Jack & Meg White, electro wizards Pole, summer-poppers Panda Bear, metallic shoegazers Jesu and bliss-laden spacerockers Blonde Redhead step into Getintothis‘ musical stratosphere…
Panda Bear: Person Pitch – Album of the Week
Earlier this week I embarked on a rather unremarkable pendolino cross country trip to the equally unremarkable Kidderminster. The sky was overcast and the rain was threatening to descend on this greyest of July mornings.
But in a world away from the west midlands and cloudy climes, I was sitting pretty on the sandy shores of Honolulu sipping cocktails as nubile young ladies wafted giant leaves and saw to my every whim. For this pleasure I had Noah Lennox’s alter-ego Panda Bear to thank.
With its looped Beach Boy harmonies, dreamscape swirls, zealously strummed guitars and exotic rhythms Person Pitch is the feel good sound of summer 2007. However, for anyone expecting a Thrills-alike saccharine sweet pop record, think again, Person Pitch is a heavily layered, quasi-dimensional maze of sonic solar sound.
The 12 minute opus of Good Girls/Carrots captures their essence; split into two suites you’re treated to indecipherable echoed vocals trade with bag o’ nail beats, looped piano and funky tablas interspersed with found sounds and even thunder claps.
Comparisons to Lennox’s alt-folk curios Animal Collective are inevitable such is the vast melange of percussive sounds, and like AC’s last record Feels, Panda Bear have successfully mastered the art of creating a piece that rewards listeners after repeated playing.
Comfy Nautica is positively biblical in its radiance, summoning the spirit of Brian Wilson in his home-made sandpit as handclaps and a plethora of instruments ring out to the hymnal ‘Good times‘ chorus.
Elsewhere the psychosis-inducing Take Pills is a slow burner enshrined in glittering gold dust while I’m Not recalls the Stone Roses’ most dreamy bliss-outs, and could quite happily sit alongside the likes of Simone or Don’t Stop. We may be having the wettest summers on record but Person Pitch is one glorious dollop of sunshine.
Interview and sounds
The cover shot of Stefan Betke’s sixth full length LP displays Neuschwanstein Castle – a shot so magical and fantastical it should not only be right up there in those ‘best album covers ever’ lists, but also serves as a precursor to the spectacular beauty that lies within the sleeve.
Of course you’ve seen the castle before – it’s been used both in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and for Blur’s Country House single, but here its uber-visionary quality together with the crisp, snowy landscape perfectly mirrors the calculated artistry of Betke’s own pure musical architecture.
Betke, revered for his electro dub trilogy 1, 2, 3, has crafted a record where every glitch and blip is looped and tracked with scientific precision resulting in a sound which is organic yet robotic, precise yet fluid and groove-based. Rooted in ambient minimalism there’s much here which will appeal to fans of kraut, Warp label enthusiasts or even Brian Eno, but such is the fascinating loops and space-age electro on offer it’s appeal could transcend mere leftfield audiences and cross over into the ultra-hip bars of inner city clubland.
Warum sets the tone with gurgling burps aligned with hip-hop wood blocks and a nagging, body-popping bassline. It’s infectious but clinical and is reminiscent of the seemingly simplistic, but highly expressive, artwork of Piet Mondrian.
Winkelstreben is both funky and mechanical while SchÃÂ¶ner Land sounds like that bit in Terminator when Arnie and co. beam into the future in their electromagnetic fields. Only with added dub.
DÃÅsseldorf is perhaps the most dangerous mini beast on offer, therefore veering away from Betke’s blueprint for Steingarten, with it’s house beats and noisy feedback the looping is lessoned in favour of a continuous build and climactic swell almost the complete opposite to the seven minute Jungs which, with its repetitive clunk stays on the same course for almost the entire duration before a ray-gun blast of tremoring high-pitched arcade-game noises complete the epic.
No band in alternative contemporary music appear to be name-checked as an influence more than My Bloody Valentine. Loveless, the record which virtually bankrupted Creation, appears to be cited in near Biblical proportions, whenever a band as near as touches an effects pedal.
In recent years the likes of Serena Maneesh, Amusement Parks On Fire, M83 and Asobi Seksu among reams of others have built careers on MBV’s blueprint. Add to that list Jesu.
Formed in 2003 by ex-Godflesh songwriter Justin Broadrick, Jesu have been quietly shaping their ambient drone-outs alongside their American contemporaries Isis and Pelican, but on Conqueror, their second full release, they’ve clearly aligned themselves with the more poppier elements of their wave of industrial noiserock.
Like their stateside chums, Jesu don’t mess around when it comes to their epic craft, just eight songs figure here but clocking in at the hefty hour mark, leaves you in no doubt as to breezeblock sized slabs of fizzing metallica on offer. Ten minuter Weightless & Horizontal is the biggest chunk of all – glistening synths give way to one chord crunches as Brodrick – who’s vocals are not too dissimilar to Doves chief Jimi Goodwin – tells us not to ‘try not to lose ourselves which is a tough ask given the labyrinthine ocean of sonics on offer. For, like kraut, Brodrick has created a musical landscape which plunges you into a weaving cyclical ocean, forever evolving and swallowing you up into another dimension.
Transfigure beautifully contrasts a playful accordion sound with a bass-heavy grind, Medicine is a more straight forward affair with vocals thrust to the fore alongside thudding Ted Parsons drums before a glacial coda kicks in and takes us to a higher celestial plain. Mother Earth begins harmlessly enough with repetitive chunky riffage before a giant swell of distortion rips through your ear drum, better still is the electro-no wave of closer Stanlow which akin to Kyuss jamming with The Knife.
Like much of this brand of metal – for that’s what it is at its basest form – there’s a fine line between getting hopelessly lost in the weighty operatics and getting hopelessly bored. Similarly to the likes of Sunn O))), Jesu are an unrelenting, uncompromisingly powerful act, but their strength can also be their undoing, as the sheer volume and might can make for an uncomfortable, somewhat tiring listen; see Brighteyes‘ meandering, overly long swamp dirge for proof. This perhaps is a clue as to why their Heart Ache and Silver EPs have been hailed such a success. In small doses the effect is heart-warming but enough, over the duration of Conqueror, the magic is still apparent, but it can be paralysing.
Big juicy slabs of metallic dream pop
Blonde Redhead: 23
As if to reaffirm my point in the above review, step forward this week’s second MBV revivalists – Blonde Redhead. Consisting of two Italian (twin) brothers (Amedeo and Simone Pace on drums and guitar respectively) and a bass playing chanteuse, Kazu Makino they’ve been releasing their icy dreamscape pop since 1995.
Though clearly their music is of an altogether different universe to the bruising sledgehammer rockist’s Jesu, the Redhead’s love of all things Kevin Shields is spread thickly over 23, this their seventh release and follow-up to 2004’s Misery is a Butterfly.
Opener and title track could be lifted straight off Loveless with its woozy atmospherics and seasick guitars, not to mention singer Kazu Makino’s barely-there whispery vocals. The formula is repeated throughout 23; all swirling melodies and chamber pop charm, but my greatest problem is that the melodies are buried so deep beneath a shiny coating of stratified production that the tunes are instantly forgettable.
Two minutes into SW triumphant brass is introduced but rather than breaking up the dense, richly textured air, it’s lost and superfluous amid Amedeo Pace’s vocals and guitars. Single Silently melds 80s dance-pop with a Debbie Harry cool-as-crystal vocal, but instead of an attention-grabbing groove, it merely saunters.
Much better is Publisher, which turns down the wall of noise and instead a droning guitar hums while drums pad and a piano builds to a climax while Amedeo and Kazu alternate vocal duties. Much of the plaudits thrown at BR concerns their cohesion, rather than a creating LPs of peaks and troughs, they weave a sound which flows from starts to finish, rarely injecting obvious stand-out cornerstones, which is all well and good if the music impresses upon the listener, but in my case I find it all rather coasts along – good, but not great, innovative but hardly exciting, ambitious but far from exhilarating.
Caught live the group’s dynamic is impressive but similarly to Misery…, I can’t help but feel that on 23 there is something missing – which is ironic considering there’s so much, maybe too much, going on in the mix.
Otherworldly dream pop
White Stripes: Icky Thump
White Stripes have always proved a frustrating enigma to me. For all the respect and high regard I hold Jack White as a musician conversely he’s always appeared an egocentric self-mythologising berk wrapped up in his own importance. While his sister/wife/mother Meg fulfils the role of the gimp for hire, who save for a cutesy smile, has all the musical dexterity of a chimp. Yet, it’s Meg’s primitive non-drumming that serves as a balance countering Jack’s tendency to over elaborate. They’re a confusing, complex, overly-simplistic riddle of ideas, contrasts and styles blurted out in three tones of red, white and black.
Then there’s the music: I dig their Led Zep fuzz blues-outs, but can’t stomach their Woodie Guthrie faux-country ditties. I love it when Jack grabs a marimba or a mellotron adding depth to their rigid dogma, but equally confounding when they toss out a stock porch blues number which they’ve been doing since their 1999 debut.
So it was with a mixture of hesitancy and excitement when I first dropped Icky Thump – great title by the way. Opener and title track, you already know, it’s quite simply one of the tracks of the year. A magic Jimmy Page riff sex wees all over a woozy mellotron as White’s ghostly whine bleats on about ghosts, immigrants and prostitutes.
It sets the tone to arguably the Stripes’ loudest, most ragged and glorious record yet. You Don’t Know What Love Is continues in a similar vein, stomping keys and feedback-drenched guitars which could have been lifted straight off Led Zep II. Better still is 300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues which begins like Blind Melon, all slide acoustics before Jack injects with serrated lead.
I wasn’t truly aware of Jack’s guitar prowess until seeing them headline the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2005 were he truly amazed, and as if to reaffirm this view Icky Thump is pumped full of hardrocking heavy licks: Bone Broke (a two chord petite monster), Little Cream Soda (could’ve been lifted straight from White Blood Sells, such is it’s screeching discordance) and Rag And Bone (a steely garage rocker displaying the White’s affection for junk) are all A-list six-string wonders which will have young teenage boys reaching for their fenders.
But it’s the virtual omittance of all things country and the addition of some of their wildest tricks which suits me fine. While this may alienate long-term fans, it exemplifies White Stripes in phase three – a clear progression from the muddle of Get Behind Me Satan and adding layers to that record’s hefty weight of ambition.
I’m Slowly Turning Into You shows the Arcade Fire that they’re not the only group who can turn a church organ to their advantage and create a cavernous din. Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn, is a Celtic charmer replete with twinkly mandolin and joyous bagpipes – honestly! – and best of all, Conquest finds Jack bellowing Matador-style as Mariachi brass parps amid thudding fuzz tones. It’s the perfect tune for Robert Rodriguez’s next B-movie.
As with all Stripes records there’s a handful of tracks which could have been ditched to add to the whirlwind blustery excitement, but this criticism may be churlish when considering that the cookie Detroit duo may have just made their best record yet in their 10th year of existence. Ecky thump indeed.
Single of the Year?