Monday, 8 December 2008

The Cold Return

As another hectic semester draws to an end I find myself with a little more time on my hands than usual. Or, rather, I'm decidedly ignoring the fact that i have two essays due and four exams to take after the Christmas holidays. I'll be taking this opportunity to get back to updating this blog hopefully a little more frequently, with plenty of music for you to feast your ears on, as well as providing the obligatory rundown of my favourite records from 2008. Watch this space.

The record I've been listening to the by far the most recently is Gospel's The Moon is a Dead World. Produced by Kurt "Midas Touch" Ballou of Converge, the record is, sadly, the only studio output the band have ever released. The band sound like what you would expect City of Caterpillar, perhaps, to sound like if they were closet Yes fans. In other words, Gospel play intense hardcore with massive prog leanings - insane drumming, psychedelic riffage, keyboard solos and nine-minute epics. This might sound absurd on paper, but The Moon is a Dead World is one of the most visceral, compelling and straight up awesome records ever to grace my ears. Its dense and dark racket will overwhelm on the first couple of listens, but every subsequent listen will reveal new nuances and amaze even more than the last time. Your ears will start to isolate awesome moments: be it the blinding riffage in 'Yr Electric Surge is Sweet', the superb melodic and dynamic changes of the epic 'A Golden Dawn', the stuttering rhythmic breakdown in 'And Redemption Fills The Emptiest of Hearts', the build and climax of 'What Means of Witchery' or the furious keyboards of 'As Far As You Can Throw Me'. Before long, you'll not only realise how tight and damn-near perfect this album is - you'll find that you're addicted to its propulsive dynamics and practically flawless instrumentation. In the realm of emo, The Moon Is a Dead World has little or no match in terms of how inventive and cohesive it is - fans of Circle Takes The Square and their ilk should probably download this. Right now.

I've also been listening to quite a lot of Harvey Milk. One of the more underrated bands in the field of sludge, it's suprising that, given their eccentric approach to the genre, more fans of bands such as Kayo Dot or Boris haven't picked up on them - or, rather, their early releases, which are particularly spectacular. They have admittedly received a bit of a buzz recently due to their most recent release Life... The Best Game in Town, touted by the likes of Pitchfork as a return to form. As entertaining as that album is, it seems to lack the extremity and astounding sense of experimentation that one finds in the band's early work, and thus comes off as comparatively lacklustre. My Love is Higher Than Your Assessment of What My Love Could Be, the band's debut, is a perfect place to start with Harvey Milk. The opening track 'A Small Turn of Human Kindness' throws you into experimental territory straight away: as an ominous cymbal counts the song in, one expects to be bombarded with sludge filth straight away. But Harvey Milk don't work that way: they choose, instead, to mess with their listeners' heads - playing around with keyboard noodling for a bit before reverting to cymbal counts, and then messing about a little more with some creepy strings. and then about three and a half minutes in, the real onslaught starts: one of the most vile, evil riffs you're ever likely to hear, backed by thunderous drums and horrible bass, rears its ungodly head. The band uses extended periods of (near-)silence, carefully controlled tempos and unconventional instrumentation (including the odd folk ballad) to contribute to the general disorienting effect of the album, along with the employment of a singer who could just as easily be a pissed-off walrus as be a human being. All of this leaves you wondering what you've just been hit by, but knowing one thing for sure: you've just heard one of the best experimental sludge albums you're ever likely to hear.

The follow-up to My Love..., the ironically titled Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men, dives into an even more serious - and sometimes surprisingly emotional - side of Harvey Milk's sound, while still retaining the experimental edge of their debut that makes the band so special and rewarding. One might argue that Courtesy is a bit more cohesive as an album than its predecessor, as it retains a constant feeling of utter gloom and misery throughout, while the predecessor tends to inject the band's bizarre sense of humour into tracks that otherwise might be more depressing, as well as having a few more particularly upbeat tracks among its numbers. The negativity of Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men is not necessarily to its detriment, but it certainly means that the album tends to lend itself a lot more towards moods where the listener is feeling a lot more, say, despondent. It has some disarmingly poignant moments: particularly the emotional climax of the album, a straightforward acoustic cover of Leonard Cohen's 'One of Us Cannot Be Wrong', a song that lends itself rather well to the singer's bizarre voice and is a surprisingly effecting respite in what is mostly a crushingly heavy sludge album. On an album full of highlights, one song to watch out for is the marvellously tense and evil opener 'Pinocchio's Example' which features - get this - a hoover. Yep, seriously. Also listen out for the interestingly structured and at times downright vile 'Sunshine (No Sun) Into the Sun', a great centrepiece - it starts with thirty seconds of a misleadingly charming ballad before propelling you straight into a black hole of downtuned bass and absurd guitar noise that lasts for the rest of the song. Nice. Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men may not be the most chirpy or upbeat of albums but it is certainly a powerful listen, and is one of the best sludge albums I've heard in a long time.

I'm also throwing in the new Glassjaw song as a bonus because, well, it fucking shreds.

Gospel - The Moon is a Dead World
Harvey Milk - My Love Is Higher Than Your Assessment Of What My Love Could Be
Harvey Milk - Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men
Glassjaw - You Think You're John (Fucking) Lennon

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