Archive for the ‘Releases’ Category
I thought about including Jesu’s new album, Every Day I Get Closer To The Light From Which I Came, on the instru-metal roundup I recently wrote up. But while much of Jesu’s music–and this album–is instrumental, he does indeed lend vocals to the mix. And perhaps more importantly, this record is hardly metal.
Every Day pushes hard in the shoegaze, ambient and post-rock directions that have always been a part of the Jesu sound. But whereas past releases have been heavy on droning guitar wallops, this album sees Justin Broadrick–the mastermind behind Jesu–heavily embrace the softer aesthetics of Nine Inch Nails (he’s a dead ringer for Trent Reznor on the beautiful opening track “Homesick”). There’s even a dollop of the floating, electronic introversion of Justin Vernon (“Comforter”).
The more metallic and heavy aspects of his sound only rear their heads during a few movements on the mammoth, seventeen minute centerpiece “The Great Leveller,” and even then, they are softened by Broadrick’s auto-tuned vocals, rather than the harsh screams you’d expect. Thematically, Every Day is a record of emotional yearning. Broadrick frequently sounds like he is just reaching the precipice between debilitating emotional exhaustion and the battle to keep from falling over the edge into total isolation. The emotionally numbing drone and plinking, out of tune piano highlights this slow motion struggle.
My one qualm with this record is that its title suggests some sort of inevitable progression, which is not held up by the music. The tone and tempo generally languishes in place for the entire 45 minutes, and you end on the very same note on which you began, no closer to any sort of light.
After Justin Vernon announced in 2012 that Bon Iver, his pet project that exploded from quiet bedroom recordings to huge, multi-layered anthemic amphitheater shakers, was going on an indefinite hiatus, plenty of fans–myself included–felt pretty bummed about possibly being without new Bon Iver music for a very long time.
Well, it turns out those fears weren’t entirely warranted.
Prior to making that announcement, Vernon had been at work with Volcano Choir, the collaborative band he fronts with his pals from the post-rock group (and most awkwardly named band ever) Colonies of Collections of Bees. Volcano Choir’s second album, Repave, is a step back from Bon Iver’s masterpiece self-titled record, but it still fits in so snugly with the Bon Iver catalog that the only thing keeping it out is the band name attached to it.
Interestingly, Vernon wrote almost none of the music on Repave. His sole role was providing the vocals and lyrics. That’s surprising to me, given how Bon Iver-ish this album sounds. I don’t know if the rest of Volcano Choir specifically set out to write a copycat record, but it’s what they did.
It would appear that we are living in a golden age of instrumental metal, rock, and post-rock. There is just so much good stuff coming out of this genre that it’s become impossible to ignore. I’ve run several of these “instru-metal” roundups in the past (see here), featuring bands like Animals as Leaders, Scale the Summit, and Explosions in the Sky, and there is another new crop of records demanding similar treatment. Today’s selection of delicious instrumental goodness includes Earthless, Pelican and Russian Circles.
Let’s get into it, shall we?
Earthless – From the Ages
San Diego trio Earthless are back after a six year hiatus with their new full-length, From the Ages. The mission statement of any instrumental band is centered around creating an experience or an emotional palette absent any guiding human voice. Some bands pursue that through focused vocal-free “songs,” while others throw restraint to the wind and simply go where the music takes them. Earthless are the latter. Not so much a metal band, Earthless pen monstrous guitar-fueled 70s style psych-rock epics that sprawl and singe in equal measure. From the Ages kicks off with two 14 minute tracks that scorch the earth with guitarist Isaiah Mitchell’s ever-grasping rhythms and solos. The music is blistering but not frantic–Mitchell is ever and always in full command of where these songs are heading. Having that kind of tour guide is essential on an album like this, where one song is longer than your favorite sitcom–the 30-plus minute album-closing title track–and the miniscule four tracks span over an hour. It would be very easy to drown in the sprawl. But as the listener, you must approach this record with the correct mindset. From the Ages is not designed to keep you locked in and on your toes for its entire running time. Rather, it is designed to lull you into a certain head-space where your mind can wander, buoyed by the persistent–but not forceful–guitar heroics. The five-minute “Equus October” is the track that most approaches a typically structured song, and it is a welcome relative comedown after the album’s quick-paced first half hour, but watch out for the blood-curdling distortion that serves as its closing notes; no joke, it had me almost jumping out of my fucking socks and my heart was racing. That is how fully immersed these three musicians will have you. You let down your guard, and give yourself over to their control. For the most part, it’s a mind-clearing, escapist journey.
After two strong albums that launched California surf-pop (or maybe, sun-rock?) duo Best Coast into the limelight, the band has departed its label and is striking out, at least for now, on singer Bethany Cosentino’s new label, Jewel City. As the band readies its third full-length for release sometime in 2014, they’ve chosen to whet their fans’ appetites for new tunes with a concise seven-song EP, Fade Away.
Consider my appetite sufficiently whetted.
Fade Away picks up where The Only Place left off, and even though big shot producer Jon Brion is not involved this time around, the songs on this EP are more polished than ever before. They’ve come a long way from the dirty, lo-fi production that defined their debut, and while that initial entry was charmingly disheveled, they are all the better for embracing a slick pop sheen. Cosentino’s voice has never sounded this lush or far-reaching.
What was once a band that traded almost solely in backward-gazing tributes to Cali surf rock and 60′s pop hooks is now seemingly just as at ease turning out a powerful, arena-sized anthem like the title track or a Mazzy Star-style gauzy moper like “Baby I’m Crying.” In the Best Coast world, these stylistic differences are slight (it all still sounds unmistakably like Best Coast) but quite noticeable in the context. Such variety, even on a slim EP, is well met. continue reading
Avenged Sevenfold won me over and convinced me of their legitimacy as a serious heavy metal band with their last album, Nightmare (review here), and with Hail to the King, they prove they are more dedicated than ever before to penning tunes that can stand side by side with some of the classic titans of the genre.
Some people may think they pursued that goal a little too, shall we say, diligently.
You see, almost as soon as this record hit store shelves and rocketed to number one on the Billboard charts (for all albums, not just hard rock–an impressive feat these days), critics blasted it as an exercise in outright plagiarism. And I won’t lie, there are plenty of songs on this album which directly recall those already made popular by bands such as Guns N’ Roses, Megadeth, and more than any other, Metallica. But I say, Who gives a shit? Do the songs rock your fucking socks off? Indeed they do. People need to realize that imitation has and always will be a cornerstone of art, in any of its multitudinous forms. This is less an instance where one band copied another band’s songs note for note (although at times it can certainly sound that way; compare A7X’s “This Means War” to Metallica’s “Sad But True” and try to tell the difference), than a band honoring and paying homage to what it–and everyone else–recognizes to be some of the purest, hardest rocking metal ever written.
In my earlier days, I probably would have been put off by this record (words like “disingenuous” or “lazy” likely would have been tossed around). But I’m over that misguided sense of propriety now. If The Black Album is one of the main reasons why I’m into metal today, and one of my favorite albums of all time, then how can I sit here and honestly say that a modern-day record that causes me to fondly slip right back into those days of discovery isn’t downright awesome? No, Hail to the King doesn’t fill me with the type of unbridled awe that an astoundingly incomparable record like Mastodon’s Crack the Skye did, but overall quality doesn’t demand innovation.
There will always be those who accept nothing less than bleeding-edge innovation, and there are others who leave room enough to be swept back in time by tasteful and honest tributes. Which type of person you are will determine how much you enjoy Hail to the King.
I turned you guys on to The World War I’s–a Brooklyn-based rock twosome–last year after they put out their Kickstarter-funded debut album (review here). The boys are back with their sophomore effort, Lost Cosmonauts, which continues and expands upon a lot of the styles explored on The Bite and The Boogie while also leaving some elements behind. The result is a more focused blast of pure, DIY raggedy rock and roll.
In an impressive display of full-scope craftsmanship and analog devotion, Lost Cosmonauts was recorded by the band (guitarist/singer Will Brown and drummer Sam Trioli) on 8-track tape in a farmhouse in New Hampshire. As such, the album is delightfully rough around the edges and the guitars and vocals stab forth with more fuzz than a clogged dryer vent (and are twice as likely to set your pants on fire!).
The album’s opening track, “World War Won,” kicks things off with a filthy, scuzzy, slightly foreboding guitar lick that sets a darker, heavier tone than the last record. In that same vein, “Blue Ribbon Child,”–perhaps the finest track here, possessing an utterly infectious groove–is a swaggering “fuck you” to the pressures of expectation, while “You Cut Like A Diamond Knife” lifts the iconic riff from The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” and runs gritty sandpaper over it until it bleeds a metallic sheen.
A fair share of critics hailed Meridional, the 2010 release by Georgian metalcore crew Norma Jean, as a “masterpiece” and the highlight of their career.
While I didn’t hate Meridional, it had more than enough flaws that it very quickly exited my metal playlist. I admired the process–striving to shake up their metalcore sound with progressive elements–but the execution was wonky at best and discordant at worst. Their follow-up, Wrongdoers, coming three years later and with three new band members, is no masterpiece either, but it achieves a lot of the results that were missing the last time around.
I wouldn’t call Wrongdoers progressive, but it manages a far higher batting average on its attempts to introduce spontaneity and melodic chaos into its otherwise hellish loudness and aggression. Whether that’s a result of the roster turnover (now with Jeff Hickey on guitar, John Finnegan on bass, and Clayton Holyoak on drums) or simply more trial and error, I can’t say for sure. I can however, say, that Wrongdoers takes a big step in the right direction, and this album will stick around on playlists far longer than its predecessor.
Before I begin, it should be noted that I haven’t seen the movie, Prince Avalanche, which features the soundtrack I’m about to review (it’s a small indie flick–see trailer here–featuring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch that looks pretty good, and I definitely plan on seeing it when it becomes available on a wider basis). What drew me to this album without having seen the accompanying film is that it’s crafted by Explosions in the Sky, those masters of gorgeously expansive post-rock who made a name for themselves providing the soundtrack to Friday Night Lights. I’ll follow them anywhere.
Their music is tailor-made to serve as the emotional backbone for film and television.
And while I suppose they serve that purpose on Prince Avalanche, it just isn’t the same. That’s likely because this isn’t strictly an EITS project. They are joined by musician/composer David Wingo, and his presence and/or influence has all but neutered every aspect that has come to define EITS.
Gone are the lush, slow-boiling dynamics, the shimmering guitar notes that ripple and stretch for miles, and the cathartic crescendos. In their place we have tiny sonic vignettes, rather than true songs, that are guided largely by piano and horns instead of amplified guitars. “Wading” manages to maintain some of EITS’ ambient beauty, and “The Lines On The Road That Lead You Back Home,” which clocks in at a meager two minutes, could have fit in with the rest of the EITS catalog if only it was given more room to stretch out and grow. But that’s my main gripe with this soundtrack–with 15 tracks crammed into 37 minutes, most tracks don’t have time or space to breathe. I can definitely see how these tracks would serve as excellent mood setters for the action on screen, but as a soundtrack that you’ll want to continually revisit once you’ve left the theater? In that respect, I don’t think it holds up so well.
This music isn’t bad, but it leaves so much of EITS’ talent on the table, unused. It makes some sense; on Friday Night Lights, their soundscapes were a perfect fit for the wide open fields of west Texas and the dreams those open spaces engendered in the citizens of Dillon, whereas Prince Avalanche is a movie about two guys alone in the backwoods, repainting lines on a road after a fire storm. It’s the difference in scope between vast, clear horizons and the tiny space between those two yellow dividing lines on a small two-way road. EITS reined in their capabilities to fit the needs of the film, which is admirable as far as the film is concerned, but it costs the soundtrack. It’s lovely, but lacking.