Tuesday, March 22, 2011

98 The Hard Way: EPs, Days 19 and 20

Arab Strap: Afternoon Soaps (Chemikal Underground)
The reason I think I find Philophobia to be a bit of a slog on the whole is that it gets lost in its own world towards the end, becoming more insular without ever quite drawing me in. It's a function of its length more than anything, so it makes a lot of sense that the EPs that surround it fare a lot better, or at least call for more repeated listening, than the album itself. Here, for instance, you could say you're getting more of the same, even reprising one of the album's highlights in "Soaps," but the end result is that 15 minutes worth is easier to stomach than a full hour. It also helps that a great deal of the time is spent letting Malcolm Middleton shine over Aidan Moffat's rambling misery. The last part of "Forest Hills" especially reminds me why Middleton is one of my stealth favorite guitarists; it's one riff repeated over and over for 5 minutes, but each recurrence has these subtle differences - a stray note here, a seeming miss-hit there - that give the track a strange new layer to its already hypnotic atmosphere. It's a distinctly human element of their sound that often cuts against the inhuman, programmed drumming to give the tracks life in an unexpected way. It's almost too bad that such a great example of what the band are capable of when things turn out right shares space with an overly maudlin re-imagining of "Soaps" though. There was a bit of a miscalculation in the decision to ramp up the drama of the song when its charm lay in its deliberate small scale. "Toy Fights" fares much better, borrowing the riff from Mogwai's "Summer (Priority Version)" to back up a sweet duet about the joys of simply vegging out for an afternoon with your woman. It's a nice touch to have the overlapping 'you' and 'I' halves of the song deviate form each other so frequently while maintaining the same overall lyrics for both. [8.1/10]

!!!: The Dis-Ease (Sound Virus)

Given how far they've come from this little 7" in addition to how under-known it is, it's easy to forget that !!! once had their toes much, much further into the punk side of dance-punk than the other way around. Of course, given the fact that the backbone of the band - vocalist Nic Offer, Guitarist Tyler Pope and drummer Mike Gius - were recently the core of The Yah Mos, a strict post-hardcore outfit, the punkier shades of this single don't come as much of a surprise. What might come as a surprise though is just how well they pull it off. Both of the songs here are miles ahead of anything that The Yah Mos did, seamlessly fusing the energy of that outfit with funkier bass playing, well deployed saxophone and trumpet and a much improved sense of structure. "The Dis-Ease" in particular benefits from the latter, threatening to collapse through two chorus of off-kilter, herky-jerky guitar rhythms before it pulls itself into focus fora minute or so, the rebuilds itself back to its former chaos all without losing an ounce of energy. Plus there's all manner of colourful detail at various points - that panning guitar that punctuates the choruses should not work, but it's always mildly exhilarating to hear - which give the song endless replayability. "The Funky Branca" is much more straightforward and melodic, though no less invigorating. I could swear that I almost hear tinges of (very white) afrobeat in the chorus, with the tandem trumpet and sax stabs between spiky, clean guitar rhythms, though once again the band pulls that into chaos as the chorus finishes (kinda like the descent at the end of the theme in "Theme de Yoyo" and yes I am comparing !!! to Art Ensemble of Chicago deal with it). It's too bad that they shed this side of their sound almost immediately because while their later material may be much more polished very little of it is this immediate and forceful. [8.3/10]

The Gloria Record: The Gloria Record (Crank!)
  'I just want something beautiful to happen here'

When I was doing my initial toe-dip into emo a few years back one of the biggest disappointments I'd come across was Mineral's two albums. I know, 'sacrilege!' 'heretic!' blah blah blah, but there was a fundamental disconnect between the band as they were sold to me and the band I finally heard. The big turn off was the vocals though, something about Chris Simpson's drawn out phrasings and overall dramatics just rubbed the wrong way against the music. So when I finally got around to hearing his second band, The Gloria Record, I was a bit apprehensive. Luckily though, the band here seems to understand what kind of music is needed to compliment and elevate Simpson's vocals; give it a lighter touch, a more acoustic base and a hell of a lot of room to build and recede. Essentially, make the music as dramatic and sweeping as the vocals could be.

It's obvious from the first short track here that I'd be much kinder to this band than I was to Mineral, but it's not until the grandiose, 8 minute centerpiece of "Torch Yourself" that it was obvious just how much of an improvement I was witnessing. The song couldn't be simpler on its surface, a basic acoustic rhythm with some light electric riffs over top, but as it moves along it gains so much urgency that the eventual climax - one of the best in the genre for my money - feels appropriately epic, not unearned at all. None of the other tracks reach that height again, but they carve out a nice little sound, halfway between Lullaby for the Working Class' chamber folk and standard indie emo a la Emo Diaries. Most importantly though, the sound fits with Simpson's vocals perfectly. The drawn out vowels he favors glide effortlessly over the heavy acoustic rhythms and slight riffs in a way that they rarely did in his previous band. Hell, the one track here that feels most Mineral-esque, the headlong rush of "Grain Towers, Telephone Poles," is the one moment I find most problematic on the whole release, and even that is tempered by the fact that it retains the core sound of the rest of the EP while trying to apply it to a more driving tempo - though to be fair, the climactic cut off is excellently handled. It's almost as though Simpson and fellow Mineral alum Jeremy Gomez understood the problems I saw in their previous band and gathered this group of musicians to go about correcting them, and in the process created something beautiful and lush in ways that Mineral could only dream of reaching. [8.6/10]

No comments: