The Hai – In & Out

Review of their previous album, Pop Songs, here.

Just recapitulating, The Hai is a sort of internet music supergroup, a handful of people from all over the world who met by posting their music on the Internet and being some of the very best at it. It’s unfortunate that I can’t review their output as fast as they can release it. After this album there has already been another one called Temperatures, and that’s not talking about the individual albums that keep coming up. The always wonderful A Problem Like Maria has just released Saudade, a very touching album, some of the best music I have listened from her. Before that, Mattir, The Flying Batteries, Water Gun Water Gun Sky Attack (reviewed here) and other members of the group have all come out with interesting albums that I can’t recommend enough. It’s all in their website.

Now let’s start the proper review.

The theme of this album is sex. As usual, it doesn’t mean that every track will be straightforward about it, specially the EDM tracks. Something has to be said about the track order selection in both albums I have reviewed though, it is optimal in balancing out the different styles of the musicians, in such a way that even if the EDM tracks don’t clearly deal with the overall theme, they always sound like an intercession, they just fit nicely in the overall progression. Perhaps this is one of the most subtle qualities of the group’s output: how can all these different people from these different places come up with something that feels whole and balanced? It can’t be a simple affair. And that’s not dealing with the same happening in the tracks themselves, carved by multiple sets of hands apart from each other.

These guys are bursting with creativity and they keep it in a tight leash of perfectionist music-making practices, every synth that comes and goes is perfectly tailored, specially in the EDM tracks. It all sounds anything but home-made. StratosFear’s Approaching Summer is a shining example,  as well as Rekapper’s When and MaximiliaN’s chilling track, adorned with equally chilling vocals by A Problem Like Maria. I was also impressed by her own track, Slow. It’s about sex alright.

Meanwhile, every single one of the straightforward songs has a satisfying feeling of inspired, well-made mainstream music. Somnitone’s closing track might be the winning song this time around, I figure it’s absolutely radio ready. Musically, there’s no reason why these people couldn’t take over the world. Everything is so fucked up in music though, who knows what will happen. If these times were like up to the early 90’s, they would be selling millions by now. It’s already good enough to be released by a regular label, that’s for sure.

-Carpeaux

2gi – Cartello Fiorentino

After 26 years living in the Third World, I’m moving to LA next April. I guess this is my chance to finally actually understand electronic music, if I’m not too old for that already.

What I don’t get is this: I thought people were supposed to dance to electronic music. I had listened to Stockhausen and other strange stuff (some kind of early masters of electronic music compilation I downloaded in the eMule times), so yeah I knew that at least not always, but when listening to pop electronic music I thought people were supposed to dance to it. My previous experience with Pitchfork-recommended electronic seemed to vouch for this.

It doesn’t seem like it anymore. At the same time that I stopped reading Pitchfork, I started to get in contact with all of this crazy shit that can’t possibly be danceable. It’s a whole experiment with the infinite possible sounds you can music with, I suppose, and the whole thing has so many subgenres at any given moments that 1) it seems like anyone can come up with another crazy genre, and 2) no one really cares if people are dancing to it.

Fuck if I care. I don’t dance to shit so this crazy electronic music should be right up my alley. The problem is, is this ever performed live? Do people sit around carefully listening to it in some kind of classroom somewhere? Are they so drugged up that they could dance to anything, and thus dance to this stuff?

Fuck if I care. So I just: 1)  listen to this stuff and write down my opinion, judging it as a purely aesthetic experience; 2) ?; 3) profit.

Which brings me to 2gi’s Cartello Fiorentino, the crazy electronic shit I have most recently carefully listened to.

My opinion is that it is completely insane. I’ve listened to experimental psychedelic music and the idea behind it was always to kind of feel strange. But oh no for these electronic musicians this is not the point. The most absolutely batshit crazy stuff is just normal to them. They start with the batshit crazy and then they add Italian vocal samples to it. Not crazy enough? Add glitch sounds, that will do. Don’t ever keep a synth sounding the same for more than 30 seconds, you gotta have 100 different synths in each song. That will do it alright. Sounds come in and out for the one and only time, everything changes according to them, and then everything goes berserk with yet another beat that comes up out of the blue.

So yeah this album is pretty cool. There’s an incredible amount of effort behind it and a very cohese style. It’s like a concept album at that, really. You really feel it’s some strange mind’s best effort at making music that is so insane, insanity becomes the norm and stops being strange altogether. I like it. As for the genre, I name it “badass glitch psychedelic with italian samples”, this album being the best the genre has produced.

