Mobius Band, City Vs Country EP (Ghostly International)

Mobius Band - City Vs Country EP Mobius Band
City Vs Country EP
Ghostly International
By: Eric Greenwood

Glitchy electro pop is a dime a dozen in these post-Postal Service days, but Massachusettss trio, Mobius Band, throws a curveball into the mix by turning up the guitars just enough to call it electro-rock. Tricky, huh? “Starts Off with a Bang”, well, doesn't exactly, but it's a damn fine glimpse into what Mobius Band is all about.

Carefully strewn electronic blips that recall some of Vitesse's poppier moments serve as a foundation to vocalist Ben Sterling's languid resignation. New Order is on the iPod somewhere, if the wiry, recessive guitars are any indication. And so is Aphex Twin, for that matter. The melodies are stark and affecting, even in the instrumental breaks.

“Multiply” is on track to being the best fucking song of the year. And before I sputter like a fool, falling all over myself at how good this song is, just trust me. It's dark, electronic-pulsing Postal Service without the nerdy self-effacing goofiness of Ben Gibbard's overwrought verbosity. The way the plaintive singsong vocals meander above the post-punk guitars is utterly perfect. And it even builds to a guitar-driven climax. I just about wet myself and wrecked my car when I first heard it on my local college radio station.

The balance of delicacy and distortion on “Year of the President” proves this band is gaining on its well-established peers (Interpol). The title track hints the band's previous incarnation as a full-on post-punk outfit with its surging guitars. The airy melancholia is tempered by a slick, shoegazer sheen. The electronics are an evolving addition but, without question, vital to the band's exciting growth.

Low, The Great Destroyer (Sub Pop)

Low - The Great Destroyer Low
The Great Destroyer
Sub Pop
By: Eric Greenwood

Low reacts to a three-year silence with its noisiest record to date. Jumping from Kranky to Sub Pop and recruiting Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann, Low definitely shakes things up enough to spark some new interest and, at the very least, a re-evaluation from long-time fans. No, The Great Destroyer is not exactly rocking as some have lazily asserted. The pace still barely catches up to a dying pulse, but things are certainly a hell of a lot louder. The noise fits, even though it defies the band's typically minimalist approach under the direction of such monochromatic engineers as Kramer and Steve Albini.

From the opening notes of "Monkey", it's obvious that Low has injected new life into an old formula. With layers of synthetics and electronic beats, the guitars surge with more texture and impact than ever before. Alan Sparhawk's ominous vocal disposition works under the multi-tracked treatment, sounding almost sinister as he belts out his imaginary doom. The surging indie rock charm of "California" is irresistible. It's easily one of Low's catchiest and best songs of the album, if not its entire career. Sparhawk's and wife Mimi Parker's voices sound inextricably bound, as they blend in understated, always-poignant harmonies.

The band clearly has an eye for a more accessible sound, and it's hard to lay blame. Turning in variations on the same theme for so many years, Low dug itself into a niche that had nowhere to grow. Fridmann's polish is all over the place, only occasionally to the detriment of the music ("Just Stand Back"). For the most part, the squalling feedback, raucous distortion, and flittering electronic effects fill the songs with energy and unforeseen power, as on "Silver Rider." The synthetic underbelly and electronic pulse of "Cue The Strings" serves as a perfect foil to Sparhawk's and Parker's downtrodden harmonies and bizarre lyrics.

Thematically, the album is scatterbrained. In addition to the some of the noisier bits, there are brooding, esoteric dirges like "Broadway (So Many People)", stripped down, storied songs like "Death of a Salesman" that confront mortality, and pretty, hopeful pieces like "Walk Into the Sea." Low sounds fearless in its experimentation. Such personal intimacy juxtaposed with extremely haughty pretension could easily turn off listeners, but it's all woven together so well that it's hard to dismiss even the wrong turns.

The Great Destroyer is Low's most alive and vital album. It's neither it's most beautiful nor it's most affecting, however. And while the aggressive production might put off fans of Low's starker moments, repeating the past is never a wise strategy. Better to forsake those that hold you back than to try to pander. Low's taking a chance here, and while it may backfire in the short term, The Great Destroyer has enough depth and staying power to sustain shallow criticism.

