Those “RIYL” tags magazines and press releases use to simplify an entire thought process into easy-to-use comparisons and generic recommendations are certainly handy aren’t they? Passive listeners raise the roof at the incredible ease in which thinking has been denounced to nothing more than association. Perhaps it is the fault of the many artists whose work is so lacking in any distinctive traits that we reviewers are left with such a feeble route for discourse. Maybe people just don’t listen enough; and thus quick analysis has become routine to ensnare potential revenue cows. Nonetheless, it is quite perturbing that Ahleuchatistas have so effortlessly been recommended to those who like Don Caballero and Rush. Not because the comparisons are without merit, but because Ahleuchatistas simply has a lot more to offer than just being some offshoot of the mentioned groups. Formed in the untapped resources of mountains high, this unrelenting trio is everything the rational listener dreads: that music is no mere form of comfort, no warm bed light to soothe, no outlet for understanding.
It would appear that the two characteristics most common in Ahleuchatistas that in one way or another could be derived from both Caballero and Rush would be the ideas of “progression” and “mathematics,” and while they do possess a certain progressive nature, there isn’t too much to warrant “math-rock” descriptions. That would mean there is some form of structure or certainly involved within the music and that negates the strongest aspect of what is on display here. This trio relies more on freeform expression than anything that would construe a distinct meaning or interpretation. And it can be said that music sans lexica is a far more challenging method of conveying ideas and emotions, but that is precisely the quality On the Culture Industry so strongly exhibits. There really is more that one way to absorb the bass-heavy, frantic, wavering of “Lacerate,” easily the album’s most winning combination of boundless and bounded instrumentation. Similarly, the rest of the album may pull instances from a range of styles – the eerie atmospheres of “I Don’t Remember Falling Asleep Here,” the frenzied metal leanings on “Fodder for Defamation,” and the more systematic deconstruction of noise in “Empath / Every,” (even briefly sampling instances of melody) they never quite settle for one lucid trait.
So it would be far too basic to lump On the Culture Industry as an album exhibiting a singular scheme. They’re very keen on breaking specific molds; boldly implying more complex, unstructured entities that have been formed from recognizable styles and genres. Repeated listens will evoke new understandings and ideas, undoubtedly awakening emotions previously unfelt – and that is a quality a lot of music today just isn’t built to do. Simpletons will be fazed; caught in a dimension wrought with confusion, fear, anguish and a complete lack of control. It is the very reason why so much of the aural landscape is so stale, and it begs the question (and duly answered by Ahleuchatistas): Why are we so afraid to be challenged?
Berwanger – Watching a Garden Die
Josh Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter
At the height of Vagrant Records’ early success in the late 90s, the label was buoyed by the incredible draw of their two biggest names- The Get Up Kids and Saves the Day. And while those two bands took a chunk of the notoriety, there were plenty of great bands that called the label home. One of those bands was The Anniversary. The Lawrence, Kansas band shared musical similarities with both TGUK and Saves the Day, but were unafraid to branch off into slightly more synthesised terrain that gave their songs an added element. Coupled with their super easy to digest harmonies and fantastic male/female vocals, songs like “The D in Detroit” still has a place in countless “favorite playlists” all these years later.
Since their initial break-up, guitarist and vocalist Josh Berwanger has been busy writing and recording a bevy of music under the moniker Berwanger. His recent discography is a talented kaleidoscope of songs that traverse genres from folk and indie, to more rock and straight forward singer/songwriter fare. There was plenty to like on his 2016 album Exorcism Rock, an album that delved into a little bit of psychedelia and fuzzed out indie rock. His 2017 album And the Star Invaders saw a gradual move away from the more electrified to the imaginative kind of singer/songwriter we’ve seen from the likes of Devendra Banhart. True to form, Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter, and his latest, Watching A Garden Die, is the next chapter in his thriving songwriter cabinet.
The gloomily titled record is mostly upbeat and diverse. While he may have shown a kinship to indie/folk songwriting of the Banharts and Obersts of the world previously, Watching a Garden Die features the kind of seasoned and more classic toned work you’d find on a Crosby, Stills & Nash record, or even a Paul Simon record. Songs like the softly, almost whispered “Even the Darkness Doesn’t Know”, and quietly moody, introspective “Paper Blues” (until that electric guitar solo hits) harks back to a time long ago of unfettered hair and soulful folk music. The album’s best moment is probably a combination of the wistful, pedal-steel toned Americana of “When I Was Young” and the equally effective, spacey indie rock of “The Business of Living”. The latter giving Grandaddy a run for their money in that music department. These two songs in particular showcase an artist fully aware and capable of his abilities to craft music that’s personal but exhibits the kind of draw you want from a record this close to the heart.
The album doesn’t have the more ruckus moments Berwanger exhibited in his earlier work (outside of perhaps, the more upbeat power-pop, new wavy “Bad Vibrations”). At times the album takes just a few listens to grab you. But when you listen to songs like the spritely “Friday Night” and the somber reflection of the twangy “I Keep Telling Myself” a few times more, you find the depth of the record. There are elements that reveal themselves on the second, third, fourth listen, and that’s rewarding.
Berwanger’s songwriting ability was never in doubt, and his new material continues to expand his songwriting reach. Watching a Garden Die, while not a frantic effort, is quiet composure.
Fences – Failure Sculptures
Failure Sculptures is a steady outing
Christopher Mansfield, under his alter-ego, Fences, has made himself well known through the collaborations with Macklemore and Tegan & Sara. It’s set him up with well-deserved excitement for his new album Failure Sculptures. The genre of pop scores a good reputation with artists like Fences. I wouldn’t necessarily categorize this album as pop, but Failure Sculptures has catchy songs that will appeal to a large scale, however it keeps the integrity of accomplished music. Each song provides a story that allows you to drift into your own thoughts. He also uses idioms like there is no tomorrow.
“A Mission” is a lower-toned song that launches the album with an echoing sound of voice and guitar, and it sets an example of the whimsical type of music that is shown throughout the album. Mansfield has a way with words and was definitely listening in English class. A+ for storytelling. OK, you twisted my arm, I’ll point out some idioms: “body sways like trees in a storm” sung in “Paper Route” and “lately I just pass by like a cloud” heard in “Brass Band”. It’s a great way to paint a picture in your listeners head.
“Same Blues” exposes a folk side to Fences. It has a lovely addition of cello in the background. It is enchanting and flows so well, which makes a terrific inclusion to the album. The plucking and acoustic sound of “Wooden Dove” has a powerful effect, and suits the song well. It follows the theme of echoes and storytelling. Although “War Kid” is a song about divorce, it is a pleasant way to end the album, and it features more idioms; “tears falling like bombs“.
This type of music allows you to drift and flow in and out of your own thoughts. It’s a friendly haunting and emotionally driven set of songs (and don’t forget about the idioms), and while it is quite predictable in a pleasant way, Failure Sculptures is a steady outing.