The February Fix

#1 Meat Wave — The Incessant


In line with the no-nonsense approach of this album, I’ll get straight into talking about it. It starts with the singer’s monotonic ‘to be swayed’ followed by a standard post-punk dum-dum-dish-dum-|-dum-dum-dish-dum beat. From that point on, the album pauses for zero breaths, dishing out dose after dose of bracing post-punk. This no-holds-barred intensity makes this album an exemplar of the genre.

Now for some context. The Incessant is a Steve Albini-engineered album by a band clamouring about a very adult angst — the sort that is builds up within until it gushes out, only to start building up again. I won’t dwell much on the lead singer’s recent breakup of a long-term relationship forming a reference point for the album, because his focus is more on the Incessant itself than its source. A lot of the universality of the album comes from this focus on what it feels like when ‘[the] payment’s due, the feeling’s moved, [and] anxious doom [is] coming for you.

While this is a feeling most of us have (some more often than others), an entire album about it has the potential to be a double-shot of depresso. The Incessant, though, is quite the opposite. It is as relentlessly cathartic as it is furious. It is the sound of someone fighting the darkness to some day see the light. While most of the album seems to talk about a terrible time, there is an inherent acknowledgment that terrible times end, and that this cessation is worthy of celebration. As the final track, Killing the Incessant, says, ‘here’s to killing The Incessant / I don’t need it / here’s to killing The Incessant / it’s defeated.’

#2 The Other People Place — Lifestyles of the Laptop Café


Maybe this is cheating, since this album originally came out in 2001, not 2017, but I had never heard it before, and it was re-issued in 2017, and most importantly, it’s a great album, so I’m going to excuse myself. Getting to the point, Lifestyles of the Laptop Café is 52-minutes of some of the most sublime minimal electronic music I’ve heard.

My bare-minimum research for this piece indicates this is no surprise, and I’m sort of the last bison at the lake. All sorts of techno and electronic acts have found the same sublimity in this record that I have, and much has already been made about its influence on techno, ambient, and all of electronic music. Plus there’s The fact that this was originally released, and has now been repressed, by Warp, the kings of minimal electronic music. Point is, even the last bison gets to drink the sweet sweet water of this lake, and if there are more of you bisons out there, I would fervently recommend you give this album a spin.

iTunes link

#3 Blanck Mass — World Eater

Sacred Bones Records has put out some fascinating records. There’s a couple of albums by Föllakzoid in there, Pharmakon, David Lynch, and just this year, Uniform’s Wake in Fright. Their latest release, Blanck Mass’s World Eater, is more than fascinating. Over the 48-minute runtime of the album, Benjamin John Power — who is also 1/2 of F*** Buttons — manages to put together a highly engaging electronic assault. 

It’s an assault that is hard to describe. World Eater is equal parts dissonant and melodic, abrasive and transcendental, fast-paced and still. That the album switches so effortlessly between extremes in emotion and style of musical expression makes it so difficult to relay the experience of listening to it without resorting to hyperbole. The closest I can come to describing the experience, and the setting in which I believe it will be best enjoyed, is the feeling of running through city streets late at night, while pausing occasionally to survey the surroundings of skyscrapers, cars, trees, bars, clubs, and total strangers. This is not to say that the music is inaccessible in any way. Most of it is head-bopping brilliance that will reward most types of electronic music listeners.

#4 Thundercat — Drunk

Thundercat is a soul/funk bassist who has worked with a tonne of artists and bands apart from putting out a bunch of albums as a solo artist. To give you an idea of what ‘a tonne’ means, he, on the one hand, has worked with rap superhero Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus, and on the other, was, for a few years, the bassist of crossover legends Suicidal Tendencies. Basically, it’s fair to say this was a ‘hype’ release for many.

And it’s a pretty solid album too. One I would definitely recommend listening to. I love that the songs are short and crisp. The production is interesting: a lot of reverb, a lot of bass, a lot of groove. The vocals, mostly in falsetto, complement the instrumental tracks brilliantly. And there’s a Kendrick feat in there, so there’s also that, although I wasn’t a big fan of that particular track (gasp!). If you want a soulful night-loungey sort of album, this is a safe bet. But it isn’t the earth-shatterer I thought it could have been.

iTunes link

#5 Ed Dowie — The Uncle Sold

Like most experimental pop, Ed Dowie’s Uncle Sold seems like the sort of album that takes its time to grow on you. I’ve spent over a month with it, and it has kinda-sorta grown on me. Most of the tracks are slow, soft and often a mix of drones and piano, with Ed Dowie singing, sometimes chanting over them. This combination makes the album sound like a collection of sombre lullabies.

I liked this album, but it can tend to seem monotonous to some. While the experience of listening to the whole album from start to finish is good, I struggle to think of a single moment that really stuck out. Still, it’s an enjoyable listen, one that I will whole-heartedly recommend, especially as a pre-naptime listen. If you still do naps, that is.

Other stuff

Every single thing Leonard Cohen (RIP) touched.

The January Fix

#1 Throwing Snow — Embers

I am automatically sceptical of concept albums. To me, they often come across as ham-fisted and gimmicky. Embers, my favourite January album, is a kinda-sorta concept album that avoids this trap. Its central concept — the abundance of cycles in nature — is a constant but subtle presence, right from the cover of the album to its structure. This concept transforms what is already a bunch of solid electronic tracks into a solid album.

The album starts with the sound of a rural fire, placing us in front of a source of heat and light in the dark wilderness. Throughout the album, chirps and clicks reinforce this setting. It’s an odd setting for dance music, but on Embers, it works to create a uniquely organic backdrop.

What unravels against this backdrop is a uniquely organic brand of electronic music that oscillates between warm and cold, dark and light, upbeat and downbeat. A few songs into the album, a pattern forms. A motif is introduced, and subsequently broken down until it collapses into a dull hum. From this, another motif rises, crescendoes, and collapses into a dull hum of its own. And on and on it goes.

Right from the outset, it is clear that Embers is an album-lover’s album. The buildups are slow, the transitions are seamless, and the sound covers a lot of ground — from nocturnal house music, to drone-y ambient music, to wibble-wobble IDM. Most importantly, the music is consistently catchy, meaning the album always feels significantly shorter than its hour-long runtime. In keeping with its theme of cyclicality, the album ends like it starts: with the sound of a crackling rural fire. It’s the perfect way to end an album that’s intended to be looped, and is good enough to warrant it.

#2 Cloud Nothings — Life Without Sound

My first Cloud Nothings album was Attack on Memory, whose singles — Stay Useless, and No Future/No Past — I loved. The album? Not as much. The album itself was a massive hipster hit, with a whole bunch of online superstar reviewers praising the band’s shift from poppy punk to edgy post-hardcore. I, of course, never knew a poppy Cloud Nothings. To me, Attack on Memory, and its followup Here and Nowhere Else, sounded a lot more wallow-y than edgy.

Life Without Sound, the third Cloud Nothings record I have heard, is my favourite by them. Firstly, the depresso is dialled down quite a few notches, a decision that gets my thumbs-up. Secondly, I think the music is just flat-out more interesting. ‘Catchy’ is a word I find myself using a lot these days, and this album not only has a whole bunch of catchy songs, but also is just catchy overall.

I have never been a huge fan of the lyrics of Cloud Nothings’ songs, which often come off as drenched in self-pity. While that isn’t as much of a problem in this record, I continue to tune out most of the lyrics. That said, I would recommend this album to fans of pop-punk and post-hardcore. It’s a good, straightforward, and mostly enjoyable experience.

#3 Neil Cicierega — Mouth Moods

The only fair way to describe Mouth Moods, and the two previous Niel Cicierega albums — Mouth Silence and Mouth Sounds — is post-pop mashup comedy. For context, the reference to mouths in all three albums comes from Neil Cicierega’s obsession with Smash Mouth’s All Star, which features prominently in all three albums.

For fans of western pop culture of the nineties and early aughties, this album is a goldmine of oh-I-remember-that. In just the first song, there’s Smash Mouth, of course, there’s Cake, Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, MC Hammer, that this-iiis-the-story-of-a-girl song, that Everybody Dance Now song, and that Kung Fu Fighting song. In just in the first song.

This isn’t ground-breaking stuff. And there are several moments when you won’t be able to shake off the image of some dude at his laptop layering song after song on some free music-maker type software. But there are certainly more moments when you’ll find yourself bopping and laughing.

#4 William Basinski — A Shadow in Time

Someone online referred to William Basinski’s A Shadow in Time as an audio sculpture. That sounds about right. More than any other ambient music I’ve heard, William Basinski’s music has a stillness to it. It doesn’t seem to move forward in time so much as it seems to reveal itself upon careful inspection.

This is an album that won’t reveal itself over five listens, but one that will continue to throw surprises on the 100th listen. I sense this is one of those albums that will continue to grow on me.

Deathspell Omega — The Synarchy of Molten Bones (A review by Unkitsch)

stranger’s note: I, like Unkitsch, love this album. I do disagree, though, with his meditations on simplicity/ virtuosity in music. I will respond as friends do: in an essay.

Unkitch’s review

I: Introduction (if you want direct impressions on the music, skip this)

When a musician attempts to write a technical piece of music, they’re always judged by what I like to think of as the soul police. “Oh sure, you play your instruments exceedingly well, and the number of layers to the composition are overwhelming, but where’s the feel?” More often than not such criticism usually stems from musical illiteracy or an unacknowledged inferiority complex, maybe even sheer laziness for people who are used to listening to inherently passive music which is catered towards those who let the act of listening terminate at the eardrums rather than letting it permeate all the way to their analytical conscious mind.

Another criticism of music that is intellectually demanding is usually the lack of tangible motive, or of lyrical content – how ‘meaningful’ is it? How poetic? What are the underlying themes, and are they more accessible than some abstract playful ideas that fail to travel far from the personal experiences of the musician? This criticism stems from the straitjacketing of music to its archaic function as a vehicle for ideas and emotions rather than an end in itself, a painting of frequencies open to interpretation with the same legitimacy as ‘modern art’ in the vein of Pollock, Picasso and Dali.

And though I begin with this standoff-ish view on people’s views on music, I must admit – if there comes along something that manages to satisfy my moderate thirst for musicality while infusing the music with emotion and lyrical content of the highest order, such an effort merits not just praise, but respect. It no longer remains a thing that is meant to be idly consumed, but should be treated as an object of study and reverence, a means of enrichment of one’s faculties, an accessory to forming new neural links. And such is this offering from Deathspell Omega – a musical collective which is no stranger to such accomplishment.

Deathspell Omega is largely anonymous – Mikko Aspa is the only well defined member on vocals, a man with several socially unacceptable yet publicly proclaimed proclivities. Hasjarl, the guitar player (and widely regarded as the creative spirit of DSO) is presumed to be one Christian Bouche, a Frenchman behind the label Norma Evangelium Diaboli (which releases DSO merch, amongst other things), while the drummer might be entirely fictional. Not much is known of Khaos, the bass player.

Anonymity in black metal is nothing new – the second wave of black metal bands, largely Norwegian, opted for pseudonymity – creating stage personas with names such as Varg, Dead, Gaahl, Infernus – it would be odd for someone named Tom to be spouting the kind of simplistic reactionary mysticism and adorning the crude, childlike corpse paint to further drive in the point that they were dangerous, they were more than musicians – Satanists out to shake the very foundation of modern Christian society. And while these antics entertained, the quality of the music and lyrical content petered out along with the animalistic drive which lead to this music, leading to a plethora of weak imitations worldwide, and this pseudonymity became subject to ridicule from peers and critics alike.

With bands like Deathspell Omega, or Blut Aus Nord, things are different. Gone is the tasteless (even if mildly entertaining) anti-Christian invective. Instead, you have a much more structured critique, tongue-in-cheek allusions, layered metaphors, inversions – all fueled by a deep set misanthropy that can get overwhelming for those not used to it. They question the basis for morals, for anthropocentric views, the necessity for ethics. In a sense they echo the attitude of their predecessors, but aided by reason and coherence rather than pure rage – though the rage is far from absent in terms of expression. The venom is there – cold and calculated, and deadlier than ever. And given such extreme views, to NOT adopt anonymity is folly – in the tradition of Barthes, it seems only fair to distance the personal identity of the artist from the art, which would make this essay merely one of many possible reflections upon the work in question. The cynic in me will always find some degree of amusement in these efforts – since it believes that the music can speak for itself without all these layers of imposed meaning or the necessity for adopting such extreme philosophical positions – but this voice is largely drowned by the sincerity with which the band has managed to convincingly convey their convictions.

II: Music

It’s been 17 years since DSO released their first demo. A lot has changed since then. To begin with, the music was largely ‘orthodox black metal’, and the lyrical themes were of a similar nature. The first major shift was in 2004, with SMRC (Si Monvmentvm Requires, Circumspice), where the band adopted a decidedly more experimental sound. They grew as musicians and composers, but the sound could still be safely placed in the ‘black metal’ container. Skip forward to 2007 Enter FAS – an album where the guitar riffs flowed from one dissonant chord grouping to another, whereas the drumming was effectively free flowing, chaotic and without restraint. This was the last album where one had definitive evidence of a human percussionist. Further down the line – 2010. Paracletus. Terrifying precision. Progressive /Math Rock filtered through a black metal lens, drumming that seemed mechanical yet joyful, an album filled with contradictions. Expertly structured songs, and for the first time discernible melodies, enough that there are piano interpretations of some of the songs, like this one:

My own attempt to transcribe some parts to the piano lead me to believe that Hasjarl might have composed Paracletus (and Drought) largely on the piano. So when the DSO bandcamp page announced “The Synarchy Of Molten Bones” out of nowhere, while I pressed “order” almost by reflex, I wondered what kind of sound I’d hear on the new release – I foolishly expected them to play it safe and make some minor changes to the Paracletus / Drought template.

Instead, what emanated was a Paracletus – FAS hybrid, combining the strengths of each release, eliminating all weaknesses and delivering another twisted development of their core sound. Starting off with some horns and a strange vocal sample , the title track opens with a mid tempo riff which leads you to (falsely) believe that this will probably be an easy listen. And then the blast beats begin. What follows is a master class in drumming, if there is indeed a real drummer behind the kit. If not, it’s a masterclass in drum programming which makes every other attempt at programming percussion feel like a bit of a joke. The patterns keep shifting and mutating, both between the kick-snare and on the cymbals, rendering even the most atrocious of transitions seamless – of which there are several. Hasjarl is not to be outdone, as the guitar playing is equally virtuosic. You can hear his fingers fly from one inhuman sounding phrase to another, with the ‘twangs’ and the wide chords indicating continuation of his hybrid picking style which has only gotten more complex over the years – the enunciation is much clearer than FAS, and the tempos are more furious than Paracletus.

On the bass end, Khaos has always been lurking towards the back of the mix, buried under the chaotic guitar-drum interplay. For the first time (I feel), you can hear the bass become prominent – ‘Famished For Breath’ being a good example of this. As for vocals, Mikko Aspa has outdone himself – part of it is the multi-tracking and layering, but even barring that his throw has gotten angrier and more compressed, his growls are more menacing, and there’s a part on ‘Famished’ where he sounds like he’s literally being strangled while he continues to sing (all of this under the assumption that it is indeed him on the vocals).

One of the defining features of DSO’s music has been the guitar sound. Ulcerate, among a chosen few, have managed to ape it to an extent, but once again it is apparent that the exact sound might prove inimitable – it’s a combination of the patch, the playing style and the way it’s mixed in with the drums and the occasionally distorted bass. On the third track, for instance, after the 3 minute mark, you get a glimpse at the alien tone when the riff moves to the 5th string with the almost buzzsaw-esque sound. Besides this, the horns, the choral voices, chants – all add to the eerie and bizarre atmosphere.

In terms of songwriting, there is not a single dull moment on this release, with the entire album being fairly high tempo, peppered with mid tempo refrains. It is hard to isolate riffs and bars save the slower tempos, where one can make out the odd times employed – sometimes 9, sometimes 7. Phrases and lines are resolved in the most unexpected of ways. It’s a rare display of technical prowess that does not make its complexity overt, and instead renders itself as a chaotic mass of sound that is largely impervious to quick and dirty analysis, making it a prime candidate for looping over and over. Find the official stream below.

III: Lyrics and Artwork:

“Oh, a black metal band – more Satan, I guess?” Well yes, but not in the way you would think. DSO goes for a ‘metaphysical interpretation of Satan”,(literal quote from an interview, one of three)- a theme they have explored starting with SMRC. Look at the art. It’s apparently the Homeric archer, Apollo – a candidacy that is further strengthened by the reference to Iatros – a name given to Apollo by a cult that worshipped him as a healer – stark contrast to his reputation as the bringer of plague and sickness. The chariot is being flown by crows/ravens (referenced in the title of the third track) – another creature sacred to Apollo (who is also credited with turning crows black – another instance of his inherently contradictory nature). But why Apollo, and what is he shooting an arrow at?

Let’s look at the third track from “Onward Where Most With Ravin I May Meet”:

O Father! Iatros! Witness thou anon!
The rotten splendor of what once was thy realm,
now shivering at the black threshold of the grave,
deprived of the compass of duality,
hence wretched and drowning in tenfold confusion.

As far as I can see, both from this reference and others, Apollo Iatros is the face of duality, the same duality that led to the birth of Christianity – to see how, we must go back to Plato and his allegory of the cave, where the famous notion of material reality being a shadow of the ‘true reality’ of platonic forms arises. Christianity took it to the extreme, delineating the realm of heaven/hell and the realm of earth – two distinct universes, with the terrestrial sphere a shadow cast using the illumination of an all powerful Godhead. Further duality was expressed through the notion of virtue and sin. It is this duality Hasjarl rejects, the God who is both destroyer and creator, man who is both sinful and virtuous.

The Synarchy of Molten Bones shall consist
of Men of worth and Men of ill intent
in abandoned yet equal numbers,
for their insurgent wills harbor
the seed of transgression alike.

As Frenchmen, DSO have an illustrious line of transgressionists and surrealists to look up to – starting (to some extent) from Baudelaire, Lautreamont, Breton and most importantly, Bataille, who espouses the philosophy of base materialism, whereby humans are creatures of excess – possessing excess energy, and delighting in expending the same. Another aspect of this was the notion that human thought evolves via transgression, by rejecting existing values to formulate new ones – ironically enough the starting point for humanity in the Adam and Eve parable, partaking of the forbidden fruit – the original transgression. And so it is that the new man is born, as is expressed in “Famished For Breath”:

Thou shalt precipitate History, 
those days of yonder,
and the solemn roots of the human race
into the furnace fraught with fire unquenchable.
The names of all things thou shalt feed
to the undying worm
and rejoice at the mumblings of a once potent tongue.

‘The undying worm’ is a reference to Mark 9:48:

And if your eye causes you to fall into sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

This might be an allusion to the gradual decay of the once great Greek civilization, or for the death of civilization as we know it in general. In some sense the new man is similar to Nietzsche’s ubermensch, one unfettered by the bindings of conventional morality and the essentially artificial construct of the good/evil duality, which seems to be the lyrical undercurrent for most of the album.

Thou shalt celebrate the conception and rise
of the New Man, to whom all he eats or drinks
is propagated malediction,
a Man pregnant with infernal flame,
standing on the devastation 
of all things past. 

IV: Conclusion:

I did not anticipate this post to be drag on this long, especially given the rather short playtime for the album itself (a little shy of 30 minutes), and these are just preliminary thoughts – I am sure I am yet to adequately explore the depths it has to offer, both in terms of the musical structures and the lyrical themes. It seems that with each release, Deathspell Omega are carving out part of a gigantic monolith, a treatise that is at once both musical and philosophical while remaining visceral enough to elicit the most primal responses of fear, fascination and sometimes outright admiration. “The Synarchy Of Molten Bones” is perhaps the densest of the lot – at once free and structured, and refined to a razor’s edge.

I’d like to end by summarizing this collective’s journey in their own words, taken from the title track:

This seed shall bloom with noxious flowers,
borne out of the mordant steel of scythes.

Buy it here

Complete Lyrics

D.D Dumbo — Utopia Defeated

Even though I have been looping D. D. Dumbo’s single, Satan, for the whole second half of 2016, I have never heard anything like Utopia Defeated in my life. I struggle to imagine anyone disliking this album, D.D Dumbo’s debut. I want to say it has something for everyone, but had I not heard this album and was coming into this review cold, a phrase like ‘something for everyone’ would have made me sceptical. See, that particular phrase is bandied about so freely. But take my word for it: this album really does have something for everyone.

If my earnestness from the paragraph before this has been enough to convince you to give this album a spin, my job is done. I’m sure the album will do a far better job of convincing you within the first fifteen seconds than any of my writing will. But if you’re still reading on, sceptical, let me tell you why this album makes my job remarkably difficult.

I want to convince you this is a great album. For that, it’s usually best to fall back on comparables, which for an album such as this is so difficult to do. On the one hand there’s the obvious world music influences, but to call Utopia Defeated world music would do it a great disservice (just as calling ever Goat album world music does that band a great deal of disservice). On the other hand there’s the obvious pop sensibility that underscores every song on the album.  In that way, I see a fair comparison to one of my musical heroes, Talking Heads, who melded pop, world music, and everything else into this genre-of-one-band sound.

So, instead of struggling to find comparables, I will resort to metaphor. Listening to Utopia Defeated often feels like a vacation in the hills — by day you stand in the middle of what seems like nowhere, arms outstretched, your face bathed in cold air and the warm sun; by night, you descend into a hill town, walking its streets, weaving through markets, cafes, and pubs. This album is hill and valley, night and day, cold and warm. It isn’t just an exaggeration of a portion of the human experience, but a meditation on the entirety of it. By the end of my first listen, I found myself feeling like I had just travelled to the hills and back, like I had been on a thirty-seven minute vacation. If that doesn’t convince you to give it a shot, I don’t know what will.

(Listen to the album whenever, wherever, however. It’s really really good.)

Nicolas Jaar — Sirens

Note: Anything Nicolas Jaar puts out comes with baggage. Space is Only Noise is a great album. His work on DARKSIDE is great. He’s only 26, and is already one of the most respected (electronic or otherwise) musicians in the world. It’s important to get all of this out of the way, because it takes away from how amazing Sirens, his second LP, is.

While listening to this album, I grappled with three music-related concepts. All three of them have something to do with ‘what’s in between’.

I Silence

I first became conscious of the compositional importance of silence while listening to James Blake’s self-titled debut LP. Between two chords, two notes, two words, he just let the song breathe. And instead of becoming boring, that made the album all the more interesting — the wait. It’s all about anticipation, the aural equivalent of watching a Hitchcock movie waiting for the frame to shift.

II Repetition

Here’s something punk taught me — repetition in music does not equal monotony. When done right, repetition can magically both ground music and make it seem transcendental. This is why we love driving bass lines (dun-dun-dun-dun). This is why we love choruses. This is why we love na-na-na-na.

III Non-semitone frequencies

What’s between A and A#? The frequency of A4 is 440 Hz, and the frequency of A#4 is 466 Hz. What’s 450 Hz? How we deal with this is by breaking an octave into 12 semitones and 100 cents. Cents are still discrete, though. (How do you map the frequencies of a guitar string being bent? That’s not discrete.)

So much of the beauty of the album is in these gaps. Sometimes the gaps are temporal (repetition, silence). Sometimes they are frequential. It is these gaps that make music an interactive artform, especially in albums such as this one. These gaps are the blanks you fill with your thoughts.

We all tell ourselves stories, even when we are listening to those of others. In between a fullstop and a capital letter is where you come in. Between the C# and the F of Smells Like Teen Spirit is where you can actually ‘smell’ ‘teen spirit’. This is why going to a club is so often excruciating if you aren’t dancing. “I can’t hear myself think,” you say.

^That is what Sirens is not. It’s an artist telling a story, but allowing you to interlace yours with it. Through conversations between the artist as a squeaky-voiced toddler and his father that form the spine of the album, you are a child looking at the world outside and trying to make sense of it. Through his trademark baritone sprechgesang vocals, you are an adult looking at a world you think you now understand better still struggling to make any sense of it.

My recommendation: pick a night on which you have thirty-eight minutes plus twenty to spend as you choose. Enter ‘nicolas jaar sirens’ into the search bar of your chosen mode of music consumption. Connect your headphones (recommended), earphones, or speakers. Turn out the lights. Close your eyes. Drift away. Tell yourself a story.

And if you like it, do it again and again and again.

GoGo Penguin – Man Made Object (a review by Unkitsch)

 

I shouldn’t have to write anything if you watch the video above. If you decide not to, then you’re clearly a little soft in the head to think that my words will in any way best this performance. But let’s say you’re that kind of a person, and you came to this blog expecting a review of some sort, and you need reasons to pick this album out of a million others to listen to.

Reason 1 – Impeccable Groove:

I listen to this album while commuting to work. I get completely absorbed in the songs as I get out of my house, walk towards the train station, wait for the train, get out, follow the same path that leads into a park and then 9 floors up to my office. I know that if I have left at the correct moment, I will be listening to “Weird Cat” just as I enter the park. I am completely in sync with the album, and by the time I’m done listening to it, I’m in the rhythm to work.

Reason 2 – Memorable Melodies:

Good jazz, or for that matter good music, should have memorable melodies. Take “My Favorite Things”, for instance, which has such a simple yet memorable melody, there have been innumerable renditions, and due to its stark simplicity, this Rodgers & Hammerstein classic has worn so many styles and flirted with so many great musicians, I could write an entire post devoted to it, which I someday will. But the point being, these guys know how to write hooks, melodies, and though one might imagine that the improvisational aspect is limited, I once again suggest listening to the album and then watch any of their live videos to note how subtly they improvise in near watertight structural restrictions, both rhythmic and melodic. Especially the drummer.

Reason 3 – Crystal Clear Production:

You can hear every note clearly – which is a combination of how the sections are composed and arranged, how cleanly they are played and how well recorded and mastered they are. I could transcribe a lot of the melodies and bass just by listening to them on my terrible laptop speakers.

Reason 4 – Jazz Induction:

If you have friends who aren’t really into jazz, or if you are a friend to someone who loves jazz but you don’t (in which case you’re a terrible friend – kidding) – this album can be a great gateway into jazz – especially if the jazz non-lover in concern has some appreciation for electronic music such as Aphex Twin (who is a major influence for the band, or so I’ve been told).

(stranger’s note: unkitsch blogs at howgoodisthisalbum.wordpress.com.)

New Keepers of the Water Towers – Infernal Machine

I love this album. It is a mostly instrumental album that occupies that hard-to-define space between hard rock and heavy metal. Fans of psychedelic music will love it for its tones. Fans of groove metal will love it for its occasional head-bobbiness. Fans of prog will like it for its patient buildups. But most of all, and I think this is why the album works for me, fans of good old rock will just really enjoy the experience of listening (or drifting off) to the album.

Let me just take you through the experience of listening to Infernal Machine.

Song 1, The Forever War, sets the mood, preparing you perfectly for the rest of the album. It’s a meditative experience, and is one of the few tracks with vocals. Once you have been set up for the show, popcorn in hand and all, Tracks over Carcosa kicks into gear with a rumble filled with anticipation. A steady bassline rises – this is promising, you think – the drums kick in, tantalising drones surround you. It’s happening, you think. It’s happening, it’s happening, it’s happening. When the lead guitar hits… Oh. god. What is this? You are just being carried by this album’s undercurrent. You hit Tachyon Deep, the vocals are back for a bit, there’s some oddly tribal drum-beating. It’s all good; you shut your eyes and let the music wash over you. This album was made to be experienced full-force. Misantropin Kallar is a good interlude and all, but you are hankering for the next pick-me-up. And then… oh my GOD what is this? (Escape Aleph Minor, by the way.) You nod your way through to the anticipation-filled Jorden, instrumental motifs start to become more apparent, and a narrative starts to form. You google the album and discover on some obscure music review site (perhaps this one) that the album is a soundtrack to Joe Haldeman’s 1974 novel The Forever War (a novel I haven’t read or researched). Ah, the motifs make sense. It makes total sense. The album closer, This Infernal Machine, revisits many a motif; it sounds both familiar and unfamiliar – it’s going to tie the whole album up neatly, you sense. It’s all going to add up now, you sense.

And it does. It totally does. This truly is an album-lover’s album. It’s a delightful listen – a great experience from start to finish. I highly recommend it.

Here are some links:

  • The album’s bandcamp page.
  • If you like Apple Music, you will love this link.
  • A video for The Forever War.

Have a good time.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

 

I’m on my third listen of the new Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds album. Professionals will moan that I haven’t had enough time to accurately judge the merits and demerits of the album given it’s just a few days old.

Well, I’m not being paid to do this, so here goes.

My general gripe with Nick Cave albums is that I find it hard to stay focussed on them. I’m the kind of rabid post-punk fan that loves the driving bassline and drumbeat tropes of the genre. Every time I put on a Nick Cave album, I am aware of its import, but I’m not always enthralled.

That’s probably my fault.

This hasn’t been the case with Skeleton Tree. I really quite like it. Personally, I love the album’s dreamy major-key moments on Skeleton Tree, Distant Sky, and Rings of Saturn, which has the album’s most memorable refrain:

And this is the moment, this is exactly what she is born to be / And this is what she does and this is what she is

This is not to say that the rest of the album is not just as great. My favourite song of the album is I Need You, which, to me was just a sad, sad song. It ticked off all my melodrama boxes, leaving me filled with regret about a dead relationship (Score!). At the end of every listen of the song (there have been several), I usually find myself agreeing broadly with its almost-cliché premise:

Nothing really matters.

There’s no doubt the album is a shade of blue, but unlike the other Nick Cave albums I have heard, it isn’t pitch-freaking-black. There’s an all-pervading sense of loss through the album, and on tracks like Girl in Amber, I get the sense that if you let yourself go, you’ll find yourself fighting back tears, but overall, the sadness does not overwhelm you.

And I think that the album generally avoids ^that pitfall is the reason why this is the first time I remember looping a Nick Cave album. Yes, Nick Cave is intended to be a purveyor of dirge-rock, and yes, I enter every album expecting dirge after sludgy dirge, but in this album, there seems to be a certain positivity (that I’m sure I’d find in all of his albums, if I were capable) in the form of  acceptance – a light to the usual black.

Overall, I recommend this album strongly. It’s more proof that 2016 has been the best year for music in my life so far. I will be listening to it often. But be warned, it is a sad album with the potential to be heart-rending under the right circumstances. Keep something cheerful ready in case it gets too much.

PS: Jesus Walks and I Need You are brilliants tracks to release as singles, but also probably the most depressing singles of the year. Here they are.

Jesus Alone

I Need You

Edit:

What El-P thinks: