Tag Archives: electronic

Sigur Rós’s KVEIKUR

Sigur Rós

Call the genre whatever you want (art-rock, post-rock, experimental, ambient, downright tasty), Iceland’s Sigur Rós is one of the best bands of the current generation.  Big claim, I know, but Kveikur only solidifies the band’s stature as one of the genre’s best.  If you like Sigur Rós, go ahead and pick this record up.

In past years, Sigur Ros has been criticized for having a “formula”.  If you’re a fan of the band, you probably have some idea of what this formula is: soft, atmospheric music, swelling chord changes, and a gigantic build up that leaves the song on a massive crescendo.  Perhaps the band has been aware of their critics.  Since 2008’s Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust, the band has retreated from their past “slow-burn to explosive finale” tendencies.  Their 2008 record found the band attempting to write more conventional pop songs (well, what would be pop for Sigur Ros, I suppose), and 2012’s Valtari was an exercise in decrescendos.  Valtari (a record I love), was created around music starting somewhat big and working its way down – the album even ends on a 3-song streak in which each proceeding song is a bit softer and a bit more minimalist than the last.  For this reason, coupled with the loss of multi-instrumentalist Kjartan Sveinsson, I was prepared for a minimalist exercise with Kveikur.

Earlier in the year, the band released “Brennisteinn” as their single to promote Kveikur.  This feels a bit misleading (not dishonest though) – the single doesn’t really represent what the album sounds like, but rather, it indicates that Sigur Ros is still tooling around with their sound.  To put another way, the rest of Kveikur doesn’t sound like “Brennisteinn” – instead, it seems to be an assurance that we aren’t getting another Valtari, or another ( ), or another Von.  Because this song leads the album, it starts Kveikur off with a near-industrial crunch.  At almost 8-minutes, it’s one of the most unexpected turns for the band.

Similarly, second-released single “Ísjaki” isn’t as representative either.  Ísjaki is busy in ways that most of Kveikur isn’t, and Jonsi’s vocals constantly keep the melody moving along.  But these two singles together tell the story of Kveikuer perfectly – many of the moments on Kveikur are characterized by poppy melodies thrown against a jagged backdrop.  The title track for example has Jonsi singing incredibly catchy vocals over distorted electronics.  These moments give the album’s cover (a boy holding an old gas mask over his face) some context.  Other tracks like “Yfirborð” and “Stormur” try to strike a similar balance, with Jonsi staying squarely in the spotlight this time around, rather than letting the music play on without him like we’ve seen in past releases.

The band continues toying with its sound, so there is plenty of new things to hear here though.  Musically, this record feels like a mix between Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust and Valtari – these songs are perhaps a bit more straight-forward than the Sigur Rós we are used to, but every song is loaded with a healthy dose of atmosphere.  By the time the closer “Var” comes around, it feels like we can finally rest.  It’s a quiet, ambient track that gives listeners a chance to reflect – so much of Kveikur is loaded with business, it feels somewhat relieving to have this moment before circling around back to “Brennisteinn.”

If you haven’t liked anything you’ve heard by Sigur Rós so far, you probably won’t find much on Kveikur to change your mind.  For fans of the band though, this album is a must-hear.  Don’t let the lead track “Brennisteinn” scare you away – there’s plenty here of the band you know and love, but there’s also plenty that you’ve never heard from them before.  This might be my favorite of their’s since 2005’s Takk…

Notable tracks to download/sample: “Ísjaki”, “Yfirborð”, and “Kveikur”

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Atoms for Peace: AMOK

 

AMOK Atoms for PeaceThis record has been a long time coming. Atoms for Peace initially began when (Radiohead’s) Thom Yorke took his solo record on tour. The band’s sound adopted a good deal from Yorke’s solo album THE ERASER: it’s sometimes paranoid, sometimes jittery, sometimes claustrophobic. If Yorke’s name wasn’t enough, Atoms for Peace sure has the pedigree of a great band: (The Red Hot Chili Peppers’) Flea commands the bass, (Ultraista and Radiohead’s producer) Nigel Godrich plays guitar, (Ultraista and Beck) drummer Joey Waronker provides half of the percussion with Mauro Refosco laying down most of the electronic beats. The band’s music is an interesting mix of electronic and material music, a nd it is often hard to tell where the real percussion stops and the electronic percussion begins.

Some of this material is pretty old, and band members have hinted that they have been sitting on it for a while now before its release. “Judge, Jury, and Executioner” was debuted in 2009 (it shares no relation with the similar Radiohead song). AMOK was created within a handful of days – the writing process for the band started with all musicians in the studio, free-form jamming without creating “takes” or stopping. Afterwards, the hours of material that they created was gleaned through, and the members picked out parts they thought were particularly interesting or beautiful. This makes for a great academic exercise, but what about a great music-listening experience?

The problem with AMOK is also its strength. The album is concerned primarily with being interesting: achieving new sounds, creating strange transitions, using instrumentation in different ways. The chief concern here is not the listener. Many of these songs are pleasant, but they often lack the melody that will keep you coming back for more. It reminds me a good deal of Radiohead’s last record, THE KING OF LIMBS, which was often jittery and songs sometimes lacked a clear throughline. Now, of course, all music doesn’t need to be a verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus traditional song, but the real joy of AMOK comes from approaching the music in a cerebral way. This isn’t good background music, but it is good music to find yourself in if you’re willing to. If you are a listener that appreciates the way music is put together, there’s a lot on this record that you may find of intrigue.

It’s hard not to compare this Atoms for Peace record in the grand scale of Radiohead/Thom Yorke projects – in many ways, it is truly its own beast. Even though there will be plenty of sounds that you’ve heard before in past records, there’s enough new stuff here to keep listeners guessing and interested. The album opens with “Before Your Very Eyes,” and it’s a perfect example of what listeners are in for: the song begins with a shaky guitar-riff that twists and turns into an electronic sound, and it’s heard to distinguish when one sound ceases and another begins – there’s so much going on, so many layers, that you can pick up on new pieces with each listen. “Dropped” gives a stuttering synth that opens up over Mauro Refosco’s percussion. “Unless” sounds like a cut from Yorke’s THE ERASER. Some songs never really quite congeal: “Reverse Running,” “Judge, Jury, and Executioner,” and “Ingenue” generally stick with a musical idea throughout their duration, but they seem to be AMOK’s weakest tracks.

Overall, AMOK didn’t hit all of the right spots for me. It’s a good record, and it’s definitely worth a listen, but it’s hard for me to believe that someone would opt for this over Flying Lotus, or other Radiohead albums. If you’re looking for a good electronic band inspired by Afrobeat, I would recommend Joey Waronker & Nigel Godrich’s other band, Ultraista. Ultraista is a bit more accessible, and a bit more poppy; it may not be as interesting, but it’s a more enjoyable record for my money.

Songs to sample/download: “Default”, “Before Your Very Eyes”, “Stuck Together Pieces.”

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