Friday, January 31, 2014

Bohren & der Club of Gore – Piano Nights

January 24, 2014 • Play It Again Sam

Let's talk about Bohren & der Club of Gore for a moment, shall we? They're largely considered to be the progenitors of the dark jazz genre, and probably the most well-known group. Like a lot of people, I became a fan of the group when I heard Black Earth and became infatuated with is gloomy, dark, and sloooooow sound. It's a fantastic record by all means. However, their other stuff doesn't really resonate with me so much. Sure, it's still good, but I've listened to their other albums only one or two times each. Why? Well, I think that there's simply no reason to. Bohren is very much a one-trick-pony sort of band, unfortunately; while I like the music they make, they make the same music over and over again.

So now we're at Piano Nights. And wouldn't you know it, it's another collection of gloomy, dark, and slow jazz tunes. But I still can't help but think to myself—why bother? There's nothing new going on here. You might as well just listen to almost any of their other albums, and it wouldn't make much difference. It's the same everything: the same song structures, the same drumming, the same bass, the same sax, the same vibraphone.

I'll grant them this, though: it is still pretty good stuff. If I was listening to this with the same sort of blank-slate approach I had with Black Earth, I'd say this isn't quite as good but it's pretty close. They still capture that despairing doom-noir atmosphere very well, in a way that no one else can quite match, even though it seems like such simple music. And even if it is really samey, it's not like I don't enjoy listening to Bohren anymore. They still manage to put on a certain mood that you can't get by playing your Herbie Hancock records at 4 RPM.

So I guess I have mixed feelings about this album. It's a pleasant listen, and worth giving a spin, but I feel like I wouldn't have missed much if it never came out. But maybe that's just me.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Atrocity Exhibit – What Time the Hidden Death?

November 6, 2012 • Grindcore Karakoe

Just a quick and dirty review today: Grind band The Atrocity Exhibit has been around for a while, though I don't know much about them aside from this EP from a few years ago. Although after writing this review, I realize I really need to look into them a bit more, because what they're doing is really darn good.

On the surface, their music sounds like relatively standard modern grindcore; it's easy to make comparisons to bands like Rotten Sound or maybe Wormrot. But there's no lacking in originality here, and even if there was, they more than make up for with the quality of their material. It's all too easy to make boring or bad grind, but these guys manage to keep things really interesting. Their approach to structure and riffs reminds me a bit of Discordance Axis (an endorsement right there if you ever needed one), with a surprising amount of technical stuff going on. But there's also a bit of old-school thrashy stuff (like closing track "13 Fingers") or the occasional busting down into a slow sludge- or crust-punk-like groove. No two songs are too alike.

Like most good grind releases, it does what it needs to quickly and thoroughly, then gets out of the way. I like that in an EP. And this one definitely goes above the call in providing some really awesome material.

(oh and that shit's free, yo)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Kayhan Kalhor and Brooklyn Rider – Silent City

July 28, 2008 • World Village

I've always thought that middle eastern-styled classical music is incredibly interesting, and usually sounds amazing. But sadly it's yet another one of those genres I almost never really listen to. Helping me change that is Kayhan Kalhor's suite Silent City, a fascinating interpretation of Persian myth through minimalist chamber music.

One of the things I especially love about this album is its focus on minimalism (not coincidentally, another one of my favorite classical music styles); the ensembles here are small, no more five or six players, allowing for a very tight and focused performance that is also very subtle and intimate. Perhaps it's just because this kind of music is still very "foreign" to me, but I find it very evocative of the Persian culture from which it comes, very heavy with vibrant imagery. And for just four pieces they pack in a lot of diversity in that sound, from the complex, frantic style of "Ascending Bird" to the subdued, slow droning of the title track.

Speaking of which, that title track has to rank somewhere up there with my favorite classical pieces of all time. I guess it's just another example of me really enjoy that kind of soft super-dramatic melody style, like what's all over Arvo Pärt's music. I'm sure it's all too easy for some people to find it a bit dull, but I think it's captivating and evocative—especially the middle section, with these ebbing string lines over a dark, constant drone. And it's a half-hour long, too! And that half-hour is good all the way through. That doesn't happen often, even with Pärt.

But as usual I'm nowhere near an expert on this kind of stuff, so I'll just say that if the sound of minimalist Persian classical has remotely any appeal, this is definitely worth looking for. I just sort of wish there was an easier way to sift through all that middle eastern music I need to listen to...

