Sunday, June 24, 2007

Toadies - Hell Below/Stars Above

Hell Below/Stars Above

If you couldn't tell, I'm really strapped for time this week (work, work, and, uh, work!), so I'm going to be brief.

When I think of overlooked albums that should be reconsidered and granted near-classic status, I think of Miltown. Kidding! I really think of the Toadies's misunderstood and certainly underexposed sophomore release Hell Below/Stars Above

These Texas boys seemed happy enough to mine grunge after the fallout, forging it with the kind of post-hardcore that was beginning to really build up steam at the time on Rubberneck, the band's one moment o' fame (that moment being the charting single "Possum Kingdom"). But, nothing (even a six year wait!) could prepare the world for Hell Below/Stars Above, a slice of muscular, aggressive rock that was as catchy as all get-out and compelling at every turn. Not only was it incredibly well-crafted, but it burned with the kind of passion that you just don't expect from a band's second album.

Unfortunately, the mainstream never caught on (probably because it took six damn years), relegating this prime slice of 21st century rawk to blogs like this one that happily sing its praises. Worth a look, trust me.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Kagrra - Gozen


If you couldn't tell, I'm really strapped for time this week (work, work, and, uh, work!), so I'm going to be brief.

In Japan, there's an artistic movement dubbed "visual kei." From Wikipedia:

Visual kei (ヴィジュアル系, vijuaru kei?, literally "visual style") refers to a movement in Japanese popular culture characterized by the use of eccentric, sometimes flamboyant looks. This usually involves striking make-up, unusual hair styles and
costumes, often, but not always, coupled with androgyny or distinctively feminine or bishōnen aesthetics.

Kagrra sorta/kinda fits in with these groups. Why bring this up? Just a friendly warning before you fall in love with these, uh, "beautiful creatures"* like my friend accidently did with Dir En Grey (whoops!).

Anyway, the pull of Kagrra, for me anyway, has been the music, an irresistible mix of western pop/rock with incredibly catchy hooks and a slight nod to the heritage of Japan. It sounds distinctly Western, yet something that could only from Japan at the same time. At times, it's gorgeous, filled to the brim with a certain melancholy that's easy to translate even if the words and the band's look aren't. "Ihoukyou" is the standout, starting out like a cheesy rocker and evolving into something that's sublime by pop standards, a perfect anthemic chorus and a bridge that rocks in a special Eastern kind of way.

A must.

*Friend's words, not mine.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Steve Reich - Drumming


If you couldn't tell, I'm really strapped for time this week (work, work, and, uh, work!), so I'm going to let AMG's D. J. Hoek lead you through this one:

Following intensive study of West African music at the University of Ghana in 1970, Steve Reich returned to the United States with a heightened interest in polyrhythm and the desire to compose his first large-scale work. The resulting composition, Drumming (1971), requires more performers, employs greater variety in instrumentation, and — at ninety minutes in length — is longer than any of Reich's earlier works. This more expansive approach represents the culmination of Reich's experiments in phase shifting and positions Drumming as one of the first masterpieces of musical minimalism.

Although Reich's time in Ghana introduced him to the music and traditions of another culture, his studies there were most important in reinforcing his own predilection with repetition and slowly changing patterns. While the shifting polyrhythms of his compositions at the time seemed foreign to Western art music, Reich found similar manners of organization in African drumming, and this sense of musical heritage encouraged him to continue his experiments.

In Drumming, a single rhythmic pattern provides the source material for the entire composition. Although this sort of economy also characterizes most of his earlier pieces, Reich develops this cell not only through rhythmically shifting repetitions, but also through varying timbral combinations.

Each of the four parts that comprise Drumming — performed in sequence without pause — features a particular instrumental-vocal ensemble: Part One is written for bongos and male voice; Part Two is for marimbas and female voices; Part Three is for glockenspiels, piccolo, and whistling; and Part Four, the composition's apex, includes all the instrumental and vocal forces from the previous sections. These instrumental combinations would prove significant: the instrumentation for mallet percussion appears in a number of Reich's later works, and the textless vocalizations recur in Music for Mallet Instruments, Voices, and Organ (1973) and Music for 18 Musicians (1976), as well as in many works by fellow minimalist Philip Glass. By melding the crisp precision of percussion with the inherent lyricism of human voices (which are at times extended by whistling and the use of the piccolo), Reich creates smooth transitions between sections of contrasting orchestration while maintaining the timbral and textural interest that enhances Drumming's fundamental rhythmic momentum.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Miltown - Miltown

Here, Jonah Jenkins (Only Living Witness, Milligram) joined future mega-producers Brian McTernan and Matt Squire on this, their first non-7" release. And what a promising release it would be, a great glimpse of a band whose life would be cut short by label bullshit and lame music politics. It's a bit like late OLW with the catchiness amped up, stitting comfortably alongside the rest of the bands that were a part of that 90s post-hardcore explosion. Worth it just to hear Jonah in fine form (dude nails The Cure cover, "Jumping Someone Else's Train"), but also worth it because it seriously rocks, as thick, crunchy guitars with a hint of groove make up a meaty backbone. How this band continues to get overlooked is beyond me. Ten years later, this lost Boston export still packs a punch.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Dälek - Abandoned Language

Abandoned Language

As the year '07 rolls along, few things look like they're going to be able to top this gem. Combining hip-hop with hints of industrial and a near-obsessive interest in the sound manipulation and layering techniques of ambient/soundscape legend Thomas Köner, Dälek is an extremely intelligent look at human culture and its language.

AMG's Marisha Brown:

The songs on the album have much more time and space dedicated to instrumental wanderings than to words — "Lynch," in fact, has no lyrics at all — as if he and co-producer Oktopus realize that there are things that just can't be said, that are better conveyed through notes and chords, that sometimes "tongues stick" and stories are "scripted" and "the words we speak are mad tarnished," that mortality and flawed humanity get in the way of pure communication.

Brilliant. We'll be revisiting this later this month as we look at the top releases of the first six months of the year.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Life in Your Way - The Sun Rises and Sets, And Still Our Time is Endless (By Request)

The Sun Rises...
Even though I’ve become such a jaded bastard thanks to my early habit of simply over-consumming when it came to music (I devoured everything, and now these tired ears are paying the price), I’m still happily pulled in by the magic of the debut. There’s nothing quite like a hungry band desperately looking to make a mark, a desire to leave it all behind in the studio. Because, who knows when that next chance will come? This is often why debuts are head and shoulders about the rest of a band’s discography, as they can never reclaim that nervous energy, that urge to pull out all the stops.

Life in Your Way fits in perfectly with that model. Later entries would become more polished, but they just don’t have the drive nor the heart of their debut, the clumsily titled The Sun Rises And Sets, And Still Our Time Is Endless. Sure, it’s standard melodic metalcore, a band that wears their Shai Hulud and 7 Angels 7 Plagues influences proudly. They end up somewhere close to contemporaries like Jairus, just with a greater interest in the typical hardcore makeup (gang shouts, etc.). Is it outstanding? No, but the band’s naïve exuberance will win anyone over, especially fans of the genre.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sutcliffe Jügend - When Pornography Is No Longer Enough

When Pornography is No Longer Enough
Please forgive me, but after a week of computer problems, I really wanted to put up something violent and barbaric, and few things are as violent as Sutcliffe Jügend.

A part of me believes that few others have done more for opening my mind to the eternally raging question “What is music?” than Kevin Tomkins and Masami Akita. Here, Tomkins takes a break from fellow power electronics project Whitehouse to explore an even darker and more sinister realm. Sutcliffe Jügend, particularly on When Pornography is No Longer Enough, is another entry into a subsection of art that makes you question your limits. Does a concept album about the hunting, raping, and killing of women cross some invisible line that separates acceptable self-exploration and deranged exploitation?

Well, that’s completely up to you, but When Pornography is No Longer Enough certainly doesn’t make it easy. It’s one of the most difficult listens I’ve ever encountered, both musically and lyrically. The distortion and menacing low-end wooshes--truly white noise miasma--are only punctured by Tomkins shrill screams. As a chaotic cacophony of broken synths labor under “Second Victim - With Brutal Force - My Pleasure Your Pain,” Tomkins, with demented delight, verbally assaults the audience and his imaginary victim with chilling howls. “I wish your fucking mother was here to see this!” Are your limits pushed? Yes.