Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wet Brain, Checkmate, Torgo

December 17, 2013 • Ace of Cups, Columbus, Ohio

Just popped out to see a small show last night, some obscure punk bands I'd never heard of.


Terrible. Some sort of noise-rock-meets-punk-aesthetics, but in a bad way. Most of their stuff sounded like they were just messing around. Occasionally they'd set up a decent industrial/Swans-ish groove but it would always be ruined by the guitar goofing off with this random atonal improv. I get the feeling they were just playing for their drunk friends; the inside jokes and general stupidity was kind of embarrassing to watch.
3Most Ineffective Concrete Block for the Kick Drum Award


Local hardcore punk. A rehash of the old-school three-chord style, there's nothing particularly original about them, but they do what they do quite well. Very energetic and fun to watch, but a bit amateurish (they had to restart a few songs)—though I think they're a very new band, so I'll cut them some slack. Would see again.
6Just Tilt the Mic Down Instead of Standing On Your Toes Award

Wet Brain

(Baltimore. Not to be confused with the one from LA or the one from Massachusetts or the one from Cleveland, whom they're playing with the day after, which is interesting.) I haven't listened to much riot grrrl (maybe two bands total) but I liked what I heard, and these guys continued the trend. Their sound was pretty standard but with a tiny bit of a blues/surf influence in some songs. They also roll with one guitar and two basses (one high, one low, Ned's Atomic Dustbin style) which was pretty cool and is still fairly unique, especially for punk. They had the tendency to kind of meander and let the songs go a bit too long, but it was still a fine show. Worth checking out.
6Best Nose Rings Award

Monday, December 16, 2013

Gorguts, Origin, Nero di Marte, Dismemberment, Unkured

December 14, 2013 • Alrosa Villa, Columbus, Ohio

Back when I saw Locusta play in September, I thought that even though I don't really listen to much death metal at home, it's definitely a genre that I can get into when performed live. Tonight I tested my theory, and as it turns out I was totally right. Even though I was lukewarm to Gorguts' last album and I hadn't even heard of any of the other bands who played, I knew that it would still be worth it to give them a shot in concert. And it turned out to be one of the best shows I've been to yet.


Gorguts couldn't have asked for a better opener. Although they fall at least somewhat into the "tech death" camp, these guys still managed to rock really hard. It was probably some of the old-school influences, so it was a familiar sound to a lot of people, and there is a lot of groovy rhythmic bits that really got us pumped up. Their songs were a bit disorganized and tough to follow, but it didn't really matter in that environment, I suppose. They still were very technically talented, with some really nice tapping. I knew it was going to be a good show just from watching these guys.
7Best Fascist Combat Boots Outfit Award


Essentially, take the above band and make it old-school thrash and melodeath instead of old-school tech death. Fast, rocking stuff, really fun to listen to even though it normally wouldn't have been my thing. Really nice riffage, lots of headbangers, straightforward and metal as hell.
7Most Luscious Manes Award

Nero di Marte

The token "weird band" of the night. Rather than straight-up rocking stuff, these guys were slower-paced atmospheric proggy death/deathcore. Kind of like Ulcerate meets The Contortionist with loads of heavy atmosphere and very dense production. While it didn't work as well live as it probably would have in the studio, they were still pretty decent. Not as interesting to watch, of course, but they had some good songs and some good breakdowns and such to make up for it.
6Silliest Smoke Machine Award


The brutalest of brutal death metal. These guys were mesmerizing to watch with a really awesome stage presence and audience interaction (stories, diving). The music was a little forgettable, but the performance aspects made up for that (aside from when they'd get off time from each other, tsk tsk). Special mention to the bass guitar player who must be some sort of wizard; I've never seen anyone play the way he does, precision-attacking the frets and strings like he was trying to break it.
7Worst Stagediving Award. Also, Best Stagediving Award


They sounded basically like what I thought they would, but (as I mentioned) it was definitely much better live. They played Colored Sands in its entirety (I think) plus some older stuff as an encore. So it was a great set, and it was really cool to hear both eras of the band. I was kind of impressed how much the crowd really got into it. Also, how did I not even realize that Colin Marston was in the band? That was half of my excitement right there. Anyway, really great stuff, totally worth seeing.
8Best Drummer Faces Award

Friday, December 13, 2013

Disasterpeace – Fez

April 20, 2012 • II

I guess it's fitting that I chose Fez to round out the week; like Thomas Was Alone and Journey, Fez's soundtrack is one that instills a sense of wonder and purpose into its game to an incredible degree. Even though I highly recommend the game, if the soundtrack is the best you can do for now it's definitely worth listening to.

The soundtrack's style is mostly based around very simple chiptunes, but the quality of the various melodies and production values take it to a completely different level. Like how the film-score stylings of Journey's soundtrack created such vivid soundscapes, a similar thing applies here; Fez is a bit like a film score with electronic music instead of classical (you could almost think '70s soundtracks, but in a good way). Each piece effectively sounds like the location in the game it's associated with, and at the same time the whole soundtrack is still very cohesive and flows well.

But to try to pin it down in so many words would be doing the music a disservice. There is so much to be explored and discovered here (it is pretty long, after all) and there is so much thrown at the listener throughout. Sometimes it's the sunniest, most cheerfully bouncing music ever; other times it's dark and mysterious, droning away low guttural sawtooths. But in most cases, the music has this wonderful ability to just hang around and be incredibly comforting. It's tough to explain exactly why or how, but whenever I listen to it I just want to sit and be in that experience.

Special mention goes to the suite of "Snyc" and "Glitch" for wrapping up Fez in the best possible way; one of the most feel-good pieces of music I've ever heard (with a fantastic, catchy beat to boot). I don't like to rank music much anymore, but if I had to, Fez would be no lower than the second-greatest video game soundtrack I've ever heard. A masterpiece in every way.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hotline Miami

August 21, 2012 • Devolver Digital

Imagine it's the year 1989, and you're sitting outside on the south Florida beach, a half-gone pile of cocaine spread out in front of you. That's what Hotline Miami is like, some kind of blitzed-out psychedelic insanity that evokes that hot and hazy atmosphere while also being dissonant and alienating. It's a weird experience, but a good one.

"Synthwave" is the new buzzword for this kind of music—retro-inspired synth pop and house music—though I find the name a bit misleading, at least when it comes to this soundtrack. As a various-artists collection there's actually quite a number of different things going on, going from thick psych-rock to deep thumping house and techno. It's a good sampling of how wildly different genres can still provide a similar mood and aesthetic to a soundtrack (then again, maybe it's just that I already associate all these songs with the game). And it's just plain weird, too; flipping around the songs might seem kind of normal at first, but there's always something just a little off that makes them feel a bit uneasy.

Hotline Miami itself isn't really a game I'd recommend for everyone, and I don't think I actually like it all that much myself. But I do know that it did bring us a pretty good collection of tracks to go along with it. There are a few forgettable tracks here and overall it doesn't inflict me with the same sense of awe as a lot of other recent soundtracks have, but it's still worth a listen just for the weirdness.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Austin Wintory – Journey

July 19, 2013 • Sony Music / Sumthing Else Music Works

I don't own a PS3 so I never played Journey, so you'll have to take this opinion from someone who just watched a video of it; but even in that experience it's still a great game. No small part of its success should be attributed to its score, easily another one of my top favorite pieces of game music ever.

One thing you'll notice right away about Journey's soundtrack is that it's not very typical for a game; it feels a lot more like that of a dramatic, artsy film (and I mean that in a good way). Many modern classical film score tropes are in full swing here: a large-scale orchestra with occasional tight string and wind ensembles; soft, meandering melodies; tense, amelodic, droning buildups.

But it's not a generic score by any means; it definitely takes on the role of "soundscape" more than "soundtrack" as it works so well to establish mood and context without even really needing a visual to go along with it. Journey is, at least in part, a game about exploration (big surprise) and discovery; this score evokes those emotions exceedingly well. It has that sense of childlike wonder to it, as the music paints these mysterious and foreign yet beautiful scenes.

It does suffer a bit from your typical score's inherent problem with getting a bit too long and as Journey is especially heady and dense, it can be a bit of a difficult attentive listen. Still, I think it's absolutely worth it; it's simply one of the most gorgeous experiences I've had with gaming in general in a long time and deserves all the attention it can get. At the very least, give these pieces a try.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

David Housden – Thomas Was Alone

April 24, 2013 • self-released

If I had to give an award to the single most emotional and affecting video game soundtrack, Thomas Was Alone would win it by far. There's something about it that hits me with just the right mood every time, and it's a fantastic experience.

The songs' arrangements vary a bit in their complexity, but they mostly boil down to a beautiful mix of piano, strings, and some guitar with soft chiptune and glitch music. Even with the electronic elements, the music still feels organic and earthy. The digital sounds fit well with the acoustic instruments; they stick out somewhat if you're listening for them, but they still manage to fit the aesthetic very well. Perhaps it's that they aren't as harsh and sawtooth-y as most chiptune, and the way they are mixed in with the same delay and reverb helps.

But it's the way the music feels that sets it apart, naturally. Compared to most soundtracks, it's a bit of a downer. (Of course that means I'll love it.) While it's so sad it also has a very hopeful mood to it (see "Escape" and "Clear Skies"), sort of like the Sigur Rós equivalent of a game soundtrack. It's not without its darker moments as well, like "Divided We Fall", giving the album a surprising amount of depth.

Put simply, this is a masterpiece of gaming soundtracks (probably in my top ten, anyway). Every element is done exactly right, it isn't missing a thing, and there is nothing in it that shouldn't be there. This is one of the rare game soundtracks that stands well on its own without the context of the game itself, although of course I recommend the game to absolutely anyone.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Rom Di Prisco & Peter Chapman – Guacamelee!

I'm back in full force, and today I'm ramping up the second Video Game Soundtrack Week! About freakin' time!

September 4, 2013 • Drinkbox Studios

I almost always love it when game soundtracks manage to go well above and beyond a simple electronic style, and I enjoy it even more when games like Guacamelee! take that to a new level. With the game's luchador theme it's obvious that its soundtrack would include a heavy helping of Mexican music, but I never expected it to be so well-done and fit so well into the game. Not only did it add immensely to my enjoyment of the game, but it provides a great listening experience on its own.

The soundtrack presents two distinct styles, similar in style but different in functionality. One is Peter Chapman's more traditional scoring: it's based around a large ensembles with a big cinematic sound. It's used mostly for cutscenes and menus, and there it does an excellent job of establishing the mood and feel of the game. Rom Di Prisco's tracks are a bit more diverse. They're based around a smaller mariachi arrangement and have varying amounts of electronic fusion going on. Most of these tracks also have a "dark world" equivalent, which adds a thick layer of dark, despairing reverb to the otherwise jaunty tunes.

It's difficult to describe exactly what makes this soundtrack so attractive, but it does do two things very well for me. Firstly, it draws you into the game's world so incredibly well. Maybe it helps that I never really listen to Mexican music (though I should), but those folky elements—guitars, brass, upright bass (which sounds amazing, by the way)—can be really captivating and evoke the game's world so effectively. Secondly, the whole thing just jams so hard. I could listen to that boss theme or the Temple or Rain theme all day. Even the softer tracks groove along nicely when they want to.

It's a soundtrack that has (or ought to have) universal appeal, even though it seems like it combines a couple of semi-niche genres it manages to transcend each. Oh, and the game is pretty great too, I suppose.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP 2

November 5, 2013 • Shady Records

Yep, an Eminem review. I've always liked him just a little bit, ever since I heard "My Name Is" on the radio when I had no idea what hip hop was. The Slim Shady LP and The Marshall Mathers LP were both interesting and had good cuts on each, though I've always been partial to the former. After that I didn't really bother to listen to anything else he's done, simply because I heard none of it was any good. A month after this album is out, the consensus seems to be that it isn't very good either, but while it's not great I'm enjoying it a bit more than I had thought I would.

Maybe it helps that I usually focus on the production more with hip hop, and this album has some decent stuff on it. Like most pop rap made by older artists, it has some very modern-sounding beats. As I've made obvious in the past, there's plenty of modern hip hop I enjoy and a lot of the beats and production on this album are right up my alley, especially when things take a more hard and heavy turn. It's not anywhere as dissonant and industrial as, say, the new Kanye, but there's elements of that. On the other hand, there are definitely a lot of hokey moments (too many to list) where things get obnoxious or too silly to enjoy. It doesn't make a lot of sense when you realize that the people making tracks like "So Much Better" are 40+ years old.

Vocals-wise, the guest melodic hooks on many tracks contrast well with Eminem's standard choppy rapping style, though I could definitely do without his own singing most of the time. As usual, I ignore the lyrics, which is probably the best for Eminem—although I've always enjoyed his talent for rapid-fire internal rhymes, most of what he actually says is not particularly appealing (still rocking slurs in 2013? come on).

There's good and bad bits, so it's probably the kind of album that's best enjoyed with liberal use of the "skip" button. On average, maybe it's not really worth listening to, but when it's good, it's still pretty decent, I suppose. Whether or not it lives up to its predecessor is a matter of personal opinion (and I'll never understand how anyone thinks they can get away with making sequel albums that are anywhere near as good as the originals).

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

!T.O.O.H.! – Democratic Solution

August 13, 2013 • self-released

!T.O.O.H.!'s 2005 album and their last before disbanding Order and Punishment is something of an underground classic of death metal, and they've probably been one of the highest-regarded bands from the Czech Republic. They reformed recently to put out one more album, and it's debatable whether it was worth it; it's definitely an interesting listen, though.

The band's style has shifted considerably from the technical death metal of their past to something more in line with mid-2000s avant-garde metal bands, with the odd folky influences and grind bits. As I don't really care for most tech death, this probably made it an easier album for me to listen to, as things are a little bit simpler and a bit less dissonant.

On the other hand, it's difficult to judge the album on its songwriting merits simply because it sounds so awful. With the exception of the decent (if unoriginal) drumming, about every instrument sounds totally wrong. Guitars are played through an AM receiver and the bass is just guttural farting noises. The vocals are a mixed bag; it's all clean singing, and some is decent but most feels really off (the end of "Boubelovo životakončení" is a good example of singing that really should have been left out). The keyboards are a nice touch, though, if a bit overdone.

So if you can get past the odd production, there's a half-decent metal album in here. It's not great, and I don't know if I'd call it good, but it's not as awful as some people would have you think. It's going to be a bit too weird to please most people, for sure; it has some cringey moments but definitely some redeeming ones as well. Just try not to take it too seriously, I suppose.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Panopticon – Kentucky

June 2012 • Handmade Birds

I don't make it a secret that I really despise American country music—and not for lack of trying, either. Of course I'm going to be a bit skeptical about any attempt to shoehorn it into some other style. Even still, I was immediately interested in Kentucky just because it sounded so bizarre; atmospheric black metal and bluegrass? And it's not a parody album? And it's... well, it's not bad, I'll say that.

I already considered myself a mild Panopticon fan after hearing quality self-titled debut: thick, intense, grinding atmospheric metal. For the most part, Kentucky doesn't stray far from the style, so in a lot of ways it's like many of its ABM contemporaries. And in that vein, it's good stuff; nothing fantastically mind-blowing, but good enough to listen to several times.

And then comes the country. Banjos, folky vocals, the lot. The bluegrass elements aren't really fused with the black metal that seamlessly; it's more like a regular black metal album with bluegrass intros and outros, with the exception of droning fiddles during some of the songs, so I find myself not really enjoying a lot of these bits; I guess they're decent for what they are. I do, however, enjoy the audio clips that help add to the concept and thematics of the album.

Overall, I'm not totally sure if this style really works, but at the very least it's one of the most interesting listens in extreme metal that I can think of from the last several years. It's still worth listening to just for the black metal, and if you liked earlier Panopticon you'll like this. And maybe it's an opportunity to get a little bluegrass into your music diet, if that doesn't sound too unappealing.

Friday, November 22, 2013

KEN Mode – Entrench

March 15, 2013 • Season of Mist

I guess I'm kind of obligated to review this album now, having enjoyed Venerable and seeing this band play twice in the last year. I don't mind, though; KEN mode hasn't let up on quality and Entrench is a pretty darn awesome album.

They're back with the same sort of frantic-metalcore-meets-sludge sound ("sludgecore" isn't a thing yet, no matter how hard I try), though the noise rock aspects have been toned down for a more post-hardcore-oriented approach. Like before, the band is heavy and gritty as hell but the occasional softer moment; the pounding rarely lets up throughout the album but it does switch a bit from fast-paced punk-tinged sludgecore to some slower doomier stuff and an almost alt/post-rock like buildup on "Romeo Must Never Know". There are still a lot of surprisingly catchy moments as well without suffering from breakdown overload ("The Promises of God" is especially great in this regard), while at the same time the technicality of the performance has been dialed back a bit in favor of just rocking out. And that's great.

I could probably go as far as to say that I'm liking this more than Venerable right off the bat. I can't really think of anything they didn't do just right. Absolutely a great and worthy followup (yeah at some point I really should check out their first three albums...) and definitely recommended to anyone who's a fan of sludgecore in general.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Inferni333 – I'm Still the Doctor

September 1, 2013 • self-released

Inferni333 is an acoustic-indie-rock band from Missouri. They also have an unhealthy obsession with Dr. Who.

Standard folk rock tropes apply (drums, acoustic guitar, bass, vocals) and the instrumentation is quite well-done. The drumming especially stands out as the EP's strongest point, and there are some good guitar moments as well (in the songs' intros, mostly).

But the songwriting itself is a bit simplistic and unchallenging; even with the short-ish runtimes it is all too easy to get bogged down in the repetition (especially "Death of the Ninth Doctor", which is the same four bars for over five minutes). Props for the string ensemble bits, like on "Bad Wolf", for mixing things up, though. I also can't get over the incredibly cheesy lyrics either, but then again maybe I'm just taking this way too seriously.

For what it is, this EP isn't bad. It's not really my style of music so I don't feel like I really should be any authority of whether it's any good or not. That being said, it's still free to listen to all over the place, so it's easy to decide for yourself.

Friday, November 15, 2013

情報デスクVIRTUAL – 札幌コンテンポラリー

April 20, 2012 • Beer on the Rug

In theory, nothing about vaporwave should have been successful. Cheesy, generic stock music, shamelessly ripped off and re-purposed from the awful corporate mood music of the '80s and early '90s, music that should have stayed on the Weather Channel and home shopping networks. I can't explain why in 2010 it suddenly came back out of nowhere, wanting to be taken semi-seriously, even. But I still have this odd fascination with 札幌コンテンポラリー, and it's definitely an album worth knowing about.

There's a lot going on all over this album, though it's hard to notice at first. The cheesy MIDI arrangements are just a distracting surface element; just underneath that are some actually well-arranged and well-performed smooth jazz and ambient pop tunes. There's a surprising amount of diversity, too, like the African-sounding influence on tracks like "iMYSTIQUE エジプト航空「EDU」" or the downbeat, droning "HB☯ PORN". And yet there's nothing very challenging about the album, because it all stems from a place that's at least a little bit familiar to people who were around during that time (or at least experienced the bits of its culture that this music comes from).

It kinda goes without saying at this point that 札幌コンテンポラリー is not for everyone—not by a long shot. Even if you can get into the aesthetic of the album as a whole, the tracks themselves can vary quite a bit in quality and listenability (take "CONTEMPORARYセーター", which sounds like it comes from an awful soap opera, or the disgustingly-saccharine soul of its successor "HOTEL TAIWAN WELC☯MES U") and the album does feel somewhat too long (at one hour and twenty-seven tracks). Personally, I can't bring myself to hold it any higher than a novelty act, but at the same time it's still a pretty good novelty act, one that makes you stop and think for a minute. It's so unlike anything I'd ever naturally listen to that I just have to like it, even for just a little bit.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Vallendusk – Black Clouds Gathering

April 20, 2013 • Pest Productions

I love hearing metal from outside of Europe and North America. There's usually some sort of regional influence seeping into the music that gives it a really cool cultural flair that's unique to that band. Unfortunately, I know nothing about traditional Indonesian music or even their culture in general, and Vallendusk isn't helping; while Black Clouds Gathering is a pretty good modern black metal album, there isn't much to it that really stands out.

The album is fairly typical post-2010 atmospheric black metal / blackgaze composition and aesthetics, with jangly distorted guitars, relentless double-kick and blastbeat drumming, generic but well-performed vocals, and lots of major-key riffs. It's the kind of thing that's been popular lately in the new black metal underground but Vallendusk does it relatively well. The music has a great feel to it, constantly driving forward, and the melodies are pleasant enough with the right amount of edge to fit the style.

Unfortunately, like many ambitious metal albums before it, Black Clouds Gathering tends to drag a bit. And it's an incredibly long album, too: at around 67 minutes, it's a bit more than my attention span can handle, especially when the band doesn't really do a lot to shake things up. It feels a bit like listening to the same exact song seven times in a row, which I have mixed feelings on—yes, it's a good song, but I'm going to get bored with it if you keep it up that long.

That being said, I would still recommend this to anyone else who's been following the trajectory of black metal over the last couple of years, as this is a good example of how good modern stuff can get. Yes, it's a bit disappointing that there wasn't any of that folk in it that I was promised, but I guess I can live with that. Maybe next time.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Clipping – Midcity

February 5, 2013 • self-released

I haven't really been listening to quite as much music recently. Not totally sure why (probably work-related), but I've felt the need to experience things in smaller, more intense bursts to try to get everything in. Midcity has been out since February so I'm way behind on everything I wanted to listen to, but at least this falls under the "intense bursts" I guess I'm going for.

Noise and hip hop—two genres I've liked for a while, and two genres that you don't often see together (at least, not at this level; Dälek or Death Grips come near it but still aren't in the same league). Clipping's style almost forgoes the standard styles of hip hop entirely, opting for harsh static, glitch, junk noise, anything dissonant they can get their hands on. It's a really interesting contrast to the more standard rapping that's comparable to a lot of modern rap; against the backdrop of the noise beats it becomes something entirely different. It's still pretty rhythmic music (most of the time), but hearing those rhythms made with static and sound effects instead of drums and samples is offputting, to say the least.

Production aside, it still comes off as a pretty solid album when it comes to hip hop. There's some great scratching (something sorely lacking on a lot of hip hop I hear) and sometimes the beats can get a little catchy on their own. The rapping is quite good too, even if it is a little typical (and I could go without hearing "swag" ever again). They aren't very aggressive at all which provides a nice balance to the head-pounding production—whereas Death Grips beat the listener by shouting relentlessly, Clipping opts to take a more subtle approach to alarm the listener, and it works.

Overall, it's a really cool aesthetic, and I'd be excited to hear more extreme hip hop like this. Midcity is best served in short chunks, though, if the listener wishes to retain their sanity.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Darkthrone – Sardonic Wrath

September 6, 2004 • Moonfog Productions

Darkthrone seems to get a lot of crap for anything released after 1995's Panzerfaust but I have to say I never agreed with those sentiments; sometimes, they can be just as good as they were in the early '90s. Case in point: Sardonic Wrath one of my favorite later-era albums of theirs. You wouldn't think a band like Darkthrone could pull out anything interesting or relevant in 2004, and you certainly could argue for that, but I have to admit I have a soft spot for this album.

Sardonic Wrath's biggest strength for me is probably rooted in its production, which is somewhere between where most modern black metal bands were and old-school-death metal style. It's mot too raw, and has a really ferocious edge to it (especially those fantastic buzzsaw guitars). The playing has a real sense of purpose and drive to it; unlike some of their other late albums where they sound like they're sloppily going through the motions, this album feels a lot tighter.

The songwriting is surprisingly good here, too—most bands would be totally burned out after eleven or so albums but, after having heard most of them by this point, this one still sticks out to me as being relatively fresh. They went for a good mix of different styles overall, combining straight black metal with some simplistic punk rhythms and a bit of the death and thrash they started their career with. Often it come off as quite catchy, even (see "Sacrificing to the God of Doubt" for a good example). It's definitely nowhere near the far more atmospheric and bleak sound of Transilvanian Hunger et. al., but I like that about it. It doesn't sound like a different band, just one that's moved on a bit.

Darkthrone did a lot of favors to the black metal genre from '92 to '95, but even though most people have moved on I'm glad they stuck have around and not gone totally to crap like one might have expected. I won't say Sardonic Wrath is an absolute-must-hear by any means, more like a personal favorite, albeit one still worth listening to.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Esmerine – La Lechuza

June 7, 2011 • Constellation Records

I don't have a clue how I found out about Esmerine—something to do with their association with Godspeed, I'd guess, but even ignoring that it's hard to find something bad on Constellation's roster. I'm a bit annoyed I haven't heard of this group sooner; out of every Godspeed side-project I've heard this one is by far the best, and yet they seem to be pretty unknown.

I don't really know the difference between minimalism and post-minimalism, but I'm pretty sure La Lechuza falls somewhere in there. Arrangements are sparse, focusing on a small handful of string instruments and various percussion, both chromatic and folky. It's almost like if early Godspeed was conducted by Arvo Pärt, and the result is somber, personal, introspective, bittersweet—in parts, anyway.

It's all about beauty in simplicity; just a basic chord progression on xylophone with cello and you're set. (It certainly helps that they use a lot of what I'd consider "favorite" instruments, like the two I just mentioned, so the aesthetic already really appeals to me.) Other tracks take a more layered, complex approach that works equally well, just trying to do something a bit different. One part that particularly gets to me is "Trampolin"'s optimistic, childlike style, with a more upbeat rhythm and flowing melodies. It's a fantastic mix of moods on display in this album, and it's fortunately delivered in a way that really clicks.

If I had to complain (and of course I do) I'm not a huge fan of the vocals and to me they really take away from the experience that the instruments delivered just fine; fortunately they only appear on a couple tracks so it's not a huge deal.

Anyway. Esmerine makes some damn beautiful stuff, and it's absolutely worth listening to for anyone remotely into chamber music, minimalism, and post-rock-influenced music. Or even if you aren't. It's great either way.


Friday, November 1, 2013

Altar of Plagues – Teethed Glory & Injury

April 30, 2013 • Profound Lore Records

Ladies and gentlemen, it's here: the next innovation in black metal. Irish band Altar of Plauges put out two albums (and a bit more) of relatively standard-fare 2010s-style atmospheric black metal before dropping this monstrosity on the world and then vanishing. As far as final albums go, few are so intent in their finality as Teethed Glory & Injury is: hugely experimental, broadly scoped, and pretty good too.

Anyone familiar with the band's older work will definitely be surprised by how this album is composed, as I was. The diversity of sounds on this single album is incredible, and it shoves the listener right into the thick of it with no warning. There's industrial-electronic soundscapes reminiscent of Ben Frost, the dissonant grinding avant-garde metal of Sigh, droning doom passages, a little bit of their expected original sound too, all shrouded in this very dark, alienating, cold atmosphere that's surprisingly easy to fall into.

While the band has always been good at what they do, they still manage to fall into the easy trap of trying to do too much. With so much going on it's inevitable that the album doesn't sound as cohesive as it should; even though the tracks are mostly good individually, the flow feels all wrong and everything falls apart when taken in as a whole. It's kind of like they knew what they were going for in terms of overall sound and mood, but couldn't incorporate it with their existing songwriting chops very well.

That being said, I find Teethed Glory & Injury to still be a relatively enjoyable album and it deserves the credit and praise it's received so far. I don't think I'd ever pick it over their first two for black metal, or over contemporary drone / ambient / noise artists for what is presented here. And I'm not really sure it is the next innovation in black metal after all (you can't tell these things ahead of time anyway). But I can definitely appreciate the album for what it is—an adventure, an experiment, a unique experience. And for what it's worth it's got at least a couple good spins in it.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Krobak – Little Victories

July 2, 2013 • MALS

A while back, I did a scathing review of the first Krobak album The Diary of the Missed One; I was so disappointed with it that I never bothered to revisit the band. It's been some time and with a few more albums in-between, I'm happy to report that the years have been good to Krobak. Little Victories is a major step up compared to the debut and one that's quite a lot more worthwhile.

As I missed their second and third albums, there's probably a lot of development I didn't hear in the meantime, but there are still a lot of changes worth pointing out. One major one is that Krobak is now an actual band, with actual drums and actual bass (whew). Production can often make or break an album and they fortunately sound quite good here. Notable is the prominent use of violin, to the point where sometimes it's pretty much the main instrument now and the guitar hangs in the background supporting it. There is a lot of good interplay between the violin and guitar through most of the album, I think that was handled really well.

The songwriting has massively improved, as well. The generic "crescendocore" buildups and repetitive guitar vamping are gone in favor of something a bit more "song"-like (even though there still aren't vocals) that's actually quite interesting to listen to. A bit more of the Mogwai or Clann Zú school, perhaps. It's still slow and dirgey, but in a much more appealing way; it goes places, progresses.

Even though I still firmly maintain that post-rock is still pretty much a dead genre, it's clear that bands are still fully capable of making good albums in the genre, as Krobak shows here. No, it's nothing groundbreaking and I didn't expect it to be, but if it's something I'm in the mood for it definitely makes for a good listen.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Subrosa – More Constant than the Gods

September 17, 2013 • Profound Lore Records

Yes, new Subrosa! For anyone who doesn't remember, I raved about their last album No Help for the Mighty Ones, a masterpiece of doom metal, and naturally I was excited to hear something new from them. While doom metal still isn't something I ever got into very much, Subrosa has bucked the trend and put out some really great music, and with More Constant than the Gods they certainly haven't gotten much worse.

The formula is pretty much the same: heavy and plodding doom metal with the occasional sludge and stoner influences, but very melodic at the same time—clean vocals, some actually catchy riffs, the occasional violin, some folky elements as well (like the entirety of "No Safe Harbor" and whatever the heck that pipe thing is in "Ghosts of a Dead Empire"). Despite this, it still retains a more typical doom atmosphere of being somewhat suffocating and claustrophobic, despite the generally clean and accessible production. I am a bit disappointed to hear the harsh vocals completely gone, as it was a really interesting element to their sound (especially when the vocals aren't particularly interesting in their own right).

Maybe it's just me, but I'm not quite as enthralled with the songwriting as strongly as I did with their last one. There's far too much of the same brooding chugging-on-the-root-note going on and not as much variation on that. The fact that these are slightly longer songs, with slightly fewer of them, probably contributes to that feeling. It's a bit of a detriment to my enjoyment of the album as it's a little too easy to get bored with some of the more repetitive sections; I feel like most of these songs should have been maybe half as long as they were. Or maybe it's just coincidence that the shortest song "Cosey Mo" is also the best? I don't know.

But no, it's certainly not a bad album. I probably wouldn't even call it a misstep; just not as good as No Help for the Mighty Ones. And that's totally fine, some people will like one and some people will like the other. Either way, this is definitely one worth checking out.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Adai – Felo De Se

May 2010 • Cavity Records

Just another random find (this time courtesy of Spotify, but I'll take what I can get—they're surprisingly good at recommendations, I've found). It's rare that you see atmospheric sludge bands with tracks less than six minutes long, so I was curious about this band, and it turns out they're quite good, although the lack of material is a bit disappointing.

They have a great sound, though, kind of like a dirtier, heavier Pelican, with the same sort of stoner-influenced major-key riffs and sprawling instrumental sound. Although it does stand up pretty well as it is now, I think it would definitely be improved with more / better vocals; the music tends to drag on a little bit without them, and the bits that do exist aren't that great (they're mostly in the background and aren't terribly great, to be honest). But the music itself is very well-written and manages to be pretty interesting, if a little samey.

Although they may not sound particularly original, Adai has a really great sound and this EP is so short that it just breezes by and leaves me wanting more. I really hope they pull together a full-length sometime soon (it's been over three years already!). I guess I'll have to settle for this.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels

June 26, 2013 • Fool's Gold

Oh man, how could it have taken me so long to get on this album? After El-P and Killer Mike each dropped stellar albums individually last year (okay, El-P was on both), the only thing better would be a collaboration—and damn does it work.

