I’ve always felt and believed that music should allow you to see sounds and hear colours. It’s not always the case but it’s a good goal to strive towards. Once in a while you’ll stumble across something, a work of art that will achieve this sentiment. Our friends in Toronto’s Pick A Piper capture and rein in all the sounds and colours imaginable on their first and self titled full length release.
After producing two previous ep’s PIP return with 8 dizzying tracks of percussion heavy electronic dance music, fused with a wide palette of evocative world rhythms and organic sounds vs synthetic.
The self titled release features an array of guest vocalists and the band itself has a line up consisting of some raw Toronto talent, Angus Fraser, Dan Roberts and Brad Weber. Brad is easily recognizable as the live drummer for Caribou’s touring band. Just a few months back, they got off the road as the opening act for Radiohead and Weber jumped head first into his Pick A Piper project. Wasting no time in creating an album full of hypnotic and dance-able structures guaranteed to glide you through the hazy summer.
To be fair, this album went right under my radar when it was released. I don’t know how, it involves two of my favourite musicians. A classic soul brother and man known for his blues revival. Dr. John produced by Dan Auerbach, this can only lead to greatness. A soul funk journey guaranteed to leave you like a monster truck to the face.
Too much is often made of collaborations and the meeting of young and old. More often than not, they result in transient pieces of flotsam that smack of a clueless label being unable to handle a classic artist in the modern age. Locked Down however, could not be further from such facile ‘reinventions’. It admirably manages to maximize the drive and skills of both Rebennack and Auerbach (as well as the musicians on display who may be young, but lack nothing in soul, flair and intelligence) towards the creation of something profound and memorable. A lean, bare-chested and sweat-bathed beast of an album; it rattles along with energy, mystery, swirling swamp-mist and a delectable gumbo of cultural influences and razor-sliced spice. Most impressively of all, it comfortably lives up to the promise that Auerbach apparently made to the Doctor that he would help him craft ‘the best record you’ve made in a long time’.
Unburdened by the stamp of time or geography results in an album that could have easily come from other Mississippi River stops where horns and funk pump through the bloodstreams-Chicago, Memphis or St. Louis. Auerbach pulls out a musical tool belt to guide the 71-year-old to new areas: The song “Ice Age” draws on percussive African guitar lines and synthesizer fills; “Eleggua” overlaps Curtis Mayfield, gris-gris funk and a sweet soul hook; and “You Lie” offers a taste of what Dr. John would sound like if the Black Keys and Morphine joined forces to back him. The last time Dr. John attempted to update his sound was 14 years ago with Anutha Zone that featured Paul Weller and other Brits keen on his early voodoo funk albums. Auerbach is more of a kindred spirit with an affinity for making horn sections sound simultaneously retro and modern.
(This is just the first of a handful of albums Auerbach will be producing in 2013)
The project came together in 2009 when Yorke, in hopes of performing his solo album, The Eraser, with live instrumentation, brought together Nigel Godrich (longtime Radiohead producer), Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Joey Waronker (Beck, R.E.M.), and Mauro Refosco (David Byrne). Atoms For Peace is not Radiohead and it should be treated as its own project; as such, it’s an often captivating listen that forges fidgety beats with a beautifully sinister atmosphere. A gorgeous celebration of counter intuitive beat patterns, subtle organics and digital manipulation.
According to Yorke and Godrich, Amok was recorded over 3 days in the studio, later being pieced together by the pair. Amok is not much of a guitar album while not entirely free of guitar, it is a laptop album through and through, a collection of digitized schizophrenic beat designs one might listen to while preparing to impersonate someone with advanced Parkinson’s on the dancefloor.
This is an album overflowing with subtle details, best consumed and captured with headphones. Refosco’s percussion work, with countless beat treats trickled into the menacing apathy vortex of “Unless”. “Judge, Jury and Executioner” builds on ghostly vocal backdrops, sharp hand claps and minimal click-hits, while the drip-beats and wet percussion of “Ingenue” bring an alley shine to the Yorke’s ethereal falsetto and Flea’s heartbeat bass.
It’s as good as you imagined it would be, an interpretive soundtrack to 21st century minimalism with heavy replay power.
How To Destroy Angels – Welcome Oblivion Re: 03/05/13
How To Destroy Angels features Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), Mariqueen Maandig (Reznor’s wife), Rob Sheridan (the art director of NIN), and Atticus Ross (who co produced the last few NIN albums).
HTDA create a detached atmosphere engulfed in melancholy. Their almost robotic approach provides enough style and aplomb to separate itself from NIN, regardless of having the same production team as the members. The bulk of the album is created with laid back digital beats, relying very little if at all on guitars. Choosing to focus instead on various synthesizers, keyboard bass and drum machines. The key ingredient is Reznor’s spouse Mariqueen Maandig. Her vocal versatility, ranging from the soft whispers of “Keep It Together”, beautiful melodic singing on “Strings And Attractors” or “Ice Age”, to powerful outbursts, such as found on the title track. Trent does make some appearances too, usually for sing-alongs, but he focuses mainly on the songwriting.
HTDA present an often tensed and brooding atmosphere, one that will please long time NIN fans and garner themselves some newcomers in their post apocalyptic soundscapes.
Devendra Banhart is an artist that has long been somewhat type-casted. Perpetually the whimsical, hippie folk troubadour singing about psychedelic critters, many fail to notice his new haircut, dress sense, and (above all) his movement away from warbling falsetto and acoustic tomfoolery. Now on his eighth full length, entitled ‘Mala’, Banhart continues down a more experimental, mature path to explore darker themes, strange manipulated sounds and other aspects of the macabre. Including allusions to sacrificial bulls…
At times, Mala expands Banhart’s sonic template in less organic ways, adding pinches of electronic spice here, recording on an old-school hip-hop tape machine there. It’s not an uncomplicated listen (Banhart’s records never are), but Mala breezes through its 14 songs with relative unfussiness. Many of Banhart’s past mannerisms—like his vocal tics and the occasional Manson Family campfire sing-along vibe—still crop up from time to time, but his music has never been so easy to digest.
After touring his 2009 album ‘What Will Be’ he was leaning towards not pursuing music and or touring anymore. Banhart simply wanted to focus on his painting and spend his free time being creative in other ways. Sometimes it’s hard not to pick up a guitar and write a few freak folk Americana gems.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Specter At The Feast Re: 03/19/13
American rockers Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have their follow up to 2010’s Beat the Devil’s Tattoo. This being their 7th studio album continues to bring the darkness and mystery that envelop almost all of their previous catalogue. However Specter … has much more of a funeral march dirge to its underbelly.
This is definitely brought on by the passing of Robert Levon Been’s father back in 2010 on a stop in Belgium. He passed backstage of a heart attack before the bands festival performance. Been’s father was a crucial part to what BRMC are and sound like. Having been the bands sound engineer and acquiring production credits. Not to mention his own musical fame as a founding member of The Call. Which brings us to the first single from the new release, ‘Let The Day Begin’ a razor shape scorching cover of The Call. More or less the only moment we hear Robert with any sense of joyous reflection in his vocal.
B.R.M.C in the first year after Robert’s father passed were a band lost and unsure. Contemplation of calling it quits and packing it in were imminent. If you have seen any of the short films they were leaking leading up to the release of Specter, you would have heard Peter and Robert both mention they were considering the end. Luckily, the trio dug deep and persevered.
So, it’s no surprise we hear Robert’s vocal saturated in reverb on tracks like ‘Lose Yourself’ opener ‘Fire Walker’ and ‘Returning’. Evoking the sound and emotion of someone lost, yearning, searching and finding solace in the songs. Peter sticks to the classic beaten, bruised and bloody vocal we love from him on tracks like ‘Hate The Taste’, ‘Rival’ and ‘Teenage Disease’.
Specter At The Feast is the moment where our beloved BRMC find themselves after being knocked down and having the rug pulled out from under them. Triumphant and commanding, a ‘brint it on, we’ll take it on’ attitude that delivers and defines them as a trio of rock and roll superheros that deserve our love and respect.
In the past handful of years psychedelic rock has seen a strong resurgence. Especially with the heavily dedicated Austin Psych Fest being an annual destination for the fuzz to exist and for those in love with fever dream haze and oil projections to congregate en mass. A staple in the scene and on their fourth album now, The Black angels, Austin hometown heroes, return with Indigo Meadow.
