I’ve Listened to These Recently…

…amidst walking, driving, and sleeping too much. Alas, my time might not be spent constructively but at least I still listen to amazing music.

The Walkmen

Lisbon*

As touted many, many times before, these fellows are my favorite modern non-metal band. (Longer explanation here.) Obviously I have been waiting with bated breath for their follow up to 2008’s You & Me knowing full well that they seemingly get better and better with each release. Well, thankfully I get lots of promos flying through my mailbox and head and was ecstatic upon seeing this. What have they been doing these last few years?

“Juveniles” opens the album with a laid back stomper. Twangy guitar tones and spacial arrangements still intact, it is undeniably Walkmen and would easily fit on the aforementioned You & Me, even, possibly 2002’s Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone. Sunny days beckon this song, but there is really nothing new.

“Angela Surf City”, the following track, is where things start to get interesting. I am always giddy when they open up with a full volume and advertise the special dude they have in drummer Matt Barrick; his spot on rollicking is both dumbfounding and solid…the dude is all wrists, I am sure.

As a friend predicted, “They are sure to have a few rockin’ anthems…,” and he was not mistaken. Their penchant for penning both softer, backroom broods as well as these straight-forward declarations of bad-assery will give them an audience for many years to come, I am sure.

Other standouts include “Blue as Your Blood” (for its overwhelming mood of both devotion and complete despair set over a rolling, nearly-Morricone-style evil twang), “Stranded” (the first song released a few weeks ago via a few outlets, most notably NPR. It is here where the horns again make their statement, though in a way more sweeping, elegant way than on 2006’s “Louisiana”), and the ending title track (another foray into their older sound heard on Everyone…). While these were noted for their strong points and/or complete realization of what makes the Walkmen a strong, engaging band, each song actually holds little gems that are well worth exploring in its entirety. The Walkmen is a band of albums, not mere songs.

Although they are a band of extremes, in both music and fans alike, they have consistently solidified themselves as a mainstay of American independent music full of inventive sounds, classic themes, and all-around classiness. And as one can tell from their camaraderie (in both stage presence and interviews) they will continue for a long time to come, which is great news for those who enjoy an unabashed creativity.

Ben Frost

By the Throat

Icelandic via Australia DJ/producer Ben Frost has put together a record of, dare I say, menacing proportions. Not being an all-out ambient music fan, it takes something truly special to grab my attention. And that is By the Throat.

I say menacing with a finger pointing to every aspect of this record. From the snowy wolves on the cover to the opening track, fading in to what I can imagine an aural representation of both a seizure and the onset of schizophrenia to be like. Follow blindly, as the night is now pitch black, and wield your weapon because the follow up track, “The Carpathians”, will do everything in its power to stop you in your tracks, look around, and subsequently cause you to piss yourself out of sheer fright. Wolves snarling, strings arpeggiating, and terror entering into every pore.

As the album travels on, albeit slowly (it is ambient, after all), breaks with heavy breaths are given and safety is promised only so as to let your guard down. The scraping of metal and sampled choruses of dirty angels welcome you (though you do not feel so welcome in those soiled wings) into the world of…”Peter Venkman Part I”. The humor in the title aside, this track is pure blood and thought. Creeping, slothing on the ground you now find yourself unable to scream for help but the hold it has on you is mesmerizing. “The sharpest claws cause Stockholm Syndrome,” as someone said once (not sure who but it wasn’t original, unfortunately).

The three part ending, “Through the Glass of the Roof/Through the Roof of Your Mouth/Through the Mouth of Your Eye” finish this record in great detail, much like an autopsy for your now lifeless body. Elements of industrial (ala Ghosts I-IV-era NIN), waning Scottish traditionals, and pure anticipation of the upcoming sounds drive this behemoth into the psyche. Trudging with only shadows of rhythm, a calming stroke finishes everything off as calmly, for this record, at least, as is humanly possible. The lasting effect will stay with you and a revisit will bring changes of mood, timbre, and opinion.

The first remarkable, and I don’t use that term loosely, ambient record these ears ever had the pleasure of bleeding to in a long time.

Kvelertak

Kvelertak

Dubbed “punk black metal,” I am unaware that the genre, though parallel in many ways, actually existed. I would simply call it black metal with the occasional gang chorus, but, hell…who really cares. This Kvelertak, though, come from Norway, no stranger to either genre, and it shows ten fold in their debut self-titled record.

With cover art courtesy of America’s John Dyer Baizley (artist of numerous covers including, but not limited to, Black Tusk, Kylesa, and his own Baroness) and production courtesy of my nominee for best metal producer Kurt Ballou (Converge), this album was sure to be one of my favorites even before first listen.

Opening track “Ulvetid” solidified this right away, giving homage to both long lost Turbonegro and black metal classics like Gorgoroth (yeah, I said it) and Watain. Now the beat may be more listenable than, say, the latter of the aforementioned evil overlords, but the vocals deliver in a way that is unmistakeably Nordic black metal. The propensity for them to lighten things up with a general easier-to-listen-to feel than your traditional black metal band, that should not take away from the power behind the songs.

“Fossegrim” continues the album, a little later, with an almost Satyricon feel (though more metal and less snort-coke-off-a-slut’s-tits way) and the guitar tap breakdown is simply hilarious/awesome. Party black metal? I didn’t think it possible but, yes, now I do. Keep in mind these dudes (most notably Vidar Landa and Bjarte Lund Rolland, both guitar) have the chops to keep up with the best in the genres, it simply seems that they are having too much fun NOT wearing corpsepaint and spikes to play a different style of Nordic metal altogether. And bless them for that. (As you know I am a long time black metal fan but it is rare that modern day lives up to the days of yore.) Could I go so far to say we may have a new Refused on our hands (who, keep in mind, were also Nordic…albeit not metal at all. The similarities are too many to overlook.)

The word is the vinyl is shipping soon via Indie Recordings. To surmise all of my rambling, the band put it best themselves on their MySpace: “Kvelertak shamelessly draw inspiration from every corner of something that could fit into their idea of good hard-hitting and catchy rock’n’roll. Regardless of genre, but always truthful to the basic idea of the band; good songs performed with the tongue-in-cheek attitude of their punk-rock pioneers. Unlike the majority of heavier bands they sing in their native language – adding even more character to their already unique sound.”

Arcade Fire

The Suburbs

Now, I don’t want to be the typical hater. Nor another writer talking about the pros/cons regarding rumors about this band getting huge before it may have been due (the opinion of some, myself not included) or their pompous attitude (according to one Wayne Coyne, of whom I have the utmost respect, but will not comment on that, either, as I have never personally encountered anyone in this band). I simply want to talk about this record.

Now after saying all of that, there was an inkling inside of me that wanted to see them fail. Jealousy? Yeah, probably. Too perfect of a story? Yeah, that, too. The thing is this: I was bored upon my first listen. I am willing to swallow my pride and say that it was the first two sentences in this paragraph that probably made me feel that way. I kept at it and I will be the first one to say that The Suburbs not only lives up to the hype, it will increase their hype ten fold after the general public hears it. It is the simple fact that there is so much creativity going through the life blood of this group that it may be impossible for them to release a poorly-executed record. It is evident that they are perfectionists, political philosophers, and extremely talented songwriters. Anyone that refutes the last three points has a hang up regarding what they think a good, widely listenable pop/rock album should sound like.

I will not go into a song-by-song diatribe pointing out the goods and bads because I am also aware of the sheer scope that this will have on the general listening public and everyone, from your uncle to your mailman, will have an opinion and, simply, it will be EVERYWHERE. And deservedly so.

While the old greats of modern rock/pop, most notably U2, have fallen aside to self-righteous political nomenclature and old tricks (actually I just mean Bono), Arcade Fire are young, smart, and full of come-on-lets-play-quality-music. I simply hope that the music of Arcade Fire will take the airwaves away from the auto-tuned hogwash plugging the future generation’s ears with yearbook-signing nomenclature and replace it with cerebral, dangerous, and thoughtful tunes directed at anyone that is willing to listen.

And I will proudly say that Canada has again beat us Americans at our own game. I tip my hat.

*Though not yet released, this album came into my possession legally for review purposes only and will not be illegally distributed.

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