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.