Friday, August 31, 2012

Ty Segall's Slaughterhouse slays with grimy punk/indie fuzz rock

Ex-Epsilons vocalist Ty Segall was apparently born in the wrong era. With hazy, washed out guitar and psychedelic keyboard, he would fit right in alongside the garage rockers of the 1960s. But he'll be damned if he's gonna let a calendar hold him back. As if trying to make up for lost time, Segall is pumping out albums like no tomorrow.  Slaughterhouse, the second of three albums he's putting out in 2012, will appeal most to anyone who's a fan of abrasive, messy, noisy sludge rock.

The opener, "Death," gives a great idea of what to expect. The opening notes are drowned in squealing feedback before leading into a verse primed to blow like a powder keg. It ultimately erupts into a fuzzy distorted blend of rock that is vitriolic while maintaining a sense of melody. The Stooges and Melvins may be the chief influences here, but melodicism is Slaughterhouse's key ingredient. "I Bought My Eyes" is a winner thanks to its hard driving rhythms and folky introspective lyrics, while "Show Me What's Inside Your Heart" wipes away a bit of the grime but never sacrifices speed or energy.

Of course, there are plenty of wailing like a banshee moments; the title track is a visceral hard edge punk song that conjures grease sliding down the walls of a seedy club type vibe. "The Tongue" opens with an extended surf guitar riff which recalls the styling of Dead Kennedy's guitarist East Bay Ray, while the lurching, Sabbathy "Wave Goodbye" features reverb coated vocals that gives off a slight stoner rock feel. It leads into a riff that resembles Hendrix's "Spanish Castle Magic" before ending in an extended solo even Tony Iommi would have to respect.

The album's second half tends to whizz by, as few of those songs crack the three minute mark. They are still notable for their sense of groove and passion. The highlight would perhaps be "Diddy Wah," a sped up and punkified cover of an old Bo Diddley song on which Segall sounds like he's spewing up battery acid.

Two thumbs down, however, for the closer "Fuzz War," which is 10+ minutes of nothing but guitar feedback. It serves no purpose but to pad the length of the album. So the 39 minute run time is a bit misleading; minus the closer, Slaughterhouse is about as long as one of those old school Bad Religion albums. It also takes the album from being an EP to full album length. Segall is a shrewd businessman, eh?

Compared to his previous works, Slaughterhouse is much meaner, faster, heavier, and louder while still pulling  from the great musical traditions which have defined Segall's sound. The fact that the album was recorded with his full touring band contributes to the beefiness of the sound. So forget about trying to work out the lyrics, this is wild raging music hell bent on inspiring your next hangover. And isn't that half the fun?

Score: 89/100

Monday, August 27, 2012

Frank Ocean's penmanship will keep you glued to channel ORANGE

Who would have thought that Frank Ocean would emerge at the top of the Odd Future heap? We'd heard little of the Odd Future hookmaster aside from last year's Nostalgia Ultra mixtape, which was overshadowed by Tyler, the Creator's painfully inferior Goblin. If nothing else, Ocean shows he's certainly the best writer of the bunch.

channel ORANGE showcases everything from the young hip lifestyle to modern urban decadence while featuring lyrics rife with references to Egyptian mythology, Dragonball Z, and Forrest Gump. When the album opens with the sound of a Windows computer starting up, followed by video game plinking and plunking, you know this is an album Frank is going to be taking on his own terms.

channel ORANGE's most compelling songs occur when Ocean combines his breathtaking lyricism with his ability to set a mood. Opener "Thinkin' Bout You" starts off inauspiciously, as Ocean sounds rather flat in his lower register. As the track progresses, it evolves into a smooth, hip urban love song showcasing a young man's infatuation with a sweet young lady.

The album begins to hit its stride with the Pharrell Williams produced "Sweet Life," which showcases Ocean's ability to elaborately construct a picture in your mind's eye. In this case, he's painting a portrait of someone born into a life of wealth and opulence. This is someone who's had every need provided for them and has no idea what it's like to suffer or struggle.

You can easily envision the environs of the rich summer beach house with a gentle breeze blowing over you. Waves crash in the background while you sink your teeth into an extravagant mango, peach and lime concoction. A jazzy Neptunes influenced keyboard piece serves as the base beat, while the brassy horns and uplifting vocals in the chorus creates a sense of grandeur. If for some reason the music business doesn't work out, Ocean could have a budding career as a novelist.

Ocean also takes time out to address the concerns of urban sprawl and decay. "Super Rich Kids" takes a look at the fast paced, destructive, and ultimately empty lives of super privileged high school kids. The main hook tells of escapades with weed, top shelf wine, joy riding in jaguars, and ultimately, the superficiality of such a lifestyle, describing them as "Super rich kids with nothing but loose ends/ Super rich kids with nothing but fake friends."

Ocean's verses contrast this by focusing on enjoying the simple fleeting pleasures of life. The message turns out to be a poignant one, as he plummets off a roof 60 stories to his death at the song's conclusion. Along the way, Odd Future cohort Earl Sweatshirt drops a hazy, laid back verse to inject a bit of variety.

These songs help set the stage for the album's centerpiece and by far its most complex and stunning song, "Pyramids." Ocean's opening strains easily recall the greatness of 60s era Motown soul. It's packed full of ancient Egyptian, African and biblical imagery, bolstered by shimmering rave and electro-trance beats that sound fit for the club but never cheap or cheesy. There are a shifting myriad of beats and electronic work over the course of the song's nearly 10 minute length, as Ocean seeks his Cleopatra.

The second half shifts into more of a traditional sounding R&B song, but Ocean never loses his sense of magnetism. He ties his narrative into what was going on in the first half by focusing on a modern day girl named Cleopatra who works at a club named The Pyramid. Frank's voice is both lustful and mournful as he focuses on their current situation. A bluesy guitar solo is played over the last few minutes, giving the listener a chance to absorb everything in.

Of course, it wouldn't be right to finish this without a look at "Bad Religion," the song that spurred Frank Ocean to out himself. It expresses a touching, sweeping portrait of Ocean's sexuality and the passion of his love for another man, and his own inner struggle. It takes place as a backseat taxi cab confessional as Frank unloads his doubts and fears with his cab driver. As he's spilling his insecurities, the driver offers his words of comfort in Arabic - "Allahu Akbar," roughly meaning God is great. Fittingly enough, the track begins with a church cathedral organ.

A few other songs that caught my ear included "Crack Rock," which examines drug use and inequalities between the police and street dwellers. On "Pink Matter," he manages to touch on lust, views on women, Chinese culture, and the Dragon Ball Z villain Majin Bu all in the course of two short verses. Andre 3000's verse sounds a bit strange here, given the fact that we're used to hearing him over a weird, funky, out there Outkast beat. His laid back Southern drawl, along with the mellow beat might make you wonder if this is even Andre at all.

At 55+ minutes, channel ORANGE's only downfall is that it's a bit unwieldy. Certain songs here, like "Monks" and "Lost" are not necessarily bad songs but they are obviously much less fleshed out than some other cuts here. This is the main downside about Frank composing several deep, fleshed out songs is that it makes it really obvious when he's not trying as hard. Also, John Mayer probably could have been put to better use than being relegated to playing a simple 60 second guitar solo on "White."

It's not a big deal, though, because Frank Ocean has succeeded in crafting a magnum opus that towers over similar albums that lack the subtle nuances, the intricate details, or the ability to set a mood that is seen on channel ORANGE. This may be the album to open up Odd Future to an expanded audience. If nothing else, it's a hell of a how-to book on songwriting in the modern age.

Score: 87.5/100

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Yeasayer can't decide what aroma they want to cook up on third LP

Consistency is not Yeasayer's strong suit. Sometimes you can listen to their songs and enjoy them for the well-written pop hits they are. But other times you turn them on and wonder what on earth you're listening to. 2010's Odd Blood featured some of the band's most magnetizing singles to date, but at their worst it sounded like they got lost in some nether region between George Harrison and Tears for Fears.

Rather than learn from their mistakes, the Brooklyn electro pop outfit continue plowing forward on their third LP, Fragrant World, and what was once an endearing band is finding themselves increasingly lost in the static.

But they're never lacking for enthusiasm; to the contrary, it's the overambitiousness of Fragrant World that drags it down. The album is incredibly highly digitized, even more so than its predecessor, Odd Blood, which was already heavy on electronic elements. The problem is that they try to do to much, and seem to have difficulty channeling all the layers and little flourishes into a cohesive whole.

There are fruity sounding instrumental sections, elements that seem to clash with one another, and combinations of instruments and electronics that just don't sound well together. The biggest offender is "No Bones," which opens with some dated synths, a backing track that goes in every direction except forward, and slumping vocals which are so heavily digitized it sounds more like machine than man. Even once singer Chris Keating takes the encoding off his vocals, the track still fails to gain any real momentum.

"Demon Road" is fraught with issues of its own. The beat is very hard to take seriously with its half hearted flute and silly bouncy guitar aesthetic. But the final kicker is Keating's throwback boogie vocals, which sound like they were grafted straight off the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.

"Folk Hero Shtick" sounds like it can't decide what sort of song it wants to be. It has a creepy intro with just bass and vocals, then turns into a goofy party track when the electronic work kicks in. Along the way there's an awkward acoustic guitar riff pasted into the song at random intervals, in addition to the earsplitting accordion wail.

The vocal arrangements, on the other hand, are much more effective. In pre-release interviews, Keating described Fragrant World as a "demented R&B album."  It's not exactly channel ORANGE, but the effect is clear. Compared to their previous work, the hooks here are far groovier and slicker, the bass is more prevalent, and the mixing as a whole tends to favor the bottom end.

Album standout "Fingers Never Bleed" shows off the full power of Keating's croon, while providing the perfect booty shaking opportunity. "Blue Paper" allows guitarist Anand Wilder to take the lead on vocals, and he responds by providing one of Fragrant World's slickest and most funkified tracks. Its only caveat is the clumsily juxtaposed Middle Eastern gospel section near the end, a callback to the band's All Hour Cymbals era which lacks context in this new digitized world they've created.

The type of album they're trying to compose here is one consisting of complex arrangements with lots and lots of layers. It has been done, and much more effectively than what Yeasayer presents here. Orbital have been weaving multitudes of layers into fine patchwork since the early 90s, and Animal Collective have made a career out of crafting the type of organized chaos that Yeasyaer seems to be going for here. But those are both veteran bands who have had their share of missteps along the way. SBTRKT is clear influence, but their work has better mixing and is less hairbrained.

In trying to shift their sound in a new direction they've managed to overcomplicate it, and several songs here sound like towering curmudgeons threatening to collapse in on themselves. It becomes overdigitized to the point that it loses its charm and human touch, two things Yeasayer have always thrived on. Fragrant World delivers that to some degree, but more often than not it is simply a case of trying to fit too much into too small of a space.

Score: 71/100

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Porcelain Raft creates hazy dream world that envelops your psyche

I saw Mauro Remiddi open for Yuck when I went to see them last fall. The Italian mastermind and sole member of Porcelain Raft presented a sound that was driven by an impressive array of tape loops and playback. It actually felt as if the music were hitting you, as if it were a draft through a window.

What he communicated most to me through his music, however, was that it had a very calming effect. His set was very relaxing, dreamlike and blissful, and his debut album Strange Weekend magnificently captures all of these qualities.

Strange Weekend is very mellow; it's free floating and transcendent like water vapor evaporating from tree leaves after a springtime rain. Remeddi's voice floats through the mist, sounding rather androgynous but at the same time warm and inviting. There is a touch of soul present in his vocals, which creates an interesting sound when backed by the fuzzy wall of indie pop distortion.

The heavy layer of feedback that opens "Drifting in and Out" sets the tone for the album, but there is diversity. There are a couple of numbers more heavily focused around acoustics, such as "Picture," which is the most blissfully chilled out song I've heard since Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. "Unless You Speak From Your Heart," meanwhile, displaces the veil of fuzz altogether, focusing instead on jangly pop guitar and relying on the endearing quality of Remiddi's voice.

There is a sense of intimacy in his lyrics as well; they are often phrased as a direct challenge or a piece of advice to the listener. "Is It Too Deep For You" sees Remiddi urge the listener not to fear taking chances, while "Unless You Speak From Your Heart," is about finding your own voice. At times, his lyrics can even become surreal without sacrificing their ability to be quaint and engaging. On the final line in "Backwords," Remiddi reveals: "I read the news about someone that could only talk backwords/ Strange enough I thought about you."

Strange Weekend is an enlightening portrait of how one man can create dense soundscapes rife with depth and emotion, and yet still create a work that feels personal and intimate. There's no doubt that Porcelain Raft is one of the top new artists of the year, and one of the most pleasant surprises of 2012.

Score: 81/100

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Advent Sorrow dish out traditional slice of symphonic black metal

Assimilating orchestral elements into the sound of traditional metal can be a tricky task. This is why it's so fortunate that Advent Sorrow employs a no nonsense attitude, and only unleash the symphony in key moments where it will be most effective.

The Australian symphonic black metallers are so fresh on the scene they haven't even landed with a label yet, but that shouldn't take long if Before the Dimming Light  EP is any indication.

Advent Sorrow dazzles with their ability to inject intensity into their sound, but that fervor goes far beyond chord progressions and riffs. Before the Dimming Light presents a brief character study on a 19th century London mass murderer, reflecting on several different angles including the nature of his crimes, the inner workings of his tortured psyche, and his final thoughts before execution. This is a very heavy album conceptually and lyrically with dark moods and emotions being stirred up, but it is impressive how Advent Sorrow have managed to tie all of the songs together behind a single unifying theme.

Musically, the band sounds like Dissection crossed with Therion, minus the choral vocals. Tom Langridge's piano work, which opens the album, provides a gothic feel that will underscore the rest of the material. The keyboards on "The Wrath in Silence" introduce an important melodic aspect into the mix.

There is a considerable gothic presence at play here, but Advent Sorrow prove proficient at weaving a brand of black/death metal that stays true to the genre's fundamentals. Tracks like "A Porcelain Mistress" are bolstered by Martin Donnelly's frenetic drumming, while Rhys King's upper register growls calls to mind the work of former Dissection frontman Jon Nödtveidt.

Before the Dimming Light may not offer much progression over its 25 minute run time, but it lays exceptional groundwork that should signify a bright future for the band.

Score: 87/100

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Major sees Fang Island take dynamic steps in progressing their sound

In the world of video games, there is such a thing as a tech demo. It's not meant to be a full representation of your project; rather, its primary purpose is to give the public an early glance at what you're working on. It might demonstrate the technical specifications of your engine or perhaps elucidate a few gameplay mechanics.

In the same sense, Fang Island's self titled debut felt much like a tech demo. It gave a good sense of what the band is about and what they're capable of, but it felt incomplete. Although admittedly packed with energy, Fang Island was little more than a collection of riffs and solos packaged together with patchwork vocals sprinkled over top. It was basically a rough prototype, but that has changed with the band's second album, Major. 

The sound is beefier, more complex, and fully realized. One key change is that the vocals are a much more common occurrence on Major. Secondly, group frontman Jason Bartell now sings mostly solo, generally eschewing the group vocal arrangements that dominated their first album. The result is that Major feels like a more serious effort in terms of writing and composition.

The opener, "Kindergarten," brilliantly showcases the expansion in Fang Island's sound. It starts with something new: a catchy but quirky piano piece that's slightly reminiscent of Vampire Weekend. But it isn't long before the opening guitar feedback kicks in, producing a riff that is unmistakably Fang Island. That leads into Bartell's first solo spot.

His voice is plaintive, but not unsure or lacking confidence. And this time, it's piano and not guitar that provides the backing for his voice. The track ends itself on a familiar note, however, with the chorus of singers joining in behind Bartell, while the lead-in guitar riff returns to close out the track. It's a brilliant merging of old and new concepts, and certainly an ambitious statement for the band.

So much so, that the following tracks come very close to sounding ordinary by comparison. It almost sounds like they're returning to business as usual after that opening bombast. Fortunately, Major is spared from that fate by Bartell's vocal performance. He's a solid, though not spectacular, vocalist, whose presence provides much needed hooks and a sense of melody to Fang Island's sound.

Otherwise, the band's commitment to transmitting a sense of jubilation remains intact. The driving, feel good riffs of "Seek It Out" encapsulate everything the band has ever stood for. "Never Understand" meanwhile, consists mainly of the lyrics "I hope I never understand" repeated continuously, while backed by some positively joyous Dinosaur Jr. inspired riffs. Its youthful, bright eyed resistance toward entering the adult world expresses the type of sentiment usually reserved for Never-Never Land.

Though if the band is committed to never growing up, there are at least a few more hints that their sound is. "Asunder" is their most ambitious, biting, and self assured rock song to date. It features a momentous undercurrent bubbling beneath the surface, which then explodes into Fang Island's best and slickest guitar solo. It plays perfectly off the main riffs, while demonstrating fantastic technical superiority.

Also of note is "Victorinian," the band's first piano ballad, on which Bartell pleads for you to stay true to your values. That might not be a bad piece of advice for the band to take. Major's experimental moments work very well; the key issue is that they tend to stray away from them too often.

The problem with the self titled was that it was too hard to take seriously; far too often it sounded like a bunch of excessive guitar noodling. Major introduces several new elements that kickstarts the band's progression, but too often it feels as though the guys stray from that pattern and begin to fall into old habits. Many tracks feel like they could have come straight from from Fang Island if not for the more comprehensive vocal arrangements. Ultimately Major is the sound of a band making major strides, but who haven't yet done quite enough to push themselves over the top.

Score: 84/100

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Helvetios extols the glory of an ancient tribe fighting for their land

If there were any doubters that history lessons could work as a viable subject in heavy metal, Iron Maiden put them to rest with a slew of legendary 80s releases. Eluveitie is one band that should thank their lucky stars, and so should we.

Helvetios, the fifth release from the Swiss folk metal outfit, tells the story of a Gaulish war involving the Helvetians, an ancient tribe that inhabited the same geographic territory the band hails from. Helvetois follows their ultimately failed campaign to resist the forces of the Roman Imperial Army. It sounds like music fit to raise your banners for; a veritable collection of flutes, violins, bagpipes, and various other folk instruments create a cornucopia of sound, while vocalist Chrigel Glanzmann extols the Helvetian virtues.

The first two songs are full of braggadocio, precisely the type of music you would expect to pump someone up to go off to war. The guitar work, produced by Ivo Henzi and Simeon Koch, is surprisingly simple for metal standards. The more technical lead work is usually handled by the folk instruments, while the guitar's purpose is generally to serve as rhythm. The title track is a perfect example, as the flute and bagpipes create an ear grabbing melody. This track, along with its companion piece "Luxtos" introduces the Helvetians and explains what they're all about.

This helps set up the central conflict on "Home," which sees the Helvetians mobilizing to defend themselves against a Roman army hellbent on expanding their empire. It also features a tasty melo death sounding guitar lead to boot.

"Meet the Enemy" is one of the album's easily identifiable standout tracks. After several tracks of mood setting, "Meet the Enemy" explodes out of the gate in a swirling, snarling inferno. The story on this track chronicles the first meeting with Roman forces, as the Helvetians are mowed down during a nighttime sneak attack. The riffing and vocals are much more intense than anything on the album to this point, and serves as a nice kick in the ass following the wandering Gaelic chant on the previous track, "Scorched Earth."

But Eluveitie also has a secret weapon in the form of vocalist Anna Murphy, who makes her mark on the breathtaking "Rose for Epona." Meri Tadic's violin creates a heart rending opening, but the crackling intensity in Murphy's voice is the stand out. The song is a prayer from a woman who beseeches the goddess Epona to keep her family safe, and she makes her point beautifully. Her technique on the high notes is nothing short of awe inspiring.

Other notable standouts include "The Siege," which is easily the most intense track on the album due to its visceral high pitched shrieks. "Alesia" features a stunning duet between Murphy and Glanzmann, while "Uxellodunon" ends the Helvetians' tale with a sense of defiance and pride.

Helvetois generally doesn't get into specific battle details, instead aiming to capture the Helvetians' fighting spirit. It is a sunlight gleaming off metal shields type of album, but the band manages to pull it off without sounding cheesy or coming off like Manowar.

Heavy focus is placed upon the arrangement of the folk instruments to establish a sense of valor, honor and loss. The guitar work is subdued, which likely contributes to the fact that many songs begin to sound homogeneous. But there are more important forces at work here. Eluveitie have succeeded in crafting metal with a brain, and that's something Maiden and metal historians everywhere can be proud of.

Score: 87/100

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises brings Batman's saga to fitting conclusion

The concluding installment in any film trilogy is always assigned a tough task. Not only are they typically preceded by a huge hype wave, but they also bear the responsibility of tying up three whole films worth of loose ends. And of course, they must deliver an ending that does the series justice. Director Christopher Nolan concludes his Batman reboot by tackling these challenges head on and sticking to what has made the series such a ravishing success.

Christian Bale reprises his role as Bruce Wayne, who retired the Batsuit following his decision to take the fall for Harvey Dent's death at the end of The Dark Knight. But he is lured back by a new threat to Gotham, this time presented by the masked psychopath Bane.

As always, Nolan's film seeks to play head games with its audience rather than getting mired in over the top action and violence. Bruce Wayne struggles to remold himself into the hero Gotham needs him to be, while the city teeters on the brink of total annihilation.

The acting performances are generally solid. Tom Hardy's Bane projects a dominating presence as a Huey Long style revolutionary leader hell bent on delivering Gotham back into the hands of the people. Hardy is a physical powerhouse who wows with his hand to hand combat scenes, but perhaps impresses even more with the way he steals every scene he's in.

Also outstanding is Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the role of John Blake, a young Gotham police officer who plays a monumental role in the defense of his city. Blake knows Wayne's secret, and one of the film's best acting occurs when he urges Wayne  to return to his role as Batman. Gordon-Levitt gets full marks for his character's courageous and unrelenting effort to take down Bane and his gang.

Anne Hathaway's performance as Catwoman is subdued and low key, but a good one. Batman relies on her to push him a few steps closer to Bane, while constantly being let down by her self serving attitude.

Meanwhile, Bale once again delivers a rather pedestrian performance. Unfortunately for him, the quality of the actors around him only serves to magnify this. Michael Caine is emotional and inspired as he urges Wayne to pull his head out of his ass, but it's advice that sounds like should be directed to Bale instead. He stands as still as a statue during the scene, looking totally aloof and glum, like he doesn't care at all.

That other masked man: Tom Hardy's Bane gives supervilllans plenty of reason to be serious.

Nolan's films strive to let the audience know they don't play by the rules, which supplies an exciting, anything
goes type of attitude to The Dark Knight Rises. One of the most shocking things about Nolan's Batman series is that a large chunk of the villain's plans actually succeed, which turns the entire superhero movie model on its head. This time around, though, the effect doesn't feel as fresh. There are moments when The Dark Knight Rises feels like it's retreading ground broken by The Dark Knight.

Remember how the Joker had bombs planted on two riverboat ferries, and gave each boat captain the detonator to the other's bomb? Without giving away anything too specific, The Dark Knight Rises also presents a major plot thread involving a bomb and detonator given to a specific person.

And it isn't to say that Nolan's film is devoid of superhero cliches, either. Several familiar tropes are present, such as the hero getting saved at last possible moment, and the wandering vagabond who cares only about themselves but has a change of heart and saves the day. However, it's more about the journey than the destination, and Nolan tosses in more than enough surprises to keep us on the edge of our seat.

Ultimately, the status of Nolan's trilogy is secure. But what position will The Dark Knight Rises occupy within that series? While the film's themes of sacrifice, redemption and camaraderie are clearly conveyed, The Dark Knight Rises lacks a real wildcard that boosted the other two films over the top. Batman Begins was built around a gripping and masterfully executed origin story, while The Dark Knight, of course, had Heath Ledger's performance for the ages. Though still an excellent film, The Dark Knight Rises is neither as dynamic or groundbreaking as its two predecessors.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Iamamiwhoami's debut Kin is tantalizing without being wholly fulfilling

You might describe the work of experimental electronic musician iamamiwhoami as mysterious, but that might not do it justice. She went to extreme measures to conceal her identity in early music videos, including duct taping her entire body and coating her face in a layer of mud. The latter approach had the effect of making her look about as endearing as an aborted fetus.

Her method of distribution was only slightly less odd. Rather than release an album, she instead opted to virally release music videos on her Youtube channel. Each song title was only one letter long, eventually spelling out the word bounty. And there was virtually no advance notice or advertising preceding any of her releases. Are there any words in the English language capable of describing how bizarre this is? Oh, I give up.

When it was finally announced that Swedish pop singer Jonna Lee was the woman behind the mud, it appeared the iamamiwhoami project had run its course. But it was actually just beginning.

You see, in spite of all the weird imagery, the music itself was always first rate. Here was a rouge musician, doing things on her own terms and never fucking around. Iamamiwhoami felt like a project hell bent on pushing music across new boundaries.

June 2012 saw the release of Iamamiwhoami's first full length, Kin. While it manages to capture most of her trademark weirdness, it also misses a few opportunities.

She starts out of the gate with a bang. Opener "Sever" puts the focus on Lee's icy and eerie vocals, while "Drops," on the other hand, heats things up with an unsettling jungle sounding intro. At about three minutes in it explodes into one of the most unforgettable synth riffs in recent memory, while being backed by a low pitch buzzing bassline.

Another personal favorite is "In Due Order," which presents a very sinister, bass heavy sound. With its brooding, industrial nature, it wouldn't feel out of place on a Nine Inch Nails album.

"Good Worker," which focuses on the family unit and feminist issues, presents a rare moment of lyrical clarity for Lee, while the almost R&B sounding"Play" sounds like a love song from Silent Hill.

However, Kin begins to reveal small chinks in the armor. The song structures are simpler, and more obviously pop based, which means the songs start wearing thin a bit quicker than some of her past material. This is a shame, especially considering tracks like "u1," u2" or "t" seemed to indicate a desire to push forth in new directions.

Later on there are a run of more downbeat tracks that sound rather pedestrian compared to what we usually hear from this project. Tracks like "Rascal" and "Idle Talk" are heavily minimalist, stripping away that godly production work for something far less fascinating. "Idle Talk" operates around a simplistic and repetitive beat that never goes anywhere, while Lee delivers what sounds like uninspired pillow talk.

"Rascal" likewise is just generally minimal, and Lee's voice doesn't do enough to capture her audience's imagination. I was tempted to lump "Kill" into the same category, but I give it credit for its oddly structured chorus hook, its thumping percussion, and its heavily digitized verses.

Kin ends with a bang, however. "Goods" is unquestionably the album's best dance song, with wigged out futuristic electronics and strong sugary pop hooks. Kin may be drawing to a close, but Lee isn't ready to stop dancing anytime soon.

As always, Claes Björklund's production work is fantastic, We also get to hear the dynamic range of Lee's voice, from her hushed low pitch whisper to her alien like upper register. ";john" remains her best song, but several cuts here are on par or above "Clump" and the bounty singles.

Given the pedigree of the artist, however, Kin could have been better. Perhaps it's not surprising that Lee is trying to reign herself in, but it has largely cost her the experimental edge she had with her earlier singles.The biggest shame is that for the first time, several of these cuts cause Lee to sound downright ordinary. It's not an ideal approach.

Score: 90/100