Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lamb of God – Resolution

January 24, 2012 • Epic Records

I hardly feel that I should be reviewing this album at all; for the last few albums Lamb of God has pigeonholed themselves into a sound that hasn't changed for years. Having heard their last album, Wrath, I am having trouble telling the difference between that and this one, and consequently Resolution hardly offers any reason to listen to it.

If anything, the band's signature style of groove metal has only gotten a bit safer and poppier—songs have more structure, riffs are catchier, drums are groovier. Sometimes that's not a bad thing, and at more than a few points I found the music to be pretty nice in terms of headbangability. We still get a lot of nice breakdowns, fast chugging guitar lines, highly technical riffs, etc., all the things that give the band its sound. And for what it's worth they haven't lost their talent in terms of making this sort of music.

But that might even be part of the problem: they've become so comfortable with what they're doing that they can't break out and try anything new and different. I feel like one could make an album out of any track from Ashes of the Wake or later picked at random and it would sound pretty consistent. And that's a pretty long time to be churning out the same album time and time again. Granted, Ashes of the Wake and even Sacrament were enjoyable to me for quite some time but now I'm just tired of the whole thing; it's even gotten to the point where the last half of each track can be pretty safely skipped and nothing will have been missed. Going along with the songs having more structure and catchiness, that also goes along with more repetition and near-pop-like verse/chorus/verse layouts which, while they've always been present in Lamb of God's songs, are even more flagrant this time around.

There is one upshot though: if you manage to make it to the end of the album, "Visitation" is actually a really cool song—I'm not really sure what makes it stand out from the others, but I really noticed it on my first listen. Perhaps it's because it sounds a bit more progressive with some more complex structure, dissonant guitar lines, some different vocal techniques, things like that. It's hard to say.

But regardless, the majority of the album just bores me, and I had a lot of difficulty going through it a second time. It's just more of the same from Lamb of God and I don't see any reason to listen to this over anything else they've released; it's just so jading. I'm not saying they've failed to make another Lamb of God album, it's just that it wasn't what the world needed.


Monday, January 30, 2012

Mathias Grassow & Thomas Weiss – Insights

2007 • Practising Nature

There are some albums that are just difficult to discuss. I find this happening a lot lately with the ambient and drone albums I've been reviewing; like them, Insights is presenting me with a challenge. The lack of substance present in such albums is probably the cause. This one is simply five monolithic tracks of lush, droning ambience. It's not a bad release, yet I am struggling to find genuine enjoyment from it.

Like Eno's Ambient albums, no attempt at any sort of structure or distinctive sounds is used, and there is little rhythm to be had. Rather, each track is set up by several looping (or droning) voices to create a relatively simple, yet thick and sometimes psychedelic, sound. There are lots of layered synths, a technique which in ambient music I find to be a bit overdone; although it's used pretty effectively here it's nothing mindblowing or mesmerizing. Each track is pretty much the same as the others: lots of droning with simple synth voices, perhaps punctuated by some very subtle rhythms or melodies buried deep in the sound.

It does make good background music, though; it's not intrusive, surprising, or unpleasant. The tracks do slowly evolve over their long runtimes, although this is nearly impossible to notice without skipping around. Unfortunately, it's also relatively dull, and listening to it with the amount of attention I'm giving it now is very difficult (a bit of a trend I've been noticing with the ambient albums I've been reviewing lately, e.g. Illumination). This is especially egregious on "Whole Pulse" which is the longest track yet contains just a simple droning sound that practically doesn't ever change over nearly twenty minutes.

As there is so much ambient music out there that I've been listening to lately I can't really recommend this album. Although it is quite good at what it does, it's not terribly compelling or interesting enough to warrant more than a passing listen, and there is simply loads more music like this (yet better) that I'd rather hear. Regardless, it isn't bad, and it would probably be a good idea to check out some more of Mathias Grassow's huge back catalog; I think he has a lot of potential and there is probably something great buried in there.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Frodus – F-Letter

1996 • Double Deuce Records

There is little to say about Frodus, sadly, as they are sadly not very well-known and I simply don't know much about the band. But I do know that they have a pretty impressively-sized back catalogue of quality post-hardcore, despite their first few albums being almost totally unknown. By this, their third, they have pretty much solidified their sound into as it would be on their two well-known albums (Conglomerate International and And We Washed Our Weapons in the Sea); this one is just as good.

Frodus plays a relatively heavy and crunchy brand of post-hardcore here, kind of like a less-bombastic Refused, but with nice big solid riffs and really nice songwriting. There are some sections of clean mellow guitar, some grooving, head-bangable breakdown riffs, some dissonant noisy bits, etc., and they are masterful at fitting it all together. They also manage to make it a pretty fun experience as well and there isn't much, if any, filler to speak of; the quality remains high throughout and the band's skill at their instruments is also really good, especially the drumming; it's very dynamic and the rhythms have a lot of nice things like brief tempo modulations that sound cool.

One interesting thing about this album is that I've only listened to it a handful of times (maybe two or three) but it already feels very comfortable and familiar. Maybe it's because they sound a lot like other D.C. hardcore bands I enjoy (Fugazi, anyone?), but the music also just feels very honest. By this I refer to elements like the relatively simple songwriting, very real-sounding vocals, things like that. They don't throw any surprises at the listener; F-Letter is mostly very straightforward, and that's not a bad thing—it's actually exactly what this kind of music needs in order for it to be good.

I'm still pretty shocked that this album is still quite obscure as I think it ranks among Frodus' best (although their stuff is pretty consistently good) and this is a band that definitely can compete with Fugazi et al. for post-hardcore stardom. I guess it didn't happen, but at least they left us a lot to listen to and they're still around, so who knows?


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cex – Role Model

August 2000 • Tigerbeat6

I can't claim to be anywhere near an aficionado of electronic music (despite reviewing a lot of it lately), so sometimes I have to admit when I've been bested by an album. When I first listened to Cex back in 2008, I hated this album. I can't say why—probably because I wasn't much into electronic music then—but today I can say that I've changed my mind, and I have to give Role Model some credit.

This probably has to do somewhat with my newfound appreciation for Aphex Twin, an artist by whom this album sounds like it could have been influenced. Like a lot of Aphex Twin's material, Role Model is a slightly mixed bag but consists of mostly relaxed IDM. It's very rhythmic music, but is also full of melodies bouncing off one another on some tracks, and heavy glitches on others. The result is a very pleasing, though light, dancy sound. There is a really nice mix of textures and sounds on each track too, keeping things interesting and preventing the album from getting stale: some noise samples, lots of different synth voices, things like that.

I do with the album was a bit more cohesive; the IDM bits don't jive as well with the glitch bits and the album feels like a very randomized collection of individual tracks rather than a full, well-defined album. I'm not going to say that's necessarily a bad thing—it's not a good thing, but in this case I feel like it's easy to overlook because there aren't many weak tracks and there is a fair bit of segueing to help glue things together.

I'm glad I decided to give Role Model another shot, because it really is worth it if IDM is your thing. Sure, it may not be as good as the Aphex Twin albums it reminds me of, but that's not really fair anyway. It stands pretty well on its own and is worthy of a few listens.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Carbonized – Disharmonization

1993 • Foundation 2000

There is some music I think I will just never understand for whatever reason, be it something too unusual or just too bad. I've listened to Disharmonization a good handful of times now and still can't find myself able to pick out much good in it.

