Sunday, August 21, 2011

Damion Suomi Has A Drink On Us

In listening to Damion Suomi's self-titled album the first thing that popped in my head is a drunken night at a pub somewhere with pint glasses in hand, cheering along to every song hoping that the night will never end. The songs on his Damion Suomihave a sing along quality about that them that make me think of a cross between the likes of Dropick Murphys, Love Spit Love, and Social Distortion.

Damion Suomihas loads of songs that are gritty, funny, and emotionally tug at your heartstrings continually until you can just about hold it all in. It's a fantastic album because of the folksy, homey, and warm sounding songs, that are held together by an abrasive undercurrent that give them just a bit of tension. Damion's songs are drinking songs, fighting songs, romantic songs and they all hit you at different angles depending on your mood. "What A Wonderful Game," is a perfect example of how he writes folky songs that are slightly rude and anthemic that are brilliant and will have you yelling, "I love you maaaan."

Damion doesn't lob anything complicated at the listener here. Instead, he uses acoustic instruments to the height of their effectiveness and he strums his guitar as if his life or next beer depended on it. With the sounds of breaking bottles in the background Damion's gravelly voice drags you along from bar to bar and story to story and makes you raise a glass in honor of his struggles. It's a toast well deserved, because he's come up with one heck of "blues-folk," record that's just about the most rock n' roll thing you could hope to hear.

Damion Suomiis the best night out you can have without ever leaving your living room. Damion Suomi's tales of heartbreak, drunkenness, and despair are just about legendary and he's done an amazing job of funneling those stories into songs that hit their mark repeatedly.

An Asa Ransom Release

Asa Ransom graced New York with it's presence in June of 2008. The band came together in Marion, Indiana a few years earlier, but it wasn't until Jacob Bills, Daniel Voivin, Darryl Specht met Bobby Gray in New York that the bunch of them banded together to form Asa Ransom. Not even a year into their existence and the band have already played the NY circuit to death and recorded their debut album, An Asa Ransom Release.

It's almost hard to believe that this band has only really been a band for nine months judging by the song craft on An Asa Ransom Release. This is clearly a band that has gotten itself together, organized, formed a plan, and adopted a gang mentality in an effort to create a really good record. By about the third song, it's obvious that this approach is working as An Asa Ransom Release is a superb debut from a band who are well beyond their err months (you can't even say years because this band is THAT new).

An Asa Ransom Release is something like a David Byrne record intermixed with Siouxsie and the Banshees guitar riffs, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds theatrics. It's an intense record that embraces a post punk philosophy and then shakes it up a bit into some strange concoction that doesn't seem right but sounds moody, dark, and bloody brilliant. It's a weirdrecord that somehow manages to be poppy while still being angular and a bit atonal. It's constantly changing it's atmospherics but keeps that philosophy of taking things that are accepted and turning them into something more. Check out the oddly titled, "Man With Tuba and Wife," or the rolling tribal drums and twisted story of, "Strangeways In Pale of Splendor," for shining examples of their philosophy.

With such bizarre titles, Asa Ransom might come off as a bit pretentious. But, in all honestly, when you have tunes that can back up the pretentiousness, who really cares if the songs read like twisted pieces of art work created by guys who smoke clove cigarettes? An Asa Ransom Release, doesn't care and as a result it's a brilliant thrill ride that plunders post punk, theater, kitsch, and rock and roll to create a heady stew of music that's completely over our heads but still finds a way to hit us where it hurts.

Asa Ransom might not even be a year old yet, but after listening to An Asa Ransom Release this is a band that sounds better than some of their veteran peers. They write fantastic pop songs that are twisted and dynamic and unafraid to try new things. By adopting such a philosophy so early on in their careers they might just make it past their's hoping anyway.

Paul Bryan Listens

I'm not sure what's going on in Germany right now, but it seems like the nation is in the midst of an easy listening revival. Paul Bryan's Listen is the second album from a German label that seems as though as if it's come straight from the 70's to usher in a revival of soft sounds. In truth, that's exactly what's happened as Listen is a reissue from Ryan, a Brazillian artist originally influenced by British and American music from the early 70's.

Sounding something like early Chicago or maybe even Stevie Wonder with a strange accent, Listen has every 70's soft rock cliche down to a tee. There's the string arrangements, the horns, the brushed drums, the whispered vocals, the light as air atmosphere that's designed to soothe as well as entertain. It's crazy how, despite the obvious accents, Paul Bryan constructed an album thats almost more American sounding than American artists of the time; I think that's the reason why I find it pretty darn cool.

Listen truly is a brilliant tribute to it's influences and sounds as if it were scientifically pieced together and then tested for authenticity. From the sumptious strings of, "Window," to the piano led gentility of, "Who To Blame," Listen is a study in 70's soft rock/easy listening perfection. You can't buy entertainment like this today and the fact that Sonar Kollektive has unearthed this South American relic and reissued is truly cool!

Francoiz Breut is More Than French Pop

Francoiz Breut is the latest artist on Le Pop Musik to release a brilliant record. The more I hear from this label, the more I'm impressed at the stable of artists that they have put together and the awesome lineup of records they have released over the last couple of years. It's one great record after another and A l'aveuglette is no different.

A l'aveugletteis a modern update of classic 60's chanson pop and sounds moody, smoky, and even a bit rock and roll. At times reminding me of a purely French Stereolab, Breut's songs are hypnotically loopy and lushly seductive. A l'aveugletteis a theatrical record that plays itself out in fourteen skits and has drama, comedy, romance, and heartbreak scattered throughout. While I have no idea what she's on about here, Breut's inflections and singing style help guide you into figuring what the songs may be about. Regardless of the language barrier, they're still quite good, climactic, and strikingly rich.

What truly makes A l'aveuglettea standout record is the fact that Breut takes the blueprint of 60's chanson pop and turns it on its head. She brings in electronics, roughs things up a bit, and makes her influences sound mysterious and slightly darker than they should be. The result is an entertaining record that's like listening to the shadowy underbelly of French pop.

Francoiz Breut is far from a color by numbers French pop artist and this is a good thing. Unafraid to mix the past with the present, Breut comes up with an album, in A l'aveuglette, that sounds as if its timeless and melodramatic. A l'aveugletteis a thoroughly enjoyable experience that'll have you reaching for a French/English dictionary repeatedly. A l'aveuglette: it's educational and entertaining!

Chris Joss and His Sticks

Frenchman Chris Joss is a self-taught multi-instrumentalist and autonomous studio producer. Having lived in London for most of the 90's, Joss digested the vibrant music scenes of the city while working as a sound engineer and playing bass and guitar in various bands. Since then he's recorded a slew of records on his own, recorded a version of the Superman theme song and been remixed by a host of talent from around the world. This year, he's released his fifth album, Sticks, on the ESL label.

Influenced by his travels and experiences Joss sounds as if he's taken the sounds of 60's Swingin' London and dropped them in the middle of the Asian sub-continent. Sticks as a result sounds as if it were the soundtrack to some sort of spy movie in Thailand or India. With sitars, tablas, trippy guitars, strange beats, funky organs, and wavy basslines it's like Joss had been lost in New Delhi for the last two years (or forty) and then warped all that he heard into some sort of a jazzy concoction for western ears.

That being said, Sticks is a groovy and oh so good record. It's space age bachelor pad music that's tripped out and hooked on some strange guru that's going to take you to a higher plane of existence. Yeah baby! From the psychedelic groove of, "Little Nature," to the sweaty moodiness and mystery of, "Night Scare," this is the best album of exotica never recorded. I've listened to Sticks about four times now in a row and I don't seem to be able to remove this disc from the player because of it's ability to hypnotize and and rush you away to another time and place...If that's not a recommendation, then I don't know what is. Groovy baby. Groovy escapism at its best!

Emanuel and the Fear Get Orchestral

Emanuel and the Fear are an orchestral rock band. What's that mean? Well it's means, when you have 11 members in your band you can kind of forget being just a simple group. Emanuel and the Fear are way more than that and their self titled EP is a reflection of that idea. You see, this is a group that's influenced equally by Rachmaninoff and Glass as much as Arcade Fire and Sufjan Stevens. If you can imagine a chamber orchestra parked next to the side of your bog standard rock band then you can sort of put your head around what Emanuel and the Fear are all about.

