TV on the Radio: Nine Types of Light Four Takes
(NOTE: All reviews were written and submitted before the tragic loss of bass player Gerald Smith, who passed away yesterday after fighting Lung Cancer. Both TV on the Radio shows scheduled for this weekend at First Ave are cancelled. Our thoughts are with the band and with Gerald’s family.)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on Nine Types of Light by TV on the Radio.
Ali Elabbady (Background Noise Crew, Egypto Knuckles)
A year-long hiatus, a move to a new coast, and a bandmember’s bout with lung cancer definitely had folks worried for TVOTR’s future plans. Rest assured those thoughts are quelled once “Nine Types of Light,” gets to see the light of day. Rest assured, there is a different mood to this album given all the factors mentioned, but it definitely provides the album with a different sound altogether. Dave Sitek at the helm of production duties helps give the album a much more airy and lighter sound, and a very much fresh, rhythmic outlook that isn’t as fast paced as such tunes like “Wolf Like Me” off “Return to Cookie Mountain.” Regardless, such tunes as the stuttering “New Cannonball Blues,” and the almost hip-hop/rock-esque styling of “Caffinated Consciousness” provide the album with a more brash and deliberate delivery, however you also have a nice accordion introduction in “Second Song,” and stark but hard drums strike on such songs as “You,” and the eerily arranged “Keep Your Heart.” Overall, it’s a great catalog continuation from a band that continues to innovate and not sacrifice the subtle nuances that continue to make TVOTR a great band.
Jon Jon Scott (Sound Verite)
One of America’s best exports, Brooklyn’s TV On The Radio, delivers their fourth studio record Nine Types Of Light. They recorded in LA at producer David A. Sitek’s home studio after various solo outings, among them solo shots from Tunde Adebimpe plus a little acting (Rachel Getting Married) , guitarist/vocalist Kyp Malone’s Americana styling on his solo jump as Rain Machine, and Sitek’s Maximum Balloon with Little Dragon, Karen O., TVOTR mates and others. Recording in LA allowed the crew to depend on themselves, without a million Brooklynites on deck for coloring.
On Nine Types Of Light Singer Adebimpe seems obsessed with love, capturing and maintaining it. It opens with a defense of lovers anthem “Second Song”, where jazzy horns accentuate soft disco as Adebimpe cries “every lover on a mission, shift your know position to the light”. From there the light turns to the neon-blues on “Keep Your Heart” where there’s a darkness that carries over the record; as Adebimpe sings ‘”I’m gonna keep your heart” it feels like a rainy Sunday. On the stunning ballad “You” Adebimpe pleads ” You’re the only one I ever loved” over the mid-tempo waltz. The new-wave, spunky B-52′s jolt of “No Future Shock” feels a bit weird with a “semi-rap” Saul Williams vocal, whose novelty could be a radio hit. “Killer Crane” is another mournful reflective ballad. The sterling centerpiece is “Will Do” echoed with a stately elegance, full of tranquility. On “New Cannonball Run” TVOTR make more than a few hints at Prince. “Repetition” is a clunky rocker. A jewel towards the end is the very fine “Forgotten”. “Forgotten” is loaded with marching horns, bells and a few whistles. Closing with the album’s ace rocker “Caffeinated Consciousness”. “Caffeinated Consciousness” soars with Bowie inspired precision ”Optimistic we’re gonna survive”. TV On The Radio’s brand of love, perhaps love is all we need. The title track “Will Do” alongside “Keep Your Heart”, “You”, “New Cannonball Run” and “Caffeinated Consciousness” are all keepers. There’s also a beautiful bonus track in “Troubles” where Adebimpe sings “Our love is a sure-fire thing” over a futuristic dubbed-out two-step in the spirit of The Specials.
Nine Types Of Light finds the band at its most nuanced and meticulous, and will go down as TVOTR’s ode to love and romance. TV On The Radio are growing into elder statesmen who continue maturing with a brooding, reflective, melancholy all their own. Nowhere as ambitious as their 2006 release Cookie Mountain, or as artfully designed as 2008′s Dear Science. TVOTR are clearly looking forward and enjoying where they are in their lives. Despite the recent unfortunate news that their bassist/ keyboardist Gerald Smith has lung cancer, and is taking time off recovering. Love, love and more love is the answer from Brooklyn’s groove merchants who are sailing with the brightest of smiles.
After their initial two “arty” records that brought them widespread attention, the EP OK Calculator and the LP Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, TV on the Radio have seemed to mirror the mood of the country on their LP’s. 2006’s Return to Cookie Mountain was a dark, angry opus spun out during the ominous Bush years. 2008’s Dear Science, was a redemptive collection that felt like years of tension were being released, after eight dark years, in their sonic jumbo of sounds.
Now, three years and multiple side projects later, the group are back with their fifth album Nine Types of Light and there seems to be a restrained, meditative feel to the album. The mood over the record seems to say that the group, as they have aged, have realized it wasn’t so bad before, and it may never be as good as they hope, but we can as least make the most of it while the world burns. When they sing “Throw your hands up and walk away,” on “You,” it is hard to tell if they are talking about a relationship or just their overall feeling towards the world. “Second Song” and “Will Do,” would serve as a good soundtrack to those who wish to be having sex when the apocalypse comes, mixing the groups sensual grooves with their usual charging and gloomy instrumentation.
The TV on the Radio from the first two album seem to have grown up, for better or for worse. The songs on Nine Types of Light have a full, fleshed out sound and a resigned feeling to them. There is an overcast feeling to the record, but it still feels like they leave the door open, ever so slightly, for some surprising redemption. If the world is falling apart, I can’t think of a better soundtrack than TV on the Radio.
I haven’t really liked a TVotR record since Desperate Youth, so going into Nine Types of Lightyou could say my expectations weren’t really that high. I actually found the new material pretty listenable though, in part because it’s probably the lightest, funkiest, easygoing TVoTR album by a long shot. To my mind most of the band’s back catalogue suffers under the groaning weight of its own pretension and self-seriousness, but with Nine Typesit seems that the band is finally ready to shed a little of that weight. TVotR as a group is very talented at layering dense sonic textures – and when they do so with a light touch here it feels dexterous and fun. The songs still aren’t anything to write home about but coming from someone who has felt pretty ambivalent towards this band for a long time those thoughts should be taken with a grain of salt. Still, If I had to listen to any TV on the Radio album I just might choose this one.
Panda Bear: Tomboy Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on Tomboy by Panda Bear.
