BENJAMIN CLEMENTINE – At Least for Now (2015)

Review by: Tom Hadrian Kovalevsky
Album assigned by: Viudas Tormo

God, how utterly cold.

I get it, At Least For Now is emotional, it’s desolate in lyrical content yet incredibly lush in terms of production, Clementine has a rich, beautiful, emotional voice that drips with passion, and his piano playing is beautiful and stark and fragile – but I just don’t like this album at all.

If one reads about the accolades the album received upon release, reaching high places in iTunes charts in Italy, Holland, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Poland and Greece, even going as far as to reach the coveted place of #1 and a tidy little gold certification in France, I can merely purse my lips and think about how incredibly suited the album is to such titles. 

It reeks of the benign popularity and showmanship that musicians like Antony and Adele bring to the charts, a sense of being forward-thinking while making no innovation, expressing such emotional angst while not expressing any sort of true emotion at all; every attempt at meaning being brushed over by a uniform brown with which anything that is too startling is kept at bay, out of sight and out of mind for the general music consuming populace, who are seemingly unable to stomach actual sadness.

That isn’t to say either that Clementine possesses more talent than those artists; although such a statement might not be controversial, I shall not deny that both Adele and Antony are in possession of voices only slightly less powerful than Clementine’s, I will even be kind and say that the sort of bland indie posturing is much more interesting than a lot of modern mass-produced dancepop. Alas, Clementine, the blandness of this album makes my heart hurt. There are moments – during “Then I Heard A Bachelor’s Cry”, “Nemesis” and the interlude “St-Clementine-on-Tea-and-Croissants” especially – where the sameness of the affair is briefly escaped, and we glimpse his truly arresting talent, heart-rending and transfiguring, for brief glimpses of time, but the veil is quickly brought back down and we are shown normalcy once more.

I can barely even produce the sort of visual element that I would normally posit in a review, as I don’t even feel passion radiating from the music that’s sufficient to produce an image. In sublime moments? An androgynous figure in a dark, spacious apartment, indistinguishable as either man or woman, weeping silently to themselves. They have a cigarette, slowly burning between their pursed lips, and they swirl scotch in a small crystal glass, thinking about their situation. Occasionally, they glance to the telephone on the table next to them, and as they are about to pick up the receiver- then it cuts out again, and the lack of image, the brown colour that consumes the album, resumes.

Oh god. Clementine has talent enough to make a beautiful tragedy of an album, but he wastes it on this LP. Hope springs eternal for the next, though.

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.

THE PINEAPPLE THIEF – Variations on a Dream (2003)

Review by: Viudas Tormo
Album assigned by: Roland Bruynesteyn

A tale of two halves, two hours of music separated in the middle by a hugely long song. 

All of this was made by and for people who liked the rock to progress.

Being myself not very much in line with them in the matter of taste I found really hard to connect with the emotional core of the album. For some moments I felt that it was going places, but most of the time the sound lacked personality. I felt that Radiohead, Muse and others bands that came to mind would be more interesting to hear in the field of peculiarity.

Overall, I liked it, but I failed to reach the climax that some others might do. Maybe I need more time. Or louder speakers.

JOANNA NEWSOM – The Milk-Eyed Mender (2004)

Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn
Album assigned by: Viudas Tormo

This music at first sounds like a mix between nu-folk by Bonnie Prince Billy and ECM chamber pop. Joanna is a classically trained harpist and it shows in the unconventional choices she makes. She also plays the piano, but on the whole this sounds a little less technically advanced.

Although the instrumentation and the melodies are rather sparse (and very light on percussion), the album is all over the place stylistically, so the album is more varied than you would think. But she’s also a singer, and there I have a problem. She sounds like Kate Bush (high almost soprano voice) mixed with Joni Mitchell (jazzy attitude, somewhat snarling delivery) both channeling their inner child. Or think Ricky Lee Jones on hydrogen. While I generally admire goofiness if coupled with obvious talent, this CD can only be enjoyed in small quantities at a time by me.

Most are in singer songwriter mode, but a nice song like This side of the blue I could easily imagine being sung as a ballad by Jon Anderson. Three little babies is very painful to the ears and had me laughing at the fact that it’s actually been released. In a gospel setting it would be great for Aretha, in the actual folk setting it would fit Fairport Convention, in a country setting Johnny Cash could make it sound great, but this version is horrendous.

All songs would improve immensely, to the point that the cd can actually be enjoyed, if they had been sung by a more natural, professional and pleasant voice like Norah Jones or Carly Simon. Of course, this would be less original, more middle of the road, and it could even show some other inadequacies in the music that now are drowned in the effect the voice has on the listener, but for me Joanna’s voice on this album (I have another album by her, Have one on me, where it seemed less prominent) seriously hurts its entertainment value.
Sometimes having an original voice is not just ‘not enough’, it’s too much. Being talented and daring must count for something however, so I would urge you to listen for yourself if perhaps YOU can overcome MY problems with this release…

IRON AND WINE – The Shepherd’s Dog (2007)

Review by: Viudas Tormo
Album assigned by: Jonathan Hopkins

Iron and Wine. Such an interesting name, such a bad mixed drink.

“The Shepherd’s Dog”, besides being one of the most iconic figures of rural life, is the title of their third album. And I use “they” even though I could get away with “he”, as this is Sam Beam project. 

Sam Beam is a guy that was doing folk and sporting a huge beard before it was cool and way before it was hideous. In fact, his two first full length records (2002 and 2004) were trending and very interesting. 

With a voice sounding as a very very relaxed Graham Nash and nice fingerpicked guitar melodies surrounding it, those efforts were really enjoyable.

The third album, as every third album should do, tries to experiment and grow the original sound of the project. For Sam Beam, that basically meant to produce a fuller outcome for the listener. 

Probably, the most noticeable novelty in their sound was rhythmic. The drums, displaying an open sound, put Iron and Wine in motion.

Now that they are walking a little bit faster, the album gets busy with delivering songs each one with an individual identity in their own.

Sam Beam singing doesn’t offer anything really new, but it works for the same fellows that it worked last time, specially on tracks like “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” or “Resurrection Fern”.

For your humble servant, this record is forgettable, but if you dig the band, you probably have it in your shelf by now.

HINDS – Leave Me Alone (2016)

Review by: Eric Pember
Album assigned by: Viudas Tormo

This is maybe one of the most generic rock albums I have ever heard, and possibly one of the most generic albums period that I have ever heard.

It rocks, but not too heavily. It’s punky, but not in a threatening way. The singing and playing are good, but not good or distinct enough to draw attention to the band members. The songs are decently-written, but not well-written enough to have their hooks jump out at you. The production is nice-sounding, but seemingly has the dynamics sucked out of it. It’s emotional, but not emotional enough to make you feel what the band members are singing.

This is basically just the kind of music that hipsters who want to say something but don’t particularly have anything to say would make, and the kind of rock that hipsters who want to rock but don’t particularly know how to would make. 

Of course, not all hipsters are like that, and indeed there are some hipsters out there who know how to make good music and know how to rock. For example, take a look at Cloud Nothings, whose early work showed a lot of promise and who have just kept getting better and better.

However, few hipsters seem willing to go beyond the boundaries of hipsterdom and actually get in contact with music and rock’s legacy, so most hipsters will just keep making hipster rock for hipsters to groove to for a while before the next good hipster rock album comes along.

CAETANO VELOSO – Bicho (1977)

Review by: Alex Alex
Album assigned by: Viudas Tormo

Let me dance
For when I dance my body becomes calm
And my face
And my head
Become calm
And the world becomes beautiful
Beautiful necklace of rare gems
Let me dance and sing
So that everything one can dream of
Comes to existence

Thanks, Google Translator, I don’t know any Portuguese but I think those lyrics are fucking beautiful.

The song is “Odara” from the Caetano Veloso “Bicho” (“The Beast”) album. “Odara” means, as far as I was able to understand it, “supreme beauty”. In the song the singer and the world all become “Odara” – but I decided to omit the word itself from my robots-aided translation – for the sake of clarity.

Seeing that the lyrics are both quite deep and simple at the same time (which simply means  they are done professionally) we can assume – and we happen to be right in our assumption – that the singer himself is a person respected, recognized and influential. Indeed, Senhor Caetano is a respected founder of the “Tropicalismo” movement which can be described as…

Hilarious. I can now give up on writing a good review, successfully hiding the fact that I can not really write a good one, because “Tropicalismo” sounds so fucking hilarious to my ears. I do not know how it sounds to all the educated Brazilians, sons and daughters of military men, rich and beautiful as we used to see them here on the Russian Central TV before the Russian Central TV has crafted its own “TV series”, rich and beautiful and surely “tropicalistic” Brazilians and yet I laugh at this album as much as my mom was laughing at the Brazilian TV series after crying a good deal first.

Because the language is not universal. The emotions are universal, but the language is not. I love every word the man is singing and this is all good and dazzlingly profound. Yet all the time I’m perfectly aware that he is singing in Portuguese, accompanied by melodies distinctly eh.. “tropicalistic” – and this somewhat diminishes the grandeur of things. Here we have – 4 F today – Nature, doomed as she is, still stands and fights heroically, trying to freeze the linguistic monster, mistakenly thinking she has recognized his weak spots by means of The Google Translate.

