Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Zola Jesus: Versions

I have had this in rotation for some time now since it's August release but never got around to reviewing it since it came out around the same time as the Katatonia album which took a separate approach, but with Zola this seems to be  more dramatic turn than the normally morose, Swedish band, not that she is a bucket of laughs either but her music is so beat driven and electronic it makes this unplugged version of her work seem more like new songs.

She even takes a different approach to singing where Jonas of Katatonia  , was pretty much business as usual. This can be seen very clearly on the slow string accompaniment of "Avalanche" which is beautifully sung and arranged but not really a must listen for me."Fallback" does a much better job and allow her to open up and sing in a manner that's closer to what feel like her sweet spot. One thing that is noted about this album is she has found her own voice and is further from her earlier Siouxsie imitations , she very rarely carries her chest voice into the throaty belt that has been characteristic of her singing style up until this point ,which I think shows a good deal of maturation in her singing style. It translates well to songs like "Hikikomori" from her last album "Conatus".  "Run Me out" originally off of  Stridulum II, receives a much more somber treatment here.

"Seekir" is given a heavier nod toward her more electronic roots, and the strings propel the song along side the beat, which is not as in your face as the original version. The new arrangement of "Seatalk" really gives Zola a chance to spread out her vocal chops. It goes to show that when a song is well written it is going to be well written no matter how it's preformed if it is a song that will stand the test of time.

"Night" sheds it's 80's goth feel, but manages to feel just as dark. Her voice is a little more subdued than the original version , but its a tasteful vocal performance that serves the cello heavy new version. The beat pules in the distance before launching in when the strings build the tension.

The new arrangement to "In Your Nature" strikes as even slightly more experimental than the original and is sung much more emotionally than the original as well.The string accent where the bass lines would normal build the beat.

Though well sung, "Collapse' just kind of languishes over itself, luckily "Vessel" comes in behind it and bats clean up. Every part of this one blows away the first , which was an incredible song to begin with.The strings are best employed and arranged here. Overall , she succeeds and shows a lot of growth. I  was disappointed  when I learned this was just an unplugged rearrangement of her older material so she had to win me over with this . I'll give it a 9.5 .

Friday, October 25, 2013

Arcade Fire : "Reflektor"

They are one of David Bowie's favorite new bands so that earns them a spot here. Off the bat "Funeral" is the only album I have given several spins by these guys, but I have respected what they have done in between, in just wasn't catching my ear.  On "Funeral" the influences seemed to have been worn on their sleeves, the Talking Heads, Television and the Pixies more prominently. A lot of the quirky jangly indie rock style guitar and nasal David Byrne like vocals back matured into a fuller sound both vocally and instrumental.

The influence of their admirer seems to have surfaced along of that of Roxy Music, as this album has the groove of Bowie' German disco days . This album is not a desperate in its hopefulness as "Funeral" there are some grooves that sound like they are left from "Billie Jean" . So this is a much dancier affair overall. There are some songs like "Here Comes the Night Time" that have some raw , rough edges to it but even that stays close to beat, not unlike some of the Cure's more commercial elements on say "Close to Me".
The choir of gang vocals that chime in seems to be one of the bands trademarks and this comes in in the second song.   The lyrics to songs like reggae swagger of  " Flash Bulb Eyes"  reflect on the bands time spent in the media spotlight.

The momentum they had built up to this point on the album climaxes on "Normal Person" which feels like a punk rock scruffy version of T-Rex to me.  Then the albums blows it load and has a hard time getting it back up and into a groove until "It's Never Over" . With the annoyingly peppy cheering section of "You Already Know, becoming a limp fast forward classic. "Joan of Arc" sounds like the Plastic Ono and it's followed by an even more Beatles heavy "Awful Sound" which reminds me of "Woman is the Nigger of the World"

They get their new disco groove back, and often that sort of thing reminds me of Goldfrapp. The bass line on this one is really rich. The keyboard sound on "Porno" sounds like it's from that dumb Paul McCartney X-mas song.  With their knack for writing vocal lines having to pick up the slack, for what just doesn't seem like them otherwise. "Afterlife" takes a similar electronic approach, but is more effective in it's execution. Even with the influences they paraded their arcade in on previous albums it seems like it was more of their own voice than falling somewhere in between "Emotional Rescue" and Depeche Mode.  Like the album closer "Super symmetry"  which wavers around on synth strings with out going anywhere.  

 I'll give this one a 7 and suspect that I might have preferred the new Of Montreal instead, but the front end of this album is very well done, it just falls apart at the end and loses its identity.

Interview: Ihsahn

It was good to catch back up with the Emperor front man, here's what he said...

Wil- I know your latest Album Das Seelenbrechen was an intentional step away from your past solo albums, so how did you go about this ?
Ihsahn - the previous album were heavy, with 8 string guitars and sax, so this time I wanted to stay inspired and out of my comfort zone and go about this like many of the artists I have had an admiration for who express themselves spontaneously. For the more metal albums I have always worn so many hats on the production side of things, all the control leaves little space. So I wanted to go backwards, bring back the black metal atmosphere and try different musical forms. I wanted to explore different chord colors. I would go into the studio in the middle of the night with two lyrics and took them to the drummer and just picked up my guitar and improvised. It is how I imagine Diamanda Galas might create with some of her more vocal works.
Wil - and the drummer on this is the same guy from Leprous ?
Ihsahn- yes , Tobias. It seemed like the most natural choice, after touring with him and having built a dynamic. I can't imagine doing it with anyone else ,as he can play the ore black metal up beat drumming as well as relate to the improvisation.
Wil- Let's talk about "Pulse" it's a very different song for you, how did it come about?
Ihsahn - From the spontaneous way of working, I bought a Moog and made an electronic beat with it and then used it to make a bass line. I also used it for a lot of the bass lines on the albums heavier songs as well. I have listened to a lot of electronic music over the years, and the idea built out of itself.
Wil- You mentioned the Moog, gear wise was there anything else new you tried in the studio?
Ihsahn - I have always like to use new things, this time it was more of a mix from the 8 strings to a hybrid long scale 7 string that Ibenez came out with. I also used a Telecaster, as it is the only way to get that certain twangy sound. I even came back into possession of my first guitar from when I was 10 and used it. I played percussively on old acoustics and sampled that.
Wil- The title references the Nietzsche saying about "art of the ugly soul" was this the theme for the album?
Ihsahn - That word is not a real German word , he put it together and I felt it summed up the feeling that comes from my inspiration. Perception synonymous with abstract, I crave it when I listen to music. To reach the place beyond perception where you loose yourself. That is where those happy mistakes come from, the ego is aside and its nothing technical.
Wil- I think since music  works off vibrations, becomes more conducive to doing that than physical art forms. Did you find improvisation put you in a more meditative space to reach that place ?
Ihsahn- Absolutely, To break off from your own ego and most artists have great egos, myself included, so to loose the conscious side, and express your self without the critical goblin on your shoulder. There is often imagery attached to music but easier to make our own interpretations.
Wil- So what was the lyrical theme for the album?
Ihsahn- I have always written personal lyrics masking them with grandiose images, to hide the personal, so its open to interpretation , rather than leave myself naked. I think as I wrote more spontaneously it came from a more personal state of mind. Some one who is smarter than me said " All art is created from a place between megalomainia and self loathing. It's a roller coaster between the two and it hasn't gotten any easier.
Wil- What challenges do you see the new material creating when you transition to playing it live?
Ihsahn- I think the challenge will be the stage. Most of the shows I have been playing recently are outside festivals and I have been opening with "On the Shores and closing with " the Grave" they are both slow with long sax passages, I think it is necessary to play them, but in the early evening, in the heat every one is drinking cold beer and just having fun. So some if might be more fitting for indoor festivals where it is more experimental and tailor the set for specific performances, so not as much compromise but what is practical.
Wil - With the Emperor reunion coming in 2014, was this in the back of your mind or influence you at all when writing this album ?
Ihsahn - This was finished before those talks came about, but I have always been reluctant to do Emperor, it's no secret I have been rather stubborn as I want my current music to be as relevant as what I have done in the past, though by embracing the attitude of not being in control it took me back to the place from when we were 19 and recorded in the Night Side Eclipse. We just had the intense drive to create with having any experience, so it will be easier from that place to relate to old Emperor and hopefully I feeling so that it can be preformed with the needed intensity.
Wil- One thing we share is a love for King Diamond. There's a trend coming from Sweden with bands like , Ghost and In Solitude who are very influenced by him. What influence has he had on you and how does that continue?
Ihsahn - I grew up listening to Priest and Maiden but then the King Diamond band came and added more of a depth and epic nature of its drama . King Diamond's vocal style is so expressive and has such a range of different voices. Andy Laroque is my favorite guitarist. His tone, playing and expressiveness have all influenced mine. I have listened to Maiden's Seventh Son, album the most, but Them is right behind it.
Wil- Yeah, I always felt King took what they did and gave it a more romantic darkness, that was a big influence to early black and to what Emperor did.
Ihsahn - Yes, he wrote about deliberately about satanism where it had only been skimmed on in a superficial sense. Death metal is one dimensional. Is just aggression . The vocal style is just aggressive, where with a black metal scream it can convey a wider range of emotion. There is aggression, but there is also desperation and melancholy. King Diamond's voice is like that it has a nasty side, but in his lower croon a more mournful sound.
Wil - Speaking of variety in vocal ranges, your's becomes more refined, how do you see yourself growing with it comes to actually singing?
Ihsahn - I have slowly accepted my voice as it is. When I was younger, I never thought about it I just did it and went for it. As I have gotten older, I'm more self aware. It's always been a challenge to like my own voice. So to just sing as it sounds is difficult , with the harsh vocals it's easier to express, like playing with distortion on the guitar. But I write songs where it is necessary and I like building the harmonies, but singing is always difficult.
Wil - Do lesson do you feel you took away from making this album?
Ihsahn - Improved at breaking self imposed barriers. The idea that having the confidence to try something different . I'm a big fan of Radiohead and every one though Ok Computer was great but then they followed it up by changing their whole sound and bringing in computers and making electronic music, though it still sounds like Radiohead. So to be free and trust the process and know that it will happen.

Wil - Well its that time of the month for Halloween, what does this time of year mean for you?

Ihsahn - Oh, I very much enjoy it but it has become about the children.

Wil - Haha, yeah My daughter is three now and one day she wants to be Cinderella the next Batgirl, so we could be buying costumes all month.

Ihsahn - My daughter has been planning Halloween for a year now.

Wil-  Well , looks like we are out of time...

Ihsahn - Always enjoy talking with you ,look forward to talking to you again.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Psychic Teens : "Come"

This band from Philly describes their sound as "like that time you spotted your creepy metalhead brother at 80s night" Sure there is a noise rocky - post punk element that doesn't place seem outside the neighborhood of say the Jesus Lizard influenced Pop 1280...or even Beastmilk. The shoe gaze banner they claim to fly is more unfounded. And to say goth well... around these parts the bar is raised pretty high on that one, though the come as close to capturing it as say A Place to Bury Stranger's darker moments.

If find myself having to re-listen to the opening track to try to figure out what it is that hooks you into all the pieces that so awkwardly fit. The drums and bass throb together, as the vocals take a monotone Iggy Pop approach and ride the dissonance. It never congeals melodically, but I have kept listening to get my head around it so it must be doing something right. The sonics gel into a more focused attack on "Rip". Their is a similar helter skelter approach to sonically driving verses, that are allowed to breath a little more on the choruses. The vocals are the only thing that keep the post- in the post punk here.

Things get darker and heavier on "H#ate". It almost sounds like a hard version of Jesus and the Mary Chain. This has a powerful delivery on some of the more driving riffs, but the punk elements keep the dynamic range in varied shade of driving the assault forward, where the new Beastmilk has a better melodic sense to it.

Like Beastmilk, the guitar some times lets you breathe taking a more surf rock route as they coast on the reverb. The verse on " Lust" lets the song breath a little more and it only limited by the range of the baritone vocals . The guitar on the build is pretty cool and I might concede to it having some post-rock to it rather than this shoes gaze thing that I am not hearing from these guys.

The dense sonic swell that opens " Lord" is pretty cool and elements of it remind me of Lords of the New Church.The accents in this song are heavy, but not metal, yet these guys might appeal to people who like metal and can appreciate the intensity without having to have the trappings of the genre. On the title track they continue to hammer the point home though I suppose this has more of a death rock feel to it though it also reminds me of 'set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun" this does give the album more dynamics , as they back off and let the drums carry most of the weight on the verse. They keep things dark and tense, you know the explosion is around one of the next corner they keep turning.

Things lean more toward the Police like side of post-punk on "Less" where the vocals stay in the 80's Iggy vein.I suppose some comparisons could be drawn to the Cure on the verse riff. Though the song escalates into a more punk flurry. "Bug" stays in more of the punk side of what they do , which might also appeal to fans of Iceage and Ceremony. There is often a swirling density but they never reach the lifting drone of shoe gaze, so it would be almost like calling the Pixies shoe gaze, those these guys are much darker and more punishing than the Pixies. The closest to shoe gaze they come is on " Veil" where the singer also come close to really singing as he goes into a lurching croon.

The more I listen the more I realize the wheel isn't being reinvented here as much as the few two listens lead me to believe, but it's a damn good album, with a great atmosphere captured through out and really has some balls to it. I will give this one a 9 no problem.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Report to the Dance Floor: Ron Littlejohn & The Funk Embassy "Shining On"

Let's take a little lesson in dance music. Your teacher is going to be Ron Littlejohn & the Funk Embassy. Their new album"Shining On" is going to serve as your text to explore a limb on the family tree of dance ... funk& soul. These later were turned into disco which birthed house music, but we are getting ahead of ourselves. Before the 80's dawn of hip-hop, there were these long forgotten relics called instruments that people played. There were men called musicians that used these ancient artifacts to craft music. These great shaman of sonics , went by names such as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye,  Sly Stone, Prince and James Brown. Ron Littlejohn takes you back to that forgotten time.

The album starts off with the title track that holds the simmer of " On the Corner" era Miles Davis. The song is left to bubble on a groove that hold backs like a break down that is waiting to explode into motion. The release is reserved for three and a half minutes into the song, and pays off with some pretty hot guitar work. Most of the songs pull from various elements of soul, the only song that feels like very straight ahead funk is the horn heavy "Light Me Up" that moves like something closer to  James Brown than Funkadelic.

The songs hold the jam like quality that would translate well on stages such a Bonnaroo. From the free floating sermon of "Seems Like Yesterday" to more Barry White romancing of " Soul Devotion" the production is warm and captures the late 60's  early 70's golden years of Motown. When funk had not been mixed too heavily with fusion and lose the magic of a simple groove. The trumpet playing does recall Davis' flirtations with this kind of thing and the album is littered with the sounds of turntables being scratched on with are done for effect, to acknowledge the fact this album was indeed recorded this year. I wouldn't mind if they had kept you the suspension of disbelief and allowed me to pretend I uncovered a lost treasure from those years.

Influence from the more psychedelic era of funk doesn't waft in until "Cream #9" that also reminds me of New Power Generation Prince. Littlejohn testifies more than sings here.  It was surprising to find this had come out of Quebec rather than Chicago. It's also no surprise these high times of the late 60's are flash backed to on "A Day in San Francisco" which has flute work that could have come from a Pam Grier soundtrack.

The smoother elements of Gaye or the Coomodores struts in on " My Magination". The song bears witness to Littlejohn's ability to craft melodies that are catchy yet sound authentic to the time period they are paying homage to.  The album ends on an up beat note with " Emma Lee"   the only song  really pulling from any rock influences, here its "Exile on Main Street " era Stones , as its harmonica heavy and has a Jagger sneer to it.The album is highly recommended to fans of this early era of funky soul, for Littlejohn has out done himself recapturing it's feel.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Beastmilk: "Climax"

I was a big fan of the Finnish Band's last e.p. "Use Your Deluge" so my spider-senses tingled when I caught news of this  debut full length that is slated for a November 29 th release. They did not disappoint. This shows a world of growth. While the driving punk roots of their earlier work are still present the whole album shows a refined sense of melody and their singer really stepping up to the plate  with golden pipes balancing out his sardonic soul.

