Tag Archives: Music

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

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.

Belle and Sebastian: Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance

19 Dec

With Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, Belle and Sebastian take a pointed step towards having noticeable bass and drum layers, although sadly it is not a big one: the pair of black platform shoes this wispy, pastel-coloured band has put on is not quite enough to quell the sense that the music is floating away.

Opening track “Nobody’s Empire” exemplifies this perfectly: its driving bass drum beat is emotive, but simultaneously disappointing for how rousing it could be with just a slight shift in mixing (I’ve tried boosting the bass on my end, to little avail).

It’s a particular pity, because “Nobody’s Empire” is one of B&S’s rawest, realest songs to date. The lyrics relate Murdoch’s battle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, couched in poignantly optimistic melody with rallying choral backing.

The album at large (not for the first time in B&S’s discography) makes some poetic and important statements about mental illness, for example in “Play for Today”:

She’s got a friend
An ugly monster that will eat your face
She hides a crime
A hefty catalog of wasted time
She’s got a friend
A lonely monster that will prey on you

Yet it is “Allie” that more potently encapsulates undercurrents in Belle and Sebastian that make me uneasy with this album as a whole:

When there’s bombs in the middle east, you want to hurt yourself
When there’s knives in the city streets, you want to end yourself
When there’s fun in your mother’s house, you want to cry yourself to sleep

This channeling of vague (or at least vaguely-communicated) awareness of others’ unknown hardships back into one’s own, more privileged, pain, is similarly reflected in the decision to feature visual references to armed conflict in the album’s cover art.

girls in peacetime want to dance

Frankly, I’m getting tired of white indie bands (from white-led countries, no less) appropriating experiences that are not their own to add edge to their self-expression or flair to a love song.

For these reasons I won’t stand behind Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance as one of this year’s great indie albums, even if it does have some captivating tracks.

Death Grips: The Powers That B

17 Dec

The Powers That BBy Travis Carlyle 

Following Death Grips often feels like coming across parody news articles without realising what you are reading. One week it’s “new album coming soon”, next it’s “all live shows cancelled”; the following week it’s “hitting the road with Nine Inch Nails”, then it’s “we’ve disbanded”… you’re basically just confused as to what is real and what is them fucking with you on a level you’re not entirely aware of yet.

So it seemed most of the way through 2014 – a year in which I had convinced myself that Death Grips had faded into the abyss of lost cool bands… and then disc one off of their latest release, The Powers That B (2015) happened. The release forms part of a double-disc album and features Icelandic singer-songwriter, Björk, on all the first disc’s eight tracks.

While I am not overly familiar with Björk’s discography, I have dabbled in three of her nine releases and can safely say you would likely not even know that she was featured on the album’s first disc had you not read the Wikipedia article for Death Grips’ release.

Her voice forms part of a mashed quagmire of typical Death Grips sampling and over-production – as to how much of a hand she played in producing the album itself, I can only speculate. My initial feelings would be quite heavily, though, as experimentation across the eight tracks is high – even for Death Grips (which is saying something as these fellas are practically the Radiohead of Hipster Hop).

That said, it’s a step too far and I don’t feel myself slipping into disc one and the hazy atmosphere its electronic bed and primitive, raw drum line is built on. This is definitely a new direction for Death Grips, one the refinement time brings can easily cure.

Disc two of The Powers That B is stylistically more in tune with the rest of Death Grips’ discography. Experimentation is toned back to The Money Store (2012) levels and feels a lot more rounded as a project. The first songs on the disc feel like a Punk-Rock release, with meta-sampling from as far back as their own debut release (Exmilitary [2011]) and a much stronger emphasis on not over-producing their work. Samples flow from one to the next and are not manically conjoined into a rambunctious mess of overlapping and discordant sounds – which is incidentally all that disc one can truly be remembered as.

“Inanimate Sensations” is one of the best songs I’ve heard in years and “Turned Off” is just… beautiful – if anything, this is the type of song I would have expected Death Grips to create with Björk.

As a product, disc two just fits together in a manner the album’s opening disc seems incapable of attaining. There’s a flow and return to earlier sound structures that is both interesting and calming (in the same way as eating ice-cream you haven’t had since you were eight, and it tasting the same, is reassuring).

It’s hard to treat The Powers That B as a single release as it is clearly just two separate discs thrown together – a disjuncture that isn’t helped by the fact that one half is so much better than the other. While disc one is an experimental phase you don’t need to pay much attention to, disc two is Exmilitary amounts of brilliance (a level I thought the band would never get close to attaining again).

Chrvches: Every Open Eye

6 Dec

By Travis Carlyle

Chvrches_-_Every_Open_EyeScottish Synth-poppers, Chvrches, have released their long-awaited follow-up to debut album, The Bones of What You Believe (2013). Hip teens across the globe now have a second album to cue guests into their house drink-ups and slumber parties with.

Joking aside, the band has garnered wide acclaim within a musical genre that is overloaded with similar-sounding “talent” and thematic concerns as deep as rain puddles on suburban walkways.

While I enjoyed their first release, I couldn’t help but feel that bands like Sleigh Bells have crisper, more adventurous electronics – while singers like Kiesza out-range and out-perform Chvrches’ vocalist, Lauren Mayberry.

But what of their latest release, Every Open Eye? For a start, Chvrches have done the standard second album “we must justify the praise” approach – they’ve gotten more serious and have a more resolute sound. The electronic hooks are definitely stronger, with the wishy-washy, dreamscape instrumentals of their first release nowhere near as prevalent here – they are now replaced with actual instrumental presence instead of an atmospheric background.

“Never Ending Circles”, the album’s starting point, could quite easily have come off of my favourite Sleigh Bells release, Treat. The drops are heavy – almost dubsteppy – with Mayberry’s hollow and haunting harmony hovering over it all. Even lyrically, Chvrches seem to have grown from the toddler booties of their first release and are now sporting brand new brogues.

Here’s to taking what you came for

And here’s to running off the pain

And here’s to just another no man

If you want another

Say you need another

Here’s to never ending circles

And building them on top of me

And here’s to another no man

If you want another

Say you need another

There’s a definite, serious (feminist at that) feel from the outset here, one that carries over strongly into “Leave A Trace”.

One of the hallmarks of Chvrches’ first release was a variety in song structure and pace – something too many pop-something bands of 2015 fail to grasp. “Empty Threat”, for example, almost rings true as a singalong stadium-anthem… that’s one of the last things I expected to hear on this release.

I mentioned earlier that Chvrches have grown up in this release – and I stand by that. The big downside to growing up, though, is that you often become more predictable… and Chvrches sadly do this too.

Entering the last four tracks of the album just feels like they’re playing it all safe, the dynamism that Sleigh Bells and M83 (two bands I would compare most strongly to Chvrches) is nowhere to be found. “Down Side of Me” honestly just sounds like a worse version of “Make Them Gold”, and that’s a real shame for the promise this album shows at its outset.

This remains a solid release with some stunning singles (“Never Ending Circles” and “Make Them Gold” my favourites), just not the special something that The Bones of What You Believe turned out to be.

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.

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.