Using Animal and Technology as Instrument and Composition: Ben Frost’s By the Throat & William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops

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Speaking rather broadly about what is capable of being defined as music, R. Murray Shafer declares: “Behold the new orchestra: the sonic universe! And the musicians: anyone and anything that sounds” (1993, 13). Within this context, the perceptive and trained modern listener, if they so choose, has the distinct role and responsibility of absorbing and recognizing sounds around them. One can find musicality and rhythms in urban and rural environments, buildings, machines, living organisms and natural sounds. Whether it is the white noise produced by water and wind or the drones from crickets and cicadas that establish a base for a biophony, the natural world and living organisms are inherently musical (Krause 2013, 164, 87). Relative to certain musical genres, the modern composer adapts the same responsibilities as the modern listener, practicing the merging of human and natural sound, and human and mechanical sound within their compositions. With these experiments comes intriguing explorations in and discoveries of the relationship between biophony and anthrophony, plus finding new answers to what the connection might be between biophony and human music (111). Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a breadth of literature connecting modern music with biophonies and the natural world of sounds, as many of the musical styles that do this are simply not within the mainstream interest. These alternative musical genres and composers manipulate conventions of composition, which lead to important questions surrounding the interplay of music, sound and environment.

Specifically, in what ways do avant-garde, ambient and electronic musical genres provide modern explorations of the following sonic relationships: human noise and natural sound, sound and space, and music and technology? By examining two albums from modern composers, Ben Frost’s By the Throat (2009) and William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops (2002), the binaries presented in the above question are brought together in their music through composition, imitation, production and recording techniques. For instance, whereas Frost explores the relation between human and natural sound through composing and mixing violins with howling wolves throughout his album, Basinski’s deteriorating analog tapes simultaneously provide a live and recorded soundtrack for the 9/11 attacks, thus demonstrating the role of technology and environment within music.

By the Throat from Ben Frost combines ambient and electronic music with recorded sounds of biophonies and anthrophonies, most notably, the howling and growling of wolves, human breathing and an ICU machine. The motifs of wolves and breathing (mechanically assisted or otherwise) play throughout the album in tandem and in conflict with the synthesizers, strings, brass and woodwinds, which make up a majority of By the Throat’s orchestration and timbre. At the beginning of “The Carpathians,” the distinction between human noises and wolf sounds are difficult to distinguish. Seemingly, the wailing of a woodwind instrument (a saxophone?) gives way to the howling of wolves as the string drone begins to build in intensity and amplitude.

Frost uses the biophonic recordings of these wolves as a melodic instrument and compositional element within this track. The natural sounds (biophony) are blended with the human music of the droning strings and wailing/howling woodwinds (anthrophony), which points not only to the wolf as a musician of sorts but one that enters into an anthrophony. Frost maybe unintentionally reverses the typical sonic entry and disruption of natural sound by human noise, as this chorus of wolves enters into and sings with the instruments. More than simply implementing natural sound recordings into a single soundscape, Frost sonically demonstrates the relationship between animal sound and human noise as one where the wolves influence the orchestration and melody of the instruments featured in “The Carpathians.”

Furthermore, the track creates an affective acoustic space characterized by isolation and tension, as Shafer points out that in general “[t]he howling of wolves is haunting and isolating […], [i]n the wolf call we encounter a vocal ritual which defines the territorial claim of the pack to an acoustic space” (1993, 63). Comparatively, LaBelle describes “acoustic space [and territory] as a productive form of tension” (2010, xxiv). With the track eventually leading to the isolated sound of a wolf growling, it is safe to say the wolves claim their acoustic territory over the composition and instrumentation. Thus, a sonic conflict and tension arises within the composition, recording and mixing of this track, creating an acoustic space to be fought over – natural sound versus human noise.

