Review Roundup: Bete Tete, Expire, Ghost Heart, Gray Young, and Troubled Coast

Bete Tete – Bai Yan

Bai Yan is undoubtedly the most unique musical experience available this year. It is undefinable, and yet fits in many different places (electronic, hip hop, indie, trip hop, etc.). Even more interesting is the blurb accompanying the record:

This second record from Bete Tete carries heavier features than their first–more low end and synth oriented concepts, field recordings from all over China, samples from beyond, and a hopeful struggle. An opening to Shezhen Bhuddists chanting for money bleeds into a cow’s tragic love affair with a whale in the age of Scorpio. Bai Yan’s burdens swell but are dealt with. The constant weight of time in Bai Yan comes from a process spanning 4 years of arrangement, production, and transcontinental traveling. There is a weight, yet it is understood that all of this is actually happening: tension eventually breaks, guitars bring warm comfort, conversations with friends and lovers, and songs from Tibetan street musicians rub reality back into place.

Bai Yan definitely verges on epic; two discs, twenty-four tracks, and an all-encompassing sound. There are lots of ideas present on each track, which is where the record succeeds and fails – like a lot of artists, quantity does not always equal quality, and Bete Tete fall victim to this. Fortunately, these ideas are usually layered, making it easy to focus on the successful elements.

Bai Yan is almost too much to digest. In addition to the amount of everything, a lot of moods and emotions are expressed in unique ways. This makes it a difficult record to put on repeat, but as a piece of music, Bai Yan is an elegantly crafted experience.


Ghost Heart – The Tunnel

With a listed RIYL of Animal Collective, Local Natives, and Grizzly Bear, it is easy to see how Ghost Heart could excite hipsters everywhere. Their brand of simple and layered indie rock does fit in with the crowd…kind of.

How The Tunnel is different from others, is that it isn’t as grand as Merriweather Post Pavilion, refined as Gorilla Manor, or as emotional as Veckatimest. No, it isn’t always fair to compare bands and albums, but these artists all have enough similarities to warrant it.

Album opener “Phantom Harmony” is an ambitious five-minute introduction; almost entirely vocal, it is the most unique cut to be found, but its appeal doesn’t last past the two-minute mark. Its follow-up, the tribal “No Canticle”, almost reaches eight-minutes in length and is musically interesting. However, like its predecessor, vocals are the biggest problem; Ghost Heart can’t seem to get past the idea of putting background “oohs” and “aahs” into every track. The record starts finding itself with “Wilderness” and “Little Vampires” – not for their originality, but for the ideas the band actually expand on. Another track of note – “Human Element” is akin to TV on the Radio.

The Tunnel has its moments. It is evident that Ghost Heart find inspiration in some of the big, current indie acts. But while the worship is there, the band rarely gets their sound to the same level.

Fitting in isn’t always bad.



Expire – Suffer the Cycle

Expire definitely lean on the metallic side of hardcore – chugging and tremolo picking take precedence over chord progressions and passionate vocals. Suffer the Cycle is as much a product of a stale genre as it is an uninspired band.

Despite a strong start with “Sleep Lost” (that main riff is pretty bad ass), Suffer starts to – ahem – suffer after that point. “Focus” has good ideas that just feel…flat. The band really loses it on “First Fall”, a track that lacks all kinds of inspiration, and finishes with “Grip” – the weakest track on the 7″.

Metallic hardcore had a lot more power a few years ago, and still has room for a select few bands. For Expire to get into that Cruel Hand/Mother of Mercy crowd, they will need to find some inspiration.


Gray Young – Staysail

Unfortunately for Gray Young, and every other post-rock band that is releasing a record this year, the genre has already had its crowning opus in This Will Destroy You‘s Tunnel Blanket. Albums like it make reviewing other records in the remotely same ilk difficult. That said, Gray Young are a bit special – they have vocals. And unlike TWDY, Staysail shows a band less focused on dark and apocalyptic themes, but regular emotions. This makes Gray Young more relatable – but less encompassing – than this year’s landmark.

There is certainly an element that feels familiar on Staysail – it could be attributed just as much to the repetition of post-rock as a genre, as it could to the warmth of the record. And while this could make a lot of post-rock records just another post-rock record, the addition of vocals really does help set Gray Young apart. Even when used sparsely on tracks like “The Dawning Low”, the vocals add just enough to make each number worth a listen.

Out of eleven songs on Staysail, three acoustic tracks work as pseudo-interludes; “Unbound”, “Prescience”, and closer “A Clearing” all have a distinct purpose, but ultimately hurt the flow and main themes of the record. Oddly, despite being acoustic, they are all too abrupt and out of place in the context of the album. Fortunately the first two are followed up by “Cycles” and “Vermilion” respectively – two standouts from the disc.

Staysail is no Tunnel Blanket, and it never claims or aims to be. In ways, it is a superior record to TWDY’s opus, and a surprising and worthwhile addition to the post-rock landscape.


Troubled Coast – Letters

Letters is Troubled Coast‘s sophomore entry into the melodic hardcore genre, and while nothing dramatically original, it is a strong and heartfelt effort that dwarfs a lot of other acts of the same ilk.

A lot of past favourites are references on Letters – there is a definite Thrice feel to the whole record, while tracks like”Wolf Republic” are reminiscent of Watch Out!-era Alexisonfire (mostly vocally, but musically as well). While some acts can be hindered by sounding too much like their elders, it feels like Troubled Coast have waited long enough to deliver some earnest post-hardcore of this kind with some flavour.

Vocals are definitely worth noting; a strained yell is the norm, but clean croons add welcomed melody. Sounds atypical of the genre, and it is, but there are certain tracks – most notably “Feigned Belief” – where the vocals feel special.

As an album, Letters has good flow. The second half shows the quintet experimenting a bit (“Absent Father, Holy Ghost” and the primarily instrumental “Me and My Shadow”), and the record closes out on “Love”, one of the best numbers on the effort.

With Letters, Troubled Coast have created a defined record that, while not inventive, could end up being one of those records that becomes a genre gem and makes people look back and say “how the fuck did I miss that?”




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