Tag Archives: Review

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.

 

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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.

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.

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: