Saturday, July 16, 2011

Hardcore Raving and Balking (Mogwai, Raveonettes and Balkans CD Mini-Reviews) by Alison Ross

Mogwai Will Never Die, But You Will!

I first become cognizant of Mogwai during The Cure's Curiosa festival in 2004. Robert Smith is thoroughly enamored of the Scottish post-rock intstrumentalist outfit, and with damn good reason. Mogwai sculpts some of the most transcendently melodious as well as some of the most diabolically abrasive tunes in modern music. The music of Mogwai tends to veer from euphoric ambience to full-fledged metal assaults, but sans the histrionic cliches of typical headbanger fare. Mogwai's mode of metal has a more reined-in ethos to it, and could be described as cerebral cacophony. And, of course, the mellifluous undercurrents in the band's instrumentals temper the thunderous attacks, making for gorgeous storms of brutal noise and delicate euphony. The latest release, awesomely titled, "Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will," doesn't exactly rewrite the Mogwai template, but it does alter the dynamics slightly so that the mellow-metal vacillations are less sharply juxtaposed. In fact, this album relies more on the narcotic aesthetics than anything, and even encompasses tangents like techno and new wave. In fact, the best song on the album in my estimation is called Mexican Gran Prix (Mogwai's Dada-esque titles are preciously priceless), and it calls to mind Daft Punk and other such dance club-fixtures. Live is where Mogwai thrive, and this album smartly captures the mesmerizing magic and contained furor of a Mogwai gig. The band is so musically literate, tightly structuring their sublime noisescapes so that one mood never domineers and so that even seemingly aimless meandering has an eventual destination: that of blissing out your brain with hardcore harmonies that will never die. But you will, so savor it while you can!

A Dark Wave Rave

The Raveonettes have always cultivated a kind of gothic rockabilly vibe, sneaking in bits of motown, surf and post-punk for good measure. With their latest releast, Raven in the Grave, they mostly eschew the sneering rockabilly and amplify the frigid gothic. Only one song boasts a surfy swagger, and only one song apes the girl-group euphony that singer Sharin Foo emulates so cannily. The rest of the album is like a textbook reading of 80s dark wave, with an injection of a rather modernized sense of detachment as opposed to the ego-indulgence so rife in the heyday of goth. But while I can appreciate the Raveonettes' right to shake things up for themselves to preclude a slide into staleness, the fact of the matter is, the album simply does not adhere to the brain as readily as past Raveonettes' efforts. But of course, that is partly the point: Make an album that will confound fans who've come to rely a bit too heavily on the Raveonette's acumen for faithfully channeling the Jesus and Mary Chain's distortion-suffused take on Johnny Cash. And that's all fine and well, and the album has its shimmering moments, but perhaps it will take another album or so for The Raveonettes to get down this formula - and by then, they likely will have moved on to their next incarnation of sound.

Balkans Stroke a Sophisticated Sound

Let's be clear on this: Balkans are fuck-tons better than The Strokes. And yet, the band is often compared to The Strokes, I assume mainly for their occasionally chirpy, chugging guitar tone. But Balkans have a more sophisticated approach that delicately distills their influences without overtly wearing them on their sleeve. The Strokes, while competent, are pretty straightforward with their song stylings, while Balkans weave a more complex web of sound. In their tunes you might discern punk, post-punk, blues, garage, pop...and yet none of these genres bash you over the head. Instead, it's all threaded together seamlessly to fashion sometimes languid, always angular melodies that swirl around in your cortex competing for favoritism among the other songs that might be swimming there. The singer's drawling vocals add a deliciously distinctive flavor to the murky grind of the guitars and the perisistent punch of the drums. This is challenging, artful music, not obvious in the least, and yet thoroughly grabbing all the same.

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