Courtesy of Rolling Stone

“…And Then You Shoot Your Cousin” The Roots

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The Roots

…And Then You Shoot Your Cousin Album Review

Def Jam Records

Released: May 19, 2014

Genre: Alternative Hip Hop
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Normally, there is a lot to say about a group like The Roots. They are an extremely important group, not only just within the realm of hip-hop, but also in pop culture in general. After releasing countless modern classics (see Things Fall Apart, Undun, etc.), landing a spot as the backup band for Jimmy Fallon, and collaborating with countless artists along the way, The Roots have written a very wordy history for themselves. However, in contrast to everything else The Roots have done, there’s not a lot to say about …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin.

Why do I waste an entire paragraph on the brevity of this album? It’s because the run time of this project is significantly shorter than that of any other Roots LP. It barely clocks in at over a half-hour long, a drastic decrease in time for the Roots; most LPs by this group run for over an hour. Then, you have to consider the combined total of two minutes of interludes, most of which are just samples of other songs or monologues. Copious amounts of interludes don’t always equate to wasted space, however these interludes only contribute slightly to the big picture that this album tries to paint. They don’t add to the dark aesthetic as effectively as they could have, which means that a lot of pressure lies on the rest of the LP.

The subject matter of Cousin is extremely dark and profound, taking an initially cynical viewpoint on love, money, existence, etc. Each MC (Black Thought and guests that include former member Dice Raw and others) has amazing moments spread about throughout this album. There are fiery flows and brutal depictions of depression and violence. The track “The Unraveling” is a high point on this record, artfully juxtaposing emancipation from future sin and imprisonment due to past sin, signifying the song’s character’s bleak existence. Every MC pours their heart into each respective verse, backed by a solemn piano beat. Other highlights include the religion-focused “Understand,” which features a very catchy yet thought-provoking chorus, as well as great Levi’s and True Religion wordplay. The closer also serves as a neat juxtaposition to the dark content of the rest of the album, ending with a very sexy chord progression.

However, one main detractor for this album is when the lyrics aren’t amazing, they’re completely average, like on “When the People Cheer,” where too much time is spent on the sexual lyrical part of the track to back up the moral message that the MCs want to convey. Another major gripe I have is that I feel like the instrumentation on some of these beats could be more varied and lively, which is why I like songs like “Tomorrow” and “The Unraveling” so much, because their beats are lively and different respectively. Once again, the interludes distract more than help on this project.

Fans of hip-hop will find worthwhile moments on this project, but holistically it is a disappointment.

FAV TRACKS:Understand, The Unraveling, Tomorrow

LEAST FAV TRACKS: Never, When the People Cheer

Score: (6.0/10)

 

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“Lazaretto” Jack White

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Jack White

Lazaretto Album Review

Third Man Records

Released June 10, 2014

Genre: Blues Rock, Garage Rock, Country Rock
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Jack White’s solo career has been a career that every musician, or person for the matter, should always be impressed by. Having spurned three bands, one of them being one of the most notorious and influential figures in alternative rock, and crafting what could be the “Smoke On The Water” of a new generation, not to mention holding a world record, Jack White is one of the most important figures in modern rock music. And for a majority of his career, he’s dealt in the realm of blues rock. Dabbling in blues punk, or even heavy, heavy blues/garage rock, White can be described as a connoisseur of the genre, his material proof of his many endeavors.

So as usual, White is at it again with the blues rock genre, but it rarely comes off as rehashed or stale. A trademark of White’s style has always been new ideas, whether it be better instrumentation or even interesting covers, White always goes above and beyond than what he’s done before. Lyrically, I can’t really say the same thing, but instrumentally, Jack White is at his best here on Lazaretto.

Just like on his last effort, Blunderbuss, White slowly dips his toe into country music and garage rock on this album. Now I’m a sucker for a soft country ballad; and luckily for me, there’s two on Lazaretto: the rinky-tinky “Entitlement” and the fiddle-filled “Temporary Ground”, where violinist Lillie Mae Rische lends her sweet vocals, a nice duet for the two as they deliver a strong track on the album.

But those two tracks come later on. White prefers to open the album up with “Three Women”, an ostentatious yet catchy song that refers to his three relationships: Meg White (drummer for The White Stripes) the one from Detroit, actress Renée Zellweger as the one with “blonde hair and from California”, and Karen Elson, “the red head”, whom White recently divorced, and who was allegedly the inspiration for Blunderbuss. It’s gutsy, bold, and it does grab your attention. White then keeps the tracks coming, delivering the title track “Lazaretto” a hellish romp of a song that’s classic Jack White, down to the lyrics and the instrumentation, and again it doesn’t sound rehashed.

At first I was wary with the track “High Ball Stepper”, mostly for being loaded with instrumentation and devoid of lyrics, but as you listen to Lazaretto as a whole, you begin to realize how much an instrumental track can really help the pacing and feel of the album. The track does pretty well with what its given, sounding eerily like a southern-Gothic-blues-rock hybrid, and I love it. We’re then greeted with soaring vocals on”Would You Fight For My Love?”, a title that doesn’t hide the melodrama that surrounds it, but White handles it well, inserting spooky backup vocals with David Lynchian flair, building up the vocal intensity.

There’s a lot of rural influences on this album. A majority of these songs feature lap steel guitars, busy fiddles, distortion buzzes, old-vintage pianos, and even some folky strumming. White then blends them all together, and the much heightened instrumentation really does add up to the scope of the album, making each song as lush and grand as they can be. However there are some moments where these frequent stopovers into folksy territory don’t necessarily pay off, like the track “Alone In My Home”. Yes, I love a good country ballad, but I can’t shake the feeling I’m in a carnival whenever I hear it, trampling over popcorn and deflated balloons. The cheesy yet likeable track “Want and Able” doesn’t stop me from imagining a country duo singing at a peach orchard. The two tracks seem like White is trying to push this folk/country agenda. Not that I hate it, but I just think that it isn’t done gracefully, or tastefully.

Yet, White still knows how to deliver. His most gaudy, yet bold movement on this album comes on “That Black Bat Licorice”, where he sings “She writes letters like a Jack Chick comic, just a bunch of propaganda/ She makes my fingers histrionic, like this [BADASS RIFF] and this [BADASS RIFF]!” It’s exhilarating and it possesses a true rock n’ roll sensibility, because let’s face it: in rock and roll, there’s no mercy when it comes to solos, especially solos that can melt the walls and burn out amps.

And White does just that: although there’s more room to breathe on this album, White still adds more instruments or amps up the volume, violently clashing these elements together, filling the atmosphere with a lot of noise and sound. Yet that’s how we love Jack White right? Sure The White Stripes’ trademark sound, along with everyone’s realization of “HOW COULD TWO PEOPLE MAKE THAT MUCH NOISE?!?” is vital to the world of alternative rock and White’s image itself, but seeing White with a full band is like watching a painter when given more colors and better brushes: you never know your full power and potential until you’re given the right tools.

PRETTY NEAT MUSIC

FAV TRACKS: Three Women, Lazaretto, Temporary Ground, High Ball Stepper, Entitlement, That Black Bat Licorice

LEAST FAV TRACK: Alone In My Home

SCORE: (8.0/10)

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Merrily Merrily, The Future’s But A Stream: A Discussion About Music Streaming

Artwork By Arturo Amaro for Pretty Neat Grooves

According to the hundreds of technology articles I despondently skim through every time I collapse into an aeroplane seat, the future is perpetually overcast; or at least that is what I’m led to believe with this talk of an all-encompassing cloud that will rein over us come 2015. Not so naive that I’m convinced that the eggheads over at Apple are building some villainous weather machine, I understand the basic concept so far that it, in the context of music anyway, has incepted a debate over accessible streams are the new ownership.

Woefully lament over the hundreds of pounds and hours of charity shop scrounging you invested into physical copies, because the future comes in the form of streaming and none are safe, MP3s included. According to the Nielsen Soundscan 2013 report, the digital format’s sales dropped 6% way back in 2012, only a year after streaming giant Spotify shattered the mainstream. But why is this happening now of all times? In an era where nostalgic quirk is a juggernaut of influence and the new is sneer upon with cynical abandon, has music, the underground included, been intwined in this riptide of feigned possession?

Those that have a critical eye will have noticed that we live in a technological age. As I write this I’m surrounded by my internet phone, my 140g iPod stacked with over 700 albums (that’s 126kg of Vinyl pressing) and drinking coffee that shot out of a machine in my kitchen. And yet still there are naysayers clinging onto the past like petulant babies onto rattles. These neanderthals are those responsible for the digital heresy of Record Store Day where likeminded cavemen (and woman) can waste their hard earned on ditsy bits of plastic because it ‘sounds warmer’ and is ‘the way music should be enjoyed’.

If you hadn’t detected the sarcasm lacing the last paragraph (subtle, I know) I want to go on record (sorry, not sorry) and say that I’m very supportive of these vintage pursuits, and according to recent statistics I’m not alone. Reporting on Record Store Day, sources suggested that ‘Vinyl sales at indie stores are up 280% over the previous week and up 58% over the week of Record Store Day last year’. Despite an overarching pressure to stream, what was once considered a fad resuscitated by hipsters wanting to decorate their University halls in Echo artwork, is far more substantial than that, it has a cult following and in this business, that’s what drives success.And despite ‘Indies’ accounting for 20% of the total physical market and a roughly even split between digital and physical sales, streaming still runs a course to the unavoidable dystopia of truncated listening habits, why is this?

The blatant answer is that streaming allows you to listen to everything, and when I mean everything, I mean EVERYTHING (except Radiohead albums, but that’s a whole other thing). You want to experience Axis Bold as Love but never got round to buying it? Wait literally 2 seconds, wow, you’re listening to it right now.

Though, the underlying issue, something I’ve witnessed happen over the last couple of years, is the spoiling of the average listener. Purchasing a physical album, something you can hold, CD or vinyl, teaches value. The artwork, the liner notes, the plastic donut of sound and wonder, it reads hopelessly romantic but these were once integral parts of listening to a record – music is on the path to unfortunately become a passive experience, something used to accessorise the overwhelming feeling of inevitable death that comes with every Buzzfeed article you idly scroll through when you should be being productive.

But fear not, among a marsh of detachment and a complete disregard of the humanity physical music evokes, there is hope. Among RSD and campaigns to reinvigorate the music scene, projects like Forgotify, an app which creates playlists solely from songs with 0 Spotify plays, showcases a community that harnesses the power of streaming for good. And while there isn’t exactly a binary divide between good and evil, though there is something distinctly Hydra-esque about the dubious goings-on over at Billboard HQ, streaming has the potential not erase the history of the physical but compliment it; social media plays a big part in this.

While I find Youtube covers and Facebook music pages dedicated to hairless pubescents covering Lorde tracks simply erroneous, you’d have to be blind to refute social media’s terraforming of the musical landscape; but this leads to a one-night-stand approach of listening. We’re barraged with blogs and sites forcing the next big sensation down our throats only for them to pull-out and make that exact claim four hours later about a different artist, there’s no time to get intimate with the music. The end result is a over-saturated scene filled to the brim with great music that you simply don’t have time to listen to, leaving us high, dry and woefully unsatisfied.

To polish off the unpolished, it’s worth recognising the original streaming service as the humble wireless (that’s the radio for anyone born after 1860). Nowhere else could you listen to the newest music without spending a penny and while subscription services apply, the modern streaming service harnesses the same concept while inflating it to gargantuan proportions.

Streaming is great for discovering artists new and old, giving them the exposure they deserve, I can’t help but feel it’s carving our listening habits into ice. Distracting us from music as a piece of art that someone has poured that entire being into. Physical music was owned and a deeply personal affair, one you would incessantly pester your friends about and cherish like a first-born. No matter how hard the marketing teams over at Pandora try, no streaming service will ever be so convenient or expansive that it wipes the world of physical music; we are children born of the physical format: the warm crackles are our vitals and the tape decks, our hearts.

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“The Aberdeen EP” The Perms

The Perms

Aberdeen EP Review

Hugtight Records

Released October 8, 2013

Genre: Alternative Rock, Power Pop

Every few years, or months, a band comes up to bring a fresh wave of alternative rock to the music scene. Some band completely rewrite the rules entirely (Radiohead) and some inject new life into their respected genre (Interpol). What The Perms accomplish on this sixth studio release is not a change in alternative rock, but ultimately a reminder of a time when THAT change meant everything to us. I can still remember the first time I heard Pinkerton; it still lives on in my memory. Now enough of my nostalgic retrospectives, let’s dive into this EP shall we?

For most of the entirety of this EP, all I could think about was Weezer. The iconic power pop band has influenced The Perms greatly, and rightly so; upon scanning The Perms’ discography on iTunes, a common similarity always popped up: these songs are catchy as hell. These songs on The Aberdeen EP, are packed with “wooooaaaaahhhhhssss” (“It’s Mania”) and “early 2000s-pre pubescent” wails (see “Aberdeen”). But each song has a hook, and each song is packed with solid production and practical instrumentation. So no they aren’t changing anything with the genre, but man do they make you take a look back in time.

The track “Walk Away” brings a much harder, edgier sound to the EP, which I liked a lot. The energy encapsulated in the song is sure to tap toes and bang heads but not enough to start a mosh pit at a show. And just like that, the short EP is over, and there isn’t much left to say. The Aberdeen EP is an incredibly safe release, lacking adventurous instrumentation, song structure, or lyricism. But it gets the job done for hardcore fans of this band. For those not familiar with the band, those days of listening to Jimmy Eat World and Weezer in 2005 come back to you, and for that, this listen is rewarding.

FAV TRACKS: Aberdeen, Walk Away

LEAST FAV TRACK:

Score: (7.0/10)

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“Some Heavy Ocean” Emma Ruth Rundle

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Emma Ruth Rundle

Some Heavy Ocean Album Review

Sargent House

Released May 20, 2014

Genre: Experimental Pop, Ambient, Psychedelic Pop, Singer/Songwriter
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California singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Emma Ruth Rundle has little cemented in terms of her solo pursuits. Infrequent ambient compositions that cropped up on her Bandcamp are about the size of her output aside to her involvement in past bands Marriages and Red Sparowes. Dipping her toes in elements of post-rock, psychedelia and sludge folk, Some Heavy Ocean titrates the worked in grooves of say Mazzy Star with an expansive and whirring production amassing to a style of singer-songwriter of shadow-casting proportions, a rarity in the epoch of songwriting minimalism.

For the most part, Emma’s vocals remain unfiltered, strong and purposeful, though  overcast mixing often stifles and quells nuances and detail while overarching spaciness leaves lyrics muffled and her intonation to be our sentimental compass. In the same vein, swelling orchestrals blunt rather than heighten a sensation of Emma’s voice in ‘Arms I Know So Well’ dulling the melody. The guitars and overall vibes of the track persevere to a really experimental and dynamic shift in the second half of the track finding the sweet spot between ambition and reserve.

Not to say that all the instrumental accompaniments are always obnoxious or over-zealous, on ‘Shadows of my Name’ the lavish string sections intertwine with cradled remorse through forcefully strummed and broken chords. Similarly, the canonic fingerpicking in “Haunted Houses” builds interiors of stain glassed cathedrals and internal echo chambers – this inaugural theme of reflection reverberates throughout the whole record, inwardly and literally.

And the concept of opposing sounds or motions resonates more profoundly than initially considered. Her character throughout exhibits symptoms of polarisation between unwavering spite and vigour and a psyche of fragility and dependence like on ‘Run Forever’ where Emma reiterates “If we both go down / we go down together”. While the sentiment is adoring, Some Heavy Ocean, for it’s length, stretches and transverses more gritty atmospheres. Closing track ‘Living with the Black Dog’ features rumbling growls of callously stabbed guitars and prophetic imagery of clandestine wrenching and sad-comings.

Though for all the covered ground, it would benefit the album as a whole if Rundle had opted for more creative fillers than the counter-flowing trip-out that opens the record ‘Some Heavy Ocean’ and superfluous ‘Your Card in the Sun’ which serve up little in terms of fresh dynamic or direction considering they occupy 20% of the track-listing, a structural detriment to an otherwise balanced album.

So despite the left-field mixing and wasted opportunities, the beauty of Heavy Ocean is found frequently in moments of pensive tranquility like gentle ballad ‘Oh Sarah’ channeling lush harmonies among timid guitars further reinforcing my thesis of Emma as a character of two halves negotiating equally dark and light mental terrains. The feelings alluded throughout are the key to grasping this record, a documentation of inner turmoil and conflict presented in a jeweled casing, despite it’s dented exterior.

 FAV TRACKS: Haunted House, Run Forever, Oh Sarah

LEAST FAV TRACKS: Some Heavy Ocean, Your Card In The Sun

SCORE: (6.6/10)

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“Hunger Of The Pine” Alt-J

Alt J

Hunger Of The Pine Track Review

Infectious Records

Released June 18, 2014

Genre: Experimental Rock, Art Rock, Electronic

Eclecticism can have its perks. I mean, look at bands like The Talking Heads or The Flaming Lips, both incredibly eccentric bands, equally respected in the music scene. Alt-J have slowly been unraveling their own unique blend of eclectic styles throughout their short, ongoing existence. We’re talking about a band that substituted a hi-hat with a cowbell, and insists that sitar solos can make a hit named after a plant.  Moreover, the band’s sound on their debut, the spectacular An Awesome Wave, showed us how much effort and layers of sound and instrumentation can be added to such simple songs. This new track of theirs seems like the perfect direction for a them, in terms of creativity and instrumentation.

Right off the bat, electronic blips accompany frontman Joe Newman’s warm vocals. Layers of orchestral strings, synths, horns and even a sample of a Miley Cyrus song come in with hip hop beats. Drummer Thom Green comes in shortly thereafter, again with no cymbals. But I won’t complain; that’s how Alt-J fans love it. The beloved harmonies come in, and all the sounds coalesce to form a stellar track that, despite its lack of any climax or change in direction, will satisfy any fan of Alt-J.

Alas, there’s no guitar plucking, due to the departure of band member Gwil Sainsbury. “The lyrics mainly suggest the idea that missing someone — pining — can be a physical pain much like hunger” says band member Gus Unger-Hamilton. Whatever the group may be pining for, it sure doesn’t decimate their musical strength. For as the song comes to a close with the fuzzy bass lines that fans know and remember it remains true that Alt-J is back, and for now, they’re more eclectic and better than before. The lyrics actually make sense this time around too. Bravo guys.

PRETTY NEAT MUSIC

 

SCORE: (8.3/10)

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WATCH: JACK WHITE’S 26-SONG HEADLINING SET AT BONNAROO 2014

Jack White’s full, 26-song headlining set is now available on YouTube. The two-hour plus set went forty-five minutes over his scheduled appearance on the Main Stage at last weekend’s Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee. The performance covered songs from most of White’s career: from his work with The White Stripes, The Dead Weather, and The Ranconteurs, to his solo work: Blunderbuss and the recently released Lazaretto (review coming soon). Billboard reported that “Jack White put on a clinic on how to close out the main stage”, while Consequence of Sound reported that White delivered “one of the best headlining performances in the festival’s 13-year history.” Watch the performance, and see for yourself.

Jack White Bonnaroo setlist:

Icky Thump (The White Stripes)
High Ball Stepper (Solo)
Lazaretto (Solo)
Hotel Yorba (The White Stripes)
Temporary Ground (Solo)
Missing Pieces (Solo)
Steady, As She Goes (The Raconteurs)
Top Yourself (The Raconteurs)
I’m Slowly Turning Into You (The White Stripes)
Freedom at 21 (Solo)
Three Women (Solo)
You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told) (The White Stripes)
We’re Going to Be Friends (The White Stripes)
Alone in My Home (Solo)
Ball and Biscuit (The White Stripes)
The Lemon Song (Led Zeppelin cover)

Encore:
The Hardest Button to Button (The White Stripes)
Hello Operator (The White Stripes)
Misirlou (Dick Dale and His Del-Tones cover)
Sixteen Saltines (Solo)
Cannon (The White Stripes)
Blue Blood Blues (The Dead Weather)
Astro (The White Stripes)
Love Interruption (Solo)
Little Bird (The White Stripes)
Seven Nation Army (The White Stripes)

Icky Thump, High Ball Stepper

Lazaretto, Hotel Yorba, Temporary Ground

Missing Pieces

Steady As She Goes, Top Yourself

I’m Slowly Turning Into You

Freedom at 21, Three Women

You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told), We’re Going to Be Friends

Alone in My Home

Ball and Biscuit, The Lemon Song

Encore
The Hardest Button to Button, Hello Operator, Misirlou

Sixteen Saltines, Cannon, Blue Blood Blues, Astro, Love Interruption

Little Bird, Seven Nation Army

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NEW TRACK FROM ALT-J: “HUNGER OF THE PINE”

British experimental/psychedelic rock/folk trio Alt-J have premiered a new track off of their upcoming sophomore LP, This Is All Yours. The song is composed of electronic synth blips that grow as the song intensifies, with lead vocalist Joe Newman tenderly croons. The song also samples Miley Cyrus’ song “4×4”, an interesting aspect in my opinion. That’s the album art up above. The album is the follow up to their excellent  An Awesome Wave. Listen to the song down below:

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“Days of Abandon” The Pains of Being Pure At Heart

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The Pains of Being Pure At Heart

Days of Abandon Album Review

Yebo Music

Released 2014

Genre: Indie Pop, Noise Pop, Jangle Pop, Shoegazing
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With a new label and the departure/addition of band members, Indie pop band The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have released their third album, Days of Abandon. It has been nearly three years since their last album, Belong, was released. The New York-based band received their most success from their first self-titled album which made them one of the most talked about bands in 2009.

With the departure of original keyboardist Peggy Wang and bassist Alex Naidus, and arrival of Jen Goma from A Sunny Day in Glasgow and brass player Kelly Pratt, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (POBPAH, for the sake of this review) move away from their highly praised shoegaze sound towards jangle pop territory on Days of Abandon. On their previous album, many of the songs had this My Bloody Valentine-esque feel but with a more accessible, pop tone. However, on Days of Abandon it is more jangly, toned down, peaceful, and the sound, clearer. Some of the songs on here could be played in retail stores such as Forever 21. Differing from previous albums, frontman, Kip Berman, conveys a sense of heartbreak along with reconciling young idealism with the pains of “post-adolescent coupling” where as the previous albums were more of the emotions of heartbreak.

From the start of the first track in the album, “Art Smock,” Days of Abandon is more graceful, more peaceful, and subtler than any Pains record before it. The contributions of the new members can be clearly heard where as on Belong it felt like the guitar and drums were overpowered. Moreover, many, if not, all of the tracks here carry Berman’s emotional outpouring. This outpouring is “more pragmatic and less excitable.” Tracks such as “Beautiful You”,  “Simple and Sure”, and “Coral and Gold” portrays Berman’s heartbreak; however, there are the bits and pieces of young idealism instilled in there.

Overall, Days of Abandon is POBPAH’s fizziest and poppiest record yet. The distortion is gone and in its place is the crisp gallop instilled with dream-like balladry and near perfect indie-pop. Certainly when hearing the album at first, it can come across as brittle and muffled, lacking the emotional charge from POBPAH’s past record, but Abandon’s melodies are very stable and majestic. Abandon can almost be like a transition album from shoegaze to indie-pop with more to come. Or in another sense, Days of Abandon is the beginning of a new, “mature” Pains.

 

FAV TRACKS: Art Smock, Simple and Sure, Eurydice

LEAST FAV TRACK:

Score: (7.4/10)

 

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Admire The Distance: Looking Back At 35 Years of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures

Joy Division

Unknown Pleasures 35th Anniversary Retrospective

Factory Records

Released June 15, 1979

Genre: Post- Punk, Gothic Rock

Joy Division’s story is probably one of the most powerful stories in the history of rock. Despite being active for only four years, the band made enough music to change everything about the rock and punk movements, and their influence still resounds today. It all started with their debut album Unknown Pleasures in 1979, that’s where this story truly kicks into gear.

The 70s was when punk music was on the rise, gaining prominence for its aggressive and chaotic sound and advances. Ironically, Joy Division started off as a punk band, but quickly spurred off into a different sub genre, one they would ultimately begin and popularize. The sub genre was known as post-punk; rather than be just like Iggy Pop or The Sex Pistols, the band focused more on melancholic sounds, with a much more darker and morose aesthetic, partly due to the songwriting of their lead singer, Ian Curtis.

Curtis was troubled from the start; suffering from epilepsy and depression, Curtis lyrically stabbed at topics such as death and darkness, and they hardly uplifted or angered anyone, rather they depressed listeners severely. His lyrics, darkly poetic, and his voice, deep and full of pain and suffering, helped push the moody atmosphere of Joy Division’s work, which explains why most people would consider this a “gothic rock” album.

The first track, “Disorder”, opens up with very cold and sullen instrumentation: fast yet hollow drum beats, a foreboding bass line, and spookily reverberated guitars, all accompanying Curtis’ bleak lyrics: “I’ve been waiting for a guide to come and take me by the hand/ Could these sensations make me feel the pleasures of a normal man?/ These sensations barely interest me for another day/ I’ve got the spirit, lose the feeling, take the shock away,” and aptly so. Curtis’ seizures affected him so badly, to the point where he had to be carried off the stage mid-concert, explaining the spooky line on “Disorder”: “Lights are flashing cars are crashing/getting frequent now/I’ve got the spirit/lose the feeling/let it out somehow.” Considering this is one of their most well-known tracks, “Disorder” vividly paints a picture of what to expect from Joy Division.

The clues to this story continue on in the album. “Days Of The Lords” finds Curtis’ strained voice screaming “Where will it end?” and on “Insight”, “I’m not afraid anymore,” showing that these signs were right in front of us the whole time. Curtis’ cries for help and for existential answers were never answered, and Unknown Pleasures only gets darker from here. The empty atmosphere of “New Dawn Fades” (Even this title is depressing) and  heavy riffage of “She’s Lost Control” all contribute to the dark, bleak, and morose tones this album finds itself in. “In the shadowplay/ acting out your own death/ knowing no more” Curtis sings on “Shadowplay”, which is where the emotional and lyrical precision of the album coalesces.

However, in all the bleakness of Joy Division’s music is beauty. There are some riffs that inspire (“Disorder”) and some that scare (“Wilderness”), but they all nonetheless draw you in, pointing out the fragility of life and forcing you to appreciate what you have now. Everything about this album is perfect: from the eccentric production, to the dark lyricism, to the revolutionary sub genre that it created, and to the long lasting influence it would leave behind. Unknown Pleasures is a classic in rock music and after 35 years it still stands powerful, revolutionary, and heartbreaking.

However, in the four years of their existence, Joy Division could only produce two albums, their second being Closer, a staple in the world of gothic rock, but that’s another story. But with one album, Joy Division brought upon the genre of post punk and revolutionized punk rock and rock music in general. It’s incredibly hard to imagine The Cure, Interpol, Echo & The Bunnymen, or even U2 without the power and influence of Unknown Pleasures. I wish the ending to this story was a happy one, but there’s a reason that Joy Division have two albums.

In the early hours of May 18, 1980, before Joy Division was scheduled to embark on their first tour of the United States, Ian Curtis hung himself in his kitchen, while Iggy Pop’s The Idiot played on his record player. His health, epilepsy, marriage, and career have all been said to play a role in the suicide, but what’s done is done. Due to a prior agreement from the band, Joy Division was forced to disband and stop making music as Joy Division. The remaining members however did find future success by reforming as New Order, pioneering the genre of New Wave music in the 80s, but again, that’s another story waiting to be told.

And just like that Joy Division was gone.Their physical presence, almost non existent. However, just like The Velvet Underground before them, Joy Division left a permanent mark in the world of music, a mark that can never be erased. Just like their music, this story wasn’t a joyful experience, but it is an important one. It’s a story that struck an emotional chord with me and other Joy Division fans alike, that resonates with time. It’s incredibly hard to believe that a band that met at a Sex Pistols concert, had a mentally distraught frontman, and had only released only two albums could make such an enormous impact on the world of rock music. But what’s done is done, and we couldn’t be more thankful for it, and the world of music, better for it.

The following is a clip from the Ian Curtis biopic “Control”, which depicts Curtis’ emotional troubles with performing: