Friday, September 24, 2010

maudlin of the Well-Bath

In music, as in all forms of art, there come works that cannot be analyzed or quantified as to why they are as beautiful as they are. Sometimes, even artists are baffled as to why every brushstroke or note is executed to perfection, creating something much greater than the sum of its parts. Similarly, sometimes we as consumers of art are inexplicably drawn in to a work by which we are completely swept away.

As I try to explain why maudlin of the Well's "Bath" is that work to me, I am frustrated by the fact that since I cannot explain why every second of this album moves me in this way, I am powerless to relate it to anyone else. Making the task even more frustrating is the fact that "Bath", like all of Toby Driver's works, is impossible to categorize into a genre. The opener "The Blue Ghost/Shedding Quliphoth" is like a post-rock take on a classic Genesis piece, with its otherworldly atmosphere and climactic song structure. "Bath" then oddly transitions into "They Aren't All Beautiful", which can be summarized basely as "jazz metal". What begins as a meaty death metal song with growled vocals transitions into a heavy version of Steely Dan or some other swing/jazz band.

And from there, "Bath" becomes even more difficult to place. From "Heaven and Weak"s enchantingly gorgeous classical influences, to "The Ferryman"s over the top organ intro, to the charming instrumental interludes, Toby Driver never fails to offer up variety, all the while carefully distributing different sounds so as to never become overbearing. On songwriting prowess alone, "Bath" should be lauded as one of the works of the century simply because it is more successfully eclectic than anything else I have ever heard.

But what makes "Bath" so special is not its amazing variety. Indeed, Driver's ability to transition seamlessly from crushing to frail in "Birth Pains of Astral Projection" would be meaningless if it were a detached showcase of music theory. "Bath"s real strength lies in its deep emotion, its heart-rending beauty, and its strange connection it so easily forges with the listener. Hearing "The Blue Ghost"s ethereal theme reprised by clarinet in "Girl With a Watering Can" and by guitar harmonics in "Geography" hits home in a way I cannot describe. The melancholy melody sung by female vocals in "Girl With a Watering Can" is the very embodiment of immersion, coupled with the distant electric guitar and light keyboards. And "Birth Pains of Astral Projection" is emotionally harrowing every time, with its epic climax in the middle and its glacial calm at the end, made perfect by Toby's frail singing.

In the end, it is impossible to describe how perfect "Bath" really is, right down to the mysteriously forlorn album art. This is true art at its finest, able to tap into the deepest reaches of what drives our human emotions without one mention of a break-up or of death. It's almost disturbing how effortlessly Driver connects with the listener on this album. To ignore it as much of the rest of the internet and blogging community has since its 2001 release would be depriving oneself of one of the finest works of art of the century.

My favorite song of all time:

Birth Pains of Astral Projection

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lights Out Asia-In the Days of Jupiter

Lights Out Asia's 2008 album "Eyes Like Brontide" was a breath of fresh air in the stagnant, dying genre of post-rock. Instead of doing their best to emulate genre monoliths like Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Explosions in the Sky, Lights Out Asia combined light post-rock guitar motifs with gentle electronica and brooding ambiance, creating something entirely their own. But the main strength of "Eyes Like Brontide" was not its originality, but its vibrance and constant grip on the listener's attention, a huge step away from the laborious build-ups and sweeping song structures of their contemporaries. When I heard the early samples of "In the Days of Jupiter", I was concerned that Lights Out Asia would be taking a step too far into the ambient direction, forsaking their interesting qualities for something less accessible. Fortunately, Lights Out Asia have pleasantly surprised me.

While "In the Days of Jupiter" doesn't have the same coherent theme of "Eyes Like Brontide" (Cold War era paranoia and suspicion), it still manages to tie its eleven quietly simmering tracks together by referencing space via song titles and overall sound. The opening suite of the first three songs seems to be about a journey to Europa, the first two entries symbolizing the slow drift through space with the album's new emphasis on piano and the group's trademark electronic ambiance. But it's not until 13 AM that "In the Days of Jupiter" truly begins to show the band's progress from their last effort. What begins as another lonely space song evolves into a constantly changing, brilliant song highlighted by Chris Schafer's distant, heavenly voice and wrapped up beautifully by a tactful post-rock explosion.

From that point on, the album seems to make it more and more apparent that this isn't Benn Jordan's "Pale Blue Dot", with experimental tracks such as "Then I Hope You Like the Desert" with its poppy-sounding vocal anthems, or "Shifting Sands Sink Ship"s glacial string arrangements. Rather than glaze the listener's eyes over with poorly structured ambient build-ups, Lights Out Asia continue to do what sets them apart from other post-rock giants; they keep the listener engaged by adding interesting arrangements, sounds, and hooks with impeccable timing in each of the eleven tracks. A chord change or a fade-in guitar or a piano melody is all the album needs to capture your attention and suck you into its gorgeous soundscapes depicting the peaceful space voyages like the one on the album's cover.

