Saturday, September 27, 2008

Thomas Function - Celebration

Thomas Function
(04.2008, Alive Records)
File Under = Weird voice and weird songs, AKA indie rock

I just wanted to preface my brief remarks here with two statements: First, Thomas Function is a band name rather than an individual, kinda like Lynyrd Skynyrd. Second, despite containing one of the most distinctly grating voices to be recorded and released in 2008, Celebration is pretty dang awesome. Those two points may not have been particularly essential to this review, but I had been confused initially about the first and mislead by the second when I started listening to Thomas Function. Gleaning multiple genre elements into one hotpot full of vigorous indie rock, Celebration is energetic, twangy and, well, bitchin’! Thomas Function use standard rock equipment: bass, drums, guitars and, uh, gospel organ Casios, but the band is anything but standard. Part of that has to do with lead vocals that sound like they have stretched out and sun baked to into a screechy reddened madness yet still manages to somehow be catchy. The vocals are definitely the most unique instrument here, but even they have their comparisons (at points on “Conspiracy of Praise” he sounds distinctly like Danielson). So it’s just ‘indie rock’ right? Not quite. Celebration is special and I’m not talking short bus special - actually, I kind of am. There is something that is simultaneously awesome and retarded about Thomas Function that makes it more than your average indie rock… much more. It’s ADHD Midwestern indie rock on acid and quite a refreshing trip in comparison to standard bands of its ilk.

-Mr. Thistle

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

High Places - High Places

High Places
High Places
(09.2008, Thrill Jockey)
Verdict: A sure-fire equation to get your accolades and adoration.

A few of the hottest indie trends in music right now are: boy girl indie electro duos, creepy cover art, anything "experimental", gatefold vinyl packaging containing colored pressed wax, danceable jams, and don't forget that important and mesmerizing throwback of a word, psychedelic. High Places have hit all those trendy but enjoyable nails squarely on the head and have newly released a fresh batch of hypno-tribal subtle pop songs for you to fall asleep/meditate to, or boogie to, whichever you prefer. High Places is definitely a good addition to the 2008 catalog of good music, and is very enjoyable to listen to. I just worry that with all the trendiness ensuing, the novelty may wear away quickly and High Places will become forgettable, but for now, let us enjoy and praise the bold new steps of the young newish-comers and thoroughly congratulate them on combining all the things we can't get enough of in music as of late.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Fig Leaves - Self Titled

Fig Leaves
Fig Leaves
(04.2008, Self Released)
File Under = noisy funky post-punk decon–reconstructionists

Hailing from across the Atlantic, Fig Leaves are an experimental UK band that isn’t easy to tag (a quick glance at the “file under” nonsense above reveals as much). Fortunately, that elusiveness doesn’t reflect the accomplished and cohesive nature of their eye opening self-titled debut CDr/cassette. Yes, Fig Leaves are “experimental” and yes, I did just mention that their most recent release is on both CDr and cassette formats, however, this is much more that your average hipster improv filler, AKA “We record every jam session and release it as a limited CDr.” Fig Leaves are as satisfying to listen to as they are impressively (to your hipster friends) unknown. This little album is a fully dynamic, muscular gem filled with constantly impressive break beat drumming, funk infused bass lines, early 90s post punkery, all floating in a collage of samples and industrio-electronic pedal induced mayhem. Sounds pretty fresh right? “If it’s true,” you qualm. I honestly don’t know what to say to that except to give you my word on this one – if there is one unknown act on Forest Gospel that you hope is as described, The Fig Leaves are it. In fact, these guys are just about the only band in my opinion that is properly picking up where This Heat left off with Deceit more then 25 years ago. If that doesn’t cause the old aural taste buds to start salivating I don’t know what will. But for the sake of additional reference points and absurdist related band stews, lets just say that Fig Leaves are something like a much dirtier Battles with a Fugazi song or two tucked away amidst their additional WZT Hearts squalor. Tasty!

-Mr. Thistle

Fig Leaves on Myspace

TV On The Radio - Dear Science

TV on the Radio
Dear Science
(09.2008, DGC/Interscope)
Verdict = Better than Return to Cookie Mountain

TV on the Radio has emerged as one of the most distinctive voices on the modern indie music landscape (though they’re not technically indie anymore) and as such will always be walking a thin line in regards to follow up albums with fans ready to yell “sell out” at a moments notice. Fortunately, Dear Science, doesn’t fall into to that Modest Mousian trap, but there are still going to be a lot of raised eyebrows when it comes to TVOR’s third full length because things are “different.” Different isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Return to Cookie Mountain was different, but it was also immediately arresting, darting straight for the jugular. Dear Science, is different in a much less flashy sense that is bound to send many listeners into ‘meh’ mode upon first listen. It’s unfortunate really. Hasn’t TV on the Radio earned more from us? After the near perfection of Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes and the gripping noise pop of Return to Cookie Mountain, doesn’t TV on the Radio deserve our trust or at least a thorough, unbiased evaluation of their most recent effort? Well, I have attempted just such a thorough, unbiased listen of Dear Science, and it turns out that TV on the Radio has scored yet again. While TV on the Radio may never be able to contain the wide eyed excitement of Desperate Youth, Dear Science, has much more staying power than their still great sophomore effort. Yeah, the beautiful wall of sound is gone, but the pop aesthetics here and the minimalistic pulse propels each song deep into your head taking special time to embed itself into your memory banks while inciting mandatory head nodding. I think one of TV on the Radio’s strong points is the incessant creative use of a limited palate to produce the most well formed songs. Lead singer Tunde Adebimpe’s vocals seem to be a little less the focal point of the songs this time around and the balance is refreshing. Where their previous releases have been extremely potent on first listen, slowly showing signs of ware with repeated listen, Dear Science, finds the opposite true with understated songs that seem to grow exponentially upon repeated listens. Who knows, maybe in a couple of years Dear Science, will reveal itself as their best album to date.

-Mr. Thistle

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Belong - Same Places 12"

Same Places (Slow Version) 12”
(2008, Table of Elements)
Verdict = Only 14+ minutes, but still totally worth it

Ambient drone duo Belong are having a fairly productive year in 2008 which, in and of itself, makes 2008 a great year for music. Same Places is their second limited vinyl only EP to be released in preparation for the sophomore follow-up to their amazing debut, October Language. Don’t let the EP thing throw you off though because, just like their Colorloss Record earlier this year, Same Places is absolutely essential. To put the band in context, at least for those familiar with the blog, Belong sits in the same pristine, almost godlike arena of similar ambient artists like The Fun Years or Axolotl. You know - these are artists who require you to pickup everything they put out without hesitation simply because they always exceed your expectations. Same Places is no different. The clear 12” carries a single track that barely exceeds 14 minutes on one side of the vinyl (the b-side has an awesome etching that fits the aesthetic nicely). Initially my faith in the worthwhile nature of the record was diminished upon discovering the time factor, but after listening Same Places (Slow Version…whatever that means) I was left absolutely stunned. Building on the heavily layer slow moving drone formula of genre luminaries like Tim Hecker and Fennesz, Belong has created one of the best single long form drone tracks that I have heard since Eluvium’s “Taken” from Talk Amongst the Trees (which is a considerable thing considering that that song is probably my favourite single drone track of all time). It’s that good and, being that good, is totally worth the price of admission for the glorious 12”. Now the only question for Belong is: where is the full length?

-Mr. Thistle

Belong's Same Places (Slow Version) as uploaded by the band for free!

