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Lamp, broken circa 1988

THE ALBUM CLUB.

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I am starting to think that anything I pick will be too mainstream for this group.

 

I also will comment at least on the first couple of albums today and tomorrow. I have owned Future Islands for awhile, but I wanted to give it another play-through to make sure my thoughts on it are consistent.

 

I think people picking "mainstream" albums would be good for me, as I often overlook recent pop and rock stuff out of hand. It would be good for me to sit down and reacquaint myself with it.

 

Yeah. The whole point is to put everyone up on what everyone's listening to, whether that be someone on the new Hunger Games soundtrack or someone who's just generally hungry. Do not fear.

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After listening to the album a couple times, the song that I enjoyed the most was the opener.  There was an upbeat nature to it and there was a recognizable rhythmic element.  The other 2 songs that I liked were tracks 6 and 5 because they also had a rhythm that I could relate to.  Most of the rest of the album was too unpredictable for me.

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I am starting to think that anything I pick will be too mainstream for this group.

 

I also will comment at least on the first couple of albums today and tomorrow. I have owned Future Islands for awhile, but I wanted to give it another play-through to make sure my thoughts on it are consistent.

 

I think people picking "mainstream" albums would be good for me, as I often overlook recent pop and rock stuff out of hand. It would be good for me to sit down and reacquaint myself with it.

 

Yeah. The whole point is to put everyone up on what everyone's listening to, whether that be someone on the new Hunger Games soundtrack or someone who's just generally hungry. Do not fear.

 

 

The odd thing is that most of what I listen to is by no means like main-stream radio stuff. A lot (not all) of what I listen to is your typical indie-alternative, indie-folk, singer-songwriter, occasional progressive band that you would find on say Alt-Nation, The Spectrum, XMU, etc. on Sirius.

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I come to electronic composition through Flying Lotus. That was who broke me out of my "only guitars are good" young man phase and helped me understand that value in sound is not about motor speed or anything that is only available to people playing instruments. At the same time, I've never really messed with traditional forms of electronic music. The result of getting into this through FlyLo is that my ability to enjoy electronic is based on either a stylistic proximity to rap (Hudson Mohawke, Teebs, juke as a genre), or a proximity to nothing (Oneohtrix Point Never, Dean Blunt, Vektroid).

 

Squarepusher has a sound that's more easily associated with the profile of electronic music tradition. So I didn't really like it that much. I appreciate what it's doing, for sure. There's a complexity in the composition that makes it an individualistic piece, but my desire to figure out message or intention is pretty low. I can't call it bad or anything like that. I only observe it's outside of where I usually meet music like this. I really liked Baltang Ort and Baltang Arg, but a lot of it was going one ear and out the other. Maybe I'd understand it more if I was able to dance. Thanks a lot, torn knee ligament.

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This was my pick.  I wrote a lot about it.

 

I was into Squarepusher around the late 90s - early 2000s.  Always felt that there were one or two really good songs on every album, the more melodic ones, and then the rest was more... challenging and not very appealing.  After a point I stopped buying his stuff and would just listen to whatever showed up on youtube when I ran across it, assuming that I wasn't missing much otherwise.  To some extent this is still true here, as I think Stor Eiglass and Exjag Nives are both really great (2:26 on Exjag Nives where that percussive hum accents the melody is probably my favorite moment on this entire thing) and both are several big steps above the next best song on the album.  When I just want to listen to one song on here, it's definitely going to be one of those two.  But I can at least understand where he's coming from with everything else, whereas with earlier albums much of it just seemed like a waste of time.  Maybe I've matured a little, maybe I just knew what to expect, or maybe he's gotten better.

 

Squarepusher plays bass guitar and samples his own playing in much of his music, with a couple of obvious instances of that coming at 0:26 on Kontenjaz and 1:57 on Baltang Arg.  There are apparently strong jazz influences in his music, like chord progressions and other things that I'm not going to pretend I understand.  To be honest, that sort of thing may show up more on his earlier albums than on this particular one.  But part of the jazz influence is that certain songs, by design, feel less structured and more improvised.  Of course it's not really possible to fully "improvise" in this kind of music, where it's one guy doing everything and the music is generally put together in advance rather than being played in real-time, and I don't know for sure exactly how the songs are made.   On a song like Kwang Bass, though, I could believe that he gets the beat going, has all the effects set up, and just plays a take for the album where he figures it out as he's going along.  Anyway, the lack of structure can make you feel lost at times, but also allows for some really great creative moments, which is what makes IDM so appealing to me in general.

 

Everything here is a good deal more aggressive and abrasive than I was hearing from him before.  He started going in this direction on his last album, Ufabulum, and it's kind of a reaction to dubstep/brostep and the current EDM scene.  There are even moments on Kontenjaz that could be considered actual Skrillex-style drops, which is very unusual for Squarepusher.  If you don't listen to much electronic music, though, putting on this album might be like watching a 500 light tube death match from Big Japan without knowing about the years and years of "can you top this" that got them to that point.  Like I could understand if halfway through Rayc Fire 2 (which admittedly is not a good song - it would sound good after 3 cups of coffee, but you can probably say that about nearly anything) someone was just like "I'm done, forget it."

 

Also wanted to make the point that the album both starts and ends with what are essentially jungle or breakcore tropes, but both very crisply executed. I don't know that they have names per se - I'm talking about 0:51 on Stor Eiglass, the four beats followed by the stuttering drums, and around 3:52 on D Frozent Aac, that "da da daaaa" looping thing on the keyboard, which is made doubly cool since it's echoing an earlier part of the song.  I hear those and it makes me so happy.  As a bit of trivia, the tracklist is in reverse order on the vinyl version of this album, with D Frozent Aac first and Stor Eiglass last.  I haven't tried listening to it that way, the track progression might be better, but you'd definitely lose that bookending effect.

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That's a pretty interesting write up.

 

Have to admit, this is so far out of my comfort area I'm not really sure what to write or say about it. I have listened to it three times in the last week but I've still struggled to come up with much to say about it. I just don't listen to or know IDM. I felt like I should at least comment anyway, just because I am making the effort to listen to stuff people felt strongly enough about to select. There are a couple more melodic tracks I kind of liked, but a lot of the noisier parts really don't hold my attention very well. I may give it another listen, I didn't see as much of the jazz influence as you point out but I wasn't really looking for it, either. Maybe I'd enjoy it more with that in mind.

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Having some trouble tracking this down but still intend to do so.

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Having some trouble tracking this down but still intend to do so.

I typed in the name and full album on YouTube and it came up for me.

Full disclosure: I only listened to the first 30 minutes of this album because I had to turn it off to do other things. Like many others, I don't have a great frame of reference for discussion on it. I really liked the first track where the major theme/sample almost sounded like it was off of a Cure record. I thought that what I heard was at its best when they had a really cohesive theme like that which would then be riffed on throughout. In songs that lacked that central piece, I felt like they could end up meandering for a bit longer than I wanted them to.

I enjoyed what I heard. It was easier listening than I expected it to be (perhaps 'more dynamic' is a better way to describe it) but still complex enough that I felt it was rewarding. I'm not sure I'll seek out more Squarepusher, but I'm glad I have the point of reference now.

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I'm gonna go ahead and officially punt on this. I thought I'd have an easier time doing it.

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600full-jay-munly.jpg

 

So, Jay Munly (and his band, which seems to change names by the album) is a performer I don't really expect everyone to be into when they hear it, but he's a guy I've really come to like a lot and I thought I'd throw this out there just so say "hey, at least I tried."

 

Jay Munly is a weird dude. There's no way around this. The only description of him I've ever come up with that even halfway fits is "What if Nick Cave had been writing Murder Ballads, but was some kind of backwoods redneck poet" and that's as close as I can get to what Munly is. This is actually his least dark album of the three solo albums I've heard from him by some distance, but it's still pretty dark. He's not really a country musician in any sort of traditional sense, though he clearly *comes from* country music, and then tries to eat it from the inside out. There's a lot of country influence in his work but there's also a lot of influence from just about every corner of musical creation I can think of that really produces a final sound I just don't hear anywhere else. He was on Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles label for years but has recently gone out to start his own, so we will see how that goes.

 

This is also a concept album. There are times I have listened to this and think it's probably closer to some kind of audio play than it is any kind of normal album. It has about as much in common with it's source material as Blade Runner does with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which is to say virtually nothing save a few recognizable things here and there. It's twisted into some sort of weird, nightmarish, American gothic fantasy that doesn't really fit quite anywhere. Maybe it's that uniqueness that grabbed me so much when I first hear this (and this was the first of his albums I heard). Munly's other work I've heard isn't so fantasy oriented at all, but the idea of him producing this really beautiful, rich, but disturbing and dark kind of world where there's always *something* there just out of the corner of your eye... that's a constant part of what he pulls off. To me, maybe that's what his music is about at the end of the day. That *something* you thought you saw out of the cornet of your eye since you were a kid.

 

Anyway, musically, I really dig his sound. He plays banjo and guitar, he has a bizarre voice in some ways but he actually has this really impressive vocal range and I think he's quite a good singer in his own way, he writes some of the most bizarre backwoods-speak-yet-somehow-poetic lyrics, his backing band seems to be able to do about a thousand things, and I don't even know if my description does this any justice, or frankly if anyone but me will like this record. But I love it, and I find Jay Munly's music really powerful.

 

If you enjoyed this album I also highly recommend:

Jay Munly - Jimmy Carter Syndrome

Munly & the Lee Lewis Harlots - s/t

 

I haven't listened to anything he's done with Slim Cesna's Auto Club and I should get around to that.

 

So uh, anyway there you go. I really hope someone else enjoys this. And even if you don't I hope at the least you can still say "well, that was interesting".

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I just wish I could properly use the free version of Spotify on my phone. I hate that you can only shuffle playlists or albums on there instead of listening to them beginning to end in full.

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okay I just got three paragraphs into what I was going to say and then accidentially hit backspace and lost it, so, i'll summarize for my own emotional health

 

-I like Cat, and I REALLY liked Bird. It was worth listening to this just to hear Bird, which is a really odd song that I'd like to pick apart just to see how it works sometime.

 

-The reason it's not a country record is because it's a metal record. Harmonic minors, theatrical singing, structural shifts like page turns, beat drops during elaborate intros, on and on. The rhythm section has to change because the double-bass system would swallow all accents from the rest of the instruments, and that's interesting, but aside from Bird, Cat and Duk (i do not like duk), I was able to pretty easily recontextualize everything happening with prog metal setups.

 

-It's an interesting sound, and they own it, and it's not for me at all, but I respect it.

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After a first listen established that there wasn't going to be any hummable pop hooks here, I started to focus on the lyrics and the storytelling.  For me, those were the strong points of the album.

 

Peter and the Wolf is a good pick for an adaptation, in that it's a story I'm relatively familiar with, but hasn't been done to death.  The original composition had the idea of each character being represented by a particular instrument (I remembered flute = bird, oboe = duck, bassoon = grandfather) and I think in some cases this is upheld here, or at least they're using something meant to sound relatively similar.  Those instruments are never the focal point of the song, though, just kind of a background hat-tip to the source material.

 

The first time through I was thinking that the wolf barely got mentioned at all.  DFA mentioned there being an underlying menace to the music (or at least that's what I remembered from reading his post) and I was thinking it'd be neat if the starts of a couple of the songs were foreboding, but then the lyrics were basically everyone going about their normal business (like in Bird), and then the wolf song at the end could be some kind of super scary instrumental.  But obviously that's not how it turns out.  On subsequent listens I picked up on things like the grandfather wanting to wear the wolf's teeth and the duck having been eaten by the wolf in the last verse of Duk.

 

The lyrics seem to be making changes to the original story, but we're left to fill in the blanks in a lot of places.  Peter locking up his grandfather in response to his grandfather locking him up is something that I don't think was ever written before.  Does Peter then go out hunting the wolf on his own?  Not sure.  Also not sure what the deal is with the Scarewolf/Scarebeast.

 

The Wulf song is pretty much the payoff and the focal point of the album, and I think it mostly works, but not entirely.  I like the idea of the wolf being a quasi-Satanic figure who wants to corrupt Peter instead of just eating him.  Jay can put together a really good evil voice too.  But all the long words, probably meant to show that the wolf was smarter than everyone else too, seemed a little clunky.  Those lyrics look much better in print than they sound when they're spoken.

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I swear, I did not suggest this or brainwash anyone into saying it.

btw, Liam also ducked out, so this is Control's pick.

 

Week 5 (5/18-5/24)

 

23647-viet-cong.jpg

 

"Viet Cong" by Viet Cong
I have so much to say about this album but I need to wait until other people hear it.

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I have been aware of Viet Cong (mostly because of their name) but have never actually listened to anything of theirs before. After the 1st listening of the album, I really like it. There were a couple of songs that reminded me of Joy Division. I want to listen to it a couple of more times before I say what I liked about it.

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I need to catch up a bit before I comment on my own selection. That said, this is my favourite album so far this year.

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I see that they are playing here, in Cincinnati, in July. I may go see them.

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I promise I will take time this week to listen to the two previous picks. I was out of town for work all last week and I got backed up. 

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There is a lot to like about this album.  One of the first things that stuck out to me about it is how the music builds; not only within the songs, but through the album.  It starts off pretty atmospheric and minimalist (whether it is driven by the drums or the keyboard) in parts, and builds upon the sounds to become more complex.  I like early tracks on the album, but for me, it really picks up starting with "Bunker Buster"; and the stand-out song "Continental Shelf" follows that.  One of the things I like about it is that it has these tonal shifts:  from a dark, industrial-sounding guitar to a more plucky sound.  Alot of the music has what I think of as an 80s sound, where it is a repetive song structure that builds to a crescendo through the song and creates an exciting wall of sound.  "Death" is one of the best examples of this.

 

This has been my favorite album pick so far.  It's something that I hadn't heard once, but really appeals to my taste.

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So I'm gonna write a two for one post as I found myself an album behind. I'll talk about the Munly album first.

 

So for whatever reason, this was the first album that I could not find as a single entity, so I just listened to songs and I may have done so out of order, which I think probably really hurt my overall experience with it. I don't think that experience was bad per say, I just think it's sort of unfair for me to grade something if I'm not seeing the entire picture, or at least not how it was meant to be seen. First I think Munly has a really interesting and solid instrument for his voice. I think he is able to make it sound in turn vulnerable and powerful without it coming across as a performance. That's rare and important for the type of work he is doing with this album at least. Grandfater was probably the track that stood out to me, although I don't think I could give much analysis beyond that. Truthfully, I think the most interesting aspect of this album was that for me I didn't find that I wanted to do much analysis. I sense that Munly perhaps wants to project to be digested, and I really didn't find myself yearning to peel back the layers or think about the choices therein. Again, this may have been due to me piecing it togetehr from youtube and soundcloud and whatever else. I also thought lyrically that it was a tad overwritten in parts, although I thought overall the tone was quite fun loving. I didn't think it was pretentious, which would have turned me off more. I'm glad I heard it at any rate. I'm sure I would check out other albums by him, or read a piece in the New Yorker, or even see in live. All of those things seem appealing because you can tell he is someone who has thoughts and cares about his craft.

 

Ok, on to Viet Cong. I get the Joy Division comparisons, which I think are spot on, but has anyone listened to Death in June? I think bands are always cagey about giving credit to Douglas P. because he is either crazy or a nazi, but the more stripped down songs that start this album were really evocative of Death in June for me. I think this is another band that really wears their influences on their sleeves, which is fun. The second track had a very My Bloody Valentine feel to it, which I loved. I thought that as the album went on, you could start to hear the more punk and post punk sounds shine through. I thought of Fugazi more than once, which is a pretty high compliment from me. At one point in my notes I wrote, "World's greatest Interpol album?" That may actually be selling Viet Cong short, but I think it was meant as praise. A very fun album. I think it works really well as a full piece which is nice. It was really an album without singles, which I'm not sure how I feel about. I'm very glad to have listened to it. It's a style of music that really resonates with me.  

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This Viet Cong album is really good and I liked it a lot.

 

Related to said album I'll just throw in here because this mini rant is inevitable and I think it applies well to the album, one of the things about the CD age that really sucked a tremendous amount is that because CD's hold 74 minutes worth of music we got a ton of 60-74 minute albums out of bands that had no fucking business trying to do an album of that scale, and one of my most consistent criticisms (even of bands and artists I really, genuinely like a great deal) is "there's no goddamn reason for this album to be over 45 minutes long except that the studio wanted it to be". This is a very regular criticism of mine towards a huge number of albums across basically the entire spectrum of genres. One of the things that is happening a lot more often now that we are in a digital age where that preconception of "we need to fill X amount of time" is dying out is that a lot of album lengths are coming back down to (as a generalization) a much better point.

 

This is a 37 minute album that really makes a good entry in the case that sometimes less is more. These are the tracks that worked together, as is. They do not need to be filled out or lengthened for an artificial reason, and doing so would have had a pretty fair chance of actually lessening the whole.

 

So, anyway now that I got that out of my system back to this album. I do hear the Joy Division thing, a bit (and I adore Joy Division, as dark as they are). I don't think they really have as many catchy grooves as Joy Division did but that's not really much of a knock, because that's an all time great band we're comparing to there. At first I was going to say "their singer sounds exactly like the guy from Women", a band I know BL88 is very high on. Then I looked it up and oh yeah, it's the same guy and I am out of the loop and just don't know what's going on. Anyway, Women are good at least based off Public Strain, I haven't heard anything else from them, but if you dug this Viet Cong album listen to that too if you get the chance. Viet Cong is a faster paced album on the whole but there are definite sonic similarities that have carried over.

 

As was pointed out before, this album does a really great job of starting out kind of quiet and toned down and working up to a really furious crescendo for a conclusion. it's an album that's really paced out well.

 

I'll definitely be giving this one quite a few spins, now that I've got around to hearing it.

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At first I was going to say "their singer sounds exactly like the guy from Women", a band I know BL88 is very high on. Then I looked it up and oh yeah, it's the same guy and I am out of the loop and just don't know what's going on.

 

ugh i fucking hate being this guy so much

It's not the same guy but like completely understandable how you'd think that. Women's lead singer was guitarist Patrick Flegel. Viet Cong's singer is his brother, bassist Matthew Flegel. So like when that first Viet Cong EP came out and he just started singing like David Bowie I was like "oh good! great! more superpowers from women! motherfuckers!"

 

I'm still figuring out what I want to say about it, and for an extra challenge I'm trying to do it without invoking Women or Calgary.

 

 

also if continental shift isn't a single there are no more singles in the world

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Listen man I'm just a guy trying not to become one of those people that actually tells other humans that there was no good music made after he turned 30. At least I was kind of close.

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Okay, so here's what I want to say about Viet Cong.

 

Indie rock sucks, pretty much. I mean there are some interesting structural variations here and there, but largely there's no nerve or fear in indie rock. It's too comfortable, and too much value is placed on the personal over the general. Viet Cong in a sense are making up for lost time, because there is all of that nerve and fear and animal instinct shit that rock is supposed to have while steering clear of the mainstream rock sound. It's meaningful differentiation. Even the language of the lyrics is embellished completely differently from modern rock writing, where polysyllabic words are used to create a kind of disorienting sense of dense information with few words. The lyric sheets read as though the words were pulled with tweezers and placed precisely. It's the kind of thing to make me paranoid about my own writing. For example, the chorus of Pointless Experience.

 

“Failed to keep the necessary papers for evacuation
Hideously synchronized with cold and cruel arithmetic
We’re desperately debilitated
If we’re lucky we’ll get old and die”

 

They have a good sense of economy all around, with how much they pack into every song. With two exceptions, every song is a multi-sectional affair, developing elaborate themes. Even on songs with clear verse/chorus structure, the second verse differs meaningfully from the first in structure (second verse of Continental Shift). For 37 minutes, there's a lot there.

 

And then 11 minutes of those 37 minutes is Death, which is probably the best rock song of the last decade? It's melodic and noisy and danceable and thunderous and cathartic and a level of alive that indie rock just can't achieve with any regularity. It's also the perfect escalation to everything the rest of the album has had going on. It is also the perfect example for my argument that ending albums on ballads is a terrible idea, because of how fucking dizzying Death is by the end.

 

The last thing I want to say is about all the comparison stuff. I don't hear Joy Division at all, or at least in the same measure that I hear Television. Sure there's a wacky quality to Television that's missing here, but they're both albums build on massive guitar interplay and rolling, tight rhythm. In a lot of ways, Viet Cong's Death is the evil twin of Television's Marquee Moon track. There's also the issue of air in their songs. Joy Division gives plenty of opportunities for the listener to catch their breath, and with both Television and Viet Cong they are apt to launch into their songs as hard as they can, except for their massive epics.

 

And now, the punchline: Viet Cong has this band opening for them on tour called Freak Heat Waves, and I think I like their album better. I certainly listen to it more. But yeah, Viet Cong is Real, Real, REAL good and I hope they make lots of crazy music.

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