On Argusterfelder A-C, soundscape artist Jøn Liefhold leaves the listener blissfully satisfied throughout while simultaneously amassing small pockets of tension that culminate into climactic peaks before jumping on to the next peaceful prairie of pleasant drone. The delicate texture that surrounds each clean keyboard line changes the white tone color ever so slightly as tiny instances of nuance hypnotize the listener, allowing for huge swaths of time to fall by the wayside. Perhaps the album dwells on certain ideas for a bit too long. Sometimes thematic points repeat themselves for periods of five or six minutes, which certainly categorizes the piece as one that requires a large commitment in terms of focus. However, the playful melodies pluck along different emotional strings just enough to continuously enthrall the listener with each gradual change of pace.
Each piece seems to have a certain moment where the bottom falls out; the bass line drops register a great deal leaving a lot of open space to play around with in the higher pitched sounds. At around the four-minute mark in part A, the pulsating melodic idea from the beginning of the piece suddenly dissipates and a much cooler, low-pitched drone takes over as the main focus, with distortion highlighting the new-found bassy centerpiece. By making this change happen so quickly, the piece is divided into two sections with starkly different moods. The first breath of air in the beginning reads as infectiously optimistic, but this is put into question by the barren mystery evoked by the moodier sound in the second half. In part B, something similar happens, but much faster, less than three minutes into the piece. A bit more subdued than the change in the first track, here we find the already basic looping melody sucked into a scarce, ridged place, again suggesting a shift from kindhearted optimism to an air of uncertainty. Although these instances of sudden change do not signify the only source of development, they help to break up the album further and specify memorable moments within the overall expanse of the piece.
That being said, Leifhold also presents a mastery of longstanding development particularly in the extremely expansive final track. It would be somewhat fair to point out the roughly 90 second mark as well as the four-minute mark as areas of sudden change as discussed in the first two tracks, but the areas that surround them fit into each other much more cohesively and these instances hold less of a command over the way the track operates. The soup of bright moods presented throughout the piece thrives on the swelling ups and downs of the different sounds involved. By taking up much more space, Leifhold is able to give the music time to breath. Change is a constant factor yet there is a comforting sense of stagnation.
An album like this cannot really be discussed without some consideration of accessibility. At the end of the day, Leifhold is completely pushing himself away from the average listener, which isn’t an automatically honorable decision. As far as this idiom goes, the piece does well to find a voice, but it does not completely carve a groundbreaking musical niche. Aesthetically, many of these sounds have been used time and time again particularly by other artists on the Midnight Circles label (I’m reminded of the drone sounds of say Chemiefaserwerk). Although the songs are well constructed, the cool, somewhat uninviting atmosphere detracts a bit from the memorability and emotional impact. Perhaps a bit more focus on melody would do well to improve the next piece.
Solid work but Leifhold could do a bit more melodically.
The Swet Shop Boys are a newfound international rap group consisting of Heems, Riz MC, and Redinho. All members of the group are artists in their own right, however, the best preface for this single may be the career of Heems who is a part of Das Racist, a rap group that combines middle-eastern tonalities with their beats. On the group’s first single, “T5” the subject is airport security and the racial undertones that follow it.
I anticipate covering Cashmere when it comes out on October 14th
Listen to the single via bandcamp
I got the chance to see Mick Jenkins do a pop-up show in Montreal recently and he really brought the house down. His debut full-length LP is sure to inspire hard-hitting rhymes and beats with room for social awareness. On “Spread Love,” Jenkins offers a rundown of his background, hard times and perseverance spilling over moody keyboards.
His new album The Healing Component drops September 23rd
Tribe Called Red are an interesting Canadian DJ crew consisting of three first nations men. On this new single they are accompanied by killer rap verses from Yasiin Bey (F.K.A Mos Def) and Montreal’s own Narcy, a rapper who made my year end list for 2015 for his album World War Free.
Expect a review of the new album We Are the Halluci Nation around September 16th.
Danny Brown is a hugely successful underground rapper whose signature flow never fails to conjure shock and awe from his audience. We don’t know when his new album Atrocity Exhibition is coming out, but it is eventually and I am here for it. Check out single “When it Rain” in the meantime.
