I’ve definitely posted my fair share of post-modern rock like White Fence, and Foxygen among others. Well, it’s time to switch gears a bit and introduce you to some post-modern electro-pop. Roladex is about to release a new LP in February on Medical Records entitled “Anthems for the Micro-Age.” And though I never typically take lines straight out of the one-sheet, I thought that this one said it all: “imagine Kraftwerk singing Steven Merritt songs.”
Squared off analog synths with hypnotic synthetic drum sounds meets colorful imagery with an understated delivery. Something that Roladex definitely has over Kraftwerk are the pop hooks. Songs here sound as though they were written through the lens of a dystopian, Blade Runner type world where Roladex’s sound is made to match the smokey darkness that describes a technologically advanced cityscape where despite all the coldness the human element still shines through.
The video above is a premiere for “Cathode Rays,” and it’s the kind of trippy, hazy, nostalgic visual that matches the track perfectly. Speaking of that, “nostalgia,” I think that that is something that has been coming up inadvertently around here the past few posts. Just a few words about that, allow me think at you for a second: I find it fascinating the number of different ways that the feeling of nostalgia can be created through music whether it’s Real Estate or Boards of Canada, two bands that have nothing in common, yet both manage to conjure up similar feelings of reminiscence. And not that I want to beat the Kraftwerk parallel to death here, but their use of similar analog synths and stilted drum sounds did not net nearly the same human result as Roladex. I’ll be contemplating that one for a long time.
The album moves between contemplative, entrancing synth-kraut-rock, like “Empty Streets,” to the more danceable (appropriately enough) “Blacklit Disco.” Going back to the question in the last paragraph, I think that a lot of the emotional and nostalgic qualities that are able to shine through has to do with melody. There are some really well shaped, smooth melodic lines that float out over the top of the buzzing synths throughout “Anthems…” The doubled vocals of Tyler Jacobsen and Elyssa Dianne allow the songs to be simultaneously sparse and lush, with Dianne’s vocal delivery at times closely matching that of Lætitia Sadier, while other times being closer to Nico, the original distant singer. Hints of Stereolab are apparent in some other aspects as well, despite Roladex’s markedly thinner sound. I think that both bands are taking a very similar approach.
But the strange dichotomy of sparse lushness is matched by rhythms that are rigid yet bouncy. And I have to make sure that I don’t forget to mention the all important blues based harmonies underlying many of the songs on “Anthems for the Micro-Age.” I’m going to chalk that up to having something to do with adding nostalgia and emotion to the tracks.
“Anthems for the Micro-Age” won’t be out for a few more weeks, February 13th to be exact. The limited release 180-g vinyl will be a transparent electric blue, so you’ll want to get your hands on one of those. Until then you can head on over to the sites at the bottom of the post for some more info, and check out the video at the top of the post. If you preorder now from the Medical Records bandcamp you’ll get an instant download. also you can still get copies of their tape from Night-People Records/Wet Hair.
Watching your favorite band break up is tough to do. It’s like being a kid and having to decide if you are going to live with your mom or your dad after your parents get divorced. I’m still in the phase where I’m holding out hope that Sonic Youth isn’t going to disband, but rumors of this coming Summer’s Lollapalooza performance being the bands last are going around, and sooner or later we are all going to have to face the inevitable together.
In the meantime, Thurston Moore has released an album of genteel, somnolence-inspiring arrangements that function essentially as ruminations on open guitar tunings; Steve Shelley is drumming with Disappears (a band that nobody would be paying attention to if Steve Shelley wasn’t drumming for them); and Lee Ranaldo is making his debut as a solo songwriter with his album “Between the Tides and the Times” on Matador Records.
This isn’t his debut album by any means, as he has released a handful of highly experimental albums including East Jesus, From Here to Infinity, and Amarillo Ramp (for Robert Smithson) that would test the fidelity of any true Sonic Youth fan. These albums are in addition to other free jazz albums that he has collaborated on.
So far we only have one song from the new album, set for release on March 20. “Off the Wall” is structured in typical verse/chorus/verse fashion with a free-wheeling easiness in the melody that sounds like it would fit perfectly on Rather Ripped. This is, oddly, quite a departure considering Ranaldo’s other works. Leave it to someone so completely left-of-center as Lee Ranaldo to release a straight ahead rock track and have it seem like a departure. The truth is that this track does sound like one of the songs that would appear on a Sonic Youth album, where Ranaldo is typically woefully underrepresented.
