Tag Archives: Album of the Day

Album of the Day: Cloud Nothings, “Life Without Sound”

Like fellow fuzz-pop contemporary Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest, Cloud Nothings’ Dylan Baldi shares a fondness for the contemplative solitude of an automobile. “A thing I like to do with all my records is drive around with them,” says the 25-year-old Cleveland native in the album notes for his new record. It’s fitting because Baldi has always traded in propulsive, pound-the-steering wheel aggression. His early basement efforts were lo-fi and abrasive, the sound of an 18-year-old bursting with creativity, with no other way to channel his pent-up frustrations. Those impulses led to records (particularly 2012’s breakout Attack on Memory) that announced Baldi’s raw talent and his natural feel for punk-inspired power pop, but that were ultimately buried under too much chaotic noise and dissonance. There was the feeling that eventually, as he matured he would harness that energy into something more cohesive and his anarchic tendencies would fade into an embracement of pop.

Life Without Sound, Baldi’s fourth full-length, is his best yet; A lean, major chord rave-up for those who grew up on Archers of Loaf, Superchunk and Ted Leo. Baldi has completely abandoned any interest in feedback squall, opting for nine tight songs that never wander off the sonic path. Vocally, Baldi pushes himself, his punk rasp exploring different registers and harmonies. There’s a true band dynamic at work, as drummer Jayson Gerycz and bassist TJ Duke give standout tracks “Modern Act” and “Internal World” a groove and pounding backbeat. The record’s secret ingredient may be producer John Goodmanson (Sleater-Kinney, Death Cab for Cutie), who’s polished off some of Baldi’s rough edges—but not all—for a sonically crisp effort. The entire record is big, loud and immediate, the sound of a young man growing up without growing old.

Drew Fortune

Album of the Day: Black Anvil, “As Was”

Black Anvil are, at their core, a black metal band. Just take a look at their touring partners (Watain, Withered, Behemoth), or read their lyrics, or dig their leather, spikes, and anti-Christian imagery. For close to a decade, they have been repping New York City, and have been a key component in legitimizing USBM. Though some naysayers claim their hardcore past is a liability, the fact that the group’s core members have spent time in bands like Kill Your Idols and Cause for Alarm is actually an asset. Their not-strictly-metal background gives them a pool of inspiration that extends far beyond Venom, Bathory, and Celtic Frost. (All great bands, but limited in scope.)

Their latest full-length, As Was, draws on the group’s expansive influences, demonstrating a progression only hinted at on 2014’s Hail Death. In addition to the monstrous, blackened riffs, co-founding member Paul Delaney’s vocals are a high point; on previous efforts he hewed closer to a classic black metal approach, but on As Was, he shapeshifts from harsh and demonic to rich and melodic with ease. The songs sport multi-part harmonies, more developed background vocals, and a deeper emotional resonance. The group also continues to spike black metal with elements of classic hard rock; the breakdowns in opener “On Forgotten Ways” could have been lifted directly from Master of Puppets, combining technical mastery and rhythmic precision with a sense of epic drama. Black Anvil aren’t afraid of writing a good bridge or extended intro; they take their time getting to the meat of the song, which makes the payoff more intense. The strongest moments of As Was recall the best work of Black Sabbath, UFO, and the Scorpions without feeling ruled by nostalgia.

While peers like Watain hinted at hard rock inspiration on their 2013 LP The Wild Hunt, Black Anvil’s approach feels more seamless. “Nothing” features Pink Floyd-y keyboards, plus some Uli Roth-era Scorpions soloing by guitarist Jeremy Sosville. The slower moments of the title track wouldn’t be out of place on Kiss’s Destroyer.

Thematically, the album tends toward a cerebral interpretation of the Satanic; rather than focusing on the demonic mythos, Black Anvil are more concerned with internal struggles, and the necessary balance between darkness and light (See: “As an Elder Learned Anew” and “Two Keys: Here’s the Lock”). And indeed, Black Anvil prove themselves here as masters of equilibrium—the fluidity of stylistic and thematic tensions results in an album that is creative and challenging, the next step in their quest to push USBM forward, with hearty hails to the dark energies of the recent past.

—Michael Hill

Album of the Day: Julie Byrne, “Not Even Happiness”

When her debut, Rooms With Walls & Windows, was released in 2014, psych-folk singer/songwriter Julie Byrne quietly established herself as a powerful and personal storyteller, a woman whose heavy-hearted reflections often pushed emotional boundaries to vividly they recaptured transient memories that could otherwise be easily lost. Byrne’s musical takes on the hardships of love, the crossroads of change, and the uncertainty of decision-making were already honed and poignant, even then.

Not Even Happiness, her follow-up, finds Byrne settled into a life in Brooklyn after years spent criss-crossing the country—Buffalo, Chicago, Seattle—and reflecting on the unresolved narratives that arose through years of transient living. While she seems to be tentatively embracing homesteading at the moment, the sweeping ambient soundscapes and lush, fingerpicked melodies of Not Even Happiness are an able device for working out the tension between her new stability and the piece of her spirit that still longs for the constant movement, could’ve-been loves, and starry roadside nights she’s left behind.

In “Follow My Voice”, Byrne’s guitar thrums gently, but her low-range vocals are twisted by a lyrical love-hate relationship with a former home. “Melting Grid” is a wistful, harmonica-driven folk song in which Byrne reflects on the all-consuming loneliness of a life without roots. With strings weeping over mesmeric chord progressions, obvious standout “Natural Blue” is an ode to the fantasy of infinite freedom. When Byrne croons the words “When I first saw you/ The sky, it was such a natural blue,” it’s as if she’s fixing a mantra for herself to ensure she never forgets the strong connections between her emotional life and the natural world.

In album closer “I Live Now As A Singer,” Byrne asks herself, “Tell me what it’s like to be here now.” Her battles with her restless heart against the strange appeal of stability resonates in a world where even the best-laid plans can be disrupted at a moment’s notice. Not Even Happiness’ gorgeous production and arrangements are just spare enough not to crowd out her earnest honesty.

—Max Mohenu

Album of the Day: Gidge, “LNLNN”

Jonatan Nilsson and Ludvig Stolterman grew up together in the small city of Umeå in the northern part of Sweden, an area that endures lengthy, freezing winters. As Gidge, their field of expertise is electronica—specifically, the liminal space between ambient music and techno. Such music used to be umbilically linked to visions of futurism or modernity but, as with like-minded producers such as Christian Löffler or Ólafur Arnalds’ Kiasmos project, Gidge pursue something more in line with their immediate environment: a wintery, organic electronica that recalls the frosted forests they call home.

LNLNN collects seven tracks, all new—sort of. The starting point for the LP was Lulin, an album and film project made in conjunction with the production company Lamprey that explored the strange ambience of a cabin in which Stolterman was living, perched right on the edge of the wilderness. The result was desolate and atmospheric, but when they performed it live, Nilsson and Stolterman filled it out with new beats and textures, and soon it grew into a record in its own right.

The result captures the eeriness and desolation of Lulin, while adding a rhythmic quality that transforms and amplifies the material. “Eyes Open” and “White Curtains” wind mournful keys around beats sampled from struck wood and metal the pair scavenged from their wild surroundings. “Lit,” with its garage-y drums and haunted vocal, sounds like Burial transported to the edge of the Arctic Circle. But the album’s standout is “Midra,” where an unwavering, pulse-like rhythm winds through gusts of distortion and billowing, Enya-like vocals. It feels like a long walk through an icy wilderness, wrapped up warm in defiance of the elements.

Louis Pattison

Album of the Day: Anchorsong, “Ceremonial”

Masaaki Yoshida has been composing electronic music under the moniker Anchorsong for more than a half-decade, first gaining attention for his 2011 debut Chapters, a laidback house record based on the DJ’s spontaneous live shows. On his second full-length, Ceremonial, the Tokyo-bred DJ broadens his scope of source material with an adventurous, thrilling set of intricate instrumentals that bear little resemblance to its predecessor.

Inspired by the discovery of The Vodoun Effect, a collection of obscure West African instrumentals from the 70’s, Anchorsong, who takes his name from Bjork’s 1993 “The Anchor Song,” emphasizes and incorporates complex rhythmic constructions and an expansive array of Afrobeat samples on Ceremonial, touching everything from surf rock to New Wave along the way.

“Mother,” “Last Feast,” and “Butterfly,” which merge polyrhythmic structures with brief, indistinguishable vocal snippets and crisp house beats, are the perfect showcases for Yoshida’s Afro-house hybrids. Even a song like “Expo,” which begins with a more traditional bass-driven sonic palette, continues to slowly build as Yoshida adds elements like guitar, hand drums, and marimbas to dense, stunning effect.

There are no cheap payoffs or ready-made club hits on Ceremonial. Instead, it’s an album that rewards repeated listens and careful attention. It seamlessly blends the DJ’s house minimalism with his newfound artistic vision, and the result is one of the most exciting instrumental LPs of the past year.

Jonathan Bernstein