Tag Archives: Alternative Rock

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




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



Alt-J – An Awesome Wave (2012) Review

Hype is a dangerous thing. It’s something that can either propel a band to immediate stardom and success or it can present them with a brick wall that they will repeatedly smash into. Alt-J has the unfortunate hype of being called “the next Radiohead”, which is just about as high of praise any band could receive. Too high of praise, I think, because this sets up the band for almost certain disappointment. Let me make this perfectly clear, there’s nothing on An Awesome Wave that would suggest to me that Alt-J is the new Radiohead. What it does suggest to me is that the band has an identity that is very unique, one that is straightforward yet reliant on several stylistically different genres that make their music complex and interesting.

Alt-J is an indie pop band, but it’s important to note that the label of one genre is nearly impossible to fully encapsulate what this band accomplishes. Their music contains electronica, folk, pop and art rock that is all made even more weird thanks to the less than normal vocals. They use lush instrumentation to create a truly mesmerizing soundscape, which is often the backdrop for very dreamlike and harmonized vocals. However, the most impressive thing about the band is how they can go across so many different genres, yet create an entire album that is very cohesive and focused.

The third single, “Tessellate”, is a perfect example of just how their music goes from simple to complex. It starts with a sparse piano chord that dissolves into a collage of guitar, synth, bass and a tin-like percussion of different instruments that transforms into a very chaotic beat by the end of the song. The band also presents lyrics that contain some very intense and vivid imagery. “Bite chunks out of me, you’re a shark and I’m swimming, my heart still thumps as I bleed, and all your friends come sniffing.” This is a common structure for many of the bands songs, though they introduce different styles and instrumentation to keep things from getting stale.

All of the variation of styles comes off surprisingly natural, but the band can sometimes get a bit too pretentious with the songwriting and vocals. “She’s morphine, queen of my vaccine, my love my love love love.” Its lines like this that pop up every now and then that kind of made me role my eyes, but they are backed up by more interesting instrumentation that takes the edge off a bit. The vocals are also something of an acquired taste, as they can get a bit nasally and high, sometimes distractingly so. However, they are good at conveying emotion and meaning so this is less a fault and more of a learning curve that comes with their music.

Forgetting about all of the hype that the band is receiving at the moment, Alt-J is simply a very promising band that embraces experimentation that revolves around a catchy and simplistic core. They effortlessly cross several genre boundaries and don’t come off sounding confused or overwhelmed. It’s rare for a band this early in their career to have such a distinct identity, but they are definitely a well-oiled machine that knows exactly what they are capable of doing. As they continue to refine their sound I can only imagine them getting better, and with such a solid debut it seems their future is very bright, hype or no hype.

Release Date: May 25, 2012

Genres: Alternative Rock, Art Rock, Experimental


The Killers – Battle Born (2012) Review

If there’s one thing that comebacks usually prove, it’s that the band should have stayed where they were. Leading back to The Killers’ 2008 album, Day & Age, the band had released an album that was their worst reviewed yet. Couple this with the fact that some in the band were tired of the constant touring and wanted to take a break (It seems easy to narrow down just who it was who wanted to take a break, because 3 of the 4 members made solo albums in-between) it seemed like The Killers were running out of steam. They had a lot to live up to on this comeback album, but thankfully they deliver something that boasts everything they have tackled up to this point, and wrapped it all in a focused and consistently compelling 4th album.

Back in 2010, when lead singer Brandon Flowers released his debut solo album, Flamingo, he said that he saved a gem for the next Killers record. I assume the gem is none other than the lead single, “Runaways”. This roots rock tinged Americana track has much in common with some of the tracks from Flamingo, but it is taken to the next level with the full band treatment. The song has a simply MASSIVE chorus and lyrics that are so emotional that it is not a stretch at all to say that this is one of the best singles The Killers have ever released.

If there’s one thing that “Runaways” foreshadowed from Battle Born, it’s that we could expect songs so big that they could rattle a skyscraper. Opener “Flesh and Bone” starts off with a mellow synth riff that suddenly erupts into a call-to-arms assault on all those standing in their way. “What are you made of?” sings Brandon Flowers through soaring vocals. If there is one thing that has consistently improved throughout this band’s career, it is the vocals of Brandon Flowers. He had taken singing lessons prior to recording this album, and it shows, because he has never sounded better.

The production is huge on Battle Born, but some of the strongest moments are the more mellow ones. The penultimate track on the standard edition of the album, “Be Still”, is a slow-burning plea to remain who you are while facing adversity. The instrumentation is very minimal to give full attention to the vocals, and really allows Flowers to shine on this track. “Here With Me” follows a similar route, an emotional ballad with melodies that just make you want to sway along and hold up your cell phone. These two tracks are new territory for the band, but they knock it out of the park.

Though this album is focused, that does not mean that it is without its faults. In the process of creating a cohesive album, some of the songs don’t stray far away enough to truly stand out. This happens mainly in the mid-section of the album, where most of the huge instrumentation has taken a back seat to more standard pop rock songs. “Deadlines and Commitments” is a mid-tempo rocker that doesn’t really accomplish much, and “Heart of a Girl” is an overly cheesy song that drains much of the energy the album had upheld to that point.

Regardless of a couple missteps along the way, The Killers close Battle Born in a suitably epic fashion. The closer is the title track, and it is easily the best closer The Killers have recorded yet. As “Flesh and Bone” was a rousing call-to arms, “Battle Born” is the call to keep on going, to never give up the good fight. “And when they knock you down / you’re gonna get back on your feet.” Huge Guitars and synths collide to create an outro that is simply out of this world. The final track on a Killers album is usually one of the weaker ones, but this albums closer is quite possibly the best song on the LP.

By this point, The Killers are a band that many hate, simply because they are not edgy and sing about things that maybe you would actually like to achieve in life. Brandon Flowers is a Mormon, which is a faith that is viciously attacked and constantly blown out of proportion today. Listening to Brandon Flowers, there is no doubt in my mind that he is a person who is completely empowered by his faith, and it has given him a purpose and a path that he is absolutely thrilled to follow. When a person this driven and sincere makes music, I find it impossible not to be swept up in it. With The Killers he has created an album whose core is all about being still, staying strong, and not going down without a fight. Battle Born is an emotional roller coaster from start to finish, and returns the band to their former glory. I present to you The Killers; back with a bang.

Release Date: September 17, 2012

Genres: Alternative Rock, Heartland Rock, New Wave


Tame Impala – Lonerism (2012) Review

It’s tough to be a band that finds immediate success with their debut album. When you storm out of the gate with the bar raised so high, often times most bands aren’t able to live up to it on the next release. Tame Impala had the best chance of letting me down this year, because their debut album, Innerspeaker, was one of my favorite albums of 2010. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the band’s follow-up, Lonerism, is even better. It’s an album that is much more concerned with revealing its emotional core compared to its predecessor, which results in stronger songwriting and melodies.

The process of this album began immediately after their debut was released in 2010. Songwriting ensued while touring that LP, and as a result this album has been recorded in several different spots around the world; such as Austria, France, and the band’s native land, Australia. This type of recording process is perfect for the mastermind of Tame Impala, Kevin Parker. He once again does nearly EVERYTHING on this album – all instrumentation, vocals, and songwriting, bar two songs that are co-written with live drummer Jay Watson – and as a result gives him a lot more freedom to do what he wants, whenever he wants.

The first song released from the album was “Apocalypse Dreams”, a whirlwind of psychedelia that goes through 3 different stages that are all mesmerizing. It begins with a foot stomping drumbeat, accompanied by very rhythmic piano and a solid bass groove. Kevin Parker surprises on this song as he often sings in a register higher than he ever has before. A midpoint mellow breakdown leads to an eventual eruption of synth in the songs finale. The song itself is about the chaos of life and trying to make sense of it all. “Am I getting closer? / Will I ever get there? / Does it even matter?” It’s simply a fantastic song that is both similar to the debut but at the same time goes in completely different directions that make it fresh. Would this be what fans could expect to hear more of on the album? Oh yes.

Lonerism is a practice in sonic chaos, back-lit with sincere yet carefree lyrics that gives the album a “well, the crap’s hitting the fan but I’m not gonna get too wrapped up in it” vibe. It opens with “Be Above It”, a stunning song that has perhaps the best instrumentation that Kevin Parker has released yet. It begins with a looped whispered vocal saying “Gotta be above it”, which is then followed by drums that mimic the looped vocals. These drums quickly become distorted and fuzzy and are followed by very psychedelic synth. The most amazing thing about this song is how Kevin Parker is using all of these different instruments to form a sort of wigged-out orchestra. The drums distort into a ball of tension that is released and shot out in a wave of huge synth that has what I can only describe as a slingshot effect. Quite simply; it’s breathtaking.

These effects are continued on many other songs on the album, but there are lighter moments that are presented more clearly as a sort of respite from the madness. The LP’s 4th song, “Mind Mischief” has very clear and vibrant guitar riffs and drumming, accompanied by spacey but joyful vocals that are extremely catchy. The lead single from the album, “Elephant”, is a similarly straight-forward song, which has a heavy and bluesy riff that is quite different compared to anything else on the album. Kevin Parker says that this is one of his oldest songs that just never got recorded, so the difference in sound is expected. However, he gives it a fittingly spaced-out midsection that keeps it from being out of place on this album.

The biggest surprise on the album – which is also one of the highlights – is the closer, “Sun’s Coming Up”. It is a piano driven song that is reminiscent of a nursery rhyme, but the music is completely offset by heart-wrenching songwriting about possibly losing someone forever. It’s the most emotional song on the album – I’d say the most emotional song Parker has ever done – and it’s a phenomenal way to close this colossal hurricane of an album.

Kevin Parker is more concerned with making an album as a cohesive whole rather than a pack of songs unrelated to each other. The album flows perfectly, but that’s not to say that the structure is at the expense of creativity or surprises from individual tracks, which I think Parker felt partially restricted by on the first album. He was concerned with the template for the first album; making sure that everything was in the same box. This time around he’s drifting away from that box, and the places that he’s ending up in are very rewarding. There are a lot of different ideas on Lonerism that all blend together not to form a jumbled mess, but an album of incredible ambition and scope that is near-perfect in all facets of its execution.

Release Date: October 5, 2012

Genres: Psychedelic Rock, Alternative Rock, Neo-psychedelia