Bandwagon Selects: Recent Record Reviews Edition #4

This month we take on some Swans, Bears and other Wild Nothings. No really, they're all quite exciting - there's a 2 hour album in the midst, a couple of experimental ones, some 'better-than-their-previous-work' ones, some 'a-return-to' ones... I'm giving away too much already. Welcome to September and read on!

Wild Nothing / Nocturne

This is all that I have been playing all week, it’s true. Easily one of the best releases this year, Wild Nothing’s follow up to their debut album, Gemini is a solid effort. You’ll find yourself comforted in a world of the right amount of gloomy nostalgia, hazy landscapes, and lovelorn poetry. In album opener, ‘Shadow’ the string arrangements take center stage after the first verse, an outstanding moment in Nocturne and also a testament to Jack Tatum’s most mature musical offering as yet. Gemini, although a good debut album was at times sketchy and messy. With Nocturne, Tatum crafts hazy synths, glistening guitars, and swirly riffs masterfully into something quite timeless and surreal. However, the simplistic and bountiful lines waxing romantic feels as though Tatum is holding back his potential by making it an album of love songs. Nonetheless, from the music to the album art, this is an all-round beautiful record.

Standout tracks:
Shadow, Nocturne, Only Heather

Swans / The Seer

First things first, this is a two-part album. It is also two hours long. Secondly, even with a 23 minute song somewhere in it, ringleader Michael Gira still calls it ‘unfinished’. Wait, what. But I assure you, this will be two hours well spent. The Seer is quite a masterpiece of post-rock and experimental composition and plays like a book of haunting and enchanting folk tales. Yeah Yeah Yeah's leading lady Karen O steps in for the ethereal ‘Song For A Warrior’. The self-contained nature of the track and goosebump-inducing vocals make it a standout. ‘Lunacy’ has him repeating the word over and over, you lose yourself a little. Visceral, maddeningly hectic but melodic at the same time – bells/wailing vocals/jangly guitars/Gira’s baritone/cryptic chants – it will transcend, hypnotise and inspire you all at once. The Seer is definitely an audio experience and if you are a music fan, you owe it to yourself to give this a spin.

Standout tracks:
The Apostate, Song For A Warrior, A Piece of the Sky

Bloc Party / Four

They have decided to return to good ol’ guitars! Seems like Bloc Party’s unpredictable and non-conformist ways have paid off this time, Four is an exciting and charged-up album. It is also where we see Kele Okereke grow up. After a period of experimenting with electronica – a direction that most of the fans (and band members) decided not to follow – Okereke assumes his role again as very talented vocalist of rock band, Bloc Party.  ‘So He Begins To Lie’ opens the album with a bang, ‘3x3’ and ‘Coliseum’ is where he employs dark, gothic vocals, that banjo bit in ‘Real Talk’, the combination that distinctive crisp bassline and feverish drums in almost every track – it is raw, a little unpolished but very real. Let’s hope they stick to what they do best, being a rock band. 

Standout tracks:
V.A.L.I.S., The Healing, Real Talk

Dan Deacon / America

Prepare to be hit by a wave of brash noise and composed melody at the same time. Successfully combining experimental synthetic compositions with real instruments, this concept album is Deacon’s personal and conscious exploration of what America means. One thing though, you HAVE to listen to this in chronological order. If you listen closely, the first half is a sort of well-planned (and well-soundtrack-ed) romp around landscapes and feelings. Just when you think he’s bringing it down a notch and slowing down the roadtrip on ‘Prettyboy’, he amps it up again as you segue into the second half of the album – an impressive four-song-suite titled simply ‘USA’(I-IV). This second half is expansive and contemplative, and upon completion, jouyously triumphant. Dan Deacon, the only great electro-acoustic composer I know. Take this trip to America, it’s worth it.