Indigo Meadow begins with the title track where a siren-like organ groove creates a sense of urgency and impending catastrophe. The rest of the album follows suit as pounding, trance-like rhythms are the dogma for a cultish atmosphere, and dark, drowsy vocals and fuzzed out guitars take you deep into a heart of darkness where hooded drones perform twisted rituals.
More prominent on Indigo Meadow than on previous albums are The Black Angels’ influences. Providing the most fuel to the psychedelic fire is what sounds like a heavy Doors influence. “The Day” follows the whimsical rhythm patterns that The Doors often used, and on “Broken Soldier” frontman Alex Maas sings with a spoken word, nonchalant style that immediately reflects Jim Morrison. “Holland” features simplified “Light My Fire” era organ grooves, and much of the organ work throughout Indigo Meadow tips its hat to Ray Manzarek.
Even though they have become a four piece band after loosing rhythm guitarist Nate Ryan. It doesn’t hinder or slow down Alex Maas, Christian Bland, Kyle Hunt or Stephanie Baily from continuing to be a top the pack on fuzz mountain.
The Besnard Lakes -Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO
Montreal’s The Besnard Lakes have well-established their approach of shaping gigantic crests from a variety of sustainment effects, ranging from classic shoegaze to synth drones that might as well be sampled from actual flying saucer engines. The hikes to the summits are long, but the views from the top are always worth it.
It’s not an easy feat to be able to create individual songs the climb to such heights yet alone have the album as a whole climb a separate mountain unto itself. It’s not until the third track ‘People of The Sticks’ that …UFO comes to life and reveals the ascension you’re embarking upon.
UFO’s second half keeps it coming with similar swells until the penultimate track, “Color Yr Lights In”, when it all bursts apart into the album’s kaleidescopic peak: a flooring supernova of swirling guitars punctuated with massive cymbal crashes.
Until In Excess is another Besnard Lakes album that demands to be adsorbed all at once, from beginning to end. The individual tracks haven’t been designed to stick out from the whole; the deliberate pace makes the entirety of Until in Excess feel like one long, woozy track. The groups co-auteurs (husband & wife) Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas aren’t your typical mere songwriters. They are composers of space and sound.
The Flaming Lips are a band that, over the past few years, has entered the most fiercely experimental, stridently anti-pop phase of its long and storied career. Besides 2011 and 2012’s ‘Heady Fweinds’ and ‘Heady Nuggs’ the last full length from the Lips was 2009’s ‘Embryonic’, which offered much in the way of thunderous rock catharsis. Tracks like ‘Worm Mountain’ and ‘See The Leaves’ began this level of hard hitting psych rock that left us wanting more. Even when presented live in a circus like spectacle that tantalizes every possible sensory one could expect.
The Terror burst the proverbial bubble for the Lips. It’s bleak weighty mood, claustrophobic tension and a smoggy haze of melancholy has images of a not so distant future. Here’s a band that whether you like it or not have always been on the forefront of something they aren’t even aware of. Tonally, the album creates the mood and aesthetic of someone strapped to a hospital bed wearing a gas mask left alone in a field of run down life support machines.
Maybe this is due to Wayne Coyne separating from his partner of over 25 years, or perhaps the temporary relapse that Steven Drozd went through. Elements of loneliness, depression and anxiety likely were the fundamentals for the creation of The Terror. Face it, most good music comes from there.
But even if it doesn’t consistently exhilarate to the same extent as the band’s most totemic works, The Terror is nonetheless a significant work in their voluminous canon: By matching their ever-evolving, exploratory musical ethos with less eager-to-please, more confrontational modes of performance, the album marks the moment when the Flaming Lips become whole again.
A band with an impressive body of work to say the least, with 13 full length albums and 14 ep’s, Yo La Tengo is a indie force to be reckoned with. The newest release being this years Fade. (I’m definitely a little late on the review for this one)
Fade is a process of refinement, revisiting the brief, breezy-listening forms of Popular Songs‘ first two sides, but lopping off the backloaded free-form excursions entirely. And at a tight 10 songs and 46 minutes, it’s the band’s shortest album since 1990’s Fakebook. (There’s a great social pun/joke with that title that has yet to be made) Produced by John McEntire, Fade lets you appreciate the complexity of its simplicity. It may trod over some familiar turf– Georgia Hubley’s fuzz-pop standout “Paddle Forward” squeezes another drop of blood from “Sugarcube”– but the relaxed pacing and pleasing melodies belie just how much action is really going on beneath the serene surfaces.
Whatever their intentions may have been going in, Yo La Tengo has undeniably come out this time with an effort greater than the sum of its parts – and that’s not to say that any of its 10 tracks fails to live up to or exceed their lofty standards individually. Fade is the band’s most thematically unified album in at least 10 years, and almost certainly their most direct ever.
Much of Low’s work draws power from the tension between sound and content, and the strongest songs on Invisible Way are no exception. Production credit goes to none other than Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, who adds just a smidgen of country flare to the arrangements.
The rules have always been different for Low. Twenty years in and ten gorgeous albums, husband and wife Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker along with revolving bass players (the latest being multi-instrumentalist Steve Garrington) continue to create these ‘slowcore’ masterpieces that have always coursed towards an aching patient beauty. Even when it stumbles, though not often and hard to notice, The Invisible Way gives the impression of a band on the run.
While past albums have tended to feature Sparhawk carrying the majority of the lead vocals, The Invisible Way has Sparhawk and Parker trading off leads, and hearing more from Parker is a good thing, as the album’s strongest tracks have her at the forefront. The standout track, “So Blue”, showcases Parker’s strong, sweet voice, somewhat reminiscent of Aimee Mann, as she considers the sadness, pain and necessity of relationship. Accompanied by a soaring, pounding piano and bass, the anthem-like tune builds to a powerful, goose-bump inducing crescendo.
The Invisible Way stands as a good, if not great album, both powerful and moving. It’s a solid piece of work from a group who know their strengths and know how to put them to very effective use.
Wakin On A Pretty Daze continues on a path that Vile embarked on with his first Matador release, 2009’s Childish Prodigy. Vile’s sound has gradually become smoothed out from strung out stoner rock and psychedelia to the lovely folksy melodies and rich melodic flourishes that characterised his last album, 2011’s Smoke Ring For My Halo. Throughout this development, Vile has lost none of his idiosyncrasies. The 11 songs collected here are all among the very best of his career, enlivened with a vividness and warmth that offers something new with every repeated listen.
Hints of Lou Reed (the phrasing) and Neil Young (the guitar solos) pepper songs that Vile invests with his slacker drawl, endearing quiet charm and wry self-mockery. Only the upbeat psychedelic pop of ‘Never Run Away’ ups the tempo from wonderfully hazy, psychedelic strums. “You’d think I was stoned,” he chuckles at one point, “but I never touch the stuff.”
The way this album flits from childlike wonder to considered reflection stops the album from ever becoming too one paced. It’s a testament to Vile’s songwriting ability that, despite clocking in at over an hour, your attention never once wavers. As is always the case with Kurt Vile his lyrics are littered with quotable lines and witty quips that stop even his most introspective songs from becoming dour or dreary.
Akron/Family have been honing a sparkling, swooning, hyper-ceremonial space-folk for nearly a decade now. Think of them as the weirder, more zealously-Buddhist-inclined, mystical-magical cousins of Grizzly Bear and Yeasayer.
Droning riffs, lulled and throttled by these swirling vocals hazily thrumming into dazzling harmonies…the drums, the rhythms. Sub Verses takes that freak folk jam band vibe of their previous efforts and gives it a strong dose of primo lsd. Akron/Family constantly dig deeper and deeper every performance to find their truth as a band, it’s their experience and you’re welcome to join them.
Michael Gira from Swans was quoted saying “Grizzled Beach Boys, fully bearded and flea infested willfully surrendering to the lysergic gas attack. Hold your shriveled ego and watch it unfold like a purple meat-flower in your grubby hand.” after just one listen to Sub Verses.
The sixth release for Matthew Houck as Phosphorescent was written in Brooklyn and Mexico after his 18-month tour for 2010’s Here’s To Taking It Easy. With the new Muchacho, we find him as exploratory with his craft as ever, and the result does more than enough to distinguish him from his usual reference points.
There’s a wide tapestry of sounds on Muchacho, getting more mileage out of effects pedals than pedal steel, not to mention the bonus arrangements that flex and add hefty muscle to the album. Boundless burst of horns, airborne harmonies and sutures of violins and piano make this a brilliantly recorded album. John Agnello, known for his engineering on Kurt Vile’s ‘Smoke Ring For My Halo’, gets the credit here.
The first and foremost layer of this album is the glory of its sound. Listening to Muchacho often feels like being warmed by afternoon sun as it floods your window. Every sound is lovingly recorded and given a cradle of space. Recorded mostly alone by Houck himself, inviting the key players only when needed but still crafting the final meticulous outcome in isolation.
In interviews, Houck is often unafraid to admit his personal life works its way into the strife of his tunes, but he also leaves it open-ended as to exactly how much of the subject matter is fact or fiction. Whether his heartache songs are entirely personal choice or crafted from a sense of resignation, Houck lives up to his word and weaves Muchacho’s tapestries into priceless, hardened gold.
Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood – Blood Pudding
Mark Lanegan, the voice of a thousand cigarettes. A voice that would not be trivial even if reading a grocery list decided to team up with multi-instrumentalist and long time friend Duke Garwood. The outcome, Black Pudding, an album of acoustic blues tormented and tormenting. Sophisticated finger picking, hypnotic blues riffs that take you on ride on a barge ride down the muddy Mississippi Delta.
At times the album brings in some keys, minimal electronic flourishes and some textured guitar effects. All in all, Lanegan & Garwood have comprised a strong 12 song collection and this could makes it way into some year end lists.
I’m still in awe of the strength of this minimal record so, I’ll just leave it here and recommend you dim the lights, find a candle, smoke some hash and let be.
Here’s a brief list of upcoming releases:
Dawes – Stories Don’t End (Sony)
Don Cavalli – Temperamental (Because)
James Blake – Overgrown (Republic)
Kavinsky – Outrun LP (Record Makers)
Knife – Shaking The Habitual (Mute)
Kurt Vile – Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze (Matador)
Postal Service – Give Up 10th Ann. Deluxe Edition (Sub Pop)
Born Ruffians – Birthmarks (Paper Bag)
Brains – Monster Within (Stomp)
Folly & The Hunter – Tragic Care (Outside)
Ghost B.C. – Infestissumam (Republic)
Ghostface Killah – 12 Reasons To Die (Soul Temple)
Hum – You’d Prefer An Astronaut LP Reissue (Shop Radio Cast)
Iron & Wine – Ghost On Ghost (Nonesuch)
Kate Nash – Girl Talk (Dine Alone)
Marquis De Tren & Bonny Billy – Solemns 12inch (Drag City)
O.M.D. – English Electric (BMG)
Shouting Matches (Bon Iver) – Grownass Man (Burnside)
Shuggie Otis – Inspiration Information/Wings Of Love 2CD Reissue (Sony)
Steve Earle and the Dukes – The Low Highway (New West)
Thermals – Desperate Ground (Saddle Creek)
Urinals – 7inch EP Reissues (Superior Viaduct)
V/A – Arts & Crafts 2003-2013 (Arts&Crafts)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Mosquito (Interscope)
April 20th – RECORD STORE DAY 2013
All titles not guaranteed. First come first served.
Lilacs & Champagne – Danish & Blue (Mexican Summer)
No Joy – Wait To Pleasure (Mexican Summer)
Phoenix – Bankrupt! (Glass Note)
Snoop Lion – Reincarnated (RCA)
Young Galaxy – Ultramarine (Paper Bag)
Guided By Voices – English Little League (GBV)
Haino/O’Rourke/Ambarchi – Now While It’s Still Warm… (Black Truffle)
Hanni El Khatib – Head In The Dirt (Inertia)
Breeders – Last Splash XX (4AD)
Come – Eleven : Eleven (Reissue) (Matador)
Deerhunter – Monomania (4AD)
Savages – Silence Yourself (Matador)
Tomorrows World – S/T (Naïve)
Vampire Weekend – Vampires Of The Modern City (XL)
Boredoms – Pop Tatari 2LP Reissue (1972)
Orch Poly-Rythmo – Vol. 3: The Skeletal Essences of Voodoo Funk (Analog Africa)