Tag Archives: M83

White Sea: In Cold Blood

White Sea: In Cold Blood - Morgan Kibby is back. The M83 collaborator has hinted and teased with individual releases from a solo project called White Sea, but for years, it didn’t seem like anything bigger was coming.

It has. In Cold Blood, the premier full-length album from the synth-pop darling, isn’t quite the powerhouse hit-release that listeners were expecting, but it’s in that disconnect that Kibby shows off her strength. With bold theatrics and wild abandon, she tackles her own monsters and lays herself bare in a raw but still enjoyably engaging piece of personal art.

There’s a soul-stirring drama to the album that masks any technical imperfections, a thick, dusky veneer of guttural vocals and impassioned, driving basslines that blur the borderland between the deliberate and the incidental aspects of the album and give it a sense of raw, intentional magnitude. It’s not enough of a departure from M83’s work to call it something new; certainly Kibby’s vocals and keyboard helped build them up in their own right to be impassioned and sensory. It’s perhaps the sincerity that makes White Sea distinct, forgoing the electro-pop cannon in favor of more tangible, more relatable compositions.

What was eclipsed in collaborative work has been allowed to shine through on In Cold Blood. Musically, it’s a safer route with its heavy pop undertones and lightweight synth, but it’s a testament to the artist as an individual, whose own heartbreak and determination ring out between the occasionally too-heavy metallic chimes. ‘They Don’t Know’, the album’s opening track, is in many ways the most expected piece, rich and scintillating while still being perfectly radio-friendly. It’s the kind of track used to pacify critics and lull passive listeners, loaded with hooks and pushing out imposing melodies.

The rest of the album has a slightly different lilt. Equal parts ’80s-style synth and hi-fi choral blends, it bounces back and forth between the familiar and the experimental, drawing on some of M83’s more successful injections but never compromising its own identity. When it’s allowed, Kibby’s voice is a pure but sweeping instrument, and if nothing else, that sets In Cold Blood apart from anything she’s put herself into before. There are moments when it’s hiding, when songs have been over-produced, when what could be a powerhouse performance is otherwise obscured by layers of equally over-the-top instrumentation, but on tracks like ‘For My Love’ and ‘Small December’, when it’s brought out in full force, it’s nothing short of incredible.

What’s equally as astounding is that Kibby has been sitting on this album, tweaking and perfecting it for a full year before its release. It’s not an uncommon practice by any means, and certainly fans have been waiting for an M83 follow-up longer than they’ve know about White Sea, but as a debut album, it means attention and deliberation. White Sea has in no way come out saying that the release is perfect, but with those levels of post-production attention, it very much seems like this is in many ways the album the project was looking to put out.

For the time it takes, In Cold Blood is worth the listen. It’s not an all-occasions album, and it’s not a perfect listen, but it’s one built on heart, and in many ways, its diamond-in-the-rough qualities make those moments of true brilliance all the more exciting to discover. What it is, and really all it needs to be, is an incredible first LP from a project that’s sure to grow, experiment and mature and a writer whose talented enough to break out on her own…7.1/10



God Is An Astronaut: Origins

God Is An Astronaut: OriginsGod Is An Astronaut is a name that defines the sound of band rather than vice verse. From their inception they were meant to make grandiose sci-fi rock, that rarely concerns itself with sounding humanistic. While God Is An Astronaut’s past efforts indulged heavily in post-rock atmospherics their latest effort, Origins, takes cues from Loveless far more than Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven. The record puts mileage on layers of heavy fuzz and buried ethereal vocals.

The album kicks off with the aptly titled ‘Last March’. The machine gun snare rolls that maneuver through the dense forest of distortion, sound like any army approaching the intergalactic war that is about to ensue. If Before The Dawn Heals Us is your favorite M83 record you will probably be into this. The second track ‘Calistoga’, begins with a heavy guitar lick, reminiscent of early Smashing Pumpkins. If the song continued in the vein of its opening riff it would have drowned in radio-rock cheesiness. Luckily, God is An Astronaut saves itself by dropping off into a spacey soundscape that features unintelligible modulated vocals that sounds one part alien, one part Daft Punk.

Though the record flows well and the production is relatively smooth, Origin’s isn’t the easiest record to have on repeat. Unlike My Bloody Valentine, who made a wall of sound feel like a pop song, on Origins a wall of sound feels like a wall of sound, and it gets tiring running into it for close to an hour straight. Thats why God Is An Astronaut is at their best when they pace themselves. ‘Autumn Song’ is the records most gorgeous moment due to its subtle transformation from suspenseful to anthemic. It is also the most purposefully composed track on the album as well. The piano and acoustic guitar strums perfectly builds drama, while the surrounding noise intrigues you rather than bombards you. As the track comes to a close, instead of throwing you back into a wall of sound, the song gives way to an uplifting blend of ascending vocals and trumpets. If there is one thing that the band should take from this song is that patience is a virtue worth holding on to for future releases.

Though the record seems to draw from an array of genre’s, (shoegaze, post-rock, electronica), Origins often feels redundant. This is attributed to the fact that the records detail gets shrouded by the constant wall of sound. If God Is An Astronaut spent more exploring the different dynamics of their influences they would have come out with a more interesting listen. It certainly is not easy to make a sound that lives up to a name like God Is An Astronaut, and there are times on Origins when the band is successful at it (‘Autumn Song’, ‘Reverse World’). At the end of it all, though, you still can’t help but feel that if God’s profession is an astronaut, he or she would be a little more adventurous than this….7.0/10  


M83: Oblivion OST

M83: Oblivion OST — It’s been a while since I picked up an OST, and I was excited to pick up this one since I saw M83’s name on it. The first thing I thought when I heard this soundtrack was, “Oh, this is just like what happened with Daft Punk in Tron Legacy” By that I mean, it didn’t sound like Daft Punk, although you could hear them in the mix every now and then– in many ways this felt like an extension of the that original soundtrack. Of course, I wasn’t surprised when I realized that the same composer, Joseph Trapanese, arranged the music for this film alongside Anthony Gonzales of M83. It was an enlightening listening experience for me because I got the chance to notice some of Trapanese’s tendencies, like how he’ll boost the dynamics on a riff to make the development more intense and climactic, or those outstanding unison hits he likes to write in the percussion. Again, this album feels more connected to his work than that of Anthony Gonzales’ however, having once binged on albums like Saturdays=Youth and Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, M83’s electronically-charged sound really made sense of this collaboration.

My only qualm with this album is the amount of filler music, ambient tracks that add volume to the empty space of a scene where perhaps people are talking or a character is quietly performing some task. I felt like I had to wade through a lot of that near the beginning to get to the really juicy stuff– the fight scenes!

Although I haven’t seen Oblivion in theaters yet, I can already tell that there are going to be some crazy battles, dramatic moments, and lots of intense action. The wild and boisterous drums on ‘Radiation Zone’ were probably the highlight of this whole soundtrack to me– it sounds like heavy metal popcorn. At one point I was happy to hear that iconic ascending progression in ‘Canyon Battle’ (you’ll recognize it as the first four notes in a major pentachord) which always makes music more triumphant and gets me every time. That was actually one of the coolest tracks because of all the changes of tempo, meter, and scene.

There’s some really cool themes used throughout this soundtrack, but nothing so recognizable as a John Williams motif– mostly certain dissonant chords and specific rhythms. There is one theme that is only recurs twice throughout the soundtrack, a pretty little thing with dark undertones– you’ll hear it in the first track, ‘Jack’s Dream’, as well as in the penultimate track.

As far as original soundtracks go, this is a fun one. It’s reminiscent of composers like Clint Mansell, John Powell and Hans Zimmer who are not afraid to plunge into the realm of electronica. A fine collaborator, Trapanese is a composer who is definitely going to be making more appearances in Hollywood films. I’m looking forward to seeing him grow…9.5/10

Oblivion (feat. Susanne Sundfør)

Lollapalooza 2012 Recap

With more than 100 bands on eight stages (well, seven if you discount the Kidz stage, which often features songs about barnyard animals), Lollapalooza is expected to be exhausting and overwhelming. The point is to see as many bands as possible, because you paid for a ticket and dammit you’re going to make that 3-day wristband worth it.

At least, that was my Year 1 strategy. Year 2 was a little more laid back; I even took a night off, missing a few bands I would have liked to see in the name of sleep and sunburn recovery.

Then I got involved with Lolla as a volunteer, and this year I worked all three days, 12 hours a day, as a Team Lead for the Greeters & Box Office volunteers. A hundred volunteers a day stood outside Lolla to greet festivalgoers, and hundreds more volunteers worked inside the festival at water stations, recycling centers, lost & found, information booths, and disability access platforms.

Since I was working all day, I didn’t sit down and watch many bands, but I did do some drive-bys and I also got up close to a few of my must-sees — but of course, Mother Nature had alternate plans for my dream chance encounter with Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes…

Lolla started off great, with happy crowds and positive reviews of the Friday bands, including Metric, Passion Pit, the Head and the Heart, NERO, and M83. My first band of the fest was Tame Impala, whose dreamy psych rock put a haze over the likely half-heatstroked crowd on the hill east of the Sony stage at 3:15 in the afternoon.

“You guys are fuckin’ soldiers,” Tame Impala frontman Kevin Parker said to the assembled.

That night, the Black Keys put on a performance so perfect, it could have simply been the album originals playing over the speakers, but for the occasional riffs and playful explorations by guitarist Dan Auerbach. Auerbach, for his part, is indelably entertaining to watch as he jumps around the stage and waggles his head at drummer Pat Carney.

On the other side of the park, Ozzy Osbourne struggled to keep up with the rest of Black Sabbath, especially the energetic and well-intentioned young drummer filling in for Bill Ward. I warn you, it’s a sad sight to see. Ozzy sways like an old man and his chops just aren’t quite there. It’s good to see he’s alive and kicking, though!

Festivalgoers looked perky as they arrived on Day 2, though there was a noticeable lag of patrons to see the first two hours’ worth of music. By the time Delta Spirit took the Bud Light stage — a headliner stage! — at 2:15, the crowd was swelling and amping up for a beautiful Saturday of music. Delta Spirit’s sadly honest but happy-beat “California” made my day in the way that seeing a song you love live for the first time can make you feel.

So I was in a considerably happy mood when I got the news that Grant Park would be evacuating for an oncoming severe storm. The music would go on later that evening, we were told, but some acts may be canceled while we wait out the storm. My volunteers outside the park turned into an exit team, and we answered questions while ushering people off the grounds and toward parking garages just north of Grant Park. People didn’t seem to believe that bad weather was coming — “Are you serious?” they asked, glancing up at barely-clouded skies — but the decision had been made, and 60,000 people filed out of the park in one of the strangest and most memorable events in recent music festival history.

And then, the rains came. It came down sideways, and the skies went black. Anyone who had been hanging around out front of Lolla, in Columbus Circle, scrambled for cover. The bars got very crowded. A Starbucks kicked everyone out. I sought shelter in a beauty salon, and then an acquaintance’s apartment. We played a round of Scattergories and grew sad as we realized that some of the bands would be canceled, though Lolla would be extended past curfew to 10:45 p.m. (Thanks, Rahm!)

The evacuation did displace a few of this year’s Saturday line-up, including the Dunwells, Paper Diamond, B.o.B., Neon Indian, The Temper Trap, and — sob! — Alabama Shakes. But the shows of fun., the Tallest Man on Earth, and tUnE-yArDs brought the festival back to life at 6:30 p.m., and it quickly became clear a number of festivalgoers spent the break either napping or drinking, as the rain hadn’t drowned any of the crowd’s enthusiasm. This was especially true of the crowd at tUnE-yArDs, which was tickled that Merill Garbus’s set had been spared.

Calvin Harris and Frank Ocean performed to screams, Avicii turned the Bud Light stage into a Swedish rave, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers proved they can still inject energy and passion into their live show. Seriously, how does Flea move his fingers that fast?

Sunday saw an even drowsier start but lots of one-day wristbands, there to see Florence + the Machine — the most-packed show of the daytime on all three days — as well as Justice, Kaskade, and Jack White.

Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine was as charmingly, weirdly British as we could have hoped. She demanded that people kiss each other and raise each other onto their shoulders, her red dress billowing in the wind as she worked the stage like a drama teacher instructing students on how to strike a pose. Unfortunately, Lolla hasn’t posted any videos of Flo on their official Lollapalooza YouTube channel, so you’ll have to recreate the show with this signature image:

I capped off Lolla with my most anticipated act: Jack White, who I’d never seen live. He was fucking brilliant. I don’t understand how his voice is so controlled, but even the scary, almost frantic harmonies in “Take Me With You When You Go” are entrancing.

I love the official Lolla videos because they’re beautifully shot, given all the angles — the best one is taken on the Red Bull Stage (Jack White, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the Black Keys), looking north to the Chicago skyline with the band in the foreground in silhouette. Jack White happened to play my favorite song off his 2012 debut solo album Blunderbuss just as the sun was setting over the Chicago skyline. My mom was there with me, and we hopped around in the mud pit created by the rainstorm, enjoying the best festival in the world.

And did you hear? In addition to locations in Chili and Brazil, 2013 will see a Lollapalooza in Israel. Lolla shall conquer the earth!

Profile: Crozet

New Jersey is known for a few things… mostly that it’s New York’s not-as-cool neighbor. But more recently, New Jersey synth pop artists have been emerging from their home studios and slowly changing the perception that it’s only filled with ridiculous guidos and Cake Bosses. One of these more notable artists is Crozet with their exceptional programming, slick keyboards/synths and an uncanny talent for writing some pretty memorable and singable melodies. After listening to We’ll Be Gone By Then for the first time and admiring the brilliant way it builds like no other record I’ve ever heard, I was left speechless. If they’re not on multiple publications’ best of the year lists, they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Recently, I caught up with John Helmuth and Sean Lee of Crozet while they were remixing their version of the Coca Cola jingle

Violent Success: What are your musical backgrounds and how did you guys start playing together?

John: When Sean and I met we were joined together in a band through a mutual friend. The band was called Cityscapes. This was around 7 or 8 years ago. The band sounded a lot like Circa Survive with a hard rock sound mixed with Pink Floyd spacey interludes and transitions. We both were coming from other bands with metal/hardcore/punk influences. At that time, shows in South Jersey Philly were so fun to play. Hundreds of kids would come out to every show. It didn’t really matter what type of music we played. As long as there were bands playing kids would show up.

VS: Have you been accumulating songs over the years or is We’ll Be Gone By Then all new material?

John: We’ll Be Gone By Then / Alterations EP were a collection of songs that I started while I was away at school. I wasn’t able to practice with my band Bacio as much since I was so busy with school, so I ended up getting Reason on my computer, a crappy little Korg midi controller and a few old 80s keyboards and started writing whatever came to mind. It got to the point where I had a decent amount of material and no purpose for it, so I asked Sean to be apart of the project I had started. The songs weren’t even close to being finished, but I knew that by having Sean in on the project that these songs could become more than just a late night project. The great thing about this project was that it was totally stress-free. We had no deadlines, no shows, no real direction, just the two of us writing whatever we felt like writing.

VS: So how do you transpose the songs from the record into a live performance? How much equipment do you bring along with you?

John: Transposing the album into a live performance is pretty simple. At first we wanted to have a live band play with us, but to keep it simple we ended up just getting rid of a lot of guitar tracks, keyboard tracks and vocal tracks in the masters and decided to just play those deleted tracks live. Eventually I will definitely have visuals and possibly some kind of live band, but for now its a lot of fun just having the two of us on stage. Our live gear is also super simple. We both bring our laptops; Sean plays guitar live with his effects pedals and Musicman 2×12 and I use the Novation Impulse 25 midi controller which is great because it has 8 drum pads and keys with Aftertouch. I also bring along by Yamaha DX-21 for a few songs which is a lot of fun to play around with on stage. We plug both of our computers into a small mixer and DI the mixer out to the house mixer so we have total control over all of our levels while we play. I also run the vocals through our mixer and use my effect pedals for my guitar to control the effects on the vocals.

VS: What are your main influences? Are there artists that you both share a love of?

