Shpongle – Ineffable Mysteries From Spongleland (2009)
Electronic dance music is nothing if not kinetic. The latest incarnation of the genre has left an unmistakable imprint on summer music festivals and is leading a seemingly inexorable march into the mainstream. EDM’s resurgence has actuated a surplus of buzz and Shpongle’s Eastern textures are essential to that conversation. However, what truly separates Shpongle from the myriad other DJs dominating dance floors isn’t their flair for Eastern modes, but their ability to align explosive, body-quaking beats with a patient, meditative vibe. The musical tension always breaks, but before it does, Shpongle luxuriates in gradual builds, psychedelic innuendos, and ambient sounds. When the musical tension breaks, the subsequent full-body release is earned. – Jeremy Schaefer
Codeine – Frigid Stars (1990)
Inexplicably, Codeine’s slowcore masterpiece remains in a state of frigid hibernation despite the amount of influence it appears to exert over the last decade of alternative music. Existing about a decade after Joy Division and a decade before Interpol, Codeine serves as the evolutionary link between post-punk and the revival it has experienced in recent years.’Gravel Bed’ picks up where The Cure left off with ‘Seventeen Seconds’ and ’3 Angels’ hints at the larger darkness that Interpol would create.
In itself, Frigid Stars works best when left untouched for 40 minutes. The atmosphere slowly burns throughout and the songs blend together with foggy edges. It’s a sad album, but not depressing. It’s a slow album, but not static. It’s a rock ‘n’ roll album, but it rarely rocks. When Sub Pop picked them up and released the album in 1991, it’s understandable how it slipped into the ether as Nirvana bludgeoned the scene. ‘Cigarette Machine’ contains the same soft/loud dynamics as a Nirvana song, but it’s played at half the speed and under darker skies.
Like the aforementioned Interpol and even The Velvet Underground, something about Codeine exudes New York City to the listener. It’s impossible to qualify, but it’s there in the atmosphere trickling from the speakers. From the album art to their name to every song on the album, Codeine strike the perfect balance of slowcore beauty on Frigid Stars. – Jason Lent
Chromatics – Kill for Love (2012)
Given the length, both in running time and number of tracks, it is easy to see from the onset that Kill for Love is an ambitious effort from Chromatics. I personally did not pay them all that much mind until after seeing Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, which featured a shortened version of ‘Tick of the Clock’, a 15-minute track from their previous album, Night Drive. Thankfully, Kill for Love is a more mature and broadening effort than its predecessor. Chromatics have learned not only to find the beauty in darkness, but harness that beauty and apply it to their strengths. A cover of Neil Young’s ‘Into the Black’ is chosen as the opening and provides bleak overture, contrasted by the following title track, which surges and plays upon the nostalgia and heartache of various nighttime endeavors.
However, perhaps the most glorious achievement is the 14-minute instrumental closer ‘No Escape’, which employs a refined subtlety I was not aware Chromatics were capable of.
When the year is up, Kill for Love will almost certainly be gracing the top of my year-end list. – Joe Mateo
The Bulgarian Voices Angelite & Huun-Huur-Tu – Fly, Fly My Sadness (1996)
By virtue of peering into the fog and lumbering forward nevertheless, we’ve hacked away the self-imposed trammels that have long cut us down to size. We won’t tightrope the line between pragmatism and promise as though we’re walking on eggshells anymore, cautiously arranging every filament in our lives to avoid even the faintest of ripples in the water. We’re primed to race to and from these supposed poles as our whim decrees. And this whim shouts its decrees from the rooftops, ruffling feathers, rarin’ to go. Is the road ahead daunting? Absolutely, but aren’t those jitters simply tokens of…significance? Been a while since that was around.
This is a test. A test designed to defy our strength through the menace of the past repeating itself. It’s all we know, really, and whether we look back on it with contentment or contrition, we also know it’s time to move on.
Solemn, cavernous pipes throw down the first gauntlet, digging up sundry regrets and propelling them forward into the night, dust-covered phantasms whispering not-so-sweet nothings into earshot to discourage our trek. No pristine tones, this throat singing lays ugliness bare, creaking and croaking while looking for cracks in our resolve. The storm always wanes, though. It’s a mere matter of waiting it out. Behind the tempestuous gloom rest gleams. A communal optimism exhaled by all those who have emerged on the better side of their bout with the bygone. Fluttery trills dart in to dissolve the viscosity — to set us free — millions of tiny, gilded flickers banding together to pull us skyward.
Fly, Fly My Sadness is a coruscant and complex lattice, each voice reverberating with a logic entirely its own. We’re depended upon not only to sort out and see the good and gracious pulse at the core of these incantatory waves, but to see them through. No shortcuts, no piggybacking. It’s on us, a bunch of fledgling birds, to keep our composure amidst jarring compositions.
Though we thought the glistening choral chants filtered in to alleviate the heft of this journey, they’re equally cumbersome on occasion. At the tip of their fury, they shoot through dusk’s oblivion from every imaginable direction, skulking along the fringes of the frame one instant and then swelling to flood it the next — an exhilarating if not kind-of-terrifying heartbeat that shifts from modest to monumental overdrive on a dime. Regrettably, they must be held in check as well. Otherwise, we’d be razing whole provinces down instead of blazing the trail we seek within them. See, this is wrenching and personal…AND rapturous and panoramic. We can dabble in both plains, but we can’t err too far down any single lane. Buttoning up to the hilt runs the risk of bottling our concessions and crumbling beneath their weight. Shedding the buttons altogether, meanwhile, is basically daring fate to sober our rosy stupor.
We’ve struck just the right balance, owning up to the debris left scattered in our wake without obscuring our visions of tomorrow. We’re humbled by the rubble, not hamstrung. This is standing tall. This is rarefied air. We’re grounded and gliding toward the firmament all at once. – Vinh Cao