Kevin's Music Reviews

Kevin’s Music Reviews: 新しいデラックスライフ (New Life DeLuxe)

Here is a truly bizarre album, especially taken out of the context of its genre. I had trouble finding this album for obvious reasons – for one thing I can’t type in Japanese, and my only exposure to this album at the time was though a “vaporwave essentials” image, which of course I can’t copy and paste into google. All I had to go by was the album artwork, brandishing some anime guy in a helmet that I should recognize but don’t. Vaporwave is already a genre fascinated with the anonymous, and this added stifling only made this album all the more elusive. Only by a sheer stroke of luck did I find it.

Now vaporwave artists are no strangers to making unusually compact “albums”, but this is a truly bite-sized and fleeting listen. The average song length is between 30 seconds and 2 minutes, with just a couple tracks exceeding the 3-minute mark. Two of these tracks are virtually the same song as well. It’s pretty much over and done with before you even score a chance to truly grasp what is even going on here.

Once you’ve heard it about ten times, this dazzlingly weird album starts to make a little more sense. But even then, it still barely makes any sense. This album follows in the footsteps of Replica-era Daniel Lopatin, being built entirely from dated, obscure samples, though it is notably more low-fi. Unlike Replica, however, this album’s plunderphonics never really amount to actual “songs”, and rather just feel like broken, repeated samples without purpose or structure. This leads to a drastically more hazy and incoherent listen, though this “broken” aesthetic is arguably what makes vaporwave appealing in the first place.

If anything, one could enjoy this as an extremely brief trip through the obsolete television paraphernalia this album is built from. However, not only does it sit in the shadow of an album such as Replica, it’s attempts at creating a claustrophobic and twisted atmosphere rarely stick around long enough to truly create any tension. The unsettling appeal that some of the best vaporwave has is certainly here, being such a grotesquely-shaped album, one whose only moments of sounding anything like a “song” are when a fraction of some obscure Japanese jingle makes an appearance. However, it feels much too undercooked, and like I said has a tendency to slip right through your fingers, though both the concept and the heart are certainly there.

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Kevin's Music Reviews

Kevin’s Music Review: PS1 Soundtrack – Revelations: Persona

In an era where JRPGs were still a genre of D&D motifs and high-fantasy as far as western gamers were concerned, the elusive Shin Megami Tensei franchise was decidedly a departure from what was considered normal. Even more so, when Final Fantasy VII had yet to popularize the genre, one of the few games in the series at the time to leave its native walls was undeniable set up from the get-go to be an overlooked oddity of near-Earthbound proportions. That game is Relevations: Persona, which most of you may recognize as the original episode of the Persona subseries (you know, those colorful teenagers summoning spirits from their inner psyches to fight demons, with that cute bear and the evil TV or whatever). Although nothing new in Japan, the original Persona game was absolutely in a league of its own for unfamiliar North Americans, breaking the usual fantasy tropes in favor of a modern, surreal setting and story. No one really cared to realize at the time, but the series rise in global popularity at the end of the noughties put the spotlight on this forgotten gem brighter than ever, and looking back there’s still really nothing like it.

But even more overlooked than the game itself, as you probably have guessed, is its very own soundtrack. However, don’t expect it to be a triumph in the same way that Final Fantasy VI was a few years prior – emotionally vast, grandiose and legendary this soundtrack is not. In fact, what makes the original Persona title such a feast for the ears is its sheer deviance from such a formula. This is a soundtrack more concerned with making a moody, eccentric atmosphere, to appropriately suit the accompanying adventure’s twisted, surreal world. One part insidiously dark and one part awkwardly stylish, Persona’s music is an exercise in bizarreness – much like the game and series it is employed under – and truly a one-of-a-kind piece of music that the era so rarely brings to the table.

Abandoning almost all traces of JRPG tradition at the time, Persona opts for a modernized sound. Everything from the guitar-driven boss music, to the largely electronic dungeon themes, to the mystifying ambient tracks all gamble with the genre’s blueprint and cash in on it immensely. The overall mood may not be as expansive as a game such as Final Fantasy, but the depth is certainly there, and the actual genres of music utilized here are of a respectable level of variety – more on that in a bit. Best of all – though this trait might be an acquired taste for some – is how the game’s repetitive nature has a tendency to draw the player into a hypnotic state, even in the heat of a strategic battle, and if only the actual amount of listening time wasn’t so dominated by the main battle theme, the soundtrack could easily have the same effect on the player.

