Friday, December 21, 2012

Abraham – The Serpent, the Prophet & the Whore

September 28, 2012 • Pelagic Records

I forgot to do my homework for this one. I have heard Abraham's debut An Eye on the Universe but I couldn't remember a thing about it until I revisited it for this review. In any case, it didn't register with me enough to go back to it at all. Their second album, however, is actually quite interesting and quite enjoyable in its own right.

One thing that stuck out to me is that Abraham's sound has changed quite a bit. This time around, they are bringing a much more heavily metalcore-influenced sound; the music is fast and intense, but still with a very dreary atmosphere, kind of like early Neurosis with a touch of early Mastodon. I suppose their first album had a touch of that extra hardcore influence above what you normally find in sludge, but in this album it's definitely turned up to the extreme. The fusion of slower, more groovy sections with pounding hardcore riffs is very well-executed and cohesive, which is great. It gives the album a very desparing and mechanical atmosphere to it which sounds very natural. The guitars have this sort of hard-yet-drawly sound to them that goes along with the clean vocals well (take, for instance, the end of "Man the Serpent").

Also note that the band's performance is much better than the debut. The vocals are most notably improved, especially the clean singing, and the production has been tightened up a lot, giving them a much-needed more-professional presentation. There are a few other neat things hidden in the album—apparently, one of the members of Cult of Luna handled the mixing, and it shows; there are some sounds and atmospheres present that definitely remind me of that band (see "This Is Not a Dead Man, Yet" for the most interesting example).

Despite maybe not being quite as musically varied as I might like (just a small flaw), The Serpent, the Prophet & the Whore is definitely a good album. I feel like sludge metal has been trending in a new direction over the last few years, and Abraham has caught on and are near the front of the wave. It'll be cool to see where they go in the future. Meanwhile, their sophomore effort is certainly a worthy one.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Burial – Truant / Rough Sleeper

December 17, 2012 • Hyperdub

I almost feel like I have to cover this release after being so thoroughly impressed with Kindred and gushing about it (like everyone else). Let the record show that I am by no means any sort of Burial fanboy—and I shall back this up by saying that Truant / Rough Sleeper is decent but still kind of a disappointment.

The music is taking a somewhat more stripped-down approach than usual (which is kind of saying a lot); more minimalist drum beats and deep bass lines with less reverb and wide-open atmospheres. The standard glitches and industrial samples and vocal clips are all there, though there are a few nice new surprises like the acoustic bass at the end of "Truant" and the organ opening "Rough Sleeper". It's the same old Burial aesthetic, though, which is a good thing if you're already into the older material.

But the songs themselves, especially "Truant", feel weak. While there are some good beats and well-constructed ideas, they almost never actually go anywhere, and if they do, it's not for long, as the music tends to abruptly cut off and fade into something totally different, which is very jarring. It makes it feel like these are either meant to be separate tracks, or there are meant to be transitions there that never got filled in. Either way, they always jolt me out of the music right when I'm getting comfortable with where it is.

There is a major highlight in the middle of "Rough Sleeper", though; the way the vocal samples are used alongside a more interesting shuffle beat is really nice. It sounds very fresh, somehow, even though it's most reminiscent of Untrue. Maybe it's the tubular bell samples (or whatever that is).

Anyway, on the whole, the EP is alright, but I'm not getting too excited over it. "Rough Sleeper" is a fine track, but some sections of it and most of "Truant" feel unnecessary. It's still worth a listen if you're already a fan, of course; just don't go in expecting something of the same caliber as Kindred.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Fuck...I'm Dead – Another Gory Mess

October 13, 2012 • self-released

And here I was, all ready to name Book Burner Grind Album of the Year... and then I found this.* I found their first album Bring On the Dead, listened, loved it, and forgot about it pretty quickly. But when I saw this come out, I remembered how much I loved their debut, and then I was floored by how much this band has improved since then.

However, it's hard to pinpoint exactly why Another Gory Mess is so good. It sounds like just another typical deathgrind release... and, well, it is; there isn't anything particularly unique or gimmicky about Fuck... I'm Dead's approach to the genre. Yet listening to this album is so incredibly satisfying. It's partly just the sheer intensity present during the whole album—a near-constant torrent of furious grinding guitars and some really intense and diverse drumming (insane blastbeats, thrashy grooves, punky rhythms, etc.). The band's performance is spot-on, and it sounds like they're using real drums this time around, I think, which is a huge plus. The drum machine on the debut was decent, but real drums make everything better overall. If they're not real drums, they certainly sound like it.

Even the album being as huge as it is—nearly half an hour and over twenty tracks—it's so relistenable and I am always tempted to play it a bit more. Riff after riff are just perfect; there's no point where things get boring or stale at all during the album and not a moment is wasted. Granted, they've had ten years to write these songs, but to me that was definitely time well spent.

Okay so maybe I'm gushing again, but really there's nothing bad I can say about Another Gory Mess. It's just pure awesome the whole way through. Better than Pig Destroyer? Hard to say. One of this year's best, in general? Definitely.

*Which I wouldn't, because I've only heard maybe five of the possibly hundreds of grindcore releases that came out this year. Not important!


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mary Shelley – In the Shadow of the Mountain

July 15, 2011 • self-released

Another band I found randomly perusing Bandcamp, Mary Shelley is another in a long line of Cascadian black metal bands trying to edge their way into the scene. I haven't dug as much into this niche of black metal as others, so it's hard to say if they're a worthy contender, but their demo shows that they can definitely hold their own.

In the Shadow of the Mountain unfortunately could be considered generic in a lot of ways, as it utilizes the sort of incredibly thick, hazy production that is typical of the Pacific northwest black metal school. The songwriting is pretty standard fare as well—long tracks with long sections stacked one after another without much apparent thought for overall structure and continuity.

But there are a few little tweaks which keep this demo from being too usual. The riffs in particular are very well-written; they tend to build up on each other a bit better than average and they often have a certain subtle elegance to them that stands out from the typical ugliness of this sort of music. The guitars are chunky and doomy and there isn't quite as much of the tremolo sound as I expected which is a nice change.

For a demo, it's very well-done; although it's nothing spectacular, I didn't expect the music to particularly wow me, and the band shows a lot of promise. With some more polished songwriting I can see them becoming something really great.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Record store haul: December 15, 2012

I didn't have any reason in particular to go today, aside from the fact that I'm home alone all weekend and had a paycheck burning a hole in my pocket. The goods at Used Kids weren't as good as usual, but there were still a few good things to be had.

Burning Star Core – Papercuts Theater (2×LP, $15)

The "new arrivals" section was pretty dry on good stuff, so I went with the new(ish) double album by Burning Star Core. Seems pretty standard fare based on his older stuff—lots of layered, droning noise and hectic drum improvisations. A bit hard to digest, perhaps, but definitely interesting.

Subtitle / John Wiese / Adlib / The Cherry Point – Split (7", $4)

I saw John Wiese and The Cherry Point (two awesome noise artists I already enjoy) listed on the front and couldn't resist—what I didn't know was that Subtitle and Adlib weren't track titles but hip hop artists. An odd combination, though their style is a bit unusual, atonal and noisy in their own right (especially Adlib, who's barely hip hop at all); so I guess it's more fitting than I originally thought. Wiese and The Cherry Point each bring short tracks typical of their own noisy style; good stuff all around.

Kazumoto Endo & Blazen y Sharp – Ask for It by Name (7", $3)

Completely awesome harsh noise, as Kazumoto Endo is known for. I have never heard of Blazen or Sharp before, but the collaboration of all three musicians is just as good on this EP as Endo's other stuff (like While You Were Out). Very satisfying, and a great purchase. For some reason it came with a name patch (according to Discogs, this is standard). Mine says "Paul" on it. A bit weird.

Hair Police – Strict (7", $3)

I don't know if I even liked Hair Police when I heard a couple of their albums a long time ago, but I felt compelled to get this anyway, somehow. On the A side: Extremely noisy noise rock, like Raccoo-oo-oon behind a wall of overdrive pedals and Sunn amps. On the B side: More subdued material, a bit creepy; scraping metal and background groaning. Not too unusual for the group, but much neater than I remember them being.

