Thursday, September 3, 2015


In case you hadn't noticed, Andrew Listens has been pretty quiet for the past few months. I've decided to take a long break from writing reviews. Trying to keep up with them had reached a point where it wasn't really enjoyable for me anymore and felt more and more like work than anything else, and was impacting my enjoyment of music overall. This break has been good so far, though, and I'm slowly ramping my way back into listening more.

I don't know when I'll start writing reviews again (if I even will do so regularly anymore). I apologize to the small handful of artists who had requested a writeup but never got one. If I do start making more posts here, you'll be at the top of my list.

I apologize for going so long without saying why the blog has been quiet. Thank you for your readership over the last few years.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Record store haul: May 23, 2015

It's been just under two months since my last haul—I wasn't planning on going but I was in the area and had some free time. And, apparently, cash to burn. Despite the increasing stock of crappy, overpriced represses (I try to never pay more than $15 for a typical record, and neither should you!), I managed to snag a pretty decent selection of music.

Ballast – Fuse (LP, $8)

Remember these guys from the last haul? They had both albums there, and since I liked the first one I picked out so much I decided to grab the second. More of the same slightly-melodic, slightly-crusty hardcore. Not sure which one is better yet, as I've given each just a spin or two, but these guys are still really good. I doubt they're still around (it's hard to say for sure) but if not, at least they left us with two fantastic albums.

Snowblood – The Human Tragedy (LP, $4)

This is a random obscure sludge metal band I discovered a couple years ago; they're not fantastic but their music is pretty decent if you're a die-hard sludge fan like me. For some reason there were three copies of this one in different parts of the store; they were all in disappointing shape but at the price it was hard to pass up, if not just to play once or twice and see how they sound on vinyl.

Cloud Rat – Cloud Rat (LP, $3)

I had actually heard of this band before—I got one of their splits in a mail-order haul from an online distro and they were decent enough, and $3 for an LP (even a shorter one) is a good deal. And they're great on this album, too; furious, relentless grindcore that tries (and succeeds) to push a few boundaries and stand out. These guys are worth checking out.

Muslimgauze – Deceiver (2×CD, $9)

I've been meaning to check out Muslimgauze for ages, hearing about his stuff here and there on the Internet for years, and I suppose it's finally time. I generally like middle-eastern-influenced music (maybe because I listen to so little of it so it's usually new and interesting), and Muslimgauze combines traditional Arabic tribal music with heavy, glitchy, and very-'90s-sounding electronic beats, combined with ambient sound collages and some stuff that sounds like noisy hip hop. It's pretty neat stuff, though I'm not sure how he managed to keep up the same shtick for the dozens of albums he did; even these two discs start to drag on after a while (after all, it's over two hours of material). Still, a cool novelty and I'm glad I eventually got around to looking into it.

Atheist – Elements (CD, $7)

Atheist – Jupiter (CD, $5)

I don't listen to much older death metal, but when I do, it's usually Atheist. (Maybe because they're only sort-of-death-metal—there's a lot of proggy jazzy stuff in there). I discovered these guys only kind of recently but I have been loving all of their albums; even though the first two are usually considered the best I think Elements is my personal favorite, and Jupiter is still good despite being the odd one out (released after a seventeen-year gap). Elements is a 2005 remaster from Relapse and, while I'm usually not thrilled about remasters and represses, I think I prefer this edition. You get some nice bonus tracks and it sounds amazing in the car—something I can't say for most older metal. One of those bands that, if you're into death metal at all, you should listen to at least once.

Robedoor – Rancor Keeper (CD, $5)

This is the third time I've gotten Robedoor from the record store even though (like I mentioned in an earlier review) I'm pretty sure I don't really care much for it. Drone can be good stuff but Robedoor is usually kind of boring. But this album is actually pretty good, and it had been so long since I listened to it that I forgot all about it. No, it's not amazing as far as drone goes, but there's some interesting stuff going on and not just indie-avant-wankering like I usually get with these kinds of releases. Even if the music isn't noteworthy the packaging on this album is really cool—the vertical cardboard gatefold has this neat angular-cut housing for the CD with a foam liner. Unique, if nothing else. Plus the Cthulhu wizard guy on the cover is pretty rad, you have to admit.

Various artists – D;O;UXF? (CD, $3)

Supposedly this is a compilation of local Columbus bands, though I wouldn't have known since I've never heard of a single one of these bands before—but the extra sticker teasing "OLD, WEIRD CBUS COMP" was hard to resist. Even the cashier told me I was in for a treat. There's a really bizarre mix of music here—going from noise to weirdo minimalist electronic to funk rock to cybergrind (and those last two were even the same band). Compilations like this are usually neat in concept but provide average music; this one isn't much of an exception. It's neat, and I'm glad it exists, but I probably won't be listening to it much at all, though there are a couple standout artists.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Beyond Creation – The Aura

April 4, 2011 • PRC Music

I've been listening to a lot of death metal lately. Don't ask me why; I guess it's just one of those phases (though I might have to blame Inanimate Existence). Beyond Creation is one of the many new modern-tech-death bands I've been pumping into my ears, and I have to say they're probably one of the better ones—and further evidence that Quebec has some of the best extreme metal out there.

It's tough to point to a specific thing that Beyond Creation does well, but I guess when it comes to death metal it's all about the riffs, isn't it? and this album has them in spades. The band does a great job of setting up nice groovy parts left and right while fitting all the parts together just right, and everything sounds very clean and meticulously-composed. Even the breakdowns are good—death metal breakdowns are all too often hamfisted and cheesy, but on The Aura they're actually done tastefully and don't overstay their welcome. There are also some nice pseudo-progressive, pseudo-jazzy clean parts to break up the intensity, and they're also done very well. All in all the band does a great job of not dawdling on one thing too long; they'll jump from crunchy headbanging riffs to furiously-paced wheedly guitar to energetic blasting, all at exactly the right moments. (Also, some fantastic bass work throughout—which I'm happy to say isn't rare in this kind of music, but it really shines here. They even have bass solos.)

Of course, like many other similar albums it does seem like it drags on a bit long, even at just fifty-two minutes. Maybe I'm noticing it now when listening a bit more closely instead of just jamming along while doing other stuff at work. Then again, I don't really notice much of a drop in quality anywhere—it's pretty consistent the whole way through—and that's always a good thing.

I won't say this album (or this band) will ever go down as some kind of classic. But after listening to what may be dozens of similar 2000s–10s death metal albums over the last few months, this one has managed to stay near the top of my list, so that's gotta be a good thing.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Cestine – Rugosa

April 24, 2015 • Hacktivism Records

Another followup EP this week: Cestine's Rugosa, a fantastic sequel to Other Half / Bright Encounter.

It's more of the same droning ambient, but again Cestine does it in a very effective way that few similar artists can do. While the music is relatively simple, it's produced in a way that is both engaging and relaxing. It has a hazy, fuzzy aesthetic created by huge, monolithic slabs of synth waves (or whatever they're using—it's always so hard to tell) and reverberation, layered up and sent cascading down. Although it's a bit slow-burning and takes its time getting the listener absorbed into it, if you have the patience for this sort of stuff it absolutely pays off—especially the EP's ending: a bittersweet string and wind ensemble over choppy bass rumbles and a bit of field recordings. A beautiful way to wrap up.

My only disappointment with it is that the tracks are far too short; three to five minutes is nowhere near long enough for this style of music, and that's something Other Half / Bright Encounter didn't have a problem with. On Rugosa the first three tracks seem like they're over before they've even started, and spooling them out to ten minutes or longer would have been simple. I could be very happy with these same four tracks in a longer album format.

Still, as they're presented they are wonderful to listen to and I'm glad I got this EP. Cestine (as a group) has sadly ended but hopefully the members' solo work can stay on the same level (I just have to remember to keep up with it!).

Monday, May 18, 2015

Inferni – The Doctor Is In

March 10, 2015 • self-released

Inferni is back with a slightly different name and a much different sound; though I've covered this band before they deserve a revisit after putting out this new release. They've ditched the old acoustic pop melodies for something more on the post-punk / emocore side. It may be my own genre bias talking, but I think the change suits them really well and this EP is a really great listen.

I'd call the music on this EP some kind of emo, but there are a lot of different influences getting mashed together here to pin it down well. However there is a sort of minimalist approach here which works very effectively—only one guitar keeps things from getting to messy, and the vocals are sparse to both draw attention to the music when needed, and to have a healthy emotional impact. But my favorite thing about these songs is that they have hit on just some really awesome riffs; my favorite is probably the progression in "Ondine's Curse", there's some great interplay between the choppy guitar playing and smooth bass on that track (although the arpeggios and such in "Stockholm Syndrome" are up there as well).

Among these five tracks there isn't a single weak one, and I'm personally really happy with this release. Maybe we can see another EP or even a full-length sometime in the future? hmmm? Anyway, definitely give The Doctor Is In a try. Great stuff.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Prawn, Frameworks, Xerxes, Things Fall Apart, Reverse the Curse

May 5, 2015 • Ace of Cups, Columbus, Ohio

I guess I'm okay with the somewhat low amount of shows I've been to lately since they've all been so good. Tonight was no exception.

Reverse the Curse

This band's genre is really hard to pin down—I guess I'd call it some kind of atmospheric, super-textural post-punk or alternative rock, or something. Aside from the mumbly vocals, I actually liked them quite a bit. They make a nice opener, if nothing else: they're not too extreme but they put on a really good hard-hitting groove when they want.

Things Fall Apart

I have mixed feelings about this band. Their music sounded really familiar, but pparently I've never heard them before—I suppose they're just kind of generic (for lack of a less-derogatory word). They play standard modern screamo, and they do do a pretty good job at it although I can't say I was thrilled. Maybe it was due to the fact that the instrumental style was very "pretty" sounding, highly melodic and twinkly, so the screamed vocals didn't really jive well. Some bands pull it off but I don't think Things Fall Apart did. They must be doing something right, though, since they had the largest crowd of any other set (what's the deal with that?)


Like a moron I decided to take a slightly-longer-than-normal break before Xerxes' set, and I wish I hadn't. They were definitely one of the better sets of the night. Although they were also pretty straightforward screamo / emocore, they are definitely doing it right for a live setting. Very energetic and driving, melodic without being too sappy, and really great interplay between the bass and guitar. It's a shame their set was so short; they're definitely worth checking out if you get a chance.


It had been ages since I listened to these guys (okay, two years, but still) and I forgot how good they are. Their particular style of screamo is probably one of the better ones I've heard, at least in the studio, and they do work well on stage too. They're a bit too messy live to be appreciated on the same level as their studio work, but it was definitely good enough. Special mention to their adorable moment thanking Prawn (it was the last day of the tour) with a little gift bag.


Like I said, last day of the tour, and if you didn't see them man oh man you missed out. Prawn has never even really been one of my top-favorite emo bands (though their albums are both really quite good), but live they knocked it out of the park. If you've heard them before there's isn't much to say about the musical side of their show (although thier drummer is pretty amazing, it turns out), but even music aside, their stage presence was amazing—lots of energy, genuinely having fun. I wish there had been more songs from the first album that I would have recognized, but oh well. Great stuff.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Red Sparowes – At the Soundless Dawn

February 22, 2005 • Neurot Recordings

Ah, post-rock with Isis members. It's like this band was tailor-made for me back in 2005. I listened to this album quite a lot back then but it's been years since I listened to this band at all, to the point where I have pretty much forgotten what this album was like. It actually sounds a lot like what I described: instrumental post-rock structures and aesthetics with a heavier, more distorted tone; kind of like the softer Isis interludes from their later albums with a bit of a faster tempo.

