Tag Archives: 2012

Alcest – Les Voyages de l’Âme

Well that was a pleasant surprise. Alcest toured my home-city of Vancouver just this last year, accompanied by Enslaved and (I believe) Ghost – a show I skipped because I am an idiot and ought to be fired. Anyways, as a result of their touring companions’ respective styles, I acquired Les Voyages de l’Âme expecting to hear something akin to Enslaved’s wall-of-prog Black Metal assault (a taste I’m partial to), and instead was faced with something much more, well, pretty. Alcest’s closest musical cousin – in my catalogue, aside from Agalloch – is Isis, a band I’ve once heard described as “the sound of two guitars conversing”. That’s more or less accurate for Isis – once you factor in the double-kicks and the sludge pedals – and like Isis, Alcest is a band driven by instrumentalism, culminating in a sort of aural haze whose vocals, while certainly emphasized, sink deep and end up a part of the audio scenery. In terms of genre, the two share common roots in Black Metal and Shoegaze, and they push their echoing soundscapes out to epic proportions while evoking Shoegaze’s trademark trance-state in the headphone-equipped listener. It’s engaging stuff if you’re in the mood (and in Vancouver’s slushy rainscape, you ought to be), but Alcest would be nothing without their defining, differentiating feature: they’re really, really French.

Straight out of Bagnols-sur-Cèze, Alcest’s music is certainly in French, but their aesthetic goes deeper than that. Les Voyages de l’Âme is pastoral and imaginative, it explores a longing for a lost childhood world of wonder and magic – and so it comes as no surprise that its name means “The Voyages of the Spirit”, or that track titles vary from “Makers of Worlds” to “We Are The Emerald” and “There, Where New Colours Are Born”. There’s an entrenched sense of non-religious spirituality here, born of a fascination with nature and the yearning of band-leader Neige’s sense of childhood peace amongst “Ses prairies eternelles”. Alcest is one man’s vision of the imagined reality he explored as a child, realized through the expansive and often heavy-handed imagery of his lyricism which, although it will be lost on the majority of North American listeners, intentionally recalls Baudelaire as it meanders from “the call of another universe” to “harbors unknown; linking sky and earth”. Les Voyages de l’Âme is frequently beautiful as it undulates from comforting clouds of noise to Niege’s odd, muffled screams on “Faiseurs de Mondes” (which really recalls Enslaved and Isis). It’s going to prove too self-indulgent or outright silly for some, but if you’re in the dreamy mind-state that Alcest demands, Les Voyages de l’Âme is a strange and rewarding listen, owing far more to Shoegaze than the Black Metal touches it occasionally displays. It’s poetic, and Alcest makes the most of their limited armory (no synthesizers here!), melding acoustic and electric instrumentation into a distinctly dream-like listening experience.

I’ve really enjoyed this one: from its anger-less yearning of its screams to the universality of its subject matter, Les Voyages de l’Âme is easy to recommend. Yes there’s a language barrier, but it’s minimal – if you know the album’s title, you know the content of the lyrics, and can safely let the intonation and earnestness of Neige’s frequently-clean vocals take you from there. Knowledge of the French language isn’t an asset here; appreciation of French artistic aesthetics, magical realism and a strong sense of imagination absolutely are. Les Voyages de l’Âme has been on heavy rotation here at the Transylvanilla Office/Coffeehouse lately, and for good reason: Alcest is working hard and making some really good autumnal music. It isn’t going to blow you away with its track-variety, or the ambition of its instrumentalism, or the depth of its metaphysical analysis, but Alcest doesn’t give the impression that they’re aiming for that anyways – they’re intentionally sleepy and dreamy and, yes, self-indulgent. Les Voyages de l’Âme is melancholy and artistic stuff, and if you dig your Black Metal hazy with some thought behind it, there’s no reason this won’t capably last you until our annual slush-storm wears off sometime around August. Or until the next Agalloch release drops.

8.0

Originally published right here, January 2012. 

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Album of the Year 2011: Tyler, the Creator – Goblin

The first time I ever read anything about Tyler, the Creator, I was on the Adriatic, swigging dark rum, consuming anything English I could get my internet-starved hands on, and gradually growing more and more disgusted. The news that day was that the adolescent Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All leader’s sophomore LP Goblin had just dropped, his first on a major label (XL). The real news that day was that Tyler had successfully beaned an innocent and fashionable bystander, outside of a restaurant, with a frozen treat, from a moving vehicle – the latest in a string of antics that would have been completely embarrassing had he not been about 19 at the time.

Like so many readers that day, my jaw dropped a bit when I read up on OFWGKTA’s lyrical rap sheet: extensive rape imagery, homophobia, necrophilia, racism, alcohol and drug abuse, violence and more! How delightful! On principle, I was completely disgusted – however, seafaring as I was, I had no opportunity at all to actually hear the group. So, I naturally reserved judgment while turning my nose skyward at the whole affair. Now, as anyone staring up at the sky will tell you, turning up your nose has a way of causing you to miss things and kick pets and trip down slight inclines – all of which I did in short order. OFWGKTA had already blown up, leaving me to play catchup in the critical aftermath of the whole thing. Fast-forward several months and Tyler’s gone and won Best New Artist at the MTV Music Video Awards, Odd Future’s opened a clothing store in L.A., crooner Frank Ocean gets featured on a Kanye and Jay-Z album, and I’m giving Tyler, the Creator’s Goblin album-of-the-year certification. So what the hell happened?

Let’s go back to the part of this article that stopped you in your tracks: the lyrical content. Defending and describing the whole of OF is outside the scope of this review – and others have done it better – but rest assured, all of that awful stuff loses none of its potency in translation to a Tyler solo LP (“Oh good”, you reply). Tyler and now-M.I.A. cohort Earl Sweatshirt were the locus of the group’s controversy, and left to his own devices Tyler’s morbid fascinations only intensify, quickly reaching their logical, stomach-churning conclusions (try sitting through “Transylvania”). In and of themselves, the sorts of imagery Tyler brings into play are despicable and indefensible; that much is painfully obvious. Nobody gets away with “F-ck a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome” (“Tron Cat”) without raising some eyebrows and losing more than a few fans (and fans’ lunches) in the process. Drawing out all the relevant quotations to fully flesh out Tyler’s descriptive (and offensive) faculties would take pages upon pages; in short, Tyler is going to horrify and bully you. He’ll shock and antagonize every moral value you’ve got. He’s going to disgust anyone unwitting enough to get caught in the audio-crossfire. Your mom is going to find your copy of Goblin, snap it in half, and be more or less justified in doing so. And that’s just the way he wants it.

It’s an understatement to say that it’s going to take a certain type of listener to enjoy what Tyler does, but that isn’t to say the point of entry is particularly small – it’s just going to take a bit of footwork to reach it. Anyone that caught Tyler’s debut LP Bastard is already in on the act, so to speak: all of Tyler’s novelty and lyrical ammunition would be for nought if there weren’t substance hidden somewhere underneath, and on this front he delivers in spades. As much as Bastard was an hour-long showcase for the Odd Future crew to show off their “swag” and make as many ugly “jokes” as their teenage minds could come up with (and establish themselves stylistically), it was an opportunity for Tyler to exorcise his demons and lay plain on tracks like “Bastard” and “Inglorious” how intensely his life has been affected by the absence of his father, and the mixture of sadness and hatred that absence has bred within him. On those same tracks (and others like them), we find that he loves and respects his mother, that he doesn’t understand girls at all, that he feels isolated in the company of friends, and that he has apparently constant and intense suicidal urges. All of these themes feed upwards into Goblin: Tyler doesn’t hate women (“She”), he hates that he can’t communicate with them, and doesn’t understand how to relate. He doesn’t hate his mother, he hates that he can’t explain what it is he does for a living, having dropped out of college and used her money to record a pair of albums (“Nightmare”). He doesn’t hate you or girls or Asians or the rest of Wolf Gang; he doesn’t even drink or smoke pot – but he isn’t about to tell you that. He’s going to rape, pillage, murder, insult and graphically murder his friends on-track until you either “pull your panties down and start to piss off”, somehow embrace the imagery (Yikes.), or realize his entire musical persona is an intricately maintained work of performance art. On track, Tyler hates critics because they close-read his stuff and defuse him by drawing these messages out – but of course, which raging punk wouldn’t be upset that you’ve gone and lain bare his emotional side?

He doesn’t explicitly avoid this sort of analysis, but he’d rather it stay intuitive, an open secret amongst the fans that “understand” him – which isn’t particularly difficult. At his most confessional his music begs this interpretation, but he sees it as his artistic responsibility to guard it closely (which it is). As he rambles on “Goblin”:

“..But that’s bull of the sheet, they want to critique

Everything that we, Wolf Gang, has every released

But they don’t get it cause it’s not made for them

That nigga that’s in the mirror rapping, it’s made for him

But they do not have the mindset that’s same as him

I’m not weird, you’re just a faggot, shame on him”

Even at his most expositional Tyler can’t help but be abrasive and hurtful (and insincerely, antagonistically homophobic); Goblin isn’t for you, it’s for him (which means it’s for you). Effectively, Tyler wants you to bugger off and get it, and it’s this constant push and pull between audience and artist that makes his material so engaging. Listening closely to Goblin you’ll pick up on themes as diverse as his imbedded guilt over his own success, his affection and respect for his single mother, his complete and total awareness of his hurtfulness (“They claim the shit I say is just wrong/Like nobody has those really dark thoughts when alone/I’m just a teenager, who admits he’s suicide prone/My life is doing pretty good, so that date is postponed”) – but of course initially you’re going to get hung up on the violence and the hatred and bigotry, and that’s exactly the facade that lends his artistic presence so much force.

Lyrically, Goblin is a puzzle I’ve yet to wholly crack, which is why it’s lasted me since May. Musically, it’s spacious and strange; eerily bouncing pianos and synths skitter across “Yonkers”, “Goblin” is slow and echoing with lush strings that seem to drop at random, at odds with the off-kilter percussion and the mumbling pitch-shifted speech of Dr. T.C., Tyler’s self-voiced therapist and conceptual MacGuffin. “Radicals” has its Punk tongue thoroughly in cheek when it chants “Burn shit kill people fuck school” over crackling microphones and that same monotone synth that haunts every corner of the Odd Future catalogue. The deeper message of the song is, as Tyler dubiously states, to express oneself honestly, and its menacing thematic ambiguity only feeds further into his self-battling morality. “She” is as creepy as it is beautiful, with warm synths and a Frank Ocean chorus that’s either about loving devotion or stalking (though likely both). Musically Goblin is consistent to the point of mid-album repetition, which makes sense: Tyler makes all his own beats alongside production by Odd Future member Left Brain. He also designs his own clothes, directs his own music videos, creates his own album-art, very openly loves Pharrell, has one of the strangest and deepest vocal deliveries in contemporary hip-hop, and turns 21 this year. Yikes.

It’s been a curious year for music, the sort of year that allows for an album like Goblin to win top honours. This article has been difficult to write because, emphatically, Goblin isn’t the most consistent, dense, or technically proficient album of the year (you’ll find those below). It stretches long and some tracks feel completely unnecessary: “Boppin’ Bitch” is offensively stupid, Tyler kills his friends in “Window” – which is thematically important – but the eight-minute song itself is intensely long and repetitive. “Fish” is, frankly, quite dull. “Au79” is a great instrumental track, but begs more of itself and suggests Tyler could do subtlety, if he had half a mind to. If you don’t fall for Tyler’s artistic eccentricities almost immediately you’re simply going to be very offended, and that’s that. If you don’t like his echoey, rough voice and production, it isn’t likely to grow on you. If you think the rest of OFWGKTA is untalented, well, I don’t know what to tell you; much of OF’s appeal is charismatic and personality-based – meaning that in the case of some members (Dolphin, Taco), talent is a non-issue. They’re simply there, and they can’t rap, and that’s just how OF is. Actually coming to enjoy Tyler, the Creator after being a former detractor is a difficult thing, I’d know, and it involves a great deal of swallowing one’s pride and good taste.

Tyler, the Creator’s Goblin is a very, very strange album. It’s layered, incessantly bleak, adolescent, and gut-wrenching. It’s certainly underground Hip-Hop, likely Punk, and definitely Shock-Rock of some caliber; Tyler’s furious and he’s articulating his rage and confusion and embarrassment the way he feels most comfortable – by lashing out against everything within reach. That he’s intelligent enough to know this and then subvert his own messages (positive and negative) within nearly every track, at his age, is an astounding achievement. Goblin isn’t the album of the year because it’s the most technical, or the most consistent, or even the most easily listenable. Goblin is the album of the year because it is impressive and, like all great art, thoroughly uncomfortable. After several months with Bastard and Goblin I’m still finding ways to re-interpret tracks, to sketch personal details and thematic reflections out of some of the most utterly offensive lyrics I’ve ever heard. For my money, Tyler, the Creator has released 2011’s most impressive work of musical art – offensive flaws and all – without conceding to almost anyone. Now that’s an accomplishment.

Transylvanilla’s Album of the Year 2011

In No Particular Order, The Runners Up: 

Opeth – Heritage

The Roots – undun

Battles – Gloss Drop

Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage

The Devin Townsend Project – Deconstruction

The Honourable Mentions:

I’m Gay – Lil’ B

Amebix – Sonic Mass

The Throne – Watch The Throne

Fucked Up – David Comes To Life

Akira The Don – Manga Music

Everything here reflects my more-subjective end of the year tallies, which means these rankings Do Not represent these albums’ individual scores. Goblin is not a 10.0, I’m Gay is not a 7.0. These rankings are based on enjoyability, combined with their impact on myself, personally, as a result of their longevity and my extended opportunity for reflection. I have weird taste; weird things win. Onwards, to 2012! 

Originally published right here, January 2012. Swag. 

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T-Pain – RevolveR

Remember back when T-Pain was a big thing and journalists awarded him titles like ‘Autotune Wizard’ and ‘The Man That Brought Auto-Crooning To R&B’? Well gang, it’s time for another T-Pain evolution. It’s time for RevolveR. It’s time to bring autotune to… Steampunk? Alright, so it doesn’t take a music critic to point out that that’s a really bad idea, and it takes T-Pain about one track-name to abandon the concept entirely; despite the promisingly-titled “Bang Bang Pow Pow”, RevolveR takes a stylistic u-turn about five seconds in and never looks back. Do not be mistaken: this is not Steamboy, The Difference Engine, or Abney Park’s latest obsession. In fact, it isn’t much of anything at all – when an album abandons its conceptual pretensions before the first track hits, things never bode well, but once you notice that marketing failure is the least of RevolveR‘s issues.. well, it’s a slow, steam-less march to the grave. What starts as a fun, silly romp devolves into one of the most sloppy, repetitive and surface-of-Mars-barren albums I’ve napped through all year.

Every time I write a review, I quickly jot down some listening notes. They always end up longer than the review itself, and it’s a useful way for me to catalogue an album’s more memorable moments. T-Pain’s no exception. However, with RevolveR, I found my little notepad slowly filling with a collection of T-Pain’s most wretched lyrical SNAFUs, to the point that that’s all I’ve got. Think I’m overreacting? Let’s break format and list some of his lyrical gems:

Warning: this is the tip of the stupidity iceberg.

– “Everybody tappin’ on the bottom of my bottle” (“Bottlez”)

– “She this, she that, her ass so fat” (“It’s Not You (It’s Me)”)

– “Baby it’s not you, it’s me.. it’s the dog in me” (Pitbull, on “It’s Not You (It’s Me)”)

– “Girl plane tickets too high for me to pay” (“Default Picture”, contradicting every other line)

– “Somethin must be wrong wit ma iPhone5…” (“Default Picture”)

– “Girl you makin’ me spend my time, checkin’ your timeline” (“Default Picture”)

– “When you climb on top of me I hit rock bottom” (“Rock Bottom”)

– “Let me get this rubber out this Gucci bag, We gon do something to make your daddy mad” (“Rock Bottom”, RevolveR’s aptly-named halfway-point)

– “Wobble wobble-dy wobble-dy” (the chorus of “Look At Her Go”)

– “My trunk rattlin’ like I got a bunch of New Boyz inside” (“Regular Girl”, sounds like “newborns”, Not the last time this occurs.)

– “Puttin’ creases in my t-shirt with ya ass, baby that’s your theme song put it on tha glass” (“Center of the Stage”, DM me if you know what this means, please)

Okay, so T-Pain has no idea what a metaphor is, and it’s often hilarious – that alone won’t kill a club track. Maybe its necessary that I reiterate that I don’t hate club music. Club music is obligated to do one thing and one thing only: make people dance. I understand that. The key difference with T-Pain is that his lyricism on RevolveR is distractingly bad. Those above quotations aren’t cherry-picking, they’re the lyrical highlights; the only memorable moments of those respective songs when T-Pain isn’t reiterating the same random lines about having sex or meeting a woman or being rich or whatever. And that’s not to say that songs about those things are necessarily bad either, it’s that R&B artists are swimming upstream lyrically – either their lyrics or their delivery has to be compelling enough to counteract the fact that much of their genre (contemporarily) is flooded with repetitive nonsense. Here, T-Pain has neither; go relisten to “Slow Jamz”, go purchase anything Janelle Monae has released – see what I mean (heck, Frank Ocean). T-Pain is on a whole other level, and if you’re still unconvinced, let’s take a listen to the nigh-hilarious, unintentional racism of “Mix’d Girl”. “You tellin’ me you Japanese – I’m tellin’ you.. maybe?”, T-Pain auto-croons to his beloved, “Are you listening? Do you even speak English?”. He then suggests she might not be able to tell him what races her parents are. Do I have to push this any further? This is some of the most entertainingly, unintentionally racist songwriting I’ve ever heard, and even if I were in a club, and “Mix’d Girl” somehow came on, we wouldn’t dance. We’d sit on the floor and laugh and wonder how South Park didn’t get to these lyrics first.

The parade of unintentional hilarity doesn’t stop with “Mix’d Girl”. RevolveR’s potential conceptual success, “Default Picture”, is a heartfelt and sincere ballad about his only-mildly-creepy Twitter-crush on a female abroad, I’ll give him that. “I got this feelin’ in my bones that I can’t get rid of – but that’s probably the bass” is an effective line, and those don’t come cheap on RevolveR (though it does sound like he’s saying ‘balls’). With that set down, he proceeds to really milk the Twitter metaphor: “you don’t ever show up in my mentions, girl, just search my name” “Am I botherin’ you? Should I be unfollowin’ you?”. By the time “Default Picture” wraps up, it isn’t a stretch of the imagination to imagine some errant 4-Chan denizen somehow snuck in and ghostwrote a T-Pain song. The lyrics read like a somber Weird Al tune about online stalking, and on repeat listens only proves itself increasingly self-parodic (sorry Weird Al!). “5 O’Clock” follows and has even deeper issues, incorporating a criminally good Lily Allen sample… which T-Pain subsequently ignores to the extent that her half of the song is sad and touching, and his half still manages to stay drunk and laid and ignorant. The dichotomy is so great it ends up functioning as a metaphor for the entire album: T-Pain is just doing to do his thing, dammit, no matter what you might have to say to the contrary. Perhaps nap time really is the best idea, Lily.

Rarely does an album come along with so many egregious thematic and lyrical issues that I can riff on every single track. “Drowning Again” is feels like the umpteenth slow jam and features lyricism that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Korn track… superimposed over surprisingly pretty pianos that only draw out the already thick melodrama. “I Don’t Give A Fuc” sees T-Pain disappointed in his 4-Loko-chugging girlfriend as he clutches his bottle of ‘Rozay, and features a track-title that ought to have the audience nodding in disappointed agreement (though its Backstreet-Boy-esque harmonies work, and should have been further integrated). By the time “Turn All The Lights On” successfully bangs into place as the album’s proper closer – pairing up with the album “Bang Bang Pow Pow” promised (and failed to deliver) an hour previously – the audience has been fast asleep for twenty minutes and its title has become grimly appropriate.

T-Pain can’t write lyrics and he isn’t entirely sure what to do with a metaphor – ideally, this is why Lil Wayne, Lily Allen, Pitbull, Wiz Khalifa, Chris Brown (x2), One Chance and Ne-Yo show up to lend a hand. In a perfect world, this is how a T-Pain track works. It’s an incredible frustration, then, to watch Lil Wayne be generally lazy (“I go so hard they call me go-so-hard”), Ne-Yo and Chris Brown and One Chance autotune themselves to indiscrimination, Lily Allen get underplayed, and Pitbull be, well, Pitbull. Aside from Wiz Khalifa generally holding his own on his guest verse in “5 O’Clock”, it’s only when E-40 shows up on bonus track #3 that anyone brings any energy… and even then he devotes all his enthusiasm to the sorts of grimy sex-description that don’t feel out of place on an E-40 album, but completely overbalance T-Pain’s milder fare.

I’d go into a discussion of the musicality of RevolveR but, dangit, there aren’t any surprises there either. “Bang Bang Pow Pow” and “Turn All The Lights On” hint at the sort of excitement a proper fun-loving Steampunk T-Pain could have given us, but somewhere along the development process RevolveR morphed into an hour of slow-jams, lazily pot-shotted in the general direction of the strip club. When the beats hit they hit soft, coated in soft strings, pianos, and that omnipresent T-Pain ‘snap. It’s boring because it isn’t inventive, and even when it speeds up to throw in some heavier percussion (“Look At Her Go”) there’s a weird, emphatic lack of energy. When RevolveR doesn’t get you amped, it completely exhausts you.

I wish I had something positive to add here, but RevolveR makes it exceedingly difficult to praise anything at all. Are there singles here? Well, yes, and that’s the marketing philosophy under which this album was released; you’re likely to hear a cut or two off RevolveR at the (strip) club, which is where they belong. Is it T-Pain, will it feed your autotune addiction? Well yeah, it will – but there are others out there doing it better. Sure it’s unintentionally hilarious, but that isn’t the sort of album we go and spend money on, is it? What the heck happened, T-Pain? Fun-loving is one thing, RevolveR is just exhausting and shoddily constructed. Don’t even get me started on the Beatles’ Revolver/RevolveR distinction, or T-Pain’s ongoing autotune obsession, or what the heck musical genre this is. I’m still mad about the lack of Steampunkery. RevolveR fails in its most basic of objectives: it isn’t even amusing.

Tl;dr Bah Humbug.

3.0

Originally published right here, January 2012. Much to my chagrin. 

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