On Amon Tobin:
Amon Tobin well impersonated the classical composer in the hip-hop age. Instead of composing symphonies for orchestras, Tobin glued together sonic snippets using electronic and digital equipment. Adventures in Foam (1996)… and especially his aesthetic manifesto and masterpiece, Bricolage (1997), unified classical, jazz, rock and dance music in a genre and style that was universal. Tobin warped the distinctive timbres of instruments to produce new kinds of instruments, and then wove them into an organic flow of sound. Tobin kept refining his art of producing amazingly sophisticated and seamless puzzles on Permutation (1998), Supermodified (2000) and, best of his second phase, Out From Out Where (2002). Once he had exhausted the possibilities of instruments and samples, Tobin turned to found sounds and field recordings as the sources for The Foley Room (2007), without basically changing style…
Tobin’s studies on timbre should also not be overlooked. The apparently unassuming “Defocus” is actually a new kind of symphony. Tobin warps the distinctive tone of an instrument to produce a new kind of instrument, and then weaves a few of them (a bee-like violin, a distorted bass, UFO-sounding flutes) into an organic flow of sound. It is, in fact, one of the most significant innovations since Beethoven added a choir to a symphony.
Needless to say, jazz fuels and dresses these compositions. However, Tobin does to jazz what Picasso did to impressionism: it uses only discrete fragments of the image to reconstruct the whole. Furthermore, it is never the only or main element. For example, the sax solo of “Wires And Snakes” coexists with industrial metronomic pulses and with soothing ambient waves of electronics.
On Venetian Snares:
He pioneered his trademark “breakcore” style of complex, brutal, distorted, skittering, whirling drum programming (with a manic passion for the 7/4 time signature and often only consisting of “clicks and cuts”) on Printf(“shiver in eternal darkness/n”)…
Doll Doll Doll was the album that established him as a major influence on the rest of the electronic dance scene… “Pressure Torture” sounds like… a violent videogame soundtrack, a dadaistic free-jazz horn fanfare, an expressionist drama in which someone is crying alone, whipping bursts of distorted electronic from a Stockhausen concerto. Intimidating and visceral, the music lives simultaneous lives that collide with each other while feeding into each other…
The “Hungarian” album Rossz Csillag Allat Szuletett introduced strings, horns and piano (sometimes omitting the rhythm altogether) in order to structure the chaos into emotional and melodic “songs”. The discovery of melodrama signaled a complete change in psychology, from punk terrorist to nostalgic dreamer and existential philosopher… Both the intricacy of the beats and the emotion of the orchestra culminate with the nine-minute “Ketsarku Mozgalom,” that includes an intermezzo with samples of natural sounds and of human voices.
On DJ Spooky:
Songs Of A Dead Dreamer was the work that established him, a highly intellectual essay of studio music. His electronic compositions explore the least visited interstices of genres such as ambient, dub, electronica, trip hop, drum’n’bass. Spooky represents a generation of disc jockeys who have overcome the limits of their profession and are becoming music makers as erudite as avantgarde composers. In these tracks Spooky often displays the diabolic imagination of a Morton Subotnick… Spooky’s album set a milestone because it transcended the genre and created austere, chamber music where there used to be only trivial dance grooves…
Miller the erudite musicologist reached full circle with his tribute to 20th century avantgarde, File Under Futurism, performed with help from the avantgarde ensemble Freight Elevator Quartet. Cubist paintings come to mind before futurist symphonies. “File Under Futurism” appends a cello sonata to a thick texture of frantic, syncopated beats. The grinding tempo of “Experimental Asyncronicity” is subjected to all sorts of tortures and degradations by instruments whose timbre has been warped to the limit and by electronic effects that sound as unpleasant as sledgehammers and caterpillars… This is a delicious excursion off the beaten track that showcases Miller’s potential as a full-fledged composer.
