Save for Daft Punk's score for 2010's Tron: Legacy, it's been far too long since the duo has released any new material. With Random Access Memories, it is as though Daft Punk is simultaneously saying "We care, but we don't give a shit." With the first single, "Get Lucky," produced by Nile Rodgers (of Like A Virgin fame) and Pharrell, Daft Punk is going in a direction they've never really gone before: A commercially tongue in cheek one--complete with superhero accessories. Album artwork for Random Access Memories

The opening track, "Give Life Back to Music," establishes a vivacious beat to match the sentiment of the song title, with a throwback sound that quickly pays homage to the Giorgio Moroder style. "The Game of Love" has faint traces of "Something About Us" (from 2001's Discovery), with its slow, seductive pace. "Giorgio by Moroder" is perhaps the most unique and innovative track on Random Access Memories, with an intro from Moroder himself explaining his childhood dream of becoming a musician in spite of being from a small Italian town (Urtijëi, in the extreme north of Italy).

"Get Lucky"

"Within" continues the pattern of slow backbeats and a fondness for vocoders. It is, by far, one of the least lyrically superficial songs on the album (apart from "Touch"), exploring feelings of being lost and uncertain. "Instant Crush" (a Strokes-specific track) does, in fact, give you an instant crush with its simple melody and lyrics, quickly segueing into the Pharrell-laden track, "Lose Yourself to Dance." With a Kanye West tinge, this is easily one of the most addictive songs on the album. Repeating the mantra, "Lose yourself to dance," it's easy to do just that when you hear this song.

Business acumen

"Touch" another experimental sounding track in the vain of "Giorgio by Moroder," is eerie and 70s-tinged. Mystical and ambient, a vocoded voice states,“Touch. Touch. I remember touch. Touch. Touch. I need something more.” The unmistakable voice of Paul Williams (of The Carpenters) then fills the air with its mellifluousness. It might just be the most badass collaboration Daft Punk has ever done. The following track, “Get Lucky,” has been so played that there’s really no need to get too intricate about it, suffice it to say that Pharrell has noted that the song is more about getting lucky in a sexual way, but also getting lucky in the sense that you find someone you share a connection with.

http://youtu.be/h5EofwRzit0

“Beyond” is the most acoustic sounding song on Random Access Memories, with lively string accompaniments to build up to yet another 70s-feeling backbeat and a vocoder. But the unique part about this song is that it is almost like two songs in one with its misleading musical intro, which then transitions into something that could easily double as the theme for a new version of Shaft. “Motherboard” is one of the weaker songs in the collection, relying on ambient sounds to carry it through to the end.

http://youtu.be/QUZASh941io

The Todd Edwards collaboration, “Fragments of Time,” sounds like something that Band-Aid might have produced. Although I’m all for homages to 80s easy listening, there is something about this track that seems to be trying too hard. The next track, “Doin’ It Right” featuring Panda Bear is in keeping with the classic style and sound of Daft Punk and is at least in the top three best songs off Random Access Memories—and most definitely a stronger single than “Get Lucky” (though said single does have the advantage of extreme repetition, which American audiences love).

http://youtu.be/DCHeTWjjMDk

“Contact,” the serene conclusion to the album, echoes David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” with its astronaut voiceover introduction that transitions into a dramatic organ-sounding overture. Completely lyricless, the song is an indication that even though Daft Punk may have transcended to success in America, it doesn’t mean they’re not still going to do things their way. And, apparently, doing just that has still landed them the top spot on the Billboard album charts in the album’s first week of release. So if it takes Daft Punk to make America see that Europe is slightly superior (both musically and gastronomically), then maybe they really are superheroes in those new-fangled costumes of theirs.

 

The Knife is that band you know even if you don't. Mainly thanks to 2003's "Heartbeats" off of the Deep Cuts album, The Knife gained a jumping off point for going mainstream but instead chose to follow up with a much darker synthpop album entitled Silent Shout, accompanied by the video concert Silent Shout: An Audio Visual Experience. Their last release before Shaking The Habitual, Tomorrow, In A Year, was a grandiose collaboration with Mt. Sims based on an opera that focuses on Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species. Formed in 1999, The Knife consists of brother-sister duo Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson, and, like so many sibling dynamics in the music world, theirs is one that seems to ebb and flow. With Shaking the Habitual, The Knife has done exactly as the title suggests, shocking us often and daring us to keep listening. Album cover for Shaking the Habitual

"A Tooth For an Eye" is an immediate assault on the ears--but in a good way. It's tribal, visceral beat sets the tone for the entire record, with long, sweeping symphonies that sometimes top out at nineteen minutes ("Old Dreams Waiting to be Realized)." The more quintessential sound of The Knife emerges on "Full of Fire." With a more industrial techno sound (think the Run Lola Run soundtrack), Dreijer Andersson rasps, "Sometimes I get problems that are hard to solve/Here's my story/What's your opinion?" It gradually digresses into an increasingly experimental roar until transitioning into "A Cherry On Top," which opens with a subtle, muted instrumental sound until crescendoing to a more palpable background. Like so many songs on Shaking the Habitual, "Cherry on Top" feels like several songs in one with Dreijer Andersson only occasionally singing.

"Without You My Life Would Be Boring" is a frenetic track that mirrors the sentiment of its title. As one of the more normal song lengths on the album (five minutes), there is something vaguely radio-friendly about this track--and it's not just because it sounds somewhat similar in name to Kelly Clarkson's "My Life Would Suck Without You." Following is "Wrap Your Arms Around Me," which possesses a musical tone doesn't exactly invite one to do so. With moody, almost unintelligible utterances, Dreijer Andersson assures, "In a crowd, I'll find you." It is one of the more haunting (read: creepy) offerings on Shaking the Habitual, though, admittedly, there is something arresting about it.

http://youtu.be/DoH6k6eIUS4

"Crake," the shortest song on the album apart from "Oryx," is barrage of horns and groans that leads into the epically long "Old Dreams Waiting to Be Realized." Filled with nothing but ambient sounds, this is a song that makes "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" seem interesting. Of course, you would have to be quite a fan to make it all the way to the end of the track. "Raging Lung" takes it back a step with an eleven minute length that is far more vibrant and animated--by far one of the more listenable tracks on Shaking the Habitual.

"Networking" (the most odious word in the English language) is a frenzied, distraught instrumental track that closely mirrors what it feels like to network a.k.a. prostrate yourself before someone whose ego needs to be flattered. The track is also notable for its The Prodigyesque quality. "Oryx" continues the theme of aggravating instrumentals designed to assault your auditory senses, segueing into "Stay Out Here" featuring Shannon Funchess and Emily Roysdon. Repeating the phrase "You swallowed me" against an irritated musical background, "Stay Out Here" is a song that Andy Warhol might have chosen for one of his experimental films. "Fracking Fluid Injection" transforms the vibe of the album yet again, perhaps imitating the sound of fracking from a rock's perspective. Regardless of what it's supposed to sound like, all one would need to do to stop fracking is subject frackers to listening to this song while doing it. The final track, "Ready to Lose," is something of a dare to listeners who would deign not to understand the complexities of this album. Furibund beneath the service,  "Ready to Lose" is among the elite league of linear songs on Shaking the Habitual.

http://youtu.be/W10F0ezCTIQ

Although it is often painful to listen to, writing Shaking the Habitual off altogether would be something of a mistake as there is almost a catharsis to be had in listening to the album in its entirety. Very much a product of that strange time it was created in--the twenty-first century--the disjointedness and lack of any true cohesion is a reflection of the world's current state.

 

 

 

CSS has never been a band to be trifled with. Their recently released third album, La Liberaciòn, is a testament to the Brazilian quintet’s unwavering devotion to creating music that defies expectations and ordinary dance floor beats. Comprised of lead singer Lovefoxxx, producer/founder/drummer Adriano Ferreira Cintra, guitarist/drummer Luiza Sá, guitarist Ana Rezende, and guitarist/drummer Carolina Parra—all hailing from São Paolo—CSS is by far one of the most refreshingly zany bands to materialize in a long time.

La Liberaciòn opens with the earnest and succinct “I Love You.” Lovefoxxx urges you to “feel the beat of my heart” for most of the song. It is, in many ways, similar to the sort of simplistic introduction (“CSS Suxxx”) that appeared on their 2006 debut, Cansei de ser Sexy. Naturally, with five years having passed, the band—fun-loving though they may be—has noticeably matured. A fact that is evident on “City Grrl” (that’s just the norm for spelling “girl” now) featuring the always over the top SSION, wherein Lovefoxxx notes, “In the big city, nothing hurts”—presumably because everyone is numb to the incongruous stimuli around them.

The first single from La Liberaciòn, “Hits Me Like A Rock” featuring Primal Scream/The Jesus and Mary Chain frontman Bobby Gillespie, is even more addictive than their legendary first single “Music Is My Hot Hot Sex,” which is a fairly incredible feat.

“Echo of Love” has this strangely folk sounding beat, or as folk sounding as people from Brazil can get. “Just let it go, enjoy it while it lasts” is the message CSS wishes to convey on this track, an aphorism that goes hand in hand with the album’s title. “You Could Have It All” slows the pace of the album down a bit, while still maintaining one of CSS’ archetypal electro beats. It is also one of the more narratively structured songs, with Lovefoxxx painting the following picture: “We met in the music shop, they were playing our favorite band. After years of walking hand in hand, we were too busy to hang with our friends.”

“La Liberaciòn” is a rock song with Lovefoxxx’s typical brand of enthusiasm as she sings in her mother tongue, “I’m tired of hoping/Ran out there today/Screaming a crazy, crazy poem/Naked down the street smiling.” My Portuguese may be a bit off, but I think that’s how Lovefoxxx generally sounds when she speaks English. “Ruby Eyes” vaguely compares to an Elvis Costello song if Elvis Costello wasn’t so whiny and sang songs about smoking joints. “Rhythm to the Rebels” asks, “Wanna break some rules? I’d love to.” It’s one of the more abrasive tracks on the album.

“Red Alert” featuring Ratatat tells the tale of a girl who is “all dressed up with nowhere to go, feeling the rhythm of casual love.” The song has a somewhat melancholic backbeat that presents an interesting dichotomy to obsequious lyrics like, “Tell me what you want and I’m ready to go.” Perhaps the contrast is meant to show how empty the concept of love is in the modern age.

The second to last song, “Fuck Everything,” showcases CSS’ particular flavor of humor. Lovefoxxx complains, “Nothing ever happens in this neighborhood. I wanna rip my eyes out.” The song is barely two and a half minutes and features a brief pause of silence in between the album’s closer, “Yolanda,” before which Lovefoxxx is compelled to tell you, “Hi, my name is Lovefoxxx and I’m 12 years old. I like going to the pub with the gays, I like buying pencils and pens, I like cooking, and I like…cookies.”

So, basically, La Liberaciòn, completely outshines CSS’ sophomore album, Donkey, and nearly eclipses the group’s irreverent and unprecedented first album, Cansei de ser Sexy. Here’s hoping the fourth album gives us a collaboration with Lovefoxxx’s former fiancé, Simon Taylor of The Klaxons.

Computer Magic, a blend of Nite Jewel beats with vaguely Best Coast vocals and lyrics, consists of 22-year-old Danz, who is accompanied for live shows by Justin Coles on bass, James Morley on guitar, and Chris Egan on drums. Danz only started recording under the Computer Magic moniker in late 2010 and has already created the EPs Hiding From Our Time and Hiding From More of Our Time. With such prolificness, one would think that the quality of songs would be hit or miss, but alas, Computer Magic puts us all to shame in combining excellence with abundance.

The Hiding From Our Time EP features the notable tracks “Electronic Fences” and "Found Out," while the Hiding From More of Our Time EP includes the profound “Victory Gin,” inspired by George Orwell’s 1984, evidenced by the lyrics, “I feel like I’m going crazy, but maybe it’s just me.”

The ethereal electro sound of Computer Magic's music is unique in that it does not distract from the meaning behind lyrical phrases like, “Electronic fences keeping me inside / I sometimes get restless, but it usually subsides,” which then segue into faster paced songs, like “Grand Junction."

The entire concept of Computer Magic's music is actually encapsulated in the video for "The End of Time," directed by Jesse Jenkins, in which Danz roams the commercial streets of New York in a space suit. Her music will give you that sense of being trapped behind some sort of glass while you watch everyone else around you rush by and wonder what they're so goddamned preoccupied with.

At the moment, Computer Magic is, thank fuck, recording a full-length album that will more than likely be released on the White Iris label (known for supporting Best Coast and Wavves). So, until then, head on over Danz's website to satiate your need for CM's rarefied breed of delightful serenity.

As has no doubt been observed countless times, the ever-changing face of dubstep is continually seeing new figures pop up with astounding new takes on the genre (Burial, Boxcutter) or refinements (iTAL tEK, Swarms), and Bristol's Phaeleh seems poised to join the ranks of the heavy hitters. Fresh off the heels of last year's Fallen Light, an album so close to classic status that it could smell its eyeballs, Matt Preston returns with The Cold in You, an EP which finds the DJ expanding on his hypnotic, ethereal style in a number of different directions.

One of the EP's first distinguishable traits is its different progression; while Fallen Light's tracks flowed together almost a little too well sometimes, here Phaeleh has managed to make everything mesh without sounding too similar to anything else; the listless guitar leading In the Twilight, for example, co-exists quite harmoniously alongside the somewhat aggressive 2 step beat that drops in Think About It. Phaeleh also makes more effective use of bass here, to such an extent that some tracks, like the menacing Caustic Storm, or in particular dub creeper Perlious, are on the verge of feeling out of place.

This is not to suggest a departure of any sense, however; all the hallmarks which made Phaeleh's last two full-lengths great are still here in spades. Soundmouse once again shines on the brilliant title track, with its haunting piano-led hook, and all the lush, beautiful harmonies he is becoming known for are as vibrant and prominent as ever, namely in the sweeping closer Should Be True, which swells gorgeously all throughout its seven minute length. Ghostly vocal samples, fantastic synths, and especially the broad instrumentation are woven together expertly with the beats, which almost act as a light yet persistent slap to keep you alert in the midst of all the hazy beauty found here.

The Cold in You hints at great things in Phaeleh's future output. There is a great improvement as far as variety is concerned, with an excellent blend of his older and newer ideas, and most impressive is the fact that it comes without any sort of dip in quality. Preston has mentioned that he will probably drop off the radar for a bit while he works on his next LP, which is a shame, but with all the anticipation that is undoubtedly going to follow the man's output between Within the Emptiness and this, it's for the better. It's going to be a complete monster if this EP is any indication, and once it drops the dubstep community just might find itself saying, "Burial who?"

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AuthorDagan
CategoriesElectronica

As time goes on, and more musical styles are introduced, and these genres beget their own sub-genres (which frankly can get a bit ridiculous with their hair-splitting definitions), it becomes increasingly difficult to find something truly unique, something that doesn't eventually remind you of something that you've already heard. At times, the reference points can even get to be too much, with the urge to immediately categorize and/or trace the roots of something new getting in the way of enjoying the music simply for what it is. This is particularly tricky with dubstep, which by now has been configured and reconfigured time and again to encompass a number of different styles, from the teeth-ratting bass of artists like Nero or Bassnectar to bare-boned and ghostly acts such as Burial to crossover-primed folks like James Blake. I think it safe to say, however, that Bristol-based trio Swarms have presented an album that is easy to love for, as previously mentioned, simply being what it is - and their debut record, Old Raves End, is nothing if not endlessly gorgeous. Swarms - Old Raves End

Old Raves End seduces immediately with the alluring progression of opener T-1000 (which I can't help assuming is titled as such because of its strangely Terminator 2 reminiscent keyboards). It nearly seems as if the goal is minimalism, brandishing a simple 2-step beat awash with soothing synth notes, but the track continues to build until it becomes almost overwhelmingly immersing. This quality is stalwart all through the album, peaking around Polar and Stokes Croft (tracks six and eight, respectively) at which point the music feels like sensory overload with its palpable and exquisite beauty before coming down to earth a bit, anchored by more conventional beats and culminating in the gentle yet bass-driven closer Bison.

While electronic music can quite easily be, perhaps even by default, cold and robotic, Swarms make it sound so damned organic - to the point where the shining moments here are downright evocative; the swelling synths in Chapel's peak, the reverberating guitar in Flikr of Ur Eyes, the buried vocal samples of Hostile (or nearly any given track in the album's tantalizing middle portion for that matter), they can all bring to mind memories pleasant or not of seasons past, times and places, or even specific things remembered that come with some odd sense of anonymity, as if being transported back to a precise moment, or even emotion, being experienced through some hazy manner of recollection.

...I really hope that makes sense, because I just re-read that last bit and thought, "Jesus christ, this is gonna look pretentious as shit."

Swarms

It's quite foreseeable that many won't be charmed with something so relentlessly ethereal, and that's perfectly understandable; what Old Raves Ends lacks in variety, however, it more than makes up for with its dynamism and sheer beauty. It's tempting to call this album a stone cold classic within its genre, but ultimately that would be a loaded statement. Dubstep, future garage, 2-step, whatever tag you want to apply to this is really irrelevant - what Swarms have produced here is just a gorgeous piece of music, plain and simple.

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AuthorDagan
CategoriesElectronica

If anyone knows the value of anticipation, it is Washed Out. Somehow, two years have already passed since the Georgia-born artist returned to his hometown of Perry to produce the embryonic tracks that would ultimately be released on the EP, Life of Leisure. The EP quickly catapulted him onto the radar of musical tastemakers throughout the blogosphere. And, at long last, the artist, whose real name is Ernest Greene, has released a full-length album, called Within and Without, an auditory tome that is sure to please the ears and the hips.

On the frenetic Life of Leisure, Washed Out introduced us to the possibilities of synthpop when married to lo-fi sound. It is very much akin to The Velvet Underground meets a slowed down version of 90s dance music. And that is definitely a result worth listening to. Tracks like "New Theory" and "Feel It All Around" are a glimpse into the gossamer tones that appear on Within and Without. Opening with "Eyes Be Closed," this song will make you want to do just that--granted, you'll probably want to have ingested some of that lovely little drug formally known as MDMA in addition to having your eyes closed while you listen to it.

"Echoes," the second track on the album, guides the aura of the music into a more upbeat, though simultaneously lackadaisical, arena. "Amor Fati" (a Latin term that means "love of fate") then continues to take you on an ethereal ride through the mind of Washed Out. The pace and sound of "Soft," "Far Away," and "Before" all bear similarities to one another, bracing for a brief shift on "You And I," where the emphasis becomes on Washed Out's vocals as opposed to the music itself.

As Within and Without arrives at its denouement, the title track exudes the calm and serenity of a day at the beach. The couplet that concludes the album, "A Dedication" and "Call It Off" (a bonus track on iTunes) is in perfect contrast, with the former song being one of the most serious on Within and Without and the latter song having the most levity. Looking at Washed Out's comprehensive body of work, it doesn't take a fortune teller to predict that there are many more rapturous beats to come.

Electropop and synth with some goth and classical vocals thrown in might not necessarily come across to most as the best idea, but one listen to the new album from Toronto-based band Austra will alter any opinion to the contrary. The latest single off of Feel It Break, "Lose It," is the best indication of what lead singer Katie Stelmanis is capable of achieving with her newly hatched band.

The first thing you need to know about Stelmanis (and the thing that she wants you to know above all else, apart from the fact that she is a classically trained musician) is that she is a lesbian. This particular facet of who she is accounts for a considerable portion of Austra's lyrical content, especially on the somewhat euphemistic opening track on Feel It Break, "Darken Her Horse":

"Hold her by the reins/the moon isn't far/Hold her by the reins/it's worth it to stay/Nothing stable, nothing patient here/Ride her darken horse/The pathway to the end/She's all alone, she's all alone/Her trust was never there."

The dramatic stories that unfold in each of Austra's songs correlate well with the histrionic stylings of Stelmanis' voice. Paired with fellow lesbian Maya Postepski's musical programming and the stoic bass playing of Dorian Wolf, Austra produces beats and sounds that are actually innovative to the electropop genre.

But simply making amazing music is not enough for Austra (which, by the way Stelmanis chose to call the band as an homage to her heritage, as that is the name for the goddess of light in Latvian mythology), they must also create sufficiently provocative imagery to go with it--this being the case for the video in support of their other single, "Beat and the Pulse."

The video, with its uncontrolled choreography, visceral tone, webbed body parts, and random smattering of nipple action, suffered the consequence of being whitewashed with a few blurs here or there on YouTube. Still, you get the basic gist of the video's message, which I think is, lesbianism is cool. Austra's proclivities for the theatrical began at the age of 10 when she joined the Canadian Children's Opera Chorus. Her talents were further fostered as she continued to study opera, learning how to play the piano and the viola along the way.

Although Stelmanis was slated to attend college in Montreal in order to continue on her path toward musical education, she opted not to go. But, to quote Paul Lester of The Guardian, "Academia's loss was goth-tinged baroque synthpop's gain." For proof, listen to Behind the Hype's favorite track off Feel It Break below.

Beat and the Pulse

 

Los Angeles has had its fair share of notable bands in the past – The Beach Boys, The Go-Gos, Guns n’ Roses, and, ahem, Far East Movement – but it has been quite some time since a band like Nite Jewel has surfaced. With sounds that are a blend of too many elements to be accurately compared to anything else, Nite Jewel has been rising through the ranks of L.A.’s music scene for over two years now. The band, helmed by Ramona Gonzalez on lead vocals, has shown all signs of garnering increased recognition, as evidenced by their song, “Suburbia,” being featured on the soundtrack for the Noah Baumbach film Greenberg.

On Nite Jewel's debut album, Good Evening (released on Human Ear in 2009), the sound is distinctly 80s--but simply compartmentalizing it into a decade does not do it justice. Commencing with "Bottom Rung," Nite Jewel establishes the ethereal tone that is present for the duration of the album. Even more uptempo tracks, like "What Did He Say," "Artificial Intelligence," and "Chimera," have an air of the celestial.

In the wake of Good Evening, Nite Jewel also released a single for what is categorically their best song, "Want You Back." The backing beat is by far their most infectious and lavishly produced, though the video is somewhat on the dull side. The single also features a "B side" (I'm using that as a metaphor since records are so unloved) called "All Out of Order," in both English and Spanish (don't ever say Nite Jewel doesn't know her audience, being L.A.-based and all).

With a full-length album under their belt, as well as a recently released EP called Am I Real?, Nite Jewel continues to break new ground. And because Nite Jewel often pays homage to lesser appreciated music genres, like Italodisco, and bands, like Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti (a former member of which is now a part of Gonzalez’s fold--her husband Cole M. Greif-Neill), it’s safe to say that they’ll continue to have a solid backing from Los Angeles and beyond.

Being compared to a creative giant like Thom York may spur interest in your musical project, but at the same time expectations are going to soar, perhaps even beyond what may be reasonable. Not to mention that, well, let's face it - you're bound to look derivative. Home Video faces such a struggle, but to their credit, it must be said; these guys know what they're doing. It's quite easy to replicate a sound, in fact even the best of sounds. But to make it sound like your own? That there is the challenge, and Home Video is more than up for it.

Not to suggest that their debut (and initial series of EPs) were so drowned in the Radiohead concept that they couldn't stand on their own, but they were most definitely subject to the comparison. With their latest, Collin Ruffino and David Gross truly step into their own. While Ruffino's vocals are no less Thom Yorke-esque, the music speaks for itself. Gross' classical training stands out on tracks such as the Grey's Anatomy endorsed Business Transaction, which begins with a piano melody recalling Chopin. Or the arrangements on, say, the opening Accomplished but Dead, which takes minimalist electronica to a new level with its supreme mood establishment.

Which brings us to the lyrical aspect; so seldom are such basic concepts worded in such a direct fashion that they simultaneously hit home hard, but also give a bit of subtlety as to make the listener really contemplate as to where the hell the songwriters were coming from. You Will Know What to Do, released previously on the I Can Make You Feel It EP, digs in to the psyche with lines like "Did you wonder so innocently, why is this happening, who will save me? You Were" cut into the very insecurities that the most hardened folks tuck away; Ruffino seems to be solely interested in taking apart the most basic feelings your average person has to reveal just how similar we all really are. Another fine example is the excellent title track, which does a fine job of relating the global struggles which have risen as of late to basic, personal issues, particularly not knowing one's place in the world.

Minimalist electronica that swipes clear inspiration from Radiohead (and Thom Yorke's solo effort in particular) may sound bland and uninspired in theory, but this duo has truly taken the notion and made it their own. This is a band with their own unique ideas and twists on the sound, and more importantly, something to say. While it may not be the most original thing you'll hear this year, Home Video has unquestionably offered up something that won't just remind you of whence it came; it will provoke thoughts, feelings, and perhaps most significantly, something to which you can relate. Ruffino and Gross are coming into their own here, and it would come as no surprise if their third full-length drew a mass audience as well as mass critical praise. Do not sleep on these guys!

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AuthorDagan
CategoriesElectronica

Sufjan Stevens has been nowhere to be found for the past five years. After releasing the instant classic that was Illinois in 2005, fans and critics alike were left giddily awaiting the next release in his proposed 50 States Project. Unfortunately for all, this wasn’t to be. Instead, Stevens seemed to be questioning the point of releasing music at all in several interviews last year. As fans began to sheepishly hang their heads and give up on Sufjan altogether, he released a free EP online two months ago, and now follows it up with a full-length album, The Age Of Adz, in which he deconstructs himself mentally and spiritually through the use of familiar devices such as trumpets, flutes, synth pads and drum machines. The result is nothing short of brilliant. The album begins with the hauntingly sleepy “Futile Devices.” Sparse instrumentation consisting of guitar, piano, rim taps and dubbed vocals create a tender, heartfelt meekness that doesn’t stray far from old favorites such as “Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois.” While this is more comfort than surprise, it would be wise for listeners not to be fooled into thinking they’ve heard this album before.

What follows is the nearly seven-minute opus, “Too Much.” Any questions as to the legitimacy of an electro-pop album by the enigmatic singer-songwriter are quickly answered. Heavy on drum machines and synth effects, the song mixes Steven’s notoriously introspective lyrics with a new canvas on which to explore. What really separates the amalgamation of sound is the incorporation of horns, woodwinds and layers upon layers of gorgeously placed harmonies throughout. Towards the end of the track, the action begins to dissipate, lulling the listener to relaxation, only to transition into a spacey jam that reminds me of watching Star Wars and seeing the Death Star. It only gets bigger in scope.

album cover - age of adz, sufjan stevens

The title track of the album follows, clocking in at eight minutes on the dot. Much of the same instrumentation is used, though focusing more on the side of classic Sufjan orchestration. The religious undertones are on full display and his lyrics have never been more affecting as he sings, “Well I have known you for just a little while / But I feel I've known you / I feel I've seen you when the Earth was split in fives.”

“I Walked” and “I Want To Be Well” serve as spiritual healing for Stevens. The former discusses the hardships of letting go of the one you love (a popular theme for every songwriter, I know), while the latter, as the title suggests, pleads for some peace. In it, Stevens and company sing, “Everywhere you look / everywhere you turn / illness is watching / waiting its turn.” The track ends in dramatic fashion as seemingly everyone capable repeats “I want to be well!” while the music crescendos then crashes.

The album closes with what might appear to be a farce, if not for the 10 tracks preceding that solidified its unshakeable credibility. “Impossible Souls” checks in at 25+ minutes, somehow managing to keep the listener engaged and excited for what is to follow. The first act floats peacefully after the intensity of “I Want To Be Well,” reminiscent of Yoshimi-era Flaming Lips. After a slightly misguided stab at auto-tune, the most dance-inducing moment of Adz takes form in what is also its most hopeful moment. Once again, everyone is gathered to sing gleefully, “Boy, we can do much more together / It’s not so impossible!” If you don’t feel extremely happy to be alive when this moment arrives, it’s most likely you will never be happy ever. Finally, the marathon ends as it starts, as sparing guitar intertwines effortlessly with layers of Steven’s voice. The contemplation of life is discussed, but clearly not resolved.

