15 June 2011

2010: Kylesa, Laura Marling

Spiral Shadow

Released November 9, 2010 (Season of Mist)

Short Notes: Metal for the non-metal people, but it’s plenty hard in its own right.

Lin: A-

This, more than any album, was the one I looked forward to reviewing the most when we compiled the master list of 2010 albums. It appeared on many of the year end best ofs, both general lists and those that specialized in metal. And while I've gotten more into, for lack of a different descriptor metal-metal over the last year or so, I still tend to gravitate more towards those artists working with in a traditional 'rock' -- and, by extension, blues -- framework. Which is not to say that this album is "traditional" (whatever that would mean), just that this would be another great entry point into the genre if you're looking.

In writing this review, I found myself whistling along to the riff in "Forsaken," if that tells you anything.

The same part of me that wants to throw this one on the playlist is the same that loved Baroness's Blue Record from 2009. Kylesa doesn't quite reach the highs of Baroness, but they're more consistently on while mining, more or less, the same vein. You can consider this on par with that, an effective one-two counterargument for those that believe Mastodon is the standard in 'crossover' metal. Many reviews of Spiral Shadow like to point out its psychedelic flourishes; while I think they're overstating its influences (as in: you probably shouldn't go into this looking for Hendrix-as-metal), but it is a point of contrast to the other bands I mentioned above.

Brandon: A-

As I’ve mentioned before, the metal records on our list are the hardest for me to review. Even though I’ve listened to more metal since November than at any other time in my life, I still can’t really say that I understand most of it. I can’t really channel the emotion that I hear in Agalloch for myself, and unlike nearly ever good punk band I know of, most metal doesn’t make me feel like I understand how the songwriter and the musicians feel.

That said, this record is without a doubt my favorite metal record of the year. It’s not the best--it lacks the gravitas, the impact, and the clear vision of Agalloch’s metal masterpiece. But you can bet I’ll be listening to Spiral Shadow in 2012. The album starts off a bit slow, with the sludgy “Tired Climb” and the speedier but undistinguished “Cheating Synergy.” But things start to get more interesting from there, and by the time track 5, the rather epic “Don’t Look Back” comes around, Kylesa’s rather unique sound (dual drummers, male/female harmonies, the latter sung by Laura Pleasants, whose occasional lead vocals provide an enjoyable variety) comes together into something that sounds, well, like hard rock with a real kick. This record has its proggy and stoner moments, but the best songs sound like a tremendously aggro version of The Pixies or Dinosaur jr (I can almost hear Kim Deal on the title track). It’s probably obvious that I’d like a metal record where many of the touchstones are post-punk/pre-grunge bands I already enjoy, but this record is plenty heavy, too--just not in a way that get in the way of a good hook every now and again. Also, this record has the strongest second half of any record on the list with a relatively undistinguished side one. Recommended.

Laura Marling
I Speak Because I Can

Released April 6, 2010 (Astralwerks)

Short Notes: 21 year old British folk prodigy evokes the golden age of British folk

Lin: B+

Like nearly all folk albums, I Speak Because I Can works best at its darkest:

There's hope in the air
Hope in the water
But there's no hope for me
Your life serving daughter

In these moments Marling's able to hang with the best of them, continuing the line from Lost Highway through Knoxville Girl and into No Depression. Maybe it's just the British folk thing, but let me throw in one of WhoopeeInHell's patron saint Richard Thompson as an "at her best" comparison. I love ugly things said beautifully; Thompson is a master of this, Marling easily could be.

The problem is that these moments comprise less than half the album's 37 minute run time. The rest are not bad exactly but are undistinguished. First single "Goodbye England (Covered in Snow)" is a good example of this. It's power rests on the lyrics of nostalgia and homesickness, but it's such that, if you don't get the same feeling or buy into it, it's filler. My apophenia wants to draw a connection to Billy Bragg's "A New England" and while there's a good chance they are completely unrelated, the newer song doesn't stand up as well.

I'll come back to this album in the future since the highs ("Hope In the Air", "Devil's Spoke, "Alpha Shallows", "What He Wrote") are high enough and I'll like it more than I do now. I have and listen to so much music that it's rare I'll put on the same album more than once a year (...if that) if there's not something the grabs me on first spin. Folk, Country, Singer/Songwriter -- these are the genres that suffer most. I'll throw on metal when I'm just looking for something to listen to while doing other things, Hip-Hop or Dance when a driving beat is necessary, Rock as the all-purpose go-to. More than the louder genres, albums like this are best when they're familiar: "comfort" is often vital to liking the music, but that's usually only attained via repeated listens. This is true in other genres, sure -- the classics are classics for a reason -- but because of the bedside sing-along or front porch relaxation or cathartic ethos, it's so much more essential in folky music.

Brandon: A-

I agree with Lin about the Richard Thompson comparison, although I think I’d cite the albums he made with Fairport Convention with the amazing Sandy Denny more than his solo work. Like Denny, evoking the emotions of loss and pain are what Marling does best, taking folk cliches (her fingers squeaking on the chord changes on “Made by Maid” to evoke intimacy) and turning them into quotidian but quite moving stories of romantic loss. Of course, she’s not the singer Denny was--her young but husky, tired voice sounds more like Chan Marshall’s--but the songwritinghere is consistently quite strong. My favorites are different than Lin’s (“Blackberry Stone,” “ Rambling Man,” which sounds the most like classic Brit folk, and the title track), but I concur that this record is well worth the time.

1 comment:

solbailey said...

On these reviews, I got the Laura Marling album. I quite like it---probably my favorite folk album since the first "Tallest Man on Earth" album.