Showing posts with label dream pop. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dream pop. Show all posts

Thursday, October 10, 2019

video review: 'all mirrors' by angel olsen

Yeah, this one was tough... really wanted to love this album too, I really did, but it just didn't pan out. Eh, it happens.

Anyway, next up is an album that absolutely panned out and that I'm really excited to talk about, so stay tuned!

album review: 'all mirrors' by angel olsen

It feels like I've been struggling to get onboard with Angel Olsen for years now.

And what's frustrating is that it always feels like there's just one or two elements that get in the way of things really clicking. She's a terrific singer, but sometimes she's stuck with production that doesn't flatter her unique timbre or style. The production can often swell with portentous presence and purpose... and wind up dragging if the climax doesn't connect. She's a strong songwriter, but I often run into quibbles of nuance and framing that just don't pay off as strongly as I hoped. And all of this is surrounded by the fact that in the lo-fi, alternative country-adjacent scene, she is surrounded by acts that might not have her unique pipes but can stick the landing a little more strongly.

But there were two things that prompted me to check this album out anyway, the first being that in 2017, she teamed up with Alex Cameron for the song 'Stranger's Kiss', which showed that with a potent groove beneath her and some punchy synths she could ride an absolutely terrific song, one of the best of that year. And I kept thinking about that song when for #2, I heard that her newest album All Mirrors was not just going to be a pivot towards baroque pop with huge, lush string arrangements, but also an embrace of synthesizers. Which... alright, I didn't love how she utilized them on MY WOMAN but maybe there'd be a little more focus and clarity this time, especially given how much the music press has slung critical acclaim at her this year - although given the recent avalanche of critical acclaim at baroque pop acts spanning from Lana Del Rey to Julia Holter to Weyes Blood in the past year, I do take that with a grain of salt. But fine, I still really wanted to like this, so what did we get with All Mirrors?

Monday, October 7, 2019

video review: 'ghosteen' by nick cave & the bad seeds

And here we are. First big review of the week, and man, this was a beauty to get through...

Anyway, up next is Billboard BREAKDOWN, and then Danny Brown - stay tuned!

album review: 'ghosteen' by nick cave & the bad seeds

I had a surprising amount of trepidation approaching this album.

And I feel it's important to admit that before going in because if you know my history surrounding Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, you might find that surprising. This is an act I can convincingly argue has made some of the best albums of the past forty years spanning a half dozen different genres, fiercely literate but not at the expense of striking melodies and dynamic performances. I still hold they have at least two bonafide 10/10 classic albums, the first being 1990's The Good Son, the latter you all should know as 2016's Skeleton Tree, which very nearly was my top album of that year if it wasn't for Dave Cobb's country compilation masterpiece Southern Family. But for a project that wracked with grief, both in the passing of his son and an exploration of the failure of narrative and art to encapsulate it... how in the Nine Hells do you follow it?

Well, this takes us to Ghosteen, the new double album that was promising to lean even further into the fractured electronic and ambient textures that have coloured his work in the 2010s, and could very well be even more touched by grief - many people forget that much of his work on Skeleton Tree was written before his son's tragic passing in 2015. And thus I was preparing for the sort of overwhelming emotional experience that was listening to Skeleton Tree, an album I can rarely listen to in public... but I also knew the odds of replicating such an experience was impossibly steep, so I was preparing for a project just a little less than what we got in 2016, especially across a double album that many were saying was even more spare and abstract in its poetry. So okay, what did Ghosteen bring?

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

video review: '7' by beach house

Man, I knew this record was getting critical acclaim... it's nice to come into that mold on my own, though, I really did think this was pretty great. Definitely recommended if you want to get back on the Beach House train, it's worth it.

Next up... whoo, this'll be an obscure one, stay tuned!

album review: '7' by beach house

So I'll admit the last time I talked about Beach House three years ago - the first time I ever had on my channel - it didn't precisely go well. Part of that was inescapable - while I do love Teen Dream and Bloom I appreciate those records most because they expand and heighten the mantra-like dreamy melodies at the core of the duo's sound, compensating for poetic and well-considered but occasionally underweight lyrics. But on the flipside you get records like Depression Cherry which served to strip away so much of that atmosphere where it became much harder to get lost in the mist, and elements that could prove playfully eccentric on one record could feel undercooked or even pretentious when stripped of their packaging. It was hard to ignore the feeling that both Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars in 2015 felt like a regression, albeit for different reasons - I didn't formally review Thank Your Lucky Stars, so here goes: I appreciate the return of more atmosphere and more layered production, but the melodies and songwriting felt even more threadbare and like a retread of past records. Not bad, but not exactly a project I'd revisit over their best work.

So I can't tell you how excited I was to cover 7, Beach House's newest record and one that buzz was suggesting was their most dark and experimental in some time. Departing from longtime producer Chris Coady, Beach House acknowledged that when they worked with an outside producer at all it was Peter Kember, known for his work with Spacemen 3, MGMT and Panda Bear as well as for electronic records under the alias Sonic Boom. And while I expected Beach House to continue with their typical sound - this is not a band that takes dramatic sonic risks - I did hope that they were heading towards the heavier direction pushed on Bloom, which I'd probably consider my favourite of their projects to date. So alright, what did I find on 7?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

video review: 'antisocialites' by alvvays

Okay, from a technical standpoint, not one of my best reviews... but given my most popular video is arguably my worst-edited, I've got no clear metric how to judge this thing.