Ah, Panda Bear, the artist who launched 10,000 pompous hipsters. But, in all seriousness, how do you really begin to review Tomboy, an album that follows Person Pitch, a piece that completely redefined electronic music and brazenly shifted how samples and expansive soundscapes are created and recorded? Looking back now, it’s hard to judge what was more influential in regards to Person Pitch: the music or the movement – which manifested into dozens of sub-genres and like-minded artists. It’s unfortunate then (maybe), that an album as great as Tomboy has to, no matter how you shake it, be compared to something else. Thankfully, though, this is not a Person Pitch redux. Multiple layered samples and rhythmic patterns are instead replaced with swaths of echoy reverb and vibrating synth chords. Panda Bear, a.k.a. Noah Lennox, explained that this album would be less bright and wandering and more ‘structured’ than Person Pitch. He also mentioned that he recording sessions took place in a dark basement with only a single light, but even after one run-through of the album, it’s hard to imagine these songs, even at their darkest, coming from such a place – especially considering his Brian Wilson, larger-than-life falsetto is again front and center.
“You Can Count On Me,” with its vocal-only opening is a perfect way to set off the album. While the one-two punch of “Last Night on the Jetty” and “Surfer’s Hymn,” one of my favorite tracks, are two of the best vocal performances ever by Lennox. And again he stretches his harmonies and vowels for miles, creating a hypnotic vastness of space and distance. Stuck in between these are “Tomboy” and “Slow Motion,” two of the earliest singles released from the album. These both serve as free-wheeling, vibrating loops that blend nicely together. As mentioned before, the songs here are more insular and lonely than say “Bros” or “Comfy in Nautica,” and they are far-removed from the everlasting sprawl of Person Pitch. (See: “Good Girls/Carrots.”) The songs are also tighter, more ‘conventionally structured’ and accessible. Some of the songs (“Drone, “Scheherezade”) however, even for how booming and soaring they are, also have a kind of restricted, almost claustrophobic veil around them. The lusher, glossier production is indebted to Lennox’s decision to have Sonic Boom master the Tomboy sessions. Unlike Person Pitch, which tended to have a thinner, lo-fi sound, many of the tracks on Tomboy are elevated by much-needed heft and punch. Another highlight is “Afterburner,” that has a tropical/tribal rhythm that bleeds perfectly into the heart-wrenching closer, “Benfica.”
For me, Panda Bear is the perfect kind of musician in terms of pure listener enjoyment: the more time you put in the more you take away. That’s not to say that he is the only musician I feel this way about, but for the sake of this review, and Tomboy in general, the description seems fitting. Tomboy and Panda Bear aren’t for everyone. And whether or not it takes a “music nerd” to “get it” is completely, and rightly, up for debate. But I would argue that a piece like this isn’t necessarily for a so-called ‘casual music listener.’ Like all of Panda’s music, in and out of Animal Collective, it usually takes time to appreciate songs like this. But sometimes music begs for that kind of uninterrupted, invested attention. Tomboy is that kind of album.
Ali Elabbady (Background Noise Crew, Egypto Knuckles)
It’s been a good minute since the last Panda Bear record, but a lot of folks have been anticipating Tomboy’s release. With words like “summery” and “accessible” have been thrown around in reviews for this album as of recent, but both are great words to describe the sentiment of feel-good music that Panda Bear has laid out here. Throughout the near 50 minute exploration, you hear a lot of elements that weave around the sounds of Merriweather Post Pavilion, but imagine more percussive and vocals that trend toward the stark echoes, such as “You Can’t Forget Me,” whereas grooves become more alive and existent in the title track as well as “Slow Motion.” Elsewhere you have songs like “Last Night At The Jetty,” which plays more like the Smashing Pumpkins “1979,” moreso in terms of nostalgia than it does experimentation. The record definitely harkens back to a time when music was to be enjoyed as an entire body of work rather than selective tunes. In the case of Tomboy, it definitely plays to those strengths and makes for yet another success in the Panda Bear discography.
As a preface to this review, I want to point out the the last album Panda Bear released, Person Pitch, was the #1 album on my list of best songs of the ’00′s. That leaves pretty big shoes to fill, especially after waiting for four years for the follow up album to drop. While it wouldn’t be fair to say whether Tomboy reaches the dizzying heights of Person Pitch, the fact that it isn’t a resounding disappointment is a gigantic compliment to both Noah Lennox and his latest LP. Starting with the hypnotizing beauty of “You Can Count on Me” and winding through the 11 song, 50+ minute LP, Panda Bear is as pristine and compelling as ever. From the longer, more elaborate tracks like “Friendship Bracelet” and “Afterburner” to the more direct, sublime pop tracks like “Surfers Hymn” and “Last Night At the Jetty,” Lennox shows his truly amazing songwriting talent. With a Brian Wilson like sense for melody, melancholy and drama, Panda Bear has become the mainstream electronic avant pop song smith of the 21st Century. The songs on Tomboy are engrossing and swallow the listener in blankets of soft noise, with each listen rewarded with a new treat put together by . I didn’t think it possible that there would be an album that would be able to “follow up” on Person Pitch, but somehow Tomboy does.
Jon Jon Scott (Sound Verite)
The long-awaited, repeatably delayed, now finally here, and yup it’s almost epic-like. The fourth release from Animal Collectives’ co-founder Noah Lennox, better known as Panda Bear. Since Animal Collective’s 2009 ground breaking Merriweather Post Pavilion it appears the musical landscape has titled. Bridging the gap between indie’s psychedelia and glitchy experimental electronica. On Panda Bear’s follow-up to his 2007′s Person Pitch, Panda Bear further explores the spaces in between adventure and discovery on Tomboy. Heavy does of reverb-soaked, multi track vocal harmonies carry the opener “You Can Count On Me” with a warm, cheerful, hypnotic melody, aided by sprawling guitar chords.
Followed by the slow pounding haze of “Tomboy” with it’s revelatory vocal technique. There’s the brilliant Phil Spector collage of sounds on “Slow Motion” buried in a wash of Brian Wilson harmonies and hand claps. ”Surfers Hymn” is a winner as it soars after a splash of bells and noises shifts to a swell of harmonies. Among the records highlights, the indie waltz “Last Night At The Jetty”, a raunchy mid-tempo thumper closest to Animal Collective’s MPP. Swirling and spinning it’s own Daydream Nation. Tomboy goes off track on the ambient “Drone” a testy, synth-driven track, with high pitched sharp frequencies flushed with warm textures. This requires an extra patience since there no boom-bap of anything. “Alsatian Darn” is built on weird synths amist huge vocals hints at a buried pop song. The piano ballad ”Schenerazade” is spacious, sorta of new age for new kids. “Friendship Bracelet” is a nice floater. “Afterburner” is a drab techno workout. While on the closer, the gorgeous “Benfica”, Lennox captures the harrowing vocals awash in atmospherics without making any grand statement. There’s a relaxed mood that is as subtle as exploratory.
