Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Unthemed Weekly Music Roundup

So I've listened to a whole bunch of shit this week, and all of it seems worth commenting on, even if none of it really grabbed me enough in a good or bad way to write a full post about.

Ambient Noise Madness:
Black Boned Angel – Bliss And Void Inseparable
Vargr – Northern Black Supremacy

This week I also became reacquainted with Black Boned Angel, who I'd heard before and really liked but never acquired until now. Black Boned Angel is a solo project of one Campbell Kneale, a Wellingtonian, who also records as Birchfield Cat Motel. In the Black Boned Angel incarnation his music is dark, avant-garde ambient, a genre that I used to love but which I have neglected in recent years. Bliss And Void Inseparable is an hour long piece that lurches unnaturally from one moody, disturbing piece of creepy noise to another, and if you're into that sort of thing it's pretty good.

I stumbled across Bliss and Void Inseparable while purchasing Vargr's Nothern Black Supremacy, which bridges the gap between my old and new listening habits by taking ambient industrial and infusing it with a gritty dose of black metal. They do so by taking the BM genre trappings, gurgled vocals, tremolo guitar riffs and blast beat drums and cranking up the murkiness of the production, reducing it all into a distorted wash that blends in perfectly as a backdrop to the industrial noise. The two genre's really do make a surprisingly good match, not just because the sounds mould together so well, but also because they share a few aesthetic and philosophical principles, such as their charming fascination with fascist imagery.

1001 Albums:
The Beatles – A Hard Day's Night
Jacques Brel – Olympia 64

I quite liked With the Beatles which I listened to a month or so back. The songs were nothing special but they performed with a youthful vigour that surpassed any other similar album I've reached on this list so far and introduced the rawness and energy that characterises rock and roll in my mind and is lacking from the likes of say the Everly Brothers. A Hard Day's Night in comparison was a little bit of a disappointment. Perhaps it's just because I've been exposed to these songs literally since the day I was born, as an inescapable part of the pop cultural atmosphere, but the whole album just breezed right past my ears and left little impression.

Jacques Brel on the other hand is a total revelation. I've never heard of him before but in his native France (well, actually he's Belgian, but his musical career was based in France) he is considered an influential singer songwriter. I'm at a real loss as to how to describe his music. It certainly fits into no category I can think of, although iTunes has classified it as 'caberet', and that's as good a guess as any. Brel sings accompanied by a sprightly orchestra which includes plenty of accordion and piany (as opposed to piano!), giving it an definite French character. I guess superficially you might compare this album to those of Frank Sinatra, in that it's a single male vocalist backed by an orchestra which acts in a purely supporting role, but Brel's vocal quirks and dramatic, bitter delivery put me in mind of Mike Patton more than anyone. Brel is clearly a big influence on Patton, at least when he's in crooning mode. And I almost forgot to mention, this album is really good! I love it even though Brel's best quality is supposedly his lyrics and I can't understand a word of it, as it's all in French.

One other random chain of influence. British singer songwriter Scott Walker was heavily influenced by Brel, covering him often. Walker's 2006 album The Drift is one of the albums Mikael Akerfeldt has been citing as an influence on the latest Opeth album. Coming from such a far flung corner of the musical map I'm totally surprised (but also delighted) by just how relevant this guy is to the obscure corners of metaldom.

Sigur Rós - Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust

Sigur Rós are one of the few upbeat, happy bands to make serious inroads into my music collection, which in general resembles a grim nightmare world of hatred, despair and violence. I was a little disappointed with their b-sides album Hvarf/Heim that was released last year, but didn't think too much of it since their last two real albums (() and Takk) were so damn good. Sadly their new album with the nonstandard character filled title too long for me to be bothered typing out again disappoints in a similar way to Hvarf/Heim. At first I wondered (as I often do) if perhaps I haven't stuck my head so far out into the world of extreme metal that I've lost the ability to appreciate music without blast beats, vocals howled by a madman and lyrics about strangling people with their own intestines, so I made a point of listening to Ágætis Byrjun, one of their earlier albums, again and found that I still thought it rocked. By this highly scientific method I have proved that it is indeed Sigur Rós that have started to suck, not me.

Upon consideration I've decided that the thing that's changed about them is that their older albums had more flavour to their emotional landscape. While their main angle has always been prettiness, twinkling piano and uplift, on earlier albums it was leavened with moments of melancholy (and on () even heaviness) but they seem to have discarded these shades of subtlety in recent years. On this release the climactic, soaring conclusion to 'Ára bátur' (backed by the London Oratory School Choir) would on an earlier album have been the triumphant, redemptive centrepiece of an emotional journey that visited a variety of moods, but in this case is just the point where they crank things up from 'really really happy' to 'super extra fucking happy'.

On the other hand these guys are touring here next month, and I am still looking forward to it.


Joel said...

Dude, speaking of ambient kinda stuff, did you ever listen to Ghosts I-IV?

I thought it was damn awesome.

Jon said...

Yeah I got it, but wasn't that impressed. It was OK, but clearly put together in a bit of a hurry, not up to his usual standard.

I do like The Slip though.