Clark-Death Peak: Album Review

Deep into his career on Warp Records, UK’s Chris Clark is still surprising.  “Death Peak” continues his long streak of placing sound-art leaning material over a strong sense of rhythmic drive, but in terms of sheer length of songs this is his most ambitious project to date and the album’s early techno-induced numbers make for a new connotation to his sound.  The drama at the end of the work is huge to say the least with giant, shimmering stabs and Pink Floyd child-choirs coming into play as pulsing tracks bleed into one another, but the album holds onto fun dance-ability for the whole front half.  There’s a great deal of variety in the project and the logical march from light to mean makes it digestible and addicting.

Clark alludes to the violence that will inhabit the end of his project in the ominous first track.  After sparse melodies in a light, metallic texture, larger melodic motions start to inhibit the space with frightening vocals pushing towards a dark sonic landscape.  Although the next two tracks spend a lot more time on light-hearted material, this opening track helps prepare the taste buds for what’s to come.

“Butterfly Prowler” follows with a bouncy synth melody that remains in the equation throughout as the surroundings change color about 50 times.  Vocal pops on the twos and fours add a quirky dance vibe, before throbbing echoes add a dark smolder to the middle of the track.  “Peak Magnetic” picks up where “Prowler” left off with more jolting energy, this time a looping keyboard line remaining central throughout.

 

The album never has a moment where a song isn’t logically incorporated, but “Hoova” certainly heralds in a shift in mood.  The tracks very first moment is a big industrial explosion before relentless percussive noise takes over for the front-half of the track.  However, whereas songs like “Slap Drones” or “Catastrophe Anthem” only rev-up the storm, “Hoova” strives for a bit of a different ending.  Around the four minute mark, the song takes a turn to the atmospheric with soaring melodies and delicate vocals making for a break from the chaos.

“Slap Drones” is driving from the very beginning, but not in a completely violent manner.  Light shades of snare sound open before an abstract but club-worthy beat sets in.  Around the last 20 seconds of the track, the pummeling industrial sound is all-encompassing but again, Clark showcases an example of momentary clarity within the hectic intensity of the back half of his record, which makes his ploy into violence dynamic and palletable.  The album continues to amp things up for the next few tracks until the last number, “Un U.K,” offers a 10-minute reprisal of sorts of the path of energy on the whole album.

Clark is never one to offer an uninteresting project, but “Death Peak” is certainly an important work that utilizes his previously explored sonic talents while showcasing his ability to shine in the six to ten-minute long track format.  As he nears the second decade of his career behind the boards, it’s clear that his ambition is still strong and his talents are enough to execute his plans.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

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Kelly Lee Owens-Kelly Lee Owens: Album Review

The fact that Kelly Lee Owens spent time soaking in influences by working in record stores is clear on her debut full-length.  With hand-drums, droning strings, and varying vocal approaches all coming into play, the album taps into ambient and drone traditions while also delivering a constant stream of danceable bass lines and bouncy synth arpeggiations.

Owens sounds grown up on here. The sonic fingerprint of the project maintains a certain white sheen, Owens never throwing in tone colors popping or obnoxious.  Her melodic sense is impeccable, yet she doesn’t shove it down her listener’s throat.  Songs like “Lucid” or “Keep Walking” allude to a possible jump into the electronic pop world, whereas “8” alludes to some left-field experimentation.  Owens could explore either in more depth in the future, but her self-titled album strikes a great mix of light drive and ruminating contemplation.

A constant theme on the record is the crafting of mood before the allowance of rhythmic drive.  Songs like “Anxi” and “Lucid” gradually find a clubby groove by the end, but Owens takes time at the beginning to paint their sonic identity.  With Jenny Hval in tow, “Anxi” kicks off with a simple, low melody with a lot of delay effect before subdued drum patterns gradually settle in under the stringy vocal lines.  Around the halfway point, the track focus in on a driving drum groove with lightly touched keyboard pecks complimented by a bassy melodic line making for rousing momentum.

“Lucid” follows with a more pronounced initial vocal melody and again spends time landscaping before the crunchy synths that jump in around the two-minute mark.  Owens isn’t one to offer infectious hooks or even super structured songs, so these stark shifts in energy make the project memorable and dynamic.

Elsewhere—namely “Arthur” and “Keep Walking”—Owens elevates simple instrumental environments to enlightening heights with huge washes of vocals.  Apparently Owens’s tribute to Arthur Russell, “Arthur” opens with some textural noise and distant vocals.  The track gradually picks up a bit, but the instrumental remains rather stagnant as vocal countermelodies crash into one another over top.

Admittedly, “Keep Walking” is a bit brighter than my personal preference—I find Owens to be at her best when she’s aiming to smolder—but the end of the track is undeniably enlightening as the simple drum part and shimmering instrumental melody underpin the pillow of “oohs” and empowering main melody.

The kinship to drone music is most obvious on the ten-minute jam “8”—the tune on the record that contains the most gradual build in energy.  We open with some Alice Coltrane-esque string drones, which never really leave the equation as the whole sonic space swells over the sparse percussion.  Around the two-minute mark, Owens introduces a simple, high melodic device that doesn’t develop a whole lot, instead looping a handful of times, making for a numbing hypnosis.

Kelly Lee Owens has all her taste in the right place.  Her self-titled record carves out a nice niche in the electronic realm with killer grooves and pillows of beauty holding equal weight.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

Buddy- Ocean & Montana: EP Review

“Ocean & Montana” finds a sensible vocalist/producer relationship as Kaytranada and Buddy both strike a balance between melody and rap in a hip hop setting. The EP kicks off with “Find Me,” a tune where Buddy passes for an R&B singer, but he follows that up with some blistering bars on the quick “Guillotine.”  To this day, I would argue that Kaytranada has never released a shitty beat, but on his debut “99.9%,” the lead singer/front-person changed hands a lot, making for a bit of inconsistency. At only five tracks, one could argue that consistency should be a given here, but still it’s nice to hear Kaytranada focus his energy on one muse for a whole project.  Buddy has proven himself to be a force to be reckoned with on this EP and once again Kaytranada shows promise as the hottest young producer in hip-hop today.

After the somber, crooner tones of “Find Me” and the funk drum kit of “Guillotine,” “World of Wonders” is sweet (even though Buddy just talks about fucking).  Kaytranada throws in a bit of his cotton candy melodic ideas over another classy drum part.  Again, Buddy finds himself floating in cloudy melodic space with a bouncy pop hook to compliment rhymes in the verses.  “A Lite” carries over the lyrical bluntness (pun intended), talking about weed for three minutes.  This track is a bit more mellow but Kaytranada gives enough bite in the drum part to keep the momentum going before “Love or Something” rounds things out nicely with a return to the sharpness of “Guillotine.”

Every track is digestible and biting, making for a super fun handful of songs.  Buddy’s vocals remind me a bit of Donald Glover’s in the Childish Gambino persona.  No so much in the sense that the two sound similar, but they both have such a god ear for inflection to add a bit more of signature sound to the straightforward melodies.  On “A Lite,” Buddy goofily spits off a bunch of lines in falsetto, acting as his own backing vocalist: “OG we smoke never know street…”  Perhaps as Buddy grows up a bit, his lyrical ideas should strive for more maturity, but his personality is big enough to spread itself across this whole EP.

Also, “Find Me” shows promise in his lyrical future.  Addressing the concept of finding oneself, Buddy battles with wanting to feel loved and needing alone time—away from his girl—to clear his head: “lost and alone/come find me/I just wanna feel love/come try me…she been trying to kick it all the time but I’m just posted chillin all by myself.”  Especially in the social media age, this is a relevant and accurate take on the 20-something experience.

Buddy is a seriously fresh face in the hip-hop scene and “Ocean & Montana” shows his promise as a rap/hip-hop personality, able to throw together some super fun tracks as well as others that capture specific emotions.  I’m excited to see him grow up and hope to hear more collaboration between him and the great Kaytranada in the future.

-Donovan Burtan

7/10

 

 

On the Monthly: May 2017

I swear I’m catching up.

Jaimie Branch-Fly or Die

‘“Fly or Die” didn’t come together in a conventional manner and it owes a little bit to each of the traditions that Branch has experienced over the years.  The record seamlessly incorporates post-production guitar ramblings, live set interpolations, and dubbed over trumpet trios without losing the sense of a single paint stroke.’

Full Review

Jessica Moss-Pools of Light

“Moss doesn’t need much to craft beauty, but her many different songwriting approaches make her debut surprising at every turn.”

Full Review

Perfume Genius-No Shape

“Perfume Genius has been prolific throughout the current decade and never fallen short of staying true to their songwriting footing.  “No Shape,” their latest, isn’t earth shattering and doesn’t mark a dismissal from Hadreas’s glam-baroque pop (with a dash of heartfelt ballad) background, however, it’s a logical step forward and never falters in delivering entertaining, emotionally moving material.”

Full Review

Arca-Arca

“Arca’s video “Reverie” is a good marker for the overall effect of his self-titled work and a true must see of 2017.  Stilted up like a gazelle, Alejandro Ghersi painstakingly inches back and forth on screen, before an animalistic phallic shape emerges out of his groin and takes control of his body, leaving his face in even more pain.  From his rear, the viewer sees blood stains.  It’s confrontational, unsettling, and carries the scars of the queer experience.”

Full Review

Feist-Pleasure

‘“Baby Be Simple” finds breathtaking delicacy at the hook and “I Wish I Didn’t Miss You” rides a cathartic lilt, but the title track finds a bit of punky bounciness and “Century” throws in a collage of punching vocals.  Tackling life’s general ups and downs, her lyrics don’t cut too deep on their own, but the intimate instrumentals make for an impactful emotional experience.’

Full Review

Blanck Mass-World Eater

‘“World Eater,” the latest from UK-based industrial/noise producer Blanck Mass, pummels and jolts.  After the quick, introductory track, “Rhesus Negative” fills itself to the brim with chaotic noise—tapping into some Aphex Twin influenced vocals and a bit of a hardcore punk bluntness in the percussive sounds—for a riveting nine minutes.’

Full Review

Perfume Genius-No Shape: Album Review

Solo project of Mike Hadreas, Perfume Genius has been prolific throughout the current decade and never fallen short of staying true to their songwriting footing.  “No Shape,” their latest, isn’t earth shattering and doesn’t mark a dismissal from Hadreas’s glam-baroque pop (with a dash of heartfelt ballad) background, however, it’s a logical step forward and never falters in delivering entertaining, emotionally moving material.

The album opens with a great sampling of the dynamic range to come. We open with a tiny, twinkling piano line as Hadreas sings esoterically about how our true self is bound to come out eventually: “Even in hiding/Find it knows you.”  As he rounds the corner of his chorus, a huge explosion of instruments and vocals soars to the moon and back.  The album continuously bounces between soaring hugeness and subdued tenderness and right from the get-go Hadreas gives his listener a taste of both sides of the spectrum.

“Slip Away” follows with one of the best standalone tracks on the record. Percussive bass sounds open before Hadreas unleashes infectious catchiness with each passing lyric. The chorus flies in leaps and bounds with pounding drums, rattling cymbals, and some huge plucked melodic motions. The lyrics bleed empowerment, touching upon loving the way you want to love: “They’ll never break the shape we take/Baby let all them voices slip away.” It’s a true anthem and maintains all the momentum suggested in the introduction.

From here, the album operates in groups of songs a bit more. Ideas grow over handfuls of songs with ups in downs in energy and dynamics carrying over from track to track as well. Lyrically, “Just Like Love,” “Go Ahead,” and “Valley” continue the notion of “be yourself,” but hone in on feeling confident and effortless in public. First, Hadreas encourages a child to ignore those who judge him: “They’ll talk/Give them every reason/For child, you walk,” then “Go Ahead” takes a mission statement of ‘go ahead and judge I’m unbothered,’ before “Valley” wonders “How long must we live right/Before we don’t even have to try?”

These three tracks are all connected sonically by some slightly more subdued grooves—in comparison to the first pair of tracks—that don’t quite reach the balladic levels of later tracks like “Alan” or “Braid.” Hadreas generally works in pretty small cells with songwriting—most of his tracks don’t run much longer than three minutes—so, having three or four of them intertwined in theme and sonic pallet makes the album’s momentum rather effortless.

Later, some of Hadreas’s most breathtaking moments come when he places his voice out in space completely untethered. The final track, “Alan,” is the most straightforward example. His flying high vocals reach a blissful purity as he sings to his lover: “You need me/Rest easy/I’m here/How weird.” Elsewhere, Hadreas doesn’t completely let his listener in on his plan. “Valley” is has a nice little chugging guitar line, but all of the sudden the space is cleared for a pillow of strings (and organ?) with Hadreas crying out over the top.  He’s got the delicacy to execute these floating moments and the various approaches he takes to them makes for a varying listening experience.

Admittedly there are a few tracks here and there that are less notable than others. “Choir” and “Die 4 U” are particularly left field lyrically, but the minimalism in the sonic material suggests that the lyrics should be the main focus.  The result is a bit of stagnation, but luckily things pick back up a bit to finish the record strong.