John: Our influences are constantly changing, but back when we were writing the two albums we were heavily influenced by both old and new M83, Yo La Tengo, Vangelis, Com Truise, and Washed Out to name a few. I was attending a lot of movie nights at school so I was paying a lot of attention to the scores from these films. Most of these movies were from the 80s and 90s. John Hughes films were and always will be a huge inspiration for me. When it comes to the artists that influence Sean and I we both have different sources. The artists I stated earlier are definitely influences for the both of us, but the nice thing about the two of us is that we pull inspiration from all different types of things. I don’t think I would want to write with someone who listens to the same exact stuff that I do. I need a different perspective when I bring something to the table. Just recently I’ve been listening to a lot of late night R&B on the radio haha. I have a full page word document of different songs that I heard on the radio that had one or two little parts that I felt I could I could base a whole song off of.

Sean: At the time we were doing the albums I think Tears for FearsSongs From The Big Chair was on repeat along with some older Depeche Mode stuff. I can remember an instance where I was watching Point Break (killer movie) and there is this scene at the end when special agent Utah is getting ready to take Bodhi under arrest. It switches to this huge wave shot and there’s a super ambient moving synth thing going on. I seriously sat around for days trying to replicate that synth and we wound up writing an interlude for our set with it. John has said it before, but it seems we always find inspiration at the weirdest times in the oddest places.

VS: Was there a song, album or artist that really pushed you to synth music?

John: I can’t say there was one song, album or artist that pushed us to do this project. I can say that the whole chillwave/synthpop movement that has been getting big (and a little overpopulated) over the past few years has really pushed us to try to do something. Between all of the different “bedroom” artists that have been getting huge releasing stuff online like Teen Daze, Wild Nothing, Blackbird Blackbird and Neon Indian, I felt like I should just try to put in my 2 cents and see what happens. So far the response to our music has been amazing.

Sean: I can say for me it was a couple years back when I started getting into Telefon Tel Aviv. It seriously made me want to do electronic music. That’s when I started messing around with Reason and Digital Performer. From there music for me went in a whole different direction because before that I was pretty much just into Indie Rock/Hardcore, all rock-based music.

VS: Talk a little bit about your creative process…

John: The creative process is always fun. I tend to just pull out the DX-21, or my Arturia and just jam until I hear something that I could base a full song off of. On the past two albums I would send Sean something via email that I wrote and he would add his parts to it and send it back. This would go on for weeks. Now we are getting together a lot more and just jamming like we used to do when we would write with our previous bands. We pull ideas off of each other when we jam together so much easier than when we send each other stuff through email. We have a nice batch of gear right now and by setting it all up and just jamming together, the creative process is so much easier than it used to be.

VS: Is there a specific part of the album that makes you particularly proud?

John: When I listen back to We’ll Be Gone By Then, I try to listen to it all the way through. I feel really proud of how the album flows. From the second the album starts to the second it ends I feel that the order of the tracks tells a story. If someone could put video to the album from start to finish I feel that its pretty easy to visualize in your head how the story of the film would go.

Sean: Yeah for me there isn’t a particular part of the album that really stands out, but the overall production I feel is something that we have always tried to accomplish in all of the projects that we have done together. We knew exactly how we wanted the album to sound and we made it sound that way.

VS: What websites/blogs do you regularly visit for inspiration and information?

John: Some blogs that I visit on a daily basis are Violent Success :), along with the usuals like Pitchfork, ISO50, and Ad Hoc (Formerly Altered Zones). Designspiration is a site kind of similar to how Pinterest works where you can take any image on the internet and link it to your account which will be posted on your profile page. The whole site is filled with awesome things to pull visual inspiration from. This is my profile: Designspiration.net/jhelmuth. Svpply is also a site I’m on a little too much. Svpply is a site that is filled with anything you would want to buy. I mean anything. All you do is create an account, search for something you want to buy and scroll through the search results and click “want” on the items you want to add to your wish list. This is my profile: Svpply.com/jhelmuth

VS: Why thank you, we try. But thanks for talking with us today. Any closing comments, recipes or restaurants you’d like to recommend to our readers?

Crozet: Thank you so much for giving us this opportunity! If you want some restaurant  recommendations find the closest Weber’s Drive-In or Nathan’s Famous and enjoy the best summer food. I can’t eat enough of this stuff right now…