» Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]


 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]


 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Cyann and Ben
Happy Like an Autumn Tree
Locust Music

Rating: 7/10 ?

October 1, 2004
In my never-ending attempt to come up with the definitive, end-all-be-all "There are (X number) types of music in this world…" statement, I've finally settled on one that's worked relatively well for me over the last month or so:

"There are two types of music in this world: the kind that asks you to pick it apart and criticize it, and the kind that asks you to react to it."

That's it - no messy genre definitions, no stilted sociopolitical divisions, no blurry chronological partitions. Aside from the obvious effect of coloring my album reviews, this new standard has also been of great service to me while I'm in the process of paring down my unwieldy album collection.

At one point, you see, I thought I appreciated music that fit into both categories; as I've grown older, and been exposed to a variety of new sounds, I've found that the first kind of music just doesn't cut it anymore - it's fun to write about (occasionally) and discuss over the proverbial cup of coffee, but it's not actually fun to listen to.

Music of the second variety, however, has only grown more powerful to me with age - it's the sort of stuff that causes me to say, "I don't understand it, but I love (hate) it!" It's the kind of music that begs for repeated listens - the kind that burrows into your skull and then oozes out of your nose on cold mornings. It's what lasts.

Frustration devours me, though, when I hear an album whose track list splits the difference between the two categories - which brings us to Cyann and Ben's sophomore release. Picking up where last year's Spring left off, Happy Like an Autumn Tree is alternately nebulous and gripping.

Its first half consists of little more than a trying exercise in atmospherics and influence-splicing; the tones and instrumentation are substantive and adequately moody, and the band pull ideas from the catalogues of everyone from Stereolab to Spiritualized to Mum to Faust, but I'm still unable to recall a single note of "Circle" or "Gone to Waste" after ten listens. Though they brim with skillful playing, avant-garde flourishes (dig the chaotic piano plinks, genuinely effed up guitar noises, and loopy analogue synths), these early songs amount to little more than a pleasant backdrop for brewing dark coffee and penning bad poetry. Slices of brilliance float about on the peripherals, and all of the elements of great art rock hover just over the horizon, but the songs never make any effort to reach out to the listener - they only ask you to dissect them, trace each riff's genealogy and think of fluffy adjectives to describe what each instrument does.

When "A Moment Nowhere" opens up, however, a drastic change takes place. From the very first vocal line, Cyann and Ben extend an open hand and bid you come along, breathe deeply, and feel something (and not in some pandering emo way, either). Shards of lovelorn poetry cling to lilting melodies that stick like a pair of chubby thighs on a summer afternoon, and the extended instrumental passages carry themselves with a sense of swing and purpose that was nowhere to be heard five minutes prior, and they eventually build to epic six string squalls and an army of chanted vocals that rival Dark Side of the Moon's most theatrical moments. Hell yes!

And the rest of the release follows suit. "Obsessing and Screaming Voice in a Shell," the finale, is hands down the band's most fully realized moment. You could make a case that it's a tad overblown - it does sort of sound like the score to an RPG's closing credits (picture your favorite Chrono Trigger character gazing out into a valley from atop a barren, wind-chiseled plateau, blade in hand, wind-swept hair, a lone tear creeping down his cheek to commemorate the sidekick who sacrificed his life to vanquish the villain in the final battle) - but its dirge-like keys and mournful melody are the epitome of Cyann and Ben at their most powerful.

For a moment, you forget about giving this music a precise position in pop music's family tree, you quit asking yourself whether you like what you're hearing, and you're free to engage with the music on its own terms, and to respond to it. You quit analyzing what you're hearing, and you begin to analyze what what you're hearing is doing to you. For nine minutes, Cyann and Ben are one of the best bands on the planet.

When they're able to evoke that sort of pure response over the course of an entire record, Cyann and Ben will be essential. For now, just know that you're getting yourself into a mixed bag - thankfully, the triumphant ending makes wading through the drab parts less tedious than it could be.

Reviewed by Phillip Buchan
A one-time music director at WUOG in Athens, Phillip is into college radio, literature, writing, buying records, going to shows, talking to friends, learning -- pretty much the same stuff that all of us priveledged, (pseudo?)intellectual Americans are into.

See other reviews by Phillip Buchan



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