Category Archives: Experimental

Owen Pallet: In Conflict

Owen Pallet: In Conflict- Owen Pallett’s new album In Conflict is true to its title. This is the second release for Pallett under his birth name after Square Enix rights holders objected to his previous project title, Final Fantasy. Whereas 2010’s Heartland composed a fantastic battle between the fictional character Lewis and the God of his universe, named Owen Pallett, In Conflict relays a different kind of struggle. In his most personal venture to date, Pallett deals with themes of mental illness, addiction, sexuality, and other aspects intrinsic to the human condition. The album is extremely relatable due to its subject matter but what is even more successful is the choice Pallett makes as the creator of In Conflict’s universe which, unlike Heartland, is set in the everyday, real world. Like most good writers, Pallett understands that people are made of contradictions and he makes the smart move in creating voices who do in fact contradict themselves in the album. Likewise, by delving into his inner psyche, he was able to form a cast of characters struggling with universally troubling factors of life as well as holding true to his statement that In Conflict seeks to assume a positive outlook on inner battles and take them as they are. By splitting his psyche into a league of voices, Pallett spreads his experiences across a board of nameless characters and demonstrates the achievement of this desire.

The theme of the album may be conflict but the sound seems to build upon Pallett’s prior work instead of clashing with it. His voice is still both powerful and fragile and classical arrangements are as prominent as ever. The arrangements here are far simpler but one can assume it is meant to highlight the capacity held within the lyrics. Pallett’s violin is still the pulse behind the music but he doesn’t let it overpower the layered arrangements that produce songs with seven arms of sound direction. In Conflict conflates Pallett’s orchestral talents, electronic quirkiness, and rock sensibilities in one album but it seems he was less concerned with producing a different sound than with producing songs with colliding melodies that don’t seem to belong, but always end up working.

The album’s opener ‘I Am Not Afraid’ displays this duality in both lyrics and sound. Pallett introduces his most invoking vocals when he sings the seeming confession “Ill never have any children” and while one may assume Pallett is uninterested in parenthood, he subverts the thought with the following “I’d bear them and confuse them,” repeating a mournful “my children” at the end. The track begins as a string led piece with a violin rocking h on one note while Pallett sings but then electronic warbles wobble in before the track becomes grounded in piano. The repetitive, monomaniacal quality of the sawing violin here can also be heard in ‘On a Path’, where the insistence of the string melody lends a playful yet nefarious air to the song, inspired by Pallett’s 15 years spent in Toronto and the dysphoria that consumed him after he saw the music scene he loved dissolve there. This crazed consistency is also heard in the repeated E-flat and B-flat chords making up ‘The Riverbed’ where a fuzzed out guitar alongside Pallett’s pained tone and violin make way for it’s orchestral ending.

Pallett collaborated with Brian Eno on the album, knowing Eno’s passion for backing vocals and having his baritone further deepen the diverging sounds of ‘On a Path’ and ‘The Riverbed’ but it’s possible Eno’s passion for synthesizers played a role in the production of tracks like ‘Song for Five & Six’ where arpeggiated synths shake and skip alongside plucks of Pallett’s violin. Likewise, the title track begins with bubbles of synth before a reverberating sound and orchestral passages curl up towards a distraught Pallett singing, “You let yourself believe that there is nothing to lose.” The same blatant anxiety pierces his demand that “we all need to lose control” in the robotic ballad ‘The Sky Behind the Flag’ and the pain in his plea wafts and circles the mechanical beats pulsating around it. The album’s climax ‘Infernal Fantasy’ keeps up the techno while Pallett’s relaxed down-tempo falsetto set against the up-tempo beat continues the duality of album’s sound and theme.

Pallett confronts the LGBTQ consoling operation “The It Gets Better Project” in ‘The Secret Seven’ where he invites tortured youths tempted by suicide to call his number for strength because, he says, “It don’t get better.” Pallett plucks at his violin before aggressively sawing away and floating the melody heavenwards for hopefulness. In ‘The Passions,’ Pallett sings so closely about an awkward sexual encounter, it feels like we’re in the room. The pain in the song is increased with every “compassion” Pallett moans out and when he sings about how the boy who hooked his pinkies on his jeans put on the Smith’s album The Queen is Dead, groaning “I just want to talk instead,” the song’s sadness burns in slowly before every bit of desperation for touch drips out of his voice.

In Conflict is both a stunning example of the baroque-pop quality Pallett possesses and of an artist incredibly adept at creating lyrical complexity. Pallett has been able to construct whole worlds in his past albums but In Conflict seems his most impressive feat to date because this time, he was able to construct the real chaotic, wonderfully terrible world, an achievement worth high praise.


The Passions

Cold Cave: Full Cold Moon

Cold Cave: Full Cold Moon - As Cold Cave, Wesley Eisold’s sophomore effort, Cherish the Light Years, was a surprising direction for the coldwave standout–the synth-driven noise experimentations seemed to be completely left behind in favor of a straight 80′s synthpop/dance aesthetic. The debut Love Comes Close certainly had that strain of pop within it, but mingled between tracks full of love-hate tensions, muttered violences like “I will pity you til you’re pretty / What’s a love without some struggle / You’re a slut / I’ll stitch your knuckles up.” Not that Cherish the Light Years is unlikeable–it’s got an insane pop to it, a Franz Ferdinand kind of freneticism, but it seemed to spurn all my favorite characteristics of Cold Cave. Well, Eisold apparently agreed, calling it the “Cold Cave I can’t even stand to hear.” After being dropped by his then-label Matador, he went on to release a string of singles throughout 2013, tracks that solidified his stake on trademark territories, but also saw him adding new districts to his sound.

That Full Cold Moon is a collection of singles rarely detracts from its efficacy. In fact, I came to like the demo roughness, and the uneven production values just add to the album’s status as a reflection of  Eisold’s vagrant year, like we’re looking at a snapshot of his growth. The slight haphazardness also heightens the impact of his more experimental, ambient pieces, which really comprise some of the record’s best tracks.

“Tristan Corbiere,” for example, shocks even more than Cherish the Light Years did, and for entirely different (and undeniably more intriguing) reasons. It’s a three-minute instrumental piece full of slight, wet, tapping beats, overlaid with a flute-like melody and touches of keyboard, altogether like being in the foggy upper-strata of a rainforest. While the sophomore album can incite parties and dance floors on its own, it also leaves you thinking about Cold Cave’s limitations, with the unshakeable feeling that the more digestible direction might signal a dearth of ideas. ‘Tristan Corbiere’ instead explodes your conception of what Cold Cave might be capable of.

Similarly, ‘Meaningful Life’ is a slow, organ-driven piece unlike much of what Eisold’s attempted before. Tenderly and solemnly, he muses on what precisely makes for a meaningful life while interjecting with tangential thoughts about a lover’s memory, the simple image of a tree in her yard. It reminds me a lot of my favorite Brian Eno track, “Golden Hours,” in the lovely agony of sluggish time and the richness of expression. If there’s one time I disliked Full Cold Moon‘s haphazard selection, it’s the placement of skittish dancer ‘God Made the World’ right after ‘Meaningful Life’–excuse me, but you’re dancing all over my brooding space.

Even the throwbacks to straight 80′s pop feel more lively than the somewhat forced drama of Cherish, as in the 90-second taste we get in ‘Young Prisoner Dreams of Romance’, that encapsulates everything great about groups like New Order, from the pounding drum machine, to the intoxicatingly fuzzy synth, to anthemic lyrics like “I could change / Break the Chains / and I will / at night I will think of you still.” ‘Nausea, the Earth and Me’ is a more ambitious take on Cold Cave’s poppier moments, as a six-and-a-half minute epic through seas of choppy percussion and staccato synths that harrow the listener a bit more than it inspires dance moves.

If there is a lull in the album’s energy, it’d be the tracks that feel closer to Cold Cave’s oeuvre, like opener ‘A Little Death to Laugh’, ‘People are Poison’, and ‘Oceans with No End’, but only because they lack the strangeness of the standouts–they’re still incredibly strong, synthy headbangers in their own right, and it bodes very well for the record if these muscular cuts are the weak underbelly. Full Cold Moon might lack the cohesive punch of an album recorded as an album, but it’s still packed with hits, though not in a cheesy best-of kind of way. It covers a very good breadth of textures and moods, and repositions Cold Cave as an act without clear-cut limits… 8.0/10

‘Meaningful Life’

Some Minor Noise: Anachronisms

Some Minor Noise: Anachronisms – An anachronism is “an act of attributing a custom, event, or object to a period to which it does not belong.” Usually this means that something is old fashioned or out of date. In the case of the new album from Some Minor Noise, I believe it can only mean that this is a glimpse into the future. Anachronsims is an angry, emotionally baring look into the mind of its creator and it features sounds and styles that feel new and yet completely ready to be enjoyed.

The opening track, ‘Falling Off’, is disturbing. It feels like your inner voice telling you things you don’t want to hear, like anti-motivational speaking, “when you can’t hold back because all you see is past”. In the second half of the song the tempo really picks up and you might find yourself actually moving to the disturbing thoughts you don’t want. ” “You’re out of your mind” “It’s all in your head”, but that is somewhat the crux of the entire album. There is not one song on the album that won’t leave you at least bobbing your head, but there also isn’t a song on the album that taps into the darker side of psyche.

‘Deadhead’ is an onslaught. The music is as overwhelming as the engrossing as the “passive aggressive affection” caused by the “passion, aggression, attention” manifested by “making you angry then making you want me”. The emotions are high, the tempo is fast, and there’s barely time for the reflection featured in the previous track. The harsh sentiment of “two hearts beat until one breaks” is just awesome and the music is simply spellbinding.

The dance music emphasis goes up a notch for the tracks ‘Organ Pains’ and ‘Tape Experiments’. Both of the tracks are overall much lighter song that the two that preceded them. There is a distinct emphasis on the dance tempo. ‘Tape Experiments’ examines the feeling of being in the middle of a party that’s not quite working out, “the night is young, but it’s getting old…everybody wants to go, nobody wants to go home”

My favorite track on the album is definitely ‘Hitching’. It’s awesome right from the beginning with the sped up sample. It follows ‘Tape Experiments’ perfectly where “everybody wants to go”, how are they going to get there? ‘Hitching’. The constant play with speed seems to have some correlation with the title. “Lost a friend in the translation”.

‘Melting’ is uptempo and another very dance-y song that examines the details of being the other woman. In it the song history and the chorus repeats itself with the only the subject changing. In the beginning she’s in the room while he’s telling “her” that “he’ll be home soon” and that he’s “having a good time”. In the second verse the singer is hearing the same lines. She’s upset and doesn’t want to face the truth, “I didn’t want to face facts, I should’ve seen it coming” He turns it back on her, but her final response is, “If we’re cut from the same cloth, then I’d rather go naked.” ‘Carbon Monoxide’ continues a theme of regret. It slows it down considerably and is all about a “head on collision” that apparently could’ve been avoided. “Going strong among misconceptions” the problems repeat, “same shit, new day”. In the end, “you can’t get away without getting burnt, you’d think you’d learn”.

‘Instead of Showing Up’ features a beat unlike almost anything I’ve ever heard. It’s explosive, jarring, and great. Much like ‘Hitching’, samples and the speed of the samples is used in really interesting ways. The whole song sounds completely creative and fantastic and features an alternative to the actions and pain created in the two songs that preceded it, “giving up on the ground”. It’s not quite, hang in there baby, but it is a solution and anything that sounds this good is worth some consideration.

‘It Never Ends’ continues the audio onslaught theme. The keyboard volume is turned all the way up and fills your ears with increasing passion until the beat drops with an explosion of bass. You’re completely engrossed and if you love it as much as I do, you’re in luck because, “it never ends”.

The final track is something of a mystery for me. It’s a fast laundry list of disturbing stream of conscious issues, “suicidal tendencies”, “mistake apathy for empathy”, “plastic hospital wristband”, “miss, take these pills to help you sleep”, and to “weak to sleep and to asleep to feel” and at the end we hear the line “this is Madison at its best, I’m not quite alive, but I’m not dead yet” repeated. As someone who lived in Madison for a couple years I was left perplexed. I’m sure there’s some explanation, but I’m not sure what it is. Did this Toronto band have a spell in Madison? Who knows, all I know is that, when you’re done listening to this album, you feel like you’ve heard something new, passionate, and great…9.5/10

Moodie Black: Nausea


Moodie Black: Nausea- Nestling snugly in the annals of contemporary rap history between Anticon’s reinvention of hip-hop and Kanye’s postscript to the genre lies the formation of Arizona’s noise rap duo Moodie Black, whose minimalist-yet-massive industrial beats earned them a small cult following several months before Yeezus dragged their downtempo breed of racket to the mainstream. With their debut self-titled EP, Moodie provided a glimpse of their heavy-hitting post-rap which, though drenched in scuzz, proved club-friendly with its thumping beats and memorable choruses. Yet in what may have been an act of defiance to ‘Black Skinhead,’ the group’s newly released full-length Nausea takes another big step away from the mainstream by relying heavily on instrumental post-rock soundscapes for an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia, a feeling as alien to rap as your grandparents.

From track one it’s apparent that the duo has shifted to a slower, tamer, and more stripped down sound, and the unsettling sense of impending rapocalypse has lost its sheen for them. Similarly, the sobering subsequent ‘S K I E S’ overwhelms the listener with images of McCarthian bleak skies and circling vultures, almost as if the honeymoon phase of the apocalypse is over and slaying zombies (or hipsters) is no longer sufficient compensation for the fact that rap’s end is imminently nigh. Although significantly mellower and lyrically more abstract, Nausea’s flagrant evocations of 28 Days Later’s hysteria (and soundtrack) makes it the perfect companion piece to fellow Fake Fourer and former Anticonian Sole and his Skyrider Band’s cataclysmically prophetic debut.

With only a pair of relatively short and spastic exceptions, Nausea’s tracks sprawl like any good post-rock album, making its seeming lengthiness entirely necessary (see: Swans). Though ten minutes shy of the one hour mark, the album still may not suit the impatient listener due to its somewhat-monotonous content, often crawling pace, and sparse cathartic payoffs, such as the aforementioned spastics (‘Mollyap’ and ‘White Buffalo’) and a few goosebump-inducing reverbial crescendos (as perfected on ‘Death in L.A. Pt. 2’). But for Michael Gira enthusiasts Nausea should feel like an exotic appetizer for which the spaghetti western guitar twangs of ‘Wolves’ appear particularly inviting.

With its post-rock ethos of finitude and barely audible yet undeniably (and verbosely) anti-establishmentarian lyrics, Nausea is commendable not only in trailblazing the young noise rap genre (yes, Moodie Black owns the rights to, but it also excels in countermanding rap’s mostly-established position within the world of music. Much like the raps of their labelmates and similar pioneering art rappers, Moodie proves hyperconscious in each of their tracks, as opposed to the mindless choruses often adorning such radio-friendly artists as Kanye and this year’s newest Lil’ and/or Young. From the vaguely-blasphemous ‘Christ’ (in which the lyrics “oh my god” may or may not seep into “I’m a god”) to the concluding surreality of ‘B’ (which boasts a violent chorus of “light me on fire in my fucking sleep!”), Nausea is exactly what its title suggests – a record documenting an existential sickness with ourselves. “Listen with caution,” warns Fake Four…9.4/10


Little Dragon: Nabuma Rubberband


Little Dragon: Nabuma Rubberband- It takes a few listens to appreciate the complexity of Nabuma Rubberband, Little Dragon’s fourth studio release. At first, you may miss the quick-stepped allure of radio hits like ‘Ritual Union’ or ‘Twice’ but this R&B infused brand of Little Dragon results in their most cohesive album yet and after a few more listens, it clearly becomes the most innovatively produced as well. After you’ve succumbed to singer Yukumi Nagano’s siren-esque whisper and dense zen vibe, close your eyes and you can hear all the layers of sound in Nabuma Rubberband, yet the most impressive thing about the album remains how Little Dragon utilized technology to enhance the soul, R&B element of their album, the humanity of it. While Nagano sings about dysfunctional relationships, she maintains her slightly distant rapport. These may not be a confessional display of her, or any of the other members, but she achieves a pained tone in her suddenly deeper sounding voice and which speaks to the human condition in a beautifully different album.

The first song ‘Mirror’ begins and it’s slow, pounding percussion leads us into the exploratory “journey” Little Dragon designed for this album. Nagano’s voice ragefully quivers out, barely whispering “You’re gonna make me put my fist through this mirror.” The song shakes like an angry lover’s lip, capturing the silent rage in the lyrics, which are only further intensified by their quiet delivery. ‘Klapp Klapp’ picks up speed with glittering keyboard and an up-tempo beat that’s dubbed out and danced-up. It’s funkier than the previous song but the repetitive clapping disappoints until the chorus ends and more gritty synths cloud Nagano’s neon-lit vocals. ‘Pretty Girls’ is some parts electro-jazz, some parts 80’s Janet Jackson, whom Yukumi referenced as an influence for the album. Hollow drums and syrupy synths coat this song in sultriness while Nagano’s highlighted vocals make it throb.

Little Dragon brings in the upbeat movement of ‘Underbart’ right when you’re ready to sweat and succeed in their experimentation with club music more than the similarly quick ‘Klapp Klapp’. The anxious percussion backing the pained song equips this dancier track with Little Dragon’s signature down-tempo attitude. Proving they possess both the temperament for meticulous mechanical production as well as soul suitable for the emotional power inherent in R&B, Nagano harmonizes with the fluctuations of her own pitches on ‘Cat Rider’ as an “Mmm Mmm Mmm” appropriately whispers sass into this sultry slow jam. The forgettable ‘Paris’ slips by after the ‘Cat Rider’ induced coma with a simplistic set-up that can hardly tease a whiff of attention with French flirtations cooing in the conclusion.

The title track saunters in with a kitty-kat bounce in its jazzy snaps. Nagano’s high-pitched meows and streams of string accents stretch across the fittingly named track until the eerie ambience of ‘Only One’ shivers in. Faint steel drum sound lend an exotic, alien-esque tone as bubbling synths and funky beats climax into euro-house, making this track feel like a rave anthem on an underwater party planet. The synthesized harshness booming against Nagano’s detached chants in ‘Killing Me’ gradually leads us into the slower end of the album with a bass dragging static sound across the fleeing lyrics.

‘Pink Cloud’ billows into a Japanese string sprinkled slow-jam in a pop friendly flow before the album ends with ‘Let Go,’ the symphonic onion of noise layered with twinkling techno and R&B beats and as the journey of Nabuma Rubberband comes to an end, you find yourself sifting through shards of it, wondering how Little Dragon pieced it all together, and stumbling back to unravel the intricacies. The best part of this album is however, that it’s so clearly produced, you don’t have to be a theory pro -or ableton wizard to do so… 8/10