I wasn’t alive when L.A. was this cool, but I wish I was. It’s hard to believe, when looking at these awesome music advertisements, that L.A. or even America, was this cool at one time. But then again, there were probably some folks who ran some underground music zines at the time, that were saying “this is bullshit”. Flash forward several decades and I bet they wish things were like they were back then…now. Photographer, Robert Landau, grew up on L.A’s Sunset Strip. These music billboards were what he saw everyday and they changed quite often, but the creativity in the designs seemed to have always remained the same. Armed with a camera at 16 years of age, he decided to take pictures of these billboards starting with the billboard for Abby Road. Those photos began to grow and grow til one day, while hosting his own gallery showing of various images, folks began raving about the billboard images in particular and voila!
The images are awesome and will immediately harken you back to a time when music was good and artist i.e. record labels, were way more creative than they are today.
If your interested in buying this “must have coffee table book” here is the LINK
I have a clear memory of putting on These New Puritans’ latest album, Field of Reeds when it came out and not having a clue what to think. It was a pretty long listen through, and the only sound that stuck with me was the droning key notes and high pitched falsettos. It was dubbed “neoclassical”, and I’ve heard nothing like it before. I immediately wanted to hear more.
Luckily I was introduced to Andrea Remondini, the Italian synth-pop artist, who has released his full-length debut, Non Sequitur. It’s compiled of one long 44 minute track that revolves heavily around whirling synths and layered piano riffs. It’s an interesting concept, combining true classical music with the European dance-floor sound. Remondini walks a fine line the entire time, finding a balance between sounding innovative and sounding cheesy.
From the beginning, Remondini falls into the “cheesy” category, but quickly recovers at about the 5 minute mark. What Remondini does well is creating that epic sound many concept albums fail to produce. I’m brought back to a medieval theme every time the synth produces a choir track overtop the galloping pianos. It’s hard to nail down one influence Remondini has, as there’s tons of different levels to this monster piece, but I can’t get out of my mind Mike Oldfield’s 1973 album, Tubular Bells. It’s a great progressive rock album, and Remondini has taken the innovative and forward-thinking sound that Oldfield originated, along with King Crimson.
Even though this is more of a neoclassical, synth-pop album, there’s a progressive influence found in structure of the piece. It’s long, divided with multiple ages of noise packed into one, incredibly layered compilation of the musician’s art. Remondini uses the quiet sections to show how dynamically sound he is, breaking from a slow, steady pace that resembles a marching band, to an upbeat, DDR track. Sadly, that’s where Remondini fails.
What probably is fun to play sounds forced to the ear. His rock beat drums and back & forth piano licks that are frequently placed in the album bring me back to the flash games I used to play as a kid on my parents computer. It’s almost uncanny how identical some of these riffs are. Many might find these catchy and fun, but I could not shake for the life of me these nostalgic memories. In a way, that is a plus in itself. The title of the album fits perfectly, as sometimes I wonder where this piece is going, and for the most part it leads to a logical conclusion.
The riff that is found throughout the entire piece is perfectly timed. It’s found strictly in the slower sections of the album, and I really do think it’s a strong hook. Remondini knew that this was the selling point to this album, but I wish it opened the entire album. Having the knock off DDR riff open Non Sequitur only turned me off on a first run through. Listeners and fans should note that a sit through will be a rewarding listen. To make matters easier if one isn’t enjoying the upbeat sections, think back to the sounds of the arcade scene in Lost In Translation. I immediately felt better and found these parts very cheesy, and somewhat enjoyable. Luckily Andrea Remondini knows how to keep the album mostly innovative and not forced. I’m now stuck on where to go next to get my fix of neoclassical synth-pop.
Check out a clip from the full album below!
Life sucks, I understand. Many of the most important decisions come at an age where the brain hasn’t fully developed to make rational decisions. The irony behind setting out on a plan to make the life defining choices when the maximum potential for making the choice hasn’t been reached yet is unbelievable. At 19, deciding whether to spend the incredible amount of money to attend college or not isn’t a pleasant choice. We’ve all been faced with blindly following our paths because some elective course in high school “..sorta interested me?”. We’re also at the age where our kids, younger brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces are heading full speed into these choices. What captures me is how they cope with it. I naturally turned to music as an escape from my future. Pavement, Built to Spill, Modest Mouse, and especially Archers of Loaf were my leaders in deciding the key moments of my young life.
It’s been growing stale, having the same old bands breaking up, and ultimately forced into replaying old albums. Cloud Nothings have been one of the few bands that capture the essence of the 90’s alternative rock scene, and doing so accurately. They’re aggressive, in your face, and lo-fi. With the release of the incredible Attack On Memory 2012, I finally heard something that defines the term nostalgia. It’s now 2014, I’m two years older, and Cloud Nothings have released the follow-up album, Here and Nowhere Else.
How is it? Well, it’s even better. At a speedy 31 minutes, the band packs an insane amount of content in. Their aggressive, distorted sound is very tight. Hearing that Steve Albini didn’t produce this album scared me a little, but it helps to have a change of pace. The production is still top notch (which means it’s even shittier for the sound). The drums strike resonance that blare into the listeners ear like a gun shot. Opening with “Now Here In”, they charge full speed in using every technique they’ve grown in this very song.
Dylan Baldi has surpassed any expectations set out for him when he started this solo project. They noisey, grungy singer has developed a perfect voice that’s comparable to Stephan Malkmus of Pavement. He’s a defining character in indie rock who let’s loose on songs like “Quieter Today”, which showcases the bands tempo-changing noise rock, and “Giving Into Seeing”, the loudest of the eight songs. They play within a certain distinct sound, but keep the overall sound fresh with “Psychic Trauma”, which many first time listeners will love. They noise pop opening of sweet sounding chords jumps right into a screaming match between the guitars, drums, and Baldi’s amazing voice.
Like Attack On Memory, they keep the addition of a longer song alive with “Pattern Walks”. It feels better placed in the track listing now, as the listener is eased into the monster that is this song. Sprawling seven and a half minutes, it doesn’t change much. Whether it’s a change of hook near the end, or an instrumental section, the bass driven track flows smoothly (if ‘smoothly’ correctly describes Cloud Nothings) from section to section. Baldi also mentioned that he was planning to make this album darker, and it’s very noticeable. There’s no light anywhere on these songs. Even the single, “I’m Not Part Of Me”, has sucked out any form of positive energy and transferred into musical rage. It’s beautiful.
I have to admit, Cloud Nothings have challenged themselves to grow as a band and musicians, and they have. Even as song-writers, they’ve improved. Baldi’s lyrics strike a chord for a stronger element on Here and Nowhere Else. On the final track, “I’m Not Part Of Me”, Baldi keeps the simplicity of 90’s alternative lyrics, but strengthens the words by using such incredible energy to leverage his disbelief of a broken relationship by writing, “Leave it all to memory of / What we did when we were young and / Now you could just leave me on my own”. He’ll connect with a lot of fans for what he sings instead of how he sings.
To many people picking up and trying out Here and Nowhere Else, they’ll dedicate many hours, car rides, lonely walks, and tough nights to Cloud Nothings. They’ve released an album that resonates with a younger age group of indie rockers the same way Sonic Youth or Pavement defined an entire decade of music. Dylan Baldi won’t understand the impact of releasing an album like this, as for him, this album is him releasing unset emotions through an art form. For the many who give this a try, it’s a defining album that showcases itself in the listeners darkest times. Hopefully, it brings them the escape that many of us needed in the toughest challenges we’ve faced so far. At the end of the day, though, Cloud Nothings are just a band with an amazing album.
Heartbreaks are easily spotted when sung in a baritone. Matt Berninger and Ian Curtis have proven this theory time and time again. Both Joy Division and The National cover a lot of topics in their musical discographies, but isolation, loneliness, and heartbreak are the reoccurring theme. Michael Cullen is another name to add to the list, with a title that rolls of the tip of the tongue. The Australian singer-songwriter brings aboard his New Order style synthpop and combines it with a bleak outlook on personal topics. It’s a great way to have an insider view on the intimate topics that Cullen is expressing.
Although his album, Love Transmitter, was originally released in 2012, it takes new life with a remastered copy after critical acclaim in his home country. Heralding itself with a terrible album cover (don’t judge it), it opens with the wonderfully titled, “Do You Believe?”, which had me thinking he was covering a Flaming Lips track. This is the complete opposite. His apparent love for the boiling drum beats that grind out the entire song is shown here. It lays the blueprint for the wonderfully crafted tune. The sharp, but sad synth keys trickle like icicles into Cullen’s crooning voice.
The song is followed by a shift in pace with “Tidal Wave”, which caught me off guard with how low Cullen’s voice can reach. He pulls out his darkest ego and punishes the listener with a wispy side until he reaches the chorus. Lyrically, the song is pretty bland, but the striking, Interpol style guitars are incredible. “All Used Up” seems to have soft, blast-beats opening the track, which works it’s way into a steady downward spiral of noise. Cullen finds ways to take miserable noise and transform it into a memorable tune that I find myself falling back too.
It’s no wonder this album has won many accolades with the indie community in Australia. Michael Cullen and fellow musician, Tim Powles, control space like it’s in the palm of their hand. They shift from an in-your-face bruiser of a song into a soft and somber tune like, “Hey Sister”. Every shift in keys present a new emotion that only music presents. Arms spread wide, and eyes closed, this is how the track is supposed to be listened too. “Transmission”, which isn’t a Joy Division cover, seems appropriately titled due to the related sound to the band. I find that when Cullen goes for the high notes, it flows better with the spashing guitar and brittle drums. His music has a very deep sound and the handshakes of approval should go to Tim Powles’ help with instrumentation. The duo just kills it as musicians.
What makes my job incredible is when I’m presented with musicians like this that people need to hear. Love Transmitter is a find that makes me smile, even when the dark theme drains any happiness from my head. It’s knowing that I’m only going to enjoy every sound on this album. Combining the Gothic tones on “Chinese Hammer”, and the spoken word sections on “Spill”, Michael Cullen transitions ahead and keeps this ride entertaining.
Then there’s, “Professional Entertainers”, which is the best song I’ve heard in ages. It’s contrasting joyful tones and brutally depressing lyrics keeps me pressing repeat. Perfectly timed at just under three minutes, this is a song that needs to rock the airwaves. “One Is Still My Number” is the one track that I couldn’t dig on my first listen. It felt too thrown together and tacky. When it drives into the chorus, that’s when I was convinced that I enjoyed it. It’s the best song-writing on the album though. Michael Cullen shines as a song-writer and musician. His ability to stay ahead of the curve and keep the 80’s goth rock stylish really takes talent (Have you seen Robert Smith lately?). Love Transmitter is an album that requires a setting. It requires and mindset that brings out the worst, but it demands the listener to open up their mind. What it provides is a shoulder to lay on, with 10 solemn stories to hear while the tear-ducts are worked to death. It’s the best sadness I’ve ever felt.
Take a listen below!
I’ve never traveled to the Midwest. I guess it could be said that I would love to take a chance to explore it in the future. I’ve only experienced it through music from 90’s emo bands like American Football or Cap’n Jazz. What has defined the area to me is their constant output of strained albums, trying to put a label on the area as a whole. From my out of body experience through these musicians, I feel like it could be somewhere to raise a small family, get a common job, and blend in with the crowd. Once the likes of Red House Painters showed up, they spun the entire area on it’s head, consistently releasing music that thematically contrasts the angsty vibes of the early emo bands, changing my opinion of the Midwest from, “Meh, it seems same old,” to, “You can’t pay me to visit”. Although lead member, Mark Kozelek, of Red House Painters never directly mentioned in his music how brutally depressing the area is, he used a large portion of symbolism to showcase the strong emotions he felt growing up in Ohio.
Now it could also be mentioned that everyone has a love-hate relationship with their hometown. It became quite apparent when he started his other group, Sun Kil Moon. The project is noticeably bleaker than before in different ways. His song-writing is a completely upfront, gruesome and raw image of what he needs to release from his system. Since the release of his newest album, Benji, I’ve struggled with connecting with his song-writing. It’s extreme, close to heart imagery is hard to put in relations with how I feel about the subject he discusses. Kozelek releases all his creative energy into a dark and depressing outlook on every possible subject he touches on.
Everyone of these 11 tracks are extended and stretched to the emotional barrier for the listener. “Truck Driver” is a track that tells the story of Kozelek’s redneck uncle, who died in a fire, and the funeral he sadly had to witness. It’s described perfectly through his first person view, “It was stormy that day / the sky was deep purple. /And babies were crying / Kentucky Fried Chicken was served. /And that’s how he would have wanted it I’m sure.” The raw portrayal of the life he had seems distant to me. Possible to some it makes sense, but I can’t find words to connect myself with the story. It’s what Kozelek intends for the most part.
The distance between instrumentation and listener is slim. What I mean is that Kozelek does such a great job of keeping the intimate moments intimate and the slightly less moments slightly less intimate. Every word spoken feels from heart, and every bang of the drum or strum of guitar, or even blow of a trumpet note feels placed for a reason. “Pray For Newton” keeps up with the relevance of Kozelek, expressing his utter disgust for the helpless reactions of Americans during the tragic shooting. It’s difficult to turn on the track, as I feel convicted sitting through his lyrics. The friendliest track, “Ben’s My Friend”, derives itself slightly from original Modest Mouse (The band actually was influenced by early Red House Painters), but a “Cowboy Dan” melody works itself in coincidentally. It’s ironic third-person writing throws off the bleak and saddening atmosphere that was found in the album, but as a closer it’s very original. Kozelek isn’t all sad faces, as he shows his genius and open-mindedness, using a horn section to add to the overall volume of the track.
It’s sad, hearing this album on a quiet Tuesday night, trying to find words to convey my opinion of such a subjective album. I wish I could say it’s simply a folk album, but then I would be lying. I’ve been haunted by these songs since I first heard it. I blew it off my first few listens, as I didn’t let the storytelling sink in. Once I sat into a routine with these tracks, I felt my heart shrivel and die. Kozelek knows how to kill and happiness found in the body with a gut-punching choice of words. He’s an incredible songwriter, probably one of the most talented in our generation. Every time I see a photo of him I feel like I need to give him a hug and tell him everything will be okay, but I’m worried he’d find a way to make the hug a sign of depression, forcing more despair into my lungs. Benji is overwhelming, hard to relate too, but it’s a story that should be heard.
Whenever I think about the future, I will think about what will still be thought about 10, 20, 30 years into the future. All our fads, all our styles, all our words, how much will be used? I tend to combine that with the thought that if a famous celebrity would be around today, would they be famous? I’ve heard the question that if The Beatles were brought into today’s society, would they be as famous? Obviously not, because a lot of today’s music is influenced by the Fab Four. Taking them away from the 60’s would forever impact rock music, leaving a whole in everyone who found influence in them. A weird paradox so to speak. It’s logical to think they’d adapt though. They wouldn’t have the simple “la-di-da” melodies and covers of the 50’s, but presumably they would add more effects. That’s what every musician seems to have today, right? Music is all about survival of the fittest. To stand the test of time, you need to create the sound that defines the generation.
Now the question is: what is that sound? We don’t want to sound like others, so how to do we go about being ourselves? For starters, don’t listen to others. Now that’s just brutal advice, so I’m going to stop there and talk about our latest band, Gumshen. The Seattle group combines elements of progressive rock and the popular indie standards that run the radio-waves. To start, they’re extremely catchy and fun. I opened up the link, reading the title Progtronica, and let out an extremely audible grown. How could anyone with common sense want to have this title on their hard-worked album. Well, it makes complete sense. They do mix electronic music very well progressive rock. I’ve only heard King Crimson try this on their album Discipline. No comment on how that turned out…
It seems Gumshen have learned from others mistakes. “Bell Ringer” opens the album with a jumpy synth riff over top a talented vocal section that reminds me Christmas music. It’s melancholic textures and poppy bass soothes me to tune out to the 7 minute track. It also has a killer guitar solo that finds its way fitting perfectly over the same stellar drum beat. The amount of spelling errors I’ve made so far is countless, considering I keep jamming out in my chair typing this. “Stipulation” just screams 90’s summery pop. It’s extremely nostalgic, but I hear the same sounds that were found in Wonderous Bughouse (Youth Lagoon’s 2013 album). The one line is probably the truest lyric I’ve heard in ages (“Turning 20 dollars into 20 dimes”). I feel you Gumshen.
These guys are incredible in sync with one another. They find ways to turn their sugary pop riffs into timeless progressive jams. Not to mention they jump from a summery anthem into a jazz club soundtrack with the switch of a keyboard sound. Tricks like that is what keeps a band going. Now Progtronica is only six songs, but it spans just over 30 minutes, but I’ve never been a good mathematician. Now five of these tracks stand out, with the exception of “Fine One to Talk Too”. It comes across as a Porcupine Tree B-side, which is still impressive, but doesn’t fit the overall theme of the album. I’d love to hear that sort of swaying, arena-rock goodness on an entire release, but when it’s stuck in the middle of keyboard driven release, it throws off the mood.
“Liquid” is sweet. It opens sounding like a soundtrack to my childhood, slowly blending into a determined, caricature of the riff. When I first threw on this album, I wasn’t a fan of Ron Hippe’s sly vocals, but like Travis Morrison of The Dismemberment Plan, he soon became the only voice in my head. He has a signature style that stands out. His little sarcastic quips of vocals, followed by a strong string of Axl Rose impressions fits the band’s style greatly. He puts care into his vocals, which I admire.
This album closes off with the definition of the album title. “Fragile We Are Castles” is like a mixture of Ratatat and Dark Side Of The Moon Pink Floyd (IMAGINE THAT). It’s spacey, gigantic, and plain gorgeous. Over an 8 minute length, they jump to about five styles of progressive music, ranging from jamming to syncopated, tight staccatos of notes. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much on a first listen, but I was drawn to hearing more from Gumshen. Although a little cheesy and weak at times (“Bait & Switch”). These guys know what sound they want, and just go for it. I can respect that, and for their efforts they’ve released an album that exemplifies their determination to stay alive in the dog-eat-dog world on music.
I find that I’ve personally found it hard to sit down and enjoy an album like I would with a book or a movie. It’s not something I believe is the same, as music can provide an overlying emotion on many aspects of our lives. It’s in our cars, while we walk, while we shop, while we read, and while we talk. The critical attention isn’t given much of a chance, but certain albums require that focus to grasp all ends of a release. Darren J. Cunningham, who goes by the pseudonym Actress is making a mysterious close to his acclaimed project. For the past 6 years, he’s fulfilled full time commitment to the project in order to maximize the minimalist techno he releases.
The follow up and final release is titled Ghettoville, which is an appropriate name for the hazy, dark techno Cunningham is releasing. It’s previous release, R.I.P., was incredible. Sadly, I didn’t give it a chance when it came out, so I’m excited to get my hands onto a new release by the musician. “Forgiven” opens the album with a 7 and a half minute slow, sludgy mess of a beat that barely takes form. Cunningham’s signature style of contrasting the emptiness of minimal techno with a repeating dance floor beat shines bright through the foggy track. I secretly hated it at first, but once I sat down and forced myself into the deep end, I was in a trance.
Most of these tracks are pretty undesirable for many listeners. They’re dreary, depressing, and not the techno you have in mind. I find that a proper sit down would turn off many, and tracks like “Street Corner” or “Time” give a good example why. It’s a brutally extended album that honestly could be shortened to a desirable length for sales, but the Actress project isn’t about that. Cunningham experiments until he wants to delete every track on his Mac book. I think of The Knife’s latest release, Shaking The Habitual, when I want to compare this album. It’s difficult for first time listeners, and it drones for 75 minutes of minimal repeating beats. I’ll also remind you that I found myself loving and hating this album on early listens. It was a grind; it was a dream-come-true; my mind shifted depending on my emotion going in.
It’s a challenging listen, but beautiful tracks like “Gaze” help with the transition. It’s forward thinking intelligent dance track that has a simple beat. It’s fairly basic, but the layering of many different single sounds creates this collage of noise. It breaks down like a typical techno track, reminding me of the Drum & Bass that Underworld release back in the 90’s (with a fairly less bass heavy twist and more diversity). All tracks carry the same sound that you’re outside a night club on a Saturday taking a smoke break. I imagine it’s not the safest location either, as characters weave in and out of the shadows. Slightly intoxicated or high, I can see many accounts of stopping in a 7/11 or scummy corner store to get a drink and a pack of M&M’s. Fluorescent lights burn, and Cunningham covers the fake lighting with a smog that only synthetic drum beats can penetrate. “Skyline” crafts this polarizing theme like an Aronofsky film on drugs.
The entire trip doesn’t last forever, although it feels like it does. Never a bad thing when it’s an enjoyable trip. Ghettoville collapses itself inward, taking apart the techno heard in clubs, and creates a version heard in basements 10 floors below ground. It’s dirty, thin, and cool. The minimalist side of R.I.P. that Actress shown has been thrown out the window, and the follow-up to Hazyville, Actress’ debut back in 2008, has been perfected. Tracks like “Don’t” will be night-time curtain calls, while “Frontline” and “Rule” will be the ones that majority will hear at a get-together, or whatever Actress fans do with their time. I believe anyone can find something to enjoy from this bleak project closer, but everyone can agree this project ended on a timeless creation that is Ghettoville.
I’m entering dangerous territory so I need to tread lightly. There seems to be a desire to crush any sort of discussion on post-rock bands that released a significant album in the 90’s (Godspeed You!, Tortoise), and with Mogwai being one of the culprits, it’s hard to put an honest opinion without backlash. It must be said though, Mogwai Young Team is arguably one of the greatest releases in the 90’s without a doubt. The album alone sent a ripple among underground music, forcing listeners to a new form of music that has been right in front of them for years. Now to point out the obvious, the group has struggled to recapture the success since their debut album, and only Rock Action has come close to that.
It’s been 3 years since the release of their last album, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, and that was a disjointed mess. Rave Tapes hopes to take a different direction, insisting on a softer layout with an electronic touch. The criticism with past Mogwai albums is that they haven’t been able to have the impact that their debut had. Whether it’s for the sake of releasing albums to stay relevant or that they need the money, no release has been on the same level. The difference with Rave Tapes is that it feels like they want to release music. They aren’t forced into getting album out, but they have a need to be heard this time.
These 10 tracks do carry a sort of emotion that scarcely has been seen since 1997. You can tell they aren’t the same band this time around, and a decade of touring will do that to members, but there’s a different atmosphere on this release. “Heard About You Last Night” opens the album with a sort of slow ambiance that Mogwai has yet to try. They add their signature ride cymbal jam to the mix, but in smooth and natural way that does resemble “Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home”, which in my opinion is the best track they’ve ever released. They flow from track to track smoothly, carrying the overarching theme of softness. There isn’t the distorted, over the top dynamic change that’s heard on the past releases, and instead they brought the timely orchestrated feel from their French soundtrack release, Les Revenants EP.
I can be noted that these tracks are quite forgettable on the first listen, but there’s a drive to replay this album, and at 48 minutes it’s not because it’s a short album. It’s because they create a hum of feelings that is hard to match by other albums in your library. “Remurdered”, “Blues Hour”, and “No Medicine For Regret” are all high points on this album. They drive home the suppressed feelings of Mogwai’s need to be heard. They want to be taken seriously again, and with Rave Tapes, they’re serious contenders for that title. They know their potential, now it’s about finishing. Nothing feels forced on these tracks, with the exception of the recording of the rant about the “Stairway To Heaven” subliminal message on “Replenish”. It was interesting at first, but now it’s an annoyance. I understand it’s supposed to be a deeper meaning of the devil’s impact on music, but it’s too childish to be given a second look.
Mogwai has stepped themselves up with a solid release. I feel like the surprise factor that this album didn’t upset me has to do with the enjoyment. I’ve had it on replay since I was able to get a hold of it, so that must be a good sign. Rave Tapes provides a strong play through with no filler, and that’s unheard of in recent Mogwai releases. These tracks have been itching to be dropped by the band, and I’m surprised how they were able to keep their composure during their crescendos. Surprisingly, they have such control over their levels that they know how to manipulate the listener into enjoying them. Together, these songs create a grasping and enjoyable album that kicks off 2014 on the right foot. Hopefully they can keep it up in the future.