Thursday, September 28, 2006

Xiu Xiu - The Air Force

Xiu Xiu
The Air Force

WTF? Those might be three letters that come to mind the first time you hear Jamie Stewart bark/wimper (depending on the song) on a Xiu Xiu track. I'll admit that I'm realtively new to enjoying them, but I've heard enough and read enough (lyrics) to know that dude's got some stuff inside him that he needs to get out. His imagery is often about topics best reserved for inner-monologue, or maybe discourse among close friends. Rape. Molestation. War. No topic is too taboo. His voice often sounds as though he's just on the brink, but the brink of what is debatable. Sometimes it sounds as though he might just cry right there on the album, and at other times, like he might just scream. But let's get to the current record, their recently released The Air Force.

The Air Force opens with "Buzz Saw." Now, maybe I'm crazy, but I was trying desperately the other day to convince my old lady that the genius of this song is what it isn't as opposed to what it is (get all that?). Sparce piano opens the track before Stewart gently whimpers "Daniella, don't say be tender first/and don't say teach me." Just after this line finishes, the only real percussion in
the song sounds off – a steady, repetive clacking of a snare. As the "chorus" section comes in, we get just a hint, just one little blip of synthesizer. The restraint is what gets me, the choice to strip everything down to just these elements. "Boy Soprano" shifts gears with its angry, noisy backdrop. Other standouts are "Vulture Piano," "Bishop, CA," (video below) and "The Fox & the Rabbit."

This is probably one of the most accessible Xiu Xiu albums, and that even takes into consideration the closing spoken word piece "The Wigmaster" which includes passages like, "I'm gonna spank your ass so hard you will hate the wig master but I'll put two pillows on your dining room chair." It's music only your mother could love.

I'm still processing this album, but so far, it hasn't not found it's way into my daily listening list since I picked it up, which was about two weeks ago. It's a solid outing, as most everything Xiu Xiu's done has been, though I may still be partial to Fabulous Muscles. But give it another week.

On a side note, with the release of The Air Force, Xiu Xiu has included a poster series on their website. Each .gif file comes down at 1000x1500 pixels, so pretty large. It's pretty cool stuff if your into music posters and graphic design. Each on is its own file and you click-through the series. I've comped four together as an example, but there's many more at the site, 24 total. Just click on "About The Air Force" and you're off.

Check it out if you like:
The Microphones, Neutral Milk Hotel, Animal Collective
Listen to a sample here: Video for "Bishop, CA" and "Boy Soprano" both from The Air Force

Monday, September 25, 2006

Mastodon - Blood Mountain

Blood Mountain

Remember Leviathan? Yeah, that Mastodon album that came out two years ago that did so well as to elicit a write up in The New York Times? I remember it too. I remember being quite impressed.

But here's the thing see. Is it possible to put out and album that's just simply too good? Meaning, one that's nearly impossible to follow up? That's how I feel with Blood Mountain. Everything that Leviathan did, this does better, except for possibly the biggest of factors: surprise. Sonically, Blood Mountain is just as good, if not better. The production is crisp and perhaps a hair better. With age comes wisdom, so two years after Leviathan, it makes sense that their level of play is higher. Almost every aspect is upped. But it's what you expect. And that's the rub. Leviathan seemed to come out of nowhere. Blood Mountain on the otherhand comes from those dudes Mastodon (they're known by name now) who you expect to put out a solid album. See what I'm drivin' at?

I guess that sounds like a bummer of a beginning, so let me get this out of the way–the album is good. Is very good. Is super good. The rock is there. Crunchy breakdowns abound, and lots of bluesy-fretboard noodling, sounding more and more like they've done their fair share of listening to Clutch as of late. So do not walk away from this thinking "yeah, I liked Leviathan, but apparently Blood Mountain isn't as good." You'd be wrong.

"The Wolf Is Loose" opens up with a flurry of drum clacks and then you're off. An up-tempo, classic-sounding Mastodon song erupts. They have a sound all their own, and you know it when you hear it. At the 2:04 mark, you're treated to some dual-guitar scale work, true metal style. Next comes "Crystal Skull" which opens with some of the coolest riff-drum pairing I've heard in a while before slipping into a sludgy verse riff. "Circle of Cysquatch" is my standout, due simply to the breakdown. The middle passage has some tweaked out vocal effects, but as soon as they're done, serious headbanging must commence. I defy you to hear this riff and not find your head slowly nodding to and fro. It's impossible.

So, there you have it. My brief take on Blood Mountain, Mastodon's worthy follow-up. I don't think this album will find as much acceptance as Leviathan did. For those not into metal but ventured to dip their toes into the power-chord infested waters of the genre when Leviathan came out, Blood Mountain will probably seem a bit less intriguing. Again, probably because it's not new/different/surprising this time around. But for those that like a good metal record every now and again, Blood Mountain can be found at your local record shop of choice.

Check it out if you like: Metal, good metal, metal
Listen to a sample here: Mastodon's Myspace page has 3 songs from Blood Mountain

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Go ahead, Beirut, take more of my money.

I recently read the Beirut has signed to 4AD, home of TV on the Radio, M. Ward, The Mountain Goats, and many others. As such, 4AD has decided to re-release Gulag Orkestar on their label and it will be an expanded version, read: a reason you should drop more cabbage on this version even if you already have the original. It will be available during Beirut's fall tour. This is good news as I already have tickets to see them on November 21 at the Bowery Ballroom and will probably manage to scrape together enough to pick one up.

Official stuff here:

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye

Junior Boys
So This Is Goodbye

Normally I give an album a week (give or take) before I write anything about it. Okay fine, sometimes it takes a month or more. It's the marinating process. Sometimes things don't settle in until a few listens have gone by. Other times, tunes that sounded fresh on the first spin soon lose their luster. So I find it necessary to give each album it's due and see where on the spectrum it falls. In the case of So This Is Goodbye by Junior Boys, such time lapse is not necessary. From the opening blips of "Double Shadow," I could tell Junior Boys was going to pick up right where they left of with Last Exit, their excellent 2004 full-length
. Maybe it was power of suggestion. Maybe I wanted to like it from the get go. Maybe the wait had built anticipation and there was just no way that anticipation was going to allow this album be anything less than great. Who knows?

So "Double Shadow" didn't disappoint, but it was the second song, "The Equalizer," that really set the rest of the album up for me. A muffled shaker starts off, giving way to an ethereal organ drone. The beat comes in, followed by the simultaneously confident/shy voice of Jeremy Greenspan and the song hits its stride almost immediately. The dark opening of "First Time" is not something I'd seen coming, but is certainly a welcome addition. "Count Souvenirs" reminds me of a Violator-era Depeche Mode.

I could go on and on, but suffice it to say I was giddy after picking up this album. I'd been on a metal kick lately, having picked up some old Isis I never got around to, not to mention Jesu and Boris which was mentioned earlier. While electronica may not necessarily be on the opposite end of the spectrum, it's pretty far from what had been coming out of my ear buds lately. So This Is Goodbye was a welcome breath of fresh air and has immediately solidified itself as one of my favorites for the year.

Check it out if you like:
Herbert, The Postal Service
Listen to a sample here: Hear "In the Morning" and "Count Souvenirs" on the Junior Boys
Myspace page