March 21, 2013

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Veronica Falls: Waiting for Something to Happen (Slumberland)

This writer is admittedly apt to criticize when a musician stagnates artistically or stylistically. The cruel irony is that an artist—in any medium—typically needs to mark out some kind of generally consistent identity, suitable for a pithy sound-bite summary, to be recognized.

With its second album, Waiting for Something to Happen, from the London four-piece Veronica Falls is pretty much stylistically identical to its excellent debut; however, this writer is uncharacteristically forgiving in that respect because of the simple fact that the quality is upheld and the melodies are just so damn good and catchy.

Veronica Falls has several key trademarks. Its jangle-guitar timbre that hints at The Velvet Underground’s Sterling Morrison, heard in full force on the opening number “Tell Me.” Also like The Velvet Underground, drummer Patrick Boyle’s floor-tom-heavy Apache beat brings to mind Moe Tucker, but with unrelenting tambourine taps that announce, bright and loud, that this is indeed a pop album. There’s just a slight bit of darkness—a suggestion of teen angst and masochism among hormonal love pangs and longing. One of the best representative combos of this is the charming yet somewhat twisted “Buried Alive,” which features the weirdly endearing lyrics, “I want to get sick/I want to catch everything you’ve ever caught.”

The vocals from Roxanne Clifford and James Hoare are impeccable and instantly gratifying, hitting that girl/boy-harmonic sweet spot without fail every time, and like its predecessor, the consistency is such on Waiting for Something to Happen that every song could serve as a single and be a potential college radio hit.

With the sheer amount of music coming out, this critic would normally have no time for water-treading, but he just cannot dismiss this album—just go beyond logic and enjoy Waiting for Something to Happen for what it is.

Bryan Lewis Saunders with Language of Light and Matt Reis: Stream of Unconscious Volume 10 (Stand-Up Tragedy)

With a “Go big or go home” artistic dedication, the wildly creative, often disturbing, Johnson City-based spoken-word and visual artist Bryan Lewis Saunders is approaching the end of his 12-volume Stream of Unconscious project.

Saunders gained infamy in recent years for his series of self-portraits, each created under the influence of a different controlled substance, and part of his commitment to make at least one self-portrait every day of his life, until death—upheld since 1995. However, his audio recordings are equally worthy of attention, and the idea behind Stream of Unconscious is to take Saunders’s recordings of him narrating his dreams as they occur and putting them in the hands of 24 different avant-garde recording artists, each taking one side of a cassette.

The music of the Oklahoma duo Language of Light has a deviously pervasive approach, never quite falling squarely into either the “melodic” or “noise/drone” camp. Some bass and guitar motifs approach more conventional structures, but are subverted by periodic guitar skronks. Chimpy keyboard patterns frolic with strings and hard-to-place synthetics. “Royal Abortion” uses a recording of march music while Saunders describes British soldiers “with bayonets and rifles all poking” at him, and perhaps the most unsettling story is the brief “Lost Luggage,” which uses the playroom-sounds of a music box while Saunders mumbles, “No more lost luggage, uncomfortable dreams, miscarriages.”

Matt Reis generates an odd strata of disquieting ambient layers under Saunders’s dizzy and delirious ramblings about everything from a convenience store encounter to an alcoholic stalker to nuclear weapons. The most startling moment comes with a revelatory tension release after some of Reis’s particularly awkward noises, contrasted with the near-silence of tape hiss and the sounds of Saunders squirming.

Reis then concentrates on various drones, possibly made from vibrating metal, and the album ends abruptly, with Saunders muttering, “I just said good to everything. Good … good … good.”

That’s the deceptive unconscious reassurance in his nightmare world.


March 21, 2013

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