Abyss in B Minor, the latest album from Oslo natives Serena Maneesh, is a stellar and challenging follow-up to their self-titled debut. Incorporating electronic and industrial elements, Abyss creates a haunting, shape-shifting atmosphere.
In order to fully understand what you’re getting into, two points of note are in order. First, Abyss was recorded in a cave. Second, it was mixed by Rene Tinner, longtime dedicated engineer for krautrock masters, Can. The result is that the album frequently sounds like Can, recorded in a cave.
That’s not to say Serena Maneesh ditches the familiar (some would say too familiar) elements of their first album. In fact, the album seems to alternate between its new, heavier influences and their older, more Shields-laden style. But the ubiquity of that sound (especially after the MBV reunion), makes those tracks sound particularly staid.
The standout tracks here are, conveniently, the odd numbered ones. The album opener, “Ayisha Abyss,” is a sonic expedition. It features dark, haunting chords, chopped vocals, undulating bass, and layers of percussion that build and collapse over nearly eight-minutes, never quite releasing, never quite resolving. Serena Maneesh has always been best in its opening moments, and this album is no different.
Fan Death, why did you leave us? Originally from Brooklyn, the now Vancouver-based disco-pop duo just released their first EP, A Coin for the Well, on Pharmacy Records. In 2008 they released their first single Veronica’s Veil, and while it was the string-driven disco I’ve now come to except from them, it still felt right playing it alongside the likes of CSS and Yelle. With the release of this EP, however, I’m not sure I still feel comfortable saying that. A Coin for the Well is straight, unadulterated disco.
Their second single and the first off this album, Cannibal, displays this best. Actually the first five seconds may be the most disco part of the album, and if for some unfathomable reason that is a turn off for you I insist that you listen on. Just before lead vocalist Dandilion Wind Opaine chimes in, a somehow fitting, Middle-Eastern influenced violin line drops to conclude the opening. Opaine’s blasé voice carries the rest of the most pop track on the record.
The rest of the album leans more disco on the disco-pop spectrum. Power Surge is the unheralded anthem, which I hope turns into the next single. Sans the retro synth, Soon plays like a R&B ballad that ends with a sax that can’t settle on being too cool or too sultry, a problem this album has in droves. Instrumentally, The Son Will Rise is the closest Fan Death gets to Hi-NRG, but Opaine remains unmoved even as the synths beg her to kick it up a notch during the chorus. Finally, the first track, Reunited, may be my favorite thanks to the epically eccentric video below. What can I say? I’m a sucker for any Purple Rain shoutout.
The duo, now with backing band, is currently on tour overseas opening up for Vampire Weekend. If you’re heading to Austin next month you can catch them during SXSW though. Their debut album Womb Of Dreams is scheduled for a May release.
“Why is Congress saying one thing and doing nothing?” asks Joanne Herring, wealthy Texas socialite played by Julia Roberts in Charlie Wilson’s War. “Well, tradition mostly,” replies Tom Hanks in the lead role as the recently deceased Congressman Charles Wilson. Given the present political impasse on Capitol Hill you might think Ms. Herring is referring to current health care reform efforts, which will be the topic of discussion this Thursday during Obama’s big televised “summit” meeting. It seems like the line could also refer to just about anything, implied by Wilson’s response. In fact, the film is set in the 1980s and tells the true story of the most expensive covert operation by the American government (that we know of). Such incisive, poignant dialogue matched with solid, straightforward filmmaking and an all-star cast makes Charlie Wilson’s War the most dangerous political drama to come out of Hollywood in the last decade.
Charlie Wilson’s War is especially effective because it’s a subversive exposé on American politics wrapped in a pretty Hollywood package. It’s got sex, drugs and political intrigue, a minor reference to then U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Rudolph Giuliani, not to mention Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts and the always-awesome Philip Seymour Hoffman. Aaron Sorkin—well known for his careful handling of American politics in films like A Few Good Men and television series like The West Wing—excellently adapts the story from George Crile’s 2003 book. Director Mike Nichols brings Sorkin’s scintillating script to life with a modest yet skillful approach.
Standing toward the back, I watched Paramore-haired teenage girls and their bro-meets-lumberjack-cowboy male counterparts stream into the main hall of the Gramercy Theater in New York City. For a second I had that feeling you get when you visit your old high school. To think that many of the kids in the crowd were born in the same year that I picked up the first Punk-O-Rama, I felt distinctly “cooldadish.”
The first band on the lineup was Title Fight, who I regrettably missed. If you haven’t spent some time listening to “The Last Thing You Forget,” please do. It features gritty vocals over melodic but unrelenting technical hardcore. It internalizes the best of Hot Water Music, Small Brown Bike, and Latterman. For an up-and-coming band, Title Fight is one of the brightest spots in the scene today.
This Time Next Year, on the other hand, was wholly unimpressive. On appearance alone, they came off as the kind of ready-made band you’d see in a teen movie–you know, when the guy goes to find the girl at the punk show or whatever. The music isn’t too far off from this impression. Too clean cut, too predictable, too vacuous. Another Found Glory. “I’m sorry I’m not sorry.” Ucht.
Thankfully, the set was short, and when the lights went down on This Time Next Year, there was a palpable change in mood. The next band up was Strike Anywhere, whose new album, Iron Front, I’ve also reviewed for A&SB. Strike Anywhere is neither clean nor cut, but holy hell they were tight.
The summer of 2009 will forever be remembered as the summer of fuzz. Blissed-out lo-fi was – and I suppose still is – all the rage. I’ve never been a fan of the most blatant offenders (see: Wavves), but I’ve also always known that beneath all that hazy distortion are usually some pretty great pop songs. Case in point: Dum Dum Girls.
At the height of the summer craze in July, Dee Dee aka Kristen Gundred played her first show as Dum Dum Girls with a makeshift lineup. By the middle of the next week, she was signed to Sub Pop Records. Now with a solidified lineup, the band put out their first single this week Jail La La, which you can find in the A&SB Jukebox to your right. The 7-inch comes with a cover of “Play With Fire” by the Rolling Stones on the B-side. This is all in anticipation of their full-length I Will Be, due out on March 30th.
In the meantime, you can catch the band tonight at the Mercury Lounge before they head overseas. Drummer Frankie Rose’s own band, Frankie and the Outs, will be one of the openers, along with Happy Birthday and Coasting.
Strike Anywhere is a melodic hardcore band from Richmond, VA with over a decade under their collective (collectivist?) belts. Since 1999, they have been churning out records of aggressive music steeped in activism and political awareness.
On Iron Front, released late in 2009 on Bridge Nine Records, Strike Anywhere continue their tradition with an album that is musically pummeling, if a bit heavy on the platitude. The band is tight as you’d expect after ten years of playing in lockstep at 200 bpm, and the production has the signature Salad Days punch. Thomas Barnett’s vocals are as strong and passionate as ever, alternating between infectious melody and throat-shredding shouts.
The record starts off with “Invisible Colony,” a blistering track that decries the influence of organized religion, the media, and war in “a glamorous, divisible United States.” At barely over one minute, the song leaves a strong first impression, portending good things to come.
Next comes the album’s single, “I’m Your Opposite Number,” which is vigorously… anti-stuff. Barnett has said that this song is about voting and remaining on guard even in ostensibly good times (see the references to “change”). In other words, it’s “against” the “system,” man. Unfortunately, the message is overshadowed by a slowed-down tempo and awkward jumps between the anthemic intro/outro and the lukewarm verses and choruses. The song comes off as designedly “the single,” with an unnecessary solo and browbeating repetition of the song’s title. I could have–and the album could have–done without it.