Wednesday, May 30, 2012

fin - John Talabot


John Talabot
Permanent Vacation Records.

SCQ Rating: 80%

Blame it on a hyperbole-dependent press or my own winter-sick reluctance but I wasn’t overly keen on hearing a record that evokes the “kind of bliss associated with dancing on Mediterranean beaches at the height of summer” (The Guardian). At least not during a Canadian February. John Talabot’s fin, a full-length that had been anticipated in some circles – and not just Mediterranean ones – for nearly four years, didn’t need patience in my case so much as adrenaline, which aligned when fin became my album-of-choice while running the local gym’s track.

Tempo, the lead criteria by which I’d first chosen the disc, gave Talabot all of the fuel he needed to shake my slight expectations. Although still certainly a dance record full of rhythm and slick dynamics, fin graduates to the realm of capital-A Album status on the heels of its opening trifecta alone. The dense jungle that inhabits “Depak Ine”, the tropics-inflected groove of “Destiny” and an ambient head-spin known as “El Oeste” provide more than enough flexibility to ensure that fin becomes notorious for far greater accomplishments than a heavy BPM index. Through pop-leaning vocal tracks like “Journeys”, in which contributor Ekhi calls to mind Panda Bear’s role on Pantha du Prince’s Black Noise, and instrumental dance cuts like “H.O.R.S.E.”, Talabot’s meticulous sound-environment tends to inform the beat (instead of the other way around).

Given that a few of these songs were available as singles in advance of the full-length, it’s expected that some tracks give up their mystique easier than others. “Last Land” hits the nerve of its main hook early and rides it longer than necessary, whereas the compacted “Estiu” could’ve thrived off of its slippery bass figure for a few minutes more. That said, any learning curve detectable on fin feels theoretical at best, since each track operates facets of the same exotic and nocturnal mood, thereby making it easy to overlook a passable dance track in favour of sprinting through Talabot’s whole set. If “So Will Be Now…”, the concluding collaboration with Pional that challenges every other dance track this year, can be heard as the hands-in-the-air finish line, fin represents the shadowy, sensual journey that got us there.

Cosyland - Laid Back


Laid Back
Brother Music.

SCQ Rating: 75%

As electronic music continues to infiltrate the mainstream, we’re seeing a generation ahead of even the early hipsters reclaiming the bands that pioneered machine-music in the first place. During a time when the Museum of Modern Art in New York City is honouring Kraftwerk’s entire catalog disc-by-disc, even Danish duo Laid Back, who had a string of popular songs in the early 80s, have reemerged to toast their influence.

John Guldberg and Tim Stahl never disappeared entirely from the music scene but Cosyland offers a fresh spin on the retrospective mentality, taking rarities from their early 80s analog tapes, tweaking them appropriately, and unleashing them onto a new audience. Reintroducing Laid Back’s sound proves an immediate no-brainer; the likes of “Cocaine Cool” (an extended cut over the version that premiered on a 2010 compilation) and “Get Laid Back” present a gorgeous merger of clean electronics that purists will bask in and island accents that prevent the duo from sounding sterile. Add whispery but well-mixed vocals sporadically into the flow and Laid Back assert themselves as entirely viable in 2012. The fixed rhythm of “Get Laid Back” allows some light space-disco impulses to rumble beneath while “Cocaine Cool” bubbles over some light crooning like an ideal pre-club anthem.

And although the title track is among their best examples of sleek electro-pop on display, its double-inclusion (the other being the video edit) introduces the overarching issue with Cosyland: there isn’t enough here to satiate even an EP’s worth. Having removed the lengthier but near-identical “Cosyland” mix, this release expires in less than twenty minutes, which feels particularly disappointing because what’s here is genuinely fantastic. Had Laid Back added some newly written material to these archival beauties – now that would’ve been a real return-to-form. 

Paths - Olan Mill


Olan Mill
Facture Records.

SCQ Rating: 76%

Paths, the new record from Olan Mill, arrived in Skeleton Crew Quarterly’s inbox through an anonymous source. No press release, no small-talk. In all fairness, I’d have completely ignored the email had the anonymous source not been, as it turns out, a writer from a well-respected music website. So I gave it a spin and let me tell you: ignorance is bliss. At the risk of not doing my job properly, I’ve taken to Paths’ neo-classical tides without any insight on the creative impulses behind Olan Mill or Facture Records; these compositions speak perfectly well for themselves.

One listen to “Bleu Polar” and one immediately understands the appeal. Blossoming out of a warm string passage, the opening track moves like a slow-motion daydream that’s at once tragic, uplifting and cinematic in a decidedly reserved way. Striking a vein similar to the dense but airy ambience permeating Stars Of the Lid’s work, Olan Mill then branches into a rippling, piano-based vignette “Springs” and the drone-fed “On Waiting”, the latter building as slowly and purposefully as a dramatic film score.

Paths distinguishes itself as two halves, perhaps as a hint to how superior Olan Mill might sound on limited edition vinyl, but there’s no overt difference between the approaches of 'Side A' and 'Side B'. “On Leaving”, a less weighty sibling to “On Waiting”, ends the record on a celestial high, with symphonic nuances layered over an emotional but steady plateau. Eschewing neo-classical’s high-brow reputation for compositions that are expressively mood-based and unobtrusive, Paths should elbow itself a loving position on the iPod of any ambient fan that loves having their heart-strings pulled.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Landmark - Apollo Ghosts


Apollo Ghosts
You’ve Changed Records / Bandcamp

SCQ Rating: 90%

“What Are Your Influences?” opens almost in mid-riff, its guitar cutting through my speakers and running me down with Apollo Ghosts’ heightened sense of purpose, something that, for one reason or another, hadn’t been very clear on previous encounters. A goofy and raw performance in which Adrian Teacher wore a cape and took the most willing fans on an ‘exercise break’ into the streets outside the venue, 2010’s half-worthwhile Mount Benson; these collect my underwhelmed take on a band loaded with conviction but unsure how to effectively channel it.

In more than a handful of moments, Landmark still showcases the ramshackle, Pavement-adoring trio I watched tear through that sweaty opening slot two years ago, but that’s just to say that Apollo Ghosts still have their humour intact. On the whole, Landmark presents a ferocious change of pace and precision, reaching for (and attaining, no doubt) a diverse offering of smart indie-rock hooks with the authentic feel that champions most You’ve Changed Records releases. And while the band’s “influences” are indeed apparent – touching upon Sonic Youth (“Landmark”) and the Velvet Underground (“I’m In Love With the USA”), among others – they’re commandeered with a playfulness that has quickly become Apollo Ghosts’ calling card.

Landmark’s top highlights, which eventually distinguish themselves from a patchwork of rapid-fire punk-rock motifs, supersede any sway presented by those rock-and-roll titans. Take “Why Can’t I Be the Man On Stage?” which could arguably sound like a great many bands but also sounds explicitly like Apollo Ghosts honing into a ripe mix of 60s jangle and 80s, NYC dissonance. Same goes for “So Much Better When You’re Gone”, a break-up song coated in cloudy ambience, where Teacher’s lyrics and tone – both painfully direct and gentle – shapes it into an ideal song for peacefully pushing everyone away. When these songs are heard amid Landmark’s fluid, riff-based swampiness, it’s difficult to overstep what a massive achievement these thirty-four minutes represent; that, in seemingly no time at all, Apollo Ghosts have graduated to the forefront of Canada’s uncompromising independent scene.

Through Glass - Attilio Novellino

Through Glass

Attilio Novellino
Valeot Records.

SCQ Rating: 76%

In the headspace of earphone listenings, the sounds not only circulate around the listener, they literally seem to emanate from points in the cranium itself, as if the archetypes of the unconscious were in conversation… When sound is conducted directly through the skull of the headphone listener, he is no longer regarding events on the acoustic horizon; no longer is he surrounded by a sphere of moving elements. He is the sphere. He is the universe.” ~ Murray Schafer

The above quotation, which adorns the inside sleeve of Attilio Novellino’s second LP, adequately responds to a quandary I stumbled upon earlier this month (upon the release of another admirable Valeot Records release) when I sought to define the term ambient by alternately admitting that the genre has proven pretty much indefinable. While the mention of “earphone listenings” doesn’t suggest ambient music per se, Schafer does enlist the immersive condition that few other genres offer so instinctively, and although it could read as self-congratulatory for Novellino to let the quote reference his own studio experiments, Through Glass examines a truly apt spectrum of noise and ambient trespasses.

Of a similar tone, if not design, to the recent work of Tim Hecker, Through Glass buries latent harmonies in walls of white noise and sound manipulation. In fact, the bass line driving “Ex Butterfly” calls to mind An Imaginary Country’s “Sea Of Pulses” to a tee. Otherwise Novellino embarks on his own sea change with a liquid progression that grows complicated over layers, or even full tracks, at a time. (Even “Ex Butterfly” transitions gradually through a tonal plateau called “Her Red Shoes”, and into the crystalline, toy-box lullaby “After You’ve Had A Life”.) Although the record’s elements occasionally come off as saturated, it’s more often an empowering infiltration of sound than a confrontation, with Novellino’s interference sometimes working as a sort of percolating percussion (“Through Glass”) or still-life blur likened to a shoe-gaze effect (“Yosemite’s Night Sky”).

Novellino’s particular style begs for contradiction – abrasive but never grating, intense yet somehow soothing – by making noise a therapeutic invitation for the introverted. And while Mr. Schafer might consider my spellbound listening a contributor to his theory on headphone-caused transcendence, I reckon that Through Glass handily fashions its stormy universe without my subconscious input. Here’s to a provocative new talent from a label that continues to push boundaries.

You, Anniversary - Lindsay Fuller

You, Anniversary

Lindsay Fuller
ATO Records.

SCQ Rating: 68%

The title track of Lindsay Fuller’s third release takes inspiration from the poetry of W.S. Merwin and particularly the anniversary of one’s own death, and how it passes annually without our awareness or foresight. If you’d prefer not to dwell on that notion, well you may as well stop reading now. But for those among us who enjoy their gritty folk rock tossed with unhealthy doses of gothic wonder, You, Anniversary is a must-listen.

Opening track “Everything I Ever Had” crashes down with the offbeat grace of Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker period as Fuller declares “Lost my mind when I met you”. The warmth of musicianship that overshadows Fuller’s morbid fascinations eventually wanes over venom-filled vignettes (“Grey Gardens”, “Circa Never”) and the occasional Nick Cave dirge (“Libby”). Some of You, Anniversary is scathing, sure, but even when her skeletons are out of the closet, Fuller’s vocal command has the capacity to turn the frightening into something existentially celebratory.

Like a razor-sharp Emmylou Harris, Lindsay Fuller showcases a lot of strengths, both vocally and with regards to the dark folk arrangements carved out alongside her session players. Still, You, Anniversary stands tallest when occupying the full tenets of shadow-play by letting some shafts of light in.

Monday, May 14, 2012 - Peter Broderick

Peter Broderick
Hush Records.

SCQ Rating: 86%

Is it wrong that as soon as I entered – the website that is an album – and watched Broderick’s video introduction, I nearly closed the window without hearing a note? I mean, as compelling and relatable as Broderick’s reasoning may be for offering free access to his highly anticipated record (and in the form of an interactive website, no less), it’s disappointing to find oneself confronted on the homepage by an architect so regrettably caught up in his own eccentricities. Now even to me that last sentence reads as pretty insensitive – I don’t typically get personal with critiques on strangers – but it’s hard not to digest (the website, anyway) as an intentionally personal diary when Broderick has detailed the explicit origin for each song before listeners have had a chance to absorb it on its own merits. As a reaction to illegal downloading, I suppose the website’s aim speaks for itself so c’mon – whatever happened to show, don’t tell.

Fans and newcomers can decide for themselves what to make of the website’s occasional bout of too-much-information but the music, purportedly at the centre of this project, proves far less divisive. In fact, (the record) stands as one of the best things I’ve heard all year. Whether being sweet-talked by the tender orchestration surrounding “I Am Piano” or swallowed into “Asleep”’s slow-burning vortex of piano, found-sound clips, and electronics, it’s impossible to fault Broderick’s understanding of how to expand or conflict a composition for the benefit of a potent atmosphere. Some of these ten tracks communicate via weighty and intricate structures (“With the Notes In My Ears”), others grab at poignancy through largely acoustic means (“Blue”), but never does Broderick’s approach come off as heavy-handed for the sake of embellishing average song-fare. The title track, even, which can best be described as a welcome jingle to remember the website’s address key-for-key, draws the listener in for glimpses of an uncompromising genius peddling Broderick’s oddity.

And I do mean oddity, not audacity, since the vast majority of operates as a creatively executed but ultimately traditional modern-folk record. In a business where artists market their idiosyncrasies, whether authentic or not, I’d reckon that aforementioned video should pretty much damn Broderick’s chances of coasting on image. Which is great, because beneath’s plain charcoal sleeve lies some of the most gorgeously produced music anyone’s ears could be blessed with. The internet’s got nothing on this.

Hollow - Known Rebel


Known Rebel
Tympanik Audio.

SCQ Rating: 72%

As an electronic duo carving out a reputation amid countless hobbyists and imitators, Known Rebel must know they’re testing fate on Hollow’s opening cut. If the Aphex Twin styled breakbeats and Boards of Canada-esque analog work weren’t hazardous enough as touchstones to another era – not to mention other electronic artists – these guys just had to call the track “Anonymous”. It’s a title that likely didn’t read as self-referential in the studio but will resound with arced eyebrow for many high-functioning electronic-music listeners. Given a few spins, however, “Anonymous” outplays its easy assumptions by staying true to its core by letting beats skitter playfully over tried-and-true machine melodies.

