Saturday, June 29, 2013

"It Was My Season"- Okkervil River

The hyper-literate Austin, Texas band Okkervil River are prepping their new LP The Silver Gymnasium for release on September 3, as a follow-up to 2011's I Am Very Far. Returning to the concept-album successes of Black Sheep Boy and The Stage Names, frontman Will Sheff writes on Twitter: "the new record takes place in 1986 in a small town in New Hampshire." A trotting piano-figure embodies that small-town feeling and summons up the spirit of the past. Sheff is haunted by that spirit, recalling a time when "my mind was just revving." The sort of time when even the smallest pain felt like a mortal wound no heart could overcome. "I won't say I'm sorry, and how would they know? Below the Atari, well I could feel your heart was just going," Sheff sings. For some in the midst of a great ride all that starts to matter is when will it end? As a crescendo builds with the piano and drums, Sheff accepts "that was our season," feebly attempting to salvage what is now rubble. By the end, Sheff looks back on the fog of the past and chalks it up to being "mixed up," but still remembers "that head filled with doubt." Sometimes, there's just no making sense of a time when logic was the last thing on anyone's mind.


Friday, June 28, 2013

"Perfect Form" ft. Shy Girls- Cyril Hahn

Up to this point Vancouver based producer Cyril Hahn had staked a claim on remixing cuts by pop royalty, in the case of "Touch My Body" he slowed them down and conversely turned up the sexual tense. Every coo, oh, and ah was rendered as a cloud of warm air to fog up a window on a cold winter night. But that's not the case on "Perfect Form," his debut single which will drop September 9 via the PMR label. Considering the label's do-or-die mission in the last month or so has been to release as much ecstatic dance-pop as possible, the move makes perfect sense. "Perfect Form" is utter euphoria for 4 straight minutes. Calculated slinking has been shed for a freewheeling dance-floor cut. Portland-artist Shy Girls (responsible for one of the great Indie R&B cuts of 2013 so far) provides the alluring vocals "she's got perfect form, I love it when she moves like that," with siren-like aptitude. On either side of the song, it's the only line he can muster, admitting "I'm so tongue-tied I don't even know my lines." Being this caught up in the moment, who really has time to think?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

"Everything unwinds."- Willis Earl Beal

Willis Earl Beal's debut 2012 record Acousmatic Sorcery was an entirely contradictory affair, one that saw Beal effortlessly gallivanting between tender lo-fi folk and throat shredding blues. As affecting as those down and dirty blues cuts were, it was the songs rendered in a whisper that made the most noise. "Evening's Kiss" found Beal in confessional songwriter mode, sheepishly rattling off the line, "ask me who I'm with, and I'll tell you I'm without." That same sort of shy uncertainty was also festering in "Away My Silent Lover," still one of my favorite tunes from 2012, with Beal verging on tears by the song's end. If bedroom pop or folk had a torchbearer in 2012, it was Beal.

The first cut off his sophomore release Nobody knows. lonesomely drifts onto the folkie side of the fence. Beal's voice resonates as if slithering up from a canyon, a simple chord progression pulling him up. Beal is still in a dejected state here, reflecting "you're the one that I needed, and the reason I wept," and a plodding synth line only furthers that loneliness. That synth is something that would've been alien to Acousmatic Sorcery, though here it's a welcome companion to Beal's dejection. The tape hiss may have disappeared, but the emotion is still in plain sight.  

Nobody knows. is scheduled for release September 10 via the XL label. Here's the tracklist:

1. Wavering Lines
2. Coming Through ft. Chan Marshall
3. Everything unwinds.
4. Burning Bridges
5. Disintegrating
6. Too Dry To Cry
7. What's The Deal?
8. Ain't Got No Love
9. White Noise
10. Hole in the Roof
11. Blue Escape
12. Nobody knows.
13. The Flow

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"Kiss Land"- The Weeknd

"This ain't nothing to relate to," Abel Tesfaye croons in a still charmingly boyish voice on "Kiss Land," the title-track to the forthcoming album. Few sentiments uttered by any artist from any genre this year have been as apt or as pitch-perfect as that line. The dark, insular world Tesfaye creates as The Weeknd is hardly relatable, and even less welcoming. During the course of any torrid night in The Weeknd's world: drugs are consumed at a dizzying pace, sex is stripped of any love (becoming a by-product of lust), and Tesfaye's paradigmatic lothario plays host to the most hedonistic party in the neighborhood. In short, Tesfaye's songs evince a waking nightmare that are concerned more with capturing a mood than they are with conveying any sort of truth.

That dynamic is gently upended by a few lines in "Kiss Land" particularly when Tesfaye documents "I went from starin' at the same four walls for 21 years, to seeing the whole world in just 12 months," but honesty has never been his bag, and soon he's off concocting his own wicked elixir of Adderall and alcohol. The music is still coated in the same narcotic industrial R&B haze that made the 2011 trilogy hypnotic and disembodied background vocals ensure this one will haunt your dreams for a while. 

All of that serves as an overloaded appetizer for the main-course that is the NSFW music video. Tesfaye's entire video oeuvre so-far can rightly be summed up as: barely masked sex, slowly crumbling relationships, and yes strippers. But all of that pales in comparison to "Kiss Land"s treatment of group sex-scenes that ostensibly take place in Japan and have to be seen to be believed. The naughty bits are all blurred out, but that doesn't make the video anymore endurable, nor do the quick shots of anime cats that taunt the viewer with a promise of innocence that never comes. Perhaps the most disturbing thing of all is Tesfaye who matter-of-factly provides the skin-crawling details. As destructive as the storm can be, it's often the calm you should be wary of and "Kiss Land" perfectly forecasts that malevolent calm. 

As of now, Kiss Land has no official release date, but as soon as more info drops you'll hear about it here. 

genius is not inherent, but it is developed through ten thousand hours of perfecting your craft - See more at:
genius is not inherent, but it is developed through ten thousand hours of perfecting your craft - See more at:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

In Revue- "Yeezus"

I took my own sweet time reviewing this record for several reasons. First, trips into the awe-inspiring Mountain West kill almost any desire to work. Alongside the fact that it's hard to find any Wi-Fi on the side of a mountain. But more importantly this is a Kanye West record, one of the few artists left in any genre whose release dates turn into full-blown events. Once the release date for Yeezus was announced, I found myself intensely circling June 18th with the sort of anticipation reserved for a kid at Christmas. In short, this is something worth taking your time on, less you risk being bowled over by the hypemachine that is always threatening to run off the tracks every time Kanye releases a new album. And finally, I took my time with this review, because after 10 full spins down into the rabbit hole, I'm still not entirely sure what I'm hearing.

Not that an album like this is without precedence, though the reference points may appear dated to some. The last commercial artist (for whatever that means anymore) to make this deliberately non-commercial of an album was Radiohead with Kid A in the face of the capital they garnered with 1990s touchstone OK Computer. Drifting back a bit further, we find another Yeezus companion in the prickly In Utero, Nirvana's aural balking at the success Nevermind afforded them. Yeezus keeps company with these mangled predecessors. A dense, often impenetrable album, Yeezus is so subsumed with blind rage and paranoia it's a small miracle Ye manages to craft a coherent line while spitting with such venom. In the case of the crushing industrial complex of "I Am a God" it's the gospel, with Kanye's righteous anger reduced to a serious of dissonant yells and blood-curdling screams. Whereas, Radiohead was wigging out over the perils of living in the Y2K decade, and Cobain & crew were doing everything to kill the 800-pound gorilla in the room that was Nevermind, Yeezus' fury is fomented without cause and aimed in every direction.

As is often the case with a great work of horror, an apparent lack of rhyme or reason to the madness is all the more terrifying. And on the first few listen-throughs, Yeezus is bereft of any method to the madness. "I'm In It" is positively stomach-churning in its thorough documentation of a party that reached its legal limit hours ago. A warped, coked up take on classic Prince circa Purple Rain, the song relies on a double-tracked Kanye voice that could fill in for Victor von Doom; creating the sort of party atmosphere where Leatherface would be a must-have on the guest list. Kanye manages several of his so dumb they're genius lines on the track like "eating Asian p***y, all I need is sweet & sour sauce," and "put my fist in her like the Civil Rights sign," but they're the only chuckles to be found on the claustrophobic song.

An immediate difference between this record and prior solo-release My Beautiful Dark Twisted is a steadfast commitment to a less is more approach. If West gleaned anything from producer Rick Rubin on the record, it's that lesson in minimalism that Rubin perfected with Run DMC, LL Cool J, and The Beastie Boys and West employs to great effect on conversation started "New Slaves." The song is little more than the bleeps and bloops West filtered throughout 808s broken up by the occasional orchestral menace that made "H.A.M." so bracing. Chief Keef who has staked his career thus-far on masking minimalism as bombast, shows up for a subdued vocal turn on "Hold My Liquor" where the entirety of his performance can be boiled down to "I can't handle my liquor, but these b***hes can't handle me." West raps over a muted drum beat and guitar swipes, futilely attempting to keep his destructive tendencies at bay.

For anyone that still has a proclivity for pigeonholing hip-hop as a genre rife with over-accentuated machismo and misogyny, they'll be clocking overtime on this record. A friend commented that this album plays out like My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy's "Hell of a Life" blown-up to LP proportions, and in many ways he's right. That song was the pinnacle of the decadence, hedonism, and narcissism found on MBDTF, but it pales in comparison to much of Yeezus. Past stylizing himself as a God, West declares this "the greatest shit since "In Da Club" on the drill-scene inspired "Send It Up," threatens to "turn the plane around if your ass keep complaining" on closer "Bound 2," categorizes an unnamed woman on the mutilated Daft Punk production "On Sight" as doing little more than "tryna get a nut, and wears the crown of Big Poppa on "Guilt Trip;" and those scan as some of the tamest examples to be found on the album.