Although lacking the dynamics of Pitch Perfect, if Tomboy only had “You Can Count On Me”, “Tomboy” , “Slow Motion”, “Last Night at The Jetty” and “Surfers Hymn” it would rank as terrific. Although part of the record weighs heavy not emotionally, but clouded in mystery, making it’s way to being evocative headphone music. It’s as if Lennox, working with producer Sonic Boom (Spacemen 3/Spiritualized) and is living some Beach Boys fantasy through a 21st century vibrant lenses. Tomboy seems to be two records, the first half that’s open ended excellence and the second half which feels like an effort not to stray to far away from what works. The beautiful, dream like excursions of the second half, feels unfocused, without a knockout punch as hypnotic and immediate or as “Slow Motion” or “Last Night At The Jetty”. The first half of Tomboy is one hell of a ride. I’ll take what I can get.
Reviler Four Favorite Songs from the Local Scene
The Current is making a push to recognize local music with their new Local Stream internet station (or, looking at it more cynically, finding a way to push local music off the airwaves so they squeeze in more Kings of Leon and Mumford and Sons tracks). In addition, last month during SXSW they picked four songs to represent our local music scene in a trade with a station in Texas. We saw their picks and thought to ourselves, “hmm, those aren’t the tracks we would pick to represent our great scene.” So we reached out to people who have written for us in the past and posed the simple question,”What four songs would you pick to someone who couldn’t pick Minneapolis out on a map, let alone know about our great scene.” Below are the choices, and the wide range of bands and songs go to highlight, again, how amazing our local scene is currently and how lucky we are to have so many great bands at our fingertips.
Brute Heart – Scritch Scratch
I have a feeling this band could take Austin by storm (not to mention the rest of the world).
Blind Shake/Michael Yonkers – Cold Town
Would prefer to send something from their forthcoming record but if not, this classic jam will do.
Daughters of The Sun – Moontan
DotS would fit right in with the “keep Austin weird” crowd. That scene could also benefit from a band that isn’t just weird in a self concious, postering sort of way.
Something from Moon Glyph
Food Pyramid, Tender Meat, Velvet Davenport, whomever – have to mention at least one of the bands from our scene’s most exciting stable of new talent.
(also: Gay Beast, Dark Dark Dark, Aby Wolf, Sims)
1. CLAPS – “Fold”
As far as Kraftwerk/Depech Mode-leaning-new wave-electro bands are concerned these guys (and girl) are the tops. No real reason behind choosing this song over others, this one is just my favorite, and the catchiest.
2. Solid Gold – “Just Like Everyone Else”
Though the guys don’t have much to show recently as their latest release was 2010′s Synchronize EP, they are still one of my favorite local bands of the last few years. Also, if more people saw and heard Solid Gold, they would probably better understand where Gayngs’ soft-rock throwback sound is coming from.
3. Velvet Davenport – “Mystery Michael”
There are many reasons why you see the psych-garage outfit Velvet Davenport popping up everywhere – this is mostly thanks to last year’s terrific Warmy Girls LP. And it’s also no wonder that his cassette tape esthetic has led him to rub shoulders with the likes of Ariel Pink. This dude is poised for big things.
4. Red Pens – “Blue Lighters”
A while back I almost got beat up for not knowing who Red Pens were – I would’ve deserved it. These two crush it.
Haunted House – “Chandeliers” (Holy fuck, man. I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to this jam.)
Tom Loftus (Modern Radio)
Low – When I Go Deaf – Low is one of the real musical gems of Minnesota and it’s hard picking just one song but this one is just beautiful both lyrically and musically. I can’t even count how many mixes I have put this on for friends or to listen to in the car.
Vampire Hands – Safe Word – This song has a cool T. Rex / psyche influenced vibe along with all of the great things you want in an excellent pop song.
Daughters of the Sun – Ghost With Chains – The final song on their newest record on Not Not Fun is a long drone-y song that just invites you in to hang out for awhile. One of the best jams of a growing psych / drone music scene.
STNNNG – Two Sick Friends – Chris Besinger knows how to tell a story with his lyrics. The mood of the music matches with the lyrics perfectly. Another band that you could make an argument for 5-10 songs for one of the best songs. It’s a song that is aggressive but not overly macho. This can be said for a lot of louder bands. The music is loud but the message is a bit more thoughtful.
From the punk-rock glare of Phantom Tails to the intricate rhymes of new school rookie Mally, to the riot-girl righteousness to the emo observations of Doomtree’s Sims, Minneapolis music can go toe to toes with any city in the United States.
Phantom Tails -Street Sweeper
Mally – Heir Time
Pink Mink -Black Door
Sims – In My Sleep
Even though they have broken up, this is still one of those songs that is simply timeless amongst the stalwarts that get named in MPLS Hip Hop.
Mally “The Passion”
One of the newest faces wanted to prove he was worthy of all the blog praise he received out of state to his local folks. Over a soulful and apocalyptic backdrop, Mally drops jab after unforgettable jab of lyrics that are reminiscent age of rap when it was about skill.
Musab “Midwest Biz”
One of the initial founders of Rhymesayers, he name drops and checks every scene and landmark imaginable about Minneapolis.
Big Quarters “Painkillers”
The dark, anthemic and ominous backdrop provided by Benzilla provides the brothers Baagason with ample ammo to talk about the ills of society and the cost of their surroundings. Definitely a proper representation of the times of MPLS.
Dante and the Lobster “Wake Up”
A song that best explimfiies to me the burgening garage/pyschedlica sound prevalent in our current scene.
Crescent Moon is in Big Trouble “Hunting Season”
I could have picked lots of stuff Crescent Moon (Kill the Vultures) has done, but this song never ceases to floor me.
Retribution Gospel Choir “Working Hard”
It was a tough call between a bunch of RGC and Low songs, but this song is just a classic example of the simple but powerful songwriting that makes Sparhawk one of our best exports.
Food Pyramid “Cloudscape”
There were many bands from both the Totally Gross Nationally Product and Moon Glyph labels (where Food Pyramid recide), but I chose Food Pyramid
Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues Review (Three Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are three reactions, three impressions, Three Takes on Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes.
They’ve done it again. Helplessness Blues, the sophomore effort from Seattle folk stalwarts Fleet Foxes, is another collection of songs full of emotionally uplifting folk, brimming orchestration and lush harmonies. Like their debut, Helplessness Blues is immediately engaging and the Foxes prove once again they are worth your full attention. While the album doesn’t stray far from the baroque folk on the band’s self-titled debut, or ’60s and ’70s influences from folk forefathers like CNSY, it capitalizes and builds on the larger-than-life sonic compositions that made the debut so memorable and enduring. Far from a “sophomore slump,” HB surpasses its predecessor on many levels. Where the debut relied more on feeling than lyrical content, the lyrics on HB are more autobiographical from frontman Robin Pecknold’s perspective and add an extra level of emotional weight. And this is seen on the album’s opener, “Montezuma,” that has Pecknold reflecting on his own life, “So now I am older than my mother and father/ When they had their daughter/ Now what does that say about me?” You can notice these self-reflective lyrical additions throughout the entire record with Pecknold consistently using words like “me,” “I,” and “we.” Overall, Helplessness Blues is a mighty testament to the vocal ability of Pecknold as he seems more confident than ever before. A noticeable difference, though, is the inclusion of a few minimal Pecknold compositions with just him on acoustic guitar. Songs like “Blue Spotted Tail,” “The Cascades” and “Someone You’d Admire” are treated more like White Antelope tracks than full-band efforts. Elsewhere, on songs like “Sim Sala Bim,” “Battery Kinzie,” “Grown Ocean” and “The Shrine/An Argument,” they kick out their signature enormous harmonies and standout, crashing percussion from J Tillman. If you were readying for an off-the-wall sonic shift from the Foxes you were solely mistaken. Helplessness Blues is instead another reason why FF are currently the best folk band around. They know where their strengths lie and they stick to what they know. It’s a terrific album and it far exceeded my expectations.
The Fleet Foxes had a tall order to fill, following up on what is arguably one of the best debut albums of the last 20 years, and unfortunately, with Helplessness Blues, they fall far short of the mark. Robin Pecknold’s vocals are every bit as resplendent as they were the last time around, and the three-part harmonies are still aural gold, but the songs on Helplessness Blues – with the possible exception of the “Battery Kinzie”– have none of the beauty or power of their debut. The melodies seem forced and flat. The lyrics are frequently risible. None of the album coheres.
Pecknold is so gifted a vocalist that he could draw a crowd by singing names in a phone book. And in fact, that might have been the route to go, because the awkward and overly literal lyrics are as distracting as cell phones in church. On opener “Monetezuma,” Pecknold sings, “So now I am older / than my mother / and father / when they had their daughter / Now what does that say about me?” The answer: probably nothing. The lyrics on the debut, as well on the Sun Giant EP were more allusive (and elusive) and had the ability to conjure a world out of a few well-turned lines. Blood on “white snow, red as strawberries in summertime,” leaps to mind. Compare this with the use of snow as a jejune simile in the title track: “I was raised up believing I was somehow unique, like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes unique in each way you can see.” This is the poetry of junior high journals.
The low point on Helplessness Blues (which doesn’t actually contain any blues, in case you were wondering) comes on the longest track, “The Shrine / An Argument” (8:07), which feels like three different songs smashed together followed by a horrible wrong-turn filled with screeching saxophones and off-key strings plucking randomly. While experimentation is welcome, being experimental requires more than tacking two minutes of noise onto the end of a folk medley.
Altogether, Helplessness Blues is a profound disappointment. The Fleet Foxes are one of the most talented and promising groups around, and they certainly have more great things in store, but this simply isn’t it.
Ah a new Fleet Foxes album. A whole new reason for people who probably have never actually listened to the Fleet Foxes to bitch and moan about how much the Fleet Foxes suck. It has become pretty uncool in music circles to like the Fleet Foxes anymore (or ever) but one thing does remain: the Fleet Foxes most certainly do not suck. They are great at what they do, which is emotive, male harmonizing over folky rock instrumentation. And in Helplessness Blues the band doesn’t really fuck with the formula. The new record is perhaps a tinge darker, with nudges towards a more psychedelic sound (made so by more deftly played guitars as well as ever present reverb). But overall it sounds quite a bit like their self titled LP, with a whole new set of quiet melodies, acoustic picking, and occasional forays into lurid lyricism. What I am less enthusiastic about is the nasal tinge Robin Pecknold’s vocals occasionally take on tunes like for instance “Montezuma” (“oh maaan oh my oh me”). Also, you don’t need to make your songs longer just to get people to take you seriously, or add free form jazz freakouts (I am looking at you “The Shrine / An Argument”). Stick to what you know or change your approach altogether – don’t try and tack on some latent experimentalism onto your existing sound. Otherwise, it’s a pretty solid record. I wouldn’t mind the band following that avant garde bug though and going with it whole hog.
Four Takes: Crystal Stilts In Love With Oblivion Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on In Love With Oblivion by Crystal Stilts.
Ali Elabbady (Background Noise Crew, Egypto Knuckles)
Crystal Stilts has spent quite a bit of time under the radar since their previous record, so to see them coming back with something new to top its predecessor requires a journey for the ear. What a journey In Love With Oblivion is, taking elements from krautrock and rockabilly aesthetics and transferring it to the shoegaze genre is an interesting take, specifically when it all hits on “Sycamore Tree”, then proceeds to go a more straight-forward approach on the single “Through The Floor.” Meanwhile most of the record sounds like it was recorded in a grain silo, using a similar approach to My Morning Jacket’s first effort, It Still Moves, and nowhere is that more evident on “Silver Sun,” while progression is their next best approach on “Alien Rivers.” Throughout Oblivion, the band proceeds to reach far and wide with their soundscapes through various elements introduced, and definitely make this a journey through psychedelica, which makes for a far more interesting record. Like Cut Copy, Crystal Stilts time between albums makes the effort well worth the listen, and for the majority of the album’s time it succeeds with astounding results.
Jon Schober (Radio K)
I’ll begin this review in saying how biased I am with this band. Stepping off a plane and into the Radio K studios three years ago, I was given their debut “Alight of Night” as one of my first CDs to review. I remember putting it on as I was walking across the street to my job when “The Dazzled” and its slightly off-beat tempo came on the headphones and I started laughing from excitement. This has been the only band whose music makes me smile within just a few seconds. The riffs are tight, the reverb is plentiful, and Brad Hargett’s vocals, indistinguishable as they may be, are some of the most powerful to listen to (the comparison to Ian Curtis is spot on).
So three years later, we finally get “In Love With Oblivion.” We were teased for months with random 7”s and then the brilliant single “Shake the Shackles” which became an underground hit for many. They would never tour outside of Brooklyn and many found themselves wondering if this band would ever release anything else. Frankie Rose left as drummer and suspicions became a little more dire in my mind.
When I heard the news about the forthcoming album, I e-mailed Mike, the owner over at Slumberland Records, and explained my excitement; his attitude was much the same as mine. He said that Crystal Stilts changed his entire outlook on music when he first heard them, something pretty prolific for a guy who has been running that label since the late 1980s.
