Friday, June 28, 2013

Prawn – You Can Just Leave It All

June 14, 2011 • Topshelf Records

If they keep making good emo revival albums, I'm gonna keep making reviews. Of course there is the issue of quickly running out of things to say when many of these albums are pretty similar, even if they're good, so I'm not entirely sure what to say about You Can Just Leave It All aside from... well, it's another pretty good emo revival album.

So there isn't a lot to say about their sound; Prawn mixes in that modern heavy post-rock style with complex, twinkly guitars and some highly melodic (but not terribly emotive) vocals. The writing itself is quite good, with very driving, purposeful melodies—few similar albums have such catchy songs to them, and most songs have at least one good hook that makes them stand out.

I am a bit disappointed that, aside from the superb guitar work, the rest of the instrumentation is a bit lackluster. It's neat to hear the occasional glockenspiel and stuff like that, but the bass and drums aren't nearly as exciting as they should be, and the guitar has to carry the whole thing. It makes the music feel a little one-dimensional, though the good songwriting and multiple guitar layers help make up for that.

And there is the unfortunate fact that Prawn has been overshadowed (in my mind) by quite a few other similar artists lately, so while I do think this album is pretty good, there are others that basically direct upgrades of this one. But I guess I'm not going to say no to more of a good thing.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Thursday Bloom – Halcyon

June 1, 2013 • self-released

Apparently there's this thing called the 12 EPs challenge where an artist will put out one EP per month for a year straight. It's a neat concept, and even though I barely know anything about it, some good is definitely coming from it.

Thursday Bloom's fifth entry, Halcyon, is ambient music mostly composed of string instruments and piano, like chamber music played very slowly. Though it's very simple, the atmosphere, textures, and aesthetics of each piece are all very well-realized. It feels like the sort of thing that might work well as a dramatic, somber film score, which is pretty neat.

On the other hand, its very short length does leave a bit to be desired (often the case with ambient and drone). But despite its short and perhaps slow pace, Halcyon is definitely an enjoyable little nugget of music; Thursday Bloom does seem like an artist worth looking into more.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Phantom Carriage – Falls

February 28, 2013 • Throatruiner Records / Braincrushing Records / Theatre Records

Genre boundary lines when it comes to modern heavy music are so blurred nowadays that it's become really difficult to describe some albums nowadays. What is Falls? I suppose you could call it a combination of black metal and screamo with a bit of Converge-style metalcore thrown in for good measure, but it's tough to say. Regardless, it's pretty safe to say that you'll know if you might like it from that description alone. It's not bad, but I'm not a huge fan.

Granted, the music can be pretty interesting. Complex arpeggiating guitar riffs, intense drumming (blastbeating and otherwise), the occasional breakdown; it's all there, with a suffocating atmosphere evoking the cover art well. Sometimes the music gets a bit too technical for its own good, though, and it's all too easy to lose focus as the riffs pile up on each other into a cacophonous wreck (take "Mistakes & Fixes"' frantic ending). At the same time, though, there are plenty of really awesome bits that stand out—for instance, I really like the slow burning feel of "Dreamers Will Never Stop Dreaming"; it gives the song something a bit more interesting above all the blasting.

On the whole, though, I'm not really feeling Falls too much. Maybe it's just my taste—after all, I've never gotten into Converge, and this band has a lot of similarities; this sort of super-chaotic songwriting simply doesn't resonate with me. For fans of this style, I suppose I can see this being a hit. But I'll give it a mild pass for now.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Old Gray – An Autobiography

March 11, 2013 • Broken World Media

I've been keeping my eye on this band for some time now, especially since they've released such a strong sequence of EPs (including their demo), each of which has been better than the last. I admit, I doubted at first whether they were capable of topping Everything I Let Go & the Things I Refuse To, but I have to say that they might have done just that.

Old Gray's sound is something of a combination of old-school screamo with hints of the new Midwest emo scene and a dash of post-rock. It's a good combination, one that's been used to great effect by other bands; however, I think I preferred the style of the older EPs, which had a much larger focus on the post-rock side. An Autobiography is definitely more screamo-focused instead, and is a bit more wild in its sonic approach as the songs whip back and forth from softer sections to full-on skramz spaz-outs. This makes the album feel a bit disjointed and unfocused at times, though often the contrast does work fine.

On the other hand, it's hard not to like the songs regardless. Old Gray is emotive and passionate as ever and many songs are masterfully written, such as the touching intro to "Emily's First Communion" and the calming yet sad sound of tracks like "Show Me How You Self Destruct", with its melancholy violin part and spoken word. Contrast that with plenty of intense and pounding parts like "The Graduate" or the cathartic second half of "I Still Think About Who I Was Last Summer".

While it took a while for me to warm up to An Autobiography in light of their other stuff, I can confidently say that Old Gray is as good as ever and have settled into the album format quite well. Maybe they are even ready to settle in with the rest of the great bands of the emo revival; we'll see.


Monday, June 24, 2013

Rituals – Rituals

March 20, 2012 • Replenish Records

Welcome back to another edition of the All Sludge Metal All the Time Review Hour. Today's derivative, generic entry is Arizona band Rituals, performing the typical atmospheric sludge act I've seen time and again. Maybe I'm just desensitized to the better elements of one of my favorite genres, or maybe I'm just grumpy today, but to me this is nothing to write home about.

Expect some long post-rock-based buildups (half the song, in some cases) and huge, heavy, doom-laden riffing for the rest of it. Granted, it's something they do pretty well for what it's worth; the slow tempos and strained vocals create a very despairing atmosphere which works pretty well.

The main issue is that the album is just kind of boring. I'm not saying it's a bad album, but there's absolutely nothing unique going on and not a lot keeping things interesting or worth listening to. The riffs are very repetitive, and each song goes on far too long for its own good. There isn't anything unusual in terms of production—no unusual instrumentation, nothing outside the vocals-bass-drums-two-guitars paradigm—although the existing production is handled pretty well. It's just that there simply aren't any neat, new ideas being explored. And of course while it's possible to make a good album with old ideas, it still has to be interesting. And Rituals isn't.

On the other hand, I bet Rituals would put on a killer live show. This sounds like it'd be great in a small venue, the kind of place where this sort of massive sound does take you pretty far.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Anger House – Loss

May 4, 2013 • self-released

The new wave of emo rolls on and on, and the world is all the better for it. Especially because it's growing not just in the twinkly heights of midwest emo; heavier stuff is getting its due as well. Anger House is a band out of Texas playing some old-school Rites of Spring-style emocore, and despite being the sort of stuff that could have easily come out nearly thirty years ago, this stuff still sounds fresh and awesome.

Like any good emocore, Loss's strengths lie in good songwriting that sounds simple at first but has layers of intricateness under the hood. Each track has one or two basic yet well-crafted melodies taking the foreground, with some skillful drumming and rhythm guitars holding it all together. And not one single track is bad, each one has its own memorable riffs, and the EP never gets boring or repetitive. (Okay so maybe it gets a little repetitive, but I'm enjoying it enough that it doesn't matter at all.)

And like I said with Eiskalt I don't have a problem with a band re-treading a well-established style if they can make it good, and Anger House has made emocore more than just good. Here's to hoping they keep the momentum going.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Year of No Light – Vampyr

May 7, 2013 • self-released

Man, Year of No Light used to be a pretty awesome band. Nord was cool, as was their split with Rosetta and East of the Wall. But lately, especially with the split with Altar of Plagues, something's gone horribly wrong.

If you were expecting another typical atmospheric sludge metal album here, you'd be wrong, and not really in a good way. Vampyr is instead a disjointed collection of mostly ambient and drone tracks, with the occasional post-rock segment and merely three tracks (and only parts thereof) with any "metal" sensibility to them.

And, okay, that's fine, they're free to produce whatever kind of music they want. But is this good? Heck no. Good ambient-drone-albums need purpose; they need drive; they need a sense of cohesion. This album has none of those things. Almost every track is uniformly dull and lifeless; some tracks, like "Ombres", play up a bit of tension but then fall flat at the end when no payoff actually arrives. On the whole, though, it's perfectly inoffensive; so as background music it works all right, except for the occasional mood whiplash caused by the short songs blazing past.

So, Year of No Light, next time you're thinking about putting out seventy-two mintues (ugh) of music, make sure it's something actually thought-out and composed, not a bunch of half-baked ideas and sketches. Something interesting, regardless of genre. You might be perfectly capable of making a good ambient drone album, but this isn't it.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Pig Heart Transplant – Land of Marred Normalcy

2007 • What We Do Is Secret

The modern underground tape scene is so interesting that you could spend lifetimes writing a blog that covers nothing else. The diversity that comes out of it in just one genre is pretty impressive.

