“Listening to Pickwick reminds me of why I hate the music industry. Last year, we caught Pickwick’s set at Antone’s and Oz commented that lead singer Galen Disston’s voice was one of the best he’s heard in all our years at SXSW. Combined with a phenomenal band consisting of Michael Parker, Garrett Parker, Alex Westcoat,Kory Kruckenberg and Cassady Lillstrom that plays a soulful, R&B sound; its easy to see a record exec getting their hands on, overproducing them and ruining their sound.
If that happened, we would be robbed of one of America’s top up and coming bands. The band recorded the album in their living room and it shows. It was recorded on 1/2 inch tape on an 8 track and incorporates found sounds. The album has some bumps and bruises, and that adds to the aesthetic of the band. The bass line in the mesmerizing Lady Luck is the antithesis of the gorgeous vocals, it is fuzzy and a little meaty. But it doesn’t get in the way of Disston’s and Sharon Van Etten’s stunning, beautiful vocals. Its the contrast that makes song burn into your brain.
My favorite tunes from my previous go-rounds with this band tended to be the up-beat numbers that lit a charge under you. Hacienda Motel and The Round were pure bliss and could get a corpse to sit up and tap their feet. Those two find their way on Can’t Talk Medicine after being on the Myths EP. But the tune that’s been kicking my ass is Brother Roland. It is a bluesy R&B track that has Disston stretching out his chops. It is a fiery number with some top-notch organ work. This tune exemplifies the band’s dedication to keeping their music raw and unfettered. It gets up under you and claws right into your soul.”
““Do I shout it out?/ Do I let it go?/ Do I even know what I’m waiting for?/ No, I want it now/ Do I need it, though?” Throughout MCII, Mikal Cronin gets in these ruts. His lyrics are delivered as someone who’s never fully sure of his next move and who’s completely unclear about his ambitions. He’s sure that he’s in love, but he keeps letting it slip away. Somehow, he keeps mucking up his day-to-day communication. It never used to be like this. He keeps talking about how time is getting away from him, which might be his way of acknowledging a crisis about getting older, though it’s just as likely that he’s accidentally spending hours clicking on YouTube videos. He wonders if he’s wrong. (He doesn’t think so.) He consistently has good intentions, but he’s inadvertently prone to choking on the follow-through. He sums up his turmoil pretty well in “See It My Way”: “I hear the song— I wanna sing along with you/ But when I try I’m out of tune/ I turn and walk away.” It’s a sweet and snappy sentiment from someone who’s ultimately out of sync. This is Cronin’s pop poetry for the aloof.
So it’s somewhat ironic that MCII is also his most fully realized, beautifully arranged, and well-crafted work to date. Since he’s spent the past year shredding for the masses in the Ty Segall Band, it’s easy to forget that he recently earned his B.F.A. in Music and learned how to compose for different instruments. He rightly noted that his education came in handy forhisMerge debut, which subs out some of the psych freakouts from his first album for string arrangements. K. Dylan Edrich, who recently contributed strings to Thee Oh Sees’ most recent two albums, lends her talents to a handful of songs, from the plaintive violin solo on “Peace of Mind” to the frantic viola on “Change”.
One of the most impressive things about MCII is how Cronin balances “power” and “pop”. He makes the “pop” part of the equation look effortless— in 10 songs, he offers 10 solid, catchy melodies. When it comes to “power,” he’s much more conservative than he’s ever been before— especially when you consider Slaughterhouse. There are entirely acoustic songs here that pretty well prove that he doesn’t need to rely on punk rock sludge. So when the tender stuff is over and he steps on the fuzz pedal, the effects are extremely satisfying.
