Savages have not slowed down since releasing Silence Yourself, one of my favorite records of 2013. This year saw the London-based post-punk band make two releases. The first was Words to the Blind, a collaboration with acid rock band Bo Ningen, an album I felt was solid but unspectacular. The less celebrated release was a single of two live tracks, “Fuckers” and a cover of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream.” While neither track is much of a departure from Silence Yourself, both play up to the band’s strengths — Fay Milton’s nimble drumming, Ayse Hassan’s fluid bass lines, Gemma Thompson’s excellent use of guitar effects, and Jehnny Beth’s … Continue reading Savages — Fuckers / Dream Baby Dream
So I’ve been looking at how other people write reviews, and I’ve noticed a common formula is to compare the music you’re reviewing to some other piece of pop culture. I think this is done because it gets boring talking about chord progressions all the time and a lot of people don’t know a whole lot of music terminology. I also think this is done as a cultural dick measuring contest, as a display that my cultural knowledge is better than yours and that’s why I get to review music and you don’t. I want to be a real blogger, so let’s do that this time. So, um… lately I’ve been playing the computer game Hatoful Boyfriend. It’s a parody of dating simulators. Instead of being the typical “you’re a Japanese schoolgirl looking to choose one out of a group of eligible bachelors,” in Hatoful Boyfriend you’re the only human in a school for sentient birds and must choose which bird will be your mate. the parody is definitely fun, but it’s not what compelled me to play all eight hours of Hatoful Boyfriend. When I think back to what I enjoyed so much about the game, it’s not how subversive its parody is. It’s that the game is completely batshit insane, and every time you think you’ve figured out what the hell is going on it somehow ups the ante. It’s the crazy that attracted me, a kind of giddy insanity I also find in… PC Music (see what I did there?) If you aren’t familiar with PC Music, they’re a group of electronic musicians / record label out of the UK that aims to parody 90s bubblegum pop. Their mix for DISown Radio is an excellent crash course on what they’re about, featuring six of their most prominent artists. In a way I’m recommending the entire catalog of the collective, but we need an artifact to analyze, and this mix is a good place to start. It’ll also give a sense of what each artist wants to do: GFOTY revels in insanity, Danny L. Harle really pushes to make pleasant melodies, Kane West wants to work with funky MIDI sounds:
Like Hatoful Boyfriend, PC Music does function as a parody, skewering the vapidness found in a lot of pop music, especially the sort marketed towards teen girls. Like Hatoful Boyfriend, what I found interesting is the insanity of everything. PC Music is just so goddamn weird and I love it.
Sexiest album of 2014. Best known for his string work with the Arcade Fire, Montreal violinist Owen Pallett returns with his fourth album. Like his previous works, Pallett is working in a more stripped back version of chamber pop. His songs aren’t nearly as ornate as other chamber pop artists, instead focusing largely on his violin work. In Conflict on the surface is more straightforward than past releases, having much less of the looping that worked well on Heartland. Instead, In Conflict offers something resembling a full band. Pallett has added a member to his touring band, allowing him to write songs with more parts, knowing he can pull them off live. The songs here are less reliant on loops, allowing for a wider range of progressions and song structures to work with. And it’s that growth as a songwriter that makes In Conflict so enjoyable. With more diverse song structures, In Conflict is just more expressive than any other Pallett release before.
It’s part two of Constellation Records year! Constellation has long been the home of Montreal’s post-rock scene and its kindred spirits. So the signing of Ought doesn’t quite fit in. Sure, they may be a Montreal band, but this is indie rock. We have verses and choruses, not crescendos or walls of sound. We have a drum, bass, keys and guitar four-piece, not string quartets or ten-member bands or hurdy-gurdy. More Than Any Other Day doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel — it has some unusual parts and song structures, but the appeal of this record isn’t in song composition. What I love about this record is how charismatic the band is.
Continuing the year of noise, we have Australian sound artist Lawrence English’s latest release, Wilderness of Mirrors. Released on his own Room40 label, Wilderness of Mirrors draws inevitable comparison to another 2014 noise/drone release from an Australian artist, Ben Frost’s A U R O R A (it draws the comparison because noise/drone release from an Australian artist in 2014 is a very narrow category). Despite being arguably the same genre and the two being close friends, Wilderness of Mirrors is very different from A U R O R A. Wilderness of Mirrors is in the middle ground between noise and drone music — it uses the buzz and hiss of noise music, but not in a way that’s abrasive. Wilderness of Mirrors is a slow, atmospheric record, with none of the forcefulness of A U R O R A. It isn’t interested in creating songs like A U R O R A. It’s looking towards making landscapes, densely layered collages where you can lose yourself in the details.
Asleep Versions sees Jon Hopkins rework four tracks from last year’s excellent Immunity. In these reworks, Hopkins strips these songs bare, keeping little more than a melody or chord progression from the originals. Immunity was equal measures driving and beautiful, propulsive beats over piano chords. Asleep Versions strips away the beats and re-imagines the instrumentals into ambient works. The results are achingly gorgeous. Hopkins demonstrates a keen ear for timbre and composition here. The songs have enough interesting parts to keep the listener entertained while still keeping a light, airy atmosphere you’d come to expect from an ambient works.
If you haven’t been following Holly Herndon, she is a fascinating musician in terms of how she creates her music, the ideas it contains, and how willing she is to talk about those two things. She’s interested in the connections between humans and computers and the way we use computers as a tool for communication. He music aims to communicate this sort of feeling of humanity we have with our computers and the way data can be converted into music. Much of her music centers around the idea of the laptop as a musical instrument itself, interpreting the motions of the hard drive, the information from the day, and vocal inputs from the user into music, similar to how the saxophone, say, interprets the breathing and finger movement of its player into music. She can explain it better than I, and I don’t want to remove her voice, so check out this interview if you want to get a better sense of what she does:
Herndon released two singles this year, “Chorus” and “Home.” It seems like both of them might show up on some sort of release named “Call,” but I’m not quite sure what Call is, and I decided to include singles and EPs to catch genres that emphasize those formats, so we’ll tackle Call when we figure out what it is. Both “Chorus” and “Home” started out as collaborations between Herndon and visual artists, Akihiko Taniguchi for “Chorus” and Metahaven for “Home.” Both songs are interested in the connections between people, computers and the internet, specifically the intimate relationship people have with their computers. “Home” gives that idea a bit of a spin, however. Released after this year’s revelations about the NSA, it explores the feeling of having that intimacy betrayed. Herndon described “Home” as a breakup song, and while that may sound a bit dramatic when describing a relationship somebody has with their computer, it does accurately reflect the feeling of betrayal and mistrust the NSA scandal encapsulates.
I’m a bit surprised at how little was said about The Unnatural World (I blame the band for naming themselves Have a Nice Life). Post-punk is in a bit of a revival period, and taking elements of noise and shoegaze is a cool thing to do. Or maybe they’re just things I think are cool. Noise and post-punk have already been all over this year-in-review, and this isn’t the last time either will show up again. The real interesting mood here is the sense of catharsis that runs throughout the album — choruses take it up to another level, vocals are shouts that just barely rise above walls of noise. Obviously, if you’re mainly working on the release of emotion, then you need to build an emotion first, so the album also works on some angst and a bit of doom and gloom (I love me some doom and gloom). The worldview here isn’t necessarily a positive one, but it also expresses a desire to be rid of that kind of negativity, which I like.
Flying Lotus is one of my favorite artists, and this album was one of my most anticipated of the year. His 2010 release, Cosmogramma, is among my favorite albums. You’re Dead! doesn’t change up the stylistic ideas Flying Lotus has been working with the past two albums. Flying Lotus is still going to try to meld elements of instrumental hiphop with glitch and similar electronics. He’s still going to take heavy influence from free jazz, and particularly his aunt and uncle Alice and John Coltrane, perhaps not in style, but in mindset. He’s still going to throw ideas left and right and a hundred miles per hour and they’ll all stick. You’re Dead! is very much in the same vein of Flying Lotus’s previous work, but it’s an excellent vein to mine from.
Warp Records has long been home to the more academic side of electronic music, some thoughtful like Boards of Canada and Bibio, some residing in a land of music theory like Aphex Twin, Autechre and Battles. Its musicians are genre-defining, instrumental to IDM, jungle, and countless other sounds. Seven albums into his career, Clark is one of the more overlooked Warp Records talents, but his latest self-titled album shows his quality ear and ability to shift to many different moods in an engaging, cohesive fashion. Mixing elements of IDM and techno, Clark is equal parts playful and dark, willing to create lullabies only to have them crash into the abyss. It uses a wonderful variety of timbres on its synths, from bright arpeggios to reverbed booms to discordant subtle sirens.