Welcome to Quigs’ Quickies, a new weekly column where Quigs reviews an assortment of random albums that cross his desk in an effort to try and listen to as much of what 2013 has to offer as possible. Enjoy, and be sure to recommend albums you’d like to see him tackle in the next instalment!
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City
A painstakingly deliberate album. The boys in Vampire Weekend decide to take it very slow with this release and almost completely abandon the hyper-stylized kinetic surf-meets-indie-rock sound of old and replace it with a moodier, sombre approach. Sure, there are moments of happiness that threaten to produce a smile or positive thought, but sadly the whole album is so dreary that it never really reaches any sort of apex. What’s worse is that there is a strong disconnect between morose music and actual genuine emotion felt. Your ears recognize that the songs should probably make you feel something, but tragically it fails on every level. Clearly Vampire Weekend have attempted to emulate the success of indie folk rock titans Mumford & Sons (who they’re currently touring with), but embarrassingly forgot to include any real or genuine emotion.
Overall it makes the entire experience underwhelming and despite the album picking up a little towards the end with “Finger Back” and “Worship You” (acting as an all too brief reprieve from the disingenuous monotony that surrounds them) it’s all a case of too little, too late and consequently, not enough to salvage the mood that Modern Vampires Of The City is trying so desperately to evoke.
In fairness there are some interesting moments liberally scattered throughout, and some of the delicate keyboard moments that are intricately woven with plucked guitar are ever so slightly sensuous, but ultimately it doesn’t equate to much. Vampire Weekend have left behind what made them a remotely interesting property, instead trying and subsequently failing to mimic their peers within the indie rock scene. An incredibly tiresome shame.
Best tracks – Finger Back, Worship You
Dark Sermon – In Tongues
Dark Sermon are an incredibly promising young band. Their music is deceptively good, suggesting that the band are a lot older and more experienced than they actually are. Sonically they draw most of their influence from The Black Dahlia Murder and Behemoth, sounding like a bizarrely cohesive blend of the two very different styles. Vocalist Johnny Crowder may not be capable of some of the more ridiculous vocal acrobatics performed by veterans of the scene like Trevor Stmad, but his passion and venom more than make up for it. While listening to In Tongues it really does feel quite special.
This is a debut album from a group of very inexperienced guys who have managed to craft an album that they should be proud of, managing to marry two very different sounds and create music that they can proudly call their own. They bring the heaviness and great headbanging riffs from the American melodic death metal scene, but fuse it with the inherent darkness found in European blackened death metal, creating a very foreboding and oppressive atmosphere.
Saying all of this though, Dark Sermon are a band that still have some growing left to do, but from what is presented here these guys have the potential to go very far in this industry.
Best songs – Hounds, Cursed
Hans Zimmer – Man Of Steel OST
At this stage in the game it is impossible to doubt the talents of Hans Zimmer. The illustrious German composer has been working in the film industry since the early eighties and in that time he has composed soundtracks for over 100 films. His tireless work ethic has made him one of the most celebrated and widely recognized composers in the business. As of late he has become particularly famous through his collaborations with British auteur Christopher Nolan, due in no small part to the massive hook laden scores he composed for The Dark Knight trilogy and Inception.
It was practically already set in stone then that Zimmer would end up working on Man Of Steel, the latest attempt to bring Superman kicking and screaming into the consciousness of present day audiences. The end result was a mostly positive mixed bag, one of its greatest strength being the incredible score that Zimmer has written. Despite being up against the odds of having to replace the iconic John Williams‘ original, Zimmer has risen to the challenge and smashed it into the stratosphere (or through a Wayne Industries satellite).
Listening to it without the visual accompaniment doesn’t lessen its impact either. This soundtrack is truly sensational, flowing as one beautiful, cohesive piece of music that sets the imagination racing and the tears flowing. Trying to isolate favourite tracks is like trying to choose between children. Immerse yourself in this album and you won’t regret it.
Best tracks: The whole damn thing.
Kanye West – Yeezus
Kanye West is one of biggest names in hip hop in the entire world, so regardless of what he releases many people are going to stand up and take note. His sixth full length effort, Yeezus has attracted a lot of attention and hype as of late due to it’s extreme sensibilities and minimalistic approach. Even down to the artwork West has sought to strip back all of the flash and present an album that is incredibly dark and honest.
Lyrically, this album is not for the faint of heart, as it is by far his most misogynistic release, which seems pertinent considering that while his pregnant girlfriend is home alone dealing with the stress he’s halfway across the world recording an album and rapping about her pussy. There are a couple of small factual inaccuracies in his lyrics that may irk some of the more vigilant of you (for example, the “300 soldiers” were Greek Spartans, not Romans), but these can be forgiven considering the overall quality of the music.
Yeezus is a remarkably stripped down affair, choosing to focus on haunting and simplistic compositions over the bombast normally encountered in mainstream hip hop. This has left a lot of people in that realm rather confounded, some even believing that what West has accomplished here is revolutionary. While it’s certainly commendable that a star with as high a public profile as West would release an album like this, it is by no means a new landmark for hip hop. If anything, it’s made clear that West has spent his time listening to the sensational experimental hip hop group, Death Grips (and their peers), who have developed a large following in the metal community (of all places) due to their harsh sound and the no compromise punk rock ethic that they bring to their music. It’s remarkable that a massively successful artist would want to try and emulate an independent group such as Death Grips, but that’s what makes Yeezus a truly interesting record.
Overall, the album has a remarkably solid flow present throughout. The first half of songs are more aggressive than the latter, although the melodies present on some later tracks such as “Blood On The Leaves” and “Guilt Trip” are incredibly gripping. Whether it’s the abrasive clattering beats of “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves” or the vitriolic rhymes spat out about race issues and women those songs are both powerful statements and aggressive anthems. “I Am God” is the most peculiar of the three, sandwiched in the middle it’s seemingly a close to four minute masturbatory exercise of arrogance, yet at the end it devolves into a stirring melodic musical piece, that quickly gives way into repeated, breathless high pitched screaming that will likely throw a wrench in proceedings for most mainstream rap fans.
It’s genuinely surprising that the mega rich superstar is still able to conjure that much fire and passion for his music, so much so that it overrides any distaste one may have towards his notorious ego and less than desirable personality. Provided you can look past the flawed man behind the music and some of the more vulgar content within, Yeezus is not quite the bold new step for hip hop as a whole, but it’s a brave release in a realm as uniformly stale as the mainstream hip hop charts. If you hate the man this won’t likely change your mind, but if you’ve never listened to experimental hip hop before this may just give you a well deserved kick up the backside.
Best tracks: Black Skinhead, I Am A God, New Slaves, Guilt Trip
Amon Amarth – Deceiver Of The Gods
You would be excused for assuming that you’d already heard everything that Amon Amarth have to offer with their music, and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong either. The Swedish melodic death metal giants certainly haven’t stepped far outside their comfort zone in quite some time, with each subsequent album being a little weaker than the last, leaving a certain section of fans disappointed. Amon Amarth are one of the most consistent bands in metal, and one that continues to get away with it for the most part.
Their last album Surtur Rising was a solid effort, but cracks in their Viking armour were beginning to show as it was just too similar to previous outings. Doubts in the ranks began to spread; would Amon Amarth be able to return to form or continue their trend of diminishing returns?
It’s fitting then that the band return with their ninth album, as a seemingly revitalized force of nature. In short, Deceiver Of The Gods is the best album they’ve put out in years and will not disappoint fans – in fact, it may even snare a few new ones. Structurally, the album follows the exact same course that the band’s discography does, the difference is that everything is seemingly performed with far more veracity and determination to deliver a superior product. The percussion is devastating, the riffs feel fresh and hit hard with wave after wave of sonic force. Johan Hegg‘s vocals continue to defy nature by sounding stronger as he gets older, rather than slip like so many other metal veterans have done. One of the album’s highlights include a rousing guest vocal contribution from ex-Candlemass singer Messiah Marcolin, whose powerful, operatic tone juxtaposes Hegg’s vicious roars in an extremely compelling way.
All in all, while the album art is actually one of their worst, musically the album is one of their best, so it balances out nicely. Amon Amarth don’t redefine melodic death metal, but they sure as hell remind you why you liked them in the first place.