Gosteffects – Kick the Bass EP

Five songs of vocal and musical manipulation—Yawn. You’ve heard songs like these before; you’ve heard them on Kia commercials, video game promos, and in the background of a porno trailer.  Much like the comical cartoon skit of the half-wit painter painting himself in a corner, looking dumbfounded while searching for a dry way out, Gosteffects’ sped up tape, overzealous keyboard sampling, repetitious corny catch phrases, and misplaced dramatic pauses, are unintentionally comical and continue to prove that these tech house grooves have painted themselves in a corner and have far exceeded their expiration dates.

If you have a Facebook page you update regularly, a smart phone that never leaves your side, a Twitter account, wear baggy, overpriced jeans, drive a 2003 Honda Civic with a modified muffler, and you masturbate too often, Gosteffects is perfect for you and your asshole friends to play at a dickhead-high level while fingering your chunky Applebees’ and Chilis’ hostess girlfriends.

I have a feeling that this is the Year Of The Depend Adult Undergarment.

March 31, 2012. Albums. Leave a comment.

Mirel Wagner – Self-Titled

The most striking aspect of the cover of Mirel Wagner’s debut album is her somber face buried deep in shadows. The viewer is given enough to know that her face is rising from some gloom rather than retreating into an unknown sadness. Her gaze holds our attention; it commands us to not look away. There is an inherent bond between performer and listener, and I haven’t even listened to one track from the album.

Wagner is an Ethiopian-Finnish singer-songwriter that has a clever ability of asking questions rather than making statements in the delivery of her lyrics. It’s at times that she is thinking out loud, waiting for us to answer her questions or reassure her that life does have some sort positive aspects to it. And, as a listener, I don’t have the answers; my understanding of life is just as handicapped as the rest.

Unlike others, I’m hesitant to label Wagner’s lyrics as haunting. I don’t want to view/listen to them through this redundant rock reviewer lens. Her lyrics don’t wear white sheets and hide underneath my bed, waiting to grab my ankle as I get up to grab a glass of water in the middle of the night. Her lyrics are reminiscent of the crisis Hermann Hesse addresses in his novel Demian. In the song “No Hands,” Wagner recalls a simple and innocent childhood image of riding her bicycle. In the soft refrain of her chorus Wagner repeats, “Look mother, no hands.” Through the repetition of the lines, one can assume Wagner’s mother didn’t look. The riding of her bicycle becomes a larger metaphor for the movement from adolescents to entering a new world of puberty where one is left alone to figure out all the painful issues of the body and the world. And, as Hesse suggests, it’s our “own affair to comes to terms with.” We can no longer blame our parents when they don’t look; we must experience these rejections and emotions on our own.

There is an emotional heft to Wagner’s album that fits like fashionably designed concrete slippers attached to our feet by some unknown force, by some unknown figure(s). This sentiment is reverberated in the album’s last track, “The Road.” Wagner mentions “a lake that is dark, deep and cold” where she’ll eventually “lay her bones.” And in her final words of wisdom, Wagner pleads, “Just let me go.” She definitely out glooms Nick Cave and his kind.

Wagner’s self-titled album is amazingly accessible, brilliant, insightful and confessional. I feel as though I am looking at her naked as she strums her simple-folkish guitar and presents her vocals with a Mazzy Star stoical stiffness. The power of the album is that Wagner finds a balance in her voice, in her presentation, and in her lyrics where she rides the proverbial line of just giving enough of herself to seduce the audience while leaving them wanting more. This is a powerful album, if you’re strong enough to listen, and it is sure to leave an indelible mark on 2012s musical landscape. Well on you, Ms. Wagner. You moved me on a Saturday filled with emptiness and pure abandonment. On a side note: This album needs to be realized on 180-gram vinyl!


March 31, 2012. Albums. Leave a comment.

Punches – It Can Only Get Better

Punches (I think) are the haphazard peanut butter and chocolate combination of Kelly Steven (vocals/guitars) and James Duncan (guitars/vocals/bass). With their newest four song release, “It Can Only Get Better,” the record spinning twosome have developed safe and danceable tracks that wouldn’t be out-of-place at a high school prom or a twenty-fifth wedding anniversary at the local armory.

The music of Punches is a perfect example of what is absolutely wrong with this redundant dismal dj-type of tunes. The music is redundant, unforgettable, and the pseudo-positive lyrical content is pretty damn mindless. Outside of an eleven-year-old girl dancing in front of her bedroom mirror, I can’t imagine many sober individuals enjoying these songs. Punches’ music is weak and grating. Their music has no punch or emotion. I think the title of the album says it all, because if I’m being honest, this four song EP cannot get any worse. It’s so bad that I’d rather listen to my parents have sex.

March 30, 2012. Albums. Leave a comment.

Retribution Gospel Choir – The Revolution EP

Retribution Gospel Choir (RGC) is fronted by Alan Sparhawk of the indie incredible band Low. But don’t get your hopes up just yet. RGC, one of the worst band names of recent times, has released an underwhelming four song EP on Sub Pop records that is soon to disappear into Internet obscurity.

On the EP’s opening track, “Feel It, Superior,” Sparhawk sings over noise that he wants to “feel it now,” a sentiment strangely reflected by the listener. Between the four tracks there is a lot of unnecessary noise and ubiquitous talks of a revolution, especially on the Huey Lewis sounding “The Stone (Revolution!)” that just ends without much fan fair.

“Maharisha” is another bombastic tune that is punctuated by a Def Leppard cowbell that is as dated and stale as the lyrics that announce, “they said you went to the Promised Land” and “you gotta figure it out.” Believe it or not, there is a shelf life for lyrics, and sometimes silence is as loud as redundant phrases.

Surprisingly enough, the EP ends on a brief but raucous note. The drum-driven track, “Im a Man” sheds the silly retro sound and wasted lyrics and gets down to honest emotions and heart-felt instrumentation. If only the rest of the EP could have sounded so convincing and honest.

I’m always unsure why bands even bother to release such a brief album/EP. In RGB’s case, maybe the majority of the songs could’ve been adjusted and manipulated at a later date to create a stronger sound for a full-length release. Maybe the horned-rimmed hipsters at Sub-Pop prodded RGB to release something they could sell. That said, The Revolution EP sounds like a noisy sketch of inferior songs quickly released to have a shiny product promoted by Sub Pop. I haven’t given up on RGB. I’m still waiting to see how this new sound translates on a full-length release.

March 29, 2012. Albums. Leave a comment.

Jack Wilson – Self-Titled

Floating somewhere between Austin and Seattle, Jack Wilson settled down and released his debut full-length album. Many say that Wilson’s geographic locations influence his music, but that just seems silly to say. Wilson’s music is not like a Steinbeck novel building around the Salinas Valley; his music is void of this supposed influence of dwelling in a certain city. There isn’t any kind of this annoying pretense in Wilson’s songs.

There is a real difficulty in the pacing of Wilson’s album; it’s hard to find breathing room between each track and, inevitably, the songs have a habit of running together. It’s hard to keep track of every twang and crying steel guitar as the songs begin and end and drag on.

Wilson is strongest when it’s mainly him and his acoustic guitar. On “Dogwood Days” Wilson’s lyrics are convincing and moving as he declares his love for his mother, father and his brothers. Though the lyrics are disconnected and disorganized, the song is sweetly sentimental. Similarly, “Fell Inside” leaves a lasting impression even though an intrusive slide guitar certainly smothers the sensitive aspects that make the track so strong.

Simplicity seems to be the key to Wilson’s success. The more instruments, the more vocals, and the more attempts to add the cliché country-alternative instrumentals to the tracks, the more Wilson’s true talent gets washed out. Wilson’s voice complimented with an acoustic guitar is a sure winner. But, Wilson with a cookie-cutter country band behind him makes his album gift shop fodder at the local Cracker Barrel.

March 8, 2012. Albums. Leave a comment.

120 Days – I I

Norway’s 120 Days are a band that seems trapped somewhere between 1986 and 1990. Much of their music incorporates New Order’s Low-Life era synths mixed with an upbeat Kraftwerk groove. With their newest release, II, the Norwegian foursome continues to forge though their late 80s flavored record collection to cultivate an appealing album of danceable tracks.

The first half of II is the most memorable, highlighted by the ten-minute plus “Dahle Disco,” a slick, synth-suffocating song that can easily become a soundtrack to the late night drive to the dark side of the city to meet with your favorite drug dealer. The three track, three part “Lucid Dreams” is anti-climatic and falls apart as a triptych; I would’ve like to have seen the tracks melded into one larger composition to maintain the flow and energy.

One of the main problems with these spaced-out prog rock electronic bands is that their songs fall in the rut of being sterile and distant, and 120 Days are guilty of this crime. There needs to be an emotional connection between the band and the listener, and this is usually conveyed through the lyrics. 120 Days aren’t strong with their lyrics. On “Osaka,” the closing track of the album, the lead singer informs us that it’s “5:15 / I’m sharp and clean.” Needless to say, this Bernard Sumneresque line is empty and any deeper meaning gets lost in its own banality. Maybe if the band sang in their native Norwegian tongue, the lyrics would inherently blend and complement the music rather than working against it. Sigur Ros comes to mind as a good example of this lyrical approach.

120 Days means well. I can see their music serving as a backdrop on some violent X-Box game. But, the Norwegian noisemakers are a victim of their watered down musical genre. There are so many other similar bands creating stronger beats, stronger lyrics, and stronger albums than II. To be successful, 120 Days needs to push their sound into something larger and more convincing. Until then, the band will slowly fade away into some melting electronic landscape.

March 7, 2012. Albums. Leave a comment.

MMoths – Self-Titled EP

MMoths is Jack Colleran, a native of Newbridge, County Kildare, Ireland, and he has released a self-titled EP. Colleran is young; he is eighteen years old, and he has found some success at such a young age.

In a world inundated with electronica/chillwave artists, Colleran’s music is destined to get lost in the shuffle. Each of the EP’s five tracks are underwhelming and excessively annoying. Even further, each track is seemingly built around a one-dimensional beat that is repeated for a few minutes. Colleran’s music, at times, is equivalent to listening to a skipping compact disc.

The one highlight of the EP is the track “Heart Feat. Keep Shelly in Athens.” Someone buried deep beneath a skipping, church-like keyboard line is a beautiful female vocal that needs to be brought up in the mix. Sadly, the song is redundant, too brief, and the lyrics are undecipherable and distant.

In a genre that is over staying its welcome, Colleran’s music isn’t convincing. MMoths is a forgettable EP that is disappointingly dull. There are too many empty spaces between the beats that alienate the listener. Maybe as Colleran matures, his music will follow suit, and his one-dimensional chillwave droning will evolve into something more meaningful and memorable.

March 6, 2012. Albums. Leave a comment.

Ólafur Arnalds – Another Happy Day Soundtrack

Born in Mosfellsbær, Iceland, Ólafur Arnalds is a neo-classical, multi-instrumental composer that creates melancholic and emotionally charged music. Arnalds’ songs are like narrative stories that take the listener to the darkest and coldest places on the earth, musically mimicking the terrain of his icy homeland. Imagine if Halldor Laxness’ World Light had a soundtrack that accompanied his novel. This is what Arnalds’ music sounds like. It’s bitter. It’s still. It’s romantic. It’s like wearing a lead vest or a wet bathrobe while holding hands with your girlfriend/boyfriend. It invokes something larger than desire or sadness.  Interesting to note, Laxness once lived in the valley near Arnalds’ hometown. But you don’t need to know that.

Arnalds’ newest release, a film score for Sam Levinson’s Another Happy Day, provides an interesting background for such an anguished and bleak film. Even though there is an inherent melancholy present in each of Arnalds’ tracks, there is also brilliant warmth that permeates the soundtrack. Creating a film score is demanding and anti-climatic, but Arnalds met the artistic demands and created some sharp and biting compositions.

If one approaches this album like a soundtrack—musical moments to mark specific scenes in a film—then the composition might sound flat and forced. On the other hand, if one approaches this soundtrack not as a soundtrack, the album takes on a different meaning, and the listener is treated to something entirely unexpected and rewarding. Much like a grain a sand irritating the inside of a mollusk and transforming into a pearl, Arnalds’ sadness transforms into brief moments of beauty. With all the emotions present in Arnalds’ soundtrack, he never alienates the listener; he allows us to come in from the cold and warm our hands by the quickly dying fire.

March 3, 2012. Albums. Leave a comment.

Julia Holter –‘Ekstasis’

Before one listens to Julia Holter latest album, one must revaluate the role music plays in one’s life. Is music simply just a noisy backdrop to one’s life? Does music have the inherent ability to rise above the mundane, especially in two thousand and twelve? Of course, I am asking too many questions.

Listening to California singer-songwriter Julia Holter’s newest release, ‘Ekstasis’, I am forced to revaluate my role as a listener. And this is good. Of late, I have approached music from a passive point of view. The music plays and I listen. ‘Ekstasis’ asks the listener to become an active participant in the music. And, as bad as this may sound, it is a chore to listen to ‘Ekstasis’. And this is good.

Each track on ‘Ekstasis’ unravels a different perspective, a different way to listen to the album as a whole. Tracks like “In the Same Room” and “Boy in the Moon” are ambient, atmospheric and spacey—the compositions open up at a steady pace, leaving the listener enveloped in a warm blanket of sound and emotion. Much like an IMAX film capturing the mysteries of outer space, Holter seems to capture the mystery of the relationship between sound and space. There is something serious occurring here, something theatrical, futuristic and convincing that one hasn’t heard in awhile.

Tracks like “Four Gardens” and “Für Felix sound like a gothic and merry mixture of Dead Can Dance, Julianna Barwick, Laurie Anderson, Siouxsie Sioux and a bit of Public Image Limited.  These songs fit in their own interesting space without inhibiting the organic flow of the album, a skill that Hulter has perfected.

Even though there is barely a one-year gap between Holter’s two thousand and eleven debut album Tragedy and ‘Ekstasis’, the latter mentioned release doesn’t sound rushed; it sounds like all ten tracks were slowly cultivated and perfected—there isn’t a wasted space nor any unnecessary notes. This is how a true artist works and lives.

Holter is a classic example of an artist that benefits greatly from the Internet. It is difficult to imagine hearing any of her songs on old fashion radio. Regardless of her ability to rock the radio masses, Holter’s has a hit with ‘Ekstasis’. It will be of no surprise to see Holter’s record make many end-of-the-year best of lists. Great work, Julia.

March 3, 2012. Albums. Leave a comment.