Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Jon Hopkins - Insides

Jon Hopkins
Insides
(2009, Domino)
RIYL = DoF, Pantha du Prince, Four Tet

Every once in awhile, usually a long, long while, I am lucky enough to experience a certain type of album, an extra-ordinary piece that “clicks” with me so much that (and maybe you’ve had this happen to you… or maybe I’m crazy) on first listen, I feel like I’ve heard it somewhere, sometime in the past or in a dream, a place I can’t quite spot. Not, you know, “Oh, this Jet song sounds just like the Beatles,” or, “Oh, this Jet song sounds just like Iggy Pop,” or, “Oh, this Jet song sounds just like the Rolling Stones.” More like, “This music is the fulfillment of something that my life, my hippocampal experience, has been moving towards for years. This album was composed in my mind, all the clicks and clacks, instrumentation, white noise, harmonies and chord structures, and then folded up, tucked in an envelope, and stashed under a rug in the front room of some cortical fold, only to be recalled if certain choices were made, certain turns were taken; the right cards played, the right events played out.” And, as you might know or can certainly imagine, this is a freaking sweet experience. It’s illuminating. Poignant moments, maybe even ones imagined, are replayed in the mind’s eye; flashbulb emotions thought to be extinct show up in full force. The music becomes transcendent: it is felt, seen, sometimes even tasted as it pumps through headphones, and all as I’m only beginning to become familiar with it. It’s like receiving an album pre-programmed with all the associations that we generally attach only after years of meaningful, memory-creating listening. It’s awesome.

Insides is one these albums for me. It is the embodiment of a dream album, a gorgeous, perfectly crafted piece that has been playing—unbeknownst to me—in my mind for some time now. It’s been almost five years since Jon Hopkins’s last release, and, truly, the new album is worth the wait. I won’t bother you listing all the things Hopkins has been doing over those five years (producing, composing for modern dance shows, scoring films, blah blah blah), but know that he is a busy man and he is blowing up—and not on an esoteric-music blog scale, on an international, multi-disciplinary scale. It’s a recognition that is well deserved. The songs on Insides accomplish a flawless mix of diverse electronic sub-genres, maintaining complete and total cohesion as an album. There are prominent elements of minimalism and ambience, but also moments of dubstep force, glitch anxiety and fervent, swelling strings. There is a very complete range of styles hinted at, but no one is ever unleashed to the point of pastiche; the album, despite all its ambition and grandeur, is a triumph of restraint, control, and technical finesse. Insides is a moving, arresting work, an out-and-out beautiful, successful, great album.

—Mantis

Monday, June 29, 2009

M. Pyers, Steve Hauschildt and Mi Ami

M. Pyres
Consider me, Ghost
(2009. Fir Traders Union)
RIYL: It Was Hot We Stayed In the Water, The Capstan Shafts, average vocals.

Lo-fi music makes me want to vomit. Don’t get me wrong I’m a sucker for a bit of clatter and fuzz with my pop music, but the recent slew of lo-fi bands getting hyped via the blogosphere has allowed far too many bands that quite frankly aren’t worth anyone’s time onto best of lists, while more deserving contenders are falling way below the radar. M. Pyres is one of those bands. Really good pop songs with louder than loud drums, fuzzed out guitars and straight forward no frills vocals. This isn’t an album out to impress the wannabe hippie tape label kids. It’s just a batch of solid indie pop songs with fair dose of lo-fi hiss and boom. One of my favorites of the year.




Steve Hauschildt
Critique of the Beautiful
(2009. Gneiss Things)
RIYL: Emeralds, Lilypad, boring science fiction movies

This album is dope. Great blend of soft synth drones and static waves. Totally sets the mood for doing nothing. Old Steve is one third of Emeralds, and as of right now I’m digging this more than What Happened. It kind of sounds like the background music to a sex-ed film I watched in Jr. High. But ya, if you can fake an attention span check this album out, pretty darn good.

Steve Hauschildt on MySpace

Mi Ami
Watersports
(2009. Quarter Stick)
Sounds Like: Black Eyes, if they were more lazy than punk.

