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.