Twin Sister often get compared to Stereolab, and I can certainly hear the similarities.  I would emphasize, though, that Twin Sister are like an American Stereolab. By which I mean they’re led a bit more by intuition and a bit less by pure theory; they’re influenced a bit more by the simplicity of rock and a bit less by baroque European disco stylings.

Put more simply, they have their influences but have developed a sound that’s all their own. Which is all the more remarkable, seeing as this six-song EP “Color Your Life” is only their second release. The record is consistently good, with more than a few brilliant moments. Including those from the best track, “Lady Daydream,” performed live at the Middle East, below.

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The Moritz Von Oswald Trio’s “Vertical Ascent” stands out, in my mind at least, as one of the year’s most interesting albums of electronic music. I suppose my excuse for not writing about it until now (it came out this past summer) is that it’s a complex work that reveals itself only gradually over time. So while it didn’t really jump out at me the first time I listened, it’s been on my playlist pretty regularly now for six months running.

Repetitive percussion plays the key role on all four of the extended tracks on this lp, though the overall feel is much more contemplative than dance-oriented. My favorites here, “Pattern 1” and “Pattern 3,” might best be described as jazz-influenced dub/techno — it almost sounds like early-to-mid-1970s-era Herbie Hancock is lurking there, someplace in the background.

This music is “thought-provoking” in every way. Regardless of whether you’re listening closely, thinking about the compositions themselves, or using the music as background to focus on something else, you’ll come away feeling more enlightened each time.

East Bay Ray – Labyrinth

December 5, 2009

“Wow!” is all I can say after listening to this album.

“Labyrinth,” the new cd by East Bay Ray, sounds totally different from the Dead Kennedys. But it’s pretty great nonetheless.

Mostly instrumental, a lot of electronics, almost ambient at times. A wonderful and unexpected gift from a long-time creative force.

Three of the best tracks, “Echos,” “Original Moon,” and the incredibly lovely “Tragedy Queen,” are up on his Myspace page. Check them out, and be surprised yourself.

And wonderful cover art by Alison Silva, too, as you can see from above.

Animal Collective‘s new “Fall Be Kind” EP, released digitally by Domino Records this week, presents five new songs, diverse in their styles and moods but each fabulously perfect in its own way.

“Graze,” the opener, recalls Panda Bear’s “Person Pitch” with its soaring vocal and abrupt shift midway through. “What Would I Want? Sky” echos the cautiously optimistic themes that run throughout “Merriweather Post Pavilion.” All three band member’s talents come together beautifully on the haunting “Bleed,” certainly the most striking and probably my favorite track on the record. “On a Highway” would be the center panel for a triptych that has, to its left, Kerouac’s “On the Road” and, to its right, that wonderful “Tiny Dancer” scene from Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous.” And the finale, “I Think I Can,” brings us back to “Person Pitch” and “Merriweather” too, combining the key elements from both of those previous works.

Some people might dismiss this EP, saying that they got tired of hearing the more popular tracks off “Merriweather.” But that I just don’t understand. To me, that’s like saying, “gee, I’m just kind of bored of looking at ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon'” or “yeah, I’ve just seen ‘Lavender Mist’ one too many times.” That’s just crazy!

One last point to make is that I really don’t think it’s a coincidence or accident that the Grateful Dead song sampled in “Sky” is titled “Unbroken Chain.” With their work this year, Animal Collective build on the basic ideas advanced previously by David Foster Wallace and Stephen Malkmus. That irony and cynicism are, at this point, dead ends; that many elements of postmodernism that once felt exciting and bold now seem tired and out-of-date; that the second-rate, faux-Cartesian/solipsistic theorizing that passes for scholarship these days is … well … a lot of worthless junk; and that the search for true emotion, true satisfaction and happiness, and indeed the search for truth itself really require as essential inputs experience, experimentation, and the Popperian scientific method. With their work this year, that is, the members of Animal Collective stand tall, not just with the great creative forces of our time, but all the great intellects extending back to generations past: “The Unbroken Chain.” At least if you ask me ….

Tara Jane ONeil - A Ways Away - K Records (2009)

Looking back as the year’s end approaches, the one record I have always been meaning to write about and never did is this one: “A Ways Away,” by Tara Jane ONeil.

This lp came out in May, and to be honest it’s never moved far from my turntable since. But “A Ways Away” is a quiet album, so I tend to listen to it when I’m in the mood for thinking, not doing. Plus, the overall feeling it evokes is one of fall-turning-into-winter as opposed to spring-turning-into-summer; so perhaps its impact would have seemed more immediate had it come out just now.

But “A Ways Away” is a great album that sinks in over time. ONeil’s expressive guitar work and affecting lyrics make tracks like “Drowning” (which you can hear on her Myspace page) and “A Vertiginous One” outstanding and memorable.

Of course, this comes against the backdrop of an extended period, now spanning nearly two decades, during which ONeil has consistently produced great music and visual art too. Still, “A Ways Away” may just be her best work yet.

Arms and Sleepers – Matador

November 14, 2009

album cover

Arms and Sleepers - Matador - Fake Chapter Records (2009)

I’ve been really looking forward to the new lp from Arms and Sleepers ever since I saw the article in the Phoenix in late September. And I certainly wasn’t disappointed when I finally got a chance to listen to the station’s advance copy of “Matador,” due out this coming Tuesday (November 17) on Fake Chapter Records.

The ambient/electronics and the Album Leaf-like instrumentation from the duo’s previous work are still here. But the ideas seem more fully developed and the melodies more memorable than before. Vocals play a bigger role on the new lp, too, and this adds a significant new dimension, especially to the standout tracks “Matador” and “The Architekt,” both of which can be heard already on the band’s Myspace page. Listening to those songs is kind of like hearing an old friend speak to you in a dream, oddly but pleasantly making more sense than he or she ever did in person.

“Matador” by Arms and Sleepers. A major step forward for a major artistic force.

Etienne Jaumet - Nightmusic - Domino Records (2009)

Etienne Jaumet - Night Music - Domino Records (2009)

This new lp by Etienne Jaumet opens with a 20-minute track called “For Falling Asleep.”

A short description is all you need. Contemporary French techno that borrows heavily from both minimalist classical and 1970s-era Krautrock. That last part, combining the French and the German, could of course by itself be the subject of a medium-length monograph.

But that’s not all. Jaumet layers his own free-jazz-style saxophone playing over the electronics. Plus he gets Emmanuelle Parrenin to contribute wordless vocals and a harp solo (!) at the end.

And, oh yeah: the whole thing is produced by the master himself, none other than Carl Craig.

Needless to say, all of those forces combine to make this one of the most over-the-top spectacular dance tracks of the year.