Music Review: Japanese Breakfast finds beauty in bereavement with ‘Psychopomp’

A lo-fi pop chronicling of love, loss and longing. 

No one who knew of singer/guitarist Michelle Zauner faulted her when she put her Philadelphia-based indie-rock band Little Big League on hiatus and returned home to Oregon after discovering her mother had been diagnosed with cancer.

Nor would anyone have been surprised had Zauner put down her guitar for the foreseeable future as she coped with the emotions of losing a mother and having to care for her widowed father.

However, Zauner discovered inspiration in sorrow. After gestating her grief over the course of a year, Zauner has now birthed one of the most beautiful and life-affirming albums in recent memory – Psychopomp.

Working in collaboration with musician Ned Eisenberg, Japanese Breakfast may not be as hard-hitting sonically as Little Big League, but lyrically and thematically, it’s more vulnerable and intense than anything Zauner has created before.

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Music Review: Deftones give glimpse of ‘Gore’ with new single ‘Prayers/Triangles’

With the release of the new single “Prayers/Triangles,” Sacramento’s alt-metal stalwarts Deftones continue to trek beyond the boundaries of the aural landscape they first mapped on their 1995 debut album Adrenaline.

Pulse-pounding, emotional and unrelenting, “Prayers/Triangles” – the first single off their upcoming album Gore – sees the band continue charting new musical territory. However, as has always been the case with this quintet, the Deftones are less interested in abandoning their previously established sound on past albums for something newer than they are about confronting, conquering and colonizing the new musical challenges that lie on the horizon.

This astounding ability to annex and absorb disparate genre sounds into the band’s ever-expanding and maturing musical mosaic has always been a hallmark of theirs. However, there is a seamlessness, a mastery, with which the group deploys their near-bottomless arsenal of sonic weaponry on “Prayers/Triangles” that has never been heard from them before.

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Music Review: No Devotion finds redemption in ‘Permanence’

Most artists will, at some point, inevitably experience the embarrassment of having the nadir of their lives – public or private – documented for all to see. It, unfortunately, comes with the territory of living in the gossip-fueled, TMZ-obsessed world we now find ourselves inhabiting. All low-points and rock bottoms can and will be seen by the judgmental god that is the unblinking public eye. These artists are faced with the options of either slinking away shamefully and putting their careers into early retirements, or, courageously, they can embrace – warts and all – their darkest, most embarrassing moments and channel that negative energy into something creative.

Almost no artists have ever hit as devastating a low point as the members of Lostprophets.

No one would have blamed the ex-members of the group if they had decided to hang up their instruments and hide from the scrutinizing gaze of the public eye. They had, of course, just seen their 15 years of hard work as a band blow up in their faces when allegations surfaced that their lead singer, Ian Watkins, had secretly committed some of the most repugnant and evil crimes imaginable.

Despite the fact that years of their musical work were tarnished by their now incarcerated former front man – or perhaps because of it – these five Welsh musicians were compelled to continue making music. While a commendable decision, it would be a hard task to accomplish, as the Lostprophets as a brand was now forever tainted by Watkins. The question became how on Earth would musicians Jamie Oliver, Lee Gaze, Mike Lewis, Luke Johnson and Stuart Richardson get back into the world of music making?

Enter Geoff Rickly.

In the last few years, the former lead singer of Thursday – one of the most well-known and revered post-hardcore bands of the ’00s – had been experiencing his own professional and creative nadir. Thursday had disbanded in 2011 and – while he was still sporadically channeling his fury in the screamo power-violence supergroup United Nations – Rickly found himself in the ghastly grip of grief after a romantic relationship he was in ended.

On May 14, 2014, it was announced that Rickly would be joining the five ex-Lostprophets members in a new group named No Devotion. Rickly, in an interview with Radio Cardiff, said his new bandmates “needed a second chance.”

As fate would have it, Rickly himself needed a second chance.

Leaving behind the nu-metal sound of Lostprophets, and – to a lesser extent – Thursday’s post-hardcore vibe, No Devotion plunges Permanence for the majority of its 48-minute runtime deep into the chilly, turbid waters of ’80s Joy Division-inspired dark electro-pop. However, there are moments of airy, fuzzed-out shoegaze à la Stone Roses, and aural homages to the more buoyant tunes of ‘80s stalwarts The Cure and New Order that allow the band to rise above the depths of despair and bask in the light of redemption.

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Music Review: Heaven In Her Arms and Cohol team up on split EP ‘Kokukou’

For something off the beaten track, there’s Kokukou, an intense split 12” release from Japanese metal acts Heaven in Her Arms and Cohol.

