Ocean Floor Funeral by Tacachale Chamber Orchestra

By: Derek Spencer

I opened up a random album submission because I thought it would be funny to listen to a whole album and think all kinds of critical thoughts about it but then instead of writing them down just say something stupid like “hey yo fuck this band” and call it a review. It’s like how people say there is beauty in destruction except what I’m destroying here is the potential for genuine exchange of ideas.

But then I started listening and I’m kinda vibing/digging the album which, unfortunately, I can’t often say with a genuine straight face about a lot of the submissions I get. I’ll have to save my “hey yo fuck this band” post for a different band because I just wanna say Ocean Floor Funeral by Tacachale Chamber Orchestra is pretty dope and you heard it here first even if their band name is kinda dumb.

What do I like about it? I don’t know, fucking everything. Tight ass production, lyrics I can project my own insecurities on, consistent and interesting tonal palettes, evocotive compositional choices. You killin it, Tacachale Chamber Orchestra. Please keep tearing up Gainsville and Bandcamp. I don’t care that you only have 80 facebook followers, you’re a viral sensation in my heart.

Advertisements

Abandonded by Timeofhex

By: Derek Spencer

According to label Bump Foot, Timeofhex is “a cross-disciplinary artist from Perth, Australia who converts photographs into music via hexadecimal data.” Aside from it being the form of communication Matt Damon uses to commune with NASA in The Martian, I’m not really sure what hexadecimal means, especially in relation to photography or music. Abandoned in particular, is described as “a series of five tracks based on photographs taken in Vanuatu in 2014.”

Lets try and piece this together. The music consists of synths, ambient vocals, and nature sound effects layered over multicultural (see: *tribal*) percussion. I imagine at least one of these samples was lifted from the soundtrack for NBC’s Survivor. What, exactly is the conversion process from photograph to track? I believe  a proper explanation probably involves the words “pixel”, “MIDI”, and “algorithm”. How all these words fit together into a coherent process is left unclear.

This is not randomly generated music based on a given set of data. It is tonally curated, and conforms to common intuitions of structure and progression. The opacity of the process does not inspire faith in the already tenuous link between photo and composition. The stills we are presented with are colorless, forlorn, and distorted, while the music that supposedly corresponds is bright and globally referential.

In the middle of the third track, “Persistence of the Sea”, a cartoonish voice repeatedly exclaims: “This is not a dream! What’s happening to this place?” This moment effectively turned my skepticism into outright denial. It’s jarring and cheesy and I can’t imagine it corresponds to either a rigorous hexadecimal translation or a looser, pathos-driven cross-discipline technique.

It’s hard to critique process-based art. More like a science experiment than a form of expression, the artist selects a process and adheres to it. My consumption of this product feels more like an observation of results, divorced from any direct communication with the artist. While I can’t say the experiment went wrong or is bad, I can say that it’s effect on me–emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, or otherwise–was remarkably non-existent.

My 31 favorite albums of 2015

Presented without comment, my 31 favorite albums of 2015:

To Pimp a Butterfly- Kendrick Lamar
Platforms- Holly Herndon
I Love You Honeybear- Father John Misty
Sauna- Mount Eerie
Viet Cong- Viet Cong
At.Long.Last.A$AP- A$AP Rocky
Sympathy- GABI
Who’s Gonna Get Fucked First?- Father
The Offer- Yowler
Algiers- Algiers
A Shapeless Pool of Lovely Pale Colors Suspended in the Darkness-Shmurphy
Four Ghosts- Witch Bell
Wave[s]- Mick Jenkins
Jenny Death- Death Grips
Summertime ’06- Vince Staples
Big Dark Love- Murder by Death
Released from Love/You Whom I Have Always Hated-Thou/The Body
The Sprinter- Torres
Cosmic Troubles- Faith Healer
The Phosphorescent Blues- Punch Brothers
Fantasy Empire- Lightning Bolt
Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress- Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Surf- Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment
Leg Toucher- Toupee
The Deal- SUMAC
In Colour- Jamie xx
A New Place 2 Die- Archy Marshall
The Great Pretenders- Mini Mansions
Sleepwalker- Long Beard
Honeymoon- Lana del Rey
Dark Energy- Jlin

New reviews coming in the new year,

Derek

ALBUM REVIEW: Low Spokes by Lucas Van Lenten

Released two and a half years ago, Lucas Van Lenten’s Low Spokes espouses a particular brand of triteness that has since faded from favor. Nonetheless, the album succeeds in it’s appeal to late-indie’s most relatable brand of irony.

The 11-song LP is not dissimilar from a young child that knows how to use her cuteness to gain advantage– you know they know what their doing, but your cultural and neurological predispositions prevent you from doing anything but saying “aww, how cute!”  When Van Lenten sings “and they all come down like rain into us/ we’re born of stardust and luck” I would strongly prefer to not feel the affect of goosebumps down my neck. And yet here we all are. Plenty of Van Lenten’s lyrics fall short of the mark (“there’s no clock to strike the hour/ just the creep of deadly flowers on the stairs”, “a baker’s dozen/ snow-white roses/ picked for no one”), and yet his delivery and evocative structures manage to carry a sufficient number through to the heart-strung finish line.

Low Spokes opens with the bouncy “San Sebastian”, a sign of all the Cloud Cult derivations and emotional manipulations to come. Utilizing lush backing harmonies, an accordion, and a sleigh bell, Van Lenten settles back into his wheelhouse on “Pocketful of Blackbirds.” As a general rule, Van Lenten is less successful when he picks up the electric guitar– exemplified dully on “Black Veruza”. Aside from forgettable tone choices, guitar driven tracks on this album leave behind the dynamics and ambiance that make other selections so successful. By the time we hit “Speak of the Devil”, the first notes of mandolin appear to be god-sent. The light-hearted “Out in the Streets” stands out from the album, as it shirks the oh-so-of-it’s-time signals and instead blends Queen-esque guitar harmonies with Your Favorite Weapon-era Brand New vocal patterns. Unfortunately, it is followed up by the utterly skippable “Toledo Facedown” before Van Lenten finds his natural resting point to end the album in the serenely triumphant “Shake the Bells Down”.

The songs are littered with radio-signal-space-flanger sound interludes that I have no idea what to do with, especially in light of the album’s excusable over-sentimentality. My only other reference point for this strange intersection is the Sagen-influenced 90’s film Contact— and yet I somehow don’t believe this is the intended reference. Even when ignoring the extraneous, however, listeners can look to Low Spokes as an album that clearly knows it’s strengths, audience, and intended effect.

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Sparks by Ender & Valentine

By: Derek Spencer

Bouncy and even-handed, Ender & Valentine generate ample energy on their 2014 6-track EP SparksNadya Grace and Alex Crous function efficiently as a duo as they create pop-conscious alternative rock trysts with restraint and precision.

The opening track “Screens” introduces and relies upon the rhythmic motif of syncing palm-muted guitars with tightly programmed percussion. Alanis Morissette mingles with spacey late-2000’s emo as retro-textured vocals interplay and echo one another. “Fires” demonstrates the internalized indie-pop tendencies of the duo, complete with a single-line earworm chorus. Stand-out track “Wires” embraces a more recent fascination with shoegaze and noise elements. Together, the 6 tracks assemble a series of dream-like evocations not dissimilar from that of more electronically focused acts of the same genre.

While lyrics more-often-than-not use platitude and common-place imagery as a crutch, they do not inhibit the listening experience dramatically. Along the same lines, however, listeners will walk away with few thematic associations to remember the album by. Assuming the magic of Ender & Valentine lies in the moment rather than the memory, there is plenty of room within these tracks for playful romance and flirts with musical intoxication.

ALBUM REVIEW: You Are The Song That Humanized Me by Fader

By: Derek Spencer

I really don’t want to review this album. I’ve listened to 4 tracks and I just can’t summon the impetus. At least not yet. I’d like to start with some procrastination. Here is the submission email I received (with annotation) prompting the review of Fader’s 2013 release You are the Song that Humanized Me:

“Hi again, no problem about the donation, I like supporting independent art.[like the last 8 or so reviews published here, this submission has jumped the line by donating to my crowdfunder. This makes saying rude/mean/absurd/bad things about music harder, except not really because if they read my blog before donating then they should probably know what to expect. I mean, just read the manifesto] And now I get an album review; what a joy. Here is the original email I sent:
———————

Hello. I recorded a full-length album of various styles/genres [boldfaced lie. this is one genre. Each song is unmistakably like the rest. Do not tell people this.] nearly two years ago [adding distance pt 1: I feel even less bad about saying bad things] and uploaded it to Bandcamp. It seems, from your blog, that you review anything that is sent to you. I would be very honored if you reviewed my album. [unnecessary flatter pt 1: I feel a little more bad about saying bad things]

Some background:
I recorded it when I was 16. [adding distance pt 2: I once again feel even less bad about saying bad things]
Every percussion sound on the album is from a chopped-up recording of me slapping objects in my bedroom. [this will only work if you’re really good]
The synthesizers were recorded by me mic-ing up a Casio keyboard, and putting effects on it. [fuck, you’re not really good, are you?]
The only program used was Garageband. [whelp]
I play every instrument on the album.  [naturally]
If you decide to review my album, you have my thanks, and the amusement of the hundred or so people who have listened to it[adding distance pt 3: the ol’ “is-it-a-self-deprecating-joke-or-a-humble-brag-?-?-?”] ! I have nothing to be ashamed of at this point [adding distance pt 4: okay man I don’t even really feel obligated to listen to the music anymore], so feel free to rip it apart in the dignified fashion you have for past submissions [look pal, there is absolutely nothing dignified about this blog. This whole thing is degrading for everyone involved], if you feel so inclined.
It is located on this Bandcamp page:
https://eliotguerin.bandcamp.com/album/you-are-the-song-that-humanized-me [well now that you got me all rilled up I feel like I gotta listen]
Regards,
Eliot Guerin”
This album is uncomfortable to listen to. My ears recoil into the safe shell of my skull as they fall under fire from a recently post-pubescent adolescent emulation of what I can only imagine are a father’s favorite folk-rock singers. Broken similes are burned into my mind: “like superheroes laying in the hay”; “like a vasectomy of the mind”.  Occasionally, listeners are treated to a noteworthy progression or compositional choice, only to have that choice ruined by forced rhymes and awkward delivery. The organic percussion is not good. Due to some deranged tag-team effect, any given moment wherein the listener can drown out the percussion is briskly filled by the sounds of a new producer discovering stock plug-ins for the first time. Grave Digger is probably the best track.
——————————-
I wrote everything above the line a month ago [adding distance pt. 5?] and then I moved to California and didn’t follow through with my internet promises as quickly as I would have liked to. Sorry. I am not going to edit what I wrote above but I listened to the album again and it’s really not as bad as I said it was. I was probably in a bad mood. I mean I’m not gonna bump this album all the time but the precussive elements are sometimes interesting in a “this-percussion-doesn’t-sound-like-a-palette-I’m-used-to-hearing-often” kind of way. You’re probably not a bad guy. Being a good piano player is a lost art and I respect that you are lost. Peace.

ALBUM REVIEW: In Transit by The Bonds

By: Derek Spencer

Ironically pluralized, The Bonds are the solo project of one Massachusetts-based Benjamin Finn. Charged with compositional theatricality, Finn’s 2014 debut In Transit takes the classic theme of external-change-causing-internal-strife to task with minimalist acoustic expertise.

A naturalized musical theater quality permeates the album, most evidently observed on tracks like “Collect Call” and “Overtime” in which clearly defined metaphors and demonstrative lyrics mingle with signal-oriented songwriting. I believe I’m supposed to use the word rock opera here, but this project feels more natural and less forced than that phrase might imply. A transitional period is conveyed, given movement by atmospherics and experienced slowly over the course of the album.

On opening track “Into the House”, Finn’s maddening repetition of the line “I think I’m going crazy” utilizes an experiential approach, allowing the audience to imbibe of the referenced status quo insanity. Directly following, “Freight Moves Fast” leads us through a landscape of chorus and tremolo effects, implying blurred movement and creating the sonic equivalent of the albums blurred cover art. The combination of “Fetch” and “Under” mark perhaps the most exciting segment of the album, establishing a soft underhanded depression before exploding into destructive dissonance. The 7-minute title track serves well as the slow-burning climax it was meant to be.

The Bonds’ musical touchstones are clear. The vocal delivery and poignant drama of The Antlers are referenced on tracks “Too Far Gone”, “In Transit”, and “Housekeeping”, while Sujan Stevens can be felt throughout. Though “derivative” is technically a complaint that could be levied here, In Transit is too raw to be a total imitation, too personal to feel stale. Amateur production stands to be the biggest enemy to Finn’s work, though the imbalances and uneven mixes add charm far more often than they detract or distract.

At its core, the album exudes a coldness– a distinct lack of warm bass frequencies, neatly rounded tracks, or relatable hooks. Practically penning his own tagline, Finn sings on “Sun Shine Away”: “I miss the warmth”.  Exciting, nerve-wracking, and elusive, In Transit evokes the melancholy of transition and invites listeners down its winding winter path. I suspect many listeners will be unable to refuse.