If you've been keeping up with El-P's production history as of late, Run the Jewels' sound isn't going to be too unfamiliar. The beats are heavy and as spastic as ever, if maybe a little more coherent and less seizure-inducing than on Cancer 4 Cure. There is a good amount of dynamics too; in addition to some really nasty, heavy bangers, there are a few "softer" tracks in the middle of the album to mix things up (e.g. "DDFH" and "Job Well Done"). As before, Killer Mike's hardcore rapping blends with the production perfectly. I like him as a rapper much better than El-P, but they both do a fine job. The guest spots are all inconsequential—I don't really feel Big Boi here at all; I was never a huge fan to begin with and he's better with the southern sound anyway, which doesn't exist here, and Prince Paul is just terrible.

In fact that's more or less the only misstep on the album; they did just about everything right. Even the length (which can be one of my biggest annoyances on some hip hop albums) is perfect at just over half an hour—I'll definitely take just thirty minutes of fantastic tracks over an hour of half good, half bad.

That's what I find interesting about this album: it's not really that new or groundbreaking, it's just two guys who are on top of their game making the best tracks they can, and they do an amazing job. I hope the keep up the momentum.


Download it here or just stream it:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pelican – Forever Becoming

October 14, 2013 • Southern Lord Records

I don't get excited for new Pelican like I used to. Like most people, I consider their first two albums and first two EPs to be quite good and everything after that not worth even bothering with. Well, surprise surprise—Forever Becoming is just as not-very-good as I had thought.

To be fair, I think they're trying. Both the first two tracks are styled pretty different to what I'd consider their normal sound; "Terminal" is a slow, hollow, trudging track and "Deny the Absolute" is fast and upbeat with a slight post-hardcore sound. Unfortunately, that still doesn't make them good; I've already forgotten the generic riffs as soon as they're over. It's heavier than their last couple albums, but not particularly; the melodies are maybe a bit more interesting, but not much; the performance is a lot less sloppy than it used to be, but it never should have been sloppy in the first place.

If you want to find enjoyment in this album, it's there. There are a good handful of moments worth head-bobbing along to, and they can still get really heavy when they want to and a lot of the time it sounds great when they do. I think it's probably better than both City of Echoes and What We All Come to Need, for what it's worth.

But if no one knew who Pelican was when they released this album, no one would care about it. I guess I can see an audience for people who don't actually listen to sludge metal enough to know what they should be expecting; sludge and post-rock have moved far on from this sound and it doesn't cut it anymore. It's not bottom-of-the-barrel awful, just mediocre enough to not bother with, which is worse in a way. It's fine enough while it's on, but it's definitely not worth getting excited about and dropping money on.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Black Milk – No Poison No Paradise

October 15, 2013 • Fat Beats

I don't follow too many hip hop artists closely, but Black Milk has been on of them for some time. Tronic was an instant hit for me with its catchy, heavy, and unique sound, and even though Album of the Year didn't quite live up to its title I still enjoyed it. No Poison No Paradise isn't quite as fantastic either, but that doesn't mean it's not a good album.

One of the things that still draws me to Black Milk is that there really aren't many (if any) producers quite like him. As always, he doesn't hold back with his experimentation in his production. No Poison No Paradise is still about as melodic as you can get for hip hop. There's even more soul and jazz in this album than I remember being in his older material, especially soul—which is really fine by me. I like hardcore stuff as much as the next guy, but Black Milk's silky smooth beats are perfect in their own relaxing way and raucous when they want to be (check out that free jazz section on "Perfected on Puritan Ave.", great stuff). There's not quite as much of the harsh synths and electronics of Tronic (if you couldn't guess), but I think the shift is really working for him. (It varies from track to track, of course; the aesthetics going from the vintage styles of "Deion's House" to the sawtoothed and cold "Codes and Cab Fare", for example, is a bit jarring.)

The rapping isn't much home to write about on most tracks; while Black Milk's rapping has always been perfectly fine, he has never really stood out to me as a great emcee and I don't see him improving much here. The guest spots don't wow me, either. On the other hand, I don't listen to him for the rapping; I'll take his instrumentals with the same enthusiasm any day. There are a few good moments, though, like the aggressive spitting and satisfying lyrics on "Sunday's Best".

It'll probably take a few more listens to tell for sure how it stacks up against his earlier albums, but I can tell after just a couple that No Poison No Paradise is definitely worth revisiting. I don't think it's album of the year material (heh)... but sleeper hit of the year? Definitely.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Burning Bright – Domesday

December 15, 2012 • self-released

I found this band on Bandcamp (of course) some time ago and finally got around to actually checking them out. I've heard more than my share of crap in my mission to find the world's best crust punk, but Burning Bright is definitely one of the better bands so far and this, their debut, is certainly worth the time.

Domesday is a pretty simple album at its core: a straightforward fusion of melodic hardcore and crust punk, like a skatier version of Tragedy. Unlink a lot of other crust punk, though, the production is pretty clean most of the time (and you can easily hear that awesome bass guitar sound) and the melodies are, well, more melodic than usual (almost power-metal-esque on a few tracks, and there's even trumpet on the final track). I quite like the approach, actually; it's a very accessible album and easy to listen to as far as hardcore goes. You don't always have to get bogged down in the dirty, dank sound most crust albums have, and I appreciate that here.

Burning Bright can definitely do some quite catchy rhythms, although many of the songwriting and riffs lean more towards the average side, playing off on a single note or really basic chord pattern that doesn't stay interesting very long. There are some nice exceptions, though—"Vitriol", as an example, has a nice proggy-sounding bridge to it and some really great guitar interplay with the solos; a few of the closing songs bring a great sludgy sound missing from the rest of the album.

So no, it's not a particularly challenging or mind-expanding release, or one that I'd eagerly push on everyone I meet, but it's still a fine album for those days when you just want to rock out and have your brain numbed by some heavy hardcore sounds. Definitely recommended for hardcore fans—and it's free, too!


Monday, October 14, 2013

Earl Sweatshirt – Doris

August 20, 2013 • Tan Cressida Records

I've been following the whole Odd Future thing only casually at best; a lot of the collective's output is really hit-or-miss and there's so much to it that it usually feels easier just to not bother. Only Earl Sweatshirt's material (and maybe MellowHype's too, I guess) has been interesting to me, and I suppose Doris is a fine enough album to go along with the first. It's also hit-or-miss, but I think the hits outweigh the misses, at least a little.

Like most of Odd Future, the beats on Doris are pretty minimal, meaning usually I either like them a lot or think they're awful. Heck, even just the first two tracks show off the disparity well—"Pre" makes a horrible first impression, but "Burgundy" is a really neat, almost cloud-rap-like track. A lot of different producers were on board for Doris which explains the inconsistent quality; as someone who cares a bit more about the beats than the rapping I'd prefer to hear just one producer's stuff, whoever it might be. On the other hand, at least the signature Odd Future aesthetic throughout the album is relatively consistent, so it feels a bit more than just some random tracks arranged together.

As was expected, the guest spots are pretty disappointing; Earl has a good enough voice and actually writes really decent lines most of the time, so everyone else just sounds like a hack in comparison. (To be fair, most of them are hacks. Who decided giving SK La' Flare a mic was a good idea? And I hate to say it, but RZA's part is awful and he really has no place here; he's been grasping at straws for a while and needs to take a break.) I usually don't listen to the lyrics much ever, but there are some really bad / immature lines that stick out that kill the mood for me. But it's not all bad, for sure.

It's hard to recommend an album like this, but if you already like Odd Future you won't go wrong. It's wildly inconsistent quality-wise and I don't see a lot of general hip hop fans being into it, but like Earl's debut there are plenty of really good moments here that make the whole thing worth listening to, as long as you know what you're getting into.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Tim Hecker – Virgins

October 14, 2013 • Kranky

Though many people claim Harmony in Ultraviolet as a high point for ambient music, I was never really a huge fan of its sound. But then, a couple years ago, when I first heard Hecker's 2011 album Ravedeath, 1972, it had an incredible effect on me which turned my opinion of Hecker around completely. I still consider it to be one of the greatest ambient albums I've ever heard. Virgins is more or less a direct sequel to Ravedeath, and it is equally as intense and beautiful and necessary to hear.

For the uninitiated, Virgins' style can be a bit hard to describe—it's an enveloping combination of layered ambient droning, glitchy electronics, tape manipulation, and some classical instrumentation like woodwinds and strings. Though each track is distinct from the rest, the album still manages to flow together in one huge soundscape—it's more of an experience than a collection of songs.

And I've heard a good handful of albums like this one (with wildly varying opinions on each), but there's something about Hecker's approach to this kind of music that leaves me stunned whenever I listen to it. Like Ravedeath, there's this sort of overbearing, plodding, beautiful sadness to the music that grabs my attention at every turn. Though the tone is mostly pretty sad, there are other times when things get incredibly tense—even a bit angry—as conflict between the soothing ambience and harsh, assonant grinding noises and drones erupts out of nowhere. Despite being an album constructed the way it is, it still feels very real and present. There's just so much happening, even during the quieter parts; but it never seems like it's too much to take in, even when the music is undoubtedly suffocating the listener. Sometimes the music sounds messy and disorganized, sometimes it's clean and concise, but it's still consistent with itself.

Also like Ravedeath, I won't say Virgins is a flawless album; there are still some slightly weaker tracks and the album is a little duller around the middle. But considering how much the album wows me on the whole, I don't really care; I just want to feel in that moment—where soft clarinets and echoing sawtooth synths and clanging noises surround me and all I can think is "why bother listening to anything else?".


Stream the album courtesy of NPR

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

SRVVLST – "Thoughts"

December 25, 2013 • Major Bear Records

I first heard of this band when I saw them play at a great show back in July. I'm happy to see the band gaining some traction and are set to put out their new EP The Seven Year Inch in April 2014, although the first track is already available to stream on Bandcamp. As with their earlier stuff, "Thoughts" doesn't step too far out of the emo / indie-rock framework, but it still has that prog-ish flair SRVVLST likes to inject into their songs—lots of changing up time signatures and tempos and a very dynamic sound (from the quiet second verse, to the skittery, heavy riff of the song's climax, to the tense cresecendo and neat drum groove at the end). Maybe nothing game-changing for emo revival just yet, but I guess we'll see in April when the EP drops.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Vattnet Viskar – Sky Swallower

September 3, 2013 • Century Media Records

I saw these guys play a show back in March, really enjoyed it, and have been looking forward to some new stuff from them since. Well, it's finally here (okay, yes, I'm a month late) and I'm happy to say that Sky Swallower is a great album worth listening to.

For anyone unfamiliar, Vattnet Viskar play relatively standard modern black metal (what some might call "post-black", I guess), hyping the old Darkthrone style—lots of blasting, somewhat muffled guitars, with low guttural vocals, but with also lots of atmospheric sludge metal thrown around as well—the aggressive-yet-plodding kind. The styles go together well, as they usually do. Vattnet Viskar's version isn't the greatest example of it, though. Rather than blending styles together, the band jumps straight from post-rock to sludge metal to black metal very abruptly (see "Fog of Apathy" for a good example of this). While that does work to keep things from getting too stale, it also makes the album feel a bit off.

That being said: They still know how to write a good riff. The calmer sections are quite soothing and great at building in the tension when they have to, and the loud aggressive sections are like a slap in the face when they finally kick in. They don't have quite the same intensity that I would expect, but I think that's partly the fault of the so-so production values.

All in all, a fine album (and good on Vattnet Viskar for getting with Century Media!). Nothing amazing, but it was about exactly as I expected based on their first EP and their live show. Recommended for modern black metal fans for sure.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Katatonia, Cult of Luna, Tesseract, Intronaut

September 18, 2013 • Peabody's Downunder, Cleveland, Ohio

Yep, Cleveland. A two-hour drive (each way) just to see a show? I must be crazy, right? Nope, just Cult of Luna, who's touring the States for the first time in eight years, and this was their only Ohio show, meaning it'll likely be my only opportunity to see them play, ever. Looking back, it was kind of a silly idea and I highly doubt I'd ever drive so far just for a show ever again—not to say it was bad, though.


I've been listening to Intronaut for a long, long time, though only casually and I haven't really listened to their newer stuff very much. Their show was exactly how I thought it'd be—decent, but not particularly amazing. Apparently Intronaut as a band is really just a support outfit for their bassist to show off (although he really is quite good, so that's not really a complaint). The poor mixing (very light on guitar and vocals) didn't help much. They're a band that's definitely better on CD, but they were still enjoyable enough.
6Best Laser Light Show Award (Suck It, Tool)


They're a decent enough band I guess, but I never really cared much about them. They put on a good enough show, though; at the very least, it looked like they were having fun themselves. I was a bit disappointed by how much of their performance was automated, though—I guess it makes sense to play to a click track when your material is so technical, but automated guitar effects seems a little silly. (And don't bother pretending to play when it's obviously a pre-recorded guitar in that one song, it was so obvious.) Anyway, fine enough if you're a fan.
6Best Capri Pants Award

Cult of Luna

I probably overhyped this show in my mind—I mean, if you've seen their live DVD, you can understand how pumped I was. Now, they did put on as good of a show as they could: a fantastic heavy sound, very cool visuals (although the strobe light was a bit much), and some pretty intense playing. They did seem to have a lot of technical problems, though—broken strings, no bass for half a song, and one of the guitars seemed horribly out-of-tune for a whole song. Still, they played some great songs (nothing earlier than Somewhere Along the Highway but I'll take what I can get) and I did enjoy them quite a bit.
8Most Spilled Beer Award


I think I used to like Katatonia a long time ago, like 2005 or so, but I haven't listened to them in ages and it turns out they aren't really that good anymore. Their alt-rock-pretending-to-be-metal style isn't bad, just very unimaginative and not terribly fun to watch. Also, their entire setup was straight through the mixing board—no amps or anything, which looked really weird and made it seem kind of fake. I bailed after three songs because I wanted to get home, so it might have gotten better, but I doubt it.
5Silliest Banners Award

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Locrian – Return to Annihilation

June 25, 2013 • Relapse Records

Locrian is another one of those bands I'd known the name of for years but never got around to listening to them until recently. And to be honest, it turns out I wasn't really missing all that much.

Return to Annihilation is some sort of odd combination of orthodox black metal aesthetics with a drone- and post-rock-like approach. It's a very unique sound, and one that I think probably has a lot of potential, but Return to Annihilation seems a bit half-baked to me. Locrian doesn't seem to know exactly what they want to play, so they do all sorts of different things and throw them together. Sometimes it winds up working, sometimes it doesn't.

The tracks are mostly based around repitition and very subtle variance, but that leaves a lot of them feeling a bit empty and directionless—see "A Visitation...", which finally kicks off with just one minute left and promptly goes nowhere. Not all of them are like that; the title track has an interesting buildup although the way it's handled is a bit weird. "Panorama of Mirrors" probably does its structure the best, but it's so slow that it's tough to notice anything happening.

The jury's still out on the muffled, tortured screaming vocals which only slightly fit the album's aesthetics—they fit in okay with the heavier sections, of course, but against the lighter clean guitars and ambience they simply sound wrong.

It's not all bad, though; there are still some high moments. "Two Moons"' contrast of the machine drone with the steady drums and lilting guitar is actually pretty cool. The lengthy closer "Obsolete Elegies" is actually a really solid track, too, with a good atmosphere and solid finish to the album.

I guess for ambient/noise fans, this is a decent enough album, but I don't think it's really put together well enough or captivating enough to warrant more than one or two listens. I'm not writing off Locrian just yet, though; apparently The Crystal World is quite good...


Monday, September 30, 2013

Gorguts – Colored Sands

August 30, 2013 • Season of Mist

I'd like to preface this review with a disclaimer: I never really liked Gorguts' 1998 album Obscura very much. Yes, I know, it's a classic of death metal and considered one of the best in its genre. But there's something about it that I just never really clicked with me—I felt it was too technical, soulless, and just not interesting.

I won't say that Colored Sands completely changed my opinion of Gorguts' music, but what I will say is that it's by far the superior album. Maybe it's my taste for more modern stuff when it comes to extreme metal (particularly death metal—the only "classic" band I ever really felt a connection with is Atheist), maybe it's the more conventional structures, or maybe I've just gotten used to it. I don't know.

I guess it's the riffs—here they feel more natural, more organic. The songs are much easier to listen to, easier to get my head around and actually follow. There's dynamics—see the bridge in "An Ocean of Wisdom", which is lighter in instrumentation (but not in tone). There are plenty of groovier and chuggier sections as well, sections I can follow the beat on and really get into. Not a ton, but I appreciate that they're there.

I still don't feel much of an emotional connection to Gorguts at all (I usually don't with most death metal, so I won't fault them for it), so I'm not going to be claiming that this is one of the greatest death metal albums ever (and certainly not the best album of 2013). Sure, yes, I can see how it appeals to others who enjoy death metal, and I can understand it being praised as highly as it is. It just isn't for me, and I'm okay with that.

Although I gotta say—the bass guitar still sounds amazing.


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Two years of listening

Today marks Andrew Listen's second anniversary! To celebrate this momentous occasion, I'd like to officially announce the Andrew Listens Twitter account: @andrew_listens!

I'll be using it for a few different things: (1) posting back links here when I make new reviews, (2) writing micro-reviews that aren't really worth putting up here, (3) sharing links to interesting and worthwhile releases on Bandcamp. Hopefully I'll be doing more stuff with it as I get used to it.

Nothing is going to change as far as this blog is concerned, although I hope I'll be motivated to actually post reviews more regularly. It should help that the concert train doesn't seem to be slowing down, and I have at least one more book review I can do at some point soon.

Thanks for reading, and keep on listening!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus

July 22, 2013 • ATP Recordings

Fuck Buttons was a real cool band back in 2008, for sure. One of the first "good" live shows I saw, and Street Horrrsing was a noise/electronica classic in my book. I've kept up with the band only casually since then, but it's good to know that they're still putting out some quality stuff. Slow Focus is definitively their least-good so far, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth listening to.

Not much has changed for the duo since 2009 and here we have basically the same sound that we had on Tarot Sport, coupling together driving tribal rhythms and percussion with warm and atmospheric sawtooth synth layers (with some cool sound effects too, in a way that Black Dice might do if Black Dice were still good). It's a bit less intense and aggressive; the tracks don't really have the same wall-of-sound thing going on, but the dynamics we get instead are mostly well-done and work great on keeping the tracks interesting and moving forward. And every now and again it does include those brain-pounding moments, like "Stalker"'s heavy ending minutes.

It has a few minor issues that are holding it back, though. A couple of the some of the melodies and "hooks" are a bit silly, like "The Red Wing", which make it hard to take the album seriously and take away from its overall quality. There are still no vocals, disappointingly; the harsh distorted screaming was one of the more interesting elements of their older material and it looks like it's gone for good.

And like all Fuck Buttons, Slow Focus relies a lot on repetition; I can see this being a downside for some people and yeah, maybe the album isn't extremely interesting the whole way through, but there is enough attention to detail and little bits here and there that stick out and make the experience as a whole worth it. I can definitely understand people getting bored with it, though, and it doesn't have a ton of replay value. On the other hand, the song structures are definitely more well-crafted and less chaotic than they used to be, so that's a plus.

It's definitely an enjoyable album. Not the classic that Street Horrrsing was for me, but it has its merits and it will definitely have its fans. I'm honestly a bit surprised that in the last few years I don't seem to have been hearing many other artists making stuff like this... but for now I'm satisfied with what we have so far.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sigur Rós – Kveikur

June 14, 2013 • XL Recordings

I guess Sigur Rós is on their way back up. I guess the short break a couple years ago was really good for them, or maybe it was the slight lineup change (four members to three). Regardless, the pleasant return-to-form that was Valtari continues with their newest offering, with some of the best tracks they've done in a long time.

At the core it's still the same Sigur Rós we've known for years—the same brooding yet pretty melodies and vocals, the same soaring song structures, the same majestic feel. The basic post-rock-meets-dream-pop-meets-mordern-classical sound hasn't changed much, but there's loads of variation within that sound on this album. Tracks like "Brennisteinn" and "Kveikur" have a very dark and brooding tone (emulating the unsettling cover art) with some heavier production (distorted bass, industrial-style drumming, and walls of background sounds). Others have a softer and dreamier sound, like "Yfirborð" or the Takk...-like "Ísjaki". Naturally they do both very well, and is leaves this album with enough here to please everyone. All in all, it creates a very diverse listening experience that rewards close listening. (Admittedly, I like those two dark, rock-style tracks better, and it's a bit unfortunate that they're the only ones.)

The other side of that coin is that Kveikur doesn't feel quite as cohesive as most of their other albums—even Valtari—so it's kind of like just a compilation of different tracks which were all written separately without much regard for flow or consistency in atmosphere. I guess that's forgivable when just about every track is as good as these are, but it leaves the album feeling a lot less solid than, say, ( ) did. The album's sound is more song-focused than texture-focused, as opposed to the last album, and its structure as a whole has to fit that direction. It didn't really happen that well here.

Regardless, this is definitely one that will please its listeners. I guess my prediction based on Valtari that Sigur Rós haven't lost it yet was true—this is certainly might be their best album since Takk..., and though I have my doubts that they can match the peaks of their glory days in the early 2000s, who's to say?


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Mouth of the Architect – Dawning

June 25, 2013 • Translation Loss Records

One of my favorite and one of the most underappreciated bands in the "post-metal" scene, and it's good to see they're more or less the same band they've always been with their fourth album.

One of the first things I noticed about Dawning is that it's a bit slower than their previous material, with a lot more of the post-rock sound slowly creeping its way in more noticeably. (See "Patterns"' long, tense buildup to actual metal just in the last 20% of the song; or the slight Earth-esque country twang in "The Other Son".) Fortunately the band knows how to play that well, using loads of dynamics and jumping from quiet clean bridges to pounding, heavy sludge riffs in a way that sounds very natural.

This album also includes lots of clean vocals thrown in as well, and I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about them—they seem to work okay most of the time, as Dawning is a relatively melodic album to start with; however I've always loved the band's harsh vocals and hate to hear them used less often. They definitely don't subtract from the album's quality, though.

They're definitely not breaking a lot of new ground, and there are some moments that are uninspired, like the lackluster "It Swarms". But there are some equally kickass parts too that demonstrate just how well Mouth of the Architect exemplifies sludge, like "Sharpen Your Axes" or "How This Will End". Mouth of the Architect's handle on melody is probably one of the best (if not the best) among similar bands, and it really goes a long way in helping them write good, memorable material.

On the whole, Dawning doesn't satisfy in quite the same way that The Ties That Blind did, for instance (though I do think it's a step up from Quietly). But it's still definitely a good album worthy of this classic band's discography, and it's good to see that they haven't gone to crap like a lot of bands that die way before the ten-year mark.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Palms – Palms

June 25, 2013 • Ipecac Recordings

After a band like Isis breaks up, I imagine it'd be difficult for the members to move onto something else; how can you possibly try anything that would live up to the legacy? Palms is three-quarters ex-Isis members and one-quarter Chino Moreno of Deftones, in what should (theoretically) be one amazing supergroup. Though their debut is a little underperforming for what they have to live up to, it's not bad and there's plenty of room to move forward.

It's almost impossible to listen to Palms outside of an Isis or Deftones context, but I'll try. Essentially, the sound they're going for is a heavy-alternative-rock sort of thing with quieter post-rock-like bridges and intros. Nothing terribly groundbreaking, but for what it is, it's pretty decent. There are plenty of good riffs all around, especially the trudging heavy parts, and the vocals don't feel that out of place.

There's not much else good to say about the album, though. The songs do tend to run a bit long, though, especially with their meandering and often-repetitive structures, making the album a bit difficult to get through all at once. It kind of feels like it should be over after the third song. And the sound itself is pretty empty. With only one guitarist, there's a lot of empty space that the vocals can't really fill. Maybe this is just me trying to compare it to the thick, dense sounds of both Isis and Deftones, but Palms just comes off a bit lacking.

I can't say I'd recommend this album to anyone outside the original bands' fanbases; Palms seems like a novelty release for right now and there's really nothing interesting about it that anyone unfamiliar with Isis would appreciate. That being said, I hope they try another album because there's a lot they could do if they really wanted. It just didn't happen here.


Inter Arma, Woe, Locusta

September 18, 2013 • Ace of Cups, Columbus, Ohio


I don't say this often, but Locusta fucking rocked. And that's not a term I'd throw around lightly. Although I don't listen to a ton of death metal, these guys hit the spot for me in just the right way. Perhaps it was the slight groove and speed metal influences, or the fantastic playing and stage presence. It was seriously some of the absolute greatest drumming I've ever seen from any metal band (some of the fastest blasting, too), and the guitarwork was equally mesmerizing to watch. Absolutely worth seeing again. I gotta find more death metal shows.
8Purplest Cassettes Award


An awesome show as well (I was there mainly to see them, so I was pretty sure it was going to be good anyway). It was an interesting contrast to the Locusta show—more wall-of-sound, cathartic torrents of noise. Typical black metal, I suppose, but that's what I love about it. There isn't much else to say about their set overall (especially if you're familiar with their sound already), although I must say those "catchier" moments (e.g. "Song of My Undoing"'s intro) worked really well live.
8Best Windmilling Award

Inter Arma

Despite that they apparently haven't changed members (aside from the bassist) since the first time I saw them play in 2010, Inter Arma has become a very different band in those three years. There was definitely more of a serious-introspective-metal mood going on compared to the incredibly fun first show I saw, and the band seemed a bit aloof and lazy. Still the same avant-sludge-meets-black metal sound, but it was all new material and I don't think I care for it quite as much as their older stuff. Partly because blastbeats and slow, laboring riffs don't go together that well... I dunno.
5Cutest Matching Shirts Award

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Cult of Luna – Vertikal II

September 21, 2013 • Indie Recordings

This was unexpected—more tracks from the Vertikal sessions! Admittedly, it's probably for the best that these tracks were left off of the album, although it is neat to hear them regardless.

What this EP has to offer is a bit different from Cult of Luna's normal heavy sludge sound. Instead, the songs are much lighter, atmospheric, and less about riffs and rhythms than they are about buildup and mood. In the first two tracks, you won't hear much in the way of "regular" drumming, guitars, or vocals. Okay, there's a little bit, but it definitely takes a back seat to the electronic ambience and Earth-esque doom-rock buildups. It's a sound they've done a bit before on their albums as interludes and such, just on a larger scale. "Shun the Mask" is a bit more standard Vertikal fare.

While I don't want to say these tracks aren't good, they're definitely not up to the high standards the band has set for themselves over the years. As B-sides go, they're fine; they're definitely listenable and there are plenty of interesting moments scattered around. And, naturally, Justin Broadrick's remix of "Vicarious Redemption" is stellar. (I don't think I've ever heard him do a bad remix.) But they simply don't bring that same huge, enthralling feel that their songs usually do. Rather I just feel like I'm along for the ride, listening passively, without much going on.

That said, I'm still happy to have heard the EP—I never say no to more Cult of Luna, of course—and it's not a blemish on their discography or anything. Maybe I just set my own expectations a little high.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Messrs, Total Trash, Hop Along, Goners

September 14, 2013 • Ace of Cups, Columbus, Ohio


Finally got to catch these guys after missing their set at the Family Curse show. Relatively standard garage punk, but it was definitely more fun than your average garage stuff. Simple but with a good amount of variance over the set, and entertaining to watch.
7Only the Second-Most Trashed Cymbal I've Seen Award

Hop Along

The surprise of the night. Aside from a few exceptions, normally I'm not really into indie pop / indie rock, so Hop Along is kind of out of my comfort zone. But I have to say that they really drew me in right from the start. Their music is really poppy, but in a good, uplifting way that also isn't afraid to get a little bit intense now and again, like the half-time slow-burning outro to their final song. Really great playing all around, especially the fantastic vocal performance. Good stuff.
8Most Coordinated Shoes Award

And then, almost everyone left. I guess Hop Along was the big act of the night. I can't imagine how shitty it must feel to know people paid to get into your show but they don't care enough about you to bother to stick around. I guess in this case, though, I can kind of understand because the next two bands were pretty different from the first.

Total Trash

The best phrase I could think of for Total Trash was "slacker hardcore". Relatively simple, yet pretty fast and intense, punk. Normally that kind of music would be right up my alley but Total Trash in particular came off as nothing particularly special. It probably didn't help that they were almost unintelligible—mostly the vocals, but the guitar riffs were a bit of a blur too—making them hard to follow and not particularly engaging. That's not to say they were horrible, though; maybe I wasn't just in the right mood or something.
5Most Effective Playing on the Floor Award


Another extreme-hardcore band, this one local. Sort of a cross between old-school '80s-style punk rhythms with modern powerviolence and noisecore style. Unfortunately, also like Total Trash, I couldn't really get into them at all. Maybe it's just that, even though I normally like hardcore, I don't particularly like seeing it live. But Messrs simply wasn't appealing to me. A lot of their set seemed like they were just messing around—I guess that's partly a result of the extremely (and I mean extremely) dissonant and amelodic guitar style, which really turned me off. Oh well.
5Best Nail Polish Award

Friday, September 6, 2013

Wormlust – The Feral Wisdom

June 6, 2013 • Demonhood Productions / Daemon Worship

I don't know what it is with Iceland, but it always seems like the craziest music comes out of that place. They're not particularly well-known for their black metal, but if Wormlust is a decent example of their scene, maybe it's something worth looking into after all. The Feral Wisdom isn't an amazing, groundbreaking album, but it is definitely one worth listening to.

Unlike the raw and abrasive style Nordic black metal is usually known for, Wormlust has a more distinctly American sound to it with its emphasis on ambience and dense atmosphere. It feels incredibly thick and hazy, with vocals drenched in reverb and guitars muddied almost beyond recognition. However, in a rare case, I think this aesthetic works particularly well; this is an album that's definitely about mood instead of riffs, with a sound that is very easy to simply get lost in. There is a subtle "horror" aspect of it that works really well (especially during those ambient parts). It's similar to, say, Lurker of Chalice or Leviathan.

Unfortunately, also like Lurker of Chalice and Leviathan, I get a little bored of this ethereal-black-metal style relatively quickly. It's probably just me, but there's something about straddling that line between good black metal vs. good ambience and sometimes it sort of fails to reconcile the two well. It tends to dwell on the ambient sections a bit too much—as good as they are—so the album's flow feels a bit weird.

That's not to say this is a badly-done album; rather I think it accomplishes exactly what it set out to do, and my tastes are just my tastes. I did say, after all, that The Feral Wisdom is worth listening to. In fact, I believe this album is significantly better than the other two bands mentioned; it feels maybe a bit more mature, a bit more contemplative and well-written. It'd be interesting to see this particular brand of black metal mature a bit more and take off.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Mouth of the Architect, Before the Eyewall, Beggars, War Elephant

August 31, 2013 • Ace of Cups, Columbus, Ohio

War Elephant

Two-man doom, thunderous metal. Mostly slow, pounding jams with a bit of black metal thrown in to keep things interesting. The mix was terrible so I couldn't tell what the guitar was doing at all for the whole set (the overdone reverb effects didn't help), but it was definitely interesting for the standard obscure-local-metal act. At least they live up to their name.
6Most Metal Hairdos Award


Normally, I'm not one to enjoy much stoner metal or bluesy rock, but for some reason I really enjoyed these guys. Really groovy and catchy stuff with an old-school rock and roll flair to it, like a stoner version of Kvelertak or something. Probably not a band I'd go out and see on purpose, but it was still a pretty fun set. Clip
7Most Shirtless Award

Before the Eyewall

I'm not really too sure what I thought about these guys. They were more of a post-rock outfit, or at least one that focused a lot more on ambience and buildup, so much so that the short, heavier sludgy climaxes didn't seem to be sufficient payoff. Not to say they were bad; I did like the noise/ambient stuff and when they did bring out the heavy riffs, it was pretty good, but the overall balance seemed a bit boring (especially coming after Beggars).
6Most Baffling Use of Trumpet Award

Mouth of the Architect

It's always hard to describe the set of a band I already know really well, even ones like this who I haven't listened to in a long time. Still one of the best atmospheric sludge bands of all time, and seeing them live was even better than hearing them on CD. I especially liked how they played mostly older material, so there was a good bit of it I recognized, which always makes it easier to get really absorbed in what's going on. Anyway, definitely a great set and a band worth seeing.
8Best Beards Award (Sorry Junius)