Sunday, June 29, 2008

Maybeshewill: Not for Want of Trying

Maybeshewill: Not for Want of Trying

Year: 2007

Click here for the artist's site

Maybeshewill is a band that I was introduced to only a few weeks ago, through a recommendation of my software. The thirty-second clip it gave me was very reminiscent of the impeccable post-industrial band 65daysofstatic (even the name - words run together - seemed to suggest serious ties). So after a bit of searching, I was able to get my hands on a copy of their debut LP, Not for Want of Trying.

Now, before I go any further (and in case my words of praise in the first paragraph weren't enough), I should admit that I quite enjoy 65dos' music - I find it dense, layered, complex, inventive, and original. Consequently, I figured that a group with a similar style would be worth my time.

The problem lies, however, in the fact that Maybeshewill doesn't sound similar to 65daysofstatic. The newer band sounds derivative.

The difference between the two is huge.

It's one thing to be influenced by and incorporate elements from an artist or group that you admire, taking their ideas and adding them to your own, making something new. It's another thing entirely to completely rip off the sound of a well-established and respected post-music outfit.

Regrettably, that's all Not for Want of Trying is - a poorly done rehash of 65dos' style, sound, and vibe. Everything is a copy - from the overly-used piano sounds on the keyboard to the gaudy attempt at inventive drum programming to the bad male/female duet. It's all been done before and done amazingly better by the older band.

It doesn't even sound as though Maybeshewill is trying to bring anything new to the table. For example, their programming drumkit noises are the exact same sounds that 65dos uses. It's as though Maybeshewill carefully read the liner notes for the other group's last release and bought all of the same equipment and software, trying to recreate the successful sound - but without any of the heart, passion, or complexity.

It all feels forced; it all feels like a path that's been tread on my far better musicians. Yet at the same time, it feels simplified, watered-down and soulless. It's like the difference between playing 'The Entertainer' my Scott Joplin and the primer arrangement of the song for a second-year piano student. It's like hearing Beethoven's Fifth turned into a monochromatic ringtone for a 5-year-old mobile phone.

The whole thing disappoints me greatly. I was hoping for something that would set my teeth on edge and take my breath away like 65daysofstatic can; instead, all it earns is a resounding 'harrumph.'

Tracks to catch: 'Seraphim and Cherubim' is the closest this album comes to original, and is probably the best song on the record. 'Heartflusters', with its laughably ugly duet, is worth listening to if only to giggle. 'He Films the Clouds' tries - and turns out marginally okay.

Rating: 2/5

It would be unfairly harsh for me to give Not for Want of Trying 1/5, even though a part of me really wants to. If you like post-rock or post-industrial, and aren't familiar with the work of 65daysofstatic, go ahead and listen to these guys first. That way you won't hate it as much as I did. And then go pick up some of the masters of post-industrial and find out what you're missing.

An open message to Maybeshewill: next time, try writing your own music, instead of putting someone else's superior product through the crap filter and calling it yours. I'm sorry. I really wanted you to be good, but you're not.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Made Out of Babies: The Ruiner

Made Out of Babies, The Ruiner

Year: 2008

Click here for the artist's site

When I first got my hands on Made Out of Babies' sophomore effort, Coward, I couldn't say enough good about it. I loved (and continue to love) that album. I still think it's one of the most frightening records I've ever heard. It's brutal, it's ugly, it's engaging, and it's scary. I can remember thinking to myself, There's no way they'll be able to top this with their next release.

I am pleased to announce that I was full of it.

MOoB's newest disc is an even more focused, driven aural assault than their last two albums were. It's got every bit of the hideous power that characterized their first two releases, while having a more streamlined approach, a better handle on what exactly they want to do with this disc. However, don't think this doesn't sound every bit as much like Made Out of Babies as their other two releases do - all of their signature sounds are there, from the growly detuned guitars to the aggressive drumming to the loud, prominent bass to the inimitable creepiness that is vocalist Julie Christmas' voice. If anything, the interplay between bandmembers seems more fluid, more natural; you can tell this is a group that has been playing together for a few years now, and it reflects in the way they play off one another.

It hits hard from the beginning, with syncopated guitar noises and Christmas' trademark disgusting growl, erupting into a brutal, devastating attack on everything you expect from a rock and roll band. This is an album that refuses to conform, even to the standards they created for their first two discs. It's got a more melodic focus, while still being every bit as unfriendly as before.

As per usual with a MOoB release, it's Christmas who reigns supreme in center stage for the bulk of The Ruiner. Her multiple vocal personalities all return to the mix, with even more interaction between her eerie singing voice and harsh, guttural grunts. She purposely veers off tune in parts, making it that much more disconcerting. She can still sing in that sweet, little girl voice, which disappears in the face of the tempest of her growl. She screams and she cries and she bellows and she absolutely captivates me while simultaneously scaring the crap out of me.

But the rest of the band is better than ever as well. They're pushing to more progressive territories, playing with complex time signatures and song structures, while still being more brutal than most supposed metal bands could ever dream of. And the production is much tighter this time around, making the album a more harrowing experience. It doesn't feel as muffled and sanitized; this is raw, this is unfriendly, this is not the sort of thing you play when your mother is in the car with you.

But I can't stress enough just how good this album is. And I really don't think it's because I set my hopes high and I'm simply justifying my love for this disc. I expected it to be less than its predecessor, not the terrifying progression into desolate, musical hells that we are treated to through this entire record.

Lyrically, it's much more focused and guided than their last two efforts. Most of the lyrics on Coward seemed almost like a tribute to Dadaism, with no sense to be had in any way, shape, or form. On the other hand, The Ruiner has a sense of direction, has a voice to be heard and a story to be told - adding to enhance the record as a whole.

Tracks to catch: Album-opener 'Cooker' is a blisteringly progressive and ugly starting note, setting the tone for the rest of the disc. 'Invisible Ink' sees Christmas singing some of her most melodic music to date, which serves to augment the creepiness that pervades the song. 'Bunny Boots' has some of the most scathing, hideous screams committed to CD, and the lyric 'Each time you say it louder and more boring' is only half right - it's plenty loud, but miles from boring. 'Peew' captures the essence of Coward's crown jewel, 'Gunt', and will haunt you long after the disc stops spinning.

Rating: 4/5

As scathing, as biting, as acerbic and fugly as this album is, I can't in good nature give it a perfect score, because it will scare most listeners away - but that's true of everything Made Out of Babies does. (Their name alone serves to scare away the majority of people, I imagine.) The best way I can describe MOoB's music is how singer Julie Christmas' mother described it - 'I really like it, but it makes me want to punch things'. Made Out of Babies is musical violence, flayed and put on display, gory and oozing. And did I mention The Ruiner is absolutely brilliant?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Sigur Rós: Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust

Sigur Rós: Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust

Year: 2008

Click here for the artist's site

Sigur Rós is, to me at least, inexplicably popular. I don't really understand how a band that sings in either Icelandic or a made-up language and that composes as down-tempo and chill music as they do gets as large of a following as they do.

I've been a fan of theirs on and off since the first time I heard 2005's Takk, but it's only been in the past few months that I've really listened to them in earnest. They've got an undeniable style, but they can be very hit-and-miss with me. Some of their stuff I love with a passion, and I listen to over and over, whereas some of it only results in an echoing 'meh'.

That's certainly true of their newest album. (For sake of my typing sanity I'll refer to it through the rest of the review as 'Endalaust', because it's a word I can type with a normal English keyboard, unlike most of the words in the title.) It starts with a bang, offering what may be the most energetic, moving, and engaging song Sigur Rós has ever released; from its acoustic guitar to abnormal rhythm structure to its chorus of happy singers to its fast, unusual (for this band) beat, it's almost a perfect song. It makes the entire album start with a roar.

And that roar continues rather well through the first five tracks of the album, which are impeccably good. Still signature Sigur Rós style stuff, but with an energy and a vibrancy that they've never displayed. It seems the diametric opposite of my favorite disc of theirs, the oddly titled (). While the 2002's parenthetical release was dark, heavy, and slow, the first half of Endalaust is almost poppy and brings an immediate smile to my face.

Regrettably, they can't seem to sustain that new, vibrant sound through an entire album.

The second half of the record, from about the sixth track on, feels like an empty rehashing of earlier releases of theirs; it's devoid of anything new or groundbreaking, and is completely disappointing after the first half. It's as though they had enough music for an amazing EP that would take the band in an entirely new direction, but got scared of losing fans or something and crapped out some boring follow-up to make it an LP.

And that bothers me. By the time I reach the last track, almost all of the goodwill this album built up through the first few tracks is lost on maudlin repeats of their old sound. Thankfully, I can either just push play again and enjoy the first few songs, or I can just open up my music player and give the dark, moody () a listen again.

So that's what it comes to. I only really ever want to listen to the first half of this album. It starts so very, very strong, but loses steam far too quickly.

Tracks to catch: Pretty much the first five tracks. The opener, 'Gobbledigook', is by far the best song Sigur Rós has ever put out up to this point, and I can't help but grin when I hear it. 'Inní mér syngur vitleysingur' uses a lot of lound, brassy horns to make its presence known, and is a warm, fast song, full of life and energy. 'Festival' starts out slow in usual Sigur Rós style, but builds to an amazing close.

Rating: 3/5

I'd love to give this album more, and the first half would easily earn a 4 out of 5, but the second half almost bores me to tears by the time it's over, bringing the overall rating much lower than it would have been. If you're a fan of Sigur Rós, check this album out, and pay special attention to where I think the band might be going in those first couple of songs - it's exciting new territory. If you're not familiar with the band, go listen to () and cry for awhile, because it's that emotive. All in all, it's a pretty okay record from a pretty okay band. While I wish there were more meat to it, it's still a decent outing.