Showing posts with label drone. Show all posts
Showing posts with label drone. Show all posts

Thursday, October 31, 2019

video review: 'leaving meaning.' by swans

So this was... odd to talk about? Kind of wish I liked it a lot more, but it happens...

Next up is Miranda Lambert, so stay tuned!

album review: 'leaving meaning.' by swans

So what constitutes an artist's finale?

Because you can tell that's a question that's hung heavy on a lot of people, from an artist close to his deathbed to an act realizing they've got no more stories left to tell and must dissolve. Of course, in both cases if the artist goes on living or the band finds another burst of inspiration, said 'finale' can hit an odd note - not everyone can do what David Bowie did with Blackstar, after all, and you can tell with the themes and arcs of the last several Willie Nelson albums that he's expected his passing long before now. And I bring this up because the last time I reviewed Swans in 2016 with their massive album The Glowing Man, I was operating with the information that it would be their last album, especially given the thematic heft given to massive questions of God and the purpose of humanity. Turns out there was some truth to that, as mastermind Michael Gira said that it was their last album with anything close to a stable lineup, with the only returning and consistent member this time being lap steel guitar player Kristof Hahn and other former members and guests only brought on to realize specific moments on certain songs. And while with a title like leaving meaning. you can make the argument they are once again going for a finale vibe - which was what some of the hype was indicating - I was curious to put in the hours of time and really absorb this Swans album - so what did we get?

Friday, September 23, 2016

video review: 'preoccupations' by preoccupations

Well, this was an interesting listen. Not sure it was a great one, but it was interesting - some solid post-punk, generally enjoyable.

Next up, I'm finally tackling that Whiskey Myers record before I get to AlunaGeorge. Then, if my luck holds, I should be close to being back on schedule - stay tuned!

album review: 'preoccupations' by preoccupations

So let's talk about something I don't think I've ever discussed in a review before: band names. A good name helps a band stand out, can occasionally set the tone of the music you're about to experience, can evoke a certain atmosphere and personality. For instance, one of my all time favourite band names is for the anarchist punk band Chumbawamba - it evokes curiosity, it definitely stands out, and it's got a sort of gleeful irreverence that really characterizes the wit and character of the group.

But really, the big story tied to this act is band name controversies, when a certain act calls themselves something - let's say Viet Cong in this case - and discovers that if they want to play the liberal college circuit across the United States, such a name might drive a backlash. Not going to lie, this controversy irritates the hell out of me, and not just because I could point to a slew of bands in punk, post-punk, and metal who have names with far more dark and disturbing connotations - look up what Joy Division means some time, I dare you. And while I could go on how saying 'Viet Cong is offensive' propagates a simplistic and US-centric view of the far more complicated Vietnam War, where there was considerable moral ambiguity on both sides, or how even if it was inappropriate and offensive it completely fit the dark, pummeling tone of the band's music... but it's not like the group made any of those arguments. Instead, the Canadian group shot themselves in the foot repeatedly during interviews by pleading ignorance and all sorts of nonsense, and since they obviously weren't about to do anything more interesting with the name and concept and wanted to continue making money, they eventually just gave in and changed their name to Preoccupations. Not a bad choice - not as punchy as 'Viet Cong', but it did fit the sort of detached bleak melancholy that ran through their compositions, so I won't hold it that much against them. In any case, this allowed them to get away with a second self-titled album with the new name - with a part of me kind of thinks is cheating a bit - but whatever, how is Preoccupations?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

video review: 'love streams' by tim hecker

Well, this was a fascinating and incredibly difficult album to untangle. I still think it's worth listens even if its not my thing, but again, not my thing.

Next up... hmm, probably Parquet Courts, so stay tuned!

album review: 'love streams' by tim hecker

I've talked before at length how I'm still working to explore electronic music, still trying to find the clearest inroad to a genre that can frequently be beautiful and powerful and experimental, but often can be just as hard to talk about or fully dissect. And today, it's time we talk about one of the subsets of electronic music that remains some of the hardest to decode and explain: ambient drone and noise. The sort of sounds that will nearly all but the most dedicated of listeners branding it as background noise or completely empty to just walk away, it's long been a genre to which I've touched in passing but have had a certain aversion to it. I can definitely appreciate ambient music and atmosphere, but stretched across glitched out soundscapes with only the slightest of change-ups in melody or the sparsest of beats... yeah, most of the time it's just not for me. I like groove and composition more than textured sonic tapestries that often rely on the thinnest of context of define what it might be trying to say. 

As such, delving into the extensive back catalog of Canadian electronic artist Tim Hecker has been quite the experience for me, most notably because it probably came the closest to create soundscapes that were enticing enough to keep me coming back for more. The missed connections and fragmented transmissions of Radio Amor, the darker, guitar-feedback-soaked Mirages that started touching into black metal textures, the more soothing but melancholic Harmony In Ultraviolet that grew all the more expansive, the more dense construction of An Imaginary Country, they all reflected so much more than what the first few listens would imply. This would reach a peak on Hecker's 2011 album Ravedeath 1972, a titantic, borderline apocalyptic record that I would have no qualms saying is legitimately great, and while I didn't quite like his 2013 record Virgins as much - I missed the thicker atmosphere, even if the greater, more intimate focus on melody with much cleaner textures made it a potent listen in and of itself - I think I understood enough to delve into his newest record Love Streams, which had been garnering something of a mixed critical response. So as a relative newcomer to this sort of music, how did it click?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

video review; 'abyss' by chelsea wolfe

Well, this record took way too long to cover. Brutal album, and a hard one to cover, but glad I did it.

Next up, probably Lindi Ortega. Then Melanie Martinez, Frank Turner, Jess Glynne, and apparently B.o.B. decided to drop an album from out of nowhere, so this could get interesting... stay tuned!

album review: 'abyss' by chelsea wolfe

It's weird, I think I'm simultaneously growing into and growing out of gothic music.

Because like most teenagers who listened to a lot of metal and who later went on to listen to Sisters Of Mercy, Bauhaus, Depeche Mode and The Cure, I've got more than a passing familiarity with the bleak, hollow-eyed chill of most gothic-flavoured art. And while I never really went through an angry white boy phase, I found the appropriation of religious and horror iconography, icy darkness, obsession with death, and provocative sexuality fascinating. 

But as I got older, a lot of the 'glamorous' side of goth culture lost its appeal to me - not entirely, but the more adolescent whinging that focused on brooding darkness for its own sake just got tired, and you should all know by now how I feel about nihilist art that can't innovate on the premise - just kind of gets boring after a while, to be honest. But at the same time, the gothic material that aimed higher, for something more primordial and existential, that added more texture to the tragic stories and added the ugliness of humanity to the mix... ah, now that's a lot more fascinating to me. It's one of the reasons why I've always liked Nick Cave, for instance.

But what about an act like Chelsea Wolfe, an LA singer-songwriter who began her career in lo-fi folk that added sludgy and brittle riffs and drone-saturated soundscapes to create a particularly bleak brand of music that showed up on the haunting The Grime and the Glow and the slightly cleaner but no less creepy and outright excellent album  Apokalypsis. Her 2013 album Pain Is Beauty cleaned things even further, added more strings and operatic instrumentation, and while the improvements in writing, melody, and Swans-esque crescendos definitely stood out and I really do like that album, it also left me wishing more of the grime and edge could return.

As such, you can bet I was looking forward to her next album Abyss, which reportedly was diving deeper into the howling doom metal-inspired nightmare that always lurked around the corner in her music - what did we get?

Friday, August 2, 2013

album review: 'shaking the habitual' by the knife (RETRO REVIEW)

Consider, if you will, minimalism.

Now you might think, with my general appreciation for acts like Meat Loaf and Nightwish and Blind Guardian and The Killers and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, that I tend to favour music that's overblown, overwrought, and generally made with a larger 'scope' in mind. And I won't lie that I do like songs in this vein more often than not - hell, I'll give a pass to Andrew W.K. for his maximalist aesthetic, even though his lyrics tend to have less substance than an empty bucket made of air. And it's not surprising that a lot of critics tend to snub acts that go for broke with a lack of abandon and complete sincerity - these acts are often deemed lowbrow or pandering to baser sensibilities. And sure, in some cases that is definitely the case, but I'd argue there's a method to writing that hyperbolic material well (the difference, for example, between Fall Out Boy's Folie A Deux and their newest album Save Rock and Roll, an album I like less and less as a cohesive whole every time I listen to it).

Likewise, minimalism often shares a similar differentiation of quality, but the distinction of being able to accomplish this aesthetic is a little subtler than its louder counterpart (the line of sincerity tends to be more sharply defined at higher volumes). Minimalism typically works through reduction, scaling back certain elements in order to draw attention and emphasis to others, or in order to create an atmosphere of emptiness and space. One of the reasons Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds succeeded so brilliantly this year with Push The Sky Away is because he utilized the minimalist style to both create a foreboding, expansive atmosphere and to draw attention to the oblique lyrics. It was no surprise that some critics panned the album in response, especially considering Nick Cave spent so much of his career overwhelming the senses that people considered his brand of minimalism dull. In other words, they completely missed the point.

Now that's not to say minimalism can't be done badly. On the contrary, it can be argued that minimalist efforts often have a much greater chance of failure than those that simply choose to go for broke on all cylinders. I've spoken before of my distaste for music in the 'white guy with acoustic guitar' or 'white chick with piano' vein, and their poor usage of minimalism is often the reason why. In choosing to pull back and limit their instrumentation, they draw much tighter attention to the singer and the lyrics, and the swathe of trite, pretentious garbage that spews forth is evidence enough that these singer-songwriters just don't have anything worth saying. 

And more often than not, too much minimalist material fails simply because the musical atmosphere lacks texture and thus gets very boring very fast. Let's take James Blake's Overgrown as an example where the minimalism worked - but it only worked because Blake's careful control of the atmosphere and soulful delivery nailed the tricky balance between atmospheric and intimate. And it's a tough balance to nail - I can think of more than a few albums that don't manage to hit that sweet spot, particularly in electronica and modern hip-hop. 

So with all of that in mind, let's talk about the Swedish electronica duo The Knife, a band that takes electronic minimalism and turns it into something else entirely.

Now I'll admit right out of the gate that The Knife had a bit of a steep road to climb with me, as electronica acts (particularly those heralded by Pitchfork and music critics and pretty much only them) that tend towards tight, carefully positioned beats aren't normally my thing. And coupled with Karin Dreijer Andersson's borderline intolerable singing (she reminds me of a cross between Joanna Newsom and a screechier Tegan Quin) and the duo's tendency towards oblique, barely comprehensible lyrics, I was fairly certain this band would wear out their welcome faster than ever. And really, if I was looking to find a band with little-to-no mainstream appeal, the kind that would brand me as a hipster instantly upon mention, The Knife would leap to the top of my list. They certainly weren't doing anything to make themselves accessible or radio-friendly, that's for damn sure.

And yet, going through their discography (particularly their 2006 album Silent Shout), I started to understand the appeal of The Knife. Despite the clipped, clattering beats at the very top of the mix, the band had an expansive sound that sucked me in more often than not. The juxtaposition between Andersson's vocals and those her partner Olof Dreijer's did a fair amount to win me over (although the occasionally off-tune screeching got intolerable more than once). But what ultimately won me over were the lyrics - there's a real bleak darkness and unsettling atmosphere to their poetry that has flavour and real personality, and while I wouldn't call them technically strong lyricists, they are smart enough to convey some potent material. Yes, they've made mistakes - sometimes big ones - but overall, their good material has tended to outweigh the bad (with 'Marble House' being the immediately recognizable standout from Silent Shout and a goddamn impressive song).

So when I heard that the act was, again, accruing critical acclaim from critics and Pitchfork alike for their new album, I was interested. After numerous solo ventures, The Knife had finally reunited for their first venture on their own in seven years. How did it turn out?

Youtube review after the jump