Archive for July, 2014

A Post-Pop Generation

Posted: July 26, 2014 in New Indie Music

Generationals

Alix

Polyvinyl Records, 2014

Review by Kent Manthie                                                                         Generationals

New Orleans duo Generationals are finished with and ready to run with their fourth CD, Alix. This time they decided to take a new route for this album, someone who could bring the novelty back to their work and help to shake things up. They sought out indie legend, Richard Swift, a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who’s been a touring member of The Shins and The Black Keys and who’s produced albums for Tennis and Foxygen.

Generationals are a duo of old friends, close since high school, Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer, who’ve been the force behind Generationals since 2008.  They recorded their first three albums at home with their then-producer/collaborator, Daniel Black.  This time Ted and Grant, along with Swift, traveled to Cottage Grove, Oregon.  To the duo’s surprise, Swift didn’t take over the reins after the songs were written and the so-called “rough drafts” were made.  They’d half-expected Richard Swift to take what they’d done with their new songs and re-cast them with a magic touch. Instead of working over the songs and giving them a new life, Swift heard Tad and Grant’s songs and urged them to keep the demos they’d done, relatively unchanged. As producer, Swift recorded the music, basically as written and, with little more than a bit of polishing and refining, the three had a workable, coherent album.

Generationals, for those unfamiliar with their sound, have a good ear for pleasant pop melodies and fluid, upbeat, danceable numbers. They combine smooth and silky electronics with a soulful pop vibe. In some places the songs sound not unlike Prince, with it’s energetic, kinetic mix of falsetto vocals, catchy hooks and snappy rhythm. There also seems to be a dash of the early 80s mixed in. While listening to Alix, I couldn’t help but sense I was at a nightclub, circa 1981-82, when a new sound was being forged after a decade of deep, heavy album rock and sweaty disco jams. By the early 80s, those things were being overtaken by a new “generation” of bands and singers who seemed to be crucibles of sounds into which was poured bits of influences from early-mid 60s pop, like the Supremes, Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” style as well as bits and pieces of soul and funk. The result turned into something like a new alloy of tuneage, little clips from here and there, then mixed with Tad and Grant’s own style, which, by 2013, had had five years to gel.

The song “Gold Silver Diamond” has a familiar feel to it – it sounds inspired by Sly & Robbie-produced reggae-pop and even has a little reminder of The short-lived Tom Tom Club (Talking Heads’ married couple, Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz). Nonetheless, it’s a very catchy tune with a Caribbean vibe to it, a rhythm heavy, steady, song, which I believe, is their “single” for Alix. “Reviver” has a more down to earth sound, but still has that fresh, confident air of the early 80s, just updated for 2014. Another catchy song is “Charlemagne”, which has a post-wave ethereal quality which is infectious; the electronic beats hypnotize and the low-vibes on the keyboard punctuate a musique nouveau which is spread all through this. Another spark of influence I heard in “Welcome to the Fire”, for example, was Stephin Merritt, he of Magnetic Fields and the one-off project which is endlessly fascinating, Future Bible Heroes, a project done with Christopher Owen.

Believe me, Alix takes the indie listener into a new direction: instead of dour, introspective, reflective mood-music, it’s like a sunny day at the beach. -KM.

Consolidated But Not Dated

Posted: July 21, 2014 in New Indie Music

Aniqatia

Erratics

Self-Released, 2014Erratics album cover

Reviewed by Kent Manthie

This new EP, by Aniqatia, made up of Josh Beck, on guitar & vocals; Chris Navatier, on guitar & vocals, Nick Fritz on drums and featuring Jared Balogh on bass & vocals. This is a different set-up for Balogh, who is known more for his instrumental guitar virtuosity, as evidenced on his last few solo albums. Hailing from Lehigh, PA, Aniqatia and Balogh united to record Erratics. It’s a nice turn of events for Balogh who is more known for his clever, crafty avant-jazz, experimental instrumental music. Of course, Balogh didn’t “dumb” it down for Erratics, but he did switch over to bass, with Josh Beck and Christ Navatier both playing guitar. But Jared does lend his voice to the music, sharing vocal duties with the aforementioned guitar players.

Well-versed in his craft, Balogh has released several albums’ worth of quite interesting, abstract musical art. This time out, though, Balogh is part of a quartet, in the form of Aniqatia. The music is great, still has a certain moody flavor to it, but with vocals.

There are familiar elements to Erratics, riffs and hooks, plus lyrics, that are not uncommon elsewhere, rather, it’s the higher quality of production, musicianship and its independence which set it apart. Erratics features some groovy poptones, including the opener “Peregrine”, which sets the tone for the rest: “The Cost”, “Maneuvers”, “Elegy” and “Shark Bay”, all of which are inventive, novel, hip and not at all like typical commercial radio fare – the right description for their music would be something like “post-rock”, “experimental (w/vocals)”, etc.

Jared Balogh, who’s delightful guitar melodies flutter throughout the EP, standout, especially to one who’s familiar with Balogh’s own repertoire. As a matter of fact, it was Balogh himself, who directed me to Erratics. He gave me the information that the EP was up on Free Music Archive’s website, on which one can download quite a large catalog of music for free. FMA is not unlike another website to which one can access free music and other downloadable data, the more well-known, www.archive.org site, which is home to a great deal of archived, live Grateful Dead shows, going back to their beginning years, in the mid-1960s, up through the mid-90s, when Jerry Garcia died and the band broke up. In fact, on archive.org, there is a separate area, devoted entirely to digitally enhanced versions of many concert recordings from 1967 up to 1995. There is so much more, as well, on archive.org – not only music, either, but a repository of many things – talks, lectures, concerts of various other bands, recorded music and a catalog that spells out what is available there.

Anyway, getting back to Aniqatia, I recommend it to those who enjoy new, undiscovered music with a je ne sais quois to it. To get to know Aniqatia more, check out their write-up on the Free Music Archive – http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Aniqatia/Erratics/ or go to their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/aniqatia . If you want to write them an email, send it to aniqatia@gmail.com –KM.

EBN coverElectric Bird Noise
Kind of Black
Silber Media, 2014
Review by Kent Manthie
So, there I was, browsing through the internet when I decided to check my email and what was there but another e-mailing list email from Brian Silber & friends at Silber Media, which specializes in ambient, shoegaze, noise-rock, experiemental, avant-garde drone and so on.  Every couple of months or so I receive an update of what’s new at Silber Media.  This time, I saw that there were a few interesting items, indeed.  And the cool thing about this is that, since these emailings are sent to press-types for reviews, promotion, etc, they provide free downloads for certain items.
The one we’re talking about here is the new album from Electric Bird Noise; it’s a CD called Kind of Black, a take on Miles Davis’s classic album, Kind of Blue (this is evident from looking at the EBN album cover, which has its own artwork that partly superimposes the album cover design of Kind of Blue, featuring “Miles Davis” spelled out in the upper left corner and a bit of the small Columbia Records logo, which was on the original Kind of Blue album).  Each song title is imaginatively titled (a little sarcasm there):  for example, the first song is called “one”, next up is “two”, then “three”, “four”, “five”, “six” and so on, up to “eleven”, the eleventh and final cut.  I know it’s sort of easy to poke fun at the song title method, but it actually works in this configuration.  Each tune just bleeds right into the next, e.g., the song “three” ends precisely at 2:58 and after the final note of that one plays, “four” starts up seamlessly.  It’s as if this whole album is really one long song, sliced up into eleven tracks.
What I like about Kind of Black is that, being a rather ambient, chill-out, drone-style sound, you’d expect or assume that the instrumentation would be configured of synthesizers and circuit-bending and all sorts of pre-programmed computer noises, sampled “found sounds” and whatnot.  However, that is not the case with Kind of Black. Instead, the ethereal atmospherics are emitted by a guitar and it’s not even hooked into a guitar synthesizer like Robert Fripp or Adrian Belew uses, to make their guitars sound exactly like one playing a synthesizer keyboard.  No, EBN uses just a straight guitar with no effects, just a bit of reverb and a clean, kind of jazzy style of guitar sound, with crisp, clear, clean notes, played fantastically moving.  Because of the novelty of the dearth of synthesizers and the ambient, drone sound made up almost exclusively of guitar (there is a bit of synth accompaniment on some cuts:  “six”, for instance, has a bit of keyboard jamming in the background that doesn’t overtake the guitar, but fits nicely in.  In other areas, say, “one” or “two” or “three”, all there is to hear is a guitar; no percussion, no bass, no piano or keyboards (except as noted), and all instrumental at that (which is kind of obvious).  In fact, “seven” is an exceptional example of how this bare-boned guitar solo ambience works out:  it’s quite mesmerizing, although it sounds, from reading about it here, that it may be boring or a snoozer of a record, that is far from the case.  The very first time I listened to Kind of Black, I was hooked.  Something in this brilliant guitar noodling has a hypnagogic germ in it that infects the mind with a sound which can’t be ignored and that actually reels one in.  Just sitting there with this album playing, one goes far, far down a rabbit hole, so to speak, into a netherworld of surreality and fantasy that causes you to lose yourself in its magical “stream-of-subconsciousness”.
The longest song is “nine”, which comes in at close to eight minutes (7:53, to be exact).  There exists, in “nine” some background sounds; strange electric raindrop sounds, staccato-like drips and drops, a plaintive, whining, whisper of synth air, reminiscent of the score to a well-written, nuanced, psychologically thrilling horror film.  “Nine” is the kind of spooky music that you would hear start playing in a part of one of those oh-so-typical scenarios in a scene in which a young, defenseless girl, all by herself, hears a noise and/or sees a shadow or catches a glimpse of some sort of movement out of the corner of her eye and you, the viewer, watching this take place are wont to yell at the screen “get out of there, stupid” or “what the hell are you doing?  Just forget about it and go back to the safety of your house- or at least bring your dumb boyfriend (if he hasn’t already been killed off at this point in the movie)” – anyway, while the girl walks around, seeking out the source of whatever it was that attracted her attention, all of a sudden the kind of music that “nine” represents, starts to play; a slow, quiet, creepy build-up, letting you, the viewer know that something ominous and terrorizing is about to happen, but the director usually drags this kind of thing out, letting the tension and suspense build up, not just in the girl on the screen, but in the person watching the movie.  If some “victim-to-be” were checking out where a sound came from and what it was, only to be killed in a gruesome, terrible way and it happened rather quickly, it would be too predictable and the payoff would not be as great as it would had the terror-laced tension had had lots of time in which to build up.  That’s why this obvious target of a character in a horror flick like this, if it’s made well enough, would have a long scene, the creepy, “warning” and ominous music starting up, the kind of music that is unmistakably portentious that something very bad and violent is about to happen.  The longer this goes on, the further this girl goes, in search of this…this…whatever it is that has her on edge and curious enough to go find out whence it came, the longer it takes for whatever is going to happen to her happen, the tauter the tension becomes, until you get to a point where the tension “cable” is stretched so far, so tightly that it inevitably snaps and then, “BAM”, that something – whatever it is: a throat getting cut, an axe decapitating the victim, opening a door and the surprise is lurking right behind it and all of a sudden the quiet, creepy signal-of-doom music gives way to a loud crescendo of music; instantly freak-out loud music timed to go with the horror of whatever is happening onscreen.
I think you get the picture, the idea about how Kind of Black moves along.  I think it makes for a great listen and it doesn’t “spoil” quickly, it has staying power and the intense mood keeps your interest even after a dozen or more listens.
If you’re big on avant-garde, atmospheric drone music with noodling guitar notes creeping up and down your spine, Kind of Black is for you.  For more information on this and other Silber Media releases, check out http://www.silbermedia.com and get connected.  -KM.