The Tallest Man On Earth - Shallow Grave

The Tallest Man On Earth
Shallow Grave
(03.2008, Gravitation)
File under = Ok, yeah, he kinda sounds like Bob Dylan

Finally, an album I can succinctly label as folk. No additional qualifiers or hodge-podge genre mach-ups. Shallow Grave is as straightforward a guitar/voice centric album as is possible. And, as such, The Tallest Man On Earth, AKA Kristian Matsson, has made a powerful testament to the simple, evocative, infinite strength of the song. No audio trickery here. No convoluted concepts to grapple with (or ignore), just ten perfectly composed songs with an acoustic guitar. Now I know that there are some of you out there, sitting at your computer desk with your hands raised, stuttering, “um, excuse me, Mr. Thistle…sir, there are plenty of people, innumerous multitudes even that play and record good or even great songs with just their voice and an acoustic guitar.” After which I rudely and digressively reply, “Like Jack Johnson?” Don’t be offended, I’m just joking. Of course you would be right, and we could probably together name dozens of worthwhile albums with that same criteria released just this year. I guess my point is, that while we may be able to create such a list (casually thinking about it just now, I’m not so sure we could), how many of these artists are really inspiring, dynamic, ‘possibly in my top ten list of 2008’ caliber artists? Personally, I can’t think of anyone in recent memory that fits into this category of songwriting. Well, let me just get to the obvious, The Tallest Man On Earth (not officially recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records) has changed that. Shallow Grave is simply enchanting paring a weathered vocals and tangled lyrics with a flurry of adeptly played guitar (and banjo) used to spin pure gold. Somehow it isn’t surprising that Matsson hails from Sweden. The true mark of genius in these songs is their timelessness. I can’t think of any time in history when this album wouldn’t be hailed as a simple masterpiece.

-Mr. Thistle

Inca Ore - Birthday of Bless You

Inca Ore
Birthday of Bless You
(2008, Not Not Fun)
File Under = Ghost music

After Grouper landed on the Forest Gospel radar a couple of years ago it was only a matter of time before similarly ethereal, Oregon apparition exorcist, Inca Ore, found her way to our ears. Known by family and friends as Eva Saelens, Inca Ore has been kicking up dust with a variety of limited, less limited and collaborative releases (including a split tape with the aforementioned Grouper that is set to be reissued on Vinyl and CD). With Birthday of Bless You, Saelens continues to expand her signature elusive dreaminess. With a voice that sounds like it is recorded through six feat of dirt and cloud of dusty lo-fi tones accompanying it, Birthday of Bless You still manages to be oddly calming despite its harrowing moments. I can't say that I have listened to a lot of Ince Ore's back catalog up to this point (just the Grouper split) but this vinyl only release is definitely a must have for any fans of Grouper or Valet or Jackie-O - seems like they're all pretty well interrelated anyway. There must be something in the water in Oregon that evokes this type of off kilter specter worship. Whatever it is, hopefully they start piping it into Salt Lake City soon because Birthday of Bless You is just the kind of magnificent and terrifying and gorgeous and everything else in-between that we need more of.

-Mr. Thistle

The Music Tapes - For Clouds and Tornadoes

The Music Tapes
For Clouds and Tornadoes
(08.2008 Merge)
Verdict: A whimsical pop gem.

Julian Koster's first outing as The Music Tapes blended iffy production methods, old time radio interludes, unusual instruments (including bouncy balls and metronomes for percussion) and childlike vocal delivery and subject matter such as: aliens, the death of superman and a mistrust for parents. Needless to say, it's held a special place in my musical heart for some time now. Nine years later Julian Koster is pretty much the same, and that's a good thing. While For Clouds and Tornadoes might not be as cluttered and as child centric as its near decade old predecessor, it's still chock full of the same sense of wonder, fantasy, and singing saws. This time around Koster has generally opted for sparser song arrangements, relying heavily on his trusty singing saw and banjo, but still finds time for ping pong balls, electric organs, and various percussive instruments. Koster's songs are genuine as ever and his ability to transport the listener into a carefree dream world is unrivaled. In an indie world that's often far too concerned with being hip, it's nice to listen to an artist that's just concerned with crafting authentic pop music that can't easily be pinned down to a specific time or place, an artist that can bring out the youthful wonder in all of us.

-Wooly Mammal

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Chad VanGaalen - Soft Airplane

Chad VanGaalen
Soft Airplane
(09.2008, Sub Pop)
Verdict: Glorious

After releasing two of the most enjoyable albums known to mankind, I had galaxies full of expectations for the new Chad VanGaalen album. Somehow, all those expectations were fulfilled and then some. Chad VanGaalen is a genius, and not only that, his music genuinely makes me feel good. Not just a happy good, but some deep cosmic feeling that everything is going to turn out and that the world aint so bad type of good. I guess that might be weird considering most all his song lyrics are about death, revenge, and other morbid topics, but somehow Mr. VanGaalen laces these topics with a little bit of euphoria, a dash of love, some small bits of mysticism and magic, and tops it all off with a whole lot of quaint charm. His amazing song writing skills are carried out through bluesy acoustic guitar, electro dance beats and inventive percussion all layered under a quavering fragile and emotive voice. Soft Airplane is exceptionally beautiful and wonderfully light. Mr. VanGaalen does his own illustrations for his albums and music videos, and the new video for "Molten Light" is the most creepy, ugly one to date, but for some reason they always draw my curiosity in no matter how gross looking they are. Enjoy below.


The Tough Alliance - New Chance

The Tough Alliance
New Chance
(09.2008, Modular Interscope)
File Under = Carefree indie dance party

Released in their native Sweden in 2007, I discovered The Tough Alliance's New Chance earlier this year and was immediately sucked into their refreshing brand of tropical retro-electro pop. I don't know why I didn't post on them earlier, well, actually I do. It's all the pressure of this so called blogosphere to be constantly writing up the newest, most recent phenomenon. Well Forest Gospel ain't no Brooklyn Gorilla Gum so I don't know why I'm sweating it. I mean, we're community here right? Ha. Fortunately The Tough Alliance are finally unleashing this beast in the US so that I can write about it and pretend I am still hip and talking about the newest freshness (don't worry, I'm getting professional help). On the surface its simple, The Tough Alliance are a carefree indie pool/dance party waiting in eight beautiful tracks. However, some part of me wants to reach beyond that. Why? Because when I listen to New Chance it doesn't feel like merely some naively assembled one trick pop pony. the album is replayable to infinity and carries a truck bed full of nuances that teeter between dumb luck and genius. And despite hailing from the frosty clutches (at least in my imagination) of Sweden, The Tough Alliance feels somehow as if it came from sunny expanses of Miami. Don't exactly know why I think of Miami when I listen to this because I have actually never even been there. But in my imagination the streets are filled with red convertible Ferraris and 80s indie hipsters cruising past the palms in neon sun glasses. Sometimes I wonder if these type of descriptions are more detrimental than positively informative, so for the sake of clarity, this is an extremely good thing and a healthy break from most anything else claiming itself as indiecentric party music (not that they're officially making that claim). In conclusion, to keep up with my wild band comparisons in the past few reviews, I would sit this thing somewhere between The Avalanches, early Architecture in Helsinki and neon sunglasses. Have at it!

-Mr. Thistle

Monday, September 8, 2008

Wyld Wyzrdz - We Are Everyone

Wyld Wyzrdz
We Are Everyone
(07.2008, A. Star)
Verdict = Salt Lake’s best noise/ambient export

