Saturday, 27 June 2009

The Dismemberment Plan - Change (2001)

The Dismemberment Plan - Change


there are times when you will not like the sound of my voice
there are days when a warm look from a strange face will make me forget my name
there'll be nights when you wonder where the party's at now
and you wonder why you never split this beat scene when a higher life awaits
there'll be days when you don't know how you picked the wrong life
in a second when it's over in our own minds -- and it's gone without a sound
there are fights that'll hear things that we know we don't mean
and we say 'em 'cos we don't know what we both want and we can't get to the other side

there are years that'll fly like wind across a flood plain
unaware of its own weight, free of friction, and immune to its own speed
there are weeks that'll crawl like slugs across a hot road
only moving 'cos it just don't know how to stop on a search for god knows what
and there are songs that'll make your skull ring like a dropped cup
resonating with the reasons why you worked through -- and the reasons why you stayed

for the long nights when you found a new resolve that i never knew was there
for the cold eye and the warm embrace now
for the righteous vibe that i need like the air i breathe

there are times when you'll think you've got my funny number figured out
there'll be days when I don't feel like i ever knew you all that well
and there are lines, drawn around, behind, above and over everyone
in an effort to figure out the place and time, the right, the wrong, the yours,
the mine, and i'll be damned if I feel like I will ever know anything
but if don't keep moving on that last hill,
we'll never know what's on the other side

-The Dismemberment Plan; The Other Side


Not a lot that I need to say about this because it speaks for itself. Some of the most poignant lyrics from one of the best albums by one of the most inventive, interesting and downright awesome indie bands ever. Travis Morrison has a fantastic, very funny and heartfelt storyteller-esque lyrical style and delivers some absolute gems here. Get.

The Dismemberment Plan - Change

Friday, 26 June 2009

Mark Kozelek - Lost Verses Live (2009)

fall tonight sweet paris rain
shower me in her warm kisses

Live albums are rarely something that I have the patience for. Usually, a band or musician is best represented on record, and live releases can become an indulgence on the part of the musician, a stopgap between studio albums or a tool to boost sales. In any case, they usually end up being relegated to the bargain bin. There are certain exceptions, of course, where a live album captures the essence of an artist perfectly and becomes essential listening for anyone with a passing interest in their music: think along the lines of Bob Dylan's 'Live 1966' Bootleg Series record or James Brown's 'Live at the Apollo'. Sure, comparisons to those two seem pretty lofty and hyperbolic, but Mark Kozelek's most recent solo outing, 'Lost Verses Live', could quite easily be deemed part of that minority in its own way.

Since discovering him roughly around the time that Sun Kil Moon's 'April' came out last year, Kozelek's work has grown on me to the extent that it now holds its own firm place somewhere in the list of music that I consider personal to me. Stripped down to his own sparse acoustic playing and gently soaring vocals, which resonate here perfectly while retaining a satisfying clarity of sound, the record captures the intense, soul-baring intimacy that lies at the heart of the songwriter's work and makes him so endearing. The tracklist reads like a well-put-together best-of collection of his work in Sun Kil Moon, comprising a large number of songs from their latest full-length 'April' but also a healthy number of songs on previous records, including two songs from his Modest Mouse cover record 'Tiny Cities', an excellent rendition of Stephen Sondheim's 'Send in the Clowns', and a very affecting reinterpretation of the achingly autobiographical Red House Painters classic 'Katy Song' that, through a new arrangement in his more recent fingerpicked acoustic style, lends the song a newfound warmth that makes it a more approachable prospect than the desolate Red House Painters studio version. As such, 'Lost Verses Live' is an excellent and cohesive introduction to Mark Kozelek's back catalogue for people unfamiliar with the man's previous work. Of course, there are flaws here - the track that the record names itself after lacks the drive that the original has, and the applause kicks in strangely abruptly at the end of certain songs - not to mention the omission of the career-defining 'Duk Koo Kim' - but the overall atmosphere of this record is so intoxicating that such complaints seem like minor quibbles.

Mark Kozelek

Something that I have always loved about Kozelek's music, particularly in Sun Kil Moon, is the beautifully warm, aching sense of nostalgia in his music. In terms of better-known artists to reference for newcomers to his style, one other act I could compare Kozelek's more recent work to, in terms of emotional content, is Beirut - aside from having a similar vocal style, both him and Zach Condon share the same affectionate longing for old flames and the same running lyrical fixation on travel and moving from place to place, and the personal significance of certain locations and people in their memories. 'April' in particular was a very intimate tribute to a departed loved one. Songs performed here like 'Moorestown', 'Tonight in Bilbao' and 'Blue Orchids' are great examples of this and are given absolutely beautiful renditions here. For lack of a better word, there's something very mature about his music in Sun Kil Moon which I love: every memory and every image is portrayed beautifully, with a longing fondness for these pasts of his and a warm, understated love for life that contrasts greatly to his more emotionally fraught work in Red House Painters. If you give them the required time and patience, 'April' and 'Ghosts of the Great Highway' are records that can reveal enormous amounts of depth and beauty, and I guess that someday, I'd like to be able to write music that's as warm, intimate and endearing as this.

soft light pours into the room
fingers glide over my face
a voice speaks, a figure moves
how could i walk these old dim halls again
how could i leave this room all alone

when she comes by every morning
brings back pink and pale blue orchids
when she comes by every afternoon
piano music weeps quietly
as may melts into june
when she comes by every evening
lays down beside me softly breathing
-Mark Kozelek; 'Blue Orchids'

Mark Kozelek - Lost Verses Live

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Portraits of Past - 01010101 (1995)

Portraits of Past - 01010101

Portraits of Past were a Bay Area emo band active between the years 1993 and 1995, recently having also played a series of reunion shows across the United States. Most people familiar with the band's name know them for the bands that their members went on to form - the seminal screamo group Funeral Diner and the more recently formed ...Who Called So Loud who have been gaining quite a bit of momentum in the hardcore scene in the past couple of years. Portraits of Past are arguably not just a great band in their own right, but perhaps even more important than those two in terms of influence and just how ahead of their time they were. Both the aforementioned bands that their members were involved in are not known for being particularly chirpy, so it comes as little surprise that Portraits of Past dealt in very dark, brooding, lengthy and bludgeoningly intense pieces, essentially laying down the blueprint for every "screamo" band to come in a time when the term hadn't even been coined.

Portraits of Past

01010101 is heavy stuff. The bass rumbles like huge looming storm clouds rolling in over the horizon, the singer and drummer sound possessed, and, when they reach full force, the guitar riffs sound like they could cause fissures in the ground. One of the things this band excels at is being able to maintain an intoxicatingly dark atmosphere and sense of melody throughout their music despite alternating between chaotic frenzies and drawn-out dirges and having an impressive dynamic range (sometimes even sounding, god forbid, pretty.) Perhaps due to the fact that their music sounds startlingly different to their peers at the time and yet far rougher and rawer than anything the bands that followed them created, this feels like a refreshingly unique record. Despite the intensely depressing downward-spiralling quality of the music, which can affect replay value a bit, this is definitely one of the most killer emotional hardcore records to come out of the 90s.

Portraits of Past - 01010101

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Flying Lotus & Declaime - Whole Wide World (2009)

Flying Lotus & Declaime - Whole Wide World

Steve Ellison is my favourite electronica or hip-hop producer and his latest release does nothing to make me want to retract that statement. Far from it, Flying Lotus' latest release, a 12" collaboration with hip-hop MC Declaime, sees the producer moving in a direction that I had been hoping he would explore for a while, and the resulting recordings deliver. FlyLo's last full length release Los Angeles and its accompanying EPs occupied sonic territories that sat very comfortably on his new label Warp, fusing the sense of experimentation of the pioneering electronic acts on its roster with his appreciation for hip-hop and jazz. The result was a great but uneven effort, producing some incredibly strong moments but also some weaker forays that didn't measure up next to the likes of "Breathe. Something / Stellar Star" and "Auntie's Lock/Infinitum". Flying Lotus' music has always felt most satisfying when he channels his sound into a more obviously hip-hop context, and it seems that this year he's been dabbling more and more in proper hip-hop production: that is to say, lending his beats to rappers, be it donating a beat to Finale's latest record as a tribute to the late J dilla or getting Blu to rap over the Los Angeles cut 'GNG BNG'. This 12" represents his first real collaboration record with an MC. Essentially, Whole Wide World consists of two cuts which Declaime rhymes over, two instrumental versions of those tracks, and another new instrumental in the form of the excellent 'Keep it Moving'.


The title track is the real hit here. FlyLo drops a hazy beat with vocal and piano samples that evoke some scratchy old jazz record being spun in outer space, Pattie Blingh's vocal contribution providing a nice touch as the song reaches its midpoint. The bassy, guitar-laden boom-clap of 'Lit Up' meanwhile is clearly indebted to J Dilla's livelier efforts. While lyrically Declaime isn't much to write home about, his rhyming is competent and his flow has a nice balance of aggression and laid-back attitude that anchors both the songs here very well. 'Keep it Moving' is classic Flying Lotus, its relaxed, jazz-infused groove hearkening back to his early works on 1983. What this release proves more than anything is that if and when Ellison decides to produce a full-length rap record, it's going to be something very special. Let's keep our fingers crossed that we won't be kept waiting.

Flying Lotus & Declaime - Whole Wide World

Monday, 8 June 2009

"This Is Bob Dylan To Me"

Just a quick one here - I've been digging Minutemen's landmark record Double Nickels on the Dime lately, and the song below, 'History Lesson - Part II', is not only one of the album's very best tracks (out of 43 contenders) but also one of the most awesome two-minute songs ever written.

our band could be your life
real names'd be proof
me and mike watt played for years
punk rock changed our lives

we learned punk rock in hollywood
drove up from pedro
we were fucking corndogs
we'd go drink and pogo

mr. narrator
this is bob dylan to me
my story could be his songs
i'm his soldier child

our band is scientist rock
but i was e. bloom and richard hell,
joe strummer, and john doe
me and mike watt, playing guitar.

Friday, 15 May 2009

My friends have a record out!

Just as a preface, I never post a record if I don't think it's killer regardless of who made it. This blog has always been and always will be reserved for the purpose of presenting people with records that I believe have a lot of value musically and emotionally. Posts will never, ever be intended to massage someone's ego. As such, it's testament to the quality of a friend's work if it finds its way onto this blog.

All the Empires of the World - Last Rites EP

All the Empires of the World is a three-man project based in Nottingham. Last Rites is the latest release of theirs and their first 'official' release through a label. It's always easiest to define a band like this by the heavier parts of their sound, but Last Rites has as much light in its sound as dark. It is not a "post-metal" record. There is way more going on here than Isis/Neurosis/Pelican [delete as appropriate] worship - as much attention is given to the properties of each sound and how it resonates as is given to the riffs themselves. These explorations of ambience give the record a cavernous sense of space that makes it sound freaking huge. 'Prophecy at the Ruins', as the title suggests, sets an apocalyptic tone, starting with the slow pounding of a bass drum that is met by long peals of rumbling guitar that sound like a call to prayer from deep within some enormous temple. Instead of the release of tension that we'd expect, the rumbling gives way to a sequence of subdued fingerpicked chords that make the eventual release of tension even more worthwhile. These quieter passages on Last Rites have a considered, dreamy quality to them that reminds me a lot of the calmer moments of maudlin of the Well's music. After the long build of 'Prophecy at the Ruins', the music finally erupts in 'Simon Helen Elizabeth (The Gate)' with the kind of music that Pelican should be writing these days - proudly triumphant riffs shrouded in enormous swathes of ambience. At the climax of the song the addition of some deeply buried vocals within the wall of sound works as a really great finishing touch. These two songs work as a kind of suite, but are followed by a similarly great reinterpretation of one of their older songs '...Will be Laid to Waste' which manages to sound strikingly different from the original version and yet still as great.

In terms of the actual meaning behind the record it might be best to quote Mark directly:

"This record is a testament to finding the best in everything - it was influenced by my brother and two sisters and their complex and wonderful lives. Denial of the spirit is denial of the self."

I'm not in the position to extrapolate further about the emotional content of Last Rites but one thing that is obvious is that it is clearly a very personal record. This, combined with the attention to detail in the writing, recording and mixing makes it a very rewarding listen, and I will recommend it to anyone who is interested in records that explore the possibilities within the outer fringes of heavy music.

It can be downloaded for free from Records on Ribs, a great Nottingham-based record label run by a bunch of lovely people who release high-quality music for free online under Creative Commons licensing. While you're downloading this record, check out the rest of the acts on their site too, there's some great stuff there - some of my favourites include EL Heath's ambient work and the Talk Talk-esque melancholy of Les √Čtoiles.

All The Empires of the World - Last Rites

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The One Up Downstairs - S/T (2006)

Will I be seeing you next spring?
Well I hope so
If not, would you skip a stone in your lake for me?

This is probably the wrong season to be posting this, but whatever. The One Up Downstairs were a short-lived project by Mike Kinsella and Steve Lamos of American Football and two members of Very Secretary that recorded one 7" before American Football came into being that never really got released until 2006. The American Football LP is a really beautiful indie-rock album and one of my favourite records ever, so it's always annoyed me that I can't really find anything else by the Kinsellas that has a similarly nostalgic and reflective feel to it, besides Mike's solo project Owen which never really did much for me. The discovery of this EP, then, was a nice surprise for me, having played both American Football records to death. The opener 'Champaign' sounds like classic American Football, slowly unfolding and meandering in a kind of ponderous way. Lyrical and musical ideas come and go gently much in the way that your mind works in those beautiful moments of calm, contented reflection that come once in a while. It paints a lovely picture in my mind, like the speaker's a little tipsy after a couple of glasses of wine and is taking a walk outside in the snow at nighttime, and what we're presented with are just the thoughts in his head as they come and go.

'Rememories' is more uptempo, with a bouncy riff that almost sounds like something out of a Don Caballero song. Lyrically it deals with the feeling when you're moving from one place to another of looking forward to making more - and maybe better - memories but also hoping that you'll be missed and wondering if the people who were important to you will think about you when you're not around, which is a sentiment I can relate to pretty easily. This running theme of nostalgia for people, places and certain periods in your life in American Football's music also finds itself in this EP and is something that makes both bands so endearing for me. The last instrumental 'Franco the Bull' feels a little tacked-on at the end compared to the two songs before it but is worth a listen too. But overall, for anyone that wishes American Football had released a little more material or just digs music that deals in slow, intricate, nostalgic beauty, this EP is a really nice little fix.

The One Up Downstairs - S/T