Black Eyes, bla bla bla… Okay now that I got this out of the way, Watersports is a pretty fun album. Actually, I’m going to need to go back to Black Eyes, cuz this album basically sounds like what Black Eyes would of if they smoked a lot more weed and weren’t on Dischord Records. The album is less focused, and a bit more spacey and vibey then their punky predecessor. But ya, still a solid album worth checking out if you dug anything about Black Eyes. And just for the record, Cough is one of the best albums of all time.



-Big Wooly

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

H1N1

We're temporarily out of commission due to the swine flu. We'll be back next week...unless we're dead!!!!!!!!!!!!

In the mean time, check out these live videos of FG favourites The Fun Years at this year's MUTEK festival in Montreal. The duo teamed up with visual artist Justin Manor of Sosolimited for this set and the results are just beautiful.

The Fun Years & Sosolimited @ Mutek 2009 - Part 1 from Sosolimited on Vimeo.



The Fun Years & Sosolimited @ Mutek 2009 - Part 2 from Sosolimited on Vimeo.



The Fun Years & Sosolimited @ Mutek 2009 - Part 3 from Sosolimited on Vimeo.



The Fun Years & Sosolimited @ Mutek 2009 - Part 4 from Sosolimited on Vimeo.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Zs - Music of the Modern White

Zs
Music of the Modern White
(2009, Social Registry)
RIYL = Extra Life, Aufgehoben, Kingdom Shore

Zs is one of those bands that I’ve always heard about being whispered about as musical revolutionaries. Along with this idea was a semi-obscure mythology that I’m not so sure that I didn’t fabricate myself. Either way, the New York underground’s experimental music scene has to culminate with reference to this insatiably glorious troupe of free jazz noise pranksters. My first introduction to the crew was last year’s The Hard EP. With a single track clocking in at past fifteen minutes, Zs provided a schizophrenic/OCD composition that was the epitome of its name sake. It was simply a difficult listen. On Music of the Modern White I'm not even going to begin to pretend that Zs has somehow turned the corner toward accessibility, but for my dollar this is what educated free jazz/noise is all about. First off, Zs has cut their tracks into pop sized lengths for easier digestion. Secondly, well, the guys just kill it on every track. I don’t know what it is and if it is totally justified, but there is something about Zs’s approach to composing mind bending sound experiments that sounds classically informed. I can’t really put my finger on it, but Music of the Modern White feels like adept musicians creating beautiful ugliness at will rather than amateurish teenagers attempting to make a scary sounds tape for Halloween with whatever is lying around the house. Perhaps a part of this is the instrumentation. With (at various points) heavy handed, well recorded drums, brass (I’m thinking a saxophone) bleating and what sounds like soaring violins, Zs sound like a group of orchestral jazz expatriates. However, don’t let this provoke any thoughts of elitism in your little heads. With screeching electric guitars and handclaps, Zs bring everything full circle. There is legitimate punk rock n’ roll buried in the aesthetic of theses pieces. There are only six tracks on the album leaving things relatively short, but not without giving you full satisfaction at the completion. I think if there was much more audio destruction lingering in these tracks people might begin to suffer slight amounts of brain damage. However, just for the record, I wouldn’t mind. Super freakin' awesome!

-Thistle

Zs on MySpace

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hannu, City Center and Mountains

Hannu
Hintergarten
(2009, Kesh)
RIYL = Colleen, Deaf Center, Aaron Martin

Following closely on the heels of their digital EP released earlier this year, Hannu has recently unveiled their sophomore full length, Hintergarten. Following closely in line with their previous work, Hannu continues to traverse and master the magically broken world that is all their own. With a mix of ├╝ber-lush chamber orchestrations combined with a glitch-laden hip hop undercurrent, Hintergarten creates a bizarrely satisfying headspace reminiscent of some of the weirder stuff coming out of European labels like Fonal. Hintergarten contains some of the most beautiful and thick music that you can nod your head to. Recommended.

Hannu on MySpace


City Center
S/T
(2009, Type)
RIYL = Animal Collective, High Places, Cloudland Canyon

The solo outlet of Saturday Looks Good To Me band member, Fred Thomas, City Center adds another fledgling project into the bubbling world of outsider pop. However, Thomas’s efforts here, though easily aligned with genre overlords Animal Collective, is actually pretty dang awesome. I’ve never actually listened to Thomas’s band, but City Center breathes some fresh, creative, poppy air into the Type label. Showing a penchant for glisteningly full electronics and reverby vocals ala Brian Wilson, City Center holds its own a deftly qualified operator in a market over crowded with AC imitators. There is definitely no way City Center is going to get out from under the shadow of Panda Bear and Avey Tare, but that doesn’t mean that Thomas's project here isn’t an incredibly enjoyable record in and of itself.

City Center on MySpace



Mountains
Choral
(2009, Thrill Jockey)
RIYL = Fennesz, James Blackshaw, Eluvium

The Mountains have quickly outgrown their small Apestaartje label, and it’s easy to understand why. The mountainous sound structures that the duo regularly produces are nothing short of pure gorgeousness. Moving slowly like an impending fault line, Choral continues the well trodden path that Mountains has been travelling since their self-titled debut, tracing only the most essential shifts in their sound in order to maintain a visceral pulse embedded in the wash of its predecessors. An absolutely immaculate record of master class ambience and tranquil acoustic guitar.

Mountains on MySpace

-Thistle

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sam Hamilton - Sooty Symposium

Sam Hamilton
Sooty Symposium
(2009, Tumblingstrain)
RIYL = Emeralds, Philip Jeck, Keith Fullerton Whitman

Who is Sam Hamilton? That is what I was asking myself when I first took a recommendation to listen to Sooty Symposium. Apparently Hamilton is a New Zealander with a knack sound experimentation. We here at Forest Gospel have enjoyed plenty of wonderfully odd music broadcasted from Lord-of-the-Rings-land previously (most notably Pumice and Birchville Cat Motel) so I was excited at the prospect of some more sonorous weirdness from deep in the south Pacific. My first reaction after listening to Sooty Symposium all the way through went something like this: “…….whoa!” I thereby immediately started back at the first track only to be similarly, if not more so, astounded. I know I just heaped some intensely generous praise on Axolotl’s Of Bonds In General only a couple of days ago, but believe me when I say that Sooty Symposium is operating at a similarly I-can’t-believe-how-freakin’-good-this-is level. This post on Mr. Sam Hamilton’s Sooty Symposium marks the second of this week to claim a 2009 listening status of imperative. So, lets get to the music. What about this is so ‘imperative.’ Hamilton starts things of with two long droning tracks filled with layers of humming organ-type tones and then topped with flutter of electronic fluttering and chirping, and it only becomes thicker from there. In addition to the continually morphing and layering of hum and blip, on album opener “Old Gravel Roads Winding Out into the Dark Night of the Countryside” (an apt description of the music in itself), Hamilton adds some regal horns to the mix, repetitious and sparse at first before being multiplied and let loose near the end. There are probably a variety of other instruments locked in there as well, but everything has been pretty well manipulated into indecipherable oblivion. “Epoch of Snares” follows the opening track and extends into a sixteen minute grind of glistening, vibrant, moody electronics. It is a gorgeous ride. After two tracks that exceed the ten minute mark, Hamilton transitions with two very brief tracks, one of which finds him playing a beautiful acoustic guitar melody. The final two tracks are a bit briefer than the opening two, but still manage to span past the seven minute mark (this is a full album to say the least). Things transition slowly from here, but not in a boring way. The drones feel a little more guitar based and metallic. A series of wordless yells bursts through at the end of “Blue Tide, Black Water” before evolving into the closer, “March in April/Andrews Eternal Birthday.” Sooty Symposium must be listened to in its entirety, but this final track is really the kicker for me as what I assume is Sam Hamilton voice comes through for a couple playful verses among the mix of colliding sounds and field samples that float about the finale. Such an incredible record. Anyway, Sooty Symposium is a pretty hard find as far as distribution goes so you should probably just hit him up at his MySpace - you’ll be glad you did.

-Thistle

Sam Hamilton on MySpace

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Giuseppe Ielasi - (Another) Stunt

Giuseppe Ielasi
(Another) Stunt
(2009, Schoolmap)
RIYL = Four Tet, Mark Templeton, Morgan Packard

Giuseppe Ielasi has already put a big dent into 2009 with his gloriously minimal full length, Aix. Now, with a follow up EP to last year’s Stunt (which I’ve never listened to), Ielasi has spun another little yarn of diamond encrusted gold with, ahem, (Another) Stunt. Following the same line of thinking that made Aix so great, Ielasi furthers his off-kilter, erratic glitch in six magnificent pieces that perfectly compliment Aix while adding some new ideas with each piece. On the first track of (Another) Stunt, Ielasi patches together a punchy array of bleeps and blips over the top of spoken word vocal recording. The odd juxtaposition works well in furthering Ieslasi’s vision of discordant madness ala looped electronics. The compositions on (Another) Stunt are a bit thicker and perhaps a little bit more abrasive than Aix, but there is still the feeling of machinery laid bare like bones without skin. There is still this cold minimalism that feels so tangible. I’m really loving this a lot. It may only be six pop-sized tracks, but this is just as relevant as Aix and certainly just as immediate and compelling. On (Another) Stunt, Ielasi is onto something super terrific and deserving of a lot more attention than it is presently getting.

-Thistle

(Another) Stunt streamed on Boomkat

Monday, June 15, 2009

Axolotl - Of Bonds In General

Axolotl
Of Bonds In General
(2009, Loci)
RIYL = Yellow Swans, Skaters, Caboladies

I have probably been anticipating Axolotl’s Of Bonds In General more than any other this year; or last year for that matter. Part of that anticipation has come from not really knowing when the next full production, full length Axolotl album would be released and, obviously, the other seven-eighths of that anticipation has come from the fact that Axolotl has produced some of the – wait, scratch that - THEE very best noise/drone/weirdness/experimental-whatever albums that I’ve ever heard. I know, I know, that genre label doesn’t really even mean anything, but if you know anything about the expansive experimental underworld that has been progressively building steam on limited edition CDrs, cassettes and vinyl, you’re sure to understand the indefinable element that ties so many of these disparate sound mutationists together. So amongst the ever widen sea of freakish sound sculptors, what makes Axolotl so great? It's a hard question, but I think it has something to do with the ominous all-encompassing power of his noise coupled with the compassionate intention not to injure. I’m not against music that can break your knees, in fact I’m all for it, but Axolotl brand of noise is beauty purified, magnified and then amplified. It’s beautiful chaos at the point of being overwhelming. At least that’s what it has been. Do yourself a favor and seek out Way Blank, Telesma and Memory Theatre. You’ll be glad you did. So, how does Of Bonds In General stack up? If you check Axolotl’s MySpace page (a place for friends) you’ll see that the one man violin deconstructionist is pretty optimistic about this one. He says something like, “this is my best yet.” That’s a pretty big statement, but is it true? …Oh man, I want to say yes but I’m just not quite sure yet. Suffice it to say, Of Bonds In General is so good that it challenges my opinion on whether I think his 2006 masterpiece, Telesma, is THEE very best album of its ilk. Of Bonds In General is really really really good. Like Telesma, the only thing I can really complain about with Of Bonds In General is its relative brevity. With 3 tracks coming in at just over a half hour, I could definitely do with a lot more. But that’s ok, I can settle with three tracks that absolutely kill it in all the ways Axolotl knows how. If you have never heard Axolotl before, there isn’t a lot I can do with words to describe what is going on in his music. This is mostly because I don’t really have a clue what’s going on myself. There is simply this weird otherworldly sound collage of violins, floating vocals, broken beats and electronic grit that seem on the surface like they have been blended together arbitrarily, but somehow turn out to be the coincidental concoction of chaotic perfection. I don’t know how he does it. I don’t even know why I try to figure it out. It is what it is and what it is is awesome. Really, the only thing that you need to know about Of Bonds In General is that it is vying for the number one spot on my year end list for 2009 and as of this very moment, Axolotl is winning. Snatch a copy while you still can: limited to 200 on CDr and planning to be set to wax later this summer!

