Blank Banshee – MEGA REVIEW

The year is 21XX. The world has been overrun by robots. Tumblr is the base code installed into every single individual, and it is through this that the robots base all our their human traits; they feel emotions like love and depression, and they find momentary escapes with drugs. The main word that’s on every robot’s lips is “aesthetic”. The skies are awash with burning hot pinks and lush blues. Images of statues and marble busts flash behind robots’ eyelids, and the world stutters and jumbles like it never really upgraded past Windows 95. Within this world, a billboard with a purple-pink gradient and a neon comet pasted over it stands tall. Aside the comet is a caption:

D O  Y O U  K N O W  W H E R E  Y O U R  C H I L D R E N  A R E ?

Now that we got that out of the way, I’d like to say that I’ve appreciated Blank Banshee for several years since I stumbled into the virtual plaza of the vaporwave scene with the assistance of the meme-infested Soundcloud subculture that I was actively a part of around three years ago. I was interested by how Blank Banshee was rooted within vaporwave’s aesthetic but so sonically different that he was able to carve his own niche.

His debut album Blank Banshee 0 is, in the eyes of many, one of the most influential albums in the genre. It generally followed the rules of vaporwave but, like the misunderstood, parent-hating, and borderline-sociopathic millennials that love it so much, broke said rules to incorporate beats with trap influences and even live instrumentation with bass guitars. This artistic springboarding birthed the subgenre of “vaportrap” that encouraged other producers to stretch the mold they were working with, and Blank Banshee gets all the respect in the world from me for that.

BB’s follow-up album, Blank Banshee 1, took his sound in a much broodier and more experimental direction that I wasn’t exactly head-over-heels for, which made me all the more curious when I found out that he had put out a new album called MEGA. I didn’t whether it would hearken back to or continue down the dark rabbit hole that was slipping into, which made me both excited and nervous to see what the album offered.

While listening to the album, I took the following notes:

After listening to the album, I found myself considerably underwhelmed.

MEGA goes not in a darker direction, but a more intimate and humanized direction. The contrast between the evoked emotions and the electronics producing said emotions stirs something that Daft Punk unsuccessfully tried to do on Human After All–the idea of how “human” computer-controlled music can sound.

It’s an interesting concept exhibited with some level of flair, but the side of the album that it dominates happens to be the most lackluster, in my eyes. I found much more enjoyment in the tracks at the start of the album that just showed the world that BB was back and still at the top of his game; it’s when the album starts to experiment to such extents that it turns me off.

Another thing that struck me is how pitifully short all of MEGA‘s tracks are; each song is around 1-2 minutes with absolutely no exceptions, when he’s had seemingly no problem straying outside of that range like on 0, which has some songs that are closer to 3 minutes. This decision hindered BB’s abilities to develop the ideas of his tracks, and it seemed like it was not the sufficient time that I needed to be sold on it.

If you came expecting a trip into the virtual plaza, you’re not exactly going to get it here (and why are you listening to Blank Banshee anyway?), and if you enjoyed or and came expecting more or less the same thing, you’re better off listening to one of the producers that serve as the fruit from Blank Banshee’s loins.

ConsensusMEGA has a bold artistic and sonic direction that leads to a multitude of enjoyable moments, but the intense and needlessly rushed experimentation onset by this direction leads to an alienating experience that makes the album falter.

Favorite tracks: Basically all of tracks 1-6 and “XENOS”

Least favorite track: idk like “JUNO”…if I had to choose

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Crystal Castles – Self-Titled REVIEW

Crystal Castles’ self-titled album is more of an exercise in patience than anything.

I didn’t really expect to be listening to chiptune-infused music outside of YouTube, but here we are.

Crystal Castles is a band composed of producer Ethan Kath and singer Edith Frances–although the album I’ll be reviewing features original singer Alice Glass–that has the look and aesthetic of, say, an underground punk band; however, the actual sound they stand behind is a heavy contrast to that–although the aesthetic is still there. There’s no emphasis on guitar crunches, and focus is instead drawn to bleeps, bloops, and 8-bit synth lines and melodies. It’s essentially a few pegs edgier than a soundtrack for an obscure Nintendo game, to oversimplify things.

My summary of the band’s sound seems simple enough, but there’s ample experimentation on top of that that makes their self-titled debut album…interesting. This is an album with a direction that can only be summarized as “fluid” and “hit-or-miss”. Kath’s production paves paths to laidback instrumentals and uncomfortably in-your-face songs. If you couldn’t tell from my descriptions, I take far more of a liking to the instrumentals; they don’t feel like they have to impress me as much. Songs like “Magic Spells” and “Knights” are relaxing and deserve to be put on any person’s “summer sunsets” playlist like orphans deserving a home away from an orphanage that’s not treating them too well.

While the instrumentals make up a good portion of the album, those don’t really negate the worse side of the album, which is dominated by songs of quicker tempos where Alice Glass’ clearly brickwalled voice struggles to maintain supremacy like a person trying to jump over the shoulder of someone clearly taller than them. This can be seen on the horrifically mastered “Alice Practice”, which follows the fun and accessible opener “Untrust Us” (one of my favorite tracks on the album) to give listeners a fuller picture of what they’re going to get with this album. (It was the band’s first hit song for some reason.) And don’t even get me started on the truly abysmal “Xxzxcuzx Me”, which is as much a travesty to hear as it is to read.

After the album’s numerous ups and downs, it has a shocking moment of clarity with the song “Tell Me What to Swallow”. It allows the established sounds we’ve been accustomed to take a backseat while acoustic guitars and Glass’ reverb- and delay-drenched vocals paint a strikingly beautiful picture that brings the album to a plaintive, pensive close. It’s a complete sonic departure, but its starkness combined with its vulnerability in light of the tracks preceding it makes for an astonishingly fitting finale.

Ultimately, Crystal Castles’ self-titled album is more of an exercise in patience than anything. It sees how much glitched-out crap you’re willing to sit through to experience the nuggets of greatness that lie nested within the album. It’s truly a shame that these moments of greatness are so few and fairly far between (mainly since it’s organized like the band handed the tracklist to someone with ADD and asked them to make the final touches), but it’s not a complete waste of time nor is it one of the finest albums I’ve heard in the past few years.

Consensus: While their electropop-edged chiptune sound boasts originality, Crystal Castles’ self-titled debut is a dizzyingly kaleidoscopic ride where quality is not guaranteed, nor is it consistent.

6.5/10

Favorite tracks: “Untrust Us”, “Vanished”, “Knights”, “Magic Spells”, “Tell Me What to Swallow”

Least favorite track: “Xxzxcuzx Me”

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Arca – Mutant REVIEW

I didn’t think I was going to like this album as much as I did.

Never have I seen an album with such an apt name.

You may primarily know Venezuelan electronic music producer Arca not by his solo work, but by his contributions to other artists’ work; he lend some notable hands to the production on Kanye West’s Yeezus, Björk’s Vulnicura, and numerous works by FKA twigs. He was on my horizon for a long time, and judging by the cover art of his albums alone, I was subliminally conditioning myself to weirdness. In retrospect, I didn’t condition myself enough.

Arca’s Mutant is some of the most experimental and truly off-kilter music I’ve ever had the privilege to listen to, and this is coming from someone who enjoys Aphex Twin and IDM–sorry, braindance–as a whole. It wobbles, reverberates, rumbles, clangs, and pounds like the sonic equivalent of the death throes of a mutant.

Its nightmarish, distorted, and discomfort-inducing soundscapes are spacey and abstract yet are nevertheless brought together by an animalistic need for rhythm communicated through disjointed swings and garbled grooves. The album is aggressive and dark at some points, and pensive at others. All of these sounds come together to create a world where warm, bubbling synths live in harmony with distorted roars, and a world that’s best consumed and explored as a whole and not through individual tracks. (This has upsides and downsides. When I go back to this album to re-enjoy certain songs, the wholeness of the album in its complete form will probably be negated and the songs’ effects will no longer be compounded.) It’s a world so mesmerizing that even though it by all means shouldn’t work–it does.

I didn’t think I was going to like this album as much as I did. I went into it expecting meticulously arranged nonsense, and that’s exactly what I got–but it sounded good and gave me a reason to keep listening, although it disturbed the hell out of me upon first listen. The album’s scattershot natures combined with its just-over-an-hour runtime made me doubt whether following its twisted, gnarled footsteps to the end would be worth it; I admittedly found myself drudging through certain parts of Mutant‘s second half, and while the soft-spoken album closer “Peonies” isn’t my least favorite song, the penultimate song “Soichiro” would’ve made a far more satisfying finale.

Perhaps it’s not on the “seeing through to the heart of the album so everything makes sense” levels of Trout Mask Replica, but Mutant is definitely an album for a select few, and I’m happy to be a member of said select few.

Consensus: As abhorrent and abrasive as it is addictive, Arca’s Mutant is an enthralling and rewarding listen as well as a refreshing, unabashed push in an unforeseen direction for the genres of experimental electronica and IDM.

8.5/10

Favorite tracks: “Front Load”, “Mutant”, “Vanity”, “Soichiro”, “En”, “Enveloped”

Least favorite track: “Gratitud”

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Sigur Rós – Valtari REVIEW

Let me tell you some backstory about my life. In recent times, I’ve been very hung up on an existential and perhaps borderline-nihilistic “so what?” concerning the meaning of life and whether or not our actions as one collective race, no matter how grand or minute, will carry on into eons to come. As rambunctious as life can be, it always boils down to the same concepts of inescapable futility, no matter how many times people will try to instil optimism in you to distract you from that truth. If I wanted a more morbid laugh out of life, I’d get together with an epilepsy support group and host a screening of the Gaspar Noe film Enter the Void, but that’s besides the point.

I’ve been a fan of the Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós for a good number of months now, and after listening to their 2012 album Valtari, I can officially say that this is such a beautiful album that it makes me forget that we’re all dying slowly.

When I listen to a song such as “Varúð” or “Dauðalogn” or even the title track (but especially “Varúð”), it fills me with a irrational hope and resolve that neither I nor the human race will probably ever live up to. As the lush soundscapes pass through my ears, it puts light into my vacant soul and reminds me that there’s more to life than dead-end jobs and punch-clock routines. This is an album that lives in the first few groggy seconds that you’re awake after your alarm clock goes off. It makes you feel like you have to listen to it in the fetal position naked in the middle of a dewy forest to really tap into all of its emotion. In general, every song is beautiful. Except “Rembihnútur”. That song is like the “Electioneering” of Valtari; it ruins an otherwise perfect album.

Sigur Rós’ sound exists on a spectrum, much like something else, apparently. Ágætis byrjun fell into the trend of sophomore albums serving as utmost refinements of whatever sound was attempted on the debut album, just like The Bends, for example, and is in general a very gentle and soft-spoken album. ( ) and Takk were more direct and had a bipolar focus between intimate softness and more energetic rock, leading to this evolved sound being stripped down even further on Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust.

However, Valtari functions as the band’s softest output yet and perhaps their best. And judging from what I’m seeing online, this album is criminally underrated. But hey, whatever floats your boat. (audience explodes with laughter)

Consensus: With Valtari, Sigur Rós invites listeners on a staggeringly beautiful journey that strikes a perfect blend between gentle and demanding.

9/10

Favorite tracks: “Varúð”, “Dauðalogn”, “Valtari”

Flying Lotus – Until the Quiet Comes REVIEW

This album is essentially the soundtrack to a lucid dream.

I’m gonna make this quick before I forget everything I’m gonna say.

Flying Lotus is one of my musical heroes, and an influence on me as both a lover and a producer of music. The way that his unmistakable and choppy yet fluid swing breaks through any palette of sounds that he’s working with on is pretty incredible, and it’s been cool to see him and his production style evolve throughout the years that have passed since the “baggage room” bump and the Reset EP. It’s still mind-boggling to see him in the credits of a Kendrick Lamar album.

Cosmogramma is one of my all-time favorite albums, and that is certainly no dismissal of some of his other albums such as Los Angeles, but a special interest of mine was piqued towards his album Until the Quiet Comes. It was a mature, bold, and freeform step into unexplored ground for FlyLo, and it seemed too big for my young mind to swallow when I stumbled upon it.

Until the Quiet Comes is a jazzier and groovier effort than the bitcrushed bleep-blap beats that I am accustomed to and sorta perceive as synonymous with FlyLo. It’s kind of like how To Pimp a Butterfly was to good kid, m.A.A.d city–but perhaps that’s comparing apples with oranges. FlyLo’s normal style of production helps listeners get settled in at the start of the album, takes a backseat during the jam seshes that provide the bulk of the album, and then triumphantly returns around the end.

It also has a Thom Yorke feature.

Sounds pile up and coalesce with one another like vestiges of memories melting into one another within the confines of one’s mind on UTQC, and songs segue smoothly into each other in a very similar fashion. Bits of one song can be heard in another song, even if it’s on the other side of the album. Additionally, the album has structure; “All In” and “Dream to Me” respectively represent an intro and outro, and there are also considerably short tracks throughout UTQC that seem to function as interludes. My mind ended up drifting to J Dilla’s Donuts when thinking about them, for whatever reason. They’re intriguing at best (“Until the Colours Come”, “Sultan’s Request”) and throwaways at worst (“DMT Song”).

Also, there’s a Thom Yorke feature.

Although sounds pretty much run amok on this thing, there is an underlying connection through its dreamy textures and ethereal atmospheres that are omnipresent during the energetic first half and the more subdued second half. In that sense, this album is essentially the soundtrack to a lucid dream. Its dreaminess begs for it to be listened to at night, perhaps while staring at the sky that you are soon to be drowned in by the music. However, that’s a setback for me.

While it’s pretty sonically cohesive, the general mood of UTQC is very austere and limited. One of the reasons why I love Cosmogramma is the roulette of different moods that spins round during the album. There are upbeat tracks like “Computer Face / Pure Being” and “Galaxy in Janaki” as well as more mellow and downtrodden tracks like “…And the World Laughs With You” and “Mmmhmm”. Perhaps FlyLo intended to do this so as to bolster the listening experience, but it’s something that I couldn’t shake off.

Did I mention there was a Thom Yorke feature? Because there’s a Thom Yorke feature.

Speaking of the listening experience, I pretty much mentally checked out during the entire second half of the album. For an album that emphasizes minimalism so much, you’d think that it would know when to stop; it curls itself into a fetal position so tightly that it soon forgets to stretch. As a result, things start sounding repetitive, and that’s something I hate to say about a FlyLo album. Maybe he programmed the album so people would fall asleep halfway through so they wouldn’t have to hear the rest.

Wow. Even I thought that was harsh.

Consensus: Through newfound jazz elements and experimentation, Until the Quiet Comes has a commendable minimalist focus on atmosphere, groove, and simplicity, but that same simplicity ends up being its undoing. At least it has a Thom Yorke feature.

7/10

Favorite tracks: “Getting There”, “Tiny Tortures”, “All the Secrets”, “Putty Boy Strut”, “Until the Quiet Comes”, “The Nightcaller”

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