Comments: Following up on their excellent self-titled 2009 debut, New York's The Pains of Being Pure at Heart broaden their scope on Belong. Indie pop/New Wave touchstones like The Cure and The Smiths--this isn't 1985, so you no longer have to choose between the two--and styles like C86 and twee are still prevalent on this record, but it's also drawn at least one comparison to early '90s Smashing Pumpkins. Here's a second: album opener "Belong" certainly wouldn't sound out of place on Disarm. And, finally, much like on The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, the quartet is still drawing plenty of inspiration from shoegaze kings like Ride and Cocteau Twins.
All in all, the band has been able to mold many different sounds into a style that is theirs and theirs alone. Belong will bring many great pop bands to mind, but it won't sound exactly like anybody else. Start with the title track, "Heart in Your Heartbreak", "Heaven's Gonna Happen Now" and "My Terrible Friend".
Comments: Warma, the follow-up EP to Darlings' Yeah I Know (2009), sounds like the grungy party-rock genre the New York band is going for. Apparently, the four members of the band had nothing better to do after college than jam in a garage, and while I usually commend this action, the group and the album struggle. The songs aren't horrible, but the band sounds like so many other pseudo-lo-fi garage bands that showcase a lot more talent than Darlings. Warma will end up getting lost behind all of the other better music this genre has to offer.
Comments: Laurel Sprengelmeyer, aka Little Scream, follows her first two singles, "Cannons" and "The Heron and the Fox", with The Golden Record, her first full length album. Co-produced with Arcade Fire's Richard Reed Parry, in addition to a guest guitar spot by Aaron Dessner of The National on "The Heron and the Fox", The Golden Record is an extremely well-thought-out and orchestrated album. The guitar and strings quietly complement Sprengelmeyer's wide vocal range in a cohesive album built around extremely visceral and almost animalistic themes.
Comments: This is a fantastic EP from Wolf Gang. The tracks are interesting power-pop songs, showing a heavy influence from '80s synth and drum machines. If you're in the mood for musical candy, this is the EP to check out. Start with 1, 2 and 4.
Comments: The Big Roar, the full-length debut from The Joy Formidable, lives up to its name. From the exploding first track, "The Everchanging Spectrum Of A Lie", to the last, this female-led Welsh rock trio revels in a bombastic sound full of fuzzy guitar riffs and pounding beats to create a full fleshed romantic garage sound. The Big Roar is an audacious rebellion from any sort of musical or emotional restraint. The one drawback is the protracted length of the songs. I recommend "Whirring".
Comments: Hailed as Seattle's next breakout band, The Head and the Heart's self-titled debut album breezes past the usual pitfalls of rookie artists to create a work with a distinct and well executed sound. Calling upon folk, country, pop and rock, The Head and the Heart reflect Americana at its fullest--expansive, cohesive drums and piano, the power and pleading behind the ever-present harmonies, and the slight melancholic undercurrent. The Head and the Heart is an album which will be familiar and poignant to you from the beginning, but with a staying power almost as great as the country from which it draws its inspiration. Start with "Lost In My Mind" and "Down In The Valley".
Comments: John Darnielle is backed up by softly-played drums and an electric bass that fill out his well-known simple and lo-fi playing style on the new album All Eternals Deck. The Mountain Goats is a unique folk-rock group holding a long tradition of high regard among indie rock enthusiasts. This album stays true to this legacy of critical acclaim. All Eternals Deck is a great a record--full of passion, excitement, and great examples of excellent songwriting.
Here's Darnielle on his new record: "The songs cluster around themes of hidden things and the dread that hidden things inspire, but also the excitement, the attraction, the magnetic draw that scary unknown hidden things exert... If you've ever watched, say, a '70s occult-scare movie where one of the scenes involves a few people visiting a storefront fortune teller, getting their cards read, and then they're trying to feel super-hopeful about their predicted outcome when what they're visibly actually feeling is dread, then you have a pretty decent idea of what this album is all about."
Comments: The promoter aptly describes this record as a mixture of "country punk, Southern garage rock, and general ass kicking." When I listen to this album, I feel the same way as when I walk outside nowadays: the nice, warm, sunny weather catches me by surprise and forces a big grin out of me. Those Darlins (not to be confused with this week's release by the band Darlings) have produced an LP that is more than your standard garage-rock record; Screws Get Loose is an album that fuses folk scales with dirty guitars, gang vocals with heartfelt and powerful lyrics, catchy melodies with blasts of sonic energy.
Parts of this record remind me a lot of The Whispertown 2000, a quirky folk-rock group from southern California. Other tracks bring Vivian Girls and the like to mind. Start with 2, 1, 6 and 8.
Comments: Very solid Pacific Northwest hip hop from the Seattle band Project Lionheart. Guests include Erick Sermon of the legendary underground rap duo EPMD, and Shoebox Radio definitely has a '90s bent to it, especially on standout tracks like "Can't Stop Me" and "We Just Changed the World".
Comments: Acid House Kings, how we've missed you. The Swedish indie pop powerhouse returns with Music Sounds Better With You, its first studio record since 2005's Sing Along With Acid House Kings. To be fair, band leader Johan Angergard has been plenty busy in the meantime, putting out music with his other projects (namely, Club 8 and The Legends) and running the terrific Labrador imprint--in addition to his bands, it's home to the likes of The Radio Dept., Pelle Carlberg and The Mary Onettes, among others.
But it only takes a few seconds of listening to the new album's opener, "Are We Lovers Or Are We Friends?", to recall how delightful Acid House Kings' music really is. Sweet, catchy melodies; well-crafted songs; airy instrumentation, with guitars, bass, keyboard and drums complemented by the occasional strings, flute or trumpet; and the pop-perfect vocals of Angergard and Julia Lannerheim--it all adds up to another gem of a record. RIYL Belle & Sebastian, The Magnetic Fields and SWEDEN. Start with 1, 3, 7 and 2.
Comments: Instrumental rock/electro on the radio sampler from the band Errors--and the first U.S. release from Rock Action Records, a new label started by Mogwai. Instrumental music tends to be overlooked, but Errors' music is dynamic and complex, sometimes classified as "post-electro." (I'm not really sure on a definition, but I'm guessing it's the electronica version of "post-rock," which makes perfect sense both in terms of the band's Mogwai connections and music style.) In short, it's hardly fit for elevators. Try tracks 2 and 5.
Comments: The third album from Randi Russo, Fragile Animal, is a mix of skilled singer/songwriter tendencies and less conventional additions like heavy guitar work, keyboards and synths. There's a nice contrast between the dense, multilayered instrumentation and Russo's refined, but far from delicate, vocals. The result is lyrical but still hard-edged, and the production is nicely balanced in terms of polish; the occasional use of feedback is appropriate and, overall, it's an appealing record (especially for those who've been enjoying the recent PJ Harvey addition to our playlist). Start with tracks 1, 2 and 6.
Comments: Strong vocals lead the music of Les Jupes on their album Modern Myths. Nicely arranged, large-scale songs, with building rhythms, progressing guitar lines, topical lyrics, and soaring vocals. Not overly dramatic, but definitely purposeful--try track 3, where there's a nice mix of contained and released energy, and track 6, a more upbeat and carefree offering (about mathematics!!).
Comments: Carnivores return with their EPChandelier, a 4-song release which sees the group take a looser, slightly calmer style (at least compared with their two albums). It's psychedelic-pop influenced garage rock, still retaining some beachy, lo-fi tropicalia, but turning down the frantic energy, which works--it's excellent sunny weather music. Try any of the four tracks.
Comments: Take a look at the artwork for Dress Like Your Idols. How many of those album covers (slightly redesigned, of course) can you identify? Perhaps in keeping with the title of the LP, Boat pay tribute to some of their favorite bands and records. In terms of the music that you'll find herein, I'll say that the upper left (Built to Spill), lower right (Pavement) and upper right (The Long Winters, whose John Roderick sings backing vocals on "Landlocked [Ice Cube Blues]") are the most telling. But since you'll inevitably HAVE to figure out all nine albums, the key is at the bottom of this post.
Seattle's Boat are a perennially underrated band, and Dress Like Your Idols is their fourth impressive record in five years. Frontman D. Crane belongs in the same company as Stephen Malkmus, Doug Martsch, J Mascis, Lou Barlow, Mac McCaughan and the like; he just came along a decade or so too late for that wave of '90s indie rock. And while Pavement and Built to Spill are rather obvious touchstones, there's enough pop in Boat's music to lend it widespread appeal. (Fans of The Shins and Merge Records, I'm looking at you.)
Start with tracks 3, 9, 5 and 1.
The key to the Dress Like Your Idols cover (top to bottom, left to right): 1. Built to Spill, Keep It Like a Secret 2. The Ramones, End of the Century 3. The Long Winters, When I Pretend to Fall 4. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Orange 5. The Velvet Underground & Nico 6. Sonic Youth, Washing Machine 7. Pearl Jam, Yield 8. Elliott Smith, Figure 8 9. Pavement, Wowee Zowee Special thanks to Justine and Will...
Comments: L.A.'s Standing Shadows make big-sounding, synth-laced rock tunes that have drawn them comparisons to Muse and Shiny Toy Guns. I'd say they're less prog rock-inclined than Muse and less electronic than Shiny Toy Guns, but that's not a bad way to approach The Silent Revolution. Try "We Are Everlasting".
Comments: From the promoter: "[The songs on Last of the Country Gentlemen] are sparsely arranged, Josh's vocals and guitar lent an aching bitter-sweetness by violin accompaniment. Four of the seven songs run longer than 10 minutes, because they examine the painful existential tangle of love and loss with a depth and emotional vividness not easily contained by the pop format."
This is deeply haunting and wonderfully constructed folk from the Texas musician Josh T. Pearson, whose music has been likened to Jeff Buckley and Spiritualized. As alluded to above, Last of the Country Gentlemen's seven songs clock in at 58 minutes, so the label has been kind enough to send along two 4-minute radio edits. (The edits are doubly helpful, as the original version of one of those tracks is DNP.) While not for the impatient, you'll be rewarded by a careful listen to Pearson's autobiographical tales of heartbreak and tragedy.
Start with "Country Dumb"--play the 10-minute album version, if you dare, or cop out for the 4-minute edition--as well as the radio edit of "Woman, When I've Raised Hell".
Comments: Let me just say that you need to be in a very energetic mood to sit through this album. If you are, it's a perfect listen. If you're not, you're going to lose patience very soon. Start with "Pull Out My Insides" (and after midnight go to the FCC-inappropriate ones).
Comments: From the promoter: "Pedals does not disappoint and for those too young to remember the NY quartet first time around, it'll show just how such faith was earned... Every classy, quality moment is a reminder of why Rival Schools were so loved, missed and why they're so welcome back". Though I'm one of those too young to remember this band, listening to this album doesn't really make me want to go look for their previous album. They sound like a rather unfortunate combination between Snow Patrol and Stereophonics. Regardless, I liked "Wring It Out".
Comments: From the promoter: "Heavily influenced by [Danielle] Danz's fascination with vintage sci-fi films and books, the music seems to pluck the listener from their earthly surroundings and transport them into a dreamy, nebulous world of imagination". If you picked up Lovers' album Dark Light earlier this year, you'll thoroughly enjoy this. Start with "About You".
Comments: Don't you love this time of year? It's the time when you finally spring out of the bowels of winter with plenty of sun in your hair and a certain jauntiness in your step. Brave Irene's self-titled debut album will either reflect this wonderful mood you're feeling or put you into it. The fuzzy guitars and vocals, sung by Rose Melberg of The Softies, evoke the West Coast/Best Coast/beach feel perfect for lying in the sand or driving with the windows down. So don those Ray-Ban Wayfarers, grab a Frisbee, and enjoy the subtle hipster sounds of Brave Irene. Start with "No Fun" and "River To Sea".
Comments: After starting their career with two critically-acclaimed records, including 2008 breakthrough Visiter, San Francisco's Dodos began experimenting with their sound on 2009's Time to Die, a record that I'd call inconsistent--and that Pitchfork recently described as "a misstep." No Color, then, is the return to form for Meric Long and Logan Kroeber. Keaton Snyder, who had joined up as a vibraphonist and percussionist for Time to Die, lingers in a diminished role, which is a good thing; nothing against Snyder, who's a terribly gifted musician, but his presence on the last LP seemed to alter the great dynamic between Long and Kroeber.
There's a very welcome addition, though: in a major coup, Dodos have brought in Neko Case for backing vocals on five of the album's nine tracks, including standouts like "Don't Try and Hide It" and "Going Under". No Color pulls you in from the get-go, with the gripping "Black Night". It's the start of 42 minutes of excellent, acoustic-based alt-pop, falling somewhere between the wonderful weirdness of Animal Collective and the superb folk rock of Fleet Foxes. Try 1, 2, 6 and 5.
Comments: Three singles from various Big Beat Records artists, all firmly rooted in a dance-focused electronic tradition. The single from Freemasons featuring Wynter Gordon, "Believer", is straight-up club music--house/vocal trance style, with dramatic female vocals. Skrillex's single "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites" is a track in the electro/fidget house tradition, with added dubstep flair (fun fact: Skrillex is Sonny Moore, who used to be a part of the post-hardcore group From First to Last). Zoe Badwi's "Freefallin'"is a nice, vocally-powered dance track with some house influences. Overall, these three songs are pretty awesome and a nice addition to our playlist--definitely check 'em out. Dance music fans, take note.
Comments: The drumming third of Blink 182, Travis Barker, has released his solo album Give the Drummer Some, and its roster of supporting guests is OUT OF CONTROL. Given that the vocals are all handled by other artists while Barker sets the rhythm and tone via the drums, the sheer volume of contributors makes sense... but still. Here's a sampling: Lil Wayne, Kid Cudi, Pharrell, Snoop Dogg, Lupe Fiasco, Cool Kids, Swizz Beatz, Tom Morello from RATM, Tech N9ne, Raekwon, RZA, Ludacris, Transplants, and Slash of GnR fame. And more.
Overall, Give the Drummer Some is an expected mix of rock and hip hop--the record is totally rhythm-based, and Barker's drumming is en pointe, nicely highlighting--and being highlighted by--the various vocalists. Start with the track featuring the artist you like best--Barker's drumming is pretty great on all of them--but personally I'd recommend tracks 1 (great opener), 3 (RZA, Raekwon, and Tom Morello... yes, please), and 8 (Transplants! And Slash!). (But also check out tracks 5 and 9.)
Comments: Acoustic guitar and harmonica prevail on Marcellus Hall's The First Line. The record references folk, alt-country and the typical singer/songwriter format, but the music is nicely straightforward and lighthearted. Hall employs very few dramatics, instead letting the witty lyrics speak for themselves. With occasional references to rootsy country and blues, The First Line is an accessible, enjoyable album; try tracks 1, 4, and 7.
Comments: If you're into unpolished indie rock, you'll find this record at least intriguing. The production by "Indiephonics" is definitely lackluster. This may work in their favor in my book, though; I like the feel of a record that sounds like a group of friends wrote and recorded every bit of it in a basement over the span of a week.
Comments: Here's an English indie rock group that kinda sounds like Circa Survive mixed with Underoath (without the screaming). The promoter says: "[T]hink Radiohead and add in a helping of Jane's Addiction for energy--with songs full of immediacy and drama that just won't go away and with their high-energy live show that has been gathering fans at every city they play."
Comments: Over 20 years after Buffalo Tom released their self-titled debut comes Skins, the eighth studio LP from the Boston trio. Pulling influences from classic and underground rock--the band's name is derived from Buffalo Springfield, and Big Star and Dinosaur Jr. are both noticeable inspirations--Buffalo Tom's career seemed to peak in the early '90s, with a string of well-received and reasonably popular releases on Beggars Banquet, including 1993's Big Red Letter Day.
After tailing off in the late '90s and going on a 9-year hiatus, Buffalo Tom returned with Three Easy Pieces (New West) in 2007, and now comes Skins, their first album on their own Scrawny Records imprint. This is a collection of mature power-pop and rock songs that will appeal to fans of Teenage Fanclub, Matthew Sweet and modern-day R.E.M. Check out "Down", "Arise, Watch" and "Don't Forget Me", featuring Tanya Donnelly of Throwing Muses/The Breeders/Belly.
Comments: Architecture in Helsinki are from Melbourne, so I suppose it stands to reason that another Australian indie group, Hungry Kids of Hungary, would hail from Brisbane. While the Hungry Kids draw pretty heavily on modern indie pop touchstones like The Shins and Vampire Weekend--I think it's fair to call VW a touchstone after two LPs, since they've already become quite influential--there's enough going on, from great songwriting to the infectious energy, on the 4-song Mega Mountain EP to keep it interesting and enjoyable.
Track 1 is DNP, but any of the other three songs are worth a spin. Start with "Scattered Diamonds."
Comments: From the promoter: "A self-described 'three-headed beast,' Erland & the Carnival consists of vocalist Erland Cooper; drummer David Nock--producer and engineer to stars like The Orb, Paul McCartney, David Gilmour, and Simon Tong--former member of The Good the Bad & the Queen, The Verve and now guitar-for-hire for Gorillaz... Erland & the Carnival may take deep-rooted inspiration from folk, but make no mistake, Nightingale is a rock record, an intricate psychedelic circus of guitars and hooks that will, as Erland sings on 'I'm Not Really Here', '... slip into your dream before the end of the show.'" And from UNCUT: "It invokes countless familiar sources--The Byrds, Ennio Morricone, The La's, The Doors, Joe Meek--but reassembles them in such an unexpected way that 500-year-old songs sound utterly fresh."
Comments: The sound and feel of Agnes Obel's debut album, Philharmonics, is as striking as the musician's stark portrait on the cover. Obel uses the piano with such a lightness and restraint as to create a stillness only pierced by her clear voice and poignant melodies. Even more, though, Philharmonics, stands as a testament that music is more than instrumentals and vocals--that the sense of atmosphere and environment matter even more. Obel's environment is one of transfixing tranquility. "Riverside" and "Over the Hill" are best.
Comments: Remember the first The Social Network trailer that you saw? The one with the all-girl choir singing Radiohead's "Creep" behind montages of Facebook pages and angry scenes from the movie? If you're like me, you thought that the people in charge of the music creeped on (get it?) a local high school group and brought them into the studio. Well, it turns out that it not only is a choir, but a real, studio group made up of 40 females led by brothers Steven and Stijn Kolacny, who conduct and compose.
This self-titled album features 10 cover songs and two originals. The collective voices of the girls add a haunting, somber quality to the songs, ranging from Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" to Alanis Morissette's "Ironic." The two original songs, "Seashell" and "Our Last Fight", are also good. Start with the cover of U2's "With Or Without You (with strings)".
Comments: Tony Castles' No Service EP is a 5-track exploration into odd, spacey pop. Spacious and full of guitar riffs, non-invasive synths, and some reverb, the group has all the markings of a "dream pop" band; Paul Sicilian's occasinally falsetto-esque voice and the funk-influenced bass line on lead single "Black Girls in Dresses" add a nice level of quirk. Try tracks 2 and 3.
Comments: Rise Against used to be right up my musical alley, and while I don't actively listen to them very much these days, I still respect how, simply put, good they are at what they do. The group returns with Endgame, their sixth studio album, a solid punk-rock (or melodic hardcore, whatever you want to call it) effort. While the lyrics are a bit more politically influenced this time around (particularly by Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill), the band has made it clear that Endgame isn't a concept album. (And it doesn't sound like one; certain tracks are just audibly socially/politically conscious.)
Combining their familiar and carefully crafted blend of traditional punk/hardcore instrumentation with dramatic, sometimes screamed but mostly sung melodic vocals and choral harmonies, the group's most recent effort is enjoyable. Nicely polished--Rise Against lost the grit a while ago--but still hard-edged. Try tracks 2, 6 and 11.
Comments: With a sound highly tied to the '80s, Adventure (a.k.a. Baltimore native Benny Boeldt) returns with the album The Lesser Known, a record defined by sharp snares, heavy synths, and pop sensibilities. Added vocals--particulary the repeating, choral-esque lines--solidify the '80s pop vibe, while melodic moments add a dramatic, disco-esque quality. A high-octane adventure, to be sure (get it?!). Try tracks 2, 3, and 6 ("Lights Out", a heavy, pounding dance-club jam with some 8-bit moments--think Crystal Castles, except happier and more pop).
Comments: Twin brothers Jeff and Jason Anderson make up the band The Andersons (unsurprisingly), a group that names influences ranging from "'90s Britpop (Oasis, The Stone Roses) to power pop/indie (Dinosaur Jr., The Replacements) and of course, The Beatles". Fittingly, their debut album In Record Time is nice blend of the above styles, but there's a slightly rough, not overly finished quality to their style that stops the record from sounding simply like the sum of their influences. Also keeping the record interesting is the mix between upfront, full-band alt-rock tunes and acoustic tracks. Listed RIYL's are Frank Turner and The Replacements. Try tracks 1, 3 and 8.
Comments: Somewhat chaotic and certainly high-energy rock on Morning Teleportation's Expanding Anyway. Rapid guitar lines--described as "spacey fingerstyle guitar... best described as "finger trippin'"--and steady drums highlight the frantic, raw vocals, and the occasional touches of piano and horns add a nice energy. There's a nice improvisational quality to the execution, and a variety of shifts betweeen weird, upfront rock and more psychedelic-tinged tracks. The promoter's RIYLs are Modest Mouse and Man Man, but in my opinion, it's more as if Morning Teleportation's sound is closest to a hybrid of these two bands juxtaposed together, rather than simply sounding like either one in particular. Try tracks 2, 4 and 7.
Comments: San Francisco's The Real Nasty claim influences that range from Led Zeppelin to Johnny Cash, and Strangers and Friends is indeed an amalgamation of country and bluesy rock that lands somewhere in between (though they've got a ways to go to catch up with their idols). Labelmates with Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion on Ninth Street Opus. Try "Girl on the Mountain".
Comments: Alexander is Alex Ebert, the frontman of Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros and Ima Robot. His latest project gives him a chance to flesh out some poppy folk-rock songs, more stripped-down and intimate than the music from the other two bands, but still very recognizable from his work on records like Another Man's Treasure or Up From Below. Lots of '60s and '70s pop influences, from The Mamas & the Papas to (according to Ebert himself) "In the Summertime," the 1970 hit (and only hit) from English band Mungo Jerry.
In addition to those who enjoy Ebert's other projects, Alexander will appeal to fans of Mumford & Sons and Sonny & the Sunsets. Start with "Let's Win", "Old Friend" and "Awake My Body".
Comments: A solid listen, full of vibrant style and innovative solos. This album stays mainly in the swing tradition, with cool rhythms working with flowing notation from the horn players. The arrangements are inventive, featuring playful melodies, with a small horn section generating a big band feel from a minimal number of instruments--reminiscent of compositions from the Thad Jones & Mel Lewis big band. Fast-paced tracks like "Black Fly Affair" showcase White's precision and dexterity on the saxophone, while smooth swing ballads like "Snowy Nights" display the emotion of his tone. This album is a complex portrait of a jazz artist who has found and developed his own unique musical personality, hitting that sweet spot between soul and mastery.
Comments: This album features a wide variety of jazz styles. From chill ballads with melody lines passed between piano and flute to energized, fast-paced bebop, Marcus never ceases to surprise the listener. The songs flow smoothly, with interactions between the musicians that speak to their experience and skill, not only individually, but as a cohesive whole. The tone of the album is crisp and cool, with excellent recording production capturing the natural sound of every instrument. Where The Big Easy displayed a dixieland-inspired funk feel, Prometheus Blues is more along the lines of pure, classic trio jazz. Make no mistake, the album experiments within those conventions. Songs like "The Extra Mile" reveal the band's creative versatility. This album is a great through-listen, whether for simple enjoyment or for close musical scrutiny. Confident and beautiful.
Comments: An excellent collection of tunes from a local group of professionals. Each player, hailing from a different town and style, brings his own interpretation to the songs in a complicated interaction of musical personalities. The tracks are very catchy, blending older traditions of jazz and contemporary funk into smooth fusion grooves. The vocals are in the gravelly style of Delta blues. The arrangements are carefully crafted, and filled with creative solos. The album moves through a variety of styles, but never loses sight of its funky experimentation. If you're looking for a taste of music that is relaxed and effortless, but subtly complex and emotional, look no further.
Comments: Gentle pop on Here Comes a City from Memphis, also known as Stars' Torquil Campbell's side project with Chris Dumont. The record is dreamy, melodic and romantic, but not overly saccharine--there are some rough edges (an unexpected guitar line, an intriguing rhythm) that stop the record from sounding exactly like it came out of Stars' catalogue, but enough similarities in style and tone to make the album sound familiar. Lush and cohesive, wonderfully crafted alt-pop; try tracks 2, 3 and 6.
Comments: Sweden's Lykke Li exploded onto the stage in 2007 with "Little Bit," a gem of a song that would highlight her quite impressive 2008 LP, Youth Novels. Produced by Bjorn Yttling (of Peter Bjorn and John), the album featured 45 minutes of excellent, danceable pop-rock; however, rather than just a great debut, it was a sign of even better things to come.
On her sophomore record, Wounded Rhymes, Lykke Li makes the jump from extremely good to undeniably amazing. This is, without doubt, one of the best records that you'll hear in 2011. There's plenty of dance pop here, which will be immediately recognizable to fans of Youth Novels--including the singles "Get Some" and "I Follow Rivers"--but the amount of musical territory that Lykke covers, and covers well, is unbelievable. There's the melancholy side of Shangri-Las style pop, as on "Sadness Is a Blessing" and "Silent My Song"; the dream pop of "Love Out of Lust"; the '50s-inspired "Unrequited Love" and the atmospheric folk number "I Know Places."
Fortunately, too, Yttling is back as producer. Lykke Li wrote all of the lyrics for the LP, but as on Youth Novels, Yttling worked with Lykke to compose the music--this time enlisting the help of the veteran pop songwriter Rick Nowels as well. Wounded Rhymes is a breakup record--surely you picked that up from some of the song titles--but there's a great balance between its dark side and its more hopeful, less despairing moments. This is pop music, after all.
On first listen, Wounded Rhymes is one of those albums that makes an immediate impact; I feel much the same as after hearing Beach House's Teen Dream last year, and that LP ended up as my No. 1 record of 2010. There's not really a track to skip over here, but start with 2, 5 and 7, and also check out 3, 9 and 1.
Comments: High levels of production and dramatics on the Blue Eyed Shark Experiment's The Fluffer. From the first track ("The Fluffer") onwards, there's a lilting, whimsical quality that's tempered by the more upfront piano-led indie pop-rock. Choruses and hooks keep the music catchy, while track-by-track deviations (jaunty pop here, some electro there) keep it interesting. Quite creative; try tracks 3, 6 and 9.
Comments: From Matador Records (Yo La Tengo, Ted Leo, Belle & Sebastian): "Once compared to Leonard Cohen, Tom Petty, Psychic TV, and Animal Collective in the same review (for 2009's Childish Prodigy), Kurt can bring to mind anything from Suicide to Leo Kottke to My Bloody Valentine, Bob Seger, Nick Drake and Eastern ragas. Still, he pieces together these disparate elements so seamlessly and unpretentiously that such reference points are rendered pointless by the singularity of his sound... This is the fourth time Kurt Vile has put an album's worth of songs together and stuck a name on it, but in a sense Smoke Ring for My Halo is his first real album--every flinching guitar arpeggio and vocal wander was made to be here, made with this record in mind..."
Vile has also gone from lo-fi solo recordings to a full band, aptly called The Violators, and undoubtedly Adam Granduciel (guitar, percussion, mellotron), Jesse Trbovich (guitar) and Mike Zanghi (drums) are integral to the quality of Smoke Ring for My Halo--as is the production of John Agnello, who fleshes out Vile's sound while maintaining an authentic feel. An excellent record from start to finish, but in particular try "Jesus Fever," "Society Is My Friend" and "Baby's Arms."
Comments: From the promoter: "Nonesuch releases guitarist/composer Jonny Greenwood's instrumental score to director Tran Anh Hung's new film Norwegian Wood on March 8, 2011... [The film is] an adaptation of Haruki Murakami's bestselling novel... In addition to his work with Radiohead, Jonny Greenwood has made a considerable name for himself as a composer in recent years. His Grammy-and BAFTA-nominated score for Paul Thomas Anderson's 2007 film There Will Be Blood won the award for Best Film Score at Evening Standard's British Film Awards and the Ivor Novello Award for Best Original Film Score."
Comments: Tahiti 80 is a French pop band that sings in English. They sound like a complete fusion of Pheonix and Radiohead... two comparisons not worth throwing around for the hell of it. This is fantastic French power pop that's sweeter than apple pie (cross-cultural pun intended).
The comparison to Phoenix falls short on one important level: songwriting. I believe that Tahiti 80's new record boasts songs with more depth, layers, and diversity of sounds across the board than Phoenix has ever shown. Although this record isn't perfect, I would recommend The Past, the Present & the Possible to anyone. Start with 1, 2, 5 and 6.
Comments: Brown Recluse's second album, Evening Tapestry, will transport you to the depths of the early indie rock/dream pop world. (Think Belle & Sebastian before Isobel Campbell's departure.) Evening Tapestry makes you remember how much you love and appreciate easy melodies backed by tambourines, punchy drums and pianos, and lots of whistling. Though Brown Recluse doesn't break any new ground, the whole album speaks softly to a happier/pre-recession/pre-age-of-anxiety time. Start with "Statue Garden."
Comments: In a line of recent Euro-girl pop releases, Ellie Goulding's Lights follows the big hitters, i.e. Robyn and Lykke Li. Honestly, no one wants to follow these, especially Robyn's overwhelmingly critically acclaimed Body Talk series. Goulding, though, can definitely hold her own. She mixes dance pop with folk and ends with an album that is listenable, enjoyable, and definitely promising for a debut. The strength lies in the sincerity of Goulding's words and voice. In songs like "The Writer," she pierces through the layers and the reputations of the preceding, lesser pop artists with her strained voice and the urgency of her lyrics. Starting from the top of the album is definitely the way to go, seeing as "Guns And Horses" is one of the strongest tracks.
Comments: Is there anything not to love about R&B? After all, it does contain the two factors needed for memorable, bop-your-head-to-the-beat songs: rhythm and blues. Scandalous, the second album from Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, has an extremely retro feel and a James Brown quality. It's the kind of music you want to see live. You want to see Lewis and his crew up on stage wailing, playing, and having the sort of fun with music and performance that is absent in the emo/serious alt-rock section of your iTunes library. After listening to this album, you'll wonder why you haven't spent more time and more money investing in groups with the same raw, dirty, but simply enjoyable feel as Lewis's. "She's So Scandalous" and "Booty City" are the standouts, but this whole album is one you want to keep around.
Comments: A new track from TV On the Radio titled "Will Do", off of their upcoming record Nine Types of Life. It's typically heavy yet sneakily catchy, with repeating vocal lines and steady back rhythms. Sadly only a single, but certainly worth a listen--it's got a pleasant, mellow vibe that's a nice change, and some slightly different guitar work.
Comments: Stateless' latest record, Matilda, is a skillful blend of electronic tendencies and classic song structures, and the result is a heavy, atmospheric sound, described as "sounding like Jeff Buckley battling Modeselektor". (As a huge JB fan, I won't go that far, but the dramatics are incredibly wide-ranging and successfully dramatic.) Matilda is incredibly cinematic, and the addition of intriguing rhythms and strings adds a mysterious element to the sound. Produced by Bjork's producer/programmer Damian Taylor. Try tracks 3, 9 and 11.
Note: Two versions are available: the red CD has vocals, whereas the black CD does not.
Comments: Wonderfully quirky and experiemental pop from Rainbow Arabia on their debut full-length, Boys and Diamonds. Described as "continent-trekking, kaleidoscope pop", the group creates colorful music, with odd beats, solid hooks, and international influences ranging from Arabian chants to bossa nova rhythms. Perfect for the upcoming warm weather; start with tracks 1, 2, and 4.
Comments: Please leave your expectations for a J Mascis record at the door: If you're anticipating the wailing guitar for which Mascis is renowned, you'll be duly disappointed by Several Shades of Why (though it does make a nice cameo at the end of the album). But if you're looking for the songcraft that is obscured--yet never quite buried--by those layers of guitar distortion on your standard Dinosaur Jr. record, it's certainly at the forefront here, helped along by a superb guest list that includes Kurt Vile, Kevin Drew (Broken Social Scene), Pall Jenkins (The Black Heart Procession), Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses), Suzanne Thorpe (The Mercury Rev) and Matt Valentine (MV & EE).
Start with lead single "Not Enough," and also check out "Make It Right" and "What Happened."
Comments: Maine native and Brooklyn transplant Luke Rathborne has already drawn comparisons to the likes of Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Elliott Smith, Will Oldham and Lou Reed. At age 22, that kind of praise could easily set up Rathborne for a spectacular letdown, but this 8-song, double-EP debut is anything but. These are extremely well-built folk songs, from the quiet acoustic guitar, cello and percussion of "Motor City" to the rich, crescendoing folk rock of "Pantomime Fear" and "Dog Years." These two EPs are certainly worth your time.
Comments: From the label: "Constant Future is the career-defining statement from Brooklyn-based noise-pop trio Parts & Labor. The album's 12 tracks deliver the bare essentials that made them sui generis totems of modern art-punk: synthesized keyboard riffs distorted into oblivion, percussion pummeled hypnotically, crackling drones that haunt and soothe, fearless melodies hollered skyward... [The record] finds them... focusing pointedly on what they do best: unique, electronic landscapes melded with buzzing, anthemic hooks..."
Produced by Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, MGMT, Mogwai), Constant Future is an extremely accessible, if not downright catchy, noisy pop-rock record. Try "A Thousand Roads" and "Hurricane."
Comments: British soul/neo-soul pop sensation Adele has returned with her sophmore effort, 21. In short, it's an excellent, well-produced (ahem, Rick Rubin) record; lead single "Rolling in the Deep" has become a radio-favorite, and with good reason (although personally, I'm rather fond of the Villa remix--YouTube it). Adele's voice is unquestionably sophisticated and clearly the centerpiece of the record, which as a whole is admittedly heart-heavy, but not so forlorn as to be weary. Balancing between the epic and the quiet, Adele seems to really shine on the more anthemic tracks ("Rolling in the Deep", "Rumour Has It" ), which she also seems better suited to, vocally (in my opinion). However, when she does tone it down ("He Won't Go", for example), the jazz and blues elements help keep Adele's sound refreshing. Try tracks 1, 5, and 10 (her cover of The Cure's "Love Song").
Comments: Calm, thoughtful alt-pop tunes from Sacred Animals on their EP Welcome Home. Using vocal harmonies, circular melodies, and slowed-down tempos, the group has created a relaxed, atmospheric EP. Occasional bells and background strings add depth. All four tracks are great, but start with 1 or 2.
Comments: From the promoter: "Civilian is a kind of 21st-century folk music, imbued with dense shoegaze guitars, nearly melodic rhythms, and impeccable splashes of electronic color. Without leaning on conventional structure, the songs beguile with fascinating chords and melodies, Jenn [Wasner]'s voice and riveting lyrics, mesmerizing rhythms, and an intoxicating aural landscape. Just as good writing has meaning between the lines, Civilian has meaning between the sounds: the combinations of harmonies, timbres, and words summon vivid and ineffable associations just beyond reach."
A brilliant and gorgeous record from Wasner and Andy Stack, Civilian is the third LP in their canon, all of which have been released by Merge. (The band's 2007 debut If Children was self-released, but then reissued by Merge a year later.) Listening to Wye Oak, I'm reminded at times of Yo La Tengo, and at others of slowcore bands like Red House Painters and Low. Civilian also benefits from the excellent production work of John Congleton, who's worked on recent gems from the likes of St. Vincent and Shearwater.
The more I listen to Civilian, the more I like this LP, and I enjoyed it quite a bit to begin with. Start with "Two Small Deaths" and "Holy Holy."
Comments: Seemingly out of nowhere--at least, lacking the fanfare that should accompany a new album from perhaps the best rock band of the last two decades--comes The King of Limbs, the eighth studio LP from Radiohead. While I feel completely incapable of writing an adequate review of a Radiohead album, I'll say two things: one, The King of Limbs is a quieter, more electronically driven record than one might expect, perhaps drawing more from Thom Yorke's recent solo work (though In Rainbows certainly sent the band in that direction, at least on certain songs).
Secondly, while it's quite good, the new LP isn't going to replace OK Computer, Kid A or even In Rainbows in people's minds as the Best Radiohead Album. But that shouldn't stop you from spinning it--a B+ release from Radiohead is better than the A+ stuff of 99 percent of bands out there. (A stunning statement, I know.) Start with "Lotus Flower," "Morning Mr. Magpie" and "Little By Little."
Comments: This is an interesting album; "intriguing" is definitely a good word. From one song to the next, the style, energy, and tone of the music shifts on a dime. There is definitely an expiremental edge to this album, which would also fit within the pop category as well. I'm struggling to do a decent job of describing this dynamic record.
Anyway, this is what the promoter has to say: "Said the Whale formed in 2007 as a collaboration between songwriters Ben Worcester and Tyler Bancroft, 'nodding at times to the sea shanties of Neutral Milk Hotel and at others to the boat-shoe-gazing of Vampire Weekend' (The National Post)."
Comments: This is pretty good, kinda quirky folk rock. From the promoter: "Withered Hand is the brainchild of Scottish artist Dan Willson, who after knocking around in local bands for a number of years headed home to familial responsibilities and found himself in the wistful, clever and often devastating Withered Hand." Start with 2 and 5.
Comments: Stellar record, Typhoon! This EP has so many interesting things going on, you won't be able to wait for the next song while you're listening. Trumpets, cellos, heavy guitars, wonderful bass lines, marching band-esque drum rhythms, impassioned vocals... This EP combines everything you love about Bright Eyes, Hey Marseilles, Bon Iver and more.
From the lead singer: "Songs as personal as these perhaps ought to be burned or buried rather than be paraded before an audience. But there is something transfigurative in playing music with so many close friends--what starts out as a solemn, solitary attempt is turned into something both communal and cathartic. I think we have fun at times."
Comments: This is a top-shelf record from a band that has seemed to come out of the woodwork in just the past few years (see below). This album is dynamic, fun, melodic, energitic, calming, and a pure all-around joy. I see a lot of CDs come through WLUR, and this is definitely one of the handful I'll be coming back to.
From the promoter: "After a breakthrough 2009 that saw them earn comparisons to The Arcade Fire and Neutral Milk Hotel, capture SXSW buzz playing on a bill with Grizzly Bear, sell out a tour, sign to Saddle Creek, and score a 'Breaking Out' feature in SPIN magazine, The Rural Alberta Advantage are poised to explode in 2011 with Departing..."
Comments: Another undeniably catchy collection of synth-driven pop tunes from the Portland band whose name you can't say on the air. (Go with "Star-eff-er.") Reptilians is Starf***er's second full-length and first for Polyvinyl (of Montreal, Deerhoof, Asobi Seksu), and Josh Hodges proves his worth as a great songwriter--interestingly enough, it's a record about death and the end of the world, but the poppy hooks and danceable beats keep it from being dark or depressing.
For fans of MGMT, Passion Pit and Neon Indian. Start with "Born," "Millions" and "Bury Us Alive."
Comments: Jamie xx (of ascendant British electropop superstars The xx) has remixed Gil Scott-Heron's 2010 album I'm New Here. From the promoter: "Born in 1949 and releasing music from the 1970s, it is perhaps inevitable that Gil Scott-Heron's influence appears at multiple points in the cycles that lead us to We're New Here. His proto-rap spoken word is credited as an influence on hip hop, a genre that would both inspire Jamie xx as a producer and feed into the nascent rave scene of the late 1980s... Fifteen years ago, as the flames of rave began to die down, Jamie xx's parents would play him Gil Scott-Heron records around the dining room table, feeding his love of music... So when they came to combine, on We're New Here, perhaps Jamie xx and Gil Scott-Heron were not truly strangers, instead linked by musical heritage, with [XL Recordings owner Richard Russell, who produced I'm New Here] the bridge in between.
"Freed from the constraints of being part of a band, Jamie returned to the hip-hop breaks that he first loved as a producer and built a beautiful new sound for Gil. Jamie also took the occasion to bury samples in the work... The young boy who was inspired to write music by records playing at the dinner table is now returning the favour by treating Scott-Heron's vocals so lovingly, but underpinning them with the dubstep sub bass that has so dominated the recent now, that he offers Gil the gift of a new and current context."
Try "I'm New Here," "I'll Take Care of U" and "Home."
Comments: The Babies is a newish project featuring Kevin Morby and Cassie Ramone, and, to be quite frank, it sounds exactly like what I'd expect from a collaboration between the Woods bassist and the Vivian Girls frontwoman. That's not to be taken as a complaint; this eponymous record is a solid collection of lo-fi rock tunes that allow Woods' psych folk and Vivian Girls' pop to seep in. Check out "Run Me Over," "Meet Me in the City" and the 75-second-long punk-rock gem "Personality."
Comments: Following up on their surfy, '60s girl group-influenced 2010 debut I Will Be, Dum Dum Girls branch out with the excellent He Gets Me High EP. Two things should tell you the direction that the band takes on this 4-song set: one, The Raveonettes' Sune Rose Wagner produced the release; two, one of the standout songs is a cover of The Smiths' "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out." Also try the title track.
Comments: French trio We Are Enfant Terrible create dancey electro-synth-pop, and their style solidifies on Explicit Picures. The record is successfully upbeat but occasionally grimy, with indie-pop sensibilities and a perchance for using 8-bit sounds (hurrah, Ninentdo--on stage, everything is apparently run through a Gameboy). The result is chic, polished synth goodness, with complementary bass lines and steady, anchoring beats--not too clean cut, but certainly the opposite of sloppy. RIYL: CSS, the Ting Tings. Try tracks 2 and 7.
Comments: Garage rock plus psychedelia on Lumerians' debut full-length Transmalinnia. Textured and rhythmic, with "stripped-down organ psych and fuzzed out space disco", the result is a weird, haunting, altered-state style of music--constantly changing but never completely breaking with the sounds before. Described as "droning dance music for the soul you forgot you had," Transmalinnia is an experimental but accessible foray into mind-melting psychedelia. Try tracks 1 (an amazingly strong opener) and 2.
Comments: Quiet folk from the Lancaster, Pa. duo Josh and Trista Lamb, whose acoustic guitar and vocals are nicely accented by violin and cello from their classically trained friends. Try "Black Billows."
Comments: Well-constructed folk pop tunes from the Nashville-based singer/songwriter Holley Maher on her 5-song EP Odd Place to Be. For fans of Ingrid Michaelson, Basia Bulat and Regina Spektor. Try the upbeat title track and the quieter, folksier number "Always Be."
Comments: Cardinal Family Singers, from L.A. by way of North Carolina, meld '80s and '90s alt-rock, indie, punk and power pop influences on their energetic, upbeat LP This Is What We Did. Check out "Melody."
Artist: ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead
Album: Tao of the Dead
Label: Superball Music
Genre: Alt-rock, progressive rock
Comments: ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead return with their seventh LP, Tao of the Dead, an album that blends experimentation with the group's prog and alt roots. The tracks contain the right amount of frantic energy, with heavy emphasis on the guitar and subsequent experimentation. The album is divided into part one, "Tao of the Dead," which is 11 tracks long, all in the key of D, and part two, "Strange News From Another Planet," which is the final five tracks combined into one 16-and-a-half minute continuous piece, all in the key of F. Paying homage to Pink Floyd, Yes, and Rush, the group has created an expansive, symphonic, and focused record, with persistent percussion and feedback. Try tracks 2 and 3.
Comments: Decribed as "music to make you uncomfortable," Raw Milk's debut LP Tired Giant is a delightfully weird record. The entire album was written, performed, and mixed by bassist Ben Hilt, and it certainly has the unique one-man perspective. Constant, steady percussion, touches of acoustic and electric instruments (sometimes faint, sometimes leading), and prominent, hard-edged spoken/sung vocals combine into what's described, aptly, as "a hollow sonic palette". There's a restrained quality to the record, but it's refreshing in its lack of dramatics and unfront perspective. RIYL Eels, Afghan Whigs, and a touch of Beck. Try tracks 1, 3 and 4.
Comments: From the promoter: "Eisley, the Tyler, TX-based quintet, is comprised of siblings Sherri (vocals/guitar), Stacy (vocals/piano), Chauntelle (vocals/guitar), and Weston Dupree and their cousin, Garron DuPree (bass). Following their debut full-length, Room Noises, in 2005 and their sophomore release, Combinations, in 2007, the band has kept busy..."
This is more of a pop-punk record than anything else. It's hard not to think "girl pop-punk" when you listen to this record. It's true, whoever is the lead singer has an intriguing voice. The melodies/music can be over-over-dramatic sometimes. Definitely a highly polished record. Start with track 2.
Comments This record is truly a "bright example" of extraordinary folk rock. Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion harmonize in a truly intriguing manner. Much of the album has a '60/70's Crosby Stills and Nash vibe. This record boasts incredible songwriting and top-shelf production quality. Each instrument, melody, and note add up to a great folk-rock record.
From the duo's website: "A lot can happen in five years, and for the husband-and-wife duo Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, the time between Exploration, their first album together in 2005, and Bright Examples... their new, full-length collaborative project, has been one nonstop whirlwind of activity. Not only has the couple toured extensively both as a duo and as part of the 'Guthrie Family Rides Again' tour (with Sarah Lee's dad, Arlo Guthrie), they’ve also released the children’s album Go Waggaloo (Smithsonian Folkways), a live DVD entitled Folk Song, a solo album by Johnny (Ex Tempore), parented their two young daughters and moved from South Carolina to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, near where Sarah Lee was raised."
Comments: Old-school hip hop from Twin Cities MC Kristoff Krane, formerly of Abzorbr and Face Candy. Picking Flowers Next to Roadkill features guestwork from the likes of P.O.S., Eyedea and Atmosphere's Slug, but that doesn't hide the terrific rapping of Krane and the jazzy, funky, '90s-style production of Strange Matter.
For fans of A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets and Things Fall Apart-era Roots. Daytime DJs, check out "Dream"; late-night folks, try "Don't Mean a Thing" (featuring P.O.S.) and "Work" (with Slug).