Friday, July 23, 2010

Emeralds - Does It Look Like I'm Here

Cleveland ambient/drone trio Emeralds has moved on their third LP to a more melodic and meditative direction. The result is a warm and bright ambient-album which sonically approaches Harmonia, Brian Eno and on some of the longer cuts even Terry Riley and Tangerine Dream, as on the title track as well as 12 minute "Genetic". Emeralds' style of ambient sounds timeless, yet contemporary. Music is softly pulsating, yet does not need beats to convey movement. Sequencer rhythms co-exist and alternate with soft washes of synths. Synthesizer sound design is impeccable here and it often seems to suggest that if the rest of the so-called New Age music sounded as tasteful (or approached the slow hypnotic Riley esque trance as here) then the genre as such would not be as dismissible. Occasionally there is a bit of guitar, but whenever it plays anything that could be considered as a solo, it is melodic and unhurried. One of the finest works of ambient music this year.

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffity - Before Today

LA eccentric Ariel Pink’s previous LPs Doldrums, Worn Copy and House Arrest were notable for its distinctive lo-fi sheen. As if Pink would’ve taken 60s garage-rock, psychedelia and 70s MOR pop, while playing them through the radio that only plays rather muddy and obscured frequencies. Even though released during 2004-2006, all three albums contained music recorded from late nineties to 2003. In reality, the 2005’s award-winning Worn Copy was merely a re-release via Animal Collective’s Paw Tracks label of an album initially unleashed two years prior. Thus, Ariel Pink’s situation was such that his ground-breaking lo-fi psychedelia was on record dated to him by about five years.

Meanwhile Ariel Pink, having played almost everything himself on records, assembled a backing band. And went on tour. Then started recording new songs. While the attentive listeners were busy wondering whether or not Ariel Pink could ever record a professional sounding album. And even if he does deliver an LP completely devoid of his lo-fi mystique, would he have the same impact without his deliberately poor sound?

Before Today, Pink’s first album with his backup band and sans lo-fi aesthetics, serves to give answers to these questions. One could presume that Ariel Pink’s distinctive 70s soft-rock perversion owes its sharpness and impact due to the deliberately muddy sonics. But what if that kind of material was recorded „as it should be“, would it then show the emperor naked?

Emperor Pink, however, is clad. Best lo-fi acts have always distinguished themselves from others by elements outside the basement sound. And talent. Pink’s melodic flair for songcraft is just as underrated as that of his mentor R.Stevie Moore. Earlier tunes such as „For Kate I Wait“ and „Hardcore Pops are Fun“ left no room for doubt that Ariel Pink is capable of crafting hummable tunes. Pink and comrades are generous with melodic gold even on this album.

And goes without saying that one should not overlook Ariel Pink’s perverse with and (self)irony that is evident in his song titles and lyrics. His soft-rock opuses even here go beyond the level of pure ear-candy – „Round and Round“ is just the kind of AOR anthem that is actually more in line with the aesthetics of Frank Zappa’s Sheik Yerbouti album while „Beverly Kills“ is sophisti-synth-pop performed with a sarcastic grin on face, while being deceptively accessible, is nonetheless pretty elaborately constructed. „Can’t Hear My Eyes“ is the perfect pop tune that nonetheless belies Pink’s attitude that is incompatible with mainstream pop as such.

Generous with (self)irony on one hand and wildly eclectic – from garage rock to punk/grunge to soft-rock, while dropping references from the Beatles (as on „L’Estat“) to JM Jarre (as on the moody synth-instrumental „Reminiscences“) - Before Today indicates that Ariel Pink is a genuine post-modernist eccentric. Thus, he has not lost his edge despite cleaning his sound a bit. He has, however, delivered his poppiest and most concise LP to date.

Original review appeared in Estonian on June 2010 at the Postimees journal as an Album of the Week review.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Most Serene Republic - ...And The Ever Expanding Universe

The Most Serene Republic is an indie septet from Toronto, Canada and ...And the Ever Expanding Universe is their third studio album. TMSR certainly does not sound like a standard indie band, both in terms of tone colors as well as varied influences. In their music, there are shades of prog, 60s pop, electronica, psychedelia, even classical chamber music as indicated by "Patternicity". This instrumental piece is clearly the highlight of the album, raising their penchant for orchestration to a new level. If TMSR really wanted to, they could easily transcend the trappings of indie rock and create something phenomenal. Hopefully this album points the way towards future development.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Mars Volta - Octahedron

The Mars Volta call their fifth album Octahedron their "acoustic album". The music itself is rather semi-acoustic in terms of instrumentation. However, one can find less excess and more focus here in comparison to TMV's other albums. Experimentation seems meaningful and well integrated, for example the interesting free-jazz piano workout on "Halo of Nembutals". And some of the songs, like "Since We've Been Wrong", are well written, even beautiful. A modest opus by TMV standards, but good music does not have to be noisy nor bombastic. Sometimes less is indeed more.

The Halo of Nembutals

Since We've Been Wrong

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

maudlin of the Well - Part the Second

Boston multi-instrumentalist/composer Toby Driver's first band maudlin of the Well played progressive metal with touches of contemporary classical music. The band released three albums, until Driver disbanded the group in 2003, founding Kayo Dot instead, that continued in even more avant-gardist vein. Recently, however, no less than 87 fans donated enough money to make the fourth album. The band upped the result on the internet for free download.

Part the Second is undoubtedly more listener-friendly than Kayo Dot's Blue Lambency Downward. While that album was almost devoid of metal, then here one can still find elements like shredding solos or double bass drumming. But compared to early works the emphasis is more on what is played, instead of the volume it is played with. PtS also contains less woodwinds than BLD and more piano and strings. Where BLD sounded dark and difficult, PtS sounds more brighter, especially on the album opener with a cumbersomely long title. Toby Driver has earned his status as one of the most inventive composers of modern day progressive music.

Entire album can be downloaded from the official site of the band.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Zombi - Spirit Animal

Third album from the US synth-prog duo Zombi titled Spirit Animal adds guitar into their mix of bass, synths and drums. The ensemble has been compared to Rush circa Moving Pictures. Still, no trace of virtuoso show-off in their music, even though the duo is certainly proficient on their instruments. Guitar is just one instrument among several. Who does not like soloing for soloing's own sake, would certainly accept Zombi's work.

The record starts out strong. 14 minute title track is a masterful space-prog epic, sounding haunting and transcendent in its multi-sectioned structure, which sounds still coherent, held together by its gloomy mood. Other compositions are also well done, but not on par with the album opener. The album closer, the longest track "Through Time" (17 minutes) deserves attention for its particularly aggressive and apocalypcit synth-rock attack. Overall Zombi demonstrates that there is still some life in progressive rock.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti Live in Tallinn, 14th June 2009

LA avant-gardist's crazy performance at Club Tapper

Eccentric pop musician and avant-gardist from LA, Ariel Pink, was warmed up by Galaktlan and his live group, who are rarely seen performing. One different aspect about their gig was the presence of a guest vocalist, Kadi Uibo, for one of the songs. Galaktlan's quartet played a short set, for approximately 40 minutes.

Shortly before 10pm Ariel Pink made it on the stage with his backup band Haunted Graffiti. The protagonist was dressed in drag (with red skirt and all), his stage movement was chaotic and coggling and his between song stage banter was mostly stream-of-consciousness type nonsense. Just by his stage presence, marked by special feel of drunkenness, it was clear that Ariel Pink is a truly eccentric musician type.

Pure garage rock

In case of musicians with distinctive (home) studio sound one always wonders, how will they sound live? In the five member performance of Haunted Graffiti, Ariel Pink's lo-fi pop-psychedelia gained a heavy garage punk exterior. The band could sound like an authentic obscure garage rock band from the 60s, while having little to nothing in common with today's neo garage rock imitators.

Some of the tunes in the live setting, such as "Trepanated Earth" acquiered at places a level of intensity compared to heavy metal, or at least Boredoms type noise-rock. It also seemed that Haunted Graffiti can easily out-punk most punkrockers, if they want to. In terms of dissonance, synthesizer sounds and improvisational implications there was also some affinity to krautrock. A rare rendition of the rarely performed "Life In LA", where the clarinets of the album version were replaced by kazoos, suggested Zappa style weirdness.

All of these stylistic nuance variations refer to the music critic consensus that in Ariel Pink's music one can recognize quite a bit of which has been intriguing and inventive for the last five decades in underground rock. It was particularly evident on this concert. Which was really long, over two hours, including many songs that Haunted Graffiti usually does not perform. And arguably this was even crazier than Ariel Pink's average gig.

How eccentric

This gig was a rare case in Estonia not only because of seeing an act at his peak live. But also because the public got the taste of how eccentric the best sort of underground-rock can get. A lot of contemporary acts seems so restrained, compared to the exuberant charisma imbuing from Ariel Pink's stage presence. Then again, imitating him would also prove itself as a pointless perspective. Because natural authenticity (which Pink had plenty) is impossible to copy successfully.

Some photos

"Interesting Results"