Arrested Development – 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life of... (cassette, $1)

They never have much of a selection in the way of hip hop at Used Kids, so I take what I can get. I've never heard this group before today, and they're supposed to be good. To me this album feels a bit generic and unexciting but it's not bad. Standard early-'90s southern rap stuff with a touch of stripped-down Digable Planets. Something like that.

Chumbawamba – Tubthumper (cassette, $1)

Before you laugh, know that Tubthumping was the very first album I ever owned, and my girlfriend's as well. So it has a bit of a special quality to it that I just had to grab this copy. Maybe we'll jam to it in the car sometime soon.

And you know, for all the criticism it gets, I think it's actually a pretty decent album. Nothing spectacular, but enjoyable, worth hearing at least once.

Charles Mingus – Epitaph (cassette, $1)

I hate when this happens—Epitaph is a two-CD set (or two-tape, in my case) and the bastards only had the first one. Why would you only sell one and not the other?

Anyway, yeah it's just another Mingus album, so I figured it would be good (I have only really disliked maybe one album by him I've heard, out of at least a half dozen or so).

Mystery tape (cassette, $1)

I think I might be the only person who gets anything from their avant-garde section, a mysterious place full of tapes with confusing and obscure labels (if there is any text on them at all). This tape seems professionally-made, but the only words on it are "Xenophobe" and "001" inside the J-card and two extra pieces of paper, one saying "55/88" (indicating a limited run) and the other with a stamp saying "Adeste Fideles" (perhaps the publisher?) and a cat. All of this came in a zip-top bag with a Lego walkie-talkie and Lego assault rifle (I think that's what it is, anyway). The music itself is very atmospheric noise and drone (figures, right?), and all the tracks are quite different so it's hard to pin down a particular style.

Anyway usually with some deep Google searching I can figure out what these sorts of things are, but this one completely eludes me. It's annoying because it's actually pretty good and I want to know who made it! If anyone has any ideas, please leave a comment. I'll scan and put up the cover art sometime in the next couple weeks and I can upload the music as well if anyone wants.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Holy Mountain – Entrails

May 31, 2005 • No Idea Records

Entrails is an easy album to describe, yet a tough one to review. Its sound is straightforward, balls-to-the-wall Discharge-style punk—heavy guitar riffs, angry gang vocals, furious and nonstop drumming. This isn't anything new for punk, and The Holy Mountain is simply piggybacking on a style that's been around for about twenty years at this point, but to be honest they do it pretty well.

It doesn't strike me as a prime example of the genre—not a lot from the last decade really has—but for throwing back to the early '80s sound it's fine. They do switch up their approach now and again, such as the occasional groovy breakdown riff like the end of "Slaves" or the powerviolence-like blasting of the end of "Oversight". The aesthetic provided on this album is pretty nice if you're in the mood for something aggressive.

Unfortunately it's a bit tough to say much else about them as there isn't a lot unique about this album. If you're into the D-beat style, this is just another competent and enjoyable addition to its history, and that's just about all that can be said.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Holding onto Hope – Of the Sea

2009 • self-released

Of the Sea is another one of those albums that just magically showed up in my library (I probably ultimately got it from a blog somewhere), but it was a pleasant surprise to find in light of my recent emo binge. It's not the greatest album like it that I've ever heard, but it's up there somewhere.

Holding onto Hope is one of the few emo-influenced post-hardcore bands that doesn't completely suck—in fact, they're quite good. Their music has a blatant post-rock and ambient edge to it that gives it a bit more depth and pleasantness than their contemporaries. They're kind of like a softer and lighter Touché Amoré (the vocalists sound almost the same, as well). It's the perfect balance of melodicism and aggressiveness for my taste—you get both heavy, crunchy breakdown riffs and more intricate lines to balance them out.

But while it has those nice guitar parts and the songs are generally well-written, the album on the whole does drag a bit about halfway through. There are a few "pure" post-rock/chamber music tracks to pad things out, but I still feel like the album is a bit lacking when it comes to diversity. The lyrics and vocals, in particular, are kind of silly and get a bit tiresome. They fit the music, though, so maybe that's just me.

Fortunately, the music is good enough to recommend the album on alone. It's nothing really groundbreaking or revolutionary but it's definitely a pleasing listen when it's on.


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Lento – Anxiety Despair Languish

October 26, 2012 • Denovali Records

Lento's debut Earthen was one of those albums that helped define my early music tastes—a healthy if typical combination of sludge and post-rock that I would use as a benchmark for many similar albums to come. As time has passed Lento has moved on from that and it's tough to say if it's something they should have done, and my feelings about Anxiety Despair Languish are still a bit mixed.

Lento's style is still in the same ballpark as it's always been, admittedly, but the band has noticeably changed how it's presented and composed. Rather than slow-burning doomy tracks, things move at a brisker pace with some prominent melodies and riffs that fly by. All the songs are quite short—only one goes over four minutes—which took me by surprise at first.

But to be honest I'm not that pleased on the whole with the way Lento's sound has changed. Rather than thought-out songs, we get more of bite-sized bits of music, each holding only a few ideas in them. To me it all sounds very disorganized—the different sections often don't lead into each other well and are almost disorienting in how often things change up. The track "Death Must Be the Place" is a good example: chunky, angular riffs open the track, but lead into some weird half-measure blastbeat sections (why are those even there?), then suddenly some lonely acoustic guitar, then to a straightforward groove section. It doesn't really make a lot of sense to me.

Of course the whole album isn't quite as bad as that one; the title track turned out to be one of my favorites: it has a great heavy and pounding mood to it, while still being catchy and memorable. "A Necessary Leap" manages to take the multi-section thing and do a good job at it, but unfortunately it's a bit of an exception.

I don't want to seem too negative—after all, this album is pretty decent—so I should mention that, as always, Lento has plenty of great ideas. The vast majority of short sections are fine—at any given point during the album I'm probably enjoying what I'm hearing. It's just that the overall execution really needs some work. There's a reason atmospheric sludge and doom have long songs—it's simply best that way! Still, it's an interesting experience, if nothing else; perhaps Lento is trying to steer the genre in a new direction, which is admirable (after all, it could use one).


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Taake – Nattestid ser porten vid...

January 1, 1999 • Wounded Love Records

I'll probably always be a fan of the pure second-wave black metal style—unrelenting tremolo and blastbeats, walls of dissonant sound, the utterly cold atmosphere that characterized Norway in the mid-'90s. But that isn't to say that the formula couldn't be improved upon—and Taake has improved on just about every aspect of it with Nattestid ser porten vid....

It all comes down to the riffs, really—something about the way Taake handles their songwriting that makes this album (and its successors) stand out. While there is plenty of simple Darkthrone-esque blasting, the guitars are almost always playing some very melodic riffs, evoking a certain folky aesthetic that is balanced perfectly with the aggression of typical black metal. Normally I think of folk-influenced riffs as being pretty cheesy but there are a few bands I know of who can pull them off well, and Taake is definitely one of them. Normally one doesn't think of this era of black metal as being particularly catchy, either (at least, I don't), but just about every track here makes me yearn to air-drum along. Take the beginning of the final track—the little drum solo leading into the thrashy, almost punk, opening riff is so incredibly satisfying.

I feel like I should mention (though it seems silly to) that the production on this album does help quite a bit—rather than the muddy, raw sound prevalent in the early '90s and certain modern bands, Nattestid sounds quite clean and professional, if still a bit thin (to be expected, really). You can even hear the bass!

So it's just about everything good about '90s black metal, rolled up into one album. Somehow—even today, nearly twelve years after its release—it still feels very fresh. Highly recommended.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Jason Lescalleet – Songs About Nothing

June 2012 • Erstwhile Records

It isn't often one hears about highly-anticipated releases in more avant-garde genres (even if it's Merzbow or something) but I decided to look into Jason Lescalleet after hearing a bit of hype for Songs About Nothing. Even after a few listens of this album, I'm still a bit perplexed—it's mostly enjoyable, but it's hard to say why.

The album's first disc ia a challenging one for me and I'm really not sure how to approach it. While I'm almost always one to fully dive into noise and sound collage sorts of albums, this one is very difficult to penetrate. Each individual track is so different in sound that it's hard to get a grip on what I'm listening to. On the first disc, the short tracks jump around crazily—pure noise, EAI, crackly glitch, drone, dark ambient, and of course the Big Black samples dance in and out of the picture. On one hand, the pieces themselves are pretty neat and Lescalleet crafts a lot of pleasing textures; on the other hand, I feel like each one of these pieces (the good ones, anyway) really deserve to be more fleshed-out. What we get are thirteen bite-sized bits of musique concrète but most of the album deserves better than that.

However the more quiet and introspective tracks (mainly "Escargot" through "Friday Night in a Catholic Home") really grabbed me—the softer ambience, subtle background sounds, warm drones: that was the point where I really started to get into the album. It's simply a shame that, again, they were so short.

The second disc, a forty-three minute long soundscape, is (to me) a bit more typical of the minimal noise / drone I usually listen to—eerie drones, pulsing ominous synths, deep dark bass frequencies, and some interesting processed sampling. It slowly evolves into some abstract microsound / ambient / field recordings akin to the tracks I mentioned on the first disc; it's pleasing stuff (though there's not much to say about it).

I think Lescalleet handles the long-form album much better, as "The Future Belongs to No One" is much easier for me to get into and appreciate, one of those pieces that it's too easy to get lost in. It doesn't pound the listener with harsh changes or out-of-place samples (except for the last few minutes—but let's just pretend like that part never happened).

Again, I'm still not really sure what to take from Songs About Nothing—is it ahead of its time, that we're seeing this sort of avant-garde music made into a more accessible and listener-friendly format? Or is it just a self-indulgent exercise in sound composition? Or neither? I don't know. Taken at face value, as a simple album on its own, it's okay. It has its highs and lows, like any other release, and for me that's all it is.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Echospace – Silent World

Yes, I'm back! I got pretty lazy last week.

June 17, 2012 • echospace [detroit]

For me it started with Liumin, an introduction to a style I'd barely known and that was the opposite of what I thought of techno as—hazy, dense, droning music, the sort of thing that was already right up my alley and I had been too presupposing to actually hear it. Liumin—and Silent World, which is what this review is supposed to be about—are more contemplative music, the kind of stuff I love, the kind that lets you sit and listen and think—maybe not about anything in particular, but think anyway; maybe imagine the urban scenes evoked by the slow crackling rain on the sidewalk or the lights diffused through heavy fog, or about what you're missing by sitting inside with the lights on and pretending to care about something you don't want to do.

Anyway, if you've heard Liumin, there aren't any surprises on Silent World, as the sound is pretty consistent: deep, subterranean techno beats combined with an incredibly thick blanket of ambience and droning textures, working together in perfect sync to create an atmosphere that's both isolating and a bit claustrophobic. The music does seem awfully repetitive on the surface (even moreso for techno amateurs like me) but there's tons of subtlety going on that might be hard to pick up on—stretched out samples, micro-changes in the way the synths and effects are handled, and one of my favorite bits: the drowning mariachi band in "BCN Dub" (also making a reappearance from Liumin). It's all too easy to get lost in the mix and the swirling drones and thudding beat and simply not think about anything else for a while. (Two and a half hours, to be precise.)

Speaking of the runtime, that is one thing about Silent World that can be a bit intimidating—really, three hours of the same repetitive old techno beat? especially the monster seventy-minute title track? Fortunately it's not as repetitive as it may seem; each track has its own traits that set it apart from the rest, like "Ghost Theory"'s skittery old-school sound or "Orbiting" and "Theme from Silent World" both being almost pure ambient. True, if you skip around each track you won't miss much, but each one still has something interesting to offer.

I still have yet to find any evidence that a film called Silent World with this as it soundtrack actually exists, but regardless this album stands up excellently on its own (as I expected). Unfortunately, for me it won't ever stand up to its predecessor—as I heard Liumin first, Silent World doesn't have quite the same magic and excitement, but they're two very similar albums and are equally enjoyable.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Neurosis – Honor Found in Decay

October 30, 2012 • Neurot Recordings

Like just about everyone who regularly listens to sludge metal, I've been a mild fan of Neurosis for quite a long time now. After all, they practically pioneered the genre, how can I not enjoy their music, right? But right now I'm not feeling that at all. Honor Found in Decay sounds exactly like their previous stuff, and that's both a blessing and a curse—it's fine, but also really pointless.

For anyone who's heard the band before, they should know exactly what's coming. It's the same slow, dirgy, heavy, claustrophobic sound, going from crushing doom to quieter post-rock bits—the same thing that's been on every album since Enemy of the Sun in 1993. There's perhaps a slight folky twinge creeping in, thanks to Steve Von Till's and Scott Kelly's solo work, but it has only a small impact on the album's sound. Some song intros and interludes get a bit of that dark acoustic sound from those solo albums (and also from past Neurosis material). Whether it works or not is up for debate; sometimes it does genuinely feel dark and doomy like it should, but other times it's just a bit silly.

The album also seems, maybe, a bit more straightforward than previous albums—their songwriting has always been rather structureless and rambling (something I never liked about them), and it's a bit more comprehensive this time. Just a little bit.

But now, in 2012, Neurosis has almost zero of the same impact that it used to. I had the same problem with 2007's Given to the Rising; I liked it when I heard it, but I don't remember a single thing about it now (aside from the fact that it sounded exactly like a Neurosis album). Honor is the same thing. They've been stuck in the same holding pattern for years... which is good if you like their style, but not so good if you like your favorite bands to evolve and push the envelope a bit.

Sure, Honor is an alright album. It's about as good as anything else they've ever released, more or less. But what's the point? No one needs this. I have a half dozen other Neurosis albums that give me about the same experience. Obviously I never expected this album to be as good as The Eye of Every Storm or Times of Grace, but it feels like a waste of time.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Behold... the Arctopus – Horrorscension

December 12, 2012 • Black Market Activities

Behold... the Arctopus is one of those bands that I (probably like a lot of other people) discovered around 2007, thought was pretty neat, and then promptly forgot about. Then they suddenly come out of nowhere with Weasel Walter as their new drummer and a new album to boot. But I don't think I harbor the same enthusiasm for the band or their style of music as I used to.

Horroscension is more or less the same to me as Years Past Matter was—technically impressive music, but that's about all you get; there's not a lot of personality to it. This album leans more towards mathy-jazzy-progressive metal than black metal but the end result is similar: in a word, random. And how. The music is utterly impossible to follow (like their earlier stuff), just riffs after riffs pasted together haphazardly and played at supersonic speed.

There are times when they pull themselves together enough to do something a bit more comprehensive, like "Deluge of Sores" or the end of "Horrorsentience", which is a bit more straightforward and easier to listen to. If the whole album was like "Deluge of Sores", it would actually be really listenable. There are a few highlights like it spread out through the album, but not really enough to make it worth the while.

There are people (obviously) who love this sort of stuff. And that's fine, I don't hold it against them. Personally, though, I like my music to have a bit of structure to it—at least a little—so it doesn't sound like I'm listening to a bunch of different metal songs all spliced together at random. It just doesn't appeal to me.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

William Basinski – Watermusic

2000 • 2062

Most people probably only know William Basinski for his fantastic Disintegration Loops collection (and for good reason, I might add), but that doesn't mean that his more obscure works aren't worth looking into—in fact he's one of the most consistently good ambient drone artists I know. Even when he's not playing around with old classical loops,

The sound of Watermusic is easy to describe: very low, throbbing bass drones, glitches fading in and out, shimmering background synths, quick and subtle pulses of sine waves... lots of little basic loops played over each other in an hour-long layer. While the overarching texture doesn't really change at all throughout the whole piece, the way the loops interact with each other (due to their different lengths) is always different, ebbing and flowing like... well, water. It may sound boring, but even an intensely concentrated listen finds the work to be incredibly consuming. It's never exactly the same thing the whole way through: sometimes the glitches stop, or the bass drops out momentarily; regardless you never heard the same thing twice.

It may sound like an incredibly generic and boring piece from what I just described, but it really isn't. Maybe this is just me, but lately I've been finding this sort of long-winded but entrancing drone to be really captivating (also see Eliane Radigue's work, even more repetitive than this but just as engrossing). Watermusic is one of those pieces that evokes a lot of imagery—for me, not water, but maybe a tranquil, misty snowfall, or something like that. (Maybe that's because it's November out. I can see this working for any weather.) It's very calming and beautiful, one of those pieces you can put on that instantly changes your mood and everything you were worried about it just gone.

