July 19, 2012

Do you like this?

My Bloody Valentine

EP’s 1988-1991

(Sony Music)

A photo to make any guitar gearhead drool may be found by typing in“Kevin Shields Pedalboard” into Google Image Search, which yields a glimpse of a ridiculously complicated setup containing 30 different guitar effects pedals. Shields is the front man of My Bloody Valentine, the British band that typically comes to mind when discussing shoegaze music of the early ’90s—swirling, noisy, effects-laden guitar-heavy rock. While any kid with an electric guitar, a delay pedal and a big amplifier can make a huge, sloppy sonic maelstrom, Shields was more about having a tight control over his sound, tweaking the tone meticulously as a perfectionist. The band’s 1991 album, Loveless, is the group’s masterpiece and one of the most acclaimed albums of the decade, and the new two-CD collection compiles four of the band’s EPs plus a 33-minute serving of rarities and unreleased tracks.

The title track of You Made Me Realise, is known for being a lengthy, set-ending, punishingly loud, apocalyptic song in live settings, but here it’s not so formidable, at a modest four minutes in length and mostly depending on dissonance with moments of mounting, noisy guitar churning. In the background of “I Believe,” from Feed Me With Your Kiss, one can hear the rumbling, queasy guitar sound that would characterize Shields’ style, with copious use of the pitch-bending whammy bar. Throughout the Glider and Tremolo EPs, rhythms alternate between driving beats and more danceable styles, with Bilinda Butcher supplying soft, dreamy vocals. Fans will be most interested in the seven bonus tracks, with highlights such as the mind-bending and maddening 10-minute version of “Glider,” the pop-structured “Angel,” and the compelling fuzz-bundle “How Do You Do It,” closing a superb collection that tracks the group’s sound evolution leading up to Loveless.


Warm Pulse

(Hippos in Tanks)

Nguzunguzu, the Los Angeles DJ and production twosome of Asma Maroof and Daniel Pineda, takes its name from the carved wooden figure sculptures found on canoes in the South Pacific, intended to protect people from supernatural forces.  The duo’s latest EP, Warm Pulse, is characterized by a certain level of tension, providing a disorienting feeling with a bit of unease, and in a way, the duo serves as a tour guide, taking the listener by the hand and leading him on a measured walk through an artificial urban jungle.

The title track is a mix of out-of-context eerie voices, lost tones, and disparate drum-machine beats including long-tailed ultra-low-frequency bass drum beats, air-tearing slaps, and jittery hi-hat taps that reverse in direction.  “Delirium” uses a variety of vocal samples, including sped-up fragments and tiny dub-style echoes, and it features toy pianos and muted sirens for an unsettling aura.  “Smoke Alarm” continues with that sonic atmosphere, further mystifying with sounds darting between the left and right channels and wordless female vocal snippets.

The track “Drop Cage” perhaps makes Nguzunguzu’s most overt nod toward paranormal activity by cheekily quoting the theme from The X-Files in its melodic chimes, adding outer-space cascades, and “No Longer” features a foreboding piano and interrupting soul-singer clips, being abrupt and on edge with elements proceeding in lockstep while simultaneously antagonizing each other.

Warm Pulse is cleanly assembled and technically acute, and over its five songs, it seems to accomplish what it sets out to do.  However, the type of unease it conveys is fairly mild, and the clinical approach might be off-putting to those who prefer a little dirtiness to make a gripping scene.  It’s a sonic nurse, guiding the listener through a haunted hospital and taking vitals signs with a detached bedside manner.


July 19, 2012

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