Bonobo: The North Borders

bonobo-thenorthborders-leif_800Having listened to, and enjoyed their former album, Black Sands, I was very pleased to see that Bonobo had dropped a new album this March. I immediately got my hands on The North Borders, remembering old tracks like ‘Kong’ and ‘El Toro’ and knowing that I was in for something exciting. Just glancing at the track listing I could already imagine the variety of flavors and textures that would be present in this new work. The album showcases four different featured artists, including Szjerdene, Cornelia, and Grey Reverend, as well as one of my all-time favorite vocalists. When I saw ‘Heaven for the Sinner (Ft. Erykah Badu)’ (which is one of the coolest 3/4 meter tracks I’ve heard in years), I knew instantly that the track had sexy written all over it. I pressed play and began my listening from the beginning, only to find that the entire album is musical coitus.

The first track, ‘First Fires (Ft. Grey Reverend)’ sets the tone for this whole album, with aching vocals, the slow progression of melancholy chords backed by heart-melting strings. It was an unexpected opening, certainly not one that I was used to, but a powerful start to a collection of unquestionably solid songs. The sound is reminiscent of early Burial throughout, with that relaxed and sometimes dark tone, intelligent structure, eclectic instrumentation, and well developed triumphant scenes. Like any great electronic trip-hop, Bonobo’s methodically repetitive nature is progressively engaging and moving.

Yes, The North Borders is nothing short of a completely satisfying experience for me, and it’s got some of my favorite friends in it: vibraphone (‘Towers’), saxophone (‘Emkay’), thumb-harp (‘Cirrus’), flutes (‘Antenna’), strings (all over the damn place), and vintage-sounding vocal samples (‘Know You’), all incorporated into the music in such a tasteful manner that the listener is pleasantly stimulated. Personally, this was the perfect spring break jam for me; it didn’t matter if I was on a 6-hour car-ride to the beach with my family, playing board games with my friends, or just painting by myself in the early morning- this music makes you feel badass, and does a good job of grabbing your attention.

Really, I don’t know how else to say it: This shit is cool as hell. It’s a must-have, one of those albums that secures Bonobo’s place as an unmistakable talent in the musical world…10/10

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Young Dreams: Between Places

young-dreams-between-placesTake a moment to imagine the joyful energy of any classic Beach Boys track blended with the innovative characteristics of old Animal Collective songs, maybe a dash of fusion jazz and whatever else you can find, and what you’ve got is Young Dreams. Their debut album, Between Places, is a great way to kick off the spring season; it’s a fun, crazy, beautiful, disorienting, and imaginative auditory experience.

I’ll admit, after the first track, I had to hear another. Throughout the album you’ve got those great Brian Wilson vox-harmony vocals in tracks like ‘When Kisses Are Salty’, a kick-ass rhythm section that makes you want to dance, and some great synths that keep the mood electrified. Though it’s a personal challenge for me to look past certain synthetic-acoustic instruments (the fake flutes and horns in tracks like ‘Wounded Hearts Forever’, are very unsettling to me), there is so much that is genuine about this music that I find to be completely satisfying and capable of redeeming any unusual aesthetic created by this band. Even still, that has to be my one qualm with Between Placesseven minutes into the album’s epic 11-minute track, ‘The Girl That Taught Me To Drink And Fight’, it starts to feel like it’s drawing closer to a bad 80’s movie score, yet very distant. In my opinion, if you’re going to use a fake instrument, be really up-front about it- don’t try to stick wax celebrities in your crowd of friends.

To put it lightly, this is some very creative songwriting, and there are some very amazing scenes throughout which are made even more enjoyable by the high-quality editing and mixing. These tracks are all mid-sized contenders at the least, with the shortest song, ‘Dream Alone, Wake Together’, clocking-in at just under four minutes—so don’t expect a quick sampling when you’re trying this band out. Still, definitely check out Between Places, especially if you’re into experimentalism. This is all very happy music, bouncy and charged with that youthful spark. You won’t find any melancholy escape tunes here, no lonely anthems to cling to, just a good time in a strange place…9.1/10

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The Bear and The Sea: Trees Like You

a0714053574_10I listened to The Bear and The Sea’s latest album, Trees Like You, on a recommendation from a friend here at ViolentSuccess only to find that this album was inspiringly beautiful. It’s a masterpiece of instrumental electronic music, reminding me of that first time I listened to E*Vax’s Parking Lot Music in 2001; the kind of work that utilizes unique ideas as well as fond sensibilities of music, and the artist’s environment to create a signature sound. Consequently, it’s giving me the hardest time of writing this review, but I’ve figured out how to describe the world of this album: just look at the cover. I mean, really look at it. When you get around to listening to this album you’ll understand how this image fits so well with the feel of this atmospheric realm.