Language has no weak spots. The “auteurs” shall pass for they mistake the insignificant for significant, for they are already being dragged, wailing and bloody, behind the awful language-agnostic shining binary creature who gains the speed and cunningly avoids all the Google Translator traps. To put it simpler, I do not need no Brazilian singer-songwriters to explain what they want so “tropicalistically”  explain to me – for I have always known it all. I know it as every human being knows it and I knew it all long before it was named.

Many people still think the things were named so that people know the things. The tragedy of auteurs is only beginning to show. In a better world, in a world that would have had stopped half-way towards its falling into the mouth of Satan, I would have never heard that album. We have the same things here, seeming much less comic to us because they are specifically designed to be used in a freezing winter we here have. For a moment we all think that if we dance and sing then we communicate and something arises in which we all become one.

Something does arise but we are not a part of it.

DAVID BOWIE – ★ (Blackstar) (2016)

Review by: Viudas Tormo
Album assigned by: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

‘Blackstar’ is and will forever be one of the most interesting, thrilling and emotional experiences of modern music history. Most of this magnitude does not come directly from the music, though, as the context of the album matters a great deal in this case, but it could serve us for deep reflection about what music really means.

David Bowie twenty-fifth studio album was released on January 8th of 2016 and we all know what happened two days after. Just think for a second about all the reviews that came out on the course of those couple of days. Amidst the searchings for hidden meanings, varying from ISIS, ego and relationship with fame, naive reviewers revealed what time after time proves to be the norm in the art of music: we don’t have a clue about the meaning.

It is the same album, but with Bowie’s sad passing, we discover a little bit more of the motivation behind it. In any case, one of the treats that this release by the ever-changing Bowie leaves us is reminding us why music matters. Because the only true meaning of it is the one that has to you, the emotion it conveys to you, and the thoughts that creates in you. 

As I am giving you my two cents on what this album moves inside me, it is hard to separate the art piece from the artist, and his fate. Once we know that Bowie is dead, we can’t stop knowing it. And when the first dark sounds of ‘Blackstar’, the opening track, start to mingle, shivers start going up and down your spine. David Bowie’s vocals are in here more ethereal than ever. The first half of the song feels like an ascension, biblical as it sounds, and the second one as a reflection on his own role and nature in musical heaven.

Heavy drumming and brass instruments are a key feature of this album, especially the latter, as they are, along the vocals, the main conveyor of the album’s tone and emotional core. This is especially notorious on ‘Lazarus’, where one can feel the saxophone sadness through his tone while Bowie recites the first lines of the song. 

Very similar to the tragic news of the artist, ‘Lazarus’ videoclip can’t be unseen once viewed. It is so compelling, and the story it tells fits so perfectly the music and the album’s background that every time you hear the song you can’t help but see Bowie shaking in bed, crying, writing, laughing madly around his room and this feels as one of the most beautiful tales of death of oneself, fear and acceptance that has been ever put into a song.

That is the emotional peak of the album, just when we barely recovered for the broken sighing of Bowie at the beginning of ‘’Tis a Pity She Was a Whore’, an amazing tune where he calls life a bitch and we agree so much with him.

What works in the rest of the album fails to engage in the next couple of tracks ’Sue (Or In a Season of Crime)’, where over almost 5 minutes we are hoping for a departure from the simplistic guitar riff and its no-development. ‘Sue’ was featured in “Nothing Has Changed” deluxe edition two years ago and its arrangement was outstanding, far more interesting. It’s revamped in ‘Blackstar’ and together with ‘Girl Loves Me’ (where the drums, played by LCD-Soundsystem’s James Murphy, and guitar keep driving the wheel) are an overall forgettable effort, even though the second one it’s way richer.

Luckily, this is a brief intermission in the emotional flow of this album. ‘Dollar Days’ brings back the languid instrumentation that works so well all over the album, the touching Bowie’s vocals and it features some ‘pinkfloydian’ breaks and bass lines. Donny McCaslin’s sax is back for our delight.

The album closes with ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’, a well-rounded groove where everything works to perfection. A very danceable finale that keeps growing as it plays out and it could last forever.

‘Blackstar’ is black indeed, dark, poisoned with crazy amounts of emotion and feels like those dreams where you are dying: fast and slow, erratic, obscure, sad and beautiful. Those are territories where David Bowie had a lot of room to operate, given the context, and boy he did. He delivered a masterpiece, managing to be relevant after 24 studio albums and almost 50 years. 

I wish we were still pushing through the market square, and we still had five years left of this.