Christopher Owens – Lysandre
Fat Possum Records
Like a broken down, tin-can-voiced Leonard Cohen but less demure and much shorter, Christopher Owens descended upon le Cabaret du Mile End with little more than a weepy eggshell of a voice, a finger-picked classical guitar, and two under-aged female singers who might cause great scandal in a Nabokov novel. Owens, formerly of indie band Girls, now also performs with a band replete with an aging and out-of-place Italian flutist/harmonicist.
Owens provided a warm, intimate performance in comparison to the removed coolness of many an indie or pop performer, sort of like sitting by a fire, hearing each of his words hitting the hardwood floor like embers in a Poe poem, or dust collecting in a student apartment.
This current tour promotes Owens’ first solo album, Lysandre, released January 13 on Fat Possum Records.
Lysandre is a 29-minute album, or more appropriately, musical suite, which builds on the theme of falling in and out of love on tour with the girl whose name graces the album. The medieval-esque theme that punctuates every other song fluctuates between almost-too-morose and suddenly laid back. Fitting for his performance, the songs haunt you in a spooky, but not necessarily moving way.
Though several songs are quite moving or listenable on their own (for instance, the breezy “Here We Go”) like a tub of ice cream with a season of your favourite show on a lonely evening, the album is best experienced in its entirety.
The album moves between dark and light; originals here sound like covers: Owens moves on from a failed relationship, and so he approaches each song like a living memory, breathing new life into a faded past.
Owens frustrates often, sometimes sounding like Conor Oberst, but not as subtly poetic, “Love is in the ear of the listener,” Owens sings here, “what if nobody ever gets it.” We get the idea, but next time you perform a Paul Simon cover, how about “50 Ways to Cling to Your Lover”?
Though the album is direct, it fluctuates between morose lugubriousness and attempts to ease a lingering sadness; there are songs, like “New York City,” which you know you will learn to love. Dedicated to low-life hipster habits, that tune is a bawdy, over-the-top saxophone solo that sounds like Sun Ra duet-ing with Nat King Cole.
Other songs, like “Here We Go,” where Owens sings, “if your heart is broken, you will find fellowship with me,” are simple, easy to understand, and just as easy to love.
Burial – Truant/Rough Sleeper
In the world of UK-born ambient/2-step/garage/dubstep/house whatever-you-call-it, Burial is a standalone producer. With his static-laced, lo-fi drum-n-bass beats; short vocal samples, and melodic basslines, Burial never really sounds bombastic, or even danceable. Rather, as Derek Walmsley wrote in Wired, Burial is reminiscent of “the balmy gust of air that precedes an underground train.” “Mournfulcore” would be a more accurate way to describe his depressive beat-driven compositions.
Since 2007’s Untrue, Burial has released a series of experimental EPs, including last month’s two-track Truant/Rough Sleeper. While the critical verdict was positive – predictably, it was listed as “Best New Music” on Pitchfork, which has never given a Burial release less than an 8/10 – Truant/Rough Sleeper doesn’t rank among Burial’s best. Kindred, his last release, marked the beginning of a move towards longer, multi-part tracks that experiment more broadly with higher-pitched samples and prominent vocals. In “Truant,” he moves even further in this direction, devoting the middle third of the 12-minute track to an almost upbeat, orchestral-sampled arrangement that breaks with Burial’s normally sombre mood.
You can’t fault Truant/Rough Sleeper for its experimentation with tone and atmosphere. The real trouble is in the disjointedness of the two lengthy pieces, which constantly draw the listener out of the music, suspended in doubt over the direction of the piece. Both songs feature total silence as a barrier between very different arrangements, which feels disruptive compared to the strict, smooth consistency of his earlier EPs and albums. For those who preferred the polish of Untrue and Moth/Wolf Cub, we’ll probably have to wait until Burial’s next collaboration with his natural creative counterpart, Four Tet, who last released “Nova” with Burial in March. The two of them have produced some of the most compelling electronic music of the past five years, combining like Eros and Thanatos to produce sublime deep house.
Low Culture – Screens
Punk rock was never about innovation. At its inception in the late seventies, it was something close to reactionary: stripping away the pretentions of prog rock and the insincere bombast of stadium rock to supercharge rock’s core elements (power chords, pounding drums, tight song structures) with youthful rage.
It seems fitting, in this case, that Low Culture doesn’t do much innovation on Screens, their new LP. They deliver a playlist of appealingly shambolic garage punk that might lack in new ideas (you can hear the main riff of “Pills” on at least half the stages at the Warped Tour in any given year), but still succeeds in its own low-key way. It’s a collage of every trend that’s tumbled through punk music in the last two decades. Green Day’s simple pop melodies (not the saccharine harmonies, thankfully), the Strokes’ lo fi production, heart-on-sleeve lyrical motifs that have been popular since the Replacements made it okay to have feelings and distortion pedals in the late eighties. “Touchy Feely,” in particular, could be a crash course in the genre, a sonic collage that splices spikes of eighties hardcore chaos with more modern emotion and melody, some Britpop jangle, even a good ol’ one-note guitar solo a la “I Wanna Be Sedated.”
Noisy, joyful, and scruffy around the edges, Screens is a welcome shot of adrenaline for any established punk or pop-punk fan, though it likely won’t do much to earn new converts. “California” might come the closest to universal appeal, straight out of the early nineties Bay Area scene, with something sweet and wistful at it’s centre. It’s currently out on the gloriously named Dirtnap Records.
A$AP Rocky – LONG.LIVE.A$AP
Polo Grounds Music/RCA Records
Let’s get real: LONG.LIVE.A$AP deserves a “fucking finally” from all A$AP Rocky fans. Waiting almost two years for an album (while barely living on two singles in 2012), and still loving it, just proves Rocky’s fan base is spectacular. And so is he.
Featuring artists with just as much talent and cred as Rocky, such as Kendrick Lamar, 2 Chainz, Schoolboy Q, Joey Bada$$, and Skrillex, LONG.LIVE.A$AP meets, if not exceeds, fans’ expectations.
Rocky explores different styles of music, and showcases his voice in songs that have different vibes and appeal to a larger audience. Ranging from dubstep in “Wild for the Night,” to more mainstream hip hop in “Goldie,” to the A$AP that we know and love in “Long Live A$AP,” Rocky’s originality and soul shine through. While some criticize him for creating ‘shallow’ music, this album was the perfect way to prove them wrong.
My personal favourite from his new album is currently “Phoenix,” if only because it’s different than his usual work. Its beat has a mellower, dreamy sound, over which Rocky claims he “sings the ghetto gospel.” Something one would expect to hear on a Thursday night at Bluedog, “Phoenix” is music to relax to.
“Goldie” has also become another favourite. Sure, it has a beat that inspires moves and confidence beyond a listener’s normal abilities, but its fantastic lines like, “you could call me Billy Gates, got a crib in every state,” that remind me why I love listening to Rocky.
But “1 Train” will be a pick for true fans. Not only does it include some of the most talented artists of the genre, the song is six minutes of just rapping to a background of tense music. Though the violin creates a nice consistent beat to move to, once again, it’s the content that makes this song, and the album, spectacular.
Boy & the Echo Choir – It All Shines
My Little Cab Records
The newest album from French indie artists Boy & the Echo Choir, It All Shines, combines the whispy vocals of Caroline Gabard and transient guitar riffs and piano solos of band members Jean-Christophe Lacroix and Florian Chauvet to create an album of melancholic disorder. In contrast to the group’s previous album, the mostly instrumental All We Left Behind, the newest release focuses more on eerie lyricism and reedy musical inserts. Gabard has a sound strikingly similar to English vocalist Dido, her voice a depressive wail, resonant with loss, especially in songs like “Impossible Heart.”
The group takes an experimental approach with their instrumentals, including electric guitar solos stopped short by intruding saxophone chords – creating an uncomfortable collision of sound. The album creates an extremely depressing aura, as the music trudges along in a seemingly funeral-like procession of dark pop. While the goal of the album was to create a “deep disorder in beauty,” the mix of sporadic instrumental interludes along with eerie vocals and tone convey more chaos than pleasure. The only exception on the album is “The Organs,” a song with various electronic guitar loops that break the heavy sadness of Gabard’s lyrics with more upbeat and tribal grooves. It All Shines is set to be released the 30th of this month, however, it may not be worth your precious listening time.