Alright, so this week, with the second installment of The Vinyl Review, we’re going to cut straight to the point. This is how it works. On a semi-regular basis we’ll be reviewing two albums from theFUTURISTS.ca vinyl collection. And showing y’all some half-naked Vancouverites wearing nothing but a couple of vinyl covers and their smiles. Working within this framework we hope to inform you on an eclectic cross-section of new music that you may or may not have heard, as well as hyping some of the artists that are mainstays on our futurists playlist. This week we’ll be looking at the sophomore efforts of two relatively fresh bands: Fuck Buttons & Health.
A little bit of back-story on these artists. Fuck Buttons are an experimental genre-straddling group consisting of two members who grew up and came together to form this band in Bristol, England. In 2008 their full length debut “Street Horrrsing” garnered rave reviews from respective publications the world over. Though a critical success the album was described as inaccessible by some due to it’s lack of traditional melodic structure and the overall abrasiveness of it’s sound.
Los Angeles quartet Health released their self titled debut in 2007. This American Noise band quickly gained notoriety by collaborating with (then) electro-synth-pop upstarts Crystal Castles on a remix of their hit “Crimewave”, and by opening for Nine Inch Nails on part of their 2008 “Lights in the Sky” tour. The lyricism is purposefully vague and monotone while the band displays a vigorous penchant for clamoring percussion, crescendoing melodies and ghostly ambiance.
Both efforts represent a more than capable debut from two bands looking to force their way into the ears and hearts of discerning audiophiles everywhere. Here, we will examine their sophomore efforts and see how (if at all) these artists have grown their sound and adjusted to a public which now expects greatness of them. A second album is a tenuous undertaking and fans can be fickle and unforgiving if last weeks wunderkids stumble out of the block with their follow up. Let’s see how these two bands acquitted themselves.
FUCK BUTTONS – TAROT SPORT
I bought Fuck Buttons debut album on the strength of a multitude of favorable reviews following it’s release in North America. Though, at the time, I was a stranger to the ‘noise music’ scene I imagined I’d have no trouble making it through the album. I mean how in-your-face could a two-piece electro band really be? Well these guys were like Al Gore attacking climate change, on crack, with synthesizers and wailing guitar chords. The album had everything I wanted and more. Vulgarity of expression, aggressive blood-curdling screams, and ear-shattering fuzz that coaxed and taunted between brief interludes of tribal drumming and secret vaccinations against mindless pop-inspired melodramatics. I cherished it.
With their follow up album “Tarot Sport”, Fuck Buttons seem to have made a real effort to create a more accessible world in which to practice their particular brand of musical intimidation. Whether this was a conscious effort or a simply a natural progression for the band I don’t know, but whatever the reasoning behind the shift, it’s resulted in a more complete, and decidedly more polished work. Without sacrificing the abrasive quality that brought them notoriety in the first place, “Tarot Sport” feels like a subtler, more mature record. Built on a solid foundation of overlapping synthesizers and keyboards, it’s like a dance record cut from the pantheon of rock n’ roll greatness.
The album begins forcefully with ‘Surf Solar’, a track that starts quietly but quickly evolves into a loopy, mind-bending, have-it-all-out rumpus that never seems to end. In fact, five of the seven tracks on this album clock in at over eight minutes long. But rather than seeming self-indulgent and drawn out, the gaudiness these songs justifies their time-codes. There is a real cinematic quality to songs like ‘The Lisbon Maru’ and ‘Flight of the Feathered Serpent’ (the album’s closer) which draws the listener into a fabricated universe of deliciously crafted suspense and climax. On this album repetitive beats seem to grow into pillars that reach skyward only to be felled by a sporadic relief of keystroke melodies which will have you closing your eyes and licking your lips in wonder.
The record has a momentum. Like a runaway train with a bum set of brakes it barrels through from beginning to end gaining impetus and terrifying speed throughout. But the album’s concept is re-focused within some if it’s shorter songs, such as ‘Rough Steez’ and ‘Phantom Limb’. Rather than interrupting the gestation of this masterpiece (yea… I said it), these tracks act as way-posts on the journey, pulling the listener back into a tangible reality that simply ceases to exist once you’ve lost yourself in the oceanic depth of it’s framework. The shorter tracks also mark a deliberate return to the industrial feel of their first album and play a choppy antagonist to the stunning delicacy of the rest of the work.
Mark my words. This album will be remembered as one of the best of 2009. Exceptionally crafted and over-flowing with confident swagger, “Tarot Sport” is not to be missed. Rarely does a band achieve what Fuck Buttons do here. Blending experimental noise with savvy pop sensibilities, and sprinkling in a little post-rock industrial flavor for good measure, they’ve managed to birth a genre-bending masterpiece with real staying power.
HEALTH – GET COLOR
On their self-titled 2007 debut Health brought it, and they brought it hard. Absolutely brimming with the kind of spastic energy only dreamed of by lesser bands they blasted their way through eleven tracks of inspired drumming and caustic noise. The album seemed tailor made to set heads thrashing and fists flailing in wild, untethered abandon. It was relentless, an all out attack on your ears tempered only by a feeling of absolute weirdness that permeated through the entire record. With it, Health established themselves as a band to watch in the coming years.
Now, two years down the line, we find the fearless foursome from LA riding steady on the release of their latest, ‘Get Color’. It’s a definite progression from their obvious noise-rock roots and you can spot the differences right away. Taken as a whole the record represents a sort of homecoming for the band. Where previously they trended towards sounding occasionally out of focus and lost within their own ambitions, ‘Get Colours’ shows them consolidating their sound into something of a concrete form. They seem to have found their identity. Moving gently (but not completely) away from the brashness of their previous work, here they strike a sure-footed balance between melody and song-structure.
The albums strengths lie in tracks such as “Die Slow”, a noisy disco inferno that is easily the best thing the band has ever recorded and “Before Tigers”, a drum/guitar heavy track that features vocals which oscillate between tiny, androgynous whispers and mounting atonal roars. On these and a few others, such as the lopsided “Nice Girls”, the band does what they should doing throughout: attacking our ears AND making us feel something. Where this record falls short is during it’s more ambitiously forceful tracks, which are impressive to behold but leave you wondering, “What is it all for?”
Generally though, the stylistic shift represented in this release hits the mark. This time around Health incorporates some intuitive electronic ambiance, managed exceptionally and to great effect in “Death”, a brutal cluster-fuck of a song that begs to be listened to over and over again. But too many times, this infusion of electronica serves only as a jump-off point for an altogether too predictable spaz-attack of unassailable din. Though ultimately interesting, techniques like this seem a bit one-dimensional, with only one purpose in mind: total annihilation. Which isn’t that bad of a goal, now that I think about it.
After a couple of spins on the ole record player, I’ve come to the conclusion that, yes, this is a great record. Sure it could be better, but Health have shown us here that though they are evolving sonically, they’re unwilling to compromise the rawness which brought them to our attention in the first place. I just wish that the album, in it’s entirety, would match the streamlined thoughtfulness of it’s closer, “In Violet”. Regardless, ‘Get Color’ is the perfect mess to step into if you feel like tearing shit down, and maybe building it all back up again.
So that’s it, The Vinyl Review II. A couple of albums from on-the-rise noise bands, and some sexy photography to boot. Give ‘em a listen if you like and remember to come back next time, when we’ll be reviewing another duo of vinyl records from theFUTURISTS collection. Until then… stay tasty kids.
Words by Gunslingrrr
Photos by Swashbuckle
Chelsea and Cheyanne