New Releases

Low Anthem – Smart Flesh
It’s too bad the Foo Fighters already called an album “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace,” because that title perfectly describes the new effort by the Low Anthem. To record the follow-up to 2008’s buzz-building “Oh My God, Charlie Darwin,” this Rhode Island-based folk-rock outfit set up shop in a former pasta-sauce factory outside Providence; the group’s goal was to capture an explicitly handcrafted vibe not much in vogue in these days of Pro Tools and Auto-Tune. Read the Full Review on LA Times

Adele – 21
Somewhere in 21, there is an honest, direct, sonically mature record fighting to get out with personality intact. You never would have guessed that a quirky bossa nova cover of the Cure’s “Lovesong” would work, but it does. Read the full review on the Guardian

G-Love – Fixin’ to Die
The enigmatically smooth and uber-cool Garrett “G. Love” Dutton has always ninja’d a few small red herrings of country and classic Americana into his famed and now nearly flawless meld of hip hop and blues, but there was always the sense that he was unwilling (unable?) to outwardly throw it into his mix. Turns out, it took the nudging of Seth and Scott Avett (better known at the Avett Brothers) to get him to really turn it out, and when they got into the studio with him to produce “Fixin’ to Die” after sharing the stage together at last year’s Summer Camp Music Festival in Illinois, they ended up helming one of the most important albums of G’s career. Read Full Review on Sacramento Press

New Releases

PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
“The West’s asleep,” PJ Harvey declares on the first line of her new album, Let England Shake, before spending the next 40 minutes aiming to shame, frighten, and agitate it into action. When Polly Jean Harvey burst into the public consciousness in the early 90s, her gravelly voice, outsized personality, and often disturbing lyrics gave the alt-rock world a crucial shot of excitement. That early work is still among the most raw and real guitar music to emerge from the past few decades, so no surprise, it’s a version of PJ Harvey a lot of people still miss. But if you’ve paid attention to her in the years since, the one thing you can expect is that she won’t repeat herself. Read the full review on Pitchfork

Mogwai – Hardcore will never die, but you will.
Mogwai have hardly ever been as accessible as they are on Hardcore…. Only three of the 10 songs break the six-minute mark and when they do, you’ll hardly notice. The vocoded lyrics and steady click-beat of album highlight “Mexican Grand Prix”, for instance, are so enrapturing that the song glides on and on with ease. Track six, “Letters to the Metro”, sees Mogwai take a page from Godspeed’s well-worn book, painting about as movingly evocative a picture as could possibly be put together in just under five minutes. The dirge-like funeral march of “Too Raging to Cheers” again instantly calls to mind Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s signature movie score-like musical quality, but with more than enough of Mogwai’s guitar-oriented sound to avoid sounding too imitative. Read the full review on Consequence of Sound

Bright Eyes – The People’s Key
For every fan of Conor Oberst, there has been a moment when this precocious voice of troubled youth has come of age; to my mind, this really is the one. What sets The People’s Key apart from Oberst’s prodigious output over the past 15 years isn’t its lyrical density or conceptual assurance, but the taut, bright, propulsive vitality of its musicianship. This is practically a pop album – albeit a pop album about time, the universe, life as a hallucination and spiritual redemption. Read the full review on The Guardian

Overlooked: Comets On Fire – Field Recordings From the Sun

This is it. The pinnacle. The heights of what rock music from whence it was birthed has reached and shall be measured. Comets On Fire‘s 2002 sophomore record, Field Records From the Sun, is the album that obliterates the bar for which high energy music is set. You can stack all the metal, punk, noise, hardcore, noise punk, grindcore, free jazz, free jazzcore, and on and on and none if it can touch the astronomically chaotic universe found within this record’s thirty-seven minutes. Nothing even comes close. It’s thirty-seven minutes of cosmic evisceration and psychedelic carnage that somehow remains wholly listenable without putting on the airs maybe found in any one of those aforementioned genres (save perhaps whatever the phrase “trippy, dude” gets you). Which is an achievement in itself. This record is built from influences that certainly front energy as a priority, if not its main priority (Hawkwind, MC5, The Stooges), but none of those have (arguably) stood the test of time, in terms of intensity, when confronted with three decades of rock and metal and everything else. And Field Recordings’ penitent for bombast isn’t really built on anything that’s come before–classical music maybe? Jazz? That simultaneously gives it way too much credit and undermines its power, found in the human impulse given to create choas. But there’s a point I’m getting at, which is Field Recordings exists completely on its own as a statement of universal creation in the form of blistering sonic destruction.

It’s very possible most of society and rock music itself, has moved on from being concerned with how heavy and raw and destructive music is and can be. Those descriptors in themselves denote anger and angst and tension and even self-indulgence relegated, once again, to genre-based music. Field Recordings never even approaches an engagement in the emotions of anger. If anything it’s celebratory, even as it destroys. But found on the record is an instant argument for the relevance of heaviness and destruction. It’s one of those records that overcomes limitations in music in order to express itself. If an artist’s objective is to create a feeling of loneliness in his or her songs, they can do so in a number of ways–stripped down melodies, minimal arrangements, softly damaged vocals, etc etc. That’s just one way. Perhaps it’s too much to assume Comets On Fire’s primary goal was to create feelings that conjure what it must have felt like when the universe was created, but this record feels like that was the primary intention. Secondary is the intention of forming a psychedelic rock band and making some killer tunes, dude. That’s a dynamic not discussed enough in music–what’s the best way to express a particular emotion prior to the arrangement. None of those genres I mentioned above are in it for anything other than rocking the genre (which is fine), but what we get with Field Recordings is an album that skips over the limitations of genres and gives us a statement that makes us forget its psychedelic rock with some Hawkwind and MC5 influences. Field Recordings is totally singular in that regard. Maybe I’m infusing it with more pretension than it actually deserves, but, regardless, it exists outside of those  claims.

I first heard the album in 2007, quite a while after it was released, and I’m in no way surprised it was lost in the shuffle and dwarfed by Comets On Fire’s 2004 followup, Blue Cathedral. BC is a better record in the traditional  sense. It has a more varied tone and more varied song structures. It’s not all just amps-to-11 and search-and-destroy-everything-in-our-path-all-the-time-forever. There’s some folky numbers and some more strung out jams and some tighter display of reserve. It’s certainly the record that got them some attention. It does have the sonic workouts in tracks “The Bee and The Cracking Egg” and “The Antlers of the Midnight Sun,” which does a good job matching the intensity on the previous outing. The record’s great, but it remains a psychedelic record. And after a hundred listens of each, BC feels a bit more glossed over in comparison.


So that’s a lot of talk about nebulous shit–what does Field Recordings actually do musically? Comets On Fire get a rap for piling on the guitars to the absolute breaking point, but in reality, they may get one or two overdubs in over the duel riffing of Ethan Miller and Six Organs of Admittance‘s Ben Chasny. They definitely do a lot of point breaking with what’s there, letting the fuzz grind into the earth and the feedback ring to the stratosphere in all its abrasive glory. But the record’s success is found in its miscellaneous players, its pretty intricate arrangement of the madness, and the holy-fucking-christ drumming of Utrillo Kushner.

Noel von Harmonson who is credited as “electronics” is responsible for the group’s live vocal treatment. When the Comets played live the dude stood on stage, armed with an Echoplex placed on a stool and he mangled vocalist/guitarist Ethan Miller’s voice by whipping the echo device’s tape back and forth. Sounds gimmicky, but damn, do they push it, and on the record it comes in at some pretty key moments, turning the vocals into an instrument of stuttering abrasion. He also gets mistaken as guitarist much of the time as he’s often just creating feedback and noise to linger like exploding stars all over the mix. His job really is to create texture and by doing so he adds an extra layer that pushes its way into the corners of the stereo-field, alluding to a grander more astral-bound timelessness.

I remember reading somewhere Utrillo Kushner called “two Keith Moons.” It sounds pretty good. It might be hyperbole, Moon might have packed a little more subtlety beneath the flash, but it’s not far off. Kushner’s drumming is fill-heavy enough for it to sound like he’s just wildly soloing along with the mass of monolithic noise at times, though he’s obviously driving it. He doesn’t stay in one place for long, and his chops are only trumped by his energy, which in many cases is a point of reference for the listener and their perception of the colossal freak-out.

Tim Green is the man behind the boards. He recorded and mixed Field Recordings and it’s not exaggeration to say the album’s success in the transcendent department might be owed solely to him. On first listen, the record might sound like the aural equivalent to the shear clusterfuck of a nuclear bomb detonating, but on repeated listens, the mixing and production reveals itself to be downright meticulous in its placement of every single noise squall. Green doesn’t obscure everything in reverb either, but arranges things on multiple levels of clarity, communicating the sensation (I would imagine) of listening to spacebound dogfights looping in on each other.


Then of course there’s just the song craft owed to Comets’ leader, Ethan Miller. The riffs are mountainous and they don’t linger. Hooks pop up here and there, but most of the time the band is dead set on heading, light speed, straight for the sun. Every single change in course is huge and sweeping beyond anything most rock groups can muster and it’s all guitars and all three-chord attack. The songs fall in between six and nine minutes, but as a certain punk legend once said, “we play slow songs really fast,” and the Comets pack the conception and destruction of whole worlds into each track. Opener, “Beneath The Ice Age” begins with layers of feedback wafting gently over some sporadic tribally percussion that soon gets steamrolled by the oncoming army of noise. It’s hard to even keep track of the directions and sonic destinations the song takes, but it somehow ends up with drums and guitars randomly firing canon bombasts and the whole band chanting in unison. There are only five tracks to speak of–one of which is an acoustic interlude–so it’s a pretty quick ride, all said, but it ends with a pretty satisfying climax. My original claim is exemplified two-fold in the ten-minute closer, “The Black Poodle,” which has the most diabolical riff I’ve ever heard and it hits with the force of a death-from-above apocalypse (you know–like the one that killed the dinosaurs). Not to mention the epileptic saxophone freak out and Kushner’s non stop fill rhythm. But it’s when Ethan Miller screams one long wordless note over the whole thing that it becomes something transitory.

If Comets On Fire did anything right on Field Records From the Sun, it was to find a balance in which all the other elements discussed followed. The group balance intricate and contained spontaneity with carefully crafted sonic annihilation and it creates a whole that I find hard to believe will ever be matched in intensity. Musically, it’s the success of never letting the listener not be battered by something new and bombastic. Nothing ever repeats itself in the orchestrated barrage of noise missiles. It all adds up to a dense uncomprehendingly deep whole that does what it sets out to do from go and builds into a transcendent almost spiritual experience that never compromises its apocalyptic vision. This isn’t a record of long range improvisational meltdown like the Acid Mother’s Temple do and it isn’t a record of free range noise making (though it gets there); it’s an album of exceptional craft with a specific focus in mind: when destruction becomes creation.

Field Recordings isn’t going to appeal to everyone. It’s a record that quite loudly and violently demands the listener match its energy, which, understandably, not everyone is willing to do. But there is a record here that contains something truly wonderful and unmatched in all of music. It’s the ultimate end of a singular emotion. One that rock was arguably born from and has been reaching for since its conception.

New Releases

Death – Spiritual Mental Physical
n the case of this half-hour release, we get a brief chance to eavesdrop on a band of unique genius at its most raw, its most prankish and its most fun. It almost makes up for the chills, the sweat and the free cans of watery domestic.

The fidelity may be demo-grade. But, clearly, the rhythmically complex, relentlessly urgent math-metal opener “Views” and the unapologetically cheesy Route 66 rocker “Can You Give Me a Thrill??” are greased up and ready for the big time. Loud, proud and catchy as hell. And when it tries a post-Dylan-style electric ballad, we get “World of Tomorrow,” which ain’t shabby. Read the full review on Dusted

Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
The tremendous The Shepherd’s Dog, from 2007, found Sam “Iron and Wine” Beam’s musical muse tugged in turn towards the influences of Tom Waits, Brian Wilson, Calexico and African guitar bands. Kiss Each Other Clean is much more focused and homogenous, but there’s still a lingering sense of abundant inspiration, eager to carry the songs… Read the full review on The Independent

Akron / Family – S/T II The Cosmic Birth and Journey Shinju TNT
…A conscious effort to pocket the hacky sack. Songs such as “Silly Bears” and “Another Sky” retain the group’s recent crowd-pleasing guitar work, but a few knob twists put the searing tones closer to the distorted, bracing territory of Liars or Women. It’s on the ballads where the group’s time machine best hits its mark: “Cast a Net” and the album-closing cool-down of “Canopy” and “Creator” find the trio’s voices merging in alien harmonies while acoustic and electric guitars unfold as gently as ancient parchment. Whether raucous or tuneful, Akron/Family’s melodies tend to sink below the music — leaving lyrics such as those of “Silly Bears,” perhaps the first sludge-rock anthem applicable to a future “Winnie the Pooh” movie soundtrack, wisely out of the spotlight.
Read the full review at The LA Times

New Releases

The Decemberists – The King Is Dead
Recorded in a converted barn on Oregon’s Pendarvis Farm, The King Is Dead eschews the high, mystical wailing of British folk for its North American counterpart. Rustic and roomy, the record nods to Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, early Wilco, the Band, Neil Young, and especially R.E.M. In places, it almost feels like a disrobing: “Let the yoke fall from our shoulders,” frontman Colin Meloy bellows on opener “Don’t Carry It All”, his voice loose and easy, freer than he’s sounded in an awfully long time. Read the Full Review on Pitchfork

Cage The Elephant – Thank You Happy Birthday
Having gained notoriety a couple of years back for intense live shows and memorable singles like 2008’s slouchy, sexy “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” Shultz and his pals, including brother Brad on guitar and secret weapon Daniel Tichenor on bass, stand at a crucial juncture. Can Cage the Elephant survive the scrutiny of jaded aficionados who call its drum kit-toppling yet sweet-toothed approach to guitar bashery nothing but a rehash of flannel rock? This set of ripping rave-ups and effortlessly tasty singalongs answers YES, in all caps. Read the full review on LA Times

Madlib Medicine Show 11
Funkadelic, psychedelic, jazz infused break-beats mixing influences and sounds of electronic, soul and a whole lot of Hip Hop – Madlib’s eleventh installment to the Medicine Show series, entitled Low Budget High Fi Music, is a welcomed addition to this multi-instrumentalist’s repertoire of work. With the longest track of the album being 4 minutes and 37 seconds long, the rest of the songs fall in the realm below the 2 minute mark. Each track is laced by Madlib’s incredible ability to capture a motivating groove accentuated by melodies whose instrumentation drives its listeners forward. Combined by great pacing, seamless jumps between tracks (and at other times intentional abrupt stops to melodic flowing sounds), the hilarious skits, commercial-styled breaks, interesting samples and ear-perking interludes excuses the fact that some may be turned off at the length of the entire album (42-tracks long). Read the full review at

New Releases

Brian Eno w/ Jon Hopkins & Leo Abrahams – Small Craft on a Milk Sea
This concept is not a new one, not even for Eno, whose 1978 album Music for Films and its 1983 sequel were borne from identical insight. If not for the sheer amount of time that’s passed, or his new collaborators– electronic music composer Jon Hopkins and guitarist Leo Abrahams– he might easily have christened this Music for Films 4. And the truth is that, although much has been made of the trio’s working process and how it relied equally on improvization and computer editing, Small Craft on a Milk Sea sits surprisingly comfortably alongside the records from Eno’s ambient and experimental golden era. Others might argue that fit is a little too comfortable. Read full review at Pitchfork

Ceelo Green – The Lady Killer
“The Lady Killer,” the latest solo album from Cee Lo Green, sounds like something Don Draper would put on the hi-fi, if he’d been raised in Detroit on equal parts Motown and head-bobbing hip-hop. For every swanky old-school touch, there’s a glassy modernity that makes the album a sexy sonic adventure of loving and leaving. Read the full review on LA Times

Elvis Costello – National Ransom
Boasting a roster that includes Costello’s recent bluegrass collective the Sugarcanes, members of the Imposters, along with high profile visits from Leon Russell, Jerry Douglas, and Vince Gill, National Ransom is arranged like an Elvis Costello choose-your-own-adventure. Over the first three tracks Costello dabbles in propulsive Americana, folky balladry, and slinky, stormy weather jazz. These are the colors that Costello will intermittently paint with throughout. All that’s missing is a map that guides listeners to the follow up track that best suits the sort of Costello experience they’re looking for. Read the full review on PopMatters

Feeding Brains, Post-Dilla, and the Los Angeles Sound: Part II

Flying Lotus‘s third full-length, Cosmogramma, was released in May of this year. FlyLo’s personal sphere of inspiration while making the record reportedly gravitated around his own mother’s untimely death, and it’s probably now appropriate to mention the Los Angeles beat-maker’s blood connection to Alice and John Coltrane, as their astral inspired brand of free jazz seemed to be an important musical signpost Steven Ellison aspired to channel on the record (Cosmogramma refers to a lecture Alice Coltrane gave). Trane’s son Ravi can even be heard with a tenor sax on two of the seventeen tracks. With this in mind, it’s a good guess Cosmogramma is much more inspired by the Coltranes or even Sun Ra rather than FlyLo’s contemporaries. The new exploration of sound was a bold move, and one that more than paid off. Flying Lotus has managed to transcend the sound and scene he helped create by completely stepping into a realm beyond the general approach of electronic music.

Cosmogramma itself flows as a singular experience. It creates a context that lives up to it’s astral-based name, born from a place that feels more connected with spiritualism, psychedelia, place and time. Something to fall into. The scene from which it was born still remains though, it’s just hard to imagine anything like this coming from something built upon a collective. It boasts Flying Lotus’s vision as a producer and musician. There’s a moment with some records where you feel the music is really only a means to an end. Where the musician’s voice is alluding to something deeper and bigger instead of just pulling back a curtain to show you a couple songs they made, which in most cases could describe (however fantastic) the sound that’s come out of LA in the wake of Flying Lotus’s Los Angeles. Or even electronic music as a whole. It’s something historically relegated to high concept music, definitely not hip-hop inspired beats.

As I mentioned in Part I, J Dilla‘s Donuts was a sort of opus for his experience and memories. And feels like that in how cyclical and fleeting it is. Dilla is known for aesthetics, but it’s that element of Dilla’s musical voice that lasts, especially as a statement right before his death. Flying Lotus has built that into his own music, starting with Los Angeles and making it completely his own with Cosmogramma. It’s easier to talk about how Dilla’s “submerged” bass lines or FlyLo’s off-beat programming helped create something new in electronic music (it’s definitely important) than how these guys have brought something unique and highly affecting in regard to their personal outlook and perspectives, communicated through their music. But, oh well, I guess. In the end the musical experience speaks for itself. What’s the point of trying to force it into words (like I’m doing right now)? Listen to the records.

With all that said, in 2010 Los Angeles still stands and Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder record label is in a prolific infancy. More than a few talented producers have come out of the city or are making their name as apart of the Brainfeeder crew. Here are a couple of my favorite records out of that scene from this year:

Continue reading Feeding Brains, Post-Dilla, and the Los Angeles Sound: Part II