Dan Lissvik – Midnight

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Having a child can be utterly exhausting. For those who have not experienced it, this statement couldn’t be more true. Not only do you find yourself suddenly sleep-deprived, you also begin experiencing strange sensations and hallucinations as you go longer and longer without adequate rest. By the time you feel you can no longer function properly, you suddenly find yourself able to sleep nearly any for any amount of time at nearly any time of day. It’s a self-preservation method that helps new parents make their way through the first several years of child rearing.

That anyone would have the extra time, let alone energy, to find creative endeavors comes as something of a marvel. But each new parent must find their own outlet in order to retain some semblance of who they once were. For musicians, the creative process never truly ceases. Rather it’s only a matter of finding the time to create as before, prioritizing and focusing with a heretofore unknown level of precision. A new father himself, Dan Lissvik found the only time afforded him to continue to pursue his creative outlet to be well after everyone else went to sleep. Naturally, he opted for the title Midnight – the time after which the majority of the album was recorded – for his first release under his own name.

Exploring a sort of funk/pop hypnosis, Midnight unfolds as a series of abstract jams that allowed Lissvik, former half of Gothenburg, Sweden’s Studio, to further his creative exploits. Utilizing an analog graphic equalizer he happened upon at a flea market, bass guitar and single mic, Lissvik set about exploring the inherent potential of each in the wake of his newfound status as father. With time at a premium, these recordings retain a certain sense of urgency despite their post-midnight recording times. Opening track “M” is a taut bit of burbling funk that eases its way in before expanding into post-disco in miniature. It’s an invigorating, cyclical groove that at times sounds Moroder-esque.unnamed

All things considered, Midnight is a surprisingly invigorating album of free-flowing late-night jams that weave in and out of dance-ability as they make their way deeper and deeper into the night. On the epic “D,” Lissvik employs a repetitive figure reminiscent of low-key take on Moroder’s “The Chase.” Where the former is struck through with the feeling of creeping dread, “D” instead takes a more playful, carefree approach that sees it cycling through its nearly 9-minute running time with ease. It’s one of Midnight’s most insistent grooves and a fine distillation of Lissvik’s work as a whole on the album. Propulsive, insistent electronic drums, burbling synths and fluttering electronics skitter about the track, carried along on a steady 4/4 rhythm.

“N” plays more with time and space, allowing the rhythm to slow as a series acoustic guitar arpeggios slide across the track. Complemented by a series of electronic burbles and bleeps, the track finally cedes control to the electronic drums as they slowly and insistently take control, gradually but intently pushing the other elements forward. By the halfway point, it’s a full funk groove with heavily syncopated guitar set against an increasingly prominent beat. Yet like the rest Midnight, it never truly takes off, instead simply simmering and threatening to boil over into something larger.

Meanwhile, “G” offers a wicked bit of strutting electro-funk replete with electric piano, stuttering guitar and bubbling bass groove underpinning the whole thing. It’s one of the few moments on the album wherein Lissvik seems to be truly letting himself go, fully immersed in the creative process and allowing the music to reflect this accordingly. At under three minutes, “H” offers an anomalously ominous G-funk groove that leads Midnight to a rather muted conclusion in the circularly repetitive “T.”

That much of the album carries with it something of a restrained feel shouldn’t come as any surprise given the time and circumstances under which the recordings were made. Perfect for after hours listening or a momentarily reprieve from reality, Midnight offers Dan Lissvik the chance to continue to explore his creative potential without waking the kids.

Artist: Dan Lissvik
Album: Midnight
Label: Smalltown Supersound
Release Date: June 10, 2016

William Tyler – Modern Country

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There’s something vaguely unsettling about the sheer amount of sky looming over the open road the farther west one travels in the United States. Leaving behind tree- and city-lined stretches of highway, one is met with nothing but a seemingly endless expanse of sky stretching well beyond the horizon. In this immensity it’s easy to feel diminished, humbled or even overwhelmed. That it’s an illusion brought on by the lack of readily identifiable landmarks to serve as points of reference for time, space and distance seems of little consequence; out west, everything just feels bigger.

“Highway Anxiety,” the first track on William Tyler’s latest exploration of instrumental Americana, captures this rolling sense of wonder perfectly, easing through the long, flat stretches of road occasionally dotted with views of distant mountain ranges and towering clouds. It’s an awe-inspiring experience that deserves a certain amount of reverence and contemplative respect, something Tyler seems well aware of in his treatment of both the music as it gradually unfolds and land that surrounds him. Like a long drive, Modern Country unfolds at its own pace, never rushing, always taking its time to get where it ultimately feels compelled to go.

While any instrumental acoustic guitar record will inevitably find itself compared to the work of the genre’s godfather, John Fahey, Tyler puts his own distinct voice into these tracks, imbuing them with a sense of forward momentum that serves as the aural equivalent of the open road. Where others tend to wander, Tyler’s final destination is always clear, if not the route used to get there. It’s in this structured wandering that he evokes the spirit and feel of travel, exploration and self-reflection. Modern Country is designed to serve as the soundtrack to the contemplative physical as well as metaphorical journey based in a sense of wanderlust. Modern Country

Using this theme as a jumping off point, “Kingdom of Jones” knowingly teases “Country Roads” during its closing moments, utilizing its familiar melody as repeated mantra for the tireless traveler. It’s a comforting, familiar moment that helps center the listener, returning focus through the use of the recognizable to aid in easing back to reality.

“Gone Clear,” with its densely clustered sixteenth notes, is the most reminiscent of Fahey in its meditative quality. Built around a drone, Tyler relies on a modal, vaguely Eastern melody that remains a slow burn throughout the whole of its six minutes-plus running time before embarking on several more involved passages that eventually circle back to the main theme. As with much of the rest of the album, it possesses a hypnotic quality not unlike the effect of driving mile after mile with the lane lines and vast, expansive grandeur of the Western United States serving as your only tie to reality.

Closing track “The Great Unwind” quite literally employs its title as it unfurls and sprawls across the speakers, ebbing and flowing as Tyler’s heavily distorted guitar roams through a landscape dotted with decaying distortion and faint traces of melody, ultimately ending in a complete and total surrender to the sound of the natural world.  Alone with the birds, frogs and insects populating some unnamed forest, Tyler reenters with smoldering, almost elegiac take on the hallmarks of country music.

Using an ethereal steel guitar and subtly twanged electric guitar, he establishes a mood that neatly summarizes the music’s origins in a very specific sound will simultaneously freeing it to explore a larger space.  The album title then is just as much a reference to the country music as a genre as the open road, the highway saturated modern country and its limitless potential for adventure and exploration. Modern Country is an album full of experiences to be treasured long after the inevitable return home.

Artist: William Tyler
Album: Modern Country
Label: Merge Records
Release Date: June 3, 2016

Weezer – Weezer (The White Album)

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Since reemerging with 2001’s self-titled release – henceforth referred to as the “Green Album” – Weezer has become a surprisingly polarizing group. Prior to the Green Album, they were hailed as under-appreciated pop geniuses who created two perfect albums, one of which bridged the gap between grunge and pop, the other having laid the groundwork for 21st century emo. But in attempting to recapture what once was, they’ve found themselves straying farther and farther from where they started, further alienating themselves from those cultishly devoted to the so-called Blue Album and Pinkerton.

To be fair, Weezer has essentially morphed into an entirely different band in the time since their mid-‘90s glory days. With Matt Sharp having left after Pinkerton to pursue his Rentals and solo projects, Mikey Welsh going off the map following the release of the Green Album and Scott Shriner now having played with the band longer than any of his predecessors, the 2016 edition of Weezer is a far cry from the beloved 1994 edition.

And yet they keep trying to return to that time in order to become the Weezer they once were in an attempt to placate the fans they lost following the release of Maladroit – and, arguably, the Green Album – on. After nearly a decade shamelessly pandering to a more mainstream pop and rock audience with singles like “Beverly Hills,” what began thematically on 2014’s Everything Will Be Alright In The End and its nostalgia-baiting single “Back to the Shack,” comes full circle on their latest self-titled release – heretofore referred to as the “White Album.” Weezer

With this, they have crafted the most Weezer-sounding – in the traditional sense – album in years. The problem is, simply sounding like the Weezer of old does not make this the Weezer of old. Rather much of the White Album rings hollow in its clear sonic aping of their first two albums, forgetting along the way that quality songs were what made these two so beloved by an entire generation of disenfranchised listeners. Ultimately, anything they release will be held up to the gold standard of both the Blue Album and Pinkerton, something that, given their move towards a heavier sound in the intervening years, creates something of an impossible bar to reach.

Largely abandoning the larger, fuller sound of their last several releases, here they return to the strangled guitars of their debut. It’s a concerted effort to appease the early fan base, yet it fails to hit the mark as Rivers Cuomo seems to have largely lost his knack for crafting hook-y pop songs and, having been met with resistance to his seemingly more personally satisfying musical directions, here sounds resigned and somewhat defeated. Given the two decades plus between these releases, it’s categorically impossible to fairly compare the two and any attempt to recapture a sound and feel from over twenty years ago is destined to fail.

Opening track “California Kids” immediately makes it clear this is a concerted effort to recapture the Weezer behind the Blue Album’s fuzzy pop bliss. A promising enough start, it ultimately proves something of a misdirect as the overall quality begins to decline from there. By the time they end the ill-advised rap that is “Thank God For Girls,” they’ve turned in one of, if not the worst tracks of their career. It’s a lazy, Maroon 5-esque lyric that plays more misogynistic and tone deaf than cheeky and winning as was apparently the case.

So close are they in looking to recapture what once was that closing track “Endless Bummer” essentially plays as a condensed, modernized take on “Only In Dreams.” Elsewhere, on “Do You Wanna Get High” they bring back the buzzing synths and disaffected delivery of Pinkerton. While an admirable attempt, Weezer – and Cuomo in particular – would be better suited to accepting who they are as a band rather than who they were. In attempting to recapture a sound and feel, they lose sight of what was so appealing about their original sound and feel in the first place. Rather than putting the work into the melodies, they place their focus on tone and, without the hooks for which they were once known, much of the White Album feels like hastily thrown together lyrics delivered with the same minimalist approach to melody.

It’s an unfortunate progression for a group that once seemed to hold so much promise. That they’ve time and again seemingly caved to outside pressures shows they’ve reached a point where they no longer know what a Weezer album can and should be, only what it should sound like. Where Everything Will Be Alright In The End felt like a refreshing step forward for a band finally embracing who it had become, the White Album feels like a self-conscious retreat to safer territory. Never ones to push the envelope, Weezer still benefits more from taking chances than playing to expectations.

Perhaps with the benefit of time, both the band and listeners alike will be able to better take stock of where they’ve been and where they’re going within the appropriate context. Until then, Weezer remains a band with a clearly defined identity suffering through a painful identity complex. So while a certain group of listeners continues to hold the band accountable for where they were rather than where they are, those who simply take in the music for what it is while find much to enjoy. The rest will have to remain content listening to their worn-out copies of the Blue Album and Pinkerton for the five hundredth time.

Artist: Weezer
Album: Weezer
Label: Atlantic/Crush Music
Release Date: April 1, 2016