Gazpacho’s Molok Is Not the Art Rock Masterpiece You’re Looking For

Expectations are often our own worst enemies. We hear an exciting, novel record for the first time and fall head over heels like starry-eyed saps. Soon after, we begin constructing the absurd mythology of a band “too big to fail.” Gazpacho’s Demon worked as the perfect lure for that trap. Haunting, bizarre and curiously beautiful, 2014’s progressive rock sleeper hit found the band firing on all creative cylinders for a career milestone – an album that, by all accounts, will go down as one of art rock’s overlooked gems. Molok, the follow-up to 2014’s masterful Demon, seemed primed for rounds of universal praise, and it’s probably going to get it. Best-of-the-year lists will likely make room for the Norwegian ensemble’s latest record. Droves of avid listeners will likely throw the album into heavy rotation. But I won’t. Gazpacho’s Molok isn’t what I hoped for, and it’s my own fault for expecting perfection.

A major reason for this lukewarm reception is the band’s approach to songwriting, which finds Ohme and company once again discarding the extended, long-form compositions of Night and Demon in favor of bite-sized chunks of sound. This wouldn’t be an issue, however, if Molok’s thematic and conceptual depth didn’t demand more from each individual track. “Algorithm” effectively grips the listener by the throat with its ominous, tribal soundscapes but loses hold just as quickly; it merely segues into another track and never truly develops beyond beleaguered sighs and pounding rhythms.

Elsewhere, “Bela Kiss” quickly earns its spot as Gazpacho’s most curious track to date. It’s an ethnic romp with little substance, not dissimilar in sound from the Italian tarantella outro of “Wizard of Altai Mountains” but without the impact. Oddly, the track isn’t attached to a more substantial centerpiece, and it doesn’t carry enough fire to warrant itself as a standalone composition. These tracks would have served well as smaller pieces in a larger whole — small segments in the vivid, sprawling sonic canvases the band has so thoroughly demonstrated its talent in coloring. “Algorithm” and “Bela Kiss” aren’t the only offenders here: they’re just the most egregious.

It’s a shame, too, because Molok is one Gazpacho’s best sounding records. “Know Your Time” sports a spacious mix that allows each instrument room to breathe, evoking the band’s trademarked ethereal wonderment with ease. But even the record’s brightest moments flicker out when put into perspective. Gorgeous as it is, “Know Your Time” is a retread of familiar territory. In many ways it’s the prototypical Gazpacho song. River-of-glass vocals? Check. Haunting atmospherics? Check. The subdued percussion of “Choir of Ancestors” is a smart production choice, allowing Ohme’s smooth vocals to take center-stage, but, ultimately, it feels a bit hollow – like an excerpt from material that wasn’t strong enough to get out of the cutting room last time around.

Despite this, Molok isn’t a poor effort, or even an average one. It’s decidedly good, but when a band has consistently raised the bar to herculean heights – Night, anyone? – it becomes progressively harder to be impressed. 2014’s Demon introduced bizarre instrumentation and unexpected twists into the group’s arsenal, but Molok merely doubles down and dumbs down. Nothing here caries the ethereal, cinematic sweep of “I’ve Been Walking, Pt. 2” and nothing hits quite as hard as Ohme’s dramatic declaration of “I lost it down the rabbit hole” in “I’ve Been Walking, Pt. 1.” Molok, in many ways, seems natural as a next step for the group: it continues to divorce the band’s sound from the sea of uninspired prog-rock tribute acts. That’s a great move, but opting for refinement over revolution only works if you’re actually upping the ante, and, sadly, that’s where Gazpacho drops the ball. Molok certainly isn’t a revolution, but it’s not really a refinement, either: it’s a band in suspended animation.

6/10

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Bad Music is Good for You

Given the choice between an album by electro metal-core act The Bunny The Bear and any 90’s era Rush record, I’d rather listen to the former every day of the week. No; I haven’t lost my mind. Bad music often has considerable entertainment value. But average music? Not so much.

It’s why discerning audiences would rather watch Space Balls than your run-of-the-mill, monthly spy thriller. Sure, the production values may be top-of-the-line and the explosions might be kind of cool, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all been there before so many times that we could tell the story before it begins.. I can promise you one thing: you’ve never been to The Bunny the Bear before.

Let’s take a look at The Bunny The Bear’s “In Like Flynn.” A basic, stomping dance beat punctuates juvenile screams and auto-tuned wailing as synthesizers swell with faux-dramatism. That’s not even looking at the video, wherein a girl rips off her own arm and lovingly sticks it on a tree as bear and rabbit puppets dance in stringed spasms. Does this sound awful? It is, but it’s also hilarious.

Try finding something that entertaining in a 90’s Rush album. Spoiler alert: you’re not going to. I’m not picking on Rush here, because there’s an unlimited number of bands I could toss into the fray here. 80’s Genesis. 90’s Metallica. 00’s Snoop Dogg. These artists have one crippling flaw in common in their respective time periods: excruciating boredom.

There’s a reason you typically don’t hear people singing the praises of Load and Reload, arguably Metallica’s low-point. Those songs somehow make a Rick Ross album premiere seem uneventful. Part of this is surely expectation. After all, no one listens to Metallica for a fine country tune, but is that all it is? No. The songs really are unbearably dull. I certainly don’t think of this when I think of Metallica:

Yikes. Thankfully, I’ve got plenty of irredeemable garbage to cleanse the palette. I’ll take a fair dose of horrendous hilarity over an unimaginative slog any day of the week. Brokencyde? Any time.

Artist Spotlight: A. A. Bondy

The transition from post-grunge rocker to indie-folk troubadour might seem like a bizarre shift, but Auguste Arthur Bondy has pulled it better than you’d think. It’s difficult to say whether fans of his previous outfit, Verbena, were eager to jump on the bandwagon, but those who did found themselves with one of the 2000’s most underrated folk albums – the stunning American Hearts.

Tracks like “Black Rain, Black Rain” sport an aching beauty vividly personal to Bondy, but it’s distinctly intrinsic to the listener, too. It’s an ode to sadness that pierces both author and audience. Digging in deep, Bondy goes for the emotional kill more often than not. That’s never changed from album to album, though his stylistic tendencies have.

2011’s Believers may have ditched acoustic guitars for electrics, but Bondy stayed the same. His music, regardless of shade and style, is always poignant, always clever and deserves your attention. Whether it’s the brief, acoustic stomp of “Vice Rag” or the militaristic, dirge-like march of “The Heart is Willing,” A. A. Bondy is an artist to keep an eye on.

Emancipator Seven Seas Tour, Variety Playhouse 10/8/2015 Review

Five years is a long time to anticipate seeing an artist live. Adrenaline and expectation churn together, slowly simmering, before coalescing into the perfect drug: hype. And really, if any artist in the downtempo, trip-hop scene deserves that kind of accolade, it’s Emancipator. Douglas Appling’s studio work has been nothing short of immaculate, overflowing with rich textures, vibrant compositions and a smooth, smoky haze you can taste on the tip of your tongue. But that’s in the studio. One question hung heavy throughout my evening: could Emancipator’s live show capture the sound-room magic?

Yes. Emancipator’s sound engineering was, in a word, phenomenal. Guitar, bass, drums, violin and all computer-generated effects were clearly audible throughout the performance, with only minor obfuscations. Appling’s music has always been lush and densely layered, and the mix effectively brought these nuances to life. “Greenland,” one of Appling’s sharpest openers, came through with crystal clarity, bringing me back to the first time I ever heard the cut. Nostalgia rarely felt so sweet.

Even when Emancipator played heavily into cuts I’d yet to develop keen feelings for, the feeling of nostalgia never truly went away. That’s largely owed to Appling’s strength as a songwriter. Regardless of where the cut came from – the chilly lilts of Safe in the Steep Cliffs or the organic swells of Seven Seas – they each struck their respective cords. Whether playing it cerebral, emotive or some murky concoction of both, Appling and his crew turned in a remarkable set covering the full-range of Emancipator’s sound.

The crowd seemed to appreciate the set even more than I did. Couples, friends and lone wolves danced to the beats, swaying and snaking along the beats in constant motion. One girl in front of me seemed as though she’d entered a trance – hands rising and falling, hips sliding and head shifting; she completely lost herself in the sound. Emancipator had his audience in the palm of his hand, and, really, he earned it. Together, Appling and the Ensemble brought Emancipator’s smooth vibes to life in brilliant fashion.

Downtempo and trip-hop may seem like a peculiar live experience to uninitiated curiosities looking for a “lively” event, but don’t fall into that trap. There’s nothing boring about the Emancipator Ensemble’s chilled-out vibes. If you’re looking for an evening to shake loose on strong rhythms, go. If you’re looking to space out into the rafters and cascading lights, go. And for those who want a night of exceptional music? Go. You won’t regret a moment.

Goatlord Guitarist Murders Two, Commits Suicide

According to a news report by Las Vegas Now, Goatlord guitarist Joe Frankulin committed suicide after killing a mother in front of her children and executing one of the boys.

The article reports that Frankulin entered the home of Jennifer Bagley Donoso and fatally shot her before grabbing the oldest son. He then dragged the oldest boy back to his home, barricaded himself inside and killed the boy. Frankulin then turned the gun on himself.

Neighbors testified that Frankulin’s behavior had become increasingly bizarre and suspicious, with one resident going so far as to say that “I even told my wife that I had some feeling that something is not right about him and he was kind of …  you know shady and he kind of gave me that eerie feeling.”

More details in the investigation will be forthcoming, and more information can be found here.

Q3 2015: Top Albums

Another quarter, another list of phenomenal records. Truth be told, I didn’t think the back half of 2015 could hold a candle to the first half. I was wrong. These past three months have introduced a number of remarkable records into the my year-end best-of list. None have impressed me quite like Deafheaven’s New Bermuda, a scathing slab of black metal counterbalanced by gorgeous post-rock tones. It’ll be hard to top, but with three months to go anything can happen.

  1. Deafheaven, New Bermuda 
  2. Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
  3. Hiatus Kaiyote, Choose Your Weapon
  4. Dungen, Allas Sak
  5. Failure, The Heart is a Monster
  6. The Tallest Man on Earth, Dark Bird is Home
  7. Emancipator, Seven Seas
  8. Anekdoten, Until All the Ghosts are Gone
  9. Chelsea Wolfe, Abyss
  10. Bjork, Vulnicura

Sunn O))) Detail “Kannon”

Drone act Sunn O))) has announced its new album Kannon. The album is slated for a December 4 release via Southern Lord Records and marks the band’s first new studio material since Soused, 2014’s collaborative album with Scott Walker.

The record is set to contain three tracks, a split self-titled composition comprising the entirety of the album. According to Southern Lord’s news post, the album will build off ideas established in the wake of recent collaborative recordings and the band;s 2009 album Monoliths and Dimensions.

More information about the band’s upcoming album can be found at Southern Lord’s official website.

Run The Jewels Release “Meow The Jewels”

Run The Jewels has released its first-ever remix album, Meow The Jewels. The record reshapes the group’s critically-acclaimed Run The Jewels 2 in the sonic mold of cat noises with guest work from Snoop Dogg, Dan the Automator, 3d and many others.

The album is available for free via the band’s official website. You can preview the record below with an official trailer.