Thursday, January 16, 2014

Review: Adrianne Lenker - Hours Were The Birds

The singer-songwriter market is overrun with people looking to make a name for themselves in the music world. Not to deny these individuals the creative urges they're feeling, but if one of the two ingredients to this combination doesn't work (Be it the artists singing or poor guitar playing), they usually won't make any sort of impact on the world, exception being their parents who don't have the heart to tell them the music is truly terrible. Diving into Adrianne Lenkers album with this, dare I say, pessimistic outlook of this genre, I breathed a sign of relief upon being greeted with a definitively solid body of work.

Hours Were The Birds moves very well, floating on the strength of her dream-like, but weary sounding vocals alone. Songs like "Gone", which stood out as the highlight for me on the album, never does anything to really try and fool you into thinking it's anything but a simple acoustic song, but what it lacks in that original voice it makes up for in its amazingly catchy chord and song structure. It also proves as one of the more alternative tracks on the album, which really primarily consists of soft indie-rock infused folk songs.

"Indiana" has a Bob Dylan-esque quality about it, striding along on such a soft musical cloud it almost feels like it never takes off in the first place. It definitely plays more on her lyrical strength, but thankfully that's in full supply. "Steamboat" has the feel of a song written on a boat itself, very care-free and adventurous in its approach. Layered vocals playing of a repetitive, but enjoyable guitar riff make the song feel almost otherworldly, much like sailing on a boat feels.

"Snow Song" plays out as a rather somber sounding song, but it never eclipses the joy of listening to it, which, you know, is great when you consider the fact you don't aim to listen to music to feel depressed in the first place (Odd praise, I know, but it has its merits). "Disappear" and "Butterfly" are fine additions to the album, but never really do much to make themselves stand out. It never affects the album as a whole as you can never really expect an album of nothing but hits, can you?

Baring a few minor deviations from the good ("To Violet" and "Lighthouse"), Hours Were The Birds is a very solid album from Adrianne Lenker. Everything is well oiled, played and maintained, and really, what winds up standing out from everything here is her vocals. That's what often separates musicians anyways, true, but they wind up creating an atmosphere of their own to go alongside the song as a whole, creating a surprisingly layered effect for such a tiny sound. I'd tell you other singer-songwriter types out there to take a que from her, but that'd ruin her charm. - Shane

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Review: The Delicate Cycle - S/T

Instinct can be a funny thing. More often than  not, your instincts, that little bizarre thing you can't touch but know is there, warns you or alerts about something and winds up being right about said event. We don't always trust our instincts, but those moments when you know it's right is amazing. There's just something there, and you can't quite put your finger on it, but something tells you you're going to like something. This phenomenon hit me barely a few songs into The Delicate Cycles self titled album.

It does alert me that, as a reviewer, I shouldn't let such things cloud my judgement, but I couldn't help it. The Delicate Cycle play a jangly form of alternative-americana-pop that seems to play into a 'hip' trope but is so clearly unaware of itself that it survives this comparison. It's retro for sure, feeling at home in an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer or The Adventures Of Pete And Pete, but that familiarity is what drives home its strengths. 

"Ohio" feels like the quintessential song on the album, producing a quick, sleek alternative track that begs the question, "If this were made fifteen years ago, would it have been a big hit?". That nostalgia, again, is evident here, but it doesn't feel forced. The songs structure, as simple as it may seem, speaks volumes about their ability to write a song and know their audience. Maybe I'm grasping a bit too much here, but take a listen to it and try telling me it doesn't hit you immediately with a sense of cool.

"Biology" and "Whose Side Am I On?" continue the alternative feel of the record, but regress a bit in their brashness, opting instead to woo us with their ability to create a catchy tune. "Biology" does this less so that "Whose Side Am I On?", which seems to take a page out of The Breeders book a little, but still reels in enough good riffs to make it stand out. Both songs are fine additions to the album, and give it a sense of depth sorely missed with similar artists other works.

"Oak And Holly" really plays out as a pop song, which is important since they declare themselves as pop-song writers. It's not a traditional pop song mind you, but once fit for the radio in the early nineties, delivering a powerful acoustic guitar line to supplement the drums. It's sure to hit you as something you're kind of heard before, but that familiarity, combined with its terrific execution, should warrant a free pass with any gripes you may have about such a notion.

"Onion Skin" and "I'll Find Your Hand" detour the album a bit, restraining the comfortable alternative blanket put over you and fitting you instead with an americana one. They don't have the violins and all out assault of  acoustic guitars so often needed to fit itself within the genre, but the overall tone and delivery plays it off as such a thing. There's still an alternative soul bouncing throughout these songs, but nothing ever gets too aggressive to really warrant the labeling. 

Only the final track, "Athena", feels empty here, instilling heavily modified and drone-like guitar riffs throughout the entire track. Joy Garretson, the vocalist, has a pretty solid voice, and it's fine to have an acoustic-only track on the album, but something about it closing everything out and the psychedelic guitar sound just didn't mix well with me. The rest of the album is so solid you almost forget it exists on the album, but unfortunately, it does.

The Delicate Cycles self-titled album is terrific, and it's nice to know that laid-back, almost slackerish sound from the 90's isn't fully dead. They try to balance their sound out, never relying too much on one genre, and it works in their favor. Hopefully they can harness this sound for good, because if so, we could have a legitimate underground success on our hands. - Shane

Blitz Review: Imprisoned - The Other Side Of Hell

If you have an affection towards anything metal, you usually give credit to those acts who don't try to do anything new with the genre. Sure, it seems strange to pat people on the back who don't try to stray from the beaten path, but there's a appreciation, dare I say, a necessity for such acts. Change is cool and all, but if it isn't needed, why try to do it in the first place? I think Imprisoned go this note with their EP, The Other Side Of Hell.

Imprisoned hails from Melbourne, Australia, yet another indicator that the country is one to watch for some of the best new music coming out. Combining elements of black metal and hardcore, Imprisoned remains old school while being able to stay rooted in a modern sound. There seems to be a sway in the direction of hardcore here, and their appreciation of the genre is clearly evident throughout the EP. If that comes across 
as a complaint, it's not, more so a joyous observation.

"Noose Neck", which starts out the EP, builds up its eerie momentum to deliver a solid, quick paced number that instantly gives the band an identity. It has all the tropes of the metal/hardcore combo you've come to expect: Terrific breakdowns, double bass pedal galore and trudging guitar riffs that would make every metalhead scream with glee (Though I doubt they'd ever admit to screaming in glee). "Sheol", keeps the pace going strong, getting full on thrash at points but slapping you in the face with breakdowns, forcing you to remember what it is you're really listening to.

"Guilty" is solid, and the way the beat deteriorates and changes tone at the end is a great addition. It's amazingly paced and structured, and the fact that the song is really only two and a half minutes long makes you wonder what these guys could do with a five minute track (Though I doubt they want to go the epic route). "The Blackening" is simply a musical showcase, and too quick a song to really warrant addition on to the EP and "War Is Me", while not faltering musically, suffers from a bit too much emphasis on the drums thematically. The guys clearly show a knack for brutality in "War Is Me", but it feels almost sparse when compared to the other songs guitar and bass ridden parts. A small complaint, but one I felt mentioning.

The Other Side Of Hell is a very solid EP, delivering the first worthwhile thing I've listened to this year. While there are a few structural issues littered about, it never does anything to ruin the overall effect these guys have delivered here. If this is indeed the other side of hell, sign me up. - Shane