Mini-reviews for 2017

Hey, how's it going.

The Dillinger Escape Plan – Dissociation

    The last Dillinger album. Some iffy fold-ins of ideas, apparent in "Honeysuckle" and the heavy parts of "Nothing to Forget". Some excellent new inclusions, like the title track (that polymeter!) and the Ire Works-esque "Fugue". Some really solid Dillinger, like "Low Feels Blvd", "Surrogate", and "Limerent Death". I'll miss them.

Favorite track: "Dissociation".

Shobaleader One – Elektrac

    Bass... drums... very fast breakbeat jazz based on Squarepusher (Tom Jenkinson)'s previous output... hell yeah. There are some tracks to cut from your library, like "Deep Fried Pizza", and then there are bangers like "E8 Boogie" and "Squarepusher Theme". "Iambric 5 Poetry" is gorgeous. I do have to say, though, the guitar on this album is not great... the solos are lacking compared to the bass and drum contributions, though the guitar settles in nicely with the keyboards when they are playing in the background for the rhythm section to go wild, a nice reversal of jazz hierarchy. 

Favorite track: "E8 Boogie".

CHON – Homey

    CHON does a lot of things right. They write music with a lot of ideas and a not-super-delicate structure like many of their scene's contemporaries, but they use a strong harmonic foundation, weave complex riffs with actual chordal content, and establish a priority of pure and enjoyable music that doesn't make itself super dramatic. This is in stark contrast to bands like Periphery and Scale the Summit who use mostly monotonous or disjointed tonalities, complicate riffs that don't stretch beyond the standard metal tonalities, and try to create highly dramatic, masculine music with little intimacy.

    This latest album has 12 full tracks, four of which feature electronic producers taking the reins of the piece's arrangement. These are an unprecedented addition to their output and a bit further removed than the couple of poppy vocal songs that they've included on past releases ("Can't Wait" and "Ecco"/"Echo"), and yet I still think they are well-executed and vibe with the album quite well. The least of them is "Feel This Way" (feat. Giraffage, and I'll disclaim now that I have no prior knowledge of any of the featured artists) which has very little CHON in the final mix and is mostly just a trite recital of tropes. "Nayhoo" (feat. Masego and Lophiile) is a hot mess of vocal takes but it's quite enjoyable and the guitars are at least present. The other two, "Berry Streets" (feat. GoYama) and "Glitch" (feat. ROM) are excellent, and I don't have much more to say about them.

    The standard CHON songs are pretty expected, aside from the questionable ride cymbal choice  on a couple of pieces ("Waterslide" and "Wave Bounce"). "Waterslide" is one of the best songs they've released yet, and flawlessly incorporates the whammy bar into their sound in a delightful way. My initial impression is that some of the pieces seem a little weak – "Checkpoint", "Wave Bounce", and "Continue?" all strike me as a little samey, lacking a bit of impetus. However, I'd rather take mediocre CHON over most of their contemporaries, so I'm quite satisfied that they continue to produce these wonderful etudes like "Sleepy Tea", "Waterslide", and "No Signal".

Favorite track: "Waterslide".

Richard Spaven – The Self

    Chilled-out jazz-funk for the soul. Personally, I prefer his previous album Whole Other* as the pieces on that had a little more texture to call their own – The Self loses a bit of the variety that made Whole Other* such a delight. You don't get songs like "Taj" and "Bianca" on this album, but the clear progression from stuff like "Whole Other*" (feat. The Hics) to "The Self" (feat. Jordan Rakei) is appreciated and that timbre of thing is very represented on this album, plus the very interesting cover of "The Hidden Camera" by Photek. Flawless percussion as always.

Favorite track: "Law".

Animals as Leaders – The Madness of Many

    Hmmm. A new self-produced and -mixed Animals as Leaders album. I love AAL, and yet this release hasn't quite stuck as the previous three have. For one thing, the mixing is not great, especially for the drums – snare and kick are wildly pokey and the cymbals are bizarrely low in the mix, which really stands out next to the use of electronic drum samples in tracks like "Backpfeifengesicht". There are just a lot of tracks that feel like a stapling together of sections at the same tempo like "Ectogenesis", "Cognitive Contortions", and "Transcentience" – sure, this was present on The Joy of Motion with pieces like "Air Chrysalis" and "Another Year" but it seems a bit more pronounced here. Yet, next to these are new pieces that succeed on similar frameworks like "The Glass Bridge" and "The Brain Dance" – I think it's mostly in the transitions between sections where these pieces differ, I'd want to dig in like I did with Periphery's Juggernaut to really figure out what's happening.

    One thing I really appreciate on this album is the guitar harmonizations for the 'head' melodies most obvious on "Inner Assassins" and "Ectogenesis". In particular, "Inner Assassins" is a beautiful development process and is probably my favorite piece here – the electronic elements from Machinedrum are highly welcome here, and echoes The Joy of Motion's strong electronic backing on every piece from Misha Mansoor and Diego Farias. Overall, a bunch of strong ideas but lacking an elegant execution throughout.

Favorite track: "Inner Assassins".