Monday, February 28, 2011

Track Review: Julianna Barwick - "The Magic Place"

The music of Juliana Barwick exists in the realm of the waking dream. Some might even refer to this state as the magic place of human existence: not quite cognizant but alive in thought. Conveniently, as the title track to her debut full-length, “The Magic Place” does an effective job outlining the parameters of Barwick’s unique sound world. In genre terms, it’s a place that one might chart the intersection of ambient, dream-pop, and minimalism. Its closest antecedent is probably Eno’s early ambient experiments, particularly Music for Airports (1978), whose looped choral pieces spin equally enthralling sonic cathedrals from just a few basic elements. The particulars of Barwick’s music, however, aren’t nearly as fascinating as the final product, which exists almost completely outside of contemporary trends, and that includes all of the above signifiers.

With so much modern indie-pop and electronic music dedicated to obfuscating vocals, it’s refreshing to see a musician not only heavily feature vox, but use such an intimate instrument as a foundation from which to build upon and expand the boundaries of one’s music. The album proper is said to feature more instrumentation than her prior work, but “The Magic Place” sounds like an almost direct extension of her Florine EP’s lucid dream aura. In Barwick’s world, lyrics are vague impressions meant to be conveyed via feeling and expression. In fact, nothing about this music is tangible: words contract and expand only to float off into the ether, blurring into the next syllable; synthesizer drone wraps the proceedings in a gauzy, indefinite ambiance; while microscopic loops keep the material rotating just out of reach.

The lightly blanketed inertia eventually gives way in the track’s final moments to a longer stretch of proper syntax. Vaguely reminiscent of the unraveling minimal techno of the Field, this short spell of disintegration does little to illuminate the vivid impression previously established, which is impressive given one’s tendency to reach for something concrete in music of this nature. Being such an airtight and singular sound may pose structural problems across the extended length of an LP, but Barwick’s effectiveness thus far in short-form missives cannot be understated. [CMG]

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Record Review: Wire - Red Barked Tree


When your band’s current line-up has survived longer than your two original incarnations combined, I think it’s safe to say you’re no longer part of a “reunion”. That’s where Wire find themselves in 2011, nearly a decade since reforming after two sub-five year runs in the late 70s and 80s. What’s remarkable about Wire Mk III is that they’ve managed to avoid the pitfalls typical of veteran bands by continuing to experiment and push their sound that much further with each new release. At this point, it would be easy for Wire to either rest on their artistic laurels or simply pander to their audience with straight run-throughs of their classic three album gauntlet from 1977 – 1979. Excepting perhaps Mission of Burma, there isn’t another band from the original post-punk era with as much stock in maintained integrity. The result of this pure, ideologically-sound approach has been some of the freshest and most consistently fascinating music of the band’s career. Their newest album, Red Barked Tree, not only continues this winning streak, but also proves to be perhaps their best full-length in nearly two decades.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Podcast: End of Radio #32 - Define a Transparent Dream

"To kick-off the new year, your End of Radio co-hosts return with a legitimately random show wherein Brian Webster constructs a playlist of songs he has never heard, while Jordan Cronk attempts to contextualize the bands and the movements associated with each selection."

InRO Feature: Home Movies - January (2011)

"A new year, a new Home Movies. On hiatus for much of 2010's latter half, this column has decided on a few New Year’s resolutions to improve things for 2011: to catch some of the new releases we missed in the site's regular review area, to further bask in the splendor of the Criterion canon, and to obsess over every obscure necessity of your home viewing. With a little help from InRO’s Music Editor Jordan Cronk, Home Movies is back and better than ever. While compiling our (quite late) January installment, we found that the best films made available to us were genre films, both old and new. Jordan weighs in on Criterion’s two Samuel Fuller releases and I take a look at a new Blu-ray of Dario Argento’s “Deep Red” from the UK. In between we tackle the so-called Movie of the Year (last year, that is), an invaluable Alejandro Jodorowsky and a classic Sergio Leone (both now on Blu-ray). A horror film, a sci-fi upgrade, and a suspenseful gimmick round out this month’s picks." Kathie Smith [Feature by Jordan Cronk and Kathie Smith] [InRO]

(Note: For archiving purposes, I've included my personal contributions to this column below. Please follow the link provided above to read the entire feature - JC)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Track Review: Glasser - "Mirrorage (Lindstrøm Remix)"

After Hans-Peter Lindstrøm’s long-form komische experiments on Where You Go I Go Too (2008), it’s been pretty interesting to watch the Norwegian space-disco auteur develop a taste for more compact, diva-led avant-pop. Just about a year ago he dropped a wonderful but curiously slept-on collaborative record with chanteuse and fellow Norwegian Christabelle, which filtered muscular Timbaland workouts through a gaudy lens of electro-pop sensibility, finding the sweet spot between turn of the millennium Hot 97 jams and trendy euro-house staples.

Looking to extend this streamlined electro-pop streak, Lindstrøm has tried his hand at remixing one of the highlights from Ring, Cameron Mesirow’s 2010 full-length debut as Glasser (which just snuck onto CMG’s Top 50 Albums of the year). Listening to the results, it’s obvious how reverently Lindstrøm decided to approach the source material, choosing to accentuate the track’s haunted-house gait as opposed to retrofitting the material for the dance floor. What he’s found in the process is a potentially fresh stylistic direction for his own work (though, I should note, an actual collaboration between these two would not be unwelcome).

The original “Mirrorage” was already Ring‘s shadow-shrouded heart, the track’s apocalyptic beatscape thrown into hypnotic riptide with Mesirow’s stutter-step vocal edits providing a dizzying counterpoint. At only three-and-a-half minutes, the original felt determined but constrained; Lindstrøm has no problem exploiting the track’s momentum by generously elongating the track’s midsection. It’s operatic in a way that I feel many had hoped that Knife opera would have been, Lindstrøm contorting some of the track’s original elements into new shapes—backward vocals, looped bass undercurrents—while splaying its insides across the track’s new widescreen expanse. To the credit of Glasser, Lindstrøm retains nearly all of the song’s most tangible characteristics. If anything, this remix speaks more to the compositional prowess of Mesirow than to Lindstrøm’s skills as an interpreter. Still, this stokes anticipation for whatever Lindstrøm might have planned for 2011, while graciously extending Glasser’s underlooked 2010 in the process. [CMG]

Monday, February 14, 2011

Track Review: The Mountain Goats - "Damn These Vampires"

John Darnielle has been trafficking in the art of the concept album for so long that it’s frankly pretty surprising to learn that his 18th album with the Mountain Goats, All Eternals Deck, will have no central thematic conceit. Still, Darnielle being Darnielle, the record will be no slapdash collection of recent tracks; rather, based on some preliminary info, it will be more of a peripheral extension of some of his band’s more darkly emotional work.

Darnielle has already described All Eternals Deck as a “surviving record,” and by dint of the album’s first dispatch, “Damn These Vampires,” the singer-songwriter’s penchant for ambiguously detailed narratives can prove just as arresting in closed configurations as it can via album-length story threads. While Darnielle has claimed this new material is inspired by black metal—going so far as to corral Hate Eternal frontman Erik Rutan to produce three tracks for the album—this track bears none of the genre’s hallmarks: rather, it is content to contrast lost boys bloodsucking with misgivings over past wrongs. In other words, this isn’t going to be the Mountain Goats’ Black Cascade (nor their Wind’s Poem, to float another more logical possibility). As “Damn These Vampires” attests, we’re looking instead at a spiritual reconciliation of the Mountain Goats’ painfully intimate acoustic approach with metal’s thematic concerns.

At which game Darnielle proves masterful, exploiting the apprehension that characterizes black metal by giving glimpses of a faint light at the end of the tunnel. He portends, “When the sun comes try not to hate the light / Some day we’ll try to walk upright.” As has often been the case with the band’s post lo-fi work, “Damn These Vampires” shows how a simple chord progressions coupled with Jon Wurster’s elemental percussion serves more as a backdrop for Darnielle to outline a narrative, his voice rising to meet his in-song adversary as the melody buttresses the title phrase and an air of resignation seeps through the song. We may not reencounter these nosferatu across All Eternal Deck‘s remaining twelve tracks, but there are enough curious particulars within “Damn These Vampires” alone to encourage one to draw the blinds and revel in the song’s ominous, alluring ambiance. [CMG]

Friday, February 4, 2011

OFF! on Carson Daily

UPDATE 02.11.11: Take everything I said below and just bump it up yet one more week (I hope). I'm at the mercy of my editors here, but I assure you I have like eight pieces written and ready to go live any day now.

I apologize for the lack of content these past couple of weeks, but rest assured there is a lot in the pipeline. InRO returns next week, meaning my regular record reviews will continue in due course (along with my contributions to the site's now-monthly DVD/Blu-Ray column, "Home Movies"-- really exited about this one, so keep a look out for it). Also, my skills shall be put the test further as I begin to contribute to CokeMachineGlow, which, unless you're totally out of the loop, is the best music criticism site on the web, bar none. A couple of track reviews will work as my debut, and those should drop in the Daily Ops section as early as next week. But anyway, that's next week. In the meantime I thought I'd follow up on my recent review of the new OFF! compilation with this video of the band firing off an entire EP in the amount of time usually allotted to a single late-night performance. The EP in question is titled 1st EP (natch), and it leads off said compilation, which has seen very steady rotation around these parts in the last couple months. Also, there's a pretty hilarious interview with the band at the front end of this clip. Some things never change-- and in this case I'd say that is a very good thing. Anyway, enjoy and be sure to watch this space.