Archive for the ‘rock’ tag
Before I begin this review, I’d like to file a professional complaint against the members of Deerhunter, Deer Tick, and Deerhoof. There are too many of you. Figure it out, guys. Someone needs to be Beer Tick or Fearhoof or something.
Deerhunter is a strange confluence of things. Songwriterly noise-rock that’s both mellow and ecstatic, melodic and dissonant, old and new, electric and acoustic; Bradford Cox and company can’t seem to settle on one sound. In other bands this might sound precious or distracting, but Deerhunter manages to pull of the melange without phoniness or stale retro stylization. Monomania sounds live, raw, crackling with energy. Bradford yowls and screeches and drawls with the best of them, and the band is right there with him – Cox and (second? other-?) guitarist Lockett Pundt (he of Lotus Plaza fame) lead a blues-inflected down-home psychobilly free-for-all.
Album single “Monomania” highlights many of the best elements of the record: an extended, chant-oriented vamp allows the band to expose its barest psychedelic fantasies to the audience, and they do so in increasingly violent fashion as the song crescendos into a final crashing accent before guitars fade into what sounds curiously like a field-recorded lawnmower. “Pensacola” channels hillbilly rock’n'roll of the ’50s and ’60s with a Dylan-goes-bananas twist, pulsing and shimmering with analog distortion and a good handful of mentions to “the Delta.” Opener “Neon Junkyard” and mid-record favorite “Blue Agent” putter along at slightly lower velocities, but even here, Deerhunter manages to create a pleasantly scenic journey.
Of course there are times when the journey turns into a bit of a ramble, but it’s hard to complain. Even when the band loses their way, it’s still fun to watch. Give it a spin.
4 / 5 bars
Deerhunter – “Neon Junkyard”
Deerhunter – “Back to the Middle”
Deerhunter – “Pensacola”
Is it fair to say that there hasn’t been a more popular time for 90s-sounding indie rock than right now, including the actual 90s? It seems every month obscure records that may have had heavy rotation at some college radio for a month but are now mostly forgotten are being dug up and reissued to enthusiastic kids who barely remember Bill Clinton in office. I’m not one to complain about it though, especially if we keep getting gems like Silkworm’s “Couldn’t You Wait?” which will be reissued by Comedy Minus One this fall.
Last week I wrote about the beautiful, subtle music of James Blake. This week I am writing about the Thermals, who are almost exactly Blake’s opposite: blasty, condensed, driving pop-punk. Blake is from England and the Atlantic Ocean; the Thermals are from Portland and the Pacific. Blake’s music is full of complex chords and strange percussion, while the Thermals hammer away on power chords and crash cymbals. Blake is quiet and the Thermals are loud as fuck. Take your pick, I suppose.
Or don’t. Desperate Ground, the band’s new record, is refreshing in its urgency, and the whole record pulsates with a sort of pubescent urge to yell. Ground’s energy is palpable and catchy without being mundane or saccharine. The band imbues punk aesthetics with singer-songwriter sensibilities. Desperate Ground is ecstatic music, a manic, marathon cry to heaving chests and sleepless nights, screaming out against
The lyrics of singer and guitarist Hutch Harris are an immediate presence on the record. Harris sounds like a screechy John Darnielle, hopped up on a dozen cups of coffee and itching for a fight, calling out posers and weaklings in a manner not unlike a friendlier Henry Rollins. Harris and bassist Kathy Foster fly threw strings of straight-staccato power-chord riffs, their axes chugging along in speedy unity. Though they play the same chords, it is Foster’s playing is more charismatic, less flashy, and better anchored – she and drummer Westin Glass share a rhythmic connection that does much to accentuate the album’s weighty feel. Glass is the band’s propeller, Foster the rudder, and Harris the mad captain.
The record is peppy and vigorous from its balls-out start (“Born to Kill”) through a balanced middle section (“The Sword By My Side”) all the way to its gutpunching conclusion (“Our Love Survives”). The Thermals have still got it, and you better believe they’re not giving it up to the likes of you.
The Thermals – Born to Kill
The Thermals – The Sword by My Side
Like Gary Numan meets early XTC on Wire’s Change Becomes Us, an album of songs recorded right after the group’s second LP Chairs Missing. Worsening tensions within and without the group prevented Change Becomes Us from being released in its original form, though most of the songs have been floating around as bootlegs since the early 80s. So what happened? Because it hasn’t just been three decades between Change Becomes Us and its stylistic predecessor, Chairs Missing; it’s been ten albums from Wire as well.
Change Becomes Us is eerily predictive; even its most firmly 80s moments are perfectly in step with contemporary krautrock-influenced guitar music. At its best, the album is an intensely workable convalescence of 1980s post-punk energy and crisp, modern production; at its worst, well – some of the songs are boring. Change Becomes Us runs long, and the album tends towards existential lyrical drones.
“Re-Invent Your Second Wheel” contains a jumble of letters that almost sound like internet-speak – the goofy, disjointed lyrics bounce off the guitars like sharp, expressive balls of light.
This is an album very much in the vein of early-80s android-oriented, corporate-looking freak rock. There is a very strict – very German – seriousness to the music that manages to also be (purposefully) emotionally unevocative. Change Becomes us is a fun album, though an unmistakably bleak one, too. It’s the kind of album whose songs could only have been written in the late 70s and early 80s – distressing, pessimistic, and packed with joyous attention to the guitar.
Chalk Tape is Screaming Females’ hot-on-the-heels follow-up E.P. to last year’s Steve Albini-engineered album Ugly. It is currently a limited edition cassette-only release, available exclusively at the Don Giovanni label showcase on Feb. 9 at Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Though a re-release of most of these tracks on a less cool but more accessible format is inevitable, tri-state hipsters who miss this show will, tragically, never tell their grandchildren about it.
According to the band’s blog, the approach they took in creating Chalk Tape was a total departure from their normal recording and writing habits. While previously they would “…get together and jam until something interesting happens” (and it always did), this time they wrote a list of musical ideas on a chalkboard that were quickly “attacked” (in vocalist and guitarist Marissa Paternoster’s own words) and recorded in their rehearsal space (aka “Grandma’s Basement”) with zero rewrites. To say that the experiment worked is like saying that James Dean was cool. The sonic variety, urgency, and vitality in these recordings embodies the essence of what the word “punk” has come to mean. It’s more of an attitude than a sound, and Screaming Females have got it to burn.
This band could easily get by solely on Paternoster’s raw, courageous vocals and headlong guitar abuse. But they also give us gorgeously eccentric lyrics, fierce energy, an unbridled willingness to explore, and an insistence on doing only what they want only when they want to. Paternoster and bass player King Mike have jammed since high school, and it seems pretty clear that Screaming Females will always be a Band, not a constructed posse of instrumentalists. There must be something powerful in the water in their native New Brunswick, N.J. that transforms ordinary humans into seething demons of ultimate rock credibility.
From the pleasing and melodic guitar riffage of “Poison Arrow” to the brutal and jolting vocal assault of “Wrecking Ball”, Chalk Tape is eclectic. But the band manages deftly, despite the wide variety, to construct a satisfyingly cohesive, original and very compelling block of sound. You could dig for and identify influences, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone else who sounds like this.
4 / 5 bars
Guest post by Sara C.
Before I bought M B V this morning I re-listened to Loveless, the classic album My Bloody Valentine released two decades ago. It’s an odyssey of sound, a truly titanic record that is as deep as it is wide (and loud). It was – is – a visionary record, made by musicians steeped thickly in their own juices. Loveless surprises and soothes and frightens all at once; two decades after its release, it still sounds fresh, alive, somehow both urgent and distant. It is a record for dreaming and listening. Its place in the history of pop is not incidental.
