If you take a wild animal out of it’s natural habitat, be prepared to deal with a beast at it’s best. It will be riddled with anxiety, hostility, and fear. This can cause many problems which may or may not include the loss of limbs and/or lives depending on the size of the creature. That being said, if you’re going to try and interact with a cornered wild animal, you better be damn-well prepared to do so. Frankly, you can never know what to expect.
The same type of precaution should be taken when listening to an album like The Young Maths‘ freshly-released full-length LP, ERRORRS.
First of all, I should clarify that this is an album. Not a single. Not a split. Not an EP. An album. ERRORRS is a complete work comprised of eight musical tomes representing how far this band has come over their 5-6 years of playing together. In my review of the band’s last release, the You’re Buying Nothing EP, I wrote about how the songs on that release showed the band treading new territory “with treasure-in-hand”. Well, it’s safe to say that the departure in sound found on this album puts the changes on YBN to shame and then some. Gone are the ballsy dance jams meant to incite massive amounts of ‘boogying’. Singer/guitarist Robert Godinez’s vocals cross the line of vocal vigor and end up as screams on several fiery occasions. The guitars on this album no longer run the simple race of swift chords and implement almost siren-like howls slicing through the atmosphere created and maintained by the absolutely rock-solid rhythm section provided by JP Chapa and Manny Montejano, both of whom get their own times to shine on this record, I might add. Both Chapa’s and Montejano’s backing vocals on “The Cannon Choir” breathe new life into the song that didn’t exist in it’s earlier forms. Montejano even gets a vocal solo on the track that, while initially difficult to digest, ended up giving the song an extra layer of soul not unlike what I’ve heard from contemporary rock bands like TV On The Radio. However, if I’m going to enter comparison territory, two bands I cannot leave out are Crystal Skulls and Radiohead. I hear traces of both Blocked Numbers and OK Computer on this record. For example, the backbone of “Latin Roots” lies in the bass lines with guitars and drums acting as the icing on the smooth bass riff cake that the song is. Also, while Radiohead’s influence is scattered across the album, the most notable influence exists in the final track, “Practicing Invisibility”, which sounds like The Young Maths’ own Bizarro version of OK Computer‘s “Exit Music (For A Film)”.
Now, while praise is great, let’s talk about things I didn’t like for a second. Or rather, I should say ‘thing’. I’m actually quite surprised, there was very little that I didn’t like about this album. However, the title track, “ERRORRS”, was a bit more difficult to swallow than the rest of the album. To begin with, it is easily the most aggressive and ‘challenging’ track on the record. It boasts some frisky drum work, which is fine, and then there’s some forcibly radical horn-work, which is something completely new to Young Maths-land, and threw me for a loop upon first listen. Now, not only are these horns meant to throw the song into little fits of chaos, but they last an entire minute-and-a-half before vocals come in, which seemed a bit like overkill. The track may grow on me, but for now it’s far from my favorite on the album.
In conclusion, this album shines pretty bright for a darker record. While I may have a gripe, it is only taste-deep and does not reflect any ineptitude in the band at all. The Young Maths have created a beast of an album that will be hard to top; they’re putting their souls out on the line and playing to the absolute maximum of their capacity. Of course, we’ve come to expect them to play to the Nth degree, but not quite like this. To quote James Brown, “papa’s got a brand new bag”.
Favorite Tracks: “The Cannon Choir”, “Truth Tables”, “Treble Reducer”
ERRORRS is out now on Fall Back Records.
I haven’t written anything on here in nearly two months. Honestly, it has felt like years. But I just got back from SXSW a few days ago, and I’ve decided to commit to this again. I will make time to do this. So, without further ado, my review of Yuck’s self-titled debut.
