Archive for the ‘Dreampop’ Category

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4. Beach House – Devotion

December 29, 2008

Beach House - Devotion

On the shortest song Beach House have yet released, the tiny “Some Things Last A Long Time,” Victoria Legrand slowly sings “Your picture is still on my wall/The colors are bright, bright as ever”. The soft pitter patter of rain can be heard outside. Although storms seem to pass over the Beach House, what is inside is protected. Baltimore based Beach House have not changed much since their 2006 self titled debut. The core of the group is still Legrand with her vintage twinkling organ and her breathy vocals, and multi-instrumentalist Alex Scalley puts the icing on the cake with guitars and other instruments. The final product is bittersweet. The band’s songs sound like they were made forty years ago, but in the best possible way without feeling outdated, treated with a timeless classicism. Devotion sounds much more asserted than its predecessor, and thus that much more affecting. Beach House’s melodies change frequently, segueing from one pastoral arrangement to another with ease, but frequently surprising with shreds of melancholy. Songs therefore seem to sputter with emotion, flickering lights through windows drenched in rain. At some points, the pieces are hushed tropical lullabies, and at the next moment booming, painful dirges. Some lean more in one direction – You Came to Me and Holy Dances evoke a heartwarming mysticism while others such as Gila and Heart of Chambers woefully lament. But the ultimate spirit is that of genuine, mature romance, which Legrand articulates so delicately in every song. She sings of love managing to overcome time and space as if reading from a book of hymns with ultimate faith, and she preaches a word we can’t help but hold onto and believe unconditionally. The Beach House has become a home.

Also of note is Beach House’s non-album single, Used To Be, also released this year. The song is a tear-jerker of a new style, one that would not have gelled with the songs on Devotion, but it is quite an accomplishment on its own and anyone who enjoys either of Beach House’s albums should definitely check it out.

Beach House

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10. Chairlift – Does You Inspire You

December 11, 2008

For the past month or two I have had close to no motivation whatsoever to write on this blog. I can’t really explain why, because I don’t know myself. The transition to college was probably jarring enough to do something in that department, and I have been very busy lately studying for finals. But within the past couple weeks my motivation to write has at least somewhat returned, and bears fruits in the departments of this blog as well as outside creative writing which has not seen the light of day yet. I’ve considering posting some of the creative works here, namely an elegy to a certain someone who died just outside of Paula Abdul’s house as well as a personal account of insanity from an individual due to being locked in a Gushers storage basement of a General Mills factory, but I have decided to not post either of them here, at least temporarily, for various reasons. They might end up here eventually. It depends. I’ve also been working on a top ten favorite albums of the year list, which I planned to post early next year, but I have decided to start posting the albums individually now because I don’t feel like waiting to post them, and I feel like my goals are contrasting enough on each individual review to merit doing them seperately. Also, I don’t feel like creating a hierarchy for them, although there is a certain #1 pick. I am going to start posting them here periodically within the next couple weeks.

-ATB

Chairlift - Does You Inspire You

I saw Yeasayer live in the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in December and Chairlift opened. I would have payed the sixteen dollar admission just to see Chairlift for the twenty five minutes they played. Granted, Yeasayer’s set was worth at least a Benjamin, but there was something to be said for an opening band that really delivers the goods like that. I believe they brought the woman next to us to tears. I don’t know if they are THAT great, but they are a charming band with a lot of potential nonetheless. The first opening act was the rather dreadful Fang Island, which aimed to impress with dynamics, speed, and volume, and pretty much failed in all three respects. Chairlift seemed to utilize these three qualities with ease without feeling the need to conquer so much as befriend them. What particularly impressed me about their set was the ability to build something out of nothing. A prime example of this was their opening number Territory, which pulsed with bass blasts before spawning multi-instrumentalist Patrick Wimberly’s percussion, to be later accompanied by guitarist Aaron Pfenning’s space age guitar melody and vocalist Caroline Polachek’s airy lyrics. The slow progression was glazed by vintage organs and punctuated by a kickin’ cowbell solo, both from the vivacious Polachek. Interestingly enough, everyone on the stage seemed to draw the eye equally. While Polachek was either gesticulating wildly or delicately pointing her nose up at the giant Star of David on the wall behind, Wimberly was completely focused behind the drum kit, and Pfenning (oh, the hip scarf!) smiled as he occasionally chimed in with his melodic guitar sensibility. But despite all the good things I have to say about their live show, it is secondary to their songwriting. On their debut album, Does You Inspire You, Chairlift prove themselves to be much more than a one trick pony, that trick being their sleeper hit Bruises which gained popularity from being featured on an iPod Nano commercial. With that said, Bruises is one hell of a song, and perfectly represents the tiny, cute nature of the iPod Nano. “I tried to do handstands for you but every time I fell for you / I’m permanently black and blue, permanently blue for you.” How is that not utterly charming? What is surprising is that Bruises does not overshadow everything else on the album, which is loaded with really good songs and is not lopsided. Particularly good are the 80s disco-funk song Planet Health and the Yo La Tengo esque Somewhere Around Here. But Does You Inspire You covers many bases quite effectively: pop, soul, funk, electronic, dream pop, blues, country, and R&B to start the list. This eclecticism makes the album one of the most consistently interesting of the year, but they keep their curious personal charm throughout the genre hopping. Either Chairlift know exactly what they are doing or have no idea whatsoever, but in any case they seem to know exactly how to do it.

Chairlift

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My Bloody Valentine – You Made Me Realise

September 17, 2008

Before My Bloody Valentine released their first album, Isn’t Anything, in 1988, they released a boatload of EPs. These EPs had a clear progression, but it was not until the seventh such EP, You Made Me Realise, when the band started to refine themselves into something important, and something more than a cheap pop band. Not that there was anything wrong with Strawberry And Wine and Ecstasy. Although they were deliberately vintage in their songcraft, they were loaded with fantastic pop that was more shimmering than most anything else on the market. In that sense, You Made Me Realise clearly bridges the gap between Ecstasy and Isn’t Anything. My Bloody Valentine are still a pop band, but are trying new and brave things. All the songs here are under four minutes, making the EP feel tightly wound, and each song has something completely different to offer. We still hear the familiar pop gold on the fast, driving Thorn and the closing Drive It All Over Me, two of the catchiest tunes ever put to record. Conversely slow and creamy is the hip hop inspired Slow. It has no chorus, and features one of the first examples of My Bloody Valentines famous tremelo techniques that would be touched on with Isn’t Anything and perfected on Loveless. The title track is three and a half minutes of blistering punk, and is in many respects My Bloody Valentine’s most triumphant single, with a final noise freakout that would swell from forty seconds to twenty minutes by the time it became a live staple for My Bloody Valentine to turn up their amps to ludicrous volumes and bombard their audiences with noise. This noise break may very well have been what inspired My Bloody Valentine to do the great things they did on Isn’t Anything and Loveless. Equally as interesting is the avant garde song Cigarette In Your Bed, which develops from a marching pace to a sprinting final stretch, all while experimenting with a range of guitar techniques. All of this comes together to make an extremely important EP in the history of both My Bloody Valentine and the shoegaze genre, but more importantly one of the most fun and listenable EPs of all time.

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Panda Bear – Person Pitch

August 26, 2008

I know the last thing that anyone needs from me right now is a review of Panda Bear’s Person Pitch, and that I am a year and a half late on this, but I simply feel I must address this album.

After thoroughly listening through Person Pitch, Noah Lennox’s third solo album, several times, three things ultimately struck me most.

The first was how quickly this album seemed to pass by. On the first listen, I passively lent it my ears while doing other busy work. I knew I liked what I heard, but it seemed to have ended after fifteen minutes. After looking through the tracklist, I realized that over forty five minutes had passed in actuality. And on many listens since then, I have also felt similarly, even though I have been paying very close attention to the music, that it seems like it must go by in under a half hour.

I can attribute this strange phenomenon to a number of factors, the first of which is Panda Bear’s wide use of sampling and repetition throughout the album. When I saw Animal Collective live at Pitchfork, I found it quite interesting that the show was really just shy of a laptop show; all three members of the band were at one point in front of a soundboard, the Geologist actually for the entire show. Avey Tare was actually quite versatile, sometimes on a guitar or drums. Panda Bear spent most of the show in front of his soundboard, but picked up on percussion a couple times.

What is interesting about Panda¬† Bear’s behavior as an electronic artist, and I firmly believe he can be considered some type of electronic artist now, is that he actually doesn’t sample more than a little bit throughout the album. But when he does, he combines his sample choices with concocted or found sounds, and he never lets the album be completely electronic or completely organic. He builds up layers of sound much like Animal Collective did on Strawberry Jam, although somewhat less violent here, and then places them carefully over his rhythms. Many of his loops end in dissonant or floaty chords, thus making them that much more versatile and fluid. What many of them reminded me of before anything else was the album Pygmalion by Slowdive, and its accompanying demo sessions. It is only marginally likely that Panda Bear was ever actually influenced by this album, but judging by his use of these floaty vocal loops and many of the subtle melodies buried beneath the surfaces of many songs, it sure wouldn’t surprise me. In any case, all of these elements come together to make a rhythmic result that begs for the listener to do two things at once, relax and listen. In this sense, time is not a concern. Panda Bear does what he needs to do, and lets the songs end on their own. Sometimes it takes twelve minutes, and sometimes four. Perhaps the juxtaposition of long songs next to shorter songs has something to do with my loss of sense of time while listening to this album.

The second thing that surprised me was how accurately the album cover depicts the sound of the album. I can think of several other albums that have done such just as effectively, but none of those other album covers were quite as complex as the one for Person Pitch, making it that much more impressive.

The meat of the album are the layers of sound built in each song. Sounds are built upon each other, sometimes used for one time, several bars, or the rest of the song. The samples and effects come from all different directions, parts of life. Some may sound like the sound of water in a bubble bath, while others may sound like animals, the clattering of chains, the sound that Pop Rocks make in your mouth, fireworks going off, doorbells, and whatever else Panda Bear has found or created. The effects, however, are treated with so much watery reverberation that deciphering them becomes difficult. I can liken this to the experience of seeing Animal Collective live, and not really being able to tell what was going on in the music simply because it was so thick, loud, and confusing. This may have been somewhat of a flaw live, but it sure made the music sound that much more awe inspiring, and on record it isn’t a problem. However, I do find myself unable to pick out what I am hearing much of the time while listening to this album. It begs to be turned up, because you can never really hear exactly what is happening. After you turn it up, you still can’t really make sense of things, but this is an album that grows in power exponentially with volume simply because for every notch on your knob you turn, you are that much more submerged in the music and what is going on.

Lastly, I have been simply amazed at how happy it makes me to listen to the album.

People seem to have forgotten to harmonize their voices with one another. They are getting better with it lately (See Fleet Foxes pretty swell release this year that has been lapped up by the hipster crowd this year, with very good vocal harmonies. Actually, they played on the same stage as Animal Collective at Pitchfork.), but still, people forget that vocal harmonies sell. Panda Bear isn’t the freaking Mamas and Papas, but he harmonizes with himself in lovely ways that we don’t hear often enough. And his smooth, playful vocals are really what make this album the pop gem it is.

Lyrically, Panda Bear has the balls to sing about things that actually matter. And at that, values that his audience might actually need to hear. And the main theme of the album is so basic, so fundamental that most everyone, including myself, have glazed over it in our minds a long time ago. Be yourself. Don’t let anyone else tell you what is cool, what you should listen to, or make you feel inferior. Good Girl/Carrots seems to be the most prevalent in this philosophy. After the whimsical and fun run of “Good Girl,” the next movement “Carrots,” after a heartwarming reference to Mitch Hedberg, rouses a widespread defense against the kind of people who try to tell you what to listen to, to make you cling to a scene. The kinds of people that try to make themselves feel superior by collecting “all those first editions.” Possibly the most affecting line is an indirect put down against “those mags and websites who try to shape your style,” like perhaps Pitchforkmedia.com, or better yet, this website right here. The best and most representative line, however, is sandwiched in the middle of this song; “All I need to know, I knew so early.” These are the kind of lyrics that we heard when we were small children on TV. Why doesn’t anyone sing about these issues anymore?

But what really makes this album special is that it doesn’t falter even once. All of these elements come together to make a collection of seven lovely, moving songs that keep their momentum. The opening Comfy In Nautica sounds like a glorious call over a cliff to some canyon. Then, Take Pills’ two separate movements end up being as wonderful as one another, the first a slow relaxing piece, and then a marching, so-catchy-it-should-be-illegal second piece. And then of course comes the main song on the album, the sprawling Bros, for which my praise cannot be effectively articulated into written word. The almost tropical sounding aural cascades of I’m Not act as the keystone of the album. Good Girl/Carrots comes after it, and is just as moving as Bros. In the final stretch of the album, we have possibly the two most digestible and overall lovely pieces on the album, the ambient sound collage Search For Delicious, and a tiny, quite moving lullaby type song, Ponytail, which addresses the difficulties and wonders associated with change.

I think this is the one album of 2007 that I feel I can be unnecessarily enthusiastic about. It really is that good. Saying it is important or groundbreaking might be a little premature. But what seems to be the trend in pop music lately is either going toward the extremes of wildly experimental or almost ridiculously palatable. Sometimes we get people hitting pots and pans in complex polyrhythms, and sometimes we get The Jonas Brothers. Pop music has become a hedgemaze, and people seem to think that they need to base their decisions on which way to go according to how much is going to sell. Panda Bear, it seems, doesn’t really care. He was just taking a walk, and he stumbled upon the beautiful garden in the center. If any album could introduce free form and experimentalism into the world of glorious catchy pop music, Person Pitch is that album.

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The Ludvico Treatment – Romanticism

April 6, 2008

It has been established that there is such thing as new, original shoegaze, although it is rare and usually disposable. And then there is the majority of the genre, the stuff that sticks close to the roots and does not really bring anything new to the table. I could fill pages of albums from bands that have no originality whatsoever and are nothing more than a pack of cigarettes to be smoked through, and the carton thrown away. The Ludvico Treatment are probably just another band of this type, but something about them is compelling.

It baffles me that this is the first shoegaze album entitled Romanticism. The word might as well be the unflappable thesis of the genre. That said, Romanticism doesn’t just stay in one place like most ripoff shoegaze bands do. It explores the nooks and crannies of the genre better than any other shoegaze album I have ever encountered, and I have encountered many. Each song seems to come from a different direction. Of course, there has to be My Bloody Valentine influence, and the opening track 16:22 makes a not so underhanded throwback to Only Shallow. But it is likeable, in any case. The gentle Affectations is more attuned to The Catherine Wheel. Olivia My Love screams Ride. And perhaps the most interesting influence, and I’m pretty sure about this one, is the obscure My Bloody Valentine rarity, 2, which surfaces through the second to last song on Romanticism, (Everything.). Amazing.

In a word, this is an album that shoegaze entrepreneurs (if there is such a thing) will oogle over for longer than usual, because it tries more than one style. Which means they don’t really have any particular style or sound to distinguish them. We weren’t expecting them to. The flipside is that The Ludvico treatment can write some pretty nice pop melodies, and we love shoegaze, so it is a winning combo. Highlights are not few. Olivia My Love is the bittersweet aural sonnet. Affectations is a reminder that acoustic guitars do work in shoegaze if handled well enough. I was particularly impressed with Let Love Come in Through the Window. It surprised me. It sounded like it was going to be trite jock rock, or nu-metal, or something, up until the chorus, which turns everything inside out. Shoegaze doesn’t usually have screaming. It works here.

Romanticism has a couple sinkers, though. …And He Is Trapped in Ever After has a very tired melody. The closer, 11.22.63, is mostly angry Crossfade-esque guitar work played over a recording of the famous news report covering the Kennedy assassination as it happened on said date. It feels like wasted time that this cliche ends up being the album’s closing statement.

It should also be said that for a self released album, the production values here are impeccable. They almost sound too good for me to believe they aren’t professional. If they aren’t, they were probably slaved over. The moody, acoustic pieces are quite well treated, and the walls of noise sound refined. Whoever did this job gets mad props.

Romanticism is fun, more fun than most disposable shoegaze albums I have heard. It is still wishy washy, and the band has not developed a style here. I would expect a second album to steer itself more in one direction. Guesses? Maybe either mostly gentle acoustic based pieces, or a loud noisefest that might cater more to the punk influences that are buried in the annals of the genre. But how the hell should I know? I wanted a quick fix of shoegaze. That’s what I got, no more, no less. I’ll remember this one for being fun. And the fact that I will remember it says something.

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Bjork – Vespertine

January 7, 2008

It’s sixty degrees outside. Why is it sixty degrees outside? I live in Chicago for Christ’s sake. It’s January. It should be sixty degrees lower than it is. Although I suppose I shouldn’t complain about not being miserable every time I leave my house. But something about listening to Bjork’s Vespertine makes me feel like it SHOULD be cold, and snowing. Vespertine is as much a work of art as it is a force of nature, a call to the skies for snow, a summoning of a white blanket. This is not Bjork’s best album. Homogenic will most likely never be ousted from that position. But it is certainly the second greatest, and the most consistently themed, a chilling representation of Winter. This album makes the season of death come to life. Songs are blanketed in steady, warm, electronic beats and subsequently dressed up in soaring vocal harmonies and strings. Hidden Place kicks things off with a call to the unknown, represented by a mysterious melody that climbs and gently cascades back down a choral harmony. It’s Not Up To You is similarly immediate but this time more happy, also given string treatment in addition to well placed harp glissandos. As with most Bjork albums, the best songs are utterly unstoppable. Hidden Place, It’s Not Up To You, Pagan Poetry, and Aurora all deserve places on any Best of Bjork compilation yet to be released, as they all either match or trump anything on Post in terms of poppy fun. But the fun hardly stops there. There are several other fun songs, namely Frosti, Crabcraft, and Sun In My Mouth, all worth getting to know on their own chilly and beautiful terms. Also like most Bjork albums, good and bad, Vespertine has several clunkers and is prone to being uninteresting. Particularly, Cocoon and Undo have uninspired melodies that cannot be saved simply by being dressed up. In this way, Vespertine is far from the best it could be, but all things considered, it is a very pretty album that is to be respected as an album that suceeds on its own terms and creates lush, sophisticated styles that make it completely memorable.

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Three Cocteau Twins Reviews

December 28, 2007

Sunburst And Snowblind

A great little EP to accompany one of my favorite Twins’ albums, Head Over Heels. The version of Sugar Hiccup here is superior, and makes the original version obsolete. From The Flagstones and Hitherto are wonderful songs, arguably better than some songs on Head Over Heels, but Because of Whirl-Jack isn’t as good, although a nice inclusion. I am pretty sure this rounds off the released material from the Head Over Heels sessions. There is no reason not to get this one. It only enhances the album which it accompanies, which was already nearly perfect.

