Sunday, November 17, 2013

Antique Beats from Clinically Washed Out Punx (CD mini-reviews) by Alison Ross

Beats Antique is unlike any band I have heard before, except they are like every band I have heard before. Meaning, they excel at stirring just about every style of music into a schizophrenic stew that induces vacillating states of mania and mellowness in the minds and hearts of listeners. Take "Doors of Destiny." What starts out innocuously enough as a circus-game-show-comedy-piece gradually degenerates into a dystopian mind-fuck of reverse-mirror warped hip-hop beats. LSD is the analogous drug that comes to mind here, but it's aural hallucinations instead of visual ones. It's like the soundtrack to a David Lynch nightmare. But then take a lusciously languid piece like "Kismat" with its sinuous Mediterranean grooves. It's all in the service of glorious fusion - melding post-modern hip hop and techno with old world jazz and timeless world music. Live, Beats Antique's act is performance art writ large, with an undulating belly dancer, screens spilling over with freaky imagery, and gaudy inflatables bouncing around on stage. It's a surrealistic scene for surrealistic beats. 


Nursing the Shadows

Clinic is a band that is almost impossible to categorize, which of course is ultimately a desirable trait. But for someone attempting to describe a given sound, bands that resolutely resist facile classification can be bothersome beasts. Clinic is one such beast: the music is marked by a cryptic complexity, a sound that wants to be playful, even strives toward it, but whose notions of existential menace keep getting in the way. Meaning: playfulness is only possible when you've shrugged off the shadows, even if temporarily. 

Clinic has yet to do this, so their sound is crowded with dark delicious shadows, expressed by way of creepy clenched-teeth vocals, startling atonal guitar drenches, and organ flourishes from beyond the grave of an alternate universe. Indeed, it's the organ that plays a pivotal role in Clinic's sonic aesthetic, and on "Free Reign" it's as prominent as ever. It's one feature that can either please or peeve, and for me too much organ saturates Clinic's sound in a prosaic "haunted house" aura, while a steady infusion of angular guitars (as on the brilliant "Visitations" ) carves out a sense of palpable aggression. 

Clinic's namesake implies a surgical approach to creating music, and it's true the technical aspects in the band's music are fastidiously precise. Too, Clinic performs in scrubs replete with face masks, and their performances can be robotic. But Clinic is also chaotically inclined, embracing a sort of reined-in anarchic fervor. 

It's artful music that verges on playfulness, except those damn shadows keep eclipsing the sun.


King Kong

Immersive But Not Subversive

Washed Out is hardly a household name, and yet millions know the music of Washed Out, without even being cognizant of the fact. A little show by the name of "Portlandia" features the opening strains of Washed Out's pillowy synthesized beat, "Feel It All Around."

Ironic, too, that Washed Out was chosen to fly the musical banner for the hipster-mockery of the century, given that Ernest Greene, aka Washed Out, is from Perry, Georgia, not exactly the hub of hipster skank.

I am not terribly well versed in the previous efforts of this "chillwave" pioneer, but I do like what I have heard. However, I have fallen in love with his new effort, "Paracosm," a cohesive collection of langorously ethereal tunes that radiate warmth while simultaneously dripping with an icicle chill. This apparent paradox becomes nullified when you immerse yourself in these fluidly languid tunes. It makes sense, in other words, that you feel at once wrapped in a blanket of smooth solar sonics and yet ever so slightly shivery. 

Some comparisons to Coldplay have been made with this newest effort, which may be merited to a point, but rest assured that Washed Out is far less maudlin, far more restrained, and vastly more nuanced than Coldplay could ever hope to be. 

Washed Out may not be sonically subversive, but nor is Earnest Greene overtly vying for commercial acclaim. He makes quietly absorbing music which embraces us with its glacial glow.


It Feels All Right

Street Hunx 

Hunx and His Punx is one of those bands that a person could easily write off due to their seemingly gimmicky sonic and sartorial persona, but rest assured that their sloppy, arty, nostalgia-infused garage punk absolves the musicians from accusations of disingenuousness. Aural absolution as it were...and a sweet one at that. The tunes are scratchy and catchy, veering trippily between Sonics-style ear-spankings and more mellow Motown-esque melodies. The 50s and 60s play prominently here, and yet one never feels plunged inexorably into the nostalgia vortex, for uber-modern profanity also reigns, as in "Everyone's a Pussy, Fuck You Too." The brash bravado on display in these songs is tempered by a festive bouyancy that was glaringly lacking in, say, the hardcore tunes of the 80s, which do nevertheless manage to sneak in undertones. For you cannot really have punk songs without the influence of hardcore, can you? But Hunx and His Punx are not interested in reviving that genre, but rather, like the Black Lips and Ty Seagall, want to propel punk forward by looking backward. The difference is, Hunx and His Punx are having loads of ridiculous fun while still making meaningful music.


Street Punk Trilogy

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