The main reason I find this album so unappealing is that it never seems to know what it's doing or where it's headed. It starts off with some straightforward light rock sort of stuff, then jumps to some boring pseudo-gothy metal, then death metal (or is that some weird black metal/grindcore hybrid?), then some jazzy stuff, some psychedelic rock... it doesn't flow at all and nothing seems to fit together. It's possible to have erratic songwriting and have it still come out good (there are plenty of avant-garde metal and tech death bands that can do this) but not here. Riffs are mashed together haphazardly and it's impossible to follow the music along most of the time; as a result no song is memorable and once it's over I pretty much have no clue what I just listened to.

I'm not a fan of the sound in general, either. While some of the death metal riffs are decent (and the guitar and drums jive pretty well here and there), there's far more bad than good. Sometimes the guitar just spaces out, playing some very repetitive and boring lines, grinding any previously-established groove to a halt. Admittedly the drumming is quite well-done, and I like the jazzy parts, though they don't fit in with the rest of the composition well. The vocals are abysmal. Clearly they were having more fun experimenting with different effects (lots of reverb and pitch-shifting) than trying to come up with a consistent sound that fit the music. There's some growling, some bad singing, some spoken stuff, and almost none of it goes with the music well. The production is very thin, making the songs seem kind of empty. Sometimes that's a good thing, but I don't think it fits with what the band was trying to go for.

Simply put, I can't understand the appeal of this album. It tries to do too many things but it can't do any of them well, and it just sounds like a mess. I suppose for people who are really into finding the weirdest metal they possibly can, this album would be right up their alley, but I've heard weird and chaotic music done well and this just isn't near that.


Friday, January 20, 2012

DJ Hidden – The Later After

March 6, 2007 • Ad Noiseam

After my recent good experiences with darkstep and finding that it's a genre I enjoy, I've been trying to explore it a bit more and see what else it has to offer. A bit of exploration led me to DJ Hidden's debut album The Later After, and for being a very impromptu listen I was pleasantly surprised.

As with the Black Sun Empire I recently reviewed, one of The Later After's strongest points is its atmospherics: bits of dark ambient, buzzing drones, shimmering highs, and spoken word samples that permeate the music. I really like it; it helps make the album pretty spooky and sometimes industrial-sounding. The beats and drumlines themselves, though, should not go without mention. They are some of the best I've heard in recent memory. They alternate between being just barely there and being incredibly heavy, which fits the atmosphere well and is really effective at emphasizing dynamics. They're also pretty danceable (at least, that's what I'm guessing; I didn't actually dance to them).

Interestingly, though, DJ Hidden has managed to put together a sound that works well with pretty much nothing else. It's mostly drums and ambience—very little melody, and not much bass either. When there is a melody, though, it's always very deliberate and purposeful (see "Here Lies the Confusion"). The consequence of this is that the music feels very sparse (yet, again, I think that's the point, as it's supposed to feel creepy and atmospheric). Also, I already listen to a lot of electronic music that's very rhythm-based (and hip hop) so it's not too alien to me, while I can expect some people to be turned off by something like this. And amazingly enough, despite the style of this album being pretty consistent throughout, I don't really feel like it ever gets very repetitive. Even each track, which may only have one or two different beats to it, is still combined effectively with the atmosphere and has plenty of dynamics to keep things interesting.

I'm really glad I found this album; it's very much right up my alley in terms of style with the noise and ambience. I might concede that it's not the ideal DnB album, as there is such a heavy focus on the drums and not as much buzzsaw bass as I like, but that's okay. It's still a really good listen; recommended, as long as you know what you're getting into.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Björk – Biophilia

October 10, 2011 • One Little Indian Records

So I've been a Björk fan for some time now, and I have even enjoyed Medúlla and Volta considerably even though people seem to think she's been going downhill lately. After listening critically to Biophilia, I am going to have to agree; it is unfortunately a pretty dull album that doesn't offer anything new or better than her older material.

