Saturday, May 18, 2013

Coliseum - Sister Faith

It has been a bit dour round here of late so let me introduce you to my new favourite band Coliseum. My blogging comrade Max introduced me to them and there is something wonderfully workmanlike about their no nonsense rock. When I say workmanlike, this is not an insult but a compliment. Somehow I am heartened by the idea that there are people like me who get up and go to work everyday but when these guys put on their work boots, their work is to produce fuck yeah rock monsters. There is no artifice, pretension or show, merely three guys who know the grinding mechanics of a good song. It also makes sense that the album is produced by J. Robbins of Jawbox (one of my all time favourite bands), a band most people remember for a skewed Tori Amos cover but consistently produced amazing work. It's no surprise that Late Night Trains and Love Under Will on Sister Faith sound like long lost Jawbox songs, those ringing guitars and dynamics have Robbins written all over them.

I mention Jawbox but I don't mean to give that as an indication of their sound as it's much more varied and complex, it's kind of a hardcore, post-punk, math rock, indie face melt with a dash of rock classicism. With that in mind, it's great to hear really tight, powerful musicians locking in on good songs - the rhythm section is flawless and of particular note is Carter Wilson's thunderous drums. I have to say it's hard to pick the best song but at a push I'd pick Doing Time, the aforementioned Late Night Trains and Save Everything. Make no mistake, there is not a weak track on this album.

If I hadn't heard the new Queens album this week, this would have been a contender for the album of the year with the National. The best thing for me is I have new back catalogue to explore if I ever get exhaust this record. Whatever the case, if you feel the need for some heavy rock action, Sister Faith delivers in spades. Get to work gentlemen.


Daft Punk - Random Access Memories

I have a bunch of friends who are obsessed with making mix CDs and their current obsession is coke rock (they're up to volume 9). Supposedly coke rock is excellent music to take coke to or at least explain the experience and as someone who has never tried it, I will defer to their expertise although I have been around enough overconfident assholes on the drug to get the idea. Coke rock is a not too distant cousin of yacht rock although it's not confined to that period of time but features all the big wigs of that genre: Steely Dan, Toto etc... (Check out the best of compiled below). Anyhow, the reason I mention all this is because a lot of Random Access Memories could fit into this genre as it sounds like a yacht rock/disco coke faced primer.

After a masterful marketing campaign (I'll admit it, I was sucked in), Daft Punk have delivered an album which is a deep exploration of neo-disco soul of the late 70's and 80's. I still maintain Get Lucky is a great song, lots of fun but it is not really like to much else on the record which tends to be mid-tempo plodders. There are a couple of awesome moments with the Giorgio Moroder tribute imaginatively titled Giorgio by Moroder and the final song Contact, which is a backwards/forwards freak out which once it it gets going, really gets going.

Overall though it feels like a little bit of a let down to me and I think there two reasons for this.

1. I remember when Discovery came out, I thought 'what is this retro 80's shit?' Everyone was raving about it but it took me a long time to get into it. It wasn't until much later you could see that Daft Punk were ahead of that particular curve. As such, there's a good chance this album will make a lot more sense in two years once the weight expectation has died down. (A lot of people seem to be making a similar point in reviews i've read and I think we can all agree Human after all kind of sucked).

2. My favourite Daft Punk album and general pick me up record of choice is the live album (Alive 2007). As a friend of mine pointed out at the time (hi Claire), that album is a bit of a cheat because essentially it gave the duo the opportunity to address the criticism of their previous albums and remix them into ecstatic uber-versions of those songs. Random Access Memories is a totally different beast and not aimed to give the sugar highs that Alive did.

As such, what we have is a reasonable record but I suspect it's not the record a lot of people wanted (I know I was expecting a balls out Michael Jackson-esque Off the wall disco party). I think once the distance between expectation and reality becomes greater, it'll settle into a pretty good party record. At the very least, there are some excellent additions to the next coke rock compilation.

