BOSVELD – Veldbrand (2015)

Review by: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Album assigned by: Kevin O’Meara


When I was assigned to review the album Veldbrand by the group Bosveld I thought at first, based on the name alone, that this was gonna be some kind of Scandinavian Death Metal type deal or at least something along the lines of that glum drone-y sound that seems to be gaining so much traction these days. You see to my ignorant mind the name Bosveld and the title Veldbrand conjured up scenes involving violent thunderstorms and a mist drenched purple darkness, men in thick hooded robes performing uncanny rites to summon up horrible preternatural entities, loud guitars played at insanely fast speeds and for vocals an unholy growling that seemed to be forcing its way through the earth up from the very pit of hell itself. And so rather understandably I began to steel myself for an all out assault on my eardrums. But no what I got instead is a sonically understated piece of atmospheric electro-folk that creeps along at a very slumberous pace indeed and which has a tendency to take itself more seriously than it maybe should. At times the hushed, world weary vocals are reminiscent of Mark Lanegan, that is if he’d been less fond of cheap whisky and cheaper women, and instead preferred brooding alone in an abandoned woodshed with a only a record player and a battered copy of Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear for company; other times the vocals float along over a surface of quivering strings and earnest folky guitar like John Martyn on tranquilizers. 

Bosveld are all about building up a very particular kind of atmosphere, something like an autumn sunset squinted at from an abandoned woodshed in a temperate forest, and so they make few concessions to such mundane musical niceties such as melody or audible lyrics (I’m not even sure what language it is the vocalist is singing in a lot of the time). Veldbrand is essentially an ambient-folk record, somewhat in the vein of the aforementioned Veckatimest except that unlike Grizzly Bear Bosveld seem to regard musical hooks and memorable choruses as a distraction, and extraneous to their purposes. It must be granted that understood as a piece of ambient music in which each individual element is subsumed to the purpose of evoking a general feeling or sense of place, Veldbrand is not an ineffective record: that is, even if there are no melodies that stick around in your head, the hushed atmosphere of the piece does in fact linger on as insubstantial as a photographic afterimage after you stop listening, and the effect seems to last just as long as an afterimage usually does.  

Everything is pervaded by an ominous feeling of lethargy and a vague kind of uneasiness, It’s just obtrusive enough that you probably wouldn’t want to leave it on at a polite dinner party. That is to say it’s not background music in the most trite and offensive sense of the word and this redeems the record somewhat. But for all that in the end Veldbrand is underwhelming: it does not offer an interesting enough soundscape to really succeed as a compelling piece of ambient music — although it might work well as a film soundtrack — which makes me think that they were perhaps a little rash to think they could do away with melodies and hooks just yet. (5.5/10)
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ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK – Dazzle Ships (1983)

Review by: Jared Walske
Album assigned by: Ali Ghoneim

I’m mostly familiar with OMD via their big pop hits from the mid-80s like “If You Leave” and “Tesla Girls” and while I’ve heard some of the stuff their earlier, artier material, it’s not what I immediately think of when I hear their name. As a result, listening to Dazzle Ships is an interesting experience. I can clearly hear the glossy pop band that would have those hits in this album, but there’s a little less emphasis on immediately catchy pop hooks and more attention paid to atmosphere and the overall flow of the album. It reminds me a little bit of Brian Eno’s pop albums, especially Another Green World, which also separated it’s more normal songs with stranger and less commercial compositions. the worst thing I can say about it is that the album is definitely a grower. A enjoyed it a lot both of the times I listened to it, but nothing on the album was as immediately catchy as the OMD hits I was already familiar with. Still, this was a very worthwhile listen and it deserves the critical reevaluation it has received in recent years.

Highlights: Everything, really. The album works really well as a whole and I’m not sure which, if any, songs I would pick out as the obvious best songs that you should listen to above all else. Just enjoy the whole thing at once.

Lowlights: None. It’s too solid and consistent to have any, assuming you don’t find synthpop to be completely unlistenable as a genre. 

THE PEELS – The Peels (2005)

Review by: Jonathan Hopkins
Album assigned by: Jake Myers

I knew exactly what this album was going to sound like as soon as I saw the album cover. They’re an indie-rock quartet with loud, jagged guitars and a female vocalist who looks and sounds just like Nico.

That’s not quite fair. While the opening song, “Only Son” – where she sounds like some sort of Nico android – made me wary, her vocals throughout are actually very good and varied. It’s just clear who her model is. Other than that, The Peels don’t really offer anything particularly interesting here. All of the songs sound almost exactly the same, with the same post-Pixies “quirk-punk” indie guitar tones and bass lines I’ve heard a million times. It’s not bad, and every song sounds perfectly fine while it’s on, but almost nothing really sticks with me.

The only song I care to name check is “I Don’t Know,” the one song on here with a different, warmer guitar tone and a great power-pop riff. This is going to be my one take away from this album, the only thing I’ll probably come back to. I really fell in love with this song, and it was worth it to listen to the album just to gain that.

There really aren’t any other individual songs to talk about, in my opinion. It’s a very short album – actually just an EP – and the only thing The Peels managed to record. Seek out “I Don’t Know,” and if you’re a huge indie-rock fan, you’ll probably enjoy the rest as well.

In conclusion, it’s basically fine, but Wire did everything this album did but better.

Rating: B-

AQUARIUM (АКВАРИУМ) – Radio Africa (Радио Африка) (1983)

Review by: Franco Micale
Album assigned by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

Disclaimer: All of the lyrics and song titles on this album are in Russian, so for the sake of convenience, I will refer to their English translations. Also, since I am not able to understand what’s being sung, I am aware that there is most likely a lot of critical details that I’m missing out on. Sorry.

Aquarium are an underground Russian group that I had never known about before taking part in this reviewing game. In 1983 they released this album called Radio Africa, and it was a huge deal because they had to bribe the owner to record in a mobile studio and they were super controversial and did stuff and things and they werasijeflamsef I honestly am too tired to think creatively about my introduction, so let’s just get this review started.

To cut to the chase, the biggest flaw of this album is the flat, under-cooked, and half-hearted production that runs through each song. I understand that the group didn’t have the opportunity to record in a luxurious studio, and I can tell that the band really tries to do as much as they could with their limitations, but either way a good amount of the songs actually sound like outtakes you might hear as bonus tracks as opposed to actual finished products. In other words, the production on this album sucks out much of the lot of the sonic depth, texture, or atmosphere these pieces potentially could have had, and although I’ve been able to ignore this on repeated listens, I still can’t help but feel that a better mix would have been a vast improvement to the album.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let’s talk about the music! The good news is that on subsequent listens, almost all of these songs have grown on me. Basically, Aquarium fearlessly dive into as many musical styles as possible, so you get a melting pot of pop, rock, lounge, funk, new wave, ambient, reggae, world, etc. all segued together by shortwave radio broadcasts. In many ways, this album draws parallels to “The White Album”, though I think a better comparison would be “The Who Sell Out”, due to the radio concept behind both albums, or perhaps even “London Calling”, due to the political overtones in the music and lyrics, and also because neither album sounds anything like Wire.

Although, as a whole, the album plays together very well, there doesn’t seem to be much of a consistent musical theme that I can describe in greater detail, so I’ll just talk about a few tracks that I thought were pretty awesome. First, the albums boots off on a really jolly note with “Music of the Silver Spokes”, a fairly straightforward pop tune with a rhythm and melody that just sounds…swell! I can just imagine some happy-go-lucky person whistling this tune while strolling around on a stress-less, sunny day. And man, I don’t understand those lyrics, but they sure sound cool.

Up next, comes my second favorite track on here, “Captain Africa”. Of all the genres that are represented on this album, prog seems to be significantly lacking (along with punk), but this tune is the closest resemblance to that style. What we have here is a funk-jazz-rock-pop fusion number that is fueled by a funky, yet laid-back rhythm, which is mixed in with some delicious saxophone playing and a groovy chorus that will be forever stuck in your head by the second or third time you’ve heard this song.

However, the award for “Favorite Song on The Album” goes to to “Vana Khoya”. A gorgeous, exotic tune that takes you on a journey to a beach along the coast of a small, cast out island, this is the only case on the album where I feel the lo-fi production actually enhances the quality of the music, giving the piece a very serene and breezy atmosphere. I love the beautiful flute that flows in, out, and around the music, the airy guitars that conjures up images in my head of waves crashing against a sandy shore, and the tranquil melody that I can imagine being chanted by some ethnic group of tribal men along a fireside as the sun sets down. Simply put, this is an extremely aesthetic song that I highly recommend you listen to.
Anyways, there is a lot more I could talk about, such as the pretty ambient track entitled “Radio Shaolin” that sounds like Asian Animal Collective, or the fact that “Rock N’ Roll Is Dead” and “The Art Of Being Humble” are both fabulous songs with gripping melodies and intelligent lyrics, or how “To Your Star” is an experimental track that aimlessly goes nowhere, or how “The Time Of The Moon” is so very incredible but has a sad mix that sounds like it was recorded in a basement on a twenty year old cassette tape, however I’m just not in the mood to write anymore. So deal with it B) 

Overall, I find this album difficult to grade, because I would say content wise, this album deserves like an A or A-, but the production lowers it to a B. That’s kinda too bad, because this album shines brightly of potential, and it’s these guys without a doubt were highly talented artists. Maybe it will get better on further listens…Either way, though, I still highly recommend giving this album a chance, especially since I’m sure many of you probably won’t care much about how it’s mixed.

Best track: Vana Khoya

Worst Track: To Your Star

BÉLA FLECK AND THE FLECKTONES – Greatest Hits of the 20th Century (1999)

Review by: Jonathan Moss
Album assigned by: Graeme Oxley

This a very fun album. It’s essentially a mix of bluegrass and jazz fusion. Now I’ve heard some jazz fusion and little bluegrass (unless CBGB bands like The Ramones count) but this wryly titled compilation makes the fusion very appealing.

Since the album is a compilation it is quite varied, with a lot of speedy and virtuosic tracks at the beginning and some slower more atmospheric ones later one. The song Vix 9 sounds quite Yessish and proggish in general but outside of that the album is more poppy, whilst still retaining a jazzy edge. With the exception of the Dave Matthews sung (which is good but would have been better if Colin Newman of Wire fame had sung it) song Communication all the songs on the album are instrumental.   

Of course, the main draw of the album is Béla Fleck who plays banjo the way Frank Zappa plays guitar (okay, I know comparing one good player to another is lazy and doesn’t really encapsulate their style. Just trust me, he’s good). He plays all sorts of fast, bendy lines, although he can also play in a slower more relaxed style. The important thing- as with all truly great virtuosos, in my view at least- isn’t just that he’s really talented musically at the thing but also melodically, playing a variety of fun, quirky riffs.

The rest of the band is really talented as well, though. The whole album is full of tasteful guitar riffs and some really complicated and melodic bass stuff. It’s kind of like Primus, one instrument is the main attraction but the other players are still great.
Something I forgot to mention earlier so will awkwardly do now is that one of the songs (Stomping Grounds) is live. This is a good decision though the song doesn’t sound tremendously different from that studio stuff, except a bit more spontaneous and lively, I guess.

The most impressive thing I can say about this album is that despite all the instrumental talent on display the whole thing sounds very down to earth. I love a lot of prog but I couldn’t really say that about any prog group. On the other hand “unpretentious music for pretentious people” isn’t the most glamorous title so maybe Van Der Graaf Generator had the right idea.

In all seriousness this is an album I’d definitely recommend, and if it wasn’t for the hypocrisy for not doing so myself yet I’d say check their other albums out as well. 

THE ROCHES – The Roches (1979)

Review by: Andreas Georgi
Album assigned by: Jeremiah Methven

I remember the Roches & at least some bits of their first album from “the days” primarily because of their affiliation with Robert Fripp (he produced the album and plays a few guitar parts. Tony Levin plays on it too. Terre Roche did some vocals on Fripp’s “Exposure” album of the same year). Because of this association and also because they played in the downtown NYC clubs they somehow managed to find a place in the punk/new wave / underground music scene, even though their music didn’t fit the mold. Though not “punk” in their sound in any way, listening to this album (and this the only one of their albums I’ve heard), it’s not hard to see why this would appeal to an “alternative” audience.

The music centers around the harmonies of the three Roche sisters. Maggie sings in a surprisingly deep contralto voice. Terre sings in a high register, and Suzzie is in the middle. The lead is mostly alternated between Suzzie and Terre, but it’s not always easy to discern who’s singing what (except for Maggie’s parts). The individual voices are not really outstanding on their own, but the sum is definitely greater than the parts. The harmonies range from sweet and ethereal to (presumably deliberately) off-key and silly, perfectly matching the subject matter. The instrumentation is sparse and perfectly complements the vocals, never getting in the way. Fripp plays a few leads in his signature style. The Fripp treatment is most notable on “Hammond Song”.

The album starts off with the autobiographical “We”, which I guarantee will be a total earworm in your head for days after hearing it (“We are Maggie and Terre and Suzzie”…there it goes again!). The harmonies here are deliberately silly and somewhat childish sounding to match the humorous lyrics. Silly, but fun stuff. The next song, ““Hammond Song” is where they really start to show their chops, and is one of the highlights of the album. The harmonies range from ethereal to an almost avant-garde dissonance which is accentuated by Fripp’s guitar and Frippertronic atmospherics. “The Troubles” makes reference to the then-current violent conflict in the middle of silly lyrics about banalities like “hope they have health food in Ireland”. “Mr. Sellack” for all its witty comments about menial work, is ultimately about abandoned dreams. “The Married Men” is the most endearing song about adultery that I can think of. “The Train” suggests the barriers we put up around ourselves (perhaps necessarily) in public – “Can’t we have a party? Would he rather have a party?/After all we have to sit here and he’s even drinking a beer/ I want to ask him what’s his name/ But I can’t ’cause I’m so afraid of the man on the train” and “Pretty and High” is another highlight, but there are no weak ones. The lyrics are witty and engaging, but never didactic or obvious, as folkies tend to be all too often . They leave a lot of room for ambiguity and interpretation. Overall a definite thumbs up.

EMIKA – Drei (2015)

Review by: Tristan Peterson
Album assigned by: Markus Pilskog

FFO: Sufjan Stevens, Blank Banshee, Deadmau5, Autechre

Emika is an English classical and electronic musician, with Czech heritage, by way of Berlin, Germany.  On this album, Drei, she delivers extremely cold, slightly glitchy textures (mostly Moog created) and beats, but with poppy melodies to carry the songs through.

The glaring issue, which becomes apparent by the second track, is that these songs don’t NEED pop elements and hooks to them.  The foundation she created, especially her glitched-out vocal samples, are strong enough to where her rather generic and monotone timbre detracts from what’s going on in the background.  Now, this isn’t the case with all the songs, but it does happen on most of them.

Like I said earlier, it does have a lot of plusses.  The Moog textures and beats have a very cold, almost paranoid quality to them, and the way she also treats some of her chopped up vocal samples only adds to the atmosphere that she creates behind herself.

Overall the record is rather enjoyable for what it is, though certainly not the best thing in the world. That being said, whoever happens to be reading this should give it a listen.

RATING: 7/10
FAVORITE TRACK: Miracles (Prelude) 
LEAST FAVORITE TRACK: Miracles