“Staring at the world, have you figured it out yet”
The coming-of-age genre has always been a strong tradition of classic cinema, but it’s never really struck as strong a conceptual chord for the LP. Listening to Comfort Songs it’s tough to figure out why that is though, cause this is a perfect soundtrack to angsty development. Technically the third album by LA based 21 year-old Tyler Taormina & friends (albeit their first full release), it’s full of big ideas which are executed with a sort of admirably ramshackle naivety and an emotional tone which is fluctuant to say the least; bouncing regularly between awe and confusion; anger and sorrow; ego and ineptitude; it is drinking in the whole world and immediately throwing it all back up.
Musically speaking it absorbs what to me (and probably a lot of early-mid 20s music nerds) feels like a tangible spirit of youth; the wiry guitars and Taormina’s spirited but uneven yelps are built from a template of classic 90’s emo. On top of that the group make use of delicate piano strokes, brass wails and well placed strings to ensure there’s an elegant sadness shot through and everything takes on this interesting middle ground of youthful exuberance and stately maturity – like Braid meets Low or American Football mashed up with Bark Psychosis.
I’ve only ever been vaguely familiar with noise trio Locrian. Mainly due to them being a 30 limited run CD-Rs a year kinda band that are impossible to keep up with, and they never really impressed me enough to try. This is some Grade-A noise right here though. Somehow they find an amazingly propulsive little melody in among really dense droning synths and monolithic drum patterns, and it’s a perfect counter to those painfully asphyxiated raw vocals. All in all it’s just totally fucking monstrous. I’m off to to check out the album right now.
Here’s a surprising and brilliant collaboration that I can’t believe I didn’t know about until today. Pint sized queen of pop Kylie gets all breathy and ethereal over the glitchy ambience of Icelandic folktronica troupe múm. I would love a whole album of this.
Throughout his career, Kanye West has proven himself to be perpetually paradoxical. True to form, Yeezus is one of the most brilliant and vulgar albums of recent times, as its ten tracks perfectly sum up the baffling dualities of the man.
On 18 May, Kanye performed two new songs on Saturday Night Live, two tunes which stopped the internet dead in its tracks. ’Black Skinheads’ and ‘New Slaves’ showcased a leaner, more aggressive and militant side to West’s music; the caustic beats and stark minimalism of the melodies offered a perfect canvas for him to make a big statement. The lyrical content seemed to match as well, most notably his widely de-constructed calling out of the privatised prison system, and in recent interviews he has spoken of starting movements and placed himself in the tradition of politically motivated artists like Gil Scott-Heron. It seemed he was tapping into something big, and like many others, I was ready to be blown away by the brazen, primal voice of disenfranchised black America (as we all know, he has previous). This should be where it all falls into place. The potential has always been there – his dissatisfaction with materialism, disavowal of hip-hop’s culture of violence, and wry observations of institutionalised racism have long been tomes of his verses. Sadly, this is not quite that record. Despite being an impressively abrasive album for a multi-million selling rap artist, it also feeds back into many of the frustratingly puerile aspects of the genre which he has always seemed keen to distance himself from. Almost too much so, but I’ll get to that.
And In The Endless Pause There Came The Sound Of Bees
I’ve been re-visiting this Johann Johannsson album quite a lot recently, and more so than I did on it’s initial release I think it stands up as one of the most essential albums in the post-classical field. It strikes a really great balance between subtle ambient shifts and grandiose classical swells, and has these really haunting melodies which worm their way into my head in a way that not many others in this genre do. The short film which it was recorded for is also really good.
This Chihei Hatakeyama song is stunningly mesmeric. I need to admit that not many songs can hold my attention beyond the ten minute mark these days never mind twenty, but this keeps pulling me in deeper as it goes on. Gorgeous drones.
“I’m just happy to be making music and happy to be performing for y’all. You know for this album, we ain’t drop no single to radio, we ain’t got no big NBA campaign or nothing like that. Shit, we ain’t even got no cover. We just made some real music. Y’know like back when I used to make albums and shit like a couple years ago whatever we’d go away work on an album for like 5 months or something, then we’d always have to hold the album until like August or September, til the perfect moment and shit. Cause uh I think it mean you gon’ sell more cause you get more audience in radio and shit. But honestly at this point when I listen to radio, that ain’t where I wanna be no more. And, honestly, at this point, I could give a fuck about selling a million records. I’ll drop it when I want and I’ll sell more records…Because at this point, I don’t really care about outside opinions.”
I’m getting really quite psyched about Yeezus. It seems Kanye has gone mad with his own power in the best possible way, and it sounds like it might be really fucking great. This new song is.
Agree with almost all of this. Would only quibble with people not liking to be told what to think about music. I think for a lot of people who in the past would have engaged with traditional (or old fashioned or however the hell one wants to refer to it) journalism having someone critique the music they’re exposed to isn’t necessarily an objectionable occurrence, but it is simply drowned out by the constant wave of other forms of music media. The way in which it’s delivered to people mirrors the way in which they utilise the social nature of music. It effectively epitomises the use of music by many (by no means all) as a status symbol, or as a crucial part of personal brands/images. It comes across as though for a lot of music ‘fans’ who naturally rely on the internet, they now engage with their music in the same, shallow, disposable manner that is usually observed as characterising more casual listeners of Radio 1, NOVA-esque outlets, albeit through different, more accepted mediums and with different, more accepted pretensions.
I think that’s a valid point to pick up on definitely, what I mean to say with that is that perhaps a lot of people don’t think that they need someone to tell them what to think about music. As you rightly say, that’s largely a by-product of the way in which we engage with music writing these days - there’s an overwhelming amount of media so most people have one or two sources where they pick up new music, whether that’s pitchfork or radio 1, it shapes their tastes mostly without them realising it. That also applies mainly I suppose to younger generations for whom picking up a music mag and actually reading it was never a notable method of discovery for them, and who do tend to use their musical tastes as a shorthand personality and harness that knowledge as a form of cultural capital. And I think that’s potentially where the desire for proper thoughtful criticism is vacuumed up, people want to know a little about a lot. If they’ve heard a few songs by every buzz band about then that is of more use to them than having a real overview on the political impact of underground hip-hop or something significant like that. Incidentally, I wrote a uni essay last year about the way in which Pitchfork appeal to this need to hoard cultural capital and use it to their advantage, even if they do feature a lot of good writing. I may cut some of the academic rambling out of it and post it on here at some point.
All So Fast: Half Thoughts About Online Music Journalism
The world of music journalism is exhausting. Recently I’ve been trying to think of music in wider more cultural contexts than I’m used to doing, because I was getting a bit jaded by the whole conceit of music journalism as it generally exists online. The constant stream of mp3s and album announcements and videos and streams and tediously formulaic reviews (something I don’t exclude myself from) - well, it’s mostly all bullshit. The clamouring for web hits and the diversity of music available means that everything is crying out for attention and thus very little actually seems to stand up and warrant proper focused attention over fleeting appreciation. There’s obviously a place for new music, but it shouldn’t be usurping analysis. Those that generally do receive proper focus tend to be established artists (this year the only things which have been widely buzzed and treated with a degree of thoughtful critique is probably Daft Punk, Kanye and Boards of Canada - possible exception in Savages). The vary nature of music journalism culture, or blog orientated fandom if you want, is transient. Mp3s and streams expire, reviews are buried beneath more reviews within days. It’s increasingly difficult to find a reviewer with a voice, whose opinion you can rely on, because there is an overwhelming pressure which courses unseen through the air of this imagined community, it demands new content about new bands with new tunes and new haircuts. To find any kind of voice among that din is difficult, as we end up instead churning out the same old crap you’ve already picked up from ten other sources, because there’s not time to think about things and offer a unique viewpoint. As such the only writers who seem to really matter are those who remove themselves from that completely, who offer a wider cultural context for music. Of course, invariably these are an older generation of writers for whom the above was an oncoming threat rather than an all consuming shit storm and they were able to sidestep it to some extent, with their pre-established reputations.
Phil Elverum is releasing a live record later this year. Live at Bloomington was recorded in September 2011 and will be released by XRA Records on July 9th 2013. Here’s the first track available from the session, a quite majestic version of Wind’s Poem track Ancient Questions.
I wrote a blog piece about ‘the album’ for the ‘Scottish Album of the Year Award’ website. They’ve had a whole bunch of great people writing about why the format of the album is important to them and warrants celebration. I tried to keep it as positive as possible, rather than just wishing death on those who only download single tracks from iTunes. Take a look!
When Baths debut Cerulean emerged in 2010, Will Wiesenfeld was bracketed with L.A beat scene artists like Flying Lotus and Nosaj Thing, but he always had a spark of something different about him. His sound mixed deep saturated beats with wistful samples and falsetto vocals that imbued a sadness to the record, one which seemed more human and much less exhausting to listen to than those peers. This second album only serves to highlight the superficiality of those previous associations, as Obsidian is a casually accessible but black-hearted collection which he has called his “weird version of a pop record”
The new EP from Glasgow based producer Gary Caruth drops tomorrow, and looks set to build on the amazing promise of 2011’s Gestures. This track suggests a bit of a shift in focus with a far warmer electronic palette than before, even straying towards what you might call house music as the layered synths gradually build upwards in swirling dissonance. Subtle beats and hi-hats clash together as fragmented snippets of dialogue bubble up from underneath and strike it through with a sense of humanity. As with all of his material though, it’s a more visceral experience than that described. The EP You Will Soon Find That Life is Wonderful is available from Phonica Special Editions.
Some great little tracks on this new collection of previously unreleased stuff by Whistle Peak. Available for a bargain $5 on Bandcamp. This track is an early favourite, has a distinct Liars influence to it which really works. Check them out.
Liz Harris has put together a sombre and immersive mix called ‘Image of True Death’ for Fact Magazine. A mixture of trad folk, gospel sounds and melodramatic ballads it covers a lot of ground in 35 minutes. One to get lost in.
The cerebral loop based music of Glasgow based duo Conquering Animal Sound has little to do with the animal world, but is fuelled by the tension between human and machine. On their stunning debut Kammerspiel the machines were very much in the driving seat, their clicks and hums forging a path towards some semblance of melody with the gossamer vocals of Anneke Kampman trailing in their wake. With their new record On Floating Bodies there is a marked difference as Kampman and her co-conspirator James Scott wrestle back control of their tools and manipulate them into gorgeous ghostly contortions of very human emotions - I wrote that when I interviewed them recently, read it here.
Grouper - The Man Who Died In His Boat
This new release by Liz Harris is actually a collection of tracks initially recorded during the sessions for her seminal 2008 album ‘Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill’. It does not sound like an off-cuts compilation though, as any of these tracks could slot easily into that album. They recapture the weightlessness of the downward strums lapping across ambient waves of subtle drones as her disembodied vocals swirl across the mix. This is Harris at her best, shorn of the noise elements of her early work and striving towards light.
Rick Redbeard - No Selfish Heart
The debut solo album from Rick Redbeard is something of an antithesis to his work as frontman of Glasgow proto-experimentalists The Phantom Band. Rather than accumulating and layering an array of noises he bares his humanity with an acoustic palette, mainly his baritone Scots tongue and meticulous guitar picking. The simplicity of the arrangements are indebted to traditional Scottish folk and find perfect harmony with his lyrical themes of nature. A beautiful and patient debut album.
Föllakzoid - II
Chilean prog-rock? ‘No thanks’ was my initial thought as well, but this record straddles so many generic lines that it sidesteps cliches with ease. It certainly does have a basis in ‘cosmic music’ as the band call it, but it also has the dark propulsion of post-punk and latherings of electronic noise swathed with distant vocals. Above all else, this is groovy as hell. You can stream the album on Bandcamp.
Young Galaxy - Ultramarine
If there’s any justice, this should be one of the big indie albums of the summer. The Canadian band have streamlined their shift into tropical dream-pop that started with their last album, and this is a stunning collection of sun kissed gems. Just listen to the lead single 'Pretty Boy' to see what I mean. I interview Catherine McCandless about the album last month, which you can read here.
Devendra Banhart - Mala
I must admit that I’m not particularly familiar with Banhart’s output, this is the first record of his I’ve really absorbed. I’m sure fans might tell me that he has far better stuff and I can see that this record is certainly flawed, but it has an immense level of charm. His bi-lingual shenanigans are a bit out of place but songs like ‘Won’t You Come Over’ and ‘Your Fine Petting Duck’ are so impeccable that it hardly matters. Any suggestions on what album I should listen to next would be welcomed…
L. Pierre - The Island Come True
This idyllic side-project from Aidan John Moffat couldn’t be further from his most noted persona as the drunken confessional mouthpiece of Scottish miserablists Arab Strap (as you might guess from that album cover). Now on album four, L.Pierre is a found sound project which sees Moffat pairing environmental recordings with dusty samples lifted form archived tape recordings, and the results are hauntingly beautiful. Listen to the album and read a great piece about it on The Quietus.
Deptford Goth - Life After Defo
The debut album from Londoner Daniel Woolhouse is, despite its horrendous title, a subtly constructed collection of affecting ambient pop. Pairing spacious arrangements with washed out vocals and a heavy heart, it can at first seem a little intangible but repeats foreground a fascinating emotional distance which becomes intoxicating when broken.
Yo La Tengo - Fade
Probably their most cohesive album in some time, the songs of Fade lock together seamlessly, shifting from one to the next like they could be played in no other context. Depending on what you like from this band will depend how you feel about Fade though, because this is my favourite kind of YLT; downbeat, melancholy, shrouded in the gentlest haze of solipsism. There’s no space here though for guitar freak out showmanship among the sound of a band in perfectly synchronised unity so if you’re after their noisy sprawling instincts this won’t satiate. I would say this sits nicely as a more refined companion piece to Summer Sun, one of their most criminally underrated records.
Old Earth is the work of Milwaukee based drone-folk musician Todd Umhoefer, but the release is being handled a lot closer to home by the ever reliable Edinburgh label Mini50 Records. This traversing of large distance seems like an apt point of reference for the sounds here as well, as Umhoefer’s music takes its roots in punk, folk and drone to create something which seems heavily indebted to those traditions but at the same time is very forward looking and quite unlike any of them.
At just three tracks long, and clocking in at 23 minutes, you might be expecting something which holds more with the conventions of ambient noise but this is more of an atmospheric influence than a compositional one I think. Certainly he has previous when it comes to imbuing his overall process with a sense of something haunted, his last two major releases were record in vacant family homes. I can’t find much information on where this one was written or recorded but it too seems to have the spectre of a lost home hanging over it - a once warm place which has grown cold with absence.
The first track showcases the thick foggy but very rhythmic guitar style which permeates the record along with Umhoefer’s unexpectedly soft-edged vocals. In terms of comparison it seems to strike a balance between Barn Owl and Mount Eerie, but with a more post-punk influence running through as his gutar rattles over unnerving drones. The second half of this track is up there with Elverum’s most beautiful paeans to nature which often echo a similar feeling of loss despite their reverential tones.
Delocated, one of the best comedy series of recent years, came to an end last Sunday with a one off series finale. The closing episode ‘The Frrt Identity’ brought the show to an appropriately poignant finish, although I won’t say anything more than that as you can now view the episode on the adult swim site. Needless to say it managed to accentuate everything that was great about the show from day one as it weaves wonderfully nonsensical daftness into a satire of reality TV which manages to avoid being overbearing or condescending. The fact that it does both of these things with a lead character as potentially unlikable as they come only makes it twice as impressive.
I don’t know what I want from The Twilight Sad. Most of the time I think they’re at their best with ear-splitting volume and raw aggression, but then they go and turn out a wonderfully restrained little gem like this and I think it might be amazing for them to go more mellow. This is an outtake from the recording of their last album ‘No One Can Ever Know’ which you can download from their Facebook page.
This Kent based duo have crafted a beautifully dense and evocative atmosphere on their debut release, despite only clocking in at just over fifteen minutes this showcases a lot of promise.
The first two tracks here do a brilliant job of slowly ratcheting up tension as coiled beats clash against taut simple guitar lines repeating cyclically to create driving rhythms. It’s the second half of the EP where Team Morale really shine though. ‘Melatonin’ is a fluttering idyllic piece of electronic post-rock which sways back and forth mustering a perfect balance of lightness and force in the vein of 65daysofstatic but less aggressive. The release notes mention that the title “Forteana means a belief in the unusual, the unexplainable and the magical” and there is certainly something otherworldly bubbling under the technology strewn surface of Team Morale’s sound.
Closing track and highlight ‘Aurora’ captures this well; all glittering lights streaming across sparse moonlit beats and with the incorporation of some glitchy pitch-shifted vocals it carries a sensual mystique which places it somewhere in between Balam Acab and Baths in its subtle control of atmosphere..
This been on regular rotation for me since its release last month, and I can’t wait to see what these guys release next. You can stream or purchase the EP in digital or limited edition CD through Night Talk Records.
The work of Valeska Gavotte, aka 23 year old Kevin Leahy, is one of my favourite Bandcamp discoveries in a long time. Leahy’s compositions show incredible elegance, particularly considering he plays everything himself in a stunning mixture of violin, guitar, banjo, piano, mandolin and countless other instruments; it’s undeniably impressive. His sound is the kind without immediately obvious points of reference, but there’s definitely strong similarities with Sufjan Stevens instrumentally, while the feathered production recalls Efterklang and his voice could easily be a less burdened Zach Condon. His album The Sword and the Shield / Botanica is a proper release of two earlier online EPs being issued by Nottingham based Folkwit Records. You can stream and pre-order the record for it’s April release here.
The debut album from Jackson Scott is a gorgeous collection of sighing psych-pop in the same vein as Deerhunter or Connan Mockasin. This track is an early favourite but there are several gems in there. Amazingly Scott is giving away the album for free through his Tumblr, so if you like this then you really should go get that.