DESTROYER – Kaputt (2011)

Review by: Nina A
Album assigned by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

Kaputt by Destroyer can be nothing else than a metal album, right? Right, but I am sure by the time you have laid your eyes on the beautifully washed out indie cover with some really curly but understated in size cursive writing, you would have probably dismissed that option too. And to tell you honestly, I had to dismiss several other preconceptions in order to fully appreciate the album. Like it actually being current or the product of 20-year old hipsters who think calling themselves Destroyer is the ultimate joke. No, people, the person about to bare his inner world before you is actually a 43-old (a couple years less at the time of recording) Canadian guy with some wild curly hairdo going on.
But let’s look at the music. The sound is obviously retro, and tasteful, in the best traditions of 80s sophisti-pop and probably going slightly beyond. Critics have compared this work to the output of a lot of 80s artists, and I will allow myself to draw a parallel to the Blue Nile’s work as well, at least in terms of how the songs are built on and heavily rely on a driving steady rhythm, and unravel into beautiful soundscapes when the occasion calls for it. Most notable in this respect are the two longest tracks here – “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker” and the closer “Bay of Pigs”, which are entire immersive mini-movements unto themselves.
Well of course the singing is not similarly big and evocative, nor drenched in emotion (or melancholy) but this is probably just as well because I don’t think that sort of attitude will fly in our subdued, self-referential and self-deprecating 21st century. In fact, Mr. Daniel Bejar’s unconvinced mumbling may take some getting used to but once you do, you can appreciate how well it fits the mood and intention of the songs. It is at just the right level of understated, which is not always easy to pull off, and the occasional female vocals (of The Beautiful South’s Briana Corrigan persuasion) really make the whole affair memorable.

Largely the same goes for the lyrics, they go with the music better than they would stand on their own, and they are of the dense, somewhat ironic and theatrically mock-introspective variation. America gets mentioned a lot, and also the typically millennial fascination with underachievement (“I was poor in love. I was poor in wealth. // I was okay in everything else there was.”) and futility (“Winter, spring, summer and fall, // animals crawl towards death’s embrace.”) makes an appearance more often than not.
But it all goes together well, this fascination with retro sound, beautiful trumpet embellishments, random lyrical musings, and of course that steady pumping rhythm that will guide you along on your Kaputt journey. So if you like a more tasteful and sophisticated take on indie music and don’t mind Daniel Bejar’s monologued musings in front of the mirror (which are really okay for the most part and sometimes even verge on admirably well-crafted), put on this sophisti-pop record disguised as an indie record disguised as a metal record and immerse yourselves without fear.
I for one was also poor in love and poor in wealth but now I am richer in the sounds of Kaputt and this almost makes up for it 🙂
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MARK HOLLIS – Mark Hollis (1998)

Review by: Syd Spence
Album assigned by: Jonathan Birch

There are certain albums that require few listens. Generally when an album is manufactured for mass consumption, one listen is enough. There’s the pop hook, do I enjoy it? repeat for twelve songs. The more good hooks, the better the album is, post grade accordingly. Then, there are albums that just DEMAND you listen to them over and over again, and this is one of those albums. 

On first listen this album, is shrouded by a thick fog of pretentious melancholy. Any and all messages besides, “I’m a serious artist and I’m depressed” are just blocked out. After the first listen I dreaded coming back to the sad slow art album, but I continued. The more I listened to it, the more it unraveled and I felt I could maybe pierce through it and finally grasp something. What little I’ve grasped feels a melancholy singer songwriter album with a bit of avant garde jazz thrown in. Essentially, a mixture of Nick Drake and star sailor era Tim Buckley.

Now I enjoy Nick Drake, but can understand the criticism that he’s not exactly an excellent song writer, that he is too focused on mood instead of melody. Compared to Mark Hollis, he’s a god damned Paul McCartney. These songs are just all mood and that mood is sad, sad, sad. It really is a one note album and even the tiny bits of cacophonous jazz scronking is muffled and never really shakes off the strummed sad artist vibe. 

With that said, I’m about 12 listens in and yet, every listen I feel like there is something more to it. This nagging feeling that this might be some secret masterpiece of super serious sad songwriter albums, Perhaps, I haven’t truly pierced the shroud of pretentious art, and have instead just become entranced with its mystery. Perhaps, by the 25th listen this album will usurp Love’s Forever Changes as my favorite sad arty records. 


Though somehow I doubt it. I just can’t see myself coming back to these moody dirges for enjoyment. I’m a musical simpleton in that regard. I need some catchy melodies with my grand statements. So I feel my mind will forever waffle between secret depression masterpiece and too pretentious for its own good art record. Perhaps, your mind is better equipped for such an activity, but for me, I’m just going to shuffle this record away to the land of well crafted albums that I don’t ever want to listen to again.

KLAUS SCHULZE & ANDREAS GROSSER – Babel (1987)

Review by: A.A
Album assigned by: Alex Alex

“Well, hi there, unknown reader of this stone tablet! It’s a good sign you’re reading this, ’cause it means all this cumbersome scribing of mine isn’t going to be a total waste. Life’s a bitch already without having one’s message being lost in total oblivion, what with all the slave labor for this megalomanic construction project and all.
 
I’m writing this under moonlight of course. I’d be mad to do anything else than lifting stones and laying bricks all day long… Working my posterior off for the whims of the vagarious King of men. Without wages, too. Soon it would be daybreak. Another godless G-R-I-N-D-I-N-G day of drudgery. Oh well.
 
What construction work, you say? The ziggurat thingie, of course. See, ol’ Nebopolassar’s always been a crackpot, but this thing is – how do you say? – a whole new level. I know, I know. ‘Scuse the horrible pun; lame dark humor just comes with the job description here. Especially since there’s no other entertainment to be had after work.
 
Speaking of which, I could really do with some music. What kind, though?
 
The other day I managed to have a brief chat with our seeress. About music and future and futuristic forms of capitalistic endeavour. She says she has visions of future instruments sometimes. That our lowly wood and metal instruments would survive, but there will be new, very different monoliths musicians would manipulate to cajole a variety of sounds out from. Even the sounds of those instruments that already exist. What a rip-off. Massive behemoths with more levers and dials than the stairs this tower’s going to have. People think she’s nuts.
 
Hey, I’m not asking for a masterpiece of epicness that mirrors the not-so-proverbial blood, sweat and tears of the workers nor the vainglory of tyrannical swellheads. Just a nice background soundtrack with a cool, tense but not quite grim motif repeating now and again that reflects the nature of my humdrum toil. And maybe commiserates with it, in an odd way. A little something that makes your daily work a bit less of a drag. And when it’s over, you’re just a little bit sturdier to endure the next day of hard manual labor.
 
A monument to neither the grandeur nor the pathos of the whole frivolous enterprise. Only a synopsis, like this tablet.
 
Ooops, oughta be off now! I see the warden’s approaching…”

ROWLAND S. HOWARD – Pop Crimes (2009)

Review by: Mark Maria Ahsmann
Album assigned by: Andreas Georgi

After all these years it’s nice to hear from Rowland S. Howard again – no surprise though.

By the time the Birthday Party ended in 1983, Nick Cave was sick of Rowland S. Howard and his omnipresent guitar and decided not to take him along into the Bad Seeds but trade him in for Blixa Bargeld and his much more sparse guitar. As both gentlemen weighed almost nothing at the time the trade in can’t have been too hard on Cave’s back.

My budget was also quite sparse in these days and, as a lover of the Birthday Party, I did buy Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds albums at the record store in my hometown but I couldn’t afford to travel to Amsterdam, Brussels or London to purchase the various releases by Howard, be it solo or in various bands. So I lost track of him, apart from occasionally hearing the stuff he did with Lydia Lunch at that time.

Obviously I was curious to know what became of his music when I was asked to review his 2009 release “Pop Crimes”. I found that his sound is basically unchanged. “Pop Crimes” could have been released in 1985 as well.

I was a bit disappointed at first until after a couple of listens I realised that it is a very pleasant and well made album nonetheless. And of course to me it feels like home.

So: “Pop Crimes” is a short (38 minutes), well arranged and accessible album by the former lead guitarist of the Birthday Party, released in 2009; the year of his death. It contains eight songs of which six are originals and two are covers (“Life’s What You Make It” by Talk Talk and “Nothin’” by Townes van Zandt). The style of these eight songs varies from defiant, dirgelike and bluesy goth rock to mournful dream pop. The lyrics are ruminations of a bad boy in a worse world. One of the chief attractions is Howard’s guitar playing; sharp as surgical scissors yet soothing as the nurse who handles them.

Howard also sings and for 38 minutes that’s alright with me – the guy is not a singer by birth. He sounds like a cross between latter day Joey Ramone and Leonard Cohen when he was losing his voice on “Death Of A Ladies Man”. Which wouldn’t be a bad thing of course if he didn’t also sound like he was trying to gulp down a pint of peanut butter at the same time.

The songs are all decent though not spectacular. Highlights for me are: the darkly suggestive dream pop duet “A Girl Called Jonny” (about a girl called Jonny and she also bangs the drum – did the guy listen to the Waterboys in 2009 or what?), the from life affirming to menacing makeover of “Life’s What You Make It” (with a double bass and piano line that sounds a lot like ditto in the Bad Seeds’ Cabin Fever), the dirty rocking title track with a fantastic bassline and the mournful love lost song “Ave Maria”. Letdowns there are none.

“Pop Crimes” was released in the year prior to Howard’s death and I wonder if that knowledge is really important for your apprehension of the record. I don’t think so; the record does not really sound like a black star to me nor do the lyrics hint at Howard’s End as far as I know (of course the lyrics hint at the End in general but that’s par for the course with the genre).

PHILIP GLASS – Powaqqatsi (1988)

Review by: Andreas Georgi
Album assigned by: Franco Micale

“Powaqqatsi”, which means “Life in transformation” in Hopi, is the second of 3 “qatsi” films, for which Philip Glass scored and recorded the soundtrack. I am not familiar with the other two. I vaguely recollect seeing one of the 3 movies, and I THINK it was this one. The movie presents in a non-narrative manner without dialog several scenes of events around the world. I honestly don’t remember much more, but it has no bearing on the appreciation of this album. It definitely sounds like a movie soundtrack, but stands up very well as a work on its own. I am familiar with some, but not all, of Glass’s work – his piano etudes, the Low and Heroes Symphonies and “Knee Play” segments from “Einstein on the Beach”, as well as other scattered pieces I’ve heard performed over the years. The basic elements of Glass’s general style are very much identifiable in this music, but this is “big screen” Philip Glass. It uses Minimalist elements in its structure – the subtly-changing repeating simple lines that weave patterns with each other, but it certainly is not “minimalist” in its arrangements. Most pieces are quite dense with orchestra, percussion, choirs or other vocal ensembles, and a very wide range of different “ethnic” musical influences. This is kind of Glass’s “World Music” work, reflecting the themes of the movie. The sound alternately evokes Brazil, India, China, and the Middle East without necessarily directly quoting their musical styles. The obvious exception is the vocal (in Arabic, I assume) on “From Egypt”. Sometimes the music gradually transitions, while other times it jump cuts abruptly. Dense, bombastic (in a good way) pieces like “Caught” contrast with sparser & gentler passages.
In a nutshell, it’s a definite thumbs up for this one. The “CLASSICAL” and “MINIMALIST” labels should not scare away listeners. Glass’s work (as far as I know it) is very much tonal, and this album is quite accessible for listeners who are somewhat adventurous and interested in world music. 

This review is also posted on Amazon here.

DAVID BOWIE – Diamond Dogs (1974)

Review by: Viudas Tormo
Album assigned by: Syd Spence

I’m proposing to my girlfriend these days. Running wild to have a diamond for her on time. Erasing any chances of making a serious review of this album.

She doesn’t know, so this words will not be shown to her (making all of this pointless, as that was the whole reason why I got into this review-making business in the first place).

The situation is quite ironic, as you could perfectly argue that I am a bloody Diamond Dog right now, and this reinforces the iconic role of partners in this review club, suckers of time.

Being the diamond dog that I am (young girl, they call me that), I naturally liked this album.

Somehow interesting statements that I feel inclined to make: Bowie had mastered his more Rollings-like sound in the opening track, and I can see the founding bases of punk in others. Well, the whole record is something that could be based on the Mad Max universe. 

Additionally, Mike Garson keeps embellishing tremendously every song in which he participates. 

Wait, I said that I liked this album? I was a little excited about my connection to the title, but well, I would like to clarify that this album is in no way at the same height of brilliance as in Bowie’s previous (or future) efforts.

Regardless, “Rebel Rebel” is a classic Bowie tune and has one of the catchiest guitar riffs of the last century. Or every other century, really. Guitar riffs were not very popular in the Renaissance.

SPECIAL REVIEW PROJECT: 2015 IN REVIEW – Best and Worst Albums of 2015

2015 IN REVIEW
By Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho

Every time a year ends, music websites and publications all around the world publish lists that feature what they consider the best albums that were released on that year. These albums come with great compliments and, usually, intriguing names and cover arts, tantalising me. This has always been a sort of shame to me, as I felt that I was missing on good music, year after year. So, I’ve finally decided to do something about it, and on February 2016 I started a sort of “Project 2015”, in which I would listen to a bunch of critically-acclaimed albums from last year, and decide which of them I liked and which I didn’t.

At first, it was more of a personal thing, just me writing on an excel file which albums I thought were worthy of further attention after a first listen. However, with the chat of the Only Solitaire group, it ended up getting bigger, as people would suggest me albums, or would ask to see my excel (this made me make it prettier and more comprehensive). By the time we did group-listens of some albums from the list, it was clear that it turned into more than that, and I decided to “publish” it on this blog post, as well as on my facebook account.

Throughout February and in early March I listened to 73 albums released in 2015. I didn’t listen to all of those from beginning to end, but I made sure to listen to each of them long enough to be able to make my opinion. I also want to make it clear that this is meant to be my personal reactions to these albums, shaped by my taste in music, and nothing more than that. Those albums got inside the list from many sources, most of them figured in Brazilian and international best-of-2015 lists, but some came from chat suggestions, and some came from stuff I happened to find and thought were interesting to be listened to. I didn’t get everything I saw on those lists either, only things I thought seemed promising to my taste.

