Sunday, September 28, 2008

Yndi Halda Live in a Church

Keeping on the topic of Yndi Halda, they have been playing new material at their live shows for the last little while now. The song below was originally recorded last Christmas (seems fitting), and I can happily tell you that it is on par with the majesty of their earlier songs. Just as well, it also marks a departure from their older material with a heavier emphasis on acoustics, as well as its (albeit still sparse) use of vocals. Which isn't to say they can't still fashion an absolutely devastating climax; see Part 2 for details on that.

I guess what I'm getting at is that the song's awesome. Really awesome. And I can't wait to see more of what these guys can do.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Yndi Halda - Enjoy Eternal Bliss

Yndi Halda - Enjoy Eternal Bliss

No, seriously. Enjoy it. Not only is this album full of it, but its all around you, so long as you know how to look. For whatever reason, I'm reminded of an essay by Mark Kingwell, in which he writes:

The main point of all this is to see that wonder does not inhere in objects themselves, is not an internal property of them like an emanating aura. It arises, instead, from a complex relationship between us and objects. That's why issues of authenticity and originality are ultimately less important than the richness, the texture, of one's personal confrontation with a certain thing. The wondrous object might be a Picasso, with all its heavy cultural sanction and monetary approval; but it can, equally, be a salt shaker, crumpled napkin, or unlaced workboot. The crucial thing is that we recognize the power of objects, at rare but accessible moments, to rise above their cheap utility - and the manipulating energy of packagers and brand-masters - to assume a wondrous new status, a glow of beauty. Wonder is personal it is also cultural and political, and so our experience of objects is ultimately fragile: it can be conditioned in countless ways, somestimes impaired or even stolen from us.

In his essay Wonder Around, he argues for the very concept of wonder as something liberating from the commercial world, and as something which must come willingly from within, rather than forced on from abroad. As he writes in the above paragraph, "It arises... from a complex relationship between us and objects". This concept of his can just as easily translate to music; we are not affected by music merely as listeners, as vessels to accept it and enjoy it, but much of our enjoyment comes from within, as a result of our personal ability to relate to the experiences that are translated through the art of another human being. While the band can create whatever it likes as it appeals to them, it is up to the listener to forge that personal and emotional connection to the music, that sense of wonder, if you will, that transcends the very medium of music.

Which brings us back to the title of this album, Enjoy Eternal Bliss.

With post-rock bands, the lack of words or vocals for explaining a song's meaning is often off-set by the little things that many bands take for granted; be it something as simple as the album cover, or the titles of such songs or albums, these hints, if you will, operate as an introduction to, and in many cases a personification of the themes and motives behind what is often an intricate and complex piece of music. When Godspeed You! Black Emperor, for example, gives names to each movement in a song, you know that this isn't random, but a direct act of associating the music with a specific feeling or emotion that is conjured up within the vast frame of what they intend to create.

So too, with Yndi Halda, a five-piece group of musicians from England who employ tremendous instrumental range and emotional versatility in creating their first album, Enjoy Eternal Bliss. Their music takes much the shape that their album title and moniker (Yndi Halda meaning "enjoy eternal bliss" in Old Norse), as well as their ages (they were still in high school upon the writing of this album) would suggest, as they present an optimistic and exuberant journey through the glory and naivety of youth. The song titles support this claim, with such buddingly hopeful titles as "A Song for Starlit Beaches" and "We Flood Empty Lakes". Indeed, when Yndi Halda tell you to enjoy eternal bliss, this is a message to you, the listener, requesting a mere hour of your time to remember what it is like to be innocent and free, unshackled by the chains of reality and the responsibilities of life. In this respect, the band leads by example; what they create is beautifully grandiloquent and unendingly epic, a near-perfect slice of instrumental heaven.

A gentle flowing guitar lick, accompanied by a sweetly remorseful violin and equally lamenting piano keys, as the pattering of the drum moves ever quietly forwards. The song builds, adding more and more pieces as it goes. The percussion quickens. An electric haze of guitar-fueled distortion signals the crescendo among a cacophony of clattering symbols, undercut by the now-trembling violin. The din's pace eventually slows. Quiets. Stops. The only two remaining sounds now are the demure wails of the violin and the tender loop of the guitar, conjoined in the lone fight against absolute silence. The symbols increase again, and suddenly the violin picks up to a murderous shriek, and with it, everything else seems frail by comparison. The clamor emitted seems like the elegaic undulation of an entire orchestra, with each instrument working towards a single end in an unremitting burst of power.

This is Yndi Halda. Wondrous, high-pitched, treble-heavy post-rock who's every note elicits a feeling of sweet serenity.

Enjoy it.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Giraffes? Giraffes! - More Skin With Milk-Mouth

Giraffes? Giraffes! - More Skin With Milk-Mouth

Been in a math rock mood over the past few days, and from the bands I've listened to so far, this has been my favourite from the bunch. From their myspace page:

Ken and Joe grew up in Massachusetts.

Even though they had never met, they both enjoyed the same amusement park. They both liked a ride called the Rotor. You would stand inside the Rotor and it would spin and you would stick to the wall and the floor would drop.

Joe once saw someone puke on the Rotor and it stuck to their face until the ride slowed down. Other names for the Rotor are the Gravitron, the Twister, the Vortex, the Turkish Twist and the Starship 2000. Have you ever seen The 400 Blows (Les Quatre Cents Coups)?

Ken has never seen anyone puke on the Rotor.

Joe and Ken first met while going to college in New Hampshire. Ken studied music, while Joe studied literature.

They drank coffee and talked about the theory that whales were once sea creatures and they evolved into wolf-like creatures that ran on land, but they didn’t like it so they evolved back into sea creatures and eventually became huge fucking whales.

They formed a band.

They can both play guitar and drums, but in Giraffes? Giraffes! Joe taps and plucks while Ken taps and hits.

Ken and Joe and their very nice and very attractive girlfriends moved to Santa Cruz, California. They like it there. It’s nice outside.

Giraffes? Giraffes! released their debut album “SUPERBASS!!!! (black death greatest hits vol. 1)” in December 2005.

They’ve played some fun shows with Hella, Erase Errata, Make Believe, The Advantage, Ecstatic Sunshine, Growing, Shoplifting and billions of other really great bands.

Loves in Heat records released the new Giraffes? Giraffes! album “More Skin With Milk-Mouth” on December 8th, 2007.

That explains their background better than I could, and in the process, introduces you to the insane, rambling style of which the band is accustomed too. And really, Giraffes? Giraffes! is a hard band to categorize, and math rock is a hard genre to adequately describe, so let’s cut this short. There’s incredible instrumental proficiency on display here, and a surprising amount of melody underlying the technical assault. The guitars function almost as keyboards at times, incredibly smooth in sound, utilizing a number of effects while refusing to waste a moment in between chord transitions. The drums are just as effective, providing a frantic disposition on which the melodic foundation of the guitar is laid.

And… huh.

With “More Skin With Milk-Mouth”, Giraffes? Giraffes! create a fun, explicitly technical album that reads like a string of musical non-sequiturs rather than anything willing to take itself seriously. It’s weird, exciting, and provides almost 30 minutes of quirky, frenzied math rock brilliance. To give it any more thought than that would almost be to do a disservice to the playful nature of the band and album in question.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

i do not exist, only you exist

I threw a small stone down at the reflection of my image in the water
and it altogether disappeared.

I burst as it shattered through me like a bullet through a bottle...

and I'm expected to believe that any of this is real

Friday, September 19, 2008

Pere Ubu - The Modern Dance

Pere Ubu - The Modern Dance

Named after a French proto-surrealist play, and coming off about as artsy and pretentious as that would imply, Pere Ubu was first formed in 1975 in Cleveland, Ohio. Combining art-punk sensibilities with a delightfully absurdist take on song-writing, the band created a dense and murky form of post-punk that took cues from the garage rock of the 60’s and bordered heavily on avant-garde. On the subject of Ubu, it was once written:

“Pere Ubu will be looked back on as the most important group to have come out of America in the last decade and a half. Either that or they will be entirely forgotten”

And whether you’ve heard of them or not, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise how that one turned out. But it’s a shame really, because this attitude was very much indicative of how the band was viewed. Either you love them or disregard them as too weird, too out there, or too subversive to remain consistently listenable. While these are legitimate complaints, it rarely overshadows the insane greatness that the band was often capable of conjuring. Between David Thomas’ warbled cries, the off-key dancing of the guitar and bass, and synth-wizard Allen Ravenstine’s incredible infusion of any number of background noises, Pere Ubu channeled the bizarre to create the phenomenal. On their first album, The Modern Dance, they fully showcased this peculiar concoction, creating an influential and seminal work in the process.

Although they would eventually move into more New Wave territory, eventually landing on the other side of the pop music spectrum, make no mistake about it – The Modern Dance is very much a rock record, albeit a very arty one. The garage rock influence shines through even the densest of distortion, as the opening guitar line on “Street Waves” would certainly attest to. But it is where Pere Ubu departs from their predecessors that they become interesting. A variety of multicultural influences abound, as the band veers between any number of styles, from areas as diverse and musically different as Middle-Eastern and rockabilly. Part of this is in the tuning of the guitar; it holds very little strength here, even being overshadowed by the bass at times, much less the calamity of noise contributed by Ravenstine. As such, it sounds less like the usual Western styles of the electric or acoustic guitar, and sort of like a more twang-y version of the sitar at times (emphasis on “at times”).