A review of this record would also be incomplete without mention of the fantastic Weyes Blood feature.  The song “Sides” takes up a thesis about the balance between alone time and letting one’s significant other into one’s world in times of trouble with Hadreas and Natalie Mering each sharing a verse.  More than just adding her voice to the equation, Mering seems to take over the sonic fingerprint of the song as her voice comes into play, making for a complementary yet welcome change of pace.  Perhaps Hadreas’s next record could look to recreate this a bit more often.

Yet again, Perfume Genius delivers with “No Shape.”  It’s a sonic tour de force with biting lyrics and moments of tender heart-wrench provided solely by Hadreas’s voice.  An occasional weak spot falls relatively unnoticed as the boundless momentum pushes energy forward from beginning to end.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

Jessica Mos-Pools of Light: Quick 100

Hey I wrote this for the CULT MTL print edition shhhhhh don’t tell my editor it’s here lol

Montreal vet Jessica Moss makes melody and looping sound effortless on her debut solo LP.  “Glaciers 2” thrives on high, floating violin melodies and “Entire Populations Prt. 4” takes a direct structure with each repetition of the short melodic phrase seeing the addition of another layer.  Besides these somewhat straightforward moments, incredible sonic designs push the album to new heights.  “Glaciers I” opens with layers of manipulated vocals, painting a haunting landscape for swells of bass sound, whereas “Populations Prt. 2” opens with falling stars of electric violin sounds.  Moss doesn’t need much to craft beauty, but her many different songwriting approaches make her debut surprising at every turn.

-Donovan Burtan

9/10

Trial Track: “Glaciers 1 Part 1”

Blanck Mass-World Eater: Album Review

Living up to the Sacred Bones Record label reputation, “World Eater,” the latest from UK-based industrial/noise producer Blanck Mass, pummels and jolts.  After the quick, introductory track, “Rhesus Negative” fills itself to the brim with chaotic noise—tapping into some Aphex Twin influenced vocals and a bit of a hardcore punk bluntness in the percussive sounds—for a riveting nine minutes.

The backside of the record finds out of time electric spark on “Minnesota” and a bit more of an open sound in the guitar-driven “The Rat.”  The album quickly proves its ability to find contrast, however, as “Rhesus Negative’s” jolting mass heaves itself over to the next track, “Please,” finding spacious beauty.

“World Eater” is a work that finds life at every turn, but also does so differently on each track.  For every instance of chaos, the work seems to find another of angelic bliss; the rhythmic overdrive of the hard-hitters is matched by arythmic noise and spread out bass/snare pillars on less straightforward numbers; and the menacing violence is balanced out by enlightening optimism.

Each of his tracks averaging out to about seven minutes, Benjamin John Power finds time to transition from track to track and craft a specific identity at the heart of each song.  Whereas Power’s first solo record stuck to swaths of shimmering drone, and his second found the dance-floor, his third seems to toss all his talents into one place and somehow come out of the other end still making sense.

In terms of aesthetic, the work finds a bit of a classical aura within the industrial foundation.  “John Doe’s Carnival of Error,” for instance, opens with a twinkling, high melody, reminiscent of some sort of deranged xylophone. Between the bombardment of “Rhesus Negative,” Power also sticks in a bit of high, choral vocals that add to the drama.  The sound of the big moments is often so dense, that “orchestral” is the only suitable description.  These gothic/liturgical connotations might also help appeal to metal listeners, who are often subjected to references to past centuries.

The work also finds a lot of replay value in the consistently brilliant melodic offerings.  I’m reminded of the emotional ploys of The Range as tracks like “Silent Treatment” slowly center themselves on a gushing melody.  Single “Please” is a clear highlight.  The song opens with aquatic tones before the first vocal sample belts out.  As the first bass movement gets heralded in, the track instantly gains a huge sense of depth.  Another belting melody comes into play, eventually colliding with the first, before both get accentuated by stabs of backing “ahhs.”

Perhaps a point that I would raise against Power is that although the work is jarring and confronting, it somehow lacks a bit of rawness that makes noise tick.  As a whole, the work can be described as “lush.”  Even sounds that are essentially screams are super calculated and positioned perfectly.  It would be interesting to see the pure noise of “Minnesota” somehow filtered into the dance-able context of the hyper-quantized numbers.

“World Eater” is a highly enjoyable listen from a producer that has carved out an entirely new world.  I’d like to see things left a bit less refined and calculated, but this album delivers greatness on every track with countless climaxes of jaw-dropping beauty and eye opening punches to the gut.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10