Lights Out Asia is a must-listen for anyone either looking for some very chill music or to those bored with the sparse pickings post-rock has had to offer over the last five years. Either way, I have yet another soundtrack for stargazing or browsing astronomy pictures.

Listen: 13 AM

Sunday, August 29, 2010

An introspective rant

As many of you know, I tend to place a lot of emphasis on musical discovery. I strongly (note: strongly) feel that most of the Western world is caught up in a miserable black hole of repetition, fed constantly by a bloated and desperately flailing music industry in its death throes, and supported by a public who doesn't know any better. The conventions currently in place have been in place for a frighteningly long time, considering how fast the 90's and early 00's evolved styles even within the bounds of their creative depravity. Most music listeners in America have a single style they prefer, and most of them have only a handful of artists that they listen to on repeat.

As an avid music listener whose averages at ~20 tracks a day, I can honestly say i have never once used the repeat button. To me, listening to music is like exploring a verdant, untamed landscape, with new surprises and discoveries around every corner. To stay in one place and never move is a massive waste of enjoyment. I can't imagine how long ago I would have tired of music if I had never discovered progressive metal, or post-rock, or Toby Driver. For an album to be spun 10 times in the span of a year is a LOT for me, and is probably one of my favorites. I just don't have time to listen to anything more than that because I have eleven untouched albums to listen to.

Well, last week I attended my second Porcupine Tree concert in three months. It goes without saying that it was brilliant in every way, but that's not the point of this post. Steven Wilson & Co. taught me something last week. I have listened to all of my Porcupine Tree albums a great many times each. I know ever sound, most every word, and recognized each of the songs played live by the random electronic samples played at the beginning of all of them. Yet seeing them performed live, with such care given to detail and sound quality, made me realize that sometimes it's good to explore every aspect of an artist, or even of a song or album. Now this obviously requires music that can be explored in such detail, which can't be said about any artists currently in the top 40, but that goes without saying. Knowing a piece of music backwards, forwards, and inside out can sometimes add greatly to the enjoyment of said music. It's a special kind of enjoyment, different from the thrill of finding a new great artist. And it's one that I'm not really used to experiencing.

That being said, I would still argue that more people need to explore music rather than attain equilibrium with the music already owned. But everyone also needs those few special artists that have endless appeal, leave room for endless enjoyment, and offer the surreal live experience that Porcupine Tree does for me. Things like that are what make music what it is.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Not Again

Yeah, sorry. This blog has sort of turned into Rosetta's little private promo page. I just can't get over how great this is. Listen and enjoy. While you're at it, lay under the stars and gaze into the Milky Way while you listen.

Rosetta-Je N'en Connais Pas La Fin

Just beautiful.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

United Nations-United Nations

Bands like System of a Down and Green Day have always had trouble balancing protest, satire, and seriousness, often becoming a mockery of themselves in the process. And one can hardly blame them, as it's supremely difficult to create art that delivers a serious message while retaining a measure of tongue-in-cheek to assure the listener that its creators aren't taking themselves TOO seriously. United Nations, led by Thursday vocalist Geoff Rickly, accomplishes that nebulous goal better than any other protest band I have heard.

The sound of United Nations has been referred to jokingly by the band as "emo power violence pop punk". And if by that the band means that they're also protesting genres, they do so with a vengeance. Multiple guitars pound out huge chord progressions and Rickly dictates call and response vocals with vicious screaming, presumably from Converge vocalist Ben Koller, although the band has kept its line-up secret, only appearing in public in a set of Ronald Reagan masks. This roaring cornucopia of sounds is best culminated in "The Shape of Punk That Never Came", which opens with a chaotic mess of those iconic guitars, furious drums, and the twin vocalists screaming/yelling lyrics that reflect and parody The Refused. The song's powerful and somehow majestic climax bleeds off into a pleasantly melodic outro, with Geoff Rickly using his Thursday voice to croon the song to a finish. It's a wonderfully ugly, exhileratingly beautiful example of everything the band is great at, from their sense of self-assurance, their overstated element of tongue-in-cheek, and the feeling that although they're not taking themselves seriously, they're deadly serious about the subject matter, in this case the downfall of music.

More than anything, United Nations' 25-minute album is just downright entertaining. It's more head-bangable in its catchiest moments even than a similarly accessible post-hardcore band like Underoath, and because of its short run time, it's literally screaming to be listened to over and over again. Most importantly, United Nations have balanced parody and protest in a fun, listenable, and relatively mainstream fashion, while at the same time being brash, edgy, and highly influenced. The only downside is that this punk supergroup seems unlikely to make any more material in the future; if that's true, then this will remain one of the most furiously addicting one-off projects of all time.

Buy It

Listen: The Shape of Punk That Never Came

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Flashbulb-Arboreal

On Soundtrack To a Vacant Life, Benn Jordan used his voice on three of its 31 tracks. And when he did sing, it was soft, timid, and insecure, perfectly capturing the heartache and nostalgia captured by that album. On Arboreal, Jordan's voice is present on five or six tracks, and on a few it comes triumphantly to the forefront to rob the guitar and piano of their melodic leadership and bring the song to a focal point.

I say this because, like on Soundtrack, Benn Jordan's voice is once again a function for the album as a whole: loud, abrupt, and sometimes abrasive, but never less than fantastic. Arboreal opens with the enchanting "Undiscovered Colors", but leaps into a full five tracks of loud, melodic electronica that doesn't let up until "Dread, Etched in Snow", a signature Flashbulb piano track. And from there, The Flashbulb continues with the same uncanny consistency and emotional power featured on Jordan's previous work, albeit with a darker, more drawn-out edge.

If nothing else, Arboreal is a summary of Benn Jordan's entire back catalogue. The idm influences return proudly to the forefront on much of the album, and spacey ambient passages from Pale Blue Dot make their appearances. On "Dreaming Renewal", Benn Jordan joins Bon Iver in proving that autotune can become an artistic instrument rather than a crutch. On the aptly titled "The Great Pumpkin Tapes", a jazzy guitar track meets gentle piano and wouldn't sound out of place in the cartoon for which it is named. And on the landmark "Skeletons", clocking in at over six minutes, Jordan focuses all the creative energy scattered haphazardly over 31 tracks of his previous album into one piece, with a vocal build-up, the loudest moment on the album, and a tear-jerking piano outro.

The bipolar artist behind The Flashbulb is the same one on Arboreal that most of us met in Soundtrack To A Vacant Life. The emotional punch is still there, striking the listener with jaw-dropping melodies at every turn and making unexpected musical detours through multiple sounds. But Arboreal is a maturation of that same sound, a natural development and a culmination of influences into what feels like one giant setpiece. It may not be as landmark, but it certainly is no less fantastic.

Buy It

Hear It: Dragging Afloat

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Antlers-Hospice

Ever since I sort of grew out of Death Cab for Cutie, indie has been a difficult genre for me. To me, it's often difficult to hear what the "indie" tag adds to genres such as indie pop and indie rock, other than a snobbish sense of self-importance. Indie bands that live up to the hype proliferated by their coffee-drinking fanbases are few and far between.

Enter The Antlers. Essentially a one man project, the story behind "Hospice" bears a certain resemblance to Bon Iver's "For Emma Forever Ago", in which Peter Silberman coops himself up in his New York apartment for a year to write it. "Hospice" in itself is a different story altogether, one of the painful loss of a loved one to bone cancer as the narrator watches and cares for her.

So while the story behind "Hospice", and the story related by it, are enough to grab an indie skeptic's attention, it's the immediate aura of wintery loneliness, strange optimism, and aching heartbreak that defines this gem of an album. The ambient "Prologue" bleeds into the simmering "Kettering" where we are met by Silberman's soulful croon, perhaps the most intriguing part of The Antlers' music. Muted pianos and delicate electronics combine with his heartfelt verses to do exactly what an album with this kind of harrowing story should do-They pull the listener into the mood of the album and never let go.

"Hospice" also has the kind of consistency that separates average albums from genre landmarks like "Transatlanticism" and "For Emma". The strange bounciness of "Bear" works perfectly next to the despair of "Atrophy". "Two" features a simple lyrical device that makes it astoundingly catchy as it meanders through several clever paradigm shifts musically. And the breathtaking "Wake" utilizes Silberman's voice to its fullest effect, with a full choir of dubbed-over harmonies overtaking the music to create a satisfying climax to his heartfelt tale.

The Antlers have created a near-perfect work of art with "Hospice", and yet somehow it's completely devoid of the kind of grandeur that seems to occupy contemporaries such as The Decemberists and Manchester Orchestra. And that 's what sets it apart. The honesty and bare-faced simplicity of the music makes it all the more affecting. And what an affecting musical adventure it is.

Song: Kettering

Essentially the opening track, this gives you a good idea of what to expect from the rest of the album. Silberman's voice is present in all it's crooning beauty, and the music reluctantly climaxes after the halfway point to fully realize the trademark mood of the rest of the album.

Also, you can stream the entire album for free here (quick, easy, free, and totally worth it sign-up required).

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Soundrack mood

Let the Right One In was a great movie. And the soundtrack is tear-jerkingly beautiful.

And to top it all off, the vampire didn't sparkle.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Deftones-Diamond Eyes

In 2000, experimental metal band Deftones released White Pony, an album lauded by many to be the "greatest album ever" or something like that. While I thought it was good, great even, it took me forever to get into and even now I shy away from such a hyperbole. Their next two albums, a self-titled and Saturday Night Wrist brought a lot more to the table, I thought, and gave them an easier aesthetic. What's more, they made me understand why the band was so great. Heavy metal riffing combined with alternately soothing and maniacal vocals and thrilling ambiance made them something few bands can lay claim to: Completely and totally unique, and completely and totally unclassifiable.

With the release of Diamond Eyes, Deftones have made the journey from the dark metal of White Pony to the dreamy soundscapes of Saturday Night Wrist, undeniably growing in quality and scope with each release. So before the release of Diamond Eyes, it was reasonable to assume that there would be a natural progression, an adjustment that would refine and expand upon the melodic aesthetics of their previous release, while retaining that edgy heaviness that has defined them from the beginning.

Diamond Eyes shatters that assumption.

Where White Pony trudged in doom-y anticipation, Diamond Eyes lurches forward with a gleeful immediacy. Where Saturday Night Wrist simmers in paranoid beauty, Diamond Eyes transcends to make something truly gorgeous. In short, Diamond Eyes is all over the place in every aspect except quality. Every Deftones album has its highlights. Who can forget set pieces like "Knife Prty", "Battle Axe", or "Rats! Rats! Rats!"? Perhaps the most unexpected part about Diamond Eyes is how nearly every song is a highlight and a masterpiece. Tracks like "976-Evil" and "Diamond Eyes" throw out unbelievable melodic hooks that bleed effortlessly into ambient bridges or chugging verses. Songs like "CMD/CTRL" assault the listener with heavy verses, then somehow pull off an electronic swell when it's least expected, then capitalize on the surprise by following up with a catchy alt rock guitar riff.

With all the variety being discussed, it's easy to imagine Diamond Eyes as overbearing or too eclectic. And to me, that's the greatest part about it. The musicians have mastered the art of combining their influences into something completely seamless. Not only do Stephen Carpenter's 7-string metal chords sound completely appropriate in the ballad-y "Beauty School", they contribute heavily to the dreamy ambiance of the song. Frank Delgado's electronics and turntables have never sounded better than when placed alongside the violent heaviness in "Risk" and "Royal". The rhythm section is also ridiculously talented as always, with headbanging catchiness from both drums and bass, most notably in the otherwise sub-par "Prince".

But as always, the number one defining feature of Deftones' sound is and always will be vocalist Chino Moreno. His soothing croons in "Beauty School" are goosebump-inducing. His rabid shrieks in "Rocket Skates" are somehow brilliantly juxtaposed with a high-pitched "WHOO!" that would sound more fitting in a pop-rock song if they were coming from anyone else. His screams of "It's okay, I'm alright" in "Prince" both drive the song forward and make it readily apparent that neither statement is true. And he even experiments in new vocal territory by successfully belting in a mainstream rock-like voice in "976-Evil"s uplifting chorus.

In many ways, this is the Deftones that we've all come to know and love over the years. They're still highly experimental, wonderfully eclectic, and cohesive as a band. Yet somehow this is a new Deftones, artistically unrestrained and triumphantly, almost cockily brandishing the success of their new songwriting skills with every track. It feels like they've hit their potential after years of fine-tuning. Yet I also said that about Deftones and Saturday Night Wrist, so it would possibly be more accurate to assume that with every new release, they've used their enormous potential to reach new creative heights. Deftones have finally completely outdone themselves and created something few artists have achieved. They have crafted a perfect artistic manifesto; a perfect album.

Sample Track: Beauty School (download)

One song is sadly inadequate to get a full picture of this album. This song displays approximately one tenth of the territory covered in Diamond Eyes. Just know if you listen that it's equally as awesome as the rest of the album.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

More on Rosetta

So far this year, I've been pretty obsessive about three albums: Eyes Like Brontide by Lights Out Asia, Precambrian by The Ocean, and the Galilean Satellites by Rosetta, featured in my first blog. If you've been reading so far (haha! as if!) you'll remember that that album consisted of two discs, one spacey drone metal and one ambient, that could be played simultaneously to create a beautiful, layered effect. So I decided I'd post another song from that album, in its (instrumental) metal form, its ambient form, and in its gloriously combined form. At around 5:00 in, the sound gets so dense, it sounds like it's about to roar out of your speakers. You just need to hear it...



Beta Aquilae


Absent/Beta Aquilae


Buy this album (hint: it's worth it):

Monday, May 3, 2010

Circa Survive-Blue Sky Noise

For those not totally up to date on scenester trivia, Saosin was originally founded by a guy named Anthony Green, who was the original vocalist, began the hype around the band, and quit before they were able to record their first full-length. Green then went on to begin five million side projects, but it was clear that his heart was with Circa Survive. Much to the disappointment who thought Green would be the salvation of Hot Topic-era hardcore, Circa Survive had nothing in common with any type of -core. In fact, it was pretty mellow. It was also pretty boring, unless you were a sucker for a few catchy hooks backed up by decently complex instrumental performances (I was).

Enter Blue Sky Noise. For those familiar with Circa Survive's past efforts, expect a kick in the face right off the bat with the opening salvo that is "Strange Terrain". It's immediately apparent that this is different. Gone are the monotonous verses and ponderous song structures. Instead, it feels like this is what Anthony Green was trying to achieve all along: layered, complex alternative music with an experimental twist. Again looking at "Strange Terrain", it has that wonderful but all-too-rare quality of being immediate yet deep. The hook-laden chorus is backed up by a chorus of Anthony Greens providing delicious vocal harmony yet adding a hint of aggression to the song. The instruments have improved drastically, with the guitars never for a moment sacrificing that noodling harmony that made them so appealing back on "Juturna". The drums actually carry the weight of the song and drive it forward instead of being a formality like they were on "On Letting Go".

But for all this, the most drastic improvement comes from Anthony Green himself. His signature high-pitched vocals are as flawless as ever; even the most hardened Circa Survive hater would admit that the vocal performance on the last two albums was pristine. No, it's the lyrics that really shine through on "Blue Sky Noise". I've always thought Anthony Green's lyrics had a certain poetic appeal to them. They didn't make sense, but somehow they were deeply resonant. This time, it seems Green's abstractions have been combined with a down-to-earth relatability associated with indie lyricists like Ben Gibbard. The newfound transparency of the lyrics allows them to add to that wistful melancholy that Circa Survive have always been aiming for and brings the music to a more personal level. Take "The Longest Mile" as an example:

I must admit now going down within this ship/I couldn't have a better crew to travel with/If I make it in one piece back to land/I will never sail again.

Gems like that coalesce perfectly with the summery, mournful aura of the song. In short, this is everything Circa Survive has been trying to make since "Juturna". It finally feels like Anthony Green's reasons for leaving Saosin have been realized; and the payoff is something nobody expected at this point.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rosetta-The Galilean Satellites

So you know that feeling you get when you're floating endlessly through space, contemplating the meaning of the universe as you bridge the great nothingness between interstellar objects? No? Well me neither. But if I had experienced that feeling, I'm certain I would have been listening to Rosetta's gargantuan album, 'The Galilean Satellites'. Rosetta's sound can best be encapsulated in a quote from the band themselves: "metal for astronauts. Combining ferocious post-metal sludge in the vein of Isis and Neurosis with droning ambience, the 2-hour double disc set is quite a journey in and of itself. Upon closer inspection, the listener ripping the CD to their computer will notice that the post-metal first disc and completely ambient second disc have identical track lengths. The revelation to this oddity is that both discs are made to be played simultaneously, with the ambient disc providing texture and added depth to the droning ferocity of the first disc. The combined effect is something monumental in the genre (and yes, i know Neurosis did something like this years ago). While both discs are great on their own, combining the two creates a truly epic wall of sound that is unparalleled in its density and subtlety.



The enigmatic piano intro to this 15-minute monster is soon joined by clean-picked guitar and grooving bass, then explodes into the signature Rosetta sound with vocals and layered distortion. Like most pieces from this band, it's basically the same riff played over and over again with flourishes along the way, but the raw composing talent of the band keeps it from ever becoming dull for a moment. The overall effect this beautiful drone has on the listener is to absorb him into a sort of trance associated with post-rock or shoegaze. The piano can always be heard playing its relentlessly catchy melody under the fortress of guitar and desperate screams, and the ambient section at the end with spoken words fizzles out with a perfect atmosphere of loneliness and bleakness.

Band's Myspace:

Support this awesome band and get some great tunes all at the same time!