Another Ten Albums…

I keep telling myself that I’ll be all caught up to the reviews I want to get finished by the end of the summer; then I find a record I fall totally head over heels for and listen to it for weeks at a time, rendering all other “projects” moot and pushing it all back days/weeks/months. The records as of late that have been spinning non-stop over here are Mos Def‘s The Ecstatic and one you’ll see below, two more albums that get “prefect” scores, two more albums that’ll fight it out for “most played” on iTunes and be somewhere at the top of a year-end list. So here’s another ten reviews coming at ya…

Gallows – Grey Britain (Warner Bros; 5/2)gallows

I read an interview recently where both of the subjects were in agreement that most new punk was boring, except when its infused with with another genre; GallowsGrey Britain is interesting in that its brand of balls-to-the-wall melodic hardcore punk is informed by elements of keyboard-based prog- I’m thinking of last year’s The Chemistry Of Common Life by Fucked Up. It’s the Anglo-centric version of that record’s proggier workouts- six-and-seven minute blasts (The Vulture Acts I & II, Crucifucks) of punk energy that meander with pummelling drums and jagged riffs that are able to sustain themselves over synth-driven anthemic shout-alongs. Punk isn’t dead, it’s suffered at the hands of its own formulaic structure (usually a 10-song, 26-minute paint-by-numbers affair) for so long- UK’s Gallows push its evolution ahead in a more engaging direction. 8/10

Deerhunter – Rainwater Cassette Exchange (Kranky; 5/18)rainwater

I got a chance to hear three of these tracks at Noise Pop earlier this year; before I went deaf for two days. Yeah, Deerhunter‘s live show is akin to My Bloody Valentine‘s- you better bring some ear plugs because you’re gonna get some guitars. Anyway, the band treated those shows as pre-tour exercises (meaning: they gave 110% but also used the opportunity to “try out” new tracks Disappearing Ink, Famous Last Words and Rainwater). I remember them being louder for some reason… Anytime Deerhunter can throw out a quick 5-song EP in between albums/tours, even if it sucks, I’ll happily lap it up. This does not suck in the least; yeah, it’s too short- but it’s an EP so it whets the appetite ever so slightly, I’m excited for what they have next. A band that’s big on conceptual continuity; you could lay their releases end-to-end chronologically, hit play and listen to them as a series of ideas, where slight shifts in perception create little ripples in the psyche. Some of these ideas from their earlier stuff are still being felt now- that’s why their albums are musically dynamic yet still true to their vision. I can’t wait for what’s next. 9/10

Passion Pit – Manners (Frenchkiss; 5/18)manners

Electro-pop must die. I say this because of 1) this record and 2) records like this. C’mon, people- this music has had its day, can we just leave it alone? What have we learned from the countless imitators of Gary Numan, Depeche Mode, Soft Cell and The Human League? Absolutely nothing. We know that Ladytron is still making music, but they should’ve maybe stopped after Witching Hour. A similar sentiment is extended towards Le Tigre. So now we have in our hands this record from Passion Pit– it’s bloody awful. Now don’t get me entirely anti- towards the whole scene (I quite like Hot Chip and MGMT) but for fuck’s sake, do we really need this? It’s basically emo-ass lyrics over Postal Service-on-cocaine music, which… now that I think of it, this record is probably a direct result of that album’s influence on an entire generation of kids who severely need their asses kicked. 2/10

Sunn O))) – Monoliths & Dimensions (Southern Lord; 5/26)sunno

Does anyone else not get this shit? Guitar drone gives way to stretching rope, buzzing bees and a ram’s horn, all the while some Hungarian dude is doing his best Vigo The Carpathian impression, talking some shit about middle Earth and underground civilizations, and that’s just the first track, Aghartha– a 17-minute snooze fest that’s actually laughable at times. It doesn’t even begin to get remotely interesting until about five minutes into the next track; Big Church (Megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért), and yeah, that’s the whole name- apparently the longest word in the Hungarian language. I tried to translate it with “Google Translate” and got this: “because they once again seem to have behaved as if with a rendelkeznétek properties that you may not be deprived of the holy mivoltotoktól”. At least there’s a choir and some strings to save this song from its own developmentally challenged riffs. Dude, drone doom metal is gay. The whole “wearing black robes behind dry ice smoke while playing so distorted and slow” isn’t art, it’s playing right into a stereotype of tired cliches- the occult, darkness, suffering, grief, death, etc. I guess I’m too stuck in my “myopic conservatism” to understand Sunn O)))‘s vision- oh well… On a bright note, there are a few moments on this album that are actually sublime; the 16-minute closer Alice employs some horns and strings, but sitting through 35 minutes to get to this track is criminal. 4/10

The Low Anthem – Oh My God, Charlie Darwin (Nonesuch; 6/9)charliedarwin

When this band is playing the whole ’round-the-campfire vibe, it works to amazing results. When they veer even slightly from this, the result is not so good. Since most of this record is a hushed affair, it scores big points for its melodramatic, whispered vocals and bare-bones folky instrumentation – think Bon Iver or Iron & Wine‘s older stuff. When they play the faux-Tom Waits uptempo vaudeville act (The Horizon Is A Beltway & Home I’ll Never Be– the latter is actually a Waits‘ cover of a Jack Kerouac poem) the effect is somewhat confounding- I’d offer this: go with what you know. Kudos to the other ten songs on here- odes to Ohio, Charles Darwin, ghosts, caged songbirds; a pretty slice of Americana delivered to these ears via pump organs, harmonicas, acoustic guitars, upright basses, banjos and mandolins. This album was originally released September, 2008- it’s been remastered and given a national release by Warner imprint Nonesuch Records. 7/10

Major Lazer – Guns Don’t Kill People… Lazers Do (Downtown; 6/16)majorlazer

This falls somewhere between dancehall and dubstep; a more apt approximation may well be what you’d hear while adrift in the metaphorical Bermuda Triangle outlined by Jamaican roots music to the south, deep and wobbly London basslines to the east and New York club bangers to the west- that’s a lot of ground to cover, but Philly-based Diplo and UK’s Switch are known for their worldly slant and danceclub savoir faire (Diplo brought Brazillian favela funk to the states, clearing the way for M.I.A.‘s eventual world domination and Switch has produced tracks for her records as well as Santigold and Tricky). The guest toasters on this record reads like a “who’s who” in the current Kingston riddim scene: Vybz Cartel, Ward 21, Busy Signal, Mr. Vegas, T.O.K. and Turbulence, and it all went down at the world famous Tuff Gong Studios. If you’re a fan of reggae but have grown tired of its parity, give this record a try- it bridges the gap from rocksteady and roots to computer riddims and dancehall to dubstep and beyond; it’s as much an introductory lesson as well as an homage to the last 40 years of Jamaican-influenced music. 7/10

White Denim – Fits (Full Time Hobby; 6/22)white-denim

Probably my favorite album of the last three weeks; imagine a world where time machines exist- let’s put Grand Funk Railroad in a jam session with Pavement and see what happens. White Denim‘s Fits, perhaps? GFR was a riff-heavy power trio and the Pave was the lo-fi, thinking man’s take on said “dude” rock. So to mash them two together would be the closest approximation to what White Denim appears to be going for; and to great success. Crammed full of riffs (the first five tracks); the musical ideas stretch into some dub explorations (Sex Prayer), down home-style country boogies (Paint Yourself), a funky Boz Scagg-meets-Jeff Buckley falsetto number (I’d Have It Just The Way We Were), acoustic-tinged dream pop (Regina Holding Hands and Syncn)- just when I thought “indie rock” was getting boring, here comes something that’s forward-thinking by looking back. When this Austin trio blows through town I’ll be sure to check them out. 10/10

Oneida – Rated O (Jagjaguwar; 7/7)rated_o

This is a massive, sprawling triple album from Brooklyn’s Oneida, as well as my introduction to their churning and bombastic take on experimental rock music. Repetitive and mechanical like krautrock, yet organic and free-form like jazz, it’s a study in getting the most sound out of one or two chord vamps- relying heavily on effects processors, analog synths and percussion. It can test your patience but ultimately it’s a rewarding listen, not for the faint of heart. I like challenging music, so for me it’s not an issue of getting into this record, it’s an issue of what I’m getting out of it, or rather what I’m taking away with the experience of Rated O. By cutting the record into its three parts I can describe each section as (disc 1; comprising of tracks 1-5) scary, dark and droning electronic songs, more on the exploratory bent; (disc 2; tracks 6-12) these next seven songs are exactly that; songs, ranging between three-and-a-half minutes to just under seven. Primarily these are the “rock” songs, with discernible structures, more or less built around the guitar and (disc 3; tracks 13, 14 and 15) are the thirteen-minute psychedelic-tinged sitar jam, simply titled O; a short instrumental piece End Of Time that acts as a passage to the ender, a near 21-minute workout called Folk Wisdom that encapsulates the entirety of Oneida‘s expansive sound; a post-avant garde world that winks one eye at the Velvet‘s Sister Ray while the other is fixed upon Can‘s style of free improv. A genre-defying release like this with its moments of dancehall (Brownout In Lagos), Neu!-style motorik elements (10:30 At The Oasis), straight-ahead rocking (It Was A Wall) and sitar raga (O), and what you have is the year’s most riveting records, both diverse and engrossing. 8/10

The Alchemist – Chemical Warfare (ALC/E1 Music; 7/7)chemical_warfare

First thing I gotta say is that the seventh track on this record, That’ll Work (with Juvenile & Three 6 Mafia) is fucking dope as shit; likewise the previous tracks: Therapy (with Talib Kweli, Blu, Evidence & Kid Cudi), Grand Concourse Benches (with KRS-One), the title track (with Eminem), Lose Your Life (with Pusha T, Jadakiss & Snoop Dogg) and ALC Theme (with Kool G Rap) are all tight- exercises in excellent beats/production by The Alchemist himself and expert verses all spit with precision and flow. Then comes track 8, Smile, an R&B jam that goes sour- playing Twista‘s superfast flow against Maxwell‘s smooth croon. I hate this shit; why can’t a hip-hop album just be hip-hop anymore? If I want R&B, I’ll put on some Otis Redding or Curtis Mayfield; the new jack shit is wack. Then the album does a complete 180, backsliding into oblivion- awful raps by Mobb Deep‘s Prodigy, Lil’ Fame, Fabolous and Tha Dogg Pound ruin what was a pretty tight outing. A seven-song EP would’ve got this record a ten, instead it only scores half that. 5/10

Magnolia Electric Co. – Josephine (Secretly Canadian; 7/21)josephine

I’ve been trying to throw together my “Best Of The 2000s” list and Jason Molina‘s 2003 offering Magnolia Electric Co. (Molina‘s last album under the Songs:Ohia moniker, and arguably his finest record to date; always capturing his mood perfectly on each record) figures somewhere in there. Then there’s his awesome 1999 record Axxess & Ace (bright and lively) that would figure high in my “Best Of The 1990s” list, and I could also mention honorably 2000’s The Lioness (ragged and melancholic like Neil Young‘s Ditch Trilogy albums), then there’s the “working man’s folk” of Didn’t It Rain, I can go on and on with this- so when Molina puts something out I’m usually near the front of the line. So here’s Josephine now. I can say that it’s a good album, not great- nothing all that spectacular sticks out, even upon repeated listens. I feel like I was listening to this record with too much intent (if that’s possible, being a “reviewer” and all), trying to find the truly awesome passages- but alas; it’s more like truly awkward passages. Take for instance the most out-of-place saxophone on the album’s opening track (O! Grace) that’s used for no other purpose than to say, “Hey, we got a sax solo on here!” The horns inexplicably reappear on the sixth track (Song For Willie) that sound ridiculously corny. I understand Molina‘s loss (bass player Evan Farrell died in an apartment fire during the early stages of recording) but to make an album that’s basically two long goodbyes (one to “Josephine” and one to Farrell) doesn’t really play on any of Molina‘s strengths- he’s at his best when his music is unpredictable (here it’s overwhelmingly rote) and his lyrics have a hint of angry passion to them (again; here he’s just self-pitying, which leaves me to wonder- did Molina die or did his friend?) 6/10