Monday, December 17, 2012

01. Liars - WIXIW (Mute)

Over the course of Liars’ career, it’s often seemed like the group abruptly changes its sound with every album. It’s true Liars have displayed a penchant to constantly tweak the formula, turning out everything from avant-garde noise to dance punk to twisted pop. But with WIXIW, the band’s sixth full-length, it’s clear that there’s been a method to this madness: Instead of mutating or evolving with each record, Liars have shown different facets of their identity
WIXIW taps into several elements of past Liars records that should already be familiar to longtime listeners. An uneasy pop sensibility makes the album appear relatively straightforward—at least by Liars standards—on first listen. But WIXIW eventually opens to reveal cunning depths. Based heavily in electronics, be it the swooping ambience of “The Exact Colour Of Doubt” or the stretched-elastic low end in “His And Mine Sensations,” WIXIW settles into a sweet spot between the misanthropic avant-rock of 2010’s Sisterworld and hypnotic ’90s trip-hop.

That lands many tracks—such as “No. 1 Against The Rush,” with its warm, ’80s synth-pop simplicity, and the slightly discordant electronic organs in “WIXIW”—in the midst of an elegant tug-of-war, as Liars masterfully create an album that’s equally alluring and menacing. WIXIW isn’t a culmination or even a continuation of its predecessors, but a hint that Liars aren’t nearly as scattershot as they seemed.

via The A/V Club

02. How to Dress Well - Total Loss (Weird World)

The vehicle of Berlin-based New Yorker Tom Krell, How to Dress Well's acclaimed debut, Love Remains, first unveiled his fractured R&B and doleful falsetto. As with Frank Ocean's recent Channel Orange, the follow-up nods to Stevie Wonder and especially Prince, whose heavenly Purple Rain harmonies are particularly referenced for the hymnal Talking to You. However, Krell's music is starker, as he brings a deeply personal sadness to tracks of ethereal beauty. The first words – "You were there for me when I was in trouble" – set the tone as he pours out troubles of loss and loneliness. It's minimalist electro-soul with handclaps, echo-laden drum machines, ghostly melodies and a strings section (for sublime instrumental World I Need You, Won't Be Without You [Proem]). There's a hint of Ocean-type sexual ambiguity in the line "Will you love me like no other did, boy?" Set It Right lists his most-missed (often deceased) people over beautiful music. Total Loss is surely one of the year's most affecting records: a symphony of pain that continues haunting long after the record ends.

Via The Guardian (UK)

03. Lotus Plaza - Spooky Action at a Distance (Kranky)

 Deerhunter is one of the most fascinating bands going because they're a democracy functioning the way most of us experience democracy, whether in politics or the workplace: fully participatory, but with a wildly disproportionate power structure. With Bradford Cox fronting the group as one of rock's most dominant personalities, it's easy to view Lockett Pundt as following in the lineage of reclusive guitar wizards who serve as a necessary counterbalance.  Whether or not Cox goes off the grid any given night, you can catch Pundt standing catatonically still and staring off into the distance when his gaze isn't intently focused on an armada of effects pedals.

Based on that persona, no one could've been surprised by his solo bow as Lotus Plaza, 2009's The Floodlight Collective. A mélange of looped guitar and amorphous vocals slathered in amniotic goo, it wouldn't have stood out in any year, and released smack dab in the midst of indie's deadbeat summer, it was the kind of solo record that could only be the result of a guy who goes to the greatest lengths possible to not get noticed. But even if he gets approximately 0% of the good quotes in any Deerhunter interview, the relatively egalitarian division of the band's songwriting labor makes Spooky Action At A Distance every bit as unsurprising as its predecessor. In an infinitely more rewarding way, of course: save for a minute-long intro that recalls Floodlight, these are nine reminders that Pundt also is responsible for soft-focus beauty of "Agoraphobia", "Neither of Us, Uncertainly", and the juggernaut centerpiece of Halcyon Digest, "Desire Lines". This consistency means Spooky Action lacks the galvanizing force of Deerhunter and the unpredictability of Atlas Sound, but in fully realizing its comparatively modest ambitions, it's one of the strongest indie rock records of the year so far.

via Pitchfork (read the rest there)

04. Godspeed You! Black Emperor - 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! (Constellation)

How to approach a new Godspeed You! Black Emperor album? The exciting reappearance of one of the most politically vital bands of the last 20 years, or as an intervention into a changed historical landscape that renders their critiques obsolete? Reaffirmation of the dignity of indie, so degraded since F# A# Infinity came out in 1997? Or as experimental (whatever that means now) miasma; as a fractional addition to a monolithic body of work, or the best thing they've ever done.

That title, with its almost parodically positivist screamers, is nicely misleading regarding the content of Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!. It would have been easy enough on re-emerging in 2010, especially given the somewhat lukewarm work that their sister act A Silver Mount Zion have been doing in the last few years, for Godspeed to play to the assumed image of what 'Godspeed' are: the big, parabolic structures, the soaring climaxes, the earnest politics that made sense in Seattle circa 1999. This would be to ignore the contradictions and ironies present in the band from the beginning.

The apparently total purity of intent expressed in fleeting interviews and lo-fi sleeve artwork (not to mention the infamously mordant monologue at the start of 'The Dead Flag Blues', the first track on the first album: "The car is on fire and there's no driver at the wheel...") was always altered in its charge by its presentation - the jokes (who didn't think the dedication to "the Reverend Gary Davis" was at least slightly funny?), the collision of different materials in the inner sleeve collages, the conflicting energies and textures of the songs, sliding and grinding from rage to placidity to uninvited noise to lullabies. The albums were, as the band suggested in a recent Guardian interview, "a joyous difficult noise": their aesthetics bear the closest relation to punk, detonating their conflicting materials through negation, antagonism, to produce works of strange and searing energy. (The distance from Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts' council estate branded ‘Land Of Milk And Honey' to "Fuck la loi 78" on the sleeve of Allelujah!... is shorter than we might choose to  think.)

All of this is a slightly roundabout way of saying two things. One: it turns out that the things about the band that enthralled the first time around - the sincerity, the leftism, the obscurity, the extremes of sound - were as much pop hook and manifesto as, say, anything in the early canon of Adam and the Ants (as masterfully analysed last week by Mark Sinker) - and that this is precisely where their politics, and their brilliance, reside. (Certainly when, on the last few Silver Mount Zion albums, Efrim Menuck's vocals have been unimpededly front-and-centre, the desperation seething within the collective's songs has been written in ten-foot-high slogans, untouched by context or irony, the results have been either comical or too painful to keep up.) Two: a decade's hiatus has given them the chance to sound more like themselves, as a collective entity, an idea, a mass of interacting forces, a project and intervention operating according to what they call their own "particular stubborn calculus"; more like Godspeed than 'Godspeed'.

via The Quietus

05. Mount Eerie - Clear Moon / Ocean Roar (PW Elverum and Sun)

There are forces, forces that we prefer to describe as “out there”: darkening and obscure to our touch, our everyday sentiments. Churning and rending, oblivious to our immediate concerns, operating under a sempiternal indifference. Phil Elverum might add that this purposeful act of externalization blinds us to the teeming ecosystems of our bodies, the fraying and reassembly of even our most precious memories and understandings, the continual decay offset only through steady application (say, diet) and industry (say, infrastructure). The keen eye of Italo Calvino’s Mr. Palomar, tending to his yard and struggling with the composition of its dimensions, observes that:

“A lawn does not have precise boundaries; […] A complicity seems to have been established between the sown grasses and the wild ones, a relaxing of the barriers imposed by difference of birth, a tolerance resigned to deterioration.”

Similarly, the easy and steadying cadences of “I Walked Home Beholding” finds Elverum discovering “A moment of clear air breathing, seeing the expanse,” having been “Tossed on the waves/ Blown onto land/ Grasping meaning/ In churning mess.” This dynamic of clarity wrought from the noise of life winds through Ocean Roar and its sister album Clear Moon. Conceived and performed in the same all-analog studio during a 15-month stretch, the two albums do not so much exist in opposition than illustrate the sequencing of two very distinct moods. Ocean Roar largely turns its attention to the forces opposite clarity and structure. In place of Clear Moon’s expansive songcraft, we have Sturm und Drang, clangor, droning vistas. This dark gravity limns the most potent expression of Elverum’s infatuation with the extreme sonic density of black metal, marking Mount Eerie’s furthest point of departure from The Microphone’s quintessential lo-fi indie pop — even further than the explorations and exhortations of Wind’s Poem. When volume is called for, the mix gets big in terms that should not be wholly unfamiliar to longtime fans of The Glow Pt. 2.

via Tiny Mix Tapes (read the rest there)

06. Dirty Projectors - Swing Lo, Magellan (Domino)

 If you've only tuned in for parts of Dirty Projectors' decade-long run, it's entirely possible that you've viewed bandleader Dave Longstreth and his ever-evolving band line-up as a gimmick. After all, though Longstreth had been releasing music as Dirty Projectors for years, the band finally inched toward a critical mass in 2007 on an album that reinterpreted Black Flag's Damaged from memory. The album found Longstreth replacing Rollins' gruff bellow with alien, elastic vocals, anchored to the zigs and zags of West African guitar. Two years later, Bitte Orca used a trio of female vocalists-- mainstays Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian and newcomer Haley Dekle-- to bait often abstruse arrangements and hard-to-parse lyrics. When Questlove posted a backstage video of the Projectors performing an unplugged "When the World Comes to an End" after a "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" appearance, internet commentators concurred that people simply shouldn't be able to sing like that. Between the intercalated harmonies, Longstreth's own sometimes-stringent tone, and his counterintuitive approach to guitar, Dirty Projectors occasionally could be reduced into a menagerie of eccentricities-- possible to enjoy, but sometimes difficult to internalize.

Swing Lo Magellan should help rectify that: The band's least ornate batch of songs to date builds upon Longstreth's most direct and identifiable lyrics ever. Which means that Dirty Projectors have upped their emotional and structural accessibility all at once. Culled from a batch of roughly 40 demos, these tunes explore vulnerability and vexation, sweetness and cynicism with more manageable musical complications than ever before. For instance, the gorgeous "Impregnable Question" finds the seam between Heart of Gold-era Neil Young and late-1960s Serge Gainsbourg; it's a love song between Coffman and Longstreth, her coos helping him to soften his voice above a warm acoustic shuffle. Over handclaps and a ragged, wrapping riff on "Dance for You", Longstreth offers one of his most intuitive and immediate hooks. There's gusto and playfulness here, too, from the way Longstreth clears his very-warped throat before launching into the first verse of opener "Offspring Are Blank" to the brilliant decision to record Coffman and Dekle mocking some of Longstreth's most impenetrable lyrics toward the end of the irrepressible "Unto Caesar". When he sings "Down the line/ Dead, the martyrs' morbid poetry," Coffman teasingly answers, "Uhh, that doesn't make any sense, what you just said." You want to be in the room with this band.

via Pitchfork (read the rest there)

07. Alexander Tucker - Third Mouth (Thrill Jockey)

Third Mouth is an inward journey. It’s not, as some have suggested, a folk album; it belongs to no tradition, and the lyrical references to place and nature are mostly imaginary and symbolic. The only landscape the songs reflect is that of the mind - a mind - and the only community a community of one. If it evokes a sense of mythology, then it’s strictly personal, rooted in Tucker’s own memories, associations and dreams. The album title comes from a time when, during his childhood, Tucker was told by his otherwise apparently very ordinary and down to earth mother that she could speak in tongues; that she possessed a “third mouth” as others might speak of a third eye. And the opening track, ‘A Dried Seahorse’ is based around another childhood memory, one that seems to have the surreal, isolated intensity of a remembered dream; Tucker’s father emerging from the garden shed to present his son with a tiny dried seahorse. The incident could have come from a David Lynch film, or perhaps Cronenberg’s Spider; the fact that the seahorse is the only creature where the male can carry the child adds another layer of symbolism to the tale.

Musically, although Tucker’s gently fingerpicked guitar dominates, there is a deliberately artificial shimmer throughout, and an electronic undertow created by his trademark loops that refutes any notion of the rustic or rural. In the absence of beats, Daniel O’ Sullivan’s droning viola, or cello-like bass synth, anchors Tucker’s often free-floating, otherworldly vocals. On the seven-minute plus ‘The Glass Axe’ they constantly swoop and climb, dip and ascend, as though the song were somehow constructed horizontally rather than vertically; like dream memories which, although they may seem to last for hours, are often stacked within only a few seconds of REM sleep. Yet there still remains a sense of something ancient and mysterious here, out of step with the clear logic of digital technology. When ‘Mullioned View’ collapses into glitchy loops, it’s as though the track has somehow become trapped in its own dark mirror.

via The Quietus (read the rest there)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

08. The Men - Open Your Heart (Sacred Bones)

“I wanna see you write a love song / I wanna see you going down / I wanna see you when you try so hard / I wanna see you when you turn it around,” sings guitarist Nick Chiericozzi on “Turn It Around,” the first track of The Men’s Open Your Heart. The song does indeed signal a turnaround for the band. After a blistering riff—lifted from either Stiff Little Fingers’ “Suspect Device” or Montrose’s “Space Station #5,” take your pick—it launches into a tribute to Raw Power-era Stooges that’s all beehive distortion and hypodermic leads. Only here, it’s brightened by Chiericozzi’s melodic drift and romantic savagery. On their previous album, 2011’s excellent Leave Home, The Men wouldn’t have dared to make something so sharp or sentimental. Or upbeat: Compared to Leave Home’s murky smear of scream-fueled, shoegaze-shrouded punk, Open Your Heart is practically a party album.

Granted, it’s a rowdy, bloodshot, roaches-in-the-punchbowl kind of party. For every bittersweet hook-fest like “Turn It Around”—or the title track, which copiously cribs from the Buzzcocks’ “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)”—Open Your Heart boasts ragged, Sonic Youth-like epics like “Oscillation” and “Ex-Dreams” that aren’t in the least bit bashful about probing every dark opening of Daydream Nation. Some residue of Leave Home’s toxicity remains, particularly in the black-tar hardcore of “Cube” and the drugged, droning bliss of “Presence,” a callback to The Men’s first reverent forgery of Spacemen 3, Leave Home’s cryptically titled “( ).”

The music-geek Easter eggs don’t let up—but the density does—on “Candy.” Imagining a jam session between the Meat Puppets and CCR, the twang-steeped tune is the most vulnerable, shivering thing The Men have ever committed to tape. And committed it is: “I’ve been through the darkest places / I’ve been a total mess / I picked up what I could / And I laughed off all the rest,” sings Chiericozzi with a mix of cornpone confessional and aching catharsis. Then, with all the usual defenses of venom and volume dropped, he softly asks, “When was the last time you were able to take a breath?” With Open Your Heart, The Men have taken that breath. And it’s only made their hearts beat faster.

via The A/V Club

09. Sharon Van Etten - Tramp (Jagjaguwar)

Unless you’re closely attuned to the community of emotionally literate New York musicians who ride their hearts into battle, you might not have heard of Sharon Van Etten. The New Jersey-born artist has sung with The Antlers and The National, and released her first record, ‘Because I Was In Love’, in 2009. Her second, ‘Epic’, arrived in 2010. Both concerned a five-year relationship with an abusive ex who would break her instruments and tell her she wasn’t good enough to be a musician.

