Friday, March 30, 2007

New Old Album Reviews

Olivia Tremor Control - Black Foliage: Animation Music Vol. 1

Grade: 90.5%
Official Rating: 93.4%

What the Others Think

Pitchfork Score: 9.1
Tiny Mix Tapes Score: N/A
Coke Machine Glow Score: N/A

Ever wonder what might have happened if the Beatles kept making psychedelic rock records like Sgt. Peppers and Magical Mystery Tour instead of the often sloppy yet lovable self titled release, the straight up rock record that was Abbey Road, or the over-Spectorized mess that was Let It Be? If you haven't, its understandable, as many people thought and still consider Sgt. Peppers as the end-all-be-all of psychedelic pop in terms of song writing, production, and the recording technique, and with good reason. Considering the time in which Sgt. Peppers was released, it was nothing short of a revelation. It may not have changed the way bands wrote their songs, but it certainly made many of them think twice before they put them to tape.

Thankfully, the Olivia Tremor Control - whose alliance in the Athens, GA based Elephant Six Collective alone should be enough reason to suspect that this record would sound like any combination of Beatles, Barrett, or (Beach) Boys (or, as I often jokingly claim, the holy trinity of psych-pop) - were never satisfied with the precedents set before them. On their second album, Black Foliage: Music From an Unrealized Film Script, they not only match toe to toe with the best of psych-pop genre but, dare I say it, perfect it in their own right.

The original concept of the album, as described in the liner notes, was to "take a section of the guitar line from (the song) black foliage...and make a set of animated departures stemming from that bass guitar melody." Instead of actually making animations though (or at least ever releasing them) the band instead went to work on writing new material based on the original song, and the songs that stemmed from that song (sort of like the animations they had planned on). If I haven't lost you yet, basically the band wrote one song that influenced another, which influenced another, and so on. Not satisfied with just that, though, the band also takes elements and samples of songs and incorporate them into other songs. Hearing the same sample of noise, guitar, harpsichord, or voices of fans who had sent the tapes of them describing some random dream, in more than one song on the album is a normal occurrence, and the albums centerpiece, "The Bark and Below It", is essentially every sample, loop, or sound you might find place in various spots throughout the album.

The end result is nothing short of maniacal magic. To some it might be a little over the top, after all it is very rare on this album where a song, the actual song and not the samples and loops on top of it, stands alone. But for those who appreciate interesting production and a some creativity and a dose of ingenuity with their pop music, this album is essential. Songs like "Hideaway" and "California Demise" are pure pop bliss, while songs like "Sleepy Company" and "Black Foliage (Itself)" are a trip, the natural kind (though I could see how the other kind might be enhanced by these songs if they just so happened to be playing at the same time). My personal favorite song, "I Have Been Floated" is a wonderful, progressive-psych-pop masterpiece, on its own, but when complete with the masterful production it sounds rich and majestic. The song also features just about everyone in the Elephant 6 family, and fans of the collective will no doubt smile when they hear the singing saw or Jeff Mangum's very audible vocal cameo.

For fans of psych-pop, this album has everything. Dreamy lyrics, head spinning production, catchy choruses, fuzzy bass lines, and theramins (lots of them). For those who aren't so much a fan of the genre, this album stillhas everything. Make your collection complete with this modern masterpiece, or at least name drop it the next time a record store clerk tells you how essential Sgt. Peppers is.

The Rapture - Echoes

Grade: 83.6%
Official Rating: 85.1%

What The Others Think

Pitchfork Rating: 9.0
Tiny Mix Tapes: N/A
Coke Machine Glow Score: 89%/67%

In October of 2003, the skies parted, and finally, FINALLY, the Goddamn Rapture CD was released. After a year of being shelved, postponed, teased ("House of Jealous Lovers" was in the hands of savvy DJs across the country, nay, the world, for at least a year before its official release). And its a good thing it came too, because the album is pretty damn good.

The first track, "Olio", may have confused faithful fans, as it originally saw the light waaaaaaaaaaaaaay back in 1999 on the band's first album, Mirror. But where this song, and the rest of Mirror for that matter, seemed a bit amateurish, this version is completely fleshed out and is a swift reminder of how and why they ended up working with the DFA guys in the first place (nevermind the fact that by the end of it the Rapture were trying to de-emphasize the role the DFA played on the album, that's another story altogether). Its lyrics are a bit, well, to be blunt, lame, but that's the story of most dance music in the first place. You don't need a creative writing degree to appreciate Echoes (and no, this is no slam at you my dear friend Nicole, whom I affectionately listed as Nicolio in my phone several years ago in reference to this song), you just need to like to dance.

Which brings me to "Open Up Your Heart", the album's third track. On another album by a different band, or as a b-side maybe, this song is just fine. On here, however, it interrupts the flow and frenzy that the first two songs work so hard to create. However, placed anywhere else on the album, this song would be even more distracting, and potentially ruin the album's pacing, so getting it out of the way here was not such a bad idea.

The next track, "I Need Your Love," is something out of (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 I'm floating in a constant...) discopunk heaven, and starts one of the best series of songs I've ever heard on any album. What I love about the Rapture is not so much that they are a great dance band, but that they are capable, in their own rudimentary way, of making you shake your ass to different styles of dance music. "I Need Your Love" owes as much to 70's disco as it does to Gang of Four, while "The Coming of Spring" is as hard as anything in the Gang of Four catalog, and combines it with a dash of Talking Heads, most noticeably in the rhythm section (courtesy of bassist Mattie Safer and drummer/human high hat Vito Roccoforte).

Next, of course, is "House of Jealous Lovers", which is probably why many of you came to hear about this album in the first place. There's not much I can say about this song that has not already been said, but I will say this. Luke Jenner could be singing gibberish - he practically does as it is - and the song would still be fucking brilliant. Put this song on in the club, the car, the shower, I don't fucking care. You will dance, period.

From here the album slides a little, but only a little. The title track "Echoes" does its part to keep the body parts flailing, and "Sister Savior" is another discopunk standout, but "Killing" and is a bore, and "Love Is All", as cute and fun as it is (with lyrics like "love is all my crippled soul will ever need" and "I dig love and just having you around"), would still require some work if it were to compete with Echoes' awesome midsection.

The main exception is the album's final track, "Infatuation." The song is slow and not at all dancable, yet it is truly a hidden gem buried beneath the hype and sweat the previous tracks have produced. The song sounds like a forgotten Bowie b-side, a good thing if you ask me, and is arguably the strongest track on the album. It is the perfect comedown track after a fun, flirtatious, night out with the Rapture.

If you like your music poignant and poetic, stay away from this band (unless you consider counting to 8 poetry worthy of Dante or Shakespeare). However, if you like music that makes your feet and your hips move, your music collection would not be complete without this album. Ignore the hype and dance all night.

Built to Spill - Ancient Melodies of the Future

Grade: 77.5%
Official Score: 78.0%

What Others Think

Pitchfork Score: 8.6
Tiny Mix Tapes Score: 3 out of 5
Coke Machine Glow Score: N/A

After Built to Spill boldly titled their third proper release Perfect From Now On, you sort of got the impression that they weren't just fucking around. Perfect was almost that, and the follow up, Keep It Like A Secret, only strengthened their claim. But after writing and recording not one but two pinnacle albums, a feat that most bands would sacrifice their lives to achieve, Built to Spill have come up short this time around and are perfect no more.

That is not to say that Ancient Melodies of the Future is a bad album, that would be an inaccurate overstatement. It is first and foremost a Built to Spill album, which can't be all bad just by name alone. Fans of the band should like this album just fine, and anyone who has seen them in concert can attest to the power that many of these songs have in a live setting, especially the stomping "In Your Mind."

My biggest complaint, the only complaint really, is that the band tried to find a balance between the lengthy, sprawling, Doug Marsch is a guitar God songs found on Perfect From Now On and the more concise, song oriented, and often times hummable nature of Keep It Like A Secret.

Many fans will argue that Secret was already a compromise from Perfect, in that the jammy, lengthy songs coexist perfectly with the more polished, concise songs. Honestly, I would be inclined to agree, but regardless of that fact I can see how there might still be room for more of a compromise, and I say that because the songs that stand out of Ancient Melodies of the Future find that balance fairly well. Those songs would be "Alarmed", the album's standout track. At over 5 minutes in length, it is the longest song on the album, and even though it feels like it ends too soon, all is forgiven because it hits on all of the bands high points. The dissonant keyboards, courtesy of Quasi's Sam Coomes, are also quite nice as they play perfectly well over Doug's masterful guitar work. Another song would be "Trimmed and Burning", which starts with a simple chord progression and minimal lead guitar, but about 1 1/2 minutes into the song it transforms into the Built to Spill we know and love, which is the Built to Spill that somehow found the balance between grunge and jam bands.

That is not to say that those are the only two good songs. On the contrary, "You Are" is a headphone rock masterpiece that would sound right at home on Perfect if it were only 2 minutes longer. "In Your Mind", while not as good on record as it is live, is still a force to be reckoned with thanks to a pounding rhythm that starts with Doug's acoustic guitar strumming, but is quickly overshadowed by Brett Nelson's bass and Scott Plouf's impeccable drumming. The album's closer, a song very dear to my heart (it was the first BTS song I ever heard...oh memories), is also one of the album's best because it is so remarkably different from the crunchy sound the band has perfected since, well, Perfect.

Perhaps I'm too demanding, or missing the point of this album. Perhaps I should give them more credit for not making a predictable follow up to the two that preceded it. Perhaps they restrained purposely so that fans would enjoy them more in the live setting when they inevitably get expanded by minutes (and minutes, almost twice the length in some cases), which seems like a reasonable thing for this band to do. If that is the case, I can completely respect that, it just comes at the price of me not thinking this album is perfect. But that is okay, because regardless of whether or not this album is perfect, I love this album (I really do), and there's nothing wrong with loving this album.


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