June 17, 2011

Battles - Gloss Drop

Many people consider Battles to be solely the experimental rhythmic noodlings of American composer Tyondai Braxton. Having trained under the experimental genre's elite (Glenn Branca, Steve Reich and father Anthony Braxton), the then four-piece's first full length Mirrored received widespread critical acclaim for it's glistening tones and it's unfathomable rhythmic changes. So when Tyondai left the band back in August 2010 as they geared up for this sophomore release, expectations sadly dropped. Yet wrongly so, as Gloss Drop pinches from Mirrored whilst reappearing with an all new collection of sounds.

One thing that should be said about Gloss Drop is that it is one of the funner albums that you are likely to hear this year. A pristine example would be the funky single Ice Cream which features Matias Aguayo, whose voice is manipulated almost as an extra instrument, full of rhythmic delays and slotted perfectly between playful beats of pure madness.

This record is entirely focused on creating playful, rhythmic music, and the production is a fine reflection of that. The low ends thump and the high ends are very snappy. The overall production is clean and crisp, with some really captivating panning enhancing the duelling guitar riffs in particular, but additionally the synthesisers and thoroughly competent drum work.

One of the standout tracks that Battles have really mastered on this thing is Wall Street. It is one of the craziest, danceable tracks that I have heard, umm, ever! It's that high octane pulse that for me sums up what Battles were trying to achieve with this album, and it's of great regard to drummer John Stanier that he can hold together such an intricate sense of rhythm on a track of this pace.

The vocal contributions on this album are also hugely welcome, with Gary Numan's performance on My Machines allowing a much greater sense of depth to that particular track.

Really the only reason that this effort does not score higher for me is that there is no respite at all. The record is full throttle from start to finish, and by the end your brain is slightly frazzled. A slight break in the chain may have done this album some good, but there will be people that believe that stifling this record's momentum would have killed it all together. Bottom line, it's safe to say that in the face of adversity, Battles really stepped up and delivered an extremely polished sophomore, which is no mean feat, even with Tyondai Braxton on board.
Out 06/06/2011
Stuart Thornton

Check out The Computers

Who remembers ¡Forward, Russia!? Leeds post-punkers ¡! were one of the indie cult bands of the Noughties who went on indefinite hiatus in 2008. Since then, there has been somewhat of a void of UK punk-rockers to take over the mantle from ¡Forward, Russia!. The Computers may be the answer to this problem.

Hailing from Exeter, The Computers are a more hardcore outfit than their predecessors and have attracted the interest of Goldheart Assembly and one-time Death Cab label Fierce Panda. Their songs are raw and fancy song titles don't appear to be a priority with some that are 'Music Is Dead' and 'Group Identity'.

They have a busy summer ahead, with dates at Reading and Leeds festivals on the home-strait, and I for one am thoroughly looking forward to their Leeds performance.


Madlib - Medicine Show #9: Channel 85 presents Nittyville

Okay, so if there's anyone that's been a consistent frontrunner in hip-hop beats over the last decade or so it's Otis Jackson Jr, otherwise known as Madlib. His Beat Konducta series of releases presented some really interesting rhythms and synthesis to fit their individual theme, which included Movie Scenes and a homage to the late hip-hop producer and Madlib collaborator J Dilla. In addition to the Beat Konducta albums there has also been a series of albums under the name Medicine Show, of which this is the last installment. I am not as familiar with the Medicine Show collection as the Beat Konducta collection, yet there are some differential observations that I have been able to take in from listening to this release a few times.

If there's one thing I've picked up on it's that there is much less of a thematic presence than a lot of Madlib's earlier work. With the Beat Konducta series and even his re-workings of Blue Note classics on the album Shades of Blue, there was always a general theme, or script to stick to which gave the songs, good or bad, a path to follow. That is definitely something that appealed to me when listening to the beats he was creating (it's also the reason I listened heavily to MF Doom's 'MM.. Food?'). Some of these tracks are really great, like closer Channel 85 Presents Nittyville. But without the theme to tie it together the record seems very scatterbrained.

In addition to that I noticed that the beats are for the most part significantly less, for lack of a better word, experimental, and much more commercial. It's not so much a huge problem, as there are other areas in the series where the beats are a lot more experimental than most of Madlib's other work. However, with regards to this particular album, it feels as though Madlib didn't challenge himself too greatly when creating these tracks.

So in summary, this is a very plain, straightforward collection of hip-hop tracks, some better than others, but on average fairly mediocre when paired with previous works. Lets just hope that the rumours of a new Madvillain effort in 2011 come to fruition.
Out 31/05/2011
Stuart Thornton

June 15, 2011

Check out D/Wolves and Da Bears

California keeps churning them out. Not that it's a bad thing, but it does make you think if there is something special in the water over there. San Diego is home up-and-coming D/Wolves, a four-piece experimental outfit, and Da Bears, a funk-induced surf-cum-garage rock band.

D/Wolves, off the back of a one-time support slot with Best Coast in November last year in San Diego, are getting into gear for 2011 with home-made videos on Youtube of bassy 'Buzz Light Yr' (don't stare at the video because you will probably get dizzy) and release of new album in March, titled 'Freak Of Nature', which the band are giving away digitally from their Bandcamp page. (in zipped format)

Da Bears, also releasing music on the Grizzly Records label, are currently a six-piece with a wide variety of music possible to create. 'Cage Of Ribs' is the perfect song to show off what the band possesses, with piano, synths and horns all present in a 5-minute showcase of experimentation. Progressive Horrors-rock kicks in during 'T.V. Shows' and 'Dinos' sounds like it could have been taken straight out of the American indie-rock takeover of the 90's. Many songs are free to download via their Last.fm page

D/Wolves: //Bandcamp//Myspace//Facebook//
Da Bears:  //Myspace//Facebook//

June 14, 2011

Bon Iver - Bon Iver

In the 3 years since the release of Justin Vernon's extraordinarily successful breakthrough 'For Emma, Forever Ago', the man behind Bon Iver has recorded with Kanye West, filed and won a lawsuit against a van company with Gayngs, and recorded the new self-titled effort due to hit record stores June 21st. Suffice to say, Vernon has been a very busy man since that album propelled him to success, with his talents in soft, sad-folk becoming a new standard amongst singer-songwriters.

So with the achievements of that first album, it is only fitting that the follow up begins with what is probably the best opening track you are likely to hear in 2011. Perth could only be described as an ambient swell of the beauty that Vernon has made himself known for. The ever-prominent falsetto is magnificently quilted with harmonies throughout, with instrumental interludes that almost resemble a march. The song grows out of a single fuzzy guitar riff into a euphoric climax of varied instrumentation, including a brass section.

With the bar set high the album continues, bristling with quiet confidence and allure, but one crucial element that this album warrants great credit for is it's production. Although the sound has been somewhat cleaned up since 'For Emma', for the most part, there remains an underlying lo-fi quality throughout, displayed mainly in the guitar riffs and the familiar muffle of Vernon's vocal.

Melodically the album holds onto a lot of the charms of it's predecessor, with a general aura of Elliott Smith surrounding the music. Again the record has an uncanny ability to grasp the listeners emotions and tug at them with soft, sorrow folk-pop melodies. There are also some very strange sounds tonally, such as the odd swells heard throughout Towers.

However the strangest, and most offputting tonal choice that I feel really ended up dragging down this album from it's already outstanding potential, was on final track Beth/Rest. The song could be mistaken as a parodic work, as Bon Iver close out their otherwise folk-focused effort with an auto-tuned 80's style pop ballad with an R&B-esque vocal, which throws everything previous entirely off course. It's definitely an interesting experiment, and musically, I wouldn't say it's terrible. But to include it in this album just seems completely bizarre and it truly does not work in the progression of this collection of songs. Perhaps it's an indicator to a change of style in the future for Bon Iver, what with working alongside artists such as Kanye and (rumoured) Lil Wayne. But if that is the case, this song should have definitely been saved for then.
Out 21/06/2011 Stuart Thornton

Check out Girls Names

It appears that less is more in the music industry of 2011. It can be seen with the resurgence in popularity of lo-fi rock in acts such as Wavves, Sleigh Bells and more recently Is Tropical. Noise-poppers Girls Names are likely to be another name to add to this growing list, with their break-through seemingly imminent. Simple build-ups, an often-inaudible vocalist and repetition are becoming so easy to replicate, and it seems to be a market which has a possibility of saturating in the near future. But until then, we will continue to enjoy it.

Current Girls Names songs around include the surfy 'Bury Me', and free downloads of 'Séance On A Wet Afternoon', from the 2011 album 'Dead To Me', and short-but-sweet 'Blood River' are available via their Last.fm page.


The Antlers - Burst Apart

2009 was a peculiar, yet progressive year for music, in that there was such a fascinating culmination of styles that emerged throughout those 12 months. The now saturated beach-scene hurled the likes of Girls and Wavves into the limelight, while bands such as The Pains Of Being Pure at Heart and Japandroids burst eardrums with their gritty noise pop. Then there were the standalone works of genius. Take Animal Collective's highly acclaimed Merriweather Post Pavilion as an example. Yet despite the eclectic blend of music that enthralled consumers in that year, The Antlers were a band that defied any pins or labels. The band were lumped into the indie rock tag, with no links drawn between classic indie rockers such as Pavement and Modest Mouse. Some pointed out a post-rock theme, although Hospice presents nothing that suggests any ties to Mogwai or Explosions in the Sky. Hospice was a unique effort, conceptually, vocally and most of all musically.

Therefore, frontman and essentially life-blood of The Antlers Peter Silberman must have faced the question, ‘Where do we go from here?’. With Hospice so focused on its concept (a failing relationship presented metaphorically as a doctor’s interactions with a terminal cancer patient), the music inevitably followed suit, a downbeat, mellow affair often swelling into eruptions of anger and emotion. Yet Burst Apart’s opening track ‘I Don’t Want Love’ immediately grants the listener a sense of direction. The song adopts a much more consistent sound than many of the songs on the band’s previous effort. The ecstatic climbs that were witnessed on tracks such as Sylvia are swapped for a much smoother atmosphere that continues throughout the whole song.

The more coherent structure of individual tracks is a trend that persists over the course of the album. That’s not to say, however, that the songs that comprise this effort are particularly comparable. Tracks such as Parentheses and Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out are among The Antlers most buoyant, uptempo endeavors to date, while other songs like Rolled Together and Hounds further showcase the thin layered beauty that Silberman is capable of providing. It should also be mentioned that the production values on Burst Apart have been significantly increased, and it shows. The hollow reverbs and, lower-fi (if you will) mix that were offered on Hospice have been cleaned up in favour of a more pristine, well-oiled artifact. One could argue that perhaps some of the imperfections on Hospice’s production contain an aspect of it’s charm, but the refinements really allow Silberman’s startling vocal talents to shine through.

Lyrically the album does not suffer as a result of losing a continuous storyline. Burst Apart is as capable of twanging heart-strings as it’s predecessor, particularly in closer Putting The Dog To Sleep, where Silberman aches for some reassurance regarding companionship, as he cries “Prove to me, I’m not gonna die alone”. In fact, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to throw in a pack of Kleenex with every Antlers record. With Peter in fine voice as ever, the metaphorical instances of genius that are scattered throughout this album coagulate to form euphoric highs and moving, poignant lows to leave listeners rocking back and forth in the corner of the room. 

With an album like Hospice relying so heavily upon it’s individuality and self-focus, it is hard to imagine the process that The Antlers had to go through to work themselves out of what could be described as a beautiful rut. Yet the progression displayed in Burst Apart is as natural and inevitable as any. It is as though Silberman’s songwriting has simply aged into a comfortable state of adulthood, carrying all it’s teenage charms into new frontiers, where fresh challenges await, but with a clear sense of direction. And direction is what makes this album a joy to behold. An ideal balance between the old and the new. With such an instinctive development of a band who could have gone anywhere at the end of their last album, one has to wonder, will 2011 be the new 2009?
Out 10/05/2011 Stuart Thornton


to blogging. Realized this whole thing needs a big upheaval to make it less pretentious and poorly-written.

Probably won't be reviewing any stuff because I'm shit at speaking in those terms, but I'm definitely carrying on (or re-starting) the check-out act of the week because it's good.

P.S.Congratulations to Drew Harris who has really gained exposure in the past year, long live GrmnyGrmny