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Album Review: These Are Powers – All Aboard Future (Dead Oceans)

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MP3: These Are Powers – Adam’s Turtle

A trip to These Are Powers’ Last.fm page will tell you that they’re commonly referred to as noise rock, experimental, art rock, and their own made up genre, ghost punk (among other already poorly-defined terms). I’m not sure about you, but a couple of those don’t exactly measure up to the uncomfortable force these three Brooklyn-Chicago interminglers gravitate around. In reading some of the other press about this alienated trio, I have yet to find anything that accurately describes precisely what they do.

As I read over the countless blurbs and reviews for These Are Powers’ past works, as well as their latest, All Aboard Future, there appear a few dominant classifications. The word “experimental” comes up nearly 100% of the time. You can’t get away from it; these guys are undoubtedly focused on the experimental side of things. It’s easy to see on opening track, “Easy Answers,” being one of the more accessible pieces featured on the record, its clickity-clackity foundations bring a soft-focus camera and an air of good times to the greasy life of nine-to-five factory work. A well-chosen introduction to the difficult world of All Aboard Future as a rough generalization (nowhere near complete) of the sonic palette that These Are Powers choose to utilize.

Another term that emerges consistently in the writing on These Are Powers is “noise.” While there are noise elements to portions of their blend of experimental indie, I’ve found the influence to be nowhere near strong enough to justify that particular branding. The closest they come to genuine noise music is on the droning “Light After Sound,” a six-minute formless piece of hypnotizing experimental flat-lineage. It begins with a tense, thunderous hum; some hardly-distinguishable words eventually make their presence known, then all of a sudden drums kick in alongside an electronic cry straight out of a divine power plant. And then it’s over without you even noticing, I’m still not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing.

One of the more adequate descriptions of All Aboard Future is that of “industrial.” These Are Powers’ characteristic slow churning beats lend themselves nicely to the aesthetics of a factory. And I’m not talking about Nine Inch Nails industrial; this music truly conjures an image of a rusted, metallic manufacturing plant. “Double Double Yolk” bumps and bursts persistently like the mechanisms you use in 6th grade woodshop, until its very last minute where a somehow-subtle transition takes place. Distant-yet-empathic feedback swirls through the air beside a welcome vocal line, shifting seamlessly into “Parallel Shores.”

As far as “ghost punk”: I think they’re way off. There isn’t a hint of punk on this whole record, unless you count the angsty tone that the guitar throws at you. The ghostly part of their made-up genre, however, is their biggest weakness. The creepy vibes and the awkward stop-and-go style instrumentation is, on the whole, displeasureable. Tracks like “Glass Blocks” often feel as if the members of the band recorded a copious amount of unrelated audio and subsequently decided they needed to use it all, no matter how the final product sounded. On the mostly-irritating “Life Of Birds,” These Are Powers take this fragmented quality and apply it rhythmically, with silence being noticeable between just about every single beat.

Nonetheless, the widespread disjointedness of All Aboard Future is as much its greatest strength as its downfall. Each of the problematic pieces that These Are Powers employ start out strong,  but attach themselves too heavily to their tendency towards erraticism; it’s in the continuation of said philosophy that the songs tend to become grating. “Adam’s Turtle,” for example, is one decent-at-the-least piece of experimental patchwork; it’s only when they get to establishing a chorus that the song starts to weigh on you like a few bags of flour.

All this talk of eerie atmospherics and uncomfortable song structure may distract from the occasional beauty that All Aboard Future has in store. The cavernous echoes of “Sand Tassels,” along with its harmonious vocal line (“there are waves blowing up against my window”) show a more contained These Are Powers. The guitars kick in with some soft fuzz vocals to create an unexpected and gorgeous addition to the album. The alluring mood continues with closer, “Blue Healer,” a 7-minute trance-inducing piece of equal splendor. If These Are Powers create an album based on the last two tracks of All Aboard Future, it’ll be one of enormous magnitude.  But for now, they’ve only got their stuff down in theory.

So what exactly are these guys? Industrial? Experimental? Trance-dub-art-experimental-dreamcore? I think genre fails us in this case. These three musicians do exactly as they say: they make music. I don’t doubt for a second that this is exactly what they wanted to produce, in the most artistic sense. And that’s what music is all about, right? Expression through sound? These Are Powers have yet to make something fully enjoyable on All Aboard Future, but they haven’t compromised their art, and I’ll be looking forward to see what they can do for their next album.

Label: Dead Oceans

Release Date: February 17 2009

Track List:

1. Easy Answers
2. Life of Birds
3. Double Double Yolk
4. Parallel Shores
5. Light After Sound
6. Adam’s Turtle
7. Glass Blocks
8. Sand Tassels
9. Blue Healer

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