revoluzik

Sun Kil Moon – April

Artist: Sun Kil Moon

Release Date: 2008

I like to think about the things I want sometimes, not merely for the reason that we all fantasize of winning the lottery, meeting the dream girl, being the life of the party while everybody hangs on your every last word and glance, or having that one life-changing meal that sticks aromatically with you until the pit of the evening, but for the simple reason that I don’t ever quite know what it is I want. I mean, I can pinpoint a few of the things I know for certain: a loving girlfriend (if not somebody to merely enjoy in as present tense a situation as possible), an allotment of reasonable success in my artistic endeavors, social fulfillment that I’ve not quite felt since the token days of high school appreciation, the departure of the knot that’s lived in my stomach for nearly half a decade… these are all things that I know I want, and yet… I feel like the story is incomplete. Some missing sense of security seems to go completely absent when I compile all of these wondrous things in my head, as if something so obvious is being forgotten in my mentioning that I’ll smack my forehead until my brain hemorrhages upon realization. This is probably the part where my preachy friends come storming down, waving their holy books in my face and beaming, “You can fill that God-sized hole with whatever you want, but it will never quite fill it!” It’s not that, I know that much. But there’s something missing that I don’t have, that maybe I’ve really never had. And I really want to know what it is.

That’s somewhat of the feeling I get from April, an album by one of my very favorite singers and songwriters that just doesn’t quite charm or tickle me in the sense that his very best (Ocean BeachBridge [I don’t wish to come across like an estranged Red House Painters fan, but the best of Mark Kozelek’s skills were emphasized in the pit of his career with that founding band]) does. It’s a very clearly beautiful record, aesthetic being that of a foggy San Franciscan morning and tone being absolutely sublime even by the man’s expectedly-immaculate standard. There are even moments on this record where, despite Ghosts of the Great Highway and Tiny Cities making one think that it was all gone, Mark’s voice actually sounds exactly as it did in the glory days of his prominence. The astonishing opener “Lost Verses” feels like just that: a song that got buried in a trashbag of old notebooks, unearthed through the curiosity of nostalgic domestic exploration that every thoughtful person will partake in. It’s easy to forget that the first ten minutes of the release are spent on that one song, and it’s really a beautiful mark in the whole of his career.

There’s even a bit at around 6:45-ish that seems to pay homage to the cathartic snare in “Medicine Bottle”. If that was intentional, a million and eight praises on his head.

Experiencing April (on this early August night, just an acknowledgment I’d like to throw out that has virtually no significance) is like watching my future, receiving all of the things I listed in a theatrical display of all the best moments of my life to come. Things move slowly, but the entirety of visualizing everything coming together in the ways you’ve always feared they never would, and the idea that everything is going to work out pristinely and perfectly up until your last, shallowly wrinkled breath… it’s enough to fill me with contentment. And that’s stunningly spectacular, because contentment is one of the rarest feelings to ever extrapolate from the mere spin of a record. Complacency? You betcha. Calamity? Oh, absolutely. Intoxicated comfort that comes from nothing short of a person you love holding you? Even that. But contentment? The true and genuine feeling that everything is going to be alright because it’s been alright all along? That’s not a feeling I can attribute to any other records that come to immediate mind, and the fact that Mark Kozelek is the person to deliver that feeling makes me want to laugh boisterously. This is the man who wrote the song that brought me to tears after nearly a year of the driest cheeks known to man! The guy practically wrote the story of my entire year on his first record, carving a vale so sad and downtrodden that I’ve lamented miserably in the things he’s had to say. And now, despite all of that, here he is acting like a tremendous down comforter, soaked with elixirs and potions that make its inhabitant instantly feel like everything is going to be alright.

Did I mention that this feeling pervades before the second track has even come to a halt?

April is a very special record, but… though I’ve just went through incessant praising and undying admiration for what it offers, I return to the initial crux of everything: even in identifying what I want, and knowing what I like and what I’m striving for, I feel like something is missing. It’s that little sense of something misplaced that causes a barrier to sit awkwardly between the best of Kozelek and April, and no matter how hard this record pushes against the wall of this figurative forcefield, it doesn’t quite budge. It can’t tip the threshold. And I’m honestly okay with that. Just because this isn’t the best doesn’t mean that I’m bothered, in the same way that if I gained everything I claimed to want in the opening, I wouldn’t be unhappy. I wouldn’t be ill or otherwise upset that I’ve not achieved that perfection. That’s how I feel entirely about April, and if it’s any indication of what could very well end up being my future, allow somebody to punch my gut over the increasing frequency of wanting to throw in the towel. This is a record that gives me hope, and even if it does always fade as soon as the music stops playing, I’ll take what I can get.

Devin Townsend – Deconstruction

Artist: Devin Townsend

Release Date: 2011

Dense. Humid. Mechanical and monstrous. Capricious to aggressors, alluring to passerby with the promise of baked goods and treacherousness. A towering monolith against a sweltering backdrop, jagged spires clawing their way towards the heavens and scraping on the gods’ doorknob to let the begging for unlocking to be known, a sinister motivation lingering behind every turn and chug it carries out. This is the sort of visual depiction I find assaulting my senses whenever I fire up the long-awaited Deconstruction, and what a monsterloving woozy of a CD this is. Sit tight, folks, it’s showtime…

DECONSTRUCTION-ON-ON-ON-ON-ON
by VITO J. GENOVESE, prolific and majestic internet contributor since 2003

I’m only flashing this gimmicky, pretentious opening in your face because I’m at a loss of how to enter or tackle a record such as this one, a most anticipated CD that got its initial inception through the quasi-comedic tentative title, Deconstruction of a Cheeseburger. Though the overblown concept remained, the prepositional latter three-quarters got axed for the sake of fans not confusing this for a piece of humorous nonsense, although I have to say that I can take a record such as Ziltoid the Omniscient to an alarmingly more serious degree than this. Let’s face it, folks: if you’re not able to keep a settled stomach when it comes to melodrama, if your lactose intolerance is ridiculously and grotesquely unforgiving to even the teeniest lining of an artist not taking himself seriously (not an accusation I’ll ever throw Devin’s way, mind you), Deconstruction is a record that you’ll want to avoid like SARS on a crowded Beijing locomotive. I’ll dig up some dirt on what this record contains at various intervals: scalding intensity in both velocity and melody, density in production that surpasses the bulwark-esque walls of the Hague and Kremlin if built side-by-side, peppered spoken word passages meant to tickle an awkward laugh of humiliation from anybody you may be showing this to, farting—lots and lots of farting, all over the title track and dripping down the legs and heels that this album’s shiny silk cape drapes as it gallivants from place to place— phrases throughout such as ‘Lady Vagine’, ‘I’ve got a little boner!’, ‘We all rip off Meshuggah!’, ‘Smoke that fuckin’ weed’, ‘See the man with 17 testicles!’, and of course, ‘I AM THE MIGHTY MASTURBATOR!!’

To put it simply, this is not an eloquent affair.

But, now that I’ve gotten most of the weirdness out of the way, let’s focus on some of the more striking and pleasant surprises that Deconstruction is offering up: roughly 90% of the tracks presented on this release contains a minimum of one guest vocalist, an A-list of singers ranging from Mikael Akerfeldt to Floor Jansen, Ihsahn to Tommy Rogers, a multitude of others I’m currently refusing to remember or look up… this was meant to be an operatic, multi-vocalist bucket of wacky shenanigans. It may please, or displease, that I say that I didn’t find the guests to be featured very prominently; I am often having to focus or give an additional chunk of my perceptive listening to even notice who’s who, and I’m finding that Devin is the only one who somewhat significantly stands out to me. This says nothing about the way the artists were placed in these songs, but more of what a listener like myself who doesn’t know a lot of the works of present personnel is going to hear on the cacophonous summit that resides in any of these nine songs. Not a single tune can be called small, wimpy, less prominent than the others: they are all meaty, and they will punch your teeth down your throat if you deliver a cheeky grin towards any of their ways.

This is probably sounding like a wet dream to some of the fanatics that are really crazy about the output of anybody involved with this record, but let me be clear:Deconstruction is a ridiculously difficult album to digest, and if I were a little more pretentious, I would compare the literal samples of diarrhea towards this CD’s end as a metaphor for what a person might be feeling after their first experience with the record. I’ve had actual diarrhea twice myself during playthroughs of this record, but this sentence helps no one. I don’t think this record clicked until my sixth session with its entirety, and even then, it was only pieces that were starting to show itself to me. A large portion of Deconstruction is embedded into personal recollection: it arrived the day before my summer semester, and nearly all of those weeks were spent traversing a damply disgusting campus with the craziness of this record buzzing about endlessly. “Sumeria” always crashes through my sternum like a sledgehammer, from that first chunky note to the cavemen choir that raise their animal bones towards the sky in triumph. To contrast this viewpoint, “Planet of the Apes” is nearly entirely lost on my likes; the ironic thing is that the two most striking moments of the CD are immured in the sloppy eleven minutes that the song takes up (TUNGSTEN BODY GLOWING MIND and the symphonic “Oh, everybody will know / I am so happy now!” clean vocal minute). That’s bound to happen on something this eclectic and different. “Pandemic” gets compared to Strapping Young Lad, but I just hear a mess of unappealing noise in this graciously tiniest track of the record. Other moments that have me shaking my head are the aforementioned title track, which actually has some wicked screaming and heartbeat-accelerating climaxes, and hindmost section of “Stand” despite a phenomenal callback to the Ki record in its entrance.

Oh, did I mention? This record is riddled with… leitmotifs? Character themes? Referential material from the two preceding albums and possibly the one that arrived alongside this one? It’s pretty nice to pick up on.

I’ve come across like a pessimistic ninny, I’m sure, so let’s devote a dollop to what of this record impresses me into headsmashing comatose. The opener “Praise the Lowered” is one of the most astounding compositions that Devin has ever made, industrial undertones depicting a calm-before-the-storm sort of beginning to this circus of ridiculousness; as everything elevates and swells into the astounding death duet between he and the singer of November’s Doom, I feel that all that I once loved and lost about metal is coming to sweep me back off my feet. On the opposite end of the album, “Poltergeist” serves as what I’m willing to call the craziest and heaviest song Devin Townsend has ever been a part of, kicking off with an emphatic, “LET’S FINISH THIS!!” before backwards-skyrocketing into the inferno beneath its feet. I can’t even begin to explain what a hectic song “Poltergeist” is, especially since it clicked entirely at random with me on a particular walk back to my apartment—the clear winner of Deconstruction.

Another medal goes to “The Mighty Masturbator”; though absurdly titled, and way longer than the final recording should have been and chock full of the silliest conceptions imaginable (I’ve got my savin’-the-world boots on…), it’s got some of Devin’s most suspensefully-intriguing moments of songwriting. When the choirs scorch up in response to the jaws of Earth opening up beneath this song, and the bridge of “Numbered!” reprises like a roman candle of unadulterated symphony (that’s my worst simile yet), I get goosebumps. Every time. About halfway through this beast, there’s also an electroboogie display of some of the craziest sounds I’ve never expected to hear on a Devin Townsend record. It sounds like a dance club for murderers and savants, vulgarity abound and demons laughing as they swing from the bone-strung chandeliers. The crescendo of this entire movement is enthralling, arriving at Greg Pucianto of Dillinger Escape Plan wailing not at the top of his lungs, but from a balloon tethered from that spot so that he can go even higher, “WE PRAISE SATAN / HE LIVES INSIDE OF OUR MINDS!!!” Melodramatic? I told you so. But I go crazy over a moment like that because the music is so remarkably top-notch. About fourteen minutes of this song diddling around (pun somewhat-intended) leads it to the doorstep of the orchestral waltz that closes out the insanity that is this piece, Devin spouting a long string of the weirdest terms and forgotten colloquialisms, introductions reminiscent of that awkward center of “The Fletcher Memorial Home”, that have ever been uttered by anyone human in any planet’s existence. It’s weird, and I’m strangely okay with that.

This record is clearly a mouthful, an earful, and anywhere else you can manage to fit this record (no lewdness implied) during a session in its presence. I don’t know how to approach Deconstruction these days, the flowery walkways of college mixing with the contrasting beauty of maniacal wailing and chugging instrumentation. I suppose that this is an album that must be experienced in as unique a way as possible if you want it to hold any prominence musically, and I don’t think the amount of listening that one will do before this finally clicks is going to withhold that chance from anybody. Absolutely, this is the hardest and most complicated piece of anything that Devin has produced, and it’s NOT a starting point for anything. This will peel you away from your seat like a tornado on steroids, and as somebody who has ridden that twister nearly twenty times, I quite anticipate never coming down.

 

Uzi & Ari – It Is Freezing Out

Artist: Uzi & Ari

Release Date: 2006

I got a haircut the other day, marking yet another milestone of independence in my miserable record of things I’ve put off doing and marveling at the fact that, yes, this was the first time in my life that I received hair care from somebody other than the barber I gave business since I was 4 (Bill, died of cancer a few years back) or a personal friend in their own bathroom (or mine, like that one time [just to maintain that nagging disease I’ve got called ‘honesty’]); I remember my heartbeat escalating as I walked in, the pretty blond lady informing me that a buzz was only $10 and me absolutely surefire about wanting to decimate the mop that resided then-currently on my scalp. I hopped into the chair and braced myself, not quite sure of what I was expecting, and she did one of the finest and silentest jobs I’ve ever seen. That second one especially… the quiet that ensued during this process wasn’t something I had been anticipating. Back when I was a kid, Bill used to talk to me about Pokemon cards and Harry Potter, urging me to read Lord of the Rings like he had when I was his age (he must have been in his 70s even then, such a savvy old man), and with friends, there was always the usual gossip or conversation of happenings that came with letting someone you know do you a standstill favor. Nothing like that happened here, not a single word of exchange until the transaction went financial, and I departed towards the supermarket with my hat fitting better than it had only moments before.

I guess I kind of wanted that lady to talk to me, not because of anything to do with her, but out of the realization that I haven’t much human contact aside from the unreliable internet and text messaging service that dominates communication nowadays. Maybe just a chance to test if I was any better at talking to people after this seemingly conscious stasis of August, something to gauge if I’m as creepy as I sometimes feel I am when I look into the mirror or a candid sharing of one another even on a smalltalk level… I didn’t expect to stare into my cold dead eyes, hating every imperfection of my face as I gazed right back, feeling the itches come from fallen short hairs and tickling buzzers. Though I don’t fault that kind lady for doing her job efficiently and without any bullshit, I guess I somehow managed to romanticize even the simplest encounter that I could have because it was the only encounter. I would go onto stumbling over my words with the pretty cashier in Publix some minutes afterward, and the same would happen as I awkwardly thanked my bus driver as I scurried back into the sunlight. I feel timid in every action and expectation I deploy, like somebody with a lot to say and plenty of love to contribute, yet no sense of aim on where or how to administer these things. I’m a mouse enclosed in a restaurant’s back freezer at the stroke of closing time, which is what has me so convinced that I’m currently in league with exactly the motivation behind Uzi & Ari.

My love for geography had me snooping around the pages for bands from Salt Lake City, and happening upon a band with all the right genre tags and a hazy enough album cover, I was determined to love whatever it was that lay dormant inside the music it housed. From second one: glacial, bare tones wash with an electronic simplicity that has me racking my brain over where I first heard such an execution, clamoring and failing to figure out the source of redolence. I’m not big on summing a band’s sound up into a comparison of other artists, but if Thom Yorke ever paired himself up with Fennesz, going on a skiing trip in Anchorage and refusing to use the heater in their musty lodge. This album is absolutely frigid, that jolting feeling when you would lay shirtless on a tile floor when you were a kid, or maybe that gust that always seems to attack whenever you emerge from a steamy jacuzzi in search of a dry towel. The tones that wash overhead of It is Freezing Out, though maybe a mere eighty degree Fahrenheit, aren’t enough to make this a very comfortable affair, like that thin blanket that forces your toes to stick out because it’s just too short and unaccommodating. You can try every which way to get into this record and pretend it’s a bubblebath, but it remains resilient and afraid to let anybody penetrate its defenses and truly be one with what it’s generating.

I think that’s the number one thing about this record that motivates any interest at all: despite its iciness and cruelty to reject, it really just wants to be paid attention to, spoken of for a bit, loved. It looks around at Kid AMusic Has the Right to Children,Endless Summer, and it realizes that they all get the same sort of admiration and adoration from the people who hear it, and then Uzi & Ari wonders: “Why can’t that be me? Why can I enjoy that same enhanced style of living with what I have to offer?” It is Freezing Out doesn’t have nearly the capacity for charm and affection that those bigwigs do, and with time, it’s as if this record starts to realize that and recedes in knowing that it’ll never quite be the star it wishes it could be. Maybe on something as widescale as what it is aspiring towards, that’s correct: you’ll never hear about this record by 2016, and the ones I’ve referenced above will definitely still be renowned. Uzi & Ari may not even be around to see that they’ve failed to possess any sort of fame or recognition in the department they excel in, and they may even be the cause of their own demise. All of this aside, it doesn’t change the simple fact that this album does what it does, generating its dulcet tones and its remnant influences in a bubble of mixed temperatures and consistencies. It’s like if a swimming pool were bombarded with meteors of permafrost and teaspoons of boiling water, and the feeling of wading through this concoction is as changing and enthralling as ever. It’s mostly cold, but you get that sense of warm life seeping through just every now and then, here and there, waiting to brush by your knees or grazing your ribs.

One thing I know for sure: I can’t wait to give this another go when the wintertime hits, and I REALLY hope I’ve got a new perspective on my own lonely desperation by that time. Who knows, maybe the price I’ll have to pay is no longer feeling connected to this. Until then, this is a charming little CD that urges me to zip up a jacket. And I tell it, “No.”

The Avalanches – Since I Left You

Artist: The Avalanches

Release Date: 2000

There’s something way too cheery, too criminally snide about the way that girl sings: “Since I left you / I found the world so new” over and over, I imagine a man crumpled in the corner as he hears his former lover wailing from the radio on the nightstand. It takes a lot of conviction and mean-spirit to write and sing words that insidious and cold. A friend of mine hesitated in writing a song that ever-so-slightly (and anonymously) insulted one of his ex-girlfriends, and I couldn’t help but wonder how he ever plans to make it in songwriting if he isn’t willing to get his hands a little dirty. What would music be if Morrissey had been too afraid to write, “I was only joking when I said, by rights, you should be bludgeoned in your bed”? The confessional form that music can take is astounding, and I find myself constantly in awe at what people are willing to commit to record, from Elliott Smith’s infernal hatred of himself to Scott Walker’s morbid romp through the slaughterhouse that is his mind. I love the stories that people can muster and mesmerize through sound, and when a collection of many people’s concoctions come together to make something brand new, it’s even grander a specialty.

A lot of Since I Left You was spent traversing around a somewhat moderately occupied shopping mall, Governor’s Square to be exact, the finest that Tallahassee has to offer (and that’s really not saying much, though it kicks the shit out of what I used to have in my hometown). It’s modestly sized, shaped like a crucifix and two stories worth of deliciousness and trendiness (and wouldn’t you know it, not a single music shop in the whole establishment; a crying shame). A lot of the interior is high ceilings, rainclouds menacingly staring in through the panes and warning everybody not to leave, fluorescent lighting, disgruntled patrons who want to walk down the escalator rather than wait patiently, and a slew of the most beautiful women I think I’ve ever laid my eyes on. I’ve never been that sort of guy to stare or check women out, but it’s pretty impossible to have a completely blind eye at the short-shorts and flip-flops crowd that comprised a good 60% of the building’s inhabitants on this day. Nevertheless, I’m too afraid to associate myself with these people anyway. I’ll stick to smiling at the girl who offers me the orange chicken sample on a toothpick, or giving as hearty a thank you to the cashier at the cookie shop as she returns my change. It’s the little things that get me through what I consider grueling social occurrences, and I’m really glad that The Avalanches were present for support.

I’m probably going to use this record as a gateway in getting people into hip-hop (HAR HAR, I KNOW, coming from the guy who gave Wu-Tang Clan and A Tribe Called Quest mediocre ratings, who knows a couple of Nas albums and the rest of his rappers being far-removed from the urban sprawl of the style’s origins; he doesn’t even have Public Enemy yet!), because if I had heard this at any point in my life, I know that I would have been hooked on what it offers. The duo of “Diners Only” and “A Different Feeling” is sublime in establishing exactly the sort of optimistic breakdown that we all awkwardly go through at some point, “Radio” like a party scene that was estranged and left out of the final cut of the film (much to the director’s dismay, a Katy Perry song was used in its place), “Electricity” pummels me and has me nearly whipping my cell phone out just to recommend it to everybody on my contact’s list, and while the latter half of the record doesn’t carry the same oomph that its former does, it’s a fairly solid playthrough. I’d call this one of the most satisfying sets that an hour has ever musically taken up, and that’s a damn honor when I’ve heard as many records as I have. Not to show any conceit, but this album makes me feel too sure of myself.

Sufjan Stevens – The Age of Adz

Artist: Sufjan Stevens

Release Date: 2010

I’ve got an insatiable wanderlust, which puts me in the occasionally resentful stupor over the fact that I live in the torrid bog known as the most southeastern region of the United States; this peninsula is where I’ve lived my entire life, only in a recent year have I squirmed my way from its middle and I’m now resting on the sprawling base, field of vision obscured and things not feeling too heartily different, but at least it’s a change. To be a stranger in a strange land, if I may trot out the cliché and literary reference, is one of the most captivating feelings I can ever attest to being a part of, and as somebody who has still seen so little of the world, I garner fascination from the mere action of walking down avenues I’ve never been, taking shortcuts off the beaten path, or just taking the time to enjoy the fine details of a familiar place and why it’s so special in the form that it’s in. It took me several months before I was able to grasp the layout and spatial fortitude to feel comfortable in Tallahassee, but now that I have, I’m itching for that sense of seeing incognito boulevards, uncharted patches of suburban lots, and skyscraper-obscured city streets that thousands have traversed even though I’ve not the slightest idea of where they connect to. I’ve got the entirety of the city at my disposal to do this, and I’d be out there at this very moment if it wasn’t for the midnight hour upon which I write this, and the dankness that living in a musty swamp entails.

The inverse of all of this, however, is that I’m tortured at the prospect of needing to trawl the same trail again and again and again, the looming certainty that I’ll see nothing of interest or remarkable difference in comparison to yesterday’s travels, and that I’m going to have to walk back this very way if I want to arrive in the comfort of home once again. This is exactly the sort of dread that follows me through every semester of a tedious walk out to the main road, only to cut through the neighboring technical school’s campus to arrive at Tallahassee Community College. The walk has been roughly the same since about late September, and knowing that my first semester as a college sophomore is starting up in some days from this very moment is already prepping me for the morning grumblies, me peering out of my complex with a vehement disapproval and an awkward reach into my pocket about three or four dozen times as I depart from the front door, only to realize I’ve forgotten my watch or phone or musical device. What a pain it is to have to walk when it is being basically guaranteed that you’re not going to enjoy it.

That’s what Sufjan Stevens was starting to feel like, The Avalanche being only a collection of b-sides and not-good-enough’s, but a daunting realization coming over many as Sufjan slagged in each succeeding year, no new music even being mentioned aside from some experimental projects that not many gave too much care about, and the dismantling of what many thought was a sincere project of focus upon a record for the remaining forty-eight states in the Union. I was one of those individuals who decried the man as he proclaimed it was ‘such a joke’, and as favorites of his slowly began to run their course until arriving and lining up in the corridor of the overplayed, I wondered if what Stevens would even end up releasing after so much silence would be anything worthwhile. What could he really do at this point that wasn’t more of the same? He’d probably burst forth with chamber pop instrumentation, his trusty banjo and plenty of acoustics to go around, a few sullenly devastating arrangements that I’d be posting Facebook status updates about for months to come, but how entertaining could all of this really end up being? So what if he really did make Oregon, and some upsetting ballad called “Corvallis and Medford” ended up making me wish death upon everybody that causes pain? Sufjan was going to run out of steam sooner or later, even if his songwriting kept that near-immaculate pristineness that he’s managed to secure down for years. Something had to give.

And something did. I feel like what Sufjan ended up doing, though not lacking for even a second in the genuinity department or requiring any obligation of explanation to any of us, was largely a practical joke. I mean that in the sense of setting expectations of what was coming with the highly uniform All Delighted People EP, which was devoid of any hint of the man wanting to split drastically from the game he’d been playing since 2003. That was such a, “Sufjan is back!” moment for all of us, and to fire up The Age of Adz and be presented with an assortment of whirring electronics, glitch-laden earticklers, and autotuned (AUTOTUNE) vocal passages, it sent most of our heads spinning. I’d do good to speak for myself and only myself, but the public reaction I got to witness was pretty in line with what I’m saying: not many were prepared for an album as fortuitously astonishing and absolutely unexpected as what this is. And many of us repelled the release for being what it was, for being different. For being not what we expected, and yet everything we wanted despite our not knowing that. Let me reiterate, I speak for myself despite the plural subjugation my text is implying, but I’d like to think that many people who have claimed to dislike this ridiculously innovative CD are doing it out of the remnants of fear that invisibly sprinkle all of us internally. The fear that Sufjan could have made a better album, but he made this instead.

This isn’t an album I’ve come to digest and love as I instantly did Michigan, orIllinois or even the evocative Seven Swans. To make comparisons of his contemporary folk work (which please note, the folk has not died for this release) in conjunction to The Age of Adz just won’t do. This album is plentiful in things that we’re all familiar with: that subdued prettiness that conjures mancrushes for even the most heterosexually-oriented individuals, a luscious backdrop upon which Sufjan can tell his stories over, compositional brilliance that arrives as early as the second track in the mesmerizing ending of “Too Much”, and just an overall vibe that everything is exactly as it was, even though it’s perfectly clear to anybody with senses that this is all very different. I’m in a minority of people who hear this, but there’s something exquisitely baroque about the whole of this presentation; synthetic and analog choirs, bustling noises of an unknown origin that bring a depth that completely excuses their artificial procurement, and something utterly anthemic underlying every note and utterance that Sufjan has committed to the record. It’s a bit ironic that I first experienced this album on one of those monotonous schoolyard walks that I loathed so greatly, and it blows my mind that it feels like a fresh album even though it held prominence for me in those hazy autumn afternoons. This album is slippery in its presence, and it contains the kind of music that you’re going to need to really tether to your being if you want it to stick.

I feel like I’m going to grow into this record more and more, time relentlessly marching on and my familiarity with this record budding a most perfect array of sensations that this cycles through again and again. I know, I didn’t say much about things that are integrally important of this release, such as the fact that a 25-minute autotune epic, reminiscent of “Archangel” by Burial in some regards but being mostly the most eclectic thing that the man has ever, sits complacently at the end of the ride that is The Age of Adz. I didn’t say anything about the allure of many of these tracks, but… maybe I want you to discover them for yourselves. There’s a lot of life to be had, and a ton to be explored throughout the confines of this very CD alone. Don’t let it scare you away. Embrace it.

Rebelution – Bright Side Of Life

Artist: Rebelution

Release Date: 2009

After listening to this album, I felt a sense of nostalgia come to me. As the mellow vibes flowed through my headphones, the music reminded me of artists like Bob Marley and Collie Buddz. Collectively, the sounds of Jamaican drums, guitar strings, and keyboard notes most definitely characterize this album. The voice of lead singer, Eric Rachmany, gave me a sense of music from the rock genre. However, his voice fused with the reggae acapellas, making the music pleasurable to listen to. Bright Side Of Life is probably one of the more exceptional albums in the reggae genre.

The first track, “Bright Side Of Life”, didn’t really catch my attention. The guitar and drum beats at first weren’t so appealing. The upcoming track had a much better “tropical” vibe. It is most likely the trumpet noises captured my attention. The words “remember me and you” are constantly repeated in the song. I assume that this track has regards to guy speaking  to his lover about the times they’ve spent and how nothing has changed. Skipping one track to “From The Window”, the tempo becomes a little more hyphy. Wesley Finley really puts it down with the drums. I feel like his part plays a major role in the music that Rebelution has created. Honestly, their music  probably wouldn’t sound as great without his talent. If you want to listen to slow-jamming reggae beat, go ahead and listen to “Suffering”. If you ask me, this song is somewhat spiritual and philosophical at the same time.

“I’ve got my mind set at ease/Don’t know you it’s you why you’re suffering?”

There was one track that kept my head bumping throughout the listen. “Dubzilla”, although with no vocals whatsoever, had a chill beat to itself. It’s unfortunate how it’s only 2 minutes and 15 seconds in length, making it the shortest track on Bright Side Of Life. My favorite track on this album, “Lazy Afternoons”, had me feeling sluggish for sure. Just within one listen, I had a mellow feeling like I was at a sunny beachside. Most of the tracks tend to give you this feeling, but “Lazy Afternoons” gave me that extra boost.

“I’m thinking of you constantly and what you mean to me/I’m living just for thee, girl come and get at me”

I trust that reggae fans will surely enjoy a listen to this album. Those of you who listen to rock music, be sure to give this album a listen. You never know, just a little exposure to this album might get you hooked. This album is pretty amazing, and it’s guaranteed to brighten your mood. The summer is soon coming to an end, so be sure to give this one a listen with the perfect atmosphere around you.

 

 

Giant Sand – Chore of Enchantment

Artist: Giant Sand

Release Date: 2000

I know, I know, I’m not happy. That doesn’t mean I need to bore and write about it repetitiously, and I’m not about to give some stark narrative once more about how I need to shape up emotionally or go swimming with the fishes. No no, nothing like that. I’m really tired of complaining about myself and I know I’ve garnered enough fodder to stoke the flames of embarrassment to a future rendition of Vito Genovese, so I don’t need to follow in my own laughable footsteps. All of this said, Giant Sand sure is maniacally depressing. I mean catatonic; I didn’t know what to expect on a record with such a vibrant blue adorning the walls of the artwork’s locale, and with ‘americana’ as one of the primary descriptors for a genre, I expected some carefree and mildly upsetting along the lines of “Lonely” by American Music Club playing again and again and again. Not at all. Chore of Enchantment was an album I went into without the expectation of dire respect, and I feel like I’ve gotten egg on my face by not planning on addressing this record for what it is: a serious exposition of picturesque loneliness and self-humiliation, completely relentless and with very little that anyone can do to help.

Lots of people get a desert feel from Chore of Enchantment, and while I get a Western vibe from his selected vocabulary and vernacular, I’m not prepared to imagine this as an Arizonian horizon or a slowly withering cactus. There’s definitely that desolation bearing down on every breathe and word that this record contains, and that probably contributes greatly to the sort of imagery that this album evokes. I really appreciate this for sounding as bare as it does, like Nebraska did in the sense of it being front porch contemporary folk music. This isn’t quite that, but it’s reminiscent of that sort of thing nonetheless. I love how careful the melodies are in these songs, choruses afraid to tread on anybody’s kind spirits and smoke evading the noses of all inhabitants and their neighbors. It’s really the sort of CD that blends into any listening situation, aesthetic or perceptive or passive. Another thing of this is how (I know I use this word rather pedantically) hazy everything about this is, as if shrouded in one of the dustiest atmospheres an album has ever been introduced to.

Sometimes, my mind likes to take things that are poignant or otherwise extremely serious, and just turn them into something to snicker at. Or something to take far less seriously than it really deserves to be; this can happen during a movie that I understand the conveyed feelings of, one that I even like, and yet I’ll find myself imagining the stern main character’s face turning to a wacky caricature of what it is. Not with Giant Sand: I may do this with music sometimes as well, but I find myself completely unable to make fun of anything that Chore of Enchantment offers; this record is sparse and desperate in ways that make me ache, and I think I’d be doing myself and everybody who loves this an injustice to exert any pressure in finding silliness in what this artist is doing. It’s not even particularly noteworthy a record, highlights extremely rare and its overall presentation maybe even being a tad longer than what it should be. Nevertheless, Giant Sand has concocted an album that has come along at just the right time for me, and it splatters me into a rather complacent whir as I bob along silently to this astonishing music. It’s unique and imaginative, and that’s all you need to know to be interested.

 

3 – The Ghost You Gave to Me

Artist: 3

Release Date: 2011

PART I: Disclaimers

There are a few things that one should know before getting The Ghost You Gave to Me. It is mostly a list of disclaimers for preexisting bands of 3, and those new not need take heed:

- IF you consider their last record to be The End is Begun, you will be happier than the folks who prefer the band’s first few records. I’m the kind of person who thinks of both previous 3 records as masterpieces, but The End is Begun was special. It was one of the first records I ever loved wholly and completely from the first session, heard several times in that first day, seeing them perform the same songs live only a month later and being enthralled by this new discovery. That album was infectious, catchy, dancer-friendly, modern, but with a level of technicality that really pummeled the listener and made them appreciate what it was they’ve gotten into. This is as natural a progression from that record as possible, and the first half of this album showcases more of that than anything else.

- IF you consider their last record to be Revisions, you could be slightly disappointed. While The End is Begun had a boatload of catchiness, it couldn’t hold a candle in that department to RevisionsRevisions is what 3 would do if they went completely pop, a bit of their proggier influences bleeding through here and there, but not much more than a little staining. That album had “The Better Half of Me”, “Automobile”, “Rabid Animals”… if you’re looking for songs in that vein, you will get some. But you won’t get as many as you might have romanticized.

- Joey Eppard has been working on his sexiness, and I say this as an archetype of heterosexuality. The man has always possessed a voice that can slide and slither out of any situation that it pleased, but he’s never quite been on top of his game like he is in The Ghost You Gave to Me. Lots of vocalizations and showing off, Gildenlow Syndrome if such a thing existed, and plenty of that delicious alto vibrato that we’ve all come to love occasionally. This is the kind of singing that I nearly wish was law for progressive alternative rock bands, yet nobody would come to what Eppard has perfected here. Anybody who has dissented on his voice in the past probably won’t hear anything new, but this album isn’t for them and they should know that by now. Though, now that I think about it, who actually dislikesJoey’s voice? With that said, there are some vicious moments on this CD, especially that terrifying wail in “It’s Alive” (a rival to “Softly She Cries” for ‘Best Scream of 2011′?).

PART II: Melodies (or, the six catchiest moments of The Ghost You Gave to Me)

6) 3:00 to 4:29 of “Only Child”. I was really skeptical to see such a big song at the end of this record, knowing their history of not being a band that works with long tracklengths as well as some others. With that said, “Only Child” asserts itself as the best of its kind, throughcomposed and voyaging and absolutely worth the seven minutes you’ll spend meandering near record’s end. I feel like they sat down and went, “Okay, let’s be really 3. Let’s be 3 as fuck.” and they churned out this one. I approve of this method.

5) “And for the very first time in a very long time / I can’t believe the words you say / Oooo-ooo-oooh!” of “Sparrow”. I’ve been remarking that this is the most Coheed and Cambria that this band has ever turned, and while the parallels were always present, this brings them to a whole new realm. Structurally, this is the most happening and progressive that The Ghost You Gave to Me possesses. There are times in this (especially in that first session) that I went, “Oh, so that must be the chorus!” only to find that another one comes after, and then another. This song is unrelenting and fresh in every playthrough that I’ve given the CD, and that’s the sort of thing that holds my attention the most steadily these days.

4) That “Tell me, who will save you from yourself?” bridge of “High Times”, one of the other first tunes I heard from this record, and an absolute delight following the one-two punch of what precedes it. This song fronts itself with one of my secret musical fetishes, which is, the drummer tapping his sticks together and along with the beat as “High Times” sets its stage. I wasn’t amazingly fond of this one after the first couple times, almost descending into Summercamp Nightmare-ish songwriting, but it is exactly the sort of tune I would expect from them in 2011.

3) “Head on the floor / And I could not tell you why”, and everything up until the final chorus in “Afterglow”. This is the sort of Revisions-ist song that I was hoping we would get a couple of, and I’m glad that this one is in such an optimistic vein. This is how 3 does it best: staying chipper and rocking their heads off, maybe even getting a bit snide in who they’re addressing, yet never forgetting their roles as entertainers and perfectionists. This must have been a song that Joey stepped back from and went, “This is exactly the kind of song that I live to create.”

2) “Ay-eye-ay!” and the rest of the chorus of “Pretty”. I have to say, if it wasn’t for my #1, this would be the surefire highlight of not only The Ghost You Gave to Me, but of their entire repertoire. I used to think that “The End is Begun” was the closest thing to dance-rock that I’d ever heard, but this song makes that one feel like a dirge. If this was activated in some club, nearly anywhere in the world except London, it would be received so well that this band could probably make it to the Billboard charts (or whatever equivalent that country keeps track of). Eppard is in top form, the band goes crazy and parties like a troupe of motherfuckers, and there’s an all-around vibe of bliss encompassing this slightly cynical anthem. Masterful.

1) “React” is the biggest song of the year, choruswise and premisewise. And, in all honesty, never has a song impressed me as equitably with its refrain as it does strophically. When those opening drums thump and shake the foundation of the whole track, and Joey coos the prologue of his story with that delicious tone swelling underneath him, anybody can see that they’ve hit the jackpot. I’m saying this under the bias of really admiring the snarl in his voice, and in this, I feel like the refrain of this song is the biggest of the year. Even Dream Theater and Opeth and Pain of Salvation couldn’t match something of this caliber in 2011, which is a spectacle considering 3′s lowly designation as an opener to these now-twits. I’m really proud of this band when I hear this pinnacle of their success, and I hope that it’s the beginning of a thousand and ninety more to arrive.

PART III: Confessions

There are a few songs from this record that I didn’t really connect with, and admittedly, they’re pretty close to one another on the CD. That makes things a bit easier for when I’m putting together a playlist, but it makes me feel bad to vivisect the record and tear out its beating heart. I suppose that I’m forgiven, but anyway…

- “Numbers”: with all of the really crappy albums this year, many of which were by bands I’ve always had high expectations of, hearing this song before any of the others was one of the shittiest things I can remember. Technical, but not in any sense that I enjoy, and sickeningly bass-driven to a point that makes me feel like I’ve accidentally obtained some Between the Buried and Me side-project. Joey admitted (if I’m remember the interview right) that this song was written in a night, and it shows. It shows badly.

- “One With the Sun”: acoustic ballads are usually a pretty strong sector for 3, and when this one starts, you might be inclined to get uppity and excited and et cetera et cetera. This has got to be the album’s biggest disappointment, with as big an opening verse as it contains and as it goes nowhere for the course of six minutes.

- “The Ghost You Gave to Me”, the title track for Christ’s sake, is the most languid and tepid thing that I think I’ve ever heard from the 3 camp. I feel like an uppity bitch just complaining about it, but… what does this song really do? If you dulled down the production and made things more noisy, it could pass off as an obscure ’90s song and it might be slightly redeeming at that point, but even then…

I have to say, even though this record isn’t as uniform as the past two, it’s definitely the sort of record I was hoping for. A band like 3 can’t pull what Pink Floyd did from ’73 to ’83, but I expect that the best records of their career are yet to come. This was what I needed as the autumn semester slowly winded into itself, and it’s one I’ll always have to remember this era by. A fine show by my one of my favorite non-indie modern acts.

Red House Painters – Rollercoaster

Artist: Red House Painters

Release Date: 1993

A long time ago, I was planning to dedicate my review of this very record to a girl I met from central northern Texas, and I suppose that projection still stands. If you ever come across, Archimedes, I hope it makes you feel things.

She was remarkable, really. You know that fear of judgment that comes from revealing yearlong secrets to friends that have proven their worth again and again, as if the fact that you’ve kept something from them is going to end up igniting a pocket of gaseous contempt that leads to the ultimately uncomfortable downfall of the both of you? Not sure if I articulated that correctly, but there are things that I’m not open about with the people I know that I probably won’t be until I’ve grown up plenty more. I know that I’ll come to terms with those things, but this isn’t about that. This is about the girl who somehow possessed complete abolition in matters of apprehension, a person where I could say literally anything about my most esoteric and clandestine dealings only to receive the most sympathetic ear and an eagerness for understanding that her chosen nickname most heartily suggests. An openhanded, vibrant young woman whose overflowing interests and congruent behaviors, subtle quirks, and unabashed genuinity knew no bounds, and whose curiosity at every new piece of something I showed caused me to have unrealistic expectations of the others I shared my space with. I could show her anything, and she would love it. Not just a placating, “Oh yeah, that’s really cool, Vito.” but a complete foray into whatever it is that I’ve thrown her way. The sort of broadmindedness she deployed, the way she would go on and on about how much she loved the post-rock I’d just left on her page, the alluring way she would invest into what I loved…

Everything crumbled and disintegrated on the night she told me that, if I were to disappear from her life at that very second, she would have a simple time getting over the loss of me. Those words… I’ve been delivered so many hurtful words over the past five years, usually from women with no tacit eloquence to their moodiness and whose general motivation to displease was ingrained to the point of obsession. I guess that’s a pedantic way of saying that I’ve come across plenty of bitchiness from an unexpected selection of my peers, but those words… nothing has ever felt like that, to be told that losing you would mean a speedy recovery and a mournful refraction of only days, that the mark you’ve left over a period of years isn’t enough to leave behind any notable indentation that would bring sadness… how do you come back from that? How do you continue being the friend of a girl who has admitted this to you? How does one reconcile the entirety of a friendship with this underlying? Whatever the answer may be, I didn’t stick around to find out. I gave a hasty, albeit formal goodbye, and I haven’t had an ounce of contact since. I still think about her somewhat periodically, and it appears that her prediction was right.

“Katy Song” poured incessantly from my bedroom that week. I never got to show her Red House Painters, my fixation with the brilliance of their work not quite arriving at my door until months after everything (and perhaps motivated by losing this person, half of their songs being so easy to equate to anything having to do with her). No song has ever been as much about curling into some misshapen position on a hardwood floor, trying to cry even though your nasolacrimal ducts are just refusing to let anything come out. The self-loathing in this presentation may be similar to how it went for my first runthrough: the first of many tremendous moments of sadness of Rollercoaster that just bleed through and do their best to puncture and perforate your essence. How about that vocalization that Mark Kozelek peppers through the entirety of the second act? Or that last line, “Quiet in the corner: numb and falling through / Without you, what does my life amount to?” Nothing has ever been put on an album that has such a tone. Ever. The repetitious acoustics that somehow never get old, even in the eight-minute span that this monster takes to get its message across…

This album is chock full of moments like those littered throughout the misery-laden “Katy Song”, some of which still have me clamoring for a tissue or shaking my head in awe at how sincere and confessional everything is. “Mistress” reeks of malice, a haughty look at one of the cruelest individuals he’s ever let and had to let go, and the musing over just how right of a decision it was to send her away. “New Jersey” rises like steam from an overheated concrete slab, rising steadily until it’s over the hills of some barren wasteland out and away from the sewage-riddled metropolis. There’s a moment in that song that always gets me and strikes a little pang into one of my ventricles, and it’s that moment in the makeshift chorus where Mark brings the final word of his recitation to a falsetto: “Don’t you leave me out here too long / Will you bring me out there-ooh?” He croons and strains to add that second syllable to the word ‘there’, and she succeeds with such staggering prominence. I showed that to another friend of mine a couple of months ago, and right when he hit that note, she clutched her chest and made a noise that indicated she felt exactly as I did. That moment made me think of the girl I opened up with talking about.

This album will always be too long, not to say that there’s a gram of anything that could be considered filler or unnecessary, but… I feel like this should have been turned into two records. Everything about this broods and I always think of her whenever it plays, as if this could have been the one that I shared and dually loved alongside her and Godspeed You! Black Emperor had held the place that Red House Painters now is. Sometimes I wonder about her, and I think of trying to find her just to reconnect for my own redolent thoughts, but… I know nothing good would come of it. Even if she returned, I’d always have the memory of her saying such a horrible thing to me, and it will shadow the both of us. What I need to do isn’t involving speaking to her. What I need to do is crank up the volume onRollercoaster.

 

My Bloody Valentine – Isn’t Anything

Artist: My Bloody Valentine

Release Date: 1988

I used to volunteer at a retirement home in helping old people operate the most basic functions of their laptops and internet connections, and there was this one lady who needed help in learning how to send an email to connect and keep in touch with her son (I felt bad, the way she was describing it felt as if he was rather disinterested in making any effort to correspond back). Luckily, one of the administrators of the establishment had provided them all (and me) with copies of their email addresses and passwords, so I popped open Hotmail (this was 2007, there’s no good excuse that it still existed) and showed her where the text goes, how to direct who gets the message, even the intricacies of what the subject line provided. She responded to me with this: “Hi, I’ve got it working. I hope you can see this, and I look forward to hearing back from you.” I took her gratitude and, although unsure of when I’d ever see this woman again, told her that I looked forward to it too. Then I headed for the door, and she replied: “Where are you going?” I turned back and looked at her for about twenty seconds, until I realized with horror. That was the text she wanted me to put in her son’s email.

That’s such an awful feeling, isn’t it? That moment of remembering some extremely embarrassing instance of your past, and the grimace that comes despite the fact that nobody probably even remembers it anymore. Yet you do. You know it happens, and you wince at the awkwardness of how that felt and the unpleasant disjointedness that arose thanks to your ignorance or general confusion of the second. Oddly enough, as much as this segue may seem ingenuine and forced, Isn’t Anything feels like a record that’s so buried in its own willingness to forget and disregard that it seems like the fruits of a myriad of maladroit occurrences, yet not quite to the caliber of getting to entirely leave behind those cringeworthy memories. That’s a lot of what My Bloody Valentine feels like on this record, and they’d accomplish complete lassitude on the staggering Loveless that would follow.

Until their glory days in making the most influential record of the subgenre, Isn’t Anything is a pretty spectacular foray into the barren noise pop that many of these bands used to dabble in, before finally realizing that turning the fuzz up was preferable. Somehow, I think I like this side of them more: to get to understand the vocals and the accentuation that the notes can have, it’s something that an album like their best even manages to lack. Not this one. A quick quip about this CD: I saw it in a music shop for only $6, being the only record there with such a generous price tag and my velleity not quite up to the arduous task of reaching into my wallet, pulling out my debit card, and scanning it for the cashier to give me this album that she’d probably mistake for an emo-pop band’s work. I put it back on the shelf and I left without buying anything, but I wonder about that copy and if anybody has bought it. I wonder what they think as the late ’80s pours from their speakers, and the glory that would be praised in the early throes of the succeeding decade reveals itself in such a lushly gorgeous, absolutely numbing way. Isn’t Anythingexcels as being as dissonant as it is dreamy, and there aren’t many records that can do that.

That desperation to drink one’s self into as near to comatose as possible, and the will to drop everything and just succumb to euphoria despite there not being enough vices on the planet to sustain that sort of mindless decadence, is something I entirely get from the feeling of this record. It’s as painful as it is sweet, and as daring as it is complacent and reserved. It’s an album that isn’t cherished nearly enough, and that’s criminal. Never disregard this because it didn’t get as big and famous as its younger brother. Love this for what it is.

 

Lostprophets – Start Something

Artist: Lostprophets

Release Date: 2004

I used to help a friend and her parents out by going on their paper route job with them; it was surprisingly hard work, arriving at the bagging station at 1AM and waiting in some dingy warehouse for what felt like hours on end, the truck arriving far later than it was ever scheduled to and an assortment of disgruntled blue-collared folks all crooning and whining over the job at hand. The folding of newspapers was the easiest part of things, but it was the bagging that I was somehow incompetent on. My friend needed to hold the bags open or I’d somehow accidentally mutilate it, frustrated looks being cast from the girl’s mother even though I offered free labor in exchange for an iced vanilla latte by the ordeal’s end. Nevertheless, I did what I could to help, and once their car had been thoroughly packed with rolled newspapers and tribunes, it was off to delivery. It was a ridiculously elaborate and educational experience, me being completely ignorant of how newspapers end up on the doorsteps and soggy lawn patches of homes across America. Now I know, at least in relation to western central Florida.

The locations of assignment for the girl’s family were not as ordinary as one might expect; the image of a paperboy riding his bicycle down the street, using his black-ink stained hands to throw propaganda at people’s abodes that will almost certainly go unread in 97% of cases, is probably in your mind when it comes to how one does this. Or, it being 2011 and all, there are these people who simply toss them out of a moving car to cover larger landmasses and heavily populated areas. This was neither of those things: we were given the immaculate honor of informing the elderly, arriving at large assisted living complexes in the dead of night and skulking the eerily-lit floors with tomes of knowledge tucked into our armpits, dropping them only at the appropriate doorsteps and getting our asses threatened if we even mess up one. These old folks were ornery. I only had one case of a man coming out of his room while I was in front of it, and at that, he was silent and built like a goddamn tank. A scary second before I realized he had no interest in me, or anything regarding me.

This girl used to blast Lostprophets constantly while we’d ride in the car while traveling between the separate buildings, and for this reason, anything that this band concocts feels like a silent sweep through the dead of night. I was drawn toStart Something thanks to an “Ask Me Anything!” post about album reviewing, and a person was extremely keen on getting what I thought of a song he loved (“Sway”) out in the open. Hands down, I’d not been more impressed with anything of this act before such a thing, my mind cruising down the interstate we would always traverse after a hard night’s work and in search of a caffeinated reward after our time was up. That feeling of squinting your eyes at the nearly blue streetlights, and how they appear to twinkle and dance as you turn your head to and fro. I used to do that all the time as a kid, and I know I did it plenty on these tiring drives. Lostprophets was playing then, and I feel like I’m in that incense-laden vehicle once more as this record plays. This wasn’t even the album she had, but the damage is done.

Lostprophets don’t play a style that’s particularly noteworthy or recognizing, mixing some of the accessible pop punk melodies of the fading 1990s into the nu metal wave that Linkin Park and others were bursting forward with as of very then recently. This record, unfortunately, hasn’t even the cloud cover of being released at a time where the bandwagon was still roomy; Lostprophets were a band that came along after way too many groups of their kind were forming, many of which better and ultimately more fulfilling to listen to than what Start Something offers. A large portion of this album is spent mimicking and emulating the styles of these better bands, and while Lostprophets do a fairly good homage to such musical styles and they probably couldn’t figure a niche any greater for them, it’s still nothing to write home about. Nine out of ten times, I will be enjoying a song. But in those same nine of ten, I might also be thinking of something more emphatic and emotional, something more organic and desirable for audible consumption than what this record offers.

I’m making this sound just dreadful. This actually isn’t even a disappointing listen, and it’s somehow still one of the very best I know with a nu metal tag; that’s not to say that they don’t sound particularly generic and derivative. The thing that keeps them on my radar is the simple fact that they manage to circumvent the nearly-always-present factor of blandness. This album isn’t mediocre, and it’s something I’d gladly put on if I’m at a loss for something energetic and modern that I want to listen to. There are a few gems that have me cursing the day as if I’m 12 all over again, and others like the aforementioned “Sway” which just transport me to another time and place completely. It’s really the external factors that have me being as appreciative and accepting of this album like I’m being, so don’t mistake this for a legitimately good record. With that said, it’s good to me, and… hey, opinions are subjective. I’ll take it.

 

John Tejada – Parabolas

Artist: John Tejada

Release Date: 2011

What happens when you experiment with techno for 12 years? You either become an Aphex Twin-like obsessive (in a good way) or you fade out, crafting generic club beats for sweaty nightclubs tucked into rundown alleys. Tejada is the exception, and is exceptional along the way. Unlike most successful techno artists, there is nothing mysterious or off about Tejada. Parabolas is dense and heavy when it wants to be, and light and sparse when it needs to be, alternating between suffocating listeners in a heavy club environment and freeing their ears to a vast, expansive sound-scape. The change of vibe is a neat deviation of tight-knit, almost claustrophobic samples and beats.

John Tejada finds a middle ground between the complex patterns of Amon Tobin and the delicate compositions of Richard D. James, Parabolas is a much better fit-for-any-mood-or-occasion type of album. Hi-hats and synths are deployed like cogs to a perfectly functioning machine. The album whirs and clangs along, shape-shifting and bending genres. Sometimes, it sounds more ambient than techno, at other times, it manages to sound like a dubstep mix.

The album art sums up the music well; it cycles from track to track, until you don’t know how many times you’ve spun this record. Parabolas is short on true innovation; much of Tejada’s techniques are borrowed or tweaked, but still manages to be high on atmosphere and style. While there aren’t many problems with this album at all, the inherent problem with techno albums is that a fine line separates the great from the masses. This is good music, but in such a tough genre, the highest scores go out to the flat out amazing albums. Call it affirmative action for music, but it’s easier to put beats together than it is to make a classical composition. In the end, maybe you have to be a little weird, a little less earthly for techno to work.

 

Jens Lekman – An Argument With Myself

Artist: Jens Lekman

Release Date: 2011

James Lekman is Das Racist for pop songs. An Argument With Myself‘s clever lyrics satirizes every aspect of pop, from the Beach Boys to Lady Gaga, while paying homage to each artist it emulates. The artist makes fun of banal lyrics and affected pretension, poking fun at pop conventions while sounding original throughout.

The title track immediately sets up the tongue-in-cheek mood that defines the short, 18 minute album. The stream of consciousness lyrics bring a refreshing immediacy to the tracks. The themes here are provocative without being derivative. Aptly named, the first song stars Lekman himself walking down a city while observing things familiar to any city dweller. The tangy Caribbean instrumentals play second fiddle to the lyrics, which had me laughing throughout:

Shut up, no, you shut up!
What’s the matter, take a number, Buttercup!
Every time I hear you say “Fuck it”
I would remind you of the photo in your pocket.

These lighthearted, almost childish vignettes work hand in hand with the cheerful atmosphere. While its easy for a comedic album to be misconstrued as a “joke” album, the sheer cleverness of Lekman prevents An Argument With Myself from falling apart after a few listens. The songs here are genuinely catchy, alternating from funny to quirky in the space of just a few seconds. As a result, the whole effort comes across as affably intelligent -easy to approach, hard to put down.

“A Promise” starts off with waltz-y violins which adds whimsicality while the lyrics are decidedly maudlin.

Immanuel, every drop of blood tastes like wine.
When I speak of blood,
I’m speaking of how you always felt like a brother to me.

The strange discrepancy between the lyrics and the uplifting melodies immediately captures Lekman’s prankster spirit. The title tracks starts on Elizabeth street and the album travels through Chile and Sweden before ending with Lekman at an office with a strange co-worker who “smells like Earl Gray.” The tropical instrumentals return for the closer, and you can’t help but feel as if Lekman just gave you a tour of his life: the album welcomes you with cheer and stands at the door waving goodbye with the same good-natured spirit. Lekman projects himself, personality and all in his music, and by the time the album ends you feel compelled to meet the man himself. In the end, An Argument With Myself is an excellent album in its own right. Less capable artists would have sank to the level of half-hearted parody; this album innovates upon the music it looks up to even while it emulates the music it looks down on.

 

Guided By Voices – Under the Bushes Under the Stars

Artist: Guided by Voices

Release Date: 1996

Today was harder than yesterday, probably because I didn’t start my crying until after my friend had gone and I was miserably looking down at the unused rubber in my wallet (completely unrelated to that friend, I can’t stress that enough), thinking of what a great trip I’ve had in my hometown while oddly not wanting to leave any of it. I hadn’t done everything I had wanted to do. I’d not seen everyone I’d wanted to see, and… my god, how I just can’t stop with these jagged jolts of sudden bawling, followed by hyperventilating and a trip to the bathroom as I nearly vomit something of possible future importance out in a hypnotic spell from lack of oxygen. White wine (or something flavored to its emulation) and Arrested Development quieted me down as best as those things can, and by the time I had returned to my bedroom, I groaned at the throat of needing to continue my year’s project in the gloom of what today was. Can’t I have a mulligan? At the very least, can I not schedule myself a little bit of a break or some leeway for these unplanned sick days? I should have made it the 300 Albums Per Year list instead, but alas… there’s no turning back time.

It’s perhaps that last sentiment that has me so hating of everything in these little bursts of cathartic outpouring that just refuse to quit; life really sucks when you’re deprived of something that you want more than anything, and it kills me to keep slipping further into loneliness as everybody lives it up.

What’s going on with my life is of no concern to Robert Pollard, who is chugging away as feverishly as ever as I really try to get into Under the Bushes Under the Stars. I started kinda disgruntled, needing a bit of a boost as the first couple of tracks started as typically as any Guided By Voices record. I was already unhappy to know that I’d spend nearly an hour on this album while the other CDs had been so short, but realizing that I had nothing else to do tonight except weep and leave a fragmented video journal entry, I figured it would be a good way to try and buy me some time so I may mentally sort things out before bed. I think I wasn’t quite ready for “Burning Flag Birthday Suit”, and by the time I’d gotten my attention in this album’s direction thoroughly, I was finding myself choking back tears yet again due to what a beautifully perfect track “The Official Ironmen Rally Song” was. In one playthrough, I had discovered my favorite Guided By Voices song (future me, if you exist, I hope the 2013 you still stands by this opinion). From here, the record sails into a slew of literally some of the best pop songs I’ve ever heard, exactly the sort of idealization I put into Belle and Sebastian yesterday that they fell short in representing. Once I’d gotten through “No Sky”, I learned that I was too dehydrated to cry anymore, which was a damn shame because I did the motion anyway. It was weird.

Unlike yesterday, this record somehow pertains to my sensibilities in a manner that isn’t exactly comforting, though it is enough to have me contently giving my eyes a break as I silently type this account out and listen to the assortment that Guided By Voices has put together. I was quick to judge this as one of their weaker records when it fired up, and I kick myself knowing that it even passed my head. This may be the strongest of their last three, catering to the pop so perfectly and without accommodating uncomfortably. The record strikes me as brilliant in that regard, and I find my love for this act increasing more and more thanks to what Under the Bushes Under the Stars (with as referential to a life full of heartfelt experiences as a title can get, making me feel acidic and loathing in envy) is providing for me here. In some ways, Robert manages to hide his contempt via sickly saccharine melodies and lyrics that make listeners think of a Kennedy-era summertime festival, but anyone who listens even a bit more closely can see through what’s really going on. The facade that this is a peaceable, happy record is nothing that holds any water.

As raving and downtrodden as some of my closest friends know I am, I don’t think there’s anyone I’d rather talk to about these things than Robert Pollard. I know he wouldn’t listen because he doesn’t know me, and therefore has no obligation to care for my words even if I care deeply about his. Still, this record was as apt and necessary for the day to end as the NyQuil that courses through my arteries is. This record is really something else, and I’m willing to bet you’ll stumble over the tremendous embedded gems that it’s got in store.

 

 

Drive Like Jehu – Yank Crime

Artist: Drive Like Jehu

Release Date: 1994

I returned to the house I’d lived in throughout all of my adolescence today, expecting to enter the bedroom I had left in shambles with the same sense of mournful acknowledgment to its dilapidated, ripped apart state. When I had organized the things I wanted to bring with me to Tallahassee, I didn’t think I’d ever have much a reason to care for this room or its contents again, and every trip back has had me sitting on my crusty mattress, splayed across the hardwood floor as I look at the dust bunnies and empty assorted cases and boxes strewn about haphazardly. My old bedroom was looking like a war zone, and I cognitively disassociated myself with its likes every time I would come down here. It didn’t necessarily make me sad to see: this was a place where very little activity or occurrence, aside from many sitting social gatherings as my house was a Foreman’s Basement sort of venue in high school, ever really took place. Still, to look around at what was once mine, a refuge and a place of solace for a depressed teenager who yearns for attention and affection, and to see how it has come to such a destroyed fate… it made something swirl in the pit of my chest.

This was not what I expected. Opening the door, I blinked at the fact that I felt my eyes to not be processing correctly: couch cushions replaced the large mound of trash and possessions that I’d let collect on the wooden furniture frame, a linen-laden queen-sized box spring bed sat complacently in the room’s center, a television was hooked up, the floor was sparkling fresh. Everything in my bedroom had been, though not restored, brought to a state of livability that I was pleasantly taken aback by. Entering this space, I looked at some of the things on the shelves and counters, feeling an eerie strangeness as things I’d not seen in years were now just out and chilling, as if somebody always used this room and its contents, but that someone just happened to be a ghost comprising of various aspects of past me. It’s not as sappy as I’m probably making it sound, but it was a really bizarre state of mind. As I sit on that aforementioned bed right now and bang this review out, I still have that feeling.

I decided I did not like Yank Crime within six seconds, but a subsequent minute passed and I found myself squinting my eyes and cocking my head, thinking, “What is it about this that separates them from Shellac and Slint? Because I’ve never been stricken by math rock as instantly as I’m being right now.” Indeed, Drive Like Jehu does not have any sort of approach I’m all too unfamiliar with: the wailing dissonant guitars, the screeching prepubescent vocals peppered with the occasional sentimental whine, crazy rhythms that yield and wane to all present audible colleagues as the textures and timbres weave their way around one another to knit one of the most gloriously dense senses of imagery that music has ever been known for… these are the sorts of qualities I’m used to when it comes to math rock. But Drive Like Jehu feels different, despite any reference point or ability to me to understand exactly why. The most oddly unsettling thing about this, though I’m not particularly bothered by this sentiment, is the fact that Drive Like Jehu reminds me of being young. I’m not just saying that I feel youthful and energetic when I listen to this, but… I feel like I’m 8. I feel like I’m eight years old again, and I’m getting ready to watch Courage the Cowardly Dog and my father is smoking like a chimney out on the back porch, and my xenophobic suburbia nurtures and entrenches me into blissful ignorance and I really realllly hope my parents are going out tonight so I can be babysat by the teenage girl who lives next door. You know the one, the blonde who plays Tony Hawk games and starts tickle fights. I’m feeling all of my life from over half of its length ago as this plays, and I can’t for the life of me figure out what for.

I’m now imagining some factory where old music we used to love becomes recycled, not for reuse in terms of riffs and melodies, concepts and lyrics and all that nonsense… no no, this place simply cuts the songs into pieces, lets them mix up in vats for a fermentation of sorts, and then attempts to sew the original pieces back together to recreate the same exact songs. The problem is that residue and minuscule pieces of the other song fragments it was swept alongside are sticking to it, causing a seamless reconstruction to be absolutely impossible. Drive Like Jehu sounds nothing like anything I have listened to as a child, so this point falls rather moot in that regard, but… I’ll be damned if the opening triumvirate of “Here Come the Rome Plows”, “Do You Compute”, and “Golden Brown” doesn’t bring me back to my old lanai, pond cascading over a looming dark forest that I’d only known fictitious bedtime stories about. The monster that is “Luau” is a turning point for the record’s aesthetic, as if my present life is slowly bleeding into this fantasy of a reenactment, and by the closing of Yank Crime, I nearly feel loss.

This album is a cynical romp, whirring dissonance and wailing aggression feeling like one of the most oddly refreshing and ominously uneasy listening encounters I’ve faced in a long while. I was skeptical on beginning my summer travels with a record like this one, but I now see that this was as great a choice as any. This album is going to get a lot of attention here in Port Richey, and that will no doubt carry over into Tallahassee. This really does it.