Friday, January 24, 2014

Valerinne – Arborescent

December 14, 2013 • self-released

As I've stated before, I don't listen to a lot of post-rock anymore. I overdid it some time ago and there's plenty of other kinds of music I'd rather explore these days. However, every once in a while I'll discover some odd band here or there that makes me wonder why I ever gave up on it; in this case, Valerinne, a Romanian trio who, though not particularly original, are making some pretty darn good music.

Well, they bill themselves as a post-rock band, but aside from the excessive reverb and delay effects, Valerinne doesn't really have much to with post-rock at all—at least, they aren't much like the overabundance of sprawling orchestral groups (not that there's anything wrong with that, of course). If anything, they belong to the "fourth wave" (or however many waves we're on) of bands like Red Sparowes or Russian Circles, which are rooted in post-rock but combine it with a sort of organic, artsy, alt-rock style. I like how those other bands do it, and I like how Valerinne does it as well. There's nothing too unconventional about it, but it does provide some very satisfying listening.

The bass and drums provide a very solid rhythmic backbone for the guitar to go off on wild exploratory tangents in an almost psych-rock way, but there's enough restraint applied that it doesn't get full of itself like psych rock does. There's a relative lack of solid, memorable riffs or motifs (that I've discovered so far), as they opt instead for a soundscape-like approach, so the music can get a little dense at times and the song structures seem a little arbitrary and occasionally repetitive. But it's still definitely one of the better applications of this style that I've heard in a while (and there are some relatively upbeat and catchy bits as well—there's a little of everything, really).

So even though I don't really listen to this kind of music much anymore, I'm pleased to have had heard Valerinne. Definitely worth looking into for something to put on and just space out to.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Fanu – Departure

December 2, 2013 • Lightless

Fanu has a very special place in my heart; his debut double-album Daylightless was the thing that helped electronic music finally click with me in the first place. This is his fourth "real" album, and I'm happy to say that even after listening to every one of those four albums, Departure is still as awesome and fun as Daylightless was when I first heard it.

Okay, so maybe at first it's not too different from a lot of modern drum and bass. "Drumsö Fuzz" is as standard as you can get: Amen-beat-based breaks, ambient atmosphere, dull throbbing basslines... it's nothing we haven't heard before. But the way Fanu puts his tracks together really resonates well with me. Maybe it's the slight melancholy edge from the vocal samples or occasional strings or soft keys, or the light ambient droning, but there's always something there to keep the beats very energetic and lively and interesting.

But it doesn't end there, either, for Departure isn't just drum and bass. There are a lot of new influences peeking out here and there which give the album a very unique style, and I love how it's done. You'll hear bits of instrumental hip hop, maybe a little ragga jungle or downtempo. And even with all that different stuff going on, Departure still manages to keep a lot of consistency. Okay, so "Hop And Bass" does sound pretty out-of-place with is east coast hip hop beat, as does "Ranch Dance" with its weird southern flair, but they're both cool tracks anyway, so I'll let it slide.

I'd still say Daylightless might be the superior album, but Departure definitely has a lot going for it that absolutely makes it worth listening to for anyone with even a mild inclination to drum and bass. I'm still having difficulty really getting into a lot of electronic music, but Fanu has helped immensely and this is an album I could really get into and put quite a few listens of under my belt.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Silver Mt. Zion – Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything

Constellation Records • January 21, 2014

These guys have probably always been my (and likely most peoples') favorite Godspeed side-band, though I guess they're easily a standalone band in their own right, with plenty of material to their name. With Godspeed's long gestation time I'm always caught by surprise when I realize they have new stuff out, but they've been pretty consistently good lately, so I can't be too upset.

A Silver Mt. Zion (sorry, Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, sheesh, come on now) continue to drift further from the more traditional post-rock of their early albums to a more real rock sound, hinted on with Kollaps Tradixionales. This is definitely one of their loudest and most raucous albums (if not the loudest and most raucous), and it's still a very unique affair. Lots of fuzzed-out guitars and heavy drumming accompany the usual string trio and Efrim's warbly vocals. There's quite a lot of melody, yet there are also parts that almost sound like they're veering on some kind of doom metal, of all things. (The sound is rare, but it's there.)

But very much like Kollaps Tradixionales, Fuck Off Get Free doesn't seem to have much meat to it. I listened to the former quite a few times, and I don't really remember a second of it, something I can't say for Horses in the Sky or 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons. The sound is good, yes, but after a while it all just kind of turns into generic post-rock-pounding and I lose track of what's going on and what I'm listening to. I'm not saying that the songwriting is bad—just not as good as I'd expect it to be.

I still like this, though. It's not revolutionary or epiphanic or anything like that, but it's pretty good. Definitely an album that can be enjoyed by not just any fan of the Godspeed family or the post-rock scene in general; I think A Silver Mt. Zion's appeal has long started to reach beyond that. But maybe a try-before-you-buy affair.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Burial – Rival Dealer

December 11, 2013 • Hyperdub Records

I've been trying to ignore the hype train that shows up with every new Burial release, but with the amount of quality stuff this guy has been putting out lately, it's been kind of unavoidable. The latest in his repertoire is definitely his weirdest and most difficult to wrap my head around, but I still find myself enjoying it on some weird half-sincere, half-bewildered level.

It helps that he's obviously trying to keep his sound fresh, and it seems to be working. "Rival Dealer" takes on a more high-energy, almost disco-like breakbeat, but still with his standard depressive noir-urban atmosphere. The soundscaping on this track is just fantastic; the background noise and low distorted grinding and vocal samples all gel together perfectly. The beat seems a bit cheesy at first, but it's definitely been growing on me.

The other two tracks are even less normal as far as Burial goes, but that's not saying a whole lot. "Hiders" is essentially some kind of weird dream-pop-disco thing; "Come Down to Us" slows that down to something reminiscent of dreamy cloud rap. But even with the weirdness, it's that trademark mood that glues things together, even when the arrangements get so sprawling and abstract.

While on the whole Rival Dealer is definitely not near as engrossing as Kindred was, Burial is definitely still on a roll with these last few EPs. Definitely one to check out if you're in an especially odd mood.

(direct link if the video doesn't work)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Tiago Benzinho – Roses of Time I

March 10, 2012 • self-released

I've been skimping out on my modern classical lately, and I'm kicking myself for it; there's so much more new stuff out there than Arvo Pärt and whatnot just waiting for me to find it. I was recommended this album some time ago and only just now finally got around to finally hearing it. And, well, it's hitting that sweet spot I have for utterly heartbreaking music in just the right way.

I could describe it as the sort of minimalism that you might expect out of some super-dramatic artsy film, but that'd be doing Benzinho a huge disservice. It doesn't need visuals to express itself; it delivers its own tone perfectly—a devastatingly bleak mood with just the tiniest hopeful silver lining to it. The arrangements are very simple, mostly solo piano with the occasional droning strings and chromatic percussion (I believe a good deal of the album is electronically produced).

It's one of those albums that is incredibly difficult to write about, like a book or movie people say that you have to experience it for yourself to get the real gist of it. It feels cheap to write about it this way, but I feel like that applies here. I won't say it's an album for everyone; a lot of people are probably going to find it repetitive or lacking or dull or maybe even a bit sloppy at times. I wouldn't say they'd be wrong, but I would say they're missing the point. Roses of Time I is all about its own beauty, its own simplicity, and just writing a damn good piece of music. And it does that well.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Sport – Bon Voyage

January 1, 2014 • self-released

Midwest emo left its roots and crossed the Atlantic quite a few years ago, but it's still really cool to hear bands from other countries grabbing onto the style and playing it as if it were first nature. French band Sport's debut Colors is great but they're definitely hitting on something special with its followup. Bon Voyage is the first (and, so far, only) record from 2014 I've heard. If it's at all indicative of how this year is going to go for emo (let alone music in general), color me damn excited.

Sport does the genre in a fairly standard style but with a slightly harder edge to it—heavier post-hardcore-influenced drumming, lots of stop-start rhythms, strained gang vocals, a delicious grindy bass sound. There's a lot of different things going on to keep the sound fresh, too; just in "André the Giant" you have this fast screamo-style beat that shifts to this more introspective, tame sound. It all fits together quite well. Even the album's construction itself is a bit crazy as the songs flow right into each other and the passion with which they play barely lets up.

True, they aren't bringing anything fresh to the scene on this album. The slightly math-rock guitar lines and twinkly riffs and spastic arrangements are all nothing new. But the way Sport plays, the catchiness and the raw intensity and emotion, it all strikes that part of my brain in just the right way that sends shivers through me. The math-rock lines are moving and triumphant. Those twinkly riffs are so intricate and beautiful. It's full of those moments where something just clicks and I get enraptured and can't do anything but sit there and listen.

It goes to show how far this scene has come and how well it's been tweaked and refined over just the last couple of years into something than can consistently wow me. I don't really think this will be near my top albums of this upcoming year, but even if it did I wouldn't be mad.