Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Rain Before The Storm Review

If there's one thing that I can say about former InMe guitarist Ben Konstantinovic, it's that he is unique. On his debut EP, Rain Before The Storm, he uses a technique known as lap-tapping. For those unfamiliar with this method, it is simply this: He sits with his guitar, whether it be acoustic or electric, across his lap and uses quick finger taps against the strings to make a unique listening experience. Sounds simple enough, but when listened to, it's clear that it takes skill and accuracy to create the multi-layered experience that comes with Rain Before The Storm. There are no lyrics, no other instruments, just one man and his guitar, which injects each song with a very personal touch. For those who appreciate a nice night drive, this record is definitely catered to you.

Beginning with the title track, the interesting and immense atmosphere that remains present throughout most of the EP is immediately apparent. The swift, perfectly executed finger taps keep you engaged and interested in what comes next, and it's never the same. Each song feels like a distinct story flowing right from the fingers of Konstantinovic, and for me, I noticed a definite mood for each track. For the title track: A triumph, success over a personal demon. Thoughts of You: A yearning for another and an overall relationship-inspired feel. The Journey: Just that, an adventure and that youthful feeling of journeying out and discovering. Requiem: A fitful conclusion, an end to something important and substantial. Perhaps that's what is most engaging about Rain Before The Storm, the feelings that each person can perceive differently from each song.

As mentioned, nearly every track holds a special uniqueness and sincerity that is seldom felt from modern music. However, the one track that didn't really engage my mind was Thoughts of You, where it felt just a little too much like what you would hear in an elevator, or during the credits of a soap opera. Not to say that it isn't a quality song, it just doesn't hold the same imagination-capturing atmosphere of the three other tracks which tend to overshadow upon listening. Take any of the other songs into a normal situation, whether it be driving, jogging, or simply staring at the ceiling at night, and you're guaranteed to have a relaxed, thought-provoking experience courtesy of Ben Konstantinovic.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

This Is For The White In Your Eyes Review

I've never quite understood how the word"big" could be applied to music. It doesn't seem to fit in with the typical vocabulary used to described sound, but for some albums it's the only way to capture it in a single word. It immediately came to mind when I first listened to Choir Of Young Believers' grandiose record, This Is for the White In Your Eyes. The ever-shifting group is captained by Jannis Noya Makrigiannis, who uses his group of supporting musicians to make gorgeous, immense soundscapes. I say ever-shifting because throughout the record only one aspect stays the same, and that's Jannis. The instrumentation is never the same for two songs with the cast moving in and out with graceful ease. You could remove the lyrics (which aren't too spectacular in the first place) and simply enjoy the fantastic musicianship, which of course is a strike against the lyricism itself. In hind-sight, it's really the "choir" in COYB that makes This Is for the White In Your Eyes come together as a grand achievement of a debut LP and not so much the lyrics that Jannis conceives.

It will take only one full listen to understand what I'm incoherently trying to say about this album. Even after several listens, I haven't fully digested this and I think that's what appeals to me most. There's so much that's offered here that it would take many, many listens in order to hear every little instrument, every tiny sound, and every hardly audible supporting singer in the background. The way this is structured could easily be compared to Radiohead, and that would be absolutely accurate. The vocals, the music, and even the lyrics at some times have a very Radiohead vibe to them while still staying mostly unique.

The first taste of the aforementioned comes from the opening track, Hollow Talk, which is among the best tracks on the record. It begins with some simple piano playing, but eventually expands into this huge, powerhouse of a song. The crescendo is one of the top points of the album and really displays the way that Jannis is able to manipulate the music to make it feel enormous. In this song alone there is the ever-present piano, a cello, an acoustic guitar, violins, and drums. So throughout the course of a single song, close to an entire orchestra is piece-by-piece mixed in with Jannis' vocals. The sheer magnitude of that is astounding in itself, but this song also holds some of the stronger lyrics of the record, making it one of the best openings to a record I've heard.

From there the pace of the record never really catches on, which becomes one of the overall cons, but is not entirely negative. Each song has a unique vibe to it, which at time can kill the flow, but is still a musical aspect to be admired. Ambition is a big thing for this group and it's obvious throughout the course of the album that they strive for excellence and stray away from other bands, however much they may resemble a few. While I'm talking about the cons I may as well bring up the other thing that keeps this album from shining, the lyrical slope that begins with Hollow Talk. From there on, the lyrics remain good for a few songs, but by the end of the album they become forgettable and really unnoticeable among the music. There's not a real theme established, nor is there a very coherent flow to what the lyrics are trying to say, they're kind of just there for Jannis' vocals to be present throughout the record.

On the subject of Jannis' singing, it resembles, much like the rest of the record, Radiohead's vocalist Thom Yorke. Whether these similarities were purposeful or if that style is just popular in English music, it will most likely be noted by anyone who is familiar with Radiohead's music. The singing is great for what it's doing, which is just adding to the atmosphere that the music is creating. Though as I mentioned before, what he's singing never really matters in the long run. It's all about the music on this record, which can leave people a little sour depending on how they enjoy their music.

In the end you have to take This is for The White In Your Eyes for what it is to truly appreciate it. While the lyrics may be inconsistent throughout the record, the music more than makes up for it, and for a debut LP, this is damn good. It doesn't surprise me in the least bit that it garnered as much attention as it did in its original country. The sheer size of the album is enough to make you fall into it head first and come out feeling refreshed with modern music. It doesn't blow minds, but it does make you feel something, and that's what is essential in the end.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hopkins' Witch (Short Story Series 1 Pt. 3)

I stride silently down a beaten country road, a white picket fence to my right and a looming forest to my left. The stick in my right hand makes clicking noises as it slowly pats itself against each post in the fence. I've walked this road hundreds of time, coming here whenever my mind needs to be soothed. Except it's different this time, I don't desire to walk the normal route back -- I wish to walk and never return. I've been living with my mother for the past few years. She's a moping mess, always mourning the loss of my father. I can't stand being around her every day. She hardly says a word, always whispering about how things would be better if my father were there. He disappeared one haunting winter and soon became the gossip of the village. He was a hunter and the last I saw of him was when he was packing his bow and arrows for his final voyage into the forest that hangs over me like a tyrant to my left.

I glance over every few seconds, expecting to see him there with his confident grin and a fresh kill in his hands. I curse the trees and the roots keeping them alive. The local priest tells me that I shouldn't blame nature, but blame my father's tyrannical attitude toward wildlife. I punched his front teeth out. Haven't heard much of him since then. People think it's strange that I'm so violent. Say I'm just like my father, cocky and easily provoked. My attitude is justified. They all forgot about him, even praising his disappearance. I should take his old bow and teach them some respect.

Evil thoughts, not the thoughts a young girl should have, but they stay there; have been there since I first heard one of the boys in my schoolhouse laughing at my father's demise. I had always been a quiet girl, but I changed that day. I grabbed him by the collar and threw him across the room with frightening strength. The teachers are afraid of me, the children are afraid of me, the town is afraid of me. I'm not normal, and that is why I walk this familiar path to my unknown destination. This town is too old fashioned for its own good. Accusations of me being a witch like this is Salem.

Maybe I am a witch. I can conjure the elements right into my hand. The sparks are weak, but they are there. I enjoy frightening the villagers. Put out the fire on their torches as they held their weekly religious gathering in the courtyard. They blame the breeze, but I think they know. They know that I've been watching. I enjoy the feeling of being powerful; different than the other brainless peasants. Retribution is in order for those hypocrites. Claiming their religious killings are justified, but when a hunter disappears they claim his archery is an attack on nature. I should burn them down. Each corrupted hut, each mockery of a human.

No, Angeline. You are not one of them. You are not a genocidal maniac; however much they deserve it...

The fence ends at a crossroads and my stick drops to the ground. Except there's no road to the right, just a barely visible old path. I've never been this far from the village. I eye my surroundings, observing this new land. Back in the town, nobody ever spoke of a trail into the forest. They said it was up to those who enter to make their own paths, but before me was the ghost of a past path. Barely visible, but definitely there. The trail that snaked from beyond the opening in the fence led right into the darkness of the forest. Dare I follow it and risk the same fate of my father? Maybe he's still out there...

I retrieve my stick from the ground and peer for a few minutes into the forest, pondering my options. My eye catches onto a small wooden post lying on the ground. My neck cocks to the side and I'm nervous to even stick my hand into the forest borders to observe it. I realize my foolishness and walk forward and try to pick up the post. It's wrapped almost completely in vines. A small task. I wrap my fingers firmly around it and concentrate hard. In seconds the vines are aflame and the post is unscathed.

Satisfied with my success, I quickly stand the post up, realizing that it was a path marker. A small wooden plank on the top has two words burned into it. Two very haunting words. It reads ominously, "Hopkins' Witch". I stare for a few seconds, silently contemplating whether this serves a purpose or is just an eerie coincidence. The name of my village rings in my head -- Hopkins' Salvation. The story behind the name is as terrifying as the village itself. My eyes read the sign over and over and the connection makes my stomach turn. Is it destiny for me to travel this road? Is this sign calling for Hopkins' Salvation's witch? It can't be... the sign seems over a decade old. I can't pass up the opportunity. I left the village searching for a new home and maybe this will lead me to such a place.

Maybe this will lead me to my father as well. If he wasn't able to handle the woods, maybe I can't either... No, he didn't have what I possess. I can protect myself. I am Hopkins' Witch after all. What can an old forest have that's so dangerous anyway? I could bring the whole place to ashes if I so chose. That's it then. I will travel the path; find what is there to be found for me. My father? My home? There is nothing that can stand in my way. No villagers, no mother, no nature. I am the god of my own destiny and if this forest is where I've been brought then so be it.

I thrust the post back into the ground. It stands strong and I take my first step into the forest, no idea what comes next. I pick my stick back up and hold it as a weapon. No fear to be found, only hope. I consider giving one last look back toward my village, but no, it will only spark the vengeful spirit inside me. My footsteps are mighty and purposeful. The path below my feet is barely distinguishable among the roots and twigs, but I know I'm going the correct direction. There's a small clearing in the trees showing me my destination and I follow it loyally. Goodbye, Hopkins' Salvation. Hello, Hopkins' Witch.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Talking Through Tin Cans Review

Brevity is something that can work both for and against you in the music industry. If done right, it can prove a great deal of how you're able to control your music as an artist; however, if done poorly, it can show a lack of effort and overall laziness. Where is the line drawn for this especially-important aspect of musical structure? Well, it seems that The Morning Benders have found it and house their 2008 release, Talking Through Tin Cans, right on the border. This California based group teeter dangerously between wonderful and chancy with their song structures. While this is a key point of Tin Cans, it is far from being the only noticeable aspect. The Morning Benders offer much to be heard and felt throughout their relatively minuscule debut LP.

Notice how I said "felt" at the end of the above paragraph? Well that's a very important point when it comes to this record. The band provides poppy, catchy rhythms while all the while holding a very real emotional value. This is immediately present on the opening track, Damnit Anna, where we're introduced to the elements prevalent for the remainder of the record -- Heartbreak and confusion. Both of these are displayed rather effectively through lead man Chris Chu's sometimes sporadic vocal work and his especially sincere songwriting. On Crosseyed, Chu sings solemnly, "A crosseyed mess led me from the flames into the dark/Our empty smiles keep us from completely falling apart", giving you a subtle sense of what's really going on in this man's head. He shifts expertly between this confused state to sad and soon enough to bitter. The transitions are wonderfully done and could easily be noted as the album's strongest element.

After noticing the aforementioned strong points of the album, one may sit back and think "Wow that was great! The lyrics felt real and raw, the vocals are really good and the... the... there were other people in the band right?" And therein lies your problem, the music is totally forgettable. Not to say that it's terrible, in fact it's quite good for what it's doing -- But when the album concludes I had difficulty remembering one thing about the music that really caught my attention. Though you must really give them credit for trying, for there is a great deal of diversity when it comes to the music. It always lends itself to the message of the song, but it doesn't strive to do that while also being both interesting and inventive.

Returning the main point of the album, brevity serves its role in both positive and negative aspects here. Take When We're Apart for example. It clocks in at only one minute and thirty-two seconds, but still holds as one of the stronger songs on the album. Now look at Heavy Hearts, clocking in at three minutes and fifty-one seconds, it drags slightly but is still an effective song. It's an interesting contrast as to how music can be structured in order to make an enjoyable listen. The album itself is only barely over the thirty minute mark, making it slightly short in comparison to most current releases. A length such as that can be an absolute disaster if done sloppily, but The Morning Benders prove their worth and make a very effective listen by keeping it short and sweet, but not without packing it with substance.

It takes a subtle and careful hand to craft a brief album with enough substance to pack a punch, and it appears that The Morning Bender possess that particular musical finesse. With their debut LP they show both that they are crafty in their production while also being intelligent in their lyrical trends. The story arch on this record is a really fun experience and if you can catch onto it, you'll be fully satisfied with Talking Through Tin Cans, a great first record by a great new band.