The electric touches to Chelsea Wolfe’s doom-folk sound are nice window-dressing, but as Unknown Rooms shows, they’re not necessary — perhaps even a distraction — from conveying the gothic folk sound Wolfe built on her previous two albums. Stripped of nearly all else except acoustic guitar, exquisite violin and viola, and Wolfe’s arresting voice, Unknown Rooms is Wolfe’s strongest statement yet. In “The Way We Used To,” which Wolfe’s voice expresses the soulfulness always lurking in the shadows of her sound, harmonizing a simple vibrato vocal line to great effect as Wolfe’s voice gets higher (and more emotional) than she’s ever shown before. “Spinning Centers” takes a similar cue, using singsongy vocals in an ever-so-unsettling backdrop to create a beautiful kind of witchy music that suggests something ancient and beyond simple explanation. A song title like “Appalachia” would imply an exercise in Appalachian folk reverence, but in practice the song’s almost harsh, trudging nature makes it into a woodsy elegy. Her voice and delivery occasionally draw comparison to PJ Harvey, a tough comparison that could drag her down, but Wolfe ensures her music is distinctive enough that she’s considered more than merely a Harvey disciple. The distinctive quality of the incantations in “Boyfriend” and mandolin-esque vocals of “Our Work Was Good” alone make Wolfe sound like the leader of her own cult, one which will surely grow with the release of this excellent work. Chelsea Wolfe will be at Amoeba Hollywood Sunday Oct. 21 to perform at 5 p.m. Be there!
Godspeed You! Black Emperor create another masterpiece of sustained attack and release on the post-rock band’s first release in a decade. Though their last album, Yanqui U.X.O., found them failing a bit to communicate their ideas of political protest, ALLELUJAH! DON'T BEND! ASCEND! is more in line with their classics — musically, with their great apocalypse-now-on-tape F#A#∞, in its slow building chaos; and with its lack of an apparent overarching theme, like Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven. This isn’t to say ALLELUJAH might not have an overarching theme, but you don’t need to grasp it to enjoy the music. “Mladic” begins with a snippet of a voice saying “with his arms outstretched” over elegiac drone of organ and string, clearly evoking religious ceremony, but that gives way to a throbbing monolith of sound rife with metallic noise and Eastern tonality. The fact that the song is named after Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb war leader accused of genocide in the Bosnian War, gives the song some added gravity. Godspeed You! Black Emperor have never shied away from militaristic imagery in both its music and album covers, and “Mladic’s” crushing 20 minutes can feel like a death march, but their sense of dynamic is also impeccable, as the song shifts nearly 15 minutes in for a more triumphant, if still warlike, tonal theme. The string-heavy “Their Helicopters’ Sing” flutters after as a six-plus minute gap between the album’s massive 20-minute tracks, but its unsettling drone offers no reprieve in terms of severity. The next longer track, “We Drift Like Worried Fire,” actually does break up the harshness with a passage of relatively soft mystery-building, marked by gorgeous, clear-cut guitarwork and hopeful strings. True to its name, the track drifts through its hanging notes, though the collective’s always-spectacular drumming stands out like branches to cling to amid the roaring sound forest. The music’s sheer beauty alone will likely make it many listener’s favorite on the album, although its placement halfway through the album aids in making it feel like a great breath of fresh air. The more “worried” portion of the song, its second half, returns to the feel of the album’s first track with a military march beat and Sonic Youth-inspired sonic squall, though it retains the wonder offered in the song’s first half. The song’s closing quarter takes that sound to a more melodic place, almost a standalone song in that the band begins to sound more like a traditional rock band, albeit one without vocals who saves its catchiest portions for the last bit of a 20-minute beast of a song. “We Drift Like Worried Fire” is an exhilarating listen, brimming with ideas and carried out as smoothly as an EP-length song with multiple movements can be. The album’s closer, “Strung Like Lights at Thee Printemps Erable,” is shorter and more drone-based, like “Their Helicopters’ Sing,” rounding out the album as guitar drone washes out the strings and seems to wipe the palette as a warbling, keyboard-based drone closes out the album, unsettling and offering little resolution. Through careful pacing and patience, Godspeed You! Black Emperor create a breathtaking, unforgettable listening experience of uncommon depth.
Heroes of clean guitar Pinback are back with their first album in five years and the first since losing band member Terrin Durfey to cancer in 2008. Though primarily recorded as a two-piece with a drum machine and using barely a shred of guitar distortion, Pinback’s Information Retrieved is not only as glorious a guitar album that the band has released, it also features some of their most heartfelt songwriting. Opener “Proceed to Memory” sees the band breaking through the hushed whisper with which they often sing to tear through with an inspiring vocal performance. “Glide” is a beautiful example of how their syncopated guitar interplay hasn’t dulled a bit since their absence. The piano leading “Drawstring’s” melodic trip shows how the addition of a simple augment to their sound can make all the difference, taking the song from moving to creepy over the course of just under four minutes. Single “His Phase” is a sterling examples of their collegiate melodic rock, injecting subtle hooks into the cores and maintaining a sense of mysterious, intricate beauty even while breezing by seemingly effortlessly. While Pinback has never exactly been an attention-grabbing band, they’re one of consistent quality, as Information Retrieved is another notch on the post of terrific albums from the band.
Montreal bandleader Mac DeMarco released his debut record Rock and Roll Night Club earlier this year to enthusiasm from many a lo-fi pop fan (including myself), so it’s remarkable that in such a short time the young DeMarco has pulled together another release that builds on Rock and Roll Night Club by upping the songwriting — check out his croony “My Kind of Woman” for song of the best vintage rock ’n’ roll balladry around — while relying less on the lo-fi waves that sailed his previous release. While DeMarco’s trademark goofiness is still intact, there’s nothing jokey about 2, in which DeMarco rocks circles around his peers with proven songwriting chops.
Tamaryn – Tender New Signs
Tamaryn’s gorgeous Tender New Signs builds upon the faded nighttime glory of 2010’s The Waves by allowing for some more pronounced pop moments within the duo’s sturdy framework of slow-burning shoegaze. On “I’m Gone,” singer Tamaryn floats overhead, offering a kind of growling whisper above guitarist Rex Shelverton’s foamy guitar concoction and a looping bassline and drum machine — simple, but effective. “While You’re Sleeping, I’m Dreaming” has a bit more space, and Tamaryn steps into the stoplight, becoming the torch singer of half-remembered dreams, much as Julee Cruise before her. “Heavenly Bodies,” meanwhile, is the sort of Slowdive-indebted shoegaze heaven fans of the band will be looking for, moving deliberately but massively like a slow-rolling tidal wave. Though they rarely lift the veil of effects-driven sound that shrouds virtually very corner of the album, for those who like their shoegazers of the classic noise-driven variety, Tender New Signs is a simmering delight.
Also Released Today:
Daphni – JIAOLONG
Dan Snaith’s first release under the Daphni moniker (after years releasing brilliant, electronically based pop as Manitoba and then Caribou) finds Snaith indulging in some serious dance leanings.
Benjamin Gibbard – Former Lives
Former Lives seems a bit to recast Gibbard (now Benjamin, not Ben) as someone known first and foremost for his skills as a singer and songwriter.
The last of three recent Rodriguez-Lopez albums explores moogy electronic textures, this time with the help of vocals and lyrics by Teri Gender Bender from bluesy punks Les Butcherettes.
The latest funktronica outing from Tussle, who’ve had a run of great releases. Check out the throbbing “Eye Context.”
Review from a fellow Amoebite: Berlin-based electronic producer Alex Ridha broke out a couple years back around the same time as Justice, and with a similar mission: destroy all dance floors with a gigantic, gonzo fusion of acid, breaks and go-for-broke beats. It's definitely not for the minimalist! From a brilliant series of remixes through a couple of hot-selling full-lengths, we arrive at the third Boys Noize album, Out of the Black, and it's his biggest, baddest and darkest one yet. Whomping bass, grinding analogue synths, and enough crashing hardcore bombast to make you feel like Tom Cruise on ecstasy. Even Snoop shows up for one of his classic stoner raps on "Got It," but the swooping flourishes of "Reality" send it soaring over the Berlin skyline.
First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar
Deluxe CD $18.98
These are the sisters that did that Fleet Foxes cover on YouTube, but they are more of like a legit thing now. How cute are they?