Reviews, July 2015

antigravity_vol13_issue7_Page_28_Image_0003THE BRETON SOUND
The latest from the bearded ones known as The Breton Sound is all about refining their formidable skills to present their tightest sound yet, kicking their latest EP off with “Rivers Cuomo,” an upbeat, guitar-heavy nod to the master of emo and the Sound’s Weezer love. Up next is the band’s strongest song to date: previously released as a single and recorded at Memphis’ Ardent Studios, “Illuminate” pulls out all the stops and makes it clear that the band is ready for anthemic arena rock. Past releases by the Sound tend to start running out of steam at this point, only to rally for a big finish, but Vol. 1 keeps up the energy it generates from the very start, even pulling vocalist Cherie LeJeune into the touching “Love You More.” The best part of this set of tracks is listening to the band genuinely enjoying themselves. It’s a great joy to hear Jonathan Pretus and his fellow bandmates finally, fearlessly coming into their own. It’s too bad the Sound’s offerings must still remain short (not album length), but oh, are they sweet. —Leigh Checkman


antigravity_vol13_issue7_Page_28_Image_0004FLESH WORLD
On their second full-length LP, Flesh World approaches the borderline-orchestral sounds of contemporary noise-pop at its brightest. The Wild Animals in My Life ups the ante from Flesh World’s eponymous, post-punk influenced debut album (released this past February), which featured less of the cleverness and dark treadings of Joy Division and Public Image Limited in favor of a wall-of-sound aesthetic like Lower’s excellent 2014 album Seek Warmer Climes. Nonetheless, the trade-off of inspired lyrical erudition for a richer sonic palette isn’t a problem. The music is overwhelming enough by itself: the fuzzed-out vocal incantations are simply textured noise acting as an additional instrument and an even more expressive element to each song. The band’s richly layered shoegaze-influenced aesthetic challenges other modern-day bands’ technique, like Yuck’s stoner ramblings and Viet Cong ’s boring apocalypse-rock. Flesh World’s music is quite appealing, and the ghostly vocals recall past memories as each track reveals new emotional richness (from the stimulating opener “To Lose Me” to the soulful pangs of the title track). As opposed to the previous record, Wild Animals feels fresher and richer, doe-eyed but experienced, as opposed to pessimistic and contemptuous. —Joey Laura


antigravity_vol13_issue7_Page_28_Image_0005FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE
Thankfully, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful signifies a change in Florence and the Machine’s aesthetic. Succeeding the faux-baroque Lungs in 2009 and the mythic notions and climbing crescendos of 2011’s Ceremonials, their third album features a little more artistic playfulness. The album cover of a black-and-white Florence Welch coyly posing prepares the listener for a Stevie Nicks/Fleetwood Mac influence. The acoustic ringing, dance-friendly beat, and personal-but-universal lyrics of “Ship to Wreck” recall the sorrowful zest of “Go Your Own Way.” However, by track four—the still quite dance-friendly “Queen of Peace”—Welch again sounds like an ice queen singing across an echo-inducing canyon. Although it’s terribly inconsistent in tone and style, How Big is a welcome diversion for Welch and company. The boring tracks are particularly hackneyed to those familiar with Florence and the Machine’s previous albums, but the most impressive tracks—the first three, for sure—are well worth it. Although the record is mediocre at best, it showcases an opulence of musical composition and lyrical relatability formerly unapproached by the band, hopefully hinting at future experimentation. —Joey Laura


The bratty duo Girlpool weren’t particularly promising on their self-titled debut EP (“Blah Blah Blah” might as well be their obnoxious anthem), and they’ve only sunk further on their first LP, the 24-minute long Before the World Was Big. The opening track “Ideal World” makes an allusion to the intro of the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin,” and it explains exactly what’s wrong with the entire album: Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad don’t seem to understand the way that musicians like Charles Mingus and Brian Eno, and especially the grossly overlooked Pere Ubu, have used dissonance or noise in their works. Rather than use it as an element to represent a certain dissatisfaction or as an added texture to thicken their sound, Girlpool would rather try to define their style completely with noise but without the musical prowess of free-jazz musicians or electronica auteurs. As if things couldn’t get any worse, their Moldy Peaches-inspired lyrics (in effect, arrested-development phrasings sung with a childlike voicing) give the impression of attention-whore antics, of snotty teenagers thumbing their noses at any target (whatever it takes to get noticed). If anything, Before the World Was Big reveals why the newest generation of artists is, indeed, a lost generation. —Joey Laura


The debut of Hildegard marks a strange, yet intriguing new set of directions for both vocalist Sasha Masakowski and Christian Scott Quintet guitarist Cliff Hines. Masakowski, noted mostly for her jazz interpretation skills before joining with Hines, takes on completely different musical personas under Hildegard’s “art rock” umbrella that lean close to vocal stylings resembling Enya, Basia, Kate Bush, and Swing Out Sister’s Corrine Drewery. With a talent like Hines creating the instrumentals, Hildegard scales some prog rock-esque heights pretty nicely—“The Witness” and “Karma” fill that bill well—but some moments come across as clunky, such as the jarring instrumental break in the otherwise charming, elegant “A To Z.” Though this collaboration is not a perfect one, the band (named for a visionary saint) has a lot going for it, more than enough to make for fascinating listening. For when Hildegard is good, it’s chillingly, beautifully right. —Leigh Checkman


antigravity_vol13_issue7_Page_28_Image_0008JASON ISBELL
If you pay any attention to the Americana and/or alt country scenes, you probably know about Jason Isbell. His last record, Southeastern, was met with mind-blowing critical acclaim. His story of addiction and redemption was told far and wide, from the pages of every alt-weekly in the country to the dulcet tones of NPR radio. Formerly a hard-drinking, hard-living guitarist and songwriter for seminal Southern rockers Drive-by Truckers, Isbell parted ways with the band in 2007 and went on to crank out three solid solo albums, artfully walking the line between tortured artist and drunk asshole with great aplomb. If Southeastern was the album that showed us Isbell flayed and naked, then Something More Than Free is his attempt to firmly move past that. Sure, there are moments where we revisit the deep introspection of an addict reflecting on his checkered past and subsequent deliverance (see this line from “How To Forget”: My past a scary movie I watched and fell asleep / Now I’m dreaming up these creatures from the deep). But overall, this record marks a strong return to the themes Isbell loves to explore: life in a one-horse town, the deep and abiding danger of family and the poignant beauty of small human moments. The single “24 Frames” challenges the listener to take a long hard look at himself. “Flagship” stands out as an instant classic and is, in Isbell’s signature style, threaded throughout with that lush and vivid scene-setting he excels so strongly at. “Palmetto Rose” brings a levity with its juke joint vibe and “Speed Trap Town” is the song on this record (and every one of his records has one) that makes me simultaneously deeply miss and yet never want to return to my little hometown. There are tracks that take some time to grow, but overall, this record is another solid offering from an artist who has become a voice for grassroots America. Next in the line of a grand tradition of Southern storytellers, Isbell shows us the meaning in the minutia and injects everyday moments with the gravity and romanticism they deserve. —Erin Hall


antigravity_vol13_issue7_Page_29_Image_0003JENNY HVAL
Apocalypse Girl, Oslo-based artist Jenny Hval’s fifth album, can be compared to the string of disconnected, slightly unhinged thoughts a person might find themselves having while taking a shower. When the mind is left idling while the body is busy doing other things, the connecting of randomly firing cables in the brain makes for some pretty interesting and beautifully odd sparks. This is the world of Apocalypse Girl, a brilliant lunatic’s musical opus that makes the best sense when it’s left to run its course just on the outskirts of your complete understanding, in the corners of your subconscious. Over-thinking Hval’s intentions with this release kills the fun. Let the album spin and spin along with it til you fall of an edge and end up somewhere new. On opening track, “Kingsize” Hval poses the now often quoted question: “What is soft dick rock?” I’d personally prefer not to know, but if I had to guess I’d say “not this.” Although quiet and droning, like a suggestion more-so than a demand for attention, this album’s lasting power is its ability to needle into memory and stay there. Nothing soft about that. — Kelly McClure


antigravity_vol13_issue7_Page_29_Image_0004MAGGOT SANDWICH
I remember seeing Maggot Sandwich (from Pensacola) at Monaco Bob’s in the early ‘90s and still consider their Get off the Stage LP from 1987 to be an American punk rock classic. Fast forward to the present, original member Vik Kaos lives in New Orleans and has reformed the group with two of the hardest working musicians in town: Jenn Attaway (Split Lips, Unnaturals) on bass/vocals and Bill Heintz (Pallbearers, Dummy Dumpster, The Bills) on drums [both are regular AG contributors]. Honestly, moving here and getting this couple to join his band, he hit the fuckin’ jackpot as far as I’m concerned. Not only do they give new life to the group, but Bill’s artwork on the cover is simply amazing: political, satirical, graphic, and hilarious. 9 of the 12 songs on this 10” are recent versions of “hits” from 1985 to 1987, with three new songs that still abide by the classic Maggot Sandwich hardcore formula. “New Orleans” stands up to the legendary “My Florida” with lyrics like “I’m sick of New Orleans / We’ve got the most corrupt police I’ve ever fuckin’ seen.” With so much great music coming out of this city recently, this is definitely the release I anticipated most this year. And such a powerful, fun live band to see in action, too. Official record release show is July 17th at Siberia during Creepy Fest. They’ll also be celebrating their 30th anniversary as a band. Mention this review and receive a vintage Maggot Sandwich flier from back in the day with your purchase. To quote The Simpsons: “If you miss this show, you better be dead or in jail. And if you’re in jail, break out!” —Carl Elvers


Muse, as a band, have become miserablists in the worst way possible with their most recent album. By focusing on the negative and then taking the gravity of its fake sense of alarmism way too seriously, their newest work isn’t fun enough to be camp and is too silly to be worth dissecting with any real critical attention. (This sickness started with the first three tracks, of their 2012 record, The 2nd Law, which are named, “Supremacy,” “Madness,” and “Panic Station.”) As they cater to the paranoid liberalist theme of “resistance,” Muse’s flaccid attempt to agitate the public results in a lifeless thesis on political jingoism. “Drill Sergeant” and “Psycho” tap into one-dimensional caricatures that were stale when Marilyn Manson attempted to exploit them with “The Beautiful People” and “Disposable Teens.” At least when Muse’s contemporary Placebo performs “The Bitter End” on 2003’s Sleeping With Ghosts, they aren’t relishing in the pain: They work past the cynicism by dealing with and scrutinizing the emotions of “every broken bone” on “this winter’s day.” Muse seems delighted just because they’ve acknowledged that there is havoc, and they want only to cause more romanticized chaos. —Joey Laura


Post-Hardcore is a signifier that immediately detonates warning flares. Describing your band as being post-hardcore in 2015 is often a sleight-of-hand. It’s a little bit of trickery, like flash paper: it gets attention, but you soon realize there is no blaze and noscorched remains. There was never any danger, no EMT standing by, not even a half-empty can of Sugar Free Redbull at the ready to extinguish a possible wristband fire. At the very least there needs to be a blister, there should be some damage, be it collateral, intended, or self-inflicted. The music needs to make a mark. The press release that accompanied Symbols straight up loses the illusion of being remotely related to anything hardcore or even genuine by stating that “Secondborn have always been committed to a professional, highly marketable sound.” As Symbols made its way onto my non-partitioned hard drive, I decide to investigate the band’s website. Surely, this band has no interest in the correspondence sent on their behalf by management. I am reading the suit’s description of the band, the behind-the-scenes fodder. “Post hardcore visionaries” care not for the business, but dwell on the sound and the loyal fans. Shocking, but apparently not always true. This brooding sextet made of people from bands “that almost made it” has a bio page on their website that is littered with statements of calculated measures to make it in the biz. Not touring or doing live shows to perfect your sound is one thing but to do it because your “focus is on honing songs and production to the point where they could market themselves effectively” tells me that there is little interest in hearing a fanbase go from rumble to roar because of your original, unmistakeable sound. Secondborn seem more eager to be the soundtrack behind the marketing that might help sell rebellion reminder apps, Hum-Drum-Rum or custom GoPro mounts for moleskine journals. I’m glad they have “market penetration similar to that of many signed artists,” and I hope that one day their “marketability can rival that of major label acts.” Hey, thanks for the analysis but bands I like never let me know that they are generally concerned about how many flips the singer needs to cut in a music video to grab the apprehensive acrobatic market or what eyeliner to eye ratio tested better. Symbols will sit in its entirety on my hard drive skimmed over and neglected. I am not in Secondborn’s direct demographic, but had they remembered that the possibility of an appreciative audience existed, I would have given an unbiased listen and come to an opinion on their sound, not their quarterly report. The music cannot speak for itself if the band never shuts the fuck up. —Anton Falcone


antigravity_vol13_issue7_Page_30_Image_0004LOVE & MERCY
The fatal mistake behind Bill Pohlad’s Love & Mercy involves the chosen main character: Brian Wilson’s psychosis rather than the musician himself. Just like the art-house mess I’m Not There (also co-written by Oren Moverman and produced by Pohlad), the focus on an abstraction rather than an actual character prevents the audience from being able to empathize with, or even root for, a concrete protagonist. The only ray of hope comes from the scenes in which the younger Wilson (Paul Dano) directs session musicians to create the layered textures of Pet Sounds, arguably the Beach Boys’ greatest achievement. Although these scenes are a bit goofy in the way they are filmed like 8mm home movies, Dano and the other actors manage to capture that “lightning in a bottle” aspect of the creative process. But even Dano’s heartfelt impression of Wilson goes sour: When psychedelic drugs take over Wilson’s mental well-being, Dano’s performance goes from sensitive to cartoonish, as Wilson’s erratic drug-influenced behavior channels Dano’s irritating performance as Eli Sunday from There Will Be Blood. The movie does not explore “the life, love, and genius of Brian Wilson,” as the poster suggests: Pohlad concentrates entirely too much on glorifying the torture of genius. —Joey Laura