Thursday, December 22, 2011

Miguel Migs - Outside The Skyline (2011) Album Review

Let me just cut to the chase: This record is great. If you're a fan of soul and wouldn't mind a twist of electronica in the mix, this album will do well for your ears.

Most of you probably haven't heard of Miguel Migs before. This guy was a fixture in the Hed Kandi series way back in the early 00's, and I've followed his work ever since I heard "Do It For You", and not long afterwards "Brand New Day". I just knew right there and then that this guy was special. He was one of the frontrunners of the emergence of deep house (if there was any) back in the day along with Kaskade/Late Night Alumni, Andy Caldwell, Blue Six, Aquanote, Ananda Project - guys that helped spawn the deep house craze and launched the Beach House series (among others) of the Hed Kandi label into the stratosphere. And while these other acts have disappeared or moved on to more synth-y house music, it's quite good to see Miguel Migs stand his ground and keep deep house alive. And deep house it is. It's his bread and butter.

His previous album, "Those Things" was pretty upbeat, and while it had his trademark grooves and basslines, I feared he was going the same route as Kaskade, a DJ who has since shed his deep house roots for a more synthetic sound. But after hearing the more chilled and relaxed "Outside The Skyline", I knew this guy knew his place. He knows his strengths and plays them. And he plays them well.

As a producer, he is unparalleled when it comes to bass grooves. The way he uses the bass to bring life to his songs is nothing short of genius. It's so full of texture, depth, and soul, and I can't help but feel a sense of joy as I hear it squirm and shift to the rhythmic tendencies of the body. You should know that most other DJ's simply pound the bass out of their mixes without second thoughts, but you could tell Miguel Migs spends a great deal of time, care, and thought creating and tweaking it to perfectly mesh into the mix without losing soul as well as "oomph". The only blemish in this album is the presence of afro-jamaican inspired tracks that throws the mood off a bit - something that's become a habit of Migs when formulating his tracklists for albums (also present in "Those Things").

Nonetheless, "Outside The Skyline" is a record so soulful, chill, and boasts the best bass work of any deep house production in recent memory. This record is as 'deep' as deep house can get. Definitely the new benchmark for any deep house records coming out in the near future and for many years to come.

- Rich bass grooves guaranteed to keep your head a-noddin.
- The best deep house offering in recent memory

- Some Afro-Jamaican inspired tracks feel out of place

9 out of 10

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tesseract - One (2011) Album Review

First of all, the hell is this new prog-metal sub-genre they are calling "djent"? It just sounds rather silly and by the ring of it, it seems it's headed for utter ridicule- like "grunge" or "nu-metal" did. I haven't really warmed up to its namesake, but apparently this was coined by Meshuggah guitarist Fredrik Thordendal to describe the sound of the guitar featured in most Meshuggah songs. That aside, I still think it's a pretty silly name. It's like naming your kid "Bozo" and sending him to school, wondering how he will fare with bullies.

I love Meshuggah. Make no mistake about it. And I've been weaving through Meshuggah-inspired bands since. It seems my craving for heavy polyrhythms and odd time signatures is insatiable... sifting through Youtube videos, checking out live performances, searching for that "band" that would become my focal point in all this "djent" madness.


I admit, I wasn't that impressed after first seeing their music video for "Concealing Fate Part 2 - Deception". Thought it was too generic, and themselves looking like the generic 'band-trying-to-look-cool' on camera. The recording also sounded too "light" for my tastes that I didn't even bother finishing it. I was previously listening to Periphery at the time, and noting the relentless sonic assault prevalent in that band's self-titled album (the instrumental version), I considered Tesseract tame. But let me say this now, and consider this my apology for being such an inconsiderable cynical prick: Periphery has nothing on Tesseract.* Tesseract is simply... phenomenal- for lack of a better word. Well, yeah, in fact I think that word fits perfectly.

This is the first band in a very long time that I can't seem to find any flaws. I mean, sure, these guys are probably not perfect, but what their peers are doing wrong (or are struggling to do right), these guys are just doing it down pat- perfectly. For one, this is the first band in the "djent" scene that actually makes good use of its vocalist. While others still seem to be stuck with the emo/screamo hangover from years past - rendering their vocalists unbearably annoying, Tesseract, on the other hand, has it down with atmospheric vocals, with the occasional screams sprinkled in small doses here and there, not going overboard. And there you have it- the first band, in my opinion, that has perfectly executed its vision of vocals in the midst of heavy polyrhythms. A first! (as far as I know). The fragile-aggressive vocal stylings blends perfectly with the heavy instrumentation which makes this band's sound stand out among its peers- in a genre that can sometimes become too mathematical.

The instrumentation is a given, as is expected of any band that dare ventures into these Meshuggah-laden territories. You just have to be that talented to ever be considered 'peers' with the rest of the bands that grace this branch of metal. It's quite clear this band spends an ENORMOUS amount of time honing their skills, memorizing song segments, improving their technique... everything that goes with it. I can't say the opposite for other bands in the genre since they're equally as skilled in timekeeping and technique. But ultimately, this whole movement is the apex for any band wanting to play at the highest level as a unit. I mean, yes, there are individual prodigies in the music world, but it's unmistakably much more impressive to see 4 to 5 equally talented dudes playing at the same time to create incredibly complicated and beautiful rock songs. It's just really impressive, and I'm pretty excited where this whole 'djent' movement takes us.

As for Tesseract, I just consider them the cream of the crop.


Concealing Fate Part 3 - The Impossible:

*There's really this confusing thing about Periphery. On the one hand, we got the insanely impressive instrumental record- on the other, we got the actual release with that horrible vocalist. I absolutely HATE it that they decided to get a vocalist like that. It just takes so much away from the music. And for the record, Periphery is more ambitious, adventurous, and overall better instrumentally than Tesseract.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Incubus - If Not Now, When? (2011) Album Review

Album cover.
So the new album leaked. Great news for rabid fans, but unfortunately sad, sad news for the band. If Not Now, When? is still set for a July 12th release, a mighty long-ass time away, which makes the album 3 months premature. I imagine they would have done a couple more things in preparation for the release in July, perhaps a second single, the unveiling of the album cover, but this just screws everything up. (Update: the album has since been released at this point)

Anyway, I'm kind of torn up with the new record. On the one hand, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the album. On the other, I'm confused about what exactly this band wants to be. The album is sunny. It's poppy. It's pleasant. It's minimalist. It's dreamy. I was able to conjure up all sorts of vivid imagery in my head whilst listening to it. And most importantly, I feel a sense of honesty emanating from the music. That's what I got from my first listen, and if that's not why I listen to music in the first place, I don't know why I bother listening. This is all quite premature really, so let me say that I'm reluctant about writing all these praises as I go about this review. I could very well regret this in the coming weeks, but what the hey - I'll just hit myself in the head in another post for being such an impressionable fool.

As for the band, Brandon's singing is much more relaxed here, and in effect - less annoying. Glad to see him using the lower register of his voice more frequently in the album. Also the rhythm section sounds more focused and fused in this one, with barely any instrument rising above the others. Mike's minimalistic use of the guitar is splendid. Ben, who's the most technically proficient in the group, is good as always. It's good Jose ditched the high treble sound of his drums. But the biggest props go to Mr. Kilmore, the once-upon-a-time Incubus DJ who has grown to become a pretty proficient keyboardist.

If you have been following this band like I have, you'd know its most scathing critics are its own fans. The general sentiment is that Incubus used to rock. The "we need another SCIENCE" crowd, hopeful that each news of an upcoming album will bring back the days of dreadlocks and baggy pants. Sad to say, this fan demographic has been consistently let down with each release after S.C.I.E.N.C.E. (I feel like an idiot putting all those dots just to preserve canon). There's also a certain number of fans for each release, and they always get upset with succeeding albums. Everytime. But the band doesn't seem to care.

L-R: Ben Kenney, Jose Pasillas II, Chris Kilmore, Mike Einziger, Brandon Boyd. Photo taken from
This album isn't any different. In fact, the 'alienation' this band seems to be really good at is even worse here. They've completely lost their identity in this album. Some probably won't mind it, but no doubt most fans will definitely be frowning this tremendous shift in sound. The band may have written good songs, and its longevity remains to be seen if people won't get sick of the album in the coming weeks, but yes --- whatever made Incubus uniquely Incubus is nowhere to be found here. This literally sounds like a different band. To me it feels like they're still battling with their own identity as a band after all these years, from their shift from funk to nu-metal to alternative, etc. Most bands would have settled, but this band doesn't seem to run out of gas. Whether it's a good or bad thing, I have a strong feeling they've become a band grown accustomed to self-loathing, eventually finding whatever reasons to hate their own work after a short span of time - hence the famous "we hate making the same record twice" comments from the band members. I'm not really sure of those allegations to be honest - the masochism and whatnot. Perhaps it is just artistry at work and the need for artists to have some leeway or 'wiggle room', but in this band's case, the room is a freaking gymnasium. Seriously, I think this band needs some kind of consistency, at least for the sake of keeping their remaining fan base in familiar territory. They need to sit still for a couple of records lest they want their fans' heads spun out in utter confusion.

Overall, and regardless how this conflicts this band's background, I think it's a good Incubus album. And if you want to enjoy it, listen to it for what it is, not what you think this band is. (And listen to it with a decent pair of earphones.)


Adolescents Music Video:

PS: I want to be the first person to pick up an acoustic guitar and cover Defiance. Seriously.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Deftones Diamond Eyes Tour Live in Manila 02.12.2011 - REVIEW/RECAP + SETLIST

The Deftones. Photo by Derek Santa Ana.
To be honest, I came to the concert expecting the 'usual' subpar performance from the Deftones- particularly from Chino, who's known to not hit the right notes at times. But despite that, the band has greatly improved their playing in the past year or so, rejuvenated by the joining of Sergio Vega on bass, filling in for ailing Chi Cheng. Still, I was skeptical. I even thought one of the front acts, Urbandub, would outshine them. Some sound engineering technicalities* would deem that impossible, of course, but Urbandub is particularly famous (locally) and known for their consistency in their live performances. All this wishy-washy nonsense would vanish at the end of the show, when Deftones exceeded all expectations.

We got to the venue early. A couple of people were already lining up, but we decided to forego the grueling wait in the lines and, instead, grabbed a few beers from a bar across the street. Got a bit tipsy with that last shot of tequilla and went back to the lines. Pumped. Gates were already open.

There were two front acts: Slapshock and Urbandub. Slapshock went first. So-so performance. They performed some of their 'new' tracks that I'm guessing nobody had ever heard before (or cared about). They weren't bad live, to be honest, clad in complete Dickies attire and so forth, but people like myself were expecting them to play some of their more popular tracks (like the idiotic "Agent Orange" perhaps) at least to get some kind of reaction from the crowd. But, oh well, they opted for their newer songs that seem to hint at metal-posturing. The end of each song was greeted with little to no (un)enthusiastic claps from the audience. I clapped my hands by the way, just to be courteous. Three songs later, and they were gone. Here's to hoping the dull audience reaction was not enough to separate them from their iron-clad Dickies sponsorship whatsoever.

Urbandub goes on stage. Things went smoothly despite a minor technical screw-up at the beginning of their set that prompted them to stop. One can feel the presence of Urbandub fans about, singing to their songs, jumping and screaming and so forth. Not everyone was having the time of their lives during Urbandub's set, I can tell. Some folks were just standing there staring at them as if by doing so the band would walk off stage. Still, the crowd's reaction was still significantly better than Slapshock's. They promised they would only play three songs, but just as the drummer hit the last cymbal, a Deftones roadie came out and signaled them to play two more songs. At this point, everyone thought they were still having dinner or something. Stef is particularly a moderately chubby guy, so it's probably expected he'd be glued to the buffet table for at least 30 minutes. Apart from him, Deftones roadies are HUGE. And OLD. Like in their late 40s and 50s. They'd do well as members of some bad-ass biker gang. Joking aside**, Urbandub plays two more songs, and it's over.

Finally, the moment everyone has been waiting for arrives. Wait- make that a few more minutes- as the lumbering caucasian "bikermen" of the Deftones make their way to the stage, taking their time walking back and forth, moving equipment and other stuff. One particular roadie came out with a black box and mounted it at the very helm of the stage. It took him about 15 minutes to glue the box to the floor with masking tape, which was astonishing (both the time and technique employed in doing so). Anyway, blablablah. Crowd chattering and slowly growing impatient. Thirty minutes pass and the lights go out. Crowd goes wild. Stef comes out and takes a picture of the crowd. The rest of the band follows soon after. Abe, Frank, and Sergio. But the crowd literally goes nuts when Chino enters the stage. He makes his way to the said black box and stands on it. Ah, so that's what it's for. A pseudo-throne for Mr. Moreno. Still, the guy is pretty good-looking, and guys and gals alike were screaming his name. I think I was one of them. I can't remember.

Chino Moreno. Photo by Erwin Ngo
They immediately began with "Birthmark" and I found myself trapped in a moshpit almost instantly. "Crap" was my only thought. I swear I felt I was going to be trampled or something because the moshing was incredibly violent. Song # 2 was Engine No. 9, and the moshing didn't get any better (and by 'better' I mean 'slow down'). That's when I realized I had lost my phone. All my contacts down the drain in a second! I don't know if it was from all the moshing, or if pickpockets were in our midst, pretending to be jolly moshers, elbows raised. The fuckers. Screw them all! Almost ruined the show for me. But regardless, the energy was just INSANE. You'd think a guy who'd just lost a cellphone would sulk in the corner. Not me. I was out there screaming my guts out.

Deftones performing "Sextape" in Manila 2011
Band performance was phenomenal- much much better than I previously expected. I didn't quite expect they'd sound this good live. It completely and utterly blew my previous preconceptions out of the water. The band was just in the zone that night. Stef, Sergio, Abe, and Frank. All of them. Chino, in particular, was on point the whole time, which was weird for a vocalist like him who's always struggled to reach those high notes in the past. He did skip some screams - particularly the ones in "Lhabia". But everyone was willing to give him a break. We needed to lay off from the moshing from time to time anyway. And it was getting hot. The venue's ventilation provided for some much needed oxygen, but there's nothing like being sprayed with Chino's mineral water. Ahh... So soothing. Made all the people in the front, including myself, realize how thirsty we were.

All in all, the band played a good mix of songs from all of their albums:
  1. Birthmark
  2. Engine No. 9
  3. Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)
  4. My Own Summer (Shove It)
  5. Lhabia
  6. Around The Fur
  7. Digital Bath
  8. Knife Party
  9. Hexagram
  10. Minerva
  11. Bloody Cape
  12. Diamond Eyes
  14. Royal
  15. Sextape
  16. Rocket Skates
  17. You’ve Seen the Butcher
  18. Beauty School
  19. Hole in the Earth
  20. Kimdracula
  21. Back to School (Mini Maggit)***
  22. Change (In the House of Flies)
  23. Passenger
  1. Root
  2. 7 Words
That's 25 songs- one song more than the set they played in Tokyo and Jakarta. Band was feeling good that night, and so did the rest of us. Show ended at almost 12 midnight, with our heads down from all the stuff we had lost amidst the chaos**** but hearts, ribs, and necks content to the brim. Definitely a concert I will remember for the rest of my life.

Best part of the night:
Chino stands on the railings @ the VIP section, grabs a fan's cap and wears it for a couple of minutes whilst singing. He then takes off the cap and tries to give it back to its owner, but another guy from the back was able to grab the cap. Chino then stops singing, calls out the dude who grabbed the cap and threatens to hit him if he doesn't give the cap back. Dude gives the cap back to Chino and Chino gives it back to its rightful owner. Chino then gives the owner a high-five.

Check out Chino's shout-out to the Manila crowd here. To quote:
Noisecreep: What was it like to play shows in places like Jakarta?

Chino Moreno: I was just amazed that we have a fanbase out there. One of the most awesome shows we played in a while was in Manila. It was insane. The crowd was massive and the energy level was wild. It was one of the biggest shows we'd played in a long time and we had never been there before. So the excitement level was high and the show was great. Basically, all the Southeast Asia shows were good and we were like, 'Man, why haven't we been here before?'

* Noticably less volume for the front acts
** The truth is, or so I've heard, the Deftones liked Urbandub's set, letting them play 2-3 more songs
*** Not played in Tokyo and Jakarta
**** In addition to my cellphone, my younger brother's friends lost an iPod, wristwatch, and a wallet. Lesson? Don't bring anything to a Deftones gig.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Cardigans - First Band On The Moon (1996) Album Review

I've always had a fascination for the smash hit "Lovefool". I didn't quite comprehend how big the song was, being just a kid when it came out. But it was HUGE. It topped charts across the world including Billboard, and was featured in several Hollywood movies- most notably Baz Lhurmann's Romeo + Juliet. But time has passed, and the lesser I hear the song, the more obscure the band got for me. In those rare occasions when it does go on the radio I'm like "Which band was this again? This isn't The Cranberries, but I'm damn sure it starts with a 'C'!" - which is weird because I kept remembering The Cranberries (which I still find obnoxious), but always seem to forget The Cardigans. But anyway, the last Lovefool "serving" I got sent me searching for this Cardigans album, and so goes the rest of my story.

The Cardigans
This Danish-Swedish band, as far as I can tell, are masters of the retro sound. But don't let the sunny, sugary exterior of this album fool you. Closer examination of the lyrics reveal much much darker themes, mostly about a woman who readily and willfully accepts abuse from a partner who couldn't care less. Whether Nina Persson, the band's vocalist, was subjected to the same kind of relationship during the writing of these songs remains up for question. The low esteem and self-deprecating nature of the lyrics, although sad, is ironically amusing at the same time. "Oh, I think you're standing on my left foot. It's hurting but it's okay cos I'm in your way." The same stories of abuse and sado-masochism aren't exactly a rarity since I do happen to know a couple of women who are willing to take an emotional beating just to save their relationships. Seriously, ladies. Enough with that stuff! Man the f*** up!

Reality aside, this album presents these dark themes into a carefully woven piece of sunshine that is sure to delight and bring some smiles and disgust from its listeners. The rhythm section is among the best when it comes to the indie/retro sound, not to mention the cute vocals - which seemingly buries the underlying themes beneath the ground. That would of course explain why a lot of people who lived through the 90s often misunderstood this band as just another schmaltzy pop act (and that includes me). Definitely something worth remembering and worth recommending to coming generations.

My score:
8 out of 10

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Arkarna - Fresh Meat (1997) Album Review

Fresh Meat album cover.
I remember being extremely disappointed when this record came out. And it was in the cusp of the late 90's post-grunge alternative rock era. The group was dubiously marketed as an electronic-tinged alternative rock band on MTV and I sought the record out in record stores expecting just that. Much to my disappointment.

"This isn't rock... This is freaking DISCO!" were my first thoughts upon hearing "House On Fire"- the first track. And what was left of my alt-rock illusions of the singles "Eat Me" and "So Little Time" quickly vanished- seeing them, for the first time, as electronic tracks with distorted guitars instead of rock tracks with a bit of electronics. The ensuing disillusion completely turned me off and the album was shelved. Goes to prove I really hated electronica back in the day.

A still from the "So Little Time" music video
I don't know what it is about age, but it was only recently that I was able to digest electronica without feeling nauseated. I began listening to deep-house, which to this day remains one of my go-to pleasures. Then I remembered this album. I still have the cassette, but I threw out my cassette player a long time ago. I was lucky enough to get this in digital form though. Trust me, this record is hard to find these days. Finding the band's 2nd album "The Family Album" is even worse. I believe it's extinct (internet-wise). (If you happen to have it, please send me a link). *EDIT* Found it. :)

Anyway, yes, I remembered this album and I finally gave it a proper listen. If you hate electronica, then this album might not be for you. Tracks I would recommend are obviously the hit singles "So Little Time", "Eat Me", and the less popular "House On Fire" and "Future(s) Overrated". "Block Capital" and "Born Yesterday Part1" are also worth mentioning (with the latter as my personal favorite). These songs are chock-full of moments - pretty much the same type of thing I talk about in other songs by other artists. I'm obsessed with these so-called "moments" and I'm equally obsessed with bands who frequently shell them out. I'd get into the details, but I'm afraid I'll only paint an inaccurate picture inside your head. It's best to just listen to the album. That is, again, if you can dig electronica.

My score:
8 out of 10

PS: Don't miss the hidden track- an acoustic version of "House On Fire" right at the end of "R U Ready".