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

Monday, May 21, 2018

video review: 'echoes from eta carinae' by alrakis

Yes, I know this has been LONG in coming, but I'm happy I got this out - great atmospheric black metal, really enjoyed this.

Next up... hmm, let's do KYLE and Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

album review: 'echoes from η carinae' by alrakis

Oh, I'm happy I finally got this one, the sort of project that I was originally going to put on the Trailing Edge but took off specifically to cover here in a full review, I was that excited about it...

Well, perhaps 'happy' isn't the right word, because today we're going to be talking about a brand of black metal that is pretty controversial - yes, even for black metal. This sub-subgenre is labeled DSBM, an acronym for depressive suicidal black metal, where the tones were more dreary and drone-like, the lyrics more nakedly introspective and dark... and that's the polite way of getting around how some of these acts could dig into some of the most transgressive and masochistic material both on and off the microphone. And if you do some research into what some of these bands did it can be shocking, enough to push away from exploring more - especially for me, given that I'm not really a huge fan of drone or doom metal and I'm behind schedule as it is - but more research unearthed some articles describing the raw catharsis this subgenre could trigger, that its exploration of such themes through the agency of art gave the artist and by extension the audience some form of release. And while I'm not quite sure I can buy into all of those themes, especially when the bands pair those tones with more conventional, naked aggression, it at least gave me some context.

And even with that, I'm not sure I needed to dig that much deeper with Alrakis - from my research, he's a German artist known for blending DSBM tones with a more atmospheric soundscape, which some have branded 'cosmic' black metal. He broke out in 2011 with Alpha Eri, but it's been seven years since, and he had a behemoth project here: a single track, over fifty two minutes long, with the title 'Echoes of Eta Carinae'. And while I initially thought I wouldn't have enough to say - after all, it's just one song - a single listen changed my mind and convinced me I would have to cover this at length. So what was so compelling about this that I took it off the Trailing Edge?

Monday, May 14, 2018

video review: 'tranquility base hotel + casino' by arctic monkeys

So here's the first review of the night, bound to be the most controversial... but we're not done yet, so stay tuned!

album review: 'tranquility base hotel & casino' by arctic monkeys

Most of you probably don't remember the last time I reviewed the Arctic Monkeys. It was nearly five years ago, I didn't have a proper camera yet, but I was mostly positive towards the record and I did think it had some moments that worked for me...

And everyone hated it! Yeah, I'll admit I was still very much in the learning curve for making album reviews, but the backlash I got to being mostly ambivalent on this indie darling was pretty pronounced, mostly because my review consisted of some... let's call them mixed opinions on their back catalog. Suffice to say, Arctic Monkeys broke around the same time as a lot of other bands in a similar noisy, post-punk revival brand of indie rock, and when you paired it with observational songwriting that might have had moments of self-awareness but was often way too sour and acerbic to really resonate with me, as a group they just never clicked more deeply with me. Yes, you can make the argument that Alex Turner was one of the wittiest and smartest guys in the room, but if you know it and want everyone else to know it, any amount of self-deprecation doesn't make you any less of a dick! It's absolutely no surprise the band became a Gen X critical darling in the mid-2000s - and also no surprise that as they got older and arguably more mature and their fury curdled into detached, snide bitterness, said fans mostly stuck around... provided, of course, they could get behind the shifts in sound. Yeah, that was the other thing - Arctic Monkeys may have started in some furious, borderline punk territory, but they got way slower and more indebted to a conventional rock canon with every record, especially as they started embracing stoner rock elements on Humbug and psychedelic elements on Suck It And See and AM. And that was the frustrating thing for me: this band is clearly talented and had the capacity to take sonic risks and write some damn catchy songs... but the content and a lot of Alex Turner's delivery left a bad taste in my mouth.

Still, when I heard the band was taking a stark departure in their sound for lounge-inspired smooth jazz and spacey pop tones... yeah, you might have seen traces of that coming on previous records, but this sounded like something far out, and a record that has proven quite polarizing for a lot of fans. And hell, I was intrigued - maybe if Alex Turner could get out of his own head in terms of content, he could write something interesting, so what did we get with Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino?

