Monday, November 22, 2010

The Album Quest, Part 2

Well it took me a while, but I finally got through all the artists I had planned on getting through for this blog post. I guess this is more or less the time it's gonna take for each post, although perhaps a bit faster because I will have less 1-hour long drone pieces that need to be slotted into one sitting, therefore extending the period of time before they are listened to (and hence delaying the writing of this blog post!). Anyways, this time I present you a whole variety of styles.

We start with Animal Collective, whose entire discography was unknown to me, and who were a pleasure to discover. We then move on to Japanese drone/noise-rock experimental trio Boris, whose albums (besides the tremendous Pink) I was discovering for the first time, and after a switch from noise-rock to ambient electro, we see Boards of Canada's entire discography. We finish off this time with a great album by American rockers Brand New. So without further commentary, here is, well, the commentary...

1. Animal Collective

a.) Campfire Songs

Starting with this album, which iTunes feeds me first because of alphabetical ordering, is a strange way to discover Animal Collective. Basically the story behind it is that they all sat around on a porch in November, in the cold, and recorded this very esoteric and purely strange piece of music. With acoustic guitars at the base, providing a sort of drone/trance-like constant harmonic feed in the background throughout the album, the two humans who make up Animal Collective layer minimalistic percussion and highly trance-y vocal harmonies over top. Most of the words are unintelligible, but that's really besides the point. You're just supposed to let yourself go and imagine yourself on that porch in November (the nature sounds in the background and occasional intruding wind gust help with that). Overall though, a great, if very weird, piece of work.

b.) Danse Manatee

Whereas Campfire Songs was very acoustic, Danse Manatee sees Animal Collective on a whole different level. On this album, the guys take a very low-fi electronic approach to the same kind of enchanting ambient psychedelic compositions, and the album leaves you with a whole different feeling. It's a great piece of work, although I would have to say their weakest, only because a lot of the time you feel that they are looking for their own sounds and feelings within the low-fi electronic framework, and only occasionally does it really sound like they found it them. Still, tracks like "Meet the Light Child" make it a great work of music.

c.) Fall Be Kind

This mini-album/EP was my first glimpse into the more mature Animal Collective sound, a warmer blend of acoustic guitars, complex percussive layering and vocal arrangements, and a touch of soft electro. I think it was the band's first foray into that sound as well, because, like Danse Manatee, it feels like a band searching for feelings, and sometimes finding them. Still, quite a good collection of tracks, and not a disappointment at all. Check out "What Would I Want? Sky" to see what I mean about it still being awesome.

d.) Feels

No pun intended, but Feels feels like the coming-of-age of the sound developed in Fall Be Kind. Better production certainly helps, but the arrangements and instrumentation are also a lot more precise and seemingly crafted with greater care. Overall, it's like a more awesome of Fall Be Kind. Definitely one of Animal Collective's best albums.

e.) Here Comes the Indian

This album sounds stuck halfway between Feels/Fall Be Kind and Danse Manatee. Whereas in Fall Be Kind and Feels, the electronic components were at a relative minimum, Here Comes the Indian brings back the synths and harsher noises from Danse Manatee and more or less applies to the atmospheres present in Feels. This makes for quite an interesting blend and resulting overall feel, that is nonetheless quite satisfying and enjoyable.

f.) Merriweather Post Pavilion

Animal Collective's latest work, Merriweather Post Pavilion is an even greater maturing of the components found in Feels and Here Comes the Indian, with greater/cleaner production, catchier melodies, more worked arrangements, and overall greater appeal. This is definitely a very good album that should and will be remembered for a long while. Within its sonic framework we find all the elements that AC has explored over the years, aged and matured to harmonic perfection. A must-have. Give "My Girls" a spin and you'll start to see why.

g.) People and Prospect Hummer

Two EPs that I grouped together for their relative similarity. These two feel like experiments in style and sound construction, which is not to say they are not good, but they are definitely not at the level of full-out full-length Animal Collective productions. If you got into their albums, you'll want to give these a listen to fully appreciate where the albums come from.

h.) Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished

The Animal Collective debut album, before they were even known as such (they are still listed as Avey Tare and Panda Bear on the album cover). Really, really experimental stuff, but very, very interesting and a must-have if you liked their other weird stuff. Very enjoyable and really quite awesome, although lacking the production and arrangement finesse of their latest albums.

i.) Strawberry Jam

If you had to consider any Animal Collective as a variant of punk, this would be it. Harsh sounds, greater percussion/drum presence, more weirdness, and you have an amazing combination that culminates in "For Reverend Green" and Avey Tare screaming his head off. An unbelievably amazing sonic experience that is also a must-listen. Along with Feels and Merriweather Post Pavilion, it rounds out AC's best albums list (at number 1 or 2 depending on my mood).

j.) Sung Tongs

Hard to place this one... Sounds somewhat like Feels but slightly harsher, perhaps somewhere between Feels and Strawberry Jam in the same way Here Comes the Indian was between Feels and Danse Manatee. In any case, another solid album with more great harmonies and arrangements, as one has come to expect after listening to so many Animal Collective albums!

k.) Water Curses

Another mini-album that again shows off Animal Collective's more experimental side. Solid quality-wise, it will probably only interest those who have really gotten into AC, or are very musically curious, which is a shame because it deserves to be heard more than that.

2. Boris

a.) Absolutego

One hour and five minutes of pure mind-blowing awesome. That seems to be the best way to describe this debut masterpiece by the Japanese noise-rockers. After around 15-20 minutes of drone build up with greatly interesting variations in feedback and static tones, the piece picks up like a classical symphony, incorporating first drums, then vocals in an experimental framework that builds and builds until it all dies out except for that huge drone guitar which brings us out to the end, slowly undergoing a great transformation until it is only a high-frequency screech that brings the opus to a close. If you are ready for something truly mind-blowing, this is it.

b.) Amplifier Worship

The first song on the album is called "Huge", and it is not only accurate for that particular track - it sets the mood for the entire album. This is Boris taking their drone debut, chopping it up and combining it with a raw noise-punk to create a combination rarely, if ever, heard before. It's a powerful sound that one must be ready to embrace and understand, but if one can, it is a great feeling to let that sound invade your ears and mind. A brilliant album.

c.) Smile

I'll have to admit being biased to this one because this is definitely my favourite Boris album, and I think it to be their best (although a lot would argue for Pink). Taking the drone-punk from Amplifier Worship and bringing out the most punk they can out of it, this is by far the most pure rock album that Boris has made. But it's really the combination of that rock with the drone sounds and atmospheres left over from Amplifier Worship that creates the awesomeness of the whole piece.

d.) Soundtrack from the Film "Mabuta No Ura"

It's not that surprising to see a band doing the soundtrack to a movie. What's more surprising is seeing a band make the soundtrack to a movie that doesn't exist (then again, this is Boris). I guess Bowie sort of did it with Ziggy Stardust, but he didn't really call it a soundtrack. More than just a concept album, this work is a very chill and ambient piece (yes, even by normal people standards) that transports you from scene to scene, and if you just close your eyes to can almost see the whole movie play out in your mind. Quite psychedelic and sometimes haunting, it is truly a great work of music.

e.) Sun Baked Snow Cave

The second hour-long masterpiece, this time in collaboration with Japanese experimental electro-noise artist Merzbow. It is therefore fitting that the piece opens up with a few minutes of  complex and interesting interlacing static sounds and background feedback. Eventually it drops into some very minimalist, chill guitar, eventually building up and back down, Merzbow providing more static to bring the piece to a close. The absence of drums makes this quite a relaxing hour of awesome.

f.) Rainbow

This time in collaboration with Michio Kurihara, a Japanese guitarist, Boris brings us something more noise-rock than Mabuta No Ura but definitely not nearly as harsh as Smile or Pink, something in between that makes for some great musicianship and awesome tracks (like Sweet No. 1 or Rainbow). Definitely a great album.

3. Boards of Canada

a.) The Campfire Headphase

These two Scottish brothers who apparently wish they were Canadian make some of the best chill, ambient, downtempo electronic music I've ever heard. The Campfire Headphase is definitely a prime example of it. Super ambient synths built up awesome atmospheres that are then complimented by beats built from really interesting sounds. Never disappointing, the album grabs your mind at the get-go and, well, never lets it go.

b.) Geogaddi

If the Campfire Headphase was impressive, I now know why this is THE Boards of Canada album to have and listen to. Like a slightly harsher and more sophisticated version of The Campfire Headphase, Geogaddi takes you on an amazing ambient ride that spans 22 tracks of varying length and styles. There's really not much more to say about it other than to recommend it and proclaim it as a must-have.

c.) Music Has the Right to Children

Slightly below Geogaddi in terms of pure quality, this album still shows that BoC are masters of their style. Kind of stuck between Campfire Headphase and Geogaddi in terms of style, it's slightly above Campfire Heaphase in terms of quality, which makes for a good listen and a solid album.

d.) Trans-Canada Highway

Damn, I guess they REALLY wanted to be Canadian. Tough luck, lads! Anyways, Trans-Canada Highway is a little BoC mini-album containing a track from The Campfire Headphase (Dayvan Cowboy) and some other tracks including a remix of the aforementioned piece. More awesome atmospheres and sounds, mostly keeping the feeling built in Campfire Headphase but with a bit more experimentation and exploration of sound.

e.) Twoism

The Boards of Canada debut album, hence quite lo-fi but also very successful at what it attempts, that being the establishment of a sound and a mood, atmospheres that can be background or can invade your mind depending on the volume and presence of the music. As any good debut album, it lays the foundations of the awesomeness to follow in the form of Geogaddi. If you get into Geogaddi and The Campfire Headphase, you'll want to check this one out for sure.

4. Brand New

a.) Deja Entendu

The album brings one's attention to the apparent Brand New signature moves which involves giving albums and songs very weird titles (one look at the album track list and one is confused). However, the mystery built by the song titles makes one very curious as to what the songs may contain, and upon discovery, one is most pleasantly surprised. Deja Entendu begins with a very alternative/psychedelic rock sounding intro called "Tautou", which, once ended, immediately launches into a parody of modern pop-rock called "Sic transit gloria... Glory Fades", which is truly genius. Upon first listen, that's what got me into this band - their ability to sound like pop-rock but in fact make complete fun of it in a very alternative and psychedelic, oft-punkish ambience. The entire album is great and deserves to be better known.

There you have it, this installment of the Album Quest has now come to a close. Hope you liked it, and if you've never heard of the bands and/or albums mentioned but my words strike curiosity into your heart, remember, YouTube and The Pirate Bay are your best friends until you decide you want to buy the album 'cause it's just that awesome! Stay tuned for next time, with Breaking Benjamin, BXI, Chad Smith's Bombastic Meatbats, Crippled Black Phoenix, and Cynic.



P.S. Abney Park's newest album The End of Days is now out, and it's friggin' awesome. Also recommended!

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