Posts Tagged ‘moonface’

Top 10 Albums of 2016

December 26th, 2016 | Features | 0 Comments

2016

2016 was pretty terrible. I spent the last six months intermittently not having panic attacks, when I had time to breath between classes, volunteering for Hillary, legal internships and protesting.

After the election, I think something inside me changed. I cannot listen to unserious music anymore. At least not right now. As such, there were a lot of great albums this year by artists like Frankie Cosmos, Porches, Car Seat Headrest and others that I simply could not listen to all the way through, or could not listen to more than once. Their music no longer fits into my reality, though I recognize it as excellent work. As such, this list is confined to the music that did speak to me this year, and as one might expect, it is overwhelming political.

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10. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

A month or so ago, I would have listed this as perhaps among the top three albums of the year. After Kanye’s practical endorsement of Drumpf a couple weeks ago, and his subsequent meeting with him (which some speculate was meant to draw attention away from some of Drumpf’s horrifying cabinet appointments), I am only grudgingly placing this album in the last spot on my list for this year. Frankly, I have extreme misgivings about promoting anyone promoting anyone promoting racism, sexism, climate denialism and the like. But if we can focus on the music without the politics around the man behind it, Life of Pablo is an incredible work. Following Kanye’s other two masterworks, 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and 2013’s Yeezus, Life of Pablo was Kanye’s White Album: sprawling, less focused, but consistently interesting and astounding. It showcases an artist at the height of his powers, so confident and able, he can make an incidental masterpiece just recording experiments with whoever he feels like.

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9. Moonface with Siinai – My Best Human Face

Though it lacks the cohesion of 2012’s Heartbreaking Bravery, this year’s My Best Human Face nonetheless features a collection of excellent Spencer Krug songs, which is enough to qualify a record for my top ten list any year. Furthermore, the record showcases another excellent instance of collaborative magic between Krug and Finnish krautrockers Siinai, whose icy, mystical, Nordic otherworldliness beautifully complements Krug’s sageness. The record would, however, be better if they’d just left “City Wrecker” alone, since its presence on MBHF feels forced and anachronistic, and it was already one of Krug’s best solo Moonface tracks.

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8. John K. Samson – Winter Wheat

The former Weakerthans frontman has, since going solo, easily made his two best albums since the classic Reconstruction Site. The latter of the two, this year’s Winter Wheat, is not much different from 2012’s Provincial. Like that record, it’s a little sleepy, a little somber, a little literate, but very tuneful and very Canadian. It sounds like the many snowy fields Samson must have driven past in tour buses moving from province to province, and the thoughts and sounds that swirled around in his head as he watched those fields roll by.

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7. Matt Kivel – Janus/Fires on the Plain

I’ve been a fan of L.A.-based singer/songwriter Matt Kivel since 2014’s wonderful Days of Being Wild. 2016 saw two releases by Kivel, Janus and the double album Fires on the Plain. Whereas Janus is the excellent heir to Days of Being Wild‘s beautiful, heartfelt semi-folk compositions, Fires on the Plain is expansive, atmospheric, and a little like Mt. Eerie in its ability to turn natural aerie-ness into gorgeous pop music. Both are superb records, and mark the year as a crucial one in Kivel’s artistic evolution.

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6. Operators – Blue Wave

Months ago I interviewed Operators frontman Dan Boekner. We talked about his obsession with Russia, the American election, Breitbart, the alt-right, and post-truthiness. Now nobody can stop talking about any of those topics. Operators‘ debut album also explores the issues of the moment, albeit with a backdrop of highly-compressed, New Order-y, post-punk dance-rock.

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5. Preoccupations – S/T

The Calgary indie post-punk quartet’s second album is just as paranoid as the first, but musically, it covers more ground. It’s catchier, dancey-er, and more experimental. They use new synth settings and figure out how to get more interesting sounds out of their dual harmonic guitar set-up. Whereas the last album felt like an apocalyptic manifesto, Preoccupations feels like an essay, getting into greater detail and exploring various tangents. An entirely worthy follow-up.

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4. White Lung – Paradise

The Vancouver punk crew’s fourth album is their best. It’s a little smoother in terms of production, but the band sounds rough as ever, and the songs have never been tighter or more explosively melodic. Guitarist Kenneth William is all hooks all the time, his countermelodies constantly playing off against frontwoman Mish Barber-Way’s vocal melodies and searing lyrical imagery (“I will give birth in a trailer/Huffing the gas in the air/Baby is born in molasses/Like I would even care”). Everything culminates in a swirl of musical florescence.

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3. ANOHNI – HOPELESSNESS

HOPELESSNESS is so dark it becomes black humour. The album is like a musical Dr. Strangelove – it’s too horrifyingly true for one to take seriously, and ANOHNI is entirely direct about all of it. The music, which I can’t imagine anyone actually dancing to, nonetheless retains the qualities and aesthetics of dance music. If a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, the synths shimmering over HOPELESSNESS’ heavy beats might be better analogously described as helping the cyanide go down. So…depressing stuff. But HOPELESSNESS‘s ‘straight-talk’ feels needed, and the black humour of the work never slides into preachiness. This is angry music. It’s just not abrasive.

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2. Bon Iver – 22, A Million

22, A Million feels like a struggle, as if Justin Vernon were desperately trying to create new sounds, things that exist outside of humans’ range of hearing. The electronics often don’t so much complement the acoustic sounds as fight or claw at them. Oddly, an artist who became one of the biggest in indie by recording a minimalist folk album in a shed now stands-out as one of the most interesting and innovative producers in the genre. To be fair, other artists like Sufjan Stevens and Owen Pallett made work showcasing incredible electronics vs. acoustic arrangements and production. What sets Bon Iver and 22, A Million apart is the violence of it, and how that violence becomes beautiful in the context of the work.

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1. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

When AMSP came out, I could not stop listening to it. It wasn’t even that its songs were catchy, or that I just really enjoyed it. It felt hypnotic. Like past Radiohead albums, there were a lot of details to be explored, mined, picked apart through subsequent hearings. But it was also so beautiful. Its lyrical themes so timely (as is to be expected from Radiohead), even prophetic now, in the wake of the US election.

Thom Yorke often sounds like he’s past feeling anger or horror at the politics of the moment. He’s seen it all before, sung it all before. Sometimes he sounds defeated, like in “Daydreaming” or “True Love Waits”. He just doesn’t have the emotional energy to deal with it anymore, but he can’t help but recognize what’s happening and express that recognition in this haunting work.

Wolf Parade + A Decade Of Apocalypse Sound

September 27th, 2015 | Features | 0 Comments

apologies-to-the-queen-maryIf you’re in the New York area, there’s a free appreciation party for the album at Baby’s All Right today (September 27th) at 5:00. 

In the early aughts, Montreal was all about the apocalypse sound.

Between 2001-2006, the albums best embodying the fear, angst, anger and societal disconnect sweeping North America following 9/11 came from French Canada’s largest city: Montreal, Quebec. Even New York’s own revived music scene found itself bested by the likes of Montreal bands Godspeed You! Black Emperor, A Silver Mt. Zion, Arcade Fire, The Dears and The Stills – all of whom released stark, beautiful, despairing albums reflecting the fever of the times. But the album that best captured the era’s feeling of subdued hysteria was Wolf Parade’s 2005 debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary.

Although based in Montreal, all Wolf Parade’s members were originally from British Columbia, and their scruffy looks and raucous energy had more in common with BC bands like Ladyhawk and Japandroids than anything from la belle province. Also unlike their popular peers in Arcade Fire or Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Wolf Parade were not a collective, nor did their music feature the kind of orchestral sounds then in vogue. Dan Boeckner’s dirty guitars and Spencer Krug’s spacey analog synths defined their aesthetic. Combined with Arlen Thompson’s mammoth drums and Hadji Bakara’s anxious electronics, Wolf Parade’s sound on Apologies conjured up sonic images of a ‘used future’ resembling the one in Terminator movies: desolate, dystopian, and technologically terrifying.

I’m not in love with the modern world.”

The album’s second track, “Modern World”, is Boeckner’s ironic reply to the Modern Lovers’ song “Modern World”. It is also serves as the album’s mission statement. Far from being in love with the modern world and the USA and driving with the radio on, Wolf Parade’s members were not impressed. On the contrary, Apologies is a litany of Wolf Parade’s issues with the times. In “Shine A Light”, Boeckner bewails the constant treadmill of low-level employment, with its “endless hours in the office tour/on a bus on a bus back home to you/that’s fine I’m barely alive.” In “We Built Another World”, he voices his disgust with the superficiality of youth culture where “everyone’s disguised just a little bit.” Krug, in “Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts”, borrows an image from Hindu mythology to lament Western affluenza. In “Dinner Bells”, he imagines an impending environmental apocalypse where “there’ll be no more winter/And there’ll be no more spring.” In “I’ll Believe In Anything”, he voices a generation’s desperation for existential meaning.

Anxiety about the end of nature in an increasingly technology-dominated world is another one of the album’s consistent complaints. In a Pitchfork interview from 2005, Boeckner acknowledged the theme, saying,

There’s this sort of alienating feeling, for me sometimes at least, where I feel like there’s all this technology that is now completely embedded in the environment that we live in– I don’t understand it or I’ve just got to the point that I completely ignore it and that kinda freaks me out. And also, I get this feeling of decay from growing up in a small town and moving to successively larger cities. Sometimes I feel like these cities are built on snarled machines that seem tenuous and not as solid as a huge den of trees outside your house.” 

Although it is never addressed explicitly, Boeckner and Krug make subtle references to it in lyrics like “It’s gotta last to build up your eyes/And a lifetime of red skies,” (“Modern World”) and “Said you hate the sound/Of the buses on the ground/Said you hate the way they scrape their breaks all over town/Said pretend it’s whales keeping their voices down/These were the grounds for divorce I know” (“Grounds For Divorce”). Adam Bizanski’s haunting stop-motion music video for “Modern World” also references it, depicting the band being replaced by spindly, efficient machines.

Although Boeckner and Krug’s writing styles have always been distinguishable, their shared sense of crushing despair on Apologies – “Fancy Claps” is basically the musical equivalent of sitting in a dark corner in the fetal position – provided the album with thematic consistency. In subsequent work, however, Boeckner and Krug’s songwriting paths diverged enormously.

With Krug’s Sunset Rubdown and Moonface projects, as well as Swan Lake – his indie supergroup with Carey Mercer (Frog Eyes, Blackout Beach) and Dan Bejar (Destroyer, New Pornographers) – Krug would dive headfirst into the fantastical elements of his work hinted at on Apologies. Starting with Sunset Rubdown’s 2006 album Shut Up I Am Dreaming, Krug as the dreamer with fantastical visions of sacred animals, mythical beasts and places where lovers have wings, would henceforth be the definitive one. The political Krug, who so poignantly depicted the neo-conservative, religion-tinged insanity of the Bush era in “Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts” and “I’ll Believe In Anything”, would for the most part disappear.

Boeckner, on the other hand, became perhaps the closest thing to a protest singer in aughts indie-rock (after Efrim Menuck). Starting in 2007, Boeckner’s band Handsome Furs (with then-wife Alexei Perry) toured many of the places most bands avoid in Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The duo’s time in the former USSR inspired the soviet vibe of 2009’s Face Control, the back cover of which features a picture of Putin. Their song “Serve the People” was inspired by the Burmese government’s efforts to block rock bands from playing for the general public. The duo also starred in their own CNN.com vlog series called Indie Asia and blogged about their travels on their website.

Boeckner and Handsome Furs became increasingly political until their breakup in 2012, but the end of the Bush era and the beginning of Obama’s “hope and change” administration saw North American indie rock generally lose interest in writing about political issues. Gone were the days of Bright Eyes and TV on the Radio releasing free anti-Bush digital downloads. Even in Canada, where the current right-wing, Bush-wannabe Prime Minister Stephen Harper ascended to power in 2006, indie rock – at least outside of Quebec – became just as apolitical. Musicians in the United States and Canada voiced support for the Occupy movement, Pussy Riot, and other progressive matters, but few prominent North American indie rock bands and artists explicitly dealt with contemporary issues in their musical work.

Post-Apologies Wolf Parade were, for the most part, no exception to this trend. The songwriting of 2008’s At Mount Zoomer and 2010’s Expo 86 gave the impression that whereas Sunset Rubdown and Handsome Furs were once considered Wolf Parade side projects, Wolf Parade had become the supergroup side-project of Sunset Rubdown and Handsome Furs members. Both were still great albums, but the thematic unity of Apologies’ politics was nearly gone, with songs like “Call It A Ritual” (about wars in the Middle East) and “Yulia” (Boeckner returning to his soviet fascination) providing the rare exceptions.

In 2011, Wolf Parade announced it was going on indefinite hiatus.

Listening to Apologies in September 2015 is a strange experience, like opening a time capsule from the first couple years of the Bush administration and post-9/11 world. All the worst memories from the period come rushing back. The World Trade Center attacks. Anthrax in the mail. The Patriot Act. The declaration of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Despite the problems of 2015, North America is in many ways a more hopeful place (at least for progressive and liberal types) than it was during the Bush years. Americans elected the first African-American president. Gay marriage is legal in the United States and Canada. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq appear to be winding down. President Obama’s Clean Power Plan indicates that at least one political party in the US is finally getting serious about confronting climate change. And although Canadian Prime Minister Harper has tarnished Canada’s environmental reputation and passed his own Patriot Act in the form of Bill C-51, at the time of writing, Canada’s progressive New Democratic Party are leading the federal election polls [update: a recent Star poll found the Conservatives to be in the lead – let’s all hope it’s wrong and if you’re a Canadian reading this, please go out and vote if you haven’t already.]

So could an album as crushing and apocalyptic as Apologies be made in 2015? Maybe not. There’s a wounded passivity to Apologies; a feeling of being beaten down too many times. The album is peppered with lyrics about laying in bed, sleeping and wanting to run away. One can find similar sentiments on other albums from the period, like Arcade Fire’s Funeral (see: “In The Backseat”) and Radiohead’s Hail To The Thief (see: “Sit Down Stand Up”). But there’s a feeling of active hope or at least resilient anger in more recent political music. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-La-La Band’s most recent album is called Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything. When Arcade Fire sing “Can we just work it out?” on Reflektor’s “Afterlife”, they sound like they believe we actually can work it out. Is the apocalypse sound dead? Or is it just waiting until after election season to make a return?

Have You Heard The New…Moonface Album?

April 12th, 2012 | Features | 0 Comments

Moonface with Siinai: Teary Eyes And Bloody Lips

Spencer Krug returns with another Moonface album, luckily not taking too long since the last one. And this time…he brought friends, Finnish krautrock band Siinai. And of course it’s got a ridiculously epic title like Heartbreaking Bravery.

Surprise surprise, it’s a pretty deece album, with Krug’s awesome melodies and the dense, rock-solid grounding of Siinai behind him. It playfully indulges at times in the kind of patient exploration of sound that old obscure psych stuff from the sixties does and the songs can go on a bit longer than you might want them to, but whatever. If Sunset Rubdown is the project that lets Krug blastoff into space, this kind of stuff brings him down to Earth and into the depths of the psyche. I’ve still got some time to spend with it before fully appreciating it, but yeah, Krug’s always a solid bet, he hasn’t let anyone down yet with his latest.

The thing is streaming right now on the AV Club’s website and drops April 17th on Jagjaguwar.

Have You Heard The New…Moonface?

February 10th, 2012 | Features | 0 Comments

Spencer Krug‘s my boi yo. Just like a couple months ago or something he released the excellent Moonface full-length Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped (itself a follow-up to the long ass one song Dreamland EP: Marimba And Shit Drums) and now he’s got a new one and if you thought Spencer Krug‘s was weird, this will not alter your perception of him. The new album is called With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery and it was recorded in Finland with Finnish krautrock band Siinai. It drops 4/17/12 on the wonderful Jagjuguwar label.

First track “Teary Eyes And Bloody Lips” has hit the web and it is exactly what you expect and want it to be: twisted indie pop with killer melodies and ridonkulous lyrics. The legit band version of Moonface (er, Moonface+Siinai) totally works and the kraut does not overpower the rock (at least not in this song). Krug continues his interstellar domination of awesomeness. Hopefully the entire album is this kind of shit, though knowing Krug and his Moonface tendencies there’ll probably be some weird boring shit and some cool epic shit and I’ll love it one way or another.

Have You Heard The New…Moonface Album?

July 4th, 2011 | Features | 0 Comments

Moonface – The Way You Wish You Could Live In The Storm

Yeah, I couldn’t wait. I fucking love Spencer Krug too much – I had to hear this as soon as I could. Here are my thoughts.

Marc: Firstly, let me just say that I love this album. But it’s a more intellectual love, a respectful love, rather than I love bestowed based on enjoyment. Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped is an album of ‘pop’ songs, and they are for the most part ‘enjoyable’, with great vocal melodies and nifty little parts, but Krug brings us deeper into his acid dream here than he has previous with Sunset Rubdown and, to a lesser extant, Wolf Parade.

The last two Sunset Rubdown albums were brilliant, but without the exciting rock-band arrangements and array of strange, seductive sounds, Krug’s minimal work as Moonface – with him armed with only an organ (as the title warns) and some subtle automated beats – leaves no room for you to turn from the visions he presents. The closest experience to this was Shut Up I Am Dreaming, but even that’s not a good reference point since even there Krug gave the listener eclectic sounds to distract from the lyrics. With Organ Music, the lush, eerie soundscapes he creates are too uniform to distract; they really do simply accompany Krug’s mainly-impressionistic poetry.

“I’ve got a spirit
Made out of sand
Sometimes it slips through my fingers
Back onto the beach
In some kind of lust
To return to the violence of the ocean floor”

These phenomenal lines begin the album, setting the stage for what’s to come. They are Krug’s attempt at a return to child/dream logic; to the mentality of mankind’s prehuman roots as creatures of the ocean, pieces of which are embedded in our minds eternally; to our connection to nature that many of us have forgotten, but not Krug, who has always employed a wealth of naturalist imagery in his lyrics. But still, only a couple lines later he’s singing, “You should have been a writer, you should have played guitar.” Here we get a glimpse of thoughts relating to artistic drive, and later the pressures of society which may conflict with this and other emotions and drives we may have. There is no immediate ‘logical’ connection between these themes, but the logic of the album ties them together perfectly, as Organ Music is this great lyrical collusion of id-expression, fantasy, reality and emotion, as Krug often delivers, though not in such astoundingly stunning and immediate form as this album contains.

You watch her wipe the plate clean
And you see that the plate is the sea
As she lay down the mountain
And it will hypnotize you

Krugs sings these lines on the album’s fourth song, the severe, krautrocker “Shit-Kick In The Snow”. This song confusingly mixes images of nature with what seems to be a narrative about missing a girl. The third and fifth songs – “Fast Peter” and “Loose Heart = Loose Plan” – also seem to either be about or involve this feeling, that of missing people, be they lovers or friends. But these people are missed because the protagonists of the song are on journeys, both physical and spiritual. And perhaps there is no final destination on these journeys, just constant search and a lot of friends to make and then say goodbye to as you continue along. Organ Music embodies both the sadness and euphoria of this alternately.

The album is perhaps Krug’s most important work within an already impressive resume. It is his most challenging work, yet still accessible; his most ambitious, and his most minimalist; and though it will be probably one of his least heard, hopefully it will be one of his most appreciated, as it deserves to be.