Thursday, May 31, 2012

Arroyo – Arroyo

October 15, 2010 • self-released

Here's another entry in the long list of "heavy post-rock" bands; while I've mostly gotten bored of this sort of thing long ago, Arroyo in particular have a bit more of a screamo edge to them, which is a nice break from all the generic sludge bands that do similar things. But this album still doesn't really do a whole lot for me. While the band has potential, Arroyo is a chore to listen to.

The band's sound is not bad, certainly; the guitar tones are nice and the playing is decent. They are good at putting on the "pretty" atmosphere that comes with modern post-rock, and fuse it with the screamo side well. There are lots of good drumming moments as well. Nothing worth writing home about, but it's nice.

But their songwriting is pretty flat. Most of the time is spent entrenched in long buildups and bridges between long, repetitive sections that don't ever come to a very satisfying ending, to the point where I just want to yell "get on with it already!". The longest song is the worst offender—the opening half seems to drag on for ages, and by the time the band actually gets going I'm not interested anymore. Granted, it's not a problem that permeates the whole album—the second-longest track does a much better job at being interesting—but it's almost too little, too late.

I'm not sure what happened—on their debut EP Individuum & Massen they pulled off two really long songs fine. (At least, I remember thinking they were decent.) Maybe I'm craving something different, or maybe my attention span isn't what it used to be; but Arroyo is still just a little too tiresome to recommend.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Extreme Music from Africa

2001 • Susan Lawly

Before I really get into reviewing this album I feel like I should address the particularly nasty rumor surrounding it. It is said that Extreme Music from Africa is, in fact, a "hoax", that William Bennett didn't just compile it, as is claimed, but he actually produced all the tracks himself using fake artist names. I don't know whether it's true or not (I'm inclined to think it is, as the album sounds very Bennetty and Africa doesn't seem to have much of a noise scene), so I'll try to keep that aspect out of my review.

That being said, either way Extreme Music from Africa is a pretty reasonable album. The noise is mostly very simplistic with little layering and not much in the way of harshness. It's well-done, though; overall the album has a pretty nice (for noise) atmosphere and I find the textures to be quite pleasant. For the most part, it's nothing new as far as noise goes and it doesn't ever quite become really interesting, but it sounds like it would be a very accessible album for those unfamiliar with the genre.

A common element in most tracks is the inclusion of various samples of African folk music—chanting and drumming—that actually fit in with the music itself really well. Many of the samples have been processed heavily to mesh better, but they all are recognizable and add a really nice exotic flair to the music. If it weren't for that sampling, this album probably would have been dismissed as too generic long ago, so it's a good thing it's there; in fact I would have liked to see a lot more of it—perhaps the samples serving as a basis for the noise textures rather than add-ons.

There is plenty here to entertain any fan of noise or otherwise experimental music. Not every track is killer, unfortunately, so I wouldn't rank it anywhere near my top noise releases, but what we have is definitely interesting and a unique spin on traditional African folk, if nothing else.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

An Introduction to Early Music

1992 • Naxos

I'm becoming more and more fascinated by classical music every day, and compilations like this one are great listens for anyone wanting to know more about some of the earliest music ever written. Ancient and medieval music is one of those styles that seems to be overlooked sadly too often; as this album shows, there is quite a bit of really interesting stuff from that period.

An Introduction to Early Music showcases several different styles, from Gregorian chants to instrumental ensemble pieces with surprisingly diverse arrangements (remember, this is coming from someone not very familiar with medieval music)—there's some lute, some organ, some drums and flutes and guitar... the list goes on. To me, it's really neat to see where a lot of later classical music comes from (even styles like modern minimalism). For instance, the Gregorian chants, while definitely ancient-sounding, still aren't too far off from a lot of recent choral music; it's also easy to see how baroque music developed from the medieval period.

But compared to later classical, the music is a bit less interesting (at least to me); a lot of it reminds me a bit too much of cheesy Renaissance festivals and the bad clichés of medieval times... I guess we have those clichés for a reason, though. Regardless, the players are all quite talented and perform well, and many of the pieces are quite interesting to listen to in their own right.

If nothing else, albums like this are certainly a good lesson for anyone remotely interested in music history. Unfortunately it's very difficult to say anything critical about this kind of music and give a rating simply because it's so old and being presented for historical reasons (especially since I'm very much an amateur when it comes to both this style of music and reviewing in general). But while this may not be the best album for casual listening, it still has many high points and is worth looking into.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Snowman – ∆bsence

April 22, 2011 • Dot Dash

By all rights I should love ∆bsence. It's got everything for me: a sound with elements of other genres I like, influences from other bands I like, all that sort of stuff. I can tell it's a pretty good album. I don't find myself enjoying it terribly much, though. Regardless, I can definitely see a lot of good in it.

∆bsence has a particularly cool sound—soft, dreamy, vaguely-rock-oriented passages akin to newer/softer Liars, but with an incredibly dark, suspenseful, and sometimes haunting edge to it. Tribal beats, mantra-like vocals, dissonant melodies, post-punk and dark ambient influences, hints of Mike Patton and Coil, and the occasional glimmer of hopeful beauty ("Séance", "Absence") help mold the music.

Obviously this is no "normal" rock album; the focus is more on texture and sound, and the band is quite good at getting something interesting out. Despite the lush synths, immense reverb, and mystical vocals, the sound is fairly reserved and sometimes claustrophobic, to nice effect. The band manages to be incredibly consistent without being too repetitive overall, although I found the album getting a bit stale near the last couple tracks (to their credit, it could have been much earlier).

Ultimately I think this is something of a niche album; plenty of other people adore it and it's certainly not bad (I doubt I've given any impression otherwise), but the overall sound isn't really something I can truly get into. (Liars' quieter bits were always my least favorite, anyway.) While it doesn't quite click for me, for others it definitely will; I'll simply appreciate it from afar and rate appropriately.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Castevet – Summer Fences

September 6, 2009 • Count Your Lucky Stars Records

As I continue to happily delve into emo, I was surprised to find that there are good bands still putting out the good stuff in the late 2000s, while I'd thought the '90s were the genre's sole heyday. Castevet's Summer Fences is a great example of how the genre has been evolving and maturing, and is a fine listen to boot.

The band's sound features two interesting departures from the indie emo sound of the '90s: one, the occasional fusion with post-rock, and two, harsher, more guttural vocals. While the post-rock fusion works remarkably well (I'm honestly a bit surprised that I haven't heard more albums with that sort of sound), the vocals don't seem to fit very well. The music is pretty mild without any heavier riffing that such vocals would work with.

Regardless, the band more than makes up for it in their writing. Each song is chock full of great melodies and, while they don't quite up live to the standards of, say, Cap'n Jazz, but there are plenty of great moments. One in particular is the standout "I Know What a Lion Is" that has a really great post-rock bridge and buildup that is incredibly beautiful and fits in perfectly.

I'm still a bit too new to the genre to hail Castevet as a totally amazing and awesome band—for all I know this style has been done a thousand times and I just haven't heard those albums yet—but based on what I've heard so far they are definitely doing it right. For something a bit milder but still interesting, they are certainly a band to check out.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Somatic Responses – Digital Darkness

February 8, 2008 • Hymen Records

Another foray into the deep, dark world of crazy electronic music: it's time for Somatic Responses, some sort of screaming electronic death machine that stabs my brain in the just the right spots. Okay, it's not a perfect brilliant album, but it's still the sort of dark dissonance I like.

Digital Darkness puts forth a style of music that (to me, so far) is pretty unique: it's incredibly heavy, and often incredibly complex, with beats that stagger madly back and forth between dark drum and bass to pounding power noise to breakcore and back again. It's difficult to call it a drum and bass album at all sometimes, as the music can get very dense and amelodic, but during other passages the beats can get quite danceable and awesome, and there is even a quiet breather track in "Neu". There are a lot of unique samples, drum kits, synth voices, and such going on, so the sound is pretty diverse from start to finish, although the consistently creepy-chaotic mood ties everything together quite nicely.

But of course, like too many electronic albums I've heard, it gets a bit too big for its britches and by the time the last couple of tracks roll around I've usually gotten tired of it. The fact that my ears have been mercilessly pounded for over an hour doesn't help things much, but at the same time I doubt that at-work-with-headphones is the ideal listening environment for this sort of music instead of some tweeked-out industrial club or something. (I don't go to clubs, okay?)

To be honest I'm a bit surprised that this album has received as much of a negative response as it has—aside from its length, I can't really find anything in it to complain about. Then again, perhaps it's grown on me; I have been listening to it quite a bit, and it already goes along nicely with all the other deranged electronic music I like. So take that as you will.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Romero – Solitaire

February 16, 2011 • Grindcore Karaoke

I don't know how I got this release, but here I am anyway. Romero's style is a slow, trudging sort of stoner metal not unlike a doomier Goatsnake. Granted, I don't listen to a lot of stoner rock/metal so I could be talking out of my ass here, but these songs both sound a bit generic to me. They're not bad, to be sure, but there's really nothing unique or interesting about them so I simply can't bring myself to care much.

I do like the softer, twangy lead-in to the heavy breakdown halfway into "Solitaire", and the bluesy intro to "El sentido morboso" is neato. But that's about all there is to say; I'm pretty ambivalent about these two songs in the end. If I actually wanted to listen to some stoner metal (which is a rare occurrence), why not stick with the Goatsnake I already have?


Friday, May 18, 2012

Struck by Lightning – Serpents

September 1, 2009 • Translation Loss Records

Not too long ago I wrote about seeing Struck by Lightning at a concert and being reasonably impressed by their chaotic hardcore-sludge sound. I decided to pick up their debut album Serpents to see if their studio output was on the same level as their live show; I suppose it is. While it's not the most original sound, they are still pretty talented musicians and the album is definitely enjoyable.

Unfortunately I have to get this out there first off: One thing that stands out more now that I didn't pick up on at the show is how much they sound like the popular prog-sludge bands out there, specifically Mastodon and Baroness. Granted, they're a much heavier version of either, but I can't help be reminded of Mastodon's Remission and Leviathan on many of the songs—the twin guitar harmonies, the incredibly complex and fill-heavy drumming, fast chugging riffs... all the same elements are there. Not to mention things like how a particular riff from Struck by Lightning's "Nothing Sacred" sounds exactly like one from Mastodon's "Aqua Dementia" (although if the title is a tongue-in-cheek reference to that fact, that's pretty awesome), and that isn't the only example.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not trying to dismiss Struck by Lightning as being unoriginal for this, it's just something that sticks out. The songs are still quite good in their own right, and they pull out some fantastic monstrous riffs now and again—"The Watchful Eye", in particular, has a real kickass groove to the chorus. Additionally, the vocals sound a lot more punk and the guitars are lower and crunchier, giving the album a more crust punk sound. (Can't complain there.) Sometimes when it's not punky, it's doomy, like on "Becoming Earth", which is a cool twist and fits in well.

So Serpents manages to stand up on its own as a competent metal album really well, and despite its obvious influences it manages to do its style well without sounding stale thanks to its punk tendencies. It's basically the kind of direction I've been hoping the prog-sludge "scene" would take since the big players have been getting pretty stale as of late. Struck by Lightning has a new album out as of last month, in fact, and I'm hoping it'll be a bit more original (haven't heard it yet) but in the meantime Serpents is a mostly-respectable beginning.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Trephine – Trephine

May 31, 2005 • Public Guilt

I'm afraid this will be a short review; there isn't much to say about Trephine. Their self-titled album isn't bad but after picking it back up again after so many years, it doesn't click with me the way it used to.

It exemplifies math rock well though: plenty of crunchy, heavy riffs, frequent tempo changes, constant loud-quiet-loud tradeoffs (not in a post-rock way; more of a psychotic free jazz way) and nary a riff repeated (well, not very often). I'm not very interested in the songwriting, probably because I got bored of most prog rock long ago—granted, the heavier bits can be pretty catchy and there are plenty of nice grooves and melodies all around. But the lighter stuff isn't for me.

