Unbewusstheit was basically more of the same stuff we've been hearing from the band, but a closer listen proved otherwise. They really are only getting better. No, I don't think this quite tops either El mundo frio or Se hace por los suenos asesinos, but if someone disagrees I can completely understand why. Garten der Unbewusstheit may have been an unexpected release, but it is absolutely welcome.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Venetian Snares – Cubist Reggae

May 23, 2011 • Planet Mu Records

Something easy to start off with.

You have to admire Aaron Funk not only for his position as one of the most prolific and successful breakcore artists but also for being as diverse as he is. As the title suggests, this cute little EP has nothing to do with breakcore and has more of a glitched-up dub sound. Or is it a dubbed-up glitch sound? It's hard to say, since the styles fuse together pretty well. We also hear a bit of that classical fusion from Rossz in one or two tracks and, again, it doesn't seem out of place.

However I must admit that I find the songwriting itself to be a bit lackluster. We don't usually hear a lot of slow Snares and I don't think it's something he's quite accustomed to yet. So I suppose I'm glad this is just an EP—this would never have worked as a full-length album; it would probably come off even more uninteresting than Huge Chrome Cylinder Box Unfolding, although the tracks presented here are all pretty different: some broken beat, some dub, a bit of regular old breakcore... he almost reaches into Aphex Twin territory at times too, which is unusual but neat. I am glad he made this EP, EPs are excellent for experimenting with your sound and seeing what different things you can do, and that's usually what he does; I'd call this one a mild success, but not quite interesting enough to warrant more than one or two listens.



Welcome to Andrew Listens, my new music review blog!

Everyone has a music review blog nowadays it seems but I figure this would be a good way to practice writing and really get down to listening to and reviewing some releases I've been meaning to do for a long time. I have been reviewing music somewhat flippantly at Rate Your Music for a few years now and want to try stepping my game up. I'll be crossposting over there, but only my really good reviews will go here. I'll try to keep the subject matter to the obscure or the new, but not always.

I think I might post the first one tonight. Hooray!