Real Estate: In Mind

Real Estate return for another dreamy, soft-surf rock record that continues to reinforce their ever-present stereotype for being everyone’s favorite background music band.

Nothing that the group showcases on this record is inherently bad by any means.  The mundane nature only appears in the context of the previous albums, in which little creative evolution seems to have occurred from the first release to this point.  Needless to say, I would not recommend this record to any first time listeners of the band.

In Mind feels like the weakest addition to the band’s existing collection.  It is as if every track on this album is borrowing techniques from some of their catchier tunes but in a way that feels almost too complacent; like the band understands their place as coffee shop ambiance aficionados.

Real Estate’s lyrics haven’t improved either and in some ways, are beginning to develop a level of corniness that is difficult to sit through when focusing too hard on what is being said.  Still, this record is not completely barren of quality

Naming off the good characteristics of this collection, there are a few tracks that stand out amidst of the plagued list of rehash.  “Darling” harkens back to the peppiness of the late track “Talking Backwards”, featured on the 2014 record Atlas.  The washy tone of the guitars in the bridge section has a mildly soothing effect that can be enjoyed without a doubt.  “Serve the Song” is another decent track and features a duet between the vocals and guitar that builds into a sort-of-awesome solo towards the end of the song.

“Two Arrows” is an example of a song that could have been so much more.  With its trotting pace and entrancing vocal harmonies, the song builds to a solid wall of disappointment once the hook begins its repeating riff that amounts to a distortion climax that feels about as forced as the abrupt cut that ends the track.

Other lackluster moments exist in “Time”, a completely directionless slurred islander tune that includes another set of mundane lyrics that can’t even pass as filler.  I would probably like this track a little bit more if it were only an instrumental.

Digressing, In Mind feels like a stalling point in Real Estate’s career, for now.  If you have loved everything the group has put out thus far and are content with hearing more of the same then this album might be for you.  For me, my honest opinion of this album is a 5.8/10.

 

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard: Flying Microtonal Banana

King Gizzard have released many outstanding records in their relatively short time together but nothing has been as ambitious as their work in 2017, in which they plan to release four more albums ahead of Flying Microtonal Banana.

Future projects aside, Flying Microtonal Banana is a truly innovative record in a sea of contemporary psych-rock.  The amount of effort and creative thought that was given to this project is ever present, with the use of custom-made guitars that offer the microtonal/ Eastern flair throughout each track, the lyricism that envisions a dark and leering future for the environment and a double drumkit that keeps the album rolling from track to track.

The album kicks off with “Rattlesnake”, a fast and hard driving jam that presents a pre-chorus that is almost as fulfilling as the infectious chants of “rattlesnake” in between verses.  This track utilizes musical incline to the fullest, creating a suspenseful feeling as vocalist Stu Mackenzie accelerates the tempo and goes higher into his register.  In hindsight, the placement of this song in the tracklisting could not have been any better.

Other memorable tracks include “Melting”, “Open Water” and “Nuclear Fusion” just to name a few.  “Melting” wins the prize for having the best percussion section of this album due to its beautiful; fast-jazz rhythm married with the synthetic organ to form the ominous feelings mentioned earlier.  Splitting the world “melting” into pseudo syllables as “meh-el-lit-ting” is another amazing feat that actually works and shows one example of the inventive songwriting on this record.  “Open Water” stands out as the most progressive track on this record, with its multiple repeat verses and choruses that continuously throw in contrasting instrumentation with each repeat.

(As a sidenote, the “flying banana” guitar has an insane solo on this track that led me to dig deeper into the production of this album.  Here’s a video from the band that cleared a lot of the questions I had.)

With “Nuclear Fusion”, the track opens and closes with a warped and pitched down variation of the melody that is played throughout the song, providing the track with a visible sense of direction and does a fantastic job at telling the listener what the main focal point should be.

