Thursday, February 1, 2018

Protomartyr - No Passion All Technique

The debut album from Protomartyr came out in 2012.  It's a more straightforward proposition than subsequent albums, made up of lots of shouty songs with Greg Ahee's tightly wound post-punk riffs like In My Sphere, Machinist Man and Hot Wheel City amongst others.  They are not terrible songs, but fairly unremarkable.

When they deviate from this formula it's a lot more satisfying.  Three Swallows has a deeply yearning guitar riff, along the lines of The National.  Singer Joe Casey sings a fairly ordinary line "you used to be so beautiful" with a fair degree of pathos, giving it enormous resonance.  The whole thing is done and dusted in less than two and a half minutes.  Jumbo's feels like a centrepiece.  The longest song here, it opens with a wobbly-sounding riff which gradually gets more and more ragged, allowing Casey to bawl lyrics like "I will not have a drink" and "every night at Jumbo's" over it.  Other tracks such as Ypsilanti, Feral Cats have their tightly-wound riffs infused with just enough melody to keep you coming back.  Too Many Jewels stomps in with a hard-ass, squalling riff, while the fatalistic sounding How He Lived After He Died has a strong chorus that you could almost sing along to.

So nothing earth-shattering here but will be of interest to anyone who enjoys this band's music.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Yo La Tengo - Fade

Rock nerds Yo La Tengo released Fade in 2013, and it sees them well into their 'comfortable' phase.  Ohm opens the album with a repeating guitar figure that the band chant lyrics such as "resist and move on" as the music gradually gets rockier.  Is That Enough is equal parts quiet Lou Reed along with a soulboy chorus, complete with strings. 

As alluded to earlier, Yo La Tengo's noisier side is mainly in the past, though Paddle Forward has a decent set of fuzzy guitars.  But the album consists mainly of understated, gentle rockers such as Stupid Things and I'll Be Around.  Cornelia and Jane, and final track Before We Run feature horns, and some of the grandeur of parts of The National's back catalogue.  The quiet, creeping Two Trains is the most stripped-down track here, allowing plenty of room for Ira Kaplan's voice to breathe.  The track also features some exquisitely downbeat "do doos".  The Point of It is a late highlight, with a gorgeously low key clean guitar part.

It's all very tasteful with only the very poppy Well You Better being a little too much for this writer's ears.  A low-key delight.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Wilco - The Whole Love

The Whole Love, released in 2011, saw Wilco return to some of the experimentation that marked 2004's A Ghost is Born.  Never more so than on opening track Art of Almost which sees them go full on Radiohead, complete with glitchy percussion and electronic bleeps.  It's actually really good, though there is a LOT going on.  The track builds gradually to a thrilling, rocky outtro.  

The rest of the album doesn't quite live up to the opener, though it's generally pretty good.  Tracks like I Might, Dawned On Me and the title track are the type of thing Wilco can pull off with minimal effort, a kind of midpaced, rootsy classic rock.  The last of these combines growling guitars with whistling of all things.

There are a couple of moody acoustic tracks such as Black Moon which starts out with a bare picked guitar before being joined by a subtle string part that avoids overpowering the song.  Later Rising Red Lung combines a simple acoustic figure with a bit of pedal steel to great effect. 

Elsewhere?  Born Alone is a pleasant strumalong track with a biting electric lead after the chorus, before a Revolver-style outtro.  The Beatles are never far away on the likes of the pleasant drift on Sunloathe or jaunty Capitol City.

There are tracks where little happens such as the simple, vaguely country Open Mind, yet these deliver just enough to keep you returning.  

They save the best for last with the 12 minute One Sunday Morning.  It's difficult to explain what makes this one so good.  On paper it's a simple guitar and piano tune which doesn't vary much for its twelve minute duration, merely adding a few musical touches here and there, percussion, bells etc.  But try listening to this on a cold, sunny drive, it perfectly encapsulates that feeling of being at peace.  And it feels far shorter than 12 minutes.