Some pretty dark sounds are emitting from this tape. I know that I probably use the word “sinister” a bit too much in my reviews, but I need to use it again today because the music contained on Britches’ “Demolition” can’t be better described with any other adjective. If you read my post a while back about Chat Logs, then you know where I’m coming from here.
Primal drumming behind guitars that are just sludgy as hell and broken up by screeching noise all through the opening tracks “Nice Ending” (heard above) and “Go Out.” That sinister darkness is captured within the realm of this barrage of guitars and a distorted, mostly cryptic vocal.
The opening of “Forever Now” begins beautifully, creeping out of the echoed darkness into a warm ambience that swells into view. Soon the atmosphere is enveloped in sound, though the background sounds of approaching sharp and high pitched sounds soon takes the sound from calming and contemplative to fearful. Obscured, heavily affected vocals slowly come into focus sounding like a buzzier “Fitter, Happier,” but with the noise of Women’s harshly bowed guitars on “Can’t You See.”
The latter part of the tape brings back the noise with “Antonyms,” maybe summoning the sound of Scott Walker if he was influenced by No Wave; and finishing out the tape is the 9 minute ambient slow burn of “Take it for Granted.” Probably don’t listen to this one in the dark. Definitely listen to it loud.
It’s been a few years since we’ve really heard anything from Chad Vangaalen, and the void has been noticeable, at least to myself. In my opinion, Vangaalen released one of the best albums of 2011, not to mention one of my favorites that has held a place of heavy rotation on my turntable since before it saw official release, the strangely titled “Diaper Island.” I can’t help but think of him as the Canadian Steve Albini, not because of his outspoken nature or aggressive attitude (because he is neither outspoken nor aggressive), but because his production style is immediately recognizable as his own. His fingerprints are all over Women’s “Public Strain,” undoubtedly one of my favorite albums of all time. And since “Diaper Island”s release the only thing that we’ve gotten was an EP (an EP, by the way, that was as long as some albums, and just as good) released through Altin Village, which is also worth checking out if you haven’t already.
The new track, “Where Are You?” features Vangaalen’s quavering and distant voice that echoes through the din of reverberant drums and guitars wrapped up in ominous synth tones. It’s doing the job that it is supposed to do, that being getting me excited to hear more new material. His forthcoming album, “Shrink Dust” (cover art seen above) is set to be released on April 29th on SubPop. And speaking of that “Green Corridor” EP, from the tracklisting posted to Consequence of Sound, “Weighed Sin,” the EP’s standout track, will appear on “Shrink Dust.”
As an addendum, as I was searching through the internet for this post I came across some stuff of Vangaalen’s that I hadn’t heard before. Apparently after “Diaper Island” was released, an EP was also released containing out-takes. “Your Tan Looks Supernatural” is posted to the artist’s bandcamp page that apparently hasn’t been updated in several years. There isn’t anything too exciting here, but the songs are worth a listen for the completists out there. That one can be downloaded immediately for as little as $5 CAD. You can listen to that below.
And finally, there will be a very small tour in support of “Shrink Dust” beginning in May in the US. Details about that can be found at the Consequence of Sound post.
I recently made this mix for some friends. I burned a few copies and sent them off, hoping that it doesn’t just end up collecting dust in some corner of their place, or thrown on the passenger seat of their car, forgotten forever.
The concept behind this mix is that these are my favorite tracks of the year so far. These songs have all gone into heavy rotation on my iTunes and I think they represent a good cross section of a variety of styles from bands and artists that are quite well known, like Neil Young and Arcade Fire, as well as some lesser known acts like Wonder Wheel, Hurricane Bells and Beach Fossils. I hope that some of these tracks find their way into your iTunes, as I feel that they are all worth at least a listen.
Track 1: “We Used to Wait” – Arcade Fire
From the much anticipated album “The Suburbs” I chose this as the opening track for its driving quality and the slow build. Arcade Fire really does a fantastic job on this album of capturing a universal feeling of the wonderment of childhood and growing up. I wasn’t a fan of their previous albums, but I feel like they finally hit the mark with this one and I think that this is one of the stand out tracks. If you have a chance to check out the video that was created for this song I would suggest doing so, it brings even more emotional depth to the song and makes it truly personal. You can check out the video here.
[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/13-We-Used-To-Wait.mp3|titles=We Used To Wait]
Track 2: “Frankenstein” – Tokyo Police Club
This is the closing track from their most recent release, this summer’s “Champ”. All in all it is a strong album with a lot of memorable tracks. The pulsating guitar line with the slow moving and fuzzed out synth beneath it creates a layered effect that works really well here. This is also a rare instance where I think that the verse is better than the chorus. I discussed this album in detail in a previous post, here. Check out the track, below.
Definitely not a band that I had heard of only a few months ago. Motorifik is a side project from one of the members of Working For a Nuclear Free City and their sound is similar to Phoenix with a little bit more shoegaze and dreampop thrown in. I particularly like the wordless refrain that is drenched in reverb and echo. The drums sound more like explosions with the cymbals creating waves of sound that nearly overtake everything else.
[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/10-FLAMES-ON-THE-OCEAN.mp3|titles=Motorifik – Flames on the Ocean]
Track 4: “Alphaville” – Working for a Nuclear Free City
This comes from their recent double album “Jojo Burger Tempest”, far and away the most dense album I have heard in a long time. There are about a million ideas (not even exaggerating) on the album. This song is no different. We go from a simple, upbeat tune until the bottom falls out, a synth takes the lead, which is then replaced by guitars as the band careens through several different sections. The track moves to about 12 different places before coming to an end. The funny thing is though, and this is true for every track on the album, though the songs may seems overwhelming they are so catchy and well crafted and produced, that they stand up to repeated listens.
[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/04_Alphaville.mp3|titles=Working for a Nuclear Free City – Alphaville]
Track 5: “Helicopter” – Deerhunter
With a chorus that is similar in effect to the Motorifik track this one by Deerhunter is an amazing tune from an outstanding album. Halcyon Digest, released in October, is quite different from Deerhunter’s earlier, more ambient work. The lyrics here add to the emotional charge of the song, which is musically quite simple. Bradford Cox’s voice has a real sense of sincerity and longing here. The album is filled with powerful moments like the ones in this track. For a more detailed review, go here.
Track 6: “Scissor” – Liars
I’ve been following this band for a few years now. Their earliest work was in line with the dance-punk bands coming out of New York in the early 2000’s, but they quickly ditched that sound (as well as their rhythm section) and began creating very heady concept albums including the astoundingly great Drum’s Not Dead. They have moved away from those album oriented ideas with this album, Sisterworld, and the album before. This song brings forward the bands ability to be creepy and frightening while at the same time rocking harder than most bands around. The video is quite crazy as well (though, unfortunately, embedding is disabled).
Track 7: “A More Perfect Union” – Titus Andronicus
It is really difficult to pick a favorite track from this album. Titus Andronicus’ The Monitor is damn near flawless. Musically there is nothing too new going on here, which is not a bad thing. Everything works perfectly. This track clocks in at over 7 minutes, and not a second is wasted. This band, from Glen Rock, New Jersey, rocks with a vengeance. Singer Patrick Stickles screams and growls his deeply personal lyrics through clenched teeth. This track, the opener from The Monitor serves as a call to arms. I talk about the album in far too much detail here.
[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/01-A-More-Perfect-Union.mp3|titles=Titus Andronicus – A More Perfect Union]
Track 8: “Years Not Long” – Male Bonding
This track comes from an album that is full of blistering tracks recorded in the red. It’s nearly all straight ahead garage rock. Fast, loud, noisy, yet the singing is almost sweet and gentle, despite it’s cutting through a whole lot of noise. Earlier in the year this was a standout album and there still isn’t anything that sounds quite like it.
[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/01-Years-Not-Long1.mp3|titles=Male Bonding – Year’s Not Long]
Track 9: “IMHO” – Wonder Wheel
This track could be filed in the “Chillwave” category with others like Neon Indian and Small Black. I really like the raw sound of the recording, the pervasive guitar line and ever present synth that casts a certain relaxed feeling over everything. The rapid fire vocals in the chorus are quite catchy, even if I’m not entirely sure what is being said. There is a looseness in the musicianship present here, where sometimes the drums speed up, or slow down, they aren’t necessarily synched up through the entire song, but it really doesn’t seem to matter. The middle 8 section is a highlight, as is the closing section that slows the tempo down and lets the track breath a little, taking a break from the wall of sound. This is also one very prolific band. I’m sure that by the years end we’ll have another album full of tunes, and I’m personally looking forward to it.
So it’s nearly winter, that doesn’t mean that we can’t pretend that we are at the beach. I really like the interplay of the guitar line and the bass line at the beginning. When the second guitar comes in with a tremolo effect things are pushed even further. This song, as with the rest of the tracks on this album, really capture the ultra-relaxed, sun-soaked laziness of southern California. The band really doesn’t have much to say beyond what is expressed in this song, but it’s fun. They aren’t going to change the world but their songs can make you happy for at least a little while.
Track 11: “Fake Blues” – Real Estate
Similar in style to Beach Fossils is New Jersey band Real Estate. They still have that laid back, west coast, lazy/sunny vibe that is no doubt helped by their echo laden guitars and laid back vocals. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing these guys perform a few times and they are a really tight band. They have taken these songs and really built upon them in their live set. It’s easy to tell that a lot of these tunes are developed from improvised jams and then shaped into solid songs. They have a limited bag of tricks and a very distinctive sound, but they use it quite well.
Track 12: “Make a Deal with the City” – Hurricane Bells
Ok, I’ll admit that the latter half of this mix tape is concerned mostly with songs that sound, to me, “sunny”. I think it has something to do with these past couple of songs have just about the same walking, lulling tempo, a relaxed singing style and a lot of echo. This one comes off of Hurricane Bells’ follow up EP to their debut full-length album Tonight is the Ghost. This is the kind of song that would work well accompanying an early morning drive down the highway as the sun is just rising in an orange tinged sky.
[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/01-Make-A-Deal-With-The-City.mp3|titles=Hurricane Bells – Make A Deal With The City]
Track 13: “Walk With Me” – Neil Young
Neil is one of those artists that seems to be untouchable. He releases album after album after album, some take off, some flop and fall away into obscurity but nobody ever seems to fault him for it. He’s celebrated for his output and his willingness to always try something new. Often he succeeds in creating some sort of new sound, even if that “new sound” is Neil returning to his “old sound” and updating it. This track comes from his collaboration with producer Daniel Lanois. The fascinating thing about this song, as well as the rest of the album, is that it is Neil with just a guitar. He still achieves an interplay of guitar lines and melodies thanks to his unique approach to the guitar combined with Lanois’ production tricks. The guitar here sounds beefy as hell and the way that the vocals were recorded make it sound like Neil is speaking directly to the listener from an authoritative place on high. In my opinion Young’s work is always worth at least a cursory listen. Sometimes the albums don’t hold up but there is always at least one song that is worth the trouble.
Track 14: “Eyesore” – Women
Closing out my mix is the closing track from Women’s latest album Public Strain. This band sounds like nothing else coming out of Calgary, or anywhere for that matter. They seem to be summoning early Sonic Youth and The Velvet Underground. Lots of noise, produced by the instruments and otherwise. The way that this album, as well as their previous self-titled album, were recorded allow for a lot of extraneous sounds to enter into the mix. One can hear the squeaking of the kick drum pedal, doors opening and closing, talking at the beginning or ending of tracks, tape hiss and various other things that are usually scraped out with precision to make an album sound pristine. What this results in is a very haunting and affecting album. The last few minutes of this one in particular are my favorite. The repeated pattern that slowly fades as the energy continues to build just makes me want to listen to the album over and over again.
Women’s latest release, “Public Strain”, is artier and more experimental than much of what is out there right now. The album leans towards an early Sonic Youth aesthetic with its use of ambiance, noise, feedback drones and aggressive guitar attacks with through-composed song structures, but also throws in a few tricks from the prog. side of things with angular rhythms and odd time signatures. The album also juxtaposes ultra-lofi sounds with clear production and apathetic vocals that are paired with confident instrumental work through out.
There are many exciting contrasts on “Public Strain”. Songs that hide melody beneath layers and layers of ambiance and noise are placed next to more easily digestible material that features a catchy hook, or infectious guitar riff. The track “Bells” is simply a feedback drone that seems to come directly out of the bleak soundscape of “Penal Colony” which features, in spite of itself, a sweet sounding vocal melody and is followed by “China Steps” with its minimalist groove and chugging, atonal guitar. There is certainly a lot of ground covered here songwriting wise. The band shows that they are not completely averse to the idea of writing a catchy hook in a recognizable form, though those catchy tunes are by no means “boring” or “ordinary”. Women put their own spin on their idea of what a song can and should be.
The sound, in general, on the album is described fairly well by the album cover. A yellowed picture with some small figures that are near completely obscured by the wash of white scratches across the surface (or perhaps it is a driving snow). The grit and graininess of that photo is the perfect analogy to describe their abrasive harmonies, harsh guitar tones, angular rhythms and the echoed and reverbed vocals that sound like Phil Spector got his murderous little hands all over them. There is something really sinister about the vocal delivery on this album. It is haunting, slightly creepy and truly unsettling, and it works perfectly with the music. The unsettling nature of the sound of the album is made more unsettling by the fact that none of these songs really have a chorus. The energy contained within each of the songs can not be hidden behind these aspect of sound though and something truly remarkable begins to happen when listening to the album repeatedly, (which is highly suggested as this album is definitely a “grower”) one begins to pick through all of the “sound” and find some truly intriguing and catchy parts. One can hold onto these parts and become absorbed in a trance of sorts, for example during the uncharacteristically “up” sounding final 2 minutes of the closing track “Eyesore”. Also, speaking to the lo-fi sound are “Heat Distraction” and “China Steps” that both open with bass and drums recorded from what sounds like a room mic replete with the noisy squeak of the kick drum pedal and “Untogether”, which begins by sounding as if someone started the tape after the band had already begun to play.
The opening track seems to function as an anacrusis to the proper opening of the album. “Can’t You See” is a slow burning, contemplative and nearly ambient track while “Heat Distraction”, which follows, is a driving and disorienting song that is catchy, bright and radio-friendly(er) despite it being somewhat more cerebral from a compositional standpoint. “Can’t You See” shares with “Bells” a foundation in ambiance, though the veiled ambiance of the opening track is abandoned in the latter track for total unabashed guitar feedback hum and growl with organ-like overtones ringing out through a cloud of sound.
The most abrasive, in your face, and Sonic Youth-y track is the turbulent “Drag Open”. The vocals are nearly covered by the barrage of buzzing guitars, whereas “Locust Valley”, with its meandering arpeggios, sounds like the kind of 2 guitar counterpoint that Radiohead favors on their song “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”. “Venice Lockjaw” is the closest that the band gets to writing a ballad as it is another slow burning track that continues to build, while closing track “Eyesore” is another candidate for heavy college radio rotation.
Women sound like a modern band with old school production values. The reverb and sound in general is straight out of the 60’s much in the same way that Best Coast tries to capture the Phil Spector girl group “wall of sound”. But Women isn’t nearly the same as Best Coast. There is something intriguing and sinister in their sound, something slightly creepy and disturbing about the vocals, something unsettling about the structure of the songs and all of these things are done to perfection so as to have the listener coming back for more.