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Album Picks: The Haxan Cloak, !!!, Akron/Family, Hanni El Khatib

Posted by Billy Gil, April 30, 2013 09:34am | Post a Comment

The Haxan CloakExcavation

haxan cloak excavationCD $12.98

LP $19.98

Download $9.98

The Haxan Cloak’s Excavation is an aptly named trip into the other side of the human ego. It takes listeners on a ride through dark ride, requiring several listens for its movements to sink in and rewarding the patient with a unique listening experience. Starting with deep bass drum hits on “Consumed,” it moves into the two-part “Excavation,” which at first feels like travelling at the deepest part of the ocean, drumless and with little light let in, but deep sonar blasts of bass, heartbeats and backward sound guide us as if we’re seeing the unseen. Part two opens the chasm a bit, with squelching beats you could almost dance to, were they not so brutal and irregular. “Mara” sounds like the exact moment the protagonist finds the body in film noir or horror film, build on unseemly strings and a door-slamming beat. The two-part “The Mirror Reflecting” gets even deeper, with a beautifully decayed last quarter, and the nearly 13-minute “The Drop” actually finds The Haxan Cloak’s Bobby Krlic at his most open and easy to follow, with melodic synths that sound like a synth-pop song slowed to quarter-speed. Though it provides few easy entry points and demands much of its listener, The Haxan Cloak’s Excavation is a worthwhile journey, even just to say you made it to the other side.

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Albums Out April 23: No Joy, Phoenix, Junip, Young Galaxy

Posted by Billy Gil, April 23, 2013 04:35pm | Post a Comment

Album Picks:

No JoyWait to Pleasure

No Joy Wait to PleasureCD $10.98

LP $16.98

A mistake some neo-shoegaze bands make is avoiding the loud guitars the genre is partially based upon without making up for it in melody or some other distinguishing feature. Not so with No Joy, whose debut Ghost Blonde was slathered in distortion and reverb — so much so, in fact, that it did tend to wash them out. Not so with follow-up Wait to Pleasure, which ratchets up the songwriting without sacrificing much in the way of pulverizing guitar power, in a way previewed on their Negaverse EP last year. “E” tunnels along on the strength of a heavily distorted bass that gives anchor to Jasamine White-Gluz and Laura Lloyd’s guitar feedback and cooing vocals. “Hare Tarot Lies” crushes through with heavy power chords and femme vocals that recall the best of ’90s female-led alt-rock bands (underrated acts like Lush and Veruca Salt) while paying homage to their usual checklist of influences, such as Swervedriver and My Bloody Valentine. With the sonics in check, No Joy seem to feel free to explore their pop side on the rest of the album, on the church-like melodies of “Prodigy” and Strawberry Switchblade-esque '80s pop of “Lunar Phobia.” Not all of their gambits work, as they miss a vocal cue on “Slug Night” that could have made it a single, and “Blue Neck Riviera’s” rapping is questionable, even if the song is saved by a melodically charging second half. But even these foibles are mostly endearing, as Wait to Pleasure never wears out its welcome across its 11 tracks. They sound like a band secure in their own sound and trying out new things here and there, occasionally coming up with a power-pop gem like “Lizard Kids,” featuring sweet vocals akin to Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval over muscular, bass-driven riffs. One expects them to continue tinkering with their sound; Wait to Pleasure suggests No Joy can become a great pop band. For now, they’ll have to settle for being one of the best shoegaze bands around.

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Albums Out April 16: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Flaming Lips, Jessie Ware, Andrew Wyatt, Thee Oh Sees and More

Posted by Billy Gil, April 15, 2013 10:24pm | Post a Comment

Album Picks:

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Mosquito

yeah yeah yeahs mosquitoCD $11.98

Deluxe CD $19.98

LP $19.98

Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ sultry fourth record starts with a bang, a big soul-rocker complete with gospel choir called “Sacrilige.” From there it’s a smorgasbord as colorful as their mosquito-attacking-a-baby album cover, including moody, atmospheric sound pieces (“Subway”), Banshees-esque post-punk rockers (the title track), dubby soundscapes (“Under the Earth”), “X-Files”-inspired new age ballads (“These Paths”) and rockers (“Area 52”). And that’s all before you get to a dark collaboration with Dr. Octagon and James Murphy (“Buried Alive”), as well as breathtaking new entries into Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ pantheon of after prom-style bittersweet ballads in the form of the picturesque “Always,” the slow-burning, oddly uplifting “Despair” and touching “Wedding Song.” Mosquito is a very different beast from the previous YYY’s albums and takes some getting used to, for sure, but repeat listens offer new rewards (as with every album the band has produced since its debut). Its eeriness and campiness at times call to mind a Cramps record, while its hollowed-out space represents something else entirely, something new and alluring. You might miss some of their previous raucousness (or continuity), but hearing them fling new ideas to the wall to see what sticks is intriguing enough. Yeah Yeah Yeahs are one of the few bands who know how to make its constant tinkering with its sound both interesting and entertaining. Hearing them restlessly forge new ground on Mosquito screws with your head in the best way possible. It inspires you to shake old notions of what stadium-size rock bands can and should do, and that lone is something to celebrate. Pick up "Mosquito" at any Amoeba store 4/16 and get a limited edition autographed lithograph and a special 7” (while supplies last).

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Albums Out April 9: The Knife, Kurt Vile and More

Posted by Billy Gil, April 9, 2013 10:54am | Post a Comment

Album Picks:

The Knife - Shaking The Habitual

The Knife Shaking the HabitualCD $12.98

Deluxe CD $19.98

LP $27.98

As always, The Knife mean to disturb and provoke you, and Shaking the Habitual is their most adventurous statement to date. They begin the two-disc set with one of the more pop-oriented pieces — of course, The Knife’s defintion of pop involves alien distortion on Karin Dreijer Andersson’s vocals, which are growly and swoop in and out of conventional melodicism to begin with. On “A Tooth for an Eye,” it’s fairly typical, if highly accomplished, fare for The Knife, as Andersson’s warped vocals match her and Olaf Dreijer’s tribal beatwork and synths that bellow and squelch like steam machinery. This in no way prepares you for the set’s second song, the nine-minute “Full of Fire,” whose machine-gun beats are the accessible part of a demonic pop song in which synths bleep atonally like tea kettles and swirl like locusts, while Andersson’s vocals sound like they’ve been run over by tires full of syringes. Even with its mammoth run-time and demanding sound, it never falters in fascinating and keeping a fanged vice grip on the listener. You feel your hair stand on end and you start to sweat with each new turn. “A Cherry on Top” starts with five minutes of wraithlike synths before Andersson comes in with a digitally deepened voice in a sort of gender, culture, genre-bending near 10 minutes that’s both bewildering and bold. Of course The Knife’s freaky sounds can be grating or seemingly unusual for the sake of it sometimes — I opened a hotel website with a man singing in Hawaiian during the flute-laden “Without You My Life Would Be Boring” and didn’t notice for a full minute — and pieces like the nearly silent, nearly 20-minute “Old Dreams Waiting to Be Realized” are more interesting in concept and as a breather than they are in actual sound. But Shaking the Habitual harkens back to a time when albums were meant to be an experience, something puzzled over, abandoned and returned to and studied, not streamed while searching for hotels. It’s anti-pop, but claims that it is “unlistenable” are unfounded. Even at nearly 10 minutes and with truly messed up sounds housed within in, “Raging Lung” is a pop song, with movements and parts that hit you and break through the din — when Andersson keeps coming in with her “that’s when it hurts” line ranks among the best pop moments on the album. “Networking” drops vocals almost entirely in favor of a Kraftwerkian cold synth rave-up, and it ends up one of the album’s catchiest songs in the process. “Stay Out Here” also features guest vocals from Light Asylum’s Shannon Funchess and artist Emily Roysdon that make the song a kind of horror house anthem as the singers’ vocals bounce off one another and come together in eerie harmony in a padded cell of wavelike synths and skittering beats. The Knife make many demands on you — of your time, of your patience and of your willingness to let go of preconceived notions of pop — on Shaking the Habitual. Trust them — you’ll emerge from the experience feeling as though you’ve gained a new understanding of what pop music can be. Few artists alive today can claim the same effect.

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Albums Out April 2: Tyler, The Creator, Bleached, IO Echo, and More

Posted by Billy Gil, April 2, 2013 09:58am | Post a Comment

Album Picks:

Tyler the Creator The WolfTyler, The Creator - The Wolf
CD $12.98
Deluxe CD $24.98

Tyler, The Creator has always been an artist and persona as divisive as he is undeniably talented, so why expect (or want) that to change? Sprawling tracklist, angry, occasionally homophobic lyrics and all, Goblin was affecting in its ugliness. The Wolf builds on the Odd Future kingpin’s sound with more manageable beats and R&B touches, but he’s the same troubled joker at heart. The Wolf’s opening title track is a slowed-down, reverbed-out R&B track not totally unlike something Frank Ocean or How to Dress Well might produce, provided they told everyone and everything to fuck off for the entirety of the song. “Jamba” finds Tyler teaming with Hodgy Beats for a good ol’ fashioned angsty, nasty Tyler track as he raps about cussing out Siri and Hodgy Beats raps about getting his scrotum on the news, saying “you can drink piss and eat a dick in a few.” However, Tyler has a knack for slipping in heartbreaking detail into his songs (“brain cancer ate my granny up” he says with razor precision near the opening of the deep, dark “Cowboy”). It may not hit with the same menace as previous single “Yonkers,” but Wolf’s “Domo23” gives Tyler the chance to display his wit (and ability to manipulate his audience), taking haters and admirers to task, rapping “came to Pitchfork with a couple Jada pickett signs and said I was a racist homophobic, so I grabbed Lucas and filmed us kissing” in a jumpy cadence that drops the machismo. It’s a brave move, given hip-hop’s glacial pace on the subject, though it doesn’t quite explain the frequent f-bombs, especially given cohort Frank Ocean’s coming out; he gets more sympathy from the funny tirade against the father he never met, “Answer.” Musically, The Wolf gets funkier the further it goes, on tracks like the lush, dirgey medley “Partyisntover/Campire,” featuring Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier, combined with “Bimmer” featuring Ocean, in a seeming bid to rival Ocean’s epic “Pyramids” that intrigues for its strangeness, even if it doesn’t fully come together. Tyler’s angry love song “IFFY” (“I fuckin’ hate you”) gets props for having the worst way to tell someone you like them (“The sky is fallin’, bitch let’s try to catch it”), with Pharell’s soothing presence confounding Tyler’s threats of strangulation. Overall, The Wolf is slightly bloated with a few too many experiments and random guest spots that don’t work; when it does, you’re thankful for Tyler’s abrasive presence in the hip-hop world. For instance, “Trashwang” starts with forty seconds of gunshots and screams that continue to interrupt the proceedings and undercut an otherwise seemingly straightforward hip-hop crew track, with Tyler declaring “I want the black kids to like me for this one.” That loaded statement speaks to part of what makes Tyler both divisive and special. His refusal to capitulate to norms of any kind, societal or hip-hop, are a large part of his appeal. You might not celebrate everything Tyler says or attempts musically on The Wolf, but he never feels less than brutally honest and enormously expressive.

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