Another new one from Inner Ear Records out of Athens, Greece, this time we have the debut album from a band named Plastic Flowers. Sounding a bit like Washed Out, though maybe even more laid back, if you could imagine that. They consider themselves a “dream pop” band, which is fairly accurate despite the lo-fi production standards, cheap guitars, echo laden vocals, analog synths and rigid drum machines.
As a result what would be a perhaps too bright sheen on the songs is dulled a bit. The expansive nature of the songs still comes through, but stops short of being bombastic and exaggerated. The same can’t necessarily be said for Washed Out. I’m pretty sure that they are aware of the Washed Out influence, nearly quoting the opening song on “Paracosm” on the 47 second interlude “Open Space Part 1.” It works well here, though.
I’m having a difficult time narrowing down one or two standout tracks as the more that I listen to it the more every song just has a way or grabbing hold instantly. If I had to choose though I would say that you should start with “Fog Song,” “Your Eyes,” and both “Open Space Part 1″ and “Open Space Part 2″ in all their Washed Out glory.
The synths take up a lot of the ambient space across the album, and on songs like album closer “Anthems” they take center stage, showing a slightly jazz tinged instrumental side of the band. And while you’re listening to the tracks make sure to check out “Fog Song,” which is a little more on the Real Estate side of things with its hazy atmosphere and gently ringing guitars, and the addition of swirling synths is a nice touch.
You can pre-order the vinyl from Inner Ear, due out March 15th, and if you’re a fan of cassettes then you’re in luck because Crash Symbols is doing a limited run of “Evergreen” which can be found here. The album can be streamed from their bandcamp, and some tracks are also up on soundcloud.
Nils Frahm is an interesting musician. One track he gives us IDM-esque ambiance and minimalism such as “Spaces,” above. It isn’t until 6 minutes into that song that the harmony finally changes drastically, and that is only after an extended buildup that is, quite honestly, executed perfectly. Little bits of melody presented via a nearly pristine piano texture (save for a little bit of reverb) cut through the fog created by the synthetically produced ambiance. Placing a purely acoustic instrument into this context, juxtaposing it with synthetic sounds allows either side to borrow from the other. The piano sounds less “piano-like,” no doubt also thanks to its sparse use.
And, throughout the course of “Says” we move from Tim Hecker-like warped and hazy harmonies shrouded in effect to something a little closer to Boards of Canada’s retro-synths. It isn’t until the end of the track when the audience erupts into applause that we realize that this piece was presented live. All of a sudden that elongated build makes a lot more sense, showing that Frahm definitely knows how to shape a piece and a performance on the spot.
Then, other tracks on “Spaces” are pure piano interludes, focusing on the improvised nature of Frahm’s compositional style. Something like a Keith Jarrett type stream-of-conciousness but still very much well thought out and finely detailed composition that takes shape, growing as you listen. It’s as if Nils Frahm, through his song, is going on a journey, and he has an idea of where he’d like to end up, and maybe an idea of a way that he could get there, but he’s going to entertain the idea of other possible routes, and he’s invited us along for the ride. On “Spaces” Nils Frahm captures on record the excitement of a live concert where he is free to experiment and improvise while surrounded by people that are enraptured the entire time, happy to be asked on the journey.
His new album “Spaces” is currently available on limited 2xLP special die-cut sleeve that includes 2 photo inserts, option of Wav or Mp3 download & Digital Bonus Track; also as mp3, FLAC, CD via Erased Tapes and can be sampled/streamed here.
You learn something new every day. Today I learned that John Dwyer likes to keep busy at all times. Well, I guess we all knew that before, as it was pretty obvious from Thee Oh Sees’ catalog that he wasn’t satisfied to ever sit still. But now since his band has begun their sabbatical (as we’ll call it. The word “hiatus” never ends well) his restlessness and relentlessness has only grown.
Dwyer’s new solo album under the name Damaged Bug is out now through his Castle Face imprint, and he’s been releasing (and re-releasing, or otherwise unearthing) some other great stuff too on a weekly basis. That’s the thing that I learned today, that John Dwyer is just feeding us a steady stream of great music.
The one that I decided to pull today comes from Trin Tran. Apparently a one-man show, the music is gritty, static-y and maybe even a little dark. It’s hard to tell if the guitar is a little out of tune from the synth, or if the tubes of said synth were allowed to get too hot and it is the thing that is out of tune. Either way, it sounds pretty great. A trashy guitar plucks delicately at un-tuned strings while the synth buzzes along, eventually adding a syncopated high attack that adds a tinge of sarcasm, a sideways glance to those looking for something to dance to. Those people are going to have to look elsewhere.
Check out the track “Fashion Has Happened to Fashion” on Soundcloud above and then head over to Castle Face to grab what I’m sure is an extremely limited number of copies of the “Far Reaches” EP. There are still some copies available on Galaxian Mist colored vinyl.
So this is it. This is the final installment. Well, maybe not the final final installment for me, I mean I could easily do a bunch more posts on each of the SYR recordings and some other various things that are out there, but to be completely honest, despite the fact that Sonic You are undoubtedly one of my favorite artists of all time, I am far from a completist. I do have all of the “standard” stuff: studio releases (obviously) a few 45s, tapes of stuff that I recorded off the radio when the local college station in Rochester, NY would play some rare stuff, and so on. And I’m sure that through various people I could find all that there is to find out there. But posting about things like that would lack the authenticity and honesty that these posts have had because I wouldn’t have time to really make a connection with them.
Anyway, speaking of the final installment, this is probably the final proper Sonic Youth release that any of us will ever hear. The only thing, that I’m aware of anyway, that was released after this was the final installment of the SYR series, a set of instrumental pieces used as incidental music for a film. That album is their most accessible SYR release, for sure.
“The Eternal” really showed promise. The band more and more was becoming their youthful selves again. There’s plenty of grit and noise, and it seemed like the head of steam that had been building up since that patch of weaker albums, “A Thousand Leaves” and “NYC Ghosts & Flowers,” was finally ready to pay off. The band was getting back into shape after trying out some more experimental stuff in the later part of their career.
But, as usual, these posts are more about my experiences with the albums than they are about the albums themselves. This album came out only a few weeks after I had finished grad school. I was spending the summer living off of whatever savings I had left over while waiting for my job to begin in September. It was pretty much the laziest few months of my life and I think that I still feel guilt about them. Pretty much all that I did was read and listen to music, but even after all that listening to music I still don’t remember making an immediate connection with the album. It wasn’t until a few years later that I started listening to the album in earnest.
I definitely wasn’t thinking that this was going to be their last album. There I was starting to take them for granted again. I caught them live once more in Toronto which I thought was going to be the best show ever, but was sorely disappointed. Their setlist at that show, at the legendary Massey Hall of all places, was basically just this album with the songs on shuffle. Sure, they trotted out “Death Valley ’69″ at the end, but I was just not impressed. That is maybe what makes me the most sad. That I could have such fond memories of them, but the last “interaction” that I had with the band was a disappointing show in an amazing venue.
It was just too much to take in at once. That isn’t what I want in a live show, and their energy was just not there at all. Kim’s dancing was reduced to what seemed like going through the motions, with little to no emotion. It was just a downer, and I would have been even sadder about the show had I not been in Canada where the beer is like moonshine.
Listening now, I think that this is a really good album. Maybe not the strongest way to go out, but still strong. It’s certainly better than anything we have gotten from Thurston as a solo artist since then. Out of nowhere it seems Lee Ranaldo has become the savior with his most recent two solo albums being the complete polar opposite to the boring dad-rock that Thurston churned out on “Demolished Thoughts.” And that “The Eternal” has TWO Lee Ranaldo tracks probably should have clued us all in to the fact that the usual song writing forces were not working to full effect in the year or so leading up to it.
Anyway, that is about it with these posts. I’m probably going to periodically talk about some of the SYR recordings, as those are currently a little more in line with the music that I have been studying lately and there is some really interesting stuff going on in those, but whatever it is that I might write about them will be from a more analytical standpoint.
Thanks for reading my un-edited and rambling remembrances.
I happened upon the Deranged Records bandcamp a while back and made it a point to bookmark it so that I would know to come back to it later. This album, “No Device,” comes to us from a band called Criminal Code. I think that the best way to describe their sound, not that you couldn’t just listen to it above, but if you are wary of clicking it for some reason I would describe it as a little bit harder edged and darker Hüsker Dü. The guitarist definitely has a tone that would make Bob Mould proud, with the chorus effect turned way up high. And, add to that the face that “Defective Parts” sounds a little bit like “8 Miles High” at the beginning.
Every song has that washy, swirling, ringing chorus effect, while the rest of the band fills out the sound with direct and immediate punk rock vitriol. The singer’s vocal yelps are powerful enough to cut through the din, but only just barely. It’s as if the vocals are adrift on the sea, just barely holding its head above water, especially in some of the more abrasive moments, such as the song “Corrosive.”
Standout tracks “Flagstone” and “Mocking Shadows” wander closer to a pop sensibility with honest hooks and catchy guitar melodies, sounding like Joy Division one second (in the case of “Mocking Shadows”) and A Place To Bury Strangers the next. It’s the component of the dark tone that each of these bands shares, keeping Criminal Mind an arms reach away from poppier tendencies, shrouding them in near complete shadow.
The entire album is available on their bandcamp page, and can be heard above. Check it out.
First of all Bleep’s website makes it ridiculously difficult to listen to anything at all. You can listen to each track in pieces because after the 30 second sample is up you have to slide the player over to the next 30 seconds etc. etc. I mean, I can understand why they do it, but I would be happier being able to hear one entire song than having to mess with the player to hear detached pieces of a track.
Thankfully Ninja Tune, the label that released “Ghosts of Then and Now,” was kind enough to upload some of the tracks to Youtube.
Anyway, the reason that I head over to Bleep regularly is, well they send me their newsletter, and I’ve been listening to a lot of Autechre lately and it has given way to a new fascination with electronic music and it’s where you can get Autechre’s albums. So, I’ve been looking for similar artists to broaden my horizons.
Listening to Illum Sphere (as much as I can anyway), with the ultra thick bass and synth that buzzes through most of the tracks, it reminded me in some ways to Baths’ “Cerulean” album from a few years back. But there’s also hints at proto-IDM like Kraftwere, which I hear heaps of in “Sleeprunner.” The kraut-rock, motorik sound has an undeniable influence throughout the track with its heavily cyclical and repetitive synth line, though it takes a gradual turn toward the end.
The album has been out for a few weeks now, and it’s a really interesting listen, worth checking out. From the motorik synths of “Sleeprunner” to the Wurlitzer sound of the titular track, there is a lot to grab onto. I wouldn’t quite say that it’s similar to Boards of Canada, but it’s definitely closer to their output than it is to anything Autechre has done. Check out “Sleeprunner” (above) and “Ghosts of Then and Now.” (below) The album can be ordered from Bleep on CD, 2xLP, or various downloads, as well as on iTunes. And if you head to Bleep, you too can have fun trying to use the audio player. Hours of enjoyment. Test your skill.
The release of “Rather Ripped” really came as a surprise to me, and it was such perfect timing. I was finishing up my undergrad, and I remember that the weather was getting warmer when I was introduced to it, or when I learned that the album existed and everything was just perfect. When I think about it, and when I hear the first few notes of “Reena” all of that comes rushing back. And as I sit here in Oregon, where it hasn’t stopped raining for at least the past several days and the sun hasn’t been out for more than 5 minutes at a time since September, I am still able to feel like I did when I first started listening to the album.
This is definitely a poppier album than maybe any other that they have ever released. The closest thing you get to experimental on here is maybe “Do You Believe in Rapture?” with its endlessly ringing harmonics that create all sorts of complex clusters of pitches behind Thurston’s breathy vocals. But for the most part the album just sounds like the band is happier, like they are energized, and very happy to be doing what they were doing. Maybe I’m projecting, or maybe they were projecting onto me.
More importantly to me, is that this is the album that Sonic Youth was touring on when I saw them live for the first time. After being a fan since about 1993 I finally had an opportunity to see them in Toronto on August 8, 2006. Got to spend the day wandering around Toronto with a fellow die-hard SY fan (and all around awesome person who was also seeing SY for the first time that night), which in and of itself is pretty awesome, but then when they came to the stage things got all sorts of awesome.
I’m trying to remember as much as I can from that night, but I think that it would be best summed up by saying that they opened their set with “Teen Age Riot.” They tore through stuff from almost every era all the way back to Confusion is Sex, playing “World Looks Red” toward the end of their set (for the first time since 1995). The venue was kind of weird and echo-y, but I don’t think I remember really caring at all.
All of those things come to mind when I listen to the album now, and I still think of it as their “latest,” blurring out all the releases that surround it, making “The Eternal” feel more like a coda than a follow-up release.
As for some of the songs specifically, I am wondering right now what the impetus behind “Sleeping Around” was. Like I mentioned in the last post, I wonder how far back one could go to hear lyrics that would point us to Thurston and Kim’s inevitable break-up. However, it is interesting that “Sleeping Around” is followed by “What a Waste.”
Anyway, none of that is really of any importance at all.
The song that I really connected to was “Pink Steam.” I can’t think of any other song in the Sonic Youth catalog that focuses so much on an intro. I could go back and listen to the opening few minutes over and over again, and I’m sure that I have at least a few times. Sometimes they are really surprising in their structures like that. On an album full of verse-chorus-verse songs they go and stick an extended instrumental track that ends up having some lyrics at the end after all.
Overall the standout tracks belong to Kim, this is really kind of her album. Besides “Reena,” setting the tone for the entire album, there is “What a Waste,” “Jams Run Free,” and “The Neutral,” and all of them have the typical Kim breeziness to them, and she moves away from her usual breathy rasp an really sings passionately on every track. It doesn’t sound as forced as her voice could sometime come off previously.
If I had hopes of Sonic Youth going on forever, they got stronger after I became obsessed with this album. Listening to it right now is making me feel all sorts of nostalgic and obsessive again. I prefer not to remember that in six years it would be over.