Despite losing the hammering and pneumatic drill sounds, and upping the ambient experimentation, Tabula Rasa is still very much Ein Neu. It's imbued with a taught, pensive emotion and a strange kind of hypnotic, exotic beauty that gets deep under my skin. The bass is used sparingly but makes a huge impact when it arrives, naked and purposeful. It's largely musically magniloquent, like an arty-farty sculpture cut from sound. On the album's longest track, Headcleaner, Blixa Bargeld reminds us how we got to this point. Evolution is always frightening. If you like your music challenging, you'll eventually end up at Tabula Rasa.
Conspiracy continues the story that began on Them (1988), but it's less haunting this time. Instead, it delves into waters that are more psychological, though no less frightening. It's also a little friendlier on the ears, musically at least, because King's vocals are still occasionally ear-splitting.
King returns to the House of Amon after 18 years of being… elsewhere. It doesn't take long before the voices start talking to him.
It's theatrical, like you'd expect, but also technically complex, perhaps overly, as the music shifts to fit the lyrics and the story, not the other way around. I'm okay with that becuase I love the art of storytelling, regardless of its medium.
I can't give the songs I'd like to because it's a concept album and they come later in the story, so have the two opening tracks:
A concept album about a young man (named King), three generations of women, a house called Amon, and the mysterious, invisible Them. It's classic 80s metal full of chunky riffs, dozens of guitar solos (LaRocque is on fire from beginning to end), powerful choruses and King's trademark falsetto shrieks, the kind that make squirrels cower. The haunting concept, the narrative, and the dialogue make it a cinematic experience that's lacking only in visuals.
It's cheesier than a barrel full of Parmesan, but that's part of the appeal. King Diamond albums are a unique kind of theatre.
The Bravery is another of those New Wave Indie bands that tried to sound retro, as if the mics they used were unearthed from a 1980s vault and then dusted off, ready for reuse. They add some Electronic Pop elements to that era's guitar sound, and a heavy, funky bass. The song structures are full of repetition but most are catchy and lively enough to make it all seem passable. You'll hear some New Order in there, too, and nods to The Cure.
It was the year 1999, Rage Against The Machine was beginning to wear out it's welcome, Limp Bizkit wasn't quite a household name while Mexico's Latin rap-metal act Molotov snuck through the back door with Apocalypshit.
It might not have the brilliant guitar textures or production of RATM but it manages to throw in a crazed sense of humor and aggressive playfulness to it that makes it that much more appealing. There aren't a lot of rap-metal acts that get it right, so when something like Molotov comes around it's worth a chance.
Risen from the ashes of frienly indie-rock act Copeland comes the friendlier indie-pop act States and their 2011 debut album Room To Run.
Fronted by former Lydia keyboardist Mindy White gives the band a Paramore/Lights feel to it. Only States are better songwriters than Paramore and not as bubbly as Lights. The fuzzy guitars, upbeat busy drums and strong vocals give the record a strong presence but the songs never really progress into anything too memorable. Even though it's simply not my type of music, it's easy to tell with a little work States is on their way to something special.
After three solid albums, Brian Fallon felt he bled himself dry of The Gaslight Anthem and turned to The Horrible Crowes. Thankfully, that gave him some time to refuel and get back to raw, soulful rock n' roll for 2012's Handwritten.
The guitars are denser, the songwriting more up-tempo, each lyric is worded with perfection and Fallon's husky vocals toss in some flavors of Petty, Cobain and Dylan into the already powerful Springsteen, Waits, Vedder and Strummer mix.
It's nice to see such a strong band grow completely into their own, after much praised, yet weighted comparisons to other acts of the past. It's solid fearless songwriting at some of it's best.
Panopticon is Austin Lunn's one-man project. It's melodic Black Metal with Kentucky bluegrass interludes. Unfortunately, there's only one instance where the two differing styles are brought together. Elsewhere, they stand very much apart, each taking their turn, one after another without ever forming a cohesive union. A more elaborate attempt to fuse them would've offered a more interesting listening experience. Despite that it's still good fun. Lunn's technical ability and passion shine through. An audience might be hard to find, though.
FDtS is a remix album featuring songs from The Downward Spiral (1994) in various guises and states of deconstruction. Some are chaotic, resembling the original with extra layers of electronic distortion and intensity, while others get wedded to dance beats that aren't as lazy or awful as it sounds in words. If you're familiar with TDS, then you'll be picking out recognisable moments, and engaging or scratching your head at new ones. It's a hypnotic deluge of fractured emotions that's impossible for me to define accurately.
The US version has a number of different tracks than the rest of the world, and vice versa. I own both but prefer the non-US version.
Kustodian is 'bag of spanners' heavy. It fits into the Industrial genre, but every now and again it bursts out of it, offering something exciting, unexpected and unsettling. If you can imagine Fudge Tunnel crossed with the sledge of the first Godflesh E.P., then you'd be close to the Kustodian sound. Fans of both those bands should definitely get a kick out of it. You can grab a copy FREE from the official bandcamp page (see link below). It's a one-man project, but you'd never know it just by listening. Go on, give him your support. He deserves it.
Avant-garde Norwegian 'burlesque' Prog with Folk and medieval influences isn't exactly top of my list of favourite things, in fact, it's never even been on my list of things, but Interference Number 9 managed to entertain briefly. Most Prog Rock bores the tits off me, but the album is so bat-shit crazy in places that I can't hate it. But nor can I love it, so it flits about somewhere between the two states. If King Crimson played songs about lingerie, hookers, space shuttles and primary schools, then they might've sounded like the Fannyfiddlers. Maybe? Probably not.
Ben Cooper and Alex Kane aka Electric President's third album The Violent Blue is their first solid album. Not to say their previous records weren't great but TVB is where they seem to be confident and organically comfortable in what they're attempting to do. Heated with warm electronic textures and light strumming guitars floating through the mix, TVB is a pleasantly dreamy record that showcases a great deal of growth in musicianship with the duo.
California's nerd wave group Oingo Boingo ironed out the kinks in their sound on their second album, 1982's Nothing To Fear.
Making use of a vast array of bizarre instruments (some of which the band created and built themselves) makes for a unique sound that fits well with frontman Danny Elfman's erratic mood swings and sometimes offensive opinions. The musical confidence is apparent in Elfman's cocky vocal delivery but it's fine considering the 8-piece band that he's juggling.
Widely trashed by critics yet universally acclaimed by artists of all sorts, Nothing To Fear is a career highlight for Boingo.
Hip hop artist Killer Mike's 2012 album, R.A.P. Music is another great addition to his all ready strong discography. Part of that strength could be credited to El-P's dense n' dirty production on the record.
Mike & El-P seem like a match made in heaven with angry lyrical deliveries colliding with angry synth heavy beats and samples. Mike's stingy style and poetic personality seem to echo that of the Ice Cube of yesteryear, before he went all family friendly film star.
Without a doubt, this is one of the essential hip-hop albums of 2012.
Hailing from The Netherlands, Dodecahedron's 2012 self-titled debut album leaves a physically sick feeling in your stomach that you'll either cherish or detest. Either way, the black metal band did their job well.
Utilizing the 12 tone jazz method (more than likely where they got their name), Dodecahedron sounds more like a Mr. Bungle from Hell than it does Deathspell Omega. It's heavy on atmosphere and light on soul, which may or may not be intentional. In the end it causes extreme discomfort and that's just fine with me.
After numerous remixes of each other's music, it was inevitable that alt. hip-hop poet Saul Williams and Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor would work on an original project together. The result is Williams' 2007 album The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!
Williams' heavy beats & off-kilter vocal style and Reznor's unmistakable ambient wall of noise compliment each other perfectly, making it one of Reznor's most focused projects in several years. The distorted sound is so dense and raw it reminiscent of the Bomb Squad's production with Public Enemy back in the day.
It's a bizarre album that is difficult to pinpoint what sort of audience it was aiming for but nonetheless an experimental success.
Rocket Juice & The Moon consists of Gorillaz mastermind Damon Albarn, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, Nigerian funk drummer Tony Allen and a host of guest vocalists including Erykah Badu, Thundercat & M.anifest.
Their self-titled 2012 album is a blend of dub, afro-funk and hip-hop in which neither member really takes center stage and instead organically plays off each other sounding like a relaxed jam album. It does get a little too noodly after awhile and had they cut it down to an EP it would been easily been a 5 star. Nevertheless it still make an awesome patio party album.
After falling asleep on stage during a live performance, vocalist Chuck Mosley was thankfully given the boot from Faith No More making way for Mr. Bungle frontman Mike Patton to bring something new to the table.
1989's genre-bending The Real Thing rocketed FNM into the mainstream. Patton's nasally vocals, raps and growls were complimented with Martin's crunchy metal-ish guitar solos and classical finger picking.
Power-pop metal at heart, the album is a catchy, energetic time capsule classic riddled with bizarre, disturbing characters explored within the song lyrics.
Like their fellow Icelander music acts, Sigur rós, Biggi Hilmars & Jóhann Jóhannsson, the folk group Of Monsters And Men retain that dreamy distant sound but manage to uplift in a nostalgic, melancholy manner rather than brood and contemplate suicide.
2012's My Head Is An Animal is full of enthusiastic male/female vocal harmonization and alternating duets layered over reverberated glockenspiels, accordions and horn sections. It might run a bit long and never break any new barriers but after all is said and done, you have a charming and captivating debut album.
2008's Ten Stones marks the first album in which Woven Hand wrote and recorded as a proper functioning group rather than Dave Edwards doing it all himself.
There is a noticeable change in style but it works for the better. Edwards' furiously menacing vocals and deeply woven textures are still there but with a lighter touch to it that breathes new life into the fabric the band uses to spin it's musical tales of prophetic doom.
It's almost like starting over again, which makes for a few bumps but is a strong indication of great things to come.
New York's abrasive hip-hop artist El-P returns to his solo career, after a 5 year hiatus, on 2012's Cancer 4 Cure.
El-P spits out furiously paranoid, yet intellectual lyrics bordering along the lines of obscure sci-fi, over distorted synth-heavy loops that sound more like something out of a robotic weapons factory. It's noticeably different in texture and sound from his previous solo efforts but it still can't be mistaken for anybody else.
It growls, rumbles and slaps the shit-eating grin off your face.
October Tide is a side-project of two members of Swedish metal band Katatonia, Jonas Renkse (vocals/drums) and Fred Norrman (guitar/bass). Musically it feels like it fits snugly between For Funerals to Come (1995) and Brave Murder Day (1996). It mixes the brutal power of the former with the mournful melodies of the latter and contains some of the last growls that Renkse performed before he cleaned up his vocals to become the voice of modern Gothic Doom. Production is similar to BMD but the guitars are heavier, more forceful. It's a classic of the genre that was criminally overlooked at time of release. Fans of that early Katatonia sound should definitely seek it out. (The reissue had different cover art.)
The Swiss Ambient/Industrialists are a hard sell to anyone not already familiar with their working method. They use samples as instruments, with live drums and multilingual vocals. Song structures and complex landscapes wherein atmosphere is all important. Everybody Knows adds some interesting acoustic guitar alongside the familiar samples and keyboards. They actually got a fourth member in to do that part. It's surprisingly upbeat in places.
As usual, the longer tracks are the highlights. I'd love a TYG album that's one epic track; they do lengthy songs in this genre better than anyone else I've heard.
The gristle in the meat you had for lunch is Swans. The pain of a fractured wrist is Swans. The elation of a morphine injection is also Swans. Held together by the grit of Gira and the quietude of Jarboe, Children of God is intense. With dissonant droning guitars and pounding drums, it exudes tension in every turn. It almost feels like it wants you to suffer as you listen. If the apocalypse were to come tomorrow, it would be the soundtrack to the end of days. And yet, it has moments of beauty that I find intoxicating. If you hadn't guessed already, it leaves me confused and conflicted. Not for the faint of heart.
This isPiL, literally. Lydon has assembled a band tighter than he's had for decades. It's percussion-heavy, meandering but focussed, has the dub reggae style arrangements, the political stance, the bass, the chimes, the nostalgia, the spoken word, etc. It's all like it should be. The first half is flawless. The second half takes a little more time to drop into the consciousness. In my opinion, it's the best PiL release since Album (1986), and if it turns out to be the last thing Lydon ever releases under the PiL name, then it's a hell of a worthy swansong.
I've never understood why The Legacy album didn't achieve the same attentions critically as early Metallica and Megadeth releases did. It's certainly got the power and the technical proficiency to keep it in the best of 80s Thrash lists. The sound is a mix of early Metallica and Exodus, what's now the classic Bay Area Thrash sound. The production could be better but the enthusiasm and the urgency with which its delivered is faultless. Testament matured and changed on subsequent albums, but they never bettered it for pure in-your-face entertainment.
Finding just the right balance between their trademark feedback and some passionately delivered droning but catchy melodies helped the Mary Chain deliver an almost perfect album. The addition of live drums gives it a more organic sound than they ever had before. The only criticism you can throw at is the amount of repetition present. You can argue that it keeps the album firmly on track and the energy level high, but it's just as easy to call it lazy. Still, a great song is a great song, even if it does sound too much like another great song.
Ladytron deliver a clever mix of sugary Pop and moody Electronic beats. I can hear elements of Chemical Bros, Goldfrapp, Kraftwerk and even KMFDM in there. I suspect there are many more influences in very different genres that I know nothing about. The song structures are simple but effective, carried along by the dreamy vocals of Helena Marnie. If you listen too closely it can get repetitive, so put it on while doing something (housework or naked vacuuming, perhaps) and let its catchy and covertly infectious vibes be your companion for a while.
A sampler E.P. containing two songs from the fantastic new album, The Electric Age (2012), and four older tracks recorded live at the Rock Hard Festival, Gelsenkirchen, Germany, 2011. Bobby and the guys are on fine form. I've not had the pleasure of witnessing the Overkill live machine, but I'd sell my family jewels to do so. I can't see the release winning many new fans, but for those of us that already know how awesome Overkill are, it's a worthy addition to the shelf.
With cover art that resembles Morbid Angel's seminal Altars of Madness (1989), I half expected Face the Terror to sound similar. But it doesn't, it’s typical Thrash Metal that thrives on old-school melodies and structures, with solos that give me nostalgia smirks. Hailing from Portugal will inevitably draw comparisons with early Sepultura, but the band manage to surpass that barrier and remind us why early Thrash was good times. It was vibrant and designed to be played live. These new guys could teach the jaded old guys a thing or two.
Songs of Note: Just go listen to it all HERE. Alternatively, the E.P. is FREE, so get your clicking fingers over to the Official Site and snatch it from there.
3½ reminders of waking up in an early 90's squat out of 5
Evan said, "I've always wanted to make an 'Album' for $53 - Walkman 50, tape 3 bucks. Oh to record live to cassette, master it and put it out... I have finally done it!" Yes, he did it. He really did. Vinyl is sexy. Tape hiss is not. I piss and dance on the grave of cassette tape. An album of Evan alone with an acoustic in a hotel room sounds like absolute gold to me. But cheap demo recordings on a warbling $50 walkman is scraping the shittiest of barrels. If it's a public Fuck You to his record company, then I applaud it. Just don't expect many folks to listen to it.