marcopantella

———– Writer / Music re-views / inter-views / and my points of view ———– The GROUND Magazine / HungerTV

Month: September, 2012

Archive – “With Us Until You’re Dead”

ar·chive [ahr-kahyv]

noun

1. Usually, archives. documents or records relating to the activities, business dealings, etc., of a person, family, corporation, association, community, or nation.

2. any extensive record or collection of data: The encyclopedia is an archive of world history. The experience was sealed in the archive of her memory.

From their 1996 album “Londinium” to their brand new “With Us Until You’re Dead”, opening the file of British musical band Archive means opening a world of different documents made of different musical styles, different band members (actually they are more a collective than a band), and vocals that translate the emotions of their trip-hop infused melodies, always contaminated by electronic and progressive rock. This time, another document is filed in the archive: orchestral music.

Founding members Darius Keeler and Danny Griffiths describe their eight studio album as a personal record made of love songs. Don’t be misleaded by this statement, it is not an easy listening, and it is not “Take My Head” or “You All Look the Same to Me”, in my personal opinion their best records. The dark side of love is explored here, how it wears you down mentally, how dangerous it is, and ultimately how the most secret and deepest emotions we can experience in life sprung from it.

The first single, “Wiped Out”, opens the record with an avant-garde ambient atmosphere before turning into a more psychedelic and progressive style. This is only a preview of what the album has in store, songs that take unexpected turns, resulting perfect on their own thanks to a collective contribution of 12 members, bringing their own unique talent to this complex symphony.

The line “You died in front of me” in the opening track, somehow fits later on into “Violently”, the second single, where the soulful voice of new vocalist Holly Martin sings “It died in me, so violently, quietly”. Her voice is as emotional as the one of Clare Torry in “The Greatest Gig In The Sky” by The Pink Floyd . If perfection exists it is in this 6:25 minutes track.

As love is the driving force, “Stick It in My Heart” shows this through tender, abandoned, sweet vocals and lyrics “everything that is, is love about you”. “Conflict” sounds like a solemn liturgy, it is haunting, it screams, and in the storyline of the album it feels like an epiphany: “conflict is a part of us until we’re dead”. No better way to title the album.

Drums intro for “Interlace”, orchestra outro for “Conflict”. Archive played live with orchestras before and listening to how they melt orchestral music with synths is a pure and mesmerizing experience. It is a real treat if you want to listen to and you are up to something different and new. As if it isn’t enough, “Calm Down” is another magical moment, simply instrumental as words are useless here. Love permeates the melody leading to a once again enchanting performance by Holly, along the strings arrangement of “Silent”.

“If I had a pistol it would be yours to have, no amount of pain would ever stop me coming back to you”. Simply sick and mental as love is for The Archive, “Hatchet” brings the album close to an end. “Damage” is essential and provocative in The Archive style of their 2006 album “Lights” and the closing track “Rise”, abruptly and peacefully ends on “We grow in love, step towards my dear. We’ll start again”.

It has got elegance, attitude, and drama, both musically and lyrically. You only have to listen because words step back when something as good as this is produced and for me there is no other way to describe it if not by saying that it is a trip, making you feel under the effect of some sort of drug. This is love, this is the success behind every of The Archive’s albums.

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2:54 – “2:54”

England strikes again, because let’s face it, when it comes to music most of the interesting upcoming artists comes from England. This is the time for clear-cut melodic lines and a shoegaze production. It is 2:54 o’clock and it is the time of Londoners Thurlow’s sisters.

If you are familiar with American female dream pop duo Azure Ray, you will probably connect with Hannah and Colette’s debut album even tough they are more uptempo and less dramatic and experimental than another well know duo, CocoRosie.

Taking their name from 1983 rock band Melvins (2:54 is from a point in the timeline of one of their songs) this first self-titled album is well composed and linear but lacks of  those emotional and captivating elements, leaving you in a limbo where nothing ever takes off.

