Thursday, April 26, 2012

Adventure Time: Sleater-Kinney

So, earlier this year I was made aware of the existence of this little show called Portlandia. It stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, and they're probably two of my favorite people on the planet right now. Their skits are ridiculously funny, plus they seem like amazing people to boot. Soon after, I discovered Carrie was also in the band Sleater-Kinney. Sleater- Kinney? That's right, I had no clue who they were. But that's alright. You see, I am now in a envious position compared to any of you people who already like the band. How do I mean? Because I now get to experience their music for the very first time.

Seven albums lie in wait for me to dip my ears into. My current target is their last studio album, The Woods, which was released in 2005. I have to say, given how much I'm enjoying it so far, I've become quite excited already. With Spotify as my weapon, my task by the end of the year is to have their entire discography under my belt. And maybe one or two sitting in my collection. My obsession with Portlandia has escalated them to "must-hear" status. Here's to you, Sleater-Kinney, and the many exhuberant months ahead!

Monday, January 16, 2012

2011: Music I Liked (Abridged)

If you want to see the full list, simply follow the link below. Due to time and convenience I only felt compelled to flesh out the top 10 here. Also, I'm lazy. Or smart. Or both.

Be sure to speak up and tell me what you think of my picks and if are disappointed by the lack of an album that you are personally fond of from last year.

Young Prisms- Friends for Now

Shoegaze breaking into Brandon's top 10? What a shocker! To be fair, I didn't foresee this album breaking so far into my list, but Young Prisms has the ability to channel the classic 90's shoegaze sound, and make it fresh again. Also, they are further proof that I simply can't satiate my appetite enough of this genre, when it's performed so well. I could name a few songs that rise up a little higher than others on the record, but from beginning to end the wall of noise atmosphere barely lifts its pressure from the ears. And yet, instead of feeling punished, it's simple bliss that I'm left with.

The New Division- The Rookie

For an EP to break into my top 10, it has to be pretty darn solid. Borrowing in fair amounts from synth-pop and the recent chillwave explosion, The New Division combines both styles and through their surprisingly strong songwriting craft, make their debut effort one to remember. Every song carves itself into my memory and it was easily one of the most addicting releases I spent time with all year.

Fen- Epoch

Coming off the heels of their highly successful first record, The Malediction Fields, a record that was brimming with their own laudable brand of atmospheric black metal and post-rock, Fen had much to live up to in their second time around. I'll be the first to admit that my own expectations being as high as they were, Epoch was initially a disappointment. Even after 2 or 3 listens, nothing was sticking. The band opted to shed some of their black metal influences to showcase a sound that is closer to pure post-metal, albeit with harsh vocals. Perhaps that was the toughest hurdle to overcome but I did manage to, and know what? Epoch is pretty darn satisfying. It has more than a few highlights scattered about and the atmosphere Fen excel at is on display. It may take some extra effort, but Fen's continuing path is one worth wandering along.

PJ Harvey- Let England Shake

Another release that really demanded patience out of me. A couple cuts jumped out at me right off the bat, e.g. "Let England Shake" and "The Glorious Land". The latter of those has brilliant usage of a Calvary horn charge right at the beginning. But it's not just the horn being there that I find affecting, but the fact that it almost comes off as deflated, juxtaposed against the melancholic tone of the music surrounding it. Yes, brilliant. Anyway, I needed to share more intimate moments with Ms. Harvey and it paid off in spades. The deep lyrics, the songwriting, the vocals, folk instruments like the all comes together beautifully. Let England Shake would be higher but it wasn't able to sustain my incredibly enthralled interest all throughout, about right after "England". But it does pick back up again toward the end. As with any of my picks for 2011, time will likely cause me to like it more, or maybe less. But I lean toward the former when thinking about where I'll stand with Let England Shake in the months to come.

Deafheaven- Roads to Judah

I found out about Deafheaven fairly early in the year, and while initially impressed, the true value of Deafheaven blossomed when I realized how consistently pleased I was with repeated listens. While it's easy to write them off as showing too much in the way of Wolves in the Throne Room-isms, Deafheaven favor a more shoegazey sound and, quite frankly, Wolves in the Throne Room haven't blown me away since their debut. Also, they don't really sound terribly alike. Why I'm even bringing this up I'm not sure. Deafheaven deserve to be taken on their own. The ferocity and relentlessness of their performances is what stands out more than anything else with these guys. Rest assured, this energy translates live as well. These guys are legit. I just hope they're able to continue with this success.

Washed Out- Within and Without

It only takes the opening seconds of "Eyes Be Closed" for me to realize what I've always known: Oh, how I love this man's music. Goosebumps, chills, tranquility, floating...all of these are characteristic reactions to Washed Out. Life of Leisure was an intoxicating rush of eargasms and a mainstay for me when I seek the essence of chillness. While not a perfect album, Within and Without is still Washed Out doing what he does best, conjuring those same feelings out of me. The production is a bit more crystalline and fuller, and while the lo-fi bedroom/hazy quality has gone away, the atmosphere remains the same. If Life of Leisure was a haze of chillness, Within and Without is a surge of chillness. If that doesn't make sense then, well, fuck you. Just listen to the album.

Fleet Foxes- Helplessness Blues

Fleet Foxes return with their sophomore record and it sure does impress these little ears of mine. Compared to their debut, Helplessness Blues feels much more sprawling, a little more connecting, and exhibits a turn of maturation. I know these all sound like cliches to describe a second album from any band, but it's true. It shows these gents are out to prove they aren't one-trick ponies. Rest assured, Fleet Foxes still give off that we-write-music-while-chopping-wood-and-sit-around-our-cabin-while-smoking-pipes vibe going on, which is part of what I love about them. But also, the huge hooks that dominated their debut are actually still here, albeit in smaller doses. Because all of the songs are interlaced this time out, the highlights rise and fall, allowing the music to carry on naturally, without sounding like it's solely focused on standard structures. At least, that's how it felt to me. It's not an easy album to describe but it's extremely satisfying nonetheless.

Ulcerate- The Destroyers of All

Two years ago, this band put out probably the death metal release of the year. So it's only fitting that their subsequent record not only matches it but arguably surpasses 'Everything is Fire'. They're basically a direct descendent to Gorguts, but is that really such a bad thing? I say no. The dizzying technicality of their style is still omnipresent, as is the oppressive atmosphere which they're able to inject into a genre that largely has none. I would also say that their complex arrangements and instrumentation only serve to enhance that chaotic atmosphere/"this world is fucked" feeling they emit. What's different this time around is the variety. They've added in a lot of atmospheric sludge to the mix, which works really well. The songs shift, causing the tempo to slow down for awhile to absorb the dissonance, before launching into heavy and fast sections again. Rest assured this is the most interesting and most gratifying death metal experience that I had all year.

Cold Cave- Cherish the Light Years

Love Comes Close was a slice of 80's synth pop pie, with a touch of darkness, that kept me coming back. What's different this time out? Basically everything. The production is cleaner and shiny but it proves a perfect match for this mish-mash of New Order inspired electronic/new wave sounds which I am notoriously a sucker for. How is this different than the previous album then, you ask? One might say this is Love Comes Close but taken to the next level, and on steroids. Trust me, there's a stark difference. Not to mention every song has absurdly infectious melodies and moments. This is precisely what I want from a sophomore album after a very enjoyable and promising debut.

Midnight Odyssey- Funerals From the Astral Sphere

It's not easy to stand out, let alone leave the listener awe-struck, especially when it comes to a saturated genre such as atmospheric black metal. But that is precisely what Midnight Odyssey has done. With only one man behind it all, it becomes even more impressive, and further proof that one person is all it takes anymore to produce some of the best music around, regardless of genre. It allows for a focus of vision and a cohesive consistency. Oh, and did I mention this album is a double hammer? Yes, it comes on two discs for a whopping two hours of music. And not on one song is there any semblance of faltering. Listen to this already. Favorite of 2011.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Summoning My Muse

When it comes to the enigmatic duo of Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry, there is no fucking around. They know how to cut straight to my emotional chords, even if those emotions aren't consistently what I'm hoping for. Since familiarizing myself with 'The Serpent's Egg' a few years ago, I've been in awe of Dead Can Dance and the monumental and otherworldly atmosphere their music holds. That which impressed me most on said album were works such as "The Host of Seraphim", "Severance", "In the Kingdom of the Blind, the One-Eyed are King", and most especially the masterstroke of "Ullyses". The latter enters into that personal realm where what I'm hearing causes me to transcend all around me, my music listening soul escapes into the cosmos, and dances and twirls with all of the other perfections floating around up there in the great beyond we call space. Yes, I really do love that song. Not to mention the unmatched resonance and power of the vocals which come from both Brendan and Lisa. They are truly in a class of their own.

But then, there are also times on 'The Serepent's Egg' that don't rub me the right way, or at least don't feel as effective. I speak of the world influences that creep into Dead Can Dance. Over time I have come to enjoy their context within the frame of the overall album, but I prefer the duo when they're in full on neo-classical darkwave mode. My love for bands like Dargaard and Die Verbannten Kinder Evas, who owe their existence to Dead Can Dance, are what caused me to delve into the progenitor of this unpopularized genre. And so, it is with this mindset that I jumped into another of their works, hoping that I might receive what I had hoped to hear slathered over the entire 'The Serpent's Egg'.

Enter 'Within the Realm of a Dying Sun', to which I'm becoming increasingly enamored with. From the first moments I laid my eyes on the artwork seen above, I knew that I wanted to love this album, cradle it in my arms, and set it on an even higher pedestal than 'The Serpent's Egg'. The good news is I didn't even have to try. It does all the work by itself. I find 'Within the Realm of a Dying Sun' to be much more consistent with its mood and, as I desired, darker. Much darker. How dark? The user Rivermyst on rateyourmusic sums it up better than I think anyone can hope to replicate:

"This is like sitting in the courtyard of a cathedral in Medieval England while the monks carry body bags filled with plague victims into a morgue to be burned.

And it's raining."

I've never quoted others while reviewing music, but what an immaculate description. That medieval vibe is precisely the kind of trait that I hope to get from this style of music. Dargaard have it as well, although not quite the same, and maybe not as majestic. The last two songs, "Persephone(The Gathering of Flowers)" and "Summoning of the Muse", fill in the stark yet accurate painting that Rivermyst conjurs for us. In fact, the artwork of the album cover reflects a bit of that image as well, with the hooded statue hanging on to the building, as if holding onto the last bit of hope he/she has left while watching the procession of death walk past them. Of course, there are other ways I see the figure as well, but in relation to the quote it fits fairly well in my opinion.

But, I fear I may have rambled too long...or maybe not enough? Either way, it's likely due to the fact that I struggle for words when hearing such beautiful sounds emitting from my speakers. Dead Can Dance, from what I can gather in the two aforementioned albums, have succeeded in creating music that is everlasting, ethereal, and a blueprint for all great music to come who dare emulate their style. And to think, I'm only three works deep into their discography.

Oh, and I know I just said 'three', despite only mentioning two. I gave 'Into the Labyrinth' a did not please me. Therefore, 'Within the Realm of the Dying Sun' and ' The Serpent's Egg' alone are worth my breath here.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Nirvana Introduction Status: Complete

You'll never guess what I finally accomplished today. You know that tiny little band called Nirvana? Well, I finally decided that today I would properly introduce myself to their landmark release, 'Nevermind.' And you know what? It's pretty damn good.

Now you may be thinking, "What joke is this?" Well, I can assure you that this is no jest. Granted, I have (like everyone else who has listened to the radio at some point over the last 15 years) heard about half of 'Nevermind' via this artifact called FM radio, but that's as far as I cared to go. There was something about Nirvana that never quite floated my boat. Maybe it was Kurt Cobain's pained vocals, or just the grunge sound in general. Whatever the reasons were, I placed the band into the 'I'm Indifferent to Them' folder.

The cause of my sudden inquisitiveness was provoked by the slew reviews for 'Nevermind' I saw on Rate Your Music's home page last night. The back stories and reminiscences of the reviewers intrigued me. I couldn't help but imagine how I might have felt if I had been of the proper age in 1991, or simply any time during the 90's. Would the album have affected me? It's futile to imagine but curious no less. I can only speak for the present and I thought that it would be shortchanging my audiophile-ness if I couldn't at least tell someone that I have listened to it. I can safely say now that I'm glad I did.

My general impression of 'Nevermind' is akin to other times I've had when diving into a critically acclaimed piece of entertainment (be it film, music, theater, etc.) and realizing why others have found so much enjoyment out of it. 'Nevermind' is full of appealing material, be it the more abrasive numbers or the calmer spots that are on display. The balance and pacing are probably what I noticed more than anything else. Simply put, it's a well put together together record. But perhaps what's more startling for me is that the songs that I had already heard have lost none of their potency. Being able to experience them in proper place and sequence on 'Nevermind' actually made them sound better. Also, it undoubtedly assures me that they're songs that have an inexhaustible amount of spark to them.

If there's one word I can sum up this long overdue acquaintance with, it would be 'satisfied.'

Sunday, September 25, 2011


So I only recently (about three months ago) was exposed to 'Music Has the Right to Children', the first proper full-length album from the legendary Scottish duo of Boards of Canada. However, my first introduction to them was 'Geogaddi' and that was no easy pill to swallow. It took many listens before I was able to solidify my opinion on what I now consider an exemplary piece of work in the electronic/ambient realm, despite it being less than perfect. Now that I've had a few exposed sessions of the aforementioned 'Music Has the Right to Children', I must express myself as slightly letdown compared to the excellence which pervaded my eardrums throughout the majority of the second album. It doesn't feel quite as consistent, and while there are a couple songs on the first half that impress me, it's not until "Rue the Whirl" and "Aquarius" roll around that I feel the album really comes into its own. My wish is that the entire album carried the infectiousness that those two songs possess, especially the latter, which has become my favorite song from them of late. Have a listen:

Nevertheless, the journey through their catalog shall press on and I can't wait to let my ears swim in my next two targets: Campfire Headphase and In A Beautiful Place Out in the Country (which I'm currently listening to actually).

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Auburn Lull

Auburn Lull is a band from the States (Michigan, to be exact), but they could very well be mistaken for a British group. Why? Well, the UK is often known for its share of dream pop artists from the late 80s/early 90s (to which Auburn Lull certainly take a cue from in their style). This region is also known for its abundance of overcast skies, and such weather is bound to cast a shroud of melancholy on the individuals who dwell there. These characteristics manifest themselves in the music Auburn Lull creates. It's a delicate blend of ambient and dream pop that should send even the most cynical minds soaring into the clouds.

My first encounter with the band came with their 2008 release, Begin Civil Twilight. It was only the third album of the band's career, a career that debuted with the 1999 debut, Along I Admire. Their second album, 2004's Cast From the Platform, is the only one left for me to hear. They have a sound that can be compared to the likes of Slowdive at their dreamiest and laid back. In fact, I'm willing to bet that if you love Slowdive then you'll fall just as hard for Auburn Lull.

Going back to the two albums I have had the pleasure to spend time with, I can assuredly say that I'm a big admirer. I'm only just scratching the surface with Alone I Admire, but it appears to be more solid from beginning to end. Begin Civil Twilight carries some slight inconsistencies in songwriting, even if the atmosphere remains dense throughout. A song that I seriously insist you check out from said album though is this one:

Even though I said I have less experience with Alone I Admire, I've already picked up on some achingly tremendous songs, one showcasing their dream pop side, and the other exemplifying the ambient aspect of their sound:

If you like what you've heard, don't hesitate to check out the full length albums.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Deerhunter: Observation No. Two

(picture above courtesy of Stereogum)

Who: Deerhunter/Dunes/David Scott Stone
Where: The Wiltern
When: August 9th, 2011

Another year, another joyous opportunity to see one of my favorite bands play, Deerhunter. Going in, there were two big differences between this appearance of the gentlemen four and that of last year. In early 2010, the great Halcyon Digest had not yet been released. Also, instead of an intimate setting via the Glass House, I was presented with the very spacious venue of The Wiltern. One of the two proved to be a welcome change. The other...maybe not so much. You see, I personally have no problem with The Wiltern. I've seen some extremely high quality gigs in this place before, not to mention two of the best Opeth shows I've yet to see (I've seen five altogether). However, after witnessing Deerhunter's performance Tuesday evening, it's become clear to me that some bands sound better here than others. Fortunately, it was nothing so major as to topple my positive remembrance of the night, but enough to cause some grumblings.

First blood was drawn by an electronic duo (whose identity was unknown to me at the time), led by David Scott Stone. I learned that he was part of LCD Soundsystem during live shows. Not bad. The music was quite interesting because of how it was one continuous song that lasted for at least 25 minutes I'd say, possibly longer. David was working a massive sound board/device with wires being rearranged and plugged in throughout the performance, while his female partner manned a synthesizer. It was very danceable music and certainly held my attention. Kind of a strange addition to the bill, but a welcome one.

Next up was the band Dunes. They seemed to fit in the shoegaze/dream pop niche and they did a pretty good job of it. It was my first time hearing them and though the set started off a little slow, the last 2 or 3 songs were the best. Also, I'm not sure if it was just me but the guitars were not as prominent as they should have been. Out of all the instruments, guitars MUST be loud. I want to hear the riffs, the melodies, the fuzz, etc. Although at the time I couldn't have guessed, it foreshadowed (slightly) the issues that would plague the headliners themselves.

Deerhunter dived into their set with the expected "Earthquake". This is one of my favorites off of Halcyon Digest and this was a fine rendition. That beautiful guitar crescendo that appears and then fades back to the simple acoustic plucks, backed by the drum-beat-in-reverse and Cox's hazy vocals...a perfect opening. The muzaks from Deerhunter kept on coming for a good hour and a half. Of course, a good chunk was played from the recent album, such as "Don't Cry", "Revival", "Desire Lines" and the incredible show closer "He Would Have Laughed", although the absence of "Helicopter" was tragic to be sure. There were also a ton of older songs (including songs I'm not familiar with from the first two albums), and even a hefty encore of cover songs. It's great when a band decides not to limit themselves to just newer material. They have to know that for every new fan in the audience, there's a fan dying to her older stuff too. They certainly didn't disappoint on that side of things. Other standouts for me were "Nothing Ever Happened", "Little Kids", and the beautiful "Agoraphobia". Not to mention all of the extended versions for some of their songs were so intense and heightened the suspense of feeling that release. Fantastic! So far, it must appear that everything went along swimmingly, right? Unfortunately...

As I alluded to earlier, either someone did a poor job of setting up the guitar volume that night, since a good chunk of their material (i.e. the riffs not being very pronounced) didn't hit me as I felt it should have, or perhaps The Wiltern is too large a place and has way too shoddy acoustics to do justice to bands that are heavy on noise and distortion with their guitar work. There was certainly nothing amiss with the rest of the instruments, or vocals. But then, when I witnessed Opeth play their two hour show last year, there weren't any problems that I remember. Anyway, the point being that largely my reason for ultimately favoring my first experience with Deerhunter at the Glass House is for said guitar malfunctions.

Sound shortcomings aside, it's a testament to the great band that Deerhunter is that I was able to push the problems out of the picture and really just have a great time. There were quite a few moments which blew me away and will forever be stored up in this memory of mine. To this I say, bless you, Deerhunter! I will gladly watch you perform again. But maybe pick a smaller venue next time, eh?