Sipping Reptilian Vodka Underneath The Portland Sky
A few hits and a couple of misses round out today’s reviews. Any questions? Good. Have a seat and we’ll get started.
Millionyoung: Replicants– Out of all the chill wave artists around right now, Millionyoung have a slight edge. The psychedelic guitar work that Mike Diaz does on nearly every song sets him apart from others who merely depend on synthesizers to work out their songs. Unfortunately, the differences don’t end there. I talked a bit before in my review of their So True EP of the difficulty I found to listen to his off-key wails at times. Needless to say, those kinks have not only not been worked out, they’ve been magnified. Though thankfully mostly an instrumental work, its like they stopped paying attention after a while. Its as if they were in the studio recording the vocals and the producer said,’Alright, that was one take. Do we wanna try that again,’ and Diaz’s response was,’No, they were perfect! Lets go with it’. The result is a hit and horrendously miss effort of potentially great songs completely fucked by awful, tuneless vocals. The shitty thing is, you never know when its going to happen because musically, this album is solid. And again, many of the songs here are instrumental or have minimal vocals that are just fine. Its those random little pieces of crap scattered here and there that really doom this. I’d enthusiastically recommend the instrumentals, but really, its far too much of a headache to wade through the trash to find them…4.6/10
Starfucker/STRFKR: Reptilians– Starfucker is a synth-pop band from Portland, OR that have written a brilliantly composed and upbeat record for their debut. From nearly start to finish, the swirling synthesizers and vocal melodies blend in a nearly perfect arrangement of pop goodness. The worst thing is, I may have never known that if I had stopped at the opening track, which I nearly did. Contrary to the rest of the album, the opening track was a slightly ear-splitting mess that nearly made me skip this altogether. Fortunately, I remembered that the track I had sampled earlier, Bury Us Alive, was exceptionally good and I knew they were capable of getting beyond it. Once you get over that massive speed bump, its clear sailing to a brilliant, beautiful and catchy record. Highly recommended…9.3/10
Joan Of Arc: Life Like– Joan Of Arc have always been the gold-standard for experimental indie rock since they came on the scene 14yrs ago. No one has been able to really replicate anything close to them. Whether its their mysterious use of sound effects, Tim Kinsella’s off-tune and ridiculous vocals or even the fact that all together they’ve managed to sound brilliant at one level or another nearly every time, Joan Of Arc will never be predictable. I personally have had problems with elements of their songs and records over the years, but their creativity have always kept me coming back to see what they’ll do next. Life Like most notably adds one of the most interesting guitarists Kinsella has worked with: Victor Villareal. Villareal played in Owls and Ghosts and Vodka and his amazingly upbeat, innovative and intricate guitar work is certainly evident on Life Like. Unfortunately, the problems I’ve had with Joan Of Arc in the past crop up here as well. Though quite unpredictable in JOA fashion, I think Villareal’s unique style is wasted a lot of times on minimalized songs that really just put him in a box. I think in a lot of ways they really missed an opportunity to use the new line-up to their advantage. I knew they weren’t going to duplicate the Owls or Ghosts and Vodka records, but again, it didn’t have to be this minimalized at times. Overall, this is a better than average JOA record with some really upbeat and interesting songs…7.1/10
Toro Y Moi: Underneath The Pine– Toro Y Moi are a chill wave band from Columbia, South Carolina. Channeling their love for late 70s and early 80s synth, Underneath The Pine is definitely a departure from last year’s Causers Of This. Whether it was clear influences of Stereolab from the late 90s from time to time or even acoustic guitar and harmonies reminiscent of Simon And Garfunkel, this record definitely stands apart from its predecessor. That all being said, this is a very smooth and relaxing record thats very smartly written. I’m not sure if Simon and Garfunkel would sound like this if they were to come out today or anything, but mix in a little Stereolab and other chill wave elements and who knows? What I do know is that this is nothing if not a complete pleasure to listen to at every turn and you’d be completely stupid to blow this off without trying it first. There, I said it…9.2/10
Explosions In The Sky: Take Care, Take Care, Take Care– Instrumental rock has had its ups and downs over the years. For me, when I approach anything instrumental, I’m looking for whats going to set it apart from everything they’ve done before as well as compare it to other bands in the genre. This is where Explosions In The Sky lose me most of the time. I think most of their songs are really great, though somewhat difficult to get through when it comes to their length. When I saw that this record had 6 songs that averaged 8mins or more each, the dread set in immediately. I have to confess: I’m a 3 and 1/2 minute song guy for the most part. If you’re going to keep me longer than that, it better be for a good reason. Most of the time I have mountains of music staring me in the face and if you’re going to keep me from it, you’d better be interesting. This is exactly where this album repeats what every other record of their’s does. I know people like the build up to their choruses, but does it have to take so long every time? I don’t think that by their 6th record that it should. In short, its tremendously predictable. For fans, this is exactly what you’d expect. For everyone else, try Mogwai, Del Rey or Tristeza if you wanna hear a band that grows progressively with every new release…5.0/10