Sunday, September 26, 2010

Silkworm - Firewater (1996)


For fans of: Pavement, Dinosaur Jr., Mission of Burma

Full of slacker energy, this music doesn't seem to care about having a clean or cohesive sound, but throws ideas around freely and sounds like some of the most natural indie rock there is. They're always on the edge of excellence here, swinging back and forth from really good to great and mustering up some exiting and memorable melodies here and there within each song. Loose guitar solos rage over the top of consistent drums and a meandering bass. It's noisy, honest, and gloriously wide-ranging. - Matthew Foster

"It's a difficult thing to have too many cooks in the kitchen, especially when all of them are iron chefs. Joel Phelps' semi-forced exit made a big difference. On one hand, it was bad: Phelps was an integral part of the band since its inception. And on the other, it was good: the pared-down sound fit the band well, and that's quite evident on the four-sided Firewater. Left to two voices, the band produces its most cohesive and precise set, despite it being their most broad; Firewater clocks in with 16 tracks at an hour long. Not a minute is wasted, and everything sounds more measured and relaxed. Lyrically, the themes of each song tie in with a couple concepts in mind, not suffering from the somewhat schizo topics of previous LPs. As the lone guitarist, Cohen spreads his wings, turning in some lengthy solos. At times, his scorchy leads seem twice as loud as the bass and drums, but it's called for each time. Midgett's thick bass becomes more of a centerpiece than an anchor, sounding its thickest yet. Stripped bare to the degree of sounding awkward on the first few listens, a couple songs rely mainly on light rhythms and little else. The record's themes of alienation and inebriation are balanced by spells of dark humor. Cohen is always reliable for the occasional zinger, and Midgett's woes-of-the-road "Miracle Mile" provides many yuks at the band's expense. Also, the occasional cathartic yelping and complex structures seem to be done away with, in favor of more classic influences (the Stones-y "Lure of Beauty") and decreasing tangential incidents. Though one hates to say it in the wake of Phelps, Firewater sounds like a band that's just lost its training wheels -- fuller yet less cluttered." - AMG

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Georgia Anne Muldrow - Kings Ballad (2010)


For fans of: Erykah Badu, Madlib, Janelle Monáe

This woman's taking neo-soul higher and farther, combining the hip-hop and soul with some fantastic modern beats and instrumentation. If you wish hip-hop had more singing and well-written lyrics, or if you wish soul music had more oompf and funk, this is what you're wishing for. There's a great feeling of experimentation and adventure here that is really inspiring, yet it also has plenty of accessibility and doesn't suffer from over-indulgence. Influences seem to come from anywhere and everywhere, just listening to "Thatch," with it's electronic squeaks and dance beat, I know this is something special. Along with Erykah Badu, this is opening a big door of discovery for me. - Matthew Foster

"Kings Ballad, following Umsindo by only six months and released on Ubiquity instead of her and husband Dudley Perkins’ SomeOthaShip, is Georgia Anne Muldrow's most direct, least idiosyncratic release, if only by a shade or two. Once again, Muldrow the do-it-all provides an organic, modern brand of psychedelic funk, a sample-less fusion of several black music forms that, depending on the song, could provide the backdrop for children playing double dutch or a political rally. Less sprawling than Umsindo (it’s 25 minutes shorter), its centerpiece is the title track, a gracious tribute to family friend Michael Jackson that carries a deep bass rumble, an elegiac organ, and a cascading piano line that enters -- stunningly so -- as Muldrow joyously sings, “We love you, Michael/We needed you, Michael.” The energy is, as ever, uniformly positive, albeit with a spirit that is more commonly playful, as on “Simple Advice” (loaded with so much kinetic percussion that it resembles a go-go band’s warm-up session), “Summer Love” (a lighthearted duet with Perkins over crawling, “Cutie Pie”-like machine funk), and “Room Punk!” (45 seconds of happily throwaway pop-punk). Even the songs packing a message can be enjoyed without deep concentration. Brief instrumentals are interspersed, and they are typically as replay-worthy as the full-blown songs, highlighted by the eerie and cosmic “Industrial Bap.”" - AMG

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Gastr del Sol - Upgrade & Afterlife (1996)


For fans of: Tortoise, Bark Psychosis, Slint

Imaginative creativity is put to the forefront here. The songs range from acoustic avant-folk guitar explorations to electronic experiments that are sometimes combined to create lush pieces of hypnotic minimalism. In a conventional sense, they can be somewhat dull, but they successfully rely on dynamic atmospheres that set a dark and wondrous mood. At times it can simply reside pleasantly in the background, or it can creep up on you and amaze with it's unique and intricately crafted post-rock beauty. - Matthew Foster

"Somewhere along the line, Upgrade & Afterlife's original concept -- a set of conventional song made up of "normal" chords and accessible melodies -- must have been abandoned. Instead, David Grubbs and Jim O'Rourke's fifth album as Gastr del Sol abounds with elliptical melodies, broken by silence and noise, that avoid resolution. The antithesis of a pop lyricist, Grubbs' elusive wordplay and vague, surreal imagery matches his music, particularly on "Rebecca Sylvester." Random noise interrupts throughout the album, bursting and seeping through song surfaces, wreaking havoc on the compositions. A fanfare of destructive screeches announces "Hello Spiral." On "The Sea Incertain," they emerge from the stops and starts of the piano's careful explorations, pushing the instrument out of focus and out of the picture. A paranoid hum underpins "The Relay and "Crappie Tactics." There is beauty throughout Upgrade & Afterlife, but it's almost entirely on Gastr's terms. Grubbs' gorgeous vocal melody on "The Relay" carries some of his most cryptic imagery. "Cooked corn in formaldehyde/Popcorn in an airtight jar," he sings, backed by a dissonant piano. The album's biggest surprises are its bookends: "Our Exquisite Replica of 'Eternity'" (an absurd opening statement) may someday be recognized as the perfect piece of film music, capable of communicating as much paranoia, suspense, and terror as a director could with his/her camera. It's an ominous drift fractured by shards of electronic feedback, breaking through and breaking down like static between alien stations before closing with mournful trumpets. Meanwhile, Jim O'Rourke's performance of John Fahey's "Dry Bones in the Valley" ends the album with pure fresh air, resolving every awkward moment offered up in the preceding 37 minutes. Joined by Tony Conrad, the pair embark on an exploration of the violinist's micro-tonal drones that follow the album into the sunset." - AMG

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Eleven Tigers - Clouds Are Mountains (2010)


For fans of: Burial, James Blake, Scuba

These songs are packed with sound. When one beat begins to die, and you start to fall, there'll be another one waiting to catch you and guide your steps back into motion. It's all done with such grace, it has a great flow, and once I got into it, it never let go. One complaint would be that the sounds could have been produced a bit better, sometimes the mix sounds a bit flat, but if you can get into the variation that's here, it's one hell of a ride. It really explores the dubstep genre in a way few others have, expanding on the atmosphere that Burial introduced with fantastic rhythms that'll make any beat lover happy. Full of energy and innovation, this one should be quite a treat for all the craved dubstep fans. - Matthew Foster

"Breaking with nearly all tradition of its nominal peers, this album has a dramatic heft, an operatic rise and fall structure demanding front to back listening – with the surgical precision of some mythical perfect trance mix to keep everything on a consistently gasp inducing flow. Every time an exquisite groove is discovered and locked into, a new element arises to subtly shift context until a sudden left turn imperceptibly shuffles the entire journey onto yet another new level." - Optimistic Underground

Monday, September 13, 2010

Amp Fiddler/Sly & Robbie - Inspiration Information (2008)


For fans of: Erykah Badu, Dâm-Funk, Raphael Saadiq

I've never been much of a soul fan, but recently I've been on a huge Erykah Badu and Sade kick. I came into this album having heard another from the Inspiration Information series and hoping to expand on the little soul I've heard, and I'm enjoying it much more than I could have imagined. The bass is really great in some of the songs here, digging a groove within the groove, and Sly & Robbie's reggae influence adds a really nice element to the music. Amp's soulful voice and the interesting and groovy production make a great combo and results in a very unique sounding and enjoyable set of songs. - Matthew Foster

"Arriving at Anchor Studios in Kingston, Jamaica, armed only with a handful of acoustic vocal ideas, Amp and the Riddim Twins recorded the album in just three days during June with overdubs laid down a week later in Detroit. “We work fast,” says Robbie. “Time is money!” The result is a confident, laid back set that brings a whole new twist to Amp’s trademark vocal style: Sly builds innovative digital and live rhythms, Robbie underpins the tracks with solid bass foundations and original generation guests “Sticky” Thompson (percussion) and Dalton Browne (guitar) add plenty of colour. Back in Detroit, Amp knitted together the finishing touches, adding extra keys and backing vocals.

The tracks are never predictable, at times echoing Sly & Robbie’s ‘80s days with Island Records at Compass Point studios, at others structured around more mood-based keyboard pads and new patterns re-inventing the established dancehall template. “It’s been amazing – the level of musicianship is sky high,” explains Amp. “Sly & Robbie work so well together – everything has happened really smoothly.” Within the sessions, the trio honed both new compositions and covers, including a pertinent re-work of a George Clinton-era classic, ‘Paint The White House Black’ re-titled by Sly as ‘Black House’. They also revisited select tracks from Amp’s ‘Waltz Of A Ghetto Fly’ album from 2004, with Amp favourites like ‘I Believe In You’ re-worked over a lilting reggae base. The album was mixed in London by another original Island Records studio regular, Godwin Logie, complete with extra dub versions of selected tracks worked live off the desk." - Strut Records

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Dean & Britta - 13 Most Beautiful: Songs for Andy Warhol's Screen Tests (2010)


For fans of: Spiritualized, Yo La Tengo, Robyn Hitchcock

These songs are indeed beautiful. I haven't heard the originals of the cover songs that are here and I haven't seen Warhol's screen tests, but this stands up as an album greatly. It's spacey, arty, psychedelic, and at times has my spine tingling. They incorporate a wide range of instruments, keeping it from becoming boring, and even add electronic beats and bleeps to some songs. It all works really well and never annoys or tries to go beyond itself, just simple songs that hit the spot perfectly. - Matthew Foster

"Renowned pop artist Andy Warhol swapped canvas for celluloid and made 13 short black-and-white silent films between 1964 and 1966, all of which followed a single subject (person), usually within the confines of his Factory studio. Luna veterans Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips were commissioned by the Warhol Museum to provide a soundtrack for the film, and the resulting two-disc set, 13 Most Beautiful: Songs for Andy Warhol's Screen Tests collects all of those pieces, along with a handful of remixes. Tapping one third of the late-'80s pop outfit Galaxie 500 was a no-brainer, as Wareham’s made a career out of building dreamy, minimalist, Velvet Underground-style jams for over 20 years, and instrumental cuts like “Silver Factory Theme” and “Herringbone Tweed” feel like audio postcards of the late-'60s Factory scene. Phillips’ sexy, plain-jane voice dutifully echoes Nico on a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Keep It with Mine,” Wareham’s “It Don't Rain in Beverly Hills” (for the Edie Sedgwick screen test) rolls down the road on a foundation of spacy beats and blips, and a rousing take on the Velvets’ “I'm Not a Young Man Anymore” feels both sad and triumphant. 13 Most Beautiful ends fittingly with the languid “Sweet Jane” and the Paul America-inspired “Teenage Lightning (And Lonely Highways)”." - AMG

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Carla Bozulich - Evangelista (2006)


For fans of: Swans, Kate Bush, Land of Kush

Carla Bozulich is a sculptor of tension. With her backing band and an incredible voice, these songs rise and fall with a greatly dynamic power. It's a bit like if Kate Bush experimented in noisy post-rock. Much of the music somewhat resembles post-rock in structure and tension, but is much more experimental than any post-rock, using many orchestral instruments in unconventional ways and favoring more folky melodies and influences. The album is beautiful, haunting, and adventurous at the same time and is highly recommended. - Matthew Foster

"Evangelista is a sound that you can open your chest with, pull out what’s inside and make it change shapes. Make it open more times and, even more… til the sound inside has finally sealed the hole where your vile/beautiful heart belongs… loved and safe even when you think you’re totally alone. Even if you believe in nothing. good or bad, I must report: there’s really no such thing as empty space. Even inside this void there is sound. You will hear it. You will see. You will be cradled and near deafened by love and mercy sounds and the sound of your own pulsing blood which used to drive me mad as a child when I would try to go to sleep…" - Carla