Posts Tagged ‘dream pop’

h1

Three DC Concerts: Beach House, A Sunny Day in Glasgow, Gang Gang Dance

April 2, 2010

DC just had its arguably busiest week in concerts of the season. The city had shows from the likes of Beach House, Dum Dum Girls, Real Estate, Deerhunter, Spoon, Gang Gang Dance, The xx, A Sunny Day in Glasgow and jj. I personally hit up three shows in a five day period: Beach House, A Sunny Day in Glasgow and Gang Gang Dance.

Beach House at the Black Cat on Friday might have been the most hyped concert of the week for one of the most hyped bands of the year. They quite easily sold out the Black Cat and packed the Main Stage room full of eager fans. The precious Bachelorette opened, who got a fair bit of audience response, probably due in part to her quiet, cutesy New Zealandic accent. Her set mostly consisted of cleverly looped vocals, guitar strums, and drum machines that made for a well received whole. When Beach House stormed the stage, the crowd couldn’t have been happier, frequently letting loose “we love you Victoria!”s and other such words of praise. The band’s set was decent sized and was delivered as well as received with great enthusiasm. Victoria LeGrand and Alex Scalley actually move around on stage and have more energy than their slow, syrupy music might suggest. They played all but one song from their new album Teen Dream (sadly giving arguably the album’s best song, “Real Love,” the shaft) as well as a couple older numbers, even stretching back to their 2006 self-titled debut for “Master of None.” The encore was just perfect. They first played a crowd favorite from 2008’s sophomore album Devotion, “Astronaut,” and clinched the show with a spirited rendition of “10 Mile Stereo.” Although seeing Beach House live doesn’t differ much from  hearing them on an album, it stands that doing both is a breathtaking emotional experience, and I would say that just about everyone at the Black Cat on Friday had a great time.

Beach House

A Sunny Day in Glasgow played on Sunday at DC9, which might take the cake as DC’s smallest regular concert venue, but it is also one of its most rewarding. Its acoustics are nice and its setup puts the audience just feet away from the performers. We walked in a little late to just catch Phil and the Osophers play an enjoyable, playful pop set that felt similar to the likes of Vampire Weekend. Although it was a fairly innocuous set, I admit to wanting to hear more from the band, and I hope they had a good time at SXSW where they played just last week. When A Sunny Day in Glasgow got started, their set was unstoppable. Their live presence is something to be reckoned with, six band members on stage all doing different things for every song (a favorite moment was when Ben Daniels broke out an electric mandolin). The group focuses their powers around vocalists Annie Fredrickson and Jen Goma, who harmonize the songs’ airy vocals to lovely effect. Most of the songs they played sounded better than the studio versions, which were already superb (recall my naming Ashes Grammar one of the best albums of this past decade). They played through new favorites like “White Witch,” “Failure” and “Passionate Introverts” with lovely vitality. The biggest disappointment of the show was the lack of an encore; they played through a rather short set and could have easily extended it to better please the crowd, but that was about their only shortcoming. They will surely have my ticket sale the next time they come to town.

A Sunny Day in Glasgow

The wait for Gang Gang Dance at the Rock ‘n Roll Hotel on Tuesday was long, and opening act High Life only made it feel longer. His high pitched squeals over noisy effects loops were maybe an appropriate way to ease the audience into Gang Gang Dance’s set, but it was still hardly appreciated except by a select few near the stage. He later made up for the set by acting as Gang Gang Dance’s much needed bass player, who gave the main band’s music the strong under-melody it needed. This was particularly important because Gang Gang Dance played so loud that it was sometimes difficult to hear what one was hearing, and a strong sense of melody as well as rhythm was needed to make sense of the raucous din. This situation could have been disastrous if the acoustics were different and the sound was too noisy, but Gang Gang narrowly hit a bullseye mark that got most of the audience nodding and bobbing in a narcotic haze. All of the songs they played were new, some melodic and most all featuring beats and melodies that sound like they come straight from Saudi Arabia or India. The only tune I recognized was the shimmering “Crystals,” which featured steel drum sound effects and twinkling synthesizers. We can hope that this song, as well as the others we heard that night, will make it onto Gang Gang’s next proper studio LP. Overall I’d say the venue housed a great amount of satisfied customers, considering the band surprisingly almost packed the house. But we need to remember that Gang Gang are a noise band, and though their noise is beautiful, it is still willfully cacophonous, and should be judged appropriately.

Gang Gang Dance

Overall, I had a really awesome time at all of these shows. Conclusion: DC has a lot of great shows, some of which are highly attended and some that aren’t, and if you pick and choose well enough, you can get more than your money’s worth for a night, or week, of fun.

h1

Off This Century – My Favorite Albums of 2000-2009

December 25, 2009
h1

Mew – No More Stories / Are Told Today / I'm Sorry / They Washed Away // No More Stories / The World Is Grey / I'm Tired / Let's Wash Away

September 12, 2009

I don’t have a lot of energy right now, as it is late and I am back late from a show, but I am now listening to this album and feel that it deserves a shout out. So I’m going to give my incomplete, unedited take on it.

mew_no_more_stories

As the year progresses, more and more albums are catching my ear that impress me. I’ll be blunt by saying that No More Stories… is one of those albums. It is different from Mew’s previous LP, And The Glass Handed Kites (which, man, came out four years ago already?) in that it is very much a set of songs as opposed to a long suite. Each song is individual and memorable. This is due in part to Mew’s frequent tendency to experiment a little, and thus we get songs like “New Terrain” (which when played backwards reveals a completely different song. what’s shocking is that both songs are actually good), “Introducing Palace Players” (a fractured, no-tempo stomp), and “Cartoons and Macrame Wounds” (which begins at it’s climax and works backwards). These songs are pretty out there at first listen, but give them a little time and the pieces click into place and they are ultimately enticing. They are just new and different enough to be fascinating but they also have more conventional, melodic elements to them, and Mew are very good at melody. The album isn’t all experimentalism though; there are a couple more streamlined tunes here, but they aren’t by any means radio pop. “Repeaterbeater” reminisces of “Apocalypso” off of Glass Handed Kites in that it is shamelessly riffy hard rock. I’ll put another thing bluntly. This album is loaded. It’s got a lot of really memorable songs, and really no bad songs. Even the longer, downtempo pieces (“Silas the Magic Car,” “Cartoons and Macrame Wounds”) are top notch chamber dream pop despite being a little less involving. After maybe two listens, everything here is as familiar and excellent sounding as on Mew’s previous albums. The selection of songs that are excellent here is pretty overwhelming. Besides what I’ve already mentioned, “Beach,” “Hawaii Dream” (the album’s centerpiece, a tiny interlude. how funny that it ends up being one of the more memorable tracks on the album.), “Hawaii” (this one is just perfect, a charming tropical pop song complete with marimbas and skybound reverberating vocals), and “Sometimes Life Isn’t Easy” are all instantly classic Mew. And on the latter, Mew manage to match their awesome guest spot from J Mascis on Glass Handed Kites’ “Why Are You Looking Grave” with a showstopping performance from Mari Helgerlikova, an 88 year old Danish avant-garde singer. Basically, get this album for Christ’s sake. Mew make music that is, like much great art, just new and interesting enough to be engaging, but isn’t too far out. They are completely unabashed in their pop and rock sensibilities while still having the bravery to utilize conventions of many of their favorite genres such as shoegaze, dream pop, progressive rock and even classical pop. You could make a pretty good case that this is Mew’s best album to date. I can hear the complaint already that some might think that this album is tired, but it aknowledges this in it’s title, and knows it. Life can be weary and overbearing but finding refuge in quality music, whether it is music you can rock out to or curl up on the couch with, is pure satisfaction.

h1

Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion

January 20, 2009

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

I saw Animal Collective live at the Pitchfork festival in 2008, and it was like no concert I had ever seen or heard. I stood in the same place for hours in order to get a good spot to see the band which I hardly knew well save for their at that point latest album, Strawberry Jam. In the sea of hipsters, I felt like a faux-hipster, not knowing what to expect, somehow at fault for his fascination and curiosity with a band that he had close to no knowledge of despite the fact that they already had a devoted following since the turn of the century. I felt ashamed to want to hear the more melodic songs at the concert. I was afraid of being ridiculed because I had wanted to hear the hits.

My insecurities would be sorted out in due time (actually with Panda Bear’s 2007 solo album Person Pitch which dealt with musical elitism head on), but at that point  in time what was important was what I was hearing, and I couldn’t even tell what that was. The concert was a complete sensory overload. I felt as if the concert was so loud, so dense, so invasive of my brain that I literally could not hear what I was hearing. It sounds strange, but I was completely enveloped by the music. It felt like I was inside the music, as opposed to the music going inside of my ears and being inside me. I was not even completely sure if I liked it at the time, but I knew that what I was listening to was catchy, and I was too fascinated to want it to stop. About half of that concert’s setlist consisted of songs that would later be on Merriweather Post Pavilion (named after the legendary Maryland concert venue), which is arguably the album that everyone has been waiting for the band to make for almost ten years.

With that said, comparing any Animal Collective album to any other is risky business. Merriweather is their ninth, and almost all of them are unique, although their progression makes sense and they share certain qualities. Starting from free form electronic, moving through noisy, improvisational psychedelia, folk, pop, and guitar rock, Animal Collective seem to have done it all, but they have developed and retained distinctive styles throughout their career. Observers have tried to condense these avant garde tendencies, just a few being rhythm-less guitar strumming, conversely rhythmic hooks, and drastic dynamics, into the label “freak folk,” but pinning a genre on the band seems futile, because they are always trying new things and moving in different directions. The core of the band has always been Noah Lennox (otherwise known as Panda Bear) and David Portner (Avey Tare), with other members Brian Weitz (The Geologist) and Josh Dibb (Deakin) joining in early on. The band’s lineup has changed since their last album, 2007s more guitar based Strawberry Jam, with the (presumably temporary) departure of guitarist Deakin.

Animal Collective at the 2008 Pitchfork Festival

Animal Collective at the 2008 Pitchfork Festival

The concert I attended in 2008 was with this lineup, Panda Bear, Avey Tare and the Geologist, and primarily an electronic show. The spirit of the band’s live show is a thorough and accurate representation of Merriweather Post Pavilion’s style. Songs are thickly layered with sampled sounds of all kinds, everything from the more standard tools of the trade such as drums, guitars, and pianos, to bizarre electronic samples, found sounds, and foreign instruments. This technique has been honed by the band since their earliest days, but it seems to be a perfected art here, with more pleasing things going on at any given time than one can distinguish or separate. Particularly impenetrable are Daily Routine, Panda Bear’s sonic representation of a morning out with his daughter, and Also Frightened, which sounds like an electronic acid drenched rainforest. But this sonic complexity actually feels quite down to earth, for several reasons.

One of which is the band’s melodic maturity. Earlier Animal Collective albums often ran with numerous musical ideas and hooks in the same song somewhat linearly,  often separately. On Merriweather, the band run with the catchiest melodies and simultaneously lean on their production without ever simply relying on it. The most notable example of capitalization of melody is the album’s second song and first single, My Girls, primarily a Panda Bear song. The production here is excellent – the rhythmic arpeggios and low bass blasts are something that was hinted at on Strawberry Jam but are brought to their full potential here – but the song’s primary feature is that you would be hard pressed to find a more catchy song in the band’s catalog. The album’s centerpiece is Bluish, conversely more of an Avey Tare piece, which utilizes an absolutely lovely synthesizer melody alongside lush clicks and whirs and held up by a heart thumping rhythm, and ends up being Animal Collective’s cutest song to date. Just about every song, no, sound, on this album will make you smile.

