What Am I Listening To? – February 2015

Here are my first impressions of the latest releases from Circa Survive, Björk, The Good Mad, and Archis.

2014_CircaSurvive_DescensusCirca Survive – Descensus
I was listening to this one in January, but forgot to mention it in that month’s roundup, so here it is. My brother actually suggested that I start with their previous album, Violent Waves, which seems to be one of those “magnum opus” types of heavy prog rock records that I can see a longtime fan of a band appreciating more than a compact, seemingly-anything-goes set of mostly lean & mean songs like this one. For whatever reason, this was the easier of the two records for me to get into. Its opening trio of songs are a blast of raggedy rock energy that occasionally gets a little math-y, reminding me of when Vheissu first made me a Thrice fan (which was also my brother’s doing). Then later on they hit me with the surprisingly subdued “Nesting Dolls” and “Phantom”, which are totally out of left field considering what came before, but both beautiful in their own right. Really, there’s not much to complain about here other than one or two throwaway experiments and the closing title track, which hammers on the same riff for way too darn long before ending on a bit of an anticlimax. Anthony Green’s voice is most definitely an acquired taste, but I’ve heard more outlandish frontmen in this genre, so I think I can get the hang of it.

2015_Bjork_VulnicuraBjörk – Vulnicura
So this is Björk’s breakup album. It gets compared to Homogenic a lot due to how she meshes together the grand, intimidating strings with the cold, thumping beats, but this one doesn’t set out to redefine electronic pop music the way that Homogenic did. In many ways, it’s more of a bookend to Vespertine, a wintry, lovey-dovey little album that in its own quiet way, managed to outdo Homogenic as my belated personal favorite entry in her catalogue. The sentiment is almost the exact opposite of Vespertine‘s, since the dissolution of a decade-plus relationship was the catalyst for its set of nine songs that painstakingly – and often painfully – deconstruct her every little feeling upon realizing that ship was sinking. It’s not an easy listen. It’s not an immediately gratifying listen, either – the sad but lovely “Stonemilker” might be the most accessible thing on the project, but it gives little warning of how far down the rabbit hole Björk’s gonna go this time around. Amazingly, despite the sheer length of these songs and the way a few of them veer off into fits of inspired madness, the album ends up being her most cohesive since Vespertine, all because there’s a sense of a linear story being told throughout, sad as it may be. The Flaming Lips’ The Terror might be a good comparison, not in terms of sound but in terms of how bravely it documents that descent into a place of deep despair and the eventual climb back out of that pit. Björk’s clearly still on the mend, and as a consequence this record won’t be for everyone – I’m not even sure it’s the kind of record I’d reach for as readily as the deeply flawed, but generally more upbeat Volta. But even when it provokes a negative response within me, I really have to ask myself deep down why I have that response and why Björk did the thing that she did to make me feel that way. I still want to engage it even in that discomfort, which I think is a sign of good art.

2015_TheGoodMad_FaceYourFeelsEPThe Good Mad – Face Your Feels EP
It was easy for me to embrace The Good Mad during that brief window of time between when I declared them my surrogate Nickel Creek and when the actual Nickel Creek reunited. But now that both bands are active, I appreciate the things about this folksy trio that differentiate them from that otherwise easy comparison. They’re venturing more into ambient, experimental territory on a few of this short EP’s five tracks, and even when the fiddle and banjo are front and center, there’s a sense of cinematic drama to it that reminds me of what Nickel Creek was going for on Why Should the Fire Die?, but without replicating it genre-wise. They’ve still got a ways to go to truly stand out as an original band, but since they began life as a side project for one of Allie Gonino’s acting gigs, I’m actually quite impressed that they’ve outlasted the show that brought them into being.

2015_Archis_ArchisEPArchis – Archis EP
This is to Meg & Dia what Sucré is to Eisley. Dia Frampton has teamed up with composer Joseph Trapanese for more of an orchestral take on her confessional style of pop-songwriting. It’s much less market-driven than her solo album Red or Meg & Dia’s Here, Here & Here, and while I enjoyed those records, I also enjoy the whole “Let’s do something more unorthodox and not have to worry about what radio will think” approach taken here.

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