The first half of the split 12” features the music of Heaven in Her Arms. Sounding like the violently depressed lovechild of the music groups Deafheaven and Converge, Heaven in Her Arms’ first track, “Kuroi Senko,” is a beautifully restrained post- rock instrumental that segues into the ambient “Mayu.”

Having just spent two-thirds of their split 12” creating lush, quiet sounds, Heaven in Her Arms delivers a devastating sucker punch with “Shuen No Mabushisa” – an aggressively propulsive track that dizzies you with faster-than-the-hiccups fret tapping and bludgeons you with unreal speed drumming. With “Shuen No Mabushisa,” Heaven in Her Arms manages to showcase every aspect of their sound all at once: larynx-lacerating vocals, moments of tenderness and beauty that flit around the jagged edges of violent guitar riffs and post-rock theatrics.

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Music Review: ‘Every Open Eye’ sees Chvrches mature in sound

There’s always a fear in the music world when a new band or artist comes busting out of the gates with a commercially and creatively successful first album that the follow-up will inevitably disappoint.

The dreaded sophomore slump has cursed many bands – The Killers, MGMT and Yeah Yeah Yeahs come to mind – so it’s understandable if there were fans who were skeptical of how Chvrches’ second album, Every Open Eye, would turn out.

Thankfully, those concerned that the Scottish three-piece would rest on their laurels and churn out a carbon copy of their 2013 debut album The Bones of What You Believe can rest easy. Every Open Eye is a beautiful and at times dark synth-pop album that can be called the greatest accomplishment in the band’s limited catalogue.

Never outstaying its welcome, Every Open Eye is a captivating 43-minute, 11-track aural journey that sees the band build upon the sound introduced in their first album and fine-tuning it just enough to make things more interesting. If there was any issue with The Bones of What You Believe, it was that it felt not so much a cohesive album, but rather a collection of greatest hits – which is pretty insane considering it was their first LP. Each track on Every Open Eye flows seamlessly into the next – a fine example would be how the propulsive and triumphant ending to “Make Them Gold” beautifully fades away into the soft shimmering intro of “Clearest Blue.”

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New music reviews: Radkey and Chvrches

Radkey, the young brotherly trio who hail from Missouri, make no attempts at hiding their influences on their debut album Dark Black Makeup. Smooth, sexy, soulful punk rock, these guys do an admirable job matching the sonic fury of the bands they attempt to emulate – Glenn Danzig-era The Misfits, Black Flag and Bad Brains. At the very least these guys have great taste.

With a sound almost as interesting as their backstory – they dropped out of school after only one year, were home schooled by their mother and chose their father to manage their careers – Radkey’s music sounds as if it is informed only by 80s’ punk, comic books, and slasher flicks.

While horribly derivative at times – seriously, what the hell is with that opening to the track “Le Song” which they totally crib from the intro to My Chemical Romance’s “Na Na Na” – Dark Black Makeup is a debut that demands your attention. Musicians this young and who possess such raw talent can only look forward to greatness.

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Music Review: BABYMETAL’s “Live at Budokan: Black Night Apocalypse”

Throw up those horns and bang your heads, hard rock fans – the new metal masters of the world have arrived, and they’re still in high school.

BABYMETAL, comprised of 17-year-old Suzuka Nakamoto (Su-Metal), the two 15 year olds Yui Mizuno (Yuimetal) and Moa Kikuchi (Moametal) and a backup band of virtuoso musicians, delivers one of the best live albums in years while continuing to silence their naysayers with the release of Live at Budokan: Black Night Apocalypse.

Popular in their native country Japan since first arriving on the scene in 2010, BABYMETAL began receiving attention globally when videos of their truly bonkers live performances went viral online. However, a funny thing happened last year while Western metal heads – predominantly males – laughed and dismissed BABYMETAL as a one-trick pony. The band released their debut album, and it was one of, if not the best, metal albums of 2014. The album, produced by the group’s mysterious founder Kobametal, topped iTunes’ Heavy Metal charts in both the US and UK.

With a sound best described as an unholy alliance between heavy metal and Japanese pop music (J-Pop), BABYMETAL have spent the last 12 months touring the globe – most notably opening for Lady Gaga and a career-making performance at last year’s European hard rock festival Sonisphere, where they played alongside such metal icons as Metallica, Slayer and Iron Maiden – quickly amassing a legion of diehard fans while also pissing off large swaths of the metal community. Seriously – there’s a plethora of YouTube videos featuring furious adult men with tattoos reduced to near-tears over BABYMETAL’s growing popularity in metal.

Given that the band has received so much positive attention over their concerts, its unsurprising that Kobametal and his band of diminutive demons would release a live album. Recorded at the world famous indoor arena The Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, Japan – the venue for many live albums by such acts as Bob Dylan, Ozzy Osbourne and Cheap Trick – the sold out concert is a breathtakingly fun and impressive performance.

Black Night Apocalypse serves as a giant middle finger to those who have accused the group of being a joke, as BABYMETAL and their backup band of tremendously talented studio musicians, The Kami Band, deliver an exhaustive 73-minute-long set of breakneck pop-metal.

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Music Review: Chino Moreno finally finds his solo groove with Crosses’ self-titled debut

Clearly an ardent believer of the old proverb, “Tis a lesson you should heed/Try, try, try again/If at first you don’t succeed/Try, try, try again,” vocalist and musician Chino Moreno has tried several times to create a musical side project as compelling as the band he has fronted for over 20 years – the Deftones.

There was Team Sleep – a quasi-experimental alternative group that dipped its toes in the genres of trip-hop, shoegaze and post-rock – which featured drummer Zach Hill of the brilliant industrial hip-hop group Death Grips. Team Sleep’s only album was a commendable, yet ultimately forgettable, first attempt by Moreno to forge a creatively divergent path for himself, far from the often aggressive and jagged sounds of Deftones.

“Forgettable” is also an apt description for Palms – yet another Moreno side project. Palms’ self-titled debut was eagerly anticipated by heavy music fans as it not only featured Moreno but also three members of the foreword-thinking metal band Isis. Though at times beautiful and intriguing, Palms’ sonic journey was clearly piloted by the members of Isis and sounded as though Moreno was just along for the ride.

With such lackluster side projects, no fan of Moreno’s would have held it against him if he had decided to give up entirely on participating in musical acts outside the critically and commercially successful Deftones.

As actor and comedian W. C. Fields famously said, when he parodied the proverb mentioned earlier, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.”

Thankfully, Moreno proved his aspirations of forming a musical project outside of Deftones were not as foolish as many of his fans were beginning to think when he and Shaun Lopez – former guitarist for the now defunct band Far – created Crosses in 2011.

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Music Review: AFI’s ‘Burials’ is a mixed-bag of songs

AFI, who have been around the music scene since 1991, seem to be trying to top the recently released Cults album “Static” as 2013’s most bitter breakup album.

Davey Havok, singer of AFI, spends the entirety of his band’s latest album, Burials, dissecting every minute flaw and imperfection of his last relationship, and, for the most part, it’s an exhilarating and emotional ride that sees AFI make their long-awaited return from their five-year absence.

Despite re-embracing the gothic leanings they had last fully employed on 2006’s Decemberunderground, and nearly all but avoided on 2009’s Crash Love, AFI, for the most part, sounds surprisingly fresh on their new album.

The opening track, the cinematic “The Sinking Night,” is a slow-boil epic but, truth be told, is not nearly as attention-grabbing as previous AFI opening tracks “Miseria Cantare – The Beginning” or “Prelude 12/21.” However, it sets the mood for the dark journey of Burials well enough.

The first single, “I Hope You Suffer,” begins with menacingly heavy drums, bass guitar and piano. Digital drum beats and effects fade in and out of the song like whispers. The use of electronic music is refreshingly minimal, and used only to accentuate the mood of the track – in some ways it sounds similar to the work Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross created for the soundtracks to The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

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Music Review: Arcade Fire’s ‘Reflektor’












“And where do we go / Where do we go,” asks Arcade Fire’s vocalists Win Butler and Régine Chassagne on “Afterlife,” one of the new tracks from the Montreal-based indie rock band’s latest album, Reflektor.

The question of where to go, at least musically, was one that Arcade Fire must have ruminated upon quite a bit after receiving their Album of the Year Grammy award for their 2010 album The Suburbs. After all, they shocked the music world by beating out the likes of mega pop stars Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, the American country pop of Lady Antebellum and the prolific rapper Eminem.

This accolade saw them become one of the biggest and most important rock bands in the world as they were able to, if only for one February night at Los Angeles’ Staples Center, drive a stake into the heart of the ugly and bloated monster that is the pop music industry.

Where the band should go next was also a question many longtime fans found themselves anxiously pondering – would the lure of mainstream adoration corrupt the band? Would the sweet taste of popular acceptance subvert Arcade Fire’s powerfully independent music into something watered down and commercialized?

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