Album Review: Memory Tapes – Player Piano

Memory Tapes: Player Piano (Carpark Records)

New Jersey has a bad rap. Being associated with trashy people and trashier reality TV shows may be the current curse, but let’s be honest, folks have been making fun of Jersey for a hell of a long time for one reason or another. But amid all the jokes and hassles, one can find some decent things about New Jersey. Diners are pretty popular, the Jersey Devil sounds like a fun character, and for whatever reason a lot of people liked that Garden State movie. Oh yeah, the state is also home base to Dayve Hawk, better known as Memory Tapes.

Hawk has led Memory Tapes through a few twists and turns throughout its existence. Early material (under the name Memory Cassette) was associated with the whole chillwave bonanza, but as time went on things became a little more structured. Hawk began to leave the washed out VHS vibes behind, focusing more on the present tense and bouncier productions. Once 2009’s Seek Magic was released, buzz was starting to grow. The house-fueled grooves and electro-funk feel of that album helped open the door for Hawk’s creativity, allowing him to burst through the chillwave stereotype and develop his own style. It also made for a pretty solid record.

Player Piano sees another shift in direction, and we are now introduced to Hawk’s idea of an electropop heaven. Luckily for us, this place is perfect for many, and the time of release couldn’t be better. This record just begs to be played all summer long; the majority of the tracks are fantastic bubbly head-nodders, relying on basic upbeat pop principles for the foundations while adding all the bits and pieces that helped gain the artist recognition in the first place. Synths and guitars wrap around each other while Hawk’s distinctive pitched voice floats over each song in an ethereal manner, adding a dreamlike quality to even the most straightforward tracks. Songs like “Wait in the Dark” and “Sun Hits” are perfect examples of Memory Tapes’ ability to keep a tested and recognizable concept full of pep and interest. Even the more relaxing numbers like “Offers” have enough going on so as to keep the listener exactly where he or she should be.

Interestingly, one gets the feeling that Hawk kept the idea of summer ending nestled in the back of his head while creating this work. Some of the best tracks on the album reference shorter daylight and the changing mood as temperatures drop. “Yes I Know” is a hands-down amazing song, and “Fell Thru Ice” and “Fell Thru Ice II” are also top seeds for most moving. Tracks like these wind through a different place than the others, but they help to balance everything out. We are reminded that music can make you reminisce in more ways than a forced throwback to leaky cameras and blurred photos.

So you’ll find happy moments and bittersweet memories from darker times on this record, but just like real life, it takes both the ups and the downs to create a true understanding of the whole picture. These changes throughout not only make for completeness, but are necessary in order for a record to capture so much depth. Memory Tapes has created something extremely special here, and it would do everyone good to dive into this world.

Album Review: Ghost Feet – Wires and Chords EP

Ghost Feet: Wires and Chords EP (Dropping Gems)

Washington’s Ghost Feet may be new to the world of releases, but the duo certainly has a feel for producing both music and moods. Using a combination of electronics and guitars, the Dropping Gems artists create music that blends the shadowy with the bright, like a stream of sunshine through a dense forest.

A lot of acts out there have dabbled in mixing electronic music with post-rock styled instrumentation. I’ve done it myself as Early Morning, Paris (with varied results), and I mention this because I understand how difficult it can be to get a balance between organic and synthetic sounds. One always seems to overpower the other, making for tracks that are either too cold or just a bit non-cohesive. Ghost Feet has risen to the challenge on this release, however. It’s easy to get lost in Wires and Chords; although the majority (and certainly the base) of each song uses drum machines and synths, the guitar-work grounds everything in a fog of lushness. There’s more of an earthy, thematic feel here. That is to say, this record is more reminiscent of Helios albums as opposed to an Album Leaf release. The electronics are prevalent, but they usually seem to remain in the background as a foundation for the guitar.

“Top Papez,” the album’s opener, is the most dramatic of the four songs found on this EP, allowing the guitars to shimmer over reversed synth pads and deadened drums. The stuttering “Car Pool Time” follows, and the slow, bass-heavy “Bog” falls third in order. The EP ends with “Pull Ups,” easily the most “electronic-sounding” you’ll find here. The garage bass takes over most of the song, and the drum machine is used as a main instrument, making for an upbeat ending to a record that has generally remained low-key up to this point.

Wires and Chords may be a very literal name for this release, but it obviously gives a notion of what is contained within. While this EP is too short to create any sort of a listening journey, it definitely is a start to something great, and hopefully we’ll be hearing much more soon.

Album Review: Femme En Fourrure – Bronco

Femme En Fourrure: Broncos (Top Billin)

Finland’s Femme En Fourrure has pulled influences from various types of electronic music, but the duo has always referenced the solid backbones of minimal techno and deep house. Using elements from these styles as a starting point allows for plenty of manipulation throughout the creative process; after all, a stripped down 4/4 is about as basic as it gets in any type of music, and it essentially leaves any other directions wide open. With so many venues being alloted for use, it’s easy to see why FEF has put out releases that seem to head in different directions. However, there does seem to be a bit of a pattern forming for the two.

Those familiar with Femme En Fourrure may have noticed things becoming a bit darker on each release. “Pull Out” and “Plump Bisquit,” for example, were throbbing tracks with elements of club progressive layered throughout. Needless to say, those tracks are my least favorite works released by the Fins. And even though “Dirty Blonde” referenced a tribal feel with more techno elements, making the track a bit simpler and more driving, nothing could prepare anyone for the monsters that would be released on Bronco.

The track that leads the EP and lends its name to the release is quite possibly one of the best deep electronic tracks to be offered by anyone in quite some time. “Bronco” is both creepily evil and amazingly sexy at the same time, it’s no doubt that the strange sexuality oozing from the song manages to add to the overall darkness. While the roots of this track are held in the sparseness of microhouse, the heaviness cannot be ignored. This opener manages to almost give off a sensation that something taboo is going on. It’s intense without being intense, and it pulls you in, even though it seems something wrong is about to happen.

“Smear,” the second track on the release, follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, but is obviously a B-Side. It’s a solid track, but it doesn’t conjure up the same extent of emotion that is present in “Bronco.” This flaw can be overlooked though, because the title track is so strong. Added to the album are three remixes of “Bronco,” of which Nguzungzuzu’s is the best.

All in all, this release comes highly recommended, even if it is mainly for the album opener. The rest of the tracks hold their weight, but they simply can’t match up to the power of “Bronco.”

Here is the bizzare video for “Bronco.” It pretty much captures the feel.

Album Review: Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972

Tim Hecker: Ravedeath, 1972 (Kranky)

When most people think of the word “ambient,” they associate it with something unobtrusive and lulling. Since things like background noise and subtle lighting come to mind at sight of the word, it’s not very surprising that ambient music is not at the forefront of popularity among the various genres, and in many cases, the overall assumption of this type of music is dead on. When restaurants and spas play it in order to relax patrons, it can be assumed the intention is to calm and not invoke thought, so boring soundscapes are moved through the speakers. One can find a lot of ambient out there that is repetitive and base, and it’s meant to be kept at a distance. It’s there because silence is incredibly loud; it’s nothing but white noise. Tim Hecker, however, does not create music for spas.

Hecker’s music is meant to hit you like a ton of bricks, and it can certainly catch a listener off guard if he or she is expecting the usual mess of lame synth pads usually found on ambient compilation albums. Mr. Hecker is not new to the game; he is beyond Abelton stock instruments, he isn’t generic, and he has mastered the art of sound manipulation. Found noises and various instruments make their way into the mix, but each sound is lovingly destroyed in order to create an environment hard to imagine on our own. The places we are taken evoke emotion, and most times these feelings are not joyous or serene.

Ravedeath, 1972, like the other albums Hecker has released under his birth name, is brooding from start to finish. Listening to the album is comparable to sitting alone in the rain, thinking of days long past. A deep sense of sadness pervades the record, yet this sadness is familiar somehow. It’s a bit like the times you catch a scent for a brief second, and suddenly vague memories come crashing into your being. You can’t exactly place the moments, but you can tell they were important, and now you’re left longing for something you can’t even fully remember. Essentially, Hecker has created music that represents not only that split second of loneliness, but the actual bittersweet times that remain in the haze.

The journey begins with “The Piano Drop,” a track that uses heavily reverbed, gated synths to start hacking away at reality and begin the transport into a dream. About midway through the album, once the foggy “Hatred of Music” trilogy is underway, time seems to have almost halted and the real world has all but disappeared. Hecker’s world has taken over, and it will remain this way until the last notes of the “In the Air” triptych have floated away. Everything contained within is pointed, yet subtly jarring. Noises skip and melodies are staggered, flowing like a cloudy stream with rocks and rapids scattered throughout. The complexity of sound sometimes borders on overwhelming, but it always pulls back at the last second. The air of deconstruction is always present.

As usual, Tim Hecker has dropped an album that does not disappoint. There is more passion in this release than most bands can muster, and it is all shown without lyrics or easy hooks. Emotion creeps up from beginning to end, ultimately creating not just an album, but an entire experience.

Album Review: Hard Mix – Defaults

Hard Mix: Defaults (Dovecote Records)

Essentially, all modern music has it’s roots in an older style, and that older style has it’s roots in something that came along even earlier. Like most things, this progression allows one to build on the ideas of the past, making them better, worse, or sometimes just different. Unfortunately, it has been quite fashionable lately to simply replicate a musical style from the past, giving us way to many “neo-this” and “neo-that” genres. In many cases, “neo” can’t even be applied, because nothing new has been added. Look at the resurgence of sound-alike 80’s revival tunes that have been shit out in the past few years, for example. However, all hope is not lost. There are artists out there that handle retro themes in ways that makes songs not just recycled older tracks, but new sounds utilizing past elements.

Hard Mix would be one of these artists. The Greenville, South Carolina native has been known to create sample-based chill-pop/downtempo/beat-style tracks that rely heavily on layering to create a certain mood or effect. The addition of soulful vocals also gave a sense of warmth and depth to many of his earlier tracks, and while this remains true on Defaults, there is an added energy in each piece on the album. Many tracks now contain bits from a very upbeat time in dance music history, making for quite a different listening experience.

Most noticeable to Defaults are the samples, progressions, and sounds from early house and rave music. The types of synth-stabs and piano lines, along with ringing vocals, ever prevalent in classic songs from the era of underground electronic and club music have made for a subtle explosion within this album. You won’t find many tracks with the usual 4/4 beat associated with house music or the sped up breakbeats of 90’s rave on this release, however. The overall cadence and washed-out feel of Hard Mix’s earlier releases remain, but the use of these energetic layers makes the tracks pop, instead of just swelling into one another. In many ways, the textures make for an almost bittersweet experience. The presence of the aforementioned dance staples make one part of you feel excited and ready to move, but the rest of that track may be so reverbed and expansive that everything remains grounded in a sense of spacey longing. Songs like “Memories” and “I’m Gone” capture this feeling most effectively. Because of this, these tracks are two of the best on an album that contains ten excellent songs.

Not every track is based on these added snippets, however. There are songs on this release that are much more subdued, but those are just as good. The album opener, for example, is based on delicate piano leads and strange, reversed vocals. It doesn’t seem to matter where Hard Mix heads on Defaults, because it all works together as a whole. The album itself is like a short trip back and forth between past and present, yet it always leaves you wondering exaclty where you are.

So although most of the songs do glance back at an earlier era, Defaults is by no means a classic house throwback album. And don’t think the spaciness and retro feel make for another dime-a-dozen chillwave release, either. Everything has been tweaked to the point that something new has been created. The samples have effects poured over them, allowing them to come and go or echo out into oblivion. Because the album’s beats per minute are so much slower than most dance-oriented electronic music, it almost sounds ghostly, especially in comparison. It can only make the listener assume Hard Mix meant to call upon those spirits of the past, but he did not want to let them take over.

Secret Cities’ Backward-Looking Forward-Thinking “Strange Hearts”

Deciphering when an album was made has everything to do with how the album is recorded.  Arguably, one should be able to pinpoint the era of recording based on what technology was available at the time of its creation.  The more technically proficient the album, the more modern the era it was recorded in — think of Les Paul’s multi-tracking, Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” and Pet Sounds’ cacophonic layers.  Think of the invention of cassette tapes and Tascams that allowed closet troubadours to pass out C86 opuses among their friends. A decade later, think of Cher’s foray into auto-tuning, and Girl Talk’s Abelton-enabled war on intellectual property law. Especially evident in Girl Talk’s mash-up experiments and Spector’s Motown fetishism, it’s clear that every recording step forward creates a reverence of an earlier era.

Modern technology continues to push forward towards beyond-pristine vocals and manipulations that make sounds shimmer in a perfection that can never truly exist in real time. Though this march of advancement begs the question —  is technology really a measuring stick of advancement in music (or even aesthetics in general)?  More so now than any previous time, there is an ache for authenticity and the response to this ache is to regress.  Distasteful for Science, yes, but wholly comforting to the audiophile.

Here sits Secret Cities.  Steeped firmly in the present, their new album Strange Hearts was recorded in a concentrated 3-month process sequestered in the basement of a boarded-up bank in their home-state of North Dakota; free from unsolicited A&R advice and superstar producers.

Secret Cities is happy to bathe in the echo and ghostly backup vocals reminiscent of an earlier time, though no era in particular.  In this modern era, where vocals can be pitched perfect, Secret Cities yearn for a time before the word “post production” meant anything.  It’s a rewarding aesthetic, and its’ recording process, purposely and endearingly blighted, makes Strange Hearts work so well  — a sharp record that politely declines to be polished with toggled studio effects.

It’s coming from a place that’s not overtly nostalgic, but consciously avoids refinement.  It’s the sort of nod to yesteryear that indie pop veterans like Saturday Looks Good To Me have always used to great effect.  Other reviews on Strange Hearts casually drop the Shangri-La’s or Brian Wilson but that name-checking only serves to describe their process, not their output.  Secret Cities is a thoroughly modern, self-aware chamber pop band that dodges such easy classification.  Organ, guitar jangle, tambourine, and hand-claps abound as they trade girl/boy songwriting duties to great effect — recalling innumerable other ensembles but mimicking none.

There are vocals on Strange Hearts so rich that they don’t need any artifice. The sound cuts through recoding space reverb so strongly that it easily pierces a mic that sits on the far side of a cavernous fiscal institution basement.  It’s reverse studio expertise — they know what could make their sound crisper and they’re not going to make it that easy on the listener.  It’s a process that makes repeated listening increasingly rewarding.  It’s a confidence in their own organic sensibilities that the hooks in closing ditties like “No Pressure” and “Portland” don’t need any polishing to shine.

Secret Cities — “Love Crime” MP3

Secret Cities play Chicago’s Subterranean on Tuesday, February 22.

Matt’s Favorite Albums of 2010

The year is about to come to a close, and all the respectable review sites/magazines are putting up their their “Best of 2010” lists. Although we don’t fit in that category, some of us here at aDeadKid are posting ours anyway. Brian led the pack with a list of some of his favorites, and I am going to follow suit. In fact, I’m just going to rip him off and present my picks in the same format.

Even though 2010 was a fairly weak year for music releases, I have managed to scrounge up ten albums that I enjoyed this year. I can’t say they are perfect, and I can’t say they would have made it onto a list like this if they were released in 2009, but I can say they stood out from the overall garbage dropped in the ’10.


Presented in order of favorite:

01. Salem: King Night

This album is getting a lot of press lately, even from some mainstream publications. On the one hand I find it a little surprising, but on the other hand I can understand why. Salem released an album that really shook things up. The poster children for a “genre” full of identification issues, this witch-house/drag ensemble made almost everyone take notice by mixing up types of music that would normally seem to contradict one another. However, Salem made it work, and they managed to create an extremely interesting release that oozes emotion throughout the abrasive noise.

Salem – “King Night”



02. Crystal Castles: Crystal Castles (II)

Crystal Castles shot up to the status of indie darling a few years ago, and some began to wonder if they would ever be able to release something of the same caliber as the first self-titled full length that got them there. The second Crystal Castles has made sure people will wonder no more. This album has solidified the duo’s placement among some of the best acts out there. Everything about this release is epic in one form or another, and it’s even managed to draw considerable attention from both the indiesphere and mainstream audiences. (Whether that’s good or bad is up to you to decide.)

Crystal Castles – “Celestica”



03. Mice Parade: What It Means to be Left-Handed

In my original review of this album, I said it was good but not great. I stand by that assertion to a point. In relation to other Mice Parade albums, I still feel it falls a little short, but I will admit that this release grew on me, and I began to notice it was receiving a hell of a lot of playtime on my Zune. The fact is, some of these songs may miss the mark, but the songs that are on target are simply fantastic.

Mice Parade – “In Between Times”



04. Dark Sky: Frames EP

Bass music has seen a resurgence over the past year or two, and unfortunately that makes for a lot of crappy releases by people trying to jump on the bandwagon. I mean, just look what happened to dubstep. Luckily, there are still some people out there that know what they’re doing. Dark Sky’s Frames EP has everything you could ever want to get your booty moving, and although many artists on the Night Slugs label are releasing exceptional room-shaking tracks, Dark Sky’s EP is solid all the way through the four songs, so it made the list.

Dark Sky – “Night Light”



05. Frontier(s): There Will Be No Miracles Here

Elliott’s disbandment was one of the worst days in history, but fans have been saved by Frontier(s). Chris Higdon’s new project pulls elements from both his defunct bands (Elliott and Falling Forward) and splices them with straight-ahead rock, creating a sound reminiscent of second-wave emo’s heyday in the early 90’s. Remember how you felt when you first heard Sunny Day’s Diary? This album will give you those feelings, but with a more contemporary, less jangly feel.

Frontier(s) – “Abul Abbas”



06. Early Graves: Goner

2010 brought the release of Early Grave’s Goner, an absolutely punishing album that proves life still exists in the heavy music scene. Fast, loud, and angry, this album actually made me want to head out to hardcore shows again. Unfortunately, 2010 was also the year the band’s lead singer tragically died in a van accident while on tour, so we can only wonder what will happen from this point on.

Early Graves – “Goner”



07. The Sadies: Darker Circles

A mixture of single coil pickup twang and dark overtones fuels the latest release by Toronto’s alt-country heroes. All you need is a beer to cry in, and you’re all set. But in all honesty, this albums rocks when it needs to, and evokes a broken heart the rest of the time. Great from start to finish.

The Sadies – “Cut Corners”



08. White Ring: Black Earth that Made Me

Two drag albums on one list?! It’s true, but let me explain myself. While some of this album keeps in line with the “Salem sound,” there are other tracks that are pretty astounding. Take a look at “Roses,” for example. If White Ring expands their sound a bit like on the aforementioned track, they could be a force in the near future, and even if a lot of this album fits into the whole witch-house layout, it still got a lot of airplay from me.

White Ring – “Roses” (Obviously not official)



09. Electric Wizard: Black Masses

Black Masses has Electric Wizard speeding things up a bit on a few songs in relation to their normal doom-laden sludge, but the band didn’t lose any of the heaviness listeners have come to expect, and they return to form for most of the record. Fuzzed out to the max, Electric Wizard trudges through the usual world of Satan and drugs, but come on, that’s why I love them.

Electric Wizard – “Venus in Furs”



10. Calabrese: They Call Us Death

Calabrese never fails to produce some of the best horror punk available, and 2010’s They Call Us Death didn’t disappoint. While I don’t think it could beat out 2005’s 13 Halloweens, it still gives the strongest dose of ghouls and ghosts available in punk rock format. I’m positive I will never tire of the doo-wop style vocals, even if they do blatantly reach back to The Misfits style. They make good music and dress the way I wish I could. Damn you, Calabrese.

Calabrese – “They Call Us Death”

Album Review: Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

By now almost everyone in the entire world has heard that Pitchfake gave Kanye West’s latest album a perfect score, which I believe is one of only a few albums ever to achieve such high status from the site. Since this is quite the occasion, I have decided to review this album a little differently than I normally would. Instead of cuing this up a few times and gradually picking out my likes and dislikes, I am going to simply write this review as I listen to it straight through. After all, it is supposed to be perfect.

(Note: I am seriously doing my best to keep and open and fair mind through this review, regardless of what I think about Kanye as a person or Pitchfork.)

01. Dark Fantasy

Whoa, high pitched vocals. I’m paying attention now. Chicago name drop! I actually like the “Can we get much higher” chorus part. Musically this is alright, and the rhymes are clever at times and stupid at others.  This song is pretty repetitive, which sits in the same vein as most mainstream rap, so I’m not surprised. Overall, this song was mediocre but not very impressive.

02. Gorgeous feat. Kid Cudi & Raekwon

Raekwon is the shit. Srsly.  Sounds like the vocals were recorded off of a cellphone call. I don’t hate/love it. This track is pretty slow. Kanye just made sure he remained hipster relevant by mentioning American Apparel. Some of these lyrics are insanely lame. This song bores the hell out of me. I’m currently thinking about a pulled pork sandwich. I also just ran out of beer, which is sad.   😦  <– Sad Face


This track picks up the energy a bit and samples a clip from King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man,” which kind of irritates me. KC was hella awesome. I wonder if Pitchfork knows who King Crimson was, or if they think Kanye came up with that on his own. Another mediocre track.

04. All of the Lights (Interlude)

Instrumental. So far my favorite song on the album.

05. All of the Lights feat. John Legend, The Dream, Alicia Keys, Fergie, Elton John, and a Bunch of Other People

This song has an anthem rap feel to it, which seems fitting with Rihanna’s voice. Do you think she thought Kanye or Eminem was hotter? I like the snare hits on this track. Fergie is on this. Yup. Meh. For that many people to be on this song, it’s surprisingly cohesive, but still just alright.

06. Monster feat. Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj & Bon Iver

Bon Iver? Really? Alright, whatever. Remember that Dntel album where he tried to get every person in the world on it, and it ruined the record? Remember how it just looked desperate? I give you exhibit B.

07. So Appalled feat. Jay-Z, Pusha T, Prynce Cy Hi, Swizz Beatz & The RZA

I like Jay-Z, I like RZA. Swizz Beatz is dece. This song has a slower feel to it, but I think it works. I would venture to say I could actually listen to this song and enjoy it in the future.

08. Devil in a New Dress feat. Rick Ross

I’m seriously running out of things to say. This album just drags on. It generally stays at one pace, and that pace is boring. Nothing about it has been terrible, but it is not exciting at all.

09. Runaway feat. Pusha T

This is pretty catchy. Actually has some emotion it. Kanye and Pusha are letting me know how it is with women. I gotcha, guys. Just realized this song is eight minutes long. Hopefully it switches up a bit, because while it is one of the better songs on the album, eight minutes of it will be a bit much. The last two and a half minutes of this make things more interesting. Thanks, bros.

10. Hell of a Life

Nice fuzzed out bass. I can get down with that. “No more drugs for me/Pussy and religion is all I need.” Ha! A lot of time was just spent talking about ass-fucking and gang bangs. Sounds like dinner with my grandparents. Overall, best song so far.

11. Blame Game feat. John Legend

More John Legend? My dreams have come true! Is there a font for sarcasm? No? Oh. Nevermind.

12. Lost in the World feat. Bon Iver

This song flat-out sucks. Bon Iver should just go away.

13. Who Will Survive in America

Decent ending track?


Wow. This album has mediocre written all over it. There were few parts that could be considered bad, but there were also few parts that could be considered amazing. This album has made its way onto a number of mainstream “Best of the Year” lists, and that honestly just shows how desperate the big business publications (the Pitch included)  are for something/anything to talk about. I don’t want to instill too much of my own opinion in this review, but it is really disappointing that so many rap/hip-hop albums out there are so much better than this. Coming close to perfect in this genre would be albums like Aesop Rock’s Labor Days, Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, Deep Puddle Dynamics’ The Taste of Rain… Why Kneel? or Company Flow’s Funcrusher. Kanye’s latest offering is not even close to the caliber of these releases. In fact, there are multiple other rap albums that came out this year that are much better. Gucci Mane’s The Appeal is ten times better than Twisted Fantasy. Big Boi’s Sir Lucious deserves more attention. Let’s be honest, Kanye’s album is what it is: a safe, mediocre release meant for the masses.

*Author’s Note: I have edited the statement about the number of albums Pitchfake gave a perfect score. I originally thought it was only the Kanye and that crappy Wilco album, but Kenny Bernat (a fellow aDeadKid write), pointed out my mistake.

Album Review: Salem – King Night

Salem: King Night (IAMSOUND Records)

It’s not uncommon for bands or artists to insist they belong to no specific genre, but let’s be honest, usually those complaining the most about being pigeonholed are the least original and deserve being associated with whatever they ripped off. But what happens when artists freely admit where they got all their influences, but there are so many bits and pieces that they truly are outside of any mass of grouped musicians? Don’t worry, people will try to make up a genre anyway, even if it’s a bit hard to tie everything together into a cohesive idea. Enter the Witch House/Ghost House/Drag scene, which encompasses a group of bands/artists that may or may not really have much in common. In fact, even the word “scene” might be a bit of a stretch.

Salem has been lumped into this genre (whatever the final name may be),  and they have also helped to popularize the discussion behind it. However, one can’t tell if they are a prime example of what should be present in this class of artists, since nobody can seem to put a finger on what it’s all about. There are some commonalities present in all the artists that have been associated with the movement, including slow tempos, heavy distortion, looping, spookiness, and the ever-present use of electronics as the basis for production, but there are a hell of a lot of differences between everyone as well.

While some producers involved in the genre are gearing more towards darker electro-pop or distorted ambient, Salem is pulling in musical connections from shoegaze, new age, juke, southern rap, industrial, metal, techno, and even dubstep. This concoction may sound a little strange, and this is for good reason; it is strange. It’s very strange. Yet it somehow works out extremely well. Actually, the mixture is so perfect, it makes Salem’s King Night easily one of the most important albums to be released in years.

King Night is a massive sounding album, using low frequency wobble, layered distortion, and textured vocals to create a deep, full output. From the opening track until the very end, the record remains saturated in dark overtones, no matter what direction the group decides to travel. By placing an operatic Christmas carol behind a barrage of beats and destroyed bass, the opening track, “King Night,” gives an immediate feeling that something is going to be different throughout the listen of the release. “Asia,” one of the best tracks on the album, introduces a gabber kick-drum into the mix, and uses the voice of band member Heather Marlatt to add melody to the fuzzed out composition. A combination similar to this is used on most of the recording, including highlights like “Frost” and “Traxx.” The juxtaposition between floating melodies and intense, washed-out drone create an amazing experience, so there really isn’t a lot of need to change the basic formula. Nonetheless, there are exceptions.

“Sick,” “Trapdoor,” and “Tair” differ the most because they are more closely associated with southern rap, rejecting the lighter, layered singing and concentrating on tuned-down vocal flows in the same cadence of someone like Gucci Mane. These tracks do seem a bit out of place in comparison with the ethereal feel presented on the majority of the release, but they are honestly pretty good in their own right, especially since they remain as demonic and subversive as everything else on King Night.

So another genre is coming into fruition, at least according to the music critics, and Salem may be at the helm. How much everyone involved has in common is up for debate, although most of the output from the artists associated has been pretty impressive. If things continue the way they have begun, the collective of bands under drag, witch house, or whatever you want to call it, will certainly continue to grow in cult status, and that may not be a bad thing, as long as albums match the caliber of King Night.

Album Review: Jamie Lidell – Compass

With a roster that looks more like a really impressive festival bill, Jaimie Lidell’s Compass could stand to have less contributors at the helm.  Beck gets the production credit on the LP but the guest list extends to members of Feist, Wilco, and Grizzly Bear among others.  Lidell, himself no slouch at production, can’t quite match his own personal-best here — the immaculate Multiply — but there are still highlights to be culled from the effort.

The exuberant “Enough’s Enough,” bounces along with an ebullient jazz flute and playful jive.  The down-tempo “She Needs Me,” is a slow-funk exercise with 70’s wah-wah bass and flourishes of jazz accompaniment that would fit nicely in an unironic Midnite Vultures sequel.  But nearly everywhere on the album lies the omnipresent hand of Beck Hansen, who seems fixated on filtering Lidell’s vocals to harsh effect, or burying it under a fuzzed mix.

“Your Sweet Boom,” is a prime example of an opportunity missed.  It’s a funked-out Lidell track drowned in production muffles — his voice only occasionally surfacing before it’s sucked back down below bass, twang and snare.  Meanwhile “I Wanna Be Your Telephone” has some charming qualities but is haunted by studio wizarding and comes off like a Guero throwaway (so a double-throwaway?).  The sound of Compass should not be completely unfamiliar to Beck aficionados, as it quickly begins to sound like like his self-produced output, as well as his recent work with Charlotte Gainsbourg.

The gloomy, ghostly harmonies of Grizzly Bear on the album fare slightly better; namely the apropos “Big Drift.”  With Grizz’s Chris Taylor at the helm, Lidell and Feist take a creepy twilight trudge through looped distortion, cello, upright bass, and sound collage.

Despite the iffy final product, there should be no blame assigned to this record, as Lidell is prone to experimenting and expanding on each one of his albums.  The effort should be commended for its collaborative spirit, and Lidell’s sincere efforts to search into some darker, rawer corners.