The Fun Years are getting ready to release their latest full-length. “Heroes of the Second Story Walk-Up,” which is currently up for pre-order on Spring Break Tapes. “Ask for the Omega Man” is the latest track off that forthcoming album.
Ben Recht and Isaac Sparks are The Fun Years, and after poking around Soundcloud for a while to get a feel for the duo’s trajectory “Ask for the Omega Man” sounds not so much like a departure from past endeavors as it is more of an expansion. Whereas a previous release on Spring Break Tapes, “Janice Was Into Recovery” from two years ago, is much more of a drone affair, “Ask for the Omega Man” is focused on more somewhat orthodox song forms.
I know that I already brought this band up the other day, so you’ll have to forgive me, but it would be hard to dismiss the Explosions in the Sky vibe throughout this one. But, at the 2:40 mark, as the lead guitar shifts into into its own haunting pattern, the mood of the entire track shifts from gloomy to nostalgic, even hopeful.
Guitar sounds are downplayed throughout “Janice Was Into Recovery,” while they are the main driving force behind “Ask for the Omega Man.” “Janice…” is made from smaller snippets placed up front in the mix, with melodic material cast more to the background, in an ambient texture. Where “Janice…” draws attention to its nature as a loop, “Ask for the Omega Man” shifts your focus elsewhere with melodic counterpoint keeping the scratchy sounds of the introduction at bay, and buried.
I like the direction that The Fun Years seem to have taken with this latest release. If we can judge an entire album by this one track, that is to say if every track on “Heroes of the Second Story Walk-Up” takes a similar approach, then it is going to be a pretty good album for sure. The Fun Years might be worth keeping an eye on.
Pre-order The Fun Years “Heroes of the Second Story Walk-Up”
Available on Spring Break Tapes! You can also get that 10″ from three:four records from 2009 here if you want to check out earlier material. That 10″ was a limited edition of 489 (?), which apparently hasn’t really been flying off the shelves. So if you have €10 lying around, there you go.
Visit’s latest, “Werewolf Honeymoon,” is a varied ambient album. Textures range from the repetitive ground bass and overdriven guitar of opener “We Had to Grow Gills Or We Wouldn’t Make It Out Alive,” to the steel string acoustic guiding “Sungaze,” and the more pure amorphous ambience of “Meadowolf” and “Sun Pact (for Niki).” The way that the longer tracks, opening and closing the album, develop amid static textures is what makes “Werewolf Honeymoon” so interesting.
There are moments throughout that call to mind Godspeed You! Black Emperor, especially their two most recent releases. The drones on “Allelujah! Don’t Bend Ascend” are presented as palate cleansers; one between the two extended tracks and one to close out the album. On the vinyl release of that album those drones exist on a 45 separate from the seemingly main 12″, and easily separated from the listening experience. Godspeed takes a similar approach with their latest as well, though in a condensed form.
I think that some of the very same elements appear here in “Werewolf Honeymoon” though the ambiance surrounds those longform melodic elements all within the same track. The sharper attacks of plucked steel strings arrives via the lush sounds which preceded it, while the shorter middle tracks present one of these elements at a time, ushering the listener to the final track.
Visit show themselves to have impeccable pacing in the way that ideas are not so much layered as they are revealed. Sounds not originally in the drone feel as though they have been merely pulled up for closer inspection, and that they were in fact lying in wait the entire time. From the perspective of phrasing each track is shown to be very thoroughly considered, with fairly regular cadence points and an ebb and flow that feels completely natural.
The album is available for pre-order now on the Chicago tape and record label Patient Sounds. If you like this album, then you should know that Patient Sounds regularly releases great stuff, so you should check out their page and listen to all of it and sign up for their newsletter.
Getting back to at least moderately rock related music with The Holydrug Couple. Their album, “Moonlust,” places itself somewhere within the realm of chillwave on songs like “Dreamy,” or album opener “Atlantic Postcard,” while many other tracks take detours into a lot more psychedelic territory. The album is by an large an instrumental affair, and even when there are lyrics present they often aren’t the star of the show.
A track like “French Movie Theme,” appropriately, captures the spirit of Air with prominent bass guitar and ethereal guitar line backed by floating synth patches. A song like this is actually, in my opinion, more effective without vocals because it allows the guitars to really branch out into some interesting territory. It is like having a song with only a middle section, the part that continually builds until there is an exciting climax at the end.
By the time we get to “Submarine Gold” things have really taken a step further toward a more psychedelic sound with a bit more of an improvisatory feel; free form, more or less, with an extended guitar solo.
Off in the other direction we have “Concorde,” firmly planted in the chillwave category with the requisite hazy synths. While the synth is front and center for this one the bass is still just as present as it was in “French Movie Theme,” but the guitar is relocated to backing material, creating sparse echoes off in the distance out of the way of the bass and synth.
“Moonlust” is out this month on Sacred Bones records. The Holydrug Couple is also currently on tour, they are in Portland tonight at the Doug Fir and will be covering the rest of the West Coast and all through the country in the weeks to follow. They even have a show in Toronto and one in the UK, so keep an eye out.
The album is currently available from The Holydrug Couple bandcamp page here. On their bandcamp page you can also check out the video for their song “Dreamy.” The rest of their tour dates are below.
Doug Fir Lounge
San Francisco, CA
Secret Location La
Los Angeles, CA
Kung Fu Necktie
Baby’s All Right
Blade Factory at Camp & Furnace
The most difficult part about writing anything about a post-rock band is that each song is such a journey, and the albums seem to be massive offerings. It’s more about the journey than it is about the little pieces that make them up. Mono, throughout “The Last Dawn” manages to weave together extended sections of tranquility with blasts of euphoric noise. The slow unfolding of each track (as is usually the case) relies on short repetitive melodies that are built up in every way possible. This, of course, is not exactly out of the ordinary. Post-rock tends toward the slow-burn, slowly blending in element after element until the full fabric is complete. It’s a lot easier said than done.
There are many moments on “The Last Dawn” that sound close to Explosions in the Sky’s treatment of guitar, with open string voiced chord extensions are carefully articulated. Mono makes extensive use of a piano as a complement to the quieter guitar parts.
What it all really boils down to is a series of beautiful moments. Specifically, the moments of martial drumbeats and roaring guitars strummed wildly. After so much waiting and placidity, once the album really opens up, and it does so at only a few key moments (which isn’t to say that it should happen more often. On the contrary, the pacing is maybe the most important thing to listen to here), it’s something that gives the listener pause. Those moments are made all the more explosive and awe inspiring in that Mono has made you wait for them. As much as “The Last Dawn” is a collection of songs, it really is more about the journey across the entire album.
And the journey doesn’t end with “The Last Dawn,” the album was recorded simultaneously with their other new release “Rays of Darkness.” The albums are counterparts, but aren’t to be thought of as the same entity. “Rays of Darkness” stands in near opposition to the hopeful, sometimes joyous nature of “The Last Dawn.” Both of these albums are currently available on LP and CD through Temporary Residence Ltd.
The track listing here might be a bit close to irrelevant from my view, because I think that it may just be better to focus on the entire album as a single entity. That sort of listening really works well for the album. It’s just one long instrumental psych-rock journey. Sure, there are the elements of kraut-rock that tend to pop up in these sorts of albums, but by and large each song is one sprawling landscape of alternating chugging power chords, delicate melodies and fuzzed out bliss with the occasional sudden harmony shift that will really grab your attention.
Great guitar tones throughout, usually a generous layering of reverb and ever so slight delay tinges the quieter moments. On the other hand there is the deep satisfying crunch of thick, heavy, almost pitchless super low fuzzed out bass that helps to really boost the more raucous parts of songs. Each song just continuously drives towards a seemingly never attainable goal, propelling itself headlong into the next track. Reverie starts out as a mass of amorphous sludge with rattling retro-futuristic synth sounds buzzing through the speakers, panning from one side to the next amidst a growing dense cluster of various guitar noises and feedback. It’s a nice little break before “Strange Wave Galore” comes in at full-thrash level. And just when you thought things couldn’t get, or wouldn’t get, any more heavy, “The Sweet Confusion” starts up and just keeps on thrashing for nearly 6 minutes.
I should probably mention at some point that the band is from the Netherlands, and that their album, “Strange Wave Galore” came out back in February on the band’s Bandcamp page. It’s available as a download from that site, of course, but it is also now available for order on ultra-limited (200 copies) clear vinyl, as well as black & white splatter vinyl. If you are interested more in saving a few bucks than getting the clear vinyl then you may want to head over to the Permanent Records site, as they have some import copies that are most likely cheaper than having vinyl shipped overseas.
I should start this post with a full disclosure: I am just about the biggest fan of Sonic Youth that there can be. This is not to say that I instantly love everything that they do. Even I can admit that NYC Ghosts and Flowers is a god awful album. They have been around long enough that they are allowed to have a few missteps, phases of greatness followed by brief periods of mediocrity. You definitely can’t blame them for it though, they are always willing to try something new and they are always busy creating.
Ever since buying their early DGC releases “Goo” and “Dirty” off of a friend in middle school I have been in love. Soon after my purchase “Experimental, Jet Set, Trash and No Star was released and I was hooked. They have always been able to get away, in my mind anyway, with anything. They are unabashedly experimental with one foot planted firmly in the “rock” world and the other in the world of “serious” contemporary composition. With Sonic Youth though “serious music” isn’t too different from their rock music. They are responsible for successfully merging the two.
Saying that they have “merged the two” is a bit unfair though, to be honest. There really is no such separation, nor should their be. Music is music. Sonic Youth is one of the most prolific acts in existence today. While they are creating music for Matador they are also creating music to be put out on their own, the SYR series, not to mention the myriad side projects, collaborations, and extra-musical activities that each of the members partake. The point is: they are busy. Busy creating.
The numbered SYR releases usually showcase the more experimental side of the band such as “Goodbye 20th Century” that featured works by John Cage, Yoko Ono and Pauline Oliveros among others performed by the band with help from several musician friends. Kim Gordon, DJ Olive and Ikue Mori collaborated on an SYR release with an experimental album of improvisatory compositions as well. This album, the ninth in the SYR series, is no exception to the experimental rule. It is completely instrumental. At times delicate (“Les Agnes Au Piano”), at other slightly more abrasive (“Chez Yves (Alice et Clara)”) but never crossing into very distant territory.
The tracks err on the side of caution in their brevity with few exceptions (notably the 13 minute closing track). Not that as a rule they aren’t able to make longer compositions sound amazingly beautiful, take for example the extended version of The Diamond Sea off of their “Washing Machine” album. That is 20+ minutes of astounding beauty. It seems that with this album they remain focused on one or two clear ideas per track and they know exactly when enough is enough. The brevity of the songs seems to blur the line of what is improvised and what is laid down as a foundation. Sometimes it appears things are hanging on by a thread, only to be pulled back together again. The improvisations have a great deal of substance and direction. All of this is no doubt the result of them playing together for over thirty years.
To those familiar with Sonic Youths oeuvre the most apt comparison to their earlier work would be found on the soundtrack that they scored to the movie “Made In USA” (apropos of nothing, that soundtrack features my favorite song title ever, “Mackin’ for Doober”) and far from their live improvisations for some Stan Brakhage films that were released as “SYR 6: Koncertas Stan Brakhage Prisiminimui”. That these songs are used as a film soundtrack seems perfectly fitting.
“Escapades” has some really great changes, and generally creates a dark mood. Persistent guitar rhythm doesn’t allow for too much room to move and explore, whereas “Théme de Laetitia” is probably the most spacious song on the album with a buzz that grows to a throbbing hum of guitars. Disjointed echoes emerge from the distance in the left channel while a feedback drone builds in the right among atmospheric cymbal swells. As far as tight vs. loose compositions on the album, where tight would be characterized by little improvisatory noodling and loose being more aleatoric in nature I would place these two tracks at opposite ends of the spectrum. There are tracks such as “Théme de Laetitia” that seem to be concerned more with creating a mood whereas “Escapades” and tracks like it have more of a standard melodic and harmonic nature.
The final track, also the lengthiest cut, “Théme d’ Alice”, has the most clear delineation of the songs structure. The band works so well together throughout the album, but to me it is especially noticeable here. The final 4 minutes is a loosening of that structure, as the song slowly caves in on itself accompanied by a slow fade out.
Through the entire album Steve Shelly’s steady backbeat serves to hold everything together, preventing the work from becoming too much of an all out spacey jam. While the guitars are reaching out into the unknown it is Shelley’s constant that keeps things from going too far. There is a very slight bit of echo on his snare drum. The recording sounds as though it is taking place in a small room, helping to make the album a bit more of the intimate affair. Thurston and Lee’s guitars are pretty sparsely effected with only a touch of delay here and there and light reverb, but nothing that gets in the way of the music and mic’d pretty close; their sound is pushed up front.
It’s not surprising that it is Sonic Youth that finally creates an album that goes its own path, and does so exceptionally well. There is no “wall of sound” production”, no super crazy amounts of reverb on everything, drenching the music beyond the point of recognition. Not that being trendy is high on their agenda. Sonic Youth have been the vanguard of new popular music for a long time now. They have always been the leader and never the follower.
When I was an undergraduate music composition major my professor used to tell the class repeatedly that composition was merely “edited improv”, and I read in an interview once a long time ago where Thurston Moore said that improv was simply “instant composition”. I suppose these things go hand in hand. Sonic Youth does “instant composition” perfectly. It is improvisation with purpose and shape, forethought and direction, all of this that my composition professor referred to as “causality”. This is exactly what is created with this album.
Listening to SYR releases is like getting a peek into Sonic Youth’s notebooks and it is always interesting to hear what they are working on.
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Music has the ability to take on a character of its own and often the musicians that are creating it feel that they are a different person while in the studio. This much is quite true for hip-hop producer RJD2 whose instrumental album “We Are the Doorways” was released under the moniker The Insane Warrior.
According to an entry on his blog he wants us to think of The Insane Warrior as “a completely different dude”. He even goes as far as imagining that he wanted, at one point, to create different names for the artists that are responsible for creating all of the material that he himself is releasing. This makes sense; if an album is written, performed and produced all by the same guy, but the music changes wildly from one album to the next why not change the name of the artist accordingly? The binding element is that they will all be released, as “We Are the Doorways” is, as an RJD2 production. Similar to how Kevin Drew and Co. have released solo albums in association with Broken Social Scene. This could be a great gambit for getting consumers to become fans of a certain “brand” of music while allowing performers and producers to indulge their every whim of creativity. But I digress.
“We Are the Doorways” is a keyboard driven instrumental album with improvisatory, jazz inflicted breaks contained within a usually steady dance groove that serves as the foundation. The lead synth sounds are thick and fat with a crunch that is reminiscent of something from 1980’s television like Knight Rider, especially on the track “Within the Maze”. The character of much of the music holds equal footing in kitschy 80’s vintage and ultra-modern jazz/prog-rock fusion with a lot of energy. There are spots that border on the chugging motorik rhythm of krautrock as well, but there is more of a looseness in the compositions than krautrock would normally allow.
There is a lot of sonic ground covered in the course of the album. This only seems appropriate considering his desire to create enough differing music to substantiate a name change for each release. It is exciting to hear from an artist that is a prolific musician with a need for incessant creation. The album just sounds good. There is space in the mix, and nothing is ever crowded or overbearing. The drum sound is clean and dry with no reverb that I can detect on anything. This flies in the face of most records coming out today. I think that it is this dry sound that keeps the synth sounds from being cheesy or over-saturated with some sort of sentimental emotion. The dry sound has the extra added effect of tightening up the sound, giving it a more mechanical feel but still maintaining a looseness in the music, much like a jazz ensemble. The Insane Warrior is both tight and loose in all the right places.
Despite the change in sounds from track to track RJD2…errr The Insane Warrior does not usually mess with the structure of the songs. They are usually in a sort of Verse/Chorus/Verse setting. Stagnation can be more noticeable without lyrics to fall back on, and rather than have a constant solo he chooses to vary the “Verses” slightly and places some interesting diversional sections in between familiar material and never goes on too long. It seems as though he is aware of the limitations of instrumental music in that regard.
Tracks like “Black Nectar” and the aforementioned “Within the Maze” are studies in contrast in and of themselves. “Black Nectar” begins with a recurring ostinato over which a jazz flute solo appears. The flute only makes a brief showing in this one track, thankfully. Following the forgivingly brief flute solo is a spacey, amorphous section whose dark tone contrasts sharply with the majority of the album; it sounds like something that could have appeared on the Blade Runner soundtrack. Meanwhile “Saint Ignatius Belsse” features calimba, glockenspiel and vibraphone in a thin texture that makes the music seemingly float on air. As soon as the drums kick in the piece begins to swing like Milt Jackson’s Modern Jazz Quartet.
There is no better way to describe “The Mountain” than to say that it sports a raunchy 70’s porn groove before zooming into a slick guitar lead. The guitar here, used sparingly on the album, adds another interesting timbre to the increasingly complex sonic landscape being created across the album. The guitar tone and style sounds like “Three Friends” era Gentle Giant with a combination of the crunchy synth. The album, at first listen, reminds me to a certain extent of the work of Squarepusher with the fast paced virtuosic bass playing replaced with the soundworld of the late 70’s and early 80’s krautrock and prog of Triumvirat and Gentle Giant combined with the improvisatory nature of more recent act The New Deal.
The Insane Warrior’s “We Are the Doorways” is an ever changing, synth heavy, instrumental surge of energy with a virtuosic zeal that seems to hop gleefully from one genre to the next while maintaining a truly unique sound all its own.
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