Standout tracks:
True Thrush, Prettyboy, USA III: Rail

Fang Island / Major

Riffs on riffs, psychedelic guitars jump in, a surprising piano arpeggio thrown in here and there, some electronic trumpets and top-of-your-voice singalongs, Major is all about noise, speed, electrified energy and galloping rhythms. Songs build and swell from chorus-like instrumental explosions to contented denouements before the rush of the next track, and then the burst of energy begins again. In Major land, nothing really begins or ends. A little odd at times, brilliant sometimes and full on flashy, they borrow from the elements that made their debut album work by maintaining that wild and anthemic element to their music. Major doesn’t offer much variation, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Pretty much a get up and go party album, it doesn’t quite disappoint but it doesn’t exactly stand out as well.

Standout tracks:
Seek It Out, Regalia, Chompers

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti / Mature Themes

Immersive and unabashedly lo-fi as ever, Ariel Pink produces another oddball yet pretty record that pays homage to his vintage influences. Although not terribly experimental or exhilarating, Ariel still manages to create a decent hazy, atmospheric slacker pop album. Fans familiar with his early work should have a ball with Mature Themes - it’s a return to his shimmering sonic (and bizarre) landscapes that we’ve first come to know him for. Oh, and it’s really kooky funny as well.

Standout tracks: 
Baby, Only in my dreams, Mature Themes

Four Tet / Pink

It’s difficult to put a finger on what subset of electronic music Four Tet and his contemporaries play. It doesn’t really matter actually; what everyone needs to know is just that it’s really, really good. In Pink, it’s obvious that Burial’s style has rubbed off on Kieran Hebden, as a direct result of their numerous stunning collaborations together. But Burial’s 2-step garage techniques aren’t the only thing we get to experience here. Four Tet deftly darts between various influences of jazz, house, hip-hop, ambient and beyond as he creates tracks that are void of any single identity/theme. It’s his most technical and experimental record to date, and one that should put him at the forefront of the electronic music scene today. 

Standout tracks: 
128 Harps, Lion, Pinnacles

Apostate / Λ ♢ Λ ♢ Ø EP

Only spans 22 minutes, but it sure packs a solid punch. The Prague 5-piece had already impressed us with their Seaborne EP in 2010, but their latest work goes on to confirm their competence in making metalcore sound fresh and exciting again, a significant feat considering how the genre has been marred the last few years by generic bands. It’s a record brimming with soaring guitarwork, intense instrumental passages and epic vocals. Post-metal fans will love this album for its haunting atmospheric feel.

Standout tracks: 
The People, The Rupture, The Town 

Circa Survive / Violent Waves

Ah Circa Survive. The band that has our favorite vocalist Anthony Green at the helm. In Violent Waves we find more of the usual Circa Survive - bursts of aggression with ambient soundscapes and technically proficient musicianship. It doesn’t really hold up to the energetic vibes of Juturna nor does it feel as consistent as Blue Sky Noise; it’s more like the experimental journey of On Letting Go. It feels quieter now, with Green holding back his shrill vocals and letting the instruments and ambience take spotlight for a bit. Many moments of catharsis here, especially when Geoff Rickley of Thursday makes an appearance in the irresistible track ‘The Lottery’. 

Standout tracks: 
Sharp Practice, The Lottery, Phantasmagoria

Minus The Bear / Infinity Overhead

Very few bands can sound as comfortable with their sound as much as Minus The Bear; Infinity Overhead just might be the most confident record yet. Jake Snider still sings about adolescent love while the instruments in the background are still as free-flowing as ever. The intricate guitarplay that we’ve all come to love is more subdued, the vocals sound more calm, and the synths take on more poignant tones. It’s a synthesis of all their previous work - the math rock laced Menos El Oso, the psychedelic Planet of Ice and indie rocking Pirates. It’s not a classic record, but it offers various moments of musical brilliance that should satiate the alternative music fan.

Standout tracks: 
Lies and Eyes, Toska, Cold Company

Text: Delfina Utomo, Ilyas Sholihyn