Friday, February 20, 2009

Album Reviews

The Acorn -
Tin Fist EP

(Paper Bag)

The Acorn
occupy a middle ground between soft, atmospheric, campfire-in-the-clearing folk and rousing, rhythm-heavy kartwheel-through-the-curtains theatrical pop/rock. This middle ground is given a unique tinge of mysticism by sound and by words: with singer Rolf Klausener's mid-range cooing of poetic lyrics that combine rustic
sobriety with fantastic whimsy either swaying, shouting, or tumbling over intricate, layered instrumentations that pull out the metallic clang of guitar reverb over a subtle but vital acoustic strum. This blend of warm fuzzy center framed with frostbitten resolve was apparent on their 2007 full-length Glory Hope Mountain, (re-released in 08 after signing with Paper Bag records) and it hits you early on during Tin Fist (also a Paper Bag re-release, from 2006). "Dents" opens with a softly howling feedback that fades to give room for a woodsy acoustic guitar riff, dancing along with massaging vocals – slowly setting its footing to take off down the pine-laden hill with minimalist barrel-top drums and a welcomed banjo's charm dosey-doeing with steady strings. "Dents" may feel like the brother-song to Glory Hope Mountain's quintessential road-trip runner "Crooked Legs." "Brokered Heart" may feel like an awkward or unnecessary interlude – though it's poppy and has a vigorously strummed acoustic under a wandering jazzy electric that recalls a Sufjan Stevens-y sonnet, it's by far the shortest track on the collection…one almost feels that if it just lingered a bit longer it may fit with the rest of the EP's subtle epics like opener "Heirloom" or closer "Maplebees." But that opens up the only, or at least strongest mark against the album – hazy calmness at the corners. With this EP's middle section, aforementioned "Dents" and the ethereal clang and cutting, post-rock-ish guitars wavering over blunted but burning drums of "Feral Chile," we're presented the more appealing, (or energetic) side of the Acorn – that which leans closer to the sunrise-invigoration of road-trip wonder and melodramatic baroque-pop staging – but others discount the lulling builds and swirling atmospheric delicacy of the longwinded folky opener and twilight closer. At the least, one must credit the Ottawa-CA-based quartet for a variety of flavor, for an interest in sound experimentation; you can get your dreamy night-driving soundtracks and your front-of-the-stage head-boppers, but you can also settle in for some high-places cerebral drifts, a quieter come-down, warming your hands by the fire before setting out again…

Black Dice -
Repo Man

(Paw Tracks)

I'll start out talking about Animal Collective and my furnace. To qualify, a friend of mine once said of Animal Collective – "Animal Collective remind me of Black Dice…if Black Dice actually made music." Which could be a good hinter for those of you just coming to these awe-inspiring trailblazers of noise-rock monstrosities…because they too like to slide into these "almost-songs" of tribal beats and world-music shamanistic chants (albeit, the chants are done through computers and metallic keyboards and guitar feedback…) – it's like the spooky humpback brother hiding in the boiler room to Animal Collective's new lady-charming intellectual who runs student government – they're both going to make for great conversation.

Listen: Black Dice – “Glazin”

Then…the other thing about listening to some of the second half of this record – I had it playing in another room while I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth. The shambled looping cymbals and weird gurgling synth noises, the acerbic guitar scrapes and clankety drums made me think to myself, "what the hell is that noise? Is the furnace acting up again? Sonovabitch…" But no…that's just the (misunderstood) beauty of Black Dice, the galvanization of music through noise – utilizing the most rustic, guttural, scraping, machine-like sonorousness to create, not so much a song, but music…finding the visceral emotion, human emotion, in the most alienating tones and un-human sounding noises. (Dig the tinny skirling glory of the shambled junkyard drum circle run "Glazin"). If music is meant as an emotional stimulant – then Black Dice would make pop, hip-hop and rock look cheap by comparison of the thrill…or the disturbance, rather. Pop gives you lots of hooks, and its fun to dance and singalong, but Black Dice explore the deeper grinding groans of your soul, by letting you linger a bit on buzzing synths that only morph into unsettling insect-like buzzes that loom from above ("Earnings Plus Interest"). "La Cucaracha" is a potential single, for those wanting a quick digestion – and the most bank for your buck in terms of a nice blend of tribal drums, scratching shouted vocals and tension-building synth bass booms that grow and transmogrify in tone. One of the biggest distinctions is, not only the layers, the more "together" swelling of feedback and rhythm, but the conciseness of songs – cutting down from their usual 8-10 minute nightmarish narratives to a palatable 4-5 minute boundary. Samples persist throughout, though you wouldn't really notice on the first few listens because they've been stretched, burned, fuzzed, squashed and disemboweled by this NY trio of spooky-sound-loving experimenters that it all washes over like haunting white noise possession. If nothing else, always interesting. But, also—as always, alienating as all hell, for most listeners. Hardcores can make up their minds from here…

Benjy Ferree
Come Back To The
Five and Dime,
Bobby Dee, Bobby Dee


Benjy Ferree is the kind of music artist that you'll see described differently in every write-up. That, or you'll get generic terms like, classic rock/folk singer…That's a good start, but one needs to cover his love of synthesizers, and weird buzzing bass grooves and space-rock-esque wavy guitar tones… And, fuzzy vocal effects add an extra fire to an undoubtedly less-crackly/deeper-toned Jack-White-recalling voice. But you'd also have to picture a Jack White voice embracing more doo-wop-y falsettos and early classic 60's pop balladry, over guitar lines that shimmy in that sultry glam-rock style ala T.Rex. You could even get the attention of fans for that alternative singer/songwriter style, the experimental pop structures of M.Ward or the psychedelic folk of Bonnie "Prince" Billy, -only, with Ferree, you need to add a bit of showiness, a bit more of a confident strut, even just a bit more soul. Going back to showiness, or even just a penchant for showmanship, this is a concept album dedicated to the desecrated memory of Bobby Driscoll, the once-Disney-child-star who played Peter Pan (and was inevitably fired for hitting puberty…falling into a life of drugs, an early death and an unmarked grave). As heavy as that is, the album, soundwise, feels very celebratory, very swingable, even if the lyrics are a bit morbid and biting. The only downfall is that this is a strong and dizzying swath of many flavors (adding onto the names dropped above could easily be Bowie, Roxy Music and Queen), sometimes coming off as a bit ostentatious, a bit awkward, or just overwhelming in its punch – But, to say the least, it's always catchy, with a great groove to every song.


Benjy Ferree – “Fear”

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