Thursday, 29 July 2010

Live Review: Lightning Bolt (July 22, 2010)

I was surprised to see Lightning Bolt on the list of upcoming shows when I checked the Grog Shop's list of events one day back in the month of May. Firstly, I didn't know they were touring. Secondly, why Cleveland? I'm always surprised to see bands actually coming to my town. Sometimes, it seems so small and insignificant, and like a city devoid of fans of good music. While not everyone at the show is actually from the area, the turnout just seemed to be too many people for such a band. Since when is this kind of racket a fairly big draw? Maybe the rock I'm living under is too big, and I don't know what I'm talking about. Either way, I couldn't entirely believe that Lightning Bolt would be in Cleveland and that the crowd was as big as it was.

However, the opening bands of the night seemed to speak to the relative popularity of noisy business. Self Destruct Button kicked off the festivities, bringing the weirdness right away. I couldn't exactly put my finger on their sound, but it was pretty good. I wondered what it would sound like recorded, since it was quite peculiar, but I imagined it wouldn't work (and if the band's myspace is any indication, some improvements are in order). I truly enjoyed the band's set, as it reminded me of wacky noise punkers like Melt-Banana and Arab On Radar, but was dismayed to find that they didn't have any recordings for me to purchase (vinyl only? Is it a money thing?). Guess I just have to check them out live again.

Then we get to Clan Of The Cave Bear. I told in another review of how I feel about this band, though I feel the need to repeat myself (I did get their name wrong last time, sorry). I was entirely bored during their set. The set-up is guitar and drums (the guitarist was also in SDB), they sound almost exactly like Orthrelm, and they just can't seem to write a memorable song. I like and am accustomed to noise, lack of structure, sound experiments, etc., but what's the point if it doesn't stick? There needs to be something that grabs your attention, and a million jagged riffs without anything tying them together doesn't work. I was pleased that their set was the shortest of the night.

So, when I see a name like Megachurch, I expect the worst. Some band mocking gods and stuff, as if that's anything new? Take a hint from every metal band ever and get some new subject matter, whydontcha? And to boot, they don't sound so far off from the night's headliners. Despite all these Negative Nancyisms, I really dug Megachurch. It was kind of like Lightning Bolt with two bassists, but not so abrasive, and a heavy emphasis on sludge and groove. Their music is fun and pleasant, and the soundbites they use are actually clever and meaningful. I picked up the EP available and I'm happy to say that it captures their style and sound quite well.

I've been listening to Lightning Bolt for a long time. I kind of fell out of touch with the band on the last album, but since I knew I was going to this show, I made sure to acquaint myself with 2009's Earthly Delights. I sure was missing out last year. I was super-impressed by how interesting this batch of songs is, and naturally, psyched to hear them live. The set turned out to be a mixed bag, with me not recognizing a few of the songs (my guess is that they were Hypermagic Mountain jams, not my fave album).

2 Morro Morro Land
Nation Of Boar
Mega Ghost
Wonderful Rainbow
Dracula Mountain

I could not quite believe how the crowd reaction to this band. Why in the world was there moshing? This is not metal, or punk even. I didn't expect it. There wasn't even this much moshing when I saw Boris, or Converge! Perhaps it's a response to the intensity of the music, since you could certainly feel that. The band was ridiculously loud and they swiftly and efficiently banged out the tunes. Not much in terms of banter, or vocalizings. "Colossus," a song I was unimpressed by initially, was the highlight for me as it's true vertiginous character revealed itself in the live setting. The performance of "Dracula Mountain" felt like something I had been waiting for for years. It made my night to hear that classic tune and really reminded me of what initially made me a fan of the Bolt. The song was elongated and slowed down, which extended the experience. At that moment, it just felt right to get into the pit and shove around some sweaty dudes (it smelled so foul and I was winded so quickly).

The end of the set brought on chanting for an encore, but the request was sadly not obliged. How could they have improved after the finale, anyway? Answering my own question: only if the band had shirts. I want a Lightning Bolt shirt. What's with the lack of merch, dudes? I know Fugazi never had merch, but bands could use the extra revenue. I'd gladly fork over some dough if the merch looks cool. And Brian Chippendale's album art is awesome; they could easily translate that to excellent merch. Perhaps a DIY Lightning Bolt shirt is in order, if this dire situation isn't rectified soon.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Live Review: Caribou, Toro Y Moi (June 9)

I'm posting this kinda late, the show being over a week ago, but I'm just lazy. It took me awhile to hash out my thoughts, but I finally got to it. Et Voilà:

Opening the night's festivities was Toro Y Moi, a trio from South Carolina. The band's a perfect fit to open for Caribou, as their music is in a similar vein. TYM pumped out about 6 or 7 songs with minimal stage banter, breaking for mere seconds in between their dreamy, swirling pop tunes. Some tracks were danceable and featured strong bass lines, and a few members of the crowd showed their appreciation. They were mostly well received, certainly my attention did not drift to other things. I had previewed some songs online beforehand and was underwhelmed, but the live setting injects vivaciousness and personality into the songs that sound rather limp and dreary on record.

After the sole opening act got off the stage, Caribou promptly cracked the lid on their set. The band has a reputation for putting on an interesting live show, and I was fully satisfied with my experience (frankly, 'twas the best show I've been to in a while). The most impressive part about Caribou live is how the songs, which sound so quiet and intimate on record, transform into loud, huge opuses that fill a room with sound. Indeed, Caribou becomes an electronically-enhanced psych-rock band in the live realm, rather than retain the folk-like closeness of the albums. The more dance-oriented songs from Swim practically demand to be heard on a huge sound system, and a bar/club setting delievers this perfectly. That the band seems to oscillate between being rock gods and DJs doesn't really register since all the songs are uniquely Caribou. The set flowed with few interruptions, comprised mostly of cuts from the aforementioned Swim:

Leave House
Melody Day
Found Out
She's The One

There was a one-song encore, but I didn't recognize it, being familiar with only Swim and Andorra (I did finally pick up Up In Flames, though $15 is a bit steep!)

I knew he was part of the Caribou live experience, but I was surprised to see John Schmersal, AKA the Enon dude, take on lead vocal duties for several songs. He was a perfect match for "Jamelia", bringing the necessary soul and nicely echoing Luke Lalonde's rendition on Swim. However, I felt the particular timbre of his voice was ill-suited for a delicate song like "She's The One" (but I do have a very strong opinion about this one song). His backing vocals were always a nice touch, though. Caribou's main man and (only) songwriter, Dan Snaith, was definitely the star of the show. He sang, played guitar, manned the keyboards and electonic gizmos, hopped on the drums for several songs, and even busted out a recorder.

Another much-apprciated aspect of the show was the extension of songs, particularly "Sun" (which could have gone on even longer, if you ask me). Caribou's songs often feature repetitive hypno-rhythms that allow for openness and improvisation, and the band seized the opportunity.

Crowd reaction was unabashedly positive, but it was obvious that the more pop-oriented songs were the most well-received. The audience heavily applauded "Odessa" and "Melody Day." Unfortunately, there wasn't enough dancing! I realize that many Caribou songs are not suited to dance, but with a set so heavy on Swim tunes, I really expected a lot more people to actually move. I tried, but it also happened to be very crowded.

All in all, it was a lovely evening, and I can quasi-relive it whenever I want to, as NPR's All Songs Considered has put up a recording of Caribou's set from the DC date. It's a little different, but good enough.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Live Review: Portal, Krallice, Bloody Panda (May 23, 2010)

It seems like most music is designed to get people to move in some way. Techno, house, and disco all want you to dance until you drop. Salsa is both a musical genre and a style of dance. But what of metal? It's music to bang your head to, and perhaps to push/shove/fight to. However, that is not always the case. At a recent metal show I attended, the music ellicited mostly staring. How exactly do you move when listening to Bloody Panda, Krallice, and Portal?

The first band on the bill proved the exception. Nekrofilth, a punk-ish death metal band native to Cleveland, played some straight-forward head-bangin' tunes. It was not the stuff of legends, but it put me in a good mood, with some fun riffs, misanthropic lyrics, and a quick tempo. The band didn't even introduce themselves, much less banter on the small, bar-side stage of Now That's Class. Indeed, after they finished the rapid set, someone called out "Who are you?" It would have been to their benefit to say so, as I wouldn't mind seeing them again, certainly others agree with me.

Bloody Panda, who had soundchecked earlier, got down to business on the stage in the other room of the establishment. The sound was not great and the vocals were too low, but the set mostly held my attention. Unfortunately, BP's music just doesn't appeal to me much, and during the set I was able to pin down what I don't really like about the band: the drummer. For their droney, hypnotic songs, the drumming is always too fast or wholely unnecessary. It's too complex for this slow, sludgy music. Despite my complaints about the nature of their music, the band does perform well and I wouldn't complain one bit about their enthusiam for their music.

Third of the night was the band I explicitly came to see, Krallice (see my vow to see a Mick Barr band live in an earlier post), whom I thought were the headliners. I really loved 2009's Dimensional Bleedthrough and anxiously looked forward to their set. The band put forth all their might, each member moving his hands dextrously across his instrument, but the overall sound didn't translate well. I don't know if it was the sound in the club or the nature of this particular style of music, but it didn't sound great. I had a hard time identifying the songs (I think they did "Autocthon" and "Aridity," but I'm probably way off base). The comlexity of the music, aided by clean production in its recorded form, comes off as a mess of noise in a live setting. Now, I would have prefered to hear something more like the record, but I still enjoyed the energy of the band and the spectacle of watching them pull off such complex and long compositions.

The above two bands played to a crowd of nearly motionless individuals, but things picked up a little when Australian headliners Portal took the stage. Just beforehand, a few over-eager (and probably drunk) fans were yelling in their best cookie-monster growl: "PORTAAAL!" This surprised me, as I never thought Portal was that big of a deal (in terms of popularity, not quality of music), but they certainly have a few fans on this side of the world. On a unique bill of bands, Portal win for most unique. The members donned costumes in the 80+ degree heat, the vocalist wearing a black version of a cardinal/pope-type outfit. His gestures were theatrical and exaggerated, a good match for ripping, noisy death metal. He threw up the metal claw quite often and so did the audience (I guess that's some movement). The other bands didn't sound so great in this club, but Portal's music was perfectly suited to this environment. Noisy band, less-than-stellar sound, it all worked out. I have no clue what songs they did, since I just picked up Swarth at the show.

There was some disappointment during this show, but Portal really made the evening with their theatrics and skull-pounding heaviness. I do hope that Krallice (or maybe Orthrelm??) comes back to town in a better venue sometime, somewhere with better sound.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Live Review - Converge (May 7, 2010)

I've been waiting over 5 years to see Converge live. Converge is one of my favorite bands and I've been a fan since I first pirated the song "Homewrecker" (for preview purposes, as I later purchased the album) from Jane Doe back in 2002/2003 (can't remember the exact year). The band has been churning out an interesting brand of metalcore for a long time now and throughout the last decade, they've maintained a stable line-up and released consistently excellent releases. Last year's Axe To Fall was an invigorating mix of trampling hardcore, crunchy metal, and searing rock and roll riffage. It's probably my favorite release after Jane. On the strength of Axe and the fact that I had missed Converge the last 2 or 3 times they came to Cleveland due to being away at school, my anticipation level was through the roof, and the experience lived up to my expectations.

However, the were thorns that needed to be weeded through before I got to the (black) rose. The first band of the night, Touché Amoré from Los Angeles, went on around 8:30. They played a quick set of bland hardcore, which was interesting for about 2 seconds. They did do a song about the importance of legalizing gay marriage and the frontman sported a stylish "I support same-sex marriage" shirt, so I can at least say that they spread a good message.

Next up was a local Cleveland band who's name I did not hear (I didn't hear Touché Amoré's either, I had to look them up). Apparently, they got on the bill pretty last minute. They weren't much different from TA, other than the stage banter. Their mouthpiece was asking for the score of the Cavs/Celtics game and the crowd obliged. I thought perhaps their songs were too long, in addition to just being kind of rull-of-the-mill.

I changed my location at the Grog Shop for the next band, Lewd Acts. I had previewed a few of their songs online and was only slightly amused. The live set, sans vocalist, wasn't much to behold. I liked that the band gave it their best shot and tried really hard to appeal to the crowd, even getting them on the stage during the last song, but the music really didn't do anything for me. There's only so much hardcore that is actually interesting musically and has the all-important authenticity...

Which brings me to Converge. Maybe it's just the fact that I (and the crowd) actually know their songs very well or that the C is a veteran touring band, but everything seemed to change when they took the stage. The whole room just became chaotic, matching the intensity and ferocity of the music. I certainly didn't stand in the back and quietly observe, I was near the front, being beaten and shoving everyone in my sight (I'm still sore). The set was a nice mix of all the last decade's releases, focusing mostly on the hardcore side of things, as I expected. Here's a partial setlist (what I remember of it), not in order, except the first two songs:

Dark Horse
No Heroes
Axe To Fall
Reap What You Sow
Dead Beat
Distance And Meaning
The Broken Vow
Last Light
Hanging Moon

Jake Bannon had the good sense to say the name of each song, and sometimes album, before they played it. Converge mostly swept through without too many interruptions. There was a moment when Bannon gave props to the city and the only three bands from it that are actually good (Keelhaul, Integrity, Ringworm), which I appreciated.

Black Breath played last since their merch guy had a seizure, which prevented them from making it to the city on time. I only stuck around for a few of their songs since I wasn't really in it, but BB wins the award for second best band of the night, since they injected some much-needed musicality into their brand of rockin' hardcore.

Despite the boredom I experienced from the non-Converge bands, I still had a good time, as I was finally able to see a band that I love so much. I did walk away from the show with nasty, smelly beer in my hair, but it hardly detracted from my enjoyment.

A final note about the crowd: I did expect a mostly hardcore crowd, but was still a bit surprised by just how overwhelmingly hardcore-oriented the crowd was. I've always considered Converge to be a band that brings different types of fans together, but this night seemed to disprove my impression. And I also postulated that there would be more females, since I have some weird idea in my head that women like metallic hardcore music (especially among female metal fans), but I suppose that's also untrue. I didn't feel out of place in the pit, though. It was almost as if the pit erased all sense of sex and identity. It didn't matter there, only the music did.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

I haven't written much over the last few months. I'm just busy and writing isn't really my primary hobby. But I don't like neglecting my blog for long periods of time, especially since I have much to say about music. So, here's some recent thoughts:

The new Gonjasufi album is awesome. It's pretty much the Madvillainy of 2010. I make this comparison mostly because the album has a bunch (20) of short songs and it's innovative for the hip-hop genre. I definitely think it belongs in that genre, because of the sampling, but certainly some tracks take more of an IDM/electronic slant. Gonjasufi is certainly not a rapper, he sings in several styles, soul, blues, etc., but the rap and rhyming never comes up (it would be interesting if it did). Genres aside, it's such an interesting record and I love listening to it. It's just ridiculous how many good songs are on it, especially since they're short and abundant. Immediately, I latched on to the songs "Sheep" and "Duets," among others. I'm not much of lyrics reader, but I really like was GS has to say. It's simple life lessons, expressed perfectly emotively. I really can't praise the album enough.

