Sunday, September 30, 2012

Totally Unauthorized 2012 3rd Quarter Report: July - September

Heading into the third quarter of 2012, September was shaping up to be not only the dominant month of the quarter, but the best month of the entire year. There's probably tons of great tracks I haven't mined out of that month yet, but July and August proved to be no pushovers either.

Advent Sorrow - The Wrath in Silence

If you gotta run before you can crawl, Usain Bolt best look over his shoulder. Rather than trying to push the envelope,  Aussie black metal outfit Advent Sorrow instead chose to work on mastering the basics of their craft on their debut EP, Before the Dimming Light. The results are best exemplified on "The Wrath in Silence," which masterfully mixes haunting organ, frenzied shrieks, and the coal black crunch of black metal riffing. It shouldn't be long before Advent Sorrow is running with the leaders of the genre.

Frank Ocean - Pyramids

With rich imagery like Cleopatra, faded jewels, and serpents, it's no surprise Frank Ocean is becoming one of today's most acclaimed songwriters. Here, he takes tales of Ancient Egyptian pyramids and connects it to the story of a modern girl working at a club called The Pyramid. Over its 10+ minute length, the Odd Future superstar weaves in heavy rave breakdowns, foreboding soul vocals, and sense of regret and longing.

Jimmy Cliff - Children's Bread

Jimmy Cliff has always made music for the people, and after over 40 years he hasn't eased up. The main thrust of the song is crystal clear: it's about heartbreaking tragedy and oppression inflicted upon people at the hands of a brutal regime. Cliff wisely sidesteps modern trends of infusing pop elements into reggae, instead creating a composition that feels authentic and organic.

Emily Portman - Old Mother Eve

Drifting over the moor is the sound of Emily Portman, Glastonbury folk singer and aficionado of old  English folklore. Everything she does sounds like an old children's storybook brought to life, from her rich accent to her traditional folk approach. Think Celtic Thunder but less overwrought and more organic. "Old Mother Eve" paints a relaxing picture of an afternoon in an apple orchard, but its most striking aspect might just be those harmonies.

Emily Portman - Old Mother Eve bandcamp page

Purity Ring - Fineshrine

Canadian electro/synth pop newcomers Purity Ring are projecting themselves into a rapidly growing scene. Grimes, Crystal Castles and Iamamiwhoami, among others, have picked up the ball and run with this thick synth laden production backed by ethereal female vocals, but Purity Ring just may best them all. "Fineshrine" smacks you with a heavy hip hop vibe coupled with twinkling electronica, and it's punctuated by the sexy, smooth voice of Megan James pouring forth like sweet honey.

Destini Beard - My Last Goodbye

Expert of all things Gothic, Pennsylvania bred singer Destini Beard is best known for her work with horror/electronic duo Midnight Syndicate. Their latest album together is about a fictional Victorian hotel that catches fire in the early 1900s. "My Last Goodbye," however, gives her a chance to shine solo. Her choral experience shines through as her mesmerizing soprano soars above the sound of her gentle piano, complimented by forlorn harmonies.

Katatonia - Lethean

Why be confined to heavy metal if you're capable of so much more? This is the question Katatonia pondered before launching their retooled sound on Dead End Kings. "Lethean" is dripping in atmosphere and melody. The keyboards and vocals carry the day here, but the glistening guitar solo near the end is there to remind you of their technical prowess. 

Animal Collective - Applesauce

The buzzed out distortion and dissonant radio waves emanating from Animal Collective's latest had listeners reaching for their FM dials. "Applesauce" remains faithful to the pop-based direction of their last two LPs while successfully assimilating it into their new sound. The result occasionally sounds like it's being projected through a bent antenna, but AC fans wouldn't have it any other way.

Grizzly Bear - Yet Again

Shields is so great it's tough to pick out a single track. This narrowly wins out over "Sleeping Ute" just because of my preference for Ed Droste. The dense opening chords gives the song an airy and atmospheric nature, while Droste's magnetizing yet easy going vocals form the meat of the track. There's one more treat that comes in near the conclusion, when a hazy wash of psychedelics take over.

Menomena - Heavy is as Heavy Does

"Heavy are the branches hanging from my fucked up family tree."  This opening salvo from the lead single to Moms may catch the uninitiated off guard, but those who know Menomena know better. They dig a different type of rabbit hole on each album, and we're the ones who gleefully plummet into it. Justin Harris expresses feelings of pain, isolation, and loneliness framed around a lack of acceptance from his father. A tripped out guitar freakout near the end adds due weight to the track.

Lupe Fiasco - Around My Way (Freedom Ain't Free)

Smart, driven, and socially aware -- this has been Lupe Fiasco's calling card. He returns to form on his latest album, hoping to deliver America a wakeup call. "Around My Way (Freedom Ain't Free)" is built around a sweet brassy beat as Lupe examines a list of social issues facing the nation. He touches on everything from declining education standards to planned obsolesce, while also speaking on America's lack of empathy toward less fortunate nations. Lupe's at his best when he makes you think, and it's good to see him doing that again.

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