Monday, April 30, 2012

Record store haul: April 29, 2012

I decided to pass on Record Store Day this year because it sounded stupid. Apparently I didn't miss much. I found a decent amount of stuff at Used Kids today, although it seems like the selection was a bit slimmer compared to usual. Such is life.

Kraftwerk – The Man-Machine (LP, $8)

While I prefer my Kraftwerk in pure, unfiltered German, I'll take an English copy if I find one in good condition for a good price, as I have done here. It's classic electronic music, as I barely need mention as anyone who'd be interested has surely heard it by now. It took me forever to get into them, but I'm glad I did; despite their being considered kitschy and outdone by now, they still have great songs that don't sound too dated to me. This was a great find to go along with my cassette of Autobahn; now if only I could find a copy of Computerwelt... sigh.

Wolf Eyes – Slicer (CD, $7)

Not my favorite Wolf Eyes, but I'll snag anything by them as it seems to be rare material—although it is odd that it's the second Wolf Eyes release I've found in the same store. I guess Columbus has its share of noise lovers. I actually haven't listened to this in a long time, so my opinion has probably changed—I probably haven't heard it since I really started to "understand" noise music—so it's totally possible that I'll like it a lot more now. We'll see.

Mission of Burma – Spider's Web (12", $3)

This is a limited promotional single that someone felt fit to dump about seven copies in the store all at once. I snagged one, and was elated to find that the B-side has a really cool etching on it. Oh, and the music is decent too. Not quite up there with their oldest stuff, but who's surprised?

E. Nygma – The Freewheelin' E. Nygma (3" CD-R, $1)

This CD has been sitting in the "avant-garde stuff no one understands" section for a long time now, with the dismissive "Who knows?" written on the price tag. Interestingly, while the liner notes mention eight tracks (and I found a download confirming this), the disc inside had only three, and the music was different. Not sure what happened there. Both releases are amateurish noise.

Antonín Dvořák – Symphony No. 9 ‹From the New World› [Concertgebouw Orchestra / Sir Colin Davis] (cassette, $1)

I'm pretty sure I have Dvořák's ninth symphony somewhere on vinyl (at least one copy), but it's good, and I like tapes, so whatever. It's not a bad recording, not the greatest I've heard, but Philips' classical cassettes are a decent little bunch.

U-God – Golden Arms Redemption (cassette, $1)

I've heard many people say that U-God's solo album was bad, and I seem to be among a tiny minority that actually liked it. Yeah, it's a bit poppy and cheesy, but it's got those classic east coast beats (only a few RZA, sadly, but the other producers don't do too badly themselves) and I am a fan of U-God's unique voice; his rapping here is really not that bad. Yeah, it's a bit campy, but whatever. I like it.

Björk – Big Time Sensuality (cassette, $1)

A single from her album Debut, which for some reason I don't yet have even though I've heard it and it's just as good as her other ones. This single has a couple neato remixes on it. Nothing terribly special, but a cool find nonetheless.

L.G.A.S.M. – July 15th 2009 @ Strange Maine (cassette, $2)

Another release rescued from the "avant-garde stuff no one understands" section. This is a live show of a band that plays some sort of improvisational noise not-quite-rock, like a shitty Black Dice. It's not terrible, but I wasn't too impressed on first listen. Props for using a recycled, spraypainted tape; no props for having the same thing on both sides. That's just silly.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Rockets and Bluelights – A Smashed City with Flames and Music in the Air

2003 • Redder Records

I love finding lost little gems of music; it's one of my favorite things about diving deep into music. I don't know how obscure Rockets and Bluelights actually are, but their EP A Smashed City with Flames and Music in the Air is really satisfying my desire for more of the indie emo style I've recently come to love.

Granted, my enjoyment of this band is definitely a personal thing. They sound very much like a more mumbly-and-instrumental version of Cap'n Jazz, one of my all-time favorites, with a nice mix of heavy punk riffing and jangly clean guitars with hints of post-rock and math rock mixed in. If you know what Cap'n Jazz sounds like, Rockets and Bluelights are basically the same thing (though maybe a bit less heavy and a bit slower). (If you don't know what they sound like, why not?!)

Aside from sometimes being a bit hard to follow, the songwriting is practically perfect—I love just about everything every instrument does and it's put together really well. The bass guitar gets some great lines and even a faux-solo here and there, while the guitars play off each other perfectly and pull out some pretty complex melodies. There is also a bit of math rock influence with the occasional odd beat pattern, polyrhythm, or off-kilter drumline, which is really neat. There's just something about these riffs that gets to me... take the stop-start ending of "Andee"; it's just really good and I don't even know how to say why.

If I had to complain about anything, it would be that the production is a bit sloppy; sometimes instrument timing is off and the vocals are buried so deep that they're almost inaudible. There's nothing too special about the vocals, though, so it's not really a huge issue, but they still weren't given justice.

And of course it's too damn short! Yes, yes, it's an EP, and fifteen minutes is a good EP runtime, but it still begs to be listened to twice in a row because I'm never satisfied when it's over. And that's when you know you have something truly special on your hands.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Death Grips – The Money Store

April 24, 2012 • Epic Records

Hopping on the hype train once again, it's time for Death Grips' The Money Store, this month's indie hip hop critic darling. As it turns out, there's good reason for that. I'm only marginally familiar with their debut Exmilitary, and I liked it; this, though, is one of the most interesting followups I've heard. It's on a major label and offers a more catchy sound, yet somehow at the same time it's still dense and impenetrable. And, yes, it's good.

Happily, Death Grisps seems to be intensely deconstructing their hardcore freak-out style and seeing what new things they can do with it. The Money Store's beats have become a bit softer, catchier, and more "west-coast-sounding", but the result is just as good as their debut. The songs can be a bit hit-or-miss (there are a couple lame tracks like "Fuck That"), but when they hit they hit hard. "Hustle Bones", for instance, has a huge bassy distorted beat that is still somehow nicely danceable; "Hacker" has a fantastic and infections house beat and a great hook; there are too many examples to list them all. Many of the new sounds heard draw from various electronic genres (there's lots of indie electronic, IDM, bastardized downtempo, house, and of course the surprisingly-awesome poppy style of "I've Seen Footage"), which is wildly successful. And some tracks still have that nice dissonant creepy sound I liked on Exmilitary, like "Lost Boys" and the crazy bass wobble on "System Blower", so there's quite a mix of styles here. On the whole the production isn't as thick as before, but it's more nuanced and rewarding.

The rapping leaves a bit to be desired, though; MC Ride's vocals here are more "normal", unlike Exmilitary, with very little of the intense yelling that made that album memorable. It's one of the elements that made Exmilitary as compelling as it was, and to hear it so downplayed here makes me feel like there was some wasted potential. However, here it does fit the beats' softer and more melodic style really well, so I'm not going to complain too much. And there is still harsher rapping to be found here and there.

On the whole The Money Store is definitely a strong album, among some of the most interesting hip hop I've heard to come out in the last couple years (though admittedly I don't keep up as much as I probably should). It's not perfect, and there are a few filler tracks here and there (as much as the album tries to make you forget about them), but I would say it does live up to most of its hype and has its share of really good tracks.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Imynvokad – Ad Ordines Descendens

January 8, 2010 • Pale Horse Recordings

Imynvokad is an obscure little black metal one-man band from Texas, of all places, who has released a few EPs over the years. The band's latest shows a sound very much in the traditional school of atmospheric black metal, and while it's definitely not bad it doesn't engage me that much.

The band's sound is actually pretty tight compared to a lot of similar bands—Imynvokad has somehow made black metal sound raw and well-produced at the same time (you can actually hear the bass!). The instrumentation is tight, with some skillful drumming and really nice vocals. I am a fan of unusual screaming styles; here we get a very tortured and raspy sound not unlike that heard in early Amesoeurs.

When it comes to the songs themselves, though, Imynvokad isn't really treading any new ground—while the music is pretty decent, it still manages to sound more or less like a hundred other black metal bands I've heard before. Fortunately it's not all generic blasting; there's plenty of more atmospheric slower bits and even some punky drum lines on the B-side. But I can't help feeling like it's music we've all heard before.

Still, it's not a bad release, and I'd be more than happy to check out a full-length release, assuming the style started to branch out of such a traditional sound... This was released in 2010, and black metal has gone so many places in the last fifteen-or-so years. There's talent to be found here and it is risking getting lost if it doesn't keep up.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Krobak – The Diary of the Missed One

February 14, 2008 • Cardiowave

I'm pretty sure that I'm officially tired of post-rock now. I picked up The Diary of the Missed One back when I couldn't get enough of it, and I didn't even care for it then; now I am finding it difficult to review because I simply don't want to listen to it. It reminds me of dozens of other amateur-sounding post-rock albums made by people who must have decided—wrongly, of course—that it's easy music to make. But Krobak's music is dull and unchallenging and I simply don't find it interesting.

