Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Live Review: Loscil and Dextro, Mining Institute, Newcastle (22/02/2014)

I wasn't overly familiar with Canadian ambient artist Loscil - nor indeed Scottish support Dextro - prior to entering Newcastle's Mining Institute, but in seeking a way to spend my Saturday night, their appearance turned into a fine whim. Housed in the magnificent building's dimly lit auditorium, this gig was as much about your eyes as it was your ears, with audience members offered the choice of appreciating the technical mastery before them, soaking up the prominent and provocative visual accompaniments or simply drifting off, allowing themselves to be swathed in a sea of sonic wonderment.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Album Review: Xiu Xiu - Angel Guts: Red Classroom

Album Rating: B-
Violent, graphic, and unsettling; these are words that come to mind when the final track ends on Xiu Xiu's latest album, Angel Guts: Red Classroom. The band's new material, out now on Polyvinyl Records, focuses on a recent relocation to a dangerous, gang-ridden section of Los Angeles. Frontman Jamie Stewart has always been one for the dramatic and unrestrained, but on Angel Guts, he traverses into a whole new territory from where he used to roam.

Past Xiu Xiu albums have covered some very sensitive topics, ranging from abortion, molestation, suicide, to simple heartbreak. Where Angel Guts steps itself up, is in that every song goes into violent, almost gruesome nature. Descriptions of gang murder, rape, and sex are abundant throughout the albums 13 tracks, and never allow one to fully be at ease while listening.

The band's style has changed over the years, as have their members; all revolving around Stewart as the brainchild of the project. While past efforts have been laced with tingling electronics and strumming guitars over blippy drums, Angel Guts focuses its entirety around old-school synthesizers. No guitars are to be found on the entire record. This somewhat large change in stylization goes on the hurt the album, and eventually ends up becoming a tad bit droning. Xiu Xiu's electronics have always been stimulating but some tracks on Angel Guts start and remain purely monotone. Stewart's vocalizations have also been toned down. His howling and yelling is found more here to be whispers and eerie toneless phrasing. On some tracks, it fits, but on others it makes you beg for something with more dynamic.

The first single, "Stupid In The Dark," could have easily fit on 2011's Always, but is by far the most accessible track on Angel Guts and that's saying something for a band that is not very accessible. Songs such as "Black Dick," and "Cinthya's Unisex" do standout as the better of the bunch, and it's because they have the previously aforementioned dynamics that are lacking from most of the tracks. The pleading "no no no no no no no no," on "Cinthya's Unisex" is haunting and disturbing and is fitting for a Xiu Xiu song, and could've lead the band into more experimental territory, but it seems like they restrained themselves on most tracks.

Sensitive subject matter may be at fault for a less than substantial Xiu Xiu album, but Jamie Stewart will always be progressing and expressing himself. Maybe sometimes it's just different than others.


Track list:

1. Angel Guts:
2. Archie Fades
3. Stupid In The Dark
4. Lawerence Liquors
4. Black Dick
5. New Life Immigration
6. El Naco
7. Adult Friends
8. The Silver Platter
9. Bitter Melon
10. A Knife In The Sun
11. Cinthya's Unisex
12. Botanica  de Los Angeles
13. :Red Classroom

Friday, February 21, 2014

Album Review: St. Vincent - St. Vincent

Album Rating: A
When an artist embarks on a run like Annie Clark's at present, their momentum can almost seem harder to halt than it is to maintain, at least to those of us on the outside. On those grounds, the fact the 31-year-old Oklahoman's fourth LP is such a resounding knockout triumph actually doesn't come as that big a surprise, but that shouldn't for one moment undermine the exuberance and mastery housed within its 40-minutes - nor that it's her finest work to date, and that by a considerable margin.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Interview: Andi Deris of Helloween

Andi Deris is the vocalist for Helloween, an influential power metal band from Germany. He sang with Pink Cream 69 until he joined Helloween in 1993; he has since released thirteen albums with the group, including four gold-certified records. He recently recorded a solo album with his solo band The Bad Bankers entitled Million-Dollar Haircuts on Ten-Cent Heads. I spoke with him about a number of topics such as where the name The Bad Bankers came from, how he chooses what to play live and his favorite songs, his dream collaborations, getting thrown in jail, having his bus ransacked, and some memorable moments from Helloween’s recent world tour.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Album Review: The Lawrence Arms - Metropole

Album Rating: B+
Ah, Brenden Kelly and friends, we meet again. Of course, The Lawrence Arms are hardly just a one-man endeavor, with Chris McCaughan and Neil Hennessey always bringing something interesting to the table. But Kelly’s daily intellectual dick joke musings, oddly perceptive interview questions and general tendency to not overemphasize his self-perceived, debatably esoteric art (flicker much?) has always been the most memorable and equally approachable in my book. Now, seven years after the return-to-form Oh! Calcutta!, our favorite drunken Chicago litterateurs have surfaced once again, this time around returning to an even older form with Metropole (recalling one of the greatest punk stories ever told), and though it’s a short sonic moment, there’s a lot worth retelling.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Album Review: Counterparts - The Difference Between Hell And Home

Album Rating: A
The Difference Between Hell and Home, the latest effort from Canadian hardcore outfit, Counterparts, combines a unique cocktail of masterful syncopation, brutal breakdowns, memorable leads, and powerful lyrics. It is a concise album that does not overstay its welcome, consisting of eleven tracks and clocking in at thirty-seven minutes.

Jukebox: The Silver Palms - "Superstar"

Recent sonic trends have pushed radio rock towards experimental, atmospheric haziness, but as Camden, Georgia band The Silver Palms proves, there's something to be said for the unabashedly bright, lighthearted tunes that populated airwaves in the days of old. Debut single "Superstar" doesn't use a lot of building blocks, starting off with a catchy guitar riff and Dalton Drury's plaintive, matter-of-fact vocal before galloping into a chorus that soars on the strength of a hook built for shouting together--a bit punch-drunk but completely sincere--and a galvanizing drum beat. Old tricks have been polished for modern times, with a slightly sinister bent to the jangly production, guitar riffs layered here and sinking into oblivion there, but the band is smart to keep things simple and sweet.

You can find The Silver Palms on tour; catch its debut single on Canvasclub on March 10.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Album Review: Bibio - The Green

Album Rating: B-
Bibio has always seemed to just do what he wants, which for him means exploring the boundaries of the “folktronica” (eesh) style he's attributed with. It isn't uncommon to hear him pair chirpy, tv-friendly songs and more experimental electronic pieces as if it's a transition everyone is comfortable with, but he's managed to make it work by just being so god damn charming. Think of it as music for smartphone-era hippies.

Album Review: A.M. Overcast - Pellow

Album Rating: B+
Imagine if Rivers Cuomo and the rest of Weezer decided to actually take lessons on how to better play their instruments. You know what, I'll do you one better - imagine if their teachers were the members of This Town Needs Guns! Luckily for you (and for me), this happened, well, sort of...

Stemming from the mind of Alexander Litinsky, comes his latest album, Pellow, from his project known as A.M. Overcast. If there was ever a happy medium between pop, punk, and math-rock, I believe Litinsky has created it. It's an intricate, catchy album with a constant ebb and flow of twinkly guitar and flailing drum rolls. While it may appear to be busy at times, Pellow is an engaging listen, perfect for a tranquil drive along the shoreline.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Album Review: Soreption - Engineering the Void

Album Score: B+
Death metal is a genre that presents a conundrum of sorts for new artists. In order to be considered a player, a band has to fulfill certain expectations: precise musicianship, guttural vocals, challenging tempos, complex and ever-changing riffs, incessant double-kick drumming, guitar-centric structures, and so forth. The problem with such standards is that they also portend a certain amount of conformity, and therefore a band must also find a way to stand out without violating these essential characteristics of death metal. Soreption is a rising group that finds itself on the fence between these paradigms – perhaps perfectly so, as Engineering the Void sticks to its tech death guns while striving for a voice of its own. Such is the luxury afforded to a group as fundamentally sound as this Swedish quartet as they balance impressive chops with intrepid songwriting on their sophomore effort.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Album Review: Cynic - Kindly Bent to Free Us

Album Score: C
Cynic is a band that defies explanation. If Kindly Bent to Free Us is your first impression of the group, then you’ll be in for a shock upon looking into this progressive juggernaut’s back catalogue. Paul Masvidal, Sean Malone, and Sean Reinert comprise Cynic’s core, and while they’ve left an indelible mark on extreme metal over the last quarter-century, Cynic has lately become a total enigma. Sure, the upbeat swing of “The Lion’s Roar” bears little face-value resemblance to cuts from the band’s classic 1993 album Focus, but in a weird way it seems like we should have seen this coming all along. Gone are the shredded leads and the death growls, and in their place have risen ethereal atmospheres and intricately layered compositions. Then again, is the intro of “Kindly Bent to Free Us” really so far from that of “I’m But a Wave To”? Regardless, it seems like it’s time to let go of our notions on what Cynic was and start appreciating what it is, and has always been – a group of musicians willing to try anything and everything so long as it has an intrepid soul and thoughtful arrangement.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Concert Review: Amon Amarth, Enslaved, and Skeletonwitch

Amon Amarth is heavy metal’s version of life imitating art: twenty-two years in, the beardy Swedes are laying waste to music venues more vociferously than ever and solidifying their place in the pantheon of heavy metal. Last year’s uncompromising Deceiver of the Gods opened at #19 in the US charts, the highest death metal album by a band not based on a cartoon, and yet many fans argue that Amon Amarth isn’t even the most important band on its current tour. They have a point, too, because when a concert boasts a one-two punch of Amon Amarth and a black metal titan like Enslaved, it’s bound to be one hell of a night. At the House of Blues in Boston, the pillaging was in full force as native opener Skeletonwitch knocked down the gates on a stupendous evening of Odin worship, heraldry, and fist-pumping metal anthems.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Miniview: Dave Hause - Devour

Album Rating: B+
The origin story of Apostle Paul in the Bible is both inspiring and terrifying: only after he was blinded by God on the way to Damascus did he come to see the light. Gritty gospel-rock musician Dave Hause's Devour, both a reflection on Hause's life and a searing sermon on American society, centers itself on that truth. Opener "Damascus" (note the title) carries itself on scratchy guitar textures and clicking hi-hats while Hause delivers poetic hints of an impending apocalypse, stockpiling "bullets and Vitamin C" while scales grow over his eyes. A bleak start, but the track builds to a raging crescendo, an assertion of agency if not a victory rally. From there, Hause wastes no time driving a stake into the heart of the American Dream, tearing apart our whitewashed history on "The Great Depression" and exploring the seeming hopelessness of modern times on "We Could Be Kings," both crowdpleasers that'll no doubt compel disillusioned dreamers to sing along. The best preachers, however, are storytellers, and Hause is wise to color his observations with compelling character portraits--a young worker deployed on "We Could Be Kings," two lovers caught in a cycle of addiction and destruction on "Same Disease," a man stuck between his upbringing and his future on "Father's Son," each sketched in with an eye unforgiving but sympathetic regardless. Devour may not pull any punches, but it refuses to give in to cynicism, either: its hope is difficult, well-deserved, and never saccharine. Nowhere is this attitude better reflected than on "Benediction," where Hause runs down a list of questions prodding at the soul of the modern American before reaching a simple conclusion: "It's love, my friend, in the end."

You can stream the album here.

Miniview: The Republic of Wolves - No Matter How Narrow

Album Rating: A-
In the process of recording its second album No Matter How Narrow, Long Island outfit The Republic of Wolves had to switch between three different spaces over four months just to get everything finished: the resulting release is as eclectic as one would expect. Even within songs, the four members switch adeptly between nimble, catchy rhythm sections, melodies brimming with measured angst and anger, delicate moments of serenity and titanic breakdowns. There's pop-punk gold buried in these twisted ruins, though: the most resonant moments on No Matter How Narrow are often when The Republic of Wolves weaves all of its layers into a tapestry of balanced chaos, demonstrating control by losing it. Standout "Spare Key" opens on a math-rocky guitar melody, looped over and over, before drums, keys and vocal harmonies enter the dialogue one by one--instead of rehashing the same material, the band constantly runs new permutations of old motifs: one chorus where the drums are churning as everything over it vies for space, another where everything but the acoustic guitar has died down and the band's gentle, emotive lead vocals have room to shine. The best cuts here feel as if the band is continuously reinterpreting its experience, even in the midst of writing it, and No Matter How Narrow abounds with new insights.

You can stream the album below: