Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Rapture - In the Grace of Your Love

DFA White Out Sessions - How Deep Is Your Love? by The Rapture from DFA Records on Vimeo.

Dance records are typically coated in layer after layer of sound, tracks of synth piled atop one another like a cake with so much icing that it oozes through the sides. The Rapture doesn’t subscribe to that philosophy. They never have. An undone quality washes over their songs, giving them some edge. “Come Back to Me” sets the dance party underground, in the sewers, where you can hear the water dripping between the sparse beats. What sounds like a street musician playing an accordion on a pitch-black night is adorned only by a series of hollow club beats and sets of lyrics where meaning is lost among the repetition. The title track has a similar simplicity, a sexy bass groove guiding a three-note keyboard pattern and frosty cymbal-heavy drumming. It builds to a climax, only to end with weakened vocals and a barely-there electronics. “Never Gonna Die Again” and “How Deep is Your Love” use the less-is-more format to The Rapture’s benefit, crafting hip-moving grooves that spring alive in all their disco glory. Elsewhere, however, The Grace of Your Love feels like a shell of a former dance party, bare and echoing through an empty room. There’s a demo-like quality on these songs instead of the immediacy required for total immersion. The album closes with “It Takes Time to Be a Man,” a slow-moving ballad that moves too slow with too little emotion. If growing into men is what this trio is attempting, they may be better off reverting to childish ways. Gone is the cowbell-crazy spontaneity that pounds through “House of Jealous Lovers” and “Whoo! Alright Yeah...Uh Huh.” Put this cake back in the oven; it doesn’t need more icing, but it could use more substance.

Friday, June 10, 2011

YACHT - Shangri-La

YACHT wastes no time letting their freak flag fly on Shangri-La. Opening with the one-two punch of “Utopia” and “Dystopia,” we’re taken from a hyperactive alien frolic, complete with bass on speed, to glitchy synths and end-of-the-world incantations, like “the earth is on fire/we don’t have no daughter/let the motherfucker burn.” Heavy statements are made into weightless fun with musical spontaneity that owes as much to the B-52’s oddball humor as it does to Of Montreal’s digital-future vibe. YACHT was originally the brainchild of Jona Bechtolt, but this is his second album (of five) featuring Claire Evans. It’s also the second on James Murphy’s DFA label, which is why it’s not surprising that Shangri-La is plastered with mantras and continuous trance-like beats that bring to mind Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem. “Beam Me Up” may or may not be a Star Trek reference, but when the fiery chorus begins, all nerdy references are excused by electro-funk madness. YACHT comes back down to earth on the title track, which closes the album with flat vocals, sixties sway, and an acknowledgment that “if I can’t go to heaven, let me go to LA.”

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Blitzen Trapper - American Goldwing

Blitzen Trapper is walking with a little more twang in their step on their sixth full-length. As the Portland-based sextet ages, so does their sound. American Goldwing may as well have been released in the early ’70s along with The Allman Brothers Band’s Eat a Peach. The stories here are the stuff of swamp rock legend; characters are drinking too much whiskey late at night, fantasizing about loving or leaving the finest women in town, returning home, and piecing together the wonders of the natural world.

Eric Earley, the band’s songwriter and frontman, has always piled his literary influences on heavy, drawing from Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, the Bible, and old mythology. Never before has it fit so cleanly with the sonic undertones. “Love the Way You Walk Away” mesmerizes with subtle harmonies, swirls of pedal steel guitar, and choruses that swing as easy as a spring breeze. Earley sums up detailed narratives with clever couplets like, “When you find what you’re looking for/you want it less” without turning up clichés.

“Street Fighting Sun” takes a page from Jack White’s menacing guitar lurches. It’s pure grime, heaving with powerful stamina through groove after groove. Otherwise, Blitzen Trapper is more focused on the country drawl of the harmonica, steady putter of percussion, and the occasional old-timey piano tinkering. It makes for a solid album, if a fairly uneventful one. Nothing on American Goldwing is as memorable as the title track on 2008’s Furr or as adventurous as anything on last year’s Destroyer of the Void, which found the band injecting prog rock into their folk rock cannon. Blitzen Trapper has once again succeeded in crafting an album that fits with classics. But standing between The Allman Brothers Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival is a high task, and this time, it gets a little lost in between.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Rey Pila - S/t

Diego Solórzano hits his peak in the middle of Rey Pila, with dance rock anthem “No. 114.” Crunchy guitar riffs sizzle into a climbing solo that ascends into a maelstrom of a chorus. It’s one of the four Spanish-language songs on this bilingual album that the former frontman of Los Dynamite recorded in New York with producer/engineer Paul Majahan (TV On The Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs). Much of the rest of the album falls victim to thin vocals and dying disco beats. Solórzano would be better off abandoning the airy falsetto that clouds Rey Pila with weightless muck, instead focusing on his capable crooning.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

CSS - La Liberacíon

La Liberación is the international answer to Ke$ha. Trite lyrics almost being the point here, CSS is around to start the party, not the conversation. The fivesome from São Paulo, Brazil, is best when not taken seriously. Hedonistic, restless, and snot-nosed, La Liberación is pure club scene. Surging beats and blaring synths flow throughout showstoppers like “I Love You” and “City Grrrl,” which fans of Far East Movement would be absolutely silly not to embrace. CSS, though, is far less of a guilty pleasure. The international vibe on the album feels more cultured and less constructed than most of the Guetta-ized tunes currently playing the dance scene. Elsewhere, CSS (short for Cansei de Ser Sexy, or “tired of being sexy”) finds an island vibe on “Echo of Love,” and sways to a chilled-out reggae swing in “Hits Me Like a Rock.” On the latter, frontwoman Lovefoxxx’s speak-singing hearkens to M.I.A with a Portuguese accent. The title track, the only Spanish-language song on the album, is also the most immediate. Tight guitar grumble, infectious yelled choruses, and a punk rock fever leave the body as quickly as they enter. The delicate piano twinkling in “Partners in Crime” is a pleasantly jazzy surprise on an album meant for the rave.

Disappointingly, the second half of the album loses some of the sting. It gets embarrassing on “Red Alert,” a sultry, snake-like song featuring Brookyn electronic duo, Ratatat. Lovefoxx groans for a lover to meet her in the desert, where she’s “feeling the rhythm of casual love,” detailing a sexual encounter atop low-tempo syncopation. But again, it’s better to tune out the meaning, focusing instead on La Liberación’s ability to make every muscle in the body burn with an itch to dance. Above all, the point is liberation, freedom from caring, and a hell of a lot of booty shaking.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

sunday morning.

I really dislike reviewing records I don't enjoy. Forcing yourself to listen to something that makes you miserable multiple times, just so you can formulate words for your dislike. It seems silly and counter-intuitive. I'd rather dull recordings just go unsaid instead of insulted, but that's not the world we live in, is it?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Alexander Turnquist - Hallway of Mirrors

Well wasn't this a surprise?

My mom brought me this album when she visited me last week. (No, my mother does not have strange 12-string guitar obsessions or taste for independent music. Although that would be awesome. A publicist sent Alexander Turnquist's 5-song EP, Hallway of Mirrors, to my previous address.) I guess it had been in Cleveland for a while now. Last week, I put the album in my 6-CD stereo in my car. I was flipping around today, trying to goad myself off the new My Morning Jacket album for a hot second.

Is goad a word? Let's pretend it is and move on.

This instrumental EP is absolutely mind-blowing in the most calming sense. It's the kind of album that screams out to you when you're driving home from work at 11pm on pitch black highways and needing to space out after listening to police scanners for 8 hours. (Wait, that's just me? Oh, right. You have normal jobs and/or are students.)

Hallway of Mirrors sparkles with cinematic greatness. (Greatness in the sense of large and masterful, not Tony the Tiger "they're great"-ness.) Every song here evokes an almost overpowering feeling. The odd thing is the first adjective that came to my mind, before I even knew the EP's title, was sparkling. It's very organic sounding but also quite ornate.

The first song, "Running Towards," is curious, almost alien sounding. Sparkling spiders and cobwebs that shimmer in the night. The title track is one of those songs that makes you fantasize about having your own soundtrack. You know what I mean? Where you're like, "YES! This is the music that will follow me around for a day while someone makes a film about how tragic/brilliant/screwed up/dramatic my life is." In this case, the music has this elegance to it, yet a cluttered claustrophobia that puts you slightly on edge. I imagine myself floating around with my nose slightly turned up like a Victorian girl or smiling with a slight arrogance. (Not sure where I'm getting this impression - I swear the music is shaping it - because right now I'm recovering from surgery and my left eye is droopy and I feel anything but elegant and arrogant.)

And get this -- track 3, "Spherical Aberrations," actually made me feel like I was living on the prairie, on my way to enduring a very difficult task, such as carrying two huge buckets of water up a large hill on my way to telling the village elder that all the children are dying of malaria. (wtf? i know right?) But seriously, you have to listen to this song, and you'll understand. These songs put you into a story that you didn't even know was in your brain. Why else would I be having prairie fantasies at 12:15 on Friday morning?

Alright, so you're sick of my stories and you wanna know what this music actually sounds like? I can't explain it. Turnquist plays a 12-string guitar which is constantly being picked over like the knocked over contents of a pinata at your little cousin's birthday party. His fingers must literally be flying. And there are slight chimes that he's weaving melodically through the songs. And violin or some other string instruments adding emotion and texture to the seamless yet nonsensical compositions. No percussion, just this alien sound.

Wait. Is Turnquist a one man band? Let's google this. (I'm being very unprofessional tonight.)

I found this:
Like James Blackshaw, Jack Rose, Glenn Jones, etc, this could roughly be described as “raga” guitar, with its long, modal compositions and hypnotic overtone play.

But what in the world does that even mean? I'm not a guitar prodigy over here! Time to turn to Wikipedia.

Alexander Turnquist (born 1988 in Idaho) is an American guitarist and composer. He has released original albums on the VHF record label as well as limited released titles on the Kning Disk imprint and Textura record label. Turnquist's has had comparisons to Guitarists Jack Rose, Alex De Grassi, Kaki King, and James Blackshaw as well as contemporary composer Phillip Glass.

Turnquist's First widely released album "Faint at the Loudest Hour" (VHF Records 2007) was given high marks with an 8.2 in the Popular music review website Pitchfork [1]. His Second release with the VHF Records label "As the Twilight Crane Dreams in Color" was named the #6 out of The Silent Ballet top 50 Albums of 2009 [2].

Crap! Pitchfork found him before me! D'oh. Oh well. This guy rules. He's younger than me and he massages the guitar like it's a freakin labrador retriever. (Not sure what I mean by that, so if you do, I'm sorry.) You should check him out. (P.S. Check out the number of grammatical mistakes in that Wikipedia entry.) Goodnight.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Adam Torres covers Nick Drake

What can I say about Adam Torres that I haven't already said a billion times? It has actually been a while since I've written about this musical hero on my blog, so if you're just tuning in, I'll give you some background information.

I have been following Adam since my freshman year at Ohio University, where I would go to the Front Room (coffee shop) at the old Baker Center to watch open mic nights. Adam was so unassuming and wonderful. He would play his guitar in a pair of gym shorts, making witty, sarcastic comments between songs. And his songs, they were so powerful. From day one.

Adam also tells the best stories. One time, in an interview on my radio show, he told me about his process of creating his album art for his first album. He illustrated a design, and he wanted to give it an aged look, with frayed edges and a sun-soaked feel. So Adam bought a package at one of the dozens of tanning salons overtaken by shallow college ladies to "age" his art. I can't remember exactly how he told the story, but I know it involved a lot of embarrassment around said tanned ladies and a not-so-successful "tanning of paper" process.

Anyway, I'm getting off topic. Adam's album, Nostra Nova, was a seminal piece of my understanding and love of music. I can't count how many times I've listened to it. He sings so delicately and powerfully, all at once. His guitar playing is wholly original and personal, each song touching a different piece of the heart.

When he decided to take a break from writing new music for a while, I (along with countless others) was devastated. He's been adventuring around the world, though, and he's starting to reveal some of the music that various cultures have influenced.

I thought I'd share this video he created in Cuenca, Ecuador. The music and photography is all by Adam. Beautiful as always.

And if you enjoy it, I suggest you take a listen to the new songs he has posted on his bandcamp page.