Batushka: Litourgiya

litourgiya

The first thing you hear on Batushka’s Litourgiya is a few bell chimes, very similar to those that launch Faith No More’s ferocious “Surprise! You’re Dead!” Here, though, I think the reference is the bells that Eastern European monks would ring. I have no idea if that’s right, but the clues are the album cover art and the fact that there is a significant amount of liturgical chant, often over double-kick and churning guitars, throughout the album. (The bells also lead off tracks three and five.)

The main reason I have no idea what’s really going on here is because Batushka is a Polish ensemble singing in possibly either Russian or Old Slavian (though I’m not sure that’s even a language, current or former). I mean, it might as well be English since it’s sung in screamy death metal style, but since I can understand even fewer than the handful I can usually understand I’m going to go with the Internet reviewers and commenters on this one. (One hypothesis I have is that the singing is Russian and the chanting is Old Slavian.) Furthering the church theme, the title of the album seems to translate to “liturgy.”

The eight tracks are all named “Yekteniya” followed by a roman numeral concordant with its position on the album. I don’t know where I got it, but my notes tell me that translates to “litany.” As you might guess from a naming scheme like that, this sounds more like one solid work than a bunch of individual songs. It even kind of feels like a mass, where, yeah, there are some shifts here and there, but for the most part they’re kind of beating the same theme into you for 45 minutes or so. I

That monolithic aspect of is what holds this back from being a great album in the end. I’m pretty sure everything’s in the same key, and the band basically has just a few parameters they can switch. Vocalization can be sung, chanted, screamed, or off. Guitars can be fast or slow. And after that it’s mixing up harmonies and melodies a bit, but underneath a wall of super fast and compressed drums and guitars and behind vocals you can’t understand it ends up being pretty same-y.

I like this quite a bit. In small doses. But I couldn’t hum a second of it on command.

Rating:
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Mix: “Yekteniya IV”
Really Like:
“Yekteniya III”
Like:
“Yekteniya I,” “Yekteniya II,” “Yekteniya V,” “Yekteniya VII,” “Yekteniya VIII”
Meh: “Yekteniya VI”
Song Notes:
After the jump Continue reading

Polyrhythmics: Octagon

octagon

Libra Stripes this is not.This is why music is so hard for me now. Bands always letting me down. I mean, this is fine, but I doubt that if I’d heard any of this on the radio like I did the band’s previous album that I’d rush out and listen to it exclusively over a weekend.

Something’s different. The band is still laying down some decent funk, but the cutting, enticing, other-ness (I’d never think this was an African ensemble) of what they had on Libra Stripes is all but gone. They find it here and there, but too often (e.g., “Maruken,” “Octagon Pt. 2”) they kill a killer head by jamming for too long without any inspiring solos.

“Maruken” would be at least a Like if it were half as long, which would give the album four at least Likes before getting to the execrable “Octagon, Pt. 1,” which, given its name, you feel like maybe the band kind of knew should be cut. Two other likes, “Octagon, Pt. 2” and  “Fairweather Friends,” aren’t solid throughout and nearly beat themselves down to a Meh.

One of the biggest differences is the sound. Everything sounds far more reverb-y. Combined with the way the songs are more jammy and less composed, I’d say the band was going for more of a live feel. And I always hate when bands try to do that…just be awesome live when you’re live but when you’re doing a recording you want to sound good on record.

Someday I’ll truly love a band again. Until then, though, I feel like I’ve just got to survive on one album stands.

Rating:
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Like: “Liam Rides A Pony,” “Le Hustle,” “The Itis,” “Octagon, Pt. 2,” “Fairweather Friends”
Meh: 
“Maruken,” “El Fuego,” “The Mendo Mulcher,” “Shadow Lines”
Dislike: “Octagon, Pt. 1”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

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

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

Protomartyr: The Agent Intellect

theagentintellect

I don’t understand why Sub Pop created the Hardly Art imprint. After this long with such a diverse catalog was there really a branding thing where they felt like there was some kind of music that wouldn’t fit well on Sub Pop? Anyway, this album was released by Hardly Art.

Wikipedia calls Protomartyr post-punk, so…that’s a fact. There’s like a laid back Sonic Youth thing going on here, and I’m also reminded of Television’s Marquee Moon quite a bit. And I guess I don’t balk at putting the post-punk tag on them. Still, I would probably call it more of a no wave thing, like with the disaffected vocals of a male Blondie minus the hooky melody plus noisy guitars.

Not that it matters. Can you tell I’m stalling? I think I’m more kind of trying to reflect the music with my writing. Like, I’m gonna keep on chugging along with a near monotone rhythm while being sometimes interesting but mostly just focusing on that chugging beat even if nonsense skit diddly doo words drop in every now…and again…buh.

And then we go to the chorus, skree! And we hit a different pedal on the guitar skroo! The tempo doesn’t change, but the accents of the guitar do scrowdiddledoo. Wockow!

And then back to the verse, the old pedal, setting, and the old chug chug chugging along wall of fuzzed out guitars supporting smokey voiced Joe telling us some story in a bar that doesn’t make sense, is kinda compelling, but is mostly just comfortingly drowning out the day we had.

This is pretty good, and if they had cut it down to the eight Likes it would be a lot better. For 44 minutes you’ve got to mix up the tempi and keys more than they do here.

Rating:
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Like: “The Devil In His Youth,” “Cowards Starve,” “Pontiac 87,” “Uncle Mother’s,” “Dope Cloud,” “Clandestine Time,” “Why Does It Shake?,” “Ellen”
Meh: “I Forgive You,” “Boyce Or Boice,” “The Hermit,” “Feast Of Stephen”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Los Lobos: Gates Of Gold

gatesofgold

One of the things I really love about Los Lobos is that they always seem to be able to put together a great melting pot of an album consisting of songs from a variety of genres ranging from straight up rock and roll to experimental avant-garde to traditional Mexican folk music. True to that form, on Gates Of Gold, the highlights are forays into new-to-me material for the band like cumbia 2.0 (“Poquito Para Aqui”) (at least I think it’s cumbia because it sounds like what I think of when I think of cumbia and it sounds like they sing “cumbia” at one point) and In A Silent Way-era fusion (“When We Were Free”).

After that, though, the album kind of feels mailed in. I mean, it’s all Likes with a few Mehs, so it’s hard to complain. It’s a quality disc from a quality band, but these guys are old now and this album feels like it. There isn’t a lot here that excites me or that I want to come back to. No, it just makes me want to go listen to their older stuff.

Rating:
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Like: “Made To Break Your Heart,” “When We Were Free”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

Low: Ones And Sixes

onesandsixes

I have one album of Low’s (Secret Name) and love it, and every time I hear of their other songs I’m crazy about those, too. So why don’t I have more of their stuff? Cuz I don’t know what’s good for me, I guess.

Anyway, with my recent push to listen to more now music, their release this last summer on Sub Pop seemed like a good chance to start to rectify that situation. And with a collection of 12 good songs, ten of which are at least Like, they seem set for another glowing four-clown review, right?

Well not so fast because the loudness wars and/or that thing that everybody’s doing now where they use the too loud loudness distortion as an intended part of the sonic signature is all over this record. What could be lush harmonies and instrumental soundscapes are ruined by distortion. The natural beauty of Alan Sparhawk’s and Mimi Parker’s voices is sullied beyond enjoyment.

There’s a dark vibe here, especially in the second half on tracks like “The Innocents” and “Kid In The Corner.” The timbres of both and the pulsing rhythm of “Kid In The Corner” reminds me of Mike + The Mechanics’ “Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground).”

There probably would have been a Mix in here if it hadn’t sounded so bad, but I can’t tell where that would have been. I was tempted to push one of my Really Likes up to that level (the falsetto in “Lies” is magnificent), but neither really commands the listeners attention quite enough throughout the whole song to qualify.

What’s a guy to do but give it three clowns and move on?

Rating:
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Really Like: “Kid In The Corner,” “Lies”
Like:
“Gentle,” “No Comprende,” “Congregation,” “No End,” “Into You,” “What Part Of Me,” “The Innocents,” “Landslide”
Meh: “Spanish Translation,” “DJ”
Song Notes:
After the jump Continue reading