The groups self titled EP, is a five song affair that's as lush and grand as it is intimate and quiet. The five songs here essentially illustrate the different attitudes of the band whether it be rambunctious, downtrodden or intellectual. It's an emotional rollercoaster that will just about wear you out over the course of it's 25 minute running time. While Emanuel and the Fear can do just about any arrangement they dream up, the band is truly at it's best when they are upbeat and use the orchestra to carry the pop sensibility of the band along. "The Rain Becomes The Clouds," is a perfect illustration of this as the song at times reminds me of something Burt Bacharach would have written back in the 70's. It's really quite good stuff and, in fact, so is most of the EP. Diverse and lush Emanuel and the Fear EP is a tempting teaser for their debut album due later this year and is probably the best $5 you can spend on music at the moment.

Scion and Kitsune Are Pioneers

Another month rolls by and another essential compilation is released by Scion. I don't know if they're selling cars in this economy, but they're doing one heck of a job at cranking out records that are more important than life itself. Their 23rd volume of the series features the uber brilliant French label Kitsune and eleven artists from their roster.

Is it any good? You betcha. Kitsune Pioneer is another chapter in the amazing legacy that is both the Scion Series and Kitsune. Kitsune Pioneer is a masterful compilation that runs the gamut of today's electro/house/whatever scene. The eleven tracks here are the equivalent to an hour long sweaty dance floor work out that features pretty much every amazing dance tune that should be filling floors across this land. From laid back groovers from artists such as Ted and Francis to massive monsters from the likes of Heartsrevolution, Guns and Bombs, and Fischerspooner there honestly isn't a duff track in the bunch.

To think this compilation is free is just ridiculous! Kitsune Pioneer is just one electronic battle weapon after another and if you DJ then this unmixed CD is like a treasure trove of uber-cool tracks that need to be played...repeatedly. Having listened to this on repeat for the last three days, It's hard to pick out which track is the best. The 80's guitar soundtrack pop of Heartsrevolution's, "Ultraviolence (Dubka Remix)", the adrenaline rush of Shinichi Osawa's rework of Cazals, "Poor Innocent Boys," or the mindwarping pulses of the Para One remix of Guns and Bombs, "Riddle of Steel," all stand out as brilliant tunes, but the other eight tracks that make up Kitsune Pioneer are just as good, if not better.

My advice to anyone reading this is who likes electronic music is find a way to get this compilation. Whether it's visiting Scion or Toyota or whatever, if you like to move to a beat then you need this compilation in your life. Seriously. Kitsune Pioneer is beyond highly recommended.

Black Lips 200 Million Thousand

Atlanta's purveyors of disarrayed garage rock are back and better than ever. Despite being banned in countries around the world for their antics and leaving a path of wanton destruction everywhere they go, the Black Lips somehow found some time amongst the pandemonium to record their follow up to Good Bad, Not Evil. Entitled, 200 Million Thousand the album is chronicle of rock and roll chaos that only the Black Lips could create.

Recorded in what sounds like a one car garage with holes in the roof, 200 Million Thousand is a rough, raw, and unpolished record. Produced with would could be the finest 1/4 inch tape made by Memorex, it's truly a marvel of modern science that the record ever saw the light of day. But, here it is, 200 Million Thousand in all it's beaten up garage punk rock glory and if you're not careful it will beat the living heck out of you.

Coming across as something like a 60's beat group waiting for the man with the Velvet Underground, Black Lips make hazy, dirty, untamed rock and roll that will more than likely melt your stereo, blow out your speakers, and cause your ears to run away in terror. If that wasn't enough, several songs on 200 Million Thousand sound like the band was a victim of their own creation. "Let It Grow," for example, sounds like a drunken stupor recorded in Oscar the Grouch's garbage can; it's an absolutely mind-numbingly raw song of destruction and it's quite bad. The whole album is another story.

The band, essentially, picks up where they left off on Good Bad, Not Evil and salvages several really good rough and tumble songs out of the low points of 200 Million Thousand. "Drugs, " and "Short Fuse," are perfect examples of this and illustrate how great of a rock and roll band Black Lips are capable of being when they uncork that punk rock rebellion and garage rock swagger. Thankfully, roughly 2/3 of this record is like that, which in hind sight, saves 200 Million Thousand from being just pure angsty punk rock noise.

At five albums into their career, Black Lips are slowly maturing into a crazy uncontrollable rock and roll band that's not only known for wreaking havoc but also for their songs. 200 Million Thousand is a great record that has a few hiccups here and there, but when you spend $50 recording an album that's bound to happen. If you like rock and roll that sounds like it was beat up in a dark alley then the Black Lips and their album 200 Million Thousand will bring you many, many hours of joy.

Vanna Unveil A New Hope in March

Boston post-hardcore group Vanna will release their anticipated sophomore album, A New Hope, March 24th on Epitaph Records. Produced and mixed by Steve Evetts (Every Time I Die, Our Last Night, Story of the Year) and mastered by Alan Douches (Converge), A New Hope emphasizes the band’s heightened musical abilities, balancing a perfect blend of emotive rock and perilous hardcore with refined precession. Fans can catch a preview of the new album this January as the band tours with Gwen Stacy.

Since the release of Vanna’s fan-favorite debut EP, The Search Party Never Came, and their follow-up full-length, Curses, the band has been on a continuous musical journey, evolving, exploring and maturing with each release and tour. With the experience of using what works and letting go of what doesn’t, the band tackled the writing and recording of A New Hope with an added perspective and understanding.

“The writing and recording process naturally becomes more dialed and decisive with each record,” explains lead vocalist Chris Preece. “This record was approached with more of a group mentality. We talked a lot about what we liked and disliked about our last two releases, and each one of us were able to express ourselves in every step of the process. We locked ourselves in our practice space for two months, everyone threw out song ideas, and the ideas were fleshed out into something that we were all happy with. All of our individual influences and inspirations played a big role creatively.”

Creativity abounds. A New Hope will grab Vanna’s core fans with catchy songs fueled by intense breakdowns, while their accessible melodious song-writing will open the door to a new audience.

Continually elevating their game, Vanna have raised the musical stakes with a bombardment of twelve tracks that invoke a deluge of sensations. Preece’s guttural screams and Evan Pharmakis’ (guitarist/vocals) melodic choruses seamlessly duel on tracks like the epic post-hardcore anthem for the ages, “Safe To Say,” and the sweeping hit “The Same Graceful Wind.” The fast, ferocious work of guitarist Nick Lambert, bassist Shawn Marquis and drummer Chris Campbell provide a wall of intense sound on tracks like “Thrashmouth” and “Life and Limb.”

Vanna's undying passion for creating and growing musically has resulted in one of the best post-hardcore releases in years. Resistance is futile. See Vanna this January and February on tour with Gwen Stacy and Our Last Night.
A New Hope Tracklisting:
1. Let's Have An Earthquake
2. Into Hell's Mouth We March
3. The Same Graceful Wind
4. Like Changing Seasons
5. Trashmouth
6. Safe To Say
7. We Are Nameless
8. Sleepwalker
9. Where We Are Now
10. Ten Arms
11. Life and Limb
12. The Sun Sets Here

Wand's Hard Knox

Wand's James Jackson Toth describes his band's album Hard Knox as a collection of demos, outtakes, and home recordings that were recorded at home in Knoxville, TN between 2002 and 2007. Apparently the songs that make up this album have all been considered for inclusion on Wooden Wand album's but never quite got there. Shockingly, Toth says that, these songs make up about 5% of a towering archive of work that may never see the light of day. Wow.

The songs included on Hard Knox are a glimpse into the world of Toth and his band Wooden Wand. The mostly acoustic songs are poignant viginettes into how his band works and how the songs develop from start to finish. It's a fascinating peek into the world of band mechanics and the songs aren't too shabby either for "home recordings." Having worked my way through this record, I would really like to several of these songs in their finished form. "Blamelessness," "All These Generous Men," and "Dark Is lending," would all probably be very cool tunes on their own.

While rough and unpolished, the songs that make up Hard Knox are fascinating as acoustic work but knowing that there's more to them, make these sketches even more intriguing. Where did they go? What do they sound like finished? These are questions that I would like to see answered. If you're a Wooden Wand completest (anyone?) then this is an essential purchase, but for the casual listener, I would seek out the finished products as opposed to these snippets of tunes. Start researching the tunes now.

The Lovetones Spread Across Dimensions

The Lovetones are an Australian band that's been slowly buidling it's reputation over the last seven years. Back in 2002 their debut album, Be What You Want was hailed by critics around the world as featuring songs that were worthy of Ray Davies, Roger McGuinn, Lennon and McCartney. But as fate would have it, the bands leader, J Tow, left Australia to join the brilliant train wreck that is the Brian Jonestown Massacre in 2003. Returning to his own band in 2004, The Lovetones released the Stars EP and then Meditations in 2005 and Axiom in 2006 all to acclaim. These releases furthered the development of the band and set them up for their latest album, Dimensions.

