I call this a must-listen for any Elastica fans who linger out there, and if that doesn’t mean anything to you, I ask you why not?
Straight-ahead summertime rock’n’roll with a definite cool streak—a three-chord headbanger channeled through a soundscape at once dense and sleek. (I’m tempted to call it “fudgy,” for some reason). Bonus points for the unflappable vocals which sound like boy-girl but are front man Shaun Hencher singing in various registers with himself. I call this a must-listen for any Elastica fans who linger out there, and if that doesn’t mean anything to you, I ask you why not? Like that late, great British band, Virals offers up an irresistible blend of punk-ish power and effortless self-possession.
“Gloria” features either three simple but insistent hooks or three variations of one simple but insistent hook; it’s difficult to say. There are heavy-duty power chords and incisive lead lines. There’s unrelenting cymbal. And the most defining element, to my ears, is how each melodic line ends with a veer towards a place that isn’t unresolved as much as, somehow, ironic. This has a lot to do with the harmonies Hencher selects, in all cases a beguiling blend of his upper and lower register, the melody elusively flowing from one to the other.
Virals is a new project for Hencher, previously known (perhaps) as front man for the band Lovvers. It began as a studio-only, one-man-band kind of thing but Hencher has since formed a live band to take Virals on the road. “Gloria” is from the debut EP Coming Up With the Sun, released in May, on London-based Tough Love Records. MP3 via Austin Town Hall.
A kitchen-sinky chunk of sped-up dream pop, “Spoon” is instantly likable even as it presents more to the ear than the ear initially can absorb.
A kitchen-sinky chunk of sped-up dream pop, “Spoon” is instantly likable even as it presents more to the ear than the ear initially can absorb. Which actually isn’t easy to do, I don’t think: package sonic overload into something brisk and immediate.
Here’s maybe the key to how Boris does it: for all the aural exuberance, “Spoon” hews to the conventional verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus design. This is why we can kind of “get” the song even when it’s offering more musical information in any given slice than we can consciously process. There are so many things to listen for here, from intermittent concrete sounds like breaking glass and cracking whips and children’s voices to ongoing threads like the singular rhythm section, which combines a stuttery drumbeat with a fluid, hyperactive bassline. That bursty drum sound does everything it can to break the song into disjointed moments, while the bass works hard to stitch it all together. Throughout, the slightly breathy lead vocal from guitarist Wata gives us something delightful to stay focused on when all else fails.
And never mind the difficult-to-absorb song—Boris itself is a difficult-to-absorb band. Together since 1992, a trio since 1996, this veteran Japanese outfit has a complex history of experimentation and genre-blending and -hopping. (The band has been identified with ambient, doom metal, drone metal, industrial, minimalist, noise rock, and punk, among quite a few others.) Its members all go by single names, which is just as well—slightly less information to process. They tour a lot and are reportedly more well known in North America than they are in Japan, having done things like open for Nine Inch Nails and appear on avant-garde film soundtracks, including one for Jim Jarmusch. The band’s 2006 album Pink was listed among the year’s best by Pitchfork, SPIN, and Blender. “Spoon” is a song from Boris’s new album called (finally, someone did it) New Album. New Album is actually (more complications) the band’s third release of 2011, this one a dream-pop-ish reworking of songs that were on the other two albums, with some new songs as well. MP3 via Pitchfork.
Combining dense, pummeling energy and palpable ache, “The Great Pan Is Dead” is four minutes of stunning 21st-century rock’n’roll. Wowee. I hardly knew at first how to unpack what I was hearing—the buzzing-guitar wall of sound, the orchestral synth lines, the relentless sonic drive, the sense of furious poignancy suffusing this whirl of sheer electrical power.
Combining dense, pummeling energy and palpable ache, “The Great Pan Is Dead” is four minutes of stunning 21st-century rock’n’roll. Wowee. I hardly knew at first how to unpack what I was hearing—the buzzing-guitar wall of sound, the orchestral synth lines, the relentless sonic drive, the sense of furious poignancy suffusing this whirl of sheer electrical power. In the center of it we get the full-throated emoting of front man Wes Eisold. Eisold has a history as a screamer in hard-core bands, and you can hear it at the edge of his singing, even as the singing is genuinely sensitive, even moving.
So I let it cycle on repeat for a long time and I finally began to hear, maybe, what was happening. In the tradition of modern classical minimalists more than any pop song I’ve heard, “The Great Pan Is Dead” spends long periods of time anchored in one chord—the music moves energetically and rhythmically while staying unusually rooted harmonically. We do not, for instance, hear a chord change in the song until 51 seconds in. That is not normally done. This lack of harmonic motion adds immeasurably to the pent-up fury of the aural landscape. Eisold, in the middle of this, sounds like someone throwing his battered body against a bolted door. “I know people without substance,” he sings; you can hear the thud of exclamation points in his phrasing.
And then, later in the song (2:33), we arrive at an opposite place: Eisold singing a largely one-note melody against a shifting series of chords—another kind of subtle, claustrophobic tension to contend with. This is one crazy cool song, and my first shoe-in for a place on the 2011 favorite song list.
Cold Cave is a trio based in NYC. “The Great Pan Is Dead” is from the band’s second album, Cherish the Light Years, due in April on good old Matador Records. MP3 via Matador.