March 25, 2011

Destroyer - Kaputt

Destroyer is Canadian singer-songwriter Dan Bejar's most consistent project. Bejar has collaborated with The New Pornographers and Spencer Krug in recent years, but his best work has always been with Destroyer. On Kaputt, his ninth studio album under that name, Bejar is at his best. Often, on indie rock/pop albums, guitars are blissful, harmonies sweet, or xylophones pretty, but it is rare to stumble on something truly beautiful. Kaputt is just that. Bejar's gentle vocals and soothing saxophones and synthesizers are the best they have ever been.

A genre is hard to place on Kaputt. Equally as fit as a backdrop to a quiet dinner party as a late night drive, Kaputt is incredibly soothing. Bejar sings softly over natural synthesizers and saxophones for the majority of the album. He slides into a groove within the first few notes of Chinatown and rides it to the finish of the album. Kaputt has many small crescendos; it is filled with subtle peaks and grand valleys between them.

Occasionally rambling but always meaningful, Bejar's lyrics tie everything together. His voice is a little raspy and a little low by itself, but combined with the gentle swells of the music and lyrics, it fits. His lyrics, his melodies, his harmonies, and his instrumentation all fit together amazingly.

You'll never guess just what I've seen...

A horse abandoned midstream...

Quatrain etched on a dirtpile...

Quatrain etched, hey that's your style!

Bejar sings and we can almost hear the smile on his face. Bejar opens up his heart on Kaputt, letting us join in for the ride. On his ninth album, Bejar has made something special: Kaputt is beautiful.


March 17, 2011

James Blake - James Blake

James Blake finally releases his first full-length LP. Reading that sentence, one that popped up on just about every music blog worth its weight in peanuts, music critics everywhere started drooling. The minimalist keyboard-loving Blake had been lauded for his series of early EPs and singles. So much so, he was crowned the “prince of dubstep” by fancy critics who have their own offices across the music industry.

Blake’s synthed-over singing bounces above his often quirky synthed-over piano. His voice is just natural enough to avoid the emotionless purely electronic sound. However, he’s no Ray Charles on the piano. However effectively Blake may toy with dramatic pauses and gentle vocals, he still often sounds like a hopeless romantic robot poet. Let me explain.

Blake is ambitious. He shoots for emotional, electronic and naturally balanced, and techno-driven music. Let’s assess these in order. Blake's emotional melodies, many of which are quite beautiful, sound flat against his reverb production. Blake sounds like he should be hunched over in a dark room, writing down deep thoughts with a quill. Instead, he’s autotuning them. As far as balance is concerned, the “prince of dubstep” is too electric, too un-natural to achieve the simple emotion-evoking music that he was aiming for. And as far as dubstep goes, the last minute of I Never Learnt to Share is pretty sweet, but that’s about all there is.

On his debut, James Blake walks a very fine line. On one side, he’s a weak singer-songwriter hiding behind his producing. On the other, he's a revolutionary pop artist, one bringing an old sense of soul into a new medium. Which one he actually is, I really don’t know. However, after watching tons of live performances, I am starting to suspect the latter. Despite my criticisms of his debut, I have faith in this kid. I think he might be the real deal, but his debut just wasn’t that good. Fancy critics sitting in your big offices, give the kid a chance to prove himself before you call him a prince.


March 13, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau is the directorial debut from George Nolfi, screenwriter for the film and other films like The Bourne Ultimatum and Ocean's 12. The film is about a politician (Matt Damon) running for the New York senate seat, when he falls for a dancer (Emily Blunt) right before a huge speech, leading him to make the speech of his life. One day on his way to work, he stumbles upon a group of men in fedoras who have frozen time and they tell him that if he ever tries to find the girl again, he will ruin both his future and hers. Of course, they defy the odds and go against the group of people who control their fate to stay together. The script itself is rather ingenious and the performances are adequate, but what really lost me is that the film can really never decide if it is a love story, an Inception copycat, or the Bourne Supremacy. I would say that it is a great film to see after you start to miss Inception, but it didn't have the performances, direction or storyline Inception had.
My Review: B-

March 12, 2011

Dumbo Gets Mad - Elephants At The Door

Last year, Italian one-man-band Dumbo Gets Mad went into the making of this album with the mission statement, "No matter what it sounds like, it has to be psychedelic!" And as it turns out, that statement wasn't so far off. The sounds here flirt with 60s pop at times, but overall achieve total psychedelic bliss. And when I say psychedelic, I mean it. It really doesn't get more trippy than this.

The stand out track here for me is definitely 'Plumy Tale', which he actually released last year. The elevated chorus is breathtaking, while the delicious bassline, main synth melody and saxophones pull the song together so gracefully. Nothing else really reaches the heights of this song. Eclectic Prawn, however, rolls along with its catchy vintage-sounding guitar rhythm and drum beat quite nicely, and somewhere in the middle, the synths power through and the track gets magical. Two other fantastic tracks are 'Marmelade Kids' and 'Harmony'. The former sounds like it's from outer space, while the latter is way too catchy with its shuffling beat and skippable melody (by skippable I mean, like, the act of skipping with your legs, not skipping as in skipping songs. Just thought I'd clear that up). 'Raymond Play' starts off sounding like a Super Mario Bros level, if Mario was tripping on 1-up mushrooms.

However, the album it not without its weak points. It does at times get too caught up in synths, which distract from the melodies. Plus it gets a little too quirky to be enjoyable to the fullest. Luckily, there is only one dud on Elephants ('Why Try?'), and even that is kind of catchy. For a debut album from someone practically unheard of, the sounds here are totally fresh and wonderfully exploratory. Dumbo Gets Mad is secretly leading the 10s in the right direction.

1. Limbo's Village
2. Plumy Tale
3. Marmelade Kids
4. Sleeping Over
5. Harmony
6. Why Try?
7. Eclectic Prawn
8. Self-esteem
9. Raymond Play
10. You Make You Feel


March 4, 2011

Bibio - Mind Bokeh

Over a span of five studio albums (and a string of annoying arguments that Bibio is essentially a rip-off of Boards of Canada), Bibio a.k.a. Stephen Wilkinson has transformed his sound from vintage-sounding, lo-fi folk songs, to a whole range of genres that became apparent on his last album, Ambivalence Avenue. There was the spastic electronic blips on Fire Ant and Sugarette, the more pop-oriented efforts of the title track and Lovers' Carvings, the straight-up funkiness of Jealous of Roses, but also the quiet, folk sound of that made up most of his sound prior to the album, and most of the songs on the album blended those genres together quite well. That's why AA remains one of my favorite albums of all time.

And fortunately, Bibio has decided to keep to the genre blending for Mind Bokeh. Only this time, the songs in general are a bit harsher and harder to get along with. There's K is for Kelson, for example, which is so outrageously poppy and upbeat, it can be really off-putting. Or the Phoenix-esque song Take Off Your Shirt, which adds 'rock' to Wilkinsons vast musical pallet. I get that he's trying something new, and I think that's great, but the song just isn't that strong. It sounds like he thought of the riff and didn't know what else to do to make the song longer. But I think it fits well with the rest of the album, despite it's being completely different.

More similar to Ambivalence Avenue is the track Light Seep, a clear call-back to the funkadelic Jealous of Roses. Unfortunately it doesn't manage to match up to the brilliance of Jealous of Roses, but it's still a great track. My favorite song from the album though, is the opener Excuses. It opens the album with eerie noise and rain, until the beat starts up, and Wilkinson's hazy vocals come in, and at about 4:20, the beat goes whack and the track gets awesome. Anything New is another favorite, although the noise gets overbearing towards the end. The song Pretentious starts off so perfectly, until the vocals come into the mix and screw up the vibe. Wilkinsons vocals on this one sound a little too overdone. Plus the song sort of gets tedious with an overusage of electronics and repeating melodies. The last minute features a very nice sax solo, though. Artists' Valley sounds much too muddled, and Mind Bokeh starts out great, but fails to go anywhere after that. The last song Saint Christopher is a much needed 6-an-a-half-minute breath of fresh air, and a track that you can get lost in the beauty of.

Simplicity is something that this album needs, but doesn't lack completely. What it lacks is the really memorable melodies that previous Bibio albums had. It's blissfully all over the place, like Ambivalence Avenue, but it's a little too eccentric and harder to warm up to. This is in no way a complete disappointment, but it's nothing to go nuts about.

1. Excuses
2. Pretentious
3. Anything New
4. Wake Up!
5. Light Seep
6. Take Off Your Shirt
7. Artists' Valley
8. K is for Kelson
9. Mind Bokeh
10. More Excuses
11. Feminine Eye
12. Saint Christopher