The Roundup: January/February 2017
YES YES YES YES! The roundup is back! So much music to discuss. So much to love, so much to hate. Let’s get reading and pointlessly picking music apart!
Crystal Fairy – Crystal Fairy
A smashing of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, Teri Gender Bender, and most of The Melvins makes for a peculiar result. Ambitious at times and painfully generic at others, Crystal Fairy has a struggle with consistency in tone and quality. When the album is at its best, it really shines, a blinding flurry of crunchy riffs, high-wire guitar flailing, and grueling vocals from Teri. At other times it all comes off a bit half-baked, with Teri being the main culprit. I think her desire to write vocals for so many different projects as left her writing average to worse lyrics with either uninspired or ho-hum delivery. It is hard to deny that a few of these songs have nearly identical vocal performances. Teri can really shine, and there are times here when it is obvious she can, but I think she would benefit from some quality control. Teri is not the only guilty party, the rest of music has a bit of the same issue, needing more time in the shop to really come to fruition instead of delivering the first draft. I feel a bit more time in the studio to really flesh out these ideas would have done the band good. There is a mountain of good ideas here, but it needs polishing. Guys, gal, I know how that goes, that is why my dissertation proposal was so rough.
Nine Inch Nails – Not The Actual Events
I know NIN has its aggressively hardcore fans so bear with as I wow you with my lack of knowledge on Trent Reznor. I found the last LP, whatever it was called but I know I reviewed it, decent, but eventually wearing thin as it wore on. Reznor is a master of depressing hybrid industrial infused music and to the novice it ends up being soul draining at the end of an hour run time. This shorter EP helps resolve the issue, by being short, sweet, and still blissfully melancholic. Dear World, is an underground dance party of swirling bleeps and bloops all dressed in black as they interlock with each other, all the while Trent grumbles in the background like a grumpy old man on the porch. Other tracks, like The Idea of You, are much more aggressive, using a backing band to punch the listener with Trent’s chronic sorrow. This short sampling works well as it gets in, causes a ruckus, and then politely exits.
Japandroids – Near To The Wild Heart Of Life
On the plus side, unlike their previous album, this thing is mixed competently, instead of sounding like a buzzing drone of nonsense. The songs here are poppier, catchier, but none the more interesting. The band I never cared for, but admired for its teeth, now sounds like a two person late career U2. Yes it has soul and passion, Japandroids always are overflowing with both, but there is nothing interesting about the song, so why am I investing time or effort in their effort? I am not too invested in bottom of your soul howling if it all comes across as dull and uninteresting. There are enough “The bar is closing in 10 minutes and I am alone, fuck the system” songs elsewhere.
David Sylvian & Holger Czukay – Flux + Mutability / Plight & Premonition
Two beautifully ambient albums of similar ideas. They flow with little structure or guidance, similar to the magnificent Fripp & Eno albums of the 70s. These aren’t so much songs as they are soundscapes, or even audio textures. This is not jam in your car music, but relax in your office music. It works so well due to its simplicity. I am a bit of a sucker for good ambient music and this nails it.
Charles Mingus – Epitaph
Lately I have been skipping the jazz and classical music reviews because I felt I was not articulating my passion for this music well, over using terms like cool, groove, and I have no idea what I am talking about. Let it be known though, this album is essential listening, not just for jazz lovers, but consumers of music. Yes, this album is massive, it is over two hours long, a marathon of listening in every sense of the word, but it is constantly dishing out unbelievably intricate and awe-inspiring sounds. Mingus was a bit of a mad-man, an ass-hole, and a perfectionist, but when these components rolled together the end result was worth the blood, sweat, and tears everyone but me had to endure. Epitaph shifts from bebop and cool jazz into something akin to classical music, before shifting around to something a rock music lover would appreciate, and then back again. It is everywhere, but never feels erratic or unfocused. The intricate journey is deliberate and well worth the long investment.
Polysics – What’s This??
The problem with Polysics, a band I truly adore, is that they pump out content at such an exhausting rate that they have no concept of quality control. Every riff that is thought of is turned into a three minute song, and quickly produced for human consumption. I love that they work at such a frenetic pace, but considering the band is so focused on one specific sound it is easy to be overwhelmed by the avalanche of sameness they produce. For every one brilliant idea there are 2-3 very average or worse ideas to follow. This is to the bands detriment too, since if they were a bit more critical of their material and released only the best ideas of their annual albums every 2-3 years they would be creating knock-out albums each time. As this is not the case we are left hoping for the best with each release, and wouldn’t you know it, this album is a prime example of their need of a filter. Songs whirred by at such a blistering pace that I can barely tell you when one ended, one began, and what they even sound like beyond punk riffs and electric bleeps. It is also quite long for a Polysics album, 60 minutes, which just leaves me exhausted and confused.
Les Savy Fav – Root For Ruin
Released in 2010 to little to no fanfare, Les Savy Fav is a band that has eternally gotten the short stick in terms of accolades and love. Overshadowed by significantly worse or blander bands, Les Savy Fav is such a creative force, a blending of various musical ideas into a coherent and unique sound that pays homage to dub, reggae, punk, hardcore, and alternative rock. All of this may just shoot over the listener’s head, leaving them confused, and upset that they didn’t “Get it man”. Les Savy Fav should be headlining festivals and you should feel bad for ignoring them for this long? OH….the album? Yea its awesome why wouldn’t it be?
Ken Nordine – The Best of Word Jazz, Vol. 1
I normally wouldn’t write about a greatest hits album, but it is Ken Nordine, and people really need to know more about his amazing work. Confessions of 349-18-5171 is seriously high art.
Cluster – Zuckerzeit
My life has two phases, before Zuckerzeit and after. My goodness this strange little combination of pulses and grooves is mesmerizing and enthralling. It is hard to put into words how engrossing this album is versus how little there actually is to the album. Each track is its own little collection of beats and rhythms that quickly suck you in and leave you completely captivated before passing you to the next consortium of vibrations. Songs like Marzipan are little more than a catchy percussion beat, a backing guitar like track and a haunting wildly panning synthesizer. These are extremely basic tracks, but they leave me in awe at the world they create in their short existence.
David Bowie – No Plan
3 more songs from the Blackstar recording session. Yes please