Sunday, 29 June 2008

Grouper - Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill

Grouper is the Oregon-based Liz Harris. Noone more, noone less. Over the last few years she has been quietly making a name for herself through her ethereal and haunting songs, shrouded in a thick fog of vocal loops and guitar ambience, akin to perhaps My Bloody Valentine if they decided to ditch their "louder is better" approach and go acoustic. It seems that these days she's decidedly walking out of that fog: here on her latest effort, we have twelve folk songs that shine with a new-found clarity. Liz's stellar vocal harmonies float effortlessly above her gently strummed, reverb-drenched guitars to create something utterly mesmerising. Don't be fooled by the creepy cover art and equally creepy title, there's something about these songs that's beautifully calm and delicate - they lull you into a sense of total serenity where nothing matters but the haunting melodies that drift around in your subconscious. These are folk songs that are as subtle as they are powerful, taking a gentle but hypnotic approach that works its magic slowly but eventually becomes very endearing. "Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill" is the light at the end of the tunnel in musical form.


(link behind cover art)

Friday, 27 June 2008

Rites of Spring - End on End

Before the formation of Fugazi, there was a band that was every bit as good.

Depending on whether or not you've ever done a bit of research into the history of a certain infamous three-letter term, you may or may not already be familiar with Rites of Spring. Yes, they are often credited as being the originators of emo - or, that is to say, emotional hardcore. Obviously the real value of this term is highly disputable - as Picciotto said himself, "honestly, I just thought that all the bands I played in were punk rock bands. The reason I think it's so stupid is that - what, like the Bad Brains weren't emotional? What - they were robots or something? It just doesn't make any sense to me." As such, it makes more sense to think of Rites of Spring as a hardcore punk band for the purpose of this post, as it will also aid in understanding why the band were so important.

You see, context is everything if one wishes to properly appreciate Rites of Spring. Imagine this: the year is 1985. The DC hardcore scene is stagnating. Its giants, the likes of Bad Brains, Minor Threat and Black Flag, are showing signs of slowing down. Cracks were beginning to show in the movement: Hüsker Dü and their ilk were already taking steps to destroy hardcore as most people knew it, integrating more of a pop sensibility and elements of other styles into the otherwise straightforward, aggressive punk that had been established as the trademark DC sound. Suddenly, out of nowhere came an album on the legendary Dischord Records that used the hardcore blueprint, but introduced a new sense of pacing and melody that had barely been seen in the genre before. Not only this, but Picciotto's lyrics forsook the usual outwardly directed anger of most DC hardcore, instead favouring subtlety, depth and introspection. This, combined with his desperately passionate delivery, resulted in music that was unusually personal and emotional. It is interesting to note the staggering difference in lyrical depth between Rites of Spring and other DC hardcore bands - for the sake of contrast, here is a sample from perhaps the quintessential DC hardcore band, Minor Threat:

I don't want to hear it
All you do is talk about you
I don't want to hear it
'Cause I know that none of it's true
I don't want to hear it
Sick and tired of all your lies
I don't want to hear it
When are you gonna realize...
That I don't want to hear it
Know you're full of shit
-Minor Threat; I Don't Want to Hear It

Note that the lyrics are to the point and simple, full of outwardly directed anger. Compare this to the following sample from Rites of Spring's 'All There Is' and the difference is positively startling:

It's more than love
And it's less than love
It's what I give to you.
All there is is the knowing that this never had to end.
All there is to know.
If I could take, heart in hand, what I'd give to you.
All there is is in the knowing that this never has to end.
All there is to know.
-Rites of Spring; All There Is

The subject matter here is much more abstract and vague; far more personal and emotional than the former sample, dealing with deeper thoughts and ideas, using much more subtlety and leaving parts to speculation. Picciotto also had a notable sense of wit, providing a dry sense of humour in For Want Of''s declaration of "I woke up this morning with a piece of past caught in my throat... and then I choked" 0r Persistent Vision's "I was the champion of forgive-forget, but I haven't found a way to forgive you yet". Rites of Spring opened people up to the idea that hardcore could cover a greater spectrum of emotion than simply anger.

Picciotto's voice is awe-inspiring here, too. His unhinged delivery in Rites of Spring makes his contributions in Fugazi sound positively tame - a passionate, gravelly rasp that breaks into a desperate yelp at emotional climaxes. The band's songwriting made use of a pop sensibility that gives them a sense of immediacy that separated them from less accessible early emo bands such as Moss Icon's labyrinthine spoken word passages.

And the band's importance doesn't stop at the invention of emo - there is even a precocious post-hardcore gem in the form of album highlight 'Drink Deep'. The song sounds startlingly similar to newer bands such as mewithoutYou (who wouldn't come about for another 15 years) and uses the same kind of groove that would be later expanded on fully in Fugazi. Simply put, Rites of Spring were not only an incredibly influential and important band, but a wildly emotional and enjoyable one that is absolutely worth devoting some time to.
Download the band's compiled discography 'End on End' here.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Mix one: Nostalgia

Instead of doing the usual album-review entry, I felt like compiling a mix around a theme for this one. Lately I've found myself coincidentally listening to a lot of music that has a cutting sense of nostalgia to it. I'm not talking about songs that are nostalgic in that they remind you of a certain era: there's no mid-nineties europop here, no eighties cheese. Here I present you with twelve songs that sigh themselves: be it with over fond memories that never lasted, missed opportunities, opportunities that you never even got, friendship, love, or perhaps something even more abstract. In all honesty, it's not a good feeling at all, but it's a feeling that one tends to want to wallow in. In some way or another I have a strong emotional connection with each of these songs, and I strongly recommend that you investigate the output of all the bands featured here.

1. Mahumodo - April's
2. Trophy Scars - Assistant. Assistants
3. New Found Glory - Coming Home
4. Minus The Bear - The Pig War
5. American Football - Never Meant
6. Joanna Newsom - Sawdust & Diamonds
7. Gregor Samsa - Young & Old
8. Sun Kil Moon - Moorestown
9. Hopesfall - The End of an Era
10. Modern Life is War - I'm Not Ready
11. Thrice - Red Sky
12. Neil Young - Ambulance Blues


Monday, 16 June 2008


So... mounting coursework, exams and general stress overload put a stopper on this blog over the last few months, so apologies for the lack of recent updates to the grand total of zero people who read this. Now summer has well and truly kicked in, however, I intend to do a bit of a posting marathon, so fasten your seatbelts.

So to kick things into gear again, I bought Rinoa's debut EP today. This four-piece comprises ex-members of the incredible Crydebris and the similarly brilliant purveyors of pg. 99-esque chaos Chariots. Sonically, they play emotionally intense hardcore laced with post-rock, very similar to Envy and labelmates Devil Sold His Soul in many respects. From the moment the introductory buildup of 'Between the Pillars' peaks, the music remains wonderfully climactic for the duration of the EP, only letting up on the intensity front for the dense ambient segue 'In a Single Day and Night of Misfortune' which serves as a way of lulling the listener into a false sense of security right before the monstrously riff-heavy assault of closer 'Atlantis' comes to leave the listener mouth agape. The four tracks are shrouded in Mono-esque atmospherics: soaring tremolo guitars and swirling ambience that adds an impressive (if perhaps a little "tried and tested") sense of expanse and majesty. Also particularly endearing is the permeating sense of pessimistic desperation - and anyone who has heard and loved Devil Sold His Soul's latest opus A Fragile Hope will know where I'm coming from - that last mustering up of hope, the desperate clinging on to that light at the end of the tunnel. As such, the repetition of the line "Watch me wade through water/I'm not waving/I am drowning" at the swelling conclusion of 'Atlantis' is the musical equivalent of a stake hammered right into the heart.

This brings me on to Rinoa's now-disbanded predecessor, Crydebris. Crydebris were special. They were one of those depressingly short-lived bands that released one incredible EP that reminded you of everything you loved about your country's underground music scene, then split up just when they appeared to be going somewhere. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? The Severing spliced the dissonant time signature-shifting chaos of Botch and Eden Maine with the spaced-out beauty of the likes of Mahumodo and No Wings To Speak Of-era Hopesfall, resulting in a sound that, at the time, felt like a refreshingly unique punch to the gut. Particular standout moments include the incredible explosion after the ambient lull in the middle of the title track, or the gang vocal-laden finale of 'Mononoke-Picture'. I was lucky to get my hands on a CD-R copy of this EP while the band were still together but, as the EP is no longer in circulation and available for download on the band's myspace anyway, I figured that it would be a safe bet uploading the EP for your listening pleasure.

I've been told
that hate will break your heart in two
and change the face that I once knew

So try just once to see life unclouded by hate.
- Mononoke-Picture; Crydebris

Download the track 'Atlantis' from Rinoa's self-titled debut here.
Download Crydebris' EP 'The Severing' here.