Kate Bush is the greatest musician among Brits and 50 Words for Snow is her latest masterpiece. With this sentence I should end this review but I cannot wait with expressing my joy. The album feels like a natural follow-up to Aerial but whereas the latter was a sunny, occasionally extravagant spring midday, 50 Words is a quiet winter night. And it is not all about snow. The three opening tracks are all minimal piano ballads with an average length of each of more than 10 minutes but I assure you there is no time to yawn. For instance, Misty is about what it would be like to have sex with a snowman… On Wild Man Kate explores some old, weirder ground. The title track witnesses her sharing the mike with Stephen Fry to count down the Eskimo synonyms for snow but it is the duet with Elton John that moves most (especially the line I don’t want to lose you). It may be freezing outside but with Kate you always have a flame to warm your heart.

hydrameter: 5/5

Key Tracks: 50 Words for Snow, Lake Tahoe, Misty, Snowed in at Wheeler Street, Snowflake, Wild Man

Watch Wild Man: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HIF40L-_HjA

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The second, also self-titled album by Crystal Castles was recorded in such places as a closed church in Iceland or a cabin in Ontario so it is natural that coldness penetrated these tracks for good. Vietnam is the best example of the new sound of the duo: a spine-chilling tale of terror with some icy synths, frigid electronic backing and unintelligible vocals. The Game Boy noises so audibly present on the previous effort are hard to find. Crystal Castles (2010) is much darker than its predecessor and it is a quite depressive affair. On every level, Alice and Ethan step forwards. Year of Silence is what you would expect from Sigur Rós’ Jónsi if he died and dug out of his grave as a singing zombie. Violent Dreams is ethereal and this kind of slumber that leaves you with unidentified anxiety. On I Am Made of Chalk Alice gurgles, I must cite Pitchfork, like the monster from J. J. Abrams’ Cloverfield. It is really disturbing as you cannot say if she is in pain or in rapture. Not in Love is terrific as far as you listen to the remix with Robert Smith of The Cure. The best reason to hear the album is, however, Celestica. It feels out of place and CC are yet to outdo this sublime masterpiece which starts with the following lyrics As we fall into sequence / And we’re eating our young to come up to a disorienting plea of a lost soul When it’s cold outside hold me / Don’t hold me / When I choose to rest my eyes coax me / Don’t coax me.

hydrameter: 4/5

Key Tracks: Celestica, Doe Deer, I Am Made of Chalk, Intimate, Not in Love, Vietnam, Violent Dreams, Year of Silence

Watch Celestica: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IsxNUl1IHnE

Among the most distinctive acts to appear in the second half of the noughties were Crystal Castles. They are not really famous for music but for their riot-like gigs. Alice Glass, the vocalist, would scream, run, climb, dive, spit, and who knows what else. Even a serious injury could not stop her from playing. She is the face of the duo but as usual in such cases the mastermind stays in the shadow. Ethan Khan, the producer, is responsible for Crystal Castles’ bleeps and jarrings. Their music often sounds as if taken from a Nintendo video game: primitive but charming (Untrust Us). Unless it’s aggressive as a band of yobs smashing your car (Xxzxcuzx Me). They rely heavily on samples and are fond of voice manipulation which should not come as a surpsrise. Crystal Castles are meant to polarise. It is nothing special, however, that what is a salvation for some, it is a heresy for others. But all of them will be taken by the closing Tell Me What to Swallow. Beautiful stuff.

hydrameter: 4/5

Key Tracks: Alice Practice, Courtship Dating, Tell Me What to Swallow, Untrust Us, Xxzxcuzx Me

Watch Courtship Dating: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JwiG9CUDo-I

You have to be really skilled to take a bunch of the ’80s ad samples and turn it into something gorgeous like Child Soldier, the penultimate track on this wonderful album. It incorporates some video game-like noises and a juvenile choir to an otherwordly effect. Oneohtrix Point Never has already established himself as the ambient master with releases such as Rifts (2009) or Returnal (2010) but this is not simply another position on an impressive list. Replica will shoot him into another galaxy. The mysterious opener Andro thankfully avoids New Age kitsch. Is the dramatic Power of Persuasion about dawn or dusk? Up is a rare moment of uptempo. Finally, there is the title track. I have read that you can hear a nuclear blast here. Elsewhere, it’s a genius piano-meets-drone tune. OPN is not aiming for the past here as his latest opus is not nostalgic at all. Daniel Lopatin opens a vortex to the future but the cover image suggests we may not be happy about what we will find there. With its “hauntology” it is fine to say that Replica is the antithesis to the pagan cacophony of Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age.

hydrameter: 4/5

Key Tracks: Andro, Child Soldier, Power of Persuasion, Replica, Up

Watch Replica: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiwi7d0f91Y

The Future Crayon is the second compilation album by Broadcast which entered the music market one year after the unbelievable Tender Buttons. It gathers various tracks and b-sides previously released on EPs and singles. Many bands would sacrifice their drummers for some of those songs for almost none of them feel like a work of poorer quality. While there are no standouts like You Can Fall, Hawk or Black Cat, The Future Crayon is a very coherent and enjoyable listen. Most of the tracks are instrumental and they witness band’s eagerness to experiment. The first song, Illumination, is a standard Broadcast tune with Trish’s stable yet mesmeric voice playing the main role. She is even better on Distant Call. Here, the singer is only accompanied with drums and analogue echo (piano turns up later). The third non-instrumental track worth mentioning is called Poem of a Dead Song. One of the most adventurous works is Hammer Without a Master (great title). Chord Simple is very melancholic and beautiful. Finally, Dave’s Dream is quite a psychedelic odyssey through some intriguing mind(s). The Future Crayon might feel too long but this is the basic feature of a compilation.

hydrameter: 4/5

Key Tracks: Chord Simple, Dave’s Dream, Distant Call, Hammer Without a Master, Illumination, Poem of a Dead Song

Listen to Illumination: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hO09aqwTQo

Planningtorock “W” (2011)

November 15, 2011

I will try to write this review without mentioning a singer with whom Planningtorock aka Janine Rostron is compared far too often not to the advantage of the latter (hint for those who know little about what is going on in music recently: they collaborated on a 2010 album about Richard Dawkins’ hero). W is an ambitious record, equally bringing together avant-garde and pop, that reveals more with every spin. It is demanding and difficult at times but also fascinating. Planningtorock is an audio-visual artist so it would be necessary to witness her live to fully understand W. Planningtorock experiments with her voice, sounding very masculine here (like on Doorway) and feminine there. Antony Hegarty may come to mind easily. Indeed, W is an analysis on gender and as such it succeeds on almost every field. Tracks can be very sinister (just like Rostron’s prosthetic nose, the key image of W) and joyous, danceable. The opening Doorway achieves maximum effects with minimum efforts and slowly builds itself to fade away without reaching the expected climax. #9 is shaking and shimmering thanks to fantastic drumming and electronica. The Breaks, the best track, is a breathtaking experience with the dramatic horns being the centrepiece of W. They surely demand another listen. Planningtorock gladly uses both electronic noises and live instruments (strings, sax, etc.) to produce a remarkable vision.

hydrameter: 4/5

Key Tracks: #9, Doorway, The Breaks

Watch The Breaks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BWO9LweKzV8

Parallax by Atlas Sound aka Bradford Cox aka the-man-fronting-Deerhunter comes as a nice surprise. I expected a neurotic record of ambient and loudness (just think of Quick Canal featuring Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab from 2009 terrific Logos) from the über-prolific musician but no. Instead, Mr. Cox presented us with twelve croons, equally charming and hypnotic. Oh, and his best yet. Atlas Sound may finally feel at ease with himself but the truth lies much deeper. As usually, Bradford sings mostly about Bradford (and his demons). But Parallax is listed as “science fiction” genre so prepare yourself with close encounters with the cosmos. This theme was suggested by the late Trish Keenan from Broadcast, a friend of Bradford (he dedicated the album to her which I find very touching). Musically, Atlas Sound explores territories which are well-known (Doldrums) and quite new (Terra Incognita). His vocal performance is superb, like on the already mentioned elegant and moving Terra IncognitaAmplifiers and Modern Aquatic Nightsongs have the right balance between being straightforward and quirky. And no, Te Amo is not a Rihanna cover. Parallax invites to discover an extremely interesting universe from a musician who probably will never cease to amaze.

hydrameter: 4/5

Key Tracks: Amplifiers, Doldrums, Modern Aquatic Nightsongs, Te Amo, Terra Incognita

Listen to Terra Incognita: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8rY5Uf4E0e4

If you were going on a desert island and could take only one album by Gang Gang Dance, God’s Money would be the less obvious choice. After all, Saint Dymphna was their breakthrough (moreover, think of House Jam and Princes) while Eye Contact confirmed their status as musicians for whom being exceptional and catchy comes pretty easy. What is God’s Money then? It’s a labyrinth of a rainforest woven by endless imagination (Egowar). It’s a cavern deep down below the eternal ice of Antarctica full of shimmering crystals (Untitled (Piano)). It’s a secret chamber waiting to be discovered (God’s Money V). It’s the Kraken surfacing slowly to crush your boat (Before My Voice Fails). Finally, it’s the album I would take on a desert island with me.

hydrameter: 5/5

Key Tracks: Before My Voice Fails, Egowar, God’s Money V, Untitled (Piano)

Listen to Egowar: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DsXKN37swLc

OOIOO “Taiga” (2006)

November 7, 2011

The title of this album might suggest some cold ambient territory but you could not get more wrong. Think of Hokkaido in winter and four crazy Japanese girls dancing and chanting on the frozen lakeside. Fronted by Yoshimi P-We, OOIOO move on a thin ice of psychedelia, experimental and tribal. All tracks have strange acronym titles, impenetrable to decipher. The brilliant opener UMA would be a primordial hymn from ancient times if it did not end with a power drill sound (more oddly, it is still awesome). UJA is the witch doctor’s lament accompanied by some possessed females and unidentified noises which all of a sudden turns into a dance track. UMO is the polished version of UMA but it’s more intricate and clever. Sailor Senshi on drugs, anyone? Finally, the closing IOA sees the band unwinding in full. Taiga feels like an improvised adventure but as strongly as it speaks to body, it also speaks to mind. It can be difficult at first but, hey, don’t retreat… reload!

hydrameter: 4/5

Key Tracks: IOA, UJA, UMA, UMO

Watch UMO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJ1FLn7T448

The fearless alchemists of music, Gang Gang Dance, released RAWWAR between God’s Money and Saint Dymphna. It’s got only three tracks but it’s surely not short of ideas. Nicoman announces the upcoming attractions of Dymphna (2008). Oxygen Demo Riddim is instrumental, it evidently shows GGD as a band that can both accomplish pop sensibility and urge for exploration. The track has blizzard synths and counts down to something unexpected, hard to tell if it’s gonna be good or evil. What we can hear at the end is a thunderbolt. Finally, the closing The Earthquake That Frees Prisoners is their most dreamy and disturbing effort here. The voice speaking belongs to Nathan Maddox, the deceased member of GGD. He was killed by a lightning… RAWWAR is a familiar terrain but it’s also a séance.

hydrameter: 4/5

Key Tracks: Nicoman, Oxygen Demo Riddim

Listen to Nicoman: http://www.myspace.com/ganggangdance