Record of the Week
Crystal Stilts – Alight Of Night
“Alight That’ll Never Go Out”
What a lifeless album. The vocals drawl and linger, the bass-lead, jangling sound is lazy, and the composite drone and echo-y reverb lull the listener to what could be a permanent sleep. But wait, a surf-rock rhythm stirs, playing out over feedback and the introduction of a curiously familiar organ. So cue very apparent influences. The dull sound is married quite harmoniously to a rich legacy of musical history. Unknown Pleasures is the apparent bible, Pyschocandy, the illicit thrill hidden inside its pages to stave off Sunday school boredom. All the while, Velvet Underground sit, pouting on the shoulder like a detrimentally persuasive peer, such as can be heard in ‘Prismatic Room’. And yet there is more, some anonymous goody two-shoes counterpart to the Velvet’s peerage sits prettily on the other shoulder, in its hand a pop record.
For somewhere, in amongst this listless fuzz resides a pop record, perverted beyond all recognition and played at too slow a speed. Post-punk and shoe-gaze collide in slow motion to mask these pop sensibilities in moribund noise, which, albeit without the free experimentalism, could recall Loveless. Suggestion is hidden everywhere as to this pop theme, but sneaks out in rare moments such as in “Graveyard Orbit” which borrows wistful 50s rock ‘n’ roll guitars from the likes of Ben E. King.
There are few highlights and like other numbing painkillers is best taken as a whole. This is a bleak and difficult, eight-star album, to which I’m awarding nine. It is because the album may be the biggest ‘grower’ I’ve ever heard, so much so in fact, that it finds itself at a difficult cross-road. It wants to slide into oblivion so that it can be hailed as a lost, cult classic by beard-strokers and music obsessives, but would also like to be recognized in its own lifetime. Whilst it might appear dead on arrival, there is a life aplenty with repeat listens. The problem is that this album will continue to grow, so eight stars now, and one more for good measure when it’s been allowed to mature like its contemporaries.
Jay Reatard – Matador Singles 2008
Reatard gets through his 13 energetic tracks in under half an hour and in doing so alerts the listener to his quick fix, DIY punk ethics. These ethics are also musically apparent in the earlier parts of the album, but become masked the further that the listener explores. That Reatard only released in 7” and that this is a later-day collection of those recordings tells us two things - that he is / was true to the underground stylings of his beloved punk genre, and that he is now branching from it, with the aim of commercial viability.
The sound is charismatically lo-fi, but equally tuneful. His staccato rhymes are cleverly laid over catchy guitars and drums, all of which allow the album to get under the skin. It is breathlessly exciting, and at times (Always Wanting More) he seems to duet with soaring guitar, which both recall the Strokes and also his seeming objective to achieve commercial success. The tracks are inherently well constructed with pop characteristics; there are sing-along choruses for goodness sake, which do bring to mind the shambolic sound of Supergrass, when they were good.
It has been suggested that the rather adept cover of Deerhunter’s “Fluorescent Grey”, which lies at the album’s heart, splits his desire. Before it are the kitchen-sink punk numbers, after, a curious evolution into control. The introspective, acoustic tracks that close the album, such as “No Time” show that Reatard is a man of talent, and more than able to master understatement, as oppose to what one might assume, given his adopted moniker.
Reatard is no laureate lyricist, nor looker it must be said, but it can be said that at least his future is starting to look good.
Death Vessel – Nothing Is Precious Enough For Us
“Endearing But Not Enduring”
Another review, another alt. folk, alt. country, Americana influenced album. If each of them sounded alike I could cease, and simply file under derivative, but there is still life in genre yet.
This album successfully hosts these alt. themes but also houses a true folk ethic, heard in the picked banjo of “Obadiah In Oblivion”, as well as more straight-up, quiet-loud indie-rock as can be heard on “Peninsula”.
Despite being on Sub Pop, the sound often veers more toward Nebraska and the sound of Saddle Creek, but misses the inimitable and identifiable production of Mike Mogis. As such the album sounds a little like a Rilo Kiley release, or one from Azure Ray, but miss the bite that Mogis provides. And so we move to the inevitable, the voice. Sounding like Jenny Lewis or Orenda Fink is no bad thing, heck these gals can sing. However it is a dude called Joel who fronts Death Vessel, and once this is out in the open we can all move past it comfortably.
His impersonation is so uncanny that the singer’s gender is not in question until one reads up about the band. Only at the start of “Exploded View” does he resemble a male vocally, and then only at the track’s onset. This amounts to a distinctive sound, but one that is not at all detracting. The greatest problem the record faces is whilst being endearing, is sadly not enduring. Not one of the tracks leaves a lasting impression, in the way that say, similar sounding Iron & Wine do. The mix of influences spread the record a little bit thin, which is peculiar for an album that also sounds quite simple and effective.
Ra Ra Riot – The Rhumb Line
“Ra Ra Rather Disappointing”
Quite right, this is a bit rhumb. Ra Ra Riot’s 2007 eponymous EP showed great promise, recalling both Arcade Fire in its use of lush strings and tempo changes, as well as, and in retrospect, Vampire Weekend, with its Paul Simon vocals.
Sadly the Arcade Fire influence has been dropped for the album in favour of pursuing the Vampire Weekend influences, as well as some other radio-friendly indie-pop acts. The result is such that the four tracks here borrowed from the EP still ring promising, in particular ‘Ghost Under Rocks’, but they stand alone as standout moments.
Granted the band sadly lost a member between the EP and album, but in doing so seem to have also lost their edge, which does serve as adequate posthumous praise for the poor lad. Where the album falls down is in its sub-Vampire Weekend aping. I am very much of the opinion that one of those is more than enough so a worse, at times (St. Peter’s Day Festival and Suspended In Gaffa) sound-alike does not inspire me.
Where the album differentiates itself from the pack is with the commendable lashings of cello and other strings, but that alone does not a viable Arcade Fire alternative make.
The EP had a curious effect of managing to be so discreet a grower as to leap from bland to great in one epiphanic moment, but with regret, I’m sure I could play the LP forever without that same realisation of Eureka!
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