Monday, March 15, 2010

Caribou - Swim

Yeah, so this is probably better than Andorra. Which is saying a lot. Sextacular.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Bhoy's Decade of Albums... In 104 Parts

Originally I was not going to do something like this. I thought I was too inexperienced, that I hadn't heard enough albums, nor have I been a mature music conoisseur long enough. But I started making it one day to tide my exam studying boredom and lo and behold I came up with 104, excluding many more. 104 is indeed a random number and I chose it just for that reason, totally random. Is it perfect? I don't know, but it's mine. So without further ado:

1. Radiohead - Kid A
2. Kayo Dot - Choirs of the Eye
3. Do Make Say Think - Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn
4. Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy
5. Godspeed You Black Emperor! - Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
6. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois
7. The Weakerthans - Left & Leaving
8. Andrew Bird - The Mysterious Production of Eggs
9. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
10. Isis - Panopticon
11. Mew - Frengers
12. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
13. Dave Holland - What Goes Around
14. Streetlight Manifesto - Somewhere in the Between
15. Death Cab For Cutie - Transatlanticism
16. Arcade Fire - Funeral
17. The National - Boxer
18. Do Make Say Think - Other Truths
19. Destroyer - Destroyer’s Rubies
20. maudlin of the Well - Bath
21. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
22. Sufjan Stevens - Seven Swans
23. Tom Waits - Orphans, Bawlers & Brawlers
24. Brand New - The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me
25. Tord Gustavsen Trio - Being There
26. Bright Eyes - I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning
27. Eluvium - Copia
28. The New Pornographers - Twin Cinema
29. Kayo Dot - Dowsing Anemone With Copper Tongue
30. Sun Kil Moon - April
31. Battles - Mirrored
32. The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
33. Broken Social Scene - You Forgot It In People
34. TV on the Radio - Dear Science
35. The Knife - Silent Shout
36. My Morning Jacket - Z
37. Caribou - Andorra
38. Band of Horses - Everything All the Time
39. Venetian Snares - Rossz Csillag Allat Szuletett
40. Explosions in the Sky - The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place
31. Do Make Say Think - You, You’re a History in Rust
42. Menomena - Friend and Foe
43. Portishead - Third
44. Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha
45. Bill Frisell - Disfarmer
46. The Shins - Oh, Inverted World
47. Spoon - Kill the Moonlight
48. Deltron 3030 - Deltron 3030
49. Hot Water Music - A Flight and a Crash
50. Iron & Wine - The Shepherd’s Dog
51. David Francey - Skating Rink
52. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
53. Jaga Jazzist - What We Must
54. Ulf Wakenius - Notes From the Heart
55. The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
56. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
57. LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
58. Andrew Bird - Noble Beast
59. maudlin of the Well - Part the Second
60. Les Savy Fav - Let’s Stay Friends
61. James Ehnes - Barber, Korngold, Walton Violin Concertos
62. Stars of the Lid - And Their Refinement of The Decline
63. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
64. Opeth - Damnation
65. Boards of Canada - Geogaddi
66. Chicago Underground Quartet - Chicago Underground Quartet
67. Japandroids - Post-Nothing
68. Dave Holland - Critical Mass
69. Deerhunter - Microcastle
70. Pg.lost - It’s Not Me, It’s You!
71. Sun Kil Moon - Ghosts of the Great Highway
72. Charles Spearin - The Happiness Project
73. Burial - Untrue
74. Sunset Rubdown - Dragonslayer
75. Madvillain - Madvillainy
76. Radiohead - Amnesiac
77. Isis - Wavering Radiant
78. The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble - The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble
79. Raekwon - Only Built for Cuban Lynx Pt. 2
80. Sunset Rubdown - Random Spirit Lover
81. Calexico - Feast of Wire
82. Rogue Wave - Descended Like Vultures
83. Stars - Set Yourself on Fire
84. Mono - Hymn to the Immortal Wind
85. The Decemberists - Picaresque
86. The Besnard Lakes - Are the Dark Horse
87. The Dodos - Visiter
88. The Go-Betweens - Oceans Apart
89. Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs
90. The Drones - Havilah
91. Kiss Kiss - The Meek Shall Inherit What’s Left
92. Johnny Cash - American V: A Hundred Highways
93. Fever Ray - Fever Ray
94. Radiohead - In Rainbows
95. John Scofield - Up All Night
96. Max Richter - The Blue Notebooks
97. At the Drive-In - Relationship of Command
98. DeVotchKa - A Mad and Faithful Telling
99. Eric Whitacre - The Complete A Capella Works
100. Antony and the Johnsons - I am a Bird Now
101. Ali Farka Toure - Savane
102. Built to Spill - There Is No Enemy
103. Sigur Ros - Takk
104. Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Kayo Dot - Blue Lambency Downward

Kayo Dot are a very hard band to grasp. Of course being an Avant-Garde project as they are, this should not come as a surprise to any listener. The groups first two albums Choirs of the Eye and Dowsing Anemone With Copper Tongue, respectively, showcased the range of the band. Choirs shifted between neo-classical buildups, to hair raising metal climaxes; all with hints of jazz and ambience thrown into the mix. Dowsing refined the climaxes slightly, focusing more on the buildups. Both albums were fantastic in their own rights. Choirs was arguably the more raw and emotional featuring beautiful passages and gut-wrenching climaxes. Dowsing refined the sound slightly, focusing more on the build ups then the climaxes, it also featured slightly better musicianship from the auxiliary components (see the trumpet and drumming on Aura On An Asylum Wall). One criticism that could be brought up regarding the two albums is the sometimes overlong sections of ambiance and dissonance. Pieces such as Marathon from Choirs and more notably __On Limpid Form from Dowsing could have been made better with some slight editing. On Kayo Dot’s third effort, Blue Lambency Downward, the audience receives a bit of this trimming of the fat. A welcome sight perhaps, if only what was presented was more compelling.

Only two of the tracks, which book end the album, could be considered typical Kayo Dot lengths. In between the two epics are a handful of more accessible songs in terms of length. Immediately one gets the impression that the long stretches of ambiance are gone, which for the most part is true. The end of Clelia Walking and Right Hand is the One I Want dissolve into ambiance, but with the shortened lengths, these songs are more approachable. Even the longer cuts remain generally interesting musically for the entirety of their lengths. However, what came before the long stretches of ambiance in the first two albums was for the most part astonishing, making lulls approachable. The main problem with Blue Lambency Downward is that, while the long stretches of ambiance are trimmed down, the actual melodies are of a noticeably lesser grade then before.

That is not to say that the album is devoid of anything interesting. In fact there are plenty of musically compelling bits throughout the album. Mia Matsumiya turns in another fantastic performance on the violin, most notably on the end of Clelia Walking where she shows off her wonderful capabilities of crafting beautiful melodies. The jazz-lounge piano styling of Right Hand is the One I Want is something new offered from the band. While the group has dabbled in jazz tendencies before, they never fully embraced an all out jazz oriented piece quite like this. Unfortunately this song begins to sag towards the middle, it seems to not really go anywhere, the piano and drums just seem to float around, until the violin takes over. The album has plenty of good moments in it musically, in fact there are only two parts of the album that are just plain awful. The end of the title track becomes flat out annoying, mainly due to Driver’s vocals (which I will address later) and The Sow Submits is by far the worst track Kayo Dot have yet to produce. Putting disconcerting chords together on a simple pattern of quarter notes is not making the music ‘challenging’, it is making it unlistenable.

This brings me to my ultimate problem with the album, Toby Driver’s vocals. While Driver has never been the best vocalist, his abilities were sufficient for the roles of the vocals. The first two albums saw the vocals used more as an added texture. This album brings them out to the forefront. Instead of showing his emotional range that he has shown before, he opts for trying to sing in a non falsetto voice, most of the time. His singing is flat, nasale and boring. The title track suffers the most from this, the ending of the song is sung so flat and monotonous that it makes me reach for the skip button real quick. On top of this, the musicianship just isn’t as good as before. Mia and Toby are still good on their respective instruments, but the additional players, mainly the new drummer Charlie Zeleny, do not add up to the players on Choirs or Dowsing. Further more, the biggest issue musically with this album is it’s inconsistency. The audience has to sift through a lot of mediocre stuff to pull out the good bits. I understand the ‘difficultness’ of the album, but after a good six or seven full listens, it is becoming evident that the album just is not that good.

On the positive, the album does feature some decent tracks. While Clelia Walking doesn’t meet as high as other Kayo Dot pieces, but it is still a strong work. Also, Right Hand is the One I Want is refreshing in its full on jazz-lounge mode, and The Awkward Wind Wheel is as close as Kayo Dot have ever come to a conventional rock song (though it is still a few miles away from that). Finally, the closing piece lives up to past works by the band. The horn and woodwind interplay that opens Symmetrical Arizona is very interesting and it segues into a cool, long guitar solo from Driver that is backed by a vibraphone and Mia on the violin. The song never explodes into a climax, but slowly fades out with some jazz drumming. Another thing to note on this album is it’s lack of explosive climaxes. The only song to feature noticeably distorted guitars is Clelia Walking and it is used sparingly. This may be an issue for fans of the earlier Kayo Dot, or even maudlin of the Well albums, though this reviewer doesn’t mind the lack of huge climaxes.

Overall, I applaud the attempt of further experimentation on the part of Driver. He was never going to settle into the progressive, neo-classical avant-garde/post-metal niche he had carved out on previous efforts. He opted to forgo long buildups, hair-raising climaxes and long ambient passages and focus simply on melodic and harmonic patterns. Unfortunately, these melodies and other various musical dynamics, pale in comparison to previous efforts. Also, standing alone, it is simply not a great release. Music can be challenging, yes; but ultimately you need to have something to hang your hat on. Minus a few tracks on the album, there is just very little for the listener to grab onto. That is the ultimate downfall of this disappointing album from an otherwise very creative and talented band.


The Flaming Lips - Embryonic

Hmmm, so here we have the new double album from The Flaming Lips Embryonic. It's difficult to fully put into words my thoughts. The album teeters between absolutely stellar and head sratching. In straddles the line of psychedelia tipping either way between hip and cool, to strange and annoying. The drumming is, however, a constant plus the entire way through. Difficult and interesting this is not for first time Lips fans. It's a good album, not their greatest. Given time there are plenty of fantastic moments in this. However no amount of time can make me appreciate Karen O's noises in "I Can Be a Frog".


Bill Frisell - Disfarmer

Born Michael Meyer in 1884, Mike Disfarmer (his alias) was a gifted photographer who specialized in portraiture. His black and white images are simple but engaging, with a perspicacious eye for composition. Jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, a member of John Zorn’s Naked City outfit, obviously felt a connection with the photographer as he sets out to "score" Disfarmer’s photographs in his new album, Disfarmer. Like a film score, this album is based upon a visual influence and thus is best listened to while viewing Disfarmer’s photographs. Frisell’s graceful guitar along with his modern string band, featuring Greg Leisz on mandolin and pedal-steel, Jenny Scheinman on violin/fiddle and Viktor Krauss on upright bass; create a rich, cinematic tapestry. While hushed and sparse enough to play as good background music, the strong blending of Americana, folk, jazz and minimalist classical also creates an intelligent piece of music that can be enjoyed from a technical standpoint as well.

The style changes from song to song, but the shifts are never too radical, allowing for a nice flow and giving a sense of continuity to the album. One moment we’re scaling rhythmic violin arpeggios in the modernist classical piece "Focus" with Frisell laying thick reverb on his thoughtful lines. The next we’re jauntily humming along with playful fiddle and acoustic guitar melodies on the country-tinged hoe down of "Peter Miller’s Discovery". What keeps these pieces, and the album as a whole, together is the unifying atmosphere. There is an inherent sense of space and breathing room to the music. This is a group of technically proficient musicians, but they don’t try to pack every second of these compositions with too many different ideas. Frisell’s jazz background lends him the greatest confidence in improvisation amongst the group, but he is just as interested in interplay with the band as he is in soloing. For example, "No One Gets In" builds from sparse bass lines to perhaps the busiest soloing on the album but for it slowly molds into a harmonic synchronisation between guitar, bass and fiddle.

At heart, Disfarmers is the soundtrack to the photographs. As each photographer peers into the souls of each individual, so does the music peer into every grain of the photograph. Each smile coincides with a flourish of electric guitar, or fiddle melody; each shadow is mirrored by lingering pedal-steel tone. It’s in this sense of cinematic grandeur that Disfarmers truly shines. Not to suggest that the album doesn’t stand on its own merit. The intelligence of the music allows it to stand as its own separate entity just as well as when paired with the images. However, with the imagines accompanying it, tracks like "I Am Not a Farmer" feel deeper, "Lost Again, Dark" haunts a little more, and "Did You See Him?" hurts just that little bit harder. The music is the same, but the images stretch the emotions associated with the pieces a little bit more. This enriches what is already very good music on its own.

The only fault that can be put towards Disfarmers pertains to its length. At almost 30 tracks and over 70 minutes in length the album can be a chore to sit through in its entirety. While there are plenty of dynamic shifts in tone and mood, these shifts are never too drastic which can lead to a sense of the mundane towards the albums latter half. While the leitmotif dynamic that is used adds to the intelligence of the music, it doesn’t help with the length problem. Still, this shouldn’t take away from the great music that is presented. Overall this is a great album with wonderful composition, atmosphere and technical ability. While at times perhaps a little to down tempo, the excellent blending of jazz, folk, americana and classical result in one of the better albums of 2009. Plus it got me to look at a really good photographer who I would otherwise have never heard of. Bonus!

The Blind Side

Yeah, so I saw this with a girl. Pretty much the only reason I would go see Sandra Bullock. Normally I would just feel whatever about such a generic movie, but I actually found this offensively bad. First off, just arbitrarily using the race card is even worse then using the generically beaten-over-head-with-baseball-bat consistent race card. Secondly, if you have the talent of Cathy Bates, don't waste her as a Fairy Godmother figure. Third and most importantly, don't hire Sandra Bullock... ever. In conclusion LOL.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Do Make Say Think - Other Truths

If you don't have this by now, what are you waiting for? Best post-rock release since the last Do Make Say Think album. 4 fantastic tracks that flow better than any of their other albums, Other Truths is equal parts intricate and spacious. At first you might be left wanting something more to grab onto, like the crescendo in "Fredericia" or the wonderful drumming in "Executioners Blues" but give it time and the rewards of all 4 tracks (Do, Make, Say and Think) will reveal themselves in time. Awesome.