Other smaller tidbits that are worth mentioning include the mixing on this album.  Every song flows together seamlessly, like an endless ride.  There are many records that attempt this effect, but very few pull it off to a standard that stands out in the crowd.  This is achieved in multiple different styles but my favorite transition has to be between the wispy air sounds between “Rattlesnake” and “Melting”.  This record also has a tangible theme extending across the first and last track both lyrically and musically.  The message appears to be all about pollution and I appreciate the subtleties and metaphors used to mask this theme in a perfect harmony that does not sound preachy but simply informative.  The audible theme comes from the zurna, a central Eurasian wind instrument that creates the snake charmer sound that weaves back and forth between the tracklist.  This helps to create familiarity with the listener and really grounds the album into its own niche.  All of that said, it can be slightly annoying after many listen and especially to new listeners that are not familiar with the album yet.

In conclusion, King Gizzard have come through again with a record that could arguably be considered their best.  With four more albums coming this year, I look forward to seeing what could possibly top this release.  My honest opinion of this album is an 8.5/10.

Interview: Helen Kelter Skelter

Helen Kelter Skelter is one of Norman’s faster-growing bands, being regular performers at Opolis and having a steady attendance at Norman Music Festival each year.  The group stands out with their niche blues vocals paired with an ounce of psych-rock but flourished in a way that creates their own unique sound.  Tim Gregory, one of the five members of the band sat down for an interview about the current news of HKS and their Opolis show this Saturday.

SW: Can you tell me your contribution in the band?

Tim: I’m kind of the “band dad” so to speak.  I still play guitar in the band but I also take care of most of the management for us.

SW: How many Opolis performances have you chalked up over the years as of now?

Tim: It’s been so many at this point, I’d have to say more than 30 times!

SW: Tell me how you nailed the main stage spot for NMF this year.

Tim: We just applied for it and because we’ve been hitting it pretty hard for the last few years at other smaller stages, I guess they thought it was time for us to be one of the big leagues.  It should be a lot of fun, though.  Playing on a larger speaker system will also do us a favor because we have such a heavy sound to work with.  I think the coolest part is that our music will be heard all across the festival which is something we haven’t quite experience before.

SW: Are you excited to play alongside greats such as Thee Oh Sees, Israel Nash and Oddisee?

Tim: Totally!  Also White Reaper and The Daddyo’s.  We’ve known those guys for a few years and we’re excited to play in the same festival together.

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SW: Your last record came out two years ago, I’d be willing to guess you’ve been working on some new stuff since then.  How has your sound changed in the past two years?

Tim: We have the next one done but we’re kind of sitting on it for a second until we have all of our promotional stuff ready.  We’re kind of looking for a new; clean slate, you know?

SW: Do you have any music videos in the works?  Do you think you need music videos to be a successful band in the digital age?

Tim: For sure!  Nothing recorded yet, but we definitely have some ideas rolling.  Having a video helps you stand out quite a bit, especially if it is a quality video.  More than anything, we want any video of ours to reflect the music that it’s paired with.  Something to add, rather than detract from the work.

SW: Is the Tame Impala/ [insert current contemporary psych-rock band] an annoying comparison for you, or do you like being grouped into that category?

Tim: We kind of get pushed into the psych-rock category a lot which is fine.  I’ll always be flattered to be compared to Kevin Parker!  With our first album, we just through a bunch of songs together that we had written because we thought they sounded good.  That sort of manifested into our own unique sound that we’ve continued into our 2015 record.  When our next album releases, there will definitely be a small difference to notice.  We’ve included more synths into our songs that I think a lot of people are going to like.

SW: How does Norman’s current music scene compare to when you all were first starting out?  Do you see an increasing growth in the talent that comes out of this city?

Tim: You can definitely see a growth happening right now.  I would like to see more out of town bands coming more often and I think that our music scene could be a lot better but it’s by no means awful.

SW: Have you ever thought of touring with groups such as King Gizzard or Twin Peaks?  I feel like your sounds would really merge for joint concerts.  What does your tour schedule look like this year?

Tim: That would be awesome!  King Gizzard is one of my favorite bands currently and they just dropped that Flying Microtonal Banana album which I’ve been loving.  We’re touring in over 25 places this year.  We’ll be going to Texas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Arkansas, New Mexico.  It’s our biggest stretch we’ve done so we’re hoping to gather some more fans along the way.

SW: Hype us up for your show this weekend!

Tim: We’ll be playing along with Mother Tongues and LCG & The X.  They’re both fantastic bands and we think that their sound is a great mix with ours so we’ll be making sure everyone is having a good time.  Come out and say hi!

Helen Kelter Skelter is performing Saturday, March 4 at 8 p.m. at Opolis in Norman.  Tickets are available at the door or online here.

Animal Collective: The Painters EP

Animal Collective (AnCo) have continued to showcase a steady stream of activity since the release of Painting With in early 2016, with continuous touring and even a short selection of singles that followed the last album. Those tracks, unfortunately, fell flat due to being overly obnoxious and even borderline childish, as if they were written specifically for a children’s television program.

Even so, Painting With was not exactly a killer record either and suffered from many redundant techniques and an overall lack of direction on the entire project with tracks such as “Spilling Guts” and “Recycling”, just to name the obviously bad ones.  With the announcement of this EP, I was left intrigued but also wary that the group would release another piece that would not even top their last record.

After several run-throughs of this four track EP, I am happy to say that there is more here than my prior expectations.  Starting with “Kinda Bonkers”, the first impression is that AnCo are back to a more acoustic or organic sound, at least compared to their two previous records that were highly synthetic.  That being said, the music is still coupled with a heavy amount of electronic instrumentation.  The entire track features a very Eastern style that fits the mystic theme that the Earth is rather “bonkers” and frankly, the song is quite catchy and does not overstay its welcome.

The middle tracks have their pros and cons, starting with the second song “Peacemaker” which provides an incredibly moody vibe that has been missing in AnCo’s music for so long.  In addition, this track also utilizes the “echo duet” vocal technique that was run into the ground on Painting With.  Funny enough, this style actually works very well for this piece and offers a sort of hypnotic effect that adds further contrast from the other tracks.  Following this song, “Goalkeeper” serves as the “runt of the litter” so to speak, due to its directionless verses and premature climax in the first three seconds that leaves no space for the song to grow.  The chorus is actually semi-pleasant but falls short due to the faults listed above.  If anything, these tracks might have been better if they were conjoined into one two-part song like something off of Fall Be Kind.

This EP concludes with “Jimmy Mack” a cover of Martha and the Vandellas’ late ’60s soul/ swing tune.  Seeing a song of this nature covered by AnCo is entertaining and admittedly catchy.  The digital flutes and “swing” factor show a side of the band that feels fresh and the energy is comparable to classic tracks like “Brothersport”.  Where it lacks, the song does begin to grow tired after the first or second chorus.  Nothing new is provided in the latter portion of the song and therefore becomes predictable and stale by the end.

The Painters EP showcases that Animal Collective still have a few creative tricks up their sleeves, but just barely rise above the quality of their other lackluster works within the last year.  This short list of songs is worth at least one or two listens, but do not expect any monumental return to form on this release.  My honest opinion of this EP is a 6/10.

Interview: A Giant Dog

Going on nine years strong, the eclectic punk-rock band from Austin, TX A Giant Dog are on their way back for a second performance within six months at the notorious music outlet Opolis on Main and Crawford and are riding this tour off of their early 2016 album “Pile”.

The band’s lead vocalist, Sabrina Ellis, speaks about the challenges that she and the members have faced leading to their eventual success on records such as “Fight” and “Bone”, which released in the years prior to their 2016 album.

“We’ve had people tell us that we aren’t punk-rock, which can be slightly discouraging to hear when that is the sound that you’re going for, but over time as we have become more accepted and developed our fanbase, I think it’s safe to say that the critics can’t necessarily succeed at defining what is and isn’t punk.”  Currently, “Pile” holds an 8.2/10 Pitchfork review and earned a solid B rating from Consequence of Sound.

In addition to overcoming critic reception, she details the years where anxiety began to take hold of her performance mindset.  “I never thought it would happen to somebody like me, but one day I just started to have panic attacks that I couldn’t explain and it really took a toll on my desire and thrill of performing.”  Overcoming this condition was no easy task, but by a self-described life changing experience that occurred from a near-death auto accident, Sabrina was able to learn to control her attacks and claims to be doing much better since this event.

Sabrina also discusses her primary influences behind the sound of the band, also noting her aversion of influential comparisons.  She says, “The question about influences is always a tricky one because every year or so it always shifts to a different answer than before.  Also, our most consistent role models tend to feel like a cliché that exists within most bands.”  She offers her most honest answer by listing off the likes of Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Pixies, Queen, and The Velvet Underground.

Delving into the creation of their latest record, Sabrina reveals A Giant Dog’s collaborations with SPOON producer Mike McCarthy, who helped with the mixing on “Pile”.  “Back in 2014, we had a good portion of songs written that are currently featured on ‘Pile’, but being without a label kept us from being able to release them.” She continues, “Through touring with Spoon, we were able to get noticed by Merge Records, our current label, and worked with Mike and his amazing vintage gear that really harnessed our sound and made sure that we didn’t clean up too much.”

Closing the interview, she teases that a new record is on the way for 2017 and that August appears to be the month of arrival.  “Toy” is the current title in place for this album.

A Giant Dog performs this Thursday at Opolis and tickets are on sale now at their website.

The xx: I See You

The iconic trio responsible for one of the most well known “Intro” tracks in contemporary music is back to offer a third succession in their discography after a decently long hiatus within the band.   During this break, Jamie xx has been hard at work refining the group’s sound within his own solo projects.  The 2015 record “In Colour” surprised many fans with its climactic buildups and overall more bombastic electronica sound that is very much a polar opposite to the timid and stripped down nature of The xx.  With this new album, Jamie is able to mesh his hair-raising melodies with the trained voices of Oliver Sim and Romy Croft to form a much more interesting version of The xx, and quite possibly their best recording to date.

The above statement is verified right from the first few seconds of the album, as a loud and boisterous fanfare of horns opens the track “Dangerous”, which helps to verify that this album aims to be different from previous releases.  The upbeat percussion loops that follow also show quite a contrast from older albums, which are typically focused upon more soft and minimalistic drumbeats.  Another fantastic track is “Replica”, which features the iconic guitar plucking used throughout much of the band’s 2009 release but fused with synthetic keyboards with washed out effects that create an almost EDM-esque level of buildup.

While there is a great degree of change on this record, the band saves some of their older styles on “Brave for You”, which brings down the tempo and relies on more of the traditional instrumentation over Jamie’s house inspired production.  Another song that early fans will appreciate is “Say Something Loving”, with its misleading Beatles sounding sample that actually comes from 1976 recording of “Do You Feel it?” by Alessi Brothers.  The vocals on this song are long and drawn out but convey a heartfelt and passionate message that is made less gaudy because of the interesting music around it.

When approaching the cons of this album, the only notable flaws can be found within the lyrics and vocals that exist within this piece.  That being stated, there is nothing awful to be said other than that Sim and Croft do not showcase the same level of growth in their talent to match the efforts of Jamie Smith.  Most of the lyrical themes showcased deal with reunion or coming back together, which could be a more personal tale of the band member’s conflicts with one another.  That idea is fine, but the ambiguity is a little too much to create any resonating emotions, and therefore comes across as no more relatable than any other pop song.  All things considered, the chemistry between the vocal parts here is still at an astonishing level as it always has been with The xx, and the best showcase of this is on “Lips” with Croft blending her falsetto with Sim’s resolving lower register response.

Overall, The xx have left behind a hefty surprise for such an early release in 2017.  With an album that only gets better towards the latter half, tracks such as “On Hold” and “I Dare You” will be the ones that resonate in the heads of fans and newcomers alike.  If The xx have never been amusing to you before, now might be the time to give them another chance.  My honest opinion of this album is an 8/10.

Day for Night 2016

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Ariel Pink’s festive getup during his Sunday performance.
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Additional festive band members.
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Travis Scott, back in his hometown.
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Another fantastic action shot of Travis.
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Gibby Haynes of Butthole Surfers dishing out that distortion.
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Jeff Pinkus of Butthole Surfers on bass.
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A bubbly picture of moi.
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Example of the next-level laser work at Day for Night.

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