Friday, February 2, 2007

Music reviews: of Montreal, Fujiya & Miyagi

Here's short versions of a couple indie dance-rock music type CDs I've reviewed lately over at BlogCritics. Not my usual listening fare but pretty enjoyable stuff, it turns out... Head to my BlogCritics page to read the full versions if you are so inclined.

Of Montreal, 'Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?' (Polyvinyl Records)
Photobucket - Video and Image HostingOf Montreal's dark and questing "Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?" is like the sound of a nervous breakdown with a beat you can dance to. The Athens, Ga.,-based group of Montreal sprang out of the mind of Kevin Barnes. "Hissing Fauna," of Montreal's eighth album, is a darker, more self-obsessed turn than the more gleeful pop of the previous work. A loose concept album about depression and elation, "Hissing Fauna" uses music as a muse. Barnes, who wrote and recorded much of this alone, dealt with suddenly living in a foreign country, a new child, marriage concerns and more in a chaotic year. "Hissing Fauna" is him trying to make sense of it all. "Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?" is lavishly orchestrated pop, complete with an elaborate fold-out case that resembles a blooming hippie flower. Song titles that are almost willfully goofy – "Sink The Seine," "Gronlandic Edit," "Bunny Ain't No Kind of Rider" – are tacked onto some ornate, creative and occasionally infuriatingly bizarre songs. Of Montreal's spinning electic frenzy may turn off as many as it appeals to. But the soaring highs and crashing lows of "Hissing Fauna" cohere into a dazzlingly creative if imperfect album. Take the first track, "Suffer For Fashion," which launches along on keyboard riffs and optimistic choruses that could've come straight out of an Erasure concert. It's followed soon by "Cato As A Pun," which crashes down to earth in a lonely disco groove. "I guess you just want to shave your head/ have a drink and be left alone," Barnes laments. The howls and catharsis of "The Past Is A Grotesque Animal" are the disc's highlight, building steam over nearly 12 minutes into a jittery Bowie-esque soundscape, Barnes raving about the state of his heart to a swelling, monotonous background of electronic beats, coos, squeals and riffs. "It's like we weren't made for this world / Though I wouldn't really want to meet someone who was," he says at one point. The song's heft comes from its sheer tension, the sensation that something huge is at stake here. The track divides the album cleanly in two parts - a "down" side and an "up" side. The second half of the disc, coming after the massively emotional "The Past Is A Grotesque Animal," is a little light and twee, with a few rambling, unfocused jam-pop melodies that lack the tightness of the album's best tracks. While it's not the easiest album that will come out of 2007, "Hissing Fauna" is definitely one of the most ambitious. I'm already a lot fonder of it than I was the first few times I listened to it, wondering, "what is this lunacy?"

Fujiya & Miyagi, 'Transparent Things' (Deaf, Dumb & Blind Records)
Photobucket - Video and Image HostingTheir name is Japanese; their influences are German, their new album "Transparent Things" is named after a novel by Russian Vladimir Nabokov. But Fujiya & Miyagi are actually a Brighton, U.K. trio releasing their first disc stateside, full of bleeping, sardonic wit and atmospheric vibes. "Transparent Things" collects a stew of the band's British singles together. Fujiya & Miyagi have brewed up a drifting soundtrack to ennui, down-tempo dance tunes for a rainy drive or a 3 a.m. ponder. The songs never quite explode into full-out release, but amble along in a groove that's gently uplifting. Circling, repetitive riffs flow along with deadpan surrealistic vocals to create a systematic mood throughout "Transparent Things." At its best, it all induces a trancey reverie about the always-on, wired world we live in – or as vocalist David Best gasps in the title track, "I look through transparent things and I feel OK." "Cassette Single" updates and homages the Kraftwerk instrumental sound over a 6-minute trek, while the lullaby "Cylinders" sounds a bit like a trippy cover version of a song by '80s act The Church. "Ankle Injuries" has a propulsive drive and winkingly repeats the band's name over and over until you space out into the ether. "We were just pretending to be Japanese," Best whispers in "Photocopier," undercutting the solemn sway of some of the music by telling us it might all just be a big game. They even quote the old tune "Dem Bones" extensively in the goofy "Collarbone." The music's foundation of the hallowed kraut-rock gods Can, Kraftwerk and Neu! blend in with more modern wry disco-punk tints; fans of LCD Soundsystem's amped-up irony-techno might dig this as the chilled-out, egghead sibling. Fujiya & Miyagi might be transparent things, but you can see an awful lot of things in a reflection, after all, can't you?

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