Saturday, 30 April 2011

What I'm listening to in April 2011

Due to the fact I never get to talk about a large amount of music I enjoy on this blog (A bunch of great albums with high scores wouldn't be very interesting) I've decided to compile my favourite albums, singles, EP's, etc. over the past month, mostly to recommend them as they all have something to offer. They're listed in no particular order, from memory if anything else. I might mention these elsewhere, the door isn't closed because I've listed something here. Recommendations would be appreciated. Thanks.

Top 3 albums:
Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues (stream here)

Those who were concerned that Fleet Foxes would be unable to match their astonishing debut album can rest assured. Helplessness Blues is every bit as magnificent as it's predeccessor, on the grand, epic scale ("The Shrine / An Arguement", "Grown Ocean"), as well as the intimate and contemplative ("Blue Spotted Tail", "Helplessness Blues"). Every detail, instrument and vocal sound close to perfection; diverse yet consistently awesome, and a warm and natural progression for Robin Pecknold and co.. Helplessness Blues sounds much more like a journey and an adventure than Fleet Foxes, with many songs taking several turns in volume and tone yet remaining engaging and compelling. A truly great album, earthly yet ethereal, Helplessness Blues demands to be heard for years to come.

tUnE-yArDs - w h o k i l l

The second album from Merril Garbus's unique Afro-pop project expands greatly on the lo-fi recordings of her debut BiRd-BrAiNs, which in retrospect sound sorely limited compared with w h o k i l l. The new album was recorded in the studio with the assistance of bassist Nate Brenner, resulting in an accomplished, mature, powerful yet playful album, integrating hip-hop beats, rock and funk into the mix. Garbus's voice is very striking and dynamic, as she addresses violence, race, gender, sexual desires and parenthood. Nate Brenner's presence is felt most on "Gangsta", complementing aggressive drum beats and distorted vocal loops; the music feels immediate, confrontational and empowering. The single "Bizness" is perhaps the best infusion of all these elements, and although the album as a whole may not be every person's idea of fun, w h o k i l l is a bold, uncompromising statement.

Times New Viking - Dancer Equired

There's no way I should enjoy this album as much as I do. Times New Viking are usually associated with the "shitgaze" genre, attemping to create the poorest recording quality possible, however for Dancer Equired the Ohio three-piece have made at least some effort to clear up their sound. Vocalists Beth Murphy and Adam Elliott are often flat, and sound like a a tuneless Kim Deal and Robert Pollard respectively, but due to the nature of the music that dosen't put me off in the slightest. There are a number of less well-writen songs agreed, and since the album finishes at 31 minutes it would make sense to cut those and relabel Dancer Equired as an EP, but there are many fantastic songs, particularly in the final quarter beginning with "Fuck Her Tears". I would even go as far to call Dancer Equired Times New Viking's Halcyon Digest. Give it a try.

Explosions in the Sky - Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Commitee Pt. 2
The Antlers - Burst Apart
Thao & Mirah - Thao & Mirah
Prefuse 73 - The Only She Chapters
Cut Copy - Zonoscope
Big K.R.I.T. - Return Of 4Eva
Frank Ocean - Nostalgia/Ultra
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Belong
TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light
Metronomy - The English Riviera
Jamie Woon - Mirrorwriting
Clams Casino - Clams Casino
Bill callahan - Apocalypse
Crystal Stilts - In Love With Oblivion
Burial - Street Halo (EP)
Dum Dum Girls - He Gets Me High (EP)
Mono/Poly - Manifestations (EP)

Cults - Go Outside/Abducted
Kate Bush - Deeper Understanding
Fucked Up - The Other Shoe/A Little Death/Ship of Fools
My Morning Jacket - Circuital/Holdin on to Black Metal
Radiohead - Supercollider/The Butcher
Brian Eno/Rick Holland - Glitch
Death Cab For Cutie - You Are a Tourist/Home is a Fire/Some Boys
Beyoncé - Run the World (Girls)
Lady Gaga - Born This Way/Judas
Foo Fighters - Rope
The Joy Formidable - Whirring
The Morning Benders - Better in Blue
The Go! Team - Buy Nothing Day (feat. Bethany Consentino)
Kurt Vile - Baby's Arms/Jesus Fever
Cold Cave - The Great Pan is Dead
Bass Drum of Death - Young Pros

Friday, 22 April 2011

Review: TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light

Stream TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light here
Download "Caffeinated Consciousness" below

Nine Types of Light has been described by many as an album of love songs, which is a valuable way of looking at it on the surface. After TV on the Radio’s incredibly successful run, from humble beginnings with OK Calculator through to their highly acclaimed major label releases Return to Cookie Mountain and Dear Science the band decided to take a hiatus in 2009, with individual members pursuing side projects. This is a typical and often necessary move for many busy, spotlighted bands, of which TV on the Radio seemingly fit the description perfectly, so it was hardly a surprise. Nine Types of Light was announced only February of this year, and was recorded in Los Angeles, a much more relaxed setting than their native New York. The jittery tension of much of the previous two albums is largely absent here, replaced with a typically warm, Californian atmosphere, adding another dimension to the already unique musical outlet.

In reality only maybe half of the material here is specifically love-orientated. The band’s first single, "Will Do" is one of the more direct songs to address the matter. It’s a bright, soulful and seductive affair, owing much to Tunde Adebimpe’s warm vocal delivery. "You" is similarly bright, with joyful guitar and synth lines and drumbeat. It also has a fantastic video at the end of the Nine Types of Light film which partners the album, which is definite Video of the Year material. Contrasting these is the more calming "Keep Your Heart" which is sung by Kyp Malone. Malone stretches the lower and higher registers of his voice, and with the backing strings the band create one of the most delicate moments of the album.

On the opposite end of the scale there are more energetic moments a-plenty. "Repetition" builds tension before beginning a furious descent, hung onto Adebimpe’s vocal. "Second Song" works in much the same way, though it begins in a much calmer place, and ends with blasts of funk horns and grooving drums. "No Future Shock" is one of the more accessible moments, and is a definite nod to Dear Science’s more danceable tracks. And the album ends with "Caffeinated Consciousness", a straight-up garage rock number that stands almost isolated from the album’s remainder, such is the difference.

The more melody-driven songs are definitely what makes up the core of Nine Types of Light. "Killer Crane" is a stunning prog-like airy ballad, with guitar, banjo and vocal hooks keeping it breezy and afloat. "Forgotten" addresses a darker side to the band’s newfound Hollywood surroundings, and has nice violin and sleigh bells which present the narrative as it progresses. On the other hand "New Cannonball Blues" relishes in the electronic, though it makes room for more guitar and horn blasts.

The experimental nature of TV on the Radio has always been one of the band’s greatest assets, and it is largely retained in Nine Types of Light, although it presents itself differently. Instead of loading each song with several ideas from the worlds of art-rock, post-punk, soul, funk, jazz and hip-hop they instead choose to develop ten separate, singular pieces. As a result the album can feel uneven and incoherent. Also it emphasises the fact that not all songs are of equal quality. However like Bibio’s Mind Bokeh the individual moments are fantastic, and unlike that album there are no truly terrible tracks. A Californian TV on the Radio album is just another string in their bow, with no assured loss of musicianship from their previous efforts.

Once again, R.I.P. Gerard Smith.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Mini Review: Colin Stetson - New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges + R.I.P. Gerard Smith

Colin Stetson is a highly talented, highly experimental saxophonist, and aside from vocal contributions from My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden and spoken word in the form of the ever-ominous Laurie Anderson the entire album is made up of Stetson’s bass saxophone, covered with microphones inside and out, and with the tracks recorded in single takes with no overdubs. The results are astonishing and unique in equal measures, and show Stetson’s immense skill as both a composer and instrumentalist, in part owed to mastering the circulatory breathing technique. The cover shows rampant horses and are a good pictorial representation of the sounds achieved: menacing bass-end flourishes of notes; short percussive taps from the mic’d instrument’s keys; anguished, primal screams; sounds of running water, etc. The depth of the instrument’s tone and the stark reverb, and also Anderson’s lines create a really dark, powerful, warlike atmosphere which the title suggests. Such skills have earned Stetson a reputation and is now highly sought after, and he has worked with a diverse group of musicians as Tom Waits, TV on the Radio, the final LCD Soundsystem shows, and will also feature on the new Bon Iver album. Cynics may call this gimmicky but the music has a real, unique style of songwriting, and Stetson’s efforts really need to be seen and heard to be believed.

Speaking of TV on the Radio, yesterday a statement on the band's website that bassist and keyboardist Gerard Smith has lost in the struggle against lung cancer was posted. Sympathies go out to the rest of the band and Gerard's family and friends. Gerard was a highly valuable member of the band and made a great contribution to music, and he will be missed by many. TV on the Radio's latest album Nine Types of Light was released on the 11th of this month and was on the Mini Reviews list but never surfaced. As we've now reached the end of this feature for this month tomorrow I will post a full review of the album as a tribute. Below check out TV on the Radio's visual accompniment to the album, and a Live on Letterman 40-minute performance recorded just last week.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Mini Review: Peter Bjorn and John - Gimme Some

Since reaching their commercial peak with 2006’s Writer’s Block (and the still ever-omnipresent single "Young Folks") Peter Bjorn and John have struggled to find a totally satisfying sequel, not even for themselves it appears. Gimme Some is the Swedish indie-poppers third album since Writer’s Block, and their third change in direction, as more of an effort is placed on a cohesive sound than ever, perhaps as a result of Bjorn Yttling’s production duties on Lykke Li’s two albums. The band have opted for a punk aesthetic for many songs such as "Cool Off", "Black Book", and best of all "Lies". The bass-heavy love song "Eyes" and the Paul Simon-like "Dig a Little Deeper" show rare signs of optimism. However there is a feeling of repetition creeping in; many songs contain similar drum-led intros for example, and this familiarity means there isn’t anything that really sticks out other than the aforementioned songs. Which is a shame because the direction of the individual song was once one of Peter Bjorn and John’s greatest assets. At least their career between albums shows more diversity.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Mini Review: The Go! Team - Rolling Blackouts

For a group with one of the most refreshingly optimistic sounds of recent years, the Go! Team show no signs of decline. The Ian Parton-headed project burst out of Brighton in 2004 with a debut that fused Avalanches-like sample knowledge with sounds of 80s television shows, cheerleaders, and just about everything to create vibrant, unabashed tunes. Their third album Rolling Blackouts, although possibly guilty of repeating old sounds, does a great deal to continue the band’s legacy, from the unapologetic opener "T.O.R.N.A.D.O." to the shoegazey title track. The collaborative tracks are some of the most impressive: "Secretary Song" features the sugary-sweet Satomi Matsuzaki from Deerhoof, and Best Coast’s Bethany Consentino steps in to "Buy Nothing Day" to create a C86-inspired fuzz-pop number. The Go! Team can be a headrush at the best of times, but this is modern pop music, the way it’s supposed to be made. And enjoyed.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Mini Review: Lil B - Illusions of Gradeur

Download Lil B - Illusions of Grandeur here

In a world where there is more music available than ever, Lil B finds his own ways of standing out. Calling himself "The Based God", showing his passion for cooking and releasing a phenomenal amount of mixtapes and videos are three of those, and as a result has become a real divisive figure in modern hip hop. His latest effort, the aptly titled Illusions of Grandeur starts promising but quickly it becomes apparent his Youtube persona isn’t entirely separate from his "serious" efforts, a defence many a loyal fan has argued. Though he covers a range of topics including drugs ("Cocaine Killer") and his upbringing ("Live Form Da Hood"), he doesn’t inspire the attentiveness he assumes, especially not across a whole mixtape. The beats are often strong however, and Lil B makes some good choices (from Kanye West to Toto), even if his rhymes don’t hold up so well.

This leads me to a mixtape by a producer called Clams Casino which has been getting noticed on a few blogs, and contains surprisingly beautiful instumentals of tracks by Lil B (including one of his biggest hits "I’m God"), Soulja Boy and others, which you can download here (and I would advise doing so).

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Mini Review: Holy Ghost! - Holy Ghost!

Stream Holy Ghost! - Holy Ghost! here, and stream/download "Do It Again", and you can also stream/buy a few other Holy Ghost!-related things there too.
Stream/download "Wait and See" below.

Holy Ghost!’s debut sounds like a slice of vintage 80s heaven, as the duo incorporate disco, New Wave and synth pop into the ten track set, showing masterful knowledge and familiarity with the era. Aside from the production however the songwriting is rather mixed: many songs seem to miss the mark when it comes to memorable, catchy hooks. Though this certainly isn’t true for all the songs here, perhaps the biggest counterexample is the first track "Do It Again" with its slick New Wave feel, or the Wham!-like disco tune "Slow Motion". In fact there are many creditable moments on the album when they’re taken singularly, which is probably why the overall experience feels a little disappointing. Holy Ghost! will continue to create excellent singles (and be in high demand for quality remixes), and just because they haven’t totally mastered the long-playing album on their first try doesn’t mean we’re never going to enjoy another future release from these talented guys.

Holy Ghost! - Wait & See by DFA Records

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Mini Review: Panda Bear - Tomboy

Stream Panda Bear - Tomboy here
Download Panda Bear - "Last Night at the Jetty" here
Cult favourite Panda Bear (aka Animal Collective’s Noah Lennox) releases his new album Tomboy, the follow-up to 2007’s Person Pitch, one of the most celebrated records of the last decade, so naturally expectations are high here. Those who have been following the progress of this album up to it’s release will be aware of the singles released over several months, and all those singles and b-sides feature on Tomboy, though some with improved mixes. Aside from those singles there isn’t much left that hasn’t been heard before, only four new tracks are here, and if you‘ve not particularly enjoyed the songs before Tomboy you‘re not likely to change your mind because of them. Compared to Person Pitch the songs are much shorter and sparser. Many retain the sunny Beach Boys melodies such as the bouncy "Last Night at the Jetty", whereas others take a darker tone like the ominous title track. I wasn’t too keen on the finished album to begin with but it’s beginning to grow on me. It’s an insular, solitary experience and sounds unlike anything else out there, and in that respect it’s classic Panda Bear.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Mini Review: Bibio - Mind Bokeh

Stream Bibio - Mind Bokeh here
Stephen Wilkinson may just be one of the most diverse and fun artists on the Warp label. On the latest Bibio LP Mind Bokeh Wilkinson serves up twelve completely different tracks, each oozing with their own personality and character, and the album is very portfolio-like in its range and presentation. Mind Bokeh is a credit to Wilkinson as both a producer and multi-instrumentalist, crafting every aspect single-handedly, and just because you don’t enjoy a particular track doesn’t mean you won’t find another. A number of these songs show real care, depth and beauty, be it the hazy start "Excuses", the soulful Dilla-like "Wake Up!", or gorgeous extended ending instrumental "Saint Christopher". This is likely to be a divisive album however. Due to the versatility of the tracks there is virtually no continuity between them. I also get the feeling that the more interesting shorter tracks could go on for longer (e.g. "Feminine Eye") and the longer ones are often too long ("Pretentious"). And there’s one track that stands out far even from this mixed bunch. I’ve heard a lot of negative comments about "Take Off Your Shirt" and I’m yet to make up my mind about it. Mind Bokeh can be jarring in places, but there’s plenty to enjoy nevertheless.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Mini Review: Low - C'mon

Stream Low - C'mon here
If you’re familiar with the genre of slowcore you’ll probably appreciate that for me to fully absorb this album in a day is going to be next to impossible. It’s a style that takes a while to get under the skin, yet it can be as rewarding and enjoyable as many forms of fast-paced music given proper care and attention. Low have been around since 1993 and are considered one of the pioneers of the genre, but naturally their sound has changed quite a bit during that time and now. Their ninth LP C’mon is likely to be as good as any other as an entry to slowcore, as there are many new incorporations to the formula, be they in the twinkly glockenspiel of the first track Try to Sleep (reminding me of the latest DeVotchKa LP), the weaving banjo touches of Witches, or  the steel guitar of the stormy Nothing But Heart provided by Wilco’s Nels Cline, which reaches almost theremin-like warble towards the tracks colossal finish. The main gripes of this album are probably in the shorter tracks Done and the closing Something’s Turning Over, which fail to make much of an impression unlike the graceful lengthier tracks. It’s not going to cap off your perfect day but if you’re stuck inside in the rain (physically or otherwise) the sullen harmonies of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker could be the catharsis you’re after.

You'll notice I put an album stream at the beginning of the review. I'll be doing that for any whole album streams and downloads I can find from now on, though keep in mind if the post has been up for some time the chances are the content may no longer be available. But it's there for now, and after all it's all about your opinions on music that matters, so I'll share with you whatever I can find a relevant download/stream.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Mini Review: XTC - Drums and Wires (1979)

For a band who never really seemed to work well to the British public’s taste - perhaps more famous (or even infamous) for their 1986 pro-atheism assault "Dear God" than anything - XTC managed to create for themselves a niche for their dedicated fanbase. They were also a transitional band, and as a result  outlived many of their post-punk peers. Drums and Wires was their third album, released in 1979, and captures them between the Talking Heads meets Gang of Four vibes of their first two albums and the melodic pop they eventually perfected on their Todd Rundgren-produced 1986 opus Skylarking. Although guitarist Andy Partridge remains as the figurehead and main creative output for the band it is actually the singles written by bassist Colin Moulding that are the true gems here, not least of which the band’s first hit "Making Plans For Nigel". A large part of the angular, Captain Beefheart-inspired guitar lines can be credited to the addition of a second guitarist, Dave Gregory, who initially was a replacement for keyboardist Barry Andrews. There’s a few misses amongst the string of inventive tunes, and it’s definitely not an album for everyone, but if you admire any of the artists already mentioned, who knows?

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Mini Review: Lupe Fiasco - Lasers

I’m looking to make the mini reviews a lot more "mini", so I’ll try to wrap this up in a few sentences. Lupe Fiasco’s long delayed third LP, Lasers, shows the star potential many saw in the rapper’s 2006 debut Food and Liquor, but since his label Atlantic decided to interfere so heavily with the production you’d be hard pressed to find many songs to enjoy. Virtually all the beats sound messy, brash and over-poppy to the point of cacophony, burying Fiasco’s social wisdom until his ideologies are rendered almost meaningless. "All Black Everything" contains arguably the most interesting, thought-provoking  lyrics but the noisy, Disney-like beat prevents me from wanting to go back. "The Show Goes On" may be the most enjoyable, despite the lifted Modest Mouse hook, but the rest is unfortunately not worth your time. Go elsewhere.

Monday, 11 April 2011

15 Mini Reviews List for April 2011

Yeah I'm doing this again. The 5 I didn't review last time are here along with a number of albums I haven't yet listened to, another retro, and four I felt ought to be included because of a certain feature I ran not too long ago. I found that the albums I have listened to since last month don't really fit into this feature, yet I still want to talk about some of them because of the fact a few were pretty good, so I'll think of a way to do that. Here's what we have for now:

Akron/Family - Akron/Family II (The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT)
Lupe Fiasco - Lasers
The Go! Team - Rolling Blackouts
Tim Hecker - Ravedeath, 1972
Colin Stetson - New History Warfare Vol.2: Judges
Bibio - Mind Bokeh
Bill Callahan - Apocalypse
Foo Fighters - Wasting Light
Holy Ghost! - Holy Ghost!
Lil B - Illusions of Grandeur
 Low - C'mon
 Panda Bear - Tomboy
Peter Bjorn and John - Gimme Some
TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light
[Retro Review] XTC - Drums and Wires
Once again it'll be one per day or as close as I can, and the choices are randomly drawn out of a hat. If for whatever reason an album becomes unavailable to me I'll change it for a different one and update asap. Any recommendations for next month? Leave them in the comments.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Review: The Weeknd - House of Balloons

Download The Weeknd - House of Balloons here
Very little is known about the Weeknd, except that it’s the name given a project headed by Abel Tesfaye, a Canadian R&B singer who has managed to generate a considerable amount of buzz in a relatively short timeframe; having only released three songs before the release of the official first (free!) mixtape House of Balloons: "Loft Music", "The Morning" and "What You Need" (all three appearing on House of Balloons) in a few short months. Of course part of the hype can be credited to Drake (whose producer Noah "40" Shebib was not involved in producing House of Balloons, despite speculation), however the quality of the material cannot be overlooked as a contributing factor to the wildfire coverage of the album. Tesfaye and producers Doc McKinney and Illangelo have crafted a superb, noirish 50 minute journey that celebrates not only a new underground appreciation and interest in R&B (see Frank Ocean, The-Dream, How To Dress Well) but the genre’s mainstream torch-bearers also (the aforementioned Drake, and to some extent Kanye West).

The tension between the two sides of the Weeknd’s coin give Tesfaye’s aching voice a fitting home, and it tells of a very complex, confusing and emotional character, fictional or not. The themes of lust, sexual tension, druggy disorientation, and ultimately dissatisfaction become the ever-increasing push as the album progresses, set against a brooding, atmospheric, almost lo-fi backdrop of keys and pulses. The title and colourless cover artwork perfectly convey these ideas in the way the title track "House of Balloons - Glass Table Girls" showcases them. The clear Siouxsie and the Banshees’ "Happy House" sample seems a fitting thematic choice on which to base the song, and also a suitably indie nod. The first half of the song, driven by John McGeoch’s famous guitar line is the high part. The words "This is a happy house" are sung along to with clear irony. The second half takes a much darker, more frightening tone which is as fascinating as many more disturbing moments of the album.

There are a great deal of hooks on this album which counterbalance the unsettling tones nicely. "The Morning" sticks particularly strongly, with it’s soaring guitar clipped by claustrophobic beats standing out a little from the ultimately synthy default position. "What You Need" is another fantastic track due to it’s sparse, implicit approach overtaking many of the more overt tracks in terms of creepiness, mirrored by the lyrics: "He’s what you want/I’m what you need". And "Loft Music" might be the emotional high, to repeat the lyrics will spoil them.

To receive so much attention does raise other questions however. The Siouxie nod was already picked up on, but the Beach House sample here is even stronger evidence for the "hipster R&B" argument which seems to have perhaps inevitably begun. In reality the buzz of this release can be seen just as much in mainstream circles as it’s been noted in indie circles. The Weeknd shows signs of a unique change to the R&B formula, the darkness, bleakness and debauchery of which can be seen to parallel the rise of hip-hop collective Odd Future in terms of public interest. House of Balloons already feels like an established classic, and positive signs of a major label release seem not too distant. Expect more, because the Weeknd surely can deliver.