With the Playstation being the premier audio experience in the fifth console generation, Persona as a somewhat early title for the platform proves to be of good quality sound-wise, even better than the juggernaut soundtrack of Final Fantasy VII a year later (though not from a compositional standpoint), and it explores this rich sound quality quite thoroughly. Perhaps the most impressive tracks in this regard are the game’s various dungeon themes – typically electronic in nature, you can find at play several styles you wouldn’t expect to hear axing demons on your way to a level-up, most notably IDM and electronic hip-hop.Climbing the corporate Sebec building on your way to thwart the game’s antagonist is made a high-energy affair with a layered song that builds up in tension and lets loose in a dare-I-say Machinedrum fashion, loaded with repeated piano loops and misty undercurrents – but unfortunately, this climax is not very often reached by the player, due to the song starting over from the beginning ever time the player enters battle. This problem plagues all the excellent dungeon themes in the game, relegating the player to little further than the first few seconds of the track, unless they stay out of battles for a few minutes.

Fortunately, not all of the game’s best songs are affected by this. In fact, though the dungeon themes are the most “full” and dynamic songs in the game, there are an assortment of non-dungeon songs that prove to be quite formidable themselves. These tracks appear during the game’s story sequences and appear in some of the game’s less-interrupted areas, such as shops and in town. The shop tracks in particular are especially strange: a weirdly upbeat steel drum track accompanies the gun shop, while the clothing store – ran by a fashionable man in a gas mask – dons an amusingly generic background shopping muzak tune that present-day vaprowave aficionados would go gaga over. Best of all is the pharmacy, which has a quirky Japanese man singing what’s allegedly the names of the items you can buy in the store over a pathetic-sounding recorder to create a bizarre, yet somewhat catchy shopping jingle. Though these tracks are appealing – both because they’re so weird and because they’re quite good in their weirdness – the Velvet Room theme is the tour-de-force of them all. Replete with opera vocals and melodramatic piano, as fans of Persona 3 and 4 can already tell you, it’s a standout in the series, befitting the Velvet Room’s mysterious, dream-like nature.

Individually these tracks are competent, but it’s the overall package that makes Persona’s soundtrack one deserving of the hidden gem status attributed to it – because between the lines of all these goofy jingles and psychedelic mystique is a feeling that goes so much deeper than the gimmicks and the “cutting edge” ideas present here. Above all, Persona, both as a game and as a piece of music, is awkward and almost confusing to analyze, because it’s so blemished by its growing pains and lack of having a true niche beyond the decade from which it was released. It’s crooked, but it’s different. It doesn’t just try to be different either – there’s a lot of obvious, but unsuccessful pandering to western culture in the North American translation of Persona, and even when it seems to be generic, its inability to achieve true normalcy keeps even the mundane shit really really off, in the best way possible.

 

“Trish’s Fountain”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2M_XXF3Kmr4&index=25&list=PL936E86AC64D920F3

“Electric Brain Travel”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBVD9CwKyNc&list=PL936E86AC64D920F3&index=96

“Conversation 1”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nyARgQ9BAco&list=PL936E86AC64D920F3&index=60

“City 1”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GO8qjqoVWc&index=52&list=PL936E86AC64D920F3

 

 

Full Playlist
http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL936E86AC64D920F3

Kevin's Music Reviews

Kevin’s Music Reviews: Uio Loi – Uio Loi

Sitting shyly in the painfully overlooked crevices of ambient electronic hip-hop sits a sharp producer by the name of Kyle Yerhot. He is an enigma with a mind thick and loaded with the arcane craft of dope vibes and an expert in the craft of illusory sound techniques that make foggy contours feel like the most vivid and illustrious thing in the world, when under his spell. On the surface you might mistake him for just another contender in the mellowed-out underground, but you can easily overlook the fact that his music has a soul as fully-realized as any of the bigger names in the scene.

Yerhot’s work spans several aliases, including Smoke Room and Young Henry. The former sums up its business perfectly with its name: smoke rooms, rooms full of smoke, sitting in your room smoking – the vibes are relaxed and translucent, dense and rich hip-hop ambient bliss meant to be played in the frays of light hours, an ode to chilling out as the day ends and either partying your ass off or going deep. Young Henry is a more extroverted affair, favoring melody over atmosphere yet still succeeding a little bit with both. Yerhot’s love of Korean samples is more of a driving force than with other monikers, creating a more upbeat but still appropriately ghostly feel, and doing so with a bit more energy, sunshine and a taste for low-fi pop sensibilities.

