As Twin Shadow, George Lewis Jr. digs into the pop-friendly realm of blistering self-assessment where the only obvious method is to pump out insanely engaging, dance-friendly numbers. Throughout Confess, listeners aren’t sure whether to root for Lewis or hope he’ll just stop investing in unrequited love. Regardless, his latest record sees him getting over his humble debut album, Forget, as an electronic star with a predisposition to bad decisions.
Throughout Confess, he is thematically bound to his own heart and how it may affect others. On “Five Seconds,” he sings on the chorus, “Five seconds in your heart/Straight to the heart/I can’t get to your heart.” Much of the song is concerned with his heart, your heart, and the absolute impossibility of getting into either. “Five Seconds” has been in heavy rotation across music sites this summer and the biggest reason is his delivery; the pure frustration when he belts, “That’s no way to get it on” is a side of Twin Shadow that hasn’t yet been fully explored. His obsession with lust and romance comes genuinely from his persona, seen on the cover wearing a leather jacket and come-hither demeanor. However, he follows “Five Seconds” with “Run My Heart” where he sings “You don’t run my heart/So don’t you dare,” and he seems too preoccupied by the word “heart.” Also, while frequently singing about love, he continually dismisses his feelings. In “Golden Light” he sings “Some people say there’s a golden light/You’re the golden light/And if I chase after you/Doesn’t mean that it’s true.” This is not to suggest poor songwriting on his part, just that Twin Shadow as a persona is fundamentally flawed and repeatedly brings himself to the brink of affection, but reserves just enough gusto to pull himself away at the last second.
Confess has given Lewis a chance to develop songs further than Forget, which was much more synth-heavy, featuring vocals that were slightly warped. “Golden Light” plays around with some steel drums, featuring a return to the quiet-verse and loud-chorus method that worked so well on “Five Seconds”; thankfully the approach doesn’t feel gimmicky. “The One” sounds like a Morrissey collaboration with Depeche Mode. The change in his inflection to fit the down-tempo beat and the overall sound keeps with his previous work in the New Wave genre. As the track blossoms, he assumes the same vocal style of Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and the purpose of his confusing display of impersonations becomes difficult to pin-down. “I Don’t Care” sounds eerily similar to One Republic’s “Apologize,” but only because of the piano and, thankfully, less because of Lewis’ performance. His music adheres to a genre of his own creation, which appears to be a collage of sounds from the 80s. “Beg For The Night” ends with a sweet guitar solo accompanied by Lewis’ crooning and sweeping synths. What I like most about Twin Shadow is that, though he’s not the strongest vocalist, he absolutely devotes himself to his melodies and never falters from being a hopeless romantic in the process.
Twin Shadow comes across as an old soul, touching on timeless concepts such as waiting home alone on a Friday night or being together because it’s the summer. Confess gives insight to the complex life of Twin Shadow, heavily emphasizing tortured love songs. We’re fortunate that he’s complex enough to avoid outright happiness and write an album that shows notable growth and development.
The term “Celebration Rock” comes across as less of a title or even a genre and more like a location: a chunk of stone hurtling through space on which the sweatiest and loudest basement show is perpetually thrown throughout the ages. Japandroids are no strangers to this genre of traditional garage rock, especially when they were first starting out in Vancouver, British Columbia. They found it difficult to break into a tight-knit local scene so they spent a lot of their time setting up house shows and adhering to the kind of DIY lifestyle that inherently fuels bands with bombastic performances. Celebration Rock, their third album, is similar to their older material, but everything seems tighter and more defined.
On the album-opener “The Nights of Wine and Roses” they sing “Don’t we have anything to live for? / Well of course we do,” and I can’t help but appreciate their honesty and avoidance of coming across as anything but themselves. In hindsight, “The House That Heaven Built” was an odd single for them to release because it isn’t necessarily the best track on the record but when each song goes in the same general direction it’s hard to distinguish which is best. “Adrenaline Nightshift” is perhaps the most accessible song on the album; it balances a simple melody with a drunken sing-a-long chorus to truly emulate the feeling of an audience in a live concert setting. “Continuous Thunder” closes out the album with the most guarded sound, slowing the infinite party to examine some honest concerns. They sing, “If I had all of the answers/And you had the body you wanted/Would we love with a legendary fire?” with the same conviction as their other songs, making them seem like real thoughts, not just artistic license. But, it’s not like Celebration Rock just simply ends. The final track leads into the first track, suggesting a cyclical nature to the record. The record begins with the sound of fireworks in a celebratory atmosphere, but after listening through a few times, the fireworks toward the end sound like the amps fizzling out as the show ends.
