Pearly Music

    17 May 2010

    "Crystal Castles" (2010) by Crystal Castles

    Canadian duo Crystal Castles have followed up their debut self titled record with yet another self titled record. Crystal Castles (2010), while shying away from the kind-of radio friendly singles from their debut such as “Alice Practice”, also loses the perfect mixture of fun, doom and experimentation that their debut has. While experimenting is never a bad thing, Ethan’s gone a little too far down the wrong path this time, and come up with an altogether bland, dreary final product.

    I think what I miss the most is the 8-bit sounds from the first record. When they went, all the fun in their debut also went. Not that this is necessarily bad - hey, the album cover doesn’t exactly suggest “Yay! Lots of fun to be had on this album!” But they don’t do the doom and depression right. You can tell they’ve tried, and props for that, but it’s a little bit half-arsed and half-cooked. There’s been too much effort spent on making the record dance-able, and not enough on giving it the right atmosphere and feeling. In general, it sounds like someone’s taken Nine Inch Nails, made it more like house music, and flushed it through the toilet of bad-atmosphere (I couldn’t come up with a simile for something with lame atmosphere.)

    That being said, Ethan still makes good use of noise in his second attempt, and, as before, the best songs are the ones in which Alice shuts her hole and lets Ethan work his magic. I still don’t get why everyone considers CC a “band”. As far as I know, Alice doesn’t do anything except for sing/scream in a few tracks, and not even the good ones. The standout tracks on Crystal Castles II are definitely the ones without Alice that retain the dance-able beat and chopped up samples which made the first album brilliant. Her voice is used in many ways, but most of them are hardly her and mostly Kath taking her vocals and mushing them into something entirely different.

    Crystal Castles II is a jack of all trades but a master of none. The good tracks are too sparse for my liking, with too much shit to sift through in order to get to one. It’s good, yeah, but it’s not great, it’s just.. meh. Personally, I’ll look forward to any solo Ethan Kath release, but I haven’t got my hopes up for Crystal Castles’ future. And I want more 8-bit.

    6.9
    Choice tracks: Violent Dreams; Vietnam; I Am Made Of Chalk
    If you like: hmm, well, it is original, I’ll give it that. Maybe The Future Sound Of London; Justice’s softer stuff.

    18 Apr 2010

    "Heligoland" (2010) by Massive Attack

    They’ve been away for a while, but Massive Attack’s fifth studio album has definitely let them re-stake their claim as the kings of trip-hop. Even though Heligoland is their biggest departure from the true trip-hop sound, it’s equally as good as any of their previous work, if not better.

    Heligoland encapsulates everything that Massive Attack is, but manages to not sound the same as any of their previous works. The vocal work throughout the record is wonderful, featuring a whole array of notable guests such as Damon Albarn, Guy Garvey, Horace Andy and Tunde Adebimpe, as well as amazing delivery by the duo itself. As one would expect from a Massive Attack record, the production is sublime. Eerie noises stand out, but don’t detract from the creepy and depressive music. There are the weird beats and rhythms, strange melodies, and clever use of repetition that we’ve all come to look forward to from Massive Attack.

    But this isn’t pure trip hop. There’s not as many slow, chilled songs, and much less (if any) record scratching and eerie, drawn out vocals. This works in their favour, however, as it prevents them from being another washed up 90’s band, opening them up to a new audience. While there’s no one definitive stand-out track, the whole album works, and each and every track on its own. To put it very simply, everything just sounds plain great.

    The lyrics are great and somehow manage to not become cheesy. It’s their simplicity that works in their favour, the fact that they can get the message across in as few words as possible, and can be sung with a perfect melody to accompany the song. They seem as though they were written not for the words, but for how the words sound - their rhymes, tones, structure, length, etc. But that doesn’t lessen the quality of the lyrics themselves. They’re still clever and fitting, blanketing the whole record with the perfect lyrical theme of love, distance and isolation.

    Heligoland is a more than welcome release from one of the best groups in the last twenty years. Head-bobbing and interest-grabbing, it’ll keep you listening, most probably on repeat, for a long time to come.

    8.4
    Choice tracks: Pray For Rain; Splitting The Atom; Girl I Love You; Saturday Come Slow; Atlas Air
    If you like: 
    Portishead; Tricky

    16 Apr 2010

    "Phrazes For The Young" (2009) by Julian Casablancas

    Completely isolating fans of his ridiculously successful band, the Strokes, Julian Casablancas has kicked off his solo career with something so different from his usual material that everyone will raise their eyebrows at least once throughout the course of the record. And not in a good way. The thing is, Phrazes For The Young breaks no new ground – this is the same thing that was done by MGMT two years earlier, it’s just not as good as theirs. This LP is really just synthpop in its truest form – pure, boring, synthpop.

    You see, the good synthpop bands do original things, mixing it up a little. Like the Magnetic Fields, or MGMT, or Mew. They all make sure that what they do isn’t just average. Casablancas, on the other hand, doesn’t seem too concerned with being original, and is just playing what he wants to play. And good on him for not caring, I suppose, but that doesn’t have to make it good. The thing is, when you listen to this record, it seems like you’ve heard it all before. Like he’s grabbed a bunch of classic synthpop songs from the 80s, with their trademark cringe-worthy lyrics, and covered them.

    The songs are too long. If he wants to write pop songs, with such energy and power as they do, then they can’t all be five minutes long. One or two on the album, fine, that’s a good idea. But when the majority of the songs on the 8 track record are over 5 minutes, that’s getting a bit overboard. The real win-factor for this record is his voice. It’s great, as it always has been. Even it, however, seems to be a little bit weak when compared to his Strokes releases – there’s no emphasis on his powerful screams or catchy, simple melodic lines. And without these factors, his voice seems a little bit lackluster, like it’s missing something vital.

    It just hasn’t got the dream-like quality of Mew, or the bubbly-ness of MGMT or the Magnetic Fields. As well as that, some of the tracks (such as “River Of Brakelights”) seem to be a failed attempt at being Radiohead-inspired. It really doesn’t work within the record’s style. A brave attempt, but a failed attempt too. It’s got a clever wordplay at the end, but the melody is fairly shit and forced, and the lyric that is played on is also shit.

    Phrazes For The Young is a good first effort for Casablancas, but it’s not something that’s going to be remembered alongside his other releases.

    6.1
    Choice tracks: Left & Right In The Dark; River Of Brakelights; Glass
    If you like: MGMT, Mew, Vampire Weekend

    28 Mar 2010

    "Roland & The Lamprey" (2009) by glomag

    With great power comes great responsibility. As the creator of this ridiculously popular and widely read blog, I sometimes find myself responsible to promote awkward and underground releases. Such as this one. glomag is a member of the genre called “chiptune”, or “8-bit”. This release, as well as all his other releases, was completely composed and recorded on a Nintendo Game Boy (except for an overdubbed guitar on track one, and vocals here and there).

    Roland & The Lamprey is full of great melodies and beats that border on braindance. glomag has programmed some truly epic music. Using just four tracks and a very limited array of sounds, the diversity in style and tone is astounding. But, even though this is Game Boy music, it’s not music that you can imagine playing a game to, it really is a work in its own right. In the title track especially, rhythmically and melodically, the track is very complex. The next track, “Bad Therapy”, is one of the most poppy chiptune songs I’ve ever heard, embracing a verse-chorus-verse format with vocals and everything. The fourth track then returns to the complex style, and blah blah. The whole release changes between one idea to the next, as if glomag was trying to force all his ideas out within 20 minutes.

    Even though it is typical of chiptune releases, Roland probably should have been longer. glomag released another EP earlier in the year, called DaMaGe, so I personally tend to listen to them in succession. It’s just, everything seems very forced and squished in Roland. As every song is so different from the last, it seems as though he has written a few styles quite well, but nothing really stands out as it should. Chiptune artists generally release a few EPs each year - maybe we’ll see a further exploration of all these styles by glomag, each in its own EP?

    Anyway. Roland & The Lamprey is definitely an original chiptune release. While it’s not the best chiptune I’ve heard, it’s a great entry platform into the world of chiptune, and one worth having in your collection. FYI: It is available for free download here, and that site, 8bitpeoples.com, is definitely worth trawling for heaps of free downloads.

    6.8
    Choice tracks: Roland & The Lamprey; The Ecstasy Of Gold; Bad Therapy; Fan Service
    If you like: Video game soundtracks, mainly the retro ones from Game Boy, NES, SNES, possibly N64.

    5 Jan 2010

    "A Grand Don’t Come For Free" (2004) by the Streets

    Mike Skinner, better known as The Streets, is a distinctive, original, and kind-of decent North London rapper. His hooks are okay, his vocals aren’t that great but they work in the context, his beats are fine but it’s his lyrics that really stand out.

    In A Grand Don’t Come For Free, Skinner raps about the struggles of everyday life - and, while a great deal of other rappers do that too, somehow Skinner’s lyrics stand out as being original and unique. And they are. From the hit “Fit But You Know It”, about a girl with way too much self-esteem; to “Dry Your Eyes”, about a guy who has been dumped by his girlfriend attempting to be consoled.

    Skinner’s delivery is very rigid and not fluid at all, and while some critics may use this as a con, I believe that it adds to the record’s quirky charm and allows the listener to empathize with Skinner. Even though he has shown his aptitude for kind-of-funny-kind-of-serious songs about alcohol, weed, and life, it’s his emotional melancholy songs that stand out the most in this record. The clumsy vocal delivery and corny string sections should, you’d think, end up in the tracks being very cheesy and almost unlistenable, however the opposite is the case. The events described in the songs are all too familiar, and the clumsy vocals add to the listener’s emotional feeling.

    The album runs with a story. It’s a simple story, but a story all the same, and it really works. When you hear Skinner lamenting about his shitty life in the first track, you laugh a little and sympathise with him. This connection then leads you to feel happy when he meets a girlfriend in track two, and throughout the rest of the record you feel along with Skinner as he describes his ups and downs.

    While some songs are cringeworthy musically (“Get Out Of My House”), I wouldn’t have them changed for anything. The record takes you on an emotional ride that I haven’t heard in any other rap record, ever. When his girlfriend dumps him in “Dry Your Eyes”, and subsequent and final track describes his state being similar to that in the first track, it really makes you feel sorry and sad. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s just a very emotional album, and the fact that one can relate to it adds to the emotions.

    From the dialogue filled tracks (“Fit But You Know It”, “Get Out Of My House”), to the emotional ones (“Dry Your Eyes”, “Blinded By The Lights”), A Grand Don’t Come For Free has Skinner let you into his life, and we should all thank him for inviting us. Musically, it’s decent. Vocally, it works. But lyrically, it’s amazing.

    8.4
    Choice tracks: It Was Supposed To Be So Easy, Blinded By The Lights, Dry Your Eyes