Anyway, next up is The National, and man, I'm excited for this one - stay tuned!

album review: 'antisocialities' by alvvays

I'm not sure anybody was expecting Alvvays' self-titled debut to blow up the way it did - including the band themselves.

Granted, there's context required here: it was critically well-received, some of this was inevitably skewed by them being a Canadian band and we tend to over-promote Canadian acts, and they had a crossover single in 'Marry Me, Archie'. But considering I wouldn't even describe that as one of the better songs from the record, it's still a little bit amazing to me that an act I picked on a whim from Pitchfork turned out to be one of the most textured and layered and yet ridiculously tight indie acts to break out of the 2010s. I'm not kidding about that, either: amazingly sharp melodic hooks, writing that was emotionally balanced and yet colourful and witty enough to back up its storytelling, and a wonderfully expressive frontwoman in Molly Rankin, it led to that debut making my year end list of the best records of 2014 - and if anything, it's only gotten better in my eyes.

That said, there was pause for concern surrounding their upcoming sophomore record Antisocialities, mostly as buzz was suggesting it was pivoting in more of a dream pop direction. Now there were hints of this on the debut, but I was never a fan of the band's choice of synths and if they chose to neglect some of the tighter, guitar-driven melodic grooves this could lead to a serious misstep. And the inclusion of John Congleton on production didn't exactly raise my spirits - he's a smart enough producer to get out of the way when necessary, but I wasn't sure how the shift from Chad VanGaalen would connect in capturing that atmosphere. That said, it's not like Temples suffered by a pop-leaning pivot on their second record three years after their first, so maybe Alvvays would stick the landing?

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

video review: 'slowdive' by slowdive

So this... okay, I wish I really liked this more. It's not bad, I see the appeal, but honestly, shoegaze just isn't really my thing, sort of like a lot of death metal and reggae. Eh, okay.

But beyond that, I've got a movie review on its way, so stay tuned!

album review: 'slowdive' by slowdive

Do you ever have the feeling like you may have gotten into certain genres the 'wrong way'? 

I know, there's never any one right way to experience art - most people rarely hit the clean entry point into more obscure or indie genres and it's always a bit of search, but there is a part of me that feels I've only ever approached shoegaze completely wrong. Part of this is because I feel I jumped past the genre into atmospheric black metal and blackgaze, which means going back to these spacier, lighter tones just leaves me feeling underwhelmed. I get the appeal, believe me, but I'm going to listen to this sort of atmospheric, dream-like music, I tend to prefer a bit more muscle and backbone behind it, and from the shoegaze I've heard, I haven't exactly found it captivating. Even approaching it from ambient music... it made a little more sense, but my experience with ambient music has been more on the experimental side, and thus a lot of more conventional-sounding shoegaze just didn't grab my ear. Coupled with much of it feeling underwritten, for the most part I was comfortable saying it just wasn't for me.

But at the same time I didn't want to write off the entire genre without giving it a fair chance, so when the long-awaited comeback record from shoegaze/dream-pop group Slowdive showed up on my schedule, I did want to make an effort to explore it... albeit a few months later when the pressure had died down. So I took my time, went through the back catalog... and look, I don't know what to tell you, it's pleasant music but it just didn't really stick with me. Some of the melodies on Souvlaki were good, and I found some of the ambient electronics on Pygmalion intriguing, but beyond that... not much that really grabbed me. But hey, it's been over twenty years since that record, maybe in the mean time all of the band's experiences would add up to this comeback project being solid?

Monday, January 30, 2017

video review: 'dear avalanche' by lights & motion

Man, I was so hoping this record would be so much better... eh, it happens, I guess, but still painfully disappointing. Gah.

Next up, though, Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

album review: 'dear avalanche' by lights & motion

So here's the truth of it: for as much post-rock as I've heard, I tend to like the genre... but I also don't tend to seek it out that much.

And I'm not really sure why that is. Yeah, I don't deny that some of it is because if I'm going to be listening to this sort of atmospheric, blurred over melodic rock tones I might as well take that next step and listen to black metal, but the truth runs a little more complicated than that. For one, a lot of the post-rock I've tended to hear doesn't have a lot of lyrics, and I've been well-known for citing that as a big factor behind a lot of my favourite music. But it also ties back to that for as much post-rock as I've heard, a lot of it starts to blur together, more than it otherwise should. I like the tones, I like the renewed focus on melody, I really like the commitment to crescendos and musical dynamics... but beyond that, a lot of these pieces don't tend to hook me as deeply as I would like.

So take Lights & Motion, for instance. This is a Swedish post-rock act, the solo project of Christoffer Franzén, and it's known for a certain cinematic swell and scope. And from the brighter guitar-driven tones of his debut in 2013 with Reanimation to the piano-driven Save Your Heart to the more lush and orchestral Chronicle in 2015, it was easily some of the prettiest and most serene post-rock I've ever heard - it's no surprise it's been picked as backing orchestration for a lot of modern TV and movie projects. But on some level that might be part of the issue - Lights & Motion make music that generally sounds appealing but doesn't exactly have a distinctive tone and feel beyond a couple of obvious comparison points to Explosions In The Sky - which yes, makes it ideal for advertising, but that financial blessing can also be a hidden curse. And yet thanks to Patreon the newest project Dear Avalanche wound up on my schedule, with buzz suggesting more strings textures to be shift and changed, along with more vintage synthesizers. And this raised some mixed feelings for me: I don't mind cooler synths, but Save Your Heart was easily the softest work this guy has put out by playing to that piano mold, and that type of melancholy can run out of steam quick in my books. But whatever, I was curious to hear more, so how was Dear Avalanche?

Friday, January 20, 2017

video review: 'oczy mlody' by the flaming lips

Well, this was a real disappointment. Probably should have come down even harder... but then again, I do tend to like a lot of these textures, so take it as you will.

But next up... hmm, stay tuned!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

album review: 'oczy mlody' by the flaming lips

So here's a fun question: when did you stop liking The Flaming Lips?

A bit of a bizarre question to start things off, but if you take a look at the output of this band since the 2000s, you slowly start coming to the realization that Wayne Coyne seems to be taking steps to alienate pretty much everybody. Was in the late 90s with Zaireeka, an album designed to be played on four separate sound systems simultaneously? Was it in 2006 with At War With The Mystics, the Grammy award-winning step that tends to be regarded as a dip in quality coming after their stronger work around the turn of the millennium? Was it the 2009 dive into nightmares of Embryonic, or their full-length cover of Pink Floyd's entire The Dark Side Of The Moon the same year? Was it the massive collaboration in 2012 that called up everyone from Nick Cave and Bon Iver to Chris Martin and Kesha? Or was it The Terror, a more subtle brand of nightmare fuel in 2013 that might be one of the most bleak cuts of nihilistic existential horror ever made? Or was it the full, track-for-track cover of Sgt. Pepper's in 2014 that recruited everyone from Foxygen and Dr. Dog to Tegan And Sara and Miley Cyrus? Or was all the collaborative work they did on Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz, an album for which you could make the argument is one of the worst records of the decade? Or was it their assortment of public stunts that alternated between incomprehensible and just in horrifically bad taste?

Look, the point is that intentional or not, The Flaming Lips seem to have spent this decade in particular burning whatever good will they have left with an audience that seems to be diminishing, especially when it is coming at the expense of the music. Even as someone who liked the majority of the records I described - with the exception of the Miley collaborations and the covers albums, obviously - it's been hard to work up a lot of excitement about The Flaming Lips, especially for this upcoming record. I've already said my lengthy piece about their continued work with Miley, but buzz was suggesting that those pop influences would be drizzling into their upcoming record Oczy Mlody, which might have been described as 'back-to-basics' but raised every indicator of following the Miley-influenced sound that did not flatter this group at all. Coupled with the loss of long-time drummer Kliph Scurlock, I wasn't sure what to expect with this, especially considering despite how alienating it was, I actually found The Terror pretty compelling in its monolithic darkness. But hey, I've actually stuck with The Flaming Lips for this long, so how is Oczy Mlody?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

video review: 'depression cherry' by beach house

So outside of the terrible hair in the screenshot, it's been a pretty crazy night, as I was featured in the new WatchMojo list on Top 10 Music Critics of YouTube! Thanks for recognition there, I really do appreciate it.

Meanwhile, the new Ghost album awaits - stay tuned!

album review: 'depression cherry' by beach house

I've got a complicated relationship with Beach House. Hell, it's the same sort of complicated relationship I have with most dream pop that indulges in airy, hazy production, half-heard lyrics, and focuses much more on vibe and feel than driving groove or melody. It's not that I dislike it - hell, I'd argue Beach House hasn't made a bad album, and Teen Dream and Bloom would easily be in the running for the best of their respective years - but for me it's music for a specific time and place. A big part of Beach House's appeal is the relaxed slow burn, and to be very honest, there aren't many moments when I can appreciate that mood as much as I'd like because of my schedule.

But I reckon it runs a little deeper than that. I revisited all of Beach House's albums prior to this review, and while there was a progression that enhanced the band's melodic sensibility, I've never been all that enamoured with their songwriting beyond it. And even as they cleared away more reverb with album after album and expanded their instrumentation and mix to build more momentum, I started wondering where the band's progression would lead. Because let's face it, Beach House can cultivate a very intimate atmosphere with their material, and even though their material can repeat itself in lyrics and composition, push it too far without clear creative direction and you can run into losing what made your duo special.

And some of the mixed reviews I had seen going into this album prepared me for the worst, suggesting that the band had returned to their quieter roots but along the way had lost some of the thick but gentle atmosphere that made their music so enticing. And as someone who has never really fallen completely for Beach House, I was genuinely curious how it was all going to pan out, so what did we get?