On the excel tables, I did a small description of the sound of each album, and I gave each a one-line review, which was painted green for a positive reaction, yellow for a neutral reaction and red for a negative reaction. I also selected, like the (in)famous Pitchfork website, a few albums to receive a Best New Music award.

Of all the 73, there were only 7 albums which received a negative verdict, including the much acclaimed Kamasi Washington album, The Epic. I guess I just don’t like jazz, but I found the length of it personally offensive, it’s more than three hours long! The worst of the bunch, however, was Defeater’s Abandoned, which started with clichéd dramatic pianos, then a pathetic screaming started, and I couldn’t take it anymore.

22 albums got a neutral reaction. Cidadão Instigado, which is sometimes appointed as one of the best Brazilian rock bands of the XXI century, is yet to be able to touch me, their Fortaleza wasn’t bad but nothing that I would want to spend time listening to. Another disappointment was Frevotron, which promised a modern electronised update on the frevo genre, but sounded like anything but frevo. On the international side, Father John Misty sounded half as good as Elton John on his good songs, and was utterly boring on the others, coupled with pretty bad lyrics. I really wish Robin Pecknold would return to music, because the rest of the Fleet Foxes are nothing without him. The biggest waste of a cool cover belonged to this category, Kelela’s Hallucinogen EP, which was just one more album that followed this recent trend of beautiful arrangements and instrumentation coupled with a lack of good vocal hooks. Bike, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Passo Torto & Ná Ozetti were also guilty of that.

A special mention goes to albums that felt genuinely deep and intriguing, but just weren’t suited to my tastes, like the weird schizophrenia of Oneohtrix, the ambience of Nicholas Jaar and Mount Eerie, and the noise-plus-religious-chants duo between Cadu Tenório and my admired Juçara Marçal.

The last and largest category consists on albums I gave a positive verdict, 44 out of 73. Among those, it’s worth mentioning the great moment Brazilian music in general, and hip-hop, specifically, is living. Searching for inspiration in folkish afro-traditions, the 70s post-tropicália or on the sleazy brega, artists are mixing genres and producing unique albums. If one listens to Ava Rocha, Melodia Preto Bendi, Jonas Sá or Johnny Hooker, they would get an idea of how diverse and vibrant the Brazilian scene is.

International music, however, seems very fragmented, and the only visible tendency is a reduction on the use of guitars. But even those were put to good use by Courtney Barnett or Viet Cong. Many well-established artists did not disappoint this last year, with Magma, Joanna Newsom and Tame Impala releasing good follow-ups that add nicely to their discographies. Modest Mouse, on the other hand, disappointed me with their forgettable Strangers to Ourselves, which included a semi-rap-song with lyrics about cleaning his pistol!

Among the 44 positive albums, there were 12 that I considered the finest of 2015. Two were electronic pop: from the Brazilian state of Pará, Jaloo mixed pop with carimbó to make a very catchy and diverse album; while from overseas, Canadian Grimes wrote, sang, played and produced by herself a kaleidoscopic masterpiece. Still on the electronic world, but far more avant-garde, was Holly Herndon’s Platform, with dazzling vocals that reminded me of Stockhausen’s Stimmung. 

The last two foreign albums that figured on this top 12 were both very personal, although they had very different moods. Sufjan’s Carrie & Lowell might not be as good melodically as some of his previous albums, but is incredibly touching, and pretty much bares his soul. To Pimp a Butterfly stands out for the stunning amount of different “voices” Kendrick Lamarr has.

Back to Brazil, Elza Soares’ Mulher do Fim do Mundo is also very personal, and through her coarse 70-year-old voice, and great arrangements, entrances the listener in her world. Great arrangements are also a feature of banda-fôrra’s debut EP, which left me with great expectations for their future. Bixiga 70 gives us another dose of great afrobeat, perhaps their finest.

Finally, on the hip-hop front, I loved particularly four albums. Or rather, three albums and one EP, as Senzala Hi-Tech amazed me with a new kind of afro-vodoo-hip-hop with 90s Native Tongues influences, and they only needed 6 tracks to do so! The Instituto collective called so many great artists to perform on the collaborative Violar, it just wasn’t possible for it not to be awesome. Rodrigo Ogi’s RÁ! is worthy of the capitalisation and exclamation, as it has great grooves, great lyrics, great hooks and a great variety of moods.

Last, but definitely not least, the album I consider the best of 2015: Emicida – Sobre Crianças, Quadris, Pesadelos e Lições de Casa…It can be touching, it can be scathing, it often is both, simultaneously, it is simply marvellous! One of those albums where I just felt the wonder that it music, and on the first listen!