Atmosphere is a big part of the Pere Ubu sound, and The Modern Dance exemplifies this through the synthetic arrangements of Allen Ravenstine. Ravenstine’s part comes in through his creation of setting that underlies the rest of the music, be it through the occasional waves of triumphant applause in “Chinese Radiation”, the industrial rhythmic clanging of “Real World”, or the ominous, air raid siren-lite sounds of “Over My Head”. His influence on this record isn’t as great as it would come to be on future releases, but it is still a big part in formulating Pere Ubu’s unique musical direction. The synths on this album work to create a very distinct atmosphere in a very different way than they would later be used, mainly through the channeling of background noises and atmospheric musical cues, rather than the dance-y synth arrangements that would later come to personify New Wave.

However, this is in many ways David Thomas’ band, as the founder and only constant member throughout Pere Ubu’s career, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t spend some time focusing on his odd, almost surreal caterwauling. Imagine an especially noisy hawk. Now, imagine that that hawk is dying, possibly due to internal bleeding, and just won’t shut up (god, this is a really bad metaphor). That’s kind of what David Thomas sounds like, a dying hawk, squealing and squawking incessantly in a high yet somber pitch as it slowly dies. Or maybe a drunken homeless man on the street, muttering to himself about whatever he pleases, and occasionally raising his voice in delightful inebriated glory. Whatever he sounds like, Thomas’ vocals are easily the most noticeable and recognizable thing about Pere Ubu, and they work to fit the eccentricities of the music seamlessly.

With The Modern Dance, Pere Ubu created an underground classic, an experimental slice of ‘avant-garage’ (Thomas’ term to placate music critics looking for a trendy expression to use in their reviews) that doesn’t disappoint. Few bands can create the same blend of abstract weirdness, much less pair it with any number of interesting musical ideas. Absurd, surreal, and only a tad disjointed, The Modern Dance stands as another important step in the ultimate merger of music and art. To this date, it remains important in its influence, even if not nearly as many people remember it as they should.

The Modern Dance

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Modern Life is War - Witness

Modern Life is War - Witness

Say hello to the best thing to ever come out of Iowa.

(I’m pretty confident about that statement)

Formed by five friends growing up in tiny Marshaltown, Iowa, Modern Life is War is a hardcore band that utilizes a keen understanding of mood and strong, layered guitars to create a diverse and exceptional blend of hardcore that is entirely their own. In 2005, they released their second album, Witness, reaching a pinnacle in their songwriting career in the process. The album focused on the trials and tribulations of the modern generation, based on the lives of the band members and the people they grew up with.

What makes this album so different, and so exceptional when placed against the backdrop of today’s more generic hardcore, is the pronounced effort and energy flowing through the music, as well as the band’s ability to develop mood. We’ll start by focusing on the former. In many ways, Witness feels like a labour of love, and songs like “D.E.A.D.R.A.M.O.N.E.S.” exemplify this feeling impeccably. In the song, the band describes their humble beginnings and their lifelong desire to play music and escape the day-in, day-out boredom of small town living. With lines like “Save me from ordinary, save me from myself” and “I just wanna go back home and turn my stereo until the rhythm melts my bones”, Modern Life is War perfectly outlines their intense passion for the music they play, showing that its not just a way of life, but a reason to live. Much of this emotion is conveyed through the singing of vocalist Jeffrey Eaton. His voice is coarse and unrelenting, yet still melodic enough to flow with the music, as his breathless shrieks aim to deafen alongside the frenzy of the guitars. It’s almost as if a battle of volume ensues between Eaton and the rest of the band each time the music picks up, with both sides trying to outdo the other in a feverous display of enthusiasm. In short, when Eaton screams “we’re playing as hard as we can”, you damn well better believe it.

As far as mood goes, Modern Life is War commands and controls a distinct atmosphere throughout Witness. The music evokes feelings of an after-dusk stroll through an industrial wasteland, barren and desolate as far as the eye can see. The soundscapes conjured up are bleak and unfeeling, directly representing the band’s take on modern life, portraying the world around them not as ruthlessly antagonizing, but as generally apathetic and uncaring. The twin guitars strike a delicate balance between melody and the dense layers of distortion they carve that melody into. In tone and feel, the guitars sound like a better produced version of those on Naked Raygun’s Jettison, churning out a very comparable mood, only coming off darker, denser and more paranoid in the process.

“Are you a messenger boy?"
"No, I'm the judge and jury. If you're gonna call the better fucking hurry. There's no use begging for your life. You made your choice and now you pay the fucking bastards! Bastards! Bastard!"

Place defines much of who we are as people, and the influence of Anytown, U.S.A. shines through in the uneasy urgency that peppers the band’s blaring approach to hardcore. As such, much of the thematic subject matter seems inspired by the band’s shared coming of age in sleepy Marshaltown, IA. Restlessness abounds in both lyrical content and musical background, like the band is pissed as hell at anything and everything and needs desperately to let it out. The caged frustration is palpable, as the band recklessly unleashes their bottled anger on every track, taking only the briefest of pauses for rest. ‘The race we are running is a joke’, Eaton screams in the tense and agitated “Young Man Blues”, ‘and I’m a drop-out”.

A lot of the album’s content revolves around the idea of what to do when there’s no longer a clear path to follow. The song “John and Jimmy”, for example is, in Eaton’s own words, “about how [John and Jimmy] were over seas fighting not necessarily to defend the ideals that we were over there supposedly trying to defend, but because they didn't know what to do with their lives and they felt like they were going nowhere”. The sombre, two-part “Hell is for Heroes” follows this idea of what happens to the rebels when they just can’t keep it up anymore, but don’t know what else to do. These songs paint a picture of a generation of youth who don’t know how to enter society, but see no alternative and feel like they have to start settling down and living ‘normal lives’. In context, this presents a very powerful problem to the listener, of whether one should abandon their ideals for the easier life of which they’re told they should lead, or continue on the more gruelling path of a life opposed. There’s no easy answer, and Modern Life is War agonizes over the fork in the road, making Witness not only something of a concept album, but a very personal creation at that.

With Witness, Modern Life is War created nothing less than a hardcore masterpiece, an album obsessed with internal conflict and external hell. The songs crafted are thunderously dense pieces of hardcore goodness, chalked full of emotion and ferocity. Never has any piece of music so aptly summed up the restless desperation of growing up in a small town, that aimless desire of wanting frantically to leave but having nowhere to go. Modern Life is War has since broken up, but their legacy will live on through the impassionate, frustrated brilliance of this album.

and i say to all the young wild ones...for you...yeah on your way up..the world isnt against you, my dear, it just doesn't care

Saturday, September 13, 2008

'cuz we're all D.E.A.D.R.A.M.O.N.E.S.

Making come true our modest impossible dreams.
Stuck in public school classrooms at age 15.
Those long hot days just before the summer...
Knowing that we're stuck here...
And there's something happening somewhere.
Knowing we know we gotta get there.
It's true what they say...
Death is more perfect than life...
That's why we already died.
What could have been?
We don't wanna know.
Tonight we'll get our kicks.
Tonight we're all letting go!
'Cause we're all Dead Ramones!

Sore back!
Sore feet!
A ragtag army and we're sick in the heat.
We're not pretty and we're not rich.
We're gonna hafta fucking work for it.
It's our life!
We do what we choose!
Black Jeans.
Black Shirt.
Black Shoes.
Mom and Dad still don't approve.
Twenty eight shows.
28 days.
Pulling up new rogues all along the way.
I'm just another face in this desperate youth parade.
And all the bunk beds locked doors, hardwood, sweat,
Guts, skateboards, cold war bomb shelter basement screams, no sleep, good dreams.
We're playing hard as we can and a whole lotta time stuck in the van.
Reading the graffiti on every bathroom wall in truck stop fast food hell.
Save me from ordinary.
Save me from myself.
Another punk rock summer came and went
Now I just wanna go back home and turn up my stereo
Until the rhythm melts my bones 'cause I'm a Dead Ramone.

A fantastic song, and one that exemplifies the reasons why we love the music we do as much as we do. It's about passion, it's about emotion, it's about catharsis, and it's about the raw, heartfelt ideals that guide it all. It's about the meanings greater than the music itself, and the freedom that the music represents. A harmless pop diddy that enters your ears with a mildly catchy bassline that you tap your foot to means little if it's devoid of meaning or substance for the listener to lock onto. Sure, it has an appeal, but its appeal is purely cosmetic, like putting lip-gloss on a mannequin. Ultimately, the great music has appeal that transcends the basic equation of guitar + bass + drum = musics. Great music has a soul, something intangible brought on by an emotional core that makes the listener feel something, good or bad. And not just "lightly-bob-your-head-and-tap-your-foot" good, good as in reaching an emotional connection, a direct sense of relatability with whatever it is you're listening to. 'Without that, it's just masturbation.'

Anyway, this rambling was brought to you by another listen to Modern Life is War's Witness, of which a more substantive review with link will be up tomorrow.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

there's holes up in the sky
the devil punched down to the monkeys
and now they've got drive thru
and a video store where there used to be real live actors
used to ride around here
up on my high horse
with all the other good little butcher boys
a plagiarist of course
so roll over sweet thing
like a nuclear reprisal inbound from outer space
there's a comparison here that i'm trying to swing

but god damn it's deafening
wish you'd shut up about everything
the future is x-rated

there's holes up in the sky
and no one's seen your son in days
and things just keep getting weirder and weirder
and now christmas is for shopping
and the shopping god is everything
so roll over and lose it
cuz power is just another one of those things baby
it's pointless if you ain't gonna use it

god damn it's deafening
wish you'd shut up about everything
the future is x-rated

used to ride around here on my high-high horse

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Ignite - Our Darkest Days [Ltd. Tour Edition]

Ignite - Our Darkest Days

Storming out of one of the wealthiest and most populous suburbs in California, the infamous Orange County, come Ignite. Formed in 1993, the band first gained recognition for their politically charged brand of punk with a series of EP’s, a full length and an almost inhuman touring schedule.

Following a lengthy tour across Europe, the band returned with their second album, 2000’s A Place Called Home, a commercial breakthrough after which the band took some time off to work on side-projects (Lead-singer Zoli Teglas briefly became the Danzig replacement du jour for the Misfits reunion band, before joining bassist Brett Rasmussen in California United). In 2004, Ignite came back from their hiatus, playing shows together in the U.S. for the first time in two years. Shortly afterwards, the band began recording their third album, Our Darkest Days. Released in 2006, the album represents another strong effort from one of the few true ideologues left in mainstream punk.

The first thing any listener will likely notice will be the unique, almost operatic singing style of vocalist Zoli Teglas. Teglas’s unusually high cries can be either an intriguing addition that boosts the levels of melodic harmony the band works with so well, or it can be off-putting, detracting from the excellence of the music. However, beyond the gimmicky appeal of such vocals is the way Teglas complements the music perfectly, melding with the higher chords to further accentuate the passion and excitement of each musical crescendo. Teglas belts his lines with conviction and urgency, railing against the short-sighted cultural dogma he sees around him. Topics include the realm of global politics, with songs concerning the tumultuous Iraq War (“Bleeding”), and the American political climate of fear (“Fear is Our Tradition”), as well as more personal songs dealing with the trials of the individual in such a climate (“Strength”). The band seems truly troubled by many of the directions they see their country taking, and this is capped off in style with a cover of the U2 classic (U2’s only classic, as far as I’m concerned) “Sunday, Bloody Sunday”. Originally about the ongoing 'sectarian violence' in Northern Ireland, when placed in the context of the rest of the album, the song turns into a more general condemnation of the results of war and the ultimate destruction it causes.

Is this the death of liberty?
Is this the price that life has come to mean?

While the topics presented are neither terribly original nor profound, they don’t have to be. The strengths of Our Darkest Days lie in the execution of these ideas, as the band works well within the concept suggested by their album title to create an atmosphere of hopelessness and embittered defeat. What surprises is how they manage to both envelop the listener with their disillusioned take on modern society, as well as create a phenomenally catchy punk album, akin to something you might hear from Rise Against, Bad Religion or any number of melodic radio stalwarts. The music is relentlessly appealing, contrasting with and overshadowing the bleakness of the subject matter in the process. But should it be any surprise that the music takes center stage here? Few straight-up punk outfits can pull off the technicality and ingenuity of Ignite, especially when working within such a traditionally restrictive genre.

Successfully utilizing a number of creative riffs and song structures, the band often tiptoes between their faster, hardcore roots, and the slower, more melody-obsessed leanings of their later works. And, with the possible exception of the acoustic final track, “Live for Better Days”, not a minute of filler is to be found here. The songs are well-written, well-executed, and hold within them just enough originality and variety to appeal to even the most jaded of punk fans. Never do the guitar riffs seem recycled, but they manage to blend together well enough to make this a completely cohesive and enjoyable listen. With Our Darkest Days, Ignite have managed to string together 36 minutes of unbridled punk passion, mixing musical harmony with lyrical fury to make an album that appeals to fans of both hardcore and mainstream punk alike.

(This version of the album was originally released while the band was touring Europe, and contains two bonus songs: the bonus track "Last Time", and a demo version of "Bleeding")

we built this all
our darkest days