Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Trick or Treat Bitches!

Yes it's that time of the year again, when people get dressed up in frightful attire and attempt to glean whatever they can from those more fortunate than themselves, that's right October 31st is Derby Day.
But it also happens to be All Hallow's Eve, so whether you're having a party, avoiding the trick or treaters or simply want to get in the mood, let AMR's Halloween playlist lend you a ghoulish hand.
I'll admit the themes are a little looser this time, with more of a musical mood than literal songs about vampires, werewolves and pumpkin-carving but hell, along with
the first edition you've got a bevy of Halloween selections to choose from.

No Tricks, All Treats
The Halloween '09 Playlist

John Carpenter - Halloween Theme
A no-brainer really, director John Carpenter composed a suitably unnerving theme tune to go along with his benchmark '72 slasher flick of the same name.

Ozzy Osbourne - Bark At The Moon
An expert when it comes to horror-themed influenced metal, the guardian of metal gives it some werewolf alliteration. It's turbo-charged guitar riffage gets the party going.

Pure Reason Revolution - Deus Ex Machina
With their newly minted 'prog-tronica', Pure Reason Revolution combine sub-woofer challenging synths with chugging guitars and some superbly gothic harmonies with enough kick to wake the dead.

M83 - Graveyard Girl
Turning to Parisian maverick Anthony Gonzalez now to lend the list some light-hearted, heavily eighties influenced pop-rock. The lyrics are perfectly suited to any monster bash too.

Florence & The Machine - My Boy Builds Coffins
From a boy singing about a girl, we hop the gender barrier to Ms. Welch's delightful curio about her lad's macabre profession. Slightly tongue-in-cheek and cabaret all rolled into a delicious gothic pop tune.

Patrick Wolf - The Vulture
A typically narcissistic tune from the glam prince, but musically suiting considering its spooky keyboards and grinding backbeat. All that singing about 'dead meat' is perfectly Halloween-esque too.

Wild Beasts - Hooting & Howling
From my last post comes the falsetto spotlighting lead single, in fact Hayden Thorpe's impossibly curious timbre lends a delightfully creepy air.

DM Stith - Spirit Parade
Little-sung British artist who shares more than a few similarities with like-minded singer/songwriters Antony & The Johnsons, Patrick Watson and Sufjan Stevens. Here he layers his cooing harmonies into a spooky march befitting of the title.

Porcupine Tree - The Seance
No i'm not just trying to shoehorn in one of this year's best album for no reason, trust me this is fitting, perhaps the most equally beautiful and unsettling track here.

Metallica - The Thing That Should Not Be
You can always rely on Metallica come October 31st, chief among their glut of monster tunes is this sludgy cut from 1986's Master Of Puppets. A gloomy tribute to H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulu no less.

David Bowie - Scary Monsters (Super Creeps)

Delightfully unhinged pop. Thoughts of Jared The Goblin King aren't too far off I suspect...

Queens Of The Stone Age - A Song For The Dead

Brutal riffage, stop-start rhythmic patterns, Mark Lanegan's throat shredding vocals and of course Mr. Grohl on the drums. What's not to like?

Creedence Clearwater Revival - Bad Moon Rising
Famously used in An American Werewolf In London to soundtrack said werewolf transformation, it's jaunty country rock belies it's sinister appeal.

Rob Zombie - Dragula
Bringing us to the tail-end of the list is the cartoon-metal-rock of Rob Zombie, perhaps the first and last time that drag racing and vampires co-exist.

Ray Parker Jr. - Ghostbusters
It may be a cliche, but it's a cliche for a reason. If this doesn't get everybody singing along they've either passed out from all the candy or have gone bobbing for apples.

Rocky Horror Picture Show - Time Warp

It might be flogging a dead horse, but at Halloween there's no better time for dragging out a corpse-kicking classic like this just one more time.

Blue Oyster Cult - (Don't Fear) The Reaper

The perfect way to end the playlist with it's circular guitar riff spiralling into infinity, "More Cowbell!"

Happy Halloween this saturday y'all

Monday, October 19, 2009

Equally elegant and ugly

Just a quick review today my dears, lots of Beat to do... including an interview with Biffy Clyro's Simon Neil, which will get an airing first but until then jump right in and gorge away.

Wild Beasts - Two Dancers (Domino, 2009)

You’ll know if Wild Beasts are your kind of thing within the first minute of Two Dancers. It’s all down to whether you can appreciate the acrobatic falsetto of front-man Hayden Thorpe. No sooner has the organ and deftly-plucked guitars given way to a shimmering groove than we hear Thorpe’s idiosyncratic voice, one that’s both shrill and cooing recalling Kate Bush’s vocal gymnastics or – depending on your musical tastes - a cat being strangled. What may be surprising to new-comers is that his vocals have actually been pared back for this album, singing duties now shared between Thorpe and bassist Tom Fleming. Polarising vocals aside, Wild Beasts are certainly a band that should be given a chance. Not for nothing have the likes of NME and Pitchfork shouldered their hopes on the UK four-piece as indie rock’s saviours. Chiefly due to their always evocative music and bookish, highbrow lyricism that Morrissey himself would be proud of, songs whose issues include class warfare and youthful hedonism. A line from Hooting & Howling best describes the band’s lyrical temperament: “equally elegant and ugly.” The articulated, poetic lyrics regaling the brutal topics they shine their well-read light upon, whether it’s the violence of the two-part title track: “they dragged me by my ankles through the street/they passed me round them like a piece of meat;” while Still Got The Taste Dancin’ On Our Tongues demands to “love the smash and grab of our goings on.” Despite the positively out-of-time attitude that informs Wild Beasts, their music is definitely not nostalgic. The album ticks with metronomic rhythms and intriguing textures that create both moody atmosphere and ambient melancholy in equal aplomb. The two-part title track is a perfect example, using a bevy of percussion, distorted bass and choppy guitars to enchant and seduce even while it suggests a darker menace lurking beneath. But the most astonishing of Wild Beasts’ accomplishments is that the polished leap of Two Dancers comes only a year after their debut Limbo, Panto. It’s as if the group have somehow managed to compact a few years’ worth of experience into a few months, learning straight away from the amateurish mistakes of their first recorded set. The rough edges of their debut have been smoothed away with craftsman-like care and precision, and the band’s musical excesses have been reined into desirable shapes and engaging hooks. Where Limbo, Panto shaked and roared, Two Dancers shimmers and intrigues. Where that record faulters, this one excels. If you can get past their eccentricities and quirks, Wild Beasts, and Two Dancers in particular, will reward you handsomely.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Excitements and Experiments

So summer's just around the corner and I for one cannot wait. Not least of all because it's festival season again, having already secured tickets for the Falls Festival I'm well excited. Also there's plenty of side-shows that'll be announced (or have been announced in the case of Animal Collective and Patrick Wolf) thanks to the stellar Meredith Musical Festival line-up. Just when things couldn't get any more exciting, along comes the Big Day Out line-up.
Personally, it reads like the live equivalent of an end-of-year best albums list:
The Decemberists - Colin Meloy's band of literate merry minstrels in their first trip to our shores, prog-folk ahoy!
The Temper Trap - back from slaying the UK, Sweet Disposition live: case closed!
Karnivool - always a great live act, but now with Sound Awake tunes!
and the incredible triple assault of the sci-fi prog titans:
Mastodon, The Mars Volta
and of course headlining, Muse.
These names alone have my proverbial musical tastebuds well and truly whetted.
BDO tix go on sale at midnight tonight (if you're from Melbourne), so don't miss out.

What better way to calm yourself from the excitement than with a lovely review, enjoy:

Volcano Choir – Unmap (Jagjaguwar)

In 2008 Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago was an inescapable part of the musical landscape and easily one of the year’s best. A minor coup considering that the album was actually a reissue of an independent recording from Bon Iver aka Justin Vernon, a relatively unknown singer-songwriter. It’s almost mandatory at this point to mention the accompanying myth regarding the album, so let’s get that one out of the way now shall we? Man encounters emotional turmoil. Man isolates himself in wood cabin. Man emerges with powerful songs and hit-making album that catapults him to the forefront of music industry.

It’s almost an understatement to call For Emma a career-defining album that set a very high benchmark, as such it would have been easy for Vernon to follow his debut with more than his share of career hiccups and stumbles – it’s only natural. Instead he’s cleverly tempered the hype with smaller releases before the next proper outing under the Bon Iver name, there’s already been the Blood Bank EP and Vernon has spent time making all manner of indie friends, appearing on compilations and popping up on tour with a few contemporaries.

Deliberate career move or not, it’s a simple way for Vernon to stay in the public conscience without committing himself to facing down high expectations for future Bon Iver releases.

And now, there’s Volcano Choir, a collaboration between Vernon and his “favourite band,” Collections of Colonies of Bees, a six-piece musical collective as inspired by the minimalist composition of Steve Reich as much as mesmerising folk-noise. Apparently the two parties had already met nearly half a decade ago, but it took the sweep of Emma’s success to guarantee them time (and label backing) to produce a record. Unmap is the result, an album of evocative moods, avant-garde experimentalism and, yes, soul-trembling emotion.

There’s no real Skinny Love or Re: Stacks to be found here, but there was another moment on Emma that best indicates the direction taken here, the unsung Team. It’s no surprise that an instrumental segue should go unnoticed, but it’s this cut that best indicates the direction that Vernon has taken with this side-project. Specifically, rhythmic driven-instrumental music that’s as obsessed with melody and texture as it is with experimentalism, Unmap follows this same dogma.

Every composition seems to lure the listener in with its intriguing mix of organic and artificial sounds. Sometimes these instruments are identifiable - ringing guitars and softly pattered drums, at others they are totally unrecognisable, the sonic equivalents of skittering wires or yawning bells. As far as Vernon’s uniquely emotive falsetto goes, for the most part it’s just another layer in the overall texture. An excellent example being the ebb and flow of Sleepymouth; its near-seven minute existence building from calm alt-folk echoes to a barrelling rhythmic climax. Following is Island, IS which feels more like a Bon Iver-style song that’s been put through an experimental filter, with the processed guitars setting and haunting background mode switched to full.

From here the album never dips in quality and at only nine tracks, it never feels like a stretch. As such, each track is given full emphasis to show off its individual moods. Dote is a shot of breathy ambience, And Gather uses cut-and-paste guitars, hand-claps, and non-sensical vocal harmonies to lilting effect. Mbira In The Morass is as unapologetically avant garde as it’s title would suggest, with Vernon’s falsetto closely resembling Thom Yorke, with equally paranoid lyrics “wild dogs around me howl.” Cool Knowledge is a musical transition as enjoyable as it is brief. The penultimate track however, Still is the undisputed highlight, remarkably taking Bon Iver’s already excellent auto-tune acapella-based Woods and giving it a full band make-over (as well as a name change). The results are nothing short of stunning.

Closing Unmap out is Youlogy, featuring a beautiful gospel-tinged melody nearly completely undermined by a high-pitched dissonant drone, the tension rising until it is slowly calmed by a wash of vocal harmonies.

Volcano Choir proves an interesting diversion for both parties involved, and while it is an obvious sonic equation of the two artists’ efforts, it doesn’t take away from eithers abilities. Collection of Colonies of Bees have brought plenty to the table in terms of dishing out folk-tinged but unmistakably minimalist compositions that enrapture and engage over multiple listens, but the album proves positive particularly for Justin Vernon. Those worried that For Emma was a fluke, a one-off moment of serendipity, needn’t worry. Unmap proves that there are plenty of artistic curiosities and yearnings to Vernon. Whether that means he takes the time to chase down these musical tangents, or simply going back to that wood cabin to try and evoke the spirit of For Emma again – the results will be of a high quality.

check it out:

YouTube clip for Island, IS

and a video for Still via my buddy Dan's blog (one good plug deserves another).