Welcome to the World, Blake

Andy Othling of Lowercase Noises was recently blessed with his third child. As with Marshall in 2010 and, later, Vivian in 2011, Andy has composed a piece of music to coincide with the birth of his newborn child, Blake.

Blake cover art

I was going to review this. I reviewed Lowercase Noises‘Passage’ EP in November of last year. ‘Blake’ is different, though, and I don’t think that this an album that I have any right to critique — nor one that I particularly wish to. While listening to ‘Blake’ for the first time, I had in my head bullet-point impressions that I would intend to include in a proper review of the album. It wasn’t until the song “Taken” — in which a home recording can be heard of Andy’s wife discussing with (I believe) Marshall their excitement for the arrival of their newest gift — that it dawned on me: ‘Blake’ wasn’t written to be broken down, judged and objectified. It wasn’t written for us. It’s something much more personal than that.

But any new Lowercase Noises release is still worth talking about.

Like ‘Marshall’ and ‘Vivian’ before it, ‘Blake’ is an album with more ambient inclinations than might be found in some of Lowercase Noises‘ other works (including last year’s ‘Passage’). This is music written for a baby, and so soft and calming sounds are perfectly suited. Here, Andy isn’t necessarily aspiring to push his artistic explorations into new territories like he did with ‘Passage’ (which is why I don’t think this should be critiqued in a traditional sense); he simply wishes to make music from the heart that can truly mean something to his children as they grow. We’re just lucky enough to be welcomed into his personal life such that we can witness the birth of a family heirloom.

Listening to ‘Blake’ got me thinking about the sentimentality of music. How music can be something so personal to one individual; be such a catalyst for memories and nostalgia. The sounds we hear as we enter the world and grow up in it are instilled within us; as influences to mould our future selves, and as checkpoints to take us back to times once cherished but perhaps oft-forgotten. In a recent video posted to YouTube, Andy told us that what inspires him as an artist is the desire to release his creative energy, and hopefully to bestow it upon others. It’s his way of expressing himself. And that’s what makes the art of music so special for this particular musician. The albums that Andy writes for his children are not just a chapter in his musical career, but a way for him to express his love and excitement for his children. To instil their earliest memories with imprints of their father’s passion.

And that’s why Andy’s music is wholly something special.

To download ‘Blake’ on a name-your-price basis, click here.

Dorena – Nuet

Nuet cover art

Artist Dorena
Album Nuet
Genre Post-Rock
Buy/DL Deep Elm Digital
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Label Deep Elm
Release 12 March 2013
Rating Excellent

There is something to be said about the healing powers of the sweet sounds created by Dorena. A member of the Deep Elm Records family, the Swedish 5-piece sometimes electronic sometimes pop and almost always playful band has forged a career out of creating uplifting joyful tracks that speak to the soul. They are one of my “go to” bands when I’m having a bad day or when I just need a pick me up. The band’s ability to deliver obnoxiously catchy beats and melodies is what sets them apart from the rest of the third wave “pretty” post-rock crowd. With so many bands experimenting and tweaking their sound in the post-rock world, upon receiving my copy of ‘Nuet‘ I was thrilled to discover Dorena has chosen to nurture and improve upon their winning post-rock formula.

Nuet‘ is a rock-solid 49 minutes long spanning across seven unique tracks. Even while staying true to their sound,  the band has managed to incorporate some new elements into the mix while accentuating some lesser used elements. These minor changes all come across as charming and welcome editions, so much so that at times you don’t even notice them. So you say you are not familiar with the uprising of the chiptune genre? Let Dorena introduce you to the stylings of electronic 8-bit video game music (think old school 80’s Nintendo) with the intro to “Her Comforting Touch”. With a base layer that sounds like a sample straight out of Donkey Kong, the band has managed to add a unique touch to an otherwise classic track without causing any real ripples in the water. Actually the addition of chiptune isn’t even the most drastic change to be found on the album. There is a much more increased focus and emphasis on singing found scattered throughout the album. The fourth track “Dandelion” is the best example of this and offers a softer moment featuring melodramatic emotional singing for about half a minute or so. Later in the album, “A Late Farewell” also feature singing that meshes beautifully with the relaxed vibe of the song. As someone who is generally a harsh critic of vocals in post-rock, the vocals found on ‘Nuet‘ are refreshingly lovely and feel very natural to the progression of the band.

The album picks up right where their 2010 effort ‘About Everything and More‘ left off with the lead track “Semper“, A soft harmonious number with a casual yet prominent driven beat. ‘Semper‘ is the softer of the album’s two ambient tracks, joined by “A Late Farewell” which clocks in at nearly ten minutes as the album’s sixth track. “A Late Farewell” has everything you could ask for in an ambient post-rock track. A seven minute build up leads up to the track’s full realization as guitars moan in distorted agony as cymbals persistently crash. While these tracks are a nice change of pace, they are far from Dorena at their best.

“Young Hearts of Summer” is where ‘Nuet‘ truly starts to shine. Playful electronics push forward an obnoxiously catchy number as drummer Jonatan Tikas keeps a medium tempo beat. The guitar and keyboards in this track truly do feel inseparable as they complement one another perfectly through the ups and downs of the song. Elegant at times and high energy at others, the song is ripe with the joyful emotion that Dorena puts forth in their music. As great of a track as it is though, it simply outclassed by “My Childhood Friend”, which is the best track on the album and a worthy rival to my favorite Dorena track “From The Window of my Room”. With a minimal ambient intro that eventually comes to a crawl, the track suddenly jumps from first to fifth gear with a brightly distorted guitar leading into a Irish pub inspired jam. Just when you think that the vibe is coming to an end as the track starts to slow it shifts gears yet again with a series of Whoa-Oh-Oh’s that I dare anyone to try to not sing along to. “My Childhood Friend” is a wildly and outrageously creative track that could only be pulled off by a band as clever as Dorena.

With ‘Nuet‘ being their third album, Dorena is at the stage of their career where complacency could have had the guys making wildly drastic changes to their sound. However the band stayed true to the style that has earned them so many adoring fans and a much deserved spot on the Deep Elm roster. To me, ‘Nuet‘ is a picture perfect example how a band can evolve and mature without making any sudden and unexpected changes. Unsurprisingly, Deep Elm Records has produced yet another winner that I simply can’t say enough good things about. If you are asking me to a choose a favorite between this album and ‘About Everything and More’, I’ll be more than happy to disappoint you by sidestepping the question because I simply can’t do it. Get ‘Nuet‘ ASAP and make the decision for yourself.

Long Distance Calling – The Flood Inside

Artist Long Distance Calling
Album The Flood Inside
Genre Post-Rock
Buy/DL Longdistancecalling.de
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Label Superball
Release 4 March 2013
Rating Average

The German five piece Long Distance Calling return with their follow up to 2011’s ‘Long Distance Calling‘, and a few things have changed – Out is founding member Reimut von Bonn, and in is a new keyboardist/vocalist, Marsen Fischer. The band has worked a bit with guest vocalists before (John Bush of Armored Saint & Anthrax, and Jonas Renske of Katatonia for example), but Fischer is a permanent addition, though his vocals are not found on every track. Another move from a band that is always evolving, it seems.

The lead off track on the album, “Nucleus“, shows perfectly how Long Distance Calling refuses to fit into a tidy little post-rock label. Everything is moving along at the sort of pace most post-rock listeners are used to – build-ups, melody, atmosphere – when out of nowhere at about the 4 minute mark, a solid 2+ minutes of blues guitar riffing, courtesy of Henrik Freischlader. It works very well with the rest of the song, even if it may come as a bit of a surprise.

Fischer’s vocals are first featured on the next track, “Inside the Flood“, and in choosing him, Long Distance Calling has gone for sort of a hard rock feel. The vocal style is reminiscent of Mike Patton, without nearly as much range. I always give bands credit for pushing themselves and trying something new, it’s just that sometimes, it doesn’t quite work. While Fischer is no doubt a talented singer, his vocals combined with the lazy, repetitive riffing (save for a 2 and a half minute segment that’s a bit too cheesy ballad for me) make the song little more than a sub-par hard rock song.

Ductus” is up next, and starts off with some calm, slow guitar picking, accompanied by a quote from Twin Peaks. The song picks up steam a little as the quote ends, and despite a few really out of tune guitar notes, things move along comfortably with the inclusion of some electronic elements. The pace switches about halfway through, and the song is dominated for a few moments by some heavy, rhythmic, almost tribal sounding drumming. Things tend to draw on a bit long, and I feel like this song could have been a minute or two shorter, honestly. It even ends with the cheesy, dramatic pause followed by a single loud guitar note (you know, the way bar bands end their cover set).

The best part of the following song, “Tell the End“, comes in the last 20 seconds, with an American Psycho quote. Otherwise, it is, sadly, another boring, repetitive song. “Welcome Change” features a few guest vocalists, Vincent Cavanagh from Anathema, and Norwegian singer/songwriter Petter Carlsen. Carlsen’s soft, delicate vocals are a big departure from Fischer’s hard rock style, yet they are even more powerful. Cavanagh is really only featured on the chorus, which strikes me as kind of an odd move – bringing in a guest vocalist for such a small part. The song works as a pretty good prog song, and actually is a bit of a welcome change, if only for the difference in vocals.

Waves” is an electronics heavy track, and is easily my favorite track on the album. It’s very simple, but good. Some solid guitar work, and excellent drumming, propel the track forward, but sadly things fall very, very flat with the following track, “The Man Within“. The intro drumming is top notch, but as usual on tracks with Fischer’s vocals, the music gets repetitive and very boring. There are more out of tune guitar notes here, and although there are some explosive moments on the track, it’s overall a rather predictable track.

One of the other high moments of the album is “Breaker“, a track that starts off with almost a stoner feel to it, and moves along nicely through a series of peaks and valleys, proving to be one of the more interesting tracks on the album. The album closer, “Black Hole“, starts off with an electronic, almost dancer feel to it, before progressing to a melancholic sounding end.

Ultimately, while I applaud  for branching out and taking chances, I think the album falls short. While they’re seemingly moving in a more prog oriented direction, I just don’t feel like they’ve quite gotten there yet.

My Bloody Valentine – M B V

Artist My Bloody Valentine
Album ‘MBV’
Genre Shoegaze/ Alt-Rock
Buy/DL Mybloodyvalentine.org
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Label Pickpocket Records
Release Feb 2 2013
Rating Excellent

The simplest way to sum up my thoughts on this album are that it’s almost worth the 22 year wait since their last release ‘Loveless’. I know it’s not fair to compare ‘M B V‘ to ‘Loveless‘, but it’s bound to happen, so let’s get it out of the way early on. And to be fair, some of this stuff has been in the works since 1996, so despite the fact that it took another 17 years to finalize and release it, it’s almost a time capsule of an album. With all of that said, this is a really, really fantastic album. It’s what you would expect of an album that follows ‘Loveless‘, for the most part, with the album opener “She Found Now” sounding like it may very well have been written during the same sessions. The lush, dreamy aura is a little more sparse than anything on ‘Loveless‘ was, but it’s textbook My Bloody Valentine. That really sums up much of the album, though that’s not a bad thing at all. When you have sort of a timeless sound, it works.

Is This and Yes” acts almost as an interlude of sorts, being the most serene track on the entire album, with the lush, ambient keyboard accompanied only by Bilinda Butcher’s haunting vocals. This track kicks off sort of an ambient “section” of the album, and the album itself is really broken up into three sections (the first of which being the classic My Bloody Valentine sound, of course). The follow up track, “If I Am” finds Butcher repeatedly singing “Even if I am loved” over a heavily distorted guitar line, carrying a sense of loss with it. “New You” picks up the pace a little bit, and could have easily found itself on the ‘Lost in Translation’ soundtrack.

The third section of the album, which is the more, umm, interesting section, kicks off with the dancer beat of “In Another Way“, which only sort of gives you an idea of what’s to come. If you’re a long-time fan of the band, you’re probably familiar with the jungle/drum ‘n’ bass ideas the Kevin Shields hinted at in the 90s, and while they’re not found here, this last section definitely has some elements. The two closing tracks on the album show those elements of experimentation, and while they’re definitely the odd tracks on the record, they grew on me.

It’s impossible to have any sort of discussion about shoegaze, as a genre, without talking about My Bloody Valentine, and as such, there were very high expectations and hopes surrounding this album. In my opinion, ‘M B V‘ lives up to the hopes, though the final two tracks (“Nothing Is” and “Wonder 2“) do feel pretty out of place. Over all, an absolutely great album, and I only hope that we don’t have to wait another quarter of a decade for more new music. – Shanexedge

Jardin De La Croix – 187 Steps to Cross the Universe

187 steps to cross the universe cover art

Artist Jardin De La Croix
Album 187 Steps to Cross the Universe
Genre Post-Rock / Math-Rock
Buy/DL Bandcamp
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Label Noma Records
Release 21 February 2013
Rating Excellent

“The Math Heroes are Back! Are You Ready?” exclaims the banner at the top of Jardin De La Croix‘s bandcamp page. While the Madrid 4-piece might have gnashed their teeth on their math-rock roots, ‘187 Steps to Cross the Universe’ is a far cry from being just a top tier math-rock release. I knew from the moment that I first saw the track listing that this album was going to be exceptionally good. Four tracks clocking in at 33 minutes with three being in the seven minute range and one pushing 10 minutes long generally signals the ground work for a solid record. Little did I know just how good this album would be. In short, ‘187 Steps to Cross the Universe’ is without question the most intense album released in 2013 so far, and that is reason alone why it should garner plenty of attention.

From the opening moments of “Man Made Lightning” I knew that my premonition about this album was right on the money. Screaming math-rock guitar work plays alongside a second layer of distortion guitar as high energy drumming struggles to keep pace. As the track desolves at time you can get a real sense of appreciation of the wizardry that drummer Israel Arias is doing behind the kit. The two guitars compliment one another nearly perfectly, their intensity equal as they clash and come together throughout the track. This is an opening track that simply refuses to let off the gas  as it speeds forward, leaving an instant impression that upon initially hearing this track had me picking my jaw up off the floor.

“Topsy’s Revenge” has firmly etched itself as one of my favorite songs of all time. Yeah, it’s that good. With an epic build up of lingering distortion riff murmurs filled with lingering bass and drums with continuously climbing intensity, by the time the distortion riffs come in at a full head of steam a couple minutes into the track your ears have already been overloaded by all that’s going on around them. The guitar work from this point forward is masterful and the emergance of double bass drumming throughout the track is enough to put “Topsy’s Revenge” over the top as the clearcut best in show on this album. The straight forward math-rock interlude in the middle of the track is a highly energetic clever nod to the band’s roots that only adds to the powerhouse insanity this track offers. And if none of that was enough, the track even has a false ending only to go into hypermode for the final minute. Band’s looking to melt faces in 2013 be warned: The bar has been set high.

“Colarado Springs” does a great job at maintaining the absurdly high energy level the band has set throughout the album. I think the hangover from the previous track has really lead me to not appreciate this track as much as I probably should. This track presents probably the strongest ties to the math-rock genre and does an excellent job of giving bassist Carlos Schonert small windows to shine without overpowering guitar work stealing the spotlight. “Talking With Planets” is the most explorative track of the album and starts off with some strange noises that sounds similar to how I’d imagine a giant stone golem might sound if it tried to talk. Guitars rev up one final time as the track takes a somewhat laid back route for the first four minutes, letting the drumming and bass shine before taking over for a showstopping finale. Guitars let out high pitched screeches as they transition into punchy distortion segments that eventually give way to math-rock inspired riffs as drum fills go off left and right without warning. The final two and a half minutes or so are yet again a reminder of just how powerfully energetic this album is. It isn’t flashy nor is it raw. Jardin De La Croix has created a powerhouse album that accomplishes what it set out to achieve from it’s opening moments. ‘187 Steps to Cross the Universe‘ is here to blow you away and make you remember this album. It’s clear that this whole album and particularly the final track warrants multiple playthroughts to really get a sense of all the sounds that are running through the highly layered mix this album serves up.

My biggest problem with math-rock has always been the lack of intensity the more technical bands suffer from as they craft their odd time signature songs full of spasticly complex riffs. There have been very few math-rock albums that have captivated me the way JDLC‘s latest offering has, the most recent being Mental Architects 2012 masterpiece ‘Celebrations‘. While a line can’t be drawn linking these two albums together, a strong line can be drawn comparing ‘187 Steps..’ to Toundra‘s latest offering ‘III‘ . These two albums share the same sort of song structures, overpowering riffs and relentless energy that makes these albums forever linked together in my mind. If I’ve lead you to believe I think that this album is somehow a ripoff of ‘III‘, I need to reiterate that’s not the case. Essentially ‘III‘ is a power-metal infused post-rock album while ‘187 Steps..’ is a math-rock infused post-rock album. I’ve never for a second considered this album to be a straight forward math-rock album. Instead it is yet another release that belongs in that hybrid post-math-rock area that continues to grow as the genre lines surrounding post-rock, post-metal, math-rock & ambient continue to blur.

Fasten your seat belts and secure your headphones tightly to your head because you are in for a hell of a ride. An excellent must-listen to release that is not to be taken lightly. – IamHop

Live Review – Maserati (w/ Joy Wants Eternity) @ Sunset Tavern — Seattle, WA 3/1/13

Picture this. You’re going to a concert to see a band play who you’ve been listening to for a while. You’re familiar with most of their work and/or maybe you’ve caught a few of their live videos on youtube. So prior to the concert you’ve got a pretty good idea of what to expect, right? That’s generally the case with most bands I see perform, post-rock especially so. Going into last Friday night’s Maserati show, I had no clue what to expect..and I certainly did expect the powerhouse performance the band put on for nearly 90 minutes.

On Friday Night Maserati, Joy Wants Eternity and local supporting band The Fruiting Bodies got together to play at The Sunset Tavern, nestled in the heart of old Ballard in Seattle. It’s a far cry from most venues in town. At the top of the list you’ve got concert halls like The Paramount, The Showbox and The Moore, each with their own distinct features and history, excellent acoustics and just all around great venues to catch a show. In the second tier you’ve got venues like Neumos, The Crocodile and even still El Corazon is a halfway decent place to see a cheap show. I expected this show to be at one of those second tier places and I certainly never expected a band like Maserati to be playing at nothing more than a tavern with a stage too small to properly accommodate a 5-piece band. However, once Maserati hit the stage none of it seemed to matter and for the next 80 or so minutes the band delivered one of the most energetic and impressive performances I’ve ever had the privilege of witnessing.

The most peculiar thing about Maserati’s performance was how their songs, particularly their newer material off of ‘VII‘ translates live. While on the albums drums aren’t the focal point of any particular song, Maserati’s live show thrives off the energy of drummer Mike Albanese. Mike overpowers the kit at the time and completely steals the show with relentless speed and aggressive fills. Meanwhile guitarists Coley Dennis and Matt Cherry stand opposite of one another one each side of the stage, impressively trading riffs throughout the band’s songs. While I’m sure its anything but the case, I felt a certain aura of one upsmanship in the air as each flawlessly nailed their leading segments in sort of an “anything you can do I can do better” way. It’s really impressive stuff the way these guys are able to replicate their technical songs to near perfection.

While The Fruiting Bodies and Joy Wants Eternity both performed well and got the crowd into their sets, Maserati really wooed the crowd and you could just tell people’s ears had really perked up as they took notice. Just a couple of songs into the set people in the front were dancing and moving the way you might expect to see people dance in a club scene of a mid 1980’s film. I walked away from this concert with a new found respect for Maserati. Their energy and enthusiasm towards the music they produce only further drives my love and respect for this genre of music that much deeper. – IamHop

To Sail Beyond the Sun – Illusions EP

Illusions EP cover art

Artist To Sail Beyond the Sun
Album ‘Illusions’
Genre Post-rock
Buy/DL Bandcamp
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Label Independent
Release Feb 6 2013
Rating Solid

With one look at their bandcamp descriptor (“To Sail Beyond the Sun is a post-rock band from New York. That’s all that you really need to know. Sit back and enjoy.”), it’s safe to say that To Sail Beyond the Sun are a post-rock band free from pretentious or avant-garde pressures and values. It’s quite a relief to come across a band that, rather than proclaiming some transcendent or high-concept agenda, just makes music to be enjoyed for what it is. And what it is is just darn lovely music. Though an EP, ‘Illusions’ is a fairly generous offering, with five tracks (each with a duration of around four minutes) that move through beautiful crescendoes and soundscapes. Some songs feature understated yet delicate vocals, coming from a lead singer whose voice sounds somewhat similar to the Gates vocalist’s at times (albeit slightly more controlled, pitch-wise), or even Benjamin Gibbard; while others meander through bright-sounding instrumental terrains. This is all music that’s rather pretty and pleasing to the ear; like New Century Classics‘Natural Process’ but with a more full and triumphant sound owed to the welcomed use of brass instrumentation. Another strong comparison can be made with Years of Rice and Salt‘s 2011 breakthrough album ‘Nothing of Cities’. You’ll want to blast this out come summer-time.

One gripe with this album — and it is a minor one — is that the drums are noticeably overpowering compared with the rest of the instruments. The drum-work itself is delightfully confident and well-suited to the style of music, but their extreme prominence in the foreground renders the drums as an annoyance rather than a well-integrated component of the music. This EP also doesn’t break much new ground — comparisons are all too easy, as I showed above. Regardless, ‘Illusions’ is definitely worth your time, especially if you’re a fan of the more joyous post-rock sound.