A few months ago I made my way down from the San Fernando Valley ‘burbs which I call home to the city of Echo Park, which is situated half way in between the seedy faux-glamour of Hollywood and Downtown Los Angeles, to see Touche Amore’s homecoming show at the Echoplex. As I drove past the venue in my feeble attempts to find a parking spot it hit me just how big they have become since the release of Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me. The show that night, also featuring La Dispute and Pianos Become the Teeth, was a microcosm of the current rebirth of and the post-hardcore scene that some have been calling “The Wave” and others like myself just call a welcome change of pace. And just like that night, with Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me Touche Amore have positioned themselves at the front of this movement.
Taking influence from early 2000’s post-hardcore bands such as Thursday, the 90’s emo underground, and the last 20 years of indie scene, Touche Amore’s Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me is a quick burst of artful yet emotional punk rock. Driven in equal parts by vocalist Jeremy Bolm’s heartfelt shouts and the rich sonic template behind him, every note is placed and every plea is penned with with pinpoint accuracy, zeroing in on the angst and uncertainty of entering adulthood. It’s a stunning accomplishment that has reached across scene boundaries and has, at least for the time being, rallied that attention of both the most jaded of hardcore enthusiasts and the kids that keep it all alive. In the closing lines of the album’s opener “Tilde”, Bolm screams “…I’ll be that ringing in your ears that sticks around for years,” and if Touche Amore have proven anything in 2011, that claim might just be true. – Adam Thomas
Dan Bejar is and will always be one of the best lyricists in indie rock, but his acoustic Bowie shtick got really old with his last album, Trouble in Dreams, which followed the monolithic Rubies with a whisper rather than a bang. On Kaputt, though, dude went entirely insane, pursuing the kind of syrupy, cheesy, 80s-esque pop to soundtrack his tales of love lost on the dance floor and doing ridiculous amounts of blow, among all of the intertextuality, meta-ness, and constant literary references that one would expect from any Destroyer album. Bejar, by changing his band’s sound from chamber pop troubadours to Kenny G-esque manufacturers of sophisticated cheese, found the perfect foil to his lyrics, the kind of overly dramatic stuff that increases the impact of his theatrical tales, his knack for narration and setting a scene. It’s the most interesting Destroyer record yet, in this sense, in that it’s the only one really to run with one general theme and idea, that of endless partying and the trials of city life, which is why it’s stuck with me more than anything else he’s ever done. – Cam
As I sit here trying to sum up Old Raves End I find myself coming to the conclusion that the frustration at attempting to define my thoughts is one that I share with this album. Like my somewhat pitiful attempts, Old Raves End finds itself struggling to find the right words, or really any words, that might somehow change what is ultimately, an inevitable outcome. Shockingly though, it embraces this hesitation, this reluctance to reconcile, and uses the resulting breakdown in communication as its impetus. As such, it’s an exhaustive and emotionally crippling listen, steeped in familiarity and nostalgia now bereft of color, instead committed to memory as scratchy and broken down black and white daydreams.
As an album that works off the power of memory it traverses many themes and ideas, from glacial frigidity to cradling warmth and remembered love; and somewhere in amidst all of this messy expression, and despite its mechanical heart, lies something truly human and life-affirming. It’s a document on loss, love and the unavoidable nature of human beings, and it takes great pride in evoking the fragile symptoms that accompany us on our journey. Old Raves End asks a lot of its listener, but matches that offering with unwavering beauty and honesty. Genuinely captivating and convincingly romantic in its warm embrace of the past, it shows this Leeds-based trio to be one of the brightest young talents to emerge out of a year already strip-mined in accolades and cherished releases. Old Raves End is the death of the party, and while it doesn’t match that demise in ferocity, it serves as perhaps the most painful of reminders of what was lost. – Deviant
Ceremonials is bigger, longer, and bolder than her out-of-left-field debut Lungs, simply because it does all those things that Lungs did so well, does them one better, and jacks everything up to 11. The most unlikely pop sensation of 2010 made her money with an operatic range, a gothic-tinged band that specialized in cavernous timpani and melancholy strings, and florid lyrics about coffin makers and moonlight sacrifices. Of course, she could get away with this because she had a voice to match all the drama and the kind of mammoth hooks that are needed to define the bold images of angels and devils that Ms. Welch preferred to color with. Remember how you felt when Florence’s voice faded away as those drums thump with authority on “Dog Days are Over,” and then how she howls back onto the scene, all fire and brimstone and that righteous command to run? Ceremonials has about twelve of those moments. It had to go this way, because Ceremonials is all about Ms. Welch – bold, dynamic, and unashamedly theatric. Of course she’d try to out-do herself.
Yet the underrated part of Welch’s success is not her set of pipes or her carefully crafted romantic image but rather her unique take on the pop arrangement. “What The Water Gave Me” is unlike any other song on the radio today, and frankly I doubt any other artist could pull it off. It’s the perfect mix between the progressive and the mainstream that characterizes the best of Welch’s work, that delicate interplay between oppressive goth and stadium-ready popular vocals, all coalescing into the quintessential Florence and the Machine song. It’s weird yet strangely accessible, name checking Greek mythology and playing up some heavy imagery into a pop single that appeals to the same people who buy Adele tickets and get in line for the latest Twilight movie. In essence, it’s the perfect example of just what makes Florence and the Machine such a unique success. It was so easy to dismiss Lungs as a one-off phenomenon, the perfect storm of that one-of-a-kind voice and that retro Kate Bush/prog feel, all buffeted by the mainstream press generated from “Dog Days Are Over.” Ceremonials, with its thrilling sense of continuity and the remarkable growth of Ms. Welch as a songwriter, forces us to change our perceptions: Florence Welch is the phenomenon, and we should all settle in for the long haul. – Rudy Klapper
I like to think the reason we write reviews is to open a dialogue with whatever art we’re falling in love with (or loathing, but that’s not who I am). There are times when we can write forever, because our stay with an album has been that comfortable, but what of those times when we say that we, well, simply can’t say much? For me, it’s one of two things: A) we don’t damn well know what to say because the album is that unremarkable, or B) the album doesn’t invite us to think along with it. Those albums are stubborn bastards, often didactic but better loved when self-reflective. Those are the albums that wake up to new thoughts when the room has cleared out, or at least has to their creator’s illusive mind. Everyone out, don’t even listen to this if you don’t want to, it’s just a thought. Helplessness Blues is that. It speaks heavily and bitterly about age, and you don’t respond.
I like that epiphany factor, even this pessimistic. Fleet Foxes build their record on crackling foundations, fed up with it but not thoughtlessly so, simply awake to it. Because I don’t want to say Helplessness Blues is a resigned record. Rather, it closes the dialogue on its listener, even at its most open, and deals with these new realisations in its own way. It seems, just from all the damning of what is “unique,” that Pecknold is closing the book and working his weary heart backwards on some of these songs, but it’s not so; to be a “functioning cog” is not a statement he supposes he might as well make. It’s a new plea, a thought that he struck up when all the snowflakes fell the same. No, Helplessness Blues isn’t resigned, but it heads towards what it yearns. We are no interpreter for a record of mysterious men with folded arms. “What does that say about me?” is a rhetorical question that cycles back to Pecknold’s sad revelation of a mundane, unstoppable force that makes us ever older. But I like to think it invites the question treated as new. Helplessness Blues is an album that says “so!” at the beginning of its stories, an album of guess-this-happens and woke-up-one-mornings. It shows the bitterness of aging as an abrupt pang of the heart, something that comes onto Pecknold and decays his entire philosophy. And so quickly- it’s age Pecknold wakes up with every day.
So we say to this old wise man, this best imagined bearded Pecknold, why draw from the histories of American folk so heavily, perhaps even more than on Fleet Foxes’ debut? Probably for no reason that I would try and offer up in argument of open and closed dialogues- at the end of the day, it’s the music you love that you play, and darned if it doesn’t sound pretty impressive and just plain pretty- but I like to think there’s something of a harkening on Helplessness Blues that helps ease the nuisance of age. We can name whatever we want from the canon, and myself, I see the sparseness of Tim Hardin in “Someone You’d Admire.” But this album doesn’t care what I see. It doesn’t invite us to speculate, to crown it as another Great American Album. And of course I love it all the more for rudely shutting us up- how mysterious, how unambiguous, how weird to feel so old and yet look back so far. To have a sharp awakening softened by times before it. It makes sense. – Robin Smith
The primary criticism of Manchester Orchestra’s latest bestowment lies within its own tendency to embellish that which has already been decorated. You see, Mean Everything to Nothing expanded upon the framework initially demonstrated by the raw, sensational I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child with more complex instrumental arrangements, heavier screams, and even more psychologically revealing lyrics from precocious front man Andy Hull. Simple Math’s imperious utilization of strings, horns, and choirs drew the ire of many critics, who pointed to the album’s reliance on such hackneyed methods as a means of applying makeup to a work that is full of holes. While Simple Math’s liberal usage of these techniques cannot be denied nor overlooked, it would be criminal likewise to assume that they exist merely as patchwork. The album is actually filled to the brim with untouched ideas, even if they aren’t the most complex. The first thing that comes to mind is the way that ‘Pensacola’ constantly shifts gears to the point where it probably could have been divided up into three unique tracks. The threadbare existence of the opening ‘Deer’ and closing ‘Leaky Breaks’ is another obvious example, acting as exhales surrounding an otherwise wound up ordeal. The profound delivery of what amounts to technically basic material, though, is kind of the whole point. It’s a tool used to express how we over exaggerate the emotional conflicts that we harbor within, when in reality the solution is directly in front of us: simple math. The theme of overreaching, or scrutinizing the obvious to a fault, is represented through every exaggerated note, haunting children’s choir, and daunting string section. Perhaps Andy Hull states it best during the chorus of the title track, when he poignantly inquires, “What if we’ve been trying to get to where we’ve always been?” If Manchester Orchestra is capable of making such a self-reflective statement, maybe there is a purpose to all the fanfare after all. – Steve
The rocks and ridges that make up my homeland never seemed very much like home to me; they were always either being bulldozed by some grey shade of an economic nightmare, or owned by people and institutions rooted too firmly in the past. 2011 will forever be the year I learned to look past both of those unfortunate façades, both literally and figuratively, and I have Frank Turner to thank for that. So frequently on England Keep My Bones does he sing with conviction about roots and legacy that it has taught me to see the beauty in those things, but, more than merely a transferred tick on a census form, the reason Turner’s fourth studio album is so earth-shattering lies in its values rather than old ruins and photographs.
On “Peggy Sang The Blues” he pleads that where you go matters far more than where you come from, and all of England Keep My Bones finds itself somewhere within that statement, acknowledging the past on more than a casual basis but never journeying back into it. Turner’s sound itself has shifted a couple of gears since the days of Sleep Is For The Week, but it’s the ever-present and unchanging blood of his songwriting perspective that shines most prominently here, transforming the physical act of decay into a stunning metaphor one moment and conjuring Bob Dylan as the hero of an escape story the next. From top to bottom, England Keep My Bones is a call to arms which treasures ancestry and memory but cares not for complacency, and for embodying these qualities it stands as Turner’s greatest achievement to date – which is saying quite a lot indeed. – Adam Knott
Anthony Gonzalez has never been exactly subtle with anything he has ever done under the M83 moniker. Then again, 2011 might have just been the perfect year for M83 to break out into the mainstream consciousness. The year was all about a redux of the 80’s grandiosity; from the big synths of Mylo Xyloto to the big drums and bigger choruses of Ceremonials, 2011 wanted to announce itself in big twinkling neon lights for all the world to see. In such a fluorescent backdrop, the singular hook that opens “Midnight City” epitomizes why M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, even more than predecessors Dead Cities or Before the Dawn, marks Anthony Gonzalez as a songwriter worth noticing—even if the song still seems odd on a Victoria’s Secret commercial (but then again Menomena is on a Crown Royal one, so yay Capitalism). Each track runs like a little rivulet into the night time, and yes the hyperbole is necessary. This album is massive. At a staggering 22 tracks, M83 put the long in long-player. And yet, everything here fits snugly into the world of the album. The rocketing synth-pop numbers like “Steve McQueen,” the epic releases like “Intro,” the soothing ballads like “Wait,” the ethereal interstitials like “Where the Boats Go” (which, by the way, is just the end of OMD’s “Sealand”): everything here flows together to make the album an experience.
That may sound cliché, but it is exactly what Gonzalez has in mind. With all the talk amongst artists about the loss of the album as a necessary medium, M83 mark their alterity by doing the opposite; what differs Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming from a myriad of other albums that fain similar attempts at an all-encompassing experience is that Gonzalez totally invests himself in the idea. No matter your thoughts on the album it is impossible to fault the effort. In an age where patience and investment flitters slowly away in favour of the immediate, M83 rewards the listener who envelops themselves within the record’s simulacrum of dreams. And it is a warm world. For all the skyline disco synth buzzes and big hooks built for big stages, this album feels equally at home languidly rolling through your ear-buds on the bus home at night as it does amongst a large group of people dancing mindlessly to the bass lines. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is ultimately a singular album that is certainly indebted to the past—Talking Heads, Kraftwerk, OMD—but marks itself as something branded altogether original. A dream of return, to the places you have known before, but have changed with age and perception. The hill you struggled up on your bike as a child now seems but a footstep; the comfort from these ideas of nostalgia and perception are rolled together against big backdrops, catchy choruses and a 2011-defining sound. It’s almost typically American: small stories set against large vistas. These small stories are warm and inviting; these big backdrops are catchy as hell. Sorry Mr. Gonzalez, I’ll take my time while you dream away. – Keelan H.
It would be so easy to simply write off James Blake’s LP as merely a great album and let it simply speak for itself. But James Blake isn’t a piece of work that comes at you with a rumble; no, it’s subdued, nervous even, hesitant to raise its voice for fear of being noticed. Because James Blake is an artist who deliberately shies away from the obvious; from the honest accusations that seem to be weighing him down like a ton of bricks, he deals more in lingering afterthoughts, the little niggles that just won’t go away. Doled out under a hazy sheen of blue smoke and battlefield grey, James Blake’s eponymous debut LP is a therapeutic affair, as if the constant repetition might finally break away the self-imposed walls he’s confined himself too. That an answer, or at the very least, an understanding might be reached, however difficult it might be to digest. Or maybe, these mantra’s are James Blake’s way of simply shocking himself into submission, as if the reiterations aren’t so much a determined call to arms, but the echo of his statements bouncing back at him, still going unanswered and thus, only haunting him further.
And what gives this album its brooding honesty is that Blake discards the vocal samples he liberally employed to sum up his feelings and opts instead for his own slightly disjointed, occasionally fragmented voice. So even when he didn’t speak those chasms of silence were far from empty, instead marked by fear and hesitation, perhaps even nervous embarrassment as he tried to find the right words to say. Even from a strictly musical perspective was a touch of uncertainty present, as if when Blake felt the floor giving way beneath him, so too would his music seemingly disappear into the abyss, only to slowly clamber back up, a little more shaken and weary. Ignoring the questions surrounding Blake’s apparent ambiguous presence in the music world (“this sure don’t sound like no dubstep”), if Blake’s new lease on life is to be the apparent landmark for the genre in 2011 (and all signs point to yes) then it’s also highly possible to posit the notion that he might have inadvertently given dubstep the kiss of death, simply because rising over this unassuming slab of clumsy yet heartfelt emotion is going to be a task that only few will be up to. While this might not be the greatest achievement of the year, it’s gotten to this point because of its sheer determination to avoid such frivolities and grandeur. And really, could any of you imagine a 2011 without James Blake? – Deviant
I still recall my first experience of Bon Iver’s follow-up to the intensely personal For Emma, Forever Ago. The buzz of the same communities that had thrown their arms around Justin Vernon’s 2008 falsetto and naked guitar had turned to some form of reverence, and all the talk was of an evolution; how the man that had spent months isolated in a winter cabin had morphed into something grander. And I wondered, as I listened: how can you pull yourself far enough away from Bon Iver to form these opinions? How are you able to separate these notes, these songs… these two albums?
Because – honestly – for the first and second listen, I hadn’t even latched onto the fact that the acoustic chords had been replaced by drones, so immersed did I find myself in the atmosphere set by “Perth”’s rolling drums – an ambience that didn’t relent, however much silence was offered, until after (and only after) “Beth/Rest” had exhaled its last. When a record pulls you towards its artistic centre like this one does, what does its surface much matter?
And I realised at that point that one important difference did exist between Bon Iver’s self-titled and his stunning debut; this one didn’t require the safety net of a broken man to catch it should it fall apart. Not that For Emma ever collapsed in such a way, but it was guarded from the shadows, and there is something to be said for the way Vernon brazenly constructs Bon Iver from everywhere and nowhere – the tracks, even, elude the focussed (if imagined) co-ordinates of his first record, and chart stories all across North America.
This atmosphere, evasive and meandering, tugging on your hand like it’s pretending it wants to get away, and the intangible, almost-magical kinship it shares with For Emma’s most vulnerable moments, are the things that – from both inside and outside – make Bon Iver such a startling achievement. These floods of electronics, even “Beth/Rest”’s 80s balladry, are still Bon Iver, in the most real sense possible; as Vernon states himself on “Minnesota, WI”, he did not lose it in the stacks. Nothing at all. It’s still gorgeous; it still makes everything stand still. That even without the backstory, without the bearded-man image, without the element of surprise, Justin Vernon is still capable of flooring us: this is what so many people heard so clearly three years ago. – Adam Knott
Contributing Staff Members
Nick Butler | Cam | Damrod | DaveyBoy | Deviant | Dave Donnelly | Adam Downer | Jeremy F.
Tyler Fisher | Ryan Flatley | Channing Freeman | Nick Greer | Andrew H. | Keelan H. | Daniel Incognito
Jom | Rudy Klapper | Adam Knott | Steve M. | Lewis P. | Robin Smith | Trey Spencer | Mike Stagno
Conrad Tao | Adam Thomas | Kyle Ward | Matt Wolfe | Sobhi Youssef
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