As we march towards Day 182 on the year, we honor the late radio personality Casey Kasem and his famous closing line: “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”
Be it summer or winter where you are, we hope that your first half has been just as splendid as ours. It’s time for our quarterly mixtape: this time, albums from April-June are on the docket after tipping our hats to 2014’s first quarter roughly 3 months ago.
Featuring music from Veni Domine, Fatima, tUnE-yArDs, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, Fucked Up, and Plastikman, we are once again hopeful that there’s something for everybody here in our 28 selections.
In the meantime, keep on enjoying the World Cup festivities, as well.
(Oooooooooookay, maybe not that crazy.)
It happens at least once every year, without fail. I stumble across a band that – despite my exhaustive search for new music that’s “down my alley” – has evaded me for years. The most recent band to make me feel like I live under a rock is Ages and Ages, a group hailing from Portland that sounds like the product of Fun. going super indie on everyone’s ass. The hooks are outrageous, the transitions are well executed, and the vocal performances are crisp and inviting. It’s the best of well-executed pop and aspiring, accessible indie. On an album that is uniformly great from start to finish, a track that still manages to stand out is “Over It.” The track encompasses all of the above qualities but features the album’s most anthemic chorus – which serves as the emotional pinnacle of Divisionary. Enjoy! –Sowing
For all of its ‘sonically-complex-but-still-radio-friendly’ dream-dance pizzazz, Luminous was a terribly underwhelming follow-up to 2011’s Skying. I love The Horrors, and while I’m well aware that there are about a dozen other bands that arguably bring more originality and emotional depth to today’s shoegaze/dream-pop scene, I can’t help but be drawn to these guys. To me, Skying is one of the best albums to come out in recent years, and what makes it such a remarkable album lies in not only the fact that its sonically adventurous and an absolute bliss to listen to, but because it also stands as a definitive statement that even the most ridiculous gimmicky bands can grow to surprise you with a masterful piece of music. Now, Luminous doesn’t necessarily tarnish their reputation — because it’s a decent enough album in its own right — but it comes of as a derivative compilation of already tried-and-true ideas which just brings the whole experience down. There’s also an alarming number of tracks whose orchestrations simply lack both the grace and fluidity present in those of Primary Colours and Skying. In fact, the more I listen to it, the more I get the sense that The Horrors were never able to come up with an interesting direction to take Luminous, so they settled for recycling the hazy, synth-laden sonics of Skying to produce a poppier but far less cohesive follow-up. Initially, I only developed an interest in tracks like “Chasing Shadows” and “First Day of Spring,” which isn’t surprising because they totally emulate the kaleidoscopic sonics and ’80s-nostalgic garage-gaze of the first two albums, but some of the more danceable tracks slowly began to win me over. “In and Out of Sight”, I would say, is the best track in the album for two reasons: it’s catchy as hell, and it displays the group’s uncanny ability to orchestrate dense layers of synth, guitars, and vocals into lysergic-flavoured ear candy. I’ve always known The Horrors were capable of taking on the Flaming Lips/MGMT challenge of creating a pop tune that’s equal parts dancey and trippy and pulling it off. Although I had no idea it would be this good. The dancy-disco-thumping basslines, dreamy nuances, and Faris Badwan’s ‘Kevin Shields-on-vocoder’ impression make for a damn interesting combo. I kind of wish the rest of the album had more of this. –Hernan M. Campbell
When Trouble released their second album The Skull in the mid ’80s, the term “progressive/doom metal” wasn’t a verbal commodity among fans and press; that is, not until a handful of outfits endeavored and perfected the genre in the early ’90s. On the left bank of the Atlantic there were Confessor and Solitude Aeturnus, and on the right Sweden’s Veni Domine. The Swedes cultivated their epic/progressive doom metal to perfection in their first two – and highly acclaimed to this day – albums Fall Babylon Fall and Material Sanctuary. In the years that followed, the band delved into heavy experimentation with native and non-native musical influences, and delivered a line of good albums that (more or less) file under the definition of “an acquired taste”. After 7 years of inactivity, Veni Domine have returned to form with their new album Light. An acoustic-guitar-driven and enticingly introvert doom metal style has been adopted, whereas the heavy experimentation of the past has been downsized to a minimum. –Voivod
Heal is Timothy Showalter’s fourth album as Strand of Oaks, and arguably the most incisive self assessment he’s ever put to tape. In Showalter’s attempt to trace just how he became such a miserable bastard, Heal becomes his most unrepentantly personal record, describing scenes in vivid, corrosive details with a brash, raw quality that is immediately inherent in both the lyrics and production. The opener, “Goshen ’97,” then, is where it all began: “Singing Pumpkins in the mirror / porn and menthols under my bed / before I was fat drunk and mean / everything still lied ahead.” The guitar, courtesy of J Mascis, is practically virulent; that rootsy backbeat supporting a cage on the burst of being torn apart by the memories inside. It’s a coarse sort of beauty rooted in enticingly shallow nostalgia. “I was lonely, but I was having fun / I don’t want to start all over again,” Showalter sings as the guitar squeals, the resignation well apparent. “Goshen ‘97” is an addictive look at past glories, the simplicity of having nothing to do and anywhere to go. Heal is a record that catalogs everything between then and now. –Rudy K.
My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult stepped out of the darkness to create another dance-ready classic. Spooky Tricks can be seen as a night out with the band and the title track best summarizes the trip. This is an infectious cut that mashes current visions with vintage sounds, while the hazy atmosphere retains classic TKK vibes. Whether you’re into fancy clubs or degenerate parties, Groovy Mann’s wasted croon is the calling to dance the night away. Take your pills and hang out with one of the koolest bands out there. –Raul Stanciu
“Real Thing,” which is the standout song on tUnE-yArDs’ mesmerising third album, serves as a biting satire on fame and music business. Merill Garbus doesn’t even save herself from a trenchant critique. “Perched atop my drumming throne,” she sings before sarcastically admitting “Glory, glory, it’s good to be me!” It’s a track that sees the artist feeling self-conscious, confronting the extremes of her reputation, but also addresses the notion of authenticity (“I come from the land of slaves! Let’s go Redskins! Let’s go Braves!”). Bitter, at times self-deprecating musings stand in stark contrast with the music that deftly blends swing and rap with tribal beats. The exuberant arrangement is imbued with an undercurrent of chaos that permeates through the song, just lingering beneath the surface. It’s a ferocious dissection of fame that only proves how bold Garbus is. –Greg Fisher
In our Q1 edition of the Sputnik Mixtape, I complained that 2014 was an “admittedly weak year for radio-friendly pop” while gushing about Tove Lo’s “Not on Drugs.” Fortunately, Tove Lo has hit the radio since then. Unfortunately, the song in question is a middling, anemic remix of the excellent “Habits,” and will almost certainly fall off top-40 airplay very soon. Thankfully, Ariana Grande’s new song has filled the gaping hole left by the below-average radio fare with aplomb. It takes everything right from her excellent debut Yours Truly (bounce-friendly hip-hop sensibilities, soaring vocals, and slinky, seductive harmonies) while ditching most of what went wrong before (overbearing kitsch and poorly-executed EDM tropes). Easily one of the songs of the year, “Problem” saunters in confidently and proves its dominance with one of the best verses since “Right There” and a ridiculously competent and catchy brass section. Despite an adequate but unimpressive verse from Iggy Azalea (which, sadly, represents probably the best rap feature on any Ariana track so far), “Problem” is poised and cool, a coy smile on its metaphorical lips. –Will Robinson
Fucked Up’s crossover appeal continues to shine on Glass Boys, and the Toronto sextet’s hallmark sounds – a triple-threat guitar attack, Damian Abraham’s sardonic, yet heartfelt introspection in his raw, pummel-you-over-the-head snarl, a bombastic rhythm section – are all present and accounted for here. Glass Boys is the band’s shortest LP to date, but it doesn’t mean that its quality has suffered; rather, the genre-bending, fist-pumping anthems (“Paper the House”, “Echo Boomer”) make for a compelling, you-hear-something-new-upon-each-listen experience. –Jom
I’m not going to delve into Damon Albarn’s past for the sake of providing some type of biographical synopsis of his career because, quite frankly, it’s unnecessary at this point in time. I mean, anyone who has ever picked up an issue of NME magazine, or tuned into MTV (or practically any pop-oriented radio station) in the past two decades, has heard of the patron saint of Britpop and virtual bands. And yet, despite being the mastermind behind two of the most celebrated groups in pop history, it’s rather odd to think of Everyday Robots as Damon Albarn’s ‘proper’ debut as a solo artist. Needless to say, the album is brilliant. Everyday Robots is pretty reminiscent of his post-millennial efforts. It’s moody and catchy, and also kind of minimalistic in nature. Damon Albarn is an artist who knows few bounds in terms of genre, and the album as a whole really reflects his knowledge and talent for manipulating and amalgamating various disciplines in sound into pop gold. There’s some sulky chamber-folk tracks like “Hostiles” (close second for favourite), electro-pop ballads like “Photographs”, and even more experimental compositions like the shape-shifting melodies in “You and Me.” There’s plenty of tracks to fall in love with in this one, but the one that I keep returning to is the title track. It has a real ‘90s trip-hop kind of feel. It’s comprised of a dazed-out, repetitive beat, with Damon singing above it with that vulnerable, yet oddly alluring croon that augmented the emotional gravity of songs like Gorillaz’ “El Mañana.” What makes the track standout for me as one of best songs of the year — besides that awesome beat — is Damon’s words. He paints such a haunting, yet accurate portrayal of 21st century society. The way he sees it, we’re a generation detached from nature and completely engulfed in technology, and anyone who can’t adapt to the growing trend of touch-screen gadgets and social-network bullshit might as well not even exist. –Hernan M. Campbell
British electronic duo Cloud Boat are releasing their second album Model of You this 7th July through Apollo/R&S Records, and lead single “Carmine” has been hard at work in terms of stoking our appetites and wedging open our wallets. Above all, it’s fascinating to see just how far the two London natives have come since last year’s pleasantly surprising Book of Hours. The primordial staccato arrangements and bristling air of anxiety that characterized their debut long player are now gone, and in their place is a slightly more muscular style of composition and a subsumed sense of cinematic drama. Vocalist Tom Clarke’s hushed style of delivery may require you to lean in a little from time to time just to make out what he’s saying, but as there appear to be gems embedded in every other line, this probably isn’t going to become a problem in the slightest. “You say that everything is nothing compared to the silence of another,” he whispers about halfway through “Carmine”, under a blanket of tension so thick that you could almost carve it up with a knife. On the back of this evidence, July simply cannot come soon enough. –Irving Tan
“Invaders On My Back” comes at a time when Fu Manchu need to reassure fans they are the same cool punk-leaning stoner rock outfit that truly helped ignite and popularize the whole scene back in the early-to-mid ’90s. The genre is experiencing a revival lately and since these Californian dudes haven’t released anything in five years, people need to know they’re still alive and kicking. A short, to-the-point rocker, the song fuels their usual space obsession with some rad vocals and catchy chorus. Fu Manchu want you to skate your way into outer space by giving you the right music. You should conform. –Raul Stanciu
“We’ll Be Happy” is the mid-point of Legasi, the newly released EP by Malaysian singer-songwriter Aizat Amdan, and while there are only 222 physical copies of the record in the entire universe, fret not, for we have a stream of a fifth of it for you here. But while “We’ll Be Happy” is easily one of Legasi’s least sophisticated moments, it’s hard to care too much about how lightly constructed the song really is when Aizat and the guesting Zee Avi get going. For four glorious minutes, the two Malaysians embark on a giddy celebration of love when it is at its most life-affirming, taking it in turns to gently coax their song on until it simply cannot expand any further. Each time those four minutes pull to a close, I am always left scratching my head, dazedly trying to figure out how this track’s foremost concern, as expressed so beautifully by both Aizat and Zee Avi, has managed to become a reality so goddamned easily. And I still haven’t found my answer. –Irving Tan
I have always liked Deathstars: I like their polished industrial metal sound that fits like a glove into a niche club setting, I like the glam that they’ve got mixed in there, and I like their videos that are always hilariously over the top, yet tastefully made. After a five year gap in records, the Swedes are back with a new album called The Perfect Cult, and while I haven’t listened to the whole thing enough to pass fair judgement on it, its first single “All The Devils Toys” is a booming industrial metal track that instantly reminded me why I found the group intriguing in the first place. While still sounding very much like the Deathstars the whole of Europe has come to know, the track is bigger and broader than most anything the band has done before. With a powerful, cinematic feel to it, the song has got exactly the kind of vibe that Deathstars should aim to recreate more often. Call it catchiness, call it swagger, call it memorability, but there’s something in the singles Deathstars release that always works. I hope that we’ll all be positively surprised and that the whole of The Perfect Cult stacks up to the pre-released tracks (“Explode” is also really catchy) as time goes by, but at the very least, on the face of “All The Devils Toys”, the group once again managed to put out a teaser that made me excited for a new Deathstars album, keeping their track record of never releasing a bad single alive. –Magnus Altküla
Sage Francis is through-and-through an artist, expertly honing his craft for well over a decade. Copper Gone revolves around a self-imposed exile: from failed relationships to mourning the deaths of his father as well as Eyedea’s passing in 2010, Francis took refuge in the Rhode Island woods. Four years removed from Li(f)e, where there were rumblings he was retiring to focus on his label, Sage emphatically returns with copious amounts of his hallmark venom and self-deprecation. No one is exempt from his rancor — not even himself (“Make ‘em Purr” documents his isolation, and the tale he tells at the veterinarian’s office when his cat falls ill is something that hits close to home for many of us: “They put a feeding tube into his neck / I said ‘Please let this work, ’cause if it doesn’t, I got nothing left’ / I didn’t say that, but they saw that / Cat had my tongue . . . / What, it wasn’t weird I did nothing but stand right there, with a ‘Fix this, money’s no object’-type stare?”). There’s a certain level of authenticity that characterizes Francis’ delivery and work ethic, but it’s all the more powerful when you recognize the genuineness of his perseverance, even when it seems like he’s teetering on the proverbial edge. –Jom
It was always hard to imagine Saintseneca topping 2011’s Last, but Dark Arc accomplishes that feat. Tracks like “Fed Up With Hunger” should be credited for the band reaching a new milestone, as its minimalist folk approach blends flawlessly with better production to create a track that defines Saintseneca’s sound. The band exercises a lot of restraint, particularly instrumentally, while the lead vocals harmonize to carry the song onward. There are catchier songs in Saintseneca’s catalog, and there are certainly ones that have more to them, so to speak. However, “Fed Up With Hunger” is interesting because it draws one’s attention without any bells and whistles – hell, there’s barely even any instruments playing. It’s definitely one of those songs that you need to listen to in order to understand its appeal – so without further ado, give this song the listen it deserves. –Sowing
It’s almost no surprise that Diocletian were able to release yet another fantastic black/death metal release with Gesundrian. Their repertoire was already enough to solidify their status as one of the premier bands in the genre, and their penchant for going both heavy and murky in an impossibly thorough way has garnered them a lot of well-earned praise. What’s not like their past, though, is how polished Gesundrian feels, with a well-rounded production aware of the fact that much of the music needs to be swirling in a cacophony of deep, bellowing tones, but does not necessarily have to be unintelligible to achieve this vibe. Couple that with arguably the best songwriting we’ve seen from this New Zealand act and the result is a whole album filled with filth like “Steel Jaws”. As if the crunch of the bass at the beginning isn’t enough to make you realize within the first few seconds the heaviness that is to follow, you are soon pulled headlong into the madness as the rest of the band follows suit. –Crysis
A Sunny Day in Glasgow, Ben Daniels’ Philadelphia-based shoegaze outfit, make dream pop how it should be made, in fragments and crystalline shards of dissonance, stops and starts. Comparing the group’s unique, patchwork method of creating a record – often via e-mail, with band members strewn across continents – to floating through an actual dream is the kind of clunky metaphor I specialize in, yet it’s oddly perfect. Few bands are able to make the transition between opaque fuzz and sugary sweet clarity as A Sunny Day in Glasgow, a fact made abundantly clear by the recently released Sea When Absent. It’s a record that fleshes out the hazier aspects of the band without losing the hallucinogenic quality that makes their tunes so beguiling and attractive, even when I occasionally wish they’d just settle down in one spot for once. “MTLOV (Minor Keys),” perhaps the most straightforward song on Sea When Absent, grants my wish. It’s a fundamentally sound baroque pop record garnished with sparkling production and the icy harmonies of Annie Fredrickson and Jen Goma, weightless and gorgeous, a prismatic trip. It’s the purest hit of A Sunny Day in Glasgow’s considerable melodic gifts yet. –Rudy K.
I love repping Estonian metal. When foreign customers ask me for local metal recommendations at my daytime job in a record store, I get all giddy and energetic even during the slowest of days, and it always feels great when I’m able to find something for the customers that they really like. It makes them happy, it makes me happy, it should make our artists happy – everybody wins. Estonia isn’t overly spoiled with great metal though, so whenever something as good as Urt’s latest cd comes along, I feel the compelling need to tell the whole world about it. Guided by a desire to relive the primeval, this pagan metal band/album is as real as it gets; this is authentic, wicked stuff. If our forefathers were to turn in their graves because of Urt, it wouldn’t be because they are ashamed, but because they suddenly feel the itch to roam the land once more. There aren’t going to be many better pagan metal releases this year, so if you’re into the genre, don’t sleep onIXI. –Magnus Altküla
Originally released on the July EP in 2007, “Unfurl” isn’t technically a Q2 2014 release – in fact nothing on Kocytean is new material – but that’s not really seeing the big picture. Re-released as a part of the exlusive 2014 Record Store Day vinyl Kocytean alongside several other b-sides and rarities, the track is a stroke of sheer, unabated genius from a band who has had both ups and downs over the past several years. For many listeners, including myself, Kocytean was my first exposure to “Unfurl” and its companions, and it came at no better time. Dead End Kings was my AOTY for 2012, and showed a band hitting their stride even if their past material had a tendency to veer off and lose focus. Fitting, then, that what I consider to be the band’s absolute best track resurfaces now, as it couldn’t possibly have better context than it does on the heels of Dead End Kings. Recorded around The Great Cold Distance sessions, “Unfurl” is a break from the norm; a more synthetic, deconstructed track that passes the time through mellow guitar riffs and truly evocative vocal melodies wandering between heavy synths. It dredges around in Katatonia’s trademark depressive lows, but also twice it crests in a wonderful, melancholy-soaked chorus that serves to solidify emotion in a track where everything feels so heartfelt – feels quite simply real. 2007, 2014, it doesn’t matter, “Unfurl” is Katatonia at their very best, and Kocytean is a compilation worth every cent and every second. –Crysis
V/a compilations are usually pretty hard releases to navigate because of the inherent problem of consistency. Warp Records latest catalog showcase of label mainstays and other related artists, entitled Bleep 10 (Bleep.com being Warp’s online distribution service/music store) brings together a lot of big names in the more esoteric side of the electronic music world from Autechre to Machinedrum. Unsurprisingly, the compilation (as most do) mostly ends up feeling like a collection of b-sides and discarded tracks from bigger releases thrown together to get something out there. Fortunately, this isn’t the case for every track, and the biggest surprise comes right at the very start with a contribution from the legendary minimal/ambient techno act Gas. While there are two similar electronic acts who have used the name Gas, this particular release comes from Wolfgang Voigt, who, since the mid 1990’s, has been honing his unique and extremely refreshing mixture of minimal techno, field recordings, ambient and dark ambient into some of the best ambient/minimal electronic music out there. Die Wand is a lurching, lumbering aural representation of some kind of weird organic industrial setting, undulating and mutating with a constant pounding, rhythmic pulse but remaining firmly within the realm of ambient music. This is one of the only tracks here that doesn’t seem like an afterthought, and is actually so good that it’s worth getting the entire release just for it alone. There are other highlights to be sure, but Wolfgang Voigt has stolen the show here, and makes this compilation something that is definitely worthy of attention. –Hyperion
A mid-paced sludge/grind combination that fires on all cylinders from the get-go with reckless abandon. Sure, it might be Gaza v.2.0 with a new vocalist (former Gaza bassist Anthony Lucero takes the reins here), but with the there-are-no-winners-here details surrounding Gaza disbanding, it made sense to start anew (as it says on their Facebook page: “We once were a band, and now we’re a better one”). The ferocity and vitriol still exists in spades, and Mike Mason’s distortion-laden guitars continue to resonate with you long after “Driftwood”. All in all, an auspicious start to prepare us for the debut LP, whenever that may be. –Jom
I’ve already extolled my current album-of-the-year favorite, Fatima’s Yellow Memories, for God knows how long, but if you readers will allow me yet another paragraph to praise it I’ll absolutely take whatever I can get. Thus, we have “Underwater,” a slow burner which synthesizes ultra-melodic hip-hop a la Nujabes and Bonobo-esque melancholy under Fatima’s gorgeous alto. The warm glow emanating from the mid-range brass and acoustic guitar settles perfectly over the watery synths and midtempo hip-hop beat, and the result is a wonderfully restorative, relaxed song, infinitely satisfying and beautiful. I can’t emphasize enough how great the song sounds, especially in the context of the full album, and I implore anyone interested in hip-hop or soul to give it a listen. –Will Robinson
Ritchie Hawtin played a big part in the 90’s electronic scene. From his early acid techno and the releases with Warp and their Artificial Intelligence series, to his experiments in refining the world of minimal techno with Plastikman, all the way to his rise to extreme popularity as masterful DJ, its hard to really find another artist and/or artists who could be considered as much of an electronic superstar as Mr. Hawtin. However, with the rise of EDM as a culture, Hawtin has recently let his recording projects sort of fall to the wayside in lieu of DJ mixes and live sets. So, when it was announced (or rather, just kind of dropped onto the world) that there was going to be another Plastikman album after more than 10 years since his last full-length, there was certainly reason to be skeptical. Not only that there was such a long gap, with Hawtin being much more interested in different kinds of music, but EX is actually just a live recording of a set composed for a gallery presentation at the Guggenheim which is also being released in tandem with this weird bass backpack thing Hawtin has been “working on” for a while now. Suffice to say there were and are quite a few reasons to doubt that this would be any good.
Luckily, EX not only manages to to be quite good, its also a pretty interesting evolution of Hawtins acid/minimal techno Plastikman sound into the new era dominated by laptops and VST’s. It definitely sounds like a Plastikman album, but because Hawtin decided this time to create the entire album digitally (something about making it easier to integrate it with visual accompaniment) seems like it could have spelt doom for a sound that relies so heavily on a single piece of hardware (the legendary Roland TB-303). This turns out not to be the case whatsoever, and while EX doesn’t sound exactly like the Plastikman of old, it is most certainly an extensions of the groundwork laid out by previous releases, just updated to a more modern format. There are enough subterranean beats, squelchy blips of sound, and solid compositions to keep any fan of previous Plastikman/Hawtin releases engaged throughout. While not the best album Ritchie Hawtin has ever released, it is certainly a welcome addition to an extremely good catalog of Plastikman releases. –Hyperion
One of the discoveries which I’ve made in 2014 is that no one from the northern parts of Europe dislikes Kent. Every single person who has heard of Kent and who I have started a conversation with loves, respects, or at the very least tolerates them. Businessmen, hippies, metalheads, hip hoppers, stay-at-home moms, dancers, both the young and the old, everyone likes them – even when most, including myself, don’t understand a thing that’s being said! “Din Enda Vän”, off the band’s newest outing Tigerdrottningen, is one of those rare songs that hits you immediately, but doesn’t deteriorate one bit as time passes. It just breathes pure class: from the Bonjour Tristesse (a fantastic drama film by the way) sample that bookends the track, to the measured build-up and confident vocals of Joakim Berg, “Din Enda Vän” is, by all means, a perfect pop song, the kind that they just don’t make anymore. And the way the production totally elevates and helps the track to a controlled explosion in the chorus – delicious. Now if only someone could translate it to me, I’d be over the moon. –Magnus Altküla
“Don’t let the fuckers get you down,” Jenny Beth chants in the new track from British post-punk group Savages. Following on their remarkable debut album released last year, the band show their new incarnation, trading the concise songwriting of Silence Yourself for free-flowing jamming. “Fuckers” settles on a deep bass groove and hypnotic drumming, but the track’s tangible sinister atmosphere also stems from Gemma Thompson’s balanced guitar play. Her riffs stab abrasively, then sport the odd assuring melody, and before you know it burst into a vicious squeal of feedback. It’s the perfect foil for Beth whose no-frills delivery turns this track into a fist-pumping anthem. Play it loud whenever somebody pisses you off. –Greg Fisher
Wo Fat have reached a new level of success with their previous effort, The Black Code. To maintain that momentum, they have built from scratch a new album in less than a year, keeping more or less the same formula only a tad heavier this time. The Conjuring might be their darkest album so far, and ‘Pale Rider From The Ice’ the dirtiest tune here. The fuzz-drenched licks and prophetic vocals are joined by pounding drums to create a monster track. The slow, murky grooves are reeking of Southern influences, bursting midway into a pile driving boogie rhythm. Who can blame Wo Fat for giving more of the same when it sounds so damn good!? –Raul Stanciu
Coalesce Rhapsody of Fire (Fabio Lione makes a guest spot here) and Nightwish (vocalist Sara Squadrani has improved mightily) together along with a Black Crystal Sword saga, and you have a faint idea of what to expect. A New Dawn Ending finds a happy medium between the band’s first two works, which ranged from supremely catchy to obnoxiously flamboyant. Then again, this is power metal, so the fantastic tends to be exaggerated (don’t look at the band’s press photos). What makes this such an intriguing record is not so much the story (less narrations would benefit the record), but the music (the bass solo in “A Greater Purpose” is quite interesting, for instance). Everything is written as if it were a high-octane symphony (keyboardist Daniele Mazza does a brilliant job composing the record, even with the intermissions), but the speed and technicality rarely distract from the wide array of harmonies and melodies. One of the strongest in-genre albums this year. –Jom
I don’t know how many people actually heard the original 24-hour long version of 7 SKIES H3, but even if few — if any — fans actually took the time to listen to the entire mind-blowing, transcendental journey that Wayne Coyne and the Lips initially envisioned 7 SKIES H3 to be, the fact that they attempted to make something as elaborate as this deserves respect. I mean, sure, The Flaming Lips do have a tendency to ask too much of their audience, and they know that (after all, these are the guys who asked everyone to get four different record players to play one fucking album). But for those of us who will pretty much consume anything The Flaming Lips throw at the public — whether it’s song-for-song covers of rock classics or Christmas on Mars — 7 SKIES H3 is definitely worth sitting through the entire 50-minute run. The Record Store Day release is actually divided into 10 segments, which makes for an easier digest, but obviously it’s meant to be listened to in one sitting to get the ~full experience~. 7 SKIES H3 itself sounds like an odd blend of Meddle-era Pink Floyd rock, ’90s noise-rock experimentalism, and the usual brand of Lips weirdness.
The opening segment “Can’t Shut Off My Head” especially brings Floyd to the mind. It really gives off that feeling that you’re going somewhere, kind of like “Echoes” makes you feel like you’re drifting through space. Even the nature of its sounds; the calming, Gilmour-esque melodies of the guitar, the echoing soundscapes in the background, and the moog embellishments that flow in and out of perception, all kind of mold together to replicate the aesthetics of some otherworldly, psychedelic odyssey. As the track progresses though, it constantly mutates in shape, and shifts from gentle rock and eerie calms to a cacophonic expulsion of sound. “In A Dream” and “Requiem/Meepy Morp (Reprise)” are two other sections in the song worth mentioning because they’re a great example of the different planes that 7 SKIES H3 takes the listener to. “In A Dream” kind of shows The Lips delving back to the steady rock rhythms and trippy noodling of At War With Mystics (but with a much darker feel). It’s a nice, pop-styled change of pace that rather than feeling oddly placed, feels more like a natural progression within the sonic anarchy of 7 SKIES H3. The “Requiem/Meepy Morp (Reprise)” segment is kind of the “Treefingers” moment in 7 SKIES H3. Much like how “In A Dream” adds a nice touch of pop-rock to the experience, the “Requiem/Meepy Morp (Reprise)” suite gives the listener a much needed breather from the all the art-house rock and segues into a tranquil calm. The noisier segments are pretty epic though. One of the middle segments, “Battling Voices From Beyond”, in particular, sounds like a recording of a battle scene drenched in distortion. It’s thunderous and haunting, and along with its equally noise-infested counterpart “Riot in My Brain!!”, the two segments rival the “I think I’m gonna die” midsection from Zappa’s “Who Are the Brain Police?” as some of the most bizarre (but oddly compelling) noise-rock collages I have ever heard. The track I’m sharing here is the “In A Dream” segment, it’s the most accessible moment in the entire song, but I highly recommend any fan of The Flaming Lips to listen to 7 SKIES H3 in its entirety. It’s worth it. –Hernan M. Campbell
24 out of 28 songs are available on Spotify: