Comments: Two dudes from L.A. Guitar (with lots of effects). Drums (with lots of energy). Vocals (with lots of reverb). You'd think that, with this pretty simple formula, No Age would have worn out its welcome by now. But after the 2007 collection Weirdo Rippers and their 2008 Sub Pop debut, Nouns, both of which were nothing to shake that proverbial stick at, Dean Spunt and Randy Randall have created their finest record yet, Everything in Between.
Much like the excellent debut from the New York band Sisters--also adding this week, as has been detailed on this very blog--No Age have a keen ear for pop melodies that belies their love for the noise that you can make with guitar pedals and a drum kit. The album's standout, "Depletion," is one of the catchiest songs I've heard all year, and there's plenty more where that came from, including the dream pop-leaning "Glitter" (that's assuming your dreams involving squealing guitars) and the surf-rock number "Valley Hump Crash."
Comments: From the promoter: "Robyn Dell'Unto with a guitar wields the same power as Cupid with a gun. She can break your heart into a million pieces and put back together with a single pop song. Like love, it's a good pain."
I'm not one to praise a purely pop album, but here I am, about to praise a purely pop album. Dell'Unto, a female Canadian pop singer/songwriter, is what our mainstream radio waves need. This album has depth and catchiness; you can chew on it and enjoy the layers of sweetness that envelop these songs. Because the music is well-arranged, I hear bits that ring similar to such bands as Stars or Tegan and Sara. Anyone would enjoy playing this album on their show. Start with 1, 2, 4.
Comments: There are two bands to which I immediately want to compare the NYC duo Sisters; it's so easy that I feel bad doing it, but here goes: Japandroids and No Age. All three of those acts make way too much noise for just two people, using guitar pedals at such a masterful level that you'll swear they've got a bassist and a rhythm guitarist whom they're just not telling you about.
However, that's not to say that Ghost Fits rips off Japandroids' excellent 2009 debut Post-Nothing, or anything that Dean Spunt and Randy Randall have done. (Speaking of No Age, their excellent new LP, Everything In Between, also adds to the playlist this week.) Far from it, in fact: though at heart a garagey punk band, Sisters have a knack for churning out pop songs with hooks and melodies so catchy that they filter right through those layers of guitar effects. There's even some shoegaze seeping in, especially on tracks like "Sky," which brings to mind the unfortunately-defunct band Dirty on Purpose, whose members have a close connection to Sisters' Aaron Pfannebacker and Matt Conboy.
Also try "The Curse," "Highway Scratch" and "Courthouse."
Comments: From the onesheet: "Adam Taylor is a Pennsylvania poet with a guitar, whose old-school soul can be felt through his visually quirky, socially conscious lyrics and ragtime-inspired folk-pop. Channeling the spirit of Bob Dylan, Taylor defies his youth with his timeless confidence and renegade attitude... Listeners will discover Taylor's breadth of influence such as Donovan, Saul Williams, and Tom Waits."
Lofty aspirations, but this is a quite enjoyable 7-song set, highlighted by "Painting Leprosy" and a bar-band cover of The Strokes' "12:51."
Comments: A nice collection of atmospheric pop tunes from the Portland band The High Violets. Influenced by the likes of Cocteau Twins and Lush, Cinema is quite gorgeous throughout, but especially on the tracks fronted by Kaitlyn ni Donovan's beautiful voice. For fans of Chapterhouse, M83 and School of Seven Bells. Check out "Midnight's Child" and "The Orchard."
Comments: From the promoter: "Duppy Writer marks the return of UK-based hip-hop duo star Roots Manuva back to American listeners in a fashion you couldn't have guessed. With Duppy Writer, fellow Londoner and mixmaster Wrongtom [Hard-Fi] has collected the fattest tracks that Roots Manuva ever laid down and wonderfully reworked them into a wicked release full of incredibly groovy and wonky vibes. With this release you will get everything from classic roots groove to vintage digi-dub touching off with the lead single 'Jah Warriors'--a brand new track with Mr. Manuva and Ricky Ranking that will keep your head bobbing until your neck... snaps". Awesome. Try tracks 2 and 6.
Comments: From the promoter: "Airtight's Revenge is a provocative genre-bending album that dissects love, politics and relationships, but most of all it demonstrates this Philly-bred singer's growth as an artist...a mix of jazz, hip-hop, soul, blues, and experimental free music". Really cool and surprisingly cohesive. Try tracks 1 and 8.
Comments: Eyes Around's Alpha EP is a hard-rock-radio station friendly collection of three tracks, all showcasing a slightly different style--"Bloodshot America" is aggressive from the onset, whereas "Right as Rain" features slower, tamer verses and a loud, sprawling chorus, and the final track "Out of Sight Out of Mind" is a beat-driven number.
Comments: Catchy garage pop on First Blood, the new record from the character Nobunny (aka punk/garage artist Justin Champlin). Upfront and largely uncomplicated, the music has old-school punk and garage roots--and Nobunny's live shows are apparently phenomenal--but there's a refreshing blend of grittier tracks with more polished ones. Try tracks 6 and 7.
Comments: Aaron Thomspon's self-titled debut is full of downtempo, elegant songs--pop music that, according to the Washington City Paper, "draws from the American folk vernacular... but [has] a healthy sense of atmosphere". His voice is reminiscent, slightly, of Conor Oberst, and in general, the record is slightly brooding, although in a very appealing way. Try tracks 1, 2, and 9.
Comments: From the promoter: "Brooklyn girl group Fur Cups For Teeth have been steadily releasing great rock albums for years now, and FCFU is their best yet! Early songs on the record such as 'Buffalo' and 'Look Higher' use the rock basics of singing, drums and guitars to dazzling effect. 'Dadadaddy' mixes things up with a drum machine, sounding like Le Tigre'selectro songs. Some of FCFU's best moments, however, are numbers like 'Wide Awake,' a blast of spiky almost punk rock energy."
Great energy coming off of this new album produced by the ladies of Fur Cups For Teeth. A punk feel definitely pervades the album from start to finish. Check it out to get a better feel, and I bet you'll like what you hear. Start with 1, 2, and 7.
Comments: Heavy guitars, super-poppy vocals and lots of energy comprise this new Amusement Parks on Fire album. This record can almost be described as pop-punk, but focuses too little on catchiness to be dubbed as such. The vocals are quiet, or maybe just pushed back in the mix. The guitar riffs predominate and often fuel the musical arrangements, at least rhythmically. Start with 1 and 3.
Comments: From the promoter: "[Underdog is] anthemic, hook-laden, life-affirming pop/rock music." I can't say that I agree. Unfortunately, the best songs on this album can't be played during regular hours on the radio. The leftovers are, well... leftovers. The lead singer may or may not be whispering when he sings. The guitar riffs are predictable and ring similar to any standard pop-punk sound. If you're looking for a worse and modern version of Third Eye Blind, check this album out. Start with 4 and 6.
Comments: Luke Doucet's new album is honestly honest and refreshingly upbeat. The promoter describes Doucet's tunes as having "[a] signature grain-of-salt-seasoned" sound. There is certainly some rock n' roll here, best found in the gainy guitar riffs and gang vocal melodies. Far from being overpolished, this album sounds like it could have been recorded in Doucet's garage back home (which is definitely not a bad thing in my book).
Doucet's voice isn't particularly melodic, or even harshly rhythmic at points. But the vocals match the music well, which is full of energy that will make your leg shake and head bop. This album is not trying to be anything that it is not, and that makes it a pleasure to listen to.
Comments: While listening to We Are Strangers, you can definitely tell why MeTalkPretty is gaining commercial recognition and success. Not only does the band offer an interesting story--lead singer Julia Preotu did not speak English upon her immigration from Romania to the States--but they cater to the MTV crowd with a sound very similar to Paramore. Far from that being an insult, though, MeTalkPretty's sound has the quality of appealing to tweens as well as everyone else; for, everyone can relate to very thoughtful lyrics about heartbreak and starting over, especially with Julia's sometimes frantic but always strong vocals. A very solid album.
Comments: Adam Haworth Stephens' first solo album (he's formerly of the the group Two Gallants) continually plays with different music styles, from country to pop to rock. Rather than having a lack of coherence, though, We Live On Cliffs seems to provide Stephens all the outlets he needs to purge himself, or at least tell his listeners about, the disappointment his experiences have engendered. The tracks prove introspective, without too many slow or dreary tunes, and actually can be quite upbeat. This definitely classifies as one of those albums that with each listen, you not only get more out of, but makes you want to listen once more.
Comments: Honestly, the most prominent thing that came to my mind while listening to Breathe Owl Breathe's Magic Central was Nick Drake. I repeatedly played tracks from Drake's Pink Moon to see if he actually wasn't dead. Perhaps he just returned from a vacation with Tupac in Atlantis and decided to disguise himself as lead singer Micah Middaugh. Okay, I'm pretty sure this didn't happen, but one can dream, right.
While Breathe Owl Breathe gives each track an interesting mix of pop and folk, their lyrics are the true standout. The album accurately paints the gamut of human emotions--hope, longing, and the despair that manifests itself in too many of life's stories. Mostly written in an isolated cabin in Michigan, Breathe Owl Breathe's Magic Central has a gorgeous, albeit sometimes dejected, sound that keeps you pressing repeat. I highly recommend "Lions Jaw" and "Dogwalkers Of The New Age."
Comments: I rarely use the word "cool" to describe anything, mainly because I think it's vague (do you mean cool as in a slightly cold temperature or something else?) and outdated. However, Modern Superstitions proves the exception. All the Thing's We've Been Told puts a refined, gritty sound into the much-used mixture of punk and rock. The album is upbeat with a maturity in the melodies and harmonies. Add in the impressive instrumentals and you've got a band that's not only multi-layered, but also highly addictive. It's surprising, then, that Modern Superstitions is composed entirely of teenagers. Definitely listen to the album (I recommend "Go Between" and "Love That Beats My Heart") and look out for this band in the future; for, their future is looking bright.
Comments: Spanish for "very tired," Muy Cansado--a Boston 3-piece group--sound anything but. Although their style of alt-rock has a slower quality to it, it's certainly not sleepy. Their latest EP, Love and Fear, is an upfront guitar-bass-drums-vocals combo with a cohesive, alternative-rock style. Try track 1 (slower) or 3 (denser).
Comments: Dot Dot Dot's new EP, II, is an incredibly energetic pop-rock album, with a sound that is a "self-described union of rock elements cloaked in dance beats with synthy frills." The male/female vocals, occasional hand-claps and "whoooas" make the record upfront and radio-friendly (even if it occasionally sounds like the exact formula for a radio-accessible adult pop-rock song); try track 3.
Comments: With a sound described as "woozy, reverb-drenched gypsy/surf... a sound they called 'Beach Goth'...", The Growlers don't fail to impress on their latest release, Hot Tropics, an album which is sufficiently lo-fi, with a slightly creepy beach-vibe and still-catchy rhythmic structures. The tracks are short, but sweet--try 1, 5, and 7.
Comments: Chrooomeoooo is back. And still awesome. After a summer playing various shows (such as one of the Jelly NYC pool parties in Wburg this summer... aw yea), Dave 1 and P-Thugg have brought us Business Casual, their third full-length. The scene this time is apparently a yacht, "forged of gold and strong African teak, bobbing gently at anchor somewhere between the French Riviera and Detroit". Somehow, the analogy almost makes sense--the same flourishing beats, synths, retro funk/electro inclinations, suave vocals and crafted production are back on this record, which does sound like you'd enjoy it on some exotic yacht. "Night By Night," despite being pretty well-known by now, is still a great single, but "Hot Mess" and "Don't Turn the Lights On" are both stellar as well.
Comments: Denmark native Bjarke Bendtsen, aka The Migrant, brings beautiful, richly-toned pop music to his debut album Travels in Lowland, drawing comparisons to Beirut, Jens Lekman, and Andrew Bird. As those three musicians all land on my "favorites" list, I was quite excited to hear Bendtsen's music. He does sounds a bit like a less vibrato-inclined Zach Condon (aka Beirut), and the instrument-filled pop songs certainly warrant comparisons to Jens and Bird alike, but The Migrant definitely has a unique sound (like on track 4, which is sung in Danish). His songs are as often layered with instruments as they are more acoustic, loose and unstructured. Try tracks 1, 4, and 10.
Comments: Claps' second EP, No Party, sees the group play on analog synthesizers--and only analog synthesizers. The result is a "dark synth-pop sound"--super vintage-sounding, but not dated. Try tracks 1 and 3.
Comments: The third album from Margot & the Nuclear So and So's drifts between darker, raw rock and a pop-rock combination that new listeners of a genre can enjoy and relate to. Fuzzy guitar and vocals take the forefront, which gives the sound a lo-fi vibe, but enough clarity remains to understand the sometimes strange yet engrossing lyrics (witness "Let's Paint Our Teeth Green"). I will say that this group and this album is addictive. With so many layered sounds, Buzzard will leave you repeating each track and the entire album as a whole in order to find each new influence and direction.
Comments: From the promoter: "Wilderness Heart, the new album by Black Mountain, is packed with succinct rock songs that pulse and pound with startling precision: it pummels you and you ask for more. This is arguably the band's tightest, most concentrated venture, but there's still plenty of raw rock energy at work."
To a certain extent, I concur, but that blurb doesn't really tell the whole story. Hailing from Vancouver, Black Mountain mixes the late-'60s psychedelia of The Velvet Underground and Pink Floyd, the guitar-driven, metal-leaning sprawl of Led Zeppelin, and the folksy psych pop of Love. On Wilderness Heart, the band's third record for Jagjaguwar (Bon Iver, Okkervil River), they seem just as comfortable on screeching rockers like "Old Fangs" and "Let Spirits Ride" as on trippy folk songs like "Buried By the Blues" and "Radiant Hearts." Wilderness Heart came together from recording sessions in both Seattle and Los Angeles, perhaps explaining the changes in mood throughout the LP.
Comments: In a review of the 2004 LP Obrigado Saudade, Pitchfork's Joe Tangari wrote: "It seems unlikely that Mice Parade will ever make a truly amazing album--the music is almost too consistently gorgeous to create any defining moments..." The band's work is undeniably beautiful, but What It Means to Be Left-Handed will certainly put the former conjecture up for debate. As the onesheet describes the record: "Diverging from the pop sensibilities of Mice Parade's most recent successes--Bem-Vinda Vontade and Mice Parade--it is a fresh adventure, all over the map and awash in color: splashes of West-African Highlife mingle with Flamenco, Brazilian Jazz, and the late '80s indie rock that band founder Adam Pierce was stuck on in high school."
Though still driven by Pierce--indeed, the moniker is an anagram of his name--Mice Parade has now been fleshed out into something resembling a full band, featuring excellent work from classical guitarist Dan Lippel, percussionist Doug Scharin and vocalist Caroline Lufkin, as well as plenty of guests, most notably Swahili vocalist Somi on the stunning opener "Kupanda." And if you needed concrete evidence of that '80s indie rock fixation, it's provided in a true-to-form Lemonheads cover, "Mallo Cup."
Also try "Couches & Carpets," "Fortune of Folly" and "In Between Times."
Comments: There's a wealth of great pop music coming from Scandinavia these days, and most of it seems to emanate from Sweden. However, Norway can boast the likes of Royksopp and Annie, and now Finland have a promising answer with Shine 2009. In teasing their forthcoming LP, this Helsinki duo delivers three club-ready gems, highlighted by "New Rules"--a track that's been floating around the internet since back in the spring, but is equally catchy whether you're hearing it for the first time or the 12th. For fans of ceo/The Tough Alliance and Air France.
Comments: Something seems amiss on Blonde Redhead's Penny Sparkle, the band's eighth studio LP and third for 4AD (The National, Camera Obscura, St. Vincent). Blonde Redhead have always been adept at blending dreamy pop and experimental post-punk, a combination that has won them favorable comparisons to Sonic Youth--mainly for the latter style, naturally--and has kept them relevant 15 years after their debut record was released.