Steve Lehman has been around for a while, taking jazz saxophone to new heights with various aesthetic explorations. His new project seems to be a new take on the jazz/hip-hop vibe encompassing looped saxophone and rap all in one breath.
The album comes out August 19th check out the killer single “Are You In Peace” via bandcamp
Holy Fuck present electronic punk music with an aesthetic sometimes as violent and shocking as their name. Beginning with two driving punk tunes with enough energy to warrant both dancing and screaming, the group’s new album Congrats focuses on quick-hitting dance beats with mixed results. Despite beginning with endless energy and smoldering, dance-able production, the songwriting by the end of the album remains all too dedicated to similar industrial efforts, slowly losing the bite that makes the group stick out in the first place.
The first couple tracks on this album are not to be overlooked. “Chimes Broken” begins with a driving groove state supported by heavy drum work and wobbling bass distortion. Distant vocals enter the mix as more instrumental layering leads into a massive wall of sound with dance-able rhythms and menacing melodies. On “Tom Tom,” another dark beat breaks out with slightly more pronounced vocals coming into the equation. The lyrics are still quite hard to decipher but they add a certain primal violence to the soundscape of the distorted guitars and driving synthesized bass making for another intriguing experience. “Shivering” shifts to a more ethereal sound conception, contrasting the pummeling industrial approach on the first two tunes. Arpeggiating guitars serve as the foundation for the development of a chilling vocal melody. The band’s production is well done with a certain warmth coming into the darkly-tinged industrial landscape throughout.
As the album moves forward, the band provides more dance-able rhythms and digressions into cool, spacey melodies, losing a lot of the spirit of the first two tracks. “Xed Eyes” starts off with another fun-loving bass line, but the build-up is very weak and the vocal melody boring leading to stagnation. “Neon Dad” is the band’s attempt at a ballad or slow song of some sort with the focus placed on melody. The song reads as a nice change of pace and it is generally quite beautifully put together. Unfortunately, the vocals are far too low in the mix for the hook to be memorable. Holy Fuck are clearly a solid group of instrumentalists, however, the lack of emphasis on vocals seems to be hurting them a bit. When they do have vocals it usually works well with the development of their songs, so they do have the potential for more vocally-centric songwriting, the instrumental part just always takes\ the front seat. This lack of focus on vocals makes the instrumentals that follow quite strange as well. In a way, the instrumental approach never really changes so hearing vocals on certain tracks and not on others makes the songs that lack vocals all-together sound a bit incomplete.
“Neon Dad” marks the end of the first half of the record and after this track a series of duds ensue with predictable song development and energy levels. On “House of Glass” the band relies on a relatively lackluster melody and bass line at a sluggish tempo. The tempo increases a bit with “Sabbatics,” but the end result stands a bit too close to the sounds of the first two tracks on the album with another wobbling bass-line filling out the lower frequencies. This is also one of those tracks that unjustifiably lacks vocals, sounding like a backing track. Perhaps the tracks on the second half of the record would stand-out if played amongst the efforts of less intense bands on the radio, however, the band fails to conjure up enough contrast from track to track on this specific project making for an arduous second half.
Congrats showcases Holy Fuck’s capacity for dance-able groove music, but the band fails to entertain from front to back by committing to instrumentals that are all too similar and ignoring vocal presence. The light vocal work on tracks like “Neon Dad” and “Tom Tom” show that the band has potential for vocally-centric songwriting, so hopefully the next Holy Fuck project will hold more impact with better vocals and lyrics.
Good band but a bit of a bland effort. 5.5/10
Deep in the Iris by Braids falls under the category of “albums I should have reviewed in 2015.” Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s powerful vocal performance brought an especially tense theme to the dream pop backdrop of her band with catchy hooks bringing more life to the climactic power ballads. Roughly one year after the release of Deep in the Iris, the group decided to release a work, entitled Companion EP, comprised of songs written and recorded around the same time period. It is clear that these four songs were written in the same headspace as Deep in the Iris, with Standell-Preston’s voice again soaring over similarly produced electronic stylings of Austin Tufts and Taylor Smith. Despite these similarities, strong songwriting combines with a slightly different instrumental approach making for a notable addition to the band’s catalogue.
Beginning with a song about the unintentional end of a childhood friendship, the EP addresses topics of heartbreak, loss, and anxiety. “Companion” paints a picture of a young chubby kid with a “shape…like a little plum” who “hadn’t yet grown tall” signifying innocent youth. The speaker is separated from the young boy, worries about the effect that her sudden absence has had on him, and hopes to let him know that it had nothing to do with him specifically. As the song moves forward, the lyrics begin to depict a very specific moment in the relationship, addressing the idea of how much can change in an instance. The hesitant keyboards grow as Standell-Preston begins to belt out lyrics about the boy’s fear of water; a fear that dissipates after the dust settles from the song’s climax when Standell-Preston says the words “Remember when I pushed you in? You were surprised that you floated.” Standell-Preston’s ability to evoke deep emotional impact out of her relatively minimal lyrical phrasing is simply astounding with each and every word amassing a greater effect on the listener. Next, the EP addresses a very specific feeling in a relationship on “Joni,” where Standell-Preston tries to convince herself that she is not worried about her future with a significant other. The anxiety in the lyricism is juxtaposed by the highly articulated drums, driving bass groove, and infectious hook that bring the song to a roaring state with each rendition of the chorus.
In the second half of the project, Standell-Preston’s lyrics grow slightly more esoteric, favoring vivid imagery over the outward presence of narrative in the first two tracks. On “Sweet World”, Standell-Preston discusses the change of season at a distance with the line “The grass is bleeding/Give it a bodybag of snow.” Later, the song takes a pretty bleak turn with suicide coming into the question; “See that pole jutting out of the corner/Sometimes I wanna tie my neck up/Let my limp limbs dangle down.” Standell-Preston just has a unique way of talking about things. Even when a song is focused on narration, imagery comes to the table making her words drip with beautiful poetic language. Also, “Sweet World” may be the most significant example of the sonic difference between Companion and Deep in The Iris. As a whole, this EP feels a bit more haunting. The cool nature of the keyboards combine with minor melodic tonality and clean vocal work making for an ethereal soundscape. On “Sweet World” specifically the dense rhythmic element drones on for seven minutes with sweeping melodic ideas coming from layers of vocal and instrumental melody.
Companion EP feels necessary. Perhaps the association between these songs and those released from the band in 2015 will never fully be lifted, however, Standell-Preston’s beautiful lyricism combines with fantastic work from the rest of the band making for a solid collection of songs.
Really Good. Only an EP so a bit short. 7.5/10
Haven’t posted in a couple days because I’m trying to focus my energy on full reviews. Trying to do one per weekday.
Right now I have these coming for Monday to Wednesday 🙂 Check em’ out starting tomorrow
My first impression on this album was “This album is just not very good.” Waldman makes an attempt at groovy, back-beat jazz and winds up with a bunch of poorly constructed, sole-less hip hop beats. The production doesn’t pack any punch. The band seems comfortable not taking any risks. The final product just pleasantly accompanies one’s ear without challenging it at all.
The melodies are so boringly constructed. Essentially, Waldman takes a bunch of clunky motivic ideas and throws in a sequence every once in a while. When combined with the weakly contrived hip hop beats, these awkward melodies and the solos from each musician never truly dig in. The songs all drone on a bit longer than necessary ending with a whimpering final blow. Texturally the album has nothing to offer. The group all plays their instruments somewhat well in the traditional sense but there’s nothing beyond that. It just feels like stagnation.
At this point in my life I really don’t listen to much jazz that isn’t avant-garde with a focus on improvisation. Perhaps my tastes have been skewed a bit by this, however, I still believe that I can spot a good groove from a bad one and I really just didn’t get anything from this album. I feel like it’s a small collection of groove tunes that everyone played in 8th grade when they were getting introduced to the genre.
I may give it another shot tomorrow.