No Party for Cao Dong ‘還願’- Dreamy post rock for dreamy post rockers

I recently watched a Lets Play of the Taiwanese game “Devotion” (partly horror, partly drama) and this song played at the end and it’s the kind of song that immediately grabs me, because it starts like dream pop, then turns into an singer/songwriter-ish guitar ditty and suddenly erupts into dizzying post rock and all this happens in 3:45 minutes but it feels like 10 seconds because it flows so easily, it’s like a perfect train journey.

The song is – as far as I could tell from the translation given within the game – about a bittersweet ending or seeing some beauty in something ending because you decide to see the light in it. According to Wikipedia, the song was specifically written for the game, so I won’t go deeper into the meaning because I don’t want to spoil it for you in case you want to look it up or play it yourself.

No Party for Cao Dong are a Taiwanese band founded in 2014 and currently being on hiatus with the remaining members Wood Lin (vocals and guitar), Sam Yang (bass) and Judy Chan (guitar).

If you want to find out more about the band, there’s a lovely article on them on asianpopweekly.com.

Sadly, the drummer of the band, Fan Tsai, died in October this year. She had been with the band since 2016 when they met at university.

Favorite Song: Low “Congregation”

So, the other day, someone said that they didn’t like “Devs” because it had such a great sci-fi-idea but concentrated too much on just a few characters instead of thinking bigger and I thought ‘oh, nice, I love getting intimately close to a few characters and see how they reflect the world, whether fictitious or real’ and dived right in. First of all: “Devs” is weirdly unnerving, it has a certain constant uncanny feeling, like watching an Ari Aster movie.

From the looming statue of a little girl as a symbol for the silicon valley-like development campus that is the setting of the show to the use of music (the soundtrack is stellar) and the weird, sometimes out-of-rhythm cuts that are kinda jarring, I felt … odd … watching the first episodes. I am not yet through because it’s a little heavy and right now, I am not exactly keen to wallow in heavy but it peaked my interest and there is a certain warmth to it, in the middle of all this uncanny silicon valley.

ANYWAYS! In episode two, the last few scenes are held together by this beautiful song “Congregation” by Low. I am not quite sure what to make of the lyrics.
Sung, they are beautiful. But reading them, there is a lot of rhyming for the rhyme’s sake (it feels like). Still, I like to think of the song being about deeply ingrained thoughts, ideas and rituals of a group (congregation) being shaken up by the group itself that holds them. “An inquisition of familiar lies”, like something that always has been, finally reaches a breaking point in the present, can’t live on tradition anymore and needs to face the truth, or another truth.
The second verse sounds more sinister, like how even small doubts can confuse the group and upset it (“the implication is its own device in the middle of a salient fight”).
And in the third verse, there’s a certain sense of disruption in the differences of ages, how the young and the old sometimes just can’t get together because the young need to look forward, while the old ones often prefer to look back (“generations like their ways and times”).
It’s like how weird group think moves, sometimes in harmony, sometimes in dissonance and sometimes in clear, parallel lines, easy to be distinguished but still part of the same group.
Or maybe, it’s about something completely different.
But where’s the fun in not even trying to find meaning in a song you like?

Snail Mail – ‘Lush’ is beautiful indie rock for cool sad people

Lindsey Jordan released her first self-recorded EP when she was 16. I love that we nowadays have all the possibilities to make, produce and release music through the interwebs because many artists can avoid the oftentimes grueling and personality-mutating funnels of the music industry and use Bandcamp and other mediums to gather a small, dedicated fan base and then jump on better things.

Nowadays, Jordan is under the label Matador Records (Interpol, Cat Power, Fucked Up, Yo la Tengo and more). For a debut, “Lush” is absolutely gorgeous and surprising because there’s a very assured earnestness in her music (without being to serious). As a much (MUCH) older person, it’s really interesting to hear these songs about relationships and break-ups and leaving things behind because I remember those days when everything was moving so fast or not fast enough and it was impossible to get your head around whether you really wanted all these changes.

Jordan’s sound is very subdued, classic indie rock that has a clean production but is not overdone. I am quite sure, it translates beautifully on a stage because the songs are so clear-cut, with not much fuss (but a little fuzz). There’s nearly a bit of punk-simplicity in the way she structures her songs. Her guitar and voice take center stage and that’s really all you need, to be honest.
It’s like a really good recipe where few, very good ingredients come together and you can taste all of them (yes, I do like to watch cooking shows, why do you ask?). Nothing gets muddled. It’s the kind of debut album that makes you really look forward for what’s to come but also appreciate what’s already there.

Favorite Song: Marika Hackman ‚Time’s been reckless‘

Marika Hackman’s album „I’m not your man“ is a brilliant, amazing and exciting singer/songwriter adventure that – if it were by a man – would have been celebrated across all platforms. There are folk elements, there’s garage sound, there’s a little pop, a little punk, a little indie and absolutely beautiful guitar play, which brings me to my favorite song.

„Time’s been reckless“ is about aging and what age does to our bodies (and our minds). How you see in people around you (and in people you love) how cruel time can be and how our bodies will eventually fail us.

It’s lyrically a very dark and sad song but musically, it’s full of pep and sounds like a song you would listen to in your first semesters at University, to get ready for the day.

In the middle of the song, there is a gorgeous valley of calm and a sweet, short guitar solo before Marika continues whispering, accompanied with echoes in the background and then everything reverts back to the party anthem. It’s a beautiful moment, especially given the lyrics as it shows that even within the thralls of life we can’t really escape those sad moments when we are reminded how fleeting everything is. It’s a great song. And it’s one of many great songs on the album (which I really very much highly recommend).

Decemberists ‘I’ll be your girl’ – Stranger Songs and a Prog of seagulls

I am quite glad that the album starts with the beautiful, The Decemberists-typical “Once in my life” and not with their single “Severed”. Since the sound of The Decemberists as well as Meloy’s songwriting always had an air of nostalgia and out-of-time-ideas, it’s weird to suddenly hear them being all synth-band. And even if “Once in my life” has a subtle Smiths-guitar and equally subtle synths, it is not as much in your face as “Severed” which is a hit to your head (it doesn’t hurt much, because true to the time period, you’re wearing tons of hairspray and your hair is a mile high on all sides).

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Favourite Song: Middle Kids ‘Your Love’ – oh, uncertainty

The Middle Kids are from Sydney Australia and are led by Hannah Joy and Tim Fitz. Tagging along, and because a band without a drummer is a band without someone to blame when someone farts on the tour bus, is Harry Day.

The band’s style is somehow inspired of a slightly melancholic country edge but without the twang. In fact, there is an 80s pop clarity that obviously caught my ear immediately and is the reason why their song “Your Love” ended up on this blog. I love that stuff.

I’d like to mention that this band’s use of vocals/backing vocals on record is fantastic (all, I suspect, sung and recorded by Hannah Joy on the EP). That voice is lovely because it can be incredibly tender but also could kick your ass if Hannah would want to.

Apparently, their song “Edge of Town” got quite a bit attention through radio and on Spotify. And it’s a lovely song but “Your Love” has this beautiful effortlessness, this lightness in its sound mingling with melancholy that reminds me of the late Tom Petty (also: the guitars). I also love it when country manages to sneak into indie and pop music because it usually turns out beautifully.

On the Spot: This is the kit – lovely, warm, soft

These are hard times, people. They are rewarding times but it’s still stressful wondering what kind of horrible news will pile up on your timeline this week. Who of your faves is only slightly problematic and who is outright horrible? And everyone is having their list of good guys they hope will not turn into turds. It’s a hell of a time to live in.

Add daylight savings time to that and seasonal rain and grey skies and we all need something lovely to pick us up.

This is the Kit – an indie outfit from Bristol, helmed by Kate Stables and their new album “Moonshine Freeze” is exactly that. This album is beyond gorgeous. Apparently, Guy Garvey once dedicated a radio hour on This is the Kit and that makes all the sense because this band has this lovely attention to detail, soft flowing rhythm and genre-defying symbiosis of musical influences, use of instruments and Stables’ lovely voice. I also want to add, that this album has some absolutely amazing guitar/banjo work by Stables. Very subtle, nothing shredding through the air but just intricate picking that lightly taps at your window. That’s some expert playing, I tell you that.

Listening to the opener “Bullet Proof” is like entering a secret, magical garden. It’s the kind of warmth and beauty that we might need if we want to escape the harsh reality for a while. It’s an embrace, it’s a light.

Broken Social Scene ‘Hug of Thunder’ – the indie band of all indie bands is back!

Disclaimer: even though I danced to Broken Social Scene more times than I can count, I never really listened to an entire album. I know, it’s horrifying. So I listened to their comeback album “Hug of Thunder” with fresh and uneducated ears.

So, I have to say: this is a beautiful album. It sounds nostalgic and new at the same time. As nearly all great Canadian rock bands, you can hear this communal feeling of way too much talent to fit into a recording studio. The way the voices intermingle in the song “Halfway Home” is EVERYTHING. The whole album feels like an actual show in an old-fashioned theatre where everyone gets their time in the spotlight, a time to shine.

And a time for Feist to shine … I mean on a Broken Social Scene-record. Her solo and titular song “Hug of Thunder” is another one of those amazing Springsteen-homages and might replace Ryan Adam’s “I just might” for the award of “best Bruce Springsteen song not written or performed by Bruce Springsteen”. I am in love with this song.

I think the majesty of this album is the way that despite all in all 18 musicians coming together and celebrating the art of music, the whole album feels weirdly intimate and relaxed. At no point, it’s overwhelming or messy. There’s no chaotic energy, you always have the feeling that everyone knows exactly what they are doing and everyone is in synch for the whole show (the closest you can get to jazz without playing jazz, I guess). And even if the songs differ wildly from each other, they’re all cut from the same cloth. This is a band’s band album.

By the way, if anyone knows who is responsible for the album art work, please tell me, it’s lovely.

Favourite Song: Sizarr “Clam” – yes, I miss the Maccabees

Ok ok, I know it’s a little unfair to make such broad comparisons but listening to German trio Sizarr and not thinking of one of the best Britpop bands ever (in the entire world, universe and existence) is simply impossible. Not only because singer Fabian Altstötter sounds a lot like Orlando Weeks (their Wikipedia entry compares him to Jame Blake and Jeff Buckley, which I suspect is a ruse to distract us from the obvious similarities with Weeks). No, the whole vocal style and the use of guitars is heavy into the Maccabees’ 2nd album which was released in 2009 just when Sizarr formed. A coincident? I doubt it.

The only difference: Sizarr love the 80s. As do I, so who am I to judge a band just because the remind me of some other band. Maybe it’s just the grief that makes me hear Weeks in every song, even commercial jingles and street noise.

But! Sizarr’s song “Clam” is such a beauty (also with a little Aha-in-the-80s-vibe) that I let it slide. Especially since the guitar work on that song is more of the 80s The Smiths-variety.  After all, as the two regular readers of this blog might have noticed, I am knee deep in an 80s phase (or “sounds like the 80s-phase”) and therefore all for it. This band, by the way, was suggested by a friend’s friend, so yes, I do get my music from other sources than just Spotify. I have to admit, though, that she recommended this about two years ago … so if you ever recommended something to me or plan to do so you might have to wait a few decades until I finally get to it. THAT’S HOW I ROLL!

One thing, though: the band members have weird artsy pseudonyms which I feel does not work for this kind of music.

Deaf Sty (Fabian Altstötter)
P Monaee (Philipp Hülsenbeck)
Gora Sou (Marc Übel)

This is not the Wu-Tang-Clan, dudes. And if you don’t even put in the effort of wearing abstract masks or outrageous costumes (with glitter!) than why even bother? I don’t get it.

 

The Kills and Savages: one has punch, the other a brand

For some reason I felt like comparing the albums by these two bands today and I acknowledge that their music is not 1:1 the same but the use of heavy bass lines, strong female vocals and an air of danger that is at its best sensual, made me link them together quite easily.

Let’s start with The Kills whose 5th studio album „Ash & Ice“ has been just released and…well. I gotta admit, I never was the biggest The Kills-fan to begin with. I think they write amazing singles but their albums never fully excite me. Their new record is most successful when it puts Alison Mosshart’s vocals front and center with a steady bassline and it falls absolutely flat, whenever Jamie Hince takes the mic. It’s not even Hince’s fault, he has a nice enough voice but Alison is such a force that it’s just a bad comparison. Who would go to a Michelle Williams show if Beyoncè played next door?

„Ash & Ice“ starts incredibly strong with „Doing it to Death“. It’s one hell of a sensual and sinister song, a mood that suits the duo. But after the third and fourth variation of a song like this, it becomes hard to stay interested. The Kills are not the biggest melody-makers and it wouldn’t be too bad with their kind of music if it would simply pack more punch. It doesn’t, though. 

As it is, the songs start to meander and smoother, more melancholic tracks like „Days of Why and How“ simply drown instead of being a standout. It might be unfair to assume but I feel like they can’t get out of their brand and comfort zone and seem to be caught in an endless repetition of their „sound“.

It’s a damn shame, to be honest. If you look at a band like The White Stripes – who had their brand down to a ‚T‘ – it’s not impossible. They kept their sound tight as hell but still managed to vary every single song on every single album.

And only to give a more recent example – albeit with a few more band members – Savages just released their sophomore and kind of managed just that with „Adore Life“. Now, the Savages’ sound is more frantic, more dangerous. Where The Kills are charming but sinister, Savages are full-on terrifying, their smile already betraying their intentions. Whereas „Ash & Ice“ starts smooth, cool and catchy, „The Answer“ dives deep into confusion and nearly psychedelic hectic and Jenny Beth’s vocals tell a whole story (oh, and that voice is equally haunting live).

Savages have the punch. The tension is there for the whole length of their album and songs like „Evil“ might give you, dear reader, an idea of why I thought it would be a good idea to compare these two bands. The heartbeat is there, the movement that The Kills have when they’re good is omnipresent on „Adore Life“ and can put you in a trance if you let it. Now, Savages are more ambitious, „Evil“ could have just as well be a lost and forgotten Danzig-song when it comes to the vocal line.  

I would be mad if I wouldn’t mention the words „Post Punk“ and „80s“. Maybe it is the punk that doesn’t even try to be subtle on this album, maybe it’s the fact that Savages have released two, The Kills have already released five albums but personally, one band has released an album that is exciting, fun and dangerous and the other has added a few new (and fewer great) songs to their discography but nothing more.