THE VISIT – Through Darkness Into Light (2015)

Review by: Ali Ghoneim
Album assigned by: Kevin O’Meara

This album is to metal what Sparks’ Lil Beethoven is to electronic music.

Or at least that’s the conclusion I — someone who hasn’t listened to much metal beyond Sabbath — have made after listening to a 55 minute long “metal” album with no guitars. The metal tag comes from the band’s bandcamp page, so know that I’m not making any assumptions here.

Purely in terms of form and structure, I can see how someone could argue that this is a metal album. Chugging guitars are replaced with cellos, but you can still recognise the music that they’re playing as distinctly metal — again I don’t know much about metal so take that with a grain of salt. 

Prior to listening to this album, I had been aware that some metal acts liked to mix a lot of baroque/orchestral passages into their songs, but I was under the impression that those passages would then eventually gave way to stereotypical metal fair. Here, however, the whole album seems to be one prolonged ornate passage, which really caught me off guard the first time I listened to it. Here I was thinking: “Ok, the guitars are definitely gonna come in now….ok now……now?” But they never did, and the album was a much more interesting and engaging “metal” album because of it.

To be completely fair, it might very well be that these kind of metal albums sans guitar and drums are common, and that the visit isn’t doing anything new. In that case, my opening statement is a lot of hyperbole from someone who doesn’t know shit about metal. But AS someone who doesn’t know shit about metal, Through Darkness Into Light was a pretty enlightening listen. 
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WIRE – 154 (1979)

Review by: Jonathan Birch
Album assigned by: Jonathan Moss

As the opening chatter of guitars, the crash of drums, and the morosely leaden voice of a man who sounded like a cross between slightly less depressed Ian Curtis and a more animated Morrissey drifted from the car speakers, my father made a not unobvious remark: “Sounds a bit punk-ish”. And indeed, it seems the band Wire were riding the punk wave that had exploded only a few years earlier. Only this was post-punk, which means everything has more echo and self-loathing.
  
The chunky sounding guitars and crisply recorded drums and bass gives the record some soothing oomph, although the deadpan vocals can occasionally verge on the side of monotony. The opening number, “I Should Have Known Better,” begins to resemble the diatribe of a love-sick teenager scribbling forlornly in his diary, and the self-indulgent attempts at anti-music such as “The Other Window” only serve to make me seek a window to jump out of.

However, although the album (non-descriptively christened 154) was a bit hit and miss for me, the hits were certainly the high points in terms of the musical soundscapes that were created. “The 15th” almost sounds like a slice of 2000s indie/dance pop that could have been released recently and has nary aged except for some noticeably late-70’s synth notes. The chirping of guitars and ending chime of synthesizer creates an almost zen moment of relaxation. “Single K.O.” is a bouncy number with a particularly animated lead vocal and haunting background chants, making me want to don a leather jacket, shave my head, and go out looking for a pub fight.

Unfortunately, what follows was another dud for me, an entirely atmospheric mood piece of repetitive guitar groans, with a dose of tom tom drums that seemed to drag for an unneeded 7 minutes. The attempts at building a tense emotional despair was admirable, but ultimately reminded me of a less interesting Joy Division experiment. Still, props for the dedication. A “touching display” indeed.

More entertaining nonsense ensues, and I remained unimpressed by some feeble Krautrock imitations, until about halfway through “A Mutual Friend.” The song segues into the singer muttering something about the months of the year, backed by the relaxing caw of an English horn, before climaxing in the chanting of the line “He might replace the old with the moon” that seems to have a greater significance I can’t quite grasp. But goodness, is it unconventionally catchy. The song fades out of this reassuring note, and opens with another proto-indie/dance pop number, “Blessed State.” Although clearly Bowie influenced, this is something that one could easily picture The Strokes or The Shins playing. The guitar riffs have great forward energy, and the steady drum beat is toe-tappingly addictive to my replay button. Most successful, easily accessible, and probably my favorite song on the album.

Two more dirges commence, before my attention is once again captured by the “Single K.O.” twin, another energetic tune called “Map Ref. 41 Degrees N 93 Degrees West” that begins to morph into an anthem for the post-modern, with the lead vocalist subtly announcing “Chorus!” in lieu of the chorus. Very meta! The album then ends with two more industrial rock tracks, and 154 comes to a bittersweet end.

