Saturday, February 23, 2013

Depressed Mode

Remember that joke? People- mostly late eighties dudes who were a bit jocks but dated Alterna-chicks, like me, called "Depeche Mode" that.
Well, I bring it up because it's suitable for the two new CDs I've got- How To Destroy Angels' "Welcome Oblivion" and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's "Specter at the Feast" . Both are downbeat little affairs, with layered loops and kinda "post Rock" vibes. I'll spare you any possible suspense and say that if you have to choose between the two, I'll suggest BRMC , hands down. But, I do own both. So I hate neither one.
How To Destroy Angels can be differentiated from Nine Inch Nails by two main factors: Mariqueen's vocals and more sparse, open arrangements. These are both improvements. I could go a lifetime without hearing Trent Reznor's strangulated Kermit the Frog voice. I understand using claustrophobia as a device in a song, but over the course of  5 out of 8 records, it becomes simply bad songwriting. By reducing the instrumentation, there's less compression on the individual sounds, so I don't feel like I'm listening to the aural equivalent of the trash compactor of the Death Star ( muddy, crushing, junked and it stinks). Now, I didn't hate NIN, but I thought of them as a bit of a put-on. No one feels the oppressed, and oppressive and shifts that many units. So, they always struck me as the "gothic" night at the local disco- dress up in fetish wear and dance to the beat of an auto factory so's people can take pictures of you being "wild". HDA, on the other hand sound experimental and adventurous- in a David Bowie meets Brian Eno in the 1970's Berlin kind of way. Pop music keeps on showing up in the glitchy electronic soundscapes. Still, it's very quiet, or it's very glitchy, and it ends up ultimately being like bad trip hop for me- I'm sure fascinating things are going on in there, but I am not fascinated enough to listen that closely. But, on better tracks, like "Ice Age" there's enough warmth and humanity that I stop and listen, and nod my head. But most of the tracks are so amelodic and glitchy that, well, my CD, as is sometimes the case with promo CDs, is damaged, on the 3rd track " and the sky began to scream" and I didn't notice until the 2nd repeat play. Still, that digital imperfection that they carefully sculpt is the one thing keeping tracks like "how long" from sounding completely like MOR. So, there is a function.( Edited to Add: OK, so I've now verified that I've got a defective CD, here. However, I've listened to a stream of the entire thing, and most of my comments still stand. I would only change that it's not quite as glitchy as I'm emphasizing here, but electronic "noise" and digital imperfections are still a major songwriting tool, here, and I would add that the latter third does go right in between latter day NIN and Trent Reznor's soundtrack work- meaning that the intention might very well be to have a kind of gloomy ambient music. Instead of another green world, perhaps an alternative black planet, hehehe. The pessimist Buddhist lyrical stance would seem to bear that out, jokes aside. ) Ultimately, unlike NIN, it's ear pleasing music that risks a lot, and that really should be rewarded. Maybe I'll buy it when it comes out, in the hopes that my copy is just defective.
BRMC, on the other hand I'll buy because my copy will have worn out. I really dig this Album. It starts slow, with a psychedelic folky run on the first four tracks. It isn't until "Hate the Taste" starts to roar that the rocker in you will come alive. But, yes from there, they alternate between lush ballads like the Verve used to do and raw hardheaded rockers like The Jesus and Mary Chain, with a mescaline psychosis. These guys suffered a bit- contract disputes, band members flaking out, family deaths, and everything else. They have earned the more subdued side. But, when subdued, there is still enough grit that I think of atmospheric bands like Calexico and Pelican, as opposed to I dunno, The Decembrists. It's more like what it would be if George Harrison joined the Who- the gentleness is a foil to the thuggery.  They're downbeat, but not beaten into submission. The swagger, snarl and menace of "Hate the Taste", "Teenage Disease", or "Funny Games" carries through, so that when you get to the final, gentle keyboard coda at the end of "Lose Yourself" it's an earned release. In other words, while Black Rebel Motorcycle Club might still have the tough sound of their Marlon Brando inspired name- much like Brando's Johnny Strabler they have suffered more than they cause suffering, and for that, they are compelling. Damn, I want a 1961 Triumph Bonneville T120, some vintage Lee dungarees and a vinyl copy of this record- it would all fit, trust me. Here's their myth, but hope you like the reality.

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