While this band got lumped in with the resurgence of goth/death-rock/post-punk or whatever you want to call it, on their last e.p., i always felt other influences between the Joy Division, like Blue Oyster Cult Hawkwind or Iron Butterfly, when some  type of garage like space rock vibe ,  echoed out from their cavernous pummel . I felt it put them in the same sonic zip-code as A Place To Bury Strangers. Well that is still present, but with a sense of hooks. There are also tastes of horror punk and surf rock lingering in the reverb heavy guitars.

Right when the vocals come in on the albums opener, you can hear that Kvohst is opening up and singing more as this croon rockets out over the tidal wave of guitars. With the expansive range , he still returns to the lower creepy baritone, but uses it more as an effect rather than staying in a monotone narrative like Ian Curtis. He even does a call and response with the lower register vocal on " Nuclear Winter".

"Genocidal Crush" find the band taking an almost an upbeat Echo and the Bunnymen approach, until the chorus bangs in. The chorus consistently pull you in from the more brooding throb of the bass driven verses. On a song like "Ghosts Out of Focus" the band has more in common with Merchandise than they do Night Sins or the Spectres. The vocals being more dynamic and the guitars are allowed to give them more space rather than having to keep a continuous tension. This allows the guitar to wander into different sonic spaces than they did on the previous efforts.

The lyrics which on "Fear Your Mind" are spit out with a Misfits like drama, are still very catchy and well syncopated over driving punk chug. The punk elements were more in your face on their past work, but do explode out on the choruses here. However the maturity in song writing broadens the melodic landscape, which is still rather ominous like there's an alien invasion looming in the skies above.

There's a heavier  dash of surf rock in the guitar tone to " Love in a Cold World."  The song is propelled by the bass and drums, while the vocals take on a more desperate plead. This vibe  carries over into "Surf the Apocalypse" though they hit more of a punker take on Interpol . The album takes a darker turn to close on the melodic creep of "Strange Attractors" which tip toes around the same graves as "Porngography" era Cure.

Overall this album is without flaw and is highly recommended to fans of brooding post-punk, goth new wave , what ever sub-genre you are looking to hang your cape or combat boots on whatever the case my be. It takes no second thoughts for me to rate this album a 10 as it has already gotten almost constant spins since I got it. Look forward to catching these guys live.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Vallendusk : "Black Clouds Gathering"

This black metal band from Indonesia formed in 2011, so this is their first full length after releasing a song e.p., when it came out I was reluctant as to how authentic indonesian black metal might, but and even after listening to this album a few times I'm not sure if I can still give an answer. It is rather cascadian, almost entering into that more ambient and droningly beautiful that it is feral .  Most of the time I float away during "Fragments of Light" so I normally don't give this a longer listen than the third track, but today that will change for this blog shall anchor me to my head phones and I'll document the journey.

I can see where the Agalloch comparison's that I have heard thrown around come from. I think they use melody well, though unlike Agalloch they don't flip the switch melodically with the vocals . Their songs are more complex in their arrangements than the more cvlt minded black metal bands , but by no means give a nod to progressive rock like Agalloch do. What is being called the folk elements in regard to this band are passages of acoustic guitar which crop up three minutes into the second song. Not really busting out lutes  and summoning the Leprechaun's to jig.

While the drumming is excellent, They do still fall prey to over blasting things and numbing out the dynamics . Before  gets to be like jack hammer sex, they ease off for a minute on " Shades of Grey" and drop into more of a waltz time signature. For the most part the songs blow by like a howling wind in the background, the picking on "Into the Mist" doesn't seem to be much different than the song before until the get to the accents a minute and a half into it. That is until a really progressive break down three and a half minutes in where the bass gets angular, that was not expected and it's these sort of nuances that don't have me running to get this off my iPod any time soon.

I do think the blasting is the easy way out for these guys as they have the talent and melodic know how to do more with their playing and the give you frequent tastes of that fact. Sure the riff to "Among the Giants" is epic enough, but the motto around here is good riffs alone don't make good songs. Still this is their first full length so maybe they just need the time to grow as songwriters, when you have a 9 minute song that is operating on variation of your epic riff melody it's like trying to hold a conversation with a coke head. There's an art to it that Deafheaven has perfected and it relies on more dynamics, to keep the sonic ebb and flow, that these guys do catch on to this art on the 13 minute "Land of the Lurking Twilight" that closes the album, so they are more than capable.

The riff's get slightly catchier on "Realms of the Elder" and drop into strummed clean guitars, which sound more post-rock to me than folk, as I don't feel any Stonehenge to it. I like the effects on the vocals here as they come up higher in the mix to wet the otherwise dry mid range rasp, typical of bands like Windir.  The accents to the galloping punches amid the flurry of blast beats , helps make this song more discernible. The big finish with their 13 minute song, is time well spent and captures a broad sense of dynamics. So overall I like the feel of this album, even when it lulls me into the hypnotic dron of its blistering sonics, so I will give it an 8.5, as their is potential here I feel like is only skimming the surface, they are off to a good start and when they learn the restraint that comes with restraint I think their next album could be flawless, but time will tell.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Report to the Dance Floor : Popkissed "It's a Fine Day"

Northern Europe is no stranger to electronic music. Swedish and House might have become two almost inseparable words,  yet culture even in the bustling cityscape of Oslo still holds traces of it's colder and harsher roots than the generally more carefree and sometimes vapid culture of their southern neighbors. This carries over into the art the culture produces.Though this  Norwegian duo lives up to their name, weaving a blanket of beats and pop sensible melodies without being plastic bubble gum.

