khoma - second wave

.:: Back in 2002 there was a band brewing in northern Sweden that had members who, despite being involved in other projects already, felt a pull towards this more socially aware and more highly politicised side project. They all felt that Khoma had become more than it was being allowed to be. This particular labour of love needed a fuller outlet.

Containing a striking core of Johannes Persson and Fredrik Kihlberg (Cult Of Luna guitarist and pianist, respectively) as well as founding member and vocalist Jan Jamte, Khoma’s emotive, eerie rock is as far removed musically from the Umea scene (CoL, Refused, Meshuggah) as you can get. However, their ideals and philosophies remain intact. With underlying tensions that cite feminism, anarchism and socialism as major influences, this band may have a slightly more academic approach than we’re used to from the Roadrunner stable – an interesting prospect.

The danger is that this band will constantly be referred and compared to Cult Of Luna, but there really is no comparison at all. The Second Wave sees Khoma lend their souls to a lilting, atmospheric collection of strong ballads and a sound more influenced by Sigur Ros or Tool than the hardcore staple that they have been brought up on. Where they fit in, though, is anyone’s guess.

This record proves that the sum can definitely be greater than the component parts. Stripped apart, there is nothing truly incredible here and the ambling nature of the music means that the beauty is found in the construction. Khoma produce their grand orchestrations by simply layering Persson’s psychedelic guitars and Jamte’s yearning wail over contributions by a wide-ranging collective of musicians.

There is nothing that can really be called ‘filler’ here, but similarly there is also little that is truly ‘killer’. It’s just not that kind of album. While it’s no four-disc concept album, it is definitely advisable to listen to it in its entirety, but therein lies the problem: because there are no strict rules surrounding The Second Wave, the languid nature of it makes it seem almost flaky on occasion.

Songs like the keyboard-infused ‘Stop Making Speeches’ and the recent single ‘Medea’ add an urgency to the start of the album, after which it seems to peter out, almost on purpose. Much restraint is shown through the centre of the record with the gently disciplined ‘Hyenas’ and ‘Asleep’ which flow past with just a whisper. The thunderous ebb of ‘1909 08 04’ signals the beginning of the end, which comes with the soaring finale of ‘One Of Us Must Die’. It is definitely meant to be largely unremarkable. This is a good thing.

These attributes will not help Khoma become anyone’s favourite band but the crossover appeal is enormous. The possibilities for everyone enjoying at least part of this largely unobtrusive record are endless. The likelihood that nobody takes note of The Second Wave at all, however, is very real.

.:: …Whilst I'm sure Khoma really couldn't really give a monkey's which category they are dumped under in your local music vending establishment, I feel it's important to note that just because these members of already established "harder" acts have technically made a "softer" album, this does NOT mean they have "gone emo" or anything else so tragically clichéd.

According to vocalist Jan, Khoma is based on the premise that "sometimes, whispering can be more powerful than screaming." In actual fact, what these Swedish gentlemen have created is an album that exhibits some of the most sincere, honest and uncompromising music that is extraordinarily heavy but in unexpected dimensions.

You can call The Second Wave "post-whatever-you-like-core" but if you are one of the few dreamers who believes music can speak to the soul then Khoma have created this album just for you. If you only buy one album outside of your "comfort zone" this year, make it this one.

download: khoma - second wave

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analena - carbon based

.:: Analena is a so-called musical outfit with its base in Zagreb, the capitol of Hrvatska, or Croatia if you prefer.

Analena was born in the fall of 1997 and decided to exist as a band worthy of its name. The term Analena comes from the ancient Sanskrit, and translates as "like/by the fire". Too many great bands from this area succumbed to lack of enthusiasm, shortage of record labels and "infrastructure" in general, and last but not least, apathy. Members of Analena decided to be a different kind of band, the one that would keep the fire alive.

Although based in Zagreb, Croatia and rooted in punk rock ethos, Analena as a band was willing and determined to shatter many boundaries from the very beginning. It is symbolic that members of the band come from two countries, Croatia and Slovenia, and it comes as no surprise that during these 7 years neither listeners nor critics were able to strictly define and label their sound.

In the case of this band, one man's hardcore is another man's noise is another man's punk. Diverse but steady, from bittersweet melodies and blistering hooks to pummeling and aggressive rhythms, Analena covers all the bases.

Fresh out of the oven, Carbon Based is their second album, recorded and produced at Kozmo studio, Zagreb, by the members of the band themselves, with the noteworthy assistance provided by members of Lunar, another remarkable and friendly band from Zagreb.

Carbon Based is a statement by a smart and mature band, an honest expression of determination and passion in full force. Analena follows its own instinct by merging charming melodies with intricate and shimmering rhythmic relentlessness. Stunning and flawless instrumentation combined with witty and poetic slogan-free lyrics takes care of the rest.

download: analena - carbon based

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pedro the lion - it's hard to find a friend

.:: Though songwriter Dave Bazan fronts the enigmatic rock band Pedro the Lion, his emotionally charged narratives, eye for telling detail, and mournful voice have more in common with J.D. Salingers “Nine Stories” or Flannery O'Connors “Wise Blood” than with the usual lyrical slant of popular music. Bazan is a gifted storyteller, weaving parables of spiritual conflict, suburban ennui, and personal surrender into magnetic, well-crafted songs.

In 1998 Pedro the Lion released their first full-length record, the intimate, charming “Its Hard to Find a Friend.” For this, their homemade debut, Bazan arranged songs about draft dodgers, leg hair phobics, trans ams, and cheating lovers into a deeply moving album, which one critic praised as “expressing the tension between the sacred and secular unlike any record since Al Greens “Call Me.”

download: pedro the lion - it's hard to find a friend

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kayo dot - dowsing anemone with copper tongue

||| A MUST HAVE |||

.:: After such an unexpected, earth-shattering debut as Choirs of the Eye it is not surprising that Kayo Dot 's fans had high expectations for this album. Well, what did they expect? An album done in the traditions and under the borders of the first release? A return to the roots of maudlin of the Well ? Or a an album that sounds like nothing you've ever heard before, let alone the group's previous efforts? I am proud to say that, in this case, it is the latter.

When Choirs of the Eye was released, many loyal fans of the group couldn't accept the metamorphosis, which was the transition between Bath/Leaving Your Body Map and CotE. The "songs" were hardly songs anymore and would be better described as "free compositions, which opened new inspiration sources to the artists, however, with it also became more challenging for the average listener.

Is the change between Dowsing Anemone With Copper Tongue and its predecessor even more apparant? Definitely, although now that the listeners are prepared to expect anything from Kayo Dot , it is not as surprising as it used to be. The new release seems more carefree and laid-down, surely jazzier and not as post-rocking as the debut. Those who enjoyed Choirs of the Eye(like myself)should prepare for a brand new experience once again.

The album is opened with Gemini Becoming The Tripod, a dramatic, atmospheric song with both quiet, dreaming parts, as well as apocalyptic, distorted and drone-doomy ones. The vocals(and lyrics too!) used here suit the music perfectly, and the instrumentation matches the mood of the composition - even the woodwinds help to get the message across.

I especially like the outro of this track - the one that starts after the vocals end. Immortelle And Paper Caravelle is the next song, and it is more relaxing than anything else on this album. It has no surprises whatsoever, but I find the songwriting to be rich, which makes this track a personal favourite. Aura On An Asylum Wall is the shortest and, perhaps, the most "usual" track here, although that's not really the right word to describe it. The vocals don't take any long to appear and the music instantly takes the listener's attention. There is some lovely use of trumpet and violin here, which makes the jazzy parts more enjoyable.

Why I said the song was more unusual was because it can be somewhat compared to the build-in structures of the previous album and it is, possibly by intention, the easiest track to listen to. The melodic jazzy part builds-in into a faster section, which eventually ends with top class Grindcore noise. I still haven't listened to that one Pig Destroyer album I've got, so this part always reminds me about it. Now, where was I, the transition seems so perfect and even logical(which is not really the world, as you feel it with your heart, not consider it mathematically obvious)that there is really nothing to complain about.

The next track is ___ On Limpid Form and it sure is a contradictoring one! The first few minutes of the song are beautiful and rather easy to listen to, whereas the 13 minutes after the melodic guitar solo are pretty repetitive consisting of noises and sounds done by guitars, bass and drums. Now, this is likely to scare some of the listeners off, but I tend not to skip it whenever I listen to the album. It creates an incomparable atmosphere and, although a difficult listen devoid of any pleasure, is an interesting part of this great album. Honestly speaking, I can't confess that this track is a huge pleasure to me with a straight face, but I must still say I find it interesting enough.

After such a gruesome journey that was this track, Amaranth The Peddler seems more appealing that it would be, hadn't it been the last track. It, once again, features nice trumpet and especially violin and I often say to myself ironically that the song should have been called Amaranth The Fiddler. The approach to singing is unique here as well and the instrumentation is minimalistic, yet very pleasing. There is one short moment around 8:00 that I get an eargasm from each time I hear it. Mia Matsumiya's playing in this album is something out of this world. The album ends quietly, making you want even more.

I really can not give this album less than five stars, the maximum rating, which, from my point of view, equals an absolute masterpiece. Don't forget that it was released in the year of 2006 and knowing that music nowadays progresses so impressively gives me more faith in future. If the artists continue to make new decisions and take different approach with their music each time without fear of being abandoned by their fanbase, the music will be saved. Kayo Dot seem to be a group who realizes this very well.

However, not every person would like this. I especially do NOT it to fans of usual Symphonic Prog, as no mellotrons, neo-classical guitar work and eclectic songwriting can be found here. The aim of this album is to make an attentive listener think carefully and reconsider his values in music, it is not meant to impress someone just because it can. Approach with caution, thoughtfulness and an open mind - this album is too important to be misunderstood, knowing its place in the world of music! Ivan Sturov

download: kayo dot - dowsing anemone with copper tongue

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minus pilots - central industries (ep)

.:: Resist to the paradigms of conventional aesthetics, resist to the sound language simplifications and resist to - and subvert - the protocols and flows of information. This is the work of Minus Pilots, a multinational duo (recently upgraded to a trio) that absorbs and paints it by meticulously manipulating information provided by the media (copy-paste), mixing it with its own counter-information.

Voices, characters, phrases and words echoes and slips from the hypothalamus to the cerebellum, managing to achieve that information subversion which has been faithfully provided before. A coming and going of atmospheric sounds which not only relaxes but also shuffle the perception and the time-sense of the listener.

The constantly ascending and descending mental states (!), reinforced by delays and soundscapes, create a unified conductive thread, between the digital and the analog, giving it the necessary amplitude, creating sound consistency and making this an excellent EP. - Bruno Barros

download: minus pilots - central industries (ep)

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portastatic - bright ideas

.:: The time is long past when one could consider Portastatic a lo-fi side project. With Bright Ideas, their first full-on studio recording, Mac McCaughan, Matthew McCaughan (drums) and Jim Wilbur (bass) unleash an album brimming with confidence and verve.

Recorded at Tiny Telephone and engineered by American Music Club's Tim Mooney, Bright Ideas is a rollicking, tuneful guitar-rock record made for driving fast with the windows down. More Badfinger than Buzzcocks, Bright Ideas captures the more rocking side of Portastatic that has emerged in live shows since the release of 2003's Summer of the Shark. merge records

.:: With Superchunk on hiatus, it appears Mac McCaughan (Merge Records co-founder and Superchunk vocalist/guitarist) has poured his heart, soul and best material into his other big project, Portastatic. The result is Bright Ideas, the best Portastatic record to date. Whereas Portastatic always felt a little more like a side project or after-thought in the past, this collection of tunes rocks with authority and aggressiveness.

There's a newfound confidence in the wonderful words of "White Wave" and "I Wanna Know Girls" (a song of the year contender), two of the best on display here. Gone is most of the electronic keyboard noodling and experimentalism of previous Portatstatic. It's an interesting and unexpected left turn in the current climate of electronica excellence to hear Mac returning to his Superchunky rock. One wonders if these songs would have been Superchunk's next if they weren't taking a rest. Either way, Mac makes the most of them here and really raises the bar for Portastatic.

The moments that shine brightest here are reminiscent of the brilliance of Come Pick Me Up, the best Superchunk record. It's a pleasure to hear one of the godfathers of indie rock still, well, rocking.

download: portastatic - bright ideas

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karlheinz stockhausen - stockhausen no.6 (zyklus / refrain / kontakte)

.:: Zyklus
Zyklus is the first fully notated score for solo percussion, and it was the piece which paved the way for the world of percussion in art music, notated as well as improvised, and the fabric of sounds we hear today in contemporary orchestras would appear quite different, and certainly much poorer, hadn’t it been for Stockhausen and his well-documented ability to think outside established frameworks, musically and philosophically, arriving at astonishing conclusions and utterly unexpected solutions to problems that themselves weren’t readily apparent before Stockhausen focussed on them.

A creativity like this, channeled through this rigid discipline, bears witness of a deep suffering, I’m sure, but as every real artist knows, the suffering, though hellish, is a much needed force, in the end leading to a deeper kind of joy. Read on

The second piece on the CD is “Refrain”, composed in 1959. The instrumentation is piano, wood blocks, celesta, antique cymbals, vibraphone and cowbells, so the percussive character lingers on. The recording was made in 1968, performed by Aloys Kontarsky (piano and wood blocks), Karlheinz Stockhausen (celesta and antique cymbals) and Christoph Caskel (vibraphone and cowbells), but it’s in no way aged.

The sound is crisp and clear to me, even though Stockhausen notes that the spoken sounds in particular are not clear enough, due to the circumstances surrounding the recording process. I don’t hear this, but naturally the composer had a vision of the sound, and if the reality of the moment didn’t quite measure up to the intentions, he has to say so. He justifies the release anyhow, referring to the fact that this is the only recording of “Refrain” with these particular interpreters, who later performed the piece many times. Read on

Finally this CD presents “Kontakte” for electronic sounds, piano and percussion (1959 – 60) in a recording from 1968 with Aloys Kontarsky (piano and percussion), Christoph Caskel (percussion), Karl Sieben (sound engineer) and Karlheinz Stockhausen (musical direction and mix-down).

“Kontakte” – a justly enormously successful early electronic work – exists in two versions. The first one, presented on Stockhausen Edition Volume 3, is the tape composition by itself. The second version, appearing here, is the version with instrumentalists playing with the tape.

As the title implicates, the tape part aims at setting up relations between electronic sounds and instrumental sounds, with gradual transformations between the sounds, so that you may not be able to tell the origin of the sound you hear. For this recording the instrumentalists worked for eight hours, trying to optimize the way the electronic sounds on tape would mix with the instruments.

They went about this by electrically mixing the sounds from the 4-track tape – without loudspeakers - with the instrumental sounds, which were picked up by a number of microphones. The musicians then each heard everything through headphones, i.e. the tape sounds, their own playing and the other instrumentalist’s playing. This made an uncanny precision possible, which we can now appreciate on the CD. Read on

download: karlheinz stockhausen - stockhausen no.6 (zyklus / refrain / kontakte)

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lhasa de sela - the living road

.:: Already a star in Canada and France, the gifted singer/songwriter Lhasa sets her sights on America with this remarkable multi-cultural effort. The Living Road, the follow-up to her 1998 debut, features her smoky vocals (in French, English, and Spanish) in front with wonderfully understated support that draws upon Mexican folk styles, French chansons, Spanish ballads, and modern-sounding songwriters like Joe Henry or Jim White. The accompaniment is exceptional, but it's Lhasa's voice and lyrics that set her apart.

Whereas fellow Mexican-American singer Lila Downs dives into large cultural and political issues, this modern-day torch singer sings about intensely personal experiences and inner thoughts--much of the lyrics are sung in the first person or directed toward another, as if she's writing a letter to a lover.

Her sensual phrasing perfectly fits the intimate subject matter, particularly when she sings in French, while her husky timbre exudes inner strength that beyond question. Six years is a long time between albums, but The Living Road was worth the wait.

.:: Her story begins in Big Indian, a tiny village perched among the Catskill mountains, although she didn’t stay there long. Lhasa’s idealistic and unconventional parents rejected routine and stability, preferring to follow life wherever it might lead them. For seven years, the family would crisscross the United States and Mexico in a converted school bus, Lhasa’s first chapter in a long experience of the road. Her father was a writer and teacher who’d work in construction or picking fruit, when he had to; her mother was a photographer.

Travelling with them and her three sisters, it was her early contacts with books, fairy tales, radio drama and passing landscapes that shaped her imagination. Even at the time, she knew how lucky she was to be spending her childhood as she was, although the freedom entailed uncertainty, as well. The soundtrack to those years was a medley of the American and Mexican classics loved by her father, and the Latin, Arab, Eastern European and Asian music her mother would listen to.

San Francisco, mid 80s. At 13, Lhasa took to the stage of a Greek café to sing Billie Holliday ballads and Mexican tunes a cappella . There, she gradually discovered the power of her voice to convey thoughts and emotions she was only beginning to experience herself.

Six years later, the road led north, to Montreal. It was there that she met guitarist and producer Yves Desrosiers. For close to five years, they performed together in downtown bars, a collaboration that evolved into original material that eventually took form in La Llorona, an album that centered on the persona of a tearful siren of Aztec mythology who’d bewitch men with her heart-rending melodies.

Infused with a certain nouvelle nostalgie, the album exuded the fragrances of Mexico and the colors of the Romany, full of sensuality and striking instrumentation. Released by Audiogram in February 1997, the Spanish-language album was immediately recognized for its sparkling originality. Hundreds of thousands were transported by the even, throaty voice that delivered such mysterious poetry above the rich arrangements, heady like incense.

The first impact was in Quebec, where Lhasa began to fill halls and ultimately win the “Félix” for “Artiste québécois – musique de monde” in 1997. Then followed the rest of Canada, where she went platinum, selling 110,000 albums and winning a Juno for Best Global Artist, in 1998. Then came the U.S. and Europe, especially France, where La Llorona went “triple disc d’or,” with 300,000 flying off the shelves. Lhasa and her band toured relentlessly for several years, throughout Europe and North America, where her concerts were as acclaimed as the album had been. The demand for live appearances steadily increased.

On the eve of the 21st Century, Lhasa decided to take a break from touring and consider what might be next. Realising that she needed to distance herself from her life as a singer, she decided to travel to France to fulfill her childhood dream of performing with her three sisters, all circus performers. They met up in Bourgogne and created a show together, which premiered in the summer of 1999.

The contrast between the life of a touring musician who sees the world fly by with never the time to savor the places and people along the way and the circus life, travelling in the company of family and friends, sharing trailers and assembling and dismantling the big top and bleachers, provided a welcome opportunity for the singer to replenish her inner resources.

When the circus tour had ended, Lhasa arrived at a new chapter in her life: Marseille, the ancient port city, where half the titles for her new album would be born.

In 2002, back in Montreal where her career had begun, she re-united with François Lalonde, drummer, percussionist and sound engineer on La Llorona, and Jean Massicotte, pianist who’d also contributed to the mixing of her first release, both producers and masters of the console. They were to co-produce her second album, The Living Road, already much anticipated on both sides of the Atlantic.

Where La Llorona revolves around a mythical siren, The Living Road centers on the metaphor of life as a road. A gathering of original titles sung in Spanish, English and French, the album bridges physical distances as it links the musical traditions of the present and the past. Lhasa’s voice and lyrics cross borders freely. The melodies themselves are timeless and the rhythms textured. And in every song can be found Lhasa’s clear conviction that life is a living road, that nothing repeats itself, and that nothing is ordinary.

“That’s what inspires each of the songs on the album,” says Lhasa. “The mysterious force that doesn’t let us box ourselves in, that compels us to keep changing. The road is alive, we can’t freeze or stop it. And we know can’t.” audiogram.ca

download: lhasa de sela - the living road

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leafcutter john - the forest and the sea


.:: The forest and the sea tells the story of two people who become lost in a forest. As they try to find a way out, the sky darkens. By nightfall, they have strayed so deep that they have no choice but to spend the night with the forest and its inhabitants. When the morning finally comes our couple wake on a cliff top between the forest and the sea, and rather than go back through the forest they decide to take to the sea.

The Forest and The Sea is John's 4th full length album but his first release for Berlin based label Staubgold. It tells a true story of what becomes of two people lost in the forest. The compositions feature a dynamic hybrid of electronic and acoustic songs bound together by a meticulous narrative enriched by haunting vocals, acoustic guitar, and traditional Greek instrumentation.

Field recordings were made in various locations in Greece, Sweden and the UK and are interwoven throughout the work. This album demonstrates John's consolidated approach towards songwriting, field recordings and processed electronics. A significant development from John’s earlier works, he manages to produce seamless and more importantly meaningful transitions between electronic and folk music.

watch leafcutter john live

***amazing album***

tenko - dragon blue

.:: Tenko is best known in Japan as co-founder of the five-women band Mizutama Shobodan (Polka-Dot Fire Brigade). They made two LP's The Virgin Prayers - Da! Da! Da! (1981) and Sky full of Red Petals (1985), both on Tenko's own Kinniku Bijo label. Parallel to this work was The Honeymoons, an improvising voice duo. Their album Laughing Myth was released in 1982. Their two shows, presented at the International Women's Music Festival in Montreal in '88 were among the highlights of that event.

In 1984 Tenko appeared in the New York music scene as a solist. She toured (Victoriaville, Moers, Zurich, Vienna) with the David Moss' Dense Band, has performed with the New York visitors to Japan (John Zorn, Elliot Sharp, Ned Rothenberg, {a=Christian Marclay] and others), and is no stranger to clubs like CBGB, The Knitting Factory, Roulette and The Kitchen.

It was these ties that led to her first solo LP Slope/Graduel Disappearence, which brought together musicians from all of her activities and linked her song-writing and improvising in unusual ways. Slope, a unique and powerful statement, introduced Tenko to a much wider audience. Her Uzo Muzo group was invited to Strasbourg's Musica Festival in 1987, and she toured as a duo with Fred Frith in '88 and '89, including performances at the Taktlos Festival in Switzerland.

In '89 she performed at Moers, the Glasgow Jazz Festival and in London's Queen Elisabeth Hall (with Fred Frith's Keep the Dog). The next year she performed in Legend of Rain (a collaboration with Zeena Parkins) at the New Music America festival in Montreal. The piece was recorded in 1992 and released in '93. Her solo CD At The Top of Mt. Brocken was recorded in Tokyo with ten other Japanese musicians she carefully selected. After that the duo with Ikue Mori Death Praxis was recorded in New York.

In 1993-94 Tenko studied Speech and Drama at the Emerson College in England. She gave the "voice performance" for the theatre project Das Fest zum Mord, which was produced by proT in Munchen in October '94. Tenko's new band, Dragon Blue, composed of herself and four other Japanese musicians, was formed in March 1992. In more recent years Tenko has devoted much of her energy to working both as a song-writer and as a theatrical solo voice performer.

Tenko: vocal
Tsuneo Imahori: guitar
Hideki Kato: bass
Tatsuya Yoshida: drums, voice
Otomo Yoshihide: turntables, guitar

Recorded live by Keiichiro Takahashi at Crocodile in Tokyo on March 5, 1992

download: tenko - dragon blue

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lila downs - arbol de la vida (yunu tata)




.:: En "Yutu Tata Árbol de la Vida", el segundo disco de Lila Downs, los arreglos respetan las sonoridades naturales: instrumentos de barro y madera antíguamente usados en el pasado mesoamericano, y todavía hoy en las comunidades rurales. Este álbum contiene 13 fragmentos, de los cuales 7 son composiciones originales.

En estas canciones, Lila Downs evoca los mitos aún muy arraigados en las comunidades indígenas, pero también canta las penas y las alegrías de éstas, su vida cotidiana o la discriminación que sufren. Para ello, retoma canciones populares de Oaxaca dándoles un toque muy personal, como lo hiciera ya en "Sandunga", primer álbum en el que Lila Downs juega con diferentes géneros musicales de la cultura popular mexicana: de la ranchera al bolero, pasando por el corrido.

En "Yutu Tata Árbol de la Vida", también pone música a obras contemporáneas en lengua indígena y traduce sus propios composiciones. Hélène Combes (Read on this awesome article about Lila Down)

download: lila downs - arbol de la vida (yunu tata)

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maserati - the language of cities


.:: Named after a second-fiddle Italian luxury car, Athens, Georgia's Maserati set themselves up for a superb analogy with the world of motorsports. A curious coincidence points us toward such a comparison: what band's name starts with "M", ends with "I", and plays grandiose, instrumental post-rock? If you said Mogwai, you made the right call.

Maserati's use of standard rock instrumentation and explorations of musical forms outside the genre may have come a few years too late -- bands like Tortoise and Shipping News being only two of the many acts to excel at this in the mid-'90s. Still, Language of Cities is an excellent debut from a post-rock band whose Athens, GA, roots would imply a more Brian Wilson-esque approach to songwriting.

Though most songs meander thoughtfully through tremolo-filled guitar passages tinted with soft-brushed cymbals, songs like "Keep It Gold" go for the more complex, forward-churning tendencies of bands like Polvo. The open spaces on songs like "Being a President Is Like Riding a Tiger" suggest that these guys have listened to some of the more organic IDM and ambient electronic music like Labradford or Aphex Twin, building textures instead of stringing along notes. Hardly a breakthrough, Language of Cities is more like a retrospective of all that was great about the last decade's instrumental rock without all the missteps that have made the genre such a cliché.

download: maserati - the language of cities

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eskju divine - heights

.:: Sweden trio Eskju Divine (pronounced "S, Q, divine") is an ethereal power-trio who have chosen to forget guitars, relying merely on piano, bass and drums. That said you will not believe the heights of anthemic grandeur and lush bombast the band ascends to, an incredible dynamic, guitars would just get in the way!

Mainman Gustaf Spetz is Elton John on ecstasy, rendering huge sonic murals from his synth and piano, swaddling his voice in tumultuous harmonies, while the rhythm section of Daniel Åsander and Kristian Karlsson hammer away furiously, a tweaked dub thunder to Gustaf's melodic keys and vocal downpour.

Imagine the icy harmonies, epic orchestral enchantment, and tribal crescendos of Sigur Ros, Radiohead, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Grandiose without apology, Eskju Divine wrap their monumental tunes in the gauzy yet sober theatrics of the most epic, expansive eighties British outfits.

These could very well be four of the best songs we've heard this year from Sweden, crossing so many boundaries with such magnificent aplomb. Imperial Recordings is home to Jose Gonzalez and Melpo Mene, this label can do no wrong!

.:: The second album from Eskju Divine follows the same fine tradition of dreamlike pop as their lovely debut "Come and join, close your eyes", we Swedes should be proud of this excellent band.
It's romantic, hauntingly beautiful and with Kent-like melodies but with the atmospheric sound of Mew!

Eskju Divine has captured the Swedish melancholic spirit but with the same beauty as a garden of tulips in The Netherlands.
Think of them as a softer Muse or a more upbeat Sleeping At Last, the stunning "I haven't lost myself" is worthy an award.

I hope you're not afraid of heights because Eskju Divine will take you there.
Can we wish for a new album in 2008? The band is currently in the studio so that's good news. Kaj Roth

Eskju Divine:
Mattias Bhatt, drums
Gustaf Spetz, vocals & piano
Kristian Karlsson, bassguitar & backing vocals

download: eskju divine - heights)

mugison - niceland (soundtrack)

.:: One-man band, Mugison, returns with his soundtrack to Fridrik Thor Fridrikkson’s English-language film Niceland. Described by Variety as Fridrikkson’s ‘most lushly produced and commercial work’, Niceland opens in cinemas in late September after previews earlier in the year at Cannes and film festivals around the world.

Recorded entirely in a church in his hometown of Isafjordur, Iceland, the soundtrack was completed prior to his European tour with Mum, and is predominantly a gentler affair than his debut album, Lonely Mountain, which gained much critical praise. Will Oldham meets ‘Amelie’ might be one way to describe it. The album has 21 tracks by Mugison and a very special exclusive from fellow Icelander Kippi Kanninus.

As is often the case with soundtracks, it's difficult to judge the music of Niceland when divorced from its cinematic context. Fridriksson's movie, from what I can gather, is some sort of fairy-tale love story. (I can't be sure, since it hasn't yet opened at my local cineplex and in all likelihood never will.)

Most of Mugison's pieces here are very short, and several are barely more than fragmentary sketches surely intended as unobtrusive incidental music. Random bits of film dialogue weave in and out, revealing little in the way of plot or emotive intent. Melodic themes are repeatedly thumbed over and then discarded.

Perhaps most impressive are the four versions of the film's main theme, entitled "I'd Ask", a simple waltz that Mugison first introduces as an acoustic country shuffle then reshapes into Waitsian carnival tilt utilizing piano, accordions, woozy carrousel rhythms, and pump organ. On these variations we're best able to fully hear the restless flowering of Mugison's creativity and marvel at his inventive chutzpah, as he makes the song's clean repetitive melody sound constantly refreshed and engaging.

Throughout the album even his most conventional soundtrack material contains interjections of such dissonance or eccentricity that you're left wondering what could possibly be happening onscreen for which this music would be appropriate.

download: mugison - niceland (soundtrack)

jesca hoop - kismet

.:: Jesca Hoop counts early early folk songs, pop radio, chamber music, gospel music, 20’s to 40’s jazz, ol’ country, ol’ blues, slave songs, dance hall, murder ballads, rock and roll, blue grass and my backyard among her numerous musical influences to her debut album Kismet.

Hoop is a striking, dark haired songwriter from Northern California who writes and sings twisty, sprawling, lyrically abstract songs featuring strange sonorities and offbeat rhythms. Jesca Hoop’s music is like a four sided coin. She is an old soul, like a black pearl, a good witch or red moon. Her music is like going swimming in a lake at night.
Tom Waits.

.:: The debut album by Northern California singer-songwriter Jesca Hoop portrays the young, hip artist as a cross between Tom Waits's eclectic trawls through Tin Pan Alley history, Nellie McKay's knowing irony, and Joanna Newsom's spacey idiosyncrasies. A richly satisfying set of varied and emotionally compelling songs with solid, memorable melodies, KISMET is far from the average trite singer-songwriter blather. Highlights include the dreamy first single "Summertime" and the glorious, Rufus Wainwright-style homage to old Hollywood glam, "Love and Love Again."

.:: "Hoop is a striking, dark haired songwriter from Northern California who writes and sings twisty, sprawling, lyrically abstract songs featuring strange sonorities and offbeat rhythms. Her music sounds as is it comes from an imaginary country, and she sings in the accented English of someone from that country".
The New York Times

download: jesca hoop - kismet

j. bannon - the blood of thine enemies

.:: J. Bannon (vocalist/lyricist for Converge, cofounder of Deathwish) has been one of the most influential and praised figures in aggressive music for over a decade. Never content in having one sole musical voice, he has always experimented outside of his efforts in Converge since their early 90's inception.

After years of experimenting with home recordings on his own, he collaborated with friends Ryan Parker and Kurt Ballou to release Supermachiner "Rise Of The Great Machine" album in 2000. Comprised of original four track recordings and studio reworks of solo material, the album was a serious departure from his previous efforts in Converge. Textural, dark, and uniquely unclassifiable, the album was praised by press worldwide.

Since then J. Bannon has continued writing and recording on his own, compiling a wealth of material for future solo releases under a variety of monikers. Fingers crossed, we hope to have releases surface sooner than later.

.:: "The Blood Of Thine Enemies" is the long awaited debut solo recording from J. Bannon (Converge, Supermachiner, etc). "The Blood..." is a minimalist six minute emotional dirge unlike any of his previous musical/artistic efforts. Haunting in it's simplicity, this release foreshadows his anticipated "Wear Your Wounds" album, due out on Deathwish later in 2008.

Meant to be a stand alone piece, the song "The Blood..." is exclusively available as a one sided 7"EP (w/ a beautifully etched B-side) and will not be included on any other J. Bannon release.

download: j. bannon - the blood of thine enemies

fugazi - the argument

.:: Of course, one primary obstacle to a public memorial for the members of Fugazi is the band's collective politics which, while moralistic and anti-corporate, are hardly anti-capitalist as many have claimed. In fact, the band has fairly been living the American dream, becoming successful on their own terms without losing the rights to their music or creative direction. They've also taken an active role in positioning their label, Dischord, at the fore of the indie pack; over the years, the label has become the most reliable source of hard-hitting post-punk around.

The Argument, Fugazi's first proper album since 1998's somewhat disjointed End Hits, is yet another leap forward for a band that has constantly pushed itself in new directions. For one thing, no Fugazi album has ever been this melodic. For the first time ever, you can hum at least part of the melody to every song on the record. As catchy as they sometimes were, you have to admit that whistling "Bed for the Scraping" or "Sieve-Fisted Find" was never really a prospect.

The album opens with an untitled bit of collage that marries static and police radio transmissions to Amy Domingues' brooding cello drones, immediately setting The Argument apart from the band's past work, before "Cashout" makes the thoroughness of the transition even more apparent.

Domingues' cello carries counter-melodies to MacKaye's double-tracked singing throughout the song, which itself is a sort of post-hardcore update of the Kinks' "Muswell Hillbilly." MacKaye details a series of evictions as the city takes an apartment complex by eminent domain to make room for a development. After spending so many years screaming their sentiments in your ear, it's nice to see that Fugazi have come to a point where they don't necessarily feel the need to raise their voices to put their point across.

Fugazi have made a career out of crafting excellent albums, and with The Argument, they've made one of their best. At this point, I don't see it edging out Red Medicine or 13 Songs from the top of my Fugazi album hierarchy, but it's certainly a worthy entry into their catalog, and proves that they're still one of the most important bands in the world. The dedication of Ian MacKaye Circle may still be a pipe dream, but that doesn't mean that he and the other members of Fugazi don't deserve the honor.

.:: Fugazi is a band from Washington, D.C. They played their first show in the fall of 1987 and since then they have released 7 albums and toured the world extensively, covering all 50 United States, Europe, Australia, South America, Japan, and many points in between. The band is self-managed and releases all its material through Dischord Records, an independent label founded by Ian MacKaye and partner Jeff Nelson in 1980.

The band maintains a policy of affordable access to their work through low record and ticket prices, and all concerts are all-ages. In addition to their recorded output Fugazi have released a documentary film/video called Instrument in collaboration with independent filmmaker Jem Cohen. The feature-length video offers a documentary overview of the band's career thus far with footage shot in a variety of formats over the last 10 years combining concert, tour and studio material backed with a musical soundtrack by the band unique to the movie.

Fugazi's most recent musical releases are The Argument 10-song LP and the Furniture 3-song single, both recorded and released in the fall of 2001. These sessions mark the first studio appearance of long-time roadie and second drummer Jerry Busher, who plays additional drums and percussion on a number of the tracks on both releases.

The recordings were once again made in collaboration with long-time Fugazi engineer Don Zientara at Inner Ear studios. Prior to forming Fugazi the members of the band played in various other bands with releases available on the Dischord label.

download: fugazi - the argument

antelope - reflector

.:: Dischord mainstay Justin Moyer has always been master of odd, hard-to-categorize projects like the jittery El Guapo, weirdly danceable Supersystem, and drag-wearing, over-the-top Edie Sedgwick. You get the sense, reading the reviews, that no one knows exactly what do to with him. He’s not what they expect.

He doesn’t fit any of the boxes. And yet, there’s an eccentric, serious intelligence at work across all of these projects, one that binds random elements like electro-dance, post-hardcore, and indie rock into unexpectedly compelling mixtures. Now with his first full-length as Antelope, Moyer’s back with his unclassifiable staccato grooves that somehow bridge Prince and Delta 5, Nintendo-core and indie singer-songwriter.

In the end, it’s what’s so odd about Reflector that makes it so addictive. Its short, sharp phrases and seemingly random combinations of notes lodge hard in your corners and come up unexpectedly when you’re washing the dishes or walking the dog. They sound like nothing else, and yet work by their own peculiar logic, and once they’re in, it’s like they’ve always been there, pinging around your head.

.:: Antelope was formed in Washington, DC in 2001 by ex-members of the Vertebrates, Bee Elvy and Mike Andre, and El Guapo's Justin Moyer. In March of 2002 the band recorded six songs with Phil Manley (of Trans Am) at National Recording Studios. The self-titled EP was released in February 2003 as a split venture between Dischord and the band's own Bug Records.

download: antelope - reflector

botch - american nervoso

.:: Originally recorded in 1998, this is Botch's debut full-length and first Hydra Head release. It features white-hot guitar action, scathing vocals, sweet bass moves, and torrential drums, smashing existing precepts of hardcore and redefining both the word and the music for a generation of matinee kids and grizzled vets alike.

Here it is, a decade later, "One of the most revered hardcore bands of the last decade, Botch pioneered the math-metal school of rock with song structures so complex and musicianship so virtuosic the Seattle quartet might as well have played classical music"

So few hardcore acts have had the grit and grand vision to rise up through that atypical sound the genre is known for. To arrive somewhere beyond the blast-beats and the tired, cliche forced-aggression at a destination a little more scenic. To inject a certain amount of personality and innovation, or at the very least a clear sense of honesty.

The late-great Tacoma, WA outfit Botch were at the front of a revolution in hardcore that welcomed the magnetic draw between inspirations; punk, metal, and...progressive rock. It's all far more complicated than that, but at it's core American Nervoso contains the spirit of a thousand different ideas drawn equally from influences far and wide, but mostly from the impassioned 'do-it-yourself' attitude pervasive in hardcore scenes everywhere.

Much of American Nervoso is focused on creating a sort of spiraling, never-ending mudslide of sick, twisted melodies and razor-sharp technical brutality. You can listen to a song so many times before you're able to discern every nuance, every clever trade-off and how so often the vocals create a direct wall of noise against the music, straining the listener's attention span and demanding closeness with no exceptions.

It all very much sucks you in, and every track is a lecture in the proper approach to and usage of the mathcore mentality. Think early DEP and Converge, and then forget it because you're only touching on 1/1,000 of American Nervoso

download: botch - american nervoso

guapo - five suns

||| A MUST HAVE |||

.:: This is dark, heavy, loud stuff: more often than not the band is coming at you full force, with thunderous, repetitive bass and lots of tellingly familiar Rhodes. Take Magma circa "De Futura", crank up the distortion and the volume, take out the funk, and there you have it: your craving is satisfied.

Five Suns is so well-executed, particularly its five-part title track, that really the biggest problem with it is that, if anything, the band gets a little too close to its goal - a goal which may or may not be consciously stated - to imitate Magma as effectively as possible. My favorite part of the album is the opening track, which starts off disjointedly and slowly coalesces into a jarringly aggressive wall of noise (the band sounds most like The Flying Luttenbachers here) that promptly disintegrates into chaos, as if the recording equipment began eating itself from the inside out. From there on out, it's "De Futura Part 2" - hardly a criticism coming from me, of course, but still.

"Five Suns" is followed by a couple of shorter compositions, the first of which fails to make an impression on me, but the second of which is a nice, relatively relaxed closing movement that proves a good way to close out a rather cathartic album. I might criticize Five Suns for wearing its influences on its sleeve (or rather, taping them to its forehead), but I enjoyed it so much that the point is pretty much moot. You won't find anything unexpected here, but then, that's part of the charm.

And truth be told, you probably wouldn't want the British outfit to do so either. If the hypnotizing soundscapes of "Five Suns" don't produce the effect, there are still "Mictlan" and "Topan" to ineluctably involve the listener in a world of precisely placed dynamics, intelligent structuring, and sheer power. If that doesn't suffice, then you must be a resident of the netherworld itself. Either that or you forgot to push "Play" on your stereo. For the rest of us mere mortals who are aware of the trappings of modern sound-reproducing devices, however, one thing stands crystal clear: Five Suns is coming and embedding itself into our consciousness, whether we like it or not.

download: guapo - five suns

jóhann jóhannson - ibm 1401, a user's manual

.:: Inspired by a recording of an IBM mainframe computer which Jóhann’s father, Jóhann Gunnarsson, made on a reel-to-reel tape machine more than 30 years ago, the piece was originally written to be performed by a string quartet as the accompaniment to a dance piece by the choreographer Erna Ómarsdóttir. For the album version, Jóhann rewrote the entire score, and it was recorded by a sixty-piece string orchestra. He also added a new final section and incorporated electronics alongside those original tape recordings of the singing computer.

The full story of the album can be read at ausersmanual.com

.:: On his first album for 4AD, Jóhannsson takes the ache of nostalgia for obsolete technology and inflates the melodrama to airship proportions. IBM 1401 - A User's Manual comes with a compelling back-story. Jóhannsson's father worked at IBM as a maintenance engineer for the 1401 Data Processing System, an early and popular business computer that arrived in Iceland in 1964. At that time, keeping a computer up and running involved knowledge of machinery as much as electronics; you needed to understand how ball bearings worked and know where to pour the motor oil.

His father was also a musician, and he figured out a way to program the machine's memory so it emitted electromagnetic waves in a pattern that could be picked up by a radio receiver. The IBM 1401 was taken out of service in 1971, and his father gave it a farewell ceremony that included playing some of the short melodies he had composed. These tracks were recorded.

download: jóhann jóhannson - ibm 1401, a user's manual
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diamanda galás - guilty guilty guilty

.:: Exploding boundaries with sophisticated vocal weaponry and raw emotion

.:: Galás is a singer, musician and artist renowned as much for her uncompromising personality as her experimental work and four-octave range. That unearthly voice is used to stunning effect on the track, as she growls out a dark tale of love, betrayal and guilt in a primal Southern growl.

On her 17th album - the first since 2004 -the queen of extended vocal techniques turns standards from jazz, blues, and country music into her own musical genre. Using the full extent of her vocal arsenal and a virtuosic piano technique, Galás carves songs of doomed love into haunting works that promise to rip your heart out.

Featured on the album are her much acclaimed reinterpretations of Ralph Stanley's reaper song, "O Death"; O. V. Wright's "8 Men and 4 Women"; "Long Black Veil" made popular by Johnny Cash; "Time (Interlude)" sung by Timi Yuro; Tracy Nelson's "Down So Low"; her signature rendition of "Autumn Leaves"; and the favorite "Heaven Have Mercy", made famous by Edith Piaf.

download: diamanda galás - guilty guilty guilty
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