Submitted by lukeprog on Fri, 04/22/2005 - 05:40
DAAU - Tub Gurnard Goodness [2004; Chamber Rock] 7.4 Buy Genre is so passé. Antwerp twerps DAAU tax music taxonomists with kitchen sink audio alchemy. Album opener 'My Goodness! Poetry' is a Klezmer incarnation of Apocalyptica covering The Fiery Furnaces covering Camille Saint-Saëns. My goodness! It's free verse until 'Raw Like Milk', which finally resembles common song structure with melody and repetition. But as you settle into its accelerated Mogwai build, you become intoxicated by their tipsy gypsy Mozart mash. Amidst so many musical deviations, the '2 + 2 = 5' cover adds up to an unimaginative conceit to tune in Radiohead fans, and the album's texture underperforms its writing. The songs' energy and complexity require more than the sparse chamber instrumentation supplies. The album's strongest track - 'Even More Lost Souls' (following 'Lost Souls' and 'More Lost Souls' from previous albums) - triumphs because of the soulful expression enabled by its simplicity and melancholy pace. The mournful drone remains tensely pre-orgasmic to the end. After nine years and six albums, DAAU refuse to forge a signature style - but everything they serve is guaranteed fresh. Muse - Absolution [2003; Pomp Rock] 8.4 Buy The problem with Radiohead is that they're too damn good. In 6 short years they exalted (The Bends), redefined (OK Computer), and laid waste to (Kid A) modern rock. Radiohead were grandstanding: "Here, I made a new genre for you to play with! This is its perfection. But let's see what you can do with it, just for fun." The Bends' most enthusiastic imitators are Muse. Absolution is a political/religious record too massive for anything so petty as a few wars and religions. Early tracks melodramatically predict a coming apocalypse and call for worldwide penance. 'Time Is Running Out', and we reach 'Blackout' just before the album peaks with 'Butterflies and Hurricanes', a devastating anthem for eponymous butterfly effect heroism. On Absolution, Muse rock harder, tighter, louder, more dynamically, and better than ever before. They've finally matured beyond Bends-awed tone cloning and written a unified record that is all their own. Sure to please fans of Rachmaninov, Freddie Mercury/Thom Yorke falsetto crooning, and Michael Bay explosions, Absolution is the apex of Pomp Rock. From Monument to Masses - The Impossible Leap in One Hundred Simple Steps [2003; Post-Rock] 4.1 Buy A political statement album for social change (mostly) without lyrics? Sure, why not. 'Sharpshooter' tellingly opens the album with wandering guitar harmonics interrupted by channel surfing samples & static. The song quickly reaches near-metal heaviness just before we hear news reports on the fallen WTC towers. A few minutes later, we hear Noam Chomsky's speech on the United States' serial genocide, and the third track begins with Mark Hunter (Christian Slater in Pump Up the Volume) asking, "Do you ever get the feeling that everything in America is completely fucked up?" Yes, it's definitely that kind of record. As a soundtrack for those angry with America, Impossible Leap caters to a vast audience. But what of the music? FMtM get their message across with speech samples of such diverse voices as Malcolm X, George W. Bush, and Kirk Douglas' Col. Dax from Paths of Glory, tying them together with heavy Tortoise-style post-rock. The volatile mix of instruments and samples is politically undermining as intended when it works ('Comrades and Friends'), and boring and contrived when it doesn't ('The Quiet Before'). From Monument to Masses have talent, passion, and vision, but all must be refined. They have a lot of work to do before they record anything that inspires people. Paul Ruskay - Homeworld Soundtrack [2000; Ambient] 8.6 Buy Contrary to scientific fact, there is sound in outer space, and this is what it sounds like. Distant pulsars hum, black holes moan, sailing ships shimmer, and the fabric of spacetime sighs under the invisible strain of dark energy. And every so often, the cadence of war can be heard. Homeworld is a battle strategy game set in the vast emptiness of deep space, which Paul Ruskay's eerie, otherworldly soundtrack fits perfectly. Most of the tracks are quiet ambient pieces that sound remarkably like Radiohead's 'Treefingers', ranging from tranquil ('Garden View') to ominous ('Diamond Shoals & Galactic Core') to downright creepy ('Ship Graveyard'). But Ruskay really shows off his talent on the battle tracks. Tribal drums and an insectoid whine join the uneasy mechanical ambiance with a texture that suggests the biomechanical future sure to come. In fact, like much ambient music the soundtrack is as much a triumph of careful sound design as musical composition. Video game music has come a long way from its bleep-bloop beginnings. Music fans and critics who ignore this blossoming field miss a few of each year's best releases. This is one of them. Cuebism - Circle EP [2004; Disco] 6.5 Download In this cut & paste, remix & revive musical culture, nothing is dead, not even disco. With Circle EP, Cuebism has sown the head of the Bee Gees onto the body of a minimalist Xiu Xiu and not bothered to hide the stitches. The album's opening electronic noise asserts digital surgery like the opening of Radiohead's '2 + 2 = 5' bares the recording process with failing cord connections. Every song is built with thinly sliced synth phrases and conspicuously cut-off samples laid atop a groovy beat. With so many uncovered incisions, it's a good thing Cuebism knows what he's doing; despite lacking guitars, vocals, and shiny vests, Circle EP is one of the catchier disco albums I've heard. The man clearly has a knack for the perfect fishhook that reels you in every time until you surrender to its funky hip-hurling rapture. As the ludicrous cover art suggests, the album isn't about artistry or musical progress. It's about sliding into the John Travolta finger point pose in nothing but wool socks on your linoleum floor. It's about filtering the fun-loving from the freeloaders at your evening party; the hips don't lie. It's about replacing your dining room chandelier with a disco ball. Why not bounce-strut your way to work next time? It'll help if you wake up to Cuebism. Album - Eureka Sön [2004; Indie Rock] 6.6 Download The bad/great thing about music today is that any schmuck with a sound card and a few software synths can record an album. Eureka Sön is more a compilation of the band's best work to date than an album, but as a scattered collection of cheaply produced indie rock tracks you could hardly ask for better - or more varied. Album opener 'Antes' is the atonal Spanish Pet Sounds track never recorded. 'Centro' builds to a synth-buried Kenna chorus. 'Reversible' belongs on a poor man's Kid A. 'Ti' is ripped from Now Here Is Nowhere. And don't forget the aptly titled 'Holey Foley' and the glitch-techno cacophony of 'Ruido'. A dozen styles pepper Eureka Sön and most are pulled off confidently. Album do occasionally fail, however: 'Crei' and 'Yoo' are cheap alt-rock ripoffs without the crisp production. Don't dismiss Album's music along with their moniker; potential abounds here. Lisa DeBenedictis - Tigers [2005; Pop] 4.6 Download There are several good songs on this record, but you'd never know it because Lisa's best asset - her voice - is usually drowned in effects that would've been put to better use disguising her template preset synth 'instruments.' Tigers represents no progression from Fruitless, technically or creatively. The album's mediocrity is especially irksome because Lisa is clearly a decent songwriter and good singer, but her 'shimmering textural pop' needs studio production like Ashley Simpson's voice. A shining light of hope is found in 'Lowell', specifically when the instrumentation sounds less like a raw Fruityloops piano roll and more like Stereolab. I hope Lisa can solve her production problems and embrace creative daring on her next record, due later this year. Jonny Greenwood - Bodysong [2003; Experimental] 8.0 Buy Perspective is crucial. If you look at Bodysong as a movie score (it is), you'll think: "Man, the movie must be really fucked up, like that Pink Floyd movie (it isn't). If you compare Bodysong to Radiohead's latest, you'll find the same experimental lonely tones without guitars, vocals, or structure, which will disappoint some and impress others. If you inspect Bodysong in a vacuum (unwise, and impossible in any case), Bodysong reveals a muttering insomniac tinkering with thousands of unlabeled buttons and dials to see what sounds The Machine makes and recording it all. Is it any good? Absolutely, especially 'Moon Trills', 'Splinter', and 'Milky Drops From Heaven'. Even after so much groundbreaking work with Radiohead, Greenwood has just begun experimenting. I can't wait to see what he does next. Max Richter - The Blue Notebooks [2004; Classical] 8.8 Buy A hipster would tell you that the Kafka readings laid over Richter's lush melodies make Blue Notebooks higher art than the music itself, but such additional praise is unnecessary. Each track on The Blue Notebooks is a gorgeous minimalist tapestry that does not aspire to push the creative envelope or experiment with genre; instead, the tracks have the lowly ambition of perfection. 'Shadow Journal', 'The Trees' and 'Vladmir's Blues' are pure and flawless. This isn't music to induce a head trip or study lecture but to sip slowly and let linger on your taste buds. If there is one album of contemporary classical music that everyone can appreciate, it is Max Richter's simply perfect Blue Notebooks. Radiohead - Kid A [2000; Experimental Rock/Electronic] 9.9 Buy Is it overrated? Well, yes - just as everything popular is overrated due to the exponential nature of esteem radiation. Is it unfair of Radiohead to stand on the shoulders of giants like Boards of Canada, Pink Floyd, Bjork, Brian Eno and others to reach new heights? Certainly not - no musical artist ever stands on untouched ground, especially the great ones. But Kid A is still a singular revelation - it probes clandestine alien landscapes and captures infinity in 50 minutes. It plants raw human feeling in a time capsule and rips it out in 3350. But the real genius of Kid A is its ability to transcend all context and tower above us like a benevolent beast of amorphous, crackling energy. You can worship it, curse it, flee it or ignore it, but it will always loom overhead. Sure, other great albums deserve more attention than they get, but Kid A has more insight than all of them, which is why it really is the best pop music album of the decade so far. Gavin Bryars - The Sinking of the Titanic [1969; Minimalism] 9.3 Buy The 1994 re-recording of Bryars' 1969 indeterminate minimalist masterpiece is subtlety spectacular. The perpetually unresolved, melancholy strings evoke 1,503 lost souls - not souls seeking the light or crying out or exacting revenge or tickling your spine, but souls simply lost, wandering forever in mournful oblivion. The occasional hints of metallic groaning and muffled voices paint the tragic scene without lambasting us with James Cameron sound effects and screams. Truly, this is a hymn of great beauty and power that accomplishes so much with so little aside the world's other minimalist masterpieces. Mew - Frengers [Epic; 2003; Alternative Rock] 7.1 Buy As a shamefully unflappable rule, I don't like punk music. But Mew, those devious Danish bastards, tricked me into liking the several punk-ish tracks on Frengers ("Not Quite Friends But Not Quite Strangers") by wrapping the hook-laden riffage with Jonas Bjerre's angelic vocals and a big symphonic sound. Frengers isn't profound or important, but tracks like 'Am I Wry, No' and 'Comforting Sounds' are irresistible slices of pop/rock heavencake. '156' is conventionally structured but nearly manages to sound like an ever-morphing pop epic ala The Fiery Furnaces without the weirdness. The rest of the album doesn't hold up as well, but watch for Mew to hit big this year with their sophomore release. Xploding Plastix - Amateur Girlfriends Go Proskirt Agents [2001; Jazz/Electroinca] 7.9 Buy The parallels between Proskirt->Donca Matic and Bricolage->Permutation make it clear that Xploding Plastix are riding Amon Tobin's back, but that doesn't make Proskirt any less exciting, fun, or cleverly titled. The album moves from aggressive lounge to jazz-house to trip-hop before any of them get old. Highlight 'Single Stroke Ruffs' is obsessively well-textured and catchy. All samples, Proskirt convinces all but the most hardcore audiophiles that live instruments are completely unnecessary for recorded music. But don't trash your brass yet; few artists are this accomplished at sample-tweaking. TV on the Radio - Young Liars [2003; Experimental Rock] 9.1 Buy Does a daring work of diverse genre fusion solicit ecstatic praise or get hit by trucks going both ways? Thankfully, Young Liars is no roadkill. In fact, it's combination of post-grunge/post-rock and barbershop seems so effortless that it evokes a giant "Why didn't they think of that before?" But great effort was taken to craft Young Liars' rich textures, blinding originality, and danceable accessibility. 'Satellite' and 'Staring at the Sun' introduce the signature sound to be elaborated on the followup LP. The album peaks with soul-crushing solliloquoy 'Blind' and the ever-extended orgasm of 'Young Liars'. As Desperate Youths, Bloodthirsty Babes shows, a short punch is the most powerful; after several dozen listens, Young Liars still knocks me to floor. Louis XIV - The Best Little Secrets Are Kept [2005; Indie Rock] 4.8 Buy "Hey, man, let's be in a rock band so we can get laid!" "Fuck yeah, man!" And thus Louis XIV and a thousand other talentless bands were born. But who needs talent when you riff simply, pose suggestively, and talk dirty? The Best Little Secrets Are Kept first sounds like some decent White Stripes fun, but repeated listens reveal it for the empty, dreadfully boring field of strawmen it is (excepting, perhaps, 