In trying to stay up again with frequent posting, I present to you a collection of recent tracks in my automobile.
From my summer stomping grounds in Alaska, Parker Longbough is releasing his debut on Wilderhook Records, Commander Comatose. This lo-fi album brings an interesting twist of passive aggressive teenage angst with the enjoyable drone of Built to Spill, which certainly comes through on “Think On Your Own”. “Further Forward” features an unflinching drum beat in the verse, followed by a lamenting and thoughtful chorus, which is unfortunately eclipsed by some less-than-superb vocal harmonies. Granted, I know where Parker is trying to go, but he fails to bring it home. “Swimming In My Mind” greets us halfway through the album, and is carried by a horribly EQ’d acoustic guitar, but is covered up by soaring vocals (reverb has its merits) and an easily accessible vocal melody. The oddly-placed lead guitar lines in the verse also lends a bit of flavor to the track. Sadly, the second half of Commander Comatose seems to be mostly filler (“Brodawg Deal” inexplicably causes my finger to press ‘skip’), but songs like “Half a Life” and album closer “3 Drunken Days” keep the record afloat, albeit some conspicuous sour notes. With a lo-fi record, it’s to be expected, but some examples are too blatant to be ignored.
The Winter Sounds have an album coming out on June 27, entitled Porcelain Empire. It’s interesting, to say the least. Let’s think about how to break this down though, since after all, it is a rock band with multiple twists. First, we have an incredibly tight drummer, and a keyboardist who plays more like a percussionist, following the rhythm section rather than guitar or vocal lines. While nothing spectacular is heard from the low end, bassist Patrick Keenan keeps it together and holds down the vocal responsibilities flawlessly. “Windy City Nights” opens up the album with an unbalanced verse and chorus, but flows into what should be the opener, “Gone to Save Mankind”. Its accented hi-hat and xylophone intro over smooth Tears For Fears-esque vocals make for one of the most enjoyable listens throughout the entire album. There are frequent parts in which the Winter Sounds borrow some dance rock standards, which distract from the band’s proven skill at combining a more technical edge to an accessible and catchy melody. Tracks like “Poor Sailors” and “Oblivion” keep the listener from skipping tracks, but “The Great Forgotten” is the real standout track, with a ridiculously catchy guitar hook. On the surface, this album is a great summer listen, just in time for its release date, but on just about every track, the band finds themselves at the same obstacle: transitions between verse and chorus. While both are generally well-constructed, The Winter Sounds lack the ability to switch from part to part without seeming extremely disjointed, if even for a few moments. Every chorus sounds too big or involved, and every verse is too predictable after the first run. It reminds me of the failed formula on Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory, but at least this band strays from the inevitably doomed rap/singing “style”. While I do give a thumbs up to this album, I am more interested in what the band’s next release will sound like, which will probably be a while.
I used to fall asleep to bands like Sigur Ros, Pedro the Lion, and Sufjan Stevens. Now, it’s Jesu, a Welsh wall of sound formed by Justin Broadrick. His brand of doom metal mixed with ambient drone is perfect for shoegazing, long drives, and going to sleep. After Jesu debuted in the United States this past March alongside Isis, they’ve been picking up more buzz, and for good reason. Their current LP, Conqueror, opens with an incredibly dense metal progression, while allowing Broadrick’s soft voice sort of breathe in, followed by a light, industrial synth sound. The whole album carries this overall vibe, but never allows the listener to lose interest, especially in other solid tunes like “Medicine” and “Transfigure”.
Lastly, I bring you the supergroup known as Battles (ex-Tomahawk, Helmet, Don Caballero, Led Zeppelin). On their debut full-length Mirrored, due next month, keyboardist/guitarist Tyondai Braxton adds voice sampling to the mix, unheard of on Battles’ earlier quasi-simultaneous release of four EPs on separate labels. While his most used sample shifts his voice to something akin to Alvin (y’know, from the Chipmunks?), after a slight adjustment period, one can begin to see his voice as another instrument or component to the song. Battles’ structures throughout the album are still consistent with their EP releases — basically taking one main riff idea, starting from scratch, building, adding, subtracting, building, and then either ending with a climax or resolution. This is not to say that any of their songs are predictable, but it is very captivating to hear the band explore every aspect and imaginable tangent of just one main idea. Also captivating is the constant layering of parts that somehow avoid clashing with each other, along with drummer John Stanier’s complex rhythms — without seeing him live, you’d expect him to be built like a spider.