…With Optometry Miller realizes another milestone recording, one which marks a new beginning in jazz music. The difference between live and sampled music is blurred to the point of being meaningless. The jazz quartet of Matthew Shipp on piano, William Parker on bass, Joe McPhee on sax and trumpet and Guillermo Brown on drums delivers incendiary ballad-oriented jams that Miller dresses up with invisible maquillage… The 11-minute “Optometry” opens with a random sequence of sounds, a futuristic collage of mechanical nonsense. Then a violin intones a sentimental melody, only to be interrupted by a DJ. A deep funk groove and drum’n’bass ambience briefly transport the song to the dance floor, before the violin regains its melancholy lead. The rhythm mutates into syncopated hip-hop, the piano plunges into cacophony, the horns concoct a childish rigmarole, and the bacchanal continues unimpeded, like a colossal rehearsal for some grotesque symphony.
“Periphique” is a sonata worthy of atonal classical music, each instrument playing against the other while contributing to the overall flowing and ebbing of dementia, until the strumming turns into a weak, frail, tenuous melody. “Periphique” is not chaos for the sake of chaos: it is organized chaos that favors emergent structure.
Extraterrestrial piano playing, booming bass, romantic sax solos, neurotic drumming are all blended in sophisticated textures that capture the zeitgeist of the early 21st century.
Post-rock was clearly more “instrumental” than “vocal”, and Rachel’s merely formalized this fact with an all-instrumental format and a chamber ensemble built around Rodan’s guitarist Jason Noble, pianist Rachel Grimes and viola player Christian Frederickson. Handwriting (1995) augmented the rock trio with strings and keyboards, but, rather than aiming for an orchestral sound, it downplayed the multitude of “voices” in favor of an artful exploration of timbres, while the narrative languished somewhere between the Clubfoot Orchestra’s dark soundtracks (minus the expressionistic overtones) and the Penguin Cafe’ Orchestra’s minimalist dances (minus the nostalgic and exotic factors). By the time of The Sea And The Bells (1996), this somber hybrid had evolved into hermetic and severe avantgarde music.
On Lofty Pillars:
Caught in a time warp, the Lofty Pillars’ Amsterdam mirrors the experience of the Penguin Cafè Orchestra, attempting a fusion of old-fashioned sounds and modern aesthetic values while offering performances worthy of classical music. Will Hendricks and Krassner sing in a plaintive tone that is reminiscent of Leonard Cohen. Hendricks on piano, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello, Jen Paulsen on viola, Jessica Billey on violin, Kyle Bruckman on english horn, and many others make up an impressive chamber ensemble. Amsterdam manages to find a common ground between classical lied, Brecht-ian cabaret, Broadway showtune, lounge music and exotica, and Krassner’s tale soars with a magic melancholy that bridges fairy tales and obituaries… Overall, this is a rarity: an album that is both truly enjoyable and highly creative. Krassner and Hendricks rank among the most important songwriters of the new century.
Low Kick And Hard Bop is another fantastic excursion through the swamps of cross-stylistic experimentation. Armed with a glorious “home-made” attitude, Solex shows all the Bjorks and Madonnas of the world what “class” is.
…The album is an endless cornucopia of musical inventions and funny disguises, a wild merry-go-round of surreal/noir vignettes… and weird singalongs.
Solex has invented a new concept of rhythm and a new concept of arrangement. Her rhythm is continuously shifting, accelerating and decelerating, jumping from one percussion to the other. Her arrangement is mostly made of fragments, each instrument playing only a few notes at the time. The scores of her songs are sonic puzzles that she herself finds difficult to follow: one often gets the feeling that the voice gets lost in the concept. The result is beautifully insane.
…Laughing Stock Of Indie Rock is another dizzying collection of songs built by Esselink out of collages of samples, another painstaking, almost surgical, “cut and paste” tour de force… Each song is different and unique, and the most successful recombinants also manage to be personal: Solex knows how to bring her abstract art back to Earth, and, in fact, back to her own intimate daily life, to her own bedroom. Few composers can turn a cold, artificial art of puzzle recomposition into a warm, personal art of personality decomposition. She’s the anti-Lydia Lunch, warm and funny even when performing heart surgery.
[Animal Collective] debuted with the tenderly dissonant post-psychedelic electronica of Spirit They’re Gone Spirit They’ve Vanished. This extraterrestrial android vaudeville evokes the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev in their most anarchic ventures. The shorter pieces simply revel in their accustomed eccentricity… The longer pieces, though, toy with creative processes to construct a song and let it evolve into something else. Buzzing electronics and terse piano notes slowly coalesce into the tender piano-based elegy of “Penny Dreadfuls.” The simple lullaby over vibrating organ of “Chocolate Girl” picks up strength as it goes, incorporating a loud bass, syncopated drumming and pastoral guitar, while the keyboards sound more and more alien. The 13-minute “Alvin Row” unleashes dissonant free-jazz jamming, a vibrant piano sonata, snippets of circus motifs, vocal sounds that are not quite singing and a samba-like percussive frenzy. It is all (deliberately) chaotic and unfocused, but nonetheless gentle. It is hard to pinpoint the rhythms and the arrangements, although the melodies are quite hummable and even serene. Cacophonous rock music had always been a game of subverting everything, while Animal Collective only subverts the instrumental parts.
…Having suddenly become darlings of the critics that had ignored them at the beginning, Animal Collective delivered a wild-mannered album, Strawberry Jam, to satisfy the late-comers and to start testing the masses…
Merriweather Post Pavilion continued the trend towards a more conventional (and guitar-less) song format, packaged in a sleek, multi-layered production… They have even become predictable. Only the bands of synth-pop have employed so many keyboard sounds to create such simple pop ditties.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor, a large ensemble from Montreal, revolutionized instrumental rock with the three slow-building compositions of F♯ A♯ ∞ (1998): they were not melodic fantasies (too little melodic emphasis), they were not jams (too calculated), and they were not symphonies (too low-key and sparse), but they were something in between. Emotions were hard to find inside the shapeless jelly, dark textures and sudden mood swings. The four extended tracks of Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven (2000) were more lively, but no less enigmatic, alternating baroque adagios for chamber strings, majestic psychedelic crescendos, martial frenzy, noise collages and, for the first time, tender melodies. Yanqui UXO (2002) was a collection of glacial, colorless holograms with no dramatic content, massive black holes that emitted dense, buzzing radiations.
…Previous Godspeed compositions [before Yanqui UXO] would ebb and flow, and eventually explode via a dramatic sequence of volume shifts: now they simply catalog their own existence. It is not difficult to imagine how this works. The band meets in the studio with a database of sound effects and arrangements that they want to introduce in the song. The song is shaped not based on a concept of what the song should be but on the database of sounds. In order to fit all the ideas, the song has to stretch over several minutes. There is no “song”: there is only a container of sounds. This is no longer a rock band in search of a sensational effect: this is a chamber ensemble in search of transcendental counterpoint.
Circle was a mostly instrumental Finnish post-metal combo… [which] adopted a stance that wed progressive-rock, metal riffs, repetitive patterns a la Steve Reich’s minimalist music, “motorik” rhythms ala Neu, and (occasionally) even new-age trance.
…Andexelt drifted… towards a stately form of prog-rock that balanced drone-heavy music and riff-heavy music. If the result is rather obnoxious in “Andexelt” and in the nine-minute “Odultept,” which one could basically compose by simply pressing the “autorepeat” button, the rest tends to be even too varied and diverse…
Prospekt faced the same problem of wrapping cute ideas around what would otherwise be tedious repetition…
On Stars of the Lid:
The Tired Sounds Of Stars Of The Lid… explores melody and movement and it displays a more formal and austere posture… Technically, this is music for a single instrument. Whatever the sources are, they are fused in one multi-faceted sound (a sort of cosmic wave) that acts as the only instrument (with an otherwordly effect). There is a majesty and a grandeur to these pieces that recalls Messiaen’s sacred music for organ. This is a culmination of sort, as the duo veers from its psychedelic/ambient/noise (basically, rock) beginnings towards a more classical form and more classical structures.