The two artists that comprise this project come from different worlds as Lill-Ann Blauenfeldt was a soloist for the Oslo Philharmonic Choir and Robert Solheim was already a world renown d.j with his track"Ghost Trip" was voted number 7 of the 100 best Electronic tracks of all time.

The opener " Cold Wars" percolates over the bass line and lifts off into the swirling constellation of synths. The songwriting is finely tuned in every respect, the lyrics form cohesive narratives of surreal stories rather than repetitive hooks dance music relies on. The only time they come close to falling into this formula is on " the Only Diva", but Lill-Ann's approach here is so theatrical it goes unnoticed.

 "Tell Me" dips into acid jazz, before soaring back up into a lush topography of  digital percussion. One of the albums' strong points is it doesn't feel the need to apologize for the cold nature of it's electronic make up, but uses it as the ground floor to build the songs from. Blaunenfeldt's husky alto is flexible in the range of her emotive delivery. She reaches down to gather up notes from her impressive lower range on "Illusions".

This album borders on being dark wave,  up beat with a gloss of melancholy over it. Sure sections sound like Sarah Brightman at times but are more reflective . Dancey but without allowing the dance floor being a distraction from song writing. Much of this credit goes to Solheim who was already experienced with working with vocalists in his former project the Opiates.

One of the album's most dance propelled moments comes on "Savior". The harmonies on the vocals almost remind you of the disco glory days of the early 80's. A futuristic portrait of dance is projected on "Red Lips" which maintains some New Wave, but fully upgraded and cyber infused. The title track glistens in the glimmer of night, as chill wave is married to a more driving beat to create a sensual combustion of the two elements.

The traces of the Eurythmics glide across the melody of "Planet".  While "Dangerous is not too far removed from Switchblade Symphony in the ghostly manner the vocals haunt the spectral beats. The lyrics are evocative and conjure imagery current fans of more modern cyber-goth favorites like the Birthday Party Massacre will latch on to, especially lines like " celebration days for the happy undertaker " on celebration time.

This is one of the more innovative edm releases I have heard this year, it has actual songs and melodies, coating the beats rather than just being an after thought. Solheim doesn't try to dumb down any element or go for a lo-fi retro feel on the production, showing confidence in what he has crafted here, just as Blaunenfeldt's performance on this album is very sure of her identity and doesn't see to pay direct homage to her inspirations but celebrate the songs.

Up From the Underground: Norine Braun "Conventus the Eye of the Heart"

While we have covered the revival of goth , with hipster kids shaving their heads into death hawks  and trying to emulate Joy Division, there are artists who can capture the feel without all the window dressing. I would have never guessed this singer songwriter out of Vancouver ,Canada would open up her new album "Coventus the Eye of the Heart" with a song that sounds like a female version of Nick Cave , with vocal inflections that leap into her upper register like Siouxsie Sioux, all without the aid of Halloweenish theatrics.

The entire album is not her camped out in the batcave. "How Would We Know" takes a leisurely stroll into more Joni Mitchell territory. But her smoky alto will appeal to fans of Concrete Blonde on the song "Dizzy" which drifts into Blondie 70's pop at the chorus. The instrumentation is  organic without dipping Birkenstocks clad feet into granola, like other singer songwriters do when relying too heavily on acoustic guitars.

There's a blue vibe through out the album, but rather than the frat boy Mumford and Sons type of thing, its somewhere in-between Ani Difranco's more beat moments and a less alt-rock crunch of Concrete Blonde. The lead playing on "No More Reprise" is pretty impressive, it has a 60's funk feel. So many bases are being covered here, but in a way not unlike how a Joni Mitchell or Kate Bush uses many sonic colors on the canvas of their songs.

The Johnette Napolitano feel returns on the more straight forward alternative rock number "Boy". I like the movement in the bass line on this one . The playing here  convinces you that Norine could craft an entire album of this sort of thing if she wanted to. "Today" shifts into a slightly darker groove that at times recalls  Alanis Morrisette 's hey day. The inflections in her phrasing really accent this fact. The Occupy Movement takes the spot light as the lyrical inspiration to "99%" which returns her back into the dark alleys of Nick Cave's back yard.

A darker acoustic vibe unfolds on "Take the Sleek Train". It is no wonder she  fared so well on the festival circuit,  even the languid dreamy nature of this song would translate well live. The sultry Siouxsie tingle creeps back over your ears on "Fire Flames".  It almost carries a tango beat as guitar crawls out from the corners of the song.

There's a retro feel to "The Perfect Love Affair" that doesn't play to all of her strengths, despite the Doors like keyboards that bubble up from under. The album however as a whole has little filler, despite some of the abrupt stylistic shifts, like the dip into country on " I Found You". It's very competent song writing and production, and when I say country it has more in common with  the Cowboy Junkies than Barbara Mandrell.

The title track that closes out the album starts as an ethereal lullaby and bursts into an upbeat dream pop , that would have a wink towards house music if it wasn't for the organic nature of the instrumentation. It falls some between Imogen Heap and the Cocteau Twins, to my ears.  

