Showing posts with label art rock. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art rock. Show all posts

Sunday, January 13, 2019

video review: 'prehysteria' by t-rextasy

So I honestly don't expect this band to get a ton of traffic thanks to this review - hell, I don't expect this review to get a lot of traffic - but it's a goofy and fun little project, definitely worth a listen!

album review: 'prehysteria' by t-rextasy

So one of my plans for 2019 was getting a bit more freedom to venture into weird places to find new music, and given how slow things are starting this year, it's a good time to build a nice routine in finding it. And nowhere is more overstuffed with offkilter weirdness than Bandcamp and talk about the sort of act that immediately becomes tricky to talk about, mostly because they defy easy categorization.

So yes, let's talk about T-Rextasy, a New York-based punk group that broke out in the mid-2010s with their debut Jurassic Punk - and if by some of those names you might be thinking we're dealing with a joke act... well, I could definitely see it, but I'm not sure I'd entirely agree. It's definitely true that this group has a broad, cartoonish blend of vintage garage rock and art punk, splitting the difference between twee and riot grrl so subtly you might be convinced neither are truly applicable, and all delivered with a bratty yet comedic theatricality that at its best can feel wry and clever but at its worst can feel like Brooklyn hipster community theater that's both grating and entirely too impressed with itself. What I am stressing is that this sound can be very niche, especially given the thick accent of Lyris Faron... but it's certainly catchy and colourful, and I enjoyed their debut album enough to check out their follow-up Prehysteria, so what did we get?

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

resonators 2018 - episode #007 - 'double nickels on the dime' by minutemen (VIDEO)

Have to say, I'm really proud of how this turned out, especially with as much work as I put into it. Definitely take the time to find this record, it's something special!

Monday, July 30, 2018

resonators 2018 - episode #007 - 'double nickels on the dime' by minutemen

So when I started Resonators my general expectation was that I was going in cold - I might recognize a couple singles from punk compilations but beyond that I wasn't really familiar with the records I'd be exploring at length... but there was always going to be one exception, and it's this one.

And to explain why it's an exception, we need to go back to 2015, when I reviewed Return To The Moon by EL VY, a side project from the frontman of the National Matt Berninger that's one of the most criminally underrated and satirical projects of the decade, not to mention one of the best of the year. Throughout that record, Berninger repeatedly made reference to the band we're talking about today, Minutemen, a signee to SST and who started putting out records in the early 80s, alongside Black Flag and with Spot on production. But it rapidly became apparent that for as quick as Minutemen were in cranking out songs, they were significantly more ambitious than most of the hardcore punk acts we've covered here, dabbling with bassy post-punk even earlier and picking up chunks of jazz and experimental rock as they moved forward. Now of course it helped that the band was really good, thanks to D. Boon's jittery guitarwork and wild, guttural vocals, Mike Watt's frenetic basswork, and George Hurley's pretty damn solid drumwork, all of which fed into songs that could be as witty and genuinely funny as they were catchy - this was a group that relied more on raw wit than bellicose presence, making their first two records, both well-deserving of their critical acclaim, really stand out amongst their peers. And yet in 1983, when they heard their labelmates Husker Du were putting out a double album, they went back into the studio to expand their single disk into what some have held up not just as a hardcore classic, but one of the best records of the 1980s - a four disc, eighty minute beast overstuffed with ideas, inside jokes and off-kilter abstraction. And it's this record for which I started exploring back when I covered EL VY... and now I'm back to finish the job. That's right, folks, we're talking about Minutemen's Double Nickels On The Dime, and this is Resonators!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

video review: 'wide awake!' by parquet courts

So this was genuinely great - not quite 'best of the year' material, but I'm generally happy with it regardless.

Next up, though... well, it'll be interesting - stay tuned!

album review: 'wide awake!' by parquet courts

So I'll freely admit that Parquet Courts can be an obtuse band to talk about. Drenched in tones half pulled from the Velvet Underground and Wire but also contorting into weird spaces with lyrics that feel socially resonant but making sense of any of them can be a real effort, the group has always skirted being a personal favourite of mine in comparison to acts pulling on similar material - think Preoccupations or Ought or even Iceage. Granted, that's not to dismiss their records - their last album Human Performance landed its title track on my top fifty favourite songs of 2016 - but I've been waiting for that moment where they really deliver.

So could Wide Awake! be that moment? Reportedly the band was looking to make this a 'punk record you could put on at parties', and for production they brought in Brian Burton aka Danger Mouse, a producer with whom I have a very complicated relationship from his work with The Black Keys and Broken Bells to production he's provided The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Portugal. The Man. Suffice to say in recent years I've found his material increasingly desaturated and dreary - about the last thing I'd want to hear paired with a 'punk record you could put on at parties', but hey, this could still be pretty fun, right?

Monday, March 12, 2018

video review: 'american utopia' by david byrne

So this review isn't quite getting pilloried just yet... okay, I'll roll with that, and just expect the mass subscriber exodus to come later.

Anyway, next up is Billboard BREAKDOWN and Young Fathers, so stay tuned!

album review: 'american utopia' by david byrne

So I've talked a little before about legacy acts, artists who were a fundamental part of the evolution of a specific genre or sound and who have won a certain amount of popular and critical acclaim for whatever they choose to do next, often with a measure of clout and collaborative pull that few could approach. But let's ask an uncomfortable question: what do you do with said acts when the legacy starts to get reexamined, and you come to the realization that while the emperor probably still has some clothes, it's a fair bit less than one might expect?

And yes, I get that by me making that statement even in connection with David Byrne I've set myself up for backlash... but it's hard not to feel like in recent years the narrative has shifted. His reputation as the mastermind behind The Talking Heads has shown more than a few holes in the past couple of years - a reputation many have suspected he achieved by stifling other voices in his group - and while his work with Brian Eno won critical acclaim, many have questioned how influential those pieces were. Even his film scores, one of which netted him an Academy Awards, while the quality is often appreciated in the 80s it gets a lot less listenable when you head into the and parts of the 2000s.

And look, as a fiercely intelligent personality in modern culture and music, I like David Byrne, but the more I delved into his content and themes the more I found myself questioning how much perceptive depth has really been on the table this whole time. I mean, I like self-obsessed deconstructions and wry observations as much as any critic, but just being more clever than everyone else doesn't always add up to more, with the most glaring instance of this being his collaboration with St. Vincent Love This Giant, a stiff and absolutely frustrating affair where two artists who have enough similarities to challenge each other but are instead content with mirrored stiffness. And thus when I say I was skeptical about his newest project American Utopia, a project that Byrne admits was searching more for some abstract uplifting feeling and possibilities than engage with reality, to offer a shred of hope. To me... well, it wasn't a bad idea, and he brought onboard Brian Eno, Sampha, and Oneohtrix Point Never to help, so I had some faith this could be at least interesting over ten tracks running less than forty minutes, so okay, what did he give us on American Utopia?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

video review: 'MASSEDUCTION' by st. vincent

And then there is this. You know, I thought this might be a little more contentious than I expected, until Fantano put out his review and honestly echoed many of my criticisms. Huh.

In any case, Billboard BREAKDOWN is coming up next!

Monday, October 16, 2017

album review: 'MASSEDUCTION' by st. vincent

I often feel like using the word 'evolution' to describe Annie Clark's ongoing career under the name St. Vincent isn't quite accurate. I think 'mutation' is the better word - and believe it or not, that's a compliment! She may have started in the more poised and polished realm of baroque pop with tasteful strings accenting her admittedly unorthodox style of guitar work, but as early as Actor things started to shift. The guitars got more processed and blocky that somehow still managed to support potent melodic grooves, the strings began giving way for synthesizers and tones that felt all the more alien, and while her voice kept its same ethereal quality - for the most part - the content and its connection to the human experience was contorting into something more primal, for lack of a better word. Oh, the empathy, complex framing, and willingness to bend taboos was always there, but its mode of expression was warping into something less and less recognizable, with the compositions and framing maybe losing a bit of their populism but opening up new depths of sound for her to explore.

And I'm a fan of it - a pretty big fan, actually. I'd still slot Strange Mercy as a shade stronger than the self-titled release just in terms of overall consistency, but with songs like 'Psychopath', 'Severed Crossed Fingers', 'Digital Witness' and the absolutely mind-blowing 'Bring Me Your Loves' St. Vincent was making a case for the more twisted sonic adventures having potential that was just as rich and promising. And considering that her newest record MASSEDUCTION was looking to be going even deeper in a thematically dense direction, I was most certainly curious where the hell she'd take this. So what did I find on MASSEDUCTION?

Monday, October 2, 2017

video review: 'a fever dream' by everything everything

Again, I know, it's late, but it was an interesting conversation regardless.

But we're not done yet... stay tuned!

album review: 'a fever dream' by everything everything

So here's one of the more exasperating things I've had to experience as a music critic: hearing a lot of music that is certainly good and passable and agreeable but it just a shade away from true greatness, and at least to your ears you could hear the exact change they could make to get there and it's just not materializing, no matter how much you want it. You might like the band, you might like the ideas they're trying to explore, you might like their experimental progression... but it's just not assembling in a way that connects for you.

Now for Everything Everything they definitely didn't start there - they may have had a knack for catchy melodies and willfully oblique writing that walked the line of insufferable, but between some truly awful synth choices and the caterwauling of their frontman Jonathan Higgs, their debut Man Alive just did not connect for me whatsoever. And then something weird happened: the band got better, streamlining their sound, punching up their groove, and taking their lyrics into territory that was still odd but a shade more accessible all the same. Arc was a good first step, Get To Heaven was even better, damn near on the cusp of greatness... and yet every time I'd go back to it I'd feel oddly distant from it. The hooks were better than ever, Higgs' voice had grown on me a bit, and the greater focus on rhythm was potent... but I always got the feeling the band didn't always have a firm grasp of their strengths, which led to distracting non sequiteur moments or mix choices that never flattered the group as much as they should.

So while there was a part of me that was a bit concerned when I heard Everything Everything was heading towards a more 'conventional' sound on their newest record, I had at least the hope it'd come with sharper production choices and a little more focus overall rather than blunting their experimentation entirely. They had changed up producers again, bringing in James Ford who is most well known for working with Arctic Monkeys and Florence and the Machine... but on the flip side he had also worked on the last Depeche Mode and Mumford & Sons record, and how much he'd guide the sound was anyone's guess. So what did Everything Everything deliver on A Fever Dream?

Saturday, September 9, 2017

video review: 'american dream' by lcd soundsystem

Yes, I know the vast majority of critics revered this, but as I've always been pretty ambivalent on LCD Soundsystem... yeah, pretty much the same here, go figure.

For something I'm not so ambivalent on...

Thursday, September 7, 2017

album review: 'american dream' by lcd soundsystem

Okay, I've talked a little bit in the past about artists that even fellow critics acknowledge are 'critic-bait' - acts that pay tribute to the past while expanding their sound into interesting genre fusions that are experimental but not incredibly challenging, often overloaded with easter egg references and frontmen who are as much music nerds as we are, you get the idea. Now I'm not immune to this - hell, one of the reasons why I'm such a big fan of Eric Church's Mr. Misunderstood is that he transplanted that vinyl-collecting, Wilco-referencing archetype into country music, and it was a phenomenal fit for me - but I think one of the reasons where I'm more tolerant of that is because in country Church's subject matter did make him feel like a genuine outcast and the self-mythologizing rang through stronger, whereas in indie rock it's a lot more common and...

Okay, there's no way around this, I've been bracing myself for this LCD Soundsystem review ever since they were first referenced on Season 2 of You're The Worst. The project of frontman James Murphy that won a tidal wave of critical acclaim in the 2000s for fusing ridiculously tight electronic grooves with guitar-driven indie rock and lyrics intensely knowledgeable of music history and yet focused most on the inevitable wistful melancholy of growing older, it was laser-focused to hit a certain demographic of music critic... and yet I'll be the first to say I've always held them a bit at arm's length. Don't get me wrong, the grooves are pretty damn great, even if I find some of the melodies lacking and James Murphy's navel gazing pretty pretentious - I know, coming from me, I get it - and frequently right on the edge of insufferable. But considering the group effectively broke apart after This Is Happening in 2010, I figured I'd never need to discuss them further... until the retirement myth ended, they got back together for an encore record called American Dream this year that as everyone could have predicted has won buckets of critical acclaim... although among critics I like and respect a little less than you'd otherwise expect. Okay, my interest was piqued, what did I find on American Dream?

Monday, March 27, 2017

video review: 'hot thoughts' by spoon

Well, this happened. Not a lot to say, only that it's great indie rock and I really like it.

Sadly, what's coming next... wish I liked it as much, but stay tuned!

album review: 'hot thoughts' by spoon

So here's the frustrating thing about some acts, and I'm talking about a rare few indeed. The groups that right from the start are so consistently strong, so focused, so uniformly consistent with quality... that for some inexplicable reason they fall out of the critical conversation. And while I'll place a considerable amount of blame on fans and critics taking certain bands for granted, on some level I get it - after all, people often seem to remember the tremendous standouts and are more willing to forgive the missteps, they don't really value consistent greatness in the same way. And in a sad bit of irony, a lot of these consistent albums are only given greater significance beyond the devoted cult fanbase - because you can guarantee acts like this have a cult following more than most - when the band slips up, or changes sound dramatically and splits the fanbase, or breaks up entirely.

And I think you can make the argument that Spoon fits in this category. A quick sidebar: I've long accumulated enough music that I could fill up my iPod twice over, so I've made an effort to only include great albums or better... and with the exception of Transference, I've got every Spoon album on there! And that's telling: for over a decade since the late 90s, Spoon has cranked out album after album of quality... but I can definitely see a casual observer not being able to tell the difference from record to record. So at some level I knew it was only a matter of time before Spoon decided to switch things up - and on some level, if you go back through 2014's They Want My Soul, you could see this coming. Part of this probably could be linked back to producer Dave Fridmann coming on board and bringing his characteristic heavier, blockier sound, but probably even more linked to the quiet departure of longtime member Eric Harvey, who had been with the band since Kill The Moonlight. In other words, I wasn't entirely surprised to hear they had shifted their sound in a more indie pop direction, pulling in more guest vocalists in order to pump up their sound and add a little more diverse instrumentation, this could turn out to be something interesting - so did Hot Thoughts stick the landing?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

video review: 'little fictions' by elbow

Well, it took me entirely too long to get to this, but I'm happy I did. But next up... hmm, it's going to be interesting, I can't imagine the fallout will be fun. Enjoy!

album review: 'little fictions' by elbow

So one thing I've stressed a number of times is that while I'm generally fond of Radiohead and while I certainly respect them, I would never consider myself a huge fan. And yet what I find amusing is that there are a fair few bands where you can trace obvious influences to Radiohead of which I'd say I'm a much bigger fan. Muse is one of those bands, Porcupine Tree is another - although there's always been debate how much Steven Wilson pulled from Radiohead, but that's a far more contentious argument - and another is the art rock group Elbow. In fact, given how lush their debut album in 2001 Asleep In The Back was - and if this review convinces you to do anything, go listen to Asleep In The Back, it's incredible - you could easily imagine Elbow as the intersection of a more organic Radiohead and a Porcupine Tree that was aiming to be a tad less progressive and more accessible.

But over the next decade Elbow quickly split from any easy comparison to those groups. Their sound got more raucous, heavy, and diverse on their second record, and after an unfortunate lull on Leaders Of The Free World in 2005, the group regained some experimental pomp and groove with The Seldom Seen Kid in 2008. Unfortunately, with the critical acclaim that came to that album came commercial success, and while there are some acts that have successfully leveraged that for greater artistic heights, Elbow weren't quite one of them. The group had realized one of their greatest strengths came in the unique vocal tones and intricate lyricism of Guy Garvey - the Peter Gabriel comparisons are blatant and a good way - but he also had a bad habit of sliding towards sentiment, and when the underwhelming nostalgic tones didn't quite coalesce on Build A Rocket Boys! in 2011 and the stiffer pomposity of 2014's The Take Off And Landing Of Everything didn't quite satisfy, I was beginning to wonder why I wasn't just listening to The National, who at least could be counted on to carry their melancholic existential crises with more groove and swell. What I think was the larger problem is that Elbow had fallen into a comfortable sound, and if they weren't recapturing the atmosphere of their debut, they were at their best breaking out of it. Now I didn't expect either on their newest project Little Fictions, but hey, I've been surprised before - was I here?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

video review: 'a moon-shaped pool' by radiohead

So here's a true story: I was genuinely concerned that I'd lose so many subscribers with this video that I postponed filming the 20k Q&A video. Turns out that I didn't lose that many - and that video will probably be going live later today, along with Billboard BREAKDOWN - but still, this was one of my more controversial videos in a while.

Thankfully, the next on our docket wasn't nearly so controversial...

Sunday, May 15, 2016

album review: 'a moon-shaped pool' by radiohead

Most of the time, I have absolutely no issue going against the critical consensus. Sure, it's nice to know that my opinions are echoed by popular opinion, but I've taken some hard and controversial stances before and I'm not afraid to stand by them. I've found albums that critics adored to be tedious or mediocre, and I've found some albums that were critically savaged to be hidden gems. After all, as much as critics like myself like to think we're the ones who can shape history, reality often proves to be vastly different.

And yet when we get to Radiohead... goddamn it, I wish I liked this band more than I do. The way I've always described the critically beloved group is that I respect them more than I like them - I can appreciate what they did to push boundaries in alternative rock and blending in electronica throughout the 90s and 2000s, but in terms of the records themselves? My favourite Radiohead album has always been The Bends, and while OK Computer and In Rainbows definitely have their moments and are great records in their own right, I've never been able to get passionate about this group. A big part of it is Thom Yorke himself - I can appreciate his expressive delivery to a point, but I've never found him to be the profound or interesting songwriter so many have said. And sure, melodically Radiohead have put together some potent moments and great songs, but when pushed through every shade of melancholy in the book - especially with the increasingly diminished returns of the 2000s - the material just doesn't connect for me. Hell, I'd argue part of it started with Kid A, certainly a good record with some spectacular moments but not worth the ocean of praise the majority of online critics - especially Pitchfork - ejaculated all over it in 2000. And no, it wasn't going electronic that hurt Radiohead for me - In Rainbows found a synthesis of it that was looser, more melodic, and really quite potent, it really is the brighter side to OK Computer - but I will say that the more humanity and organic instrumentation Radiohead tends to embrace, the more their gift for melody comes to the forefront, something which their 2011 record The King Of Limbs didn't emphasize all that effectively in its choice to play for choppy, looped rhythms and minimalism.

So when I heard that their surprise new release A Moon-Shaped Pool was going back towards more organic instrumentation, perhaps even bringing in elements of folk that they've flirted with but never completely embraced for decades... hell, I was intrigued. And even though I'm decidedly in the minority when it comes to Radiohead albums, I figured I still liked the group enough to dig in, so what did I find with A Moon-Shaped Pool?