Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pains of Being Pure At Heart Say No To Love

Say No To Love,the new single from The Pains of Being Pure At Heart almost seems too happy to be saying no to love. This nearly perfect slice of indie pop harks back to 80's like jangle pop by groups that used to populate Creation and Cherry Red record stables. It's awesome stuff that's light, airy, and a wee bit shy. Composed of two songs, the single almost lives up to it's name simply because of just how shy the songs seem. This is not an up-front type of an affair, but rather a more subdued (albeit happy) wall flower sort of thing that hopes you listens to it, but really doesn't want you to because of what you might say back.

The thing with Say No To Love is that you would truly be missing something staggeringly good if you didn'tlisten to this single. This is a single and a band so in touch with classic British pop that you'd swear these guys were from somewhere like Doncaster as opposed to New York. With sugar pop thrills, and songs that seem as though they would make Morrissey blush The Pains are simply fantastic at what they do. This is truly an encapsulation of a brilliant time in music; when jangle took center stage and songs could be extremely shuffly and shy and still be chart hits. From the upbeat title track to the nearly Felt like underpinnings of, "Lost Saint," Say No To Love is just about perfect. If you still wear Doc Martens and think gladioli are cool and know your Sarah from you Summershine then The Pains of Being Pure At Heart are your new best friends and Say No To Love is like the best present you've ever gotten.

22-20's Return

It's been a long time since I've rock and rolled is a mantra that's especially true in the case of 22-20's. This once rising UK band was in the heart of the rock and roll revival back in 2003-2004 and then promptly disappeared. They were a snotty, grotty, rock and roll band that seemed destined for great things but they never happened. Now, nearly an eon in music terms has elapsed and the band have returned. With their latest album Shake/Shiver/Moan in hand it's easy to say it's about as close to their former-selves as darkness is to light. Gone are the grotty rock and roll bits and here are the vaguely psychedelic twists and turns that have ended up making the 22-20's sound something like the legendary Coral meets the even more legendary Byrds.

With loads of off kilter riffing, Beatles-like ballads, jangly jumpy pop tunes, Shake/Shiver/Moansounds like the band started completely from scratch and rebuilt themselves from the ground up. I have to say, this version of the 22-20's is by far superior to the original and it's evident in just about every song here. Sure there are still plenty of rock and roll elements influencing the band, but there are also plenty of side journeys down trippy lanes covered with kaleidoscopic colors. It's fantastic stuff that's truly in touch with the past while maintaining a sense of pop and a sense of modernity. Shake/Shiver/Moan is such a vast improvement over this bands earlier material, and quite honestly, it's left me in awe.

From the Byrdsian jangle of, "Ocean," to the jumpy nervous rock and roll, "Latest Heartbreak," or the hallucinogenic trip of the title track, it's as if the 22-20's are bound and determined to take advantage of their new lease on life. Shake/Shiver/Moanis packed with strong songs, mature songwriting, and a sense of old is new all over again. This is a record that feels as comfortable with a flower in it's hair lost in strawberry fields as much as it does on the road at full throttle easy rider style. That being said, it's easy to say that the 22-20's are the perfect embodiment of psychedelic pop and rock and roll and they're clearly unafraid to mix it all up to obtain brilliant results. This is a band that have come a long, long way and have taken the round about way to get where they are but in the end with an album like Shake/Shiver/Moan it was well worth the journey. It's a journey worth taking and thy're inviting you along for the ride.

Framing Hanley Promise To Burn

Tennessee's Framing Hanley have evolved and come a long way from their humble beginnings in 2005. Named after a close friend who died in a car accident, the band, with the help of former Creed bassist Brett Hestla solidified their place by being picked up by the Silent Majority Group in 2007 and recording their debut album at the end of 2008. Now two years on from that debut, the band has grown leaps and bounds, taken everything they've learned from their mentor, polished their sound to a near blinding level and released their latest opus, A Promise To Burn.

Packed to the gills with massive radio friendly tunes that are pretty much the definition of "huge rock tunes," A Promise To Burn should be the soundtrack to every teens and tweens life right now. A Promise To Burn is a combination of crunchy metal riffs, soaring ballads, over emotional vocals, and songs that are so precise and sharp they could slice through titanium. Leaving the Creed influences behind, the band has matured into a unit that's slowly beginning to sound as individualistic as a band in this genre can. What does that mean? Well, this is a melodic record beyond all melodicism and if you throw in a few sprinkles of emo and hard core you basically have the ingredients that make Framing Henley who they are and why they sound the way they do and it's really not a terrible thing.

A Promise To Burn is one of those records where you can imagine thousands of people holding up lighters and phones and singing every word to every song while heading for the stratosphere. It's a record that shows Framing Hanley clearly have perfected the knack for writing the big heavy rock song with choruses that even your grandmother knows. What's truly amazing is just how fast they've done this and how they've created a massive hard rock album that's totally geared for cross market perfection. Then again, it shouldn't be a surprise; with songwriting that has been run through the super computer of gargantuan hit writing and those chourses it's easy to see why this band has cemented itself firmly in the uber-emo-rock lexicon. One listen to "Weight of the World," 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 rather quickly. Their album, A Promise To Burn is an emotional hard rock roller coaster 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 A Promise To Burn will be your new soundtrack.

The Gentle Guests Cast Off Their Human Form

The Gentle Guest sound like they've just come in from a bar fight and need a bit to drink. This Wisconsin based band take all the best elements of rockabilly, cow-punk, jazz, folk, theatrical rock and smash them together to get something like a long night of whiskey drinking and the mayhem that follows. Reckless, edgy, and filled with energy The Gentle Guest's plough their way through their latest album, Cast Off Your Human Form as if they were doing just that.

The cover of Cast Off Your Human Formshows a bizarre image of clowns, musicians, and children in the street somewhere in a state of confusion and that's kind of how this album plays out. In other words, it's shambolic at best and seems like it's destined to head off into ten different directions at once. While it never really does head off everywhere, the songs that make up this record are twisted tales of folklore that The Gentle Guests have made their very own with a crazy and rambunctious twist.

What really makes Cast Off Your Human Form stand out is the simple fact that this sounds like it should be blasting out every speaker in a Cracker Barrel. Imagine hearing something that's country flavored but with a tasty edge to it while you sit down for some pork chops and you've got Cast Off Your Human Form. A record that's got loads of energy to spare and might be in need of a dose of Ritalin, Cast Off Your Human Form is entertaining for obvious reasons.

Frantic, frenetic and sounding like a series of murder ballads played with no sense of remorse, The Gentle Guest have come up with a great record with Cast Off Your Human Form.

Guignol Fight Dirty

I have absolutely no idea what to make of Guignol and Mischief Brew. This is one crazy group that kind of hits you with a left hook from the moment you stick their album, Fight Dirty, on. Caught somewhere between a carnival and Klezmer music, G&MB create a very strange, very weird concoction of tunes that features all sorts of instrumentation that is about as un-rock and roll as you can get. Calliope's, clarinet's and lord only knows what else it's all here and it helps make Fight Dirty as intriguing as it is.

Perhaps a bit like a missing John Zorn collaboration with Mr. Bungle, Fight Dirtyis a twisted ride into musical territory not often explored by the mainstream. It's a crazy fun record that's really not something you'll run home to listen to, but if it's on you can't help but be sucked in and be enamored by the strange blending of approximately 345 different musical styles all within a song. For example, check out their version of Iron Maiden's "Hallowed Be Thy Name," which is quite possibly the BEST THING EVER even without Bruce Dickinson singing. There is probably no other band on the planet that embraces diversity quite like this band does. Fearing no genre and embracing them all, these guys play their guts out and seem like the sort of band you would find busking in a subway station somewhere if they weren't in the studio recording metal covers.

Guignol and Mischief Brew haven't created a pop album per se but an album of reckless experimentation that works and works well. It's all over the map and really makes no sense at all, but still sounds like the best drinking album ever recorded if it was recorded down in a tube station at midnight. I'm not sure how many they've had or what they're drinking (it certainly isn't water) but these guys are pure entertainers and after listening to Fight Dirty you've got to wonder how amazing these guys are live; I'm almost positive they would put on one of the best live shows on the planet and you would walk away in astonishment.

Until that happens, check out Fight Dirtyon record you won't be disappointed by Guignol and Mischief Brew's ability to create crazy tunes that sound like everything all at once.

Massive Amounts of Sub Pop!

To say that Sub Pop has had one heck of a track record would be an understatement. From essentially creating the genre of grunge to signing everyone from Foals to Wolf Parade, the label is pretty much the definition of perfection. 2010 sees this tradition sees this tradition continue with a slew of top releases that do not disappoint. Below you'll find a quick run down of the stack of CD's which showed up on my desk. It's an epic amount of music, but listening to it all had to be done and while it was a dirty job I had to do it.

First up is the ever wondrous Album Leaf, their new album A Chorus of Storytellersis a hauntingly beautiful downtempo trip into the ether. Hazy beats, ambient textures and a wispy voice populate each song creating an atmospheric world of shimmery airy delight. The album is a beautiful record that's stirring, lush, and almost to rich to listen to in one setting. I just saw these guys live and they miraculously pull of every sound with exacting science. Album Leaf are perfectionists and you can hear it in every one of the dreamy tunes that make up A Chorus of Storytellers. Thoroughly enjoyable every song is the soundtrack to a dream or a day staring up at the sky and looking at clouds. This is a stunning record that's as gorgeous as the sun rising and as calming as the sun setting. Beautiful stuff indeed.

On the other end of the spectrum, Avi Buffalo's self titled album is charming bed-sit indie pop that sounds as shy and awkward as a group of introverted high school kids. Oddly enough, that's pretty much what Avi Buffalo is...a group of kids who met at high school, formed a band, and who are currently stumbling through early adulthood. Needless to say with all that stumbling, bumbling, and teenage melodrama, Avi Buffalo is far from being a auto-tuned, polished gem. Instead, this diamond in the rough is loaded with jangly lo-fi stuff that will remind you of The Shins sun-drenched melodies and haunting songs. It's heartwarming stuff that's shambolic, fragile, sounds as though it might just all fall apart with in second and seems as though it was recorded in a closet. Despite all these things that might seem to drag this record down, Avi Bufflo instead, creates something that's innocently beautiful and revels in the joy of being young. Fragility and the joys of teenage life is what Avi Buffalo is all about and it's almost enough to make you feel old.

Beach House's latest album Teen Dream continues to see the band embrace West Coast Pop with open arms but add a bit of folky magic to the mix. The result is an album slathered in melodic joys but just intimate enough to make it almost seem depressing. In fact, Teen Dream almost sounds like a Brian Wilson come down in a sand box. It's a woozy, slightly hung over record that's dreamy and a bit ethereal. The songs kind of stretch their way through the motions and as a result at times it seems as though this record might not ever end. That's not really a bad thing, but in listening to Beach House you kind of just wish they'd put a bit more jive in their step. Teen Dream remains a fantastic record despite it wanting to stay in bed most of the day; throw in a DVD of videos for each and every song here and you have a good reason not to get out of bed. The perfect Sunday morning album, Teen Dream is like something out of a dream albeit it a weird and slightly depressing one.

Coming out of the dreamy vision of Beach House it seems only appropriate that we stumble into the oddly strange magic folk of Blitzen Trapper. Looking like something that belongs in the metal section but sounding something Jethro Tull without the flute, Blitzen Trapper weaves a strange spell with a modern twist on Destroyer of the Void. Modern in the sense that much of this record is orchestral, widescreen, and imaginative, Blitzen Trapper create a world that seems to fill the void that they seek to destroy. With love, magic, emotions, and a sense that these guys seriously want to jam throughout, Destroyer of the Voidmakes for some fun listening. This is like late 60's psychedelic folk rock stuck in the 80's and left to ponder its existence while trying to find a way back to their own realm. In other words, it's all a bit magical. In listening to this record you can't help but picture this band decked out in corduroy flares, facial hair, oil projections on the wall and the heavy scent of incense burning everywhere while the play for days. If more folk music was like this, I'd probably be a fan. I mean anyone that sings about dragons, trees, love and hate, heaven and earth is either Dio or one heck of a band and that's where Blitzen Trapper come in.

The Dum Dum Girls on the other hand, haven't left their garage in forty years, or at least sound like it judging by their album, I Will Be. With a rawness like sushi and a sound that brings to mind Nico, The Flatmates, Primitives, etc, this is a c86 band beamed to the future from the pages of NME. I Will Be is punky, noisy, garage rock-pop that's jumpy, nervous, and has a strong desire to pogo all over the place. It's an awesome album that's rooted in the past but blasts itself into the here and now like a LOST flash sideways. These girls are possessed by the ghost of rock and roll and their songs reflect this over and over again and that's why I Will Beis such an enjoyable record. Easily one of the best records of 2010, this little record has enough fuzzed out guitars, syrupy sweet melodies, and songs that you can never forget to last a life time. Dum Dum Girls are love.

Judging by the cover of Coco Rosie's new album, Grey Oceansit looks like they've never spent a day in a garage but rather have been trapped in a travelling renaissance festival for decades. This most bizarre duo are clearly one of the scariest groups in all of musicdom and they create some of the strangest sounds and songs on the planet. Sounding like a cross between a disembodied spirit, a broken hip hop record, and some form of electro that hasn't been named yet, Coco Rosie clearly do not think like the rest of us. This is a group who finds songs in the places you'd never think to look and would almost be afraid to. Grey Oceanssounds like a Bjork record if it were played backwards and sideways with broken beats, yodels, sighs, strange language, and probably the winning lottery numbers as well. Strange, haunting, and something you don't want to listen to in a dark room, Grey Oceans is a bizarre record you'll have a difficult time turning away from and you might just need a priest to get rid of. Should you seek this record out? Most definitely...but with spiritual guidance and a handful of talismans.

Wrapping up this overwhelming amount of Sub Pop is UK based Male Bonding. A band that probably wouldn't have sounded too far out of place on the label nearly 20 years ago. While not a grunge band, there are enough lo-fi, raw, noisy, clanky moments on their album Nothing Hurtsthat makes you think of the labels past...albeit it with a pop edge. They don't spend their entire time sounding like a flannel loving grunge band but rather mix it up with some pretty cool 80's British Pop moments that will have you reaching for your Cherry Red albums with haste. Male Bonding tend to create lo-fi sheets of noise that serve as teenage symphonies to god and sound as though the Polvo and Jesus and Mary Chain put a gun to their head and made them record songs in their image. It's sweetly cacophonous stuff that sounds like pop probably should. One of the better debut's coming out of a bedroom/front room or wherever this was recorded this year.

So there you have it...a slew of fantastic releases that you pretty much need in you life. Since we don't really have a record store in this town (unless you're in St. Augustine), visit and pick them all up!

Andy Bell Goes Non Stop

Andy Bell, as some of you might recall, was a big part of Erasure. As part of this seminal group, he and Vince Clarke racked up five number one albums, have written songs that even your grandmother would probably recognize (see, "A Little Respect"), and sold roughly 20 million or so albums. To say his career hasn't been prolific would be an understatement and to say it's not been busy would just be wrong. And yet, somehow, with such a schedule Bell has found time to launch and nurture a solo career. His latest solo album, Non-Stopfinds bell taking elements of Erasure and modernizing them with an up front disco pop, clubby sound.

Non-Stop sees Bell polishing his songwriting skills once again and creating something that's ridiculously solid and loaded with super catchy songs that will light up a dance floor like a beacon in the night. With massive hooks and choruses that are easier to remember than your ABC's, Bell creates an inescapable barrage of sugar coated sparkly dance numbers that are so overpowering you're feet can't help but move is some sort of awkward motion that might resemble dancing. This is the sound of a liberated Bell and his overwhelming desire to create up front glammy disco pop that takes things in a more soulful direction than his day job would ever allow (and if you know Erasure...that's saying something). Non-Stopis an excellent album that is completely up front and that's pure club goodness that's packed to the gills with potential singles and even a duet with Janes Addiction frontman, Perry Farrell.

From the upfront clubby house of, "Running Out," to the dark downtempo soulful ballad of "Slow Release," Non-Stop literally never stops. Sure there are peaks and valley's, but you get the sense that this is so you can catch your breathe before the bangers begin again and begin again they do, with the dark electro synth washes of, "Touch." Non-Stop is a fantastic record that might hint of Erasure but never sounds like anything his other band has done. This is an impressive effort, but that really should be no surprise to anyone. Andy Bell, afterall, has been around the block a few times and after 20+ years in the business it's a pretty sure bet he can write a chart topping pop song in his sleep.

Excellent dance fodder that's dressed for the occasion and ready to go, Non-Stop is a never-ending party that proves ol' Andy Bell still has a few tricks up his sleeves. Recommended.

Viva Are Rock and Roll Lovers

According to New York band Viva, their latest album, Rock and Roll Lover is a tribute to rock and roll's power to transform anger into beauty and making life's trials and tribulations worthwhile. That's heady stuff quite honestly, but Viva take it all on and armed to the teeth with a seven piece band that includes a full horn section. Coming close to sounding like female fronted Blues Brothers without the black suits or the soul. Rock and Roll Loveris jammy, dancey rock and roll that's overflowing with potential but really comes off sounding like some sort of Hedwig and the Angry Inch tribute band without the hits.

While Viva is riddled with potential, they just don't quite have the songs yet. What they do have is a somewhat overly theatrical vocalist who's vocal gymnastics make much of Rock and Roll Lover sound like it belongs in a musical as opposed to a grotty, dirty bar deep within New York's dark recesses. That being said, the one really cool highlight of Viva is their horn section. These guys are awesome players who lend their brassy sounds to songs all over the place and give Rock and Roll Lover a sense of depth and coolness that practically hold the tunes together. While the horns only add to the theatrical nature of the record, they just sound amazing and really, who doesn't like a killer horn section?

Rock and Roll Lover isn't bad, but it's songs are just lacking that "something," that makes me want to listen to it over and over again. It's theatrical nature and overwrought vocals tend to wear thin after a while and it makes it hard to want to go back and listen to them all over again. While they're not bad...quite honestly, I'd take Hedwig over this least for now.

diskJokke Spins Again

Hailing from a town of 5000 people southwest of Oslo, Norway, diskJokke isn't exactly in the center of the dance music world. In fact he's probably underneath it and about 18 feet of snow. Strangely enough and somewhat fittingly his music tends to be a bit on the minimal, stark, and chilly side and that's especially evident on his latest album En Fin Tid.

diskJokke or Joachim Drydahl, as his friends like to call him, doesn't exactly come full on with bangin’ choons to blow your mind; instead he comes from somewhere left of center and subtlety takes over the dance floor with a super cool arctic wind. Sounding something like an Atari 5200 buried under ice and on illegal substances that are only made in Scandinavia, En Fin Tidis a quirky cross between house, space disco, and chill out. It's bleepy and glitchy, sweeping and minimal, yet still has a dance floor sensibility that is seriously as infectious as the bird flu.

The album constantly hints at the stark nature of life in Norway but it never loses its grip on the dance floor or actually wanting to have a good time. Whether its the slightly bleak and wintry "Reset and Begin," or the mega marathon of quirked out beats that is "Nattestid," (who knows what the means in English) En Fin Tid is packed to the gills with great tunes that are lush, pure as the driven snow, and pretty much guaranteed to make your feet move in all sorts of awkward ways whether they're in snow shoes or not.

En Fin Tidmight not be as immediate as most dance music but it does stay with you long after the record stops and that's a testament to how good Joachim is as a musician. diskJokke has channeled his life in the cold into something magnificently groovy, opulent, and stupefyingly good. For a sophomore album that took over two years to make, you couldn't ask for much more and diskJokke delivers on each and every one of the eight songs on En Fin Tid. diskJokke is clearly Scandanavia's best kept secret but it's only a matter of time before the world discovers this guy.

Windsor For The Derby Are Against Love

Windsor for the Derby are like a breath of fresh air. Literally. Taking the world of post rock and making it even more post, this experimental group hovers around the ether and floats around on breezes droning about wherever they may roam. Their latest album, Against Loveis a testament to that as the album started out as a seemingly endless list of drones and loops inspired by their earlier works. Eventually giving several of these sounds and atmospheres a voice and mixing them together with enough ambience to make Brian Eno blush, the band wound up with Against Love.

Quiet, light, and unobtrusive, Windsor for the Derby go on in the background of your mind and sway in the breeze as if they were weightless and transparent. They're an incredible band that barely raise their voices and make themselves known, and for years that has been their charm. Yeah, they're post rock but they bring the element of lyrical beauty to their material giving it further depth in a never ending quest to be heard by something, anything. Gently strummed guitars, sighed vocals, and barely beat drums swirl around creating a cloudy calliope of sound that's absolutely gorgeous. Ok, so it's barely audible because of just how un-obtrusive they are but if you sit and pay attention, Against Love reveals its beauty one song at a time and it will leave you in awe.

