erasing clouds

7 Music Reviews

ddd, "Can't Explain / Hard to Talk To" One Hundred Records)

The cover art of the debut single from UK eccentric one-man-band ddd shows in part two human figures staring at each other but not speaking. And indeed, the failures of human communication form the theme of both songs on the single. "Can't explain" is a fuzzy, fucked-up expression of anger at what words can't express, while "Hard to Talk To" slices up dysfunctional conversations. "I say something / you hear nothing," ddd repeats, before garbling the rest of the lines so they're impossible to understand. Both songs tackle the death of communication while shredding instruments and sounds. Ddd shrieks like an especially ticked-off, nightmare version of Thom Yorke over a mash-up of raggedy acoustic guitars. It's potent stuff, music that'll set fires. – dave heaton

Graves, To Sur With Love (Hush Records)

Graves' Yes Yes Okay Okay was a sublime example of bedroom pop music made by someone with both a talent for melody and the wherewithal to push his songs in left-of-center, slightly off-kilter directions. There was something warm and comforting about the album's intimacy and relaxed nature, even as the songs maintained a sense of mystery about them. To Sur With Love is like a sibling to that album, with the same roots but a different demeanor. The mysterious and off-kilter side of Graves' music is accentuated, through songs that have a messier, more ragged sound about them. Fuzz enters the scene as a character, along with its friend muffle. The ghost of Neil Young's guitar is lurking somewhere in the background, felt but barely heard, and the comfortability of the last album is messed around with a bit. "I'm talking about you / it seems like I love you / I really don't love you / I'm just talking about you", Greg Olin sings on "Sing a Song". That puzzling stance exemplifies the nature of the album, as does the song's fantastic melody, its rock-but-not-rock sound, and the way it just sort of ends. There's perfect melodies and sweet sounds galore on To Sur With Love, but also moments of purposeful confusion and subversion. Graves are messing around with expectations, but at the same time are delivering exactly what their other albums promised – unconventional pop music that's pleasantly disarming yet rewarding. – dave heaton

Darren Hanlon, Little Chills (Candle Records)

If Darren Hanlon weren't a singer-songwriter, he could easily have been an acclaimed poet or novelist. The lyrics on the Australian popsmith's second album Little Chills exemplify the very best of the art of matching words to tunes. He has an impeccable knack for detail, for humor, for provoking thought and stirring emotions, using a minimum of words. To really listen to the words of a song like "I Wish That I Was Beautiful For You" and "The Unmade Bed" is to be in awe at how articulately the words express so much. But I'm glad he chose to be a singer, not a poet; if he chose the latter we'd be missing out on songs we can hum along to, sing out loud, carry around day to day. There's a lot to be said for the transportability of a song, and for the way that words take on a new life when set to a brilliant melody or beautiful guitar playing. For yes, Hanlon has a talent for the musical side of song-writing too. Little Chills, even more so than his debut album Hello Stranger, is more textured and atmospheric than you'd expect for an album that's basically one man playing the songs he wrote. Vibraphone and strings add pretty layers to certain songs, and the whole album has a crisp sound which perfectly illuminates Hanlon's songs, songs which would be remarkable enough in any setting but sound especially good here. Hanlon – whose style of song is sometimes reminiscent of Billy Bragg at his most lovelorn – deserves the attention of anyone who appreciates a well-written song, anyone who likes their music to be smart and heartfelt as well as catchy and fun. Little Chills would be less fun if it were a chapbook of poems, and it would mean less. You wouldn't be able to stun your friends by placing a song in the right spot on a mixtape, or sneaking the CD on during a party. You wouldn't be able to exercise the blessed power of the "repeat" button. – dave heaton

Melodium, La Tete Qui Flotte (Autres Directions in Music)

