Random thoughts: Time for new clothes, Part 2

A while back I commented about the decaying state of my iPod skin, and was not until last two weeks that finally decided to solve that problem. As usual, I went to my favorite provider for this sort of products, and picked a new one.

Here’s the process documented in pictures. Loving that retro 8-bit urban cameo style my iPod has now ūüôā

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Halou – Halou

Halou - Halou (2008)

Halou - Halou (2008)

I wasn’t prepared for what was waiting for me inside this album. The unthinkable happened after just 5 songs or so, because that’s the amount of songs I lasted before going “Wait, there’s something going on here…”. And if you ever listened to another Halou album, you will probably feel the same as me.

And what is exactly that thing that happened while listening to this? Very simple, because while I always considered Halou’s music to be some sort of hybrid between a post-rock band with reminiscences of trip hop and ambient to some extent, this album changed completely my perception about them in a very good way, and not just that, also the dream pop genre in general.

You see, just when you were expecting another marathon of soft, ambient rock and textures that blends with trip hop imagery for moments, you discover instead a much, much heavier post-rock performance that makes us reflect on why wasn’t this formula been brought up earlier. But that’s not the catch, because this album certainly is not about the attempt at being just edgier and rougher than before just for the sake of it, the brightest part is the fact that while this sounds more like an alternative rock album, it never really crosses the line, it stays like the anonymous band that just wants to be recognized by their essence and not because of a stubborn guitar riff that repeats on your head over and over until you pull the plug and shut it off.

The line between alternative rock and post-rock is blurred to the point where neither is recognizable as a single entity, and somehow it still manages to subconsciously remind us about Halou’s nearly trip hop roots. And don’t think for a moment that I’m suggesting that this brings the best of all of the above worlds together, because this can hardly be considered a masterpiece in each of those respective genres, but what this album does, it does it brilliantly and it never feels like it is sneaking somewhere it doesn’t belong.

Something I’m thankful for is the fact that even when the alternative rock label is fully on at any moment, the general consensus seems to be stay focused in achieving this even, almost calculated balance between attitude and instrumentation, neither takes over the other at any moment. Somebody might think that this approach just proves that the band didn’t have enough courage to pursue a much bolder sound, or that the variety of songs is just not diverse enough, and I would have bought that argument at first, but at some point you realize that holding up on that temptation and staying with the same structure gives this album the advantage of not burning through all your energies at first, allowing them to be spread more evenly.

For those who haven’t actually listened to this, this description might seem like this is a sour, mucho macho kind of record, when surprisingly is exactly the opposite. Rebecca Coseboom is always an amazing performer, and she completely morphed from previous albums where we were used to her soft and nearly whispering voice. Here, she manages to match the album intentions with a powerful effort, and still retaining that mysterious, dreamy aura that surrounds her vocalization. Also she’s got Robin Guthrie and Zoe Keating doing some vocals along with her on some of these songs.

This album works just great for those days when you need something to keep up with your agitated lifestyle, and will work as well when you are looking for an excuse to enjoy some rock tunes without losing the glamour if someone surprises you listening to much less elaborated and thousands of times less interesting music. I will go further and will recommend this album as an entry gate for those coming from rock and alternative rock backgrounds looking for new and exciting bands and genres. You will feel warm with this.

Halou – Wholeness & Separation

Halou - Wholeness & Separation (2006)

Halou - Wholeness & Separation (2006)

For years Halou rejected the trip hop label to their music, instead they preferred to be considered a dream pop act. To be honest, I never cared for the difference between such genres, primarily because Halou is the only band I know related to dream pop, and for the careless listener the difference is sometimes so subtle that it is somewhat difficult to tell them appart. But the day would come, and I would suddenly realize where that difference lies.

I’m borrowing this from the Wikipedia entry for dream pop, because I’m nowhere near to describe it in a proper way:

… post-punk¬†and¬†ethereal¬†experiments with bittersweet¬†pop¬†melodies into dreamy, sometimes sensual and feminine soundscapes.

And it is that part about sensual and femenine soundscapes that usually confuse us, because you see, that is something that dominates Wholeness & Separation from start to finish. Rebecca Coseboom’s sensuous, nearly whispering voice might be a little tricky to become used to, but once you overcome the adaptation process, it is an absolute delight. Even in those experimental post-punk, alternative rock driven songs when her voice raises to a more powerful and higher pitch, it never loses direction and keeps feeling just like a more energetic version of the more dreamy and sensuous part of the album.

Wholeness & Separation was born originally as two different EPs, Wholeness¬†(2003) and Separation¬†(2006), and if we are lazy we could just say that this was just a copy & paste into a full length album. But there’s more to this than just putting two EPs together and releasing them as one full featured album, as there are substantial changes to many of the original songs contained in those EPs, and also there are new songs not featured in either of them. In top of that, there’s more Wholeness¬†songs here than Separation ones, despite the latter being the more recent.

But more important than where the songs came from, is the fact that it is a little bit difficult to describe properly what this album is about. I already mentioned the conflict between the common assumption that this is a trip hop album and the band rejection of the label, although the truth is that whether the band likes it or not, there is a lot of trip hop involved in many songs (Ratio of Freckles to Stars and Things Stay the Same just to name a few), and the funny thing is that those are not poor attempts at it, they are actually brilliant trip hop influenced songs. Trip hop aside though, the dream pop parts of this album are even better, the fusion of alternative rock with the sensous and whispering female voice counterpart provided by Coseboom is a hell of a deal.

14 songs in total, I’m not exagerating when I say that it feels like they were just 7. It is an engaging experience, mostly because all the strings are pulled at the right moments and with that avoiding any dull situation, or the mere sensation that things are falling into an impasse.

In the end, this is a highly recommended album for anyone who enjoys trip hop, female vocalists or alternative rock. Keep in mind that such elements are not always separated, so you might find yourself with a combination of those.

Frou Frou – Details

Frou Frou - Details (2002)

Frou Frou - Details (2002)

Onomatopoeia is not a common word (specially if English is not your primary language, like myself) and admittedly I had to check Wikipedia just to be sure what it was. Interestingly, Frou Frou then is a French onomatopoeia for the swishing noise made by skirts of dancing women.  Does it matter? No, not really, just wanted to get that out of the way.

So, what we have here is the only album released by a British band that uses a French onomatopoeia as its name. The question that arises then is, is it any good? A simple question that deserves a very simple answer: Yes.

What is it like? This album belongs somewhere between a female vocalist’s lovers wet dream and laid-back pop disguised as electronic with trip hop elements. ¬†And by disguised I don’t mean to say that Details pretends to be something that it isn’t, it goes more in the lines of borrowing certain elements from different genres and putting them together without giving too much emphasis just to a few of them. This might sound like the end result is somewhat bland or missing personality, but the truth is that once you get the full picture you get none of that, you just end up loving how Imogen Heap’s voice becomes the thriving force behind every single song in this album.

Details achieves a much needed balance between engaging vocals and the music that complements them, and it goes even a little further than that, because you see, this is one of those few times when you sense that feeling that everything fits perfectly, almost like walking in the middle of a scenario where every little detail was thoroughly taken care of, and none was left to luck. Don’t confuse this with over-production, as I’m sure this is not the result of making something feel greater than it actually is, and my reasons to believe that is that this album achieves all of the above and still keep things simple and discrete.

The duo was wise enough to pick songs that would feel natural when paired with Imogen Heap vocals, and while some of the songs might appeal more than others, in general terms Details¬†never loses the touch all the way through. It always stays classy on its own way, and even though around the last tracks it suddenly makes way to more downtempo and trip hop moments, it doesn’t affect or changes the overall impression.

However, there must be negative aspects, and sadly the biggest ones here are not even directly related to this album. Frou Frou disbanded around a year later after releasing Details, leaving it as the foster kid that warms everyone’s heart and yet was unable to be reason enough for his parents to stay together. Not everything is bad news though, Imogen Heap went on to become successful on her own, and while her style has varied somewhat over the years, her musical career has been steady all the way through.

If I was asked to recommend this album by just one reason alone, I would recommend it based on the grounds of its refined and surprisingly sober nature. Whoever fancies this album in particular is showing his / her good taste. And if you actually proclaim your preference for it, just be sure to like it for what you think it is and represents, and not for what others will think of you for liking it.