we didn’t mean to burn the forest down


More Verin Mathwin

at the jetty we can see the wind
blowing out to stir the sailboat’s cloth
nothing lives outside the stress-torn sand
we live on, shoulder to shoulder at the
end of a roiling eternity
we didn’t mean to set the forest on fire
the great deserts in the center of it all
stand mute proof to the foolishness of
apologies and apologia and all apologism


50 Days of Soundcloud #7


“The Horsemen Now Have Come”

The best robot-rap track I ever did, except maybe for one that I’ll post later on. This one has a wicked-slice synth that adds a real menace to everything. The robot’s name is Sandwich Maker 775-C, he’s a real robot from the streets, and he’ll fuck you up as soon as look at you. As far as I recall, anyway – this WAS 13 years ago.

Ruby: 40 Years of Trans-Europa Express


Kraftwerk – Trans-Europa Express

Released March, 1977 on Kling Klang Records

BestEverAlbums: #262

RYM: #172

A few years ago the L.A. Times called Trans-Europa Express the “most important pop album of the last 40 years” and they are absolutely right.  Certainly a large amount of the interest in New Wave and synth pop could be laid directly at the door of the German synthesizer group; it could be generously said that it played a large role in the formation of the European pop identity, although it would be fairer to place it in the same milieu of Krautrock from which it emerged.  The difference between Can and Kraftwerk was that the latter replaced the intricate drumming with the sure, steady hand of a machine, out-German-ing the rest of German prog.


In fact, the band straddled the divide between German traditions and the European identity that had emerged from the blasted rubble of the Second World War.  The root of their melodic sensibilities came from the Weimar Republic, the brief German flirtation with democratic rule that Hitler put an end to in 1933.  The folk music that had been popular then was combined with the Teutonic sensibilities of the Bauhaus school to create something that spoke of massive concepts, and the infrastructure that had been rebuilt in their country:  railways, transit stations and, of course, the Autobahn.  That infrastructure also left Germany, and sped into the wider scope of Europe as a whole.  The second side of Trans-Europa Express lives up to it’s name, rushing down the railway tracks of the nascent union of Europe.  “Trans-Europe Express” and “Metal On Metal” speak of the rush of speed in transit; “Franz Schubert” peaks and begins the eventual slowdown, which ends up being a reprisal of “Europe Endless”.


The first half of the album takes a different path.  Inspired in part by their time with David Bowie and Iggy Pop, who were in Berlin charting the course of what would be The Idiot and Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, the songs “The Hall Of Mirrors” and “Showroom Dummies” are both obsessed with identity, and paranoia.  The former details the flaws revealed in the mirror, and how even the stars are chained to “the looking glass.”  The latter is the most “machine-like” of the album’s tracks, and makes paranoid reference to the way the group danced in concert (nicking the idea from a British paper’s review of one of their shows).  The opening track, “Europe Endless”, is more in tune with the second side, but it’s also a perfect example of how to open an album: layer upon layer upon layer, until singing along with the vocoded vocals seems perfectly natural.


While there are some other (mainly German) artists that one can point to, Trans-Europa Express is absolutely the floodgate of modern dance music.  The current festival-playing status of EDM can trace it’s origins here, as can the indie groups who are currently mining the bands that were directly inspired by Kraftwerk in the first place.  Go ahead and say it:  Synth-pop is 40 years old now, and while a lot has changed, Kraftwerk still sounds as vital and compelling as they did in 1977.


NZCA Lines – Infinite Summer


NZCA Lines – Infinite Summer

Released January 22nd, 2016 on Memphis Industries

Some have opined recently – in forums, at any rate – that the concept album is dead.  This rather bizarre pronouncement is typically preceded by a question, something along the lines of “What was the last concept album you heard?” and expounded upon by a legion of adolescent rockists talking about The Wall, and why no one makes albums like The Wall anymore, and about how this is somehow indicative of the general death of music at the hands of those awful soulless pop stars.

