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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