Kid XL / “Madonna On Acid”

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Kid XL / “Madonna On Acid” (Single)

Kurt Vonnegut, in all his whimsy cynicism and infinite wisdom, has thus imparted a beautiful influence unto lyricism. Kid XL, Sean Anthony, is of the Lo-Fi and Indie Pop vein hailing from Perth, Australia. Rumination is a foreground element in Anthony’s lyrical composition, which is why it brilliantly matches Vonnegut’s quickness and the facetious Voltaire. Much like Mr. Vonnegut, Anthony is a storyteller, one who lingers with intrigue, searching. Kid XL’s thoughts: “To love you always, love forever, It wasn’t violent, we’re getting better.” There is a sense of wandering. He doesn’t stray in tangent, he thoughtfully provokes suggestions leading down paths, one in which he comes to embark. Anthony does not strike three chords and washes it down with effects either, as if the orchestration is just there as filler. That I find to be a tragic and true stereotype in various forms of Lo-Fi rock. Instead, he charismatically makes a persona for his music. From his April release Vacation to his newest single, he has made a distinctive, yet liberal style for himself to explore and cultivate diversely upon. “Madonna On Acid” is not only a track and Kid XL a band that you should keep a mindful eye on but, a blunt reminder that Lo-Fi does in fact still exist as a sophisticated genre not enshrouded with insignificant fodder.

Grab Kid XL’s work. You’re doing your music library a favor.

 

Aphex Twin: Syro

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Aphex Twin- Syro

For many of us, hearing that Aphex Twin was intent on releasing new material was as big as My Bloody Valentine’s release in 2013. For me it was definitely a bigger deal. Aphex Twin was always up there with names like Squarepusher and Venetians Snares in my list of mind-blowing electronic music influences, and I’m happy to say he’s still kept his place in my heart. His latest release, Syro, is nothing short of awesome. In all it feels like a curated selection of works recorded at different times and places throughout the past few years during which time there was drought of output. It is, in a sense, a way to make up for lost time and move on.

To those who are unfamiliar with the work of Richard D. James, this is not really the kind of music you’d try to dance to, but it does lean in that direction a little more than his previous work has, especially in the first half of the album with songs like ‘Minipops 67 [120.2][Source Field Mix]’ and ‘Produk 29 [101]’. Another thing these two songs share in common, and something very characteristic of James’ style, are the dark and eerie sensibilities of harmonic progression. The opening track, ‘Minipops 67 [120.2][Source Field Mix]’ is a great example of how he juxtaposes rhythm with melody; the song is danceable but at the same time it projects this creepy vibe via dissonant interactions between melodic lines.

And it gets creepier. ‘CIRCLONT14 [152.97][Shrymoming Mix]’ feels like something straight out of a horror film, most likely about alien abductions or a zombie virus, at least for the first minute before the percussion comes in and sets the fast pace. You’d probably hurt yourself if you tried dancing to this.

And then there’s songs like ‘CIRCLONT6A [141.98][Syrobonkus Mix]’ which stands apart from the scary vibe, with sawtooth synths and a barrage of bit-crushed instruments rushing past you. Glitchy all over. There’s this moment at 4:15 that is absolutely one of the coolest things I’ve heard, and it’s because of the newly introduced chords which are simply triumphant. This is one of the few tracks where the sense of harmony is pretty consonant throughout in so much as that it doesn’t make you feel uneasy or out of one’s element. The changes play out very much like a scene from a film, rapidly switching between cuts and moving the story forward each second. You have to pay attention or you’ll get lost before you’ve reached the end.

The album wraps up with its most outlying track, ‘Aisatsana [102]’, a solo piano with samples of birds chirping, but that brief description alone doesn’t do it justice. It’s beautiful, heart-wrenching and impacting, especially in comparison with the preceding songs.

In short, Syro is a versatile compilation that doesn’t necessarily push the limitations any further than Aphex Twin already has (which is pretty damn far) but reaffirms a master’s potential to create something incredible. It’s the kind of thing that could only be done by the microcentric genius himself, and the good news is that there’s more to come. Personally, I’m crossing my fingers for another collaboration with director Chris Cunningham sometime in the future.

10/10

Rival Consoles / Sonne EP

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Rival Consoles / Sonne

We [critics] calibrate our justifications accordingly, though we never really are fully inclined to pass on a succession of the torch to another because of our reluctance. Though it in turn has been and will be done.

England is the proprietor of being the best at everything musical. From Post Punk to Shoegaze to Leftfield, England is the starting point to many a decadent innovation and formulation of new genre.

Rival Consoles hails from the southern region of this country, (also known as London). He, Ryan West, is the amalgamation of both leftfield and electronica. Clashing between the resemblance of Aphex Twin, (a transitory) Bok Bok, and (a washed down) Orbital, Mr. West is a key note in the long curation of electronic history this island in Europe has brought us. His latest opus, an EP entitled Sonne, is but one of many pinnacles in his short spanning but exceptionally capturing and transparent repertoire.

By this, I mean, his privy to encompassing emotion into compositions intuitively and with pristine delicateness and an aptitude for pronouncing a harmonic yet forthright work. His earlier pieces represents a transitive period it seems, as well as an era of exploration. Sonne defines his abilities. This is an EP which provides room to ponder, much like “Gravity’s Rainbow”. But, rather than compare it to a literary work by Thomas Pynchon, let’s gravitate towards music.

The titular track, “Sonne”, is a work that is a layered regression, it continues to pull back and push forward. In a constant state of flux. It seems like a Sisyphus in continues like a prolix, somewhat exhausted but triumphantly reigns in glorious vivacity. This permeates up to the songs conclusion, which successes into the album with an array of angelic and heavy synth pads, pursuing an even opaquer path with “3 Chords”.

“3 Chords” is the EP’s magnum opus. A scary vibrant thrill that does not cheapen the leftfield stylism this EP seems to strive for. It instead builds into a conundrum of heavy, tinkering beats that kindle inside monolithic synth leads.

The furious curiosity of the compositions begin to personify themselves in bodily form, directed by variations in each predecessing track as to then conceive a definitive form in the momentous finale. Both “Helios” and “Haunt” takes this instruction with incandescent progression. They formulate a coherent line from the former half of the EP into its finish. These two, though impeccable interludes, serve as the only fodder in the album.

“Think Tank” provides a more elaborate framework and distinct ambient tone, much like “3 Chords.” It is an intellectual track that secedes from being a tonal and stylistic variation of a genre, becoming solely a work that harbors several influences and contains a ruminating versatility. Thus, the EP concludes from here with, “Recovery,” a track that contains a sentiment of stoic solidarity. It is an uplifting yet carefully adhered track that flows with vibrancy and conscientious objection.

West brings Sonne to life. An EP that will most likely stand the test of time and will proceed to be testament to the ever evolving shape of the electronic music scene in England and the world alike.

Sonne is out on Erased Tapes Records.

He will be doing an in-store DJ Set at Touch Vinyl, which is located on Santa Monica and Sawtelle. Their full address is 1646 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles, CA, 90025. The sets begin at 8.

10/10

First Aid Kit: Stay Gold LP

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First Aid Kit- Stay Gold

First Aid Kit is the folk-duo comprised of Swedish sisters, Johanna and Clara Söderberg. With the release of their fourth album, their first on a major label, Stay Gold is a culmination of the hard work these sisters have put into their music. They have been considered contemporaries of modern folk legends Fleet Foxes, recorded with Jack White, and have an established artistic friendship with Conor Oberst, touring with his band Bright Eyes and singing backing vocals on his latest solo album. With First Aid Kit’s newest LP, Stay Gold, the duo has cemented their sound of mature folk-pop that still keeps the essence of a country twist.

As with much folk, the strongest element of this album is the vocals. These sisters have such a strong command over their harmonies. Seamlessly, they ebb and flow, trading off melodies and harmonies, leading the listener into the haunted, pure notes being sung. Without even listening to the lyrics, the sound of the vocals, the earnestness, wit, and pain all trickle out. The notes are never forced, even on more upbeat tracks, but they are well controlled with a finessed power. This same mature understanding of music and the way melody and harmony lines interact is revealed in the music of Stay Gold. First Aid Kit and their band have a way of composing great folk-pop without relying on major label industry standards, like dueling guitars and a mustached Brooklyn-ite plucking a banjo. No. Instead, the album is filled with lush orchestration and simple, yet necessary, percussion. While there are acoustic guitar strums and plucks and a piano, it is the use of not only string instruments, but woodwinds as well, that give Stay Gold its distinct sound. Sonically, First aid Kit know who they are, and the polished recordings courtesy of a major label only enhance the band.

Lyrically, Stay Gold appears to tell the story of a relationship that the narrator feels was forced to go on to long, and while highlighting moments of their time together, finally realizes that it wasn’t meant to be. While this subject matter may seem a bit morbid, or even cliché, First Aid Kit shines brightest in the depths of somber ballads and mid-tempo recollections.

