Ten Minute Review: Explosions in the Sky – The Wilderness

explosions in the sky the wilderness

Post-rock albums, and really, most instrumental albums, are very difficult to write about.  There usually isn’t a story, as there are obviously no lyrics, so instead we have to focus on the moods and tones the particular band is trying to set with the music.  The best way to get to the root of the matter is to look at one album in comparison with previous albums by that band, if possible.  This album, The Wilderness, by Explosions in the Sky, is no different.  We can look back to their most recent previous release of Take Care, Take Care, Take Care to see what new directions they decided to take.  In many instances, an evaluation like “more of the same” sounds like an insult, but when a band so clearly nails a particular sound, it is praise.  Post-rock has always been an interesting genre of music to me, because it is truly interpretive.  The listener can, well, listen to the album and they can get an entirely different experience than myself or anyone else.  I think immediately to another popular post-rock band, Sigur Ros, who do use vocals, but in a fictional language called “Hopelandic”.  I recall at least one of their album/liner notes for their releases just has several blank pages where you can write what you feel.  Pretty clever stuff.  Explosions in the Sky doesn’t need vocals to tell a story, but the story is one of your own choosing.  When and if you listen to this album, close your eyes for at least one whole track and let the music take you somewhere.

The first track released by the band from this album is Disintegration Anxiety.  It’s a short four minute song about *fill in the blank*.  In this particular track, the band starts with a sound reminiscent of a Battles album, with the distorted synthesizer intro leading into repetitive and consistent guitar riff laying the frame of the track.  On top of the guitar is a synthesizer sound that quietly floats along as the track progresses, as the drums start to get louder.  The drums, especially for this track, are mixed to sound almost fuzzy to lessen their impact.  The snare and bass effects aren’t nearly as pronounced as in traditional songs, but they manage to take over when the guitar fades away.  Each instrument drifts in and out of the song, and after the drums lose focus, the synthesizer comes back in.  The result is an impressive and yet comforting track that culminates towards the end with a distorted guitar wrapping things up.  It doesn’t really build up in the sense like some progressive rock tracks I talk about in earlier reviews, and just drifts (I use that word a lot in this context because that’s what it sounds like) in and out until it just stops.  Symbolism?  Maybe.  That’s up for you to decide.

The next track Explosions released was Logic of a Dream, which is one of their longer tracks on the album clocking in at a little over 6 1/2 minutes.  It starts very quiet until the synthesizer really kicks in about 50 seconds in.  I immediately thought back to a few M83 tracks from the Oblivion Soundtrack with those notes, until the drums rolled in around 2 minutes.  They don’t slowly come in, and instead just decide to be a part of this track now.  It was as if the drummer was just sitting there in the studio while the keyboard played, got a little bored, and said “Ok, we’re doing this now.”  Unlike some of the other tracks on this album, Logic of a Dream has somewhat of a destination.  After the drums kick in, the sound builds and the intensity grows and then plateaus.  Once it hits the peak around 3:45, it just lets go.  This is post-rock at its finest.  It bails on traditional song structures entirely and marches to the beat of its own drum.  This track in many ways is the tale of two songs.  The first half is borderline metal in the way it’s treated, and then it falls down into a valley of something not unlike soft indie-like pop.  I appreciate the diversity, and it shows that even after 16 years of music among seven albums, Explosions in the Sky is still not afraid to wander into unusual territories.

The tracks differ one to the next, but I imagine if the album were reorganized, each track could very easily lead into the next in one massive soundscape.  The album is balanced well, and doesn’t keep one level of intensity for too long.  The three and change minutes of Logic of a Dream give way to something completely different, and that can be said of many tracks to the ones following them.  Listen to Losing the Light, for example, which follows Disintegration Anxiety, and starts with a somber synthesized piano.  It goes along slowly building into something, and then instead of hitting the top or growing into some massive sound, just lulls back into a quiet surrender of music.  After Losing the Light, which is soft and light and maybe even a little sad, the band switches gears into something a lot more uptempo and shorter in Infinite Orbit.  They like to keep us guessing.

Something important to note about this album is that the band largely refrained from making long songs this time around.  The average time of each song is probably around 5 minutes if I felt like doing the math.  This is very different from many of their previous releases.  The longest song on this album, Colors in Space, is 7:14, which is significantly shorter than most songs from even their most recent album of Take Care.  They even have a track on this album that lasts just over two and a half minutes.  They took away from a lot of the drama and long sweeping soundscapes by shortening the tracks up, but they sacrificed length for diversity.  Instead of having six tracks that drag on for 8+ minutes, they can instead give us nine very different tracks with very different sounds.  The album lasts about 46 minutes, and is just about the same length as Take Care.  Comparing those albums is simple and difficult at the same time, because the band doesn’t have as much time to explore or roam as they did in tracks like Let Me Back In from Take Care.  This leaves less time for drifting, but more time for exploring the different areas of music in your mind.  Conceptually, that’s a difficult sentence, so it really only makes sense if you’re listening to the music as you read.  These words may not do the music justice, because the music can take you to places my descriptions can’t reach.

At times throughout this album, I feel like I’m travelling through space.  I suppose it helps with track titles like Infinite Orbit and Colors in Space, but that’s the interpretation I decided to go with.  I started in the Wilderness and went up and far away.  It may seem difficult to rank this album without it sounding completely arbitrary, but that’s just what happens with this kind of music.  You and I could listen to this album and get two completely different feelings from it.  You may hate it, but I rather enjoyed The Wilderness.  It feels like it could easily be the soundtrack of a space exploration movie or documentary where there isn’t much dialogue or spoken word.  I drew parallels to M83’s Oblivion Soundtrack because do sound and feel alike.  It put me in a good place.  I’ll give this album 12 ratings units out of 15, because it didn’t blow me away but I enjoyed listening to it from start to finish.  I do so enjoy a good post-rock album.  Whether this album improved on previous works by Explosions in the Sky may be up to you, but either way this album shows that Explosions is still firmly among the best in the business of post-rock bands.  I just hope they don’t wait five years to release another album.

This album releases April 1st, and is not an April Fool’s joke.  Actually, a lot of albums are dropping the 1st.

Ten Minute Review: Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression

iggy pop post pop depression

You readers are lucky, you’re getting a double whammy of music reviews this weekend.  I figured in my absence, the music world kept turning, so I wanted to write about Iggy Pop’s new album, along with the review I already posted about Redemption’s The Art of Loss, which can be found here.  This Iggy Pop album is different from his others, though, because it’s a solo album by definition, but really it’s Iggy Pop meets Queens of the Stone Age.  It’s a fascinating combination, and one that I would not have put together in my wildest dreams, and yet it’s kind of perfect.  Iggy Pop, for those of you unfamiliar, is the frontman for the pre-punk band The Stooges, and at 68 years of age, he’s not slowing down.  I’m sure you can google some of his antics, as he’s always been a wild performer, which always made him unique.

This one-off supergroup consists not only of Iggy Pop, as you can see from the album cover.  He is joined by Josh Homme and Dean Fertita, frontman/guitarist and keyboardist/bassist, respectively, of Queens of the Stone Age.  The band is rounded out with drummer Matt Helders, of the Arctic Monkeys.  I don’t know if I can accurately and effectively define this album in terms of a genre, because it’s part garage rock, part art rock, and has some jazz thrown in there as well.  Unlike a few of the albums I’ve written about, this album doesn’t have a constant theme other than an “I’m tired of this stuff” vibe I get here and there.

The album opens with this track, Break Into Your Heart, and right from the start I realized something.  I realized that this album was going to be the album that Lulu had aspired to be.  If you’re unfamiliar with my reference, the album Lulu was the abomination of a collaboration between the legendary Lou Reed and Metallica.  It took an aging rock star and slammed him into the middle of Metallica during their “trying to figure out where they are in the music world now” stage, and it was a disaster.  I wrote about the album many years ago, and while maybe it was just far ahead of its time, it didn’t make me feel anything.  Post Pop Depression, however, is something completely different.

This album is emotional, visceral, and powerful.  Iggy’s voice, at almost 70, has taken a more haunting quality over the years.  He doesn’t try to hit the notes he used to hit, and he’s fine with how he’s changed over the years.  I mean, he still has the “I hate the establishment” vibe as he’s always had, and that’s terrific.  His rebellious streak shines in this album, as he’s able to combine his singing with spoken word to get his messages across.  He’s got a lot of anger in him.  Not every song is a downer, though, and when each song starts, you can tell who had a greater influence on it between the band members.  For instance, Iggy seems to have run the show for Break Into Your Heart, but in the next song posted, Gardenia, it may have been more of a Homme/Fertita affair.  You can hear the difference in songs depending on the mixing of the instruments, and whether Iggy’s voice is louder than the guitar.  No matter what the song, though, you will hear clear riffs that would be right out of a QOTSA b-side.