Thankfully, no-one agreed – particularly Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner, who covered ‘Love More’ from ‘Epic’ at a festival. A series of emails between Sharon and Aaron ensued, and he offered to produce her next album, ‘Tramp’. Her face looms from the cover in monochrome, in homage to John Cale’s 1974 album ‘Fear’. Whereas that often signifies a hackneyed attempt at fresh starts, Van Etten avoids obvious cliché.

The perspectives on the soaring, steely ‘Warsaw’ and mandolin brightness of ‘Leonard’ are conflicted between desire and trust. The triumphant ‘All I Can’ crests on a country-indebted vocal, while she’s spiteful on the tense, artillery-drummed ‘Serpents’, hissing, “You enjoy… sssucking on dreams/So I will fall asleep with someone other than you”. The sadness returns on ‘In Line’, a heartbreakingly sombre, heavy meditation where she confesses, “When you were on my side/The world was shitty then”, but as she repeatedly cries “in line”, the intensity of her voice breaks free of rank and restraint.

In recent years, it has been a joy to see Van Etten growing in confidence as an artist – and this isn’t just her finest album, but one of early 2012’s best. She won’t remain under the radar much longer.

via NME

10. Advance Base - A Shut-In's Prayer (Caldo Verde)

When Owen Ashworth announced in December of 2010 that Advance Base would indeed be the moniker to rise from the ashes of his much beloved Casiotone for the Painfully Alone project, it seemed unclear what the distinction really was. Ashworth’s work as Casiotone always dealt in similar lo-fi synth and drums tone, with his instrumental palette expanding throughout the years of the project’s existence. The debut piece he worked on under this new name was some production work on a Serengeti 7” that came out on Asthmatic Kitty and this, as well as the 6 tracks he produced on Serengeti’s debut solo effort for Anticon seemed to bear the characteristic marks of Casiotone tracks. Recording fidelity was at a minimum, everything still seemed to be largely synth and drum machine driven, but it was all mostly the same. With the further evidence of recent singles, and certainly this debut LP, Casiotone fans can let out a deep sigh of relief. Ashworth, though working on a new moniker, is still working with the same heartbreakingly beautiful songwriting modes that he mined in his years as CFTPA.

Early reactions to Ashworth’s Advance Base material have pegged it as a higher fidelity version of his earlier sound, and though this is true to some degree, it ignores Vs. Children — his last full length as CFTPA. That album similarly upped the fidelity, drawing on folkier influences and relying on the sort of rollicking piano that Ashworth eschewed earlier in his career. It’s for this reason that claims of upped fidelity on A Shut-In’s Prayer are a bit off base. If anything, it seems to represent a return to the sound of Etiquette his 2009 release. It’s a little lo-fi, but nuanced enough that you can tell he put a fair amount of consideration into the production decisions.

via Beats per Minute (read the rest there)

11. Bill Fay - Life is People (Dead Oceans)

"Did you see him walk on water?” Thus Ian MacDonald, in an only slightly less than serious frame of mind, recalled a typical question from fans of Nick Drake, many years after the singer’s death in 1974, when MacDonald (who himself was to die tragically in 2003, following a prolonged period of depression) told them he had known Drake during undergraduate days at Cambridge. Later in the essay, ‘Exiled from Heaven: The Unheard Message of Nick Drake’, to be found in the collection The People’s Music, MacDonald observed that sometimes “it’s as if Drake is half-asleep, daydreaming of something on the spiritual threshold of the material world”. Nevertheless, Drake’s use of nature imagery and “haiku-like simplicity” directs MacDonald into a more focused consideration of Drake’s hybrid mystical spirituality: a conflation of Basho and Blake.

On the sleeve of his eponymous first album, originally released in 1970 and languishing almost entirely neglected until a 1998 re-issue, Bill Fay too appears to be walking on water; though, as he pointed out in his retrospective observation for the subsequent 2005 re-release, some water had lapped onto a promontory by a lake in Hyde Park and it was this that had created the illusion. As with Drake, some recent enthusiasts for Fay’s music have drawn attention to the pastoral imagery in his songs, and then gone on to offer comparisons between the two writers’ uses of language and tone. Yet Fay’s details in his word pictures are quite a distance from some of the pastel shades of Drake, and they have long deserved to be appreciated on their own terms. The acuity suggested by “On a foggy day I can see her clearly through a hole I punched in the window” is plain.

via The Line of Best Fit (read the rest there)

12. Evan Caminiti - Dreamless Sleep (Thrill Jockey)

 It's not always easy to predict what an artist's solo career will be upon postponing, parting ways with, or just taking a brief detour from his or her famed group. In the case of Barn Owl's Evan Caminiti, mind, it's safe to say that a sudden departure into electro-pop or country-rock was unlikely to be on the cards, and his solo output since 2008 has consistently delivered the kind of spacious drone that was the hallmark of his aforementioned duo with Jon Porras. In such circumstances, picking out where he diverts from familiar territory is almost as interesting as the music itself. He may not have bounded into new worlds as enthusiastically as, say, ex-Yellow Swan Pete Swanson did on Man With Potential last year (man, that was an ace record), but the divergences are there, nestled deep within the layers of sound that adorn Dreamless Sleep. Equally, and probably more importantly, there's a challenge in identifying why Caminiti felt the need to release this album so short on the heels of April's Night Dust.

That question may be a tough one to answer, such are the similarities between both releases. The man must have a lot to express, and he does so with familiar tools: guitar and synth, layered on top of one another in something approaching an “orchestral” style. Where Barn Owl have developed a widescreen, countrified form of guitar-based drone post-metal, heavily indebted to Earth, the music on Dreamless Sleep initially seems centred on the tonality and notes of the synth, even when Caminiti use only guitar, and is infinitely more restrained than that of Barn Owl's epic last album Lost In The Glare, so much so that it feels almost like a reaction to and diversion away from that record. 'Leaving the Island' seeps out of the speakers on ghostly ambient guitar textures which are gradually joined by slender arpeggios that loop around one another in a patient, ghostly dance that is suddenly pierced by a vicious curtain of malevolent feedback. Caminiti's approach may be based on repetition and stasis, but his gradual juxtapositions lend a certain inchoate forward motion, not to mention unexpected dissonance, to the dreamlike soundscapes.

via The Quietus (read the rest there)

13. Damien Jurado - Maraqopa (Secretly Canadian)

Damien Jurado’s latest is a fantastic maze. As far as I can tell, Maraqopa is an imagined word, chosen perhaps for its aesthetic value or its auditory quality. That it bears a resemblance to the name of the Arizona county overseen by noted Latinophobe/”America’s Toughest Sheriff” Joe Arpaio is telling; that the term “Maricopa,” as it relates to said county and its American Indian namesake, is a bastardization of the Spanish word for “butterfly” — all these things are pertinent.

“Turn it around, you found that they were all wrong/ All you had heard were ghosts of the words in a song,” Jurado sings in Maraqopa opener “Nothing is the News.” The loosest song in Jurado’s catalog by far, “News” is psych-sick, desert-worn, the sound of a hard and lonesome cowboy after dark. Fifteen years into his career, Jurado is still obsessed with how we fit into our own lives and one another’s, or how we abjectly and repeatedly fail to do so.

But his tune has changed, literally. Jurado’s creative trajectory over the last few years has been one of steep upward movement. 2010’s Saint Bartlett was full of unexpectedly fresh moments from a guy whose songwriting had grown stagnant. Although captivating, it was still laden with some familiar trappings — doubt, self-pity, despair. In contrast, Maraqopa is a shooting star, an album bursting with presence of mind, a testimony to emotional rebirth buoyed by recurring themes of freedom and transcendence. “All of us light/ All of us free,” Jurado wails at the close of “Life Away from the Garden.” The title track features a similarly simple refrain: “We are free.”

via TinyMixTapes (read the rest there) 

14. Beach House - Bloom (Sub Pop)

Baltimore’s Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand are in an enviable position. As the dream pop duo Beach House, they’ve released three excellent records – they’ve never turned in anything mediocre – that have gradually racked up sales in exponential numbers (2006’s Beach House sold 24,000 copies, 2008’s Devotion moved 49,000 units and 2010’s breakthrough Teen Dream racked up 137,000 copies) and the group has moved from Washington, D.C.-imprint Carpark to the bigger leagues of Sub Pop. They’ve landed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and Conan, did a live session for Daytrotter, and spent nearly 18 months on the road playing the likes of Coachella, Sasquatch! and Austin City Limits, not to speak of opening for Vampire Weekend on their Fall 2010 tour. Scally and Legrand have, in a very short period of time, moved into indie rock’s upper echelon of acts, a position the two have, according to media reports, a bit of an uncomfortable relationship with. However, the success of Beach House also puts the group at a bit of a brick wall.

Already, there are artists such as Toronto’s similarly named Memoryhouse (also a Sub Pop band) that are now piggybacking on the sound of Beach House, presumably to capitalize on the duo’s success. And while Teen Dream is a great album, and justifiably landed on many a critical Top 10 list at the end of 2010, it was arguably a bit repetitive with songs that bludgeoned the heck out of its hooks, and marked a bit of a continuation of a wispy, airy sound that listeners had already heard on the first two albums. So, the question is where could Beach House go from here? Repeat the same formula that has been tried, tested and true for the group, or try something a bit different and hope that it congeals in a way that doesn’t alienate the band’s growing fanbase?

via PopMatters (read the rest there)

Friday, December 14, 2012

15. Ghost and Tape - Home (Schole)

The music box tinkles, field recordings textures, and processed acoustic guitar playing flooding Home's first seconds tell you what to expect from self-taught guitarist and sound engineer Heine Christensen on his sophomore Ghost and Tape album: peaceful and pastoral acoustic electronica of a distinctly warm and ultra-immersive kind. The album title alone conveys a nostalgic quality, given the fond associations which the word evokes for most when they reflect on former homes, just as Christensen did when creating the recording (it's telling that most of the song titles refer to places in Barcelona and Copenhagen, both of them former homes of his). In a typical Home track, acoustic guitar picking (sometimes processed into slivers) is embedded within a dense pool of soft crackle and hiss, with the setting's wistful mood amplified by the presence of a secondary instrument or two, be it a melodica, subtle beat pattern, or other sampled analogue sound. In some pieces, however, the balance shifts such that the sound presents itself as a near-opaque mass within which the guitar becomes merely one texture of a great many.

Mastered with remarkable clarity (no small feat considering its density) by Taylor Deupree, the music exudes a gentle, sun-dappled quality that evokes the image of an early morning summer pond whose life forms are quietly awakening to the flickers of sunlight reflecting off of the water's surfaces. That feeling does, however, bleed over at times into an autumnal melancholy redolent of the transition from summer to fall. having said that, the music is never anything less than pretty. Compared to most of the material, “Taolin” sounds almost uptempo when, in fact, it's simply animated. Even so, its noodling guitar figures and rhythm pulses make it invite comparison to a typical I'm Not A Gun track, albeit one smothered in textures. Home's twelve originals are supplemented by remixes from Sawako and Paniyolo, the first a treatment of “Pere IV” that differs from the album's other tracks in including her soft voice amongst its other bell-laden sounds and the second a sparkling version of “Sankt Hans Torv” that sneaks woodwinds and lightly swinging drums into Christensen's setting. It hardly needs be said that admirers of the sounds produced by artists such as Chihei Hatakeyama and The Green Kingdom will likewise find good reason to embrace Christensen's Ghost and Tape music, too.

via Textura

16. Chromatics - Kill for Love (Italians Do it Better)

There's a good reason "Hey Hey My My (Into the Black)" is the final track on Neil Young's Rust Never Sleeps: From the desolate title to the staggering outro guitar work to the vacant air of end-of-an-era doomsaying, it's the kind of song that sucks the air out of the room. It's such an iconic finale that Kurt Cobain, the architect of perhaps the most elaborately constructed death in rock history, used it to add a stamp of authenticity to his suicide note.

In this context, Chromatics' choice to open Kill for Love with a cover of the song seems like a band immediately shooting itself in the foot. But it quickly becomes clear that such a self-destructive gesture might be intentional. The band's version strips the track down to its famous central riff, removing the layers of staggered fuzz of Young's original. The guitar is dropped into a deep, echoey void, accompanied only by Ruth Radelet's lonely voice. The song remains bare nearly until the end, when electronics and canned strings worm their way into the mix, and the effect is of watching something dead stay dead, even as stuff begins wriggling around in its corpse. The electronic beat that emerges seems to rhyme audibly with the beep of a heart monitor, turning into a steady pulse that grows clearer and clearer.

As the opener segues into the title track, that sense of growth continues, with the pulse expanding into a scintillating pattern, establishing the tools that the remainder of the album will employ: rudimentary drum-machine throbs, cool synth washes, reverbed vocals, and gauzy shoegaze distortion that crashes over the music like waves. Chromatics' music is imbued with the deathly pallor of the Cure and the transient textures of the Jesus and Mary Chain, bands that get explicitly referenced amid the sprawl of "Kill for Love." Their influence, and that of others from the same period, shows up heavily across the album's 17 tracks, on long, repetitive songs that seem constructed entirely from old parts, giving that material a Frankensteinian quality.

Couched in this kind of peak-'80s fantasy land, Kill for Love has been labeled the unofficial soundtrack to Nicholas Winding Refn's Drive, befitting its surface similarities to the film's lovingly revisionist take on period dream-pop. (Chromatics mastermind Johnny Jewel was actually initially hired to score the film before the studio rejected his work.) The albums' styles do compare, but the tone on Kill for Love's tone is completely different, because while the Drive soundtrack was about the celebration of nostalgia, full of blissful paeans to victory and heroism, the anthems here feel seedy and washed out.

This sound, and the bravura choice of starting off with one of music's most recognizable closing tracks, establishes Kill for Love as a comedown album, innately concerned with the repetitive fruitlessness of nostalgia. This is pinpointed on long tracks like "Lady," which isolates a single statement of longing, then turns it into an endlessly repeated mantra that never progresses, developing a yearning that never finds resolution. The gender confusion behind Radelet's refrain only deepens the sense of futility: "If I could only be your man." The looping structures that undergird these songs aren't engines of self-sustaining dynamism like they are in the dance music that inspired much of the album; they're indicators of exhaustion and discontent.

It seems fitting to point out that Chromatics started out as a punky rock band that burned out, transformed, and ended up here, in the burned-out shell of some shuttered dance club. Kill for Love progresses in an almost fungal cycle: using rot as the fuel for the band's jaded cynicism, layering on luminous textures to heighten the ironic power of that cynicism. This means that despite Chromatics' predilection for thudding beats and glittering synths, the songs here are anything but flashy, and the album's fixations on love and death, disappointment and defeat, make the artificiality come off as atrophied and frozen. This grants a perversely exciting quality to these familiar elements when they could have easily just sounded moldy. This thematic angle may seem like an excuse for an album that's too long, too familiar, and too musically inert, but appreciated in the context of its ideas, Kill for Love is a great tribute to the grueling power of fatigue, an album that turns a dearth of ideas into a virtue.

via Slant Magazine

17. Sun Kil Moon - Among the Leaves (Caldo Verde)

For a while it seemed like Sun Kil Moon would turn out to be either a one-off, a side project, or perhaps just another moniker for which Mark Kozelek to turn out some slowly accumulating eulogies whenever enough piled-up. After all, it took Kozelek five years (if you don’t count the still-curious Modest Mouse covers collection Tiny Cities [2005]) to properly follow-up Ghosts of the Great Highway (2003), Sun Kil Moon’s wonderful debut, with the stark, heartrending April (2008). Since then, though, he’s nearly doubled Sun Kil Moon’s catalogue, to the point where with the release of his expansive new double-album, Among the Leaves, he’s now quietly and very nearly equaled his total output as leader of the seminal 1990s sadcore outfit Red House Painters. Not only does Among the Leaves represent the quickest turnaround for Kozelek under the SKM guise, it’s also, paradoxically, his longest duration-wise since his ‘90s heyday. None of which matters much if the product is of a similar quality to his longer gestating works; what we’ve seen, however, is a somewhat predictable drift into familiarity—and this when Sun Kil Moon didn’t exactly represent a drastic shift in approach from Red House Painters anyway.

