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    Vinyl Review: “Lonerism” by Tame Impala


    2012 - 10.20

    I skipped writing a review on Innerspeaker, the first album by Australian psychedelic-rock band Tame Impala, because of a variety of reasons; it seemed like everyone already knew about it and I also did wonder if it was a one-off. Innerspeaker was an impeccably well written group of songs with such a delicious coating of 60s sheen that I doubted the band could replicate the same thing twice.

    And with Lonerism they did not replicate it–they took the same sound and stepped a new direction, which is exactly what you want to see for the staying-power of an artist. Somewhere on the web I saw a critique of Innerspeaker that said “phasers were made for this album”. Troof! One thing Tame Impala fully excels at, is using reverb, delay, and them whirling, creamy phasers, to archetypal trippy effect. That heavy, dreamy phasing is back and sounding as good as ever here.

    It should be mentioned right out of the gate that the mastermind behind the operation, multi-instrumentalist Kevin Parker, has seriously got to be a lost love-child of Paul McCartney. It would be an understatement to say his voice is eerily similar to a young Paul. It is a closer match than ‘uncanny’. Which is an integral part of the draw here–a magnificent centerpiece to the band’s palette, summarized on amazon as using “the aid of gear and production techniques that sounded like they hadn’t been dusted off since 1968″. Indeed, some of the cuts could probably fool a blind-listener into thinking some forgotten late-60s vintage gem of an LP was spinning on the turntable.

    My favorite track on the album still has to be the aforementioned “Apocalypse Dreams” with a mesmerizing minimalistic breakdown at its center, lyrics that oscillate between hopeful or sarcastic, and giant, piano-pounding chords anchoring a fuzzed-out version of the lyric melody on guitar, forming a truly epic ending that seems to float off into the sky as the slow fade brings you out easy. They should have ended the album with this one. This is the only cut on the album which was jointly composed by Parker and bandmate Jay Watson; whatever flavor that’s being produced by the combination of these two minds, I hope to hear more of that in the future.

    Possibly a close second for favorite track on this outing was “Mind Mischief” which makes prominent use of synths that sound more like something Neon Indian would use; a touch of 1980s Tears For Fears, in some sparkly, slow motion nostalgic way. Maybe Neon Indian would use that same synth, but they wouldn’t fully submerge it in the calling-card phaser/flanger treatment it gets here. The moment at 2:48 where the new chord progression starts is a particularly wonderful spot for me. There is a good deal of phasing leading up to that moment but right then it somehow gets even thicker and bigger. It’s a great example of ‘just when you thought they couldn’t take it to another level, they go and take it to the next level.’ I would really love to know what kind of gear they are using to achieve that rich, warm effect they are getting.  Just Magical.

    As an aside, isn’t the back cover art awesome?  I included it here at full-res, so you can scan around the image and check out this mountain of toys he’s working.  Sweet picture…

    That same Neon-Indian-esque vibe is also present in spades on “Why Won’t They Talk To Me?” and it works well. The infusion of this synth-heavier, vaguely 80s influence is what I was alluding to at the start when I mentioned a new direction for the style. I dig it. There were maybe hints of this on their first album, but Lonerism brings it to the fore. Another overarching theme here is the great usage of pauses in the music, where there is a short interval during which all instruments stop playing, only to resume in unison a second later. That’s a classic ‘cheap trick’ in songwriting that always works.

    A major feather in the cap of Innerspeaker was the fact that it was 100%. No filler songs, no fluff, no annoying tracks you will skip every time they come up. They didn’t quite achieve the same level here, although the mark wasn’t missed by far. “Sun’s Coming Up” is sort of an amateurish-sounding screw off that offers a view of what sounds like Kevin messing around in the lab/practice room. Which is maybe interesting on that level, but it sticks out like an awkward sore thumb when placed next to all the finished-sounding polished compositions preceding it. The fact that this whimpering should-have-been-a-B-Side closes the album is regrettable–this is not the conclusion it deserves. “She Just Won’t Believe Me” is also something of an odd interlude that’s not really a song. And the constant plodding quarter note chords on every single beat of “Keep On Lying” can definitely get old. I like to picture ‘keyboard cat’ playing that background part. Hahahaha

    But we’re delving into nickpickery now. Viewed from afar, Lonerism is a glorious, billowing flag planted atop a sand dune on a sunny afternoon at the beach. That is to say it’s magnificent. I have been looking forward to the release of Tame Impala’s second album ever since I heard the unimpeachable Innerspeaker, and it’s with a combination of relief, intrigue, and delight that I say they’ve got a worthy sequel here. As I’ve grown older, the amount of new rock music as a percentage of my music collecting has frankly plummeted  Blame it on a perpetually diversifying taste for different genres and styles, blame it on oversaturation as a youngster with cookie-cutter bands that all used the same radio-friendly hard-rock formula, blame it on the sheer number of bands which use bass/drums/guitar/vocals, maybe a keyboard… and never anything else. Maybe I’ve gotten bored with it, maybe I need more variety, or maybe for me to enjoy rock like I once did, it has to have some kind of compelling ‘twist’ beyond the plain-vanilla form.

    Tame Impala has that compelling twist, in the form of a young Paul McCartney doppelganger, spot-on vintage mastering, unparalleled tastefulness with rich phasers, and solid songwriting to showcase their novel, psychedelic sound that leans heavily on late 60s rock influences; the progenitor of the whole genre to begin with. These guys have gone back to the source and tapped into something equivalently timeless as it is overlooked in the sprawling “rock” section of today’s music stores. This band is something special, and I hope they produce many more excellent offerings along the path set forth by these superb first two.

    Album Review: Tiny Blue Biosphere by Rhian Sheehan


    2012 - 10.04

    Like “Arboreal” by The Flashbulb, this album is one that immediately seized me and has maintained a lasting draw, despite the fact that there are a few tracks on here that are definite throw-aways for me.

    This album came out in 2004 and the album name suggests the tone within; a whole lot of riffing on space and cosmology. But unlike, say, Symphony of Science, this guy makes use of wickedly cool nerd samples without being cheesy about it. I do love me some Symphony of Science, but let’s be honest; it’s cheesy. What’s on this album is a hipper approach to melding science and music…

    I should clarify what I said in the opener: the tracks on here with the female vocals really sound dated, to my ear. They’re something reminiscent of 1990′s BT production. Which I listened to maybe a few times too many and now I’m just finished with that sound. So perhaps to someone else, those cuts wouldn’t grate as hard.

    But oh man, when Sheehan gets it right, he nails it. And in a way that I’m super into. It’s electronic music through and through, with something interplanetary in the sound palette. It shares that “we’re totally in outer space while we’re listening to this” vibe that Visit Venus had, but it’s not a retro 60s sound, it’s more of a late 90s, early 2000s electronica sound. Upon hearing this album, I went and checked out the rest of his catalog, but was unable to find anything like this album (again like the Flashbulb, the thing I latch onto seems to be a one-off).

    Sheehan makes good use of ambient sounds. Which makes sense because film scores are apparently his main thing. The intro track to the album is a dreamy ambient affair with the muffled sounds of airport announcements in the background. It’s something that sets the tone, making you feel like we’re about to depart somewhere. Somewhere dreamy.

    Track two busts right into the meat. Carl Sagan’s distinctive inflection questions: “How… Did the Universe… Arise? …. What was around… Before that? … Might there have beennn. No… beginning? … Could the Universe be… Infinitely. Old?” There’s some kind of surreal but subtle effect on his voice too that seems to precede his words in a captivating way. Then the beat drops and Carl Sagan gets peppered around for a while as the vibe marinates. At 1:50 when that first quote gets reintroduced, it feels good; like it’s something you could be piloting a futuristic space fighter over the surface of an alien world to, looking all badass.

    Track four, Phobos, weaves together a lovely multicolored yarn of samples, with subtle piano, hand drums, etheral vocals, and maybe a couple other electronic sounds I can’t put my finger on. Then it ends with this long-ass movie quote with minimal music behind it, neither building up nor breaking down, which something which I always find tedious (I’m looking at you James Warren). Fortunately this long-winded speech is the exception to the rule on this album.

    Cut number seven, entitled “Cosmology” opens up with a set of 4 repeating chords from a string section, building into a grooving lounge-type beat with vibraphone and guitar. And booyah, Carl is back, this time offering “the current scientific story of the universe” in which he explains the big bang theory as only he can. Although it certainly doesn’t hurt that Carl has masterful oratory skillZ (that’s skills with a capital Z), I think a key component here is the fact that the music builds and swells along with what he is talking about. The energy changes as his discussion goes on, which is kind of a fascinating format that I wish I knew more examples of. It’s like a long speech about interesting things, wrapped inside of a changing groove that switches density to add or subtract emphasis from the speech. That’s in contrast to what I was complaining about before, where a long expository quote tramples over the music; the equivalent of a one sided conversation where the music just can’t get a word in. That the music flows in tandem *with* the oratory is a pivotal distinction.

    “Degrees of Freedom” is also worthy of note; a pleasant, flowing groove that uses acoustic guitar above a mellow four on the floor beat.

    And then there’s my favorite jam on the album, called “System”. We hear astronaut samples for the first time, and it works so beautifully I really wish there were more cuts just like this. The song uses acoustic guitar and strings alongside a series of synthetic sounds in a very impressive melding of these disparate elements. The mood it sets is one perfectly suited to the “magnificent desolation” as Buzz Aldrin described. A kind of yearning but still graceful and full of wonder.

    This is a great album, full of musical cues that transport the mind on a journey across space and time, unlike anything else I can name. The two tracks marrying Carl Sagan samples with sweeping music that neither overwhelms his words, nor falls limply behind them–all while avoiding coming off as cheesy–make it a memorable listen alone. That Sheehan goes on to populate his odyssey with other compositions which stand on their own merits as clever sci-fi/science-y mashups make this album required listening for all nerdy types. This one is a touchstone for me, for all the reasons detailed herein.

    “The world is turning pages, while I am just sitting here”


    2012 - 08.19

    Been a while since the last post; got a few in the works, but you know, logjams.

    Anyway, check out this Tama Impala song from their next album due in October.  Their first album, Innerspeaker, was so damn good that I really had very low hopes their new album could live up to the same level.  This tune does give me hope though.  Even if the rest of the album is throwaway, this tune is a huge number.  With some great lyrics that are both whimsical and deep in the same breath…

     

    I’m a sucker for that long, drawn-out, epic ending.  Sort of like “Where the River Goes” by Stone Temple Pilots, off that landmark album, Core.

    Vinyl Review: Visit Venus “Music For Space Tourism, Vol.1″


    2012 - 06.11

    I’m going to try to restrain myself from indulging in a deluge of superlatives to describe the bit of wax in question here, but that intention may not be able to last long. Behold:

    Visit Venus is a duo of German composers Mario Cullmann and Mario con Hacht. In the liner notes for the album it tells a story about how the source material for this was a forgotten 96-track NASA-commissioned musical space odyssey from the 60s, made by the fathers of the two composers responsible for this album. I’m not sure whether or not to believe that. I’m like 70% sure that’s just an awesome fish-tale, but then again, there’s really something about these tracks.

    I discovered this gem a couple years ago courtesy of the DJs on Groove Salad radio from soma.fm but the album originally came out in 1995. Let me say that again: this album came out in NINETEEN NINETY FIVE. That’s just… man. Head-exploding. I look back and think about whatever I was listening to in ’95 and I can safely say that it wasn’t half as hip as this. It’s pretty rare to find an album that you can listen to from start to finish and feel like every single track fits right in, with zero fluff to fill in spaces between the juicy bits. This is one of those albums. And not only that–the sound of this record is so ahead of its time, that if I hadn’t said it twice, there’s no way anyone would guess this came from the 90s. Really the feeling captured on here is some perfect slice of the 60s, mashed up with a very tasteful downtempo production from maybe a few years ago. That doesn’t do it justice either. It’s more like music from an alternate universe, an alternate historical timeline where the space race never ended, men still wore hats, women dressed classy but sexy, and everyone hung out in Eames-designed swank pads that orbited the moon sipping cocktails and looking svelte. But with modern drum machines and samplers too. It truly sounds like the name, Music For Space Tourism.