Never have I listened to an album 30 times in the span of a weekend. That alone explains how insane “In Love With Oblivion” is. Every type of post-punk revivalism that was associated with their debut can be laid to rest in some respect. It still exists in this second incarnation, but Crystal Stilts have now refined brooding pop to a point that no one else in the music world can even hope to compare. Perhaps a superfluous statement, but I believe it. I thought things couldn’t get any better than “Shake the Shackles” until I heard the last three songs of the album: “Invisible City,” “Blood Barons,” and “Prometheus At Large.” The last fifteen minutes alone is some of the most inspired, frolicking rock I’ve heard. The album closer, which includes a nod to the classic tune of Velvet Underground’s “Run Run Run,” finally emits some lyrics which explains the album title, and to hear Hargett say “In love with oblivion…” alongside whatever the hell else he says is enough to drive me over the sonic cliff. And then the song unexpectedly ends. You’re left wondering again: how long will it be before they come back with another album as solid as this? And can it even get better in the first place?
They are coming to the Entry in May. See them- who knows when they will be back. Everything I have ever heard about their live show seems to be life-changing and I will probably cry like a buffoon. This is the band that made me love music all over again.
Jon B (Reviler)
It may just be a case of garage rock fatigue but I am having a harder time getting into the new Crystal Stilts album than their last one. On In Love With Oblivion I think I have just finally started to get weary of Brad Hargett’s one-note monotone. The record contains some excellent fuzzy garage instrumentation that dabbles in rockabilly and noise, but throughout the whole thing Hargett’s tune never really changes. It also doesn’t help that it sounds like his vocals were recorded at the bottom of a well. The gang still manages to pull off a few great jams (“Shake the Shackes” and “Death is What We Live For”) but on the whole I am just not connecting with a lot of it.
When I heard that Crystal Stilts were finally returning with their follow up to the excellent 2008 album Aight the Night, it caused me to return to the record, which I hadn’t listened to in a while. The record had worn well and was even better than I remembered, which caused my excitement level to increase. The first single from the record, “Shake the Shackles,” further upped my anticipation after hearing the jangly, reverb heavy garage rock the group does so well. Then I finally got to listen to In Love With Oblivion, the groups new records, and….it felt like “meh.” Maybe my expectations were too high, but the record doesn’t feel like it takes any interesting steps forward from Aight The Night. Yes, there are some good songs (specifically the charging “Death is What We Live For,” the VU copping “Prometheus At Large” and the previously mentioned “Shake The Shackles” ), but overall it feels like a “good” album when I was expecting “great.” Maybe that falls on my shoulders for having unrealistic expectations, but a great solo album can be a boon to a band, or it can be an albatross that is hard, if not impossible, to shake.
Explosions in the Sky: Take Care Take Care Take Care Review (Three Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are three reactions, three impressions, Three Takes on the Take Care Take Care Take Care by Explosions in the Sky.
Will Wlizlo (Utne Reader)
Although I expected the forthcoming Explosions in the Sky album, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, to be an hour of thundering mediocrity and predictable crescendos, I was instead treated to six tracks of meticulous craftsmanship, lushly cultivated atmospheres, surprising instrumentation, and (I suppose) a few predictable crescendos. For a band that I had thought had passed on to a cold dead place, Explosions’ sixth album (if you don’t count the Friday Night Lights soundtrack) throbs with the rosy-cheeked conviction and impassioned artistry of a blossoming new band.
The change is noticeable almost immediately. Take Care opens with string loops and an eerie vocal sample and progresses with the loose swagger of a spaced-out jam session—totally uncharacteristic for a group that cut its teeth on staunch instrumentalism and tight, clean, highly structured compositions. Later, clarion bell peals, drum tracks, and toy box grooves round out the blitzing guitars and automaton percussion you’d expect on a post-rock album.
My favorite track by far is the borderline rhapsodic “Postcard from 1952.” Punchy drums and jubilant piano collide with guitars that sparkle like a swarm of fireflies—the impact catalyzes a soul-wrenching climax. The strength of the song, however, isn’t the band’s pure output of noise, but rather the thoughtful presentation of many simple melodies in concert. In other words, the band does what it does best: sublimate the mundane.
The first time I heard Take Care, I was using it as a soundtrack to Alone in the Wilderness, a vintage DIY-documentary about a rugged old man who builds his own log cabin by hand in the Alaskan mountains. He hews lumber, shovels out a foundation, forages for berries, and fashions tools with nothing more than his cunning and wiry biceps. Although I didn’t connect them at the time, I think the man’s small acts of abandonment—of convention, of modernity, of complacent living—perfectly correlate with Take Care: Explosions in the Sky have crafted an album that forsakes knee-jerk post-rock, employs a more diverse toolkit, and channels grace through austerity.
Jon Behm (Reviler)
Based on my knowledge of the Explosions in the Sky (which admittedly is not expert) the overall impression I get from the band’s new record is “yep, that pretty much sounds like them.” Take Care X 3 has the cathartic climaxes, the loud/soft dynamics, and the narrative feel of a film score. In short it’s everything we have come to expect from Explosions and very little else. It is well done, articulately scored, and consists of instruments played by very talented hands. Why then is it not great? Well, the short answer would be that it just doesn’t contain many surprises. It’s like hearing an exquisitely crafted, well-wrought story again that you have already heard a thousand times. Is it nice to hear? Sure. Could you walk out halfway through without regret? Sure – because you have in fact already heard it many times before. It would make a good introduction to someone who had never heard the band – but if you have already heard the band at their best (2000 – 2003) well then there really isn’t a whole lot of need for you spend a lot of time with this.
The last Explosions in the Sky album, All of the Sudden I Miss Everyone, looms pretty large in my music listening conscious. The excellent full length from the Texas instrumental group is, to me, a seminal album and a culmination of a group that had already laid a very strong foundation with their first few records and assorted EP’s and CD-R’s. While I don’t know yet if it will be able to fill the enormous shoes that All of the Sudden I Miss Everyone, the band’s latest released Take Care Take Care Take Care at least isn’t a resounding disappointment.
There are no sea changes in the general structure of the songs, but I am not sure if we would want to hear a big change from the band, especially after 4 years. “Trembling Hands” is a melodic, focused song that sounds at time like it could be an Arcade Fire instrumental. Outside of the bombastic “Last Known Surroundings” the album is a quieter, less grandiose affair. While there is still the simmering tension of the duel guitars and the loud/quiet/loud that they helped make so prominent in post-rock, the distinctions are more subtle on Take Care Take Care Take Care. Some tracks, like “Be Comfortable, Creature” and “Human Qualities,” are about as minimalistic as the group gets, and are quiet, restrained tracks are more meditative hymns than their usual blistering fury. Although after the first few spins it doesn’t knock me out as hard as All of the Sudden…., Take Care Take Care Take Care is a success that only serves to solidify the band as one of the very best making the type of music that they make.
Explosions in the Sky- Trembling Hands
The Dodos: No Color Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on the No Color by The Dodos.
When I first caught wind of the manic sounds of The Dodos on their excellent sophomore LP Visitor, I was enamored with the manic sounds of Meric Long’s riotous finger picking and emotive singing and Logan Kroeber’s ecstatic, world driven drumming. The songs were fresh and just outside of the box enough to not be too poppy while still packing a rich melody. For whatever reason, their last release Time to Die seemed flat to me. Whether it was fatigue from spinning Visitor on constant repeat for so long or whether it simply was an inferior album, I simply felt let down by the album.
Maybe it was the time away, or maybe it just is an album I am more predisposed to like, but the groups latest effort No Color has found me back in the bands corner. Starting with the machine gun snare rhythm and pulsing guitar line of “Black Night” and continuing on through the subsequent eight songs, the group seems rejuvenated. Or maybe it is just me. The duo is joined on the album by sometimes bandmate Keaton Snyder and Neko Case, the indie chantenouse who sings backup vocals on a good portion of the tracks. Mixing together upbeat stompers like “Good” and “Sleep” with more mellow material like “When Will You Go,” the group seems to regain the form that brought them so much success with Visitor. I am not sure what they did different on this album and Visitor that seemed to elude them on Time to Die, but I can only hope they can bottle it up for future recordings, because at their best they are one of the most interesting indie-pop groups around right now.
The nine-track fourth full-length album, No Color, from folk duo Meric Long and Lofan Kroeber is, in a way, a return to form. On this release, the duo gets back to the basics, returns to a two-piece (though Neko Case does contribute vocals and strings) and delivers an album full of blistering, Fall-soaked folk rock bangers more a kin to their second release, Visiter. The one-two punch of the driving “Black House” and the sunnier “Going Under” showcase both Kroeber’s wildly terrific drum playing and Long’s technical, complex acoustic strumming chops. While Neko Case takes more of a backing vocal role on “Sleep”and “Don’t Try and Hide It” and others, her high-pitched cantor is a perfect compliment to Long’s woodsy voice. In addition to her vocal work, you’ll also notice her light string work throughout the album which gives the songs a new layer and needed balance. The first five songs are fiery and make for a pretty relentless first half. The latter half of the album, however, drags in comparison and tends to hit a more lulling stride. “When Will You Go” and “Hunting Season,” for instance, snags and throws off the consistent driving force the former displayed. But this carries over in good way on the two plucky closing tracks, the haunting “Companions” and the slow-building “Don’t Stop,” which regains the fast-paced momentum before signing off. “Don’t Stop” is also one of the stronger tracks on the album and it’s a good choice to cap off No Color. While this isn’t The Dodos strongest album to date, it is their strongest since Visiter. And this fact is indebted to the band’s decision to go with their original producer John Askew, who brings out an honest, more rustic and authentic sound in the two. They just seem more at home on this record and it shows. Hopefully they can keep the pace going on their next effort and just stick to what they do best: banging out their folk rock as fast and as hard as they can. And at it’s best, that’s exactly what makes No Color a solid album.
Ali Elabbady (Background Noise Crew, Egypto Knuckles)
You want to think that Time To Die, The Dodos third record was something in the right direction as far as experimentation and progression, but the execution was lacking the umph that Visiter did. All that can be erased in their fourth endeavor, as No Color seeks to erase that execution thing from the onset of the rhythmic and majestic “Black Night” whereas the ever-changing arrangements bring those brimming expectations back to the forefront once “Going Under” hits. Once again Long and Kreber bring back what the potency of their minds can bring to their creativity, and what that creativity can do minus the heightened expectations. The jamming acoustic guitars on “Sleep,” and the head-nodding jam stylings of that same acoustic guitar brought to unexpected life on “Don’t Try and Hide It,” and all during the adventurous 46 minutes, you are left with something that is very much curt, whimsical and melodic. Overall, No Color definitely becomes a welcome record that is full of the sounds being sought as spring approaches.
Seeing these guys perform a stellar show at the Turf Club last Spring, I expected to enjoy their latest album at the very least the same relative vigor. At the time, I was amused by San Fransisco-native Meric Long’s impressive and somewhat frenetic tribal-like drum sets which drive each track together while simultaneously shifting in pulse and rhythm. Not many bands I’d seen perform live previous to the duo had been able to create such a multitude of crisp noise at once with so few performers without feeling cacophonous. But it seems The Dodos have proven once again that they are able to progress beyond this classification of noise – this time with even more intensity. Neko Case does a beautifully subtle job in lending her voice and strums to the first half of “No Color,” complimenting Long & Kroeber’s weave of sound that, without her contributions, would at times lack their current development. With the happy pulse in favored tracks such as “Good” and “Sleep,” you get a genuine feeling that these guys are just being themselves as they are naturally, that nothing is forced in the band’s interaction. Furthermore, their direction manifests in their accompaniment; beyond the drumming, each instrument has a purpose that drives through the length of the album, lending this trait of variety to the band’s identity itself. They’re poppy; like Spring coming alive. Short but sweet, this is a feel-good album that you can spin on your record player and let it echo down the hall. Cyclical, energetic, and undoubtedly chalk-full of color; expect a playful ride from this aggressive folk record. I can happily say I appreciate it far more with every subsequent listen and am eager to catch their contagious energy during their next live show in the cities.
Catch the band tonight along with Reading Rainbow tonight at the Cedar Cultural Center. Music is at 8pm and tickets are $14.
The Strokes: Angles Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on Angles by The Strokes.
Ali Elabbady (Background Noise Crew, Egypto Knuckles)
Seems the new thing to do now a days is take a 3-4 year hiatus as a really popular act in your prime after your last album doesn’t really get the respect it deserves, then revisit what once was. In Angles circumstance, the 4th record from The Strokes, is certainly a comeback. The rhythmic and rapid rock stylings are in full effect here, hearing such jams as “Two Kinds of Happiness,” and the almost doo-wop like nature of “Under Cover of Darkness” which at best, sounds like a C-list version of “Last Night” from their debut record, Is This It; but its the genius in the almost electro-like notions of “You’re So Right,” and the new-wave stylings exuded on “Games” that definitely shows a band that is not out of any creative fuel in the least bit to experiment in new directions, but with all due respect, as a whole, some of the songs on Angles either sound like leftovers from Phrazes For the Young, or b-sides from First Impressions of Earth, however the good thing is in the curt and extensive sound palettes that were exercised in Is This It or Room on FIre. There’s no question about whether this band needed to make a comeback, the full question lies in whether or not Angles can be considered a return to form, and there’s a little ways to go to get to that stage for The Strokes.
Jon Behm (Reviler)
The new Strokes record is bound to evoke some strong opinions this year – the band’s tumultuous recording process alone (which apparently was pretty contentious) seems to have generated a perfect storm of buzz/speculation/wild rumors. And all that excitement might be warranted if Angles was either spectacularly good or spectacularly bad, but as a matter of fact it’s neither. The Strokes’ fourth studio album is just OK. It has a handful of pretty good tracks (“Machu Picchu,” “Taken For A Fool,”) some decent ones (“Gratisfaction,” “Games,” and “Call me Back”) and some filler. “Under Cover of Darkness” might be the least interesting lead single the band has ever recorded (though I predict that some of the lamer radio stations and chain clothing stores out there will flog it to death this summer). The eighties synthy vibe and the Thin Lizzie references both mostly work for the band, but the latter would probably be more interesting if Free Energy hadn’t already brought it back and done it better two years ago. Still, if the Strokes toured behind this stuff (which I assume they will) you will still find me lining up to hear them play. I will be crossing my fingers for tunes from Is This It and Room on Fire, but there is no denying I’ll still be there.
The Strokes deliver some of their best, most infectious songs to date on Angles. They also bring a few duds, but the hits outnumber the misses, and on balance, this record constitutes a serious step forward. The trademarks are all there, from Julian Casablancas’s baritone croon-turn-scream, to the restrained ferocity of Nick Valensi’s guitar solos, to the machine-like tightness of the rhythms, yet the songwriting has evolved significantly, as have their abilities as performers.
Ten years ago, when The Strokes rode in as the critic-anointed saviors of rock and roll, their sound was all lo-fi art rock with Bo Diddley cum Velvet Underground choppy guitars, and downtown swagger filling the gaps where musicianship was lacking, but beginning on (the too-maligned) First Impressions of Earth, their style began to be characterized by a clean, almost Baroque, use of counterpoint, with disparate guitar lines intersecting, wandering, and intersecting again. Angles takes this art one step further, creating a complexity unique in contemporary guitar rock. (According to interviews, the album title derives from the “angular” sound created by each member attacking the songs from a different direction.) A brief listen to Is This It? or Room on Fire after spending time with Angles makes apparent the enormous evolution.
The misses – “Two Kinds of Happiness” which sounds like a Cars parody, “You’re So Right” a flat, prog-rock number and “Metabolism” – can’t bring down the fun. Opener “Machu Pichu,” first single “Under Cover of Darkness,” and the Valensi-penned “Taken for a Fool” are among The Strokes’ best work. “Gratisfaction” channels early Nick Lowe to positive effect, and “Call Me Back” carries a lilting bossa nova line reminiscent of Fab Moretti’s side project (coincidentally, the best Strokes-member side-project) Little Joy. While not without its flaws, Angles is a return to form for The Strokes and serves as a reminder that when these guys are on their game, no one can do what they do. Not even close.
Angles is a fitting title for The Stokes fourth album, and first in five years. In interviews leading up to the release of the album, several members stated openly that this album sounded like five different guys bringing their own influences to the table. While Casablancas was the key songwriter, both lyrically and musically, on their previous releases, he opts to take a backseat on Angles, recording vocals apart from the band and sending them the cuts electronically. Not only that, they also said it was one of the worst recording sessions they’ve been through. In the end, they were dead on. This clearly isn’t the most cohesive effort from The Strokes. Nor is is it the best. Although it could be seen as the most dynamic, even for its faults. Some classic sounds are here, like the whirling guitar work from Hammond and Valensi, but the massive misses tend to overshadow the small glimpses of the band that was once considered the saviors of rock.
The album kicks off with “Machu Picchu,” a bouncy reggae-tinged opener that feels more like a trip down Electric Avenue than something born out of the gritty streets of NYC. The second track and first single, “Under Cover of Darkness,” is actually one of the strongest tracks on the album, but they only hit that same energetic edge a few other times on the record. Those come on two tracks that feel more like a return-to-form, “Taken For A Fool” and “Gratisfaction.” “Taken,” which could double as a Room On Fire-era B-Side, is one that benefits from its great hook and signature guitar work. And “Gratisfaction” hits hard with its big chorus and fully committed vocal work from Casablancas. They also go some ’80s nostalgia on the so-so track “Two Kinds of Happiness” and again on the soaring synth tune “Games.” But then there are the negatives. “You’re So Right” is simply the worst song the band has recorded. Period. “Metabolism” is ripped from the worst pages of First Impressions, “Call Me Back” is a throwaway from Phrazes, and “Life is Simple in the Moonlight” sleeps the record to a close.
You can hear some of the more spaced-out instrumentation found on First Impressions of Earth, and only snippets of the jangly guitars that made Room On Fire and Is This it? immediate classics. But, said and done, the album is disjointed. There is no sense of togetherness. It’s apparent in the songs and the overall flow of the record. And they all but lost all their youthful grittiness after Room On Fire. As a huge Strokes fan, I don’t really view the album as a letdown, though. My excitement about the reunion is based solely on chance to see them live for the first time. (Plus, they already said there is a fifth album in the works). Is This It? came out ten years ago, so longtime fans should know better than to think they are going to get the same album or the same Strokes. They’ve grown up (and apart), evolved their sound and are a different band. If you can come to terms with those facts there is still plenty to like about this record.
Radiohead: King of Limbs Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on King of Limbs by Radiohead.
The release of a new Radiohead album always feels like a major event. While there are plenty of bands whose albums are eagerly anticipated, Radiohead seems to be in a class of its own, and their releases feel more like the addition of new revelation to a sacred canon than the creation of a pop album. This can make their work difficult to evaluate. There seem to be two measures – Radiohead compared to everyone else, and (the more frequently used) Radiohead compared to Radiohead. If their marks for King of Limbs are lower than normal, that’s largely because they’re being evaluated against the impossibly high standard of their own previous oeuvre.
The King of Limbs doesn’t display any of the dramatic innovations or radical stylistic changes that marked OK Computer or Amnesiac, nor does it offer any anthemic roof-raisers à la “Fake Plastic Trees” or “Karma Police.” It seems to work on a smaller scale than previous albums both in terms of the range and in terms of the length (coming in at 37 minutes). It’s also quieter and less aggressive. However, what it does, it does extremely well.
Phil Selway’s unearthly precision comes to the fore on all of these tracks, with densely layered, off-kilter beats, often backing equally off-kilter chord progressions, as on opener “Bloom.” “Little by Little” adds some tension with its climbing bass line, while the lyrics serve up an image more surreal than anything you could ever hope to find in Buñuelor Dali – Thom Yorke flirting with someone. “Feral” eschews lyrics altogether in favor of looped drones from Yorke punctuated by burst of synth with an African beat. The album finishes on a sedate note with a pair of bleak ballads – “Codex” and “Giving up the Ghost” – and the listless, dream-like “Separator.”
Too many critics have excoriated Radiohead for failing to do something with this album that they weren’t trying to do. Once The King of Limbs is accepted on its own terms, its many virtues will become apparent.
Jon Jon Scott (Sound Verite)
Thom Yorke and Radiohead have reached a point where they have the freedom to do what they want. They work on their own terms and this is extremely rare and unique within traditional record business structures. On their new record they do Radiohead in quite fine fashion. There’s something about that freedom that drives some folks raging mad. It’s as if the band is being pretentious and arrogant by not following the establish template.
Opening with electro-bleep jitterness of the sprawling “Bloom”, whose jazzy poly-rhythms owe more to Burial and Flying Lotus than to paying credence to any great dead guitar gods. Yorke appeared on Flying Lotus excellent 2010 release Cosmogramma, and the crescendos are in effect here. Driven by the minimal, herky-jerky pulsating beats of “Morning Mr Magpie,” which feels rattled and disjointed on first listen. But with repeated spins it has the arrangements of a solo Yorke record. Yorke and company have some fun with the swelling and cascading guitars as they warp into the gentle pop of “Little by Little” with his voice sounds rich as ever. The instrumental “Feral” takes a very sparse approach with a heavy, brooding bass-lines that carries the track. Yorke debuted this track in November 2009, “Lotus Flower” a nice nugget centered on Yorke’s gorgeous falsetto and synthesized grooves . The song soars as Yorke wails “listen to your heart”. As a toss to their core “Codex” a real jewel anchored by a mournful reverb-laden piano, suggesting the high drama that many where hoping for. Another stunning track that Yorke performed first in late fall of 2009 is the song “Give Up The Ghost”. The acoustic, delicate strumming feels like a familiar torch ballad. The King Of Limbs finest moment is the elegant closing track “Separator”. As it ends with a not so final bow as Yorke sings ”You think this is over your dead wrong”.
The King Of Limbs won’t break any new ground, but that’s okay as it more follows the free spirits of Kid A, Amnesiac and In Rainbows and that’s fine as well. One reason Radiohead works is is that Yorke mentioned in several interviews that he was getting tired of making a record as a traditional 12-16 song long-player. Yorke been known to say “Tunes are dead, rhythm is everything”, okay cool now I have to find a way to deal with this fact. The King Of Limbs feels at least one song short, but it’s obviously clear that’s the point. Make a record with as many or as little as you feel is necessary to get a across your ideas and release the music. Revolutionary.
With “Codex”, “Lotus Flower”, “Give Up The Ghost” and “Separator” all being glorious in their own way and fuck, that’s four jumps right there. Hell throw in the Hail to the Chief standby ”Little By Little” and that’s a good look. Most 14-16 track records start to wear thin, where often a band is simply repeating the same verse/chorus/verses of what you’ve already heard after 8 or 9 songs anyway. The textures of Kid A aren’t here, even if they were they wouldn’t feel as immediate, perhaps they are no longer as experimental as they once where, or needs to be. Revelatory hardly, expansive, not in the way we come to expect, yet The King Of Limbs is very much a record in the moment, and Radiohead shouldn’t make any apologies.
It seems like the band that Radiohead gets (or maybe got, I haven’t been paying too close attention for awhile) compared to most often is Pink Floyd and that makes sense in a way, though Radiohead never plumbed the depths of grotesquerie to the same degree as da Floyd. But its true Radiohead has always been a prog band, closer though to Gentle Giant, who were arty and obscure and had a couple brothers in the band (there are some bros in R-Head right?) and their singer had kind of a high pitched voice. And listening to this newest slab from the Heads I got to thinking that it was kind of modern version of GG’s “Interview” which was their overt move toward pop music, except that comparison does a serious disservice to G.Giant cuz at the very least “Interview” cooks, after a fashion (trust me I dug it out to make sure I wasn’t completely imagining the thing) which is something “King of Limbs” certainly doesn’t. And there’s the rub, despite setting themselves up for what might have been a great career second-half as genuine English eccentrics they (Radiohead) just can’t seem to pull the trigger on really getting gone.
The tunes on “King” such as they are so slight, so skeletal, so spare, hardly more then sketches. “Bloom” kicks off the record kind of like a duller version of the Liars circa 2007 and “Little by Little” quietly lifts the guitar riff from Portishead’s “Sour Times”.
And yeah in parts it gets its groove on in a glitchy way, with Thom Yorke’s pretty falsetto warble drifting over the top, but the result is a little closer to Jamiroquai then I bet they would want to admit.
Always the music is tasteful which I guess is the reason the goofy/cryptic song titles are gone, as well as any sense of forward motion, of direction, instead all that is replaced by songs even colder and more distant then normal. Dude we get that you want to disappear but does that mean you have to make an album that in parts feels like its hardly there at all?
“Codex” is nice and good but it’s the kind of thing these guys can churn out in their sleep and its nothing they haven’t done better before. “Separator” morphs into a weird sort of light and sunny guitar song while managing to remain a general bummer. I suppose its possible this record is sleeper that after spending more then just a few days with it might reveal itself as great album (and I am willing to admit it probably sounds way better in a non-compressed digital version) but now it just sounds like a snoozer.
Ali Elabbady (Background Noise Crew, Egypto Knuckles)
Well, yet another lengthy stay without a Radiohead record has ended all with an email that came at the beginning of February. Since then, it seems like there’s a lot of folks who have been at the end of one spectrum or another. On the one hand, you have those who are somewhat disdained; for the short effort that it is (38 minutes and some change) there are 8 songs that are tightly knit, not as lengthy as some of their compositions, but on the other hand, it is their tightest most focused work to date. Songs like “Lotus Flower,” the short but oft-kiltered work of “Codex,” and many others don’t clock over 5 minutes, but it all manages to work in Radiohead’s own mad yet scientific and precise manner of experimentation. Drum syncopations on this record are much more evident, where they’ve taken the same route as “15 Step” from their previous effort, In Rainbows, and York’s vocals are still something of marvel, hard to decipher yet beautifully sung. And that is what makes King of Limbs work. Some might think that this is the least inventive they’ve gotten, but this album definitely ranks amongst Kid A, OK Computer and In Rainbows as some of their finest work to date.