Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Bees - Octopus

A band that has the ability to transport you back in time may sound "vintage" or "old school" or even unoriginal. The Bees (or A Band of Bees as they're marketed in the U.S.) don't feel like they're from this decade, or this generation. Their musical influences are tied closely to 60's rock; incorporating blues patterns, layers of guitar and shuffle rhythms. They can sound like the Kinks or the Beta Band among others. But for all of these '60s influences, the group manages to sound current, yet they're willing to cherry-pick from artists and styles they admire when necessary. The Bees were started around 2001 and hit the ground running; starting with their Mercury Prize-nominated debut Sunshine Hit Me. But in the years since, I would say they remain relatively unknown outside their native U.K. which is somewhat unfortunate.

On their third release Octopus there is nary a bad track. They all range from the enjoyable to almost exceptional. Managing to take the best of their influences and create a wonderfully tasty stew with elements of rock, blues, R&B rhythm, and a dash of psychedelia. Octopus is (thankfully) an album you can put in a just push play. No need to jump from track to track (except for the last track in which they try too hard to be something they're not). Rock music now often has too many lyrics. Meaning, artist feel the need to fill gaps with words rather than showcasing their instrumental skills. Although, maybe all the singing helps disguise the fact they may not have a creative instrumental bone in their body. Of course this isn't always the case, but should be noted that The Bees make sure to leave room for some instrumental gymnastics. Octopus is a great success on many levels. They have matured and sound exceptional, moving from being a multi-instrumental duo to a sextet of great musicians. The reason they don't sound like just another band with similar 60s/70s influences is way their songs are crafted and arranged. The combination of instruments, and the interplay between them gives a freshness to their music that sounds vintage, yet up-to-date and current.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Burial - Untrue

Firstly, I have to apologize to all my loyal readers (close family and friends) who have been missing, and yearning for my return to the written word. Thank you for your loyalty and support. I've been lazy. It's not just writing that goes on here. I listen to the music, let it settle and jingle in my head for a bit, do background reading (so that I sort of know what I'm talking about. or at least give that illusion), read others' reviews (just to see where I fall on the opinion-meter), formulate, and finally try to make sense of it all. Some artists/albums are easier than others and come more naturally and organically. But overall, I've been lazy. Hopefully, I can right the ship. Thanks for your patience. Let's get crackin'.

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Admittedly, I know very little about dubstep but will try to enlighten the small masses. The almighty Wikipedia defines it as being, "distinguished by its dark mood, sparse rhythms, and emphasis on bass." This doesn't help much. Let's try and dig deeper. It's electronic dance music that originated in London out of its garage scene and has been around for less than 10 years. Rhythm and bass are two of the key ingredients for successful dubstep music. The rhythm is usually of the syncopated and/or shuffle variety, and deep bass propels the music with it's quickened tempo. The layers of sound often come from samples on top of each other and repeated and mixed in a variety of ways. For example, you may have a vocal sample that you repeat in a variety of ways, stopping at different points for emphasis and variation. I could go on, but that's a pretty good outline to go on.

Burial (the artist) is an anonymous dude in London making incredible dubstep albums. His debut was released just back in 2006 and was critically praised across the board. He returns (per se) with his equally exceptional (better, actually) follow-up titled Untrue. The album is not something to enter into lightly. You have to open your mind and let the music flow around you (hope that isn't too snobby). But seriously, it's one of those albums where you put it on your stereo and just lay down on a couch or bed, close your eyes, and listen. Imagining how to piece together the various elements and sounds. Some tracks are more up-tempo than others but the albums flows quite well from track to track and doesn't really become monotonous. The way Burial incorporates vocals into the album is really why this is almost on masterpiece level for the genre. The vocals pitches are bent, they're stretched in length and shortened when need be. It feels more real than it actually is. Through these vocal techniques Burial is able to convey more emotion that is typically absent from most dubstep work that is produced for dance purposes. For a more pretentious evaluation check Pitchfork. Sorry for no pictures of the guy, but as he's said in an interview with his label, "only five people know I make tunes." It's got to be kinda cool to be anonymous.