In my world, a world over crowded with numerous variations of slow-burning experimental titles, there has developed an unnecessary plethora of sub genres of noise and drone. Not only that but the overload of titles has made it much harder for individual records in the field to really stand out without being overwhelmingly good. Even fairly good records are starting to feel a bit stagnant and unnecessary. I mean, how many of these types of records are really necessary to have in a record collection? There have been a few records that have achieved that ‘overwhelmingly good’ standard though including The Fun Years’ Baby, It’s Cold Inside, Our Sleepless Forest’s self-titled debut and Birchville Cat Motel’s Gunpowder Temple of Heaven. Well, for those of us who revel in this stuff (and even for those that don’t) there is now another 2008 title to add to the short list of must have drone. Wyld Wyzrdz’ is a one man loop based outfit created by Braden J. McKenna. If the name sounds familiar then you are probably a regular reader because this is the same Braden J. McKenna behind the awesome lo-fi folk/noise pop project, The Navigator. I don’t know how this kid manages to turn everything he touches into gold, but let me assure you, We Are Everyone, his debut album as Wyld Wyzrdz, is just that. The first track alone is worth the price of admission as McKenna an 11+ minute track of equal parts beauty and dissonance that slowly loops and piles back on top of itself until it breaks away into a breezier, free folkish end. Literally, one of the best tracks of the year. The rest of the album works wonders as well, with guitar based slow burners that inhabit a wonderful space in-between the divine and the alien. Would fit quite nicely between Axolotl and Keith Fullerton Whitman or something like that. Huge recommendation.

-Mr. Thistle

Download We Are Everyone for free!

Ponytail - Ice Cream Spiritual

Ice Cream Spiritual
(06.2008, WE ARE FREE)
Verdict = a blazingly delicious rock spiritual, indeed!

Before listening to Ice Cream Spiritual I was given a little preface/warning from a friend that I shouldn’t expect to hear anything substantial from the vocals apart from high pitched female screams. The air of the comment had me worried about the vocals, kind of expecting that I would have to get used to them or get over them or something. Now, this isn’t a particularly literate album or one with catchy pop sing-a-longs, but that doesn’t mean that vocal excursions on Ice Cream Spiritual are the novelty I was lead to believe. On lead vocals Molly Siegel uses her voice the same way Brian Chippendale does in Lightning Bolt or Eye does with Boredoms - which is to say, she uses is it as another ecstatic instrument among the heaps of guitar, bass and drum ballistics on the record. So, if you hear something awry about the vocals, pay it no mind because Ponytail is simply a wondrous bunch of ballistic punk rock pranksters. The band is really all about exercising demons and after listening to Ice Cream Spiritual I’m convinced that the band manages a Gold’s Gym somewhere in the lower levels of hell ‘cause this stuff is nuts. I love it quite honestly. This stuff is simply rocking to the most rockingest extent. Full on blessed out jams teetering on explosion but retaining just enough control to be easily and enjoyably deciphered and translated to all out boneless, Gumby-style dance freak-outs. Musically, I want to pin them somewhere between Deerhoof and OOIOO, which, if I might say so myself, is pretty good company to be leveled against. Seems I can’t do much more but compare musicians to other musicians nowadays, but rest assured, Ponytail’s Ice Cream Spiritual is worth every second you lend to it.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Extra Life - Secular Works

Extra Life
Secular Life
(2008, Planaria)
File Under = Operatic indie prog rock

Extra Life is a fairly unique beast in the avant indie underworld. Lead by Charlie Looker, Extra Life is dark and arty, brooding and expansive, progressive and, well, different. The arrangements evolve and morph often expanding close to, or beyond, the ten minute mark carrying distinctive Gregorian-style vocals that soar above the din. The band has been receiving reasonable comparisons to bands with which Looker has formerly logged time like Zs and Dirty Projectors. These comparisons seem pretty safe ones to make and do give some context to the work, but, and I hesitate to say this, does anyone else hear a little bit of…*cough* Tool? Maybe the admission that I have actually listened to Tool enough to make a comparison to them is discrediting to my hipness or maybe no one else wants to deal with the knee-jerk negative reaction that this comparison creates, but seriously, someone tell me I’m not crazy. I guess the most important thing to say is this: despite sharing some touchstones with, uh (I’m feeling really bad about referencing this now), Tool, Secular Works is an absolute triumph. Extra Life has a bit of a learning curve for newcomers, however, let me assure you that they absolutely kill on this record. Trudging through deep valleys of sludgy percussion and tortured orchestration and rising to transformative, euphoric aural peaks, Secular Works manages to be completely original (that’s right, forget the comparisons) and completely incredible. It simply must be heard; one of the most important records of the year.

