Monday, August 31, 2009

Matt And Kim - Grand

WHAT: Brooklyn drum/keyboard/bf/gf duo's second album. You've probably heard songs from it in promos for that new show "Community," or in a Bacardi ad. Oddly enough, as a fan of their first album, I never got around to hearing this until just recently. Seeing them at the Pitchfork festival this past July re-sparked my interest in them, and yeah, here we are.

WHEN: 2009

1) Daylight (2:51)

The most ridiculously mind-lodging hook kicks the song off before that high synth and Kim's drums kick in. I find it a bit funny that the chorus of the song is actually less catchy than the verses. Kim's drums are either accentuated by a backing beat, or her bass drum is like 100 fucking inches wide. This shit is kind of irresistible. RIFF

2) Cutdown (2:52)

Way more reminiscent of their first album, mainly the song "Lightspeed," if it was a bit faster and more orchestrated. A pretty standard M&K song, but with a few extra bells and whistles, like the gang vocal-ed "Yeah!"s, and the big buildup/countdown at the end. It shows growth within their potentially limiting formula, so I'll give it a RIFF.

3) Good Ol' Fashion Nightmare (3:30)

I kind of see this song as the sister to "Daylight," with its oddly produced drums and its strict adherence to a relatively simple melody. It kind of makes sense that both this and "Daylight" are the songs that have been used on TV so much these days, because they're both extremely hummable, and thus, perhaps sadly, marketable. Still, dubious usage aside, it's another irresistible track. RIFF.

4) Spare Change (1:14)

File this, the shortest song on the album, into M&K's "experimental" file. I feel like I've walked into a choral-accompanied performance of STOMP. Despite some good ideas, they don't really give it enough time to develop. FLUB

5) I Wanna (1:38)

For the second time on this album, Matt and Kim follow a song that diverts from their original formula with a song that sticks right to it. It's a gloriously sloppy little song, with Kim offering a energy packed yet completely off drum roll about halfway through. A throwaway? Maybe, but a damn fine one. RIFF

6) Lessons Learned (3:36)

This song will probably always be overshadowed by its video, where M&K cavort nude around Times Square. It's a shame, because it's one of their most elaborate endeavors yet (well, relatively speaking). Kim is a fucking machine for playing the beat that acts as this song's backbone for so long. One of the more melancholy songs they've put to tape, but once again, a nice extension of their sound. RIFF.

7) Don't Slow Down (3:08)

In which the duo takes the riff from "Just Can't Get Enough" by Depeche Mode and stretches it into a full song, complete with octave jumps in the chorus, and an odd left turn near the end of the song. While charming at first, it kind of gets old about halfway through, when the Morse code-like keyboard part begins to get a little grating. FLUB.

8) Turn This Boat Around (2:10)

This album's slow jam. The keyboards offer a powerful low end, and the background vocals offer an additional heft. Points for using the melodica keyboard tone as well. A little confused as to why it's not at the end of the album, but I'm still giving it a RIFF.

9) Cinders (1:47)

The slow jam is immediately followed by the obligatory M&K instrumental, which follows the twists and turns their other instrumentals take. It's not that it's a bad song- there just isn't that much of a reason to really be impressed by it, considering they've done other songs very similar to it. FLUB.

10) I'll Take Us Home (3:27)

When I see that Matt and Kim have a song that's as long as this one, I really want them to prove that the running time is really needed. Luckily, they pull through on this one, offering a whole bunch of different keyboard tones and at least two or three different vocal hooks that are all pretty sweet. Plus, it's kind of funny how sappy/soulful Matt gets just over halfway in. The track length gives their ideas time to actually stick, instead of the "cram everything we possibly can into two minutes" strategy they rely on from time to time. RIFF.

11) Daylight (Outro Mix) (3:11)

Yep, a reprise of the opening track. However, this time, they make things downright epic- making good use of whatever string settings Matt has on his keyboard. The high-pitched synth part from the original makes a return, and aside from the same bass part and vocal/lyrical similarities, it's a way different beast than the original. This one relies more on buildup and tension, where the original thrives on being a fucking great pop song. Both are worthy on inclusion. RIFF.




(8 RIFFS/11 TRACKS) x 100% = 72%

So yeah, just under 3/4ths of this album completely rules, and then the remaining fourth is just kind of alright. It's one of the most fun, non-grim/serious albums I've heard so far this year, making it kind of hard to hate without coming off as a serious asshole. Their live show is still definitely worth seeing, and yeah- it'll be interesting to see where they go after this one. Bigger and more elaborate, or even further back to basics? Chamber pop or the happiest drone record ever recorded?


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Modest Mouse - No One's First And You're Next

WHAT: You know who these dudes are, come on. Indie vets return with a new EP composed of songs that didn't make it on to their last two full lengths, Good News For People Who Love Bad News, and We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank.

WHEN: 2009

1) Satelite Skin (3:59)

It's a jangly little number with slightly off kilter guitar parts and an impassioned vocal from Issac Brock- who dials back the carnival barker mode I think he got a little too fond of on the last Modest Mouse full length. It's one of the more straightforward Modest Mouse songs I've heard, but after We Were Dead, I'm fine with a palette cleanser like this. RIFF.

2) Guilty Cocker Spaniels (4:02)

OK, now this really sounds like it's from the sessions that produced the past two full-lengths, except for some reason, Brock kind of sounds like a toothless elderly man during the verses. Here, I'm a fan of the words, but not so much the delivery. The song changes direction nicely about halfway in, though. There are some parts here that I wish were just louder though. It's something about the band that I've missed in recent years. I haven't felt much of the intimacy of Moon And Antarctica or even parts of Good News. It just kind of seems like they're treading an eternal middle ground these days- sound-wise. Makes sense that this was a B-side. FLUB.

3) Autumn Beds (3:41)

Consider my words eaten once they busted out the banjo. Brock goes through a few of his voices- the quiet speaking one, the restrained yelp, before settling into a nice repeated phrase of "we won't be sleeping" for a little bit. Intimacy restored, stupidity setting in a bit for my previous statements. This song stands as a winning instance of grabbing whatever instruments are in the room and writing a song- as I'd like to believe they did. Should've been on one of the albums. RIFF.

4) The Whale Song (6:05)

It may be called "The Whale Song," but i'll be damned if there aren't some guitar parts on this song that sound like seals. The song is instrumental for almost all of the first three minutes, so I hope you like a bufett of guitar parts/tones. Then, almost as if he remembered he was writing an actual song, Brock multi-tracks his voice a bunch and crams two songs worth of hooks into a part that builds and builds. It doesn't explode as much as it just returns to the earlier section with the volume turned up. However, during the last minute, I'm forced to eat my words from earlier once again, as the guitar gets downright titanic for a bit. The main riff may get stuck in your head in a bad way, but the rest of the trip more than makes up for it. RIFF.

5) Perpetual Motion Machine (3:11)

Nice! The return of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, who I never thought were used to their full potential by Modest Mouse. Brock seems to be resisting the temptation to slip into his Tom Waits swamp-romp voice, and instead offers a pretty standard vocal part by Brock-ian standards. A wise move, as it lets the unorthodox instrumentation shine. RIFF.

6) History Sticks To Your Feet (3:55)

A guitar plays the same part for the entirety of this song. I'm sure there's some great metaphorical reason for that, but that doesn't equal a good song to me. The rest of the band doesn't do all that much to pull their weight either. It stomps a little bit, but never really gets revved. FLUB.

7) King Rat (5:30)

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band fucking EARN the word "Dirty" in their name with the hellspawn trumpet blast that signals this track's opening. The trumpet doesn't return until nearly midway through the song, where it's used to playfully melodic effect. The banjo makes a return as well in this song, mixed nicely among the other instruments. It seems to be a running trend on this EP that the songs with the most bizarre instrumentation seem to turn out the best, and this song is no exception. RIFF.

