Iceage

With every bit of interview footage featuring the members of Denmark’s Iceage, from a cable access children’s dance show to a rare toned-down Nardwuar interview, there seems to be a fair amount of apathy displayed by the band, specifically blank-faced frontman Elias Bender Ronnenfelt. I think it’s safe to say that their lack of interest in promotional obligations can be attributed to the fact that they aren’t too interested in anything at the moment besides the music they put out and performing at their much buzzed-about live shows. The ferocity that personified Iceage’s debut album New Brigade and the cacophonous mini riots that ensued came at a perfect time for many disinterested indie music listeners, disgruntled by the lack of prompt intensity in many young bands. These same New Brigade admirers need not worry, as You’re Nothing provides the same and more.

We learn early on in You’re Nothing, Iceage’s second full length, that Elias Ronnenfelt has not mellowed much since his band’s abrasive first album. He and his bandmates have, however, evolved their in your face hardcore, post-punk sound in a more emotional and refined way, without losing any bite. Incorporating ambient breaks and even an affecting piano-laden track (“Morals”), it’s clear that Iceage aren’t fearful of straying from their comfort zone. The stellar opening two tracks, “Ecstasy” and “Coalition”, deliver on the group’s reputation for chugging two minute bursts of pure joy, each highlighted with one blaring exclamatory statement, pressure and excess, respectively. Ronnenfelt’s low register groans on “Burning Hand” melt into a more enraged version of a Sex Pistols chorus, while pop-influenced punk bands like Hüsker Dü and even Nirvana can be heard in Ronnenfelt’s vocal tendencies throughout.

While Ronnenfelt’s David Yow-esque sing-scream vocals dominate many of the songs on this record, it is centrepiece “Morals” that shows that Iceage are not simply a punk band from Denmark, but an engaging and emotive group of still very young men focused on their craft. Impassioned singing over piano and a simple thumping bass show an impressive new side of the band. It is Iceage’s distinct uneasiness and concern that is the theme all over You’re Nothing, and these inner conflicts are easily identifiable to your every day Iceage fan. As long as the members of Iceage are still feeling as anxious and fed up as they sound, we’ll likely be hearing a lot more from them.

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— , February 16, 2013    1 Comment

Tally Hall

In the afternoon on 12/12/2012, while the world patiently waited to take screenshots at twelve minutes past noon, a mysterious album quietly went up on Bandcamp with the mysterious name ミラクルミュージカル (the phrase “Musical Miracle” transliterated into Japanese katakana characters, presumably just to fuck with your iTunes). The mysterious band of mystery turns out to be a side project from singer/guitarist Joe Hawley of Tally Hall, something of a cult band from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Think Barenaked Ladies’ goateed American evil twin, or Ween on mood stabilizers.

Aside from the lack of humility, Hawley’s messianically monickered “musical miracle” actually offers something close to that. It’s bizarre, grating, stagy, and breathtakingly cool, with a scattershot set of influences—early Pink Floyd, Postal Service, the Katamari Damacy soundtrack, African chant, Gorillaz, Air, popular music of the 1910s—not shoved in a blender, but sewn together with the deliberate care of Dr. Frankenstein assembling his übermensch. Much like giant monsters made of corpses, Hawaii: Part II is kind of weird and not for everyone. But there’s no denying it’s interesting.

The album unfolds as a sort of intergeneric cabaret (or for that matter an intergalactic one). Opener “Introduction to the Snow” sounds like it belongs on an old 78. “The Mind Electric” is a single tape running backwards and then forwards, mirrored in the middle. “Labyrinth” offers a diverting side dish of chiptune rap. The closest thing to a consistent sound, running through “Isle Unto Thyself” and “White Ball” and “Time Machine”, is a vocoded glitchy space-pop concept that I’d like to nominate for the title of True Spiritual Heir To The Postal Service. (Death to the usurper Owl City!) As in any worthy stage show, bits of conceptual DNA wriggle between songs. A sublime bonus track, “Variations on a Cloud”, recaps and twists themes and lyrics not only from earlier in Hawaii: Part II but also from Tally Hall’s first/best album Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum.

Continue Reading ‘Hawaii: Part II’ Album Review »

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— , February 14, 2013    2 Comments
Photograph by Ben Rayner

Photograph by Ben Rayner

Hearing Parquet Courts’ frontman Andrew Savage describe the title of their first non-cassette release, “like this unnamed feeling, or sensation that we all have — it’s the thing everyone is looking for,” might make a weary indie rock listener brace for yet another album of sanguine twee. Chirpy indie pop, dreamy shoegaze-turned-electronic and forays into acoustic guitar are all good in the correct dosage, but some of us are pining for the new rock revolution of the early 2000s when musicians nostalgically mimicked the heydays of garage and punk. In a pleasant contrast to the music of the day, Light Up Gold instead delivers whip-sharp rock: a revival of post-punk revival replete with tight guitar-laden tracks and tongue-in-cheek stoner youth musings.

Written with an attention-deficit-addled population in mind, the individual songs are short; the 14-track LP clocks in at barely 33 minutes. This positions the New York (via Houston, mostly) musicians in the vein of other prolific slacker bands like Pavement or Guided by Voices — in fact, the soaring vocals and wordplay trickery on “Picture of Health” could easily fit in Robert Pollard’s ever-expanding repertoire, although with considerably more hi-fi polish. Fittingly, the longest track — “Stoned and Starving,” topping just over 5 minutes — is a distracted reflection on a quest for munchies. The tunes aren’t terribly complex structurally to a net benefit: songs propelled by dual-layered vocals, simple chords, prominent catchy melodies and driving beats.

Parquet Courts’ spastic nature spills over to the lyrical content. In the opening track, they jump from drawled idle proclamations (including the opening track’s repeated eye-rolled dismissive declarations of “Forget about it”) to clever ruminations on the emptiness of capitalism with too much of a sense of humour to be angsty (“Death to all false profits, around here we praise a dollar”). Themes of 20-something crises and related musings weave through the album, with references to failed psychotherapy and empty minds, self medication against the quotidian drudgery of life, excess and luxury, and the landscapes of broken wastelands. Forget bouncy ballads or folk fusion or trance-y electronica, Light Up Gold is the rock soundtrack for our quarter-life crises.

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— , February 11, 2013    Comments Off on Parquet Courts: Light Up Gold

Tegan and Sara

If the last Tegan and Sara song you’ve heard was “Monday Monday Monday,” the electronic pop of Heartthrob might come as a bit of a shock. The shift has been foreshadowed in the recent years by “Someday,” the final track on Tegan and Sara’s last album, Sainthood, and perhaps more blatantly by their collaboration with Tiësto, “Feel It in My Bones.” Whether it works is up to the listener. The subject matter is the same as ever, and the hooks are as catchy as ever, so it really comes down to the presentation.

The buzz of the synthesizers on opening track and first single “Closer” is as good an introduction as any, and it sets the tone for what you’re going to hear for the next nine tracks. The album is not subtle. It’s called Heartthrob and it’s filled with heartbreak. Individually, the songs are fine, taken together, they can be difficult to distinguish. “I Was a Fool” manages to buck the trend, slowing it down and shifting the electronics to the background.

Heartthrob is Tegan and Sara’s pop album, that much is clear. I’m not normally one to rail on production, but Tegan and Sara songs usually do better when they’re less dressed up. It’s nowhere near as cold and synthetic as Metric’s last album, but the glossiness makes me yearn for something as raw as If It Was You’s “Living Room.” Heartthrob isn’t going to supplant So Jealous, The Con, or Sainthood in my collection. It’s an amusing shift in sound, but I’m not sure it’s for the better.

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— , February 7, 2013    Comments Off on Tegan and Sara: Heartthrob

ASAP Rocky

A booming crash of thunder rumbles then fades. A mysterious, foggy landscape is painted. The beat kicks in accompanied by a haunting synth melody and a violin section straight out of Psycho. As A$AP Rocky’s larger than life vocals soar on the hook, Long.Live.A$AP is off to an amazing start. Unfortunately, Rocky fails to maintain this level of greatness throughout the entire album, but his enigmatic charisma and drugged out soundscapes keep me coming back for more.

For the most part, Long.Live.A$AP’s production is on point. Lead single ‘Goldie’ is a banger, boasting an atmospheric synth lead that hangs lazily in the back, clearing out some much needed room for A$AP Rocky’s laidback flow and pitch-shifted chorus. Producer Clams Casino returns with a pocketful of ambience and works his magic on ‘LVL’ and ‘Hell’. Gnarls Barkley’s Danger Mouse also lends a hand on the introspective ‘Phoenix’, while Rocky himself crafts a charming piece of vintage street soul on ‘Suddenly’. But Long.Live.A$AP is no 50-minute stroll in the park. ‘Fashion Killa’ is vapid; I literally skip over it every time it comes on. The dubstep-influenced ‘Wild for the Night’, featuring Skrillex on production, sticks out on this record like a sore thumb. I can appreciate creativity and experimentation, but it has to be well-executed, and this song sounds like it was thrown together at the last second.

Speaking of guest features, Kendrick Lamar sounds so out of place on ‘Fuckin’ Problems’ it’s cringeworthy. This is not the alluring, thoughtful mastermind behind good kid, m.A.A.d. city I’ve come to know and love. I mean, 2 Chainz sounds better than him! As well, Santigold attempts to round out ‘Hell’ (but to no avail) with a flat, uninspired chorus, and OverDoz is satisfactory at best on ‘Pain’.

Continue Reading ‘Long.Live.A$AP’ Album Review »

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— , January 21, 2013    Comments Off on A$AP Rocky: Long.Live.A$AP