Showing posts with label classical. Show all posts
Showing posts with label classical. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

video review: 'FIBS' by anna meredith

Well, this was concentrated wonderful - Billboard BREAKDOWN up later tonight, enjoy!

album review: 'FIBS' by anna meredith

When I first covered Anna Meredith back in 2016, I had no idea what to expect. I had been in a bit of a dry spell when it came to album releases at that point in the year, and here comes a classical composer with a few associations with James Blake but rapidly making a strident name of her own with a project that seemed to win over every critic that heard it... and yeah, I was one of them. I still hold that project Varmints as damn near ground-breaking in its usage of morphing syncopation and groove with classical bombast and twisted electronics, and when you paired it with solid writing, it wound up as one of the best albums of that year.

And ever since then, it seemed like Meredith's trajectory accelerated: she provided the score for Bo Burnham's feature film Eighth Grade - which rightly deserved all the critical acclaim it got - and that same year she also released the project Anno, an extended interpolation of Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons suite that may have felt a little too beholden to the original composition to truly take off, but still wound up being pretty damn potent all the same. But with a new project of original material - and with the expectation that I'd probably be the only one covering her on this platform yet again - I really wanted to get ahead of this, so how was FIBS?

Thursday, November 1, 2018

video review: 'aviary' by julia holter

Yeah, this won't be controversial at all... eh, we'll see.

Anyway, I'm finally going after this Mick Jenkins project next, and then probably Daughters, so stay tuned!

album review: 'aviary' by julia holter

It feels like it's been longer since the last Julia Holter album than just three years.

And I know that sounds a bit strange, given that I don't really talk about her much - I discovered her discography late in 2015 before giving her album Have You In My Wilderness a slot on my year-end list, but I'll freely admit that outside of a few choice cuts it's not an album I revisit often... mostly because it's an odd album for me to take in. It's beautifully effervescent, but also layered and complicated and impressively nuanced, which makes for the sort of listening experience that's both light and heavy simultaneously, which actually makes her 2013 album Loud City Song an easier listen just for emotional continuity and a slightly more approachable style. I've typically said that Julia Holter's music is Lana Del Rey done right, but upon more thought I'm not sure that's the most apt comparison - more like Lana Del Rey with more intricacy and density, and I'll admit that's not for everyone.

And if I wanted proof of that, I just had to look at Julia Holter's newest project, a daunting fifteen-song, hour-and-a-half double album that she's described as her most layered and expansive to date, reported inspired by the chaotic screaming reality of the past few years, especially 2018. Which seemed like an interesting choice for Julia Holter - I've never quite considered her music contemporary, and by that I mean connected to current events and ideas, she seemed comfortable with abstraction and loftier themes. But hey, at the very least I had to respect the ambition, so what did we get from Aviary?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

video review: 'planetarium' by sufjan stevens, nico muhly, bryce dessner & james mcalister

My lord, this was a weird listen, but eh, it happens.

Next up, hoping to knock out two reviews tomorrow, so stay tuned!

album review: 'planetarium' by sufjan stevens, james mcalister, bryce dessner & nico muhly

I don't even know where to start with this one. When I saw that this album had not only been requested early, but had received by far the most votes on my schedule thanks to Patreon, I was blown away. Not for Katy Perry, not for Rise Against, this - but hey, I was curious too, these sorts of supergroup collaborations don't come around every day.

So background here: apparently this started as a commissioned orchestra piece that was performed live back in 2012, but never properly recorded, so Sufjan Stevens rounded up a murder's row of talent to take this score into fresh territory. And we've got heavyweights here: Sufjan is a powerhouse in his own right, but when you add in the guitarist of The National Bryce Dessner, classical composer Nico Muhly, and drummer James McAllister, you've got a stacked lineup of talent. And considering these are all songs written about space and our solar system... look, we don't get enough good music celebrating space, I'll just say that right now. Now on the one hand I was really excited to dig into this, but I also know that this could very well play like that Lights & Motion record I covered months ago, a potent piece of music that can feel a little unengaging or abstract to the point of frustration. But still, I was fascinated by what this quartet could do with this material - it's too odd and distinct of a concept to ignore, so what did we find in Planetarium?

Saturday, August 27, 2016

video review: 'brave enough' by lindsey stirling (VACATION REVIEW!)

You know, this is one of those cases where I'm not sure if I'm disappointed or just kind of frustrated that I didn't like this more. I get the odd feeling that Lindsey Stirling just isn't evolving enough as an artist, and as a fan, that really does frustrate me - I think she's got the potential for real greatness, but it's not materializing yet... GAH.

Anyway, on the topic of disappointments, next up is Atmosphere - stay tuned!

Monday, March 14, 2016

video review: 'varmints' by anna meredith

Holy God, this review was so damn difficult to write, but so worth it, fantastic release.

Next up, Flatbush Zombies... but of course, Billboard BREAKDOWN first, so stay tuned!

album review: 'varmints' by anna meredith

So on the topic of musical genres I've been neglecting, I haven't covered as much electronic music as I'd like this year. And again, I wouldn't say all of this is my fault - there hasn't been any records from that space in 2016 where the hype has blown me out of the water, outside of that Kygo record that keeps getting delayed. So I figured I'd go back into the indie scene to find something...

And here's where we hit a bit of a snag. See, there's been some buzz surrounding the long-awaited debut album from British producer and composer Anna Meredith, who has performed alongside James Blake and who has been making big splashes in music over the past ten years... in classical music. And this makes more sense than you'd expect - in recent years there has been a surprising amount of crossover between classical music and the electronic scene, especially on the avant-garde where melodic experimentation is much more prevalent. 

And here's where I have to confess that despite having a classical background in theory and piano, the more I delve into classical music and opera the more I keep discovering how woefully incomplete my knowledge is. That's one reason I've always shied away from covering more jazz records - as much as I'm coming to like and appreciate it, I feel there is so much more history and albums I need to absorb before I can consider myself a credible critic of that genre. I'll confess to having a little more knowledge built up over the past two years with electronic music, but I didn't expect Anna Meredith to make things easy - this is a woman who has written operas and orchestral arrangements, if she was going into electronic music, we could be getting some out-there material.

But might as well have a challenge, so I dug into her debut album Varmints - what did we get?

Monday, September 28, 2015

video review: 'poison season' by destroyer

And about time I could get this done! Fantastic record, so highly recommended!

Next up, the next of my extremely deep backlog before the tidal wave of CHVRCHES, Kurt Vile, Julia Holter, Silversun Pickups, The Underachievers, and so many more! Stay tuned!

album review: 'poison season' by destroyer

Let's talk a little about lyrics. I've often been told that in comparison with most music critics, I pay much more attention to the writing than the sound of the album itself, and in a few conversations with other critics, I've come to realize that I might be the exception than the rule with that approach. Where the conversation gets interesting is when it comes to the mainstream public, because where I'm fairly certain I care about the writing more than some critics, I know for certain I care more than most audiences, and even then it breaks down by genre how much one might care - lyrics matter more in folk and country and arguably most of hip-hop than they do in, say, electronica. Now I could argue that I care more about lyrics because I'm a writer myself and I love to decode poetry good and bad alike, but I reckon even in the cases where they're easy to ignore good writing plays a purpose. It's the primary method for the songwriter to convey their art's story or meaning to the audience, with the sonic palette around them being what sets the mood and atmosphere. For me, writing and instrumentation need to have a certain amount of balance when I consider an entire piece, with strengths and weaknesses in both being enough to save or sink an album.

That's why, believe it or not, when I hear about records that are highly touted for their lyrics above all else and aren't hip-hop albums, I'm intrigued but cautious. Sure, I'm predicated to like this sort of thing more, but that means as a critic I have to make sure I'm not giving undue praise when it's not earned. Thankfully, today we're talking about Destroyer, the project of Canadian singer-songwriter Dan Bejar and an artist whose lyrical eccentricities often are matched by eclectic and interesting instrumentation that at its worst can feel sloppy or indulgent but at best can be genuinely breathtaking in beauty and melodic composition. Affiliated with critically acclaimed indie rock group The New Pornographers, who really have a disturbingly high record of producing great side projects from their members, the most striking thing about Destroyer is the choice to switch up musical sounds with nearly every album. From the tight cohesion that defined the excellent Streethawk and Thief to the meandering and yet compelling mess of This Night to the synth-touched and goddamn spectacular Your Blues to the drunken cacophony of Trouble In Dreams. Now since his 2011 album Kaputt - which I thought had some great writing and some gorgeous melodies but could meander a little in late-80s easy listening territory, Dan Bejar has been taken longer and longer between releases, and now he's finally got a new album: Poison Season. And with it came the explosion of critical acclaim: was the album actually worthy of it?

Monday, September 14, 2015

video review: 'untold stories' by elvya

Well, this was a hard one to review - not that it was difficult to like, but not an easy record to understand or come to a coherent opinion on, it was definitely on the weirder side.

Next up... whoo boy, busy week. Jay Rock, Brett Eldredge, Metric, and (of course) Lana Del Rey. Strap in, folks, it's going to get messy!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

album review: 'untold stories' by elvya

So I occasionally get requests to review albums, but I also occasionally get bands or new acts that will outright send over their new records for me to cover. And for the most part, I try to get a chance to listen through all of it, but between my existing backlog and all the preparation I do for listening to more established artists, I just run out of time to cover everything, even if I like what I see. Plus, considering I do a lot of lyrical analysis, it can be a little infuriating when there's no lyric sheet or additional details provided beyond just the songs, especially if the mixing is poor and the lyrics are unclear.

So when I got the email about Elvya, I wasn't initially planning to do much until I caught some choice details. Full name Elvya Dulcimer, her music was reportedly more in the vein of Celtic folk that was on the cinematic side with this being her debut... with narration from Arjen Lucassen, the mastermind behind Ayreon. And if I know anything about Arjen, even though he didn't produce this and I didn't precisely love The Gentle Storm that he did with Anneke Van Giersbergen earlier this year, he's got an eye for quality. On top of that, former Within Temptation and current Kingfisher Sky member Ivar De Graaf was handling guitars and drums, so I have every reason to believe this could be something special. So I decided to check out her debut Untold Stories: how is it?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

video review: 'xen' by arca

Well, this required a second upload to get right, but I'm glad that I got a chance to talk about it. Fascinating listen.

Okay, next up will either be You + Me or Teyana Taylor, so stay tuned!

album review: 'xen' by arca

Let's talk a bit about abrasive sounds in music.

It's been a conversation ever since the beginning of recorded music, the artists who are willing to push the boundaries of what are considered traditionally 'acceptable' to the ears of the public. Forget the explosive crunch of metal or the harsh mechanical sounds of industrial or the raw edge of punk or the choppy sampling of early hip-hop, there were points where the distorted guitars of early rock or the experimentation of jazz was too much of a departure for listeners. The evolution of what has been considered traditionally listenable is a growing one, and with every year it seems to expand even further, from the raucous screams of black metal to the harsh blasts of static you get from a group like Clipping to the experimental explosive power of an act like Swans. Hell, there are acts in the power electronics genre that specifically focus on making the most explosive, abrasive, uncomfortable music possible for anyone to listen through.

Now for me, abrasion for its own sake has a place, but I'll also admit that I prefer music to have melody or at least enough texture to justify the usage of the abrasion as a complete piece. Noise without cohesion for its own sake is precisely that - noise. My challenge has always been finding that cohesion within the sound, if indeed it exists - because let's make this clear, this sort of abrasive sound isn't going away any time soon.

This takes us to producer Arca, most well known outside of electronic music circles as working with Kanye West on Yeezus and FKA Twigs on LP1. And going into his full-length debut, I was not precisely sure what was coming. His early work was defined by pitch shifted vocals, eerie synths, and moments that pushed the edges of what was conventionally listenable - in other words, I had a real challenge on my hands. So with a certain amount of hesitation, I checked out his debut album Xen - what did I find?