Playing Catch-up…

In addition to all the reviews we’ve posted this year, we’re obviously going to miss a lot of records; there’s too many coming at us from too many different angles. So, in true “rock magazine” style, here’s some less-than-a-hundred-word reviews. Seeing as I’ve always considered short, capsulized reviews to be rather half-assed, I’m going to mix it up with grades and such, so consider this somewhat of a progress report as well. We are a third of the way through the year, y’know…


Cymbals Eat Guitars – Why There Are Mountains (self-released; January 20th, 2009)

Being as much as an homage to the ’90s as it can without any of the band members being old enough to remember Pavement or Sebadoh (who I hear a lot of in this record), these four recent high school grads’ debut Why There Are Mountains toes the line between noise/shoegaze and straight-up alt-rock; every song on the record has intricately layered instrumentation, draped in anthemic guitars with just enough of the lo-fi aesthetic to give it a savvy street cred. Oh, and it’s insanely listenable as well. Grade: 8/10


Iran – Dissolver (Narnack Records; released February 3rd, 2009)

I’m going to have to claim ignorance on two fronts: 1) Iran has two previous albums I’ve never heard, and 2) TV On The Radio guitarist Kyp Malone has been in this band since before hitting it big with TVOTR. Now that that’s out of the way, can I also mention Dave Sitek (of who? TVOTR, of course) produced this record. Let’s see how many more times I can mention TVOTR in this review. Who does Iran sound like? A poor man’s TVOTR. Which band has been one of my favorites over the last five years? TVOTR. You know, I don’t think I’m being fair here. I love TVOTR, and if Iran is like a stripped-down (read: watered-down) version of TVOTR I should love Iran‘s Dissolver as much, right? Well, not quite- this is just a good album, not great like Dear Science or Return To Cookie Mountain or Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes. But better than OK Calculator Grade: 6/10


Charles Spearin – The Happiness Project (Arts&Crafts Records; released February 10th, 2009)

Spiritually uplifting, a celebration of life; the joy of living, rejoice ye for the gifts ye hath been blessed with. That’s the basic message behind Spearin‘s side project (he of Canadian post-rock heavyweights Do Make Say Think). It’s a series of interviews set to music (classical, jazzy, rock, etc.) with seven of Spearin‘s neighbors in his Toronto neighborhood, asking them, in effect; what is happiness? The responses are amazing; ranging from an elderly Jamaican woman’s musings on love, a deaf woman hearing for the first time, ideas of “happy” from some school-age children and an older Indian gentleman; their responses are varied but the result is heartwarming. Grade: 8/10

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Sholi – Sholi (Quarterstick Records; released February 17th, 2009)

The drumming on this record stands out the most upon the first listen, courtesy of Jonathon Bafus. Then upon the second listen, it’s become more of a prog-rock record, courtesy of Payam Bavafa‘s churning guitars finely interwoven into Eric Ruud‘s bass. Upon third listen the acoustic and stripped-down sections jump out to me; this is really just an electric folk record. Fourth listen; the lyrics grab hold of my attention, there’s a struggle, suffering and rejoicing. Fifth listen; this is one of the best albums of the year- it’s got some noisy sections, some weird time signatures and abrupt tempo changes, structured both around experimental elements and pop textures, all the while produced by Deerhoof‘s Greg Saunier. Grade: 9/10


Cursive – Mama, I’m Swollen (Saddle Creek Records; released March 10th, 2009)

I love Cursive‘s records; I love concept albums and they’re the only “emo” band I can listen to without kvetching into the little wastebasket behind me. That being said, I’d also love to see Tim Kasher branch out a bit and get off the whole “god/religion/evolution/sex/mistrust/etc.” vibe he seems to re-hash album after album, basically he just changes the characters but the concept is about the same every time. Not a bad thing, not a great thing. An average thing… Grade: 6/10


Mirah – (a)spera (K Records; released March 10th, 2009)

Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn has carved out a nice little niche of a career crafting tales of love and loss over lushly orchestrated instrumentation; it’s a wonder she’s still somewhat under the radar. I figure the Starbucks’ set would be eating this stuff out of the palm of her hand, but I guess she’ll have to toil away in relative obscurity, just for us who care. Where C’mon Miracle felt like a more fully realized and cohesive album, (a)spera feels slightly more eclectic in its scope. The track Education is pretty lovely, ain’t it? Grade: 6/10


Elvis Perkins – Elvis Perkins In Dearland (XL Recordings; released March 10th, 2009)

Mr. Perkins comes back with sophomore record and a new recipe: less depression and more horns! I gotta stop comparing artists’ last record to their new one. Okay, this is the last review I’m using that tired formula. Where Ash Wednesday was understandably about death, loss and grief (in a nutshell: Perkins lost his father to AIDS in 1992 and his mother to the 9/11 attacks); Elvis Perkins In Dearland is about life, love and in his words, having “no interest in making Ash Wednesday II. After the dust had settled I was weary, worn and confused…” So he wrote this record with his band, and the result is a more comprehensive primer to what Perkins can do. Grade: 8/10


Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Chijimi EP (Drag City Records; released March 17th, 2009)

This is a four-song EP released with the limited edition 10″ vinyl, so I didn’t get an advance copy. I wish I did, because Beware would’ve gotten a better review with these four stunners tacked on the end; instead it’s here as an EP release. There’s also alternate covers to this record, another something I didn’t know. I guess Will just wants to stay a few steps ahead of his audience, which I’m also totally okay with. I’m okay with these tracks as stand-alones, they fit with Beware but on their own they’re gorgeous little Americana-folk ditties. Champion sounds as if it was recorded in a shipping container; echoes, reverb and hand drums make it creepy. And satisfying. Grade: 9/10


Mono – Hymn To The Immortal Wind (Temporary Residence Limited; released March 24th, 2009)

I was turned on to this band watching their DVD The Sky Remains The Same As Ever and was blown away- but that’s to be expected of a band on the same label as Explosions In The Sky and Eluvium. That’s kind of what I’d describe this band like, a cross between those two projects; powerful and violent, yet elegant and ambient- quiet passages into building tensions leading up to an explosive release, all the while seamless segues and beautiful cinematic grandeur. Grade: 8/10


Swan Lake – Enemy Mine (Jagjaguwar Records; released March 24th, 2009)

A supergroup that’s not so super; not as great as the sum of its parts, sadly. I love Dan Bejar and his Destroyer (I’m offended that he doesn’t show up on this record until the third track), am somewhat anti- about Spencer Krug‘s Sunset Rubdown and Wolf Parade and have to claim indifference towards Carey Mercer (Frog Eyes, Blackout Beach). I was just saying to someone the other day how I love singers with unconventional voices (Joanna Newsom, Colin Meloy, etc.) and they mentioned Spencer Krug. Meh, I said. “You don’t like Sunset Rubdown?” they responded. I meh’d them again. In fact, I’m listening to Enemy Mine right now, and all I can say is “meh, meh, meh”. Grade: meh


PJ Harvey & John Parish – A Woman A Man Walked By (Island Records; released March 31st, 2009)

PJ Harvey may just be the hardest working woman in rock; I don’t think she ever calls in sick. And longtime collaborator John Parish gets equal billing on this record- after all, he wrote all the music and performed it all, Miss Harvey wrote the lyrics and sang ’em all. This album is not for the faint of heart; there are teeth hidden in the grass- the title track has enough vitriol in it for two records worth; it’s like getting simultaneously kicked in the balls and punched in the ear. Some tracks are limp and languorous, while others have moxie for days. Grade: 7/10

…so that’s just the first installment of half-assed record reviews from yours truly. Stay tuned for more. Something tells me I won’t ever catch up…

Explosions In The Sky- All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone

Explosions In The Sky – All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone (Temporary Residence, released on 2/20/07)

Note to self: instrumentation is very important. If you can’t play your instrument very well, you probably have a sucky band.
Note to EITS: you all play your respective instruments very well, and you do not have a sucky band. It’s pretty tough to review an instrumental album, like how does an artist choose either their canvases or clay or whatever their respective medium allows for? In this review, I prefer to paint a landscape with words because All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone paints a landscape with sounds. Using words to describe music is a terrible injustice, but then again, so is using words to describe anything that exhibits artisitc or creative skill. That being said, I just basically called myself a fraud- I’m living a lie by wanting to write about music.

But Explosions’ latest endeavor negates my self-loathing and brings me back to why I love this brand of instrumental post-rock (see also: Mogwai, Gospeed! You Black Emperor, Do Make Say Think, Pelican). Starting the album off with a dissonant drone, it settles into a piercing (and always theatric) heart-shaped guitar line that only Explosions In The Sky can get away with and not be guilty of being too ostentatious. It’s a simultaneous attack of ferocious emotion and raw power and moments later a refined sincerity and collective restraint. Drawing you in with both soft bass and light drum play, building to a release with a burst of blinding energy, then coming at you from way over head with those high-pitched squeals of unbridled guitar-driven passion, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that this band is the most capable and the heir apparent to the genre’s throne.

Lacking what 2003’s The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place had, which in my opinion is their masterpeice, All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone makes up for their last effort, 2005’s The Rescue by returning some of that lost urgency. Beautiful in its own right, The Rescue seems as if it’s a throw-away record because of its rootless foudations- just four guys jamming in a room over the course of 8 days. I like the concept, but it lacks focus. All Of A Sudden… has that focus, and maybe it’s a good album because they needed to get The Rescue out of their system. Some bands’ best work comes from that same unrestricted, hands-off type of jamming, you know who I’m talking about right here.

Not a jam band by any stretch of the imagination, album after album Explosions In The Sky sets out to create lovely music sans lyrics by enveloping you in the imagery of their world of bursting clouds, dying supernovas, crashing waves, gently rising suns, melting lava flows and the lost days of youth; those long summer days when you played and played and the sun didn’t set until almost nine o’clock, when we had to finally go in for our nightly baths. This is music to read to, to write to, to paint to, to draw to, to fall in love to, to watch those sunsets to- all in hopes of capturing what you lost before you donned a cap and gown and took that crappy 9-to-5.

All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone