Posts Tagged ‘Music’

No Preamble: Never Shout Never “Recycled Youth” (Volume 1) Review

March 2, 2015

This album is part one of a three-part set of releases. I write this on the eve of the record’s release. Follow this link to tune in alongside my commentary.

On the Brightside: Harking back to the animated music video several years back, its hard to swallow this rendition of the previously chipper tune. There isn’t much to complain about in regards to this track aside from the fact that the original version exists. And, at the risk of sounding overly nostalgic, there is just a disconnect between the timbre of Christopher Drew’s vocals and the tone of the instrumentation (most notably the violin). I enjoy the evolution of NSN but I’d argue this intro to be the weakest track on this record. Yet, this assessment is not a barrier-to-entry for most other tracks on Recycled Youth. 6/10

Sacreligious: I didn’t expect much from this track; this song always reeked of semi-commitment. In re-recording this, the band bears down on the melody and adds previously-nonexistent depth to an already familiar track. This song’s structure flows more openly in Recycled Youth. The occasional guitar pauses, the choir-esque floating harmonies, and the picking pattern across the chord progressions all contribute to a much more palatable version than the original. Of course, I don’t condemn the original. But if we’re picking between the original and the revision (?), the recycled version fares better. 7/10

Love is our Weapon: Track 3 is a genuine transition between the original and RY, unlike many others on here. Great flow. Good alterations. It feels organic. Drew’s vocals are at their best in conjunction with other harmonies–Again, Drew’s altered singing style has its weak elements. This song’s theme and instrumental march almost demand the harmonies/layers. 8/10

Black Hole/Liar Liar:  If I remember correctly, this came as a B-side on the Summer EP and I wouldn’t have expected this (great) song to make it onto this album. That aside, I couldn’t be happier that it did. The original will always maintain a special place in my music library, but this recycled version just feels right. The surf-guitar tones really chill down the song, and the light kick drum spruces up the lack of high energy. Didn’t expect Drew to hit the high notes, but he rocked it out quite splendidly. The guitar solo and light chorus at the end really wrapped it up nicely. 10/10

Robot: This track is nothing short of the conclusion to a musical. It feels less angsty than the original, which has its strengths and weaknesses. With just a touch more of piano (lead vs. rhythm), I think this recycled version would be impenetrable. Amazing bridge and instrumental. In fact, I almost wish the bridge/instrumental ended the song. Other than for the sake of mirroring the original, the final chorus serves no genuine purpose. Near miss with this track. It was almost amazing, but not quite. 8/10

Here Goes Nothing: Thinking back, I only now realize that this is the third version of this song I now own. There was the myspace demo in 2007(?), followed by the Yippee EP rerecording. For whatever reason, the older tracks seem to translate much better into these new versions. As I’ve noted, Drew’s voice and singing style have altered considerably in the intermediary period between the original and recycled version. I have never met a NSN fan who doesn’t point to the Yippee EP as NSN’s golden age (and I have to say its hard to disagree, despite loving each succeeding release). There is something trance-y going on in this, perhaps because the kick/hi-hat placements sound like something straight out of Fruity Loops. Definitely a highlight track on this record. 10/10

Sweet Perfection: Again, what a great rendition. If it weren’t for the fact that I already loved the original version, this might have sold me. Luckily the amazing harmonicas were kept, accented with a little more vibe than the original. The peppered surf-guitar sounds like something that would appear in the Hawaii special of The Brady Bunch. The chorus harmonies in this version really buttress the otherwise meandering tone of this track. Great, silly ending. 9/10

Trance-Like Getaway: These final two tracks had more to live up to than the other seven combined. Off the bat, the whistling and harmonica so wonders to set the stage. I’m a little disappointed at the lack of overpowering Time Travel-esque harmonies; a lot of the vocal layers have been cut out. In a way, I can see how this would have (more or less) been the original growth of this song. There is something more authentic about the way this song progresses than the original. Yet, the bridge fizzles out in a way that the original completely succeeded in accomplishing. There is a feeling of release and relief at the end of the cyclical buildup and, in this version, that aspect is lost. 7/10

Lost at Sea: Time Travel holds a place in my heart that is unmatched by very few records. This is the definitive song off that record, in my mind, and, that being said, I will critique from a position of assuming you understand that I love this song. The “recycled” version begins in a way that is so great that the remainder of the song nearly fails to accomplish that same level of emotion. The harmonies are mixed in a way that feels fresh, open, and independent of the rest of this song. The verses just do nothing to bolster the impact of the choruses. There needs to be more than one looping acoustic guitar for such a heavy-handed track as this. And then, what? A couple plucks on the acoustic just end the song (and the record)? Hmm. Hard not to furrow my brow at this lackluster rendition. 8/10

Overall: 73/90. This record has its strengths across the board. I’ve never seen an artist go down this route of reinterpreting, “recycling,” one’s past recordings. It’s both a treat for fans and an opportunity to bring consonance to the ever-evolving style of music NSN produces. While some of these songs are bogged down by comparison, this album stands quite well on its own. I highly anticipate volumes two and three in the near future.

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“The Top 5” – Best Albums of 2014

December 18, 2014

1. Closure in Moscow – Pink Lemonade (10/10)

Pink Lemonade is a concept album built around the most hallucenogenic ideas I have encountered on a record (akin to The Mars Volta, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd). This record brings to the table ingenuitive ideas, trippy effects, impenetrably complex lyrics, and vocals that sound as if from the “Brahmatron” itself. More or less, Pink Lemonade dresses like a classic-rock album, yet somehow Closure in Moscow breaks that mold and comes across with incredible driving force and energy. No two songs feel the same, yet all flow into one another seamlessly. This record is a perfect example of what experimentation and musicianship can do when properly combined. The worst thing about Pink Lemonade is the fact that it took (literally) five years to make it into my mailbox. It was worth the wait. Favorite Track: “Church of the Technochrist”

2. Hail the Sun – Wake (10/10)

A very close contender for the number one spot this year, Hail the Sun’s first full-length, Wake, blew fans out of the water. Until about this year, Hail the Sun had been a rather esoteric Reddit-only-club kind of band. Their sounds derives itself from too many possible angles to wrap up into a generalization; they can be compared to anybody from The Fall of Troy, to Circa Survive, and to anyone in between. Wake has some amazing instrumentals, driven by Donovan Melero the drummer/singer (wtf, how does he do it?) and has lyrical concepts far deeper than meets the eye. Speaking of Reddit, check out their AMA from a few weeks back to get a broader scope of what kind of songs HTS were trying to produce on this record. Wake might have made it to number one if it had come out earlier this year and allowed time to marinate my feels some more. Favorite Track: “Disappearing Syndrome”

3. Artifex Pereo – Time in Place (9/10)

Artifex Pereo, since Ailments & Antidotes, have lost their original vocalist, and a lot of time on hiatus. Having fallen in love with their craft, I picked up Time in Place expecting a sloppier, more radio-friendly release. Let’s just say I was slapped in the face the second I put the CD in my car. This record packs one hell of an articulate punch. Artifex, as a unit, somehow blends the softest jams in with post-hardcore that, if released maybe 5 years back, would have changed the future of music as we know it today. This record gets a little too soft and angsty towards the end for my tastes (“Weep & You Weep Alone” and “Overview”) but, on the other hand, it’s nice to finally see Jeremiah Brinkworth get some solo time as keyboardist. Artifex are at their best when all instruments are involved, particularly blending heaviness & ambience within a single track–I’m not asking for breakdowns, just less loftiness. That aside, these are extremely technical songwriters who blend together some jams that very few bands ever have the ability to accomplish. Favorite Track: “The Golden Age”

4. Icarus the Owl – Icarus the Owl (9/10)

Though Icarus the Owl hasn’t chosen to experiment too much over the years, they somehow never fail to impress the listener. Icarus are so catchy–almost pop music–yet they remain completely, unintelligibly inventive and dynamic. This self-titled release is full of many jams that will refuse to leave you alone even when you aren’t listening to it. Their mathy movements and tap/sweep guitars dominate the background, whilst the playful drums and loose vocals kill the fore. I am still of the opinion that their previous release, Love always, Leviathan is one of the top ten records I’ve ever heard, so this record had a lot to live up to. Thankfully, Icarus the Owl has not disappointed. However, there are occasional overlapping moments I’ve noticed in their song/lyrical themes, which is a symptom of owning all their records in addition to previous musical endeavors (Kill Your Ex). Not sure why this record warrants self-titling in particular; they’re only getting better as musicians. Favorite Track: “Lily Trotter”

5. Tides of Man – Young and Courageous (8/10)

This list would be amiss without this beautiful, experimental honorable mention. I was heartbroken when Tilian Peterson (Tides of Man’s previous vocalist) left to join Dance Gavin Dance, another favorite of mine. Still, when Young and Courageous came out in the spring, my pre-order arrived and I was hooked instantly. Tides of Man might resist the label, “Post-rock,” but it seems the most fitting way to describe the way this band has transitioned. No longer are their jams heavy and technical; they are simple, loopy, trippy, and free. Young and Courageous takes flight in many movements that old fans will (hopefully) still love and grow to appreciate. I’m sure I’m not the only one with bated breath, hoping for Tilian to return, but even if that weren’t the case, Tides of Man can kill it instrumentally. And their live show is…let’s just say, unforgettable. Favorite Track: “Drift”

Aside from this “Top 5” list and a handful of records that slipped through the cracks (Lights, Young the Giant, So Much Light, to name a few), this year in music has been particularly disappointing. Here are my “Bottom 5” list of flop-releases from 2014 which, while they aren’t terrible, do not live up to the caliber of the bands I have known previously: Chiodos – Devil, Emarosa – Versus, Manchester Orchestra – Cope, Memphis May Fire – Unconditional, Set it Off – Duality. Each of these records has maybe two or three redeemable tracks, but universally fail to build on their past groundworks.

Here’s to hoping 2015 has more low-hanging fruits.

No Preamble: Lights – Little Machines (Deluxe Edition) 2014 – Album Review

December 3, 2014

Lyrics & Vocals: 9/10
Lights’ voice speaks for itself; there are too few vocalists of her caliber today. In terms of lyricism, Little Machines delivers a melancholic mixture between dark and cute moments. Lights vocabulary never ceases to surprise the close reader. There are gentle and complex concepts, both philosophical and playfully childish at times. A few repetitive concepts appear, such as the cliche of metaphorically being “low” and climbing “higher,” or of being a child and suffering from the battle between youth and adulthood. Luckily, Lights does it well.

Musicianship: 7/10
Nothing especially unique about this album in juxtaposition with her previous releases. There are moments of grittier-than-usual synth percolating throughout some choruses and interesting patches dancing along in the background. Also a bit more guitar is present, or at least appears in more stand-out areas than before. Excellent balance in the mix. Her vocals sit perfectly atop the instrumentation.

Album Cohesiveness/Flow: 9/10
This album carries its weight at almost all times from front to back. There is a nice blend of tempos fluctuating across each song and, although a few tracks lag behind, no chorus feels stale or repetitive. Little Machines begins with the tranquil, progressive “Portal” which extends itself into the full flow of the rest of the album. Some highlight tracks are “Up We Go,” “Speeding,” “Muscle Memory,” and…alright the whole album is awesome.

Experimentation: 6/10
This is perhaps Little Machines’ only weak point. It seems that The Listening was a collection of past demos and experimental jams, Siberia was a process of really honing her songwriting, and Little Machines is a refinement of all these sounds and ideas. The final bonus track, “From All Sides” has promise of dynamically pushing Lights in unexpected directions. It takes a few spins to (not “accept,” but) really adjust to the direction this album wants to take the listener. Not much has changed, but no two songs carry themselves the same

Overall: 31/50
The only appropriate way I can describe Little Machines is “ear Skittles.” Not a perfect A+, but certainly worth picking up and acquainting yourself with. Unlike so many artists who release copy-paste albums when they “find their sound,” Lights keeps things fresh without alienating her audience. Old and new listeners alike should be able to find high points across all 14 tracks.