The band's sound is pretty cool, though. Technically everyone brings a really competent performance and I love the really gritty bass sound.

So yeah... it's alright: competent and pleasant once or twice, but mostly forgettable in the end due to over-complexity and in spite of its catchiness. Maybe it's simply not for me; I can see fans of math rock and progressive rock alike getting into this, but those styles don't interest me much these days.


Japandroids – Celebration Rock

June 5, 2012 • Polyvinyl Record Co.

I don't know what it is about such epic bro-rocking that tugs at my heartstrings so, but goddamn has Japandroids done it again. Their debut Post-Nothing was an instant favorite, with their fantastically catchy and optimistic brand of indie/garage rock went along well with the noisy and emo stuff I was getting into at the time (No Age and midwest indie emo), and I have been dying to hear more. Celebration Rock is everything I could have asked for.

If you've heard Post-Nothing, Celebration Rock is basically the same thing—powerful major-chord riffing, furious and insistent drumming, infectious vocal lines, and, again, some of the catchiest music I've ever heard. I don't know how they do it, but just about every song (here and on their debut) reflects the title "celebration rock" perfectly. It's all nostalgia, sentiments, and summer nights. It makes me feel feelings, way down in my emotions. How many albums do that to you? Not a lot, I'd think. It doesn't happen often to me, at least. Most of the time lyrics like "WHOA YEAH ALL RIGHT" sound campy and stupid; Japandroids makes me want to cheer and pump my fist right along with them. (Now that I think about it, it might be a byproduct of listening to too much depressing music; for people who are always into this kind of feel-good stuff it might not make as bit of an impression.)

Granted, it's not all wine and roses; there are two less-than-fantastic tracks ("For the Love of Ivy" and "Continuous Thunder"), but on the other hand, all the other tracks are pretty amazing, so it's hard to complain. Comparatively, Post-Nothing was a bit more inconsistent with a few more flat tracks and one absolutely amazing song they haven't yet topped ("Young Hearts Spark Fire"), so I think this new one is a bit of a step up in that regard. Not that it's saying a whole lot. To someone who hasn't played these albums repeatedly, they sound very similar, so if you like the one you'll probably like the other. Celebration Rock has a bit more polish although, making it technically an easier listen.

So that's enough gushing for today. Simply put, it's refreshingly one of the best rock albums I've heard in a long time, and deserves listens and accolades all around. Hop to it.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Inventors of Aircraft – Unknown Language

January 9, 2008 • Serein

Unknown Language is an album that just sort of fell into my lap one day, but I figured I love ambient music so I'll take it. And fortunately, it's pretty good! It's nothing new but it is a good example of the genre as it flourished in the last decade.

The Inventors of Aircraft is relatively simple, drone-based ambient, basically like a slowed-down Stars of the Lid or a less-noisy Tim Hecker. In addition to the drones that make up the backbone of each piece, there is also some subtle noise and fluttery sound effects that add to the mood. The subsonic rumblings in "Passing", for instance, are a particularly cool example of effects creating a really neat atmosphere.

It's nothing revolutionary or original, but it does manage to nail down the formula very well. Sometimes it's pleasant and pretty ("Hazel") and sometimes it's dark and unnerving ("Signs"); either way I think it does a fine job. However it's very difficult to pay attention to, something which I suppose is a good thing for ambient (but a bad thing for reviewing it), which is a bit unfortunate as there are some very subtle things going on that are really cool but easy to miss.

There are a lot of good ideas on this album, and it does sound really nice most of the time, although in the long run I'm not really interested in listening to it that often as it doesn't captivate me enough—although, as I said, it makes excellent background music. I would very much like to hear something a bit more progressive from The Inventors of Aircraft, but for traditional ambient fans this is still definitely a solid listen.


Monday, May 14, 2012

Uprising Fomalhaut – Uprising Fomalhaut

April 24, 2010 • self-released

Maybe it's a sign that I am getting too much into sludge/post-rock when I'm finding random possibly-demo EPs by completely unheard-of bands just to check them out. Well, someone has to do it, I suppose, and today that someone is me. Unfortunately the results of my findings are not always terribly good.

The band's sound is pretty generic, consisting of echoing clean guitars and subdued or tribal drumming, both shambling aimlessly until they launch into a more traditional sludgy groove. It's something I've heard done a thousand times, and unfortunately here it isn't done particularly well. While the riffs aren't bad, the songs themselves are incredibly repetitive, repeating the same thing over and over for the entire song, just with a different drum beat or with distortion added.

Speaking of distortion, I know that this is a bit of an amateur work but damn does that guitar sound bad. The clean parts are decent, but the distortion on the guitar sounds like a vacuum cleaner running in the next room. Not only is it tinny and formless, but it isn't ever any louder than the clean guitar, making the "heavy" parts of the songs not heavy at all. It's kind of a shame becase the actual playing isn't bad—that includes the vocals and drums too—but the end result is sonically empty and unengaging.

I am probably ripping on this EP too much. It's a start, let's say. The band needs some more original ideas but it's possible they could take off at some point. In the meantime, though, this EP isn't really for anyone but the band themselves.


Friday, May 11, 2012

Sigur Rós – Valtari

May 28, 2012 • Smekkleysa

I wasn't going to review this album at first, expecting more of a bland decline into sameness, but amittedly Valtari is a pleasant surprise. On Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust the band steered in a much poppier direction and I expected them to dully continue in the same vein. But this album is way on the other side of the spectrum with an incredibly somber ambient and classical sound, and almost no hint of their post-rock roots (save the first track). It's a pretty nice sound, and while not remotely original (as any Eluvium or Stars of the Lid fan can tell you) they do it quite well.

Sonically, Sigur Rós isn't doing anything new—you still have the same slow arrangements, lush strings and piano melodies, choirs, droning bass, warm vinyl crackle, music boxes, and the like. I think since the last couple albums the songwriting has definitely matured and, for the most part, Sigur Rós has gotten a bit better at writing tracks with these classical arrangements and they fit in neatly with the rockier bits, as usual.

Like most of their other albums, Valtari has one standout track, "Varúð", which is a typical strings-and-piano piece; what I particularly like about it is how the strings occasionally pull out these dissonant screeches and drones that sound like they're straight out of F#A#∞ (see around 2:00 in particular). Along with the tense pounding buildup, they give the track a really great atmosphere.

Not every track is as great as "Varúð" though, especially the third-quarter-ghetto tracks "Dauðalogn" and "Varðeldur" and the ambling, directionless closer "Fjögur píanó". Obviously the band often goes for a more texture-driven approach on this album but they don't always make it as interesting as it could be without resorting to their rock tendencies (as on "Ég anda" and "Varúð"). Sure, the more mellow tracks are definitely pretty, but they work better in the background.

But yeah, I'm liking it. Not as much as Ágætis byrjun or ( ) or Takk..., but it's rekindled my interest in the band. I'm wondering if Jónsi & Alex's Riceboy Sleeps wasn't merely a one-off experimentation but a portent of things to come from Sigur Rós while Jónsi makes his pop on the side. We'll see, I guess.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Michael Mayer – Fabric 13

November 3, 2003 • Fabric

I have a confession to make. It may not seem like it on the surface, but I really don't listen to all that much electronic music. Sure, I dabble in breakcore and drum and bass a bit, but recently I discovered how much I was missing out on and decided to jump into electronic dance music, starting with house. And I'm kicking myself for not doing so sooner; one of the very first releases I found, Michael Mayer's Fabric 13 DJ mix, blew my mind completely.

Now, I've heard house before, so I didn't come into this blind. I can tell this is some comparatively good stuff here, or at the very least it plays to my tastes well. In contrast to certain cheesy poppy French house groups I've experienced (you know the one I mean) I really dig the stripped-down, all-business approach taken here. The vocals are subdued and click with the music really well. The beats themselves are all fantastic. It's difficult to comment on them as a whole since the styles vary considerably, but there are more than a few highlights: the fidgety bass and somber strings on "Bring Me Closer", the glitchy industrial drums of "Killerteppich", the incredible dancy fun-ness of "Run into Flowers"... I could go on.

Mayer does a great job mixing the tracks together; with maybe one or two exceptions every track here is pretty great. (I'm not a huge fan of "Easy Lee" and "Love Me", partly due to the annoying vocals in each, and some of the more minimal tracks can get a bit dull.) Like many albums it does fall prey to having a bit of filler in the middle, but maybe it's more of a case of the opening and closing tracks overshadowing the rest of the mix. Still, it's overall a great collection and it really does get better with every listen. Somehow, very upbeat and very dark tracks both get thrown in together and yet it still sounds really cohesive.

Anyway, I've talked out of my ass enough and I'm sure any house veteran is probably snorting indignantly at this review, but hey, at least I'm trying.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Yuppie Pricks – Brokers Banquet

January 25, 2005 • Alternative Tentacles

I received this album along with some other items I ordered from Alternative Tentacles. Getting free giveaways from labels is always cool, but I have to wonder if they're giving them away because they didn't sell and the label needed to get rid of stock. Considering the age and quality of Brokers Banquet I wouldn't be surprised if this was the case.

The sound is pretty standard poppy punk rock, with a few simple power chords and relatively simplistic drumming and riffing. It's basically like a less-nuanced Offspring or Dead Kennedys—in fact I wouldn't be slightly surprised that this is the members of Dead Kennedys performing under aliases, especially considering how the vocalist sounds almost exactly like Jello Biafra. I didn't look hard enough to determine if this is actually the case.

The Yuppie Pricks is a satire / comedy band, so the lyrics all revolve around wealth or the yuppie lifestyle (hence their band name). It's an interesting concept, although I'm not sure how they managed to stretch it out for three albums. I don't find the lyrics to be particularly funny though; while I admit satire is hard to pull off successfully I don't think this album comes close. Everything just sounds really juvenile to me. Also, I find it odd that this band was releasing albums in the 2000s instead of the '90s, when yuppies were a thing. The music itself sounds very much like '90s punk as well, so it fits, but it seems horribly out-of-date.

While Brokers Banquet might be fun for a single listen, it doesn't deliver in the long run. Aside from the jokey faux-hip-hop closer, nothing about it is memorable or particularly funny. It's not terrible, but I can understand that the label wanted to get rid of it.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Bridges Buildings – Balkan Tropics

July 9, 2006 • Standard Klik Music

I know I say this a lot, but man, EPs are awesome. I found this little gem long ago, released on the now-defunct netlabel Standard Klik Music, which released a lot of obscure electronic artists. I wish I'd kept more of what I heard; being unfamiliar with electronic music I didn't like most of it at first, including Balkan Tropics, but I'm glad I held onto it.

It sounds just like its title: it's some sort of microhouse, but with a very summery, tropical feel to it, mostly thanks to the acoustic guitar and washes of ambience. It's definitely not club music, and seems more for at-home relaxing (and considering that's how I hear 90% of my music, it's a good thing). It seems like very simple music, and the beats definitely are simple, but the guitar and noise have some neat interesting improv glitchy things going on that keep it interesting (though it might just be sloppy guitar playing, it's hard to tell). Not to mention that there are some great guitar melodies in here, especially on the closer "A Stones Plane"; just great stuff.

It's still not the most memorable music ever, and most people probably wouldn't give it a second thought. But for me personally, it's quite good. I haven't heard much else like it—what other house music can sound so organic?—so it's got that going for it, and I'm definitely going to try to find more stuff like it.


Monday, May 7, 2012

City of Ships – Look What God Did to Us

2009 • Translation Loss Records

You'd think that City of Ships would be right up my alley—a neat mixture of post-hardcore and sludge, with some mathy riffs and atmospheric tendencies. I even saw them live supporting Rosetta and enjoyed them quite a bit then. But no matter how many times I listen to Look What God Did to Us, it flatly refuses to click with me.

It's odd because City of Ships does a lot of things right—the instrumentation is good across the board: nice gritty bass lines, interesting and appropriately-complex drumming, great guitar lines that alternate from pretty clean bits to heavy jamming. The vocals are probably the weakest link soundwise; they're definitely not bad—he's a talented singer—but they don't mesh with the music terribly well. They seem too intrusive (vocals come in when it sounds like they shouldn't) and I feel like, stylewise, something grittier and growlier might fit better, like early Mastodon vocals. Still, the overall sound is really good and I like the direction they took there, especially the little things like the organ stabs in "Complacence in the Nest" that make the song. Subtleties like that can really make a difference.

My biggest issue with the album is definitely the songwriting. As I mentioned, there are a lot of cool riffs and grooves to be found throughout; the problem is that they're put together poorly. The different sections of the songs don't lead into each other well, making the music often difficult to follow and thus less memorable. It's like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle by finding pieces that only sort of fit and just jamming them together. The end product won't be very pretty, even if the potential to create something nice is there. There are exceptions; "March of the Slaves" is mostly well put-together, as are others (like "Grandfather Paradox" and the aforementioned "Complacence in the Nest"), so it's not an epidemic but it's still a noticeable flaw.

Well, maybe it's not. Perhaps they actually put a ton of thought and time into crafting the arrangements (at least I hope they did), and the end result just isn't for me. Obviously plenty of people still enjoy it, and still the musicianship and sound is good, so my reasons for considering Look What God Did to Us to be just average are very subjective. So I won't necessarily recommend it but it's probably worth looking into for some fans of the genre.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Torche – Harmonicraft

April 24, 2012 • Volcom Entertainment

Sometimes it sucks to be a fan of a band, especially when they have one particular album you really love. No matter what else that band releases, it'll always be compared to that one album, and you'll never find it to be as good even if it has its own merits. Meanderthal was that album for me; I loved its unique style with the catchy yet heavy and complex riffs, upbeat mood, and soaring chord progressions. Harmonicraft is basically more of the same, and while it's not as good as Meanderthal it's still one fine album.

For the most part, Torche isn't breaking out and trying anything new with this album, so if you have heard anything by them before you're getting more of the same here. There is a bit more melding of the short, punky sound like the tracks on Songs for Singles and chugging riffage, so there's a nice bit of variation there. Maybe it's my attention span, but here I'm really getting into those short tracks, those tiny nuggets of riffage that are practically over as soon as they've begun, such as "Walk It Off", "Sky Trials", or "Kiss Me Dudely". I think they show off what Torche does best; it's tough for music to actually get me genuinely pumped but those songs do it for me.

My singular gripe with is album is that it's a touch too long. There are a couple blander tracks hiding in the middle that don't seem to do anything but make me long for the opening few tracks again and delay the awesome closers. I do have a personal preference for releases with lower song counts (regardless of length), as shorter, more cohesive albums almost always sit better with me. That's why I love the "Healer" / "Across the Shields" EP so much; four great tracks and that's all you need. Here, maybe cut "Roaming" and "Skin Moth" for a nice, more cohesive little half-hour package. Perfect.

Really though, there's not much here to be critical about. Sure, maybe Harmonicraft doesn't live up to my rose-colored-glasses standard Meanderthal set. So what? It's still good, I still enjoy it, and that's all that matters.

7 (A high 7. Might go up one day.)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Ufomammut & Lento – Supernaturals Record One

June 2007 • Supernatural Cat

I've always found collaborations between full bands to be interesting. The ones I've heard rarely ever work; everyone winds up stepping on each others' toes as the instruments fight for room in the mix and songwriting styles clash. It's hard to tell if Ufomammut and Lento have defied my contrived stereotype, as they seem to go together decently enough but I'm ultimately not too impressed by the result.

I'm a very mild fan of both Ufomammut and Lento (big surprise; they're both sludge metal bands), and their collaboration produced an album that sounded more or less exactly what I thought it would sound like—the sludgy styles of each band meld pretty seamlessly, while Ufomammut's usual psych-rock accents are similar icing here. Actually, it's so seamless that if I didn't know better I'd believe it's just a normal (maybe a bit doomier) Ufomammut album (it doesn't help that Lento's sound is a bit generic). As expected, the music is incredibly dense and heavy; the guitars and bass create an impenetrable wall of sound, and when the riffing stops for some psychedelic droning-out there's still quite a bit going on.

So on the surface, there's some pretty interesting stuff to hear; but ultimately the songs themselves don't do much to keep my attention. For the most part, the bands are simply jamming out together—which is understandable; I'm sure it's tough to coordinate a collaboration with some carefully-crafted songs that make everyone happy. But as a listener, such prolonged hammering away on a single chord or riff for so long gets tiresome.

That isn't to say they don't have their moments, of course; the tense buildup of "Maestoso" is pretty darn good as an intro to "The Overload", which has a pretty amazing riff. It's just a shame that one riff is all the song ever does. In fact, when they aren't creating a wall of noise with heavy riffing, some of the sounds they create are really neat. The beginning of "Infect Two" is a great example with the tribal drumming, droning bass, atmospherics, and background vocals.

There will be plenty of people out there who will probably love this album—people who live for huge, dense heaviness; Supernaturals Record One does exactly that and it does it well. Personally, I'm ambivalent; I feel like there is a lot of potential here that wasn't fully realized and it sounds better in theory than in practice. Still, this isn't a bad album and both bands remain solid on their own, even if I'm not totally sold on their collaboration.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

One Starving Day – Atlas Coelestis

December 2009 • Beta-lactam Ring Records

One Starving Day's debut Broken Wings Lead Arms to the Sun was a bit dull and, while not terrible, I was disappointed because they had a good sound I really enjoyed, yet the songs themselves didn't do much with it. Fortunately, Atlas Coelestis is everything I'd hoped for from their second effort: they've kept the same despairing and gloomy sound while massively improving their songwriting to match.

Like their debut, this album is post-rock with a hint of sludge, but not quite in the same way as Godspeed or Mogwai do it; it has a very doomy quality that sounds like it could be easily confused for Neurosis' The Eye of Every Storm—heck, the vocalist even sounds like he could actually be Scott Kelly. I love Neurosis, so that all is a good thing for me. The guitars aren't really heavy, but there is still plenty of chunky distortion, spazzy drumming (one of the album's highlights, actually), and gritty bass along with some alien synths, sound clips, and other guest instruments like cello and xylophone. It's a really neat sound, and while it's not totally original they do it well.

As I mentioned, the songs themselves are also more interesting this time around. I found the debut to be a bit drawn-out and repetitive, but that more or less isn't the case anymore. While there is still repetition (it wouldn't be post-rock without it) it serves the songwriting better with some nice buildups that allow the instruments to breathe better without getting too stale. The typical loud/soft dynamic is here as well, but I feel like they keep things a bit less predictable—the way "Black:Black" jumps from drony guitar straight into a mathy groove with that great saxophone lead, then devolves back into droning but still with sax is really cool.

However it's still not quite as focused as I would like—sometimes the amount of instrumentation and lengthy tracks can lose their way for a little bit, mostly in the longer pieces. The band has a tendency to milk their buildups and draw out the bits with lots of layered arpeggio that just sort of go nowhere, and there is often weird dissonance in the slow quieter sections that have fast complex drumming. "Disclosure/Radiance" is a good example of the former with its very lengthy middle; the transition into the heavier rock ending is great but I don't think the lengthy buildup really justifies it. It's not a huge issue, though; the overall sound is still an improvement and there are enough straightforward parts to balance things out.

Still, I'm impressed; it's not a fantastic album but I'm glad I was right about the band's potential and I hope they continue the trend of improvement if they are working on new material. Of course, One Starving Day won't be for everyone, and since I have a long history with post-rock and Neurosis-style sludge this album fits in my library nicely, as it will with anyone else who might fit that niche.

6 (but, you know, a good 6.)