On Pan Sonic:
With [A (1999)], Mika Vainio and Ilpo Vaisanen have composed a very poetic work, one that injects feelings in the industrial, futuristic and gothic wasteland that they have been roaming for years. Their super-fusion of dub, illbient, jungle, techno, rock, soul and jazz is no longer a mere nonsense, or a mere mathematical puzzle, it is also a grand view on a magnificent land that lies still ahead.
…Aaltopiiri (2001) collects avantgarde pieces and brief (albeit no less sophisticated) vignettes of Pan Sonic’s aural minimalism. The “music” is often subsonic and unfocused, a stripped-down, faint soup of beats, scrapes, clicks, clangs and (yes) silence. It doesn’t seem to know where it is going. It simply toys a few seconds with an electronic effect, then dumps it for another one. Every move is elegant and calibrated, but also fragile… This is electronic music of ideas, but terribly little substance. One wonders how difficult it is to play this kind of compositions when equipped with the same expensive instrumentation. Britney Spears may be more authentic a phenomenon than Pan Sonic. This is electronic music for the thrill of it. The word “self-indulgent” doesn’t even come close to what this duo is.
…Kesto (2004) is a monumental four-cd box-set, for a grand total of 234 minutes, that stands as an ideal compendium of the project over the years… The sheer amount of studio techniques employed by the duo is awe-inspiring. In a sense, this album is also a compendium of the civilization of 2004, a representation of the contemporary zeitgeist, of the state of humanity. This is not an album for people to listen to, but a message to be decoded by future generations.
On Spice Girls:
The British female quintet Spice Girls were the most famous musical act in their country throughout the second half of the 1990s, starting with the hit “Wannabe” (1996) and selling more than 20 million copies of the awful albums Spice (1996) and Spiceworld (1997). The Spice Girls were as silly as the Beatles, and as popular in the British tabloids, but never learned how to write a decent melody.
After four years of marriages, babies and divorces, they returned with Forever…
Just like the Beatles, the Spice Girls had already proved their worth with their side projects: Melanie C’s Northern Star (1999) and Melanie B’s Hot (2000) are as dull as Paul McCartney’s solo albums.
On Add N To (X):
Add N To (X) are in splendid form on On the Wires of Our Nerves (Mute, 1998). The music is made of artsy beats and noises and evokes a dark, claustrophobic, teutonic fantasy of mechanical monsters gone mad. The beeps, blips, squeals and squeaks are played with a raging fury and a cold determination. Such punk retro-futurism owes a debt to a variety of rock and pseudo-rock ensembles: Mother Mallards, Tangerine Dream, Suicide, Cabaret Voltaire, Kraftwerk, Devo and, more recently, Atari Teenage Riot.
…Their battery of analogue keyboards plays different roles at the same time: the guitar solo of heavy metal, the forceful drumming of punk-rock, the shouting of rhythm and blues. This album summarizes the a big chunk of the history of electronic instruments. The academic and the street cultures have never been so close. This isn’t electronica, just like Led Zeppelin’s was not blues. They discovered a new, rougher and deeper, dimension of electronica, just like Led Zeppelin discovered a new, rougher and deeper, dimension of blues. They discovered “hard electronica” just like Led Zeppelin discovered “hard rock.”
