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...