The Spangle Maker

One of the most overrated Cocteau Twins releases. People often cite Pearly Dewdrops’ Drops as a turning point in quality for the band, but I personally find it trite and annoying, and one of Fraser’s most contrived vocal performances. The Spangle Maker is a frequent fan favorite, but the tune is tired and uninspired. Fraser’s vocals once again take a fall, only spending a tiny amount of the nearly five minute song delivering characteristically excellent vocals, the rest of which is some of the least melodic of her repertoire. Pepper-Tree is the saving grace. It is quite nice. However, in general, this three song EP is pretty weak. It seems to spark something for other people, but it was only worth it to me for the sake of completion.

BBC Sessions

This two disk set of BBC recordings of Cocteau Twins are useless and peripheral upon first glance, but closer listening opens up their purposes. One initial strikeout is how lopsided the collection is in respect to the breadth of their career. The lions share of these recordings are of songs from the Garlands and Head Over Heels eras, while the bands most popular periods, of Treasure and Blue Bell Knoll are given little and no attention respectively.

The reasoning for this becomes clear to fans upon closer inspection. The truth is, the Garlands era songs are generally exceptional but poorly produced and hampered by Fraser’s then unhoned vocals. Coming back to these tracks with an updated knowledge of production and better instrumental skill does the band good, and most of these songs deserve their facelifts. The collection is led of with Wax And Wane, and with a faster tempo and more clearly produced haunting instrumentals, feels utterly complete. A few songs that were once negligible are now standouts, namely Feathers-Oars-Blades, Strange Fruit, and My Hue And Cry. And the songs that were already fantastic are also given quality, often times unique deliveries. The wonder of the re-recording of Blind Dumb Deaf is just one the many surprises to be found here. In the said track, the steady drum machine fires off cold beats quickly int the void as the bass plays a hypnotic rolling as if on a wooden ship under the dancing storm that is Guthrie’s satanic guitars. Fraser sings in the middle of all this, unphased, as if some untouchable angel.

It doesn’t sound very likely, but these versions do bring out the best of their songs, and they reveal that even in their primal, incomplete stage, the Cocteau Twins were one hell of a band. Also particularly nice are the new versions of Hazel and Hitherto. The former is the Twins’ most relentless gothic assault and arguably their heaviest song, and Hitherto is a beautiful, tragic number that can be likened to Musette And Drums.

This collection is by no means perfect, and on the second disk, the quality takes a nosedive with the Treasure era tracks and continuing through the Twins’ Capitol albums Four Calendar Cafe and Milk And Kisses. Everything past Beatrix is flat out mediocre, save a very beautiful cut of Otterley. The bands most popular album, Heaven or Las Vegas, is only given one song, and Victorialand and Blue Bell Knoll are completely ignored. However, the majority of the first disk and a good chunk of the second are filled with revised versions of some of the Twins’ most perplexing tunes that are revised and touched up to as perfect as they will ever be. This is not an essential Cocteau Twins release, but considering the state of the Cocteau Twins fanbase (that is, only rabid), there are many goodies to be found here, especially in respect to Garlands and Head Over Heels.

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Sigur Ros – Hvarf-Heim

November 26, 2007

Iceland’s most popular band, and arguably most popular musical artist even in the wake of Bjork, has been prolific to say the least within the past few months. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that the band announced the release of their live film, Heima, following the band during a brief tour of their homeland, marked by excellent cinematography, live footage, and footage of the gorgeous nature of Iceland. This DVD will be released in December in standard two disk form as well as in a special edition with an art book. I’m going to try to pick up one of them eventually, because the movie looks wonderful. Illegedly, Sigur Ros have also entered the studio to create a new album this week, and more news on this will surely unravel in good time. But this month marks a new release as well, the double EP Hvarf-Heim.

Hvarf

The first of the two EPs, Hvarf, is essentially a small rarities compilation. This is the release most anticipated and useful for rabid fans and completionists, and for casual and hardcore fans alike, most of these songs are previously unheard. Only Von and Hafsol have seen previous releases, but in forms so different that they might as well be new songs. But Von has never seen a recording in this early form, and Hafsol was only released as the b-side of Hoppipolla and gets new treatment here. The rest have never seen the light of the day to fans, save during select live performances. This makes this EP quite a catch among obscure releases. We will have to wait a longer time for a true, expansive rarities collection, but Hvarf rounds up some of the particularly hard to find material spanning Sigur Ros’ entire career, making it surprisingly representative. It echoes of each of the bands four album eras, but each song holds its own succulent personality, as Sigur Ros songs always do.

Fans will recognize the opening Salka as very reminiscent of the bands third album, the untitled (), sporting the albums specific hopelandic lyrics and melancholy scope. It is hard to say why this was a b-side, as it is somewhat more accessible than some of it’s () counterparts. In any case, it is a lovely, achingly sad piece that more than deserves a proper recording like this. After Salka comes Hijomalind from the Agaetis Byrjun era. This is, like it’s predecessor, fairly accessible in terms of Sigur Ros’ style which usually confounds new listeners. Jonsi gives yet another lovely vocal performance, and his final verse notes scream for neighboring non-chord tones (ala Milano from Takk…) that never appear, and with their absence these chords find gradual resolutions within themselves by the passing of only a few brief seconds of beautiful vocal space. Small nuances like these are only cognisible to people already familliar with the bands pervious work, but half of the fun in listening to Sigur Ros’ work, as daunting as it is to become familliar with it, is finding the coalescence between songs that have no chronological connection.

After this comes the song that we hear on the Heima trailer. This collection, after all, is meant to accompany Heima in some way, and this song was perfect for the trailer. It starts off with haunting, mysterious bells and eventually it builds itself into the signature Sigur Ros wall of beautiful guitar, this time more brutal and loud than ever before. It is truly a unique Sigur Ros song. After this is a lush orchestral rendition of Von, this time crafted differently than it’s original version on the album Von so many years ago. But the real winner is the final song on this EP, Hafsol. The song starts with with a steady percussion of drumsticks on bass strings, and is complemented by the bands signature warm yet wispy guitar blanket that wraps the vocal harmonizations in a layer of dissonant fuzz. The coup de grace is the final touch of wintery grace with a string section plucking a simple harmonization to complement the songs comparatively complicated vocal melodies. It’s the best song on Hvarf, and a nice way to wrap things up.

In the Hvarf-Heim double EP, Hvarf is the asset and the one that you will want to listen the most closely to. These rarities deserved a proper release, and they got them. All is well that ends well.

The second Sigur Ros EP in this nicely packaged double release is Heim, what the band describes as an acoustic EP. Heim handpicks some of Sigur Ros’ most well known and popular songs and reworks them to contain mostly only simple percussion, piano, acoustic guitars and vocals.

The first thing that fans will notice is the song selection, which is, for the most part, very nice. On one hand, these songs are some of the bands best, but they are also the ones we have essentially been listening to the most since they were released and thus never really needed a new angle. But even overlooking this minor issue of taste, these renditions reveal nothing about the original songs in the first place, because the originals were mostly acoustic ventures anyway. The extent of the differences between the original and acoustic versions are the sonic touchups in the originals which only enhanced the listening experience; Sigur Ros has always been organic at it’s core. Taking this detailing away only subtracts from what the songs have to say, and when listening to Heim, you will most likely want to switch on the original versions so you can hear them in all of their entirety.

However, although these songs do feel bare and incomplete, they are also very personal and well played. I’ll admit, I am a sucker for acoustic albums. Sigur Ros are going to play well no matter what environment you put them in. And clearly, as we will no doubt see on the Heima DVD, these songs were recorded in unusual places. You can hear birds chirping in Heysatan. This is one of the songs that was literally recorded in the middle of no where in Iceland. If we eventually get to see these performances on film, I have a feeling they will gather much more meaning. In any case, all of these songs are enjoyable to listen to, but you aren’t getting the full picture that you deserve.

The draw to this is that these are in fact the bands most popular songs, which could possibly make this double EP a good introduction to the band. But if the listener likes the band enough to go anywhere farther from here, they will inevitably get all of the studio albums and this disk will become obsolete. I would personally argue that it would be best to start people off on Takk or Agaetis Byrjun anyway. Despite the fact that these are nice recordings, they are disposable and unnecessary. Even rabid Sigur Ros fans will probably only spin this disk a couple times, because it is simply not that interesting.

Final consensus? If you like Sigur Ros, grab it for sure. You get your money’s worth. Usually these imports fetch high prices, but I found Hvarf-Heim at Borders for fourteen dollars, which isn’t a great price all things considered, but it’s below average for Sigur Ros. Nice rarities, nice acoustic variations (for what they are), and nice artwork.

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Smashing Pumpkins – Gish

June 4, 2007

When I spontaneously created a Top Fifty Albums list on my RYM a couple of weeks ago, I had no reason for Gish being so close to the top except for the fact that it just seemed right at the time. I guess I was simply looking at all of the albums I had given five stars and this just stuck out. When I take a good look from the outside, I would probably say that Gish doesn’t have as strong a set as Siamese Dream. And maybe it doesn’t and my opinion has changed in the past few weeks, but there is no doubt that I adore this album. The question is, why? I don’t even think I could have answered this question until I gave it another spin the other day. I don’t think I have ever had this bizarre of a love for an album. I find myself constantly gravitated to it and have listened to it more times than my memory cares to recall, a number that can only be described as obscene. And yet I still have a bit of trouble recalling what the riffs or tunes in some songs are. And it really only had two songs that could ever be described as radio material, and maybe Siamese Dream’s unfathomable myriad of radio hits makes it pale, but at the same time Gish just feels more loveable and has no weak moments whenever I play through it. A lot of times I feel there is this kind of silent offward nod of approval from my tastes to this album. It’s not an album I rave over, not even comparable to how much I talk about albums I love marginally less. So why is it that I can only shrug and give it a thumbs up when I see it at number two on my list? I guess I just felt like there was some unseen, irresistible dynamic to it. It’s something that I didn’t feel good not knowing.

When I was rating all my albums, I got to Gish and immediately gave it five stars, along with Siamese Dream. I just felt like this was my favorite of the bunch. Siamese Dream probably has better songwriting in the end, but only to a certain extent considering both albums are totally tight. But I have always had a serious, undeniable problem with Siamese Dream that I am still having trouble getting over years after I first heard it. That is, I’m not quite sure I always like the sound of the guitars. The riffing is simply awesome, but the actual sound and production of the guitars is very fuzzy and jagged, and while it does act like the buzzsaw bayonet to the weapon that is the Smashing Pumpkins, I have just had a very hard time getting over it. This can only be alleviated by cranking the album to extremely high volumes. When Siamese dream floats gently into it’s more acoustic or organic sounds, the guitars sound wonderful, and the songwriting more than makes up for it anyway, but on Gish all the guitars immediately stick out and gloss over beautifully. And as far as strength of songs goes, Siamese Dream produced a myriad of wonderful radio hits and unforgettable hooks. Gish, on the other hand, took the route of very cool but ultimately less memorable riffs and hooks that don’t wear themselves out. The definition of this album is cool and chill, and perhaps the less distinctive and easy hooks are what makes this album feel new upon repeated listens. And it really does. Siamese Dream is an album I have listened and whored to my ears so much that I tired it out, but having listened to Gish just as many times, it still feels new.

For individual songs, Gish actually has a pretty big myriad of types of tunes on it. The album only repeats itself twice, and in good ways too. The trio of upbeat but ultimately chilled riff rockers, I Am One, Bury Me, and Tristessa, is staggeringly good. All three songs start up with a really muscular rhythm section and particularly good basslines, and develop themselves with shiny guitars and heavy riffs. The opening I Am One is the one of the bunch that stands out the most though, perhaps because it is the first song on the Pumpkins first album. But even then, it’s quality is undeniable. About halfway through the song, something unforgettable happens, and a crazy awesome guitar solo starts up only to be accompanied by another of equal quality, and both snake around one another for a long time. Then, the only the bassline remains, thumping along at a steady pace, when both guitars come in again and rekindle the mayhem with an explosion of sound. This is only one of the many memorable moments on the albums more upbeat rocking half. Another would be the entirety of the song that is Siva, a long, progressive foray that reels through numerous variations of the same riff. When the band quiets down and does a very subdued variation on the verse and then fades into silence. Which then angrily explodes back into the chorus. A monumental moment.

And interestingly enough, the album is almost cut in half between loud, fun rockers and quiet, completely unique dream pop. For some reason people regard this album as a chief in the genre of dream pop when in reality only half of it could really truly constitute as such. The most popular of these songs is the third song, Rhinoceros. Drifting along romantically at a slow beat, lullaby bass, and pretty textured guitar, the song is nothing short of a masterpiece. What might throw off some listeners though, is how long the song is, clocking in at about six and a half minutes, never really repeating itself either. There is no set verse, and when it revisits the chorus, it does it in different way. Every few bars the guitars change sound to reveal a brand new riff or nuance, and after building up to a glorious signature Pumpkins peak of wonder, the song ends with a sigh of love. This, however, is not a lonely song. The other that stands out to me is Crush, which I have finally decided that I love after not being sure about it for a long time. What threw me off was the fact that the song is built upon a simple major scale as a bassline, the most elementary thing I’ve ever heard. But that doesn’t stop the fact that this is a wonderful, dreamy gem and completely representative of it’s title in every sense. And the following Suffer is just as good. It is almost a bit eastern, but is one of the most gentle, lovely tunes I have ever heard. There is a missing link though. One of the bands best songs, Drown, was written around the same time and was included on the Singles soundtrack. It plays a lot like Rhinoceros, but is arguably better and it would have truly made the album perfect if included.