As far as compared to other "heavy post-rock" bands like Russian Circles or whatnot, and even the non-heavy ones, it's relatively generic. Maybe that's just me, since I really did overdo it on this kind of thing back then, but even in 2005 when this came out it was pretty well played-out by then. There are a few true "riffs" in the album that slowly get developed and expanded on, but all too frequently the band feels kind of unfocused. I think the problem is a lack of the dynamic range that makes most post-rock good; they start off at a pretty high level and just stay there most of the time, which isn't very engaging.

But somehow I still find myself more or less enjoying this album. At the least, it's very listenable. Sometimes there will be a bass line or unison riff or a piece of atmospherics that clicks with me in just the right way. Despite my detractions above, I still think it's an album worth listening to, if not at least to learn a bit more about where post-rock was in the mid-2000s.

Thus concludes Nostalgia Week! It mostly sucked. I probably won't do it again.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Chumbawamba – Tubthumper

September 23, 1997 • Universal Music

This is totally going to date me, but anyway: As you may remember, "Tubthumping" was a huge radio hit in 1997 in the US. I was eight years old and thought (for some reason) that it was the greatest thing that I had ever heard; my parents then bought this album, which was the first CD I ever personally owned. (In a disgustingly-romantic coincidence, it's also the first CD my girlfriend ever owned.) And, like most of the one-hit-wonders of the '90s, the album is unfortunately mostly forgettable—but not for me, as a nice little slice of my childhood.

What most people probably wouldn't guess is that the album isn't full of cheesy dance-pop anthems. Sure, there are a couple other ones and they are equally silly and kind of dumb. But buried in the middle of the album there are some actually-good songs, notably "The Good Ship Lifestyle" (by far my favorite) and "I Want More". And just about every other track, while certainly flawed, have a few little bits and pieces that are worth listening to. Many songs have little intros or outros of wildly different genres or with neat samples, which go a surprisingly long way to keeping the listening experience more interesting.

Unfortunately, most of the songs really aren't very good. Maybe I'm too acclimated to all of it, but just about every track has some aspect (if not the whole thing) which is just a bit too cloying or silly. Maybe it's something you have to be in the right mood for; generally I'm not in the mood for this kind of dance-pop.

I won't say this is necessarily a good album, or one that people should listen to even if they were into "Tubthumping" back in the day. On the whole, it's not particularly noteworthy or even listenable. I'll still take two or three tracks, but that's not a very good percentage.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Tool – Ænima

October 1, 1996 • Volcano Records

I'm a bit surprised I actually haven't talked about Tool at all yet. They were my absolute favorite band for an embarrassingly long amount of time, although after 10,000 Days came out I got a bit disillusioned and have barely listened to them much since. Lateralus was always my favorite album and by far the one I listened to the most, though this one got its fair share in the rotation back then. Hearing it now, I'm not entirely sure what to make of it, though I know exactly why I don't listen to them anymore.

It's tough to reevaluate an album that you basically have memorized, but even so it's obvious that they aren't nearly as good as I gave them credit for. I (and tons of other people) had always thought of Tool as being some sort of ultra-progressive intellectual band, but most of these songs are pretty straightforward post-grungy rock (they did get a lot of radio play, after all). They do get actually progressive from time to time (e.g. closing track "Third Eye" which is actually pretty darn good, aside from the Bill Hicks samples), but this results in a very inconsistent experience. Sometimes they're serious and introspective, sometimes they're jokey and dumb. The jokey and dumb parts are, by far, the most obnoxious; I did use to think "Hooker with a Penis" (ugh) and "Die Eier von Satan" were fun tracks but they're embarrassing to listen to now.

I wasn't actually able to make it through the full album when writing this review. Half of it is not fun to listen to, and the other half doesn't interest me anyway since I've already heard it a million times. Oh well. Neat jewel case art, though; gotta give them credit for that.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Soilwork – Natural Born Chaos

March 25, 2002 • Nuclear Blast

Time for another trip down memory lane, this time all the way back to high school in 2004 or maybe 2005. I was finally starting to expand my metal horizons besides whatever garbage was on the radio (okay, yes, it was a slow process) and I had a friend or two who were into some good stuff (what passed for good stuff at the time). Natural Born Chaos blew my little mind at the time—or maybe that was just because of how loud my friend played it in his car.


Like every melodic death metal band who was around in the mid-2000s, Soilwork was a very silly band and this is some pretty silly music. The melodic-ness is laid on really thick for the most part—lots of harmonized vocal hooks, cheesy synths, relatively cliché chord progressions and such. That said, they do manage to write a few good riffs and when they decide to get actually heavy (e.g. "Follow the Hollow") it's actually some pretty good material. Maybe not enough actually-good material to fill ten songs, but it gets close. And even I have to admit that the technical aspect of this album is pretty good. The drumming is satisfying, the mix is nice and punchy—heck, even the guitar solos are pretty good and I usually don't care much about guitar solos.

Then again, there's a big nostalgia factor here. When I first heard this album, it was when I actually had time to read and remember the lyrics, and quite a few of these songs I still know how to play on bass. These melodies and riffs are etched in my brain forever. Had I first heard of this album today, I probably would be entertained for a while and then forget it shortly after, but as it stands I can't not enjoy it.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Black Dice – Beaches & Canyons

It's Nostalgia Week! I haven't heard any good new stuff lately so it's time to revisit some albums from my past and see if they're still any good.

September 2002 • DFA Records

I owe this album a lot. As I mentioned way back in my Mr. Impossible review, this album was an enormous factor in my understanding of more avant-garde and unusual music. I remember listening to it for the fist time and being entranced by the realization that yes, you can make good music that doesn't involve traditional instrumentation.

It's kind of a naïve thought, looking back, but spinning this album even today is a great experience. Tribal drumming under a lush, summery soundscape of glitchy synth sounds, looped guitar samples, and shimmering noise. "Things Will Never Be the Same" is the stand-out track and the one that really sold me, with a Boredoms-esque psychedelic juxtaposition of grinding noise, melodic samples, and drumming that ramps up from subtle to engaging in a very satisfying way. It's not an album that demands attention, but when given it does make for engaging listening.

The album does have plenty of flaws and I won't say it holds up quite as well as it did for me eight years ago. There is a bit of a quality control issue, and with five long tracks it's apparent that there are many cases where they ran out of ideas of where to take the music and let something boring just kind of loop along. Trimming each song down to the actually-interesting parts would make for a fantastic album of maybe thirty-five or forty minutes. Fortunately, there's still at least something in every song that I still enjoy.

Since hearing this album for the fist time, there's so much more weird noise stuff I've heard that easily trumps this one. But as far as Black Dice go, this is still definitely the best in their catalog and one that deserves a listen by anyone. It's unfortunate that they never came close to the same quality as presented here, and after a lot more experience with this kind of music it doesn't quite hold up the same as it used to. But it's good to revisit it now and again.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Record store haul: April 4, 2015

They moved everything around at Used Kids! I hate that. I felt like I wasn't going to find anything good since I'd be spending the whole time figuring out where all the good stuff went. Turns out that was a dumb assumption.

Coil – Horse Rotorvator (LP, $19)

I haven't looked a ton, but I was under the impression that most things Coil released were pressed in limited supply and it's basically impossible to get anything by them for a reasonable price anymore. Details are dodgy but it looks like this is a unofficial 2011 repress, sadly (it looks and smells brand-new—or at least too new to be almost thirty years old), but I'll take what I can get. Classic experimental industrial goodness.

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra – Kollaps Tradixionales (2×10" + CD, $15)

It's not my favorite Silver Mt. Zion album, but it is one that deserves another few listens from me—plus I can rarely resist ten-inch pressings (especially if they come with a CD). The artwork and packaging is really nice, too, not that I expect any less from Constellation and this band. Weirdly, it seems like whoever owned this previously listened to the CD a lot and never touched the records, as the packaging is pristine apart from the disc and its nasty paper sleeve. Anyway! Good stuff.

Ballast – Sound Asleep (LP, $6)

I've never heard of this band before (and it looks like neither has anyone else, really), but I like trying out random punk LPs just to see what I get. It turns out these guys are pretty good! What is it about those crazy Canadians that makes their punk so excellent? Slightly crusty, slightly anarcho (I am still not sure how this is a genre or what it means, though), slightly old-school hardcore, and all-around very angry. Worth seeking out.

Black Army Jacket – 222 (LP, $3)

I only remember this band because they did a split with Corrupted years ago (among many other bands); those splits were usually really bad but I figured that at three bucks I wouldn't be losing much if it were bad. Fortunately, it's not; it's fairly standard crust punk with a slight sludgy edge to it. Nothing terribly special but worth a listen nonetheless.

Emperor – Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk (CD, $5)

It's always good to have extra metal CDs for the car. I've already heard this classic album more times than I need to, but it's nice to have a hard copy around to finally supplement my copy of Scattered Ashes, their best-of that I got years and years ago. There's few bands who do symphonic-progressive black metal like Emperor did (that is, don't make it into a horrendous cheesy mess).

Sunn O))) – 3: Flight of the Behemoth (CD, $7)

There's something nostalgic about your first Sunn O))) album, isn't there? No? Still, I love this band (even though I'm pretty sure I still don't know exactly why) and when the mood for drone strikes, they're my go-to. Curious to see how this plays in the car. (I don't think I ever tried with my Monoliths & Dimensions CD.)

Celeste – Animale(s) (2×CD, $5)

I enjoyed their previous album Morte(s) Nee(s) so at two discs, it's twice the opportunity to impress me again! (Yes I know it doesn't work that way.) Actually the album is just an hour long so there's no need for it to be on two CDs; I wonder what the reasoning was there. To match the LP? maybe it was too hardcore to put it on just one disc? Anyway, it's tough to get more misanthropic and bleak for this kind of extreme punk, so if that's what you're into this'll do the trick.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – 'Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress'

March 31, 2015 • Constellation Records

It feels like everything about this album that was going to be said has already been said, and it's barely out—but here you go anyway. It's fine. It's not anywhere near their best, but it'll do. Hell, it's Godspeed.

'Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress' sees the band continuing the trajectory of their previous album and moving towards a more cohesive rock sound: lots of in-unison playing, a more standard drumming style, more melody than usual—also, more drone than usual, with two harsh and dissonant drone pieces breaking up the first and last songs. Having heard this piece a couple times before in its live iteration on a few bootlegs, nothing here is surprising to me, and for anyone who's heard 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! nothing should be surprising to them, either. And like 'Allelujah it feels a bit short, a bit like a long EP—not quite as satisfying as one might hope. (Then again, the riff that comes in around the six-minute mark of "Piss Crowns Are Trebled" makes all that buildup totally worth it.)

But it's still a decent enough release. Yes, so it could have done all sorts of things. It could have been longer. It could have had more interesting drones. It could have had more samples and field recordings. It could have had multi-suite arrangements. It could have been the next F♯A♯∞. It could have cured cancer. But it didn't do any of those things, and that's okay. It does what it set out to do, and it does a good job at it.

For anyone who's never heard Godspeed before, this is a decent enough place to start. 'Allalujah might be a better one. But it's streaming, so go for it.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Set Fire to Flames – Sings Reign Rebuilder

October 9, 2001 • Alien8 Recordings

Since I've been on a Godspeed kick lately (in preparation for their new LP, obviously) I decided to pull out the album that has been in my collection the longest and I haven't rated it yet, despite getting a vinyl copy and being a fan of the group for so long. I've actually always had trouble wrapping my head around Set Fire to Flames. Their two albums are each sprawling, dense works of post-rock and field recordings and sound art that come and go too quickly to really wrap your head around and get immersed in.

One one hand (and maybe because I listen to this so infrequently) every time I spin this album it seems pretty fresh and I find a lot of different things to pick out and explore. The full-band post-rock sections are really quite good; not up to Godspeed standards, unfortunately, but they do the emotive climactic buildup thing well. The sound clips and samples that helped make F♯A♯∞ so incredible are here as well, though a bit hard to find. The album's strongest element is probably the viola-violin duets (such as that which opens the fantastic "Omaha"); I always love those on Godspeed's records and they have a bit more room on this album to breathe and expand.

On the other hand Sings Reign Rebuilder can be a chore to listen to. It's incredibly long at over seventy-three minutes and a good chunk of those minutes are really not that interesting. On just the second track we're subjected to a grating ten-minute section of noisy droning that, while it does eventually reach a nice climax, takes absolutely forever to get anywhere—and when it does, the ending is disappointingly short. I mean yeah, I'm not much of a patient listener anymore, not as much as I was when I started listening to this type of music. So your mileage may (will) vary.

On the other hand (in this exercise I have at least three hands) the noise and drone and general messing about is really an essential part of what makes this album work (and it does work, despite my complaints), and if one were to take one half of the album and somehow separate it from the other it would all fall apart into a giant mess and then nobody would be happy and where would we be? And in the end it's just an album, one that's ugly, and beautiful, and boring, and fascinating, and after all this I still don't know if I like it or not. Definitely some bits I do, and definitely some bits I don't, so on the whole yeah it's not bad.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Death Fortress – Among the Ranks of the Unconquerable

November 15, 2014 • Fallen Empire Records

With that title and band name, this album just screams "generic". And maybe it is, a little bit. Maybe everything feels somewhat generic when you get to as much random black metal on Bandcamp as I do. Regardless, I wanted to put this one in particular out there because I've been having a good time with it.

True, Death Fortress unashamedly apes old-school Darkthrone-slash-Hate-Forest-if-they-were-good-style metal but I'll be damned if they don't do a good job at it. It's black metal at some of its most aggressive without being impenetrable—the drums and guitar all sound hateful and destructive but still retain a nice musical edge to them that keeps the album nicely grounded. The drumming is actually surprisingly interesting; sure there's a lot of typical double-kick grooving and blasting but the fills are plentiful and the way everything is played just really does it for me for some reason.

I'm not going to pretend that Death Fortress does anything new or that there isn't anything in this album you haven't heard before if you're already into black metal whatsoever. But what it does bring to the table is a top-notch way of throwing out some aggression and energy in an incredibly satisfying way—and sometimes that's just what I need, and sometimes all an album needs to give me.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Have Mercy – A Place of Our Own

October 27, 2014 • Hopeless Records

I've put off reviewing this one for so long, and I was never really sure why until now—I think I didn't want to admit to myself that I really don't like it all that much. It's odd considering that their first album is pretty good (albeit kind of a guilty pleasure) and this one is basically more of the same, but maybe that's why it doesn't click with me in the same way.

If you've listened to any song from The Earth Pushed Back—no, seriously, any one, they're all the same—you've heard this album. I didn't really have a problem with every song being the same before (even using a lot of the same exact chord progressions and the like) because they play them with a lot of energy and passion and yeah, the songs are pretty good. But this time around it just feels kind of recycled and so there really isn't anything interesting to talk about. It does have some decent songs, I'll admit, but not enough to hook me like anything on the debut did.

I dunno. Maybe I'm just not in the same mood anymore and the mopey-aggressive dichotomy and excessive melodrama hasn't doing anything for me on the particular days I've chosen to give this album a try. Maybe it'll grow on me. I don't know.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Callisto – Secret Youth

January 30, 2015 • Svart Records

I really don't know how to approach Callisto anymore. True Nature Unfolds has been an essential favorite of mine for ages, and Noir is almost equally spectacular. The band really shifted with Providence into softer, more melodic territory with clean vocals and a less-than-standard sludge-lite sound. I tried to like it, but I don't think it ever truly clicked for me. It seems like Secret Youth is more of the same—and equally confusing.

One one level, somewhere deep down, it's still the same Callisto I've loved since I first heard them in 2006. The slow, plodding, melancholy riffs and textures are still there, and occasionally an echo of the gritty Noir production leaks through (e.g. the intros to "Backbone" or "Beasts of Mothers"). And there are a lot of sections I really do like, sections where they might get especially heavy and rhythmic and that remind me a little bit of what they used to sound like.

But I still can't bring myself to get excited about this album, and no matter how many times I sit through it, it just doesn't do anything for me; it still feels kind of cliché. Not that their first two albums were that innovative, but they at least had this really special quality to the songwriting that made them stand apart, and it's gone now. The songs feel more like they're just trying to support the vocals rather than do something neat with the music itself. Callisto used to be the kind of band that put the music first—maybe that's what's changed them: being so vocal-centric.

I guess it's just time to throw in the towel and finally admit it to myself: Callisto just isn't really a good band anymore. And that sucks a lot, because they're such a huge reason of why I listen to a lot of what I do. It's good that they gave us two great albums when they did; I just won't really be looking forward to their next album quite so much.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Aziza + Extra Ears – Jack of Diamonds EP

October 11, 2014 • self-released

I've been vaguely aware of the tiny vaporwave scene that went on recently, but there's still so much I haven't really dug into. Jack of Diamonds doesn't go quite as far as the full-on retro-corporate-Muzak vibe, but that's the closest anchor point I'm getting when listening to this. It has more of a minimalist jazzy electronic sound, with just a few voices at a time playing some nice mellow swing rhythms and soft retro synth leads. It somehow feels old and new at the same time—which I suppose is how a lot of underground music is making its way recently.

I was kind of surprised at just how much is done with this single genre in just a half hour; each track does something a little different and interesting while still keeping the whole EP cohesive. It goes to a few extra-weird places with some dissonant noises and creepy sound effects, especially in the shorter tracks.

There may not be a whole lot of substance to this EP, but as far as something minimal and textural, it's quality stuff. The dated-yet-modern aesthetic is a trend that's probably not going to take off or ever do anything too terribly interesting, but the few releases (like this one) that I've heard have been enjoyable for what they are.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Yob, Ecstatic Vision, Lazer/Wulf

March 18, 2015 • Ace of Cups, Columbus, Ohio

I was so pumped for this show, and it turned out oh so good. One of the best I've been to in a long time.


I first saw these guys play over a year and a half ago, and it doesn't seem like much has changed—which I'd say is a good thing. They were just as good as I remember, if not maybe a little better. They're still playing the same progressive-djent-thrashy kind of stuff, and I might have even recognized a song or two (which always improves the concert experience, I find). They obviously still have a ton of fun playing and being on stage, so even if it's not quite the kind of music you're into, it's still a show that is worth checking out. I usually don't like when bands get a bit showy but Lazer/Wulf has a great sense of humor and self-awareness that keeps everything engaging.
7Best Guitar Face Award, Again

Ecstatic Vision

With their style of music and the rest of the show's lineup, Ecstatic Vision didn't have a chance of me liking them at all. And I didn't, really. Their sound is this sort of psychedelic stoner rock, which isn't really ever something I care much about or listen to, and yeah—I found them to be pretty boring. Their music seemed to be mostly a platform for the guitarist to play solos, which is usually only interesting for the guitarist. The drumming was pretty decent, with some tribal rhythms and some unique percussion voices. The bassist was doing his best to hold the other two together but unfortunately his material was so uninteresting I barely noticed he was even there. Bonus points, however, for the melodica, even though nobody could hear it.
5Best Rope Lights Award


I thought I overhyped this show in my head before I came, but it turned out to be one of the best sets I've ever seen, somehow. Despite that Yob plays a style (doom metal) that I don't listen to often and all their songs basically sound the same (even though I could recognize most of them), their live show was fantastic. They're probably the heaviest and loudest band I've seen yet; they do tune down to A but the bass response was incredible, organ-shattering stuff (thank god for earplugs). This, by the way, is how you do a guitar-led band correctly—have him play music that's actually interesting and nicely rhythmic so the drums and bass can support it properly. Yob has very simple drumming (it's basically just timekeeping) but he was still putting his all into playing well and matching the tone of the music. I was surprised at how fun a doom metal band can actually be to watch. Also, props for actually taking a request from the audience; I don't think I've actually seen anyone do that before.
9Corrupted Shirt Award

Something else neat: a couple of guys from Mouth of the Architect were there! (Makes sense since they live in Dayton which is only about an hour and a half away.) I only know of this because someone happened to notice my Mouth of the Architect shirt I got at the show they played here, so I stopped and shook hands said hello. Buncha cool guys.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Church, The Sharp Things

March 7, 2015 • The Grog Shop, Cleveland, Ohio

A trip up to Cleveland with the SO + her family, to finally go to a venue I almost went to ten years ago to see Isis (but didn't because I was a minor). It's actually a pretty nice place—at least, a step up (albeit a small one) from most of the dingy bars I go to in Columbus. I guess The Church is one of the most well-known acts I've seen in a long, long time, so it's somewhat fitting. Although they also sell out huge venues like the Opera House in Australia, so what do I know.

The Sharp Things

I'd never heard of this band before and after today I'll probably never think about them again. They're supposed to be some kind of big chamber pop / pop-rock group, but at this show there were just two guys, one on bass and one singing and on guitar or piano. They played incredibly generic pop ballads, I think; I barely remember because it was just so forgettable.

The Church

For a band who I really haven't heard much of (one album off-and-on a while ago) and a I was pleasantly surprised by this show. As I often forget, with concerts what matters usually isn't what you play but rather how you play it, and even though I'm pretty ambivalent about their studio work I thought the show was done very well. For a bunch of old dudes they actually do still rock sufficiently. I didn't recognize most of the songs they played (I knew three out of about fifteen) but most of them were still fun to watch in their own way. They tended to go off on extended post-psych jam sessions at the end of some songs which usually wound up working really well, though it sometimes seemed to clash with their poppier tunes a little. On the other hand the mix of styles, old and new, helped keep the long show from getting stale too fast (though I was ready to go home about five songs before they stopped, but I was pretty tired anyway). Some enjoyable banter from Steve Kilbey helped keep things light too. All in all, enjoyable stuff; I'm glad I went.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Justin Jackson – Rosetta: Audio/Visual

December 25, 2014 • self-released

I love that this exists. Not many bands get their own documentary, especially when they're not huge mainstream acts, and when one that's already one of your all-time favorite bands gets one it's fantastic. Audio/Visual is more or less a brief chronicle of the band's history, from their formation to the present day, as well as some insight into Translation Loss Records and the relationship between the two. As someone who's followed the band way on the outside for almost ten years, it's really neat to see how their timeline and their experiences were going during that time.

It's really interesting to see the breakup of a band from its label from both sides at once, and a bit sad as well, as it's clear both sides wanted to make things work but the business got in the way so much it tore everything apart. The last third of the film, where Rosetta is making The Anaesthete and stressing over if they will even be able to continue as a band, is a surprisingly tense section (even knowing how things went) and makes for great film. It was pretty cool to see some details about their lives outside of the band as well, and the interviewees get lots of opportunities to philosophize and talk about their personal feelings and experiences, giving the film a very personal and intimate feel at times.

If you've seen any metal documentary before, on a technical level there isn't much to surprise you here. Plenty of interviews with the members, their friends, and their label, all paired with some nice concert footage, in-studio footage, and some montages of scenes of Philadelphia and around the world as they tour. The use of stock footage—mostly old clips of manufacturing plants—was a really great way to add some atmosphere and personality to the story.

As far as indie documentaries go, this one is very well-made and does a great job of presenting its material, especially for a topic that's kind of niche. (Or maybe I just underestimate how big Rosetta has gotten, which is entirely possible.) Even to people who aren't familiar with the band, it still paints a great story of a band struggling to make ends meet while keeping their creative vision intact, something that anyone who's into music can appreciate.

Official site

Monday, February 23, 2015

Crash of Rhinos – Distal

April 1, 2011 • Brave or Invincible Records

I know, I know. It's too late to talk about this band. They broke up almost exactly one year ago, but it is only just recently that I discovered them and I can't stop listening to this album.

Back in 2010 I first heard Cap'n Jazz and got absolutely hooked on emo (as anyone who reads the blog can attest to; I've been posting more emo reviews than anyone ought). But after all that time I couldn't really find a band that brought the same kind of thing that made Cap'n Jazz so good—that same kind of raw intensity without being too heavy, the same intricate approach without being too mathy, the perfect balance of everything that makes this kind of music worth listening to.

Well, Crash of Rhinos has it. (Had it, I guess.) I've heard both of their albums but I think Distal barely ekes out as being the better one, and I don't say that lightly. There is not a single wasted moment here, not a single drum hit or guitar note or vocalization that isn't overflowing with passion and meaning and value and beauty. There is not a single song that doesn't make me stop whatever else I'm doing and take it in. This review took far too long to write because I had to keep stopping and just let myself listen.

A couple choice moments:

  • The huge gang vocal section closing out "Big Sea", an excellent callback to the beginning of the song while showing just how grand they're capable of getting.
  • The last half of "Stiltwalker", which takes on this elegant legato Bear vs. Shark feel that is absolutely entrancing.
  • The seamless shift of the same riff into triple-feel halfway through "Gold on Red". I don't even know why it works so brilliantly.
  • "Asleep" ending the album not with a bang, but by quietly slinking off into the distance, leaving the listener in a puddle on the floor.
  • Me, needing to immediately listen to the whole thing again after the first time. That has happened maybe only three or four times that I can remember, ever.

This band is essential listening for anyone with even the remotest possibility of having interest in emo. And it came out in 2011—during emo's revival, when there don't seem to be many albums like this, and right when I needed it. It's criminal that it doesn't seem to have gotten as much exposure as it deserves. Maybe one day.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Sarin – Burial Dream

January 17, 2015 • self-released

I haven't really been listening to a ton of sludge metal lately. I still love the genre but it seems like there's less and less coming out each year that really piques my interest. But now and again I'll stumble on a band that rekindles my faith a little and reminds me why I love the genre so much. Recently it's been Sarin, whose 2013 EP House of Leaves I really enjoyed (but never covered). Their first full-length is finally out and I couldn't be happier.

There's a pretty blatant debt owed to early–mid Isis, and maybe Pelican and Godflesh, on a lot of these tracks—at points I feel like the music could have been ripped straight from Isis' Oceanic—although I bring this up in the most positive light possible. Sarin pulls off a similar combination of slow, churning, clean-guitar buildups and huge, heavy, crunchy, pounding riffs; even the vocalists sound very similar. Maybe it's just my personal love for the atmospheric sludge style (and the fact that I do miss Isis somewhat) but the band knows what they're doing and they've gotten fantastic at it.

Take, for instance, the intro to "Monograph". Slow—plodding, almost—drums, echoing clean guitars, pretty typical stuff. But it has this really nice melodic aspect to it (probably has something to do with the major key) that lulls you in, so when the heavy guitars kick on two minutes in, still with the excellent melody and emotional resonance, it's just an awesome experience. They take the genre's natural tendency towards repetition and make it work in their favor really well; the song shifts into a more sinister minor key by the end but you barely notice as it goes. "Reverse Mirror" does something kind of similar, but uses that kind of interplay and buildup to conclude the album in a very satisfying way.

I suppose the fact that this album does feel a bit derivative will probably keep it from being as appealing as it could to some people. I love this album anyway, so I don't really care; Sarin has more than proven themselves to me what they're capable of. Great, great stuff.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Rosary – #1

January 10, 2015 • self-released

Though I don't listen to it a whole lot, I do have a soft spot for minimalist melodic ambient, one of my favorite kinds of ambient thanks to things like Stars of the Lid and Music for Airports. Synthesized piano, some droning pads, just something to relax and zone out to. Rosary delivers just that, and for a debut EP it does a pretty decent job of it.

#1 has four bite-sized tracks of looping ambient. Though it's short, it does skirt the line of just the right amount of repetition; it's true that "Vein Drain" is nine minutes of the same eight-second loop but the way it's delivered, with the soft noises in the background, keeps it from getting tedious.

There isn't a ton to say about this little slice of music but I like what it's doing a lot so far. There is some room for improvement—I'd like to see maybe a bit more complexity and layering—but I can see a full-length in this style working well if it's fleshed-out enough. #1 is a fine start, though.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Mare Cognitum – Phobos Monolith

November 3, 2014 • I, Voidhanger Records

Taking atmospheric black metal to another level—the cosmos. Okay, so black metal bands have been doing the whole super-atmospheric space thing for decades already so there's really nothing new going on here. But I have to say that Phobos Monolith is quite a pleasant surprise.

Its one flaw out of the way first: Albums like this, with a few overlong tracks, sometimes tend to have a bit of filler. The beginning of this album in particular does have a bit too much ramp-up—one huge overlong intro where we're noodling around with slow rhythms and melodic clean-ish guitar lines that don't really go anywhere. I'm just sitting here waiting for the actual music to kick in instead. I guess I should have expected it, but it still always disappoints me just a little bit when this happens.

However, when the music does get going it's quite good, and surprisingly the middle two tracks don't hold back at all. It's not just plug-and-play generic blasting, either—there is plenty of that, but there's enough actual musical proficiency and embellishments in the songwriting that keep things interesting. Just the occasional chugging riff, progressive drum line, a little ambient background sound to fill things out. Or perhaps some toned-down shoegazey type stuff in "Noumenon". Or the sheer no-holds-barred intensity at some places, like how "Entropic Hallucinations" starts off with just the most intense riff ever. There's a lot going on, though it may take some time to unearth it all.

But this being one of my favorite kinds of music lately, I'll call myself a fan right off the bat. The genre may have been in a slump lately, but for fans this might be one to actually pay attention to.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Shahman – Demise of a Body

October 16, 2014 • Dismal Niche Tapes

Usually I prefer to listen to (and review) music without too much unnecessary context, but Demise of a Body is one release where it adds a whole lot to the experience. These two tracks are more than just an EP—they're like an event, a service. The music is in tribute to the musicians' mother who had recently died, and they do a great job at conveying that.

There are two parts: The opener is a spoken poetry piece backed by some meandering '70s synth; nothing fancy but it serves as an excellent opener and really puts the listener in the right mood. But the real meat of the EP is the second track, which is this slow, plodding, minimalist doom-rock kind of thing; there's this nice tribal drumming and layers of good guitar work that just wash around each other in a very hypnotic way. I didn't listen to the album this way but I bet it would be excellent for one of those lights-out-nighttime-headphone sessions, just getting totally immersed in this music.

Of course it could all be that (as I've said before) I'm a huge fan of anything that's just devastatingly sad, and this is certainly up there with the saddest. The simple, pure, realness of the whole presentation really seals the deal. But even that aside it's still a great chunk of music, so go listen to it already.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Dikembe – Mediumship

July 22, 2014 • Tiny Engines

For some reason I keep forgetting this band exists—even though they're easily one of my favorites of the new wave of midwest emo (despite being from Florida). I loved Chicago Bowls, and Broad Shoulders was just as good. But something happened after that and this, their second album, just isn't cutting it for me whatsoever.

The midwest emo sound is actually disappearing, being replaced with a bit more straightforward indie rock style (or even alternative rock, somehow). A few of the tracks on are a bit more on the soft, plodding, post-rock-ish side as well. Nothing atypical for this style of music, I suppose.

But going back and comparing this to Broad Shoulders, just two years earlier, it almost feels like a different band—or at least like something special has been lost. No more silly audio clips, everything feels a bit slower and flatter, and a little bit more generic; even the vocalist (when he doesn't sound like a different person entirely) sounds like he's falling asleep most of the time, when on previous songs he was quite energetic. It took until the eighth song, "Donuts in a Six Speed", to finally hear something like the band I was expecting.

I dunno; I guess the songs are still decent, but I can't help but feel massively disappointed. Hardly anything in ten whole tracks got me excited; I really wonder what happened to this once-great band. At least they still have one great EP and one great album to listen to regardless.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Steady Lean – Here's Something

October 21, 2014 • self-released

So New Weird America isn't dead after all? Maybe? Not sure where else Steady Lean fits in my headspace. But they do write some enjoyable songs, anyway.

I usually don't really like this kind of lo-fi basement recording, but some bands pull it off well, and these guys do alright. A combination of jangly acoustic guitars, electric leads, muted background drumming (if it's even there), vocals that are mumbly and optimistic at the same time. I guess it's some kind of country rock, or maybe post-punk, or garage rock? I have no idea.

It's not entirely the style of music I would normally care about, I have to admit, especially with the kind of country-esque flair a lot of the songs have. But Steady Lean are definitely good at their songwriting: every song is chock-full of really good and catchy melodies, with just the right amount of somberness to top it off.

I don't know how much I'll ever be going back to it, simply because the overall aesthetic isn't totally to my taste. But it's a strong album, and I can tell anyway that these guys are good, and they know what they're doing, and they have a lot of potential appeal. And I have to say this album grew on me a lot after the handful of spins I gave it, so I guess you never know.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Rosetta – Flies to Flame

October 14, 2014 • Translation Loss Records

If, like me, you've been following Rosetta's trajectory for the last almost-ten years since I first heard The Galilean Satellites, then I barely need to talk much about their last release on Translation Loss, Flies to Flame. Let me state off the bat: Yes, Rosetta is still a good band; yes, I still enjoy their music; yes, this EP is still good; yes, I bought the record. (Gotta have that green vinyl.) But since they are one of my top-favorites it's too easy to judge new material harshly, like I did with The Anaesthete, and it's tough to judge releases like this.

With that in mind: Every time I've listened to this EP, all I can think is "yep, just more Rosetta songs." And that's just what they are: the slow chord progressions, walls of echoing guitar washing off every surface, drumming that just can't go without filling every eighth note with something. I mean, yes, obviously I like it. But they've got thirty other songs that sound just like it! (The guitar-drone-only "Seven Years..." is a bit unique for the band as far as I can tell, for what it's worth.)

The EP does have a very soft sound, though, especially compared to the metal juggernaut that The Anaesthete was—seriously, listen to these back-to-back; it's like getting punched. So for anyone who does dig Rosetta when they're a bit more quiet and introspective is going to enjoy this. I won't say it's my favorite of their styles, but they are still quite good at it.

But I have to say I'm still excited for the band. They've got that new documentary out (hopefully there'll be a piece on that here soon), and self-funding seems to be working out well so far, so it'll be neat to find out where things go from here. Flies to Flame is a fitting goodbye to their old label and their old ways; let's just see what comes next.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Ando Laj – Miriam Transmission

November 30, 2014 • Hacktivism Records

I love when this kind of music drops in my lap. There's just too much electronic music out there, and so many kinds, that I'm usually too overwhelmed to be good at finding something I like. Thankfully I got a hold of Ando Laj's EP Miriam Transmission and I'm hooked. It combines a kind of minimalist-IDM-slash-techno with a touch of ambient droning in a way that is just right, except for the fact that there simply isn't quite enough of it here.

On the whole, this EP has a bit of a pseudo-retro feel to it—it's not full-on vaporwave or anything, but it has a soft, floaty, atmosphere to it thanks to some dreamy synthesizers, cut-up sampling, soft static... Like twenty minutes after the rainstorm in Blade Runner clears up. I really like, for instance, the echoing industrial feel of the drums and low synth melody in "Convalescence"—very '90s throwback without actually feeling dated.

The atmospherics and texture are one of the release's strongest point. While the skittery beats and melodies are definitely great, the backing noises are exquisite. I'd probably say that my biggest complaint about this EP is that it just needs more of that delicious drone! Two- to five-minute track lengths don't feel long enough to really nail that aesthetic down and for me to get truly lost in the music. That said, it does complement the more heavy IDM stuff well, and I definitely appreciate that.

Anyway, it's obviously an EP worth listening to, and fortunately for me there's quite a bit more at the website to dig into. It looks like there's even a bit of long-form ambient stuff. Awesome.