Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Dirty Projectors
Swing Lo Magellan
Domino [2012]

Prior to the release of 2009’s Bitte Orca, I’d never heard of Dirty Projectors and assumed Dave Longstreth was long some forgotten member of The Big Red Machine. After purchasing the album on New Year’s Day of that year, however, I realized they were one of the most engaging and progressive acts of the last 10 to 15 years. Their knack for creating infectious pop melodies out of awkward guitar work and beautifully bizarre vocal arrangements made them seem completely mysterious, which was and remains rare in this era of constant, often banal, musical media saturation. My only concern for Swing Lo Magellan (apparently a reference to the GPS device??) was the worry that with expectations so high, it couldn’t help but disappoint. Not 90 seconds into opener "Offspring Are Blank" it became obvious that not only are they wiping the slate completely clean, but have created something entirely unexpected. A deliberate sonic jolt, the kind windmill-strummed by a young punk rocking his stuffy, overbearing father into the next room, introduces this record as anything but "Bitte Orca II". "About to Die" is just as good, a head-nodding exercise in percussion and twinkling plucks culminating in the greatest cello hook since Yo-Yo Ma spent that weekend at Kanye’s. Perhaps it’s my deep-seeded contrarian bent, or the needlessly histrionic approach, but the album’s first single "Gun Has No Trigger" is the only track I dislike. The following three cuts, on the other hand, are some of the best on the album. Title track "Swing Lo Magellan" is a fleetingly gorgeous guitar ballad, "Just from Chevron" is a fantastic final purge of the Bitte Orca sound, and "Dance For You" is a handclappingly positive elicitor of un-ironic smiles. "Maybe That Was It" emerges as a Blonde Redhead-esque mix of discordant tuning, slightly ethereal vocals, and competent drumming, given the unconventional foundation. To be honest, the lyrical content of this record seems secondary to me, and I have no interest in trying to “get” these songs. As far as I’m concerned (and this applies to most of what I listen to), they’re just love songs. The only place my lazy hypothesis stands up is "Impregnable Question", an incredibly sweet and timeless bit of pop romance. "See What She Seeing" and "The Socialites", though not standout tracks are lovely and don’t detract from the flow of the album. "Unto Caesar" is fast becoming a personal favorite as it is essentially an auditory manifestation of Dirty Projectors themselves. It sounds at once meticulously crafted and organically improvisational, highlighted by their typically knowledgeable playfulness and an odd in-song commentary. "Irresponsible Tune" closes out the album, vaguely reminiscent of Want One era Rufus Wainwright, it’s a fitting end to an album that is both intimate and expansive. Obviously, I have very few negative things to say about this record, I doubt I’ll hear a better one this year. My only word of caution is to prepare for the inevitable moment where you realize how many records you’ve heard recently seem half-assed by comparison. Swing Lo Magellan is a moment in contemporary music that should not be ignored. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Gas Chamber
Modern Vision of the Erect Nightmare
Nerve Altar [2012]

Buffalo NY's hardcore quintet, Gas Chamber offer us another dreadful perspective via their latest adiamorphic release, Modern Vision of the Erect Nightmare. The continuous track, which presents itself as less of a hardcore song and more of a post-industrial noise piece (less a few, incidental classic upstate NY guitar chugs) wraps seamlessly from side A to side B, intensifying their consecration to this anxiety-glutted release. Modern Vision of the Erect Nightmare is a story of man, a never-ending power struggle, and the consequences of the harsh, vast abandonment of morality and humanity. Let us ultimately hope that Gas Chamber's morbid foresight is mere fantasy…  

Thursday, July 19, 2012

No Joy
Mexican Summer [2012]

In the two short years that No Joy has been making records, they've already touched on several facets of alternative rock. The Montreal trio's sound started with a bit more clarity but recently began to delve into the popular new underground retro-sound (how's that for an oxymoron) - washy guitars, swirling rhythms, and soft ethereal vocals reminiscent of a soundtrack to a twenty-something's wet dream. This EP is very good, not Earth-shattering but a reasonable alternative to Slowdive once you've worn your ears out on their entire catalog.  

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fuck Society Volume 1
Mauled By Tigers [2012]

I’d like to begin with some confessions, if I may. 1. I knew nothing about Shellshag going into this review, and still know very little; I place their sound somewhere between Crimpshrine and some forgotten 90’s Sympathy/Estrus garage band. 2. I hated this record the first couple times I listened to it. And 3. I’ve come to terms with the fact that something about my perception of music has changed, perhaps it’s come with age, but I can no longer enjoy (most) dirty, poorly recorded punk music the way I may have 15 years ago. That being said, somehow this record hopped the fence of my ribcage and squatted in my heart, kind of. Fuck Society Volume 1 (bit of an oxymoron, I feel like nihilism doesn’t come in installments) is a collection of messily performed cover songs that (eventually) comes across as more of a love letter to music in general than a proper release. We’ll begin with THE GOOD: The first side of this LP contains most of what works – a less than stellar yet endearing cover INXS’s Don’t Change (one of the best pop songs ever written, in my semi-professional opinion), a very intriguing version of Hickey’s Stupid Sun, and a frantic and surprisingly well done rendition of Warsaw/Joy Division’s The Drawback. THE BAD: Pretty much all of side B - the poor recording does nothing for covers of The Jam, Descendents, and Wipers, though the Fleshies cut is decent. Possibly the strangest moment here is the inclusion of the original recording of AK77’s Fuck Society for which the album was titled. It’s not a bad song (the chorus of fuck society! fuck sobriety! fuck everybody! is particularly entrancing) but it just feels out of place. THE UGLY: Quite literally the album cover, it’s my biggest issue with this record. On the front and back cover they list the songs and under each is a small blurb regarding why it was included, this personal touch really makes the album but my complaint is that there are also GIGANTIC pictures of the band members faces taking up most of the space and no insert. I really identified with the mention of taping Don’t Change over and over on a cassette at age 12 because I did the same thing with Tainted Love.  If they had expanded these blurbs this record could have made a real connection with its audience. It all boils down to this – if you are my age and you’re familiar with the originals, you won’t lose sleep over skipping this record. However, if you’re some kind of renegade teen who doesn’t know Liz Phair or the Wipers, or who’s only heard the Descendents once or twice at a make out party (sounds like a rad party, by the way), then Shellshag might have something here for you. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Horrible Department
Capital I & the Royal Waltzing We
Desperate Commodities [2012]

Like a vivid memory of an early century psychedelic Italian sideshow, The Horrible Department came at me full speed, accordions and horn section, "Check". Capital I… may have been one of the opening acts for an alternate realm Neutral Milk Hotel performance found within the troubled Victorian artwork of NMH's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea LP but they probably realistically just play some shows here and there in their native Western Philadelphia neighborhoods. This full length record is bound by impressive artwork, inserts, and presentation - an intelligent move for a band who, when taken out of context might sound like a group that played the haunted bar in The Shining. Capital I… tells a story from start to finish. I'm not sure what that story fully is, but repression and isolation come to mind; there are punk rock hints buried within the songs and those ethics very well may come into play. I felt like I was reading a good book in my study while a phonograph softy played European folk tracks. Simpler times. This might not be a record I'd blast every day of my life, but that's not because it isn't good, rather it's a record for a certain time, mood, and place. Now to figure out exactly when and what that time, mood, and place is.  

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Giving Up
Peace Sign / Frown Face
Sophomore Lounge [2012]

Seriously, what is there to do in Iowa besides dodge tornadoes and till the field before sundown? Giving Up sound like they figured out the very answer to that question and musically scrap-booked it within the nine tracks found on their second LP, Peace Sign/Frown Face. Giving Up could've been a K Records band twenty years ago, or if someone told me that these guys ate poorly, smoked massive amounts of marijuana and lived in a snowcap community up in Vermont… I might be swayed to believe that as well. "I found this Built to Spill demo tape baking under the sun in the desert, do you think it still works?" or "Shit, the Modest Mouse dudes are really hitting the bottle hard these days" or even "Damn, I don't own this rare, brief Lou Barlow side project?" are just a few believable pitches; Giving Up knows their roots and doesn't care if you've ever heard any of the bands they dig or might sound influenced by. They also have a logo to accompany their second LP and it's hippy-meets-proto-grunge; think logo Kurt Cobain and Greg Sage would've, could've used for their fantasy epic supergroup existing only in aggressively thirsty musical minds. The songs on PS/FF come off as honest and modest and real. The album is relaxingly slow to mid-tempo, perfectly sloppy, whiny without being pitchy, and although I can't remember a single lyric after hearing the album two times through before writing this review, I'm admittedly hooked. The quality, creativity and originality of the actual songwriting kicks the asses of all the bands who think their sound comes after the effect pedals and in the studio. Giving Up built their house properly and have every freedom available to decorate it as they please.