Monday, 13 October 2014

Pharmakon - Bestial Burden Review

Where do I start with Pharmakon? Well, I would categorize her as an artist I love, but no one else I know does (in fact I once made the mistake of playing “Milkweed/It Hangs Heavy” to one of my friends and they haven’t looked at me the same way since). Regardless of your opinion of her music, to feel this excited about a new(ish) artist is rare and should be commended. Anyway, for a while I thought Abandon would be the only ‘noise/power electrics’ record I needed in my life (mainly because a vast majority of the acts in those respective genres are pretty much garbage to me) but on Bestial Burden Margaret Chardiet has upped the ante and delivered one of the most powerful records of the year.

Abandon was a strange little record, literally; it was only 4 tracks long (with the exception of the ‘bonus track’ “Sour Sap”, which was a whopping 27 minutes long) and the music itself was deranged. Abandon was not an easy record either. Much like going to the gym, the first few times are a real struggle but you eventually adjust and begin to reap the rewards, not like I would actually know but it felt like an apt analogy, so there. While Bestial Burden isn’t worlds apart from its predecessor, it truly is a completely different experience, and this is made very clear from the very first second.

Bestial Burden is certainly a lot darker; I always felt Abandon had a kind of earthy quality, mainly due to the muffled synths and gritty textures (not to mention the maggot-heavy imagery) which gave it a mild sense of warmth. In contrast, Bestial Burden is just cold. The combination of sharper production and clearer mixing of the vocals give Bestial Burden a more industrial and confrontational feel. Following the panicked, breathy and almost ambient intro track “Vacuum”, you are confronted by the rusty clang of “Intent or Instinct”, which is essentially 8 minutes of utter terror. On this particular track Margaret ditches her usual screams and instead delivers a sort of growl reminiscent of a pitbull in its final stages of rabies, just begging to be put out of its misery. This is a breeze compared to “Primitive Struggle”, the most uncomfortable and grotesque track I have ever experienced…in the best possible way of course. I mean, if anyone could make coughing, spitting and gagging over power electronics awesome, it’s Margaret.

You are then hit with the tribal stomp of “Autoimmune”, the most direct track we’ve heard from her yet; no real intro, no real build up, it just goes. It is relentless and extremely dense, yet still has an added element of ~accessibility~ through the circular song structure. The way in which she asserts the line, “I’m a surgeon/ In this vessel,” is also completely badass. There are also moments on Bestial Burden were Margaret makes the full transition from industrial noise to dark ambient, such as the Armageddon-channeling “Body Betrays Itself” and of course, the jarring title track. On the latter, the instrumentation is heavy and bleak, but the vocals are ethereal and spacey with a few schizophrenic bellows of “I don’t belong here/ In the hands of nothing!” Menacing samples of laughter thrown in for good measure. In this track we hear her truly nail the record’s aesthetic and encapsulate an acute sense of anguish and fear — the sonic decay of the tracks show just how fragile our bodies are and the lack of control we have when they begin to fail. It’s a terrifying idea and a bleak reminder of its inevitability, and there is absolutely nothing we can do to stop it.

Bestial Burden, though intense and uncompromising, is also visceral and has moments of true beauty. It certainly feels more like an ‘album’ than Abandon ever did with each song contributing a different idea and insight into the concept of the record. Though there is immense contrast between the sparser, otherworldly tracks (“Vacuum” and “Bestial Burden”) and the face-melting, bone crushing ones (“Autoimmune”), the album feels cohesive and fluid in its tone, every track serves its purpose. Most importantly, Bestial Burden is a piece of art, and the artwork itself is just the beginning, the arrangements and sounds hit hard and leave a lasting impression. This is most certainly not everyone’s thing, but like all great art, it provokes thought and debate, achieving much more than just a disposable file on your computer.


Best Tracks: Intent or Instinct, Body Betrays Itself, Autoimmune, Bestial Burden

I know this is difficult stuff, but if you like what you've heard so  far and want to start exploring darker music, I have crafted a handy little playlist which will ease you in nicely. 

Good luck!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Best Of September

A little later than usual but I hope to make up for that soon, here are my favourite tracks and albums of September. This month I feel was more about quality rather than quantity; all the albums and tracks in this posts are pretty much guaranteed to place highly on my best of 2014 lists. The playlist at the end of the post will feature tracks from every artist for a change. Enjoy!

Albums of the month

Perfume Genius - Too Bright

What makes Too Bright special is its ability to shift between these aforementioned off-kilter avante-pop tracks and more stripped back balladry, meaning that the content shows heaps of progression without alienating his prior fanbase. Despite the immense levels of confidence he exhumes on the more instrumentally dense tracks ('Queen', 'Grid', 'Longpig'), we still see moments of emotional vulnerability and self-loathing on the piano ballads, a familiar territory for Hadreas. Closing track 'All Along' has a very similar effect to that of 'Windows', the closer on Angel Olsen's Burn Your Fire For No Witness; through the majestic instrumentation and the defiant sentiment of "I don't need your love, I don't need you to understand, I need you to listen", the album becomes a statement of where Hadreas is with himself, which adds a new level of satisfaction to the record.

Read my full review here.

Aphex Twin - Syro

I'll keep this one brief because this release has been all over the music media since it was announced and yeah, you should believe the hype. Though (as many reviews have already stated) this is hardly anything particularly ground breaking for the genius that is Richard D James, but it is certainly one of his most accessible records to date (song titles aside). From sparse ambient moments like 'aisatsana [102]' to the more dense acid-techno bangers like '180db_[130]' and the healthy in between in the form of lead single 'minipops'. With more music allegedly on the way, these are exciting times to be an Aphex fan.

GOAT - Commune

Picking up were their incredible debut World Music left off; Commune is a trippy exploration of styles from around the globe, from Western surf-rock, African tribal drums to psychedelic guitar twangs with Eastern flavours. With such a melting pot of cultural sounds, it would be easy to cheapen and trivialize their significance, but GOAT do them justice throughout, in the most celebratory way possible.

My Brightest Diamond - This Is My Hand

On her fifth LP, Shara Worden embraces pop sensibilities like never before, yet she still incorporates the classical and chamber pop elements which made her previous output so classy and authentic. The usual woodwind and horn sections are accompanied by marching bands, choirs and synths, taking her theatrics to a whole new level.

Songs of the month

Arca - Thievery

Following some stellar production work with FKA Twigs as well as two phenomenal solo EPs, Arca is finally releasing his debut album Xen in November. As the disturbing artwork and single 'Thievery' suggest, this album is expected to push the boundaries of experimental electronica further than ever before. And judging by this track, Xen could be a late contender for album of the year.

Flying Lotus - Coronus, the Terminator

While pretty much everyone on the internet continue to loose their minds over Fly-lo's Kendrick Lamar collab 'Never Gonna Catch Me', I on the other hand much prefer this slow burning jazz fusion masterpiece. Despite being a mere 2 minutes 40 seconds in length, 'Coronus, the Terminator' manages to change the entire pace of his latest LP You're Dead! and is certainly an album highlight. 

Rosie Lowe - Water Came Down

You may vaguely recall me badgering on about Rosie Lowe and her wonderful EP Right Thing late last year, well after a year of gigging and recording she has finally put out a new track in preparation for her debut album (due sometime next year). 'Water Came Down' is the most uptempo track she's produced to date, yet her soulful twang still maintains the sensuality which made her a name to watch in the first place. 

Kendrick Lamar - i

When I first heard 'i' I thought I was listening to an Outkast track, I am yet to determine whether this is a good thing or not but then again, I like Outkast and I like Kendrick, so I guess it's the best of both worlds. Stepping away from the grit of his seminal Good Kid M.A.A.D City; 'i' sees Kendrick explore a more positive vibe with the refrain 'I love myself'. Regardless of your thoughts on this track, the prospect of a new Kendrick album is still a very exciting prospect. 

Deers - Barn

Now it wouldn't be an iplugtoyou post without a female-fronted indie rock band of some kind, so here's a band from Spain called Deers. There is a surprising amount of hype surrounding these guys and though I am a little confused by it all, their output thus far has been consistently catchy and fun, with 'Barn' being no exception.