Land of Marred Normalcy is a short delve into layers of lo-fi noise, a stripped-down and very dirty approach to the genre; it sounds mostly like a de-tuned bass guitar sent through about a thousand distortion pedals with the occasional vocal screams or microphone noise (also distorted, of course) played over top.

Whether it's "good" or not is obviously up for debate, but there's definitely something to be said for the incredibly tense (and a bit frightening) "Compound People", with its dissonant screeches contrasted with slower, doomier noise rhythms. The effect is very unsettling, a feeling that lingers over the whole EP. But the creepiness really comes into full force during the second half, when the bass distortion gives way to isolated, high-pitched feedback and clinking noises. It's hard to listen to this track (especially with headphones) due to it being almost physically painful, but at the same time it's a little engrossing.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend Land of Marred Normalcy—it's not something with a lot of replay value—but it's definitely an interesting release if nothing else. Definitely not one for noise/avant-garde amateurs, though.


No preview today, but you can grab this from the Internet Archive.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Vuyvr – Eiskalt

February 2013 • Blastbeat Mailmurder / Throatruiner Records

Time to get excited about a new black metal album! It's always a bit surprising when I hear something like this that is really traditional and old-school in sound, but still manages to sound fresh and interesting. That's what we're getting from Vuyvr, a new band from Switzerland whose debut is one of the more compelling black metal albums I've heard recently.

The main thing I like about Eiskalt is its depth. On the surface, you have the standard blasting-plus-raw-tremolo guitars, old-Darkthrone style (more or less). But dig a little deeper, listen a little closer, and there's a huge variety of rhythms and styles hidden in here that keep things going that you don't even notice unless you're looking for them. The occasional punk-ish drum pattern; thrashy, crunching riffs; slower sections that build up to a nice solid song ending.

Even though I can totally get into more artsy, "pretentious" stuff on its own merits, there are times when albums like this are exactly what I want. There's no frills, no gimmicks, but the songwriting is incredibly compelling and there are tons of moments where it's easy to just get lost in the atmosphere and groove along. Sure, Eiskalt is technically nothing new, but I'll happily take a finely-crafted version of an old genre if it sounds good. And this one sure does.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Boris – Präparat

March 6, 2013 • Daymare Recordings

Normally I'd be one to jump all over a new Boris album (as happened a couple years ago), but I've been really struggling with Präparat. It's been out a few months now and after a handful of listens I'm still finding it tough to get a good handle on it, and I'm finding myself more disappointed with it than anything else.

My main issue is that it's such a disjointed affair—the first few tracks alone jump from post-rock to sludgy alt-rock to noise to shoegaze. This kind of internal inconsistency makes it really tough to get through to as a whole. Each track jolts the listener with something unexpected, and while that's sometimes a good thing, here it's not executed well at all.

Even that aside, the songs themselves simply aren't really that good. It's especially disappointing because I know Boris can do better; every one of the three albums they put out just two years ago was better than this. Even the more "traditional" rockers like "Method of Error" and "Bataille sucre"—probably the two best tracks—feel like they don't really have any purpose, as if they were just thrown together without any sense of quality control.

I guess Präparat isn't horrible; there are a few decent tracks here and there, but it's probably one of the last canon Boris albums I'd ever want to listen to. Even after at least four listens (probably a lot more), everything about it just feels empty and kind of pointless. I hope the band hasn't totally lost their focus and can come back to their senses with something solid in the future. But until then, I'll just be sticking with their older stuff.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Kylesa, Blood Ceremony, White Hills, Lazer/Wulf

June 8, 2013 • Ace of Cups, Columbus, Ohio

My fourth trip to Ace of Cups; I think they've become my favorite venue in the area, not only for the good selection of bands, but also because they now have waffle fries.


This isn't the only time I've enjoyed the first band of the night more than any other (spoiler alert), but it's certainly a rare occasion. Despite their silly name, Lazer/Wulf turned out to be an incredible band. The played some long mostly-instrumental sludgy-math-metal pieces, a style that falls somewhere between Mastodon and Battles. While a blatant disregard for time signatures and conventional rhythm seems like risky business at this sort of show, their music was interesting and engaging 100% of the way through. Great stage presence, as well; these guys have real technical skill and played brilliantly.
7Best Guitar Face Award

White Hills

I'd like to give White Hills the benefit of the doubt and say that Lazer/Wulf was just a hard act to follow, but man is it hard to find much good to say about these guys. They play some sort of psych rock, but it's boiled down to extremely simple and repetitive songs (and I mean that—just playing one note over and over is barely a song) with lots of fuzz distortion and reverb. Nothing original, nothing new, nothing that hasn't been done before forty years ago. The band seemed more concerned about their appearance and stage gimmicks. Give me a break.
4Most Irritating Smoke Machines Award

Blood Ceremony

While Blood Ceremony was a step up from the last set, they still weren't anything to write home about in my book. Their music is basically Black Sabbath with a bit of Jethro Tull mixed in, and literally nothing else. I suppose it would have been a neat and novel sound if it were still the '70s, but I'm pretty sure it's not. To me their songs were pretty safe and boring, rehashing the same riffs and lyrical material. And yes, maybe the flute is cool for a bit, but you do not need ten flute solos on every song.
5Highest Ratio of Songs About Witchcraft to Songs About Other Things Award


And Kylesa was... Kylesa. As usual with the headliner, there isn't a whole lot to say about their performance. I actually haven't listened to the band in a long time so I didn't quite remember what they sound like, which is apparently a bit more psychedelic than I remember. That could also have been from the muddy and disappointing mix, though they still rocked pretty hard, and the solid and heavy rhythm section held things together more than enough to make the show worthwhile. Full set (that's me in the front somewhere)
6Most Drummers After the Melvins Show Award

By the way (and I can't believe I still have to say this): Have some common courtesy when moving to a new place to stand at a show. I saw multiple people tonight walk up and stand right in front of someone else without even looking around. (I was a victim of this myself. Figures.) People want to watch the show, not have to deal with looking around your stupid head.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Eric Fourman – Seizures

April 4, 2013 • self-released

I was hoping this day would never come—the day I find an Eric Fourman album to be "just okay" instead of "amazing". I guess that goes to show how much I like his stuff, but at the same time I'm finding it difficult to find a lot to say about Seizures without sounding like I dislike it, when I don't. I'll try my best, though.

As usual, Seizures provides a collection of hefty ambient drone tracks, although this time around it's more drone and less "ambient", as Fourman's sound continues to go up in volume and down in subtlety. He hasn't deviated from the formula of ever-evolving, organic-sounding pieces, which still have that very uplifting-yet-somber aesthetic that keeps me coming back to these albums.

While on the whole Seizures is a fine album, it has a few missteps, like the slightly dull "Dry Mouth" and short "Thoughts of Death"—I shorter tracklengths do a disservice to ambient in general, but especially this sort where they need time to grow and evolve, but that's just me. Besides, the album also brings several strong pieces to make up for that, such as the powerful and grimy "Rapid Heart Beat" or the wide-open expansive sound of "Lost Touch with Reality", two tracks that definitely make this album worth listening to. (Or maybe I just like the distorted sound better; who knows?)

While it's a decent release, a lot of it seems to be treading the same old ground that we've had in just about every other album. And that's fine for truly quality titles like Cloudy, but Seizures unfortunately comes off as one of Fourman's weaker efforts. Again, that's not a bad thing, as it's still worth a listen, thought it's not particularly memorable in light of his other material. But don't let me dissuade you when it's (as always) a free download!


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Mikrokristal – Hidden Way Between Some Rains

March 18, 2013 • Cold Tear Records

Like Sending Echoes, Hidden Way Between Some Rains was another pickup from the dub techno section of Bandcamp. While this album veers way more into the ambient side of techno rather than dub, its aesthetics and presentation still make for a pretty good album.

In fact this album and Sending Echoes share quite a few similarities in sound—beats that are solid but not too heavy, warm background synths, glitchy accents, and an echoing, ethereal atmosphere. Each song has a handful of airy melodies to carry it along, and the rhythms—while simple—can easily drive the music forward in an engaging (and even catchy) way; see "Bubbles" for a good example.

But where Hidden Way shines is its larger sonic diversity than similar techno albums. It also has its share of nice relaxing ambient-oriented tracks like "Kristaliniai Sapnai" and "Pingvinai Vakar" to break up the album a bit; this (to me) is a nice advantage over albums like Sending Echoes, which had a problem with album flow and pacing. Hidden Way avoids this, for the most part. Also standing out is the more organic-sounding, uplifting track "Forest Walk", reminding me of other "acoustic-electronic" artists like Bridges Buildings combined with Floex.

It's not the be-all and end-all for ambient techno based on what I've heard so far, but it is definitely enjoyable while it's on and I am always pleased to give this album a spin. While the Cold Tear giveaway is over and these albums aren't free anymore, they're definitely worth checking out—especially this one—for those less initiated to "normal" techno, like me.