Sunday, January 29, 2012

Spy Versus Spy - Little Lights and Various


Waiting for Centralia to Sink
Best Man Nomination
Red Cars Go Faster
Game Ruiner

I’ll be honest, I ripped this record a long time ago. Pre-torrent and mediafire days, but post Napster. Anyone remember Kazaa? Audiogalaxy? Damn, you could find just about anything between those two sites. Audiogalaxy had some of the rarest stuff you could find on the internet. And with the little known post-hardcore outfit from Stoke-on-Trent, United Kingdom, it was the only way I was able to get a copy of the excellent Little Lights. Knowing how difficult it was to find Spy Versus Spy material I’ve carried that same rip with me for over a decade now. Regulars who’ve read my Strikeforce Diabo or Twelve Hour Turn posts know how much I dig the oft-mocked math-rock/screamo/hardcore genres. The now defunct Spy Versus Spy are one of the best at combining all of that late, Fugazi-influenced rock.

The daunting, terrific “Waiting for Centralia to Sink” is Little Light’s first track, a nearly 9-minute long epic jam I can still put on repeat to this day. Its three-minute long breakdown, so prevalent to all those late and great 90’s emo outfits, is its highlight -- a groove so fucking slick they make it sound easy as they glide along in 6/4 time. “Red Cars Go Faster” hits full force with an off-kilter drum beat while the guitars dual start/stop melodies to perfection, reminding me of some of the best Hot Water Music material from the mid-90’s. “Best Man Nomination” is consistently erratic, doubling its speed, stopping and starting on a dime, mixing screams and howls with whispers and soft vocals. I was able to grab a few tracks not included on Little Lights, (“Game Ruiner”, “Union Station Still”, “Rich Girls’ Mistletoe”) which follow the same unique formula Spy Versus Spy patented.

I know this isn’t for everyone, but these dudes created some of the best screamo/post-hardcore we’re ever going to hear, and it’s a shame they never garnered the success that some of their counterparts (Braid, Hot Water Music) have.

Monday, January 23, 2012

St. Vincent - Actor


Actor Out of Work
Laughing with a Mouth of Blood
The Party

I thought Actor was overhyped when it first came out. It was strange, it was intimidating, its hooks were subdued, it was artsy. But then Strange Mercy dropped two years later and I couldn’t stop playing the damned thing. Revisiting St. Vincent’s sophomore record has led to the discovery of an incredibly strong Side B. I first heard the bizarre “Marrow” on a Letterman episode and was impressed by the musicality of the whole thing. Her performance was solid, but it took me a half dozen listens to fully embrace its groovy glory, its wind and brass led instrumentation, the brilliance of its mechanical sound pairing with Clark's pleas to no longer be controlled.

The song that immediately hit me was “The Party”, a beautiful piece driven by a slow, refrained swing, which backs the story of a budding romance. “The Bed” has a haunting feel, complete with the harnessed echoes of Disney music that has, as far as I’m concerned, become her trademark; the effects and its theatrical nature hearkens to Andrew Bird. The best of the best is “Laughing With a Mouth of Blood”, which begins with an expertly crafted, finger-picking riff and opens up in to an upbeat, almost hip-hop like rhythm. When the acoustic riff comes back in Clark sings my favorite lyrics on the record: “All of my old friends aren’t so friendly / All of my old haunts are now haunting me”. It turns out there’s an amusing video for the song as well, Portlandia fans should be pleased.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

St. Vincent - Strange Mercy


Northern Lights
Strange Mercy
Champagne Year

Back to the grind, but at least I get to start back up with one of the best records of 2011. When I was reading reviews and watching music videos and live performances from St. Vincent in preparation for this post, I stumbled across an up and coming music critic in Anthony Fantano. The reason I mention him is because he beat me to the punch in what I thought was a clever way to describe St. Vincent’s music: a sort of warped mixture of rock'n'roll, art pop and Disney fairy tale scores. While that might sound unappealing, Annie's beautiful voice in combination with her contemplative lyrics makes the whole thing work. Instead of idealistic romance she sings of realistic love; the complications of politics in relationships, her struggles with equality, and honest confessionals of her own wrongdoings and shortcomings.

St. Vincent's first single, “Cruel”, is a solid introduction, although not an accurate representation of the record as a whole. It's the poppiest of the bunch, bouncing along cheerfully enough that one might not notice the undercurrent of sadness Clark projects as she sings about objectification and its guilty exploiters. It's hard to know where to go from here, and it's because the sum adds up to more than its parts. There aren't any duds on Strange Mercy but highlights include the tragic title track "Strange Mercy", "Northern Lights" with its the TV on the Radio like production, the solemn, tongue-in-cheek “Champagne Year”, and "Surgeon", which contains some of the best guitar licks you've heard in years. And damn, Annie Clark can play with the best of them. Her fret work is the stuff of experts, and her cutting-edge use of effects and pedals is awe-inspiring. I urge you to watch her work on “Surgeon” and “Strange Mercy” in the video posted below. It’s phenomenal stuff.

St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy is one is one of 2011's best records. I still have it on regular rotation, and the more I listen the more I pick up subtle, rewarding nuances in the layers upon layers of instrumentation St. Vincent includes. Annie’s combination of songwriting, studio technique, guitar prowess, beautiful voice, and honest lyricism are pushing her towards the mainstream. And yea, her looks don’t hurt either. Perhaps that's one of St. Vincent’s conundrums, for all the emphasis Clark puts in her distaste for objectification, the audience can’t help but do so. The blogs and the youtube fan videos (especially this one) and comments sections can attest to this. It adds more intrigue to Strange Mercy and the Annie Clark persona though, which in turn increases her popularity. However these are minor issues attributed to her success, if they're issues at all. For now she's undoubtedly celebrating the fact that she's one of the best artists and performers on the circuit.