Wednesday, October 28, 2009

HealeyIsland - Not Afternoon, But Evening

Utilising tones that are at the same time familiar yet veer towards an alien, otherwordly sound, the highly evocative imagery of this album is beautifully rendered in instrumental delight; describing scenes, places and moods with just a title and the music. When you listen to such tracks as "Red Car Crossing A Dimly Lit Bridge", a 1930's-style moving picture plays in your head, complete with glorious scratchings upon warm amber-hued film.

A bizzare mixture of textures and beats combine to create a copmplex tapestry of genre-defying music. A rich barotone voice floats in and out, sitting back in the mix as if it's lounging in a deliciously comfortable armchair, making the lyrics hard to fathom. Yet lyrics are unneccesary for music that carries with it such an incredible ability to conjure concepts, themes and emotions from a purely instrumental perspective. The warm bass, at times squelching and playful, at other times deep and resounding, remind me of heavy, tired footsteps on the pavement at night. The jazzy, light piano is reminiscent of a warm streetlamp, pushing away the darkness, providing solace, yet the whole time aware of the empty blackness only meters away. Link these elements with extra-dimensional soundscapes, and both insanity and bliss are constantly within arms reach.

There is an edginess about this music that, when resolved in fleeting moments of sheer harmony, send shivers down the spine. The edginess comes from the strange tonality that is prevalent throughout the whole album: notes that sit next to each other that don't quite fit (deliberately so), jostling for position in the forefront, arguing with each other. Despite the general first impression of a lax, drifting attitude, the album can be quite aggressive at times due to this discord. Yet tension and resolution are the keystones of great music, and the album manages to keep the tension just long enough that you feel uneasy; and then, with perfect timeliness and inclination, segues into harmonic resolution.

Described as "Light Music meets Dark Electronica", HealeyIsland's latest album "Not Afternoon, But Evening", is suitably titled, the whole thing feeling like the fading daylight leading into encroaching night; where shapes and figures are blurred, silhouetted, undefined, and the air holds an essence of change, of limbo, purgatory: twilight.

It's not afternoon, and something is lurking in the shadows, yet the familiar lull of downtempo shuffling tricks you into thinking this is gonna be a smooth ride. You could pay to see some blockbuster movie that tries and fails to keep you on the edge of your seat, or you could buy this album and feel the chilling, haunting vibes strangely coupled with moments of calm, beauty and peacefullness; and feel the imagery of your dreams, nightmares and fantasies become reality. A must have for those who understand that normality is banal, and strangeness: Divine.

Out now through White Label Music.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dr. Slaggleberry - The Slagg Factory

I was trying to think of a way to describe this music, not being a fan of genres and tags, but recognising that people want to know what to expect before they listen to something. The best tag I could think of was “stoner-rock-tech-doom-metal”, but then I read the accompanying press-release that the lads from Dr. Slaggleberry kindly supplied me with the CD. They describe their music as math-rock. Of course! It all makes sense now. I’m a bit of a noob when it comes to genres, or more specifically I prefer to ignore them, but I know what math-rock is and it is very becoming of this album. Math – these guys like numbers! I cannot even begin to imagine the practice time required to nail this type of music. Just trying to keep track of the tempo-changes and modal shifting is a head-spin, and in the end this music is just so damn calculated, so precise, so intricate, that it’s almost overwhelming.

Furthermore, the first thing that comes across when you listen to this is that it is fuckin’ HEAVY! The powertude of their riffage is unrivalled by anything I’ve heard this year. And they don’t even have a bassist! With just two guitars and drums, this outstanding three-piece manage to fill the frequency spectrum with growling low-end subwoofer delight and high-end free-wheeling lead breaks, cemented solidly by the meat in the middle. It sounds like at least a 4 piece band, but there is no layering. It’s just guitar vs. guitar vs. drums. I say ‘versus’ very appropriately, as the whole album sounds like a battle between the different instruments. Math rock evolved from the fusion of technical jazz and rock. Where listening to a jazz CD conjures up images of the musicians dancing together, listening to something as heavy as this brings forth a different sort of image, a different sort of dance: that of gladiators in the ring, circling, striking, parrying; the dance of Death.

All the while there is still that sense of “calculation”. It’s so intricate it seems that if you got out a pen and paper and dissected this music, you would discover some secret about the nature of the universe. But that is not the intended effect. It is so complex that you just can’t follow the sharp twists and turns, and thus ends up sounding like pure, raw, Chaos. I’m a lover of Chaos Theory, fractals and the like, and as I listen various thoughts propel themselves to the forefront from my subconscious: from chaos comes order (for example, the branches and leaves of a tree spring out randomly, yet the tree is ultimately symmetrical), yet this music reveals that from order comes chaos. There is no doubt that these guys have arranged the music precisely, they know exactly where each note is gonna land and when. Yet, it does sound like something from another plane of existence; otherworldly, all over the place, from somewhere so chaotic it’s almost too much.

This brings me to my final point: unfortunately I feel it is a bit too much. No sooner do you grasp an awesome hook than it falls through your fingers to be replaced by something else. The moment you start head-banging to a solid 4/4 beat it is replaced by 13/8 time. It’s the reason why a lot of people don’t like jazz. Too much change, not so much “songs”, as “shifting patterns”. I feel, however, that the more I listen to this album the more familiar it will become, and although I may never be able to fathom the mysteries written in the bizarre numerology of this music, it’s heaviness will always make it a great wake-up album and these amazing musicians will always be held in high esteem through my eyes.

The Slagg Factory by Dr. Slaggleberry is out now through Crash Records, and is highly recommended for anyone who likes something different.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

polarOPPOSITEbear - p014r0pp05it3b34r

Yea. Really, yea. Like, a lot.

My last review of these guys ended on the high note of wanting “to watch their future releases with intrigue”, having picked apart both their flaws and better attributes. This 4-track EP is one of those future, now present, releases.

I think the title of the album is a good place to start: it’s something a person hurled forward in a time machine from even as recent as the 80s would just say “WHAT?!”, but we’re all tech-savvy net-linguists these days and we know exactly how to pronounce the name. Say it with me together guys, “p014r0pp05it3b34r”, because chances are, if the winds are favourable, you’ll be hearing it around. The title reflects the music: youthful embracement of a new era, cutting edge stuff that only the select few of us, that are still quite comfortably weathering net-waves and web-squalls, will understand. An age where you don’t need to understand the lyrics because immediacy is more important than longevity. The guy has a really nice voice and it compliments the music: immediate reaction equals happy face. No I’m not gonna rush out and buy a physical copy of the EP for the precious liner notes with lyrics, but nonetheless there has been communication.

The communication comes mostly through the delightfully playful interaction of bass and guitar, with a simple message that says, “I am alive”, uplifting yet heavy at the same time. My review of their previous release, “The Cre EP”, noted the bass as being outstanding whilst the guitar was “exceptionally well played, even if monotonously composed”. In this release not only does the guitar appear to have considerably more thought put into its execution of riffage, but is layered with (itself? another guitar?) in a subtle, intriguing and progressive way, and together with the bass craft a familiar yet nonetheless utterly pleasurable soundscape from the solidest rock there is, that being: Rock!

Admiring the well-hewn rock from afar, one notices etchings of “progress”, the noun that appears in the adjective “progressive”, that is thrown around nilly-willy in the contemporary music scene. Yet what does “progressive” really mean? It means it evolves. The song writing on this release is about 450% better than their last release. Each song builds and builds, morphing and twisting, the melodies and root notes summoning wreathes of charisma about their undulating forms to hit your brain at the exact same time as the final part of this manifold creation: the drums; and hit it does.

The drumming on this release is about 875.6% better than their last release, and also highlights the winning factor for me: production. To a sound engineer’s ears this EP is heaven. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard an underground rock drum kit captured so well. Props to the engineer of this EP.

And massive props to the band for delivering on their promise that the next EP would be much, much better. I’m very impressed.

Say it with me, guys, “p014r0pp05it3b34r!!!!”. Yea. No, really: YEA!

Available for free from POB's MySpace