On Cibo Matto (Google translated):
Viva La Woman (1996) is an extravagant act of interdisciplinary rock (once again entirely dedicated to food), which mixes stereotypes of all genres in a creative and ironic way. The only constant is that smooth hip-hop cadence, deviating towards trip-hop, which spreads amoebic on all the songs. The rest is always unpredictable. In “Apple” the sensual and anemic singing, the esoteric ceremonial cadence, the hard-rock riffs could not be worse assorted. “Beef Jerky”‘s rap is a nursery rhyme on a dreamlike electronic background. You find them multiply. “Know Your Chicken” rings a chorus of little girls and a complicated interplay of dissonances, sticks and breaks. “Theme” (ten minutes) he pulls a bit of everything out of the trunk, exotic polyrhythms and clownish lines of wind instruments, distorted music boxes and “found” noises. “Artichoke,” a compromise between the random music of John Cage and the meditative music of the new age, unravels a comic story with a very serious tone that drags itself between broken piano and flute chords. A triumph is “Sugar Water,” complete with ghost warbling, underwater organ and refrain “la” from the soundtrack of the ’60s. The songs are not structures, plots, logics, but only combinations of sound gestures.
On Elf Power (here):
Elf Power’s A Dream In Sound (1999), their best album, was fundamentally bubblegum music: cheesy pop for brainless people. Nonetheless, it was the elegance and the decorum that still made it unique even within that garbage can.
The three Hanson boys (including 11-year old drummer Zac), sons of oil financier Walker Hanson… were catapulted to fame as the “next big thing” of teen pop, the genre that is based on vocal harmonies (lead vocals of 13-year old Taylor Hanson, the middle brother) and catchy hooks. Like the Beatles, they are tv-friendly. Like the Beatles, they are clearly inspired by the teen idols of the 1950s. Like the Beatles, they all sing (gorgeously) and play (badly). Like the Beatles, their music is as generic and derivative as it can be.
But the single that established them outdid the Beatles at their own game: “MMM-Bop” is top-quality bubblegum of the Monkees and Motown era.
Justin Timberlake went on to become one of the most famous pop stars of the 2000s, one of the most obnoxious white singers of all times who delivered some of the most ridiculous muzak of all times on Justified (2002), sculpted by the Neptunes, and FutureSex/LoveSounds (2006), mostly created by producer Timothy “Timbaland” Mosley… Timberlake was widely considered divine punishment for those who had criticized Michael Jackson.
On Vas Deferens Organization (partly Google translated):
The Dallas collective Vas Deferens Organization, or VDO, founded by New Orleans-natives Matt Castille and Eric Lumbleau, highlighted the link between psychedelic culture and the century-old cultures of dadaism and futurism. They specialized in a form of narrative nonsense for electronics and percussions that relied on a vast sonic puzzle. The three mad suites of Transcontinental Conspiracy (1996)… fluctuated between the most childish compositions of Frank Zappa and the most daring pieces of the classical avantgarde… The disc can be placed quietly next to the most important works of avant-garde music.
…The music [on Saturation] is wildly improvised, now with free-jazz intensity and transcendent worthy of the Mahavishnu Orchestra… Vas Deferens go far beyond psychedelic rock. This is avant-garde music, inspired by the most radical experiences of free-jazz and Dadaism. The album sins here and there of naivety, but the couple shows an impressive talent.
…The Vas Deferens Organization returns with… Zyzzybaloubah, which contains five long suites. Not only is the music more studied and produced in a more professional way, but each part is played with a care and diligence that are unusual for psychedelic punks and are more suitable for conservatives if anything. VDO allows themselves more space (time) to develop their ideas in depth. The excited collages of the previous album are transformed into organic streams of sound.
On Acid Mothers Temple (here):
The most prolific of this prolific Japanese school of space-rockers was, by far, Makoto Kawabata, the (demented) brain and the (logorrheic) guitar behind Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O.… Throughout his gargantuan odyssey Kawabata displayed an omnivorous knowledge of the history of underground music (including countless puns in the titles of his compositions), so much as that his entire oeuvre could be seen as one life-long tribute to the genre.
On Wolf Eyes:
Inheriting Throbbing Gristle’s aesthetics of industrial chaos, and the brutal, visceral, dissolute abrasiveness of post-psychedelic improvisers such as F/I and Gravitar, Wolf Eyes… crafted frantic, distorted, violent trancey electronic soundscapes on Wolf Eyes… and Dread…
After dozens of live cassettes and CDs… Wolf Eyes’ reputation was established by Burned Mind (Sub Pop, 2004), a better organized and recorded work whose distorted pounding vignettes… impressed those who had never heard industrial music and Chrome. However, the album still contained some extreme pieces such as the hyper-psychedelic guitar freak-out “Burned Mind” and “Rattlesnake Shake,” that harkened back to Gordon Mumma’s musique concrete. The eight-minute “Black Vomit” sounded like an expressionist kammerspiel drenched in muriatic acid.
Their ability to release more than 50 works in less than 7 years has little to do with their artistic value (which remains very low). Amateurish and uninspired collages such as Deranged, Lung Malfunction and Six Arms and Sucks give the avantgarde its bad reputation.
Tara Burke [aka Fursaxa] joined the vast army of psychedelic folk music that roamed the USA in the 2000s. Like all prolific artists this side of Beethoven, though, her albums tend to contain too much amateurish fluff.
On Andrew Bird:
…the dizzying stylistic whirlwind of The Mysterious Production Of Eggs, a collection of elegant and catchy ditties that sound like the ultimate synthesis of the decade… Bird has un uncanny sense of how to remodel the old-fashioned… that he translates into sonic delight. Will Oldham is the troubadour of alt-country, Jeff Buckley was the intimate psychologist, Devendra Banhart is the gentle psychedelic bard, Rufus Wainwright is the sophisticated popsmith. Andrew Bird is all of them at the same time: master of deeply-felt singing, master of layered arrangements, master of lyrical imagery, master of celestial melodies, master of the bizarre and of the subtle.
On Jessica Bailiff:
These are weak melodies, left adrift in scanty harmonies, the musical equivalent of aborted foetuses, songs that die before being born.
Half of the album is taken by “Perception,” a twenty-minute composition which begins like a suite of avantgarde electronics and after seven minutes detonates in a colossal guitar riff (and towards the end turns into a minimalist raga). Bailiff may be trying to tell us she’s not just a singer songwriter.
…Jessica Bailiff (2002) opens a new front, by introducing a theory of art as a childish / sophisticated dichotomy. This is basically consistent with the previous albums, although it emphasizes the introspective aspects and downplays the musical aspects. The songs are, mostly, stripped down, and her angelic litanies often sound like psychedelic ballads; not because they refer to drugs, but simply because they are oddly devoid of structure… These lieder for guitar and noises are amazingly effective at reducing the emotional intensity while doubling the emotional disorientation. It is a mesmerizing experiment in cognitive psychology that leaves the listener wondering what happened. Only once does Bailiff use her technique to craft a conventionally Mazzy Star-ian, slo-core ballad… The rest is simply supernatural.
Norway’s black-metal band Ulver debuted with Bergtatt (1994). Both its arrangements (keyboards and flutes) and their vocals (mostly in the regular rock register) shunned the cliches of the genre and flirted with Scandinavian folk. On the other hand, they showed they could be a ferocious black-metal gang on Nattens Madrigal (1996)… Then they proceeded to create an “electronic black metal” with the double-disc colossal Themes From William Blake’s The Marriage Of Heaven & Hell (1998), an ambitiously diverse collection that introduced elements of techno and industrial music. Even trip-hop leaked into Perdition City (2000).
Teachings In Silence collects… two of their most experimental works, closer to collages of musique concrete than to metal riffs.
…After toying with electronica, techno beats, prog-rock dynamics, etc, Ulver summarized all their influences on the stylistic fusion of Blood Inside (2005), running the gamut from industrial to ambient music, from downtempo dance music to doom metal, and spicing everything up with sampled snippets of jazz, blues, classical music, continuously recasting black metal into wildly different frameworks. The orgiastic whirlwinds of “Christmas” and “It is not Sound” and postmodernist collages such as “In The Red” lay the foundations for the final truculent hymn, “Operator.”
Japanese quartet Sigh… is a black-metal outfit that started out in a derivative style… but soon coined its own language with the insane Hail Horror Hail (1997), a work that mixed metal and neoclassical orchestration. Scenario IV – Dread Dreams (1999) and Imaginary Sonicscape (2001) were unpredictable works that borrowed as much from progressive-rock as from the chaotic plots of kung-fu films.
Matmos is a San Francisco electronic duo… whose electronica is built around sampling non-musical objects (i.e., “field recordings”)…
…Unlike previous albums that ran the gamut of sound collages, A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure (2001) is based on only one organic source: sounds taken from hospitals. Sampled sounds include the breathing of patients while the surgeons operated them, the vibrations of a human skull and the flow of blood in the jugular vein. For example, “Lipostudio” features a duet for human fat and clarinet. Emotions leak through the digital crackles, though. “Lipostudio” is, first and foremost, a fluid jam of funky-jazz syncopation, hip-hop beats and iterative keyboards, with a lounge-bluesy coda (a conversation piece, a crowing rooster, sitar drones, a slow shuffle)… Having mastered the technique, Matmos, the main electronic terrorists of their time, are now beginning to play romantic music.
…The Marriage Of True Minds (2013) Matmos came up with another demented idea, implemented over a period of four years: to compose music based on what some people responded when told that the Matmos duo had sent them telepathic messages; Cage’s “aleatoric” method further diluted and randomized. The result is surprisingly user-friendly in the case of “You,” which sounds like a Laurie Anderson-ian piano-based litany that even turns into orgiastic dance music…
…Ultimate Care II (2016) [was] composed entirely from sounds of their washing machine, recorded in the basement of their home in Baltimore. The piece begins as a form of audio-verite’, with the sound of water entering the machine and the rhythmic rotation of the machine’s drum, but that motion is soon manipulated to become a sort of relentless African rhythm. This disintegrates in six minutes and then we are left with a wasteland of chaotic radio signals and scavanging radioactive creatures. A rumble silences the landscape and the African-esque rhythm of the machine returns, louder and louder. As the pitch shifts, this begins to sound like a ritual dance by a pack of wild apes. A shower of hissing electronic drones resets the rhythm to a softer pitch. Eight minutes from the end, the machine’s rhythm becomes a metallic drumbeat, and then more of the machine’s mechanisms are revealed in an orgy of clockwork noise that evokes the image of a sweating dj acrobatically playing with his turntable. This could be their masterpiece.
On System of a Down:
System Of A Down (1998) introduced a violent approach to social commentary, reminiscent of the hysteria of the old punk-rock school but enhanced with metal riffs and assorted sonic detours… The six-minute “Mind” is the vocalist’s tour de force, running the gamut from whisper to roar and dragging the music into an emotional black hole.
Toxicity (2001) is another batch of visceral, vibrant anthems… with occasional bursts of melodic fits… The overall effect is disorienting, like being hit by a thousand monsters in a dark room…
Mezmerize (2005), the first half of a diptych, is both an extremely complex and an extremely violent experience. Basically, it is progressive-rock played by a hardcore punk band in a way to resemble the frenzy of a million post-industrial monsters. Ultimately, it is a rare example of brainy fury.
On Polyphonic Spree:
Polyphonic Spree is a large group from Dallas (Texas) that includes a small orchestra (keyboards, percussions, bass, guitar, flute, trumpet, trombone, etc) and a gospel-like choir, for a grand total of between 20 and 25 musicians… The Beginning Stages… is pure grandiose sugary pop, bordering on children’s music, defying even the most shameless melodies of Peter Cetera-period Chicago, Electric Light Orchestra and Dark Side-era Pink Floyd. The arrangements are layered and slightly exaggerated, like in a parody of the Flaming Lips, a technique that Brian Wilson and VanDyke Parks would die for. And then massive tidal waves of vocals come to sweep the music away.
On K-Pop (here):
During the 1990s Korea witnessed the boom of teen idols, known as the “K-pop” phenomenon. It originated with the boy band H.O.T., whose youngest member Jae-won Lee was just 16, a group reminiscent of the Backstreet Boys and the Jackson Five. Their first album We Hate All Kinds of Violence (1996) spawned their second single “Candy,” which became their first major hit… The five-piece group Big Bang skyrocketed to national fame with “Lies,” off first EP Always (2007)… Their third album, Made (2016), mostly composed and produced by G-Dragon like the EPs, delivered a record 18 number-one hits. By 2018 they had sold over 140 million records. Then came the deluge: Wonder Girls (2007), Girls’ Generation (2007), Kara (2007), which in 2008 added Goo Hara, Shinee (2008), which included Jonghyun, 2NE1 (2009), 4Minute (2009), T-ara (2009), f(x) (2009), which included Sulli, After School (2009), 100%, which included Seo Minwoo, etc. Then the deaths started happening, mostly suicides: Ahn So Jin in 2015, Jonghyun in 2017, Seo Minwoo in 2018, Sulli and Goo Hara in 2019… And several K-pop stars got themselves into trouble with the justice, notably Joon-young Jung and Jong-hoon Choi were convicted in 2019 of gang raping drunk unconscious women.
German quartet Banaroo delivered one of the most demented dance-pop anthems of all times, “Dubi Dam Dam” (2005). It was the only decent track on Banaroo’s World (2005). The follow-up album was even worse. But that first anthem is a masterpiece.
On roots-rock of the 2000s (here):
Generally speaking, it wasn’t easy to say something still relevant with roots-rock in the age of the laptop. Nor was it easy to relate to the rustic values of small-town America when the vast majority of the population now lived in big cities (only 20% still lived in rural areas). In a sense roots-rock was forced to undergo the evolution that Western movies had to undergo in the 1960s, when a moral shift left John Wayne in the dust the way no bandit or crook could have done on screen.
Interpol’s first album, Turn on the Bright Lights, is, first and foremost, a very cohesive work of art. The recording wraps the songs in a dark, somber, claustrophobic, dystopian sound, as if they were coming from an ominous distance, something akin to Public Image Ltd ‘s existential dub but with the rage of punk-rock still percolating through the latex of neurosis. Kessler is particularly impressive in the way he uses the guitar to “color” each song with a different mood. His style is a masterful synthesis of minimalistic repetition and of psychedelic droning… The attitude of the band is unassuming but the scope of their music is colossal. Throughout the album, the band abuses cliches from the Velvet Underground and the REM, but, when the results are so enchanting, even the abuse is a welcome practice.
Colleen’s meticulous assemblage of sampled records yielded fragile textures of ambient folktronica drenched in nostalgia. The range of moods is broad and unpredictable, from the pastoral, zither-driven, bird-infested “Everyone Alive Wants Answers” to the funereal, Venetian adagio “In The Train With No Lights” via the cartoonish “Long Live Mice In The Metro.” It’s like being consistently lulled inside an old discolored photograph of children playing in the schoolyard. We wake up inside a film soundtrack of the 1960s (“Ritournelle”) and then inside a cyborg’s auditory system (“One Night and It’s Gone”); the we go to sleep lulled by angelic music (“I Was Deep in a Dream and I Didn’t Know it”) and by the carillons of European townhall’s belltowers (“Babies”); and we dream of a cacophonous and droning soundscape with a pulsating beat (“A Swimming Pool Down The Railway Track”). Then we wake up again when the cuckoo clock strikes the hour (“Nice And Simple”) and the whole universe has changed, because every day is a magical illusion.