Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Warpaint-Warpaint album review

Please allow me a moment to publicly renounce all my notions about genre classification.  This is necessary because the new eponymous album by LA's Warpaint blows them all out of the water. 

I am finding a recent trend in music where bands are incorporating aspects from many different styles of music.  In the 80s or 90s, this idea wouldn't have gained any traction.  It probably wouldn't have worked well in the early part of this century, either. 

There are three positive ways to react to an album stream by a band you've never heard of: Interested, maybe I'll look into buying it, great, I think I want this, and Holy Mother of Judas!  My reaction to the brand new album by Warpaint was the third option.

This female foursome knows how to rock.  What we basically have here is poppy vocal melodies played over lush ambient textures with bombastic drumming and many electronic beats.  This band uses human drumming and drum machines in a creative way that I don't believe I've heard much.  The two styles blend together seamlessly. 

All of these different ideas and band traits could have been a cluster of confusion.  Instead, it is one of the most fun listening experiences I have had in years.  I'd heard one song prior to listening to the album.  It was fantastic, so I was eager to start the album stream when it was posted online.  What happened with the rest of the album is beyond words.  The only previous album I can remember where I've had this much fun listening was early last year when I first listened to the latest :papercutz album. 

The moods and energies in this album are unpredictable and exciting.  The textures present in the music are dark and brooding to an extent where one could haphazardly label this as a gothic rock album.  Such simplified genre classifications, as I alluded to above, are becoming less and less accurate.  You could label this album many things, but what it really is, is great music that adheres to no set of stylistic genre rules, whether arbitrary or not. 

Another thing I would mention is that this album is a grower.  The deeper into the album you get, the more you get wrapped up in it.  Listening to a single song hardly does it justice, although the lead single Love is to Die is pretty fair representation of what you will hear on the rest of the album.

Warpaint is scheduled for a Jan. 21 release, but pre-streaming is available.  Just Google Warpaint.  I don't care what kind of music you listen to.  You need to check this album out.  Love is to Die is posted below.  As always, thanks for reading and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Top 5 Metal Albums of 2013

It's official.  The scourge that was 2013 is behind us.  Maybe the number 13 is really unlucky.  It was a bad year for a lot of reasons, both personally and politically.  And I don't follow politics.  At all.  It's pretty bad when political stuff gets me down.  Fortunately, the year 2013 gave us a lot of great music.

Metal music as a genre had a very strong 2013.  There were some surprises, some jaw-droppers, and yes, some snoozers.  Picking the very best metal albums of the year and limiting the list to only 5 was a chore.  The last thing I wanted to do was leave a great band who released a great album off the list, even though that's what honorable mentions are for. 

1. In Vain-Aenigma
Norwegian metallers In Vain released their third full-length album in 2013.  Following their excellent album Mantra with anything resembling greatness was going to be a tall order.  No only did they pull it off, they did so with such gusto and flair that it was surprising.  Whereas Manta as an expressive journey through progressive soundscapes and song structures, Aenigma is a heavy dosage of progressive metal tendencies, but with simpler structures and more straight-ahead undertones.  Little of the blackness that marked Mantra feels retained.  If it were even possible to improve on that last album as a whole, the vocals could have been left behind.  But the vocals are even better here than on this album's predecessor.  Listen here.

2. Leprous-Coal
Some bands do progressive Avant-Garde metal better than others.  I was not high on this Norwegian band's music before.  It came across as so proggy that it was not fun to listen to.  So with trepidation I listened to the band's new release, Coal. My initial reaction was some combination of a curse word and a smile.  It was much better than past Leprous albums, and darker.  Despite the somewhat cheesy album cover, I felt compelled to listen.  It was much, much better than I expected.  Listen to one of the fantastic tracks here.

3. Omnium Gatherum-Beyond
I have always enjoyed Finnish band Omnium Gatherum's atmospheric keyboard melodies played against chunky melodeath.  As a result, the new disc, Beyond was highly anticipated.  How would the band follow up the mesmerizing New World Shadows? They did it by making a record just as majestic and crushingly heavy.  They don't use many clean vocals on this release, but when they do, they are very good.  I knew after listening to that album that it would make some year-end lists.  And mine is not the only list it appeared on.  Listen to a track below.

4. Amorphis-Circle
In recent years, Finnish metal band Amorphis have floundered in relatively uninspiring albums.  While Eclipse, The Beginning of Times, and Skyforger were not bad albums, they generally failed to live up to the fans' lofty expectations.  Their sound was becoming less and less heavy and more experimental.  With the notion that Amorphis was a band on a downward trend, I listened to Circle anyway.  My opinion is that this album is the band's best since their early career.  On this album they successfully marry the heavy that had been missing with the melody that has defined Amorphis' career.  Listen here.

5. Fleshgod Apocalypse-Labyrinth
The heaviest music in our lists this year comes from Italian symphonic metal band Fleshgod Apocalypse.  I have been a fan since the EP Mafia was released.  Since then, the bend have incorporated an increased symphonic presence in the madness of ultra-heavy music.  This album is complete with technical guitar wizardry and inhumanly fast blasting drums.  The symphonic keyboards are not overdone and, even when choral sections emerge, they do not overstay their welcome.  If you are not familiar with this band, you might want to wear a neck brace while listening to this track.

As usual, I have quite a few honorable mentions to share.  I highly recommend checking out the music below.  Here are the honorable mentions in no particular order:
Vallendusk-Black Clouds Gathering
Amaranthe-The Nexus
Dark Tranquillity-Construct
Deadlock-The Arsonist
Erimha-Reign Through Immortality
In Quest-The Odyssey of Eternity
Man Must Die-Peace was Never an Option
The Monolith Deathcult-Tetragrammaton
MyGrain-Planetary Breathing
Neaera-Ours is the Storm
Noumena-Death Walks with Me
Persefone-Spiritual Migration
ReVamp-Wild Card
Soilwork-The Living Infinite
Sulphur Aeon-Swallowed by the Ocean's Tide

As always, thanks for reading and enjoy!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Three Pop Albums I have Enjoyed in 2013

Have you ever watched one of those major network New Year's Eve shows where millions of people gather in the streets of New York to listen to some old fart talk about the news and scream at pop singers who grow more and more ridiculous with each passing year?  I know, that was a long sentence, but try to follow me here.  I'm the only one?  No, I'm not, because I don't watch them.  I have better things to do. 

If you are a regular reader here, you know that we don't cover much pop music.  Mainstream pop is a particular genre where singers try to outdo each other at ridiculousness.  They have to do that, because that's the only way to keep people talking about them so people will buy their records so they can pay off concert bookers, PR people, agents, and dancers.  This is, of course, in my own biased view.  I'm not a big fan of pop music.  But sometimes an artist releases an album that really grabs me.  Three such albums were released this year.

1. Black City Lights-Another Life
These New Zealanders impressed with their debut EP a couple of years ago.  In 2013 they released their debut full-length album.  Surprisingly, this album contains all new tracks, carrying nothing over from the EP.  This is as good as dream-pop gets.  The vocals are must impressive, as are the underlying atmospheric synths.  Simply put, they don't make pop albums like this anymore.   Here's why.

2. Sarah Brightman-Dreamchaser
Our regular readers had to know this was coming.  Easily the most anticipated 2013 pop release in my view, this album didn't quite live up to its predecessors.  Sarah Brightman continues to pit operatic singing with undertones of symphonic music against pop hooks.  The first disappointment was that none of the tracks are original pieces.  All of them are cover songs and some are better than others.  The other disappointment to me was that this material crosses too far into mainstream pop territory than I care to venture.  Still, there are some exceptional vocal melodies, as Brightman is the world's best operatic vocalist.  That is a bold statement, but it is in they ear of the listener, after all.  That's why I'm sharing it here.

3. Io Echo-Ministry of Love
Southern California's Io Echo impressed with their debut album, Ministry of Love.  This was a surprising listen, as it borders between dream pop and shoegaze tones.  I categorize it on the pop side due to the strong poppy hooks that permeate much of the music.  The singer may not be the best pop singer in the world, but the vocals are far from bad.  This music is just weird enough for me to enjoy.  Check out a track from the album below.

Because I don't believe there were enough good pop releases in 2013 to warrant a top of the year list, there will also be no honorable mentions. 

As always, thanks for listening and enjoy! 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Top 5 Electronic Albums of 2013

Season's Greetings, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, one and all!  Or if you don't celebrate anything this time of year, Happy Antipathy Month! 

It has been a good year for all genres of music.  Perhaps less so with electronica, but there were still several solid releases.  Since electronics seem to be the only holiday gift that matters, I present to you our top 5 electronic albums of 20013.  This list is varied between the different schools of electronic music.  You won't find house or EDM in this list.  What you will find is some other great stuff.  Here they are:

1. Trentemoller-Lost
Before the later year release of this album, it would have been difficult to predict Trentemoller even making this list, let alone coming in at number one.  That's because we didn't know this Danish composer was working on new material until late August.  It would have been even more difficult to predict what kind of flavors were on order with this album.  Unlike his previous album, Lost incorporates a wide variety of vocals from a number of gifted singers.  Instead of breaking away from tradition, however, Trentemoller simply seeks new musical territory.  The result is nothing sort of astounding.  The deep pulses and electronic rhythms against a sea of blurry undercurrent still remain, as do the heavily distorted guitar lines.  What is new sounds almost like dreamy pop, delivered in spectacular doomy fashion.  This album grabs you from the first track and does not relent.  Speaking of which, here is that first track.

M83-Oblivion (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Normally, soundtracks do not count for album of the year awards.  Unless said soundtrack is a collection of compositions by one artist.  This doesn't happen extremely often.  When you think of electronic artists making movie soundtracks, you immediately think of Daft Punk's excellent work for Tron: Legacy.  In that same vein is the new work for Oblivion, which stars Tom Cruise.  This is a major departure in sound for M83, a French nu-gaze artist with some excellent talent.  With Oblivion, M83 trades in the guitars and pedals for an entirely symphonic electronic production.  In this album every sound you hear is being produced synthetically.  The album's closer is probably closer in style to normal M83 work, and it is the only track on the album with vocals.  You need to hear both.

3. Ulrich Schnauss-A Long Way to Fall
The first solo work released by Ulrich Schnauss in quite a long while is as good as any of the work he's done.  His latest works have been his collaborations with Jonas Munk and Mark Peters.  That should give an idea of what Ulrich Schauss sounds like.  What you hear is a deep, chill-wave style of music with some random infusions of jazz over long, soaring synths.  This album sounds darker than his previous work.  It is a very solid release.  You can listen to some of it here.

4. The Luna Sequence-The Day the Curse Grew Stronger
If you are in the market for some good old-fashioned electronic synth rock, this album should be right up your alley.  The Luna Sequence unveiled their debut album two years ago.  That was a very good effort.  This release lays down razor sharp, computer-enhanced guitar lines to create a metallic frenzy of rock and electronic.  This is a somewhat odd style, less mainstream than Celldweller, less metallic than Blue Stahli, and less industrial than I Will Never be the Same.  Also of note: There are no vocals, which really allows the music to shine.  Jump into some of the chaos here.

5. Klaus Schulze-Shadowlands
How often do you come across a double album that contains only five tracks?  That is just what German composer Klaus Shulze has done with his airy, ambient electronic new album.  As you would imagine, the tracks are very long, so this is not music for short attention-spans.  It works best as background music for when you are playing solitaire, writing a music blog.  This music is dreamy, atmospheric, and beautiful.  One of track on this album is a shade under 42 minutes long, while another falls just short of an hour, a hefty 55 minutes.  The track you will hear below is the shortest track on the album. 

Of course, this list would not be complete without some honorable mentions.  Here they are in no particular order.
Cosmo's Midnight-Surge
Public Transport-Dark Days
Boards of Canada-Tomorrow's Harvest
Daft Punk-Random Access Memories
The Knife-Shaking the Habitual
Logos-Cold Mission

As always, thanks for reading, and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The top 5 rock albums of 2013

Rock music, contrary to popular belief, is not dead.  The world is changing and that extends to music as well.  Old rock conventions and standards that have been rehashed since the 90s will not be so interesting in this era.  Rock music--especially rock--has to change and adapt with the times. 

That is why mainstream is out, out in my opinion.  Though some mainstream acts have pushed out solid releases this year, it is the underground scene that has really stolen the show.  Our five best albums span between shoegaze (the best being considered nu-gaze), post-rock, and alternative/indie. 

Thankfully, 2013 has given us quite a few good to great albums from those subgenres.  So, without further ado, I present to you our list of the five best rock albums from 2013.

1. The Joy Formidable-Wolf's Law
This Welsh rock group has only released two full-length albums.  Their first was impressive in its own right.  With Wolf's Law, the band takes their sound to new heights and, by so doing, blow the doors off everything they have done in the past.  This is a rock album chock-full of catchy choruses and bridges tinged with deep echoes.  There is literally so much to this album that posting one track can hardly do it justice.  Check out a couple of great tracks below.

2. The History of Colour TV- Emerald Cures Chic Ills
Pure shoegaze is an art that dates back to the early 1990s.  Over time, bands have adapted that concept.  In addition to electronic and guitar loops, this German band incorporates dark, spaced-out melodies and a certain metal-like flair for noise.  This may sound like a lot to handle, but the package is masterfully put together.  This is a great album and every track has its place.  Check out the first single from Emerald Cures Chic Ills here.

3. Sigur Ros-Kveikur
Sigur Ros is one of those post rock bands that can't put out a sub-par release.  They have been doing it a long time and remain one of the best in the genre.  Kveikur represents a somewhat darker approach, which is more akin to what post-rock is believed to be: stretched out, apocalyptic song structures with dreary melodies and no vocals.  Although Sigur Ros does use vocals, the music remains very much post-rock.  This album is being hailed by many publications as one of the best albums of the year and it is no mystery why.  They are perhaps the best band in Iceland. Check out a great track below.

4. Spc-Eco-Sirens and Satellites
Nu-gaze music blended successfully with electronic sounds and crystal-clear vocals is a rare treat.  This British group puts it all together on Sirens and Satellites.  The band's signature sound of looped, reverb-laden guitars melded with electronic grooves is on full display here.  The best element may be the vocals.  Spc-Eco have certainly stepped up their game in that department.  Check out an outstanding track from their latest album here.

5. Monochromie-Enlighten Yourself While You Sleep
Ambient post-rock with crunching waves of static seem to the be the theme on French band Monochromie's new album.  This is a slight departure from their excellent debut.  Everything the debut album presented remains present on this album, while the quality is kicked up yet another notch.  This is outstanding production occasionally disguised as lo-fi buzz rock.  The most important qualifier I can mention is ambient.  Though the album is very much a post-rock release, its ambient grace elevates it above the crowd.  Check out a track below.

The list of great rock releases goes far beyond the top 5.  In no particular order, here are our 2013 honorable mentions:
Apricot Rail-Quarrels
David Bowie-The Next Day
The Cherry Wave-Blush
Edweena-Solar Days and Lunar Nights
Elara-Soundtrack for a Quiet Place
Funeral for a Friend-Conduit
Gargle & Bosques de mi Miente-Absence
Gespenst-The Bloodline
Kigo-So Lost Now, Chance, Closer (Hear My Voice), Guilt, and Some Other Place
Russian Circles-Memorial
Sleeping Bear-Sleeping Bear
Sleepstream-A Waltz with the Seventh Crane
Syahmi Rawi-Odyssey
Venera 4-Deaf Hearts
Whatfunlifewas-Stumbling Towards Purgatory

As always, thanks for listening and Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Top 5 Ambient Albums of 2013

Good evening, readers!  Another year has come and gone.  Per tradition, we like to break down what we feel are the top album releases of the year. 

In December of 2012 we published a list of the top 12 overall albums.  There were some great albums that year, and limiting the list to only 12 releases proved to be difficult.  The year 2013 has been even busier.  So many new albums and EPs were released this year that we decided to make a simple top 5 for each genre we cover.

I have been increasingly enthralled with ambient music, and 2013 has given us at least a dozen masterful releases.  We have five spots and some honorable mention awards to hand out.

1. Olekksii-Iris
This Kiev, Ukraine composer put together a very impressive album early this year.  Iris presents to us a classy mixture of lovely, minimal synths and modern classical-styled compositions set against electronic elements to add further texture.  The result is a real treat.  Listen for yourself below.

2. A Veil of Water-Reminder
Norway may be home to numerous metal bands, but sometimes a more somber, beautiful type of music emerges from the chaos.  Reminder is a remarkable album that renders thoughtful, airy piano work into a breathtaking work of art.  Not many pianists can do what Rune Trelvik has done.  Trelvik is a self-taught musician of piano, drums, guitar, and bass.  This album is almost entirely piano melodies interspersed with some lightweight ambient guitar textures.  Listen to some of this incredible work below.

3. Endless Melancholy-Epilogue
We have raved about Endless Melancholy here before, and with the sheer number of quality releases Oleksiy Sakevych has put out this year alone, it should come as no surprise that his debut full-length album makes our list,  Like A Veil of Water, Endless Melancholy's works appear on the Hidden Vibes record label.  And, like said band, Endless Melancholy deliver sensational piano tunes interspersed with electronic ambient music.  Sakevych is also a self-taught pianist.  Listen to the title track from Epilogue here.

4. Olafur Arnalds-For Now I am Winter
Olafur Arnalds is an Icelandic composer we have talked about here before.  This year he released a spectacular album that is as much about varying styles as it is peaceful melodies.  Several tracks on this album feature vocals from a variety of artists.  This style of music is easy to enjoy.  You just sit back and lose yourself in the waves of layered sounds. A featured track is available here.

5. Gamardah Fungus-Night Walk With Me
This Ukrainian band's music is slow, meditative, and, at times, dark.  This may be as close to drone as I can realistically enjoy, but the band incorporates a plethora of other sounds from a variety of instruments, all juxtaposed against a backdrop of sweeping, atmospheric synths.  Night Walk With Me was largely inspired by a 1992 prequel to the movie Twin Peaks, starring David Bowie.  While no Bowie-esque music makes its way into this release, it has plenty of other things going on.  It is more than good enough for a top five ranking.  Check it out here.

One of the better aspects of these brilliant pieces of work is that most of them are available as name-your-price downloads from the respective bandcamp pages. 

If you liked what you heard above, check out these honorable mentions from 2013:
Berserker Children Club-Someday (EP)
Endless Melancholy-Five Songs, Autumn Outtakes, and November
Equal Stones-To Erase a Lifetime
Linear Bells-For Your Eyes Only
Myosotis-Too Little Too Late
Ulver-Messe I.X-VI.X

As always, thanks for reading and enjoy these wonderful tunes!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Black City Lights-Another Life review

New artists can be interesting sometimes.  Some people have a hard time taking new artists seriously, even if their debut record is released by a big-name label.  Black City Lights, a pop artist from Wellington, New Zealand is no different.  Their previous EP, "Parallels" was an interesting release through which the group showed a lot of promise.  That EP was good but not great.  Since "Parallels" Black City Lights have released several singles.

The year 2013 has finally given us a debut full-length album from the band.  Where "Parallels" was good, "Another Life" is fantastic.  The artist has deepened their sound and have much improved in the vocal department. 

Black City Lights is most described as a dream-pop outfit, though the band seems to shy away from that label.  The problem with such a genre-specific label is that adhering to it only served to inhibit the musical artistry.  I think a more apt description of the music would be ambient synth pop with a very chill wave vibe running through it's veins (holy vernacular, that's a lot of 'v's, Batman!" 

If I were to compare artists, :Papercutz, whose latest album we raved about, would be at the top of the list.  Though the vocals are still not quite as strong as those from the aforementioned band, the cold, dreamy synths behind the vocals more than make up for it.  Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying the vocals are bad.  They are quite good as a matter of fact, just not quite as prolific as :Papercutz. 

The music in this release is deep and moving, packed with grandiose synths that paint the musical landscape with beautiful, ambient brushstrokes.  Standard electronic pop beats akin to chill wave music float to the surface in stunning fashion.  Another term I would use to describe the music would be dark cold wave.  This record emits a chilling darkness that is both beautiful and eerie.

Most of the tracks on this album are brand new.  One is a previously released single and at least one other track comes off of "Parallels".  If you are into pop music that doesn't meet the rigid qualifications for heavy air-play, you will most likely enjoy this disc.  This music remains interesting and beautiful throughout the short 45-or-so-minute run time. 

It is surprising just how good this album is.  I can fully recommend listening to this.  As it turns out, the band is offering a free stream of the album through their bandcamp page.  We have embedded that player here.  Thanks and, as always, enjoy!