On the mid-tempo title track, ‘Stay Gold’, the sisters sing, “What if our hard work ends in despair?/ What if the road won’t take me there?/ Oh, I wish for once, it could stay gold./ What if to love and be loved is not enough?…” This kind of questioning is what drives the content of not only this song, but the album in its entirety. The lyrics, while simple on the surface, actually question the clichéd, candid responses given to those struggling with love and relationships. It is said hard work pays off, but difficult tasks are trying and often lead to more strains on the relationship. There is the saying we are all on a journey and all have paths carved out for themselves, but these sisters are asking an important question; what if the path I’m meant to follow doesn’t end in a place where ‘we’ are together? That last question, “What if to love and be loved is not enough?”, sticks out to me, mainly because of their relationship with Conor Oberst from Bright Eyes. He used the line, ‘We have a problem/ with no solution/ but love and to be loved” on a song many years ago. This reviewer can’t help but sense the sisters of First Aid Kit are alluding to Mr. Oberst while at the same time making their own statement that there has to be more to a relationship than the platitudes given by those outside the relationship.

On the track, ‘Cedar Lane’, the sisters are vocally at their strongest, perfectly complimenting the slow, sweeping orchestration of slide guitars and woodwinds. It is a song about remembering a time when things seemed to be better, bringing the narrator to a place that holds precious memories. While reflecting on Cedar Lane, the narrator sings of walking with their lover and how, “time moved so swiftly/ all of those days”, and how the lover told the narrator, “Something good will come out of this.” Lyrically, First aid Kit is able to take the listener into the moments when times were pleasant and full of hope, forgetting that on the larger scale, problems are not being resolved.

Now, don’t worry, while the album does keep a slower, steady tempo, the sisters let loose with a little fire on the barn burner, ‘Heaven Knows’. It has a slow intro, ending in the lyrics, “paid so much attention to what you’re not/ you have no idea who you are.” Then it kicks in to full gear with the sisters singing, “But heaven knows, knows that you’re a liar”, and takes off from there. The song is that immediate post-break-up realization and burden-lifted-off-the-shoulders excitement at your whole world opening up again.

Stay Gold is strong folk-pop album that is mature enough to be enjoyed by folk enthusiasts and polished enough to earn radio play. And while the album could have ended on the upbeat, in-your-face attitude of ‘Heaven Knows’, First Aid Kit showcase their true songwriting sensibilities and end the album with a contemplative, somber, song that understands the hope ahead, but is not in denial of the heartache that will accompany the end of the relationship traced throughout the album. This alone should be reason enough to appreciate the brevity of the album as a whole. Maturity is a tough sell in the major label business, dominated by songs about clubbing and forgetting about silly boys and meeting the next hunk who is sensitive because he wears glasses. First Aid Kit do not shy away from stark reality, ending on a song that makes the listener yearn for more, taking their time after the album has ended to think to themselves. That, is the sign of a great album.

9.5/10

Duologue: Memex EP

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Duologue / Memex

Prior to the release of their album Never Get Lost, Duologue released a four track EP entitled Memex. A compilation, which I had the pleasure of listening to this week. I was impressed to say the least, and even more moved by the visual accompaniment of the Memex music video. Simply put, an experience which conceives the sublime.  The titular track is, itself, a work of tasteful writing and impeccable production. Commencing with piano chords recorded through a high-end EQ, followed by ghostly multi-tracked vocals, and a slow drum beat, the track harbors and resonates melancholic emotions.  “Memex” provides wide-open spaces and subtle textures, shifting from majestic to haunting tones. Overall, the song is very opaque and wraps up in a heavy conclusion with distortion, crashing cymbals, and a chilling bass line.

Successor track “Operator” functions as a lost-love song. Able to retain the melancholic quality but, gravitating towards a subtly vivacious upbeat tempo, with chilled electronic drums and sweet vocal melodies that drive the track and engage the listener.  The compositional style of this track is generously dynamic and unpredictable, upon first listen. It’s exciting in a very laid back, lounging way. The pivotal climax occurs halfway through the song via a momentous chord change, triumphant in nature, and accented by vocal harmonies & soft synths. Eventually petering out, it builds up and returns to the electrical chorus once more; a very satisfying progression of musical narrative.

“Traps” pushes the excitement forward. It is always thrilling when you reach the second chord in a 4/4 progression, hearing it for the first time because you know, you feel that it’s going to resolve to something very gratifying, and when it does hit that perfect place it lights you up from the inside out. This song is not as unpredictable as the last two, it has a little more pop, but this is too a great advantage. In a way, it gives the listener a moment to relax. There are still some really unexpected changes in mood that take place; changes that at first seem a little odd, but after a while realize themselves to be really neat. Once again, the percussion plays a strong role and is tastefully mixed.

The last song on Memex EP, “Bodylog” didn’t to it for me as much as the other three, even so, it’s a great track. The energy, however, seems almost contrived, trying to reach an intensity very early on, and then rebuilding from its ashes. A very dancey tune especially towards the end. It has some very interesting rhythmic moments, and it’s a decent way to wrap up the EP. After many listens through, I’m really pleased to have come across Duologue’s Memex EP Here is a group that understands music and emotion, and I hope to hear more from their new LP Never Get Lost.

9/10

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