Tag 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

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 noiserap.com), 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


Blackbird Blackbird: Tangerine Sky


Blackbird Blackbird: Tangerine SkyTangerine Sky, Blackbird Blackbird’s new album offers an alluring mix of R&B/hip hop influences, classic and electronic music, somehow ignoring the exploding trends of today while still showing off an original sound that fits right in. The first song on the entrancing collection is ‘Tangerine Sky’. Metaphorically I see it as that really popular guy in high school who wasn’t that good looking and never played football, but somehow was still the prom king. The beat is thought-provoking, but it can’t touch the honest words that are sung the lyrics, “I need you the most/I love you the most of all/Everything collapses, crumbling into nothing/but we still need to hold on to our memories” and are spread patiently throughout the title track ‘Tangerine Sky’.

‘Feel It In My Bones’ is my personal favorite song from the composition. It’s slow dreamy entrance brings you in and leads you to the smooth yet catchy chorus. The song lifts you up and then brings you back down again and again with seamless transition. This is thanks to Mikey Maramag, the man behind Blackbird Blackbird. He is a powerful wizard who controls all of the blackbirds…. Well, no he’s not, but it is the solo artist’s moniker. His style may be attributed to his pretty great and wide range of influences, from old favorites like Caribou to great raising talents such as James Blake.

The next track ‘Darlin’ Dear’ is definitely in homage to John Hughes movies. It would have fit right into Sixteen Candles. It’s soothing post-punk 80s melody will take you back. Following it is ‘There Is Nowhere’ which returns the R&B vibes forgotten in the previous track. The vocals are funky and high pitched as ever but the slow beat bursts with soul and emotion. The end is surprising and well timed. The sudden change brings another layer showing off Maramag’s talent.

‘Summers Almost Here’ begins with the noises of summer but smoothly flows into an upbeat rhythm until all of sudden somethings hits it and hundreds of noises collide into a rush of tones and melodies that blend unexpectedly together. A break comes, but it is short lived and those strange noises are thrown back at you expanding every second. The ending leaves more to be desired but the rest of the song stands up for itself. ‘Rare candy’ is another stand out track. The guitar brings a welcomed familiarity. Maramag shows off his lower vocal range and it adds a heavy but comforting touch to the breezy song.

‘Grow Old With Me (Don’t Let Go)’ is the final song on Tangerine Sky. It begins with a simple but happy beat before Maramag’s vocals enter the scene. His drawn out syllables are dreamy and soft. They change the feeling of the song but the beat does not get depressing. It works as the final song, ranging from quiet to electric but ending in the form of a drift away. Don’t forget to check out ‘Star Faces’ as well, it is a B-side for the album where Maramag turns it down a notch once again, but the track stays soothing and mysterious. It’s a great choice for listening to while studying to get you in the zone.

Tangerine Sky is the soundtrack to your dreams that won’t make you fall asleep. It has some pretty cool artwork too. Be sure to check it out…8.0/10

Star Faces

Picastro: You


Picastro: You — This is not an album for the faint of heart. It is a dark, heavy, broken dream. Picastro‘s You is an elegant haunting; the weighted feelings evoked from the music on this album are truly a testament to what modern experimental music can accomplish. The album cover truly signifies what the listener is in for. It is the descent, the beautiful fall from grace while still maintaining a sober awareness. You is heavy. Not heavy like in metal or hardcore. Not heavy as in volume and over fuzzed guitars and slow stomping bass lines. It is heavy in the way the woods become at night when only a cool breeze trickles in from the north. It is heavy in the way a heart lies down to sleep when nothing seems to be changing.

So, how does Picastro capture the sound of a haunted soul?

Arpeggios. Minor scale arpeggios, transcendent and cutting vocals, strange ambient sounds, and planned, accented drums. First, lets talk about those arpeggios and minor scales. I believe there are multiple times where diminished and augmented chords and scales are lilted in there as well. For those of who geek out over music theory, you will have a field day with this. For those who just love interesting and different sounding chords and melody lines, this is an album for you. With the cello often doubling the picked acoustic guitar lines, a strong musical melody is established. And with the chord structures they’re using, it stirs the blood in the veins. With using ‘alternative’ chords, it may sound like some notes clash with one another; but don’t be fooled. That only steadies the ambiance to a single candle struggling to stay lit on a dark autumn night in the wild-lands.

Second, there is the lovely, broken vocals of Liz Hysen. If you are looking for traditional glossy female vocals where every note is glittered and polished, look elsewhere my friend. Growing up in the world of choral music and studying classical vocal singing for years, I often would find myself being critical and cynical of singers hitting ‘wrong notes’. Are there times where the dancing melody and harmonies stumble a step, yes. But we must remember, this album, for all its ‘abnormal’ chords and notes, is experimental. And when you find yourself sinking into this abyss, you must remember that these notes are all purposeful. An album with this type of musicality is a testament to the musical theory knowledge of Picastro’s band members. The vocals are another layer adding to the glorious darkness of You.

Third, no haunting can be considered legitimate without strange, off-putting sounds. When I say off-putting, do not confuse that with bad. The clinked out high-notes on an old piano, plunked and stained strings on a violin, even accents of electric guitars all fill in the vast spaces of this album. There are several occasions where I am unsure of what instrument, if it even is one, is contributing to the tracks, and I enjoy that. It only adds to the mysterious vibe of the album.

Finally, there is the percussion. The drums on You play a dual role. First, there is the traditional keeping of the beat. The other instruments and vocals would be too languid on their own. So, often the drums fill a more traditional role. But there are other times where the percussion is used solely as accents. It goes off beat, a cymbal here, snare tap there. It becomes crackling branches, knocking shuttered windows. It is the backbone in keeping this album weighted and dark.

Now, you may have noticed I haven’t mentioned any specific tracks. That is because this album is an art piece and its elements need to be appreciated. The songs are just vessel, in my opinion. But there are standout tracks, don’t get me wrong. The opening track, ‘Mountain Relief’, eases into the vibe of the album. A cello and a bare strummed acoustic guitar pave the way for the vocals, “I turned a mountain into a relief / I shoot the harm out of everything.” The third track, ‘Endlessly’, is where a slight Southern-Gothic feel begins to take precedent. The fifth track, ‘That’s It’ is where the arpeggios, slinking vocals and accented drums woozily enter the scene.

This album is a journey through the night. It is strange, beautiful and heavier than any hard rock can claim to be. But remember, this is not an album for beginners. It is not clean and does not try to be. It is honest…8.5/10

That’s It

TOBACCO: Ultima II Massage

Tobacco: Ultima II Massage – Finally, an album that a regular Joe can dance, trip, meditate and induce latent schizophrenia to. If any of these activities sound contradictory, that’s because they are, and that’s because this is a protean, pepto bismol-colored prism of an album. It’s a living machine, a dance party where everyone’s reeling in slow motion – as Fry of Futurama once said, “It’s like a party in my mouth, and everyone’s throwing up.” I mean these things in the best way possible, as Ultima II Massage is fast becoming my favorite electronic album of 2014 to date.

Where to start? It’s incredible how alive the thing feels, and I don’t just mean ‘lively’. Ultima II Massage shows signs of life in the grosser, physiological sense of the word – this thing burps, regurgitates, belches; excretes, bleeds, sweats… hell, I could’ve sworn it extended an ear on a pseudopod out of my speaker and listened to itself, thus achieving self-consciousness. The songs nod off and catch themselves, lose their train of thought, and come roaring back. All of this you can read in the single and introductory track, ‘Streaker (feat. Notrabel)’, with its elastic synth tones, lurching pace and a corrugated, metal tube of a voice urging you on to ever taller heights of dance-floor depravity: “Ride… Ride… Ride, motherf***er ri-i-i-ide…” TOBACCO, aka Black Moth Super Rainbow’s Thomas Fec, said himself in a press release: “I spent a lot of time breaking it in all the right places. It ends up making the whole thing breathe – sometimes gasp for air. It feels more alive.” Well, he succeeded, and I can only hope the thing didn’t kill him when it broke out of the studio-lab.

The album’s got 16 tracks under the hood, with one zinger of a bonus track, nearly every one clocking in at under three minutes. There’s the meditative aspect of the thing – it’s sort of a stream-of-consciousness feel, as the album’s beating mind runs through melody after melody, all with a certain cohesiveness (amazing that I can say that, given the chaos at hand), yet each with its own distinctive flavor. The brief track lengths mean you never tire of this or that melody, but at the same time, how can you possibly? This is an electronic album that doesn’t sound like it has any loops – the volume and pitches are changing practically every other beat, so you’d swear a live band was behind the curtain, instead of one man with an arsenal of patches, timbres and drum machines.

Ultima II Massage has an uncanny number of hits: singles ‘Streaker’ and ‘Eruption’, the hot-pink lava of ‘Lipstick Destroyer’, the scintillating handclap and percussion of ‘Dipsmack’ (gotta love these aptly porn-y song titles), the epic refulgence of ‘Father Sister Berzerker’, and the distorted crunch of bonus track ‘Bronzed Hogan’. That’s six tracks, nearly a third of the album that can easily begin and end parties and DJ sets. Each one has a dynamite impact; dare I pick a favorite? Let’s say I’m part of the wedding party at the reception, and the DJ’s asking what song I wanna walk in with: flip on ‘Lipstick Destroyer’ at the bottom of this review. I need a track that says simultaneously, “I’m here”, “I’m nasty”, “I drained the open bar”, and “I needa move or hit something”, and the “‘Destroyer” fits the bill nicely.

Even the slower tracks seem bursting with energy. The entire album has an oddly down-tempo pace, actually, a smart move that keeps the listener from being overwhelmed, and makes room for even more glittering, paroxysmic textures. Tracks like ‘Good Complexion’ are not what you’d ever call filler – the synths fade in and out like a running beast intermittently visible between trees, and there’s a killer sliding melody like the lowing of buffalo dropped down a crevasse.

It’s been four years since TOBACCO’s solo debut Maniac Meat, with quite a few side projects and commissions between then and now. Listening to Ultima, I’d say the dude was hard at work every second of those four years, breaking the tracks’ bones so they’d grow erratically, resetting the limbs, rinsing and repeating. It’s an album with an astonishing hit/miss ratio (there are maybe one or two real throwaways, if that), and not something to miss if you wanna spice up your next house party…9.0/10

Lipstick Destroyer