Music Review: The Twilight Sad – Forget the Night Ahead (2009)

Posted in Uncategorized on September 28, 2009 by liffeymusic

The Twilight Sad, two years off of their critically acclaimed Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters, are back to brood once again.  Those who felt that this year’s excellent sophomore album by The Antlers was a bit too wimpy, or at least too willing to linger, will likely find a friend in The Twilight Sad’s own sophomore effort,  Forget the Night Ahead.  Whether it be the dark, lurking lyrics, the sometimes too-easy-to-digest waves of guitar distortion, or just Graham’s Scottish accent, Forget the Night Ahead brings all the right elements into play, even if it doesn’t always capitalize on the potential that the band clearly carries.

The Twilight Sad have abandoned some of the finer instrumental nuances of Fourteen Autumns for a more distortion heavy, My Bloody Valentine-light sound. The new sound is utilized with mixed results.  For the times that lead singer James Graham brings the melodic hooks, it works brilliantly.  The dirty guitar textures compliment Graham’s skillfully and emotionally delivered lyrics of ambiguity, and sometimes overpower them, a device which is generally used with tact, heightening the reach of a band which was already successful in developing mood.  Tracks such as “The Neighbors Can’t Breathe” and “I Became A Prostitute” are just as apt to rock your face off as they are to pull your hair over your eyes, which is exactly what many fans were hoping for.

On the other hand, the new sound offers some unfortunate disadvantages as well; namely, the fact that this album is consistent to a fault.  While there are undoubtedly moments of dirty transcendence scattered about, a step back will reveal the album to be a bit of a muddy mess; nearly all variety and nuance from Fourteen Autumns is lost.  That’s not too say Fourteen Autumns was particularly exploratory, but it would have been nice to see The Twilight Sad develop in that direction.  The textures dominate this album, resulting in several stretches of indistinguishable sound.  Thankfully, it’s not bad sound, but it’s indistinguishable and forgettabe sound.  These stretches are usually characterized by nominal songwriting on Graham’s part; like the music, the melodies aren’t bad, but too often they have no teeth.  You won’t finish “Seven Years of Letters” or “Scissors” particularly offended, but you won’t really remember much about them either.  Repeated listening, as with many albums worth hearing, will reveal hooks that you hadn’t expected, but too often these potent moments just aren’t worth the effort it takes to uncover them.  It’s these Mogwai inspired guitar washes and periods of arbitrary songwriting that are the album’s only definable weakness, but when Graham is able to ride these waves rather than drown under them, such as on album peak, “That Birthday Present”, The Twilight Sad truly show promise.

All things considered, Forget the Night Ahead is a successful avoidance of a sophomore slump.  It’s a step forward for the band that will satisfy the majority of fans and critics alike, and will probably win a few new fans along the way.  Unfortunately, there’s too much, or perhaps not enough, that holds this album back from becoming a great.  While one has to appreciate that The Twilight Sad is moving forward with their sound, it’s also impossible to not be a little disappointed that there’s far less risk-taking within the album itself.  Nevertheless, the album represents a promising step in what will hopefully be a long and fruitful career for The Twilight Sad.

Final Score: 7.8/10

Highlights: “That Room”, “That Birthday Present”, “The Neighbor’s Can’t Breathe”

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Music Review: Muse – The Resistance (2009)

Posted in 2009, Music, Review on September 22, 2009 by liffeymusic

Muse, at it is already well documented, make superhero music.  Regardless of how seriously singer Matt Bellamy may take the conspiracy theory claims he’s now been making through Muse’s music since their 1999 dubut, Showbiz, Muse are not setting out for credibility, or to lay out any sort of plan to overthrow the wold leaders who are most assuredly plotting against us to… lead the world, or something.  Most of Muse’s audience doesn’t really know what Bellamy’s singing about, nor do they care; Muse knows how to get fists pumping, and to most, that’s all that really counts.

For this reason, it will be easy for many to forgive the undeniable cheesiness of The Resistance.  Accusations of Radiohead mimicry are now out the window; this time around, Muse have chosen to wear the likes of Queen on their sleeves, as is made almost painfully evident on “United States of Eurasia” (“Soon we will see that there can be only one United States of Eura… SIA!!”). To Muse’s credit, they’ve managed to inject enough unexpected influences here and there to keep listeners guessing.  “Undisclosed Desires” will immediately recall the sounds of Depeche Mode, while the piano based “I Belong To You” sounds as if a radioactive meteorite had taken out the Maroon 5 tour bus.

However, despite the unapologetic intentions of The Resistance, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that all the hype suggesting this would be the most overblown outing of Muse’s career was a bit misplaced.  For example, the roaring, ripping riffs which were so plentiful back on Origin of Symmetry and Absolution are now all but absent.  The first three tracks exist primarily to hook any new fans who may have first been lured by Black Holes and Revelations‘ two pop hits, “Starlight” and “Supermassive Black Hole”.  “Guiding Light” and “MK Ultra” can only be described as over the top, but they lack the dynamic diversity it would have taken to truly launch them off the moon.  There’s “Unnatural Selection”, but it borrows too heavily from Origin‘s “New Born”.  “United States of Eurasia” with it’s sweeping, Middle Eastern strings, and “I Belong to You” are really the only things here that outdo say, Mew, or any other like-minded space rock outfit in terms of bombastic scale.  It’s not often I ask this of a group, but Muse, next time could we have a little more… wankery?

On the album closing 3 song suite, Muse forfeit themselves completely to Bellamy’s whim, resulting in a trio of 4 minute orchestral songs that, of all things, seems pensive.  They go down tastily enough, but lack any kind of teeth; they sound good in the background, but background music is about as far as they go.  They never approach the heights of Muse’s guitar driven epics, and seem more concerned with sounding like good songs than actually being good songs.  One of the problems is length; with one minute meandering intros and outros to each piece, it doesn’t leave enough time for the song.  Given a little more breathing room, more devotion and risk taking from Bellamy in  both the song writing and structure departments, they might might have been career highlights rather than album highlights.  But Bellamy’s motive is certainly promising, and given that despite their shortcomings these last 3 songs are by far the highlight of the album, one can’t help but hope Muse will continue to explore classical writing and orchestral arrangements, only next time develop these elements into something that sounds less like Muse toying around and more like Muse taking over.  They’ve already been accused of ripping off Radiohead and Queen (albeit steroid injected rip offs).  Why stop now; it might be time to add Tchaikovsky to their list of blatantly obvious inspirations.

Despite this complaint, plenty of props must still be handed out.  The production, as expected, is flawless and beautiful; the album demands to be played at the highest volume bearable.  Matt’s songwriting remains consistent, although that will be could be considered apro or a con depending on who you ask.  And of course, the prospect of a new tour is absolutely mouth-watering.  Chalk it up to Muse, or to the lack of competition in a musical period dominated by auto tune, but either way they are undoubtedly one of the premier rock bands in the world, and they leave no room to argue otherwise with The Resistance.

Final Score: 8.2/10

Highlights: United States of Eurasia, I Belong to You, Exogenesis: Symphony Pt. 3: Redemption

Music Review: Mew – No More Stories (2009)

Posted in 2009, Music, Review on September 2, 2009 by liffeymusic

Every so often you come across a band about which every aspect of their sound and aesthetic scream out, “We are going to be the biggest band in the world!”, but then somehow go relatively unnoticed.  Mew is exactly that band, and it’s the sheer strength of their grandiose arrangements that have doomed them to take the backseat to the electro-folk stylings of the Animal Collectives and Grizzly Bears of the world who have been deemed the torch-bearers of modern music by critics and fans alike.  Despite specializing in a sound that is looked down upon or at best ignored by indie fans, and despite failing to break into a market that is currently embracing the likes of Muse and The Killers, Mew continue on with their mission of delivering transcendent melodies and extraterrestrial riffs, determined to make as many fall in love as will give their music a chance.

Those familiar with Frengers or And the Glass Handed Kites will have a pretty good idea of what to expect going into No More Stories.  Mew have indeed returned, and although they are now minus one bassist, they have not lost their trademark swoon.  The album will likely make people think of both Frengers and Kites at different points; Frengers during the stretch from “Hawaii” to “Sometimes Life Isn’t Easy”, and Kites on the progged out “Intrducing Palace Players” or the 7 minute centerpiece “Cartoons and Macramé Wounds”.  However, if the album has any fault, it’s that it lacks a standout track that the previous two albums featured; there’s no “Comforting Sounds” or “Zookeeper’s Boy” to be found here, but on the other hand there are fewer missteps than ever before.

What distinguishes No More Stories from the rest of Mew’s catalog is their exploration of texture; never before have they played with robotic beats as they do on “Tricks”, pulled it back with such swagger as they do on “Silas the Magic Car”, or for that matter, played vocals backwards (and maybe forwards as well?  I’m still baffled as to how they synchronized this song) as they do on album opener “New Terrain”.  The entire album is truly, as cheesy at sounds, a musical journey.  Mew is here to lead you by the hand through a musical landscape featuring a wider variety of moods and textures than they’ve ever explored, melodic crescendos that only Mew could have reached (well… maybe Sigur Ros), and a generally transcendent aesthetic that will be ringing in your ears for months to come.

Had they been born into a more accepting culture, Mew would likely occupy both the year end lists and the dreams of every young girl alive.  As it stands now though, they have for me cemented their position among the decade’s essential artists by now delivering three distinct and nearly inscrutable albums in a row, a feat achieved by only the most masterful in the industry.

Final Score: 9.5/10

Highlights: Introducing Palace Players, Repeaterbeater, Silas the Magic Car, Cartoons and Macramé Wounds

Music Review: Mute Math – Armistice (2009)

Posted in 2009, Music, Review on September 2, 2009 by liffeymusic

Mute Math is a special band for me.  I grew up listening exclusively to Contemporary Christian Music,  which is all well and good for a young’un growing up in a Christian home, but eventually one’s taste has to expand.  I mean let’s face it, CCM isn’t exactly a musical pioneer.  That’s where Mute Math came in.  When I first heard their Reset EP, my eyes where opened, and opened wide.  Mute Math, with only 6 standard length tracks and one short outro, managed to hook me with the solid pop/rock conventions that I had always appreciated, and at the same time introduce me to ideas which at the time seemed wildly experimental, and even now after I have undergone 5 years of musical exploration remain pleasing and refreshing.  Their self titled debut long-player satisfied my cravings for more;  Mute Math nearly flawlessly managed to combine pop/rock conventions with hip hop beats, jazz flairs, industrial effects, and experimental stylings.  Mute Math quickly rose to the top of my admittedly small vocabulary of artists.

It should come as no surprise then, that I looked forward to Armistice with both extreme anticipation and nervous unease.  After all, since I had last purchased the self titled album 3 years ago, far more sonically inventive bands had worked their way into my listening time.  Would Armistice expand upon the experiments and instrumentals so seamlessly presented on Reset EP and the self-titled, or would it “sell out”, influenced by the relative success of their single “Typical”?  Unfortunately, the latter is inarguably true.  Whether due to “Typical”, or the new producer, or some other factor, one cannot know, but it is clear that Mute Math are dedicated to focusing on their pop side rather than their more inventive side that had been so promisingly hinted at before.

Of course, it would be unfair to criticize a band simply for choosing a direction that I personally don’t care as much for.  There are some undoubtedly potent moments here.  After the energetic but primitive opener, “The Nerve”, “Backfire” stutters in, introducing a delicious, contagiously unconventional guitar riff and one of Paul Meany’s strongest choruses yet.  “Spotlight” and “Goodbye” are both fast-paced and catchy songs that stand out well against some of the slower numbers.  “Armistice” exposes Mute Math’s New Orleans background by featuring the Rebirth Brass Band, who help to accentuate an album highlight.  “Clipping”, the clear highlight of the album, could stand against nearly any song in Mute Math’s catalog, thanks in large part to a rousing string section that winds through the bridge and supports a soaring, albeit somewhat underdeveloped chorus.

However, as much as Mute Math shines more than ever in some areas, they have suffered just as much in others.  The album feels very artificial compared to the self titled.  “Pins & Needles” and “The Lost Year” are pleasant enough Ballads, but feel arbitrary, and the introduction of strings, although welcome on “Clipping”, sound like they are included for convention’s sake.  In several areas the album feels overly busy, which clouds things and makes the album feel a bit samey.  A few isolated listens will reveal “Odds” to be a standout track, but it’s difficult to distinguish amongst “Goodbye” and the near painful “Electrify”.  The artificial tendencies are no more clear anywhere than on album closer “Burden”.  The 9+ minute song opens with an unmemorable, upbeat song that pales next to “Spotlight” and “Goodbye”.  It’s the ambient interlude that follows that is oddly the best moment on the song.  A potent, if repetitive melody briskly floats above a soundscape that does far more to capture attention than the cashed in opening portion of the song.  The interlude eventually gives way to a tame drum solo, which feels very tacked on, as if Mute Math suddenly remembered that they could do that sort of thing, and half-heartedly rushed to stick it on there.  It’s an awkward and unfitting ending to an album that, if it had wanted a 9 minute closing track, should have offered some sort of structural balance throughout the rest of the album.

Then there’s the issue of songwriting.  While Meany is by no means a particularly poor songwriter, he’s become a very stagnant one.  The lyrics are kept very simple, often embarrassingly so, such as on “The Nerve”.  More than that though, he doesn’t seem willing to really take his songs anywhere.  We know that he can, as proved by the likes of old songs such as “Break the Same” and “Stall Out”, as well as by his excellent live performances.  However, the album lacks the flair and direction that I had been hoping for; he generally seems content to deliver his simple lines, occasionally adding a bit of variation in his delivery, such as the added raspyness on “Pins & Needles”.  Part of the problem is the production.  I hate to blame an album’s faults on the producer when I had very little insight into the studio, but the production on the vocals is too artificial; some of the effects are entirely unnecessary, when we know that Meany is perfectly capable of delivering without electronic assistance.  Next time around, Meany is going to need to make an effort to sophisticate his songwriting approach both lyrically and melodically and be more willing to experiment with vocal variation.  Darren King’s percussion antics can only hold so much of the burden.

That said, Armistice is by no stretch of the imagination a bad album.  It may seem odd that I’m assigning a fairly high score to an album that I’ve primarily criticized.  The tone of the review can be attributed to the expectations that Mute Math had set with their past efforts.  If anything, Armistice is a testament to Mute Math’s overall worth; they’ve taken another small step down (Reset > s/t > Armistice… We’ll ignore the abysmal Spotlight EP), and still have a great album on their hands.

Final Score: 8.0/10

Highlights: Backfire, Clipping, Spotlight, Odds

Massive Black

Posted in Uncategorized on June 13, 2009 by liffeymusic

Here is something very cool you should check out: In case you didn’t know, Massive Black Inc., a supremely sexy concept art company consisting of the likes of Andrew “Android” Jones, Jason Chan, Justin “Coro” Kaufman and many more, have DVDs and downloads for sale that allow you to see directly how the professionals work. Most are priced at $15, which is very reasonable for all the info you’re going to get out of them (I’ve been stocking up all summer, and learning a ton. Far more than I was learning in school, to be honest.)

What’s more, the proceeds go to keep conceptart.org running as a free resource. If you haven’t been, you need to. It is a seriously powerful resource.

You can find the vids on the forum here: http://conceptart.org/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=144

Most recent include Jason Chan: Style Exploration, The Business of Art, The Mystery of Form Starring Mike Bierek, and ZhangLu and Jason Manley Digital Painting Female Portraiture.

The Big Music List, halfway through 2009

Posted in Uncategorized on June 13, 2009 by liffeymusic

Now that it is summer, maybe I can start writing legit reviews again. 😐 Anyways, here’s a look at my (badass) year in music so far.

Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavillion – 9.7
mewithoutYou – It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All A Dream! It’s Alright – 9.5
Hecq – Steeltongued – 9.4
The Antlers – Hospice – 9.4
Animals as Leaders – Animals as Leaders – 9.3
The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love – 9.3
Mastodon – Crack the Skye – 9.2
Maudlin of the Well – Part the Second – 9.2
Black Cock – Robot Child with a God Complex – 9.2
James Blackshaw – The Glass Bead Game – 9.2
IAMX – Kingdom of the Welcome Addiction – 9.1
Grizzly Bear – Veckatimist – 9.1
Antony & the Johnsons – The Crying Light – 9.1
Fever Ray – Fever Ray – 9.1
Andrew Bird – Noble Beast – 9.0
Karl Sanders – Saurian Exorcisms – 9.0
Giuseppe Ielasi – Aix – 9.0
Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix – 8.8
The Dream – Love vs Money – 8.8
Akron/Family – Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free – 8.7
The Field – Yesterday and Today – 8.7
Nels Cline – Coward – 8.7
The Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca – 8.6
The Horrors – Primary Colours – 8.6
M. Ward – Hold Time – 8.5
Allen Toussaint – The Bright Mississippi – 8.5
Dredg – The Pariah, The Pharoah, The Delusion – 8.5
St. Vincent – Actor – 8.4
Paper Route – Absence 8.4
Sholi – Sholi – 8.4
Balmorhea – All Is Wild, All Is Silent – 8.4
Franz Ferdinand – Tonight: Franz Ferdinand – 8.3
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz! – 8.3
The Bird and the Bee – Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future – 8.3
Ozric Tentacles – The Yumyum Tree – 8.3
Future of the Left – Travels With Myself and Another – 8.3
Joker’s Daughter – The Last Laugh – 8.2
Yagya – Rigning – 8.2
P.O.S. – Never Better – 8.2
Radio Moscow – Brain Cycles – 8.2
Metric – Fantasies – 8.2
Omar Rodriguez Lopez – Old Money – 8.2
Zu – Carboniferous – 8.2
K’naan – Troubadour – 8.2
Neko Case – Middle Cyclone – 8.2
The Mars Volta – Octahedron – 8.1
Æthenor – Faking Gold and Money – 8.1
Starfucker – Jupiter – 8.1
Propagandhi – Supporting Caste – 8.1
Bomb the Music Industry! – Scrambles – 8.1
Lily Allen – It’s Not Me, It’s You – 8.1
Bat for Lashes – Two Suns – 8.1
A.C. Newman – Get Guilty – 8.1
Röyksopp – Junior – 8.0
Black Moth Super Rainbow – Eating Us – 8.0
Felice Brothers – Yonder Is The Clock -8.0
Burial & Four Tet – Moth/Wolf Cub – 8.0
Mountains – Choral – 8.0
Vienna Teng – Inland Territory – 8.0
PPP – Abundance – 8.0
Passion Pit – Manners – 8.0
N.A.S.A. – Spirit of Apollo – 7.9
Fanfarlo – Reservoirs – 7.9
Asobi Seksu – Hush – 7.9
Wavves – Wavvves – 7.9
Atom™ – Liedgut – 7.9
Telepathe – Dance Mother – 7.9
Cursive – Mama, I’m Swollen – 7.8
Finale – A Pipe Dream and a Promise – 7.8
Luck-One & Dekk – Beautiful Music – 7.8
Sin Fang Bous – Clangour – 7.8
Omar Rodriguez Lopez – Mega Ritual – 7.8
Scott Matthews – Elsewhere – 7.8
Ben Folds – Presents University A Cappella – 7.8
Lotus Plaza – The Floodlight Collective – 7.8
Oren Lavie – The Opposite Side of the Sea – 7.8
Peter Bjorn & John – Living Thing – 7.7
Arbouretum – Song of the Pearl – 7.6
Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career – 7.4
A Hawk and a Hacksaw – Delivrance – 7.4
John Frusciante – The Empyrean – 7.4
Swan Lake – Enemy Mine – 7.3
Micachu and the Shapes – Jewelry – 7.2
Patrick Wolf – The Bachelor – 7.2
Ganglians – Monster Head Room – 7.2
Eleni Mandell – Artificial Fire – 7.2
El Goodo – Coyote – 7.2
The Paper Chase – Someday This Could All Be Yours – 7.1
Drake – So Far Gone – 7.1
City Center – City Center – 7.1
Bell Orchestre – As Seen Through Windows – 7.0
Moderat – Moderat – 7.0
Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band – Outer South – 6.9
Dan Deacon – Bromst – 6.9
U2 – No Line on the Horizon – 6.9
Fiction Family – Fiction Family – 6.9
Dananananaykroid – Hey Everyone! – 6.8
The Audition – The Audition – 6.8
Prefuse 73 – Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian – 6.8
White Rabbits – It’s Frightening – 6.7
Vetiver – Tight Knit – 6.8
The Cool Kids – Gone Fishing – 6.5
Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown – 6.5
Dälek – Gutter Tactics – 6.5
Japandroids – Post-Nothing – 6.2
Mono – Hymn to the Immortal Wind – 6.1
Great Eskimo Hoax – Of Many Victories – 6.1
The Wooden Birds – Magnolia – 6.0
Blu – Her Favorite Colo(u)r – 5.8
Andrew Bird – Useless Creatures – 5.8
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – 5.5
Newsboys – In the Hands of God – 5.4
Wixel – Winter – 5.2
BJ Nilsen & Stilluppsteypa – Man From Deep River – 4.9
Tim Hecker – Imaginary Country – 4.8
Bruce Springsteen – Working On A Dream – 4.1
Loren Connors & Jim O’Rourke – Two Nice Catholic Boys – 3.1
Omar Rodriguez Lopez – Despair – 1.9

Music Review: Fever Ray – Fever Ray (2009)

Posted in 2009, Music, Review on February 18, 2009 by liffeymusic

When The Knife announced in 2006 that they would be going on a three year hiatus for Olaf Dreijer to resume work on his Coolof side project, it came as a dissapointment to fans of dark electrpop everywhere.  After all, The Knife had just put out their most successful release to date, Silent Shout, which won all six of the Grammis (the Sweedish equivelant of the Grammy Awards) it was nominated for, including Album of the Year and Artist of the Year, and was called Album of the Year by the highly influential music website Pitchfork Media.

Well, the three years is about up, but it’s not The Knife that’s recapturing the attention of those electronic fans, at least not yet.  It’s Karin Dreijer Andersson, a.k.a. Fever Ray, the sister half of The Knife.  And while brother Olaf’s solo project was the main reason given for the hiatus, it turns out that Karin’s solo project is the most worthwhile, due in large part to the fact that Fever Ray sounds almost identical to The Knife.  Olaf even appears on several tracks, making it practically indistinguishable but for the name difference and a slight decrease in the usually lush soundscapes in favor of relatively more traditional song structures.

With a more minimal sound than what Knife fans may be used to, a big question for individual listeners may be whether the occassional build ups are worth the many moments of subdued beats and verses.  This is really an unfortunate question for one to have to pose.  The situation could be compared to that of Icelandic superpowers Sigur Rós, who listeners often only listen to for “the good part”, that is, the climax of their often long and droning songs.  Of course, as any decidated Sigur Rós fan will tell you, the quiet parts are just about as good, and the same applies to Fever Ray.  While the engrossing melodic heights of Coconut and Concrete Walls are certainly the most easy portions of the album to appreciate, any who take time to unfold the many subtler beauties here will find that the climaxes are much easier to wait for.

As fans of The Knife wait anxiously for the end of the nearly complete three year hiatus, don’t be surprised if their next album makes Fever Ray look like one of those understated melodies backed by a chilly, unintrusive beat.  Take a good look at what Fever Ray has to offer, and you may find yourself getting as much out of it as any spectacle The Knife have produced.

Final Score – 9.1/10

Highlights: If I Had A Heart, Concrete Walls, Triangle Walks, Coconut