27 December 2011

Mutineers

This is dedicated to the fans of Mutineers…

Last Christmas, I posted a review of Mutineer’s “Friends, Lovers, Rivals” (link to review) and one month later had the opportunity to interview band member Michael Reed (link to interview). One of the questions I asked was if the band had any plans on coming to America; of course, the reality of this has more to do with the business aspect of the music industry: have enough units sold to mitigate a voyage across the Atlantic. Mutineers were in that precarious nebulous space that many nascent indie bands find themselves: though the music is incredible, the spreading of the word of the music has been arduous. The band only played one show this year, a festival, performing side-by-side with the likes of Bad Lieutenant (Bernard Sumner’s [of New Order fame] band), The Buzzcocks, and The Charlatans, while individual members of the band had been working on separate projects. But in this post-broadband revolutionized world, anyone should expect the unexpected and Twitter happened.


Mutineers / Photographer: Scott Kershaw

Just head over to Mutineers’ Twitter page. Slowly but surely, the number of followers have started to increase, the band started trending on Twitter (#mutineers), and getting messages from indie music fans, who have been known to quote the lyrics of songs at the band. But this has not happened because there is nothing better to do on Twitter, this has started to happen because of the quality of music that Mutineers have made available. If the quality of the music or its visceral impact on people were nonexistent, this trend would not be happening, and at this point I feel the need to quote my original post on Mutineers: “So why Mutineers? One, one should always support nascent bands, especially one as talented as Mutineers. Two, “Friends, Lovers, Rivals” (which could be the name of a chapter in anyone’s biography!) is an adventure through a luscious soundscape that is infectious and vividly striking, with intricate arrangements that are heartfelt.” I think this is what fans understand.

So if you did not or did not have the opportunity to read my review on “Friends, Lovers, Rivals” or the interview, click on those links above … and if you like what you are reading/listening to, head over to Twitter and send the band a message. It is important for us, as listeners of music, to support the bands we like, and in this current environment in the music industry, where numbers mean more than (nurturing) talent, it is important to have your voice heard somehow. This is the reason why I always include the contact information for the band under “Keep up with…” towards the end of every post. Every post, every Tweet matters; without the support from fans, any and all band will fade away into history – so if this is a band that matters to you, join the mutiny.

Keep up with Mutineers at their MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is a stream of “Stick Together” form the armstrongthomas YouTube Channel.

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The Silent Numbers: "Calculator"

I am not going to play hypocrite – I listen to tons of music that is produced by major labels and have more corporate sponsorship than it deserves. And I am not going to be naïve – most self-recorded and self-produced music is quite often horrible. So I think any savvy fanatic of music is going to listen to a wide range of not just music, but a wide range of how music is produced. And again and again this year, it has been two kinds of artists that have really reaffirmed my love of music. The first, not pertaining to this post, are veterans. The second are the truly independent artists, who understand music as art (not just business) and are truly producing some of the best music out there. The Silent Numbers is one such band, and their release of “Calculator” (3 July 2011), released as a four-track digital download or a physical three-track, is a collection of non-traditional shoegaze. Unlike the majority of contemporary shoegaze on my radar, which is heavy on the dream pop, this is shoegaze more grounded in traditional post-punk. Shoegaze, which traditionally relied heavily on noise and dream pop, is sonically an expansive genre, and what is on display with “Calculator” is a darker (dare I say more sensual) take of shoegaze that is riveting and infectious.



The collection opens with “Calculator Watch.” With a thick “dark” bass and subdued but harmonious vocals, this song is very reminiscent of the late 1970s and early 1980s post-punk. The bass propels the song, with the assistance of very symmetrical drumming, while the guitars in this song are very reminiscent of the post-punk guitars of bands that bordered on or gave into the gothic movement. But just like the second track, “Canadia,” which is an instrumental, the point is not to revive a post-punk sound. Rather it is to bring out a new dimension and possibility for shoegaze. Right from the first two tracks, especially since one is an instrumental, it becomes obvious that the band is placing a lot of emphasis on the listener’s visceral reaction to the music. The fact that this instrumental is so strong and alluring that you never long for words/vocals is evidence of songwriting chops – something that most contemporary bands cannot pull off.

The second half of “Calculator” takes the band in a different direction. “Foundation” is sultrily mysterious, as the initial guitar arrangement builds anticipation and a very asymmetrical bassline creates cohesiveness, the song really has hints of space rock (without the cheesy key arrangements). The breathy vocals (the only hint of dream pop) are subdued but create a beautiful counter-melody is the chorus. The closing track is “Ruthless.” With a soft opening, which lasts through the two-thirds of the song, inspiring a hopeful feeling, the song then becomes cacophonous for nearly a minute, before regaining its softness. Symbolically speaking, the song is more about the calm before and after the storm, the sort of serenity that is elusive because there is often nothing there to compare it against. Where as the cliché of most songs is to bring attention to the “rocking” part, here it is the serenity of the music that really entrances you.

Anyone who reads what I write knows that though I appreciate just about all kinds of music, shoegaze has always been special to me – and, as a result, I am more critical of shoegazers. I always remember an era in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when nascent shoegazers were releasing amazing EPs that till today are some of the best collections of music I have ever heard. 2011 is much like those years, and The Silent Numbers’ “Calculator” may very well stay the test of time to be one of those EPs. Perhaps there is something in the water in Portland, Oregon USA that makes for such great shoegaze, but one things for sure is that this is a collection you need listen to. Whether you are fans of shoegaze (and post-punk) or are simply curious and are a music lover, this small, but grand, collection will definitely leave an impression.

Track Listing:
1. Calculator Watch
2. Canadia
3. Foundation
4. Ruthless

Keep up with The Silent Numbers at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. Head over to the band’s Bandcamp page where you can preview and download “Calculator” and the rest of the band’s discography.

Here is the video for “Ruthless: from thesilentnumbers YouTube Channel.

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24 December 2011

Five for December

As I warned earlier this year, here is the second bundled review for 2011. And though it has been a hectic year, we did not want to start closing out the year without mentioning the following five albums – so Mirage and I put together these brief reviews. Brief, because even though at this point we think many people may have heard them and been overwhelmed with some hype, we still felt the need to put our two cents into it. Albeit, the brevity or the fact that the reviews are posted together does not mean we do not feel the same way about these albums as we do about any we wrote about this year. These facts have more to do with our own time constraints, as opposed to the quality of the music found hear in. And as this singles the first of the last few posts before we whine down this year and think/argue about our Best of 2011, there is no doubt that these albums, tracks, covers, and videos are amongst some of the best of the year. So, in the word of Björk, who inspired me many years ago with this one word, “Enjoy!”

Björk: “Biophilia” (11 October 2011 in the USA)



Björk Guõmundsdóttir (she does have a last name!) has been part of the soundtrack of my life for many, many, many years – from the psychedelic twist on the post-punk of The Sugarcubes to her electronic, heavily IBM influenced, solo career, Björk continues to push the envelope as very few musicians are willing to and capable of. With her eighth solo album (“Debut” was really not her first solo album), “Biophilia” demonstrates both her socio-political and musical growths. Biophilia, as a concept, is all about how human beings are intricately linked to all the living systems of the world, and it is almost ironic that such an electronically heavy album has such an organic name. But Björk does not just pay lip-serve to eco-consciousness, she is now singing about biophilia. Furthermore, “Biophilia” is being hyped as the first “app album” (technically, it is not). Also a lot has been made about that it was partially recorded on an iPad. This does not surprise me; it was only a matter of time. When we consider the advancement in the last two decades in terms of recording in the studio going digital and high quality home recording becoming accessible, that it was done on an iPad is not surprising. But being the first “app album,” it comes with ten separate applications for the iPad, controlled by one master app, with each of the smaller apps being related to a specific song. And this is Björk pushing the envelopes of how we consume and experience music.

It is not that Björk is trying to be more inaccessible, but rather she is trying to redefine the confines of exactly what is accessible in terms of music in a modern world. The music is a bit more “minimalist” than I usually expect from Björk, but as her voice interplays with the music/noise, just as humans with the world around them (back to that biophilia motif!), it becomes obvious that things may sound simple, but actually are sophisticated and intricate, just like the world around us. “Crystalline” is my favorite track on the album; her voice has never sounded more beautiful! The near symphonic “Hollow” is perhaps the most harrowing song of her career. And though there is really no IDM here, when you listen to tracks like “Virus,” you wonder when the remix collection is going to be release – as the apps will evolve. And I know I am being scarce here in terms of actual “review” and that is because I am hoping that those who have not heard the album yet and/or have not experienced the “app” side of this album will do so blindly, without influence, and enter the amazing world of Björk.

Track Listing: Moon / Thunderbolt / Crystalline / Cosmogony / Dark Matter / Hollow / Virus / Sacrifice / Mutual Core / Solstice

Keep up with Björk at her homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here are the videos for “Crystalline” and “Moon,” as well as a live version of “Thunderbolt,” from the bjorkdotcom YouTube Channel.







The Subs: “Decontrol” (12 April 2011 in the USA)



So, I was blasting the Belgian electronic outfit The Subs’ “Decontrol” the other day, while getting dressed, as a friend of mine was waiting for me to get ready to go out. She said, and I quote, “I can’t believe you are listening to this shit.” Her reaction to my listening to The Subs is just the stereotypical response I get from a lot of people when I am not listening to something pensive, dark, or “rocking” – though they get a real kick out of early synthpop! Reality, no one lives in a world where all the music seems to flow in one direction. To me, an album like “Decontrol” is a break, an escape (perhaps to a dance floor), where you can whirl around in your imagination without thought to anything or anyone (other than perhaps the person cruising you or who you are cruising on that dance floor).

Though “Decontrol” does not meet my criterion for deep house, The Subs have essentially produced a feel-good, dance ready album, which is universal enough to appeal the large range of musical tastes from electropop to deep electro house. With songs like the 90s harkening “The Face of the Planet” and the 80s-esque “Hannibal and the Battle of Zama,” the music is party ready, dance ready, and fun mood inducing; yet there are moments that give your pause, even briefly. Tracks like “Hairdo,” constantly playing with the consistency of the beat and melody, the most consistent element being the ostinato, display the chops that The Subs have as song writers – this is not simply throwaway, bumble gum music. And with tracks like “Dry Lemon,” it is obvious that the band has their eyes on real dance music, not radio frivolity.

Track Listing: The Face of the Planet / Don’t Stop / The Hype / Dry Lemon / Hannibal and the Battle of Zama / Itch / Hairdo / Lemonade / The Visible Man / Decontrol

Keep up with The Subs at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here are the videos for “The Face of the Planet” and “Don’t Stop” from the lektroluvrecords YouTube Channel.





Bombay Bicycle Club: “A Different Kind of Fix” (29 August 2011 in the UK and the USA)



Getting a contract and/or managing to release your debut album by hook or by crook is an accomplishment these days; surviving your sophomore album and not ending up in a deadly slump is even a bigger accomplishment; but the biggest accomplishment is releasing a third album that people are interested in. The shelf life of bands is not that long, the shelf life of a band continuing to be interesting and relevant is even shorter, but, with “A Different Kind of Fix,” Bombay Bicycle Club is proving that though they may not be the center of the hype-machine, their music is as urgent and perhaps even more relevant than those bands swept in hype.

“Shuffle” was the appropriate lead single. Fun, intelligent, and beguilingly alluring, you may hate yourself for listening to Bombay Bicycle Club but you will be sucked in. Though they have their share of slower, more ponderous tacks on the album (such as “Still,” which eerily reminds me of Thom Yorke’s [of Radiohead fame] singing style), the album is definitely at its best when being mysteriously upbeat. Just take the track “Lights Out, Worlds Gone” as the model; you are sucked into the ambient keys in the background, the jangly guitar arrangement, and the sophisticated vocals. But you should have been aware that this was going to be a great album right from the opening track, “How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep.” This is just one of those songs that is hard to define what makes it good … it is just so damn catchy. And that’s the rub: the album is catchy, infectious even. And anyone can start making faux comparisons and slag off this band, the very fact that people cannot stop talking about Bombay Bicycle Club (even though they are not the center of any hype-machine) says something about “A Different Kind of Fix”: this is not an album easily ignored.

Track Listing: How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep / Bad Timing / Your Eyes / Lights Out, Words Gone / Take The Right One / Shuffle / Beggars / Leave It / Fracture / What You Want / Favourite Day / Still / Beg – bonus track

Keep up with Bombay Bicycle Club at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here are the videos for “Shuffle, “Lights Out,” “Still,” and “Leave It” from the BombayBicycleVEVO YouTube Channel.









The Wombats: “This Modern Glitch” (22 April 2011 in the UK; 26 April 2011 in the USA)



My introduction to The Wombats was when I saw them live at the Stone Pony (Asbury Park, NJ USA), opening up for The Kooks; in a nutshell, I felt that they stole the show. Whereas The Kooks are more melodic in a 60s rock sort of way, with the ability of making an audience as pensive as they are on stage, The Wombats will make you jump up, down, left, right, and diagonal. They know how to please the crowd. I was excited when I heard about their sophomore album, “This Modern Glitch.” Their first album made sure that I was out of my seat and dancing to Joy Division, but this album made me a fan.

They have taken a different route from their debut album, especially in terms of their use of keyboard! “Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves)” is The Wombats that I am accustomed to. A beat that will keep your body pulsating and then when the chorus hits, you’re belching out every word to it. One song that threw a curveball at me was “Anti-D.” It is hands down one of the most beautifully composed songs they have written to date. The song makes sense in a way if you are telling a person that I will be there to pick you up, but it is a very odd song by them. It is definitely Cureish. (On a side note, doesn’t Matthew Murphy have a similar hair due as Robert Smith?) Now as I said before, they have introduced keyboards, but you’re thinking, big deal. Another curveball would be “Techno Fan,” which is sort of saying, “Hey, not only can we play a guitar, slap a bass, and bang on some drums and make a killer song, we can use a keyboard and make a song that will keep you dancing all night!” (On another side note, didn’t The Cure start relying on keyboards and “dancier” beats on their sophomore album too?) After giving this album a listen a few times, “1996” is that song that really stuck to me. There is a beautiful blend of the melodies of the keyboards to the guitar playing.

Track Listing: Our Perfect Disease / Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves) / Jump Into the Fog / Anti-D / Last Night I Dreamt… / Techno Fan / 1996 / Walking Disasters / Girls/Fast Cars / Schumacher the Champagne

Keep up with The Wombats at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here are the videos “Tokyo (Vampire & Wolves),” “Jump in the Fog,” “Anti-D,” “Techno Fan,” “Out Perfect Disease,” and “1996” from the TheWOMBATS YouTube Channel.













Cut City: “Where’s The Harm in Dreams Disarmed” (6 June 2011)



Viva Sverige! I am constantly arguing my point that some of the best musicians and songwriters out there hail from Sweden – with their access to British, American, and continental scenes, not to mention their own, what they create is panoramically breathtaking music that references a plethora of styles. Cut City is no different than the rest of their brethren, and “Where’s The Harm in Dreams Disarmed” is the evidence of that. Their brand of post-punk may harken back to the likes of Bauhaus and Joy Division, but Cut City has a different sound and feel to others (like Interpol) that travel this musical road. For instance, the second track on the album, “A Modest Recovery,” comes out of left field considering the opener. The song, though essentially post-punk, demonstrates the same kind of pop sensibility and infectiousness of such bands like Editors. (And for the record, they do not sound like Editors.) Of course, like in tracks such as “The Kids of Masochism High,” the band is able to really stay true to the original post-punk structure of music, and yet making it relevant to an audience today.

The album closes with an eleven minute epic, “Ghost Pose – 1) Lover, 2) Drifter, 3) Floater.” Of course, this is my favorite track on the album, though it defies everything about post-punk epics. Lyrically, all of the post-punk dejection and despondency is there: “So realize we’re bleeding dry all of my dreams, and don’t you know there’s something here we could not fix.” But like the post-punk that bands such as The Cure or Echo and the Bunnymen have been known to produce, this song is musically uplifting! At least it is so for the first half of the song; the long repetitions are not weighty, and the consistent wallowing in a singular musical trope is non-existent. And even the discordance of the second half of the song is more like shoegazers making noise, like My Bloody Valentine, than droning.

Track Listing: Void / A Modest Recovery / The Sound & The Sore / Cults Revisited / Future Tears Today / War Drum / The Kids of Masochism High / Left of Denial / Ghost Pose – 1) Lover, 2) Drifter, 3) Floater

Keep up with Cut City at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook. Check out their Bandcamp page where you can preview and download “Where’s The Harm in Dreams Disarmed” and the rest of their discography.

