Music of 2011, part two

11th September 2011 – 3.21 pm

It's September already, and although normally tardy with my new music reviews I think the generally lacklustre recent purchases, and a malaise about finding new bands, better explains my reluctance to scribble down my thoughts. There's a gem hidden away in this selection too, so it's not all bad. And I already have more good music lined up for the next collection, with hopefully more on its way, and maybe that fresh injection of tunes was the motivation I needed to get this second review of the year completed.

With a name like Take Care, Take Care, Take Care I don't see how I can ignore Explosions in the Sky's latest album. Listening to it gives me a different impression, sadly. It seems to start okay, until two minutes later I am still hoping for the album to start in earnest. I don't mind the odd concept song, long tracks in general, or instrumentals, and Explosions in the Sky certainly can create interesting and musical songs. But it doesn't help that four of the six tracks are all over eight minutes in length, with one of the remaining two clocking in at over seven minutes, and so many long tracks back-to-back feels too much like a lack of editing. Individual concepts could be tightened and brought to an earlier resolution, moving on to the next for a fresh experience, or at least an aural rest. Instead, and particularly because of the lack of vocals in this case, the music feels pretentious. Take Care, Take Care, Take Care is an album I feel I should really like but always come from away feeling tired instead of invigorated.

Gyratory System is a brilliant name for a band and I pick up their debut album New Harmony with high hopes. It's a little simplistic at times, the rhythms and riffs jolly enough in themselves but even when layered on top of each other not really offering much feeling of sophistication. Other times it all feels a bit atonic, in a rather amateurish manner. The music isn't bad, but I feel a lack of depth to the tracks, giving me nothing to latch on to so I can explore it on repeated listens. What I hear is what I get, making it a rather superficial listen, and by the end of the album I just want the simplistic repetition to stop.

Repetition is easy to do but difficult to get right, really difficult in fact. Gyratory System don't quite manage it, but Moon Duo certainly do! Second album Mazes starts out with droning synths over a four-to-the-floor drum beat, vocals complementing the music soon enough, before a fuzzy guitar starts noodling over the top of it all as if Rudi had finally found the New Sound. And it all works brilliantly, even though very little seems to change in the course of the song. The repetitious beat is catchy enough to hold the track together, whilst the vocals and soloing provide enough variation to keep it all interesting. It's musical genius, and it just gets better. Titular track Mazes is next, with an even-catchier groove that pops along like it's summer all year long, and then we get to a more lo-fi feel with Scars that works for its simplicity. And noticing each layer that is sequentially added at the start of the brilliant When You Cut gives an appreciation for what Moon Duo build with each song. Mazes is masterful.

If you ever wanted to know what Times New Viking sounded like without so much fuzz cranked over everything they do, then look no further than latest album Dancer Equired. Instead of turning all the lo-fi knobs to eleven Time New Viking are chilling out, but just a little. They still sound like Times New Viking, just more human. But I can't work out if that's good or not. Try Harder and New Vertical Dwellings are prime candidates for the band's overdriven output, okay as they are but just feeling somewhat awry without the fuzz pummelling your eardrums, whereas Don't Go To Liverpool breezes along perfectly with a clean sound. Meanwhile, Downtown Eastern Bloc sits right in the middle, a fabulous song by itself with a hint that some fuzz would make it sound more like Times New Viking without changing how it feels. But just relaxing and letting the music play out, instead of thinking too hard about the lack of fuzz, finds Dancer Equired to be another fourteen chunks of two-minute fun.

Having got not quite overly excited enough about Bo Ningen, reading that Boris is a Japanese experimental band understandably gets my attention, particularly as their latest album is called Attention Please. Sir, yes sir! I know nothing about Boris, so learning that this album features only Wata on vocals means little to me. And for an experimental group the music sounds pretty mainstream, but maybe this is an intentionally mainstream release. It's pop, it's rock. It's quiet, it's loud. It's enjoyable, if unremarkable.

To send my obscurity levels in to overload, my final album in this selection is an eponomously titled album from Control Zèbre, a French jazz trio I saw busking near the Abbesses Metro station. They were lively, charismatic, and very cool, and being on holiday I was happy to pick up one of their albums to take home. The only problem was that I didn't know which of the two CDs available would best reflect their current style, and I think, although I can't be sure, that I managed to pick their debut, which may explain the less polished feel. The songs are good and I always like a bit of jazz, but the album doesn't quite capture the experience of seeing them play on the streets of Paris. Funny, that. It's a good album, all the same.

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