Friday, March 26, 2010

Pausal - Lapses

(2010, Barge)
RIYL = Sawako, Stars of the Lid, Chihei Hatakeyama

The meticulous releases of the indomitable Barge Records are always welcome here at Forest Gospel. Based on the label’s track record and inclination towards quality rather than quantity, no matter what it is they’re putting out, you know it’s going to be good. As you can tell from the dearth of new reviews on FG, I’ve been kind of struggling to get excited about anything new. Lots of people have sent me above average albums that I’m sure I will get around to sooner or later, but nothing that simply demands that I up a shout from the rooftops, “listen to this, fair gents!” It’s got me doubting myself, doubting 2010, doubting music as a whole. It’s been a pretty silly couple of weeks. Anyways, that type of attitude isn’t really the best way to approach something like Pausal’s Lapses, but fortunately, after submerging myself in the album, headphones cranked up all the way, I was swimming listlessly through its various caverns; lovingly, Lapses approached me. I guess introductions are in order: Pausal is Simon Bainton and Alex Smalley from the UK. The duo layers guitars atop guitars, atop pianos, violins and classical vinyl samples, and then boil it all down to a serendipitously dreamy soup; granted, the kind you pour into your ears. Lapses, the duo’s debut, is rich and creamy, full of morphing ambient textures, muffled high end resonance and neatly placed field recordings. Everything is pretty minimalistic, and though the twelve tracks span from one to fifteen minutes, it’s all flows interconnectedly. Pausal's work here is definitely top tier in terms of ambient restraint and being the catalyst to some plush dream/sleepiness. Lapses is the art of the unwind.


Pausal also mixed a terrific Typecast for Type Records. The mix contains The Fun Years, Quantec, Stephan Mathieu and more. Download it here.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Sean McCann - Open Resolve

Sean McCann
Open Resolve
(2010, Stunned)
RIYL = amazingness

I warned everyone earlier this year about Sean McCann. In fact, it’s only been a little over a month since I posted about Midnight Orchard. I'm back to report more. And rest assured, I will continue to do so, because if I’ve learned anything about Mr. McCann, it’s that he is the embodiment of prolificacy. And in an awesome seemingly illogical way, he is also represents the highest standards of quality. Prolificacy and quality usually don't make good bedfellows. Fortunately, McCann is a modern genius folks. Let me just pause here for a moment here to notify you that this here tape, Open Resolve, the one I'm going to write about shortly, is limited to 111 copies. If you value music you will buy it immediately. Just saying. What do I think about it? Well, as you can see above, I personally equate the music on this plastic cassette to be on equal footing with amazingness. That is, the physical state being that is amazingness. Open Resolve fits squarely into that category. This is just one of those musical documents that requires the most broad, far reaching descriptors, but then is undermined by them. I’ll try to avoid them, but I’m going to fail. Here we go: side A is separated into four songs which run the gamut from soul-devouring, free-jazz-informed ambient-drone blitzkriegs to gentle, lilting string epiphanies. It is a series of epiphanies really. We’re talking hardcore Joycean epiphanies too, not just those small tickling ones characterized by butterflies. I love McCann because he can manage to wrangle the most tonally eschewed squalor into something that can still be defined as beautiful. I was just about to say that “Scapula,” the open track on side A was the perfect example of this with its clutter of brass, strings and drums, but really, the whole tape is the perfect example. Seann McCann is the perfect example. Side B carries the gloriously expansive “Pass Away,” a near twenty minute ocean of internal cacophony that is the epitome of what I’m would like to dub “noise grandeur.” That being noise that somehow transcends that somehow transcends the atonality of its separate parts to create an overwhelmingly gorgeous state of grandeur. The piece is followed by a beautifully dissolving coda and that is that. Stunned Records, this is a request from me to you, please extend this run. Not only that, put it on vinyl. I’m willing to invest in this. Check the email on the sidebar; let me know what I need to do. How is it that the best music I’ve heard so far this year going to be relegated to a miniscule 111 tapes? Get them fast folks, this may be the only physical document of Open Resolve that you will ever have (it's almost sold out, but you can still find it through a couple distributors - google!).


Sean McCann on Myspace
Check out McCann's previous CDr release on Stunned Records, Sway. It's sold out and is freely downloadable here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Balaclavas - Roman Holiday

Roman Holiday
(2010, Dull Knife)
RIYL = Clipd Beaks, Health, Liars

Balaclavas is a rock band. Balaclavas have a new debut LP called Roman Holiday. Roman Holiday rocks. Roman Holiday is drums. Roman Holiday is guitars. The guitars on Roman Holiday spew shrapnel, rusty piercing shrapnel. Balaclavas is three people from Houston and Roman Holiday is their post punk/noise rock n’ roll machine; their debut full length LP. Roman Holiday is not a shiny machine. Roman Holiday is oily, percussive. Balaclavas percussion is propulsive, an engine. Balaclavas use engine drums and shrapnel guitars for purposes of audio terrorism. Balaclavas is rhythm; bass. Roman Holiday is bass, is mud. Remember Clipd Beaks? Remember how you love To Realize? You now also love Roman Holiday. Vocals. Balaclavas sing. On Roman Holiday, Balaclavas must’ve recorded their singing in some adjacent room. Good. Roman Holiday is loud. Edit: Roman Holiday is best when played very loud. The cover of Roman Holiday is a picture of those who wish to oppose Balaclavas. Those who oppose Balaclavas end up bloodied, disembodied, hanging on steps. Don’t oppose Balaclavas. Invite them in. They will protect you, make a beast out of you. Roman Holiday is beautiful, noisy, blessed, measured, solid, very good. Balaclavas is also the plural word for a warm woolen hood covering the head and neck. Don’t get confused.


Balaclavas on MySpace

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Kurt Weisman - Orange

Kurt Weisman
(2010, Autumn Records)
RIYL = Scott Tuma, Spenking, Sung Tongs

Following up his absolutely amazing schizo noise-pop debut, Spiritual Sci-fi, Kurt Weisman returns with a much more quaint, airy album on his sophomore effort. Gone are the knob twiddled, hiccupping electronics; this time around Weisman has gone solo acoustic, with Orange being blessed primarily by his tiny voice and acoustic guitar. However, if you are expecting all the dulled pleasantries that we classically associate with acoustic singer songwriters, you are in for a surprise (and it is certainly a pleasant one). On Orange, Weisman’s guitar noodles about, almost at will, often breaching into the awkwardly (read: wonderfully) atonal areas. “Atonal” may be a stretch, but this definitely isn’t some Nick Drake or Elliott Smith musing. Weisman’s sound seems most aptly described by that achingly obsolete “freak folk” tag. Think early Devendra Banheart or the drone-folk guitar work of Scott Tuma and you’ll be a lot closer. While I must admit that it was difficult to see the skittery electronic touches of Spiritual Sci-fi removed on Orange, repeated listens have revealed that Weisman has tapped into something deeper; an elusive song writing core that multiplies the spoils Orange far beyond that of your average or even above average folk albums. Weisman’s understated follow-up is certainly a treasure trove of musical gems in its own right and reveals that Weisman is only going to get better and better.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me

Joanna Newsom
Have One On Me
(2010, Drag City)
RIYL = Joanna Newsom

(Our own version of three part quantity conrtol)

Thistle (February 24 at 2:35pm): Getting things started, I just wanted to say that I've been having some concerns about quality control. I mean, sure, I want as much Newsom as I can get, but I want it to be grade A Newsom. At this point I have listened to every song at least once, but obviously the jury is still out. Suffice it to say, there is some amazing stuff here but a lot of stuff as well. It's going to take some digestion.

Secondly, this could have obviously fit on two CDs. Any early explanations for separating it onto three? I think I support the decision...

Lastly, and I think this is applicable to the listening experience because some of us cannot divorce the persona of the music from the persona of the musician. Since when did Joanna become the new indie sex symbol?

Oh, and anything about the actual music...

Thistle (February 25 at 9:54am): Ok, I realize that I may be the most frequent and annoying commenter on this thread (hopefully not the only…), but on day three, here are my thoughts and responses:

1 - Percussion. When it comes in (and this applies to any time it has made an appearance throughout all three LPs) it is perfect. The restraint is masterful!
2 - I think I can provide a measured approval of the first two LPs, still wary about the necessity third. (also, splitting this into 3 digestible sections was inspired.)
3 – I’m beginning to think, and I've never had this feeling about an album before, that the textual/fictional narrative here - the lyrics - are more important than the actual music. Thoughts?

Braying Mantis (February 25 at 6:47pm): Okay. Thistle clocking in. Upon first run-through, I had similar concerns re: quality control. Of course (always) most Newsom songs are complex, serious growers, and, three days later, this is proving to be the case. But there are still a few tracks I don't deserve to be here next to the others, which is, as of this writing, the first time that's ever happened for me on one of her albums.

-- 3 records, rather than 2: I am pretty certain each is thematically distinct, but haven't been able to please myself with a theory yet. Will propose it when I've got a convincing one worked out. (And obviously, spreading it less-thick makes it easier to swallow the immense thing.) First two are stronger than third. [Edit: I think I'm ready to say that 1 & 2 are, essentially, perfect.]

-- Yes! The percussion is flawless and inspired, maybe the most immediately recognizable improvement/evolution in her sound. Seriously incredible.

-- I think your other two questions (being, When did Joanna become a sex symbol? and, Are the lyrics more important than the music?) are inextricably linked. Because Joanna became a sex symbol when she fell in love. I'm struggling to think of an album that can compare, as far as tomes of unabashed, pure Love and heartbreak go. That's what these songs are, every one. And we get the sense that Newsom is EXTREMELY present in the lyrics. When she sings something like, "I wish we could take every path / I could spend a hundred years adoring you," or "I only want for you to pull over, and hold me, / till I can't remember my own name," that "I" IS Joanna Newsom. She seems to have shifted from fiction to memoir, and it is totally disarming, painfully honest, and powerful, powerful. There's still artistry to every lyric phrase, but it's less about verbal play and more about visceral emotions.

If she is a sex symbol, then (some warm feeling in my face and chest tells me she is), she's one who's symbolizing not a superficial sex, but Love -- a truer Love, but nonetheless one in which sex, physicality, attraction, play a part. DUH, CLEARLY I AM FLOORED.

And, second part: Without the motivation (what I'm saying actually CAUSED the writing of these songs, and what is illustrated by the lyrics), these songs just don't exist. In that sense, the lyrics are more important -- they completely inform the music. Every melody, every flourish, every crescendo or drum crash, is a result of the emotions. I think this album would sound absolutely different if she were singing parables and folk tales of comets and circus animals; the music would hardly share a similarity. These aren't songs she wrote first on the harp, without an idea of what the lyrics would be. No way.

-- Is anyone else feeling that (and now, trying to remember, this might only be a problem on the third record) some of the songs are kind of an exercise in musical teasing? There are a few moments of seriously maddening anticlimax. Like, where we expect the strings to burst in and the drums to drop and Bill Callahan to start rumbling, but instead, nothing. Others?

-- Do a few of the songs (not counting "Does Not Suffice," 'course) sound a little too similar?

Braying Mantis (February 25 at 6:57pm): So, I've responded in my own, special, incredibly obnoxious and basically unreadable way --

Time for Sassigrass to save the review!

Thistle (February 26 at 8:42am): think I am getting the feeling that these songs are more writterly than musical because of the sparseness and similarity of instrumentation. It’s provoked the feeling that I would enjoy reading the album as much as listening to it. Of course, Ms. Newsom, being my favourite lyricist of all time, would garner a good read anyway. It's just that this time around I feel like it would be of at least equal pleasure, which is something I don't feel the same way about with her previous work. Sure, the lyrics are more personal, but I don't think that is what is tipping me off here on this strain of thought, this feeling. In addition, with a lot of the work here being musically similar, when it is extended over two hours and for 18 songs it begins to negate the necessity of it in the first place. Ya dig?

On another tangent, with the lyrics seeming more personal and what not, is it hard for anyone else to imagine such poetry being potentially directed at Andy Samberg?

Also, I think you are misinterpreting my claim that she is a sex symbol. Sure Mantis, you’re a single young man and Joanna Newsom has the most soulful female voice in music – you’re going to have a warm feeling in your face and chest. That isn’t really what I’m talking about here. What I am talking about is this new round of press photos. I’m talking about Joanna Newsom as seen in that MGMT video. The way I see it, Milk-Eyed Mender is Joanna as innocent, doleful, elementary naïveté (maybe even slightly handicapped) elf, Ys is Joanna in her awkward renaissance phase (let’s go LARPing!) and now, with Have One On Me she’s evolved into (or been pitched as) some indie fashionista. I imagine there are creeps out there who are calling her “hot,” which seems weird (not that she couldn’t be viewed as attractive, it’s just that the descriptor “hot” doesn’t correspond with my view of Joanna Newsom).

So, in response to your question, yes, I am totally buying into the anti-climax ideals on this album.


-That there were more multi-tracked/choral vocal moments like on “Good Intentions Paving Company.”

-That Bill Callahan was vocally present in some form (now that you mention it).

PS - Not being too hard on the third album. Maybe it is wonderful, but this album deserves to be attacked. No pandering just because she's created some of the best music of this past decade...

Thistle (February 27 at 7:42pm): Saw the light in LP 3 for the first time tonight. So good.

Sassigrass (March 1 at 7:50am): Wow, I am way out of my league here, being surrounded by obsessive compulsive music absorbers and English majors none-the-less. I don't think I could write 1/10th of those words up there even if I was reviewing this alone. So I'll just say what I usually say about albums. It's good! I like it! Ok, now we should post this thing before either of you faint.

Braying Mantis (March 1 at 10:21am): But wait! We haven’t really talked about the instrumentation yet, and how it is sweet (electric guitar in “Baby Birch,” absolutely perfect. ELECTRIC guitar! Who could've thunk!) The acoustic guitar runs in “In California”. The fiddle in “Does Not Suffice”. The strings everywhere. The drums, so perfectly restrained (we talked a little about that). AMAZING percussion on “Soft As Chalk”. And how excited are we to have her back at a piano??? The six (six?! Do I know how to count?!) piano songs are disproportionately Great. Just every instrument fitting perfectly with every song. Hardly a single choice that is too much or too spare.

And her voice!! It is so forceful when she lets it go! It got BIG!

And what about Rock'n'Roll?? Rock'n'roll is on this album!!! So many melodies, phrases, riffs, piano rolls, all borrowed tools and references to a Big Popular Musical Past, nothing I was expecting -- I mean, did you LISTEN to "Soft as Chalk"?? Who does she think she even IS ANYMORE? One of the singer ladies on Hercules?! Where does she think she's coming from? What does she think she's doing? What am I doing? Do you think she has ever thought about me? Do you? Do you? What do you think? Do you think--

Braying Mantis (March 1 at 10:25am):

Thistle (March 1 at 10:29am): I love how no one even flinches, they just let him tumble and wait for him to get back up. Cut throat business, spelling.So, yes, instrumentation is pretty...pretty. It is time to pick your favourite child.I'm going with LP 2.

Thistle (March 1 at 10:30am): Side D to be even more precise.

Braying Mantis (March 1 at 11:05am): I don't support this at all. And I will hate myself for answering when, in six hours, like six hours ago, I feel differently, and then again in a day, and then again in a week, and on. However:Verdict from first week listening:

LP 2. Side C.

Sassigrass (March 3 at 7:48am): I thought I did a while back, and then you boys couldn’t stop swooning. Here's the thing for me- I consider myself the "average listener," and so far it's been too long and daunting to consume. I have listened to it a few times, but there are so many tracks that they all start to sound the same since I haven't had time to give it my 100% attention, what with a baby running around and all. So, to me that is a huge drawback of the album. Even though all the songs are probably good and have merit, I wish it was shorter so that I could more easily recognize and attach myself to the individual songs. So far, I have only been able to do that with a very select few, and so those are by far my favorites, “Good Intentions Paving Company” being my #1. If I wasn't already a huge Newsom fan I would have no interest whatsoever in this album, but since I already know and love her I can casually listen and pick out the genius moments of her songwriting. I have to say, I do miss the epic poetry that was YS, and I think that will forever be my favorite of her albums. This feels less grand, more like Milk-Eyed Mender, but less-weird, and I think she lost something there. But, she gained some really bomb diversity in this album by adding different styles and instrumentation. (She has a great jazz voice!) I agree with you boys, wonderful instrumentals, and someday I hope to be able to know this album really well, but I believe the album as a whole is not super appealing to the "average listener," though they may enjoy some individual tracks. This issue here isn't quality control, ‘cause the songs are quality, it's quantity control. This quantity is only appropriate for super-fans and boys with huge crashes. That's my two cents.

Yellow Swans - Going Places

Yellow Swans
Going Places
(2010, Type)
RIYL = Axolotl, Jan Jelinek, Tim Hecker

The final official Yellow Swans album is finally here. It took two whole years after Pete Swanson and Gabriel Mindel Saloman announced that they were going their separate ways for the thing to arrive. I don’t know why it took so long, but boy was it worth the wait. Going Places mines the same aural depths found in At All Ends and the CDrs and cassettes that surrounded that release; which is to say, Going Places is both transcendently gorgeous and muck-rakingly ugly. It’s a creative feat that the Yellow Swans seem to hold a patent on. While Going Places does share strong similarities to the band’s most recent work, there are subtleties on this record that stretch the Yellow Swans’ sound to heights they’ve never reached before. The muted pulse of rhythm on “Foiled,” the cantankerous electric bubbling in “Opt Out,” the cross faded bells on “Limited Space;” Going Places is the Yellow Swans pushing themselves just that much further to make arecord that is beyond satisfactory. This is absolutely the best thing they’ve ever done, I’m convinced of it. Perhaps these past two years have been used to ensure that that was the case. If so, it was well worth the effort. Lots of bands go out in flames, and rightfully so, but few manage the control and mastery of their sound that the Yellow Swans have exhibited here. The band has left us with their masterpiece. It’s as simple as that.