Saturday, January 8, 2011

Carnivores Are Tasty, and The Black Angels Beat The Drums (CD Reviews) by Alison Ross

Carnivores Flesh Out a Sound on If I'm Ancient

I have seen Atlanta band the Carnivores live before, and at the time I saw them, I don't think I truly "got it." But now, with the arrival of their latest album, "If I'm Ancient," I'm starting to grasp the startling subtlety of their style. The quartet tends to suffocate otherwise straightforward pop songs in swirls of psychedelic dissonance, which can be a disoncerting effect live. But after a few CD spins, it turns out to be quite a deft tactic that adds tactile texture and even a solemn sense of mystique. In fact, the contrived "distance" of some of the vocals, married to the fuzzy and frenzied fretwork, evoke the almost otherwordly ideals hinted at by the title. At times the Carnivores mine a dark and arty "surf" turf in their songs, while elsewhere they let loose with a feral punk ferocity. I prefer the warped "horror" effect of the former style to the more orthodox bias of the linear punk ethos, but it all cleaves together well, in the end, and begs for repeated listens.

Ethereal Ebony: The Black Angels and their Phosphene Dream

There are so many popular bands these days with the color adjective "black" as part of their name - Black Mountain, Black Lips, Black Keys, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Black Angels, likely countless others. This surfeit of ebony in musician monikers makes fans feel as though we are immersed in a world of goth or metal-minded bands. Not so, however. Black Lips proffer a curious meshing of motown and garage punk, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are Jesus and Mary Chain-style distortion and fuzz, and Black Keys and Black Mountain pound out blues-based rhythms. The Black Angels have a similar bluesy bent, but these sounds swirl in a psychedelic swamp. In fact, the Black Angels' sonic signature easily subverts the nagging tendency to tag them as a goth band when you hear utterances of their name.

Anyway. I have yet to get the Black Angels' much-lauded first album, but I do have the more tepidly-received Directions to See a Ghost. I actually really like that album, even if it is mired in drone, as some critics have claimed. Perhaps considered in the context of their three albums, I might have a different take. True, it's not a bouyant listen, but its insistent gloom and hazy hallucinatory moods have a sensual appeal to me.

The Black Angels' new album. Phosphene Dream, continues in the sullen psychedelic vein, but tempers things a bit with more upbeat flourishes. The vocals evoke shaministic dimensions as ever, but the songs are often played at a fiestier tempo (as opposed to the languid pace of their previous album), and infuse dollops of doo-wop and other earlier styles. In a way these genre juxtapositions seem contrived and not consistent with Angels' mercurial sensibilities, but successive listens reveals that this unorthodox marriage of musical moods and fashions just might be just what the Angels need to propel themselves along the path to rock and roll notoriety.

The Drums: Clanging and Clamoring into Oblivion

The best song on The Drums' debut album, "I Wanna Go Surfing" sounds like an impromptu jam between the Beach Boys, Joy Division, and early Cure on the shores of the California surf in the waning hours of day. The song is a bass-centric, minimalistic post-punk frenzy tempered with the sunny spunk of beach-pop. The song even incorporates a scale of whistles which infuses it with a fun and funky spirit.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album does not measure up to this lead single. "IWGS" may not be the most unique song ever, but its quirky novelty lies in an overt merging of disparate styles. The remainder of the album essentially plagiarizes every 80s sound in existence - thumping bass, disco-beat, wailing or youthfully giddy vocals, ebulliently contagious melodies. It hardly reimagines the wheel with such loyal aural xeroxing. The key to durability for new bands is to take risks; be audacious. At any time during the album, I feel like I am listening to Echo and the Bunnymen, New Order, Naked Eyes, Icicle Works, or any new wave variation thereof. This is not risky; this is playing it pathetically safe.

Unless The Drums begin to march to their own idiosyncratic beat, their demise will end with a whimper instead of a bang.

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