On his latest album La Tete Qui Flotte, Laurent Girard, aka Melodium, is experimenting with the combination of electronic and acoustic instruments in a serious way, while at the same time making music that's so imaginative and playful that some might consider its sound "innocent" or "childlike". This is very sophisticated music played with the delight of a child. The story behind the album is that Girard worked alone in open air, sitting outside with a mini-disc recorder and a ton of instruments: guitars, flutes, xylophone, jew's harp, keyboards, and more. Maybe it's the freedom of the outdoors that made his music so inclusive this time around, who knows. But inclusive La Tete Qui Flotte is – the music has the stylish atmosphere of modern electronic pop music like Air or Daft Punk and the innovations of electroacoustic experimenters like Greg Davis and Nobukazu Takemura, but also passages which remind us that Girard is a classically trained pianist and songs which have Arab Strap-like sung-spoken vocals. The eclectic instrumentation is a key part of the sound, yet the keyboards pull everything together. To me one heart of the album lies in the second track, a perfectly formed, melancholic pop single called "Les Psychotropes Sont Mes Amis, Puis Mes Ennemis…" Pulsating beats support yet heartwrenching yet strangely robotic vocals about feeling lost and alienated. The song has a melody both sweet and sad, two feelings that run through the whole album. There's a sentimental side to the album along with its gorgeous atmosphere; the two running together so perfectly is part of what gives the album such a unique air, and part of what makes the music so emotional even as it's spellbinding and adventurous. – dave heaton

Merzbow, Rattus Rattus (Scarcelight)

How do you write about a CD-long attack of ear-splitting, speaker-blowing noise? Noise is Merzbow's specialty. Masami Akita has made literally hundreds of albums of loud, aggressive, noise – sounds that are disorienting and harsh at any volume. The truth, though, is that while Merzbow's music is absolutely not what your average person on the street would think of as music, it's also not a monolithic entity. Every Merzbow recording does not sound the same – within the context of what he does, there's some rather diverse sounds and textures. That's certainly true of his Scarcelight EP Rattus Rattus, though my ear is far from refined enough to explain this music to anyone. The three tracks on Rattus Rattus sound like possessed factory machines gone mad, screeching and wailing and buzzing like the world's about to end. It isn't a constant scream, though, more like complex patterns of cries and screams. It's fascinating and harrowing music, not for everyday listening except by the toughest of music fans. It's the sort of music that completely silences music critics, making them swallow their tongues in search of the right words. It's the kind of music that silences everything besides itself, really. – dave heaton

One Umbrella, Solve EP (Tell-All Records)

On first impression One Umbrella's music sounds like a whisper, nothing more nothing less. Keep listening, there's a world going on underground. The atmospheric instrumental music created by this Austin, Texas-based duo is deceptively gentle at first, floating along in an eerie but pretty way. There's a lot of complexity and diversity in their sound, however. For starters, their minimalist music weaves together an entrancing assortment of sounds and textures – whirrings, buzzings, blips and melodic notes – many of them hard to place as instruments. Read the list of what instruments they use, and you'll be equally perplexed: guitar, banjo, theremin, piano, organ, glockenspiel, kalimba, synth (plus samples and the catch-all "effects"). At times it's bewildering to imagine these haunted sounds coming from that group of instruments, yet at other times each instrument shines through clearly. This is atmospheric music that isn't just about creating an atmosphere to cloak the listener in; One Umbrella is building a new musical universe out of parts known and unknown. Solve is just a taste of their music, pulling together five tracks from their self-released 2004 album Consider the Opposite and three tracks from their upcoming Tell-All Records full-length. It's enough of a taste to cast a spell over listeners, however. Whether it's the intense electric noise of "Xestyl" or the four peaceful but ghostly minute-long interludes, the music on Solve is captivating and provocative. It's mood music that brings you closer to the speakers, music that refuses to hide in the background even when it's gentle and quiet. – dave heaton

Remora, Enamored (Silber)

"I love you more than I ever wanted to / it's a weakness but you give me a strength," Brian John Michell, aka Remora sings at one point on his new album Enamored, a Valentine's Day album with remembrances of the Valentine's Day massacre fully intact. Love is a force beyond the controls of human beings throughout Enamored, a force which binds people together against their will, making them do anything for the other. "You be my angel / I'll be your champion," goes one line, and that's the essence of it: you'll save me and I'll die for you. Mitchell's voice is intensely serious and mono-chromatic, a fitting match to the droning guitars that are the cornerstone of Remora's sound. Those guitars are used both to form hovering thunderclouds of noise and to slowly churn like the ever-creeping hands of time, signaling impending doom and destruction. There's a fatalistic feeling about Enamored, like all love is bound to end in annihilation, yet the album is strangely calm and peaceful at the same time. Forces beyond human control are operating throughout the album's stories and scenarios, pushing our lives in the direction of death just like Remora's dark ambient clouds slowly cycle forward, heavy yet determined. – dave heaton

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