A Lot Like Birds- Conversation Piece

Conversation Piece

It is always a large order to mix equal parts technicality and passion in an album, while still keeping it fun for the listener. How does one make cold and calculating precision appear emotional in any way, while still allowing feet to tap and heads to bob? Inevitably, there ends up being a sacrifice of some sort in the creative process. A Lot Like Birds have melded a winning formula with Conversation Piece, in that the instrumental complexities match the schizophrenic vocals for the perfect everything-but-the-kitchen-sink mentality. Describing the band as a post hardcore band would be accurate but also unfortunate, as the inclusion of a horns section (“Vanity’s Fair”) and post rock-like build-ups (“Truly Random Code”) lends to the idea that they are a bit more imaginative than most bands of an unfortunately watered down genre. Dual vocalists Kurt Travis (ex-Dance Gavin Dance) and Cory Lockwood are a big reason for the success of the album as they play off of each other like they have been doing so for decades, trading all-out screams for gorgeous melodies whenever the frenetic instrumentation turns ethereal and haunting. It truly allows for more than proficient instrumentation to take any turn that it wants, giving the listener much more variety than the average release that is rooted in genre stereotypes.

Conversation Piece begins quite appropriately with “Orange Time Machines Care”, as a quick inhale of breath leads to a frenzied scream from both vocalists and very active instrumentation. It would be easy to assume that the whole song would follow the aggressive suit that is initiated, but as abruptly as it began, the powerful riffs give way to gentle and angular arpeggios that create a dreamy atmosphere around Travis’ soaring vocals and Lockwood’s spoken word bits. It is certainly indicative of a winning formula; not only are the guitarists and rhythm section incredibly technically gifted, but they also show something that many musicians are lacking: restraint. They have quite a bit of it, allowing vocal melodies to take the forefront when there are breaks in the chaos and contributing beautiful clean guitar tones. It seems that when A Lot Like Birds should be sacrificing technicality for catchiness, they are instead providing both to the listener in large doses. “Think Dirty Out Loud” boasts some of the album’s heaviest passages while still providing the most infectious chorus on Conversation Piece by a long shot, and while the screaming may be abrasive to some listeners, Kurt Travis always seems to swoop in at just the right time to balance it out. Truly, the screaming and aggression that is on display throughout the album is simply smoke and mirrors, as melody and subtlety are used to perfection. “Truly Random Code” begins softly, and slowly builds up to passionate spoken word section which then explodes into a fitting epic climax, proving that ALLB are masterful at controlling the pacing of their seemingly off-kilter brand of post hardcore. The atmosphere present of “The Blowtorch is Applied to the Sugar” drips with unrestrained passion vocally; Lockwood’s ferocious screams balance out Travis’ hypnotizing clean vocals, and the two are given the reins to dominate this song to a successful end. Although this album is anything but a grower, repeated listens place the small details in forefront of why Conversation Piece works so well. The glitchy electronics at the beginning of “A Satire of a Satire of a Satire Is Tiring” and the deep chimes in the beginning of “The Blowtorch…” set the tone of the songs wonderfully without being the obvious choice for instrumentation. It’s in this way that A Lot Like Birds are able to keep the listener guessing about what is coming next, but not in an exasperated way.

Ultimately A Lot Like Birds have given an incredibly strong album to fans of post hardcore, and though it is an incredibly involved listen, it is certainly worth the endeavor. The album seems to be a bit front-loaded with the stronger songs, but the lack of monotony more than makes up for that. The teamwork-like mentality of the band paid off extraordinarily well, and the only few missteps that appear here (“Tantrum…” runs a bit too long, and “What Didn’t Kill Me Just Got Stronger” is somewhat anti-climactic for an album closer) are short-lived and forgivable. Conversation Piece is the most creative and enjoyable post hardcore listen that has surfaced in quite some time, and is as buzz-worthy as its title suggests.

Rating:

4.5/5

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Mother-The First and the Last

Every person listens to two different kinds of music; surprisingly, it is not two different genres. One is the music that you listen to for the immediacy of it; this is the music is that gratifying almost instantly, and the ones that provides sing-alongs while in the car or head-bobbing affirmation while working out. The other kind of music that people listen to is the kind that speaks to you on a more intimate level. It reaches past the aggressive riffing and machine-gun drumming, tapping you quietly on the shoulder, simply just reminding you that there are darker things to think about. Mother has created quite the atmosphere in The First and the Last, as thought-provoking as it is dense.

This ambient/drone-based release manages a run-time of almost 23 minutes for one track, and continues to stay interesting, as distorted layers of guitar feedback crash into each other to somehow create a simultaneously pleasing and unnerving effect on the listener. This is a song that truly takes the listener on a legitimate journey, as the glacial pace is utilized specifically to create a mood. There are no abrupt walls of distortion to hit the audience with, nor are there peaks and valleys reminiscent of the post-rock realm; the progression of the track is completely natural and relies upon the deliberate pacing to tell a story. It would be easy to question what the story is, with no lyrics to convey any specific theme. The truth here is that regardless of the intent of the art by the artist, it is essentially for the witness of said art to decides what it means to him or her, and The First and the Last is no different in that respect. Mother is able to create music that is honest and passionate without the dilution that happens when a specific message is attached, allowing the atmosphere to ebb and flow with the specific listener. The project is as expansive as the music itself, as the photography attached to The First and the Last, as well as two poems scattered through the artwork of the EP help create more of an understanding of what this release means to the people involved in the endeavor. The wash of guitar reverb, combined with member Zach Starkey’s excellent use of horns lend more to this semi-improvised piece than the initial listen tells you.

This is meant to be listened in solitude at full volume, and as the music echoes through headphones, it is hard to pinpoint exactly what makes this different than many ambient/drone releases of the past. The biggest differentiating factor is the scope and ambition of this release; this was meant to be all-encompassing as a listen. I can only speak for the things that it brings to my own mind as a listener, and that is the point of this release; the glow of my computer screen, the pitch-black of the dark around me, it invites me to a place that I don’t visit nearly often enough. Guitarist/percussionist Adam Grimes has quietly composed some of the strongest emotional drone material in recent history, and that in itself seems to be exemplary of the dichotomy that exists in The First and the Last. Many listeners will discount this as too laborious of a listen, and while it should be said that it is certainly not music that was made for parties, it is nearly impossible to imagine someone that would not get something out of an involved listen here. If you can get away from the everyday life that ensnares everyone these days for a bit, the reflection that comes from this release could be just what you need to gain perspective. Perspective on what? That is up to you, as this was made for each and every one of us. Perhaps Mother says it best on their artwork: “Listen at maximum volume and let it take you to the universe inside your head.” How intensely appropriate.

Rating:

4.5/5

Tracklist:

1. The First and the Last

Download Link:

http://mothertheband.bandcamp.com/album/the-first-and-the-last

MellowHype-BLACKENEDWHITE

One of the best things about hip-hop is the absolute diversity that encompasses the genre. In a world full of ridiculous sub-subgenres, it is refreshing to have hip-hop apply to everyone from Illogic to Mac Miller. Instead of artists attempting to stay in their lane and being kept in a proverbial box, it frees them up to experiment with different sounds; it ultimately rewards the listeners with more varied releases and a more honest representation of the artist’s vision.

BlackenedWhite

BlackenedWhite (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Enter MellowHype, a splinter group from the collective Odd Future Wolfgang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA), consisting of Hodgy Beats (rapper) and Left Brain (beats/production). The collective itself is known for gleefully obscene lyrics and childishly offensive antics, which naturally leads the listener’s attention away from the actual music. In the case of BLACKENEDWHITE, this image is incredibly detrimental because the music is, well…good. The combination of Hodgy’s adaptable flow and always interesting subject matter coupled with Left Brain’s purely innovative beats create an album that stands tall on its own merits.

Curiously, BLACKENEDWHITE is an interesting mix of off-kilter indie hip-hop beats and run-of-the-mill gangsta rap braggadocio, which gives it a somewhat uneven feeling. Uneven is the main theme throughout the album, which is disappointing considering the amount of talent that is present here. There are some songs in which everything seems to go right, such as “Loaded” featuring Mike G. Mike G’s laid-back and smooth flow complements Hodgy’s more personable delivery, and the synth-heavy beat is certainly the most fun you will have on this album. Frank Ocean’s contribution to the chorus on “Hell” lifts it from a mediocre song to among the best on the album. MellowHype have certainly made good decisions on the guest appearances on BLACKENEDWHITE but the real travesty is the lack of cohesiveness. Hodgy’s charm runs very thin once it becomes apparent that the lack of life experience also translates to tired lyrical themes being revisited time and time again. Drugs, girls, and money dominate the album and it becomes wearisome after listening through the album, especially given that the quality of the songs decrease as it progresses as well. The first six songs of this album point to an incredibly strong and varied album, but then the lazy drawl of “Right Here” hits, killing the momentum and excitement that had been built up thus far. The children’s choir sample in “Loco” brings back the ingenuity of the beginning of the album, but the trend seems to be Hodgy and Left Brain phoning it in on the same songs; “Stripclub” is as vapid as it sounds, and “Chordaroy” fails to impress even with appearances from Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler, the Creator.

It is difficult to not to be disappointed with the entirety of BLACKENEDWHITE, as the potential displayed is much greater than what was actually delivered. As it stands, it is still an album that boasts some incredibly strong tracks and is just unique enough to stand tall among their peers. Songs like “Deaddeputy” and “Primo” quell the frustration of the weaker tracks, and at the very least points to a strong future for the duo. One can only hope that they ditch the strip club mentality and give their listeners a bit more substance the next time around.

