Have I ever railed against prog-rock on this blog yet? I can’t remember. Well let me sum things up really quickly: When I was a teenager, and just learning the guitar, and in a really terrible band, I was all about the King Crimson, and Yes and Genesis, which later turned into being all about Tool. I think that (I mean I know that) the reason that I gravitated toward these bands was that their style of music doesn’t really focus on finesse at all. There’s no groove to it. Groove is something that you can’t learn, you either have it or you don’t. On the other hand, technical facility, such as within the confines of prog-rock, is something that can be learned.
It’s not that all prog is bad, that’s definitely not the case. It’s just a genre that is really easy to overdo; when the music takes a backseat to the group showing off how complicated that they can make things, that’s when things start to get annoying. Yes, we all know how smart you (think) you are, now can you play some music please? So often actual, well-crafted melodies are thrown away in favor of something that is jittery and obtuse for the sake of being jittery and obtuse. Give me a melody that I can sing along to! Give me something that flows and has a little bit of a swing to it! I don’t want to hear machines with guitars, I want to hear human beings!
So hearing “Awaiting” by Confluence was actually a pleasant surprise. Sure, there are all sorts of complex musical things happening, but they aren’t made the focus of the tune. It’s much easier to sit back and listen to the melody, and enjoy it for what it is, without having to take into account the technically complex backdrop. I’d hate to take the term “melodic” away from its specific meaning, but it is very tempting to place something like this under the label of “melodic prog.”
What the song immediately brings to mind for me is Maps & Atlases “Trees, Swallows, Houses” EP. This song, like that EP, manages to walk the line of technicality, but with a sort of groove, or delicate sensibility in that they are flashy, but not for the sake of being so. I dig the way this track grooves, and the clarity of the recording, that’s something that really helps a band like this that seeks to take advantage of all the spaces between notes, those little silences. Sometimes those little silences can just make a song.
Give it a listen above and then check out one of the many links below.
Frontman of Thee Oh Sees, John Dwyer, is releasing a solo album entitled “Hubba Bubba.” You can hear the synth heavy (more like exclusively synth) track “Eggs at Night” below.
Last month Thee Oh Sees announced from the stage that “This will be the last Oh Sees show for a long while. So dig in.” I learned about it on twitter and quickly started to feel panic set in. It was impossible for me to fathom not having a few new albums by Thee Oh Sees coming out at the steady clip that they have been for the past several years. I see them as the lynchpin that holds the San Francisco scene together. When we all heard that the band was going on a break at first we all went to the worst cast scenario, which would be that we would never hear from them again (though that seems absolutely ridiculous thinking about it now. There is no way that John Dwyer could be away from music for any length of time, let’s be honest. So even if there weren’t any Thee Oh Sees shows he would still be creating music in some form, either solo or with Ty Segall. By the way, why hasn’t that happened yet? That seems like an obvious matchup…but I digress) and then we all came to the realization that a “long while” for a band like Thee Oh Sees, that have been touring non-stop for the past 5 years, is probably only a few months.
So I’m not intending this post to be a send-off to Thee Oh Sees by any stretch. I just want to take a minute and maybe get some other people interested in the band that may only have a passing familiarity with them. Thee Oh Sees are probably the last band that I have gotten really heavily, obsessively into, after seeing them only one time I was hooked. Their live show is amazing, and I can’t even begin to imagine how tiring it must be for them to do it over and over and over again. Not just tiring from the physical standpoint, but also add to that the fact that they are typically playing a very similar set night after night. It’s become noticeable of late that the jammy extensions of songs are getting jammier, which I think might be a way for the band to try to find new ways to keep things interesting. I’m assuming that this time away is just going to result in throwing all of the old songs out of the set-list and starting over again. Clear it out and start again.
With that in mind, I’d like to give my top 10 tracks by Thee Oh Sees. Sure, some of them are in regular rotation on their (former) set-list, but I don’t think that their live show really gives an idea of the band’s range.
1. “No Spell” off of their most recent album, 2013’s “Floating Coffin.” Now, it is really hard to choose a song from this album, there are just so many great tunes. “No Spell” sits toward the middle of the album, tucked away between songs that are more typical Oh Sees fare. I think that what really does it for me is the textless “chorus.” It’s just different enough from anything that they have ever done, and just has a great emotional grab to it. It’s not the typical structure that one would come to expect either.
2. “Tidal Wave” from a 7″ b/w “Heart Sweats.” Short and sweet and right to the point. The clipped guitar style in the verse with the slap-back echo that bursts into another textless chorus with John’s yell. It’s just catchy as hell, and may go unnoticed by some because it doesn’t appear on an album….though it has probably been heard by more people than any other song of theirs thanks to it being used in Breaking Bad.
3. “Enemy Destruct” from “Help.” There are few bands that know how to open an album as well as Thee Oh Sees do. This is definitely a set-list staple, and for good reason. The guitar stomps through each beat with great intensity. Noisy throughout, and heavy.
4. “Stinking Cloud” from “Castlemania.” This album just doesn’t fit in with any of the others. It’s experimental for them. John sings in an affected croak, saxophones and flutes appear on many of the songs, there are acoustic tracks that trot out a distinct Kinks influence. This track in particular is a bit of a slow burn, with some oddly insightful lyrics.
5. “The Dream” from “Carrion Crawler/The Dream.” This album is the one. If you need to know where to start with this band, this is it. And this song is maybe their best live. You have to imagine this songs going almost twice as fast when it’s played live. And as soon as those opening chords start to ring out in all their open-stringed glory, all hell is about to break loose and you had better hold on.
6. “Lupine Dominus” from “Putrifiers II.” This one let’s the not-quite hidden krautrock come out, sounding closer to something that Cave would release, but it still makes complete sense. Psych-krautrock.
7. “I Was Denied” from “Warm Slime.” Another anthemic live staple. How could you even go wrong with a song that has a line “I got fucked up, suffice to say. la la la la la, lalalala la, lalalala la, lalala la…” Bonus points for the brief freakout toward the middle of the song.
8. “Toe Cutter-Thumb Buster” from “Floating Coffin.” Amazing opening. The last time that I saw them live this is the track with which they opened. The piercing squeal of feedback followed by the bone-crushing low end distortion is something that can’t be beat and will never not be effective.
10. “The Coconut” from “The Master’s Bedroom is Worth Spending a Night In.” I picked this one just because it is another one of those songs that show the band stretching out and trying new things. It’s moody, a bit slower, and focuses a bit more on vocal harmonies and lengthier, more legato melodies in the verses.
Supposedly, despite the hiatus (JPD insists that the band is not breaking up), there will be a new album released within the next month or two. I will definitely be covering that as soon as I can get my hands on it. Until then, enjoy these, and enjoy the solo track.
It is no secret that I am a fan of noise music. I’ve written on the topic morethanafewtimes and I often find myself listening to varying levels of “noise” at home. For some reason I never think of it as anything other than something that is pretty experimental, and therefore in a genre of its own. I never have thought about the implications that noise music may have as a way of reinterpreting a genre, or as using those implications to align itself to a genre. It’s understandable that this could be a next step, having noise stand in where other older forms and music/semiotic indicators have grown tired and been wrung dry of any meaning.
Sure, it is experimental, and it is always going to be fairly experimental to present noise as music in and of itself. But if we are to re-imagine noise as yet another degree of abstraction (something I have also already talked about on here) then why can’t noise fit into the genre of, say, metal, instead of just being something that only comments on itself, or is merely interpreted as a challenge to everything else?
Late last year, on November 11th, two bands, Brutal Truth and Bastard Noise, compiled a split album entitled “The Axiom of Post Inhumanity” and it works to do exactly what I described in the last paragraph. Noise, on this album, stands in for brutal de-tuned guitar crunch and growled, grind-core vocals. I think that presenting music this way brings a whole new depth to both noise music as well as metal. The noise, for lack of a better term, means something before it’s even heard. And, presented in this context, the album is free to explore all of the many possibilities that noise has to offer, much in the same way that a metal album might be shaped. From all consuming intensity to sound that echoes across barren wastelands, the abstraction of sound is starting to bring itself back around to the point that it’s not heard merely as that abstraction. This is an interesting, and exciting, step in the evolution of metal.
There is definitely a lot of stuff to grab onto with this album. Many of the tracks are over 7 or 8 minutes long, but each of them is a gripping and intricate display of experimental noise as metal, or maybe it’s metal as experimental noise. Either way, this split is worth a listen. Check it out above.
Tokyo Police Club holds a special place in my heart for a few reasons. They are one of those bands that I was lucky to get into on the ground floor. I was guided toward their debut EP and was hooked right away, remaining so since then. It was noticeable though how long it seemed to take them to actually turn out a proper full length album. The “A Lesson in Crime” EP was released in 2006, followed by a two year gap before the release of “Elephant Shell.” That’s a ridiculously long time to wait while sitting on a successful and exciting EP that a lot of people were talking about. Risky move to say the least. Thankfully the album was solid, if a little on the short side.
The other reason that Tokyo Police Club is close to me is that their 2nd full length, “Champ,” was the first album review that I ever did for the now defunct portal site Groovemine.com. I refuse to read it again because I can’t imagine how terrible it probably is. I’d like to think that my writing has improved greatly since that first overwrought review. But considering that, and the opportunity that the site gave me to start writing seriously on a blog, maybe without Tokyo Police Club there would be no quartertonality.com.
I’ve recently been thinking about when the hell (if ever) this band was going to finally put out some more music, though they hinted at the recording process earlier in 2013 on their tumblr with a few Vines, and it looks like the wait is almost over. “Argentina (Parts I, II, III)” was uploaded to the band’s youtube at the beginning of December. Looks like they are getting a jump on 2014.
Though the video doesn’t feature the band, at least visually, their music is pretty recognizable at this point. Their punchy, energetic pop is catchy as hell, just like always. No huge stylistic shifts are evident in this new track, unless you consider epic length to be a stylistic change. At nearly 9 minutes this is Tokyo Police Club at their most sprawling, which is (again) a pretty daring move for a band that relies heavily on pop hooks and high energy anthems. The band really is breaking the mold that they created for themselves.
As far as I can tell there aren’t really any clear boundaries between the three parts, the song just continues to grow and develop through well orchestrated changes and nicely shaped, continuous structure. Guitar breaks trading with buzzing synths and floating melodies carry the song through its many twists and turns that ultimately bring us back home.
Check out the video for “Argentina (Parts I, II, III)” below.
The band has a few scattered dates posted on their site, but I would suggest checking back periodically, because there have got to be many more coming.
It’s safe to say that 2013, as far as music is concerned, is over. For the better part of a month every music blog has been writing about their favorite albums of the year, producing list after list after list of best song, best album, as well as separate lists for every genre under the sun. I’ve done my best to avoid it, choosing instead to do full album reviews of albums that I feel are worth talking about and that I had missed during the year. I thought that a better thing to do might be to write about some of the albums that I am hoping to see in the year ahead. There are a lot of artists that were silent in 2013, some of which haven’t produced in album in several years, which could be surprising depending on the artists. Here’s what I hope to hear in 2014:
When “Transference” came out in 2010 Spoon had felt like that reliable band that churned out album after album, with solid results. It’s not that they were predictable, per se, as much as they were completely dependable. Going back as far as “Girls Can Tell,” not just a classic Spoon album, but a classic album in general, Brit Daniel and Jim Eno have been turning out unshakably poppy, tuneful albums. From what I remember “Transference” seemed to take a step back from all that, not reaching to the heights of their previous, fantastic, ridiculously named, “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.” Though I think that “Transference” is a fine album, it’s not necessarily my go-to when I pull a Spoon album off the shelf. Brit went off and did an album with a newly formed band, The Divine Fits, which was actually really good catchy retro-synth pop (can we consider music that is reminiscent of the 80’s retro now?). Here’s to hoping that Spoon returns to the fold in 2014 and that their nearly 4 years away from the studio allowed them to rest up and re-group to record some great new tracks.
Speaking of indie-rock stalwarts, Patrick Stickles’ New Jersey based punk rock band has three absolutely perfect albums under their belt. “The Airing of Grievances” is about as good as a debut album can get, and then they put out “The Monitor,” one of the best albums that I have ever heard. “Local Business” stripped back some of the high concept of those first two albums and delivered some straight ahead riff-based rock that shows the band easily churning out a full album’s worth or singles. Seeing the band this past September and accosting Stickles at the merch table (ok accost is a strong word, but I did talk to him when he clearly did not want to talk) he said that they would have a new album “ready to go in 14 months.” I remember this specifically because that was a strange number. Anyway, I hope that’s true, and I look forward to a new Titus album in November 2014.
I’m a huge Shellac fan. I’ve written about Albini’s casual mention earlier this year of a new album being ready to go (and then I went on to write about something completely different, but trust me it’s in there somewhere). Who knows what the hell will happen though. It’s not like the band needs the money, or is even in it for that reason. Whenever they put it out they’ll put it out and then probably tour a little bit behind it and then lock themselves in the studio again to work. I know that this is probably an unpopular opinion, as their fans are pretty fanatical and unmutable in their view of the band, but I really didn’t like their last album “Excellent Italian Greyhound,” so I’m especially looking forward to the next one. Here’s to hoping that it is closer in sound to “At Action Park,” or whatever.
If you’re going to release albums that are barely a half hour long, I’m going to want more than one every few years. I know that they have said repeatedly that they hate being in the studio, but unfortunately it’s a part of life. Both of their releases have been stellar so far, and I’m sure that whatever they come up with next will not be disappointing, so I hope that they get on it.
My favorite album of 2013. But I have the same complaint as with Japandroids. I mean, the album was EP length at best. I hope that this group of young kids has another great album in them because “Sunken” was an enviable debut and if they can pull off another album that good I think their status will be solidified as a force in the music world, whereas right now they are just hopefuls.
Of course I’m going to say of Montreal. I’ve loved everything that they’ve done, and sure “Lousy With Sylvianbriar” just came out barely a few months ago, but Kevin Barnes has been on a good run, releasing a lot of music year after year and constantly taking his writing to new and exciting places. With every twist and turn I’ve been on board, so let’s see how much farther he can take it.
That just about sums up what I am hoping for in the coming year. Of course I’m also looking forward to the unexpected, the bands that haven’t released anything yet and therefore aren’t on the radar. That is always the most exciting part of writing a blog, the getting new stuff dropped into the mailbox, or linked to on soundcloud. So here’s to another year of new sounds by bands new and old, the expected and the unexpected.