First things first: when it comes to music from thenewno2, George Harrison comparisons will not be allowed. They’re old, they’re tired. Sure, Dhani Harrison looks and sounds like an echo of his father, but surely the fundamentals of genetics can’t be that surprising any more.
Since the quiet release of their first record, EP001, in 2006, thenewno2 have certainly come far. What began as the twosome (Harrison on guitar and lead vocals with Oli Hecks on drums and synthesizer) has become a much larger force with a steadier, bigger lineup. Their first four-song collection was tight and slightly mournful, but it flowed well and each song had its place. Hot on its heels came their debut album, You Are Here, which I must admit, completely lost me. Their early promise seemed to be ridiculously short-lived, cut short by a release that was mostly filler. There were concerted attempts at social commentary and what might be construed as humour, complete with videos featuring a lot of gurning and grimacing at the camera, with numerous costume and makeup changes.
But that was their first full-length album, and perhaps a bit of youthful navel-gazing can be forgiven. Fortunately, lineup changes and a break (wherein Harrison formed the side-project Fistful Of Mercy with Ben Harper and Joseph Arthur) gave the band a much-needed shakeup before they returned in 2011 with EP002. Overall a more mature and considered record, it laid a decent foundation for thefearofmissingout.
thefearofmissingout hammers home that thenewno2 are a serious band—all lower case with no spaces, so you know they’re too cool for indulgent things like pauses. In photos they look earnest and cross, as though they’ve all been interrupted mid-thought by the frivolous flash of a camera. So, in case you had any doubt, they’re real musos and even hipper than Instagram. thenewno2 use their new album to point at and skewer the phenomenon that keeps us all strapped to our smartphones and in the clammy embrace of Facebook: that somehow, somewhere, people all around us will be having much more fun and doing grand things that we will miss out on if we don’t into the fresh air of the real world and out of the thrall of technology.
The album opens strongly with “Station,” the song that thenewno2 have tried for years to make and have failed to before now. It’s moody, interesting and strangely alluring (featuring Holly Marilyn as well as a lovely little sample from Time Bandits). It is encouraging that on thefearofmissingout thenewno2 have moved away from the frustrating cornerstone of their sound: the depressing, aimless, synth-heavy gargle of their past. Thom Yorke and others have made a mint from sounding dismal, and no doubt thenewno2 had adopted this as a nod to their influences, such as Massive Attack and Portishead, forgetting that such bands possess a redeeming brilliance that belies the crushing sadness of English life that they write about. “Timezone” and “I Won’t Go,” while still riddled with angst and indecision lyrically, sound lighter and brighter.
“Hanging On” is a slight misfire, bringing little to the table apart from sounding typical (“I’m snowed in and my battery’s dead/Flight’s delayed and my friends were late,” Harrison whines, and my heart simultaneously bleeds and breaks for him).
Collaborations seem to be the thefearofmissingout’s strong point. “The Wait Around,” featuring RZA and The Black Knights, is a particularly quirky highlight. “Staring Out To Sea,” with Ben Harper, is a gentle number, and Thorunn Antonia provides the dreamy, whispering backing vocal support that thenewno2 enjoy so much. “Make It Home” doesn’t differ much from the rest of the album’s trademark sound, but “The Number” ends the album on a promising note; perhaps on future releases the band will deviate from the usual, as they have on this track. Perhaps they will show some more confidence showcasing Harrison’s vocal with some variation or force, and rely less on layering it into insignificance. And maybe, just maybe, they can develop lyrically, and who knows, one day write about something other than doom and gloom.
All in all, thefearofmissingout is a solid album, and thenewno2 have trimmed away some of the filler while settling into a sound that is captivating at best, and at its worst, dully repetitive. Compared to their debut album, thefearofmissingout is a sterling record, with an impressive array of guest performers that liven it up. Hopefully, it will become a decent mid-point in their career, and give thenewno2 the confidence to experiment and challenge themselves to explore sounds and lyrics away from their comfort zone. As a social document or statement of any sort it does little, but as a self-contained record it works well. If they cheer up a little and step away from the synth, thenewno2 will surely come into their own, hopefully spurred on by the fear of missing out on easily achievable greatness.
You can hear thefearofmissingout in its entirety over at NPR.
Submerging into the depths of past sorrows and loves had become second-nature for the Brooklyn trio after releasing 2009’s Hospice, the much-debated tale of an emotionally abusive relationship under the guise of a hospice attendant and a terminally-ill patient. Their debut was followed by something slightly less depressing, 2011’s Burst Apart, an album concerned with haunting dreams and a fear of moving on. With that distinction, Undersea transitions from its extremely depressing predecessors to a more stylized effort, contradicting its namesake by “rising up,” in a sense. Frontman Peter Silberman uses his voice less to tell a story, and more to provide a feeling, creating an organic atmosphere that penetrates boundaries that aren’t usually associated with EPs. It’s this freedom that not only makes Undersea an exciting turn for the band, but complements their staggeringly impressive catalogue.
Crafted for a headphone listen, the oft-acute precision of instruments through the dense atmosphere of the release spins out of orbit. “Drift Drive” summons imagery of that twilight sensation between consciousness and dreaming, stretching onwards as you fall in and out, “swimming” within the purgatory instead of actually moving. The album then launches into a colossal ballad, “Endless Ladder”, which details the journey that is trying to overcome the pitfalls of heartache, inching closer to the surface, but never quite making it out. It’s what makes the following track, “Crest”, a Jeff Buckley- meets-Portishead tune, with its trip-hop and graceful oceanic falsetto so uplifting, gaining more distance between Silberman’s fears and dreams. Undersea ends with “Zelda”, where he actually enters his own dream and finds himself with his lover, stuck between two different endings, one of fear and one of recovery. It’s a recurring theme across the EP: the inability to conclude, but coming closer to resolve.
The Antlers have cemented their critically acclaimed, albeit young, career by continually making art-rock that pushes the boundaries further than their peers. While only an EP, Undersea holds the potential to be a catalyst to not only improve their status, but surpass their contemporaries. With their inherent skill of creating perfect atmospheres without losing the fluid motion of each track, the EP holds together better than anything they have released thus far. EPs are usually reserved as a vehicle for singles, only giving a few more songs to accent the centerpiece, but in the rarest of cases, they make definitive statements that can outshine their full-length counterparts. You will be hard-pressed to find something as stark and eloquent as Undersea released this year.
Beak>, Bristol’s ungoogleable krautrock trio-du-jour, have returned after three years with a great new album in tow. Billy Fuller, Matt Williams, and Geoff Barrow (of Portishead; though Barrow has been clear that Beak> is not a Portishead side-project) have refined the menacing beat-driven jams of their 2009 debut and released a collection of songs whose consistency, songwriting, and level of professional quality should be a template for any band of a similar nature.
Krautrock is a loose term at its root. Some bands like Cluster and Faust are known for their lengthy, avant-garde, pseudo-noise pieces, while bands like Can and NEU! have employed more rhythmic songwriting methods. I suppose that in this perspective, Beak> is to krautrock what Battles is to math rock. That is, they make it an accessible, almost radio-friendly genre. They prefer to keep things short, rhythmic, and friendly instead of lengthy, noisy, and inaccessible, and it pays off handsomely for them.
On », Beak> have perfected their art. On tracks like “Yatton” and “Eggdog,” the noticeable melodic elements become memorable components of the overall rhythmic structure. In layman’s terms, it’s more interesting and enjoyable than any krautrock I’ve heard for quite some time, even more so than Beak>’s own debut album. Of course, the single best thing about » is the return of the band’s standalone single “Wulfstan” as a revamped, perfected “Wulfstan II.” This song is the best on the album by far, showcasing the band’s monolithic, dark rhythm in all its glory; washed out vocals drone over the top of chugging guitar riffs, stark and repetitious drum beats, and flourishes of feedback and dissonant synth stabs.
It’s these moments that make » such a standout album, both in relationship to their debut and to other albums of similar type. So, why just the B rating? Beak> are an exceptional, professional band, but they work best with a formula. Many songs like the aforementioned “Yatton” and “Wulfstan II” are great pieces, but the album fails to deliver on some of the more avant-garde songs like opener “The Gaol” and the drum-less “Ladies’ Mile.” Beak> makes a good attempt at making these songs work, but they actually end up disrupting the flow of the album and falling short of the expectations set by the other songs on the album. It’s a bittersweet notion. On one hand, it means that their music is formulaic, but on the other hand it’s really great music. In theory, krautrock is a rather formulaic genre, and a near dead one at that. In my opinion, it’s heartening to know that bands like Beak> still continue that legacy.
Listen to and download the new(-ish) EP from Ducky, “The Whether”. It’s pretty dark.
Um, Ducky, what happened? You used to be such a sweet little girl. I suppose there were warning signs - your “Boys Club” mixtape from last October, for example. That flirted with the dark side; a grubby, subby touch not often found on Postal Service-influenced indietronica. But the Venetian Snares sex-noises and ridiculous kick drums seemed like playful experimentation, neatly packaged as they were in little 60-second bursts. Evidently they were rather more than that.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention: this new dark side? I love it…
Listen to Perfume Genius’ new album “Put Your Back N 2 It” below.
If you’re at all familiar with Perfume Genius‘ exquisitely heart-wrenching debut album “Learning”, it should come as no surprise that the follow-up is equally as touching.
There are few artists whose voice alone can give you chills, but Mike Hadreas (Perfume Genius) is one them, along with the likes of Beth Gibbons from Portishead and Antony Hegarty from Antony and the Johnsons. His voice quivers with emotion, his heart heavy, shadowed by the solemn echo of nothing much more than a piano and drums combination.