Thursday, October 27, 2011

Best New Music - October 25

Music your parents will love:


Real Estate

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: Real Estate 

Album: Days 

Label: Domino 

Genre: Rock 

Comments: In labeling Real Estate's new LP "a guitar-pop masterwork", here's what The A.V. Club had to say: "The New Jersey indie-pop outfit fashioned Days in the form of the Beach Boys' Today, the Byrds' Notorious Byrd Brothers, and The Shins' Oh, Inverted World--all perfect autumnal guitar-pop records that radiate inarticulate loveliness and deep, coming-of-age melancholy. Real Estate set itself up to falter by comparison, but Days pulls off the impressive feat of earning that company."

Needless to say, that's extremely high praise for a band that's just two records into its career. However, it's certainly well-deserved. Real Estate's eponymous 2009 debut was a fantastic collection of hazy, surf-rock-inspired guitar pop, which fit perfectly into the Woodsist collective; jumping to Domino for the follow-up was an indication that the band was ready to polish off its sound, and that measure is achieved with resounding success on Days.

Mixing the sounds of '60s and '70s pop and psychedelia, '80s alternative and shoegaze, and '90s and '00s indie, Real Estate is one of the rare bands that have a truly timeless sound. You'll quickly find yourself wanting to listen to Days over and over in its entirety, but start with tracks 3, 5, 1 and 2.

Strange Boys

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: Strange Boys 

Album: Live Music 

Label: Rough Trade 

Genre: Blues, folk, rock 

Comments: Disclaimer by the label: "THIS IS NOT A LIVE RECORDING." (The "live" in Live Music rhymes with "give," not "hive.") While this isn't a live album, I can only assume that Strange Boys' performances must be thrilling. For any of you folks who like Spoon or Mumford and Sons, which is virtually everybody, then you'll dig Live Music.

Folk and Wilco-like country and Ol' Fashioned 'Merican Rock are the key ingredients to this record. I guess you could say this would be great music for a campfire, or something rural like that. While this is, of course, no Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Live Music presents a legitimate "American" styled album that succeeds in impressing. "Me and You" is a good track to start with.

Phantogram

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: Phantogram 

Album: Nightlife (EP) 

Label: Barsuk 

Genre: Electronic rock, pop 

Comments: In an age of instant everything, success almost seems to be happening in slow motion for the New York state duo Phantogram. Though the band's very impressive debut LP, Eyelid Movies, was released in the U.S. in February 2010--and some five months earlier in Europe--it didn't immediately catch on. Months later, though, killer tracks like "When I'm Small" and "Mouthful of Diamonds" started making the rounds, and the record found its way, deservedly, onto numerous year-end best-of lists.

Now, well over 18 months later, Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel have finished the cycle, so to speak, with this 6-song EP. "Nightlife is kind of an extension of the whole process of making and touring behind Eyelid Movies, and it feels in a lot of ways like the completion of what we were doing with the songs on that album," Carter explains. The EP also seems to drop hints as to the direction that Phantogram might take in the future, particularly the excellent "Don't Move", a chill, synth-driven tune that would fit neatly into a playlist with Neon Indian and Washed Out.

"Don't Move" is absolutely brilliant; also try "16 Years" and "Turning Into Stone".

The Spades

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: The Spades 

Album: Let It Burn (EP) 

Label: Pirate Radio 

Genre: Rock 

Comments: Standard-issue garage/'60s-influenced pop rock from the Ontario band The Spades on this 6-song EP. Opening track "Dirt Roads" has a nice, slightly bluesy, guitar-rock feel.

Bliss N Eso

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: Bliss N Eso 

Album: Running on Air 

Label: Illusive Sounds 

Genre: Hip hop 

Comments: The latest LP from the Australian rap duo Bliss N Eso features guest work from the RZA and Xzibit, which should give you an idea of the spirit and style of Running on Air. From the promoter: "An exhilarating blend of fluid rhymes and beatboxing, impromptu freestyling and seamless turntablism, make [Bliss N Eso's] live shows a brand in their own right... Their fourth studio album Running on Air is the group's most impressive work today and has garnered near perfect reviews across the board."

Clean edits provided; try tracks 3, 8, 4, 10 and 14.

M83

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: M83 

Album: Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. 

Label: Mute 

Genre: Dream pop, shoegaze

Comments: The double album is no easy task.  Recently, we've seen attempts from bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but the concept itself originates from Benny Goodman's Live at Carnegie Hall. These double LPs are exceptionally difficult to produce, as artists must find a musical "thesis" that encompasses both albums. Generally, this task leaves the double album unfocused and grasping.

M83, however, not only evades this issue, but builds on his teen-angst mantra with Hurry Up, We're Dreaming.  His record begins with "Intro", a beautiful opener that features Zola Jesus. I should note that Anthony Gonzalez, the sole member of M83, has meticulously worked on his voice since Saturdays=Youth, and it sure shows. "Midnight City", the first single, is up next; it's definitely one of the more upbeat and pop-centered songs on the record. With lyrics like "The city is my church," fans can easily tell that M83 has amplified his urban songcraft into the lyrics. In fact, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. generally seems like something that could be blasted through a dimly-lit city on a dismal, rainy night. 

Anyhow, this is simply another outstanding album from M83. You should give the whole thing a listen, since it's only a little over 70 minutes, which is relatively short for a double album. Spin "Intro" "Midnight City", "Klaus I Love You", "Claudia Lewis" or just about any other song from this brilliant double album.

Russian Circles

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: Russian Circles 

Album: Empros 

Label: Sargent House 

Genre: Rock, experimental 

Comments: From the promoter: "Put simply, Empros is Russian Circles' Master of Reality: a radical revision of both heavy and melody that is monolithic in its clarity and perfection. Or, like a lone surviving wooly beast emerging from a brutal winter's frost, Empros is the sound of a band shaking the ages from its shoulders with all the brutal force of a behemoth awakened."

The promoter also uses the phrases "evermore slithering rhythms," "skull-crushing heft" and "visceral intensity" to describe this band's work. Yeah, I'd say that's definitely the kind of language you'd want to use to describe this music. Empros is a pretty heavy record, and if you're into that kind of thing, it's not bad. Start with 2, 5 and 6.

goodbyemotel

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: goodbyemotel 

Album: Wish Your Way (EP)

Label: Self-released

Genre: Indie rock, alternative

Comments: goodbyemotel is an indie rock band from Melbourne, Australia. Wish Your Way is definitely a really upbeat, bop-your-head sorta EP. When I started listening to opening track "redroom", the beginning riff immediately reminded me of Interpol. Almost immediately, though, it became a little more upbeat, the vocals less monotone, and it was clear that this band is definitely not Interpol.

The promoter compares them to the Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand; I would say those are fairly appropriate comparisons, in that goodbyemotel has a similar vibe to those bands. Their music is upbeat and catchy, or as Stagedive Malta describes it: "powerpop that's so sparky that it could easily set a small town on fire." goodbyemotel has a good thing going here--this is a nice set of indie rock songs. This EP is definitely going to get you pumped for the album that they plan to record later this year.

I think track 1 is the best, but 3 is a close runner-up. Start with those two.

Joe Henry

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: Joe Henry 

Album: Reverie 

Label: ANTI- 

Genre: Folk, country, rock 

Comments: Joe Henry is a multi-Grammy-winning producer. Most recently, he won Best Traditional Folk Album for producing the Carolina Chocolate Drops' 2010 LP, Genuine Negro Jig. Meanwhile, Reverie is Henry's 12th studio album. Henry himself describes it as "raw, noisy and scruffy work." Even if this is true, this album is very well-done and just all-around good. Although at times I felt as if it was a little overwrought, it's a solid record. The lyrics are definitely well-written and the tunes catchy and very unique.

What I like most about this is the intensity of the album. It's clear that Henry worked very hard to make this the best that he could; every aspect of this album is carefully performed. Take "Deathbed Version", for example (track 10). You can faintly hear a dog howling in the background throughout parts of this song, which gives it exactly the eerie quality that makes it unique and particularly stirring.

If you like Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Randy Newman, you'll probably like this album as well. Start with track 2, and then listen to 4, 5, 10 and 12. Yeah, that's a lot to go with, but it's a good album, and you won't regret it.

