Violent Success Presents: Retro Future — This is a first for me and for all of us here at Violent Success. This website and our entire staff have only had one thing in mind since we began: To promote artists we believe in and tell everyone who will listen about what we love in an intelligent and articulate way. Retro Future started as an idea back in July and today I can finally say with absolute certainty that this is the best thing I’ve ever been associated with, and I couldn’t be more proud.
From the first moment, the tone of Retro Future is set with Droid Bishop‘s synthtastic ‘Days Of The Running Man’. The complexity and intricacy of his work is, as usual, ridiculous. In effect, the perfect way to introduce the record. As it fades, we’re treated to crashing waves and airy vocals just before Estate‘s ‘Higher’ kicks in with a slammin’ beat and synths that make you want to move to their trance-like tempo. Just when you think you know where you might be going, Betamaxx‘s driving and catchy ‘Guided By Moonlight’ lulls you under its spell. From here, Deastro takes over with one of his beat-heavy instrumentals that I’ve always admired him for. Easily danceable and club-ready, yet refined enough to make you think about its complexity. With an airy beginning quickly interrupted by heavy bass and Michelle Miears’ angelic vocals, BLSHS could have knocked me over with a feather.
Crozet‘s ‘Hold My Weight’ is exactly what I hope all their tracks will be: Melodic, catchy, airy, dreamy and most importantly, unforgettable. From here, we switch gears a bit going into Arc Neon‘s ‘Strength For A Cosmic Balance’. It’s easily one of the catchiest tracks on the compilation with its spacey synths, 80s-esque workout theme and bouncy beats. My head was floating. Speaking of which, City Society‘s ‘Bermuda’ is a brilliant piece of work whose shoegazey guitars and airy vocals make me imagine myself floating above the island of Bermuda. In short, a more than fitting title. If City Society brought you to Bermuda, Skeleton Beach‘s ‘Clear’ drops you in the ocean and pushes you around the surf until you end up on the beach in a euphoric daze. While you’re on the beach, you might as well pick yourself up and dance your way towards the jungle where you’ll find TEEEL and his ‘Temple Of The Sun’.
Dallas Campbell‘s ‘Together In Stardust’ reminds me of 70s-era space rock, instead layered with fat beats and synthesizers. It actually feels like the soundtrack to an epic space adventure and plays itself out accordingly. It’s at this point we take a sharp turn back to earth to the world of Suicide Forest with their dark and melodic ‘Translucent’. Very reminiscent of the darker impulses of Depeche Mode, Paul Rhodes’ deeply-sung lead vocals mixed with mysterious robotic backing voices makes this track irresistible. Once the smoke clears, Be The Wolfe provides an unexpectedly dark, yet optimistic synth-driven masterpiece in ‘Tuesday Afternoon’. Even after the song is long over, I find I still have its chorus stuck in my head. It’s here when one of the brightest spots on the compilation appears with Another Green World‘s delightfully arresting ‘Wilderness’. With some of the catchiest melodies I’ve heard from anyone this year, this is easily one of the best tracks AGW has ever written, period. From there, we take a U-turn back towards the darker side of synth wave with Blvrred Vision‘s ‘Youth’. Eerie synths overlie steady beats with deeper vocals that reminisce about what used to be.
The last quarter of the album begins with Profound Perceived (feat. Dreems) and their creepy, yet cinematic ‘The Great Divide’. I know I made the video for it (^as seen above^), but it perfectly illustrates the theme of the song in just about every way and could easily be the single from Return To Oz’s soundtrack. After Dorothy has finally returned home to Emerald City, so to speak, we’re then eased into Dream Curtain‘s fantastically melodic and dreamy ‘Death’. While the subject matter of the lyrics is morbid, the music provides a stark contrast to it and even makes the prospect of death seem pleasant (which isn’t easy to do). Once the dream has concluded, Brothertiger‘s ‘Chains’ eases you into its chill wavey web of soaring synths, dreamy vocals and early 90s beats. This is, hands-down my favorite track from him and I’m elated to have had him part of this project. To end the record, Soft Lighting shows us why he’s the master of sexiness with ‘How You Do It’, a track so sexy it’ll make you blush. But, at the same time, you can easily groove to it and sing along with every word.
All in all, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t preferential to this compilation. However, objectively speaking, Retro Future is the best compilation I’ve ever heard and moreover, my nomination for record of the year. The artists and their work speaks for itself, and that art speaks absolute volumes. At least half of the songs on this compilation are, in my opinion, the best work these artists have ever done. That is absolutely ridiculous to find in one place and it makes it all the easier for me and hopefully others come to the conclusion that not only is this great, it’s the best collection of songs of 2013, and I loved every second of it. The very essence of perfection… 10/10
Raffertie: Build Me Up – The concept of ambience gets thrown around a fair amount these days when addressing any music that isn’t directly in the mainstream. It’s supposed to be a full-sensory experience, to have a visual presence and tactile textures that create something more than sound waves from speakers. Working as Raffertie, British producer Benjamin Stefanski has come to be associated with that kind of hyper-sensory energy, using pulses and blips over addictively repetitive rhythms in such a way as to trigger something in his listeners from tip to toe. His work, at its best, is energetic and borders on the hypnotic; at least, it did until the release of Build Me Up.
Raffertie’s newest EP is a far departure from the pulsing premise for which Stefanski has come to be known. It’s softer, more melodic, and while it certainly isn’t lacking in ambience, the experience is markedly different. Where once the artist was a master of creating sensation, a sense of physical engagement in the pieces he produced, this four track release is inundated with something more intrinsic; it has feeling. There is emotion to every song, each distinct from the next, each creating a rounded piece. The EP’s title track keeps Raffertie’s signature heavy electronics at the forefront, but adds in harmonious vocal chimes and sweet, understated lyrics that set the pace for the pieces that follow.
Mellow attitude and all, perhaps the most distinct thing about Build Me Up when compared to its predecessors is the use of vocals across the album. Raffertie songs have certainly included them before, but this is the first time the artist’s own voice has been featured so prominently. ‘Trust’ stands as something of an experiment in what that voice, combined with that of featured artist YADi, can do on an electronic album. The vocals have been warped, distorted, carefully pulled up and lowered back down, but the pairs’ harmonies are the primary features of the track – certainly a far departure from releases where Stefanski’s work sounded more digital than human.
As a bit of a reinvention, the new Raffertie sound still has its hiccups. It’s thin in places and lacks directional cohesion. At moments it is bright and cheery, but it shifts abruptly between that and a grayer, more withdrawn attitude. It lacks in texture considering it’s from an artist who has proven he knows how to make noise dance in every inch of space surrounding him. It tries to make up for that in soul, though, and there’s something to be said for that. This isn’t the first time Stefanski has taken a risk with his sound, and it likely won’t be the last, but after release upon release built up on the hype of the sensory qualities his listeners knew he could produce, it was a bold move to transition into creating feeling and atmosphere. If this sound is going to stick around for a while, I for one would not mind in the least…7.9/10
Trust (feat. YADi)
Royal Bangs: Brass- “Not good enough is an A for effort” is a line from Royal Bangs‘ track entitled ‘Orange Moon.’ Well their new album, Brass, receives an A+ and for a lot more than just effort. This is the fourth album from the indie rock group out of Tennessee and was produced by Patrick Carney of The Black Keys; the influence is very much apparent.
The album gets off to a rather impressive start with opener ‘Better Run.’ A lively powerhouse that is fun and inviting. Its likable charm easily hooks in the listener and keeps them tapping their toes and, most importantly, wanting more. The best way to describe the track is an anthem based around the trials life hits you with as you get older. This theme is evident with lyrics like “This is it the big leagues for you/Better run like you’ve been taught to,” “Haven’t slept ion the longest time, but/I can do it, I can do it, I can do it, I can,” and “Let go of your guilt, let go of your jealousy/Show ‘em you’re not the fool that you were supposed to be.” And yet tackling such subject matter, the single still manages to have an upbeat vibe and sound.
This upbeat nature follows true throughout most of the tracks on the album. As previously stated, Brass was produced by Patrick Carney, 1/2 of rock greats, The Black Keys. A lot of the tracks, ‘Octagon’ and ‘Laurel’ for example, have a very soulful sound very reminiscent to the style of The Black Keys’ music. One of the Brass‘ major strengths is frontman Ryan Schafer’s full-bodied voice which he uses to belt out the band’s thoughtful and well-crafted lyrics. The funny thing is that the more you listen to the album and the further you get into it, the more resemblances you start to hear between Schafer’s voice and that of Dan Auerbach.