Bolt, Movement And Detail (Self-Released)

Bolt - Movement And Detail Bolt
Movement And Detail
Self-Released
By: Eric Greenwood

Despite having a diverse musical pedigree, Columbia, South Carolina has never been known for its instrumental post-rock, but Bolt is here to change that. With its newly released sophomore album, Movement and Detail, the trio sheds some of the metal histrionics that peppered its debut in favor of eerie atmospherics and a tighter percussive backdrop. The edgy riffs are still there, but they are couched in subtler dynamic shifts and a much more fully formed sound.

From the opening moments of "The Devil's Paintbrush", Bolt sets an ominous tone, but its true personality is hard to pin down. There's a self-effacing thread that runs throughout the album, just beneath the cool technical precision. A drunken answering machine message at the close of "Knocking on 9" reveals a glimpse of a sense of humor, but the band's music rarely opens itself up to interaction. With instrumental music, the burden is on showmanship, and Bolt easily answers the call with layers of moody, concurrent melodies and bursts of raw riffage.

With more Trans Am and Don Caballero than Dream Theater swirling in its prog-rock cocktail, Bolt even hints at a latent admiration for the Police on "Variables" with delay-fueled guitar lines that recall some of Andy Summers' more profound arpeggios and a penchant for dubbed-out beats that would make Stuart Copeland proud. Bolt's palette extends beyond mere hipster name checking, though. With a more is more attitude, the band readily embraces a wall of effects to bolster its space-age atmospherics. The hypnotic ebb and flow of "Anaphase" is a microcosm of Bolt's universe, as Heyward Sims' guitar lulls you into its airy, nocturnal descent.

The album's pivotal moment is its penultimate track, "Solar." Sims' pneumatic and textured guitar work delicately builds up moments of tension and release with melodies that are staggeringly beautiful. Bill Elliott's artful, intuitive drumming hits its stride midway through the song. The shifting beat punches beneath Sims' refrain, while the bass eloquently answers all of Sims' repetitive nuances. The effect is cerebral and intense. As a bi-polar response to "Solar's" textured beauty, "Kick" closes the album with an out-of-left-field pop punk rocker, replete with handclaps and a driving, upbeat, almost happy disposition.

Movement and Detail is the sound of a band realizing its potential and moving in for the kill.

The Mars Volta, Frances The Mute (Strummer/Universal)

The Mars Volta - Frances The Mute The Mars Volta
Frances The Mute
Strummer/Universal
By: Eric Greenwood

The Mars Volta's pretentiousness is so all consuming one can't help but laugh. The artwork for both its albums has been absurdly tacky, ghastly even. The song titles are equally absurd, mining the dregs of some deviant imaginary sci-fi prog-rock opera that should never be made. And the music… Everything about the band reeks of desperation to be taken seriously, yet nothing it does is by accident.

Cedric Bixler and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez have deserted any hints of their post-hardcore past with At The Drive In. By contrast, The Mars Volta is a pro-tooled monster, replete with Bixler's borderline castrato vocals, hammering percussion, garish prog-rock theatrics, and Rodrigez-Lopez's updated Jimmy Page impersonation (with a whiff of Santana thrown in for street credibility). It's an impressive behemoth, overwhelming in its stop turn dynamics and gratuitous in its over the top histrionics.

On 2003's De-loused in the Comatorium, The Mars Volta soared above all the ugly pretension with jaw-dropping musicianship, memorable hooks, and relentless intensity. The album succeeded in showing up its detractors with a great batch of songs. All the nitpicky complaints about lyrical silliness, gaudy artwork, and superfluous self-indulgence were moot when put up against the album's sheer ferocity and melodic sheen.

The follow-up, Frances the Mute, lends credence to all the detractors' arguments simply because the songs are not as strong. Not even by a long shot. This album is dazzling musically, but it has no legs. There are no memorable songs here, and I've tried to find them through repeated listens. The ridiculously outlined five-song structure notwithstanding, Frances the Mute is impossible to follow. It's a muddled mess of nonsense and pretension out of control.

Everything that was great about De-Loused in the Comatorium is blatantly absent, while all of the negatives now protrude like barnacled tumors. Bixler's complicated, multi-tracked vocals still fly high above the den of electronic drizzle, and Rodriguez-Lopez's guitar solos will easily floor any guitar aficionado, but it's all show and no substance. There's no emotional engagement whatsoever, barring the cryptic balladry of "The Widow." Even as countless patches of brilliance flash by, The Mars Volta is too consumed with its nonsensical thematic sham to write a decent song.