Archive for October, 2016


This article first appeared at No Ripcord on October 25, 2016.

lazarus

Saying that David Bowie was theatrical is as obvious as saying ‘water is wet.’ It’s only shocking that it took him so long to put together his own musical. Lazarus ran for a limited engagement in New York last winter. It’s just starting up previews in the West End this month. Envisioned as a sequel to The Man Who Fell to Earth, it features tons of Bowie covers. Unless you see the show, the plot seems to be hard to come by. But the songs hold up in their new setting.

This article first appeared at No Ripcord on October 25, 2016.

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It’s a little after 10 p.m. on a Saturday night and the crowd at Sunnyvale in Brooklyn is silent and enraptured. Onstage, Emily Jane White’s fingers glide over the keys as she sings Hands, her voice echoing out and filling every inch of space in the venue. This is the reaction that meets White for most songs in her set, followed by applause and shouts of approval.

This article first appeared at No Ripcord on October 10, 2016.

jv1

Bon Iver creates beauty out of disarray. On his first two albums, Justin Vernon took his heartbreak and turned it into gorgeous, soothing melodies. 22, A Million takes a similar approach, but the filter for his turmoil is gone. Instead, these songs are chaotic, unexpected and jarring. Samples, vocoders, and shambling synths crash together in an unstructured soundscape. But if you listen through the anarchy, you will find a stirring, masterful odyssey.

22 (Over Soon) throws you into an alien landscape of stuttering electronic glitches and auto-tuned vocals. But Vernon’s voice comes in like an old friend, bolstered by a lovely sample of Mahalia Jackson’s performance of How I Got Over. The aggressive 10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄ is the most tumultuous song here, with pounding percussion, unintelligible vocals and crushed, flattened instrumentation. Somehow though, these elements create a perfect storm, sounding harsh but not painful. 21 M♢♢NWATER goes a bit too far, though, barely holding together as a song at all.

While many songs are crowded and cluttered, others offer a calm in this maelstrom. 715 – CRΣΣKS is a corrupted choir of Vernon’s voice, contorted to several warped tones. ____45_____ is also stunning, with twisted saxophone lines, gentle banjo picking and Vernon’s voice. 666 ʇ is sunny with warm guitar chords and an electronic beat pattering away. “I’m still standing in/Still standing in the need of prayer/The need of prayer/No, I don’t know the path/Or what kind of pith I’ve amassed,” Vernon sings.

It’s this need for assurance from God on his path that occupies Vernon’s thoughts on this album. “These will just be places to me now,” he sings on 33 “GOD,” giving up attachments over a grounded piano melody. On previous records, this song may have been just his voice and the keys. Here? It’s buried and resurrected around samples from Jim Ed Brown, Lonnie Holley and Paolo Nutini. 8 (Circle) hits a similar note, as he sings “Not sure what forgiveness is/We’ve galvanized the squall of it all/I can leave behind the harbour.”

29 #Strafford APTS comes the closest to combining all aspects of Bon Iver so far. While there are electronic  vocals and floating synths, this is a graceful spiritual that harkens back to earlier works. If you don’t feel something when that voice wails out the word “canonize,” or when Vernon breaks into distortion as he ascends to falsetto, check your pulse; you may be dead inside.

Vernon’s desperation for answers find a resolution of sorts on 00000 Million. This piano-based hymn finds Vernon trying to cut ties, only to return to familiar haunts. “I hurry bout shame, and I worry bout a worn path/And I wander off, just to come back home,” he sings, the weariness clear even through a vocal effect.“Well it harms, it harms me, it harms, I’ll let it in,” he concludes, choosing to stay and live with the pain.

22, A Million finds Vernon searching for a solution to the hole in his heart that he tried to fill with pandemonium. But despite the pleading and searching for answers from God, it’s up to him. Maybe the solution is realizing that there isn’t one at all. Vernon may not be sure if he’s on the right path, but he’s certainly on a good one.

9/10

This article first appeared at No Ripcord on September 20, 2016.

preoccupations-album

Preoccupations have had a mixed couple of years. When their debut came out in early 2015, they went by the name Viet Cong. Although the record itself was a shadowy take on post-punk that garnered much deserved notice, a good portion of that attention took the form of criticism over the band name. So now, a year later, the four-piece has been reborn as Preoccupations. Same aggressive, foreboding sound, but now with 100% less controversy!

With their second self-titled LP, Preoccupations returns with a crushing, take-no-prisoners attitude that infects these nine songs, at times as tense as a knife against your throat. Anxiety sets the tone with an opening drone that could be mistaken for distant church bells, setting you up for a destructively sinister groove. While Matt Flegel speaks-sings his way through the verses, he draws out the two-word chorus, sounding more like a corrupted audio file than a belted note.

Sure, it’s easy to see Joy Division in this band’s DNA, but don’t think for a second that it makes them predictable or obvious. Monotony is all angry, angular chords slashing across the background with momentary shifts to a captivating hook. But as it moves into Zodiac, the motorik beat shifts from industrial to electronic, bubbling rather than battering. Zodiac itself is a roller coaster, as the tempo dramatically changes with no sense of build-up. Flegel snarls his way through each line, issuing commands like “Retake your form/From the sad days/Focusing on/The task at hand.” The monolithic Memory feels like a couple of segments stitched together by a lengthy jam session, ending unexpectedly with an ambient trip. Sense is a minute-long harmonious transmission, both calm and needy.

Even when a track seems more “traditional,” Preoccupations still aims to throw you for a bit of a loop. At first, the slow-climbing keyboard and vibrating guitar of Degraded would fit on side two of Low, but the song curves into a raucous, speedy number, courtesy of quick-footed drumming and screeching guitars. Forbidden pulls off almost the reverse trick, sounding spacey, but then inexplicably fading out as soon as the guitar and drums kick in. Stimulation‘s only trick is that it doesn’t have one, existing as a propulsive, head-banging slice of post-punk.

Preoccupations is a strong follow-up to an excellent debut record. It showcases a band that is evolving and finding new ways to stretch out their sound. Now that Preoccupations will no longer be….preoccupied by objections to their former band name, there’s nothing left to hold them back.

7/10