For those about to rock

Album Reviews

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The definitive resource for music criticism includes daily reviews of LPs, EPs, and mixtapes.
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Pet Symmetry: Vision

5 Iun 2017 - 8:00am

Evan Weiss sure knows how to compartmentalize. Last we heard from the multitasking Into It. Over It. songwriter, he was pouring out his heart on Standards, one of the more sophisticated albums to emerge from the emo revival, but Weiss has a band for every occasion. In his side project with Mike Kinsella, Their/They’re/There, he indulges his inner math-rock geek, paying homage to some of the more niche corners of Polyvinyl’s discography—much as his old project Stay Ahead of the Weather reveled in the sugary emo of groups like the Get Up Kids. His defining records have been passion projects crafted for people who love these genres as much as he does, but when he’s just looking to goof around, he turns to Pet Symmetry, his trio with a couple of Chicago pop-punk vets, Dowsing’s Erik Czaja and What Gives’ Marcus Nuccio.

Until now the group has mostly defined themselves by their love of puns. Their 2015 full-length Pets Hounds tossed them off at a clip seldom witnessed since Elvis Costello’s Get Happy!! phase, and in concert the band dials up the silliness even further, taking the stage in matching varsity jackets or Hawaiian shirts. In a certain light, there’s something radical about that irreverence, especially given the more serious tendencies of emo’s fourth wave. Acts like the Hotelier and the Wonder Years have raised the stakes with each record, documenting grief and depression in discomforting detail. Sorority Noise and Modern Baseball’s recent releases have doubled, sometimes literally, as suicide prevention hotline advertisements, giving emo a renewed sense of purpose. Meanwhile, Pet Symmetry have taken the opposite track, pulling back the curtain on one of emo’s great secrets: Behind all the sobering prose and artful conviction, there’s usually a bunch of guys who love sports and find it hilarious every time their drummer farts up their tour van.

On their sophomore album Vision, Pet Symmetry look to emo’s more carefree corners, particularly the pop-centric emo of bands like the Promise Ring and the Smoking Popes. Vision delivers on that promise of a good time. “St. John” sets its frothy mall-punk riff to a pogoing bassline, while Weiss breaks out a surprisingly convincing Frank Black impression on the manic, alterna-punk throwback “Eyesores,” one of several tracks that slide in under the two-minute mark. It’s all so brisk and agreeable that it takes a few spins to notice the band’s recalibration: They’ve dialed back the indiscriminate humor of Pets Hounds, bringing their songwriting closer in line with Weiss’ heartfelt Into It. Over It. output.

Punkier tracks like “Hall Monitor” and “Stare Collection” are fun without being overtly funny—no puns here—while a handful of weightier, dialed-down numbers suggest Weiss has begun treating the band as something more significant than a side project. “You & Me & Mt. Hood” even has the autobiographical setup of so many songs on Standards, detailing a lazy vacation day spent traversing a river, beers in hand, in the company of a friend. Unlike most tracks from that album, though, this one has a happy ending: The trip lifts his sunken spirits. “I can’t complain,” Weiss sings, “I’ve got a never-ending week, a couple loose plans and a peck on the cheek.”

The relatively low stakes flatter him. If there was one thing that held back Standards from being the masterpiece it clearly wanted to be, it was its overbearing need to be respected. From its first track, that record telegraphed its hopes of soundtracking the anxieties of an entire age group, but Vision is never so foolhardy in its ambitions—with their jocular image, Pet Symmetry would have you believe they don’t even have ambitions. They’re underselling themselves: Here they’ve made an album that’s lovable without needing to be loved, and insightful without feeling self-important. There are any number of directions Weiss and his bandmates could take a project as easy-going as this one, but Vision feels like a sweet spot.

Categoria: Rock news

Gucci Mane: Droptopwop

5 Iun 2017 - 8:00am

Last summer, just two months after his release from a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., Gucci Mane dropped his comeback album. The title made sense at the time: Everybody Looking. Already one of the most celebrated rappers of the century—a cult hero who had caught Billboard lightning a few times—the Atlantan’s profile had only risen while he was behind bars. The generation of rappers who owed Gucci their careers, either by borrowing his creative DNA or as one of his legions of mentees, had finally reached maturity and were dominating rap’s mainstream. Lean and sober, Gucci went on a charm offensive in the press, breaking bread with magazine editors and beaming on Snapchat. Everybody was looking, and Gucci was ready, mostly.

Crucial in all this was that many were looking for the very first time. The thing about Gucci Mane’s work is that it’s best consumed in endless, bludgeoning waves. The jewelry appraisals and the re-up math and the latent paranoia are supposed to bleed into one another like an endless river. But the comeback album is supposed to be a Machiavellian statement of purpose, and Everybody Looking was weighed down by more than a few cobwebs. When the house lights came up, Gucci retreated back into his music to work out the kinks.  

Droptopwop, his full-length collaboration with Metro Boomin, is Gucci’s first post-prison project that truly gels. This is thanks in no small part to Metro, who Gucci had sought out for production when Metro was still in high school, who has since evolved into one of the genre’s most important architects. And while his reputation as a hitmaker has long been above reproach (he’s scored four top-ten hits in the past twelve months, including Migos’ “Bad and Boujee,” which hit No. 1), Droptopwop now stands alongside the 21 Savage vehicle Savage Mode as a testament to Metro’s skill as an auteur.

The beats are spare and disquieting; “Finesse the Plug Interlude” sounds as if it’s playing out of a haunted Game Boy Color. “Dance With the Devil” is built on the shivers you feel when the feds are watching you as you watch your friends succumb to drug addiction, when you have unprotected sex and tremble in the clinic’s waiting room. And while “Met Gala,” which guest stars a furious Offset and includes assists from Southside and CuBeatz, is comprised of familiar parts, they’ve been arranged in a way that’s just a little bit foreign. Imagine hearing Flockaveli out of a passing car and then trying to describe it to someone who only speaks a little English.

Though much has been made about Gucci’s radiant positivity, the truth is that he’s still working out fiercely, sometimes uncomfortably dark things in his music. “Helpless” plays around with the titular concept, throwing it into lighter contexts—into strip clubs—but the hook has a sinister subtext. “Tho Freestyle” pays tribute to fallen friends between gas station dead-drops and flying dope in on a drone. There are times, too, when Gucci’s sly sense of humor pokes through: On “Finesse” he raps, “I’m a shyster, I’m spiteful, and I love rifles/And I love white folks/I walk on a tightrope.”

That last quote is the sort of thing Gucci does when he’s at his best: tightly-wound raps that betray a love of language, a comic’s sense of timing, a keen awareness about the way people see him, and the baggage of their preconceptions. Droptopwop is a worthwhile listen because Metro draws this out of his mentor by instinct, which makes for some of their most unhinged music in some time. So if you’ve tuned out since the welcome-home party, it might be time to start looking again.

Categoria: Rock news

tofubeats: Fantasy Club

5 Iun 2017 - 8:00am

Yusuke Kawai could have settled into the J-Pop background. The Kobe producer became a breakout name in the country’s netlabel scene in the late 2000s, creating high-energy breakcore often centered around anime samples under the name DJ Newtown, before adopting the name tofubeats for wholly original compositions. His nervy, genre-skipping dance-pop songs featuring radio-friendly choruses made him an apt choice to bring the internet-centric sound to a major label. Since, tofubeats’ albums have mostly highlighted his songwriting and production, handing vocal duties off to pop heavyweights, comedians, models and more. It’s a common path for artists plucked from the underground who focus on building a sound for other voices.   

Fantasy Club, tofubeat’s third major-label album, breaks from that path. The guests are mostly absent, and instead Kawai’s Auto-Tune voice sits in the spotlight. It’s one of the stranger releases to get prominent space in the J-Pop section in recent memory—across its 13 songs, Fantasy Club channels Southern rap, house music, and lush orchestral pop. Compared to the generally upbeat tone of his compatriots, Kawai often sounds angry or tired here, his tracks full of unnerving sputters. Yet all these intricacies make it one of the best from Japan so far in 2017, a style-blurring affair showing what happens when a strong personality gets the chance to broadcast themselves fully through their music, regardless of how left-field they can get.

Kawai has discussed being introduced to the concept of post-truth, and feeling shaken by seeing the web he came up on turn sour. Early number “Shoppingmall” sets the album’s tone. Musically it’s simplistic, seasick synthesizer melodies and hi-hat skitters. But that emphasizes the vocals, which find Kawai gnashing outward (“What's real and what's not/Is just that exciting enough?”). It soon becomes clear he’s not angry at what’s around him, but grappling with his own confusion and anxiety.

The songs that follow are rarely stable, reflecting the unease that shapes the theme of Fantasy Club. “Lonely Nights” calls on rising rapper Young Juju to cooly rap through a digital mist before Kawai delivers a distorted hook full of stuttering syllables. “Callin” is melancholy electro R&B, underlined by Kawai’s mutated vocals, run through layers of effects to the point it sounds like a depressed burst of static. Dance numbers designed for the club feature warped details—the title track shuffles forward on house whistles and a galloping beat, but the edges of every sound quiver with echo, like they are wilting. Fantasy Club’s most outright floor-focused moment, “What You Got,” is crashed by a disorienting passage featuring a flurry of menacing Kawais tripping over each other.

Yet all these disruptions make the moments of release well-earned. Whereas older tofubeat’s albums played out as singles collections that could be played in basically any order, complete with tracklistings reading like J-Pop all-star squads, Fantasy Club is best listened to from start to finish. At its center is “This City,” which starts off like it’s malfunctioning—synthesizer notes going wobbly and electronic sounds chirping off over it like it’s on the verge of going haywire. But from this chaos tofubeats builds an ecstatic dance number, growing ever more upbeat as its seven minutes play on.

As tofubeats, Kawai has always been able to hopscotch across styles, but Fantasy Club marks the first time he’s been able to really explore the sounds he loves: minimalist wooze-pop (late comedown “Yuuki,” featuring singer/songwriter sugar me) or Houston rap (the outro to opener “Chant #1” serving as direct homage to DJ Screw, something you don’t usually see in J-Pop) without having to worry about accommodating big names or scoring a hit. Given how much before it is shaped by anxiety about the world at large, it’s a bit funny that Fantasy Club’s climax is a simple love song called “Baby.” It’s anchored by a string sample sourced from a song by celebrated Japanese pop star Yumi Matsutoya. In the wrong hands, it could be treated like a building block, an obscure find waiting to be sped up in Garageband and be called an aesthetic. But tofubeats celebrates the sound and creates an original song showing its warmth. It makes one glad he stepped to the forefront for Fantasy Club.

Categoria: Rock news

Chuck Johnson: Balsams

5 Iun 2017 - 8:00am

Pedal steel guitar is such an evocative instrument that just one chord emanating from its strings can suggest entire worlds. Often that’s exactly how it is used: one chord at a time, doled out sparingly to enhance moods already established by other instruments. But what if you give pedal steel guitar the starring role? That’s what Chuck Johnson does on Balsams, an album that’s drowning in waves of pedal steel, accompanied only by sparse, time-marking bass tones. It’s a simple formula, but Johnson mines it for rich music that feels infinitely expressive.

This isn’t exactly a shock, given that Johnson was already pretty great at creating moods with a guitar. He’s made three previous albums of subtle finger-picked acoustic work, as well as a full-band effort—last year’s Velvet Arc—that used pedal steel more traditionally. But there’s something singular about what he’s done on Balsams. It feels like a universe unto itself, one where each slow, patient strain of pedal steel builds on the previous one. Individually, none of the album’s six tracks sounds very different from each other, but as a whole they create a three-dimensional sonic space that expands and evolves.

In that sense, Balsams is more an ambient album than a folk-based guitar record. Think of it as country post-rock: Johnson’s hypnotic music conjures cinematic landscapes as strong as those evoked by Stars of the Lid or Flying Saucer Attack, but his guitar’s gentle twang sounds more like a desert with wafting tumbleweeds than a sky with drifting clouds. Whatever images the album might inspire, there is definitely a lot of weather happening in Balsams’ widescreen scenes. You can feel air moving, sand sifting, and sun baking as Johnson’s guitar chords gradually stretch across the horizon.

In the album’s best moments, those chords regenerate and deepen, making it hard to tell where one sound begins and another ends. During “Riga Black,” guitar tones continually emerge and fade in overlapping circles; in “Moonstone,” rising chords spawn textures that trail each other. At times, Johnson’s sounds transcend standard associations with the pedal steel guitar, as on opener “Calamus,” whose long echoes resemble a bowed violin or a soaring synth as much as metal sliding across strings.

Within this guitar-heavy environment, Johnson’s bass notes at first feel like afterthoughts, but they turn out to be crucial. Often they provide steps for the pedal steel to climb, their short durations propelling longer atmospherics that climb higher with each passing tone. This recalls the way Labradford often used simple notes to carve a path for grander tones, and Johnson proves just as adept at that move. His approach shines most vividly during “Labrodite Eye,” where the up-and-down crests of pedal steel are pulled by bass like gravity tugging at tides. It’s a supporting role, akin to the reassuring tick of a clock, but once you’ve let Balsams fully mesmerize you, it’s hard to imagine any of Johnson’s songs without that transfixing metronome.

It seems that Johnson’s main goal here is to transfix—perhaps not just the listener but himself as well. It must have been tempting for him to swerve from his devout sonic path, adding a drumbeat hear or a voice there, or even just a three-note guitar solo somewhere. But part of the beauty of Balsams is that it entrances not in spite of its homogeneity, but because of it. In one sense, it’s an experiment to see what pedal steel guitar can do when it’s asked to do it all. But the results make Balsams more than that: a fully realized sonic world, and one worth visiting for a long time.

Categoria: Rock news

Chain and the Gang: The Best of Crime Rock

5 Iun 2017 - 8:00am

Ian Svenonius’ is at once one of rock’s shrewdest intellectuals and one of its most primal performers. But there’s no dissonance between those two modes—the ideas of the former fuel the physicality of the latter. Since surfacing with D.C. post-hardcore heroes Nation of Ulysses a quarter-century ago, Svenonius has fronted several different bands—from gospel-ye-ye purveyors the Make-Up to the frisky psych-funk crew The Scene Creamers—but they’ve all been rooted in the late-'60s belief in rock ‘n’ roll as an agent of radicalism, and in the potential for a three-minute single to instantly make you question and dismantle everything you’ve ever known. 

As such, Svenonius’ sideline writings—be it in books or magazines—aren’t so much extracurricular pursuits as the expository DVD commentary for his music. Though he’s always drawn from the proto-punk garage rock and black-power soul, Svenonius isn’t so much nostalgic for their sound as their revolutionary intent, pining for a bygone era when pop stars could show up on a network talk show and spend the better part of an hour talking about race, feminism, and U.S. immigration policy. 

He also remembers an era when greatest-hits albums weren’t just quickie cash-ins for rock bands, but the tool that cemented their legend. Svenonius’ current band, Chain & the Gang, has released five albums since 2009, making it his longest-running, most prolific outfit since the Make-Up. Where the band’s name once served as its cheeky organizing principle—with stripped-down, call-and-response chants in the prison blues tradition—by 2014’s Minimum Rock ‘n’ Roll, the proverbial chain had come to represent a whip, with Svenonius smashing windows and busting bricks on the sneering anti-gentrification anthem “Devitalize.” The song distills the band’s insolent essence into a Molotov cocktail of bruising soul-punk rhythm, shout-it-out-hooks, and lyrics that deftly toe the line between pointed anti-capitalist critique and a sly, knowing sarcasm toward the impractical extremities of their mission. In two minutes, they go from calling for a decline in real-estate values to wishing ill will on fresh fruit and child educational standards. 

“Devitalize” is thus the perfect opening salvo for Crime Rock, which, ironically, seeks to revitalize. It comprises more robust and fierce re-recordings of the best songs from the group’s decidedly lo-fi catalog (plus two new tracks—the organ-spun soul of “Logic of the Night” and surf-ready power pop of “Come Over”—the fit right into the post-mod milieu.) It’s an uncharacteristic concession to the marketplace for a band that’s more liable to wage war on it, but then it also illustrates just how prepossessing and powerful this band can be under the right conditions. Chain and the Gang is the most accessible group Svenonius has ever commandeered, and with the Crime Rock revamps, he matches the white-hot intensity of The Make-Up (with bassist Anna Nasty playing the Michelle Mae-like foil), but with that band’s JBs-funk engine stripped out and replaced with revved-up Motown motions. 

Where he once used his shriek like a weapon, Svenonius now wields a sense of humor that’s as cutting as it is absurd. The garage-blues strut “Certain Kinds of Trash” functions as a companion piece to his 2014 essay in defense of hoarding, its lyric sheet presenting a laundry list of arcane, discarded consumer products (“typewriter ribbons, TV dinner pans, you just don’t see ’em”). But embedded within his fetishization of refuse is a thinly veiled contempt for planned-obsolescence sales strategies and the iCloud age’s premium on intangibility. For Svenonius, garbage and decay represent a freedom from a culture of constant commodification—when something has no value, it’s truly priceless. “I see progress,” Svenonius sings on the bass-swung song of the same name, “in paint peeling/And I like a leaky ceiling!” He punctuates the line with a high-pitched Princely gasp that finds the eroticism in rot.

Several of the new versions on Crime Rock just amount to tighter, better-quality recordings. In other cases, the changes are quite dramatic: the nihilist to-do list “Why Not?” gets pumped up from a stripped-down busker-blues shuffle into a taut, motorik garage-rocker; the militaristic psych-folk march “Deathbed Confession” becomes the cinematic, piano-pounding curtain-closer its ridiculous conspiracy-theory lyrics demand. But in all instances, Crime Rock greatly improves upon its source material, by amplifying the tension between Svenonius’ hard-knock lyrics (from “Livin’ Rough”: “I’m livin’ in a bathroom stall/With no paper on the roll/I can’t believe it!”) and the Gang’s punchy performances. Chain and the Gang cheekily (or maybe not) describe themselves as the world’s “only anti-liberty rock ‘n’ roll band,” dismissing the genre’s ingrained wild-child mentality as an emblem of unchecked capitalism. But after spending years in a small holding cell, Crime Rock finally transfers them to the maximum-security penitentiary they deserve. 

Categoria: Rock news

Ghostface Killah: Supreme Clientele

4 Iun 2017 - 8:00am

In the fall of 1997, Ghostface Killah decamped to West Africa. His diabetes had become cataclysmic: dizziness, blurred vision, bloodshot eyes, and concussive headaches. He hadn’t quit drinking, which didn’t help; nor did the joints laced with angel dust he still smoked from time to time.

Even before the diagnosis, he convinced himself of his impending demise, fearing cancer, though more likely AIDS. When medical professionals finally tested his blood sugar it was 500 mg/dl. Anything above 550 is considered fatal.

Wary of Western medicine, Ghostface flew to Benin to be treated by a bush doctor in a remote village several hours outside of Cotonou, the nation’s most populous city. Running water was non-existent. The inhabitants lived in mud huts and slept on the floor. When the RZA showed up to meet Ghostface, he saw his bandmate materialize in a dashiki, full beard, and unkempt hair puffed out. RZA had brought Kung Fu flicks—specifically Blade of Fury—which they watched alone as honored guests, the tribe’s children looking on in awe of them and the village’s only TV.

The spiritual nucleus of Supreme Clientele spawns from that pilgrimage. That’s where Tony Starks wrote “Nutmeg” and several other album tracks in a purge of voodoo spirits, occidental poisons, and crazy visions. It’s a masterpiece of comic absurdity and cosmic exorcisms, existential paradox and mathematic precision.

In an attempt to save his life, he seeks out a medicine man in his ancestral homeland and achieves esoteric and sobering realizations about existence. Sans beats, the Wallabee Champ scrawls countless transmissions snatched from the thundering din in his head. It’s as if Muhammad returned from the cave of Hira to prophesize revelations of seasoned giraffe ribs, Scooby Snacks, dancing with the most sexually vibrant member of the Golden Girls, and how his dick made a magazine cover (“count how many veins on it”). 

About two years later, a fully clothed Starks actually made the cover of The Source and explained the knowledge self-obtained in Africa.  

“Fuck all this Tommy Hilfiger, Polo…all this shit…they don’t give a fuck about none of that over there. Everything is the same,” Ghostface said. “But over here, everybody wanna be better than the next one…They might be fucked up, money-wise, but trust me, them muthafuckas is happy, man. Them niggas in harmony ‘cause they got each other.”

Mind you, Pretty Toney delivers this soliloquy while smoking a Newport in a suite at the Waldorf Astoria in Midtown, Manhattan, wearing an ankle-length, royal blue robe with a custom-embroidered “W” on the back. The entire time he’s enraged that “BET Rap City” isn’t playing the video for “Apollo Kids”—the one where he’s swaddled in mink coats and eating a golden ice cream cone.  

This is Ghost, naturally ridiculous, the supreme smart dumb cat, the genius who embodies the innate contradictions of late American capitalism, gobbling Chinese herbs and getting acupuncture during the day and smoking dust and dodging bullets at night, capable of staggering misogyny and deep reverence towards women. He is both yin and yang, not just from song to song, but syllable to syllable.  

He continues about his Africa trip:

“You see them kids that’s on TV? With flies on they face…I don’t like to see that. There’s no reason in this world with all this money that we got, for those babies to be over there with…big stomachs and shit like that,” Ghost adds. “I’m one of them niggas that’ll bring them into their muthafuckin’ family, I don’t give a fuck if it’s ten of them. I’ll get them.”

If Ghost ever adopted ten sub-Saharan kids, it was never mentioned on Couples Therapy. Other interviews followed in which he spoke of lofty plans to recruit Oprah Winfrey and Magic Johnson to help him build a school for the indigent children of Benin. And while his follow-through was shaky, his sincerity was unmatched. He also had a good excuse, considering the grave legal turmoil shadowing him during the recording of Supreme Clientele.

Parole Kids Live Rapunzel

The District Attorney threatened Dennis Coles with “five to 15” if he didn’t cop a plea to attempted robbery charges stemming from an incident outside of the Palladium back in 1995. While parked at the venue, someone slashed Ghost’s tires and a brawl ensued between Starks and his crew against the Palladium attendants. One valet claimed that Ghost tried to rob him. None of this ends well.

As his attorney negotiated for better terms, blue and red lights flashed once again. This time, a friend named Dupree Lane got pulled over as Ghost trailed in a caravan behind. Using “disorderly conduct” as the pretext to search Ghost’s car, cops found a .357 Magnum loaded with hollow-point bullets hidden behind the glove compartment. Ironman was wearing a bulletproof vest—another felony charge. 

Throughout this entire period, the NYPD and F.B.I. attempted to launch a RICO case against the Wu, who they branded a “major criminal organization.” It’s bizarre to weigh these accusations in the wake of Method Man starring in network sitcoms, the RZA bong-bonging all over Californication, and Ghostface doing full-length collaborations with Canadian jazz prodigies scarcely old enough to sip Alizé. But just consider the abridged list of alleged criminology: illegal gunrunning, weapons possession, homicide, carjackings, and a bi-coastal drug ring. They attempted to pin the murders of two drug dealers on a hit ordered by RZA and Raekwon. According to the Bureau, Wu-Tang Records was little more than a front for laundering money, which ostensibly explains why RZA kept releasing Wu-Syndicate and Sunz of Man albums.

Even before Ghost copped a plea to rot on Rikers Island for four months, Supreme Clientele’s plotline already felt like Martin Scorsese directing Shaft in Africa. As for the incarceration, it’s difficult to gauge its impact beyond the obvious delays. In the press cycle leading up to Supreme Clientele’s release in February of 2000, Starks attempted to downplay its severity.

One MTV interview describes it as a disguised blessing that allowed him to further refine the record. In Stress Magazine, he contextualizes it as a cruel but mundane reality that many young American black men are forced to endure. The liner notes dedicate a section to "my niggas in the Belly": Big Un, Ready Red, Mushy Mush, General, Wah aka Freedom, Born, Shaquel Dueprey Allah from the O Building, and Peace Lord.

Most revealing was a SPIN interview, where he explained its physical ramifications—the times the prison guards refused to give him a proper dose of insulin, causing extreme vertigo and sickness.

“I hold on to times when I had to struggle,” Ghost said. “That’s the science of going through hell and having to come out right—because everybody gots to go through hell to come out right.”

Rather than script a conventional narrative about this purgatory, Ghost focuses on the fractured chaos of the world that led him to the pen. On “Buck 50,” he pauses mid-seduction to tell a woman to “check the grays on the side of my waves/I grew those on Rikers Island/Stressed out, balled up in the cage.” In the next breath, he shouts out Clyde Drexler’s hops, Biggie’s Versace’s, Zulu Nation in the ’80s, and how quickly his back got chiseled after two weeks in the gym. Then he quotes Mary Poppins and eats grouper in Cancun. You’re dealing with Supreme Clientele.

This Rap Is Like Ziti

It was supposed to be called Ironman. Instead, the RZA insisted that Ghost bestow that name on his debut album because everyone already knew him as Tony Starks. It just made more sense, marketing-wise. So Ironman dominated the fall of late ’96, the last of that royal flush of solo classics leading up to Wu-Tang Forever. It clocked over 800,000 CDs and tapes and debuted at No. 2 on the charts. RZA was probably right.

But if you re-listen to Ironman, it’s dark and wounded, the opposite of bulletproof steel. “Wildflower” and “Marvel” are scorched-earth breakup songs, all salted wounds and fresh infection. The plaintive “All That I Got is You” transforms the claustrophobic nightmare of the Staten Island projects into a gorgeous hymn about how a mother’s love conquers all. Ghost was still so heavy in the streets that he accidentally led the Delfonics into a shootout on a recording session gone awry. On the cover, Raekwon and Cappadonna receive co-billing, lending it the feel of an Only Built 4 Cuban Linx sequel more than a radical break from the Wu cosmology.

By Woodstock ‘99, critics and fans wondered if Wu-Tang were washed. Hindsight remembers it as a classic, but most reviews indicted the bloat and filler of 1997’s Wu-Tang Forever. A biblical flood ruined RZA’s studio, waterlogging hundreds of beats and hastening his baptism into Bobby Digital. Method Man and GZA’s follow-up albums disappointed everyone without a “W” tattooed on their clavicle, while Raekwon dropped the biggest No. 2 brick since Sam Bowie. The dollar bins of America were strangled with Shaq’s first record, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and innumerable Wu-Tang C-Listers sworn to omertà in exchange for a release date and two True Master beats.

Into the void Ghostface swaggered, inhaling breakbeats of hell, hitting mics like Ted Koppel, cham-punching Mase, and slapping crooked reverends so hard condoms, dice, and dope fell out of their pockets; sticking up rappers for their chains on New Year’s Eve in Cali and divulging no names; sprinkling snow inside the Optimo and sipping Remy Martin on diamonds. Supreme Clientele is Ironman. It’s invulnerable and silvery, the stream-of-consciousness hexes from a general who survived hell. A shade short of 30, Ghostface had been shot three times, survived multiple stints on Rikers Island, a debilitating battle with diabetes, and mourned the loss of two brothers with muscular dystrophy to become chromatic myth. He’d made religious pilgrimages to the motherland, slept on mud floors and hospital gurneys, prison cots, and silk sheets in $1,000-a-night hotel rooms. Now he was being tasked to save the Wu-Tang Clan.

To understand Supreme Clientele is to be humbled by epistemological limitations. You can see, feel, and taste it, but it can only be decrypted to a point. It’s a psychedelic record moored in reality. The ‘90s didn’t really end on 9/11; the ashes got incinerated with the smoke of RZA’s honey-dipped spliff.

Practically nothing is known about its recording process. In NYC, Starks demolished mics at the Hit Factory, Track, Quad Studios and the Wu’s own 36 Chambers compound in midtown. A trip to Miami yielded “Ghosteini.” Out of a thousand beats, Ghost selected barely over a dozen. They mostly came from RZA, Mathematics, Inspectah Deck, Carlos “6 July” Broady of The Hitman, and Juju from The Beatnuts. All were logical picks if you’re trying to construct a great New York rap album circa 2000.

Out of a sped-up Solomon Burke loop came “Apollo Kids,” courtesy of Hassan of the UMCs, Staten Island’s first major rap crew. His discogs page shows nothing after Supreme Clientele.  A semi-anonymous producer named Carlos Bess furnished his biggest hit “Cherchez La Ghost,” a cocaine opera about Tommy Mottola getting dumped, where U-God brags about busting through condoms and drinking mediocre lime rum. These are the things you can’t account for.

Consider that the beat for “Nutmeg” came from Ghost’s barber, Arthur, who cut hair on Staten Island. Somehow, the only major production credit of Black Moes-Art’s career is one of the hardest beats in history, a clean fade sliced from a forgotten 12” originally cut by Eddie Holman, the falsetto behind “(Hey There) Lonely Girl.” It sounds like he made it for a Saturday morning cartoon about the overcrowded projects of Alpha Centauri where everyone’s hands are semi-automatics; the only currency is angel dust, and the high priest cuts hair in a plutonium suit.

The common denominator was the RZA. He assembled and mixed them, adding uniform layers of grime and radioactivity, bizarre alarms and a dense twisted paranoia. It’s soul music transmogrified into gleaming metal, a tank covered in diamonds. The instrumentals sound like they’re ranting right back at Ghost, who sounds like he’s dripping blood onto the mic stand. As Chris Rock said about those cadaverous scratches on “Stroke of Death,” it makes you want to stab your babysitter.

Supreme Clientele established the template for what Kanye did later on Yeezus. Assemble an arsenal of heat and desecrate it to your personal satisfaction. It’s no coincidence. In Kanye West in the Studio, West claims, “I feel like I got my whole style from Ghostface…my whole mentality about hip-hop.” He later explains that many of the soul-chops that wound up on The Blueprint were originally intended for Ghostface until Jay Z heard them.

A few years ago, Mathematics laid out how it all happened. The RZA protégé never really topped “Mighty Healthy,” the original first single that Kanye lifted for “New God Flow.” It evokes a rare twinkling evil, like some velvet afterlife where you are condemned to sip Ginger Ale and watch Kung Fu movies for eternity. “That whole time period, [Ghostface] had a glow about him,” Mathematics said to HipHopDX. “That was how that whole Supreme Clientele came about. It was because of that glow.”

Maybe that’s the most appropriate metaphor for this album. Ghost had the sort of nuclear phosphorescence that people use to explain what they can’t explain. He rapped like he was a sacred vessel for ancient spirits with a preternatural ardor for Teddy Pendergrass. Ghost says it himself, these are “graveyard spells.” Fog your goggles.

Crushed Out Heavenly

On Supreme Clientele, Ghostface does nothing short of revolutionize the English language. Words like tidal waves drown you as you gulp for air, just trying to tread water and interpret what was said four bars ago. Ears twitch, you catch the aroma of Kansas fried chicken as it whips past, the grievous ululations of mothers mourning their dead sons. It’s like a Weegee photograph of the late Giuliani era, but simultaneously a proto-Adult Swim hallucination where Apollo Kids lounge on gilded thrones, sipping wine coolers in King Tut hats.

“The knowledge is how it sounds,” he said to The Source. “See we funny niggas. I’m a give you a little jewel. A lot of funny niggas know how to rap. The slang that we be saying G, it could mean whatever at that time. We say everything. ‘Lobsterhead.’ Come on man. If a nigga fit that type of category, then he a lobsterhead. It’s just that—slang. It’s real, but it’s what it means at that time.”

If hip-hop’s original rule was the Wild Style, Supreme Clientele shatters every precept while still respecting the foundation. There are scratches, breakbeats, and the (mostly) good-natured insanity to be the greatest. It’s the wildest style, rap stretched to silly putty lengths, as far as you can go without falling off the edge of the needle. There’s the DNA of Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, Rammellzee, Slick Rick, Ultramagnetic MCs and Kool Keith, but this marked a seismic rupture with tradition. It was art-rap made for the asphalt—the closest that hip-hop ever came to Ulysses, and not only because Joyce described the “snotgreen sea” and Ghost conjured a “booger-green Pacer.” Both Joyce and Ghost understand that basic idea that a “man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.”

At times, Supreme Clientele accidentally channels Raymond Chandler translating A Season in Hell. At others, the dirty nasal bark summons Donald Goines on DMT or Lewis Carroll in the slithy toves of Stapleton, where the ambulance don’t come. Ghost intuitively realized what André Breton claimed was the definition of surrealism: the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella. How else to categorize the man who arranged the combination of words, “Dicking down Oprah, jump rope/David Dinkins/Watch the black mayor of D.C. hit the mocha.”

You could spend all day deciphering “Malcolm,” with its snippet of Malcolm X condemning the “corrupt, vicious, and hypocritical system that has castrated the black man.” The description of an anonymous phantom as the one “that cut his wrists, talkin’ bout the cuffs did it/He bantamweight, frontin’ majorly/Eyes like Sammy Davis Jr.” He divines the phrase, “Dream merchant tucked in the cloud,” fingers Pamela Lee, and dares someone to make him “catch a Kennedy.” One skit chronicles the travails of a crackhead named after a World War I President. Another mercilessly threatens 50 Cent. For whatever reason, he finishes “Stroke of Death” by bellowing, “White man scream, SWIM STARKS SHARKS!”

Left off the album was a twisted soul death ballad alternately called “In the Rain,” “Wise,” or “In the Rain (Wise).” Ghost claimed that he wrote it stoned on the beach in Florida during a torrential downpour upon learning that one of his best friends had been murdered. The more he wrote, the more the storm thrashed until it ceased four or five hours later; then he stood up with tears in his eyes, noticed a pyramid in the sand, walked around it three times, uttered an “All praises due Allah” incantation, and returned home. He apparently laid it down in Detroit with The Dramatics, the Detroit Orchestra, and Motown guitarist Dennis Coffey. I only know this from the liner notes of the album that I purchased in 2000. The actual song was not on my CD. The tracklist is completely wrong too. In this parallel universe, it makes perfect sense.

Through this warped and sinistral way, Supreme Clientele is about love. Ironman unmasked a scorned Lothario simultaneously trying to establish himself as an elite rapper like Raekwon, Method Man, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and GZA. It’s a competitive record with something to prove. But here Ghost sounds like he just fucking loves rapping. And he loves children in Africa. And he loves ’70s and ’80s New York. And he loves 2Pac and Biggie and Malcolm and Marvin Gaye and anyone who stood for something. He loves mink coats, cognac, baked ziti, and Allah. He’s extraordinarily pro-black, not because he’s anti-anyone else, but because he profoundly loves his people for their soul, strength, and common heritage.

He loves his crew, who roll deep alongside him: from Trife on the outro of "One" to Superb popping up everywhere, to the posse cuts "We Made It", "Buck 50" and "Wu Banga 101.” It’s Ghost’s show, but the experience of recording it doesn’t sound solitary. He loves them so deeply because he’s acutely aware of how quickly this mirage can vanish. On “We Made It,” Starks celebrates another victory by just a thin thread of electric current. Before 2000 ends, one of its guest rappers, Chip Banks became a chalk outline memory in Harlem, murdered over a small cash dispute, barely 30 years old. Eight children left behind. It’s one more reminder that this was his life’s work—not merely something great made in a crazy period, but the only way that period could have ended.

There’s an old Ghostface quote where he simplifies rap to the most basic prerequisite: get “some official beats and say fly shit over them.” Even if that was all that he did on Supreme Clientele, it would still be a classic. But what makes it transformational are those minor details. The almost tossed-off aside where the vivid laser eye guy spits, “West Brighton pool now I’m into iron duels.” It’s a name-check of the neighborhood spot where he used to swim, a sad glint of far-off nostalgia as he considers who might be lurking the next time he steps outside.  

This is the duality that remains constant, the fluid superhero transformation as Starks shifts from retina-searing brightness to black and white grit, comic absurdity to adolescent remembrance, revelations spoken through rap. It’s the testament of a mortal god, hoping to save the world, hoping to free himself.

Categoria: Rock news

Loss: Horizonless

3 Iun 2017 - 8:00am

Judas Priests’ 1978 take of “Better by You, Better Than Me” landed them in court on allegations that it caused two young men to shoot themselves. But the album it came from, Stained Class, also had “Beyond the Realms of Death”—a song that actually dealt with suicide. There, death was a cosmic journey, as Rob Halford, a jaded but wise psychedelic sage, guided us through a process of mental anguish and eventual peace. Nashville’s Loss don’t sound anything like Priest, but they similarly dedicate their music to death’s journey and the ways suicide occupies our brains—in a way no other metal band has since “Realms.”

Loss are on the bleaker end of funeral doom, already the most grief-stricken form of doom metal with nearly nonexistent tempos and depressing lyrics. Few bands have recorded songs that defined their own aesthetic as well as Loss did with “Cut Up, Depressed, and Alone,” from their 2011 debut LP Despond. On their follow-up, Horizonless, Loss move beyond suicide (though it’s still a prominent theme) and broaden not only their approach to discussing death but their sound in general. The result is one of the year’s most beautiful metal records.

Across Horizonless, Loss distinguish themselves from other funeral doom bands by cutting back on gothic trappings, leaving a death metal husk to fill with despair. There is an emphasis on the sublime that Despond lacked. A brief moment of radiance opens “All Grows on Tears,” and when vocalist and guitarist Mike Meacham comes slamming in, the riff grows to superhuman strength, growing brighter amid the overwhelming darkness. That is just one of the many flourishes in Loss’ most moving song yet.

They’ve taken the bleak harmonies of melodic death metal bands—in particular, the Maiden-gone-gloom of early At the Gates and Dissection’s more black metal side—and brought them to their absolute slowest. Those particular influences are all over Horizonless. As “When Death Is All” concludes, a lead spirals towards the end, withering without losing poignancy. Horizonless is a record that romanticizes death, where thorns are petals, and it couldn’t have ended more appropriately.

Meacham is still the main presence on this record, and his subterranean growling itself seems to move in and out of life and death. His voice has a gravity that plunges riffs lower, no matter how drenched in melody they may be. Even so, Horizonless is a more collaborative album. Bassist John Anderson contributes piano to “Naught,” and he is also the sole performer on “The End Steps Forth,” a short piano, organ, and drum piece that deconstructs the gothic doom of My Dying Bride. In both, he brings the band closer to funeral doom’s more conventional archaic beauty while abstracting it. Guitarist Tim Lewis wrote and performed “Banishment,” Loss’ most death metal-leaning track yet. “The Joy of All Who Sorrow” is the first Loss song to feature vocals from all four of its members. Funeral doom is characterized by its lethargic pace; in that context, “Sorrow” has bountiful dynamics. It feels much faster than it actually is, with progressive death metal stylings chained to their doom anchor.

Horizonless is a study of how great modern metal records have all gone beyond genre exercises. Metal’s various styles have long been codified, and strident worship is now rarely enough of a statement. Despond contained songs from Loss’ demo and previous splits, but the band began anew with Horizonless, and it shows. If most doom is death closing in, this is opening a coffin and conversing with death head on. There’s an openness to Horizonless—even as Meacham sings about wanting the earth to consume him, about not just facing death but becoming it, about how death robs us. Through it all, Horizonless evokes metal’s most important message: in confronting death, we are freer in life.

Categoria: Rock news

Shinichi Atobe: From the Heart, It’s a Start, a Work of Art

3 Iun 2017 - 8:00am

It might not feel like it now, at a time when the internet has rendered so many mysteries of the era moot, but from the mid 1990s until not long after the turn of the millennium, Berlin’s Chain Reaction label was among the most cryptic operations in electronic music. Label heads Moritz von Oswald and Mark Ernestus, better known as Basic Channel, kept a defiantly low profile, and the label’s artists trafficked in a dizzying array of aliases; some, like the solo project known simply as Various Artists (Torsten Pröfrock, aka T++, Erosion, et al), continue to flummox databases decades later. The label’s sound didn’t exactly lend itself to transparency, either: grainy dub techno emphasizing collective ethos over individual ego, in which shadows and murk threatened to drown out techno’s steady footfall.

Chain Reaction’s most enduring mystery came with its penultimate release, in 2001: Ship-Scope, a near-perfect EP of shimmering ambient techno credited to one Shinichi Atobe, a total unknown. Unknown he remained: Chain Reaction gave up the ghost two years later, and Atobe dropped out of sight, seemingly for good. Many listeners assumed that he was really another Chain Reaction artist in disguise. Then, in 2014, Demdike Stare’s Sean Canty and Miles Whittaker, allegedly following a tip from the Basic Channel office, claimed to have tracked down the artist at home in Saitama, Japan; they came away with an album’s worth of unreleased material, some new and some archival. The result, Butterfly Effect, built upon Ship-Scope’s dream-world architecture with a tantalizing assortment of styles, from glistening, minimalist house to dissonant musique concrete to lumpy rhythm studies poised somewhere between Dettinger and Burial.

Whoever Atobe may be—and the promise of an upcoming live debut in Japan suggests that maybe he really is just a reclusive dude—the past few years have found the project definitively revitalized. Since Butterfly Effect, he has released a Ship-Scope reissue, the mini-album World, and the short Rebuild Mix 1.2.3 EP, a remix project in which Atobe’s hand obliterated all traces of the original. From the Heart, It’s a Start, a Work of Art fleshes out his catalog with 40 more minutes of music, and it is uniformly striking stuff. While not as wide-ranging as Butterfly Effect, it is richer and fuller than World, and though it retains ambient music’s atmospheres, it focuses squarely on dancefloor energies while amping up the emotional content.

That’s particularly true of its two most substantial cuts. In “Regret,” bright chords reminiscent of DJ Sprinkles flare over a bare-bones boom-tick rhythm, with hi-hats chirping like crickets. In “Republic,” a flayed open hi-hat suggests peak-time techno at its most severe, yet watery synths and midsection-caressing sub-bass suggest almost shoegaze-like vibes. Both tracks are little more than static loops, all but unchanging over the course of their nearly 10-minute run, yet their hypnotic repetitions and naïve melodies wrap you up in a kind of cocoon.

It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what it is that’s so enveloping, and so moving, about Atobe’s work. Some of it comes down to his tonal sensibility. Like “Rainstick” and “The Red Line,” from his debut EP, his best tracks here seem to emanate a rosy glow, and his chord progressions, simple as they are, are masterful exercises in tension and release. Not everything is such a wistful reverie, though. “The Test of Machine 2” sounds like an etude for melting wind chimes, while “The Test of Machine 1” hammers uneven kick drums over a backdrop of bell tones and mechanical clatter, like a fax machine eating an old Jeff Mills cassette.

For many, the most fascinating material here will be a trio of songs that builds upon the Shinichi Atobe mystery. Before Chain Reaction ever released Ship-Scope, claim Canty and Whittaker, Atobe recorded a three-track EP that was cut to acetate—a vinyl-like material, often used for dubplates, more susceptible to wear and tear than the wax used in commercially released records—in an edition of five. The original EP was never released, but three tracks on the new album have allegedly been remastered directly from those crumbling acetates. “First Plate 1” is a luminous dub techno sketch that certainly sounds like it could have been recorded in 2000, with a muted, compressed quality reminiscent of a seventh-generation cassette dub. The vinyl crackle is even thicker and creamier on “First Plate 2,” a deliciously dubby stepper that suggests a more narcotic take on Basic Channel’s Maurizio project. And on “First Plate 3,” surface noise settles over a resonant dub-techno roller like a low mist hugging the countryside.

The story raises more questions than it does answers: Why were only five acetates made, and then no records pressed? Why didn’t they utilize the original master disk for the reissue, or, better, the original DAT or digital file? And why, if they really did work off of such a damaged acetate, did they choose to emphasize all that surface noise, rather than minimizing it? It’s impossible to tell how much of the sound design is intentional, and how much is a result of the alleged remastering process. But as with William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops or Burial’s “Distant Lights,” the degraded sound quality becomes an integral part of the music’s emotional experience. Wherever and whenever the music has come to us from, it wears all the signs of a great journey. And as with bards of yore, it’s the storytelling, not the veracity of the tale, that keeps us rapt.

Categoria: Rock news

Tony Conrad: Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plain

3 Iun 2017 - 8:00am

For half a century, Tony Conrad was anonymous by association. The composer, violinist, filmmaker, mathematician, teacher, and playful provocateur at large made essential contributions to half-dozen vital American art movements. Conrad, who died last year, helped organize the principals of the Velvet Underground, a band he named but then declined to join. He made experimental films that challenged the technical and textural boundaries of the form and inspired Andy Warhol, but his diverse enthusiasms and staunch anti-authoritarian ideals virtually sealed his status as a mere cinematic footnote. And as a musician and theorist, he made records and played in projects that helped to jumpstart American musical minimalism, harsh noise, and homespun drone, though his reputation still pales in comparison to those of contemporaries such as La Monte Young and Steve Reich or descendants like Thurston Moore. As many of Conrad’s interests moved from the edge toward the center, he remained for decades on the fringes, an avuncular professor with a wit as sharp as his violin tone and an intriguing past.

But during the last quarter-century, several batches of archival releases, reissues, and performances slowly pulled Conrad from the wings, putting him in front of new audiences and extending the influence of both his sound and spirit. In the early ’90s, Table of the Elements—a sorely missed bastion of avant garde Americana—made a case study of sorts with Conrad, releasing old and new recordings to help launch a revisionist history of experimental music. Table of the Elements smartly positioned Conrad at an intersection of classical music’s high-mindedness and indie rock’s DIY spirit.

This new currency established him as a countercultural antidote, an iconoclast who connected with a new generation in order to pull minimalism out of the concert hall or classroom and into the rock club. He opened for Sunn O))), palled around with Jim O’Rourke, and collaborated on the stage and in the studio with abandon and intensity. Since Conrad’s death after a prolonged battle with prostate cancer, his esteem has grown. He got a Rolling Stone listicle, a long-in-the-works documentary, and even the bold New York Times headline “Tony Conrad Was Such a Good Minimalist, He Was Almost Forgotten.” But the music isn’t finished just yet.

A newly unearthed recording of an audacious but somewhat overlooked Conrad masterwork for a small droning ensemble and black-and-white film, Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plain, is the most important shot in the arm to Conrad’s legacy to arrive in more than a decade. Recorded at the seminal New York art space the Kitchen in 1972, Ten Years Alive backs Conrad’s microtonal arcs of precise violin with a rhythm section of sorts. Laurie Spiegel plunks along on a bass, keeping a barely there beat, while Rhys Chatham plucks a one-stringed instrument Conrad built in a kind of countrified counterpoint. As they played for nearly 90 minutes, projections of vertical lines converged and diverged, creating a visual corollary to an entirely absorbing and rapturous listen. In 1972, Steve Reich had just finished Drumming, and Philip Glass was in the midst of composing Music in Twelve Parts. Ten Years Alive is another overdue reminder that Conrad’s music belongs in the canon. For someone who extolled prolificacy while occasionally sneering at publicity, its complete release is more meaningful than any newspaper’s breathless reappraisal.

With rare exceptions, Conrad’s most captivating music is at once magnetic and repellent. He privately lamented that his fabled recordings with Faust, Outside the Dream Syndicate, were too soft, the dampened sound of hippies who didn’t quite get the ecstatic astringency of his tone. His brilliant Four Violins, an early document of his explorations with just intonation and layers of looped sound, unspools across a tormented, tantalizing half-hour. When it ends, you’re torn between feelings of relief and mercy and the masochism of instantly wanting to hear it again. His wobbly solo organ score for Joan of Arc is at once vertiginous and comforting. Likewise, his canonical strobe-like experimental film, the Flicker, is devilishly disorienting and yet somehow hard to turn off.

Ten Years Alive, though, is oddly accessible, with moments of Conrad’s razor-sharp playing sheathed in more gentle passages. The tiny harmonies of his tuning system are clear, so you can trace the lines of thought much more readily than on the more aggressive Four Violins. Together, Chatham and Spiegel provide simpatico support, their barely prepared accompaniment adding a touch of exotica to Conrad’s fixed aesthetic. They listen closely but play casually, their every move emboldening the violin without distracting from it. Ten Years Alive is academic, to an extent, but it feels deeply psychedelic, too, a cosmic vamp built around an eternal groove.

The presence of Chatham and Spiegel, who arguably achieved levels of attention Conrad is attaining only posthumously, is an obvious selling point, a built-in marketing hook for an esoteric archival release. Still, Conrad is clearly at the center of Ten Years Alive, his mesmerizing but sometimes hairsplitting violin bleat pulled taut from one end to the other, just as it animated and connected the ends of his fifty-year career.

To listen to it is to get lost in it, to enter a slipstream of sound where notes seem to self-replicate as if they were always there and will forever remain. It’s like watching an army of tossed stones create so many ripples on a pond that the commotion becomes the accepted state of being, or like meeting a new friend who instantly feels as if he or she has been a lifelong companion. Twenty minutes in, you stop caring about personnel or context or even revisionist histories and simply notice the minuscule variations in sound, the way a fraction of a musical interval can make your hair stand on end. Conrad, then, becomes anonymous yet again—this time, by design of his art, not association of his friends.

Categoria: Rock news

Martin Rev: Demolition 9

3 Iun 2017 - 8:00am

Martin Rev’s first album in seven-plus years introduces itself with a blast of noise that’s bound to make even the most masochistic listeners leap for the volume button. Beyond abrasive, the sound throbs and quivers as layers of ear-piercing frequencies overlap for an excruciating 45 seconds. Let’s hope that military interrogators never get their hands on this piece of music, titled “Stickball,” because it’s by no means a stretch to say you could torture someone with it.

As co-founder of the venerated experimental duo Suicide, Rev is of course no stranger to challenging his audience. He is also clearly more than just a noisenik, having proven his ability to carve form out of chaos over and over since the early 1970s. There’s random noise and then there’s Rev’s brand of noise: “Stickball” is actually quite carefully arranged. The vague outline of a drum pattern begins to materialize within its wash of booming static, but it takes a special kind of perseverance to appreciate it.

Perhaps opening the album on an unlistenable note was Rev’s way of weeding people out, but it’s a curious decision. Demolition 9 contains some of Rev’s most straightforwardly musical work, and for most of its 34 tracks, Rev pulls back the curtain to reveal the composer that he is at heart. He did the same on his last album, 2009’s Stigmata (a heartfelt tribute to his late spouse), except there he stuck to an orchestral style. With Demolition 9, Rev runs free across a dizzying grab bag of genres.

Try to ingest this album in a single sitting and you might literally find yourself dizzy from its nonstop hairpin turns. “Stickball” leads into the gentle choral stylings of “Salve Dominus”—a piece that couldn’t be more diametrically opposed to what came before it, and the first of many examples where Rev makes no attempt to conceal the fact that he’s courting beautiful sounds. From there, he delves into new age, bossa nova, ambient soundscapes, traditional rock’n’roll, and more noise with a glee that approaches the zaniness of a cartoon score.

Rev’s playful streak is evident going all the way back to his eponymous 1980 solo debut. It was there in Suicide, too; it just wasn’t as easy to make out. If you watch recent live clips, he seems to relish his role as a kind of musical trickster figure. So it follows that some of the new album’s transitions are laugh-out-loud funny. And on tunes like “My Street,” Rev exposes how lighthearted his irreverence has become by playing a 1960s girl group-styled melody on a distorted guitar with a tone so cutting it sounds like a blowtorch. Imagine Phil Spector producing an early industrial/power electronics act.

There’s definitely a method to the madness here. And to be fair, at least half a dozen tracks showcase Rev’s unique gift for turning abrasion and spartan beats into art. But “Stickball” epitomizes this album’s central problem: the pattern in the noise never comes to fruition. Later, Rev reintroduces the same harsh tones on “Into the Blue,” basically a repeat of “Stickball” with a more defined live drumkit. But rather than letting the drums emerge gradually, Rev breaks the idea into two separate shards of glass, almost as if daring you to either step on them or steer clear.

Rev doesn’t give anything on this album time to develop; he simply introduces each motif and then drops it for the next idea. With most of the tracks clocking-in at under two minutes, Demolition 9 gets aimless and exhausting very quickly. It didn’t have to be that way. Had Rev taken some care to group the individual vignettes together by similarity of style, the music could have had an arc and played like a series of suites. Even the face-scraping “Stickball” could have felt rewarding with some proper setup.

Without any attention to flow, Demolition 9 sounds like a person rummaging through drawers, reading off unrelated pages from separate notebooks. The experience is not without its charms. Rev makes for a lovable eccentric, but at this point, he has nothing to prove by making his music more difficult than it needs to be. Hiding in the cracks of Demolition 9, there’s an album that speaks to Rev’s musical range. To find that album, though, listeners will have to come up with a coherent track sequence on their own.

Categoria: Rock news

Bleachers: Gone Now

2 Iun 2017 - 8:00am

Jack Antonoff has achieved a rare type of success in pop music by ignoring everything going on around him. As the sound of radio has grown sleeker and sexier, Antonoff’s music remains bold and bombastic. He’s worked as a producer and songwriter on music beloved on a wide scale (Sara Bareilles’ “Brave,” Zayn and Taylor’s “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever”) and more cultishly appreciated (Tegan and Sara’s “How Come You Don’t Want Me,” Grimes’ “Entropy”)—but you know his work when you hear it. Antonoff’s first solo album as Bleachers, 2014’s Strange Desire, was a lovable exploration of the ideas at the core of his sound: all the piano breaks and gated-reverb drums, the gang vocals and the ceaseless, head-spinning barrage of hooks. But to the world at large, it was less of a breakthrough than a sturdy business card. By the end of that year, he’d be better known for accompanying one of the world’s biggest pop stars on her biggest album yet.

In an interview with Pitchfork, Antonoff discussed his guiding principle as a collaborator: “If I ever work with someone else, all that I think about is: Do you want to make the best album you’ve ever made in your life, or not?” It’s a lofty standard, but one he also sets for himself as a solo artist. The best song on Strange Desire was called “I Wanna Get Better”: While its title was a response to hitting rock bottom, it’s a sentiment that also applies to the heights of his success. In fact, if there’s any major similarity between Antonoff and Bruce Springsteen—an artist he frequently cites as an inspiration—it’s his unabashed ambition: a conviction so earnest and ingrained that it could be mistaken for humility.

Regardless of what people think of Gone Now, Antonoff's stately and uneven sophomore album, he’s already mythologizing it and shaping a world around its songs. Antonoff clearly believes that Gone Now is his masterpiece, and everything around the record suggests as much. He’s somehow touring the bedroom where it was conceived as a “moving, living art installation”: an act of hubris so indulgent even Jay Z waited 20 years before attempting it. From beginning to end, Gone Now has all the affectations of an over-the-top pop masterpiece. There are spoken-word samples, saxophone solos, and sound effects; guest appearances, multipart reprises, and allusions. In the opening lines of the self-reflexive first track “Dream of Mickey Mantle,” Antonoff is romanticizing the album’s creation: “All the hope I had when I was young/I hope I wasn’t wrong/I miss those days so I sing a ‘Don’t Take the Money’ song.” Here, he poses the driving question of Gone Now: Is Antonoff really as great as he thinks he is?

Occasionally, you’re inclined to believe him. Early singles “Don’t Take the Money” and “Everybody Lost Somebody” are worthy additions to his catalog, soaring anthems made all the better for their insistence on indulging every pleasure center at once. Other songs take a refreshingly nuanced musical approach, like the gentle pulse of “All My Heroes” or the stark synths in “Nothing Is U.” Too many songs, however, get lost in a middle ground, like “Hate That You Know Me,” a Carly Rae Jepsen collaboration that bursts and fizzles like cheap fireworks until reaching its triumphant but all-too-brief conclusion. The otherwise pleasant “Goodmorning” loses its appeal by spawning a series of recurring reprises throughout the album: its reappearances quickly become grating and only increase the massive debt Antonoff already owes to the chorus of “All the Young Dudes.”

With all its repeating themes, it’s easy to search for some kind of narrative within Gone Now. Antonoff’s lyrics, however, often feel hollow. “Let’s Get Married” is built around an honest instinct, responding to feelings of hopelessness by bringing your loved ones closer. But Antonoff’s oversimplification of the subject matter clashes with the momentous music, creating an effect like watching someone proposing on the Jumbotron at a half-empty stadium. The conversational lyrics in closing number “Foreign Girls” are almost charming in their banality (“I walk to the pawn shop/Now I’m at the pawn shop”). At the end of the record, Antonoff’s aimlessness sounds like an admission of defeat, like even he is unsure what all the preceding fanfare was for.

By aiming for the textbook definition of a big-picture pop album, Antonoff has ended up with the epitome of a vanity project: an album that revolves entirely around one person, made more enjoyable the less you expect from it. This is likely not the most memorable work Antonoff has to offer this year (or even this month for that matter, with Lorde’s highly anticipated Melodrama, which Antonoff co-wrote and co-produced, due in two weeks). In a recent New York Times profile, Antonoff discussed his post-fun. rebranding, from primary member of a massively successful pop group to lone wolf auteur: “I remember immediately—immediately—feeling like, ‘I don’t want to play ‘We Are Young’ when I’m 35,’” he said, “‘I don’t want to be defined by this.’” By now, he’s accrued a strong enough songbook to successfully render that single a mere footnote to an enviable and flourishing career. Somewhere even further down his resume, there’s a place for Gone Now.

Categoria: Rock news

Kettenkarussell: Insecurity Guard

2 Iun 2017 - 8:00am

There was a club in Weimar, Germany where a group of friends let their imaginations run wild. It was really just a house in a park with two dancefloors nestled within its warren-like maze of rooms. Parties sometimes ran for days; house and techno ran parallel with slower, more abstracted sounds: ambient, dubstep, even jazz. The venue was so fundamental to the collective’s sensibilities that on some of the homemade record sleeves for Giegling—the label they eventually founded—they sprinkled dust swept up after their parties into the drying ink.

That idea of a space apart—an autonomous zone, a utopia—continues to fuel Giegling’s efforts. On a recent world tour, they decked out clubs and theaters with candles, bouquets of flowers, and balloons, freely mixing chillout-room vibes and art-school antics with hedonistic, long-haul parties driven by heavy kick drums. Of all the artists on the label—Edward, Ateq, Vril, Traumprinz and his aliases DJ Metatron and Prince of Denmark—Kettenkarussell might best encapsulate that spirit of duality.

Kettenkarussell—the duo of Leafar Legov and Herr Koreander—were the first act to release a record on Giegling in 2009: I Believe You and Me Make Love Forever, a EP of trippy, minimalist house. But it was their 2014 album Easy Listening that really delivered on the label’s unique sensibility with a mixture of twinkling ambient miniatures, moody floor-fillers, and a bookending intro and outro sampling Bruce Lee and Jim O’Rourke, respectively. The Giegling crew can sometimes come dangerously close to self-parody in the pursuit of their sound (DJ Dustin, one of the label’s co-founders, described their aesthetic as “the feeling of seeing a sunset”) but Easy Listening proved that they were not without a sense of humor. An obvious Boards of Canada pastiche, right down to the warbly synthesizers, was called “Chords of Banana”—not just a sly pun on the Scottish duo’s name, but also a tongue-in-cheek riff on their psychedelic, synesthetic titling conventions.

On Insecurity Guard, the label’s two sides fuse together like never before. Rather than being divided into alternating tracks, as they often were on Easy Listening, here they’ve been swirled into one all-encompassing mix of muggy atmospheres and sleek, gliding house grooves, with driving beats wreathed in woodwinds and bells. The opening “Gate” deploys train-track clatter and pensive vibraphones in a way that suggests hurtling forward while standing stock-still, and in the pulse-quickening “Just for a Second,” the kick drum lashes to and fro while harp glissandi rise and fall with liquid grace; big, burly, shadowboxing drums are balanced by chords that feel as reassuring as a hug.

It’s full of tiny, captivating details likely to snap you out of your day and make you look up in wonderment. Halfway through the smooth, frictionless “New York Blues,” staccato synthesizer riffs stray from the tonal center and turn suddenly dissonant and bright, like sharp rays of sun hitting a rain-splashed windshield; then just as quickly, the track settles back down into its rolling, minor-key groove and hypnosis takes over once again. The album’s six-track, 43-minute run feels like a journey in miniature, one that blurs the line between ambient house and peak-time fare, between going up and coming down, depending on the listener’s mood.

They’re still taking cues from Boards of Canada; the backward flutes and jewel-toned synths of the closing “Brueder” tip their hat to the most wistful moments of Music Has the Right to Children. It’s also possible to hear echoes of Nicolas Jaar’s richly textured music, particularly his fusion of acoustic and electronic timbres. Insecurity Guard boasts as sumptuous a sound as you’re likely to hear on a “dance” record. They favor soft, porous timbres, like clarinet and crackling vinyl; they use struck tones with a metallic gleam, like Rhodes piano and mallet instruments. Whether at its softest (the warm, consonant chords of “Everything,” with their shades of Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock) or its heaviest (the fierce, pummeling beat of “Just for a Second”) it’s an overwhelmingly physical recording, one that envelops and caresses, taking advantage of an expansive range of frequencies.

It emphasizes, above all, the pleasure inherent in listening. There are no wasted motions, no unnecessary sounds; every tone unleashes a tiny burst of serotonin. Insecurity Guard is a kind of secret garden, a clearing in the woods, where the mundane falls away and reveals a world of heightened sensibilities. 

Categoria: Rock news

Look Blue Go Purple: Still Bewitched

2 Iun 2017 - 8:00am

In the late 1970s, punk swept through the UK and washed away any remaining mop-top mods. In Dunedin, New Zealand—among the furthest possible cities from London—kiwi punks applied this self-sufficient ethos and wrote pop songs. Their lo-fi jangle pulled from the Byrds’ ’60s pop melodies, the psychedelia of Pink Floyd circa Syd Barrett, and the Velvet Underground’s corporeal dronings. It would be dubbed the historically influential Dunedin sound after a 1982 compilation from its most iconic label, Flying Nun Records. Two of the bands on that comp, the Chills and the Verlaines, along with their Flying Nun labelmates the Bats and the Clean, would come to define New Zealand’s mid-1980s indie rock scene. Amid all these humbly named acts, Look Blue Go Purple—Francisca Griffin (formerly Kathy Bull), Norma O’Malley, Kath Webster, Denise Roughan, and Lesley Paris—were bound to stand out.

Like their optimistic, kaleidoscopic moniker suggests, Look Blue Go Purple poured vivacity into a scene that was already chock full of cheery, sparkling songs. But unlike a majority of their peers, the quintet never released an LP, which prevented them from finding a foreign audience despite their mainstream success on the New Zealand pop charts. Still Bewitched, a recent compilation of Look Blue Go Purple’s three EPs and unreleased live rarities, promises to expose a new crowd to the band’s enchanting style.

After forming in 1983, Look Blue Go Purple debuted with a tight, distinct sound on 1985’s Bewitched EP. The five women fused the gentle guitar pop that was then well-established by their Dunedin/Flying Nun labelmates with the post-punk experimentation of the Slits and the Raincoats, and to a lesser extent, Swell Maps and Television. Three of Bewitched’s four tracks each focus on a different sound: the whistling synths of “Safety in Crosswords,” the new-age flute and staggered drumbeat of “Vain Hopes,” and the cloudy chill of “As Does the Sun.” But it’s “Circumspect Penelope” that gathers these elements together and affirms Bewitched’s pleasant distance. “She’s been waiting 20 years/And you just walk in/Telling stories of the sea/She should hate you, your Penelope,” the band bitterly scold The Odyssey’s titular character, whose wife has been waiting years for Odysseus’ return. Thanks to the crystalline sound of O’Malley’s organ, Webster and Roughan’s saccharine guitars, and the tight interplay between Griffin’s bass and Paris’ quick crashing drumbeat, Look Blue Go Purple’s condemnation is by far the poppiest, catchiest track on the EP. But their layered vocal harmonies seem to be the murmurs of sirens from a world beyond.

When Look Blue Go Purple returned the next year for LBGPEP2, the band shed their winter coats for a bright new life. A whimsical song like “Cactus Cat” would have been a shock on the staunchly post-punk Bewitched, but on the LBGPEP2 it feels right at home. “Cactus Cat”’s sun-streaked bubblegum style flows into “Grace,” a hypnotic, lilting tune about a girl whose beauty has faded from her namesake to something far more foul. “100 Times” and “Winged Rumor” recall Bewitched’s subdued mysticism thanks to the former’s hushed, airy chorus and the latter’s reverential flute. But the gossamer feel of both songs give way to a ramshackle groove, something Bewitched’s songs never achieved. The spoken-word incantation “Hiawatha” is the band’s most new wave song, though its punctuations of shrill synths and howls surpass in imagination anything their peers were making.

“Cactus Cat” in particular propelled LBGPEP2 to No. 26 in New Zealand’s pop charts in January 1987. The band used the track’s popularity to address a topic that had haunted their press. At the end of the song’s succulent-stocked music video, an anonymous interviewer queries whether there are any difficulties being a female band. “Only the presumption that it means something, that it’s a bunch of females together,” says Webster. “But we just happen to be five musicians who get on well and play music together but it can be a hassle.” Look Blue Go Purple never labeled themselves as feminist, nor was the content of their music remotely political. The only people who seemed to find the band’s gender worth noting was the media; players in the New Zealand indie scene considered it a non-issue. Women “were very active participants in a very creative and politically active era, charged with post-sexual revolution and determination to create anything but typical male music,” says the Chills’ Martin Phillipps. That said, “[It’s] rock’n’roll, gender has got nothing to do with it,” Griffin concludes in the video.

Shortly after the release of 1987’s This Is This, Look Blue Go Purple broke up to pursue other personal and professional ventures (notably, Paris became the manager of Flying Nun). The quintet’s final release is their most indie pop record, and echoed the concurrent work of England’s C86 bands like the Shop Assistants and the Pastels. The bouncy “I Don't Want You Anyway” makes rejection seem fun while the docile “Year of the Tiger” could be a Sarah Records cut. Perhaps because of its spare compositions, for the first time the band’s eloquent lyrics are placed in the limelight. “I’m a fool to believe in love and its channels/I’m a fool to believe in it at all,” Griffin sings on “In Your Favour.” But by the end of This Is This, Look Blue Go Purple fall into the same pattern as LBGPEP2 and return to the sleepy melancholy of their first EP.

Still Bewitched ends with seven unreleased live takes handpicked by the band from their final years—all originals except for an impassioned cover of folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Codeine.” The most intriguing of these are the funky sleuthing “Spike” and “A Request,” which show the Raincoats’ abstract influence more discernibly than any of their official releases. The inclusion of these tracks on the compilation is a refreshing peek at what Look Blue Go Purple sounded like in their prime: a little mythical, a little goofy, overflowing with wistful indie pop hooks and eloquence. Without Look Blue Go Purple, any definition of the Dunedin sound is insufficient.

Categoria: Rock news

Marika Hackman: I’m Not Your Man

2 Iun 2017 - 8:00am

Over the past 14 months, three very different LGBTQ acts have each released a brilliantly subversive song titled “Boyfriend.” Last April, Tegan and Sara made a synth-pop plea for a straight girl to stop playing around and commit. In September, Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace raged at a flaky partner who treated her like “some dumb fucking boyfriend.” Then in February came Marika Hackman’s contribution, a sly Britpop power-play about stealing a man’s girlfriend from under his nose because the poor dolt believes “a woman really needs a man to make her scream.” It’s one of the year’s sharpest singles: a funny, sexy rebuke to ignorant blokes, and an excellently produced throwback. Its boldness erases any lingering sense of Hackman as some fey folkie, a fairly unjust reputation that stuck to the 25-year-old Londoner’s debut, 2015’s unsettling We Slept at Last.

London four-piece the Big Moon back Hackman on her follow-up I’m Not Your Man, and producer Charlie Andrew has balanced the sound of five women playing in a room with details that enhance the record’s sense of menace. Whether boisterous or seething, the guitar tones owe a debt to ’80s U2 and grunge, but the scale is more claustrophobic than stadium. Quiet feedback-hums will suddenly squawk and lurch like a constricting noose, and the group regularly breaks into marauding vocal chants that are impeccably arranged but full of feral energy. Without any explicit tricks, “Round We Go,” a song about “rolling ’round my skull like a flesh-colored marble,” seems to close in on itself, suffocating slowly. There are a few overdone bits—the orchestral outro of “Blahblahblah” is a bit on the nose, and the cavernous “So Long” is more obvious than the rest of the record—but otherwise it’s melodically strong and full of surprises, which is more than you can say for most young British indie-rock albums of the last few years.

Most of those records lack killer hooks; Hackman has many. There’s “Boyfriend,” where she roars, “It’s fine ‘cause I am just a girl/It doesn’t count,” simultaneously mocking the guy and airing her frustrations with perceptions of lesbian relationships as somehow “lesser.” “Time’s Been Reckless” feels like one of Blur’s early singles then breaks into a raucous chorus that pits the Big Moon’s chants against Hackman’s emotional frostiness. It’s similar in theme to “My Lover Cindy,” where idle twang undercuts Hackman’s image of a mutually beneficial hook-up and her tendency to ghost lovers. The music dips out for the chorus, leaving her voice center stage: “‘Cause I’m a greedy pig/I’m gonna get my fill/I’m gonna keep my eyes on the prize and I’ll suck you dry, I will,” she sings, sounding innocent and depraved, pirouetting on each word while licking her lips.

Against more trad backing, Hackman can sound like any English rose, as on the rolling, slightly Medieval “Apple Tree.” But in darker surroundings, she sings at a dispassionate remove that gives her excellent, carnal lyrics an extra kick. She paints the emptiness of a past relationship and the fullness of her current one with sensuality and mordant humor. The breakup in “Cigarette” becomes even more brutal thanks to Hackman’s economical writing, quickly distilling a fight in a car park after a dismal night out. “When did it get so forced? Drunk by the second course,” she rues over fluttery fingerpicking. “I tried to hold my tongue/But you, you yanked it from my grip/Bathed it in petroleum/Lit a cigarette and gave it a kiss.” “I’d Rather Be With Them” could come from the end of the same night, drunk and aching. “I’m so fucking heartless/I can’t even cry,” Hackman sings, sounding full of self-loathing.

There’s one love song here, “Violet,” a luxurious, sinister come-on akin to the space westerns of TorresSprinter. “I’d like to roll around your tongue/Caught like a bicycle spoke,” Hackman sings. “You eat, I’ll grow and grow/Swelling up until you choke.” She savors each word, her seductive delivery driving home the violence. Hackman’s tactile lyricism reinforces a portrait of a numb woman desperate for sensation by any means possible. It’s not hedonistic thrill-seeking, but rings true in a world where numbness can be a survival technique—and pleasure and sensation are equally at a premium. As a writer, Hackman may owe a bit to PJ Harvey, but I’m Not Your Man is the proper arrival of a bold young British force.

Categoria: Rock news

Ricardo Villalobos: Empirical House

1 Iun 2017 - 8:00am

Minimal techno doesn’t enjoy the critical acclaim or the popularity that it once did, but that hasn’t sent Ricardo Villalobos in search of greener pastures. Active since the mid-1990s, Villalobos broke through with 2003’s Alcachofa, but it was with 2004’s cryptic Thé Au Harem D’Archimède that he really hit upon his sound. Since then, across projects big and small, he has doggedly pursued the same twisted muse. He continues to tend the same spongy patch of ground that he always has to eke out squiggly forms part Dr. Seuss, part H.R. Giger—weird, biomorphic shapes that pop like suction cups and ripple like seaweed. His last few years’ worth of work has been fairly scattershot—mainly a mixed bag of collaborations and remixes, plus odd gambits like his 27-minute reworking of Oren Ambarchi’s Hubris. His last solo album, Dependent and Happy, was five years ago.

As his most extensive solo undertaking in years—four tracks, four sides of vinyl, nearly an hour’s total running time—Empirical House feels like his most substantial release in some time. It’s also a good read on his twin obsessions: otherworldly sound and unwavering groove. Quite unlike the wormy undulations of Safe in Harbour, a 2015 collaboration with his psychedelic fellow-traveler Max Loderbauer, these four tracks aim squarely at the dancefloor, perforated by needle-tipped hi-hats and sharp, serrated claps.

“Widodo,” formerly known to fans as “Rari Lim,” has been floating in sets for a few years now. Like previous hits “Fizheuer Zieheuer” and “Enfants (Chants),” it’s essentially an edit, pairing Villalobos’ crisp drum programming with a long strip of vibraphone solo presumably sampled from a jazz recording. Unlike most samples, this one doesn’t loop; it just floats behind the groove, like a reflection in a puddle. An almost inaudible hint of speech is left running deep in the mix, which makes for a mildly disorienting experience: If you’re listening on your computer, you may find yourself checking for open browser tabs. What makes it a potentially divisive track is the jazzy walking bassline that hurtles through the first two-thirds of the song. It doesn’t quite work; its eighth-note cadence is too straight, its notes too unvarying. It feels like something you'd encounter blaring from an animatronic jazz band at Disneyland.

“Bakasecc” is better. For those who prefer Villalobos when he goes furthest off-piste, this will be the highlight. Save for a muted kick, there are no drums here at all, just a blurry shower of plucked, kalimba-like sounds held together by clicks and pops and squishy burbles. It is a fine encapsulation of a kind of repetitive music that never actually repeats—that is, music in which every bar is as unique as a snowflake, yet when you zoom out, comes to seem hypnotically undifferentiated. It is a mountain stream set to a 4/4 beat.

“Subpad” and “Empirical House,” which both put their focus on sharp, snapping grooves, initially feel more straightforward, but there are strange energies at work. In the former, bright, choppy chords faintly echo “808 the Bassqueen,” a crowd-pleasing classic from 1999, but the real action is way beneath the surface, where faint synthesizer pads, stray piano notes, clinking cutlery, and another low speaking voice pool like water in a leaky basement. Again, you go searching for that renegade browser tab; you might even wonder if Villalobos recorded the whole thing with a YouTube window open on his computer and just left it that way. The title track, meanwhile, pairs a restless groove, bouncy as a teenaged boy’s knee, with limpid swirls of Rhodes keyboard; the background is aswarm with hot breath, gravelly hiccups, and indistinct muttering.

Villalobos’ music is druggy, but these two tracks are really druggy. Setting up an irreconcilable tension between foreground and background, they feel like two realities colliding, or maybe one reality being peeled into two parallel strips, trapping listeners in the dissonance like flies in stickum. Both tracks are upwards of 12 minutes, and, from a purely structural point of view, they don’t really do anything in all that time, but that’s the point. Villalobos doesn’t edit or arrange because he doesn’t have to. Like so much of his work, each of these is merely a fragment of a much longer continuum.

Categoria: Rock news

Dan Auerbach: Waiting on a Song

1 Iun 2017 - 8:00am

On the opening title track of his new solo album, Dan Auerbach sings a song about wanting to write a song—before invoking the age-old myth that it’s often best to just stop trying and let the tune find you. “Songs don’t grow on trees/You gotta pick ’em out of the breeze,” he sings on “Waiting on a Song,” a twinkly hit of countrified pop that, as the album cover suggests, sounds very much like it came wafting in as Auerbach reclined on a pile of leaves. But the end result is ultimately a testament to the great paradox of songwriting: it takes a lot of heavy lifting to make something that sounds so effortless.

Auerbach moved from his native Akron, Ohio to Nashville back in 2010, where he has since overseen the Black Keys become one of the biggest, busiest rock bands in America (and by extension, became an in-demand producer for everyone from Dr. John to Lana Del Rey.) Now, comfortably entrenched in his Easy Eye Sound studio, Auerbach’s approach for Waiting on a Song was a lot more like Planning for a Song. The album assembles a roots-rock dream team that includes famous names like John Prine, Duane Eddy, and Mark Knopfler, but also seasoned Nashville tunesmiths like Luke Dick, Michael Heeney, and David Ferguson. As per Music City tradition, songwriting for the album was treated like the job that it is, with tunes developed and recorded on a set weekly schedule.

The result is an album that both bears very little relation to Auerbach’s past efforts, yet nonetheless exudes his signature retro-soul fetishism. Whether it was his 2009 solo debut Keep It Hid or his 2015 foray with the Arcs, Auerbach’s outside pursuits have had the Keys’ muddy footprints all over them. But Waiting on a Song could be his first record without a drop of the blues in the mix, with Auerbach favoring the less gruff, more melodic register in his voice atop a studio-smoothed concoction of country, soul, folk, and power pop.

With “Livin’ in Sin” and shuffling “Shine on Me” (powered by Knopfler’s unmistakable thumb-pickin’ tone), the album essentially functions as Auerbach’s less-democratic version of the Traveling Wilburys, like one of those ’70s-focused satellite radio stations where hit songs from different genres are grouped together by virtue of their common decade and blur into one another. The symphonic soul of “Malibu Man” crosswires the grooves of Al Green with the glittery choruses of T. Rex; “King of a One Horse Town” comes on like Neil Young’s “Down by the River” played on acoustic guitar and produced by John Barry.

While Waiting on a Song is casual in execution, it’s extremely intricate in construction, with each disco-string sweep, brass-section stab, and razor-sharp acoustic strum deployed with push-button precision. At times, the album feels less like a traditional singer/songwriter affair than a business card for Auerbach’s studio. Alas, Waiting on a Song also betrays the limitations of its song-factory set-up, in that the consummate craftsmanship renders the lyrics a secondary, impersonal concern.

Even if he isn’t explicitly singing the blues here, Auerbach still peddles its well-worn witchy-woman cliches. The undercooked folk-funk of “Cherrybomb” spins a gold-digger caricature about a girl who’s “sweeter than an apple pie” but bolts “as soon as my money went away.” And though the banjo-plucked “Stand by My Girl” initially sounds like a pledge of commitment, it’s delivered by a back-door man who’s afraid “she’ll kill me if I don’t.” They’re the sort of eye-rolling lines that are more easily digested within the Black Keys, but are left hung out to dry by this album’s pristine production and light-hearted approach. For all of Auerbach’s eagerness to deliver the Music Row-worthy songwriting goods, Waiting on a Song can you leave you wishing he had waited a little longer.

Categoria: Rock news

Elysia Crampton: Spots y Escupitajo

1 Iun 2017 - 8:00am

The first identifiable sound you hear on Spots y Escupitajo, the beguiling new album by producer Elysia Crampton, is a flushing toilet. The next is a creepy, Chucky-style laugh set against a revving motor, screeching tires, crashing metal, and the tinkle of broken glass. Crampton’s in a nihilistic mood, it seems—but if you’re not careful, you might miss her cues. After a mere 19 seconds, the album has already reached track three—or in this case, “Spot 3.”

Spots y Escupitajo is a set of blink-and-you-missed-them miniatures. “Spot 1” through “Spot 8” occupy only the opening minutes of the collection, and they function like a recap of Crampton’s output to date, flagging a number of her hallmark sounds in a flurry of activity before pushing outward into strange new territory. It’s a dizzying run, each over before it really registers, each dense with chaos yet familiar. Crampton may have a side hustle in the works—these spinback-laden bridges could function convincingly well between chart toppers on an adventurous Latin American radio station. The rest of the album builds on this hyper-conceptual premise, with knotty, uneasy explorations of Crampton’s emerging sound.

Spots is a difficult listen, though—a record that will surely finds more fellow-feeling in the gallery world than among casual fans. On “Battle & Screams,” thunderous destruction and cries of agony are scrambled into a grotesque shimmer via a comically low bitrate. Later, “Sombra Blanca Misteriosa (y Rara)” reads like an traveler’s audio diary overdubbed with a plunky single digit piano figure. Stark and disorienting, it raises plenty of questions about what’s being heard while remaining emotionally at arm’s length; it practically demands an artist statement.

Of course, Crampton has proven to be comfortable giving artist statements. A 2015 feature by Resident Advisor was peppered with dense quotes that swam happily in the seas of cultural theory. For example, “To go further and consider ourselves on a geological level ruptures hierarchies and taxonomical divides as we find ourselves already deeply enmeshed in the strangeness and vast timescales of the lithic.” If the rhetoric risked confounding some thinkers, the music itself—2015’s American Drift—was entrancing and accessible, dealing in tapestries of melody set against drowsy halftime rhythms. The chuckles, sound effects, and radio announcer voices (which return on Spots) floated through the EP, a fever dream of cultural identity, post-colonial trauma, late capitalism, gender, race, class.

The new album’s apt title, meanwhile, itself offers a clue into Crampton’s thinking: the self-identified “spots” are situated at the front while the Escupitajo—spittle—fills out the rest. An unsettling film of disgust covers these pieces, refusing to coalesce. Crampton coats her works with possible meanings and interpretations, but with few hooks. Near the end, two songs serve as the record’s spiritual apex. “Chuqi Chinchay” is built around an ode to a dual-gendered god, performed in a voice reminiscent of a video game monologue. Chintzy strings emote in the background, softening ambient gunfire and a steady stream of disheveled audio. Inspired partially by Transformers, the song evokes a potent intersection between the banality of mass entertainment and the enduring power of myths. Crampton’s explorations of our spiritual nature, tethered inextricably to our bodies, our material world, and our histories, teases out remarkable subtext from pop culture dreck, illuminating the ways ancient themes seem to manifest in even our most disposable products.

Spittle” follows with the opposite. For nine and half minutes, Crampton wanders around a piano, sketching dreamy and dissonant figures. No voices jut in. There are no synthesizers, no samples, though some of her harmonies harken back to American Drift’s most stunning passages. Occasionally aimless, it’s nonetheless a moment of unvarnished, concept-free vulnerability amid a deluge of high-concept rigor, and it works.

Crampton’s music always feels so suffused with context, subtext, citations, and inverted meanings that it’s tempting to assume Spots has a puzzle to solve, or ever more meaning to be dug up. But Spots is an intriguing subversion that doesn’t quite stick; as with much conceptual art, the concepts often eclipse the art. Maybe they strike a chord in you that you barely knew was there. Maybe they leave you coldly comprehending, without a way in. Regardless, Spots is the type of sounds-good-on-paper work you really ought to check out once.

Categoria: Rock news

Snoop Dogg: Neva Left

1 Iun 2017 - 8:00am

Like frat parties and Razor scooters, rapping is for the young. Braggadocio, especially when it’s based on how many girls you’re fucking, guns you’re holding, and pounds of coke you’re moving, doesn't look good on older men. And just like a dad trying to hold court in his old football locker room, it comes off as desperate to keep reliving your glory days or, even worse, rap like you’re still on the come-up when it’s well-reported you’ve been tucked away in a mansion for years. With varying degrees of success, rappers nearing middle age have tried to talk about wives and art collections and other facets of adulting, but few of their longtime fans want to be reminded that they’re not 22 anymore. If rap is your means of artistic expression and your way to make a living, what’s a rapper nearing middle age to do?

Snoop Dogg is one of the lucky ones. He’s savvy, maneuvering his career with shows like “Snoop Dogg’s Father Hood” and the endearing documentary series “Coach Snoop” so that his image now reflects a family man who has been married nearly 20 years and is a compassionate role model for the kids in his peewee football league. He adopted Wiz Khalifa early in the fellow weed aficionado’s career, re-upping his relevance and sealing his status as a legend with a new generation. With the launch of his cannabis-centered lifestyle site Merry Jane in fall 2015, he shifted from stoner to a champion of legalized marijuana. He’s so universally adored that Kylie Jenner hasn’t been excoriated for using “Kylizzlemynizzl,” a riff on his popular slang, as her Snapchat name.

Despite those endeavors, the title of his very enjoyable latest album, Neva Left, is accurate. Snoop Dogg really hasn’t ever taken a break from music. In fact, he’s been something of a machine, cranking out almost two dozen records in as many years since the 1993 debut of his bona fide classic Doggystyle.

Happily, on Neva Left, Snoop hasn’t become a grumpy old man, nor is he trying to keep up with the kids. Snoop’s gift is two-pronged: a penchant for always dropping into the pocket and his low, smoky growl of a voice, which curls and stretches words in such a distinctive way no one has ever mimicked it successfully. “Trash Bags”—produced by Atlanta-based Musik MajorX, featuring an Uncle Luke sample and K Camp’s pleasingly detached hook—is the closest Snoop comes to trying on a new style. “Lavender,” produced by BADBADNOTGOOD and Kaytranada, is a gorgeously trippy track, but it’s the foreign entity in a game of “one of these things is not like the other.” Mostly, though, Snoop keeps the features and production within his era—Battlecat, Rick Rock, Devin the Dude, Too $hort.

And why not? It might not always be on trend, but on his 15th studio album, Snoop sounds in great shape and like he’s having the time of his life. “Moment I Feared” features him slipping into double time as nimbly as any young whippersnapper, and just try not to get “Swivel” stuck in your head. Lots of nods to classic records—J-Massive’s “Bacc in da Dayz” samples “Check the Rhime,” “Promise You This” interpolates Too $hort’s (or One Way’s, depending on how you look at it) “Don’t Fight the Feeling”—let old fans reminisce and new ones discover.

Snoop’s other strategy is simply pointing out the obvious instead of trying to be the cool dad, acknowledging his age and offering advice like the OG he is. On “Go On,” an instant cruising classic that indulges his abiding love for slick ’80s R&B, he mentions riding bikes with his grandson in the park. The one dent in his armor is hitting on a girl literally young enough to be his daughter on the fun, degrading (some things haven’t changed) bop “Toss It”: “She say she went to school with my young son … told me that her daddy was a Eight Tray Crip, I did time with the nigga.”

Still, letting go of the good ol’ days is harder the older you get. On “Neva Left,” the album opener, the first words out of Snoop’s mouth are, “I gang bang to the fullest.” The last are shout outs to Crip sets across L.A. and Long Beach. Like Bruce Springsteen sings on “Glory Days,” “I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it—but I probably will.”

Categoria: Rock news

Thunder Dreamer: Capture

31 Mai 2017 - 8:00am

Evansville, Ind. is the Hoosier State’s third-biggest city, but its metro area spills over into southern Illinois and northern Kentucky, making for a jumbled geographic identity. Compared to its surroundings, Evansville is an urban hub, but its economy has traditionally thrived on shipbuilding and refrigerators, symbols of erstwhile American greatness. Evansville is a unique corridor between the Rust Belt and the south; it voted Trump by a wide margin. “Everything seems to die here... People get discouraged and stop trying,” said Thunder Dreamer drummer Corey Greenfield in a recent interview, reflecting on a city that’s so quintessentially American, it can seem invisible at times. With this in mind, it’s easy to see why a young rock band would have broken up with Evansville. Some of Thunder Dreamer did just that. But Capture is all the more powerful as a story of their eventual reconciliation.

Whatever Evansville lacks in industry infrastructure, it’s clearly been a tremendous incubator for a band looking to avoid the sonic hivemind of a scene. Capture echoes geographically-evocative artists from its Midwest surroundings while maintaining a singular center. Within Thunder Dreamer’s sound are the fidgety dashboard confessionals of Boys Life’s road-trip cult classic Departures and Landfalls; the mesmeric stoner emo of their northwest neighbors in Cloakroom; and early Mark Kozelek, Jason Molina, and My Morning Jacket, with the latter stepping outside the grain silo to take in the boundless vistas.

Thunder Dreamer have embraced “Midwestern” as a descriptor, identifying with its underlying humility and landlocked yearning. The bands they recall made grand, expansive, sprawling music that no one would call grandiose or epic. Most of the eight songs on Capture push towards five minutes and beyond with post-rock patience and the force of pop. They take after the landscape with slow, sloping escalations towards welcome pockets of bustle rather than relying on codified crescendo-and-crash dynamics; it’s less Explosions in the Sky than slow-burning bonfires in a secluded rural clearing. The songs are all given proper heft through analog production, capturing firefly flickers of guitar, misty reverb, and crackles of heat lightning to create an overall ambience of an overcast July night. It’s a summer album for the way most experience it outside of the coasts: a thick, palpable atmosphere that feels enveloping rather than oppressive and a dusk that seems to last infinitely.

Singer Steven Hamilton has noted that bands in Evansville actually do a disservice to themselves if they play too many local live shows. So while Capture is a traditional rock record, it lacks that dynamic of crowd-sourced pressure. Thunder Dreamer benefit from this in ways, though: “St-Malo” juxtaposes calm and claustrophobia, appropriating the walled-in, battle-torn beauty of its namesake, while the brisk and chiming single “You Know Me” has an unusually developed musculature for dream pop. Still, Capture’s standout quality is Hamilton’s forthright and crystalline vocals, a surprising contrast when “heartland rock” typically evokes the realm of mutters and drawls. It’s not slick by any means, but Hamilton lends Capture an alluring elegance, particularly on the luxurious mope of the title track. At points, it does slightly resemble their heroes in Mock Orange, the only band of note to previously arise out of Evansville and also one that rarely toured and never settled on a specific sound.

Hamilton’s voice is an effective instrument for what he calls “sad words to fit sad notes.” And whether he’s delivering plainspoken, classic emo heartbreak (“Why Bother”) or local xenophobia against refugees (“Living Like the Rest”), it’s never heavy-handed. However, Hamilton admits lyrics sometimes came at the last minute, and there’s certainly a discrepancy between them and the group’s painstakingly crafted instrumentals. But Capture benefits from its reliance on ambience for evocation. It’s a record of young men learning to live with the implacable fear emanating from the crossroads of America, rather than running from it.

Categoria: Rock news

First Hate: A Prayer for the Unemployed

31 Mai 2017 - 8:00am

First Hate’s A Prayer for the Unemployed finds its way into the world on Escho, the Copenhagen independent label that first released—and whose owners continue to manage—Iceage. And while perhaps it’s a little unfair to hold up a debut album as emblematic of anything, it does seem to neatly encapsulate how the city’s underground scene has changed over the last half-decade. Back in 2011, Copenhagen was all angry young men making visceral punk and industrial music that spoke its intent through cryptic lyrics and heathen runes. But that period lasted for barely a blink of an eye. Before long, Iceage’s singer Elias-Bender Rønnenfelt was exploring plaintive synth music in Vår, and Hannes Norrvide had embarked on the long road to transforming his former solo project Lust for Youth from misanthropic noise into a sort of romantic Balearic boyband.

And now there is First Hate. A Prayer for the Unemployed finds Anton Falck Gansted and Joakim Nørgaard building bright, synthetic pop music from yearning melodies, sparkling Euro trance keyboards, and padding club beats. One obvious touchstone is the Pet Shop Boys, with whom First Hate share a taste for smartly observed vignettes of complicated love and metropolitan living (and you sense Neil Tennant might see an album title like A Prayer for the Unemployed and happily claim it as his own). But they still have the sense of a band who rehearse in Copenhagen’s graffiti-plastered practice space Mayhem, and part of the appeal of this record is in the tension it draws between DIY practice and pop sensibility, juxtaposing underground temperament with choruses that soar. 

There are echoes throughout of the scene that spawned them. Gansted has a voice that’s a close ringer for Rønnenfelt’s—proud and surly and a little bit sensual, as if just roused from sleep. Songs like “Bullets of Dust” and “Supernumerary,” so pretty and urbane on the surface, seethe with undercurrents of lust, confusion, and teenage melodrama. Perhaps their defining moment so far is “The One,” a sashaying piano house track with notes of New Order’s “Temptation,” in which Gansted picks over a relationship that has lapsed into stares and silence. The early verses find him trapped in a cage of indecision. But as the song winds towards its climax on peals of harmonica, a female voice enters the frame: “If I’m not the right one/Tell me what you’re waiting for…” Suddenly the clouds part, and Gansted closes the song with a brief spoken word segment that is decisive and without mercy. “Life is not always about keeping your promises,” he intones. “Life is about following your heart.”

There is a recurrent caddishness to First Hate, the sense that these boys would break your heart and dash off without a moment’s hesitation. But alongside arrogance there is empathy, and the feeling that First Hate want their music to reach out and actually mean something to people. “Copenhagen MMXIV” is an immaculate ballad directed towards a heartbroken girl as she takes a nighttime passage through the city, drawing comfort from the lights of distant windows. Meanwhile, the title track brings to mind another, rather more high-profile Dane, MØ. A song about hope and self-care for a generation overlooked, its breathy synths and clarion-call melody lines recall one of Diplo’s more gently euphoric productions, and its chorus shuns any hint of cynicism or subversion as it pirouettes off towards the clouds.

Moments like this raise questions. Like: will First Hate end up a DIY pop band, or an actual pop band—and does anything, beyond a fanbase, really separate the two? A Prayer for the Unemployed doesn’t quite feel like the finished article. Slightly front-loaded, its boldest moments are dispatched early. Still, there is something potent in First Hate’s mix of innocence and ambition. Too savvy to be naïve, but too wide-eyed to feel fully mature, right now their youth is the source of their power.

Categoria: Rock news