Monday, June 30, 2014

"Heavenly Father"- Bon Iver

Though last year's soaring LP Repave by Volcano Choir essentially acted as a new Bon Iver effort, it's really been three years since the act Justin Vernon came to fame with has issued anything new. In the run-up to Repave's release in September, Vernon expounded on the silence surrounding Bon Iver, saying "I really have to be in a specific headspace to even begin to illuminate an idea that would create another Bon Iver record, and I'm just not there." At the time his words were effectively a death knell, terrifying fans (myself included) that a follow-up to Bon Iver Bon Iver would never come.

Today then is a cause for minor celebration amongst Bon Iver torch-carriers. As previously reported on the blog, Bon Iver is contributing a new effort to the upcoming Zach Braff film Wish I Was Here and today Line of Best Fit points out the song "Heavenly Father" has officially debuted. In terms of sound, it owes at least a bit of rent to Repave closer "Almanac" which was similarly constructed around an electronic figure. That said, the synthesizer in "Almanac" was far more confident and forward-moving than the electro manipulation we hear in "Heavenly Father". The piece hiccups and stutters in shifted pitches as Vernon's familiar ache floats atop. At times invading hi-hats tics make you think "Heavenly Father" could launch into trap territory if given enough time. But the song doesn't have that kind of certainty. Vernon's perpetually wondering if he can ever come to accept a higher power, or so it seems. "I was never sure how much of you I could let in," could be a religious skeptic's call to the Lord or an explanation offered to a former lover why things didn't work out. With "Heavenly Father" Bon Iver show why love and religion aren't the right answer for everyone, they're riddled with far too many questions that can never fully be answered.

(You can listen to "Heavenly Father" now through the All Songs Considered Media Player on NPR and look for the Wish I Was Here soundtrack to drop digitally July 15.)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

"Go"- Grimes

Not even 10 minutes after Vancouver native Claire Boucher aka Grimes put up her latest song "Go" on Soundcloud, there were loading problems for the track. I can't imagine I was the only one nervously clicking, "praying" I'd get through in time to replay "Go" to my heart's content. Though I'd just heard it on Zane Lowe's BBC 1 Radio show at 1:30, I wanted to hear it again. If I spent the rest of day letting it boom out of my speakers and failed to get anything else done, including this review, it'd still be a successful day.

Now some of that is obvious hyperbole, but not much. "Go" is that kind of entrancing effort. The same week Pitchfork's Ryan Dombal told us about the joys of well-timed bass drops in a music culture desensitized to them, Grimes upped the ante further. Rustie's "Raptor" features an unquestionably terrific drop, one best compared to a waterfall of noise if you're intent on using any kind of "dropping" or "falling" verbiage. But "Raptor"'s drop is necessary when you consider it comes after a stretch of silence. You need noise to drown out the quietude in that case. The reason "Go"'s anvil-like drop is so fascinating is that it may not even be needed. Before its leaden appearance "Go" is a mid-tempo languisher with an eerie clock rhythm and elegiac piano ringing out. Grimes half-whispers about dreams and memories being indistinguishable and time cruelly stretching out past some far-off horizon. Bolstered by mechanical drum claps, its best described as "haunting."

However once the bass goes from a mid-volume rumble to a speaker busting boom, "Go" becomes something else entirely. "Bubblegum trap rave" may be a clunky way to describe it, but that's what immediately came to mind. If that is the descriptor though, it's not syrupy sweet bubblegum pop you'd hear on an AM station in the 60s. This is the sugar-free variety, where the bubble's been popped and disappointment hangs where a smile once resided. Under Blood Diamond's massively stuttering samples, you can hear Grimes' head hanging down when she sings of "stupid dreams." Her best work often captures peril in mundane situations (night-walks becoming panic-stricken runs on "Oblivion") and "Go" is no different. We all dream, it's just rarely as vivid or panoramic as this.

In an on-air interview with Zane Lowe today, Grimes intimated she'd be releasing a new album "sometime next year" so "Go" will have to tide you over until then.

"Life Is Peachy"- Shy Boys


Kansas City surf rockers/psych poppers Shy Boys ostensibly love two things over everything else: a blissful jangle and burying emotions. Their stellar self-titled debut from January of this year frequently blended the two into a melancholic, but masterful swirl. You could hear that lead singer Collin Rausch was aching in a track like "And I Am Nervous", though with the reverberating you weren't entirely sure what was causing the pain. 

With grittier sounding guitars and constantly thumping drums, effortless new single "Life Is Peachy" doesn't make solving the complicated equation any easier. Somewhere in that joyous noise Rausch is heard faintly singing "out there wasting time." But it's not clear if it's the wasted day where you kick back on the beach and watch the hours tick away with a smile on your face and a beer in your hand; or the far more nefarious day where you half-panic when asking "where did the time go??" Having seen them live several times now in the Kansas City area, it's no less a mystery in person. Judging from the borderline "frantic" pace the band travels at on "Life Is Peachy" and Rausch's wordless cries at the end, the latter scenario seems more likely. Still there's no easy answer to the question and Shy Boys seem to want it that way. There’s looseness in Shy Boys’ playing, but careful construction in their songwriting. Collin Rausch, brother Kyle, and Konnor Ervin could be "wasting time" but they're not wasting talent.  

(You can hear "Life Is Peachy" now on Stereogum and look for the single to drop on July 15 through High Dive Records.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Deafheaven Live at the Granada

The Skinny UK

As I've written on the blog before, metal (largely black metal) isn't my bag. In many ways it’s my own version of reggae or country; two genres people commonly dismiss as sounding "samey." It's not a problem with black metal being typically violent music, Death Grips are one of my favorite bands, but how it’s constructed. To undiscerning metal ears, which mine unquestionably are, one ear-piercing howl or heart palpitating blastbeat is indistinguishable from another. Words are largely unrecognizable and to someone who places a premium on lyrics, that’s incredibly frustrating. So instead of pushing through to the other side of the suffocating music, I turn off because there's nothing for me to cling to.

All of that said, San Francisco black metal/post-rock/shoegaze experimenters Deafheaven's set to a small, but intimate crowd at Lawrence's Granada Theater was a revelation. I was drawn entirely to the show by their 2013 record Sunbather, which was one of my 10 favorite albums of last year and sat at number one on aggregating site Metacritic's 2013 list. It's a sublime album, sui generis in construction but eerily familiar. Meandering, Modest Mouse like guitar lines will explode into power soloing. Pianos dawdle for a spell then disappear into a fog of galloping bass and flailing percussion. George Clarke's distanced, often heartbreaking envy of those with money is delivered in a banshee wail. Sunbather doesn't so much rewrite the rules of what black metal can be, it throws the book into a shredder then sets the scraps on fire.

And fortunately for me and those fervent metal heads in attendance, the quintet's main-set drew entirely from the game-changing release. "Dream House"'s heavily arpeggiated chords had Clarke "screaming" in a near whisper as he ruminated on "sober restlessness." They were less the exhortations of a black metal singer and closer to a cat's inaudible death screeches. Sunbather's title track saw the morbidly dressed frontman flapping across the stage as the two guitar attack crushed the bones of the common man "down to yellow." For captaining such chaos, Clarke has a remarkable stage presence. His hands would curl up in a manner reminiscent of Magneto's flight routine and command the small crowd to rival his screams. There a certain cultishness to it, robotically disciplined but remarkably passionate. 

The band's bloodstained passion dripped continuously throughout the 60-plus minute set. You'd have to have passion to play songs that stretch to 8 or 9 minutes at a time. And any time their love of "violence" seemed unable to carry them over another wall of noise, Sunbather's interstitial passages of flanging guitar arrived on time. They weren't there simply as a breather though. Each My Bloody Valentine inspired echo was meant as a contrast; a sign that any beauty we eek out of our "short" lives is impossible without the occasional brutality.

I brought a friend of mine to the show who is also indifferent to more violent strands of heavy metal. Zach had largely come to see Arkansas doom metal band Pallbearer, whose set was riff manna from heaven to a starving crowd. They debuted two new tracks from their highly anticipated album Foundations of Burden, which figures to be one of metal's most important releases in 2014. Immediately after their set we could only say how "rad" it was. When the entire grueling night ended, he didn't have the same things to say about Deafheaven, but there was admittance to how powerful they were live. More than any other descriptor, that might be the most apt. Deafheaven’s a powerful band and they masterfully wield that power. 

1. "Dream House"
2. "Irresistible"
3. "Sunbather"
4. "Please Remember"
5. "Vertigo"
6. "Windows"
7. "The Pecan Tree"
8. "Unrequited"

(Original review posted for Demencha Magazine)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"The Ghost I Used To Be"- Pallbearer

Within the insular world of heavy metal, the subgenres of "doom metal" and "sludge metal" are frequently confused with one another. Both place emphasis on low-end guitar textures and typically slow tempos, though sludge is fully capable of picking up on speed on occasion. Akin to the age-old square/rectangle discussion, sludge metal is almost always doom metal but doom metal isn't necessarily sludge. 

"The Ghost I Used To Be" from Arkansas doom-metal quartet Pallbearer elucidates the difference. As the first "single" after their critically adored debut Sorrow and Extinction, it has the sort of production "clarity" you'd expect out of a major album follow up. Brett Campbell and Devin Holt's guitars interlock remarkably, while remaining discernible. One has the feeling of clopping horse hooves on the ground; the other a creature steadily roaming the midnight skies. But neither has the slightest bit of grit or grime attached to their rough skin. Every punch to the midsection or volley over your head is heard loud and clear. For their part, the rhythm section of bassist Joseph D. Rowland and Mark Lierly raise hell as well. Over the song's 10 minutes I'm not sure if Rowland ever stops rumbling and Lierly prods the kit at every conceivable angle with the grace of a boozed-up knight. Then there's Campbell, whose voice has been unfairly compared to progenitor Ozzy Osbourne. Osbourne's vocals were often wails though whereas Campbell's work sounds like a last gasp. And sure enough, as the song languishes through the final stretch Campbell's voice is nowhere to be found. It's shuffled its mortal coil. In his stead, fidgeting Southern/post-rock guitar and murmuring bass sprout up. "The Ghost I Used To Be" spells "D-O-O-M" in every sense of the word. If there's any lingering confusing, all you have to do is hit play again.

("The Ghost I Used To Be" can be heard on Pallbearer's upcoming sophomore LP Foundations of Burden which drops August 19 through Profound Lore. Listen to the track now through NPR.

Track Attack- "Tangerine" (Led Zeppelin, 1970)

(Welcome to "Track Attack", where each Tuesday a "new" song will be reviewed. Anything is fair-game for this feature, from 50s rockabilly to 70s disco, 90s shoegaze, or 2000s freak-folk. With all the recent attention paid to the reissuing of Led Zeppelin's monolithic first three albums and lead singer Robert Plant prepping a new record entitled Lullaby And... The Ceaseless Roar, now is as good a time as any to take a look back at a relatively overlooked track from the band's third LP.)

I say "relatively overlooked" in the prologue because nothing was really overlooked during Zeppelin's lifespan. Every song, every 15 minute drum solo, every cringe worthy aside, every divisive review, every allegation of Satanism and every shark-filled "sexcapade" has been: examined, reexamined, and parodied so often that the analysis of "there's nothing left to be said" is stale. They're the largest rock group we've seen this side of the Beatles and in many ways they're more enormous because there's no unanimity in their reception. If you pressure anyone long enough, they'll part with a Fab Four song they like. Not so with Zeppelin. There are easily as many people who'd just as soon never hear "Stairway to Heaven" again as there are that play air-guitar alongside Page when his mythic solo comes to a head. That division inspires debate which ensures the band's work will never stop being talked about.

It's utterly bizarre then that such a massive band would record such a diminutive tune. Even for the reverent folk of their third LP, composed at the tranquil cottage of Bron-Yr-Aur in Gwynedd, Wales, "Tangerine" stands out as a moment of astonishing placidity. With the band nearing their zenith of commercial relevancy, Led Zeppelin III acted as a counterbalance. Largely gone were ragers reminiscent of : "Dazed and Confused" and "Whole Lotta Love"; in their place leisurely slid sunny day tracks like "That's The Way" which has been compared to a Cat Stevens song. Working for the first time as a full-fledged democracy, they were attempting to drown out ceaseless noise with stark silence. 

Zeppelin would need cooperation from all members of the unruly crew to compose something in the vein of "Tangerine". If each member was left to their own devices, it would be utter chaos. Robert Plant's baby making wail would begin instantaneously. Jimmy Page would solo uncontrollably. John Paul Jones' bass would rumble like a '57 Cadillac engine on the verge of a blowout. And John Bonham would race to see if his wrists or drumsticks would break first. 

None of that happens on "Tangerine". In fact, nothing happens during the beginning of the song. Page lazily plots out an acoustic melody, before completely abandoning it. What follows is surely the longest stretch of unadulterated silence in their 12 year career. Only 6 seconds in length it feels like 6 life times. When Page returns with his minor key 12-string figure, which vaguely informs "Stairway"'s own riff, there's a nagging urge to celebrate. Which lasts right up to the point where Plant's aching mewl wafts in. Plant is a master of shaking his voice until you can almost hear change falling out and "Tangerine" serves as vital support to that thesis. Over a buttery pedal steel guitar part, Jones' quiet humming and Bonham's restrained drum fills, Plant's voice quivers in the chorus as he recalls the dreamlike Tangerine. It's long been alleged Page wrote the sentimental lyrics as an ode to pop singer and former writing partner Jackie DeShannon after their relationship ended in 1965. However, there's more universality to his words. "Tangerine"'s for anyone who has ever wondered if a former love still thinks about them too. It's for those who feel sadness in summertime instead of unmitigated joy. (After all it is the season of sweltering heat where days never seem to end and relationships falter without school to prop them up.) The mythos of Led Zeppelin may be alien to mere mortals, but songs like "Tangerine" are crushingly familiar.

If you'd like to make a suggestion for a future installment of Track Attack feel free to leave it in the comment section.