If January is any indication, 2012 is shaping up to be a great year for music. Featuring strong efforts from established and new bands alike, there is a depth and diversity for what January has offered so far. Leonard Cohen has been making music longer than either of the men behind Cloud Nothings or Porcelain have been alive but that’s not to say he is out of ideas or that the young bands have nothing to offer. Far from it. Check out the reviews of Leonard Cohen, Cloud Nothings and Porcelain Raft to see for yourself.
Reviews of Leonard Cohen, Cloud Nothings and Porcelain Raft after the jump
Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas
Five years since his last album of new material, Old Ideas is full of the sort of poetic, inward musings against soulful, albeit restrained, back-up singers that has been Leonard Cohen‚Äôs forte since his debut. So to a casual listener, myself included, there is very little to compare or have to offer beyond describing Old Ideas as precisely the sort of melancholy world-weary narrators of Cohen‚Äôs lyrics, and the slow, shuffling pace of the music that we’ve come to know.
Instead, in Old Ideas, there is only the colors of the instruments in the background that give each track their feeling. It usually does not get any more complex than the basic jazz combo and Leonard‚Äôs own deep near-monotone bass that, many times, does not seem to go above a whisper ‚Äď or in some cases, a low, ominous grumble. ‚ÄúThe Darkness‚ÄĚ stands out for the smooth electric keyboard and simplified hard blues guitar riff, and lyrically, having a few Tom Waits-like punchlines like ‚ÄúI said ‚ÄėIs it contagious?‚Äô / You said ‚ÄėJust drink it up.‚Äô‚ÄĚ A campfire-style harmonica also lets ‚ÄúLullabye‚ÄĚ shine just a bit behind the darkness of Leonard‚Äôs voice.
At Mr. Cohen‚Äôs age, his lyrics, while somber, still have a certain youthful humor to them; Old Ideas ends with ‚ÄúDifferent Sides,‚ÄĚ a song that has a kind of let-it-roll feel to it that refuses to let you think this is about looking back on a long life. Instead, as the chorus sings, ‚ÄúYou wanna change the way I make love? / But I wanna leave it alone,‚ÄĚ with Leonard‚Äôs back-ups extending the power of the line with a near-sultry ‚Äėoh-woah-oh.‚Äô
Still, this is not about age; by the end of Old Ideas, each individual song feels more important than the album ‚Äď perhaps due to the comparative length of each track on a relatively short album. Each song features a tiny enlightenment within. These are old ideas, and, ultimately, they‚Äôre all damn good ones.
Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory
Attack on Memory is an aggressive, expansive album that shows a band progressing in such a way, that it feels like its making good (and then some) on a promise, like one of those big showy marriage proposals that pop up on the Internet every so often. And really, I could leave it at that, because the music on this album really needs to be heard to get a sense of just how aggressive it is, and how right and purposeful it sounds.
For Attack on Memory, Dylan Baldi puts his touring band, and superstar producer, Steve Albini, to work on making Cloud Nothings sound as heavy and mean as possible. While it doesn‚Äôt necessarily capture anything that could be considered as intense as a live show, the whole of the album builds on a momentum that refuses to be squelched.
The opener, ‚ÄúNo Future/No Past‚ÄĚ builds up to sound like the screeching rage of a city block on fire, and establishes itself as much as a perfect opening track could. Others, like ‚ÄúNo Sentiments‚ÄĚ will draw comparisons to Albini‚Äôs work in Nirvana‚Äôs In Utero, where the rhythm guitars are both chunky and deep, and leads twinkle, spark, and explode, all in between heavy, thudding drums that still keep the pace. And if that doesn‚Äôt do it, maybe Baldi‚Äôs desperate, unapologetic wails and shrieks will recall Kurt Cobain at his most primal. Thankfully, moments like these are not distractions that take away from what Cloud Nothings is trying to achieve, but they serve as a sweet jumping-off point that is refreshing in its own way.
Still, while comparisons to plenty of landmark 90‚Äôs albums and bands could be made, this is less of a 90‚Äôs throwback than some of Cloud Nothings‚Äô peers have offered ‚Äď Yuck, for example, comes to mind in terms of direct apery. What Cloud Nothings create here sounds less like a man and his band bored and getting creative, but being creative about boredom. Attack on Memory is more fun than all the screaming and distortion would make it seem, especially in how the band is making music that sounds like it came from a bigger band.
Chances are, Attack on Memory will give plenty of listeners a reason to keep an eye on the band, and this is the real Cloud Nothings that Baldi always wanted to be.
Porcelain Raft – Strange Weekend
by Charles Poladian
Porcelain Raft is the project of Mauro Remiddi but also a diaspora of rock history into the modern era. Cultural cues, vocals, a strum of a guitar, Strange Weekend evokes a sense of nostalgia without ever tipping its hand. Strange Weekend is escapism at its finest because there is actually something there to get lost in.
A hazy trip through self-created nostalgia, the songs in Strange Weekend become more than what Remiddi has recorded. It is easy to internalize a song like the opener “Drifting In and Out,” because there are so many times it triggers an earlier music moment. Maybe it’s a more obvious My Bloody Valentine moment or a Brit Pop ode but it is elusive. Strange Weekend builds up this air of mystery effectively and passively.
The work behind the curtain never steals the spotlight from the actual creation. It’s there if you want to explore it and it seems like Remiddi is inviting you in to but you can definitely drift away easily enough. Electronic arrangements frame each song but guitars are heard throughout and used effectively. Strange Weekend is well balanced and never plodding.
Indie Pop can be an accurate label for Porcelain Raft’s brand of music, if you want a quick and dirty simplification, but it never feels like Strange Weekend is treading on an already well-beaten path. “Is it Too Deep For You?” has a bounce to it that’s unexpected while “Backwords” is humbly reflective with a touch of the sweet and mundane that really blossoms into something quite pretty.
Lead single “Unless You Speak From the Heart” kicks off the second-half of the album but is a perfect synthesis of what has already come and what will come after. Persistent keys with a falsetto turning and veering on a path that meets backing vocals and additional instruments along the way.
As Strange Weekend closes, much like a Sunday, things slow down but there is no lack of energy. Songs continue to reach for depth and push outward. There are not as many twists and turns in songs like “The End of Silence” or “Picture” as Remiddi has already established where he wants to go but it’s still fun to enjoy the scenery and closes on a strong note with “The Way In.”
As far as a Strange Weekend goes, Remiddi has given a listener a rewarding destination. A satisfying dream where history is touched upon but never rigidly established. Strange Weekend is something you want to revisit and much like any weekend too short but full of memories.