hfb - 11.14.14 -- 11.21.14 - Soused with pom poms
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MuppetFace

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Note: Decided to do things a bit differently going forward. Instead of delivering one long post every month or two, I'd rather just make a smaller post every day or two. I'll start with two week blocks and see how that goes.
 
 
11.14.14
 
Ariel Pink  -  Pom Pom
 

 
 
Ariel Pink has been a key figure in lo-fi pop's revival, though I suspect he'd balk at such a classification. Same goes for people calling his music 'weird' or 'druggy.' It's wobbly and amorphous at times, sure. But it's a Jell-o mould of honest-to-goodness songwriting. It reflects what Ariel has consumed over the years: music from a music lover. If it sounds a certain way, it's because those are the elements he wants to emphasize; the hooks still come through even if they're skewed. The Haunted Graffiti monicker was always a mystery, a footnote that seemed to fit an outsider pop savant who released bedroom-studio pop gems. Listeners naturally assumed 'Ariel Pink' was the main driving force behind it all, but in his own words the name was only later given an identity of its own. Records like Before Today and its follow-up Mature Themes were a breakthrough in that they featured his full band and made room for some truly epic tracks ("Bright Lit Blue Skies," "Round 'n' Round," "Only In My Dreams," "Symphony of the Nymph"). They expanded his audience, and with that 'Ariel Pink' became more and more of a pop star.
 
It's fitting then that Pom Pom is the first album credited to Ariel Pink and not Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti. For someone who had gone it alone for so long, this new 'personal' release actually finds him and his band sounding more like a cohesive unit than ever. It's the first album to fully embrace 'Ariel Pink' as a frontman. Watch the music video for single "Put Your Number In My Phone" and see him donning a seafoam fur coat and foam cowboy hat. He certainly cuts a striking figure. If someone like that came up to me in a mall wheeling Bane's little brother around in a wheelchair, I'd almost certainly put my number in their phone. But that's just me. There's a sad air of pining to it; I imagine the figure in the wheelchair to be indicative of some counterculture music artist from a byegone era whose cultural relevance is fading. But, again, that's just me.
 

 
Meanwhile "Black Ballerina" sounds like a catchy single from some obscure new wave band, its tacky narrative about some awkward guy visiting a strip club for the first time stitched together with songs about manufacturing and buildings. "Sexual Athletics" is more confident with its ridiculous swagger and subject matter that is exactly what you'd think. 'Let's go to the Emotional Olympics!' a girly voice shouts enthusiastically, only to be met with boos. "Jello" is a mutated advertising jingle that has taken on a life of its own. It was penned by Ariel from dictations by Kim Fowley, and that certain Zappa quality is noticeable. "Nude Beach A Go Go" has a similar retro-bizarro quality, and it's so effusive it spills over into Azealia Bank's debut Broke With Expensive Taste wherein she does her own version with 'Stink Pink' as she calls him. 
 
Yes, Pom Pom is a hopelessly goofy album. Curiously enough, it also happens to be an achingly beautiful one from time to time. The track "Four Shadows" has a captivating rhythm and haunting chorus that elevate Ariel's singing to new heights. The stirring proto-metal vibe is complete with witch-vocals and bubbling cauldrons. "Lipstick" and "Not Enough Violence" in turn work well back-to-back, shuffling onward with an 80s synth punk ethos. The fabulously named "Dinosaur Carebares" will probably be overlooked by most music critics, but it combines some truly amazingly bits and pieces together: an Arabian-synth intro, a whimsical calliope-scored test drive of some Dr. Seuss contraption, and finally a minimal island dub strip cruisin' cool down. Perhaps the most outwardly beautiful track on here however is "Picture Me Gone," a veritable new wave melodrama masterpiece that explores themes of nostalgia and digital age facelessness. Watch the official (and rather creepy) music video. Then watch the YouTube performance of this track featuring Ariel Pink and an elementary school choir for the full effect.
 
Some are going to inevitably accuse this album of grandstanding. Of trying really hard to be weird. Compared to his earlier stuff however, this album is actually pretty straight forward. Granted, the Jell-o jingles add a bit of extra kitsch into the mix. However these tracks also showcase some of Ariel's more focused writing to date. It comes across as a love letter to cultural phenomena that are pretty damn strange already. It's also touching and awkward and wistful and ignorant and tacky and spellbinding.
 
It's Ariel Pink.
 
Oh, and his first name is pronounced Arr-ee-el, not Air-ee-el.
 
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MuppetFace

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11.16.14
 
 
 
 
 
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 ☯☺☂ seapunk ☂☺☯ 
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MuppetFace

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11.19.14
 
 
Grouper  -  Ruins
 

 
 
Liz Harris has been bringing some of the most beautiful and ethereal music into the world as Grouper for nearly a decade now. Often featuring her voice as the main instrument, these albums are gateways into dreamy greyscale worlds of light and shadow and form. With 2008's Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, Liz expanded her sonic palette and created the Grouper equivalent of a pop record. Okay, that's an exaggeration: it was still a somnambulistic swim across vast, hazy oceans of the subconscious. Only this time around it had more structure, delineated songwriting, guitar strumming, and honest-to-goodness hooks. The same can be said more or less for its sister album, The Man Who Died In His Boat, which was recorded around the same time but unreleased until several years later for whatever reason.
 
Subsequent recordings found Liz vacillating between song and drift. The two part A.I.A. from 2011 is an example of the latter return to gauzy drone. That same year however she recorded Ruins, her most bare sounding and focused album to date. Gone are the layers of echo and reverb; in their place is a lonesome piano and the ambience of insects, frogs, and weather. The result is a newfound intimacy, though one tinged by the emptiness of her surroundings. Opener "Made of Metal" finds Liz playing some kind of metal bowl, creating a mystical temple-like atmosphere on the DIY fly. Meanwhile "Call Across Rooms" sounds like it was dubbed in the next room, appropriately enough. The piano on that track is just bewitching. Other tracks like "Lighthouse" and "Holding" have a warm, beautiful quality as if illuminated from within by candlelight affection. "Labyrinth" and the all-too-short "Holoferns" in turn sound like they're seeking something out through quiet contemplation. Album closer "Made of Air" is an achingly beautiful drone that fits its name perfectly.
 
As if that weren't enough, there's also special version of this album released by Liz herself that includes a second LP of rainy field recordings. It's a wonderful accompaniment to an album that is, itself, a field recording of sorts. One that peers into the private space of someone's existence. Ruins is minimal, hushed, delicate, and even stark. It's a Grouper album through and through. In some sense it finds a median between waking and dream states. Between exterior and interior. Structure and atmosphere. 
 
 
 
 
Jessica Pratt  -  Jessica Pratt (self-titled)
 

 
 
Here's another album of a girl and solo instrument.
 
With just her young voice and a guitar, Jessica Pratt has authored one of this year's most beautiful folk albums. One that's also incredibly catchy: a testament to her skills as a songwriter. Songs like "Casper" and "Midnight Wheels" have major sticking power. Which is good, because those two in particular form the albums creative apex. Everything on here is good though; it feels comfortable, even hypnotic at times. Her voice is a curious mix of world weariness and wide eyed wonder, with shades of older and newer folk singers alike. There's also a bit of Kurt Vile-ish alt singing now and then. "Bushel Hyde" and "Streets of Mine" are other favorites.

 
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cucera

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OK, that is what I call an impressive looking amp:eek: What kind of tubes did you use there?
 
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AManAnd88Keys

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OK, that is what I call an impressive looking amp:eek: What kind of tubes did you use there?

I am 100% sure that those are Shuguang Treasure 6ca7 tubes.
 
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BB187

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An album is worth checking out, though earlier works intentionally done with primitive equipment might not be for audiophiles 
 
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Col888

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They look like my treasures I've the KT88
 
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miceblue

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Wow, thanks for introducing Ariel Pink!

This is a really cool song. I like it!

[video]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECpGJmyT-ic[/video]
 
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BB187

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Wow, thanks for introducing Ariel Pink!

This is a really cool song. I Iike it!
 
If anyone in the market for hits, then check this one (the cover of old song by Donnie & Joe Emerson):
 
 
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Valens7

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Hmm... this album has a sound/concept that seems quite reminiscent of Of Montreal. Which is a good thing, generally, although it's not really my cup of tea these days. I do appreciate, however, your thoughtful review! More posts like this, please. 

 
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RingingEars

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I love that amp... However Arr-ee-el is not for me. 
Thanks for sharing though.
 
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MuppetFace

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11.20.14
 
 
Scott Walker + Sunn O)))  -  Soused
 
 

 
 
How does one define a successful collaboration between artists? To my mind, it could be several things. Firstly one or both of the artists learn from the other. Secondly both artists together produce something that successfully melds their styles together. Thirdly both artists together produce something new, something that differs from either of their styles. The most successful projects of all are those that result in both the second and third outcomes: something with elements of both artists that manages to transcend them.
 
Sunn O))) has collaborated with a number of artists over the years. The high priests of drone and doom seem ideal for this, as their pursuit of heaviness and extremity is abstract enough to accommodate other musicians and production styles. Results have ranged from fair to exceptional. Their extended seance with black metal turned experimental group Ulver---this year's Terrestrials---has fallen a bit flat for some fans for instance. Personally speaking, I find the more freeform Sunn O))) it presents enjoyable, though I wouldn't call it fresh (considering it was left on a shelf for a few years anyway). On the other hand, 2014's unlikely meeting with bizarro crooner Scott Walker has resulted in one of their best collaborations yet. There's something about a powerful voice that perfectly fits Sunn O)))'s grimness: a mysterious presence that resides within the wastelands. A swamp priest or a weary traveler. Someone who holds the infinite within the confines of a finite body. The best examples are Attila Csihar, Jesse Sykes, and David Tibet (from the seldom referenced but absolutely brilliant Faking Gold & Murder LP by Æthenor). There's also Malefic of Xasthur fame who recorded his black metal shrieks inside a coffin. None of these vocalists however can match the sheer dread of Scott Walker in all of his ambiguous and nightmarish splendor, the presence of which results in one of Sunn O)))'s darker albums.
 
What makes the collaboration so successful is that it lives up to the officially unofficial 'Scott O)))' monicker instead of just being Sunn O))) with Scott Walker icing. Like their collaboration with Nurse With Wound, The Iron Soul of Nothing, and parts of their most recent full length Monoliths and Dimensions, Sunn O))) is twisted here into something altogether new. Albeit with Soused you can hear limbs snapping like branches in the process. It's the warped pop sensibilities of Scott Walker lend the album its best moments for me: when the instrumentation picks up to a torpid jangle and clamor, and the gloom-fog is peeled back just enough to reveal contours of a twisted gaggle of Silent Hill esque figures fumbling around for whatever prey might happen by them. Moments like this occur throughout the album, but the tracks "Bull" and especially "Fetish" are my absolute favorite. To me they represents the new entity birthed by both artists most clearly. They're fittingly weird as such offspring should be.
 
On the other sunburned hand of the man, there's certainly no shortage of gut wrenchingly down-tuned guitars for doom purists. "Brando" and "Herod 2014" are definitely Sunn O))) tracks at heart, even if they're joined by squealing outbursts and shimmering passages of soaring ambience. "Lullaby" meanwhile pulses in and out like a Lustmord track before mutating into an almost black metal-ish cover of an SNES game. Throughout Soused there's also an usual constant of industrial beats, usually in the form of sputtering fan belts or whip cracks. It seems almost negligible against the cavernous, abyssal backdrops of these tracks, but it serves to give them a subtle rhythm over which Scott Walker can twist and turn. Its this propulsive quality that really shines on "Fetish" in particular. It gives the organisms residing within Soused a jangling, mechanical feel. Something naturally unnatural.
 
The other main constant at work is Scott Walker's cryptic lyricism. His words are often unsettling, and I think it has largely to do with their vagueness. Like a looming threat just beyond our field of vision, our imagination fills in the gaps and creates something far more disturbing than the usual death metal lyrics about cannibalism and corpses. With his usual and highly original vocal delivery, Scott Walker exists beyond the spectrum of ready analysis and critique. 
 
At its best moments, Soused lives up to this and becomes something otherworldly. Something that takes what we bring into it and reflects it back at us like a funhouse mirror.
 
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