Braun has carved an interesting niche for her self, as being billed as a folk-blues artist, only encompasses elements of what she does, which strikes me a being darker than either. If you are like me and your musical tastes lean towards the dark side, your ears might be trained to seek that out. This album is highly recommended for those us who are fans of 80's New Wave but opened minded enough to embrace it through the filter of a more modern and organic approach. This is not a swampy as the Bad Seeds , and might owe more to Marianne Faithful but a worthwhile listen all the same.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Gehenna: " Unravel"

I first heard mention of these guys in an interview with Tool's Adam Jones, where he was mentioning bands that inspired him. Needless to say this black metal band out of  Norway is a lot more burly than the radio prog Tool use to pump out. Though I think there is also a sludge band out of New York who used the name so her might have been referring to them, but their is a sonic dissonance to what these guys do that i can see him appreciating as well .  Without a doubt these guys are  cut from a similar cloth as old Darkthrone, but where Fenriz's project veered into a more rock , punk or NWOBHM direction depending on what era you are listening to these guys stayed the left hand path.

Main man Sanrabb has also been a live member of both Mayhem and Satyricon. His harsh vocal are dry and coarse but very fitting with the oppressive nature of the droning grind these guys favor over blast beats on this one. But this album is so dark and wrenching I don't foresee anyone complaining about them not being cvlt enough. From the opening the album throbs and pulses rather than trying to gallop over you through the  moon lit snow. As it pounds into "Nothing Deserves Worship" that hateful lumber of the album has pretty much set the course. The chords ring out rather than rely on the tremolo picked conventions of the genre, if we are in fact going to say this is black metal, and I don't really hear any reason for it not to be called that, as the riffs have the same soul rotten ugliness of the genre classics. The pace does begin to pick up into the more familiar ambiance of the mcnasties that get blasted out and again in the last minute slowing back into the obsidian murk.

When they do resort to the old ways of speed, I don't see this as being their creative strong suit. It becomes the problem of being too in the face of it being done before.  They do reach a level of white noise that brushes against your ears until locking into a thrashier riff. "Grave Thoughts" digs up the middle ground between doom and black metal.It is full of dark clouds that roll in with the ominous nature of the chords that ring out. The drums could stand to have gotten a little more love in the mix as the album is a wall of dirty guitar and scathing vocals. There are some interesting punches that seem to might not have been a fully realized in the studio as the drums are forced back into the mix. On  Nine Circles of Torture"   the vocals still in the same register but using different syncopation. I like the sonic drive of this where it is as heavy sonically as it is heavy in the metal sense when the beat straightens out into more of a galloping swing

"Lead to the Pyre" gets into blasting darkness that forms the classic drone of old Darkthrone. The vocals at this point in the album begin to make me think they need some variance.Where this song succeeds is in capturing the black ambiance amid the speed and dropping down into a commanding pound. "End Ritual" picks up the paces and carries on the drone established in the previous song but so much so I had to look up to notice it was a new song. TH chords at the end where it slows down are pretty sinister.

After a creepy intro ,  They wrap the album album with a blaze in the northern sky on "Death Enters" it takes a more doomed out plodding but the guitar have an interesting sense of dark sonics to them. I like the feel of this album and I think it will grow on me so I'll go ahead an round it up to an 8. I think for the style of raw old school black metal these guys embrace it shows growth in the songwriting.    

Friday, October 11, 2013

Savages Live @ Vinyl

The one thing on the lips of those  in attendance was this would clearly be  the last chance they were going to see the band in a small club. Vinyl is said to have a capacity of 300 so attendance would have to have been some where in the two hundreds. It was good to see when a band understands the difference between a live presentation of the work and just trying to replicate what is on the album.

They opened with the very fitting "I am Here" , with Jehnny stalking the stage while the rest of the band pounded out the song from the shadows. After the first song Beth announced that it was going to be a phone free show as she knew if she was in the crowd she would not want a little blue screen in between and the performer.
While Siouxise comparisons have abounded in regards to the band, there was a much more  of a Joy Division  like energy to the show. The bass player who attacked her bass with a pick and compensated by having a more fluid left hand drove many of the heavier section, though their drummer was stellar and had a graceful command of her kit.

They played almost all of "Silence Yourself " with only the more laid back "Marshal Dear" and 'Waiting For a Sign" excluded from the generally frenetic set, which only dropped down to catch it's breath a quarter into the set  when they preformed a cover of Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream".
The band's energy wound up as the set progressed. The last song Jehnny Beth proclaimed to be titled "Fuckers" it started off with her accapella chant and when the song kicked into to it's groove eventually crescendoed into a Swans like pound, that the band ran some where between jamming on a droning on.

Beth had total command of both the stage and crowd, she shadow boxed and glided the stage in such a way  you didn't notice she was doing so on red pumps until she threw a kick here and there. This put the icing on the cake to her empowered androgyny , if you like you post-punk packed with a punch then this is not a band to miss when they swing through your city .

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Ihsahn : "Das Seelenbrechen"

Having heard the former Emperor main-man ( or is that former since they are re-uniting next summer) wanted to break away from his other solo work and go in a more improvisational and experimental direction, made me afraid it would be something like a cross between John Zorn and the last Ulver album. Fortunately, while there are noisy experimental sections, it is pretty orchestrated and well written, even more grandiose and progressive in some songs like "Regen" which starts off with a piano part where the vocal glide over them not unlike Opeth and it builds into a heavier more Emperor like crescendo.

The opener  reminds me of "Red" era King Crimson mixed with "Prometheus " Emperor. It's majestic in it's syncopation and a powerful way to get things started, calming my fears that is album would be ambient noise...though that will come.

Ihsahn has been tremendously underrated, I think songs like "NaCi" show is capable of pulling off prog more stunning and interesting than anything Porcupine Tree or Dream Theater is doing these days, with chops to match either band. The Zeppelin like syncopation gives way to melodies even more soaring than his previous solo albums.

There is an electronica feel to "Pulse" that's not too far removed from some of the dabbling Porcupine Tree has done in that area as well. It's not Nine Inch Nails or Massive Attack, by any means , though more in common with the latter. The smooth melody is well written and this might be almost to close to mainstream sounding for the Emperor fans who found his earlier work to almost too un-kvlt enough to stomach.

The looser more noise based excursions begin on " Tacit 2" which is a pretty abrasive swirl of rolling drums that he screams over. The drums never develop into a beat of any kind and leave you waiting for the other shoe to drop. It is like an intro to a song that never happens. "Tacit" is straight forward...for Ihsahn's solo work as it a balance of melody and dissonance. The middle section rings out with ambiance before building into the sort of majestic metal he is known for.

"Rec" floats in before building into Devin Towensend like prog, while "M" isn't an anchored in it's ambiance until a very Pink Floyd like guitar solo kicks in.This is some of the album's best guitar work and is tasteful in showing it's chops. I can see where the more abstract approach is taken, "Sub Alter" is allowed to take form of a feeling more than a song when the vocals begin to haunt the guitars.This is enough to draw you in. "See" closes the album with industrial noise that is more of an extended outro rather than a song unto it's self. I will give this album a 9.5 as the experimental interluded aside which won't make it onto my iPod, the other material holds up well with his legacy and makes for a moodier but no less intriguing listen,      


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

nouns : "Still Bummed"

  nouns are a bizarre three piece band from Conway, Arkansas who formed in March of 2013. They most frequent what is an indie rock form of shoe-gaze, but explode into spastic punk upon occasion. The opener is quirky punk jaunt about how they prefer dogs over cats , rats or wolves.There is a little Day Dream Nation era Sonic Youth to their guitar tone at times. 

The title track borders on being math rock, but veers into a Brand New flavored rock riff, with the vocals becoming as hoarse as Hot Water Music. So they are very influenced by early emo bands. "School Bus" find the band drifting into the dreamy shoe gazing sound that I think it one of the stronger sounds they venture into, though this is also where they burst into blasting punk. The jolting change of course is as an abrasive as they could have hoped for.

On songs like "Conch" the band collides the blur influences in a way that defies description, though if pressed to pin them down the Pixies would be in the closest zip code. I had heard these guys described as post-punk , while I would say that label is not very fitting I'm glad I stumbled across these guys , even if they are the only band of this ilk of indie rock I can really say I listen to.

The gaze returns to their Converses on "Yaw" they build the song in a way that gleams from post- rock bands of today but none of it has the Joy Division like darkness of what we call post-punk at least on this site. Things like the brief minute of crooning on "Dumped" is only a minute long so it feels more like an interlude to me than a song. There is a strange darker moment with "way" where samples sit over a slow drum beat and piano riff , before hard core like screaming comes in.There are some cool sonic swathes that sweep across this song , making it noisy and drone but in more effective dynamic than most bands capture.

The drift of "You aren't the One that I Want" is layered with falsetto vocals , that are not quite in key but the over all feel of the song distracts from that irking me. These guys capture some great guitar sounds, and for indie rock that normally finds the lo-fi route the coolest to take, this album sounds great and is garage quality only when it intends to be in some of the more punk moments. 

Sometimes veers into a nasal vocal that reminds me of Modest Mouse, and this would appeal to fans of that bands pre-radio material, "the Graduate" finds his voice taking on such a quality, the guitar floats around it creating the prefect back drop for them.The closer is consistent but not climatic as "big fuck and how I'm coping with it" lets the guitar as a fuzz in the background until it all bangs but in with samples and electronics. 

I'll give this album a 9, as it's  a lot of fun and sounds great, i wish some of the moments they captured here could have had more room to let my ears bathe in them and some of the punk moments are of a more obnoxious ilk than I normally listen to but can be appreciated for what they are.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Otargos: Apex Terror

For a band whose last album "No Go No Satan"  had some of the most lacerating guitar sounds of any black metal album, this album is too slick and commercial for it's own good. It almost doesn't even sound like the same band, in fact I would lump this in along side Behemoth as blackened death metal. The title track that opens this thing has a punishing almost industrial pound to it , but it all feels to clean. The solo sound like the could be on a Meshuggah album. So its not to say it isn't well played, it just lacks the originality in its brutality the last album had.

"Fleshless Deathless" sounds almost just like "Where the Slime live" and its not the only place you can find t he post-Covenant Morbid Angel influence, which at least means you know their drummer can play. This song has a good groove its not just what I want to hear from these guys.When they do blast off for nastiness, it lacks the dense grit they use  to have and makes it sound more like thrash. This is competent playing but it sounds like every one else, even when on "For Terra" he goes into his lower growl. There is some smart catchy writing which "Remnant of a Long Dead Star" is a testament to. They play on a lot of the same strengths Behemoth does in the strong syncopated grooves but without all the pageantry. So if Behemoth is to grandiose for you then these guys might be your speed.

They wink at industrial with out really committing and go back into half hearted blasting roars in "Fallout" . There are similar elements to "Drone" as well, samples in between pounding pulses before the main riff fires off like a Dissection gallop.They give the song room to breathe, which defies the almost claustrophobic sonic rending of their last album but at this point in what they are doing its a wise change of pace.The fluctuation they use in dynamics on "Aftermath Hyperion" find back back in Behemoth's backyard, though the abrasive assault of the verses do feel the closest they come to their former glory, but its still more on the death metal side of the fence. There is also the punk tinged sneer on "Versus" where they tell the world to fuck off . I'll give this album a 5 as it's well played for what it is , and there is certainly a market for that it's not as unique as their former glory and nothing sets this album apart for me.

Theologian: "Some Things Have To Be Endured"

This odd project reminds me of a noisier version of This Mortal Coil. It's helmed by Leech of Navicon Torture Technologies and for the most part could be the sound track to a haunted house. It features the vocal talents( which might be a strong use of the word in some cases) of  under ground female such asRachael Kozak from Hecate, Sewer Goddess' Kristen MacArthur, Rachel Maloney of Tonikom, Nikki Telladictorian of Prometheus Burning, Patricia Benitez of Fetish Drone, Gillian Leigh Bowling from Teloahqaal, Delphic Oracle's Christina Key along with  Professional opera singer Melissa c Kelly.But even after that role call most of the voices are mixed back into the background of this dark swathes of electronic sound.

This project's mission statement is to chronicle the development of his own personal mythology that was introduced to the world via Clive Barker's Hellbound Heart story or in other words Hellraiser and intertwined with Wayne Douglas Barlowe's Inferno series. So a lot of thoughts on hell. To leech's credit he has created the sonic equivalent to hellish landscapes, but any message he is trying to get across is buried in the murk.The opener "Black Cavern Myopia" is a noisy drone with witch like cackles narrating in the far reaches of these caverns. Not unlike something Diamanda Galas might have done, but not quite what I consider to be actual music."Ectothermism" has some what of a bass drone layered under synths with a woman's voice crying out in the distance. So it begins to get closer to becoming music. This trend doesn't relent on " Gore-Stained Ramparts" which is a wasteland of industrial noise layered over blips and glitches.      

Grand Guignol is the first song that actually sounds like a song with a real chorus and melody that even reaches as far as to capture an old Cocteau Twins sort of feel."Like Love, Only Real" is musical much like something Swans might paint with sound. The synths and samples create a womb like ambiance, but overall is another piece of dark drone noise.Most of the album I'm straining to listen for where all these female singers have been buried. "the Conjoined Deviant Procession" has at least one of the singers coming up for air with a very stark spoken word type approach. Her stern alto mutters into between the pound of machinery.Things don't warm up any on " Welcome to the Golden Age of Beggars" it grinds metal on metal to the drone of a synth, which receives a little more goth like treatment from the girl who speaks up in the midst of this. This song has a little bit of melody drift in beneath it all.

The album closes with "Writhing Corpus Landscape" I can appreciate the dark vibe, at times it does recall both Swans and Psychic Tv in their more experimental moments. The spoken word parts remind me of Genesis P orridge, for sure but often noise and drone supersedes the song, if their is a song to be found in some of this. I have enjoyed using it as background music so I'll give this album a 7 even though I don't see it as something I need on My iPod.  


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Shining:"8 ½ – Feberdrömmar i vaket tillstånd"

I pretty much wrote the band off as having drifted off into cock rock after "Redefining Darkness". Fodd Forlorare was a far in the melodic rock direction I could stand to see the band venture and then they pushed it too far into power ballads. So it was a big surprise to hear what I found on their new album that is stripped down raw black metal in the vein of Burzum. I think some of this was done because in the studio the band was reduced to a three piece, forcing them to get back to basics.

The change of tone is noted from the onset of "Terres Des Anonymes" or Land Anonymous, it has the cold "necro" sound, but with more room for atmospherics so often feels more like a Nachtmystium album when it comes to the mix though the songs tend to drone on like Burzum. While I'm over joyed to hear a return to the caustic heaviness of their earlier work, the lack of the metal god guitar solos is missed. There are some rock grooves on this album but the sound more like Celtic Frost than Guns N Roses. There is a dirge like drone to the final act of the opener.

"szabadulj meg onmagatol" or rid itself, finds him taking on more of an Immortal like croak, that at sometimes also sounds like Mayhem, with ghostly moans floating in the chaotic backdrop. They get into the blasties here which is where I began to suspect the drums are programmed , but as a whole the album is produced in such a way this fact is well hidden.

"ett Liv Utan Mening" or a life without meaning, finds them in more familar territory with an acoustic intro that Kvarforth grunt and gurgles over. The song gets heavier but keeps a balance with the dark melodic progression they are know for. So even though is this a change in sound the same way Cowboys From Hell to Vulgar was a change, you still have enough shades of the glory days to hold on to.I like the effects on his voice here, he never really sings in his clean voice on this album and at times the production on the vocals is more like Circle of Ouroborus.

This album is more lo-fi and raw than anything they have done since say the Eerie Cold, they still manage to blend lots of textures and layers , even though they are worn around the edges. On songs like "Self destructive emissaries", the ebb and flow from the more haunting passages to the grime of the nasty darkness are well balanced making one another seem wither more beautiful or more vile depending on the juxtaposition.  "Black Industrial Misery" fires off with the venomous howl of Kvarforth, whose harsh vocals have found a new authenticity. This is one of the albums more straight forward songs, as it hardly lets up its onslaught.

The whole depressive suicidal vibe is recaptured on " Through Corridors of Oppression " that starts off feeling like funeral doom, which I always thought was the next door neighbor to dsbm. but it's more like an outro piece than a full fledged song with a defined verse or chorus. I'll give this album a 10 as it's perfect for long walks in the rain and is a welcome return for the band after the mis-step of the last album.