What impresses the most though is Colette’s daunting and biting voice throughout the whole album, bringing a sort of aura that permeates these 10 tracks even when melodies are mildly stained by gothic and grungy basslines.

The trio of tracks that stands out the most are “Scarlet”, “Sugar”, and “Circuitry” where vocal becomes more mature, feminine, and bittersweet enough not to spoil the overall subtle result. “Ride” has a stinging guitar in it and the shoegaze distortion of the closing track “Creeping” is enhanced by the “I feel so dizzy” lines.

The album follows 2:54’s opening act tour for some of the XX European shows and even though the performance of the Thurlow’s sisters doesn’t overwhelms, it is still darkly enchanting and full of personality in the current British wave of emerging bands. 2:54 in perfect timing.

 

Alt-J – “An Awesome Wave”

Go and type Alt-J on your Mac keybord and you will have a triangle. Actually it is the Greek letter ∆ “delta”, used in mathematical equations to show change, and if you listen to this British alternative quartet’s debut album “An Awesome Wave”, you might just realise that this is the best change of direction in this year’s music panorama.

The formula behind this record looks complicated throughout the first listening but it is accessible as different genres are combined, starting with the unsmooth sound of the guitar in the “Intro”, to the RNB influenced single “Breezeblock”, and the piano in “Something Good”, while ever-ascending melodies play as common denominator in this new indie-pop formula.

As the process of resolving equations involves differents steps, this album illogically spans from haunting sounds, see “Fitzpleasure”, to contorted a cappella interludes by vocalist John Newman.It feels like The XX and Radiohead try but never manage to meet each other halfway.

Alt-J’s obsession and explanation for the “delta” is the main theme of “Tesselate”, “Triangles are my favourite shape, three points where two lines meet”, and bizarre lyrics keep fitting all the unexpected melodies track after track. They are continuosly alluding to the need for a congenital contact, “Muscle to muscle, toe to toe”, creating a sensual, honest, and captivating mood.

Though the closing track “Taro” leaves the equation unresolved and the listener puzzled, “Matilda” and “Breezeblock” will settle in your head and this wave of clashing sounds and edgy songwriting promise to overwhelm you after every listening.

Liars – WIXIW

The sixth studio album by LA experimental trio Liars, revolves around the palindrome of the title, WIXIW, pronounced “wish you”, a made up word concealing a sharp duality in lyrics and sounds. The title track itself embodies an hypnotic future in electronic music through a slow/fast rhytm of synths and occasional dancing guitars, taking bits of Massive Attack, Air, and Aphex Twin to a brand new level.

WIXIW explores themes of doubt, depression, and loneliness through a superlative take on synths and sequencer. No wonder that it was recorded in a remote and isolated location below U.S Highway 101.

From the ethereal opener to the already darker second track, “Octagon”, the mood of the band for this album, self-lostness, leads to doubt, disbelief, and uneasiness.

Single “N.1 Against the Rush”, brings you back to an 80’s infused nostalgia while one of the record’s masterpieces is the following “A Ring on Every Finger”, where through trip-hop rhytms the disgusts towards reality is explored, and even a sensual intimacy is endangered by the seed of doubt. Vocalist Angus Andrew sings “It’s broken…”.

A dance-punk apotheosis of which Liars are masters of, happens just before the closing track when “Brats” kicks in. We are in a parallel Trainspotting Era now.

The palindromic idea of the trio was to start somewhere, go through a lot of work and eventually end up where they started. The actually ended up creating something new in electronic music and as the closing track repeats “I’m on my way down”, we know that Liars’ isolation in the studio made them more aware of their inner world and experimental skills.

The Temper Trap – “The Temper Trap”

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It is called SAS (Second Album Syndrome), almost everyone is affected by it and Australian indie rock band The Temper Trap is no exception. They come back releasing the self-title follow up of their successful 2009 debut album “Conditions” and the result is captivating and full of made-for-festivals tracks. Nevertheless the overall project does not strike as high as vocalist Dougy Mandagi’s falsetto.

The quintet from Down Under were under a creative pressure to show that they were not a one hit wonder after the single “Sweet Disposition” that topped the charts in several countries and became their magnet to collect awards, headline tour, and had a mainstream diffusion through TV commercials.

Opener and leading single, “Need Your Love”, immediately displays The Temper Trap’s choice to take on electronic music. They didn’t make secret of being inspired by the likes of Massive Attack and Radiohead but unfortunately they are not close enough for a comparison as their attempt sound irrelevant most of the times.

The relatable love-and-rejection notion is the prevailing subject of the lyrics but only the second single, “Trembling Hands”, with a meticulous keyboard arrangement, goes deeper than that and opens the way to the best and most emotional part of “The Temper Trap”. The falsetto, that somehow works better on Chris Martin, takes you through the enchanting “Miracle” and despite nothing is innovative here, the right amount of romanticism and 80′s haunting synths that inspired the record is combined.

Becoming predictable and feeling uninspired even when catchy loops kick in, like in “I’m gonna wait”, “Dreams” is the last remarkable moment before the closing track, “Leaving Heartbreak Hotel”, where everything comes to an end on the line  “catch you in my sleep” and with all the elements that make this record homogeneous: falsetto, piano, and a bit of electro.

A different dosage of the three would have resulted in a much more impressive record and even though it is an enjoyable listening and proves that their potential is untouched, it does not tune in the same frequency of  “Conditions”. I’m sure the heat will be on again for their next release, the third, as it usually is the turning point for every musician. Let’s hope they won’t fall into the “trap”.

The XX – Coexist

Do you remember the feeling of falling in love and losing all sorts of inhibitions and limitations? Do you remember feeling the same way after few years and smiling about it? Well, this is what “Coexist” is all about and yes, The XX may sound the same as on their debut album but you are in for a listening that will remind you of all the reasons why you fell in love with them in the first place.

It is a dark, fragile, and honest 38 minutes conversation between the voices of Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim about love, separation, and coexisting together of course. Their unique style is once again channeled through whispers, subtle sounds, and almost imperceptible elements and for this reason, this long awaited second release will please both fans and everybody coming across this record.

The conversation begins with a monologue sung by Romy. It is the leading single, “Angels”, and from the first line “Light reflects from your shadow, it is more than I thought could exist” we are already in the presence of an angel, singing with its soft and innocent voice, coming from far, far away and yet so close to the listener and Oliver, the human being in this conversation with his warm and earthly voice that opens the second single,”Chained”. Together they sing “We used to be closer than this” as if love between a flawed creature like him and an immaculate angel could be possible.

Following the script of their 2009 album, it is time for Oliver’s soliloquy, remember “Fantasy”? This time it is called “Fiction” and this is what he feels when they are not together. The line recites “Fiction, when we are not together. Mistaken for a vision, something of my own creation. I wake up alone”. Every sensation is sharpened by minimalist and accurate arrangements until the turning point is reached with “Sunset”, where beat after beat separation becomes a reality. “Coexist” becomes darker and almost oppressive. For a second, in “Missing”, music suddenly stops as if Oliver’s heart skipped a beat… “My heart is beating in a different way” continues the track in such an unexpected change of direction. Artfully accomplished.

“Unfold” is another beautiful example of how XX’s gifted voices deliver straight into your ears and right through your heart all the familiar feelings that love can bring. They effortlessly manage to do this and the privateness of their conversation is also an unavoidable conversation with ourselves. You are simply left “Swept Away”, as the title of the penultimate song where the light shines in again and here, love couldn’t be better turned into lyrics, “I get swept away when I think of you. I’m soothed by you. You take it all away. I lose to you, surrendered at the start of the game”. It is uplifting, energising, and influenced by house beats brought by XX’s member, producer, and remix artist Jamie xx, aka Jamie Smith.

Oliver and the angel close the album together and it is stunningly romantic. “All I have, I will give to you. And we’ll be us.”. It is their moment, their song, and it is called “Our Song”. An “X” can mean so many different things and if another “X” comes along, they don’t necessarily have to mean the same thing in order to coexist. The moment they surrender to love is the moment when separation disappears, “The walls I hide behind, you walk through. You just walk through”.

What about the meaning of The XX as a band? Their essence is the same, mysterious and yet closely confidential. In a world where everybody tries too hard to stay on top of their success, they just refined their abilities as musicians and songwriters. This is not stepping back from taking risks but rather a clever and mature way to acknowledge their talent and how it reaches their ever growing audience.

Alanis Morissette – “Havoc And Bright Lights”

Sometimes there is a thick line between the idea we have about a certain artist and what the artist really is as a person. This line becomes thinner when this person gives birth to its first child and everything is reflected in the work as an artist. The child here is Ever Imre and the new mama is Alanis Morissette, releasing her first studio album in four years titled “Havoc and Bright Lights”.

Only a woman can fully grasp, feel, and understand motherhood and I was waiting for how one of the few remaining poetesse of music would sound in this new chapter of her life. The stakes are high when you are as established as her in the music industry, with a strong and devoted fan base and with a career of almost twenty years. “I’m on my twentieth round of vitamin v” she sings in “Celebrity”.

I guess it is true that maternity puts things in perspective and listening to the album you feel like a whole 360 degree retrospective of her musical repertoire is turned into a new panorama track after track, leading to a new beginning and a new evolution.

Rock-pop moments like single “Guardian” and “Woman Down”, about women’s rights and rumored to be the second single, remind of the easy listenings from her 2002 “Under Rug Swept”. The atmosphere of her unquestionable 1998 masterpiece album “Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie” is brought back in the outstanding “Numb” and “Havoc”. The more ethnic sounds of “Flavors of Entanglement” leave a mild trace in “Win and Win”, dedicated to her brother as “No Pressure Over Cappuccino” was, and the characterizing anger of Alanis’ debut album “Jagged Little Pill” is still heard in a more subtle way as she questions life, religion, and celebrity in “Lens” and “Celebrity”.

Despite sounding quintessentially Alanis in a brighter, reinvented, and occasionally too pop way, the phenomenal comes with the more darker and on the edge tracks like “Numb”, where a crying and frantic Roxanne-style violin plays along the line “I am lonely, I feel hungry and unloved. I feel angry, I am livid, need a hug”, and “Havoc”, that explores the entitlement of feeling depressed before discovering a joyful situation that was there all along. This is the bright side, or the bright light, of the record, “If forgiveness is understanding, then I offer mea culpa for the millionth time”.

The sweetness of the piano in  ”Empathy” is about being loved and understood, “I’m healed by your empathy, oh this intimacy” and as she questions her beliefs against her partner’s in the crescendo rhytm of “Lens”, “So now it’s your religion against my religion”, through the lens of love there is no room for misunderstanding, “And I’d like to know what we’ve seen through the lens of love”.

Alanis’ lyrics used to be so personal that sometimes were hard to decipher, yet they always managed to touch and explore deep emotional states with their straight forwarding and borderline words, carefully chosen as through the eyes of a poet. Even tough this time around they are more accessible, they don’t lose their integrity. Maybe it is the need to just enjoy her baby, relax, and as every mother to take a break from a life that revolves around another life, as she sings in “Receive”.

Taking everything into account, there may not be moments like “You Oughta Know”, “That I Would Be Good”, or “Uninvited” and the track “No” is unfortunately available only in the Japanese release of the album. Nonetheless she inquires into and exorcise everything until the last track, “Edge of Evolution”, where she leaves behind “The Couch” of the shrink with all its interpretations of a psychological nature. We simply “keep going out here on the edge of evolution” and for someone like her who has always been looking for an equilibrium through spiritual doctrines, this state of mind is the greatest achievement.

On the edge of cliché, she also speaks her mind about celebrity and how you are supposed to be and feel. I am sure that multi Grammy Awards winner Alanis already knows how to deal with this as she stays true to herself and her beliefs once again. She is just being ironic, don’t you think?…