You know the drill by now! This is the eleventh volume of the Review Rundown, and we’ve got another smattering of quick reviews that will get you into some great new tracks! As usual, five of our writers have grabbed a couple of records that have already been released and jotted down a couple of paragraphs of their impressions. We’ve got jazz, progressive rock, doom, sludge, and more this time around. I hope you weren’t wishing for extra ado, because without further of it, here are the reviews!
JONCE MARSHALL PALMER
Whole Nine Yards is a pretty generic, bland, easy to listen to piece of indie music. The easy way to go about this would be to compare this record to Beck’s Colors: it’s so flawless that it’s not worth listening to. That’s a simple comparison, but this is It Djents and simple isn’t good enough for us.
If I’m being honest, there is indeed some spark of identity to this album, but I don’t think it was meant to be heard.
I had a day recently where I became so overwhelmed by the events going on in my life; I felt as though people were treating me one way, but they felt differently. So, as many of us do when we feel desperate and isolated, I took to Twitter and released the following statement.
Actions speak louder than words
What, you thought this cliché was going to have context to it? No, fuck you, I’m keeping it to myself thanks
— 💐language cop💐 (@joncepalmer) May 3, 2018
I think this is what Whole Nine Yards must be: a series of cliches given without the context of what they mean to the authors. If I’m right, I think I can appreciate this album in a weird way. I’m okay with listening to this in the background, but I have no other reason to appreciate it on its face. Although – like my weird, vague tweet – I hope that the writing, producing, and reciting of this album offers some sort of catharsis that I will never see.
Summer is getting into full swing, which means it’s time to go on an adventure. I guess that’s what Haolin Monk had in mind while crafting his Planestasia Suite. This jazzy odyssey follows the story of Mal Astro (?) and his life as an intergalactic outlaw. His story – mostly held together by plucky guitars, daring saxophone, and subtle keyboard – is pieced together through several rap, spoken word, and singing features.
Clearly, there’s a storyline to be followed in Planestasia, but the less I followed it, the more I could appreciate the album as art. The whirlwind “The Broken Sparrow” in particular reminds me of the general chaotic nature of the universe, which is the overall vibe I get when I appreciate this record. Within that chaos, Astro finds danger on tracks like “Shot Down” and “Gotta Get Home”, as well as love on “Astro’s Reverie” and “Space Party”.
Frankly, I don’t have the space (haha, get it?) to sing Haolin Monk’s praises on this project properly, so I’ll sum it up as best I can: the instrumentation is reminiscent of the 60s yet follows the lead of forward-thinking art rap and spoken word. Saying this album is worth looking in to would be a horrible understatement.
Welcome aboard the Alternative Rock Elevator! Please press the button corresponding to the floor at which you would like to exit. Ah! I see you pressed the button for a new Tool album. Well, in spite of recent news, you can expect to ride this elevator for a very long time. But since you chose to ride this elevator, we will play for you instead some Alternative Rock Elevator Music.
A Perfect Circle might be a supergroup, given that it consists of Tool’s Maynard James Keenan plus members of the Smashing Pumpkins and other bands. However, ‘stuporgroup’ would be a better term for APC. This is not the lineup that had Paz Lenchantin (Pixies) or Tim Alexander (Primus). Nope, this is A Perfect Circle’s “B-side” phase, making an album that might as well have been called Eat The Ambien. This will go down in history as one of 2018’s… albums.
All is not lost. “The Doomed,” “So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish,” and “TalkTalk” are solid tracks. “Hourglass” would also be good without the super-cheesy vocal effects. But there are better floors to get off this elevator at if you’re waiting for a Tool album.
What a lovely debut! Arizona’s Sun Speaker describe themselves as an ‘atmospheric blackened death metal‘ band. We can also hear some technical deathcore in their sound as well. They love the double-bass pedaling and blast beats, but the mosh monkeys among us will revel in some delightfully sick breakdowns as well.
Sun Speaker’s bio says the band started by friends just for fun and intended to be nary more than an online project. It morphed into a serious, tour-worthy band after less than a year. They include the cliché of having wanted to do this out of ‘discontent with the stagnation that had crept into today’s extreme music‘ (true though that might be, bands that want to assert their originality very often say words to that effect). Ov Lustra is hardly stagnant. It has the overall verve and energy that would be de riguer for a first album. Some of the keyboard work might be indulgent, but it never gets obnoxiously so. In spite of Sun Speaker’s self-assigned ‘blackened’ descriptor, production on Ov Lustra has crisp production standards.
Sun Speaker are worth a look for modern death metal fans who hunger for something new.
Thou has been a visceral, abrasive yet intriguing outfit since I discovered them. Compositionally they don’t mess around, low chugging, crushing drums and gut-wrenching vocals hit the listener like a freight train, but there has always been something more to them. On their newest effort, The House Primordial, they show that hard music can still be brutal in an ethereal way. Through ambient drones and rich, all-enveloping noise, the band manages to bring a dynamic into their music that is very hard to find in this genre.
On tracks like “Premonition” the song slowly creeps on flourishing feedback while an almost monologue-like screaming voice introduces the listener into the world of Thou. The following track, “Sword Without A Hilt”, has an almost Bolt Gun-esque post-rock structure, in which constant, subtle noise dominates the scene with occasional melodies coming up for air. As we get to “Diaphonous Shift” we are back to what makes Thou themselves, namely gnarly, filthy, blackened doom with a hardcore edge. I couldn’t tell if the noise or the guitar was louder on this track, but ultimately they are the same beast. Definitely one of Thou’s best works.
From blackened post-hardcore with heavy screamo influences to a heavenly anger striking the listener like Zeus’ thunderbolt, Tengil have changed a lot since their last effort. Their newest record Shouldhavebeens is an experimental record that seeks to combine the softer side of post-rock with noisy, almost blackened, heavy music. The guitars are overladen with reverb to the point where they are a mere translucent noise bringing an almost meditative atmosphere to their music. Still, Shouldhavebeens is a lot more accessible than their former records.
Tracks like “In Murmur” feature vocals you could also hear on an indie record while getting progressively rougher during the course of this song. “With A Song For Dead Darlings” however the band shows the harsher, yet more euphoric side of their material. Shoegaze style guitars and blast beats roll over the scenery like a flood tinging the soundscape in all colors of the rainbow, but adding black to this spectrum. I’m sure this record will not be for everybody due to its experimental and noisy nature, but personally I found Shouldhavebeens to be a majestic album that showed how much art can be put into music.
Born as a reactionary product to social unrest amongst African-American communities, jazz has presided at the forefront of musical innovation for the better part of a century. Though few emotional parallels can be drawn between the foundations and their modern counterparts, the genre still very much prevails as a potently expressive art form awash with eclectics and eccentricity. British outfit Portico Quartet stand as possibly the best example of this: their sound serves to represent an array of the core pillars of jazz music, whilst maintaining a distinct contemporary trope that explores a myriad of synthetic textures.
Through Untitled, their fifth full-length studio attempt, Portico Quartet continue to do what they do best. Charming, languid soundscapes meander from point to point, boasting flavours of traditional brass instruments, sporadic orchestral arrangements, and a plethora of electronic effects to fill in the gaps. The approach is patient, and almost diffident at times, but always seems to make perfect sense in an uncouth, unorthodox manner, often subjecting the listener to an aura of serene lucidity.
Untitled consists of nine short tracks, but it almost seems wrong to chop it up into sections. The album as a whole seems to bear its true colours as one long, serpentine arrangement, continually rising and falling, flitting from place to place along the way. Portico Quartet utilise this format beautifully, producing a piece of art that not only flourishes technically, but evokes raw emotion in the process. Perhaps this outfit aren’t too dissimilar from the genre’s forefathers after all.
Fresh on the scene, Californian outfit Royal Coda have wasted no time in introducing the world to their sound. A humble three-piece fronted by Kurt Travis (formerly of Dance Gavin Dance), this act represent a contemporary brand of prog rock, spliced with elements of pop and post-hardcore, executed with swagger and cadence.
Short and sweet, their self-titled, thirty-minute long debut consists of ten short tracks, each brimming with memorable hooks, catchy choruses, punchy riffs, and a jovial, self-assured atmosphere. Parallels with scene giants Circa Survive crop up time and again for the duration, with Travis’ angelic vocal melodies boasting that pop-esque, effeminate twang, and the song structures taking a notably slow, emotive, and atmospheric approach. Tracks such as “Cut Me Under“ and “Breathe Correct” undoubtedly stand out in terms of their abundance of subtle guitar licks and pronounced melodies. However, it would be unfair to imply a lack of this exists amongst the other tracks. Each song, neatly concise in approach, stands out in its own way, serving to avoid any sense of arrogance or overkill.
Perhaps the overall length could have been extended in order to further ensure that sense of début impact, but this is a complaint that stands alone. Royal Coda have made their mark in style, employing a brand of prog rock that is both catchy and true to its roots in terms of musicianship and technicality. One could reasonably predict that this band have much, much more in store for the future.
Comprised of only three tracks, but with a total run time of around 45 minutes, there’s no doubt that this is a doom record. CHRCH are one of the heavy highlights of the first half of 2018, with spacious songs, a two-pronged vocal approach, and an earthy atmosphere. Given that there is a diversity of approaches to doom metal, I’ll let you know right up front that this is full-on funeral doom with some sludge leanings. The first track, “Infinite Return”, is the opening track and sitting at just over 20 minutes, isn’t rushing off for anything or anyone. It’s a slow build, the seething vocals wallowing in despair.
The second track “Portals” kicks the door down with some thick guitar tone and pummeling riffs. Vocals are smoother, but just as haunting as before. Around the halfway mark, the intensity subsides and a more contemplative tone takes hold. It’s a remarkable song that isn’t as gloomy as a majority of doom metal. The closing track “Aether” has an apt sense of finality to it and is a perfect way to wrap up this journey. This is some fantastic music from a band to watch. If you’ve been looking for a sweeping, sullen, and heavy album, look no further than Light Will Consume Us All.
Luton – Black Box Animals
Black Box Animals is one of the more interesting releases that I have heard this year. From start to finish, the thoughtful atmosphere and massive soundscapes are reminders of the power of music. Across 11 interwoven tracks, Luton weave an intriguing tapestry of tones. With the classical inspired “Spectres Of Mark”, the murky orchestration implants visions of being adrift in thought. Other tracks like “Black Concrete” are subtly dissonant and utilize electronic and traditional instrumentation to construct a more unsettling atmosphere.
There’s a cinematic quality to the entire record making it the perfect record to drive or walk with. While there’s a distinct lack of absolutely bombastic tracks in the list, the diversity more than makes up for this. At times, the percussion is thunderous and cuts massive swaths through its sonic pathways. It’s really easy to get lost in Black Box Animals. This isn’t an album that has standout singles or catchy hooks, and it’s not trying to. It has a sense of adventure and mystery that enriches the listener.