Monday, December 31, 2012

Flatted Third's Top 13 Records of 2012

Here at Flatted Third, Gerry, Kris, Ben, and Kyle have all voted on the best records of 2012. Originally, a collective top twenty was planned, but as each individual member's tastes differ so greatly, the gap between the top ten and bottom twenty was far too vast to be accurate. I, Kyle Murphy, decided to arbitrarily pick a number between ten and twenty and came up with thirteen, which is perfect because we had some tie scores. Enjoy.

13.  Literature - Arab Spring [Square of Opposition]

When discussing indie pop, the term "infectious hooks" gets thrown around a lot, but Arab Spring is the definition of the phrase. With bouncy riffs and breezy melodies that end as quickly as they begin, Arab Spring is the twenty-minute soundtrack to the perfect spring day. To attribute "pop sensibilities" to this band would be an egregious understatement. Even though this is Literature's first album, they have mastered more indie-pop in just ten songs than most bands ever master any genre. You should also keep an eye on Literature's label Square of Opposition. They were responsible for putting out the late Snowing's material and always have a solid roster of awesome, yet diverse bands.

-- Ben Goodheart

12.  Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory [Carpark]

"No Future/No Past", Attack on Memory's first single, was released in November of 2011. It had everyone I knew chomping at the bits in anticipation to hear how Attack on Memory would turn out. I really enjoyed the band's previous, self-titled release and was excited to see what the rest of the Cloud Nothings band could do behind Dylan Baldi's excellent song-writing. Then I heard Steve Albini was producing; damn. About three months passed and we finally were able to experience the whole album - Attack on Memory should be considered one of Albini's best works, though hopefully it won't be Cloud Nothings'. The growth exhibited from Cloud Nothings to Attack on Memory is exceptional. These songs blister and boil over, yet also allow Baldi's bandmates to throw their hats into the ring, feeling more like a group effort than a bedroom twee-punk exercise. Attack on Memory had three singles leading up to its release, a perfect teaser to keep interest in the time preceding its release; and with each great single, Attack on Memory became more and more what it is today: entirely satisfying.

-- Kyle Murphy

11.  Baroness - Yellow & Green [Relapse]

This is my second time writing about this album for Flatted Third, and I want to make something clear for those who still might not understand: MUSIC IS NOT TAILOR MADE FOR YOU. Bands have no obligation to write music for their fans; if anything, we’re lucky they willingly share what they create. And while they’re doing that, we still back and criticize and nitpick whatever we think doesn’t sound good. This was a big lesson I learned while listening to Baroness’ double album Yellow & Green. Much like Mastodon’s The Hunter, Baroness drastically changed their signature sludge sounds, going for a mellower one. For those fans who miss classic Baroness, Yellow should be able to satisfy any longing, while Green shows the more adventurous side of Baroness, forfeiting the classics for a much fresher sound. When the album was released, many fans were either happy, confused, or infuriated with the new sound. Front man John Baizley stated in many interviews that they don’t write music for their fans. For Baroness, writing and playing music is what keeps them sane. They appreciate their fans, but like many great artists, no matter what the criticisms may be, this band doesn’t give a fuck about what you want. Personally, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

-- Gerry D'Apollo [Check out Gerry's full review from earlier this year!]

10.  The Men - Open Your Heart [Sacred Bones]

Though admittedly a step into the realm of the Replacements after residing in the influence of Husker Du prior, Open Your Heart is as loud and furious, and emotional, as its predecessors but just in a totally different way. From the very beginning, garage-y whirlwind of "Turn It Around", to the exercise in the deliberate that is "Oscilation", around the alt-country aside of "Candy", every song on this album sounds totally different, yet retaining a style that is still so distinctly The Men. This is their third album in three years, with another one on the way, so if you haven't already started listening to this band, do so before their discography is too dense and you don't know where to start -- though I'd say start with Leave Home.

-- Ben Goodheart

9.  Titus Andronicus - Local Business [XL Recordings]

“Blah blah blah the Monitor defined the past two years of my life and Local Business is a total let down because blah blah blah.” I guarantee you’ll see most every negative review of Titus Andronicus’s newest full-length Local Business begin with some variation of that line. Before I go any further, yes, The Monitor did define my freshman year of college; I played it into the fucking ground. I learned the chords to “The Battle of Hampton Roads” and played it when I was drunk. I toyed around with the idea of getting a tattoo dedicated to the band. The Monitor marks a confusing, often frustrating time in my life that I’m glad to have survived. That being said, Local Business is not The Monitor, but I don’t consider that a pejorative statement. Who wants to hear the same record twice?

Local Business, as its own entity, is a very strong release. The vision Patrick Stickles and co. puts forth is cohesive and defined. There are less instances of lyrical interpolation and more existential crises. Stickles seems even more wary and cautious of the world before him than he has previously. “Ecce Homo” kicks off the record with a confident, conversational manner. The build up for this record is deliberate, though. “Still Life With Hot Deuce on Silver Platter” is where you really have to turn the volume up, because that track rips. The momentum barrels through “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape with the Flood of Detritus”, easily the most energetic song, but with insanely bleak lyrics; arguably the darkest Stickles has written. 

Local Business adds another excellent chapter in Titus Andronicus's still-shifting discography, though it certainly is not a disappointment, whatever some critics may say.

8.  Flying Lotus - Until the Quiet Comes [Warp]

Flying Lotus is easily one of the most sonically interesting producers in the game and his latest release (if you don’t count Captain Murphy’s Duality) solidified his spot at the top of the “Guys who make music that hipster aliens would probably dig” list. For the first half of the record, Until the Quiet comes sounds unlike previous FlyLo releases; it’s much more ambient and the tracks have plenty of room to breathe. However, once “Sultan’s Request” hits, the bass-heavy sound that FlyLo is know for comes back in full force.

What makes this album one of the best of the year is simply that it is one of the world's greatest producers, at the top of his game, doing what he does best. Until the Quiet Comes flows beautifully from point A to point B, and although the transitions between each song feel effortless, each track is so unique and feels like its own dense landscape on the planet that is FlyLo’s mind. It’s easy to get lost in this album, but each song clearly deserves the listener's full attention to details and the care that was taken in crafting it all.

-- Kris Giordano [Check out Gerry's full review from earlier this year!]

7.  Grizzly Bear - Shields [Warp]

There aren't many constants in the trendy, "hipster" classification of music -- I can't stand when people dismiss a band because they arouse associations with Pitchfork -- but, admittedly, Grizzly Bear is a trendy, cool band to listen to. This is not a result of hype but pure musicianship. Shields is a beautiful album. Its attack and release allows me to sometimes admit, yeah, maybe acoustic guitars aren't completely stale and overused.

It seemed like the Brooklyn outfit achieved the perfect balance of the dark and glistening with Veckatimest, an album that broadened my taste in music, but the band definitely did not stop growing in the three years between records. "Sleeping Ute" and "Yet Again" provided first insight as to what the rest of Shields would sound like: Would it continue to expand on the poppy aspect of Veckatimest or would it sink back into the sea like Yellow House? I could not tell, but I was happy with what I was hearing. When placed into the context of the album, the two singles stand out as highlights, not in greatness but volume; most of Shields is reserved, calm, a missive to the meek, up until "Sun in Your Eyes" releases everything witheld into the air. Sure, there are moments when the songs exhale above a murmur, but it is the quieter parts that end up being enjoyed the most. One could argue "The Hunt" is Grizzly Bear's best song to date, better than "Two Weeks" and "Colorado". It never reaches a boil; is never flashy, overzealous; and is completely confident with its current stasis. Shields is a major stride for a band that seems ever-shifting to please itself, a complete collaboration of its members; Shields proves Grizzly Bear's sum is exponentially larger than its parts.

-- Kyle Murphy [Check out Kyle's full review from earlier this year!]

6.  Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel... [Clean Slate; Epic]

It is difficult to describe what Fiona Apple is without sounding a bit harsh. Her music is incredibly endearing and honest, but as a whole, you can’t quite pinpoint what her “deal” is. In the late 90s, she garnered a large amount of attention for her album When the Pawn, due in large part to the single “Fast As You Can”. Even with all the fame and awards, you could tell she didn’t want any attention. It wasn’t a modesty issue either, it was more of an “I hate people, why are you looking at me?” complex. With her new album, The Idler Wheel, Fiona returns after seven years of silence from the public, with a much braver and, well, emotional release. “Daredevil” runs through a formal apology for her old self-destructive ways, crooning "Don’t let me ruin me, I may need a chaperone." One of the most memorable tracks, and first single, “Werewolf”, details life after a bad relationship: "Nothing’s wrong with a song that ends in a minor key." After being thrown into the media spotlight at such a young age, her actions started to become self-destructive. If anything, her time off has only taught her that her old self is behind her now, and with The Idler Wheel, another chapter of her life can begin, brilliantly new.

-- Gerry D'Apollo

5.  Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music [Williams Street]

Have you noticed that in the realm of retrospective album lists this year, critics have been subtly jabbing Killer Mike for being too political? Using words like "overtly" that carry the connotation of perhaps having gone too far? I am not a purveyor of this school of thought. I loved how furious and vitriolic Mr. Render was without seeming condescending. He was never apologetic. As he tore up El-P's awesome production, he attacked the political spectrum, the church, the TSA, and everything in between, seemingly without the cloud of bias. And perhaps that was what made people so uncomfortable: Killer Mike was totally unwilling to pick a delineated side, instead opting to tear everyone apart; a bold move in a culture that attacks labels rather than policy, but in my opinion, Killer Mike made the right choice both artistically and politically.

-- Ben Goodheart

4.  Converge - All We Love We Leave Behind [Epitaph]

It’s been 4 years since Converge’s last album, An Axe to Fall, and with their new effort All We Love We Leave Behind, it is easy to see that this band is at the height of their career with no end in sight. With this new album, frontman Jacob Bannon said in multiple interviews that he wanted it to feel like one of their live shows: raw, heavy, full of energy. With AWLWLB topping metal charts around the country, Converge has shown that their near twenty year run hasn’t grown stale. Unlike other recent hardcore albums, All We Love We Leave Behind never becomes repetitive. Bannon’s vocals strain through focused lyrics while guitarist Kurt Ballou’s production of the album adds to the brutality and heaviness in each track. This was a labor of love for the band, and their ability to add so much energy and fun to their music after so long should be a credit to their longevity. 

3.  Death Grips - The Money Store [Epic]

What feels like a swift kick in the teeth, Death Grips' The Money Store is an album forged deep in the recesses of technology. Using samples from iPhones and a swathe of digital white noise, The Money Store is the masterpiece of MC Ride and Zach Hill (maybe Flatlander): their "fuck you" statement to the music industry. This is an album whose story is just as good as the music, a rare entity in the DIY era. Death Grips signed to Epic, a move into the very industry Exmilitary seemed to steer away from - who was going to sign a band who shouted incoherently over violent beats, then sell it? The music community stood nonplussed, yet foaming at the mouth to see what happened next. The Money Store comes out, it garners every critic's recommendation, and a vast tour is booked, only Death Grips now promises two releases in 2012. The tour is cancelled, production on NO LOVE DEEP WEB begins. Death Grips blow their entire advance from The Money Store at L.A.'s famously star-inhabited Chateau. They leak NO LOVE from an iPhone with a picture of Zach Hill's dick serving as the cover. I thought it was all brilliant. The band was immediately dropped from Epic, left homeless and broke, and this is all within the year of their breakthrough. This is all from a band that is increasingly reclusive, despite being one of the most sought after interviewees, and proclaimed "No representation is better than misrepresentation;" it's pretty accurate to say Death Grips functions on its own honest frequency.

The Money Store boasts forty-one minutes of brutal, often ineffable music. MC Ride is a little more coherent on here than Exmilitary, but doesn't loose his edge at all. He's also curbed back, as the songs are a bit shorter, creating a more focused album. The Money Store even features some bangers you can play whenever, not just when you want to see if you can make a Molotov cocktail; "Get Got" and "I've Seen Footage" do have some appeal, though the closer you look, the more you can see how baffling the move to Epic was. Hill bears the weight on the production - the recondite samples and beats on this album are outstandingly fresh and innovative. The album also scored two perfect ten scores from The Needle Drop and Drowned in Sound, adding to its merits.

This album certainly isn't for everyone, but those who can understand its importance and originality will be perpetually rewarded with each skittishly unpredictable listen.

-- Kyle Murphy

2.  Kendrick Lamar - good kid, m.A.A.d. city [Top Dag; Aftermath; Interscope]

Call it “Post-Hip-Hop”, or the second coming of West Coast rap, or simply one of the most well-crafted releases of 2012, but however you refer to Kendrick Lamar’s debut album good kid, M.a.a.d. City, there is no denying that there is a subtle genius at work behind this record. At only twenty-five years old, Kendrick seems to posses a self-awareness of a much older artist, which is why this album is able to hit on so many of the points that garner the label “instant classic."

The opening track, "Sherane a.k.a. Master Splinter's Daughter", is a masterful bit of storytelling which justifies the omnipresent paranoia seen in many of Lamar’s tracks, specifically those about growing up in his hometown of Compton, like “m.a.a.d city” and “Compton”. Lamar’s aforementioned self-awareness is seen most clearly in the single worthy tracks off this album; “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe”, “Money Trees”, and “Swimming Pools (Drank)” all touch on his insecurities with women, fame, success, alcohol and himself.

Although looking at this album as a complete piece makes it stand out above many of the other releases this year, there is a moment when listening to “Backseat Freestyle” when you think “Oh shit, is probably one of the greatest rap songs I’ve ever heard,” then you quickly follow up with “Oh shit, this is a parody of rap from Kendrick Lamar’s 16 year old mind,” then you think “Wait, if a song written almost as a joke is the greatest new thing in Hip-Hop, what does that say about everybody else is doing?” Shit, that's just Lamar’s subtle genius at play.

-- Kris Giordano [Check out Kyle's review from earlier this year!]

1.  Frank Ocean - Channel Orange [Def Jam]

Pretty much every music blog this year chose either Channel Orange or good kid, m.A.A.d. city for its album of the year: both were hugely anticipated albums, major label debuts, hyped by a rap collective at the height of their popularity, and deserving of AOTY titles. I remember when Ocean made his television debut on Letterman, revealing the album was up for digital downloads a week early; "I remember, how could I forget?" I rushed to my computer and purchased it on iTunes, something I haven't done in about two years.

Frank Ocean is the perfect storm of an artist; one that comes along only once every decade, a true original, but there are definitely shades of Prince in Ocean's persona and talents, not to undermine his vision. He is constantly misquoted, concerning his sexuality and willingness to leave music altogether; misunderstood; and extremely under appreciated, despite being a critically lauded musician. I think Channel Orange doesn't begin to scratch the surface on what we can expect from Ocean. nostalgia, ULTRA was a decent prelude, though no one could predict a song like "Thinking Bout You", which is up for a Grammy -- despite Grammys becoming less and less salient. Even songs like "Sierra Leone", a song I feel never quite coalesces, is a great exercise in harmony and rhythm that hints at more excellent music, experiments, from the twenty-five year old we have yet to hear. "Pyramids" is the most epic song I heard all year, including songs from Baroness, Converge, Cloud Nothings, Death Grips - all bands that seemingly pride themselves on being larger than life; Ocean remains just one man.

Introducing sexual ambiguity and a myriad of unconventional accompaniments, Channel Orange efficiently increases R&B's clout in the ever-shifting musical landscape in the internet age; a trend put in motion by the recent emergence of Drake and The Weeknd as a radio juggernaut. Frank Ocean even uses tumblr in a way not warranting hatred and frustration with the human race, fully understanding how the internet community, though almost entirely fickle and spoiled, can receive a person who is true to his or her online avatar, which Ocean captures in spades. Channel Orange feels more like a movement toward acceptance, away from misogyny, and twirling, twirling, twirling toward deeper music broadcasted to a larger audience than just another album from 2012.

-- Kyle Murphy

Later this week, for about two weeks, there will be more lists posted by the individual members of Flatted Third. Happy New Year (of Music)!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

2012's Most Disappointing Records

Let me start out by saying that I don't believe music criticism should ever be malicious or cruel, but there certainly is an inevitability where expectations overpower the actual material, and this is one of the toughest aspects of music: living up to the hype. None of these albums are bad, by any stretch of judgement, they just didn't meet their heightened expectations, and all the large scale blogs were the ones setting them. These are some albums that fell short of affirming early expectations. 

Big Boi - Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors
I still believe Sir Lucious Left Foot the Song of Chico Dusty was the best album of 2010, a year that saw Cosmogramma, The Monitor, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, This Is Happening, etc. That album is a masterpiece of songs. Big Boi is known for his vast taste in music - his favorite artists are Bob Marley and Kate Bush - and this release is a testament to that. VLDR definitely has a wide pallet of songs, but nothing seems to stick with the listener. "Shoes for Running" features Wavves and Big Boi spitting machine gun flow, though it never displays a wow moment. It's obvious to say I had extremely high expectations for this album, which seems unfair considering how long Big Boi's first solo album took to come out - not counting Speakerboxxx as a solo effort, despite being mostly a Big Boi album. This is a good album, better than a lot of rap albums this year; it's just not as good as it could be.

To say Coexist is minimal would be severely understating how stripped back the arrangements are on the trio's follow up to 2009's excellent debut, xx. Early singles "Angels" and "Chained" showed promise, but it was the album's lackluster second act that bored me to frustrated tears. Jamie XX had the blogosphere thinking Coexist would have a much more salient club music presence, though what the effort came to be was spacey, languid, and meandering - none of those comments a compliment. This is isn't so much a sophomore a slump as it feels, well, kind of lazy. I loved the balance on xx, the silence was an instrument in itself, but there doesn't seem to be much music here, besides Oliver Sim and Romy Croft's angelic voices. The xx evolved into a hype band following the band's first record, which set them up for an even higher fall, although I hope this won't be the last we see of the London trio.

Don't even get me started on how disappointing this record is -- well, I guess I have to go into why, as that is the subject matter of this post. I, like everybody else on the Internet, got an early listen through a "radio" service the band set up on a website. "Today's Supernatural" is still an excellent song - the obvious choice for the first single - except it doesn't do a great job of foretelling what Centipede Hz actually sounds like, which is sort of like playing all of Animal Collective's other songs all at once, and then having Deakin show up and add some digital interference. There are only a few songs that can be taken away from this muddled mess - the aformentioned single, "Applesauce", "New Town Burnout", and "Monkey Riches" - and added to an otherwise stellar discography, although "New Town Burnout" just sounds like something that could have come off of Tomboy, BUT WITH DEAKIN NOISES! Is this a flop from a band riding high from a commercial sense, one that was super freaking weird and coherent at the same time, Merriweather Post Pavilion? I doubt it, although I'm still kind of pissed off, months later. 

Passion Pit - Gossamer
I don't know if I expected this to be a great album or I was just curious, after Michael Angelakos made dubiously suicidal comments, but I was certainly interested as to what Gossamer would sound like. A depressed Passion Pit album? A song on a Taco Bell commercial? The hype certainly captured my attention. First single "I'll Be Alright" is romping and bouncy, certainly a highpoint, but the rest of the album is so "meh" that I forgot about it, until I had to start making year end lists. This might be the whitest album of the year - honkeys and their keyboards. I've always been sort of a cursory Passion Pit fan, though Gossamer seems like it'll be my last effort to like the Cambridge band, and, assuming Angelakos wasn't just trying to arouse more hype around the sophomore release, it might be his last too. 

I guess high hopes should never preface an album, but it's nearly impossible to protect yourself from any sort of media coverage nowadays. These albums might end up being some favorites of mine, save for Centipede Hz, despite the fact that, right now, I consider them disappointments. I have already started listening to some of next year's albums, and with those come another set of expectations, so as much as I hate to have a piece of art overshadowed by press, it will continue to be an indelible facet of music criticism. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Grower, Not Shower: The Art of the Veiled, True Earworm

The past couple weeks have found me constantly humming a tune, no matter what time of day or state of being I am in - it's a song I can't shake, replace, or forget. This indelible tune is not poppy or instantly familiar. This song is "Kid A" by Radiohead.

The album Kid A was meant to reshape pop music, redefine a band who already achieved a huge following, and would continue to be one of rock's greatest bands. But Kid A wasn't rooted in the foundations laid by The Bends or OK Computer, no, it was pulled from a digital caul and swathed in static. Kid A, and the proceeding Amnesiac, prove to be Radiohead's most challenging listens, but they are certainly the catalogue's most rewarding -- I often pitch these two albums to introduce people to Radiohead; if they can find comfort in these sounds, the rest of the discography is a breeze.

I use "Kid A" as the representative example of a "grower" song because it's a song that is initially off-putting, but eventually totally engrossing; coded with effect-stained vocals; and all wrapped in digital interference. It sounds like perfectly executed chaos, but with each attentive listen, more and more of the distortion is peeled back to reveal a beautiful beacon made of silicon, yet completely human, an enigmatic song - it only takes, as it did with me, about four years and countless other albums in between to fully appreciate.

There are the "Kid A"s of the world, but there are also countless others that forcibly obfuscate their messages but lack an actual core. Animal Collective is the first band that comes to mind for most people, when discussing the topic of forced avant-garde music. But their music has been more about the musicality of the odd, not odd for the sake of odd. That plight was just, up until the band's latest release, Centipede Hz, which attempted to emulate a radio broadcast, much like how Kid A simulated the internet's connectivity and messages, among other futuristic themes. Centipede Hz features YouTube samples, songs that move nowhere on the surface with no reason underneath, and dawdling movements. It's not all bad, but you can hear the effort the band put into it, where Kid A feels effortless - like the band was predestined to release the album. This is a tightrope Cosmogramma walked with ease and grace, an album so jam-packed that its pandora box is new with each opening. So, ultimately, the maximalist's plight must be true and result of personal struggle, but never reveal its scars.

How can you judge if a piece of music has been forged with planned weirdness or an extent of character? Time. And I know this negates any criticism I have of Centipede Hz, as it is still a very young album, but it's the only truth. I am going out on a limb that I believe to be trustworthy in judging AnCo's latest effort. These are the risks you bear when taking a piece of art into judgement. It is your time after all, so spend it how you like. I spent the last couple years growing to love "Kid A" more and more, though it previously was a track I considered a minor chink in an otherwise flawless album - look how wrong I am now; it's a track I skip to and play on repeat.

So, when you first get something that seems too strange or harsh to listen to, let it breathe. Give it time; walk away from it for a while. This is how you should treat all art. Don't shun something because you can't understand it; you may end up loving it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Album Review: Roc Marciano's Reloaded

There's an art in subtlety, and Roc Marciano knows this. If Action Bronson sounds like Ghostface - a claim which I find only discouraging to one of the best up-and-coming underground rappers - then Roc Marciano is certainly the Raekwon to Bronson's Ghost; Reloaded even implements the same stripped-down beats and movie samples Blue Chips featured. But what makes Marciano's efforts so notable is how cohesive this record is. If the album's opening track, "Tek to a Mack", teaches us anything, it's that Marciano is well aware of how talented he is and he's going to make damn sure you remember by the time the fifteenth track is done.

This feels like an album from the first wave of Wu-Tang solo records: the beats are simple, gritty; the words carry more weight with each listen; and there's nothing a life of drug dealing can teach you better than a unique flow carrying stories of the streets. And Roc almost carries the entire record with his spitting, using only two features. It's amazing how Roc's languid flow and tough guy voice never border on becoming tedious or repetitive - there's enough variety to warrant multiple listens, which is the goal of any word heavy album.

Roc Marciano has always been one of my favorite featured rappers on some notable raps albums - Sit Down, Man's "Roc Marciano Joint", Blue Chips' opener "Pouches of Tuna", and NY Finest's "It's So G" - and though I slept on 2010's Marcberg, I was excited to see this album announced. Though it isn't entirely produced by the rapper like his previous album, MarcbergReloaded does see Marciano bear most of the production weight, adding that auteur watermark; it is a controlled environment Marciano dwells in. The other beats are from lauded producers The Alchemist and Q-Tip - "no rookies, only veterans" seems to be Marciano's m.o. on Reloaded. This doesn't feel like someone sharpening their teeth, despite this being the rapper's second solo album, but someone who has seen the rise and fall of multiple ersatz rap revivalists.

If you're a hip-hop fundamentalist, this album will feel like a welcomed return to form. Marciano is a steam of conscious rapper spitting over low-key, boom-bap beats. "Not Told" slights Nas's outsider perspective vaguely, but Marciano is way too far along to pick any sort of beef with rappers, though I'm sure he'd have no problem squashing anything; he's focused on his own survival, not making any compromises along the way.

Final Grade: B+

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Upcoming Release: This Town Needs Guns'

I like to think everyone has "that" band. Not their favorite band, though it could fit the bill for some people, but that band that brings about certain emotions, good and bad. It's like a comfort food, but instead of something tasty, you have amazing music. My favorite band is Radiohead, and as far as I can tell it always will be, but This Town Needs Guns fills a void in my life I never would've thought possible. TTNG has gotten me through both the best times of my life, as well as the worst - times where I didn't even feel like getting out of bed. Now they're back with their new release out January 22nd on Sargent House records.

With a new album comes a new beginning for this Oxford math-pop band. marks the debut of new singer Henry Tremain, who replaced Stuart Smith in 2011. The band has also released two tracks accompanying the announcement, but not much in terms of touring. Both songs keep the signature pop-hooks TTNG are known for, but this three-piece has shown a much more mature side to their new sound. Tremain sweeps through passionate lyrics with smooth, rich vocals that show a much calmer approach. Per usual, guitarist Tim Collins is able to weave intricate guitar picking with his brother Chris's more spastic yet incredibly syncopated drum rhythms that coincide beautifully with each other.

Personally, I've been anticipating this release for a few years. I've already played both tracks into the ground and I still cannot get enough. In terms of math-rock, This Town Needs Guns is at the top of the game. 2009's Animals was a feat in itself, and I expect won't disappoint on any level.

The band is currently taking digital pre-orders, which will send you the album to your email the moment it is released. But if you're a record junkie such as myself though, you can click here. Check out the new tracks below.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Good, Bad, and Ugly: Upcoming Releases

The Good
Queens of the Stone Age are working on a new album to be released later this year, and Dave Grohl will be returning behind the drumset, a position he hasn't filled since the band's ersatz mainstream breakthrough album Songs for the Deaf. Trent Reznor has also expressed his involvement on at least one song, during his recent AMA on Reddit. The sixth album, currently nameless, will follow 2007's excellent Era Vulgaris, hopefully maintaining the band's winning streak. With an average of about two years in between previous albums, it will be interesting to see how the band has progressed in the five years since the band last released an album, though it wouldn't be a surprise if the album features excellent riffs and some shit from left field. 

The Bad
Green day will continue counting to three in Spanish, while making a pun out of band member Tré Cool's name, with ¡Tré! For those of you that listened -- but thankfully didn't scrobble and risk your credibility -- both previous releases were tepid at best. I must admit I was a Green Day fan for only a year when I was twelve, but I can't imagine they have fans left from Kerplunk. It is quite impressive how the band has continued to stay relevant, riding the wave from American Idiot and the Bush administration's flops, an almost decade old subject. I guess using CSI: NY as an extended commercial to promote your latest three albums translates to some media presence for the "punk rock" veterans. If you enjoyed anything after American Idiot, check it out, but if your last Green Day album was Warning, stay the fuck away from this one. 

The Ugly
Dr. Dre continues to make headphones, not music. Although he appeared on a couple of tracks from Kendrick Lamar's album, Detox is still nowhere in the conversation. I though ScHoolboy Q's reference in "There He Go" would inspire a release date, details or something, but I haven't seen anything from the doctor since that reprehensible "I Need a Doctor" abortion. At this point, Dre's safest bet is to retire and stew with his headphone fortune -- "Hey, nice headphones! Are you listening to the new Dr. Dre Album?" "You mean he makes music, too?" 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Album Review: Kendrick Lamar's Good Kid, M.A.A.D City

Yes, Good Kid came out over two weeks ago. Yes, it's a critically lauded album. But when an album carrying the weight of returning Compton  back to its glory days, you take time with it. I have spent about three weeks with Kendrick's latest release. I had extremely high hopes, as I loved Section.80, and fellow Black Hippy releases from earlier this year, Habits & Contradictions and Control System. The aforementioned Black Hippy efforts solidified my confidence in the rap collective. And with just one more member needing a proper release, Jay Rock, this first wave of proper solo albums might end up being cited as the impetus for a west coast rap revival.

This album is a study in different flows, characters, beats, and styles, as much a result of his roots as his originality. Good Kid does as much for advancing the legacy of Compton as it does for paving the road for Black Hippy. ScHoolboy Q struck the iron first with Habits & Contradictions, Ab Soul threw a curve ball with Control System, and now Kendrick used every resource available to produce a modern masterpiece with Good Kid -- it's difficult to separate Kendrick from his colleagues due to the resurgence of the rap collective and the overall movement of recapturing Compton as a dominant rap force. 

To focus on the album as a whole is difficult; it's dense. When a friend of mine, equally as excited for the release as I was, asked me how it sounded, I could only reply "dense." There's a lot here, more than I anticipated. Yes, it lacks the sudden impact and familiarity as Section.80, though Kendrick himself said it would be, though this album is also ready for radio: a Drake feature, an already charting single with "Swimming Pools, and Aftermath's backing. It's the contradictions, following ScHoolboy's lead, that demand multiple listens and your full attention. If properly marketed, this could spark an upheaval of what we consider marketable rap - music with substance and a message. 

The songs' diversity make Good Kid feel like a mixtape and Kendrick the keystone, bearing the weight of progressing rap. A microcosm of the album is the lengthy, yet earned, "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst". To understand this song is to translate the entire album. It features multiple, well-developed characters; a helplessness cast by inheritance, the implausibility of escape; necessary skits, never feeling superfluous; and two distinct movements. Lamar's first character is a difficult concept to grasp at first, but certainly helps you grasp each character following. With the first listen, it's someone struggling with the loss of his brother, but with each listen a layer is revealed, finally displaying a meta character - it's Kendrick playing a fan of a pseudo-Kendrick rapper. The second character sees a former Kendrick song dedicated to a woman discredited by a working girl. She wants nothing to do with Kendrick's progressively messaged songs, quagmired in the working girl life, seeing his efforts as futile and exploitative. Lamar refutes his previous character's plight to be remembered in song, but by being in a song adds a layer of irony -- I told you this was layered and complex. This is a song of dedication to those trapped within the ghetto, fully aware that their mentality is set, but hoping someone, possibly Kendrick, will carry their message out of the void. Kendrick is the third character here, spitting a verse inundated with references and messages from Nas, Biggie, and the "classic" era of progressive hip-hop: a rapper accepting his position and influence, defending it. All of this is enough for entire album, but Kendrick one ups himself by adding a second movement to the song, shifting the dreamy beat with a skit detailing a turf dispute and revenge. A militaristic beat is brought forth, characters are thrown out. What follows is the most powerful four and a half minutes of music I have heard in recent memory: a litany of gruesome situations, rules to survive by, and an ever present struggle for change. This is Lamar's best song to date. 

With an understanding of "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst", the rest of Good Kid seems much more serious, stripping back any humor displayed by Lamar's characters featured on the album. It's a jaw dropper the umpteenth listen thought that I believe will only get better with time, as the Black Hippy catalogue grows. I could go into as much detail with almost every other song on the album, but writing about "Sing About Me..." was exhausting, much like the first couple listens through Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. But this isn't a calculated obfuscation of art, it's organic music from a true human. Nothing is manufactured, and that, from an outside perspective, is horrifyingly eye-opening.

Final Grade: A+
I know, I know, such a bullshit grade and Flatted Third has already marked two albums as classics, but fuck you - have you heard this thing?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Album Review: Chelsea Wolfe's Unknown Rooms

We all have those albums that completely fly under our radars. Last year, that was Chelsea Wolfe's Ἀποκάλυψις (pronounced Apokalypsis). I don't at all remember how I came about finding her, but I do remember the chilling sense I got from listening to the single "Mer"; dark but ultimately beautiful in every way. Released under Sargent House -- home to bands like Russian Circles and Daughters -- I had no clue what I was in for. I tagged her as some singer/songwriter that somehow must have snuck her way onto a metal label. But I was blown away with what I got. That amazement continued when I actually saw her open for Russian Circles at the Middle East in Boston this past summer. I was floored. To this day, I still consider her one of the top 5 acts I have ever seen live.
Now, as 2012 comes to an end, Chelsea Wolfe has released Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs, a record that has been on my must listen list for months since its announcement. One thing that makes Chelsea so appealing is her pairing of vocal style with her unique style of music: some have called it "acoustic doom metal," which i think is very funny every time I see it. For me, Chelsea Wolfe is a blend of drone-metal and folk. In other words, think of Sunn o))) but with an actual melody, an acoustic guitar, and a pretty girl singing. None of this sounds bad, right?

Unknown Rooms is an excellent album, one that lived up to my expectations. The main reason being her ability to transition her plugged-in performance to a stripped-down acoustic guitar and strings arrangement. With Apokalypsis, many of her songs are lined with reverb and vocal effects that actually work in her favor (unlike some singers *COUGH* BEACH HOUSE *COUGH*). Instead of flattened vocals, Chelsea Wolfe treats her listener to something that has depth. It's haunting and dark, but again, one of the most beautiful female voices I've ever heard. This is what I believe sailors heard before crashing into a mess of rocks, leading to their ultimate death.

The album opens with "Flat Lands", the first single off the LP. It's simple, yet very effective, starting with just an acoustic guitar, then slowly building to more strings. You're soon treated to "Appalachia", a song closely resembling something you could hear on a Damien Rice release. Overall though, this release feels a bit short, running less than twenty-five minutes. One other thing that bothered me was Wolfe's choice to leave two extra tracks off, and leave them as bonus downloads. Both "Virginia Woolf Underwater" and "Gold" serve as the best tracks on the album, even though they don't really exists unless you buy them from iTunes. If you can, I highly recommend spending the $1.98 on both tracks- totally worth it.

Chelsea Wolfe has been described as gothic, as well as servery melancholy. As depressing as this may seem, from the darkness comes something beautiful; something where the term short but sweet actually exemplifies itself. And as annoying as it is that she left two of the best tracks off the album, the small amount it takes to listen to them is worth the asking price.

Final Grade: A-

For fans of: Sun o))), Russian Circles, Damien Rice -- It's difficult to describe, but hopefully this helps

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Revisiting Poison the Well: Kyle Murphy Wears Girls' Pants and Youth Large T-Shirts

Back when I was in high school, I was into a breed of music I would now classify as "not that good," or "shitty," but there are a few bands I am extremely proud to recall as early influences: The Receiving End of Sirens, Kevin Devine, Trophy Scars, Bear vs. Shark, and there are some other good ones too, I swear. During a recent discussion of 90s hardcore with fellow Flatted Third writer Ben Goodheart, I was reminded of the fact he doesn't care for the "chugga-chugga" hardcore. This first came up in discussion when I played Poison the Well on our radio show last year. I loved Poison the Well in high school. Opposite of December was probably my most played record freshman year - the record kicked off my metalcore phase, one that unfortunately led to the Vannas and Underoaths of the world. But I guess my venture was honest, yet somehow ended up misguided. So, when news of a double reissue, both Opposite of December and Tear from the Red in the same gatefold, was announced on Rise Records' website -- LOL, I know, Rise Records -- I flipped a shit and ordered it, though I couldn't joyfully share this news with Ben.

With Hurricane Sandy approaching, I thought I would venture through Poison the Well's discography - well, the records I listened to in high school - in order to get me pumped for this double reissue; a joy that only I could indulge in. I spent the entire day listening to the band that started one of my worst fashion decisions: girls' pants and youth large t-shirts.

The Opposite of December (1999)
I was reminded just how "chugga-chugga" they are. But then again, this is the band that made it popular; they may not have been the first, though they are often cited as bringing it to everyone's attention, beginning the spiral into a thousand shitty derivative bands. "12/23/93" is a kick in the teeth from the drum fill that starts it all off, but it's what happens at 1:08 where you notice a difference between every other band and Poison the Well: there is a clean chord, followed by another ear beating dose of hardcore, flowing into that misnomered "emo" singing that countless bands have copied, finally ending with a mix of everything coming before it in the song. This mix of everything is what enticed me - the fact that a band could be heavy as all Hell, then flip a switch and become the anthesis, and end with two contradictions sounding somewhat natural together. The second song "A Wish for Wings that Work" introduces spoken-word lyrics -- I had never really heard anything like this before, so by the second song, I was completely blown away. This was everything I wanted but didn't know existed. The whole album lasts less than a half-hour, so it makes sense that I've heard it about two-hundred times and counting. "Nerdy" is still my favorite song, but over time I have come to appreciate every song on here equally, being able to spot future influences in my on guitar playing and the music I listen to now.

The Follow-Up
Tear from the Red (2002)
I have read many times how rushed this record was. And the pressure shows, although not as much as the exhausted effort to follow up what was being considered a genre-defying record, nearly three years later. The sophomore record is usually a tell-tale sign of how a band will progress in the future, if there is a future -- it is why I only expect two albums from a band to consider them noteworthy. With the way December ends, light chords and fading screams, it sounds like a band running out of energy, assuaging its own legacy. "Botchla" kicks off Tear from the Red with the signature singing and chords, a prelude to ensuing chaos. Poison the Well continues to exercise its heavy/light formula on this record, one they popularized. And "Botchla" is a great opener, but "Lazzaro" seems determined to kill any momentum. It's one of my least favorite songs of theirs, and certainly exhibits the quickening deadline the band must have felt. Thank god for "Turn Down Elliot" and its breakdown, a familiar, welcomed sound for the band.  The song builds momentum back up and the album is back on track, right? Not if "Horns and Tails" has anything to say about it. The band's first acoustic song that launched a thousand closers simply blows. I hate this song, well, I haven't always hated it - it made a great freak-out AIM profile quote. But this is what most fans always fear: the inevitable acoustic break from an otherwise brutal band. This break in the record is exactly what Tear from the Red suffers from: unexpected inconsistency. I understand that it may have been rushed, but you could easily trim about eight minutes of fat from a record that's nearly a minute long than its predecessor and still have a full-length. 

The Major Label Debut
You Come before You (2003)
It's what every fan fears - the band you loved has sold out, signed to a major label. Tear from the Red ended on the same note that started it. A record that was rife with simply bad, lazy songs, Red had every fan worried. Little did anyone know, Poison the Well weren't dead yet, and a major label wouldn't ruin the band forever either. Shot out of a fucking cannon, "Ghostchant" opens the record. It is an amazing hardcore song, raising all lowered expectations. It's well constructed, paced, and original, yet still very much Poison the Well. It's certainly telling of the music still to come on You Come before You. The rest of the album is just as strong and fresh as the opener, flowing beautifully from song to song -- I don't want to go too far into detail here, because I want to inspire you, the reader, to listen to it with somewhat fresh ears. Surprisingly, and still a pretty new concept to 13 year-old Kyle Murphy, there are even elements of post-rock on this thing: "The View from Here", "A Bandaged Iris", and "Sounds like the End of the World". And although it lacks the impact of The Opposite of December, You Come before You is a much better record, Poison the Well's best. I will still revisit this record whenever I'm sick of mewithoutyou.

Though the band went on to release two more albums -- 2007's Versions, 2009's The Tropic Rot -- I had since moved on from the metalcore phase of my life, thankfully. They're both pretty good releases, but they'll never sound the same as the first three records did. 2012 saw a lot of really good screamo records from the likes of Birds in Row, Suis La Lune, and Loma Prieta, and I was reminded of Poison the Well in a lot of the mentioned band's music, all albums coming out over a decade after December. So, maybe I wasn't so wrong about this band and can add them to the list, though I'm certain I listened to a lot of shitty other bands aping off Poison the Well, all while wearing girls' pants and youth large t-shirts. The fact that the first two records are being reissued together is somewhat bittersweet - having Tear from the Red forever bound to December - but at least The Opposite of December will be added to my collection, except now I have to wait for news of a You Come before You reissue.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Album Review: Titus Andronicus's Local Business

“Blah blah blah the Monitor defined the past two years of my life and Local Business is a total let down because blah blah blah.” I guarantee you’ll see most every negative review of Titus Andronicus’s newest full-length Local Business begin with some variation of this line. Before I go any further, yes, The Monitor did define my freshman year of college; I played it into the fucking ground. I learned the chords to “The Battle of Hampton Roads” and played it when I was drunk. I toyed around with the idea of getting a tattoo dedicated to the band. The Monitor marks a confusing, often frustrating time in my life that I’m glad to have survived. That being said, Local Business is not The Monitor, but I don’t consider that a pejorative statement. Who wants to hear the same record twice?

Local Business, as its own entity, is a very strong release. The vision Patrick Stickles and co. puts forth is cohesive and defined. There are less instances of lyrical interpolation and more existential crises. Stickles seems even more wary and cautious of the world before him than he has previously.  “Ecce Homo” kicks off the record with a confident, conversational manner. The build up for this record is deliberate, though. “Still Life With Hot Deuce on Silver Platter” is where you really gotta turn the volume up, because that track rips. The momentum barrels through “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape with the Flood of Detritus”, easily the most energetic song, but with insanely bleak lyrics; arguably the darkest Stickles has written.

The rug that ties the room together is found on “My Eating Disorder”. Stickles is notoriously a proponent of three movement songs, and this cut is no exception. By this point, Titus has honed this hobby of sorts into a master craft. The first movement is catchy and angry. “No I haven’t had dinner, what about it!?” The pathos continues into the second movement, with just the repetition of the track’s name. Before you know it, we’re in the third movement, with Stickles espousing “Spit It Out” in conjunction with the heavy-ass guitar riff. There’s nothing technically complex about it, but everything about this song screams like a twisted anthem.

A lot of the lyrics on Local Business reference or reflect statements Patrick Stickles has made on Twitter a number of times. Therefore, I felt more as if this was a very conversation album. These were ideas that have clearly been gestating for sometime, and it’s interesting that Twitter provided the first insight into the lyrical content.

If nothing else, Titus Andronicus knows how to structure an album. We get “Titus Andronicus Vs. The Absurd Universe (3rd Round KO)” which nicely transitions into the one-two punch of “In A Big City” and “In A Small Body”. These songs perfectly exhibit the band’s shift towards less monumental songs and more organic songs that incorporate a lot more piano. It’s a very casual  album, and the sound compliments it quite nicely. Penultimate track “I Am The Electric Man” does last a little too long for its own good, straddling the line between a necessary comic relief and drawn out filler. The album ends on a high (depressing) note with “Tried To Quit Smoking”. The strength here isn’t the lyrics, but the music. On such an organic album, this ending is inevitable and necessary.  Say what you will, Titus knows how to close.

Again, I’m sure there will be some negative reviews of Local Business focusing not on what the album is, but how it's not The Monitor. It’s a shame, because in its own right, Local Business is an incredibly strong third record that deserves to be blasted. 

Final Grade: A-

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Album Review: Miguel's Kaleidoscope Dream

Don't jude a book by its cover - no truer words have ever been frequently quoted, especially in literature and music. I absolutely hate the cover of this album, so much so that I put off listening to it when it was first critically lauded. Then, Pitchfork implored their faithful readers to pick it up, furthering my skepticism. It took one of my friends to tweet about how lucky we were to get Frank Ocean's "Thinking 'Bout You" and Miguel's "Adorn" in the same year; boy, was he ever right: this album feels like a gift, insight to Miguel's mind. It was that little bit of pathos that put me over the edge, and I finally checked out Kaleidoscope Dream.

"Adorn" is just as adept as "Thinking 'Bout You" is to open an album, but the twist here is Miguel produced the song, along with getting co-credits on a lot of the other songs, and there are even other songs on here solely produced by the singer himself, "Pussy Is Mine" and "Candles in the Sun". The songs on Kaleidoscope Dream aren't stripped down or simple; they're maximalist, sounding like something Janelle Monáe would sing over -- actually, that would be a pretty amazing collaboration. I can best describe these songs as "What Prince would make, had he been from the year 2032." Miguel's voice is sharp and pointed, effortlessly crafting melodies from thin air. I couldn't tell you a moment on this album that doesn't feel organic, and it's because of Miguel's understanding of his own voice.

One of my favorite moments on the album comes in the last fifty-five seconds of "Don't Look Back" where an undulating synth line, seemingly from nowhere, backs Miguel crooning, finally ending with the line, "It's the time of the season for loving." I don't think anyone else could possibly utter that line with any severity and pull it off. It seems like everything on this album works, which seems harder and harder to do in a genre that was deemed a joke in the late nineties when New Jack took a turn for the worse. It's great to see 2012 have some of the best R&B albums I've heard since Voodoo - it's hard not to use D'Angelo as a benchmark.

The most adventurous part of Kaleidoscope Dream comes with the eponymous song. You may recognize the sample immediately, as it's the same from Eminem's "My Name Is", arguably the rapper's biggest song. To challenge such an institution of a song, and to be completely successful, is something special. He makes it all his own.

While Frank Ocean challenged everything R&B had previously established about sexuality and love, Miguel expands the genre outward, showing a glimpse of growth within itself. And, although Kaleidoscope Dream isn't vying for a top spot on my personal year end list like Channel Orange is, that certainly doesn't discredit anything accomplished on this record. It's witty, fun, craftily produced, and a much needed release to move R&B out of R. Kelly's closet.

Final Grade: A-

P.S. Check out Miguel's spirited performance of "Adorn" on "Letterman"

Monday, October 15, 2012

Album Review: Trash Talk's 119

I first listened to Trash Talk around 2007 or 2008 when I was in high school and didn’t really have a good grasp on hardcore. On the recommendation of a forum I frequented, I checked out their self titled and I hated it. I just absolutely hated it. It was so noisey and abrasive and had no discernible song structure, and I was just a little baby who liked pop-punk. It was a horrible introduction to hardcore and I wasn’t comfortable checking them out again until I had really gotten into the genre.

Now, five years later, they’ve released 119. I’m sure that if this was the record I was introduced to in high school, I would have gotten into hardcore much earlier. That’s not necessarily a compliment, but at the same time, I’m not deriding it outright. 119, if nothing else, is accessible. It’s loud, but not noisy; it’s political, but not in a complex way; it’s fast, but not thrash; and finally, It’s slow but never gets to the apex of stoner hardcore. It’s essentially tailor-made as a jumping off point for people who haven’t listened to hardcore. That’s not a bad thing though. There’s nothing bad with being a “gateway” band for a genre. Exclusivity is dumb, so if you can get a person into a genre, great.

I guess this album is just a bit disappointing. It always feels as if it’s going to break and explode into the glorious exercise of violence that Trash Talk was in the past, but it never really does. 119 is essentially a longer, less noisey, more boring version of last year’s Awake EP. Well, perhaps boring is a bit harsh. I do enjoy listening to this album, and skating to it is quite fun.  

It has a much stronger first half than it does second. “Eat the Cycle” is a great opener and “My Rules” is enjoyable mosh bait. The only really, really strong song on the album is lead single “F.E.B.N.” Things get dicey about the time the band decided to have Hodgy Beats and Tyler, The Creator spit verses on “Blossom and Burn”, a song that otherwise would have been the stand out track of 119. I understand the band probably enjoys working with their bosses - as they are signed to Odd Future Records - but this was the largest misstep of the entire record. Hodgy’s verse is passable, as it fits in with the mix, but Tyler’s verse is god-awful. I’ve never been Tyler’s biggest fan, but the verse is embarrassing. I’m a big believer that hip-hop and hardcore, at their roots, are very similar and can be used together to great effect. I still believe that, but “Blossum and Burn” certainly is not that product. From there, the record just tends to drag. 119 is only 22 minutes, but it feels like 35, which is a far too ambitious time marker for a hardcore band.

If you have any interest in hardcore but don't know where to start, 119 is a good jumping off point. If you like hardcore and haven’t listened to Trash Talk, skip 119 and just listen to Awake.

Final Grade: C

Friday, October 12, 2012

Album Review: Metz's Self-Titled Debut

Metz are a heavy trio of dudes from Toronto that play a noisy garage rock most like The Jesus Lizard but a bit heavier. It's not the music that is necessarily heavier, but the production is covered with a patina of grime and fuzz that smells like teen spirit - you'll understand more about that "joke", and not roll your eyes so much, when you understand the band's simple song structure. It is most reminiscent of a less dynamic and experimental Heavier Than Air Flying Machines, who released last year's excellent Siam, one of my favorite records of that year. The difference in vocals is stark between the two bands yet the musicality of the band's is very similar.

Metz starts off with the excellent romping "Headache", which sounds like when Daughters got a little poppy with its rhythm section on their last album, Daughters. There is a slight noisy interlude, then the "ohs" that started the song close it out. There aren't a lot of "wow, that was completely original" moments, but the song certainly doesn't suck, and it is one of the highlights of the album; and there are only a few of them, as the record is less than thirty minutes long.

Metz continue to implement some traditional song structure throughout the album, only veering off the path on tracks like "Wet Blanket" and the previously released "Negative Space" - the latter song is actually what originally piqued my interest in the band when they were featured on one of Spin's list of artists to watch. These tracks are memorable and add another dimension to Metz's sound, but every other song on the album sort of has a similar feel. I didn't walk away from multiple listens being able to discern which song featured parts I liked - it all sort of felt like one long song or setlist, which isn't such a bad thing when your formula works. And I feel like, in Metz's case, the sound does work, but only for a short time.

Sure, this is a fun release that could perfectly score a hooligan's last stand with cops circling the supermarket he has held hostage, albeit for less than a half-hour, but there isn't a lot of new featured on this album. I've heard this kind of music before, either much harder or a little softer, so it doesn't feel like something I will be suggesting to any friends - well, at least not to anyone who enjoys poppy music. I was able to complete this review in under ten minutes, which is funny because that's how much of Metz's music will stick with me. So if this album interests you, go over to Heavier Than Air Flying Machines's website and download Siam; it's a much more entertaining listen.

Final Grade: C

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Album Review: Converge's All We Love We Leave Behind

This is one of the more difficult reviews for me to write. And I don't mean this in any sort of repressed emotional trauma attached to said band/album. Quite the opposite. Converge's new album All We Love We Leave Behind has consumed most of my listening space - at work, at home, in the car - honestly, I can't remember having something in such heavy rotation since Radiohead released In Rainbows. This is partly why the review has taken me longer than expected. For something so great, I figured I'd have this done in a minute. But it became more than that.

While talking to a friend of mine about the new album, he started to mention that one of the greatest things about Converge is their ability to get better at what they do. This is a group of guys who, over the past 15 years, have really grown into themselves in the best way possible. It's like that kid from Harry Potter who was ass-ugly, but then turned out to be this:

It's odd.

But Converge never started out as a buck-toothed nobody. For the most part, they've had a really solid career. This is why reviewing this album took so long. After sitting with AWLWLB, I started to go back and listen to Axe to Fall...then No Heroes...and basically just ran through their entire discography. And although they have a dynamic set of releases, All We Love We Leave Behind easily sets the bar high for what is to come from Converge.

One of our own writers Ben Goodheart admitted to withstanding from any sort of listen to Converge for the fact that "it scared him." He's not alone on this. My first introduction to Converge came when I bought Jane Doe on vinyl. Now, I enjoy metal and some of the offshoot genres it produces, but I never really could put a finger on what Converge was trying to do. It was loud, incredibly abrasive, but also hard to turn away from. These four guys knew what they were doing, and with each release their overall musicianship just kept becoming more refined. With AWLWLB, we see what is probably the most matured version of Converge yet.

This album is raw, not just gritty; it actually sounds like lead singer Jacob Bannon is in pain while screaming every lyric. Yes, I realize you can say that about any Converge album, and while that's true, this release is different. Produced by guitarist Kurt Ballou, this album was essentially meant to sound like one of their live shows: no production effects, no vocal harmonizers. This is Converge at their most stripped down. Also, oddly enough, probably their mathy-est release. The album opens with the single "Aimless Arrow", which is like listening to a harder These Arms Are Snakes track (i.e. THE MATH). From there on out is just an all out assault on you ears and soul. "Trespasses" leaves no time to recover and takes us back to the fast hardcore of You Fail Me. "Empty on the Inside" serves as one of the best tracks on the album, as well as one of the best Converge has recorded in some time. One of the most interesting tracks came out of "Coral Blue" which I would've immediately thought was a Mastodon song if I hadn't known the band before.

AWLWLB will go down as one of Converge's best releases. The decision to keep it as raw as they did payed off in every way the band could have hoped for. Before the album came out, my aforementioned friend said that this was going to be You Fail Me: Part 2. In a sense, he's very correct. You Fail Me covered a wide range of styles. This is partly why I went back and listened to their back catalogue before completing this review. You begin to hear them go back to previous albums within every song. You hear You Fail Me, but there's also alot of influence from Axe To Fall and No Heroes. Converge never forgets their roots, but they're also incredibly talented, enough to better themselves musically while keeping each release fresh and just as brutal as the last.

Like Kyle, I've never felt the need to really give out an A+ to anything, but honestly, Converge earned this grade up and down with the fantastic job they did with All We Love We Leave Behind. It's raw, aggressive and just impressive in every way. It's my number one release of 2012 for me, so far...

Grade: A+

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Album Review: Death Grips' NO LOVE DEEP WEB

First off, this is the fucking album cover I'm using because it's the "properest" of the lot. Secondly, I was explaining to one of my friends about how Death Grips released their own album early (this one) much to the dismay of their label, and having their website "shut down" in the process. I don't know if you have ever tried to describe what Death Grips sounds like, but it is extremely difficult to do without using the word "violent;" that's exactly the word I decided to go with. Even if the subject matter of the song is paranoia, the dangers of misrepresentation, or bouncing, everything feels like its being rocketed at your face. After I said, "Well, they're like, violent and angry," I went on to describe their genre as "militaristic-electro-hardcore-rap," which I think does a fair enough job of labeling an almost ineffable rap collective.

So as you all may know now, Death Grips decided to release NO LOVE DEEP WEB themselves. I saw flashed of when Radiohead released In Rainbows for a price you named; it's certainly something that will change how artists interact with labels from now on out, which brings me to an almost completely unrelated anecdote: I was randomly looking up Arcade Fire's Neon Bible - maybe I just felt like I didn't know enough about the album - and discovered how the band accidentally released the wrong song as a single, tried to remove it, and found out just how fast peer-to-peer sharing is. NO LOVE DEEP WEB was leaked, the website taken down, but after about six hours - about a weeks' time in Internet time - the album had gone viral. It would be nearly impossible to hunt down every copy and have it deleted. Death Grips had won: the record released on their own accord.

It would be unfair to be have this release's birth go unmentioned in this review, as it escalates the rating immensely. It's difficult to not overly romanticize and admire the album, due to its completely groundbreaking release. Yes, it's nowhere close to being as good as The Money Store, but I believe it to be a much more important record. If NO LOVE DEEP WEB had been released under the label's stipulations, it would be a solid B/B+ album, but because of its release, I am going to give it an A+ (something I vowed never to do; calling something an instant classic is extremely brash).

Every label that saw what happened with Death Grips and this record is scared shitless. This adds a whole other level to how a label will handle records from now on out. Obviously, albums leak -- I myself am part of two leak websites -- but never has a band so recklessly avoided a label's decisions than Death Grips, and then broadcasted it through twitter! And how perfect it is to have the first band to so dramatically leak their own record than Death Grips.

"I've got some shit to say, just for the fuck of it" MC Ride testifies on "Lock Your Doors". The band is known for its sporadic, cryptic operations, so when they signed to Epic I was baffled. How could a band so anti-establishment sign to a proper label? Well, I guess it didn't matter where they signed; they were going to continue to operate the same. The Money Store proved the collective could produce the same product under a label's supervision. It features the best work the band has ever done, a wide range of songwriting and anger. NO LOVE DEEP WEB prolongs the band's reputation as one of the most original acts to come out in years.

So, to finally touch upon the material featured on the album: it's excellent. MC Ride sounds as exhaustingly frustrated as all hell, the beats are minimal yet effective, and the songs feature a variety of styles within the band's own niche. Zach Hill played all the beats himself, there are no programmed drums, which would be impossible to recognize due to Hill's perfect drumming; I mean, the guy is a well-oiled robot. The beats are a little more dialed back here - you won't hear any random found sound in the beats, just a few samples sprinkled in. It parallels what FlyLo did with Until the Quiet Comes, letting the instruments breathe in the beats rather than cramming as much in as possible.

When I put my headphones on for the inaugural listen, my eardrums tingled from the bass, a little uncomfortably but just enough to keep my interest piqued; this is some deep bass music, not your shitty overly trebled "brostep." MC Ride comes through with a lot less effect-driven vocals, a lot cleaner - if he could ever be clean - on NLDW than The Money Store. It's easy to see the evolution from album to album here, so it makes sense why Death Grips cancelled the tour for The Money Store to record this album. Sometimes the creative process can consume.

At the end of the day, Death Grips have released what could easily have served as the second LP in a double release with The Money Store, but it's the fashion in which it was released that holds the most bearing over how I listened to NO LOVE DEEP WEB. If you see this as just another release from a band that's having one hell of a year, you lack scope and imagination: The record industry will never be the same.

Final Grade: A+