Friday, September 28, 2012

Sounds Of Autumn I: Stroszek and KTAOABC

It's high time I started a weekly special thing, so why not celebrate my favorite season of the year? Looking through my "to-do list" (yeah, it's really long...I'm trying to catch up!), I realized quite a few recent-ish releases have a nice "autumnal"/pastoral sort of feel to them, be it thematically or overall atmosphere. Over the next seven weeks, I'll be covering one or two of these third-season-centered albums a week in this special "Sounds Of Autumn" feature.

WEEK ONE: Stroszek and Kiss the Anus of a Black Cat

Both writeups after the jump.

Stroszek - "Sound Graveyard Bound" (2012) [Hypnotic Dirge Records]

Ah, Stroszek, it has definitely been a while. Fronted by C. Alcara of Italian black metallers Frostmoon Eclipse, Stroszek explores the sounds of quiet, Americana-influenced folk rock painted in shades of late '90s post-grunge a la Mark Lanegan and Travis Meeks.

Following in the path set by this trio's previous album, 2009's Life Failures Made Music, Stroszek's latest effort Sound Graveyard Bound shows Alcara turning the volume and aggression down even further, leaving more room for introspection and space, which this album has in spades. The "distant warmth" I had discussed in my last Stroszek review almost two years ago seems even further, and though the cold might have set in, Alcara's calming half-whispered voice is all the more endearing, acting as a beacon of hope in what is an otherwise hopeless and resigned album overall.

Unfortunately, while Sound Graveyard Bound is enjoyable, I can't help but feel it is more of the same. There is no real middle ground between the quiet classical guitar-led verses and slightly distorted choruses, which is something I'd hoped Stroszek would have achieved after Life Failures Made Music. The dichotomy between the two "faces" of this project is nice, but it feels more jumpy than usual on this album. Also, the riffs and progressions we see on this album are rather similar to its predecessor, as I found myself asking myself if I was listening to either SGB or LFMM at various times. That's not to say that Stroszek is a "one trick pony," rather Alcara has seemed to carve himself deep within his own stylistic niche and seems to be running out of space.

Though this album has its shortcomings, it is undeniably a Stroszek concoction, and I can't deny how much I enjoy their unique style. Sound Graveyard Bound might sound like previous efforts, but I enjoyed those, so,  by proxy, this album is pretty decent. I might end up listening to Alcara's first two Stroszek albums a little more, but hey, there's always more if I'm looking for it!

Kiss the Anus of a Black Cat - "Weltuntergangsstimmung" (2012) [Zeal Records]

It is said there is a lot in a name, so it's understandable why so many people approach Belgian neofolk/post-punk collective Kiss the Anus of a Black Cat (a reference to witchcraft-related rituals) with such hesitation. Aside from 17th century witches, who really wants to kiss the anus of a black cat, anyway? Feline rears aside, this pet project of one Stef Heeren has been regularly supplying the world with some of my favorite neofolk releases this side of the "big three." Originally existing in a more ritualistic "creepy campfire" realm of sound, we've seen Irritant's project push more and more into poppier spheres, culminating in 2010's Hewers of Wood and Drawers of Water (name that Cormac McCarthy novel!), whose sound was more akin to Nick Cave's solo material and an unplugged Siouxie and the Banshees rather than his Douglas P and David Tibet worship material of old.

Moving forward still, I was surprised to find that with his latest effort, Weltuntergangsstimmung, that Stef Irritant had completely dropped the neofolk sound, going the reverse route of Death in June and becoming a 100% darkwave/post-punk act. I suppose it was inevitable, what with his last album sounding like a new wave band stranded in the middle of the woods with a busted generator, but I still found myself shocked to find KTAOABC "taking the plunge." Luckily for Heeren and crew, they had so successfully hidden as goth wolves in sheep's clothing that all they really had to do was shed their acoustic wool and reveal their true form.

Armed with drum machines, synthesizers, and a much more accessible, direction, we also see quite a bit of confidence in the band's performance overall. Heeren's voice has lost its once signature shakiness which had garnered him comparisons to David Tibet or a more controlled (and better) Connor Oberst, taking on a much more melodically accurate sound (aQuarius compared him to Daniel Higgs, but I don't hear that at all). Maybe it's the pitch perfect keyboards and programmed rhythms of Heeren's old drum machine, or maybe Heeren truly found himself in this new stylistic direction - either way, Weltuntergangsstimmung shows KTAOABC at their most straightforward and confident in their own style.

I guess it was only a matter of time until KTAOABC made the full change into a synth-driven post-punk band, and they definitely pull it off. Fellow countrymen Snowy Red would be proud. You might hear me reference this one later in the year.


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