An Ant and An Atom-“Entropy”_Full Review

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The latest work from Alberta based An Ant and An Atom, is a long-form ambient piece beginning with dangerous electronic activity that eventually cedes the spotlight to sweeping strings, before finding discordant bliss in some sort of strange middle ground.  Although the work juxtaposes various aesthetics and ideologies, Ant and An Atom’s ability to carry melodic development over major shifts in overall sound allows for a sense of continuity amongst the seemingly unstable compositional structure.

A vicious atmosphere begins immediately with static electricity seeping from the walls.  Rigid melodic structures slowly come into the mix, periodically providing more violence in an already unrelenting sonic landscape.  Tension is the main goal of this section of the piece as a great deal of space is left between the melodic phrases with a constant electronic hum remaining constant in the background.  Roughly half-way through the mix, An Ant and An Atom makes the shift from electronic to acoustic as the energy that began building at the beginning of the piece fades into the droning sounds of a small string section.  The melody here is longing sighs down the register of the instrumentation, directly contrasting the quick-fire method of the electronic intro.  After a brief jaunt in the classical world, An Ant and An Atom re-introduces distortion to the mix carrying the piece back to modern day.

The idea of shifting from boiling electronics to harmonious strings is certainly a huge risk and it doesn’t come without at least some skepticism, especially considering the move back to electronic sounds at the end of the piece.  Perhaps a more binary construction would have served the piece well with a simple juxtaposition of electronic versus acoustic sound.  That being said, Warkentine compensates for the somewhat strange move from strings to distorted electronics by carrying the melody (or a slight variation of the melody) of the strings along as the piece gains momentum into obscurity.  Without this melodic device, the transition would feel disjointed, but Warkentine maintains at least some continuity between the two sections.

Emotionally, the piece has a lot to offer.  The electronic portions of the album come across as cool and standoffish with more warmth coming into play with the strings, which may bring to surface the give and take of old and new.  It is not unfair to say that more analog and acoustic music has a natural-feel to it that invites the listener in whereas electronic music remains hard to connect with.  On the other side of things, strings provide certain sonic limitations in terms of dynamics, range, and dexterity.  By exploring both, An Ant and An Atom allows for a wide pool of varying emotions and may shed light on some of the often over looked nuances of each of these musical capacities.

Entropy feels like a great EP.  The 20-odd minute piece is void of bloated explorations of a single sound with an intriguing development existing throughout.  Objectively, the initial entrance of acoustic sounds to the mix is a bit stronger than the exit, however, the overall impact of the piece remains quite stunning.

DB

 

 

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The Avalanches-Wildflower_First Impressions

The Avalanches bring a particularly bright aesthetic to the DJ/producer idiom on their new album Wildflower.  Vivid samples loop and sing with a vast collection of features bringing the album through a series of stylistic shifts.  The group succeeds at creating heavy, banging beats that stand-out from the genres of trap and EDM that currently dominate the club scene, however, the dense sampling occasionally makes the beat a bit over-indulged in bright sound leaving little room for subtlety.

With colorful single “Frankie Sinatra” coming early on the album, the group first explores quick-hitting pop tunes with catchy vocals.  The hook  from”Subway,” gradually disappears into the looping vocal melody on “Going Home.”  After this, Toro y Moi’s signature vocal sound joins a jolting electronic beat with textural percussion for “If I was a Folkstar.”  In the middle of the album, the band takes a turn for the theatrical, almost sounding like a cartoon on “Zap” and “The Noisy Eater,” before riding out on a bunch of quick-hitting ethereal tunes.

Although the group mostly thrives on samples from dance-genres, they manage to logically mesh together a wide ranging pool of different sounds.  “Frankie Sinatra’s” retro groove state juxtaposes the psychedelic ideology of “Colours” with maximalist attacks on the senses coming in the middle of the album.  Also, the contrast presented between the rap features and the bright melodies brings an interesting, not-often-heard sound to the rap world.

