Circuit Diagram: Motown – It’s easy to box krautrock as music for machines to come alive to once every rusty red moon, and make unintelligible love to mind-gnomes. Listening to Can and BEAK>, the last thing on my mind would be, “Where’d I put the dancing shoes?” but Circuit Diagram incorporates the genre into their electronics and sampling in a way that explodes that narrow conception into a million shards of mirror, and deftly reassembles them into a pulsing disco ball, all in the same movement. Their Motown EP makes an excellent addition to the libraries of krautheads, afrobeatists and synth enthusiasts alike, as a mesmerizing melding of analog and digital approaches that combines the best of both.
Circuit Diagram is the synth and drum duo of Kris Alert and Nicolas Sheikholeslami, respectively, and no offense to Alert in any way, but the percussion is the undisputed highlight of the album. His funk/disco-inflected style is nimble and furious in a way that recalls the sepia-and-gold glamour of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories in terms of stylistic ancestry and virtuosity.
The two compose by setting up a basic loop and drumbeat, after which they gradually graft synth lines and samples into the musical helix until their beast of choice emerges. Where Alert colors the luxurious coat and puts the gold in its pupils, Sheikholeslami molds the muscle that lets it canter, feint and plunge across their synthetic sonic plains. Builds and releases are timed to torturous precision, and snap beautifully at every bridge’s breaking point. Percussion is central to the mesmerism of krautrock and of course puts the beat in afrobeat, and so Circuit Diagram succeeds in both approaches, thanks in large part to Sheikholeslami. And if you’re wondering, he’s just as good live.
Not to leave Alert out in the cold — he definitely delivers the goods as well. Motown has an impressive breadth of moods and textures thanks to his synth tinkering; track two, ‘Evi’, sets out with a bass line out of the murk of ’70s Italian horror soundtracks, and is gradually joined by shimmering vocals, deft handclaps and phantom keyboards. The result is appropriate for nightclubs and gothic hallways alike. He’s an incredibly economic musician, which adds to the kraut feel of the duo and to the deliberate quality and confidence that let you know your party is in capable hands.
The EP ends on Ed Davenport’s mix of the opening track, which is simply epic in scope. It’s a bit more meditative at the start, with more of a focus on Touchy Mob’s breathy, intoxicating vocals. But that incessant bass synth starts to pulse with an unpredictable vivacity that keeps threatening to spill from its membrane, and when it hits critical mass mid-song, the breaking point oozes with an understated satisfaction. Circuit Diagram seeks to enmesh you in these line-and-circle blueprints of sound, and you’ll find yourself wishing never to break free…8.6/10
Muscle: The Pump - Full disclosure, when I got a hold of this EP, I was expecting nothing but pure kitsch. It’s easy to poke fun at ’80s gym culture, and as I’ve said before, the imagery is distinctly retro and perfect for many a synthwave producer’s needs. So, going into Muscle’s The Pump, I expected a lot of corny clichés.
To my relief, I was very, very wrong in my expectations. The Pump is full of quality, originality and catchiness that conveys a deeper talent and respect for the genre that I really admire. The EP kicks off with ‘Feel the Steel’. It’s a mid-tempo four on the floor track with a bit of jazzy melody thrown in, peppered with growling vocals encouraging us to, you guessed it, “feel the steel”.
Following that, the title track is a quick shift in direction to something a little more fun, sassy and sexy. This vocal track is easily the catchiest on the EP, full of attitude and innuendo. It’s definitely something you’ll want to listen to with that special someone when you want to make your intentions clear. If it doesn’t happen for you by the time the guitar solo kicks in, it probably isn’t meant to be.
‘Our Bodies in Heat’ is a satisfying track in the sense that it gets really interesting halfway through with some catchy and cool synth riffs and shimmering keys. Just when you begin to wonder where the song is going, Muscle lets the music blossom. Evoking imagery of a lone road warrior fighting his way across the desert, the guitar-heavy ‘All My Ex’s Died in Texas’ is a piece more akin to what I was first expecting. Full of machismo and dashes of gunfire, it’s packed with ’80s action hero attitude.
My favorite track on The Pump is ‘IL Stallone’. This is probably me just projecting, but there’s something about it that reminds me of Trans X’s ‘Living on Video’ and I’m hit with flashbacks of my nights spent in poorly ventilated, dark night clubs. But there’s a moment about halfway through where Muscle drops all the synths and the beat just carries me for a moment. A piano melody kicks in and I’m overcome with a fine sense of serenity before the track reignites for the finale.
Muscle ends The Pump with ‘Sexin’ in the Steam Room’ and some choice words from our favorite bodybuilder/action star/politician, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He apparently really enjoyed “the pump”, so to speak. Overall I really enjoyed the experience front to back. Muscle is able to address themes and achieve powerful imagery without beating our heads in with nostalgia or cliché. A little flexing goes a lot further than boastful chest thumping…8.6/10
Camille Corazón‘s first official single as a solo artist, ‘XXVII’ is further proof of her collaborative efficiency. Somewhat of an EDM producer’s darling, Camille Corazón has proven her vocal efforts on collaborations like ‘Black Crown‘ (with Silent Rider) and ‘Walking on Ice‘ (with Jamie Jones) among others. With co-production by Corazón herself and mixing by Cristiano Nicolini, her music sensibilities certainly play well with others. An ode to the ’27 Club’ (an idea brought to Corazón by co-producer 1984 aka Mat Sherman), Corazón solemnly strides through the downtempo chillstep beat with a gracefully blunt acknowledgment. The lyrics gather punch as she gets to the wry question at the center of the song, “was it really your vice that was rolling the dice?” Nicolini’s mixing smartly brings Camille’s understatedly charismatic vocals to the forefront, never bringing into question whose song it is. With a promising first single and great collaborations to back it up, Camille Corazón is one to keep tabs on.
It’s been a long time coming for fans of Canadian indie rock outfit, Tokyo Police Club; four years to be exact. That’s how long it had been since their highly successful album Champ, the 2010 follow up to their equally well-received, Elephant Shell. From a band whose previous work was released in such a consistently timely manner, I’ll have to admit that I, like many other TPC fans, wondered if we were ever going to hear any new material from the group. Fast-forward to now; the highly-anticipated Forcefields has been released and these guys are back to doing what they do best: touring. I was lucky enough to attend their sold out show in Chicago, over at Lincoln Hall. Along with them, they brought fellow Canadian indie rockers, Said The Whale, as well as Californian indie pop project, Geographer. With their combined forces and a packed house, it was a high-energy night that successfully satisfied the mass of eager fans…and then some.
First on the bill was Said the Whale. There wasn’t anything not to like about these guys. They were fun, eccentric, and fresh. On first impression alone, Said the Whale are the cool kids you who you’d want to be friends with. A five-piece ensemble, each member brought something unique to the group’s sound and it all flowed in an entirely cohesive manner. Vocals were juggled seamlessly between members and the varied instrumentation kept each song different from the last. Their music as a whole was upbeat and catchy. There was rarely a moment during their set that audience members weren’t bobbing their heads or tapping their toes. Overall it was the perfect way to get the mood in the room elevated and ready for the powerhouse that is Tokyo Police Club.
Next up was Geographer. Their smooth, electronic sound was a nice contrast to the more traditional indie rock sound put forth by the bands preceding and following Geographer’s set. There were sounds of acknowledgement and remembrance as audience members all around me realized they were actually quite familiar with Geographer’s tunes, especially when they played their most popular track, ‘Kites’. Purple and blue lights glowed around the band as entrancing synth notes flowed throughout the venue and carried the audience on a mystical listening journey. A few other less obvious instruments were thrown into the mix like a mini electric cello, a cowbell, and a saxophone (the crowd went absolutely nuts when frontman Mike Deni brought out the sax). The strongest element of Geographer’s sound is Deni’s vastly beautiful vocals. His voice carries a weight that makes its presence known and yet is so soft and warm, it soothes the listener’s ear. His impeccable vocal quality matched with their spacey instrumentation creates for something quite wonderful to experience. These guys had outstanding stage presence and it makes sense, this isn’t their first rodeo. They’ve gotten to tour with the likes of Toro y Moi, Foster the People, and Freelance Whales.
Finally, it was time for the main event; the wait was over (as if we hadn’t already been waiting long enough). After all of their gear was prepped and in place the band emerged to a roaring crowd of devoted fans. They kicked off the set with ‘Argentina’, the first track off their new release. Now, ‘Argentina’ is a three-part song totaling out to eight and a half minutes. I figured that for their live set, they would stuck to just part I but to my surprise (and pleasure), they played all three parts. One of the major successes of the night was how Tokyo Police Club managed to create a perfect setlist, with just the right amount of old and new. The played plenty of new favorites like ‘Hot Tonight’ and ‘Tunnel Vision’ as well as classic hits like ‘Wait Up (Boots of Danger)’, ‘Favourite Food’ and ‘Bambi’. The band was just as electrifying live as they’ve always been. If this tour is proving anything, even though it has just begun, it’s that these guys haven’t lost their touch. With likable new additions to their repertoire, TPC’s live show has become even more infectious and lively. If you’re familiar with Tokyo Police Club, then you know that their energy level is always on high. They rarely ever slow things down which is why what happened toward the end of the night was so unexpected and beautiful. After flashing through the first part of their set in what felt like no time at all, the audience began chanting and cheering for the inevitable encore. Frontman Dave Monks walked out without any of his other bandmates which was a little confusing, to say the least. Monks then picked up his acoustic guitar, which he had barely touched earlier in the night, and asked if everyone could hear him. He decided to step away from the mics and amps with everyone agreeing to be as silent as possible and played a rare, stripped down acoustic version of Tessellate. It was a lovely moment and one of the highlights of the night.
A sold-out house packed with adoring fans, endearingly vibrant openers, and a night of music that was on point. This was a show that was not to be missed. Tokyo Police Club is back but as LL Cool J once said, “Don’t call it a comeback.” After listening to Forcefields in its entirety and seeing one of their most recent live shows, it honestly feels like they’ve never left.
Born Ruffians: Acoustic EP- This isn’t your father’s folk. But it is an album that has roots in old school Americana and sounds that are reminiscent of films that would cast John Wayne. With countless bands and musicians drifting towards computerized beats or cranking the amps to “11″ to reach the outlying edges of a stadium, this new Born Ruffians album is a breath of fresh air- literally. Sonically, it is spacious. There are layers of instruments and vocals, but no particular sound is competing with another. Everything has its place and allows the listener to feel the ranges of the old west about their self.
What is also impressive about Acoustic is that it is only an EP, but it manages to bend the rules. In my own experience, EPs are generally no more than 5 songs long; this one is 9 songs and a full half-hour of heartache, longing and finally acceptance in the dusty flat-lands of the American West. Anyone familiar with Born Ruffians’ earlier work will agree that this album can be considered experimental for them. On their 2008 album, Red, Yellow & Blue, they play punctuated, dance-y, indie garage-pop. But on Acoustic, Born Ruffians have taken a step back and I find it glorious.
The opening track, ‘Rage Flows’, sets the mood. A finger picked guitar and light percussion sets the foundation as an echoing, deep baritone voice sings the title very much staccato, or short and punctuated. From there it takes a nice steady pace while the vocals are sung in a high tenor. From their, the album takes a laid back, but still very focused ride through songs about love and lust. In ‘Wandering Eye’, the opening lines, “Is it cheating if I call you sweetheart?/ Is it cheating if you call me your man?”, follows the story of of two people who wonder, ‘What if?’ The lyrics, along with the woozy rhythm of the guitar, places the listener in a darkened saloon with the few drunks who are able to recall their own lost loves.
On ‘Boom Boom Shake Shake’, the influence of the past is abundant in the song. It is in 3/4 time, a light dance rhythm. The way the lyrics, “Do you wanna go dance with me?”, are sung in a tender tenor, allude to the standard pop love-songs from the 1950′s. These elements are then combined with the sounds of crackling and light hissing like when records are being played. The whole song stands out from the rest because it is put through a filter; as if you were transported to your grandparents living room, when the world was still pictured in either black and white or grainy color, the air smelled of scotch and tobacco, and images of a lonesome ranger falling in love with the damsel in distress glow on the screen behind you.
But wait, there’s more. On the final track of Acoustic, ‘Your Sufferin’ Heart’, Born Ruffians give the album a final kick. The guitar is electric, the drums and bass are more prominent and it has a more punctuated feel. Though, with these elements in play, it still has a swagger. This fits with the lyrics perfectly, a song about finally moving on from the heartache that was prominent earlier in the record. And in a way, this EP is a possible sign that these fine Canadian lads are growing up and moving on… 10/10
Your Sufferin’ Heart