If Kozelek was going to continue down this more prolific path, I’m glad he’s decided to go all-in with the more freewheeling gait of Among the Leaves. The last Sun Kil Moon record, Admiral Fell Promises (2010), was, despite its stripped-down, self-imposed nylon-stringed parameters, mostly forgettable. Don’t get me wrong, I could listen to Kozelek softly intone atop intricately picked Spanish guitar lines from here to eternity and die a soothed if not terribly rosy-cheeked corpse. But if I can remember anything much beyond that album’s aesthetic constraints it’ll take more than mental reconciliation as I absorb his new one, which stands out immediately as something far more brisk and song-oriented. If in the end it still suffers from what most Kozelek records do—namely, exhaustion—it’s a much more satisfying trip on a moment-to-moment basis.

via Cokemachineglow (read rest there)

18. Old Apparatus - Derren / Alfur / Realise / Harem (Sullen Tone)

Note: this is not an album, but four 12" records released by the band in 2012 that, in my estimation, equals a full length release time and track wise.

Old Apparatus are one of strangest, most compelling mutations to emerge from the post-Dubstep fallout of recent years. After early offerings on Deep Medi, and more recently remixing Shangaan Electro, they've decamped to their own label, Sullen Tone, which seems the wisest option for their uncategorised, outsider hybrid of electro-acoustic symphonics, synthesized space/Bass music and fractured folk-pop. With this broad-minded scope they relate an immersive, near-cinematic narrative, sweeping us across stormy strings and elemental bass surges into pastoral bliss zones on 'Zimmer', and on through the broken soul mechanics of the title track, sounding like the experiments of Thom Yorke and Four Tet deemed too dark for release. Deeper in, 'Dealow' displays the sheer percussive prowess which made their eponymous debut such a shocker, conjuring voudoo steppers drums and flickering ghostly voices from the ether, before 'Bodah' extrudes your mind thru dense and claustrophobic electro-acoustics. Together with the artwork, it amounts to a most crucial package for fans of owt from Demdike Stare to The Haxan Cloak, Roly Porter or Emptyset.

via Boomkat

19. Ladyhawk - No Can Do (Triple Crown Audio)

After 2008's Shots, it wasn't a sure thing that Ladyhawk were going to release another album. The Vancouver four piece was destined for cult status, haunting bars as hometown heroes, forever playing local shows for the small but dedicated fanbase they'd amassed. This isn't necessarily negative. Ladyhawk were always about being underdogs. Just about any song in their catalog is so self-effacing, it feels like a miracle that singer Duffy Driediger was able to shepherd it onto an album without being consumed by doubt and trashing it. In Ladyhawk's world, getting it together enough to leave the house isn't easy. Driediger sings from inside a cocoon of weed smoke and Crazy Horse bootlegs, battling personal torment from a back porch littered with empties. It's a world he's resigned himself to as a way of making art, and the reason it doesn't come off as hollow self-pity is that he makes it all so relatable.

Where previous Ladyhawk albums sprawled with extended guitar solos and more-than-the-sum-of-their-parts sloppy chemistry, their third full length, No Can Do, skews closer to lean power pop than to rambling classic rock. Driediger's voice is still cavernous, like he's singing from directly inside a painful moment instead of about one, but the rest of the band tightened around him. Drummer Ryan Peters offers a steady backbone to Sean Hawryluk's dense bass and Darcy Hancock, who previously was a master of down-and-out guitar solos, now chugs along at the forefront, giving Driediger's lyrics nimble freedom. No Can Do might be a thematically dark album, but it's Ladyhawk's lightest yet.

via Pitchfork (read the rest there)

20. Andy Stott – Luxury Problems (Modern Love)

Andy Stott has always been a stylistically nimble artist. Dark and dubby has often been his thing, but he's moved around within that framework quite a bit, making straightforward dub techno under his own name and more bass-inflected sounds as Andrea. He even toyed with juke at one point. In 2011, some five years into his recording career, he started homing in on something much stranger and more personal. Passed Me By and We Stay Together, two mini-albums released five months apart, sounded like old Andy Stott records played too slow, with lo-fi production and dirge-like rhythms that chugged along somewhere in the 100 BPM region. This new style had the Manchester native sounding more Mancunian than ever, with an odd combination of semi-danceable rhythms and existential dread that recalled old Joy Division records. With Luxury Problems, Stott brings this sound to maturity by breathing just a bit more life into the formula than he has before.

Luxury Problems has all the hallmarks of its two predecessors, namely the drab atmosphere and sluggish rhythms. But it also has more conventional beauty than those records, thanks in part to fantastic vocals from his old piano teacher, Alison Skidmore. It's tempting to think of her as the missing ingredient in Stott's reinvented sound; in equal parts mournful and seductive, sometimes even operatic, she gives his music a sexy and haunting feel that makes you think of Portishead or Massive Attack. Stott's music, in all of its exquisite gloom, has long stood up on its own, but it still benefits enormously from this bold addition. 

via Resident Advisor (read the rest there) 

21. Mark Eitzel - Don’t Be a Stranger (Merge)

Though recording circumstances and labels can be erratic, one thing that has marked Mark Eitzel's career is consistency. Sure, some of his records, in and out of American Music Club, are stronger than others. But it's rare that his muse abandons him when it comes to putting pen to paper and fingers to fretboard. So throwing words like "return to form" around can be misleading.

That said, Don't Be a Stranger, his first solo record that's not self-released since 2005's Candy Ass, really is one of his best. Recorded in the aftermath of both a heart attack and the dissolution of AMC (again), the album marks a return to full-band production, after a few sparse records that drifted between acoustics and electronica. Produced by Sheldon Gomberg, who's worked with Rickie Lee Jones and Ben Harper, the record boasts the best sound an Eitzel solo record has had in at least a decade. Accompanied by a skilled but tasteful band, Eitzel rests his tunes in beds of piano and acoustic guitar, with a sedate but still propulsive rhythm section that includes Attractions/Imposters drummer Pete Thomas. The arrangements give the tracks a sense of fullness, but with the austerity that has marked his best work. Indeed, the record in his catalog that Stranger calls to mind the most is AMC's spare but lovely California, arguably Eitzel's first masterpiece.

via Blurt Magazine (read rest there)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

22. Tame Impala - Lonerism (Modular)

Kevin Parker is a loner in more ways than one. Tame Impala's lyrics tend to discuss a challenge to overcome obstacles Parker's brought on himself (see former single "Solitude is Bliss"), while in the studio he creates every note of Tame Impala on his own: "just the sound of music in my head." And so the much talked about title of his second album, Lonerism, makes complete sense. Seeing as it's the only result that Google yields, it's also a definitive statement for an album that deserves such a thing. After wowing us in 2010 with the breakthrough Innerspeaker, Parker has eradicated the band's reputation as the best throwback psych rock act on the market to become one of the most innovative rock bands going. Admittedly influenced by Todd Rundgren's mind-expanding 1973 classic, A Wizard, A True Star, Parker expanded his horizon to the outer limits, opting for more synthesizers and less guitar to see what dimensions he could unlock through a much less structured, more organic process. Co-produced with Dave Fridmann, Lonerism can't shake Parker's affinity for '60s and '70s psychedelia – his music is naturally affected by it. "Elephant" (which Rundgren actually remixed) throbs in fuzz only to float off into the ether with waving, harmonious organ tangents, and "Music to Walk Home By" evolves like the Flaming Lips remixing J.D. Blackfoot's "Pink Sun." But this is definitely an album built through analogue synth exploration, and with help from keyboardist Jay Watson, they've made symphonies built to seduce the EQ of any hungry speaker system. "I gotta be above it now," Parker sings on the opening track, and though may not be talking about his inventiveness as a songwriter, producer and visionary, there are few out there above what he has achieved with Lonerism.

via Exclaim! 