I think probably one of the biggest issues with this album is that it seems like Björk has gotten a bit too comfortable with her sound, and the music is suffering because of it. Nothing here sounds too much different from Volta: it's very vocal-centric, with instrumentation simply supporting the vocals in the background. The music does pull out some really creative stuff here and there, using some unique instruments (for a pop album), but most of the music is not very attention-grabbing. Instead of Homogenic's dark and dirty beats or Post's eccentric and theatrical numbers, Biophilia is mostly very quiet—and very safe. A lot of the time the music feels like it is going nowhere and many songs just end out of the blue, which feels awkward. There is the occasional awesome exception, though, like the neat drum and bass-ish sections in "Crystalline", "Sacrifice", and "Mutual Core". They aren't very Björk-sounding and kind of come out of nowhere, but they are refreshing to hear and work pretty well in context (not to mention they are about the only times the beats get really interesting).

I feel like I should discuss the vocals some since it is a pop album but honestly like I said if you've heard Volta you've heard this as well. They are very typical for her style and while they certainly aren't bad, they aren't very interesting either, especially for someone like me who listens to music for the music, where vocals support the music and not vice versa. So obviously it will probably appeal to some more than others, but it doesn't do anything for me.

I had some pretty high hopes for this album and I liked the album on the first couple listens, but now I don't, and I think that made the disappointment even worse. Fortunately we still have a handful of very strong earlier albums from her to listen to, even if we aren't going to get that quality of material out of her anymore.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Fuck the Facts – Disgorge Mexico

July 22, 2008 • Relapse Records

If there was such a thing as "progressive grindcore", Disgorge Mexico would definitely be an archetype of the style. Fuck the Facts have crafted a totally brilliant record that, while hardly letting up from the brutality, is full of excellent riffing and compositions which make it stand out as a fantastic album.

One of the album's strengths, and probably the reason I like it so much, is its ability to effortlessly fuse different styles and make it seem totally natural. It takes influences from mathcore, deathcore, sludge metal, maybe even black metal and alternative rock, especially on the album's lengthy monster "The Storm", which is nine minutes long but at no point does it feel drawn-out. The band uses a lot of dynamics, atypical of grind, to great effect. "Dead End", "The Storm", and "Apathy Is a Karma Killer" all start with quiet intros of clean guitar that slowly evolve into heavy riffing (giving it that "progressive" feel) and pull it off really well. None of songs are ever repetitive; rather the riffs change up pretty frequently yet it never feels too chaotic.

It probably helps that their particular brand of grindcore is one I'm already pretty fond of—lots of blasting, very technical riffs, very headbangable rhythmic grooves, and excellent screamed/growled vocals. In fact I haven't heard too many bands with female vocalists who do this kind of vocals where it sounds bad. I guess I just happen to like harsh female vocals for some reason.

I'm also sort of shocked by the fact that this album is actually 43 minutes long, which is immense for grindcore, yet at no point does it feel too long. Again, this is probably because the sound is so diverse (and the tracks are still mostly short, and if they're not short they completely deserve their length). With just a couple exceptions, no grindcore album has been able to completely justify such a length, but Disgorge Mexico has done just that.

Simply put, anyone into punk or metal should hear this. It's brilliant the whole way through and is definitely one of my favorite grind albums of all-time. There's simply nothing not to like.


Friday, January 13, 2012

Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind – Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground

1998 • Feral House

I had been itching to read this book for quite some time now, having heard a lot of good things about and being a fan of black metal for several years. When I finally got a copy, it turned out to be even better than my expectations. I admittedly haven't read too many music-related books (I hope to change this in the future) but Lords of Chaos is already standing out among the best.

Being a book about a very niche musical scene, I was a bit wary about the its quality before I read it—after all, it's a subject that I assume few people (in the general scheme of things) would take seriously. However, Moynihan and Søderlind did a fantastic job writing the book, and it is very well written and put-together. Focusing exclusively on the history of the scene than the music allows the authors to explore the story in great detail, and there is a lot more to it than I had thought. In fact, the narrative goes all the way back to metal's beginnings in the '60s and '70s, discussing early Satanic music like Black Sabbath (and some non-metal groups like Coven). It relies less on just interviews for material than I expected (there is about half interviews and half regular narration) which is great for the book's flow and pacing and helps keep things interesting throughout, even for someone who is already sort of familiar with the stories. I also really enjoyed how the book keeps the reader guessing at what happens next, opting to give gradual clues as to how events unfolded; for instance, in the chapter about Øystein Aarseth's murder, it isn't explicitly stated right off the bad who did it—rather, the authors let the story unfold before subtly revealing Varg Vikernes' involvement through several interviews. Techniques like this also help to keep the bias of the book to a minimum; the authors let the reader come to their own conclusion about Vikernes' motive by offering different viewpoints from people involved and never state themselves if they think it was committed in self-defense or not. It gives the book a very honest feel to it, which I think is necessary and deserved.

Of course, good writing is no substitute for a good story, but Lords of Chaos definitely delivers. Even though I was vaguely aware of most things discussed in the book, reading about them here showed me that there was a lot more to what happened than I had thought. Even though the book focuses on a few particular things—church burnings, Aarseth's shop Helvete, Dead's suicide, the murders by Bård Eithun and Varg Vikernes, Vikernes' sentence, Satanism and pagan religion's influence, and the spread of black metal around the world—it goes into each with intimate depth, partly in thanks to the personal interviews. The book goes way beyond than just listing who was in what bands; it discusses a lot of how these groups influenced not only metal acts to follow but also the media reported it and the public's reaction, something that I haven't considered until now. I'd say it's a book that's a lot more about people than it is music; music only factors in incidentally. That's not a bad thing (unless you were really hoping for a book just about music) and it gives the book a very unique feel.

The book is not without its flaws; one of the most egregious is that the narrative has the tendency to go wildly off-tangent, one major example being a particularly long section about UFOs and ancient astronaut theory. It ties in to how many national socialist / fascist / racialist people also are interested in such topics, but I feel that it distracts quite a bit from the book's original purpose. This probably has something to do with the book's over-heavy focus on Varg Vikernes, which is understandable as he was very influential in the scene, but it was still a bit much for me. Additionally, for all topics the book covers, it doesn't once touch on the actual sonic qualities of black metal itself (as I mentioned above). Obviously the book is advertised as historical and not about music production, but it would have been nice to hear at least some about how black metal's sound developed alongside its ideals.

Regardless, it's still an excellent read all around and there was hardly a moment when I felt disinterest in the content. Highly recommendable; I can see this book appealing to anyone with even a passing interest in metal, Scandinavian culture, fringe ideologies, pop history, or good old murder drama. Just make sure to pop in some old Mayhem albums when you flip through it.

Daniel Menche – Feral

2011 • Sub Rosa

Experimental music can be a crapshoot. Sometimes, the style created is fresh, interesting, and arresting; other times it fails to warrant listening. Daniel Menche's Feral is a strange mix which unfortunately lands more often on the "boring" side, although when it gets good it is quite good indeed.

While Menche may be a very well-respected artist in the underground experimental scene, unfortunately most of the music on this album doesn't do much for me. These four long pieces all seem to focus on one particular texture, drawing out one sound endlessly. Yes, the sounds do evolve and shift as they go, but they take so long to do so that it's hard to notice. It feels like very simple music, and while simple music can often be good, here it isn't. It just takes way too long for the tracks to develop into anything interesting. They stand as four giant monoliths of sound, hardly going anywhere but just existing, and to me it just isn't worth spending seventeen minutes on each.

On a smaller scale, though, the music is pretty good when not taken in all at once. The fourth track especially is really neat, its climax evoking imagery of electric storms and static developing from the darkness. Menche's particular brand of noisy-ambient-drone is pretty unique and for the most part I like what I'm hearing on this track. The third track does a very similar thing, evolving from quiet sweeping sounds into a torrent of chunky and somewhat harsh noise.

Still, despite those two tracks being standouts, it doesn't do much to save the album when listened to as a whole. Skipping through each track reveals the subtle changes and lets me get to the good bits faster, but as it's intended the album is simply too boring to be enjoyable. If the third and fourth tracks were shortened up and placed alongside more material like them, I'd be very pleased with a release like that, but it didn't happen here. Another album relegated to "background noise" status.


Grown Ups – More Songs

May 18, 2010 • Topshelf Records

I was recommended Grown Ups as a way to help satiate my desire to hear more midwestern-style emo, a genre I'd been heavily getting into lately, and their first full-length More Songs turned out to be pretty good. Although its sound may seem a bit rehashed at first, the band brings a bit of its own flair to an old style with a lot of success and create a pretty good listen.

Normally I'd say that new midwest / indie emo would be a bit stale coming out in 2010 and it's true that a lot of Grown Ups' sound is heavily derivative from bands like Braid, Brand New, Owls, or The Appleseed Cast; punky songwriting with aggressive drums and vocals accompanied by mostly-clean twinkly guitars and some gang vocals: it's nothing we didn't hear fifteen years ago when this style was really taking off. But it is interesting to hear when the instrumental dynamic is a bit unexpected, such as a very fast, aggressive riff that has clean guitars playing along. It's unusual but it's a neat idea and usually works pretty well, even when there are shouted vocals and the bass has a bit of a distorted edge to it. This is especially interesting during the more pop-punk-sounding bits; it's just weird for me to hear such fast and heavy music played without distortion.

The album does get to dragging a bit, unfortunately; the songs are all very much the same and in the middle of it the album begins to stop being quite as attention-grabbing (not that it was much in the first place). It's unfortunate because they are playing a style I usually very much enjoy and don't mind listening to a lot of it at once, but here it would be nice to have a bit more variety. It doesn't help that the song structures seem very erratic and it's very hard to follow the music a lot of the time.

Regardless, this is still a pretty good album, although I don't think I'd personally recommend it to newcomers to the genre as it might be a bit difficult to get into (it took a couple listens for me). But they do play the genre well and are enjoyable for what it's worth.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Darkspace – Dark Space I

October 13, 2003 • Haunter of the Dark

Few things are as disappointing as when you are recommended an album by someone who claims it's one of the greatest of all time, only to listen and find out you don't really care for it. Such was the case when I heard Darkspace, touted by many as legends of atmospheric black metal. I had high expectations for their debut album, but I wasn't overly impressed with it and haven't found a lot of reasons to revisit it.

It could be that I'm just jaded—I have listened to a lot of black metal lately—but Dark Space I never really interested me. In theory it should be good, though. It's a nice mix of ambient atmosphere, chugging deathy riffs, screaming tremolo and blast beats. But these riffs and atmospheres don't stand out in my mind as being much different from a lot of the other black metal like it I've heard; we have echoes of Immortal, ColdWorld, maybe Wolves in the Throne Room, a mix of older and newer black metal styles. It's actually kind of neat to hear a fusion like that, but at the same time I feel like I'd much rather listen to the artists that I already know that sound like them. At the same time, I do enjoy the atmosphere quite a bit, and some of the guitar lines are pretty good, although nothing stunning.

Despite being black metal, the album's production is exceptionally bad for being released in 2003, which also makes it difficult to listen to. It's nearly all guitars; the drums, keys, vocals, and bass (if there even was any) are nearly indiscernable. Sure, sometimes the guitars play interesting things, but I want to hear what the drums and keys are doing too. Genre is no excuse for this sort of thing.

But my biggest complaint is definitely the length. Each track is incredibly long and drawn-out, making listening to the whole album almost a chore. After the third track I was already tired. I think a lot of that is due to the total lack of dynamics, making each track and incredibly dense wall of constant noise, and over-repetition in the riffing which make each track seem to just go on and on.

I am disappointed, because I was expecting this album to blow me away and that simply didn't happen. It makes decent background music but that's as far as I'm willing to take it. Considering the praise it's received I guess I'm just out of the loop on something; it may not be for me but obviously Darkspace has many fans so take my words with a grain of salt, I suppose.


Vitamin X – Down the Drain

2002 • Havoc Records

When I get a hankering for hardcore punk, I usually turn right to the classic bands of the early '80s (your Minor Threats, Black Flags, etc.), but it's easy to forget that good hardcore bands have always been around and some are still cranking out quality material. Vitamin X formed in 1998, long after hardcore's heyday, but are sorely overlooked and have created a really fun album with Down the Drain.

The sound is typical for thrashcore: incredibly fast riffing, spastic drumming, screams galore, etc. While Vitamin X may not sound terribly original on the surface, their playing and songwriting skills are pretty damn good. Progressing from older hardcore's three-chord clichés, we hear some neat metal-inspired riffs, the occasional blast beat, and some cool guitar/bass dynamics. It's a somewhat familiar sound but at the same time very much matured from what you might get from an '80s band, which I think is appropriate for an album coming out in 2002. The guitar and drums are both technically very impressive which helps keep the songs diverse and interesting.

One of the album's biggest weaknesses, though, is its length, although in a different way than most albums. Yes, it's only 22 minutes long, but it's different when all 22 of those minutes are pummeling your ears near-constantly. It's not that the album is full of filler—in fact, every song is as good as the next—but I firmly believe that the album format is not a good one for this style of music. Had Down the Drain been split into two EPs, it would be (in my opinion) the perfect format, as it's about halfway through that it starts to get a little tiring (not much, and not enough for me to stop listening, but it does).

Regardless, I have to respect the band for writing as many quality tracks for this album as they did. Even if it's a bit lengthy, at no point did any of it feel like filler, which is a pretty amazing feat. Needless to say, I'm a fan, as should be anyone into hardcore punk.



January 9, 2009 • Editions Mego

It is an unfortunate truth that the reason some artists are so prolific is that their quality control is not as good as it should be. Take, for instance, an artist like Merzbow, who churns out albums at an alarming rate—some of them are excellent and among my favorites, while others are simply crap that does nothing for me. Stephen O'Malley, of Sunn O))) fame, has been starting to fall into this pattern lately, although usually the quality releases are separated from the others by different artist names. Sunn O))) has a pretty darn good catalog, but another of his groups, KTL, is a bit more lacking. Their 2009 effort IV continues the trend.

Simply put, IV is a dull album. I know it's entirely possible to create interesting and captivating drone music, as we have seen with the Sunn O))) album that came out the same year. But KTL fails to captivate in the same way that Monoliths and Dimensions did. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that KTL feels like a throwaway side project rather than a full-fledged band (even despite having the same number of members as Sunn O)))). Perhaps whether KTL releases are any good is of little consequence; rather, O'Malley and Rehberg want to simply experiment and see where things go. But I don't think it worked particulary well.

The music itself is mostly vanilla dark ambient occasionally punctuated by some industrial noises and seemingly-random, slow, angular guitar riffs in typical O'Malley style. It sounds okay in theory but the execution falls flat for me. Despite some tracks being pretty long, the sound doesn't develop in any way, just continuing until it decides to stop for whatever reason. Some of the sounds and textures are pretty good and every once in a while the music does get slightly interesting but these moments are few, and pretty weak.

It would be unfair to say that this album is all bad, though; "Wicked Way" is a standout track despite its shortness—it just sounds really cool—and the dreamy end of "Natural Trouble" is quite beautiful as well. It's unfortunate that the bulk of the album is taken up with music like that of "Benbbet", which is incredibly boring and pointless (and fifteen minutes long, for some godforsaken reason), and "Wicked Way" and "Natural Trouble" can't save it.

In short, the album just isn't worth the time. KTL simply isn't bringing anything new or interesting to the table. It's a shame, but then again there are plenty of places to look for good music like this. Personally, I'll stick to Sunn O))).


Friday, January 6, 2012

Charizma & Peanut Butter Wolf – Big Shots

November 18, 2003 • Stones Throw Records

For some bizarre reason, Big Shots has seem to flown over the heads of a lot of casual hip hop fans, and it baffles me as to why. After just one listen, I knew this album would become one of my all-time favorites, and I was right (it's in my top 5 hip hop albums for sure). It just does everything right on every level, and is a party to listen to every time.

It's easy to point out what makes this album so goddamn good—everything about the album is made perfectly and combined just right. Peanut Butter Wolf's beats are fantastic; despite sounding like standard early '90s west coast stuff at first, they're really upbeat and contain some great samples (including a lot of now-classic hip hop artists, which are fun to pick up on) and scratching (I love some good scratching; most albums I've heard so far have little if none). Sometimes they're a bit jazzy, Tribe-style, which is nice too (Tribe is an obvious overall influence, which I'm not going to complain about). The drums are sometimes excruciatingly heavy but the samples and melodies that go along with them create a really nice aloof atmosphere out of nowhere. It doesn't make sense how it works, but it clicks perfectly, especially when listening in the car. I don't think any album has made me want to dance as much as this one, the grooves are so good.

Charizma is a great MC, too; it's a fitting moniker as he clearly has a lot of it. His delivery is completely confident and on-point. Unlike all the typical hardcore rappers of the time, he doesn't need to say he's the best MC around; he shows it in his style instead. Sometimes it seems like he's channeling Big L (he sounds a bit like him, too), but in a more mature way. I'm not sure what all the lyrics are about (from what I can tell, mostly girls and apple juice), but they sound more intelligent and clever than the average west coast swag, which is always a plus.

In short, there isn't a single filler track on here; it's just hit after hit that shows an incredible amount of talent from both members. Even the lone skit is not only listenable, but decent (I hate skits). They throw in a lot of really cool bits with effects and beat switching to keep it interesting, and there isn't a low point on the album. Required listening for any and all hip hop fans.


Brian Eno – Small Craft on a Milk Sea

November 2, 2010 • Warp Records

I've recently become a pretty big fan of Brian Eno, and have been digging his older ambient work (Ambients 1 and 4 and Another Green World especially). Small Craft on a Milk Sea, though, veers off in an entirely different direction (thanks to collaborators Jon Hopkins and Leo Abrahams) that barely even sounds like the Eno we know and love, and it's a weird experience.

I feel like I should start with that warning, because anyone starting to listen to the album for the first time might not have an idea anything's wrong until it's too late. Though the first three tracks are standard ambient fare comparable to Music for Films, after that the album suddenly turns into electronic music, mostly IDM, for its middle third. As Jon Hopkins is an IDM artist (not to mention that this album is on Warp Records) I shouldn't have been surprised to hear it, but it is still weird to hear. Because of this, the album suffers from a total lack of cohesiveness—the tracks don't feel like they belong together at all.

Now I'm not bashing the music; in fact, it's quite good. Eno's ambient compositions have always been strong in being able to express a very affective tone and mood with only minimal instrumentation and composition; this album isn't an exception and I don't think he's lost his touch yet. Though the pieces are mostly pretty short, much like in Music for Films it still feels like they are taking you somewhere. Unfortunately, since they are so short, you never really arrive, and the next track starts too soon to whisk you somewhere else.

This collaboration shows a lot of promise, but Small Craft failed to come through for me. The music is good but the songs are too short to really go anywhere, and all the genre-jumping makes listening to the album like flipping through a "Best of Warp Records" compilation. It's not a good feeling for me. However, even though this review probably sounds pretty harsh, the album is still a good listen. The tracks are very fine ambient and electronic that is definitely worth listening to. I just hope we can see a more matured version of this sound from Brian Eno sometime soon.