On The Monthly: September 2016

Wicked late I know, no particular order

Jason Sharp: A Boat Upon Its Blood

“A brooding sense of instability sets in from the outset of A Boat Upon Its Blood. Rattling percussive clicks emerge from the crevices with a warm glow of electronic drone filling the barren soundscape. Around the midpoint, the audience is granted an element of melody but the uneasy darkness remains ingrained in every developmental move. With each song, bass saxophone player Jason Sharp continues to disregard comfortable resolution, utilizing the captivating nature of dissonance to its full capacity. Sharp also displays a mastery of texture throughout the record. Just as the bass saxophone lurks in the background as a simple cog in the machine, elements of ambient, electronic, and acoustic musical practices all circulate throughout the project with no single element taking over the majority of the focus.

Bookended by two long-form pieces, the record dives into a slightly more dynamic pair of tracks in the middle. In doing so Sharp avoids formula, again feeding into the idea of instability. “A Blast at Best,” the second of these tracks, offers the most direct assault on the ears. Every moment in this track is filled with abrasive sounds: from fuzzy blasts of distortion to screeching saxophone and violin sounds, Sharp truly puts all his cards on the table. This is where track listing comes into play. From the beginning, the album breathes intensity; however, it also leaves room for growth by reserving the most chaotic elements until the second half of the album. Following this loud outgoing burst, Sharp returns to long-form ideology on “Still I Sit, With You Inside Me.” Violin grasps the spotlight for eight minutes of heart-wrenching melodic work before the second part of the piece moves into hopeful bliss and a final push into the anxious intensity so present throughout the project.”

Read the rest here

Angel Olsen: My Woman

“Admittedly a lyric like “You’ll Never Be Mine” can go a multitude of different ways, many of them poor, but Angel Olsen has a real talent for pulling the listener into her world and making them feel all of her emotions.  “My Women,” Olsen’s latest effort, follows loose themes of heart-ache and love with cool vocal stylings and folk-rock induced instrumentals making for a rather intense emotional journey.  Beginning with a short, stripped back tune, the album first touches on some slightly cliché themes of break-ups, yearning, and hatred with quick-hitting rock songs.  The second half of the record strikes a slightly more mature chord with long-form tunes depicting specific moments of Olsen’s life with stunning emotional impact.  Sonically speaking, the album finds enough of a niche in the general indie sounds of today with rich vocal production and varying instrumental set-ups; Some songs read as straight-forward acoustic hits, whereas others reach near symphonic heights with rotating pianos, strings, and guitars.  Perhaps the album is not forging an entirely new path, but it certainly doesn’t lack in beauty.”

Read it

Danny Brown: Atrocity Exhibition

“Just as Danny Brown’s verses stand on the edge of sanity, the beats on his new aptly titled “Atrocity Exhibition” ride waves of wild instability with rapid change coming with each passing track.  Perhaps a bit more neon-infused than your average post-punk album, the aesthetic of the more instrumental cuts thrives on driving bass lines and bleak guitar sounds in a similar fashion to Joy Division, making for an intriguing combination of genres.  In a manner only Danny Brown could achieve, the lyrics jump between humorous metaphors and meaningful anecdotal evidence from Brown’s life.  When it comes down to it, Danny Brown has a larger than life personality on all accounts and although this may lead to problems if Brown’s extravagance overstays its welcome, the album’s dedication to classic aesthetics of hip hop keep everything palpable.”

Read the review here

Preoccupations: S/T

“One year removed from their self-titled album “Viet Cong,” newly named Preoccupations continue to find discord in the darkest depths of the 1980s.  A pressing punk sound driven by bass with a baritone vocal drawl at the helm is always going to be inseparable from the post-punk era, meaning that the album must be marked by how it provides revisions to the formula.  Beginning with brooding drones, album headliner “Anxiety” only emerges from the ominous space around one minute into the song.  Certain songs melt into each other giving an element of continuous soundscape.  The 11-minute-long “Memory” may epitomize this notion as the middle of the song finds a completely new vocal melody before harping on more drone sounds as the second half of the album sets in.  To some degree, the album operates more in the fashion of post-rock than anything else as the sound is not only marked by brilliant songwriting, but by the sweeping way in which each new sound connects.”

Read the whole review here

A Tribe Called Red: We Are the Halluci Nation

wrote a brief review of this for http://cultmontreal.com/‘s print edition:

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Angel Olsen-My Woman: Album Review

Admittedly a lyric like “You’ll Never Be Mine” can go a multitude of different ways, many of them poor, but Angel Olsen has a real talent for pulling the listener into her world and making them feel all of her emotions.  “My Women,” Olsen’s latest effort, follows loose themes of heart-ache and love with cool vocal stylings and folk-rock induced instrumentals making for a rather intense emotional journey.  Beginning with a short, stripped back tune, the album first touches on some slightly cliché themes of break-ups, yearning, and hatred with quick-hitting rock songs.  The second half of the record strikes a slightly more mature chord with long-form tunes depicting specific moments of Olsen’s life with stunning emotional impact.  Sonically speaking, the album finds enough of a niche in the general indie sounds of today with rich vocal production and varying instrumental set-ups; Some songs read as straight-forward acoustic hits, whereas others reach near symphonic heights with rotating pianos, strings, and guitars.  Perhaps the album is not forging an entirely new path, but it certainly doesn’t lack in beauty.

The first track, “Intern,” introduces many different aspects of the record.  Centered around the idea of “just another intern with a resume,” the song immediately addresses some of the issues facing young people who have yet to figure out there lives.  Although they may have developed a fantastic resume over the years and worked very hard, young people still need to prove themselves and find their way in their careers.  This also applies to relationships as young folks are often faced with breakups and separation, which taps into this concept of working very hard at something, only to have to start over with something else.  The instrumental on this track is much more stripped back than most that follow, however, the tense vocal styling is rampant throughout the record, so the song still provides a sensible introduction.

For the rest of the first half of the record, Olsen mostly sticks to love songs of varying intensity.  “Shut Up and Kiss Me” finds Olsen playfully yearning for a significant other, whereas “Not Gonna Kill You” delves into her complex relationship with the emotion.  Beginning with turmoil, “my watch is blurry when I look down at my hands,” Olsen wrestles back and forth with the harmful aspects of love eventually coming to the conclusion that this “is the kind of love I’d always dreamed to be/However painful, let it break down all of me.”  The notion of desire for harm comes into play elsewhere in this act of the album; Specifically, on “Never Be Mine,” where Olsen cries “I will watch you turn and walk away.”  “Not Gonna Kill You” also alludes to some of the more momentous instrumental efforts on the second half of the record.  At nearly five minutes in length, the tune is the longest up until this point and the rather epic build on the song indicates a shift from the quick-hitting bliss of the three preceding tracks.

After pondering deceit and heartache on the cool, droning “Hearth Shaped Face,” Olsen hammers home her instrumental prowess on the emotionally heavy “Sister.”  Despite explicitly talking about another person throughout the verses on the song, “Sister” showcases Olsen at her most introspective.  In the first verse, Olsen highlights the love she feels for the other character, but she hints at how this love has affected her understanding of herself: “Oh, the truth I thought I learned/And then it finally came along/Turned around and then it’s there/All the love I thought was gone.”  Each chorus focusses on how Olsen wants to be with the other person she’s talking about and the second verse depicts loss: “I can see your face/Alive and gone at once…You fall together, fall apart.”  Then, as the guitar festers into a raging solo, Olsen continuously repeats the phrase “All my life I thought I’d change,” returning to this idea of self-awareness.  This continues into “Those Were the Days” as on the surface the song sticks to nostalgia, but Olsen sticks in some lines about her past relationship and her current wrestling with its validity: “I hear you saying I’m the one but I wish I could tell.”  Through and through, the “self” remains central to the work even when Olsen discusses relationships and other aspects of her life.

