Beck – Morning Phase (2014)

Here it is folks, the album I’ve been teasing about on Facebook. The record that’s going to make me do something which no right minded critic would do in February – pronounce the album of the year. I might be wrong, obviously. In fact, I dare say I hope I’m wrong, because who doesn’t want to hear music that’s better than any given reference point? But my gut tells me I’m right, save for one foreseeable possibility. After all, Tool might actually release an album this year, and where they’re involved, all bets are off. But for now, there is only Beck.

BeckSo I’ve already told you what I think “Morning Phase” is, in brief. Let me then start by defining what it is not. First and foremost, it is not an album to be compared to Beck’s older records – his discography is so consistently enthralling, in so many different ways, that I believe this rule of non-comparison should apply anyway, regardless of the so-called-objective value of the album. Beck’s records are bordered as ferociously as islands rising from a turbulent ocean – the softness of the sand fading into the waves is misleading compared to the shock of land rising from the fathoms randomly. And within the archipelago of Beck’s individual lonelinesses, “Morning Light” shimmers sweetly over the farthest horizon.

However, it is very hard not to engage in comparative discourse in general, when it comes to “Morning Light”. Beck’s eclecticism shall not be denied, even on a record of such amazing structural and aesthetic coherence, so I cannot help but cast some links to other familiar names, whose trademark essences (as least where my way of listening is concerned) Beck channels almost preternaturally on this album. Not since Mark Kozelek’s heart rending musings on Red House Painters’ “Old Ramon” or Sun Kil Moon’s “Admiral Fell Promises” have I heard music of such terrible, soul-shriveling beauty and tenderness. Even the savage, eerie spirit of Björk’s “Homogenic” lends a dark glimmer to some of the songs on “Morning Light”, and congeals into a perfect, impossible sonic gemstone on the track titled “Wave”.

This is music apt for ripping the world from under one’s feet, concealed by the thinnest, most subtle veneer of familiarity and comfort. Listen hard enough and implode, dear friends. Sigh, as reality slides down some unknowable walls, until all that’s left is sudden, heartbreaking dawn. It is commonplace to refer to certain vistas as “humbling” – the clear, star stricken night sky, the stifling majesty of mist rolling between mountains… you know it well. I must confess, I’ve been a stranger to this feeling of humility, because I’ve always felt that witnessing such things places the beholder at the pinnacle of a certain difficult to define hierarchy. Not so with music. This art can make my (otherwise considerable) body feel like a speck, a desperate mote in a tidal wave of beauty my mind cannot explain. It is religious, pure and simple. I’ve reconnected with this, my personal form of spirituality, after a difficult year, and so I hope you’ll forgive my sentimentalism. Beck is a particularly gifted preacher. Enjoy!

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ZaRecords Mixtape 3 – Dream

Here it is, at long last, the 3rd Mixtape, themed around dreams and nightmares of all sorts! Next Friday, I’ll upload the 4th Mixtape, just so that I can keep my promise of two podcasts each month! Until then, enjoy!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Under Byen – Samme Stof Som Stof (2006)

I know close to nothing about this band, except that they’re from Denmark. The kind of music they play is very hard to classify, so much so that some sources call it post-rock, which is doubt is the case. It’s about as post-rock as Björk or Cranes. In fact, the most obvious connections I can draw to my musical archive are precisely these, with the addition of “rock-in-opposition” groups like Univers Zero, or Einstürzende Neubauten. But these are all technicalities. What matters is how amazingly impressive the music itself is, how well constructed and performed it is, how good it sounds.

Listening to Under Byen’s Samme Stof Som Stof is like reading the Brothers Grimm faery tales, with a twist. Did you know that Little Red Riding Hood was originally a story about the emerging sexual desire of a girl stepping into womanhood and in some versions it involved cannibalism? That’s how Under Byen sounds like to me – a sonic hybrid of innocence and brutality, twisted, beautiful and alien. If I weren’t so phobic of insects, I’d compare this music to one. There’s something very organic, very… anatomical about these songs, in the “A fantastic journey” sense, like bearing witness to processes which go on in your body, from growth, to blood flow, to the furious electric discharges in the brain. (I’m sure I’m romanticizing all of these quite a bit and I hope my doctor friends will forgive me for it.)

I don’t think I’ve been able to come up with so many musical references I can liken this style to in quite a while. From Anja Garbarek to Cocteau Twins, from Sigur Ros to Coco Rosie and Massive Attack, Under Byen seems to me like a “perfect storm” kind of phenomenon, taking cues from all of these places and rearranging them in such a wonderful weave of sound and structure it’s a wonder they’re not more well known. I mean, the fact that they sing in Danish shouldn’t really be a problem, since singing in “Vonlenska” or “Hopelandic” wasn’t a problem for Sigur Ros, obviously. The vocals themselves might as well be glossolalia, given how seamlessly they blend in with the music, how lovely the sounds all come together. I understand that in Denmark their music is much appreciated for the wonderful lyrics, but that’s a perk only speakers of the language will enjoy, whereas I see no reason for the music to not be considered great from anyone’s point of view with an appreciation for anything from post-industrial rock to post-rock and rock-in-opposition.

The album sets a very theatrical mood, I see it as a great basis for a modern dance show for example, or simply video-art soundtrack material. The band’s sound is exceptionally rich, lush, creating a perfect opportunity for visualizing all sorts of ethereal, dreamy scenes, the most prominent of which is, for me, one about slow dancing burning puppets. Yes, that’s the general vector of visualization my mind seems to travel on, very well complemented by Samme Stof Som Stof. There’s something mechanical about the rhythms and structure used, something terribly elegant about the instrumentation, something kexy (this is a lost word I chose to sponsor, meaning dry, brittle, withered) about the voices and something dangerous about the mood, like in one of Neil Gaiman’s novels. The album flows wonderfully from one image to another, from one musical golem to the next, in a parade of constructs, enchanting in their uncanny shamble.

This is a very new band for me and it isn’t often I click with some new music in such a way. I really hope you enjoy the Samme Stof Som Stof tracks I found and I hope they overdrive your imagination just as much as they did mine. See you tomorrow!