hfb - 1.5.15 -- 2.2.15 - Grim Sauna
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MuppetFace

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1.8.15
 
Panda Bear  -  Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
 
 
 

 
Noah Lennox is a good foil for bandmate Avey Tare. Instead of manic screams, he sings with steady longing. Instead of violent, acid fried head jangles, he prefers to dabble in the sunbaked domain of west coast radio harmonies and beachscapes. These are often wistful, utilizing found sounds faded by time. Noah Lennox is a nostalgic Panda Bear, soft and gentle. He's a perfect aural accompaniment for that indica sensation of being couch locked. Yet despite these difference, both artists have used their music as a means of confronting loss.
 
PBvsGR is the glitchiest and most synthetic sounding of all the Panda Bear releases thus far. In that way at least its dub inspired name rings true. On the other hand, the production here sounds less washed out and more bold than ever, with Panda Bear's much loved vocals coalescing---if just a bit---from their usual ethereal fog state. There's a clarity of vision to these tracks. More than any of its predecessors, this album knows where it's coming from and where it's going. It's even less of a meandering found sound odyssey, offering a number of well formed tracks---many with strong single power---that connect with just enough ligaments in between. 
 
The album begins with mesmerizing "Sequential Circuits," the pulsing drones of which evoke dawn light rising over beautiful alien vistas. Noah Lennox's voice proceeds to weaves a spell, and even though his lyrics aren't always completely intelligible, they seldom fail to ensnare the listener. After stammering to an end, the track gives way to first single "Mr. Noah." It's a bloopy sounding track with vocals that are clearer yet no less enigmatic: a dog is bit on the leg. The wounded animal motif is interesting given the song title. Still, Mr. Noah never comes down from his lysergic bliss for even a moment, and it gives the track a floaty and detached quality as though endorphins had already kicked in long ago.
 
One of my favorite tracks is "Crosswords" with its pointillist rainforest club stylings. Unfortunately the cut here begins much more abruptly compared to the live version which builds up to the vocals. I also feel like this track's nice beat got buried in the final mix somewhat. Still, it's one of the catchiest moments on the album for me. "Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker" in turn reminds me the most of Person Pitch era Panda Bear for some reason; perhaps it's the found sound quality of its main sample. Next up is "Boys Latin" which plays a game of vocal ping-pong. As the second big single, this track seems simplistic yet hypnotic and therefore effective to my mind. Really though it's the music video that elevates it to new heights (unlike the Gaspar Noe esque series of loops for "Mr. Noah" which I could take or leave).
 
Speaking of visuals, the trippy vignettes shot by Danny Perez are truly stunning. Seeing them projected large in a live setting to compliment this music was a truly memorable experience. Thankfully the PBvsGR interactive website has most of these visuals, and you can sync them up on your own if you so desire (and you should). It makes tracks like "Tropic of Cancer" all the more strange and wonderful. Said track is another highlight of this album for me with its delicate yet majestic string arrangements and sweeping pace. Noah croons about illness, presumably the illness that took his father's life; it's an event that fueled his early Lone Prayer album. Hearing him sing about it now, it seems time has healed that wound somewhat. While he speaks of denial in his lyrics, the overall impression is that he's reaching an acceptance. 
 
After more strings in the next track, the tail end of PBvsGR kicks in and the synths make a return, redoubling their efforts. "Principe Real" has a distinctly 80s quality with its slapping beat and future tones. "Selfish Gene" does sedentary chopsticks on keys, creating a strobe like sound to backup some really catchy vocals. Closer "Acid Wash" is a return to form, sounding like the Panda Bear fans know and love. The loops here sounds decidedly wet, like it was put in a washing machine and left on the spin cycle. After it sloshes around for a while, it dissipates and gives way to hundreds of sparkling stars all twinkling and collapsing. The album closes on a lone synth humming like a robot.
 
All in all PBvsGR is an album both personal and cosmic. Put another way: it's an album that recognizes the cosmic within our small selves. It dwells on past experiences in Noah Lennox's life and looks toward the future at the same time, yet in doing so it touches on the universal. The passion and sincerity that lurks within his singing ultimately gives way to a transcendent stoicism of sorts. This is how Panda Bear confronts the Grim Reaper, and it stands in direct contrast to Flying Lotus who turns the universal into a seething multiplicity of different, irreducible outlooks and experiences. The end result of Panda Bear's run in with the Grim Reaper? An incredibly catchy and well written album.

 
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MuppetFace

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1.11.15
 
Ben Frost  -  A u r o r a
 

 
 
Clearing out some notes from last year.

Ben Frost is an aural force with which to be reckoned. His breakthrough album, By The Throat, caught plenty of music fans off guard with its ferocious clamor, taking listeners on a growling laptop odyssey through stretches of Icelandic wilderness and gloom soaked hostels. It's droning, industrial, atmospheric; a DJ set for a gathering of wolves whose breath can be seen in the cold of the woods. It's too noisy to be in any club, yet too propulsive to be straight up dark ambience. That it gained so much popularity is, frankly, surprising.
 
Half a decade and several self-releases later, there's a new transmission from Ben Frost called Aurora. Gone is much of the naturalism from By The Throat: the wildlife samples, the acoustic instruments and vocal chants, the insectoid noise. Gone is the spark of warmth amidst the night. In its place is a mechanized, synthetic sounding world of hazy factories and surveillance cameras. Of hissing valves and stasis pods. Of artificial intelligences becoming self aware and having nervous breakdowns.
 
Aurora is framed with extreme contrasts of quietude and blaring sound. Tracks will drift along with static drones and hypnotic beats, lulling the listener into a relative state of comfort before finally unleashing a full on sonic assault. I found myself on guard with the volume controls at all times; during the quieter passages like "The Teeth Behind the Kisses," I was mistrustful of my surroundings and could never really relax. It's a paranoia that suits the album perfectly. There is a moment of genuine respite toward the end in "No Sorrowing" and "Sola Fide" which give the impression of stasis via hissing gases until it transitions gently into a rhythmic coda. Only for that to turn out to be false as the machine restarts one last time on "A Single Point of Blinding Light." These last dying gasps are of some warped, jangling electro pop. For the minute and thirty seconds this lasts, it's quite compelling and propulsive. Eventually the album exhausts itself and wheezes to its end.
 
The real standouts for me are "Nolan," "Secant," and "Venter." These tracks manage to sound very expansive yet focused and driving, a sort of industrial blues for the dance club. All three tracks lumber along, at times evoking the likes of Demdike Stare or a solemn mass for robots (complete with bells), until they erupt into a volley of heavy synth lines. Several remixes of "Nolan" and "Venter" in particular are available on a companion EP called Variant. My favorite is the HTRK remix of "Venter," as it creates a minimalist reduction with a subtle but brilliant beat, distilling the essence of Aurora into a drifting ambient crawl of five minutes.
 
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Krutsch

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Wow... great write-up and thank you, thank you for taking the time to post your impressions and thoughts.
 
I've always thought of myself as someone that listens to a lot of music, from a variety of genres, but I obviously have a lot reading and listening ahead me. I think I have 6 albums in my collection from your 2014 list, so I am only 98% disconnected from good music 

 
Your 2014 list has 300 albums on it, meaning you are critically listening to at least an album a day (probably double that, I am guessing, as many do not make the cut). My favorites have usually taken me a number of listens before I can make an emotional connection; some albums just resonate right away, but usually I need time to digest.
 
Really... how do you do find new stuff and decide what you like?
 
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purpledrank

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Wow thank you for introducing me to Ben Frost. I am currently listening to AURORA and I love it. Not your typical electronic album that gets produced nowadays. I love the dark and mysterious tone of the tracks. I will definitely download this in the future.
 
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I've been a fan of Ben Frost's work since his By the throat release but I've somehow managed to miss his latest, Aurora.
Thank you for posting this review, I was looking out for something new to listen to.
 
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nogi replicant

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Panda Bear's new joint is a really nice album actually and strangely addictive. I think I listened to it 3 times in the first 24 hours after getting it, which is always a good sign.
 
Re Ben Frost's AURORA you may have noticed from my list in your (MF's) best of 2014 thread that I am a big fan. To me that album and all of Ben Frosts albums sounded best on my ie800's (which I no longer have). I know that you have a jaw dropping collection of audio gear so I am wondering what you chose to listen to AURORA on?
 
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dozens

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MuppetFace, I can't wrap my head around what pattern you're taking to posting these reviews. I love them and don't want to miss them, but I'm just kinda confused. Do you have a blog that you also post to where I could follow the RSS or something? Thank you!
 
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Mimouille

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MuppetFace, I can't wrap my head around what pattern you're taking to posting these reviews. I love them and don't want to miss them, but I'm just kinda confused. Do you have a blog that you also post to where I could follow the RSS or something? Thank you!
Some of the greatest scientists on the planet are studying these patterns and have yet to conclude.
 
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MuppetFace

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2.2.15
 
Mount Eerie  -  Sauna
 
 

 
 
Some of my favorite music can be found in Phil Elverum's history; pieces of indie rock canon, transcendent works of art, and one of the best black metal albums that isn't really even black metal. Beyond that however is a loose narrative of repeating themes and lyrics, multiple drafts, direct sequels, and continued attempts at conveying (something) in itself. This is the mythology of Phil Elverum. What began with the Microphones all those years ago became Mount Eerie, and a world unto itself was gradually revealed.

 
I've gushed a lot about Mount Eerie in past entries, so I'll cut the artist backstory short. Perhaps the only thing more I'll say is a confession: that the Phil who most frequently appears in my mind is more specter than man. He haunts a small cabin in Norway, going about daily rituals of cutting wood and writing down thoughts all by his lonesome. This was a brief period in his life, but it's easy for me to be content with that caricature. He's not as nihilistic and reclusive as he's made out to be, though.
 
While waiting for Sauna, I decided to reacquaint myself with The Microphones; I wanted to hear what lead up to the Mount Eerie album all over again. What I found reminded me of flipping through a Salvador Dali art book when I was younger: the art is beautiful but 'normal,' and suddenly---almost out of nowhere---it becomes incredible. Bizarre. Other worldly. Like some kind of event takes place, and a switch is flipped. Don't get me wrong: I love The Glow Pt. 2 and all, but Mount Eerie is something else. Little wonder it met with some confusion upon release. I had taken to walking around the back yard in the early morning hours, say around 2 A.M., holding a lit cigarette in my hand but never smoking it. Was it because Phil told me not to? I felt this overwhelming sensation as if I were standing at the edge of a precipice. Some call that a sublime experience. Listening to The Singing From Mount Eerie was certainly sublime. Maybe even better than the full album in some parts.
 
My excitement for Sauna kicked into high gear when I saw the video for its title track. Gorgeous. Gorgeous. Suddenly, the nature imagery is replaced by two cowgirls. It's hard to describe what happens next, in part because I'm not even so sure myself. Something beyond words takes place. The tipping hats, the ridiculous fiddle pantomimes, the out-of-control rope tricks, the gum chewing, the passing behind (and sometimes even bumping into) an exposed light fixture... it's all so silly, yet it also quickens my heart. It feels right somehow.
 
 
 
I've since listened to the album numerous times. My stream-of-thought impressions follow.
 
 
 
☆:*・°☆:* °☆.*・°☆
 
 
Sauna begins with an exhalation, a breath. Crackling fire. There's a loud thud, a distinct sound that anyone who has ever used a record player should recognize. This is also how "Sauna" begins: a title track right out of the gates, the significance of which becomes apparent later. For now the gorgeous organ tones make my chest tighten. It's a warm sound, but off in the distance I can hear thunder; I feel insulated from the cold world beyond.
 
"I don't think the world exists, only this room in the snow."
  There's a liquid sound and a hiss, like water being poured on hot coals to produce sauna steam. A soft clunk---a faint drumbeat---which reminds me of someone gently thumping on a wood bench. Or maybe one of those balance fountains from Japanese gardens.
 
"To prove I don't exist. To show I am beyond this animal form, this lost mind. Or am I?"  
Vaporous female vocals rise up as the drone intensifies, and consciousness expands outward.
 
"The wood heats up and cracks and pulls apart the way a body groans. I transform, and the stars show."  
Phil writes on his website that he looked to the idea of a sauna for inspiration, specifically the sensation of being inside them for extended periods of them. At the heart his Mount Eerie project has been a constant desire to immerse listeners and transport them to another place, a desire to directly reveal what is nearly impossible to express. As an album then, Sauna is based on a certain movement: the near suffocating environment of the steam room gives way to a release through one's plunge into icy cold water.
 
"Into the lake."
 
The expansion contracts, and our being exists wholly in that moment as a singularity. Steam rising from our bodies, we are surrounded by cold. The heat is once again internal: "our life is a fire we carry around."
 
With "Turmoil," our life carries on as usual. Phil talks about getting coffee. Thoughts rush into his head after it thaws, a million little daydreams and fleeting images. This is one of several short tracks on the album---a brief glimpse at something amazing---that feels like it ends almost as soon as it begins. This one in particular reminds me of those [The] Microphone days with its ambulatory guitar strum and gentle organs.
 
"Dragon" is one of the album's showpieces. It 'lifts off' quite literally with the distant sound of a plane overhead, and with that a delicate, hushed guitar song begins to take shape. Those familiar with this track from the Pinball Sessions will notice that Phil's vocal duties have been reduced to singing refrains; now most of the words are sung by Allyson Foster and Ashley Eriksson who are the angelic (or 'birdlike' depending on who you ask) female voices of Sauna. What is most amazing about this track to my mind though is the subtle ambience: I get the distinct impression of being on a hill in the rain, looking up at stormy clouds overhead. Those airplane noises can be heard throughout the entire track, and it only donned on me later that these are the roaring 'dragons' to which the title refers, their true forms obscured by heavy cloud cover.
 
Next up is "Emptiness" with its angular organ work, muffled drums, and splashing cymbals. There's an almost proggy sound to this track, and I swear I could hear a faint Zombi-esque arpeggio in the background at times. Phil croons, "We are two black holes in the night." Emptiness upon emptiness. I immediately thought of all the sword imagery that has filled the Bandcamp page and music videos for Sauna: when a sword slices, a cut is made from emptiness. Overall, this track surprised me.
 
The "(something)" that can be found throughout Mount Eerie's discography is present here as well. This time, its mysterious space is occupied with hypnotic xylophone progressions that remind me of raindrop dabbled windows. Perhaps these tracks are merely unnamed sketches or functional intermissions, though personally I like to think of them as cracks or splits in the album's foundation through which the abstract can emerge.
 
"Boat" and "Planets" arrive in rapid succession, ending when I'd rather they keep playing for a good ten minutes instead. These are post-black-metal bangers: the former a force of nature that evokes the ending of Boredom's "Super Go[ing]," the latter is a hauntingly gorgeous celestial anthem.
 
"Two planets crashing through separate lives."
 
This is Phil at his most rocking.
 
"Pumpkin" in turn is a curious and understated track that required several listens to fully resonate with me. Instrumentally, the guitars go from gentle plucking to using a distorted, burbling effect for texture to almost sounding like a harpsichord at times; accompanying this is a foot dragging drum and tambourine shuffle. The beautiful organ drones from before make their return, gradually building in intensity and fading out again. Thematically, this track seems to be about contemplating decay: garbage, wind moving through graveyards, and the central image of a cracked pumpkin. There's a certain wonder to behold in these seemingly mundane---even discarded---objects. 
 
"An orange pumplin I found, cracked open in the waves. Its emptiness loose."
 
Bells chime as "Spring" begins. Here, there are some interesting backward effects that create a sound quite unlike anything I've heard from Mount Eerie before. A guitar squeals as though it were a banshee clawing its way into our dimension. This amp worship, like the beginning of some lost doom track from a band called Phil O))). I could listen to a whole album of this. Massive, cavernous organ sounds give me the mental image of an underground gothic cathedral with rays of light coming in through the cracked ceiling. Pools of water surround a decaying pulpit. Angelic voices. Really, the choral elements here are just stunning.
 
"Books" is largely composed of percussive pounding, piano plonking, and string plucking that form vacillating pattens. To and fro, to and fro: a multiplicity of books on shelves, a multiplicity of stories. It's possible this could be a nod to The Books, an experimental indie band who used lots of fragmented sound-objects to create 'tactile' compositions. Either way, story reading is one of the thematic elements of Sauna. After a distinct shredding noise---like a page being torn---Phil mentions the North Sea. Of particular interest to him are Viking stories; in several interviews, he talks about wondering what it must have been like back then, out in the middle of the ocean looking up at the sky.
 
The fluttering voices and flute of "This" remind me of sparks rising up from a fire of powerful drones. It's a warm airiness that gives the track its dreamy feel, the perfect accompaniment to Phil's previous musings on the North Sea: having read about Vikings, we're now transported to another time and place. How fitting, then, that a music video for "This" finds a child flipping through books with pictures of ancient cultures. Is our world today really that far removed? 
 
Album closer "Youth" returns to delicate guitar strings, only these are offset by a huge electronic thud now and then. A memory of sitting in an airport is recalled: the traveller's book of poems all say that this world is a veil. Harsh audio feedback grows in intensity, accelerating, and the track erupts into a massive, crashing vortex of blackened guitars. It's a surge that tries to strip away the veneer of daily life and reveal the frightening sublimity beyond. Phil speaks of the night sky, of its vast blackness. Even amidst this however, "there is a moon."
 
On those words, the album ends. 
 
As a fan of The Microphones and Mount Eerie, it's the perfect ending too. The moon appears throughout Phil's discography and is a potent symbol, a focal point in the midst of a void. An affirmation of life amidst doubt.
 
Overall, I'm extremely impressed with Sauna and can see why many---including Phil himself---consider it the fullest expression of Mount Eerie to date. I do find myself wishing some of these shorter tracks were longer, especially those that come in sequence one right after the other, though I think this format suits what Sauna is doing. These smaller tracks are like snapshots of different times and places, different possibilities. They're like planetoids orbiting larger, drone-centric solar bodies: the end result is a cosmology of Mount Eerie.
 
Even though it's only February, I have a feeling Sauna will be a contender for this year's best.
 
 
☆:*・°☆:* °☆.*・°☆
 

 


 
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MuppetFace

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  MuppetFace, I can't wrap my head around what pattern you're taking to posting these reviews. I love them and don't want to miss them, but I'm just kinda confused. Do you have a blog that you also post to where I could follow the RSS or something? Thank you!
 
 
No pattern, really, beyond when I have some time and motivation. I do a lot of writing for a living, so I'm often not in the mood to do more or it outside of work, unfortunately.
 
My goal is to eventually post every few days, but currently I can only manage a few times a month at most. I'll usually start a new thread after a couple of posts, as I don't want everything in one thread (but don't want a new thread for every post). You can keep up to date with my new posts by subscribing to my blog subforum:
 
http://www.head-fi.org/f/7879/muppetface
 
I might start a dedicated blog in the future if I can get posting consistently down. I've been reluctant though because I have a tendency to not finish side projects I start.
 
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Krutsch

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http://www.head-fi.org/f/7879/muppetface
 
I might start a dedicated blog in the future if I can get posting consistently down. I've been reluctant though because I have a tendency to not finish side projects I start.
 
Subbed. Thanks for posting.
 
BTW, nice to see Sauna is easily available for download (I bought a copy from Amazon's MP3 store). Your #1 recommendation from 2014 took about 6 weeks to arrive, using the SF record store you recommended.
 
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Priidik

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Love the 'fake' organ in ''Sauna''. Immersive.
 
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Raketen

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Really like Elvrum as a sound engineer too- his records always sound amazing to me (and Mirah's albums) ... I wish he worked in that capacity a bit more.
 
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