Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Regina Spektor - Soviet Kitsch (2004) Album Review

I like Regina Spektor. Her voice blushes with versatility, and she has her own outlandish way of utilizing it. But regardless, she knows how to use it, no doubt about that. She plays a mean piano, and to top it all off, she's just utterly cute. Proof of cuteness come in little pieces. Her quirky live performance is a given, but let's dig a bit more. Say, a video footage from one of her concerts where she messes up Fidelity halfway through. But before that happens, everyone was singing along and having the time of their lives while she was playing the piano and singing to her heart's content. Then she stops singing, quickly fixates her eyes on the keyboard and realizes she has forgotten the notes. She tries to find the correct keys in a panic - like a little kid who desperately scours for a lost toy in the midst of bedroom clutter - but utterly fails, ultimately ruining the song. Everyone starts to laugh and she starts to laugh as well. Ashamed, she continues trying to find the right keys, but then decides to just finish the part by singing a-capella, now with the whole room singing with her. Ecstatic applause follows. Really, you just have to see it for yourself. Now, I don't know if this is just vendored naivete trying to win audiences over with oozing cuteness, but let's leave that particular train of thought to the "professionals".

Ts-tss-ts-ts-tss... stoyle.
What's this all got to do with this album - you might ask. Well, I am talking about her because listening to Regina Spektor really isn't just about the music. More importantly, it's about her. When you listen to her records for a bit, and when you get to know her a bit (her public persona, that is), you begin to adapt a habit of thinking of this sweet, coy, honest, humble, talented artist behind that peculiar wall of sound. In some cases, you'll probably forgive the excessive peculiarity only because it is she who's singing. I can't exactly pin-point which version of my "Spektor-liking" self is listening when her stuff is playing. But damn, she sure is a delight.

I don't think I've ever heard a voice with this much personality before. It's as if you can see the fibers of her being in all its eccentricities. And perhaps you'll find it less and less spontaneous with each listen (most notably Carbon Monoxide's "walk-a walk-a walk-a" gimmick), but there's actually another barrier to break, one with no vocal surprises but with profundity, or perhaps vagueness masked in profundity, whichever floats your boat. But it's evident that she's a gifted writer and poet.

In Ode To Divorce, she pictures being stuck inside her ex-boyfriend's mouth who engages in a passionate "killer" lip-locking with his new girlfriend, but then proceeds to do something as unflattering as begging for money right afterwards. Way to throw everyone off the mood, Spektor. But clever, I must say you... I can say the same for Chemo Limo, which espouses dying in style, hence the limo, rather than try grueling chemo for chances of a cure. Having "crispy crispy Benjamin Franklin" synonymous to money is also a nice touch. Most of the poetry is subjective and open to individual perception, but not overly vague for everyone to develop a deep liking for all things "Spektor". Just have the patience to keep an eye out for it, lest you end up with another female with a fancy way of singing about nothing.

My score:
7 out of 10

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Deftones Pacific Rim Dates

photo from www.deftones.com
The Deftones happen to be one of the few surviving bands from the nu-metal era (late 90's to early 2000's) that I like. And I just found out that they will be visiting Manila on February 12th next year. Given that they've recently released a well-received record in Diamond Eyes earlier this year, one can imagine the excitement of fans in the region. I'm pretty excited about it as well.

This will be their first time around these parts (I think) and god knows when they'll be back, so I might as well hop on this rare opportunity. They're not particularly the first band I'd go see for a really tight live performance, but judging from recent videos on Youtube, they're improving. Not perfect, but it'll do. Plus, I've always wondered what a Deftones concert would be like in real life.

Tickets will go on sale December 1, according to their website.

Other dates:

Feb 12 - Manila, PHI - World Trade Centre (on-sale Dec 1)
Feb 15 - Bangkok, THA - Thunderdome (on-sale Nov 27)
Feb 16 - Singapore, SIN - Indoor Stadium (on-sale Dec 1)

Visit their website for more info.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

José González - In Our Nature (2007) Album Review

I was recommended to José González' In Our Nature no earlier than 2008, but I only got to listening to him quite recently. A long time coming, thanks to our not-so-harmonious first meeting. At the time of introduction, I thought the album was pretty lo-fi, and I've always been somewhat prejudiced to all things lo-fi. However, I did like it to a certain degree despite the "static hum" sonically plastered with the songs throughout the album, but I grew distracted with other music, other things shinier, other things more polished, and ultimately, things I probably didn't care enough to remember. I did set the record aside ever-so-gently (and by that I mean letting it get lost in my cluttered MP3 folder as opposed to being sent to the recycle bin) and off I went to greener pastures. That hiatus would end a few months ago, as I dug this record out. I've been listening since.

As an acoustic artist, he reminds me of Nick Drake - but not as gentle nor as pleasant. José González' music has this certain abrasiveness and rawness to it, and it gives the record its core appeal - nay - his greatest and most defining appeal, in fact. And I can imagine the luck of those dreamers and film-makers who happen to stumble upon his "dimension" of music and use it to amplify their own thoughts and imaginations. There's just an endless stream of profound imagery to be had - one seemingly inherent to great melodramatic motion pictures. The music just oozes with that 'it' factor - whether for film or dreams.

José González
I actually see José González as some kind of disciplinarian here. The songs are about human nature - in all its meanderings and irrationalities (hence the album title), and it scolds you for being so damn... uh... "human". Ironically, he doesn't sound like some douchebag when he does it. It's cleverly veiled with the gentle plucks of the acoustic guitar, and the strangely "prophetic" sound of his voice. The whole ensemble is pretty effective and I can't help but take heed.

In How Low, he sings about selfishness and how someday "you'll end up to your knees in the shit you seed". That's an album opener for you. In Killing For Love, he proclaims "what's the point of a love that makes you hate and kill for?". Kind of reminds you of some religious sect doesn't it? And in Cycling Trivialities, he talks time and how much of it people waste on petty stuff on a day to day basis - stuff that probably won't matter in a couple of years. Like he says, it's in our nature. But nonetheless, the song proclaims a resounding "reassess! reassess! reassess!", an implorement for one's desire for self-improvement - as has always been for people who are motivated enough to be better than their current selves, even if it only exists in their minds. Also check out his cover of Teardrop by Massive Attack, quite magnificent, I must say.

This is an album you will want to continually play over and over again, if you give it a chance and if you're not previously being too rigid like I was. As of today, I can't count the times my iPod reverted back to the intro riff of How Low without feeling I've had enough.

My score:
8 out of 10

Other stuff:
Down The Line Music Video

Thursday, November 11, 2010

5 Reasons Why Black/Death Metal Sucks

The thing that is pretentious, and subsequently a turn off, about black/death metal is that it's not really just about the music. First and foremost, it's a scene. This list was painstakingly borne out of a friendly discussion on an internet forum, and is somewhat a compact, visual version of the case that I was trying to push:

1. Hairdo Prerequisites

0% "blackmetal coolness"
The famous "Metallica has lost 'it' the moment
they cut their hair" internet forum blabbery.

60% "blackmetal coolness"
Bowling-ball-shiny bald: 40% + 20% for the magnificent goatee
(forget this is Jens Kidman for the sake of this list)

100% COOLNESS!!!
(+++Bonus points for inverted crucifix)

2. Overly Dramatic Band Logos


OMG, super kewl for my t-shirt!!!

Wait, what band is this again?

3. Shock Value Overuse

Demons - check. Inverted star - check. Diabolic pitchfork -  check. People/angels scrambling for their lives - check. Goat head - check (+5 to magic resistance for taking the form of the inverted star). Mock crucifixion of Jesus - check (+10 to energy for uber coolness).

I realize there are probably more 'unnerving' artworks floating around, but this'll do.

4. Lyrics

Limiting much? Apparently, you can only write about isolation, madness, darkness, desperation, suffering, etc. Basically, all things "dark" and the like. If you really want to expand, you can venture into Scandinavian black/death metal lyrical themes if you fancy that. Here's a taste:
We're the guardians of Asgaard! We have faced our enemies a thousand times or even more; still they cannot make us kneel. One thousand years of constant war; the giants look for any chance to bring down Asgaard's mighty walls. No matter what they send at us, we will never let it fall 'cause we are! WE'RE THE GUARDIANS OF ASGAARD!
That's "Guardians of Asgaard" by Amon Amarth.