A psychedelic pop experience, Dimensions has the sound and feel of a record recorded sometime between the years of 1965-1968. I suppose you could think of The Lovetones almost as if Ride met the Dandy Warhols and then ran into the Ray, Paul, and John on Carnaby Street. It's a jangly affair that rises up out of the mists of history to sound like reflection of the sum of its influences. In fact, at certain times during, Dimensions, you would swear that the Beatles or Kinks sat in on the sessions. One listen to a couple of songs like, "Journeyman," and "Two of a Kind," and you’ll be convinced that this is a long lost record from a bygone era.

Dimensions is quite a good record that harks back to pop's glorious past while attempting to carry the legendary influences that shape it in to the future. The Lovetones clearly have been around long enough to understand their way around a classic pop song and they do a pretty good job of recreating them time after time. Whether it is lush, orchestral ballads, spacey psychedelic pop, or Merseybeat-ish jangle, J. Tow and The Lovetones have the chemistry, adoration for classicism, and talent that allows them to write great songs that consistently hit their mark.

In a nutshell, Dimensions is one of the best albums from the 60's that never was. It's an incredible record with loads of trippy mind-bending songs that intermingle with simple pop tunes as if it were. If you love classic pop songs and/or the Beatles, Kinks, The Byrds, Ride or the Dandy's then you should probably find this record somewhere and enjoy Dimensions' retro-cool.

Morrissey's Years of Refusal

What more can really be said about Morrissey at this point in his career? He's a legendary pop phenomenon that's been everywhere and back in his 20 plus years in the music industry. Whether it be the Smiths or his solo albums, the guy has been part of some of the greatest songs the alternative/indie music world has ever heard and he's still going strong. That's all you really need to know about Morrissey. Well that and the fact that he's just released his latest album Years of Refusal.

Years of Refusal almost seems an appropriate title for his ninth solo studio record. For a guy who turns 50 this year, he's clearly someone who refuses to throw in the towel and rest on his laurels. Oh no, this is an album that in a sense completes the "comeback," he started back two albums ago and sees Morrissey still being the rambunctious rabble rouser of a singer he has always been. It's the sound of a man comfortable in his skin and his place in the world (Paris this time around) but also the sound of an artist who still has oodles of songs to share with his audience.

Years of Refusal is a full, thick, and well rounded record that's sweeping and at times almost mean sounding. In fact, there are moments on this album, where Morrissey almost doesn't sound like the old Morrissey we've known and loved forever. "Something Squeezing My Skull," for example is an aggressive rocker that has this different feel with Morrissey's voice sounding deeper and more upfront than ever before. As the album moves on though, that legendary set of pipes makes it's presence known and the songs begin to sound majestic and proper in the only they could be with a guy like Morrissey. "I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris," is a huge heartbreaker of a song that's orchestral, sweeping, and emotional in all the best ways.

In listening to Years of Refusal it's really hard to believe that Morrissey is going to be 50. His sound and voice has only become more self assured and brilliant as the years have gone on and it's nice to know that he can still make important music that needs to be heard. While there's nothing massively surprising here, Years of Refusal is a brilliant British Pop album that only furthers the legend of its creator and shows that he's still got it. Highly recommended.

Bonnie Prince Billy Says Beware

The man, the myth, the legend that is Bonnie Prince Billy has returned once again with a new album entitled Beware. As per usual, Bonnie takes the rustic, countrified route into folk heaven and does a pretty decent job of getting there. No big changes then, but that shouldn't be a surprise because he is Bonnie Prince Billy after all.

Beware is a mellow pastoral stroll through the Bonnie Prince Billy songbook. It's packed to the gills with fiddle, pedal steel, and vocals that long for lost love somewhere else. Beware is a charming album that sounds like traditional country records did 50 years ago. In other words, Beware is dusty, dear, and downtrodden and is sound of heartbreak and soulsearching.

From the painfully titled, "You Can't Hear Me Now," to the the anguish of, "I Don't Belong to Anyone," Bonnie Prince Billy sounds as if he's had a bad time of it. In fact, Beware, seems to be chronicle of depression that unfortunately sounds bloody fantastic. Hopefully, one day Bonnie Prince Billy and his heart will belong to someone, but until that day arrives we can allow celebrate his pain especially if it sounds as good as it does on Beware.

Gladshot Burn Up and Shine

New York City's Gladshot are lead by Debbie Andrews and Mike Blaxill who originally got together with the idea that literate and finely wrought pop songs can come from two distinct minds. With the aid of a pack of session and back up musicians, Gladshot have been trying to prove this theory for three albums and their latest, Burn Up and Shine sees them continuing on their quest.

Sounding something like an adult alternative band that's good friends with Teenage Fanclub, the band play lazy power pop that at times is as catchy as the bubonic plague and as sugary sweet as a box of Snickers bars. Fusing blues, jazz, rock and roll, and a little bit of twang, Gladshot come up with songs that skip across genres like a needle on a broken record player. The result is a light laid back album that's thoughtful and easy on the ears.

Whether it's a tender ballad featuring Debbie Andrews or a spiky pop tune with Mike on vocals, Burn Up and Shine makes transitions smoother than the Obama administration. Check out "Hallways and Doors/Crumbling Wall," for a perfect illustration of just how versatile Gladshot are not only as musicians but lyricists as well. It's Gladshot's versatility and ability to write such effortless pop that makes Burn Up and Shine fun to listen to.

Whether or not they've achieved their goal to write literate pop songs on Burn Up and Shine really isn't up for debate because by about the fourth song you realized that they've clearly achieved that. Gladshot are quietly setting the world on fire one lackadaisical record at a time and Burn Up and Shine is a good record that sounds like AAA the way it should be played

Jar-E Gets Global on Chicas Malas Comes to Jax in March

Asheville, North Carolina is probably more known for the Biltmore Estate than music so it's a pleasant surprise that there's at least one artist out there on the national stage. Jar-E is the group and they are fueled by bi-lingual sing songwriter and multi instrumentalist Jon Reid. His latest album Chicas Malas (Bad Girls) was actually conceived in Mexico after being inspired by journey that took Reid through Greece, Cuba, and Britain.

As one might expect after taking a journey of such magnitude the regions and countries Reid visited on his journey found a way to influence the music that would become Chicas Malas. The result is an album that's got a global feel about it and has no problems switching between jazzy rhythms, Latin tinged songs, soul numbers, proper pop songs, and laid back countrified twangers. It's an album that truly is a joy to listen to for it's diversity as well as it's songs.

Throughout Chicas Malas Jar-E keeps things light and airy. The songs never seem to get weighed down by the assortment of sounds and influences at work here. From the crisp horns to the pedal steel guitars, the instruments here all fall into place at the perfect time creating an absolute brilliant atmosphere that makes the record incredibly absorbing. Check the nearly easy listening vibe of, "The Pedestrian," or the pop genius of album opener, "Fever Break."

Inspired by the world around them, Jar-E's Chicas Malas is a record that sounds as if it were made everywhere in the world but Asheville, North Carolina. It's a mixed bag of instruments and sounds that fit together like a 1000 piece puzzle that creates the most grandiose image. It might not be pop in the traditional sense, but Jar-E's soulful take on world music is fun to listen to and Chicas Malas is a fun album to have around. You can actually see for yourself what I'm on about as Jar-E brings his soulful take on world music to Jacksonville March 19th at Freebird!

Dish's Ma Raison De Vivre Ton Amour

It's always a good thing when bands from Florida start to gain notoriety. Our little neck of the woods has been quite active as of late and Dish certainly hope to keep up their pace. This duo from Deland, made up of brothers Roberto and Nathaniel Aguilar, discovered music together and now years later are actually making music together. Their album, Ma Raison De Vivre Ton Amour is probably the best thing to ever come out of the Deland.

Artistically, Dish are just about all over the map. They're like indie rock gypsy's wondering genre's and cross pollinating them in an effort to something that's hypnotizing and intriguing. At times the succeed as they occasionally sound something like Radiohead if they were playing power pop; it's those moments when the band are at their best. Other times though, the band tend to get lost on their quest falling into some sort of folky quagmire that brings down their energy level and nearly drags Ma Raison De Vivre Ton Amour with them (see "Zombie Love Song").

Utilizing all sorts of hand made percussion, acoustic guitars, vibes, programmed beats, and synths, the band is able to make just about any sort of song they choose to and about four or five songs in they have. The loungey acoustics of, "Death and Romance," serves as a perfect example of their songwriting philosophy. Opening with some jazzy, loungey, vibraphone action the song gives way to acoustic guitars and then blows up into a soaring distorted blast up to heaven. It then comes back down to earth and uses some beats to move the song along just far enough before it takes off again. It's a crazy littler rollercoaster ride of a song that crams just about everything in the bands arsenal into a tune that's under four minutes long.

For the most part, Ma Raison De Vivre Ton Amour is an impressive debut. Dish's ability to create jumpy songs that fuse genres together like super glue is truly a good thing and the album benefits form this repeatedly. It's only when the band decides to slow things down and get "jam bandish," that Ma Raison De Vivre Ton Amour suffers; hopefully Dish stays away from the coffee shop folk and sticks to writing scattered pop songs.

Mono's Hymn to the Immortal Wind

Mono by definition means, designating sound transmission or recording or reproduction over a single channel, something the Japanese noiseniks who go by the same name know nothing about. For Mono the band is about as close to being mono the sound as the sun is close to the earth. This group of post rockers makes music not of this earth in stereo that the human brain may or may not have trouble comprehending because of the sheer magnitude of their recordings and the complexity that goes along with them.

In celebration of the bands on going quest to make absolutely massive soundscapes and their tenth anniversary, the band Mono have chosen to release thier first album in three years. Entitled, Hymn to the Immortal Wind you immediately get a sense of the size and scope of this recording and then upon listening to it, it becomes apparent that this is a band who creates classical music without classical instrumentation. While the songs themselves are not divided into movements they are at times very reminiscent of traditional classical works that work in that framework.

While Hymn to the Immortal Wind is absolutely massive and more complex than trying to figure out Earth's gravitational constant in a black hole, the album is also incredibly beautiful. As the title suggests, each of the songs here are delicate as much as they are intricate and sound as if the wind may very well carry them away before we finish listening to them. They are fragile works to be treasured while being enjoyed and Mono does an amazing job at creating stunningly angelic atomospheres that envelope the listener in a blissed out experience straight from heaven.

Using guitars, drums and effects pedals...lots of effects pedals, Mono create swirling sheets of noise that are warped and manipulated into the freeform and expansive songs that make up Hymn to the Immortal Wind. It's as if My Bloody Valentine became mute and just created endless shoegazing missives from the great beyond. Hymn to the Immortal Wind is truly beautiful stuff and as the guitar noise cascades into something approaching music you can't help but sit in awe of how amazing Mono really are and how the create such massive sounds with just four people.

Hymn to the Immortal Wind is unearthly and unbelievable to say the least. It's cinematic textures, classical structures and spacial atomospherics help create the world in which Mono live in. It's a wonderful world of noise, manipulated and processed into something much more than just notes arranged into music for your ears; it's a world in which we're invited into and may have difficulty in leaving when the album comes to a close.

Meet Pontiak's Maker

Pontiak is a band that's hooked on power; tons and tons of power. Their latest album Maker is an album that has enough groove-laden energy to fuel a small city for an eternity. If ever the spirit of Black Sabbath, Kyuss, and doom-laden metla lived, it courses through the blood and brains of this band.

Maker is an epic, dirty and intense record that makes enough noise to keep your ear drums seperate from your skull. Recorded in a 12 x 12 room this is the sound of Pontiak trying to escape it's self-created holding cell. Imagine the sound of a convoy of semi-trucks roaring by you and you can begin to imagine the muscle and intensity of Maker.

From the slowly groove laden destruction of the thirteen minute title track to the short bursts of, "Blood Pride," and "Heat Pressure," listening to Maker is like listening to the greatest 70's era Sabbath record never recorded. This is absolute stoner rock and roll that's heavier than your tax burden. It's a record that churns riffs out like slowly made butter and crushes everything and anything in it's path.

This is an epic album that relies on earthy, heavy, and agonizing textures to get it's point across. Pontiak have done an amazing job of making a record so heavy you might just need a forklift to listen to it. Doom and gloom has never sounded so amazing!

Mr. Oizo's Lambs Anger

Mr. Oizo is more than just the furry yellow sock monkey like creature that's been lurking around dance music since the 90's. In all actuality, he's much more than just a gimmick, he's a man. Known as Quentin Dupieux, this Frenchman has been creating music for over fifteen years and has just released his latest record, Lambs Anger for the always impressive Ed Banger Records.

Sounding like a more modern update of what he originally sounded like way back when, Mr. Oizo sound as if he's taken the entire Ed Banger roster blended it, chopped it up, and mixed it up with some 90's techno and rave. It's crazy wild stuff that's as unpredictable as the weather and literally goes all over the place. Once second, the tunes are housey, the next they sound as if Justice took over the recording, and the whole time your feet and head can't coordinate their actions into something that's remotely organized.

That being said, Lambs Anger is a great record that comes in short bursts of sound. With many of the songs here under two and a half minutes, Mr. Oizo keeps things short, sweet, and to the point. For your average pop song that's brilliant but for electronic music it's just to short somethines. Truth be told, several of these short blasts would be unbelievable bangers if they were two or three minutes longer. In any case, Lambs Anger is still interesting enough to keep you guessing, but as a DJ I would love to have some of these tunes extended and then extended again.

From Italo to electro, to the insanely titled techno of "Bruce Willis Is Dead" and what sounds like Uffie dropping by on "Two Takes It,", Lambs Anger is a speedy blast of bangin electronics sure to keep your feet and turntable busy. Mr. Oizo, might be portrayed as a puppet in videos and ad campaigns, but as a producer he's capable of just about anything and Lambs Anger is a testament to that.

Gretchen Phillips Was Just Comforting Her

Gretchen Phillips has been blazing a trail as a singer songwriter for well over 20 years. Her unique approach to this genre has allowed her to keep going and allowed to stay far away from being just another cliche girl with a guitar. Her latest album, I Was Just Comforting Her is the most humanistic record of her career and as always steers clear of being just another singer songwriter album.

While about half of I Was Just Comforting Her is her with a guitar going acoustic, the other half of the record is a solid folky album that sounds something like a modern update of an old Joni Mitchell album. Gretchen is folksy and warm and her songs are quirky little numbers that utilize everything at her disposal whether it be electronics or more musicians. The result is an album that's a rich tapestry of empathic artistry that's rarely heard in this genre today and gives a glimpse into the life and times of this most prolific artist.

From the theremin's on, "In Case of Rapture," to the politically charged plea of, "Red State/Blue State," I Was Just Comforting Her  is a thought provoking record in a time when our thoughts need to be provoked. Political, edgy, and confident, Gretchen Phillips is a veteran at creating songs that make you think and she does this as if it's second nature. Of course, I Was Just Comforting Her isn't all heavy topics and political idealism...when she sings, that she likes to lay in bed you believe her and you can't help but laugh because she insists that it might be the cause of her career ending.

More than a singer songwriter record, Gretchen Phillips' I Was Just Comforting Her  is a nice album of concerned and emotional folk pop created by an artist who is smart enough to avoid all the common pitfalls that plague so many albums like this. That really should come as no surprise given her lengthy career and status in the Texas Music Hall of Fame. If you love folk or the idea of the singer songwriter than do yourself a favor and comfort Gretchen Phillips by picking up her album!

These Are Powers Are All Aboard For the Future

These Are Powers are a band that embraces chaos, string theory, and the total destruction of the idea of music. Their previous efforts have been a cacophony of noise and dissonance that more than likely gave a few people migraines while they watched their ear drums bleed. For their latest album, All Aboard Future, the band rewrote the way they went about making music while still embracing the underlying idea that music should be abstract and untamed.

Using a host of hand crafted sounds, These Are Powers have created a dissonant soundtrack that while sounding unhinged makes a certain degree of sense. Rather than giving you a migraine, All Aboard Future, will cause you to scratch your head in bewilderment as the unique soundscapes that These Are Powers come up with will cause you to question your sanity. What's truly remarkable about All Aboard Future is how the These Are Powers shapes the chaos that surrounds them into some sort of framework that resembles a song. They actually create the odd melody here and there and the results are songs that occasionally sound like off the mark pop songs. "Parallel Shores," is a perfect example of this as the sounds are looped into a simple melody that makes the song sound eerily robotic and strangely catchy.

