Mogwai - Every Country's Sun
Much has happened in Mogwai's self made sphere since their last proper studio album, the sub rosa assault Rave Tapes, three years ago. Guitarist John Cummings bid farewell in 2015 and the four remaining dark knights of Scotland have turned their music to cause of late, having composed scores for conscience leveling documentaries Atomic and Before the Flood. And still, with winds of change sweeping across their moors, much of what they have planted in massive scale for over two decades has remained and is just as immovable on their ninth studio album, Every Country's Sun.
Mogwai capture a lot of the raw rage of their '90s material while exhibiting a further evolution of a deft hand at electronic refinement. Theirs is still an onslaught with the slow deliberate swell of a tidal wave, bringing the same force. Then you ride an outward trajectory on "Party in the Dark" that follows the vapor trails of past redirected flights of prog fancy, "Mexican Grand Prix" and "San Pedro." But what you know with Mogwai is that there are face melters ready to pounce from behind the stone. On "Old Poisons" and "20 Size" they lean in with all their weight and will have you tapping out like member of fight club with a big bloody grin on your face. Dave Fridmann has returned to helm the production and they fall back into their old rhythm, recalling the Mogwai classics Come On Die Young and Rock Action he produced in the early days.
As ever, and with an unmistakable imprimatur, the gripping basslines echo beneath, surfacing from a place that sees no light. You can still hear those scratchy squeaks that are traces of bassist Dominic Aitchison's calloused fingers sliding over thick strings. Meanwhile, drummer Martin Bulloch is reliably unflinching, efficiently dropping sticks of granite that mark a territory for battle. Captain of the vessel Stuart Braithwaite leads again and his spare vocals are never more at home than in the desert acid trip of "1000 Foot Face," while the keystrokes of Barry Burns lend elegant emotive peaks. Not least, the closing title track may be the band's magnum opus. A bite has returned to the legends of post-rock who still rule at mercilessly bludgeoning you with relentless instrumentalism, then directly soothing you with ambient teas. (www.mogwai.co.uk)
Under the Radar’s 15th Anniversary: The Shins’ “Oh, Inverted World”
Celebrating Under the Radar's 15th Anniversary and the Best Albums of 2001
Under the Radar's very first print issue came out in December 2001. In honor of our 15th Anniversary some of our writers are reflecting on some of their favorite albums from 2001.
The first time I heard The Shins, like many who weren't actively hip to the new millennium bands, it was in the film Garden State (I know, join the club right?), a full three years after their debut, Oh, Inverted Worldrejuvenated a recognizable cast of folk-pop. The film's soundtrack, which won filmmaker Zach Braff deservedly high praise, was heightening in the way the one curated by Cameron Crowe for Singles was—its presence in the storytelling so tangible that it actually became a principal character. Who can forget the all time on screen icebreaker between Natalie Portman and Braff delivered in the sharing of The Shins' folk masterpiece "New Slang" during their doctor's office meet-cute? At a time when edgy sexiness seemed to be the bent of alternative music and the prefixes of post and garage were regularly applied in descriptors of style, here were The Shins, with an album that was unabashedly rooted in the songwriting ethos of Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney.
It's no surprise that "New Slang" and the exhilarating album launcher "Caring is Creepy" were chosen by Braff for his soundtrack, songs equally resonant, though in contrasting energies. On the latter, the practically unique pitch of author and orator, James Mercer, entering on the ascending whirlwinds of neo-psychedelic elements, sent euphoric shivers, portending something magical. The good vibes continued directly into "One By One All Day" with its rolling surf rock drumming that embodied the reeling wave, providing the endless ride. "Girl On the Wing," with bang-on syncing of guitar and snare jabs, punctuated spine-tingling vocal melodies. This intoxicating formula was shadowed on the briskly marching "Pressed in a Book," each song offering an alternative handle of the same fabric.
As for that balance and harmony achieved between vocal and instrumental output, it was striking considering Oh, Inverted World was a debut record. Sure, The Shins had formed five years earlier, but originated as a side project from Mercer's band, The Flakes, and was simply a duo that included that band's drummer, Jesse Sandoval. The cohesiveness and continuity of artistry sounded of a group seasoned and tried. And the spontaneous wisps of organ, aquatic xylophone, and even autoharp were imprinted to revamp an aged motif, giving it the spring of youthful abandon. Contrarily, there was also a ghostliness to these spools, as if their rehearsals and recordings had woken the spirits of folk-rock's past to join in. This was achieved in great effect by the gentle and exquisite layering of Mercer's own backing vocals, rather imperceptibly bringing his tenor more dimension.
All throughout Oh, Inverted World, Mercer's voice co-mingles with his uncanny song arrangements. It glides like a sparrow and touches glorious peaks, to the edges of strain without breaking. He had once been naturally shy of projecting that voice, especially during the recording of the debut in a basement studio apartment, separated from his neighbors by a thin ceiling. This is the kind of anecdotal shading that, along with its cinematic propping, ties a work together, endearing the fan to the artist. Relatability imbues the absorption of the alternative character's tale with more meaning. You listen close to the marginalized romantic gesturing and suddenly find yourself in familiar settings, visceral and identifiable. While the story of scrapping a collection of songs together on passion and vision and courage and some tall boys during uncertain times has become cliché, it still makes it all more personal. Mercer remembers that Oh, Inverted World pulled him into the tier on par with the comfortable young professional thinking of settling in. Ironically, and predictably, the closer Mercer and The Shins' semi-alternating band members came to conventional stability, the farther away from that raw, corporeal inspiration they were pulled.
The measure of The Shins' debut album was not in its innovation, but in the steadiness of its demonstrative homage to their bohemian predecessors. You might find yourself humming along to each song, feeling the anti-gravity of tune and melody becoming a ballast for the implicit sorrow of Mercer's fluency. No subsequent album from The Shins quite captured the dreamy nostalgic quality of their debut. By the time 2007's Wincing the Night Away broke them out into universal exposure, you could already start to notice the foundations of Mercer's future work with Danger Mouse as Broken Bells start to form. This departure obviously isn't uncommon for musicians swept up by the wave of notoriety and maybe that's just the way it's supposed to be. Maybe it's so that the beauty of an inaugural creation can be appreciated on its own, free from comparison. Some 15 and a half years later, with the help of summer outings and fire escapes, Oh, Inverted World's traces have carried it to lastingly memorable status.
Luke Temple. A Hand Through the Cellar Door. Under the Radar Magazine
The folk song storyteller has become scarce. Songwriting that can carry an album on the back of clear vocal command and narrative, luring you into verses that combine chronicle and parable is a lost art form. You don't realize how much so until you hear an album like Luke Temple's new solo album, A Hand Through the Cellar Door. Without lavishness, the Here We Go Magic frontman elevates lyricism above the common collection of ironic euphemisms and bluntly vulnerable confessions. These songs gently but profoundly rock you to the core, pushing the prowess of Temple's pen to the foreground.
On past solo works, Temple has emulated the vintage box radio balladry of Bill Kenny and the sly crooning of Curtis Mayfield. A Hand Through the Cellar Door is a revival of traditional folk oration with a stylistic character closer to Jackson C. Frank, James Taylor, and Paul Simon.
A Here We Go Magic pitched intro number greets you with an invitation to join briskly and once you've followed, he sits you down by the fire. The restraint of instrumentation cradles Temple's airy prose, providing the painted backdrop all good fables need to draw you into the setting. Melody and tempo are introduced in sophisticated measures through impeccably placed acoustic picks, revolving accents of percussion and suspended string whispers reminiscent of Arcade Fire's "Neighborhood #4" serving as the supporting cast to his tales.
Before you know it, you're embedded in Temple's illustrations and there's no rush through them, even when he begins to skat lyrics that demonstrate an MC's dexterity of tongue on "Maryanne Was Quiet," a yarn of human trauma and reclamation that, along with "The Case of Louis Warren" delivers a poignant impact that sinks deep. In each case, even, cyclical acoustic strumming serves as the smooth paper surface beneath his words. The most beautiful folk ballad on Here We Go Magic's last album, "Ordinary Feeling," is also brought back to the table, this time with a slower pour over, releasing the sweet sad aroma of being honest with oneself.
With these eight songs, Temple distinguishes himself as an author with a handle for what made storytellers like Stevens, Simon, and Dylan masterful. Like Wes Anderson, who with a distinct personal touch weaves in gestures of Francois Truffaut and Orson Welles, he possesses a time honored craft, regaling, steering, and reflecting in a bevy of vocal shadings, all cool blue. Luke Temple is more than welcome to lead Here We Go Magic anytime, but on his own, his rare talent is clearly apparent.
Preoccupations. Preoccupations. Under the Radar Magazine
The four members Preoccupations could make a strong case against the argument that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Scattered public roiling over their former name Viet Cong spread farther than expected and threatened to derail the group just as their instinctively carved brand of post-punk was mounting mass appeal. All of the attention focused on an ill considered choice in a name overshadowed the calibre of their music.
Now that the controversy has been shed, due recognition of how good they are can take its proper place at the center of discussion. Emerging from the chaos with their most fully realized work to date, Preoccupations expounds on the dense, sinister sound of last year’s Viet Cong through dextrous tempo shifts and poised vocal morphing to lift it from the bog. They lurk, then pounce, then linger in breath.
The straining, torquing and scouring of metallic instrument becomes paradoxically elegant through keen production that leaves it with a gauze polished finish while interplay of processed and performed drum maintains momentum. All the while, Matt Flegel’s voice holds you hostage, riding guitars both sludgy and sparkling, echoing throughout tunnelled-in rhythms.
There are times in Preoccupations when you feel as if you've been held captive in a basement with a gritty vhs tape of anarchic counter-propaganda footage playing on loop, and what you want to do is wrest free from their clutches. Then there are shots to the vein like “Zodiac”, which harnesses the power of coursing angst, rather than be consumed in it. There is rejoicing in troubled states of mind. It's almost criminal that the middle three minutes of the nearly twelve minute “Memory” isn’t a stand alone track. It bursts out, revealing glimmers of exuberance out of a battered spirit, before slipping back into a meadow of slow feedback waves of guitar distortion.
It's the conviction of bands that close their eyes and sink into their indulgences which make them interesting. There is a stout cohesiveness that gives Preoccupations a feeling of completion and resolute artistic confidence and its reverberations mount with close and repeated listens. Not to mention, the album art is really cool. Welcome back guys, glad you saw it through. (facebook.com/preoccupationsband)
Author Rating: 8.5/10