Monday, April 17, 2017

video review: 'coming home' by falling in reverse

So yeah, this... actually not quite as painful as I was expecting, but it's pretty bad all the same. Eh, whatever.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN and a record I've been eagerly anticipating all year, so stay tuned!

album review: 'coming home' by falling in reverse

Well folks, we finally got there. We've finally landed in the territory that I was dreading but knew with Patreon knew it was only a matter of time before I hit - the sort of Warp Tour band dregs that came in the aftermath of the pop rock boom of the mid-2000s and hasn't gone away. You know the place: where post-hardcore blurred with all the trends of modern pop and rock that nobody wants to hear to mutate into genres like crabcore, electronicore, deathcore, and a brand of pop punk blurred with screamo that traded insight or heartfelt power or even raw cleverness for pure obnoxiousness.

Hey, can you tell I'm talking about Falling In Reverse yet? Yeah, just because I've avoided them like the plague before this review doesn't mean I didn't know about Ronnie Radke's project after Escape The Fate fell apart. I actually had my first exposure to the group from seeing them - along with a lot of other horrible bands I hope to never cover on this show - on Mues' show First Impressions, and characteristically my first impression was a significant amount of revulsion. Yeah, their lead guitarist could pick up a tune on the solo and they could build to a decent if utterly derivative groove, but Radke's mugging delivery and the sense he bought into all of the lyrics he brayed made him utterly impossible to like. At least when Fall Out Boy gave the middle finger to their audience on Save Rock And Roll you can tell there was craftsmanship in the writing or experimentation - whereas that same year, Falling In Reverse released Fashionably Late which tried to pile in the synth against painfully gated drums, a ridiculous mishmash of genres, and utterly insufferable writing. And while there was a part of me that thought they might have been doing this ironically, sort of like the alternative metal genre blend Icon For Hire did, revisiting the record for this review convinced me otherwise - painfully. Thankfully, the band pivoted back to their blend of post-hardcore and pop punk with their 2015 record Just Like You - granted, that presumes you like a lot of post-hardcore, which for the most part I just don't. It at least felt like a ballpark where their sound and writing fit better... which they looked to be abandoning on their very next project which was going straight into pop punk space rock. I'm assuming that's the only reason why someone requested this - maybe as revenge for being ambivalent on that Starset record I've already forgotten - but whatever, there was a certain morbid curiosity in seeing how Ronnie Radke's brand of mugging would translate to the stars, so what did we get with Coming Home?

Friday, February 3, 2017

video review: 'vessels' by starset

You know, I wish I could say this was disappointing... but the truth is that I didn't really have many expectations to begin with on this one. Just kind of a slog all around.

But next up, this Julie Byrne project looks interesting, so stay tuned!

album review: 'vessels' by starset

Space rock. Perhaps one of the oddest subgenres of rock I've ever covered, it's never amassed huge popularity or become widely recognized... mostly because unlike the majority of musical subgenres, the term is based on subject matter rather than sound. Well, okay, that's not quite entirely true - musical tropes like huge waves of synth, muted electronic touches to distort human presence, and a commitment to gigantic expansive mixes do tend to crop up, but it's generally used as a catch-all term for music that focuses on science fiction and space. And it's included a surprising breadth of artists, from 70s acts from David Bowie, Pink Floyd, and Hawkwind to the 90s resurgence among acts like Failure, Flying Saucer Attack, and some records from The Flaming Lips, to the growth and success of acts like Star One, Angels & Airwaves, and Muse at one end of quality and Thirty Seconds to Mars at the far other end - and that's before you factor in the huge number of progressive acts who have helped develop and expand the sound into a recognizable aesthetic.

In other words, it should be no surprise that I'm a fan of this genre - not just because I'm a sci-fi nerd, but also because the commitment to bombast and big ideas can be pretty compelling if well-executed. So enter into that scene Starset, an Ohio rock band that wanted to tell those big sci-fi stories with the sort of midi-touched cinematic swell that could make for potent space rock - hell, the frontman had a PhD in engineering, this should be right up my alley. Unfortunately, the more listens I gave to their debut album Transmissions the less I liked it, mostly because the band was a lot less Ayreon and a lot closer to Thirty Seconds To Mars and Breaking Benjamin of all people, who they described as their primary influences. And that definitely shows through in underwritten songs, underwhelming lyrics, and a lot of space rock touches and textures that didn't really have the compositional strength in the melodies and performances to be more memorable - I appreciate spacey bombast, but there needed to be more heft in the writing and storytelling for it to really stick with me or rise to the best of the genre. And when Starset announced that their sophomore album Vessels was going towards pop instead of heavier metal... well, okay, that wasn't precisely bad, it'd certainly be defining its own unique lane. Hell, it could even work with their more basic lyrical construction and delivery, so how does Vessels turn out?

Monday, February 17, 2014

video review: 'kindly bent to free us' by cynic

Well, that was definitely an experience for sure. Next up on the docket... hmm, well, I should probably get that Cole Swindell album out of the way. After that... well, we'll see. Stay tuned!

album review: 'kindly bent to free us' by cynic

First, a question: how many albums do you listen to in a year?

This year, with the reviewing, I'm probably set to break two hundred. The average person I reckon doesn't get much above five percent of that, and even that feels charitable. What it ends up meaning is that I expose myself to a ton of music on a very regular basis from many different genres, and on a technical level, you learn to recognize unique facets of certain bands. You learn to hear guitar texture or triggering in the kick drums or nuance in vocal delivery or true instrumental complexity done in a cohesive manner. But the average listener doesn't care about these things - hell, even most music fans don't care about those elements, which puts me - along with other critics - in a complicated situation when it comes popular acts who attempt more experimental albums and screw it up. The two immediate examples that come to my mind are Mind Over Matter by Young The Giant and The Outsiders by Eric Church, two albums that tried more 'technical experimentation' in their instrumentation and didn't do it well by any stretch of the mind. It wasn't cohesive, it didn't flow well with the rest of the track, and it sounded sloppy - but yet the average listener is never going to pick up on that. Hell, they might find it mind-blowing if they don't know otherwise - and as a critic, it's a delicate balance between recognizing your own perspective and criticizing an act for poor execution.

Now that's not a recanting of my opinions - I stand by my comments regarding those acts, harsh though they may be, and while I can identify possible knowledge gaps in my audience, willful ignorance and blind myopia infuriates me to no end. So let me aim to correct some of that and introduce you all to a band you probably don't know if you don't listen to progressive metal, and one of my go-to acts when pointing out how to make complex, technical music incredibly well: the genre-defying band known as Cynic. Starting in the late 80s, they exploded with their debut album Focus, which is widely considered one of the best progressive albums ever released - even though defining the genre Cynic fit in was always a challenge. Death metal growling juxtaposing with spacey vocoder singing, progressive time signatures fused with jazz-inspired harmonies and rhythms, it was an album that was not looking to make it easy on the listener and demanded a lot of listens to truly decode. It was an awe-inspiring debut album that remains a classic...

And then Cynic split up and didn't release any new material for fifteen years. They thankfully reunited in 2006, and two years later released Traced In Air, an album that took steps away from the band's rougher roots towards a smoother, spacier sound. And the album is goddamn amazing, one of the best of 2008 and a long-time favourite of mine - I honestly like it more that Focus! But that album, along with the remix album Re-Traced and the EP Carbon-Based Anatomy were signs that Cynic wasn't content with being a traditional metal band or one that could be easily defined. And with early buzz suggesting their newest album had dropped the growling entirely and had moved even further towards progressive space rock, I had no idea what to expect from the oddly titled Kindly Bent To Free Us. So how did it turn out?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

video review: 'the electric lady' by janelle monae

Man, I was happy that I got a chance to review this, because it's a great album and I don't think I'll have many of those for the next little bit. 

Seriously, if you didn't get the message in my previous post, you need to check this album out immediately, it's definitely for an artist who deserves far more fame than she gets. Janelle Monae's 'The Electric Lady' might not be as much to my tastes as 'The ArchAndroid', but goddamnit, it's close.

And now for the shitstorm to commence... 2 Chainz, you're up.

album review: 'the electric lady' by janelle monae

Back in my review of Robin Thicke's album Blurred Lines, I mentioned why R&B as a genre doesn't tend to work for me as well as others, mostly because I've found the traditional topics in their songwriting a little overused. Now, you get this in every genre, but it got on my nerves a lot more in R&B because so many of the artists had a serious problem in having their songs be criminally underwritten, instead preferring to fill the verses with vocal gymnastics and other such elements that might sound pretty but don't really have a lot of substance.