Album closer “Piano Mantra”, for example, begins with a particularly fragile-sounding Cronin singing “I’m tired, I’m sick, I’m broke up.” Edrich’s strings are quietly introduced, then an acoustic guitar and some drums, and finally at the end, a feedback screech ushers in a distorted electric guitar. It doesn’t even take center stage or threaten to become the main attraction— it just adds a sturdy, noisy spine to Cronin’s formerly delicate ballad. Everything— strings, fuzz, slide guitar, etc.— is purposefully and carefully implemented. He uses the more muscular sounds to offset his bubblegum jangle, and while he did ask Ty Segall to lend a hand on the album, he only brought him on board for two guitar solos. Neither are very flashy— they’re well-placed bursts of power that complement the melody.
There’s one moment in particular that puts to rest any notion that Cronin is just a glorified garage sideman: “Don’t Let Me Go”, the only track Cronin recorded entirely by himself at home. It’s just him, his acoustic guitar, and his voice singing both the melody and harmony. With that skeletal structure, he loses the “I’m not sure what’s next or why I act like this” tone and gets straight to the point. He pleads for the person he loves to give him another shot. “You’re all I know,” he sings in his falsetto. It’s the most direct, vulnerable statement he’s ever made, and in an album otherwise packed with uncertainty, it’s powerful.
Cronin has said that his first favorite album was Nirvana’s In Utero— a record noisily recorded with Steve Albini before the band went to R.E.M./Katrina and the Waves producer Scott Litt to soften a couple of the album’s songs. There’s a loose analogy at play here— Cronin recorded MCII with Eric “King Riff” Bauer at his Bay Area shred factory, Bauer Mansion. Later, he had the album mixed and mastered at Berkeley’s hallowed Fantasy Studios. (Cronin has admitted that he got the idea from Segall, who worked in those same two studios for Twins.) The outcome is a great sounding album that sits nicely between the poles of “fuzz war” and “cooing balladeer.” Cronin has proved with this album that, like Cobain before him, he’s so much more than a longhair with a fuzz pedal. He’s an excellent pop craftsman who knows how to turn the power up for maximum effect.”
NME: “It’s rare to hear an album that sounds like it’s not of this world. The twists and turns on Hype Williams producer Dean Blunt’s follow-up to 2011’s ‘The Narcissist II’ seem like they’re from anywhere but Earth, and evoke a strange sonic landscape. The Londoner combines neurotic voicemails and crashing waves (‘Walls Of Jericho’) with harp, choral vocals, slide guitar and classical strings (‘I Run New York’), then occasionally slings his own sing-rap weariness on top of it all. These disparate noises are all brought together to create a concept album about the end of a relationship. A strange record, but an intriguing planet to get sucked into.”
WELCOME MavenMaven!! (Excellent 1st Choice IMO, Yotal)
Maven: “A contemporary version of steeleye span, with great songwriting and without the kitsch that often is found in that genre.
“Upon realising that Wolf People’s riff-heavy folk rock has certainly not beam beamed in from the murkiest corners of the 70s, one must surely ask themselves - is this mere revivalism? Even back in the days of wide-bottomed pantaloons and pachouli smoke, folk rock artists had their eyes fixed on the past, whether through folk traditions or Tolkien’s fantastical creations.
Fortunately, Wolf People are able to dip their toes into prog’s expansive waters without getting lost in pomposity. Rather than the stale reanimation of a long-buried corpse, they inject their influences with an honest vitality that keeps them truly alive.
Throughout Fain - the band’s second album - folk melodies meet visceral fuzz-rock, never sounding quite like anyone else specifically, but a unique blend that never coalesced at the time. Led Zeppelin weren’t miles away, but their folk tendencies were more of a detour from the pursuit of swaggering rock & roll stardom. Wolf People take both routes in equal measure, counting influences from the psychedelic Mighty Baby to the delicate tones of Fairport Convention. Paying homage to the greats of decades past is nothing unusual, but it’s rarer to find a group willing to go all the way - not diluting the cultural detritus that comes their way into accessible hits, but revelling in its primordial resonance.
Opening track ‘Empty Vessels’ lures you in with pristine guitar chimes, overlaid by psychedelic soloing that comes across as semi-improvised. Vocalist Jack Sharp does nothing to play down their folk credentials, his regional accent lilting gracefully atop the band’s aural witchcraft. As the jaunty melody near the beginning of lead single ‘All Returns’ dances from the fretboard, there’s a tinge of Renaissance Faire about it, but only for a short time - the song darts from place-to-place, dropping into serenity before becoming engulfed in cacophonous noise at a moment’s notice. Whether by skill or good fortune, it all fits.
‘When The Fire Is Dead In The Grate’ recalls early Black Sabbath, from its lumbering riff to masterfully-executed drum fills, but they’re no doom-worshippers. Once again, the folksy touches are abundant, culminating in extended instrumental passages that don’t overstay their welcome. ‘Athol’ writhes in its ominous tonality, while ‘Hesperus’ gleams like the evening star with subtly-mixed female backing vocals, before monstrously heavy bass comes to the fore.
Reverb-heavy ballad ‘Answer’ glides along on luscious harmonies, followed by the historical storytelling of ‘Thief’. Focused on the first-person viewpoint of an arrested highwayman, Sharp describes it as “a form of tourism. You can visit but not live in the mind of an appalling human being.” Despite the character’s roguish behaviour, however, it’s a tale that provokes empathy: “And now the irons are locked around my hands and feet as we make our way along the road.”
By the time that finisher ‘NRR’ kicks into gear with propulsive rhythms against supercharged distortion, the entire record has burrowed its way into your subconscious mind. Don’t expect it to leave any time soon.”
Cannot find a proper review…
“Although Limits of Desire is Small Black’s second album proper, it’s also a follow-up to last year’s fantastic Moon Killer mixtape, released online for free. The conceit of Moon Killer was to mix hip-hop beats with shoegaze guitars and dream-pop melodies, lending an extra edge to tracks like Two Rivers. On Limits of Desire, the hip-hop influences of Moon Killer and New Chain are replaced by a softly-shaded synth-pop bent.
When it works, as on openers Free At Dawn and Canoe, the results are impressive – a narcotic wash of muted guitars and gently-pulsing synths underpin a louche, breathy vocal, everything concealed behind a film of reverb. But No Stranger, the title track and Breathless feel like half-finished New Order offcuts, while Sophie errs towards the twee. Only A Shadow lifts proceedings again, burying the vocals beneath a propulsive house beat. It’s a pleasant enough experience, but fails to match the inventiveness of Moon Killer for both ideas and hooks.”
Inspiration, not innovation, is what I look for in Savages. One Quietus reader insists, every time we write about them, on commenting “post punk karaoke”, ironically himself forgetting that movement’s urge to say something new. Of course, it’s perfectly easy - as it is with so many bands in this age of refinement - to pick apart Savages’ influences on Silence Yourself, their thrilling debut album. But karaoke - the empty, facile regurgitation of other people’s songs - this is not.
I’d take Savages, with their furious, high-velocity update of Joy Division, Simple Minds, British Sea Power, The Smashing Pumpkins, Einsturzende Neubauten, Bauhaus, The Birthday Party, Suede and so on over a thousand pallid boys who’ve managed, somehow, to divine an ‘original’ sound at the end of post-modernism. Why? Because Silence Yourself is the manifestation of a formidable spirit, a sense that everything they do is done with great purity of intent, and a brilliant sex, life and death album of a kind rarely seen these days. It also manages to capture the power of their live show in a surprising way. I saw Savages’ first gig in January 2012, when they arrived as a last-minute support band for British Sea Power far more exciting, with more presence, more intelligence, than any indie band slogging their way up a dull career ladder to that point where suddenly adulation is accorded with a Brixton Academy headline slot. They gave their all then, and they give their all here, somehow distilling that live potency to record.
For starters, this is a very European record in feel, and not merely thanks to Jehnny Beth’s French passport and curious vocal delivery. The depressing British trend for anti-intellectualism in pop is gloriously set ablaze by Savages’ manifestos, noise excursions with side-project HTB and collaboration with Bo Ningen to create a “Sonic Simultaneous Poem”, or introducing dancers, film and support sets by those within the Savages “family” to their concerts. Indeed, some of the naysayers who’ve sprung up in opposition to the fervent support that many demonstrate towards this band seem to imply that all this is calculated pretension, that perhaps after unveiling these elaborate and thoughtful ways of doing things, they all sit around chuckling a good LOL at a few more hoodwinked in. Such is the current fear, in the indie mainstream, of exercising the mind.
