Sunday, January 21, 2007

Period #1: On The Wagon

So, somewhere around here, Roland promised that we'd both be doing these posts in the future, and here's my jump onto the wagon. For those of you not aware, is a music-based networking site that keeps statistics of what you listen to, including a top-artists-listened-to chart I spend half of Sunday eagerly awaiting. In each of these posts, we dissect our top ten artists of the week, and provide a sample mp3.

Tangerine Dream are ancient. (For example, the band's current lineup includes the founder and his adult son.) By now, they have amassed a staggeringly large discography of various quality and thematic focus. But what do they sound like, you ask? Remember all those bad synth-laced 80s soundtracks? Well, Tangerine Dream either made that soundtrack (Sorcerer, The Keep) or were the direct stylistic inspiration for it.

Luckily, as they were the progenitors, they actually have talent. Most critics think their 70s efforts were their best (Phaedra, Stratosfear), but there's really good stuff spread across their other eras, too. The album picture to the left --- Tyranny Of Beauty --- is my individual favorite, because it encapsulates all their various sounds with mostly new compositions of very high quality in both sound and songwriting. "Bride In Cold Tears" is from this album, and is one of the standouts from their entire body of work. It begins with an echoing aerial section, then drops to the ground for a race shot through with woodwinds, native drumming, and a wonderful set of recurring keyboard motifs. Does it sound dated? Sure. Is it still an excellent piece? Definitely.

MP3: Tangerine Dream - Bride In Cold Tears
Buy: Here

Had I thought about the riches of the year for a while longer, Slayer's Christ Illusion would have likely ended up on my best of 2006 list. As it stands, it's a wonderful collection of malevolent riffs backed up by a stellar performance from Dave Lombardo; even Tom Araya's lackluster vocal delivery grows on you with time. The lyrics themselves are a return to form, with songs like "Eyes of the Insane" going back into the dissection of sick and evil minds not seen on 2001's God Hates Us All; "Supremist" and similar hearken back to gore solely missed since 1998's "Love To Hate". "Catatonic" is a particular highlight for me, a mid-paced sledgehammer patterned after "Piece By Piece", that collapses into a repeating groove that just cries for accompanying perverse visuals.

MP3: Slayer - Catatonic
Buy: Here

(For those of you not aware, Slayer are one of thrash metal's great bands, easily the fastest, harshest, and most blaspheming. Their reign of best albums went from 1985 to 1990, consisting of Hell Awaits, the landmark Reign In Blood, South Of Heaven, and Seasons In The Abyss. All are highly recommended.)

I think we've mentioned Dead Can Dance before, but if we haven't, here goes: one of 4AD's wonderful roster, they were responsible for really setting off the tendency to do classical/world tracks. Starting with 1985's Spleen And Ideal, they mixed folk and world elements with slight amounts of shoegaze and ambient pop, making them direct precursors to other favorites like Delerium, Enigma, Deep Forest, and Single Gun Theory. Unlike those that followed, Dead Can Dance's emphasis was always on the older elements, and just making them work in modern songwriting. From 1987's Realm Of A Dying Sun, "Summoning Of The Muse" is a perfect example of this: ninety-plus minutes of triumphant symphonic majesty compressed and carefully tweaked into a svelte five-minute dress.

MP3: Dead Can Dance - Summoning Of The Muse
Buy: Here

Again, had I thought more, Disillusion's Gloria would likely have ended up on my best of 2006. (Man, last year was really really good.) The band struck out with the metal press: renowned for the progressive Opethian-leanings of debut Back To Times Of Splendor, Gloria's turn away from Opeth to industrial and electronica resulted in many a bad score. In all honesty, Gloria is a great album, but it's not metal. It's like sending an Arcana album to a metal site: sort of the same circle, way different tastes. Gloria itself is a wonderful vortex of metal and electronica, riffs trading off with echoing keyboards cut off from a Ministry Of Sound hit's bridge. The end effect exists in that uneasy valley between metal and industrial, along with Mortiis, Ulver, and Samael. (And, to some degree, The Project Hate MCMXCIX.) If you've an interest in darker electronica, give the opening track, "The Black Sea", a spin. (No death metal vocals to be found, I swear.)

MP3: Disillusion - The Black Sea
Buy: Here

I spoke about Yuki Kajiura at length here, so I'm just going to provide you with "The Battle Of Your Soul", also known as "heart-breaking triumph in audio form".

MP3: Yuki Kajiura - The Battle Of Your Soul
Buy: Here

Again, I've discussed Delerium previously, too. For cross-pollination's sake, here's "Stopwatch Hearts", a bonus track from 2003's Chimera, featuring none other than Emily Haines of Metric.

MP3: Delerium - Stopwatch Hearts (ft. Emily Haines)
Buy: Here

I could write pages and pages about Dark Tranquillity. One of the original Gothenburg, Sweden melodic death metal acts (along with In Flames and At The Gates), the Baroque leanings of 1995's The Gallery put them firmly on the map. While their movement fell to pieces around them, Dark Tranquillity soldiered on, dropping strings and complexity after 1997's The Mind's I, replacing them with maturity, liberal application of emotion and Depeche Mode, and electronics on 1999's Projector and 2000's Haven. 2002's Damage Done and 2006's Character were a return to form of sorts, restoring a sense of anger and destructive power that had mellowed out in the years since The Gallery. They have a new album slated for release in April, and I'm counting the days.

"The Wonders At Your Feet" is the first song of theirs I ever heard, their customary concert opener, and the first track off Haven, and I see no reason not to introduce you to them through it. It was the introduction to keyboardist/electronics man Martin Brändström; he is wonderfully pre-eminent throughout it all. Pay special attention to the section at 1:25; progressions and the focus on melody shown are why Dark Tranquillity deserve your time far more than nearly any other death metal band: they make actual music. (Finally, there are death metal vocals within, but very good ones at that.)

MP3: Dark Tranquillity - The Wonders At Your Feet
Buy: Here

Why Judas Priest? Why a heavy metal band far more appropriate to biker dads? Because 1984's Defenders Of The Faith is regularly dismissed as one of their worst, and still manages to unleash something as wonderful as "The Sentinel". (I'd be remiss if I didn't note that it's usually dismissed because it's so inconsistant: it would make a great five-song EP, but exactly half of the album is forgettable.) Why? Because they're great.

MP3: Judas Priest - The Sentinel
Buy: Here

Throwing Muses are a college-rock staple, a female-centered gangly often unnerving rock band that leaves nothing undone. They're frank, tough, and enchanting. The high place this week is because I'm finally diving into their back catalogue; without having heard the usual critics' highlights, all I can offer you is "Pandora's Box", off the second self-titled album, the 2003 reunion effort. It does the job, though: very well, in fact, being at parts haunting, amazing, and showing wonderfully unusual progressions. (Frontwoman Kristin Hersh's Learn To Sing Like A Star comes out Tuesday - Roland)

MP3: Throwing Muses - Pandora's Box
Buy: Here

So, in case you can't tell, yes I like muse imagery. Faith and the Muse are another crown in that cap. Notionally, they're a goth rock band, yet they share a lot more in total sound with Dead Can Dance than Christian Death. The really nice thing is that they concentrate on making atmospheric rock out of their influences: if Dead Can Dance came upon a wonderful old hymn, they'd record it as is; Faith and the Muse would chop it up and reconstruct it into something far more memorable and haunting. While Roland's developed a taste for the soaring "Scars Flown Proud", I'm instead giving you career highlight "The Silver Circle" from 1996's Annwyn, Beneath The Waves, for it's more immediate, encapsulates their sound far better, and simply rocks harder.

MP3: Faith and the Muse - The Silver Circle
Buy: Here


katherine said...

thanks. i've had the delerium track for almost a year now, but i still love it. i've liked delerium for longer than i've even known emily haines, but they're definitely better together.

The Anti-Fashionista said...

Thanks for the Delerium track - I'd not heard it before. It's interesting how easily Emily's voice translates from one style to another.

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