Now I'll admit that my particular point of view has already been proven wrong once this year by Ariana Grande, but to be fair, she was using the conventional songwriting topics for R&B, just written with a little bit more wit and sharp poetry. But considering that I do like to be proven wrong when in the process I'm exposed to great music, I finally took the opportunity to get into the discography of Janelle Monae, an R&B act who has amassed some serious critical acclaim and who reportedly eschewed genres traditions in favour of weirder topics. And while I definitely was optimistic, I remembered the catastrophic example of 30 Seconds To Mars and I prepared myself for the worst.

Instead, I was blown out of the water. Folks, if you're not listening to Janelle Monae and her Afrofuturist sci-fi masterpieces, you should be. Not only are her high-concept topics of choice brilliantly realized in some of the most innovative and strikingly original ways I've seen in a long time, she's also an extraordinarily talented singer and songwriter, fusing a dozen genres of the past into a coherent, frequently beautiful whole that somehow remains catchy and emotionally evocative just the same. I'll admit that I'm a serious sucker for great space rock (and Janelle Monae is one of the best in the genre, hands-down), but I'm still stunned by how well she manages to make so many disparate genres sound distinctly fresh and new, breathing new life into them in a way I haven't seen since Daft Punk released Random Accessed Memories earlier this year (before that, I'd probably have to go all the way back to The Love Below from OutKast). People say that Justin Timberlake is innovating in R&B - all respect to Justin Timberlake, but he doesn't possess a tenth of the imagination, soul, and creative genius that Janelle Monae has.

And I could spend the next several hours raving about how the music is striking and unique and how Janelle Monae sells all of her material with well-chosen and incredibly heartfelt emotion and how she manages to get her guest stars swept up in her eclectic vision and how her Afrofuturistic themes are a perfect blend of past and future African-American art synthesized from multiple generations and how even with her high-minded ideals she still has that streak of populism to make her music compelling to a wider audience, but really, all I need to say is this: Janelle Monae is to R&B what Arjen Lucassen's Ayreon project is to metal. And if you're one of the three people who are looking at this and know what the Ayreon project is, you'll understand precisely how high of a compliment that is.

So to say that my expectations for her new album, The Electric Lady were high is a bit of an understatement. Continuing her ongoing space-epic saga from her 2010 album The ArchAndroid and recruiting guest stars like Miguel, Erykah Badu, Solange, and even Prince, one of the legends of R&B himself, I was incredibly excited to find out her newest album was coming out this month, and I was looking forward to seeing how her story would continue. So what does the next chapter in her story look like?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

album review: 'love, lust, faith, and dreams' by 30 seconds to mars

I've written extensively before about good acts that I just don't care about. These are groups or singers that I can acknowledge are talented and good, but they don't provoke any reaction from me, and despite my efforts, I can't get excited about these bands. It really does bug me, but everyone has their own personal tastes and I can understand why some acts just aren't my thing.

So what about the acts that I don't care about who aren't good? Well, for the most part, they don't get a lot of thought or energy from me, because I'm not one who enjoys hating things just for the sake of hating them. It's a lot of energy giving a shit about things I despise, so really, when I discover acts that don't provoke a reaction from me and who suck, the only thing I can do is just ignore them. And really, this works out rather well, because I don't have to worry about pissing off fanboys or about maintaining a steady stream of vitriol.

And for the longest time, 30 Seconds To Mars was one of those acts. I knew they existed, I knew they had fans, I knew that some people I liked in university liked their music, and really, that was the extent of my knowledge of this band. And when faced with the choice to review either the new 30 Seconds To Mars album or Random Access Memories, the new Daft Punk album that seems to be the second coming of Saturday Night Fever for the modern age, I chose to buck the trend. Instead of reviewing the new Daft Punk like everyone and their cat, I chose to go after 30 Seconds To Mars. I mean, I was expecting a mediocre act, and I had always heard that lead singer Jared Leto was a little pissy, so I didn't exactly hope for much when I started going through their discography. I had low expectations.