Friday, December 21, 2012

Abraham – The Serpent, the Prophet & the Whore

September 28, 2012 • Pelagic Records

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

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

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

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


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Burial – Truant / Rough Sleeper

December 17, 2012 • Hyperdub

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Fuck...I'm Dead – Another Gory Mess

October 13, 2012 • self-released

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mary Shelley – In the Shadow of the Mountain

July 15, 2011 • self-released

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

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

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

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


Monday, December 17, 2012

Record store haul: December 15, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hair Police – Strict (7", $3)

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

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

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

Chumbawamba – Tubthumper (cassette, $1)

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

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

Charles Mingus – Epitaph (cassette, $1)

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

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

Mystery tape (cassette, $1)

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

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

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Holy Mountain – Entrails

May 31, 2005 • No Idea Records

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

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

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


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Holding onto Hope – Of the Sea

2009 • self-released

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

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

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

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


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Lento – Anxiety Despair Languish

October 26, 2012 • Denovali Records

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Taake – Nattestid ser porten vid...

January 1, 1999 • Wounded Love Records

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Jason Lescalleet – Songs About Nothing

June 2012 • Erstwhile Records

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, December 3, 2012

Echospace – Silent World

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

June 17, 2012 • echospace [detroit]

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

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

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

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