I have to say, for my first Wire experience, it was more intellectually enveloping than expected. The melodies are often eccentrically brilliant, and the hooks are subtle enough to make repeated listening a must. Indeed, I must have listened to the record at least four or five times to absorb most of the subtle nuances (albeit in fits and starts). While only half the number of songs appealed to me on an aesthetic level, I can safely say that anyone with interest in Goth Rock, Grunge, Progressive, Alternative, Metal, or angsty Punk in general will find something to cling to. It’s a tough unforgiving ride, but the influence 154 has had on the post-punk bands of the 80s is something that cannot be overlooked.

Final Verdict: 4.0/5

KING SUNNY ADÉ – Isele Yi Leju (2013)

Review by: Mark Maria Ahsmann
Album assigned by: Jaime Vargas Sánchez

Well, I like it.

I find it difficult to put in words what I like about it. It’s JuJu, a genre of music which I know almost nothing about except that it’s a form of African pop music from Nigeria and King Sunny Adé is one of the most renowned artists therein.

So: a non-review.

The last couple of weeks I’ve been living in a redecoration job that’s gotten completely out of hand – let’s say a demolished and leaky bunker with too many personal belongings in it for comfort. And shaky shaky wifi. And the occasional headache caused by ammonia fumes. So that’s how I listened to this album. It is good music to do some housepainting to. Though my helping hand Franz Ferdinand disagreed; he said it annoyed him. Then I had to put it off; to humour him. Anyway; I dug it but I didn’t have time to read up on the subject, let alone review the album.

The music is characterized by grooves of polyrhythmic drum and bass playing (all kinds of different traditional percussion, I suppose) very fluid and clear mulitple guitar lines and call- and response type of singing; the unobtrusive and very sweet, melancholic voice of Adé taking the lead. Of course I don’t have a clue what they’re singing about.

Adé had a moment of fame in 80’s when a couple of his albums, Synchro System and Aura, (maybe there were more) were released on Island and distributed worldwide to general positive reviews. I missed out on Synchro System, heard it at a friend’s place and bought Aura instead. So that’s how I knew about King Sunny until now. Typically I never heard more than these two albums, my attention moved on, and I think that’s exemplary for how many western listeners listen to “World Music” – from hype to hype.

Isele Yi Leju contains recordings from before the Island years. I suspected that Adé’s sound on the Island albums was adapted to a large extend to what western audiences demanded. Also because the rhythmic patterns are not dissimilar to those used by Talking Heads and Peter Gabriel, to name but a few. However, this is not the case, apart from the obligatory 80’s stereoids treatment on the drums the sound is mostly the same.

There’s also a large resemblance to traditional Surinamese music, Kawina and Kaseko, that you hear a lot if you live in Amsterdam (as there are many people with a Surinamese background here).

This is music that is better experienced in a live setting or at a party – great for hip-shaking. When heard in the background it can become a bit monotonous at times. But the painting comes along nicely with this album. As long as Franz Ferdinand isn’t here.

You should try to redecorate my apartment for a change. See how you like it. Anyway, I have work to do. Fixing a hole.

BROADCAST – Tender Buttons (2005)

Review by: Jared Walske
Album assigned by: Eric Pember

I’m not familiar with all of Broadcast’s output – I really only know this album and their debut, The Noise Made by People – but I find it very easy to believe that this is their peak as a band. The same kind of icy and dreamy pop sound that was a dominated Noise is still here, but it’s been augmented by a sharper edge that gives their music a little more kick without overwhelming the softer aspects of their sound. A superb example of this can be seen in the opening track “I Found The F”. Musically, it’s not dissimilar to the kinds of songs Broadcast were already known for, but their earlier material would have used a less coarse-sounding synthesizer tone and would not have emphasized the drums and bass line as much. this becomes every more prominent on the following song, “Black Cat”, which is driven by abrasive bed of electronic noise underneath Trish Keenan’s vocal line. This blending of the pretty and the spiky runs throughout the album and while I could see someone getting tired of the sound by the end of the album, I don’t count myself among them. Listening to this album always makes me a little sad that Broadcast only made one album in this particular mode and makes Trish Keenan’s death in 2011 all the more tragic, as I think her singing and vocal melodies are what really help hold this album together. Give the album a listen and then tell your friends to listen to it too. You won’t be disappointed.