Sufjan Stevens

The Age Of Adz is quite possibly Sufjan Steven’s most inviting and engaging album to date. What is more remarkable than anything about this truly majestic album is the undeniable flow throughout. This is obviously no easy feat for a record that totals over 70 minutes. Sufjan Stevens has proven over his last few albums that when he wants to, he can create more gorgeously written, performed and produced records than most his peers. There is no doubt in my mind that The Age Of Adz is the album of the year, and fans and critics alike will once again be keeping a close eye on the genius of Sufjan Stevens to come. Let’s hope this doesn’t push him away. We can’t afford to lose such a unique, inspiring and God-gifted artist.

The Scissor Sisters have no problem finding their audience, regardless of how utterly campy they are. Even the album cover of Night Work sets a new precedent for just how much the members of Scissor Sisters don't give a fuck about decorum or "taste." Exhibiting a clenched ass with pants tighter than anything Jim Morrison ever wore, Night Work's cover art is a good indication of the album's bawdiness.

Released on June 28th (forgive me father, for I have sinned for not reviewing it earlier), Night Work explores the usual Scissor Sisters themes: Troubled youth, getting dressed in drag queen-like garb to go out, and sex (whether paid for or not). The quality that makes this particular endeavor stand out from The Scissor Sisters' previous two albums is that Stuart Price was at the helm as producer. You may know his work from a fantastic record called Confessions on a Dance Floor or maybe you know him as Les Rythmes Digitales. And if you don't, you probably don't listen to The Scissor Sisters anyway.

Price's distinctive production style blends well with The Scissor Sisters’ glam rock/electronic sound. The marriage of these two tours de force (yes, that’s the plural of tour de force, like cul de sac is culs de sac) of gay electronic dance music will make you want to burst with sheer elation on the last track of the album, "Invisible Light." The up and down bassline of "Any Which Way" is also classically Les Rythmes Digitales, as featured on most every track of the 1999 album, Dark Dancer.

Night Work, though similar in many ways to The Scissor Sisters' debut and sophomore albums, is a departure in the sense that it is purely an homage to just having fun, whereas their prior albums always had at least one "message" song on it (i.e. "It Can't Come Quickly Enough,” a surprisingly non-sexual song from their first album, and the somewhat cheesy songs "Land of a Thousand Words" and "Everybody Wants the Same Thing" on Ta-Dah! The new album's title alone, Night Work, winkingly suggests fun with its allusion to prostitution.

So, to the confused, the transsexual, the homosexual, the heterosexual, and even the asexual, Night Work guarantees everyone to have a good time on the dance floor. Courtesy of Stuart Price.

This review is going to contain a vast amount of foul language. I mean LOT. If this is something that might bother you... well fuck, maybe now would be a good time to stop reading! Out of all the musical acts who enjoy overwhelmingly and seemingly unconditionally positive critical acclaim and hype,  there is a certain subset of which that seem to receive this on account of mere chance. How does a group of critics suddenly decide that say, the Arctic Monkeys, for example, are the next big thing? A run-of-the-mill indie rock band tossing off boring ass attempts at dance and garage rock? What the fuck is so interesting about it, other than how unusually watered down the songs are? The answer, naturally, is sweet jack shit. Now is James Murphy's dance project, LCD Soundsystem, as glaring a nude emperor as the aforementioned? Not quite, no. He has been known to come up with pretty catchy melodies, and on occasion has even crafted songs that border on brilliant. I've always found his music relatively enjoyable, but nothing really special, and certainly nothing worthy of the breathless Pitchfork reviews that require a wiping clean of the ejaculate in order to see the 9.2 ratings more clearly. So when I heard Murphy declare that his third (and apparently final) album, This Is Happening, would be "definitely better than the other two," I was fairly excited, hoping that maybe this time around I would be able to see just what all the fuss is about.

The conclusion? As far as I can tell, This Is Happening has three things going for it-

1) Dance Yrself Clean, despite losing its momentum toward the end on account of running a few minutes too long, is a great opener.

2) There is a fair amount of diversity to the tracks.

3) On occasion, Murphy nails the layering of sounds quite well.

As far as I can tell, it also has three key problems-

1) The album is incredibly self-indulgent.

2) There is a recurring theme of repeating ideas he's already done better.

3) It's complete BULLSHIT.

We're all familiar with great albums that have been hyped way too much, and thus their impact is lessened considerably. This Is Happening is a mediocre album to begin with, but is has more than just bounds of hype to ruin it - in fact, it successfully highlights a number of irritating things that I despise most about hipster-centric albums. So instead of laying into this album with a traditional review, I am going to use it as a way to demonstrate and explain many of the shitty things these kinds of records frequently pull.

I'm Self Deprecating, So I Must Be Clever

What is it about being an ironic smart ass that makes people think they're suddenly hot shit? I couldn't hazard a guess as to how many times I've been to a show like this, drinking and dancing with my friends, and looking over to see people just standing there, arms folded across their chest. Why? Isn't the point of going to a concert to have fun? APPARENTLY NOT, the point is so that you can silently observe, and take in how interesting it all is. These are the kinds of people who respond to Murphy's "You wanted the time, but maybe I can't do the time, oh we both know that's an awful line," with a snarky nod, as if to express that they get what he's really saying. Or how about that other gem, "Love is an open book, to a verse of your bad poetry, and this is coming from me." Get it? Because I am infamous for my shitty lyrics! So calling attention to it is clever, right? Well, not really, no.. it just makes them even more obnoxious. Funnily enough, the album's lyrical whipping post has been lead single Drunk Girls, which is baffling - is "Drunk girls wait an hour to pee" a very bright line? No, but neither is "The jocks can't get in the door, when Daft Punk is playing at my house" or "Oh I don't know, I don't know, oh where to begin, when we're North American." It's dance music, for fuck's sake! Since when did it hinge on the bad lyrics, particularly when they have become a trademark for an artist? Dumb lyrics will always have a place in dance music; lyrics that are overly pleased with themselves will not.

My Influences Are Good, So I Must Be Good Too

A bit of fetishism for 70s and 80s music isn't a bad thing in and of itself, but when you're lifting a style (or worse yet, actual melodies) from your source of inspiration and adding nothing of an individual mark to it, what's the point? Such is the case with All I Want, which basically takes David Bowie's slightly altered Heroes, warm 70s guitars, and a wild synth thrown in near the end. So really, what makes this his own, other than the moping he does throughout the six minutes? Then there's the erratic Pow Pow, taking a David Byrne stream-of-consciousness style delivery, and talking utter nonsense. When you hear songs like these, your first impulse shouldn't be to turn it off and just go listen to the fucking bands that inspired them instead! And furthermore, both of these songs are prime examples of recycled LCD Soundsystem ideas - All I Want is trying to go for the mournful atmosphere that Murphy nailed on Someone Great, but fails, mainly because Someone wasn't a contrived piece of shit. Pow Pow is trying to showcase just how eccentric Murphy apparently would like to appear, which was fine on tracks like Losing My Edge, where the evolving music took the forefront, but here the music is buried behind Murphy! And what for? Did he think his random shit musings were that interesting? Who the fuck knows.

My Songs Are Long, So They Must Be Well Thought Out

I will be the first to admit that Murphy has some great ideas here. For example, One Touch is extremely dark and brooding, with a throbbing, palpably sexual beat and a relatively interesting (though a bit drawn out) deconstruction at the end. That's a great foundation, but then there are five minutes in between where virtually nothing happens. The beat is repeated underneath a tedious verse, to a chorus differentiated from said verse by ONE new element, then a needless breakdown separating it from ANOTHER tedious verse. I Can Change starts out with great aquatic symths over a solid beat, and his vocals are surprisingly compelling. But does the song go anywhere? Does it fuck. There are two parts to the song that are repeated throughout its six minutes, and while being one of the shorter tracks, its lack of ideas prevents it from feeling as such. The fact that the earlier noted Pow Pow is over eight fucking minutes long is a testament to just how self-indulgent This Is Happening really is. If your music repeats itself constantly, or worse yet just runs free with no rhyme or reason to anything at all for absurd periods of time, well done. You have sucked your own cock on record, and people have paid to listen to it. Fuck you.

This Album Is Shit

This is the most important point of all. The only really good thing I can say about This Is Happening, Dance Yrself Clean withstanding, is that it's made me appreciate his first two albums more. He had a much better grasp on how long his hooks could last before getting old, and he felt a lot more genuine, randomly talking about subjects from heartache to partying. Despite the vast amount of filler that plague each Sound of Silver and his self titled debut, they can provide fun listens; like I said, nothing special, but perfectly respectable music. Here, Murphy overuses his ideas and more often than not comes across as far too pleased with himself, ultimately squandering his best qualities, and making an album of songs that call to mind the filler tracks that dragged down his earlier work. Beyond This Is Happening's few positive traits, tedious song lengths, old ideas, and an obnoxious persona make whatever the hell is happening sound pretty shitty.

Los Angeles received a great deal of acclaim when it dropped back in 2008, and deservedly so; Flying Lotus had produced an outstanding collection of instrumental hip-hop tracks which not only blended well together, but hinted at a great diversity in influences. No one imagined, however, that it would hint at a diversity as monstrous as that presented on Cosmogramma, his latest effort. Flying Lotus (born Steven Ellison) really cuts loose here, and draws from a multitude of musical stylings, but as huge and full as the sound gets on this album, it never sounds self-indulgent or over-the-top, and that is largely where its genius lies.

Cosmogramma is packed with ideas to the point of being staggering, yet somehow maintains a superb balance with pop sensibilities so as to keep the music's unbridled imagination smooth, controlled, and appealing. Pickled! and Nose Art serve as a brilliant example of this, firstly in how seamlessly they bleed into one another (I'll get back to this) but even more in the juxtaposition of fun hip-hop beats, ethereal atmosphere, and catchy melodies. Nose Art in particular boasts a gorgeous, airy feel, floating over clanging percussion, with a beat that sounds like a meld of hip-hop and house, and a very in your face electro hook. Not only are the basic sounds vastly different, but each sensibility is so strong that the listener almost feels pulled in multiple directions - it's so beautiful, but it's so aggressive, and equally addictive in each regard. Free form jazz is abundant throughout, but is so well interlocked with funk, hip-hop, house, trip-hop, and even psychedelia (this list could go on and on, the sheer number of  influences FlyLo manages to fit in here is astounding unto itself) find a curious balance and elevate the sound on Cosmogramma as not so much a great instrumental hip-hop album as an entirely new genre altogether.

FlyLo makes great use of the guest vocalists here, as well. Thom Yorke lends his voice to And the World Laughs with You, an alluringly sinister cut, but more to harmonize than sing, really, crooning along with the spacey, psychedelic synths in between a plea of "I need to know you're out there, I need to know you're listening" that borders on indifference. Laura Darlington shines in another understated performance on Table Tennis, a track built around ping pong ball sound effects and an acoustic guitar.

As mentioned before, another strong point of Cosmogramma is its spectacular pacing and flow. Mmmhmm and Do the Astral Plane, for instance, should not go this well together. The former is a plethora of sad sounding synths layered over a funky bass and echo heavy guitar, with such a coldness that it gives one images of flying out into space. The underlying beat, however, keeps it not only from slipping into heavy melancholy, but upbeat enough that you don't notice the scat-laced interlude leading into Astral Plane, and once the pulsating, house-y beat kicks in, it feels as if it shouldn't have been any other way. German Haircut's nearly unadulterated jazz eases into the busy ambient house-meets-IDM of Recoiled in a similarly flawless fashion, and so on, and so forth... there is simply no out of place moment here. And considering that this is over seventeen tracks covering a massive plethora of genres, it really is quite a feat.

What makes Cosmogramma so great is that it really reminds us of not only what electronic music is capable of, but why it's come to be in the first place. There's a reason that rock bands like Radiohead and the Flaming Lips have turned to electronics over the course of their musical evolution; it's a means of expressing ideas that simply can't be by organic means, ideas that stretch the imagination past what human limitations will allow. It's become too easy to see it as a refuge of laziness in recent years, and Flying Lotus' latest is unshakable evidence to the contrary.

Like its simplistic album title, /\/\ /\ Y /\, heretofore to be referred to as Maya (because it takes a lot of fucking effort to type out the hieroglyphic emblem), opens with the equally simplistic, fifty-seven second "The Message." Though I usually hate it when artists use intros to start their album since it's generally just a way to make it look like there are more tracks than there really are, it actually works as a nice transition to track 2 on the record (yes, I say record. Fuck you, digitalism), called "Steppin Up." This finds us in the familiar electro sound MIA promoted on her debut, Arular. Following that is the second single from the album, "XXXO," recently remixed by Jay-Z to ensure success.

Some listeners have had mixed feelings about the deliberate and generic pop sound of "XXXO," but doubts about MIA's musical fearlessness are immediately assuaged by the futuristic beats of "Teqkilla," a song that sounds like something you might hear if there were jungles in space (and who's to say there aren't, really?). After "Teqkilla," "Story to Be Told" takes us to another far off place, beginning with the jets of a plane taking off and MIA's voice ethereally echoing, "All I ever wanted was my story to be told." It is easily one of the best cuts off the album.

"It Takes a Muscle" changes the entire tone of the album midway through, altering the mood to the tranquil ambience of relaxing on a beach (preferably one in southern Italy). "It Iz What It Iz" continues this sound with a somewhat 80s backing track for the music. However, while musically enjoyable, it gets kind of old to just hear her repeat "It iz what it iz/This is how I feel" without realizing that there's more to a song than just a chorus.

Next is another single from the album, "Born Free," already well-known for the video being briefly removed from YouTube due to some graphically violent imagery (but really, is there anything the American public hasn't seen already?). This is the track that truly ignited the fever for MIA's album release, a thesis for what was to come--not just musically, but also in terms of MIA's extremely vocal opinions about life in the twenty-first century, including the assertion that Google and Facebook are implements of the CIA (um, totally agreed).

"Meds and Feds" is probably the only song with a rock vibe out of all the tracks, contrasted by the succeeding song, "Tell Me Why," making use of MIA's actual singing talent as opposed to her knack for harsh shouting. Maya concludes with the airy and tenuous modulations of "Space," a perfect disunion from how the album began. Because MIA is all about confusing and discombobulating the expected order.

After every single song on Uffie's MySpace has been run into the ground, it seems well-timed that Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans should showcase a handful of new tracks, though a considerable percentage of that previously unreleased material falls into the run into the ground MySpace category I just mentioned ("Pop the Glock," "First Love," and "MCs Can Kiss" are all present and accounted for). So, after getting married, divorced, and having a somewhat unplanned pregnancy, Uffie was at last ready to contemplate creating a few new songs for her album debut.

It's indicative of some kind of star quality that Uffie has been riding on the success of the same six songs since she began her recording career in 2005. Basically, "Pop the Glock," "First Love," "MCs Can Kiss," "Dismissed," and "Robot Oeuf" (from the Los Abrazos Rotos Soundtrack, proving Pedro Almodovar's artistic dexterity with choosing amazing songs to take drugs to) have allowed her to parlay her way into a full-length album while still finding ample time to enjoy Parisian nightlife.

Uffie isn't shy or apologetic about admitting to a certain amount of laziness when it comes to her musical devotion, highlighted on track 2 of Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans, "Art of Uff," in which she airily comments, "Me and my stupid flow, me and my MySpace with only three tracks a year and they still talk about me." Her associations with Feadz, Justice, Pharrell Williams, and Ed Banger Records have also had a small part in elevating her success.

Frequently compared to Ke$ha (and that's the last time I'm spelling her name that way, who the fuck does she think she is to believe people should have to use a dollar sign as an S every goddamn time she's mentioned in print?), Uffie takes the crown for singing about youthful indiscretions. You ain't never gonna hear Kesha sing lyrics like, "I'm like this cold ass bitch and I ain't ready to suck" or "I'm a damn crazy brat and I don't give a fuck, I've got my man, my sound blasted, and I'm ready to fuck." Granted, these songs, "Hot Chick" and "Ready to Uff," are taken from her earlier dalliances and do not appear on Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans, traces of the fiercely defiant "musical youth who rules the nation" are present on "ADD SUV" and "Give It Away." Still, Uffie appears far tamer than before. But even with a tinge of domesticity, Uffie is too lewd to make it on Top 40 radio anytime soon. And that's usually the mark of a good artist.

Crystal Castles was never exactly a groundbreaking force in the whole 8-bit, chiptune, whatever-you-want-to-call-it genre they emerged from. What made vocalist Alice Glass and multi-instrumentalist Ethan Kath's take on it so exciting was the energy, the pop sensibilities, and attitude they brought to the proverbial table. It wasn't wholly original, but they had some interesting ideas, and it didn't hurt that Glass is so easy on the eyes, either. On their sophomore effort, which is a self titled one like their first (they're too cool to title their albums, man), they downplay the glitchy bleeps a bit to flesh out their sound a bit more, and it pays off wonderfully.

The widened scope of their sound is displayed perfectly with the first two tracks. Fainting Spells opens up Crystal Castles' second self titled album with an ungodly, ear piercing cacophony that rages on for two minutes before some semblance of an actual beat appears. It comes together nicely, but then abruptly ends, with gloomy dancefloor-friendly single Celestica picking up nearly exactly where it leaves off. Celestica, like the lion's share of the tracks, has a sweet dreaminess to it that could almost sound warm, if not for the icy, robotic production. A lot of this is due to how good Kath is with applying effects to Glass' voice; he enhances her already alternately sweet and vicious voice by either smothering it with echo or drowning it with distortion, getting the maximum result from each extremity. Then there are songs (particularly the pair of Violent Dreams and Vietnam) where the tweaking is something else altogether, in the same vein as the weirder vocal moments from the debut, but pushed a bit more, even resembling that of the Knife's Karin Dreijer Andersson at times. Another great quality of Kath's production that we're reminded of is his impeccable taste in samples, as demonstrated by Year of Silence's throbbing, fuzzy bass and synth topped over by a disorienting loop of Sigur Rós' Jónsi Birgisson singing.

The fact that Crystal Castles have branched out as well as they have is quite impressive, especially considering how gimmicky their nintendo bleep centered debut could come across at times. Crystal Castles are by turns blistering and beautiful here, and are at times even able to pull off both simultaneously (like on the utterly brilliant Baptism). There isn't as cohesive a feel as on their debut, but that's to be expected when experimenting this broadly with a base sound. Besides, even at the most disjointed moments (the harsh Doe Deer and Birds come to mind), everything is very well constructed, and the songs are able to blend in with the rest of the album at least on the grounds that they share a disorienting and cold quality found just about everywhere else.

There really isn't much to complain about with Crystal Castles' second (self titled) album. The impressive broadening of their sound finds the duo less reliant on fashionably low res electronics, getting better ideas, and putting them to better use. In a way, this is a very relieving album; it shows the duo growing from something potentially campy into something more full bodied and listenable, and it's easy to see this set of songs standing alongside the year's best. Expect to hear this disc getting a lot of rotation in hipster clothing stores before the summer even begins.

Seeing as Dan Snaith (the man behind Caribou, and before that Manitoba) has been making music for a solid ten years now, it's not exactly shocking to see him switching genres between albums. It's not much of a surprise to see how well he pulls it off either, or how every effort sounds quintessentially his regardless of how far Snaith pushes his boundaries. So when Odessa, which is easily one of the most psychedelic dance tunes in recent memory, was released as a free download in January, it didn't arouse curiosity nearly as much as it did anticipation. By Snaith's standards, the shift from his sixties sunshine pop flavored Andorra (which won the Polaris Music Prize in 2008) to more electronic disco styled dance of this year's Swim was a logical progression; particularly with how a few tracks on Andorra hinted a bit at this direction. Regardless, Dan Snaith has undoubtedly got a winner on his hands with Caribou's latest.

Though Swim's presentation as a disco-inflected dance album is clear, the heavy psychedelic effects he is known for are still prevalent. As mentioned earlier, Snaith is a master of accruing different sounds and incorporating them into his own unique style, while constantly moving forward; much like a musical Katamari (what, you've never played that game? pfft). Leave House is a perfect example of this amalgam - a flute loop reminiscent of earlier folk (or I guess I should call it "folktronica") along with trippy waves of synths, a solid, danceable beat, and almost unsettlingly joyful falsettos of "Leave house!" chirping throughout. Lalibela's heavy echo effects and warped first half remind the listener of Andorra, all while maintaining a certain head-bobbing quality; the same especially could be said for the closing Jamelia.

Odessa is a great introduction to Swim. Much like how Melody Day did with Andorra, its development over the course of four/five minutes serves to build the track itself up with exceedingly proficient layering, but the album's atmosphere as well. Snaith is incredibly meticulous in his arrangements, and it comes through in spades. Odessa is continuously absorbing additional sounds, particularly percussive ones, and holding them back then spitting them back out at the perfect moments. Sun and Kaili have similarly implemented percussion (and even horns on the latter) building around warm, throbbing synths, and both result in beautiful, dreamy tracks. Found Out has the strange distinction of combining summery, bright keyboards and an off beat, surf rock sounding guitar with a slow, trudging beat, and steady bells that almost bring Christmas to mind. There's a somewhat otherworldly feel achieved with this combination, and with the great, buried melodies to boot, it stands out very well in the midst of all the fantastic production found here.

Hannibal, much like Kaili, is built around a heavily distorted synth with horns gradually entering along with random percussion. What really makes the song special is how the main melody shifts between the left and right channels, almost sounding as it's floating. Seriously, if you're ever on something, put on a pair of headphones and BLARE THIS SONG. You will probably be the happiest you've been in recent memory.

Swim is spectacular, hands down. It's upbeat, it's adventurous, and its textures are incredibly deep, with quite a lot going on in each song. Swim really underlines one of the chief qualities that makes Caribou so great - how Dan Snaith can continue to evolve without any sacrifice to the elements he's accumulated in his music thus far. This album is extremely well constructed, both immediate and intricate, and only gets better with repeated listens.

While Autechre has certainly never been known for their accessibility, the duo has put out some especially challenging work over the last ten years. Three releases in particular, which were difficult yet rewarding in their own respects: 2001's insanely impenetrable Confield, the cold, robotic, and extremely abrasive Untilted from 2005, and the wildly disjointed Quaristice, released in 2008. Now on Oversteps, their tenth album, producers Rob Brown and Sean Booth aren't so much reverting as taking a softer approach. Never a group to stay in one place for long, Oversteps is still rife with experimentation, but it's taken from a much more laid back perspective, and the result is a slightly more digestible Autechre record.

The overall mood is key on Oversteps; the tracks rely heavily on atmospherics, and the little intricacies aren't really noticed until the ambiance is taken in, though surprisingly this doesn't take long at all. From the moment opener r ess slinks into ilanders, the sound for the entire album is laid out, and it's just a matter of immersing oneself. Songs like Treale and qplay have actual solid beats, something that has appeared haphazardly at best in Autechre's recent work. Even where the beats are semi-present or fractured entirely, there's still some prevailing melody that, no matter how disjointed, is still warm and alluring enough to follow. Obviously, immediacy was never one of Autechre's top goals, but at times Oversteps feels about as immediate as the duo can get. known(1) is among the catchiest things Brown and Booth have ever put together, and it still keeps the sharp moodiness and tremendous subtleties that drive the record in tact.

While there are quite a few moments that recall earlier Autechre, nothing ever comes across as a rehash. os veix3 is at least as haunting and eerie as anything to be found on Tri Repetae, but smoothly transitions into the more Draft 7.30 recalling O=0. The album's flow is another superb aspect; each song is strong enough to stand out on its own, but they morph into each other beautifully. d-sho qub ends with highly unsettling choirs recalling the Monolith in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and when the clanging st epreo interrupts, it somehow feels like a natural extension. Oversteps closes out with Yuop, consisting of a simple melody distorting further and further as wave after wave of sound collides into it. It climaxes at the halfway point, but the latter half still commands, sounding almost electrified as it dies away.

It's remarkable that after twenty years, Autechre is still coming up with different, inventive ways to push themselves. While Oversteps is nowhere near as intense as numerous other areas in the band's discography, this cohesive body of songs is an interesting and quite welcome polar opposite to Quaristice. At times it references other points in Autechre's career, but there's still a unity among the tracks that keeps them from sounding interchangeable with them. There's also the strange accessibility (which for Autechre isn't much, but accessibility nonetheless) that Oversteps carries with it, giving it all the more charm. It's not their best album, but it just might be their easiest to enjoy.

Opting to wait until the initial chillwave craze calmed down before releasing his own full length debut, Chaz Bundick (the man behind Toro y Moi) was a bit of a gamble. Last summer, the um.. charmingly named subgenre was exploding with the likes of Neon Indian, Washed Out, and Memory Tapes, and while Toro y Moi would have certainly enjoyed a reasonable amount of popularity, there was more risk of being lumped in with the movement. In a way, however, it was probably not necessary, had that been the idea. Causers of This is much more relaxed than anything his contemporaries released, and for this Bundick definitely stands out. However, it doesn't have as much dynamism either, and it's a shame, because it's a quality damning enough to render a beautiful, well crafted album forgettable.

The opening duo of Blessa and Minors does indeed put Bundick's proverbial best foot forward. The first ten seconds of Blessa grab you instantly with its warped synths and, scratchy and hissing samples, and Bundick's tender voice. By the time the beat kicks in, and the melodies really take hold, you're already hooked. He carries it over expertly to Minors, with the song starting as if the intro had been cut off, letting us dive right into its warm and enveloping vibe. These two songs signify everything that's great about Toro y Moi: they're pieced together very meticulously without necessarily sounding as such, the melodies are beautiful, and they're very well textured, with layers often swimming around each other and producing a wonderful washed out effect. Lissoms is the other early standout; the tempo remains the same throughout, much as the first two tracks do, except right in the middle momentum piles up completely out of nowhere and a light dance beat is fashioned. It's as startling as it is immediately alluring, and it's gone as abruptly as it appeared. And herein lies the problem with Causers of This - there are virtually no other moments like this.

Take Neon Indian's Psychic Chasms, for example. Same style, perhaps even similar equipment, but Alan Palomo was more dynamic in his approach. There were soothing moments, aggressive moments, and plenty that were so artfully weird all you could do was listen in awe. Psychic Chasms also had a certain soul to it, which is ironic considering that this was achieved with distorted samples and effects, but soul nonetheless. It conjured up memories of summers past, it had this universal feel-good retrospection about it that wasn't particularly deep, but was tremendously effective.

Bundick has got the soothing moments down pat, in fact this is easily the most relaxing, calming release to come out of the whole chillwave, glo-fi, bullshit whatever you want to call it scene. He's even got a great detached-but-not-really quality to his voice that especially shines on Thanks Vision and Talamak. And it's not like the production quality takes any sort of dip after the record's fantastic beginning. It's just the fact that nothing really changes, and with everything presenting the same sound and mood, it's a lot harder for any moments to stand out. By the time Bundick tries to implement a bit of R&B dance flavor to spice things up with Low Shoulders, it's already too late to make much of an impact.

Causers of This sounds great, is expertly constructed, and a lovely listen. However, it's one of those albums that sounds great while you listen to it, but doesn't linger much afterward. Still, with as great as the positive aspects of Causers of This are, it's very plausible that the second release he has slated for 2010 will be even better.

Posted
AuthorDagan
CategoriesElectronica