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

Thursday, October 18, 2018

video review: 'afterlife' by alterity

You know, I will say I'm surprised this did not wind up on the Trailing Edge for me... but to be honest, I wound up having plenty to say on this one, so I'm okay with a review even if it doesn't get a lot of traffic.

Next up, let's deal with Ella Mai - stay tuned!

album review: 'afterlife' by alterity

So just so you all understand my point of reference, let me describe how I handle artists who are more of a Bandcamp/independent stripe that wind up on my schedule. Most of it would seem self-explanatory: unless they absolutely blow me away or I literally have nothing else to talk about on my schedule - like in early January - I typically put these artists on the Trailing Edge. And for the most part folks have been fine with this: the acts are just starting out or are very underground, after all, and sometimes bringing down my full critical scrutiny can be a lot to handle, and while there's often a consideration on my part when it comes to traffic, there's also the acknowledgement that a lot of these acts don't exactly give me a ton to say.

Of course, there are exceptions where I do have a little bit more - I'm sure some of you are familiar with my Eric Taxxon reviews by now - but Alterity is a bit of a different case. A duo of producers who also happen to contribute to my Patreon - no guarantee of a positive review or not winding up on the Trailing Edge, for the record - they've patiently voted this up the schedule and I'll freely admit after checking out their debut EP I was pretty sure this was going to wind up on the Trailing Edge too. Not that it was bad, but more that I was generally a little underwhelmed by their sound and approach, of which I'm very familiar and have some pretty strong tastes on what I like in this collection of subgenres. But okay, what then is there to say about their follow-up Afterlife?

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

video review: 'beyondless' by iceage

Well, this was pretty damn great - shame about what's after it on the schedule, though, but might as well get it over with... stay tuned!

album review: 'beyondless' by iceage

I'll freely admit I had no idea what to expect with the newest Iceage project - and a huge part of that is directly linked to what happened with their third record Plowing Into The Field Of Love in 2014. Originally they had put out some post-punk that was explosive and twisted but didn't really have a lot of internal direction or consistency, but that changed in a big way with this record, pulling upon more elaborate arrangements that expanded their sound while still maintaining that nervy, unstable edge and killer melodic grooves. More than ever the comparison was less Bauhaus and more Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, and given that the writing had stepped up considerably to match, I was onboard for this sonic progression.

And thus maybe I shouldn't have been that surprised when I heard that Iceage might be slowing things down a bit for this record, expanding their instrumental palette, even recruiting Sky Ferreira to play the P.J. Harvey to Elias Ronnenfelt's Nick Cave. Now granted, any more predictions would be almost certain to fail - I certainly don't think I could have called the progression for other post-punk acts like Ought and Preoccupations this year into more melodic territory, with one not sticking the landing and the other producing one of the best of their career thus far - but that doesn't mean I wasn't curious, given how long it took for us to get this record. So alright, how was Beyondless?

Friday, October 27, 2017

video review: 'ken' by destroyer

I honestly think this might be one of my best reviews - what can I say, Destroyer brings out the poetic side of my writing in a really good way, I dug this.

Next up, some older business I should have covered a good month ago, so stay tuned!

album review: 'ken' by destroyer

It's hard to talk about Dan Bejar's work as Destroyer. Not just for its sheer diversity of tones and sounds that have flipped through a dozen different genres over the decades, but also because getting a grip on his writing... well, most people don't. Hell, even with every listen to his records I don't quite feel I always get his turns of phrase, and I've struggled to articulate why that is. Even on songs where he does get more direct - and there's been less and less of that with his work in the 2010s - the implications and subtext of his work often linger longer than the actual text, sometimes picking up enough of a foundation like in the cinematic swell and grounded themes of Poison Season, but other times... look, I like Kaputt, but that record can get lost in its own slick 80s-inspired sophisti-pop atmosphere, and I often find myself going back to the more grounded but still potent Thief, or Streethawk: A Seduction, or my personal favourite, the melodically stunning Your Blues.

But one tone I've always felt can be hit-and-miss for Dan Bejar was instability, mostly because I've always found him most compelling at his most refined and measured and emotionally expressive, where you can tell the structure reinforces and propels the emotional transcendence that his most poetic lines and delivery can hit. Without that structure, you get records like Trouble In Dreams and This Night, frequently compelling but messy in a way that gives you the suspicious feeling Bejar might be trolling his audience - and even if he swears he's not, it's not a feeling that goes away. Such was my concern with ken, which was reportedly scaling back from the grandiose power of Poison Season for something a little smaller and sleazier, with chill murky tones playing for noir but potentially tilting in over-stylized but conceptually underweight kitsch - in other words, the buzz was not exactly promising. But I wanted to dig into this for myself - Bejar is too good of a writer and too innovative a composer for me to not give this a chance, so what did I find in ken?

Thursday, June 1, 2017

video review: 'goths' by the mountain goats

Man, this record... it just cut deep in the best possible way. Holy shit, I loved this.

What's coming up next, though... well, we'll see. Stay tuned!

album review: 'goths' by mountain goats

Before we get into this review, I think there need to be two things placed in context: my relationship with the goth subculture; and my relationship with the music of The Mountain Goats - and in both cases, it gets complicated in a hurry.

See, if you've seen me rambling on Twitter at some point late at night, I'll typically have wandered into one of my favourite goth club haunts for some music that actually has an edge and to soak in the atmosphere, but whether I'd call myself a goth... well, people have been arguing about that qualifier for decades now, but I'd probably say it's not really a label that fits me exactly. I like a lot of gothic music and fashion and it's easy for me to feel comfortable in goth clubs - you're not going to find a crew as openly accepting of oddballs like myself despite appearances as that subculture, along with markedly more likable music - but for me there's a time and place for it, never quite a scene I've completely embraced.

And here's the funny thing: I get the impression John Darnielle might feel the same, which leads us to the Mountain Goats. Full disclosure, while I may have been introduced to them through Nash over at Radio Dead Air - check him out, he broadcasts online live on Monday evenings, his content is excellent - I've never really done a deep dive, and thus I've spent the past three or four weeks exploring all fifteen full-length records in their backlog, from their roughscrabble early days in the 90s to their slightly more polished indie folk side in the 2000s to the steps towards indie rock that has come in recent years. And while I would definitely call myself a fan, I wouldn't really say I'm a big one, mostly tied to the energy and strength of the melodies along with Darnielle sticking with more defined stories instead of some of the abstract pieces that sometimes can feel a tad scattered. It's also one of the reasons I have a hard time citing a favourite Mountain Goats record or ranking them - for me, unless they've got a unified thematic arc I tend to like bits and pieces, although if I had covered Beat The Champ back in 2015, it would have had a serious shot to make my year-end list, that record hits so many of the same moments that made Darren Aronofsky's movie The Wrestler click so deeply for me, it's startling. But their album this year Goths... well, with the comparisons to the writing of Nick Cave of course I was on board, but I was a little concerned that Darnielle had opted to abandon his guitar entirely for the record, which could lead to a very different sound and one sure to piss off the diehard lo-fi Mountain Goats fans. But hey, what did we get out of Goths?

Saturday, December 24, 2016

video review: 'blood bitch' by jenny hval

Man, this was a weird record... and to the point where I wish I liked it more, to be honest. Ugh, frustrating, frustrating.

Anyway, one more record and then year-end lists, stay tuned!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

album review: 'blood bitch' by jenny hval

It's often considered one of the great contradictions of American popular culture that for as much it worships at the altar of violence and the military industrial complex - and Canada isn't that far removed, I'm not kidding myself here - everyone tends to get skittish around sexuality. You can have plenty of gore in your movie in your movies and still walk away with the PG-13, but show exposed breasts and you can expect the R, to say nothing of if you want to show a penis or vagina. Kind of amusing how parts of the entertainment industry gives a free pass to plenty of penis extensions that deliver death yet get antsy when confronted with the real thing.

Now music is a little different, mostly because you're not dealing with the image outside of the album art... but not that different. Let's get real, with rare exception the majority of modern music is a lot more comfortable talking about male sexuality than female, and even then it's often masked in innuendos or played as a tease. To actively dig into the fleshy, messy side of things, peel back the sensuality and bravado to get to something more primal but no less real, that's explored far, far less. And that's no surprise: for as much as some artists threw open the doors to openly embrace sexuality in their music, it's usually paired with a desire to make it sound accessible to an audience who isn't as comfortable, entice rather than get into the explicit details.

And then there's Jenny Hval - Norwegian singer-songwriter and experimental musician, while much of her music has been characterized by droning, oddly structured soundscapes full of weird experimental shifts - to say nothing of an odd pop sensibility that keeps creeping through - what's always caught my ear are the lyrics. And the best way to describe them is something akin to the inverted metaphor of the film Shortbus - usage of plainly sexual acts and language in order to say something more, rather than the other way around saying or doing something to imply sex. Of course, her themes and abstract writing have gone further than sex, but at the end of the day her music approaches the flesh-driven reality of sex with the sort of unrestrained frankness and language that for certain can startle and shock even the most sexually-comfortable and well-adjusted person. As such, her music for me has always required a concerted effort to fully contextualize and understand - one of the reasons this review is so late - but I have to say I was really looking forward to digging into Blood Bitch. Blending elements of 70s exploitation films, timetravelling and genderbending vampire iconography, and an acute focus on menstrual blood - seriously - into an experimental pop framework partially inspired by the drones of Norwegian black metal and produced by noise musician Lasse Marhaug, this was going to be the sort of trip that I expected to be challenging, but hopefully hugely rewarding. Was I right?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Monday, October 20, 2014

album review: 'plowing into the field of love' by iceage

Last year when I wrote about the excellent debut album from Savages Silence Yourself - an album that landed on my year-end list of the best albums of 2013 - I talked about my odd introduction into post-punk, which wasn't through an old music collection or friends or an angry white boy phase, but two scattered collections of punk songs, singles and deep cuts. Since then, I've had a much greater chance to delve into the subgenre over the past year in my spare time, partially through hanging out on the edges of the dwindling goth scene in Toronto and half through increasingly deep dives into obscure music that has never touched the charts and only gets acclaim on - you guessed it - sites like Pitchfork.

And this time we'll be talking about Iceage, a Danish punk/post-punk act that immediately became a critical darling upon the release of their first album New Brigade in 2011. And really, it's easy to see why - not only was every member of the band younger than me, they had a knack for hard-edged melodic grooves and extremely explosive drumwork that brushed against hardcore but then was tempered with gothic lyrics that weren't so much angsty but bringing a certain brand of visceral, descriptive bleakness that was unsettling in its own right. They followed that album a year later with the more personal and much meatier record You're Nothing, which took the gothic edge of their debut and honed it much finer, striking directly at human insecurities and everything people do to conceal them, not shying away from putting themselves directly in the line of the fire. It was their first record on Matador - the same label as Savages, unsurprisingly - and it was a natural fit. That being said, I've never been a huge fan of Iceage - I sure as hell respect them, but their occasional choice to sacrifice great melodic grooves for a tempo change or out of nowhere breakdown occasionally frustrated me. Yeah, I know they're a punk act, but when the songs they do write are so strong, breaking them apart in that way kind of irked me.

That said, I wasn't surprised when the critical acclaim started pouring in for their newest album Plowing Into The Field Of Love, so I made sure to give it several listens - how did it turn out?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

video review: '...and then you shoot your cousin' by the roots

Review two of the night, and a great album to boot. Whew.

Next up, I'm feeling like keeping up with the hip-hop reviews... so Clipping's coming up before I dive back into country. Stay tuned!

album review: '...and then you shoot your cousin' by the roots

Yeah, I know this review is late. There's a reason for that: for a band like The Roots, you want to make sure you're getting things right.

And at this point, after going through The Roots' massive and critically acclaimed discography, I'm a little lost where to even start. Beginning in the early 90s, the band started as an alternative hip-hop act fronted by one of the most lyrically dexterous MCs to ever pick up the microphone and a fusion of jazz and conscious hip-hop to create some impressively insightful rap I've ever heard. And it wasn't just the fact that they've easily made four classic albums, but that the albums they made hold up astoundingly well. There might have been brief moments of experimentation with the times, but I could give you a record like Things Falling Apart right now and it'd still be accessible and definitely worth your time.

Now if we were looking at albums from The Roots that I'd brand as my favourites... man, it's a tough choice, but it'd probably come down to a split between the groove-rich, experimental and melody-rich Phrenology and the haunted, aching sadness of Undun, the latter being the most recent Roots album released before this one. That album is one that I've long expected The Roots would make, now that with the stability of being Jimmy Fallon's backing band they have the freedom to take more risks and get weirder. Because Undun is a concept album exploring the life in reverse of a black man trying to make it out of the trap, and while I wish the rapping had painted a little more of a stark picture, that was never their intent. What Black Thought and the rest of the band delivers is a hazy enough portrait that many could likely see resembling themselves, and combined with the soulful undercurrents, the personal yet reflective lyrics, and incredible melodies, make it easily one of the best albums of the decade thus far, at least for me. 

So when I heard The Roots were making another concept album with ...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin this year, I was psyched, and while it might be late, I was determined that I was going to cover this album at some point, even if it is nearly a month late. So how was it?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

album review: 'imps of perversion' by pop. 1280

You're all forgiven for not knowing who this band is.

Hell, it wasn't that long ago when I had no idea who this group was. If you're looking for acts flying completely under the radar, Pop. 1280 might just be one of the quintessential examples. Signed to Sacred Bones (an indie label out of, where else, Brooklyn), a criminally underwritten Wikipedia page, and with a reputation for abrasive, grimy gothic noise rock, Pop. 1280 certainly aren't attracting the type of critical buzz that I'd normally pick up upon. The only reason I think The AV Club bothered to review the album is because it's the beginning of August and there's barely anything else coming out until John Mayer and Chris Brown decide to simultaneously ruin the summer in one fell swoop.

So why am I bothering to review Pop. 1280's newest album Imps Of Perversion instead of continuing with my retrospectives of other acts that already came out this year? Two reasons: I still need a bit more time to go through Deerhunter's discography for when I talk about Monomania; and more importantly, the fact that Pop. 1280 describes itself as a 'cyberpunk' act.

This immediately caught my attention, because the whole 'cyberpunk' brand used to be a lot more prevalent in the 80s and 90s, with a unique aesthetic drawn from the goth, punk, and raver scenes. Heavily linked to dystopian fiction, cyberpunk tended to have underlying themes of youth fighting against corrupt institutions of the past, the balance between humanity and technology, corporate capitalism running rampant, the abuse of biotechnology, and a lot of interesting ideas that tended to get buried beneath the bondage leather and the excuse to have fetish models pop up in B-list action movies. The sad fact that outside of some critically acclaimed anime, some solid video games, a few decent table-top RPGs, a couple superb novels (often by William Gibson), and Blade Runner, there's a whole ton of crap in the cyberpunk genre that can't even hope to be intellectually engaging or interesting besides cheap masturbatory thrills. 

And nowhere is this more apparent than in music. Sure, Bowie managed to make a decent pseudo-cyberpunk album in the mid-90s with Outside, and Nine Inch Nails' Year Zero did attempt a more politically charged venture into cyberpunk trends, but most music attempting to tap into 'cyberpunk' culture failed pretty disastrously. The most egregious example was Billy Idol's catastrophic album Cyberpunk, which thoroughly destroyed whatever was left of his career. Having relistened to that album recently - and believe me, it hasn't aged well in the slightest - I think I've managed to pin down why it failed: it only grasped the surface gloss of what cyberpunk was, instead of digging into the meatier ideas beneath it.

And really, when I took a look at Pop. 1280's first album The Horror, I was optimistic. After all, there's plenty of untapped potential in cyberpunk, and if we're looking for a modern generation where cyberpunk might hold some relevance to youth, it's right now. Think about all of the themes I mentioned before and compare them to current trends right now. Double-digit unemployment, corrupt corporate overreach, disaffected youth lacking direction and seeking release however they can, these are real things for my generation, and Pop. 1280 could have made a challenging and essential album to speak to these real problems...

And they didn't do that. Their 2012 album The Horror instead opted to imitate the cheap thrills of the cyberpunk aesthetic and blend them with lyrics cribbed from a bad nu-metal songbook. I will give credit to bassist John Skultrane and Zac Ziemann's drumming for managing to build a firm foundation for the better songs, but there's very little built on top of that foundation that's worth talking about. The guitarwork by Ivan Lip is biting and distorted and occasionally builds up with monstrous energy, but with a lack of a driving tune and little chord variation, I couldn't help but lose interest in the material very quickly. Chris Bug's vocals might strive to imitate early Nick Cave, but lacking the dynamics or the air of menace, he comes across like a post-grunge singer attempting to sound dangerous or scary, neither of which I bought. And not only was the technical songwriting rudimentary at best, the lyrics forsook the more interesting ideas in cyberpunk and opted for cheap, schlocky attempts at scares with little subtlety or pacing. In comparison to anything Nick Cave has done (or The Flaming Lips' similarly titled album The Terror from earlier this year), Pop. 1280 couldn't help but look out of their depth, particularly with the lifeless and flat production work that did nobody any favours.

But that being said, I'm willing to give Pop. 1280 a second chance - debut albums are always tough to get right. So how does their follow-up Imps Of Perversion turn out?

Youtube review after the jump

Monday, August 5, 2013

album review: 'silence yourself' by savages (RETRO REVIEW)

I didn't get into punk music the 'typical' way. I wasn't given an old punk record by a family member or dropped into that particular music scene by a group of friends or attended a party or concert where said music was being played. No, pretty much any exploration of punk music - and indeed of underground culture from the mid-70s to, well, now was entirely a self-driven endeavour.

Funnily enough, I started looking into punk from one of the harder-edged scenes on the fringes of the genre: anarcho-punk. Coming out of an anarchistic high school phase, I was actively listening to Chumbawamba and started to get intrigued about their contemporaries. So one day, I picked up two four-disc collections that I highly recommend to this day as a great sampler of music of the time: No Thanks! The 70s Punk Revolution and Left Of The Dial: Dispatches From The 80s Underground. And I honestly can't count the number of bands I got into thanks to these two multi-disc sets, exposing me to several entire genres of music that I had never heard on mainstream radio or any of the clubs I frequented.

Interestingly, there was only genre that seemed to span both disc collections - and it wasn't punk music. No, it was the dark, brooding, complex, oft-inaccessible genre of post-punk, composed of the leftovers of the punk revolution and a gateway to all manner of weird, twisted music that I fell in love with instantaneously. These were acts like Wire, Bauhaus, Sonic Youth, The Sisters Of Mercy, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Television, Joy Division, The Cure, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Chameleons, and more. These are among some of the most critically acclaimed acts of the 70s and 80s, and they pushed the envelope of music further than ever before.

It's not entirely surprising, then, that as 70s nostalgia returned through this year (to say nothing of the rise of darker, industrial-flavoured music across the charts), post-punk would make a return appearance. But while Nick Cave did release a mind-blowing album this year with Push The Sky Away, it wasn't so much a post-punk revival album as a moody piece of atmosphere alternative rock from an elder statesman of the movement. 

Instead, we got a debut album from a new act that had been swelling in the underground since 2011, just waiting to explode with a mission statement scrawled in block capitals.

The band was simply called Savages, the debut album was titled Silence Yourself, and it is goddamn awesome.

Youtube review after the jump