Highlights: “I Found The F”, “Black Cat”, and “Corporeal” stand out as obvious highlights for me, but I suspect that’s more personal preference than anything else.

Lowlights: None. Unless this style of dream pop doesn’t do anything for you, you’ll probably at least enjoy everything here.

CROSS RECORD – Be Good (2013)

Review by: Eden Hunter
Album assigned by: Dinar Khayrutdinov

Be Good, the first full-length release from confused indie rockers Cross Record, opens with three minutes of tenuous bass mumblings. It sounds both inescapably fragile and powerfully creepy, and that’s a feeling that carries itself through the album’s whole runtime. Even in the most dramatic, grandiose moments, there’s a constant sense that this is all some kind of pose, as if everything could fall apart if you pressed the wrong buttons.

Cross Record are masters of atmosphere, and, in addition to the fragility they summon, there’s also a palpable cloud of grimness passing over the whole album. The instrumentation constantly retains a sense of hazy ambiguity. It’s assisted by the lyrics, which always feel masterfully curated to summon both visceral emotion and atmosphere. There’s a moment in Cups in the Sink where everything slows down and the lyrics repeat the words, “Let me go/Please just let me go.” Emily Cross’ vocals fall somewhere in between Joanna Newsom and Chelsea Wolfe, and when she’s putting forth indictments as searing and brutal as that, another truth comes to mind; Be Good is absolutely terrifying music.

This terror is perhaps captured most powerfully on late-album highlight Dirt Nap. It builds up through an increasingly punishing pattern of monastic drumming, before exploding into a series of harrowing sonic revelations. The track is only four minutes long, but more than anything else on Be Good, it feels like a comprehensive statement.

Dirt Nap’s strengths, however, highlight a whole lot of the album’s fundamental weaknesses. At around four-and-a-half minutes, it’s the longest track on Be Good, and it’s the only one that really gets the chance to thematically resolve. There’s a whole lot of really interesting stuff happening on the album, but it feels like Cross Record aren’t really working towards anything. The end result is more like a haunted house than an existential revelation – a superficially harrowing atmosphere hiding what is ultimately fundamentally contentless art.

65/100

VERSHKI DA KORESHKI – Vershki da Koreshki (1996)

Review by: Eric Pember
Album assigned by: Mark Maria Ahsmann

Man, this is even harder to review than the Peter Tosh album was. It’s basically just moody jazzy throat singing. I think I’d go batty if I were to listen to this all the time, but it’s rather neat to listen to every once in a while.

KATE BUSH – Aerial (2005)

Review by: Jaime Vargas Sánchez
Album assigned by: Jonathan Birch

The first impression that I got when “King of the Mountain” started was “this sounds like a slightly nuttier version of Peter Gabriel”. But that’s an oversimplification. Yes, it has the expected belabored programmed backgrounds and synth sounds, and her vocals still have that edge that sets her apart from your typical female pop-rock singer. It also has several traditional sounds that are very welcome in an album like this. For example, in the opening song, after the first chorus the listener runs into a rhythm guitar that, not only has a decidedly retro sound but is mixed much higher than guitars in contemporary pop usually are; I think that the relative level of the guitar in the mix is as responsible as the tone, if not more, for the “Sixties” vibe I get from it. The contrast between this guitar (mistakenly described as “reggae” throughout the Internet) and the 80s rock drum sound is interesting.

But sonic variety works also in a macro level. For example, “Pi” also has live drums but this time they sound like prog rock drums, which alongside the acoustic guitar, bass synth and pulse-wave shaped keyboards (a la “Won’t get fooled again”) should sound like a Seventies throwback… but it doesn’t. And throughout the album? We get Renaissance flavourings (“Bertie”, which is by the way Kate’s son and the reason why there was a large time gap before this album; the inspiration is worth the wait). We get piano ballads. We get guitar-based, New Wave-ish pop (with bouts of funny noises). We get electronica-influenced backdrops.

However this is not a simple exercise of style. Apart from all the art song trappings the album features genuinely moving melodies, sung expressively, and idiosyncratic but heartfelt lyrics. Who else would write a poignant piano ballad from the point of view of a housewife daydreaming while washing a load of clothes? (“Mrs. Bartolozzi”). Or a song like “Pi”, which seems to be about a mathematician (or maybe an autistic savant?), set to a rhythm that paints a vivid picture of the protagonist dancing, alone, oblivious to everyone, in his room with the decimal figures running through his brain? Or a song like “How to be Invisible” which you probably have to live inside Kate’s head to decode any metaphors and hidden meanings, if there are any, that is?

After the incredible stretch that spans from “Pi” to “How to be invisible”, “Joanni” seems to me a relative letdown, but “A Coral Room” is starkly beautiful, not as instantly memorable as the rest, but a grower and a suitable conclusion to the first CD.

Ah, I didn’t tell you this was a double album?

Well, what would you say if I told you the second CD consists of a single piece?

Actually “A Sky Of Honey” is a kind of a suite comprised of individual linked sections. Shades of “Thick as a brick” or “A Passion Play” here (actually, like the latter, the different sections have their own titles, and the first CD edition had them indexed separately; the reissue just has it as a single 40+ minutes track under the title “An Endless Sky Of Honey”).

From what I’ve read elsewhere, the suite just describes a day of leisure from beginning to end. Hardly the most epic of subjects, but domestic bliss seems to be one of the main themes of the whole album, and Kate tackles the subjects she wants to tackle, and who am I to object.

Sonically, this second CD is less varied than the other. Not only that, while the concept is interesting, the actual execution is, if any, more conservative than in the first CD, with several segments that sound like Eighties flashbacks. “An Architect’s Dream” in particular sounds like a textbook on how to sound like 80s Top 40 pop (you know – the synth pads, the DX7-type metallic lead synth lines, the programmed congas, the fretless bass, the so-low-you-cannot-hear-it acoustic guitar; the works). Most of the music passes by at an easy slow to mid tempo, but it kind of accelerates towards the end; the final sections range from “Somewhere in between” (a moderate pop piece with a very good and agile vocal melody in the chorus) to the lite funk of the (deceptively named) “Nocturn” and the unrelenting four-on-the floor of “Aerial”, complete with a bizarre laughter section and an unexpected epic guitar solo. Both of those are also sections which could have easily come from a 80s record, and in the case of “Nocturn” it might be not even a 80s Kate Bush record, but a 80s Fleetwood Mac record at that. Apart from those, the only section where it picks up the pace is the second half of “Sunset” which is arranged in a rumba flamenca style. Kudos for the effort, although with the preprogrammed handclaps and shouts it sounds more than a little inauthentic. That “Sunset” segment, however, might well be the best part of the entire cycle; at the beginning the backing is an unobtrusive but lilting jazz-lite, the vocal melody is memorable both in the undulating “sea of honey (…) sky of honey” phrase and in the pixie-like end of the verse, and if you’re willing to forget its plastic qualities, the ending rumba is a suitable finale.

To me, maybe the most memorable purely musical hook in the suite is the four-chord piano riff that forms the basis for “Prologue” – which despite the name is a full-length song. Not everything is; apart from the short instrumental “Prelude” there are a couple of short “links”; of those, “The Painter’s Link” is interesting with its guest spot for Rolf Harris’ vocals and the uplifting choir of Kates.

In summary, this is not a groundbreaking Kate Bush album, but it is more or less on the same level as her classic material. Which means it is highly recommended if you like your music non-trivial, artsy but not self-consciously “difficult”. If the middle of the road was as well-crafted as it is here, everybody would want to run through it.

On a personal note I have been haunted for days by the main keyboard riff of “Pi”, which, by virtue of whatever strange neural connections I have in my brain, insists on being merged with the coda of Dire Straits’ “Telegraph Road”. Weird thing, the human mind. Which is fine by me as far as it can produce works as good – and as needed in the comparatively barren landscape of the post-millenial musical world – as Kate Bush’s “Aerial”.