Monday, 9 July 2012

Music: First Quarter Of 2012

I have changed my reviewing style because I noticed that Time is the best critic of all Art, and a lot of the stuff I thought was nice didn't live up to it's perceived rating after a couple of months. Also, I have finally included a non-metal section for recommended music when you're chilling. For the radio-era folk, you will not find the likes of Lady Gaga or Coldplay here. Leave immediately or be treated to a whole new world of music that you may have never heard of before. Genres here are vague, and you may even find heavy metal artistes under the non-metal section (this time it's Tosin Abasi in T.R.A.M, and Les Discrets who were formerly a black metal band). This is because they have no harsh vocals and are safe for gentle listening. I will no longer 'rate' music anymore, there's stuff here I don't like either. Rather, all I'm doing is to uncover music that has passion and creativity, unlike their radio-friendly peers. However, the records I personally like are demarcated with a ✔. For lazy people, there is a list of single songs at the bottom.


1. Cloud Nothings - Attack On Memory [Indie Rock] ✔

I knew I would love this band the minute I heard the opening riff to 'Wasted Days'. There is an air of grunge and this album gloriously harkens back to the days of Nirvana; vocals that sound like an angsty teenager that are just write, lots of dissonant riffing and atonal bass, lengthy instrumental sessions and intelligent transitions in every song. With the atmosphere of 80s rock bands, and lots of unexpected instuments in the mix (odd single-note bass in 'Wasted Days', piano in opener 'No Future / No Past'), Attack On Memory brings something new to the table without forgetting the need for catchy hooks and sincerity. Recommended for all fans of indie or punk or grunge.

2. Andrew Bird - Break It Yourself [Pop]

I am not exactly a fan of pop but I guess many normal music listeners will enjoy this one. 'Desperation Breeds … ' would be a strong entry in Bird’s discography either way, but what surprises about it is how it takes its time getting going, how the drums snap and shuffle their way into the groove, how a violin plucks quietly to life, how Bird’s own voice starts faint and then asserts itself. Elsewhere in the record, this live approach makes for striking flourishes, like the smoldering violin fills on 'Danse Caribe' or the otherworldly fuzz of organ and guitar on 'Near Death Experience Experience' coupled with the very human and sweet backing vocals.

3. Anais Mitchell - Young Man In America [Folk]

Another slow, subtle grower. Her themes of love, lust, power, sadness and family are particularly effective, and she is quite careful with the execution of her instruments, be it guitar, woodwind or strings. A subtle weave of fiddles, squeezeboxes and mandolins provides the backdrop for Mitchell's parables on a brilliant, highly original album.

4. Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball [Rock]

This album was written at the time of the Occupy Wall Street protest. It invites comparison with Born in the USA: an album released in an election year, haunted by an economic downturn, which moreover opens with a song that the kind of rightwinger who only listens to the chorus might eagerly mistake for tub-thumping jingoism. Wrecking Ball paints almost entirely in broad brushstrokes, but its bombast rarely seems hollow: it exists not merely to put bums on stadium seats, but in service of an anger that feels righteous, affecting and genuine. At its best, Wrecking Ball defies you not to be swept along with it.

5. The Men - Open Your Heart [Indie]

It isn't diversity for diversity's sake, though- Open Your Heart is smartly sequenced to metabolize genre and morph like a masterful DJ mix, subtly rationing out its true peaks even while seemingly going full-throttle throughout. After the 1-2 headbutt of 'Turn It Around' and 'Animal', 'Country Song' provides a momentary breather and also a swooning leadup to the Men at their most gorgeous and overwhelming, the tail end of which has 'Please Don't Go Away' ushering in Open Your Heart's most traditionalist stretch. But just when it feels like Side B is going to be the Men's straight-up indie rock record, they burn that bridge with the willfully destructive two and a half minutes of 'Cube', which then builds another one towards the LP's bright and expansive closers. And while 'Ex-Dreams' doesn't overtly sound like a curtain call, there are two points during Open Your Heart's finale where everything drops out but a steady, crowd-pleasing drum break and you can all but imagine Perro happily lending the listener a chance to give themselves a round of applause for being such a good audience.

6. Gregory Porter - Be Good [Jazz] ✔

Porter presents various facets of his personality throughout the album, but the jubilant 'On My Way To Harlem' best explains his artistry. In name checking the divine artistic triptych of Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes, and Marvin Gaye, Porter essentially outlines his own design as a soulful jazz poet. If Water heralded the arrival of the next big name in vocal jazz, then Be Good makes it clear that Porter still has plenty to say. Be Good is beyond great and he's here to stay.

7. Django Django - Django Django [Indie] ✔

Now that we can be exposed to every genre under the sky at the click of a mouse, something has to be very special to stand out. And Django Django definitely stand out. Not in a manner where it feels like you are listening to a group of try-hards with ADHD and an extensive record collection to pilfer from. Sure, they probably do have an extensive record collection that they are pilfering from, but it feels effortless. Even after repeated listening it somehow grows on you.

8. Pete Swanson - Man With Potential [Electronic] ✔

Pete Swanson has long led a dual life as a noise musician (most famously in the late, lamented duo Yellow Swans) and a social worker helping the homeless and mentally ill. On most of the tracks, there is a drive is like a caffeine-infused heartbeat, pumping blood into a mix of buzzing tones, rising waves, and cutting noise. Swanson is usually partial to drones, but here his approach is more precise and almost pointillist, often sounding like a symphony of dot-matrix printers. Swarms of chirps, whirrs, blips, and pops dart and dive around each other, but they're all grounded by a relentless, nerve-affecting pulse.

9. The Menzingers - On The Impossible Past [Punk]

On the Impossible Past is about regrets, memories, lost friends, lost loves. It's about being torn between wanting to hang onto the past and wanting to move into the future. The Menzingers, while losing the "heavy" sound they once had, have morphed into a new being. On the Impossible Past isn't a story. It's a biography. Not of the members. It's a biography of the past. It succeeds as much on a musical level as it does on a lyrical level. Tom's voice is better than ever. The riffs are catchier than ever. The Menzingers are better than ever. This album has enough to suit both old fans and new fans alike.

10. Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas [Folk] ✔

Old Ideas is a spare, low-key album rooted in blues and gospel-- maybe the closest thing he's made to "folk" music since the early 1970s. Backup singers sing passionate, wordless melodies; the bass sounds like the big, upright kind. Cohen's voice alone, though, is a gorgeous, singular instrument. It carries in it a quality that is difficult to discuss without either becoming sentimental or appealing to the misguided idea that just because you play an acoustic guitar or sing close to the microphone, what you do is more honest than someone who attempts to create an experience of truth in some other way. It's a voice that mimics states of human yearning: The point at which we start to sound too tired or worn-down to speak, the point at which we start to cry, the way we whisper to people whom we are very, very close.

11. T.R.A.M - Lingua Franca [Jazz Instrumental] ✔

Many people are aware of guitar virtuoso Tosin Abasi and his instrumental band Animals As Leaders, but not many are aware of his jazz side-project T.R.A.M, which are the initials of the band member's names. There is nothing metal here, save for some furious riffs that are dispersed around the album in long intervals. Rather, T.R.A.M is a more chilled project, and the musicianship is, possibly, even better than on AAL. Suicidal Tendencies drummer Eric Moore does a stupendous jobs with his fills, his rhythms on 'Consider Yourself Judged' almost a solo on its own. Mars Volta ex-instrumentalist Adrian Terrazas does flute, saxophone and bass clarinet. Javier Reyes covers Abasi's groovelines, and Abasi himself shines on the outro of 'Endeavor', when he plucks one of his best riffs but not perfectly, giving the album a very human feel. Elsewhere, there are gorgeous vocals on 'Seven Ways Till Sunday'. Consider yourself treated if you love complex and intricate musicianship.

12. Les Discrets - Ariettes Oubliees... [Blackgaze] ✔

Consider this Alcest without screaming; beautiful melodies cascade from this record and they come in abundance. While Alcest is going a more accesible and Disney-esque sound, Ariettes Oubliees... is for those who prefer a more solemn and meditative music, more like Alcest's Ecailles De Lune. There are some female vocals in the mix, and nothing sounds grand, rather austere and emotional, which works better than if they tried to sound polished and refined. Enjoy the dreamscapes and nostalgia this album can evoke.


