Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bon Iver- For Emma, Forever Ago (2007)

It's not that i think Bon Iver needs another piece of press ontop of the already heaping piles of hype surrounding his album- it's that this is a music blog about what i'm currently listening to, and i'm currently finding For Emma, Forever Ago to be incredible. I like folk music, but it's not my favorite genre. Therefore, i guessed that the album would be good- but probably only astonishing for the truest indie folk lovers out there. I like Bonnie Prince Billy, but i've got to be in the mooooood, you know? After my first listen through last night, my expectations were beyond exceeded.
For Emma, Forever Ago was self released in 2007, having been recorded in an isolated cabin during winter by singer Justin Vernon. Pitchfork hyped it, it got a ton of buzz, and Jagjaguwar recently rereleased it, bringing it to the forefront of a much wider audience. It's been praised and praised and praised and I believe it's worthy of it.
First off, the songs are fantastic. Each one is well written, and sung with an incredibly definitive voice- one that is not just charming, either, but skillful and beautiful. These songs would hold up on stage with just a single vocal and acoustic guitar. But what really sealed things for me are all the nuances found on the album that give it its character. Echoing, otherwordly vocals doubled and tripled at times give it a ghostly feel. Little taps, slaps, and scratches of hands strumming, shoes tapping, or chairs scraping a wooden floor give it an close up, personal feel. And even moments of glitchy digital processing find their way sliced between passages of otherwise organic guitar progressions. A couple of pitch bent computerized vocal snippets even pop up in "The Wolves", defying the album's own stark rootsiness.
Ontop of all of that, there is a genuine soulfulness on the disc- the voice of a person having recently dealt with the breakup of his previous band, living in isolation, and searching his own humanness. The sadness is there, but overlaid with so much beauty it's hard not to smile for the joy in struggle.
Since listening to it for the first time last night, i've heard it through almost four more times. This doesn't happen often for me, and is an indication that For Emma might possibly make its way onto my top list of future classics.

Rating: 8.6

Monday, March 24, 2008

iLIKETRAiNS- Progress Reform (2006)

I've recently introduced myself to a band out of Leeds with the unabashedly pretentious title iLIKETRAiNS. And you need to get past the band name right now...Done? Okay, onwards then! I'm glad you are still with me, because the band is WORTH IT.
Let me explain how i feel, because i can't say i know a lot about these most morose fellas, other than that their music is exceptional.
iLIKETRAiNS' tunes are built around their singer and his stories, which recount the tragedies of historical figures- like Captian Scott's 1911 ill-fated expidition to the South Pole, or chess champ Bobby Fischer's descent into madness and reclusion, for just a couple examples. You'll quickly get the tone of it all after a listen through: stories retold are tragic and dark, but recounted with a role-play type feel, so as audience you will feel you are listening to first hand accounts. The music serves as a vehicle in a theatre of the fantastic, the macabre, the emotional. The lyrics are, for the most part, historically accurate, and serve as something to immerse yourself in, something much deeper than the run of the mill girl/angst/art/travel/girl stuff found in most indie rock.
This singer's exceptional backing is almost as good as he himself: post rock guitar tones, experimental song structures, and crescendos that won't let you down- including full choir sections done to the most hauntingly beautiful effect.
I say take one part Morrissey, one part Interpol, and mix in a little Tim Burton if he was a musician. There you have iLIKETRAiNS. But the whole reason i chose to write about this band is that you won't find another like them. I've held off listening to their newest release, Elegies to Lessons Learnt, until i could fully process their first release of length. Now that i have, i'll be purchasing the rest of their catalog faster than you can say "guillotine".

Rating: 7.8

Thursday, March 20, 2008

William Basinski: Disintegration Loops I (2002)

I've had a bit of a rough day. Life sometimes just seems so unrelenting, so merciless. I've been feeling stressed to find purpose in my day to day lately due to my laptop being in an unusable condition for writing new music. And i'm still getting over a poor review for my band from a source that i thought was sure to be enthusiastic about it. This has left me to face the more mundane components that make up my life: a job that is routine and unrewarding, few friends in a new city, and financial worries and woes. The stuff we all go through, the stuff noone likes. Tonight, though, i put on William Basinski's Disintegration Loops, and my disposition was immediately leveled.
I had heard about the Disintegration Loops for a few years, but never came across a copy, maybe due to its lack of record store accessibility. Thanks to Emusic, i now own volume 1 for the price of a mere 2 download credits (that's almost an hour and a half of music!), and have finally gotten to hear it for myself. Basinski is a composer, sound artist, and video artist and has dabbled in tape loops for years, following in the minimalist school of Brian Eno or Arvo Part. The recording was born when a digital transfer of loops failed and Basinski's tape loops eventually degraded or "disintegrated". What we have today is the result of that recording- a distant and sad, echoing loop that slowly evolves into its own death over time. According to Basinski, these looped recordings were played for friends on his rooftop in New York the day of September 11, while filming the also slow demise of the World Trade Centers as their smoke billowed into the sky. I can't imagine how sad and powerful that had to have been, the elegaic music becoming mourner as humanity was baffled by humanity. The actual music here is beautiful, and part of its charm in being distant, reverbed-out, and murky is that it got that way naturally, at least in part. It is a somber yet uplifting reminder of the frailty of our human existences as time goes on. After spending the last couple hours with this disc in such a meditative mood, i feel like the state of my life is just fine, and that i'm part of a much greater world in which we all struggle. But we struggle together, and that's what's beautiful.

Rating: 9.0

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Best of 2007: My top 25

Alright, it's mid March and everybody's probably already seen enough Best Of 07 lists to solidify their opinions on the universal "bests". Truthfully, i've been working so long on digesting the albums i missed of last year that every time i've sat down to make up my list it seems i'm discovering another band and changing my mind again. For what i thought was a really slow year for music, there turned out to be a surprising amount of memorable albums. I tried to do it in 20, but just couldn't. Here are my top 25, in no particular order:

Battles - Mirrored
Autistici - Volume Objects
Burial - Untrue.
Kiln - Dusker
Morgan Packard - Airships Fill the Sky
Klimek - Dedications
Stars of the Lid - And Their Refinement of the Decline
Apparat - walls
Múm - Go, Go Smear the Poison Ivy
Do Make Say Think - You, You're a History In Rust
Helios - Ayres
Growing -Vision Swim
Northern - Drawn
Holler, Wild Rose! - Our Little Hymnal
Sawako - Madaromi
M.I.A. - Kala
the Octopus Project - Hello, Avalanche
Troubles - Sen'taur
Giuseppe Ielasi - August (possibly best album cover)
Grails - Buring Off Impurities
Kammerflimmer Kollektief - Jinx
World's End Girlfriend - Hurtbreak Wonderland
the Besnard Lakes - the Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse
Epic45 - May Your Heart Be the Map
Logh - North