The end of 2014 draws to a close soon, forever. Its a crazy thing right, and what is even more crazy is the amount of good music that continues to ooze its way out of this crazy planet of ours. This slightly psychedelic narrative comes with thanks from The Flaming Lips and their latest new born that salutes the Beatles, with a cover album of Sgt Peppers. Some thought of this as suicide, more recent reviews didnt seem to care but oh man, did we. So much so that this album earns itself a GOLDEN RAM. From last count, we think this is the 6th for the year, to think there are only 4 left. Diving deep down from wondrous heights to the deep emotional sounds of Grouper, the solo project of Liz Harris and her second offering, this album is mystical, deep and severely textural. Bell Gardens want be on too many of your musical radars, but if you come from the shoegaze daze and one of emotional connection, we urge you to listen in. Another fine week, enjoy!
Artist_ The Flaming Lips
Album Title_ With a Little Help From My Fwends
Label_ Warner / Flaming Lips
Genre_ Alt. Rock, Avant-Garde, Electro, Experimental
Moments Of_ The Beatles, Flaming Lips, Everything in Between
Stand Out_ With A Little From My Friends, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds
What’s your musical fantasy? Is it Brian Eno eating scrambled eggs and hummus off of Rick Astley’s porcelain buttocks? Well, that’s a little bit awkward. Is it the magical man band Flaming Lips gathering all their musically minded nearest and dearest together and covering the entire Beatles album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? It is? Mine too! We’re going to be happy ol’ chaps this week then. Of course it gets wonderfully weird and a little brain boggling, but it’s beautifully sincere, and we wouldn’t expect anything less from Wayne Coyne. He’s like your favourite weird old hippy uncle, or like, the ultimate crazy dude dad. Or is that just my fantasy? Super awkward.
Aw yissss. Awwwww Yiisssssss, could this get any better?? Nope.
The album opens in FL true to form weirdness. It’s like the Beatles singing under water on acid. In my head it’s like each instrument is a bit of kelp in a big musical forest and Wayne is the sea tide making all the beautiful bleeps and bloops come from each bit of kelp – I think this Melbourne spring heat is getting to me a little bit. Actually, this is the exact album to indulge all those lovely weird brain imaginings, so carry on brain.
With A Little Help From My Friends is a standout – manic screeching mingles with soothing lilts as Black Pus crashes into Autumn Defense and then ricochets into your ears. An explosion of energy while the comforting Beatles message of camaraderie holds sway over it all.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fktR7ardYU
But the real surprising winner is Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Miley Cyrus proves she’s more than a twerking tongue, her vocals roll and wash into the song; she is Lucy. And with Moby?? Moby is Moby, a sinister Lou Reed-esque monotone echoing Miley. There is even a gospel element in here somewhere, but then it’s lost in a glitch crashing wave of sound. The result is beautiful and ear-bending.
Everyone has their little love and little not love in a Beatles album – the not love for me is the gagging sentimentality of When I’m Sixty-Four. And that’s still there when Def Rain and Pitchwafuzz tackle it, but it seems to mirror what it is to us listening now; a moment in the Beatles’ history to be reflected on. Two Beatles never reached sixty-four, and are Paul and Ringo living that? Are they doddling around with someone lovingly who puts up them like they sang all those years ago? The original lyrics sound hollowed and echoed like a memory, while synthy winds of time blow and buff the words around. It’s eerie, and it sounds exactly like I think about it.
I could go on about each individual song – each deviation from the original, each little surprising twang of familiarity, it’s lovely. But that would take too long, and I think there’s enough in here for everyone to take their own little feeling or memory or strange brain imagining away with them like a little secret, and I don’t want to spoil that. So just go listen.
Album Title_ Ruins
Genre_ Ambient, Dream pop, Psychedelic folk
Moments Of_ Brian Eno, Xiu Xiu, Roy Montgomery
Stand Out_ Clearing, Labyrinth
Grouper, solo project of musician and artist Liz Harris, has been a constant in the ambient genre since its inception in 2008. Her music is imbued with the ethereal tape loops and layered vocal textures characteristic of the genre. Ruins is the follow up album from 2012’s immersive The Man Who Died in His Boat, which presented the listener with murky textures and vocal effects in equal measure. This week’s New Born is a different direction for Grouper, taking a more ‘acoustic’ approach.
Despite the tangent that Grouper has taken musically, opting to forswear the looping pedals and the layers of fuzzy textures, Ruins as an album could still be described in as many words as ‘sparse’ and ‘ambient’. This is not normally my ‘bag’ stylistically in all honesty – exemplified by Brian Eno’s latest release of 20 minutes of essentially the same synth effect across four tracks – but based on the praise heaped on Grouper by some of the more prestigious music blogs, I was more than prepared to give it a go.
Delving into the album itself, ‘Clearing’ is a heartwarming and charming juxtaposition between a discordant upright piano riffs and Grouper’s husky vocals. – Moreover, there is something inherently bright, but also elements of darkness that permeate the album. ‘Call Across Rooms’ presents us with similar themes musically, melodic minor piano riffs working monophonically with Grouper’s vocals. Whilst this certainly introduces a mysterious and engaging aspect to the track, it gives me the impression that the album is a bit one-dimensional. Not unlike your humble Lamb contributor – wandering through the fields of music on a regular basis – Ruins feels like a meander through a myriad of different compositions, with nothing particularly jumping off the page.
That said, hearing album track ‘Labyrinth’ objectively, there is a profound beauty in its simplicity. Once again featuring basic piano chords that are quite repetitious, Grouper is able to produce something intriguing musically that does resonate with me. What’s more, she does this from a quite small selection of musical textures. This is partly due to her more limited scope of instrumentation, developing the album with the assistance of almost exclusively acoustic instruments. Along with ‘Labyrinth’, the more simplistic design of Ruins allows her husky yet silky smooth vocals to prominently feature where they might not have before.
Based on the volume of different genres I listen to, I would classify myself as non-biased when it comes to appreciating music. However, one of the more difficult aspects of reviewing music is not letting your own musical interests impede on your ability to determine how awesome or shite an album is. Regrettably, I feel that Grouper has led to a manifestation of this affliction – I found the album itself difficult to engage with because of the occasional yet definitely noticeable sameness of what I was being presented with. That is not to say the beauty of what Grouper produces is not there, but that it sits within a relatively restrained domain musically that I feel leaves me not satiated as a listener. Ruins is an album for Grouper that allows her to display her outstanding talent, the album itself can be can be slightly limited.
Artist_ Bell Gardens
Album Title_ Slow Dawns For Lost Conclusions
Genre_ Shoegaze, Melodic, Chamber Pop
Moments Of_ Slowdive, Mojave 3, Bon Iver, Band of Horses, Spiritualized
Stand Out_ Darker Side of Sunshine, Sail
Bell Gardens make sleepy lullabies for adult people of the alternative musically partial and they return (reform) with their second full length album that will certainly nudge sleepy heads with their gentle chamber pop songs. Residing in Los Angeles and includes Stars of the Lid member Brian McBride, there is little that we know of Bell Gardens apart from the fact that it is a suburb in LA where most recently, the mayor was shot, no tell-tales told. Coincidence yes, but it does set a scene for a rather musically fitting album.
Google search Bell Gardens and see what you come across! I did, and I can tell you what I didn’t find, much about this still quite mysterious band from LA. Instead what I found was a handful of articles about a recent shooting that resulted in the killing of Bell Gardens Major, Daniel Crespo. The culprit, his vengeful wife. Along with it reads stories of scandal, the shame, the real story, and you know what, it really is all quite exciting stuff, I love a bit of scandal.
What may be somewhat ironic and perhaps complete contrasting situation here is that this album by Bell Gardens is not exciting, scandalous and definitely not shameful. Here we have an album full of gently gliding keys, softly strummed (and plucked) strings and the soothing vocal sounds of singer/co-songwriter Kenneth James Gibson. This is a beautiful album and one that will have any fan of Chamber pop (think Slowdive/Mojave 3) and you are pretty much there and will see you through 2014.
There is something to be said about a band that creeps up on you, with absolutely no warning, falls on your lap and you say to yourself “yes”, I feel 25 again, when all I wanted is music that took me right down deep in thought, to the bottom of my soul. It’s a nice place.
I speak of opening track Darker Side of the Sunshine its sound and perfect stagger through some 5 tender minutes to paint the picture for this album, it is a song that is beautifully layered with strings, gliding vocals, twinkling guitar strings and a damn perfect piano playing over it all. You get the idea, I do love this kind of stuff. Bell Gardens remind you that you can be melancholy and recluse but equally feel very alive and happy.
From this opening track through to Silent Prayer, Sail, Joan’s Ambulance to She’s Stuck in the Endless Loop of Her Decline, Take Us Away and closer Why Me Lord, each of these songs resonate soft souls, vulnerable hearts and melancholy perfection.
The album offers us a few uptempo and psychedelic moments such as She Does, that as a standalone track is first-rate but when melded in with the beauty and serenity of the overall emotion of this album, it just doesn’t really gel. The song pitter-patters through a real Beatlesque swagger with crescendo trumpets blowing out from behind and dream lifted vocals wash over, we even get “la la lahs” to complete the track. Perhaps another direction for the band is imminent.
What makes this a wonderful album for me are those tracks that I mentioned above that ring true to a perfect gentle stream (perfectly chosen album cover) and with closing track Why Me Lord that flows out of the speakers like it should be heard in a beautiful cathedral, gives me goosebumps of pure joy. Religious it is not but touching, oh so it is.
This is an album for the lonely, an album that should be listed to when you want to feel lonely to be reminded that sometimes being lonely is a good place to be.