Posts Tagged ‘ reviews ’

[ALBUM REVIEW] Earth – Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1

Dylan Carlson is not a selfish bandleader.   For the second album in a row, the avant-metal icon has ceded a hefty portion of the spotlight to an instrument other than his own.   Carlson’s thick, glacial guitar lines were the focal point of the early Earth, stretched out over epic song lengths and frequently rolled out without much accompaniment.   When Carlson reformed the band in 2005 after a nine year hiatus, re-imagining the project as a creeping doppelganger of Western soundtracks and Dirty Three post-rock, he ditched the metal but kept most of the minimalism.  There were changes in the foundation, though.   The band expanded its palate on 2008’s The Bees Made Honey In the Lion’s Skull with the major addition of Steve Moore’s organ.  The spine of the band still consisted of Carlson’s guitar and Adrienne Davies’ patient drumming, but the organ brightened everything up.  Moore’s contributions were the most emotive parts of that album.

Prior to Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1, Earth’s lineup shifted again.  Moore is gone, but his role has been more than adequately filled by Lori Goldston on cello.  Actually, that’s an understatement – the addition of Goldston to Earth 2.0 is absolutely crucial and has taken the reborn band to new heights.  Angels might not be as groundbreaking as Earth 2, but it’s the best product to come out of the band’s second run.

Goldston’s cello is mournful where Moore’s organ was bright, and it brings out the foreboding undercurrent that has remained present in the band’s work even after they ceased to resemble doom-metal or any related sub-genre.  Carlson once again allows a side player to do the expressive heavy lifting, with the cello often sounding achingly close to snapping while the guitar lines remain slow and deliberate.  At other times Goldston sounds like she’s shadowing Carlson’s guitar, reverberating around his spare notes and adding heft even though this still isn’t “heavy” music.

It wouldn’t make too much sense to get into a track by track breakdown of the album, because it’s best digested as a whole.  This is the rare hour long album that feels about 20 minutes shorter than it actually is, a welcome surprise after Bees, an album that could occasionally drag.   This is an immersive listen through and through.

As much as I appreciate Carlson’s willingness to tinker with the formula, I would love to see this current incarnation of Earth stick around for awhile.  They’ve got such a unique chemistry that it would be a shame if this album and the incoming Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 2 (set for release later this year) end up as the only recordings from this lineup.   I guess you never know, though – the next version could very well be as revelatory as the current one.


Review: Howlies – Stunned EP

As an indicator of where Howlies are headed, the 5 song Stunned EP is cause for optimism. It shows growth from their already good debut and finds the band moving away from some of their jokier tendencies without totally shedding the winking sense of humor that has always been a part of their sound.

That might not be immediately apparent, though. Opener “Zombie Girl” wrings a few clever lines out of its nightmare-ex-as-zombie metaphor, but it comes dangerously close to novelty song territory. It’s a trap the other four songs here manage to avoid. There’s definitely still humor there, but it comes through in a witty, Elvis Costello kind of way. It’s not the focal point like it was in something like “Aluminum Baseball Bat.” They get away with some fairly obvious wordplay in the chorus of “Yer Hell,” but it’s mostly because the surrounding lyrics are so much less direct and vocalist Aaron Wood doesn’t try to oversell the bravado.

There are some slight shifts musically, too. They’re still primarily in the old school garage rock zone, but I hear a deeper groove in some of these tracks than I did on the debut. The bass lines sound more vital. The punk influence is more pronounced, too. “Stunned” and “Secret Charmer” in particular wouldn’t sound that out of place on a Dead Boys or Richard Hell album. And the frantic acoustic guitar on “Tie Me Up, Throw Me Down” is a nice addition to the arsenal.

Pick up a copy and support one of Atlanta’s best bands. It’s available on 10” vinyl or as a digital download for just $4 (get it here).

Review: Grinderman – Grinderman 2

No one really expected or needed Grinderman to turn into a real band. Their 2007 debut was an enthusiastically received record that absolutely nailed what it set out to do, but it never felt like anything more than a diversionary side project. The whole thing sounded more like an exercise than an album, with most of its pleasures stemming from the strength of its basic concept: Nick Cave doing his literate, leering lech routine over dirty Stooges guitar blasts.

The fact that it seemed like a one-off probably helped it’s case, too. Fans and critics both seemed to love the idea of Cave and a handful of Bad Seeds cutting loose. Would it have gotten the same treatment if it was a straight Seeds album? Not with half-baked songs like “Depth Charge Ethel” or the title track eating up the relatively short running time. Sure, “No Pussy Blues” is a flawless single, and “Get It On” and “Love Bomb” are almost as good, but there’s too much filler to shower the record in unqualified praise. As much as I enjoy the album, I would have probably told Cave to stick to his day job, especially when that day job is still capable of such incredible peaks (I might be lonely here, but I’d put Dig Lazarus Dig!! among the 5 best Bad Seeds records, and I say that as pretty huge fan).

I would have been very wrong. Grinderman 2 takes what was great about the first album and applies the careful song construction that’s always been a Bad Seeds hallmark. They now practice nuance disguised as blunt force.

Here’s the difference between the two albums: the Grinderman of the first album would have probably kept a song like “When My Baby Comes” in a holding pattern, staying in the slightly skewed blues mode established in the first minute or so. It would have been around 3 minutes, and it would have been a pretty good track. The new and improved Grinderman instead starts adding Warren Ellis’ violin to the mix, allows it to be unequivocally pretty, then at the halfway point blows the track up into a lumbering, psychedelic stomper that sounds like being caught in a windstorm. It runs 7 minutes, and it’s an awesome track.

The humor and attitude that made Grinderman so appealing is still there, it’s just packaged better. They’ve made a legitimately great album this time out, one that’s as good as anything else released this year. Let’s hope we get another one in 3 years.

Reviews: Candy Claws, TV Torso

Candy Claws – Hidden Lands

Hidden Lands opens with it’s murkiest moment, the nearly 7 minute “In the Deep Time.” The track is a bunch of goggy ambience that rarely resembles anything like a song, but it’s an excellent album opener in the sense that it isolates the most notable aspects of the band’s aesthetic and pushes them front and center. It’s all in there: the barely-there vocals, the bubbling keyboards, the notable lack of low end. It’s a gorgeous, carefully constructed mess that acts as a perfect overture.

The rest of the songs are more immediate, but ethereal is the key word throughout. These are ambient pop songs that sound like they’re always on the verge of floating away. There are occasional details that bring the songs back to earth, like the recurring, interrupting guitar part on “Sun Arrow.” But mostly the songs flow gently by, each individual element blending together into an inseparable whole. It’s the sound of watercolors bleeding together.

Candy Claws plays Atlanta this Saturday, September 18, at the Drunken Unicorn.

TV Torso – Status Quo Vadis

TV Torso caught my ear as the odd men out at The Goat Farm festival a few weeks ago, where they were the only non-Atlanta band on the bill. Their performance was good enough to get me to investigate further, but I honestly wasn’t expecting to like this album (EP?) as much as I do.

They sound like fellow Austin band Spoon, but not in a derivative way. Frontman Matt Oliver has a cool, collected rasp that’s unavoidably similar to Britt Daniel’s, and the band’s got a knack for kind of the taut guitar/drums-centric indie rock that Spoon’s been dealing in since Girls Can Tell. They’ve also got Spoon’s talent for making straightforward tunes a bit more interesting in the studio.

These are basic rock songs, but they run longer than they might in other hands, with more unexpected details.  The first few minutes of “Slander’s Stew” follow a familiar indie rock blueprint, but then the track keeps going for a few more, adding layers of guitars and burying the vocals.  It sounds like it’s accelerating out of control and the bedrock of the song is deteriorating.  Elsewhere, “Elegy” pairs bagpipes with a guitar tone that makes it occasionally difficult to tell which instrument is which.

“Slanderer’s Stew” is available as a free download from TV Torso’s Bandcamp page.  You can buy the rest of the album there, too.

Live Review: Sleepy Sun, Balmorhea @ The Earl, 9/12/2010

My review of Sunday’s Sleepy Sun/Balmorhea show is up over at Dead Journalist.  You can read it here.

I really can’t recommend Balmorhea enough, and I think the rest of the crowd would agree.  You might have read me (and Dead Journalist and Latest Disgrace) complaining about crowd noise at last month’s Oryx and Crake show at The Earl.  That wasn’t a problem on Sunday.  The circumstances probably had something to do with that:  showgoers are typically drinking less on a Sunday than they are on a Saturday, and there were significantly less people there.  But it still seemed like the crowd was keeping silent out of respectful awe.  During some of their quietest moments, the only noises you could hear from the audience were the clicks of digital cameras.

That video above doesn’t totally reflect that, as you can hear the crowd at a few points.  I kind of like the effect it has on the audio, though.  The crowd noise is mostly unobtrusive, and when it does pop up it makes them sound like they’re using found sound a la The Books.

There’s a few more pictures after the jump.

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Review: Lower Dens – Twin-Hand Movement

Lower Dens – Twin-Hand Movement

Genres are great for lazy reviewers because they provide shortcuts.  Call something post-punk and the reader immediately thinks of the moodiness of Joy Division or the rhythms and spiky guitars of Gang of Four.  Call it dream-pop and you’re conjuring Mazzy Star and Cocteau Twins.  It’s a bitch when you come across something like Lower Dens that you can’t easily slap a label on.  They’re too grounded to be considered dream-pop, but too airy to comfortably wear the post-punk tag.

When I saw them back in May, this is how I described them: “They do fuzzy drone-pop that sounds like what might happen if Charalambides lost their patience and decided to record a rock album.  Not that they’re much like a traditional rock band – texture is emphasized over hooks.”

After spending some time with their debut album, Twin-Hand Movement, I’m not sure that description is totally accurate.   For starters, Lower Dens are definitely a rock band, one with a tight rhythm section and guitars that sound like guitars.  They’ve also got hooks, as evidenced by songs like “Tea Lights” and “Hospice Gates,” either of which would more than hold its own on a mixtape.

I’m not completely backing down on that texture comment, though.  The greatest strength of Lower Dens is their ability to incorporate interesting sonics into a fairly straightforward rock format that ultimately sounds like something fresh.  Bass and drums usually hold the tracks together, leaving the guitars free to explore the space around the songs.  That sounds like an approach that could lead to overly indulgent wankery, but it’s not.  With the exception of the 6 minute “Plastic & Powder,” which sounds like it could be one of the mopier Kim Gordon tracks from the early Sonic Youth albums, the songs on Twin-Hand Movement mostly stay between 2 and 4 minutes.  They jam econo through 11 tracks in under 40 minutes.  It feels like it’s about half that long, which is usually a good sign.

If you’re in Atlanta, go see them at 529 on September 15th.  Here’s a kinda trippy live video:

New Atlanta music reviews (Zoroaster, A Fight to the Death, Noot d’Noot)

I thought I would write a few brief thoughts on these 2010 Atlanta releases before I throw them on the list.

Zoroaster – Matador

This is comfort food for sludge metal fans. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it nails the tone. The psychedelic hippie flourishes give it some personality, but a few more memorable songs or riffs could have taken the album from very good to great.

A Fight to the Death – Gesture of a Gentleman

On their first album, A Fight to the Death might have been more notable for their unique mix of styles (Americana, jazz, gypsy, Latin) than they were for their songs. Not so much anymore. This time around, that disparate blend of influences has coalesced into some pretty amazing tracks. Personal favorites are “Echoes,” “Scissors,” and “Grant Park.” At their best, they combine the strongest qualities of Murder by Death (dusty barroom narratives) with those of Beirut (seamless combination of exotic styles). It starts to lose some steam near the end, though.

Noot d’Noot – For Ever Since

They’ve toned down the weirdness of Cash for Gold in favor of fairly straightforward funk, which would be grounds for sniping if From Ever Since wasn’t so damn fun to listen to. I hope they haven’t left the spacier stuff behind entirely, but if they have, there are certainly worse directions to go in than this.