Friday, May 27, 2011

Battles - Gloss Drop

Battles are awesome, and now as a threesome they are arguably "better" because they still pull off amazing, complex tunes. Here is my review, touting Gloss Drop as something way more than decent.

A couple years ago, while Tyondai Braxton was still with the band, Battles had an album’s worth of material. When he left, the remaining members had to reinvent themselves and essentially make a new album. Gloss Drop doesn’t feature the polyrhythmic sensibilities that matched Braxton's sugary voice to the music; nor does it contain his compositional curveballs. Instead, this is the sound of Battles rising from the ashes. The vocal presence contributes to a significantly different feel. The sound often drives straight ahead, matching more muscular moments with the familiar overlapping guitar lines. And while this album isn’t as glued together as well as the last one, its level of talent, fun and ideas is still remarkable. If Mirrored was the wild stallion that one could admire for its beauty and unpredictability but never touch, Gloss Drop is the dependable thoroughbred that will more likely win the race when all is said and done.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Marcus Fjellström - Library Music 1

This man is a delight. I thought his last album was a bit stronger on the whole, but my review of Library Music 1 sings his praises.

Most of these tracks are around two minutes long, and behave as windows into strange worlds. The dense and varied elements Fjellström arranges make these glimpses feel complete. The off-kilter piano chords in “107” teeter and rattle like the legs of a mentally-ill millipede. They are backed up by skittery snare rolls, static, fizzy cymbals, and a deep corridor of alternative percussion. “109” features a liquified, electronic vibraphone that shapeshifts amidst faint ebowed guitars, echoing chimes, some kind of dulicimer and an ambient haze. Fjellström works digitally, but his work sounds dusty and ancient due to progam plugins which emulate the irregularities of analog tape. “103” and even “110” sound a heck of a lot like Amon Tobin’s atmospheric meanderings, with motorcycle engine pulses, insectoid accents, bowed cymbals and a faint orchestra and choir. With such similar production values, one could easily trick an Amon fan into believing “103” was one of his new, unreleased tracks.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Il Rumore del Fiore di Carta - Lesson 3 / How To Live Without Senses

Some folks on my staff really dig this album, but I don't agree. My review is revealing and maybe a bit harsh.

Instead of bold shifts or risks, Il Rumore del Fiore di Carta keep things simple for most of the album, abandoning their sense of adventure. This injures the listening experience, especially when an unnecessary pit stop like “Part-time Superhero” is tasked with carrying listeners toward the show’s eventual climax. Album closer "The Blind Cosmonaut Under The Sea” is a complete waste of time, sounding exactly like the end credits to a student film about an angry kid who whose father never loved him enough. This piano solo does not do the album any favors. Instead of ending strong, IRdFdC limps away with a track containing about as much emotional depth as a romantic comedy.

Explosions In The Sky’s All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone also ends with a track that dares us to get sentimental. “So Long, Lonesome” is a tame attempt at including piano for emotional effect, and Il Rumore del Fiore di Carta‘s latest album seems to be plagued by that same infraction. Coloring with accents and effects is fine, but as an instrument, the piano is too bold to sound this boring. It’s a big tease. Even the guitars seem to be playing in its shadow, and it isn’t quite working. The trumpet and the drumming/bass combo are Lesson 3’s saving grace, but it isn’t enough to get me out of my chair and race to the telegraph to tell you about this occasionally promising but ultimately pedestrian album.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Brian Reitzell & Alex Heffes - Red Riding Hood

Brian Reitzell is a fascinating score composer who fashions new instruments to achieve very specific moods and sounds. For 30 Days Of Night he doctored a pottery wheel with felt, mallets and tubing. Their eerie, grinding tones helped the film’s outstanding soundtrack to achieve a rich uniqueness. For Red Riding Hood, Reitzell teamed up with Alex Heffes, who always conducts his own scores and has quite a varied set of film credits (Last King of Scotland, The Rite). Perhaps he was the grounding force to Reitzell’s more avant guard approaches. As a result, Red Riding Hood has a balanced mixture of synthetics and orchestra. “Kids” contains straight ahead drumming, liquid guitar accents and music box melodies, while “Dead Sister” turns up the ominous vibe with bowed cymbals, cobwebbed strings, hallowed vocals and a creepy anklung-esque bit of percussion. The ever-mutating “The Reveal” features the most in-depth look into the collaboration, as analog hadrosaurs shudder in the shadows while ominous cellos and horns shift the mood in a delicious fashion. Retizell’s drum programming and analog treatments are quite captivating at times, carrying a ton of momentum and intrigue. Other choices like hammered dulcimer, ambient glissades and a beautifully lamenting guitar (from “End Suite”) ensure the work steers clear of typical soundtrack schlock. To choose Fever Ray as a lead musical voice for a major motion picture is exciting, and Reitzell’s production and sound choices match the group’s tribal electronics, seemlessly incorporating the music into the fray. A big surprise is how enjoyable Reitzell’s collaboration with Anthony Gonzales turned out to be, as the symphonics cleanly blend with the sweet boy vocals and the classic M83 fuzz and space whir. The vocal-based tracks are well-chosen highlights as opposed to awkward stand-ins. While soundtracks often sound like they are aping a film one can’t see, Red Riding Hood is an apt demonstration of how collaborations can produce a fresh and focused voice for a film one doesn't really need to see to enjoy.

Listen to this bizniss here.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Thai Elephant Orchestra / Dave Soldier & Richard Lair - Water Music

This review was the most difficult I've ever had to write. And it's not like I gave the elephants a poor review; I scored it high. It's just so difficult to articulate a judgment and analysis of creatures we don't understand as well. And I love animals so much; it was tough to be critical in any way. The album's music speaks for itself. It's simply magical and unique.

Many sound artists are bent on creating previously unheard environments, and the most successful exhibit an ease to their craft. Sometimes these elephants get a little too excited on the rain sheet or joyfully hit the gong a few too many times. But then they stop; they listen to each other. One hits the xylophone more softly, showing a little restraint. What are they thinking about? This isn't a bunch of children playing music. These are animals with musical minds, and quite often their seemingly haphazard playing is as striking as any recorded work done by Homo sapiens.