#15 Ea - Ea
I just now realized this band has four albums, this being their latest. For some reason I thought this was their debut. This album is one massive 47-minute track that covers a ton of ground throughout its great length, and is apparently separate, both musically and ideologically, from the trilogy that came before it. Ea is from Saint Petersburg, and the band members remain strictly anonymous and keep their identity unknown (kind of like Dragged Into Sunlight's band members, without the balaclavas). The band likes to write about ancient civilizations and dead languages, and being from Russia, there are literally tons of long-dead Indo-European languages to choose from. I have a personal fascination with language and glottochronology, so this sort of thing appeals to me. The relationship between language and the world, and what it means in terms of history, philosophy and even bio-physics, is veeerry interesting. Props to Ea for dedicating music out of reverence to things that have long been extinct from the earth.
Ea plays funeral doom metal, so obviously their attitudes towards these things are sorrowful and mournful, as if the band is very regretful that these cultures and languages vanished in the first place. And also regretful that nobody ever thinks about them or equates them with our own cultures. Their use of piano, which appears in several passages including the intro, turns the whole composition into something like late 19th century / early 20th century formal orchestral music with dollops of crushing doom to spice it up when it gets a bit melodramatic. Vocals are pretty sparse, but when they appear they do so in the form of low death metal growls and harsh black metal shrieks; and soothing female vocals even appear for a brief time if I remember right. At times the music is literally at a crawl, with only a few bare notes being played, but even during these parts there is great substance and strength in the music. Near the 38:50 mark, unexpectedly, we hear the sound of splashing water - what sounds like a child walking through a shallow stream. I'm not sure what that signifies. One of the best parts of the album comes at the 20:43 mark, when a guitar solo comes in, and serves as the album's climax.
#14 Leeches of Lore - Frenzy, Ecstasy
I seem to remember hb420 describing Leeches of Lore as an "awesome studio band." Meaning they must suck live. And that makes sense because I honestly have a difficult time picturing how this music would translate well into a live setting. Frenzy, Ecstasy
is a unique recording. Tags on their bandcamp page include: rock, country, doom, experimental folk, noise, and Albuquerque. Parts of this album feel like they should be the soundtrack to a very comical post-1960s spaghetti western. I mean, how else can you possibly describe the first 1:20 of "L'evoluzione dei Microbi
?" After that I feel it picks up a little in seriousness. Not that the opening sequence isn't fantastic. It's just comical. Imagine two gentlemen riding on donkeys through a hail of gunfire in the midwest.
The intro track, "Afghanistan Banana Stand," creates similar ridiculous imagery. Picture a few Afghan men frantically and vociferously wheeling carts of bananas down busy market streets in Kabul. This album is wild and silly. It's impressive musically, though. Everything is very intricate and well written. Parts are very catchy. There's some brass throughout the album, varying acoustic guitar styles, and some instruments I can't place. The core of the album is one of sludge-type metal, I guess. This is one album where I feel I can say "listen for yourself" and not feel like I'm copping out on the review. Do that - listen, and realize that making musical lunacy is serious business for these guys. If at some point in the future I find out Weird Al Yankovic produced the album, I won't be surprised.
HIGHLIGHTS: "L'evoluzione dei Microbi," "That Old Brain Rapin' Highway," "La Follia di Spazio"
#13 Mgła - With Hearts Toward None
With this release Mgła has supplanted itself as one of black metal's best current projects/bands. Like Furia, Mgła is from Poland, and certainly lives up to that Polish reputation of producing uncompromising, unforgiving black metal that emphasizes atmosphere and traditional BM. The tracks are organized around a few carefully chosen guitar riffs that repeat throughout the tracks, much like what Darkthrone did in the 1990s (and a lot of bands for that matter). This formula has dissolved somewhat over the years, but makes for a strong and enticing building block (you all know what I'm talking about - Iron Maiden perfected it). With Mgła it's just a little less conspicuous. But I love that approach to songwriting.
All seven tracks are dense and ruthless. There are no keyboards or folk instruments. The production is top notch. This album sucks the listener into an abyss. Groza
, Mgła's debut, was more interesting and experimental than this record, but the sheer quality of With Hearts Toward None
is enough to impress any black metal fan, especially those with a hankering for the traditional aspects of the genre. Everything is more condensed but the riffs are better and the songs have a strong sense of direction. There are times when drums take the front seat, and when they do it's damn impressive. With Hearts Toward None
goes for the jugular - don't expect an easy listen.
HIGHLIGHTS: " With Hearts Toward None I
;" that riff is just so awesome...
#12 Fun. - Some Nights
Indie pop is normally a genre I don't identify with at all. So I feel a bit strange liking this album so much, but damn what an album. I haven't heard the band's debut, and I was first introduced to this band through the hit single, "We Are Young" (featuring the lovely Mrs. Janelle Monáe, who released the incredible The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III)
back in '10), which has been all over the radio since sometime last year. This is one of those albums that disguises what it means with its sound. On the surface this is an upbeat, positive, motivational feel-good album. There are a handful of really infectious tunes here that have the same effect a lot of radio songs do at first - they make you feel a little dumber after you listen to them.
Upon second listen, we find something a little different. The lyrics are deeply burdened with uncertainty, regret, melancholy, and nostalgia. Why am I the one always packing up my stuff?
, and everyone I love is gonna leave me
, and I don't need a new love or a new life, just a better place to die.
A lot of these feelings are presented in response/reaction type fashion. The album paints a picture of how these emotions are being dealt with, and the result is very interesting. Perhaps not genuine (difficult to tell) or consistent, but interesting. It manages to be weighty in subject and carefree in presentation. The vocalist puts his heart and soul into the music. It's very dynamic and very personal, and most importantly, very emotional and easy to relate to. It's "comforting." The following line is the best possible summary.
I've given everyone I know a good reason to go
I was surprised you stuck around long enough to figure out
that it's all alright
HIGHLIGHTS: "Some Nights," "We Are Young," "Carry On
," "All Alright"
#11 Summer Fades Away - We Meet the Last Time, Then Departure
I would really like to sit down with this band and ask them what their inspirations are - what their favorite movies are, what literature they like, or anything to get some sense of where they draw ideas from, because this band's music is special. It just sounds like it's drawn from someplace deep. "I Still Love the Blue Sky
" is about as inspired as music can be.
Summer Fades Away released its first EP, Unkind Time, Beautiful Memory
, last year via 1724 Records out of Beijing - which describes itself as "new sounds from China" - and ended up being one of the best post-rock releases of 2011. A lot of Chinese bands tagged with the ‘post-rock’ label beat the ‘quiet-loud-quiet’ formula to death, which quickly gets annoying when they all try to sound like Mogwai. I enjoy dynamics and all, but it's better when bands try to at least weave it in. Summer Fades Away doesn't break this pattern, but they do a much better job of 'putting things together'. Instrumental guitar ambiance evolves and guitars are slowly amplified to reach climaxes. Dynamics shift, but everything is woven together very nicely to create seamless compositions. Hear "Love Song
" for a case in point. The music is very melodic and the guitars are very atmospheric, not unlike the atmosphere in a lot of the post-black metal some of us like so much.
"Flower Mio" begins with what sounds like a xylophone. And "Yukiho" features a flute or a wind instrument of some sort. There's more folk music on this record than on the EP (credit on the bandcamp page goes to Gang Wu), which is a fantastic addition to this band's sound. Summer Fades Away is now folky post-rock. There's never an eruption of sound on this album that matches the power of "A Pavilion" on Unkind Time, Beautiful Memory
, which is my one gripe with it. The band obviously tried to create something more beautiful and serene with this release, and in doing so left out the 'punch to the face' that was "A Pavilion," which sort of detracts from things. Nevertheless, I really like this record and this band, and I'll continue following them for sure.
HIGHLIGHTS: "Flower Mio," "Yukiha
," "I Still Love the Blue Sky