Yeah, so maybe this is another one of those stupid gushing reviews. But what bad is there to say about Basinski (ever, really)? Put it on and bliss out. That's all there is to it.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pig Destroyer – Book Burner

October 23, 2012 • Relapse Records

Ah, Pig Destroyer. Practically the reason I started listening to grindcore in the first place, and still one of my favorite bands in the genre (not something I'd say lightly). My interest in them has been waning a bit lately, but I couldn't pass up a new album by them, and I'm glad I didn't. Book Burner is the same classic Pig Destroyer you and I know and love, and maybe just a bit improved.

Admittedly, I haven't listened to the band much since their last album came out in 2007 so, at least for me, Book Burner is a perfect reminder that yes, this is a good band and they do grind as good as ever. It isn't often I'll praise a band for sticking to the status quo, but I like Pig Destroyer's status quo enough (and they release albums so infrequently) that it works for them.

The standard guitar-drums-vocals trio continues to work perfectly for them, and they still manage to deliver a pretty damn huge sound as always (and a bass would just muddy things). A bit more of the Agoraphobic Nosebleed sound is leaking through on this album as well (thanks to the shared guitarist), and that's not necessarily a bad thing—Book Burner definitely has noticeably more of that "cyber" sound, with very technical riffs and the occasional sampled drumming. But at the same time they still bring out really catchy, thrashy lines (like the end of the awesome "Eve"); the riffwriting is just so solid across the whole album and there's never really a moment where it gets dull or repetitive.

I can't even really find anything bad to say about the album (okay, some of the sampling is a bit cheesy, but that's not really a big deal). It's just been a while since I got this much into a grind album—hardly anything that came out in the last few years has really done anything for me. But 2012 continues to impress.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music

May 15, 2012 • Williams Street Records

Yeah, I know I'm super-late on the ball for this one, but better late than never, right? I wasn't even really interested in this until I discovered it was an El-P production—really? I thought, El-P doing a southern hip hop album? Surprisingly (to me), it turned out pretty darn good—just another piece of evidence that maybe the south is where all the good hip hop is at nowadays.

It doesn't sound much like an El-P production at first—the beats are definitely southern-sounding, with some more melodic hook sections, trap influence, and, well, soul. Bits of his more typical style leak through after a while, though, with some more atmospheric and complex beats. The beats are definitely less crazy and more "normal" than those on Cancer 4 Cure (by the way, how impressive is it that he put both these albums out at the same time?), but it's still solid all the way across the board.

This is my first time hearing Killer Mike, and I don't have a lot to say about him. He has a relatively typical southern hip hop style that has a bit of a hardcore edge. It's effective, but it's nothing truly amazing (though when he gets intense like on "Big Beast", it's pretty awesome). And he fits perfectly with El-P's beats, even better than El-P's own rapping, though there are a few moments that are a bit hokey and seem out-of-place (see "Ghetto Gospel"'s amateur-sounding chorus). I can't say much for the lyrics; as usual, I don't pay much attention to them—it's all about the flow and rhymes, and there's plenty of each that's great—and I'm a bit tired of the cliché political and gangsta themes.

One of the album's biggest strengths, in my opinion, is that it doesn't get too full of itself. It's relatively short, and the average track length being under four minutes means that it breezes right by, demanding repeat listens. That's always a satisfying thing for me; I hate having to dig through filler in hip hop but it seems like the trend lately is making that less and less of a problem.

Granted, not every track on R.A.P. Music is great, but it's mostly solid throughout, and the highs make up for the lows. This album might not have a lot of long-term staying power (that's the feeling I get, anyway), but when you get into the moment with it, it's a really nice listen.


Monday, November 12, 2012

Neon Piss, Nervosas, Rough Patch

November 9, 2012 • The Legion of Doom, Columbus, Ohio

On Friday I learned a very valuable lesson about going to shows in basements: they're nothing like going to shows in bars. This show was advertised at 8, I arrived at 7:50, and then waited for nearly two hours until it actually started at 9:40. Considering that this was an almost last-minute decision for me to attend, that was kind of a bummer. Anyway, three punk bands played, and it was alright. Not one of my favorite shows in recent times, but it was still enjoyable.

Rough Patch

I'm gonna be totally honest here—these guys were not very good. Well, they were alright. It was really generic '70s-ish garage punk, pretty amateur stuff too, and it just wasn't very exciting. Apparently they were having an off-night anyway (based on a comment from the bassist I heard afterwards), and I hope that's the case. I guess that for a few kids having fun, it was exactly what I should have expected.
4Silliest Equipment Malfunctions Award


This band was probably my favorite act of the night, with some really fun songs and damn impressive playing that wasn't simply blasting three chords. Their music has something of a slight "horror punk" aesthetic to it with some very aggressive drumming and surprisingly intricate guitar lines. I dunno, maybe it helped that it wasn't hard to top the first band, but I really liked them. Enough to pick up their 7" that they were selling, too. So definitely check these guys out.
7Most Impressive Eyeshadow on a Dude Award

Neon Piss

I don't really know what to say about Neon Piss... I think it's cool that they are touring all over (they're from San Francisco) and managed to stop at some tiny basement in Columbus, of all places, though they are still pretty obscure. They were pretty good, I suppose, but more of the same garage punk style that I'd already heard the rest of the night. Granted they have a slightly more "progressive" style (in the sense that they weren't afraid to play quietly once in a while; I got kind of a more-primitive-Propagandhi sort of vibe) which worked really well for them, but maybe they are the kind of band that you have to be already familiar with before the live show works for you. I did think the Adolescents cover to close off the night was a nice touch. Overall, not fantastic, but definitely enjoyable, and maybe I'll look into them again later.
6Best Untrue Stories About Dropping Acid Award

Friday, November 9, 2012

SAT Stoicizmo – Mah 2

1997 • Artware Products / Graph Zahl

One more dive into the land of the mysterious underground '80s avant-garde for the week: this time it's Czech band SAT Stoicizmo, who recorded this album back in 1985 and let it sit around until 1997 (ten years after they disbanded) before releasing it. This album has a lot more polish and a lot more interesting things going on, though, and though it's tough to get into it's a really neat listen.

Like a lot of sound collage records, the music on Mah 2 is quite hard to define as it's all over the place—but to start somewhere, the liner notes describe it as an "attempt to combine the achievements of (punk)rock-music with the classical concept of futuristic bruitism"... and I'd say that's at least somewhat accurate. Well, while there isn't much musically "punk" about Mah 2, the intent is there, as is the futuristic influence. The album presents itself as a bizarre but very deliberately-composed sound collage: plenty of found sounds, a bizarre assortment of music clips, manipulated field recordings, and plain noise barrage the listener.

It's a lot to take in—I've had this album around for a few years and listening now, it still feels completely fresh (even after several listens the past few weeks); there's just so much to take in. But at the same time, that's definitely what makes this album (and others like it) so appealing: it's not afraid to surprise the listener with different textures and sounds. At the same time, it feels like everything fits together as it should (particularly the more rhythmic "Nehaj") so it's not too jarring or alienating when things get switched up.

Obviously this kind of music is not for everyone, and even for me it took a long time to really get into it. But with a little patience, Mah 2 is absolutely worth it.


Consent – Conception

February 27, 2012 • Grindcore Karaoke

I found this band while browsing for free releases on Bandcamp: just another little powerviolence EP from Chicago band Consent, but I find it a lot more appealing than most. It's simple, quick, dirty punk, fused together with some aggressive and harsh noise segments. There is a lot of straight-up traditional hardcore punk in there as well to go with the more intense powerviolence, and the two styles naturally fit together perfectly. The balance between blasting and thrashing is pretty much perfect. It helps that it's not as messy as this sort of music usually is—the extra polish on the mix and some clean-sounding guitar riffs make it extra-listenable.

Musically, you won't find much new here, of course, but the band is talented and I have high hopes for future releases. How can you not like a punk band that likes noise, too? And it's free.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Paris, Texas – Action Fans Help Us!

July 24, 2007 • Polyvinyl Records

I mentioned this EP a while back in my Polyvinyl haul post, as they were kind enough to throw Action Fans Help Us! in as a nice little free bonus. It's not fantastic, but it's a fun little EP with a couple good tracks on it.

The songs are relatively generic, as far as this sort of happy-go-lucky indie-pop-punk goes. However I have to admit that at least a couple of these songs have really grown on me, specifically "Gemini", "Your Death", mostly due to some insanely good choruses. The other three tracks are decidedly not as good, though they're still decent. even if they may be a bit silly, they were still pretty good at what they did.

The EP is short and a bit samey, so there isn't much else to say about it—if you like indie rock or the kind of stuff Polyvinyl puts out, this falls squarely into that same category. Of course the band has long been broken up—since 2005—but that doesn't mean that this sort of stuff isn't worth looking into, at least for a listen or two.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Art Effects – Insects

1988 • Zoi

We're dipping back into the realm of long-forgotten underground tapes today with The Art Effects' Insects, a very interesting piece of minimal synth and plunderphonics. There isn't much known about them save what's in the liner notes, but you don't need to know anything about an album to enjoy it, and I have to say I enjoy this.

It's definitely one of the more bizarre albums I've heard—songs range from nice, cheerful elevator / department store music to dark, sinister soundscapes, and everywhere in between. Most tracks have some sort of basic electronic drum beat, spoken word samples, and simple melodies, but it's tough to generalize as there's a lot to be found on both sides. The spoken word sections are mostly abstract or nonsense poetry, from what I can tell, though there are some bits that sound like they are sampled from films or television or interviews. They accentuate the creepy vibe already present in most of the tracks they're in.

It's tough to say judge the music itself, though; it's easy to be put off by the weird juxtaposition of murky noise and sound collage with more "typical" minimal electronic music. But I think that gives Insects a certain amount of charm, in a weird way—it's definitely unique, even if the music on it isn't particularly great on close listen.

Then again, I have a weird thing for finding oddities like this, and this is probably only going to appeal much to like-minded people who like to find this sort of ancient DIY music. So interpret that as you will.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Unholy Grave – Crucified

1995 • Eclipse Records

I'm not totally sure why I keep coming back to Unholy Grave (maybe it's some subconscious attempt to justify buying one of their albums some time ago)—I simply can't find much appealing about them, and this album is no exception.

Musically they're a decent band, taking on a more traditional approach to grindcore—this being a 1995 album, it makes sense, and it sounds typical for its time—with a very punk/thrash approach to songwriting and riffs and a lo-fi aesthetic and production. I guess I've never been a huge fan of this era of grind in general, preferring the early 2000s stuff onward, but musically Crucified is alright compared to its contemporaries. It does get pretty repetitive though, which is understandable for a half-hour album but it's hard to take in all at once.

My biggest problem with Crucified (and Unholy Grave in general) is the painful clash between the mostly-serious music and the obviously-goofy vocals. The vocalist usually puts on a pretty decent low growl / high scream combo, kind of like Discordance Axis, that works pretty well. But then there are the times where he'll do some weird moaning or make stupid sounds or sing while inhaling (which sounds awful, if you haven't heard it), and it feels almost embarrassing to listen to.

It's just my personal taste, I suppose, but there's just so much other grindcore out there that's way better than Unholy Grave that I simply can't recommend anything by them. Fans of old-school grind might find enjoyment in Crucified, I suppose, and that's fine. I just won't be coming back to it. Grind has evolved a lot since 1995, and this band has been left behind.


Friday, November 2, 2012

Lightning Bolt – Oblivion Hunter

September 25, 2012 • Load Records

I've considered myself a mild Lightning Bolt fan for some years now, and for a while they were one of the bands who I'd always keep up-to-date on when they put new stuff out. Lately I've been much less interested in them, and I didn't even check out their 2009 album, since I noticed they haven't grown or changed any in the last ten years. It's good news if you want more of the same old Lightning Bolt, but I'm kind of on the fence with Oblivion Hunter. To be fair, this album is (apparently) older takes from the Earthly Delights sessions, but it still feels like a true album.

I hardly need describe the album's sound, but I'll do it anyway: frantic and fast-paced drumming akin to your typical Boredoms jamfest, shouted, distorted, and incomprehensible vocals, and a monster of a dirty and heavily-distorted bass guitar. There's also lots and lots of almost-static-like noise and feedback going on during some tracks, like the incredibly dense and heavy "Baron Wasteland" and "World Wobbly Wide", but there's also plenty of the good old playful melodies of their older days which make up the middle of the album. They're still as catchy as ever, too (at least, when they want to be).

I will say that the bass work on this album has improved considerably from their early material, making much greater use of special effects such as whammy and delay. I think there's a bit of overdubbing too (or else he's gotten really good at sounding like two people playing at once), which is either new or something that's more prominent than it used to be. I also really enjoy the special little touches like the pseudo-Eastern melody on "The Soft Spoken Spectre"; it's a neat break from the usual cacophony.

I suppose I do mostly enjoy Oblivion Hunter—the band is still good at writing interesting songs, especially given their limited instrumentation and style—but, again, it's more of the same; I could very well be listening to any of their older stuff and wouldn't know the difference. So it's a bit disappointing in that regard. Still, for the fans, it's worth at least a couple spins.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Eus – Los otros

September 10, 2012 • self-released

It's a sad fact that some artists simply never will get the recognition they deserve (I suppose that's something I'm trying to alleviate with these reviews). The music world is full of amazing stuff most people will simply never hear. Costa Rican artist Eus is definitely up there with the hidden gems, at least in my book: perfectly-crafted, atmospheric, cinematic, and droning ambient, some of the best I've heard.

Interestingly, for an ambient album, Los otros is about as complex as you can get, as it's chock full of loads of different sounds and textures: crackling noise, loads of droning, ethereal synthesizers, unique sampling... everything that makes up a good ambient album (at least, the sort of stuff I've been digging recently). It doesn't skimp on the atmospheric side, either. Some tracks are soothing and melancholy, while others are foreboding and creepy with dark echoing sounds and dissonant strings. Impressively, the album's composition is set up in such a way that the emotional ride is never jarring, and everything is eased into nicely when it should be (heck, just compare the beginning of "Luz" to its end).

In fact, most tracks have some subtle rhythms and melodies buried far underneath the layers of sound that take their time merging their way into the composition—it's really quite neat how tracks like "La primera piedra" evolve slowly from a seemingly simple drone into a beautiful, slow bass melody and the drones that were already there click into place alongside that melody. It's really neat to hear it all come together like that.

Needless to repeat, I love what Eus is doing on this album, and it's a fantastic example of how to do complex ambient and cinematic music right. There's just something about it that really appeals to me on a personal level, my tastes for that sort of sad beauty you get in tracks like "Diluria".

And it's free, so, you know, there's that.


Trampoline Dreamers – Hate Patterns

September 1, 2010 • self-released

Another Bandcamp discovery today: Trampoline Dreamers, found lurking in the emo section (obviously I went on a binge some time ago). Unfortunately this is one of my most disappointing finds so far; while the band isn't terrible, they are highly generic and ultimately uninteresting.

Their sound is the kind of thing I'd like, though a sort of garage-y, lo-fi, noisy emo, akin to a softer and less anthemic Japandroids. The vocals and drums are both unusually soft and understated, riding along far underneath the guitar and bass lines that take up the spotlight. While it's nice to be able to hear that gritty bass sound well, it's an odd mix.

Unfortunately, the album suffers from relatively dull writing. The songs are all more or less the same thing—very basic chord progressions with the same guitar and drum patterns the whole way through. Even after a good handful of listens I can't tell them apart whatsoever, and none have anything very memorable about them to make them stand out. There is also little, if anything, in the way of dynamics, making the album seem very flat and uninteresting—just a monotonous wall of sound. If the album isn't relegated to background music it can get almost fatiguing.

It's an alright start, but Trampoline Dreamers have a long way to go if they want to stand out. More captivating melodies, more interesting rhythms, something. I hope they can pull it off because they're headed in the right direction. They're just not there yet.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Minóy – Celebration of the Sunrise

1987 • self-released

Somewhere in the deep, dark recesses of the lost '80s underground lies Minóy, whom I know nothing about, except that he (she? they?) made a handful of obscure tapes of experimental music. This one, Celebration of the Sunrise, is a decent but ultimately disappointing representation of their work.

This particular tape harbors a collection of musique concrète, drones, electronics, and found sounds, all mashed up together in a long droning fever dream. It sounds like being lost in a huge '70s-era data computing center stationed underwater—echoing synth glitches and voice samples come from all sides while low scrapings and pulses drone on underneath. During "Celebration of the Sunrise", you're stumbling between racks of flashing lights while machines beep incessantly; then on "Nightride" you've escaped but are now trapped in a flooding radio room.

Of course, at an hour and a half with little variation to the sounds, Celebration of the Sunrise gets fatiguing quite fast. Each side of the tape is more or less the same thing for its entire forty-five minute duration, and they are each only interesting for about ten minutes. After that the music loses its novelty and becomes a bit dull.

It also means that there really isn't much to say about the album at all. It has two decent, if long, tracks, and that's it. It's disappointing because, had Minóy definitely had the potential to put together an excellent tape of shorter pieces similar to this, but it didn't happen.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cryptopsy – Cryptopsy

September 11, 2012 • Defen Society

I'll be honest, Cryptopsy has never been anywhere near my list of top death metal bands—None So Vile was alright but nothing terribly special, and I haven't heard much of their other stuff. So I don't know why I even bothered with their new, self-titled album. While not horrid (and almost certainly better than its predecessor), there's almost nothing appealing about it that would make me want to listen to it.

For death metal coming out in this decade, Cryptopsy is just about as generic as you can get. It's got all the typical elements. The drumming is interesting and nicely complex, though the obviously-triggered nature of it wears on the ears. The guitar riffing is almost random, the sort of dissonant jumping-around I've come to accept, even if I don't like it. I will give the bass plenty of credit for being interesting, though, with a nice thick sound and plenty of its own neat moments. But I cannot stand these vocals. They haven't ventured far from the deathcore sound of the last album, those pigsqueal-sort of growls that are almost embarrassing to listen to. Texturally, they make the album almost unlistenable.

Sonic qualities aside, there still isn't much going for this album. It's just a confusing mess of unrelated riffs, tacked on one after the other. While that does tend to be the nature of tech death, I have a very difficult time getting into what the band is doing here, even compared to similar stuff I've heard. The album just blows by on every listen and none of it stands out as being particularly good or memorable. It's true that really careful listening will unearth a siz able collection of satisfying bits and pieces—a few per song, perhaps. The album's relentlessness and almost complete lack of dynamics makes this fatiguing, though.

As an exercise in technical proficiency (specifically guitar skills), sure, Cryptopsy is fine. It'll satisfy the metalheads who are in it for the brutality and the double-kick drumming and the downtuned guitars. It's got all that. But for me, there's nothing worthwhile to be gleaned from this album. They haven't progressed (or reverted) from The Unspoken King as much as some people make it out to be, either, if that makes a difference. All I know is I won't be coming back to this.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sturqen – Raia

April 25, 2012 • self-released

Another random Bandcamp discovery for today: Sturqen's Raia. I've finally hit a sort-of-average release after a slew of good ones. (About time.) It shows the somewhat amateur side of Bandcamp well, though it's not terrible.

Raia is basically a noisy and bleak sort of minimal industrial music—lots of distorted and amelodic synths, noisy beats, dissonant and aggressive tones, and the like. Sort of like super-slow electronica, on LSD, in space. It's a very concrete atmosphere they have going on here, very cold, mechanical, and, again, bleak. It's an okay style, not totally appealing to me, but sometimes it's the kind of thing I'm in the mood for.

However, the tracks are mostly short and quite simple, which leads to the album's biggest problem: nothing ever really gets a chance to develop very much. Instead, most of the tracks are just a few simple loops which fade in, play for a bit, then fade out rather unceremoniously. While many of the sounds and textures are pretty neat, the fact that they just don't go anywhere makes the album a bit dull and difficult to really immerse yourself in.

So I find it really hard to recommend this. There are, again, some cool ideas, but the way they're presented doesn't really do anything for me. I can see this duo releasing some really interesting and focused material at some point (maybe they already have) but I don't think this is the one.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind

October 9, 2012 • Epitaph Records

I've been listening to Converge for a few years now, and try as I might their music has never clicked much with me (neither Jane Doe nor No Heroes). By rights they should be a band I moderately enjoy, but it just hasn't happened. All We Love We Leave Behind is more of the same; perhaps solid, but not terribly appealing to me.

Like their older albums, All We Love has the same extreme-metalcore thing going—fast, technical riffs, aggressive and complex drumming, incomprehensible screamed vocals. Converge sounds a bit more punkish this time, though, with a bit of hardcore and grind influence leaking out. It's intense music, to be sure, and it doesn't really ever let up over its forty-minute runtime, instead simply trading the metalcore for slower, doomier sludge-metal-like stuff.

I guess my beef with Converge is mostly personal as I've never really been that into the whole "chaotic hardcore" style, especially not the way Converge does it. It seems like they just can't decide what sort of music they want to play, ever, and are always switching between slow sludgy sections and fast blasting sections with no warning (or playing them at the same time, somehow). It's a weird juxtaposition that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't, and I don't think Converge can do it well. It feels like the songwriting just tends to meander pointlessly for the sake of technicality, which is a huge turn-off.

I guess it's just me, though, since this album has been extremely well-received. I guess that for the style, it's probably one of the better albums I've heard (and I've been listening to a lot of stuff like this lately) and it's definitely listenable; it's just not something I'm going to listen to much at all in the future. And that's fine. Plenty of other people will get enjoyment out of it.


Special bonus: Album stream courtesy of Epitaph!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Cristal – Apostate

July 16, 2012 • Flingco Sound System

Another Bandcamp discovery today, this time from the drone collective Cristal. I've never heard of them before, but they share a member with the relatively well-known Labradford (who I've heard of but never heard myself). While I'm usually wary of side project sorts of albums, Cristal is a pleasant surprise, albeit nothing truly interesting.

Apostate fits pretty snugly with the simple implications of the word "drone": long, slow sections of deep, foreboding drones, shimmering light noise, and the occasional creepy sampling. There's a lot of subtlety going into the textures themselves: minor perturbations in tones, small samples fading in an out, etc., the keep the album interesting throughout most of its runtime. There are a few places where it tends to drag on but I suppose in a drone context that's not necessarily a bad thing.

The album's atmosphere as a whole changes quite a bit (as hinted by the multiple movements)—sometimes it's very dark and murky, like watching a clanging submarine go by; other times it's a bit lighter and spacier. Either way, the album usually keeps on an incredibly dark mood, evoked perfectly by the cover art. It doesn't do the best job at switching contexts, though, as transitions between different pieces can be a bit jarring and break immersion. This is especially apparent halfway through the third track, going from a mostly quiet and simple tone to a loud, distorted, banging collection of noises—it's almost scary.

In the end it's not the best ambient/drone album ever, and I wouldn't put it up there with my favorites, but it does the job well and is a pretty satisfying listen. Definitely worth checking out, and it wouldn't be a bad idea to dig into their other stuff either.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Instinto – Instinto

March 12, 2012 • Hysterical Records

I found Instinto randomly browsing Bandcamp's punk section, and again I'm pleasantly surprised by my discovery. Instinto is a Spanish crust punk band—a country that I haven't heard much heavy music from ever—and they bring a very satisfying album to the table.

It's pretty typical crust, I suppose; simple three-chord riffs, D-beat drumming, harsh metal vocals. They don't really do anything special or unique with their music, but what they do do is write some really damn fun songs. They're fast and catchy, in a way that almost borders on being silly, but in an obviously entertaining way. They're not trying to be serious (at least, I hope) and the album's all the better for it.

Again, though, it's very typical music, so even at a mere 25 minutes it gets a bit stale. But still, it's a fine album, and it's free, so... what do you have to lose?


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Converge, Torche, Kvelertak, KEN Mode

October 15, 2012 • Skully's Music-Diner, Columbus, Ohio

Skully's was exactly like I expected it to be, a sleazy, dirty restaurant whose average clientele could really appreciate a Motörhead album. But I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see this great lineup. It wound up being one of my favorite shows I've been to yet.

KEN Mode

The surprise of the day. I was merely lukewarm towards their recent album, but they put on a pretty stellar show. Maybe their music just inherently works better live, or something. Regardless, I was pretty impressed and it was enjoyable. Props to the bassist for sticking through cutting his finger on his strings (I assume) and getting blood all over the pickups.
7Goriest Performance Award


Not much to say about this show—if you've heard their music (and you should), their show is exactly what you'd expect. Loud and heavy punkish metal, but very energetic and loads of fun. I found interesting the fact that the band seems to be made up of five very nerdy-looking guys, with a Viking for their vocalist. An entertaining combo. Good times for sure.
8Most Impressive Fingerpicking Award


They started out a bit disappointing, as the audience didn't seem into them and mix was poor (could've been that I was standing close to the stage), but quickly turned into my favorite act of the night. It helps that Meanderthal is one of my all-time favorite albums and they played a few tracks from it. They sound a lot heavier live, and their slower and doomier pieces were especially crushing. There was a point where one guitarist was having technical issues and we had to wait at least five minutes or so while they fixed it, and the rest of the band goofed off playing solos and some faux-grindcore (not as interesting as it sounds, but it was funny).
8Best Tapping Award


I should have known what was coming with this part of the show, and my lack of preparedness ruined things. I forgot that metalcore fans (especially bands like Converge) are prone to continuous slam-dancing inside a moshpit they conveniently decided to place right in front of where I was standing. Fortunately, the decent people outnumbered the idiot asshole kids, but it's still annoying when I'm trying to watch the band. They were alright, I suppose; I've never been much of a huge fan, so there wasn't much for me to enjoy. But the kids liked it, so whatever.
5Apparently It Was Jacob Bannon's Birthday Award

Monday, October 15, 2012

Bone Dance – I Have Lived Like an Animal, but I Will Die Like an Angel

March 29, 2009 • self-released

I picked a bad album to review today. Not in the sense that the music is bad, but more in that Bone Dance is just a hard band to review. Maybe it's me, but I feel like there isn't much to be said about this style of music anymore, even if this album is pretty good.

Bone Dance plays a particularly abrasive and crushing form of metalcore, alternating between fast punk-like sections and slow sludge sections. There isn't really anything particularly unique about their sound and it's a lot like plenty of similar music I've reviewed recently, which unfortunately means I'm a bit jaded by this album and it's tough to assess it fairly. However, I'm happy to say that Bone Dance do manage to do a pretty good job at this style. They are very riff-oriented, so each song is catchy and somewhat memorable in its own way. It might be a simplistic approach, but I think it works quite well, and the album is very consistent

I guess it says something about Bone Dance that I've totally saturated myself with this sort of music in the last few months and they still make an impression on me. (Then again, it might just be coincidence; I didn't care much for this album on the first listen.) But this is more one of those albums you just have to hear yourself to have an idea of whether you think it's any good.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Airs – Gloomlights

October 31, 2011 • Music Ruins Lives

Oh no, not the dreaded double album. If I haven't made it clear before, I almost always despise rock double albums; they are almost always half-full of horrible garbage that shouldn't have been recorded in the first place. I won't say there's much I'd call garbage on Gloomlights, but it's clear that there

The band tends to genre-jump a lot on this album, and it's tough say if that's necessarily a good thing. Many of the shorter tracks lie somewhere in the shoegaze / post-punk realm, sort of like the very fuzzed-out guitars of My Bloody Valentine combined with the gloomy melodies and atmospheres of The Cure. (Admittedly I've never listened to much shoegaze in the first place, so I don't have much to compare Airs to.) The band also experiments a bit with music ranging from post-rock to stoner rock to black metal to pop-rock to drone, all with the same sort of lo-fi aesthetic.

I have to give Airs credit for managing to write so many songs in such different styles and none of them are particularly bad (except the repetitive and dull opener "Harvest Moon"), but none of them really stick out either, and the band definitely can't keep up the pace for the entire hour and forty minutes the album lasts. By the time the second disc starts up, I'm ready to call it a day. I guess that probably says more about my attention span, but still, they don't give much of a reason to stick around.

Also, this is probably just me, but I find the synthesized drums and bass guitar really distracting. Excessive reverb doesn't hide the fact that they're both quite amateur-sounding.

So I guess your enjoyment of this album hinges on how into this style you are. I'm ambivalent, so Gloomlights is listenable but definitely nothing special. Maybe others will be amazed by it, and I can understand, but not me.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Arrows in Her – Leaving.

September 9, 2012 • Glass Nail Records

I love Bandcamp more and more each day. Recently I was browsing along looking for some new emo to listen to and happened upon this tiny obscurity Arrows in Her, and have been totally blown away. They may be pretty traditional in their style, but they do it so incredibly well and I am in love with the result.

Basically, Arrows in Her straddles the gap between Snowing and American Football, or something like that—essentially indie rock with the obligatory strained and passionate vocals, beautifully sad melodies, and a slight punk aesthetic mixed with post-rock-like bridges. All the good stuff I like in emo. It's catchy, incredibly tense, chock full of one amazing riff after another, and cathartic as any other music like it.

The interesting thing is that there isn't a gimmick or anything that would make them immediately unique; they are just really good at songwriting. Leaving is one of the most consistent EPs I've heard quality-wise. Not a single one of the songs is bad, and each one has something about it—a particular hook or interlude or what have you—that makes it stand out. It's tough to even pick a favorite as each one is just as memorable as the rest (okay, fine, it's "Being and Nothingness").

I'm gonna stop gushing now, but really, this is practically flawless for a more or less brand-new band. I don't know how they did it, but their debut is just hitting all the right notes for me. I only hope they keep up the momentum if they put out some more material; in the meantime, I'm keeping Leaving on repeat.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Jarguna – Waiting for a Call from the Unknown

June 9, 2012 • Earth Mantra Netlabel

I'm always a bit skeptical of any album I find that was released on with a press release slathered in hokey New Age mysticism; such albums tend to be not very good, to put it politely. However, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with Jarguna's Waiting for a Call from the Unknown; it's a surprisingly good slab of ambient.

At nearly two hours, it's a pretty big time commitment, but fortunately Jarguna avoids the common trap of filling the time with dull repetition and the album is surprisingly diverse. Yes, it's all the same sort of spacey ambient, but it runs the spectrum from quiet, low, enigmatic drones in the first track to dissonant, almost scary ambient chimes in the second, to Echospace-esque minimal techno in the third track to glittery, spacey drones in the fourth. (And I really like Echospace, so it's already doing something right.) It's really nice to hear that kind of diversity in a long ambient album like this.

And Jarguna does a good job at each of these textures. The ambience and spacey drones are really quite good—sometimes ominous, sometimes pleasant and optimistic. Despite seeming like simple ambient, to me it seems that it was very meticulously composed with a lot of thought going into the compositions. The drones change constantly, keeping a sense of movement and fluidity through the album, and are accompanied by lots of little sound effects, glitches, and other instruments that drift in and out. It's a nice departure from the one-note drones you get on a lot of similar albums.

I might even go as far to say that the album isn't too long. Normally I get frustrated with LPs that go over an hour or so, but for some reason Waiting for a Call manages to fill the time very wisely. Nothing really feels like it drags on too much or gets too repetitive or boring.

It's really quite impressive, and the album gets better with each listen as well. Maybe I should do some more digging around the Internet Archive. There are apparently hidden gems to be found, for sure.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Three Trapped Tigers – EP2

August 17, 2009 • Blood & Biscuits

This band was hyped on Rate Your Music so briefly that I almost missed them. I'm glad they managed not to fly under my radar, because they're pretty dang good, with a really unique and interesting sound.

Three Trapped Tigers create a sort of post-rock / math rock fusion, like a collaboration between Battles, Holy Fuck, and 65daysofstatic. Fast, stuttery keyboards and clean guitars take the forefront while some aggressive polyrhythmic drumming holds it all together. The electronic element in the music is huge, with some almost chiptune-like voices that sound like some video game soundtracks I've heard, but it's still all definitely in a rock context—a bit weird, but it works so well.

