No Age – ‘Everything In Between’

No Age’s second album for Sub Pop, Everything In Between, builds upon the mastery of their dirty clean sound which traces its antecedents through New York No Wave, Modern Noise, Dream Pop, Hardcore and the kind of adolescent punk which sprung from the ether in LA over the past decade.

Dean Spunt and Randy Randall are musicians using a solid combination of guitar and drum and effects, aiding the normalization of other recent break out two-piece acts such as Japanther, the late and much lamented Death From Above 1979, The Black Keys and Japandroids who use noise in less an abrasive manner than in service to the songs.

This is most apparent on Everything in Between with the excellent “Fever Dreaming” whose distressed and scorched wails are the amazing guitar noises that are half broken robot, half toy keyboard and half screech of tires. Yes, 150% awesome. That’s “Fever Dreaming.”

Though they step out of the expected mold time to time on this album such as with the quiet duet “Chem Trails”, these soft butterflies of chaos are not the songs that you’ll find yourself returning to or adding to party playlists.

Everything in Between isn’t quite a move forward or evolution of the sound No Age has been kicking down stairs since their first compilation Weirdo Rippers. Rather, it’s a lateral move from the excellent Nouns whose combination of minimalist compositions and maximum rock n’ roll got No Age the well-deserved recognition beyond the loft show set.

Frankly speaking, despite the missteps and seemingly out of place songs, Everything In Between contains strong contenders for your year-end Songs of the Year listings while those same growing pains don’t quite coalesce just yet for No Age over all. It’s tempting to hope that this is somewhat of a transitional album and that they are able to once more make the musical leap from the growth demonstrated in Weirdo Rippers to Nouns.

Make no mistake, Everything in Between demands your undivided attention and you would do well to grant it.

The Octopus Project @ Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY 10/8/10

(Every show has more than one story right?)

On Friday night (October 8, 2010), The Octopus Project played Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NY. I wasn’t familiar with their brand of electronic psychedelica, having only really heard Hexadecagon.

Hexadecagon touched upon minimalist composers, video sequences and “happiness seizures” which intrigued me. It all sounded a bit Dan Deacon-ish, but in doing some further digging, it wasn’t like that at all. On the surface it could be; electro acoustic compositions that push your sense of time to a near stand still as dissenting loops are pushed together into a whole, where the shape of the room changes the sounds you hear and how you react.

Happiness Seizure isn’t far off, to be frank. From the opening notes of the first song, “Fuguefat,” I had a smile on my face as large as the room, and any sort of “professional demeanor” was gone with the rushes of ecstasy washing over the room and clapping and cheering broke out which each chord change. Someone brought in a sack of glowstick necklaces and threw them to all corners of the room providing little pinpoints of participants in neon colors which caught and complemented the sounds from the stage as their wearers bounced in time, extendending the show’s tense visual flavor.

That visual flavor was, unfortunately, a bit muted. The sequence of video that the band had brought along was projected onto thick black curtains behind the act, so that the sequenced animations were not visible, denying the crowd the chance to see what other cities got to experience. This video animation was complemented by an amp stack which was wrapped in Christmas lights then draped in a white sheet with eyes made of tape and another stack was covered in geometric reactive stripes whose back-lit black light made every thing on stage as strong as the brief snatches of color dancing in the crowd.

Special shout out for the theremin playing of Yvonne Lambert. It was the first time I’ve ever seen the theremin used as anything other than a special effect as Yvonne teased full melody and contra-melody from the device to great effect during the 10 minute long “Circling,” and taking the center stage for the near solo work of “Toneloop” which sounds like catching a cry from Heaven on your radio at 1 AM. It’s difficult to not call it “masterful” because it’s clearly a new league above other acts using the instrument but there’s really little comparison beyond educational videos glimpsed from times long gone.

Not to say that the rest of the band wasn’t impressive, as everyone on stage proved to be a multi-instrumentalist; as guitarists became bassists became drummers became keyboardists in seemingly equal measure. The visual accompaniment of the musicians themselves in constant motion was almost enough to make up for the lack of actual visuals barely glimpsed, like shadows on a cave wall.

And that’s what it was like. It was like tribal storytelling, music from beyond the ether handed down to the God touched performers. Dangerously close to hippy dippy jam bad territory, but also smart enough to know when to pull back. The Octopus Project is impressive live and you deserve to experience it.

Superchunk – “Majesty Shredding”

Superchunk, the near dormant pop-punk, bubble-gum, outsider band is BACK with their ninth studio album in twenty years and it’s just like they never left.

However, they did leave. Their last “full” album was 2001’s Here’s to Shutting Up and after that absence, Superchunk brings us a strong, hooky album that is unfortunately a decade too late, which may sound a bit unfair.

The past few years have seen a rise in other bands have taken that self-aware weirdo pop and run full tilt with it plainly building on what acts like Superchunk, Dinosaur Jr. and Pavement have done before.

The large issue is that these newer, younger bands have pushed forward and are able to offer experiences that are influenced by that kind of 1990s kick but are thankfully not slavishly devoted to it.

Everything about this album is just extraneous. There is no delight of the unexpected, there is no note not calculated based on time-tested, 90s, slightly-pop, slightly-punk “alternative” sound. If you love that sound, then you’re set. Hell, this is probably your favorite year ever with the return or return to form of so many 90s bands and you’re just reading this to confirm your opinion that this album totally rocks. If that’s the case, you probably already have this album.

If you are not already a fan, this album may convince you to check out their previous works, but it’s not an essential release and will most likely be forgotten this time next year.

Majesty Shredding is a solid album recalling a particular sound in a particular time and your tolerance for that kind of music will inform your patience for the album.

Women – ‘Public Strain’

There is a sensation in Women’s second album, Public Strain, like there is something lurking beneath the surface. Beneath the noise and strained guitars, there lies a melody or purpose that shoves the music forward with the thick treacle of production acting as not just an affectation, but as a limiter of the songs which have been meticulously crafted by the Canadian four-piece.

Each song sounds like some weird, combined kind of languid heroin high as might have been produced by some 1960s band operating in the orbit of acts like Velvet Underground, whose drugs of choice were opiates, as opposed to psychedelic and modern shoegaze-worshiping bedroom projects. The album is detached to a detriment, like listening to music being played next door. The band keeps its distance from the listener; which is unfortunate, because the breathy delivery of the vocalist makes you wish you were beside him and able to see the beauty in the decay around you.

Public Strain opens weakly. “Can’t You See”, “Heat Distraction” and “Narrow With The Hall” are no match for the latter half of the album. “Can’t You see” gives you a bass line and a plaintive chorus which cries “can’t you see” like a spurned lover with an overabundance of production that produces a bed of noise that coats the song like an oppressive fog, diminishing the listener’s visibility. “Heat Distraction” starts off a bit better, mutating, perhaps even evolving as the song continues, yet whatever distraction the song provides is not present when “Narrow With The Hall” immediately makes you recall the opening track’s familiar noise and distance.

“Penal Colony” and “Bells” are where the depth of the album really begins to manifest. Soft but not demure, the distance is accentuated with calm melodic guitars given a near choral quality whose verdant blanket of guitar carries over to the whole of “Bells”, making these two tracks everything which the first three are not. Here, the arrangements are endearing and lull you to a near dreamlike state of comfort and security.

“China Steps” leads off the second side of the album and it is probably the strongest single song on the album, as guitars and bass bounce back and forth from one another complimenting and antagonizing each other’s parts.

It’s here on the second side where the instrumentation really shines as the band opens up, moving away from the dead-voiced goth-gaze vocalizations as the album gains speed and energy, as much amphetamine-fueled and paranoia-filled as opposed to the previous side’s codeine, vodka mixers which slowed your heart to a stop.

Public Strain is a good album whose unfortunate tendencies at the start prevent it from escaping a nebulous sort of rating. It’s somewhat unique in that it doesn’t sound like other similar purveyors working in similar genres. Women’s ability to mix moods and themes as well as the antonymic, baroque and bare hopefully spells a long future for them as a band.

Frankie Rose and the Outs – ‘Frankie Rose and the Outs’

Frankie Rose and the Outs’ self-titled debut album is at one point an artful, nearly abstract collection of sketches and at another point a nearly arch exploration of the modern synthesis of girl group sounds and gossamer strands of various ‘gaze’ and art rock entities. The band leader of the all girl group, Frankie Rose, has been in various Brooklyn bands such as Vivian Girls, Crystal Stilts and the Dum Dum Girls and, while the album is closer to those faux-beach blanket bingo bands, there is enough of the aforementioned abstractions that Frankie Rose and the Outs operate less in songs and more in emotions and tones captured.

It feels easy to throw together touch points like Phil Spector, shoe-gaze, shit-gaze, beach bands, and the faux-surf sound that was popular last year, but there is a modulation and tonality added to the songs as pads dampen the sounds of aggressive-if-not-wholly-formed guitar lines snaking in and out of the foreground of the tracks as chimes, organs and keys accent back beats to create a near dizzying slumbering piece of near-occult Americana.

The words aren’t important as most songs have only snatches of lines stolen and presented for mood as they’re artfully blended beneath the expansive wide-screen production. However, there is the question of how much of this record can be presented live, where the artful techniques are more difficult to replicate.

Tucked between these explorations are some damn fine songs though. “Memo”, which begins with the barest of guitars before rhythm and chants of “bum ba da bum”; all of it fading back to the guitar before coming back for a strong noisy climax that carries a strong ‘rum-a-tum’ militant edge. It’s the barest of songs; there’s barely enough there to even call it a sketch. It’s like a pair of curved lines bending to intersect before they casually move apart. However, there is some depth to this, the strongest “song” on the album.

These plain pop songs may be less interesting, but they are no less strong. They’re upbeat and catchy despite the lyrics often being indeterminate, so it’s like listening to foreign language pop songs filtered through the past three years of Brooklyn music.

This is actually as good a descriptor as any for this first album. Frankie Rose has managed to capture a moment in time, frozen in amber whose sharp edges have been rounded off by time, distance, and liberally-applied, soft-focused, hazy nostalgia. This is a strange beast, but a beautiful one.

Album Review: Weezer – Hurley

For those over thirty, read this section of the review:

Weezer’s new album, their first for Epitaph records, is like two sweet middle-aged people getting married in the final chapter of a Nicholas Sparks album. Epitaph, the snot nosed obnoxo-core record label that made it’s name in the early 1990s with bands like Offspring, NOFX and Rancid has found the perfect match in this album from Weezer, a return to everything you love about them pre-The Green Album.

For those of you under thirty, please read this section:

Weezer, that band with that “Island in the Sun” song has made an album talking about what it’s like to be old when the only thing you have to look forward to is nostalgia. Oh, but there’s an anthem here for nerdy girls called “Smart Girls” which is basically Buck Cherry’s “Crazy Bitch” for the Tumblr set.

Though a return to the earlier Pinkerton type emotive, poppy, jump around punk, Hurley is not without its own production decision missteps. For every strong song like the first single, “Memories”, a paean to the earlier years of the band which features some clever lyrics such as “When Audioslave was still Rage”, there is an odd track such as “Hang On” filled with all of the strange “wide screen” production flourishes like those that made Against Me!’s New Wave such a disappointment.

These extraneous elements find their way to “Unspoken” in the form of a flute backing the acoustic guitar phrases, and “Trainwrecks” in a Pet Shop Boys-like synth pad intro. Though there are times when these embellishments do add to the songs such as “Time Flies” and “Run Away” yet even there it sounds like they had extra money so why not continue to tinker with tracks to show “Hey we used the production budget!”

A lot has been made about the “grown up” sound of this album, but you’d be better off examining this as more of a mid-life crisis; an album designed to be wistful and bank on the previous experiences the audience had with Weezer than on trying to push forward. Though if Hurley prevents another Raditude, I’m all for it.