Half Milk – Kept Mang

Half Milk - Kept Mang

Release a few singles, an EP, a full length or two and then split. That seems to be the practice with a lot of bands. Pioneers like Cap’n Jazz, American Football, Rites of Spring, and Indian Summer  and modern classics like Algernon Cadwallader, Snowing, and My Heart To Joy. All of which happen to be bands that, although great, split up after putting out a few releases. In the case of the four piece Chicago band, Half Milk, they too have followed a similar cliche. However, what sets Half Milk apart from the many is their final release, ‘Kept Mang’. Where Half Milk may have ended with a cliche, their final album is a record that is entirely their own, one that showcases an undeniable sense of precision and melody. It’s an album that keeps listeners on their toes, throwing out splintered complex guitar passages not unlike the band’s Chicago contemporaries along with jazz inspired drumming and goofy semi-poetic lyricism.

From simple punk chords to the round noodly clean tones that you might expect to here on a Don Cabellero record, most of the songs feature harsh contrasting breaks; instrumental sections that go from melodic, harmoniously and complexly entangled and without warning will transition to the off-kilter, and discordant cacophony without loosing a single moment of clarity. Sometimes it sounds as though all of the instruments are fighting for a spot to be heard over one another but yet through all of the discordance each instrument remains identifiable. One of the best examples of this comes on “Icerev Turns In His Wings”; a blistering epic that feels more like a roller coaster than a track but is nonetheless one of my favorites. Its a track that sums up the entirety of the album, it’s crazy unpredictability and all of it’s artistry at once. ‘Kept Mang’ is certainly the type of record that has all of those little moments that you revisit if only to listen specifically to just those, no matter how brief they are.

While I do appreciate the instrumental diversity that Half Milk possesses it is Spencer LaBute’s strange and often humorous lyricism that gives ‘Kept Mang’ that added sense of energy that gets this release continuous listens. If the title of the second track, “Did You Like Collapse In Grass” didn’t give you an idea of what you were in for then the abstractly hilarious lyrics surely set the tone for the entire record:

“If you’re feeling tropical / Take a ride on the pineapple birthday boat / Fire on the plate / Shrimp fried rice / Remember its warmth that night”

But its not only the work of Half Milk alone that makes this album great. Alongside Mathew Frank, whose vocals are featured on a number of tracks, Little House (aka Charlotte Lovell, also the girl on the album cover) makes an appearance on the track, “Spliff Wizzurd” where, over a mess of layered guitar noise and discordant drumming forms beat-esque poetry where she goes on in a stream of consciousness about friends she can fuck up, shitting herself, buying money, licking the cut of a sandwich’s bite because she’s dangerous, and other eyebrow-raising things. Its weird and maybe a little off-putting but theres something whimsical and also infectiously beautiful about it; maybe its the nonchalance in her voice or the way the words seem to slip casually, calmly from her mouth alongside the otherwise urgent inharmoniousness of the track that makes this so appealing.

The lyrics, much like the eclectic musicianship don’t really do the job of easing the listener into the atmosphere of the album as much as it unforgivingly dunks you in head first, without warning immersing you in what they are, expecting the listener to make sense of what they are given. In other words, I feel like this is just a record where you either dig it or you don’t; you either “get it”, or rather realize theres nothing “to get“, or you just don’t get it in the first place. Most of the time it’s difficult to imagine what the lyrics are about or whether the dudes in Half Milk even knows what they meant when they were writing them, if they even mean anything at all. To get to the point, regardless of the intent, what the lyricism achieves so well is its ability to capture the imagination and put an image or an idea in your head that keeps you wondering and of course listening. Its a trip for sure but its all in good fun.

Chaotic yet smooth, mathy, complex, emotive, passionate, twinkly; all of these descriptors could easily describe any past or upcoming band, especially Half Milk but what separates this band from any other band in this convoluted genre is that Half Milk does it with such virtuosity and character. The band has distinctly created a set of songs that speaks for itself, sometimes half-jokingly laughing at itself and other times as serious as you want it to be. Although, most of the time its hard to distinguish when to take them seriously at all. I think it is this that makes them so different for me, acknowledging when to step back and laugh at themselves, to show that a record doesn’t have to be completely serious to be heard.

While the reasons for these kinds of bands splitting up varies from band to band its clear to me that no one wants to repeat themselves. If you’ve got something great to start with why not end with it as well. As for ‘Kept Mang’, the record is certainly one that proves Half Milk started out great and, although they only put out one record, also ended with an exceptional release at that.