I guess it's the overall sense of rhythm in these songs that makes it so damn catchy, so easy to get into a groove with and just kind of ride it straight through to the finish. It all sounds very focused, and even through four relatively short tracks you still see a lot of fantastic things. Not an EP to be missed.


Amputee – Amputee

2010 • self-released

It takes a lot to excite me with grindcore these days; sometimes I feel like the genre is too constrained to have much really groundbreaking happen with it. Aputee is a relatively new grindcore band (as this demo came out in 2010), and they're pretty good, though you'll have a hard time telling it from grind that's twenty years old.

Amputee takes after some of the classic death metal-influenced bands like Agathocles or newer Napalm Death, with typical blasting merged with some slower punk/thrash parts. They can get very satisfyingly heavy, and their songwriting is pretty impressive; despite the songs' naturally short lengths they cram quite a bit into each one while still keeping a structured feel.

Although Amputee definitely improves on the classic deathgrind formula, as of yet they haven't created a very unique sound to differentiate themselves from the hundreds of similar bands. Hopefully they've changed a bit since then.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Ash Borer – Cold of Ages

August 2012 • Profound Lore Records

Maybe I'm becoming fatigued of black metal (say it isn't so!) but there has been almost nothing I've heard lately that I really liked. I want to enjoy these albums I've been listening to but everything has been feeling so dull. Ash Borer isn't doing much to help the trend. Cold of Ages is passable and sounds nice, but why am I still sometimes bored to tears?

Their sound is pretty typical of the so-called Cascadian black metal scene (the Pacific United States area): a very etheral sound, done with lots of reverb, a somewhat muddy guitar sound, and some synth strings. Standard stuff, really, although one thing that stands out that I like in particular is that the bass is unusually high in the mix during the non-blasting sections; it's not particularly flash but it's nice to hear it for once. The drumming is also really excellent on this album, technically precise with lots of good fills.

Also coming with the territory is the tendency to write very long songs, something that I've never really felt worked well with most black metal bands. Usually you get either overly-repetitive songs, bashing away at the same tremolo riffs and blastbeats for what seems like hours, or the songs are very disjointed as they try to stick different pieces together regardless of how well they actually fit. Ash Borer's approach is a little bit of both; "Convict All Flesh" has about three sections in its 18-minute runtime that drag on and on to the point of fatigue (to be fair, the last section does do a good job up building up toward the track's climax, but the beginning and the middle do nothing for me). On the other hand, "Phantoms" tends to jump around a lot to the point where it's hard to follow what's going on. In both cases, nothing all that memorable happens.

Unfortunately, like a lot of atmospheric black metal I've heard lately, Ash Borer is going through the motions but their music isn't really doing anything all that is very exciting or original. Sure, it's a fine example of what atmospheric black metal sounds like, but I'd be hard-pressed to think of a reason to recommend it to anyone. I guess black metal this year wasn't as good as I though. Well, back to Curse, I guess.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto – Vrioon

December 2002 • Raster-Noton

I don't know if Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto deliberately set out to combine two sorts of music that are as much of polar opposites as they did, and I still haven't decided if it works or not. But there's still something vaguely intriguing here. Vrioon is ambient music stripped down almost to the basics—soft, slow, airy piano, accompanied by quiet yet harsh and rigid glitches and electronics. Combined, it's a strange experience.

While the piano parts are quite nice, the electronics can be grating (especially with headphones, and especially on "Noon"), making listening to Vrioon both pleasing and discomforting at the same time. It's like spinning some Satie while connecting to dial-up. Sometimes it works, like the spaced-out and peaceful "Trioon I" and "II", and sometimes it doesn't, like the motonous and annoying "Noon". There are also some parts where there is seemingly no structure, like "Uoon II", which is just a cascade of random piano notes without the electronics, or "Trioon II"'s droning style. Yet the album's glacial pace makes it difficult to even notice much diversity.

All that aside, it's still an alright album. It has its hits and misses (notably, tracks 1, 5, and 6 being the better), but overall it's pretty unique as far as ambient goes. Maybe it's my personal preference for the more complex and lush arrangement of Stars of the Lid or Eno, etc., but I can live with this as well.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Caspa & Rusko – Fabriclive.37

December 2007 • Fabric

As dismissive of dubstep as a lot of people are (especially the more annoying "brostep" stuff), I've been trying to keep an open mind with the genre. There's bound to be some decent brostep somewhere, right? I've already heard a Rusko album which wasn't bad, and Fabric is known for putting out some pretty high-quality mixes regardless of style; this particular one isn't too bad itself, though it sometimes has its head up its ass.

The beginning and end of the mix, in particular, is where most of the juicy good bits are. It's some pretty abnormal stuff for dubstep with house-like beats and some really neat sampling, such as the East Asian style in "Cockney Violin" or the reggae style of "Round the Way Girls". The mix closes out in a similar fashion with some almost ambient tracks (at least, compared to the ones before them) that are less experimental but still pretty pleasant.

The problem, of course, lies in the middle of the mix, and unfortunately the majority. There are quite a few obnoxious tracks that don't do anything for me at all, like "Terminator" or "V" or "The Drop" (one of the most annoying beats I've ever heard in my life), that are basically a simple drum beat and very grating "wub-wub" distorted bass. Caspa's material, especially, is dull; Rusko and the guest producers generally mix it up a little more but everyone gets their fair share of wubbing.

I guess since this mix is what basically started the whole brostep thing, it's understandable that is sounds very simple and primitive, but that doesn't really excuse it for being somewhat dull and sometimes hard to listen to. It would have been nice to hear them stick to the more light and sample-based stuff; I can only take the wubs for so long before my head starts to hurt. Technically, it's not bad, though, and if you can stomach some dirty bass then this is worth a listen. Otherwise, stick to tracks 1–5 and 26–29 only.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!

October 15, 2012 • Constellation Records

I promised myself that I was going to exercise some self-control and hold off on overlistening to and reviewing the new Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Of course I can't do it. They've been one of my favorite bands for a long time now, and the release of 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! is one of the most exciting things to happen in music this year for me. I have it on preorder, naturally, but I couldn't help checking out the leaks and I gotta say, it's all very exciting.

Technically, there really isn't that much new on this album; Godspeed has been performing "Mladic" and "We Drift Like Worried Fire" live for almost ten years now, but it's great to hear them finally get the studio treatment. I've hardly heard the old versions much myself, so they sound pretty fresh to me regardless. It's standard Godspeed fare, really—lots of tense buildups, slow and somewhat meandering song structures, and plenty of that stark, depressive beauty. Nothing's really changed much there, and I don't see that as a bad thing, since they sound as fantastic as they always have, with the great violin and glockenspiel arrangements giving them that orchestral sound that fits their songs so well.

Sonically, this album is a step in the right direction for the band; I had always been a bit disappointed by Yanqui U.X.O.'s straightforward and almost generic sound, but 'Allelujah! brings back somewhat those droney textures and found-sound bits that made their first two albums so interesting. Instrumentally, I don't think Godspeed has ever sounded this heavy, particularly on "Mladic"; there's lots of squelching feedback, extra distorted guitars, and almost krautrock-like pounding percussion—not that those things weren't present before, but they're definitely dialed up here (or it feels like it). Even the two drone pieces are denser and darker than usual; the aggressive noise and those screeching violins give them a very eerie and effective mood. Contrast that to the uplifting, almost joyous, tone of the beginning of "We Drift Like Worried Fire". It's a real ride.

I am slightly disappointed that the album feels a bit short, and not (just) in the "I-want-more" way, but having only two songs and two interludes makes it feel a bit more like Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada than anything, like the album's missing something—like another song, I suppose. It doesn't help that those drone tracks both feel like they're over just when they've started. Hopefully this all means they're saving up some new material for something else for the future (not that I'm holding my breath or anything).

'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! may not be anything terribly original and it certainly doesn't push any post-rock boundaries and whatnot. But it's still great to hear something new from the band that crafted my favorite album of all time, that they're still the masters of the genre, and that maybe they're going to stick around a bit longer. I certainly hope so, anyway.


No preview today. Instead, here's a fun fact: The term "Printemps érable" is a reference to the 2012 Quebec student protests. Fitting, I guess.