Album Review: Booksmart-No Stars Tonight

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Never, ever, ever in the history of the WORLD, has lo-fi depression sounded so good. Honestly, Booksmart sound sadder than a Morrissey after the death of his 52nd cat, Mr Jingles. The acoustic guitar weeping mixed with the not-shit sounding ballads and the occasional bursts of frenetic energy mean that listening to ‘No Stars Tonight’ is going to make your emotions swing between Elmo-just-got-cancer sadness and ascending-Mount-Everest elation.

The songs of ‘No Stars Tonight’ are so fucking delicate and short, that if you’re not paying attention , the entire album will just flash before your eyes.  And that’s a damn fucking shame, because then you’ll miss out on the quietly awesome ‘My Marie’ and ‘Requiem’. The former marries romantic vocabulary with distant musicianship, creating an atmosphere of forlornness that’s like a lost kitten’s eyes-fucking heartbreaking. ‘Requiem’ takes it a step further and ends up like the opposite of something called ‘Requiem’ should be, namely it’s not epic at all. Think about it: ‘Requiem For a Dying Dream, ‘Requiem’ by Killing Joke, the Requiem Mass, or the Mass for the Dead-all severely epic things. Booksmart’s ‘Reqiuem’ subverts that, and shows off a plain and ordinary side that uncovers a whole new concept of how something called ‘Requiem’ can be awesome.

Don’t think it’s all lo-fi gloom on this record however, as there are spurts of energy that ensure the album doesn’t become a monotonal disaster. ‘Runaway’ brings a little bass funk to the mix, injecting some flavour early on the record. You know once a song starts with the lyric ‘The boys are back in town’ it’s going to be a good song.  Even if the lyric is delivered in a cautiously sighing tone, and is meant as more of a downer lyric than a call to arms. ‘Sleepwalking’ also re-invigorates the record after some sadder-than-the-crying-Indian tracks like ‘Madison’ and ‘Still Life’, adding some electric guitar and heavy bass to the mix to snap the listener awake like a rubber band to a sleeping nutsack.

For a lo-fi effort, ‘No Stars Tonight’ is pretty great. For the most part, it’s a chilled out affair, but the aspects of the record which show off the heart-on-a-sleeve aesthetic, (you know, the kind of thing that made Elliot Smith famous) is what brings this record to a whole new tier of great.

Ben Wiley (the guy behind Booksmart) is a genius, and ‘No Stars Tonight’ is awesome, which is why you should go onto his Bandcamp here and pick up the record for ‘name-your-price’.

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Album Review: Hebronix-Unreal

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Two ATP Recordings reviews in one week? Gee Whiz that’s a lot! Not it’s not you patronising fuckwad, ATP put out some of the best shit on this planet. You heard the SQURL EP? That shit was balls deep in amazing, helped along slightly by the fact that Jim Jarmusch was in the band.

What was I saying? Oh yeah, the new Hebronix album. A little history lesson for those struggling with Trials at the moment (a list that includes myself-damn you standardised testing!). Hebronix is the moniker of Daniel Blumberg, who used to be in Cajun Dance Party, and Yuck. You probably know Yuck as being one of the coolest bands of the past couple of years. You are not wrong. However, Blumberg has left that group, and now most of the creative energy is focused in this new, Greek-hero-sounding project Hebronix.

As Yuck is to Pavement, Hebronix is to Elliot Smith. It seems that Blumberg just can’t get enough influence from critically lauded bands. Even though this album is super Smithy, it’s also got some other shit in there, like Neil Young, Bright Eyes, and Sparklehorse. So, yeah, it would be fair to say that ‘Unreal’ is like an indie orgy of some of the best acts of the past decade, all tied up with Blumberg’s stunning voice. It’s a soaring masterpiece of the melancholy underachiever.

The first two tracks, the 10 minute ‘Unliving’ and ‘Viral’ are excellent, but the album really hits its stride on ‘Wild Whim’.  The lyrics of ‘Your the girl I se in my recurring dream/the girl that took the time to learn the tambourine/your the girl that doesn’t give a fuck about anything’ may or may not go in the box for best guilty pleasure/beautifully cliched lyrics of the year, something that The Kooks wet dream about. Then there’s the serene descending solo that balances out agains the fuzz like a careening drunk on a New York Sunday night. ‘Wild Whim’ is an  astonishingly beautiful track that is by far the highlight on the album, something you can play whilst philosophising on a bus on a rainy day. In fact, I guarantee a Pitchfork employee is doing that somewhere in the world right now.

The rest of the album never quite reaches the lofty heights of ‘Wild Whim’ but it comes damn close. Earthy and lightly wafting ‘Unreal’ sheds a tear, ‘Garden’ digs in it’s heels and bares it’s Dinosaur Jr. teeth, and ‘The Plan’ is a delightful mash of the quaintness of Bright Eyes with the heart-on-sleeve of  Built to Spill. Musically, ‘Unreal’ is a top fucking notch. However, most of the songs seem to drift for maybe just a tad longer than they necessarily should. One 10 minute track is asking quite a lot already, but when everything bar one song is far beyond the six minute mark, Blumberg is certainly asking a lot of patience and dedication from an average listener keen for a geez of entertainment. It’s like wanting to see the Bearded Lady and ending up watching Cirque Du Soleil. Sometimes it’s just too much.

So yes, whilst Daniel Blumberg might have crafted one of the best listening albums that the snobby music fan will champion, (myself included), sometimes it looks like it might just be a bit too much filler and not enough ‘Wild Whim’ to entice the middle of the road Yuck fan. Still, it’s undeniably good shit, and an obnoxious round of applause is in order to Mr. Blumberg for ‘Unreal’.