Enter Uio Loi, the name he seems to be the most occupied with these days, currently stationed on the Zoom Lens label. On his self-titled release, we see Yerhot unleash his more minimal, abstract side. A few core elements remain intact from his other works, such as chopped vocal samples, hazy undertones, and Shlohmo-esque beats and glitch, but the overall feel of Uio Loi is a distinguished one. For one thing, there are a few tracks that dabble in radio static noise antics and lo-fi sampling. On “Love Without Words” this is handled more purely lo-fi, with a good 40 seconds of hushed ambience cueing in a jazzy drum solo over a tornado siren, and elsewhere “Seophear” follows up this idea with a pinch of Actress flair to it with deep, muted beats and a little screech-and-scratch.

A majority of what’s on display on Uio Loi resembles a more laid-back electronic redefinition of his work as Smoke Room. There’s a greater affinity for glitch and less of one for dance, and where Smoke Room still felt a little bit sober amidst the out-of-phase shenanigans, Uio Loi takes the full plunge into surreal, cracked, and waterlogged beats for the adventurous mind to explore. Though hardly a formless album, still having clearly defined patterns, there’s still a characteristic imperfection to the piece that puts it in the ranks of abstract hip-hop dimensions such as Shigeto or Actress. The resulting mix may or may not be a step up from his excellent work under Smoke Room, but without a doubt it’s a new sound and feel that fans of virtually anything I mentioned in the review would be intelligent to engage themselves with.

 

Name your price at Bandcamp

 

Kevin's Music Reviews

Kevin’s Music Reviews: Jet Set Radio (Dreamcast Soundtrack)

Going down the list of its unfortunately small library of games, Sega’s Dreamcast has no shortage of standout soundtracks to brag about. The obvious rhythm games Space Channel 5 and Samba De Amigo are the first that come to mind, but lest we forget Shenmue’s tense traditional Japanese ambiance, Skies of Arcadia boasting some of the most epic and uplifting battle songs in JRPG history, Phantasy Star Online’s stylized and smooth electronic scores, and the unironically badass cheesiness of titles such as Daytona USA 2001 and the Sonic Adventure series. Though rarely considered a juggernaut, the Dreamcast remains up there with the most tragically interesting consoles ever released, but no games created for it testify to its unique character quite as profoundly as Jet Grind Radio does.

Somewhere in Asia, there is a city that cannot be found on any map called “Tokyo-to”, and the tunes are out like freaks on a full moon. Even with Jet Grind Radio (more widely known as Jet Set Radio) being arguably the most stylish and artistically appealing game the Dreamcast has ever seen its visual presentation is only half the experience. Varied, frenetic and brimming with life, the console’s most famous extreme sports title (not including Tony Hawk ports) also boasts what’s perhaps its most famous soundtrack, and you can see why almost instantly – just after pressing start to begin the game, the main theme collapses into radio static and begins to tune into smooth bass and mellow drum beats, topped off with schoolgirl hums and “Come on/Get down” samples – quite a departure from the archetypal loading screen jingle. When the action begins, you find yourself greeted by the slow J-rock stylings of Guitar Vader as you learn the rules of the game, and when that’s over the game’s eponymous radio station’s host Professor K speaks his good word over the sunset soul of “Funky Radio” (the best track in my opinion).

Jet Grind Radio’s mainstay practice of getting down on the streets and spraypainting the city with your signature logo while eluding the cops on your rollerblades is a chaotic affair, and it takes a competent soundtrack to simultaneously fill the player with energy and deck the game’s vivacious style with an appropriate feel. The genres Jet Grind Radio plays with are vast, and the songs are generally some combination of hip-hop, J-pop, funk, dance, punk, shibuya-kei, and hard rock, acutely used without feeling varied for the sake of being varied. The game has a vision that it remains consistently focused on, even at its most bizarre (relatively speaking) and remains locked on to the punk soul that courses through Jet Grind Radio’s veins – though the hard rock pieces tossed into the North American release feel mostly odd and out-of-place.

Primary composer Hideki Naganuma bears most of the game’s “core” tracks – the original scores for the soundtrack – and he is followed by equally funky Deavid Soul as most prolific on the soundtrack. The two of them bring an eclectic mix of dance funk and sample-fueled shenanigans, and on the large Jet Grind Radio’s audio is a beat-driven affair. Naganuma infuses electronics into his tunes quite well, as seen on slower hip-hop number “That’s Enough” and the somewhat indescribable “Rock it On”, though Soul’s contributions are more largely electronic in essence. Aside from them, you’ll find obscure and known artists alike making appearance on the soundtrack. Long-time Sega affiliate Richard Jacques manifests in the form of “Everybody Jump Around”, quite effectively getting the listener to do what the title suggests. Other well-known artists aren’t very common (especially if you aren’t playing the US version, where most of the guests appear), but they include Jurassic 5 and Rob Zombie, for those who care. The rest of the “guests” are a cast of obscurities whose bodies of work seems to only consist of their respective songs for the game, however their contributions are certainly noteworthy and you do wonder who these rather skilled artists actually are. Whatever the case, almost every track on this soundtrack fleshes out this excellent gaming experience and works quite well as a standalone from the associated game as well – though by no means do I discourage you from playing the game if you haven’t already. Because, well, it still rules.

 

“Funky Radio”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30ffQ3iytZ8

“Sweet Soul Brother”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOYA_EDukck

“Mischievous Boy”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9tid7n-uQA

“Yappie Feet”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XznePMj7IgM

Kevin's Music Reviews

Kevin’s Music Reviews: Eternal Sonata (XBOX360/PS3 Soundtrack)

Even in the exhausted JRPG genre, there wasn’t a game quite like Eternal Sonata. Originally released in 2007 by Tri-Crescendo for the Xbox 360, Eternal Sonata more closely resembles a work of poetry in motion (albeit a cheesy one) than an epic endeavor to save the world. Delving into the subconscious and musings of a terminally ill Frédéric Chopin, the game explores themes of political corruption, death, the fabric of reality, and Chopin’s own imminent demise, appropriately taking place in an imagined, lush dream where music seemingly makes up the world itself. What makes Eternal Sonata a standout experience in its genre is how it takes lessons from Final Fantasy X, moving the player forward -helplessly but never hopelessly – gradually toward the unknown, leaving home further behind with every step, succeeding on a similarly emotional level with a subtle feeling of homesickness and restlessness that keeps an otherwise very linear game in perpetual motion.

As the game’s eminent star is the famed pianist Chopin, the overall motif is decidedly associated with him and his music. Interluding the game’s chapters are passages of some of his famous works – including Nocturne No. 2, “Raindrops”, and “Grande Valse Brilliante” – accompanied by slideshows educating the player of major events and people throughout his life and photographs of key places such as Warsaw, where Chopin grew up. These passages, performed by Stanislav Bunin, are not all that makes Eternal Sonata an aural standout, however. The rest of the game’s soundtrack, composed by Motoi Sakuraba (a quite prolific video game composer, who you might know for the soundtracks to Dark Souls and Super Smash Bros. Brawl) is handled with all the thematic accuracy and emotion necessary to fit alongside Chopin’s work – at least in essence: he doesn’t quite achieve the compositional skill and grace of someone like Nobuo Uematsu, though occasionally he gets pretty close. The game’s various dungeon songs, as well as the main combat theme and some boss tracks, are all fully orchestrated, replete with soaring strings and triumphant pianos, to bring the combat and exploration to climactic heights. On the opposite end of the spectrum are softer piano pieces that embellish some of the cutscenes and dungeons, and though they don’t outshine the pedigree of Chopin’s included works, they are nonetheless composed very well and wax romanticism in a way that fits alongside his music seamlessly. The strings found here, while done well, don’t particularly offer anything new from other JRPGs that employ a similar aesthetic for their assorted battles and dungeons –however, the classical approach that adorns this game as a whole is something quite respectable for a game that, much like the obvious allusions littered throughout it suggest, flows like and resembles a piece of music.

“Raindops”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODWVfYMzI0A&list=PL67DC0646A4C1ADD4&index=33

“Grande Valse Brilliante”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GMn38bQ9zy4&list=PL67DC0646A4C1ADD4&index=56

“Nocturne”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WnQ8WELcFI&index=55&list=PL67DC0646A4C1ADD4

-

“Journey of the Mind”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=372iMybMQPs&index=3&list=PL67DC0646A4C1ADD4

“Believe”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCBbroO83Tk&list=PL67DC0646A4C1ADD4&index=11

“Reflect the Sky, Blossom of Life”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jgGh5-urROY&index=15&list=PL67DC0646A4C1ADD4

“Someone Special”
www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFP697C6pLI&list=PL67DC0646A4C1ADD4&index=24

Kevin's Music Reviews

Kevin’s Music Review: Boards of Canada – Music Has the Right to Children

Music Has the Right to Children…the faceless, brooding IDM titan indeed proves this notion truer than most, begetting countless electronic artists over the years, inspiring legions of nostalgic, watercolor-tinged dark horses, who all walk under the same turquoise hexagon sun. Scottish brothers Marcus Eoin and Michael Sandison have always been an elusive pair, both in their methods and in their sonic landscapes, which need to be seen (heard) to be believed: lush enough to create their own world, mysterious enough to inspire you to explore it, and dense enough to leave you lost and wandering, though you won’t want to leave once you get that far. Truly, if anyone deserves the right to children, it is indeed the music of Boards of Canada.

