09 January 2018

Zeal and Ardor - Devil Is Fine

I don't even know what to make of this. But I stand corrected. In my last post, I suggested rock music (though still occasionally very good) didn't really have anything new to say. I was wrong. Take "Come on Down", a track by Zeal and Ardor, which seems to pretty much be a gentleman by the name of Manuel Gagneux: playtime music box melodies in battle against black metal riffs, before an amnesty is called, and the chimes and axes actually duet, matching melodies as we all hold hands and sing along.

Gagneux is Swiss. Given that the only other Swiss metal supremo I know of  - Tom G. Warrior - is equally forward thinking, it makes sense that this should be mind-bendingly good. Props to the excellent Kim Kelly, whose article in Noisey made me first aware of this band. But what a shame on me that I took so long to put that reading into action. I have been pondering what could be my album of the year for 2017. Many albums have struck me as good, but literally none stood out as a proper contender. 

On my first listen, admittedly, Devil Is Fine is striking me just so: right in and between the ears. "What Is a Killer Like You Gonna Do Here" is satisfyingly Nick Cave "Red Right Hand" or Tom Waits in its mock-menacing gruff shuffling. There are three brief numbered "Sacrilegium" tracks, respectively thick-synthy, music boxy (very reminiscent of "Frosti" from Björk's best album Vespertine), and a bit Plone. Remember Plone? No? Well they were good. Very melodic Warp Records chaps.

But listen to "Blood in the River": chain gang harmonising about how "a good lord is a dark one... the one that brings the fire", before the hyperspeed black metal guitar howl and blast beats rampage into the mix.

Remember a few years ago, when the music hipsters who aren't into metal got into Deafheaven as their token metal band because they sounded like an emo band playing black metal, and... didn't really do anything different with it? Zeal and Ardor is what happens when you do something different with black metal, to a degree I've not heard since the glory days of Ulver and Arcturus. It lacks the sense of utter evil that you get in a Deathspell Omega album, say, but that in itself is rather refreshing. Very pleased with this; let's see what multiple listens do for me.

P.S. I know this was technically 2016, but I'm counting it as 2017. Pretty sure that's what it says on my CD. I'm behind the times, but what's new?

08 January 2018

Algiers - The Underside of Power

Stay calm, throughsilver; just write. Write, without proclaiming your need to do so. Just write about the album you told Dunc to buy, without having heard it yourself. That was a good recommendation: you just knew it was exactly what he needed to get on this trip to the UK. You can name this article about it and remove any suspense from this opening paragraph. That's it; write some initial thoughts as you have your first listen to... Algiers! The Underside of Power.

Ahem. So yeah, because I am still planning to write up my Albums In The Years, uh... 2013 to 2016 before doing last years best rekkids, keeping it chronological, I will get around that by just doing posts about the goodies. And I decided to do this one before I had even heard it. That's just how confident I am in my choices. The title track is pretty much classic soul, but a bit garagey. But it works; it really cooks. The singer, Franklin James Fisher, is the main reason for this, as he has a great voice. It's good and thick, drips with attitude, and he's got tons of fire when the occasion demands. That's right: you can weigh fire by the ton.

The hacks call Algiers post-punk, but I don't understand why, beyond the simple fact they are making music now, and we exist in a time after punk. "A Murmur. A Sign." is moody, pleading, as Fisher emotes over Stranger Things synth stabs. Straight after that is what would be a gorgeous piano ballad even without the layers of atmospheric sound adding depth to the mix that simmers beneath more great vocals that in this case are actually a little reminiscent of Holly Johnson. And then the propulsive beats, looped choral snatches and panning gang vocals of "Cleveland". It's brilliant.

I'd be happy for "Plague Years" to go on forever, a cold, wordless atmosphere piece of megaphone vocal loops, synth stabs and one hell of a beat. One of the collection of genres Wikipedia attributes to Algiers is industrial, and that one is pretty accurate. But even then, only in places. "Hymn for an Average Man" is two bluesy piano chords at its heart, joined at various points by disorienting, snaking piano and bass lines, and once more that fantastic voice. No Nine Inch Nails or Throbbing Gristle in this one.

"Bury Me Standing" (the titles are great, too) is more atmosphere, going all Sin City as saxomophones alternately hoot ominously and belch feeedback before giving way to the relative epic (over five minutes!) "The Cycle/The Spiral: Time to Go Down Slowly", more fast paced - a last burst of energy before the end. Really simple but effective lead guitar on that one too. Rock may not be reinventing itself any more, but as long as there are bands like Algiers, it'll at least be interesting.
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