In his discussion on the origins and structures of music, Krause states “we can look at music as an acoustic mirror,” as “[h]umans have a well-established aptitude for mimicry” (2013, 121-126). Our first heard sounds and sense of rhythm and melody would have been that of the natural world, the geophony and biophony. “The Carpathians” explicitly demonstrates this natural influence and subsequent human imitation of animal sounds. Frost utilizes the wolf song and effectively replicates it through human technology, simultaneously portraying the natural world’s effect on our sonic world and our affinity for musical mimicry. Also, one could purport that the wolves ‘sound like’ a saxophone or even a brass instrument. Within this track’s context, the instrument’s noise mirrors the wolves’ sound and vice versa.

Krause also mentions that “[w]hen taken out of their original milieus and placed in new ones, fragments of noise be[come] structural components of composition” (2013, 122). At 1 minute and 8 seconds into the track, the drone fades down to give rise to the sounds of a wolf growling and barking. Again, Frost uses biophonic sounds as a compositional element to transition from section A to B. Around 1:24, the climax of the wolf growls leads into the synthesizers and piano playing in harmony (or in conflict) with the wolves. In an interview, Frost references natural sound recordist Chris Watson as influencing his use of the wolves on the album. He suggests, “[t]his is a vocal record, a physical record, and Wolf song is the original choir” (themilkman 2009). Furthering the link between previous works in natural sound recording and By the Throat, the ‘wolf break’ featured on “The Carpathians” sounds quite similar to Chris Watson’s “Adult Cheetah” on Outside the Circle of Fire (2000) occupying a deep, low register and frequency. Though Frost’s wolf sounds far more menacing than Watson’s cheetah since taken out of its original context and placed between moody, tense ambient and electronica, Frost’s use of the wolf indeed strengthens the ties and musical functions between biophony and anthrophony. Rather, a tie that binds animals with musicians within the controlled sound of Frost’s ambient and electronic music. Following a history of natural sound recording, the wolves of “The Carpathians” exemplifies the sonic bond between human instrumentation and animal vocalization.

On the next track, an ICU machine begins “Ó God Protect Me” to establish the track’s tempo and rhythm. In this example, the anthrophony is comprised of three different human-generated sounds: the electromechanical sound of the ICU, physiological sounds of breathing and the controlled sound of an electronic beat and electric piano or synthesizer (Krause 2013, 157). While Frost removes the ICU machine from its original context, he also removes the rhythmic clicks, beeps and inhaled breaths from its source and space and places them inside of a 4/4 beat and instrumental song. In following the sociocultural tradition of splitting an original sound from its electroacoustical transmission and reproduction, or “schizophonia,” we hear and begin to understand this electromechanical sound as a component of the beat and rhythm of the track (Shafer 1993, 134). As Shafer states, “[s]ounds have been torn from their natural sockets and given an amplified and independent existence” (1993, 134). However, LaBelle affirms that “[s]ounds are associated with their original source, while also becoming their own thing” (2010, xix). Thus, Frost ironically gives life to the sounds of a machine that gives life, thereby allowing the machine to exist as a life support and instrument. The ICU machine, while still being identified as such, simultaneously becomes a musical and rhythmic machine.

“Ó God Protect Me” exemplifies the technological process of sound inhabiting an entirely new space and existing as a musical element based on the recording and production techniques employed by Frost. Generally deemed as ‘background noise’, the ICU machine, like the wolves, becomes a musician within the controlled sound featured on By the Throat, thereby highlighting the musical phenomena occurring outside of the perception of most human hearing – that being the rhythm of the ICU machine and the tuneful wolf song. Also, other examples include “Híbakúsja” and “Leo Needs a New Pair of Shoes” where both human breathing and manipulated or mimicked growling wolf sounds are combined rhythmically and melodically.

Similar to Frost’s “Híbakúsja,” a strange Icelandic imitation of the Japanese word hibakusha, which means the surviving victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, The Disintegration Loops by William Basinski also deals with disaster and a deadly attack through explorations of sound and space, and music and technology. The production and recording process of this album and experiment is as follows:

[On September 11, 2001, Basinski began] reviewing old tapes and came across a pastoral composition from 1982 which he had completely forgotten about. Intending to transfer it to digital format for preservation, he set the old tapes running, but time is not kind to magnetic tape and decay had fatally undermined their stability. As they played, fragments of iron oxide spalled off the tape’s surface and became dust, gradually, but progressively, breaking down the music into a ghost of its former self, becoming ever more fragmented as the recording progressed. Almost simultaneously, within view of [Basinski’s] apartment, the appalling events of 11 September were unfolding (Simmons 2002).

Influenced by his environment, Basinski’s deteriorating tapes became an allegory for the buildings, bodies and billowing smoke that would disintegrate and disappear from that day forward. The physical, musical and allegorical atrophy caused by the analog technology gives meaning to and evidence of the innate relationships between music and technology, and sound and environment.

Basinski found creation in the slow destruction of his analog tapes and produced pieces of music entirely his own due to technological mortality and degradation. In contrast to Frost, Basinski’s disintegrating loops give musical life to technology that is slowly dying. The destroyed analog tapes can live on through the recording of their natural disintegration, with the ambient sounds becoming further obscured by echo, reverb, lower fidelity and the slowing of time between musical passages. Furthermore, the tapes contribute to Shafer’s concept of schizophonia by removing the original spatial context of the 1982 recordings of the ambient compositions, as the technology begins to blur the timbres and fidelity of that original sound and space.

Along with the historical and technological influences and context in which the 2001 recording took place, Basinski’s album relates to fundamental concepts of and relations between sound, space and echo. Connor suggests, “the most important distinguishing feature of auditory experience [is] namely its capacity to disintegrate and reconfigure space” (1997, 206). For instance, by listening to the loop on “dIp 1.1” the current listener and analog tapes from 2001 move through time and space while the original 1982 loop essentially stays in the same place. Defined by its lack of musical or auditory movement, a loop is stationary. However, by listening to the tape’s loop on “dIp 1.1,” the listener experiences the decaying technology literally disintegrating the music’s sense of space as it drifts farther away with natural echo and added reverb. The loop becomes less tangible and more of a reflection of its original source, both from 2001 and especially from its 1982 recording. As schizophonia deals with the fragmentation of sound and space, William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops offers a prime example of composers within the ambient musical genre using sonic and physical disintegration and fragmentation as a compositional element within their work.

In terms of the echo that characterizes the loops’ disintegration, LaBelle’s work becomes incredibly relevant: “the echo disorients and distracts; it wanders and returns in the same moment to confuse where we are and where we are going, […] [the echo] exaggerates the passing of sound, staging it as a performance” (2010, 7). Again, this is exemplified in the first track where from the beginning to approximately 50 minutes in, the tape has obscured and performed the original 1982 recording to its death. Jones believes “[m]usic is alive in time, and it is experiencing architecture as a flow in time that brings it alive” (2006, 25). Though he is writing in the context of sound in physical space, arguably, the same can be applied to the architecture of acoustic space defined previously by LaBelle. Around 33:30 on “dIp 3,” the loop begins consistently cutting in and out, struggling to sustain a full measure without interruption from the analog tape’s decay. Though whenever the loop stops, the echo remains and fills the acoustic space once occupied by the loop. Personally, this reminds of breathing, as the loop breathes normally when alive and well, yet struggles for breath as the tape disintegrates – exhaling with the loop, inhaling with the echo. In a sense, the loop continues to exist until its eventual death through the echo’s passing of sound, acting as smaller breaths and remnants of the original sound. Through notions of space, sound and echo, Basinski’s work provides an exemplary sonic experiment in the relationship between sound and space, and music and technology.

Writing about the track “Híbakúsja,” Ben Frost explains how the balance of sound mixing and compression is a delicate one within “the entire ecosystem of sound” (2010). As examples of modern ambient and electronic music, Frost’s By the Throat and Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops both explore the balance, binary and relationship of biophony and anthrophony. More specifically, these albums portray a soundscape in harmony and in conflict with natural sound and human noise, sound and space, and music and technology. The ecosystem of sound is large and expansive and to be continually influenced, all musicians should recognize the natural and human world as full of sound and musical life.

References

Connor, Steven. 1997. “The Modern Auditory I.” In Rewriting the Self: Histories from the Renaissance to the Present, edited by Roy Porter, 203-23. London, UK: Routledge.

Frost, Ben. 2010. “Ben Frost: Hibakusja.” Ableton. Last modified October 9, 2010. Accessed March 6, 2016. https://www.ableton.com/en/blog/ben-frost-livepack/

Jones, Stuart. 2006. “space-dis-place: How Sound and Interactivity Can Reconfigure Our

Apprehension of Space.” Leonardo Music Journal. 16: 20-27. Accessed March 5, 2016. https://muse.jhu.edu/journals/lmj/summary/v016/16.1jones.html.

Krause, Bernie. 2013. The Great Animal Orchestra. New York: Back Bay Books.

LaBelle, Brandon. 2010. Acoustic Territories: Sound Culture and Everyday Life. New York: Continuum Books.

Shafer, Murray R. 1993. The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. Rochester, VT: Destiny Books.

Simmons, Ian. 2002. “‘The disintegration loops’ by William Basinski, ‘Architectural commentaries’ by M Behrens.” NTHPosition. Accessed March 6, 2016. http://www.nthposition.com/thedisintegrationloops.php

themilkfactory. 2009. “INTERVIEW: BEN FROST Colours Of The Night.” Last modified November 16, 2009. Accessed March 6, 2016. http://www.themilkfactory.co.uk/st/2009/11/interview-ben-frost-colours-of-the-night/

Appendix:

  1. Ben Frost – “The Carpathians”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmrmYAmhI9w
  2. Chris Watson – “Adult Cheetah”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lteDfpNr0Y
  3. Ben Frost – “Ó God Protect Me”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kWMcGUtfQk
  4. “Híbakúsja”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugdFJw3lAa4
  5. “Leo Needs a New Pair of Shoes”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVPUHAogSeQ
  6. William Basinski – “dIp 1.1”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYOr8TlnqsY
  7. “dIp 3”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGddm-hw-Xc
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Gun as Reward: Sleeping Dogs

Contrary to all the E3, next-gen, Xbox Who and PSwhatever talk, I’ve begun to reach back and cherry pick numerous current generation games that had fallen under my radar in the past few years. Two months ago, I ran from the dark, and searched for light and batteries, as I stumbled my way through Alan Wake – a fantastic, bizarre trip that left me nostalgic for Twin Peaks, as well as striking my interest in watching True Detective (which is one show I need to rewatch a third time and gather some thoughts on). Recently, after finally finishing the reboot of Tomb Raider, with its fantastic combat but subpar plot, I was desperate to find another cheap, but engaging game. Moreover, I wanted to slap a gangster with a fish, take his face and shove it in a fish tank. My lucky day.

Sleeping Dogs, with its fish slapping, environmental attacks and incredibly satisfying combat, is a game with solid parts that are unfortunately better than the whole. The plot begins strong with Wei Shen’s moral, political, and emotional conflict between his double role as officer and gangster. However, it gradually weakens with Wei’s predictable breaking points, as Raymond and Pendrew (handler and boss) attempt to place restrictions on their recruited double agent. Personally, the dialogue, the mission structures, and Pendrew’s eventual double cross are so predictable, that outside of Jackie’s death there might not have been one genuine shock in Dogs.

Nonetheless, there is a hint of a unique narrative nugget wedged in all the “son of a bitch!” reveals and pseudo-moral dilemmas between working for and against the Sun On Yee (not that you have much of a choice). In almost every sandbox game (take your GTAs, your Saint’s Rows, your Mafias), guns are almost always first on the menu for illustrating your progression in the game. One can complete a tutorial, which possibly rewards the player with a gun. Maybe purchasing the weapon in-game itself – representing guns to be ‘a commodified, consumerist reward’ – allows you to keep a gun for the rest of the game. What I found refreshing and unique about Sleeping Dogs is that after five hours of gameplay (including spending time exploring Hong Kong, completing side missions), I finally found myself in control of a gun. It wasn’t after the opening cutscene and I didn’t buy a gun in a store with in-game currency. Using another man’s gun, the player (through Wei) is taught the game’s shooting mechanics shortly after Pendrew declares guns to be “something of a rarity in Hong Kong.” Thereafter, Wei hands the gun over to Pendrew, only to witness Pendrew’s first act of corruption in the story (framing a murder with Pang’s gun). In Sleeping Dogs, the gun (outside of successfully disarming an enemy) is not a reward.

In the game, or at least within the “Chain of Evidence” mission, guns and corruption are intimately connected. Wei’s boss claims his actions are “for the greater good,” which foreshadows Pendrew’s excuses to Wei when confronted about compromising Wei’s double agent status, and for killing Uncle Po. Through both instances – the gun tutorial and the endgame – Pendrew is seen acting “for [his] greater good,” while completely violating moral and ethical guidelines. To begin this main narrative element of Pendrew’s corruption with a gun, and to not allow for players to purchase or really keep a gun during extended free roaming is a refreshing and surprising decision from the developers and writers. However, criticism could be placed on the inclusion of earning points and power-ups for using guns and shooting enemies, but the game is supposed to be fun – not a political commentary on gun control or police corruption.

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The Role of Loss and Desperation in “The Last of Us”

The-Last-of-Us1

With a new generation of consoles approaching release, the current-gen is nearing its last leg of a fantastic final year. Tomb Raider and Bioshock: Infinite, to name only two, took well-established, beloved franchises and turned them on their heads. Providing a fresh interpretation and welcome mature change to raiding old archaeological sites, Tomb Raider was a solid rebirth of the series, a stylized and satisfying entry in the franchise. On the other hand, we have Bioshock: Infinite. A sci-fi, fantasy, time-travel orgy of unadulterated imagination, and clear, vivid imagery, with incredibly detailed and complex themes and motifs running throughout. It hardly grounded itself in reality, spreading the sky-world of Columbia into the vast unknown with concepts including fate, infinity, and parallel universes.

However, it is Sony’s first of their last two big exclusives to be released this year (the other being Beyond: Two Souls) that really troubled me in all the best ways. Oh, The Last of Us.
Grounded purely in reality, TLOU depicts a post-apocalyptic United States 20 years after the fall of humanity, with an organic plant-based disease to blame for the beginning of the end. ‘Cordyceps‘, “a genus of ascomycete fungi,” have evolved from mind-control of ants and other insects, to killer mind-control of human beings. The ‘infected’, as they’re called, have an obvious resemblance to zombies, though Naughty Dog made sure to provide enough differentiation, which ultimately makes for a cohesive, almost cyclical connection to the shattered world humanity struggles to survive in. With the infected having been taken over by nature, a biological disaster which humans were unable to control, the same has happened to their environment. Honestly, the infected are better suited to inhabit this new world than the survivors are. The world, the country, the cities and skyscrapers have all fallen to nature, similar to the infected. It’s interesting to note though who has lost (fallen) in this new world, and who has gained (risen).

There is a segment right before the final battle/climax of the single-player campaign that perfectly symbolizes the balance between loss and gain, falling and rising. Joel & Ellie, the two main characters of TLOU, happen upon a tower of giraffes. The two of them, myself included, were taken aback by the mammal’s beauty and grace, something that the world around them has lost. The experience of playing The Last of Us is one of constant loss. Not only are you losing precious time to deliver Ellie to the ‘Fireflies’, but you’re losing ammo, supplies, and health, as well. However, if one loses, one must gain too. Nature, plants, those giraffes – they have gained. Whether it’s freedom from humanity, an abundance of food or their evolutionary role, the giraffes showcased in Salt Lake City have gained so much from the fall of human beings.
~ As a quick aside: maybe that’s truly the amazement I’m feeling. A purely artificial, computer-generated video game can perfectly represent a restructuring of evolution, a recalibration of Earth’s biological clock. Humanity’s loss = nature’s gain.

As Joel, Ellie, and the player begin to experience more and more loss, desperation begins to set in. We witness it in Joel’s grizzly interrogation scene with the two Hunters. Having temporarily lost Ellie, Joel becomes frantically violent, yet calculated in his approach of extracting the necessary information. Joel loses his grasp on the man he once was. Taking specific lives in order to save the one he loves, Joel probably justifies his actions through his desperation and loss. Desperately trying to gain Ellie back, we see him pushed to the edge, which is similar to his actions at the very end of the game – killing the very innocent brain surgeon in order to retrieve Ellie. However, the accumulation of his loss and desperation acts as both the cause of his actions, and a justification for them.

Clearly, I really enjoyed this game. It has stayed with me well after completing it nearly two weeks ago due to how human the story is. It is such a realistic depiction of how Joel (a father figure) and Ellie (the estranged child/daughter figure) transform and struggle through their first year together in a post-apocalyptic world.
Easily, this will end up being one of my favourite games of all time – highly recommended.

Book Club: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

do androids dream… coverServing as the inspiration for Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic Blade Runner, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a well-paced and beautifully written piece of existential dystopian science fiction. Envisioning the year 2021, the novel details a haunting and desolate San Francisco of the future where owning an animal (real or electric) is a sign of status and humanoid robots are manufactured, patented and sold to emigrants of Mars. After the events of ‘World War Terminus’, a radioactive dust settled and made life near impossible in certain regions of Earth. Thus, those with money, class and status were given the opportunity to emigrate to Mars. We are told by main character Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter who ‘retires’ [kills] androids that have escaped Mars and live illegally on Earth, pretending to be their human counterparts, that Mars is the ideal settlement. Privileged living, essentially. However, in the eyes of the escaped androids, Mars is not all it’s cracked up to be.

This, however, is not meant to be a synopsis. This is a discussion and a collection of thoughts on the book as a whole.
Rick’s empathic conflict is the philosophical and moral foreground for most of the narrative. His inner conflict of empathy towards androids truly contrasts itself with his obsession of real vs. electric animals. It’s interesting to note that in order for Rick to buy the life he desires, and the animals he wants, whether they be real or electric, he must take the lives of the androids. He despises yet cherishes his electric sheep, he gives the electric sheep its life through taking an android’s life. Do Androids Dream… is full of give & take. Rick and Iran take the mood organ in order to give one another what they want – less depression, happy thoughts, a perfect marriage. Rachel gives her body in order to take Rick’s mind off of his list. Isidore gives himself over to all other Mercer-ites and takes the rock for Mercer. Hell, Rick takes the rock for his wife.
There is a constant giving and taking of life; real or fake.

About the toad – Rick was fooled by the realism of the electric toad. By not distinguishing between real or electric, Rick feels empathy towards this toad. He is empathic to all things that breathe or simulate breathing. The line has been blurred. The toad acts as a symbol for Rick’s character change – no longer does his empathy differentiate between real or electric.

In my opinion, PKD’s account of the year 2021 is much better than Ridley Scott’s. Far less polarizing, Dick engrosses the reader in this world with much more compelling characters and plot sequences.
A sad, lonely heart, but a heart nonetheless, is present throughout this book; real and electric.

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First Impressions: I Thought It Was Us but It Was All of Us

saltlandSaltland is the newest solo project from Rebecca Foon, a Montreal-based cellist, best known for her work in Thee Silver Mt. Zion, Esmerine and Set Fire to Flames. With this debut, I Thought It Was Us but It Was All of Us, Foon provides ethereal yet dark compositions, which become more haunting as the album pushes on. A corporeal weight seems to bear down upon the eight songs here. One can sense the heavy emotional elements at work within the performances, however the end result is minimalist and airy instrumentation, allowing much room to breathe. At the same time though, there is a prevailing tension, suffocating the listener. Clearly, it is an album of contradictions.

Ethereal yet heavy, light yet dark, airy yet claustrophobic, Saltland strikes a perfect balance between these two camps, encompassing a unique, natural mix of orchestral chamber music and ambient soundscapes. Noteworthy examples of these two styles blending together would be “Unholy” and “ICA”. Both “Colour the Night Sky” and “Hearts Mend” have a bass providing some momentum to the tracks, all the while being extremely brooding and swampy. I Thought It Was Us… is wonderfully varied, maintaining its central focus and styles of chamber/ambient/dream-pop and providing a mixture of interpretations of those styles.

