Tag Archives: francesca pastore

17851-benjamin-booker

Album Review: Benjamin Booker – Witness

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Benjamin Booker is soulful garage-rock at its finest. His characteristic blues-meets-punk style, alongside his distinct husky voice, results in a unique, gritty sound that one might stumble upon in a New Orleans bar. On each track of Witness, Booker’s highly anticipated sophomore album, he croons on a number of subjects, from faithlessness to police brutality, resulting in a record that is emotional, raw, and highly intimate.

Production-wise, the album’s opener “Right on You” sets the tone for the record. Heavily panned right and left channels serve to isolate the instruments and Booker’s voice. This decision is consistent in every track on the album: there is no song on Witness where everything feels centred. The audience enters a unique kind of listening experience as the intricately balanced isolations allow for more instrumental clarity. One can hear the way each particular element adds to the song’s arrangement as a whole rather than focusing on how they all work together simultaneously in the track. Booker unabashedly introduces listeners to this novel sonic environment of Witness — he invites them to stay, yet remains nonchalantly uncaring if they don’t.

“Right on You” blends into “Motivation,” a track with a lo-fi vibe that begins with a tape-saturated acoustic guitar and a syncopated bass groove. In the chorus, slightly distorted violins swell in the left channel, offering an unconventional type of orchestration that brings an interesting contrast to the acoustic elements within the song. In “Believe,” the listener hears the soulful elements of Booker’s music: the background vocals are akin to a gospel choir, and they harmonize with Booker as he yearns to find a resolution in his search for faith: “I don’t care if right or wrong / I just want to believe in something / I cannot make it on my own.” The title track, “Witness,” is a commentary on police brutality and racial issues in America. Resonant lines such as “Thought we saw he had a gun / thought that it looked like he started a run” make this the album’s most poignant track by highlighting Booker’s strongest lyrics on the record.

Besides “Witness,” the most memorable songs on the record are the ones emphasizing Booker’s well-crafted guitar riffs. In “Truth is Heavy,” the guitar lick isolated on the right side and the bass riff isolated on the left create a unique melodic blend, exemplifying how the producer’s decision to include heavy pans augments the music’s emotive abilities.

Booker’s strength is his bluesy and garage-influenced guitar work, as it allows him to create groovy, head-bobbing rock tracks without being overly flashy. However, most tracks on the album offer only subtle dynamic changes; additionally, since the drum patterns tend to remain steady and simple, at times the songs on Witness seem to drag. Nonetheless, Booker delivers this static feel exceptionally well and this may have been his intention: he emphasizes movement and repetition so listeners can hone in on the pulse of the music in order to lose themselves within it.

– Review by Francesca Pastore

slowdive

Album Review: Slowdive – S/T

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Slowdive opens with a demand: “Give me your love.” This forcefulness at the beginning of the album seems fitting for the group’s self-titled release, considering it’s their first one in 22 years. Such an extended absence from the music scene warrants a strong plea for admiration and attention – and a listen to the record shows it is well-deserved. It successfully brings Slowdive back to the forefront of the shoegaze scene with instrumentality and craftsmanship that is aesthetically muddied, yet sleek and spacious.

Throughout the record, soft synths dominate the background stereo image. The drums remain at a low volume in the mix, emphasizing the album’s focus on utilizing ambient elements to compose a huge-sounding background rather than playing up any rhythmic structures. Distorted leads pierce through this foundation of sound to complete the instrumental arrangement. This method of arrangement is present throughout the album, but is best exemplified in the album’s second single, “Sugar for the Pill.” A lone delayed electric guitar establishes a slick chord progression in the beginning of the song before a silky, mid-heavy distorted lead guitar appears and plays in sync with the progression. These elements combine with a bass riff that is so, so groovy to set the pulse of the track and make it the most dynamic and fun on the record.