Celebration Rock has an unusual quality that fully encompass pit-stained rock without totally falling into a stereotype. Their “whoa-oh”s are all in-order, the song structures are generally similar, every song has basically the same tempo, but nothing feels ornamental. The pure energy within these thirty-five minutes carries this album beyond any other purpose than living in the immediate now as you make your way through the passive, motionless crowd to meet your new friends in the pulsing mosh-pit. Celebration Rock may seem youthful in its seemingly simplistic approach, but everything else about it cries out against becoming a fully-fledged adult with responsibilities.
In my previous introduction piece on Anni B Sweet, the 21-year-old Spaniard, I mentioned just how much she had grown from her debut album, 2009’s Start, Restart, Undo, based on the four songs we’d been able to preview from her sophomore effort, Oh, Monsters!. After repeated listens to the full body of work, I can say that I was only half-right in my statement. Ana López, the young woman behind the mask has done more than grow, she’s leapt forward years ahead of where it might have been possible to predict.
There was little in that first album that indicated the sonic exploration López would undergo in just three years. Aided by vetusta morla’s Gullermo Galván on production duties, she creates fourteen fairly diverse landscapes in which she is able to weave stories about her fears, her “monsters”, if you will.
One such fear seems to come from aging, and everything it entails. In “Getting Older”, one of the album’s finest moments, López compares her childhood memories to her current reality, and the growl in her voice, backed by the frantic instrumentation seems to demonstrate her disdain. “Hole In My Room”, which closes the album,seems to dwell on ignoring problems and fears only to have them return sooner or later.
More interesting than the stories that Anni B Sweet tells, though, are the musical directions and ideas she explores, most of which are successful. The aforementioned “Getting Older” is a full embrace of 60s psychedelia with hints of blues-rock thrown in, which makes it a really exciting track. “Ridiculous Games 2060” is a straight-up rock tune, with driving guitars and swaying tempos; it contrasts nicely with the following track, “Locked in Verses”, an acoustic number reminiscent of the material from Start, Restart, Undo. Elsewhere, “Missing a Stranger”, another album highlight,and “The Closer” explore something resembling a more fleshed-out version of dream pop, creating atmospheric instrumentation juxtaposed with abrasive drum beats.
As good as a lot of the material on Oh, Monsters! is, it doessuffer from a couple major flaws. At fourteen tracks and almost an hour in length, the energy and allure run out, especially considering that it is a tad front-loaded. Cutting out a couple tracks from the middle or end, particularly those most similar to the material present on the debut might have made for a more engaging listen. The album, to my ears, also feels a bit unnatural in the way it was mixed and mastered. A lot of it sounds unnecessarily abrasive, and it can distract a bit from the overall flow of the music. Granted, this probably isn’t an aspect López had much of a say in, but it’s a shame to hear music ruined by the more technical aspects of music.
Would I recommend Oh, Monsters!? Absolutely, particularly the first half. Given how little music from Spain actually makes it abroad, I think artists like Anni B Sweet do a great job of exemplifying that there’s more than capable musicians here. It’s just a matter of them catching on.
Hot Chip started out as this sort of Weezer-like entity within the electronica-dance scene. When they first appeared in 2004, they were enticingly regarded as a sort of nerd-pop group, as they openly admitted their infatuation with Prince and wore their Dad jeans. Their first two albums, Coming On Strong and The Warning, were filled with simple, throbbing beats and smart lyrics that were both funny and memorable. By Made In The Dark, their sound had grown substantially, adding both depth and quality to their music production and, though it was not completely adored at the time (for some reason fans didn’t like Joe Goddard’s rapping style), it finally seemed that Hot Chip were writing the sort of music they seem to have wanted to make the whole time. One Life Stand continued with the same kind of exploration of larger sounds, and showed how Hot Chip were able to balance out the overpowering beats with Alexis Taylor’s meek croon. So, here we are with In Our Heads, the fifth album of Hot Chip’s twelve-year-long run and they’re still killing it.
The beauty of Hot Chip is how they manage to build six to seven minute LCD Soundsystem-style dance tracks and also pen some sweetly meek R&B songs. “Flutes” has all the makings of a classic Hot Chip song: a deliciously repetitive chorus and unusual sounds created by means of weirdly tribal vocals in the beginning and what seems to be xylophone toward the end of the track. What sets it apart, however, is the sheer depth of their music. With their last few albums, Hot Chip has been toying with larger, more pervasive synths and percussion, and they’re back at it on In Our Heads. The sharpness of the beat in “Night and Day” hearkens back to their early days, but the band manages to sound more adult, like they recognize they might be close to being “too strange” and react accordingly. For all intents and purposes, Hot Chip have become almost an electronic jam band with each song allowing ample space for everyone to stretch their legs a bit.
“Look At Where We Are” reminds me of Taylor’s solo project from a few years ago; the lyrics are sweetly innocent and the melody really exemplifies the meekness of his voice. The minor details of the song, like the syrupy vocal effects and slow-jam R&B percussion, make it more than just a simple, well-written track. The same is true for “Always Been Your Love,” which quietly finishes the album, and it’s a nice reminder that, while Hot Chip is devoted to making dance music, they are also always in hot pursuit of a little love. The song sounds almost like a lounge track, accented by Taylor’s hambone delivery and their use of piano. Unfortunately, the rest of the album doesn’t share that same wide-eyed, love-drunk notion.
Like any jam band, their sound can wear thin after fifty-six minutes of In Our Heads. Since they’ve noticeably fleshed out their style, the length of their songs have become a sort of barrier that keeps out anyone but serious Hot Chip fans. Even though they’re using new and bizarre sounds, the inventiveness of the music is heavily outweighed by being bombarded by those same sounds for up to seven minutes. “Don’t Deny Your Heart” sounds like it was made in the same session as the Miami Vice theme song, which is not necessarily a bad thing, although it grows old quickly. Unsavory noises aside, my biggest qualm with the record is the length of their songs. Some of them could be easily cut short or condensed to make the record feel less time-consuming as a whole. Hot Chip dwell on some tracks for so long that listeners may lose interest very quickly.
In Our Heads speaks to both the future and past of Hot Chip’s fruitful career. While they seem to always create undeniably good jams, their expansive sound has allowed them to make longer, more washed out tracks. Though this record is not the strongest release of their recent past, it spawned some great songs, like “Flutes” and “Night and Day,” that are likely to be on countless summertime playlists and end of the year best-of lists.
Secluded for the better part of the last year, the London quintet, Zulu Winter, wrote and recorded their debut album, with little to no wrap up, outside two tremendously popular singles, “Never Leave” and “Let’s Move Back to Front”, followed by “We Should Be Swimming”. They received the typical accolades that incur dozens of comparisons to contemporaries, some more warranted than others. With a list of influences and references as distinct as Armenian director Sergei Parajanov and Alice Coltrane, it’s hard to know what to make of the final product, Language. Frontman Will Daunt leads the band with his falsetto vocals and penchant for xylophones, albeit with little innovation, continuing the argument that Zulu Winter might not be completely living up to their potential.
Claimed as the umpteenth “new Vaccines”, it’s natural for the hype machine to go on overdrive with Zulu Winter, especially when nearly every blog reviews and artist’s first work, even if it’s only been months since their formation. Going on small tour with similar acts Clock Opera and Outfit, then venturing to America at the early part of this year, they kept their album completely under wraps outside of the few tracks they played on the road. Opening for the massively popular band Keane, they opened themselves up to comparisons won’t stop anytime soon. The restrictive nature of being a “buzz band” seemingly took its toll, and the pressure to continue on their current route was overwhelming, but the music still contains a certain appeal, even if it’s to an audience of mainstream pop fans.
The opener, “Key To My Heart” starts off with Afrobeat percussion and droning field recordings, alluding to a grandiose spirit that never quite arrives. Not a bad song, but the song never evolves into what it promised. “We Should Be Swimming” is a great step up, with throbbing bass that could be played on any dance floor on both sides of the Atlantic, but again it doesn’t live up to expectations. The songs that follow (“Bitter Moon” through “Silver Tongue”) continue on the same vein. The first single “Let’s Move Back to Front”, provides something different. It has a strong Morrissey influence; there’s no other way to describe such macabre lyrics delivered in such a delighted manner.
I suppose I’m mostly baffled at the lack of experimentation, the likes of which they had alluded to in interviews and articles I’ve read over the past few months. Despite the various mixtapes they posted to their blog or the mentions of musical influences such as Bradford Cox, the crisp, detailed, run-of-the-mill nature of their production proved much to the contrary. While I enjoyed most of the album, I couldn’t differentiate where the aforementioned influences started and where the lofty contemporary sound ended. From the heap of sound, the best comparison I can draw is to English indie rock band Wild Beasts, but again, this band’s biggest detriment is their lack of identity; I can only draw comparisons and cite obvious influences.
While the record has its various flaws, and I have my various reservations, Zulu Winter have assembled a well-crafted first effort. It’s easy to take offense at failure to deliver on their promises and ambitions, especially with a band whose reputation precedes them so much as Zulu Winter, but despite its various shortcomings Language has an underlining groundwork for something more inspired.
It’s part of the band’s story that’s rarely seen, but when I first stumbled upon them last year, Baltimore’s Lands & Peoples had shifted from the wide-eyed foursome of their SXSW days (only just a few months before) to a somewhat more nebulous and mysteriously undefined incarnation. Through an email (mostly sent out of curiosity), I discovered Lands & Peoples had whittled itself down to a twosome and were experimenting more, and it seems they succeeded at finding an absolutely riveting new setup. If you haven’t seen the duo live, it’s a thing of real beauty: a conglomerate of electronics, like a rack of synthesizers, are set up across from each other, accompanied by pedals galore. Guitars and basses are frequently handed off; a drum kit is sometimes struck while standing – it’s all entrancingly complex and yet on Pop Guilt, the group’s debut full length, there’s an intricacy of an entirely different sort. Perhaps that’s because at the time of Pop Guilt’s initial inception, Lands & Peoples were still a four-piece with a full cast of various talented people in tow.
The swooping, craning clarinet in “Ukulele” and the fullness of sound of “In Living Color” are luxuries Lands & Peoples no longer have access to as a duo, but still contain unshakable elements of the band’s core sound, much like the utter emotive power of Caleb Moore and Beau Cole’s vocals. “Ghosts” is the only obvious remnant of the foursome to carry over into the duo’s new sound, and it serves as another reminder of the boys’ vocal chops; sudden changes in mood and bursts of emotion pretty much define the track.
Despite the fact that the duo might not feasibly be able to recreate the bulk of it live (at least not without some hefty creative changes), Pop Guilt is an album where the duo’s origins can be clearly seen. Album opener “Three Shots” is just the sort of percussion-heavy jam-centric experimental piece you’d be likely to hear a recent show. The perfect beginning of “I Tried” builds a cluster of highly percussive effects – there’s fleeting chime hits, claps, staccato-bass riffs; it all sets the stage for one of the most bewilderingly catchy melodies on the album as Caleb Moore croons about all the things he’d do for love. “Don’t” captures the rapturous harmonies the duo have pretty much made their standard before launching into a rather bombastic and distinct b-section. The song ultimately settles into a deep bass groove with all the other parts flittering, fluttering, and noodling around it.
So, why release an album of songs they can’t resurrect in their live set? Pop Guilt gives us a glimpse into a rather interesting part of the band’s history. It also gives longtime fans a sense of closure, as well as proving that even in their earlier days, Lands & Peoples still knew how to combine memorable, singable pop melodies, and just the right amount of unexpected twists and turns to make each listen as enriching as the first. So as Lands & Peoples gets more comfortable with their latest arrangement and tightens up, branches out, and otherwise expands their exceptionally distinctive skill set, Pop Guilt will remain a notable benchmark of the band’s skill as purveyors of radically unique yet charming, ear-catching pop. It’s certainly a tough effort to beat, but the band will no doubt surpass it, given their proven inventiveness and talent.
Okay, the first thing I absolutely have to talk about before anything else is this darn cover. I believe the idea was to have a classy cover that complements this Frank Sinatra-influenced album. This album artwork is so trashy; it looks like a little girl did it on Word. It isn’t even properly centred. Look at the word ‘Walk’: the ‘K’ barely fits on and the ‘W’ has a whole load of space. And, have they changed their name to ‘The Walk Men’? Why on earth is their name broken in to two words? I don’t call myself Step Hen. Anyway, it’s only artwork and in no way does it represent how good the music is, which is, after all, what actually matters.
I love even-numbered years for one reason: there will (without a doubt) be a new Walkmen album. Not once have the dedicated band let down their fans; they have always managed to release an album every two years following their debut, which (although its’ hard to believe) was ten years ago. “Heaven” is an album that looks back on the band’s career. It’s full of lyrics about certain points in the band’s career; the video for the title track features photos from day one of their career all the way through to recording this album with Phil Ek.
When anyone says the word “Walkmen”, a certain image pops in to my head: the band is playing in Spain at around midnight, with Hamilton Leithuaser sporting a buzz cut and a certain stance so that he’s able to yell as loud as he can; the lighting makes the whole band look like silhouettes. Now, if you’ve never seen the band before and have only heard this album, it wouldn’t be far out for you to think that they all sport Iron & Wine type beards and sit on stools at their gigs. This album’s music continues the space and air of “Lisbon” with a touch of rock ‘n’ roll that features Hamilton Leithuaser’s best Robin Pecknold impression.
For the people who are worried about the lack of rock or angst in this album (like I was), do not fear. This album is a lovely, dreamy album, but be realistic: The Walkmen aren’t going to release an album without any fast-paced, thumping jams. “The Love You Love” is the “Angela Surf City” of “Heaven” and “The Witch” is quite haunting. Although I remember when Leithuaser smashed his way through the songs and broke the sound levels at gigs, I quickly forget all about it when Ham is picking away at “Southern Heart”, a quiet solo song (!), or when I hear “We Can’t Be Beat”, a song with a Fleet Foxes feel and the drumbeat like that of a marching band.
The album might not go down well with people who criticize Hamilton for mimicking Bob Dylan, because if there’s one thing “Heaven” does, it’s to use the music as a velvet cushion for the crown that is Leithuaser’s vocals. There are plenty of comparisons to be made to Dylan and Leonard Cohen and people may hate it, but in of the six albums under The Walkmen’s belt, Ham’s vocals have never sounded more distinguished or more polished. Maybe instead of accusing him of mimicking said icons, he should be placed amongst them as an icon himself. I believe that he’s the greatest singer of our generation and a true lyrical genius.
Throughout the album there might be a few too many ‘whoa oh ohhhh”s for my liking. “Nightingales” and “Heaven” are the prime culprits. They come off a little corny, but thinking about it, most of this album is corny. Pretty much every song is a love tale; the album is even called “Heaven” for Christ sake. There’s nothing cornier than that.
If there’s one thing they know how to do, it’s how to end the album magnificently. The final song, “Dreamboat”, is the most emotional song in their entire career; it pulls your heart strings like never before, and when Leithuaser sings “no no no no no no” it’s one of those moments that absolutely destroys you. On paper they might not sound like the most powerful lyrics in the world, but trust me, they are… and pretty corny too.
These days, it really is a rarity for a band to manage to release an album every two years, and it’s even more of a feat to imagine them doing it for ten more years. They all have families, and to release an album bordering on amazing after it felt like “Lisbon” came out just last week shows a genuine fondness for their career. This is why The Walkmen are one of my all-time favourite bands. Other bands wish they could do what they do. “Heaven” makes me think about The Walkmen’s entire career; it’s something so unique and special that they really should be proud of all they’ve accomplished. I would say that this is one of the best albums The Walkmen have created, but I suppose I say that about all of them. They really can’t be beat.
A new Sigur Rós record. The world has waited four long years for just that. In 2009, they claimed to have another record almost ready, but it was supposedly scrapped, and as of the beginning of 2010 the band were assumed to be on indefinite hiatus as frontman Jónsi launched his solo career. For almost two years following that there was very little word from Sigur Rós. Anything they might have been doing was kept well under wraps. Then, they suddenly released “Inni”, a heavily stylized live album/film. The album featured one new track from the studio, “Lúppulagið”, which returns here on “Valtari” in the form of “Varðeldur” with some new components. Shortly after the release of “Inni”, Sigur Rós announced “Valtari”, which seems to feature much of the scrapped, ambient material of those earlier sessions from 2008/2009.
If you think you knew where Sigur Rós were headed, think again. Their last album, “Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust”, featured more upbeat, pop songs that showcased danceable rhythms and Jónsi’s voice, loud and clear. “Valtari” is the polar opposite of that. There are three instrumental tracks on the album (all stacked at the very end), very few songs move much faster than a snail, and instruments enter and leave the mix, sometimes unrecognizable and disfigured. It’s an ambient album through and through. If one song remains reminiscent of classic Sigur Rós, it’s “Varúð,” a crescendoing churner similar to “Glósóli” or “Festival” that features a beautiful, haunting chorus of Jónsi’s vocals.
The rest of the tracks are introverted masterworks, among Sigur Rós’ best. From the first breath of “Ég Anda” to the last, reserved strains of “Fjögur píanó”, “Valtari” crawls along with epic beauty. Much like the ship on the front cover, “Valtari” floats above the earth with no terrestrial destination; it’s about the journey. Each track is on par with the rest of Sigur Rós’ discography, with “Ekki Mukk” perhaps being one of their greatest songs.
In terms of content, “Valtari” may be considered the spiritual successor to Sigur Rós’ 2002 album ”()”, which also features much slower, darker music. They even feature the same number of tracks, all longer than six minutes. Sadly, for this reason, I don’t think “Valtari” will be very well received. Sigur Rós were beginning to turn a new leaf, showcasing a pop sensibility that worked rather well for them. They had become eclectic icons, and had even churned out a few “radio-friendly” tunes. People who normally were not open to a genre like post-rock went out and bought “Takk…” and “Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust”. In the eyes of some, Sigur Rós might be throwing that away just to return to a sound they already explored thoroughly. My argument would be exactly the opposite: whereas ”()” explored the dynamic of a band shrouded in mystery and musing on the bigger, darker issues of a modern world, “Valtari” finds them in a completely different state. It is an album of introversion; Sigur Rós are reaching out to the listener, saying, “Here, come think with us. Have a drink and contemplate your life. Let our music be your guide, and maybe you’ll find the peace you’re looking for.”
“Valtari” is an ambient album; that should be remembered at all times while listening. I’ve heard disappointment from many fans regarding this album, and perhaps they were expecting something different, something more upbeat and consistent with their recent work. Perhaps the last three tracks, all ambient instrumentals, threw them off. Yet, these are some of the most haunting and tranquil songs of the band’s career. I, for one, believe this may be the greatest record they’ve made in a very long time. It’s somber and contemplative, like pressing pause on life, allowing you to remember your humanity with all its flaws and beauty. That and “Valtari”’s careful meditation on sound make it another stunning, flawless addition to Sigur Rós’ already sprawling and impressive discography.
To a producer like myself, an artist like Squarepusher, aka. Tom Jenkinson, is a god of sorts. He plays in the big leagues alongside artists like Aphex Twin and Venetian Snares (though some might argue that theyÂ play alongside him). His musical and technical capabilities outweigh the vast majority. He’s played his brand of glitchy, jazzy, live drum ‘n’ bass to sold-out audiences worldwide. Known for sporting a bass guitar and button-down shirt on stage, Jenkinson now dons a helmet set with LEDs in front of a large backdrop of more LEDs, programmed by himself, that react to the music.
The changes inÂ apparelÂ match the changes in the music: the live instrumentation of a typical Squarepusher album is gone. CompletelyÂ gone. Jenkinson himself has stated: “Itâs music which is generated purely from programming. Thereâs no live guitar or drums….” It’s a very risky move for a guy who made a name for himself solely playing live jazz bass to funky drum ‘n’ bass. Thankfully, Squarepusher has been around long enough that critics and fans alike are receptive, comparing “Ufabulum” with 2001’s “Go Plastic,” which also featured a more digital, synthetic sound.
“Ufabulum” is an album of two halves (separated by the unfortunately dull, but forgivable “Red in Blue”): one generally more bright, pop-ish, and accessible (if you’re likely to call Squarepusher ‘accessible’); and the other sinister, monolithic, and disconcerting. It’s a form of A- and B-side, where the mere process of flipping the record means a turning point in musical content. This works both to the album’s advantage and disadvantage; it makes the album dynamic and changing, but also creates an imbalance within the album. Some of the ridiculously heavy, atonal, mind-numbing glitch of a track like “303 Scopem Hard” heavily offsets the uptempo, 80’s-infused sound of a song like “Stadium Ice.” Sometimes it’s hard to tell exactly what Jenkinson wanted this album to be: glitchy pop instrumentals, 8-bit throwback, or drill ‘n’ bass/breakcore extravaganza.
If there’s one thing that should be remembered while listening to “Ufabulum,” it’s that the whole thing is one big experiment. Squarepusher hasÂ traveledÂ this territory once before, but never in such anÂ unabashedly complex, cold, and purely electronic way. In addition, Squarepusher’s live show is more in tune with his music than ever before. In a recent interview with Electronic Musician, he said, “I’ve worked on graphical, pictorial representations of the sounds… [and] I’m allowing them to [make] analogous journeys back into the music. Say, for instance, if a drumbeat inspires a picture, will that picture then inspire a bassline?” It’s an amazing concept, one that few musicians would be able to execute in appropriate form, but Squarepusher pulls it off successfully, some of the evidence being the music video for “Dark Steering,” a standout track from the album. The end result of this melding between visual and aural is an experience where the viewer/listener is pulled into the music creation process, into the very heart of the hardware, and allowed to see the raw data presented in its most striking form.
“Ufabulum” is an album of many things, but boring it is not. Squarepusher is the conductor of a symphony of electronic madness, driven by a compulsive, mathematical appetite for experimentation. Although poorly-paced in the beginning, the second half of the album delivers in a way that no album has ever done before, with some of the greatest electronic experimentation of the last decade, supported by a musical mastermind with a wall of mathematically and musically programmed LEDs to back him up. Stream the album below, and check out Squarepusher’s Creators Project video to get an idea of just how he works.
I honestly can’t tell you how many times I’ve rocked out to “Welcome to the Monkey House”, Portland alt-rock group The Dandy Warhols’ 2003 album. It’s one of those albums that successfully bridges the gap between ‘experimental’ and ‘commercial’. I distinctly remember “We Used to Be Friends” being on every mixtape I made for anyone for over two years. The Dandy Warhols have never returned to the quality of that album (or their 2000 masterpiece “Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia”), but they’ve really given it their best shot.
“This Machine” sees The Dandy Warhols taking another different turn, exploring straightforward garage psychedelia with a stoner rock edge. The result is an enjoyable (if immediately forgettable) album. Perhaps the title of the album, “This Machine,” is both a nod to Woodie Guthrie and a statement of intent. The album showcases the band mostly devoid of studio trickery and electronic rambling, similar to the way conventional folk music strips the music down to its most basic message.
Many songs on “This Machine” remind me of post-punk anthems and 80s radio hits. Songs like “Enjoy Yourself” and “Rest Your Head” are quite good, capitalizing on the band’s ability to write radio-savvy mood pieces that hearken back to the era of 90’s underground hits. The album is peppered with songs like these two, which will surely become fan favorites; the rest of the album, however, is largely monotonous and forgettable. Often I enjoy entire albums more than individual songs (I’m a bit of a purist), but this is definitely one of those albums that I’d recommend purchasing singular songs from.
“This Machine” makes for a really laid-back, (moderately) consistent, and predictable listen. Nothing particular, outside of a few interesting guitar riffs, jumps out or surprises, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. The Dandy Warhols have a bad habit of promising a lot with their music, but never quite delivering the full-on rock experience. Most of their songs (especially on this album) start in one place and never change dynamically. It’s simultaneously interesting and terribly boring. Oftentimes, I found myself bobbing my head to the beat, but never being able to concentrate what was actually going on.
The album closes with “Don’t Shoot She Cried”, a pseudo-drone song of washed out, reverberating harmony; and “Slide”, a dark piece of melancholy psychedelia fueled by feedback loops and repetitious drumming. Together they form a disappointing ending to an album that needed a strong, upbeat closer.
“This Machine” is a step up from their last three albums, but The Dandy Warhols still can’t deliver in the way they used to. I’m glad to see the band stripping down their sound and returning to the roots of garage rock, but their execution is flawed. With only two or three redeeming songs, “This Machine” is rather monotonous and uninteresting as a whole. Once again, The Dandy Warhols have the concept down, but they haven’t quite nailed the content.