Monday, June 30, 2014

Mastodon – Once More 'Round the Sun

June 24, 2014 • Reprise Records

When it comes to bands I've been listening to for as long as I have with Mastodon (about ten years now), doing longer-form reviews always feels a bit weird, especially when I don't really listen to the band anymore. Although their first four albums were indeed pretty strong, I've kind of lost interest in Mastodon over the years as I've had less time to listen to them (all too often the case). I barely gave The Hunter a chance and don't really even remember much about it; I think it can just be written off as a slight misstep in their career and they're basically back on track with Once More 'Round the Sun.

Although Mastodon's capacity for catchy riffing is still strong, their trend towards higher levels of melodicism and heavy-psych continues. It's not a very drastic shift in style at all, coming from The Hunter and Crack the Skye but they are sometimes a little bit lighter than they used to be once upon a time ("Asleep in the Deep" is mild almost to the point of being dull). Other times, though, they'll revert back to a heavy chugging sound reminiscent of Leviathan like on "High Road" or "Feast Your Eyes". So you get a little bit of both worlds; it's actually handled really well, and keeps things relatively fresh throughout the album.

There isn't really much else to say; just about anyone who'd enjoy Mastodon at this point has already heard of them and know at least what one album sounds like. One thing I do miss is the few times they had long epic progressive songs (on Crack the Skye and Leviathan); I think it was high time for another one and they really could have pulled it off here. Eleven shorter tracks make the album feel longer somehow. Also, what's up with the ending of "Aunt Lisa"? Good riff, but leave your chain-smoking cheerleaders at home next time.

Anyway, regardless, Once More 'Round the Sun is definitely a fun album to listen to. While most bands crash pretty hard after five albums without much change, I don't think Mastodon has done so. As far as intricate progressive-hard-rock-slash-metal goes, they're still near the top of the pile. I won't say I like this album more than their first four, but it's certainly one worth listening to anyway—at least a few times. I wonder if they can keep up the momentum.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mason Mercer – Slobber

June 6, 2014 • self-released

Just a quick review today of a little EP that was recommended to me: Slobber is some kind of island neo-psychedelic art rock trip, with driving acoustic guitars in front of huge industrial drumming. It has this very ethereal and dreamy sound, helped by its clever use of samples and huge variety of different instrumental voices. It sounds pretty dense at times but never overbearing. When it's not so dreamy, it has some really great rhythms, (especially in "Scrappy Doo"); I've rarely heard acoustic guitar sound quite so heavy.

It's a bit repetitive and all the songs are pretty much the same (although "The Water Helps" has this really cool heavy rhythm in it about halfway through), but there's clearly a lot of production talent here regardless. Definitely an EP worth a couple spins. I'd be interested in something a little more full-featured.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Boris – Noise

June 17, 2014 • Sargent House

Boris has gotten a bit of a bad rap lately. And I can understand it—a string of less-than-exciting albums in 2011 and the stinker that was Präparat last year would be enough to put most people off. And I'll admit I had pretty low expectations for Noise—which is probably why I'm not feeling particularly disappointed with it yet. It's not great, not by a long shot, and it has its share of problems, but I'll take it for now.

Sound-wise, no surprises whatsoever: we still have Boris' standard alternative/stoner metal sound for half the tracks, some kind of post-rock thing for the other half, and remnants of that J-pop melodicism from a few years ago still hanging around. It's kind of like Präparat version 2, one of those mixed-bag albums where every track is a bit different and Boris still seems to be playing around with a lot of different styles because they can't decide on one consistent sound for one album, without really trying to nail the songwriting. At least this time they seem to be a little bit more focused than the last album.

But at the same time they still pull out some really awesome stuff now and again, and there are some moments on this album that make it worth listening to at least once. "Vanilla" has these really short sections where they transition into this super-atmospheric sludgy thing and it's fantastic. The slower post-rock-ish songs and doomy ones like "Heavy Rain" and "Angel" are pretty good as well—they are still pretty good at creating those kind of slow, jamming, crushingly heavy tracks. It's just a bit jarring when they move from one of those straight into something light and poppy like "Taiyo no Baka"; it feels so wrong.

All in all, handful of good riffs, lots of good atmosphere, but not a lot in the way of really great songs. It still feels like they're just going through the motions and I'm not sure if they'll ever put out something truly great again. Or maybe it's just that I really don't like the J-pop influence that creeps in where it doesn't belong. In short, probably exactly what I should have expected. If I didn't always listen to albums in full, this is one that would get severely edited in my library, but it'd still keep a few songs.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Trash Talk, Left Brain

June 19, 2014 • The Summit, Columbus, Ohio

I remember the last time I was at the Summit—twenty attendees, four great emo bands moping it up. Today's show could not have possibly been more different. Ten times more people, half as many bands, infinite more twerking.

Left Brain

This set wasn't quite what I was expecting. I don't know much about Left Brain but I was hoping for some dark gritty Odd Future beats. What I got was a tablet and a pretty run-of-the-mill set of modern popular hip hop artists (and a few leftfield ones like Lil B) with a very dance-club-sounding result. I'm not sure how much of it was actual original material, since I haven't heard much, but it wasn't really anything that particularly interested me. It was entertaining, though, to see all the punkers (including myself) just kind of hanging around back waiting for the drunk kids to wear themselves out. I guess I don't party hard enough for this crowd.
4Best Bill Cosby Look-Alike Award

Trash Talk

Fortunately Trash Talk didn't disappoint—even though their music has been a bit on the decline lately (at least a little), their live show still rocks pretty hard. Short, one-minute stop-start songs don't often make for a great show, especially when the breaks between the songs are just as long, but their playing was spot-on and the energy was good. Extra props for opening with the older track "Walking Disease", one of my favorites by them. Weirdly most people in the audience were either moshing or looking bored (only a few of us seemed only moderately interested in the set). Still worth seeing, especially considering it's a free tour.
7What Was the Point of Having Everyone Sit Down for One Song Award

Friday, June 20, 2014

Venetian Snares – My Love Is a Bulldozer

June 16, 2014 • Planet Mu Records

Finally, the breakcore master is back with his first new full album in four years. It may be my blind, raging adoration for Snares' music but I don't think his output has gone downhill at all like many people seem to think, and My Love Is a Bulldozer continues to keep things good.

The frantic 7/4 Amen-break chaos obviously hasn't gone anywhere, and the energy is solid as ever. Anyone who's heard a Snares album before pretty much knows what they're getting into with this one. It's not quite as dirty and raw as Filth and doesn't have the same silly aloofness that My So-Called Life showed (well, mostly, if you don't listen to the title track too closely). It's kind of a mashup of the crazy sample-heavy style of Detrimentalist with the pseudo-orchestral style of My Downfall—which is an awesome combination for me, at least.

There are a few interesting new things thrown in, such as the jazz style of "10th Circle of Winnipeg" and "Shaky Sometimes", a sort-of-dub thing in "Your Smiling Face", and the jaunty classical guitar of "8am Union Station", to name a couple examples. Still, I'm thankful for the occasional no-frills vanilla track like "She Runs" with just drums and electronics—pure Snares doing what he does best.

There's also a noticeable increase in the amount of vocals—and not just cut-up samples; I mean full-on written and performed by Funk himself for this album. Even though he's sung on his albums before, I can never really quite get used to it. With the classical and other softer stuff they're alright, if a little disconcerting (of course, that might be the idea). On the heavier breakcore tracks, they do their best to fit in with the music but it seems impossible to get them to ever click completely.

I don't know if My Love Is a Bulldozer is going to bring around anyone who has lost faith in Venetian Snares' recent output, but for me it's still an impressively good album and one definitely worth checking out. No, maybe it's not pushing any particularly new ground, and maybe it's still a bit too irreverent and a bit unfocused, but if you want something intense and surreal and maybe even a little thought-provoking, there's not much better you can do than some Snares.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Reproacher – Nothing to Save

June 11, 2013 • self-released

Gotta have more of that delicious modern sludgecore? Reproacher delivers. These guys are among the filthiest and heaviest bands of their genre—detuned guitars, pounding rhythms, grimy production, and man are they angry as all hell. They lean a bit into the hardcore punk side at times, so when the band isn't bringing some crushing doom they're pretty fast and jumpy, but it's always suitably heavy and they never feel out-of-control. Although Reproacher aren't really bringing anything particularly new to the table just yet, they're certainly good at what they do. A band to keep an eye on.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

We Came Out like Tigers – Ever-Crushed at Peckett's Well

April 14, 2014 • Dog Knights Productions

I was recommended this album with the promise that it's a mix of black metal and emo—which are not only my two favorite genres at the moment but also a combination so highly unlikely that it had to be either completely amazing or the worst album I've ever heard.

Well, it's definitely a pretty unique album, I'll give them that. The black metal influence is very modern-sounding with a heavy punk / post-hardcore / crust sort of edge to it (I guess that's the screamo part coming out). Texture and aesthetics are usually shoved out of the way in favor of brutal, furious, and often very chaotic pounding, only occasionally giving way to slow soft post-rock-ish buildups now and again. The inclusion of violin in most tracks (including during the frantic and heavy sections) is an interesting choice, and one I think actually turns out working pretty well. (Similarly, the clarinet in "Entr'acte" is awesome. Why don't more metal bands have a clarinet ensemble?)

The songwriting is definitely something that takes its time to grow on the listener, though. The music feels very disorganized and even after three or four full listens it's tough for me to keep in pace with what the band is doing. I think it's best to try to experience this album passively, since (at least for me) really trying to follow along is pretty tough. It seems like the band wrote a lot of really good sections of music but weren't sure how to stick them all together into songs. Well, whatever works.

So I guess it's neither completely amazing or the worst album I've ever heard. But it's certainly not bad, and worth a listen for anyone into modern black metal and screamo. It will probably be a few more years until someone can perfect the fusion, but until then this album will do fine enough.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Sunn O))) & Nurse with Wound – The Iron Soul of Nothing

November 29, 2011 • Ideologic Organ

I've had this album kicking around since it came out in late 2011 and have only now remembered it exists. Any collaboration Sunn O))) does always seems to work out majestically (or close enough), and Nurse with Wound is probably one of the best candidates for such a collaboration. Unfortunately I won't say that it turned out quite as good as I hoped, but even so this is still a somewhat interesting album and at the very least one for the die-hard fans.

"Ash on the Trees" sounds basically like what you'd expect—we have Nurse with Wound's pants-wettingly-frightening noisescapes and Sunn O)))'s meandering doomy guitar, all wrapped up in an oppressively dark occult atmosphere. I've always though that Sunn O))) can get a little boring when it's just their plain guitar doom and having some extra elements to spice things up really helps (see Monoliths & Dimensions for one), and Nurse with Wound's particular brand of noise goes very well with the sort of aesthetic Sunn O))) is always trying to have. That track has a very aggressive aspect to the noise and how it drives the guitar lines and vocals forward. (Speaking of vocals, though, that's always something that could have been handled better. There are very few times when a Sunn O))) release has vocals in it that work well, but this isn't really one of them. When they aren't repetitive, they sound silly instead.)

As for the remaining three tracks, it feels like things kind of fell off the rails. The album just becomes slightly-noisy droning without a whole lot of substance to it. While it's no surprise that all the tracks are quite long, I don't think there's really enough going on in most of them to justify the fourteen-to-eighteen minute runtimes. I get the need for buildups and long blocks of sound, but there's a point where things get too long. And yes, that applies even when the buildups are good (as they are here)! Like I love the ambient drone of "Dysnystaxis" with its dissonant chimes and lonely violin, but after a while I get impatient. It doesn't go anywhere or do anything. Both "Ra at Dawn" tracks are even worse in this regard. They are actually both really interesting tracks and have a lot of different things going on that develop in a cool way, but because they're so long and drawn-out it's hard to even notice any of it. Take the same tracks and scrunch them down to half the length and it'd be amazing because you'd get to appreciate the ebb and flow of the drones... but that just doesn't happen.

On the whole, this isn't the best way to experience either band. I don't think anybody is completely on top of their game on this album; they've both released material that are far better than Iron Soul. But I think this album was still worth a listen, at least as long as you know what you're getting into. There's still plenty on here to enjoy; you just have to be patient and look around for it. It's too bad they couldn't do more of the ritual-occult stuff of the first track. Maybe some other time.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Reighnbeau – Hands

May 1, 2014 • Bridgetown Records

What a difference two years can make. Okay, so Reighnbeau really isn't that different from when they released their last album Ashes, but am I glad I took the chance to look into them again. I liked Ashes quite a bit, but Hands is a fantastic followup and one shows some great growth for the band.

It's is still a slowcore album, for sure; the lolling tempos and dragging rhythms and gloomy atmosphere is all intact, and Reighnbeau is still one of the better bands to do this particular sound that I've heard (though I've never been a huge fan of the genre anyway). Again their focus on texture rather than songwriting is probably why they appeal to me so much, but man can they ever do texture well. That's not to say their songwriting is bad; there are quite a few songs here that are actually pretty engaging when the drums and well-defined chord progressions kick in (things like the climax of "Dust" with its heavy, driving sound are especially great).

Though I think they've really improved their skills with their sound. Hands mixes their old style with this hazy, slow, drugged-out, almost-psychedelic production, landing closer to the My Bloody Valentine end of the spectrum and farther from the Slowdive end. It's a bit radical compared to the clean and empty style on Ashes—although things never get so thick as to be overbearing, there's still a sort of wall-of-sound effect going on at times. It works pretty well, though, and they really use the production to their advantage to keep songs interesting. It becomes the kind of thing where you can just sit back and get lost in the sound as it washes over you. I'm not sure how I feel about the vocals, though; they're always at a near-whisper and mixed very low, so they often get lost in the fog. But maybe that's what they were going for.

But again I'm mostly talking out my ass because I don't listen to shoegaze or slowcore very much and when I do there are about two bands I actually enjoy. But regardless, this is still something I am liking, so it's got to be at least a little good for your average slowcore fan, right? I dunno.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Danny Spiteri – Crea Island

April 24, 2014 • Cridius Collective

I don't know if I've gotten too predictable lately or everyone I talk to is incredibly good, but either way the recommendations I've been getting lately have all been spot-on. Today's suggestion is a wonderful (and unfortunately short) trip through seven electronic / downtempo / plunderphonics tracks that have a fantastic atmosphere and surprising depth.

Crea Island is, at its core, very simple electronic music, but it has a lot attached to it to give it a great feel and experience. There is a slight vintage aesthetic to it, kind of like a cheesy soundtrack to some low-budget tape from the '80s, but without the actual cheesiness and bad production. It has those same warm synthesizers, echoing arpeggiating melodies, and Casio drums, entwined with plenty of samples and noises and textures that give it a kind of laid-back colorful tropical feel to it (which I surprisingly really enjoy) (also, is that Katamari Damacy I hear in that last track??). It's very atmospheric and ambient, with a soundscape sort of feel to it rather than distinct songs. The whole experience just has a very honest and simple and welcoming feel to it. It's so easy to just put on and totally get lost in.

It's a pretty simple premise so there's not much to elaborate on in a review like this, so all I'll say is that it's absolutely worth listening to and I'm intrigued enough to check out the rest of Danny's material. Very nice job.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Swans – To Be Kind

May 13, 2014 • Young God Records

Is there such a thing as too much Swans? Am I getting burned out already? I feel like we were just getting over the double-disc monstrosity of The Seer and suddenly here comes another double-disc monstrosity in To Be Kind. It's almost more than I can wrap my head around. If it makes things easier, just think of this as The Seer Part II—two more discs of similar insanity from one of the most legendary groups around today. If you liked that one, you'll definitely be into this one. (In fact, re-reading my review for The Seer, just about everything I said there can be applied here as well—they even brought back that almost-hip-hop sound for "A Little God in My Hands".) I'm into it, at least, though it took a while to hit me.

As with The Seer, To Be Kind is another screeching post-punk / experimental rock / post-rock / Glenn Branca fusion, thriving on repetition and buildup and landing squarely out in left field. Motorik drumming with some meandering, chaotic guitar lines and Gira's ritualistic vocals make for a numbing and often cathartic experience, as to be expected, especially when the band winds down into another one of its bizarre sound collages. The aesthetics on this album can be pretty great; as an example I especially like how "Just a Little Boy" opens with its atmospheric droning country sound, like newer Earth with additional psychedelic haze. But on the whole this seems like it's pretty heavy for modern Swans—obviously we haven't regressed back to their gut-wrenching noise rock / no wave days, but things get intense now and again. They make great use of some extra instruments like piano, strings, unconventional percussion, and something that sounds like a droning sitar in "Bring the Sun", along with some interesting sample work (sawing? who does that?).

Since their reunion, I think Swans have settled into a groove and gotten comfortable—maybe too comfortable. Their older albums were an amazing collection of some of the most diverse output you could ask for from a single band, from industrial to noise rock to ambient drone and post-rock to gothic country. But the last three albums have seemed to me to all be very similar, relatively speaking. And of course if you like their current style that's a great thing. Personally I am still digging their music so I'm not going to complain too much about a lack of innovation—but, you know, another two-hour album? It's fine, really, but you'd better set aside plenty of time for digesting this thing. To Be Kind could easily be split into three or four albums that'd stand fine on their own. Then again, it's not like Swans have to prove anything to anybody and they're clearly in a position to just do whatever the hell they want; I suppose I ought to sit back and let them.

I'll say this, though: They've definitely improved over The Seer (that, or I'm just in a better frame of mind). Though they are definitely still very repetitive, they do a better job of making this work to their advantage. There's a lot of post-rock-style buildup, which when mixed with the heavier post-punk instrumentation really clicks well and can really draw me in as a listener. It doesn't always work, but when it does, it works fantastically well. "Bring the Sun / Toussaint L'Ouverture" is a prime example; I initially balked at its half-hour runtime but it wound up becoming this epic progression into a thundering wall of sound reminiscent of the good old Godspeed You! Black Emperor days. Still, there is no reason for some of these tracks to be as long as they are and I find myself getting a bit impatient quite a few times. But that's me. I'm very picky. Maybe the fault lies with the fact that I always insist on listening to albums in their entirety straight through, and that's tough to do in cases like this.

Anyway. Even if you are into Swans like I am this is an album that takes time to grow on you, and it's not always easy to listen to. It's nowhere near a perfect album, and I'm not sure Swans are capable of making anything close to a perfect album, but it definitely ranks near the top of their discography so far. Let's hope they can keep the momentum up without burning out themselves.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Alpha – Burn Down Your Neighborhood

May 16, 2014 • self-released

Alpha delivers the kind of punk that's more in line with the old-school approach of doing whatever you want, as long as it feels right. It's not the pretty, slicked-up hardcore we get these days—which can still be good in its own way, but I still enjoy this kind of stripped-down DIY punk and I'm glad it's still popular enough nowadays. Burn Down Your Neighborhood (great title, by the way) feels like it should be playing on a ratty old cassette tape in a basement party.

Anyway, the music: there's a mix of traditional '80s-style punk, some high-speed powerviolence, some crusty chugging breakdowns, raw screaming vocals, and lots of screeching feedback. Just about everything you need in minimalist punk, and nothing more.

Alpha might be a bit too oddball for this release to be something that will top my 2014 charts but for right now it's really hitting the spot.

(And yes, if you want it to be, anything can be an instrument. Even mayonnaise.)