Category Archives: 90s

The Landing: We Are EP

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The Landing: We Are EPThe Landing‘s new album is almost weightless. It’s as cool as a summer breeze, even its dance elements feel easy and low key. There is no darkness to speak of, only questions. The vocals are soft and high pitched and the rhythms are soft and hypnotic.

The EP is ushered in with hand claps and a hypnotic baseline. The song begins with a sample of someone asking the question, “who am I?” and proclaiming the question to be the “most fascinating problem in the world” because it is “so mysterious and so illusive” and with that the album has its thesis statement. The vocals are soft and they fade in and out of the light disco rhythm as they ponder our existence.

For a song called ‘Anxieties’ the next track is filled with optimistic imagery. The chorus itself is one of the most positive sentiments I’ve ever heard, “fall asleep just to wake up, still I don’t want to go to bed.” The only reason for sleep is to wake up and experience more “miracles”? The person who wrote appears to be exceedingly happy. The music that accompanies the thoughts is a nice throwback nineties dance rhythm. It is easy to picture Eric Nies introducing this track while neon donning dancers fill a warehouse studio with movement to this track or at least it is for me, maybe you had better stuff to do after school.

Perhaps it’s the name, but ‘Pale Blue’ felt somewhat Caribbean to me. It is not a reggae song, but steel drums would not feel out of place. The song has a weightlessness that conjures images of wind blowing through palm trees and linen shirts unbuttoned just a little too far down a torso. The vocals are joined note for note with keyboards and the whole thing just feels like a song you would hear on vacation.

‘Strange Charm’ slows everything down. It also expresses the first negative idea on the album. Even though it’s said with a soft ease, you actually do hear the phrase, “I’m terrified that we all know too much.” Granted not the darkest thing you’ve ever heard, but this album is so brimming with light positivity this stands out.

We Are‘s final track is its most organic. It features acoustic guitar in addition the album’s typical more keyboard heavy instrumentation. The live play, complete with the sounds of fingers running up and down the strings grounds the music and gives the album a more organic feel. The final idea is one of legacy. It’s an answer to the question asked at the top, “who am I?” The question is ponderous and difficult to answer, but in the course of attempting to answer it, make sure you “write it down”…7.7/10

Pale Blue

Tony Molina: Dissed and Dismissed

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Tony Molina: Dissed and Dismissed – It’s 1994 again in the rock and roll community, and the apathy is as enfleecing as the flannel. With Pavement-spawned slackedelia lining the blogwaves and Parquet comprising rock’s once-stoneclad royal court, you could say it pays to be pathetic.

Stepping out from the iron entrapment of his hardcore project Caged Animal (not to be confused with minimalist synth-pop’s Caged Animals), Tony Molina takes this lesson to heart on his quick-and-dirty debut Dissed and Dismissed, a terse collection of power slacker bummers recently re-released by the ever-indifferent Slumberland Records. Clocking in at an overwhelmingly-palatable eleven minutes, Molina’s dozen downers combine the boisterousness of early Weezer with the heavy conversing guitars of Dinosaur Jr., cementing the impressive riffage with Stephen Malkmus’ legendary careless vocals.

Though none of the tracks exceed the one-minute-and-thirty-two-second mark, Molina manages to pack a heavy punch into just about every song. From the catchy sad-sack openers ‘Nowhere to Go’ and ‘Change My Ways’ (“all my friends like me more when I’m not around,” Molina proclaims from the get-go) to the highlight riff-and-squeal Dino Jr. offspring ‘See Me Through’ and ‘Don’t Come Back,’ there are few surprises on Dissed and Dismissed once you accept the fact that the Bay Area hardcore wunderkind has joined the neo-slacker elite.

Molina does manage to squeeze a few curve balls in there, though, namely the anticlimactic build-up ‘Nothing I Can Do,’ the ironically soothing ‘Sick Ass Riff,’ and the acoustic cover of Guided By Voices’ ‘Wandering Poet Boy.’ Each cut seems highly unnecessary as an interlude on an album of interlude-length tracks, but reminds us of Molina’s versatility as a musician, as well as his wealth of quintessential 90’s-alt influences.

Despite his treasure trove of tether-woven early alt-rock stimulus, Molina proves unique in being one growling frontman short of a grunge project and one heart-aching acoustic strummer shy of a folk group. Admittedly there’s not much new ground covered on Dissed and Dismissed, yet Molina creates a certain freshness in a subgenre as musty as the moth-chewed flannels recently unearthed from your parents’ basement, and with a record shorter than your average Godspeed! ballad there’s no time for such a dismal fate…8.2/10

‘Don’t Come Back’

Unicycle Loves You: The Dead Age

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Unicycle Loves You: The Dead Age – Four albums in, Unicycle Loves You is a very different band from the one that cut the 2008 self-titled debut. It’s hard to believe they used to sound so clean, spent so much on grooming services, and used *gasp* keyboards. On The Dead Age, the trio continue with the lo-fi tack they found on 2012’s Failure and take it to a sweltering length. Where Failure felt a bit brittle and glassy in the bones, The Dead Age beefs up the reverb and sheer presence of sound, achieving the intensity of a cigarette burn. The result is an extremely hook-heavy album that spits punk idioms at a disaffected pace, all  while creating a sunny, oddly tranquil space in the middle of all the crackling. Their bandcamp boasts songs that “somehow manage to combine ‘mid-tempo’ with ‘high-octane'”, an assessment as accurate as any.

It’s a strange sort of noise aesthetic; tracks like ‘Endless Bummer’ have undoubtedly bouncy vocal hooks and riff barrages, but pull a trick from the shoegaze playbook to create a mantric stillness out of the rattlesnake static. The result is a uniquely comforting garage sound, a sizzling, summer paradise where there’s always a band roaring away on the beach, and you can hear the carbonation of the coconut juice through the shell. The Unicycle crew borrows some of the psych flavor from Failure for effect, especially on the dazer ‘Any Daydreaming Morning’, as murky and ephemeral as oil-slick rainbows.

The effect is due also to interlude tracks like ‘Silent Minus’ and ‘X-ray Glaze’, that feature looped phrases and heat-shimmery strumming in ebbs and flows, where you float with your back to the chaos and your eyes on the dazzling sky. Those two songs actually left me pining – here’s hoping for more shoegaze experimentation on the next record.

All that being said, in no way is The Dead Age a sleeper. It ponders by roaring, finds fulfillment by moshing, which is all I could think of while listening: how insanely fun this live show must be. Their tracks use hooks like Guided By Voices uses tracks: by the baker’s dozen. All sweatbreaks to be had are found on the aforementioned interludes – otherwise, messy gems like ‘Face Tattoo’, ‘JAWS’ and ‘Bad News Club’ run full-throttle through a gamut of Ramones-style shoutables and melodies-of-the-moment, with enough percussive build-ups and melodic shifts to keep everything at an engaging simmer. Their guitar tone is often impeccable, like the fuzz-gloved bearclaw of a sound that introduces ‘JAWS’, or the satisfying bass thudding at the opening of ‘We Never Worry’.

What’s puzzling is the presence of this energy and these slacker sentiments right in the middle of Unicycle Loves You’s career. You’d think they’d be doing a stripped-back synth thing, or something with, I don’t know, string sections and guest appearances, but here they are, banging away like all their equipment’s strapped to the backs of skateboards. It bolsters the impression that they’ve never sounded stronger or more assured in their sound than now. The Dead Age is poised, ready to propel the group towards a wider audience thanks to its garage style, and yet bringing an easygoing mannerism that’s sure to stand out amongst their heavily acidified peers…8.3/10

Face Tattoo

Shine 2009: Our Nation

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Shine 2009: Our Nation – This album is about two things: national pride and ’90s nostalgia. The two are blended delightfully in a danceable, easy-to-enjoy combination. You are hit first with national pride and a touch of politics. ‘Eurozone’ begins like an industrial Christmas carol. It’s as if Stomp did Christmas, but quickly it breaks down into a cool little jam that could easily be found in a Guy Ritchie film – you know, back when they were good. It has a really cool ’70s throwback baseline with operatic interludes and keyboard sound effects to maximize the energy. I was intrigued by the line, “It’s easy when you know how to do it, profit”, because it’s called ‘Eurozone’. Commercialism is not the first thing you think about when you think of Europe. The band’s Helsinkian origin leads me to believe that it is a comment on the commercialism they see; it’s fun to watch liberals attack the less liberal and it’s a great form of pride.

Later in the album the theme becomes more positive. ‘Our Nation’ is basically a dance version of ‘This Land is Your Land’, only with a pounding dance beat and ethereal dance keyboards. With its howling lead electric guitar and pounding hip hop drums, ‘Suomen Sydan’ really drives home the pride this band feels for Finland. The ’90s vibe is in full effect during ‘Older’, which sounds just like a dance song from that decade. I can picture two Real World cast members arguing about some loaded political topic set to this song. Later on the album is ‘Good Times, which sounds like something Hall & Oates created that could easily be the chorus of a Diddy track.