It's not all bad, to be sure; the guitars are exploited to get some pretty neat feedback and other effects, and there is some nice atmospheric noise here and there. The progression of each track and buildup is pretty decent, mostly done through guitar layering, although the acutal songwriting itself is a bit dull. Each track is about one or two riffs each, repeated ad nauseum, and while I suppose that is a comment ingredient in post-rock and the buildup helps build a consistent atmosphere and mood, it doesn't always click with me. It's very easy to get distracted as the music rarely grabs your attention with anything interesting.

One of the other big turn-offs for me about this album is that it has a very amateur sound, mostly due to the obviously synthesized bass and drums. The bass isn't as noticeable but the drums use a very basic kit (I think I recognize some of the sounds from my own early work, too), which ruins the atmosphere in a lot of places. This is especially jarring when the drums will randomly throw in a couple cymbal crashes—often in the middle of a measure—for no apparent reason. They also try to be more intense than the guitar lines which sometimes creates a bad contrast of moods, only really working well at the end of "By the Music of Autumn Trees".

My advice to Krobak: Get a real band with a real drummer and work on your songwriting, because on your own it doesn't work. I suppose The Diary of the Missed One could be appealing to a small niche of hardcore amateur-post-rock fans but I'm no longer one of them. Maybe that's because of albums like this.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

dB Soundworks – The Binding of Isaac

September 28, 2011 • self-released

Since I picked up the game a few months ago I've sunk almost a hundred hours into The Binding of Isaac, a rogulike-action-RPG-twin-stick-shooter sort of game. Its short playstyle and huge depth makes it incredibly addictive and fun. Not to mention, of course, that it has a pretty slick soundtrack as well; admittedly lately I've been playing with the music off and listening to something else since, well, a hundred hours of the same music can get repetitive. But that's not to say it's bad!

On the contrary—its music is very well-crafted, mostly a sort of classical-electronic fusion (similar to db Soundworks' other) with sweeping, doom-laden string ensembles and choirs, backing some ambient yet melodic synthwork. As far as soundtracks go, it's pretty standard fare; these sorts of arrangements wouldn't be out of place in your average sci-fi or drama film, except for the nice IDM-like beats integrated into the mix. See "Divine Combat" for a perfect example—the dark strings combined with the frantic glitchy beats and infectious melody clicks amazingly well. Or "Dreadful"'s incredibly tense, Jaws-like strings and ambient house beats. There are also more dreamy pieces like the ambient "Peace Be With You", offering a nice contrast to the tension of other tracks.

One thing I'm not a huge fan of, though, is that there's a bit less variety in this seventy-two minute album than I would like. Many of the songs are remixes or variations on melodies in earlier tracks—take the tune "$4cR1f1c14|_", a chiptune remix of "Sacrificial", or "Greed", an easy-listening version of the same. In the game, these tracks' inclusions are justified—they are played in the arcade and shop respectively—but on the album they should have been no more than trivial bonus tracks, not central tracks (and certainly not five minutes, in "$4cR1f1c14|_"'s case).

It's hard to fault the soundtrack for that, though, since the tracks are so well-composed that it's impossible to dislike it. The way the electronic synths and beats are combined with the classical music is simply perfect—not to mention that the classical bits, on their own, are still pretty amazing and sound absolutely fantastic. Also worth mentioning is the awesome tech house remix of many of the main themes by Big Giant Circles, one of my favorite tracks on the album. So yeah; it's definitely one of the better game soundtracks I've heard lately. I could be biased from hearing it so much but I'd say it's definitely worth a listen.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Darren Korb – Bastion

August 05, 2011 • Supergiant Games

Bastion is a game that generated some massive hype and most people into modern indie gaming have heard of it, I'm sure; I thought it was decent, albeit short and repetitive and it seemed like more thought was put into its aesthetics than its gameplay. That's fine by me, since its soundtrack is pretty well-done and one of my favorite parts of the game.

Most of the music is a fusion of chilled-out electronic beats fused with influences from folk music, most of it eastern Asian and western American. It's a strange-sounding combo, but it actually works pretty well (and I've actually heard the eastern/western folk fusion done to effect in other soundtracks like for the film Hero). Acoustic and clean electric guitars are balanced with instruments like sitar, (what I think is) shamisen, and exotic percussion, all over a heavy, glitchy, and sometimes menacing downtempo beat. It's a style that worked well in-game but also well outside of it (to a lesser extent, though). Some songs work better on their own than others, mostly ones that have heavier beats and more country/folk fusion like "Terminal March" or "Spike in a Rail", while the more mellow or slow ones are more difficult to enjoy on their own. And, as usual, some tracks suffer from being cut off at the end where normally they'd be looped. It's not a bad thing but it's more jarring than it should be.

It's difficult to describe the music much more without going into fantastic detail—on one level, it's the electronic/folk fusion I've talked about; deeper down there are a ton of influences from other genres and a ton of different instruments used that push the music all over the map (like the admittedly-awesome industrial rock style of "Brusher Patrol"). It's a testament to composer Darren Korb's diverse talent, to be sure, especially since the album still mostly feels like one coherent work.

But as with any soundtrack, its staying power is definitely lessened outside the game; the tracks can get repetitive (aside from the obvious non-background-music ones, like the vocal tracks) making the album seem way longer than it is—par for the course for most soundtracks, though, so I can't fault it much for it. Needless to say, it's best experienced in-game, though I don't know if I'll ever actually play the game a second time (not that it was bad, just probably not worth it). The music, though, is definitely worth a couple listens.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012


1982 • Kid Stuff Records

I know what you're thinking: "Asteroids barely had any music!" Yeah, it was basically two notes, like the Jaws theme, and nothing else, both on the Atari 2600 and the arcade version most people are probably familiar with (and the one I played most; there was a cabinet at our local roller skating rink: pretty neat!). Fortunately nobody was dumb enough to release that terrible two-note monstrosity as a real soundtrack, but this little promo EP that came out for the Atari 2600 version isn't much better. Its three annoying songs are painfully stupid and simply aren't very good.

In short, we have a very dated '80s-sounding fanfare for the Atari theme, an incredibly cheesy space-age-pop tune with embarrassing vocals and lyrics, and a less-awful synth-pop-ish tune with some robotic-sounding vocals. None of them are any good, especially the second one, but as promotional material goes they could have done worse. Their decision to include lyrics that mentioned things that weren't even remotely related to the game is a bit sad though (there's no time warping anywhere, for one), and the only two features of the game ("HYPERSPACE! ... THRUST CONTROL!") are way more banal than the songs make them out to be.

It's an interesting piece of game history, I suppose, but even if video gaming was still in its infancy in the early '80s, music was not, and this could have had some actually decent music on it. Oh well.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

竹間淳 – Bomberman Hero

June 1, 1998 • NTT Publishing

While Tetrisphere may have been one of the two first console games I owned, its companion Bomberman Hero was much more memorable to me. Its platforming-adventure style not only helped cement my later taste for N64 games, but its music was also enthralling to me at the time. And it's still quite a good listen, too; it may be more kid-friendly than your run-of-the-mill gritty, hardcore drum and bass, but there's a lot of good electronic music here which not only accompanied the game well but stands on its own as a great album.

While admittedly most of the music has a slightly campy, cheesy feel to it, I don't see that as a bad thing—the catchy little melodies are great ("Redial" for a good early example, not to mention "Zip"'s lovely marimba) and the soundtrack has a very fun feeling to it throughout, even on the darker tracks ("darker" isn't saying a whole lot). The cheesiness is also often undermined by some complex drum lines, gritty atmosphere, noisy background sounds, and synthy glitches, which contrast the upbeatness pretty well—while it may be music for a kids' game, it's definitely not amateurly-composed.

Like many game soundtracks, this one has a lot of styles thrown in it; most tracks are drum and bass oriented but there's a fair bit of minimal / atmospheric house and techno as well—even a touch of jazz. The album still holds together well and has a fairly unified sound, even though—as with a lot of game music, many of the tracks here are slightly themed. There are obvious water-level tracks, factory-level tracks, etc., and while the theming is done effectively in-game, on the album everything still meshes together well enough. It's fairly impressive. And, of course, sticking around until the final track "Loom" is a good idea: it's a more ambient / Japanese folk fusion track, which never appeared in the game and feels a bit out of place but is still pretty neat (and quite beautiful).

So while my appreciation for Bomberman Hero's great music can probably be attributed to fond memories of countless hours spent blowing up polygons back in the day, the soundtrack still holds up in my eyes as a great showcase of different electronic styles and a testament to composer Jun Chikuma's talent. While the game may not appeal to many people (and it's lost a bit of its charm for me too) the music is definitely worth a listen.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Neil Voss – Tetrisphere

Welcome to the first Video Game Soundtrack Week! For the next five days I'll be taking a look at various pieces of game-related music and soundtracks.

