June 10, 2019
In Sides by Orbital
It hasn't made as strong of an impression on me as Orbital 2 did, but this one seems like more of a grower. Where Orbital 2 features insanely catchy techno tracks that will get you dancing instantly, In Sides takes its time and presents some songs that are less about the beat and more about the idea. It starts pretty straightforward, with "The Girl with the Sun in her Head" probably being the best track on the album, an intense and warping techno track that keeps you captivated for ten whole minutes. "Petrol" keeps the techno going after that, but with a dark edge that we didn't see too much of on Orbital 2. Then "The Box" goes in a completely new direction, with Part 1 taking a really interesting idea and stretching it out over five minutes with a simple non-changing soft drumbeat in the background. Part 2 picks up the speed and tension, although I think they could have made it more interesting based on how cool Part 1 was. "Dwr Budr" is another one that starts interesting but doesn't really go anywhere, plus it goes on for about ten minutes, creating, along with "The Box Part 2" a kind of lull in the middle of the album. "Adnans" is more interesting though, even if it also goes on a bit too long, so it brings the energy up a bit before the final two-part closing track, which is another case of a song being way too long. Part 1 could have been cut down to about three minutes, and Part 2, while more interesting and pretty satisfying for a closing track, could also have been cut down a bit. There's really no reason for any of these songs to go on for more than six or seven minutes and, instead, four out of eight of them are over 9 minutes long. In addition, while I do think that In Sides seems more mature than Orbital 2, I honestly think the self-titled album had more interesting ideas. I also love the way that one builds up slowly towards "Halcyon and On and On" which is an essential feel-good trance track and really feels like a culmination of everything the album was working towards. Here, though, they hit you with the strongest track right from the start, and they sort of scramble to keep the quality up for the rest of the album. I'm not saying it's a bad album, though. I do like this a fair amount. I'd just like it more if it were shorter and a bit more consistent. Overall though, Orbital really seem like the frontrunners when it comes to techno in the 90s. Aphex Twin's stuff is more interesting and creative, but they seem to have nailed the straightforward techno sound, and this would have slapped at a party in the 90s. _________________ These are my favorite albums right now.
June 11, 2019
Millions Now Living Will Never Die by Tortoise
So I listened to this a couple years back when I had just discovered and really liked TNT and I decided to go through the whole Tortoise discography. This was back when I would listen to an album once or maybe twice and make up my mind on how I felt about it, so I guess I probably gave this one a listen and thought, a little less straightforward than TNT, only 6 songs which is weird, not bad, and just never returned to it. But coming back to it now I'm realizing what I've been missing out on the past couple years. It's like if you took Yes, American Football, Steve Reich, and Neu and threw them all in a blender and maybe sprinkled some Frank Zappa on top for taste. "Djed" is phenomenal. In terms of 15-minute post rock tracks, it's up there with the best of them. It's just one of those songs that has multiple parts but where each part is amazing enough to stand on its own. I really love the outline of this album. After the brilliant opener you have "Glass Museum" which is a typical 90s post rock track, but really really great, then "A Survey", which, while repetitive and somewhat uneventful, isn't boring and has enough tension to lead really well into "The Taut and Tame", which is almost "Glass Museum" level of great. Finally, "Dear Grandma and Grandpa" is a soft pleasant little ambient track that again transitions beautifully into "Along the Banks of the River", a Spaghetti Western-sounding slow jazz tune that they would try again on TNT two years later with "I Set My Face to the Hillside".
This is a terrific post rock album that I pretty much completely forgot about, and I would definitely say at this point that this is better than TNT, although that was the one that got me into Tortoise in the first place. I just love when a band is able to stay focused while playing with so many different styles of music, especially in a genre like post rock, where it would be easy to make an hour-plus-long album full of 10+ minute tracks. Luckily, on this album, Tortoise were able to keep themselves in check and make one of the more interesting 90s albums I've heard.
Yesterday and Today by The Field
While it doesn't quite hit the highs of From Here We Go Sublime, this is a terrific second album from The Field. The music itself is really similar, it's just that these songs are longer and there's less of them. I think this might be the album's biggest detracting quality. The songs have an ethereal and otherworldly quality to them similar to the ones on his first album, but I think the length of some of these, especially the last track, "Sequencer", makes it hard to appreciate them as much. Sublime was so cool because you'd get pulled into this world for about 5 minutes, and then it would spit you out and you'd get sucked right back into another one. But here it's more like the world pulls you in and then slowly lets you go over ten minutes, which just isn't as exciting. But in terms of his actual ability to make an entrancing and repetitive techno track, The Field is one of the most talented producers I've listened to. _________________ These are my favorite albums right now.
June 12, 2019
Monoliths and Dimensions by Sunn O)))
So this wasn't at all what I was expecting. When I see "drone metal" I imagine a wall of guitars all playing the same note or chord for extended periods of time, like Boris but less "pop" (if it's okay to call Boris pop). But this isn't that at all. This kinda sounds like what I imagine Behemoth would sound like if they overdosed on Xanax, killed their drummer, and replaced their singer with a guy who just talks in a really low voice for part of the first song. "Aghartha" is probably the weirdest song on here, so why not make it the first song, right? It probably makes the least musical sense, and at times it seems like they're just playing random chords. But for some reason I find it really interesting. The vocals could be kinda cheesy too, but I don't think they're that bad either. There's an art to pulling off 'spoken word' and I really think they pull it off on this one, because it adds to the creepiness but not in an over-the-top way. While I think the symphonic elements are one of the coolest parts of the album, the choral vocals are probably what ruins the next track, "Big Church", for me. I do think they're cool, but they get old pretty quick and the song seems to just cross the line between good weird and bad weird. "Hunting and Gathering", though, is cool because it's the most musically 'normal' song yet. It's essentially just a reeeeaaally slowed down riff that kinda rocks. And then "Alice" is what takes this from a pretty cool album to a really good one. After listening to the first two songs I would never have expected this band to make something as beautiful and pensive as this song. To put it in perspective, the last three minutes or so don't even feature any guitars. It's just some harps, probably some strings, and maybe a few other chamber instruments softly droning on a note while a french horn plays simple and pretty melodies overtop. It's really not something I've heard before, such a successful blend of metal, classical, and maybe even jazz. I'm really glad that I like this more than I was expecting to, and I'll be checking out their newest album next.
20 Jazz Funk Greats by Throbbing Gristle
This thing has a weird form. It starts off with a really cool and chill dub-style proto ambient techno tune that really sets a mood for walking around at night, and then "Beachy Head" is this weird atmospheric droning ambient track that you wouldn't really expect to hear this early on in an album, but that puts you in this warm place that ends up feeling really nice after the mysterious opening track. After that, though, the album reaches a three song stretch of material that's difficult to listen to, whether it's because of the abrasive music or creepy vocal performances or a combination of the two. However, while "Convincing People" isn't one of my favorites on the album, I still think it's an interesting song that's sort of ruined by the vocal performance, which isn't bad, per se, just kind of annoying to get through. It reminds me of Iggy Pop's "Nightclubbing" and I love the fuzzy bassline, I just get tired of his slurred talks of "convincing peeeeeeeeooplllllle". But it's not that he's doing anything wrong, because everything on this album feels 100% on purpose. Anyway, as soon as I started giving up on this album, convinced that it started off cool and only goes downhill from there, "Exotica" greets me with some pleasant bells presenting a light at the end of the tunnel. From there, it's like you've entered another world, a Kraftwerk-esque creepy disco world. "Hot on the Heels of Love" is just as creepy as the first half of the album, but it's done in a more interesting way, and I think it's a lot more successful. After that, "Persuasion" is probably the highlight on the album. To me, it's a more successful reworking of "Convincing People". That simple bassline, his slurred and nasal vocals, the wild fuzzy guitar coming in and out, what sounds like someone being tortured in the background, it all comes together to make one of the weirdest and creepiest musical experiences I've heard, and I think it works so well. After that, "Walkabout" sounds exactly like Autobahn-era Kraftwerk, showing another rare glimmer of light before "What a Day", one of the weirder tracks on here which basically consists of the dude screaming the title over a rough and angular repetitive synth track. Finally, "Six Six Sixties" arrives to finish off the album, but I wouldn't say it sounds like a closing track. It's pretty much the first time on the album we're getting any remnants of rock, and it's a heavy, almost metallic guitar track that's playing over the synth-drum loop. It only lasts about two minutes and definitely doesn't leave you with any feeling of satisfaction or conclusion. It sorta just feels like another idea tossed into the blender and it happens to be the last one you hear.
This album is messy, dirty, abrasive, and off-putting. It's difficult and uncomfortable to listen to at times. But it's also innovative, brave, and experimental. This reminds me of the sort of stuff Swans would be doing 15 to 20 years later. I don't think I'll be listening to these 'jazz funk greats' too often, but this was a really interesting atmosphere to immerse myself in and think about. _________________ These are my favorite albums right now.
June 17, 2019
You Will Never Be One of Us by Nails
Feeding Frenzy by C.H.E.W.
These albums are really similar, in my eyes, with C.H.E.W. essentially being a more lo-fi, less metal, more political, and more straightforward/youthful/punk version of Nails. Both albums move really quickly, with very little pause between songs to the point where two or three songs come together to sound iike one slightly longer song, especially when a lot of these songs are less than two minutes long. But the songs are constantly moving, especially on the Nails album, where they introduce a riff, play it for 15 seconds, then completely change the time signature, play a completely different riff, increase the tempo, go into a guitar solo, go back to the intro riff, and then start the next song. There's more happening in these 45-second songs than in most songs 4 times as long. Feeding Frenzy is similar in that sense. You'll hear a riff that you fall in love with, but you won't hear it again for the rest of the album, which I think is pretty cool. And both albums end with their longest, slowest, and most intense song, which in both cases reminds me of the title track on Converge's Jane Doe. It's a bit more extreme on You Will Never Be One of Us, with "They Come Crawling Back" taking up almost as much time as all the other tracks combined, but the whole album is more extreme, so that would make sense.
I remember first hearing about Nails back in 2016 when this album came out. It was getting critical acclaim from everybody, so it caught my attention, but as someone who didn't really listen to metal besides Black Sabbath and Rage Against the Machine, this thing was way too intense for me. I listened to it once and decided to put it off for a few years, because I was sure that one day I'd be able to handle it and probably enjoy it. And that day has finally arrived, because I think this is a great album that's still a lot to get through, even at 22 minutes, but the riffs are killer, the screaming is brutal, and it's just a great metalcore album overall (if you can call this metalcore, I'm not the best with metal subgenres).
I saw C.H.E.W. open for Pile a few weeks ago and they blew me away. I always love when each member of a band has their own distinct personality on stage, and that was definitely the case here, which definitely made me appreciate them even more than I would have. While they may lack some of their on-stage energy in the studio, most bands do, and they're still able to showcase their talents incredibly well on what's essentially their debut full length album. _________________ These are my favorite albums right now.
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