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Albums Out 10/30: The Soft Moon, Neil Young, Killing Joke and More

Posted by Billy Gil, October 29, 2012 07:00pm | Post a Comment

Album Picks:

The Soft MoonZeros

The Soft Moon ZerosCD $12.98

LP $15.98

Slightly more pop than his first release but still dark enough to scare off the uninitiated, the second album from The Soft Moon improves upon Luis Vasquez’s one-man goth factory sound with a bit more muscle and increased emphasis on hooks and (somewhat) intelligible vocals. Vasquez’s sound — one part Dario Argento soundtrack, one part post-punk mastery — remains relentlessly bleak throughout Zeros, creating a sort of shut-in listening experience during which no light enters or escapes. The result isn’t alienating though; rather, Vasquez carefully builds the album up and keeps it chugging smoothly, from an almost M83-like synth-epic opening, to the short ‘n’ creepy “Machines,” to the title track, the first song we get of several that fulfills the promise of his earlier work. The title track and “Insides,” which immediately follows, sees Vasquez allow his voice to step out of the shadows a bit as he gives an impassioned scream in the title track’s buzzing climax, and on single “Insides,” he sings a discernable yet ghostly melody over a Pornography-era Cure backdrop of a looping guitar riff and bassline and mechanical beats. That breathy whisper that opens the song grabs you, but Vasquez seems to know he can’t offer only atmosphere forever, and his singing, emotional and buried, is a highlight across Zeros when it pops up. On “Dire Life,” which revs its synths before kicking off with a yelp, Vasquez drives listeners down a grim autobahn. Even better is “Want,” in which Vasquez cries “I want it…you have it” over clattering, afrobeat-esque drumwork that sounds like nothing else he’s done. It’s touches like this that keeps Zeros from being a one-note album, and though he doesn’t completely step out from the shadow of his influences, on Zeros Vasquez comes dangerously close, while scratching a very specific itch for immaculately constructed goth pop.

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Albums Out 10/22: Bat For Lashes, Kendrick Lamar, Titus Andronicus and More

Posted by Billy Gil, October 22, 2012 01:00pm | Post a Comment

Album Picks:

Bat For LashesThe Haunted Man

Bat for Lashes The Haunted ManCD $13.98

LP $22.98

From the get-go, Bat for Lashes aka Natasha Khan is grabbing for the brass ring on The Haunted Man, declaring "thank God I'm alive" on opener "Lillies." Though she still incorporates the inward-looking, intimate goth-tinged singer-songwriter sound of her first album and part of her second, on this third album she engages in embracing pop in a way she never has, save for on her breakthrough single, “Daniel.” “All Your Gold” is the kind of shivery, evocative pop that Kate Bush pioneered in the ’80s and which has netted a bevy of recent followers (from Florence + The Machine to Beach House), but Khan does it better than most of the pack for her impeccable use of unforced detail. As on her first single, “What’s a Girl to Do,” she sings of lacking affection for someone, this time because of past injury — “today I was a dead girl walking,” she sings creepily amid stuttering guitar and a heavy dance beat that sweeps you off your feet. Similarly, the stunning “Laura” details a fading beauty or diva with beautiful tragicomedy — “you’ll be famous for longer than them, your name is tattooed on every boy’s skin.” The song’s subject remains ever elusive, yet you feel for her out of the burning intensity in Khan’s voice. Khan shows a knack for memorable choruses across The Haunted Man, even as she can sound distant and lost, creating an intriguing push-and-pull, from “Laura’s” “you’re more than a superstar” to “Marilyn’s” grand pop moment of “turnin’ into a Marilyn, leaning out of your big car” amid that song’s slow-motion synth-and-drum-machine fireworks. Because of the album’s immaculate pacing, where these high points are broken up by headier moments, like the warbling “Oh Yeah” and orchestral flourishes of “Winter Fields,” that you come back to once some of the glory of the album’s singles wears off. It's altogether one of the most rapturous and addictive listening experiences of recent memory, surely one of the year’s best.

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Albums Out 10/16: Chelsea Wolfe, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mac DeMarco, Pinback, Tamaryn and More

Posted by Billy Gil, October 15, 2012 07:00pm | Post a Comment

Album Picks:

Chelsea WolfeUnknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs

Chelsea WolfeCD $9.98

LP $16.98

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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!

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Albums Out 10/9: Tame Impala, Ty Segall, MellowHype, Django Django and More

Posted by Billy Gil, October 8, 2012 07:00pm | Post a Comment

Album Picks:

Tame ImpalaLonerism

tame impala lonerism

LP $19.98

DL $9.98

CD $11.98

Whereas Tame Impala’s awesome first album, Innerspeaker, was all about muscle, on Lonerism the Australian band tends to build its psych-rock songs more deliberately, more delicately. But they still kick ass, and hard. “Be Above It’s” titular refrain is whispered over a tumbling drumbeat until Kevin Parker takes off with a simple, Beatlesesque melody and he and his cohorts supply fuzzed out psychedelic flourishes. Thanks to Parker’s high, nasal voice, those comparisons to John Lennon keep coming, on songs like “Apocalypse Dreams,” where Parker’s vocals and melodies certainly are reminiscent of the Fab Four, but musically they’re no mere worshippers at the psych throne, more interested in squeezing strange, new sounds out of familiar territory and taking their arrangements through multiple tempo changes, broiling them through effects, laying moogs and synths over them and then looping back to the original melody like deja vu. Tame Impala also prove adept and producing the straightforward rock single on “Elephant,” which may draw comparisons to The White Stripes for more than just its title, but whose bass-heavy sound really pulls more from psych originators like Blue Cheer — just hookier. Parker, who produced the first Tame Impala record, as well as the recent, excellent release by Melody’s Echo Chamber, finds perfect sonic kinship in David Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev), who can be known for helping to dramatically change a band’s sound (Sleater-Kinney’s mindblowing The Woods, for instance) but who mostly seems to help Tame Impala sound even fuller, allowing the band’s punchiness to come through in tracks like the pop psychedelic wonder of “Music to Walk Home By,” but thickening it with layers of space-rock sound. The end result is that Lonerism hits hard but leaves a lasting impression, leaving the listener to wrap his or her head around all the wondrous sounds of the record and immediately wanting to track back and listen again.

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Albums Out 10/2: Moon Duo, Taken By Trees, Flying Lotus and More

Posted by Billy Gil, October 1, 2012 07:29pm | Post a Comment

Album Picks:

Moon Duo CirclesMoon DuoCircles
 
Echoes of Suicide, Silver Apples and Spacemen 3 emulate from Moon Duo’s big bad amplifiers, but the San Francisco band develops that into their own brand of psychedelia on Circles, their latest and finest release. The band, which consists of SF psych-rockers Wooden Shjips’ Erik “Ripley” Johnson on guitar as well as Sanae Yamada on keyboards, sounded great on previous releases when they let things fly into extended jam territory (as do Wooden Shjips), but they sound just as engaging in more bite-sized pieces, as on the darkly melodic “I Can See” and jangly title track, which lets just enough light in to help illuminate the rest of the album as a result. They still do motorized rock with Kraut beats like no other, as on songs like “I Been Gone,” but songs like the actually kind of dancey “Dance pt. 3” prove to be the perfect augment to their sound. Badass and no-nonsense, for sure, Circles captures Moon Duo at their best but allows them loosen up stylistically and have a little more fun at the same time.
 
taken by treesTaken By TreesOther Worlds
 
After leaving Swedish indie pop group The Concretes, Victoria Bergsman has straddled the line between conventional pop wisdom (her duet with Peter Bjorn & John, “Young Folks,” and covers of Animal Collective and Guns ‘N’ Roses) and more worldly aspirations. Other Worlds continues that tradition for Bergsman. Inspired by her travels to Hawaii, Other Worlds similarly concerns itself with one place, or one feel, rather than taking a pan-global approach (similarly to her last album, the Pakistan-influenced East of Eden), though Other Worlds doesn’t sound terribly Hawaiian as it does have a swaying, oceanic feel, like a dive captured in slow motion. “Dreams” beautifully floats into the ether on the strength of Bergsman’s nocturnal voice and chorus-heavy guitars. “In Other Words’” most notable feature is actually its country-inspired steel guitar, but the song’s slow jaunt and vaguely singsongy quality makes it feel like a codeine-fueled cover of a sea shanty. Thankfully Bergsman doesn’t allow her muse to overly rule or define her songs, and Other Worlds is quite distinct and varied, despite its understated island vibe. You forgive some of the seemingly cheesy elements of its theme, like the cutesy vibraphone and steel drums on “Pacific Blue,” because Bergsman weaves them into something unique and seamlessly ties them together with unrelated sounds. The album’s opening songs, for instance, build airy ballads over airy bedroom electronics and found sounds, which come back to the fore with the clanging “Not Like Any Other” and dubby beatwork of “Large,” both of which sound a bit like a chilled out Grimes. Like most of Bergsman’s work, Other Worlds is a feat of subtlety, but is nonetheless memorable, tuneful and easy to submerge yourself in.

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