Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mount Kimbie - Crooks & Lovers

The melody is always getting lost. Sounds come and go, showing off for a moment but no longer. Quickly swept aside for the next flashy turn to come round. Maybe the drum will kick back in. Maybe the vocal sample will loop back round. Maybe the DJ will breath really loudly into the mike. Perhaps it's just me but it seems like the best glitchy ambient dub step has a lot in common with the best hardcore crust punk. The music is always changing, finding some new angle, no matter how similar, everything gets ground together into an interesting mash of sounds.

Mount Kimbie have managed to do roughly that on their debut Crooks & Lovers. Most of the songs reach into the 4 minute range, which for this kind of glitchy music I find quite surprising. By glitchy I mean that everything is always changing. Every single sound of the song, and in any one of these songs there may be any number of different sounds, has been altered and screwed around with. The pitch may have been altered, may have been run through a filter, whatever needed to be done to flip it around into a variation that fit into the theme but is still weird enough to make you scratch your head consistently. And consistency is hard.

The songs are all so different which should not be a surprise anymore. The only thing they have in common is the fact that they are all constantly changing. I don't think a song stays the same for more than a 3 seconds at a time, if that. And that's what's fascinating. There isn't a lyricist to listen to, but that's about it. You can't say there's no beat because there is one obvious bangin' but it's constantly being morphed too. You can't say there are no solo's to enjoy because the whole piece is one large solo. Sometimes it gets a little quiet and subtle like in the middle of Before I Move Off before those chopped up voices come in but there's always layers of texture.

This is music that demands your attention. The amount of effort it would take to put this music together really comes together in a way that makes you sit up and take notice. It's not going to sit there nicely for you throbbing away to one beat all night long. It's going to mutate. It's going to get up off the floor and change into something completely new that you didn't see coming but seems perfectly right. The fluidity will draw you back in at the same time as the variety of the samples will make you pay attention. You may feel like your flying through space. Space is much more normal than this music.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Linkin Park - A Thousand Suns

What new major label  album features a half dozen minute long interludes, quotes from both Martin Luther King Jr. and Mario Savio, not to mention a distinct lack of guitars? Why the new Linkin Park album, A Thousand Suns

    If you approach this from the perspective that Linkin Park is a metal band with some rap and industrial influences then you will hate this album. There are virtually no heavy elements and those that exist come from techno and electronic music. But if you approach them as a group of people bringing their talents together to make something greater than they do individually there is something to this album. It moves them in a significant new direction. They have left behind the anger and guitars of their previous albums for a somewhat more subdued, electronic based, individualized music.

    This album doesn't feel like nearly as much like a group effort as their previous albums have. In the past the mixing of different sensibilities and tastes seemed seamless. The move between Mike Shinoda's rapping and Chester Bennington's singing was fluid and the music they built around that interplay worked very well. But the songs on this new album seem like single people. The seams have become obvious, the new songs don't fit together nearly as well. Songs like Wretches And Kings and When They Come For Me are basically hip hop songs with very little input from Chester. On the flip side there's opener Burning In The Skies and mid album skipper Robot Boy are all Chester with nothing from Mike. It's a problem that won't go away and doesn't allow the album to gel.

    It opens very strangely with two intro tracks and then the first song. It sounds like Chester's solo record but without the big chunky guitars. And most of the record sounds like that. They've traded in the majority of their anger and angst for lots of piano and really big synth sounds. The songs they write and the instrumentation has always lent itself to the grandiosity of stadiums and this music is no exception.

    There are some links back to what they've done before but they are few and far between. The opening song Burning In The Skies a somewhat typical Linkin Park feel but stripped of all aggression and bite. The only really angry song on the album is Blackout but even it is mostly devoid of guitars. Chester's angry vocals are  backed by several layers of highly distorted synths. Both the anger and distortion are under cut by a constant high piano plinking away. One of the best songs on the album Wretches And Kings is a straight up hip hop song and has the aforementioned Mario Savio quote. The only place a guitar shows up is for 3 beats on the chorus and Chester is relegated to the chorus and the bridge.

    If you listened to Linkin Park for the cathartic moments or for a shared experience of rage you will be sadly disappointed. But if you listen to hear what happens when six talented musicians get together and express their current reality you will be intrigued. If you've ever wondered what Linkin Park would sound like doing a  reggae song this is the album for you. This is a different side of Linkin Park, one that I'm not particularly fond of.

Downchild Blues Band Live At Showplace

    What can one say about the legendary Downchild Blues Band that hasn't already been said in their 40 year career? Their current lineup is a six piece and they are very tight. The energy and obvious joy behind the music makes you wonder if it's blues at all. Then Chuck Jackson sings something about being in love with two women at the same time and you're right back in the delta.
    They broke their two hour show into two sets with an intermission in the middle. After the intermission Donny Walsh, Mike Fitzpatrick the drummer, Gary Kendal on bass and Michael Fonfara on keyboard returned to the stage. Donny sang a few songs himself while wailing on the harmonica. The fact that the band works as a 6 piece or a 4 piece makes the fact that Donny can't sing rather irrelevant. These guys know how to play their style of music better than anyone whether they've got a full band or are stripped right down.
    They played a nice mix of old and new songs. They played some songs off their new album such as I Need A Hat, Somebody Lied and Down In The Delta. While there's nothing wrong with those songs, they don't have many miles on them. Because they are new songs they lacked the crowd response that pushes classics like Jump Right Up, Flip Flop & Fly and the singalong (I Got Everything I Need) Almost into high energy songs that you can't sit still to.
    Purists or traditionalists would not call this blues. This is blues with an obvious urban influence - a very strong, pounding beat that is missing from most traditional blues. The saxophone and keyboard add elements of rock and roll and even jazz into the mix. The way Donny plays guitar there isn't anything particularly bluesy about it unless it's slide so it's up to Chuck's voice to bring it all home, which he does every time.  Try sitting still when they blast through Jump Through Right Up, I guarantee you'll be on your feet by the end of the song.
    They all really get into the high energy music they make. Gary the bass player had a grin on his face for most of the show. Everyone is constantly moving around the stage talking to each other, making each other laugh as the song grooves. Chuck really gets into the music, jumping up and down and moving all over the stage releasing energy. If he wasn't singing he was playing the harmonica. Every so often Donny would put his guitar down and pull out another harmonica. When Chuck & Donny went at it on the double harmonica things really started to heat up. There are few things better than two older blues men just going at it on duelling harmonicas, the energy and skill required to really cook on a harmonica make for a great show.
    The dynamic range of the band is really quite remarkable. In Tell Your Mama they go from barn burning energy of all 6 pieces going at once down to just Donny softly playing his harmonica and then right back up. Everything revolves around Mr. Downchild: when he nods people solo, or a piece drops out or they all kick back in at high speed. Though he spent most of the show looking at his guitar and just shredding he was clearly in command of the stage.
    Donny Walsh has been leading Downchild for more than 40 years now. And it shows. They are truly a tight, together combo that knows the ins and outs of the music they play. The music is high energy; it's a fun show and both the audience and the band knows it. You don't go to a Downchild show to sit in the back and nod your head to the overwhelming beat. You have to get up and dance until the last song has faded from the amps.  These guys know how to put on a strong, entertaining show and they did just that.