Category Archives: Album Review

The War On Drugs “Lost in the Dream”

The War On Drugs

Lost in the Dream

[Secretly Canadian; 2014]

Rating: 8.5

In the world of music journalism, the act of writing about one’s self within an album review is frowned upon. I try to adhere to this detached, information-based approach, although I probably fail to keep my own experiences out of a review more than I’d like. Take the latest War On Drugs album Lost in the Dream as an example. I’ve sat down several times over the past few weeks to write about this album of unrestrained synth-rock, but each time the review spirals into a therapy session on how this introspective music affected me in a vulnerable moment.   Despite my inability to write about this album without bringing in my personal connection to the music, I still feel compelled to review Lost in the Dream, an album that has meant the world to me the past month.

It all started three weeks ago with a jarring text message from a friend, received just moments before the workday began: “James died last night at midnight.” My friend had been battling with leukemia for two years, and I’d already been warned that his final days were approaching. Regardless, I still wasn’t ready for the news – I guess we never are. The combination of shock and the workload in front of me helped me to quickly move on with my day, sweeping the horrible news under the metaphorical rug.

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Have a Nice Life “The Unnatural World”

Have a Nice Life

The Unnatural World

[The Flesner; 2014]

RATING: 8.5

Recently Trevor Powers (the brains behind Youth Lagoon) pleaded on Twitter, “Please, no more genres. Find a better way to classify music.” Only a few weeks prior, NPR writer Bob Boilen questioned the future of labeling sounds with a blog entitled “Can You Imagine a World Without Music Genres?” Both of them have a point. With new bastardized sub-genres popping up daily, it’s getting to the point where one will be required to use an algorithm to crack the sub-genre code laid out by the all-knowing music reviewer.

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Sun Kil Moon “Benji”

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Sun Kil Moon

Benji

[Caldo Verde; 2014]

Rating: 10

Mark Kozelek’s music has never been about the lyrics. Whether it be his time with Red House Painters, his solo work, or his latest project Sun Kil Moon, his calming tenor and intricate guitar picking always took precedence over the metaphor-cloaked lyrics. I’ve been a fan of Kozelek’s work for the past decade, and the only lyrics that stand out in my mind are not even his, rather, from his two cover albums Tiny Cities (Modest Mouse) and What’s Next To the Moon (AC/DC).

In the past few years he has released a couple lackluster albums that suggested his muse was waning, but with his latest, Benji, it looks like that imminent closing window resulted in him throwing away his tride-and-true blueprint and starting anew. In a recent interview Kozelek said of his new start: “I’ve run out of metaphors, and when you get older, you’re bothered, or inspired, by other things in life than a girl breaking up with you. Things get heavier as you get older.”

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Grant Hart “The Argument”

Grant Hart

The Argument

[Domino; 2013]

Rating: 9.5

What if both your parents died the same year? And what if that same year your home, which has been in the family for over 100 years, burns down?  And what if while you’re dealing with all this loss, your former band mate (Bob Mould) releases a tell all autobiography where he not only persecutes you and embellishes your use of heroin, but he also takes time to mock your now dead mother?

And what if you were once friends with William S. Burroughs? And what if while you are dealing with all this turmoil, you are bestowed with an unfinished Burroughs space odyssey adaptation of Milton’s Paradise Lost called Lost Paradise? And what if this manuscript inspires you to create a 20-song album about the battle between Heaven and Hell?

That would be pretty awesome, right?

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Bill Callahan “Dream River”

Bill Callahan

Dream River

[Drag City; 2013]

Rating: 7.7

If Bill Callahan were a painter, he would be Pablo Picasso.  Besides the obvious presumption that Callahan has never been called an asshole, the connection can be found in the span of their respective work.  While many musicians find a definitive sound and make a career out of it, Callahan is a constantly changing songwriting machine.  Like Picasso, Callahan has gone through various stages, refusing to languish in mediocrity.

Callahan’s early 4-track forays were much like Picasso’s early days as a painter – flawed yet promising.  As his Smog sound developed on albums like Wild Love and Knock Knock, he reached his “blue” period (stark subject matter presented in through distorted, bluesy melodies). Solo album Woke On a Whaleheart would be Callahan’s “rose” period (warm and adventurous soul music), Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle would be his Neo-classical album (drawing inspiration from ancient cultures and their totems, not to mention the heavy use of classical strings), and Apocalypse would be his surrealistic album (an unpredictable and jarring presentation of The End).

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Deafheaven “Sunbather”

Deafheaven

Sunbather

[Deathwish; 2013]

Rating: 8.5

Okay, I admit it – I was never a fan of Black Metal.  I know this makes me tragically unhip, and I know it tarnishes my credibility as a music journalist (acceptance is the first step). It wasn’t for a lack of trying. I listened two dozens upon dozens of Black Metal albums. I watched a couple Black Metal documentaries (Until the Light Takes Us and One Man Metal) and left both viewings telling myself that I had to like something that was so pure, so raw, and so brutal.  Yet, no matter what band I checked out, I just couldn’t get past the machine gun drums, grating guitars, and rasping screams.  I was doomed to be lame (in the right measure).

I guess all I needed was for someone to come along and take this jagged, bulky genre and make it more accessible. In 2010 it was Norwegian band Shining’s Black Jazz, an album that melded the core tenets of Black Metal with jazz scales and saxophones.  Of course, I enjoyed the jazz side more than the carnage, but it was a step in the right direction.

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