Foon’s vocals are both used as an atmospheric tool, blending in with the haunting instrumentation, and as the perfect storyteller to these desolate soundscapes she has created. Mesmerizing and mournful, Foon subtly floats along these eight tracks. She is the sole, lonely survivor of the barren landscape depicted on the album cover. Scenes of vast, open and lifeless environments are conjured up whilst listening to this album. Abandoned farm houses. Open, cracked roads that have become swallowed up by weeds and bushes. These are the images that boldly fit with this album.

Stream the album here.
Saltland’s I Thought It Was Us but It Was All of Us comes out on May 14th via Constellation Records.

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First Impressions: You’re Nothing 

you're nothing album cover

Hailing from Denmark, Iceage is a young noise punk quartet that have garnered and sustained significant attention since early last year upon the release of their debut album, New Brigade. Their debut was highly successful and for good reasons. Released on Dais Records in the Western world, New Brigade had many influences crashing into one another, all at once, creating a noisy yet catchy post-punk sound. The four of them could blend quite nasty sounds during one section of a song, then turn it out around for a bright (& brittle) refrain (ie. Broken Bone). A great, diverse album fueled by angst-ridden aggression.

The group’s sophomore release, You’re Nothing, is an undoubtedly loud, raucous and abrasive affair, being much darker and more focused than the debut. One doesn’t need to look further than compare the closing tracks between the two records: “You’re Blessed” has transformed into “You’re Nothing”. Front man, Elias Bender Rønnenfelt ensures the listener is informed of this. Wailing and screaming bloody murder, the title track overtly states, “A rush of shame/A nervous touch/Since you’re to blame/you see you’re nothing”. There is also the relentless shouting of “Where’s your morals?” on “Morals”. Moments like these can be reinvigorating, reminding the listener of why they enjoy being sonically pummeled in the first place. However, while the new tone bodes well for the majority of tracks here, a few minor gripes can be held against this album.

Arguably, “It Might Hit First” is the muddiest, albeit the sloppiest track on here, with every element being almost indistinguishable from the other. It’s a dark, moody piece, heavily influenced by the noisier side of punk (Minor Threat/Black Flag/Big Black), but it doesn’t break out of that noise once during the track. One of the advantages Iceage had on its debut over other punk outfits is their knack of mixing different hardcore stylings together, having thrown great left hooks throughout New Brigade. Even though this album is focused, it can wane slightly too close to its influences and stretch its focus too far on a single song. For instance, rather than deviating from a noisy verse to a catchy punk chorus, each song will either be one main, focused style or another. In spite of that, when the mud clears, Iceage can be its most enjoyable. “In Hand” is a stellar, diverse track, which offers bouncy/jangly guitar melodies and an [always] acrobatic drum performance. Also, “Coalition” has to be one of their finest tracks. [EXCESS!]
Personally, the album would have turned out even better if it went down this indie/rock/punk/random genre-labeling road more often.
Overall, this is a tight and energetic offering from the young quartet. I can’t wait to dig into this album further and look forward to what Iceage releases in the [hopefully near] future.

You can stream the album here:
http://pitchfork.com/advance/27-youre-nothing OR listen to the tracks: “Coalition” and “Ecstasy”

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Late to the Party / No. 2

Founded & fronted by Virginia’s Jack Tatum, Wild Nothing combines many common sounds running rampant today in the indie music scene – Shoegaze/Dream pop/My Bloody Valentine, New Order, ‘we all know that Division’ reverb guitar/synth rock. However, within the warm, lush melodies and flexible rhythms, there is a sense of endearing passion for this type of music. Their song “Chinatown,” off of their Captured Tracks debut, Gemini, is a short & sweet piece, neatly presenting all of the elements that compose Wild Nothing’s sound. This unofficial video for the track is also great, just adorable (yet sad), and easily could have functioned as the official video. Piecing an abstract (in the sense that the two do not have any direct link) medium with another is one of my favourite examples of how much opportunity lies in video hosting sites. The boy & his dog compliment the song’s tone perfectly, even providing new meaning to ‘not being happy until “we’re running away”.
Wild Nothing sounds similar to Real Estate, DIIV, Youth Lagoon (sans e-drums) & maybe even MGMT?
Check out Nocturne‘s cut “Shadow” & an older tune “Summer Holiday”.

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Late to the Party / No. 1

Whilst scavenging through YouTube for new music, I stumbled upon King Krule/Zoo Kid’s tune “Out Getting Ribs”. A fantastic dark & moody piece, which sounds strangely youthful with its raw guitar & amateur, yet thoughtful vocals. The video has an interesting progression, as well, with Archy Marshall sporting a snarky smile at the beginning, which then, by the end, turns into a pained & beaten expression of ‘where the hell did I go wrong?’. It is as if he’s realized the problem with having ‘hate running through his blood’. He is uneasy with this realization.
In my opinion, it sounds similar to The Smiths, Mac DeMarco & maybe if Paul Banks’ solo project would stick to the deep, sonic goldmine that is Turn on the Bright Lights.
Also by King Krule, check out “Rock Bottom” & “The Noose of Jah City”.

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WU LYF / The 21st Century Band // Breakups

wulyflyfdeux

We Bros / WU LYF

WU LYF (World Unite Lucifer Youth Foundation) were a band hailing from Manchester, England. Describing their sound as ‘heavy pop’, the four-piece initially thrived and rose to indie-stardom by fabricating a sort of identity crisis of who or what the band/project actually was. A less abstract definition of their sound could entail ‘life-affirming indie-rock’, ‘joyously apocalyptic post-rock with wolf-like howls’ or any number of embarrassingly obnoxious combination of words. Beyond describing them in print, every song on WU LYF’s debut (and final) full-length LP, Go Tell Fire to the Mountain, soars over each progression laid out underneath them. On each of the 10 tracks, it was as if the guys were expecting the end of the world to be coming within a matter of minutes. Partial to the surreal imagery of vast open fields and beautiful destruction that could come from listening to their music, I was on board for all of this. At any moment whilst listening to the LP, I was willing to go and tell fire to the world, over the hills, over the mountain – in my car, at my desk, during dinner – it didn’t really matter.

But of course, WU LYF is now dead. Announced on November 24, a YouTube video with a previously unreleased track called “T R I U M P H” was uploaded by the band revealing many negatively held views on the trajectory of their career over the past two years. Only a few days after, they removed the video and deleted their Facebook account, erasing themselves from existence; and what a short existence that was. Along with many other ‘21st Century bands’, they became successful and buzz-worthy from smart usage of the Internet and social media. WU LYF were able to tour the world, perform on Letterman and end up on year-end lists in a short one-year span. However, does being a short-lived 21st Century musical act strictly mean you were able to quickly garner success and fame from using the Internet to your advantage? Or does it reflect a larger mentality that many new, young bands possess in this current musical climate?

Take, for example, Das Racist, who have also recently announced their break up on December 2. Seemingly appearing to be polar opposites, Das Racist’s Dapwell stated that the prolongation of not announcing their break up was for money reasons, a quick buck. This, contrasted to WU LYF’s break up (which contained a constant confirmation of their artistic integrity; the break up can be seen as having been that, or yet another act of opposition against the commodification of their music) actually shows an inherent similarity between the two bands splitting. New musicians/artists seem to have A.D.D. when it comes to staying with a band. Musical projects come and go more frequently than ever before (from Girls to Viva Brother [who don’t really count, do they!?]). This could be a direct result of the mentality that whatever is old and dull to merely dispose of it. Could that not be the same for bands? Instead of sticking it out, working through issues and tension, why not start something new? This is a good and bad thing. Good in obvious cases of MORE music from bands/individuals we enjoy. However, hardly any experience or material goes into these fast-lived projects until the members find new musical avenues to explore, new creative ventures to capitalize on. I think it’s only going to become more frequent as my generation of ‘plugged-in youth’ begins to make music.
Done / on to the next one, yeah?

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