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by David Ensminger

2 Feb 2012

Bands like Jealous Creatures make the resurrection of dark driving pop music possible, by tucking tunes into a kind of brooding atmosphere perfect for late-night loitering at cantinas along lonely highways. With a pedigreed pinch of song craft a la early Pretenders, combined with traces of moody and artful P.J. Harvey, they reclaim the almost déclassé genre of alternative rock and free it from inert, humdrum shoegazing clichés. Instead of producing aimless and airbrushed rock ’n’ roll, they offer up churning, unfussy, and highly rated fare.

On their debut album Little Heaven Big Sky, their most propulsive tunes like “Open Your Eyes sound awash in 1990s Steve Albini production: thickly mustered drums, crunchy and curdling guitars, and an overall heavy vibe that manifests shadowy unease. “I can’t play this game / Do what you have to do”, singer Sarah Hirsch intones, unleashing conceits festering like open wounds. “Such a Tease” unfurls at the same speed, evoking naivety and uncertainty in plaintive strokes reminiscent of the Breeders and Throwing Muses. “This behavior could get you top shelf”, the narrator muses in tough irony that makes a listener wince. The disgust is plain as day, but wrapped in nuggets of tunefulness.

by Christopher J Lee

19 Dec 2011

Most albums require a significant amount of time to pass—a year, five years, a decade—before a new perspective can be reached in regards to their value and meaning after initial release. This tacit rule doesn’t hold true with Thurston Moore’s recent solo album Demolished Thoughts (Matador, 2011). The announcement of the marital split between Moore and Kim Gordon, both founding members of Sonic Youth, came as a surprise to many fans, given the sense of stability and definition their marriage had provided for the band. Indeed, this background sense of domesticity offset their avant-garde reputation without compromising it, giving their listeners something to relate to even if Gordon and Moore largely avoided it as a topic up for public discussion. Hence, the unexpected feeling of personal loss held by many with the swift reports that unfolded on that Friday in October. This album is unavoidably a document of this personal and professional transition.

Demolished Thoughts was released in May, and in truth, I first listened to it for free on NPR Music. This small detail says a lot about the album and the place that Moore (who is 53) has arrived at in his career. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Sonic Youth, a band established amid the No Wave scene in New York City during the early 1980s, but one which—given its longevity and influence—has been seen at the intersection of a number of other trends, before and since. Over countless releases for a variety of major and obscure labels, Moore (guitar), Gordon (bass, guitar), Lee Ranaldo (guitar), and Steve Shelley (drums, since 1985) prefigured and aided the mainstreaming of alternative/indie rock with recordings that tested the limits of songcraft through heavy distortion, length, and, in concert, sheer volume. Daydream Nation, their double LP from 1988, is often viewed as their masterpiece—it’s included in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress—but their persistent output and experimentation since then has demonstrated a deeper ambition than simply receiving critical acclaim. Their work has questioned the possibilities of meaningful endurance in a genre that has typically depended on brevity in stylistic and even professional terms.

by Joseph Fisher

15 Dec 2011

I’ve been admiring M83 from a cautious distance for the past few years. Though I’ve made the effort to grab all of the band’s records, and though I have seen it live once, I’ve tended to remain on the proverbial fence about the group. More often than not, M83’s Anthony Gonzalez gets it right. However, it has always seemed that for every one of those times where he got it right—for every “Teen Angst”, “Gone”, or “Graveyard Girl”—there were at least several moments when he inconceivably missed the mark. Take your pick: “Car Chase Terror”, “Midnight Souls Still Remain”, and, yes, a good chunk of “Beauties Can Die”.  All of them seem to suffer from either a stupefying lack of inspiration or, perhaps paradoxically, too much inspiration. In either case, tracks like those were enough to make me a bit guarded whenever news would break about a new M83 release.

So, back a few months, when the reports about M83’s forthcoming double album went viral, I immediately expected it to be a bloated, shambling mess.  After all, Gonzalez was readily admitting that he had taken his cues from the Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, which is a bloated, shambling mess.

Wow. Was I ever wrong… about the M83 record Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, that is. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is still is a bloated, shambling mess.

by Alexander Heigl

12 Dec 2011

Brooklyn-based black metal band Liturgy started out as the solo project of frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, a Manhattan native who grew up in the hardcore punk scene while gravitating towards the more experimental side of that genre—bands like Converge and Rorschach. The band expanded into a four-piece in 2008 and released their first record, Renhilation, in 2009. But it was the group’s second record, 2011’s Aesthetica, that garnered it a new level of infamy. Released on indie label Thrill Jockey, Aesthetica received generally favorable reviews from an assortment of sources: NPR and Pitchfork both loved the album, and the fact that it was accompanied by a long-winded and high-minded essay detailing the band’s music (“Transcendental Black Metal”) was critical catnip. But the black metal scene did not take kindly to Liturgy, and even more traditional rock institutions weren’t particularly enamored of the album (Kerrang wrote that “Liturgy tried to make a mathcore record, put two and two together and got three.”). Aesthetica was seen as the Brooklyn hipster’s black metal record, and that was not a good thing.

Hunt-Hendrix’s thoughts on his own music don’t really help matters: the essay “Transcendental Black Metal”, though coherent and interesting to people that enjoy over-intellectualizing music, is incredibly self-aggrandizing and occasionally patently absurd (sample text: “Transcendental Black Metal is black metal in the mode of Sacrifice . . . it is solar, hypertrophic, courageous, finite and penultimate.”). It’s an easy target for mockery, but it fails to adequately capture what makes Aesthetica so compelling.

by David Ensminger

16 Nov 2011

Steadfast, sincere, and experimental seem to be J. Robbins’ operating modes since he played throbbing bass for godfathers of punk Government Issue during the last half-decade of the band’s lauded career, in the heyday of the 1980s Washington D.C. scene. By the end of the decade he morphed into an inventive, angular, and jazz-inflected guitarist and clean-voiced, freewheeling singer-poet for Jawbox. Then, as the 1990s rolled towards the millennium, he steered all-things-cool for Burning Airlines too.

Jawbox, who re-united in 2009 for a Jimmy Fallon appearance, tilted towards tightly wound, stylized, even abstract sound structures that left listeners both enthralled and vexed. Delivering songs in slippery phrasing, they were wary of power crunch cliches delivered without irony. Thankfully, unlike math rockers aplenty, Jawbox never became too obtuse, and the band carefully chose irreverent covers to show off the crafty heart on its sleeve.

//Mixed media


"No Dollars in Duende": On Making Uncompromising, Spirited Music

// Sound Affects

"On the elusive yet clearly existential sadness that adds layers and textures to music.

READ the article