Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Antony and the Johnsons: "Epilepsy is Dancing" [video]

Mastodon: Crack the Skye

Artist: Mastodon
Album: Crack the Skye
Date Released: March 24, 2009
Genre: metal, progressive metal, progressive sludge metal
Rating: 8.7

Review: Crack the Skye marks Mastodon's fourth studio album, and with it, the band can now lay claim to being one of the great metal acts of all time. Following the crushing footsteps of Blood Mountain and Leviathan, it's hard to imagine this band getting more experimental and ambitious. But with Crack the Skye, Mastodon has taken their power and creativity to another level; this album will in all likelihood go down as a metal classic.

Topically, the album is an hallucinatory journey to Czarist Russia, involving bizarre themes like astral travel, out of body experiences and wormholes. More literally, Crack the Skye is meant as an homage to drummer Brann Dailor's sister, Skye Dailor, who committed suicide at age 14. But no matter how you look at it, this album's a trip.

Crack the Skye is more polished and focused than Mastodon's previous work (but don't hold that against them -- this is a necessary step after the frenzied fury of Blood Mountain). Part of this can be attributed to producer/engineer Brendan O'Brien who has worked with such bands as Rage Against the Machine and Stone Temple Pilots. The tracks on Crack the Skye flow beautifully into one another in the same way its extended tracks flow and weave in and out of themselves (the album features 2 songs that are 10+ minutes). It's hard to pull tracks away from the body of the whole -- it's the kind of album you listen to from start to finish.

And if that sounds somewhat Floydian, you're not too far off the mark. Crack the Skye brings to mind some of the greats: Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Abbey Road Beatles and Black Sabbath (just to name a few). The album is also hooky as hell and it has its fair share of memorable moments. Take for example the goose-bumped finale to "The Czar":
Spiraling up through the crack in the sky
Leaving material world behind
I see your face in constellations
The martyr is ending his life for mine
But what really stands out are the guitars. Despite the trippy lyrics, innovative vocal harmonies, shockingly good melodies and mind-bending drumming, this is first and foremost a guitar album (as evidenced by the placements of the guitars in the mix). The riffs may not be as memorable or catchy as in the past, but the phrasings, arrangements and performances are simply fantastic.

Crack the Skye is a stunner -- one that will become an essential part of any metal lover's collection.

Track highlights: "Oblivion," "Divinations" "The Czar" and "The Last Baron."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Wavves: Wavves

Artist: Wavves
Album: Wavves
Date Released: March 17, 2009
Genre: noise rock, lo-fi
Rating: 7.3

Review: Surprisingly listenable noise rock that'll satisfy even the most ardent non-conformists, anarchists and surfers.

Various: Dark Was the Night

Artist: Various
Album: Dark Was the Night
Released: 2009
Genre: indie rock
Rating: 8.6

Review: Dark Was the Night is the 20th compilation release benefiting the Red Hot Organization, an international charity dedicated to raising funds and awareness for HIV and AIDS. It features exclusive recordings by a number of indie artists and is produced by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National (who also have a track on the album: "So Far Around the Bend" which they do with Nico Muhly). John Carlin, the founder of the Red Hot Organization, was the executive producer. The title is derived from the Blind Willie Johnson song "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground," which is covered on this collection by the Kronos Quartet.

This year's compilation features a stunning lineup, a list that includes -- okay, get ready for this -- Arcade Fire, Spoon, Sufjan Stevens, The New Pornographers, David Byrne, Bon Iver, Grizzly Bear, Antony Hegarty, The Decemberists, Iron and Wine, My Morning Jacket, Blonde Redhead and many, many more. It's a Pitchfork/All Songs Considered/indie-junky's dream come true.

And the tracks are solid. They're not all winners (I could have certainly done without Cat Power's rendition of "Amazing Grace"), nor is the track order to my liking. But the songs are hardly throw-aways and many would stand reasonable well alongside regular album tracks.

Some standout tracks for me include Sufjan Stevens's epic "You Are the Blood," (Sufjan's not so subtle way of saying 'B-side my ass') and the delicious duet between Conor Oberst and Gillian Welch (whoa -- what a perfect match-up). Other favorites of mine include the Yeasayer's "Tightrope," Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings doing "Inspiration Information," and the New Pornographers covering Destroyer's "Hey, Snow White."

Mirah: (A)spera

Artist: Mirah
Album: (A)spera
Date Released: March 3, 2009
Genre: indie rock, indie-pop
Rating: 7.2

The Soundtrack of Our Lives: Communion

Artist: The Soundtrack of Our Lives
Album: Communion
Date Released: March 3, 2009
Genre: indie rock, neo-psychedelia
Rating: 7.6

Review: Surprising return to form from a veteran band.

Phosphorescent: To Willie

Artist: Phosphorescent
Album: To Willie
Date Released: February 3, 2009
Genre: indie-rock, alternative folk
Initial rating: TBA

Review: Coming...