This album was released a little over a month ago and I had a chance to really digest it this past week while I was up in Austin. I gave it several listens throughout the week and by the end of the first listen I was kicking myself for not getting into this album earlier. Yuck’s sound is fresh and contemporary but at the same time, it has a few nods toward sounds that, while not entirely original, hearken back to a time rarely revisited in modern music nowadays. Their gritty yet somewhat polished rock songs are wonderfully crafted and, at times, even a little on the delicate side. Some of my favorite tracks from the record include “The Wall”, “Suicide Policeman” and “Operation”. This album is one of the strongest debuts I’ve heard this year. I am definitely looking forward to what the future has in store for this fantastic foursome. I was able to catch their performance at Club DeVille this past week at SXSW and was very much impressed with the great noise they made.
Yuck is out now on Fat Possum.
Is it a good thing when bands wear their influences on their sleeve? Does it impede on your ability to perceive them as a listener and possible fan? I would think that this would be the philisophical equivalent of a magician showing you how he does his tricks. We, as the audience, are absolutely entranced by his sleight of hand and from the second the curtains open to the second they close, we are his. The same can be said of people if they truly pay attention to a good song. Once we give way to our intrigue, we are lost in a world of art and magic and won’t find our way out until the story we’re living is over. Men and women, young and old–for those few, infinite minutes–become children at the foot of their grandfather listening to a tale they wish they could live. However, the second we realize how these stories are created; once we can make out the smoke and mirrors, do the kingdoms of our dream world fall asunder? Do we still marvel in empathetic agony at the poor woman who is sawed in half?
I like to think that we do.
The Ghost Cars are a fairly new/not really band from my neck of the woods. They sent over their EP some time ago and I haven’t been able to review it due to school and Fun Fun Fun Fest. Now that I have some time available, how about we get started?
This band has been around for maybe three years or so but has only existed in it’s current incarnation for not much longer than a year, I think. I remember listening to an early demo of theirs and thinking that they were pretty decent but were just running in experimental rock circles. They’ve since evolved into a more mature project that finally has a sense of direction. Their debut EP, Amnesia Corners, plays like well-balanced punch in the face, if you will. It contains four abrasive compositions mixing elements of post-hardcore and the more adrenaline-pumping parts of rock and roll. Their music brings back memories of bands like At The Drive-In, Tera Melos, Refused, even some Radiohead. The EP’s opener, “The Long Halloween”, is a fittingly aggressive track with one of the more appealing bridge solo riffs I’ve heard come out of the Rio Grande Valley’s blossoming music scene. The brief moments where it shines in between dark blasts from the band are some of my favorite moments on this EP. However, Amnesia Corners contains one absolutely crippling Achilles’ heel: the clean vocals. While vocalist Mandais’s screams fit perfectly with the aesthetic created by this EP, his clean vocals douse the mighty flames of the band’s otherwise intense music. About three and a half minutes into “Special K”, there is a more or less decent guitar solo playing behind his bland vocals when it would seem more fitting for the solo to stand alone to accent the atmosphere. The beginning to “Wild Card” is exciting; the kind of music you would play during a car chase in a horror film. But that dark and frightening vibe is easily tamed by Mandais’s almost annoying vocals. Maybe it’s the mix. Let’s not be too critical, here. Or maybe, forgive me, the vocals were mixed lower than the music for a reason? Maybe? I wouldn’t know. The same goes for “Scorpion Sting Dream”. It’s a sharp track turned blunt by the less-than-flattering wailing you have to hear over the music. These moments in the EP remind me a lot of standing next to an active conversation during a really good set at a good rock show. I don’t know about you, but that is one of my biggest pet peeves.
Overall, this EP is a decent effort for the band to start their career with. It’s not something I would listen to very often–maybe a couple of years ago, but it is definitely the product of a band that knows exactly what they want to do with their sound and is doing their best to achieve it. For that, I commend them. But ugh, those damn vocals.
I’ve been listening to a lot of new things lately. I paid a visit to the new Zach Hill record, Face Tat, had a little fun there (7/10); listened to the new We Are Scientists record–really dug that one (8/10)–hell, I’ll just post a list of the albums I’ve listened to recently and my ‘rating’ for them. Take this list as you will; it saves time for everyone. By the way, anything with a 6 and up is worth picking up. ;)
Abe Vigoda – Crush 4/10
Avey Tare – Down There 7/10
Belle & Sebastian – Write About Love 5/10
The Bitters – East General 8/10
The Books – The Way Out 9/10
Carnivores – If I’m Ancient 5/10
SALEM – King Night 5/10
Cloud Nothings – Turning On 7/10
Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest 9/10
Devo – Something For Everybody 7/10
Emeralds – Does It Look Like I’m Here? 9/10
How To Dress Well – Love Remains 6/10
Les Savy Fav – Root For Ruin 8/10
Medications – Completely Removed 9/10
Miniature Tigers – FORTRESS 7/10
Nite Jewel – Am I Real? 7/10
Thee Oh Sees – Warm Slime 7/10
School of Seven Bells – Disconnect From Desire 6/10
Sufjan Stevens – Age of Adz 7/10
Twin Shadow – Forget 8/10
The Walkmen – Lisbon 8/10
The War On Drugs – Future Weather 8/10
Warpaint – The Fool 8/10
We Are Scientists – Barbara 8/10
Wild Nothing – Gemini 7/10
Women – Public Strain 8/10
Woven Bones – In and Out and Back Again 8/10
The Young – Voyagers of Legend 6/10
Young Man – Boy EP 9/10
Zach Hill – Face Tat 7/10
There you have it. 30 albums. 30 seconds (probably). Now I can concentrate on all of this awesome new stuff I want to tell you all about. Expect some great music coming your way very soon. :D
Just a sample of what’s to come: (thanks to town full of losers for the mp3)
The Suburbs is the third full-length album written and recorded by Arcade Fire. Before I begin my review of the album I would like to discuss one thing.
When I first heard that Arcade Fire’s new album was going to be called The Suburbs, a rare chill went down my spine. Rare because it only occurs when I feel that I’ve stumbled upon something like hidden treasure; a detail so brilliant and invaluable that the safest place for it to be kept is in plain sight under conceptual pretense.
If you listen to the last song on the band’s debut, self-titled EP, “Vampire/Forest Fire”, you will find the following lyrics:
“My father was a miner who lived in the suburbs
Let’s live in the suburbs“
At the time, I thought this connection was significant. However, this is a mere coincidence and that fact remains, to this very moment, the biggest disappointment about this album.
However, despite anything I’ve said, this album is incredible. Here’s why:
To begin with, the band stays true to their usual trend of constant creative evolution; this album barely resembles any of their previous work either aurally and aesthetically. In fact, I’m confident enough to say that, pending argument in favor of Funeral, this is their most mature album as musicians and songwriters. The album explores the dark, numbing aspects of suburban life and the very real consequences of being consumed by the monotony of every day life. Now, I understand how that may sound pretentious as hell, but if you listen to this album for yourself you will undoubtedly uncover a lot of things to relate to; probably more than you would care to admit.
And now: songwriting. You can plainly hear on tracks like “Ready To Start” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” that this album also plays to the strengths of current pop music without losing a single strand of the band’s signature sound or integrity. That is to say, this is unmistakably an Arcade Fire album. The different styles incorporated on this album by the band all fit the band’s MO in their own unique way. To some, it could seem like a slow burn at first given the patient pace of the first few tracks prior to the album’s first big burst of energy, “Empty Room”. However, after several listens, I started to get a grip of the pace and found that it, in fact, flowed rather well. I did, however, notice that there is a sort of ‘natural divide’ 10 songs in. Following the grim epic, “Suburban War”, the album seems to take an ‘intermission’ of sorts and cuts back into the action in full force with the most straightforward track on the record, “Month of May”. A better illustration to compare this transition to would be a film where the first 10 minutes of the film establish the setting, characters, and conflict followed by the opening credits and immediately you’re launched into the story in present day with insight, possibly years later. That or the aftermath to something that will inevitably repeat itself. You see, and this is quite clever, by including a continuation of “The Suburbs” at the end of the album, it serves as both a theme for the story not unlike those used in musicals and plays as well as symbolism representing the story as a loop which further emphasizes the labyrinth-like qualities of life in Suburbia.
Favorite tracks: “Empty Room”, “Suburban War”, and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” despite how much it reminds me of MGMT’s “Time To Pretend”.
In Conclusion, this dark tale is a sterling achievement in Arcade Fire’s discography and is definitely in consideration for one of the best albums of the year.
One of the surefire reasons people find things like gardening and botany in general so fascinating is the observance of growth; transformation; evolution. You plant a seed one afternoon and notice that, after a week or two, a frail, little, green stem has poked it’s head out of the ground to reach for the sunlight. Being present for something like that instills something deep inside of your soul; a connection to a living, growing organism. This is similar to a connection parents make with their children. Soon enough it will be a fully-formed plant ready to fulfill whatever aesthetic or biological purpose it has been created for. Here’s how this has anything to do with music: I love watching a band grow. Any time I get into a new artist, I go to the very beginning of their discography and begin listening to their music chronologically regardless of whether they had a ‘weak start’ or not; I like to hear a band evolve. New techniques, new influences, new life experiences, all of these things shape a band throughout their career and being able to trace back all of those things by listening to a band’s music is a treasured experience I value more than most.
So when I first listened to The Young Maths new EP, You’re Buying Nothing, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that they’ve changed a bit from their last EP, Thank You, Goodnight! We Are. The sweaty odes to good times have been replaced by mature reflections on that week-long party that seemed almost endless. Like it’s predecessor, this EP’s review will be given the track-by-track treatment. Let’s begin, shall we?
1. The Mistress: This song is a pretty exciting opening to the EP. The opening licks are a bit more glam-ish than I’m used to but for the pop-punk atmosphere that this song creates, they’re the icing on the cake. Hell, the guitar-work throughout this entire song is pretty fitting. However, this song’s secret weapon is it’s vocal-work. The harmonies on this track are absolutely spot-on; even the back-up vocals fill the right gaps every single time. While there may not a single hint of dance-punk/rock on here, this song still flies high.
2. Daughters and Cents: You may know this track from the acoustic set the band played in a video I shot earlier this year. It’s my least favorite of the EP, mainly because it seems a bit too reliant on the it’s hook that I’m not completely sold on. Also, singer Rob Godinez does this sort of sharp, whispered breath thing during the first verse that’s a bit too cock rock-ish for my taste. However, this track does shine a little brighter from a subtle use of piano during the chorus that accentuates the melody pretty well. Also, good harmonies on here. I’m starting to notice harmonies as a key component in this EP’s songwriting.
3. Hospitals: Never in the time that I’ve known this band as well as prior to my introduction to them have I heard them write a song like this. At first listen, this song really threw me for a loop. For starters, it’s a ballad; a mournful letter of longing and regret from one loved one to another. Now, in terms of balladry, this song isn’t anything new to me. However, in terms of this band’s songwriting ability, it’s a startlingly welcome breath of fresh air. The backing vocals on this track are heavenly and the drums are so solid and steady; it’s immediately a comfortable environment for the listener. This is arguably the best song this band has written.
Overall, this EP is pretty good. I’m impressed with this band’s ability to bravely explore unfamiliar territory and to return with treasure in-hand.
How does one come across bands? The most common way is through a friend. “Hey dude, check this shit out, it’s killer!”, etc. Other times, you come across bands completely by accident.
I first heard of Ratatat while I was on vacation in Monterrey, Mexico several years ago. I bought their first album and after listening to it several times during my many journeys throughout the city, connected with it in a really big way. Maybe it was my foreign surroundings, maybe it was the head trauma from a car crash I was in halfway through the trip, but I really really liked that album. I was infatuated with the band’s sound and had remained quite fond of it for some time. Fast forward several years and albums and we arrive in the year 2010 where we don’t have flying cars but we do have a fourth Ratatat album. It’s called LP4. Funny, the last one was called LP3. Hrm.
Anyway, the album is streaming on NPR here. Onward with the review!
1. Bilar: Opens with some trumpets. At least, I think they’re trumpets. This is a good solemn intro. Kind of makes you wonder what’s to come. Quickly though, your question is answered with some synth/bass play with some coin jingling samples thrown in here and there. This isn’t as memorable as an intro should normally be. Acoustic guitar? Oh, ok. I see what you did there. Now the song’s got a beat going. Kind of tame if you ask me. The first two minutes of this sound like the prelude to some hip-hop opera film. It’s calmed down to a light cello piece now. Emotionally-driven drum cadence fades in and out while the little synth noises remain. The ratio of electronica to live instrumentation is about 4:10. German man speaking at the end leads into the next track.
2. Drugs: I wonder why a german dialogue sample would lead into a song called “Drugs”. Maybe the gentleman speaking was talking about drugs? I don’t speak German so I wouldn’t be able to tell you. Piano playing, baby organ?, guitars, violins, cellos, distorted cellos–wait, what? Whoa. I could dance to this song. This is kind of what I would listen to if I were high and doing the robot in a Berlin alleyway on a torn cardboard box in front of mein freunde. The higher pitched guitar/keyboard parts kind of annoy me after a while. Good thing they take a break near the end. Interesting percussion elements on this song. The ‘doh’ sounding ‘vocal’ bits remind me of that crap that Bon Jovi’s guitarist sings on “It’s My Life”. (and it’s now or neevahh) Now the song’s got some echoed keyboards. Feels like the dance party’s traveling through the German subway. And faaaaa-a-a-a-d-e out.
3. Neckbrace: “Hey we’re just getting ready to swing and knock me out with a baseball bat.” Sounds like an intro for a sketch on Jackass. Little more club techno beat on this one with little beeps and boops flying everywhere. Somebody’s gargling water? Hehe, the guitars sound like a dying lamb around 1:20 and on. Some guy going ‘dun-dun-dun-doon-doon-ding’. Oddly entrancing. His deep voice is the kind of raspy that is usually found in European thug voices in movies where Americans have troubles in Europe. Was someone just talking backwards? String arrangements are back. Great use of ..washboards? Mm. Some interestingly filtered vocals near the end. One of the things I find fascinating about Ratatat’s sound is their ability to have so many things going on in one song without it sounding overpowered or cluttered. They weave everything into the track in almost perfect timing. These little details give songs like these such saturation that it’s difficult to not want to listen to these tracks again and again just to find all these little nuances.
4. We Can’t Be Stopped: Begins with some ambiguous piano playing. Don’t know if this song is friend or foe. Hm. Some far-off scrunchy noise. That or someone was unwrapping a candy really slowly while they were recording so they don’t make a lot of noise but end up making enough noise to get picked up by the mic. This short piano/flute-led piece makes me think of an empty ghost town with a really really beautiful well in the center of town that’s glowing. This track would be more memorable if it went somewhere. I can faintly hear people talking in the background in…French I think.
5. Bob Ghandi: Meet Bob Ghandi, Mahandas Ghandi’s no-nonsense cousin who eats all the time. I’m going to let myself believe that the deep grunt at :48 is the sound of Bob Ghandi burping. I like the low-end background sound. It gives the song a pretty good atmosphere. However, it kind of drowns out the rest of the music if you pay it the slightest bit of attention. Mm, fun vibes kick in at 1:48. These guys definitely have a knack for composition. I wonder what they would be able to do with a film score. Okay, after about 2:30 the song kind of loses me. And it has me back at 3:04. Good job, Ratatat. I’m going to assume you made that part of the song super boring so that comeback bit seems like much more of a crescendo than anything. More weird talking in the background ending with some funny singing and laughing.
6. Mandy: Said laughing automatically gives you a good vibe about this song. The synth-laden beat is easy to groove to. I’m kind of beginning to question Ratatat’s use of orchestral elements. Pairing the use of woodwinds with this type of electronica is a risky move on the band’s part because it makes this record an acquired taste. Of course, other people might praise their work as ‘innovative’ or maybe ‘fresh’ or something. It’s not that impressive. This song has moments where it could have really sharp hooks and ends up dulling them down. Filtered vocals at the end.
7. Mahalo: Opens with ukelele. Fitting. Mahalo is a Hawaiian word and the Ukelele is a Hawaiian instrument. I see what you did there, Ratatat. Very clever. (kind of) The modern sounding strings sound like they’re coming from and old gramophone. Okay, there’s one thing that I’ve found a signature move of Ratatat’s and Ratatat’s alone: the soft slide down in pitch used as a turning point in songs. Hm. Not much else to say.
8. Party With Children: A-ha! We’ve reached the track with the parakeet-friendly music video. Very percussive. Very latin. I like the synths on here. Mm such nice soft keyboards. Ooh, this song finally raises the adrenaline vibe with it’s ‘chorus’ section. Oh darnit, the energy’s short-lived. The song retreats back to it’s level habitat in Ratatat Land. Nothing out of the ordina–oh, wait, here’s something interesting. The chorus is back with some rising synth arpeggios. They give such a ‘fantastical’ vibe to this track. And again, although this time it just builds and then falls back to it’s normal energy level. Why can’t these guys just write a song that builds and buils and then proceeds to remain in that high adrenaline zone if not continuing upward until a listener’s left aurally spent?
9. Sunblocks: I take it this is a summer song. It starts with crickets and some birds chirping. It sounds like a Ratatat parade is walking by in the distance. Oh wait, that’s my backyard. There’s the two dudes from Ratatat, a bunch of White Budgie Parakeets, and about 100 keytars being held by Ratatat fans surrounding a big thunder-driven drum machine. Light piano bits, thunder strikes again, in return the guitar solos. Calm, well-paced outro with harp-like synths. Back to the crickets and birds.
10. Bare Feast: Is that a really annoying mosquito in my ears? Oh wait, it’s a…a…I want to say lute? Man, they really put out the stops with non-electronic elements. Okay this beat’s nice and minimalistic. Nice bombastic synth bits. Kind of remind me of their first record a little bit. I like how the guitar’s given a more helpful role in this song. Oh, now I get why they call this track ‘Bare Feast’. While it does dabble with very little elements itself and around simplistic compositions, it is plentiful in fascinating sounds. Some sounds aren’t even heard for more than 2 seconds in the album. Subtle work, boys.
11. Grape Juice City: Again with a talking sample. It’s the southern woman from “Neckbrace”. She’s talking about beating people up in high school because they were either ‘too pretty’ or ‘smiled too much’. Okay some nice bongo drums start it off. Interesting beat under a neat little keyboard/saxophone/guitar. Not so many subtle elements here save for the occasional bird sound. Now I’m starting to notice some traces of funk in this song. Mainly with the beat. The little electronic arpeggios add little bits of flavor to the song. Ending with birds again. I wonder if they used all of the birds on the cover?
12. Alps: Alright, soft piano intro. Pachelbel’s Canon in D? No, last note’s different. Hm. Synths coming in. Aaaand the beat’s here. It kind of just showed up not unlike Superman. I don’t feel like I’m scaling the Alps when I’m listening to this song. In fact, the weird vocal parts in the middle give me the vibe that there’s a really evil mountain lion waiting around the edge of this cliff so it can pounce and eat my face. Aw, cute moment utilizing the brass/string ensemble the guys have been putting to work on this record. At this point, the strings no longer seem like a peripheral element but a compliment to the synths which zoom in and out now as we bring the record to a close. A bit of a formal ending here on this track. Kind of like the last scene in A New Hope where the good guys get the medals at the awards ceremony. Except instead of wiping to the credits quickly, this song fades out.
Okay. I’m not the biggest fan of electronic music but I am well aware of what this band is capable of and while I don’t believe that entitles me to be able to claim that I know what they are likely to do, I want to say that this album wasn’t very surprising. Ratatat is giving us a batch of new tunes with a slight spin to them. Kind of like buying a parakeet at a pet store but not being able to afford the fancy cage the store has so you buy one ‘on the cheap’ from some dude on Craigslist and it comes furnished with a layer of smelly, dried up poop on newspaper at the bottom. Please note, I’m not calling this record ‘poop’ or referring to it as poop on newspaper at the bottom of a used cage you bought on Craigslist. However, this record is not a new cage by any means.
LP4 is out June 8th on XL Recordings