This hermetically sealed world around them is the cauldron in which their fire is nurtured and burns. Like many of the bands who inspired them, Savages fight against limitations as they carve out their songs. Gemma Thompson says she had to fundamentally rethink the way she played guitar after Jehnny Beth joined Savages, and steered it away from an experimental noise duo to songwriting band. Her contributions are incredibly impressive on the yearning, straining ‘Waiting For A Sign’, with the mood created by Faye Milton and Ayse Hassan’s rhythm section acting as the base for dissonant guitar aerobics and an abstract vocal screech that recalls Diamanda Galas. It manages to pack into five minutes what Suede took ten to achieve on some of the songs from that second half of Dog Man Star.
The positioning of that track at the halfway point, followed by the gloomy, bell-clanging textures of instrumental ‘Dead Nature’ emphasises that Savages whole-heartedly subscribe to the album as a format: that’s why the best tracks, ‘Husbands’ and ‘Marshal Dear’, are stuck right at the end of Side B. Interestingly, when I asked if there would be a different artwork for the digital release that might allow Jehnny Beth’s manifesto on the sleeve to be easily read, the band said that the vinyl was their sole consideration.
Savages therefore seem to understand that the album still offers rock music’s ideal format in which to explore challenging ideas. They’re not alone in this, of course, as many of the old guard who’ve inspired them (especially Swans) have been proving over the past few years, but it’s certainly rare among Savages’ peers. So why is Silence Yourself a radical album that, as guitarist Gemma Thompson told Laura Snapes in Pitchfork, is “music to break shit and fuck on the floor to”?
Overdrive, distortion and Hasson and Milton’s swinging rhythms ramp up the rather libidinous feel to Savages’ music. Post-Britpop, UK guitar music has become rather prudish - with, say, Wild Beasts excepted - you wouldn’t ever have gone to last decade’s post punk revivalists Bloc Party or Futureheads for your kicks. America, meanwhile, seems to combine the asexual with a weird tats n’ caps ‘bro’ mentality. Silence Yourself explores thematic concerns of honesty-of-the-self ideology and sexual power dynamics more commonly encountered in the Throbbing Gristle-inspired fringes of electronic and industrial music. However, those artists often manage to become a cliche of leathery lechery, fetishism and BDSM as codified and dull as the vanilla mainstream it claims to oppose.
Silence Yourself, by contrast explores these ideas with sophistication and bravery. When I interviewed the band for Q magazine recently, Beth told me that ‘Hit Me’ was inspired by porn actress Belladonna, and spoke of how she found pornography to be liberating - a not uncontroversial position. ‘She Will’ seems to be an ambiguous look at the pleasure and pain of the eroticism that comes with sexual infidelity and jealousy. Then on ‘City’s Full’, she sings “I love the stretch marks on your thighs / I love the wrinkles around your eyes”. It’s one of the most charming lyrics of 2013, a bullshit-free summation of the honesty and complexity of true, rather than false idealised, love.
Ultimately, Savages are going to be a divisive band, but better to be hated and loved than trundle along with watery, anaemic music that says nothing no matter how original it might be. The openness that Savages display to art, sexuality and the idea that rock & roll can be intellectual, though, means that they’re the sort of group who, like the Manics, Suede and British Sea Power, will become a way of life for some. In the essay that features on Silence Yourself’s artwork, Beth writes “if the world would shut up just for a while perhaps we would start hearing the distant rhythm of an angry young tune”. These are those tunes. Do what these good ladies tell you to do - silence yourself, listen to these songs. It’s the least they - and you - deserve.
“Who is Will Wiesenfeld, anyway? If the electronic producer’s debut album told us anything, it was that Baths was a sound geek at heart— from the stuttering glitches to his favorite movies’ audio samples, Cerulean was a collection of memories that paved the way to his musical future. And as naive as it seems now, we all found ourselves believing Wiesenfeld would continue to expand on the shameless enthusiasm Cerulean offered.
So right when we thought we knew Baths, he backs into a corner and creates the most disturbing, alienating and honest album of his career.
Obsidian is the pissed-off older brother nobody knew Cerulean had, the budding antithesis of its predecessor’s pleasure. This album is dark in the darkest of ways— as if its menacing album cover didn’t tell us otherwise. To be fair, there was ample reason to believe Obsidianwas going to be an equally enthused affair. “Miasma Sky,’ the album’s first single, presented itself in an excited flurry. But at the end of the day, the track exists as exception over rule, existing as the single beam of light in an otherwise pitch-black room.
There’s a much more leisurely swagger pervading Obsidian, which helps to explain the massive change in feel. There are no bells and whistles this time around, just barren landscapes and lyrics, lyrics, lyrics. Sometimes Wiesenfeld tells stories of love; other times, he paints vicious pictures of death. It’s an intimate change for the musician, and makes for an infinitely more telling description of who Baths is. His thoughts are messy and scattered, and his songwriting follows suit— it isn’t too much of a problem for those accustomed to it, though. Cerulean was schizophrenic, but in terms of the music itself— here, the most unpredictable element is how Wiesenfeld carries himself vocally, in the midst of all the different layers of sound.
This would be a good time to touch on Baths’ singing, and how it’s easily the most polarizing element here. “Lovely Bloodflow” was such a rousing anthem because its main draw was the quirky vocals, much unlike the otherwise instrumentally based Cerulean. All the tracks here instead Wiesenfeld’s voice to the forefront. And his voice is still shaky, flawed and revealing. But it makes sense to let his damaged timbre direct the album, because shit, this album’s damaged beyond repair. After all, it’s the sound of a musician coming to terms with his demons and making twisted art out of them, and for this exact reason Will Wiesenfeld’s voice is perfect for the job at hand.
This isn’t to say the album’s balance between vocals and music is without its flaws. Many of the instrumental parts of the music at hand simply don’t deliver, existing too passively for any sort of lasting experience. Some tracks take their time, and others are too drowsy to even be aware that time exists. The first example that comes to mind is “Ironworks,” a song that works on every front except for tempo. The track feels constructed to be livelier, not the slow-as-molasses ballad Wiesenfeld decided it to be.
But as unexpected as they are, the simplest moments here are the most charming. It’s when the song takes a pleasant melody and only tampers with it some, giving breathing room for vocals in the most generous way. “No Eyes” exists as successful interplay between all ingredients at hand, with a distinct synth melody stuttering behind Wiesenfeld’s cries of “I have no eyes, I have no heart, I have no soul.” This is why the album’s brutal, because its brutality is easy to miss.
However, the most pivotal moment on Obsidian is “Earth Death.” It’s when the album’s clocks stop turning, when all goes black. “My men cannot get out of being pulled into the earth,” Wiesenfeld sings. The song’s backbone trudges along in meaning, injecting more and more tension with every punch. The entire album has been merely flirting with this type of anxiety, but never has it been this outright, a nervous breakdown redressed into a song format. And this is what Obsidian is all about, the fact that Will Wiesenfeld still doesn’t know exactly who he is, but that he’s afraid there isn’t much of a point to it anymore. Who is Baths? Well, does it even matter?”
Using samples from ancient radio and television broadcast this lot build up some wonderfully dancy tunes around old crackling voices…They remind me somewhat of the Cuban Boys (though less silly) or the Avalanches (though less mad)…
The biggest find of the year so-far for me! (but then I am a sucker for well used samples).
Waiting for the new “National” then grab a bit of this to tide you over. IMO the song in the video is one of the most boring on the album, but tis the single…Check out the song that I linked above but could not embed…
Yotal’s SOTW: Savages-Husbands (ssssoooooo good)