Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cold Cave

Love Comes Close
Matador Records

What happens when you lock a bunch of hardcore and noise musicians in a room? They make gothic music, of course! I unreservedly love Cold Cave. Wesley Eisold (formerly of American Nightmare), with assistance from Caralee McElroy (Xiu Xiu) and Dominick Fernow (Prurient), bashes out primitive, insanely catchy, dark electro in the vein of Joy Division, Blank Dogs, and Cabaret Voltaire, filtered through archaic effects pedals and ancient keyboards. The vibe of “Love Comes Close” is poised, foreboding and authoritarian. The vocals are joyless and icy - split between a blank female and a blank male – the synths and drum machines echo the heartbeats of a melancholic. Their music takes in and spits out new wave, postpunk and early house music, all with a deeply European hue.

Cold Cave are up there with the Horrors in terms of sullen defiance and singleminded expression. Overcast grays and pale greens suffuse every note, dancing a wild dervish on the inside of your eyelids. And yeah, one of their songs is on the teevee, but don't hold that against them. This is
what you need.

- Matthew Moyer

Sole & The Skyrider Band

Fake Four

Now, I hadn't had much contact with Sole & the Skyrider Band, outside of a couple guest spots on other artists' tracks (Sage Francis, Bleubird,) until I got my hands on their latest album, Plastique. What I found in those tracks was an incredibly moving collection of stories that were much more interesting than what one usually expects from the average hip hop record. It's not everyday you happen across an artist who can touch on topics ranging from politics to space to nature, human and otherwise, and on and on without sounding self important or, worse yet, boring. Sole manages to run the gamut ideologically, pulling you along with a hypnotic flow and complex beats that leave you wondering how the hell the album is already ending and hitting the repeat button so you can try to wrap your head around what just happened. "Plastique" has grown on me to the extent that I'd say it's neck and neck with "Never Better" by P.O.S. for best hip hop album of the year. Is it perfect? No, but a few faltering moments aside, it is damn close. Do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with Sole and the Skyrider Band if you haven't already done so. You will not be disappointed with what you find.

- Dave Conkey



Aside from the definitive Viva Hate and Your Arsenal, Morrissey’s last three releases; You Are The Quarry, Ringleader of the Tormentors and Years of Refusal, respectively feature some of the best work of his post-Smiths career. From those he slices out, reissues and repackages a compiled 18-track sampling of b-sides and singles as SWORDS. Initial copies of SWORDS include a bonus disc of eight songs recorded live in Warsaw during his 2009 tour featuring Life Is a Pigsty, I Just Want to See the Boy Happy and The Smiths gem You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby. SWORDS is a must for die-hard fans and a solid introduction for those just discovering Moz. Remember kids, it's his world, we just live in it.

- Max

Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions

Through the Devil Softly

Hope Sandoval is one of the more enigmatic figures in pop music today, a welcome contrast to the social networking impulse to reveal everything all the time. She seemed to float through Mazzy Star albums like a purple aether, bewitching and beguiling, with a gorgeous coo that often seemed untethered to the music. It was a voice that completely rejected the "bluesy belter" or any other outmoded "women in rock" template, a voice that was only concerned with plumbing the depths of sadness and expression, uninterested in the starmaking machinery that sought to co-opt her. Her body language in interviews and promotional duties spoke to that, sullen silence, pregnant pauses, and a head tilted downward in boredom and disinterest. When Mazzy Star broke up, she seemed, to the casual observer, to disappear.

In a way she did. Sandoval stepped off the pop culture treadmill and immersed herself in music, at her own pace and of her own choosing. Collaborations with Jesus and Mary Chain, Bert Jansch, Massive Attack, and Air followed, as did an album with a new group of collaborators, the Warm Inventions (“Bavarian Breadfruit”), in 2001. Now going on eight years later, Sandoval is releasing a new album with the Warm Inventions, and though her recorded voice sounds more intimate than ever, to parallel that she seems more distant than ever. The Warm Inventions includes members of Dirt Blue Gene and Sandoval's main co-conspirator, Colm O'Ciosoig from My Bloody Valentine. Colm was last seen kicking up a monstrous racket with a reborn My Bloody Valentine, and the Warm Inventions, where even fingers moving up and down guitar frets threatens to overwhelm the delicate music... well, that's just perverse.

Sandoval is the only vocalist for whom it would be a compliment to say that her voice hasn't matured at all, still sounding like a cosmic-lost-ghost-girl, all autumn winds and careful swoons. Careful listeners, though, will hear hints of blues diva sass (especially in "Trouble"). Unlike the unfettered roar of My Bloody Valentine or the tormented churn that drove Mazzy Star's fuzztone torch, the instrumentation on “Through the Devil” is quiet, unhurried, and woodsy -- minimal but highly expressive acoustic guitars, murmuring bass and brushed drums, music boxes -- like Neil Young's Harvest or a lost Tim Buckley record. Check out "Lady Jessica and Sam" for a perfect encapsulation of this sound. It's space rock reflected through a late night fire in the hearth of Big Pink.

- Matthew Moyer

Volcano Choir


How can you follow up the wintry, isolationist heartbreak that seemingly burst out of Bon Iver's debut album? How do you work up the courage for that second act? Willingly seek out heartbreak? Head back to the cabin? Wisely, Justin Vernon doesn't even attempt such a thing. He's avoided the damning weight of expectations with fucking acrobatic deftness by momentarily shedding the Bon Iver name. He's joined up with oddball unitand kindred Wisconsonites Collection of Colonies of Bees to form the Volcano Choir and explore a whole new musique. The first thing that you must understand is that the songs on “Unmap” are worlds away from the tear-stained lullabies of “For Emma.” The music here is not as prayerful and carefully constructed; here it's spontaneous, improvised, nonlinear, uncomfortable and much more joyous. A song may be one-minute in length, or it may be seven minutes in length, they may break down into grating percussive noise, static, or bucolic, burbling electro. Aesthetic schizophrenic futurism, with the only common thread being Vernon's wondrously openhearted falsetto, soaring to even greater heights when matched against his friends' cubist doodles.

There are moments of pure, simple beauty, like "Island, IS." "Dote" is like those wonderful mood pieces that linked the tracks on This Mortal Coil's “Blood,” incidental, ghostly sounds and faint traces of Vernon's androgynous sigh. "And Gather" is all group handclaps over childlike guitar and keyboard figures while the massed falsetto vocals egg each other on to greater heights - it's like a meditation, a Steve Reich piece and a playground game all at once. An autotuned Vernon in "Still" almost makes you want to laugh in disbelief, were it not for the prayer-temple instrumental vibe of synth drone and hands lightly brushing guitar and harp strings, before it roars into life as the beginning (just the beginning, mind you) of a song that Coldplay or Radiohead would kill for. "Youlogy" is built around sparse, unadorned torch vocals intoning some ancient lullaby over leftover music, a tantalizing hint of a gospel/angel choir appears briefly like a flicker several times before disappearing into the ether. Out like a ghost.

- Matthew Moyer