-Mr. Thistle

Extra Life - "Blackmail Blues"

Birchville Cat Motel - Gunpowder Temple of Heaven

Birchville Cat Motel
Gunpowder Temple of Heaven
(2008 Pica Disk )
Verdict: A wave of sonic bliss

Mr. Thistle in multiple instances of musical nerdiness has blushed over how Birchville Cat Motel is the best band name ever (or at least currently). Now personally I feel combining the words wolf, black and, the eff bomb in any order would result in something far more marketable and indie hip, but I guess that doesn't have too much to do with how awesome this record is. Discussing an album such as Gunpowder Temple of Heaven and why it's worth your time over the mountains of mundane and uninspired experimental, drone, and noise that seems to be filling too many iPod's these day's isn't overly easy for me. You see, I could take this outing and another drone filled album that bores me to tears and I'd most likely use the same Pitchfork approved descriptions to give you the technicals. But I guess the difference between an experimental success and failure is heart (or in harsher genre's a complete lack thereof). I guess what I'm trying to say is even though it's hard for me to pinpoint why something like this is far superior to other drone outings, I can still sense the care that goes into an artist's labor of love over an artist's half hearted improvisation. And I can only assume great care went into Gunpowder Temple of Heaven. The single 40 minute track consists of an organ drone that's gently met with his pitch shifted brethren. Everything on this album is so patient and unfolding that you feel like you're being rolled in a gentle wave or carried by the leaves in a progressing wind. While I wouldn't suggest this album to those who get easily distracted, if you have ears to hear I'm sure you'll find one of the more rewarding musical experiences of 2008.

-Wooly Mammal

Gunpowder Temple of Heaven sample

Monday, September 1, 2008

Mount Eerie 2008 Roundup!


Black Wooden Ceiling Opening
(3.2008, PWE&Sun)
Verdict: Weezer?

Due to my life situation at the time of the Mount Eerie "metal" tour I missed the now legendary spectacle. But the Gods of rock n' roll have looked kindly on me with the release of this 10" recorded during that era. Now, I don't know how heavy the show's were, but in all honesty this album isn't as dark and black wooden (that's the style of music right?) as one would expect from all the black cover art. I don't mean to belittle these songs, because I love them all, but they are more in the Weezer Pinkerton days of rock than the scare your parents and sacrifice a goat level of double bass pedal destruction. But maybe Phil wasn't going for that anyways.

Lost Wisdom
(10. 2008, PWE&Sun)
Verdict: Maybe Phil should have married Julie Doiron instead.

It's quite apparent Phil has had an indie rock crush on Julie Doiron for quite some time now. The classic Microphones album Don't Wake Me Up contains a few ripped chord progressions and even lyrics from various Eric's Trip songs and he's covered them on It Was Hot We Stayed In The Water, but now Phil's school boy crush has finally been realized in a cozy album featuring the two song birds working side by side. The result is absolutely charming. Julie's legendary vocals manage to take even more breath out of Phil's already breathtaking songs. The Doiron enhanced version of "Voice in Headphones" is worth the price of entry alone. But ya, if you're not a Mount Eerie fan boy, you could probably skip this one.

(11.2008, PWE&SUN)
Verdict: It's not a half hearted cop out for cash, really.

When I first heard about the upcoming release of Dawn I was rather skeptical. Dawn is an acoustic/vocal collection of all the songs written during Phil's mysterious Norway self exile days. Until now the bulk of these songs have appeared in one form or another live or recorded, but never in a complete collection. To my great joy Phil has done these songs justice (some of which are my favorite he's ever penned) in stripped down form. Phil's brand of gently layered acoustics and humble crooning create one of the most intimate and lovable Mount Eerie releases thus far. Plus "I Say, No" is quite possibly my favorite Mount Eerie song ever, so it's nice to have a version of it that resembles the live rendition. Oh, and keep an eye out for a book version containing all his journals from the era later this year. Pretty nerdy.

- Wooly Mammal

Mount Eerie on Myspace