Monday, July 8, 2013

Portugal. The Man - Evil Friends

      Released June 4, 2013

            For a band, the sign that you’re finally getting somewhere is when a well-known producer asks to work with your next album.   When asked by Danger Mouse, a.k.a. Brian Joseph Burton – multi-Grammy winner, producer, musician, and collaborator – the 5-piece, Portland-based band, Portugal. The Man, was more than willing to scrap two weeks of recording and eight out of ten already-finished tracks to “start fresh”.  The result?  A smooth, upbeat indie-rock-anthem-album that irons out the kinks (and unfortunately, some of the quirks) that the two consistent members, John Gourley and Zach Carothers, have been developing since 2006.  The work certainly sounds good: the vocals are cleaner than ever, and the band uses consistent instrumental choices, and one track flows flawlessly to the next.  In a sense, they’ve become more streamlined and consistent… but don’t expect any surprises.  It’s all straight-up-indie rock.
            On their website, Facebook, and pretty much everywhere else, Portugal. The Man can’t stop talking about their experience working with the producer.  In other places, the album is touted as their most “mainstream yet”, and when you’re indie, that can be either encouraging or damning.  Tracks such as Holy Roller [Hallelujah] and Evil Friends stick out only in that they’re the most energetic of the group, whereas softer ballads like Plastic Soldiers and Waves excel in being, well, soft and ballad-y.  Together they all sound good, but that’s about it.  Fans of the band will find familiar thematic material throughout, songs about finding ones place amongst friends and enemies and how everybody’s doing the same, too.  Those new to the band can either pick up something earlier of theirs or, as a new album has been released practically every year since their inception, wait until next year.  There’s things to like about Evil Friends, but there’s not much there to love.
            Recommended tracks: Evil Friends, Holy Roller [Hallelujah], Purple Yellow Red and Blue

Sounds like:  Broken Bells, Maps & Atlases, Local Natives, Cold War Kids, Minus the Bear

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Boards of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest

Released June 10, 2013

            In 1993, philosopher Jaques Derrida introduced the concept “hauntology” to explain how the romanticized past always overshadows our perception of the present.  Intended at the time as an explanation for continued Marxist undercurrents, this kind of nostalgic present-setting often appears in art, music included.  Enter Boards of Canada.  This band’s music contrasts a sweetened past to the perceived bitterness of the future, and with their newest release, Tomorrow’s Harvest, this tradition continues in an even darker direction.  Known for their mixing of ambient passages with song-like vignettes amongst 1970s analogue tones, the two Scottish brothers, Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin took their latest creation to an even darker plane than previous releases – nostalgic sounds like computer start-up tones and spoken word distort around one another between deep bass passages and slowed rhythm, making the ‘altered present’ even darker.
            Amongst different artist names, shifting membership, and changing labels, Boards of Canada comes from a history that is hard to pin down.  Their first directly traceable release, Twoism, appeared in 1992, and established the rough ambient-vignette format that we hear today.  In Tomorrow’s Harvest, songs like Palace Posy and New Seeds particularly stand out amongst the wash due to their surprising rhythmic and melodic complexity.  However, this is not an album to pick and choose random tracks from to listen to – it sounds best heard all-the-way through as motives of sound (both analogue and digital), textures, and specific moods appear and re-appear in contrasting ways. 
            Old fans of the band will certainly appreciate the darker progression that brings us to their latest release.  Many instances lead the listener to understand the album as fully orchestrated, every moment created with precise taste to contrast the present and the idealized past.  Those familiar will enjoy the familiar format with a more ominous mood.  However, if you’re new to the band, I would not suggest it as a good introduction to their work as a whole.  Instead, check out Geogaddi, as it comes off as lighter and contains less ambient material, includes a more clear contrast between ‘nostalgic’ bits and ‘present’ bits, and represents the turning-point in which Boards of Canada begins to grow dark.   Then, check out Tomorrow’s Harvest and see if it also has the ability to haunt.

            Suggested tracks: Palace Posy, Split your Infinities, New Seeds

            Similar artists: Aphex Twin, Bibio, Burial, Autechre, Tycho