'Hey Teacher'). In the end, the album is surely a success: Louis XIV now have chicks & clams in abundance. But I, for one, am steering clear of their Rohypnol. Biosphere - Substrata [1997; Ambient] 8.2 Buy If ever a genre dumfounded language to describe it, it's ambient. Substrata is a collection of field recordings of towering iron walls, mutant plant growth, wind-washed canyons, purring deep-space probes, butterflies in the park - all descriptions are equally inaccurate and totally valid. There's no question that Substrata remains one of Geir Jenssen's most accomplished works. Wolfgang Rihm - Jagden Und Formen [2002; Classical] 8.3 Buy Richter's The Blue Notebooks is the type of classical crossover album embraced by pop music lovers like Pitchfork and myself but ignored by aficionados of 21st century classical music, who prefer to shower attention on works like Jagden Und Formen, a frantic 51-minute composition that explodes with musical ideas. In fact, there are so many ideas here that the piece seems utterly foreign and without precedent to a classical music newbie like myself. You can't hum this one in the shower, but it's definitely one of the most interesting albums I've heard. My favorite parts are the occasional respites from Rihm's accelerated chaos (for example, near bars 300 and 800) and the uber-fantastic finale (from bar 938 to the end). Big Daddy - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band [1992; Rock & Roll] 8.1 Buy The best cover album I've heard. Comedy group Big Daddy perform The Beatles' psychadelic masterpiece in the style of 50s rock & roll stars like Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. You'll hear a Jerry Lee Lewis 'Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds', a Freddy Cannon 'Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite', etc. The famous final track, 'A Day in the Life' done Buddy Holly style, lets you fall in love again with Buddy's stuttering, 'simple-joy' rock & roll but replaces The Beatles' aleatoric orchestral swell with sonic suggestions of the fatal flight and news reports from The Day The Music Died. Excepting this sorrowful ending, the album is endlessly enjoyable and unjustly rare. Steve Reich - Music for 18 Musicians [1976; Classical] 9.4 Buy Apparently, Terry Riley's In C and Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians are of different classical styles, but I just know they are my two favorite minimalist pieces of music. Truly, if I had to listen to one non-ambient album all day, every day for the rest of my life, Music for 18 Musicians would make the very short list of albums from which I would select. Much minimalist music feels looped and boring, but this album shifts gracefully into infinity. They need to start writing CDs in mp3 format or distributing them online for iPods so an ensemble can record a version of this composition that lasts 10 hours. I'd buy it! Love - Forever Changes [1967; Psychedelic] 8.0 Buy There's a reason this critical favorite is often overlooked. It walks a barbed fence between Lee's artful blend of folk-rock/psychedelia and the cheesy orchestral pop of Burt Bacharach. Lee's impassioned lyrics ride an often boring melodic train. The orchestral waste as Lee sings "I will be alone again tonight my dear" on 'Alone Again Or' reminds me of today's pop starlets' worst choruses, and it nearly ruins an otherwise good track. Listen closely to 'Maybe the People' (the album's worst track) for every cliche flourish and structural conceit you've ever heard. All this is not to argue that Forever Changes isn't a good album; merely that it's no masterpiece. Many of the songs here are quite good, and at least one ('A House Is Not a Motel') is a masterful triumph. And none of this means you won't love the album. It just means I don't. Megadeth - The System Has Failed [2004; Thrash Metal] 7.7 Buy I've always felt that the Prodigal Son's older brother got screwed. He remained faithful while his kid brother squandered their father's money on whores and booze. But when the brat came back, his father threw a huge party and never rewarded the older brother for his loyalty and maturity. In pop music, it seems that critics often give undue attention to a solid album that revives a dead genre (Permission to Land, etc.) and shrug off better work from styles that are now marginal in popularity but never quite went away. The System Has Failed is one such victim of the Prodigal Son Effect. The album is Mustaine's heaviest, fastest, and best effort since 1992's Countdown to Extinction. Naturally, if you're looking for genre-busting, poetic artistry, you're facing the wrong way. But The System Has Failed is a kickass headbasher from start to finish with some of the coolest metal riffs of the decade so far. Morton Subotnick - The Wild Bull [1968; Experimental Electronic] 8.5 Buy Cool, this album finally came in from the library. Which one was this, again? I think it's some electronic music that belongs to 20th century classical music (or 'non-pop') instead of the realm of pop music. I wonder what the difference is? 2:14. Right now it's a rambling mix of strange sounds that is oddly compelling and never repetetive. Sorta reminds me of an electronic 'Jagden Und Formen' that way. 6:15. Oooh, it's picking up! It's sort of Biosphere-ambient topped with Aphex Twin chops juxtaposed haphazardly. 7:55. Definitely experimental, but definitely rocking right now. Can't believe I'm bouncing my head to this nonsense right now, but I am. 14:18 On to 'Part B'. Nice, this phrase is pretty cool. 17:33. Man, I can't believe how many different sounds this guy is using. Ah, this is a great passage. 24:12. Alright, well, let's look up the year for this online so I can add it to my 'Favorite Albums' list... HOLY SHIT THIS IS FROM 1968! Moondog - Moondog [1969; Third Stream] 9.0 Buy The second self-titled album by Moondog (Louis Hardin) is an orchestral jazz album of rich complexity, irresistible melody, and ebullient builds. It's one of the most archetypal and accessible third stream works I've found, but I don't really care: this album just plain rules. Moondog likes to wrap simple, perfect motifs in thick blankets of syncopation, counterpoint, harmony, and audio collage. The clearest and most triumphant example of this is 'Symphonique #6', which also happens to be my favorite jazz track of all time. The most famous track is 'Bird's Lament', a simple, bouncy riff worth a hundred listens (trust me; I've actually tried it). If The Beatles are kings of pop melody, Moondog is the master of jazz melody, nowhere better evidenced than here. Glenn Branca - Symphony #3 [1983; Experimental] 8.6 Buy In the classical music world, melody got its ass kicked by texture back in the 50s. Composers grew tired of the mathmetically limited potential of melody and leaped enthusiastically into the unlimited world of sound. Synths and the digital age allowed artists to easily construct unheard textures. Others made new instruments or severely perverted existing ones. Understandably, genre also got its ass kicked in the 50s. Since then, composers and sometimes individual works have sounded like nothing but themselves. For his third symphony, Branca put guitar strings and pickups on rows of two-by-fours and had players hit them with sticks or mallets; it definitely sounds like nothing else out there. The composition is more arcane than the earlier, more rockish Ascension (which, BTW, received a rare 10.0 from Pitchfork), but any non-pop record is beyond my scope of musical understanding anyway and I can only tell you how much I like (or don't like) such works. And I really like Branca's third symphony! Hardly structured like a 'symphony' at all, I guess it's what the best, most glacial Godspeed You Black Emperor! album you can imagine would sound like. In the first movement, this beast of crushing atmosphere purrs louder than you can scream. In the second, it gnashes its teeth. In the third, it surrenders to bliss in the warm sun. Or something. Blink-182 - Enema of the State [1999; Punk-Pop] 3.6 Buy It's not surprising that this collection of vacuous, idiotic songs connects so well with vacuous, idiotic young teens (I've nothing against young teens; it's a stage we all go through like the terrible two's and the pretentious college years). As the cover art of pornstar Janine as an enema nurse suggests, the album is full of cliche, shallow hooks - and in the end you're just taking it up the ass. Thank God it lasts only 38 minutes. The really sad thing is that this is the most tolerable Blink-182 record. Adiemus - Songs of Sanctuary [1994; Classical] 7.6 Buy Karl Jenkins' Adiemus plays European classical music with somewhat "ethnic" vocals. Foregoing the "distraction" of lyrics, Jenkins instead wrote vocal passages of phoenemes that emphasize the role of voice as an instrument in a style less inventive but more accessible than Meredith Monk or Diamanda Galas. Energetic and uplifting, the result is one of the more commercially successful & easily enjoyable "classical" albums of the decade.
- Radiohead - Kid A (9.9, 2000, Experimental Rock/Electronic)
- Steve Reich - Music for 18 Musicians (9.4, 1976, Classical)
- Gavin Bryars - The Sinking of the Titanic (9.3, 1969, Minimalism)
- TV on the Radio - Young Liars (9.1, 2003, Experimental Rock)
- Moondog - Moondog (9.0, 1969, Third Stream)