Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Decomposition: 4:30 a.m.

Volume One, huh? They've never lacked ambition.

Decompositions: Volume Number One is Circle Takes The Square's first full length in, oh Christ, nine years. It really has been that long. The sun has set on screamo and since risen again in that time since As The Roots Undo. That's not to say Decompositions sounds dated, but that…shit, man. Things have changed.

Circle Takes The Square hasn't. If you liked As The Roots Undo, everything on Decompositions will be familiar to you. They remain a feral, sprawling screamo band and Decompositions is their most cacophonous and densest slab of the genre yet. Before I forget! You can buy Decompositions from bandcamp right now. If only Robotic Empire could have done that back in the day.

Do you like chanting? They still do that.
Do you like the abrasive, coiling, screams of the Mr. Speziale and Ms. Stubelek? They still do that. 

Do you like the whispering from Mr. Speziale and soft attempts at singing from Ms. Stubelek? They still do that.
There's now more of it. To a point, I suppose. Decompositions' first four tracks were released on their own in 2011. Decompositions clocks in at nine tracks and 55:30. As The Roots Undo was eight tracks, technically and about 44 minutes. Given that the first track is a one minute intro, it might be more truthful to say that As The Roots Undo was seven tracks in 44 minutes.
As for how Decompositions was recorded, I think the drums got a bum deal. The vocals are as clear as you'd want them to be. No one here is Pavarotti. Like As The Roots Undo, a lot of careful attention was paid to the album artwork. The pieces included with the record are detailed and usually involves spirals or gentle curves.

I don't hear any single tracks that are easy to break off, there's no "Crowquill" to be found on Decompositions. Yes, there's a three minute song, but it doesn't play nicely with other bands. If you're gonna listen to Decompositions, you're going to hear all of it. Or, I think you should. I'm not sure how their ornate lyrical, visual and musical style will play alongside any artist less baroque. I take the time to write this precisely because Decompositions as a single entity has such a powerful pull. It's taken me twenty odd listens to find when “Singing Vengeance Into Being” becomes “Arrowhead As Epilogue.”

As for what we call this, shit, that's half the fun. Grandiose skramz? Hyper-elaborate screamo? Vulgar, untidy riff compendiums for Sea Shepard GIs?

The individual tracks are hard to pick out without extensive listens. That's not a compliment, but they'll forgive me, I'm sure. The two reviews for this I've seen, Brian's at Alt Press and someone else's from, can't quite pin down the thread that pulls the record together. That thread is a South American author called Jorge Luis Borges.

I'll explain. Borges' stories, some of them had a massive sprawl and sweep: The Library of Babel, obviously, but also The Circular Ruins*. But what was important for those two stories was a sense of breathtaking, dangerous and immeasurable (or unknowable) landscapes. Decompositions has that sense of scope. (There's even a labyrinth in the Decompositions' art, for Christ's sake! See left.) If one was ever fast enough to outrun a wolf in menacing, alien woods, Circle Takes The Square would be the band to describe that terror. A quick look at Circle's website shows they use a Borges quote as an epigraph to "Way Of Ever-Branching Paths." I have a keen grasp of the obvious.
This leads them into melodrama occasionally (see below), but we forgive them.

And the praise / it was fraudulent/ Nothing sacred in my fingerprints / Shed my skin as a parting gift/ Slash and burn / and start again/ Through the lens of predation/ Monochrome interpretations /Only fit for the color-starved /Strip-mine my flesh / I will ascend

I wonder, sometimes, if they'd write a five minute emoviolence epic about stubbing a toe.

And then there's the final track, the mostly acoustic "North Star, Inverted." It's 10:55. It might be the best song on the record. No, seriously. Stop looking at me like that. Most Circle songs are mostly thrashy screamo with moments of chanting or pretty bits, before going back into the blast beats, right?

This one is made the other way around. Once you get past the minute or so of "oh right we're a screamo band" in the first movement (I use the word loosely. Our classical musician friends would blanche, I'm sure.) it's Mr. Speziale and his acoustic guitar with light accompaniment from the rest of the band.

It would be wrong to call it a lullaby, but the lion's share of the song is gentle. It's a song about the apocalypse, but the delivery makes it sound like it's something almost casual. Like staring at the ruined city from the front of your porch with your friends, with a guitar and a bottle.

The North Star / she nods out / Doused her torch / left us forever / Without promise or penance / We're left to merge with the trench / Taught the cruelties that it takes to survive /Just accept to be free.

So: If you're looking for a single, I suppose you could pick the final song, the epic 10:55 long closer. Go for it. See where that gets you. That's how I feel about the whole record, actually. See where it takes you. Like going to Venice as a tourist, getting lost in Decompositions is the point. Enjoy the trip.

Hi. Yes. This review has been updated, slightly, at roughly 8 pm on February 8, 2013. I feel I missed some description of the actual music, and added some, swapped out an image for another one and made minor changes.
I couldn't write this and not leave you with "North Star, Inverted," right? Well, I suppose you could go look for the full-album stream on YouTube. It's not hard to find. But it's late, and frankly, these things should end on a good note.

*Many others, of course. If you haven't read Mr. Borges, his Complete Fictions will run you 20 odd bucks and will be a more worthwhile purchase than whatever piece of ephemera you've convinced yourself you need. Taken as a whole, his stories explicated an imagination that could traffic in ideas with nine figure budgets and execution dependent stories with tiny payoffs with life-defining significance. That he could go anywhere in between those two without any noticeable drop in quality is why I'm a Borges goon.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

So, You Are An Album Reviewer?

     I think Blacklisted is on a very short list of bands that matter.
     -Patrick Kindlon

     Man loves his hyperbole, but on Blacklisted, he's no bullshit. 
   In America, So, You Are A Magician? is a 3 song seven inch or digital download. In Japan, ...Magician is a 6 (or 10) song MCD. I'll talk about America first, then Japan.

     Recorded cleanly in Will Yip's Studio Four, ...Magician sounds, for want of a better descriptor, more punk than the No One Deserves To Be Here More Than Me sessions. There's less ornamentation than No One.... Every instrument sounds like it's supposed to. The drums sound crisp, the bass like it's being exhumed out of a swamp and the guitar noisy.
     Of the three new songs, "Mentalist" and "Copper Fields" are aggressive and fairly straight-forward. "Copper Fields" is also Blacklisted's best song to date. It's just as strong lyrically as "Skeletons", as catchy as "I Am Weighing Me Down" and hits Joe Strummer's sweet spot of 2:59. iTunes says I've listened to it thirty times. That number sounds low. I'm scared to see what my cell phone says about that number. It could double that one, easy. I don't think it's Blacklisted's first foray with a verse chorus verse chorus structure, but the elements that comprise it are stronger than any other song they've written to date.
     "Houdini Blues" is a song about suicide, a slow, bluesy number, via sludge. It's a little melodramatic, but hey. It's a song about suicide. The band earns it.
     I think what's strongest, or at least most interesting about ...Magician is Mr. Hirsch's use of stage magic and slight of hand as a metaphor for his disintegrating relationships. "Mentalist" is the most candid of the songs, "Copper Fields" the most dedicated to theme and "Houdini Blues" balances the two.
     The other 3 or 7 songs are two post-No One… songs, an interesting but not definitive demo of "Stations" and what I take to be the BBC session. Technically, the BBC session is the work of an error of unspecified origin, presumably not to be reprinted.
     Of the two newish tracks, "Those Shields Around You" is the standout and stands as another highlight in their discography. It catalogs Hirsch's attempts to break through the walls between him and a woman alongside his own more esoteric interests. "Do you still believe what they say about my sign? /A Virgo, modest and shy / You grow gardens and love cats / I listen to Stephin Merrit and believe in vampire bats. Little do our friends know, this is us both at our most irreconcilable."
     I'm not sure I would buy the BBC session on its own, but I crave truly complete discographies I'll never give another listen to. The band jams out a bit on "Circuit Breaker" and trims a good half minute of guitar feedback from the end of "Shields". The trimming was a wise move, I think.

     Since Peace On Earth, War On Stage, Blacklisted's a band that mutates from LP to LP (like my beloved Crime In Stereo or even Kindlon's own Self Defense Family), so it might be a whole new sounds by the time a person gets around to buying the new record, which makes breather moments like this a great time to catch up. The music's great and Hirsch's only growing stranger.
     I'm filing the CD in the b-sides collection folder of my mind, but right now, it's a valuable snapshot of yet another Blacklisted taking form. For you? Don't wait for the inevitable Deathwish collection, go grab this from Six Feet Under however they're hawking it. And since Deathwish, it appears, does SFU's digital delivery now, you'll be going to Deathwish anyway.

     If you want "Copper Fields," you can find it in the post directly before this one. It was one of my favorite songs of last year and it's still worth your time this or any subsequent year. Really, all you have to do is scroll down. Console yourself with the first track, " Mentalist."
     When Jordan and I interviewed Jake Bannon (the co-founder of Deathwish Inc.), I asked him about what band would get the label's then-unknown release number 100. His response was that "no other band deserves the release number any more in my opinion." He was referring to Blacklisted. This review, of course, is the 100th blog on here. Perhaps only Crime In Stereo deserves it more...
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