Short Takes on 3 Albums

Alcest - Shelter

Alcest – Shelter


The French, post-black metal duo of Neige and Winterhalter has released its 4th studio album and it’s a shoegazer genre-inspired beauty that cuts ties with Alcest’s original post-black metal sound.  Gone are the occasional rapid-fire drum beats, slicing edge of the metal guitar blade, and Neige’s sometimes shouted out vocals.  In their place is an expansive, slow-building, flowing ambience that is anchored by Winterhalter’s dynamic drumming that reflects the surge and retreat of the sea, uplifting to propulsive guitar cycles, and Neige’s serene to imploring vocals sung mainly in French.

Neil Halstead, founder of the 1990s shoegazer band Slowdive gives his stamp of approval by making an appearance on the album, providing guest vocals, in English, on “Away”, which ironically is the least dream-pop-sounding song on the album!  The strings section of Amiina also figures into things, bringing a sophisticated symphonic sound to Shelter.  Neige himself even introduces the piano on “Shelter” to welcoming effect.

The result is a safe haven of engaging songs where the radiating lightness is still balanced at times by a heavier distorted guitar frisson, a reminder that escape to a safe place, whether a physical locale or an emotional state, is usually only temporary…


Jucifer - There Is No Land Beyond The Volga

Jucifer – There Is No Land Beyond The Volga

JuciferThere Is No Land Beyond The Volga

Gazelle Amber Valentine and Ed Livengood of the American, perpetually-touring, sludge rock band Jucifer have returned with a super-heavy album released on their own label, Nomadic Fortress Records.  It’s a conceptual opus and a sonic beast that takes an intrepid traveler (I mean, listener) to navigate the harsh, savage, ravaged terrain. 

While the trek through There Is No Land Beyond The Volga can be taken as solely a music experience, the journey is richer and far more rewarding if the thematic elements are brought to the fore.  The album was actually released with its title in Russian, as were many of the song titles, and some lyrics are also sung (I mean, shouted out) or spoken in Russian.

Russia’s volatile war-time history, specifically the brutal battle over the city of Stalingrad, which is now known as Volgograd, is documented in the lyrics and emotions of the 14 tracks on There Is No Land Beyond The Volga.  The full depth of meaning of the album can be understood by reading the song lyrics and accompanying backstory at

Amber growls out the lyrics in low, guttural tones, only occasionally adding some airier vocal touches.  Ed pummels the drums for dear life, while Amber’s distorted guitar lines slice, dice, and don’t play nice.  Based on sonic face value (and since it’s difficult to discern many of Amber’s words), Jucifer rages defiantly through the weighted-down, lengthy, slow-churning mire.  While some songs speed up at a fast pace in parts, the overall atmosphere is one of crushing menace and foreboding.  

The result is a punishing, but worthwhile, trip, musically, emotionally, and historically, through the hinterland where the mantra “Fight hard / Live free.” from the titular song will echo in the eardrums for a really long time.



All India Radio – Fall Remixes (Deluxe Edition)

All India Radio – Fall Remixes (Deluxe Edition)

All India RadioFall Remixes (Deluxe Edition)

Martin Kennedy, the man behind Australia’s All India Radio, is a master collaborator, and on the original album Fall, which was released in 2007, he teamed up with vocalist Leona Gray for a smoothly satisfying, trip-hop, torch-pop-imbued record.  Fast-forward 7 years later for Fall Remixes (Deluxe Edition), a 2-CD package that contains both Fall and Fall Remixes, Martin and Leona’s reworking of the original album.

Martin has described Fall Remixes as a more atmospheric take on Fall, with excess sounds stripped away and Leona’s soulful vocals given more prominence.  True to Martin’s statement, Fall Remixes radiates with a hazier, dream-like ambience.  Leona’s engaging vocals and the down-tempo instruments and pace blend together to create a more lush, immersive, and relaxed sonic journey than before.  The multitude of instruments vying for attention on the first few tracks of the original album are culled to a select few that cushion the sweeping rise and fall of Leona’s vocals as she alternates between plaintive and subdued emotions.

“Let Me Remain” shimmers with an encompassing vibe that de-emphasizes a strange beeping noise that was present in the original song.  Leona’s yearning vocals remain unchanged on “Persist”, as she curves around her words with a thoughtful, bluesy tone.  The Western noir guitar reverb, however, is dropped in favor of piano, aching pulls of cello, and a tapping, trip-hop-inflected beat.  The reflective, story-telling ballad “Endless Night” hangs with a suspended glow as Leona slowly unfurls her words in a hushed, but clear tone amid sustained, expansive synth notes.