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.