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+

Monday, October 8, 2012

Album Review: The Mountain Goats' Transcendental Youth

I guess The Mountain Goats weren't content with releasing just an album just last year; they had enough material for two, this year's Transcendental Youth. The latest effort sees John Darnielle and the gang a little more comfortable with their characters, not to mention the happier sound of the tunes -- well, I guess happy for The Mountain Goats. There are obviously moments of losing your cool - "Lakeside View Apartment Suite" feels almost like a Jack's Mannequin song, up until the protagonist pukes in the sink. But what Transcendental Youth does for the Mountain Goats' discography is add another dimension to its already padded reputation -- I don't see anyone trying to rip off their sound, but I can definitely see Darnielle's songwriting being cited influential in many years to come.

"Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1" kicks off the record, an ode to Amy Winehouse and any other youthful sprites living for the moment. "Just stay alive" is the chorus, endearingly honest and true. It's a shame Winehouse could never collaborate with The Mountain Goats, as I think that would produce a successful, if not completely strange, result; I understand that would be almost as random as the tribute itself, but apparently Darnielle had a message for the late songstress strong enough to produce a song. Transcendental Youth continues to build on the success of the opening track, ending with the beautiful eponymous closing track.

The Mountain Goats expand more on the full band they have established in recent releases by adding a horn section to most of the songs. "Cry for Judas" sounds a bit like a Beirut song with the horn section taking charge throughout most of the track. And although the tracks here are have a lot more pep than what was featured on All Eternals Deck, the lyrics still point toward the helplessness you can expect from the band.

What can be extrapolated from Transcendental Youth is The Mountain Goats extend their winning streak long enough to be inspired by contemporary artists, while still maintaining their structure and sound. There's no "See America Right" or "This Year" on the record, but once all the melodies and lyrics sink in, you won't feel like you wasted your time listening. I would be happy with releases like All Eternals Deck and Transcendental Youth every year, if they are as stable as The Mountain Goats' releases continue to be. I don't see this record as a reinvention or anything that will blow people away, though it's a solid exercise for a band that is ever-shifting laterally, comfortable and confidant with what they create.

Final Grade: B

Monday, October 1, 2012

NO LOVE DEEP WEB and What That Means for Trent Reznor

By now, everyone has probably heard that Death Grips leaked their second record of the year themselves after their major label Epic fucked around with the release date. Death Grips had recently cancelled a string of major tour dates to go back in the studio and work on NO LOVE DEEP WEB, their immediate follow up to the insanely stellar The Money Store, released in April. It was clear that they wanted to get their new album out by October or November and they were set on it. In announcing they signed with Epic, they also promised two albums in 2012. This has been known for the majority of the year. Death Grips, in their announcement of the deal, seemed quite confident in their partnership with not only the label but L.A. Reid, the head of Epic.

About two weeks ago, Trent Reznor announced that his project How To Destroy Angels had signed a major label deal with Columbia. I was particularly surprised by this move, as Reznor was probably the most outspoken dissenter of labels at the time he left Interscope in 2007. Along with Radiohead, but arguably more successfully, Reznor released an incredible online model so that, as an artist, he could be self-sufficient. So, after that success, why was he back on a major? For the buzz? Even if you weren’t Trent Reznor, you could do well on a large independent, and I think a large indie like XL would have made the most sense. Is it for the money? Ostensibly, Trent Reznor has no need for extra cash. He’s an Oscar winner, a major recording artist who had a major hand in greatly revolutionizing the music industry. It’s not like he needs the label to pay for studio time; he already owns a studio. So what’s the reasoning then? He’s yet to divulge many details, but he’s mentioned that he’s excited to work with his close friend Mark Williams. That detail, I believe is crucial to why I think this was a short-sighted move.

It’s a tale as old as the industry. Band signs to label to work with friend/relative/someone who believes in them. They release an album. It charts or it doesn’t. That doesn’t really matter. After a year or so, the ownership/creative director/whatever changes and then the bands are jettisoned from the label or put in purgatory to rot while the next glitter vomit project reproduces asexually. Ownership changes very often at record labels. In September, for instance, Universal took over EMI in an effort to control what consumers are buying.  Control changes constantly and should be regarded as such.

I bet this is what happened to Death Grips. L.A. Reid is still heavily involved with Epic sure, but his focus has probably changed. After all, Death Grips’ The Money Store only spent a week on the charts at the 130 spot. I doubt that’s considered satisfactory, despite the fact that the album, and very possibly NO LOVE DEEP WEB, will top year-end lists. I applaud L.A. Reid and Epic for taking a chance with the infinitely fucked-up M.C. Ride and co., but both the artists and the management lacked the foresight to prepare for what would happen. Of course The Money Store wouldn’t chart. Why would an electronic rap group with roots in hardcore and a front man with crippling paranoia do anything but alienate the masses with their abrasive and confrontational music? I applaud even louder for Death Grips leaking their album to piss off Epic. Death Grips aren’t ones to fuck with and they made the right move in this case. They made the wrong move in signing to a major though. I can’t imagine NO LOVE DEEP WEB will ever see the physical light of day, except perhaps for a bootleg cassette or something. Epic will retaliate with legal fury, and this very well may be the last thing that Death Grips ever releases. At the time of writing this article, Epic has already taken down Death Grips' website.

For Reznor though, this tale has yet to be retold. How To Destroy Angels is hardly music for the masses; the label certainly signed him for the weight his name brings. So when their initial EP fails to chart and then their LP fails to chart, we will once again be reading a long-winded rant directed at Columbia, as Reznor attempts to buy his way out of the deal. Reznor is one of the most powerful artists in the field right now. He may not have released a hard-hitting album since With Teeth, but he won a fucking Oscar in the interim. He knows what he’s doing, I’m sure, but I just can’t imagine that the Columbia deal with result in anything different than what has happened before.

And so, history repeats.