The Haxan Cloak // Excavation // April 15, 2013 // Tri Angle
Sometimes it’s easy to talk about an artist and their music using words that actual people use in their actual lives. But sometimes we have to delve into the dark depths of the descriptive. All you need to know is that the most common buzzwords that fellow music journalists throw at sounds they may or may not even understand are “music for the soul”, “music for the mind” and “music for the body” With more upbeat genres, you’re appealing to the body. With lyrics that hit home, you’re speaking to the soul while more abstract ambient and classical pieces are something to nurture your mind. Most of the times everything falls into their own bracket, but how come some Londoner just made a record that could fall into all three of them.
It’s not like Excavation, the second record from Bobby Krlic, is a totally unique creature either. Darkness has inspired many records in the recent years and with the overload of summery warmth that formed the majority of the late noughties, Excavation isn’t shocking or intimidating. If we’re talking about the British scene that focuses on the ambiance of bass, Excavation can almost be seen as conformist. Coming out on the ever fashionable Tri Angle, Haxan Cloak’s second studio album combines the darkness with the warmth of the audio manipulation, forcing synths into sounding like voices and strings into sounding like chainsaws. Though obviously the main instrument here is bass. It moves in and out of focus, obscuring some details and leaving others for the naked eye. Most of the time the details on this record require the listener to invest in an adequate sound system before allowing them to pass a fair judgement. At the same time, Excavation is a moving piece and while the usually trebly ambient music leaves little to the immediate imagination, Excavation’s darkness, dread and seemingly endless depth turns it into a ambient record with an abundance of space for the explorers.
At the same time, this bone rattling drone music for the body isn’t as iconic as some may think. While Haxan Cloak’s self-titled debut featured something that could be very loosely described as direction, Excavation has none of it. Compared to a loose story of life approaching its end found on Krlic’s previous effort, Excavation, while in no shortage of unifying themes, lacks any sort of velocity. If anything, The Haxan Cloak might come across as the sort of person who is getting all his hype from a fashionable record label as people like Demdike Stare (Modern Love) and Raime (Blackest Ever Black) have been pursuing a very similar sound for longer and with less fuss. But there’s a trick to Excavation, a record that eschews the traditional songwriting as you and we know it for something that’s much looser than your average ambient drone record with an affinity to excess in bass. The way that the bass advances is deeply organic and instead of focusing on pattern based repetition which may make parts of the record sound like dub techno without the techno, Excavation has more in common with the likes of Earth, Sun O))) or even (if it was somewhat more detailed) Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Having a touch of the industrial dread, Excavation is one record that truly makes sense when you think to yourself, what would a genre called post-electronic sound like.
Naturally, a record like Excavation is only split into separate parts because having a one large piece is, well, stupid. Nevertheless, whether a piece on here lasts one minute or thirteen, they don’t offer a hook or a trace of a rhythm that would dictate whether they’re exhausting their stay. This is one thing that Excavation accomplishes flawlessly. The value of these tracks come from the pure pleasure of ambiance and personally, the double suite of Mirror Reflecting feels shorter and more pleasant than the three minutes of Mara’s dirge while at the same time the closer The Drop, while being the only track on here with a truly prominent rhythm, feels far more memorable than the relative brightness of Dieu. So while it may not be worth any more of your attention than pieces from Demdike Stare or Raime, Excavation provides the listener with a pitch black cult-like soundtrack for your darkest recreation without writing a single linear piece.
Cocorosie // Tales Of A Grass Widow // May 27, 2013 // City Slang
All music is subjective and we’d go as far as to say that all sound is a form of music. Some of it is intended to be pretty, part of it is confrontational. This “indie” music that we’ve been dealing with for most of our lives is but a drop in the ocean. But when you dedicate your life to the sound, you want to do something that would deliver pleasure, emotional or material. Cocorosie is one of those acts who really confront the listener when it comes to expectations about what a female experimental folk duo should be doing. For those of you who are new to this unit, you’ll be filled in shortly. To those who are currently going “gee, I wonder what does the new Cocorosie album sounds like”, all we have to say is, somewhat conformist.
Cocorosie are as despised as they are loved for their art and their image. All of this before we even get to talk about their music. Their brand on somewhat medieval influenced freak folk was a pretty weird prospect back in the mid noughties. Compared to this, the rest of the New Weird America movement may as well be model republicans for all you care. The duo certainly do not come across as humans that you would like to connect with. The Casady sisters got rich parents who made them quit school just so they could be “artists” too. With all that money at their disposal they still choose to record their albums in ridiculous locales. And then on top of that, they give their records atrocious sleeves that are as painful to look at as they are embarrassing to explain. All of this brings us to their fifth studio effort Tales Of A Grass Widow. This particular collection of songs, relatively speaking, features a bigger emphasis towards the song as something that possesses a possibility to be catchy and enjoyable without requiring the listener to be a transgender farmer.
For long stretches of their career, Cocorosie didn’t see music the way we do. They took part in what felt more like theatrical performance art lacking the obligatory imagery. What’s more, their lyrics and their image is confrontational to the point where it dares the listener to fully hate the sisters. Tales Of A Grass Widow, being much more melodic than some of their previous albums, goes some way to make amends. The hip hop influence here is much more pronounced and some of the patterns on tracks like Villain and Gravedigress are pretty generic stuff that you hear on the radio all of the time. In this band’s case, this is a good thing. Then there’s some more traditional folk stuff, like Roots Of My Hair, another result of what sounds like an unhealthy obsession with Vashti Bunyan. Mostly though, for all the hi-art the record surrounds itself with, it’s still little more than an overly tryhard tribute to Björk There’s the must have Antony Hegarty collaboration on the pretty awkward Tears For Animals. And of course there’s the vocals, which feel less faux-French and more faux-Icelandic by the minute. Worst of all is the limitations that sisters possess as singers. Their Björk lite vocalisations were interesting when music matched it. In the context of a pop record like Tales Of A Grass Widow, this is little more than an awkward display of inability to transform and adapt.
The weirdest thing is, Tales Of A Grass Widow isn’t even that bad of a record. It takes the shameless Medulla beatboxing and farming on acid folk instrumentals to craft some actual songs with a sense of purpose and a direction. Some moments, like Gravedigress and Child Bride are good in a pop song perspective of things. At the same time though, this conformist stance that the record adopts makes its weirder moments sound simply bad. With a lesser emphasis on 80s synth pads, a song like Far Away could’ve been one of their traditional 2deep4u moments. On this record, these moments act as evidence that Cocorosie, for all their artist freedom, are atrocious songwriters. Villains for example feels like the sort of crime against humanity that the recent Tegan & Sara album was full of. In a way, Tales Of A Grass Widow is up there with Grey Oceans as Cocorosie’s most user friendly record. At the same time, it’s safe, the sounds used here are tired and the songwriting is rarely above average. In short, you no longer want to punch these two, but you’d still piss on them.
Dean Blunt // The Redeemer // May 6, 2013 // Hippos In Tanks
If we treat the modern times as half watched Youtube videos, then people like Dean Blunt are surely the real prophets of the modern music. Along with his musical partner Inga Copeland, they come across as a mysterious bunch and they deal in snippets of sound rather than fully fleshed out songs. Their sound is somewhere between the amateur level lo-fi chillwave and some classical driven ambitions. So after all that we have already received from the mysterious Hype Williams duo, it would be weird if suddenly one of them attempted come present himself as a little less obscured personality, offered something that resembled songs and sung his words with confidence. The Redeemer, the first proper Dean Blunt solo LP, is that kind of album. But after all that preceded it, it’s hard to look at it and not prepare yourself for another underwhelming exploration of non-existent character in this music.
The Redeemer largely deals away with the lo-fi pop influence. For the lack of a better word, Dean Blunt’s new feels pure. Combing the sounds of MOR, morning AM station rock with some found recordings like nature sounds on phone conversations, The Redeemer instantly differentiates itself from the last couple of records that the man has been associated with. This purity makes some sense in the overall context of the record too. The Redeemer is supposed to be an album about getting through a broken relationship and earning your right for a clear restart of sorts that comes after it. This shows on the solid number of vocal tracks that show up on the record. They feel sensitive, affectionate and a little bit painful. And while Blunt is certainly not the sort of person that you would trust completely, this is the closest he came to sounding like an actual human being, hiding somewhere in London. That in mind, when it comes to pure human emotion that is as universal as heartbreak, Blunt can still sound alien at the best of times, and while that worked before, you can’t help but feel that The Redeemer asks for more communication than it receives.
At the same time, it’s not an emancipation that Blunt needs before he can start writing cohesive music. In one of the songs on here he opens his heart, either to his ex or perhaps himself, and relishes the thought that “they can still be friends”. Stuff like that doesn’t happen in the real world and it paints the picture for the instrumental values of the record which sometimes offer too much instrumental naivety. While there are long songs on here, Blunt still largely deals in sketches as his songwriting is tolerable at best. The Redeemer consists of 19 tracks that range from 5 minute long vocal tracks to six second instrumentals. The beauty of the record comes from Blunt’s ability to play with both seamlessly. While he does achieve that on a bit of everything track like Make It Official, the longer moments meander. Demon is far too long for what it tries to achieve and Blunt’s voice isn’t anywhere near interesting enough to excuse the sorry instrumental. Even the more out there track Need 2 Let U Go feels severely undercooked and relying on Blunt’s vocals which feel secondary not only on this track but in regards to the whole album. It’s a case of a man trying to tell a personal story but being too lost for words.
Largely driven by strings, The Redeemer is a record that treats variety carefully. The most outre moment on here is Papi which is half vocal jazz, half 90s east coast instrumental that finishes abruptly with the sound of Big Ben ringing. Otherwise the record doesn’t deal in outlandish internet era sounds that Blunt goes for when he’s together with Copeland. And when you’re left with three tracks in a row that are built around the sound of waves crashing, you get what message Blunt is trying to pass here. He really is that much better of an overall human being when he has a female by his side.
Primal Scream // More Light // May 13, 2013 // Ignition
In some circles Glaswegian rock veterans Primal Scream will always be regarded as little more than a semi interesting Stones’ tribute act but what you can’t deny is that their ability to adjust to the times is commendable. Acid rock stoners in the late 80s, britpop’s rowdiest outcasts during the mid 90s and electronic rock pioneers in the mainstream during the early 00s. They’ve done it all when it comes to sound, pills and member changes, so while their mainstream success is fleeting, their ability to attract members of My Bloody Valentine and The Stone Roses to join their line up says something about their iconic status. Their latest album More Light follows an openhearted nostalgia trip that the band relived during their Screamadelica tours and looks more towards the future and, as anyone will let you know, forward looking Primal Scream is something to treasure.
Primal Scream’s tenth studio record does away with the most of the retro influences that felt more like a pastiche rather than tribute on their last two albums. Just like it was the case with largely disappointing Give Out But Don’t Give Up, dusty Riot City Blues and the glossy Beautiful Future left something of a dent in the band’s legacy. More Light invites lazy comparisons like “their best since XTRMNTR” but really, the truth is that it’s their most forward looking and unhinged record since their early 00s masterpiece. Instrumentally More Light is something to behold. Dealing with traces of rock, shoegaze and including elements of just folk, blues and free jazz among other things, the album offers much to absorb. There’s still back to the basics moments like It’s Alright, It’s OK but in the context of the record that particular song feels more like a “Movin On Up” moment rather than a lack of ideas and a deep love for Stones’ back catalogue. The experimental nature that the record sets up with it’s strong opening four tracks is a definite step in the right direction considering that Primal Scream’s previous few records sounded like a single idea being stretched out across a whole record. This new found creativity and artistic indulgence shows as More Light displays many ideas and very few cracks across its massive 70 minute running length.
If anything, the most impressive thing about More Light is how effortless this majestic calculated chaos can feel at times. Tracks like 2013 and River Of Pain both run 9 and 7 minutes respectively and yet manage to offer enough versatility to include both solid structures with memorable hooks and a playground for improvisation that doesn’t feel like it’s tacked onto the end of the given track to buy time or come across as more impressive than it has to be. As another tie in into the XTRMNTR era, More Light is perhaps the most political Primal Scream has been since. So while some of the moments on here are incredibly outlandish for a band that have a tendency to rip apart Sticky Fingers, the lyrics are right at home with their working class anti class system/monarchy beliefs. Bobby Gillespie doesn’t waste any time polishing his words and from the very opener it’s clear that the band are still as political as they once were, ripping into the current state of the UK, the economy, the quality of today’s youth and of course, the Thatcher legacy. Gillespie still has a thing for some truly mediocre, cliched lines on the opener and some of his irony is coming across as perhaps too bitter for these songs. Nevertheless, at least it doesn’t contain any stories about stoned men sleeping in alleyways. That has been Primal Scream’s business card for far too long.
At 70 minutes long, More Light offers enough to keep the listener going without necessarily reaching for the skip button. That in mind, not all of the record is a free spirited journey through reinvention that just begs to be referred to as the beginning of Primal Scream’s third career peak. The middle of the album does away with the experimentation to offer more basic pop songs instead and while there’s nothing overly wrong with the hook heavy old man’s pop of Invisible City or Goodbye Johnny, they do come across as something of a filler moments on a record that’s at its best during it’s most unhinged. On their tenth record Primal Scream deliver thirteen songs that are both their most experimental and their most immediately memorable at the same time. The effect revitalises the band and makes them sound exciting for the first time in over a decade. It takes a special kind of album to undo the effect of Riot City Blues and Beautiful Future with one clean sweep and More Light is just that kind of special record from a band that did what they do best for the third time, striking accurately into the nation’s consciousness using party rock lived through the eyes of a junkie.