An easy comparison for this album happens to be David Bowie, may he rest in peace, and Iggy definitely channels Bowie on this album.  In some places, his voice even sounds like Bowie.  It’s really quite something.  For a minute, I thought I was listening to a Blackstar demo album collaboration.  For more on Blackstar, Bowie’s final album, feel free to check out my review here.  It’s not a shameless plug, rather, it’s a comparison.  I defy you to listen to this album and tell me that Iggy doesn’t sound kind of like David Bowie in songs like American Valhalla and Gardenia.  Either way, Gardenia was the first song that Iggy released to get fans hyped up for this surprise project.  In case you weren’t sure, or hadn’t really heard of this, the album kind of came out of nowhere.  I imagine the whole situation in my head – Iggy was bored one day and wanted to write a few songs, and was listening to some music when a QOTSA song came on and he said “hey, these guys aren’t bad, I wonder what they’re up to?”  He then got in touch with whoever he needed to, and called up Josh Homme and said “hey, I’m making this album, want to make it with me?”  And I’m sure Homme responded “hell yes” and that was it.  Sometimes things are that simple.  Obviously, I’m not saying that’s what happened, but come on.  Can you picture it happening any other way?

Sunday is the kind of song you’d get if you told Iggy Pop and Josh Homme that they had to write a Duran Duran song.  It’s catchy, poppy, uses a lot more electronic than anything else on the album, and very light with a fun bassline.  It’s a stark contrast to even the next song, Vulture, which is dark and heavy.  This album is very raw, and doesn’t tend to use much fancy stuff outside of songs like Sunday, or artificial sounds like chimes or bells.  The production of it is very gritty as well, and it sounds like many of these songs may have been recorded in one take.  I doubt that’s the case, because Homme tends to be a perfectionist (and rightfully so, have you listened to his music before?) but it’s the sound they were going for.  It’s kind of like bands that record in lo-fi now, I remember someone recently sending me a clip of an album where a band recorded on an ipad to get a less produced sound.  In the vein of Iggy of the past, this album is crunchy and heavy, and features plenty of Iggy yelling about things that bother him.  This may bother some listeners not used to Iggy as a musician, but it’s actually kind of perfect.  This random collaboration is a home run, and one that I’m so glad it actually happened.

Throughout the album, you can hear the tracks like In The Lobby that sound as if they were pulled from QOTSA’s library and Iggy recorded vocals over them.  It’s a surprising fit, all things considered.  Would you have ever paired Iggy Pop and Josh Homme together?  I wouldn’t have, and yet it makes total sense.  Their different styles contrast and pull together to make something that’s quite unusual and fun to listen to.  Opposites attract, but then again, Homme and Iggy aren’t total opposites.  I won’t get into the differences between the two musicians, and it seems that I’ve ignored Fertita and Helders, but that’s not the case.  It’s just easier to refer to this as project as Iggy and Homme, since those two contributed the most to this project.

I call this a project because it’s more than just an album.  The guys are going on tour to support this album, and they will be joined by Troy Van Leeuwen (also of QOTSA, along with APC and Failure).  Also, I call this a project, because from everything I’ve read, the guys didn’t write songs separately.  They came into the studio with just ideas and then put them together and recorded.  That’s about as cool and rock and roll as you get.  With all that written, I proudly give Post Pop Depression 13 Ratings Units out of 15.  It was fun, it was thought provoking, and it rocked.  It’s the kind of thing I never would have imagined in my wildest dreams, and yet it’s perfect right where it is.  I can’t wait to see them on tour.

Ten Minute Review: Redemption – The Art of Loss

redemption the art of loss

I’m baaaaack!  The past few weeks were exhausting, and I didn’t have the time or mental faculties to write a review up.  This album, by the prog metal band Redemption, actually was released in the last week of February.  I listened to it when it came out and decided I would write about it when I could.  For those of you unfamiliar, this is the other band that Ray Alder of Fates Warning is the frontman.  I actually got to see Fates Warning back at one of my earlier concerts in 2002 (or 2003 maybe) along with Dream Theater and Queensryche, and it was a great show.  This album unfortunately, is lacking lead guitarist Bernie Versailles, who is still recovering from an aneurysm that he suffered in 2014, but he was replaced by several capable guitarists that do the band justice.  As a bonus, the big cover that the band went through on this album, The Who’s Love Reign O’er Me, brought in John Bush, the ex lead vocalist of Anthrax in the 90s.  Before we go any further, however, I will warn you that this is one of those “long song” bands.  On this album, there’s an 8 minute track, a 10 1/2 minute track, another just about 8 minute track, and it closes with a 22 1/2 minute odyssey.  If you have a short musical attention span, this band and album may not be for you.  If you’re a fan, jump in!

The band released the entire album for streaming on TeamRock, and as far as I know, it is still up so you can listen to the album in its entirety here!

If you don’t want to go elsewhere to listen to this band, here is their official single from the album, the opening track and title of the album, The Art of Loss.

Redemption has always interested me with their complicated song structures, complicated rhythms and deep thematic lyrics.  This album, for the most part, covers the question of “if you could do it all over again, would you make the same choices again?”  That’s heavy stuff.  The final track, At Day’s End, really goes all in on that concept.  This album isn’t quite a concept album like the previously reviewed The Astonishing by Dream Theater (review here, if interested), but it does fairly consistently address that one major theme.

Something important I’d like to point out about this album is that it doesn’t hold back.  It goes until they feel like stopping.  This can easily wear a listener out, especially someone who’s used to 3 minute pop tracks, so like I mentioned before, this album isn’t for everyone.  For the fans of this style of music, this is beautiful.  Despite how chock full it is of music, it doesn’t really get bogged down and doesn’t drift off like many long songs tend to.  One of the highlight tracks, Hope Dies Last, is ten and a half minutes long, but it doesn’t feel anywhere close to that length thanks to a catchy riff (ten points to anyone who recognizes what it sounds like) and a constant pace.

You may recognize the name Marty Friedman, and that’s because he was the lead guitarist of Megadeth during the Rust in Peace/Countdown days.  A guitarist like him joining them for a track just adds another dynamic to their music.  It’s a lot like my praise last year for Earthside – bring in some great musicians to play along and you almost can’t go wrong.  As long as all the members have the singular goal to make the track into something better together, it’s bound to be solid.  While this track, Damaged, errs a little more on the pop side than some of their other, heavier music, it doesn’t betray the theme of the album.  A lot of the lyrics, if you can tell by the song titles, have a slightly darker theme, as you can hear in tracks like Thirty Silver, but music doesn’t always have to make you happy to be good.

Unfortunately, if there were a weak point in this album, it would be their cover of Love Reign O’er Me.  It’s such a hard song to pull off, and while they did pull it off for the most part, it just doesn’t really seem to fit with the rest of the album.  The band must have decided to loosen up a little before launching into their potential magnum opus of At Day’s End, as the second half of the album isn’t quite as powerful until that point.  I appreciate the ambition of the band to decide to cover this The Who classic, but I have mixed feelings about it.  I don’t know exactly what causes the discomfort, but it could that the vocals don’t seem to sit completely right with me.  Ray Alder’s voice has come down over the years, and he doesn’t hit or try to hit the old high notes he was known for.  I appreciate that they wrote the notes so he didn’t have to struggle to get there, but maybe my feeling for The Who cover was that the vocal range wasn’t exactly what I had grown accustomed to with the original.

This album is long, and very busy and full of music at every turn.  They don’t really take much time off, and that says something considering this album comes in just under a cool 76 minutes.  I applaud them for writing a full album, and while it starts incredibly strong until a little over the halfway point, it slows down until the big ending.  I love when bands go out with a bang.  I love incredibly long tracks, that are 20 minutes plus with multiple parts and stories.  This hits all of the right nerves for me, and I’m glad that Redemption is back.  I hope Bernie recovers soon, because his presence was missed, even with the good replacements the band pulled in to make the album in the studio.  I suppose you’re wanting a ranking now.  Good.  I’m happy to give this album 12.5 ratings units out of 15.  It was a very solid album from start to finish, and other than the weak patches I mentioned above, I enjoyed this album thoroughly.  This is one of those albums that I can play from start to finish without having to skip any tracks, although I may tend to pay less attention to the tracks that didn’t work for me.

 

Thanks for reading, and I’m glad to be back writing again.  Another review will be posted shortly, as I have a lot of music to talk about.