Category Archives: Music Reviews

Iceage – New Brigade (2011) Review

Hey guys! How are you all doing? I’m sure you’re doing great because you’re on this site! Hey, I saw that look. Come on, just humor me a bit, will ya? Anyways, the band Iceage has their sophomore release You’re Nothing coming out in a couple weeks, so let’s take a look back and talk about their debut album, New Brigade.

These guys are a post-punk band from Denmark that utilize very intense vocals and instrumentation filtered through brisk and to-the-point tracks. Seriously, the length of this entire album is 24 minutes, so be prepared for songs that will not beat around the bush, AT ALL. However, that’s not a bad thing and I think it actually is what makes this album work so well. From start to finish you hardly have any time to catch your breath as you are being a witness to punk at blazing speeds.

IceageNewBrigadeCoverArt

What comes through quite surprisingly on this record is how much depth in terms of atmosphere is present. The album is absolutely drenched in chaos; the vocals are wild and fierce, the drums are tumbling all over the place the guitars are constantly being thrashed and shredded. All of these elements blend together like a giant ball of madness, and that sound is there from start to finish. The sound you get while listening to this album is dark, but at the same time it has a charm to it that makes it seem less intimidating. Maybe it’s just the fact that I find this sort of inaudible vocal delivery to always be amusing, especially in songs that are this fast.

Actually, when you really look at the heart of these songs you will find a lot of catchy melodies. The hook of “Broken Bone” is honestly good enough to be on any alternative rock radio station, if maybe the music surrounding it wasn’t quite as abrasive. Sometimes even catchier than the melodies are the guitar riffs. The opening riff of “Collapse” sounds like the highest note you can hit on a guitar being stretched out and abused for as long as it can possibly take. It just kind of soars over the anarchy below, as sort of a siren that nobody really gives a frig about.

When looking at the consistency of the album, it is almost to the point of redundancy. These songs are all very similar, bar some little touches that make them distinguishable, but it’s the speed and intensity that makes that fault microscopic. If this had been an album of 35+ minutes rather than 24 minutes I think it could have gotten quite repetitive. As it stands, the songs show what their made of for a brief amount of time before the next song punches you in the stomach with the next bag of tricks.

New Brigade is a fantastic debut album that finds a band miraculously heralding a sound that feels unique even if you know where the influences are coming from. They play together like bands of several decades of work together would, and they exude such a confidence that is infectious. It isn’t often that you come across an album with such a brief runtime that feels so jammed packed of memorable moments and inspiration, but these guys completely hit the nail on the head here. This thing is a post-punk roller coaster that is nothing but twisting and turning loops, and when it comes to its conclusion you’ll be jumping off and hopping back in line all over again.

Release Date: January 7, 2011

Genres:  Punk Rock, Post-punk, Hardcore

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My Bloody Valentine – mbv (2013) Review

Here it is, the moment everyone has been waiting over two decades for! Entire musical genres, bands and styles have come and gone during the absence of My Bloody Valentine (jeez), and now they come back in a time where shoegaze is a long and distant memory. The one thing people talk about the most when it comes to MBV is the album Loveless, which is now hailed as a classic and a must-hear for shoegaze fans. How could they possibly live up to the expectations that were put on the follow-up? I don’t know, but I’ll get this out of the way right now: they did.

Leading up to this album there were a lot of rumors and speculation going on. Kevin Shields (lead guitars/vocals) said late last year that a new MBV album was almost finished. Then earlier this year news broke that the album had been finished and was all ready to go. Still, some time passed with no more updates on the album. MBV fans are patient – they have to be – so they put their hands on their laps and waited like good little fans. Then, suddenly, in a recent MBV performance Kevin Shields said the new album would be released in 2-3 days, which lead to a Saturday, February 2nd. They released it on their website that crashed thanks to the huge amount of people trying to access, which created a chaos that honestly isn’t too different from the style of music they make. However, eventually the smoke cleared and the album was finally available to be listened to.

As the album begins with the song “She Found Now” we are met with a near seamless continuation of Loveless. Heavy distortion, repetitive and fuzzy guitars and mellow vocals all come together in a sound we all come to expect from MBV. As the track progresses we get more and more layers of guitars plucking in harmony, creating a sort of orchestra of guitars that sends the track off into the sunset. This continues throughout the first few tracks, though like with any great MBV songs they have little touches that make them stand out. “Only Tomorrow” contains such an instance; with a sound that pops up regularly that resembles a UFO taking off. This all gives way to a gorgeous 2-minute plus instrumental that has a solid and catchy guitar riff.

What I find to be incredible about mbv is that it sounds like it could have came out in 1992. The mixing of the album and the elements that are present make it all feel like nothing has changed within the band, and that no time has passed at all. This album almost feels like a time machine; transporting everyone back to when shoegaze was at its peak. MBV did not miss a beat with this album; picking up right where they left off and executing just as well as they did over 20 years ago. That alone is a monumental accomplishment that many bands have tried and failed to achieve.

It isn’t until the fourth track “Is This and Yes” that we start to hear some interesting shifts in sound that really push the band to unexplored territories. The track is distortion and reverb free, the loudest thing being a somber keyboard that drifts in the background. There is a soft beeping sound that tiptoes between the foreground and the background while Bilinda Butcher sings very soothingly. When listening to it I couldn’t help but feel like I was lying on the grass and gazing up at the stars at night. It’s possibly the most relaxing and peaceful song the band has ever done, and “New You” continues the surprisingly clear and calm atmosphere a bit later into the album, as well. It’s hard to imagine MBV songs being peaceful, but that is exactly what comes through on a couple of these songs.

In Another Way” is a definite highlight of the album; starting with very strange and chaotic feedback before giving away to a MASSIVE drumbeat that gives the song such an epic feel to it. Those drums never let up while Bilinda sings hauntingly in the middle of the madness. The song continues to impress when it drops to a clear instrumental section consisting of an angelic synth line and simple guitar strumming that is altogether stunning. The next track, “Nothing Is” takes the chaos from the previous track and ups the ante into an all out assault on guitar and drums. The track itself is quite repetitive; with the same guitar strumming and drumbeats throughout the entire runtime. However, the subtle shifts in instrumentation volume and placement in the soundscape are what make it mesmerizing.

None of this, however, could possibly prepare you for the albums closer, “Wonder 2”. This is the only way I can describe it, so bear with me because I’m gonna try my best (oh that’s real reassuring). A distorted airplane that swirls around you while distant then in-your-face guitar squalls and frantic and chaotic drumming hit you like a monsoon. This track completely devours you and you feel as though you are in the eye of a hurricane, though instead of screaming and crying for your sad and pathetic life you are in complete awe. It’s one of the most mind-blowingly unique listening experiences I have ever had; something that took me completely by surprise and stuck with me long after the album had finished. This is just about the best way you could possibly end an album, and thus concludes mbv on a fantastic note.

When all is said and done, the over 20 year wait for this album feels completely worth it. The album is both familiar and new; beginning as a continuation of Loveless before transforming into something else entirely. There is so much ambition on this record and it is all fully-realized and focused into an album of ear-crushing brilliance. I know it seems like nonsense to make a comparison in terms of quality to Loveless so soon, but I have no doubt in my mind that mbv is on the same level as that album. Only time will tell if I like it more or less, but the fact that I even have that indecision is a testament to the quality of the album and a testament to what a phenomenal return we got from My Bloody Valentine.

Release Date: February 2, 2013

Genres: Shoegaze, Noise Rock, Alternative Rock

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Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II (2013) Review

Alrighty! We’re back with my second review of the week for Unknown Mortal Orchestra! Here we’re gonna check out their newly released sophomore album, ‘II‘. I guess if there’s one thing you can say about UMO at this point it’s that they don’t give a flying f*** about album titles, but I respect that. It should be all about the music, baby!

What is most apparent from the get-go with this album is that it’s more reserved and the tracks are often slow-burning. We don’t really get the super-upbeat and danceable songs like on their debut with tracks like “How Can U Luv Me”. However, that’s not really a bad thing. In fact, I think the highlights on this album are the songs that are more laidback and have a higher emphasis on melody and minimalistic instrumentation. “From the Sun” has this gorgeous acoustic strumming that is accompanied by really catchy hooks, and “So Good At Being In Trouble” has a chorus that is so freaking beautiful and catchy and soulful (anything else?) that it has been stuck in my head ever since I first heard it.

Even though these softer moments do bring about some fantastic songs on the album, not all of them are winners. The 7-minute long “Monki” has a melody that is good enough on its own merits, but it’s not nearly good enough to justify a 7-minute song. Closer “Secret Xtians” falls in a similar vein; being a technically tight song but doesn’t have enough melodic strength or instrumentation to do anything more than just remain background noise. There is some psychedelic experimentation added on a few tracks to try and mix things up, but they really add nothing to the songs and actually make them meander a bit. Near the end of the album is a track called “Dawn“, which is a minute long instrumental that really has me scratching my head about why it is even on here.

When it comes to Unknown Mortal Orchestra, I feel like emotional simplicity is their strong point and it’s something I think they should pursue more often. Too many times they try to detach from that simplicity with uninteresting experimentation or stretch ideas out farther than they really have any right to. However, when they get it right, they REALLY get it right, and a few of these tracks are fantastic. It may not be a home run, but ‘II‘ shows the band offering a different element to their sound that yields some positive results.

Release Date: February 5, 2013

Genres: Indie Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Lo-fi

ICondoneThis

 

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – S/T (2011) Review

Hey everyone! Today I’m gonna be starting another series where I review albums from a band that has something releasing soon. Luckily for me, this band only has one album so far, so I don’t have much catching up to do. I guess that really isn’t much of a series either… oh well! Even though it’s only one album I’m definitely glad I checked it out. Why you ask? Read on, dear reader, read on.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra is influenced by several genres, but most of them are ones coming right out of the 60’s. Their sound has some hazy psychedelia that drifts along with a noticeable level of distortion, but it’s amazing how much rhythm is present at the same time. The song “How Can U Luv Me?”  has very psychedelic guitar tones fluttering through the track, but it’s all brought down to earth with an extremely catchy vocal hook and an insanely bouncy rhythm section. The lead vocalist sings in a hurt but also oddly upbeat way that gives the track a lot of emotional soul even though it’s something you can dance to. You’ll be dancing why you’re crying, basically. Just kidding.

The fact that the bands debut album is able to employ many psychedelic qualities without making it all seem like a kaleidoscope of different sounds is a testament to how sound their instrumentation is. At the core of most every one of these songs is a head-bobbing rock song, and the psychedelic flourishes are more like jimmies on top of it all. The rhythm section is actually in the foreground in a lot of these songs, which is definitively refreshing to hear with this type of music.

What’s most interesting about this album is how much I was able to connect with it, even though the lyrics are hardly ever the main focus. You may understand the lyrics and you may sing along, but it’s more like just singing along with the melodies without really knowing (or caring) what the lyrics are saying – and I think that’s what the band sought to accomplish here. Most of the time the lyrics are purposefully hazy and mixed right into the instrumentation, because the music here is very much a collage of sounds rather than any one facet taking the lead. The album opener “Ffunny Ffrends” is a perfect example of a vocally distorted song that you can’t help but sing along to. This isn’t a knock on the songwriting, and honestly when the music is this catchy it isn’t even a point worth arguing anyway.

UMO’s debut album is a quick and fun psychedelic-tinged, rhythm heavy rock album that anyone with an interest in this type of music can get into. The band knows what they’re doing when it comes to laying down a very solid foundation of bass and drums that drive most of these songs forward, and then they sort of flesh them out with some psychedelic experimentation. Some of the songs can get a bit repetitive or just not do enough that really sticks out in your mind, but overall these guys get it right. In just 30 minutes UMO creates a foot-stomping, head-bobbing bash that begs you to come on in and join in the fun.

Release Date: June 21, 2011

Genres: Indie Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Garage Rock

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The Strokes – One Way Trigger (2013) Review

So it seems the rumors are true! The Strokes are back! After news broke recently that a radio station in Seattlehad been sent a new Strokes single, the band goes and drops a brand new song called One Way Trigger

The track is definitely surprising; it begins with Julian Casablancas singing – or should I say crooning – in a very high pitch. At first I wasn’t even sure if I clicked on right track, but eventually we hear the Julian voice we’re all used to. The chorus is also in a very high register, which makes me wonder if this is Julian’s way of saying he’s gonna bring it on LP5? 

Whatever the case may be, the song is definitely a keeper. It seems like a natural progression from some of the very upbeat and 80’s inspired tracks from the bands last album, ‘Angles’. There are a lot of bouncy and dance-y keyboards and synths and the drums jump along in the background. Even though it’s heavily synth-driven, we do get a nice little guitar solo about half-way through the song. It’s their little reminder to the fans that they’re still a rock band.

Lyrically, it’s definitely everything you would expect from a Strokes song. Julian usually brings semi-depressing (or entirely depressing) lyrics to the table and he does exactly that with this track. Here he’s singing about a troubled relationship and trying to cope with life’s demands. “Find a job, find a plan, find a home, find a dog/ Settle down, out of town / Find a dream, shut it down!” and “You ask me to stay, but there’s a million reasons to leave” paint his unrest and longing for something more rather nicely.

The Strokes are definitely back with a winner, bringing a song that is both a continuation from their last album but also introduces new things to the their repertoire. It will be interesting see how telling this is of the entire album. We should be hearing more music pretty soon, because the track that was mentioned previously was called, “All the Time”. Hopefully it drops soon because now that they’re back I am in full-force Strokes mode!

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My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (1991) Review

So that shoegaze band (you know, THAT shoegaze band) is apparently going to release their follow-up to the classic 1991 album, Loveless. 20 years is a pretty quick turnaround time, so I hope the album doesn’t feel rushed, as I’m sure nobody would have minded another decade in the mixing room. With all of the excitement of a BRAND SPANKIN’ NEW My Bloody Valentine album, I thought, what the hell, let’s review the album that is responsible for all of this damn excitement. You may be wondering if this album really warrants all that hype, well, read on, dear reader, read on.

To truly grasp what MBV accomplished on this album, you need to get a feel for what lead up to it. Their debut album, Isn’t Anything, was anything but a debut, as the band had released several EP’s of fantastic material, especially with You Made Me Realize. Each release saw the band fine-tuning their sound and becoming ground-breakers rather than the trend followers many labeled them as in the beginning. Their music leading up to this was very abrasive, noisy, and a bit of a head-scratcher at first. However, what makes the music so great is that beneath all of the noise and walls of sound are simple and emotional songs that are often catchy and really well-written.

What is amazing about Loveless is the fact that it is catchier and more upbeat than the music that came before it. The dark vibe present on some songs on Isn’t Anything and You Made Me Realize is almost completely ditched for music that is a bit more upbeat, though still very noisy and chaotic. What truly sets this album over the top is the little flourishes each song has that get stuck in your head for days on end. The riff in opener “Only Shallow” is simply MASSIVE and is complimented by equally rich instrumentation. “I Only Said” has this extremely catchy synth that soars over very distorted and reverbed guitar riffs. Just about every song here has something that immediately jumps out at you, but on repeated listens reveals things that you love even more.

The chaos of the album is pretty consistent through the entire run-time, though there are few respites that are absolutely gorgeous and are among the highlights of the album. The song “Touched” is an instrumental that is just under a minute long, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t some of the most hauntingly beautiful music I’ve heard. The album closer, “Soon”, sheds much of the reverb and distortion for a very clean and catchy rock song that has almost a Stone Roses-y bounce to it. These moments aren’t necessarily huge stylistic shifts, but they are much welcomed changes of pace that ultimately enhance the flow of the album.

While Loveless is definitely a phenomenal album, I do have a couple nitpicks. Some songs can go on a bit too long, and sometimes a bit too much distortion and reverb is used. Those methods work on most songs, but on a couple of the slower songs it would be nice to maybe go a bit softer on those effects. Tracks like “To Here Knows When” would be a perfect example of this. While not a bad song, I feel anything it is trying to accomplish is completely drowned out in the production, and it also doesn’t help that the track is too repetitive and long. However, these are minor nitpicks, and don’t do much to tarnish the greatness of this record.

Loveless is the type of album you don’t come across often. When you hear it, you immediately know you’re listening to something very unique and ambitious, and even if you don’t get it right away you are compelled to return to it and discover all of its secrets. Shoegaze isn’t exactly a genre you hear a whole lot of, but even if you are mildly interested in trying it out then there is no better place to start than this album. It’s dense, it’s chaotic, but most importantly it is absolutely mesmerizing at the core of it all. It’s basically THE shoegaze album to hear, and has left enormous shoes for the band’s 2 decades-in-the-making follow up to fill.

Release Date: November 4, 1991

Genres: Shoegaze, Noise Rock, Alternative Rock

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Animal Collective – Centipede Hz (2012) Review

If one term could to be used to describe Animal Collective, it would be “acquired taste”. Throughout the bands strange and boundary-pushing career they have prided themselves on releasing music that is just as shocking and difficult as it is catchy and inviting. The band honed all of their most accessible intricacies in and came up with their commercial breakthrough Merriweather Post Pavillion in 2009. The album was pop and electronic bliss, hoisting a super slick production that was also very warm and lush. If you could call an Animal Collective album “accessible”, that would be the first one on the list.

The big question is, however, when you’ve reached the breakthrough – especially when it is on your eighth studio album – where do you go next that you haven’t gone already? You are at a creative peak; you’ve found a sound that both critics and average music listener’s love, and now you’ve got to keep momentum going. Do you just put out Merriweather Post Pavillion 2, which would likely get you more solid radio play but maybe less love from critics? Or do you forge a new path, offering something new rather than cashing in on past success? Well, Animal Collective never makes the same album twice, and the heightened acclaim and fame that Merriweather Post Pavillion gave them certainly did nothing to change that.

Centipede Hz, the band’s 9th studio album, is the bold counterpoint to their previous album. The production is jarring and in your face instead of smooth and polished. Songs like “Moonjock” and “Today’s Supernatural” start off the album with a literal and figurative one-two punch. You hear very thick and pounding percussion which eventually becomes more and more layered to the point of becoming an electronic frenzy, and this madness does not let up much at all throughout the album. What is also notable is that Avey Tare is singing most often on this album, which likely explains the more bombastic sound compared to the last album. His singing and style is much more energetic and rambunctious compared to Panda Bear, whose sound came through the most prominently on Merriweather Post Pavillion‘.

As the album goes on, we are given some breathing room with a midsection that is a bit more reserved and ethereal. “Wide Eyed”, which is performed by newly returned member Deakin, is a simple and catchy tune that has the same looped instrumentation for the entire track. Deakin’s vocals aren’t anything special, but the lyrics are actually very strong on this track which makes up for it. “Father Time” features a more leisurely pace though it still has Avey bouncing along even though he’s a bit more hushed on this track. The finale of the cool down comes with Panda Bears second and final track on the album, “New Town Burnout”. It’s 6 minutes long, and it uses the longer run time to craft a slow burning and rhythmic tune that also gives a little more emotion than most tracks on the album.

However, the most emotional – and frankly best – song on the album comes by the way of the closer, “Amanita”. As the song begins we are immediately hearing a very dramatic synth that is accompanied by tumbling and quick drum beats. Avey Tare sings about tradition falling by the wayside, and fearing that it will be gone forever. “If it’s going hiking, then I’m going hiking.” The song trucks along as Avey continues to wonder what will happen to all of the familiarity and warmth that is going away and asking, “What have we done?” Then, about halfway through the song in what is perhaps the best moment on the album, the song erupts. An enormous explosion of synth and fast drum beats permeate the background as a much more upbeat Avey Tare tells the listener what he’s gonna do to set things right again.

“What are you gonna do?
Go into the forest
Until I can’t remember my name
I’m gonna come back and things will be different
I’m gonna bring back some stories and games”

It’s just a flat out masterpiece that hits you on a level that is more personal than perhaps any Animal Collective song that has come before it.

Centipede Hz is a great album that both challenges the listener accustomed to the bands recent pop tendencies, but also gives them familiarity with extremely catchy melodies and beats. The band has proven to become one of the premier experimental/electronic acts of our generation, and continue to release gem after gem. It might not be a revolution in terms of sound, but when you create something this good, who cares? The fact of the matter is the band is extremely good at what they do, and they show no signs of running out of ideas. Animal Collective, please keep doing what you’re doing.

 
Release Date: September 4, 2012

Genres: Neo-Psychedelia, Experimental Rock, Electronic

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