I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.
(Visual Music, 2009)
I’m a sucker for French bands. I think it’s partly because there are so few French rock bands – those that have incorporated traditional rock and indie and punk sounds with their own cultural contributions – that I can really get behind. I didn’t even realize Radius System was French at first. Could’ve fooled me. I’d had their Escape/Restart album for a while by the time I got Almost Nothing EP, but it still went over my head. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that I now had a new French band to root for, and their Deftones/Smashing Pumpkins/Hum hybrid sound (“Radius System scratches, burns, and blends rock structures, electronic beats, cinematic ambiances and space rock epics, to deliver intense and colourful music” – from their website) is a worthy addition to the dark/heavy mood rotation. “Far From Truth” is almost seven minutes of buildup, beginning with piano and vocals, while other instruments – guitar, drums – gradually enter. At around the four-minute mark we’re treated to what sounds like the crest of the tension, but the band pauses and instead of changing the dynamics goes back to the piano-and-vocal-led vibe ending on an emotive and impassioned vocal performance, the band matching the singer in melodrama. It all works really well. “Easter (Part 2)” is a brief bit of ambience, but the record really takes off with “Present Perfect,” which rocks hard. Pounding rhythms and manic high-string strumming build to a screamy, headbanging finale. Possibly my favorite song they’ve done so far. Well, favorite original song – a cover of Portishead’s “Machine Gun” follows, and it’s equally awesome, the insistent titular rhythm impossible to ignore as anything other than brilliant (and even though Portishead wrote it, Radius System kills it). “Mental Guides (PreLence Remix)” is a murky reworking of a song from Escape/Restart, but it’s not better than the original. The EP’s rounded out by two remixes – weirdly, they’re both reworkings of songs Radius System did for other bands: Radiohead’s “Reckoner” and I’m From Barcelona’s “Music Killed Me.” Both are completely out of place and unnecessary – “Reckoner” isn’t much different from the original: it’s slower, the vocals are mostly stripped away but what’s still there is unmistakably Thom Yorke – there’s no way to envision it’s even possibly Radius System anymore, and in my opinion shouldn’t be included here. I’m not familiar with I’m From Barcelona (hate their name – although as I’ve detailed below, I should at least listen to them instead of writing them off), so it’s hard to get taken as far out of the feel as the Radiohead remix does, but it too doesn’t work. So, all in all, there are a couple songs on Almost Nothing that are worth hearing – and you can download them from the band: http://radius-system.bandcamp.com/album/almost-nothing-ep
Yes, Automassage has a weird name, and I have no idea where it came from. There’s probably some translation lost – the band members are Slovenian – and so it’s easier to forgive – OK, I’m just going to say it – the awful name. That and the fact that the band’s produced a highly interesting EP, easy to digest on repeat listens. I almost blew it because of that name – it took me a while to download it from 12rec, but once I realized their connection to ambient artist Neuf Meuf and fellow Slovenian rockers Slon, I decided to give it a whirl. And, title aside, “ambience” this is not. “Vortex Diva” sounds like Standards-era Tortoise, its 3/4 beat complementing a circling guitar pattern until overdrive kicks in and grooves it up a notch or eight. But then it’s quickly apparent why this record is so interesting: each track differs greatly from one to the next. “Alice” is slow and creepy compared to “Vortex Diva,” as the queasy guitar melody spins sloppily around the rhythm, accompanied toward the end of the track by controlled feedback, and a vocal treated to sound like a sample enhances the sense of vertigo. “Pfeffer” is a short banjo/fiddle interlude track, and we’re back to Tortoise territory on “Automassage” before EP centerpiece “Ert,” in which field recordings and horns, whether real or synthesized, build up layer upon layer. At the 2:30 mark, it all explodes like a post rock dynamic shift, but only takes 1:40 to finish (rather than, you know, the usual 10 or so minutes a post rock track takes to wind down). “There Is No Milk in the Clouds Anymore” is a solid rocker, a stylistic instrumental mix between Fugazi and Pattern Is Movement. “Črepinje” is a slow closer, but it bursts at the end with strange slide guitar and feedback. I cannot stress this enough: Ambience is weird enough yet accessible enough to check out. For anybody. So give it a shot, why don’tcha? Link!: http://www.12rec.net/Release_Automassage_048.htm
And a third European band! We’ve covered France, Slovenia, and now Italy, as My Silver Booster hails from Monza, near Milan. Their Myspace page’s banner reads “Ambient Punk,” as if it’s a mission statement for the band as a whole as opposed to just this EP. If that’s true, it may be that another English term has been lost in translation – there’s nothing “punk” about the sound of this ambient/post rock trio. Maybe “Ambient DIY” is a more apt descriptor. Regardless, this instrumental EP certainly has its ambient aspects, as “Piera” features a repeating guitar figure and a fairly simple programmed beat, enhanced here and there by synthesizer drones. “DCLN” is almost all guitar drones, with the clicking and then flanged rhythm sticking out as the focal point of the track. An interesting choice, to be sure. That flange makes a comeback later in the record on “La Prima,” but it’s the 1 Mile North-like “Felpa” that I can really zone out to – I find flange effects distracting. “Pimco” has what sounds like an actual drumbeat, and rocks a little harder than the rest for a brief bit. “L’Attacco” is reminiscent in structure of “DCLN,” but the drones are more obviously from synthesizers than guitar feedback, and the rhythm is less the focal point than the swirling tonal layers. And there’s more flange on closer “Osiris.” But despite that, this isn’t a bad background record. I give it a two thumbs “meh.”