Raw and to the point. It’s only fitting that this review reflect the uncompromising style of Mark Kozelek’s latest release under his Sun Kil Moon project. Benji is utterly stunning in its minimalism and startling in its clarity. Each song is a long form story that deliberately paint with every damn word possible. Every inch, every detail, Kozelek deliberately robs listeners their own imagination devices.
There is so much loss on Benji, that it may border on the oppressive for the faint of heart. “Carissa” is a beautiful song about Mark’s second cousin who passed away in a freak fire in her backyard. Swirling around the song is Mark’s recollection of her as a young girl, a young mother, and a second strike of a freak accident (his uncle dies the same way which). Carissa is a stirring opening in a gamut of high definition musical storytelling that lays Kozelek’s life out bare for inspection.Indeed, two songs later on “Truck Driver”, Mark describes his bumpkin of an Uncle who (as mentioned earlier) dies of a freak fire as well.
Even when Kozelek changes up the pace for a more positive tribute, there’s still a lingering mourning. On “I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love” there’s a haunting, bittersweet emotional overtone that is inescapable; a beautiful tribute of love and a progression of despair and fear of human mortality. Sometimes, it’s frightening. “Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes” represents a long, hard gaze at the psychology of fear breed from the ugliness of murder and the glamorization process that follows. The nature of kids “scared of taps on the window, what’s under the bed and what’s under the pillow” reflects a culture of fear that grows with the children of generation x in the 80s where kids progressively began to stay inside more often out of parental fear and societal fear-mongering with the likes of mass murder Richard Ramirez stalking the night and Regan nearly the successful target of assassination. It’s erie stuff only made more transcendent as Kozelek describes the way this era (the Ramirez murders in particular) is used to mark time from the days of his murders started to the day he died himself.
To cross mediums for a second, Benji’s paired down instrumental style provides emotional propulsion much in the way point and click adventure games do with their gameplay mechanics. Any given First Person Shooter may be filled with a bunch of mechanical bells and whistles, akin to the guitars upon guitars found in your average Post-90s Alt. indie rock song, but point and click adventure games use minimal gameplay elements to facilitate the story. Much of the acoustic work on this record provide emotional backlighting for Kozelek’s distinct spoken word-folk style. This minimal pattern keeps up until the album’s closer “Ben’s My Friend”. Like much of the record, Kozelek signposts a jump off element in the title of the song itself, and explores the waters outside of it; a midlife crisis, crab cakes and Ben Gibbard. Ben’s My Friend contrasts the rest of the record by upping the emotional tone of the instrumentation on the track with more elements than any other song on Benji. The result is a track full of the same storytelling elements pervasive throughout the record, but a scale intentionally bigger; the closest this record comes to a grande finale.
Benji is an earnest, emotional record that looks you in the eye and tells you what Kozelek is thinking. There is no implied imagery, sidesteps or esoteric literary allusions. Benji is the kind the of record that naturally comes from a person in their middle age. They’ve seen miles and miles and aren’t sure how things will turn out beyond an everlasting streak of trees, but they’re along for an engrossing ride. The rest of us are just lucky to hear it.
On Cymbals Eat Guitars latest release, leadman Joseph D’Agostino based much of the album’s conception on loss, hence Lose. The biggest loss permeating through the album is found in the death of his best friend and former bandmate several years ago. Throughout its 9-track run, Lose is scrappy in the face of painful memories and haunting ghosts.
Trailing in with mile long instrumental streaks, “Jackson” opens the album in grand style with a dense ground swell of lush guitars and soaring vocals. Much of the album relies on discarded memories that D’Agostino seems to pull from his subconscious at will, each time presenting a roulette of personal vignettes. This applies to the likes of “Place Names” which is a swirling, murky pool of streaky vocals and distorted guitars accompanying a gauntlet of loose thoughts. Again, CEG seem to revel in this near dreampop wash of lurid instrumental textures and raw emotional recounts of the past. More than once, tracks start with a distinct guitar progression reminiscent of the beaten down resilience in Alice in Chain’s “Rooster” of all things.
There is a punk thread through the heart of the entire record, and one of the interesting elements of the record’s sound is how this thread is reworked into new soundscapes to illicit different emotional feelings. Whereas Jackson feels melancholic, rife with angst and an attempt to cope, “XR” is an exuberant barb-wired Weezer track that combines bright sticky melodies and exhausted, tenacious razor sharp snarling. Contrast is always present on Lose between recounting memories, pain and trying to punch onward. It’s present in the ends of verses and compositions. “LifeNet” features a similar blend of irresistible melodies and visceral Cedric Blixer-inherited vocals.
Lose feels like a middle ground between Japandroids’ “Celebration Rock” and Arcade Fire’s “Funeral”. Lose is just as earnest but not quite as clear, which is somewhat detrimental to its impact on a granular scale. Atomizing CEG’s attempt to fill each song with details of loss is a little too obscured. For all the wonderfully dense guitar soundscapes, connective sonic tissue and gradual pacing, picking out the details of loss can be a little too difficult. For this reason, Lose works best like a Nolan film; conceptually brilliant, but obtuse in granularity.
As an ode to loss and the will to move on, Lose is raw and full of heart. Even when the reeling memory recollection is at odds with the instrumental composition at a granular level, there’s enough to gleam from the murky subconscious storytelling and wholly evocative instrumentation to feel the effect at a conceptual level. If nothing else, Lose is a great sounding record with enough emotional intent to involuntarily illicit an empathetic response. It’s a little unwieldy and bracing, put that’s part of Lose’s charm.
Following Segall’s unusually delicate 2013 solo record Sleeper, the cali garage rock machine with a thousand arms is back with a beefy riff-heavy 17-track beast in Manipulator. The Eponymous opening track leads the album off as a strong microcosmic sample of Manipulator’s most notable element, melody. It’s not to say Ty Segall had no concept of melody or actively avereted it, but Manipulator is full of heavy, beatle-esque takes on rock. Inviting grooves and melodies dance along track to track, whether it’s the charming, bastardly take on paired down funk with “Tall Man, Skinny Lady”, the buzzy blimp guitars of “It’s Over” or the vague, early Sabbath tones of “The Faker”, melody and immortal humming follow through pervasively.
Other times, Ty Segall shores up on his innate oddness in the sonic elements of some tracks in Manipulator’s second half. “Connection Man” is at once a guitar playground, the paranoid scribbling of Segall’s imagination, and whizzing electronic notification of 60s era sci-fi; there’s quite a lot going on in this one track in particular. If Manipulator had one weakness, it’s ironically the length.A number of songs feel a bit peripheral, as it leans on Segall’s work with Sleeper throwing the pace off and making smudging the entire album’s pacing. While Sleeper’s style was novel as an entire direction, the exciting guitar jams of Manipulator cannot be denied as the star and tracks like “Stick Around” weigh down the reeling adrenaline from the blistering “The Crawler”.
Ty Segall’s latest feels exciting at its core, but feels noticeably pent up in others. Had this record been 11 tracks all going for the throat, it would benefit in the same way the Japandroids lean joyous Celebration Rock did. As it Stands, Manipulator continues the Segall’s nearly inconceivable win streak, but with some tightening of track selection, Manipulator could have been more.
FKA Twigs often recounts her young personal history, as one characterized by a palpable degree of oddness. Her style and composure are anomalous as is her music. On her debut full-length, pragmatically titled LP1, some of this strangeness obfuscates the pace of her work yet it also delivers an intimate record far beyond Twigs’ years.
The two ingredients in this dish are trip hop and R&B. The most salient influences appear to be the slow burns of Massive Attack and delicate, mesmerizing vocals of Aaliyah. The first half of LP1 is paced remarkably well. The preamble opener, er “Preface” is an intriguing mix of operatic vocals, grimy samples and winding, voluminous, low-fi drum samples. “Lights On” creeps beautifully around cavernous verses and moon lit choruses. Space is clearly Twigs’ weapon of choice and it pays off well…until it doesn’t. It gets slightly dicey and monotonous through sections off the record’s middle.
“Hours” feels like a slog where the use of space has no real bearing and feels a little too aimless. Potentially it was meant to be a complete respite from the album’s more busy work but it doesn’t quite nail that function and “Pendulum” suffers the same fate. In the same section, “Video Girl” uses space between vocals and ornate beat-making to a winning result; catching respite and calm as beat casts out rotund kick beats, feathering laser overdubs and creaking snare rim samples. In addition to the well crafted gothic sonic dissidence of “Numbers”, it becomes clearer the middle part is weakest on the record because its quality varies too inconsistently.
The subject matter on the album dances between relational intimacies, double entendres on these seemingly carnal intimacies, and delicate isolationist pontification. Twigs often obfuscates her own lyrics for emotional/atmospheric effect. Her voice is so lush that catching the ends of sentences on a track like “Closer” gives the ears enough to go on alone. The sonic delivery of her lines are illocutionary acts as their tone are evocative of the meaning beyond sparse fragments. It’s a pretty powerful, and polished effect.The last third of LP1 closes beautifully with a pervasive emotional simmer and direction that sticks featuring the aforementioned “Closer”.
FKA Twigs is an artist beyond her years though she is a young artist nonetheless. Her record features far more nuance than let’s say Lorde’s debut last year, but it does have some missteps. Regardless, LP1 is a great opening salvo in what is sure to be a long, quality career.
After the hypnotic, nearly combative electronica of James Hinton’s Nonfiction, and his recent EP Panasonic, it seems the train continues to roll until he passes out from exhaustion or the simian flu eventually comes for us all. As part of Portland-based Dropping Gems label’s ritualistic compilation (imaginatively named Gem Drops 4), Rayman is another piece of deconstructed dance music for those looking beyond an everlasting #fourtothefloor gobstopper.
It swells slow with some soothing electronics enveloped some elastic percussion, stinging electronic glints. And would you know, some horn samples drop followed by some monolithic synths. As per Hinton’s distinct house sauce, there are some seemingly mistaken voice samples bent into rhythmic shape and then you have the picture. It’s about the groove of the ensemble, which exclusively works in unison. most electronic music really appeals to base rhythms that are readily accessible, but what makes Hinton’s style so intriguing are the intentional barriers he creates. As with Rayman, much like his other work, Hinton enjoys the layers that take a bit of work before you get to the center of the nut. It’s an entire contradiction of most synonymous dance staples, but Rayman is yet another track from an artist that truly strives to break his style out of monolithic “EDM”.
Trainwreck 1979 (single) Death From Above 1979 The Physical World (September 2014)
Look a deadset canon, Trainwreck 1979 takes a cue from the band’s greatest single “Romantic Rights” and deviates some of the classic familiar but making Trainwreck a bulkier, heavier groove. The Toronto Dancepunk duo are back, with heavier sonic layers and denser instrumental elements. Ominous, drudging backbeats and the signature swap of a distorted guitar for a bass are accented with keys, meandering electronics and measured shifts from bloody glory to stretches of vulnerability, feathery vocals. The uncharacteristic vocal approach of latter appears most prominently in a misdirecting interlude featuring even more uncharacteristic behavior featuring meditated and vaguely existential lyrics with weight.
Intresting adjustments and flairs, but the order of the day remains crunchy, rhythmic punk.
The song gathers momentum every time you listen to it, you’ll be picking up on little details that with each successive listen. A decade ago, DFA 1979’s debut was a concussive, sucker punch that proved to be one of the most invigorating and original debuts of the 00s. A decade on, with purpose and wisdom, the band’s been searching, searching to reignite the flame. If Trainwreck is any indication, they’re about to set the world on fire again.