Aphex Twin – Cheetah

Nobody is quite as big an asshole as Richard D. James. In real life, yes, he is fairly brusque, but musically he falls just short of maddening eclecticism, into a not-very-sweet spot where every record has listeners screaming “WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM US!?!” at his anonymous SoundCloud account.

Cheetah is named for an obscure British synthesizer maker, whose ms800 model features prominently throughout the first four songs, followed by the Cirklon hardware sequencer. Yes, this is him showing off both his knowledge of and prowess with a variety of vintage electronic instruments. He can use the Cheetah’s breathy wavetable synthesis to make songs like “Cheetah 7b,” which sounds like tropical house with a concussion, and the Cirklon to make “Cirklon 3” and “Cirklon 1,” Kraftwerk gone free jazz. That the song titles are filenames just furthers my suspicion that he’s fucking with us, but subtly.

Yes, Cheetah is better than most electronic music releases, but as with any Aphex Twin release there’s always going to be the nagging question of just what we’re hearing. Is Cheetah a joke or an experiment? Is it postmodern or sincere? Do we dance to it or contemplate it? Only Richard D. James knows.

Adult Books – Running From The Blows

Adult Books put out an album on Lolipop Records, this one’s on Burger Records and let’s just get this out of the way now: they’re cooler than you. Everybody they know is cooler than you. Their life is one long photo ‘essay’ from one of those magazines that are 90 per cent ads for clothing brands you’ve never heard of.

But damn if, on the evidence of this album, they’re not charming. Their sound is roughly power pop, mostly garage rock, somewhat post-punk, a little surfy in places, there’s synths and holy shit if the songwriting isn’t just there, right where you want it to be. There are a lot of West Coast bands at the centre of the venn diagram created by AB’s genre reference points, and a fair few of them are on Burger Records, and the only thing I can say to make you pick up this and not the grimier together PANGEA, the surfier Guantanamo Baywatch or the party-er Dirty Few is that the songs here just work better. If this was still the kind of musical culture that could make The Lemonheads the biggest indie rock band on the planet then on the strength of the song “Suburban Girlfriend” alone these guys would be huge.

Read more at Beatroute

Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression

A ghost is haunting the 17th and likely final album by James Newell Osterberg, Jr. The ghost of Osterberg’s friend, producer and collaborator David Robert Jones. From the bifurcated city of Berlin they cut a swath through 20th-century rock and roll, becoming the quintessential rock stars, living harder than anyone could and still recording songs as universally beloved as “The Passenger,” “Lust for Life” and “Nightclubbing.” With The Stooges, Pop took up the mantle of filth-encrusted rock ’n’ roll laid down by the Sonics and straight up invented punk rock. Decades later musicians are still picking up instruments because they want to be one of the two: feral, primitive Iggy Pop or mercurial, post-human David Bowie.

The former left on January 10th of this year, gifting the world the album Blackstar, recorded in secret as he was dying of cancer. While it was no Alladin Sane or Low, having Bowie’s spectral hand on your shoulder as the man who has been so many people and lived so many lives grapples with his mortality does something to the listener.

If Blackstar was the ultimate rock star forging for himself a life after death then Post Pop Depression is that same figure living a death in life, having outlasted his “usefulness” (Pop’s term, from an interview with Rolling Stone). The title itself is all you need to know about the content: what happens to Iggy Pop after Iggy Pop?

Read more at Beatroute

Descendents – Hypercaffium Spazzinate

Milo Goes to College, the first and best record by Manhattan Beach, California’s Descendents, is rightly considered a classic. The longest song is a stately two minutes and fourteen seconds, a result of the band’s well-documented caffeine addiction. The caricature of singer Milo Aukerman on the cover is as iconic as Mick Jagger’s blood-red lips. The lyrical themes are hardcore staples: parents, society, and fake punks, but there was something there that was unmistakably pop.

The word is used today to describe music for the most casual of listeners, engineered for maximum performance by super-producers, built for the widest possible appeal within the thirteen to thirty demographic. Saying that Milo Goes to College is pop isn’t to say that it shares DNA with Ariana Grande’s Dangerous Woman – it doesn’t. Pop isn’t in the music as much as it’s in the band’s intent: the decision that everybody can listen, that nobody is excluded. Punk had always been pop, but Milo defined Pop Punk.

Read more at Beatroute

Strange Wilds - Subjective Concepts

Strange Wilds – Subjective Concepts

A seven-letter Sanskrit word beginning with the letter ‘N’ is going to haunt Sub Pop for a long time, colouring listeners’ perceptions of otherwise fine bands like Strange Wilds. A trio from Olympia, Washington, Strange Wilds play dark, faintly menacing and yet still hook-laden post-hardcore, fulfilling their label-mates and predecessor’s (who shall not be named) promise to combine “Black Sabbath with The Knack.”

There are other elements in the mix: Refused’s mix of muscular riffs that drop into verses where the emphasis is squarely on the political message of the vocals, Cloud Nothing’s affected snotty vocals, Hot Snakes/Drive Like Jehu’s restless time-shifting. At its heart though, Subjective Concepts is out to do the same trick as a certain other Washingtonian three-piece: take genres that the mainstream can’t stomach and sweeten them until they’re pop. That’s a worthy goal; it’s why many of us got into alternative music in the first place. Strange Wilds are closer to punk than they are to punk that can be mistaken for pop, and it’s good to see anyone tackle the Pacific Northwest’s thorny, storied musical heritage, even if there was more to it than the one big name. As it stands they’re not a band to get excited about just yet, but the potential is there. Keep an eye on them.

 

Read more at Beatroute

Iron Kingdom – Ride for Glory

Ah, the sounds of clashing blades and pounding hooves at the start of a traditional metal song. Young but startlingly accomplished Canadians Iron Kingdom choose to launch the sixth song on their third album with this genre staple, as sure a sign as singer Chris Osterman’s falsetto that these kids are for real.

Their days as Canada’s Got Talent contestants are behind them, and all true metal fans have sworn upon the replica swords they keep atop David Eddings [or Robert E. Howard or George R. R. Martin or J.R.R Tolkien] filled bookcases that they will speak of it no more. Iron Kingdom also evidence higher production values all round, even on their album cover (the artwork for their 2013 album Curse of the Voodoo Queen was frankly embarrassing for a few reasons). “Ride for Glory” features stories of ancient warriors both European (“Lief Erickson,” “A Call to Arms”) and from further afield (Vietnamese folk-hero Lady Trieu or Japan’s Samurai.)

 

Read more at Beatroute

health - death magic

HEALTH – DEATH MAGIC

DEATH MAGIC by all-caps all-the-time avant-gardists HEALTH begins with the kind of electronic bass sounds that appear in film trailers to show us that a hundred million dollar movie about robots punching each other is very serious business. The remainder of the album is what would happen if new-wave synth-pop was played with the aesthetics of metal: maximum volume, no limit on distortion, drum work more intricate than a Gaudi cathedral.

There are moments on DEATH MAGIC that sound like Duran Duran and moments that sound like Lightning Bolt, coupled with hard trance and atonal noise, sometimes within the same song. Compared to earlier releases they’ve turned down the guitars and turned up the electronica, so that some songs (like mid-album Pet Shop Boys-gone shoegaze track “Dark Enough”) could potentially be played somewhere very fancy, with a lot of chrome, at least for a while. “Life” is positively accessible, anthemic in a very “Pumped Up Kicks” way (you know, the ubiquitous Foster the People song). Compared to the album’s more abrasive moments this chill-out room whimsy feels like a misstep. They’re redeemed by tracks like the nihilistic dancefloor album and lead single “New Coke” (sample lyric: ‘let the guns go off/let the bombs explode/let the lights go dark/life is good.’)

 

Read more at Beatroute

deaf wish - pain

Deaf Wish – Pain

Listening to Pain will make you appreciate how much a front-person anchors a band. Each member of Deaf Wish gets a turn behind the microphone, resulting in an album that sounds at times more like a compilation than a cohesive statement. As compilations go though, this is up there with the first mix-tape your ex gave you.

The band’s sound lies squarely in the nastier side of punk: from The Stooges through to Sonic Youth (the tracks “Sex Witch” and “On” are pure Kim and Thurston respectively), The Birthday Party and The Fall. It’s all very ‘Grown Up:’ no cheap hooks, no easy grab at the listener’s attention. Yes, it’s accomplished and mature, but it can come off as po-faced and self-serious, even a little staid. Everything here works and nothing stands out as an obvious misstep, but without the ugliness and weirdness of the bands that inspired it, Deaf Wish ultimately ends up sounding safe.

 

Read more at Beatroute

Voices - London

Review: Voices – London

The main problem with London, the album, is the lack of London, the place. Ostensibly a concept album, Voices squander the opportunity to say something meaningful about a fascinating, difficult city or to draw musical inspiration from the sounds it has been making from the Clash through to Burial. The misogynistic streak in the lyrics doesn’t help either.

As a concept album about infidelity and artifice, London is too muddled to really satisfy. It’s a common enough trick: if you’re not confident enough in your prose then throw in ambiguity. Unreliable narrators! Multiple viewpoints! Pseudo-intellectual types eat. That. Shit. Up. Never mind that the story amounts to ‘a girl fucks somebody who isn’t the narrator because she’s empty inside (and like a total slut) and not because he’s a self-important emo-sogynist douche.’

Musically it’s a little better. It has changed little from the ornate, gothic blackened-death metal of Voices’ previous incarnation, Akercocke, except for the increased prominence of ambient excursions. Vocalist Peter Benjamin is hugely versatile, a crooner, screamer and roaring beast all at once. That said, you’ll want to be somewhere else during the sub-Rorschach from Watchmen monologues on how ugly the city is.

Every single metal review site on the planet has given this album 10/10.

Marilyn Manson

Review: Marilyn Manson – The Pale Emperor

With the title referencing a David Foster Wallace book about boredom (The Pale King) and David Bowie’s ill-advised 1976 persona and character known as the Thin White Duke, we know Marilyn Manson isn’t fucking around on his ninth studio album. Thankfully The Pale Emperor sees Manson concentrating on the music first and foremost (alas, no more Shia LeBeouf), and thus producing a confident, mature rock record.

After a five-album string of duds following 1998’s Mechanical Animals, it’s also one of his better records, largely because he’s back to channeling Bowie. On opening track “Killing Strangers” he does so over an industrial stomp, though it would have twice the impact at half its length. Lead single “Deep Six” opens with some beautiful electronic noise before settling into industrial-metal, but it’s on ”The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles” that the influence of one David Robert Jones is turned up the highest, resulting in an album highlight. Manson has always been about playing games and wearing masks, and his best moments come when he’s wearing Bowie (a.k.a. Jones) like a second skin.

This won’t be Manson’s second chance at commercial success or a bold move into new territory. This isn’t his Kid A (Radiohead’s fourth studio album from 2000) or Low (David Bowie, circa 1977). For fans and the man himself it is a turning point where things start getting better.