Coke Rock Compilation for you:


The National - Trouble Will Find Me

At this point in time, it seems inconceivable that the National will ever make a bad album as they reached a point where they are essentially their own genre. A such, there are no surprises on Trouble will find me which is a natural successor to High Violet.  Where the previous record was big choruses and big emotion, the new album feels muted in comparison - it feels like the sigh of resignation after the break up. On first listen the album runs as a single mood piece, unfamiliarity making single tracks indistinguishable but a few listens in, the intricacy and intimacy of the record reveals itself. This is probably the National's greatest strength - subtlety and intimacy and the ability to wring real emotion from their songs.

It's weird, their sound is almost predictable - Trouble will find me sounds exactly like you would expect it to sound but repeated listens unveil complexity and vision far beyond expectation. At first flush, their lyrics are littered with bad jokes, references to Guns n' Roses and Nirvana and low key melancholy but they reveal a thousand bruised hearts and relatable stories of grief and loss.

I have to confess, their songs get to me the way few bands do. As I do with most new albums, I put them on my iPod and go on a long walk and listen to them about six times in a row. By the fourth listen, I had suddenly (and embarrassingly) become slightly emotionally unstable as the album seemed to explore little wounds of my psyche (there is one song here that  makes want to blubber like a baby. At this point, I just skip that song - bloody hell). The incisive nature of the writing is so brutal that it can tap into long forgotten hurts. I get that feeling you had when you were a kid - 'it's like they're writing this song about my life' - that comes rushing back even though it's patently absurd.
Matt Berninger's phrasing is immaculate, his sullen baritone sails above the band's sympathetic playing which has pulled back from High Violet's lopsided bombast to gentler creature but no less devastating. If this all sounds like one great bummer, it's not, it's just excellent songwriting.

There isn't a bad song here and I find my favourite song change each time I listen to it. I do feel the album gets stronger towards the end as the final three tracks: Humiliation, Pink Rabbits and Hard to Find are all exquisite and triumphantly end a remarkable record. I have to say my expectations for this record were pretty high but they have been exceeded at every turn. It's too soon to tell if it will dethrone High Violet as my favourite National album but it feels like it will... it feels like it's only a matter of time.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Holy fuck...

Shock me awake, tear me apart
Pinned like a note inside a hospital gown
The deeper I sleep, the further down
The rabbit hole never to be found
It's only falling in love because you hit the ground


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle - Perils from the Sea

Indulge me. Late last year a friend of mine committed suicide, the sad conclusion of downward spiral over many years. As is often the case, he had distanced himself from his friends and I hadn't spoken to him in a few years, separated by imagined slights and darkness that mental illness fuels. I was rudely alerted to it through a Facebook feed and even now, I'm not really sure what happened, I'm not sure I really want to know. On that day, the first song from this album, What happened to my brother?, was released online. I listened to it about 30 times on repeat drinking a bottle of wine by myself swept up in a vertiginous wooziness of grief - somehow the world was simultaneously expanding and contracting as I plummeted into an ocean of sadness. In many ways, my friend was my brother and the song reverberated with that overwhelming grief, confusion and loss I was feeling.

Now I don't say this to invoke a pity party but it's to make a broader point: that song will be forever associated with that day for me and this is the brilliance of this record, it feels so intimate and personal that regardless of the stories Kozelek is telling, they feel relatable, they feel like your stories. Of late, Kozelek has largely released nylon acoustic laments with the occasional Neil Young-ish rock out so the move to the electronic pallates of the Album Leaf (Jimmy LaValle) may have caused some concern if they weren't so sympathetic to Kozelek's weary baritone. If anything, Kozelek gains here as the songs create evocative soundscapes which add an understated emotion to his work.

All the tracks are good; apart from the aforementioned Brother, 1936, Caroline, and Ceiling Gazing are especially gorgeous. The only weaker track is You missed my heart, beautiful in the solo acoustic setting but too upbeat in this recording by straying too close to Postal Service territory (not that there's anything wrong with them, just not the right fit for Kozelek). Kozelek rolls through tales of love, loss, the road and mortality with his trademark weariness, occasional surliness and a good dash of humour. Regardless of the setting or instrumentation, it his voice which carries these songs to your heart and these tracks seem especially inspired. Despite the high quality of the Sun Kil Moon albums, there is something very special about this record which speaks directly to the soul.