M B V, the band’s first record since Loveless, does not disappoint. Guitar master and general apathetic-layabout-in-chief Kevin Shields remains the band’s auteur, wailing and screeching and droning and flanging his way across every minute of the record. Shields’ much-imitated guitar tone makes a triumphant comeback as well, and as with Loveless, it’s the guitar that does the majority of the musical work: drum and bass loops beats are the skeleton, Shields’ parts the muscle. To that end, M B V boasts a more pronounced harmonic pallet than on their prior releases.
(Let me back up a minute to do what is rarely done for rock bands, which is to – as James Brown would say – give the drummer some. There can be no doubt that Shields is at the band’s helm, but titanous skim-beater Colm O’Ciosoig is the entire galley-full of slaves breaking their backs on the oars. O’Ciosoig is John Bonham without the ego. “who sees you”, “if i am”, “in another way” – all are predicated entirely on his pounding. Hats off, Colm.)
There is something for everyone on M B V. There’s the charcoal delicacy of opener “she found now”, the throwback rock of “new you”, the full-throttle “nothing is.” And there are lighter moments, like the keening feeling of open sky on “wonder 2″ or the contemplative psychedelia organ music on “is this and yes”. M B V is an trip through recent history: it is no exaggeration to say that all rock-informed music made since Loveless has drawn in one way or another from the record. My Bloody Valentine invented shoe gaze, fused noise and pop, made doom metal beautiful, summitted and (maybe) redefined grunge. All of the things that grew from Loveless can be heard now, here, today, in the focused-unfocused wail of M B V.
4.5 / 5 bars
My Bloody Valentine – if i am
My Bloody Valentine – nothing is
Bastille’s track “Pompeii” has serious anthem rock potential. It’s somewhat reminiscent of The Killers and Pheonix, especially the latter’s song “1901.” Good, solid, 21st century rock.
Bastille – “Pompeii”
The mashup “Sweet Pompeii” is actually quite original – it mixes “Pompeii” with Calvin Harris’s “Sweet Pompeii,” and adds in the famous marimba part from the American Beauty, which I’ve been waiting to hear incorporated into a pop track. I think I like this one almost as much as the original.
Bastille – “Sweet Pompeii”
Whoever said “comparisons are odious” had never tried to review this album. So embrace the odium: this band sounds very much like Dinosaur Jr. And singer and guitarist Lemmy Gurtowski’s way of playing guitar owes a lot to J. Mascis. One could have worse influences.
Treated as a solid retro affair, California X, the Amherst, Mass. trio’s eponymous debut, is satisfying and punchy. There is chugging a-plenty, savage drumming, brilliantly damaged guitar tones, and largely unintelligible but impassioned vocals. The overall vibe is one of raw, testosterone-fueled energy, occasionally giving way to a slower and slightly softer introspection. Tracks such as “Sucker” and “Lemmy’s World” aspire to and achieve anthemic proportions. The band gives the impression (and rumor has it) that the live show would be very worthwhile.
Amid the maelstrom of pounding and slamming and riffing, there is strong melody all over the place. Both guitar and vocals contribute frequent melodic gems. And Lemmy Gurtowski’s vocal delivery is forceful but tonally pleasing. The sound quality of the album’s first track reveals an excessively cheap, scuzzy, sub-aquatic reality that soon surrenders to something much fuller and “produced”. By retaining that snippet of ghetto production, the band seems to be trying to hold onto the purity of intent that sometimes fades as bands progress. Prolonging this initial scuzz would in no way have eroded the forcefulness of the material, and may even have enhanced it.
The lyrics and their meaning take a back seat to the instrumental sound. This may have been true even if the vocal production were more deliberate and clean. It’s not that the lyrics are lacking; they’re just not emphasized or isolated in a way that brings them to prominence. And they don’t seem entirely unified with the instrumentals. Recurring lyrical themes seem to be unease, malaise, and defiance. In the charmingly odd and comparatively down-tempo “Pond Rot”, Gurtowski wants “a pond to rot in”. Perhaps he found the pond, and in its murky depths, the key to devolution that unlocks the gates to primal rock heaviness, albeit from an epoch long gone.
3.5 / 5 bars