The opener, “Slomo,” sets a space-y vibe along with a casual, upbeat rhythm. The dreamy synths, paired with the looping and distorted guitar riff, could be the soundtrack for a flight through dark space. Goth-rock elements are apparent in “Star Roving,” where the vocals almost resemble Peter Murphy’s from Bauhaus, and the guitar riffs with reverb-heavy distortion and rhythmic strums sound akin to the guitars of Christian Death.

The album’s only weakness lies in the lyrics, which are neither particularly distinct or profound. As the vocals are usually lower in volume than the instruments and drenched in a heavy hall reverb, the words are muddled together and often indiscernible. However, of the actually audible lyrics, there are gems of honest simplicity. In “No Longer Making Time,” Neil Halstead croons: “Oh Lord I remember those days / And all those nights / When you wanted so much more.” This track directs the album toward a more reminiscent feel, that culminates in the album’s closing song, “Falling Ashes.” With a piano riff that repeats for the entirety of the track’s eight minutes and very minimal involvement from other instruments, it is a soft and circular ending to the record. Halstead incessantly repeats the phrase, “Thinking about love,” which characterizes the circular nature of both the track and mindset of the album: beginning and ending with the notion of love.

– Review by Francesca Pastore

a blaze of feathers

Album Review: A Blaze of Feather – EP 1

A Blaze of Feather’s EP 1 feels like overcast, like Irish winter, like the wind. A cloud of mystery surrounds this experimental dark-folk project lead by Mickey Smith. Information about the band still remains quite sparse, and only recently did Smith reveal himself as one of the main producers and members, while also confirming the involvement of indie-rock’s big name Ben Howard (Every Kingdom, I Forget Where We Were) in the project.  
 
Instrumentally, the sounds of the electric guitars drenched in various reverb, delay, and octave generator effects are the most striking element of the EP – consistently and definitively pushing the limits of a guitar’s imagined potential. Their presence is so all-encompassing and elongated, I often confused them with the synths also at work in most of the songs. A shimmering acoustic guitar also appears in a few of the tracks on the EP, and creates an interesting contrast when paired alongside the immense atmosphere created by the synths and electric guitars. 
 
Th EP’s single, “Carousel,” showcases this contrast best through its excellent arrangement of verb-ed out guitars and droning synths in combination with a strummed acoustic guitar that pops in and out of the mix. Like almost every track on the EP, the ambient sounds fade into the left side and dynamically drip into the right, forming a strong stereo soundscape for the vocals to complete the melodic sphere. Howard is featured in this track, where he sings, “With my last breath / I comfort you,” right before light sawing synths reclaim the musical arrangement for a few bars. A steady rock beat is then re-introduced alongside them, and drives the song until its end. 
 
Folk elements culminate most in the last song of the EP, “Freagh.” The track, named after a municipality in Ireland, is the only song on the EP that begins almost immediately with the clear melodic instrumentation, where the center focus is on a finger-picked acoustic riff paired with two voices.  It is notably the EP’s most vocally driven song and ends it with a strong, optimistic tone, as Smith sings: “Come hell or heavy weather, evening dances in the gold.”
 
Ultimately I found the standout track on EP 1 to be “Death.” It begins like the others on the EP, with a long, droning intro. At the one-minute mark, layers of voices suddenly appear, and their blend is so full that they sound like a synths themselves. This makeshift synth-choir ends with the most powerful line of the EP: “There is no shelter from the sound of the end.” The track then converges into a Schoenberg-esque string accompaniment with octave jumps and tones that interchange between being melodic and dissonant. This instrumentation suggestively (and intentionally, I believe) creates what “the end” may sound like: a composition of isolated yet serene tones that mesh together to construct an uncertain but grand and distinct whole. 
 

Each song on A Blaze of Feather’s EP 1 is a mini soft-world, like a separate cloud of sound in a wider atmospheric space that contains the six songs of the release. The low-volume distortion that carries over into every song connects each piece as if they were overlapping like smoke. Perhaps this is what the album attempts to capture in its cover: a giant cloud of music that characterizes white and dark and gray weather through poetry and melody.

– Review by Francesca Pastore