23. DIIV - Oshin (Captured Tracks)

Fuck off the real world. Fuck off illness. Fuck off the train. Fuck off newspapers. Fuck off other people. Fuck off music you have to think about. Fuck off the recession. Fuck off five-a-day. Fuck off Poundland. Fuck off Twitter. Fuck off music that’s in a hurry. Fuck off trying to know everything about everything then forgetting it all anyway. Right now, fuck off anything that isn’t the woozy Washed Out/How To Dress Well/War On Drugs glory that is DIIV – blissed-out bringers of woozy rock’n’roll who aren’t into the everyday, the mundane, the normal, but are into (sound the bullshit alarm!) “dreams of aliens, affection, spirits and the distant natural world”.

But you know what? Sometimes that’s exactly what you need: for an insular kid called Zachary Cole Smith, who doesn’t even want to know who Mark Zuckerberg is, to show you the sounds he hears inside his brain on a debut album called ‘Oshin’. For Smith and his buddies from Brooklyn to help you float away from this world to another on the trippy majesty of ‘How Long Have You Known?’, on the hiss and fuzz of ‘Wait’, on the dreamy hell of ‘Earthboy’ – all songs that take their own precious time to get where they’re going, and do so with the precision of a military operation. Drums and guitars smothered with reverb, vocals distorted to mesmerise and hypnotise.

It’s easy to tell when music’s been made in isolation, disengaged from reality. ‘Sometime’ is not a song that cares about the price of a pint of milk, it cares about making you feel like you’re underwater. The bass throb and vocal chant of ‘Doused’ were not recorded to document happenings in New York City, they were recorded with hours of nothingness in mind. Time to lose yourselves, readers.

To forget everything else and remember: you don’t need the real world, and the real world doesn’t need you. But DIIV need you, and you sure as hell need DIIV

via NME

24. Grizzly Bear - Shields (Warp)

"This is a foreground." That was the last lyric left hovering in the mist of Grizzly Bear's breakout 2009 album, Veckatimest, and it's a pretty good image to describe what it's like to listen to one of their records. The key word there is "a," signifying one of many. Whether it's the ethereal, friendly-ghost vibes of Yellow House or Veckatimest's pristine chamber pop, Grizzly Bear create music in deep focus; what's going on in the margins of their songs is just as important and expressive as the center. Taking cues from artists like Talk Talk and Van Dyke Parks, the Brooklyn four-piece make pop music with an ear for the ambient, asking us to notice the importance in detail, the beauty of texture, and the foregrounds that exist all across our spectrum of perception.

While there's no question that Grizzly Bear's last two records have sounded gorgeous, critics of the band have wondered if that's enough. Shields, the band's fourth and most compositionally adventurous record, should put those concerns to bed. Though full of baroque, detail-rich production and latticework melodies, Shields also offers an emotionally resonant core. The album is an excavation of loneliness, melancholy, and self-reliance. It's also a demanding record, without an instantly gratifying single like "Knife" or "Two Weeks" to hook restless ears. But the rewards that come from immersing yourself in it are odd and profound. Shields feels like a summation of Grizzly Bear's strengths, drawing a line from the muddy, minor key sonic palette of Ed Droste's home-recorded Horn of Plenty and stringing it to the heels of boundless ambition.

via Pitchfork (read the rest there)

25. Paper Beat Scissors - S/T (Forward)

Burnley, Lancashire native Tim Crabtree has finally landed. After coming to Halifax in 2004 to start a masters program at Dalhousie, Crabtree spent his first few years in academic circles, quietly studying and home-recording in his spare time. "I didn't really know any musicians around town. I was just sending things out into the ether, putting posters up looking for musicians," he says of his attempts to start a new project in Halifax. "I met with a few people, but nothing clicked and that sucked me back into the solo thing. It was a case of necessity being the mother of invention, I suppose."

Seven years on, Crabtree has experienced a coalescence of identity. After years of repeated paperwork and frustrations, he finally earned his Canadian citizenship in late 2011 by travelling to the border to perform an official landing. In tandem, Crabtree was putting the finishing touches on his first proper album as Paper Beat Scissors; a masterfully realized, self-titled record due out on Forward Music on March 6. "I feel very proud of it. I thought I might as well put my name to it twice," Crabtree says cheerfully of his decision to self-title.

Hearing the rich sonic landscapes on Paper Beat Scissors, it's clear that Crabtree has found a loving home amongst like-minded Canadian musicians. Co-produced by Snailhouse's Mike Feuerstack (who'll join Crabtree on stage for the release shows) and mixed by Arcade Fire's Jeremy Gara, the album features tender string arrangements, touches of french horn and subtle flecks of vocal loops. Recorded partly at the homes of both Feuerstack and Crabtree and partly at Riverport's Confidence Lodge, Crabtree credits in-house engineer Diego Medina for the record's warmth.

via The Coast (read the rest there)

26. Loscil - Sketches from New Brighton (Kranky)

Sometime around 2010, Scott Morgan dove even deeper into a territory of his minimal ambient sound. Morgan has been releasing on Chicago based Kranky since 2001, when he published his debut, Triple Point, as loscil. A year later he followed up with Submers, then First Narrows in 2004, and Plume in 2006. But it is the above mentioned (and very welcomed) slow descent in 2010′s Endless Falls that really got me addicted. It was this meditative, almost trance-inducing landscape, with deep lows and white noise highs, that had me lost in a world of loscil. With a slight nod to environmental isolationist ambient, Morgan continued to explore this new direction in a beautiful 2011 release for Glacial Movements, titled Coast/ Range/ Arc. And it is with his even more refined sound and top-notch production that Morgan returns to Kranky, with this very latest, Sketches From New Brighton.

It is easy to drown in oscillating waves of delayed minor chords, pulsating vibrations, and microscopic rhythms. To appreciate the expanse of covered frequencies, one should be equipped with a nice pair of headphones (especially if your neighbor has been complaining about the sub lately). In this acoustically rich ocean of sound, one may want to take the time to slowly submerge to the depths of wet atmospheric nadirs. With a title like Sketches From New Brighton, Morgan gives us a reference point of a geographic location in Canada’s British Columbia, in his hometown of Vancouver. The title tracks refer to a scenery overlooking a shipping port, drafting sketches around “Prairie Trains”, “Cascadia Terminal”, and “Container Ships”.

via Headphone Commute (read the rest there)

27. Woods - Bend Beyond (Woodsist)

Brooklyn band Woods is cleaning up its act. As Bend Beyond, the title of the group’s seventh album, suggests, Woods songwriter Jeremy Earl and multi-instrumentalist Jarvis Taveniere have stepped out of their lo-fi comfort zone and gone for tighter and more holistic arrangements. Following 2011’s Sun And Shade, Earl is still dealing with loneliness, describing an ascetic rural existence in upstate New York. Luckily, he’s now softening those sometimes-downer sentiments with earworm-worthy melodies.

Before the release of Bend Beyond, Earl and Taveniere talked to Pitchfork about going into the sessions with plans to eschew the spontaneity of their early work. The band has found a sweet spot somewhere between the not-too-polished Americana of early-’70s studio Grateful Dead and the experimental Krautrock of bands like Can or Neu! A pair of mid-album songs in particular reveal the latter camp’s influence: “Cascade” is a spacey white-noise freak-out, while “Back To The Stone” manages to hang on a discordant minor chord and have one of the album’s catchiest choruses.

Ultimately, the songs that hit hardest are Earl’s meditations on his father’s death. “It gets hard without much to say / I piled stones in lieu of your grave,” he sings in a strained falsetto on “It Ain’t Easy.” Here, acoustic guitars serve as fragile, rhythmic pattern generators, and Woods works well to find the right space for each instrument, maintaining the balance between accuracy and capriciousness that continues to define the band.

via The A/V Club

28. Here We Go Magic - A Different Ship (Secretly Canadian)

Over the course of two albums, Here We Go Magic honcho Luke Temple has defined himself by smudging definition, drifting stylistically in the gloaming between Bradford Cox’s frontier bedroom pop and Thom Yorke’s restless solo jags. And as he added band members (they’re now a four-piece), his songs grew thicker, his layers brushy. After winning over Yorke and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich at the Glastonbury Festival, the latter offered to produce “A Different Ship.” The result is a stunning reboot. “Hard to Be Close” — with its fluffy bass, tidy drums, twinkling guitars, and Temple’s voice — could be a cousin of anything on “In Rainbows.” The regal plod of “Alone but Moving” cradles Temple’s searching falsetto, starting off stark and gradually filling its gaps with radiant synths. It’s of a kin with the lovely, lonely “Over the Ocean,” and the chorus-drenched title track. Temple and Godrich make a great match in sound and spirit. “A Different Ship” not only plots a different course for Here We Go Magic, but it could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

via The Boston Globe

29. The Boats - Ballads of the Darkroom (Our Small Ideas)

Previously only available on tour, 'Ballads Of The Darkroom' finally finds its way to the shop floor on The Boats' Our Small Ideas imprint. The core trio of Andrew Hargreaves, Craig Tattersall and Danny Norbury recorded and mixed the material between 2009-2012, roughly the same period as their 'Ballads Of The Research Department' and 'The Ballad Of The Eagle', and it's blessed with the same humble blend of neo-classical beauty and sad-ghost-in-the-machine melancholy. Again they're joined by regular shadow member Chris Stewart for one track 'The Ballad Of Failure', a seductively modest distillation of Farben-like house patterns, fragile vox and tenderised strings, and by aus for the ferric blur of 'The Ballad Of Omission' (Craig's really going for it with the fuzz button, kids), plus the dreamy lilt of their Japanese counterpart Cuushe on Humble Bee's version of 'The Ballad Of Indecision', while the other six tracks are given to equally gorgeous instrumental miniatures such as the crystalline 'Ballad Of Underachievement', or windswept longform compositions such as 'The Ballad For The Girl On The Moon (TLO Version)'.

via Boomkat

30. Zammuto – S/T (Temporary Residence)

The gift of singularity is also a curse—so it’s important to remember that the Books, a truly singular band in an age of ruthless genre-partioning, have ended. There are no more chapters to be written in their story; there are so many “book” puns to be leafed through as we discuss our grief; and there is now Zammuto, which is not an epilogue or a footnote to the Books, but a new beginning for Nick Zammuto, one of that band’s members. Appropriately, it finds him flexing new muscles and honing new skills without abandoning the basic love for words that served as the joyful inspiration behind everything the Books put together. And it is, itself, a joyful record, prickly and playful and sometimes downright bizarre, but never less than welcoming. Perhaps most successfully, it stands entirely on its own.

Which isn’t to say that Zammuto and the Books don’t have a great deal in common—how could they not?—but to affirm that what differentiates Zammuto the band from its widely-beloved progenitor ultimately makes Zammuto the album so interesting in its own right. Again, the foundational delight in language remains intact—Zammuto will never abandon that interest, that is, in the layers of meaning that can be culled from a combination of semantically meaningful units, and how these layers are formed and reformed through placement and context. But whereas the Books’ cut-and-paste aesthetic necessarily lent a patchwork feel to much of their work, Nick Zammuto establishes himself as the focus of nearly every song here (the very Books-like “Crabbing,” which consists wholly of a sample of a hilariously misanthropic lost standard dug up from God-knows-where-or-when, being the principal exception), and it is his soft-spoken lyrics that therefore take center stage.

via Cokemachineglow (read rest there)

31. Bowerbirds - The Clearing (Dead Oceans)

Bowerbirds seem to have undergone something of a rebirth since their last release, 2009’s Upper Air. Reading around the duo, comprised of North Carolina based couple Beth Tacular and Phil Moore, it hardly seems as if the intermediary three years have been those of tranquillity and hibernation. Tacular was hospitalised for a lengthy period as a consequence of a ‘mystery’ illness, while the pair briefly decided it best to split, only to revaluate that decision soon after.

The Clearing is quite evidently a Bowerbirds record. The heavy focus on acoustic instrumentation, the woody sounds of ageing instruments, lends the record a creaky, antiquated quality – an old country house that’s been part of the landscape longer than anyone can remember, one that yields to the elements outside and where the doors croak on their hinges. But The Clearing also makes a much bolder statement than the record’s two predecessors. Those intimate acoustics are often paired with roaring electric guitars – the triumphant conclusion to opening track ‘Tuck The Darkness In’, for example, builds to a huge, cathartic, rolling reiteration of the words “I hope my dear friend/everything falls to death/we’ll tuck the darkness in/we’ll tuck the darkness in.

Elsewhere, Bowerbirds exhibit a more complex musical vernacular – to a large extent, the achingly pretty but often simple folk songs of their previous output have been superseded by those of a new, broader scope. These tunes take unexpected twists: chord changes occasionally seem planted to fox the listener, while subtle modal colourations offer The Clearing something that sets it apart from the majority of pale, post-For Emma cabin-folk imitations (a Bon Iver comparison, while deplorably lazy, ties quite nicely with the fact that the record was recorded at Justin Vernon’s April Base studio in Wisconsin).

via Drowned in Sound (read rest there)

32. Raime - Quarter Turns Over a Living Line (Blackest Ever Black)

 Raime and Blackest Ever Black: two names that have been inextricably linked since they made their debut together in 2010. Across the Raime EP and a further two for Kiran Sande's label, the duo of Joe Andrews and Tom Halstead have carved out a singular sound, drawing on the desiccated sonics of '70s and '80s goth and industrial, jungle's pulpy dystopianism, and claustrophobic bass weight tapped from either dubstep or doom metal—depending on who you ask. It's a finely poised hybrid that, in its apocalyptic sincerity, its brooding stylishness and effortless originality, seems the perfect articulation of the BEB ethos.

It's fitting, then, that the duo's debut LP is also the first original album-length release for Blackest Ever Black—a landmark moment for both parties. Part of Raime's power undoubtedly lies in their reticence, and it's significant that the seven tracks on Quarter Turns Over a Living Line serve to more than double their total output. In tackling the album format, there was always a slight risk that the duo would overreach, losing some of their potency in the process. Fortunately they've done nothing of the sort, crafting a 40-minute statement of intent that remains focussed without becoming monochrome, and injects fresh blood into the Raime formula without sacrificing its considerable early promise. 

via Resident Advisor (read rest there) 

33. Allo Darlin' - Europe (Slumberland)

Allo Darlin’s name might seem sickly cute. Their first LP (self-titled, 2010) and preceding singles might have garnered attention for their spunky cleverness and charmingly cheeky moments, on love songs that played on pop-culture touchpoints; songs like “Henry Rollins Don’t Dance” or “Woody Allen”, where she imagined and un-imagined a relationship as an Allen or Ingmar Bergman film. What made Allo Darliin’ special, though, was something more. Even in the lightest and cutest moments, Elizabeth Morris’ singing and songs had a vulnerability about them that felt both genuine and familiar, and an impression of openness that was disarming and made her feel like someone you knew or could know. Even the most treacly sentiment, like a recipe for chili needing two hearts to make it, came off as extraordinarily tender and sweet. The album was the perfect evidence that so-called “twee” indie-pop music, sometimes easily dismissed as un-serious if you’re listening just on the surface, can have real gravity to it. Allo Darlin’s debut had real weight in the songs, even when they seemed flighty and just-for-fun.

The more downcast follow-up Europe puts that bittersweet feeling, her way of writing light yet weighty songs, at the forefront. Morris and band point her wit and charm in a more serious direction, erasing the most “cute” level of their music, without taking any of the attractive, immediate pop qualities with it. If anything, those elements are developed even further, so the music and lyrics carry the same feelings in a way that feels natural and sounds more muscular and deep than you might expect.

via PopMatters (read rest there) 

34. The Mountain Goats - Transcendental Youth (Merge)

Advice on survival, terse portraits of marginal lives, glimpses of faith and epigrams of despair — “I’m still here/But all is lost” — share the songs on “Transcendental Youth,” the 14th studio album by the songwriter John Darnielle’s band, the Mountain Goats.
Those have all been regular touchstones among the hundreds of songs Mr. Darnielle has released since 1991. Through the last two decades he has moved from low-fi cassette recordings to studio productions to leading a stable band, a sinewy trio with Peter Hughes on bass and Jon Wurster on drums behind Mr. Darnielle on guitar (usually acoustic) or keyboard (usually piano). Their folk-rock can be breezy or bleak, and the band keeps getting better at making music a full partner with lyrics in telling the stories. 

“Transcendental Youth” isn’t exactly a concept album, but it is bookended, beginning and ending with directives and affirmations. “Do every stupid thing that makes you feel alive,” Mr. Darnielle sings in “Amy a k a Spent Gladiator 1,” written after the death of Amy Winehouse. Many songs later “Spent Gladiator 2” counsels, “Stay in the game/Just try to play through the pain,” before the album closes with its title song, “Transcendental Youth,” which finds its transcendence in music. 


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

35. Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse (In the Red)

“Slaughterhouse” (In the Red) is the fourth album the ultra-prolific Ty Segall has released in the last 18 months, and it’s the best of the bunch. Each of his projects could be characterized as a low-fi variation on garage and psychedelic rock, but “Slaughterhouse” is especially notable for its single-minded allegiance to extremes: riffs that rock harder, climb higher and race faster until they threaten to break songs in half, and melodies so insistent they can withstand any sonic siege.

Segall indulges in guitar-based rock at its dirtiest, noisiest and nastiest. “Death” ends in a feedback storm. The vocals on the title track are essentially an increasingly agitated series of screams. A 1965 Fred Neil song, “That’s the Bag I’m In,” which has been covered by numerous “Nuggets”-era garage bands, is mutilated, Segall wailing like a troll assailing passersby from underneath a bridge. “Muscle Man” blows up surf music, and “Wave Goodbye” dives into the murky depths of primordial metal before revving up a machine-gun riff.

And, yet, Segall plants plenty of hooks inside the shrieks and spasms. The conflicting impulses playing out in “Slaughterhouse” suggest a comic-book war for supremacy: Good vs. Evil, Light vs. Dark, the Left Side of Segall’s Brain vs. the Right Side of Segall’s Brain. He’s got a soft spot for ‘60s acid-pop jangle and bubblegum bounce, as evidenced by “I Bought My Eyes” and “Tell Me What’s Inside,” where the melody fights chaos to a draw. “Fuzz War” wraps things up with 10 minutes of ghost-like drone, a fitting aftermath to the short, sharp bursts of carnage that precede it.

via Chicago Tribune

36. Tanlines - Mixed Emotions (True Panther Sounds)

It’s been extremely intriguing to watch the evolution of Eric Emm and Jesse Cohen’s Brooklyn based, indie dance project Tanlines since their first single “New Flowers” appeared from the music blogosphere ether in 2008. And while, almost immediately, there was discussion regarding the supposed dissonance in sound between Tanlines and Emm and Cohen’s former projects (math rock legends Don Caballero and jittery dance punk outfit Professor Murder, respectively) “New Flowers,” a swift, bongo and synth laden dance tune accented by wordless harmonies, was actually an example of how the duo combined the intricate, jazzy flourishes of Don Cab with the pulsing sheen of contemporary dance music to forge a more cerebral, less ephemeral version of the Tough Alliance.

Fast forward to the release of Tanline’s first proper EP, Settings in 2010, where the six track song list was split evenly between winding, island-infused, mostly instrumental numbers and infectious dance-pop tracks showcasing Emm’s unusually limber baritone. The EP’s stand out track “Real Life,” which perfectly integrated Emm’s vocals, a handful of earworm hooks, and leaner production that effectively compartmentalized the complicated percussion parts and rhythmic synth lines, proved that the duo’s pop instincts were sharper than previously realized.

via Prefix (read rest there) 

37. Why? - Mumps, Etc. (Anticon)

“Good God / what the hell, what the fuck?” raps Yoni Wolf, WHY?‘s heady mischief-maker, minutes into his band’s fourth album, while harps flutter over clattering beats. “Am I just a red bump in the rash of cash worship?” There’s a lot of soul-searching on Mumps, Etc., as Yoni ruminates on illness, death, groupies, the touring grind and his status as a modern “rapper” in the indie-verse. Like any good WHY? album, the results are heady, perplexing and often revelatory.

WHY?‘s sonic ambitions have grown exponentially with each subsequent album—Mumps, Etc. is their most layered, headphone-friendly set to date, utilizing an eight-member choir and a string quartet, not to mention plenty of harps, flutes and ass-blasting rhythms. From a purely musical standpoint, they’ve never sounded more confident: check the moody piano chords on “Waterlines,” the mariachi horns and dubby guitar blasts on “White English,” or the swelling female harmonies of the gospel-ish “Kevin’s Cancer.”

via Paste (read the rest there)

38. Swans - The Seer (Young God)

The Seer is a masterpiece to be considered alongside Swans’ best albums: 1984’s brutal Cop, the more nuanced Children of God (1987), the majestic White Light from the Mouth of Infinity (1991), and the sprawling and inspired Soundtracks for the Blind (1996).

Following Soundtracks, bandleader Michael Gira called time on the group. After more than a decade, during which time he worked on solo projects and with new band Angels of Light, a reconfigured Swans returned in 2010 with My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky.

If that album illustrated that Swans were back because they had more to say – the direct opposite of the impetus behind most reunions – The Seer exceeds this, and confirms them as one of the most vital rock bands on the planet.

via BBC Review (read the rest there)

39. Windy & Carl – We Will Always Be (Kranky)

It had been a while since I’d spent serious time with the music of Dearborn, Mich., duo Windy & Carl, but in preparation for We Will Always Be, I found myself digging deep into their past, listening again, drawing a straight line, starting with their debut album, Portal, and following it all the way to 2008’s The Dream House / Dedications Of Flea double EP. About half way through, I began to wonder whether Windy Weber and Carl Hultgren were the most patient duo in modern music, both with the music they make and with each other (they are also in a long-term relationship). For their music — loosely defined, a kind of space-rock that comes down heavier on the space, mostly via long, arcing waves of guitar texturology — is the very model of incremental development.

That’s not to imply they’re either conservative or afraid to experiment. Rather, Windy & Carl test out and redraw their parameters slowly, while tending lovingly on each record to a careful selection of songs. (In this respect, they remind me of Vini Reilly’s Durutti Column, in their early-mid ’80s heyday, though Windy & Carl have replaced the “verticality” of Reilly’s pointillistic guitar playing with a gradual, “horizontal” unfurling of notes and chords.) And if We Will Always Be was borne of slightly differing circumstances than usual — originally a solo set gifted from Carl to Windy, they re-worked the songs, with Windy overdubbing vocals and a guitar part — it loosely fits the template the duo have been using for some time now. In many ways, this is the closest we get to Carl’s vision of the duo, though they are so simpatico that there’s no major shift in focus.