Avey Tare and Panda Bear at the 2008 Pitchfork Festival

Avey Tare and Panda Bear at the 2008 Pitchfork Festival

Both of the aforementioned songs, and at that a majority of the songs on Merriweather Post Pavilion, feature shared vocal responsibilities from Panda Bear and Avey Tare. Animal Collective have always been about the unique melodic and vocal styles of Avey Tare and Panda Bear, and on this album, these styles blend perfectly. The two bounce main hooks off of one another on a song by song basis, but it is clear that each member of the band has a key role in just about each song. It is difficult to tell who does what, but from examining the solo work of Panda Bear and Avey Tare in relation to Animal Collective’s catalog, it becomes clear what each member of the band, including the Geologist, bring to the table. And they bring quite a lot. Merriweather Post Pavilion is a blend of countless ideas, old and new.

Lyrically, Panda Bear and Avey Tare have also matured. Panda has always been a bit more down to earth than Avey, but his lyrics reached drum-tight focus on Person Pitch, where they were almost conversational. Although Avey’s lyrics are still whimsical and focused on imagery, he has followed Panda towards a more tangible lyrical style, most recognizably with his romantic musings on Bluish. But Avey’s greatest moment might be Lion In a Coma, a multifaceted percussive song. It probably gets the closest to bizarre as any other song on the album, but Avey’s lyrics are spot on; just bizarre enough to be fun but also touchingly yearning and sensitive.

Conversely, Panda Bear’s finest moment comes last with Brother Sport, on which Panda engages in a completely new catharsis, specifically, dance until you drop. It explodes into Animal Collective’s most memorable song from the start, riding waves through hook after hook until a dramatic Boredoms-esque psychedelic freakout, in which it seems like just about every animal in the zoo got a musical instrument and everybody went wild at the same time, in perfect synchronization. Meanwhile, a sound collage cascades down from the sky and Panda chants “Halfway to fully grown/you’ve got a real good shot/won’t help to hold inside/keep it real, keep it real, shout out.” It’s the sound of a band who wants to do everything at once and has the experience and maturity to do so without sounding contrived or muddy. But this song is just one of many on an adventurous pop album where everything is carefully considered, and all of Animal Collective’s tools come together to make something utterly unique and irresistible, their best and most fun album to date.

Animal Collective

Animal Collective

h1

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

h1

Sigur Ros – Heima

January 23, 2008

As Sigur Ros bassist Georg speaks in the tour diary included in the second disk of the Heima DVD, up until the release of this film, Sigur Ros fans had not really been given a visual document of the bands work and spirit aside from the album artwork, which is perfectly pleasant and beautiful on it’s own terms, but does not really give fans the kind of concert experience that they have always wished for. Heima is a film about Iceland, and the islands most popular band, Sigur Ros, on a short unannounced tour throughout the country. Heima means “at home,” which means that the band is in their most comfortable environment, their own home country with all of it’s beautiful, homely charms.

The majority of the film is presented in the form of live concert footage and footage of Iceland’s beautiful natural landscapes. It is divided into passages concentrated on different towns, villages, and cities, and personal concert experiences from each. The idea that this could turn into a dull, Discovery Channel documentary is immediately disproved, as the band proves that they are among the most innovative and consistently interesting performers in a long time. In fact, Sigur Ros turn what we know about documentaries, let alone music documentaries, upside down. Within the first fifteen minutes, we are shown live footage of the band performing one of the better songs off of Takk while completely silhouetted by an earthen cloth that takes up the entire expanse of a stage. The entire song is performed under shadow, reminding us that the music of Sigur Ros is as much about what is not there as what is there. This may seem pretentious, but we must remember that this is a band that released an album with blank pages in the sleeve meant for fans to produce lyrics of their own, a counterpoint for the fact that Sigur Ros vocalist Jonsi almost exclusively sings in a babel that does not belong to any language.