I Build Collapsible Mountains

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: I Build Collapsible Mountains 

Album: The Spectator & the Act 

Label: Burning Building 

Genre: Rock, acoustic 

Comments: The Spectator & the Act by I Build Collapsible Mountains is a good record. At first, I wasn't into it ("Instrumental #1" is kinda weird on first listen; it features a friend reciting a poem), but after a couple of listens, this album definitely grew on me. I Build Collapsible Mountains is this guy Joyce from Edinburgh, Scotland. His lyrics are very confessional and very well-written, and these tunes will definitely stay with you. When you listen to this album, you can see that Joyce definitely put his all into it. It's a very calm, soft sort of album. Very heartfelt.

My favorite tracks are towards the end: 9, 10 and 11. But 1 and 3 are also worth a listen. 

Voltaire Twins

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: Voltaire Twins 

Album: Animalia (EP) 

Label: Self-released 

Genre: Electronica, electropop 

Comments: "Animalia" is the lead single from the forthcoming Romulus EP from Australia's Voltaire Twins. It's a fine slice of neo-disco and synth pop, falling somewhere between the dancefloor feel of La Roux and the post-New Wave of the band's Oceanic neighbor Ladyhawke. This 5-track release also features three remixes. Spin tracks 1 and 3.

Viva Voce

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: Viva Voce 

Album: The Future Will Destroy You 

Label: Vanguard 

Genre: Rock, psych folk 

Comments: The Future Will Destroy You is the sixth LP from the Portland husband-and-wife duo of Kevin and Anita Robinson, known to all as Viva Voce. In the past, their psychedelic pop-rock has drawn them comparisons to the likes of Yo La Tengo and Sparklehorse; for the new record, Viva Voce has made an intriguing label switch, moving from indie stalwart Barsuk to the folk and alt-country Vanguard imprint. Perhaps the change in scenery has influenced the band's sound, but it seems like there's a bit more folk and a bit less pop here, especially on the second half of the album. While Viva Voce executes its psychedelic folk adequately, it's not quite distinctive enough to stand apart from many other bands that are doing the same thing.

Still, there are some fine tunes on The Future Will Destroy You, most notably "Analog Woodland Song" and "Plästic Rädio", which will bring to mind the Viva Voce of old; "A Viking Love Song" is the best of the folksier numbers.

Particle Wave

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: Particle Wave 

Album: Painting on Shadows 

Label: Self-released 

Genre: Rock, pop 

Comments: From the promoter: "Particle Wave delivers album-oriented alternative indie rock with strong, melody-driven vocals, leads and harmonies under lush guitar with driving drums and bass in the style of My Morning Jacket, Tame Impala, and Pink Floyd."

Start with 1, 3 and 4.

Wondernaut

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: Wondernaut 

Album: 1,000 Love Songs (EP)

Label: Lackpro 

Genre: Rock, pop 

Comments: From the promoter: "Following the success of its heavier predecessor [Mind the Pendulum Swing]... 1,000 Love Songs is a demonstration of Wondernaut's softer side. With powerful and emotional lyrics wrapped around solid musicianship, 1,000 Love Songs is Wondernaut's second release on Lackpro Records."

This is a super-lo-fi record that has some pleasant pop-rock songs. Definitely endearing in its back-home/backyard feel to it all. Start with 2 and 3.

Thomas Comerford

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: Thomas Comerford 

Album: Archive + Spiral 

Label: Spacesuit

Genre: Folk, rock 

Comments: Thomas Comerford is a deep-toned singer/songwriter who creates accessible and thought-provoking alt-country tunes. The major asset Comerford puts to use is simplicity; his songs hold strong melodies, meandering electric guitars, and simple drum and bass rhythms. Start with tracks 3 and 1.

The Blue Van

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: The Blue Van 

Album: Love Shot 

Label: Iceberg 

Genre: Rock, pop, alternative 

Comments: From the promoter: "Let there be no doubt that the boys in The Blue Van know their music history to the tips of their fingers. It's this deep respect for the traditions of classic rock, combined with a boundary-seeking, almost provokingly modern rock production, that gives the band its sound. The band's fourth album, Love Shot, is the final fight against the taboo and dogma rules from the garage and retro scene and could have a few music snobs falling out of their seats."

The Blue Van's sound is a power-pop version of '80s classic rock. Start with 3, 2 and 5.

Hunters

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: Hunters 

Album: Hands on Fire 

Label: Self-released 

Genre: Punk, rock 

Comments: From the promoter: "Hailing from Brooklyn, NY, Hunters' music is charged with wild energy-- led by singers/guitarists Derek Watson and Isabel Ibsen. Mixing boy/girl harmonies with super catchy guitars, their songs tend to get stuck in your head before you even finish listening to them."

Fun, thrilling, and energetic punk songs. Try any of the first three tracks.

Roots Manuva

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: Roots Manuva 

Album: 4evereloution 

Label: Big Dada 

Genre: Hip hop, rock, funk 

Comments: From the promoter: "The album is just a few seconds under an hour long, consists of seventeen tracks and covers every style from wonky reggae through pop-funk, street spitting, straight up hip hop, sung ballads, and epic death-disco" (bold is mine, wow!).

I am far removed from any respectable knowledge base of rap and hip-hop music. Still, I can tell you if something is worth listening to, and this Roots Manuva record is definitely worth checking out. Mr. Manuva explores crazy corners of hip-hop, funk and "epic death-disco." Start with 7, 1 and 2.

Jane's Addiction

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: Jane's Addiction 

Album: The Great Escape Artist 

Label: Capitol 

Genre: Rock, alternative

Comments: Some background from the Los Angeles Times: "'You know, we’ve become a big business,' Perry Farrell notes in his distinctive caterwaul on 'Irresistible Force (Meet the Immovable Object)', a song on the fourth full-length release from Jane’s Addiction. It's a remarkable moment of candor: Jane's Addiction commenced in the late '80s as one of alternative rock's most maverick progenitors, fomenting the American festival movement in founding Lollapalooza and inspiring legions with heavy yet genre-confounding grooves. However, as Jane's coalesced into a mainstream headliner, the band's recorded legacy grew so spotty and sporadic it made R.E.M.'s seem like a model of consistency by comparison."

Some thoughts from me: I wouldn't call myself a Jane's Addiction fan, but I certainly understand the weight of their influence in the Nirvana/grunge-rock era in the 1990s. I remember my older brother obsessing over Ritual de lo Habitual and not being able to quite understanding how someone would love music so much (HA!). Anyway, The Great Escape Artist is a fantastic record in its own right. Lots of layers, lots of depth, lots of thought and musical talent here. Start with 4, 2 and 5.

Have Gun Will Travel

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: Have Gun Will Travel 

Album: Mergers & Acquisitions 

Label: Suburban Home 

Genre: Folk, rock 

Comments: Have Gun Will Travel released one of my favorite albums in 2010, Postcards from the Friendly City. They're back again with another force of a record called Mergers & Acquisitions. Have Gun Will Travel is an alt-country band from Florida. The band has what seems to be a natural instinct in combing folk, pop, and country melodies and instruments in order to create fun folk tunes.

This album doesn't quite surpass my love for their previous release, but it's definitely worth checking out. Start with 3, 5, 2 and 9.

The Devil Makes Three

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: The Devil Makes Three 

Album: Stomp And Smash:  Live at the Mystic Theatre 

Label: Milan 

Genre: Country, folk, blues 

Comments: Let me preclude this review by saying that I'm not well-versed in country/folk. However, I have grown up listening to The Band, Johnny Cash, and "A Prairie Home Companion", and The Devil Makes Three fits well into this genre. Stomp And Smash: Live at the Mystic Theatre feels just like the title--a stomping, smashing, romping, down-home country party. Not the music I usually listen to, but entertaining nonetheless. Start with "Statesboro Blues".

The Ericksons

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: The Ericksons 

Album: Don't Be Scared, Don't Be Alarmed 

Label: Self-released 

Genre: Folk, country 

Comments: The only thing that sets The Ericksons apart from other folk/country girl duos is the tremendous atmosphere behind the album Don't Be Scared, Don't Be Alarmed. The sisters take the traditional elements of harmonious, forlorn folk and add layers of nondescript and building sounds to make their music traditional and modern, unique but with that eerie familiar feeling.

Bonnie "Prince" Billy

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: Bonnie "Prince" Billy 

Album: Wolfroy Goes To Town 

Label: Drag City 

Genre: Rock, folk 

Comments: From listening to his music, you would never know that Bonnie "Prince" Billy, or Will Oldham, wanted to make it as an actor in Hollywood. That perceived lifestyle--fast-paced, high-class, superficial--holds no place or reflection in Billy's music. In Wolfroy Goes To Town, Billy continues his mastery of the rustic, dark folk sounds that he has explored through many years past. His music remains quiet and simple, yet sincere. This sincerity, though, does not come from confessional lyrics and teary-eyed recollections, but from the starkly sung histories of the everyman. This album provides solace for a weary soul as it hits the lonely strings of discontent.

Wishes and Thieves

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: Wishes and Thieves 

Album: Lighthouse EP 

Label: Self-released 

Genre: Electropop, electronic rock 

Comments: Bass-heavy synth-driven pop from the New York band Wishes and Thieves on the 5-song Lighthouse EP. Check out the title track.

Zoe Boekbinder

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: Zoe Boekbinder 

Album: Darling Specimens 

Label: Extropian 

Genre: Folk, baroque pop 

Comments: From the promoter: "Zoe Boekbinder's newest album is a heartrending and tousled collage of auxiliary percussion, haunted horns, theremins, and strings. Her voice flutters with delicate precision, and her frequently macabre and surreal lyrics hint at the haunted circus from which they must have sprung."

A very neat baroque folk-pop record from this Oakland-based artist, Darling Specimens shifts effortlessly through folk, chamber pop and jazz-inspired tunes; there always seems to be a new wrinkle around the corner, whether it's the warble of a musical saw or the beats from an unexpected synth, while Boekbinder's rich vocals tie everything together. Spin tracks 1, 2, 5 and 3.

Mr. Gnome

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: Mr. Gnome 

Album: Madness in Miniature 

Label: El Marko

Genre: Pop, rock, experimental 

Comments: From the promoter: "Inspired by the surreal, Cleveland's Mr. Gnome has been creating a singular amalgam of gritty, space-psychedelia since 2005, gaining them an ever-growing cult following across North America and Europe, as well as praise from the likes of Rolling Stone, PASTE, SPIN, Bust and more... Madness in Miniature twists from soft lullabies to interstellar chaos, represented well by 'Bit of Tongue'."

This is a fantastically awesome and fun record, featuring some of the best upbeat and atmospheric indie pop I've heard in a while. Start with 5, 3, 7 and 12.

Coldplay

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: Coldplay 

Album: Mylo Xyloto 

Label: Capitol 

Genre: Pop, rock 

Comments: From the Chicago Tribune: "Though the band has tinkered with new sounds (the art-rock moves of X&Y in 2005 and the world-music accents in Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends), Mylo Xyloto is essentially a blueprint for concert sing-alongs – rock's sensitive-guy answer to the Black Eyed Peas' party-till-you-pass-out celebration."

Brian Eno is credited with "enoxification and additional composition" on this record, but honestly, I can hardly tell. There really isn't much on Mylo Xyloto that pushes the boundaries beyond a few flowery details and background synth riffs. Fans of formulated pop rock who like music that doesn't live up to its hype will enjoy this record. Start with tracks 2 and 4.

Penguin Prison

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: Penguin Prison 

Album: Penguin Prison 

Label: Downtown 

Genre: Indie rock, electronica 

Comments: Penguin Prison's superb self-titled debut album has everything: New York discomats, angular bass lines, electrofunk assets, and a spectacularly abstract album art that would make any hipster mellowly enthuse with joy. But the point of the record is fun, and with catchy hits that anyone can dance to, I think this synthy artist has the pumped up kicks that we've been waiting for.

Pop your collar like it's 1984 with tracks 3, 2, 6 and 8.

Girl in a Coma

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: Girl in a Coma 

Album: Exits & All the Rest 

Label: Blackheart 

Genre: Rock, punk 

Comments: San Antonio's Girl in a Coma are releasing their fourth album, Exits & All the Rest, which seems part pogo-ready punk, part indie rock-abilly. As NPR says, "The band cranks its amps in the style of the classic-rock power trios I listened to back then, though it swaps out the testosterone with a sense of graceful defiance." With sounds that are sharper than ever, and melodies that live long past the end of the song, the record gives up some angst, which is definitely agreeable to the ears.

Probably Girl in a Coma's best album to date; the standouts lie in tracks 3, 6, 1 and 8.

The Deep Dark Woods

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: The Deep Dark Woods 

Album: The Place I Left Behind 

Label: Sugar Hill 

Genre: Folk 

Comments: Music that wakes the ghosts of Appalachia with its prairie gothic pyre-side tales, and just in time for Halloween. On their new record, The Deep Dark Woods keeps fueling their murder ballads and slow-dance waltzes with themes of geographic alienation, trails yet to be taken, and scars of abandoned intimacies. The Place I Left Behind puts on a good folk'n show.

Who needs the "Monster Mash" when you have tracks 2, 1, 5 and 11?

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin

Add Date: October 25 

Artist: Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin 

Album: Tape Club 

Label: Polyvinyl 

Genre: Indie rock 

Comments: With three full-length releases to their credit, the members of Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin (or SSLYBY for short...?) are unveiling a good portion of songs from their extensive catalogue. Twenty-six good portions, to be exact, all acting as excellent thank-yous to fans and hellos to new listeners. Tape Club has everything in it, from lo-fi home recordings to more polished studio tracks, from high-energy experiments to charmingly stripped-down tunes.

The entire album is radio-ready, but I'd stick to tracks 23, 22, 3, 18 and 5.

Class Actress

Add Date: October 25

Artist: Class Actress

Album: Rapprocher

Label: Carpark

Genre: Synth pop

Comments: New Wave is a British music scene that took prominence in the early '80's. I generally think of New Order as New Wave: a band that started as post-punk, but veered into synth-driven, upbeat, rave-oriented songs. Rapprocher has no punk elements to it, but there certainly are well-built electronic sounds hovering in and out. While Class Actress doesn't show much innovation, its New Wave sound garners attention and simplifies an abused genre. Play "Keep You".

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Best New Music - October 18

Give these a spin:


Sun Wizard

Add Date: October 18 

Artist: Sun Wizard 

Album: Positively 4th Avenue 

Label: Light Organ 

Genre: Rock, country 

Comments: Mixing rock and country is nothing new. Therefore, as logic follows, Sun Wizard is nothing new; Positively 4th Avenue might have gotten more attention if it was released 10 years ago. But, alas, it was not, and it's stuck fading into the background noises and reputations of other, well-developed, well-loved bands. Not to say that this isn't a good album. The songs are good. The instrumentation is good. The sound is good. It's just not great or memorable, but it is easy listening and good background music.

Laura Marling

Add Date: October 18 

Artist: Laura Marling 

Album: A Creature I Don't Know 

Label: Ribbon Music/Virgin 

Genre: Folk

Comments: It's absolutely scary to think that Laura Marling is only 21 years old. After all, the Hampshire native and London-based folk singer is already three records into a productive, critically acclaimed career; her first two full-lengths, the 2008 debut Alas, I Cannot Swim and last year's I Speak Because I Can, were each nominated for the prestigious Mercury Prize. (In case you were wondering, Elbow's The Seldom Seen Kid won in '08, and The xx's terrific debut xx beat Marling out in 2010.) It's hard to imagine that another nod won't be forthcoming for this new LP.

A Creature I Don't Know isn't, by any means, a perfect record, though a few songs that might be described as "missteps" mean, in Marling's case, four stars instead of five. Indeed, the first four tracks are all good, but not spectacular, as Marling dabbles in poppier songs in a way that just seems a bit out of her comfort zone. However, starting with the excellent folk tune "The Beast" and continuing for the rest of the record, we see her brilliance shine through. I'm a huge fan of songs that rely heavily on Marling's vocals and acoustic guitar ("My Friends", "Sophia"), but album closer "All My Rage", a bright, sunny folk-rock number that hints at traditional British folk, also shows her versatility.

If you like Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake or the late Bert Jansch, Marling is your best bet among the newest generation of folk artists. Spin tracks 5, 9, 7 and 10.

Paley & Francis

Add Date: October 18

Artist: Paley & Francis 

Album: Paley & Francis 

Label: Sonic Unyon 

Genre: Rock 

Comments: Black Francis, the front man of Pixies, and Brooklynite troubadour Reid Paley join together for this self-titled album, which combines a softer side of rock with hints of blues (seeing as the album was recorded in Nashville, the blues come as no surprise). This isn't a bad album, but it seems irrelevant due to the age of the duo and the bygone sounds.

Terra Lightfoot

Add Date: October 18

Artist: Terra Lightfoot 

Album: Terra Lightfoot 

Label: Sonic Unyon 

Genre: Indie rock 

Comments: If the 2010 Winter Olympics taught Americans anything, it's that we should be happy to hail from another, more notable and exciting country than Canada. There's one thing that Canadians can take credit for (you know, other than cheaper prescription meds): Terra Lightfoot. On her self-titled debut, Lightfoot establishes herself as better than most American indie rockers, but also as a standout in the genre. Lightfoot's melodic, soaring voice mixes with the light instrumentation to create a truly peaceful sound. This is definitely an album that is easy to listen to all the way through and worth a listen just for sake of the calming effects.

Bess Rogers

Add Date: October 18 

Artist: Bess Rogers 

Album: Out of the Ocean 

Label: Self-released 

Genre: Rock, folk rock 

Comments: A nice mix of acoustic-based folk rock and guitar-driven pop on Out of the Ocean, the new LP from Brooklyn-based artist Bess Rogers. She's also the lead guitarist for Ingrid Michaelson's touring band, and Michaelson drops by to sing backing vocals on a pair of mid-album tracks. Rogers benefits from a full band on her singer/songwriter-style tunes, as she and producer Chris Kuffner show off their abilities on multiple instruments, along with plenty of support from other musician friends.

Start with the terrific pop number "Anchor", and also check out "Standing Tall" and "Water & Dirt".

Nina Ferraro

Add Date: October 18 

Artist: Nina Ferraro 

Album: The Promise (EP) 

Label: Self-released 

Genre: Folk pop, folk rock 

Comments: This fortuitously-titled 5-song EP from the Chicago-based artist Nina Ferraro shows a vast amount of potential; written and recorded in 2010 when she was all of 15 years old, this is very solid folk pop. Ferraro's bright vocals and the rich instrumentation of The Promise--everything from banjo to ukulele to horns to, yes, accordion--elevates this above your standard singer/songwriter pop release.

Try "I've Found You", the 100-second pop song "Same Boy" and the folksy ballad "Too Late".

Ox

Add Date: October 18 

Artist: Ox 

Album: tUCo 

Label: Cosmic Daves Record Factory 

Genre: Alt-country, rock 

Comments: Moody alt-country from the Canadian band Ox on their fifth LP. The full title of the record is tUCo: Original Soundtrack by Ox, but the onesheet makes no reference to a film of any sort, and an internet search proved fruitless. Anyhow, Neil Young's influence can be heard throughout the record--quite obviously on the band's serviceable cover of "Out on the Weekend"; also try "Trans Canada" or "Matinee".

The Trophy Fire

Add Date: October 18 

Artist: The Trophy Fire 

Album: Modern Hearts 

Label: Greyday 

Genre: Rock 

Comments: Though a little generic, Modern Hearts is an enjoyable album in any case. Supposedly, this album is about "the challenges and the hopes of living in modern culture," but The Trophy Fire's lyrics usually involve drinking booze. So pretty much what we've got here is less poignant The National with uptempo drums and guitar. When they add other instruments like a synth, or when they distort the vocals, they've got some winners. So this is about a 6/10. Try "Comrades" or "Heartbeats".

Body Language

Add Date: October 18 

Artist: Body Language 

Album: Social Studies 

Label: Lavish Habits 

Genre: Dance, electronica, pop

Comments: An accessible Gang Gang Dance? A dance version of Passion Pit? You've asked for it, and now Body Language has delivered. Their second, stellar album Social Studies is new wave-disco, and not that Hercules and Love Affair disco. No, here we have a quartet, three of whom are vocalists, that wants people to dance the night away. Their very buoyant sound calls upon Michael Jackson's disco albums, and other funk-based records. Pop, dance, disco, funk – Body Language channels them all to make an astoundingly upbeat record.

Play "You Can" and "Falling Out", at least.

Emika

Add Date: October 18 

Artist: Emika 

Album: Emika 

Label: Ninja Tune 

Genre: Electronica, dubstep 

Comments: Ah, dubstep. James Blake calls it a genre that "largely focuses on a bassline and the intricacies of drum patterns, and it has an intense focus on a feeling." Well, I've never been too sure as to what this omnipresent genre is exactly, but I can definitely assure you that Emika's self-titled album is, in fact, dubstep.

This record, however, is more dance-oriented than the likes of Burial or other dub artists. Pop elements and strong vocals permeate all 12 tracks, and a grand piano often finds its way into her electronic sound. Her music belongs in a dimly lit, underground, European rave palace. If that intrigues you, spin "3 Hours" or "Professional Loving".

The R's

Add Date: October 18 

Artist: The R's 

Album: De Fauna et Flora 

Label: Foolika 

Genre: Pop rock 

Comments: The R's' three members all hail from Italy. I don't have any Durutti Column references, but I can tell you they've produced a sound very similar to earlier Drums. Lots of sparse pop, a well-executed, timely bass guitar, the non-too-complicated drums, a vocalist who falls somewhere in between that of Girls or some surf-rock artists--all these things create a laid-back album that's worth a listen on some lazy day. Try "On Our Minds" or "Panama Hat".

The Field

Add Date: October 18 

Artist: The Field 

Album: Looping State of Mind 

Label: Kompakt 

Genre: Electronica 

Comments: From the promoter: "Sweden's loop-based electronic master The Field returns with his third album, aptly entitled Looping State of Mind. While for Field fans this is a bit of a throwback, back to basics, return for Axel Willner, the album also continues to push the envelope for Willner's icy approach to creating electronic music. In essence, The Field's approach is simple: build a colossal song on a few loops, test it out, see how far you can take it. Album opener 'Is This Power' and 'It's Up There' are incredible examples of this, but things get interesting on 'Then It's White', as Willner uses a piano sample and creates a personal opus similar to the sound of Baths' debut LP."

The Field's music certainly isn't for the impatient--the shortest track on Looping State of Mind is well over 7 minutes long--but spend some time with the LP, and you'll be rewarded with gorgeous, slow-building electronic soundscapes. Try tracks 1, 6 and 2.

Shayfer James

Add Date: October 18 

Artist: Shayfer James 

Album: Counterfeit Arcade 

Label: Strike Line 

Genre: Rock, folk 

Comments: From the promoter: "The album swaggers with danceable dark anthems, harrowing ballads, and experiments in chaos. The piano-driven follow-up to last year's The Owl & The Elephant, Counterfeit Arcade lures listeners into a tightrope spun from guys and gin, strung above a pit of contagious melodies and grandiose arrangements."

This album is full of dark, almost Phantom of the Opera-esque vocal melodies and movements. The album is theatrical at its core, swinging from slow to fast, empty to overflowing, soft to loud. Shayfer James definitely portrays a consistently high level of chaos throughout the album. Start with 8, 2 and 3.

Feist

Add Date: October 18 

Artist: Feist 

Album: Metals 

Label: Cherrytree/Interscope 

Genre: Rock, pop, folk 

Comments: From SPIN Magazine: "Taken individually, each song is as sturdy as oak--the guitars have a magnesium shimmer, and every instrument seems bathed in its own spotlight, especially Feist's vocals, which feel like they're being whispered directly into your ear." 

Feist layers powerful melodies in a way that captivates the deepest corners of my musical appreciation. At first, I was quick to dub the beginning of the album "boring," as if it lacked some essential element that drove the songs forward. I was only half-hearing, and not intently listening. Once I began to focus on listening, the album came alive.

Feist explores whimsical and abrupt melodies and rhythms, sometimes echoing the sounds of St. Vincent. Metals is much less of a pop record than her most recent previous release, 2007's The Reminder. Nonetheless, it's a record most anyone can appreciate for its complexity and beautiful experimentation. Try tracks 4, 5, 9 and 12.

Jeffrey Lewis

Add Date: October 18 

Artist: Jeffrey Lewis 

Album: A Turn in the Dream - Songs 

Label: Rough Trade 

Genre: Rock, folk, indie pop 

Comments: New York native Jeffrey Lewis is a musician's musician: Jarvis Cocker has called him "the best lyricist working in the US today", while Ben Gibbard says Lewis is "hands down my favorite contemporary songwriter". A so-called "anti-folk" artist who also draws comic books and designs album artwork, Lewis' tunes will bring to mind The Moldy Peaches, The Magnetic Fields and early Mountain Goats.

Lewis' latest record, A Turn in the Dream - Songs, is another collection of richly lyrical and literate folk-pop tunes. He's assisted by The Sussex Wit--the backing band for similar-minded British troubadour Johnny Flynn--as well as members of Wave Pictures, Dr. Dog, Au Revoir Simone, The Vaselines and more. Check out "I Got Lost", "Cult Boyfriend", "Try It Again" and "Time Trades".

The Good Natured

Add Date: October 18

Artist: The Good Natured

Album: Skeleton

Label: Astralwerks

Genre: Pop

Comments: Sarah McIntosh exclaims that her band, The Good Natured, hopes "to bring a darker sensibility to pop with our music." After listening to Skeleton, a 7-song album, Sarah can rest easy knowing that her goals have been reached. However, other bands have repeatedly reached these goals as well. While The Good Natured makes solid pop, they don't do anything magical or entrancing to set them apart within the genre. Perhaps a bit of lightness or whimsy would make the sound stick more. Start with the title track.

Fanfarlo

Add Date: October 18

Artist: Fanfarlo

Album: Deconstruction EP

Label: Atlantic

Genre: Indie rock

Comments: As a preview of their second album with Atlantic Records, this London-based indie rock band gives a snippet of what they have been doing since 2006, and what to expect on their next album in this EP.  Containing the single edit and album version of the title song, along with an entirely too long and too slow instrumental track, Destruction EP sticks to upbeat pop with multiple harmonies and plenty of instruments.  The effect is pleasing and easy listening. If you like Belle & Sebastian or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, definitely take a listen. 

Graffiti6

Add Date: October 18

Artist: Graffiti6 

Album: Free EP 

Label: Capitol

Genre: Rock, pop 

Comments: The Free EP, Graffiti6's precursor to their upcoming album Colours (to be released in early 2012), features seven songs, including a stripped-down version of their title track as well as a cover of Fleet Foxes's "Blue Ridge Mountains". This London twosome, composed of Jamie Scott (singer/songwriter) and TommyD (songwriter/producer), started collaborating in 2009 and have reached some commercial success by having songs featured on TV shows such as Grey's Anatomy and Teen Wolf. Graffiti6's sound of gentle rock, soulful lyrics, and a hint of pop precludes the band to commercial accessibility and easy, enjoyable listening.

Sóley

Add Date: October 18 

Artist: Sóley 

Album: We Sink 

Label: Morr Music 

Genre: Pop, dream pop

Comments: We Sink is the debut solo LP from Sóley Stefánsdóttir, a member of the noted Icelandic indie pop act Seabear. It's a very peaceful record of dreamy pop songs; artsy folk-pop melodies are set to light electronic soundscapes, with Sóley's classical-leaning piano and sweetly understated vocals guiding the way. If you enjoy Lykke Li's quieter, more subdued tunes or Joanna Newsom's poppier moments, then We Sink is worth your time.

Check out "Blue Leaves", "I'll Drown" and "Smashed Birds".

Mandolin Orange

Add Date: October 18 

Artist: Mandolin Orange 

Album: Haste Make/Hard Hearted Stranger 

Label: Self-released 

Genre: Folk, contemporary bluegrass 

Comments: Mandolin Orange is a contemporary bluegrass band from Chapel Hill, N.C. Their songs focus on slow and beautiful melodies, building layers and depth with many instruments and harmonies. The songs are simple, and sometimes simplicity is a great thing. Mandolin Orange has certainly made this the case.

Start with 4, 3, 1 on disc one, and tracks 1 and 6 from disc two.

Megafaun

Add Date: October 18 

Artist: Megafaun 

Album: Megafaun 

Label: Hometapes 

Genre: Folk, psychedelic, jazz 

Comments: Before you read this, understand that this album does not fit nicely into descriptions from the boundary-filled English language (especially with my limited skillz).

Megafaun is anything but your traditional folk-rock band, and their new self-titled album only proves this characterization more. The entire scale of musical accessibility is present on this album; from lovable pop to cacophonous noise, Megafaun perfectly expresses complete disregard for boundaries.

This album is a psychedelic, alt-country, experimental extravaganza. You can't help but be moved by the melodious beauty of some songs. Others will leave you astonished by the musical talent oozing from the complex jazz compositions (see track 5). And yet others will leave you wondering what just happened to your ears; were they overwhelmed? Violated? Blessed? Tough to tell.

Start with 6, 7, 2 and 1.

The Anthemeers

Add Date: October 18 

Artist: The Anthemeers 

Album: EP 

Label: Self-released 

Genre: Folk rock 

Comments: Literate folk rock from the Houston-area act The Anthemeers on this eponymous 6-song EP. This 7-piece band's instrumentation features everything from guitars and percussion to banjo, tuba and organ. Check out "Stray Dog" or the 6-minute opener "Becoming Something".

Ross Beach

Add Date: October 18 

Artist: Ross Beach 

Album: Orange Gerbera Daisies 

Label: A Bouncing Space 

Genre: Rock, indie pop 

Comments: Louisiana native Ross Beach was a part of the early incarnations of Elephant 6 bands Neutral Milk Hotel and The Gerbils; now based in Portland, he continues to make indie pop along the lines of that famed collective. The songs on Orange Gerbera Daisies, which he recorded in his bedroom, would also appeal to fans of The Magnetic Fields or Robyn Hitchcock.

Spin tracks 1, 5, 12 and 9.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Best New Music - October 11

Top of the pops:


My Brightest Diamond

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: My Brightest Diamond 

Album: All Things Will Unwind 

Label: Asthmatic Kitty 

Genre: Rock, folk pop, chamber pop 

Comments: All Things Will Unwind is the third LP from Shara Worden, who records as My Brightest Diamond. Having seen her band perform in two starkly different settings--a seated, acoustic-oriented, pseudo-cabaret show as the headliner at a tiny venue, and as a rock band when opening for The National in a huge theater--it's no surprise to hear the convergence of several different styles on the new album. Mixing chamber pop, folk, rock and cabaret, it's another excellent effort from a brilliant musical mind.

Between her classical background and her time as a member of Sufjan Stevens' band, Worden embraces rich instrumentation, as strings, horns, woodwinds and organs freely mingle with guitars and percussion. But whereas Stevens' tunes generally hit you with the full force of an orchestra, My Brightest Diamond's arrangements are typically sparse, albeit complex affairs, leaving plenty of room for the melodies to unfold. And then there's Worden's voice--initially sweet and innocent, until her opera training kicks in and she stuns you with a burst of power.

An excellent record; spin tracks 2, 8, 4, 1 and 10.

Deer Tick

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: Deer Tick 

Album: Divine Providence 

Label: Partisan 

Genre: Rock, alt-country 

Comments: Somewhat lost in Deer Tick's billing as a modern "alt-country" or "folk rock" act is the undeniable influence that Paul Westerberg has had on frontman John McCauley. Perhaps in an effort to rectify this--and certainly in an attempt to capture the band's raucous live shows--comes Divine Providence, the fourth and most unabashedly rock-and-roll Deer Tick LP. The band doesn't really seek to muffle its homage to The Replacements--tell me that the guitar noise and random line from the national anthem at the start of "Something to Brag About" doesn't seem like a page out of Westerberg's playbook--and at other times, it just doesn't muffle anything. (On the front of the liner notes is the line: "You should play this f***er as loud as possible." Amen.)

Let's clarify another misconception: though Deer Tick started out as a de facto solo project, McCauley is now joined by a full band; guitarist Ian O'Neil wrote and sang on two tracks here, and drummer Dennis Ryan is at the helm of the song that he penned, "Clownin Around". I'll say that those aren't my favorite tunes on the record; McCauley's gravelly warble really completes Deer Tick's sound, and when he isn't singing lead vocals, something seems amiss. But that band certainly fleshes out McCauley's tunes, from his countrified rock to his folksier balladry.

A fine record--check out tracks 5, 3, 9, 7 and 1.

Icarus Himself

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: Icarus Himself 

Album: Career Culture 

Label: Science of Sound 

Genre: Rock, psych pop

Comments: The promoter calls Icarus Himself's music "electro-psych-folk", which is one of the more interesting labels I've heard as of late. (The same blurb also refers to Elf Power, with whom Icarus Himself recently toured, as a "heritage neo-psych pop quintet", so we're clearly dealing with a surplus of descriptors here.) Formerly the solo outlet of Nick Whetro, this trio at times still sounds like a bedroom-pop project--and not in a bad way; the downcast, psychedelia-tinged songs on Career Culture are both intimate and accessible.

Not a bad listen at all; try "Wake Up", "Precious Holder" and the electro-psych-folk (!) jam "On Your Side".

Juicehead

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: Juicehead 

Album: How to Sail a Sinking Ship 

Label: Misfits 

Genre: Rock, punk 

Comments: Imagine a poppier NOFX or a politically-minded version of Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, and you'll land pretty close to the melodic-punk trio Juicehead, which is releasing How to Sail a Sinking Ship on the Misfits' record label. Beware all of the FCC-unfriendly tracks and stick to 1, 10 and 3.

Ryan Adams

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: Ryan Adams 

Album: Ashes & Fire 

Label: PAX-AM/Capitol 

Genre: Folk, folk rock 

Comments: I have impossibly high expectations for a Ryan Adams record. I'm well aware of this. But quite frankly, it's Adams' fault; for over a decade, he and his various bands (Whiskeytown, The Cardinals, The Finger... OK, not The Finger) put out album after album--most quite good, others simply great--that almost effortlessly hopped between folk, rock and alt-country. Toward the middle part of the last decade, though, Adams became the most "prolific"--in the sense of releasing a lot of stuff--musician this side of Robert Pollard, and we found out that, well, not everything that he touched turned to Gold. (Sorry.)

With my background as a longtime Adams fan, it's hard for me to give an impartial listen to Ashes & Fire. My initial impression is that the LP lacks the emotional pull of Heartbreaker, the full-band alt-country feel of The Cardinals' era or the youthful energy of Whiskeytown. Now, I'll try the unbiased view: this is a very solid collection of Americana-inspired tunes from a mature musician. Adams' penchant for excellent songwriting shines through, and there are some really fine tracks here: the upbeat, country feel of the title track and "Invisible Riverside", the ballads "Dirty Rain" and "Save Me" and the piano-tinged folk number "Lucky Now" all stand out.

It seems unfair to expect a return of the Adams of old--I don't think anyone can sustain the pace (and the substances) that he was on--but what we're left with is a fine folk-rock artist. Spin 2, 7, 1, 10 and 8.

Duchess Says

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: Duchess Says 

Album: In a Fung DAY T! 

Label: Alien8 

Genre: Rock 

Comments: The Quebec band Duchess Says make noisy, brash post-punk that brings to mind Mika Miko, You Say Party or early Love Is All, in all the right ways. I have no earthly idea what the title to this record, their second full-length, might mean; however, I can tell you that the first four tracks are excellent, and that the album doesn't really lose steam from there. Hints of dance-punk and electronic influences pop up here and there, but In a Fung DAY T! is a speaker-rattling rock and roll record through and through.

Spin tracks 1, 4, 2, 3 and 8.

Astrid Williamson

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: Astrid Williamson 

Album: Pulse 

Label: One Little Indian 

Genre: Rock, electronica, pop 

Comments: Shetland Islands native Astrid Williamson was trained as a classical pianist at the Royal Scottish Academy, and she was in the '90s Scottish pop band Goya Dress, which fell in with the likes of PJ Harvey and Tori Amos. Now, Williamson has teamed with Brian Eno collaborator Leo Abrahams for her new LP Pulse, creating a nice mix of ambient electronica-laced pop songs that feature Williamson's piano and melancholy vocal. Fans of Harvey's quieter moments, or perhaps dreamier pop acts like Sparklehorse, will enjoy tracks like "Miracle", "Pour" and the ballad-like "Connected".

Mayer Hawthorne

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: Mayer Hawthorne 

Album: "The Walk" (single) 

Label: Universal Republic 

Genre: Soul 

Comments: Another fine slice of soul from Mayer Hawthorne, "The Walk" comes from his new LP How Do You Do. (Evidently, we're not cool enough to get the full-length, which was also released this week.) Play track 1, which is the clean version of the song.

Gauntlet Hair

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: Gauntlet Hair 

Album: Gauntlet Hair 

Label: Dead Oceans 

Genre: Rock, noise pop 

Comments: Hailing from Colorado and now based in Chicago, the duo Gauntlet Hair make fuzzed-out noise-pop jams, as if Passion Pit or Yeasayer had decided to work with Sleigh Bells' sound engineer. After making a splash with a series of singles on Forest Family and Mexican Summer, Andy R and Craig Nice have signed with Dead Oceans (John Vanderslice, Nurses, Sun Airway) for their self-titled full-length debut.

Unfortunately, the standout closing number, "Shout in Tongues", is FCC-unfriendly, so stick with tracks 2, 1, 3 and 7.

Zenith Myth

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: Zenith Myth 

Album: Zenith Myth 

Label: Vibra Cobra 

Genre: Rock 

Comments: From the promoter: "The music is a personal collection of heavy and powerful progressive rock songs. While the songs vary in tempo and tone, they almost seamlessly flow from modern rock, to classic rock, into melancholic, ambient moments, characterized by high gain, extreme volume, and pulverizing lows."

Try tracks 2, 3 and 6.

San Sebastian

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: San Sebastian 

Album: Relations 

Label: Last Gang 

Genre: Pop rock 

Comments: With track titles that include "Say I'm Alright", "Things I Wanted To Say" and "If You're Leaving", San Sebastian cements themselves as pretty good pop/rock focused on the aspects of love and relationships already explored by countless other bands. They're good at what they do, though there's nothing interesting enough to draw me back for a second listen.

Crooked Fingers

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: Crooked Fingers 

Album: Breaks in the Armor 

Label: Merge 

Genre: Rock 

Comments: Indie rock enthusiasts and connoisseurs cried a lot in 1998 when Archers of Loaf disbanded. Thankfully, Eric Bachmann was not done with his musical career, and he decided to record under the name Crooked Fingers. With six albums finished, the last being this one, Bachmann still writes with his trademark earnest fervor and desperation. The indie rock avoids all of the traps of others (a generic and sell-out sound) and accomplishes a subtle intimacy and accessibility, which make Breaks in the Armor enjoyable and intriguing. Start with "Typhoon" and "Bad Blood".

Björk

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: Björk 

Album: Biophilia 

Label: Nonesuch 

Genre: Electronica 

Comments: Biophilia might be the only album that doesn't primarily characterize Björk as the new wave/futuristic musician of this generation. Usually, the uninhibited and eerily disordered sounds stand out the most on the Icelandic singer's seven previous records. This album will be remembered, though, not for the sound, but for the novel packaging of this sound. 

Biophilia is the first album released as an app for the iPad and iPhone. Each track includes the song plus essays on music and science. Some songs include games. In "Thunderbolt," you can tap a lightning bolt picture and change the bass lines. These additions might overshadow the music, just like Radiohead's new way of releasing In Rainbows overshadowed the album (arguably their best). Björk asserts that these aren't props, though. Each feature is part of the song.

That being said, the physical album lacks part of the art designed by this transformative and transcendent woman, but it's still able to stand on its own. Björk balances the distant, quiet notes with bursts of heavy synthesizers through tracks that are magnificent experiments of music in themselves, but become entrapping pieces of a greater whole when listened to start to finish. Biophilia is greater than the sum of its parts.   

DJ Shadow

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: DJ Shadow 

Album: The Less You Know, the Better 

Label: Verve 

Genre: Hip hop, electronica

Comments: If you're looking for an interesting album, this is it. Each track on this album is unique. From the promoter: "DJ Shadow (born Josh Davis) is widely credited as a key figure in developing the experimental instrumental hip-hop style associated with the London-based Mo' Wax label. DJ Shadow's fourth album The Less You Know, the Better defies expectation, dabbling freely in heavy-metal riffage ('Border Crossing', 'I Gotta Rokk'), sun- kissed acoustic reverie ('I Been Trying'), and Killers-style Brit-rock (the Tom Vek-assisted 'Warning Call'). Later on De La Soul's always reliable Posdnuos and Talib Kweli join forces on the cosily old-school 'Stay the Course' while 'Sad and Lonely' and 'Redeemed' remind us of the ambient-turntablist grandeur that made Shadow famous so many years ago." 

Also, fun fact: according to the internet, DJ Shadow's personal record collection totals over 60,000. And if it's on the internet, it's gotta be true... But seriously, I read this like three different places. Try 3, 4, 6, 5 and 14.

Wilco

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: Wilco 

Album: The Whole Love 

Label: ANTI- 

Genre: Rock 

Comments: Y'all, Wilco has always been good, and this album is no exception to that rule. Though it's no Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or A Ghost is Born, The Whole Love is definitely a solid record. The songs not only show the band's extremely impressive range of musical ability, but they also manage to all fit together. From the upbeat, poppy "I Might" to the somber, yet beautiful "Rising Red Lung", Wilco shows their listeners that yes, they've still got it.

The only complaint that I might have is that, at times, I felt like I was listening to updates of their old songs. Of course, by the time an artist gets to their eighth studio album, their sound becomes somewhat familiar, so it's somewhat excusable. The point is, this is a good album. Wilco won't let you down.

The whole thing's worth a listen, but start with 2, 6, 7 and 10.

The Asteroid Shop

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: The Asteroid Shop 

Album: The Asteroid Shop 

Label: The Council 

Genre: Rock 

Comments: Recording as The Asteroid Shop, Eric Brendo's pop rock is informed by shoegaze, folk and slowcore; among others, he claims Spiritualized and Nick Cave as influences. "Ashes", the standout track from this eponymous debut full-length, somehow landed in a Ralph Lauren commercial. Go figure. Also try "Destroyer" and "Silver Lane".

Look Mexico

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: Look Mexico 

Album: Real Americans Spear It (EP) 

Label: Adeline 

Genre: Rock 

Comments: Look Mexico's 5-song EP Real Americans Spear It mixes pop-punk and alternative for an upbeat rock sound; the promoter compares the band to Minus The Bear and recent playlist addition Into It. Over It. Try track 1.

Jago Thorne

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: Jago Thorne 

Album: Fire in the Wake 

Label: Palomar 

Genre: Folk, folk rock 

Comments: From the promoter: "Jago's arrangements combine ambient electric guitars, bit-crushed synths, folk-inspired acoustic guitars, and a driving rhythm section which reveals a baroque-rock impulse bedded in Americana. With a vocal sound that ranges from angsty folk balladeer to pop-tinged rocker, Jago's songwriting is rooted in poetic lyricism."

Fire in the Wake is a solid folk-rock album that should appeal to fans of Ray LaMontagne or A.A. Bondy. Try tracks 2, 1, 7 and 6.

Himalayan Bear

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: Himalayan Bear 

Album: Hard Times 

Label: Absolutely Kosher 

Genre: Rock, psych folk 

Comments: Himalayan Bear is the Victoria, B.C.-based musician Ryan Beattie, who also fronts the band Chet and plays guitar in Frog Eyes. Beattie's solo project features haunting, sparse rock that draws on influences as diverse as psychedelic folk and '50s pop. "Space" is the key word for the third Himalayan Bear album, Hard Times: the arrangements are simple--often just Beattie, guitar and some reverb-drenched backing vocals--and with seven tracks covering 40 minutes, the tunes certainly have room to breathe.

Very enjoyable; try tracks 3, 1, 5 and 2.

Rob Duskey and the Rounders

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: Rob Duskey and the Rounders 

Album: Blank Canvas to Man 

Label: Self-released 

Genre: Folk, folk rock 

Comments: Singer/songwriter pop from Cleveland's Rob Duskey and the Rounders. Blues Traveler's John Popper lends his harmonica to "Palo Alto".

Nous Non Plus

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: Nous Non Plus 

Album: Freudian Slip 

Label: Aeronaut 

Genre: Indie pop, rock 

Comments: Bonjour! Parlez-vous français? Non? Mais c'est OK. You don't need to understand French to appreciate the sweet mélange of indie pop-rock/synth-laden songs from the multilingual Nous Non Plus. Also known as NN+ or "us no more" in plain English, Nous Non Plus mixes programmed loops with Moog synths and layered vocal harmonies to create a singularly indie-Euro sound. The band's songs have made it onto Gossip Girl and various TV commercials, so you know their stuff is très chic.

French music for those of us who don't know French. Tracks 1, 3, 6 and 2 are a treat.

We Were Promised Jetpacks

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: We Were Promised Jetpacks 

Album: In the Pit of the Stomach 

Label: Fatcat 

Genre: Alternative, rock 

Comments: We've all heard of the sophomore slump: the follow-up that just does not compare to a band's debut. But We Were Promised Jetpacks is hoping to dispel any "slumping" by making In the Pit of the Stomach an album full of vocal confidence, tightened-up lyricism, and melodious post-punk-rock gems. True, they're second effort is full of ambition, but the band still can't shake off their patented brand of "weathered, masculine brooding and the lyrical sentiment of immobilized, teenage pining". But is that such a bad thing?

Tracks 2, 6, 9 and 1 stand out.

Oh Mercy

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: Oh Mercy 

Album: Great Barrier Grief 

Label: Casadeldisco 

Genre: Indie rock 

Comments: Hey, remember this past summer when I reviewed Oh Mercy's Privileged Woes and referenced the then-upcoming Great Barrier Grief? Well, it's finally time for me to elaborate on that review of the band's album. With a title that's more than just a play on words, this second album from the Melbourne band is an evocative indie pop/rock record that's full of their ever-polished melodies and smooth stoicism. The tunes have slowed down in time for autumn, so there's no reason you shouldn't be listening to them.

With that in mind, check out tracks 3, 1, 5 and 11.

Gringo Star

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: Gringo Star 

Album: Count Yer Lucky Stars 

Label: Gigantic Music 

Genre: Rock, alternative 

Comments: Following up on their 2008 critically acclaimed debut, Gringo Star is coming back to the musical scene with all the non-stop humming/head-nodding melodies you'd expect from a band somewhat named after a Beatle. Count Yer Lucky Stars definitely makes for a nice alt-rock break until The Strokes and Arctic Monkeys think of new material. A decent, unshakably modern rock 'n roll album, Count Yer Lucky Stars deserves a spin on the ol' record player.

Want to rock out with your Gibson? Try tracks 1, 2, 5 and 8.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Casiokids

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: Casiokids 

Album: Aabenbaringen over aaskammen 

Label: Polyvinyl

Genre: Pop 

Comments: "The revelation over the mountaintop." With a name like that, I expected Casiokids' new record to be forward, progressive, ethereal, or something even better. Well, that's just not quite case. Don't get me wrong--it's nice little album, but it generally mimics their previous releases.

This is synth pop at its core. Their sound can best be found in '80s bands such as a-ha, New Order, or The Human League. The album starts with a song full of strings and other peaceful instruments, which I think is brilliant and very akin to Sigur Ros or later Talk Talk. Afterwords, though, it's an immediate return to their usual, keyboard-driven sound. But, hey, while the band is beginning to show signs of stagnation and a general lack of experimentation, they've still made a good record. Listen to the stellar first song "Aabenbaringen over aaskammen", and then "Golden Years" or "Olympiske Leker".

Dreamers of the Ghetto

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: Dreamers Of The Ghetto 

Album: Enemy/Lover 

Label: Temporary Residence Limited 

Genre: Alternative, dream rock 

Comments: Dreamers Of The Ghetto, a relatively new group hailing from Indiana, has created a surprisingly mature and cohesive debut album. Luke Jones’s vocals take queue from an early '80s Bono, so it’s easy to be swept-up in the arena ready Enemy/Lover. In fact, I couldn’t help but find many similarities between Enemy/Lover and The Unforgettable Fire, minus U2’s civil rights/political elements. Instead, those aspects have been replaced with emotional powerhouses concerning lost or even unfound love.

If Dreamers Of The Ghetto can successfully experiment with their dream-rock sound, expect truly great things from this already impressive band. Definitely check out “Night Hawks”.

Carter Tanton

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: Carter Tanton 

Album: Freeclouds 

Label: Western Vinyl

Genre: Alternative

Comments: Hot on the heels of Kurt Vile and The War On Drugs, Carter Tanton creates a brilliant sound that feels as if it resonates from a full band. While the many instrumentals of the album play nice with each other, Tanton’s astounding tenor is the true standout – think Beach House. Interestingly, the vast majority of the drums, if not all, are programmed. This, along with New Order-style synths, produce a very '80s vibe, but the Vile-esque guitar modernizes his sound, and the vocals take the album celestially bound.

Tanton has been touring with The War On Drugs as of late, and for good reason. If you like that sound, give a listen to “Murderous Joy” and the shoegazing “Fake Pretend”.

Hess Is More

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: Hess Is More 

Album: Creation Keeps the Devil Away 

Label: Nublu 

Genre: Electronica, indie 

Comments: Hess Is More is, as his label suggests, a “collagist.” He enjoys borrowing most all elements of this record from contemporaries such as of Montreal (the bass), Twin Shadow (the vocals), and Junior Boys (anything vaguely synthy). The result is a 10-song endeavor--there’s also a hidden track at the end--titled Creation Keeps the Devil Away. To his credit, it is a relatively pleasant album, and he’s due much respect for his choice influences.

While layering seems to be Hess’s strong suit, he is generally unable to innovate. This album sounds less like Hess’s own sound, and more like a smorgasbord of estranged components. Interesting drum patterns run rampant, which some could even call CAN-like, and there’s also great use of cowbell; however, this combo only really works well with James Murphy’s dance-punk affiliated groups. Hess’s style, while more of a mash-up than anything truly unique, is worth a listen for anyone who enjoys his influences. Don’t enjoy the likes of Twin Shadow and Junior Boys? Then expect an album that is generally unfocused.

Marketa Irglova

Add Date: October 11 

Artist: Marketa Irglova 

Album: Anar 

Label: ANTI- 

Genre: Alternative 

Comments: According to Marketa Irglova herself, this album is a kind of time capsule for her first year in New York (she moved there from Ireland in June of 2010). You may know Irglova's voice already; she was one half of the Swell Season, and they were the ones who did that really fantastic (and Academy Award-winning) soundtrack for the movie Once. Having seen them perform, I would say they're definitely the real deal. But Marketa alone is also really something. Her voice is truly amazing. This is the kind of thing you'd want to listen to on a rainy day, or just as it's starting to get chilly outside (what's up, Lex weather?). If you're into piano and strong female vocals, you'll eat this up. 

Start with 2, 3, 6 and 8.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Best New Music - October 4

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Zola Jesus

Add Date: October 4 

Artist: Zola Jesus 

Album: Conatus 

Label: Sacred Bones 

Genre: Rock, electronica, experimental 

Comments: Names and appearances can tell you a lot; they can also be quite deceiving. Let's start with Conatus, which Zola Jesus' Nika Rosa Danilova chose as the title for her third full-length. Merriam-Webster defines the word as "a natural tendency, impulse or striving... the inclination of a thing to persist in its own being."

Danilova's appearance, meanwhile, is frighteningly deceptive; the diminutive 22-year-old has a voice that's as powerful and captivating as any that you'll hear. Her vocals have been compared to Kate Bush and even Patti Smith; I'd also add contemporaries like Katie Stelmanis (Austra) and Karin Dreijer Andersson (Fever Ray, The Knife) to that list. Zola Jesus' sound bears a lot of other similarities to Austra and the like: Conatus is full of dark, Gothic, electronica-infused rock, with elements of shoegaze, post-punk, folk and classical seeping in.

Let's get back to "conatus," as there's a reason why I included its definition earlier. By its nature, Zola Jesus' music is eerie and melancholy--yet from the synth-rock gems "Hikikomori" and "Avalanche" to the percussion-heavy "Lick the Palm of the Burning Handshake" to the haunting piano ballad "Skin", these richly-textured songs embrace dark themes without being engulfed by them. In this manner, the LP manages to sound hopeful and positive throughout.

One of 2011's best. Spin tracks 4, 8, 10, 2, 7 and 9.

The Rapture

Add Date: October 4 

Artist: The Rapture 

Album: In the Grace of Your Love 

Label: DFA 

Genre: Rock, dance punk 

Comments: Working on a college campus, I don't really need to be reminded that I'm getting older. But as all of the bands from my younger days that were going to be/actually turned into The Next Big Thing start to enter middle age, I'm starting to feel even more ancient. Now The Rapture--who, as purveyors of danceable, energetic electro-rock tunes should, by definition, maintain some sort of reputation for juvenile debauchery--has, well, grown up. Band members have openly discussed their experiences as parents, while frontman Luke Jenner is writing songs about serious issues, like the death of his mother. ("Miss You" is, indeed, a pretty straightforward title.)

Now, all of this isn't to say that The Rapture have gotten flat, or that their sound has gone stale. Far from it. In the Grace of Your Love is, pardon the poor wordplay, a graceful entry into the mature phase of the band's career. With nothing left to prove on a major label, they've returned to DFA Records--which they pretty much helped James Murphy to launch over a decade ago--and released a consistent, indie dancefloor-ready collection of electronic-leaning post-punk tunes. In short, The Rapture has aged well.

With shimmering synths, funky horns and Jenner's trademark vocals, "Never Gonna Die Again" is the centerpiece--quite literally, as it's track 6 out of 11--while "How Deep Is Your Love?" is the best piano-driven house jam this side of 1993. Also check out "Come Back to Me", "Sail Away" and "Can You Find a Way?"

Talkdemonic

Add Date: October 4 

Artist: Talkdemonic 

Album: Ruins 

Label: Glacial Pace 

Genre: Rock, folk, experimental 

Comments: The soundscapes created by the Portland duo Talkdemonic are truly something to behold. The combination of Lisa Molinaro's cello and violin and Kevin O'Connor's synths, guitars and percussion puts them at the forefront of modern instrumental and post-rock music. Talkdemonic certainly take some cues--and some song structures--from neoclassical music, but the tunes on Ruins, the band's fourth full-length, are as explosive and bombastic as Mogwai or Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

Talkdemonic's magic can be captured in one single track: the 6-minute "City Sleep" starts off with a squall of guitar noise, breaks into a funk-stomp, and ends up with a swirling orchestral flourish. Similar moments abound on Ruins; also try 1, 8 and 4.

Prince Rama

Add Date: October 4 

Artist: Prince Rama 

Album: Trust Now 

Label: Paw Tracks

Genre: Defies classification 

Comments: From the promoter: "Trust Now is the keystone album of Brooklyn's Prince Rama. For their fifth full-length and their first as a duo, [Prince Rama] takes the kaleidoscopic mysticism of ancient devotional music and focuses it through the fierce urgency and archetypal language of pop, forming an environment that is both accessible and impenetrable. Deep synths rise from a sparkling sea of prayer bells as tribal drums pound the earth with the hypnotic power. Psychedelic voices carry captivating and haunting melodies that shine like the diamond jewels of old Bollywood soundtracks spilling over dark wave dance floors. Trust Now is perhaps Prince Rama's most focused, cohesive and powerful album to date."

Wonderfully weird stuff from Prince Rama on Animal Collective's Paw Tracks label. The promoter recommends tracks 1, 2, 4 and 5.