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Godspeed You! Black Emperor at the Fox Theater: KZSC Show Reviews

There’s not really any sort of cohesive way to discuss a band like Godspeed You! Black Emperor that doesn’t begin to sound either extremely pretentious or like an academic paper. As I sat on the base of a pillar in Oakland’s massive Fox Theater, I could only boggle at how on earth I was to describe any of what I was seeing.  Logically, the best place is probably the beginning.

The show started inauspiciously enough. My back was turned as I ordered from the bar, and I did not see the two men who took the stage. They were grey and beardy, dressed as if they were about to perform a sonata, and almost no fanfare accompanied their settling behind their instruments. The two men, as I would later learn from the t-shirts in the lobby, were none other than Xylouris White, composed of lute master George Xylouris of Crete and Jim White, drum maniac of underground rock. What ensued can only be explained by years of classical training and dedication, as White kept switching stick styles mid-song (sticks and timpani) and Xylouris did things I didn’t even know people could do with lutes (shred them).

It was about halfway through their set that DJ BrandX finally had to accept that his press pass couldn’t over-ride GY!BE’s no camera policy.

(Note from BrandX. People were able to get in with their camera, there were just some miscommunication between the press agent and tour manager. It was resolved later in the night around 10 PM, but by that time I was already in the venue and my phone was on silent so I didn’t get the memo in time.)

The squad I’d arrived with was again whole, us being me, Salamanders, Geckos, Catface Meowmers, and now BrandX. We took the time in between sets to discuss what genre Godspeed is. Post-Rock? Experimental Ambient? Audible Anarchy? Is this what a group of (insert genre) fans look like? And lo, the crowd we found ourselves easily made out to be the most diverse I’ve probably ever seen.

Anarchos and crusties? Check. Black metallers? Check. Neatly dressed jazz dudes? Check. Leftists that are just into the bands’ politics? You betcha (quote of the evening: “…vegans have higher IQs, but vegetarians actually have the lowest IQs…”). I even spotted a metalcore kid! Fancy that.

And then, the show just sort of happened. Members began wandering out onto the darkened stage, coming on only as necessary. A lone violin soon joined by a double bass. And then an electric bass. And then the textured thump of drums. Piece by piece, all eight members of the current line-up poured out, and flash photography began to fill the massive screen. Without a degree in film, I frankly feel underqualified to comment on the visuals.

(Brand X here to confirm the visuals were amazing and bring new meaning to the term “Music for Films”)

Suffice to say that they consisted of intense loops of something, say a trestle or some film strips or a skyscraper, which would then be overlayed and blended with other loops. So I can’t really say how or when the word HOPE scratched directly onto the film became a deer became a cell tower. It just did.

There wasn’t really anything that could be called a definite stop until about forty minutes in. Fans would clap at slowdowns or dynamic downshifts, but really they could have been applauding at random as far as the entire experience was concerned. More than anything throughout the night, I found myself impressed by Godspeed’s endurance. I think a lot of people misconstrue droning, atmospheric music as easy. Just hit a note and run it through a pedal and you’re the next big hipster thing. This is not so. The timbres and textures I saw being created required a constant and concentrated playing style, thick with tremolo strums, beats that sounded more like endless drum fills than anything, and the lightning-fast whining of bow on violin. It created not just a listening but an entire body experience, which paired with the images on the screen left me truly speechless.

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deerhunter

Deerhunter – Monomania

Deerhunter / Monomania /  Out via 4AD on May 7th, 2013

Like any well-oiled pop machine, Atlanta’s avant-garage outfit Deerhunter knows when to slowly gas the psych propellers into an ambient blissout, and bust out pedal-to-the-metal spurts of pure punk rock as soon as the lighters get raised. The band’s fifth studio album Monomania dropped May 7th via 4AD, this time forgoing the astral plane explorations of their sonically anarchic back catalog, and opting instead for a more concise pop record that snaps and crackles in equal measure. The interstellar improv and dream pop sensibility that once resonated at galactic proportions in earlier releases is tighter than ever, as though transmissions between ground control and the International Space Station achieved a crystal-clear moment of recognition, to produce a new release that is surprisingly grounded.

Amidst the bray of garage-punk snarls and slow burning shoegaze longplayers of recent days, it’s hard to tell if and when the genetics of alt rock will see the promise of mutation. In a culture-jamming return to form,  frontman Bradford Cox told Rolling Stone that he and guitarist Lockett Pundt listened to only The Ramones and Ricky Nelson prior to making the album, and also cited Pierre Schaeffer, Steve Reich, and Bo Diddley as major influences. In fact, Cox referred to Diddley as “the god of this record,” but added, “I don’t think there’s a single Bo Diddley beat on the album.” Regardless of its precise coordinates, Monomania is a refreshingly relaxed moment amidst the fluorescent junk-pop riffs and celestial loops that combine to form Deerhunter’s weird era of psych-rock ephemera.

Feedback freakouts “Neon Junkyard” and “Leather Jacket II” open the band’s sixth studio album with freshly sharpened bite, pedaling onward without a moment’s fiery respite. Third track “The Missing” casts a synth-soaked ray of sunshine into the shimmering sea of kraut grooves that comprised Pundt’s 2012 release Spooky Action at a Distance, drifting into the hustle and creak of “Pensacola” and “Dream Captain”, freak folk Americana jams sporting a looser, garagey feel that evokes the DIY tape hiss of psych-rock contemporaries Woods. Saloon waltz “T.H.M.”, the meandering strings of “Sleepwalking”, and tightly capped jam “Back in the Middle” tread familiar ground in the newgaze post-explorations of Deerhunter’s back catalog. Five-minute title drone “Monomania” trickles into the cavernous cassette echo of “Nikebike”, proceeding through dirge to draw open the ultraviolet shades of “Punk (La Vie Antérieure)” for a final wave as the sun sets over a decidedly “avant-garde rock & roll record”, according to vocalist Bradford Cox in a recent interview with Rolling Stone. If their 2010 release Halcyon Digest didn’t hammer your tympanic threshold into metronomic submission, let the message ring forevermore that while indie festival darlings are only beginning to touch on the apache anthems and art-rock tinkering of the early 2000’s, Deerhunter continues make giant leaps forward, without all the white noise to mute their sonic footprint.

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Between the Buried and Me’s Newest Album Teases With Some Sexy Foreplay But Will Never Call Back

When Between the Buried and Me came to San Francisco for Summer Slaughter, I had the great fortune to sit down with Dan Briggs and Dustie Waring. Of course, one of the main things we discussed in detail was their newest addition to their diverse discography, The Parallax II: Future Sequence. We talked extensively about the new record, but one thing Dustie told me really stuck out to me; he seemed to genuinely think that it was their best musical venture they had ever created. Unfortunately, I very highly disagree with that statement.

Tracklist
1. Goodbye To Everything
2. Astral Body
3. Lay Your Ghosts To Rest
4. Autumn
5. Extremophile Elite
6. Parallax
7. The Black Box
8. Telos
9. Bloom
10. Melting City
11. Silent Fight Parliament
12. Goodbye To Everything (Reprise)

 

Both musically and conceptually, TPII begins right where The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues left off. The only problem is that it’s start is a little too awkward and jerky. After the intro, “Goodbye to Everything”, we get a little build up that leads into “Astral Body”, but it never really feels or conveys like we’re going onto this awesome musical journey into space where we’ll proceed to have our brains made sweet sweet love to. Ultimately, “Astral Body” seems very out of place as the beginning track. Fortunately, it leads very smoothly right into the next track, “Lay Your Ghosts to Rest”, which is in itself a very solid song. It almost feels as if this should have been the beginning track. This is further perpetuated by the lyrics present towards the last minute or so of the track: “The end, starts now.” In fact, a good chunk of the album sounds like it shouldn’t be there at all. “Autumn” is just a filler track before the meaty “Extremophile Elite”, and “Parallax” doesn’t fundamentally serve a purpose besides some basic storytelling.

Of course, there are more than enough redeeming factors to make this a worthwhile listen. They’ve seemed to realize that their musical endeavors can get bogged down by their penchant for unnecessary wankery, which they have undertaken to fix this time around, with moderate success. While addressing those complaints, they haven’t forgotten what’s made them one of the biggest progressive metal acts around. There is still a ton of weirdness and craziness present in the album, such as the very “sitary” reference to last year’s EP, and the utterly soul crushing breakdown in “Telos”. “Bloom” is also an incredibly fun listen, if a little out of place.

While the first 45 minutes are a sensory overload (for better or worse), the last 30 minutes of the record display some mind boggling and questionable songwriting decisions. There is the occasional segment of exorbitant showoffiness mixed with some seemingly random riffage, but the big difference between TPII‘s examples of etravagance and their previous efforts is the lack of an ultimate climax (stop your snickering). Once I had finally traversed through the drudgery of their instrument work and reached the end of my journey throughout Colors and The Great Misdirect, I felt like I could put the record away, that there was a satisfying conclusion to the melodious struggle that I had just experienced. This was what defined my time with BTBAM: the breathtaking and exciting climaxes that I felt throughout each and every one of their albums. However, with TPII, I experienced no such climactic feeling. I still had a sense of moving forward even though I had conclusively reached the end of the groundwork that BTBAM had orchestrated for me. It all adds up to a very anticlimactic finish from what is an otherwise pleasant aural eargasm.

Overall, TPII is a solid outing from BTBAM, though one can’t help but get the feeling that more could have been accomplished here. BTBAM tried to do too much and not enough at the same time, and while their newest release indicates that they are indeed moving forward, it also suggests that they’ve lost a step or two in their songwriting prowess along the way. Still, it’s hard not to be hopeful for the future. If BTBAM can execute more or less what they’ve done in TPII without the occasional clumsiness and stumble, it’ll be incredibly difficult for any band to top what they can deliver.

FINAL SUPER ULTIMATE RATING:

(3.5 Brutalisks out of 5)