-Thistle

Axolotl on MySpace

Friday, June 12, 2009

Peaking Lights, Themselves, David Cunningham & Yasuaki Shimisu

Peaking Lights
Imaginary Falcons
(2009, Night People)
RIYL = Oneohtrix Point Never, Wet Hair, Ducktails

There is something tropical and swampy and humid about Peaking Lights. On Imaginary Falcons, everything is muddied and meandering like it was lost in a gorgeous analog fog. And analog it is. This stuff is really amazing, blissed out and probably best heard within the confines of a mosquito net. Out on Night People, the album art work was created by printmaking master mind and generally all around awesome artist, Shawn Reed. With the demise of Reed’s former band, Raccoo-oo-oon, Peaking Lights are the perfect band to inherit the Night People crown. To be clear, this isn’t a Raccoo-oo-oon record. No no, Imaginary Falcons is ultra relaxed. No psych freak outs here, just psych dream outs and what not. Another of my very favourite releases of the year.




Themselves
theFREEhoudini
(2009, Anticon)
RIYL = Subtle, Jel, Clouddead

Whaddup suckas? You didn’t know? Yeah, that’s right, Themselves dropped a free mixtape that is pretty darn great. In classic mixtape form (or so I’m told) Doseone and Jel join forces with plenty of guests from the Anticon roster and elsewhere. Lovely morphing proggy hip hop that makes you think to yourself: “yeah, I could start listening to hip hop again!” Because hip hop is pretty lacking for me right now. Someone do something worthwhile – please!!!! And then there was Themselves. Available free (for a limited time I think, so click away):

Download theFREEhoudini here


David Cunningham & Yasuaki Shimisu
One Hundred
(2009, Staubgold)
RIYL = Arve Henricksen, Philip Glass

Sick improvisations from two sick improvisationalists. Both have been around for decades, notably screwing with the boundaries of experimental jazz and succeeding. I’ve never heard their previous stuff, but I assume it is good because this is really great. Cunningham is bombing some electro-acoustics on the geetar and Shimisu is breaking down a saxophone like an austere army drill instructor. Straight glory. It has a great home on Staubgold, but would be equally well received on Rune Grammofon or the like. Just really solid if you’re into contemporary free jazz or whatever.




-Thistle

Sbarro, Intelligence, Ekkehard Ehlers and Paul Wirkus

Man, I am getting pretty bored of writing about music lately. Music is still cool…I think, but writing about it just isn’t happening for me lately. I decided that, regardless of how brief, I am just going to start nodding at the albums I am listening to that are “post-worthy” and keep the frivolous opinions and to a bare minimum. I guess the logic is this: when I visit a music blog/website am I reading much? Not really. If you are different and actually find reading my poorly constructed critiques and praises of interest then, by all means, let me know. Otherwise, just know that what I’m posting about I’m really digging and that it is worth investigating. That said here are a few mainstays of the last month or more.

Sbarro
Floating
(2009, Smooth Tapes)
RIYL = Caboladies, Axolotl, Infinity Window

More sickness from Smooth Tapes cassette label. I believe this is a Caboladies side project and if you read my review of Constellation Deformity you know that I am absolutely smitten with those guys. My favourite avant/experimental/drone type bliss I’ve heard in a good long while. Anywho, Sbarro bust it out similarly with two sides of glib anti-bliss blissfulness. It’s a contradictory weirdness that ends up just being plain ridiculawesome. I almost love it as Constellation Deformity…almost. Smooth Tapes hittin' home runs all over the place.

Check out Sbarro on the Smooth Tapes MySpace page


The Intelligence
Fake Surfers
(2009, In The Red)
RIYL = Liars, Bird Names, Starlight Mints

The other day Sassi and I were rocking the iPod on shuffle and playing “name that band”. Well, a song from Fake Surfers came on and I erroneously guessed “The Starlight Mints.” Bad guess, I know. Or was it? I reviewed Crepuscule With Pacman earlier this year and Fake Surfers marks an additional year-end-list rankable album for the experimental lo-fi pop/indie rock troupe. Of the two, Fake Surfers just edges out Crepuscule as the go to Intelligence album of 2009…heh, “Intelligence album of 2009!” I’m an idiot. These guys are sick though. Screw Wavves and all that publicity break down ridiculousness – The Intelligence is where it is really at when it comes to arty pop with a no wave edge.

