5 Music Reviews
by dave heaton
Architecture in Helsinki, Fingers Crossed (Bar None)
Architecture in Helsinki's album Fingers Crossed is one of the rare pop albums that manages to appeal to the side of me that just wants to hear lovely, pretty sounds and the side of me that wants intellectually stimulating music that sounds like nothing I've heard before. Fingers Crossed opens with a very new-wave synth melody, but the album's overall sound is an ever-shifting mix of indie-pop, folk, electro-pop, and what have you. The songs are tender and emotional but also have a surrealist streak, and they're played with a sweet sort of unbound creativity on a wide assortment of instruments. The 7-member band, augmented by another handful of guest musicians, uses synthesizers, guitars, bass, drums, trumpet, trombone, tuba, glockenspiel, flute, clarinet, and much more, including cello and viola on one song and a sampler on another. The collaborative approach and orchestral sound recalls the spirit of the 60s perhaps, but the overall sound is nothing but the present and future. Recorded across Australia in bedrooms, spare rooms, gymnasiums and farmhouses, Fingers Crossed finds Architecture in Helsinki taking a DIY approach to crafting something completely new. Their build-your-own-future approach really works. Fingers Crossed is heartfelt and pretty, but also challenging and fresh.
Black Dice, Miles of Smiles EP (DFA)
There's some kind of kick that today's experimental bands get from taking gadgets and using them to emulate the sounds of nature. The title track of Black Dice's Miles of Smiles EP (the predecessor to their upcoming second full-length Creature Comforts) is a recent example. The NYC-based group always takes a punk-rock approach to making electronic/noise/ambient pieces using god-knows-what pedals and gadgets; on "Miles of Smiles" that nonconformist side has them creating insect sounds and processing them into some kind of bizarre party in the woods. Intriguing stuff, but the second half of the 30-minute EP is even better. "Trip Dude Delay" opens with a quiet but ear-piercing sound that signals the start of a gently noisy dreamscape that's gorgeous and eerie, like a Philip Glass backdrop to a haunted house filled with the ghosts of car-crash victims. It gets frenzied for a while, with the group madly improvising, and then settles into gentle percussion at the end, soothing your feedback-kissed ears.
Maleza, Lado A (self-released)
"El Tema de Toto," the first track on Maleza's album Lado A, sounds like several different sorts of rock n' roll tracks weaved into each other, like a heavy, dark psychedelic freakout leading into something even spacier and open, but then with a late 90s indie-rock anthem (think Electropura-era Yo La Tengo) rising from the ashes. The rest of the album nods towards offbeat 70s post-punk a la Television and heavier rock (Black Sabbath, perhaps), plus there's a serious Sonic Youth vibe in their guitar playing throughout, not to mention some awe-inspiring free jazz outbursts. Maleza are from Panama, though; so being clueless about Panamanian musical history or traditions, I have no idea what music they're actually influenced by, whether that country has a history for such wonderfully messed-up rock or not. But whatever their inspirations, a few things about Maleza are clear: they're into dark, thick guitars, bass, and drums; they like repetition, but also like to launch their songs into the galaxies when we least expect it; they're in love with the powers a guitar has when it stretches out and reaches into offbeat corners; and they love playing epic rock songs that build and destroy. Lado A meanders a little towards the end, but it's mostly a wild beast of an album that'll knock you on your ass.
Sigur Ròs, Ba Ba Ti Ki Di Do EP (MCA)
It's always great to see the divide between "high art" and "popular music" crumble for a second. Though Sigur Ròs's status as an experimental rock band on a major label is already striking in our current era, it's especially so when their between-albums release is an instrumental EP consisting of music composed to accompany a Merce Cunningham dance piece, played using music boxes, a glockenspiel, and a percussion instrument made out of ballet shoes on a rack. Then again, these three pieces ("Ba Ba," "Ti Ki," and "Di Do") may seem like anomalies in the world of mainstream music, but they hardly represent a diverging path in the career of Sigur Ròs. In fact, what's interesting is how emblematic these three, originally improvised pieces are of Sigur Ròs's sound and vision. They're all beautiful mood pieces that also have an emotional trajectory to them; even if they lack the rising and falling movements of the band's most intense (most "rock") creations, they're emotional works, not just conceptual. They represent a side trip between albums, sure, but they're typically gorgeous and compelling creations, one more reason Sigur Ròs still strike me as one of the most fascinating groups around these days.
Tangiers, Never Bring You Pleasure (Sonic Unyon)
Tangiers' debut album Hot New Spirits was not only the best flat-out rock album I heard last year but one of the most on-fire rock albums I've heard in a while. With punk-rock attitude, a bluesy, Stones-ish grit, razor-sharp guitars, propulsive drums and infectious melodies, Tangiers made me wonder why in the hell they weren't being spoken about by everyone with the glowing terms given instead to so many flavors-of-the-month and fashionplates posing as rock stars. The group's follow-up album has a slightly different lineup but is just as forceful, just as worthy of your rock dollars. Where Hot New Spirits was ridden with post-9/11 paranoia, Never Bring You Pleasure has a musically more optimistic mood, marked by a slightly more diverse sound incorporating reggae rhythms (filtered through the Clash, perhaps) on a few tracks, even as the lyrics are often (but not always) just as dark and angry. Bitter break-ups and romantic anxieties abound (witness how dumping someone is turned into a rousing anthem on "I Don't Love You") in the lyrics, as do fears and angry about the direction of the world. The sound is somehow even more streamlined and crisper than on the band's debut; that approach highlights the guitars, bass, drums, and melodies beautifully. Filled with raw energy, killer melodies and a certain bittersweet look at life, Never Bring You Pleasure is a sharply delivered album that re-affirms Tangiers' talent and significance.