    What do I mean by that? Well the recipe here is start with a bountiful heaping of buttery-smooth rhodes piano, pour on a diverse mix of mellow flutes, horns, vibraphone and xylophone that are smooth but never cheesy, fold in some sophisticated basslines, twist it up in a series of retrogasmic instrumental samples, and then bump things up a couple notches with deftly tasteful electronic drums. It’s genuinely sexy. Oh and it grooves. Overall It’s the retro sonic-palette that ‘sells’ it. That said, I will comment that the drums are as well-selected as you could ask for; they don’t sound dated in the least, and I know that in 10 more years, these tracks will seen just as fresh to anyone hearing them for the first time. Similar to say, Mushroom Jazz, I don’t think it’s something you’d really dance to in your living room, although at club volumes, I do wonder if it wouldn’t magically transform the same way Farina’s music did when I saw him live. Unquestionably though, you can/will feel like a total badass mackzin & relaxzin to this.

    In short, this is an utterly genius masterpiece of laid-back. This album is ‘the vibe’ that someone envisioned when the genre of smooth jazz was born (and before it went horribly, ghastly wrong), ‘the groove’ that downtempo/lounge producers strive to achieve, and through its samples, invokes the ghost of an era when mankind was doing incredible things. And as you can see from the images, I’m a very very lucky boy to have my very own copy of this archetype on vinyl. It’s instantly one of my most prized pieces in the collection. This copy came from the UK and I believe it’s a German pressing, across a trio of 33RPM LPs. It even includes a bonus track which is not present on the CD version! A bonus track which does, in fact, not suck, and is worthy of this master class in chill. I cannot recommend this work enough. The downtempo genre simply does not get any better than this.

    Rating: 10/10

    Album Art Feature: Cali Fever


    2012 - 04.30

    Here is one of my favorite LPs in my collection, still in the original plastic wrap, Cali Fever by the band Orgone, from LA.  If it weren’t for the New Mastersounds, I think these guys would probably hold the title of the hottest thing happening today, in my taste.  Vintage production styles, superbly written funk tunes, and a killer instrumentation (namely a super-tight trumpeter & trombonist) round out the reasons to love this band.  Cali Fever’s got a number of gems on it, including the title track.  Get onto Spotify (where you can listen instantly and free) to check out the album Bacano if you’ve never heard these guys.  Also a stellar offering.  Seriously, love, love, love this band.

    Of course, it’s featured here because the album cover is a neat piece of artwork unto itself.

    Album Art Feature: BLAM


    2012 - 04.20

    The music on this LP is, for the most part, cheesegasmic.  However, I will say that the Brothers Johnson DO have their moments.  And if you can stomach the initial groans, there are some genuinely cool bits in here.  I actually bought the record purely based on this cover, which is, as you can obviously see, amazing:

    Album Art Feature: Cosmic Turnaround


    2012 - 04.14

    I saw this album in the used bins at Cactus and I thought, holy %*^# that looks increeedible.  Unfortunately, it sounds more like a high school band practicing in their garage than some obscure Jimi gem.  I guess this album goes to show, no matter how legendary of a badass you become, you have to start somewhere unassuming.

    Album Art Feature: Crawl Space


    2012 - 04.07

    Man, they don’t make em like this anymore.  Below is Art Farmer’s “Crawl Space” LP, which is a fantastic, relaxing jazz record.  Don’t confuse this with ‘smooth jazz’–it is not.  It’s a legit combo jazz album that knows how to chill, with plenty of top shelf flugelhorn playing.  DIG IT.

    Also, I really, deeply love that there is a note on the inside addressing the album “To John, Enjoy.  Love, Barb   X”  Clearly, this particular LP was destined for no one other than I.

    Impulse 61, earning its tour of duty stripes


    2012 - 04.01

    A little painter’s tape, a silver paint pen, and some imagination…

    Had my buddy DJ Don Solo visiting from Chicago for a little under a week, and we spent a lot of quality time on the Impulse 61 jamming out ideas and creating new electronic compositions.  Also, a round of light-up frisbee at 3:30am around the neighborhood.  Hopefully we didn’t wake too many neighbors!  With the impending move, it may not have been the ‘practical’ decision to devote a whole week to music, but hey, chances for collaboration with familiar allies are few and far between.  An EP should be coming out of these sessions, if not a full album.  Release date is still far off though; I’ve got boxes to transport and he won’t return to his Chicago workstation for a few months yet.  To be continued…

    In related news, I learned that labeling knobs on your keyboard makes you feel really cool.  Also, the Novation Automap settings are really annoying!  For the sake of anyone with a similar issue: we had this problem where the knobs and sliders would somehow be occupying the exact same midi channels.  ie when you move a knob, it also moves the slider, altering whatever that slider happened to be assigned to.  We defeated this issue by leaving the  ”Reason” template and creating our own custom one, where we reassigned all sliders and knobs to “cc” with their own individual midi channels.  This cleared up every knob and slider for use!  I also got my feet wet with Ableton Live (Lite) 8, which is a killer piece of software that came with these keys.  Fun, fun stuff.

    Updated Jams in the Microcosmic Reel to Reel


    2012 - 03.17

    It pleases me greatly to violently rip the tablecloth off of two steaming hot electronic compositions which are now available for your aural enjoyment. They’re sort of polar opposites; one is very long, deeply complex, and took maybe a year to complete, and the other is under 4 minutes, and took maybe 4-5 evenings tops. Still, I’m proud of them both for different reasons.

    Sorry mobile viewers or RSS readers, you’ll actually have to view the site in a desktop browser in order to listen. Hit the play button between the spinning reels on the menu above and skip to tracks 2 and 4. If you don’t see it, navigate here and you should get it.

    Track 2 in the player is called “To Feel Good” and it’s a composition created over the course of many months of collaboration with my awesome friend Vincent. We used Reason and some Carl Sagan quotes from Cosmos to make this epic, meandering jam that refuses to quit. Out of everything I’ve ever done with Reason, this one may just take the award for longest and most complex composition.

    I’m seriously, really delighted with the outcome and proud of “To Feel Good”. Vince made excellent, large contributions here, and together I think we made something colossal! Definitely check it out. Obviously it’s the apple of my eye, so I’ll just stop hyping it up and let you listen.

    Track 4 is entitled “Bullshit Prickly Pear Soda” and it’s the first morsel of sounds worth sharing from the new Impulse 61! As much for my own sake as anything else, here is some reflection on the compositional process for BPPS, which reveals my typical production workflow as well as some new benefits from having the Impulse around:

    It started as a jam between myself and my buddy Luke who had come to visit. We used the drum pads to tagteam this beat, taking several passes to add elements one by one. That’s actually a pretty nice way to create a beat, since it gives you time to listen and you can be thoughtful about how what you’re adding fits into the existing rhythms. Second, Luke added the bassline. He was like “I don’t know what to play!” and I told him “just play anything man, it’ll sound cool!” Aaaaaand success.

    The third element was the synth which is introduced over the bassline, countering the space it fills. I ended up varying the last part of it just to keep things mixed up, much later in production. The fourth element was the nintendo-sounding square wave synth, which only interjects at the end of each loop. This element filled the remainer of empty space left by the main synth and the bassline. The more I listen, the more electronic compositions I find employ such framework: use sparse elements and have each one fill its own individual space, with no overlap. It’s a good formula.

    The very last thing that got added was the thick, constant 16ths rave-sounding synth that comes in last. Up to this point, everything was composed while just looping the same 4 bars over and over. The vast majority of my Reason compositions follow that formula; looping a phrase and adding elements on top, then arranging it all later. Arranging pretty much just consists of copying and pasting in various combinations until you’ve got a buildup, a plateau, a breakdown, maybe a B-section (this jam’s got one, which I added later), then a return to the A and a wind-down. Add some cymbol crashes and maybe some buildup sounds and bam, done.

    Having the impulse handy, I then did a few extra passes through the entire tune, automating various knobs and sliders as it played back. I was fairly shocked by just how much that adds. And sure, you can do that with the mouse, or “draw it” in reason, but the human element of twisting knobs adds something that mouse sort of… filters out. I definitely plan to do more of that going forward. This is only trial # 001!

    File these under “yesss”.