But the guitars take an unfortunate backseat to synthesizers on Penny Sparkle, which has more than its fair share of sparse, downtempo, and, quite frankly, boring tunes that seem like they're about to explode into something special--but most of them never do. I hate to sound pessimistic, especially about such a great band, but the glass seems only half-full here. Still, the good moments are very good, in particular the opener "Here Sometimes" and the woefully brief "Everything Is Wrong," which, perhaps fittingly, ends about two minutes too soon.
Comments: The latest LP from Florida band Fake Problems furthers their reputation as the latest in a string of rock bands that draw on the energy of punk, the guitar work of alternative rock, and the attention to songcraft that you'd expect from a folk ensemble. (Think Cursive, Rilo Kiley and Lucero, and you're on the right track.) Their tour with SideOneDummy labelmates The Gaslight Anthem will make two swings through Virginia: Sept. 27 at The National in Richmond, and Oct. 2 at the Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville.
Comments: From the onesheet: "When a 10-piece band has been around for 25 years like the Either/Orchestra, they've played a lot of music and had a lot of members... Through the decades, the E/O has arranged and performed bop... swing... prog rock... country rock... avant-garde... Ethiopian music... and originals that have been known to combine all of the above...
"We're here to tell you that this is the E/O's most accessible, melodic, uplifting--and downright radio-friendly--album to date. It's all in the rhythms: boogaloo, salsa, rhumba, reggae, Afro-beat, calypso, and funk, led by ace conguero Vicente Lebron, drummer Pablo Bencid and pianist Rafael Alcala. On top of those grooves lay the E/O's patented creative and melodic horn writing, and excellent solos from everybody, including leader Russ Gershon, baritone sax Charlie Kohlhase, current Monk Institute alto man Godwin Louis and veteran trumpeter Tom Halter... While this is undeniably jazz, swinging and joyous, the vividness and clarity of each tune cuts across genre lines and hooks 'non-jazz' people while giving the jazz hardcore what they crave."
Comments: Lazerbreak has released a powerful pop record that still has that boy-next-door feeling to it. Despite the somewhat lo-fi production (which may be more a virtue than a vice), this record is clearly accessible and catchy. You will hear all sorts of electronic sounds, gang harmonies, and a list full of characterstics that will make songs from this album get stuck in your head.
At first I hear bits of Mates of State, Matt and Kim, and other musical candy groups. But I dare to say that this album has more depth than pure sweetness. Start with 1, 3, and 4.
Comments: Back in 1989, Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance founded a record label in Chapel Hill, N.C., as an outlet for the punkish indie rock tunes of their band. Superchunk would release several really good albums throughout the next decade, but the success of the band paled in comparison to that of the label. Merge Records put out stuff from some of the best indie bands around in the '90s, including the likes of Neutral Milk Hotel, Cornershop, Lambchop, The Archers of Loaf and The Magnetic Fields. (Good luck finding a legitimate "Best Records of the '90s" list that doesn't include In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and 69 Love Songs. Both came out on Merge.) The label's success kept expanding throughout the first decade of this century, and continues to this day; Merge's current lineup features Spoon, She & Him, Caribou, M. Ward, The Clientele, The Rosebuds, Teenage Fanclub, and a small, relatively obscure band from Montreal called Arcade Fire.
But now, for the first time since Here's to Shutting Up in 2001--and, it should be noted, roughly a month after The Suburbs hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart--we have a new studio LP from the band that started it all. In addition to focusing on the record label during the intervening years, McCaughan's attention turned to his other band, Portastatic; some of that act's penchant for adopting folk and chamber pop influences had certainly seeped into the last couple of Superchunk LPs. But Majesty Shredding lays bare the Superchunk sound: melodic, energetic guitar pop, with the occasional twist--say, the strings on "Fractures in Plaster," or John Darnielle of (new Merge signing) The Mountain Goats singing harmony vocals.
Enough of a history lesson. Call it a comeback LP if you will, but Majesty Shredding is a terrific record that will appeal to fans of Ted Leo, The Thermals and Pavement. Try "Crossed Wires," "Digging for Something" and "Slow Drip."
Comments: It's been quite a run as of late for the New York outfit Dirty Projectors, who vaulted to the top of the rock world with their spectacular summer '09 release Bitte Orca (my pick for last year's top record), collaborations with music royalty like David Byrne, Bjork and The Roots, and continued praise for their ridiculously good live performances. Now Bitte Orca comes back in an expanded edition; only one of the 12 tracks on this college radio-prepared CD, "No Intention," is from the original album.
Be sure to check out five live songs from the superindie Other Music record store--including the stunningly beautiful "Two Doves," fronted by Angel Deradoorian--as well as several B-sides and remixes, including "Ascending Melody" and a cover of Bob Dylan's "As I Went Out One Morning."
Comments: Hey kids: of Montreal isn't the only Elephant 6 band adding to our playlist this week. While Kevin Barnes and co. have exploded in popularity, The Apples in stereo get played in Pepsi commercials, and Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is (deservedly) regarded as one of the best indie albums of all time, Elf Power have quietly put out great pop record after great pop record.
This new eponymous album, released on the Athens-based Orange Twin imprint run by the band's Laura Carter, is Elf Power's 10th studio LP. It's another fine collection of slightly psychedelic, slightly folksy tunes, informed by '60s pop and '80s indie (Robyn Hitchcock is a big influence)--in other words, what we've come to expect from the band. Check out "Spidereggs," "Stranger in the Window" and "Goldmine in the Sun."
Comments: Heavy drums, lo-fi guitar, and fuzzy vocals meld on Crocodile's Sleep Forever, an art-punk/shoegaze/psychedelic/garage pop lovechild. Although honestly, it took me a while to actually get into the record, once you're in, it's pretty solid.
Comments:Fields, the newest album by the reunited Swedish threesome Junip (featuring the talented college radio favorite--at least, for me--José González) is a wonderful record. Although the album doesn't necessarily sound exactly like González's solo efforts (oft described as indie folk with some major pop and minor psych touches)--and how could it, with two more musicians bringing their own styles to the mix--his influence is palpable, and not only because his vocals are so distinctive. The intimacy and almost careful nature of his own music is also found on Fields; however, there are many more subtle layers, created by not only his guitar work, but also the organ and Moog and drums that round out the instrumentation. In short, not necessarily a surprise, but lovely all the same.
Comments: Andy Juhl's River Light is a well-composed acoustic folk/rock album, with some songs trending more in one direction than the other. There's an honest, uncomplicated nature to the record, giving it a weathered feel, especially with Juhl's vocal style. Try the title track.
Comments: If for no other reason, I'm excited for the newest of Montreal album just so the gang can go on tour again and treat fans to another spectacle. (What will Kevin Barnes come up with next? He's already poured fake blood on himself...) It's a lovely surprise that their latest record, False Priest, is chock full of the same old of Montreal goodness. Meaning, quirky pop, falsettos, creative bass lines, ridiculous lyrics, upbeat drumming, and a perfect dancing vibe. Simply put, it's a fun record, and while it's not anything new, why mess with a successful recipe?
Comments: Portland group Y La Bamba, the project of Luzelena Mendoza, makes creative art-folk on their album Lupon. The most accurate description comes from LA Weekly, which calls Y La Bamba's music "Devendra Banhart-influenced art-folk with hazy femme vocals and traditional Mexican sounds". Indeed, the Devendra references are well-deserved--the quirky folk tempered by occasional guitar flourishes, the unique vocals, and the regional style permeating the album as a whole all combine to give off a similar (but unique) vibe. Try tracks 5 and 9.
Comments: From the promoter: "They are known for pristine harmonies and haunting melodies that have gained them comparisons to sister acts of old and Appalachian family groups, yet their songs and arrangements have a very contemporary aspect, with elements of pop, blues and psychedelic rock."
The most prominent characteristic of this soft folk album is the pervasive use of "haunting" harmonies, making this a beautifully warm full length release. The Chapin Sisters are in fact sisters, hailing from San Diego. Start with 2, 5, and 9.
Comments: From the promoter: "Icelandic folk chanteuse Ólöf Arnalds has been a prominent figure in her native music scene for several years as a member of múm. Her voice has been singled out for high praise as 'otherworldly' and 'ethereal.'"
She sings some in Icelandic, she sings some in English, but she sings all beautifully. Each of these songs seem to have their own life (a soul?) and if you are to close your eyes and focus purely on what Ólöf is singing, it will leave you breathless. At their core, these are soft and simple folk songs. Beyond their core, these are simple masterpieces.
Comments: From the publication Ammuse: "Buxter Hoot'n is single-handedly redefining contemporary Americana music and is the voice of their generation."
Buxter Hoot'n is a band that does Americana right. A little rock 'n roll, plenty of twang, banjos and harmonies all culminate into what is certainly a great album. Some songs are strikingly similar to the sounds of Ryan Adams or Whiskeytown, yet certainly unique in their own refreshing way. In Another Life certainly doesn't lack energy and excitement. Guitar solos fill the voids that vocal harmonies and catchy melodies don't fill. The lo-fi production of this self-released album only makes this group more endearing to listen to. Also, very interesting album art.
Comments: With a name like Grinderman, you would expect this band to sound heavy, energetic, and loud. It's safe to say that these expectations are met and exceeded on this band's new release, Grinderman 2.Most of the members also belong to the group Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds; included in Grinderman is Cave himself. This album borders on, and without too much backlash could easily be described as, metal. You will find gainy guitars, heavy bass lines, and deep, strong vocals on this album.
From the promoter: "The new album combines the structured invention of their live performance and the unrestrained free-for-all of their studio improvisation."
Comments: This is a fantastic EP that blends indie pop, psychedelia, and folk sounds in order to produce a refreshingly upflifting and interesting short album. Megafaun is certainly experimental, often delving into free-flowing musical breakdowns. But don't be fooled, no sooner will you be lost in a pyschedelic fallout than you will be hooked right back in by a harmony-ridden chorus that you can't help but sing along with.
From The Onion: "[Megafaun] has a psychedelic mind and a Pentecostal heart, applying raggedly strummed banjos and woozy acoustic guitars to harmonies that swell heavenward like ghostly dust clouds."
This is a great CD for folk lovers, indie lovers, electronica lovers, and psychedelic lovers all the same. Start with 2, 1 and 6.
Comments: Outside of the occasional Carla Bruni song, I have to say I'm completely unfamiliar with French music. It's a good thing, then, that the three Parisians who comprise Revolver sing in English. Music For a While echoes Beatles-era pop, which seems appropriate, seeing as they named the band after the group's esteemed album. The tracks tend to keep on the light side, but each offers a different and distinct sound accentuated and made original by the use of a cello. The album gains cohesion through the vocal harmonies used frequently. Start with "Balulalow" and "It's Alright."
Comments: I'm sure different types of music have always been associated with various regions of the country, but I'm just starting to fully realize the distinct sound of each. For example, Justin Vernon's voice will always conjure visions of desolate, Midwestern forests. Fleet Foxes does the same for what I presume the Oregon or northern Washington landscapes look like. Fences' self-titled album embodies the scene and emotions of the Pacific Northwest: the setting sun, the rocky cliffs, and the introspection that comes with the isolation of driving down the coast.
Reminiscent of Elliot Smith, the album focuses on the heartbreak and distress that pervades life. In this type of album, though, I never know which is stronger: the vocals and lyrics or the instrumentals--namely, the guitar. Chris Mansfield's soft, yet clear voice perfectly compliments the constant, interesting acoustic guitar progressions. Each song is beautiful and tragic in its own sense and makes this album a complete work of devastating, tissue-grabbing art. My favorites are "Hands" and "Boys Around Here."
Comments: Your Youth's Aloha is a pretty straightforward rock EP, full of choruses and fuzzy guitar. It's the group's debut effort, and you can feel the energy they're putting into the production. It's a solid garage rock output, and a promising start, but one hopes the full creative output would be more tangible on a full-length release.
Comments: Produced by Boys Noize, Chilly Gonzales' latest release Ivory Tower is an interesting blend of electronic "euro-pop" and piano music. The album is apparently the soundtrack to a film of the same name that Gonzales is co-writing, which explains the ongoing, continuous nature of the record. Although it's mostly instrumental, the record still has a pop flair--overall, a daring and not altogether easy accompaniment to a show, but well worth an attempt.
Comments: Coming down from the emotional low-point that was the last Eels record, End Times, the newest release from Mark Oliver Everett (infamous E.), is a (slightly) happier, sunnier experience. Tomorrow Morning is full of complex sonic additions like found sounds and tape loops, giving depth to the traditionally quirky pop songs that make up E.'s other records. It's a nice change, and although some songs seem unnecessary, overall it's a nicely warm album. Start with tracks 2 and 9.
Comments: Radiohead's drummer Philip Selway embarks on his solo adventures with his debut release, Familial. It's a pretty minimalistic record, sitting firmly in the pop camp, with electronic touches and some orchestral forays. Selway's voice is a nice melodic surprise, and while lyrically, he still seems to be testing the waters, it's a surprisingly detailed record. Try tracks 2 and 10.
Comments: Interpol is back on Matador, and although the reviews for their newest self-titled release have been mixed (then again, when have reviews of Interpol not been mixed?), I'm personally a fan of their fourth effort (and of the band in general, which perhaps makes me slightly biased). It's a textual and atmospheric CD, occasionally a bit too minimal at times--maybe due to the departure of long-time bassist Carlos Dengler, who perhaps took some of the creative energy with him?--but the record still has the dense Interpol feel. So while it's not the band's best effort (everyone has their favorite, but it seems to always be a battle between TOTBL and Antics), it does grow on you the more listens you go through, and it should still be comforting to established fans. "Memory Serves" is delightfully layered in the typical Interpol way, and overall it's a broody, moody, effort.
Comments: Tracy Bonham is a singer/songwriter who incorporates many instruments into her lounge-style songs. She has two Grammy nominations and one MTV VMA nomination to her credit. This album has been reviewed by Rolling Stone, Billboard, and Entertainment Weekly. She certainly has her act together and an established musical career under her belt.
Personally, I have had trouble "getting into" this album. As a friend of mine aptly said, Masts of Manhatta, "sounds like a lounge-singer picked up a fiddle." Nonetheless, if you're interested in what the magazines listed above are interested in, you should check out this heavily jazz-influenced folk album. This is not to say the whole album is flop in my book. Go ahead and start with tracks 2, 5 and 8.
Comments: From the promoter: "Sonically, the music rides an even keel, swooning gracefully between the intimate, close, and minimal, and billowy piles of polyphony; feeling like you had a party and everyone who came brought a voice, a horn, a string, and it all fell together just so."
The Red River's debut LP is certainly worth listening to for any fans (or even slight-fans) of folk pop. The sounds on this album are small, large, and intricately placed to build songs that will leave you smiling. The Red River puts strings, horns and electronics to use in refreshingly new styles. All the while, a "minimalist" approach is clearly at play here (despite the many different instruments and vocal melodies). If you are a fan of Page France, Lost in the Trees, or Iron and Wine, check this album out. You won't be disappointed. Start with tracks 1, 3 and 5.
Comments: The Vaselines sprang up in Glasgow in the late '80s, delivering their own spin on the poppy post-punk of underground heroes like Television Personalities, Orange Juice and The Clean. They recorded just one full-length, 1989's Dum-Dum, and disbanded shortly thereafter. As AllMusic.com explains, "the Vaselines might have been relegated to footnote status were it not for Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, who regularly cited the little-known Scottish quartet's influence."
Back in 1992, Nirvana's original home, Sub Pop, put out a compilation of the band's material, which was reformatted and reissued last year as Enter the Vaselines. Now, two of the band's members, Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee, are back with all-new material on Sex With an X. And don't think for a second that Cobain was the only musician to draw from by The Vaselines, as their influence on what's now known as "indie pop" still resonates in 2010.
Check out the title track, "Mouth to Mouth" and "The Devil's Inside Me."
Comments:I Will Love You At All is an album that certainly sounds fuller than one would expect from a singer/songwriter. Hanlon's songs are catchy, witty, symphonic, and poetic. He is an expert at building interplay between various layers within the music and/or vocals. The songs are folky, sometimes basic, but always refreshing and fulfilling (even the sad songs are fulfilling in a strange way--something every singer/songwriter aims to do).
From the promoter: "After a couple of years couch surfing, house sitting and soul searching across the world, Darren Hanlon has emerged with I Will Love You At All. Darren's trademark wit and wordplay... are ever present in the new material and as always, Darren's eye for life's smaller details are played with charm and joyful abandon."
Comments: A very upbeat pop record from the Philadelphia-via-D.C. band Jukebox the Ghost. Everything Under the Sun is their second LP, and the first for Yep Roc (The Apples in stereo, Robyn Hitchcock, Peggy Sue). Equal parts ELO and They Might Be Giants, the band starts off with gems like "Schizophrenia" and "Half Crazy," and keeps bouncing all the way through "Carrying"--listen to that one, and tell me it doesn't remind you of "Mr. Blue Sky"--and "The Stars."
Comments: After a 6-year hiatus, the duo of Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink are back as Azure Ray. To be fair, they've been quite busy in the meantime; both have issued multiple solo releases over the last few years, while Taylor has worked with Now It's Overhead and Bright Eyes, and Fink with O+S. Because of the quality of their solo and side project stuff, you'd be forgiven if you'd forgotten just how well these two work together--yet you'll be quickly reminded when listening to Drawing Down the Moon.
Azure Ray have always been very closely linked to the folksy indie band Crooked Fingers, whose Eric Bachmann spearheaded and produced this LP at Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville. The ladies' beautiful folk-pop songs are complemented by strings, woodwinds, harp and the occasional synthesizer. Drawing Down the Moon will appeal to fans of Mark Kozelek, Neko Case and Feist. Start with "Don't Leave My Mind," "Silver Sorrow" and "Shouldn't Have Loved."
Comments:Skit I Allt is the latest stroke of brilliance from Dungen, the project masterminded my Gustav Ejstes. At its core, it's psychedelic rock, but not the type you can easily pigeonhole. As the promoter describes it: "Just don't think that with Skit I Allt the band is reducible to any one feeling. Or musical genre. At ease with effervescent pop, third-eye popping psychedelia, heavy rock, spider-web folk and breezy jazz, Dungen's dynamism astounds throughout. Rather than remain only Ejstes' studio vision, Dungen is a muscular full band now. Guitarist Reine Fiske, bassist Mattias Gustavsson, and drummer Johan Holmegard are fully integrated into Ejstes' vision of Dungen."
But still, this is Ejstes' brainchild, and his talent as a multi-instrumentalist has never been more prevalent than on this LP--his flute and piano each appear on nine of the 10 tracks, and he also plays organ, strings, bass and zither as needed, and sings vocals. For what it's worth, "skit i allt" is Swedish for "f*%# everything," but don't take that the wrong way; as Ejstes (who's evidently comfortable cursing in multiple languages) explains: "For me, it means 'Don't give a s#*!, forget about it, just go ahead and do it." What's done is one of the fall's best releases.
Check out "Min Enda Van" ("My Only Friend"), "Blandband" ("Mixtape") and "Hogdalstoppen." (Google Translate didn't know what that last one meant. But at least I tried.)
Comments: Based on her past work with bands like Vivian Girls, Crystal Stilts and Dum Dum Girls, this wasn't quite what I was expecting from Frankie Rose. The '60s girl group pop motif is still there, but instead of a lo-fi, garagey crunch, Frankie Rose & the Outs owes more to late '80s shoegaze for its melodic bent. Not to knock any of her previous acts--I happen to be quite fond of them all--but it's a very welcome change of pace, and a combination that works so well that you wonder why it hasn't been tried too often before. Rose is already renowned in the Brooklyn music scene, and this debut won't do anything to hurt that reputation. Another fine release from Slumberland, the indie pop juggernaut that's home to The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Black Tambourine and the aforementioned Stilts.
Start with "Girlfriend Island," "Candy" and "Thats What People Told Me."
Comments: From the promoter: "Have Tera Melos gone pop? Well, no... but yes. Much like the band's intricate and complex song structures, it's not quite that simple. Patagonian Rats is packed with melodic hooks and jabs that on paper might seem to defy the band's experimental edge. There's even clear and distinct vocals throughout--a first for the band, where vocals, if any, were previously awash with distortion and layered in the mix. But, particulars aside, Patagonian Rats is the type of album that sticks with you... RIYL: bygones, Wavves, Fang Island."
Comments: Antony Hegarty rarely disappoints, and if "Thank You for Your Love" is any indication, we're in for another big treat when the Johnsons' new LP, Swanlights, comes out this fall. In addition to that album's lead single, this EP features four non-album tracks, including a heartrending version of John Lennon's superhit "Imagine" and a nice take on Bob Dylan's 1980 tune "Pressing On." (This isn't the first time that Antony has tackled Dylan; if you can get your hands on last year's 4AD charity compilation Dark Was the Night, he worked with The National's Bryce Dessner on an excellent version of "I Was Young When I Left Home." It's well worth a listen.)
Comments: Drunken Barn Dance is spearheaded by Saturday Looks Good to Me guitarist Scott Sellwood; the band also features members of Canada and Great Lakes Myth Society. Mix SLGTM's pop with the folksy side of Neil Young and what their promoter calls "the Guided By Voices and Hold Steady ethos," and you'll get an idea of what Grey Buried sounds like. It's a good, energetic, rough-edged combination that should appeal to fans of Langhorne Slim and Lucero.
Start with "The Last Desperate Stand of the Last Fair Man" and "No Love."
Comments: From the promoter: "Prince Rama's new record was recorded in a warehouse in Brooklyn, but it could just as easily have been recorded in an underground temple. As two of the band members ended their relationship, Prince Rama gave birth to Shadow Temple, an epic, carnal record full of ethereal choirs, haunted by pounding tribal drums. The vocals of the Larson sisters conjure up imagery of the primordial birth of universal power--at once full of dark energy and boundless light."
On Carpark, the home of Toro y Moi, Dan Deacon, and, formerly, Beach House. Recommendations on the album promo sticker.
Comments: The Dollyrots' third LP, A Little Messed Up, is another collection of tunes that blur the lines between pop-punk and straight-up pop, all driven by lead singer Kelly Ogden's inviting vocals. Try "Some Girls," "Big Mouth" and the helplessly addictive album closer "Om Nom Nom."
Comments: Founded as an alt-country side project from Mick Chorba's Replacements-inspired band Dipsomaniacs, The Successful Failures blend guitar-driven pop with boozy Americana-laced tunes. Fans of These United States, Delta Spirit and The Henry Clay People should find something to enjoy on Three Nights. Check out "Armadillo Boy" and "Houston, We Have a Drinking Problem."
Comments: Los Angeles' Abe Vigoda made waves with their 2008 LP Skeleton, a collection of noisy tropical punk tunes released on Post Present Medium, the label run by No Age's Dean Spunt; that was followed up by a very impressive EP, Reviver, last year. Now, the band is heading in a different direction, with strong tones of New Order-influenced synth pop showing up on Crush. Generally speaking, the straight-up New Wave songs don't work--at least, not as well as their past stuff--with the glaring exception of "Repeating Angel," which sounds like it might have been left off of a Depeche Mode record. But Abe Vigoda are at their best when they mix the synths in with their original post-punk sound, as on standouts like the title track and "Beverly Slope."
Comments: Gold Motel is the new project fronted by Greta Morgan, formerly of The Hush Sound. Here's what the promoter had to say about Summer House: "Gold Motel represents the evolution of a musical identity that hearkens back to pop's crowning achievements: the dreamy energy of The Kinks, the quick-witted lyrical dexterity of Elvis Costello, the unassuming sophistication of a Beach Boys melody, light as air and deep as the Pacific."
Comments: Another collection of quirky pop songs from the mind of Craig Minowa, a mad musical scientist in the same company as Wayne Coyne, Kevin Barnes or Polyphonic Spree frontman/cult leader Tim DeLaughter. Light Chasers borrows from orchestral rock, folk, synth pop, psychedelia and more to create a very enjoyable album experience. I'm hung up on the sweeping closing track, "There's So Much Energy in Us," as well as "Today We Give Ourselves to the Fire."
Comments: Hailing from Austin, The Black Angels are on a swift ascent to the pinnacle of modern-day psychedelic rock. Combing through five decades of influences, from The Velvet Underground, Love and (speaking of Austin) The 13th Floor Elevators, to The Jesus & Mary Chain and Spiritualized, to modern-day purveyors like Black Mountain--with whom The Black Angels are sharing a co-headlining tour this fall; bring your earplugs--they've developed their own dreamy, layered sound.
The band showed plenty of promise on their 2006 debut Passover and its 2008 follow-up, Directions to See a Ghost, but Phosphene Dream is easily their most complete LP to date. The Black Angels can still drone along on a psych-rock killer--and there are two good ones, "Bad Vibrations" and "Haunting at 1300 McKinley," to open the record--but there's a lot more psych pop leaking in on gems like "Sunday Afternoon" and "Telephone" to keep things interesting throughout.
Comments: On records like F*#$in' A and The Body the Blood the Machine, The Thermals made their name as an edgy power-pop band with blistering takes on politics and religion, where the driving guitars were eclipsed only by frontman Hutch Harris' sardonic swipes at the religious right or hypocritical politicians. The band's combination of punk-rock energy, poignant lyrics and pop song structures wasn't really being matched by anyone.
The Thermals jumped from Sub Pop to Kill Rock Stars in 2009, and the pop-rock direction in which they ventured for last spring's Now We Can See is even more prevalent on Personal Life. The album's title pretty much gives away the lyrical themes here, as Harris sings about love, relationships and other topics that, while not off limits for the band in the past--see tracks like "Test Pattern" or "St. Rosa and the Swallows" from The Body the Blood the Machine, for instance--were certainly not the main focus in the past. I can't help but think that some of the edge is gone.
That having been said, Personal Life is as fine a collection of guitar-pop tunes as The Thermals have ever put together; it's just likable for different reasons than the band's previous work. Check out "I Don't Believe You," "Never Listen to Me" and "Power Lies."
Comments: Equal parts guitar jams and acoustic strummers, you'll find a very nice set of melodic rock tunes on Tread Carefully, the second LP from We Know Mason, a 4-piece hailing from Barry, South Wales. Try "Watch Over You" or "Time's A Wasting."