 

I love ‘No Thanks’. It is probably my favorite song on the album. The bad review-inviting title does nothing to detract from the absolutely infectious, almost early Neptunes-inspired beat that’s created. Once again the baseline is perfect and mixed exquisitely with the keyboards and backup singers to created a kinetic yet romantic song.

‘These Girls’ is clearly a dip into the “sexy pool”. The tempo has been brought down and the drums have been turned up as the song celebrates the “industry girls”. That theme continues with ‘Me & U’, another dance dream. The ultimatum, “Are you in or are you out?” is a subtle invitation. The song comes in waves and begs the listener to “leave their old life” in exchange for another one where only joy exists (at least while the song is playing). It’s pure fantastical flight of fancy and I’m okay with it even if it is “too good to be true”.

Our Nation is more about the conduit than what is passing through. For example ‘Love, Love, Love’ is basically the simplest of sentiments – “Love and love and love, we’ve got to love and love and love/We’re going to be alright” is not breaking any profound ground – but there’s something so comforting about the fact that I could’ve heard this song on a Top 40 in 1992. A band being retro doesn’t always mean that it has to go so far back. Shine 2009 certainly has one foot in the ’90s, but with an emphasis on the feeling and a lean towards quality. It feels reminiscent and slightly nostalgic as opposed to feeling like a retread…9.1/10

No Thanks

Mazzy Star: Seasons of Your Day

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Mazzy Star: Seasons of Your Day – Most people who grew up in the 90’s, like the 80’s, are violently nostalgic for that specific culture and all of the memories tied to it. If you had a somewhat in tune pulse on the music scene during that revered decade then Mazzy Star‘s ‘Fade Into You’ probably calls upon the alternative age when VH1 and MTV were playing their most classic music videos and everything Alt-rock made up the cultural soundtrack. ‘Fade Into You’ was Mazzy Star’s unlikely hit that, for better or for worse, completely defined their popular existence. Its gorgeously, haunting melody and twangy acoustic-electric contrast is an effective representation of the kind of introspective beauty that Mazzy Star’s guitarist/songwriter David Roback has explored since the band’s start. Mazzy Star is back nearly 17 years later to explore these themes even further with their fourth studio album, Seasons of Your Day.

In the time that they’ve been gone, it seems Roback and lyricist/singer Hope Sandoval haven’t had any significant musical revelations to inspire change in their formula. Seasons of Your Day is the same somber view of love and the world that resonated with their fans back in the ’90s. These single-form, musical ideas remain on a pretty level sonic field and rest on the laurels of Hope Sandoval’s tender voice. If the formula weren’t so gorgeously heartbreaking then it would all be for naught. Her gentle tone and wispy vibrato live in Roback’s evocative arrangements.

The album opens with ‘In the Kingdom’ whose keyboard accompaniment and single-note guitar flourishes immediately bring to mind classic Beach House. The sliding guitar solos add a subtle country flair that is a recurring theme for this band. Sandoval’s voice sways back and forth through the song like she’s never fully connected to one idea or the next. That disconnect is part of Mazzy Star’s appeal. It’s a feeling of uneasiness that once defined a generation yet is so hard to come by these days.

There’s a lot to be said about Mazzy Star’s refusal to compromise in terms of sound and style. On one hand, it’s admiral to see a band who knows exactly who they are and will see that version of themselves through to the end. On the other hand, that very stubbornness can play against them in the long run. By the time to you get to ‘Common Burn’ you’ve experienced pretty much everything this album has to offer musically. And, with a few of the songs clocking in at six and seven minutes,  Seasons Of Your Day isn’t the easiest record to digest in one sitting. ‘Spoon,’ the second to last song, has a more urgent tone than the rest of the album. However, that welcomed and subtle contrast is almost lost because the consistency in musical theme becomes almost numbing after a while. That repetitiveness is such a disservice to an otherwise enticing album. Further, the intricate weaving of the guitar arpeggios with Sandoval’s voice on ‘Sparrow’ is another highlight on the album, but the fact that it’s tacked onto the back end makes it come off as almost boring by the time you finally listen to it.

Mazzy Star took a risk by coming back after all these years with this nostalgic collection that doesn’t even bother trying to fit into the today’s music scene. Each individual song on Seasons of Your Day stands alone as a truly beautiful piece of art that transcends time association. Even though the album as a whole doesn’t function quite as well, there’s still plenty of gold to be mined from it…7.7/10

In The Kingdom

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