Album Review Saturdays 2024 Episode 2

It’s a heavenly time of year for the excitable listening habits of hip music listeners!  The year’s just starting out, and while there are not hundreds of records being hocked, we are still kind of in a hungry holding pattern.  We’ve been hurried in preparing lists, checking out heaps of sites that are predicting album release dates, and hunting for the best prospects to put into our headphones.  This week, while we searched for worthy 2024 releases, we honestly found albums that seemed to be brought in part to us by the letter “H” (as if Sesame Street was sponsoring this Album Review Saturdays)!  Ha!  Hilarious, right!  Oh, heavens, I’d better halt this hideous happenstance!  On with the…hearing!

 

LINK TO OUR YOUTUBE VERSION
[Mark Kuligowski discusses these (3) albums + adds 3 more reviews at the end]

 

 

HarpAlbion

Harp is the married duo of Tim Smith (ex Midlake singer, guitarist who had actually made Harp back in 2012 causing that break) and Kathi Zung (multi-instrumentalist and puppet fabricator).  It seems like Harp was lost for quite some time, from what I can read and hear, considering that time table I just gave you in italic.  While I will spare the details of the missing 8 years of Harp, as a band that he had conjured, I will say that his absorption of life, other musical influences and fans of his seem to have been a great catalyst in this album’s long-time-coming moment in December of 2023.  I think a voice of his nature, melody and dramatic weight is good to hear and see continue, especially under a different, more progressive light and design.

Albion is a light, melodic Canterbury recording that is superbly delicate and exquisite in a lot of design areas like ‘Seven Long Suns’ and the intricacies of the playing, plucking and melodies of voice and background accompaniment musicianship from Zung.  It does seem, considering Smith’s prior band and musical experience, that Zung is the unique flip to the sounds that are really making this a lovely, tight, and absorbing recording.  I know those are probably drum machine parts, but they’re not overstated, and they hold so well against Smith’s ability to carry melody, tone and reach within the lyrics.  His vocals are extremely confident and emotionally attached to every moment.  He has a true passion and articulate way of giving this genre a hint of haunt, a smidge of ballad, and an old school approach to delivering Cathedral-like folk-prog in this era.

At first listen, you’re going to wean a bit, if you’re not a true progressive-folk light lover, but if you hang in there, you will find some fantastic embraceful moments, especially as it moves on.  The closer ‘Herstmonceux,’ is a perfect departing picture of a centuries old village in the landscape and soundscapes created so delicately by the duo’s details of musicianship.  Harp is definitely outside the mainstream of what is usually going to direct one’s attention in audio, but in 2023, we can honestly say it’s sound was a distinctive, lovely listening pleasure.

The Band

  • Tim Smith –  Vocals, Guitars (acoustic and electric), Keyboards
  • Kathi Zang –  Drum Machine, Mellotron (maybe), Keyboards (maybe)
  • Paul Alexander – Bass for ‘Silver Wings’ and ‘Throne of Amber’
  • Max Kinghorn-Mills – Guitar for ‘Seven Long Suns’

Albion Tracklisting

  1. The Pleasant Grey
  2. I Am the Seed
  3. A Fountain
  4. Daughters of Albion
  5. Chrystals
  6. Country Cathedral Drive
  7. Shining Spires
  8. Silver Wings
  9. Seven Long Suns
  10. Moon
  11. Throne of Amber
  12. Herstmonceux

 

 

Haiku HandsPleasure Beast

When you think of Melbourne and Sydney Australia, I don’t think you’re believing their main export in music comes in the form of alternative groove electronica dance-pop with thriving club beats and clever, cunning linguistic approaches.  It’s not like they have an outrageous bunch of cities where these type of bands can dominate a large club scene.  It’s not London and certainly not a fast train to the rest of Europe (or anywhere for that matter).  If you’re looking for a female led, fun-gasm of an alternative dance rock album pushing clever Lords of Acid, Prodigy, Doja Cat, sprinkled with Garbage groove and outrageous lyrics that’ll make you scoff and gaff.  But, yet, here we are, January 13th, 2024, and I’m doing this review of a very catchy, overly produced madhouse releasing this band’s ‘Beasts’ if you will all over the place (like a cheap brut in a not-so-lovely hotel room, after a drunken-bender-club rager).  Boom, here we are!

The band members, which seem to be comprised of two siblings, Claire Nakazawa & Mie Nakazawa, along with Beatrice Lewis, and a performing member, Mataya Young are probably chief writers and vocalists by the term of artists.  While, I’m not schooled in the art of electronic-pop alternative dance, I have to consider that there is no instrumentation breakdown, and it’s guided heavily by the “producers,” which they are also credited on.  So I will assume the tracks all come from demo(s) and usage of material mashed into a board, computer or some other production sound device of the 21st or even 22nd century (oh we won’t go there yet, AI).  While it seems they are their own animal, they’re not creating from a vacuum, and that’s honestly what I love about the album.  They site Dave Sitek in conversations and studio time that was completely jaw and mind dropping, and I can hear that!  The ladies here are certainly in fine tune with their inner and outer beasts, and they just want us all to realize and come along for the ride, the show, and the aftermath.  Cool!  I’m signed up!

Whether it’s ‘All Around the World’ kick off, or the spicy and retrospective ‘Grandma’ or the completely catchy, sassy urban club slayer, ‘Nanchuka’ featuring (feat. Ribongia), the treats are vast and the pleasures are all over the place.  Sorry.  No, not sorry (wink to band)!  This is an absolute blast!  Go ahead ‘Geddit’ and put it on.  You know that part in the movie, Begin Again, where James Corden puts on record and says, “I defy you not to dance to this song” , well…this album is all that moment!

The Band

  • Claire Nakazawa
  • Mie Nakazawa
  • Beatrice Lewis
  • Mataya Young (performing member, which I assume means only in live shows?)

Pleasure Beast Tracklisting

  1. Pleasure
  2. All Around the World
  3. Cool for You
  4. We’re Gonna Be the Greatest
  5. Paradise
  6. Elastic Love
  7. To the Left (feat. Jamaica Moana)
  8. Geddit
  9. Grandma
  10. Feels So Good
  11. Chito
  12. I Am Nothing
  13. Ma Ruler
  14. Nunchucka (feat. Ribongia)

 

HealthRat Wars

Why not!  Let’s associate the word “health” with a sonic, somber-mosh of industrial dark rock that might, well, probably not equate anywhere near to the health of the following body parts; your ears (duh), your mind (it’s going to cause it to struggle and over-compensate), heart (yeah, it’s like hitting it with defibrillators – in some cases more than one at a time), and then there’s your nerve endings (good luck there).  So why?  Once you get over the loss of your health (did you really care when it comes to the music experience, or are you Barry Manilow all the way? – not that there’s anything wrong with Barry), you’re going to start sucking up the marrow, the carb, the fat of the music like you’re your own loaf of cardiac arrest bread.  Don’t believe me?  Okay, let’s have a go at Rat Wars!

Industrial fans, like those of Godflesh, Nine-Inch-Nails, and Ministry, I know you’re all in.  You probably won’t read any further.  For those that are giving it the ol’ college try, let’s talk about the definitive sound that makes something industrial.  The keyboard!  Yes, this isn’t Bach, sorry.  This is an electronic, down-troddin’ banging of the keys as a relentless march to the macabre, that pulses along with the synthasized beat provided either in computer/drum machine, or an actual maestro drummer in the genre.  Here it’s the latter.  Then drop in the vocalist, or the gutter-roar, or screams (if you’re Filter inclined).  In Rat Wars, Health takes a great deal of time and space to develop quite a bit of variety in their industrial drive and haunts, which really make this record a very good spectacle on the scale of intriguing and beguiling dark industrial rock.  ‘(Of All Else)’ is the absolute devouring note on this scale!  Health knew what they had, and layered and soundtracked this bad ass song 2:31 of a song, making it feel epic.  And, that comes back again and again, on this record — epic in non-epic lengths.

We’ve got slow driven industrial grooves, and then we’ve got demon speeding madness.  The guitars don’t hide.  They trash and collide with the sound, creating a speed ball of noise rock and blistering grind when you — well — require, right!?  Not only that, they reek wonderfully of old metal thrash, and relinquish back into their hole-in-the-wall (Rat reference, keep up).  It’s clever, really!  It’s been done before, but it’s like you’re in a horror film waiting for the jump scare, which is really present in ‘Children of Sorrow.’  Lyrically, the somber and dark feel doesn’t seem forced — kind of genuine to the vocalist, harkening away from a storybook vocal like Depeche Mode, forcing the listener to probably strain to hear on the first and second listens.  Am I knocking it?!  No.  I’m saying that the audio intent seems to be the overall production of the industrial sound and the noises and the instruments, and the vocal is a pattern meant to be within, not rising above.

Six albums in, and this is far and away, for my ears, the deepest dive for the band.  The engagement, sophistication, and the patterns are solid throughout.  And, while I’m sure this is not the ideal Health chosen by certain professionals, I am certainly one to throw audio caution to the wind and partake of the necessary darkness and unhealthy listening pleasures that the music mulitverse can throw at me.  Great job!  Here’s to your HEALTH!

The Band

  •  Benjamin Jared Miller – Drums
  • Jake Duzsik – Vocals and Guitars
  • John Famiglietti -Bass and Production

Rat Wars Tracklisting

  1. Demigods
  2. Future of Hell
  3. Hateful (featuring Sierra)
  4. (Of All Else)
  5. Crack Metal
  6. Unloved
  7. Children of Sorrow
  8. Sicko (Sample: “Like Rats” by Godflesh)
  9. Ashamed
  10. (Of Being Born)
  11. DSM-V
  12. Don’t Try

 

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