The two least immediate songs are Snail and Window Paine. I used to think that the album fizzled out after the fifth track, but the truth of it is that this album stays very consistent all the way through. And these two songs are truly vital to the spirit of Gish. Saying that this album is happy and positive would be an understatement, and these might be the two songs that define that mood. Snail is a personal favorite and a great optimistic rocker, and Window Paine might be the beginning of what would later be known as the signature Smashing Pumpkins epic. And the final song, Daydream, truly needs to be heard to be understood. This is the albums only melancholy moment, only song that teeters fragile on the edge. This is a rare moment where D’arcy sings, and she does a very good job. Her soft voice paired with sad strings makes for a great combo. And then the song quiets, and turns into something completely different. I used to think the second part of Daydream was Billy letting his ego get the best of him and refusing to let anyone else take the spotlight in the end, but to be sure it is essential and represents the album very well.

Maybe all things considered I really do like Siamese Dream more, or at least respect it more, but I still enjoy Gish just as much. Maybe it is simply a matter of consistency. Although Siamese Dream’s best moments are downright unbelievable, it has it’s weaknesses, and Gish honestly has none besides the fact that it only stands slightly less tall next to Siamese Dream. I can look for problems in this album and turn up empty handed every time. Another reason I love it so much is because I feel like it encompasses my personality with surprising accuracy. I love relaxing, dreamy music as well as rock solid riffs, and Gish has both, sometimes slamming them together with shocking accuracy. It just feels like the perfect soundtrack to a lazy summer day. Or maybe it is the perfect soundtrack to the nineties, spanning seemingly unrelated genres to make the ultimate tribute to the breed of people that shaped the 90s music scene. These people were eclectic, leftist, laid back and yet undeniably in-your-face. So why did the word “apathy” hold so much leverage to people who truly cared so much about everything? Gish just has a little bit of everything. It is chill, abrasive, catchy, solid, sexy, and full of love. I don’t think one could ask for more.

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A Sunny Day In Glasgow – Scribble Mural Comic Journal

May 19, 2007

In a genre driven by individual songs rather than albums or artists, it is very difficult to distinguish oneself ten years after the genre hit it’s peak. Shoegaze just has a hard time producing truly wonderful albums. Asobi Seksu’s release last year, Citrus, was the first in years to justify that the genre isn’t complete bullshit. And I don’t think it would be completely unreasonable to say that it is at this point, because so few bands in the business have kept up the pace and consistently released good material. The obvious come to mind, My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive. But the lions share of shoegaze bands are the type that released one really good album and a few good singles and couldn’t make a sizable career out of it. Ride, Chapterhouse, Catherine Wheel, Lush…All bands that befell this fate of scattered brilliance, and really none of them made any truly important albums. For that reason, at any new shoegaze release, fans of the genre jump to call them unique or “the best since Loveless” or just downright brilliant. Someone called this album all three, so I foolishly got it.

It’s not that this album is horrible or anything, because it definitely has it’s moments, but the problem is that it should have had many more moments. In fact, most of the album feels like it has really good ideas going on that sadly just get botched and not given the correct treatment. It starts off on a shockingly good foot though. The first track, Wake Up Pretty, is a lovely little hypnotic intro into the rest of the album, with off beat glowing synthesizer loops and a very soft beat. This, and the following song No. 6 Von Karman Street sort of represent what this album should have been. Both songs are very hypnotic, almost delusionally sweet swirls of shoegaze. The twins voices echo and harmonize softly in the background throughout, and the beat is driving enough to make it exciting.

The problem with the album I have is that there are lots of really good melodies that are simply not treated with enough care. There are some simply bad moments though, namely Lists Plans and C’mon, both of which are horribly annoying. But at times this album can reach considerable heights and do some very enjoyable things. To say that the album is unique would be wrong though, because this kind of angelic trance has been done before and has been done well. But then again, there have been plenty of great dreampop and shoegaze records that ripped on others of the genre. Scribble Mural Comic Journal at times makes music that is so flowing and natural that it is relaxing to the effect of a druggy haze or half-asleep dreaming. That may sound a bit pretentious, but nothing is perfect. The style of Scribble Mural gets old fast and many times the songs run themselves out before they actually end. And the fact that most songs melodies have no real structure hurts the style as much as it helps, making the record sound like a pleasant atmosphere while simultaneously being a cluttered mess. But with all this said, the effect of the album is exponentially augmented when cranked to high volumes, like most shoegaze records. The more immersed in the sound one is, the better.

To be honest it’s really not that great unless you are a huge shoegaze fanatic, in which case there is surely something fresh and lovely here that you will thoroughly enjoy. But if you aren’t, and I’d only really consider myself a casual shoegaze fan who dabbles here and there, this is a confusing, mediocre set. There are some really lovely ones that might be highlights in the shoegazing community this year, namely 5:15 Train, Watery, and No. 6 Von Karman Street. Proceed with caution, but it should be pretty obvious whether or not you want this anyway.