Posts Tagged ‘post rock’

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Off This Century – My Favorite Albums of 2000-2009

December 25, 2009
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Lounge Piranha – Going Nowhere

January 28, 2009
Lounge Piranha - Going Nowhere

Lounge Piranha - Going Nowhere

To me, there have always been two kinds of live acts. The first is the big name headliner, the act that you would travel miles and pay a substantial amount of money to see. This is the type of show most people, including me, pay to see on a regular basis. One very memorable show of this type I have seen at least somewhat recently (within six months, anyway) was the Black Lips, who played Lollapalooza in August. These are the guys that get themselves banned from clubs all over the USA for their antics, some of which their Wikipedia page eloquently lists as “vomiting, urinating, nudity, band members kissing, Power Wheel races, fireworks, a chicken, and flaming guitars.” While these guys do rock hard, it is no surprise they had a bit of internal trouble on their tour of India recently in Chennai, and ended up skipping the entire rest of the tour. (Compare the Pitchfork article here and Lips drummer Joe Bradley’s a-bit-too-close-to-racist-for-comfort interview with Vice Magazine here.)

The second type of live act is the act you probably haven’t heard of, and if you have, you probably didn’t buy the ticket just for them, because they are opening acts most of the time. When they aren’t, they more than likely play joint shows. And on the rare occasion they headline, they won’t draw a crowd of hundreds because they haven’t hit it big yet. They are the kind that you pay a couple dollars to see and take a chance on.

There is obviously a big advantage to being of the first type of live act I described, because by definition it means you have widespread success, and probably money or groupies, or can afford to make out with your same sex bandmate and still sell out shows. But being of the second type is different. Most of the time, these types of bands play music because it is their job. They do it because if they didn’t do it, they probably wouldn’t be able to put bread on the table. However, most bands of this first type started out as the second type at some point. Although we are talking about generalizing all live acts down to two groups, and the line is surely blurred, I’m pretty sure the distinction is obvious. Sometimes you hear a band of the second type that just sucks hard, and you throw them over your shoulder. But sometimes, you hear that small name band and it turns out they are really, really good, and you won’t just forget them after you see the show or listen to the album.

Although it would be wrong of me to make all of the prior assumptions about a band before I have gotten to see them live personally, after having listened to their debut release, I can make a pretty confident conclusion that rock band Lounge Piranha from Bangalore, the Garden City of India and one of the country’s fastest developing metropolitan cities, is one of these bands. These are the guys you would kill to stumble upon, to discover without any prior knowledge of their music. Hell, you probably wanted desperately to be in a band like this in college. You might have even dreamed these songs and wished you could have committed them to paper or recording, but you never did. But these guys did. And their debut release, Going Nowhere, rocks hard.

Although they label themselves as post rock, it might be a bit of a misleading label. I feel like post rock by definition connotes something difficult, shocking, or unconventional. Lounge Piranha are really none of these things, or really that cutting edge either.  They are willing to make simple, easy to follow music with a great sense of control and restraint. They aren’t trying to be hardcore and they aren’t using shock tactics, but are instead making music to please, which is appreciable.

This seven song album, or possibly EP, is actually somewhat of an in the park home run. It isn’t a knockout, and it isn’t without it’s flaws, but it is an eclectic debut that manages to not sound messy or contrived. The first song, Going Nowhere, is actually the most post-rock sounding song on the album, with soaring guitar solos juxtaposed with a funky bassline and singer Kamal Singh’s vocals. He has a nice tone and a voice that is quite similar to that of one of my favorite vocalists Jerry Cantrell, but his lyrics are rather streamlined. In spite of this, it would be difficult to deny that this song is  fun and sonically expansive.

But things really start to heat up by the second song, Gun Song. It is at this point that we really start to get the feeling that Lounge Piranha have a keen awareness of exactly what they are doing, and not just capitalizing on good hooks, which in fact are good enough to justify this release in the first place. However, by the time we start to wonder why the narrator wishes he had a gun, he’s already answered the question, and everyone sounds like they are ready to fire it off. But remember, they don’t actually have the gun, and the song ends abruptly. It seems almost painfully simple but also quite heady and clever, without all the drama. They could have easily pulled some shock tactics in the end, but they keep it real and stick to their guns (pun recognized but not intended).

The rest of the EP wastes little time and shows a great departure from the first two songs. Snakes & Lotuses is the album’s most immediately memorable tune, and less post rock than alternative rock, although I don’t particularly like using either term. In any case, it’s really fun rock and roll. The next two songs rock equally hard, Ebb being a fun, bouncy ska tune, and Eclat a more Explosions-In-The-Sky-esque  piece, except with more backbone and less samesy dynamics (incidentally, for that reason, Explosions In The Sky was one of the worst shows I saw at Lollapalooza). Then comes Teenage Curse, where the band turn their tone down and get a little grungy. It’s not bad, but probably the least entertaining song on the album. It is vastly overshadowed by that which proceeds it, probably the best song on the album, Hand Hole. Think Explosions in the Sky mixed with Jar of Flies era Alice in Chains, and you might have something comparable.

After a considerable debut like this, a rising band could go in numerous directions. All too often, bands like this fall through the cracks. Sometimes this happens in a good way despite of this, and a band lives on and does their thing for years. Or sometimes they turn into crack fiends  and go to jail for aggravated assault. Not likely, in this case. They could feasibly hit it big, and either play themselves up big and get big heads about their talent like, say, the Black Lips. Or more likely, judging by the form of this album, they could gain popularity while holding their modesty.

I compare the Black Lips and Lounge Piranha not because they have anything in common stylistically. They really couldn’t be any more different in that sense. Their biggest similarity, beyond the fact that both of them make great music, is that neither of them are anything radically innovative or pretending to come up with a new style (yet). Yeah, the Black Lips are going to sell out their shows whether or not they actually are drunken troublemakers. And really, it would be unfair of us to argue that they aren’t really who they say they are at this point. But because they can’t contain themselves from getting wasted, mooning their audience or trying to do things that make them seem punk rock, they will probably never play to most of India and knowingly sacrificed a lot of shows and publicity.

Lounge Piranha, on the other hand, have already rocked a good portion of India, and I would not be surprised if they ended up traveling elsewhere, to Europe or even the US, eventually. And I’d be the first guy to buy their tickets, even if I had to travel a long way to see them, because they are an intelligent, fun, no gimmicks band. They are the kind of band that we want to hold as ours, while the Black Lips are instead decidedly their own. While neither band is potentially essential, the very concept of Lounge Piranha is. We need those bands whose album we buy or whose show we attend and end up loving, even if they are not headlining yet. And we need those bands that don’t care about fitting an image and just want to make some music. It’s completely possible that Lounge Piranha will be exactly that band that some crazy old man in a bar somewhere talks about  fifty years from now, regardless of where the band is going. “Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of great shows. I remember Lounge Piranha in 2011. Those guys rocked hard.” And they didn’t even have to urinate on anybody.

Lounge Piranha

Lounge Piranha

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Halloween Albums

October 24, 2008

Halloween is near, and I have started to pick out some spooky favorites from the music library. I figured it might be appropriate to acknowledge some of the more genuinely scary or creepy albums I have come in contact with over the years. Six might seem like a rather arbitrary number, but these releases are of a rare breed and I find each one to be essential to the list. Of course there’s nothing wrong with traditional Halloween music (the Monster Mash, sure), or some other fun retro music that might be appropriate for the holiday (The Cramps!), but if you want something that might really creep you out, this list might be able to help.

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Alice in Chains – Dirt

Alice in Chains’ second album Dirt arrived just in time for the Halloween season in 1992, and took over the grunge scene with its spooky hard rocking style. The album is almost unbelievably advanced past the band’s debut album Facelift, every song taking on its own texturally rich identity. In terms of technical skill, every member of the band is in prime form despite their drug addictions which are reflected heavily in the album’s lyrical themes. The late and great Layne Staley spits “what the hell am I/thousand eyes a fly/lucky then I’d be/if one day deceased” on one of the album’s underhand knockouts Sickman. We can hear both the anger and anguish associated with personal breakdowns and drug abuse. The consistency of the album alone makes it one of the finest albums that grunge had to offer, with a killer lineup of singles, the hammering Them Bones, Vietnam reminiscent Rooster, and possibly the greatest grunge single ever, Would?. But the highlights don’t stop there; the album also has a slew of brooding, slow moving, moody masterpieces (Dirt, Rain When I Die, Down In A Hole), as well as many other sleeper highlights (God Smack is the origin of the name of AiC knockoffs Godsmack, to exemplify the album’s influence). Although Alice in Chains’ best work may be scattered throughout their albums and EPs, Dirt is easily their most representative and possibly most accomplished work, a scary, fun, and emotional masterpiece of its genre.

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Slint – Spiderland

Considered the premier post rock album, Slint’s second and final album Spiderland is made by a band with absolutely nothing to lose. Perhaps it is this that makes it so startlingly affecting. How out of no where the album must have seen at the time is also probably a reason that it was as vastly influential as it is. But legacy aside, Spiderland is quite a scary album by all accounts, softly building damaged melodies out of nothing and then disassembling them again. As soon as the opening arpeggiated harmonics of Breadcrumb Trail start, it sounds like the beginning of the end. This mysterious, slow urgency pulls the listener through the albums six unsettling songs with great anxiousness. All of Slint’s weaponry is fully formed here; their percussive anger, David Pajo’s atmospheric guitars and sense of instrumental tension, and Brian McMahan’s oft whispered creepy poetry. These elements make for six completely perfect songs, the rocking Nosferatu Man, the quiet, brooding Don Amon, the sadly beautiful Washer, and the extremely quiet instrumental For Dinner… It all seems to lead to something, and when it does, we get one of the single scariest and most beautiful songs of the nineties, Good Morning Captain, which evades all explanation. It may disappoint fans that the subsequent two song Slint EP was as far as the band would ever go, but Slint’s three releases, and particularly Spiderland were all they needed to be one of the most important bands of their genre.

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Boards of Canada – Geogaddi

With Board’s of Canda’s second major full length release Geogaddi, brothers Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin make certain that their love of degradation and psychosis plays itself out on more than just their own production values. In fact, one might be given the false impression of their own mental degradation while listening to the album, it is so elaborately and eerily constructed. Although its format is essentially the same as its championing predecessor Music Has The Right To Children (long pieces dispersed with very short pieces, beat driven IDM), their style is distinctly advanced over their previous works. The album is almost extravagantly detailed with myriad fascinating jigsaw pieces of sound; reversed beats, distorted vocal samples, dissonant chords, and heavy aural contrasts provide the album’s basic groundwork. Although some pieces here are vaguely reminiscent of previous fan favorites (Sunshine Recorder, 1969, Dawn Chorus), every song is highly advanced and vaguely unsettling. Throughout the album Boards of Canada paint as they call it a vast, winding, labyrinthine “journey” through a beautiful and horribly warped dreamland. Once you follow the white rabbit down the hole, something immediately seems very, horribly wrong, and this feeling is played with, turned upside down and inside out at every turn of the album. The more you think about it, the more it scares you, and the more one recognizes its intricacies such as mathematical structures, biblical references, and distorted fascination with the occult, the more one wants to dismiss Geogaddi as pretentious and supersaturated. However, it is a genuinely creepy album, and its ominous atmosphere cannot be denied. And yet the brothers state the ultimate innocuousness of the album in interviews. “…If we’re spiritual at all, it’s purely in the sense of caring about art and inspiring people with ideas.” (interview “Play Twice Before LIstening” by Koen Poolman). Despite what its message is, Geogaddi is an album that genuinely brings you to the brink of your own mind and refuses to let you forget the experience.

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Coil – The Ape of Naples

If any album has ever been literally haunted, or at least come close, The Ape of Naples is the culprit. Created posthumously after Coil frontman John Balance tragically fell to his death over the banisters of his Mansfield home in a drunken stupor, The Ape of Naples is actually a collection of the industrial/electronic band’s leftover material. This makes the overall cohesion of the album nothing short of a small miracle of planning. In fact, it makes little to no sense that this album is more than a rarities compilation, and it is more, much more. Through it’s lengthy textural songs it develops many stories with real life reference points, perhaps outlining both the experiences of the unsettling said ape on the cover art as well as John Balance’s descent into alcohol addiction. The haunting opening chords of Fire of The Mind (the original title of the album) set the stage for an album loaded with treasures, all uniquely disturbing and affecting. Songs call on an eclectic selection of instruments such as accordions, marimbas, horns and pipes, and as always carefully synthesized melodies, beats, and atmospherics. Songs range from gentle to violent, and the album’s transformation is downright scary. The Ape of Naples is an all around great performance from all those involved, but John Balance remains the album’s key player. His voice touches every song in different ways, and his emotion is fluid, sometimes gracing songs with subtle melancholy and other times with spitting anger. The album comes to a close with a cover of the British sitcom Are You Being Served?’‘s theme song Going Up, featuring vocals from Balance’s final onstage performance at the Dublin Electronic Arts Festival in 2004. And with John Balance’s final vocals, locations of bedding materials, tea, and travel products as well as the final direction of an elevator, it isn’t hard to hear him simultaneously falling down and going up.

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Merzbow – 1930

Many non-noise fans may turn on Japanese noise godfather’s quintessential album, 1930, and be disgusted. It is, to put it one way, a deliberately disgusting album, barely music in any traditional sense, and more of a terrifying sound assault. Perhaps best at home in a torture chamber (just how the bondage obsessed Merzbow would like it), listening to 1930 at loud volumes is a potentially terrifying experience that can push one’s sanity to the limit. Once again, it is barely even music, but more an aural representation of a mile high battleship with cannons filling every square inch, all firing at the listener at the same time. Reach for the off switch and the terror goes away temporarily, but curiosity will make you turn it on again at some point, and when you get curious enough to listen to the entire thing, you probably won’t be able to turn it off as much as you want to. There is something almost inhuman and unearthly about 1930 that manages to consistently fascinate here, and even if you can’t bear to turn the volume up higher than a whisper, it is unspeakably overbearing. Everything from the fiery title track to the dizzying cacophony of Degradation of Tape to the final explosive, twenty two minute, ever changing Iron, Glass, Blocks and White, everything here is sheer chaos. For how brutal and unpredictable it is, it is no surprise that this horrifying album is considered a cornerstone of noise music. To say it is good or bad is irrelevant, because it definitely shouldn’t be judged by the same standards as any other album on this list, let alone any form of “art” on this planet.

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Brian Eno – Ambient 4

Brian Eno’s final installment in his Ambient series is possibly the most emotionally startling ambient album of all time, and may be considered to be the first dark ambient album. In that sense it is hard to imagine the entire genre of demonic dark ambient texture without this album as a precursor, although Ambient 4 is anything but paganistic or demonic. In fact, there is little to nothing subversive about Ambient 4 in the slightest, except perhaps its one odd song out, the deliberately creepy Shadow featuring Jon Hassell on trumpet, although if we are talking about scare factor the song is the album’s clear winner. Beyond this song, the album makes its goals known almost instantaneously and follows through with its goals systematically, like the other members of the beautiful ambient family. Moreso than any other album on this list, Ambient 4 carries a wide range of emotions with it, of which horror is only one. The collection of soundtracks to geographic locations here range from touchingly calm (A Clearing) to impendingly scary (The Lost Day). The distant chains of Lantern Marsh, the distorted miasma of Tal Coat, the birds and frogs of Leeks Hills…The album is startlingly emotional in ways that can be simultaneously relaxing and unsettling. On one hand, you get the feeling that at any point during the album someone could appear behind you and cause your heart to skip a beat, and yet at the same time the soundscapes are warm and completely safe sounding. The wide range of emotion here is mostly due to simple skill in production and crafting of music. The soundscapes sound so deftly realistic that the emotion comes quite naturally and makes the overall product quite moving. This may be the one to play on the boombox outside when the trick-or-treaters come by.

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Alcest – Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde

January 10, 2008

The past few years have been very good to shoegaze fans. Not in terms of number, but in terms of singular, unique albums that actually add something to the genre, which has been an elusive breed since the days of old when My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, and Ride pioneered their immensely popular and unique styles. 2005 saw the self titled debut of Serena Maneesh. 2006 also had a winner, Asobi Seksu’s Citrus. We have yet another winner this year with newcomer Alcest’s Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde, roughly translated from French as “memories of another world.” Such a title is appropriate for an album that, like any shoegaze album, is flooded with details and dreamy soundscapes. Yes, I know, you have heard it all before. It’s another garden variety shoegaze album that doesn’t really try anything different, isn’t it?

Actually, that might be true. Much like it’s guitar effects, shoegaze is a genre with highly distorted boundaries which are often pushed for the sake of trying something new instead of making quality music. When rabid experimentation is not present, excessive imitation is often the alternative. Souvenirs doesn’t really do either, and it succeeds just by being a pretty album. Alcest is essentially the work of one man, Frenchman Neige, whose roots are with such French black metal acts such as Peste Noire and Mortifera. A lot of people seem to be pinning Souvenirs as a black metal album, but if it is, I’m going to have to read into exactly what Black Metal is, because this is as much of a pure shoegaze album as I have ever heard. But what is strange is I can’t trace the roots of it’s sound back to any shoegaze bands of old. The closest it gets to is to Ride, and even then the resemblance is only vague.

In this way, Souvenirs is unique but not really engaging in a sense that although this sounds new, the style is fairly familiar. That is to say, big distorted guitar sounds arranged with sweeping melodies, glowing seven chords, simple beats, lots of cymbal crashes, and glazed ethereal vocals. Even shoegaze fans will admit that the trick has been overused. Some figure that if they drown a simple chord progression in distortion that it will somehow bloom and be beautiful, but really, you need a nice melody to really make something work. Neige knows how to write pretty, simple melodies, but he also knows how to play the shoegaze cards as well. Perhaps the most interesting fact in respect to Alcest’s style is that Neige claimed to have not listened to any shoegaze music prior to making Souvenirs. Whether or not this is true is debatable, but in any case, this album has a strong, grounded core of memorable, pretty melodies. The fact that it works in the shoegaze context only makes it all the more unique.

However, while his melodies are simple, Alcest manages to cover a wide range of melodies within single songs. Of the six songs on the album, not one dips under the six minute mark, and most songs are segmented into smaller, distinguishable movements. This keeps the songs interesting, but at times hard to pin down, much like Sigur Ros’ progressive post rock. And yet, while every song is bathed in electricity, they all feel organic too, and typically have an acoustic guitar and piano at their core. The two songs that impressed me most in this respect are Ciel Errant and Tir Nan Og. Ciel Errant is a lovely little acoustic guitar based ballad that somehow reminisces of The Smashing Pumpkins just as much as Sigur Ros or Ride. Tir Nan Og is the real winner though. The gentle piano leaps and acoustic guitar strumming in conjunction with a simple rhythm makes it sound like as much of a rural folk song as a dreamy urban shoegaze song. A perfect way to clinch the album.

Whatever Souvenirs D’un Autre Monde is, it’s beautiful, and you can expect more of this, because according to http://www.alcest-music.com, Alcest has signed to the Prophecy Productions label for a five album contract. Yeah. This wasn’t a one time shot. No matter what direction Alcest takes with any albums in the future, I’ll remember this one as one of the best of 2007.