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The all-inclusive, ever-changing, and uncomfortably flexible guide to all things music in the 2010's.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Earth - Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light Pt. 1: B+ / Minks - By the Hedge: B-

"Father Midnight"                                                                       "Indian Ocean"

Sometimes, originality can be really pesky. Sometimes, you’d just rather listen to an album and not have to worry about whether the artist playing it is going to influence generations of musicians or even whether you’re going to remember it a month from now. Sometimes, there’s just music that you want to indulge in for a singular mood and Hell to all else if you just want to hear background music for forty or so minutes. The music by New York duo, Minks, can be safely considered indie pop and the music by Washington quartet, Earth, can be safely considered drone. Both groups have released these types of “mood” records; pieces of music that are not meant to be enjoyed for individual songs, but for the stringently monolithic moods they represent.

Earth have been playing music since 1990. Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light Pt. 1 is somewhere around their eleventh album. It is composed of five tracks, the shortest of which is over seven minutes and the longest of which is over twenty. For over an hour, the group, with a new cellist added to their basic guitar/bass/drums ensemble, finds one melody and repeats it with military-like precision and ungodly stamina. To give you some perspective on how much Earth is adverse to change on Angels of Darkness, the addition of a cellist has been regaled by some critics as being a radical change for the group, but it is barely heard on the album, playing long, desolate notes just off in the distance as Dylan Carlson’s guitars take center stage. Angels of Darkness evolves in texture from minute to minute much like a glacier melts, but there’s something fascinating about listening to it occur. The album is mixed beautifully, accentuating Karl Blau’s bass, which gives each song a valued richness, especially on the closing title track. The group sounds like they’re soundtracking a nonexistent Western and can be rightly compared to Mastodon’s work for the film, Jonah Hex. Angels of Darkness may run about twenty minutes too long, but it’s an excellent album to just brood over, in a masochistic sort of way.

The debut album from Minks, By the Hedge, actually has some semblance of distinction between its songs. “Kusmi”, the record’s opening track, has a nice hook and sets a good tone for the rest of the album. “Indian Ocean” is a delicate instrumental composed of layers and layers of jangling guitars. By the Hedge, overall, however, plays with the fluid anonymity of countless other groups dabbling in shoegaze, indie pop and the like. Singer, Shaun Kilfoyle’s, voice reaches comical levels of inscrutability, repeating nonsense in “Funeral Song” and mumbling into his sleeve for just about everything else. To give you a sense of how very average By the Hedge is, my notes on the album pretty much end here, and the rest say things like “Decent”, “Again, decent”, “Shoegaze-y”, “Quite shoegaze-y”, “Again a decent song”, and, in a startling change of form, “Again, blah”. By the Hedge is very similar in sound to Wild Nothing’s painfully boring Gemini, but sounds much more like a group that cares somewhat about what they’re writing. It’s consistent, and, if you’re into that sort of thing, who would I be to deter you from it?


Thomas Giles - Pulse: C+

Thomas Giles, for those who do not know, is the frontman of Between the Buried and Me. Whether you enjoy Giles’s mainstay or not, there is no denying that the band he’s in is one of the more formative metal bands recording music today. They’re schizophrenic, progressive and consistently fascinating. A song like “Prequel to the Sequel”, from the group’s Colors, is a song to be studied for its sharp turns from tunefulness to din to bravado to insanity, even if, in my opinion, it’s not that great of a song. I don’t particularly like Between the Buried and Me, but I cannot deny that they are a group that is never satisfied with not pushing the envelope with every new album they release.

Thomas Giles’s first official solo album (he released an album under the name Giles in 2005) pushes something, and that thing is my patience. As much as Pulse is a surprise coming from a guy who makes most of his money playing in one of America’s most popular metalcore bands, the album comes off exactly like Thomas Giles trying to make a statement about how much of a surprise it is. On Pulse, we hear Giles experiment with electronic, acoustic, metal, and (I kid you not) dubstep. However, the execution of all these songs comes off as exceedingly half-assed and pretentious, as if Giles only made the effort to sound different and then rushed through the rest of the songwriting process.

The worst of Pulse comes right at its beginning, with “Sleep Shake”. Here, among flowing guitar chords and a monotonous drum beat, Giles opens up his album with this line: “It started like a normal day/I jumped and explored the yard/My senses seem tense/Like a bond between two friends/They’ve never really been my friends/Just a common sense of self/But today I feel so strange/Like I’m someone else”. If you didn’t notice, Giles is trying to put himself in the mind of an emotionless robot, but the awkward wording and meaningless similes sound embarrassingly clunky. That, and most of the lyrics of Pulse, circumvent cleverness and go straight for the ostentatious. In “Scared”, when he sings “I’m here for you/I’m here for all of you”, it doesn’t sound like Giles is being benevolent, but, instead, expecting you to be really fucking impressed with how goddamn benevolent he is. But, really, these hollow signifiers are just cover-ups for the fact that Giles can’t write lyrics for shit. At the chorus of “Sleep Shake”, one would assume that he would have to pull out a trump lyrical card to consolidate what I’m sure he thought was genius in those previous verses, but the best he can come up with is “I’ve become different now”. Is it too obvious to say that he isn’t fooling anyone in this regard?

It doesn’t help that Pulse also sounds surprisingly cheap. I say that Giles takes cracks at many genres on the album, but its songs that feature more than just a piano or an acoustic guitar sound downright amateurish. The aforementioned “Sleep Shake” and many of the electronic songs on Pulse have some regard for texture, but their choruses routinely devolve into shooting-for-the-rafters chord-strummers with electronic blips floating around, sounding like a Muse caricature or Dream Theater at their most shamelessly poppy. “Catch & Release” tries to split the difference between the thrash of Between the Buried and Me and Giles’s electronic aspirations and ends up sounding like an irresponsible Shining, and not even Shining is particularly good at that kind of sound. “Hamilton Anxiety Scale” actually sounds promising with its hand percussion and off-kilter bass lines reminiscent of The Mars Volta, but it too cannot help but, like most of Pulse, resign its fate to a stale crash cymbal-laden chordgasm. Few albums exemplify the feeling of displaying free-floating ideas and little else from an artist than Pulse.

However, there is one legitimately good song on Pulse, and, it’s the one that, by far, resembles Between the Buried and Me. “Medic”, placed arbitrarily in the middle of the album between two ambient electronic tracks, is a sleeper cell that reveals itself wonderfully with a quick drum intro and takes off from there into a magnificent landscape of fractured riffing and growling vocals. It’s unexpectedly rousing in the best ways, and, at less than three minutes, ransacks every other song on the album. For all the ambition acrobatics Giles attempts on Pulse, “Medic” makes it abundantly clear where the man’s skills lie. And, ultimately and ironically, I don’t think I’ve heard a song as out of place on an album as “Medic” is on the otherwise inert Pulse.

A part of me does have some respect for Giles for diverging so much from the sound of his main group, especially one that’s ensconced in a genre as rigid as metal is in comparison to other musical genres, but, here, his imagination is stretched far too thin. Pulse is probably the most radically eclectic album I’ve ever heard, but it’s nearly impossible to reward it when it is so consistently awful. Those who haven’t a passing interest in Between the Buried and Me should avoid all of Pulse but “Medic”, and BtBaM fans should just wait for the band’s new album in April and breathe a sigh of relief that Pulse isn’t a sign of Giles permanently striking out on his own (yet…). The moral of Pulse is to get “Medic”, and we should be thankful that the album yielded an ending as happy as that.