Hollow, by extension, promises the same reliability with over half a dozen tracks that motor on urban beats and soothe with stretches of agreeable keyboard lines. Tracks like “Neigh” and “Gathering of the Argonauts” would rather oscillate pleasantly than confront listeners with left-field aggression. And although Known Rebel won’t be awarded many accolades for that conservatism, they should certainly win over new fans tired of the present day’s maximized genre-mashing. The duo’s subtle elements of drum-and-bass and glitch get magnified on Hollow’s remix-filled latter half, but not so much that Known Rebel lose their sonic footing. If anything, the record would’ve felt sleeker had it dropped the more showy side-attractions like 2methylBulbe10l’s remix of “Helium-3” and Lucidstatic’s industrial-leaning contribution, mostly because Known Rebel’s modest goals seem at odds with a bloated seventy-minute run-time.

The record doesn’t characterize itself as a throwback – in fact, it refuses to contextualize any purpose at all besides an eagerness to supply weary listeners with enough brain candy to satisfy an evening in. When Known Rebel are in the driver’s seat, Hollow excels at its mission.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Love In Times Of Repetition - Asonat

Love In Times Of Repetition

n5MD Records.

SCQ Rating: 78%

It’s a testament to the likability of The Postal Service that even a decade after Give Up upgraded electro-pop to the forefront of Western hipsterdom – and with thousands of copycat acts dumped unmercifully by the wayside – music-lovers remain breathless for the duo to reemerge. At the expense of Jimmy Tamborello and Ben Gibbard, both highly engaging artists in their own rights, what people want isn’t necessarily another Postal Service record so much as another idyllic marriage; timeless songwriting and left-field progression gelling into one accessible, groundbreaking sound.

Over their debut full-length, Asonat (Fannar Asgrimsson and Jonas Thor Guomundsson) seek to reassemble the electro-pop rules with an icy, Scandinavian flair. It’s an ideal partnership to attempt such a task, not only since both songwriters hail from Iceland but because each already possesses hard credentials on the slippery genre. Asgrimsson released one of recent memory’s finest folktronica records with 3:03 (courtesy of his other project, Plastik Joy) while Guomundsson has been channeling airy electronic melodies under the Ruxpin moniker for years. The sleek machinations of Love In Times Of Repetition feel empowered by the Ruxpin mastermind (particularly on an oscillating instrumental like “We Have Come So Far Again”) but stick to the wall thanks to Asgrimsson’s footing (which gives "On the Other Side" a hand-crafted, organic focus).

Besides collaborators offering complimentary talents, Love In Times Of Repetition thrives on ample doses of variety that keep listeners unsure what’s around the corner. Guest-vocalists dabble into the mix, intoning over the intimate “Where the Heart Lives” with heavy accent and questioning the state of romantic affairs in “Expectations”. Likewise, the mood flips with the flexibility of a full day’s soundtrack; “Part Of Your Plan” eases its tension stealthily over one’s morning coffee whereas “What Have We Done (Silence Is Golden)” shimmers with the urgency of streetlights caressing a darkened car. Orbiting the pristine heart of Give Up with a wide, off-axis trajectory, Asonat beckon electro-pop’s youthful heart to inch increasingly toward the left, resulting in an inviting and artfully progressive pop album.

A Bee In Her Mouth - Steve Gates

A Bee In Her Mouth

Steve Gates
Black Guillemot Music.

SCQ Rating: 74%

Thanks, Daniel Lanois. Sure I suppose there have been several occasions I could’ve written an open letter of appreciation for your work (on the heels of Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball or a slew of Brian Eno’s highlights, for example) but instead I’m thanking you for an album you didn’t even know existed. That’s right – A Bee In Her Mouth was sparked into being after a public talk in which you instructed those in attendance to trust their instincts and “be reckless”. Nova Scotia based songwriter Steve Gates happened to be in that crowd.

You’d be super proud of that forgotten speech, now. While Gates’ songwriting hardly comes off as reckless – in fact, “Godforsaken” and “Five White Tigers” sound as studied in roots-rock and melancholy as just about anything I’ve heard this year – his execution gives these folk arrangements a gusto that heartens the set’s occasional strings and horns. The disc branches out on the latter half with vague Motown touches (“Something New”) and harmonica-blowin’, call-and-answer folk verses (“Keepin People Out”) – left turns that betray Gates’ early string of full-bodied and modern folk songs. All the same, Mr. Lanois, A Bee In Her Mouth showcases a multi-talented songwriter hunting down his voice; whether it ends up earnest (as on “Proud Convey It”) or road-weary from wandering folk’s many avenues (“Tonight”), Steve Gates looks to become your greatest unintended.