Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Flying Lotus - Los Angeles

Flying Lotus is Steve Ellison. Yes, he is well-known for his relation to the Coltranes, but he also churns out some awe-inspiring instrumental hip-hop on the Warp stable. With Los Angeles he has brought us perhaps the best in electronic music that 2008 has had to offer so far. Here we have seventeen cuts of sublime beats, skittering noise and beautifully hazy melody. FlyLo himself has said about his music that “I have this beautiful lemon tree in my backyard, and on a sunny day the light shines through. Little things like that inspire me." This kind of inspiration through mood shows; each track has a flowing sense of atmosphere to it - the opener Brainfeeder is like being skyrocketed into space, and from then on you're floating among the nebulae and the comets, right up until the moment that you're sucked into the black hole of bliss that is the vocal-laden closer Auntie's Lock/Infinitum. The songs here are engaging and layered, but never too dense or abrasive, always keeping a tempered sense of melody and space, making them perfect for either active or passive listening, whichever suits your mood. Headphone listening recommended.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

The Carrier - One Year Later

Following the untimely demise of Modern Life is War and Life Long Tragedy, hardcore started to look like a downhill slope for a while. However, there are a valuable few bands that seem to have the capacity to fill that gaping hole, and The Carrier are one of them. Combining a dark yet melodic sound similar to that of Shai Hulud with the intensely personal lyric-centric approach of early Modern Life is War, "One Year Later", their debut album, bleeds emotion from every pore. Anthony, their vocalist, sings of personal struggle: covering depression, self-loathing and loneliness, the fact that these tales of personal troubles are coming from someone who is "nineteen years young" makes them instantly and utterly relatable. This relatability is strengthened by the simplicity and urgency of his delivery: it's even the simplest lines like "I want to see better days, I want to see hope in things" that are perhaps the most breathtaking, because of how direct they are, because of how much we see ourselves mirrored in those words. This sense of relatability is the reason that I love hardcore: it's that "we're in this together" feeling, that knowing that there's others out there that feel just as bitter and disillusioned as you. It's a feeling of community spirit that's difficult to find in any other genre. The title track of this album is particularly poignant in its story of consuming and stagnant self-hatred, but it's the powerful undercurrent of hope in the anthemic Panicstricken that really provides the gem in the crown. "One Year Later" is The Carrier's "My Love. My Way". Give them a bit of time and they may well write their own "Witness".

I chose death over life, wanted to meet my maker, I was dying inside. Pain too great to deal with me made me try to take my life. But now I've seen the light, I've got a second chance at life. I'm not retracting my old tracks. I'm never going back to the locked doors and the blinding lights, to the uncertainty of whether the next will be a good or bad day. I never want to wonder what life would be like without me in it, because I'm alive. I'm done wanting to die. I've taken what I've learned with me, it's all I know, and I'll been kicking my old shit out the front fucking door. Because I don't need it anymore. I'm taking steps forward one foot at a time, making sure not to fall. And it will be the last trip of my life. Reaching up while the ship sinks to the bottom of this dead ocean. A thousand stars couldn't shine through everything we've been through, in this world that has no ending. I'm never going back to locked doors. I'm never going back to blinding lights.
-The Carrier; Panicstricken

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Converge - Jane Doe

Jane Doe is probably my favourite record ever. If not, it certainly comes close. I wouldn't normally post something like this because I assume that the two or three people that actually bother to read this would be familiar with this album. But then I had this staggering realisation that, you know, there are people who haven't heard this album, or people who, worse, don't "get" it. It saddens me that people are missing out on something so incredible. Well, here's your chance to repent.

Jane Doe is an album and needs to be heard as such. I need to stress the importance of this. It is a cohesive experience, the expression of and expansion upon a single emotion to overwhelming effect. It is highly unlikely that you are going to "get" Jane Doe just by listening to Concubine or The Broken Vow as standalone songs. Every moment in this album contributes to the next, hurtling madly towards those last three minutes of the title track. The album is a perfect example of the powerfully cathartic nature of hardcore: a comprehensive outpour of an emotion, like wringing water from a sponge until nothing is left.

This album is a rollercoaster of emotion recorded in the aftermath of a heartbreak that left Jacob Bannon feeling low and damaged. It shows, because all the associated emotions are there: from the shock, denial and desperation following loss to the ensuing feelings of spite and hatred, the nadir of defeat, depression and self-loathing, the cold grip of loneliness and, tucked away in a corner somewhere but nevertheless present, hope.

The lyrics, for one, are stunning. They don't necessarily match up to the music in a linear fashion - rather, Jacob Bannon writes them like poetry, then uses them as inspiration for the songs, lifting lines and placing them in appropriate places for maximum impact. Take Concubine's desperate cries of "Dear, I'll stay gold just to keep these pasts at bay", Bitter and then Some's vitriolic chant "Death to cowards, traitors and empty words" or the beautiful penultimate part of the title track "Lost in you like Saturday nights/Searching the streets with bedroom eyes/Just dying to be saved" and you have just some examples of Bannon's skilled and heartfelt lyricism. There is a particularly haunting passage in Hell to Pay, as another example, that really sums up the kind of engulfing depression that takes its hold post-heartbreak:

"That night, I think he cried himself to sleep
Just maybe, he felt more than we could ever know
And I think he pulled that trigger to empty that memory
I think he cut the weight to end the floods of you
Let him soar, let him ride as budding gravestones do
Just sleep, girl, just dream well"

Jane Doe, of course, isn't anything without the music. And what sublime music it is: from the discordant opening measures of Concubine the listener is thrown into some of the most intense, chaotic music ever written. The mood varies; from raucous and chaotic in Homewrecker and Bitter and then Some to pensive in Hell to Pay, with its enormous bassline, and epic in Phoenix in Flight. There is a sense of uncontrollable and climactic chaos throughout the album, untamed amounts of passion that are hard to find in any other album. One particular highlight is The Broken Vow, an anthem that finishes on the rousing and desperate chant "I'll take my love to the grave". There are some interesting but also successful experiments on the album such as the eerie "Phoenix in Flames", a short slice of chaos that sees the band stripping themselves down to a core of drums and vocals. Thaw is also particularly climactic with its jarring riff and its crushing closing chord sequence. This still serves as a mere warmup for the album's title track. There's a rather clich├ęd phrase that goes "it's always darkest before the dawn" - to me, much of the song Jane Doe represents that state of rock bottom. It charts that feeling of hopelessness, of being completely lost. There's a moment about 45 seconds into the dirge where Bannon suddenly switches gears into a voice that's so different to his usual scream that it's ethereal, singing "I want out" like a desperate cry for help. It's one of the most incredibly affecting parts of the album. The song repeats itself in a cyclic pattern, spiraling more and more into that pit of despair until something happens - something changes. There's a break in the music, and a wonderful sense of space and release. There is one final chorus, like a sigh put to music, before it kicks in. A searing crescendo that has so much intensity that it could easily rival anything that Godspeed You! Black Emperor have ever written, rising out of the gloom like a phoenix in flight, the culmination of so many things gone wrong but perhaps a sign of determination to move past those events, a sign of hope. And that concludes not only the best album closer these ears have ever heard, but perhaps the best album too. Jane Doe is an album of limitless passion and honesty, an intensely personal statement that stands as an incredible work of art. Whether screaming, chaotic hardcore is your thing or not, take a chance on this album - spend some time with it, get to know it well, and perhaps, soon enough, you too will feel its rewards. If you haven't felt anything by the time that culminating crescendo fades out, you can't be human.

Those nights we had and the trust we lost
The sleep that fled me and the heart I lost
It all reminds me
Just how callous and heartless the true cowards are
And I write this for the loveless
And for the risks we take
I'll take my love to the grave
As tired and worn it is
I'll take my love to the grave
-Converge; The Broken Vow

Converge - The Poacher Diaries

In all my excitement about seeing Converge tomorrow, I decided to do a bit of a Converge special today. And so, to get things going, I present you with their 1999 split with Agoraphobic Nosebleed, The Poacher Diaries. (Agoraphobic Nosebleed's side isn't worth bothering with. Trust me on this one. Regard it as a Converge EP).

This split has some of Converge's most punishing cuts to date. Opening with Locust Reign (a short but sweet live favourite) and This is Mine, the four-piece waste no time in announcing their presence with two short, sharp blows to the eardrums. From there on it gets a bit more pensive with the almost psychedelic They Stretch For Miles (featuring a very well-placed Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas sample) before resuming the skull-crushing riffathon in My Great Devastator (the album's best track) and The Human Shield. Minnesota concludes the album in epic fashion, featuring some great slide guitar and clean vocals (yes, your ears aren't deceiving you, that's Jacob Bannon doing some actual singing). The brutality and relative brevity of Converge's side of this split, alongside the overall strength of the songwriting, makes this one a keeper.