Square Pegs Round Holes – Ultraviolet Hippopotamus (2011)

Ultraviolet Hippopotamus

Album artwork for Square Pegs Round Holes

I’ve always thought of the term “music blogger” as being somewhat restrictive.  It seems like such an unimaginative term for an overlooked cornucopia of enlightenment.  It is, unfortunately, far too easy to become numb to the everyday processes of searching for new music, weighed down by the sheer banality of it all.  On the other hand, I have witnessed an uncomfortable number of music bloggers fall victim to the competitive, quasi-political nature of the cutthroat world they live in.  I believe it is essential to leave both of these attitudes behind.  Rather than a “music blogger,” I think the term “aural adventurer” might be more appropriate, or perhaps even “sonic expeditioner.”  Why do I remain passionate about finding new music?  It’s about the journey, not the destination.  This is a core philosophy that applies to the world of music as much as it applies to life itself.  The other night, I walked out the door with nothing but my iPod and a pair of Sennheiser headphones, eager to embark on such a journey.  As my legs took me across the beautiful campus of the University of Miami, I retreated into my mental space – my inner theater – and embraced the sonic landscape that was beginning to form.

The album of choice for the night was Square Pegs Round Holes by Ultraviolet Hippopotamus, a band which I had never heard of before.  I stumbled upon them quite by happenstance, thanks to the wonders of the Internet.  The first words used to describe the group that I read were “improvisational progressive rock band.”  Boy, did that get me excited.  I knew from that moment on that I owed it to myself to at least check out some of their music. Approximately 67 minutes later, I found myself in a state of amazement as the full splendor of Square Pegs Round Holes sank in.

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Miracle – Blackmill (2011)

Album artwork for Miracle

Album artwork for Miracle

The recent wave of modern dubstep artists has become one of the most polarizing movements in today’s music industry.  Love it or hate it, it has had a profound effect on the development of electronic music, and has influenced a variety of derivative styles.  One such pioneer goes by the name of Blackmill, and has been producing music that he christens “melodic dubstep.”  In a genre that is known for its heavy bass lines and fast-paced sampling, Blackmill’s sound is refreshingly calm.  For those of you who find the average dubstep track to be too abrasive (i.e. my last post), I would urge you to continue reading, despite any hesitations you might have, and hopefully be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

His approach to music production is really quite ingenious.  Although you might expect to hear an excess of white noise and heavy, distorted bass content, it is refreshing to feel the much gentler touch of Miracle upon your ears.  The harsh wobble sounds have been crafted into a much warmer and muted tone.  Sharp chord stabs have been replaced with echoing bells and slow-moving synth pads.  The music opens up into a much less cluttered arrangement, allowing for a greater emphasis on chordal harmony and ambient sound textures.

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ISM – Savant (2012)

Album artwork for ISM

Album artwork for ISM

Anyone who has ever attempted to produce electronic music knows that it’s a lot harder than it sounds. To be frank, it’s damn difficult.  With the dramatic rise in popularity of electronic dance music in recent years, producers have been expanding their horizons sonically, leading to the development of several new subgenres.  The new wave of dubstep, brought to the public eye by the (in)famous Skrillex, often referred to as “brostep,” is a perfect example. Love it or hate it, no one can argue against the fact that the compositional attitude of such artists has taken a dramatic turn towards a much more complex mindset.  In my mind, this movement is simply a reflection on how we, as a species, have a continuous desire for innovation in our creative pursuits – one of the most remarkable traits of our intelligence.

Let’s dial our focus in a bit.  Aleksander Vinter, more commonly known by his artist moniker, Savant, is a producer from Norway who has been making increasingly large waves in the electronic music community.  His first album, Outbreak, which was released back in 2009, was nominated for a Norwegian Grammy Award, and two of his most recent albums, Vario and Overworld, reached #1 on Beatport’s list of Top 100 Releases.  Here’s the really interesting part: according to his official Facebook page, Vinter is an actual savant with Asperger’s syndrome, and he has been blessed with the gift of extraordinary creative genius.  To quote directly from his biography, “He thinks out songs in seconds and produces them within few hours.  To this date Aleksander has composed / produced over 10.000 songs in various genres. Most notably metal, orchestral / classical, hip-hop and electronic music.”  Not only that, but Savant released four full-length studio albums just in 2012. In other words, his past four albums were all composed, produced, and released in 2012, with the fourth one being released in December.  If that’s not enough intrigue to get you to check out his music, then you may as well stop reading now.

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The Afterman: Descension – Coheed and Cambria (2013)

Album artwork for The Afterman: Descension

Album artwork for The Afterman: Descension

This past Tuesday was an important day for Coheed and Cambria fans across the world.  It was the day that The Afterman: Descension, the final installment of the band’s two-part concept album series, was released.  This album continues the storyline established in The Afterman: Ascension, which was released in October of last year.  If you haven’t yet listened to the Ascension album, I would highly recommend that you do so immediately, and ideally before listening to this one.  Not only is it an exceptional album, but it is also the necessary prequel to Descension in both music and plot.  With that in mind, the release three days ago was understandably a highly anticipated event.  Even with all the hype that was created, it still soared above expectations with flying colors.  This is an album that will be sure to simultaneously satisfy longtime fans and convert new disciples.

One of the most unique and defining characteristics of Coheed and Cambria is undoubtedly the science fiction universe, known as The Amory Wars, within which the storylines of all seven of their albums are set.  This is a highly impressive feat, considering the amount of detail used in defining such a universe.  This is a band that has recognized the immense storytelling power of music, and is harnessing it for the purpose of creating an incomparable musical journey.

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Deja Entendu – Brand New (2003)

Album artwork for Deja Entendu

Album artwork for Deja Entendu

Despite the increasingly rapid development of digital audio technology and electronic music production, the classic punk rock band setup will always hold an irreplaceable spot in the hearts of youth across the globe.  Part of what makes the genre so unique is the sheer amount of passion and aggression that goes into the physical performance of the songs. Imagine the scene in your head: a small, dimly lit venue, packed to the brink with skaters and social rejects.  At the center is a stage, with the band pouring out their heart and soul into the music they’re making, complete with stage jumps, power slides, and ferocious gang vocals. The entire crowd is headbanging, screaming the lyrics, and dancing to the beat.  This is a group of people that has been united through music, breaking down any and all social barriers.  This style of music might not be for everyone, but the amount of energy that is poured into the art is undeniable.

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Brand New takes this scene to an entirely new level.  Their music is not just aggressive and energetic; it is masterfully crafted.  Just as “The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows” will get the whole audience on its feet, “The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot” provides the perfect backdrop to showcase the melodic and deeply emotional lyricism of the group. Contrary to the popular music of the time (and which continues to this day), Deja Entendu is a prime example of easily accessible music that doesn’t become caught up with commercial appeal and recycled emotional content.

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