On the surface, things are admittedly barren. Boards’ core is a mix between mechanical Autechre-esque IDM, replete with complex beats and an almost inhuman factor present, and blissful, nostalgic ambient wonderment – the resulting sound is truly dreamy. More so, it carries a child-like innocence, a curiosity for one’s surroundings planted in the album’s ambient nature and whimsical sound – walking home from school on a sunny afternoon, Converse strapped to your feet; going out in the forest with your friends on a cloudy morning in the 70s to make a movie with your dad’s Super 8. Though beats are a prominent feature, it’s the subtleties laced throughout this album that make it misleadingly rich, and though it’s not as dense as their 2002 follow-up Geogaddi, it’s this subtler approach that grants Music the edge as the duo’s most ambiguous effort – some listeners might walk away having heard something very warm and peaceful, while others will walk away deeply disturbed (look no further than “The Color of the Fire”). Another fascination of the duo and part of the overall sound of Boards’ is subliminal messaging, and music’s potency to influence people, which lends to the elusive, almost secretive nature of the album as well. It’s misty and vague, and though it might not immediately gratify, most of Music’s treasures are buried beneath the surface and you will discover them on repeated listens.

boc_musicrighttochildren1

Music is often considered their magnum opus, commanding great respect from advocates of 90s IDM up with the likes of Aphex Twin and Autechre, and having an influence on future electronic artists such as Lone and Tycho. However, it is frequently debated between this album and Geogaddi as to which is superior, almost to the point of being some kind of internal rivalry. Though at one point I would have dismissed this as impossible to decide, with both albums proving to be extremely well-crafted in their own separate ways, lately it’s not even a choice, and I don’t even dispute Geo being the better album anymore. Music still remains a cornerstone in my musical endeavors and a standard to which future albums are held, and so it pains me to feel so lukewarm about something I was once so passionate about. Why then, is this?

Music and Geo have their similarities, but they each travel down different roads. Geo is Boards’ darkest full-length album, complete with subliminal messages, backmasking, subconscious-rattling percussion, and hellish synths straight from the musings of a dying world. Infamously clocking in a 66 minutes and 6 seconds, the album fills this time to the brim with layered songs, every one of which bringing a new idea to the template, from the album’s petite 30-second vignettes to its full-blown “core” songs. Geo is effective because it’s constantly morphing, yet also droning at the right times to pull the listener through some truly intense sounds. So, if Geo is the more aggressive mindfucker, laden with its own trypophobic niches for the listener to fill in, then Music is the coloring book, clearly representing its boundaries and contours, yet requiring the listener’s own experiences and perspective to bring it to life. Nostalgia is a driving factor, and while both albums possess this trait, Music associates it more with discovery, innocence, and joy, whereas it’s younger sibling evokes feelings of remorse, danger, and melancholy. Music’s tracks are also noticeably more beat-driven where Geo frequently drifts into formless ambient, and also wields more varied percussion. On the whole, Geogaddi can be seen as the more dynamic, twisted album, and Music the more hypnotic, subtle one. Of course, the best part of Boards’ sound is the ambiguity, so some people might feel it’s the other way around.

So why has Music lost the edge for this reviewer? I was certainly confused after revisiting it after a pretty long break, this being such an important album to me at one point and still holding up remarkably well with it being my second most-played album ever. Music is much more situational, requiring a deal of focus – like other Boards of Canada albums, should be listened to from front to back to truly sink into the atmosphere – but also needing a much more specific mindset, with its treasures literally brushing by like a tiny breeze. If that’s the case, then Geogaddi is more like a chilling wind that can seize your attention, as opposed to a lukewarm one. This isn’t to say Music is too subtle for its own good, bordering on unnoticeable, because it’s quite dark and foreboding in its own ways, but in this reviewer’s humble opinion, Geogaddi is the better album – more detailed, equivocally gripping and subtle, and impactful, as an album from front to back or in bite-sized listens. Music almost feels distant, not seeming to care whether or not it’s liked, and as warm as it feels exploring Boards’ landmark record, I also feel unwelcome, like a trespasser in a seemingly empty place, and it’s a little scary. But I’ll be damned if even after all these years I’ve found anything quite like it.

 

 

 

 

Kevin's Music Reviews

Kevin’s Music Reviews: First Impressions and Such – Library Pickups

Yes, we all know that bandcamp kicks ass. But can you get Kate Bush’s discography from bandcamp? No, you cannot. But you can get it at the library, among any number of bandcamp expatriates, 20th century juggernauts of yore, or otherwise anything you can get your grubby little hands on. And best of all, it’s free to borrow CDs – of which you can typically find a solid variety.

After over a year of neglect, last week I made my first voyage in a while to my library’s CD section and got busy digging. It had been so long, I had to find the shelves containing the music all over again because they were relocated. However, it had also been so long that there were plenty of new CDs on display, and though there’s certainly better ways out there to get music, I’m reminded why it’s still worth it to give the library a look.

Basically what I’m doing this week is sharing my first impressions from what I checked out. My finds were pretty hit-or-miss, as is usually the case, but there’s a certain fun in not knowing what you’ll find or take home, grabbing music you’ve never heard or heard of with no expectations, and occasionally bumping into that album you were planning on getting elsewhere but decided to check out since it was there anyway. Here are the (partial) results:

 

Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5 – Norrington

I came in with a thirst for classical music, but unfortunately Symphonies 4 & 5 aren’t attending the quench – a few seemingly harmless scratches turned out to render the CD a skipping, stuttering fiasco that can’t be listened to.

Bela Bartok – Concerto for Orchestra/Dance Suit

I wound up preferring Leonard Bernstein’s take on Concerto for Orchestra/Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta – the latter’s 3rd part, “Adagio”, moves along too quickly to achieve the hypnotic feel of Bernstein’s version, (featured in The Shining), for one thing –but what I haven’t heard, “Dance Suit” and “Divertimento”, are certainly nice to be able to hear, even if I’m sure Bernstein could do them more justice.

Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel is Wiser…

In spite of being a bit burnt out on this particular brand of singer-songwriter (and most likely not realizing at the time), I grabbed a few albums of it anyway. Of the three, this one was the most relevant to my current music diet. The songwriting is excellent, rarely travelling to where I could predict it would, and Apple’s minimal take on the piano is odd and weirdly unsettling in all the right ways.

Henryk Gorecki – Misere

This a capella choir is gorgeous and grand. Huge walls of vocals put you right in the cathedral and surround you with a deeply soothing spiritual embrace of “Lord Our God – Lord Have Mercy on Us”.

Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music

My experience in southern rap is borderline virginal, but being a fan of El-P and knowing he produced this particularly talked-about record, I figured it would serve as good an entryway as any. Though I prefer more mellow, jazzed-out rap, this album is refreshingly high-energy and all at once new. Will take some time to grow on me, however.

Natalie Merchant – Leave Your Sleep

The first of two albums by Natalie Merchant I snagged. Tigerlily was already not my cup of tea, but this double album, nestled in a hardcover book that makes up the album case, turned out to be the most boring of the pair. Sometimes you gamble and lose.

Natalie Merchant – Tigerlily

Opener “San Andreas Fault” was a great song, but Tigerlily wound up being a one-trick pony for me – basically, “San Andreas Fault” was enough: I wasn’t interested or invested in her sound enough to care to finish the album. As far as contemporary folk goes though, you can certainly do worse.

Sophie Milman – Take Love Easy

On the other hand, I’m a sucker for this stuff – sultry vocal jazz. Maybe I’m just a sucker for music that sounds great at night, or that cocktail cabaret shit. I’ve certainly waded through my share of ungratifying dregs in pursuit of this, but I’m happy to say that Take Love Easy is not one of them.

The Weeknd – Kiss Land

I knew before I checked this out that it was probably going to disappoint me, what with House of Balloons being one of my favorite R&B albums and reviews generally being less favorable anyway, so I can’t say I’m particularly devastated that Kiss Land is simply a good album, and nothing more. A greater focus on vocals doesn’t do much for me, and the surreal feel of his 2011 mixtapes is noticeably absent.

Kevin's Music Reviews

Kevin’s Music Review: Music Journal

For everyone, music is something unique. Sometimes it’s about the lyrics, the human factor, the stories conveyed directly and from the heart; other times, it’s about the sound, the language of music, the simple but deep enjoyment of something pleasant-sounding. Some people enjoy down-to-earth, relatable songs; while conversely, others prefer something rather not of this earth, something surreal to transport them to places they’ve never been before. One’s listening habits can be casual, or pursued quite passionately, and the type of music you pursue can say something about who you are. Music listeners come in every shade of grey in the spectrum – there’s as many preferences as there are listeners.

But one significant common denominator amongst most of these people, and possibly the most beautiful part of the hobby, is that they, in one way or another, can feel what the artist feels through their music – lyrical or instrumental, subtle or overt. Listeners do draw their own interpretations – something else that’s different for everybody – but there’s something in the way that a person can compose a piece of art and have someone else derive pleasure from it that feels like an indirect connection of sorts between the two people. Artists might not have the intentions that listeners think they do, but they don’t have to.

What I want to share in particular right now is for listeners who listen to music a little less-than-casually: for people who find themselves frequently daydreaming to the music replaying in their mind, the listeners that like to really “get lost” in the music they’re indulging in. Let me tell you about a personal experience. I was at a huge flea market out of town with some friends. We were going our merry ways browsing the many rows of stores that went on for what seemed like forever, and at one point, I found myself alone. I had Chuck Person’s Eccojams playing on my ipod at the time, and as I was half-mindedly scanning the people and shops around me, I soon forgot I even came with anyone in the first place. Eccojams was an album that celebrated the broken, reassembled fragments of forgotten songs of decades gone, with grotesque collages of Michael Jackson, Africa, Gerry Rafferty and Jojo droning in my ears as mere caricatures of their original forms. This motif mimicked my surroundings as well: boxes of disenchanted paraphernalia of old, kitschy, yellowing knick-knacks, disheveled piles of Atari 2600 cartridges, army men, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, decorative weapons galore, and the occasional worthless antique, appealing purely because of its obvious age – there were decades of beaten, haphazard items passing by me every step I took, just like the sound passing through my ears. It made sense. I got lost in it, gradually; I eventually noticed I stopped actually looking for anything in particular; I was simply letting things pass through my senses. This soon became daydreaming, and then something that felt closer to a trance-like state: my body was on auto-pilot, I wasn’t actively paying attention to trying to avoid bumping into people – it was very crowded – it just happened on its own. I didn’t look for my dispersed party either. I was completely immersed in my surroundings. The music synced up with the time, the place, the person listening, and it became more of an experience than a modest day in the sun. It was a personal experience, but it was something quite powerful, as well. At the risk of sounding insane it almost felt spiritual, as if I was meditating. My mind was empty, but my senses were supercharged. It wasn’t even about the music, but the product of my mind creating something with what was going on around it. Though of course, the music was the catalyst of this surreal mindset. On a side note, Daniel Lopatin’s projects (including Chuck Person) have created more stories like this than any other single artist before in my experience, just throwing that out there that he’s like, a pro at creating vividly evocative soundscapes.

Music is perhaps the subtlest of all art forms, but because of this it also has the potential to be the most evocative. Music can make you feel a lot of different things, some things bizarrely deep. One can wake up with a song playing in their mind and it can affect their mood for the whole day. If you’re like me and prone to be more sensitive to your surroundings, music can take you to pretty intense places as well –sober or not! It is dependent on what you do with it, as well as how you feel about it that makes music such an ambiguous form. Intense experiences like my story above are personal and aren’t always the same – only you can identify a moment to be an “experience”, and they don’t happen by choice, they happen when conditions are just right. Certainly this will sound silly to anyone who thinks getting engaged with music on a level such as this is ridiculous or even pointless, but like I said, everyone listens to music in their own unique, freakish ways, and it certainly has the potential to hit anyone this hard, just in differently-recognized ways. Music isn’t always listened to; sometimes it is felt – which honestly is the much more potent, powerful verb of the two.

frank-movie-poster-michael-fassbender

Barton’s Movie Reviews – FRANK

There has been a positive buzz around Frank ever since it premiered at Sundance earlier this year. Truth be told, that buzz is thoroughly deserved. 

Frank is one of the more intriguing films of 2014 and with a quirky story and its titular character spending the majority of the film wearing a paper mache head, it was a joy to watch from start to finish.

Frank is a journey of self-discovery that sees young wannabe musician Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) join Soronprfbs, a band desperately trying to find their own identity and sound. Jon travels to Ireland with the band not realising that they won’t be leaving until they have recorded the perfect album.

With the mysterious Frank (Michael Fassbender) at the front of the band, Jon soon finds that being in a band is harder work than he first thought.

One of the most striking things about Frank is the confidence the whole film had to be as weird as it did. A film could easily alienate itself from an audience by being too weird but much like Little Miss Sunshine back in 2006, Frank is a film that will have its weirdness embraced by the audience.

At the centre of all the peculiar goings on is Michael Fassbender as lead singer of the band, Frank. I was surprised when I saw that one of the biggest actors in Hollywood was taking a role that consisted of him performing behind a paper mache mask for the majority of the film. It does seem like a risky role to take but ultimately, Fassbender would not have taken the chance if he was not fully confident in the director, the writing and his fellow cast members. 

It is a choice that pays off and Fassbender should be immensely proud of his performance in Frank. He captures both the comedic and dramatic elements of the character perfectly, excelling in his final scenes without the mask.

Domhnall Gleeson is on good form again as the awkward Jon, having already impressed me in romantic comedy About Time not so long ago. Maggie Gyllenhaal and Scoot McNairy provide stellar supporting performances as other members of the band who go through their own fair share of trouble.

Director Lenny Abrahamson and writers Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan should be given a lot of credit for the way they have handled the film with care. Abrahamson’s direction allows an intimate insight into the everyday struggle of a band trying to make it big while Ronson and Straughan deliver a fine screenplay that manages to be both silly and touching, which is a good thing when sensitive issues such as loneliness and mental illness are prime themes.

Frank is one of 2014′s best offerings so far and with one of Michael Fassbender’s best performances to date it is definitely one you should try and see. 

 

Verdict: 3.5/5

Kevin's Music Reviews

Kevin’s Music Reviews: A few new tunes

Coldplay – Ghost Stories

Following 2011’s Mylo Xyloto, Coldplay’s sixth full-length Ghost Stories is booked for release on May 19th. However, if you don’t like waiting a week for it, they conveniently put up an itunes stream yesterday for all you eager beavers.

https://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewRadioStation?cmd=AddStation&id=ra.862722892

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PvBc2TOpE4

 

Dead Congregation – Promulgation of the Fall

Greek death metal band Dead Congregation do pretty much everything that death metal does best with their pummeling sophomore release. For fans of occult, Immolation-style thick riffage and growls. Eat your heart out.

http://deadcongregation.bandcamp.com/album/promulgation-of-the-fall

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oaTKrSQfMsQ

 

ECO VIRTUAL – ATMOSPHERES 第2

Have a spiritual relationship with weather channel outlooks? The Local on the 8’s have any nostalgic value to you? If you’re anything like me, who watched the weather channel and the TV guide channel to fall asleep, you might find warmth in ECO VIRTUAL’s music. A follow-up to last year’s ATMOSPHERES1, these ambient beats pack a subtle but powerful emotion that the vaporwave genre is known for. Check it out here:

http://ecovirtual.bandcamp.com/album/atmospheres-2

Fatima Al Qadiri – Asiatisch

In a fashion that almost recalls Oneohtrix Point Never’s synthetic labyrinth R Plus Seven, Fatima Al Qadiri brings us Asiatisch – an album built around the concept of an “imagined China”, or rather, China as seen by someone who has never been there, through media and stereotypical kitsch found in Western culture. A surreal and almost hauntingly empty experience, the full album is available on Spotify for your not-so-Chinese touring pleasure.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-SzLpBU63E

 

Low Leaf – AKASHAALAY

Mutli-instrumentalist Low Leaf delivers her most focused and effective piece of music yet. Replete with enchanting vocals, folktronic mystique and summer delights in rich variety. I already wrote about this for 2 weeks in a row, so I’ll finally shut up (for now) and let you enjoy this great album:

http://freshselects.bandcamp.com/album/akashaalay

 

Swans – To Be Kind

Experimental titans Swans return with their follow-up to 2012’s colossal The Seer, and it is similarly a daunting listen at just barely over 2 hours long. Officially released yesterday, the band revitalizes their mastered brand of brooding, diverse post-rock and maintains the high pedigree the band is known for. Stream the album here:

http://www.npr.org/2014/05/04/308392426/first-listen-swans-to-be-kind#playlist

 

Trophy Scars – Holy Vacants

Much like the above To Be Kind, Trophy Scars hits hard with ambitious material this year in the form of Holy Vacants. Conceptually grand, while infusing blues elements into post-hardcore. Certainly won’t be vacant from best-of 2014 lists.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-bl06tHoeA

 

tUnE-yArDs – Nikki Nack

Eclectic, colorful, experimental pop that flies like a quaint little bird in the blue sky. Percussion that is full of life, spirited, androgynous vocals, brimming with whimsy on every corner – Nikki Nack is both a step up from her previous album w h o k I l l and a delicious oddball of an album. Also, make sure you check out this awesome video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbiFcPhccu8