Tag Archives: USA

Bukuru Celestin & Snarky Puppy – Amkeni (2013)

Bukuru Celestin & Snarky Puppy - Amkeni (2013)

So, this is interesting; a couple of days ago, a friend posted this link to my Facebook page. He was introduced to them because I reviewed their album GroundUP. Well, it was my very first review on this blog and interesting to revisit it.

Snarky Puppy are an American musical collective, rather than a specific band, centring around bassist Michael League. The shear number of musicians involved has led to them having a multifaceted sound on previous albums, mostly focusing on jazz and funk, but incorporating elements from rock and music from around the globe.

It seems there could be no more perfect companion band to accompany singer Bukuru Celestin. Celestin arrived from Burundi to the USA in 2008 and is a music student at Virginia Western Community College. He, along with his sisters, specialises in afrobeat-inspired gospel.

The combination is sublime; from the disco-funk stylings of Shima to the afrobeat/gospel of Amkeni. There is not a single track that is a disappointment. Each is exciting and so perfectly realised. One striking thing is that this is not Snarky Puppy with a guest singer; this is all about Bukuru Celestin, these tracks are written by him and focus on him as the singer. Snarky Puppy provide the framework and support, but this is Celestin through and through.

His voice is fantastic and complemented so well by the choral work from his sisters. Snarky Puppy are, as expected, tight and funky, confident and dynamic.

Comparisons to Paul Simon’s Graceland would not be unfounded; Simon opened a lot of the West’s eyes to the music of Africa and did so with a blindingly good album. Well, this album is blindingly good as well.

The only negative I can say is that, at only 6 tracks, it is tragically short; however, Celestin has a wonderful future and I look forward to hearing more.

Favourite tracks: Amkeni, Ntumbero, Muzogezahe
Spotify link: Bukuru Celestin & Snarky Puppy – Amkeni
Bandcamp link: http://bukuru.bandcamp.com/
Sneak peak: 

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Man or Astro-man? – Defcon 5…4…3…2…1 (2013)

Man or Astro-man? - Defcon 5...4...3...2...1 (2013)

Man Or Astroman? are a band I definitely don’t listen to enough. The surf-punk quartet from Alabama have been in the game since 1990 and this is their 8th album.

While surf may have had its heyday in the 1960s, there has been a revival of sorts since the 1990s with, for example, Los Straitjackets, Messer Chups, The Mermen, Space Cossacks, Satan’s Pilgrims, Atomic Mosquitoes, etc. Man Or Astroman? incorporate punk and electronics seamlessly to create a sci-fi surf sound. With the inherent retro sound of surf, this approach tends to evoke cult B-movies, and exotica.

This album represents a return to studio for Man Or Astroman?, their first album since 2000’s A Spectrum Of Infinite Scale, and it is also a stylistic change as well. Where A Spectrum Of Infinite Scale was really quite an experimental album, Defcon… is a more restrained album. The electronics are still there; most prominently on the five Defcon tracks. On the whole, it is more streamlined and more restrained, a more alt-rock sound overall and nowhere near as kitsch.

So, is this a good thing or a bad thing? Well, it depends on what you are after. I prefer the experimental nature of A Spectrum Of Infinite Scale, and Defcon… doesn’t quite live up to that standard, fun though it is.

Favourite tracks: Communication Breakdown Pt II, Defcon 3, Defcon 1
Spotify link: Man Or Astro-Man? – Defcon 5…4…3…2…1
Sneak peak: 

Deafheaven – Sunbather (2013)

Deafheaven - Sunbather (2013)

If every band is an island, and every album a town on that island, then Sunbather is a small desolate place with eternal dawn, somewhere near the bay of post-rock with a causeway to the black metal peninsula at high tide.

San Fransisco’s Deafheaven are one of those bands who manage to do something different. Here, on Sunbather, they have managed to perfectly meld the guitar-textured approach of post-rock and post-metal with the bleakness and heaviness of black metal. One of the stand out tracks on the album, Vertigo, starts with jangly post rock, complex drum rhythms, occasional hints at blast beats, building up a head of steam to a crescendo, just about getting started at the 4 minute mark, when most pop tracks are over and done with; there is no rushing this storm. Heavy is the hit of the wave and this is pure black metal territory, screamed vocals and fast guitars creating a wall of sound that envelops with terrifying intensity.

The fact that they, in company such as Wolves In The Throne Room and Alcest, had the vision to see that post rock and black metal did share similarities, despite them being in disparate musical circles, is testament to their vision.

I’m not the biggest fan of black metal, it’s true, I do like to listen to Marduk, Mayhem, Emperor, Carpathian Forest, Gorgoroth and the like, but I don’t go out and listen to every black metal band out there; however, this album is very appealing. It might be a somewhat “gateway” album to those who haven’t listened to black metal before, but I also fear that there might be a problem of audience here. Fans of black metal won’t necessarily appreciate the shoe-gaze nature of a lot of the album, and fans of post-rock might not bear the black metal sections, leaving a pretty niche audience.

Overall, it is a good album, both post rock and black metal are equally represented and neither is a cheap nod to the genre, this is authentic, intense, bleak and beautiful. A worthwhile listen.

Now what to call this genre? I’ve read “blackgaze”, which I quite like, but I think I prefer “blackened post-metal”.

Favourite tracks: Vertigo, Sunbather, Irresistible
Spotify link: Deafheaven – Sunbather

Sneak peak: 

Streetlight Manifesto – The Hands That Thieve (2013)

Streetlight Manifesto - The Hands That Thieve (2013)

A much-awaited album, mostly due to Streetlight Manifesto’s dispute with Victory records, which involved Victory Records withholding copies of the album for the band and their fans’ preorders, the attempted release, leak and blocking of an acoustic version of the album by lead singer, Tomas Kalnoky, and almost 6-month delay between the initial proposed release date and the final release.

Streetlight Manifesto are nominally a ska-punk, hailing from New Jersey, USA, and have been at this game since 2002.

Ska-punk? Ska-punk? I’ve done my fair share of skanking, I can tell you, and I have a bone to pick with this genre. I don’t know if others have noticed this (I’m sure you have), but do you recognise a definite change in the genre since the mid-to-late 90s? Where the “ska” element is almost non-existent? A kind of skate- or pop-punk with horns, with only lip service to the ska part? It’s more of a derivative form. It’s not really criticism, more an observation. I don’t want to be a genre-bore, but I feel that Streetlight Manifesto more rightly belong in this “post-ska punk” genre.

As I say, this isn’t a criticism; after all genres are descriptive and not prescriptive; at least, they’re not supposed to be.

I feel it is almost a little more unfair to place this at Streetlight Manifesto’s feet, because they do incorporate a lot of different music styles from around the world on their albums, and The Hands That Thieve is no exception. There is almost an Irish folk punk vibe at the beginning of The Littlest Things, while If Only For The Memories has a completely Latin vibe to it. In fact, traditional folk is well represented, with many tracks taking influence.

Which leads me to the next point. Punk. While Streetlight Manifesto are undeniably punk, by modern American standards, we are not talking UK Subs or Crass here. At their most punky, I am reminded a lot of early 90s NoFX, I mean an awful lot! And perhaps, between that and the “ska” sound, they have taken influence from NoFX, certainly not a bad band to take influence from. However, it is not NoFX i am most reminded of; in fact it isn’t a punk band I am most reminded of. No, I am most reminded of They Might Be Giants, almost consistently through the entire album.

An album that to me sounds like a combination of NoFX and They Might Be Giants? Well, that’s has to amount to a whole heap of fun; and it does! An upbeat and cheery album, pretty enjoyable.

Favourite tracks: The Littlest Things, If Only For The Memories
Spotify link: Streetlight Manifesto – The Hands That Thieve

Sneak peak: 

Jon Mueller – Death Blues (2013)

Jon Mueller - Death Blues (2013)

Well, this was a random new album that popped into a feed of mine, so I thought I’d give it a shot and I am so glad that I did.

Jon Mueller is an experimental composer and percussionist from Wisconsin, USA, who has worked with numerous people as well as producing solo experimental works, having a fairly prodigious output in the last 12 years.

This album is simply amazing, one of the best I have ever heard.

A hammered guitar opens the album with Find Yourself, with the string faintly dampened after striking to allow resonances to proliferate, as a pained wail rings out and the feedback increases. It is an incessant drone that is over far too quickly for my liking, but it builds and builds in intensity before suddenly cutting off into the second track, Impatience, which begins with a simple loose sounding strummed guitar and a simple but effective pulsing drum beat. Vocal chanting overlay the guitars and it builds and builds before the drums and guitar cut out leaving the mesmerising vocals, before bam, the drums and guitar crack back in, pulsing away. Intense, inspired, spinetingling!

The simple but effective (and somewhat affecting) drum beat continues in the next and title track, Death Blues, the repetitive nature of the guitar lends itself again to a more droney mode, as it causes you to lose all track off time and space. Have you been listening 2 minutes? An hour? A lifetime? And that’s what Death Blues is about, as we contemplate the journey through life, the inevitable end to an unstoppable march, the destiny that none can avoid.

The next two tracks, Acceptance and Impermanence, could be straight of a doom metal album, bold and heavy, with a bit more emphasis on the exploration of rhythm on the latter.

Iron Sting closes out the album and after the crescendo of Impermanence, the simple bass–snare combo for the first minute is a time for breath drawing you into a ritual that again builds and builds to a final frenzied last gasp.

And it’s over; and like life itself, far too quickly.

At times, I am reminded of Sonic Youth, and at other times, the Residents. A mixture that is surely fantastic, and this album truly is just that: fantastic! With such simple components (I think the guitar plays the same notes for pretty much the entire album; the focus being on the repetitive rhythmic quality), an incredibly complex and deep album is created. The pulsing repetitive nature adds a certain tribal or cultish quality, which is primal, gets inside and really brings you along for the ride.

Favourite tracks: Impatience, Acceptance, Impermanence
Spotify link: Jon Mueller – Death Blues
Bandcamp link: http://deathblues.bandcamp.com/album/death-blues

Sneak peak: 

Paradoxical Frog – Union (2012)

Paradoxical Frog - Union (2012)

Paradoxical Frog are a New York based jazz trio, consisting of German saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, and Americans, pianist Kris Davis and drummer Tyshawn Sorey.

Straight away it is evident that this isn’t going to appeal to the casual jazz listener, it is pretty intense stuff. Opener, An Intermittent Procession and following track, First Strike, are a fairly good indication of the album as the whole, it’s fairly dynamic, running across many different moods, with the trio interplaying and improvising masterfully. While First Strike is a particularly dark brooding track, An Intermittent Procession highlights more of the dynamics of the group, as melodies are picked up, picked apart and discarded and the piano intermittently takes the helm and then takes more of a percussive role, with almost random abandon.

Third wave was a term coined in 1957 to describe the cross over between jazz and classical forms, and there is something about this album that make me see it as something of a crossover between free jazz and modern minimalist composition. I think it may be the extremely rhythmic nature of the piano throughout, which evokes Cage’s prepared piano works.

An interesting release that requires some deep listening to get the most out of, but worthwhile nonetheless.

Favourite tracks: Fear The Fairy Dust, Union

Spotify link: Paradoxical Frog – Union