Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Neurosis – Honor Found in Decay

October 30, 2012 • Neurot Recordings

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 26, 2012

Behold... the Arctopus – Horrorscension

December 12, 2012 • Black Market Activities

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 15, 2012

William Basinski – Watermusic

2000 • 2062

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pig Destroyer – Book Burner

October 23, 2012 • Relapse Records

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music

May 15, 2012 • Williams Street Records

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 12, 2012

Neon Piss, Nervosas, Rough Patch

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

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

Rough Patch

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


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

Neon Piss

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

Friday, November 9, 2012

SAT Stoicizmo – Mah 2

1997 • Artware Products / Graph Zahl

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

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

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

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


Consent – Conception

February 27, 2012 • Grindcore Karaoke

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

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


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Paris, Texas – Action Fans Help Us!

July 24, 2007 • Polyvinyl Records

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

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

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


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Art Effects – Insects

1988 • Zoi

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 5, 2012

Unholy Grave – Crucified

1995 • Eclipse Records

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

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

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

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


Friday, November 2, 2012

Lightning Bolt – Oblivion Hunter

September 25, 2012 • Load Records

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Eus – Los otros

September 10, 2012 • self-released

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

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

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

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

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


Trampoline Dreamers – Hate Patterns

September 1, 2010 • self-released

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

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

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

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