Each track relies more on the main sample than the rhythmic foundation, which presents extreme pros and cons.  When considering the music of someone like DJ Shadow, the focus is placed entirely on percussion.  Here, the beat seems to follow each sample.  Obviously neither idea is perfect, however, Avalanches could afford to leave the constantly evolving samples at the way-side for breaths of quiet with emphasis placed on the beat.  Occasionally, the evolving samples and pulsing just become overbearing and obnoxious.

Overall, Wildflower has a lot of give and take.  The huge, layered beats serve as a fun listening experience when striving for a singable pop hit, but the album often feels a bit jumbled with excessively cartoony sound ideas.

DB

Kyle Preston-Scattered Silence_First Impressions

Scattered Silence cover art

Classical music holds an extremely well-respected place in society.  Every major Western city has an orchestra of some kind that receives a great deal of patronage.  Because classical music has been around for so long, it today stands in a place where virtuosity is the only answer to success.  Also, the age of the genre as well as the age of the main audience puts some limitations on the risks each instrumentalist is able to take making for a lot of stagnation.  Although it is pleasant to hear classical ideology outside of the vituosity-driven concert-hall, Kyle Preston’s new album Scattered Silence remains too reliant on ambiance to stand-out, making for a pleasant experience with little re-play value.

Beginning with brooding electronic backdrop, Scattered Silence encapsulates the audience before the entrance of the strings.  Slowly, droning string melodies emerge from the background with pure string tone being the main focus of the piece.  On “Stillness,” dramatic piano playing replaces the strings encompassing some of the same appeal of the quartet’s efforts, maintaining the electronic backdrop beneath the nuanced playing approach.

The melodies have a certain shimmer to them provided by the interesting, modern production of the pieces, but there’s nothing taking me back.  Nothing from the album stuck around in my head after listening to it and the listening experience doesn’t provide anything shocking sonically.  Emotional affect and traditional beauty are not enough to carry the project to notable heights.

Upon first listen I found this music quite beautiful and well executed, however, I didn’t find anything surprising about it.  Slow moving string melodies are a musical strategy that has beaten to death and nothing truly new seems to be presented in this work.

DB

The Julie Ruin-Hit Reset_First Impressions

Headed by former Bikini Kill lead singer Kathleen Hanna, The Julie Ruin is a part of the Riot Grrrl punk scene that began in the early 1990s, saw a slight decline in the last decade, and slowly regained traction in the current decade with albums by Perfect Pussy, Sleater Kinney, and T-Rexstasy garnering a great deal of attention.  Perhaps a result of increased awareness of feminism on the internet, or the imminent threat posed towards women in the United States by a certain presidential candidate, the resurgence of Riot Grrrl and feminist punk music reads as an extremely necessary musical trend.  Through the use of modern production techniques, feminist lyrical themes, and highly contrasting punk sounds, The Julie Ruin accomplish a punk aesthetic that continues the tradition of addressing social issues with a contemporary sound.

Lyrically, Hit Reset ranges from short, ironic lines such as “make a kickstarter for your heart,” to more poignant statements such as that of “Mr. So and So,” which serves as a criticism of male fans of the Riot Grrrl scene.  Hanna begins by painting a hyperbolic picture of a man jumping out of a plane “in a parachute that says girls rule with a sleater kinney shirt on.”  This supposed supporter of feminism then reveals that he likes female bands because it’s a turn on for him.  Although the man is trying to be a fan of the band and feminism, he ends up taking up space in a movement dedicated to women without listening to the women in the scene first.  As a male, I see this as an important message about checking my own male privilege when approaching the topic of feminism or female-created music.  Feminism is not created for my benefit and although I believe it is an important movement, I must be careful to avoid speaking out of turn.  I can be a fan of this band (and any Riot Grrrl band) but I must avoid placing my opinion above that of a woman or other oppressed gender group.

Despite being composed of a lot of quick-hitting tunes, Hit Reset explores a great deal of different sounds making for an intriguing contemporary sonic experience.  Bikini Kill thrived on rough lo-fi rock tunes with cutting messages, but the shift towards more modern production techniques help move Hanna’s vocals into the modern musical landscape.  “I Decide” takes on a droning sound conception with pulsing guitars complementing an eerie vocal melody.  On “Be Nice” the muse of Hanna is an electronic voice effect that manipulates her words sometimes serving more as a sound effect than a vocal melody.  Towards the end of the album, the songs become quick-hitting jabs with bright synths making for  more dance-centered vibe. “I’m Done” features a punchy synth with a fun-loving melody around each chorus bringing the song to new heights.

Punk never really left, but there’s something special about this particular re-incarnation as a feminist from the 1990s has returned to speak about some of the issues that still face the movement today.  Feminism may be surrounded by slightly less stigma today, but there is still a lot of issues to be addressed.  Also, musically speaking, Hanna still has it.  Hearing her vocals is never going to be unnecessary.

DB

Xenia Rubinos-Black Terry Cat_First Impressions

Black Terry Cat cover art

Xenia Rubinos touches upon a wide range of styles in her minimalist singer-songwriter landscape.  Electronic bass lines drive the musical bus with various instrumental elements coming into the picture to carry the powerful vocal delivery into different places.  On “Just Like I” the heavily distorted guitar noise puts the sound in a punk conception, whereas punchy vocal delivery on “Mexican Chef” achieves a much more dance-influenced vibe.  As the genres bend and twist under Rudinos’ vocal lines, the album achieves many different moods making the relative simplicity of each song remain fresh throughout.

Beginning with “Don’t Wanna Be,” a slightly general sounding singer-songwriter song, Rubinos begins dedicating her sound to more specific genres.  The first 5 or 6 tunes remain very bright with a lot of rock sounds making it into the mix.  On “Laugh Clown,” the album takes a slight turn into a more mellow territory.  “I Won’t Say” essentially becomes a hip-hop track with bass line and drum beat accompanying near rapping of Rubinos, before the catchy bass line of “See Them” complements a complex vocal landscape.

Rubinos’ vocal delivery is no small feat.  She uses multiple vocal tracks on each song making for a powerful, emotional delivery.  Sometimes the back-up vocals serve as a melodic harmony, whereas Rubinos will elsewhere employ vocal back-up as an emotional affect simply adding more sound to the mix.  Also, there will be moments where two vocal tracks will be essentially in unison with one reaching the end of a melodic line before the other again adding extra emotion to the sound.

Instrumentally, Rubinos uses a lot of different sounds, but she remains subdued by allowing herself to leave certain sounds out from song to song.  The distortion drenched soundscape on “5” wouldn’t be sensical on the more soulful “Lonely Lover,” so it is replaced with a sunburst bass line to accompany Rubinos’ reversed back-up vocals.  In a more rock band based setting, the instrumentation usually doesn’t change from track to track making attempts at stylistic change unsuccessful.

Overall, I enjoyed this album quite a bit on my first listen.  Each song was surprising making for a fun experience from beginning to end.

DB

BADBADNOTGOOD-IV_First Impressions

IV cover art

On the fourth edition to their catalog, Toronto-based jazz-fusers badbadnotgood once again manage to capture the vigor of improvisation’s past with modern production serving as a gateway to success in the more concise modern-day musical landscape.  From the initial funk induced noodling on “And That, Too” the band encompasses a shimmering retro sound aesthetic not unlike that of Tame Impala, but with more liberties taken in rhythmic conception as the band thrives on their collective playing style.  Although jazz may serve as the back-bone of the ensemble’s members, they have certainly advanced quite a bit aesthetically, pushing them into more contemporary excellence than some of the jazz communities finest instrumentalists.

One of the important aspects of the band’s sounds is the introverted playing style of each of the members.  Rather than reaching over the other sounds in the room with a fiery solo, each player remains subdued within the overall sound.  This combined with the blending in production makes for an emphasis on overall musicality rather than on individual prowess.  On “And That, Too,” melodies circulate from synthesizers and saxophones with drums taking front-and-center to re-emphasize the groove in key moments of the tune.  On Kaytranada featuring “Lavender,” the heavy beat is gently highlighted by saxophone rambling and aesthetic keyboard playing.

This album in particular thrives on features, which may serve a bit as a fault of the band’s style.  Although they are very versatile, the focus on embodying different musical styles as both a back-up band and a cover band in their past may have made them lose their own personality a bit.  For example, Sam Herring’s personality serves as the main driving force on “Time Moves Slow.”  Aesthetically the song completely dedicates itself to a 50’s throwback soul groove making for the perfect landscape for Herring to operate in.  On the next song, the band succumbs to the heavy, progressive style of Colin Stentson with more complex rhythms and rigid melodies coming into play.  These songs would never have come to light without badbadnotgood, however, they serve more as a solid back up to the musicians they are showcasing than as an independent voice in their own right.

In the later half of the album, the band plays around in a sultry mellow space with the slightest tinge of breathiness seeping from the saxophone alongside the tender bass line and classic rhodes keyboard sound.  “IV” is arguably the most densely composed works on the album with different ages from the career of Joe Henderson making appearances with each melodic transition.  Following this tune, Mick Jenkins maintains the sensual energy  with his psychedelic hook on “Hyssop of Love” before the album fades into oblivion with the last couple tunes.

I though IV was a fun listen first time through.  Sometimes I feel like the band allows for their collaborators to steal the spotlight, but this doesn’t necessarily detract from each individual song it is just hard to say whether or not the group truly stands out on their own in certain portions of the project.  Nonetheless, the album is certainly much further advanced than the more traditionally produced funk projects in the jazz community.

DB

Kamaiyah-A Good Night in the Ghetto_First Impressions

 

Between Datpiff, Soundcloud, and Hot New Hip Hop, the internet has become an endless supply of free mixtapes.  Although it is very easy to make music accessible to a wide range of people, this ability makes the act of standing out much harder.  On her most recent project A Good Night in the Ghetto, Kamaiyah stands out by employing influence from grime and west coast rap with vicious flows and infectious hooks making for a unique sound.

Kamaiyah has the perfect voice for delivering looping, ear-worm hooks and she knows this.  In the first five tracks of the album, the focus is put on ruthless vigor, Kamaiyah destroying men who have wronged her on “Niggas” and articulating her perseverance on “I’m On.”  Throughout each of these initial tracks, looping electronic bass-lines accompany Kamaiyah’s melodic flow with enticing hooks spacing out the more speedy verses.  The grime influence seems to be the driving force behind the bass lines particularly on the “Fuck it Up.”  Kamaiyah is west coast so perhaps this is simply a modern-tinged version of G-funk, however, the heavy electronic elements in the beat certainly indulge in the sound conception of the other side of the pond.

On “Break You Down,” the listener is given the first glance at Kamaiyah’s tender side as the beat slows down to showcase the beauty in her voice.  Here, the subject of conversation is about sexuality.  Kamaiyah both suggests that the person the song is addressed to needs her to treat them right and that she is a “freak” so to speak, which serves as a powerful message as the hip hop community generally implies that “sexy” woman aren’t long term relationship material.  Kamaiyah may want to be a love interest of sorts, but she doesn’t need to lose her sexuality to be a suitable counter-part to someone else.

Having a nice voice is an aspect of rap not often discussed.  Although the genre doesn’t have singers per-say, a person’s voice definitely plays an important role in their success as a rapper.  There’s just something special about Kamaiyah’s voice.  Her flows can be very laid back and also in your face with her voice always fitting the sound of each song.  The character of Kamaiyah’s voice is another important factor in her ability to stand out.  It is fair to say that her presence will be immediately recognizable on any of the tracks she participates on the future.

Overall, I enjoyed this work quite a bit.  Kamiyah’s sound isn’t necessarily the most unique on the scene right now, but her aesthetic pallet signifies a high level of originality.  This combined with her great voice and knack for quick-hitting flow makes for a very enjoyable experience from beginning to end.

DB