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.