this calls for some tuneskies
It’s no secret that we at No Jackets are massive fans of Pavement – a band that is so criminally underrated that it is quite disheartening. Whereas you always hear talk about those 90’s bands, I’m looking at Radiohead, Sonic Youth and Nirvana here, Pavement has slipped under the radar and I can honestly make a not so bold claim that Pavement are the most underrated band of the 90’s. So here is a primer on the brilliance Pavement and what makes them more than a cult band.
Most of what you need to know about Pavement can be summed up in the enigmatic character of frontman Stephen Malkmus. This is a guy who most famously started a beef (in rap parlance; hello Azalea Banks) with The Smashing Pumpkins back when they were dominating the 90s and every angsty teenager was saying that the world is a vampire. Fast forward a decade, Malkmus has aged quite well whereas Billy Corrigan still uses The Smashing Pumpkins name kinda like how Wolfmother is being used by Andrew Stockdale (and that says a lot).
So give Pavement a try!
The most popular song
At this stage is hard to tell if The Vaccines are really just having a laugh at us all. With their debut album mercurially titled What Did You Expect From The Vaccines maybe they were making an ironic statement of sorts against the backdrop of online media hype. Anyway if you ask the question what did you expect from their second album you probably would have had a short list of maybe more complex songs that were longer than 2 minutes, perhaps a more evolved sound or at least something a bit different from their first album.
Unfortunately on all those counts The Vaccines haven’t changed much at all from their debut album. Indeed its all a bit samey. Maybe the songs are a bit longer but its hard to see any changes musically or otherwise in their approach. The one redeeming feature of The Vaccines is that they have ridiculously catchy choruses but really we have heard all of this before and maybe the 1 year time span to spin out another album was a bit too short. It just feels like another slick production that doesn’t even seem like it’s trying. Maybe that’s what Young is going for that laconic quintessential British rock attitude of not caring about the audience and just making music for himself. That’s probably the most favourable interpretation that I can think of for this album which over promised and under delivered – not helped by the NME hype machine.
The Vaccines have fallen into that trap of second season syndrome, Come of Age is anything but.
I’ve been in that kind of mood listening to music like Youth Lagoon and Washed Out. So it’s probably no surprise that I am loving Wild Nothing’s new album Nocturne. It’s probably a bit early but this has definitely got to be up there for album of the year. Think Cut Copy’s Zonoscope but more subtle with a greater emphasis on guitar then synth. This album is a wonderful continuation of their earlier album Gemini and the subsequent EP Golden Haze it sounds a bit richer because of the greater incorporations of strings as diverging melody but it still has that Wild Nothing feel – the oh so sweet croning of Jack Tatum accompanied by catchy bass riffs.
For a dream pop group created in the college dorm rooms of Virginia, Wild Nothing have come along way. Tatum is still the sole songwriter but you can hear in this album the subtle intricacies that moving to a recording studio with the acclaimed producer Nicholas Vernhes (Deerhunter, Animal Collective) has had on the album. In particular the emphasis on arpeggio riffs I feel is something that has been brought in a bit of Deerhunter and the experimentation with sounds seems a bit like Animal Collective albeit in a less abstract way.
It’s interesting that Wild Nothing is again another example of how independent songwriters are staking their claim in the musical world. Although this time Tatum actually had a drummer rather than using programmed beats everything was conceived of by Tatum. This is probably a trend that has been exacerbated by the proliferation of home studio recording which is making everything that much more accessible. I think this makes Wild Nothing’s effort even more commendable and perhaps a bit of inspiration to us all really on the fact that you don’t really need that much fancy equipment to record some good tracks.
I highly recommend this album it’ll hook you after the first listen and even after a couple of repeats it still has moments that’ll surprise you.
Top Tracks: Shadow, Nocturne, Only Heather
Along with the upcoming album by TOY, Holograms has been one of my most anticipated albums of the year in the post punk genre. Like most European punk bands you have to wonder how they manage to have such impeccable English, although there are some weird phrases from this Swedish group I’m sure you could regard such errors as Scandinavian lyrical genius. In the mould of most punk bands (and I’m sure the long winter days also have something to do with it), Holograms is an album that couldn’t really be described as uplifting. Quite frankly they just seem to take the piss out of Sweden – a sport not so unfamiliar to Australians in the wake of the Julian Assange fracas. On first instance you could categorise this album as one of those cliché post punk bands with a digitally processed, album cover that harks at nostalgia by attempting to recreate the silver halide of film. This was a mistake on my part, Holograms, manages to capture some of that nostalgia and add to it a modern perspective in light of the societal problems facing contemporary Sweden.
The strongest element of Holograms is definitely the bass line which gives the album a great sense of urgency. This is evident in the first track Monolith which is just one of those songs where you can already imagine the lighting tech laughing maniacally as they have a field day with the strobes. The bass beat is ever present as the album edges towards the climatic You Are Ancient (Sweden’s Pride) which at first seems like a celebration of right wing nationalism. So it’s understandable that superficially this song could be misunderstood as a jingoistic anthem much like Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA. However Holograms frequently lament at some of Sweden’s darker history such as Lutheran fear mongering and the general antics of the bunch of scallywags known as Vikings. Once again some pretty typical punk stuff, angst and all.
However what makes Holograms atypical is the way in which they manage to meld so many contrary elements whether it be the seemingly formulaic bass rhythms and drum beats characteristic of punk, the quirky New Wave synth that peppers most of the songs with melodic hooks, or the ironic lyrics which actually have quite a lot of thought put into them. Honestly its hard to imagine how a punk band with catchy uplifting melodies that canvass Sweden’s shameful past, could possible work – but it does. This is album is definitely a grower, and I think maybe it will be one of the top releases of the year. It’s a solid debut album and bodes well the future of a band who can hopefully now leave menial labour in Stockholm ‘s warehouses behind.
Highlight Tracks: Chasing My Mind, ABC City, Stress
Similar Music: The Horrors (excluding third album), TOY, ICEAGE
Staying current by interacting with the meta is always an odious task. Take for example the decision last year by the Concise Oxford English Dictionary to remove the word cassette tape whilst adding others that unfortunately sum up global culture in a nutshell; the troika of words – sexting, mankini, retweet. So it should perhaps be even more celebrated that unlike an institution such as the Oxford Dictionary that resolves a tension between past and present by simply deleting words; DIIV can somehow meld together musical genres which seem to be conflicting – of course I’m talking about the manifestation that is dream pop. The unique mix that DIIV bring is the fusion of world music influences such as Baba Salah, a Malian guitarist, and other artists closer to home such as Nirvana and C86 bands.
I know a lot of people like to make comparisons so here is problem the most pertinent band comparison that you can make with DIIV. They are like The Cure. If you know The Cure you’ll immediately get a sense of what I mean, if not, well you should give them a listen because like it or not The Cure are one of those stalwarts that are quite convenient for name dropping. So you can make a vacuous statement like ‘Robert Smith is such a genius’ and most people will just nod their heads in sage agreement. Although to be fair The Cure weren’t exactly the sound that DIIV were going for when they were in the studio; it turns out that lead singer and main songwriter Zachary Cole Smith had never heard of them (apparently he loves them now) until they were brought to his attention by some internet reviewers.
The main professed influence for the band is Krautrock, at least for Zachary Cole Smith which is particularly significant given that this band incarnation of DIIV is more of a touring vehicle for Smith rather than a collaboration of ideas; in the sense that Washed Out is a live band for Ernest Greene. This is a phenomenon that has become more prevalent; I can speculate to say this is just an example of labels and their increased cost cutting so the development of an already refined solo artist who can readily be transformed into a touring group is preferable. However this is not to say that the band is not made up of some very talented individuals such as Colby Hewitt (ex Smith Westerns), Andrew Bailey and Ruben Perez who form the rest of the band.
So what’s the album like? Considering that DIIV changed their original name from Dive due to respect for a pre-existing Belgian band the action in of itself does say a lot to the demeanour of the band. DIIV are careful to pay homage to the multitude of influences without bastardising them. In this sense its not surprising that there isn’t really a standout track to this album, it really is an album that needs to be listened to as a whole. Maybe this is just particular to this genre but to fully appreciate this album you can’t just go about looking out for hit singles. Whilst it does escalate into a grand crescendo with tracks such as Sometime and Doused at the end of the album to get to this unadulterated high the experience of going through the delicate arpeggios in How Long Have You Known which is refreshingly tranquil.
Oshin is an album that is firmly entrenched in the ‘grower’ camp, it won’t overwhelm you at first but it definitely is worthy enough to be our album of the week. If you enjoy this album I would recommend checking out some stuff by Beach Fossils which have similar guitar melodies that are arguably more uplifting.
We at No Jackets are big fans of Fiona Apple, and rightly so as this is our album of the week. To be honest it’s quite an onerous task to review this particular album; not only are expectations high (we’ve only been waiting seven years) but Fiona Apple’s albums are inherently complex and consequently take awhile to fully process (just have a look at the 26 word title). Sure there are intricate piano phrases that as a child of a piano teacher even I can appreciate although I don’t profess to have any of the skill that Fiona Apple does; but what really holds this album up is the range of emotions that Fiona Apple manages to evoke whether it be through her wonderful vocal register, the raw lyrics or of course her brilliant piano playing.
My first impressions of this particular album were particular favourable; whether it be the chromatic sequences or the catchy jazz progressions that draw you there is always something that makes you want to put a specific song on repeat. It’s because you notice a fragment of a phrase which makes you go back and then you suddenly discover something else that you completely missed the first time through – that’s how complex this album is. Don’t mistake this album as one of those that pretentious critics seem to enjoy (hello pitchfork) of course musically this album has some great technical details, I have no qualms with stating that, but what really makes this album transcend above the rest is how raw Fiona Apple is to world with this album. It’s her fourth studio album and in typical fashion every intimacy imaginable is unabashedly revealed.
The first track gives some indication of this ‘every single night’s a fight with my brain’ and from there the album descends via clashing diminished and minor chords into a frenzy of emotion. The repeating chromatics provide a perfect platform for that confused emotional whirl of a dervish that Fiona’s life experiences seem to traverse across. At times she pleads for help in an aching falsetto at others she laments that ‘I stand no chance of growing up’ and at the end of ‘Periphery’ you can hear the scrapping of shoes on pavement – the arduous trudging of life. It’s a depressing album at times because it speaks at what is most precious and complicated in social interactions – love and death. You definitely feel for Fiona as you vicariously share some of the negative experiences that she has gone through, it’s not easy listening but after you’ll definitely be rewarded whether or not you’ll be prompted like me, to hit the repeat button.
Spotify has finally been released in Australia as part of this year’s push to spread the streaming service globally. However it is a bit late to the party; even when there were rumours of a March release I thought that was a bit late considering how many of Spotify’s natural competitors had already launched in January 2012 as Rdio or RaRa.com. Of course there are the long standing streaming services such as Zune Music Pass, BBM Music, Samsung Music Hub, Sony Music Unlimited, JB Hi-fi Now, Songl and I’m sure there may be a few more. So clearly the market for streaming services is heavily saturated yet at the same time there is no dominant player a the moment so it probably was imperative for Spotify to jump in before a clear market leader emerged.
However the Spotify launch has not been without some quirks. Firstly it is a requirement to sign up to Spotify that you must use a Facebook account. Now I’m sure a lot of people have Facebook but considering all the 3rd party privacy issues with Facebook some people might be sceptical about giving Facebook even more information for datamining. For example, you have to give out information such as email addresses, home town information, and other miscelanous information such as political and religious leanings; because of this my inbox is already full of spam from people who have just joined Spotify and I assume there is some sort of algorithm which uses the mined information to target like users.
Secondly the price tiers once again demonstrate the price gouging of Australians. Even accounting for GST the price of the Spotify service in Australia as compared to the US price are ridiculous – Australians are paying 9% more. Of course the same thing happens with the iTunes store; something which prompted a parliamentary inquiry, so it is not like Spotify is unique in this circumstance. Nonetheless such blatant price gouging really represents the bad state of affairs for the consumer in Australia. Especially when you have local retailers creating exclusivity agreements with clothing brands in order to prevent people from importing from overseas; since obviously the best response when you can’t compete is go for draconian protectionism.
Is Australia even ready for a streaming service? Consider how backwards we are in the music industry with music charts. You would think that something be gold or platinum would be based on the number of sales; in reality it is based on the number of orders for the album or single by retailers and these orders are just based on perceived sales. This leads to the curious situation where gold albums can outsell platinum records. Hopefully if Spotify is successful we might get an official streaming which was launched in the UK this month where instead of using an anachronistic charting system based on anticipated sales we have a chart based on the number of times played on streams.