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Overall Rating: 8.6

Favorite Tracks:  Did You Like Collapse In The Grass’, ‘Icerev Turns In His Wings’, Zeuhl Sesh (Like Drinking Ten Lightnings!), Last Halloween: Wish Upon A Fecostar, Kentucky Blue Gravity

Recommended: Check out Algernon Cadwallader

Released: January 2013

Links: Download the album or pick up a tape here

-Tyler Thompson

Zebra Pulse – Hey, Vay Bae-Bays

Zebra Pulse -  Heh, Vay Bae​-​Bays

Last year, Edmonton, Alberta’s Zebra Pulse released ‘Endings’, a collection of strange, off-kilter tracks which consisted primarily of warped tape manipulations and obscure percussion. It was an album that, although creative and ambitious fell just short of being something great for me. When I reviewed the album I noted that many of the noises and electronic elements just didn’t jive with the drumming as well as I think they could have. Instead, it felt like they were clashing rather than complimenting and took a lot away from what the album could have been.

On ‘Hey, Vay Bae-Bays’, the latest album from the group the band addresses many of the issues that I had with ‘Endings’ and expands on the basic groundwork that can be heard in their back catalogue of recordings. On the bandcamp page, the band advises not to listen “if you are pregnant, have a heart condition, or are operating heavy machinery” and while this cautionary remark may have been tongue-in-cheek the new record reads like a valium prescription. While Zebra Pulse has always been a trippy listen, their latest release is even more sonically fucked up and conscious deprived.

For starters, the recording quality sounds better than that of any of their previous released material. Although, it wasn’t a crippling problem on ‘Endings’ the recording quality on their latest adds a new level of  clarity and depth to the drumming and where the samples and electronic elements once sounded flat it gives the samples more of a layered multi-dimensional sound.

Although these guys have refined their sound that doesn’t mean they’re any less weird or unpredictable than they’ve been. The percussive elements are all still here with all of the off-beat oddities that made ‘Endings’ a good listen but the playing seems to have a bit more direction than I noticed before. Not only has the drumming and noise elements become more tightly executed but the way the band acts as a whole has become more precise. Instead of directionless drum jams and random samples there is a better sense of progression and I think Zebra Pulse sounds more like a band than just a decent session of recorded jams.

The record shows an added attention to the pacing of each of the tracks. The second track, ‘Every Trilogy is a Movie (Parts 1, 2 & 3)’ is a slow moving,  psychedelic haze of pitch-shifted vocals, distorted instrumental loops, and aimless drum sequences while the track ‘Technical Space Composition No. 5’ shows a bit more direction and although chaotic it may be the most structural piece the band has done.

While ‘Hey, Vay Bae-Bays’ isn’t the most structurally sound album you’ll here this year it makes up in originality and unpredictability making this an album that will leave you wanting to come back just to dissect the free form drumming oddities and catch every weird tape manipulation. Even with that said the band doesn’t lose sight of what they’ve been doing, its not like they’ve gone out and created an album that is completely accesible; if there is any indication of what this record is it could be summed up by just the title alone, an eclectic and strange record that is carful not to give up it’s creativity for a more accesible listen. If you’re looking for something completely unpredictable then let it be this.

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Overal Rating: 7.3

Favorite Tracks: ‘Technical Space Composition No. 5’

Recommended: Take a look at the Ramshackle Day Parade back catalogue.

Released: 02 May 2013

Links:

Zebra Pulse Bandcamp page

Ramshackle Day Parade

The band’s WordPress

-Tyler Thompson

Derek Piotr – Raj

Derek Piotr - Raj

On ‘Raj’, the third release from Poland’s Derek Piotr, the music featured throughout is a very vocal set of experimental and beat oriented compositions that draws much of it’s content from the voice which is processed and arrange, sometimes acting as a part of the beat itself.

This is my first introduction to Piotr’s music but before I began this review I went back to his previous two releases, ‘Agora’ and ‘Airing’, both of which show Piotr’s subtle but nevertheless, progressive movement through his vocal practices and the digitalized aura that at all times surrounds his work, that being his heavily processed but otherwise organic approach to the broad genre that is electronic music. Throughout Piotr’s previous releases it is apparent that his music has always been hard to pin down and on ‘Raj’ it is even more difficult. In a moment of harsh glitching and hot digital distortion (Spine, Grave)  I want to call it noise, during the bits of eclectic beat-oriented madness (‘Amendola’) I am reminded of dub and minimalist techno, throughout the menacing atmosphere that fills the album I want to call it dark ambient, and even then there are so many other genre’s one could tack on to ‘Raj’ yet there is no single point in time on this album in which any of the aforementioned genre tags could fully describe it. With all of that said, Piotr’s third entry is an undoubtably complex effort, brimming with abstract beats, unexpected shifts in direction, and unusual song structures that can be as uninviting as they can be accessible.

