July 16, 2012
10 Must Hear Albums of 2012 (the first 6 months)

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Six months of the year have passed so I put together a list of 10 of the years finest releases thus far. Along with the list I compiled a youtube playlist of live performances from each of the albums

The Walkmen – Heaven

The Walkmen sound like they’ve absorbed the essence of Roy Orbison’s 1980s television broadcast ‘Black & White Night’. Their 7th album Heaven references a number of the artists that comprised Roy’s band that night. Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Jackson Browne and indeed The Big O himself are precursors to many of the tunes on Heaven. This isn’t to say that the album is just a patchwork of influences, in fact what stands out most of all on Heaven is The Walkmen’s distinguished & assured (i’m trying to avoid ‘mature’) songwriting. Hamilton Leithauser’s vocals are at the forefront of songs  such as ‘Line By Line’ and ‘Southern Heart’. Phil Ek’s production excellently pushes them above the surface, into the listening space with you. Heaven has heart-wrenching tender moments as well as plenty of garage flair and debonair interaction among the band.

Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel..

Fiona has returned! and she sounds as stern as ever. It’s been a long wait between albums (predecessor Extraordinary Machine released in 2005) but Ms Apple has never been impelled to release anything until there’s something exigent to express. She profusely spills bitter energies on The Idler Wheel. Lines such as “every single night’s a fight with my brain” and “don’t let me ruin me” indicate rebukes directed at herself, though she passionately targets the ‘other’ on Periphery and Regret. The album is starkly produced, containing abundant percussive interplay, which is a frenzied accomplice to Fiona’s exploring hands on multiple pianos. The more time you spend with it the more pervasively consuming it becomes

Jack White – Blunderbuss

Jack White’s debut solo record is the most cohesive thing he has delivered.Blunderbuss is characterised by focused songwriting and arrangements that are more contained than anything else we’ve heard from him. The production sometimes verges towards lush but White’s visionary finesse does not slip into excess. Admittedly, the spontaneity that is so central to most of his heretofore career output is not present, but it’s replaced by a forward progression in song execution. White establishes his aesthetic and, like an auteur, directs you into the areas he wants to explore. You willingly, obligingly, & even exultantly follow him. His voice has never sounded stronger as his story telling simplifies the irreverent and makes the quotidian edgy

Beach House – Bloom

“One in your life, it happens once but rarely twice” sings Victoria Legrand on ‘Wishes’. However, Beach House have defied this sentiment and returned with an album of scintillating pop that sits in a similarly elevated class to 2010 breakthrough Teen Dream. Indeed, dreamy is an adjective often applied to Beach House’s music but Bloom is far from sleepy. It wraps you up and makes it feel as if your own dream world is being conjured. Additionally, rather than being hazy, the record has a distinguished intimacy. When Legrand repeats the line “someone like you” on ‘Troublemaker’; its hard to deny the address is pointed straight at you

Sharon Van Etten – Tramp

On Tramp, Sharon Van Etten glides through moods and textures that are implicit of life’s constant struggles and the inevitability of painful experiences. On tracks such as ‘Give Out’, ‘Leonard’ and ‘I’m Wrong’ her vocals are evocative of a yearning nostalgia that flits between helplessness and determination. Van Etten’s questioning vulnerability and ambivalence is quite reminiscent of the imbalance found in Cat Power. With the aid of Aaron Dessner’s (The National) production, Tramp infiltrates one’s consciousness and captivates the senses.

Justin Townes Earle – Nothing’s Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now

Earle’s fourth full-length release contains some very stimulated song-writing. He and his band play together like close-knit kin as they venture into country balladry (‘Won’t Be The Last Time’), classy soul (‘Memphis In The Rain’), folky lamentation (‘Unfortunately Anna’), jazzy inflections (‘Down On The Lower East Side’) and rock’n’roll bravado (‘Baby’s Got A Bad Idea’)

Grimes – Visions

Grimes’ 3rd album Visions is glitchy, urban and cerebral; it is also colourful, ethereal and spontaneous. In a manner akin to The KnifeThom YorkeGorillaz, Canada’s Clare Boucher innovatively wields and manipulates studio technology to collate multifarious musical themes and stylistic elements. Hip-hop, dance, indie and experimental dream pop all get plied from onVisionsGrimes playfully includes several approaches to the vocal and instrumental arrangements, which work together as equal partisans in generating intricate atmospheres and corresponding emotional excitations.

Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory

Attack on Memory is a record fuelled by restless frustration and crammed full of energy. Also, throughout the album’s rushes of noise and the frantic thrusting of sounds, there is a brilliant melodic consistency. The ireful delivery of ‘No Sentiment’ vibrates like Fugazi or At The Drive-In; duelling guitars create their own melodic syntax in ‘Our Plans’ similar to Sonic Youth & Pavement; and the lighter, brattier ‘Fall In’ resembles contemporaries Wavves. However, there Attack on Memory is not an emulating exercise; Cloud Nothings show that what matters is what is happening right now and we should definitely take note.

Deep Sea Arcade – Outlands

The Sydney band’s immense talent  is carefully utilised to the optimization of the songs on their debut LP. Songs such as ‘Seen No Right’, ‘Girls’, ‘Granite City’ & ‘Steam’ sound like they have been directly gleaned from pop music’s ideal form. There’s the immediacy of The Animals and the hedonism of The Rolling Stones, as well as a sort of placid complexity akin to contemporaries Deerhunter or The Shins.

Mark Lanegan Band – Blues Funeral

On Blues Funeral Mark Lanegan lets his most tender, impassioned and inquisitive stirrings manifestand the rewards are rich. Blues Funeral delves into the realm of synthesisers and drum loops, providing some new colours to his pathos-inspiring songs. The forays into electronics, such as ‘Ode To Sad Disco’ and ‘Harbourview Hospital’, are some of the primary triumphs of Blues Funeral. As always, Lanegan is at his most emotionally effective when his blues tendency is emphasised. On ‘St Louis Elegy’ and ‘Leviathan’ the sorrows drip out of his vocal apparatus and his peerless stature as a melancholy minstrel is affirmed.

(Source: theorangepress.net)

March 23, 2012
Album Review: Grimes - Visions

Grimes is one woman: Canadian Claire Boucher. Ms. Boucher is responsible for everything you hear on Visions. Herself, and a cast of expertly wielded and manipulated studio technology. This is electronic music; it is glitchy, urban and cerebral. It is also colourful, ethereal and spontaneous.

Think The Knife, Thom Yorke, Gorillaz, with hints of Eurhythmics and even Prince. Something that it shares with these artists is the innovative adoption of electronic music as a means to collate multifarious musical themes and stylistic elements. Genres such as hip-hop, dance, indie and experimental dream pop all get plied from. Atmospheric melodies are integrated with breakbeat insistence and it is varyingly sentimental and isolating.

The brief opener “Infinite Love Without Boundaries” is a provisional taste of what’s to come, as if she is giving you time to decide whether you want to commit. Once you’re wrapped in the multiple streams of charming and almost childlike vocals, supported by a pulsing bass and driving rhythm, you quickly realise that you do want to stay here and learn more about this place.

First single “Genesis” is a mesmerising piece of dreamy pop. An ascending chord progression, deposited by a padded bass loop, is met by vocals that are introduced in competing layers, and intermittent programmed drum parts kick things along. The regular adding and subtracting of instruments and voices that occurs on this track is characteristic of this album. Rather than sounding fussy or impatient, it is actually quite a seamless part of the exploring nature of the album. 

On “Vowels = Space and Time” Boucher dons a bit of a Whitney-esque diva guise and shows that she has some range. The song is like a sped up R’n’B number; the scratchy drum sounds, spacey chord sequence and sensual vocal motifs signify it might even suit Beyonce if it were relaxed a bit. 

“Colour of Moonlight” has some minor key hints towards the sinister. Tinkling toy piano, dual drums – one sounds warped, as if it has just been recovered from a flood while the other snaps hard – and a droning bass note in the song’s second half, all contribute to eliciting creeping shivers of danger.

A major distinguishing aspect of this album is the organisation of melody. Each song on Visions has a strong melodic foundation, but the lines between verse and chorus are certainly blurred. The melodies are often used as a starting point from where Boucher roams and modifies. The melodic meanderings are not flippant however. “Circumambient” seems hyperactive but it is quite linear. The ponderous “Symphonia” enacts a sort of melodic association; melodies suggest and build upon one another in a rather organic and instinctual manner.

“Visiting Statue” relies on the repetition of the same few melodies throughout. The way the vocals weave around one another with ambivalence is elemental in establishing a mood rather than making a ‘look at me’ announcement.

Grimes’ music is not straightforward, especially if you are evaluating it by standard pop song criteria. It’s not overly complicated either, nor is it in any sense anti-pop. It’s almost like an indication (or implication) of the incalculable variations a pop song could have taken. The production and song-writing smarts suggest that without too much revision Boucher could have convincingly made a club, pop, indie, dub, or ambient record. Though instead of whittling it down to fit into a mould, Grimes playfully includes several approaches to the vocal and instrumental arrangements, which work together as equal partisans in generating atmosphere and emotional excitations.  

The album is a fairly unpredictable but it all happens on a contained playing field and thus manages to come across quite coherently. Once your listening practise has grasped Grimes’ character quirks it is an exciting and richly endowed world that you’re welcomed in to explore, one that encourages seeking and questioning amidst the uncertainty (and possibilities) of the infinite.

- Augustus Welby

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