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Death Cab for Cutie: Kintsugi

30 Dec

kintsugiWith KintsugiDeath Cab For Cutie continue down the electronically-embellished path they raced down with Codes and Keys (2011), although the twee and platitudinous attempt at making happy music the band presented with their previous release is gone, replaced with a reflective ennui and resignation that forms an accessible emotional progression from the angst and aching sadness of earlier albums.

The songs on Kintsugi are more instrumentally stripped-down and vocally raw and soulful, many of their melodies abandoning Death Cab for Cutie’s characteristic mechanical structure for more indulgent and open-ended tunes: hear “You’ve Haunted Me All My Life”; “Hold No Guns”; “Binary Sea”.

The electronica used on this album, compared with that of Codes and Keys, is also much pleasanter to listen to: less clicky noise and more minimalistic intensification of the music’s emotional objectives: hear the static backing underlining the bridge in “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive”.

Another pleasing change is the stirring driving bass beat flowing under much of the music, which lends a freshly folky sound to much of it: hear “Good Help (Is So Hard To Find)”, itself a creative use of upbeat disco backing to float such a coolly grim message.

While Kintsugi doesn’t treat us to the Gold Standard Death Cab for Cutie that emerged in Transatlanticism (2003) and reappeared in Narrow Stairs (2008), hardened fans may well find new all-time favorite tracks in this collection.

“Black Sun” is a masterpiece strongly reminiscent of “Grapevine Fires” (Narrow Stairs),

and “Binary Sea” offers a poignant homage to the digital age, as opposed to patronisingly denouncing its many miracles, as too many lyrics and Facebook posts do today:

Oh come, my love, and swim with me
out in this vast Binary Sea
Zeros and ones, patterns appear
They’ll prove to all that we were here
For if there is no document,
we cannot build our monument
So look into the lens and
I’ll make sure this moment never dies

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The Front Bottoms: Back on Top

29 Dec

BackontopBy Travis Carlyle

In their latest release, The Front Bottoms have continued to develop toward more studio precise and audio-engineered sounds – leaving behind some of the noisier, folkier sounds key to their earlier albums.

Back on Top is catchier than any of the band’s prior releases. The story-telling nuances that characterize their sound are still strongly in play, but with the almost total absence (bar a few horns) of their earlier folk influences, the narrative The Front Bottoms composes here comes closer to emo than all of their prior work combined. “Cough It Out” is as close to their old sound as the band gets, but the song also stands out as a highlighter of the emo-esque indie-pop-rock direction their latest release has tended towards.

As with Foals’ latest release, variation seems to be The Front Bottoms’ 2015 casualty. However, where Foals seem to have gotten complacent in a sound they are comfortable making, The Front Bottoms sound more refined, more together and more complete as a band for it.

Variation is definitely still here (just not as much so as previously), as is brilliantly illustrated by the rap verse in “Historic Cemetery” (one of my favourite songs of 2015). “HELP” also has one of the best hooks I’ve heard for a good while and is undoubtedly the best song on the release.

Hardcore fans of the band may be upset by more radio-tuned frequency Back on Top taps into, but I genuinely feel this band has reaffirmed itself as one of my favourites to listen to. If you enjoyed Talon of the Hawk (2014), this addition to their discography will sit well with you for all the same reasons and more.

David Gilmour: Rattle That Lock

28 Dec

Note: This review is a “media blackout” first look at Gilmour’s solo work, hence it may well be an incomplete collection of obvious statements.

rattle that lock_smallA lot of guitarists are all about flair and flames and showing off their hottest tricks. Not David Gilmour. Despite being a guitarist of mythic proportions, Gilmour’s leadwork is all about sentiment and storytelling, which he rouses and relays through the emotive and intriguing melodies carried across in his signature tone.

While the cinematic, orchestral instrumentation and tender, mournful guitar solos permeating Rattle That Lock could well have been plucked from a Pink Floyd album (circa Dark Side of the Moon, however much I hate to make the typical reference), this is a much purer taste of what Gilmour brought to the band.

The long, plaintive, and beautifully-backdropped leadwork of opening track “5 A.M.” perfectly encapsulates this, as do the lone elegy that is “A Boat Lies Waiting”, the varied instrumental wilderness “Beauty”, and “And Then…”, an echo of “5 A.M.” which picks up pieces of its melody to symmetrically close the album.

Yet title track “Rattle That Lock” and other tracks such as “Faces of Stone” and “Dancing Right In Front of Me” present a jarringly different, squarely structured format that feels blunt when contrasted with the delicate instrumental progressions beginning, ending, and recurring throughout this album – however rallying and relevant the rattle that lock / loose those chains refrain is, much like The Wall (Pink Floyd, 1979) was (and continues to be).

While this variation in sound is impressive, to me it feels discordant rather than diverse.

Rattle That Lock makes for stirring and captivating music when tracks are hand-picked to my liking, and I am interested to see if other Gilmour fans feel the same.

Beach House: Thank Your Lucky Stars

4 Dec

Thank Your Lucky StarsIn their second album of the year – an impressive feat in itself – Beach House takes a pointed step in the electronically stripped-down direction it dithered in earlier this year with Depression Cherry.

Thank Your Lucky Stars is stippled with grungy lead guitar, raw vocals and tracks featuring comparatively minimal instrumental use for a band so known for its echoes and layers.

In songs like “She’s So Lovely”, “All Your Yeahs”, and “Common Girl”, Beach House coyly reveals a previously-obscured talent for simple, captivating and thought-provoking songs, their bare presentation rendering Victoria Legrand’s high, whispery voice more striking than before.

While the single finder on Beach House’s website (you feed it three of your favourite Beach House songs; it recommends a track for you off Thank Your Lucky Stars) is a charming slice of computer magic, it reads me wrong with its suggestion of “She’s So Lovely”, no matter how captivating this song’s contagious melancholy.

My favourite track off this album, hands down, is “One Thing”. This 90s-nostalgic, sentimental grunge track is eerily and astoundingly reminiscent of early Radiohead in its chord progression and vocal melody, complete with distorted power chords.

With this release, combined with Depression Cherry, Beach House has rapidly climbed from a band I liked but didn’t think about very often, to a band I will probably pepper my “it’s okay, not many people have heard of them” conversations with whenever I make poor attempts at socializing.

Thank you, Beach House – with these nine tracks, at least one sad person feels slightly more understood.

Battles: La Di Da Di

4 Dec

La Di Da Di album art

By Travis Carlyle

Battles are a band known to me more for the differences between their first (Mirrored: 2007) and second (Gloss Drop: 2011) full-length releases than for any strict musical direction. Following their lead vocalist packing his bags mid-Gloss Drop (a move which meant the album had a number of external contributors) – La Di Da Di is the band’s first top-to-bottom instrumental release.

La Di Da Di begins, grows and ends as an extremely focused and engaging album. While past releases can arguably be bracketed as washy, art-pop-esque creations – Battles’ 2015 collection has a stripped-down focus and seriousness that their previous work did not have the slightest interest in catering to.

A more instrumentally direct and specific product, La Di Da Di works in intricate and deft decisions in all the ways that prior work resembled broad ‘yeah that will do’ brush strokes. Without having to pander to vocal elements, La Di Da Di is able to engage a listener focus with subtle rhythm shifts and an almost filmic development in instrumental progression.

“Summer Simmer” is a six-minute masterpiece with a slow shift from a dominating bassline to a keyboard-centered treble barely noticeable as the song progresses.

Other notable songs on the album include “Dot Com” and “FF Bada” (which is probably my favourite) – again, down to the engaging and intelligent harmonic shifts each has. It seems strange to say, but the cut-down nature of this album has added more to Battles’ work than any vocal-imbued collaboration they have yet produced.

 

Beach House: Depression Cherry

3 Dec

Beach HouseDepression Cherry‘s first studio album since Bloom feels rawer and more edgy than the 2012 release.

Depression Cherry features some remarkable instrumental scenes: the swelling buildup that is “Levitation”, the starting track gently and poignantly tugging you by the heart-strings into the album’s understated poignance; the gritty lead guitar singing bittersweetly over the echoey vocal layers in “Sparks”.

The vocals – particularly Victoria Legrand’s – seem to have been brought forward from their instrumental environs: as a result, Depression Cherry feels more intimate than the musicbox of echoes that was Bloom.

Apparently moving into darker emotional territory, the US duo’s fifth studio album presents a plaintive collection of melodies which make Bloom‘s seem almost glib and repetitive by comparison.

In places – “10:37”; “PPP” – the album feels like a collection of old-school love ballads clothed in new-age synth work.

All in all, Beach House’s Depression Cherry is a subtle but sharp tug out of dream pop’s hazy torpor, and has piqued my interest in a band I had until now relegated to background music.

Brand New: Daisy

9 Aug

Daisy twists in a new, experimental direction for Brand New.

The band ventures into new territory with audio samples (the album begins and ends with what sounds like a vintage recording of a woman singing to piano accompaniment in perhaps the 1920s), trippy editing (“Be Gone”), banjo (“In a Jar”) and textbook grunge (“Bed”).

It’s wonderful to listen to a band that has established such a distinctive style playing with sound in a way that broadens their conceptual reach.

Title track “Daisy” begins with an audio sample of a preacher announcing a hymn, proceeding with lyrics repurposing biblical imagery into a message of despair rather than hope.