-Carpeaux

Snailhead – The Image

The Image

Best New Music

Snailhead’s Sophomore release takes the title and the tracklist from a S&M movie from the seventies and it’s chapter titles and generates an mind-boggling 12 minute 39 second uptempo rock album in only the style that Snailhead would produce.  Each tracks vocals build off of one another and focus in around the lyrics suggesting the title.  This album has a focus on a nice light and popish melodies but with dark progressive rock undertones that I’ve only heard on a few British bands before, who generally use synth heavy backings for the vocals, and the drums leading every other part.  Snailhead also does a great job at working with other unnamed artist, such as a local underground rapper and a handful of other great backing vocalists and friends.  The band that stands out being the most similar to what I have heard in this album and just the style would be like Franz Ferdinand but with a harder rock sound with and a much better vocalist.

False Starts – A driving rock track with Snailhead leading the vox and the instrumentals.  With the vocals shouting at the softer vocals blending perfectly together.  A 52 second track that I can keep playing back to back and still hear new parts to it, this is one track that Snailhead should really work on making a full length track, as I feel that it should loop like 10 times at least.  The guitar melody is really catchy rift, and the drums leave me wanting more of it in there but it’s just enough that it’s not drowning out any other part.

In the Bathroom – This track stood out as a great example of Snailhead with doubling and tripling the harsh vocals, with several friend also helping out. A great track on the slower portion of the album, it truly sounds like a Holywood ending scene track which is fitting for the second to last track on the album.  It’s main melody would work for any “congrats you win” video game scene.  This track is overloaded with detuned instrumentals in a good way.

To be honest this was a challenging album to review, as there was not a lot of content to it, and each track left me hanging as though I was wondering what is going to come next, in the same sense of having a track with no bridge or no breakout section, as each track was the breakout as an entirety which gave this album a great new concept, but it also feels incomplete resulting in the lowered score.

Don’t forget to check it out or download it through this link

Snailhead’s self-Rating: 6
Rekapper Overall Rating: Strong 6/light 7

Victor Florence – Winter, Spring and Summer

Let’s do this!

The key word here may be delicacy. Everything is well-crafted to be delicate and beautiful in a tender, discrete way. Nice gentle emotional singing, a couple of tasteful guitars that play as many different roles as there are songs, showing masterful grasp of this small art of 20th century popular guitar playing. Coming up with simple voice and acoustic guitar songs isn’t as easy as it seems, and you still have to factor in songs that just don’t work., the filler the make up for at least half the length of most mainstream releases, and this alone goes to show how hard it is to actually write a simple song.

There are no fillers here though – and even though the first track might be the most catchy, the very best song is possibly “River Song”, the second to last. None of the tracks have hushed melodies, careless guitars or distracted singing. You can feel the love for the music-making craft in each song. Absolutely none of these songs is progressive, experimental, dabbles with exotic instruments or whatever, but in a discrete way, this album is astonishing in its exuberance, because the setup is always the same, but the songs are so different, and that is, of course, much more impressive than having songs that sound different because one has a a theremin and the other has space rock synths.

But the simplest way to describe this is by simply stating that it’s beautiful. It’s so discrete and simple, you don’t really have to think, you can just relax and dabble in the prettiness. Actually, the best way to listen to this might be to sit back and try to understand the lyrics like he was talking to you. If you are inclined to do so, you have a plate full. Some of the lyrics in this album are great. “Thunder” is my favorite, but I can’t really say it’s the best. “Wings” might get the title. “Fields of Wheat” is the odd one of the bunch, less confessional and more freaked out.

Enough with Winter, moving on to…

Spring sees a growth of grasp and ambition. The first three songs are angrier and thei lyrics are of a completely different nature from the ones in Winter, something like the stream of consciousness of Winter’s “Fields of Wheat” times a thousand (not really, maybe times 3). Dirt goes back to form though, and with a little bit of something new, a country feel in reference to the lyrics of the song, a nice little emotional song about missing a dead person who used to play country tunes. As for new somethings, there’s a piano on the first track as well, and it works perfectly in the song.

Well, this album was sounding more like winter than the previous album, so it closes off with Spring, which is kind of corny in it’s idea of “writing a song about spring” with a 19th century romantic poetry feel, specially in the first verses, but in the end works fairly well and closes the album with dignity.

So, the delicate guitar work on Winter is kind of gone, giving way to other guitar experiments. It’s easy to give too much importance to fingerstyle guitar ways, which are gone in the stronger tracks, and ending up not noticing well thought-of chord progressions, which were there in Winter and are here as well. That and melody-crafting are still difficult arts that are present here in a masterful way.

Moving on.

So, finally Summer, released two days ago. Well, Winter was incredibly beautiful and Spring was something special, but I feel tempted to say Summer is the best one yet. Even if Winter might still be someone’s favorite of the bunch, in Summer the new feel and elements of Spring have matured. The new elements here would be vocal harmonization and, in the guitar work, a middle ground between the gentleness of Winter and the roughness of Spring in a couple of tracks. There’s something like maybe a cello on Trust also, maybe a guitar played with a violin bow or a synth? Well, there’s an organ on Beachwood Coffin as well, but everything is very discrete.

But back to why Summer might just be the best one. The lyrics are still confessional and poetic, but a bit less awkward. Everything that was already great stayed as is. Actually, there was no change in the melodic style since Winter, and that’s a good thing, this stuff is still evolving and is yet to deliver its best tracks, and I’ll tell you why:

Because “Trust” might be the best track in the three albums. It is catchy and deep at the same time, the guitar work is gentle and pretty, the vocal harmonization is hauntingly beautiful (rivaling the first track), but the killer feature is the melody, which shows a natural build-up of meaning that emanates from both music and lyrics (“are you afraid to put your trust on me?”). An album with 6 or 7 of these would easily be my Album of the Year. It makes “Beachwood Coffin” look like a filler, and that’s a great track as well.

Great album, if you like Nick Drake and folk in general, download this right now, it’s free as in beer.

-Carpeaux

Edical – Ly

Trance inspired by nordic tribal chanting samples, using other similar rough and deep vocal samples – for example, “Church Universal And Triumphant, Inc- Call For Protection (The Sounds Of American Doomsday Cults, 1984)”, as well as other samples invoking being “in the wild” etc. The beats themselves at times sound like traditional drums of some kind of indigenous people. The end result is very powerful and interesting, it really feels like a story, you get pulled into this world this guy created.

The two first tracks, it seems, are more suitable for actual dancing, while the last track is the deepest, apparently crafted to be listened and enjoyed. But everything is so thoughtful and has so much effort that even the other two – specially the first – are very much suitable for quiet listening as well. Do not leave this review without at least listening to the 2:20 of the first track. It’s an incredibly rewarding and well-constructed build-up from the deep vocal samples to the actual finished dancing music.

So, if you are into EDM and feel like something serious and deep, go for it right now, this is a powerful musical journey.

-Carpeaux

Wayward – Dreamers and Thinkers

and

Reviewing this as a joint effort mostly because of the related titles and because they carry the same feel.

First, Dreamers. This is a long musical piece stretched over a long sung poem. I say poem because it looks like one, I mean, even though lyrics are poems in some sense, this one seems to be written either first as a poem that was later turned to music or as lyrics, but aiming at a poetic style that is more common to academic poetry. Since I feel like the former rather than the latter, I’ll start by talking about this as a poem.

No, it does not rhyme, which gives it a modern feeling. Not in a free form way though, as in post-Leaves of Grass, because it has a clear rhythmic structure, but more like unrhymed poems traditionally are (think of the introduction to Paradise Lost, where Milton explains that rhymed poems are the invention of a barbaric age, pointing out that Homer didn’t rhyme). The poem deals in a fascinating way about this character marked by a hard life and a difficult upbringing, who the singer tells to look ahead and not to give-up. To get the “fascinating” part though, you probably have to read it as a poem, since it passes too fast in the music to give time for reflection. It’s always nice to have these two levels of deepness, one point for that. There are some one-liners that kind of work as the tip of the iceberg for the lyrics though, taking the part of the actual lyrics, since most of what the guy is saying you don’t really understand. I’m talking about things like:

I look at my shadow
An unwelcome friend
But one who is not shallow
being with me until the end

Now off to the music itself. It’s interesting, experimental, kind of progressive though not in a wanky way, with some moments of nice strangeness. Did I forget to mention this album/EP/whatever is actually a 19 minutes track? That’s important. What it means is that it stretches for quite a bit, but I guarantee it doesn’t get boring, although it will require attention. Not feeling like all of this stuff? Check out the instrumental part, which is pretty cool and starts about 9 minutes in, picking up steam around the mark of 12 minutes. I think the style of the instrumental part shows this is a serious effort that is certainly well worth a listen.

One more thing, this is another project by Antonio Freyre, who I reviewed here, together with another guy, called Anoop Ghataora.

Now moving on to Thinkers. The feeling of serious poetry turned to music is there as well. The overall feeling and style is the same as in Dreamers and since I listened to both in a row, at some point I started feeling a bit bored of it. Technically speaking though, there is plenty of variance from song to song. The melodies are always different, but carrying a similar feeling, and the instrumentation is always kind of similar, although there are strange (compared to the pretty straightforward folk everything else) synths scattered around. I can’t help but feel like it worked better in a long-ass track but I am sure not many people will agree with me on this. For most people it would be better to just go to Thinkers and stay there anyhow, even “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” probably isn’t for everyone, and that’s shorter than Dreamers.

Getting a little bit more specific. One of the best tracks in Thinkers is “End of the Means”. Two reasons for this: since the lyrics are more like lyrics and less like a poem, there is more melody to the vocals, making it more pleasing and requiring less active attention to like it. The second reason is that the instrumentation is clearly, clearly inspired by Psychedelic stuff of the dadrock era, but it’s also quite gentle and pretty. The following track, a pretty little stoned instrumental track, even has a sitar, maybe a synth that kind of remembers a sitar. It’s a bit drowned out in reverb, but you get the reference. This plays the role of the instrumental track on Dreamers, showing how musically pretentious ambitious these guys are. The synth or something stays in place for the last track, which goes the route of “End of the Means”. I could say these are the best tracks, but since they deviate from the norm, they aren’t very representative. it goes more to show that these guys are evolving and will probably aim at something somehow different for their next release.

I meant to say at some point that there is a strong Brian Jonestown Massacre influence, but never got the chance to. That’s kind of the feeling you get, of a even more stoned out BJM (possible?), in a sense that BJM rocks harder, while Wayward just kind of mingles comfortably in this Psychedelic feel. Something else: not sure if this should really be two albums, they would fit awkwardly, but nicely, together in the same way that the aforementioned Dylan song fits in Blonde on Blonde.

Two great fucking albums, I recommend them to everyone and you can’t beat the price of free.

-Carpeaux

New Dark Age – 2002

A concept album can be a hard feat to pull off. On one hand you must make sure that the music you create is consistent enough to be relevant to the concept. On the other hand, there must be enough variety over each track to ensure that the listener remains interested. Coherence, above all, is essential. With these factors in mind, here is 2002 – a sci-fi concept album by solo artist New Dark Age.

Before I get into the bulk of the review, I must make it clear that this album takes to the sci-fi concept completely, right up to the song titles and album cover. Although I can understand that this may put some people off, if you pass this one up you would seriously be missing out. The care that has gone into this album is clear, and the breadth of genres and almost impeccable mixing highlights this. If you are having any doubts about giving this album a go, just give the first five tracks a listen and try to appreciate the work that has gone into them and the atmosphere they are trying to portray. Personally, I’m not a huge sci-fi fan, but that didn’t stop me from listening to much of this album with a guilty nerd-induced smile on my face. And whilst it is hard to find a defined storyline within the album (apart from perhaps departure, travel and return), each track is in itself a clearly described situation.

Moving on from the concept, let’s talk about the music. 2002 is an instrumental album which draws from a wide range of genres to create a fantastic mix of sounds and feelings. Throughout the album you can expect to hear hip-hop beats, groove-heavy bass, delicate keyboard tones, hazy and discordant guitars, whining synths, and ambient soundscapes. These all flow seamlessly in and out to create tracks that are, occasionally, nothing short of epic. Despite this collage of sounds, it never feels like New Dark Age is trying his hand at too much at once. The diversity in 2002 never oversteps its bounds and always remains defined and controlled. Whilst one or two of the shorter tracks can feel a little like filler, most are excellent interludes between some fantastic songs, with Frequent New Worlds being a dirty, synth heavy highlight.

Perhaps the only serious issue I had with this album are the drums. More often than not they are too dominant and overbearing, and become a distraction from what else is happening in the song. This is a real shame when the rest of the instrumentation is so well put together, because there are some genuinely brilliant moments that could be so much more with just a little less volume on the drum track. I also found that the drums could often sound a bit too synthetic. I realise this is often a problem when using a drum machine, but some subtlety would go a long way. However, like any high quality independent release, to make such a great album without huge financial backing is a sure success story.

So, as a group of instrumental sci-fi themed songs, 2002 certainly works. You shouldn’t expect a coherent story, but the quality of this album more than makes up for it. All in all, New Dark Age has managed to create a selection of tracks with enough variety and breadth to keep you listening for every detail.

Standout tracks: Cyberpunk Club, VY Canis Majoris (Close Call), Where One Journey Ends

-Arran