Perhaps the main achievement of the record is Olsen’s uncanny ability to depict emotions and how deeply she is affected by them.  Love songs aren’t necessarily a new found idea, but the idea of love fundamentally changing our understanding of ourselves is rarely discussed at length in this particular fashion.  Besides the introspection of “Sister” and “Those Were the Days,” “Woman,” one of the last songs on the album, showcases Olsen playing with her understanding of womanhood in daring her significant other “to understand What makes [her] a woman.” This may also allude to the title of the album “My Woman.”  Admittedly, I’m not sure of Olsen’s sexuality so I could be reading into things a bit too much, but the title phrase seems to evoke thoughts about Olsen’s sense of self and gender rather than simply her relationships and significant others.  Each emotional milestone or hardship is marked by Olsen growing as a person and taking time to look at herself in the mirror.  The value of “self” throughout the record juxtaposes the stigma of most of pop music’s history that has forced women to sing about the men they love more than themselves.

“My Woman” is certainly a heavy emotional journey.  With each passing track, Olsen dives deeper into her understanding of herself and how love affects this understanding.  To support the increasing depth in the lyricism, instrumentals grow from the subdued keyboards on “Intern” into the massive guitar solo of “Sister.”  It’s hard to consider a folk/rock record unbelievably ground-breaking in the current musical landscape, but Olsen’s artistry is about as airtight as it gets.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10 Solid folk/rock record with brilliant lyrics.

Danny Brown-Atrocity Exhibition: Album Review

I know my reviews have been hyper positive lately but I wanted to get through all of the good stuff from September because I was busy covering Pop Montreal.

Just as Danny Brown’s verses stand on the edge of sanity, the beats on his new aptly titled “Atrocity Exhibition” ride waves of wild instability with rapid change coming with each passing track.  Perhaps a bit more neon-infused than your average post-punk album, the aesthetic of the more instrumental cuts thrives on driving bass lines and bleak guitar sounds in a similar fashion to Joy Division, making for an intriguing combination of genres.  In a manner only Danny Brown could achieve, the lyrics jump between humorous metaphors and meaningful anecdotal evidence from Brown’s life.  When it comes down to it, Danny Brown has a larger than life personality on all accounts and although this may lead to problems if Brown’s extravagance overstays its welcome, the album’s dedication to classic aesthetics of hip hop keep everything palpable.

Comprised of a lot of short tunes, “Atrocity Exhibition” thrives on overarching lyrical themes and cohesive flow from song to song.  Although all of the tracks flow into each other well, certain sections tend to operate in the same way.  For instance, the first three songs successfully introduce the album with open instrumentals and words about Brown’s drug habits, paranoia, and dangerous past.  “Downward Spiral” frames a particularly dark scene: “I’m sweating like I’m in a rave/Been in this room for 3 days/Think I’m hearing voices…Only time I use [my phone] when I tell the dealer drop it off…Had to fuck em both raw, keep my fingers crossed.”  The haunting nature of the rock instrumental supports the dark lyrical ideas touching upon isolation, drug use, and danger.  The notion of danger in particular carries over to the next song, “Tell Me What I Don’t Know,” where Brown discusses his experience in the streets: “Shit is like a cycle/You get out, I go in, this is not the life for us.”  The idea of Brown and his friends on a cycle of facing time may also relate to the nature of his drug use.  Fearful lyricism is matched by the lower vocal register rapping, starkly contrasting the usual wild flow that generally expresses an air of confidence.  “Rolling Stone” is a relatively similar song about Brown’s wild lifestyle with a hook that fits into the same moods of the previous two tracks.

After theses moody introductory songs, Brown takes a turn for electric energy sparked by the hefty single “Really Doe.”  Featuring the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Ab Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt, this tune hits hard from front to back.  Perhaps this may not be a departure from the path as the beat kind of feels like a classic 90s cut, but considering the re-contextualization of hip-hop driven by more commercially successful artists, the combination of four relatively traditional MCs reads as refreshing.  For the next four songs, the album takes this energy and runs with it.  “Ain’t it Funny” sticks out with a unique, punching beat; Quick bass hits drive the rhythm with psychotic horn sounds adding to the wall of sound.  Brown’s words still manage to out sing the heavy beat with biting lyrics about his drug habits.  “Golddust” and “White Lines” follow, again emphasizing energy, before “Pneumonia” signals a slight change of pace.

The second half of the record is a bit more polarizing than the first.  Brown quickly toggles through vastly different moods as each track passes by.  “Pneumonia” is a bit less intense than the eccentric ploys that precede it, but it’s followed by absolute insanity on “Dance in the Water.”  Then, the low vocal styling of “Tell Me What I Don’t Know” returns on “From The Ground,” where Brown addresses some of the struggles that face his artistic life style.  Brown begins by talking about his rise to fame: “I deserve the finer things/Told myself back then/When I used to ride a Schwinn/Now I’m on a tour bus/Going places I ain’t never been” then he talks about how he was put in jail, which essentially ruined the career he had built.  This might speak to the experience of many rappers as any kind of success may put a target on their back and put them in prison.  He also discusses how his art drives him to work all night and lose sleep and compares this work to that of a slave “Get it how you live, why I’m out here in the field.”  Although rap can gain him great success, Danny must continuously work to maintain the wall he has built, an issue that would not be nearly as pressing if he were white in a traditional job.

As the album reaches its conclusion, Brown continues this idea of rapid shift in opposite directions.  Considering his lyrical ideas, this may serve to represent a manic depressive state.  It seems that Brown, although occasionally confident in his success, has a sense of anxiety that follows each of his words.  In the beginning of the album, drug habits reveal their dangerous implications and Brown feels trapped by them.  Issues of fame are interspersed within loud, fast verses as Brown goes from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows without any control.  This tension is reflected in the instrumentals a well.  Boundary pushing beats are filled with instrumental parts on the edge of falling apart, challenging Brown to remain in control of the song.

This album is certainly quite brilliant.  Danny Brown comes through with some of his most potent material yet and his advanced instrumentals seek to forge new paths in hip-hop.  Admittedly, Brown’s flows are a bit of an acquired taste and his beats might not result in major in the genre as they are still a bit rooted in the past, but the album is certainly a great success.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

Great Album.

 

Preoccupations-Preoccupations: Album Review

One year removed from their self-titled album “Viet Cong,” newly named Preoccupations continue to find discord in the darkest depths of the 1980s.  A pressing punk sound driven by bass with a baritone vocal drawl at the helm is always going to be inseparable from the post-punk era, meaning that the album must be marked by how it provides revisions to the formula.  Beginning with brooding drones, album headliner “Anxiety” only emerges from the ominous space around one minute into the song.  Certain songs melt into each other giving an element of continuous soundscape.  The 11-minute-long “Memory” may epitomize this notion as the middle of the song finds a completely new vocal melody before harping on more drone sounds as the second half of the album sets in.  To some degree, the album operates more in the fashion of post-rock than anything else as the sound is not only marked by brilliant songwriting, but by the sweeping way in which each new sound connects.

Described by lead singer Matt Flegel as a song about “changing as a band,” “Anxiety” begins the album with a conflict of mood.  The triumphant nature of the melody and bass line is pitted against a chorus reading “all-encompassing Anxiety.”  After each chorus comes a shimmering high-register melody that could also be read as glorious and beautiful, yet the track wholly achieves a certain melancholy in the delivery of each element.  Flegel’s monochromatic personality and deep voice bring a certain disinterest to the catchy melody with the high keyboard line achieving a sense of longing.  The lyrics also touch upon some of the struggles of critical success: “I’m spinning in a vacuum/Deteriorating to great acclaim.”  Especially considering the band’s history with a controversial name and the short amount of time that has passed since their last album, it is clear that a lot of internal conflicts will drive the thematic material for the work.  “Monotony” continues the dreariness with gloomy vocal delivery and depressing lyrics: “And it’s bleak and incomplete.”  As the song fades into the next, pressing synths come through at a much faster pace to prep for the next song.

Coming together with a more punching vocal delivery and driving instrumentals, “Zodiac” makes for an intense rock sound.  Flegel sounds at the edge of breakdown as his rugged baritone voice remains raw and unrelenting.  Again, lyrics address the issues of fame, the line “Upped and upped, a humanizing way/But you can’t feel happy every day” suggesting that although one may be lifted up by the people around them, on tour or what have you, sadness is still a relentless reality.  Adding to the haunting nature of the sound are lyrics about zodiac signs and sleepwalking which may be a metaphor for fans who follow the crowd and are not actually engaged in the music: “Sleepwalkers out/Of the Zodiac.”  Sonically alone, Preoccupations sit in a particularly dark place and the idea of zodiac adds another element to the mystery.  Standing at 11 minutes long with vocal work from Flegel and Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner, the next tune, “Memory,” stands as the album’s centerpiece.  The piece will go down for its brilliant change of direction.  First, a straight-ahead Preoccupations song ensues with Flegel singing over a disjointed groove.  Then, around three minutes into the song, the groove begins looping faster and faster until a new one takes its place.  This is when the song takes a turn for the gorgeous.  Boeckner’s triumphant melody softly floats in on soaring high notes with a shimmering guitar line picking up.  Flegel re-enters for a new chorus bringing the song full circle.

The second half of the album continues the wave of the first with “Degraded” and “Fever” standing as highlights.  Aesthetically speaking, the album is extraordinarily well thought out.  Bass and guitars become a small piece of the puzzle as melodic layering gives the sound a weighty depth.  In “Fever,” for instance, the guitar melodies become the main focus after each chorus, but the groove of the song is driven by oscillating keyboards and synths.  Guitars only breach the soupy surface on occasion rather than constantly supporting the melody.   Bass also takes a backseat during this song, rarely doing more than filling out the lower end, as opposed to some of the more bass-centric grooves at the beginning of the album.  This contributes to the unpredictability of the songs as instances of structured rock grooves are still marked by creative instrumental approaches.

Perhaps this sparring of using guitars and bass in a traditional punk or post-punk manner may offer some explanation for the way the album develops.  Just as a rock song on the album may be disguised by unpredictable use of instrumentals, these songs themselves can be disguised by the unpredictable pacing of the album.  Preoccupations will occasionally add pressure to the timing of their music by beginning their songs right on top of each other.  Then, when a climax hits, the band cools done with a couple minutes of drones.  Some of these rock sounds can easily be poorly executed, but by maintaining an aspect of fluidity the band keeps the listener guessing.

This album is well put together as a whole, but it must be considered that these sounds have to some extent existed already.  In a sense, Preoccupations are masters of rock and punk and their contributions to the genre probably will not stand the test of an extremely long period of time.  Yet again, with all things considered the group has successfully re-introduced themselves to the world with fantastic songwriting, soundscaping skills, and aesthetic mastery.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

Not a completely ground breaking work but certainly a brilliant example of rock for 2016.

Jason Sharp-A Boat Upon Its Blood: Album Review

Wrote a review of the new Jason Sharp project for the CKUT music blog.  Gonna slap an 8/10 on it read the review below:

“A brooding sense of instability sets in from the outset of A Boat Upon Its Blood. Rattling percussive clicks emerge from the crevices with a warm glow of electronic drone filling the barren soundscape. Around the midpoint, the audience is granted an element of melody but the uneasy darkness remains ingrained in every developmental move. With each song, bass saxophone player Jason Sharp continues to disregard comfortable resolution, utilizing the captivating nature of dissonance to its full capacity. Sharp also displays a mastery of texture throughout the record. Just as the bass saxophone lurks in the background as a simple cog in the machine, elements of ambient, electronic, and acoustic musical practices all circulate throughout the project with no single element taking over the majority of the focus.

Bookended by two long-form pieces, the record dives into a slightly more dynamic pair of tracks in the middle. In doing so Sharp avoids formula, again feeding into the idea of instability. “A Blast at Best,” the second of these tracks, offers the most direct assault on the ears. Every moment in this track is filled with abrasive sounds: from fuzzy blasts of distortion to screeching saxophone and violin sounds, Sharp truly puts all his cards on the table. This is where track listing comes into play. From the beginning, the album breathes intensity; however, it also leaves room for growth by reserving the most chaotic elements until the second half of the album. Following this loud outgoing burst, Sharp returns to long-form ideology on “Still I Sit, With You Inside Me.” Violin grasps the spotlight for eight minutes of heart-wrenching melodic work before the second part of the piece moves into hopeful bliss and a final push into the anxious intensity so present throughout the project.”

Read the rest here

-Donovan Burtan