Saturday, April 1, 2017

Past Greatness: March '17

Welcome to the fourth installment of Past Greatness, a monthly series I'll be doing showcasing great, older works. The one pre-requisite I have for this series is that I must have first listened to the album within the past month, or close enough to it. All albums listed below are of 8+ quality. This month's albums find me turning back the clock one decade. Broadcast's Tender Buttons, a classic representation of Indietronica. Fuck Buttons' Tarot Sport, a de-facto Electronic epic caught in the world wide web's hyper-speed. And The Knife's Silent Shout, a defiant Electropop work that found superbly danceable production compete with political fodder. 

Broadcast | Tender Buttons | Listen
2005 | Indietronica

The origins of Indietronica are quite adorable. They're also unavoidably pretentious, as some would call it, since cheap instrumentation composed of static, noise, and numerous quirks fulfilled much of the production. But can you blame struggling artists with no major label for wanting to make cutesy little diddy's that hinge on human infectiousness? If results like Broadcast's Tender Buttons is any indication, you better not. While I've yet to explore their other records, Tender Buttons always tried to snatch my attention, whether it be from that emblematic cover or the numerous songs that kept appearing as valid recommendations for acts like LCD Soundsystem, YACHT, and The Notwist. In a nutshell, this is the epitome of Indietronica. For outsiders not accustomed to appreciating oddness, it be safe to question whether Tender Buttons production was real or some strange result of a poor transcoding process whilst ripping it online. Don't fret, those bleeps, bloops, glitches, and static, all quite literal definers, are not only welcomed by Broadcast, but embraced.

And the result is excellent. A dastardly combination of catchy BitPop that wouldn't feel out of place on an ageless children's cartoon uploaded online after years of being forgotten, and vocals and lyrics that range from politics to romantic quandaries to hopelessness. Trish Keenen's steadfast appearance, which abstains from exerting any ounce of charisma, charm, or personality, feels like a direct conflict of interest to Tender Buttons' sometimes outlandish production. And it's exactly that unorthodox approach that makes for a memorable album. With only one song eclipsing the four-minute mark (and that's only because of a noise-induced fervor on 'Arc Of A Journey'), the countless ideas of Tender Buttons come and go like dreamscapes between human and robot fading in and out of consciousness. While there's no shortage of standout tracks ('America's Boy,' 'Michael A Grammar,' 'Tender Buttons'), I'm constantly attracted to the imposing infectiousness of 'Corporeal.' It has everything Tender Buttons stands for firing on all cylinders. Keenan's wonderfully imaginative lyrics, a bass line that seeps into your blood, a spastic synth solo, and haunting coo's to match the hook's whimsicalness. Listen to that track and tell me you wouldn't want to experience the rest of the album. Tender Buttons is a joy.

Fuck Buttons | Tarot Sport | Listen
2009 | Electronic

Has Minimal Techno lost all it's meaning? I say that, tongue firmly rooted in cheek, because despite representing that genre staunchly, Fuck Buttons' Tarot Sport is anything but minimal. Percussion pummels along like a train with unlimited coal to power it, noise screeches against its walls like hail rattling the windows, and synths collide and implode as if all of this somehow creates symphonic harmony. In fact, it does. Tarot Sport is a riotous amalgamation of Electronic and Noise, a result of decades of one-upmanship to the point where sounds transcend hyper-speed. 2009 was an apt year for it as well, caught right in the burgeoning era of Internet worship, where everything, from cute cats to violent deaths to troves of free music, flew through endless streams of imperceptible data streams. Apart from being vocal-less, Tarot Sport actually reminds me of Dan Deacon's Bromst, another 2009 Electronic epic that tested how fast robotic parts could move. Both represent the late 2000's era of bombastic Electronic quite nicely.

However, there's no denying that some tracks on Tarot Sport overstay their welcome. The reasoning for this? Fuck Buttons' 2008 record Street Horrrsing, which exhaustingly pounded Drone, Noise, and indecipherable screaming into listeners' ears for 50 minutes. In the oddest of ways, it's quite a beautiful project, but one that clearly wanted to pester our patience. That spills over into Tarot Sport, resulting in five of its seven tracks eclipsing the eight-minute mark. On top of that, thanks to the constant crescendo, damn near all of them feel as if they'd be better suited as the closer. Fuck Buttons makes really good closers, but only has one spot for them. This time around it's 'Flight Of The Feathered Serpent,' which, along with intro 'Surf Solar,' represent the best Tarot Sport has to offer. These tracks, along with 'Olympians' which is the mid-album climax, have me imagining a scenario in which a dog chases a stick of meat permanently looming five feet away from its face. He'll never get it, yet he keeps going. And while Tarot Sport, and each track inside it, has a definite end, they sure as hell don't feel like it.

The Knife | Silent Shout | Listen
2006 | Electropop

When I first sat down with The Knife's discography, a thought which I can only presume ran through many people's heads ran through mine as well; this girl sounds like Bjork. There's no denying the similarities, at times they're interchangeable. However, quickly into the group's self-titled debut I realized something marvelous; Karin Dreijer Andersson is essentially Bjork gone Pop. The Icelandic singer's uber-artsy side subsides, replaced by a bombastic hit-making machine. Both excel, and while I feel The Knife and Deep Cuts deserve more credit, The Knife's preeminent work Silent Shout still reigns supreme as it successfully retained the limitless catchiness of Andersson's melodies with highly-refined production qualities. Gone were the kitschy Kate Bush-like instrumentation (as seen on 'Kino' and 'Parade,' two songs I love mind you), and in their place, the dark side of Electropop as foretold by futuristic soundscapes and political fervor. To those aware of Antony Hegarty's 2016 LP with Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never, Hopelessness, Silent Shout's essentially the foundational precursor. Political firestorms come and go, all the while thumping bass, skittish synths, and yelping vocals force you to move your feet.

While the lyrical dexterity of Andersson didn't fluctuate all that much from The Knife's earlier works, her style found rejuvenated worth thanks to the production which took a substantial leap. Not only that, The Knife toyed with Andersson's vocals excessively, especially towards the back half of the LP on tracks like 'One Hit' and 'Still Light,' causing more variety to spark up, and weirdness to prevail. However, much like their earlier works, Silent Shout is at its best when Andersson and bandmate/brother Olof Dreijer unify to create some raucously catchy set pieces. The first comes on 'Neverland,' which places its lead foot securely on the pedal and never lets up. Then there's 'The Captain,' which teases for a few minutes before building to proper fulfillment, working wonders in the catchy department despite Andersson coming up with a new hook every time. 'We Share Our Mothers' Health' and 'Marble House,' the two lead singles, are massive Electropop hits, filling stadiums with soaring vocals and stretching bass. And while I prefer Silent Shout's first half chaos to the second's quieter selection, the entire product feels resoundingly complete because of it.

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