8) I've Got It All (Most) (3:10)

This song gets points for actually getting loud about halfway through. The rest of it is pleasantly jangly. Sounds like it may have been one of the songs recorded with ex-Smith Johnny Marr on guitar, so even more points for that. RIFF.


SCORE: (6 RIFFS/8 TRACKS) x 100% = 75%

Yep. It's another mostly good release from Issac Brock and company. The songs that fail here fail simply because they are boring, or seem a little phoned in. But then again, the eternal excuse is there: "That's why they're B-sides." Worth checking out though.


Punch - Punch

WHO: San Francisco, CA female-fronted hardcore. Recently had a great article/interview with them printed in Maximum Rock 'N Roll, which I recommend reading. This is their debut album, following an excellent 7" EP entitled Eyeless. They've been touring like mad, and have been receiving a great deal of attention for both their recorded output and their live shows. I have high hopes going into this one.

WHEN: 2009

1) Don't Start (0:57)

First off, I think it's hilarious that the song that starts this album is called "Don't Start." They kind of contradict themselves a bit here though, because what we have here is a damn fine opener. The production is leaps and bounds above that on Eyeless- everything sounds clear without being too polished, and Meaghan's vocals now cut through loud and clear. It's what you would expect from this band- pummeling, fast hardcore, except now it's more or less in HD. RIFF.

2) Fuming (0:58)

The first quarter of this song is spent flying through a catalog of hardcore song-beginnings: the blastbeat, the 1-2 beat followed by the guitar break, etc. But then the blastbeat comes back for the verse, if you will, before managing to flip on a dime to some slower parts. Then- fuck- it all drops out to bass and drums and I get so excited that I want to jump out of my second story window. The song is about riding bikes and having to deal with petulant car-drivers- never before have you ever heard anyone scream the word "muffler" with such anger. RIFF.

3) Get Back (1:01)

Out of nowhere, Punch reveal an intensely melodic side of themselves that I had no idea existed. Still, it's no less vicious. Their ability to completely stop on a dime to switch sections is extremely impressive, and I'm all about songs that feature some sort of bass break (although I believe Paint It Black are the current kings of this art.). Chalk up another RIFF.

4) Ol'factory (0:50)

If anybody else can point out another song that has been written about deoderant, that explodes into a blast-beat section that rattles off marketing data, I'll buy you lunch. RIFF.

5) Right Of Way (0:50)

Another song about bikes! This time taking on a far more sarcastic tone. I'm really starting to appreciate Punch's sense of humor, as it is. 5 songs in, I'm also really into their song structures. They manage to take several basic elements of hardcore and put them next to each other while still leaving things completely unpredictable. RIFF.

6) If Not Me (0:59)

Well, it had to happen sometime, and it happened here: the first song on this album that did not completely blow me away. I don't know how the band regards this song, but its two lines of lyrics and way more standard arrangement make me think this song may have been written either really early on or late in the writing process for this album. Basically, it just lacks the pizzazz of the first five songs, which set the bar VERY high. FLUB.

7) Been Here Before (1:03)

I avoided making this comparison as long as I possibly could, but this song really does sound kind of like a Ceremony song in terms of dynamics. It follows the Bay Area band's early formula of blasting intro-huge slowdown-pounding final riffs almost to a tee. Luckily, I do like Ceremony quite a bit. Plus, the total ambiguity in Meaghan's final lyric makes the ending that much more appropriate- the song just freezes, suspending itself until it's final crash. RIFF.

8) We're Not In This Together (1:47)

It's the longest song on the album so far, and it's the first that seems to explicitly deal with relationships. Much like a relationship dissolving, several emotions seem to be present here. The faster part is pure anger, while the slowdown that leads to the end of the song just seems like a huge mix of sadness/desperation/disappointment. It's a little painful to listen to, honestly, but in that grit-your-teeth good sort of painful. RIFF.

9) The Bad Times (1:47)

Well, this is kind of an odd choice. Punch goes the instrumental route, speeding up a breakdown-ish riff until it spirals out into noise and a fadeout. Fun, but ultimately inessential. FLUB.

10) Make The Good Times That Much Better (1:36)

Oh OK, now it makes sense. It's like the fadeout on Dillinger Four's Vs. God, where you flip the record and it all fades back in. This song is fucking anthemic, by the way. That's the only way I can even describe it. It falls in the more melodic camp of their songs, and basically incapsulates everything that was great about the first half of the album into one song. RIFF.

11) If You Can't Now, You Never Could (0:58)

11 songs in, I'm beginning to run out of ways to describe Punch's music. Props to them for cramming a breakdown and a blastbeat into about a 5 second period though. Another testament to their songwriting skills, but you could probably take this song off of the tracklist and still have an amazing album. Punch has proved to me that their FLUBS aren't because a song is bad- it's because they don't reach the dizzying heights of the songs surrounding them.

12) Break A Leg (1:36)

Another run-through through a bunch of hardcore stylistic stand-bys ends in the most pulverizing breakdown on the album so far. Ultimately, that's what saves this song from blending in with the rest of the album. RIFF.

13) Rewrite (1:12)

The second half of this album has ended up being a LOT heavier than the first, with more detours into slower tempos. Although, there are times where I wish they would just commit to a part and ride it out a bit more until the song's end. Ultimately though, RIFF.

14) Mending Is Better Than Ending (1:24)

The intro to this one had me thinking I would have to bust out the time-honored My War comparison that gets thrown around whenever a hardcore band slows down, but it quickly begins flying. The guitar parts get a little insane near the end, placing this one solidly in the RIFF column.

15) Not So Posi After All (1:07)

Oh fuck, huge singalong part near the end of this one- maybe a sly nod to posi-hardcore style in a song titled "Not So Posi After All"? You sly devils. RIFF.

16) Feminists, Don't Have A Cow (2:20)

On the longest song the album sports, it's more about the slow sections that bookend the absolutely furious middle. I could be completely off base here, but the lyrics seem to be about encouraging vegan action among the feminist community, specifically regarding cows. The sentiment is nice, but the dork in me can only think about how this song should probably have been in the middle of the album or something like that. It's an album where the personal is laid so bare, so it just seems a little odd to close on this note. Oh well, that doesn't take away from the quality of the song. RIFF.


SCORE: (13/16) x 100% = 81.25%

Seriously, one of the best hardcore albums I've heard this year. I'd be surprised if this didn't end up in my top albums of the year list at this point, after I've listened to it a bunch more times.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Slices - Self-Titled 7"

WHO: Pittsburgh, PA Noisy Hardcore. According to their label: "Crossed Out playing My War side B."

WHEN: 2009

1) Nub City (1:00)

The most unenthusiastic intro in the history of hardcore (I'm willing to bet) explodes into a simple descending riff and completely maniacal vocals. The production is rough, and a little fuzzy. Just as it should be. Nothing new brought to the table of hardcore, but still accomplishing just what good hardcore should. RIFF.

2) Desert March (1:05)

The more jangly guitar allows this song to basically ooze slime everywhere. It almost makes me want to clean my speakers off. Slices' vocalist displays that he has quite a bit of attitude on this one. He sounds like the kind of guy who will spit in your face as well as yell in it, which I like. The bass tone is revealed to sound like your stomach digesting food aka ROUGH. A blast beat closes things. RIFF.

3) Coping Mechanism (1:30)

Between this and the new Pissed Jeans album, I'm really starting to think that Pennsylvania must be a really shitty place, if it continues to produce such willfully ugly music as this. This song just stomps everywhere like it's throwing a tantrum. This band's heavy bass tone really makes it seem like you're walking up a hill in the middle of a landslide as you listen to it. Completely oppressive, but in the best way possible. RIFF.

4) Cave Crawl/Bad Mask (3:57)

The final track on this release is longer than the first three songs put together, which I guess may account for the slightly confounding My War comparison that the label provides for this band. In the end, the comparison makes sense. Over a straight up dirgy instrumental background, the vocals rant and rave in a far more emotional style than the first three tracks. A complete instrument basher, and a worthy entry in hardcore/noise's apparent recent fascination with more crushingly slow tempos. RIFF.


4 Riffs v. 0 Flubs.



I don't even need the formula to let it be known that this release completely slays. Not a bad song on it, and now I really want to try and track down whatever else they've released. A promising new band, definitely.


Nøught - Nøught

Who?: Oxford, England instru-prog trio.

When?: 2000

1) The Fans (8:10)

-There's been nothing but guitar feedback, and I'm already thinking- "Shit, they're only a three piece?" It's huge, tuneful feedback, and then some jazzy drums come in.

-Only three minutes in, it's apparent that these guys are pretty good at the ol' bait-n-switch. After a melodic buildup, shit gets really dissonant for a second, with a guitar part that actually sounds like vocals being sung through a megaphone, and then-JAZZ GUITAR. Kind of reminds me of Karate a bit.

-After a big buildup where the guitar actually plays a riff a few times, there's a release. Sounds like there's a string quartet in the background. We've gone spy-rock. Opening credits music.

-Back to another buildup, where the strings get a bit sassy. Guitarist starts soloing a bit in the back, and it shreds.

-Oh shit, tempo change. FRANTIC.

-I could honestly do without the strings in the background.

After 8 minutes, I'm going to have to give this one a RIFF. It's an extremely multi-faceted piece, that although relies a bit on the buildup/release trick, throws enough curveballs in there to keep me surprised. Except the strings.

2) Nought I (1:53)

-YES. Fuzz-soaked guitar.

-FUCK. 30 seconds in, the rest of the band kicks in, and they kick in hard. Like, kick to your chest that sends you flying across the room hard. This riff is evil.

Consider this one another RIFF. The song serves the purpose a great instrumental on an album with vocals would. The closest comparison I can think of being "Electric" off of Boris' Pink album. It gets in, punches you in the face, then gets out before it's just bragging about it.

3) Cough Cap Kitty (3:13)

-Well, the strings are back. I'm beginning to wonder how frequently they'll be around.

-Reversing the previous dynamics, things start loud then get quiet, and then borderline Reniassance Fair-y

-Eesh, letting the strings take the melody entirely makes things sound a bit goofy.

- The guitar takes things back for a tantalizing second, before relenquishing things back to the strings again.

Cough up their first FLUB. This song treads a bit too close to "Hey, classical music can ROCK too!" territory for me. That, and I'm picturing it being too appropriate for some sort of "rock opera" that you may see on Broadway. All I'm seeing is jazz hands during this one.

4) Red Rag (7:04)

-First song with a bass intro. Nice.

-Around the bass intro, the rest of the band drops in. The strings return, except seem to be used for more chaotic purposes than before. I approve.

-Also, the first song that seems to revolve around some sort of set structure. There's something that I guess could be considered a chorus, or would refrain be the more appropriate term?

-Nearly three minutes in, shit gets inhumanely loud. Fuck yeah.

-Scratch my previous note, the second half of this song gets way different, offering a gradual buildup that ends with a great, wiry guitar part.

-But then, it just kind of repeats for the rest of the song. The outro more or less takes up nearly a third of the song's running time.

RIFF. Kept me guessing the entire time.

5) Goddess Awakes: I. The Tricks Of Strangers, II. Locker, III. Widow's Lament (10:47)

-Bracing for the multi-part suite.

-Starts off sounding like video game boss music. With horns. At least it's not the strings again.
Feel like I should be dodging fireballs or some other projectile weapon.

-I fucking love this band's drummer. Busts some total Max Weinberg 7 shit whenever he has room.

-Things got quiet. I think I've moved on to the second movement.

-Yep. A slightly ambient section? Sounds like a movement transition part to me.

-Second section was definitely a lot more low key. But, here comes some noise again, so I think I've made it to the final section.

-I never thought I'd ever have to say anything about "math-rock guitars with a string overlay," but I just did.

First two movements were pretty sweet, but the third didn't really go anywhere. Two out of three isn't bad though, so RIFF.

6) Stain Stones (7:33)

- Woah. Jazz. We have horns.

- AND WOODWINDS. Clarinet solo! This kind of reminds me of the first time I listened to the new Kayo Dot album, except I'm not bored.

- The band takes things back over, as if telling the horns to calm down a bit. Then the guitar kicks everyone's ass with a solo that crams as much rad into it as it can.

- Things actually get pretty, five minutes in. It's a rare moment on this album so far, where everyone just seems content to lay back a bit.

- Things speed up a bunch near the end, kind of like in the first track.

RIFF. I actually enjoyed the more jazz inflected part that served as the first third of the song, and the rest of the song proved that Nought don't force themselves to overstuff everything they do.

7) All The Time Ha-Ha (3:55)

- Uh-oh. I'm sensing a bit of a repeat of the third track. JAZZ HANDS STRIKE BACK.

Yeah, I'm going to have to call FLUB on this one. It doesn't really go anywhere, and seems perpetually stuck in frantic showtune mode.

8) Heart Stops Twice (5:44)

- There was a sense of foreboding to this song at first, before it exploded into a "LET'S GO ON AN ADVENTURE" soundtrack a minute in.

- Do I hear ghostly female vocals? Operatic?

- Someone had to break out the sitar/koto, didn't they? For a hilariously brief cameo.


- A slight storm of feedback concludes with a brief return to order in the last 30 seconds.

FLUB. I don't know. I'm starting to feel like this band would be a lot better if they ditched their more orchestral leanings. I'm all about ambition, but it's starting to feel a bit like overkill.

9) Nought II (1:41)

-Hoping for more titanic shreddage that the first "Nought" track offered.

-Holy shit. It's the same riff. Minus the snare hits before the huge crash that goes into the rest of the song.

-No really, this is the EXACT same song as track 2. I can't be convinced otherwise.

FLUB. Couldn't they have at least titled it "Nought (Reprise)" or something like that?

10) Ignatius (6:53)

- This song has potential already, because the guitar is just howling like an injured wolf.

- And continuing to do so, again.

- And again.

- OK, sweet. Now it sounds like a power drill.

- Fuck. The strings just had to show up again, didn't they?

They know how to end an album on a good note, I'll give them that. Plus, this song contained some of the most interesting guitar work of the album, despite it's occasional repetitious nature. I'll give it a RIFF.


6 RIFFS vs. 4 FLUBS.


(6 RIFFS/10 TRACKS) x 100% = 60%

So yeah, there were some really good moments on this album, and then there were some really goofy ones that prevented me from being able to handle certain songs on this album. Still, over half of the album was good!


New Format

It's going on two months since I updated this thing, which kind of bums me out. So, in an attempt to kickstart this mule once again, I'm instituting a format change.

Instead of big, multi-paragraph reviews of albums, I'm going to get a bit scientific. Well, mathematical. Have you noticed how some albums start off really well, and then the back end sags a bunch? You sit there wondering to yourself, "Man, I only really like half of this album." No amount of flowery prose can really convey how much of an album is truly worthwhile. Therefore, I'm going to do the dirty work and break down each album I write about, track by track.

Each track will be evaluated on a pass or fail system- to be known as "Riff" for winning tracks, and "Flub" for those that aren't up to snuff. Riffs and Flubs will then be added up at the end, and then plugged into this totally unoriginal formula:


Offering you, the reader/listener, an approximation of how much of an album is worthwhile listening. Keep in mind, this is still only my opinion, so who really cares? I'm still going to be covering things I've never heard before, so take my reviews as someone who is just getting into things for the first time- as some of you might be.

Anyway, I'm going to do the first album in this new format right now. Woo!