This is mostly in thanks to theneedledrop for giving me something to stumble upon, but this new free download from Third World Records' hip-hop/rap experimentalists Death Grips really does intrigue me. Exmilitary is a mixtape that you can easily toss-and-turn to in your sleep, using sometimes outrageously pulsating beats in ways that even Sleigh Bells would be considered proud of. It's loud, demanding rap that's both chin-stroking and head-nodding, and sometimes eyebrow-raising. Either way you look at it, this might be a fun way to end the week at CS. At least I know it is.
Genre: Indie Folk/Alternative
Origin: Seattle, Washington
Oh man. Oh my. Oh me. Where I do I start with this one?
Indie folk band Fleet Foxes emerged in 2008 with their self-titled debut and Sun Giant EP, and it turned into what was arguably the best album of the year. As if their location of origin wasn't enough evidence to show how success-bound this band was, their lush, textured instrumental orientation and beautiful vocal harmonies helped formulate regenerated interest in the folk genre and gave us a fresh and majestic twist of consistently wonderful pieces of music. It was difficult whether or not to believe that those of us who loved the band's first outing would want more of the same when it came to their sophomore record, but here we are with Helplessness Blues, an album that does Fleet Foxes one better - by growing into a larger, more literary, and more focused effort.
Right off the bat, it's easy to find that Fleet Foxes provided a much more hushed and whispery vibe in comparison to the grandioseness that Helplessness Blues exudes. That isn't to say that that sound isn't found on here - it's within and without. In fact, this grander scale is notable in that it never feels self-indulgent or aware of their newfound popular and critical successes that is often associated with the so-called "sophomore slump." It almost accompanies Fleet Foxes by turning the key to which Helplessness Blues opens the door, allowing whatever was behind it to flow bountifully. The pathway the band composes feels neither too little nor too much, providing a 50-minute listening experience from beginning to end that's alive and fully realized, even under the mounting pressure from high expectations.
The record begins with "Montezuma," which is undoubtedly ranks as the best song Fleet Foxes has ever recorded. An intriguing steel drum-like guitar starts off before the rich and lush texture of vocal harmonies, bass and acoustic guitar take place. Singer Robin Pecknold pours his soul into his lyrics (as expected), delivering words of "change" that becomes evident throughout the album, such as "I wonder if I'll see any faces above me/Or just cracks in the ceiling/Nobody else to blame." Everything so truthful and revealing overcomes this track, as if you've just heard what the season of Spring sounds like and the blossoming that follows suit.
So many musical and literary references sprinkle each track. Every song warrants that kind of power, with each one uniquely different yet still in the same ballpark. "Bedouin Dress" and "Sim Sala Bim" are both mysterious in their use of differing instruments such as varying lutes and tambourines. "Battery Kinzie" comes close to being this album's "White Winter Hymnal," maintaining a pounding bass drum while holding a short and sweet candle over the repeating piano chords. The title track is wonderful guitar-laden balladry at its finest and provides some of the album's best lyrics. Songs like "Lorelai" and ending track "Grown Ocean" are welcome tracks that showcase the band's tenderness while exhibiting breathtaking performances.
Two tracks on this album are sectioned into two parts, those of which do successfully manage to be worthy additions to the balance and nature of the album's lyrical and melodic themes. "The Plains / Bitter Dancer" is finely tuned, referencing back to the vocal styles of Simon and Garfunkel and the musicality of Crosby, Stills & Nash. "The Shrine / An Argument" is a bit experimental in that it goes through different motions throughout, always unassuming that the listener might be an observer to a live performance jam. As the longest track on the album and in Fleet Foxes' catalog, it unwinds with tenacious strength and never lets go of it, even ending with an instrumental number that involves a wacky saxophone solo.
If Fleet Foxes and the subsequent EP were only delectable hints at the resurgence of folk to the masses, then Helplessness Blues solidifies it, paving the way for an open range that's naturally crafted. It stands as the best and most satisfying record so far this year, and it's the one to beat. It may not contain a song that's considered a true "single" as the immediately accessible "White Winter Hymnal," but like any great album, it provides a fresh and wholly-engaging rush of folk rock that warrants something new on each listen, from beginning to end. After all is said and done, you get the sense that the band is not only delivering a lively gig, but that they're also having fun doing what they do.
Fleet Foxes - "Montezuma"
Fleet Foxes - "Lorelai"
Helplessness Blues is available on May 3rd from Subpop Records.
Genre: Alternative Hip-Hop/Alternative Rock
Origins: Essex, England
Here is the Gorillaz' fourth LP, The Fall, brought to you via the iPad. Yeah, the entirety of this album was mixed using programs on an Apple iPad while the band was out touring North America late last fall (to which I happily attended one of their performances). It really shows you how much technology has advanced, to the point that you can pretty much just set up shop on a portable drive without the necessary wires and plug-ins required to make effects work in music. Whether or not the content that Gorillaz mastermind Damon Albarn puts out on The Fall is of the band's standards, you have to admire the output of this album.
Then again, you really do have to consider the content of this album. In the end, isn't that what matter's most? There's no question that new technologies will be tried and tested and some will produce great results if the content suits it. Just as Avatar pulled the rug from under moviegoers in 3D cinemas, The Fall makes the jump to trend-set what it takes to make an album upon the artificiality that is a new tablet technology, but the content yields mixed results. More often than not, Damon Albarn finds himself making promising beats that ultimately lack depth and little lyrical content that makes it difficult to determine whom this album markets to.
This is the Gorillaz' last album since the rather immaculately-concepted and much-loved Plastic Beach, and that was only a year ago. If I recall a Gorillaz album was in the works every 4-5 years, and when that album landed it never failed to deliver pure imaginative goodness. It was a good feeling having that amount of anticipation, to which here it's kind of a loss. That isn't to say The Fall shouldn't be considered as such just because it's release was rather quick, but it impedes on the idea that such a conceptual design for an album takes time and evolvement, and Damon Albarn doesn't seem to fit the bill as much in a short timespan.
The songs themselves aren't actually that bad - that is, if there were really songs in structure. A majority of the tracks are early concept work at best, working their way a good two minutes until ending and fading out. In making the songs feel this short handed, I barely have the time to grasp any depth to any of Albarn's lyrics (if any, since some tracks remain as simple ambience). This isn't a case of "short, sweet, and to the point," mind you - this is a case of what feels like unfinished business. I can't comment on whether this is a result of the limitations that an iPad offers, but if this is what's expected from a tablet then I can't imagine rock records flying off shelves.
It takes outside strengths rather than inside to make it work, but The Fall does have its short moments. It still features a likable vibe throughout, instilling the synthy and electronic sounds found across the board on Plastic Beach and then some. The one song that even comes close to a good-natured Gorillaz tune is "Bobby in Phoenix" featuring the indelible Bobby Womack, who appeared on a couple standout tracks from Plastic Beach. Bobby sings with such enthusiasm compared to Albarn's consistent if ill-advised droning on the rest of the album, and introducing a stylistically played acoustic guitar that's an interesting mix.
I read a statement from the Gorillaz that said this is a "2D" album, which, if you're a fan, could make a lot of sense. If you are a Gorillaz fan, you might be either excited or disappointed by that prospect. The Fall is an experiment for Damon Albarn and his Gorillaz, and it's admirable for sure, if a little bit off-base. It may not be a fourth LP in a real sense, nor in the same vein as their trilogy of other trend-setting albums, which is a shame, but it shouldn't be completely lost in the mix. Just don't go into it expecting a full-fledged Gorillaz album and you'll have yourself an interesting sound experience. It's one big mix of things.
Gorillaz - "Bobby in Phoenix"
Gorillaz - "Detroit"
The Fall is now physically available in various formats from Parlophone.
"Teardrop" was an accomplished and accessible single from trip-hoppers Massive Attack before House, M.D. blew it into the weekly repeated consciousness of the entire world. With a slow, punchy beat and lovely vocals from Elizabeth Fraser of the band Cocteau Twins, it's undeniable how effective this track is on the psyche. Moreso is the video that accompanies it, matching a vibe more suited for something in The Matrix. It's that kind of creepy message video that's also intriguing enough that you can't look away. Featuring a talking fetus in a womb, it somehow manages to do the song justice and pulls us into the ambience that Massive Attack create. Perhaps this baby's had it up to here with video's that make too much sense.
"Another day, another time, another way for the moment, watch it for a sign..."
1993's Painful was Yo La Tengo's first foray onto a major independent label (Matador), and it was also their first album that really shifted their sound toward a more ambient and sonic experience to match their hazy lyricism. It's a fragile little record that seems to be the transitional album for the band, and probably didn't get the attention it deserved back then. They turned into what I feel is this generation's Velvet Underground, replacing what felt ordinarily like structured melodies into jams with great emotional presence. Whether it's the muted organs, soft bass, or buzzy guitar, Yo La Tengo form this sort of pathway into your psyche and never intend on leaving. "Sudden Organ" features as simple and ambiguous as lyrics listed above, but it's so well brought into the spotlight with their jam that it turns into a wonderful moment of shoegazing glory. Take a look-see.
Yo La Tengo - "Sudden Organ"
Teen Dream was arguably one of the best albums released in 2010, with Beach House's continued growth in the dream-pop subgenre and finessing their delectable taste for synthy but minimal sound structure. The song "Walk in the Park" does exactly that, if not moreso than the rest of the songs on the album. As the title implies and the music imbues, the song is a dreamscape with an extra slice of pie, and even the busiest and hard-working of people might want to settle down to this one, just for a few minutes. It's Monday, and I think you need a little of this in your life.
Beach House - "Walk in the Park"