Rating:

3.4/5

Tracklist:

1 “Primo”
2 “GunSounds”
  • Hodgy Beats
3 “Brain” (feat. Domo Genesis)
  • First Verse & Chorus: Hodgy Beats
  • Second Verse: Domo Genesis
4 “Loaded” (feat. Mike G)
  • First Verse/Second Verse: Hodgy Beats
  • Chorus/Third Verse: Mike G
5 “Hell” (feat. Frank Ocean)
6 “Deaddeputy”
7 “Right Here”
  • Hodgy Beats
8 “Loco”
  • Hodgy Beats
9 “Stripclub”
  • Hodgy Beats
10 “Fuck the Police” (feat. Tyler, The Creator)
11 “Chordoroy” (feat. Earl Sweatshirt & Tyler, The Creator)
  • First Verse: Earl Sweatshirt
  • Second Verse/Chorus: Hodgy Beats
  • Third Verse: Tyler, The Creator
12 “Rico” (feat. Frank Ocean)
  • Verses: Hodgy Beats
  • Chorus: Frank Ocean
13 “Gram”
  • Hodgy Beats
14 “Circus”
  • First Verse: Left Brain
  • Second Verse: Hodgy Beats
15 “Based” (feat. C. Renee)

(from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BlackenedWhite)

The Bled-Silent Treatment

Cover of "Silent Treatment"

Cover of Silent Treatment

Clean singing and impassioned screaming have always presented an interesting dynamic in music. Clean vocals allow for the instruments in a song to start off slowly, building up to a frenetic break where the screaming comes in and introduces cacophony into something that started off so soothing. It really represents the way that many people are feeling in this day and age; we don’t really know how to handle the daily stresses that impede our lives and slowly take control. Before we realize it, we are lamenting on how we have no control. Sometimes, though, these realizations hit us so quickly that it makes our heads spin. The Bled personify this feeling very well aurally. The vocal performance of James Munoz is arresting, as he goes from singing to shouting to screaming in the span of any given song. There are moments that are incredibly beautiful and longing, and his vocals are perfectly suited for making the change from the quieter moments to the heavier breaks that they are inevitably built for. The Bled are schizophrenic on Silent Treatment, changing from melodic lulls to an all-out sonic assault. Clean, quiet guitar lines seamlessly transition into huge walls of distortion and unique breakdowns. While the element of experimentation is certainly here, it would be incredibly hard to argue that their previous release “Found in the Flood” did not pack the same sort of punch. Even without the band venturing into more creative territory, this is a band that is creating albums that reek unapologetically of passion and urgency. They could have created something a bit more commercial, something that is more palatable for the untrained ear; instead they pushed on with many moments of viciously arranged material that lends more to their heavier roots.

The atmospheric elements that the band embraces are really what set them apart from the majority of the bands that have a similar sound. “Shade Tree Mechanics” is a perfect opener to this album, as it gives a good sampling of what is to come. After a dissonant opening to the song, the song opens up with an extremely melodic and surprisingly catchy chorus. As the album continues on, the faults of the album become a bit more glaring; the songs begin to bleed together, and the album itself is a bit front-loaded. “Threes Away” is another highlight song, as it starts off loud and aggressive. James Munoz takes no prisoners, and all of the sudden, we are treated to a hushed Munoz whispering part of the chorus as arpeggiated guitars swirl around his voice. The transition of the heavier parts to the slower parts is both affecting and incredibly successful songwriting-wise. At the end of “Threes Away”, there is a beautiful ambient outro that bleeds perfectly into another stellar song “Asleep on the Frontlines”. This is the most melodic song on the record, and instead of the band switching back and forth between aggressive and melodic, they gently build up to a frenzied breakdown. While it is not generally how the band’s songs progress, it works very well here as it starts with an interesting guitar line with just the right amount of delay. As the song progresses, the drums and bass keep up a start and stop pattern, as the guitar line burns slowly and stays constant with the vocals.

The Bled also have a very good understanding of how to craft songs that play to their strengths. They are not afraid to create songs that have a short run time, which shows a great amount of maturity. It allows those songs to shine without overstaying their welcome (“Platonic Sleepover Massacre”, “Silver Lining”). With all of the great songs on this album, there are also ones that unfortunately don’t add much to the continuity. Quite frankly, they are incredibly generic and more derivative than anything else in their discography. “Starving Artiste” plods along at a medium pace, with no instruments standing out and Munoz phoning in one of his least varied vocal performances. “Some Just Vanish” doesn’t get interesting until the end of the song, as the whispered vocals are matching with an equally intimate-sounding guitar. “Breathing Room Barricades” is a late-album surprise, showing an ability to mesh melodic vocals with just the right amount of restraint.

Silent Treatment is The Bled’s finest release to date, and while I was personally hoping for a more drastic leap forward in terms of experimentation and maturity after the excellent Found in the Flood, there is still quite a bit to be excited about here. They prove here that they have the ability to write songs that push the envelope and challenge the notion that the scream/sing dynamic is for the most part a gimmick to win two different sets of fans. Here’s to hoping Munoz & co. create a full album’s worth of amazing songs the next time around.

3.8/5

  1. “Shadetree Mechanics” – 3:15
  2. “You Should Be Ashamed of Myself” – 2:32
  3. “Threes Away” – 4:06
  4. “Asleep On The Frontlines” – 5:33
  5. “Platonic Sleepover Massacre” – 1:01
  6. “Starving Artiste” – 2:34
  7. “The Silver Lining” – 2:16
  8. “Some Just Vanish” – 2:54
  9. “Breathing Room Barricades” – 4:58
  10. “Beheaded My Way” – 3:11
  11. “My Bitter Half” – 3:23