Balmorhea – Stranger (2012)

The fifth release from this 5 year old project, Stranger by Balmorhea.

Balmorhea have been slowly acquiring a fan base since their beautiful self-titled debut in 2007, a carefully constructed Modern Classical meets Post Rock release that paved the way for their later albums like Constellations and my personal favourite Rivers Arms. Their lush, electronic-deficient music is very easy to consume and yet has always had an intelligent and thoughtful lilt to it, something that has been (mostly) been carried forward once more on their latest work.

This being said, it feels like Balmorhea are out to prove a point with this album more so than their previous releases. Stranger is the most active and driven I have heard them, and off the back of very quiet and introspective Ambient/Chamber Pop/etc it does come as a bit of a surprise. Sure, there have been moments in albums prior where they have cranked it up a notch or two and really let the melodies shout but Stranger is far more blunt in this regard as it is no longer a thrilling acoustical climax in the music itself, but rather very precisely considered rhythms and guitar riffs that overshadow the underlying ambience.

Don’t get me wrong, tracks like “Dived” are truly excellent; perfectly balanced piano solos mingled with electric guitar, sinuous percussion and chanting come together brilliantly and remind us that this outfit has not lost their edge, they have simply evolved their sound. Others like “Jubi”, however, remind us that while they have not lost their Southwestern origins with their distinctly lilted guitar one cant help but shake the feeling that this isn’t them. “Pyrakanth”, which is the poster-child track of this release, certainly epitomises this new sonic direction, initiating very clear and direct beats that sounds very un-Balmorhea like; it is however rather excellent and despite my whining it’s quite nice to have these very purposeful melodies.

Since it kind of feels like the envelope of their previous sound was becoming increasingly more constricted with every release, it’s a nice tangential movement away while still maintaining a vestige of the original sound. Even so, I have to question whether tracks like “Artifact” really belong in the Balmorhea catalogue, with its sharp and determined riffs barrelling over beautiful, buried acoustic guitar and piano. Even when gems like the intimate “Shore” and the floaty abstraction of “Islet” counterbalance these brash and bold melodies, it still feels off-center and indecisive.

As much as I am enjoying this I do think it lives up to its namesake rather well; this album really is something of a “stranger” when I consider Balmorhea’s backcatalogue. Does it feel like a Balmorhea release? Not especially; it feels like a transition zone album, one that has its feet in two buckets; the old and the new. There’s more singular stunners here than a cohesive whole but it is still an enthralling listen throughout, just in trying to work out which way each track is going to pan out.

7/10

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Lovesliescrushing – Glinter (2012)

10 hours in a car is a long time indeed. 10 hours is a long time to spend in any form of vehicular transportation, in fact, but in a car especially so. I came back from Scotland today off the back of quite an exhausting field trip and my brain is a little addled as a result. Even so, I’m here at midnight lying in bed and listening to the soothing tones of Lovesliescrushing’s newest album, Glinter.

My past experiences with this musical outfit have been a bit dubious at the best of times;¬†Xuvetyn and and Bloweyelashwish are not exactly my favourite albums in the world; while they do have a firm root in Shoegaze and Ambient, they also sadly share a great many sonic threads with Noise and Glitch and to me are insufferably grating at times as they combine the worst of both worlds. I suppose I have been fairly reluctant to step up to this latest LP (and their other new release Shiny Tiny Stars¬†also) as a result; lucky I did really, since I wouldnt be feeling quite as peaceful as I am at this moment if it weren’t for this.

Glinter is a peculiar album; broken down into three ~20 minute tracks, each track seems to be defined by distinct phases, each of which has its own particular rhythms and sound, often somewhat discordant with the previous. These textural entities are separated mostly by expanses of silence, void spaces many seconds long. The music that returns as the quiet breaks is rather surprising, actually. “She Is Above The Clouds” tweaks oscillating vocal fragments in a vaguely minimal techno fashion for 20 minutes, something that I make sound unappealing but yet somehow just…works. The drone/ambient backing provides a panoramic vista of sound while the glitched out voices ride an invisible turbulence above the smooth expanse of cloud below.

“A Bird Flew Into The Sun” really combines the best of Shoegaze with Ambient; sickly sweet vocal coos buried beneath thick layers of fuzz, guitars manipulated to the point of destruction abstraction by pedals, rich drone sequences smothering the aforementioned textures; it’s an almost cold and emotionless experience but it has a certain richness and buoyancy in the sound that prevents its stagnation and it affects an air of soft neutrality to soothe tired ears as it gracefully ebbs and flows through troughs and climaxes.

“Broken Aureate Echo” again sits within the drone spectrum on things, slowly rising out of a bed of drone before incorporating mammoth, feedbacked guitars, all of which moves at a glacial pace. But this album conjures images of flying more than glaciers, like the sensation that we are in fact moving incredibly slowly over the tiny landmass below while in fact we are being driven inexorably forward at high speed.

Glinter is nice. It’s taken a little time and some tired processing to appreciate its intricacies but I think I understand this LP better than I did before. Don’t be fooled by the Shoegaze tag; the guitars here are certainly all encompassing but not obnoxious, falling away into the background as merely a soft haze of balmy noise that massages the eardrums. It’s huge, but in a faded and distal kind of way.

6.5/10

Carly Rae Jepsen – Kiss (2012)

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OK so, I wrote a review, I want to say two weeks ago, just prior to the official release of this album but it was a bit preemptive on a number of levels, mostly that I wasnt really prepared to actually sit down and write about it properly at the time so the final product was a bit, well, shit. I have listened to this a tonne in the meantime however, and for once I actually feel compelled to erase everything and start this review from scratch.

So for the last few months the track other than “Somebody That I Used To Know” that has dominated the singles charts (here in the UK) has been “Call Me Maybe”, a single off aspiring Canadian popstar Carly Rae Jepsen’s Curiosity EP. Half a year down the line and we’re staring down the barrel of her debut pop album Kiss, and while you may look down on me for saying this (not that I care anyway) but I actually really enjoy this release.

Something that I feel increases the charm factor of this album for me is that it seems to revive a style of music that has fallen out of the public consciousness of late, one of sickly sweet naivety and innocence. “Call Me Maybe” alone epitomises this sound with its cute lyrics and (largely) non-sexual video, while its sister track “Curiosity” keeps the catchy beats going but also the teenage naivety. Something that has kept me away from the pop scene has been the unfortunate uptake of Hip-Hop and RnB and the use of far too sexual lyrics and accompanied imagery; given the largely young audience of viewers/listeners, and I hate to go all Dad on this, I really don’t think it’s appropriate. In that regard, this album is the perfect balance between the teenage angst that people still expect from pop as well as all the accompanied beats.

On first examination this album was pretty much exactly what you’d expect; loaded with pop hooks, simple riffs and syrupy vocals it passes by like a whirlwind made of treacle, walloping you as it passes to the extent that you have no comprehension of what just occurred. This album is pretty much bursting at the seams, clocking in at about an hour with a whopping 16 tracks; initially it’s too much to bear, there’s too much too soon and none of it really makes an impression; repeat listens and more track specific listening made me more impressed as I began to realise just how many of the tracks were competent entities on their own and in fact stood up to (more) critical listening. I should stress that in no way should you approach this album as something anything more than what it is; a simple, no holds barred, unabashedly feel good pop record. Don’t expect a deep and thoughtful listen, this is largely superficial, but that’s the point.

“This kiss is something I can’t resist
Your lips are undeniable
This kiss is something I can’t risk
Your heart is unreliable”

While there is nothing inherently wrong with the lyrics (as listed above, for example), they display the same flimsiness of most pop. The vocals do however tie in extremely well with the catchy riffs and hooks, to the extent that I have gotten everyone in the house addicted to “Hurt So Good” and I catch people humming or whistling it on a daily basis, with its pulsing synths, perfectly timed drops and vocal manipulations. And while I do dislike Owl City with a burning passion, his inclusion on this album is actually really quite good in “Good Time” as he trades verses and choruses with Carly, who sounds particularly sultry on this piece. The beat is determined and deeply, deeply infectious. Even Bieber is tolerable in the downtempo “Beautiful”; something of a sore thumb surrounded by pop juggernauts but a nice mid-album breather.

Yes, it certainly is “always a good time” with Kiss; there is always something going on at every point, even during quieter moments in “Guitar String/Wedding Ring” and its couplet “Heart is a Muscle”, where we even get some piano. At the end of the day, the bright poppiness will always come back, and while it doesnt come back with as much as a vengeance as I’d like both “Sweetie” and “I Know You Have a Girlfriend” keep the flow going and maintain a level of cohesion as the album closes. It may not be the world’s most original album but it carves out a sound for itself early on and to its credit does keep a grasp on it throughout its duration.

I would like to write more but I think 800 words is more than sufficient to see where I’m going with this. It is overlong, I will admit, there’s just so much content crammed into this but I can guarantee that you will find at least one track on here that you will unashamedly enjoy. As I say this is nothing more than feel good pop, no questions asked. You just know that Carly has a massive grin on her face singing some of these tracks, you can hear it in the music, and that is infectious. So yes, I do find myself enormously enjoying this, and I don’t have a problem with that whatsoever.

7.5/10