The first track, ‘My Fire Burns The Same’, does a good job of introducing you into the mellow setting, making you feel like just another small thing among the black isosceles mountains, wandering alone across the snow white earth until an origami beast shows up for a challenge, whereupon you must draw out your trusty paper sword in defense. Static-charged waves gently crash upon the the pulsating shores of a pad-like instrument; above that, the cry of birds amid a high register synthesizer. On either side of you is the crinkling sound of wet paper, most likely a drenched receipt from your last meal in the real world, a reminder that you are no longer there.

Maybe it’s the little boy in me who’s talking now, but I think what makes a good album is this sense of adventure in a foreign landscape. I say that because things are always happening and changing from one mood to the next, which is exciting and interesting. That’s not to say that this is the kind of music you’d want to fight dragons to, because for the most part it’s a very chilled and tranquil collection, but it’s not so relaxing that you’d grow bored enough to fall asleep at your desk. Take for example ‘Crystal Swords’, which after three minutes of two-step bass and snare hits, shifts into a new chord progression and rhythm style. The change is sudden and unbalancing, however appropriate, adding a new flavor, and making the song into more of a story.

Sure, some of these songs may seem repetitive in the moment that you’re listening to them, and there’s not a track on here that isn’t solid enough to stand on its own, but I think Trees Like You is an album meant to be listened to as a whole. This is to say that there’s no song that’s better than the other, they’re all great, which is nice to have in a record because then you don’t have to worry about hitting the skip button anytime you’re driving…10/10

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Delphic: Collections

561716_10151126512025872_1834525031_nThis week I decided to listen to something that would keep me awake, something lively, fun, and easy on the brain. Delphic’s latest release, Collections, served as that avenue to my satisfaction, or at least it seemed to at the time. This is the trio’s second album release since Acolyte in 2009, and it feels as though they’re really starting to settle into their own sound. Throughout my sampling I could pick out little things from each song that reminded me of other artists that I once binged on as a teenager, and I would now use those references to my advantage…

I initially decided to start in reverse and I was intrigued by the vocal percussion at the beginning of ‘Exotic’, which sounded to me exactly like a sped up version of the beat from Michael Jackson’s ‘Stranger in Moscow’. Although this was my least favorite track of the album, I realized the band’s potential and started the record from the beginning. The first song came on strong with great percussive tracks amid triumphant chords, which at times sounded like the same ones used in The Rolling Stones‘, ‘Gimme Shelter’, however omitting the resolving chord at the end of the progression. Every now and then the stand-out vocals remind me a lot of Jeff Thomas from Duran Duran, and work very well with this electronic rock vibe.

This album has great production value, with crisp drums, vintage synth sounds, and sweet vocals capable of sometimes getting on my nerves with their poppy attitude. But really, there were only three songs that I would listen to over again, and one of them was ‘Memeo’, a fun tune with nice chords and very rich instrumentation that felt very danceable. Actually, I may amend that previous statement because there was another track ‘Tears Before Bedtime’(somewhat experimental), with female dialogue that I also rather liked. I have a feeling this was just chucked into the mix to give the album some diversity in style, but I liked it more than many of the other tracks. My major con with this album is that I’m always annoyed by midi instruments that try to mimic real acoustic ones such as horns or strings. Next to that, the vocals can be very poppy, making me question how cool I actually feel while listening to this band. That being said, the singing on tracks like ‘Baiya’ are very spirited and moving, especially toward the end of the song where I can almost hear the soul of Jeff Buckley crying out.

All the same, I’m not too disappointed with Collections because I found a few good songs, and learned a couple of things about composition… 6.8/10

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Atoms For Peace: Amok

atoms-for-peace-amok-e1354637100873When I managed to get my hands on a copy of the new Atoms For Peace album, Amok, I nearly exploded with excitement. Without trying to draw too much attention to Thom Yorke’s work with Radiohead, I’ll say that the sound of this album is something I would expect to follow up The King of Limbs, and as a musician, I’m hating myself all over again, loving every passing second of this fantastic album. Without having any knowledge of the creative process behind this band, I assume that Yorke and Nigel Godrich (keyboards and synth, long-time producer of Radiohead’s albums since 1994) are obviously the driving forces behind this album, working alongside the talents of Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Joey Waronker (Beck, R.E.M.), and Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco (Forro in the Dark).

First off, there are some really great drum tracks on Amok. I’m always impressed by a percussionist’s ability to take the sterile precision of a computer program and impart it with a remarkably human soul. Listen to ‘Default’ and you’ll hear what I mean. A synthesizer opens with an irresistibly catchy chromatic melody, which can only be described as alien-like hip hop backbeat. Then, a whimpering “hey” ushers in an unorthodox eight-note accent pattern in the drum-machine, which provides a novel groove that never deviates from the strong head-nodding four-feel of one of the album’s most memorable tracks– My personal favorite part of this song are Thom’s serene-yet-triumphant vocals in the last chorus. Rarely does one hear such clear-cut components blend into such a cohesive track.

Really, the rhythms throughout the album, both percussive and melodic, are maddeningly innovative. Another great example of this would be Flea’s bass line on ‘Stuck Together Pieces’. It’s the kind of writing that catches me off guard and begs the question, “how did you come up with that?” I think that having him on the album has really made it something special for me, and his touch really completes its cool, relaxed vibe which, in my opinion, seldom exudes the energy necessary to score a car-chase scene, but is certainly capable of doing so.

These songs are all stand-alone tracks, each with a specific instrumentation and unique feel. Somehow they all fit and flow together very well. By the time the album ended and started over again, I was surprised by how quickly 45 minutes had gone by. The level of creativity exhibited by this production leaves nothing more to be desired from such great musicians. I mean, they even have a danceable 7/4 song, which of course awards Atoms For Peace with odd-meter props. Yes, this is the kind of music that you have to listen to at least 100 times in order to catch the tiny intricacies that make it stand out from any other work. Myself, I haven’t felt the need to listen to anything else for as long as I’ve had Amok in my possession… 10/10

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Nightlands: Oak Island

oakislandoption22.11183I was intrigued by the unique sound of Nightlands and decided to check out their new album, Oak Island. The first song, ‘Time and Place’ sets the nostalgic tone of this album with a overpowering one-man chorus singing, “I’d like to invite you/for just a little while/for just a little while/to a place where I used to go when I was only 17/back to the place/the place that I once knew,” and we are brought to the archeological dig site of songwriter, Dave Hartley’s past. Standing by the edge of the excavation, looking down at the indistinguishable scraps of someone’s life, we find that these colorful, luminescent fossils seem to remind us of a very special time; and though these finds may be unrecognizable, they are not unfamiliar to us. What are they? The locked bones of a teenage romance? A mangled bicycle that was once the key to freedom? A million plastic relics among the scattered remnants of a time capsule buried eons ago by a group of friends. Old family photographs, a collection of coveted books and magazines that once served as imaginary escape routes, and a high school yearbook riddled with notes and signatures… all these things miraculously preserved within the sinew of mother Earth.

It certainly does feel like an emotional work, somber at times but never sad, and functioning at a slow pace for the most part– But don’t expect to take a nap during this album. It’s hard to say exactly what I like about Nightlands’ sound: The instrumentation is very eclectic, but not to the point that I couldn’t imagine it being played live with drums, guitar, bass, horns, saxes, maybe a drum machine or a synth, and lots of people singing; maybe a small choir. The excellent, heavily-layered vocals create ghostly-yet-warm, calming, tones that work well with that clean reverb guitar heard in many a Grizzly Bear tune. The composition style of Oak Island is not very demanding on the listener, no crazy meters or changes of tempo or key, but there are some pretty cool sections that deviate from the standard expectations of contemporary songwriting. So relax, and take it easy.

Myself, I prefer the more happy, upbeat songs like ‘Born to Love’ and ‘I Fell in Love with a Feeling’ that evoke energetic sentiments and allow me to see those pieces of junk trapped in the dirt that start to make more sense as they brush themselves off and come back to life. Yet even the melancholy tracks like ‘Other People’s Pockets’ have something reminiscent of comfort to offer. Still, by the end of Oak Island, I’d have to say that I felt like I wanted a little more out of this album; not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, but it’s not the kind of thing I’d want to listen to every day… 7/10

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Gold Panda: Trust EP

GoldPandaTrust_Sleeve3mmI found Gold Panda’s new Trust EP to be a very short, well rounded collection of experimental songs. It starts off with a great intro: Two sweet chords switching back and forth amid a distorted haze dressed with motion picture samples. Then we get to ‘Trust’, putting you in hip, bobbing trance fashioned from soothing arrhythmic loops and textures overtop a steady bass beat and the fast eighth-note percussion. It’s a very chilled piece, and though it may have the passing appearance of any static, minimal techno song, this track has movement. It takes you on a tour through the many rooms that comprise a Kubrick-esque setting, a place furnished with an elegant feng shui, twisting classy style with abstract and eye-popping adornments that barely stay unnoticed in the background.

I had been waiting in a cozy chair for what felt like many hours before I popped my headphones in, and I remember feeling very sleepy by the time the third track rolled around. It was a relaxing tune that pushed me over the edge and into that subconscious realm, if only for a brief moment before my phone rang to tell me it was time to move. I continued listening on the dark sidewalks of Chicago, enjoying the last bit of ‘Casyam_59#02’ and though it was my least favorite of the EP, there’s no reason why any lover of electronica music wouldn’t find it agreeable.

Clocking in at a second shy of 17 minutes, Trust is nice walk around the neighborhood. If anything, it’s comfort music, worthy of any modern iTunes library. Check it out. Let it rip…8/10

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