One of the best tracks on the album, aside from ‘Better Run,’ is the fourth track, ‘Window Loop of America.’ The guitar in the intro is softer, slower and almost has a darker sound than the rest of the album. This is then contrasted by a high-pitched voice making a consistent “Ahhhh-ing” sound. Schafer sings: “If I was supposed to find something wandering around/I would have found it by now.” It is a lovely track that manages to break up the otherwise consistent flow of the album, adding an element of diversity.
If there is anything I can say about Brass, it is that it is a true rock album. Under the guidance of Carney, Royal Bangs are learning to hone their craft and turn out infectious tunes that will undoubtedly broaden their fan base…9.2/10
Window Loops of America
Calories: Calories III - The success and relevance of a saga’s third installment certainly varies with its necessity. Return of the Jedi, for example, was crucial in that it put the Rebels back on top and concluded the Star Wars trilogy (spoiler alert). Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was necessary in proving that the series could still hold water after the disappointment that was The Temple of Doom. Toy Story 3 may not have been entirely necessary as far as the series went, but its necessity lied in the way it reminded those of us who grew up with Andy just how old we really are (and most likely taught some kids that adults cry too). Back to the Future Part III…well, we could have done without that one.
Last month Birmingham post-indie rockers Calories released their third and least googlable album, Calories III, for free on their Bandcamp. As a third installment to their catalog, the necessity of the album certainly lies in its character development, or I suppose the development of the band as a whole. The band’s first album, Adventuring, was youthfully sloppy in a Johnny Foreigner-like way, while Basic Nature, their second album, showed a bit more restraint. While III exhibits some of their youthful playfulness on tracks like the bored-yet-intense ‘Le Quest’, the overall vibe exuded from the piece is much more mature in its patience and control.
The first discernible difference I noticed between III and its predecessors was the length of its songs. While Calories was once known to churn out two-minute guitar romps, their latest offering contains tracks sprawling six and ten minutes. Even the shorter tracks clock in at three or four minutes, like ‘DMT’ which perhaps best exemplifies Calories’ newfound love of tacking riveting guitars solos onto their slowest-progressing tracks. Similarly, ‘Monolith’ kicks off rather monotonously yet slowly blooms into howling chaos.
‘Neighbours’ displays a stoicism reminiscent of echoing-jangle-pop posterboys Arches (and a steadily galloping bass line influenced by Nilsson), who often find themselves calmly lost in their own guitar reverberations. Also like Arches, after a few minutes they give up on their search vocally and depend solely on their music to guide the track. Echoes are also what drive ‘Race Positions,’ the least Caloric track on the album. Much like Seabear or Indians, the track gives off lush sunrise-over-a-campfire vibes, making it an ideal candidate to keep you warm this winter.
‘Mausoleum’ best sums up the band’s sudden maturity in its anti-YOLO lyrical content (the track is literally laced with the chiding repetition of “don’t die young”) and confident musical swagger. Somewhere amidst the chirping guitar, pattering drum, and listless, reverberated vocals is the first-hand knowledge of a man who’s made mistakes in his youth and begs the listener to ignore all temptations of a reckless lifestyle. Like ‘Neighbours,’ its hard not to get lost in the five-minute reverb that warmly blankets the track.
The album’s ten-minute closer, ‘Tropics,’ is the ultimate zone-out. Halfway through the track, everything begins to peter out as if to announce the end of their set, while the mesmerized listener sticks around until the guitar finally fizzles out completely. We certainly don’t see this side of the band pre-III, making it incredibly difficult to compare Calories to any movie trilogy. Instead I would have to describe III as The Last Crusade to Calories’ previously released Star Wars episodes: It’s completely different subject matter, but all three boast Harrison Ford’s irresistible charm…8.3/10
The Liberators: Power Struggle – How does a band convey a righteous-come-revolutionary vibe using only instrumentals? That mystery can only be solved by The Liberators. Part of the power in Power Struggle could be attributed to the fact that the band is made up of 10 members – an unwieldy number, but one that produces a wholly unique sound. The Liberators are based in Sydney, Australia and they came together to produce their eponymous debut album in 2011. Now, after touring throughout Australia and slowly making their way onto the international scene, they are releasing their second album, Power Struggle, to much anticipation.
Right off the bat, the new work is consistent with their style, which is inspired by 1970s Nigerian Afrobeat and American funk and soul. For people stateside, the funk music of the late ’60s/early ’70s is immediately recognizable in the first few songs – though ‘Soul Drive’ is the one in which they are most prominent. Still, there are elements to each song that Americans may not be able to place right away due to the influence of Latin, funk, and soul from native Australians with an Afrobeat twist.
Somehow, the band is able to epitomize the feeling of the ’60s and ’70s, when the world was challenging its beliefs, societal structures and politics. Songs like ‘Dark River’ and the title track ‘Power Struggle’ are horn-heavy smooth jazz pieces that evoke something completely opposite of placidity. This album is more intense and measured than The Liberators; it’s a sit-in rather than a march.
One of the most fun and exotic songs on the album is ‘Dos Caras’, which feels light-hearted and fun. The Arabian start yields to staccato horn blasts and quirky, stutter-step drumming as it progresses. One cool thing about the collection is that more than half of the album features songs that are on or near the five minute mark, which allows each song to evolve individually as the album evolves on a larger scale. The musicianship of each of the ten members is highlighted not through self-serving solos, but through the extremely cohesive whole that is presented.
Finally, in the last song on the album, Roxie Ray is back on vocals to change up the sound. She performed on the song ‘Let It Go’ from their first album and this time around it’s no different. Her distinctive and sultry vocals fit in perfectly with the band. There is a roughness to her voice that brings to mind legendary singers like Aretha Franklin or Janis Joplin. Her addition helps to make ‘Water Somewhere’ one of the best on the album.
Jazz lovers will love this album and it’s good for anyone who cares about instrumental integrity because each member knows their instrument in and out. The collaboration of the artists and the cool influences make this band stand out…9.0/10
White Lies: Small TV - There’s always that one person at a concert who’s constantly screaming and jumping up and down like it’s the last show he/she will ever see. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but this is what I imagine a hardcore fan of the English post-punk band White Lies to be – obnoxiously passionate and enthralled by all things loud and grandiose. I attribute lot that to White Lies’ signature of skillfully crafting catchy, 80′s post-punk influenced songs with gigantic pop melodies. They’ve created this infectious The Killers meets Joy Division brand of rock that would drive the aforementioned concertgoer wild. White Lies newest EP Small TV, though, is definitely not the album for that fan.
By offering all acoustic versions of three of White Lies’ songs and two ambitious covers, Small TV strips the band of one of its biggest selling points, literally and figuratively. The EP opens up with ‘There Goes Our Love Again,’ a highlight from Lies’ Big TV which was released earlier this year. The original, marked by The Cure-esque synth waves and an enormously catchy, repetitive hook; is White Lies in their element. It’s the type of song I imagine said fan from earlier screaming at the top of her lungs. However, this new acoustic version is the opposite of that. Frontman Harry McVeigh’s voice is front-and-center of this bare version featuring mostly an electro rhythm section with ominous strings luring in the background. It’s a pretty bold move considering that a lot of their hook-driven songs would be kind of “blah” if it weren’t for the smoke and mirrors effect of elaborate production. And, that would definitely be the case here if it weren’t for McVeigh’s ability to deliver an intriguing and technically proficient vocal performance.
Perhaps an even bolder move is the fact that they take Lana del Ray‘s ‘Ride’ and Prince’s ‘I Would Die 4 U’ and give them both the same haunting treatment. This band is nothing if not ambitious, even if they haven’t quite crossed the threshold of standing alongside the true post-punk greats. McVeigh, again, offers a more subdued and traditionally beautiful vocal performance of these highly stylized songs. Unfortunately, they end up sounding a bit boring without the panache of Prince’s androgynous swagger or Ray’s grace and unexpected vocal range. McVeigh & Co. deserve all the respect in the world for musically spreading their proverbial wings, even though these highly enjoyable, pitch-perfect covers fall a little short of the mark.
‘First Time Caller’ sits a little better in this format due in large part to the already laid-back feel of the original readily lending itself to a stripped down version. The electric guitars are left behind and the synth string riff from the full version is replaced by the glockenspiel. This ultimately leaves McVeigh’s voice exposed enough to milk every single note that he sings. The honesty in his vocals here are something you don’t get when you listen to their others records. So, it’s definitely a welcomed shift in gears that will hopefully influence their sound from here on out.
Small TV rests on the laurels of White Lies’ pop sensibility and McVeigh’s captivating vocals; it works sometimes and other times it doesn’t. While their ambition is definitely commendable, they’d do well to focus that momentum on conveying sincerity as they’ve done on a few occasions throughout this EP. From a band that goes for brook most of the time, Small TV is evidence that they don’t need all the production tricks and overblown cliches to create music that will resonate with people… 6.9/10
I Would Die 4 U