My most recent purchase has been the album Lux by Alex Smoke. I've never heard of this guy until this year, but when I did, I was intrigued. It's pretty much techno, with some IDM. There's really interesting vocal manipulations on a few songs, like "Platitudes" and "Lux+," where the words fade away and the sound is all that matters. They're so interesting that I wish there was more of them on the album, but alas, there are not. It's still a fantastic techno album, being both heady and danceable, listenable, yet movement-suscitating. It's exactly the kind of balance that I like for this genre. On a side note, an acquaintance remarked to me the other day that techno was too repetitive, an argument that I seem to hear a lot from detractors. I disagree, though, in that it's no more repetitive than any other genre, but the repetition may be more noticeable since techno often lacks vocals (certainly contrary to rock music). Though I concede that techno may be considered more repetitive also because the song structures rely heavily on a repetition-and-variation pattern. So maybe that's what irks some? Not me. Getting back to this album, I haven't really examined the song structures, but it doesn't sound "too repetitive" to me. More listens are required.

Now I could just go on and on about the new Joanna Newsom masterpiece, Have One On Me, but it's pretty much been critiqued to death by now. Suffice it to say, it's great, it's different from Ys, it has a lot of songs, it's going to be considered on of the best albums of the year undoubtedly. My fave song right now is "Soft As Chalk," and it can all be summed up in one word: lawlessness. I kind of miss the harp, since it seems to me that piano dominates the instrumental part of the album (haven't actually counted the songs), but if I want to hear more harp-ing, then I'll just put on Ys because it's still a classic.

Some other favorite songs right now are: "Super Coming" by the Boredoms (it's bizarre and amazing), "Arms Against Atrophy" by Titus Andronicus (the new album is outrageously brillant, but this song can't make it's way out of my head, I even know the lyrics!), "A Larger Silence" by Ludicra (why did Decibel only give The Tenant a 7?? It's outstanding, 8 at least! I need to pick up their old albums and I hope they tour some more this summer) and "The Creeper" by Pelican (their last album was WAY underrated and "The Creeper" is one of many highlights)

I recently revisited the album Background Music by Give Up The Ghost/American Nightmare/American Nothing/etc. and it is truly a hardcore classic of the last decade. The passion is there, the lyrics are far more interesting than most hardcore bands, and the clean production gives it a freshness and bite that most bands just don't have. I remember this band being divisive when they were still together and it makes sense to me, but I'm on the "for" side. It's nice when punk rock isn't just preachiness and fuzz guitars (not always a bad thing, admittedly); it's a good change of pace.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

VV on the cover of Decibel

Not surprisingly, there's been some controversy over the fact that Decibel has chosen to put infamous murderer and racist Varg Vikernes on the cover of their new issue (oh yeah, he also makes music). I was reading this blog and my first impression mirrored her outrage. I mean, why in the world would any magazine choose to put this dude on the cover? The first impression it gives is one of acceptance and endorsement, and who would want to endorse the Count? It seems so idiotic to make a move like this. The only magazine that I read every month a fait une connerie.

But.... I soon realized my first impression was totally lacking in nuance, totally polarized, and this is an issue that demands nuance. It's easy to just call Vikernes a racist and murderer and that he shouldn't be given press attention since his ideas are outrageous, dangerous, and downright despicable (and this is all true). However, I think we must respect people's right to say what they want, whether it's something we agree with or not and whether it's something ridiculous or amazing. I think censorship is generally bad, but it goes both ways. We can't exclude unfavorable and unpopular opinions (I'm sure I have my share of them that no one wants to hear --- voilà ce blog).

Then there's the issue of acceptance and endorsement. Decibel obviously endorses Vikernes as a musician making music a genre that they cover. He's historically important and musically relevant to the magazine. It simply makes sense to include him in the magazine. But why the cover? Probably because he's so controversial. I'd say that he warrants a cover story. Endorsing Vikernes as a musician is not the same as endorsing his misdeeds, past, present, and potential. The same could be said of any other musician on the cover or in the stories. The others just haven't done anything as extreme (-ly messed up) as him.

I've honestly never listened to the music of Burzum. I enjoy black metal of the Norweigan variety, certainly not every band, but it's a genre I devote time and attention to nonetheless. The politics turn me off and there's plenty of other black metal bands (Norweigan and non) to keep my attention. Despite historical importance, I just can't bring myself to really care about Burzum. There's plenty of bands in musical history that occupy a place of high influence, but that doesn't stop me from not caring or liking them (see previous post about important bands that actually suck). So, there's really no reason for me to pursue the music of Burzum, other than to be more clued in to the controversy. Even if I did take an interest in the "band," I probably wouldn't pay attention to the subject matter in the lyrics, since I rarely care about lyrics anyway, and that goes doubly for metal of any sort. And I wonder how many metalheads really do pay attention to the lyrics or message of a band. And then, how many actually take any of those messages seriously, pondering them like some great philosophical arguments?

For some people, it's always going to be a matter of the fact that Varg Vikernes has done some reprehensible stuff and he's a bad person. They can't separate his music from his horrible character. Fine then, don't listen to his music, don't pay attention to him. I just don't think it's fair to slag anyone who chooses to listen to Burzum and automatically brand them a racist or supporter of murder, because she or he is probably not. She or he probably just wants to hear the sounds, since you know, it is music. It's truly only the fringe of an already fringy group of people that actually endorse racism and murder (or am I too optimistic?)

So do I support Decibel's choice to put the Count on the cover? I do, but I'm not without reservations. And after reading the story and the notes from the editor, I get the impression that the writers felt approximately the same. It's a tough, gnarly issue, that's undeniable, but it needs to be talked (or written) about -- both the character and music of Burzum and the choice to put Vikernes on the cover.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Favorite Songs EVER: Caribou "She's The One"

I don't remember the first time I heard this song or if I liked it then, but I know for sure that over the last few years, "She's The One" is a single song that I've been totally obsessed with. I typically listen to it late at night when I need to hear something calm and wondrous, though sometimes just whenever it gets stuck in my head. I pretty much love everything about it, but there are things worth pointing out: it's electronic-based, but it has an extraordinary warmth, so lush with layers of synths and samples. The vocals are certainly not something you typically hear in electronic music, sounding an awful lot like Elliott Smith, though not as depressed. The voice of Dan Snaith just glides along, with a very simple and natural-sounding melody. The emotion never seems melodramatic or false, though the lyrics are obviously delusional. It's a song about being in love blindly and not being able to see through the tricks and exploitation going on. The narrator is told about them and even acknowledges them in one line ("Every night there's a new name on her arm"), but he doesn't care, he opts for denial. It's not so much the narrator and his choice, but the sense of, well, self-destruction and confusion, that I like about these lyrics. It's the way emotions can sometimes get the better of you and make you want to do what you shouldn't (being self-indulgent). The ideas are communicated well both in the lyrics, but also in the orchestration; it makes you feel like you are the narrator. I guess I could pick any host of perfect pop songs, but this one is just so enduring and endearing.

Luckily, it's still on Caribou's Myspace page:

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Format Wars: Digital Vs. Tangible

This is a pretty prevalent issue nowadays. Music formats: which to use, which to ignore, or what combination is the way to go? When I was first listening to music as a child, it was all about cassette tapes. I had a fairly small collection, though I also made recordings from radio and from my sisters' CDs (and I had a tape recorder at one point that I'd occasionally talk into!). I remember not liking CDs at first, probably just because I was orignally loyal to tapes and didn't want to change. But now I consider myself as being a part of the CD generation, as my most important, formative music-buying was on CDs, be it demos, compilations, or actual albums. I never bought vinyl and was always puzzled by the fetishization of it in the punk world and later in indierockdom (I mean, why would you want to use a clearly outdated and inferior technology? And records aren't even portable!). And then along came the Internet and the advent of digital music, completely transforming how we buy music, probably most greatly affecting buyers of popular music (they could buy singles again, no point in "buying the whole album that only has a few good songs," as the cliché goes). In this post, I consider a myriad of factors that has led me to switch over to buying digital, with a few exceptions.

(and I'm ignoring the illegal downloading phenomenon because I just don't do it and don't endorse it)

Album Artwork

I really like looking at album artwork and if the songs have lyrics, I like to have the liner notes so I can learn the lyrics, perhaps interpret them (I admittedly am not usually so concerned with lyrics, but on occasion, they matter). It's nice to be able to touch and open up the booklet that comes with a CD (and I'm sure it's even more fun for vinyl-ers). Artwork can give a band an image of a sort, or perhaps classify them as high-brow or low-brow. It contributes to the band's identity and certain bands are well-known for their iconic visuals (Converge, Iron Maiden, Björk, etc. -- this seems especially true for metal bands). Basically, I'm not going to say that visual art is meaningless or pointless for musical artists. However, I still think it's rather inessential. Sure, I love Isis' album covers and the photography in their liner notes, but I can look at them online if I want to (and find the lyrics online) and I'm not going to look at them every time I listen to their albums. I think the visual stuff that comes with tangible releases is a bonus and not an essential, though certain bands' visuals warrant me buying the tangible version of their music. It's important to mention that too often, buying a tangible version is nearly pointless because there are no liner notes, no lyrics, and no interesting visuals, further pushing me away from tangible formats.


It's pretty much a fact that digital music is cheaper than tangible forms. And that's quite simply because album art, jewel cases, etc. cost money and then distribution of these tangibles also costs money. Without the physical form, a few steps in the manufacturing of albums is cut out and that creates the possibility of selling at a lower price. It seems that digital music distributors have wisely chosen not to hike prices up too high, setting the standard album price at about 10 bucks, perhaps in an effort to foster more digital purchases from the disgruntled tangible buyers ("$18 for a CD? No way!"). I really like this standard price and I think it's fair. There are times when the tangible is actually cheaper (I got Earth 2 on CD for like $8), but these occasions are pretty rare (when buying new, since I almost exclusively bought new CDs). So why pay a higher price for the same music?


There's a problem in music fandom that I don't quite understand: the fetishization of the collection (especially vinyl). How could you say that collecting music in tangible formats isn't materialistic? And it isn't as silly or useless as collecting anything else, like Beanie Babies or action figures? It just seems like pointless consumerism of objects. Allow me to be a bit more specific: I'm complaining about music collecting when it gets to the point that one seeks out rare editions of some band's album, whether it be some colored vinyl or a first-edition CD that is no different from the edition currently in print (or it has even less music on it). What is the point of it? I personally equate fandom with liking the music a band makes, not collecting everything that the band puts its name on. Music is inherently intangible, so why materialize it when you don't have to?

Environmental Concerns

I'm not 100% on this, but I'm fairly sure that it's greener to buy digital because it eliminates the CD/vinyl manufacturing and materials (which often can't be recycled). With digital music, if you no longer want some music, you can just delete it from your computer, whereas with CDs and vinyl you can try to sell it, usually for less than what you paid, or throw it away and create more plastic waste currently damaging marine life. Maybe playing music on a computer uses less electricity than a stereo, but I'm not sure on that.


This factor obviously points to the superiority of digital music. You can take it and listen to it anywhere on a digital music player or computer and even send it via e-mail. CDs are fairly portable, but having a lot of them makes it heavy to lug around (especially in jewel cases). Vinyl is the least portable, since the records are so large and the record player is a bit bulky (not to mention speakers). Some may say that portability isn't that important, even I listen to music mostly at home, but when I'm walking somewhere or waiting around somewhere, it's great that I can listen to a song or too (or an album if there's time). It's a convenience that isn't always necessary, but occasionally useful. I'm sure some people use their iPods more than I do.


Having a lot of music takes up a lot of space. You need good shelves or some other rectangular caddy to house and organize your music collection. Obviously, digital gets rid of this problem, though you still need to be cognizant of hard drive space, and it's a good idea to have backups of your music (I acutally use CDs as backups, I ought to get a separate hard drive).

Sound Quality

Some people seem to have a real problem with digital sound quality. I'm not entirely dissenting, but it seems to depend on bitrate and how good of computer speakers/headphones you have. Really low bitrates make certain types of music sound horrible (metal for sure sounds like crap at less than 100 kbps) and if your speakers are really cheap and crappy (or you only have the speakers on a laptop), your sound quality can be horribly diminished (really low bass frequencies don't always sound awesome with my speakers). So, what you must do is only buy music at high bitrates (and encode CDs at high rates if you must buy them) and it's worth your money to invest in a pretty decent set of speakers for your computer. Now, this is one area where CDs are sometimes better, since a really good stereo always makes everything sound great and CD audio quality is uniformly excellent. I can't say much in the way of vinyl since I just don't use it on a regular basis, but past experiences with vinyl have never been good for me (always too many scratches on records, the "warm" crackling thing annoys me).


It sucks when you discover some band, mostly older ones or from somewhere outside the USA, and it's hard to get their music. Digital music is helping to rectify this problem, because now out-of-print stuff can just be issued in digital form, more cheaply, and become more accessible to anyone in the world. Sometimes it's actually easier to find music digitally than tangibly. Also, if you're buying a CD, it takes more time to actually obtain the disc, whether you go to a store or buy online. Some people really enjoy going to record stores and browsing, but you can waste time looking through the world of music, in addition to getting others' opinions in the form of lists and reviews, all online. So why not just download? You get the music immediately. When I'm anticipating a new release for a long time, it makes me much happier that I can just make a few clicks and BAM, I have the music to listen to forever. It's nice to shorten the waiting time.


What store to buy from? I rely heavily on iTunes and Amazon for buying digital music, though occasionally there are smaller distributors with cheaper prices and high bitrates, though I'm not exactly one to seek them out (I guess I could be saving some money). I like the convenience and excellent selection of the above services and I've already talked about prices. I don't care that you need specific programs to download music from them, since I already use iTunes to organize my music and the Amazon program is perfectly simple and functional. Whatever service you use, it's still going to be quicker than buying tangibles (as long as you're not on dial-up!).

Bands In Vans

Bands sell CDs/records to make money, period. When a band you like comes to town peddling their music and merch, it's nice of a fan to buy something to help support the touring bands. This obviously means not buying digitally, but this is a different circumstance. Prices are usually reasonable (of course I'm not talking about stadium bands), though often still more than digital. I do endorse buying tangibles at shows to help touring bands, but I would only buy them if I didn't already have them (if you do, just buy some merch instead!) However, it's happened to me, that when I intended to buy a CD from a certain band at their show, they didn't have it; it was sold out. I was irritated, and that makes me think that buying at shows is not always the most reliable way to get music tangibly (but this has only happened to me once and isn't enough to deter me from buying from bands in the future).

I was originally very reluctant to switch to digital music, but that's probably because of a general, somewhat unreasonable resistance to change. Weighing all the factors, digital seems to be the better option. I'm not one to really hold on to tradition, so after I got over my initial fear, I've hopped on board with the current way of purchasing music. Every now and then, I do pick up a release on CD, though I can't say I really miss the format.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Old bands that are actually good.

This list was much more difficult to assemble than the last one (the one where I dump on every important band in rock music). I suppose that's due to about 75% of music being medicore-to-absolute-garbage and me being jaded and cynical (am I too young for that?). Looking over this list, I think it says that I am definitely a fan of sort of stripped-down rock and roll type music. Nothing too fancy, rather things that are immediate and fun, though not lacking in memorable riffs, and compositions that are interesting enough. I don't know why I just seem to like this stuff better than whiny blues vocals courtesy of Robert Plant or Kurt Cobain's retarded lyrics. Things are just as they are sometimes when it comes to liking and disliking stuff.

Bob Dylan

I actually have a Dylan album in my iTunes (Blood On The Tracks) and have listened to it many times. I wouldn't mind buying another one, or several more. I'm not about to turn into some Dylan super-fan and attempt to collect the complete discography, but I don't think I'd turn off or complain about hearing a Bob Dylan song if it comes on the radio or something. I'm sure he's made plenty of uninteresting music, the guy's a dinosaur and has more albums than a shoe store has shoes, so probability dictates that something must not be so good. I'll just avoid that album(s).

the Rolling Stones

How is it possible to hate the Rolling Stones? Do they just have too much rock and roll swagger? Have they written too may excellent rock and roll gems? I don't know what could drive someone to dislike this band. Everyone knows they haven't made any interesting music for a few decades, but no one cares. The Stones can rest on their laurels all they want, 'cause those laurels are pretty awesome. Truth be told, I only own a few singles by the band, but that's probably due to such a vast catalogue. I wouldn't mind owning a few albums at least, but it's not a really high priority for me. I'm fairly content to listen to the hits and some random other songs that I know and like for the time being.

Iron Maiden

Another band whose albums I have yet to purchase. I'll admit that Iron Maiden is not a band that I fully take seriously, but how can you? The sometimes over-the-top vocals, the fantasy lyrics, the guitar solos, etc. make Maiden easy fodder for mocking (especially in this decade, where artiness and ultra-seriousness in metal is common). But the fact that they've always had a certain edginess and ruggedness draws me to this band. As polished and accomplished and even proggy/tech-y as their music can be, their music manages to not lose the rock and roll edge. And every now and then, it's good to just listen to something fun and less intellectual.

the Clash

I've heard London Calling a few times, but I'm not a serious adherent to the Clash. There's some great songs, and overall, it's a pleasant album, but not necessarily something I'm a huge fan of. They make this list mostly because I like them and have respect for them. I'd put a few songs of theirs in my iTunes, but I'm not about to purchase the complete discography. I'd probably buy Joe Strummer's solo stuff instead. The Clash was and continues to be an important band in rock and especially punk history, but that doesn't matter unless their music is good and luckily, it is.


This band's music (both Bon Scott and Brian Johnson eras) is too much fun. There's too many random AC/DC songs/hits that I like. It's all just straight-up rock and roll, no pretense, nothing arty, no embellishments, and it's been that way since forever. I would buy a few albums from this band, but not all of it is necessary since the band has barely changed at all since their inception (gross generalization much?). I really don't have a preference for either vocalist, though I'm actually more familiar with Johnson-era stuff. I don't know if I'd ever go see them live, if presented with the opportunity. I've never been to a stadium-style show and I'm afraid it would lose the atmosphere and intimacy of a club/bar-type show. Though maybe AC/DC's rock power could fill a stadium well? I'd hope so.

So, what is it that makes me enjoy these dinosaur bands vs. the host of others that I don't like (some of which are dinosaurs and some of which aren't)? Aside from just subjectivity, I'm sure it comes down to my "musical upbringing." I've heard stories of people listening to Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd or whatever when they were in high school or as some bonding experience with a family member, and I don't share that experience. I don't relate to the almost stereotype of having a group of friends who got you into "classic rock," which ended up shaping your musical views for the rest of your life. Growing up, I was listening to punk of various sorts and then ended up branching off into a bunch of different genres (it's punk to like new and different things!), most notably, metal. My whole musical taste is at least partially shaped and informed by punk. When I go back and listen to these bands that are often labeled as founders and innovators in rock, I'm not impressed or interested perhaps because the punk aesthetic makes me think they sound inauthentic, bloated, and bombastic, something I've come to realize I really don't like in music in general. So I guess, really, that the punk roots shaped my taste, being sort of my main basis or criteria to judge or compare music and my sense of subjectivity to music is derived from these roots (still doesn't explain my dislike for Sonic Youth!). Will I ever end up liking the bands I trashed in the last post? Who knows. Maybe it'll never happen.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Another Video and Krallice Update

As I was thinking even more about Led Zeppelin, I was reminded of this other scene from Wayne's World:

And, I must say, I would definitely prefer to listen to the Bee Gees (I can't believe there's an official BGs channel on Youtube).

Since writing a while back about not having bought Krallice's Dimensional Bleedthrough, I've finally made the purchase. And I'm not disappointed at all. I expected it to be a tiring listen, being longer than Tago Mago at 77 minutes and being that it a has a tech-metal bent, but upon first listen, I was more mesmerized than tired (though by album closer "Monolith Of Possession", I was a wee bit dizzy). Overall, it was everything I wanted it to be and I look forward to delving deeper into the sounds of Krallice through repeat listens. I'll probably get the first album, eventually. Now, I'm anxious to see this band live. I think it's official that I must see live one band in which Mick Barr plays guitar before I die, preferably Krallice.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Coming Out Of The Closet: Highly influential, extremely popular, and/or overrated bands that I could do without

This is a list I've been thinking about for a long time. Mostly because I don't like the following bands, am absolutely puzzled by their popularity, and have an intense yearning to express my disdain. Undoubtedly, some of the reason behind my disdain is the fact that I simply don't understand their popularity. Maybe that's just the way it goes, taste being subjective and all, that I'm not going to like every massively-important-to-rock-and-roll-history band (read: dinosaurs). And to prove this point, my next post will be another highly subjective list of dinosaurs that I enjoy the music of!

Since the list was getting a bit too long, I'm only going to go in-depth with 5 major ones and then I'll just mention the "dishonorable mentions."

The Beatles

I can't stand the Beatles. I've heard a few albums and countless songs over the years (how could one not hear a million Beatles songs in his/her life, since they have penetrated every layer of the mediaverse in various forms?), but none of them are enjoyable. I will admit to being slightly charmed by their old poppy numbers, like "Twist And Shout" or "Can't Buy Me Love," but I would never put them on my iPod or dance to them at a party. I don't like anything about the Beatles -- the harmonies, the timbres of Lenon and McCartney's voices, the sunny hippie lyrics, their incorporation of "exotic" instrumentation on some songs, etc. The music of the Beatles bores me, it does not provoke emotions (or imagery or anything, really) in me at all. The proliferation of phony Beatlemania through merchandise and commercials makes the phenomenon that much worse. I'm constantly reminded of their presence and thus their music, and I am thus annoyed.

Led Zeppelin

My disdain for Led Zep runs deep. Now, it's particularly odd for me to hate them since their innovations eventually spawned so much great music, many a good genre. But, you know what, if Zep hadn't have done it, someone else would have. And maybe I would like that band. Alas, I'm not compelled by the music of this group. It's not that I don't like the bluesy stuff, stuff that is overly histrionic, or the EPIC guitar playing (the only element of this band that I fancy is the guitarage), or the STOCK rhythm section, it just doesn't seem to gel for me with Zeppelin. It's inexplicable. Though one thing I know for sure à propos de Led Zeppelin, is that "Stairway To Heaven" is one of the most boring and overrated rock jams, ever.


Ozzy Osbourne

Who cares about Ozzy? I'm not really a Sabbath fan either, but the thing that really keeps me away from liking Sabbath is Ozzy's vocals, which is why I decided to list him only, rather than penalize the band as a whole (and then, why penalize Dio, as well?). Ozzy is possibly the most annoying vocalist in the history of rock and roll (Steven Tyler from Aerosmith edges him out a bit), so I find it extremely surprising that he is so legendary. Sure, his antics and non-musical persona are sometimes interesting and the Osbournes didn't get terrible until it penetrated every sphere of the mediaverse, but I couldn't care less, since I'm much more concerned with the music. And Ozzy's music is garbage. I can't name one song that this guy sings that I actually enjoy or care about. Perhaps it's an acquired taste, his (awful) voice? Or is that just what people say when they want to justify liking something terrible?


BUT THEY INVENTED GRUNGE AND ALT ROCK!!! That's absolutely untrue. Nirvana's actually kind of derivative, when you think about it. Take some elements of Pixies and Melvins, and voilà, Nirvana. Nirvana is probably (partially) regarded so highly because their mainstream success ushered in a new era in popular music, where bands that a few years before would have been laughed off in favor of cock rock could now make money. So I dispute their musical importance (importance to popular culture though is indisputable). But then there is the subjective factor. I can honestly say Nirvana's songs don't appeal to me. I'm not familiar with their first studio album, Bleach, but Nevermind and In Utero bore me. It's honest music, undoubtedly, but it doesn't move me, nor am I enticed by their "uniqueness." I think Nevermind is way too polished, and even Kurt Cobain agreed with me (according to a book about Nirvana, as cited on Wikipedia, he said "Looking back on the production of Nevermind, I'm embarrassed by it now. It's closer to a Mötley Crüe record than it is a punk rock record."), so, in a way, it's not surprising that it was a mainstream hit. In Utero is better than Nevermind, it has more texture and rawness (produced by Steve Albini, no wonder!), though the songs still don't jump out at me, with their catchy choruses and all. They stick in my head, but not in a good way. I don't want them there (the STIs of music). I actually prefer to listen to "La Bamba." At least I can dance to it.

Sonic Youth

This may be the biggest "SHOCKER" of the list since, on paper, Sonic Youth should be my favorite band ever. Post-punk New Yorkers? Check. '80s? Check. Noisy? Check. Co-ed vocalizing? Check. Non-pop song structures? Check. And they were and continue to be a hugely influential band. Though, I think by now, their music has gotten less interesting and more same-y. They have an extensive discography, so naturally, I've not heard all their songs, but why would I want to? I've heard so many random songs over the years and the entirety of the Daydream Nation album (has it been remastered? the version I heard sounded like garbage, not in a good way), but they never catch my attention. It just fades into the background for me. No little detail stands out, no song moves me. I keep thinking I need to give SY another chance, but everytime I hear one of their songs, I'm driven away from hearing more. I just don't have the patience for their music (but I will spend hours listening to Sunn O)))!)

Here's some other bands that I think aren't as great as everyone says they are, mostly because I'm simply not enticed by their offerings: Pink Floyd (The Wall is an awesome movie, though), Jimi Hendrix ("Voodoo Chile" blows), Tupac (I prefer B.I.G.), Metallica (yeah, not a big thrash fan, and their 90s output needs no explanation -- truthfully, I debated putting Metallica on this list), U2 (YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH), the Sex Pistols (pre-fab punk solely meant to provoke: boring!)

Friday, 15 January 2010

New Music: Salome

I was reading the new Decibel about the most anticipated releases of 2010 and came across a name I've never heard: Salome. This band has a female vocalist, so naturally, as a lady who likes metal, I'm interested in hearing their musical offerings. And I like what I hear! It's doomy fun for the whole family! Their songs don't seem to be too long, which can sometimes be a problem with this genre, though I have some tendency to enjoy loooooong songs.

What caught my attention first on their Myspace page was the list of influences because it included so many bands that I like (Isis, Khanate, Electric Wizard, Kyuss, etc.). What caught my attention furthermore is the fact that there is a FUGAZI cover. And I looked at the word "Blueprint," debating if I should give it a listen, half in disbelief. So I took the plunge and listened to it. It's about 5 and half minutes long, which adds about a minute and a half to the
Repeater classic. Unfortunately, it kind of ruins what I like about the original: the melodic, yet raw vocal stylings of Guy Picciotto, the simple, but memorable guitar lines, and the driving rhythms. I posted a long time ago about how I usually hate cover songs, but in this instance, I can at least appreciate that a band chooses such a great band (and song) to cover and let their less-than-stellar interpretation slide. That, and their original songs are freakin' sweet. I'll probably be buying their new album, whenever it comes out this year.

Here's a link to their Myspace:

Saturday, 9 January 2010

2009 - The Music I Missed

These are the albums that I didn't get around to, for reasons stated below. Hopefully, I'll find time for them in '10, amongst the usual onslaught of new releases.

Obscura - Cosmogenesis

I'm pretty sure I first heard about this band on the Requiem Metal Podcast (link on the side) and I was instantly impressed by their stylings. It's tech death metal, which I am usually a fan of, but the songwriting on the songs I've heard is particularly good. They really have a lot of soul and are surprisingly accessible and catchy. The main reason for my not getting this record is lack of funds, though I'm a little afraid that I listen to too much tech death. Maybe I just need to embrace the fact that I really dig the genre and stop giving subpar non-tech death metal bands attention that is often unwarranted.

Tombs - Winter Hours

I read about Tombs in Decibel a while back and promptly checked them out on the 'net. On the first listen, I really wasn't feeling it. Then, once again, I was listen to Requiem, and the songs really won me over. This band is difficult to classify, but their melding is an exciting one. I definitely need to keep this album on my list and pick it up in the future.

Lightning Bolt - Earthly Delights

I've kind of fallen out of touch with the Bolt. As can be seen by my best of the decade list, I really loved Wonderful Rainbow (and Ride The Skies, for that matter), but when I heard Hypermagic Mountain, I pretty much just shrugged it off. It was different from the ones I liked and I wasn't sure I liked the direction they were heading in. I really haven't listened to it much, hence why I haven't gotten LB's 2009 effort. I heard a song from this album online, but it didn't get me hyped up to buy the album. I think somewhere down the line I'll end up giving Hypermagic Mountain some more time and then possibly picking up this album, but only time will tell.

Dälek - Gutter Tactics

I really dug the previous Dälek album, Abandoned Language, but this group has so many albums that I don't have that I thought it would be kind of pointless to follow them as the new albums come out. I have to catch up on the catalogue before buying their newer albums. Also, this album got some moderate reviews, so I'm not convinced that it's an urgent buy.

Krallice - Dimensional Bleedthrough

I should own this album. Really ought to. I'm a fan of Mick Barr's Orthrelm and Ocrilim bands and I also enjoy the current wave of American black metal, so why haven't I picked this up (and Krallice's self-titled album from last year)? Pretty much an issue of money. I can only buy so many albums and I've spent all my iTunes gift card money from the holidays. This album is pretty high on my list to buy. Every time I read about this band, or hear one of their songs, I immediately think "I NEED TO BUY THIS NOW," but I'm still hesitant since..... I don't quite know why I hesitate at all. I just need to get this record ASAP.

Millions - Gather Scatter

Another band I heard about in Decibel. I actually listened to this whole album online in the summer (legally!), but I didn't buy the album because I already had so many others that I wanted to buy and thought "oh, I'll get it later or something, I have half a year." And then I lost some enthusiasm for the band. And now I regret not buying it, because it's good, simple, well-made rock music. And I need some more rock music, nothing too extreme or outrageous. Just some good rock.

Moss - Tombs Of The Blind Drugged

I think I may have stumbled across this band from some other band's Myspace page, or from Rise Above records or something like that. So, I like doom metal stuff and this band is pretty cool. The release is only an EP, but it's like 40 minutes long and the last song is a cover that has been stretched out to like 8-10 minutes or something like that. This band has some other albums that I'm also interested in, but I thought an EP might be a good place to start. This band does greatly ressemble Electric Wizard, but I don't care because I dig the Wiz and if I'm going to like another doom band, it's no surprise that something similar also appeals to me.

Jesu - Infinity

I got the Opiate Sun EP and it's really good, but some weird fascination with Justin Broadrick's Jesu project makes me want to buy this other release from this year. It's a 40 minute song, but somehow, I really think I'll like it. It'll probably take me a while to pick this one up, but I'm convinced that it's worth my time.

Mastodon - Crack The Skye

Mastodon is a very good and also very important band in the metal world. They've made a few bona fide classics of the early 2000s and they've made a career for themselves, signing to a major label and all, but without sacrificing their integrity or their artistry. However, I'm just not into their new direction. I would never accuse the band of selling out, and if you hear anything from this era of the band and you're familiar with their history, you'd know this is a logical step for them. I just can't dig it. Mostly because I really hate the vocals. I'm not a fan of clean vocals in the metal realm, though there are some exceptions, but this is too much for me. I even heard a bunch of these songs live and wasn't won over. I just prefer the older stuff. I still greatly respect the band, but I just won't be buying their musics much anymore.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

2009 Part 4

Today's the last part of the "albums I bought" portion of my 2009 stuff. Tomorrow or maybe later in the week, I'll have a post about stuff I didn't get around to.

This is the more general metal section.

Much attention has been payed to Baroness' newest album, Blue Record. The first time I heard this, I kept asking myself ARE YOU READY TO ROCK??!! because I haven't heard a band rock this hard in a long time. Each time a new song came on, I expected it to be the "chill-out" tune, but no, the ROCK doesn't stop, save a couple of short transitional tracks. I was really impressed by how fun and interesting the record was and I regretted that I procrastinated buying it for quite a long time.

If I was doing a traditional list, it would be impossible to leave off Converge's latest masterpiece, Axe To Fall. The band's other releases this decade have all been great, and ATF continues the legacy. I think Converge has officially become the Fugazi of metalcore, always finding a new direction and never putting out a boring album. They're a band that accomplishes the feat of remaining true to, and expanding their sound. This time around, there's possibly their most out-there tracks ever "Cruel Bloom" and "Wretched World." The former is total bluesy-folk that erupts in rock power and the latter is a layered, swirling droner that stretches past seven minutes, and neither prominently feature one of Converge's signature elements, Jacob Bannon's shrieking yowl. The branching out isn't confined to those two tracks, though. There's more double-bass and an increased focus on rock and roll riffery, particularly in the first 4 tracks. And I thought Baroness had a monopoly on the ROCK. Guess not.

Probably my favorite live band this year was Kylesa. I saw them with Mastodon in the summertime, and no disrespect to the 'don, but Kylesa was fun, exciting, and hypnotic. Their difficult-to-peg sound plays quite well live, and I regret that I missed them when they came back to my neighborhood in the fall. I bought Static Tensions at the show, and was initially disappointed. I could tell the band had stepped up their songwriting and were utilizing their two drummers setup better than before, but the album wasn't as good as the live experience. I've written about this before and my opinion hasn't changed. However, as I listened more and got some distance from the live show, Static Tensions has really grown on me. It seems to me that Kylesa is just getting better and better, and I'm hoping the next album will continue the trend. Until then, I'll be listening to "Said And Done" and "Unknown Awareness" a million or so times.

I'm having a hard time figuring out what to say about Burnt By The Sun's alleged final album, Heart Of Darkness. I've always considered the band to be on the second tier of the metalcore genre, and this album doesn't really elevate them. I like this album, but I thought their 2003 album, The Perfect Is The Enemy Of The Good, was better. It felt more like an album, with transitions and breaks. HOD is a little more consistent, but that makes it a little boring in comparison. What originally interested me about this band was the cool riffs and the dynamic drumming (it's not all blinding speed all the time) and both of those elements are present on this album, though I don't find the songs as memorable. I probably need some more time to listen to this album, but I just wish it had a few more surprises. I enjoy listening to it, but it's missing something.

Monday, 4 January 2010

2009 Part 3

This post is the "miscellaneous" releases of 2009. I didn't exactly know what category some of them belong in or they're part of a category that I only bought 1 or 2 releases from.

Several months ago, I posted about the latest Flaming Lips album, Embryonic. And I don't have much to add to what I've already wrote. Basically, I've listened to the album more and I'm liking it more. It has tons of great songs, it works as an album because of its thematic cohesiveness, and it's just a very interesting direction for the band. I would undoubtedly put it on a "best of" list if I made one.

My most listened to album of this year was Repo by Black Dice. That's partly because it came out in April, whereas most of the other releases came out in the fall. But that's not to say Repo isn't awesome. It's an album that I can listen to over and over again, always finding something new and always being entranced by the complex musical trajectories. The biggest change on this album is the increased use of vocals (in the form of samples, so no straight vocal melodies here, thankfully) and the fact that there are more, shorter tracks. There are still the long stretches ("La Cucaracha" and the fantastically titled "Ultra Vomit Craze"), but there are quite a few less-than-a-minute to three minute tracks that seem transitional, rather than full-fledged songs -- it's kind of like Radiohead's Hail To The Thief, where the short tracks have some interesting ideas, but you want them to be really developed and fleshed-out. Repo is a worthwhile addition to any BD fan's collection, but it's not a great starting point for newbies.

Fuck Buttons' latest outing is quite impressive. I was a pretty big fan of 2008's Street Horrrsing, but the duo has managed to top last year's slab of droning electronoise. The beats are pumped up and the vocals are dropped completely, two adjustments that considerably up the musical ante. Not only are you hypnotized by the drone and freaked out by the noise, but you can also dance to many of these tracks. The songwriting style hasn't changed much (and the tracks flow perfectly into each other just as before -- creating a real album experience), but the band has beefed up their sound. Tarot Sport is denser, more streamlined, and just more memorable. It seems like FB have fully realized the sound that the debut couldn't quite reach.

Talk Normal's debut full-length, Sugarland, is cut from the same cloth as last year's Secret Cog EP, but it's even more noisy and cavernous, with more distinctive songs. It sounds like a lost '80s NYC no-waver, or perhaps something released by the now defunct Gold Standard Laboratories label. It's slow and lurching, with lots of clanging, junky percussion (which reminds me of Neptune). And there's only two members of this band, both of whom do vocals, sometimes at the same time. I'm not quite sure what they're talking (normal) about since the vocals are a bit buried, except "In Every Dream Home A Heartache," which is clearly about materialism and emptiness, but it it doesn't matter that much. This music strikes me as being more about creating unsettling soundscapes than sending a message. Or maybe that is the message?

Though she didn't release a proper album this year, Ellen Allien's single "Lover" (b-side: "You Are") is worth mentioning. It's decidedly more techno than last year's album, Sool, though it sounds like the artist is moving forward, not just retreading old ground. The closest comparison I could make to her older material would be some stuff from Thrills, but that's not entirely accurate. These tracks seem more complex and developed. The fault of Thrills' tracks was that they didn't always feel like fully realized songs, but "Lover" and "You Are" both sound like complete stories. They go from point A to point B. Maybe it's due to length. Both of these songs are 8 minutes, some of Allien's longest. I'm hoping her next album goes in this direction.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

2009 Part 2

This section is "arty metal/metalgaze/Hydrahead/Southern Lord" -- if you've read this blog, you'd probably know exactly which bands.

When I saw Isis in concert this year, I mostly didn't know any of the songs I was hearing, due to the fact that I hadn't bought Wavering Radiant beforehand (I was planning on buying it at the show; it was sold out). I deeply regretted waiting so long, both because the show would have been more enjoyable and because the album is fantastic. Now, my track record with this band shows that I pretty much like anything they do, but WR surprised me in some ways. I think it's one of the band's most cohesive albums, but still every track is interesting and different. The most significant change seems to be that the keyboards are given greater presence, which ends up making the band sound sort of retro and a bit proggy, which I like a lot. Every time I hear the keyboard riff on "Stone To Wake A Serpent," I feel like I've been transported back in time to some hippie jam band's show. It's a fun little fantasy. I'm not so sure what direction Isis will take in the future (if they don't break up), but if WR is any indication, I'm sure I'll be pleased.

I've been following Pelican's music for a long time, and I was obviously excited to hear their contributions to music this year. The Ephemeral EP indicated to me that they were heading into some very interesting territory. They were getting heavier again and writing slower, longer songs. What We All Come To Need followed up on the promise of the EP (though I like the EP version of "Ephemeral" better), though some songs get a bit too fast at times ("Glimmer" in particular). I would call this Pelican's most moody and alt-rockin' record. They definitely veer out of "metal" territory, but they don't completely abandon elements from older records. WWACTN is yet another shade of any already multi-faceted band, but it's a route that you could easily imagine Pelican taking. The band does something new on each album, carrying over certain elements of their previous incarnations while dropping others. They seem to accumulate elements and work through them, mixing and matching, but still finding a specific, fresh direction on each album. A real surprise on WWACTN is The First Pelican Track To Feature Vocals at the end of the album and I was impressed that it turned out so well. Wisely, the vocals are low in the mix and the overall mood is somber and reserved. The vocals are perfectly integrated into the song, not feeling like some last-minute add-on. I wouldn't be bothered if they experiemented more with vocals in the future, though I don't want to hear a whole album with vocals.

You might think, that being a fan of a band that is constantly pushing forward, I would get used to, or even anticipate their latest album sounding completely unlike their previous albums, but I haven't. Sunn O)))'s Monoliths And Dimensions (very appropriately named, by the way) blew me away. The band hasn't done anything like this before. This album moves so far away from their Earthen roots and outside the metal realm. I'm not surprised that it has had a degree of crossover success. Who could have predicted the choirs of "Big Church" or the Godspeedian "Alice"? The band sounds so majestic, all while retaining their signature drone guitars and dark atmosphere. It seems like a logical step for the band, though certainly an unpredictable one. If I were making a traditional list, there's no way I could have left this album off of it.

There's not a lot to say about the latest Jesu EP, Opiate Sun. It's sounds a lot like Conqueror, and I loved that album, so the EP is right up my alley. It seems to be just another release in the already extensive Jesu catalogue, pretty much a "for fans only" thing. Still good songs, though.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

The Year In Music 2009

Happy New Year.

Instead of the usual "Best Of" list, I've decided to do something different this year. And it's mostly because I didn't buy that many albums this year (a total of 14). Last year, I was DJing for most of the year, so I had a steady stream of new musics, but now that I have to buy everything, I certainly haven't heard as much. And I was out of the country for 1/3 of the year, so I haven't been as in-touch with new music coming out in the US and A, nor have I been listening to radio as much. Only 2 releases that I've bought this year have been by groups that I don't own any other releases by; I've mostly bought new stuff from my favorite artists. So I'm just going to recap the releases I've enjoyed this year. The document turned out to be a lot longer than I expected, so it will be published in four parts, roughly by genre. And then there will be a post about the albums I've missed this year. This first post covers "indie rock:"

I've already written a bit about Bitte Orca by the Dirty Projectors, but my opinion of it has changed a lot since the first few listens. It's a dense, bizarre collection of proggy pop songs, each with an identity different from the others. It reminds me of Talking Heads in a lot of ways -- the integration of various genres into a Western pop sensibility, the idiosyncratic vocals of Dave Longstreth, and the prickly guitar playing, among other things. Despite their weirdness, these are still songs that I can't get out of my head (and that's not actually a problem). It's great when an album makes me really want to delve deeper into a band's back catalogue.

In last year's list I wrote this about Black Mountain's album In The Future: "This was a real surprise. At first, it just seemed to be a derivative, 70s rocknroll/psych retread. And it kind of is. But the songs are interesting and memorable." That's about how I feel about Lightning Dust's album Infinite Light (the band features two members of Black Mountain), though the genre here is more like retro folkpop. The songs are really well executed and the performers just have qualities that I find interesting -- the vocalist has I voice that I love. It's not original or mind-blowing, but Infinite Light is so darn enjoyable and pleasant. It covers various different moods and is suitable for various occasions. The songs are simple and catchy, but also honest and heartfelt. I can't get them out of my head, but I don't really want to.

Mission Of Burma is one of my favorite bands. I can't think of a MOB song that I don't at least like. The new album, The Sound, The Speed, The Light, is no exception. It really doesn't stray from the tried-and-true Burma style. It plays well as an album, but the sequencing doesn't add much to the experience. The songs are just, good songs, that happen to have enough similarity that you might group them together. I think production-wise, it hems closer to OnOffOn and even Vs., being that it has more of a gritty edge and chunky bass sound (The Obliterati sounded much cleaner, thinner, and polished). I can't really fault Burma for writing good songs, but I'm a little disappointed because they haven't branched out much. SSL does have a more classic rock (i.e. - the Who, the Rolling Stones, etc.) type of vibe to it, which is a little different from older albums, but not significantly. In a way, though, this is what I expected from the band. Where else can they go? And should they tamper around with their basically perfect formula? Would that still be Mission Of Burma? Tough questions. I'm interested to see where the band will go from here, if they stay together, or just regroup again in another decade or so.