Almost every song is performed in a unique way or in a unique place, and although some of the performances do not add anything new to their studio recordings, they all resonate with warmth. This may be partially due to the inclusion of the band’s supporting strings section, the all girls band Amiina, that has served Sigur Ros very well within the past ten years and act as family both professionally and personally.

Another switch-up is employed very early on in the naturalistic segments. Footage of running water from streams and waterfalls is reversed. I could tell you that this represents Sigur Ros moving backwards in it’s own footsteps in the snow, back home, to where things started, but then I would sound like I’m looking for reasons to praise the bands every move. This kind of over-analysis from fans is what has given the band their pretentious reputation. What we need to remember is, water running backwards in gorgeous high quality just looks impressive. And the ideas of Sigur Ros are not always as complex as we may think. The band keeps their music close to the human condition, and closer to the human ear.

What Sigur Ros have done are bring us into their world, into their home, and showed us what their music is about. Heima is as much a testament to Iceland as it is to Sigur Ros and their live repertoire. Throughout the span of the film, the band play songs in desolate regions such as in the middle of a forest as well in a slew of other places that I will not mention so to leave the majority of the movie a surprise. These performances are either pretentious or completely genuine, and we struggle with this question until after the performance of the final song, when Jonsi describes an interesting family tidbit which I also cannot reproduce here, in risk of it losing it’s effect. We are also shown footage of the people of the different Icelandic villages living their everyday lives, as well as indulging in the concerts, which they seem only half as impressed about as we do. A local marching band accompanying Sigur Ros onstage seems to them to be completely natural, as unique as it is. Moments like these are not few, and I struggle to not reveal more of them because of how interesting they all are. But shots of the natural beauty of Iceland are just as important and moving as the happenings the people that inhabit it. This seems to be part musical documentary, and part natural documentary, both areas approached in lighthearted and honest ways.

Intricacies aside, Heima is a solid live concert experience. The songs are performed very well, although they do not differ much aurally from the original album cuts. The DVD is put together very nicely, but at times the interactive menus can get a bit confusing and tiring, despite their creativity of their presentation of an elderly map of Iceland, which are probably much more navigable to Icelandic people. The extras are quite interesting and are enough to keep fans’ appetites quelled until the band’s next release, whenever that may be. There are a couple different versions of Heima that you can buy, namely the standard two disk DVD as well as a deluxe edition with an art book, but both releases have the same two disks and are only cosmetically different. My complaints of the film are only in my desire to have seen some of my personal favorite songs performed, specifically Gong, Saeglopur, and Svefn-g-englar, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and none of the song selections here are wasted efforts. I was especially impressed with the performance of Meo Blodnasir, a magical little interlude on Takk that would not normally be seen as anything more than filler. Even for casual Sigur Ros fans, Heima is essential, and it is surely the apex of Sigur Ros’ career thus far. Easily the best music documentary I have seen, and a highlight of 2007 in both music and film.

h1

The Radio Dept. – Pet Grief

March 26, 2007

I first heard Pet Grief around when it was released last year and for some reason I didn’t like it. Maybe it was because everyone I knew who heard it didn’t like it, so I kind of threw it on the backburner and never gave it a legit listen. But I put this in my CD player a few days ago and it totally opened up for me. What a great feeling, to play an album you thought was bad only to realize that it is really great. It’s true, this is a change for The Radio Dept, but it’s not necessarily bad. The biggest difference is in the mood. Most of the songs are created in the same signature Radio Dept. way. They all have programmed soft beats, wispy vocals put through the same effects that were employed on Lesser Matters and the two following great EPs, and some nifty synthesizers and shining guitars that make the whole production shine. But the mood here is now a little more contemplative and sometimes melancholy. I think it’s a matter of preference here, and I seem to enjoy this as much as Lesser Matters now. Lesser Matters almost had more of a happy go lucky down to earth feeling to it. Only given close inspection does this album really open up.