August 11, 1997 • Nintendo

I never thought of Tetrisphere as a particularly good game, but it still holds a special place for two reasons: one, it is one of the two video games my family first owned, and two, it has an amazing soundtrack. Neil Voss's commanding use of highly danceable and catchy electronic jams still lives on in my music library today.

Perhaps it's the nostalgia talking, as I grew up playing a lot of games where this sort of soundtrack was popular and were mostly the typical amalgamation of house, techno, IDM, and drum and bass (and I'm not much into techno). But there's still a quality to Tetrisphere's that holds up critically. There are few, if any, points where the music could be considered cheesy or generic. While juggling these different styles Voss manages to throw a lot of creativity into the mix in the forms on clever sampling, great atmosphere, complex drum beats, and a huge array of synth voices.

As no official version of the soundtrack was ever released (that I know of), the soundtrack can only be heard in-game or via a digital bootleg floating around the Internet. Surprisingly, in the album format, it still works really well—most soundtrack albums I've heard don't do well in this format (not that I'd expect them to). But whoever compiled this one did an excellent job, despite the sonic diversity—the fadeouts are well-placed, no track goes on too long, and the album feels only a little bit lengthy. And for some reason, they back-loaded the album: all the best tracks are at the end ("Learn", "Zyp Zyp", and the godly "Extol") form a great closer, although it's a bit sad that my attention has waned a bit by the time they show up.

While Tetrisphere's soundtrack will sadly pass over a lot of people who never owned the game, as a primer to electronic music I can think of none better. Its catchy yet atmospheric sound is among few I've heard from video games, and it's probably one of the major reasons I'm even into electronic music in the first place (although a few other games helped too).


Friday, April 13, 2012

Hæretici 7o74 – Haeretici, Schismatici, Excommunicati

2006 • Some Place Else

The live concert experience is one of my favorite ways to enjoy music (although I don't get out as much as I'd like), but when it comes to pressing live music to record it always tends to lose a lot of the charm and purpose. I think that's what happened to Hæretici 7o74, as it sounds like they'd be pretty neat to see in concert but this recording of Haeretici, Schismatici, Excommunicati doesn't do much for me.

The group's overall sound is a subdued yet still pretty creepy kind of ritual ambient, with a substantial amount of noise and drone thrown in the mix. It's a tried-and-true formula, and it has promise, although its execution falls a bit flat. It relies a lot on repetition (understandable for a live setting) and the slow evolving of various layers of sounds, but on an album the three tracks all outstay their welcomes very quickly, almost to the point where half the album becomes skip-worthy.

That's a bit of a shame, since some of the sounds they use sound good and are constructed well. Samples of wind, ritual droning chants, electronic noise (almost techno-like in parts), glitch, synth drones, heavily processed voices, and a great distorted drumbeat on the third track... it would definitely make a great show. Interestingly, the music is back-loaded—the opener is by far the weakest, and the sound progressions get better as they go along, making it worth sticking around for that third (and sadly shortest) track.

But without any of the context of that live setting, the music simply drags on too much for me to enjoy it more than superficially. It's alright in general, but I have a really difficult time paying attention to it. I would love to hear some studio work from Hæretici 7o74—they definitely have the potential somewhere deep down—but the live album doesn't work well for them.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Burial – Kindred

February 12, 2012 • Hyperdub

There is something to be said for music after all.

I've been a casual listener of Burial for just a little while now, and I was never really a fan; both his first two albums were "just okay, nothing special" in my books. I decided to jump on the hype bandwagon for Kindred and give it a shot (as everyone on the Internet seemed to be crapping their pants over it). I was pretty lukewarm to the EP at first, but something compelled me to keep listening.

Where Untrue seemed to me like a dense collection of thirteen songs, Kindred tosses the songs for a complete focus on texture and sound—and it seems like Burial has mastered sound. The despairing-stormy-urban atmosphere played with before is amazingly done here. The sweeps of static, glitches, and samples are all perfectly placed and each one fits the mood exactly right. Just listen to the last half of "Ashtray Wasp"; all the crackles and ambience, together with the lonely vocals and the way samples are integrated into the beats create a stunning experience.

Speaking of which, when it comes to the beats, the more house-influenced bits—"Loner" and most of "Ashtray Wasp"—I'm not a huge fan of. Burial is much better at the skittery off-tempo step rhythms of "Kindred" and the uneasiness of those patterns fit the atmosphere much better than a straight 4/4 dance beat. Fortunately, the mood isn't ruined since the synth and bass lines all help to glue the drums to the ambience and they do a pretty nice job of it. Besides, the beats themselves usually take a backseat to the other sounds anyway—even just looking at the amount of playtime that simply has beats—so I'm not too upset.

Heck, Burial even fixed the main thing about Untrue that I hated: the vocals. While Untrue mercilessly mutilated the vocals to fit the tracks through egregious pitch-shifting and beat them into the listener's head through over-repetition, in Kindred we have none of those problems. Since it's not as song-oriented, vocals are a bit more sparse and the ones that are repeated more don't have the irritating forced correction (see the middle of "Ashtray Wasp"). Instead, they are again used to add to the texture and mood of the EP to great effect, in way that sort of reminds me of Pogo, which is pretty cool.

Finally Burial has made everything click together just right for me. The desolate yet still-somewhat-dancy atmosphere is right up my alley and I'm glad I gave it a shot. Kindred isn't perfect, but it's definitely the best I've heard from Burial and is certainly one of the better releases I've heard from this year. It's absolutely worth checking out especially for those—like me—who had trouble getting into his albums.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Burzum – Umskiptar

May 21, 2012 • Byelobog Productions

Can you believe it? Here I am, already reviewing another Burzum album; it seems like Fallen came out just yesterday. Varg's been busy (not even counting an album of re-recorded old songs which I have no interest in). Surprisingly, Umskiptar is a significant improvement over Fallen, but the time has not yet come for me to eat my words over whether Burzum has a future—the album doesn't hold itself up long enough for me to truly consider it "good", though it has its moments.

In fact, I was pretty pumped after the first half of the album. It's the same sort of midpaced, non-extreme atmospheric black metal we've come to expect, although there is finally a bit more variation in the riffing and drumming, giving it a much more folky / Viking metal edge. I feel like the songwriting is a bit better than the last couple albums (at least at first); "Alfadanz" especially has some neat riffs and is probably my favorite track because of them. The vocals are also improved—the clean singing has been mostly ditched or pushed to the background in favor of spoken word and harsh yet almost whisper-like vocals, which are actually kind of neat. He never busts out the demented screams of his older material, but that's expected. I'm not enthralled, though; it's better but it's still not original or exciting.

That's the first five or six songs, anyway. After that the wheels come off and Umskiptar crashes unceremoniously and rather pathetically. The writing has already gotten a little stale around "Valgaldr", but the last four tracks are completely pointless. All of "Galgviðr", "Surtr Sunnan", and "Gullaldr" are a combination of bad singing and uninteresting guitar lines—no rhythm section. Now, obviously, it's perfectly possible to write a good song of just guitar and vocals, but Burzum is not the place to do it, and these three tracks are a bit embarrassing. The closer is a longer and therefore more useless version of the opener, barely worth mentioning.

Had those last four tracks been cut, Umskiptar could have been pretty respectable, but they ruin the experience a lot for me. Overall, it's still definitely not up to par with other modern black and folk metal, although I can cut him some slack for being older than most bands; yet I wouldn't recommend this as, again, it feels too stale to be enthusiastic about it. I was never a huge fan of Burzum to begin with, so those kinds of people would probably enjoy this quite a bit, but otherwise pass it up.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Zaïmph – Mirage of the Other

November 2006 • Gipsy Sphinx

I'm slowly beginning to realize that I think I like drone a lot more than I actually do. Maybe it's just the stuff I've been listening to recently, but I have heard a lot of the stuff and aside from artists like Tim Hecker or Sunn O))) it really doesn't appeal much to me. That, or Mirage of the Other really is a horrible album; hard to say. It's definitely a boring one, that's for sure.

Its three long tracks stretch out a handful of sounds each to their breaking points—mostly droning voices, guitar drenched in pedal effects, feedback, and subtle noise. It's actually not so bad in theory, and it's a setup that's worked many times before. The atmosphere is quite pleasant, calming; not necessarily beautiful, or serene, but nice enough. It just about always keeps to itself, never becoming actually noisy or harsh or loud.

But it would have worked much better if each track were, say, two minutes long instead of six or ten or twenty. Even in that twenty-minute track, the sound never changes—it's the exact same drone played continuously and nothing else. I like to think I have a good enough attention span for drawn-out music, but this just takes it too damn far. Try skipping around any of the three tracks: "Incandescent Landscape" goes from "quiet guitar noise" to "the same guitar noise, but slightly lounder". Nothing happens. Well, there are subtleties—the guitar lines wax and wane a bit, which is neat to hear for the first minute or so, but after that it becomes pointless.

Another recommendation for background music only, I suppose; as hard as I tried it was impossible to listen attentively to the whole thing as I found myself going into a stupor. Why is it so hard to find drone with focus?


Monday, April 9, 2012

Jasper Leyland – Carbon Series volume 5

2008 • 12X50

Another album culled from the dark recesses of ambient obscurity, Carbon Series volume 5 is a sound collage / ambient / electroacoustic hybrid that creates some pretty pleasant atmospheric pieces. It has its flaws and less-than-interesting moments, but it also has its share of beauty that makes it worthwhile.

Carbon Series volume 5 is above all a texture-focused album, using its wide scope of sound clips to create a subdued but focused set of moods. I really like Leyland's combination of both melodic samples (violins, acoustic guitars, synths) and amelodic ones (found sounds and field recordings, drones, subtle noise, etc.), and the combining of these sounds is done really well. It's never too heavy or dense (although it can get very quite at times) but it is still a rewarding close listen as there is sometimes a lot of small things going on as the tracks evolve.

Sometimes there isn't, though, and when the music is in its quieter moments it can get a bit dull and more difficult to listen to. Such is the case with the closer "Duree", which is the longest at well over nine minutes but consists of some incredibly quiet metallic noises that don't change much over its running time. It's a bit of an exception, but it is disappointing to have the album close of with such a boring track after knowing Leyland is perfectly capable of really nice, beautiful pieces like "Taken" or "Harrow Fare".

I will say that this album is definitely a grower—I hated it the first time around, although that was years ago when I wasn't really into ambient or noise—and even though it doesn't have a ton of staying power it's worth one or two listens. Non-fans of field recordings need not apply, though.


Friday, April 6, 2012

(((o))) – Las flores del mal

October 13, 2008 • self-released

Another release from the recesses of my library; (((o))) is a Mexican noise / drone doom artist by whom I have a single album. That probably won't change, as Las flores del mal has never really made a good impression on me, coming off as a poor attempt to make music without any clue of what makes it interesting or good.

The music itself is very amateur-sounding and sometimes sloppy. The album's centerpiece "Las flores del mal" is a sprawling drone doom metal track that, after taking forever to build up with some subtle noise, consists of mostly smashing a single guitar chord and cymbal hit over noise before fading out as slowly as it came in. It's not impressive at all; it simply sounds bad. Not only do the guitar and drums not always sync up, but the tone is terrible, and again it's just one chord, over and over. "El sello roto" is almost exactly the same thing, except without as much padding to stretch it from five minutes to eleven.

The piano-based opener and closer don't help much, although they aren't bad themselves, if still a bit sloppy. But still, listening to this release is incredibly unsatisfying; I feel like there could maybe be a decent drone doom band in there somewhere if they learned how to do any songwriting and maybe practiced. The noise parts weren't bad, so that's something. Overall, though, Las flores del mal is simply pointless and not even worth the twenty minutes it takes.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Equus – Eutheria

May 9, 2008 • Get a Life! Records

Yet another reason I ought to dig back into the far recesses of my music library more often: It's been ages since I last listened to (and shrugged off) Equus, but after a quick dusting-off I found that I'd cast aside a pretty nice album. Not one of my favorites, as it loses focus and meanders around a lot, but its tight and diverse sounds make it something really unique.

Equus is definitely a band that appeals to my taste in musical aesthetics: Eutheria is slow, plodding, melancholy; all the good attributes of the highly-atmospheric post-rock I've come to love. Hidden in there somewhere is a very slight post-hardcore influence; bits of Slint poke out every once in a while, in addition to some low-end riffing, though the majority of the album is decidedly in the late-Godspeed or early-Mogwai school with a bit of a heavy edge to it. It's not as generic as it sounds, either: there's a lot of really nice-sounding fuzz on the guitars and bass at times, and some awesome Mellotron doing strings and winds, giving it a somewhat proggy sound now and then.

As the fifteen-, twenty-, and thirty-minute track times suggest, Equus is a long-winded group. Each track appears to be through-composed—evolving continuously with no repeated sections—which is something that I don't care for much in longer works. While the sound itself is very consistent, the songwriting seems to go off in odd places and it's difficult to really get in a groove with what they are doing. "Hyracotherium" beats the quiet-loud-quiet-loud structure into a pulp, which makes it sound like five or six songs in the same key and tempo simply strung together; "Orrorin Tugenensis" sounds like it should end at around ten minutes but then turns into essentially another song. Now, of course I'm not advocating a three-minute-pop structure, that wouldn't work for this music at all; but trimming some of the repetition down and making the songwriting more focused would go a long way.

But if you're not paying attention too closely, it's hard to complain about Eutheria's being drawn-out. The sound of the band itself is enough to warrant a few listens. There are more than a few beautiful melodies tucked away in here, and even a few places where the music gets truly captivating. It's one of those albums that deserves to be chewed over a few times, and I'm still not quite sure how I feel about it as a whole, but I do know it's not bad.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Graf Orlock – Doombox

2010 • Vi.tri.ol

I'll say it again: I love EPs, and grind band Graf Orlock has delivered a nice little package themselves with Doombox. While not perfect, they have definitely created something polished and thought-out.

Graf Orlock's particular brand of grind is one that's heavily infused with a hardcore punk and crust punk, giving it a bit of a thrashy edge; while this style is nothing unique it's always nice to hear. For just six short songs, they throw quite a nice mix of styles at the listener without ever seeming too random or inconsistent and without mindlessly blasting. Mindless blasting has its place, sure, but here it's avoided well with the extra punk and metal bits.

Their decision to use two vocalists is a bit strange, and while normally I wouldn't mind, one of them is particularly annoying (I'm referring to the first one heard). It's probably listener preference, but I think the other vocalist's style fits the music way better. It could be because he sounds a bit like Agoraphobic Nosebleed's vocalist, so I can associate him with grind more easily, but that's just me.

This is the perfect release to pick up if you're looking for some quick and dirty grind that's fresh without being too cerebral. Apparently they have a few full-lengths that I ought to check out as well, and if they're as quality as Doombox we'd definitely have something special here.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Vales – Fever Monument

2010 • Baked Tapes

It's hard to find good drone these days, it seems. Or ever. Maybe it's just me, but I haven't felt very satisfied with much of it lately (though if you've read my recent drone-related reviews, you already knew that). But I'm persistent, so I'm giving Vales' Fever Monument a shot. Turns out it's not horrible, but it isn't great either, and it could use some beefing up.

Each of its two long sides has its own distinct character that builds up throughout their lengths. Side A is mostly straightforward, "traditional" drone: simple sound waves, short-stacked layers of sound; nothing too imposing. Side B takes on a slightly more aggressive, noisy tone. Both are good in their own ways and the overall sound is pleasant. There isn't much to say about the texture, though.

However I don't think the length of either track is quite justified. Rarely do I hear a drone track that deserves a fifteen-minute runtime, and neither of these are an exception. Side A is the worse offender; being relatively simple, it gets boring after a few minutes and its textural progression is barely noticeable. Side B does much better, having more temporally-local variation in addition to gradual progression, but it still suffers a little from overstaying its welcome. Both of them got a bit tiresome well before they were over.

Despite this (or maybe because of it) Fever Monument does make pretty decent background noise, something I wouldn't mind having on while reading or coding. And side B isn't too bad on its own. But it's still not really for me and probably out of scope for anyone not into the super-underground drone tape scene.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Kehlvin – Holy Cancer

June 13, 2008 • Division Records

In my neverending quest to find the best sludge albums of all time, I came across the semi-obscure Swiss band Kehlvin, who have a relatively typical atmo-sludge sound to them albeit with a bit of an experimental edge. It's not fantastic music but it definitely has its moments here and there.

Holy Cancer has the sort of sprawling record with a huge, enveloping sludgy sound I've come to love from plenty of other bands. Kehlvin, however, focuses much more on atmosphere than your average sludge band, with lots of very dense riffing and guitar textures, in addition to plenty of softer post-rock and post-hardcore influenced bits. Although you wouldn't know it at first, Kehlvin is definitely capable of bringing a really nicely heavy riffing style when they want to. It's nothing terribly original, though, aside from their over-reliance on dissonant riffs, which become a bit of a turn-off for me after a while.

The songwriting has its highs and lows as well: both of the longer tracks, over ten minutes each, manage to not feel too long, aside from "Le Barnacle"'s quieter middle section which seems to stretch on a bit much. The individual riffs and melodies themselves are nice, although the way they are strung together seems a bit haphazard, making the songs hard to follow at times. Regardless, the even contrast of lighter and heavier sections works well. The interludes serve a similar purpose but I'm not a big fan of them; they seem contrived and dull.

While I definitely wouldn't count Holy Cancer among my favorites, it's certainly not a bad album, and there is enough to enjoy. It's just simply not the most original thing I've heard and the good bits are a bit too buried. Still recommended for sludge completionists.