Ekkehard Ehlers & Paul Wirkus
Ballads
(2009, Staubgold)
RIYL = Alan Licht & Aki Onda, Jan Jelinek

I am always happy whenever a new project from experimental guitarist/electronics mastermind, Ekkehard Ehlers, drifts my way. Always happy. And even though I have never heard of Paul Wirkus before (apparently he is a drummer or something) I am equally happy with his involvement. The reason being, Ballads just may be my favourite Ehlers release to date. Ehlers and Wirkus just attack everything with oceans of depth. I don’t know what type of drumming Wirkus does but he is obviously an all-around apt experimentalist because Ballads is mostly alien electronics and mostly not ballads – at least in the traditional sense. No, scratch that, not even ballads in the distorted sense. Lots of ebbing and friction and gloating, water-bowl tones and engines and lo-fidelity bells mixed with high end shrapnel in slow motion. And probably elephants. Love this stuff. One of my favourites this year.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca

Dirty Projectors
Bitte Orca
(06.2009, Domino)
Verdict = Merriweather Post Pavilion is 2009’s only other album of this caliber

Bitte Orca is a prophet, an eight-foot tall shining wet black killer with a shoulder-mounted grenade launcher in one fin and a colonial cannon in the other, and it is screaming its unusual song and it sounds like triumph, like a realization, an actualization, and this whale is a machine, a beast, muscle built on muscle, taught with restraint and bearing all the explosiveness of nature, all the finesse and efficiency of a torpedo, and yes, the blasts do come, and this uncommon thing is huge, this thing has a center of gravity, it’s brimming with dynamism and craft, and its white teeth gleam and they have points like razors, real atom-smashers, and in it are past and present and future, and in it are grace and peace and in it are power and violence; it will make you swoon and make you smile and the glow of its being will warm the darkest corners of your soul; it will sit you down and break your heart and make you think about that and think about that again; it will snap with freight train force and bowl you over, bend you to fit its curve, challenge you, drop destroyers on your head; this creature has been to the summit, it has stood atop vistas and looked out over kingdom and culture and specie, and it has done its note-taking; this creature has english and deutsch and mbaqanga and alchemy, this creature is the desert and the sea, the mountains and the moon, this creation, this revelation, this thing is beautiful, and it is on a mission and it is well-equipped and well-traveled and well-learned and it is determined and it is coming for you, coming to shed some light, coming to demolish, coming to jubilate, coming to take you away.

– Braying Mantis

Stream of Bitte Orca on NPR

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Navigator - Bad Children

Navigator
Bad Children
(05.2009, Magic Goat Music)
RIYL = Mount Eerie, Woods, Times New Viking

On Braden J. McKenna's first two albums under his the pseudonym Navigator, an extremely small portion of the world was treated to some utterly ingenious lo-fi noise pop and indie singer-songwritering. Bad Children, the third full length from Navigator, seems to split the difference between the noise pop recording aesthetic of Songs For Mei and Satsuki with the outsider Americana songwriting from Throwing Tongues. The result is an odd, but enjoyable bout of noise laden Americana. There have only been a few acts in recent memory have successfully engendered dusty western musical tropes with a modern no wave despondence (Castanets, Gowns, Jackie-O), however, even these bands seem light years away from to what Navigator has produced. Instead of mining out the dark corners of folk with echoed reverberation, Bad Children is perpetually upbeat, reiterating the same flurry of C and G chords that Navigator has been pumping his tunes with since his beginning. Really, the closest relative I can think of for Bad Children is the most recent Woods release, Songs of Shame. And, just for the record, I am baffled at Songs of Shame's success. Why, you ask? Well, it really isn’t that great, especially in light of their previous records. But that is just a tangent. Bad Children on the other hand is wholly impressive, plush with warm feedback and ridiculously addictive. In a perfect (read: honest) world, Songs of Shame would be getting middling reviews while Bad Children would be peaking on the Pitchfork Best New Music list. But, then again, Pitchfork has been getting increasingly predictable in recent years (which doesn’t mean that FG doesn’t share some taste with the indie music juggernaut). I guess what I am getting at here is that Bad Children is a pretty high quality, unique little gem filled with a country mile of suburban charm. Reallistically, Navigator isn’t breaking any sound barriers with this ‘new’ sound, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t legitimately refreshing. Oh, and what's the most refreshing part? Mr. Navigator, the proprietor of the wonderful Magic Goat Music web label, is hosting free downloads of Bad Children on his website prior to its physical release. So, help yourself to some lo-fi noise country indie pop genius on Mr. Navigator – you won’t regret it.

-Thistle

download Bad Children here.

Julianna Barwick - Florine

Julianna Barwick
Florine
(04.2009, eMusic Selects)
RIYL = Amiina, Grouper, Panda Bear, uh…Enya?

When Julianna Barwick set the blogosphere [shudders] afire last year with Sanguine, I think that there was a general consensus that we needed more and fast. Sanguine was most certainly beautiful, that’s why everyone was so excited, but with a majority of the tracks on that mini album clocking in between one and two minutes, it felt sorta incomplete. The amazing part was just how full and wonderful Barwick’s gorgeous compositions were even in this tamed form. With Florine, Sanguine's proper follow up, I think I speak collectively for internet critics and music lovers the world over when I say, “…wow!” Sanguine enjoyed a similar response, but my goodness, Florine is absolutely jaw dropping. Barwick maintains her signature layers of looping vocals, but this time around she has provided more room for the development of these loops. I think Florine is being touted as an EP (which it is in terms of length), but the six songs here run just as long as the twelve on Sanguine. EP or not, Florine feels much more like a complete document of what Ms. Barwick can accomplish with some proper breathing room. All of the comparisons are still apt on this release. I still feel like Grouper is the dark witch of reverberated female vocals and Barwick is the white witch. They share many similarities, but the difference in major and minor keys is unquestionably significant. The only downfall I can even think of in regards to Florine is the fact that it is not available as a physically tangible release. Someone needs to put this stuff on wax and fast. So, as a recap: beautifully ethereal vocals looped and reverberated into little patches of heaven equals one of the years very very best releases. Highly recommended.

-Thistle

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Keith Jarrett Trio - Yesterdays

Keith Jarrett Trio
Yesterdays
(2009, ECM)
RIYL: Ahmad Jamal, Oscar Peterson, Vince Guaraldi, Thelonious Monk

Keith Jarrett is a legendary jazz pianist for a reason. His trio of 25 years, with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette, is the most legendary jazz trio alive, and for a reason. That reason being? Give a few listens to their newest offering, Yesterdays—you tell me. But, a little about the record, just in case you need some goading… Yesterdays is a live standards album, recorded in Tokyo in 2001. The trio plays (more-or-less) straightforward jazz, and the songs on Yesterdays are, well, standards—they’ve been played by hundreds of artists, and for decades. If you’re a fan of the genre, you’ve probably heard them. What, then, makes this album remarkable? Hint: the men are giants of their instruments. For years, it’s been argued that Jarrett is one of the greatest pianists of all-time (and not just as a jazz player). DeJohnette is the consummate improvisational drummer, famous for incorporating experimentation into a very classic drum style. And Peacock just freaking eats this set for breakfast. As much as Jarrett is a highlight, the bass on Yesterdays is absolutely silly when Peacock lets things go. He really makes this album his own. But talent only goes so far. (This is especially true when we’re talking jazz standards, as these tunes have been riffed on and ripped apart by every era’s greats.) What’s equally crucial is the emotionality with which these players play. They shred through “You Took Advantage of Me”, but also expand their ragtimey version to ten-minutes—it adds great, exploratory dynamic to a song that can become cheesy quickly. The Diz’n’Bird classic “Shaw’nuff” is basically strapped up to a jet propulsion engine and l-a-u-n-c-h-e-d… it takes the audience awhile to even catch up. And the ballads, welcome after joyrides like that, are played with patience and unwavering respect. They are spare, still, and stellar. After every song, you feel it’s been played the way it ought to be played, the way it must be played. That’s the truest value of this album: While Yesterdays doesn’t necessarily cover new ground for the trio, it exemplifies, again and again, what makes them great. Longtime followers won’t be let down; newcomers… dig in.

