Thursday, February 21, 2013

diary 2.11.13- 'sleeping is a getaway from life as a fool'

Diary 2.11.13- sleeping is a getaway from life as a fool by Shalloboi on Mixcloud

song- artist- album

1. the animator/come to the city- the war on drugs- 'slave ambient'
2. 18th street shuffle- darker my love- 'alive as you are'
3. crystallized- melody's echo chamber- 'crystallized' 7"
4. falling out- veronica falls- 'waiting for something to happen'
5. love fuzz- ty segall- 'twins'
6. scared people dream- white fence- 'castle face group flex ii: son of flex'
7. where will you go- jacco gardner- 'cabinet of curiosities'
8. slow so long- speck mountain- 'badwater'
9. silvia, overwhelmed- the warmth- 'tourniquet'
10. john cope- talk talk- 'i believe in you' 7"
11. 1991- the fauns- s/t
12. don't ask why- my bloody valentine- 'glider' 12"
13. lime sicks- medicine- 'aruca' 12"
14. shadow- jessica bailiff- 'live at VPRO' 7"
15. half 'twain the jesse- jessica pratt- 'jp'
16. the only one- holly golightly & the brokeoffs- ''
17. song for a warrior- swans- 'the seer'
18. all farewells are sudden- a winged victory for the sullen- s/t

Monday, February 11, 2013

review: jacco gardner- 'cabinet of curiosities'

The debut on Trouble in Mind from Dutch multi-instrumentalist Jacco Gardner sees him staking a pretty strong claim in the modern neo-psych world. It’s one of those rare records that sounds so familiar that it’s certainly been done before, but attempts to find examples come up short. A great deal of what’s considered psychedelic these days is mining more of the Spacemen 3-influenced minimalist drone/overpowering fuzz and noise type of sound. Gardner’s going for more of an Anton Newcombe-like limitless pastiche. Where Newcombe combines 60s garage with folk traditions and Eastern influences, Gardner is mining more in the way of the English folk oddities that a lot of the British groups of the 60s were combining with the blues and drug-influenced music. The only clear parallel that springs to mind is Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, but even that doesn’t explain the baroque pop elements that are mixed in here. There are tons of Rhodes electric pianos, mellotrons, vibraphones as well as the occasional harpsichord and toy piano.

‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ greatest success is as an extended mood piece. There’s a fear and loathing in these tracks that’s hypnotic and terrifying in its magnetism. Listen to lead single ‘Where Will you Go’ and it’s the first thing to leap out at you—those eerie, lonely electric piano notes during the bridge, the driving acoustic guitars and maracas and the buried mellotron melodies. ‘Sleeping is a getaway from life as a fool,’ he sings softly. With so much over-romanticizing of the 60s these days, it’s nice to hear a sense of paranoia and dread mixed in with the druggy euphoria so effectively. These aren’t childish lovesongs either—a lot of them seem to be of the impressionistic image variety. Even the child’s laughing throughout the instrumental title track gives pause. The music goes from vaguely menacing to playful often in the same phrase. One of the favored tricks of English folk music has always been minor chords mixed with sunny melodies and major scales. Then there’s ‘The Riddle’ which is just plain carnival freakshow creepy.

In the way of hooks there aren’t many—at least not vocal hooks. The vocals, for the most part, are tucked neatly alongside all of the other midrange instruments. There isn’t much in the way of bright treble-y tones either which further allows the music to drift. Gardner doesn’t rely too heavily on delays or reverbs, though. The hazy feel of the record is more a bi-product of some interesting layering—melodies intertwine together in call-and-response, drifting in and out in cross fades. Often they come from instruments you didn’t know were there that then recede quickly. It’s a similar effect to Spiritualized’s ‘Lazer Guided Melodies.’ Despite the woozy, soft effects the production is remarkably clear. The lyrics, for instance, are never difficult to decipher. It brings to mind what White Fence might sound like if they were to record in a really nice analog studio. Where White Fence’s Tim Presley goes for an unfiltered mix of dazzling weirdness, Gardner goes for a more subtle, distilled odd quality. The record leaves you with a dreamlike feeling that you’ve experienced something strange and wonderful, but eerie and exciting yet you can’t really pinpoint what you found so strange about it.

Friday, February 8, 2013

review: veronica falls- 'waiting for something to happen'

This beautiful white slab of vinyl arrived much earlier than expected. Sadly it has the huge disadvantage of being the record to draw me away from the new my bloody valentine. Having been excited about the release of this record since I saw Veronica Falls at the Empty Bottle last March (see here) I’m very happy with it.

What seems the most different about ‘Waiting for Something to Happen’ is its wistful, nostalgic tone—‘Teenage’ for example. Where the self-titled debut had the self-aware foreboding tone of ‘Found Love in a Graveyard,’ ‘Waiting for Something to Happen’ has the heart-on-its-sleeve sweetness of ‘Last Conversation’ or the earnest pleading of ‘Daniel.’ ‘Buried Alive’ is the closest link to the first record thematically and musically. The most noticeable difference is that the band has continued to draw on their thick and hypermelodic guitar sound. Most bands that take on the type of material Veronica Falls do would opt for a sparkling, bright, jangly sound—this record shows a desire to move towards the sort of 3rd Velvet Underground LP-type of thick, spare, overlapped guitar lines that made self-titled LP closer ‘Come on Over’ such a rush. ‘Falling Out’ sounds like a beefed-up Young Marble Giants. The title track and ‘Everybody’s Changing’ are both examples of heartfelt, wistful lyrics paired with sunny melodies and a bright, hopeful tone.

There aren’t as many obvious standout tracks—even singles ‘Teenage’ and the fierce and urgent ‘My Heart Beats’ aren’t as immediate as the self-titled LP singles such as ‘Beachy Head’ or ‘Bad Feeling.’ ‘Waiting for Something to Happen’ is more the type of record that rewards repeated listens—there’s a lot more fine-tuned subtlety at play and there’s also a wider mixing of influences that weren’t really explored on the self-titled record. In the same song you can hear 60s, 80s and 90s influences all mixing together effortlessly. The production continues to be sparse, favoring a strong reliance on their no-frills live sound but subtle background touches are beginning to work their way into their music—‘Killing Time’ (the B-side of the ‘My Heart Beats’ single) features some nice use of organ, acoustic guitar on ‘Everybody’s Changing,’ the touches of distorted growl and feedback on ‘My Heart Beats,’ the overdubbed vocal lines of ‘If you Still Want me,’ the panned vocal movement of ‘Buried Alive.’ The vocal harmonies sound more confident and clear this time around as well. Consistency is the name of the game—there’s never a point where the record lags even slightly. Many of the tracks fall under the 3-minute mark.

For a band with such a bare bones, no-nonsense sound Veronica Falls seem to have a surprising bag of tricks up their sleeve. They sound relaxed and confident—nothing sounds labored or agonized over. Their songwriting continues to take unexpected and unforced twists and turns that can be dazzling if you’re listening carefully enough. They’ve already avoided so many of the potential traps that they could’ve fallen into—a one-dimensional sound, repetitive tone, ending up sounding like Belle & Sebastian clones—the best thing about this record to me is that it shows them somehow finding a way to play to their strengths while expanding into new territory. The video for ‘Teenage’ left me with a sense of well-being about this record right off the bat. It’s the type of video I could imagine seeing on ‘120 minutes’ when I was in high school, back when MTV showed music videos, which is something I find invaluably comforting.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

ruminations: my bloody valentine- 'm b v'

This is not a review of the new my bloody valentine record. It’s one of those albums that falls under the ‘un-reviewable’ category. I was 99% certain that I would love it almost no matter what it ended up sounding like—how could I not?! My bloody valentine have been one of my two favourite bands since I was 16. Over the course of the last 17 years I’ve managed to dig up lost treasures of theirs wherever I could and they always caused the same effect—they would always sound fresh, unique, innovative and blow my mind in ways I hadn’t even known were possible yet. Few first listening experiences are as vivid in my mind as listening to ‘loveless’ for the first time in 1995. I bought it at Best Buy and a friend and I put it on my boom box in my mom’s old sewing room in our house. The first song ripped through us and the transitional music both had us simultaneously declare ‘whoa!’ By the time ‘to here knows when’ came droning through those overtaxed speakers I may or may not have said, ‘Holy crap! This is like nothing I’ve ever heard in my life!’ We were speechless through the entire thing. I’d already been listening to ‘Isn’t Anything’ so I THOUGHT I knew what to expect, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. This trend continued as I did deeper and deeper searching—I found their Creation era EPs in various random places and each one was a unique listening experience. Over the next decade or so I’ve been able to dig up more and more of their rarities. To me it was always a case of recognizing the near-perfect combination of strong songwriting and sonic perfection.

When the rumors started floating around in July that Kevin Shields was hard at work making the last push to finish the long abandoned third mbv album from the 90s I listened with the same trepidation so many did. I wanted to believe it would become a reality so badly—it was something I’d waited for hopelessly for years and years and years and had finally come to terms with the fact that it would probably never happen. When the band renewed their live activity in 2008 it seemed like the promise grew even brighter. As the sources continued to confirm tracks being finished one by one the trepidation-laced jubilation continued. Word reached the forum I lurked on that the album had been mixed followed a few weeks later by an announcement on the mbv facebook page that the album had been mastered a few days before Christmas. It was terrifying—it existed! Knowing that made the waiting all the more excruciating as any mbv fan knows that it could’ve been shelved again by Shields’ inability to let his work arrive at an endpoint. There was silence and speculation, then disenchantment. Naysaying and bickering began to break out. One post hit me incredibly hard—a poster on the forum theorized that the new album’s impact could be dulled by the obscene amount of imitators that have popped up over their 20 year absence. While at first this thought seemed ridiculous to me the more I thought about it the more possible it became. And then last night the announcement came, the site crashed for an hour, it returned and I plunked down the $40 for the vinyl version of the album and downloaded the digital files and loaded them onto my computer, my hands shaking with disbelief. I heard the first few seconds of each track while adding them into my iTunes library. Stefanie and I stopped the movie we were watching and sat and listened to the whole thing through our iPanda player and the record oozed surreally out of the speakers, just like ‘loveless’ had back when I first heard it in 1995.

Naturally, I loved it. It was unlike anything I could’ve possibly imagined. Even the familiar guitar sounds that Kevin Shields is known for were filled with new playful twists and turns. 'Ecstatic' doesn’t even cover it as it turns out. Even after listening to the album four times I find myself struggling to grasp the reality of the fact that I am listening to a record I waited hopelessly for more than half of my life and that it still somehow managed to SURPASS any expectations I may have had by lightyears. The production is Shields’ warmest and chunkiest to date. One of the aspects of ‘loveless’ I often struggle with is the saturated compression of every note on it. Plus I’ve always thought that the drum sounds were sacrificed in the breadth of the array of textures and tones, only springing to vivid life on the closing track ‘soon.’ Not so with ‘m b v’—the drums sound clean, clear and ballsy. The guitars also favor more of a chunky merging with the monstrous bass. It sounds a lot more like the creation of a band. The vocals sound similarly woozy and glazed over. Opening track ‘she found now’ continues to be my favourite—its heavy, blissed-out and the type of beautiful track that I’ve always expected from mbv. A lot of the rhythms echo Shields’ tales from the mid-90s of the band’s obsession with incorporating jungle rhythms into their music. Hearing this I always realized it meant that they would be injected into their music the way that they had incorporated hip-hop influenced rhythms into ‘Slow’ off of the ‘you made me realise’ EP. It’s one thing to imagine this, but as I did so I was always painfully aware of the fact that it probably wouldn’t sound anywhere near like how I expected it. This calls to mind the closing three tracks—‘wonder 2’ in particular (see below). These are songs that manage to tie my brain into a pretzel. It’s important to note that they manage to push my bloody valentine even further into completely new areas. The fact that this is even possible is further proof of Kevin Shields’ unparalleled genius. No wonder he doesn’t operate under any semblance of the normal constraints of time that the rest of us adhere to—he is so far off in his own glorious world.

I’m looking forward to the day that the vinyl arrives in the mail as I know that it’s going to sound even better. Shields took the time and money to record the entire album on 2 inch 24 track tape, mix it down to 1/2 inch 2 track tape and master completely in analog. As someone who’s gone to great lengths to keep my own music completely in the analog realm I’ve often had to make concessions and sacrifices. Anyone who gets it done right deserves major kudos for doing so. It’s a complete pain in the ass!

One thing I’ve noticed—hardly anyone is asking the most obvious question about this record—‘Was it worth the 21 year wait?’ The reason no one’s asking is because it is beyond a doubt. Hopefully the band will deliver on their promise of continuing to work on new material—Shields has been talking about an EP of all new material in April of this year to be followed by an album of entirely new material. It’s nice to think that it might actually come out. After all, the band are now able to do anything they want on completely their own terms. The motivation appears to be there for them to continue working and Shields has always said that the band first fell apart due to a lack of motivation. Even if they’re never able to release new material ‘m b v’ should be enough to tide me over for quite a while to come.