Sunday, July 5, 2009

Reviews - Discovery / Six Organs of Admittance / These United States

Jive all you want on, either, the cutesy yacht-set collard shirts of Vampire Weekend or the in-the-red, city lights whirl rock of Ra Ra Riot, but there is indisputable pop sensibilities in their songwriting. So synth pop fans, for better or worse, would probably want to check out the combination between VA’s Rostam Batmanglij and RRR’s Wes Miles, under the moniker of Discovery, the collaboration between the two involving just keyboards and their own melodious minds.

Last month, they debuted a full length LP, simply called LP. With their band-name perhaps serving a not-too-veiled nod to the robot rockers Daft Punk, this project similarly embraces an all-synthetic texture approach, using all keyboards – with sequencers, drum machines, and a few of those other foreign tweaks and nobs and toggles that the rock n rollers shrug off, like modulators, loop pedals and echo-effects. (Don't be fooled by the title, this ain't close to the French robot duo). It's the same pop fare you know and love from the duo, but chock full of echoey synths, shoulder-shimmy booms and soft shooting star synth twinkles and computerized coquetry – with the only human connection being the soothing coo of these blushing whisper in your ear vocals, (or in some cases, Kayne-championed auto-tune fuzz voices on “Carby”). It’s not entirely as revved up as RRR material, thus not entirely apt for facilitating that psyche-up juke and jump you need on your way to the club, but also not entirely the same hammock sway deliciousness of sunny afternoon pop that VA penned on their debut, thus not entirely apt for the come-down star gazing night drive on the way home from the club. It’s somewhere in the middle, and not exactly epic knock you outta your chair shit…, just well done, for what it is – lots of computers and nice vocals.

Discovery – "orange shirt"

Six Organs of Admittance - Luminous Night
(Drag City)

For those unfamiliar with Cali-based guitar sage Ben Chasny, who records and performs as Six Organs of Admittance – I’ll lazily grab direct quotes from a 2006 interview for his 8th album (and 2nd on Drag City) to use as a reference point, …think: “the perfect synthesis of crazy noises and drones” blended with “straight-up folk stuff.”

Lots of write ups will get flowery and poeticize transcendental sounding adjectives – but above all, his music, a blend of flavors from India, Japan, West Africa and Bay Area noise-rock and traditional folk, is simply the more meditative side of psychedelic rock (see the roaring guitar scrapes wafting like unobtrusive flocks of birds over a peaceful plain of acoustic guitars on “Ursa Minor”) and the less-abrasive side of ambient/atmospheric noise/prog (see the almost soothing bonfire-like crackle of churning feedback over coaxing bells on “Cover Your Wounds with the Sky.”

With his earlier work being more guitar-focused, almost exclusively instrumental, and heavy on the drones, Luminous Night, his fourth record on Drag City, balances his ghostly croon with characteristic bewitching guitar beauty and the incorrigible staticy burns and feedback wails (“The Ballad of Charlie Harper”). For other reference points, take note, as often do, that he collaborates with Comets On Fire, Magik Markers, Holy Mountain and counts Devendra Banhart as a fan.


These United States - Everything Touches Everything
(United Interests)

These United States; hard working, down to earth, a band’s band, and weird to classify. They do country-interpreting-Euro-pop better than Kings of Leon and they somehow pull off a Euro-perspective-interpreting-country-pop better than Shout Out Louds. Yet for as pan-geographic as their sound may be at times, the twang of their steel pedal and rousing stomp and shout of some of their more hurried pop ballads make them indisputably Americana – but still, a refreshing take on that already overly tired genre.

Their third full length – is a blend of subtle country, new-wave theatrics, slight psyche-rock and traditional pop – a bit of a smorgasbord, yes, and sometimes a bit overwhelming in palette. But in presentation, their sunray guitar tones, jangly, pounding rhythm, and heartfelt delivery is angular, precise, and passionate. This well-toured Kentucky quintet is known for their strong live shows, most of which, energy-wise, is fairly captured here. Never overly melodramatic or conceptual, or…dare I say, contrived, as some of the current beard-rockers out there – to which I would only compare them, preemptively, as some other crits and journos might, for their shaggy jaw lines and jangly sound. They’re more into the intricacies of pop, and exploring all avenues with their steel pedal close at hand. This album covers the heartbreak and the disconcerting downers of the world’s way, but also shakes you up with fun romp and run rockers and reminds you to have a bit of fun out there.

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