All of that is just foreplay for the poison pill Kanye force-feeds listeners on centerpiece "Blood on the Leaves." If the song has a sibling in the West discography it’s in MBDTF's "Blame Game." That song was a heartbreaking tale of betrayal, West desperately trying to make contact at 1 in the morning, "calling your brother's phone like what was I supposed to do?" On that song, West was wounded and could hard make sense of the relationship that was crumbling before his very eyes. That's not the case here, Kanye instead demands "let's get on with it," before a Spartan beat offered up by TNGHT obliterates a sample of Nina Simone covering Civil Rights anthem "Strange Fruit." The sample harkens back to a "simpler" time for West, when rapping and making soul beats were his only concerns, before he became tabloid fodder and courted controversy. But that soul sample is the only recollection of 2004 Kanye on the track, lines like "let's take it back to the first party, where you tried your first molly," unlikely to pop up on "All Fall Down." When he bitterly re-terms marriage "unholy matrimony," it's the ice-cold grasp of 808s & Heartbreak that is recalled and not the warm boom-bap of College Dropout.  Almost a decade into his career, Kanye seems utterly incapable of running in place, each successive album designed to deconstruct what came before it.

In Ryan Dombal's review for Pitchfork, he wrote that "many of the album's most powerful moments have him broken down, insecure, and bloody, railing against an ineptitude with the opposite sex," which should come as no surprise to anyone whose followed West since the beginning. The great trick of Kanye's career has been to construct a front of overconfidence in the service of concealing his Achilles heel of insecurity. For every moment West elevates himself to Godlike status, there's an equal part of beating himself up to a bloody pulp. He can move from the consciousness of "New Slaves" to the oafishness of "Send It Up" and not even bat an eye. Back to "Blood on the Leaves" he confesses to wanting "what I can't buy now," conjuring up 2007's "Can't Tell Me Nothing." He's traded Mos Def & Freeway spots for Chief Keef and King L, cast aside much of his soul stylings for drill music/dancehall/and Titanic-sized electronica, and moved from the neon daydream of Graduation's cover to the unadorned Yeezus. But one thing hasn't changed and that's the man at the center of it all, a restless rap savant who still "don't care what people say."   

"Blood On the Leaves"

Friday, June 7, 2013

From the Crates- "Perfect From Now On"

It’s too perfect that Built to Spill would title a track "Randy Described Eternity." Their scrawling eight-minute plus guitar epics soar past an ode to the instrumental, and ascend into the heavens one power chord at a time. With every solo, they come into closer harmony with the cosmos and report back to us their findings. A hypnosis frequently occurs when dialing into BTS’ frequency, and Perfect from Now On swings the pendulum back and forth better than any record in their catalog. 

When the term "indie rock" had cache the Boise-raised Built to Spill were at the forefront of the nascent genre along with bands like Pavement. But Malkmus and company deliberately constructed dense lyrical mazes to separate the listener from the band. Martsch and the rest of Built to Spill were more forthcoming, crafting lines like the pointed, but articulate "you can’t trust anyone, because you’re untrustable." To boil the comparison down, Malkmus never hesitated to get drunk off words, while Martsch paced himself.

Musically, Pavement traded in jagged melodies that would rather take a sharp left turn than move dead-ahead. A BTS song, especially the eight found on this album is all-about gaining momentum, each riff another piece of coal in the furnace, until the movement is unsustainable and the train goes careening off the tracks. Every inch of a track like "Out of Site" is carefully choreographed to the point where you can often hear the solos coming from a mile away, like the roar of that aforementioned train off in the distance. When the instrumental first half of "Stop the Show" is climbing towards chaos, the band is preparing for its revival. Out of chaos comes order. In effect, the music BTS captures is predictable in a comforting way, never kicking us off until the ride is over.

As egalitarian as the band’s music and Martsch’s lyrics appear on first take, there’s a hidden sagaciousness to everything, masked by piercing guitar solos and raucous riffs. "Velvet Waltz" is exemplar of this wisdom, Martsch delivering the lines "you better not be angry, you better not be sad, you better just enjoy the luxury of sympathy, if that’s a luxury you have," with great aplomb. There are times when finding a sympathetic soul becomes a Herculean labor, insuring self-doubt and crippling our faith in mankind. Martsch even announces the song with authorial intent, "I’ve got some words for you, they don’t offer anything." For all their approachability, the band can still put distance between listener and music when the moment calls for it.

Few moments on the record push the listener away quite like the morose "I Would Hurt A Fly." A creeping bassline from Brett Nelson and Martsch’s tremulous guitar figure ring every last drop of joy from his voice, as he deflatedly sings, "I can’t get that sound you make, out of my head, I can’t figure out what’s making it." For a band so obsessed with the triumphal quality of sound, sound here becomes the downfall, the one ghost to emerge from times thought forgotten. The spectral element of the song is aided by the bowed cello, which carries the nightmare further into the realm of reality. Martsch does his best to thrash against this impending doom, but to avail; the sound has become a permanent fixture.

"Untrustable/Part 2 (About Someone Else)" is the ideal curtain-call, the longest track on the LP (besting “Velvet Waltz by 21 seconds), and the band doesn’t waste one tick of the clock. Here again Martsch is searching for something, as evidenced by the chorus "And I’d love to see, but it’s something you just feel, and I’d like to feel but it just isn’t real." Martsch is desperate to connect, but is only capable of going through the motions. If "God is whoever you’re performing for," then the world outside of Martsch takes on that lofty title. The song settles into a late-game jam, with Scott Plouf battering his drum set and Martsch strumming into the infinite. Seconds before the album ends, the sound stops and there’s nothing left but a profound silence. What we’ve left along the way is often more important than the search itself, and Perfect from Now On proves that every step of the way.

"I Would Hurt A Fly"

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Concert Revue- The xx at the Uptown

(Photo courtesy of LiveNation)

The xx are a band that thrive on tension, Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft slowly gliding across the stage before locking into a serpentine dance of seduction, as Jamie xx is submerged in the shadows, his drum machine hits often resembling the sound of a heart splitting into two. Their music plays out like a series of private conversations, and in a live venue it feels almost voyeuristic to be hearing what they have to say. Every time the two cross paths it's a moment of pure ecstasy. The dark curtain they hide behind is temporarily torn asunder and for fleeting moments they're together. "Separate or combine, I ask you one last time," Sim sings in that bellowing voice on "Chained," pointedly capturing that dynamic tension the xx have staked a claim on. 

In a live setting, the music grows tenser, as Jamie's hypnotic drum programming threatens to erupt into a whirlwind of song. Croft likewise is constantly teetering on that precipice and the short guitar runs she gently eases into coil around your ears before disappearing into the air. Live, the guitar figure of "Angels" is breathtakingly simplistic, arriving with the sort of innocence that only a child could possess. Sim's bass has a weathered quality to it, his the voice of the lover that's played the parts before and still sets foot out on the stage. "Say you'll be there," he says on the alien-sounding "Try," attempting to recapture a relationship that's long since escape. The ability to fend off that separation comes in the form of a track like the bouncy "VCR" where the two are contented to bask together in the warm glow of a television screen. 

In many ways their first album was about the innocent of love, and Coexist a master-course on the heartbreaking, soul-wrenching emotions that that love can often bring. And still there's a beauty to the music, no soaring peak possible without a valley to buffer it. Coexist's "Missing" is the perfect example of this careening. Sim's heart is in danger of pounding through his chest, every thud accompanied by his wondering of "will you miss me?" It's the overwrought realization that someone who brought you so much pain can still make you feel alive. The tension is at an apex when Sim collapses into the line, "and there's no hope for you and me." On the album the silence that follows is anxiety-inducing, and live it is deafening. Then the spotlight refocuses on Romy Madley Croft and her refulgent guitar swoops down into the dark abyss and saves Sim. For every moment of tension or trouble, these are still two people doggedly committed to one another, and tonight that commitment was on full display.



1. Try
2. Heart Skipped A Beat
3. Crystalised
4. Reunion
5. Far Nearer
6. Sunset
7. Missing
8. Fiction
9. Swept Away
10. Night Time
11. Shelter
12. VCR
13. Islands
14. Chained
15. Infinity

16. Intro
17. Angels 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

"Dark & Stormy"- Hot Chip

At this point in their career, Hot Chip are fully capable of concocting inscrutable pieces of dance-pop. Over the course of 5 albums, starting with 2004's Coming on Strong, right through last year's resplendent In Our Heads, the band's created one of the most joyous catalogs of music made for the dance floor this side of Daft Punk. "Dark & Stormy" continues that proud tradition, even as the title threatens to rain on the parade. A distant piano figure slowly creeps in and floats over the track like a ghost on the water, but the sound is conquered by a leaden bass line. Alexis Taylor's vocals have that same ghostly pale to them, an unmistakeable grayness that fuses perfectly with the music. But by the time the chorus hits he's promising to outrun the sadness, doggedly determined the love that's been forged can conquer any storm. With such conviction, the clouds don't stand a chance.

The “Dark & Stormy” 10″ single is out 7/22 on Domino and alongside the title track will feature two new tracks and a series of remixes, including one by Major Lazer.