Saturday, 23 January 2021

The Crystal Method "Tweekend" (2001)

Four years on from their debut record Vegas, The Crystal Method return during the decline of Big Beat's popularity with a sound somewhat on a similar trajectory to that of Fatboy Slim. Tweekend strides towards the Electronic music scenes of the time with an emphasis on virtual instruments and rock grooves above the bombast of big drum samples, which still have an edge. With plenty of lengthy cuts over six minutes and nothing to ambitious in the way of progressive songwriting, the record serves as a decent mood setter, lively and energetic but not demanding too much of the listener.

Each track tends to have a through line, a backbone that is always present as the arrangements shuffle around the complimenting sounds. There is a lot of them too, these songs are dense and layered with electronic instruments, percussive sounds and synths woven around the beat. The attention to detail holds up. These highly repetitive songs get fleshed out as its drum loops drone on with many instruments and samples taking focus as the lead, jumping back and forth from the limelight. 

Its best songs come with crunchy rock guitar hooks worked in, dropping steady grooves to drive the music onwards. It can often be a noisy affair with its calmer synth sounds being bombarded by all sorts of noises, most common of which seems to be the "off the era" DJ scratches. They kick off vocal samples and slip in lively vinyl sounds similar to that of Limp Bizkit, who would of been on top of the world around this time of this record. Its an element I enjoyed a lot, this album has so much going for it that fits snugly into this era, even though I didn't enjoy at that time.

All in all its no work of art but a competent execution of ideas reflecting the changing times in Electronic music. With lots of spins it has dulled. I fun one to check out but only a couple of numbers demand a return on occasion. I was going to call it quits here but reading up on their next effort, Legion Of Boom, I may have to check it out for the inclusion of Wes Borland and his guitar playing on three or so songs!

Rating: 6/10

Friday, 22 January 2021

Cocteau Twins "Treasure" (1984)

When embarking on this newest musical journey with the Cocteau Twins, it is this record I was itching to write about. Discovering them back in 2011, Treasure was the album to lure me in and I have adored it too this day. Admittedly it doesn't get much rotation anymore but spinning it up again has been a pleasure and with critical ears I love how the stiff fidelity of its drum machine and awkward production were details I never heard before. These songs are so gorgeous and engulfing, that the magic simply glosses over its flaws. As I've commented before though, its aesthetic ruggedness very much works to enrich the slightly esoteric and ethereal vibes.

Stepping away from their Post-Punk roots and into Dream Pop territory, Guthrie's layered guitar experimentation finds refined glory in pivoting to acoustic guitars. Golden plucked strings lavished in reverbs often feature alongside other sparkling instruments that put emphasis on dreamy tones and a warm melodic rises. There are occasional uses of guitar distortion and its tone can sway into the shadows with these ten songs forging a wonderful variety for peering into peculiar places. Its obvious though, much of its instrumental magic is birthed from the expansion of instruments, used subtly in the swells of ethereal sound that gush forth. They play out the colored tuneful melodies the likes of Garlands before it once lacked.

Its all held in place by this clanky drum machine. Rigid and stiff in timing and tone, its repetitive strikes are often soaked in reverb, rattling off with forced punchy grooves that penetrate with a contrasted composure to everything else around it. Somehow, mysteriously, it just works so well. Fraiser's voice is another vector in the chemistry. These three components feel so distant from one another at times, yet together its a wondrous mix. I must say though, it comes in temperaments. The album jumps all over the place from track to track. Persephone may be the biggest example of what I've just described and yet with the following song Pandora it flips to its most cohesive and in tune composition. Notably, two of my favorite tracks as well.

Best of all, Fraiser comes completely into her own on this one. I was always under the impression her performance was entirely wordless and I loved putting my own words into her cryptic singing. Reading online lyric sheets does have me wondering. If they are true then its stunning how she pronounces words with such a mystic overcast. If not, its still just as magic but I prefer the later. The inflections and places she carries her voice too with vibratos and what not is endlessly joyous. Sailing high to low and dancing on her way. Every word, or lack of, just oozes with an endearing quality which never fails to cast a spell. Its some of the best vocal delivery you'll ever hear.

 Treasure is a milestone record for the group, an ascension to the spectacular. Its artistic, expressive, magical and stunningly mysterious. Knowing these songs so well, Guthrie's swell of ambiguous sound still spark the imagination. Fraisers veiled voicings always an indulgence. Its only shortcomings are in execution. Some amateurish swells of bass noise occasionally gather in the mix and some of its songs tend to end without direction. Sudden wind downs and lack of conclusion do hinder the odd song but otherwise its a classic, one anyone curious should give a go.

Rating: 9.5/10

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

Dysmorphik "...And To The Republic" (2004)

 

 Following up on yesterdays post about Tick, Burn, Screech & Halt we have the second installment by this wonderfully peculiar musician of personal interest to me. Released five years later, ...And To The Republic is a force of musical maturity. The bizarre machination of Industrial noise harps on with refined execution. Along with a developed approach to songwriting and structure, these inspirations have evolved with passion, vision and agility. Its often through the lens of Dance and Electronic Body Music, along with a better mastery of composition and sound design.

Where his previous songs where disjointed, awkward and unusual, Dysmorphik channels the wall of noises with a newly found cohesion that is dense and engulfing. Between slabs of synth and protruding electronic melodies, distortions, zaps, whirls, fuzzes and clicks rattle around in a persuasive madness. Everything hits harder. The percussion slams with drive and groove, hitting these dance floor strides of pace fit for a Cyber Goth club. The key melodies, emerging from alien saw waves and trance-like synths, are catchy and grooving. Even the vocals have "leved up". Still leaning on the whispering edge of softly aggression, a use of subtle distortion and plugin effects deliver a far better front, now powerful and melded to the mix like another instrument.

The sound design is fantastic! Giving the density your attention, its details offer up so much more to these massive songs. Its less obvious as to what is going on, as if hours of experimental sound manipulation has its its best recorded moments plucked out and injected into the music like a Bomb Squad production. This lends the song structures to more break away moments, much like the sudden shift of break-beats, the music derails on brief tangents of magical noise madness, often driven by slamming percussion that thuds and crunches hard. Its a dystopian pleasure!

It would be so hard to pluck a favorite from all these numbers but Idle Dereliction has this wonderful progression as a song. Starting off with a dense pummeling of Industrial groove from its drum patterns, the flexing baseline hooks one in as the tapestry of noises grows. Hard hitting synths force the issue and before long the dense arrangements shift towards an emotional axis. It wrestles back and forth with these fantastically performed lyrics pushing of from the "make love like suicide" line. The wall of sound is utterly engrossing, beautifully alien and its steady deconstruction reveals this underpinning of choral voices... its so dark and wonderful.

There are more songs in the arsenal beyond this release. A couple of experiments in pure Noise and Gabber style electronic music seemed like a fascinating evolution, a sort of boiled down experiment, the tapestry of gritty noise without the songs worked around them. Whatever the reason this musician had to end it all here around in the mid naughties is a mystery. It sounded like they were on the cusp of another evolution yet what they have left behind has memorized me to this day. Dysmorphik holds a special place in my heart. It is not with every song they strike gold but when it works its unlike anything else out there. Truly a forgotten treasure.

Rating: 8/10

Monday, 18 January 2021

Dysmorphik "Tick, Burn, Screech & Halt" (1999)

 

To write of Dysmorphik is to tease a treasure lost to the Internet's youth, years before the current perceived permanence of data. I discovered this Industrial musician through online communes, an early form of social media where artists where talking direct and giving their music away for free through MP3 sharing websites long dead. I had a collection of about twenty tracks obtained in my youth and a few years back managed to contact the man himself. He graciously sent me the missing songs from the only two albums before vanishing into a puff of smoke, with all traces of his peculiar art disappearing online, possibly forever! Many of these songs have been burned into my mind, occupying a strange space no other artist can get close to. Its survived the years, stitched to my painful youth and growth out from that darkness.

Tick, Burn, Screech & Halt is an amateurish debut, a wonderful cascade of obtuse noises, smashed and molded into an broken heap of sound. In that wreckage, something spectacular lurks. Its dystopian, alien and difficult. As far as Industrial music goes, this has many of the common hallmarks, yet the end result feels oddly different. A downtrodden voice broods between the cracks of melodies, rhythms and slabs of sound crammed together with force. These songs are an ugly mess birthed from beautiful intentions of expression. In that is a magic not often heard.

Most these tracks consist of several layers. Rattling, gritty and stiff percussive grooves get wedged between slabs of Industrial noise distortion. Airy synths lurk in the distance, softly groaning with unease, shaping a mood. Around them a calamity of stabbing synths, wobbling basslines, strikes and crashes prod and poke into the mix with a mechanical madness. The voicing that get sliced in are often of that whispering, shadowy variety. When reaching to hold a note its charm is solely in the attempt.

So much of this music feels machine like, disjointed, disconnected and strange but through the awkward cohesion certain instruments emanate the intention. Through its friction and unease the music pours out a vision that takes some time to hear. When I was young I lapped up having something odd and interesting to listen to for free. Then missing songs decades later, it took far longer to fall for them. With time they shape up into odd hashes of vision and aesthetic that dominates its own peculiar space.
 
Sometimes it is obvious which instruments are pushing the narrative but in its better songs your never quite sure. Giving ones attention to the barrage of noises, brimming with subtle zaps and whirls in its arsenal of synths, you can get lost in the detail. The colliding sounds and friction rub all over each other and yet through that spurious mess something enigmatic, dark and curious washes over with a spell. Much of this praise, however, should be reserved for the following release. That is where things get exceptional. At this stage the amateurish execution shows its nature and influences, reaching back to Synth-Pop in certain moments too. It is still a wonderful mess, unlike anything else Ive heard since.

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 17 January 2021

Cocteau Twins "The Spangle Maker" (1984)

Knowing whats to follow, The Spangle Maker is a stopgap EP seemingly distant from its surroundings. Its title track is the most subdued song the group have written to date. Its a slow burn crawling to a quiet roar with a swell of layered sound in its closing cycle. With new bassist Simon Raymonde joining, perhaps this was an exercise in integration, becoming accustom with one another in writing and the studio.
 
Either way, its a familiar tale of music that misses the spark. Peraly-Dewdrops' Drops and more so Pepper-Tree have the hallmarks of the groups blossoming sound heading in the direction of Treasure. Somehow, Fraser's timeless singing and the Ethereal persuasion of Guthrie's effect soaked guitar magic just don't click.
 
Pepper-Tree does delivery a gorgeous shadowy acoustic guitar timbre, resonating off its chilling pianos with an eerie ambience. Somewhat of a cornerstone for Autumns Grey Solace's sound. It's also rather noticeable that the bass guitar steps away from that defining upfront presence of Post-Punk music, taking a more subdued roll with a softer aesthetic. All in all its another unremarkable but slightly intriguing EP of which they have a fair few main between releases.

Rating: 3/10

Saturday, 16 January 2021

Sithu Aye "Senpai III" (2021)

 

 I've been awaiting this next installment for some time now... Its actually been over three years since the last Sithu Aye release! Time has absolutely flown by. Senpai III is the anime themed musical take on Progressive Metal that is now here in a longer album format. The project started out innocently as a curious experiment, mixing in the melodic styling and instruments from Japanese cartoon theme music in a jovial stride. With parts I & II the small number of tracks really wet the appetite for more and alas it comes with fifty two minutes of fresh new music across ten tracks.

Bright, warm and uplifting a constant flow of dexterous melody unfolds on an ever pacy stride, marching through its bold and colorful sound. Its metallic elements brings forth power and strength, a little groove and bounce to bolster the intensity but never to turn to anything dark. Its a cheery record of smiles and good vibes, all with an authentic emotional current. With a lack of human voice to center on the lead guitars often steps up with frequent unleashes of dazzling fretboard work, swooning with speed and technique when blazing into a solo. If not, its often a more subdued line of melody that gives the music that needed focal point. This record is all about melody though, its a unending unraveling of them which can get a little tiresome.

To pivot to criticism, I think the novelty of this idea is best served in smaller dosses for this listener. Although there is genuine mood and expression here, the style of theme music demands a lot of energy and instrumental activity. The pace is swift and a lot of notation gushes forth through a rather narrow range of ideas. Mari's New Day is one song that stands out for managing to calm the tone down and provide a little contrast but the rest of the songs are continually swept up into this whirl of dance-able energy that has most its big melodies feeling very similar to one another.

The project doesn't feel like it has many directions to go in. EDM elements drop in on a couple of tracks, dialed up a notch with intense kick drums and some lively synths but they tend to compliment the dominant narrative more so than bring something new to the mix. I really do adore this sound and have enjoyed my time with the record but it has struggled to establish more than a mood. With the narrow range these songs operate within and similarity to what came before, nothing stands out. If there is to be a forth installment I would love to hear a human voice in the mix. That would be most welcome alongside some experimentation to see where this framework can be taken. If you've not heard this project before and enjoy Anime theme music you are most likely going to lap this one up!

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Cocteau Twins "Sunburst And Snowblind" (1983)

 
Journeying on with our deep dive on the Cocteau Twins, we have another EP featuring Sugar Hiccup and three songs left over from the Head Over Heals album. I'm getting the impression we may not find hidden gems in this avenue. These smaller release are a deeper insight to the band but more so a reminder that not everything is gold. Each of the three additional songs lack the killer spark to make them work. Possibly unfinished, they show their difficulty as the ideas present in the guitar work doesn't seem to gel with Fraser and that chemistry is absolutely vital.

From The Flagstones has all the markings of their sound, the washy guitars come across and its soft airy synths lack the gusto to elevate. Fraser comes in with power and persuasion but it misses the mark. Hitherto is the better of the three, its slow, dark and mysterious atmosphere more engrossing but on this track its Fraser who's voice doesn't quite catch the wind. Because Of Whirl-Jack brings upbeat pianos with a jovial energy and its pivot to focus on plucked acoustic strings works but the song feels like it never finds a crowning moment, perpetually swaying between verse and chorus.

One thing I can say is its fun to hear these songs and a reminder of the hard work and time it takes to craft great music. These songs are in no way bad but they highlight how bands will write songs that often don't make the light of day. Its nice to see that this music and that on the other EPs were shared, although contractual obligations may have had something to do with that given the groups outspoken dismissal of Lullabies. Anyway, whats next? You guessed it! Another EP.

Rating: 3/10

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

Bolt Thrower "In Battle There Is No Law" (1988)

I was looking for some contrast in Bolt Thrower's sound and I've certainly found here on In Battle There Is No Law. It is the groups debut record, a primitive affair of early Death Metal muscle and Grindcore grit. Yet to find its coming Military theming, it does have the rare moment of tempered groove resembling the likes of Mercenary and beyond. This is no half step away though, they are an entirely different band at this point. Given the name, I expected to find Power Metal at their roots but alas we have something more akin to Napalm Death at that era in time.

Its a muddy, messy assault of extremity borrowing ideas from Thrash in lead guitar solos and Punk in the rhythm section but mostly its steeped in an the early Death Metal sound. The production is dire as many records of this age were. Record producers had yet to figure out how to handle those riotous blast beats and so the drumming blurs technical fretboard thrashings into a discernible mess. The spirit gets through tho, the music often rigidly shifting in tone between its melodies, guitar thrashings and "plunges" of Grindcore battering that feels like the least exciting aspect as its pivots lack a sense of progression. The songwriting just feels without direction, sections stitched together and barked over by the monstrous growl of Karl Willets.

Its a typically hard to enjoy album for me, Its dated ideas bloom in the ugly, drab aesthetic and the whole thing lacks a charm or spirit you might occasionally find here. Even in company of other extreme records from this era its ideas just sound stale. To give them some credit they did record with John Peel beforehand, often a sign of greatness but on this one I don't hear the appeal and the evolution to come isn't obvious either. If I had started with this record, the journey would of ended here too.
 
Rating: 4/10

Monday, 11 January 2021

Cocteau Twins "Head Over Heels" (1983)

 
 With the departure of bassist Will Heggie, the now duo find their calling on Head Over Heels, their sophomore effort where the starts align and the magic blossoms. Its opening track When Mama Was Moth is unassuming, a slow dreary build up, nudged along by the booming echo of a drum strike as weary guitars drone under the sparkling astral melody that inspires intrigue. It takes all but twenty seconds on the following Five Ten Fiftyfold for the Ethereal beauty to emerge. Fraser plunges her voice into a spirited swoon, riding the curtails of lavish reverberation. The distant noir saxophone a perfect compliment in this gorgeous moment.

The mood is brighter, an uplift and warmth courses through these songs, arrangement shifts, guitar chords and moving the key upwards steer these esoteric and ethereal sounds to the light. The dreary, gothic darkness is still present in the abstract layers of dense guitar noise. The bass guitar shimmers underneath with a brightly punctuated chorus effect. The drum machine paces with pounds minimal groove, plunged in extravagant echos that add greatly to the muddy atmosphere.

Fraser finds herself with a greater presence in the mix. The timing often brings her in at moments of power to usher in these warm shifts of tone. Although yet to go fully wordless, her singing emphasizes feeling and emotion with many unconventional annunciations of words. The lyric sheet brings clarity but the mystery of how her voice says something different is so alluring. Words take on new meaning, all said as if looking for another, swinging from her swoon they hypnotize.

Its right inline with Guthrie's evolution. His ambiguous guitar noise clambers into new territory where craft and measure balance more obvious chords, arpeggios and string sections with the denser fog of ambiguity. It poises the music in the precarious place where convention and mystery dance in the moonlight. Its overall tone is dark, esoteric and spooky yet consistently blushes with a dazzling beauty.

Although I thought I had not ventured to this record before, a couple of tracks startled me as to how I knew them so well, yet the rest was a complete mystery! My guess Is the random videos from Youtube autoplay when I first discovered the Cocteau Twins, many years ago. Amazing how well the particulars of these songs have stuck. The love I had for this band starts here. Its a technically flawed flourish of creativity and inspiration. Big gatherings of echo crowd some moments and it has tarnishes all over. I'm loving this in a way where I know it will just keep giving and I think these amateurish growing pains are an amazing part of the experience.

 Rating: 8/10

Sunday, 10 January 2021

Papa Roach "Lovehatetragedy" (2002)

 
My recent dive into the past with Infest had me thinking on their followup record Lovehatetragedy, a very Emo oriented title perhaps signifying a coming departure from Nu Metal that would follow this record. It occurred to me that upon release I devoured this album but had left it in the dust, never listening to it again once that period in life had passed. So today I thought I'd give it another spin, see what I remember, possibly enjoy and how its aged over the last two decades.

Kicking off with M-80, high adrenaline guitars rip through some exciting riffs, the theme of musical love amps up the energy, setting quite the upbeat tone for this record. Sadly it is short lived, Life Is A Bullet spins next and it starts flooding back. Lovehatetragedy is a slug of self indulged misery. Song after song has Shaddix spewing his particular craft of self defeating sorrow that glorifies all suffering in a moment without resolve. To find him some merit, its catchy writing, his choruses have a knack to them, cheesy ear worms I'm glad I had once forgotten. This is painful.

The band behind him bring back a very similar aesthetic. The approach to songwriting is as before, the rhythm guitars tend to pivot away from syncopation and metallic groove, with more hazy, melodic tinged chord arrangements creeping in. It plays into their emotional angle, which has become simply unbearable for me to endure. Its more cast iron Nu Metal with an emphasis on the lonely, moody wallowing tone that often accompanies the worst of the genres tropes.

 The record starts reasonably well, a few pre-Infest songs re-recorded bolster its aggression but as it drones on the songs get drearier in tone or quite possibly my tolerance is being challenged, ending with a string of awful tracks. Its been amusing to hear how many lyrics and choruses come back to mind from memory, pretty much all of it. The depressing nature is just to much to bare. I found myself skipping a few tracks halfway, wishing the torture to end! I am a big believer in finding reasons to love music but record is too wrapped up in awful memories and its clear that Shaddix's words don't offer much in the way of help to someone in this dark space.

Rating: 2/10

Saturday, 9 January 2021

Bolt Thrower "Those Once Loyal" (2005)

 

Last years musical discoveries list included that of English outfit Bolt Thrower, a band held in high regard among the Metal community. It was perhaps the lack of distinction between the two records I checked out that dissuaded me from perusing more. From first listen to present, Those Once Loyal makes itself known with the same imposing stature of strong armed Death Metal leaning on groove and mid-tempo thrashings more so than aesthetic extremity. Its a brutal, tough affair that comes through with plenty of hard melody between its axe grinding. Pretty much everything heard before.

This is no criticism, as their eighth and final album the group have mastered their own sound, delivering with nine tightly performed power rides of channeled aggression and chunky, crunchy grooves. Having now understood their formula it was immediately digestible as their rhythm guitar riffs lead with competence. The fall of hammering drums and the flat guttural shouts of Karl Willets slip neatly into place around them. Each track comes with a similar pacing, rotating riffs in straight forward song structures that hold together a fun and punishing intensity that rolls on wards.

Bar a couple keen melodies and particular riffs, its forty minutes barely detour from the format, leaving little in the way of surprise or difference from my memory of the other records. Its fun, enjoyable, perfect for its own appetite but not a head turner. What they do is excellent but doesn't quite stir my highest regards and therefor after a couple of spins feels a little redundant in the ways of finding something new. I think I will check out their debut next in the hopes of hearing some progression in Bolt Throwers historical sound. Great record but very much more of the same.

Rating: 6/10

Friday, 8 January 2021

Cocteau Twins "Peppermint Pig" (1983)

 

Before the Cocteau Twins sophomore record, arrives another, ultimately disappointing, three track EP. Released in April of 1983, it captures a moment of creative poverty where the music fails to venture upon anything of remark. Reading up on its creation, the group were forced to work with an outside producer while also feeling that their creative efforts were not up to scratch. It shows just about everywhere. The record has a drab, dry tone where its instruments feel lone and separate. The baselines rumble in repetition with a tone that feels distant from the hazy guitars. They reside in a narrow, chromatic space, dull and meandering. The hypnotic wash of pedal effects and reverb offer up little depth or texture unlike before.

Its fractions from being right but these small differences in feeling turn the songs into dull drones. The title track has some merit as layers of creepy synths and loose, shaky pianos add some much needed depth. The drum machine too is lacking in arrangement variety. The tone is dull and grinding, lacking natural echo and creativity that got it by on Garlands. In front of it all Fraser sings with a routine, that distance between instruments amplify a sore tiredness in her performance. As the band have described it themselves, its not a good record but it should be said the title track holds up okay. Its Laugh Lines and Hazel that offer little musically, further exposed by this drab production style. Disappointing but not a representation of whats to come.

Rating: 2/10

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Killing Joke "Killing Joke" (2003)

 
One of our first musical journeys of old is that of Killing Joke, which remains unfinished having gotten a little tiring wading through their lengthy and varied discography. The group split after Democracy and then seven years later reunited for this second self titled record which resembles some of the excellence displayed on the most recent Pylon. I was aware of its legend, having brought Dave Grohl of Nirvana onboard to play drums. The two bands historically had a record label dispute over the resemblance of Come As You Are to Eighties. If I remember the story, that have Dave actually discovered Killing Joke, becoming a big fan and offering his services here.

This second self titled offering is a concise construct of crunching distortion guitars and battering drums led by front man Jaz Coleman's commanding presences. He shapes the musics angular, aggressive tone to fit his dystopian mold of political corruption and corporate influence leading us down a path of total control. Practically every song reaches into this topicality, criticizing institutional powers and delving into paranoid, conspiratorial takes on world events. A lot of it is agreeable and some steps a little beyond my own personal acceptance but as an artistic expression the instrumentals illuminate his stance.  Much of it has aged well but a few over reaching tracks like Implant inferring control through DNA and micro chip insertion sound outlandish. Then again we all walk around with personal portable tracking devices in our pockets and most people whimsically send of blood samples to data broker firms in the guise of learning about heritage as well as health.

This theme is one I engage with, it gets me thinking where lyrics are not usually not a key focal point for me, It was nice to have that dimension bring challenge. The instrumentals behind them vary song to song but are for the most part excellent. Blood On Your Hands out stands out as an exemplary song. Brooding Industrial drives of hypnotic force erupts into cyclical intensity as high lead guitar noise wails over looping bass lines. Its the typical affair, big slabs of crunchy sound droning in repetition with verse chorus shifts between riffs. Lots of meaty palm mute chugging rhythms counterpart to expansive guitar constructs that pivot from the mechanical drive into atmospheric plunges. Its pretty much the best of what this band have done over the years rolled up into a new package. Not entirely persuasive if not in the right mood but certainly an impressive comeback record!

Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Cocteau Twins "Lullabies" (1982)


This wasn't part of the original plan but with a bunch of EP releases between albums I though we might as well do the deep dive! I am curious enough, so checking out these three leftover songs from the Garlands session was a bit of fun! Lullabies was released just a month after their debut and its three songs represent different approaches that clearly would not of fit the mold. Its production is also a little beefed up with stronger bass lines, balanced out percussion and a louder Fraiser at the front.
 
 Feathers-Oar-Blades is her moment to open up her voice, become more involved in the music, paint it with her singing. Its a brighter track that relives itself of the dreary grey much of Garlands resided within. Not particularly memorable but the following Alas Dies Laughing take the opposite direction, almost to dark for the full length. Its actually reminiscent of Gothic outfit Christian Death and their gloomy, creepy guitar leads. The bands guitarist Guthrie emulates this tone well, layering and overlapping his eerie melodies and guitar noises with subtle reverberations.

Lastly there is It's All But An Ark Lark. A lengthy eight minute crawl propped up by the perpetual pounding of its warm tom drums and higher pitched bass kicks. Its a slightly hypnotic, atmospheric affair with Fraiser's overlapping singing sounding a little contrasted to the warm bass line and general tone. Its all interesting but obviously these songs didn't quite fit the bill and as an EP simply offer some insight to where the band were at. What was most interesting where how a connection to Gothic influences is made obvious. Of course that music scene was born of Punk and Post-Punk too.

Rating: 3/10

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Papa Roach "Infest" (2000)

 
In my youth, somewhere between Metallica and then Dimmu Borgir being both favorite band and attachment to my youthful identity, Papa Roach took the spotlight for a while as the classic Last Resort took the airwaves over like a virus. It was on MTV that I first heard the song. My sister insisted I should come to the living and check out Last Resort which would end up being played every hour it would seem. I was immediately hooked, heading to the record store I got my hands on a limited edition metallic case of the record! Infest then became a total and utter binge record.

Every moment and lyric of this record is engraved in my mind but it hasn't aged well. Infest is probably the embodiment of a relatively average band hitting the nerve of a trend. This is quite possibly the most cast molded, atypical Nu Metal record I can think of. Capturing the angsty tone of the times and with a few well written songs, this album simply reeks of Nu Metal, both the best and worse aspects of it. Being from a particularly difficult and depressing point in my life, it has that mental attachment to baggage I'm done with. Whats left is the same tone, mood and emotion in the music itself. Quite possibly a clear reason I bonded with it so much at the time.

Stumbling onto Vice's documentary about the hit song, it had me thinking back over this record and so I wanted to get these words of my chest. The album itself is well formed, fantastic production has the guitars popping with a dense, warm distortion that is very accessible. Drums and bass mix in well around them as a focal point for melody and rhythm. Bass lines often offer up good iterations and soft harmonization. Guitars have great dynamics with overlapping slabs of syncopated Drop D power chords and lead melodies. Its straightforward songwriting but again well formed.

Where the criticism lands is in front man Jacoby Shaddix camp. His singing and screams are pretty darn fantastic in the right stride, the Rap Metal incursions however are definitely dated and lacking lasting power. Its the depressive, angsty lyrics, a moaning of teenage growing pains that inject a dark and self defeating message into the record. Every song is downtrodden and burdensome, no light or relief comes along. This is the art of wallowing in self pity. Hard to tolerate from a matured frame of mind and personally dark for how reflective and identifiable they were at the time.

That tone is what takes the record down a couple pegs for me. Sounding like a broken record, it again comes with dated, of the era moments, particularly in the Rap Metal camp Nu Metal was adjacent to. Shaddix's raps are competent, kinda of fun but lyrically unimpressive. Listening again, weak moments in the music arrive mostly from the lyric sheet and also with these raps. Injections of turntable scratches and a couple moments where they emulate the trend in someone else's name do sour in reflection. The breakdown rap section on Revenge is a complete ripoff of Korn's lead guitar style. Somehow I never spotted it at the time.

Putting the best in the front, tracks two to six represent the best of the band, Between Angles And Insects being one fantastic song that holds up. After that the weaker tracks experiment a little, offering similar concepts not so well executed. The nine minute self loathing indulgence of Throw Away stands out for its pivot into a Reggae tinged slowdown with a line that embodies everything about the records tone. "We are the future, the twenty first century, dyslexic, glue sniffing cyber sluts, with homicidal minds and handguns". Oh how do I wish I'd found Rollins Band instead of this indulgence in self defeat. Its a bittersweet record for me, the instrumentals are wonderful, bounce, soft grooves, aggression and melody meld well, yet its angsty lyrical premise is so tired on me. This might be the last time I ever listen to it in full again.

Rating: 6/10

Monday, 4 January 2021

Clipping "There Existed An Addiction To Blood" (2019)

 
I'm struggling, yet to form a strong bond but on this outing I very much hear a conceptual angle playing out in the form of deconstruction. The picking apart of ideas, tropes and normalites become apparent on a handful of tracks that make up this seventy minute meaty slug of cold artistry. Experimental Hip Hop trio Clipping have been on my radar for a while but I've found myself unable to connect with the critical praise Ive seen heaped upon them. I have however enjoyed the challenge and appreciate the immense talent of rapper Daveed Diggs and their Avant-Garde production style, which raised eyebrows on their debut album CLPPNG, featuring a rigid yet rapid rap riffling off over the grating sound of an alarm clock.

There Existed An Addiction To Blood is the groups third, including a bunch of features which mostly emphasize what seems most obvious to me. The challenging nature of hearing highly involved lyrics over ambience and noise makes much of Diggs raps a harrowing and dark narrative to follow but his guests seem to line up with a strong through line. Rattling off typical Gangster Rap and club hooks over menacing abrasive noise and unnerving screams, Diggs flips the perceived glorification on its head. Many themes common to the gang and club music get deconstructed as both verses and juxtaposed hooks get sung in contrast to the norm. This is where the instrumentals shine, the comfort and tunefulness is voided and replaced by uncomfortable, grating hashes of Industrial and Noise. Its tone molding that paints a picture of the uncomfortable reality behind the topics and narratives shared.

This artistic stride only occurs in fractures for me, between it detours of interlude ambience and crushing noise distortion simply drone on. There is also a fair bit of convention where kick and snare snap into place to form more digestible songs, ironically in this convention they tend to loose a spark. It tends to take place when a guest steps on the beat to give the record some relief between the challenging darkness. Ultimately, the moments of genius play out not quite to my taste and I again appreciate what Clipping do but find myself struggling to create a clear picture of the record with all the chaos going on. No doubt though I will continue to follow this act and see where they go with their unique and crafty music.

Rating: 5/10

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Cocteau Twins "Garlands" (1982)

 
New year, new journey. To kick of 2021 I have picked out the Cocteau Twins, a band who's legacy on Ethereal music is well known to me, they are a huge influence on one of my favorite groups Autumns Grey Solace. I'm dead keen on two of the Scottish Trio's albums but Ive never dived much deeper and that's what we will now undertake.

Starting with their dreary, cold and haunting debut Garlands, released late in 1982 on 4AD Records, they ride a wave of Post-Punk bands exploring new territory and at this stage show glimmers of whats to come. Its of the era, bold upfront baselines permeate the music with solid drives of rhythm and marching tune as wails of effect soaked guitar noise create this eerie ambience of atmosphere, pale and bleak yet densely textured from its narrow confines within the mix. Screeching chords and disjointed melodies play with a grainy quality. The fretwork loops back on itself, panning in stereo, circulating ideas without progression. The music plods on in a consistently depressing manor, monochromatic like the unending grey skies of rainfall.

It was not as I expected, I actually found its temperament most comparable to Lycia's classic Cold. It too being a shivering and dark sombre affair of nightly ambiguity and unease. Yet of course the attraction to all this is the smothering mood of dreary music that can conjure the imagination of darker meditative places. Garlands never relentless from that dreary yet oddly relaxing tone. Its best releases from the tension come with the occasional baseline or lead guitar that wanders off to a warmer state of being but only ever for a brief moment before being pulled back to the norm.

The counterbalance is singer Elizabeth Fraser. Soon to evolve into the acts crowning jewel, at this point she is still finding her voice with a somewhat timid performance that is equal too the murky tone. Soft and shy in stature and performance, she is often matched by the instrumental power but her grace is felt often with beautifully sung words and reoccurring vibrato inflection at the end of her sentences. It may be mostly in the mix as her voice does tend to bleed into the guitars with the baselines still prowling proud, unhindered as they march forever forward with a firm stride.

This is a fascinating record, for its songs tend to feel like singular ideas whirling in repetition. It is dazzling in a curious ability to lure one into its stormy arms. Despite being buddy and murky its production aids the concept well with the drum machines competently keeping pace as its reverberated snare strikes frequently with a cutting harshness occasionally thrown to pitch shifting echos. The only drawback is Fraser's vocals, they sound underutilized an quiet, knowing she will hit spectacular heights with records to come. A truly dark and spooky starting point for a band that will bring much glamour and beauty to this spellbound flavor of darkness.

Favorite Track: Garlands
Rating: 7/10

Saturday, 2 January 2021

Blood Incantation "Hidden History Of The Human Race" (2019)

 
Catching wind of high praise thrown its way, Hidden History Of The Human Race is a well articulated Death Metal record for fans new and old, a bridge between styles within a sub-genre normally tired to the bone after thirty years of evolution that has stagnated in recent memory. Denver based Blood Incantation hit a fantastical stride on this sophomore album, boasting four dynamic, progressive songs, one of which is a lengthy eighteen minute epic that in all reality feels like two songs bolted together through effect soaked acoustic interludes that play up its alien, cosmic theming, both present in the music, song names and on the otherworldly album artwork.

Its Opens up with an aggressive plunge of snarling fretwork deploying pinch squeals, a battering of blast beats and the oldskool roar of Paul Riedl. The groove and bombast lasts but a minute before the atmospheric dimension opens up. Howling guitar leads, frantic drumming and alien melodies drill in its angle before chopping through a riff fest interspersed fiery bursts of guitar lead and crushing growls that permeate the music through its dense reverberations. At times it borders Doom Metal with slow, drawn out groans that brood with intensity in a menacing manor.

This shade of brutality has it all, flickers of Nile, Morbid Angel and Thrash infused era Death show their influences on the guitar work. Whats best is how these songs open up into atmospheric lunges of crawling pace, the percussion breaks down and livens up again in bursts of energy. The albums third song explores these dynamics further with a guitar tone led song, playing into Post-Metal territory as its acoustic guitars get awash in a haze of textural distortion. We even get treated to a flickering of psychedelic old school synths emerging from a foggy synth interlude on the eighteen minute juggernaut. A brief moment but one that signifies all elements have purpose.

The spur of excitement this band conjure is not a short one, every listen has been lively and fruitful. These songs hold up as its alien, cosmic inspired atmosphere holds a lasting curiosity, conjuring mysterious imaginations of what could be out there. It has been a common theme in recent years for bands to play the nostalgia card, yet pulling off truly inspired music. This is another one to add to the pile, Blood Incantation clearly derive ideas, tones and techniques from the greats that walked before them but in this instance they have pulled it altogether with a touch of class felt best in its frequent lunges into shivering atmospheres of alien unease. With great vision and a wonderful execution, the album is one for any fan of the brutal genre.

Rating: 8/10

Friday, 1 January 2021

Soley "Endless Summer" (2017)

 

Endless Summer somehow doesn't seem a fitting title, perhaps the musics charm simply engulfs the current environment. With cold, pristine, shimmering pianos, a spell of calming serenity is ushered in. All too perfect for this winter and Christmas season. Its been my recent walking music of late, making it hard to not associate it with the cold weather and anticipation of spending time with family. Most the songs blossom with strings, percussion and deeper piano notes bubbling up in the later parts of these songs. It light a warmth under its brittle high keys where the tracks start from. In these denser moments one can feel the smile of the sun, a carefree spirit of summer. For me though, its been cast as a snowy record fit for early sunsets and chilly breezes.

Icelandic musician and charming singer Soley has somehow escaped my grasp. Stunned by her debut We Sink, I've managed to folly the simple task of following her output over the years. That will have to be corrected. I remember her music having a twisted shadowy edge in moments, its not present on this outing. She forges a genuine warmth, the chemistry between these graceful serine pianos and her soft, vulnerable voice is endlessly uplifting from a place just shy of melancholy and sadness. It is most often felt in the elegant piano performances, which tend to start a song drifting, bare and lonely. Soley rescues them with human expression as her voice and accompanying instruments lift them to a safe, warm and carefree place.

The playing is wonderfully dynamic. Chords and melodies weave with quite and loud dynamics, inviting measures of reverberation and a timely sense for where the music will suddenly grow with an ushering in of synths or percussion. Not hinging on any given pace or structure, the pianos lead, playing of itself, music that blossoms of its own accord. Although there may be patterns and structures, rarely does it feel obvious or like repetition is running its rotations. All of its eight songs tend to sweep you up into its own moment and hold you there. A truly captivating listen, always as a whole.

If I turn my mind to criticism, I can only turn it to myself. Her wondrous voice holds a curious space, feeling adjacent to both happiness and sorrow, childlike innocence and reflective maturity. I should of perhaps taken time to read the lyrics as her singing is not of the discernible sorts I am usually exposed too. Somehow I always listen to the emotion of a voice, not the actual words. Here there is emotions in droves. Having been spellbound for a while now, binging this record on every walk, I am now left with that familiar sentiment of wondering how this will hold up in time to come. I'm pretty certain this ones a keeper. Great record, will have to dig up another one!

Rating: 9/10