Musicians, particularly electronic musicians of Piotr’s kind have always expressed some interest in the manipulation of the voice and the use of it as an instrument but it hasn’t been until recently, within the past few years that is, that this vocal processing, this sound shaping of the voice has become a seen and used by musicians as a tool for creating beats, melodies, and song structures. Musicians like James Blake, Vladislav Delay, and AGF (whom Derek Piotr has collaborated with) can all be heard using vocals as the primary instrument, alongside synths and the whir and glow of the computer in the post-digital age.

Unlike many electronic musicians, Piotr does not so much work within the perimeters of electronic music as much as he exploits them. The otherwise polished sheen of digital music becomes distorted; ripped free from its most “proper” uses. You can hear the static glitched out synths, pitch shifted tones, and chopped up beats all moving at varying speeds, and Piotr’s own disheartening vocal embellishments that are arranged in a rather eerie way over the industrial, menacing soundscape that fills this album. The minimalist compositions and echo of the cold beats remind me of Andy Stott’s two 2011 EPs prior to his move toward a more polished sound on his 2012 full length.  It’s a very visual type of music and I think this aspect has been made even more apparent by the two music videos that accompany the tracks, ‘Sand Defacing All Surfaces” and ‘Grave’.

Piotr’s constant vocal manipulations paired with the desolate digital atmosphere shows a lot of ambition and potential but I do feel like there are many times where these elements come off as more of a burden for the listener than a unique aspect of his work. The vocal manipulations become especially grating along with the repetitiousness of the albums tracks. I found myself thinking it would be nice to hear Piotr’s own raw voice, removed of the guise of his editing skills. While individually, most of the tracks aren’t something you would listen to as independent pieces the album does pick up on that aspect in that, holistically it works very well, perhaps because the music is so conscious of what it is, even without an established concept.

The tracks are minimal, bare, stripped down, skeletal, and sometimes repetitive; there is a strain of despair and desolation that runs throughout each track. There are moments on this album where this moodiness works much to Piotr’s advantage in that it leaves me feeling unease, never feeling content or comfortable in knowing where the next track or sudden shift in direction might take me; never a moment where I felt like I knew what was going to happen next, which proves to be one of the best aspects of this piece of music by the end of the album. In the end, as experimental and impenetrable as ‘Raj’ may initially sound, there are many moments interjected throughout where the album can feel very accessible, even for audiences unfamiliar with Piotr’s unorthodox approach to electronic music.

Have a look at the videos that accompany two tracks from the album:

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Overall Rating: 6.8

Favorite Tracks: ‘Flow Through Light’

Recommended: AGF, Vladislav Delay, Andy Stott

Released: 26 February 2013

Links: http://derekpiotr.com/raj/

-Tyler Thompson

[willscott] – willscott… recordings

will scott... recordings [disc one]

When I was first informed of Edmonton, Alberta noise / drone trio, Pigeon Breeders I never imagined that this small town in Canada actually had stable place for other acts dabbling in the likes of experimental music until I checked out the 2012 Ramshackle Day Parade comp. which featured a solid collection of acts from the area and surrounding areas, the likes of which included musician, Will Scott, one of the members in Pigeon Breeders whose guitar oriented solo compositions draw from a number of influences and span a vast array of styles taking mainly from psychedelic, blues, and progressive rock and repurposing them into experimental and sometimes noisy electronic infused compositions that retain the catchy aspects of their contemporaries while branching out into newer territory.

The first disc in this two disc release can be seen as the more cohesive or realized set of songs whereas the second disc is more of a collection of short experimental sounds and compositions, “b-sides” and extras. Both discs do maintain a similar sound, although disc two does branch out a bit more, playing around with noisier sounds (‘3ree’, along with the inclusion of more irregular rhythms and unorthodox song structures that take queues from the angular playing of early math rock band such as Don Cabellero (‘Our Home Is Next…’, ‘No Love’) while some remind me of that Matt Stevens album that I reviewed last year taking from and meshing together a number of styles (‘Maybe and Sometimes’, ‘Funkin Ugly’).

While the first disc does provide a clear direction I actually prefer the diversity of the songs on the second disc. It’s pretty clear to me that ‘Recordings’ most successful attributes is it’s ability to appeal to a diverse audience. Even with the more straightforward efforts heard on the first disc each song provides a strong amount of variation with abstract pieces such as “Lonely Ground”, a track that sets itself apart starting off with guitars and “Ooohs and Ahhhs” that build to a climax before panning out and picking up with this directionless discordant noise. Although out of place among an album full of guitar based songs the track never sounds like it doesn’t belong. Even though [willscott] is primarily considered a solo project Scott is joined by a number of guest musicians who contribute the likes of guitar, vocals, lyrics, drums, bass, samples electronic embellishments, etc. that bring a sense of character where it would likely be lacking. While some of the songs are instrumental many do feature vocals and lyrics on tracks such as “The Saga Continues” from the likes as Elissa Cook whose voice soars above driving guitars and arena sized drums that gives this track a huge amount of space. ‘This Is What It Sounds Like To Record In A Cave’ and ‘Phatty Beats Bruce and Old Man Johnson” offer this free-form “frame of mind” style vocals reminiscent of rapping that strangely reminds me of experimental hip-hop group, cLOUDDEAD or even (dare I say) Beck. Initially one might think that all of this might be overwhelming but even with all of this variation it still works as a cohesive album.

The production is unreal, at times sounding like some strange lost alien blues jams. The drums are bold and cut through the mix without detracting from other aspects of the music and although the guitars are loaded with an arsenal of effects they don’t water down the tone and prove to be necessary as oppose to just being another addition to the sound. It is clear that every aspect of instrumentation on ‘Recordings’ was payed equal attention to but this projects biggest accomplishment is not only this ear for a great sound. Where musicians who have emulated a style of music from the past in this way tend to go wrong is in their pursuit to take the strong points of their various influences and combine them together as one. In doing this they push aside the possibility of using their influences to create something original and are left with this soup of sounds whose ingredients don’t mix so well. In an attempt to spice things up they continue to add additional flavors which aren’t as palatable together as they would be if they were left alone. I realize this is a terrible and overused metaphor, one that is just as bad as any band reusing past sounds but where [willscott] makes a difference is these sounds aren’t reused but repurposed and formed into something unique in its own respect without bothering to “pay homage” to earlier sounds but rather using these old sounds to do something new.

At the end of two discs of material there really is something for everyone to be heard here; if you don’t like one song on this release it’s likely that there will be a track among these two discs that will resonate. ‘Willscott… Recordings’ may be composed mainly of rock songs centralized around instruments traditionally found in rock music but this isn’t just another throwback retro-revival act. What is heard on ‘Recordings’ is an amount of experimentation that would not typically be expected or initially wanted on your standard rock album but is nonetheless encouraged because this is not your standard rock album and although it isn’t entirely new it is a carefully thought out coming together of influences and ideas that worked well separately in the past and sound great as a whole in the present. Do check this out.

Overall Rating: 8.4

Favorite Tracks: ‘SOS Fest Sucked This Year…’, ‘The Saga Continues’, ‘This Is What It Sounds Like To Record In A Cave’, ‘Happy Ending’, ‘Our Home Is Next…’

Recommended: Check out the Ramshackle Day Parade net-label.

Released: 04 December 2011

Links:

http://willscott.bandcamp.com/

-Tyler Thompson

Borealis – Voidness

Borealis is the solo project of Hesse Somfay, part of the Origami Sound collective who describe themselves as “an ever growing collective of artists and labels aimed towards introducing the highly subjective concept of quality emotional electronic music with an emphasis on eclecticism” – a statement that I find to be largely true within the music of Borealis and associated acts like Hmot and Nocow, the sound of which is concentrated largely on the ethereal and meditative nature of IDM godfathers Boards of Canada to the moodiness and the skeletal structure evocative of Burial.

Voidness is something of an epic, an electronic odyssey into something personal but also distant and strange. Clocking in at 1 hour and 15 minutes Voidness serves as an electronic exploration that delves into and builds off of the genres of earlier contemporaries.

Most of the tracks on Voidness are simple which is best heard on Orphan Fire, a song includes a repetitive overtly minimalistic structure which would normally be boring but it all fits together so well in the context of the album, what the music here is trying to accomplish. Like a futurist sharpening a set of kitchen knives, the beats are sharp and angular sounding but they are almost always arranged in such an interesting way. Tracks like ‘Intravenous’ show off the spontaneous nature of Voidness as loud explosions of metallic clanging often erupt at seemingly random times. The arrangements are futuristic and favor simplicity and mood while the beats are strange, never out of time with each other but more so off-kilter, irregular rhythms that bring a spontaneous element to an otherwise straight-forward album giving the otherwise ultra sleek sound that is Voidness something natural, something human and deliberately flawed.

Borealis’ makes a kind of electronic music that in a way is very much his own and while it may be unique in an out of context kind of way, comparatively ‘Voidness’ takes quite a large chunk of inspiration from musicians who have already pursued what Borealis is doing here. What I think listeners will pick up on first are those pitch-shifted disembodied chipmunk-esque vocal samples that have been used to death by nearly every future-garage / dubstep musician. Although there are some obvious borrowed ideas the effort and attention to detail within ‘Voidness’ is uncanny and definitely worth a few listens.

Voidness is a highly emotive piece of work that brings a necessary emotional aspect and level of intimacy to electronic music that is often seldom heard. The album takes the listener on a moving journey through the crossfades of the digital polish of electronic music, a certain physical viscera and interweaves the two together. While some may feel that Borealis is borrowing too heavily from his contemporaries this is definitely an overlooked piece of electronic music that deserves a higher seat in the electronic of 2012.

Overall Rating: 8.3

Favorite Tracks: ‘Womb’, ‘Unseen & Uncalled’, ‘Not Of This Reality’, ‘Intravenous’, ‘Wearied, We Keep Awake’

Recommended: Check out the rest of the Origami Sound catalogue.

Released: 13 July 2012

Links:

Check out ‘Voidness’ on Origami Sound’s Bandcamp

Redntoothnclaw

Balmy – Metaverse

Mataverse is the first release by producer Balmy, formally known as Atmosfear.

So I used to have this problem a long while back with listening to instrumental hip-hop and strictly beat oriented music in general. The biggest problem for me was attempting to maintain an interest, not becoming bored with what you are given; that being these linear constructions that I felt would so easily be made listenable with some raps thrown in overtop. Musician’s such as Flying Lotus and Blockhead were some of the first that turned me on to instrumental hip-hop mostly due to their listenability, the idea of hearing their music as established pieces that I could feel involved in and draw emotion from. As musicians their instrumentals seemed to pull everything together allowing me to hear it as more than just a nice background jam which is exactly what Balmy has done for me as well. ‘Metaverse’ is a twelve track collection of tranquil and pretty beats built on samples, lush synth patterns and great compositional arrangements that is experimental and nonlinear enough to listen to as is while still containing enough versatility for ambitious rappers to attempt to spit over. These psychedelic arrangements of pretty synths and sequences of downtempo jazz and hip-hop are perfect easy listening.

The smoothness that the album starts out with is maintained masterfully throughout making for an easy and relaxing listen that shows Balmy knows how to create a good vibe and just stick with it throughout. Even though the music is dominantly downtempo it goes without saying there are plenty of great bleeps, bloops, and unconventional noises to keep you entertained during a number of relaxing events, whether it be just lounging around with your friends, going to sleep, or just listening. All of the tracks remain at a steady pace all ranking in at under 4 minutes, a good length that ensures things don’t get boring.

‘Old Hall’ is a track brimming with tons of spacey futuristic sounds that is truly a treat for the ears. Tracks such as ‘Woob’, ‘Space Cruise’, and ‘Space Lounge’ have this old dusty record feel that harbors a sense of nostalgia and sounds like they would fit right at home playing during an Adult Swim bump. All of the tunes feature samples derived from traditional instruments which makes it hard not to get caught up in trying to analyze every aspect of the music and the sounds sampled to create it; these quick snippets of guitars, orchestral instruments, bells and chimes, all so warm and familiar. It happens so quick that it is almost subliminal but at the same time you don’t not want to pay attention.

An impressive album full of enjoyable mellow tunes that although sounds like you may have heard this before (Cosmogramma) you’ll definitely want to hear it again… and again and keep hearing it just to be able to digest it all. If you’re into Flying Lotus or Long Arm this will be a treat.

Overall rating: 8.3

Favorite Track: ‘Protura’, ‘Old Hall’

Recommended: Flying Lotus and Long Arm.

Released: 06 February 2012

Links: Mellow out on Bandcamp

Redntoothnclaw