There's a how-to guide down at WikiHow enumerating the different kinds of black/death metal lyrics if you want to know more.

5. The Worst Kind Of Fans

Black metal fans

Lastly, and most importantly- the fans. You don't want to be lumped with these kids. Not to mention most of them are probably deluded music elitists, angry nerds thinking everything else besides "true" metal (and its variants) is bad music. Sure, there are a few exceptions, but they're the most staunch, bigoted, narrow-minded fans you'll ever meet. The next time you talk about other music in front of these kids, be warned. They'll talk your head off about how metal is better than other genres, and if you'll stick long enough they'll begin yapping about "true" metal and how other bands are phonies and copycats, so on and so forth.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Animals As Leaders (2009) Album Review

Reviewing a metal artist proves to be a headache. First, I'm no metal expert at all. Second, this genre has probably the most strict sub-genre classification on this planet that is carefully guarded by passionate metalhead conservatives who won't blink about calling you out on misuse and "ignorance". You have to be on your toes when you opine about the genres. Third, I can't tell where to start, how to do my supposed 'benchmarking', when to or not to compare bands, etc. The pressure is quite daunting, albeit in my case, imagined. But, yes, it's not as easy as picking a pebble and saying it is better than all the other pebbles in the beach. No, that's not how you should do it. You have to examine the other pebbles- its texture, its color- does it have odd shapes? Is it found in an area with more sand or more neighboring pebbles? Group them according to those characteristics, and after you do, there is absolutely no crossing lines, blabadabada, etc, and other stuff that requires you to be a tight ass.

So, to get away from all that stuff, I will just share my story about how I ended up listening to this band. For me, it started with a craving for more Meshuggah. I've always been fascinated with odd time signatures and polyrhythms, and there are a whole bunch of other bands who have employed various forms of it one way or the other. Meshuggah seems to be at the top of that list. They are just downright obsessed with it, and I find myself scratching my head in disbelief upon hearing sequence after sequence of their music with this obsession in full form - unflinching and relentless - pushing you to the edge until you can no longer follow the beat. And if you could do follow the count/time/beat or whatever, it is extremely satisfying. You can now brag that at a certain moment, your minds were at par! But I fail most of the time. So, yeah, with my jaw still agape, I went in search for other bands who were just as obsessed "playing with time".

Tosin Abasi
In comes Animals As Leaders, an instrumental prog-metal band. Though definitely not as heavy, or as obsessed with polyrhythms, but they do open the door for other activities like guitar wanking and plucking, and more melodic playing. The guitarist himself, a guy named Tosin Abasi, rocks an 8-string guitar and is certainly no pushover. This guy is, by all means, a guitar prodigy. The fact that he wrote and recorded both guitar and bass on the album is astonishing! He has since recruited two other members to tour with.

The use of odd time signatures are minimal, and often unnoticable. But they are there. Some tracks more than others. CAFO, for example, makes abundant use of it- which unsurprisingly ends up being one of my favorite tracks. That guitar intro riff is just orgasmic- all the more when the other instruments melds in to form this really rich heavy metal groove. There are a bunch of relaxed tracks sprinkled throughout too, at times hearkening to Tosin's obvious jazz roots. One track in particular, On Impulse, begins unassumingly with simple guitar plucking- slowly building up until it crescendoes into its true heavy form. If this album has a "landmark" track, On Impulse would be it. I think it best represents the album, appropriately tying its light and heavy moments together.

Light and heavy. Yep. That's where most of my complaints would be. It's a bit disconcerting to have really light tracks (almost undistorted) and extremely heavy tracks in the same album. It confuses me, and I won't be surprised if Tosin is confused either. In the end, the album forms its own uniquely diverse identity, and in effect, making it not an instant go-to for people looking solely for an aggressive fix.

My score:
7 out of 10

Music clips:
On Impulse