Kampfar: Profan

profan

The first track my shuffle picked on this was “Icons,” and, due to the way it starts, I think I blurted out, at work no less, “Fucking flutes?! Angry Metal Guy screwed me again!” That’s the only track they pull that crap on, though, and it doesn’t last long. This is no Nechochwen, Myrkur, or Our Oceans, though. Of the metal I’ve reviewed recently, it’s closest to (the now defunct, unfortunately) Trials. Thrashy like that, but more screamy than singy.

The sound is massive; it’s really well produced, although with a bit too much emphasis on the upper-mids it ends up being awfully fatiguing, which means those flutes and piano at the start of “Icons” end up being a welcome reprieve.

The back half of the album is significantly better than the front half, but even then it is, for the most part, less than or equal to the sum of its parts. I mean, all the elements are there…great drumming, guitars, and some decent hooks. But it all kinds of flows together, a fact that is not helped by the first two songs having he same vocal melody in the chorus.

Add in the fact that it’s just pretty good and, I mean, when it comes to thrash, or dark thrash or whatever we’re calling this now, that means it’s just mediocre. I feel like music this fast and heavy absolutely needs something extra to take it beyond. Let’s put it this way. When a great song has been written, in many cases it can be made better by being played louder, faster, heavier, etc. That’s where the best metal is. However, if you’re starting with the loud, fast, and heavy and inserting merely decent songs, then you end up with something that just makes you tired.

This was fun. But I don’t think I’ll be coming back. I may, however, check out some of the rest of their catalog, which seems to be extensive. I mean, heck, I’m always willing to give dark Norwegian metal plenty of chances.

Rating:
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Like: “Profanum,” “Daimon,” “Pole In The Ground,” “Tornekratt”
Meh: “Gloria Ablaze,” “Icons,” “Skavank”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Our Oceans: Our Oceans

ouroceans

This is boring as all balls. It’s like an entire album of “Silent Lucidity.” There’s no harmonic movement. I think these are all the same song. Sometimes the lead singer sounds like Geoff Tate, but mostly he sounds like Jeff Buckley. Much of the album sounds like Dream Theater’s slower stuff. Looking back on the last two sentences, I realize they don’t support my thesis that this sucks, but just because the dude can sing and the band can play doesn’t mean this is worth listening to. I mean, it sounds fantastic, and I guess I’ll give it an extra half-clown for that. And you’ll note there isn’t a song that gets to Hate status, but goddamn it’s just so boring, and I Hate how Meh everything is.

I Liked “Let Me,” their most upbbeat and one of the shortest ones, but I think it might have been a pity Like.

This band is Dutch.

Rating:
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Like: “Let Me”
Meh: 
“What If,” “Precarious,” “Lioness Sunrise,” “Am I Still Here?,” “Turquoise,” “Reawaken”
Dislike: “Tangled,” “Illuminate”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Braid: Frame And Canvas

frameandcanvas

I think for the first time in like forever I can actually distinguish emo when I hear it. I’m not sure I can describe it yet, but as I peer into the next 20 minutes of so of my life I feel like this review is going to be my attempt to articulate the features I heard in this album that made me think, “A-ha! Emo.”

First of all, the lead singer can’t really sing. Or, it might be more accurate to say, for this gentleman at least, that he chooses, often, not to sing, but instead to howl and yip about really specific interpersonal moments that are supposed to make you feel like he’s your good friend because you’re tortured by similar youthful angsty demons.

Holy crap. I just realized…emo is just like grunge, just like six years later. Grunge had yarling about angst, emo’s got the yips about same. Okay, well, now that I’ve got a reference point, that’s the next step: How is emo different from grunge?

Most obviously is the guitar tuning, which in emo is traditional, in opposition to the drop-D of grunge. Lyrically I think grunge focuses a little more on self-loathing whereas emo is more about self-pity. Grunge does a lot of outward loathing, too, and emo’s got a bit of that, but grunge is more upset about the state of the world whereas emo is more concerned with that one girl. Emo tends to be a bit more upbeat when it comes to tempo, whereas grunge, in keeping with that down-tuning, wallows a bit more. In that vein, I’m also hearing on this record more space between the instruments, where grunge tends to be more of a spiked wall of sound.

This similarity of emo to grunge makes sense to me, because one of my shruggy responses when presented with “emo” was to say, “Isn’t all music emotional?” And a huge touchpoint for me on that was the fact that grunge struck a strong emotional chord for me in high school. So, yeah, the music I was into was emotional in pretty much the same way that emo is, just shift the guitar tuning, tempo, and lyrical content and you’ve got the other genre. I get it now.

So that’s kind of my review. This is pretty good. There are a lot of Upper Midwest references throughout. (The band is from Champaign, IL, and from when Netscape was hot, so that’s a thing.) The back half of the album leaves me a bit cold; the Likes and Really Likes on the front half are great songs, but the same on the back half are kind of saved by the guitars: “A Dozen Roses” has a great fingered riff, and “Breathe In” reminds me of the falling over vibe of Dismemberment Plan’s Emergency & I.

I’m tired of coming up with closing paragraphs, and I don’t think they’ve been that good lately anyway.

Rating:
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Really Like: “Killing A Camera,” “First Day Back,” “A Dozen Roses”
Like:
 “The New Nathan Detroits,” “Collect From Clark Kent,” “Breathe In”
Meh: “Never Will Come For Us,” “Milwaukee Sky Rocket,” “Urbana’s Too Dark,” “Consolation Prizefighter,” “Ariel,” “I Keep A Diary”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Mike Patton: The Solitude Of Prime Numbers

thesolitudeofprimenumbers

This sounds like the score of a movie done by Mike Patton. That’s because it is. You’ve seen movies. You’ve listened to Mike Patton. This is the combination of the two.

Not enough? Okay, fine, what if I told you the movie was Italian and about an awkward teenage friendship. Yeah? Now you’re starting to get it?

Yeah, it’s like that. It’s subdued, unlike a lot of Patton because, you know, he has to stay true to the film. And it’s a score, so it’s background-y in a lot of places. But it’s also quite avant-garde because it’s, you know, Mike Patton.

Most of the work here is done with the sound crafting. Reverb is heavy and mostly a result of the room. The instrumentation is mostly a (heavily-reverbed) piano, but there are plenty of electronics, too, especially in the big “Radius Of Convergence” or in more low drone tracks like “Method Of Infinite Descent.” The only vocals are some la la la’s in the first track.

The best stuff is in the first half. Up until, let’s say, track 19, it’s on a four-clown path, but then the back half of the album doesn’t offer anything besides Mehs and it gets a little too background-y for enjoyable listening.

What’s that? Back half after track 19? Oh yeah, that sounds like a lot, but track 19 is really only the eighth track. Because 19 is the eighth prime number. Yeah, check out that track listing, that’s one of the coolest things about this CD: all of the track numbers are prime numbers, from 2 to 53. And the names of the tracks are all mathematical concepts (I just read that, I don’t know any of them, nor did I look them all up).

Yay for weirdo musical scores.

Rating:
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Like: “Twin Primes,” “Identity Matrix,” “Contrapositive,” “Abscissa,” “Isolated Primes”
Meh: “Method Of Infinite Descent,” “Cicatrix,” “Radius Of Convergence,” “Separatrix,” “The Snow Angel,” “Apnoea,” “Supersingular Primes,” “Quadratix,” “Calculus Of Finite Differences,” “Zeroth,” “Weight Of Consequences (Quod Erat Demonstrandum)”
Filed Between:
 Mike Patton’s Mondo Cane and something else but I don’t know because I haven’t unpacked my CDs
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Rick Springfield: Comic Book Heroes

comicbookheroes

At other joints I’ve reviewed the other three Rick Springfield pre-Working Class Dog (i.e., the “Jessie’s Girl” album) records. This isn’t the five-[clown] masterpiece that was its successor, 1976’s Wait For Night, nor does it contain anything as ball-droppingly amazing as “Theme From Mission Magic” from its predecessor, Mission Magic! However, it’s much closer in quality to those entries than his debut album, Beginnings.

First, I can listen to this from start to finish and, except for a few lyrical clunks (and they’re big clunks), I never feel self-conscious or embarrassed; this is a legitimate pleasure, no guilt involved. Second, there’s plenty here that’s legitimately good, with the top two highlights being the motivational rocker “Why Are You Waiting” and the angry breakup song “The Liar.”

It may be just something that’s accessible to long-time Springfield fans who cut their teeth on his songwriting like me, but it’s a treat to go back to these albums from his pre-star days and hear the same sensibilities for song construction…it’s like going back and finding a toy that was very similar to one of your favorite childhood toys just different in a really cool way.

I foreshadowed this a bit, but the element that keeps this from being a higher review is the lyrics. Like on Beginnings he oddly juxtaposes his youthful pretty-boy look and energy with breathily-delivered cheesy lyrics of people at very different places in life. “The Photograph” tells the tale of an old woman who never married because her beau passed when they were young. In “Misty Water Woman” we get a poor remaking of the old tale of the dude who picks up a ghostly woman and drives her home where she disappears and her now elderly parents tell of how she drowned decades ago. So there’s the lyrics and then there’s just the genuinely weak portion of the album near the end where, from “The Photograph” to “Born Out Of Time” it’s hard to get too excited about anything, especially the very nearly bad “Bad Boy.”

Still, this is quite good. I enjoy it with no irony, and sing along with it all the day long, unable to get its melodies out of my head. As a fan, I want to give it four clowns. As a critic, I lean more towards three. I split the difference.

Rating:
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Mix: “The Liar”
Really Like:
 “Weep No More,” “Why Are You Waiting”
Like:
“Comic Book Heroes,” “I’m Your Superman,” “Do You Love Your Children”
Meh: “Believe In Me,” “Misty Water Woman,” “The Photograph,” “Bad Boy,” “Born Out Of Time”
Filed Between: Springfield’s Mission Magic! and Wait For Night
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Blind Mr. Jones: Tatooine

tatooine

Now this is what I think of when I think of “shoegaze.” That’s a term that gets applied to some really noisy bands, like My Bloody Valentine, but I always felt it applied better to bands like this with a mumbly, low-key singer, you know, just standing there staring at his shoes.

There’s some Britpop in here, too (“Disney World”) and plenty of resemblance to Belle & Sebastian (also “Disney World”) (though it’s worth noting that their first album came out two years after this album).

[Okay, I can’t mention Belle & Sebastian, who I love, without thinking of this clip.]

Anyway, back to Blind Mr. Jones, who would end their career with this, their second album. Consider the ratings of these 10 tracks: seven Likes and three Mehs. That pretty much says it all. Well, it pretty much says it all if you also include my first couple of paragraphs. It’s shoegaze-y and solidly listenable from start to finish. Very enjoyable but rarely transcendent. Which seems appropriate for shoegaze.

Rating:
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Like: “Hey,” “Disney World,” “Viva Fisher,” “Drop For Days,” “Surfer Baby,” “Please Me,” “Mesa”
Meh: “See You Again,” “Big Plane,” “What’s Going On”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Hardcore Crayons: Zozzled

zozzled

Well this has got to be one of 2015’s most under-appreciated albums. Minneapolis trio Hardcore Crayons released it on January 1st, and it simultaneously seems like something that would go nowhere but is also super accessible.

The band describes themselves as “math/post rock infused intertwined w/ elements of jazz & dub,” but I basically just hear avant-garde jazz and plenty of rock. My guess is they put the other stuff in there to try to get more critics to listen to them. Which is fine…I mean, heck, I’m in favor of these guys just kidnapping people, handcuffing them to a chair, and forcing them to listen to this album.

The first thing you notice when you pop in the disc (I actually have the disc) is the delicious, warm sound. The recording and mixing is done perfectly, and the bass tone (some of it provided by keys, I’m pretty sure) is inviting, fuzzy in a puppy’s fur kind of way, and mesmerizing. With hardly any vocals (and none in the traditional sense…there are some distant shouts and murmurs here and there), the band warms you up well for their really wacky stuff with some odd meters but in a really accessible bouncy groove.

By the time you get to the noodly part of the second track (which then goes on to dominate the third, fourth, and fifth tracks), you’re already sold and willing to go with them on their journey. And the fact that you’re pre-registered ends up being a good thing because the freer, wackier stuff here is a little half-baked in my opinion. I kind of wish much of it had been cut or re-sequenced, but like I said, you’re here to just go along for the ride.

And if you do follow their lead, this ends up being incredibly listenable. It rewards close listening, but some of the noodly parts are almost better as background. You can get lost in this easily with delight, and by the time the band really brings it home with their strongest stuff for “More Sugar” and “Wgyw” it gives you a nice adrenaline push through to the end.

If they can sound as good live as they do on disc, and if they can keep their shows moving along enough that you don’t need to be stoned to enjoy it, then all y’all Minnesotans should make sure you check these guys out.

Rating:
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Mix: “Wgyw”
Really Like:
“Srsly”
Like: 
“Zozzled, “Completely Relevant: Part I,” “Daddy Issues,” “More Sugar”
Meh: “Kid Is Goat,” “Fuzzy Origins,” “Completely Relevant: Part II,” “Was That Cool?”
Filed Between: I don’t know my CD’s aren’t unpacked yet
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading