CHIRP reviews

April 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

The following reviews have previously only been viewable to CHIRP staff, as resources for DJs looking for album summaries. Here are a select few that I’ve written over the past year.

Disappears / Guider EP / kranky / 2011

I love it when “more of the same” is a positive thing. On Guider, Disappears pick up where they left off on 2010’s Lux (one of CHIRP’s favorites of the year, #10 on the definitive list). The Chicago band is still heavy on the echoing distortion and post-punk kraut rock. Their songs are murky, but never cluttered. Guider is foreboding, but not exactly gloomy. Pair with Velvet Underground, Suicide, No Age, Women, or Sonic Youth. Oh, and speaking of Sonic Youth, Disappears’ current drummer for the Guider tour is Steve Shelley.

Hauschka / Foreign Landscapes / FatCat / 2010

At times reminiscent of John Cage’s minimalist compositions, but more often sounding like a potential soundtrack to a Charlie Kaufman film, the ambience of Hauschka is just the right blend of cinematic avant-garde. Volker Bertelmann (German) is the composer of these intricate pieces of modern classical music. He uses a prepared piano (a la John Cage) as his primary device for experimentation, but incorporates many other classical instruments as well. Strings, horns and woodwinds are all prominent throughout Foreign Landscapes, evoking the somber mood of a changing season (But this is either fall or winter music, sunshine has no business here). The harmonies are charming and accessible enough to pair with either Steve Reich or Sufjan Stevens.

Prefuse 73 / The Only She Chapters / Warp / 2011

(“Only She” because all of the vocalists on the album are women.) Prefuse is sounding pretty dark these days. I’m not sure what Gil Scott Herron is getting all ominous about, but The Only She Chapters is a gloomy and tragic opera. There isn’t an upbeat moment here. Go back to One Word Extinguisher if you want the fun Prefuse. Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) makes a fitting appearance on The Only Hand To Hold. Zola Jesus works beautifully on The Only Direction is Concrete. It’s tempting to call this music depressing, but maybe it would be fairer to just call it Herron’s “experimental” album. Instead of trying to pair this with Flying Lotus or any glitch-hop, try something from Amnesiac or Bjork.

Joan of Arc / Life Like / Polyvinyl / 2011

Even after all these years, Tim Kinsella still hasn’t learned how to sing. It’s really quite charming, especially now that the emo thing is so far gone. Joan of Arc isn’t as discordantly mathy as they were in the 90s’, but there are remnants of fractions on Life Like. Still jittery and jangly, 2011 Joan of Arc might do well alongside some Dirty Projectors or Tune-Yards these days. But old Jade Tree post-rock will compliment these new songs too. We haven’t been playing enough Braid and Promise Ring on CHIRP anyway, so now we have a good excuse.

Wavves / King of the Beach / Fat Possum / 2010

Less a soundtrack for summers at the beach, Wavves is more like anxiously fuzzy lo-fi for the high, teenage loner hanging out in a hot, dirty garage wishing he was one of the popular guys at the beach party. Youthful angst shimmers over punk riffs and Brian Wilson-inspired reverberating harmonies on King of the Beach. Most of the songs are inanely upbeat, even when lyrics are about being stupid, or an idiot. But even though teenage years are about being young and dumb, they’re supposed to be a lot of fun too. And that fun-loving, adolescent attitude is the defining characteristic of Wavves. Melodies are simple and easy to sing along with, but the electric guitars are skuzzy enough to prevent the music from sounding too sugary. Blend together the Beach Boys, Ramones, Weezer and Animal Collective and you get something like Wavves.

Anathallo / Floating World / Artist Friendship / 2006

With about eight (give or take) members all taking turns playing various instruments and percussion, Anathallo is Chicago’s own indie-quirk-pop powerhouse. Half of Floating World’s lyrics are sung in Japanese, but the English lyrics are so cryptic it’s hard to tell the difference in languages anyway. The album’s best moments are high on energy, in odd time signatures that take a moment to sort through. It’s not as much math-rock as classic 2000s’ indie overindulgence. But Anathallo’s unattainable ambition is what makes them most appealing, because it’s not often a band can take a horn section, double glockenspiel, and dropping drumsticks and turn it all into a car-commercial-ready pop song.

Maps & Atlases / Perch Patchwork / Barsuk / 2010

Indie-pop can get old pretty fast, but Maps & Atlases seem cautiously aware of the field they’re playing on. String quartet bridges and quirky toy-piano fronted hooks staple Maps & Atlases into that tired genre, but the band’s compositional intelligence outweighs any gimmicks. With a knack for unexplored harmonies and a lead singer with one of those voices that’s almost too unique for its own good, the tunes on Perch Patchwork are surprisingly accessible. Each track lives in its own world, but the album isn’t a mess either. Chalk it up to successfully subtle art-rock.

Louis Armstrong / Essential Louis Armstrong/ Columbia / 2004

Along with all of the albums in the Essential series, the Essential Louis Armstrong spans two discs of greatest hits. These songs offer more of Armstrong’s most recognizable works, but his entire career is captured. From his beginnings in New Orleans, to Chicago hot jazz, and finally the New York popular sounds often heard on TV commercials and at weddings. But there’s not a weak track on the album, because one of the great American musicians of all time didn’t have a weak moment.

Foals / Total Life Forever / Sub Pop / 2010
Foals’ proclivity toward proggy math-rock complexities takes a backseat on Total Life Forever. Only faint shadows of technical polyrhythms remain, now mostly replaced with more accessible pop harmonies and inoffensively catchy melodies. This album combines the raucous energy of Bloc Party with the ethereality of Radiohead. There are remarkably dancy moments, but somber stretches of contemplative ambience as well (and sometimes both in one track). Guitars sound like synthesizers …or maybe synthesizers sound like guitars. But ultimately, Total Life Forever boasts an impressively restrained style of indie-funk.

Glenn Kotche / Mobile / Nonesuch / 2010

Wilco’s drummer gets experimental on his solo records. A musical connection to Wilco cannot be heard on Mobile, an album with hardly any melody at all. Too sparse and airy for noise rock, and freer than the freest free jazz, Glenn Kotche’s style is abstract and improvisational like a modern art museum’s sound art gallery. Not only does Mobile showcase Kotche’s creative side, it makes all of that straightforward drumwork on the Wilco albums seem all the more restrained. Kotche is a drummer capable of creating any sort of percussive environments he desires, and just a small example is offered throughout the instrumental trip of Mobile.

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