1. Meshuggah - Koloss [Death Sludge] ✔

What were you expecting after ObZen? It may seem a little less complex, and that is the talent of Meshuggah; a closer listen reveals unamtched complexity in polyrhythms and subtle nuances that make each replay sound fresh. Yet, Meshuggah turns up the human dial up a notch and nothing sounds as mechanical as it did on ObZen. Fredrik's guitar solo on 'Do Not Look Down' was shockingly melodic as compared to the frail, snake-charm-like solos he displayed previously. Meshuggah have changed their genre yet again, without changing their sound. And this time, with epic tracks like 'The Demon's Name Is Surveillance', 'Swarm', and the bone crushingly heavy opener 'I Am Coloussus' and 'Demiurge', possibly the Master Of Puppets of modern metal, Meshuggah prove once again that they are the best thing to come from Sweden since Opeth and IKEA.

2. Alcest - Les Voyages De L'Âme [Blackgaze] ✔

Alcest's third full-length, whilst no changing much in tone and delivery, have changed a lot of dynamics that make this album fresh, and one-man army Neige shows off his most gorgeous tunes yet. 'Autre Temps' is probably the only song more akin to his previous work, but elsewhere there are more pronounced riffs and the vocals are highly improved, as evidenced by his spectacular shrieks on 'Là Où Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles' and his almost feminine howls on the sublime 'Beings Of Light'. Songs like 'Summer Glory' and 'Faiseurs De Mondes' also explore emotions that have not been captured in Ecailles De Lune or Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde. Overall, this album is a grower, so be patient. Alcest is still as every bit as emotional as when he started off.

3. Cannibal Corpse - Torture [Death] ✔

Surprisingly my second favourite album for this year so far, Torture is in my opinion the best Cannibal Corpse album since 1994's The Bleeding. Don't turn away from this supposedly mainstream band. Torture isn't technical like some Nile album or complex like Meshuggah, for that isn't Cannibal Corpse. Rather, they bludgeon you with high quality mid-paced to fast tracks, with more emphasis on tight-as-hell-groove and enough, albeit carefully executed technical skill. Alex Webster shows off god-like bass on 'The Strangulation Chair' and Pat O'Brien and Rob Turrett show off catchy, melodic yet brutal riffs and solos. George Fisher gives off his best death growls; clear and deep. Songs display uncanny groove and catchy choruses like on 'As Deep As The Knife Will Go' and 'Intestinal Crank'. There is not one bad song on the album, making it a contender for death metal album of the year.

4. Hellsaw - Trist [Black] ✔

If this album is an indication, traditional black metal is far from over. The Satanic customs are still there, but Hellsaw is different in its execution. No record-breaking blastbeats or extremely raucous passages as compared to Dimmu Borgir or 1349, but a lot of creativity. Screams suddenly give way to singing and clean vocal passages, the excellent, unexpected outro to 'Doom Pervades My Nightmares', with Spanish guitar and Latin perccusion, violent fury in 'This Cold Winter' without the same over-the-top technicalities. The production is clean and just raw enough to give the music an overwhelming atmosphere. This is my favourite album of the year so far.

5. Pallbearer - Sorrow And Extinction [Doom] ✔

Last year's The Inside Room by 40 Watt Sun was an amazing sleeper hit, and this album by Pallbearer follows suite. With the same clean anthemic style of the aforementioned album- yet there is greater metal influence here than 40 Watt Sun, which may be a good or bad thing depending on the listener. And even though it's a doom album, it's surprisingly uplifiting. My favourite song is 'Devoid Of Redemption' but opener 'Foreigner' is also a very strong song.

6. Desecravity - Implicit Obediance [Technical Death]

It seems the Japanese can overtake anything that the West tries. This is just pure technical death metal - no extra instruments, no sudden singing, no progressive elements. Rather, this album is full of unmatched brutality and varied, interesting songwriting. The drums are overproduced, but that may be a good or bad thing. Vocals are nothing special, but the guitars are spot on coming up riff after riff, sometimes within the same song. It start-stop formula is what got me in to this Japanese debut.

7. Christian Mistress - Possession [NWOBHM]

Christian Mistress is the real deal, and the band’s fiery licks are free of any snobbery or passé revivalism. Led by vocalist Christine Davis, and featuring Ryan McClain and Oscar Sparbel in the quintessential twin-lead-guitars role, the band makes a boisterous and utterly enthralling racket on its sophomore release, Possession. Bringing to mind an era when Iron Maiden, Tygers of Pan Tang, Girlschool and Diamond Head were rampaging across the UK in all their rugged glory, Possession‘s unaffected roots evoke images of overflowing ashtrays, beer soaked floors, car park brawls and stumbling drunkenly home after the love of your life left you for someone with cooler hair.Possession‘s feisty riffs are infused with the spirit of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, but at its core the band is a classic American metal act, never losing touch with its hard-rockin’ heart.

8. Napalm Death - Utilitarian [Death Grind]

Almost three decades since their breakout in the 80s, Napalm Death still manages to pull many trick in this album, which is still a mile away from modern grindcore acts. Everyone has enough of the screams and shouts and banging - which are still present. Noone expected punk riffs and industrial clean singing on 'The Wolf I Feed', crazy saxophone that sounds like a siren, courtesy of John Zorn, on 'Everyday Pox', and Gregorian chants on 'Fall On Their Swords'. That is not to say the band has eased off on their definition of death-grind, as 'Think Tank Trials' completely obliterates the listeners. This is a band that will stand up for anarchy till the end, and for a political band, there is probably nothing that can stop Napalm Death.

9. Ministry - Relapse [Industrial]

It's not as good as Ministry's prime albums, but it is still a welcome shot in 2012. We haven't heard any thrash-industrial for a long time and Uncle Al comes right back with songs that leave off right where Rio Grande Blood left off. Literally, when songs like 'Double Tap' sound like a demo of the title track of RGB, but that is also a good thing. Opener 'Ghouldigger' is about as thrash as you can get, and the rest are surprisingly heavy, scream your balls out metal.... but we would also like the dance-y, electronic wit and not just the political anger please.

10. Lamb Of God - Resolution [Groove]

Groovy and well-produced, could have been spectacular if it weren't for Meshuggah and Cannibal Corpse's new albums. A little bit of experimentation here and there, but that's it. 'Desolution' is the best song on the album and the album fails to deliver after that.

11. Asphyx - Deathhammer [Death]

My impression of Death will forever be how Chuck Schuldiner defined it, even with his last four albums. So when a band comes about playing the same nonsense of the 80s, it shouldn't be anounced via the introduction with 'This is true death metal, you bastards'. True, this is definitely a lot better than a lot of modern deathcore bands pussying out the genre, and the wall of sound is amazing, with the guitars pushed to the very forefront of the music, but seriously. Look at Immolation and Autopsy. This is some sub-standard thrash compared to that.

12. Psycroptic - The Inherited Repression [Technical Death]

My main shtick here is that after the mind-blowing riffing on 'Carriers Of The Plague', the rest of the album is still the same old technical wankery one would expect from a technical death metal band. When bands like Decrepit Birth are bringing melody and deep insight to the genre in the way Chuck Schuldiner would have very much appreciated, Psycroptic are relying on the same old tricks as the rest. In any case, there are solid riffs and drum fills here, though the same can't be said for the vocals.

Fresh New Songs:

Individual songs for the lazy man or skeptic. Songs with harsh vocals / screaming are demarcated with a ☠.
Pallbearer - Devoid Of Redemption [Doom]
Xiu Xiu - Hi [Experimental Pop]
Alcest - Autre Temps [Blackgaze]
Alcest - Là Où Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles [Blackgaze] ☠
Alcest - Faiseurs De Mondes [Blackgaze] ☠
Andrew Bird - Desperation Breeds [Pop]
Christian Mistress - Black To Gold [NWOBHM]
Psycroptic - Carriers Of The Plague [Technical Death Metal] ☠
Eluveitie - A Rose For Epona [Folk Metal]
Django Django - Default [Experimental]
Liberteer - Build No System [Grindcore] ☠
Pharoah - Cry [Power Metal]
Meshuggah - Do Not Look Down [Progressive Death] ☠
The Menzingers - Gates [Punk]
Frostseele - Die Architektur des Seins [Atmospheric Black Metal] ☠
Les Discrets - Après l' Ombre [Blackgaze]
Ministry - Double Tap [Industrial] ☠
Morbid Angel - Remixou Morbidou (Igorrr) [Industrial] ☠
T.R.A.M - Seven Ways Till Sunday [Jazz Fusion Instrumental]
Descravity - Enthralled In Decimation [Technical Death Metal] ☠
Gregory Porter - Be Good [Jazz]
Lamb Of God - Desolution [Groove Metal] ☠
The Men - Open Your Heart [Indie]
Beach House - Myth [Pop]
Pete Swanson - Remote View [Electronic]
Asphyx - Deathhammer [Death Metal] ☠
Leonard Cohen - Old Ideas [Folk]
Anais Mitchell - Sheperd [Pop]
Cloud Nothings - Wasted Memory [Indie / Grunge]
Turing Machine - Slave To The Alogarithm [Dance]
Pharoah Overload - Rodent [Psychedelic]
Slice The Cake - Equilibrium [Progressive Death Metal] ☠
The Mars Volta - Zed And Two Naughts [Experimental]
Loma Prieta - Fly By Night [Screamo] ☠
Bruce Springsteen - We Take Care Of Our Own [Rock]
Jeff Loomis - Surrender (ft. Ihsahn) [Good metal?]☠
Gorillaz - Do Ya Thing [Trip-hop]
Napalm Death - The Wolf I Feed [Deathgrind] ☠
Shroud Of Despondency - The Unchaining Of An Animal [Acoustic Black Metal]
Heems - You Have to Ride the Wave ft. Danny Brown & Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire [Experimental Hip Hop]
Perfume Genius - Hood [Pop]
Cannibal Corpse - As Deep As The Knife Will Go[Death] ☠
Goatwhore - Collapse In Eternal Worth [Blackened Death] ☠
John Talabot - Destiny (ft. Pional) [Electronic]
Drudkh - When Gods Leave The Emerald Hall [Blackened Folk] ☠
Portico Quartet - Sleepless (ft. Cornelia) [Electrojazz]
Big K.R.I.T - King Pt. 2[Rap/Hip Hop]
Hellsaw - Doom Pervades My Nightmares [Black Metal] ☠
Soulfly - Reveangence [Nu-metal] ☠

What to Look Out For In The Second Quarter

Jeff Loomis - Plains Of Oblivion ✔
Dragonforce - The Power Within
Kreator - Phantom Antichrist
Municipal Waste - The Fatal Feast
Fear Factory - The Industrialist✔
Storm Corrosion (Mikael Åkerfeldt and Steven Wilson's side project) - Storm Corrosion ✔

The xx - Untitled ✔
Beach House - Untitled ✔
Tenacious D - Rize of the Fenix ✔
Slash, Myles Kennedy, and the Conspirators - Apocalyptic Love
Jason Mraz - Born and Raised
B.o.B - Strange Clouds
Norah Jones - Little Broken Hearts
Keane - Strangeland
Train - California 37
Justin Bieber - Believe

The next newsletter will be after the second quarter, in June. Let me also take the time to make a special mention for the local grindcore band Truth Be Known, whose music can be downloaded for free here. I first heard them opening for Kvelertak (who notoriously fled from the crammed bar they were playing in and jammed in the streets whilst the crowd moshed in public, at a lonely alley at Chinatown, video here). Fronted by Subash, the band dwelves into political commentary in Napalm Death-style, and dub their sound 'funcore'. They performed incredibly well and I would recommend sharing their music if you like them upon listening, they are definitely not worth just 900+ likes on their main Facebook page. I didn't go for many other concerts but Opeth in particular was a great performance when they played to an almost private crowd of about 300. Also, check out unsigned metal band Slice The Cake, as weird as it seems, this progressive death metal band blew my mind away upon first listen.

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