Elsewhere the band hints at more melodies by utilizing swirling guitars, boy/girl call and response vocals, and creating an atmospheric sense of the end. They do such a good job of this, in fact, that All Aboard Future at times sounds so doom laden that you would swear that this is the soundtrack to the end of the world (or Terminator: Salvation). Doomsday aside, These Are Powers have created an album that's surprisingly listenable and while things do get disordered at times, the band always manages to find their way back to creating something that resembles a song.

While All Aboard Future isn't the feel good hit of the winter or any season for that matter, it is a fascinating and haunting album to listen to. It's use of hand crafted/found sounds is truly intriguing and how These Are Powers arrange all these noises, bleeps, loops, and beats into something that's actually aurally acceptable is amazing. If ever there was a headphones album, These Are Powers', All Aboard Future would be it. My advice, however, is not to listen to it by yourself in the dark because it will probably scare the bejesus out of you.

Sebastien Tellier Turns Up the Heat on Roche

Sebastien Tellier has long issued records that ooze sex, drugs, and rock and roll. This Frenchman, knows his way around a keyboard and drum machine and he works them to the bone in an effort to make songs that sound as if they belong in a series of erotic movies featuring his favorite women. His latest single, Roche is no different and is another highlight of slow brewing sensuality from the massive album that is Sexuality.

Roche is a breathy retro influenced ballad that utilizes the bare minimum of vintage synth and beats to get it's seductive point across. While it almost seems a bit to cold to seduce that's the point; the song is toying with you setting you up and leading you along knowing that it will win you over in the long run. And it does. It's heavy, suggestive and atmospheric stuff that's made even greater with two remixes from Kavinsky and Breakbot.

While the original version of Roche almost sounds like it came from the original Miami Vice, the Kavinsky remix sounds as if it belongs in Blade Runner in a love scene between two replicants. It's a cold, detached, clinical remix that sounds similar to Vangelis if he made bawdy soundtracks. The Breakbot remix on the other hand takes the original version of the song and runs it through the French Funkometer to generate a song that sounds like a slice of synthpop heaven and as a result is easily the coolest version here.

Roche might be a bit short at three songs but it's one heck of an impassioned single and while it might be a bit late for Valentines Day, Roche is the sort of record that will certainly spice up any romance.

Trail of Dead Live The Century of Self

After making a couple of albums that were just about impossible like, And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead has returned with what has to be their most accessable and best album to date. The Century of Self is a return to form for a band that has always had so much potential but never quite lived up to it.

Far less mathy and technical than their previous efforts, The Century of Self  has a sense of, err, self that relishes the thought of being a record free to do what it wants to do. It's a huge record that has aspirations of world domination but knows that if things get too complicated it won't achieve that goal. So rather than just throw riff after riff into some sort of mathematical equation to generate an epic indie rock record, Trail of Dead goes about this by taking the idea of prog rock and smashing it together with a sense of accessibility. The results of this is The Century of Self  sounding like it's gargantuan in scope but still easy enough to latch onto so that the listener doesn't feel like they've been listening to the same song for over an hour.

For the most part their approach works as The Century of Self's grandiose nature is kept in check by songs and choruses that you can actually remember and want to remember. That being said, the band still manage to find a way to cram hundreds of riffs into their songs however, they are arranged in such a way that they make their impact in a subtle and non-annoying manner. "Isis Unveiled," is a perfect example as the song starts out in a bombastic barrage of guitars only to be broght down to earth by a choppy riff that will bash itself into your brain; it's a six minute epic that you can't and won't forget.

The Century of Self is a fantastic record that shows Trail of Dead developing (or redeveloping) a sense of what makes an album good. They've taken their ability to be godlike musicians and toned it down just a notch so that their songs make more of an impact. They still convince us that they can play and write songs bigger than the galaxy but now they do it within the framework of a song that's catchy and less complicated. Just about every song here is among the best they've ever written and I can honestly say this is the first Trail of Dead record I've found myself going back to because of how good it really is. They've outdone themselves here and The Century of Self  is easily their best album in a LONG time; perhaps, being dropped by Interscope was the best thing to have ever happened to them.

John Carozza's Defining Moment

John Carozza is a pianist who's fits into the cool or smooth jazz cannon of musicians. In other words he writes laid back jazz that's easy going on the ears and very structured so that there's little improvisation or aural confusion going on. He's a song based jazz musician whose relaxed songs are the perfect thing to wind down to after a stressful day in our brilliant economy.

His latest album, Defining Moment is a beautiful, lush piano driven work that's soothing, carefree, and so well played that you can't help but admire Carozza's talent. Admiring his talent is something you should do anyway, as he's played on and worked on so many respected artists over his career as a gospel music producer and player that the music just comes flowing out of him be it jazz or gospel. It should really come as no surprise then, that Carozza has got the knack for writing music that's emotional at all the right times and utilizes those emotions to his advantage. He does this repeatedly throughout Defining Moment and the album as a result is a thought provoking musical journey that will stir your soul.

Although it's only five songs long,Defining Moment is a passionately played album of unobtrusive songs that are pleasurable and at casual ease. John Carozza is very good at creating atmospheric and lush textures with his piano that tug at your soul while taking you away on an emotional journey. Defining Moment is beautiful stuff that will be appealing to anyone who needs time away from the world of today and all that goes with it.

Harlem Shakes Checks It's Technicolor Health

Named after the bandmembers favorite dance move, Harlem Shakes is the latest and greatest band to fly out of the fertile hotbed of indie that is Brooklyn. I know it's hard to believe but with so many bands breaking out of the area, Brooklyn is once again becoming the center of the musical universe. I'm not sure what it is they put in the water, but Harlem Shakes must have been drinking it by the gallon up there because they're a brilliant band and their debut album, Technicolor Health is a fly out of the gates hit.

Mixing the sound of old New York with new New York, Harlem Shakes sound like a sloppy gooey mess of Strokesian guitars, MGMT worldbeat, and oddly enough Decemberists indie pop. It's a bizarre cocktail of sounds that's meaty beaty big and bouncy and is a jumpy, skittish pop treat that has a hard time sitting still long enough to be pinned down into any one sound or sub-genre. The result of this is an album that's all over the place but is united in it's desire to be stupendously melodic and incredibly catchy. The Shakes do an amazing job of combining their skittish mannerisms into something that has more pop sensibility than Simon Cowell could ever dream of.

Throughout, Technicolor Health  odd time signatures, strange sounds, pianos, weird choruses, and a host of other strange things come at you from different directions and collide in your eardrums at the same time. When your brain finishes sorting it all out, it's as if The Shakes have taken you on a sugar rush of epic proportions. Their frivolous and jolly tunes are made out of pure cane sugar that taste so good that repeated servings and cavities are expected.

Harlem Shakes are clearly a band that understands how to construct a melody and how to write a song that will linger with you like your in-laws. From the unbelievable chorus stuck in the middle of (SONG #3) to the drum machine beats and bits of horn on (SONG #5) Technicolor Health  is a non-stop party of harmonic goodness. They layer all that goodness in there and spread the melodies thick making a deliciously delightful concoction that's so simple but oh so effective that the phrase resistance is futile seems only appropriate.

Yeah, Harlem Shakes are from Brooklyn but with songs as good as the ones that are on Technicolor Health  who cares. This is a band that pretty much is the definition of what indie rock is all about in 2009; their fun, their melodic, their in tune to the musical world around them, and they have tunes by the tons. In other words, Harlem Shakes are one of the best new bands around this year and you should do yourself a favor and find Technicolor Health . Oh, and they're playing the Harvest of Hope festival March 8th in St. Augustine, if you're going be sure and check them out.

Mansions Come Of Age

What if, you know, there were good emo songs? A difficult concept to get your head around, I'll admit, but it's a concept that Mansions grasp and have created a record with that very idea in mind. Their album, New Best Friends, is filled with over emotional songs that are actually worth listening to.

Led by, Christopher Browder, Mansions create swirling walls of noise that are warped into melodic chaos that sounds as if someone threw a bunch of shoegazing records in with Mineral's greatest hits. New Best Friends is an album that has a sense of epicness about it while still having a strong sense of what a good short pop song is all about. Browder has clearly made a record that wants to be more than just a stereotype and despite having the occasional pitfall, he succeeds.

While there are moments on New Best Friends that sound as if they've been pulled from the emo handbook to writing songs for girls, there are also songs that are hilarious, and hit home in all the best ways; check out, "Talk, Talk, Talk," and "Gotta Be Alone," for some shining examples of this. In listening to New Best Friends, one can't help but wonder if Browder has ever had a really cool girlfriend. He seems so depressed throughout this record and so many of the songs on New Best Friends just make you want to take him aside like a brother and go, "Dude, it'll all work me."

Despite an overwhelming desire to help Christopher, his misery and suffering over relationships makes for good listening as New Best Friends is really a good record that grows on you over time. In the end, Mansions avoids the many pitfalls of so many other emo bands by keeping a smile on their face and writing music that yearns to be so much more than just emo. Mansions ethereal sound mixed with a touching record will either strike a nerve or remind you of what it was like growing up and that's a good thing.  New Best Friends is a coming of age record for Christopher Browder and if he's come this far at such a young age, his adulthood should be amazing, musically speaking.

Monotonix Want You To Read Their Body Language!

The first thing you think of when you listen to Monotonix's album Body Language is whether or not these guys wear lots and lots of flannel.

Monotonix are one distorted, stoned out, crunchy rock and roll band so in love with Marshall stacks and fuzz pedals that you'd swear it's 1972 all over again. Body Language so rooted in Black Sabbath and post grunge rock and roll that you can almost see the plaids and power chords flying out of your speakers. This is one heavy crunchy album that sounds like Tad lost weight, joined Soundgarden, jammed on a couple of Black Sabbath covers and then recorded it all for posterity sake.

It's heavy metal for people afraid of heavy metal but it kicks some serious butt in all the best way. The fuzzed out bass lines and churning guitar riffs sound as if the band were caught in quicksand and took two weeks to get out. This is a band that bashes songs as opposed to playing them. It's heavy, it's kind of groovy, and rolls along like an M1 Abrahams tank, laying everything in its path to waste.

They don't make songs like, "Deadly Weapon," or "Summers and Autumns," any more because bands don't have the bravery required to play this loud and dangerous. Too many moussed up bands today would die trying to kick out the jams like Monotonix do on every song here.

Body Language is not for the faint of heart and anyone wearing a pacemaker should probably just stay away. This is brash, raw, untamed rock and roll and it is amazing stuff to just crank up to 11 and blow out your windows to. Who cares if they look like they're lumberjack serial murderers?

Monotonix are part of the Harvest of Hope fest in St. Augustine on March 6-8. I'd recommend seeing them as they might be the last band to you actually see as they're insane live show could cause quite the ruckus and throw the festival into chaos!

Ursula 1000's Mystics

I have to admit I'm biased here. I actually know and used to hang out with Ursula 1000 or Alex Gimeno to those who know him, so I'm going to like this record I have to be honest. Anyway, it's been awesome to see him rise to the top of his game over the years from being in his band 23 to being a top international DJ. Since he's left Miami he's recorded three albums under the guise of Ursula 1000 and has just released his fourth album, Mystics.

Where on past efforts, Alex has taken lounge music to outer space and back again, on Mystics he's mixed things up a bit. With more of a modern influence, Mystics is influenced by booty, breaks, goth, electro, house, and dirty disco and as a result sort of comes off sounding a bit like a cross between Le Rhythm Digitales meets Fatboy Slim with a bit of Justice thrown in for good measure. This is a crazy record that's dirty one second and then spacey the next all the while maintaining enough funk to keep your feet busy and the bassbins booming.

"Rump," is a perfect example of this. It's filled with dirty mud caked synths wrapped around a funky guitar riff which is then layered with a hip hop vocal that will absolutely destroy any dance floor it's unleashed on. Other outstanding moments include the wanna-be Goldfrapp tune, "I.C.O.M.E.," and the Mr. Oizo like, "Zombies." Mystics is like the hardest algebra problem ever created; it's got so many variables and so many possibilities and not one answer. It's enigmatic stuff that demonstrates Alex's production skills and how phenomenally easily he creates space funk, electro jams, and lounge classics all in the same breath.

All bias aside, Mystics is a seriously funky record that sounds like the best of 90's big beat brought quickly up to date with dashes of modern electro peppered in. Ursula 1000 has created a monster of a record here and if you're feet like to move then Mystics is an essential addition to you collection. Keep up the good work Alex!

Middle States Have A Happy Fun Party

Middle States are a band that makes music that bands just don't make anymore. You're probably scratching your head going, "Huh?" Well, this foursome creates power pop from an era when alternative music was just breaking and bands like Gin Blossoms were bigger than sliced bread. Their album, Happy Fun Party is a like a long lost album from 1991 that somehow found itself in the middle of 2009.

With plenty of choppy riffs, hyper drumming, and choruses that are so big that Andre the Giant (nice 80's/90's reference, eh?) seems small by comparison, Middle States are far from being middle of the road. Happy Fun Party soars with these elements in tune and very rarely slows down to catch it's breath. It's a jittery, nervous, record that's self loathing and yearning for something more while getting everything it wants.

After listening this to a couple of times you'll begin to think that Middle States went to the Matthew Sweet school of rock and graduated with honors. Their songs are sticky and memorable and loaded with enough power chords to energize a small city. Mr. Sweet and much of the class of 1991-92 would be proud to know that their legacy lives on.

From the sheepish chorus of Ba Ba Ba on, "No Curse, No Drunk, No Fight," and the building spikiness of, "Winds of Eiderdown," Happy Fun Party is a tapestry of well constructed power pop charmers that will bring back floods of memories to anyone who was around when alternative broke. If you weren't around then, Happy Fun Party will open a whole new world of how good things in the 90's actually were. No matter what era your from or what year the Middle States appear to be from, this band has a great album on their hands and Happy Fun Party comes highly recommended.

The Pioneers of Seduction Set Us Up

Take the sound of the gutter and plug it into an amp and you have what the Pioneers of Seduction are all about. Raw, rambunctious, and reckless, the Pioneers plough through their debut album The Universe Is Setting Us Up like a bulldozer out of control. With little time for anything but riffs and fueled with a sense of urgency, the sheer untamed power of the Pioneers allow the band to blow through each of the thirteen songs on their album, The Universe Is Setting Us Up, without losing a breath.

The Universe Is Setting Us Up is an uncompromising mess of garage punk sensibility, three chord riffs, churning drums, and hoarse vocals that threaten to leap out of the stereo. This is brutally dirty punk rock that's extremely rough around the edges but manages to keep just enough melody in check to make the record listenable. It really should be a bad record, but by some minor miracle the gods of punk have saved it. Simplistic in its approach and powerful in its effect, The Universe Is Setting Us Up is an unpolished, gritty affair that may very well leave you down for the count like the cover indicates. Listening to The Universe Is Setting Us Up is truly a case of art imitating real life.

White Wives Enjoy An Indian Summer

White Wives are a band that's kind of all over the place. Their album, Happeners, resides somewhere between punk rock, indie, and the 90's revival. Made up of a couple of guys from Anti-Flag, Dandelion Snow, and American Armada the band obviously is a side project but if you ask its members it is not designed to sound like one. And they don't, as their album Indian Summer, Indian Summer is so well put together that it's hard to believe that White Wives aren't their primary focus.

Indian Summer, Indian Summer is a great work of pop art. With songs assaulting you from every which way, your ears will have a difficult time coming to grips with the fact that White Wives is essentially made up of various parts from punk rock bands. Offering up so much more than three chords and a loud voice, Indian Summer, Indian Summer is a diverse and entertaining record that sounds as if it were pieced together with a lot of effort and intent. As a result, this side project succeeds where so many others fail.

Indian Summer, Indian Summer might be the sum of its parts but what a sum it is. Anything but an Anti-Flag side project, White Wives is a real band with really good songs put together by really good musicians that just happen to all come from somewhere else.

Burn Halo Rise Up From The Ashes

Burn Halo answers the question of what would happen if Alice in Chains were heavier and embraced their inner screamo kid. Their latest album Up From The Ashes is a tour de force of crunchy riffs, mind numbing metal, melodic vocal wipeouts, and absolutely pounding songs that are like pile drivers in your ears. These guys have grown quite a bit since we reviewed their debut album years ago and it’s all for the best. Honed to a sharp point and with songs that are rocket propelled Burn Halo is a force to be reckoned with.

Up From The Ashes is a behemoth of a record with eleven songs that plough through the aural wasteland like a runaway M1 Abrams tank. Taking melodic heaviness to the next level, Burn Halo swerve around clich├ęs like the Stig and forge their own path to oblivion. Their formula is simple, Take post-grunge sounds pump them with steroids, mix some melodic metal influences, and then crank it all up to eleven on the riffometer from hell. Upon completion, Burn Halo create a wave of destruction that's impossible to stop.

Sure there are tons of bands that make this massive metallic stuff...but ask yourself how many are actually good? My friends, Burn Halo are the real deal, they've built themselves up, refined their sound and made themselves into the monster they are and Up From The Ashes are proof of just how good they’ve become.

My First Earthquake Comes Back For A Second

Upon listening to My First Earthquakes second album, Friction, the first thing you take away from it is that this is a band that still seems to be having far too much fun. This is a group that truly loves what they're doing and as a result it rubs off on their record. Packed with an abundance of incredibly infectious songs and overly energetic (in a twenty cups of coffee kind of way), My First Earthquake has pretty much defined itself as the sound of hyperactivity.

Friction is a bubbly upbeat indie-synth-pop record that's just a little bit too excited for its own good. This is a record with ADHD that barely has time to finish one song before it starts the next. It's got places to go and people to meet and no time to spare and with barely a slow tempo song in site Friction will leave you out of breath and worn out.

Friction is a kinetic record that never falls off course; just listen to "Enya Got Nothing," as an example. This blast of over excitedness pretty much sums up My First Earthquake in 2:33 and will leave you in stitches.  Friction will make you laugh, dance, and sing along all while continuously gasping for air.

With huge choruses, multi-part harmonies, and a seductively sly sense of humor, My First Earthquake is one of the most fun bands on the planet. They embrace everything that's cool about their influences, rough them up a bit, and then add their own special zing to them to come up with songs that refuse to leave you alone.   Friction as a result is a stunningly good record from a super tight, technologically clued in, slightly sarcastic band that knows how to have a good time and is pretty determined to make sure you do to.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Atari Teenage Riot Return

In thinking back, I don't think there has been a day in Atari Teenage Riot's existence where they've ever been content, happy, or calm. For nearly 20 years, if not more, ATR have been making extremely angry, political, and intelligent music for the cyberpunk generation. With today's current global political climate, financial situation, and the countless wars scattered around the world it only makes sense then that they continue that tradition on their "comeback," album, Is This Hyperreal.

An album for the Google generation, the record is brutal and ready to fight for every inch of soil it can lay its hand on. Covering everything from human trafficking, internet regulation, Wikileaks, hacker activism and everything in between...if the Matrix were a record this would be it. Pretty much redefining what cyberpunk is, yet again, ATR crank up the drum machines, destroy a few synths, scream their guts out and create one of the most urgent records of the year. This is the sound of music fighting the power and coming away victorious.

While not quite as fast or gut wrenching as the first few ATR records, let there be no doubt that Is This Hyperreal is anything less than brutal. This is pure electronic mayhem that is designed to cause a panic and chaos wherever it is heard. (As if to prove my point, several of my co-workers are currently hiding under their desks as I listen to this record.) Is This Hyperreal is the sound of angst in the 21st's urgent, aggressive and guaranteed to cause fear in the hearts of those who don't understand it.

No Surrender For Medicine Babies

No Surrender's sophomore album, Medicine Babies, steers so far clear of being a victim of a sophomore slump it might as well be their third album. Evolving out of a series of parties and gatherings, No Surrender gathered to fuse hip hop, electro, synth pop and the end of the world into a devastating combination of beats, rhymes, and killer songs. To this date they've succeeded as No Surrender's songs are near legendary to those in the know and with the release of Medicine Babies this reputation is sure to grow.

A lot of groups nowadays have jumped on the band wagon of throwing the idea of genre out the window, and just throwing anything together to come up with something new. As one might suspect, few succeed at coming up with anything good. No Surrender, on the other hand, just about creates a masterpiece. With hooks so desperate to latch on they attack you, synths so raw they bleed, rhymes so sharp they'll stab you and songs so good Medicine Babies hits you like a ton of bricks. This, simply put, is an electronic trip through the dark side of New York complete with all the bumps, bruises and thrills one might expect.

Don't think that all of Medicine Babies is up in your face though, the record does offer some subtlety and as the album comes to a close it becomes apparent. In fact as the album winds down, the record gets progressively darker and darker; sounding more and more like a twisted take on trip hop. It's further proof that Medicine Babies can’t be pigeon holed and shows No Surrender successfully combines it all into one heck of a formula that you don't need a prescription to fill.

Imaginary Cities Welcomes Temporary Residents

I have to admit that two songs into Imaginary Cities album, Temporary Resident, I was losing hope of it being any good. But, and you knew there would be a but, somewhere around the middle of the song, “Hummingbird,” the album flourishes into something more than just another moody record; it actually becomes a rather good pop treat.

Made up of just two members, Imaginary Cities, are a dynamic duo that sound a lot larger than they actually are. This is pretty incredible when you realize that only one member, Rusty Matyas, plays 98% of the instruments (with a smattering of help for the other 2%) and still somehow manages to create this full sounding, larger than life record that owes some inspiration to Arcade Fire. Vocalist Marti Sarbit brings all home as she harmonizes with herself and adds the sugar on top of Matyas instrumentation.

While there are moments on Temporary Resident that left me a little bored, for the most part the record is an artistic, sweeping sort of affair that's elevated by Marti's unusual vocals. The band is particularly good when they sound like there are five or six members in the band and ramp up their pop sensibility. Whether it’s the up-front jumpiness of "Don't Cry," or the slow build of, "Purple Heart," Temporary Resident is an interesting listen that proves two is company...even if it sounds like six.

Handsome Furs Cash In Their Sound Kapital

The Handsome Furs are a husband wife duo who channel their inner Reid Brothers, their inner goth, dabble with synths, and put it all together into the form of life changing pop songs whose distorted hooks will linger with you for an eternity. Their third album, Sound Kapital is a brilliantly put together work of pop that's slightly dark and yet optimistic. It's an album packed to the rafters with tales of innocence and experience that clearly lives for the moment.

Sound Kapital is a rich pop record whose hooks are far from subtle and manage to reel you in within seconds of their refrain. It's a sugar coated darkly delicious treat that sounds raw and rough but allows it's songs to shine through. This is the sort of record that begs the question, if Mates and States are the cuddly couple of indie rock, does that then make the Handsome Furs the dysfunctional, screwed up couple who are stuck in counseling?

Recorded exclusively on keyboards the album apparently forced the band's hand by challenging them to write songs outside of their comfort zone and after about fifteen minutes into Sound Kapital you realize this was a very good thing. In fact, this record is so good here's hoping that they never pick up a guitar again. Sound Kapital is a great record that probably shouldn't be but The Handsome Furs are so proficient at what they do, it can't help but be anything but good. From the pseudo-industrial hit, "What About Us," to the noisy disjointed nature of, "When I Get Back," Sound Kapital rarely disappoints. And that’s capital you can bank on!

Funeral Party's Bootleg

Funeral Party's three song Bootleg EP is a blast of post punk disco funk that will most assuredly light dance floors on fire where ever it is played. Sounding something like an Americanized Bloc Party meets old Moving Units and a vocalist who has strep throat, the Bootleg EP is a speedy, jaunty little record that is by far too short.

The three songs here, "Car Wars," "NYC Moves To The Sound of LA," and "Chalice," are raw, rough, and hardly produced just like the best post punk records of the 80's. Bootleg is an aggressive record that announces its presence, busts down the doors, takes over the DJ booth, plays what it wants to hear and doesn't really care what you think. In other words it's deadly and dangerous stuff just like rock and roll should be.

The Bootleg EP is a brilliant taster that only starts to hint at how brilliant this band is at creating dance floor bombs that rock as much as they roll. Highly recommended.

Caught In Motion Are On the Edge Of A Dream

Not many bands can use a piano to their advantage nowadays in indie rock. Ok...sure there's Keane and Coldplay and maybe Ben Folds...but really that's about it. After hearing the debut long player, On The Edge Of A Dream, from Caught In Motion you might just have to add them to that small but exceptional list.

Caught In Motion, much like their contemporaries, make modern indie rock on a bit of a soft rock tip. On The Edge Of A Dream is intimate, chilled stuff that's rarely distorted and sounds about as unobtrusive as air. This is a wispy effort whose pianos and jangly guitars set the mood and guide the songs along a melodic highway that doesn't end.

Perhaps sounding a bit like Death Cab for Cutie at times and maybe a bit like the aforementioned Keane, Caught In Motion are sentimental, poignant, and emotional in all the best ways. In fact, much of On The Edge Of A Dream is like this, consisting of lyrics and songs that seem like stories yearning to be told. It's really quite nice stuff that kind of minds its own business quietly hoping to win you over and if you sit and listen to On The Edge Of A Dream it will.

It's perhaps their song, "Heros," that best illustrates what Caught In Motion are all about. The song is emotional and nostalgic while being incredibly intimate and personal; it's one heck of a three minute ride that might just bring you to tears.

On The Edge Of A Dream is a sweeping record that utilizes its instrumentation to capitalize on its emotional potential. That's something that their peers do exceptionally well and Caught In Motion are learning that one song at a time. For a young band, Caught In Motion have come up with a tenderly thrilling record with On The Edge Of A Dream. Nice job guys.

The Randy Bandits' Golden Arrow

The Randy Bandits aren't a roving band of crazy Scotsman singing raunchy songs and limericks. Oh no, they're nothing quite that windswept or exotic, but the Bandits do hail from that super trendy music spot known as Brooklyn, New York and sound nothing like the usual bands from that city.

Confused by all this geography? Don't worry about it because really all that you need to know is that the Randy Bandits and their new album, Golden Arrow, sound like an amalgamation of large doses of Americana mixed with a dose of California, and a sprinkling of blues and soul. It's a mixture of ingredients that leads to songs that sound soulful, countrified, dusty, and dear. Their album, Golden Arrow, is filled with violins, steel guitars, Hammond B3's (or organ in any case), and twangy vocals leaving a record that sounds more like it came from Memphis than the state of New York.

Golden Arrow at it's best is a countrified trip from the East Coast to the West Coast through the Deep South, the plains and prairies. It's a pastoral record that yearns for the simple life without a broken heart and it's songs are a constant reflection of this. From the banjo and countrified harmonies of, "Western Winds." to the bluesy Memphis horns of, "Loraine," Golden Arrow is the best soulful country record to ever come out of the northeast.

The Randy Bandits might not be British and bawdry or New Yorkers and hip, but they are good at what they do. And what they do is write songs that sound like they've come from another time and place. It's because of that separation of time and era that Golden Arrow is such a charming bluesy folksy little rock and roll record. They don't make many records like this anymore and they certainly don't make many in Brooklyn!

The Old Ceremony Walks on Thin Air

The Old Ceremony, named after Leonard Cohen's album New Skin For the Old Ceremony have been floating around the Chapel Hill scene since 2005 and have toured up and down the east coast while quietly releasing two albums and preparing to release their third Walk On Thin Air. Sounding something like a folksy sort of band with hints of indie rock thrown in, The Old Ceremony's songs are rustic, lush, and quietly subtle.

Walk On Thin Air is far from bombastic and loud. Instead the album is reserved and laid back choosing to take the low road and softly go about its business without really raising much of a ruckus. Therein lies it's problem. You see, there's really nothing that makes Walk On Thin Air want to stand up and be counted (except for the fact they could very well be one of the few bands around to use the words plate tectonics in a song). The album is really just sort of there kind of wandering along doing nothing but simply existing.

In other words, the songs that make up Walk On Thin Air aren't overly bad or overly good; they're just kind of there and as a result they're sort of like aural wallpaper. Walk On Thin Air is a perfect title as the record has a hard time making it's presence consistently felt. In fact, a vast majority of the songs here are inconspicuous and aren't songs that want you to pay attention to or are tunes you want to hear over and over again. There are exceptions of course, and the Tindersticks-ish theatrics of "The Disappear," as well as the aforementioned "Plate Tectonics," stand out, but for the most part the record just doesn't do anything.

The Old Ceremony are a talented bunch to be sure, but their songs just lack a degree of excitement that folky records need. Walk On Thin Air isn't horrible, but it's nothing overly exciting either and until The Old Ceremony get away from being stuck in the middle of the road they'll just sort of be around.  If they manage to pry themselves away some exciting things could happen. I hope that moment happens because I really want to hear more geological rock and roll songs!

Francois Virot Wants To Know Yes Or No

Francois Virot is a ridiculously busy guy. He's one of those artists that needs to stay busy and constantly find new ways to make music and be creative. When he's not out on the road or making records with his other band, Clara Clara, he finds time to fiddle on his own and that's where his solo record Yes or No comes into play.

Virot's Yes Or No is a folky wee record that's sprightly, jangly, and fiercely melodic. It's a personal record that was recorded with the idea that simple is better. Using nothing but acoustic guitars, hand claps, and various bits of things for percussion, Virot creates a record that's nervous, jumpy, and miraculously good. What could have been a dreadful moany bore is turned into a harmonic convergence of strummy pop thanks to Virot's incessant need to be busy and creative.

Maybe a bit like Beirut, Animal Collective, or even a less produced Simon and Garfunkel, Francois Virot easily creates memorable musical sketches with the bare minimum of materials. It's constantly amazing what Virot can wrangle out of his guitar and yet he does so over and over again. Even at his most melancholic, Virot eeks out a song that's still has a pop sensibility about it and still good.  "Island," serves as a perfect example of Francois Virot's ability to make a big pop song out of next to nothing. Using some strummy riffs on endless repeat and a hand made beat, the song skips along with a chorus that will reel you in; it's a hootin' hollerin' tune of fun and pretty much sums up everything that Yes Or No is about.

Yes Or No
is quite listenable and offers so much more than just an average folk record could ever hope to.   It is a jittery folk fueled pop journey that constantly dishes out great songs with little effort, production, or instrumentation. Francois Virot's constant desire to be creative and productive serves him well here as his debut album is a treasure trove of acoustic pop brilliance. With any luck he'll have his follow up record recorded and ready to go by the spring. Here's hoping anyway.

Fever Ray Gets Cold

Fever Ray, aka Karin Dreijer Andersson, better known as the girlie half of the Knife has just released her debut self-titled album and strangely enough it sounds like err...The Knife. Well sort of, if the Knife were on lithium and listened to a lot of downtempo records then Fever Ray would be the new Knife. Fever Ray is a slow, methodically distant record that's as bleak as the winter sky and as dark as Sweden in the winter.

Fever Ray is a broodingly beautiful record that uses electronics and traditional instrumentation in the same breath to create the unique atmosphere this record is all about. It's minimal nature and barren soundscapes paint wide open scenes of dark pop that are alluring and calmative. Karin creates spellbinding songs with such ease and aloofness that it's as if the songs are just dying to get out of her head. "Grow Up," for example, is a stirring combination of guitars, minimal beats, and her otherworldly voice that sounds like a song from the great beyond; it is hauntingly chilled stuff that sounds like she's exercising her inner demons.

Stark and dramatic, Fever Ray will give you chills as it mesmerizes your ears and slowly takes over your soul. While you can't help but compare Fever Ray to The Knife, it's downtrodden nature takes it just one step below Karin's other band. If you can't get around the comparison (it's hard trust me), you can think of Fever Ray as a supplemental release to Silent Shout and it works pretty well as such. Fever Ray is a fantastic daydream that is an enjoyable listen from start to finish. The soundtrack to winter has arrived.

Framing Hanley Savor The Moment

Tennessee's Framing Hanley have evolved from their humble beginnings in 2005. Named after a close friend who died in a car accident, the band began to take off around 2006 and with the help of former Creed bassist Brett Hestla solidified their place by being picked up by the Silent Majority Group in 2007 and then recording their debut album at the end of 2008.

Entitled, The Moment, the album is packed to the gills with massive radio friendly tunes that should be the soundtrack to every tweens life right now. The Moment is a combination of crunchy metal riffs, soaring ballads, over emotional vocals, and songs that are so precise and sharp they could slice steel. It's a bit Creedish at times, but that shouldn't come as a surprise knowing the bands history. If you take that Creedish base, throw in a few sprinkles of emo and hardcore ala Pete Wentz you basically have the ingredients that make Framing Hanley who they are.

The Moment is one of those records where you can imagine thousands of people holding up lighters and phones while going nuts to every song. It's a record that shows Framing Hanley clearly have the knack for writing the big heavy rock song with choruses that even your grandmother knows. It's a massive hard rock album that's totally geared for cross market perfection and it achieves it with songwriting that has been run through the super computer or gargantuan hit writing (Microsoft edition). One listen to "Alone In This Bed (Capeside)," and you'll get the point; it's a song that soars on it's chorus to superstardom and it never comes back.

Framing Hanley are a young band that have snowballed into one massive potential hit factory. Their album, The Moment is an emotional hard rock rollercoaster that while sounding a bit like everything else is destined for big things. If you love album oriented rock then Framing Hanley will be your new favorite band and The Moment will be your new soundtrack.