The first track, It’s Personal, may be a bit misleading. It really threw me off at first. It’s a midtempo melancholy instrumental that makes good use of strings that are seen through the rest of the album, and the beats are also very soft and relaxing like previous work from the band, all dressed up in heavy echo. But to be honest, it’s probably the saddest song on the album, so you can rest easy knowing that the mood doesn’t carry through. It would probably be alright if it did though, because this song is very good, but it would be a tiring album to listen to if every song was this lugubrious, The next song, Pet Grief, is a startling disconnection to the previous theme. I might even say it’s the best song the band has made yet, and I’m a pretty big fan of Pulling Our Weight and Against The Tide. The song starts out with a segment of extremely well subdivided beats and a breathtaking swirl of reverb that launches into one of the best pop songs of ’06. It’s a really touching spring themed tune. It has a fantastic bassline and an impressive lineup of strings as well. The lyrics are lovely and they pretty much speak for themselves; how does one best go about dealing with friends in grief? It actually answers the question pretty well.

After hearing just those two songs for the first time I was truly misguided. I felt like those were two of the most individual songs the band has ever made, and I was expecting a continuously differential record. What I focused on was how certain themes carry on through the album and the means of making songs doesn’t necessarily change all that much, and I failed to see the individual power in each song. The hooks aren’t as immediate as on Pet Grief, but they are still there if you are willing to give them a chance. When the sad mood returns, it luckily isn’t botched, because if it was it would probably ruin the rest of what the album had to say. This is a bit of a shaky structure as it is, but I Wanted You To Feel The Same is really genuinely touching. What seems to be the most popular song on the album is also a bit sad, The Worst Taste In Music. It is accompanied with an interesting music video, and The Radio Dept. is a band with an already outstanding lineup of music videos. If you have not seen the video for Pulling Our Weight, I really recommend you do. But once again, the album isn’t all despondent for these pseudo shoegaze revivalists. Every Time is a sweet pop song with as much sonic sheen as Keen on Boys, and A Window is an uplifting summer urban love song.

I’m just so… Shocked. I can’t believe I didn’t like this before. There is really only one comparatively weak song in my opinion and that is Tell, but beyond that every song on this album is as priceless a gem as any of the bands other material is. This album is as much of a joy to listen to as Lesser Matters and perhaps even more rewarding. It clocks in at a very short length, around thirty five minutes, but every minute of it is sweet candy. The Radio Dept. is one of the best new indie bands for dreampop fans to dabble in, and one of the most impressive acts to come out of Sweden in a while. And they are still at it too. According to their website, they recently canceled their European tour due to financial constraints, but they are also doing work on a follow up to Pet Grief, as of yet unnamed. I’d love to see these guys live, as I’m told they are really amazing. They have some free MP3s of their music at their webpage, including a full live show. This band is definitely worth checking out and Pet Grief shows some significant growth in the right direction, and it will surely be a joy to watch this band continue to make material.

http://www.theradiodept.frih.net/Media.htm

h1

Cocteau Twins – Head Over Heels

January 25, 2007

As far as Cocteau Twins records go, the question is never whether or not it is great, but instead how great it is. The band made a point to make comforting records, at least save Garlands, and as jarring as it is, Head Over Heels is actually one of the more comforting they made. Sound-wise it is one of the bands more dark and disturbing records, although it does have it’s gorgeous moments, but what makes this record truly comforting is the fact that it lays down the foundation for even greater things to come while delivering a solid set of songs. By the time this was recorded, the groups original bassist quit the lineup and Robin Guthrie and Liz Fraser were left by themselves. Setback? Hardly. It just so happens that the second Will Heggie left, the remaining duo made their first great album, and arguably their best. Instead of being as accessible or serenely beautiful as Treasure or Heaven or Las Vegas, it is a challenging and strange record that actually ends up being just as rewarding and interesting.

While Head Over Heels may seem a bit unrefined in comparisson to later Cocteau records, you need to keep in mind that this truly defined the bands sound. From the opening drones of When Mama Was Moth, Head Over Heels innovates at every turn. You can still hear an echo of Garlands’ songwriting style even in the opening track, but very distantly. The song is tame yet dark, and Liz Frasers hymns are spot on, expressing some kind of angelic mysticism in a creepy sort of way. The next song Five Ten Fiftyfold expands on this darkness in a surprisingly catchy way, staying almost even a bit bleak with it’s minor tones and guitar squalls while Fraser resounds at her absolute best. The albums most mysteriously dark and yet touching moment comes later though, with The Tinderbox (Of A Heart), a knockout performance on every level. The song has the signature Guthrie beautiful guitar drones and picking in conjunction with beautiful changs by Fraser. Don’t let anyone fool you, while people may say that Blue Bell Knoll is the bands darkest record, it just isn’t. This takes the cake in that category, if you could ever consider any of the Cocteau Twins’ records truly “dark.”

Keep in mind that this album was made before Simon Raymonde joined the group and therefore still doesn’t have their signature aching beauty. This would come soon enough with The Spangle Maker EP and consequently Treasure, but it’s not like everything on this record isn’t spot on as it is. Robin Guthrie and Liz Fraser deliver on every level they possibly could, Guthrie reinventing their sound from the ground up to a distinctive hypnotic guitar-laden heaven, and Fraser giving one of her best vocal performances. Not every song is dark or anything, it just kind of seems like it. The albums clear winner is Sugar Hiccup, a lovely dreampop masterpiece. What really amazes me is how much Guthrie truly manages by himself in the song creation department. While I’m sure that Fraser contributed more than just her knockout vocals, Guthrie is the man behind the tunes themselves, and would be until Raymonde joined in and shared the weight, but considering that these songs are just as pretty as most of the bands later work, Guthrie deserves a big pat on the back for his efforts here.

There is actually a lot of variety here, at least for a Twins record. But really, every Cocteau Twins song is extremely individual and can be treated like it’s own treasure. I do feel that stylistically, Head Over Heels is particulary varied. In Our Angelhood is the most telling of the bands roots. It plays like something earlier by The Cure and almost touches on punk, in a pretty sort of way. It’s just about the most upbeat or at least the most grooving you will ever hear the band, and is truly one of the cooler songs the band made. And yet for how recognizably cool many of these songs are, the album is truly a challenging listen. Sometimes Fraser’s vocals are downright eccentric, especially on Glass Candle Grenades and the following In The Gold Dust Rush. These two songs especially take a long time to get used to and fully appreciate, but the effort pays off and at their core these two songs are truly fantastic. And Multifoiled is another tough entry, completely out of place with it’s late night bar jazz groove, and yet is a lot of fun. The album concludes a bit more conventionally though with two vintage Twins tracks, My Love Paramour and Mussette and Drums. The former is a grand hypnotic groove, and the latter is one of the albums strongest, an emotional explosion of beautiful guitars and Fraser’s always beautiful singing.

If you are new to the Cocteau Twins, you are better off starting elsewhere, but this album is classic, no question. People have complaints about it of course, but for the most part I think they are mostly due to the fact that this album jumps all over the place and was really before The Twins layed down their perfect sound, which they would subsequently do with Treasure. But as a sophomore album (and it’s usually that second one that really shows a bands talent, isn’t it?), this record cast aside all the dreary unexciting sound that Garlands was and created something completely new, using Liz’s vocals to their fullest and innovating at every turn with Guthrie’s guitars and unbelievable musicality. That is what makes this album truly comforting…the thought that there is still so much brilliance ahead of the band and that from as good of a record as this is, it only gets better. Once again, this is the Cocteau Twins not quite at the top but getting very close. It may not be as pretty and dreamy as Blue Bell Knoll or the bands swan song Treasure, but Head Over Heels is a wonderful record in it’s own right, in all of it’s dark, uneasy glory.