-Braying Mantis

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Sunset Rubdown - Dragonslayer

Sunset Rubdown
Dragonslayer
(06.2009, Jagjaguwar)
RIYL = Wolf Parade, Frog Eyes, Swan Lake

In an age of album leaks, the idea of placing faith in a pre-ordered copy of an album requires a little bit less faith. However, for those strong few (or uninformed few), you can preorder the new Sunset Rubdown and receive a digital version of the album immediately. That being the case, there are scores of Sunset Rubdown fans who are already legally listening to Dragonslayer making now as good a time as any to present this album before people who haven’t (at least yet) purchased this album for consideration. For those who don’t know Sunset Rubdown, the band is the brainchild and former solo project of Wolf Parade/Swan Lake/Frog Eyes contributor, Spencer Krug. There is a common sentiment among Krugian acolytes that Mr. Krug can do no wrong. As a shameless Krug fanboy myself, I must admit that this thought has crossed my mind; however, after my first few listens to Dragonslayer, I found that I wanted to like it a whole lot more than I actually did. It’s not that I didn’t like the album after my first couple listens, it was great – classic Krug – but there was a certain imaginary standard of “beyond greatness” that was somehow left unmet. It is a little bit unfair, I realize, to place such expectations on mere mortals, but it remains true that Krug’s track record hints at his capability for perfection. One initially glaring strain on my out-and-out giving in to Dragonslayer as perfect was that Krug redid “Paper Lace,” a song that was originally recorded and released only a couple of months ago with his other other band, Swan Lake. For an album with only eight songs, the repetition of one already released song seems like a pretty big deal. Not only that, but the Swan Lake version rocks the Sunset Rubdown version. In other places, Krug’s signature lyricisms fell a little short with some phrases that I personally found a little lacking. I was being critical because Random Spirit Lover was my favourite album of 2007 and I loved Shut Up I’m Dreaming even more than that. It’s weird how a little head over heals adoration can make you feel like an artist has a certain obligation to you or that you have some type of quasi-ownership -like stock shares- in the continued success of the band. Well, if you’re a Krug lover and this talk has you worried – don’t. I haven’t abandoned Sunset Rubdown. Most importantly because Sunset Rubdown hasn’t abandoned me. I kept listening. Replaying the album over and over again, not because I felt my initial criticisms were wrong, but because Dragonslayer is…awesome. In fact (as is always the case with Mr. Krug), repeated listens has afforded me the special privilege of peeling away at the layers and layers within these eight tracks and in turn falling absolutely head over heals with this most recent incarnation of indie rock genius that is Sunset Rubdown. Sunset Rubdown does something for me that no other band on the landscape of contemporary music has done for me since I was in junior high. In my explicitly geeky music past, bands like At the Drive-In and Dismemberment Plan drove me to rock out air-guitar style to entire albums in front of the wide mirror in my room. It was pretty much the standard of my school nights: Simpsons, Seinfeld, homework and then rocking out. Sunset Rubdown is the only band left that can provoke such unabashed idolization and air-rock mimicry and it feels good. I listen to these tracks, their gorging drama, their pulsing climaxes, and can do nothing but nod repetitiously with the rhythm and mouth every lyric. That power is in Dragonslayer. And, true to the subliminal connotations of its name, Dragonslayer has some of the grittiest guitar shredding Krug has ever had put to tape. Sunset Rubdown is no longer just a solo project though. This is a full, sincerely talented group of musicians who are, in my opinion, the very best still using guitars, drums, bass the way they were meant to be used. It just doesn’t get better than this. So, do I still want to like this album more than I do? No. If I loved this album any more, my wife would probably ask me to marry it, and that would just be awkward. Scoot over Animal Collective, based on this hat trick of releases from Sunset Rubdown, this blog should’ve been named “Idiot Heart.”

-Thistle