Monday, October 31, 2011

Post-Punk pick of the week: The Hospitals

I have no idea whether they're still together and it looks like they haven't done anything in a while, but I stumbled onto The Hospitals last week and I've fallen in love. It's some of the thickest noise I've heard in a while that remains, somehow, melodic. It's basically harsh noise with a discernible beat and that's a wonderful boon.

They hail from San Francisco and have a cryptic, almost non-presence on the web but if you can dig up mp3s, please give them a listen. Here's some live stuff.

Divine Providence - Deer Tick

The drunken snarl of Deer Tick's latest is almost worthy of Black Lips status. Growling, nicotine-stained vocals and twanging garage guitars inform the album with a brutal honesty that you just couldn't fake. Add to this the twinkling of an old grand piano and you have pure, main-lined Americana.

"The Bump" carries the same picaresque bad-assery of "Bad Kids" mixed with a dash of "Don't Mess Around with Jim". Much the same for "Clowin' Around" which despite the flip title, talks of sharing a life with the devil.

Grade: A

Misfits - Famous Monsters

In honor of Halloween I'm going to do a review of an album that's by no means new but is certainly close to my heart. While Glen Danzig is indisputably the best front-man for the Misfits, Michael Graves' short-lived custody of the sacred office of Misfits front man wasn't too shabby either.

I remember when this album came out while I was in Middle School and it's proved to be a cool re-imagining of the Misfits sound.
There's a far more metal/hard-rock bent to this one as opposed to the punchy punk of the Danzig days but it somehow works really well.

Without "Famous Monsters" there would be no "Saturday Night", a slow crooning rock song that's been adopted enthusiastically as a post-Danzig Misfits classic.
Graves sonorous whole notes and beautiful punk melisma show through on songs like, "Scream" which is almost better than "Saturday Night" in my opinion. Other showstoppers include, "Hunting Humans" and "Dust to Dust".

As long as you're not one of those dickheads who will squabble for hours and hours over punk purity and how I'm pissing on the grave of Danzig's Misfits contributions then you owe it to yourself to sit back and put on this fun new chapter in the band's legacy. Critics have trashed this one up and down but there just approaching it with the same shitty attitude Danzig is known for having about nearly everything. It's not even close to their best work but it's a lot better than you'd expect.

Soon I'll review the band's latest, "Devil's Rain".

The Dead Revolt - Vanixer

[FOR POSTPUNKD READERS: If you haven't heard of The Dead Revolt, they are an up and coming local Houston band. Go here to be fans.]

Chugging diligently away, The Dead Revolt have already released their second album and it sounds wiser and more developed. Still working within an aggressive prog rock framework, the music is more focused with less rambling despite the still-impressive track lengths.

"Vanixer" employs a greater number of truly iconic and anthemic licks instead of bowing to the very real prog rock temptation of being pretentious and inconsistent. The noticeably short track (well for this band, anyway) "Indigo Fashion Show" is prime example of economic repetition and thematic riffing.

Another shining example of this is the delightfully Steve How-ian solo about four minutes into "Day of the Dead". The drumming is very Yes as well. It's nice to hear the neo-classical prog-rock sound is still prevasive throughout their second album as well. For more of that counterpointalism, listen to the intro of "Chili the Kid".

This is the best possible sign of progress from a band that shouldn't feel the need to impress anyone.

Grade: A-

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Saxobeats - Alexandra Stan

I was pretty surprised when I saw that euro-dance sensation Alexndra Stan had actually gone through the effort of putting out a bonafide LP. Most of these kinds of artists are satisfied with putting out one or two singles and spending the rest of their days racking up producer and collaborator credits. However, I'm not surprised at the quality of the album.

The bubblegum sound would probably be thrilling to people not steeped too heavily in the wide world of electronic actually out there but for me it's just more club kitsch. At times the sounding is endearingly sweet and naive in a cute way but the unrelenting sax loops and vapid lyrics eventually take their toll. It's really all a bad stereotype of parochial, behind the times, Eastern-European dance music. It makes me want to exclaim in a terrible Romanian accent, "In Soviet Russia, sax beats you!"

Instead of "Saxobeats" this album would be more aptly titled as "Sax-o-craps". Blech. At least Stan's beautiful face makes for an enticing album cover.

Grade: not my sort of electronic music, so I'll give Ms. Stan an incomplete

M83 - Hurry up, We're dreaming

While lacking the concise hits of "Saturdays=Youth", M83's new album succeeds because it is so thoroughly listenable is its own musical universe. There aren't any real standouts on this LP because it is so album-oriented in nature. That should be apparent even just from the impressive two-disc length.

Previously, "Kim and Jessie" signalled, at least for a minute, a move toward a more concrete song structure when compared to the indefinite and boundary-less songs of past albums. Much the same for the long-winded but slightly pop-rock structured "Skin of the Night".

However, for M83 the pendulum has swung back toward pure electronic and kraut-rock psychedelia, like on "Shades" only a bit louder. Echoing and pulsing with brightness, "Intro" sets the tone for the entire album, introducing washed out lyrics, celestial synth pads, and a lack of definite refrain. The far happier mood works out to be very Sigur Ros. See the quiet, "Wait". "Splendor" is by far the most distinct and beautiful, boasting choral arrangements and strings.

The most accessible numbers in a non-album setting are the highly promoted, "Midnight City" single and "Steve McQueen". As for the rest, don't rush it. Listen to the entire thing.

Grade: B+

Monday, October 24, 2011

Justice - Audio, Video, Disco

Justice's latest release is by no means Cross pt. II. That should have been clear when the surprisingly eclectic single "Audio, Video, Disco" was released a few weeks ago. Although there certainly was a part of me that hoped naively that their sophomore LP would be chock full of immediately accessible goodies like "Let there be Light" or "DVNO". The truth is, resoundingly, that this is not the case.

Cross boasted songs that you could easily slip into a DJ's playlist at any club without a drop off in dance potential. AVD instead allows the duo to showcase their experimental abilities instead of just introducing more stuff that's instantly gratifying. "On'n'On" starts off at a crawling pace, featuring a full set of lyrics that develop over the course of the song in a very rock fashion as opposed to the repetition of bite sized house phrases.

The neo-classical disco theme is still very prevalent on the album with dramatic key shifts and much pomp as on "Canon (primo)" which is the theme for "Canon". "Brianvision" is heavy on these loved Justice tropes as well but with far more guitar than most are used to hearing. "New Lands" also brings a lot of guitar distortion and bombastic rock style to the record and a hard-rock coda that could have been played by Tony Iommi.

Fairweather fans will not be as entranced as with "Cross" but the songs "Audio, Video, Disco", "Civilization" and "Helix" excel at capturing at least some of the same house mastery the duo is best known for. For the most part, the noodling and experimentation succeeds in showing the Justice is capable of evolving and trying new concepts.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

VHS or Beta - Death and Diamonds

Everything I hear from this band lately is kitschy but that's not to say it isn't fun. On their third record, "Death of Diamonds" VHS or Beta ditch the Futureheads, Killers, post-punk revival rock style for a hard-edged House/dance inspired electronic construction.

I was blown away at the sheer lack of Rock music, even just on the first track "Breaking Bones". Lyrics are super-charged with emotion and dramatism, (breaking bones just to prove I can feel) to create the catchy instant satisfaction of repeated House-music-type phrases. In House there's not the opportunity to build up concepts throughout as much as there is in rock because there otherwise would not be time for the necessary repetition that characterizes the genre and gives it its hypnotic power. So, fusing these two sounds isn't that easy to do with the high quality VHS or Beta manages to do here.

This sort of transition from rock to electro isn't terribly uncommon these days and you can observe it in the difference between Friendly Fires' first record and their second. In fact it reminds me of James Murphy's clever "I heard that you and your band have sold your guitars and bought turntables" line in "Losing My Edge".

The band repurposes house and club sounds for a slightly more rock purpose to create tracks like "Everybody" that could easily be put into a rock arrangement but simply have a different aesthetic. Instead of being lead instruments, the guitars on this track are made into light rhythm and accompaniment taking a backseat to piano and synth.

I poo-pooed this album at first but it's growing on me.

Grade: B

Monday, October 10, 2011

Feist - Metals

Metals is deliberate and sobering as anything Leslie Feist has ever released. The bright, twee, bubblegum sound of "1234" and "I feel it all" has mostly evaporated leaving behind the remaining quiet melancholia that makes up the other part of Feist's overall sound. A very necessary experiment for Feist.

The brightest track on the record is "How Come You Never Go There" and even that is weighted down by a degree of heaviness and slowness. "When the circle married the line" is also bright compared to most of the other work on Metal but with no indie tropes, only booming orchestral accompaniment.

Metal's most chilling and powerful track is "Caught a Long Wind". It's understated but not underwhelming.

Grade: A

Thursday, October 6, 2011

DJ Shadow - The Less You Know, The Better

From a critical standpoint, this my favorite DJ Shadow album thus far. "Entroducing.." has now of course reached legendary status in the music world and it was a strong release for sure but there were moments on the record that felt very meandering, probably due to some of the track lengths.

On "The Less. . ." Shadow is able to pump out a number of shorter, more self-contained tracks that won't draw from anyone the criticism of being rambling or pretentious. This is a comforting sign of maturation even now, from someone as skilled as Davis who could easily just rest on his laurels stylistically as he sort of did on his previous "The Outsider". That album had so many cameos it was difficult to distinguish them from his actual work.

There's a great deal of variety here. "Border Crossing" which features chugging guitars is followed by old school hip-hop "Stay the Course". Tom Vek makes an appearance on the album too, singing like he's a goth Brandon Flowers. While there's a fair amount of collaborators here it doesn't feel like Davis leans on them quiet as heavily as before.

"Give Me Back the Nights" is perhaps the most interesting track which includes the maudlin ramblings of what sounds like a strung out drifter. "The Less You Know, The Better" is certainly much more original than his last release.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Balaclavas - Snake People

[the band in this review is, I proudly add, from Houston Texas]

The pitch-black noise rock of Balacalavas only continues to mature on their sophomore LP “Snake People”. Much like“Roman Holiday” the band relies on the core rhythmic drive of drummer Charlie Patranella and a complete disregard for the trappings of contemporary rock music.

The highly stylized music on “Roman Holiday” is continued on without missing a beat. In addition to heroic gothic drumming, the music still echoes with the sounds of grinding guitar feedback, doomy bass lines and synth tones buzzing with the ominous oscillations of a chorus of sizzling tesla coils.

Tracks on “Snake People” vary in length from two minutes and sixteen seconds to over nine minutes. “Snake People”, the latter of these two, completely disregards structure. Rim drumming like “Bela Lugosi's Dead” combined with Tyler's dramatic cries makes for a feverish nightmare-scape that would make Peter Murphy shit his pants. This staple track also includes a number of delightfully Cabaret Voltaire tape samples in the beginning, only adding to mood.

This is not to say that the shorter tracks are not just as good. “Down and Loose”, the album's second shortest song, is highly organized and far more structured with cryptic but vivid vocals like, “tight black leather boots, smoking cigarettes, with no regrets”. Even on the less lengthy tracks, Balaclavas sets the mood.

Grade: A

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Blink-182 - Neighborhoods

This has the possibility to be a very contentious interview, especially for readers my age. But don't worry, I won't savage this album just because I listen to different things than I did in 2000. Despite the fact that must of us who grew up with them now know that Blink-182 and pop punk bands are not really universal enough to do many great things musically, there will always be that inexplicable nostalgic force that pulls us back to them from time to time.

On "Neigborhoods" the band has stuck with the formula that catapulted them to fame during the 90s and the early 2000s. The band tries to break out but falls a bit short of being anything they haven't in the past.

For example, bonus track "Snake Charmer" has more tame moments than I'm used to hearing in a blink track but with all the usual angstiness. The super-phased guitar intro sounds slightly shoe-gazey but then is slammed back into chugging power-chords. Little blips like this definitely inform a sadder overall mood than anything we've ever heard from them but then again, before they were bubble gum so it's not really that sad, overall.

While the pop-punk flavor still exists, songs like "Up all Night" and "Ghost on the Dancefloor" have an updated sound including electronic swishing and textures. These are predictable given the musical climate and while they aren't examples of over-production, don't change the band's sound all that much.

The cover art and the title of "Neighborhoods" (strikingly similar to titles like "The Suburbs") show that the band at least is trying to go a more post-modern angle, even if only very superficially.

There are a few tracks that could have been pulled off older releases (like "Natives") and there are some slight experiments as well. Judging the band by its own merit, "Neighborhoods" is a nice walk down memory lane but little more. Really though, how can you expect more from a band with such a stylized sound?

Grade: C+