"Roland & The Lamprey" (2009) by glomag

With great power comes great responsibility. As the creator of this ridiculously popular and widely read blog, I sometimes find myself responsible to promote awkward and underground releases. Such as this one. glomag is a member of the genre called “chiptune”, or “8-bit”. This release, as well as all his other releases, was completely composed and recorded on a Nintendo Game Boy (except for an overdubbed guitar on track one, and vocals here and there).

Roland & The Lamprey is full of great melodies and beats that border on braindance. glomag has programmed some truly epic music. Using just four tracks and a very limited array of sounds, the diversity in style and tone is astounding. But, even though this is Game Boy music, it’s not music that you can imagine playing a game to, it really is a work in its own right. In the title track especially, rhythmically and melodically, the track is very complex. The next track, “Bad Therapy”, is one of the most poppy chiptune songs I’ve ever heard, embracing a verse-chorus-verse format with vocals and everything. The fourth track then returns to the complex style, and blah blah. The whole release changes between one idea to the next, as if glomag was trying to force all his ideas out within 20 minutes.

Even though it is typical of chiptune releases, Roland probably should have been longer. glomag released another EP earlier in the year, called DaMaGe, so I personally tend to listen to them in succession. It’s just, everything seems very forced and squished in Roland. As every song is so different from the last, it seems as though he has written a few styles quite well, but nothing really stands out as it should. Chiptune artists generally release a few EPs each year – maybe we’ll see a further exploration of all these styles by glomag, each in its own EP?

Anyway. Roland & The Lamprey is definitely an original chiptune release. While it’s not the best chiptune I’ve heard, it’s a great entry platform into the world of chiptune, and one worth having in your collection. FYI: It is available for free download here, and that site, 8bitpeoples.com, is definitely worth trawling for heaps of free downloads.

Choice tracks: Roland & The Lamprey; The Ecstasy Of Gold; Bad Therapy; Fan Service
If you like: Video game soundtracks, mainly the retro ones from Game Boy, NES, SNES, possibly N64.

"Broken Bells" (2010) by Broken Bells

Well, this is definitely different. For those of you who don’t know, Broken Bells is a collaboration between James Mercer (of the Shins) and Brian Burton (better known as Danger Mouse). On the surface, Broken Bells is just another indie/alternative rock album, but when you get deeper, it really stands out.

For me, it’s Burton’s production that hits this record home. He’s just such a brilliant producer. Even those who aren’t music nerds would be able to appreciate that when they listen to this. He puts all the right instruments in all the right places, makes the noises sound just right and never, ever makes it too much. He also has his own style, and it really shines through, with many of the tracks having heavy beats and a hip-hoppy rhythm, as well as a very thick texture running through most of the record.

But it’s not just Burton who calls the shots here. This album really is a collaboration, it’s not just one artist telling the other what to do. Mercer’s style is just as prominent. His title as one of the princes of indie rock is just as well deserved for this album at it is for his stuff with the Shins. Musically, the tracks seem as though they were predominantly written by Mercer, with Burton then adding his own little frills over the top.

All in all, this is a solid, enjoyable alternative rock album, especially recommended to those looking for something a little different.

Choice tracks: The High Road, Vaporize, Sailing To Nowhere, October
Recommended if you like: The Shins, Death Cab For Cutie, Gnarls Barkley

"At The Cut" (2009) by Vic Chesnutt

Wow. Holy shit. This is amazing. I’m at a loss for words. Vic’s last album is gorgeous. It’s beautiful.

Every song is beyond wonderful. Vic sings his haunted, pained voice with label-mates Thee Silver Mt. Zion and the guitarist/singer of Fugazi backing him. The musician choice makes sure that Vic remains at the front of every song – there is no indulgent guitar parts, none of that shit. The album is pure Vic.

Beautiful beautiful. After four bars of the first track I closed my eyes and turned it up. “Coward” opens the album. Vic’s voice is beyond words magnificently amazingly wonderful, strained and perfect. The backing is sublime. The lyrics are threatening and menacing and so well written. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe how simply brilliant this song is. It completely sweeps you away. No joke, I had to sit down the first time I listened to “Coward”.

Plenty more songs stand out. Well, every song. In “Chain”, Vic sings with so much power and emotion that I think my head might explode. “When The Bottom Fell Out” is Vic by himself and his guitar, his beautiful vocals at the forefront, backed by his guitar. His guitar is not played very well, but is played beautifully and fittingly. It adds to the raw emotion in this track. “Chinaberry Tree” builds up into an amazing track. And on and on it goes, every track as good as the one before it, magnificent and wonderful.

Lyrically, it’s amazing. Every song. Absolutely every song. In hindsight, the track that stands out is “Flirted With You All My Life”. With a clever little lyrical twist, this track makes you put your head in your hands and sigh, giving you goosebumps.

There isn’t much more to say about it. I could go on for days about how brilliant and wonderful this album is. If I’d known about it when I did my best of 2009 list, this would be number one. Or at least number two. But probably number one.

Choice tracks: Coward; When The Bottom Fell Out; Chinaberry Tree; Chains; Flirted With You All My Life; Granny. And the rest. But I have to limit myself for this list.
If you like: Right Away, Great Captain!; Thee Silver Mt. Zion; Bill Callahan

“My World 2.0” by Justin Bieber

My World 2.0 is the hip new record from everyone’s favourite pre-pubescent sixteen year old. A contrast from all the records I usually review, I know. But will I hate it as much as you’re probably expecting me to?

Well, yes. I did listen to it with an open heart, open ears, open arms and an open mind, and it just isn’t good. He’s no pop revolution or icon or anything. Beneath all that hair, there’s no child prodigy hiding, waiting to be released. Justin’s just another pop star, who, after his fifteen minutes of fame and numerous accusations of beating his girlfriend, will be doing an Usher and promoting the latest upcoming 16-year-old pop star.

But about the music. Is it that bad? Yes. For starts, Justin’s voice is completely blank and devoid of all real emotion. While the songs are written from the point of view of a 15 year old, they haven’t got any sense of authenticity to them – it’s like someone older wrote them to sound like a 15 year old, not like a 15 year old actually wrote them, leading to very phony sounding lyrics. Plus, he uses the word “shorty” way too much, when he’s probably shorter than most of the girls that the songs are targeted at. His vocal ability is evident, but only half cooked – and the thing is, the amount of time required to cook it to a perfect golden brown is longer than the (estimated) amount of time before he hits puberty, so he’ll most likely have a shithouse, deep voice by his next record, and lose the fans he’s gained because he’s so young and cute.

The music is all very generic and boring. Maybe one or two of the tracks are catchy and have potential, but the better part of the album is filler. The ballads are cringe-worthy, the upbeat, dance songs such as “Eenie Meenie” even more so. The rhythm is very simplistic in all the tracks – something which works for a few contemporary R&B artists, but not this one.

I’m hoping that, with his next album, Bieber might try writing his own songs – no, Justin, putting your name on all of the song’s writer credits isn’t fooling anyone. Oh, and make better album titles and covers. Maybe then you will be more convincing and accessible. But, until then, you’ll have to be contempt with your fan base of 7-18 year old girls and a few sad men going though their midlife crisis.

Choice tracks:
U Smile; That Should Be Me
If you like: Usher; Miley Cyrus; early Justin Timberlake

"Kollaps Tradixionales" (2010) by Thee Silver Mt. Zion

This is good. This is really, really good. Previously known as Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-La-La Band, A Silver Mt. Zion, Thee Silver Mountain Reveries, and plenty of varieties of that name, the quintet from Quebec have released another beautiful record.

This is unlike anything you’ve ever heard before. Silver Mt. Zion are one of the most original, inspiring bands I’ve ever heard. Is it post-rock? Kind of. Not really. Is it progressive? Kind of. Experimental? Yeah, a little. Avant-garde? A little of that, too. But the group defies any steady label, with their music style changing as often as their name does.

The first track, “There Is A Light”, runs for fifteen minutes and is absolutely wonderful. It is one of the most beautiful single tracks I’ve heard in a very long time. Efrim’s vocals, while they might not, technically, be ‘good’, they’re amazing and beautiful in this context. The whole track.. it’s just… wow. And the album doesn’t let up after this song; no track might match the brilliance of “There Is A Light”, but they all come very close.

Kollaps Tradixionales works as an album, it’s an hour worth of brilliance that has finished as soon as it starts, you get absolutely swept away in the beautiful melodies and harmonies. You really do have to listen to it as an album, however. At least the first few times anyway. It’s an album you can’t even press pause on. You become immersed. Turn it up really loud and close your eyes. It’s an experience like none other.

It’s hard for me to say it, but this latest effort by Silver Mt. Zion is even better than their last one in 2008, and probably even their best album yet. Best record of the year so far. Beautiful.

Choice tracks: There Is A Light; I Built Myself A Metal Bird; Kollaps Tradicional (Bury 3 Dynamos)

"Head Of The Hawk" (2009) by Bluejuice

I honestly don’t know where to start with this one. It’s just so… bad. Yeah, bet y’all weren’t expecting that one. Bluejuice’s second album lacks what every good album (or any album at all, for that matter) should have – originality, functionality, and an overall enjoyment factor.

So, after raping this album right up the poophole in my opening paragraph, can I draw any positives from it? This is what you may be asking yourself right now. And, the answer is not as funny as you may hope – yes, I suppose, there are some good things about this record. Well, one good thing. The second single, “(Ain’t) Telling The Truth”, isn’t half bad, I’ll give them that.

But the first single? “Broken Leg”? When I first heard it, I thought they were covering “Be Good Johnny” by Men At Work – the keyboard-based intro is exactly the same. Like, I’m not even kidding here, it’s even in the same key. So, they’ve completely ripped a lead melody and chord progression off Men At Work, which is a sin in itself; but, as well as that, the Who influence sticks out unwelcome like a sore nail out of a thumb, or the Queen influences in Muse’s “United States of Eurasia”. And even with all that, I can’t get the image out of my head of Bon Jovi-style haircuts in glam suits smiling and jumping, swinging the mic stand around. Even though I know that that’s probably not what they look like.

What about that stupid “Medicine” song? What the hell is up with that? That is not entertainment. No no no. What was the aim? If it was supposed to be dance-y, it failed; if it was supposed to be funny, it failed; if it was supposed to be entertaining, it definitely failed.

All the songs sounded the same to me. Really, that was half an hour that could have been better spent listening to… well, anything else. Except for Brokencyde.

Choice tracks: (Ain’t) Telling The Truth