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John Crowell brings us the latest batch of Cheese Coney album reviews!
3 out of 5
Although we’re all probably looking back at their work with rose-colored glasses, I think we can all agree that No Age have never been the most consistent band in the world. Their early, much-hyped records Weirdo Rippers and Nouns had amazing standout tracks, like “Boy Void,” “Everybody’s Down,” and “Teen Creeps.” But for every engaging ripper on the record, there was at least one meandering mess that didn’t really amount to much. Which was fine – it was the sound of an adventurous band trying to hit its stride.
To my ears, No Age’s most consistently strong and interesting record was the 2009 EP Losing Feeling, which sounded like the perfect mixture of their outer-limits drone exploration and abstracted punk thrash. Since then they’ve been slowly molting into a band that meets expectations but has lost the joy of exploration.
I enjoyed 2010′s Everything in Between, but was a little jarred by its slightly gray delivery and perhaps overly-efficient production. It was nothing too extreme, luckily, and I pretty much chalked it up to a speed bump experienced by trying to introduce samplers into the sonic mix. But this new one . . .
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for consistency and bands trying to make the most artistically competent and successful record they can. An Object is clearly a product of that drive: it includes straight-ahead and mostly pleasant No Age guitar rock. It’s probably the record I’d play for someone who’s not yet a No Age fan to convince them to give the band a chance. I sure as shit wouldn’t expect them to sit through Losing Feeling cold. If An Object turns out to be a gateway drug for those not yet acquainted with No Age’s back catalog, fantastic.
But what An Object gains in reliability, it loses in ambition. No Age don’t sound like they’re reaching for anything special on this album. Every track is rock steady and predictable. I was left thinking, “Uh, yep, that’s No Age, I guess.” They sound like the safest version of themselves.
Perhaps No Age has finally found their stride: restricting expansive synth drone passages and responsibly pushing samples into the background to highlight and accentuate their stompy punk. But I realize now, though it took me several listens to warm up to records like Weirdo Rippers, that No Age are best when they aren’t perfect. They’re at their most flavorful when they’re warts-and-all. It’s the constant hot-swapping of synths and reverb, samples and echoes, polish and grit that make No Age a compelling group. Because this version, a single guitarist and a single drummer making slightly adorned post-punk with responsible production values, is actually, apparently, pretty boring.
Green in Leaves
4.5 out of 5
If you haven’t meditated to Cedar Skies yet, you’re miles away from Enlightenment.
Seriously though, Cedar Skies makes amazingly soothing, expansive, pulsating ambient music with electronic tones and flourishes of guitar. The Cedar Skies Bandcamp is filled with post-post-rock with a surprisingly polished sheen, but the newest record, Green in Leaves, is perhaps the best yet. Rapturous waves of melodic reverb envelope the ears, burying inscrutable lyrics below warbling guitar and heavily smothered beats. Green in Leaves reminds me alternately of the edge-of-the-universe loneliness of Fennesz, the carefully constructed guitar splashes of Explosions in the Sky, and the radiating keyboards of Beach House. All of this is wrapped in a package that’s immensely listenable and engaging.
Sit back, relax, and let Green in Leaves melt all your troubles and worries away. But more importantly, get into Cedar Skies!
2 out of 5
Man, don’t you wish that instead of getting a crappy, unfulfilling day job to pay back your student loans, you could live at home with your parents and make echoey beats in Logic Pro all day? After throwing a few songs up on MySpace at the epoch of internet indie music buzz enthusiasm, an influential blogger would big-up you and you’d get to tour the world drinking free corporate-sponsored Heinekens, trying on Urban Outfitters clothes, and collecting a menagerie of artist laminates from industry showcases? That would be pretty sweet.
I remember seeing Washed Out play Pitchfork Music Festival a few years ago. This was 2010, I think, right when everyone was getting sick of hearing and reading about the “chillwave” genre. I was iffy about spending my time at the festival seeing his set in the first place, but when Washed Out’s reverby synth-beats started up, he called out to the audience, “I really appreciate you all coming to see me. Let’s all just hang here in the shade and chiiiiiiiiiiill.” I immediately cringed: not because he was a douche, but because he was being so nice about being a douche.
Paracosm is fine. I mean, whatever, what did you expect? It’s very efficient and sounds pretty slick and comforting, I guess. I just can’t think of an attribute about any of the songs that makes me give half a shit about it. It’s just . . . it’s just fine.
I saw videos of him performing live recently, and he triggers all his samples solely with an iPad. I mean, just . . . goddamn it, whatever. I’m over it.
Live at the Comet
4 out of 5
Much like Lynrd Skynrd before them, Whitfield Crocker is not a person, but a band. Four dudes who play music with guitars and drums.
But that’s where the similarities end. Unlike Lynrd Skynrd, Whitfield Crocker make adventurous, contemplative, detailed songs that combine everything from ambient to post-rock, swing, and jazz. But, most importantly, they build off a central core of competent acoustic ballad songwriting. No matter how into left field the band travels on their occasional guitar pedal-fueled psychedelic freak-outs, they always have a strong backbone of folk-influenced pop structure to return to.
If you like serious and ambitious rock music from people who really know how to play their instruments and experiment with songwriting structure, rhythms, and time signatures; you have no reason not to like Whitfield Crocker. And if Live at the Comet is an indication of what they can do with 20 minutes live, I can’t wait to hear what they can do after spending some time in a studio.
4.5 out of 5
Julianna Barwick has gotten a lot of mileage out of sitting in her bedroom and playing her single Boss RC-50 looper pedal, just simply looping her voice and various samples until it forms mountains of ethereal sound. Nepenthe is a perfect example of an artist taking a central aesthetic that’s already really working for her and expanding it to new possibilities.
With this new record, Barwick made the leap from recording at home by herself to venturing into a cavernous Icelandic studio with producer Alex Somers. The vocal loops are still there, but along with them are vibrant strings, punctuating keys, stirring choirs . . . the whole mixture is dramatic and enveloping.
Beyond being one of the best albums so far this year, Nepenthe proves what can happen when an artist has the courage to fix what isn’t broken.
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