The problem here is that every one of these people expects their concept albums to sound exactly like The Wall: dreary, overly grandiose, weighted down with its Very Important Conceptualizations and dripping with self-indulgent notions of Art, notions that are seemingly inextricably tied with bluesy guitar solos and radio singles.  Thus, when an album like The Monitor, or Hospice, or good kid m.A.A.d. city comes along, their status as being a “concept album” is dismissed in these circles as they’re “too noisy”, or “too indie”, or “hip hop”.  The kids wearing t-shirts of their parent’s generation will never accept them because they didn’t live through the 1970s or they’re not beaten to death by Rolling Stone.

Infinite Summer is another one of those albums.  Michael Lovett, along with Ash guitarist Charlotte Hatherley and Sarah Jones of Hot Chip, has put together a science fiction story that has a lot in common with the sort of mystical concepts prog bands used to drown their albums in during the latter half of the 1970s.  The sun has grown to the size of a red giant, and the destruction of the world is imminent.  Half of the world, a sweltering urban jungle, has decided to give up and embrace the destruction; the other half believes that there’s still something worth fighting for and wants to figure out how to rebuild civilization into something lasting.  In true Matrix-style fashion, both sides have time to throw a gigantic rave.

The dismissal invariably occurs here because of the fact that this is a concept album built around synths, processed guitars, smooth vocals, and the legacy of Daft Punk.  It’s a relentlessly moving Europop-style album, and its disco bona fides mean it’ll never be accepted by the rockists as being a “true” concept album.  Granted, the idea kind of falls apart when everyone starts dancing despite the impending doom of the human species, but at the same time it works, given that it seems like the sort of thing the human race would do in it’s hour of destruction.  The tracks also get a bit same-y for something so conceptual, but there’s always something you can hang your hat on for the next listen, so each spin of the record brings you deeper into its folds.  That there are a lot folds here is testament to the trio creating it; it’s at once sweaty, romantic, and stylishly aloof, and in the place where these three meet is a great big heart beating for all of us.

Not every concept album needs to sound like The Wall, and Infinite Summer is infinite proof as to why.

Chairlift – Moth


Chairlift – Moth

Released January 22nd, 2016 on Columbia Records




Something, Chairlift’s second album, was a pretty solid record and a lot of fun.  On the strength of singles like “Sidewalk Safari”, “I Belong In Your Arms”, and the purely Eighties-biting “Amanaemonesia”, it got by on charisma and peppy synth work.  That was four years ago.  Since then, the world has become somehow even more inundated with bold, peppy synth pop.  CHVRCHES happened, and then happened again.  Chillwave pillars like Washed Out and Neon Indian became akin to cliches.  So when Moth was released today, it came out into a sea of similar albums by similar bands.

To it’s credit, the front half is loaded with good songs, from the agitated funk of “Polymorphing” to the twin-barrel singles “Romeo” and “Ch-Ching”.  Then “Crying In Public” happens and you’re left feeling uncomfortable and vaguely embarrassed, which I suppose brings out the idea behind the song but also makes you wonder why this lazily histrionic ballad wasn’t left in the 1987-marked bin it was discovered in.  The back half is yawning mediocrity except for “Show U Off”, which rediscovers the fun of the first four songs.  Then it ends on “No Such Thing As Illusion” and I’m trying and failing to come up with a reason to feel any sort of way about it; ambient balladry only works if there’s something to hang onto, and the walls of that song are smooth and blank.

Moth is one of those very common albums in popular music:  you’ll find yourself singing along to the singles on the radio even while the album itself gathers dust.

CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye


CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye

Scotland’s CHVRCHES blew up the scene in 2013 with a debut album, The Bones Of What You Believe, that was the best synth pop album since Violator.  It’s hard to follow up that kind of a meteoric album; you would need a synth pop masterpiece, or, more likely, a pop masterpeice.  Every Open Eye is not that album, but then again what could be?

It is a really well-crafted album, though.  The three opening tracks – “Never Ending Circles”, “Leave A Trace”, and the sublime “Keep You On My Side” – are CHVRCHES firing on all pistons, songs that take the groundwork laid on the debut and building more complex, darker structures from them.  Then it falls off, with only “Clearest Blue” and “Playing Dead” really standing apart from the more mundane pieces that surround them.  Even those mundane pieces, however, are great examples of good pop music, and Lauren Mayberry presents herself as the perfect pop frontwoman, taking charge in the choruses but letting the synth and drum work speak for itself when appropriate.

Every Open Eye suffers from having such a barn-burner as The Bones Of What You Believe as its predecessor.  If this were CHVRCHES’ debut, it would seem freer, more expansive; it would be a solid rocket and a reason to expect greater things.  Since we’ve already seen those greater things, this album becomes a placeholder of sorts; we know they’re capable of greater things, so now we have this sophomore album to tide us over until they (presumably) blow all of our minds with their instant classic third album.

Will Butler – Policy


Will Butler – Policy

Multi-instrumentalist Will Butler’s day job is, of course, supporting his brother Win in Arcade Fire.  As a solo artist, his output seems to skew towards a version of the sound his band has fallen into on the last couple of albums:  part wide-scope, stomping rock ‘n’ roll, part nostalgia for the recession-plagued, synth-haunted days of the early 1980s.  “Take My Side” and “What I Want” both show off his skill in crafting rootsy but slick guitar pop, while “Anna” and “Something’s Coming” bely a love of the dark, minor melodies of Gowan and Berlin.  As someone who’s been obsessed with “Metro” of late, I find his efforts with the synthesizer to be much more satisfying; the more straight-forward rock and roll work comes off as a lesser version of the work his day band has perfected.  “Finish What I Started” reveals a third side to Butler – that of a sad-eyed piano crooner – that trumps both the rock ‘n’ roll and the New Wave parts of Policy.  On stage with Arcade Fire, Will Butler comes off as endlessly energetic, an inventive ‘fill-in-the-holes’ type, and a key supporter of main duo Win & Regine.  “Finish What I Started” (and, to a lesser extent, “Sing To Me”) show a much different, more somber side to the man.

Policy shows off a deeper set of skills than Butler has displayed heretofore, but for all of that it still presents itself as a definite side-project – nothing world-shaking, just something to fill time and stake a name between monolithic Arcade Fire albums.

Mogwai – “Rave Tapes”


Mogwai have nothing left to prove, and it shows.

This is the band that released Young Team, Come On Die Young, and Rock Action – they have already shown that they are legends of post-rock who will be brought up in any discussion concerning essential listens of the genre.  Young Team is especially close to my heart as it served as my rough introduction to the power and majesty that rock music could achieve once it was unhinged from the pop continuum.  Tracks like “Like Herod” or “Mogwai Fear Satan” were thrilling, hyperdynamic suites using the comfortable voices of traditional rock ‘n’ roll.

By contrast, the band’s eighth album, Rave Tapes, feels closer to the soundtracks they’ve been carving out for the last few years:  less dynamically adventrous, more even-handed and, ultimately, boring.  There’s no intensity here, nothing to pick up your nervous system and throw it across the room in a fit of brittle imperiousness.  The only major difference here is that the band has begun to sprinkle synths here and there through their sound.  You would think they would have learned from the Nineties they were born out of:  adding electronic elements for their own sake just makes an album even more awkward.  Kudos to them for trying to add something new, even in a half-hearted way, but they don’t seem to have figured out exactly how to make them work in the context of Mogwai.

It’s an album by pros, and that’s maybe the biggest strike against it.  Rave Tapes is like listening to Mogwai run through scales, or multiplication tables.  There’s nothing that stretches their boundaries, nothing that proves anything to anyone else because, again, they have nothing to prove anymore.  To paraphrase Nolan-era Batman, you either die an innovator, or you live long enough to release Rod Stewart Sings The Great American Songbook.  This is Mogwai’s jazz-standards moment.



[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZ5nEuG-CRc]