He’s also got some solo performances coming up, including a spot at Primavera. Check him out live if you can, as his band includes not only Steve Shelley (you know, the guy from Disappears), Nels Cline, Alan Licht and John Medeski. His tour, with M. Ward and Disappears, mostly hits up the East Coast and parts of the South and Midwest. You can check the dates here, and pre-order Between The Times and The Tides at Matador.
Kevin Barnes has always been one to experiment. From album to album significant changes in of Montreal’s sound and approach are apparent, which is what makes of Montreal one of the most exciting bands creating music today. They are an incredibly prolific act, putting out albums and EPs regularly, rarely skipping a year.
One can hear significant departures in sound between 2006’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? and 2008’s Skeletal Lamping. The next album False Priest, from 2010, saw Barnes backing off a bit on excessive experimentation and instead hunkering down with producer Jon Brion to make a psychedelic pop-funk album that captured the bands freakier side but also brought out their fondness for catchy, radio friendly hooks.
Lyrically the albums have run the gamut from the fanciful fictional tales of the band’s earlier output to the much more introspective lyrics found on more recent work, most notably beginning with Hissing Fauna…
Referring to that album as the crux of the latter part of output goes far beyond the fact that it remains their most popular work, and the work that brought of Montreal to the attention of many of their current fans. That is well deserved praise for a phenomenal album that found its rightful place on many year-end lists after its release. Digging deeper into that album, however, one will find the cell of an idea, the beginning of a rift: musically, lyrically, personally.
It was on Hissing Fauna… that Barnes brought to life the character of Georgie Fruit, who is in many ways a latter day Ziggy Stardust. Georgie Fruit is most likely Barnes’ way of exploring his inner psychological torment and sexual curiosities. Georgie is a man that has been through multiple sex changes, and the lyrics of many of the songs that are presented via his perspective are rather lurid. Of Georgie, Kevin states “He’s been a man and a woman, and then back to a man. He’s been to prison a couple of times. In the 1970s he was in a band called Arousal, a funk rock band sort of like the Ohio Players.” Looking at the way this character comes to life shows the birth of this idea, and the first instance of the actual depiction of physical, or psychological divisions in the music of of Montreal.
Hissing Fauna…was an album of two musical characters that eventually pulls itself apart, as literally as is sonically possible. It happens during the track “The Past is a Grotesque Animal” – a nearly twelve-minute long rumination on a circular chord progression that manages to build tension through incessant repetition. The song has no true verse or chorus, and varying phrase lengths offset the importance of certain harmonies over others. When the listener comes out on the other end of that track they are greeted with songs of a completely contrasting ethos. That’s the genesis of Georgie Fruit, coming out on the other side of a song that is the representation of a complete breakdown. This is where the journey that leads us to Parlaytic Stalks really begins. In understanding where this music is coming from it needs to be placed in this perspective.
If Hissing Fauna… is an album that is divided in two halves, Skeletal Lamping is an album of fractured songs that toss and turn into other songs in the middle, sometimes returning, most times not. It’s the representation of Barnes trying to hold things together. The inner demons are starting to surface and it’s becoming increasingly difficult (for us as listeners) to parse out where reality ends and the character begins. Skeletal Lamping was an album that had great parts of songs, and Barnes’ genius lies in stringing them all together. The divisions of these songs-within-songs were sometimes more jarring than others. The rift between Barnes himself and Georgie Fruit was beginning to show itself throughout the songs rather than in between them, and the alter ego Barnes had created for himself was being used to hide from reality.
Then False Priest comes along. It’s a pop-funk album. There is no longer a division; this is 100% Georgie Fruit. Just as Barnes said, Georgie used to be in a funk band. False Priest was that funk band. It was pure theater. We were no longer listening to of Montreal: we were listening to a band within a band, a character within the man.
This becomes quite obvious when one stops to consider that the titles for False Priest and Skeletal Lamping, as well as EP thecontrollersphere, are taken directly from a lyric from “Faberge Falls for Shuggie” – a song that comes after “The Past is a Grotesque Animal,” after that first rift. thecontrollersphere, I remarked when it came out, contains bits that sound as if Kevin is physically tearing himself apart, and “Flunkt Sass vs. The Root Plume” takes its sonic cues directly from Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust. One of the more startling elements of this track is that, for the first time in the latter part of of Montreal’s catalog, Barnes is singing single tracked with little in the way of effects on his voice. He sounds as if he’s screaming for his life while re-entering the atmosphere without a suit. It’s his primal scream, something that can be heard throughout the entirety of Paralytic Stalks. The skillfully double tracked vocals that were omnipresent on earlier of Montreal recordings are now utilized sparingly, and only for special effect. More noticeable are the moments when Barnes screams out until his voice starts to break, providing this batch of songs with an emotional forthrightness and unabashed honesty. The lyrics are not simply more personal, but the songs find him connecting these ideas with the listener with no filter.
That trend of clarity and directness continues on this album, that, in typical of Montreal fashion, is obscurely named. There is no more hiding behind the irony of song structures that contradict the lyrical content, like the dance-y, upbeat “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse” from Hissing Fauna…: a song about a crippling depression and Barnes’ pleading with his own body and medications to not fail him. He sings “I’m in a crisis, I need help, come on mood shift, shift back to good again, come on be a friend. Come on, chemicals!”, underpinned all the while by some of the most cheerful music on that album. Musically, it’s saccharine sweet, rich with synth hooks and a quick tempo.
That type of contextual dissonance is no longer present on Paralytic Stalks. Not only are the lyrics in the first person, but so is the music. The lyrics here are represented in direct correlation with the music, and the music is recorded in such a way that it puts the minimum amount of distance between the song and the listener.
The piano sound in “Authentic Pyrrhic Remission,” as an example, is recorded such that we can hear the room. The listener is placed directly in the presence of Barnes as he speaks to us, giving an unprecedented amount of weight to his words. Every punch connects. By this point Barnes has managed to completely strip away any sense of pretense, and has come out from behind his curtain, which stands in opposition to the heavily effected synth tones that have been occupying many of of Montreal’s previous recordings. Instead of using the recording process as a smokescreen where everything is manipulated, synthesized and recorded directly to the board, much of this album manages instead to connect directly with the listener. Barnes obviously learned quite a bit by working with Jon Brion. The sound of timpani at the opening of “Dour Percentage” is taken directly from the False Priest sessions.
Many of the lyrics on Paralytic Stalks are more relatable than usual. The opening of “Spiteful Intervention” jumps in with raw emotion and trepidation with the line “It’s fucking sad that we need a tragedy to gain a fresh perspective on our lives.” It truly feels like Barnes is including us as listeners. He is no longer speaking from a distance about himself or another party that we are not privy to as listeners. We have been brought into the fold and welcomed.
That personal forthrightness goes even further later in the song when he states “I spent my waking hours haunting my own life / I made the one I love start crying tonight and it felt good / still there must be a more elegant solution.” Though the opening of the lyric is honestly and painfully sung in a loud, trembling yell with a tenuous grasp on pitch, there is still that sense of reaching out to do more. Barnes is realizing the consequences of his actions and his feelings. The lyric doesn’t point to his being a self-obsessed animal, but the complete thought points to his willingness to change: the theme and process behind the past few releases.
Barnes, in recent interviews about what to expect from his latest album had this to say: “I don’t want to become a caricature of Georgie Fruit…I want to keep growing as an artist.” (source) This statement signals Barnes’ intentions to change everything in his musical process from the ground up. His art is a reflection of his life. Personal problems are being faced head on; Barnes is not shielding himself. There are attempts to change things, attempts to brighten up the band’s sound and turn the darkness in on itself. Paralytic Stalks is the sound of facing the things that made him turn inward.
The pedal steel has an uncanny ability to sound like a sunrise, and when it is used in “Wintered Debts,” it has exactly that effect. Its use, combined with the shift in piano style throughout the album, is more playfully reminiscent of Tin Pan Alley song pluggers of the early 20th century. “Malefic Dowery” is made gentler with the addition of that piano, and a delicate arrangement of woodwinds.
That characteristic of change has always existed on of Montreal records. It’s an unwillingness to settle for a certain sound, or a certain instrumental configuration to define them. Paralytic Stalks features woodwinds, strings, and some auxiliary percussion, in addition to the tradition rock band set up. of Montreal has always augmented that sound with two basses, with great effect, as is the case of the intricate bass-lines in “Authentic Pyrrhic Remission.” Those bass-lines can now be seen through the lens of psych-funk, like on False Priest. of Montreal isn’t bound, musically, by any outside conventions. This is a band that seeks only to evolve from album to album, and Paralytic Stalks they prove that they do that better than any other band working today.
“Ye, Renew the Plaintiff” drops a beat around the minute mark, another instance of the track tearing itself apart. After that disorienting rhythmic shift, a pulsating, straightforward rumination on only a few chords begins, and Barnes can’t help himself from shouting “How can I defend myself against this world?” and “I’m desperate for something but there’s no human word for it / I should be happy but what I feel is corrupted, broken, impotent and insane!” From there, the confessions continue rolling out, easily, effortlessly as if the dam has finally been breached and Barnes is helpless to cease the flow of confession. “I’ve become so hateful, how am I ever going to survive this winter / I can think of nothing but getting my revenge, / make those fuckers pay / but it’s not gonna happen and it’s eating a hole in me!” With that, Barnes is screaming at the top of his lungs through an increasingly wild guitar solo.
With “Exorcismic Breeding Knife” something out of the ordinary happens. Instead of everything being pulled apart, gradually or otherwise, the song starts in utter chaos and remains there throughout the majority of its seven-plus minutes. Toward the conclusion of the song, the chaotic elements come together in a beautifully resolute major chord that emerges from a cloud, at first with a suspension, and is then resolved.
Following this track is the album closer, “Authentic Pyrrhic Remission.” It starts off as the most straightforward track on the album, let alone the past several of Montreal albums. The intricately woven, multi-tracked bass-line is present; there are sweet harmonies, a danceable beat and an ultra catchy melody. It’s not until the lyric, “every time I listen to my heart I just get hurt” where nearly every instrument drops out of the mix completely, and things begin to descend once again into utter bedlam. Both the song and album close with the gentle sound of a reverb laden piano and Kevin’s solitary voice stating the most startling confessional revelation yet: “Til this afternoon I was an exile, but now that word is obsolete. There are no nations, no concept of ego. Our illumination is complete.”
With that, Barnes manages to sum up all the concepts he’s brought up since “The Past Is A Grotesque Animal” on Hissing Fauna, Are you the Destroyer? That closing line manages to not only find Barnes at peace with his now exorcised inner demons, but simultaneously lets the listener know that we have traveled this path with him, and we have grown together through the journey.
Paralytic Stalks is, in certain ways, similar to many other of Montreal albums. Throughout it, we can never be certain which direction we’ll be traveling next. Upon its conclusion, however, we’re left with a mixture of closure and expectation.
Beginning today Paralytic Stalks is available for streaming on Rdio and Spotify so head on over to those sites and check out the entire album and then head over to Polyvinyl and order one for yourself! There are still some of the limited edition Fuchsia 180g records left, hurry!
With his debut solo album Paul A. Rosales creates a complex sound world that completely envelopes the listener from first track to last. With an understated guitar pushed to the background behind ever present vintage sounding synths and vocals treated through an array of varying echoes and delays that sometimes change as the songs develop, this is an album that demands the full attention of the listener. True headphone music.
The opening track, “Crimes”, introduces us at once to all of the elements that are present throughout the album: a driving, urgently attacked guitar that is made to sound less threatening by being set way back in the mix. The tone of the guitar is clean, but rounded out a bit with the help of a phaser. Synths are layered over top, taking precedence in the mix, even over the vocals. The synth tone covers everything in a wash of color similar to the retro sound of Neon Indian. It is the aural equivalent of a grainy VHS tape playing old home movies. The bass pops up between the synth and the guitar with a persistent line that wants to encourage you to dance, but the trippy vocals and disorienting drums will probably find you too out of sorts to try.
Most captivating in this wash of visceral noise are the vocals. They are made cryptic, shouting out from the back of the room, trying to reach above the din. Some of the words break through, but they are layered over each other with a good dose of delay. It is clear that Rosales is interested more in creating sounds and then manipulating them than he is in creating catchy pop hooks. The closest thing that we do get to a catchy pop tune is “She Tells Me” that is guitar driven and precariously close to having qualities that would make the listener want to sing along to the stand out line, “I fucked up, she tells me” that is repeated several times.
In “Bastard of a Man” it is startling to hear the vocals so up front and out in the open. Most of the instruments are stripped away to make room for the lyrics “Don’t give up baby/Don’t worry baby” made all the more disconcerting through a vocal approach that doesn’t settle into pitch until after the words have already been delivered. The delay on his voice in this track bounces along with the drums. He’s really in complete control of every element of the sound on this album and even more so by taking the entire sound as a whole and casting a bit of distortion and fuzz on to it as if the recording was a little too hot. Especially on “Bastard of a Man” the grittyness is amped up a little bit more than on any of the other tracks.
“Clarity Dissolve” adds some dimension to the sound with drums that were recorded to sound like they are a mile away, and the vocals are once again pushed to the back of the mix and this time sung in falsetto. The guitar is more up front, taking the role formerly held by the synths, by creating an amorphous cloud of overdriven sound. The synth line is only able to be heard in tiny bursts as if it were trying to take quick breaths.
Altering sound elements is not the only way that Rosales builds his songs. On many of the tracks the beat has a fluidity to it that creates another level of motion against the shifting color palette. Sometimes the vocal delivery is a bit relaxed and behind the beat, creating a push and pull from where one would expect a new measure to start. This is the fluid element to the song writing. That is not the only way that it is done, for example in the song “Change Faster” he swings from a steady eighth note pulse that alternates with a few bars of a metric modulation that speeds things up slightly, giving an off-kilter motion to the song.
Overall this album is a study in sound manipulation more than it is an exercise in writing standard, radio friendly songs. This album is pretty far from being radio friendly with its truly lo-fi production and all around grittyness. This is an album of experimental sound sculpture disguised as songs. There are some very interesting things going on throughout, and I would suggest giving this album the due time that it deserves to sink in and truly begin to enjoy all of what it has to offer.
How much control does an artist have then is another question. The painter can fill up the canvas and decide how the work is going to be framed. How much control does an artist have over how the work is displayed? Would there be a problem with hanging a certain painting in proximity to the work of another artist? How much can we expect the audience to cast off as “not the work of the artist”.
There was a sculpture of sorts on display in one room of the new Modern building at the Art Institute of Chicago. The sculpture involved a pile of white rocks piled up on a conical figuration with tiny rocks on the outskirts and larger rocks towards the center and peak. Intersecting the rocks were mirrors in the shape of an asterisk. As I looked at this exhibit I wondered aloud to my brother, “do you think the artist comes to the museum that this work is displayed in to set it up or do you think that it is shipped with very specific instructions as to how it needs to be exactly?” We left it up in the air.
This is to say, how much of a degree of aleatory is there in all the arts? I know that Cage was convinced (and has convinced many others, including myself) that there is a certain degree of aleatory in all music. The variables being performers, performance space, conductor, instruments, tempo, audience…the list is infinite.
While in Chicago we also visited the Museum of Contemporary Art. There was a simple sculpture made of found items that were hung from a wire frame and meant to form a smiling face. Though it was enclosed in a plastic box and therefore unable to be touched, the string from which most of the sculpture was hanging had twisted somehow and it made the eyes, nose and mouth of the face appear perpendicular to the outer wire frame forming some sort of cubist idea of a face. This, I can say with almost complete certainty, was not the original intention of the artist. Should I, however, take it as I saw it? Or should I correct what I feel is “wrong” and remember the sculpture as being that of a right and true “face”? How far can one take this idea? I don’t think that many artists would appreciate the idea of their audience “perfecting” their art.
With a piece of music, how much is the audience expected to “correct”? There are going to be slight mistakes made, there are going to be choices made by the conductor that make some parts seem more important than others, and there are going to be cues missed and measures accidentally excluded perhaps by a particularly nervous percussionist that hasn’t played for 42 bars and lost count or was not cued. How much of the music, then, actually is what the composer wrote? I realize that this does overlap with thoughts about degrees of aleatory in music, but I would like to examine it one step further from an audience perspective. Is an audience experiencing music and taking it for granted that the performance was perfect? This begs the question about artist control. Exactly how much control does the composer have once the score leaves their hands?
Dirty Projectors probably have the most easily identifiable and unique sound in Indie Rock today. Dave Longstreth is the man behind the band, which now includes Angel Deradoorian, Amber Coffman and Brian McComber as principal members. Stylistically they are glitchy, jittery, cut-up and put back together rhythmically with very intricately ornamented vocal lines (as well as guitar lines, I suppose). The vocal harmonies are very tight, and I would imagine quite challenging to sing. Often it seems as though notes are picked out of nowhere. That glitchy, jittery rhythm also seems as though it is speeding up and slowing down with so much use of borrowed meter and complex tuplet structures, which is a trait rarely used at all by other bands (I actually can’t think of any that have ever done anything similar) but Dirty Projectors put to use in each of their recordings. It is almost as if Longstreth is stopping and starting time at will. There are very complex and lengthy patterns at work in his songs.
When I was in college I was part of a group for new music called Ethos. As president of the group I was responsible for scheduling guest composers and lectures to come to campus. In 2008 we had as a guest a fantastic composer named Missy Mazzoli. While driving her down to our campus in the middle of nowhere we got to talking about music. She asked me if I had ever heard of Dirty Projectors, to which I responded with something like “I have heard of them, but I don’t know any of their stuff”. This was true, and is also my stock answer when I don’t want to admit that I am completely ignorant of something. She mentioned that she is friends with the lead singer/songwriter, that they had met while studying at Yale. She said that I may like them but warned me that they were “really strange, but beautiful”. She didn’t have to say anything more. I already knew that I wanted to get to know them and be a fan.
I had the opportunity to catch them a few months later at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago (July 2008) and I was so impressed by their performance that I ran to the record tent to see what I could find and immediately bought “Rise Above” which is a “re-imagining” of the Black Flag album “Damaged” but given the Dirty Projectors treatment and apparently done from memory (Longstreth hadn’t heard the album in a long time, but managed to remember almost all the lyrics. The album is fantastic). I made a note to remember them and try to check out all of their stuff. They were the highlight of the Festial last year for me.
NPR began streaming their latest album “Bitte Orca” this week and I immediately sat down to check it out. All of the characteristic sounds of the band are in place, the jittery rhythms, frantic guitar playing and close harmonies. There is, also, the extra added bonus of catchy hooks (which I have been a fan of lately). I think the use of catchy hooks works even more for bands as unique as Dirty Projectors because it is something that is almost unexpected and they are made all the more beautiful by the unconventional structures that happen around them.
Starting off the album “Cannibal Resource” with its ethereal sounding guitar and bass interruptions the energy slowly kicks in throughout the first verse but we aren’t really off the ground until the chorus kicks in. The vocal arrangement of the opening guitar riff is a great touch and the clean guitar that comes in between the verses evokes the spectre of Frank Zappa. There is a transcendent emotion conveyed throughout this album, more so than on their previous efforts. The opening guitar line that comes back throughout is quite effective in moving the listening along. This characteristic is not just of the first track, it continues throughout the album. I think that this is what sets it apart from their earlier work. This album seems more cohesive in its construction of songs and song forms. Each track builds upon the previous. “Temecula Sunrise” will get stuck in your head and it will stay there. The wandering, overlapping guitar lines with the wavering backbeat that all comes together at exactly the right time. It’s absolutely perfect. This is as close to pop perfection as Dirty Projectors will ever be. They are still at quite a safe distance, remaining distinctive but familiar. There are even guitar “solos” on a few tracks.
“The Bride” definitely reminds me of Led Zeppelin’s “III” with the octave portamento (which really drives the song home) on what I believe sounds like a guitar in some tuning with a lot of open 5ths in it. From there the album moves right along to “Stillness is the Move” which is quite the shift in gears. The tune has the most straightforward beat and guitar parts (which sound as though they may be looped) placed behind R & B type vocal acrobatics courtesy of the female singers, with a laid back bridge that divides the song right in two. Layering comes in later in the song. Strings enter over top to sort of smear the painting as it were. Also note the bassline in this one. Punchy, pointed and downright funky.
The remainder of the album plays out much in the same way that it began. Great acoustic guitar work, string arrangements, memorable lines, a ballad? (“Two Doves”), and the constant juxtaposition of strange and expected. “Useful Chamber” fits well as a counterpart to “Stillness is the Move” with it’s looped drums (probably a drum machine) and synth sounds. At over 6 minutes though the song has many places that it can go, and before it ends we are hit with the crush of distortion and frenetics upon Longstreth’s repeated utterings of the album title.
Without belaboring it for too much longer I will conclude by saying that this album has a great shape to it. The album is put together very well as a whole, and each of the songs are interesting little pieces of the puzzle. Closing track “Fluorescent Half-Dome” is an absolutely beautiful track, and a perfect album closer.
Dirty Projectors have made a great contribution here to what is turning out to be a solid year for new music.
Sonic Youth has been my favorite band since I first heard Dirty in the summer of 1993. I was immediately attracted to what I thought was a very much “anything goes” mentality. The music was (and remains, to a certain extent) brash, noisy, and full of surprises. From one release to the next they may completely change their sound or they may remain writing in the same manner for several albums in a row.
For several years, after “Experimental, Jet Set, Trash and No Star” and “Washing Machine” I lost track of my beloved Sonic Youth. I had purchased “A Thousand Leaves” and never really connected with it. They went on to release “New York City Ghosts and Flowers” and I felt further separated from my beloved Sonic Youth. Thankfully for my birthday one year my brother bought me a copy of “Murray Street” and I got my band back again. Gone were the ultra-hip completely high-brow concepts that I could not grasp at all, and Sonic Youth was back to doing what they do best.
“Murray Street”, “Sonic Nurse” and “Rather Ripped” were truly a return to form. But this was a leaner Sonic Youth. They were stripped down somewhat of some of the long form experiments. It became clear that Thurston, Lee, Kim and Steve wanted to get back to writing quick, punk influenced jams that were still rich in catchy melodies but still contained a balance with noisy, improvisational stretches that many of their early releases were full of. Sonic Youth has reached a balance. After well over a dozen releases they were still evolving and developing into a band that is quite capable of rocking while still holding fast to their core Downtown New York City experimental values.
“The Eternal”, which will be released officially on June 9, is quite a diverse offering. Twelve tracks, across 2 albums (Sonic Youth should always be listened to on vinyl, in my humble opinion. As much as possible anyway). The hooks are a little more jagged here than they were on their last release “Rather Ripped”. The melodies are a little less pretty, but the songs are a bit more straightforward, and edgy. They sound younger on this album, more revolutionary, more punk than arty. There are still a couple of songs on this album that stretch beyond the 6 minute mark (3 to be exact, one of which is over 9 minutes).
They don’t tend towards noise as much as they would on “Evol” or “Sister” (or even parts of “Daydream Nation” like the song “Eric’s Trip”). Instead the longer songs have large sections that are loud, and noisy, but not so much in the realm of getting lost in distortion as they are contemplating sounds through repetition or focusing on a repeated gesture. Dare I say that elements of shoegaze are present at this stage in the game. Songs like “Anti-Orgasm” feature a duet of Thurston and Kim, with a super angry palm-muted crunch. The song then spins out of control into an extended quiet jam that is, like I mentioned before, more contemplative than just noise for the sake of noise. Though, there is never anything wrong with noise for the sake of noise.The Thurston/Kim collaboration continues on tracks “Leaky Lifeboat (for Gregory Corso)”.
“Antenna” begins with a very straight ahead verse but builds up to a very ethereal, and damn catch chorus. Well, it is not so much a chorus as it is just a hook with Thurston singing “Far away” in his falsetto with an echoed guitar doubling him while the rest of the band seems to disappear into the background. It’s one of those magical moments that can only they seem to be able to achieve. Maybe it is because there is only one chord that is hammered on for about a minute before anything else in the song changes, and when that change finally comes it feels like you are being simultaneously lifted off of the ground while a 10 ton weight is being lifted from your shoulders.
Throughout the album there is a higher degree of continuity between songs. The style of each of the 3 songwriters (Lee, Kim and Thurston) seem to have congealed significantly more over the past few years than on previous releases. All around this is a solid effort, and it continues along in the way the band conducts their business as producing “poppy-er” albums (as much as Sonic Youth can produce anything even remotely “poppy”) for the label they work for (currently Matador, formerly DGC) and leaving their most experimental indulgences for release on their own SYR label. I think that they have managed to find an outlet for all of the things that they want to say, do and explore through each of these avenues. This, of course, does not even mention all of the collaborations they each go off and do, as well as other art that they each produce, Kim as a clothing designer, Thurston has written books, and worked with several other artists around the world including Merzbow, Wolf Eyes and Yoko Ono.
I truly hope that Sonic Youth continues to create well into the next 10 or 20 years. They have already influenced countless others, and are one of the only bands that I can think of that actually have something intelligent and different to say. There is no other group quite like Sonic Youth. This album is another one for the collection. Reviewing Sonic Youth albums just seems like an exercise in futility. There are pretty much just maniacal fans, like me, that are going to buy the album anyway and love it. Perhaps we will love it more than another of their albums, perhaps less, but we are still going to buy it. I don’t think that Sonic Youth is going to get a rush of new fans running out to get this album, but maybe I will be proven wrong. They already have at least one legendary album to their credit, and although I don’t think this will be another one of them, if they keep up with this trajectory, another one is not far off.