Tag Archives: Music

Modest Mouse: The Moon & Antarctica

28 Apr

With The Moon & Antarctica, Modest Mouse takes another bold step toward the mature, refined sound we hear from them today. Across the album, dynamics are crisper and the frequent transitions between the songs’ characteristically disparate parts are slicker – yet Modest Mouse continues to experiment wildly with sound, this time delving into backward sampling and a broad variation of vocal harmonies and vocal mixing effects.

The Moon & Antarctica also plumbs new thematic depths: as suggested in the album’s name, song titles and lyrics frequently reference universal physics, space exploration and the despairing insignificance these fields of inquiry reflect onto life on Earth. It is unclear whether the echoing barrage of double entendres, “The Stars Are Projectors”, refers to celebrities or celestial bodies – most likely both. It concludes,

Was there a need for creation?
That was hidden in a Math equation
And that’s this:
WHERE DO CIRCLES BEGIN?

while “Lives” begins:

Everyone’s afraid of their own life
If you could be anything you want
I bet you’d be disappointed, am I right?

 Vividly encapsulating the new, eerie undertone Modest Mouse takes on in this album is “The Cold Part”, which could now be interpreted as a bizarre prophecy of global warming:

So long to this cold, cold part of the world
So long to this bone-bleached part of the world

I stepped down as president of Antarctica
Can’t blame me; don’t blame me; don’t.

Advertisements

Bombay Bicycle Club: So Long, See You Tomorrow

20 Dec

(Moving on to bands I have never heard who amass considerable reputation in the hipster community:)

More often than I would like to admit, you can tell how good a band is by how many of your friends like their Facebook page. Bombay Bicycle Club‘s substantial popularity did not bode well for them, and I’m sorry to say that So Long, See You Tomorrow is just as appalling as I feared it would be.

I mean, it’s not suddenly-take-up-smoking-as-an-excuse-to-leave-the-room-until-this-music-stops-playing awful, but you really could do something better with your time than listen to this. I bitterly regret the last 45 minutes of my life.

bombaygrossgrossRight from the first track, I got the distinct impression that the members of this band just looked at each other and went, “I saw Regina George dancing to terrible EDM while wearing a Mumford & Sons T-shirt, so we should try sound like both at the same time”. What could be, in places, slow, subtle poignance à la early Bon Iver, is buried beneath cross-rhythms so inflammatory I think the liquid in my inner ears got confused enough to give me motion sickness, as well as instrumental and vocals processed to an abrasively flat, tinny timbre. In addition, this album is terribly mixed: the layers blare together into a fuggy mess, and not in a good way. 

In short, So Long, See You Tomorrow sounds like mediocre folk music that’s been terribly remixed by some horrible EDM duo you religiously avoid every time you visit your hometown. Don’t listen to it.

Mogwai: Rave Tapes

17 Dec

Mogwai‘s Rave Tapes is enjoyable yet uninteresting.

alternativeCDMaybe being introduced to primarily-instrumental music by Bateleur and Godspeed You! Black Emperor has set my standards uncommonly high, but I feel that whilst Rave Tapes displays a beautific crafting of instrumental layers, the tracks lack substance: there is little progression or crescendo, and the melodies are not particularly unique. Whilst good progressive instrumental leaves you wondering what on (or off) earth just happened to you, mediocre instrumental has you anxiously speculating whether you perhaps got a dud copy missing its vocals. My experience with Rave Tapes was sadly the latter.

The music itself is nonetheless of high quality. Tracks worth looking out are “Blues Hour”, whose haunted vocals round out the corners cut by its instrumental, and “The Lord is out of Control”, a significantly richer and fuller track than its precursors.

Overall, this album is worth listening to, but don’t expect anything soul-shattering.

~

For a more informed critique of Mogwai’s Rave Tapes, check out this podcast!

La Dispute: Rooms of the House

16 Dec

If you’re going to buy, or just listen to, one new album this year, let it be this one.

??Rooms of the House is more of an anthology of potent poems given breadth and depth by music than it is an album: the band’s dynamic, layered, post-hardcore instrumental style serves to augment the emotional landscapes mapped out in the lyrics, and Jordan Dreyer’s spoken/shouted-word vocals function as a dramatic reading sharpening their dynamics. This 42-minute journey through the elusive, shadowy topography in which a stranger’s mind overlaps with yours is littered with literary devices for framing and giving meaning to memory:

Funny what you think of after a collapse
While lying in the dirt the first thing that comes back is never quite what you’d have guessed…
We played house with the neighbors in their basement…
I remember once their dad came in said, “You think this is bad?
You don’t know the half.” And he laughed…
…he sort of smiled like “it’s only a joke” but he was lying
There was something else inside of his eyes
All those secrets people tell to little children
Are warnings that they give them
Like, “Look, I’m unhappy. Please don’t make the same mistake as me.”

For Mayor in Splitsville

Story threads are dropped and subtly picked up again in later songs, like the frantic mother in “HUDSONVILLE, MI 1956” glimpsing bookshelf plans on her father’s basement workbench during a storm, linking to later when we hear the speaker watching his grandfather build his grandmother a bookshelf in “Extraordinary Dinner Party”. Some songs, like “Woman (reading)” and “Objects in Space” are more plainly knotted together. In their totality this lattice of crossovers forms an intricate tapestry of despairing, commonplace life. La Dispute‘s lyrics – unsettling contemplation transmitted through the utterly mundane – exercise the unique ability, unlike the pretentiously beautified fragments of coherence we find in even the most emotive songs by other bands, to cut straight to the bones of our everyday grim realities and press on them. “35” is a particularly bloodcurdling example of this:

Drivers out on the bridge
Slowing down as they go through a lane shift
Wires snap
Concrete gives
Metal twisting and
Everything tumbling
At the end of the work day
Stuck in traffic don’t feel when the road sways…
To their partners and kids
Don’t suspect anything till the bridge splits…
And I watch it on TV lying down here
On the floor in the dining room reversed in the mirror
Where I know I’m not dreaming now
But I know I’ve been sleeping
I just don’t know since when
I only know that it’s light outside
I only know that the rent is still late
When did they find out the concrete gave?
When did they learn that the wires snapped?

However, also trapped within Rooms of the House‘s complex web is the whispered reminder that our most-mourned treasures will be found in retrospect in the things we overlook. “Woman (in mirror)” may be the most genuine love song I have ever heard.

Rooms of the House will add new terrain to the world you explore when you close your eyes, and new characters to the conversations in your mind. Above and beyond a music album, this is a raw, cohesive literary masterpiece.

~

For a seasoned La Dispute fan’s perspective on this album, listen to this Indiesputable Podcast review.

Eagulls: Self-titled

15 Dec

coverLeeds-based Eagulls‘ self-titled debut album is basically quintessential English post-punk but with more charming melodies – although I admit I am ill-equipped to understand the finer nuances of this particular genre.

To be honest, listening to this music through earbuds at my laptop, as opposed to in a borderline violent crowd whilst wondering if it is possible for sound waves to cause internal hemorrhaging, feels a bit like drinking wine from a can. If you have big enough speakers (or expensive enough headphones), then cut the lights, turn “Nerve Endings”, “Yellow Eyes” or “Soulless Youth” up loud enough to completely annihilate the world around you, and feel cleansed.

~

For a more informed review of this album, listen to this Indiesputable review:

Emperor Yes: An Island Called Earth

12 Dec

“People like to say, always sing about what you know. So we sing about science and history. They also say, put in your vinyl what you love to most. So we put a piece of outer space that collided with earth in the 16th century. Science and history.” Emperor Yes, on their BandCamp page

An Island Called Earth is the first album this year to have me grinning from ear to ear.

An Island Called EarthEmperor Yes combines euphoric, upbeat synth with lyrics relaying interesting scientific and historical facts. It’s a lot like the slick electronic music most indie kids are into these days, but packed with great conversation starters – there’s only so much you can say about heartbreak and existential crisis in the 21st Century, after all.

“Wasps” – made known as the theme song for the QI podcast, No Such Thing as a Fish – is about how honeybees can defend themselves against Japanese giant hornets by swarming the hornet and vibrating together, raising their collective body temperature enough to cook the hornet in a kind of convection oven. “Carl Sagan” tells us how “Carl Sagan calculated [that] the number of probable planets in the universe is ten billion trillion”, and “Paramesse to Tanis” is based on how in 1060 BC, the Egyptian city of Pi-Ramesses – including stone structures like statues – was moved 20km to the North to follow the shifting Nile tributary on which the city depended.

Tramsmitted through Emperor Yes’ music, these pieces of information take on a poignancy you don’t often find in science or history textbooks, though. The bees in “Wasps” sing:

It’s time to get together,
show what we can do
You hold onto me
and I’ll hold onto you

“Carl Sagan” concludes “so even if we’re really not alone, in all practical terms we are”, and the upbeat chorus of “Paramesse to Tanis” proclaims:

If you help me pull this mountain across the burning desert
If you help me, there’s nothing we cannot do.

The uncommon combination of hip electronica with unpretentious history and science geeking, as well as the refreshing inclusion of emotive upliftment in conversations about science, make Emperor Yes delightfully unique.
~

An Island Called Earth is not currently available in South Africa via iTunes or Amazon, but you can listen to it on their bandcamp page, or have a go at acquiring one of their space-infused vinyls.

Thom Yorke: Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes

11 Dec

Cover FrontTomorrow’s Modern Boxes, presumably named for the electronica long-time Radiohead fans have been grumbling about increasingly over the last few years, breathes a new humanness into music made primarily from computers.

Whilst this album is the new apex of Yorke’s forays into electronic music, its comparatively minimal instrumental* and bold percussion make it more accessible and cohesive than Amok (Atoms for Peace; 2013) or The King of Limbs (Radiohead; 2011). Its melodies carry the familiar tranquil melancholy we heard in snatches in Radiohead’s recent work, with “Give up the Ghost” on The King of Limbs and “Videotape” on In Rainbows, drawing us once again into the foggy, barren landscape of Thom Yorke’s mind. Yorke’s vocals sound rawer here than we have heard them in a while, and his falsetto more delicate. Coupled with modest reappearances of the piano, the effect is emotive and comforting in a way reminiscient of Radiohead’s much earlier work (circa The Bends).

Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes is not as groundbreaking as In Rainbows or The King of Limbs**, but is immediately familiar and consoling, like the smell of your best friend’s clothes when they’re the only person who doesn’t make you lie about the rough time you’re having. My favourite tracks so far are “Guess Again!”“Interference” and “Nose Grows Some”.

 

*erm, computer noises. Are they all “synth”? I don’t know.
**neglecting to mention Amok, which was also not particularly groundbreaking even if it was very good.