Friday, March 29, 2013
How Much Wood Could A Woodchuck Chuck If A Woodchuck Could Chuck Wood? - How Much Wood Could A Woodchuck Chuck If A Woodchuck Could Chuck Wood? (2012)
Country: Torino, Italy
Style: Experimental Folk/Ambient
In the past Avant! Records have been pretty good at releasing material that is less than traditional. Not everything they release is my cup of tea, but I usually do enjoy whatever they put out. I've been holding onto this record for quite some time now and I thought that it was about time that I finally did a review for it.
With a name like this band's you'd be forgiven for thinking that it was some sort of a joke. It doesn't really give you any real sense of the band's sound and once one actually listens to the album it becomes even more of a wonder. At least to me, this band's name does nothing to warn the listener for the oncoming wave of melancholia that awaits them once they press play. These six songs are stripped-down, drenched in reverb, filled with drones and noises, and left to make you wonder where exactly you've just been once a song ends. This album is like wandering into a dark cave where each track is like a new tunnel and the further you listener, the bleaker it seems to become. With the droning feedback that lies in the background of these tracks it perhaps brings a more chaotic edge to the album, but only just slightly because the minimal guitar play and percussion work keep things very sparse and open. Then there are the vocals which recall more than a little bit of Scott Kelly.
The second half of the album begins with In Aria which is probably the track most people who check this album out will be curious about because it is the longest. Topping eight minutes, it differs from the more singer-songwriter kind of approach that the majority of other tracks take and ventures off into more ambient territory. It's probably the most sparse track on the entire album, leaving the traditional guitar melody behind for much more open spaces of droning soundscapes. Guitar still exists, and as the last couple of minutes will prove that it isn't totally dissimilar to the rest of the album, but it is by no means the easiest track to try and absorb by comparison. For me, despite being the most open and ambient track on the album, it captured that sense of emptiness that the rest of the album had the best. The entire album feels like you're watching open stretches of desert as the wind gently blows the sand around. It's very gentle and restrained but there's just that sense of isolation and melancholy.
Overall I really can't say that this is an album that I would revisit too often but maybe for other people they can get into this more - it wouldn't surprise me. There were ideas and melodies in here that I did think were well done, but the entire thing just felt like a dirge for most of it's running time to me. Fans of drone or folk music might find something interesting in here.
Overall Score: 6
Highlights: Joy and Rebellion, In Aria
Thursday, March 28, 2013
Country: San Francisco, California
Verwüstung is the long standing solo project of Chris M. Broyles of Airs. While his work with that band has primarily produced some more dreamy shoegaze, dream pop, and post-punk (as well as the occasional black and doom metal), his work here has been much less accessible. With the release of this album, we see Broyles moving even further away from accessibility than even his previous releases have been.
Listening back to the project's past releases, there's been a strange progression that has occurred. Obviously, like Broyles' other band Airs, the band has started from black metal but has evolved into something else. In the case of Airs, a lot of it came from in inclusion of Aaron Kelley on vocals, which really completed that shoegaze and dreamy pop style change that was happening on early releases from that band. In the case of this project though, the style has become far more alienating over each release. Starting in a pretty aggressive, but atmospheric, black metal sound on When The Light Broke The Stars, Humanity Rejected Us and then gradually turning into something that was closer to a fusion of blackgaze and drone music. Whenever I listen to I First Saw You On That Snowy Night and Couldn't Shake An Overwhelming Feeling of Sadness, I find myself thinking that it's the sort of sound Alcest might have sounded like if Neige had taken the band into a more drone oriented sound after Écailles de Lune. This release proved to be the project's most ambitious and abstract sounding album to date, and if only because of that, I was quite impressed.
Each of the four tracks that make up this release bring a very interesting sound to the table. Though the clear highlight for this album is the opening flourish showcased on Camellias In Bloom, the other three tracks each showcase a more single-minded, I guess would be the best way to describe it, approach; whereas that opening track is more like a good sampler of what the rest of the album has in store for you. From the opening acoustic guitar plucks to the droning doom chords and then the aggressive black metal, there's a great sense of fluidity in the track which just tops twenty-five minutes in length. While long songs have never been an issue in this project, it's easily the most cohesive and dynamic track that I've heard Broyles write/perform for the project. The last third of the track really does descend into the droning atmospherics that the project is more "known" for. Then there's the following three songs, starting with Dancing Souls, which is a very simple, clean guitar oriented instrumental. It's short, and works as a nice breather between the hefty opening track and No Haven, a brutal blast metal song. Despite being the most metal based track on the album, it was almost surprising to hear a few moments that transcended above simple brutality and aggression and brought out more melody. The album's closing track is the Neutral Milk Hotel song Holland, 1945. Personally, I had never heard the original song before but having listened to it in order to be able to comment on it, I can tell you that there's a very wide gap between the original and this cover. Taking the more up-beat indie rock sound of the original and just dismantling it into a harsh, droning, and intense piece of abstraction. I can definitely say that it's closer to drone-doom than anything else Broyles has done, but it's also a piece of music that takes pleasure in putting the listener in misery. For how slow and just stone-cold it is, it makes no concessions at trying to win you over.
Personally, with the exception of the last track, I thought this was the project's strongest release to date. It really encompassed a little bit of what the project had accomplished on previous releases, but made it darker, more melancholic, and all the more abstract in some cases. It's definitely not for everyone, but I found it's alienating quality somewhat endearing, so if you can break through that extremely tough crust, you'll probably dig this as well.
Overall Score: 8.5
Highlights: Camellias In Bloom
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Country: Wellington/Edinburgh, Scotland
Style: Black Metal
I received word of this album from the band themselves several months ago and was quite taken with the track they sent me as a "teaser." What can be said for a band that does black metal in a way that lives up to the genre name. Months later and I've finally written this up.
When I first listened to the song this band sent me (in order to get an impression as to whether I would cover this album) I was under the impression that they were more or less of a straight-up black metal band. A black metal band who knew how to construct a song with melody, but a black metal band nonetheless. So, as you might imagine, when I finally sat down to listen to this whole album from start to finish, I was actually a little surprised by the band's dynamic range. Yes, they can pull off those blast-beat sections with aplomb and the mid-tempo stuff as well, but their use of slower (not doom-tempo mind you) sections was what really impressed me because it brought out the most in the melodic work. I'm not one to criticize a band for trying to keep things interesting while staying consistent with their sound, but I did find that on the more straightforward tracks like Bitter Sagacity, I was not as engaged with what they were doing. It's not that the band do the regular black metal stuff badly or anything, it's just that I prefer dynamics and when they mix it up, it kept me interested and wondering where they would go next. I should also mention - in terms of stylistic dynamics - the band have a pretty solid grasp at more atmospheric playing as well. Longer tracks like Malaise and Sonnets to Orpheus demonstrate a sound that is somewhere between more atmosphere driven black metal bands and post-rock climaxes in that whole post-black genre. I mean, it's not enough that it's going to scare away those who aren't fans of that/those sub-genres, but it did occur to me to be noticeable enough to mention.
I guess while listening to this, while I admire the band's songwriting abilities and dynamic range, what struck me the most was the abilities of the drummer on here. On each track I was continually surprised by what he was doing. Sure, I'm not going to say that he's breaking new ground in terms of this style of music, but I thought that his fills were very nicely utilized and played. His work didn't overemphasize any part in particular but it also doesn't undersell his work either. It appear to me as though he kept his performance reigned in to a nice degree to where he would keep a song going and fulfill all the standard practices of "black metal drumming 101" but always manages to sneak in some fills and shifts that aren't won't be found in the everyday black metal record. To a certain extent it sort of reminded me of the 2010 record from a band called Gorath, MXCII, in that that was another record where the drummer stood out to me and delivered a performance that was interesting given this genre of music. Though, honestly, I would say that this band isn't quite as progressive as Gorath - make of that what you will.
In terms of modern black metal, this is the sort of record that will be able to appeal to those who prefer the more traditional as well as those who like a bit more of experimentation thrown into the mix. There's some aspects to the band that I sort of wish were a little bit less "set in stone," but that's just my tastes. Fans of black metal in general will find something on here to like (I know that's very broad, but this record does have the ability to appeal to different groups of fans).
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: L'ange Du Meridien, Sonnets to Orpheus, Schlußstück
Sunday, March 17, 2013
Country: Melbourne, Australia
Style: Art Rock/Chamber Pop
Label: Bad Seed Ltd.
Like most people who enjoy neo-western movies, gothic romances, and post-punk - I am a Nice Cave fan. For me, he was one of those essential post-punk artists who I began listening to once I started getting into the genre. This is my first review of a Cave album and I was so excited to finally do a write up for him.
I had heard that this album was fairly tame in comparison to 2008's Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!! so I wasn't expecting another rocker like that album but I certainly was not prepared for this. This is a pretty sparse and ambient affair and very mellow for Cave. Now, I'm certainly not against Cave's more somber work, I think The Boatman's Call is one of his finest releases, and this album is definitely drinks from a similar pool as that one. The big difference being that, while that album is lead by piano ballads, this album struck me as being very reminiscent of trip-hop and ambient music than the rock foundation that Cave usually pulls from. Though that's not to say that this album is electronic, because you certainly have some nice guitar work, it's very minimal in style and is not boisterous or aggressive at all. It's perhaps even more repetitive than some of Cave's past material, sound incredibly looped/cut-and-pasted.
For me, I was pretty let down by this album. Not so much in it's style (though I kind of wish this was a more noisy record), but because I didn't find many of these songs all that engaging. I thought that the first half of the album was pretty solid, but the second half just fell flat for me. The beginning was made up of songs that were just sort of plodding (in a good way) and definitely made me think of Cave doing trip-hop, but the second half starting with Mermaids, just started to feel tedious and quite dull. Jubilee Street is the high point of this album, with the song slowly escalating in intensity throughout it's six minute running time, bringing strings, choirs, and some rather noisy guitar playing into the mix in its final minutes. It proved to be the stand out on here. The five tracks following the aforementioned track aren't so much bad, as disappointing. They're perfectly passable tracks, but not up to the Cave standard. The low point would have to be the closing title-track though, which I found incredibly boring and found myself skipping through it more often than any other song in Cave's catalog. The track just sort of meanders and doesn't go anywhere, which is a terrible way to end an album.
I wish I liked this album more than I do, but it's not horrendous enough for me not so tell fellow Cave fans to give it a listen. I think that if you're new to the man's work, you should listen to some of his early work before this one, but to longtime Cave fans, this will do just fine. Hopefully the next Bad Seeds record will be a bit more engaging.
Overall Score: 6.5
Highlights: Wide Lovely Eyes, Jubilee Street
Monday, March 4, 2013
Style: Ambient Rock/Progressive Rock
Label: The End
Within the last couple of decades a man by the name of Andy Winter has worked with some pretty interesting and unique groups. His role as a synth and keyboard player has varied from being more of a background player in Sculptured to more of a lead role in a group like Age of Silence. He released his first EP back in 2005 (which I have not heard), but when I saw this album and all the people involved with it, I knew I had to hear it.
Having collaborated with many interesting musicians over the years, and apparently because he's signed to The End Records, this full-length features quite the array of talent - especially in the vocal department. Featuring guests like Agnete M. Kirkevaag (of Madder Mortem), Kjetil Nordhus (ex-Green Carnation, Tristania), and Heidi S. Tveitan (ex-Peccatum, Star of Ash) as well as the likes of Lars E. Si whom Winter worked with in Winds, Paul Kuhr who he worked with in Subterranean Masquerade, and Lars A. Nedland who was a member of Age of Silence. The other two vocalists included Agalloch's own John Haughm and the legendary Dan Swanö. Each of them delivers a very interesting vocal performance which may surprise some people who are perhaps only familiar with a couple of these vocalists. Haughm delivers quite an interesting performance on his track, My Illusions Are My Own, where, because the music accompanying him is more melancholic and downplayed, he utilizes his clean vocals for the majority of the track. On first listen, I was struck by how strange his vocals were, but the more I listened to it, the more it actually appeared to fit. But for me, the highlight on here is Dan Swanö's track, Somewhere Else to Disappear. I'm a huge fan of Dan Swanö, and I thought that his baritone vocals really fit the style on this record perfectly and, personally, I would love to hear a full album like this one with him on vocals.
As for Winter's own part on this record, I guess it can be assumed that he composed, or at least arranged, these tracks, because his own performance on here is very understated. It's not a keyboard led album, with most synth work being restrained and kept in the background for the most part on here. This is not a heavy album. There are some more distorted parts on here but those are kept to a minimum and instead you have guitar parts, as well as drum and bass performances, that match the low-key and more atmospheric synth parts. In my mind, the most "metal" track on here (not the heaviest mind you), is probably The Transversal Conjecture, which recalls a lot interesting metallic chugging and ripping guitar solo. It is also the only track on here in which you will hear growled vocals, with Paul Kuhr (who is a fantastic vocalist in my opinion) really giving it his all. Also, I should say, that these heavy moments, aren't really the sort that recall the extreme side of metal, and tend to fall more in line with traditional metal, though the chord patterns and riffs themselves owe just as much a debt to jazz and folk music, which gives the entire record a very progressive, slightly avant-garde one could say, sound that does separate itself from the other projects that Winter is involved in.
Personally, I actually enjoyed this record more than I thought, and I found it pretty consistent throughout despite not really coming across as the most cohesive release I've ever heard. I'm not crazy for every song on here, but there is not a bad one on here and each vocalist does give a solid performance. This is one you'll definitely want to check out if you're a fan of more experimental and progressive forms of rock, or, if you're like me, and you're already a fan of the vocalists on here.
Overall Score: 8
Highlights: Somewhere Else to Disappear, Through The Eyes of A Surrealist, The Transversal Conjecture
Friday, March 1, 2013
Country: Geneva, Switzerland
Label: Alrealon Music
Earlier this year, I became aquainted with John 3:16 through his split with FluiD. The material on that split definitely was interesting and made me aware of the project, but I wouldn't say that I became a fan yet. When I was told about this new album, what I had expected would not have prepared me for this.
Obviously industrial music has taken many forms over the years, but post-rock has a sound that is pretty static (for better or worse). There are plenty of bands doing things with the genre, but the concept remains relatively the same in one band as it is with another. The combination of the two is not a new idea, although I'll admit that it certainly isn't a common one, it was not the route that I expected this project to take. The sound I heard on the split mentioned above certainly had material that was impressive, but when I put this album on for the first time I was shocked by not only how well it was performed and arranged, but also how interesting and memorable it proved to be. I found several melodies throughout the album to be quite beautiful and rather moving. It's the sort of album that really takes the best parts of both genres and crafts a new breed of the two that is unlike anything else out there. Obviously, the album can't be all shiny, shiny, pretty, pretty though, and there is the dark side. So it has to be said that both are taken on board and delivered with the same high level of quality.
The concept for the album is no doubt ambitious. Personally, I find that anyone who decides to make a concept about the nature of death, the afterlife, and the existence of God to be rather interesting, but bold as well. That boldness is also something that could an ambitious record into a pretentious one very easily, and god knows how many records I've heard where that's been the case. I think this is one of the albums that takes it to the height of its philosophical beliefs by remaining instrumental (which makes this record devoid of actual personal beliefs being spouted at you). I'm sure someone reading this will now be scratching their head and asking how an instrumental record can take these philosophical ideas to their natural heights, and the answer to that is that what it says in the song-titles, the music does. I mean, there are a couple of spoken word and chanted phrases in here, but the music embodies the various points of ascension and descent to a t on here because it is free of someone essentially telling you this grand concept. The album is essentially one long trek through the various realms of the afterlife, ever connected, yet entirely separate at the same time. The darkness of a track like The Inner Life of God/The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit is immediately contrasted with the beauty of Through Fire and Through Water and it works because the emotion of the composer is transposed onto the music itself. It tells a story, and the story does not simply stop from one track to the next, but keeps going. When you finally hit that end point, it all just loops over again. The concept is forever, and truly never ends, but keeps turning, just as life itself is constantly moving. When one life ends, another will begin, and when this album ends, it will be replayed, over and over again.
This was a fantastic piece of work and an album that really surprised me. Nothing I would have imagined John 3:16 doing could have measured up to the heights that this album actually managed to. It's a great piece of work and if you're a fan of experimental music or post-rock, I highly urge you to check this out.
Overall Score: 9.5
Highlights: Every Track Is A Highlight