Here is the song “A Modest Recovery” from their Bandcamp page.

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17 December 2011

Golden Gardens and The Living Arches

I could not let the year close out without writing about the last two releases by Golden Gardens. The first is a split four-track EP with songs by both Golden Gardens and The Living Arches. When I heard that they collaborated on an EP, I immediately remembered the phrase “the scene that celebrates itself.” Though the phrase was originally intended to be insulting, the reality is that it described one of the most fascinating aspects of shoegaze. The original shoegazers all had connections to one another, celebrating each other’s music. And that is what Golden Gardens and The Living Arches are doing now … collaborating on a project, celebrating their music. The second is an EP of covers. Any collection of covers is a tricky thing that usually fizzles down to clichés and silly attempts at covering a “hit” song. But Golden Gardens stayed true to form, assimilating these songs right into their repertoire with ease.

“The Living Arches/Golden Gardens Split” (24 September 2011)



I know little about The Living Arches (though I plan to educate myself thoroughly during the holidays), who offer up the first two tracks of the EP. Touted as “electrified-acoustica,” I could not have been happier with my introduction to this duo of Michael Hooker and Jensen Kistler, who hail from Tampa, Florida USA. Minimalist in approach (essentially guitar and vocals with some musical accents), these tracks are not bare in the visceral sense at all. From the allure of the guitar playing to the lusciousness of the vocal arrangements, these two tracks are enrapturing. “Our time is limited,” are the first words of “500 Years,” the first track of the collection. Folk meets dirge, with an incredible pop sensibility, this is one of those heart-tugging tracks you will hit repeat on various times. The bluesy “The Serpent and the Bird” has one of the most interesting vocal harmonies. It just has this ability to make you listen to every word, as their singing accents exactly what they want you focus in on.

(The Living Arches’ “500 Years” from Golden Gardens’ Bandcamp.)



The last half consists of the two Golden Gardens’ tracks, “In the Rosebuds” and “An Apparition.” If ever Golden Gardens mixed the same amount of dream pop and shoegaze into one track, it is “In the Rosebuds” – wispy and distorted, layered and ethereal, what I really like about this track is how classic dream pop/shoegaze it sounds. The final track on the EP is “An Apparition.” Just like Cocteau Twins and The Cranes, these vocals are more than just conduits for lyrical expression; they are intricately woven into the musical arrangements, like another layer of music. Though ethereal, Golden Garden manages to “darken” the mood with this track, bringing them closer to their post-punk influences.

Track Listing
1. 500 Years – The Living Arches
2. The Serpent and the Bird – The Living Arches
3. In the Rosebuds – Golden Gardens
4. An Apparition – Golden Gardens

“The Covers” (9 December 2011)



As I said above, covering a song is a tricky thing. When I think about collections of cover songs, I immediately think of two collections that have become the measuring rod for all cover collections in my book. The first is Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Through the Looking Glass” (1987). With some completely unexpected songs (for example, “Strange Fruit” and “Trust in Me”), what makes this an incredible collection is how the band was able to at once expand their sonic repertoire and eerily “own” the songs. The second is Annie Lennox’s “Medusa” (1995). Lennox proved that one of the reasons to cover music is to save a song from obscurity (for example, “No More I Love You’s”). (I have always imagined that the meaning behind the album has to do with the fact that mythological Medusa transmutes people into other (stone) versions of themselves, just has she has transmuted those songs.)

The first cover of this collection is of The Creepshow’s “The Garden” – gone are the tinges of rockabilly, as well as the upbeat tempo and all that goes with it. Golden Gardens transmute this song into a minimalist dream pop faire that is elegantly haunting. The second cover is of Morrissey’s “The Loop” (one of the last songs by Morrissey I thought anyone would cover!). The opening of the cover is reminiscent of the opening of The Smith’s “How Soon Is Now,” but then the intact lead guitar arrangement is juxtaposed to an ambient key background and vocals that could not be more disparate from Morrissey’s. It is this juxtaposition that really brings out a new dimension to the song that could not have been imagined from the original. And if “The Loop” was a curve ball, then the third cover of Red House of Painters’ “Summer Dress” is surreal! Never in a million years would I have thought of Golden Gardens covering this track, which they really interpreted á la post-punk – down to the early Simon Gallup-esque bass sound.

Golden Gardens then ambitiously goes for Tears For Fear’s “Pale Shelter” on the fourth track. I have always thought that Tears For Fears should have explored their new wave and post-punk influences, which they forsook after their debut album. Golden Gardens concentrates on the mournful, ambient aspects of this song that Tears For Fears did not. The fifth track is a cover of Hole’s “Violet.” Like the first track, their interpretation forgoes the upbeat tempo (and angst). Golden Garden’s interpretation is much more pensive and reflective, loaning itself to deeper introspection than the original. The final cover is of Julee Cruise’s “Into the Night,” a song that I have not thought about in more years than I care to admit. This is homage to dream pop! In many ways true to the original version, but more ethereal, the vocal arrangements are sung in tandem with the musical arrangements, as opposed to above them as in the original.

Do Golden Gardens pick at least one unexpected song? Check. Do they own these covers? Check. Do they save at least one song from obscurity? Check. “The Covers” is an excellent cover album, which meets with all of my personal expectations for cover collections. I for one am really happy that the band did not tread down the road of clichés; not that I have anything against anyone covering Cocteau Twins, but that would have been too easy! They engaged music that was not in their realm of references, continued to keep dream pop and shoegaze alive, while simultaneously paying homage to the past and pushing the classic form a bit further – and these two releases are just further reasons to delve into the world of Golden Gardens.

(Golden Gardens’ cover of Red House Painters’ “Summer Dress” from the Golden Gardens Bandcamp page.)



Track Listing:
1. The Garden
2. The Loop
3. Summer Dress
4. Pale Shelter
5. Violet
6. Into the Night

Keep up with The Living Arches at their Tumblr and Facebook. Head over to their Bandcamp page where you can keep track of future releases.

Keep up with Golden Garden at their homepage, Facebook, and Twitter. Head over to their Bandcamp page where you can check out both of these EPs and the rest of their discography.
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15 December 2011

Last Batch of Videos for the Year

I am looking forward to the holidays, partially because I will finally be able to finish off this year – a few posts must go up (which have been written), and then we will argue amongst ourselves about our yearly rankings of albums, tracks, videos, and album cover art. But I wanted to put a few more videos before the close of the year.

Though I typically place the videos in alphabetical order according to the title (not band), I made an exception this time, placing Duran Duran’s “Girl Panic” first. Duran Duran, like artists such as David Bowie, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Annie Lennox, Madonna, and Nine Inch Nails, are not just simply musicians or entertainers, but musical institutions in their own right. They have left a legacy blazing behind them, but do not sit on their laurels trying to relive their glory days; instead, they continue to compose music, tour, film videos, and push the envelope in their own way. (Unfortunately, all of these artists are victims of a media world that favors young, cookie-cutter, easily marketable entertainers, and rarely give veterans the credit they deserve.) When I think of Duran Duran’s take on synthpop, tinged with smatterings of post-punk, new wave, classic pop, and a plethora of other styles throughout the years, it is impossible to deny that they were one of the bands that really were in the forefront of music videos, cementing the idea that the image of a band can at once transcend and be interwoven into the musical experience. The sleekness and sexually laden music was mirrored by the videos and the band’s look.

Some times enigmatic (can anyone please explain the chorus of “The Reflex” to me – “The reflex is an only child, who’s waiting by the park; the reflex is in charge of finding treasure in the dark and watching over lucky clover, isn’t that bizarre?”), sometimes downright confusing (Morrissey once said their videos could have been directed by a “drunken goat”), but one thing that always come to mind is their sense of fashion (that image thing again) and how they have always chosen to present themselves as bigger than life in their videos. That is what really got me about “Girl Panic” – it is essentially the biggest twist in their videography. That larger than life image is deconstructed and then re-imagined in the most bombastic way, while paying homage to their career, fashion, and other icons, who understand a thing or two about fashion. In a nutshell, this is a video that only Duran Duran could have made.

Enjoy the videos!

Duran Duran’s “Girl Panic” from the DuranDuarnVEVO YouTube Channel.



Paul Weller’s “Around The Lake” from the paulwellertv YouTube Channel.



Theme Park’s “Ghosts” from the thmprk YouTube Channel.



Frànçois & The Atlas Mountains’ “Les Plus Beaux” from the DominoRecords YouTube Channel.



Bombay Bicycle Club’s “Shuffle” from the BombayBicycleClubVEVO Channel.



Viva Stereo’s “We Set Sail” from the vivastereo YouTube Channel.

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23 November 2011

Widowspeak: "Widowspeak"

I have this propensity to listen to a lot of dark, brooding music that lets me drift into deep contemplation and ruminations; it was that quality that instantly attracted me to Widowspeak. From my very first listen to the band, the combination of sultry vocals and sensually dark music had me stuck like a dullard on a wire, waiting for more. With the release of their eponymous debut album (9 August 2011), it has become more than obvious that what the band’s moniker refers to is not the “widow’s peak,” but rather the darker “widow speak.” But this is not the kind of dark music that is gloomy, and it is worlds away from the musings of post-punk; this is more akin to the kind of brooding that you slip into on sunny days that makes you feel good in a cathartic way.



What has haunted Widowspeak since I first heard of them (and probably before) is the constant comparison to Mazzy Star, asserted mainly because of Molly Hamilton’s voice similarity to Hope Sandoval’s. (I hate when vocalists are compared on the sound of their voice, as opposed to style; one you are born with and cannot do anything about, the other is choice.) Of course, a comparison to Mazzy Star is not a bad thing, but it is (in my opinion) a wrong and lazy comparison to make; the more apt comparison would be with fellow Brooklyn outfit Elysian Fields. Like Elysian Fields, whether conscious or not, there are plenty of hints of dream pop in the vocal style, while the musical arrangements (especially the guitars) flirt playfully with the vocal arrangements. Meshing up the dream pop with grunge, a pinch of late 60s, and standard indie fare, what Widowspeak has created is a luscious album of music and vocals that do not have to rely on “loudness” or volume, because the visceral and ponder-inducing qualities of the music easily outstrips most of their brethren and contemporaries.

“Widowspeak” opens with “Puritan,” which builds playfully like a classic Jesus and Mary Chain song – though worlds away from that sort of “noise,” the moment that the beat drops, the song takes off with a distinctly different speed and new urgency. Juxtaposing warm resonating and jangly guitars, the song is the perfect peephole into the pop sensibility of the band: play with variant pitches, carried by a strong steady rhythm section, with vocals that act at once as the conduit of lyrics and another layer of arranged music. The poppier “Puritan” gives way to “Harsh Realm.” This is the moment that the band starts its tread into the world of dream pop à la Elysian Fields: a breathy, but not ethereal brand of the genre. Though I have heard many ethereal bands from New York City, it seems no one does this more grounded take on dream pop better than New Yorkers, and Widowspeak is on top of their game here.

“Gun Shy” (starting with soft sounds of birds chirping) is the most cinemagraphic track on the album, which probably led the choice of making the track a single prior to the album release. However, it is not the poppiest song on the album; this would be “Fir Coat.” What makes this song a gem is how the guitar and vocal arrangements seem to be an exercise in frolicking. Their anti-pop moment comes with “Ghost Boy.” This is the darkest track (and, you’ve guessed it, my favorite track) on the album. This is brooding captured in music to perfection: from the sedate, subtle brooding to the manic insistent need to ruminate, the closing track of this album is haunting in a way that the other songs are not. Even at the points of crescendi, the song generates a harrowing feeling because of its sense of resignation.

Widowspeak is one of the posts I should have gotten up sooner! What I ultimately like the most about “Widowspeak” is simply how straightforward it is. It is not minimal, nor is laden with extraneous, unneeded overlays or studio gimmickry. Heartfelt and amazingly crafted, this is the kind of brooding music that anyone can find him/herself fixated on.

Track Listing:
1. Puritan
2. Harsh Realm
3. Nightcrawlers
4. In the Pines
5. Limbs
6. Gun Shy
7. Hard Times
8. Fir Coat
9. Half Awake
10. Ghost Boy

Keep up with Widowspeak at their MySpace, Facebook, or Twitter.

Here is a live performance of “Gun Shy” from the kexpradio YouTube Channel.

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21 November 2011

SebastiAn: "Total"

In an age of visual superficiality, where else should we start with SebastiAn’s debut album, “Total” (30 May 2011 in the Europe; 7 June 2011 in the USA), than with the cover? Seemingly, it is a black and white cover of two men kissing themselves; however, it is the image of Sebastian Akchoté (the man behind the moniker SebastiAn) kissing himself. Photographed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino (known for directing videos for the likes of Björk, David Bowie, and Madonna), the image on the cover, on the level of the psyche, captures the relationship of the “person” to the “artist.” Like all great love affairs, which are the merging of two individuals, art is created with the merging of two distinct ingredients: the consciousness (the person behind the artist) and the ego (the insistent drive to create something from nothing). It is when this coupling is immaculate that “art” (in the classic, non-pejorative sense) is created. Akchoté self-kissing image is of the man embracing with the artist, the conscious logic with the subconscious drive to create. The culmination, aptly, is “Total” – an electronic wonderland of riveting sounds, extensive melodies, and the unpredictable.



Let me be a stereotypical American: it would take a French man with balls to produce this kind of cover! And this French man not only has the balls, but also the chops to truly push the French electro-house tradition one notch higher. Sebastian Akchoté has all of the basics down when it comes to house, but there is more than dance floor antics going on here. While flirting with 80s beats, 90s musical tropes, and current indie urgency, Akchoté has created a musical soundscape where house, electronic body music, intelligent dance music, French electronica, and Euro disco all collude to create an amazing experience. What I really like about “Total” is Akchoté’s ability to keep the listener on his/her toes, unable to predict when and where there will be a shift and how it will shift, yet the album is never disarming. From beginning to end, the listener is sonically induced into the experience.

“Total” opens with “Hudson River”; it is near piano driven indie, under one-minute track that sublimely draws you into the collection, right into “Love In Motion,” which features Mayer Hawthorne. Closer to downtempo than electro-house, the distinction between the two opening tracks couldn’t be starker: from indie urgency to dance floor funk, “Total” is a plethora of musical styles and genres. Furthermore, I am usually put off by small interludes, which often time are nothing more than an artist annoyingly killing a few seconds on an album. This is not the case with “Total,” which is laced with quite a few interludes (“Though Games,” “Water Games,” “Cartoon,” Mean Games,” “Night,” and “Bird Games”). These (mini-)tracks are as riveting and captivating as the longer tracks and act brilliantly to segue between tracks. The best way to think about them is to consider this album the set list for an hour on a dance floor; these interludes are the transition from one style of house to the next, with fluidic ease.

If you are accustomed to house music that comes in radio format, not only have you been deceived about what house is really about, “Total” is going to be a total eye opener. It is always ideal to remember that this is music meant to be listened to on a dance floor, not over speakers in your house or car. “Total” is gritty, grinding, and sensually dark and euphoric and meant to be danced to. And with this album you get an experience that takes you all over the map. For instance, “Dogg,” in its orgiastic and aggressive arrangements, brings a rock mentality and sound to house music, while “Arabest” has the same underpinnings of 80s R&B pop music. “Motor” uses the sound of an accelerating engine, at times without a beat, to create a gritty moment on the dance floor, while “Fried” collides EBM, funk, and French electronica brilliantly. My obsession on the album is the track “Kindercut.” This track is perfect house frolic, as it oscillates through sounds and variant degrees of layered music (with a disco-esque guitar loop).

Of course, I should have taken the time to post this one weeks ago! But I still remember my first listen to this album. I am always on the look out for good house music, which radio has adulterated to the point of being painfully unlistenable, but Sebastian Akchoté, a.k.a. SebastiAn, really gave me repose from the unfortunate world of radio house mediocrity. He has created an electro-house tour de force with “Total” that is thoroughly infectiously addictive and one of the “must haves” of 2011.

Track Listing:
1. Hudson River
2. Love in Motion, featuring Mayer Hawthorne
3. Tough Games
4. Embody
5. Ross Ross Ross
6. Fried
7. Kindercut
8. Water Games
9. Total
10. Jack Wire, instrumental version
11. C.T.F.O., featuring M.I.A.
12. Cartoon
13. Arabest
14. Prime
15. Mean Games
16, Tetra
17. Motor
18. Night
19. Yes
20. Bird Game
21. Doggg
22. Frustra
23. Organia, Bonus Track

Keep up with SebastiAn at his MySpace and Facebook.

Here is his video for “Embody” from the officialEDREC YouTube Channel.

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19 November 2011

Kobayashi: "Everything to Everyone"

I wrote this review sometime back, but had not sat down to edit and post … as I read through what I had written, listening to Kobayashi’s “Everything to Everyone” (17 June 2011) again, I was struck by something that I had not originally written: when you listen to all four songs in one sitting (as any collection of music deservers to be listened to!), there is a sense of cacophony, in a good way. We are all victims to making comparisons between what we know and what we are trying to understand / appreciate at the moment; what really got me about the “Everything to Everyone” EP is that the references I used to come to terms with what I was listening to were broad, that to really put your finger on exactly what you are listening to may be a bit difficult – which, again, is always a good thing. This independent act does not replicate any of the current clichés or trends, nor are they purists in the sense following only one genre of music – this is kind of music that indie artists should be making, and they capture the meaning of a quote by Boy George (yes, Boy George): “Art should never kiss the arse of conventionality.”



Kobayashi’s “Everything to Everyone” is a four-track EP, that easily finds itself traveling through various musical terrains; I would assume that many people would be content with labeling the collection as “alternative rock” or “indie rock,” but I think those labels fall short. For instance, “alternative rock” only comfortably refers to college-radio-style bands that have a propensity for 70s guitar rifts; while “indie rock” has been degenerated as term to single out rock bands that are content with sounding like one another and praying for a spot at Reading or Rock am Ring – not that a spot there would not be desirable. Kobayashi, as opposed to many bands out there, are seemingly mixing and mismatching musical references that others either never conceived or haven’t figured out how to pull off.

The first track, “Playing With Fire,” opens with the expected: “I’m gonna get burnt; I shouldn’t do this.” But quickly a bit of profundity: “There’s something wrong with me, but what if we weren’t the slaves of insecurity?” And that’s the universal truth we seem to ignore: we are not always playing with fire as much as we are coming up against our own insecurities. Laced with power chords, and shifting from steady to erratic drumming, the music during the verses are the power-laced parts of the arrangements, while the chorus gives way to big, 70s-esque grandiosity. It is both odd and welcomed to hear a song that shifts away from power chords during the choruses! The second track, “Public Persona,” with a sleek bassline and sprinklings of British 60s and 70s rock, has lyrics that can give any post-punk (revivalist) artist a run for the money: “Open up, open up, ‘cause I don’t recognize this face; it’s like we’re stuck, we’re always stuck, because we’re standing in the same place.” And later, “Always happy, always sad, I’m every thought you ever had.” The entire sense of fractured thought in lyrics (like the original stream of consciousness of post-punk) is brilliantly captured. The following track is “Becoming The Same.” As you listen to the music, you are originally confronted by a sound that is very reminiscent of the funkier 90s grunge bands, but then the chorus sneaks up on you – the most brilliant subtle shift I have heard all year! With the inclusion of a key arrangement for ambience and a piano for dramatics, the music (whether intentionally or not) flirts with the early industrial sound, with lyrics that work in perfect tandem with the music: “We’re all becoming the same in everything but our name, and in degrees of our pain, we make the likeliest gain.”

The EP closes with “On The Precipice,” and by far my favorite track! Most bands are not brave enough to make social commentary, and most that do are trite and cliché and condescending. But when we consider the world we live in, especially in terms of the world debt crisis and inequitable distribution of wealth, we have been here before, countless of times throughout history, most notably the 1930s. So when we consider what the world has become, Kobayashi is justified in singing, “We are on the precipice of something truly massive; it happens just like this when we are blind and passive. History does not play out on canvas, moving, vast; it creeps and sneaks, no doubt ‘til tomorrow is the past.” This is the stuff that anthems are made of, which is mirrored by the musical arrangements: this is definitely the most “angst” driven song on the EP (and longest –just short of six minutes). What really intrigues me about the music is how all of the arrangements play off of one another while not aiming at the same visceral effect. From the aggressiveness of the guitars to the laid back (nearing funk) bassline to the wistful keys, it is the brilliantly, ever shifting drums (that would make Queen proud) that pulls all of the arrangements together into a unified song.

I have been scratching my head about what the band could have been referencing with “Kobayashi” – amongst the endless possibilities, what came to my mind was a haiku by Kobayashi Issa: “Blossoms at night / and the faces of the people / moved by music.” No matter what you want to say about “Everything to Everyone,” Kobayashi has written and produced music that is stirring and moving, if you are willing to scratch the surface. This is not music that follows the trend, nor is this music that was randomly put together – this is musically dissimilar and disarming compared to what else is out there, full of universal truths and commentary that we scarcely admit to ourselves, let alone enunciate. This is definitely an EP you should take a very close listen to.

Track Listing:
1. Playing With Fire
2. Public Persona
3. Becoming The Same
4. On the Precipice

Keep up with Kobayashi at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook. Head over to their Bandcamp site where you can preview and download the “Everything To Everyone” EP.

Here is the video for Public Persona from the Kobayashirock YouTube Channel.

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14 November 2011

Videos, Kevin Pearce's Debut, and a Few Words

2011 has been, personally, a rough year; my apologies for having been away for two weeks – my thanks to those who have been patient and the good wishes and prayers for my family during a crisis. But I have been writing (quite a bit) and I will start that arduous process of editing and posting very shortly (though the actual posts may come via a collaborator).

A few months back I reviewed Kevin Pearce’s “Pocket Handkerchief Lane” (link). The album is now officially released (as of 7 November 2011), and you can preview the album and purchase at iTunes (here are the links for the iTunes stores in the UK and USA).

Among the artists featured in this post, there are some familiar names. I was excited to post new singles by Brett Anderson (“Crash About to Happen”) and Mirrors (“Dust”). The Italian indie band Daisy Chain is also featured; I reviewed their album “A Story Has No Beginning or End” back in June (link) and there is something about this posted track (“The End of the Affair”) that really gets me. Of course it is always great to post some new names, like The Rifles, and hopefully introduce you to something you may have not heard before.

I opted against posting the Madonna leak (“Give Me Your Love”) and Sunday Girl’s cover of “Love U More.” First, I stand by my previous commitment: I only post music from official sources. Therefore, I am not going to indulge in the Madonna leak (to a certain set of friends, stop e-mailing me the request!). Second, so many musicians have covered “Love U More,” originally by Sunscreem, so many times in the past decade, that I am wondering why the hell? There are so many songs from the 1990s to be covered and saved from obscurity, that to chose a song because it has the marks of a “hit” is too cliché for me. On that note, to the same group of friends, sorry once again … no luck today, ha?

Enjoy the videos!

Brett Anderson’s “Crash About to Happen” from the BrettAndersonVideo YouTube Channel.



Mirror’s “Dust” from the m1rrors YouTube Channel.



Daisy Chains’
“The End of the Affair” from the DaisyChainsBand YouTube Channel.



Dog Is Dead’s “Hands Down” from the dogisdeadband YouTube Channel.



Friendly Fires’ “Hurting” from the FriendlyFiresVEVO YouTube Channel.



Friends’ “I’m His Girl” from the friendszone YouTube Channel.



The Pinker Tones’ “Sampleame” [“Sample Me”] from the Nacionalrecords YouTube Channel.



The Rifles’
“Tangled Up” from the NettwerkMusic YouTube Channel.

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02 November 2011

Duran Duran Live

Through a rare October snowstorm, three friends and I crept towards Atlantic City, NJ to see Duran Duran live … and one of those friends, whom we shall call The Candyman (where do we get these nicknames from?), is one of those people I turn to often when it comes to questions about music. Furthermore, he is one of the people that I have the utmost respect for as a person, so it is no surprise that I have been trying to get him to write here on SlowdiveMusic Blog. So I would like to formally introduce The Candyman and share his debut review, Duran Duran Live.

Back in 1984, when Duran Duran was at the pinnacle of their pop status--when “Seven and the Ragged Tiger” topped the charts and “The Reflex” circulated heavily on radio stations and MTV -- ad nauseam, I might add -- I was a tacit fan, happily scooping up every album and 12-inch single the band had to offer. I watched and listened on the sidelines, but staunchly refused to see these boys in concert. I was determined to avoid the hordes of shrieking teenage girls that were the band’s primary fan base.

Fast forward to October 29, 2011, when I was in the audience as Duran Duran wrapped up their current North American tour, promoting their latest CD, “All You Need Is Now” at the Borgata Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The band opened with a beautiful ballad, “Before the Rain” -- from their new CD. This and other new songs sends a clear message: these Brits are neither retreads from a bygone era nor mutations of what they once were. Instead, Duran Duran is at the forefront of the revivalist movement, which is thankfully spreading across Europe like wildfire. After a few missteps in their 30-plus year career, Duran Duran have gone back to their roots with ”All You Need Is Now,” yet they remain fresh and relevant. In addition, the Fab Four, long considered a “boy band,” have a proven staying-power because their musical talents continue to mature and grow over the years. That being said, there is also no denying that Duran Duran also has a plethora of songs and chart-toppers from their discography, and they continued the concert by reminding us of that with the club hit that put them on the New Wave map: ”Planet Earth.” It was here that I was entrancingly whisked back to the early-80’s -- and, dare I say, transformed into a shrieking teenage girl, exactly of the ilk I escaped back in the day!

This was, in fact, my second Duran Duran outing: I saw them three years ago during their Red Carpet Massacre Tour and was quickly sold on them as a live act. This concert, not unlike the last, was a comfortable blend of greatest hits and cuts from their current CD. At 17 songs, it was also leaner than other dates of this tour, which boasted 19 or 20 songs in their set lists. At the Borgata, Ana Matronic of The Scissor Sisters and producer Mark Ronson were “special guests,” performing alongside lead singer Simon LeBon during “Safe” and “Leave a Light On ,” respectively -- for me, this was an unnecessary frill, but it may explain the trimming of songs. I would have preferred hearing ”Girls on Film,” “Union of the Snake” or ”Skin Trade” -- sadly omitted from this tour altogether -- to the guest players.

LeBon, who celebrated his 53rd birthday while on this tour, radiates a great charm and instantaneously connects with his audience. He offered minor bon mots throughout and joined the crowd on the floor for audience participation on two counts -- once to introduce ”The Reflex” and another to have a young lady introduce him. She was a brash woman, and so loud she was incomprehensible. (I made out the word “hot,” and LeBon was quite pleased with her blaring intro.)

The band retains three other original band members: bass guitarist John Taylor, drummer Roger Taylor, and on the keyboards, Nick Rhodes. The funky female percussionist with a tight, bright orange ponytail that bops to the beat, Dominic Brown on guitar and a soulful backup singer are pluses -- but these boys don’t need any enhancements or accoutrements -- they are in fine form musically. The concert was a pristine, slick production that consisted of graphics and lighting, none of which was distracting or excessive. The focus was the band performing, and they created an exciting energy. And despite a false start and a bit of cracking during ”Come Undone,” LeBon’s voice was as flawless as it was the first time he sang ”Wild Boys” and ”Rio,” which were the encore songs at this performance. I was more than fulfilled by this concert and can be counted in for their next tour.

Had I known back in ‘84 what I know now -- that Duran Duran puts on an enlivened stage show -- I would have seen them in concert back then over and over again and tolerated the screeching girls. Or better yet, I would have just joined in with them -- it’s more fun that way!

Set List:
1. Before the Rain
2. Planet Earth
3. A View to a Kill
4. All You Need Is Now
5. Leave a Light On
6. Come Undone
7. Reflex
8. Tiger Tiger
9. Is There Something?
10. Girl Panic
11. Ordinary World
12. Safe
13. Notorious
14. Hungry Like the Wolf
15. Sunrise

16. Wild Boys
17. Rio

Keep up with Duran Duran at their hompeage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.
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18 October 2011

Brett Anderson: "Black Rainbows"

Many years ago I fell in love with (The London) Suede; while most of the people around me were obsessed with grunge, I was devouring every bit of Britpop (and shoegaze) I could get a hold of. And during those formative years, when I first heard “The Drowners,” I might not have known it then, but I fell in love with Suede for all the right reasons. Musically, with or without Bernard Butler, they have always been tight, writing classics that are now become influential tracks to a new generation of musicians. Lyrically, Suede was witty and introspective with a definite style. Couple that with one other thing: Suede had amazing vocals. Let me say this plainly: there aren’t many great male vocalists out there anymore. Sure, many can (simply) carry a tune, but that is by far not singing; Brett Anderson, though, is truly a vocalist. Anderson proves this once again on his fourth solo album, “Black Rainbows” (26 September 2011 in the UK; 4 October 2011 in the USA as an import); full of witty metaphoric lyrics, catchy hooks, and incredible vocals, it left me thinking of something I have stated before and will again: when you want something done right, ask a veteran to do it.



This album comes after the recent Suede reunion, so I am sure there are many that were expecting more “So Young” and “The Beautiful Ones” – and I for one am happy that this is far from the case and could care less for their collective disappointment. “Black Rainbows” does not capitalize on the recent Suede reunion because it was conceived prior to that. Anderson, instead, continues to demonstrate his strength as a solo artist, displaying his continued growth, maturity, and mastery of craftsmanship. And this growth and maturity is most apparent in his voice. This is not a fledging artist with a good voice struggling to control it while showing off. Anderson is a mature artist who knows the power of his voice, his complete range, and ability to emote conviction and emotion, yet all the time pushing his limits. Anderson has never sounded better. Furthermore, lyrically “Black Rainbows” – a beautiful oxymoron – is full of metaphoric stabs and the introspection we have come to expect. Right from the top, Anderson sings in "Unsung," “Plans, all those intricate plans, left like gloves on the railings slipping through your hands. Clouds, those impossible clouds, are gathering now. Soar like a love song that stutters, life-long unsung.” Always finding witty ways to state the obvious, he breathes a sorrowfully, soulful resignation to perfection in this track.

I can’t imagine composing an album entitled “Black Rainbow” and not write a collection of songs that are purposely anticlimactic. There is plenty of energy to go all around the album; what I am alluding to is the fact that with maturity comes the presence of mind of not always being anthemic. These tracks are not meant to uplift you, but rather make you ponder on your own experiences and bring back those emotions – much more powerful than any ole anthem could ever hope to be. Even with the lead single, “Brittle Heart,” there is a conscious feel that the song is lulling you into pensiveness, while caressing old emotions to the forefront. In “Brittle Heart,” Anderson shifts from the resignation of the opening track to matter-of-fact tongue-in-cheek (like no other can do it) as he sings, “Give me your brittle heart and your ashtray eyes, I’ll give you carpet burns and a slanted life.” Though comical, the delivery makes the reality of this so often seen scenario more poignant. What I love about this song musically is that there is no attempt to create a thick wall of sound; though there are touches of details, the song is essentially bare allowing the rhythm of the music to subsist as the background to the vocals.

My favorite track on the album is “Actors,” the post-punk faire of the album, which demonstrates Anderson’s own indebtedness to early 80s British rock. The constant collocation between the bass and vocals is very interesting, because they don’t mirror each other at all. While the latter is aggressive, his vocals are as stoical as I have heard Anderson sing. “In the House of Numbers,” the following track, continues to infuse some that post-punk in a more ethereal way, while demonstrating Anderson’s pop sensibility and flirting with glam. The song’s arrangements can easily be divided in two: the bass, drums, and guitars generating a sense of physical urgency (as all good pop music does), while the keys and vocals generate the warmth needed to hook a listener.

The “biggest” moment on the album comes in “This Must Be Where It Ends.” Employing the timeless clichés of not being able to stops the rain or tide, Anderson pines away over a “Mistress.” This is the one song, though, where the music is directly responsible for the visceral reaction in the listener, and not Anderson’s voice. The song has a sonic background that just generates emotional undertow, while “shoegazy” guitars rip into the tranquility. The most interesting moment on the album is the shortest and penultimate track on the album, “Thin Men Dancing.” In the hands of a less experienced musician this song could easily become a dissonant experience. Definitely in the sensual glam rock tradition, this song is the evidence that Anderson has moved away from his Suede’s day as a songwriter. This is not the glam of the 90s Suede; “Thin Men Dancing” is provocative not in its seediness, but rather in its murkiness – a new twist in his glam repertoire. This track slips right into the closing track, “Possession.” A dark ballad, which brings out Anderson’s emotive qualities as a vocalist, the song continues to build from beginning to end, and thins out instantly in the last forty-seconds … an apt musical metaphor for the album - a continue buildup that leads to the tranquility of emotion purging.

The most unfortunate thing anyone can say about Brett Anderson is that the specter of Suede continuously haunts his solo work. Bluntly: if Anderson wanted to write another Suede album, he would do so with Suede, not as a solo artist. Therefore, to place those expectations on his solo work is misplaced. Artists often embark on a solo career to expand their artistry and repertoire in ways they could not with their bands, and this is what Brett Anderson has been doing for the past five years. From his best vocals to date to his mature subtleties, “Black Rainbows” is both musically and emotionally dynamic, putting all the feigned indie anxiousness out there to shame.

Track Listing:
1. Unsung
2. Brittle Heart
3. Crash About to Happen
4. I Count the Times
5. The Exiles
6. This Must Be Where It Ends
7. Actors
8. In the House of Numbers
9. Thin Men Dancing
10. Possession

Keep up with Brett Anderson at his homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here is Anderson’s video for “Brittle Heart” and a live rendition of “Unsung” at the Sonorama Festival in España from his YouTube Channel: BrettAndersonVideo.



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Amazing Electronic Talking Cave: "Radio Psylence"

My thanks to the AETC team for keeping me in the loop.

At the end of the day, great songwriting, in terms of putting an album together, is about vision; though a project may start with a few stabs in the dark, stumbling through chords and words until something clicks, it is when that something clicks that the vision is generated and carried through fruition. Amazing Electronic Talking Cave’s new album, “Radio Psylence” (5 September 2011), is all about vision. From the implied titular theme to more musical references than you can count on both hands, this is a complex album that effortlessly flows track-to-track; recorded in St. Petersburg, Russia, this is the brainchild of Estonian Felix Bondarev. From grandiose ambience to distortion filled frenzy, “Radio Psylence” is a cohesive album in the classic sense: the songs work in tandem with one another to create a singular musical journey through luscious soundscapes.



Since we live in a world full of labels, let’s go through the compulsory labeling: electronic, synthpop, shoegaze, noise pop, dream pop, space rock, psychedelic rock, post-punk, intelligent dance music, experimental rock, post-rock, industrial … and I will spare you from the more obscure ones! It is actually an exercise in futility to try to define this album by trite labels, as what makes “Radio Psylence” an amazing album is Bondarev’s understanding (whether by practice or instinct) of each of these genres, while at the same time he never commits to anyone of them. While most nascent musicians allow their music to be defined by labels, Bondarev is seemingly happier to redefine and mismatch these labels to concoct a sonic experience that is bewitching. I would assume that the term “electronic” is the label that is going to get flung around the most, and I would concede that the primary mode of musical production is electronic, but this is not an “electronic” album. The music here exists in those small niches outside of genres; where it may touch upon many, it eludes them all.

The vision of “Radio Psylence” is apparent from the opening track, “On Speed.” Ironically, this is a highly ambient track with no rhythmic beat/speed, lost somewhere between electronic experimentations and space rock, which concentrates solely on majestic, visceral effects of the listener. It is not the actual sounds that really get to you, but how the chords flow into one another, how they are sustained, and the sonic textures of all the layers of music. And as you find yourself fluttering through thoughts, the second track, “Tri Goda,” literally sneaks in, with its post-punk bassline, shoegaze guitars, and aggressive vocals, which are tantamount to hypnotic, melodic rantings – like those of a madman on the streets that you take a few steps closer towards in order to hear what he is saying. Also of epic proportion, this is the kind of track you may expect to find at the closing of an album because of its cathartic nature; it is almost has if Bondarev is wiping the audience clean of the prior visceral reactions for what follows after this track.

The most interesting thing about the album, from a production point of view, is that it is frontloaded with the epic tracks. Most artists, who are willing to engage in epics, play the safe sonic sleight of hand of frontloading their albums with their poppier, shorter numbers to arrest the listener’s attention, then forcing them to confront the epic tracks towards the end. Bondarev, however, already has the composure and risk-taking of a veteran to allow the music to take its natural course, without planning out the order in the typical cookie-cutter fashion. With that said, though I love the epics on the album, it is “Permanent Black Marker” that really has me all mesmerized and giddy as a kid listening to his new favorite song over and over again. The industrial electronic bass line is haunting, the subtle ambient keys mysterious, and the background trip-hop beat surprising – this song has all the poise and precession that veteran electronic acts (like the boys from Basildon) aim at. The equally urgent “Allisoneisall” follows this track – think of early 80s electropop mixed in with electronic body music and industrial, yet retaining its poppy appeal. The album then closes out with “Not Your Name.” Much as it started with ambience, this track adds erratic beats to searing synth sounds. Not the serenity that symbolized the silence in the opening track, this is a cacophony that quickly symbolizes the distress of silence.

It is commonplace not to think of places like Estonia or Russia as major producers of urgent music, but Amazing Electronic Talking Cave’s “Radio Psylence” easily dismisses that false stereotype. Felix Bondarev’s music is compelling, and in his paying homage to the past, he has created music that steps away from typical confines and opens the door to one of the most irresistible journey through an amazing soundscape.

Track Listing:
1. On Speed
2. Tri Goda
3. Serdce
4. Kingisepp
5. We Fucked Your Statues
6. Uznat
7. Permanent Black Marker
8. Allisoneisall
9. Not Your Name

Keep up with Amazing Electronic Talking Cave at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook. You can sample and purchase “Radio Psylence” at the albums homepage or the band’s Bandcamp page.

Here is a video teaser for “Permanent Black Marker” from the aetcvideos YouTube Channel.

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11 October 2011

Erasure: "Tomorrow's World"

I dedicate this review to the biggest Erasure fan in North Carolina, Mia.

I admit that Erasure is one of my favorite acts of all time … this is something that seems peculiar to some of my friends and acquaintances, considering all of the other artists that I rank amongst my favorites. From the very first single, “Who Needs Love Like That?,” I was a fan. And throughout my adolescence the duo of Andy Bell and Vince Clarke was an escape from the cold world around me, comforting me in many ways, sometimes even assuaging the fears away. And though my love for the band has not diminished by the years, I have not found myself escaping from this (to quote their song “A Long Goodbye”) “crazy mixed up world of honey” where “life is just an illusion” via their music. My love for their music and what they have meant to me as a person has never clouded my ability to be critical of their musical output (though live, it is always a good time!). But when I first listened to “Tomorrow’s World” (3 October 2011 in the UK; 11 October 2011 in the USA), something that had not happened in nearly two decades did: I escaped … for two straight hours, playing the album over again and again and again. And I realized, in this crazy world full of 80s revival, Erasure is back to claim back their position as icons.



If you think of the current music scene as a “modern town,” Andy Bell’s crooning in “Then I Go Twisting” seems apropos: “Then I go insane, I’m bored of this modern town, sick of this techno monophonic sound.” With an electro scene content to replicate the monotonous 80s, Erasure is back to show the newbies exactly how it is done with this polyphonic song. Of course the song is really about the insanity of living life in the club scene and all that entails (“Think I’m going schizo, I bury my head in sand. I live in a disco, you’ve such a machismo hand…”). But the words that fans are going to immediately connect with are the opening lines Bell sings in the very first track, “Be With You”: “Call me, any time just call me. Tell me that you want me, feel it everywhere.” But just as the music is the most beat (physically) oriented in years, Bell reveals what is on his mind: “Everything is physical, it really turns me on.”

When their eponymous album was released in late 1995, many listeners and critics were thrown off by the length of the songs; it was almost as if these were extended versions of shorter songs, but that was far from the case. Yet Erasure’s sensibilities to the kinds of sounds and effects were not worlds away from what could have been expected. With “Tomorrow’s World,” Erasure does move worlds away from their generic sound. In some ways they return to the 80s (with the kind of bass lines), but the bigger sounds are fresh and new. And though Vince Clarke has mastered and continues to use the classic pop song structure, the music is layered in a very different ways. The use of ostinatos is very different – sometimes, like in “Fill Us With Fire,” the sounds are sweepingly larger than beeps one might expect, and at other times, like in “A Whole Lotta Love Run Riot,” it is marginalized or even not employed. The music is more bass and drum focused, with very sophisticated but subtle melodious arrangements to Clarke’s credit; this, in turn, places the focus even more directly on Bell’s vocals. On that note, I will argue that “A Whole Lotta Love Run Riot” is one of the songs on this album that Erasure must have been thinking about a dance floor for the first time in years when they wrote it.

From the more tentative singing of earlier songs, like “Oh L’Amour,” to the more confident singing of “Blue Savannah,” to the real demonstration of range, like in songs like “Perchance To Dream” (one of Erasure’s greatest and least known songs), the quality of Andy Bell’s voice has continued to change and improve. Now, Andy Bell is more soulful than ever before, as demonstrated in their latest single, “When I Start To (Break It All Down).” But what has gotten stronger and more apparent than ever before is the symbiotic relationship that Bell and Clarke share as musicians. No other act has music and vocals that work in such tandem unity like Erasure – from how notes between vocals and music are harmonized to how the drama of both voice and music are always mirror images of one another. And this reminds me of classic pop, back in the 40s and 50s, when that careful attention to this kind of detail was in vogue. This conscious attention is most obvious in “What Will I Say When You’re Gone”; even when the beat drops and Bell is pining away (“What’ll I do, what will I say when you’re gone? In this emptiness emotion, will it hurt when you walk out the door?”), the beat may drop out, but the anxiousness generated by the sound effects in the background mirror Bell’s anxiety and dejection.

The job of any great producer is not to compose music (as is too common in the world of pop), but rather to bring out what the vision of the musical act that he/she is working with. Frankmusik proves that he is not only a capable musician, but also an amazing producer. Working along side Frankmusik, Erasure does not fall into the same routine and generic song pattern. For instance, there is no “Always,” “In My Arms,” “Breathe,” “I Could Fall In Love With You” moment on this album. What Erasure is able to capitalize on throughout “Tomorrow’s World” is not just their experience, but also their confidence as musicians. Just take “I Lose Myself”: the music is thriving, relevant, and urgent, as Bell, always tongue-in-cheek, sings, “I’m not concerned about the bitch I’ve been; they sure must’ve all deserved it… Electro soul, it’s only rock ‘n roll, and when it gets down to it, I lose control … I dare not lose my self-control.” The “bitch” line will become as classic as the line in “Sometimes”: “It’s not my sense of emptiness you fill with your desire.” (Just imagine what could be filled!)

The amazing thing about Erasure is that even when they are being serious and heartbroken, they are so much fun to listen and sing along to. Legions of fans around the world understand that this is Erasure’s staying power: Erasure represents good times, happiness, and a comforting voice in the dark. (For those youngsters swept away by the current revival of 80s electro, take a listen to the masters.) Their last album was titled “Light at the End of the World” (2007), and it was the end of a world - an era - where Erasure seemed to have gotten complacent. But every band that has managed to survive over a quarter-of-a-century will have its slumps; the real question is will they regain what made them great? What made them icons? Erasure, with “Tomorrow’s World,” reclaims and justify their position as (synth)pop icons. And I, for one, am happy to once again escape that crazy world outside into the phantasmagorical world of Erasure.

Track Listing:
1. Be with You
2. Fill Us with Fire
3. What Will I Say When You’re Gone?
4. You’ve Got to Save Me Right Now
5. A Whole Lotta Love Run Riot
6. When I Start To (Break It All Down)
7. I Lose Myself
8. Then I Go Twisting
9. Just When I Thought It Was Ending
10. Shot to the Heart, iTunes bonus track

Keep up with Erasure at homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here is a montage video for “When I Start To (Break It All Down)” and the Steve Smart & WestFunk Remix of the song, set to an animated video, both from the erasureinfo YouTube Channel.



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10 October 2011

Iori's Eyes: "Matter of Time EP"

Mesmerizing and enchanting is initially the first thing I would like to say about Iori’s Eyes’ second EP, “Matter of Time EP” (October 27, 2010). I first encountered Iori’s Eyes several months ago while I was ciphering through the random suggestions of YouTube’s sidebar; once clicked I found myself in love, both utterly and endlessly. The very first song I heard from Iori’s Eyes was “The Boat,” instantly I fell in love with the opening chimes from the keyboard and the settling voice that haunted my ears for weeks. I found myself lost in translation and eventually found myself forgetting about the band that created this masterpiece because of course afterwards I just simply drifted on to other songs in YouTube’s magical sidebar of suggestions. And now, here I am writing this review about Iori’s Eyes because once again I crossed paths with “The Boat.”



I would like to think of the “Matter of Time EP” as a ship all in itself, a ship sailing through a relentless sea that is both precarious and ethereal. Swimming through the visual ocean that I have created is Iori’s Eyes, hailing from Milan, Italy; they bring pop music from another dimension. Iori’s Eyes are in fact a superb trio who simply electrifies their listeners on a viral level, so viral that it is both mentally stimulating and physically contagious. I believe I have listened to this EP at least a dozen times, which is usually a norm for me when I really enjoy something. I seem to be constantly captivated by Clod’s (vocals and guitar) voice when listening to the EP; while his voice echoes through many of the tracks they are left imprinted on the cavity in which my brain is installed. I was also thoroughly impressed by the other two band members who connected so evenly with Clod’s vocals—Sofia (bass, keyboards, back vocals) and Giacomo (drums, percussions, keyboards, back vocals); they bring to the table the impressive rhythms that allow me as a listener to drift away effortlessly into this enthralling sea of music.

Even though my musical horizons are strongly diverse I must admit the pop is often what I rely on to raise my mood every now and then. There is always something so intriguing about pop artists that it allows me to bask in their lyrics and roast over the fire of their songs. It often inspires me as an artist who needs a little inspiration when the glass has tipped over. The opening track is “Matter of Time”; I found this titular track to be the core to my excitement when I first introduced myself to the EP. Personally I felt it was in fact a wonderful way to unite with the listener. “I want you to know you can count on me, we are permanent. The clouds are grey over me… it’s a matter of time, it’s a matter of time and you’ll be mine, and you’ll be mine.” I’ve been struck rather thoroughly because of these vibrant lyrics that seem to be all rotating in my mind on a constant basis.

The next track on the EP is “Neil Young (Once Again),” a track that radiates a true sense of cold comfort, cold in the context that it is much more lax than the track before it but comforting because it reminded me of how I felt when I had my first ride on the Ferris Wheel many years ago. To the auditory it appears to be much mellower while it portrays such beautiful musical calligraphy. I usually find it strongly entertaining where a band varies up the criss-cross between tracks, i.e. fast tempo, slow tempo, medium tempo; consistently, I am more interested in albums where the songs do not cling evenly to one another and yet flow easily from track to track. I always try to find ways to relate to the lyrics that are depicted in most songs, and once the connection is achieved I find myself much more accepting to the song itself.

Next up on the list is “Santa Sofia,” electricity is instantly passed from keyboard to keyboard as soon as the track opens, following this electricity is Clod’s soft yet aggressive vocals that seem amplified by the “clapping” preset on the keyboard. Eventually when the 4:32 are almost near the end, the track is revived by a sonic radiation that finally pulls the listener in deeper and deeper, almost as if this were the direct climax of the song entirely, and then listener is whirl pooled down and released carefully onto a boat leading to the next track on the EP. The finale on the EP is one that I adore just as much as the very first track: “Take Me to the Other Side.” The track is extraordinary in every concept of the word; in fact it even reminds me of one of my favorite bands, Mew, because of how peaceful the song is. The track opens with a record player of recorded voices that set the mood in an old fashion sort of way, then the chimes on the keyboard, then Clod and his guitar which then conduct a solid serenade that almost brings a sublime sadness to the piece. “Oh once again, I want to be loved by someone, and feel my legs shake and feel the apple taste inside my mouth.” Lyrics that are this heartfelt make this closing of this EP truly awe-inspiring.

I do not think there is much more to say other than what has already said about the “Matter of Time EP”; although I often try to create visual paintings of exactly what each and every track is like, I must admit that this time around there is truly no comparison that can be made. Iori’s Eyes’ slogan is “we born, we grow, we couple.” In a matter of them growing, I believe that they have superb talent that will allow them to soar far and wide because they are truly phenomenal. I do not think I could try to encourage the average listener to indulge themselves in Iori’s Eyes “Matter of Time EP” any more than I already have, so do yourself the favor and go enjoy something different.

Track Listing:
1. Matter of Time
2. Neil Young (Once Again)
3. Santa Sofia
4. Take Me to the Other Side

Keep up with Iori’s Eyes at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here are the videos for "Matter of Time" from the ioriseyes Youtube Channel.





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