Monday, March 17, 2014

review: the war on drugs- 'lost in the dream' (secretly canadian)

Sometimes the season that a record arrives can have as much of an impact as the music itself and the new War on Drugs is the perfect record to come out during the first stages of spring after a long, cold winter. ‘Lost in the Dream’ builds on 2011’s ‘Slave Ambient’ by piling on the wistfulness and longing. The production has been smoothed out even more this time out at the expense of the warmth at the core of ‘Slave Ambient’ (perhaps it’s a better record to listen to on vinyl). Nevertheless the songs on this record fall into that category of impressionistic songwriting that aims to take the essence of the tiniest, most subtle moments and magnify them in vivid detail. There were only hint’s of singer-songwriter Adam Granduciel’s ability to do this on ‘Slave Ambient.’

Stylistically it’s a more laid-back affair than ‘Slave Ambient’ with the emphasis turned to more reflective material. The songs are also incredibly expansive, especially during the album’s second half—which starts with the gracefully slow-burning ‘Disappearing.’ Sounding like the type of dreamy, shimmering wistfulness that Wild Nothing specialized on ‘Gemini’ it takes its time winding down—the ending instrumental section is practically half of the song’s running time. This un-rushed energy has a similar effect to the pop epic sound of something the Cure are known for doing on songs like ‘Pictures of You’ off of ‘Disintegration.’ It’s something of an ensemble approach to songwriting that highlights the intricacies of the overlapping instrumental parts just as much as the vocal melody and the chord progression. In such extended instrumental sections you’re able to immerse yourself in the layers and focus on them individually and draw more out of them—the bounce of the delayed drum sound on ‘Disappearing,’ the carefully overlapped sparseness of each part of the title track, the fact that ‘In Reverse’ builds and closes so carefully. Considering how often the Cure have been name-checked as an influence by countless bands it’s always been interesting to me that so few have really taken the time to build songs and highlight the pure instrumental beauty of their songs like the Cure did during their late 80s heyday. That, to me, is ‘Lost in the Dream’s greatest strength—that it’s successfully taken this approach and applied it to some really great songwriting by a band that has already established their own lush and immersive sound.

Monday, March 3, 2014

review: nothing- 'guilty of everything' (relapse)

Philadelphia-based band Nothing has quite the back story—frontman Dominic Palermo used to spend his time driving around in a car loaded with cocaine and guns while blasting My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Loveless’ through the speakers. Following some time in prison and a four year period of soul searching he emerged with a new band called Nothing (he’d previously been in hardcore bands Horror Show and XO Skeleton) and this impressive debut for Relapse Records.

‘Guilty of Everything’ covers a pretty wide tonal palette—the lyrics and vibrant melodies ooze a hope that comes from a very dark place as well as redemption and regret while the music pummels and pounds with a layered, yet raw force that’s lacking in the music of most bands riding the 3rd wave of shoegaze. In fact shoegaze isn’t an entirely accurate label for Nothing—while listening to ‘Guilty of Everything’ I found it reminding me of a beefed-up version of ‘Low Level Owl’ by the Appleseed Cast. The music has an anthemic, celebratory quality that doesn’t come across in most music placed under the shoegaze umbrella. Even when the relentless wall of guitars cools to a breezy shimmer there’s a clarity and thickness that demands attention. For a new band treading such well-worn ground the band covers a diversity of style that suggests a lot of as-yet untapped potential. The no-nonsense production by Jeff Ziegler (who’s also produced Kurt Vile and The War on Drugs), which sounds like it could’ve been tracked live in a mere matter of hours, reinforces this suggestion.

Like any debut by any band worth it’s salt it’s not perfect, suggests more than it delivers and provides exciting hints at future directions that a band could take. In most ways this is preferable to a perfect debut—a band that arrives fully-formed into the world often has nowhere else to go. Nothing have staked a nice claim with ‘Guilty of Everything’—a band that favors loud, layered walls of guitars and loud/quiet dynamics who have firmly established a no-bullshit methodology where most bands mining a similar sound disappear into a world dripping with pretentious sonic noodling or resort to half-assed copycatting. This is a record that makes me excited to hear what they do next.