Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What makes an album?

So before I actually start ranting, here's a little intro to this. I am most definitely pretentious. I am a middle class 17 year old on the internet trying to think critically about music, and failing at it so damn much. However, I'm not trying to impress anyone, I just like listening and thinking and talking a lot about music. So following that, I've a shitload of opinions so let's get this shebang going.

This topic was prompted by my dad who, though is a nice and intelligent person, can be a complete fuck-knuckle sometimes. He argued that to make a good album, you need to put weaker tracks at the beginning of an album and end with your best song. For evidence, "The Bends"-Radiohead (Fucking good album, don't try and argue now), ending on what I'd describe as the most beautiful Radiohead song to date, "Street Spirit (Fade Out). Ok, ending the album on that song was a good idea and yes, the opening song "Planet Telex" isn't exactly the best on the album. But there's a reason those two songs were put there. They were the best songs on the album to open and close the album. And that in my mind is what changes a collection of songs into an album; song placement. Put some actual thought into your song order and actually give your listener a smooth and enjoyable experience.

And yes, I get that flow is important too but it's not that hard to create, because you're keeping the same style/using the same instruments, and these similarities create flow. So unless you're desperately unimaginative and decide to stick a piano ballad next to a 20 minute prog rock epic, you've got flow hands down. So how do you get your audience to want to listen all the way through. Well, apart from making good music, invite your audience in and then leave them on a high note. Let's look at some examples...

How bout we try the greatest indie rock record ever first? How does "Funeral" start? With a light piano a catchy guitar riff, slowing bringing you into the album, which then builds into a gushing and pounding song by the end. How does it end? With loud violins, drums and guitar slowly softening to a single violin line before becoming nothing. Now, in my opinion neither song is the best on the album (that honour goes to "Wake Up"), but they open and close the album perfectly, whereas "Wake Up" would feel clunky in either position. Convinced? Cause I've got more...

Let's try last year's most acclaimed album. Bon Iver, Bon Iver, good album, good album. Its opener, "Perth" goes from one guitar to a whole menagerie of instruments at the end;its one giant crescendo mark. Its closer, "Beth/Rest" slowly gets louder until a minute from the end, then it dies out along with the album. It works. But I've got one more.

Let's do the most acclaimed album of all time, "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". Starting with the title track, at first all you can hear is the muttering of people and the tuning of instruments. Then, BAM, killer riff with awesome drums, that's the way to start an album. And how does it end, you may ask? "A Day In The Life", with its flurry of strings, horns and cymbals and then a final blast on a trumpet and a long held piano chord. Sex.

Now I'm not saying there's anything wrong with a bunch of songs put together on a cd, because you just described a mixtape, and I love mixtapes, but there's something special about a carefully crafted album which to me make it that much more enjoyable. Enough of my opinions, go out and listens to some albums.

Cook

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

DJ Shadow - Endtroducing...

So suppose a friend comes up to you and goes, "Dude, watch this". He then flips onto his head, pulls out some ingredients and starts making a sandwich. Once he's done, he flips back onto his feet, bows, and hands you the sandwich. You think, "Wow, that was amazing, wonder how good the sandwich will be?" So you go to take a bite and you discover that this is the best sandwich ever created. You start shouting, "HOLY SHIT! THAT WAS AMAZING JESUS FUCK HOT DAMN! HOW ARE YOU  SO GOOD?", and he only smiles and says, "That's because I'm *puts on glasses* DJ Shadow".

And so through that tortured analogy is the best way I'd explain his 1996 debut trip-hop album "Endtroducing...". It is an album entirely made of sampling other music/movies, along with a few spoken words of his own. Now that's impressive, as good sampling is really hard to do. The fact that all the songs are cohesive and have good flow is what really elevates this album.

Shadow likes to begin some of his songs with a single element, and then progressively add and subtract away instruments and vocals to produce the hypnotic and atmospheric sound typical of trip-hop. On "Changeling", a slow organ loop becomes overpowered by a strong drum beat, bass, distant vocals, ethereal horns, chopped up vocals and more organ. On "Building Steam With A Grain Of Salt", a piano riff becomes intertwined with guitar, drums and vocals before being eventually reduced to that one piano riff closing out the song.

He is able to expertly combine together hip-hop and electronica together on tracks like "The Number Song" and " Mutual Slump", using a pulsing beat with electric noises to create a mesmerising effect on the listeners. On others a drum beat and warped vocals are all he needs to make the song. Altogether he shows a great deal of craftsmanship and attention to detail when creating every one of these songs.

No doubt the best example of his synthesis of samples comes from the psychedelic "Midnight In A Perfect World". Beginning with a vocal sample, it falls into slow repeated organ chords, with soft female vocals behind it. Pounding drums and gentle piano are added, along with a delayed guitar and scratching. And when each of these elements appear, they appear at precisely the right moment to create the song's feeling of propulsion. The steady repeating of the word "Midnight" only reaffirms this. The song ends with the words "Now approaching midnight" being chopped up and repeated with incredible speed before finishing on a triumphant "Midnight!" and ending with the ticking of a clock. All brought together form different sources to produce a mastery of deep, hypnotic atmosphere.

The only significant problem on this album is that the songs get too similar by the end and become forgotten. But apart from that I have to recommend this album to fans of electronic music, even fans of the wub. Maybe then dubstep creators can learn how to fucking create buildups effectively so that bassdrops actually mean anything. Just sayin...

Rating: 4.5/5

Best songs: Midnight In A Perfect World/Changeling

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Bon Iver, Bon Iver


Yep, its a Christmas update. Just a short review of an album that came out earlier this year because, honestly, there's fuck all coming out now. So here ya go...

Early this year, I'd never heard of the whole heartbreak followed by cabin story that so inspired Justin Vernon to write For Emma, Years Ago, I just knew of a simple yet catchy song called Skinny Love. One voice, one guitar. Then my girlfriend at the time lent me his second album and upon playing the first song "Perth", I was shocked at the number of new elements that were present throughout the song. An electric guitar, marching band style drumming, a backing choir, a chorus of trumpets. All slowly building together to form a powerful and triumphant song. While his EP Blood Bank hinted at a progression from one man one guitar, the leap made was great enough to create one of the most breathtaking albums of 2011.

As Perth finishes on a delayed guitar, it flows into "Minnesota, WI", offering its jaunty guitar and Vernon ranging from a deep voice to his trademark high falsetto, with both a banjo and a horn section accompaning him, all combine to form an excellent track. "Holocene", possibly the most emotionally charged song on the album, has Vernon crooning about his inferiority to the world around him, knowing that he "was not magnificent", all while accompanied by delicate guitar and piano. He uses an organ, a sombre sax and guitar on "Michican't" to enhance the magical feeling of young love he once felt. On "Calgary", a singular organ evolves into a great wall of instruments all accompaning a single melody being sung by Vernon before dying out by the end of the song. On the final song "Beth/Rest", a wandering guitar solo and strong background xylophone and synth accentuate Vernon's lyrics of finally being happy with someone else.

The differences between Bon Iver's two albums could not be more profound. While For Emma, Years Ago achieved its emotional power from its lack of instruments, only one voice, one guitar, all the new instrumentation and techniques Vernon has applied on this album make it extremely passionate and overwrought. But while limiting himself to his sole voice and his acoustic guitar restricted the breadth of his music, on his sophomore he was able to go deeper than we could have imagined.

Rating-Very Good
Best Songs-Perth/Holocene

Cook

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Jellybeans

Okay so today I'm doing something way different.  I'm sure that you have never ever ever heard of this band unless you're Deborah.  *HiDeborah* Or Katherine.  So these two ladies have joined forces to give to you the wonderful song "What I thought I Had".  And yeah I know these two so Deborah asked me to take a look at her on triple J's Unearthed and so you can find her and Katherine HERE.  GO THERE AND BE COOL.

SOSOSO.  This one song that they did.  It is very different from anything you have heard.  Thankfully they sound very unique which is a nice change from constantly hearing new bands trying to recreate Paramore or Silverchair.  So most of the instruments are played by either Deborah or Katherine.  The only computer made thingy are the drums (I apologize for bad sentence structure).  BUT TO THE ACTUAL MUSIC.

The song itself has a very nice floaty feel to it which I really like and so should you.  Why?  Because I said so.  ANYWAY.  I can't really say much else except that they should make more.  More is always good.  There was however ONLY ONE THING that pissed me off.  It's that they damn well 'broke up' as a band if that's even possible to do after making only one song.  I MEAN SERIOUSLY.  WHAT THE CHICKEN.  I do think that if only one of them sung for the start it could have been a lot better than going straight into it but what am I going to do.  I just shout into the distance hoping people will hear.

So go listen to it and then YOU TO could be as cool as me.  Really.  I am extremely cool.  GOODNIGHT.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sparkadia

G'day, Cook here. So I noticed that all our album reviews so far haven't exactly been topical (Metallica? Pretty sure they haven't been relevant since the Black album ,just sayin), and have gone for a newer choice. Unfortunately, I can't just rant nostalgically and pretend to be a critic, I have to listen to the album, so here goes.

Sparkadia are an Australian band formed in 2004 and have just this year released their second album, entitled "The Great Impression"; whether that has any relavance to the music I don't care and unless you're a Pitchfork staff member, neither should you. The album is quite a depature from their first, changing style from a frenetic hard rock band to a slower indie rock sound. They even bring in the strings and weird percussion instruments, as all good bands should. Both singles, "Talking Like I'm Fallin Down Stairs" and "China" are some of the best tracks on the album, Talking going for a sweeping song with guitar taking a back seat behind all the piano and violins, and China, one of the more lively songs, caused me to sing the line "She breaks line China" for the rest of the day, which is always a good sign. The other songs are all consistently good and also original, with props to the cheery sounding song "Hurt Me", thrown in there probably just to confuse emo people. However as with alot of albums the later the track, the worse they seem to get, which is a shame. Go for Talkin first; if it gels then give this album a shot.

I shouldn't make fun of Pitchfork and their staff, 'cause good reviews is hard. I'll try to stay current with my reviews from now on, but we'll see.

-Cook

Friday, April 22, 2011

Change of name

NOTICE- this blog has now changed its name. Deal with it

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

At first you might think "eewwwwwww Gorillaz not THAT trashy shit." But if you actually take the time to listen to their songs in full you come to appreciate just how much effort they put into their music. And they're British. That immediately makes them 50% more awesome (but minus 40% for adding a "z" onto the end of their name).

Now I'd like to talk about one of their older albums called Demon Days. I bought this album a few years back when it first came up and didn't really listen to it properly until quite recently. You can listen to this and pass over most of the album and not really be impressed but there are a few little awesome things in there if you listen far enough into the song. For example: in Kids with Guns, the opening vocals are so boring an elephant seal would be motivated to press skip so as to not be bored into submission. But when you get to about 40 seconds this fantastic groove starts up (much like at 1:05 as well). Eventually you WILL get addicted to this song. Well.. I did...

NEXT GOOD SONG: "O green World" Again this is a bit of a weird start and the whole thing is a bit eeeeehhhhh if you don't actually LISTEN to it. So at around 40 seconds (AGAIN... seriously whats up with that) the good stuff kicks in and you can get your shake on. As with Kids with Guns, this song has a very boring voice. I'm guessing it's a satirical tone? Kind of if the singer really really doesn't give an ass as to if he sounds good or not. I ADMIRE THIS.

So really I'm not going to push you to buy this. I would actually expect you to know this album already as it has Feel Good Inc on it (NO. I refuse to review that song. It's already awesome enough). Just listen to the album on youtube or some other stuff at the Gorillaz website which is riiiiight HERE. SHWWEEEEET

-Alex (not cook)

ALSO I posted a draft that I did a while ago so scroll on down and check it out. Or if you're that lazy it's HERE