h1

The Radio Dept. – Lesser Matters

December 6, 2006

It’s no surprise I found this gem by association of a Sophia Coppola soundtrack. God knows that has happened before. The Lost In Translation soundtrack was a revelation for me, and it pointed me in the direction of My Bloody Valentine (can’t I just go one post without mentioning them?), The Jesus And Mary Chain, and Air, three of my favorite bands now. Hell, the disc practically slapped me on the face and threw me at a completely new scene of music. I haven’t seen Marie Antoinette yet, and the soundtrack hasn’t completely knocked me on my ass partially due to that fact, but it’s nothing to shake a finger at, that’s for sure. It should be noted that the double-disk soundtrack is just as varied as skillfully constructed as it’s predecessor, but once again I can’t really determine it’s worth without seeing the movie. This soundtrack is significantly more aimed at post-punk and stuff from the 80s, specifically Bow Wow Wow, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Cure, and Gang Of Four. But the typically dream-pop elements are here too as usual, and some of the standout songs to me were dreamy little tunes from a band I had never heard of, The Radio Dept.

I soon found out that the group is a Swedish band that recently came out with a new album, Pet Grief, which I now also have. They are sort of dream-pop revivalists, but they have their own style, that much I’m certain of. I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head that they rip on, which is a pretty unusual quality for a band, that is, that significant an amount of originality. To be sure, this is the bands best album to date, their debut LP. If I were to describe the sound of the music in as few words as possible, they would be the following: dreamy, warm, reserved, honest, comforting. I probably couldn’t use less words. They are just that distinctive. The first thing that will stick out to any listener will be the rather programmed beats, the blanketing bass, and the quiet vocals. Considering how easy it should be for these themes to get boring in the span of a full album, the band makes sure they don’t need to repeat themselves and make sure the listener gets everything they should get out of this experience. After all, if you want to make a splash on one album, make it your first. These guys do, no shit in the middle.

But that’s not to say that this album is revelatory or anything. You probably won’t see any bands ever taking too much influence from the Radio Dept., but that doesn’t stop it from being as individual is it is. It’s a great indie rock release, fantastically comfortable, and not overly extravagant. The songs particularly on this album set the sound in stone. It feels very reliably sythesized, not too many big surprises or anything, and occasionally a very pretty ear-treat to make the songs glisten to their utmost. The song most true to the bands style is 1995. Starting off with a very synthetic beat and simple guitar strums, the chord progressions and vocal direction isn’t too hard to predict or anything, and the chorus is heartwarming and dissonant. A lot f the bands sound thrives on subtle detailing. There are various guitar parts to brighten to mood and synthesizers doing unobtrusive but ultimately impressive work. A cross-refference to this tune is clearly It’s Been Eight Years, which actually comes earlier on the album and refers to the time difference between 1995 and the albums year of release, 2003. You can hear the contrast actually, and this song almost feels like it is hinting at the things that it will later say in 1995 without really leaving too much left undone.

The track on the Marie Antoinette soundtrack is worth a mention as well. The somewhat more upbeat and fun Keen On Boys plays like a playful introduction to a day of mystical and dream-like fun. A combination of gliding vocal prowess and echo, layered guitar fuzz, and soft beats makes for an effect that I’m not sure the makers were readily aware of…When I first heard this song, I immediately thought of a steamy shower room or a sauna. But the lyrics suggest it might actually be about a gay guy. Listen to this one and you will hear what I mean either way. Where Damage Isn’t Already Done is an even more upbeat and straightforward song, and a lovely introduction to the bands sound after the opening filler. Two other favorites are Bus, a daydreaming suggestion, and Slottet #2, a wonderful piece of summer atmosphere. But the album never really misses a beat and stays really consistant all the way through, and each song is quite enjoyable and fun.

This is an album you can come back to and feel more comfortable and less bored with than your typical dreampop. The very nature of the music is relaxing and non-intrusive, and if you want to chill to some great tunes that aren’t unrealistic or depressing, this is your ticket. Really, try it out. Their new album Pet Grief is cool too, but this is clearly superior and more accessible. Give it a shot.