Anyway if you still want to sign up for Spotify; which is backed by Commonwealth Bank, Carlton United Brewers, McDonald’s, and Triple J (quite an eclectic bunch), there are essentially three services – free, no ads ($6.99 a month) and premium ($11.99 a month).
If you do get Spotify here is a guide to stopping it posting all the songs you are listening to on Facebook, trust me it is really annoying. http://lifehacker.com/5843847/how-to-keep-spotify-from-broadcasting-your-music-taste-to-all-of-facebook
If you want to avoid all the hassle perhaps just get Grooveshark which is also free and has a bigger library although this is a legally grey area….
Culturally Lo-Fi has become pretty entrenched in society nowadays. We see it with the current craze of Instagram which gives the opportunity for people to masquerade as ‘artists’ by taking seemingly mundane photos and applying as many filters and effects as possible to completely distort reality; because let’s face it, if the picture looks nothing like reality then it has somehow entered the realm of artistic expression. Also for added kicks, at least it looks vintage; it looks like film! As you can probably tell I’m pretty dismissive of the Instagram craze but for some reason I can’t apply that same level of vehemency to Lo-Fi music. Maybe there is something different about the values of these two closely representations of the world that makes one more authentic than the other.
Broadly speaking I think the ideological roots of things like Lo-Fi music and Instagram have their genesis in the Slow Movement. The Slow Movement was born out of Slow Food which is derived from a protest at an Italian McDonalds in the 80’s. Obviously there were other factors that prompted the protest, many of which included a growing anti-globalization sentiment and in particular the perceived decline of authentic regional cuisines in favour of generic fast food. Nonetheless the important factor is the notion that with all the benefits that industrialisation and globalization bring there is something to be send about how it just seems too fast. We can see this in the pace of the news cycle or the ever present commercialisation of our lifestyles. What Instagram does is hark back on that nostalgic feeling where life, at least from the perspective we have today, was filled with more time. In order to do this it uses film effects to symbolise such a lifestyle. Likewise Lo-Fi music represents the sound of multi-track tape decks and the authenticity of getting that sound perfect simultaneously rather than relying on post-production to digitally manipulate 1’s and 0’s into something meaningful.
Of course, this idealisation might seem a bit fanciful, I highly doubt that people during the early part of the 20th Century thought they had plenty of time on their hands or that they did not endure similar pressures during their life. Nonetheless I think the Slow Movement should be interpreted much in the way Hanna Arendt conceives of modernity in her work The Human Condition. Arendt references the Greek polis as a methodology to disconnect from the fetters of an outdated tradition (in the context of Arendt’s thought she was responding to the question how totalitarianism could have emerged) and back towards a past in which such a tradition did not exist, or at least not have such a prominent hold on the hearts and minds of the public to the extent that people turned a blind eye to totalitarianism. By using this frame of reference we might consider that Lo-Fi music wants us to consider what we find disturbing about the commercialisation of music where songs have almost become formulaic in their creation and instead we should look back to a period of music where the tradition of creating music for it’s spontaneity and originality itself were the main driving factors rather than whether or not a song had enough hooks to guarantee a radio hit. An example of the tension in today’s industry is to look at the label pressure placed on Santigold to churn out some songs that sounded more like pop hits; or perhaps Radiohead’s salient song ‘Anybody Can Play Guitar’ that still rings true 19 years later.
I think what makes Lo-Fi, besides being omnipresent with some amazing artists, is that it doesn’t really rely on gimmicks. Take for example How To Dress Well’s song ‘Decisions’ not only is the original moving on its own accord where it is within the confines of its bedroom production but it is also equally as good in its orchestral version. This demonstrates to extent the strength of this particular song’s musical narrative; it can transcend the equipment used whether that be a synthesiser or a violin.
Lo-Fi as a genre isn’t a gimmick; it is not some sort of sub-culture that purely exists in order to engender some form of elitism. It is a genuine expression of music in stark contrast to Instagram which parades itself as being representative of the general ethos of the Slow Movement, or at the very least a counterculture movement, yet in actuality is just another continuation of the very tradition that the Slow Movement is attempting to overturn. Instagram is not art, the fact there is a myriad of web columns and blogs instructing people on how not to be terrible at Instagram says it all really.
Update April 10 2012
Well it seems that Facebook has just purchased Instagram so we can all look forward to even more terribly shot and composed photos being redeemed by ‘vintage’ filters. What’s interesting is the sheer amount of money, $1 billion for a company that in a sense doesn’t really create any tangible revenues. Facebook must have been pretty desperate for the company and it probably means that the ‘art’ of Instagram is here to stay.
It’s a sad day, Jet has officially broken up after 11 years of performing. Coming to the fold with the classic LP Get Born which to this day maintains the record for highest selling debut album in Australia they went on to sell more than 6 million cds worldwide. They were part of an avant-garde grunge rock scene of the ilk of The Vines and The Hives providing a feel good rock pop to the general public. Those were days when shopping centres blasted out rock hits rather than the RnB of today. It might seem an over elaboration but Jet were in a sense pioneers bringing back distorted guitars to the mainstream and providing the framework for the current Grunge scene of today such as DZ Deathrays and Violent Soho. Thanks for the good times Jet.
From their Facebook page;
“A Message To Our Fans: After many successful years of writing, recording and touring we wish to announce our discontinuation as a group. From the many pubs, theatres, stadiums and festivals all across the world it was the fans that made our amazing story possible and we wish to thank them all. Thank you, and goodnight.”
Daniel Rossen aka vocalist of Grizzly Bear and the other half of Department of Eagles has just released his first solo EP, Silent Hour/Golden Mile. There is something distinct about Rossen’s arrangements and if you didn’t know that this was a solo EP you would be hard pressed to differentiate some of the tracks from Grizzly Bear. This is not surprising considering most of the material on the EP was originally destined for the upcoming Grizzly Bear album. However this isn’t just unfinished work, true it maybe a bit more raw but it is this vulnerability of Rossen away from his usual collaborators that makes this album so interesting. Silent Hour/ Golden Mile has that orchestral feel with layered textures which makes it so distinctive in addition to the penetrating guitar riffs and unpredictable chord structures which elevate Rossen to virtuoso status (a rare privilege amongst his contemporaries). Perhaps this is influenced by his jazz tuition whilst growing up; which lead to a brief dalliance with the notion of becoming a professional jazz musician. Rossen has moved on from his original inspiration of just imitating artists such as Nick Drake and Elliot Smith (brilliant artists in their own right) to creating some of the most innovative music which recently culminated in Grizzly Bear’s album Veckatimest which prompted some lofty comparisons between the group and The Beatles.
‘Silent Hour/Golden Mile’ follows Rossen’s development away from introspective, dark at times, emotional imagery that was seen in some of the earlier work of Department of Eagles to a more joyous vibe which is encapsulated in the latest Grizzly Bear tracks for example ‘Southern Point’. That is not to say that Silent Hour/ Golden Mile is merely a happy album – it is something much more complex. Granted there are only 5 tracks they are all quite brilliant in their own right but of special significance is the closing track ‘Golden Mile’ with its descending arpeggios and syncopated beat that merge like two streams into a river of blissful dissonance. Whereas the first track ‘Up on High’ announces some of the pent up emotions of Rossen with “But in this big/Empty room/I may feel free/To sing for me.” perhaps an indication of the typical stagnation that many artists endure after months of touring, especially after such a successful release such as Veckatimest. However my favourite track has to be ‘Saint Nothing’ which opens with a haunting ascetic piano and culminates into a beautiful resolution; it probably sounds a bit over the top but it results in a spiritual zen moment something that only happens when a record truly connects with you (and I’m sure most people have experienced something of this ilk).
This EP lends itself to multiple listens, after each listen the veil of simplicity that was littered with glinting highlights is eroded and what we find is a work that deserves to be appreciated to a much greater depth.
With attention away from this solo project, Grizzly Bear our now back into the recording studio developing their upcoming fourth album. Perhaps we will see them in Australia touring the new album? Nonetheless it has been confirmed that they will be touring Australia in 2012. I for one, am looking forward to it.
Silent Hour/Golden Mile is available for pre-order at local stores or you can import it from overseas which I did; pretty ridiculous how the distribution has worked out for this album.