Songs like "Queen of the Sun," and "Autumn Song," take loops into infinity but swirl lazy, dozed off vocals around swooshy guitars to create an atmospheric journey to the center of your mind. It's an absolutely gorgeous song that crawls along at a snail's pace and hypnotizes you into submission using repetition as a weapon. Then there are the ambient songs that make up the rest of Against Love; these instrumental works sound so delicate and fragile that you'll worry they might just shatter somewhere between your player and ears. It's hauntingly superb stuff that helps your imagination set the sights and scenes that go along with the titles. From, "Singer 1968," to "Moon Shadows," Windsor for the Derby clearly know how to set mood and tone with a very few notes and they do this stunningly well.

Against Love isn't exactly the feel good hit of the summer, but it is an awesome record nonetheless. Quiet, inconspicuous, and subdued beyond the definition of subdued, Against Love works it's charms slowly and meekly, eventually wearing you down enough so that you can't help but remember the world that Windsor for the Derby have created. It's a world worth letting your imagination run wild and they do an excellent job of world building using nothing but musical notes.

Marsmobil Are From The Other Side

From the, What The Heck, pages comes Compost Records latest artist, Marsmobil. Why the What The Heck pages? Well, when you think of Compost Records you generally think of downtempo, jazzy house, chilled house, chill out, etc not psychedelic pop teleported from 1965. But yet here it is, playing before me and sounding like the coolest fish out of water I've ever heard. I'm not sure who or how Compost found Marsmobil (aka Roberto Di Gioia) but they should be given a huge check for their efforts. This German via Italy apparently was well known as a jazz musician before going all rock and has played and recorded with more musicians than he can count. This, of course, has come to his rescue now, as he's learned to play just about every instrument under the sun either through experience or osmosis. This came in handy while he was recording the Marsmobil album (Why Don't You Take) The Other Side.

Recorded by himself while playing piano, guitar, drums, and even sitar he took his time and slowly over the course of two years pieced (Why Don't You Take) The Other Sidetogether. Embracing a theme of struggling to be free from external and internal restrictions or at least question them, the album sets up perfectly for the psychedelic ride it takes us on. Sounding something like The Beatles listening to The Zombies Odyssey and Oracle and then recording their own version of it, Why Don't You Take) The Other Side is a blissful pop album that's a blast from the paisley past. In listening to this record you can't help but be amazed at how out of place this really feels to be on the Compost roster; none-the-less, (Why Don't You Take) The Other Side is an amazingly sunshiny trip into the haze.

With melodic vocals sugar coating fuzzed out guitars, psychedelic swirls, organs, sitars, and of course jazzy piano Marsmobil create a rainbow colored world in which the songs are allowed to fly free and float around on a sea of colors. It's gorgeous, lush pop that's got a message but is so darn happy and fuzzed out it's almost hard to find it. (Why Don't You Take) The Other Side is truly good stuff that brings the 60's bang up to date with a one man show that never ceases to amaze. From the nearly "Strawberry Fields-like," "Never Forget," to the garage rock stuttering of the follow up track, "Lolly," this is the sound of rock and roll the way it used to be made and it's awesome.

The fact that Marsmobil is a one man show is truly spectacular and when you hear just how intricate and well thought out (Why Don't You Take) The Other Side is you'll be speechless. (Why Don't You Take) The Other Side is a fantastic album that's clearly from another time and another place and that's alright by me. Roberto is truly an awesome artist and his diverse background has only helped him become a better artist, songwriter, and musician; you can hear that on just about every track of (Why Don't You Take) The Other Side. If you weren't born for these times then this is your soundtrack and Marsmobil is your new best's to the past.

Elk City Live In A House Of Tongues

Evolving out of the Melting Hopefuls, Elk City have come a long way since their humble beginnings. Now five albums into their 'new' career, the group have evolved from being a rather mellow pop group to being something far more developed, rich, and intriguing that's as in touch with the past as it is today. Their latest album, House of Tongues is by far the best thing they've done and illustrates just how far this band has come since their re-launch.

With deep rich soulful vocals, Renee LoBue powers the band with a near torch song approach. She's got a set of pipes and when coupled with the bands sense of building momentum Elk City spring to life with dramatic flare and excitement. By that I mean, this is a band that's not afraid of a power chord or two and uses them to amp up the rock quotient of House of Tongues. The result is something that reminds me of something like Tribe meets someone sounding like Texas; slightly quirky, edgy, and expressive with just a hint of country and jazziness for some added spiciness. This isn't alt-country but it's informed by it and it's not purely indie rock but it's influenced by it; Elk City have written an album then, that refuses to be cornered or pigeon holed and that's what keeps you guessing and listening.

House of Tongues is a fine album of unusual charms and sounds and while it takes a bit of effort to find them they are there. From LoBue's astonishing voice, to the barrage of influences that help make House of Tongues the best Elk City album to date, this is a record that only reveals itself to the listener with repeated listens and dedicated attention. Complex, emotional, and smart House of Tongues is the sort of record more people should make but are afraid to. As they say themselves, "I finally have the courage to look into the mirror and stand up for my life," and that's exactly what they've done here. It's as if they've come to the conclusion that they've matured enough as a band that they can make records like House of Tongues without fear.

Elk City have made a doozy of a record here that will resonate deep within your soul once it works its way there. This isn't the easiest record to get into, but with a little investment it's easy to see why House of Tongues is a fine effort. With mature songs, vocals that reach for your heart and grabs it, and a diversely influenced sound that's texturally rich, nervous, and powerful House of Tongues hits it's mark repeatedly. It may have taken them awhile to get to this point, but Elk City have indeed arrived.

Quiet Company Write Songs For Staying In

Quiet Company, let by Taylor Glen Muse, is one man's vision brought to life with a little help from his friends. After being in a whole host of bands including an early version of Eisley, he decided to have a go on his own...that go resulted in his debut solo effort Shine Honestly. From there Muse took to the road and played over 200 shows and practically drove himself into the ground. But, rather than pack it in, he jumped back into the studio and in 2009 walked out with release number two, Everyone You Love will Be Happy Soon. Now, just over a year later, Muse is at it again with a little bit more help from his friends. Having just released, Songs For Staying In, he's put together a half hour ep dedicated to err literally staying in...wink wink nudge nudge.

While the EP is a celebration of love and sex, this record is far from seedy, dirty, or pervy. Instead, Songs For Staying In, is something like a jangly pop version of 70's TV show, Love American Style written by Of Montreal or Cheap Trick. Quiet Company, do a fantastic job of creating sunshiny power pop that's heart-achingly good and happy go lucky. This is the sound of a band overjoyed with the sheer possibility of love so much so, by the end of Songs For Staying In you half expect fireworks to go off in the background. What's truly interesting about this record is that the songs where originally crafted for Muse's wife, but instead ended up being recorded by him and the band.

Quiet Company are so in love with someone or something that they have a hard time being anything but quiet about it. This is the ultimate post Valentines Day valentine, Songs For Staying Inis a bright record about love and all of it's joys. This is the sound of summer loving...even if it doesn't happen so fast. From the swoonsome, "The Biblical Sense of the Word," to the jumpy, shouty "How You Do It," Songs For Staying In is just about a perfect tribute to affairs of the heart.

Andrew Collberg Pulls A Quick One

Andrew Collberg's record, On the Wreathwas a bit of a shock, not from a sound or good/bad perspective but because the German label, that specializes in French pop (Le Pop Musik), has signed a Swedish born, Arizonian to it's label. Confused? You probably should be, because this cross cultural signing doesn't really fit in with the labels ongoing, Le POP!series in any way shape or form and in fact is quite the opposite. Collberg is about as far away from sounding like French Chanson music as Arizona is close to Paris. Nonetheless, this interesting musical anomaly has produced one of the most likeable folk records I've heard all year with On the Wreath.

As you undoubtedly know, if you read this column regularly, I don't like folk, Americana, alt-country or anything of the like, but On the Wreath is different...this hit me right between the ears with a sort of Elliott Smith, Beatles, Dylan like jangly song in it's heart. Sure, this might be considered folk by the genre police, but it's folk informed by the long history and depth of Swedish indie pop along side an overwhelming sense that 70's AM Radio is as vibrant as ever. With horns, lilting strings, lush arrangements and a whole host of songs that are anything but whiny ballads, On the Wreathis a fantastic record with an overpowering sense of what makes a pop song tick. Collberg's slightly lazy vocals meshed with all his jangly acoustic work and a heart the size of Texas equate to songs being as wide open as the Arizona desert or like Elliott Smith at his most charming.

On the Wreath is a really nice surprise. Andrew Collberg clearly gets how to write a song and take a slowed down, dusty approach to writing them and making them his own. A song like, "Plastic Bows," catches your ear thanks to an upbeat chorus that features a chiming horn that's about as unforgettable as your ABC's. It's a touchingly happy go lucky tune that's sunshine on a cloudy day and one of the highlights of On the Wreath. Collberg has a warm and inviting voice and his songs are much the same, he doesn't write overly complicated tunes but instead takes a simple folksy approach and relies on bits and flourishes to bring them home. Whether it's banjo, organ, horns, etc he uses it all to give On the Wreath a sense of depth and breadth that helps elevate the record to something far more that just another acoustic record.

It's been a long road for Andrew Collberg, but on On the Wreath he proves that the journey has been worth it. This album might not be French pop but it is great music and no matter where it's from or how it got here it's well worth checking out. Andrew Collberg's On the Wreath is the kind of folk it's definitely ok to like. Viva le America.

Bellflur Are Asleep

Maybe it's because of the economy or the constant uneasy state our nation seems to be in, but 2010 seems to be the year for mopey depressing music. The sheer number of bands who seriously should be seeking help has gone up drastically since the bottom fell out of the economy. For whatever reason, it's an interesting parallel how such things shape the music we end up listening to. As strange as that sounds, when you think about it sometimes bad times makes for fantastic music. Would Joy Division or the Smiths even existed if it weren't for Margaret Thatcher? It something to think about as you ponder the latest in American bands who seem as though they need to put on a perscription of Zoloft...Bellflur.

This four piece band who are often spotted in animal masks seem to take the grey and grim side of life and turn it into something dramatically beautiful with seriously cool results. Their latest album, Asleep. a dreamy, moody effort that's a little Radiohead, a bit sad core, a wee bit symphonic and a bit nerdy. They might not be the happiest bunch of musicians on the planet, but whatever discomfort they're feeling, they disguise it well with an ethereal sheet of noise that provides each of the songs a dull sheen that helps hold Asleep. Asleep. together. It's an impressive effort that's filled with dense atmospherics and enough melancholy to make Robert Smith seem happy.

This is a record that feels awkward from the get go. Asleep. a little out of step, a little out of tune, and a little out of it's mind, but that's it's charm. It's the album's overwhelming sense of isolation and sense that life is quite confusing that steers much of this album into pop heaven and when you throw in a dark and mercurial backing track that sounds like a broken Thom Yorke you're left with something that sounds dishearteningly magnificent. Bellflur have clearly tapped into their inner demons as well as their introspective nature mixed them with a whole host of odd sounds and riffs and emerged with something that is anything but life affirming. When the band sings, "There is no future," repeatedly you can't help but wonder if they're really right. They seem to think that only the modern world is what is left and lord knows after the last couple of years...the end might actually be better than the modern world.

Asleep. anything but a cheery record. It's the sound of a band in social and cultural haze wishing they were actually unconscious hoping it will all go away. Bellflur have created a post-modern musical therpay for the world around us. It's bleak and a bit minimal, but it's the sort of thing that will help you forget everything around you. Nice job get some help.

David Cross Returns Bigger and Blackerer

David Cross is everywhere at this point in his career. The guy has made a name for himself on TV (Arrested Development), Movies (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), as well as his ol' standby...stand up comedy. Cross is so famous at this point that even your parents probably know who he is or at least would recognize his voice and/or face. It's pretty cool when you think about it, because he's like an indie sort of thing that went mainstream by doing it the old fashioned way...he earned it.

When Mr. Cross isn't keeping himself busy on one of the screens (silver or small), he falls back to old fashioned standup. His recently released album, Bigger and Blackerer is a bloody brilliant laugh out loud kind of affair that will more than likely offend those who see things from a right side point of view. His political stances on controversial topics, his admitted drug use, funny family tales all play perfect fodder for his routine and they are seriously hilarious bits. This isn't raunchy in a Andrew Dice Clay sort of way, but it's edgy enough while being more like a casual observational stream of consciousness sort of thing that might just very well make you cry. His take on the health care debate is jaw droppingly funny even though it was recorded BEFORE it was passed, his double, triple, quadruple crazy bit had me weeping, and the perplexing puzzle of Coor's light is amazing.

He might be world famous but after listening Bigger and Blackerer it sure hasn't gone to his head. In a day and age where things aren't exactly overwhelmingly happy, David Cross is here to make you bust a gut. Bigger and Blackerer is brilliant and pretty much the funniest thing you're likely to hear on record this year. If you like to laugh...and who doesn''ll find this record the perfect companion to driving down I-95 during rush-hour. Oh and if you prefer to watch Mr. Cross...Bigger and Blackerer is also available on DVD with completely different but equally as crazy material than the CD version of the album. Confused...yeah me to...but my guess is that's just the way he likes it

Gift Horse's Moutain of Youth Is A Fun Climb

Yet another band in the long line of impressive bands coming from Athens, Gift Horse are a four piece that sound as if they've just woken up. With a noisy, dreamy, and nearly unconscious sound, Gift Horse seem bound and determined to bring back the long lost art of sad core through a series of excursions into the dark recesses of their minds. The results of these excursions can be heard on their album, Mountain of Youth which is an atmospheric trip into psychosis that will mesmerize and leave all who hear it, in stunned silence.

Gift Horse is indeed something you could look at in the mouth and throughout Mountain of Youth you'll be glad you did. This psychedelic wonderland of a band bring their Verve meets Low space journey to a climactic climax on Mountain of Youth which in hind sight should really be called Mountain of Noise. With guitars processed, pedalled, and reverbed into the stratosphere and droney syrupy like sighs for vocals, many of Gift Horse's songs sound as though they were recorded using Ambien as an inspiration. This is the sound of your dreams coming to reality, and Mountain of Youthis a kaleidoscopic trip through your medulla oblongata; it's slightly depressing, a bit scary and will leave you in a cold sweat. In other words, Mountain of Youth is really quite a good record.

Moody, vaporous, and haunting Gift Horse create a world that would drive psychologists nuts. This hazy world in which their songs live is confusing and in need of some help; nonetheless, Mountain of Youthploughs it's way through all of this to find a degree of pop sensibility that allows their wispy tunes to cling to a sense of structure and something your affected brain can attach itself to. These might not be chart hits in the making, but they cling to the idea that pop music need not follow the standard parameters to make its point. So, Gift Horse don't follow those parameters at all but still have enough of a sensibility about them to realize that strong songs are something that's easy to embrace. The pretty much succeed taking that philosophy and running with it throughout much of Mountain of Youth; only occasionally to the band actually sound as though their sleepwalking and for all I know they may actually be sleepwalking.

In any case, Gift Horse have created a blissful, dark, sheet of noisy awesomeness. Whether it's the quiet loud of "Plastic People," or the noisy, near MBV-like, "Missionaries," it's nice to see that Gift Horse are tapping into the untapped. Mountain of Youth is a fine record of lazy days and hazy nights that's been beamed in from space. Who knew such things existed in Athens and more importantly, are there more like it up there?

Ape Machine's House Has Been Condemned

Ape Machine who just released their debut album, This House Has Been Condemnedthrough their own Ape Machine Music, blends equal parts rock n’ roll, blues, stoner rock and psychedelia to come up with an explosion of sound.

The name Ape Machine, which is a nod to the days of reel-to-reel recording, captures the heady mix of animal aggression and technical precision in the music. Featuring ex-members of Slow Dance recording artist Evening Episode, Grey Day Record’s Minmae, plus MCA’s Fenix TX, the band's mission is to combine intense melody, cutting riffs and blistering live improvisation. Where many bands rely on meticulously rehearsed, just-like-the-record-parts, Ape Machine provides a live experience that is as unique as each evening it shares with an audience. Molten countenance, decibel therapy!

While their other bands may reek of cheese and Hot Topic, Ape Machineis serious butt kicking rock and roll. This is the sound of corduroy bell bottoms, chukka boots, and guitars, lots and lots of guitars; all running on Orange amps cranked up to twenty. I'll be the first to admit, I was cynical about how good this band actually could be, I mean look at who makes up this band. Then I heard just how these guys rock and it made me run out and buy a 1973 Camaro, a jean jacket, and an 8 track tape player just so I could play program one (kids, go ask your parents) of This House Has Been Condemned. This is the kind of record that will have fans taking copious amounts of Robert Plant's Miracle Long Hair and Chest Hair Grow (tm) and drinking loads of cheap whiskey in an attempt to emulate thier new found heroes.

Ape Machine is rock and roll and they RAWK the heck out of their debut album!!

It's Like Talking to Walls

Talking to Walls are a New Haven, Connecticut band who have been quietly making a name for themselves in the Northeast for the last couple of years. Having released an album in 2006 and an EP in 2009, the band has gone about recording, touring, and getting things done on their own without label support. As if to prove the point that they can have a go on their own, the band brought in producer Greg Giorgio who has worked with Interpol, The National, and Mates of State to help put together their latest album We Were Not So Tall.

Taking the best bits and bobs of classic alternative, Talking To Walls have created a sound that would not have sounded out of place in 1991. Perhaps sounding something like old Soul Asylum, The Replacements, or maybe even Dinosaur Jr at their most commercial, Talking To Walls are clearly tapped into something that hasn't been tapped into in a very long time and it's nice to see these elements of the 90's creeping back into today's indie rock. As a result of all this We Were Not So Tall turns out to be a nervous, jumpy, and a melodically fantastic power pop album. With jangly guitars, multi-part harmonies, and choruses that are to hard to forget Talking To Walls would have been touring the world with Paul Westerberg rather than just sounding like him if this was twenty years ago. As it stands, they've come up with a superb retro-informed album of power pop that so rarely faulters it's impossible not to enjoy this from beginning to end.

We Were Not So Tall kicks off with a barrage of excited, hyper tunes that kind of hit you over the head. With crisp production and top-notch songwriting, you know what your getting yourself into by about the five minute mark and there's no looking back after "Come To You," and "Running Out," blow by. While the band takes a few breathers here and there including the sweeping power ballad, "Fine Man," for the most part We Were Not So Tall is a full on energy rush stuck in the last decade of last century. I have to admit, Talking to Walls have taken me back to my college radio days and had these guys been around back then, they would have been number one on my CMJ chart. We Were Not So Tall is a keen, retro-tinged album that's full of vigour, enthusiasm and fantastically catchy songs. I've listened to this record back to back four times and I can just about sing you everyone of the album's choruses; if that's not the sign of a great record...I don't know what is. Impressive and highly recommended, Talking To Walls, are one of the best "unsigned," bands on the planet.

Rangda's False Flag

Many centuries ago on the island of Java lived the witch queen Mahendradatta. When she was exiled from her kingdom for practicing her dark arts, she took revenge by using her witchcraft to spread chaos among the people. In defeat, she was transformed into Rangda, the demon queen of the leyaks. Rangda leads an army or witches in endless battle against Barong, the force of good to this day. If you listen closely, you can hear the sounds of this endlessly violent struggle on the album known as False Flag.

The sounds emanating from this record are the sounds of constant struggle, of destructive urges, of the apocalypse upon us. False Flagis the end of days, the world coming to a close and the band that goes by the name of Rangda have been chosen to herald this dark age with a fury and vindictiveness that will cause havoc, destruction, and death wherever they play. Violent, aggressive, and more than anything noisy, Rangda create a feedback drenched wall of destruction that's lethal to all who come across it. This is Rangda's vengeance and it is amazing.

False Flag is a chaotic frenzy of riffs that attack with urgency while bashed and battered drums explode in time to these catastrophic urges. It's not melodic in any sense of the word and when Rangda take a break from their relentless pursuit of slaughterous uneasiness, things do tend to get quiet for a brief respite before they are hurled back into the fray. This is an awesome instrumental album of pestilential madness that has a hard time coming to a close. Rangda's members, (Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance, Richard Bishop, and Chris Corsano) when teamed together are the three musicians of the apocalypse and their convulsive attack on post rock is neverendingly impressive much like their songs.

Rangda has indeed gotten her revenge and it's name is False Flag. This is only the beginning of Rangda's march of conquest and terror. To ensure your future in the endless cosmos, march forward with the corces of Rangda and be spared. Failing to do will more than likely result in your untimely demise. You have been warned.

Jeff Eubank's Is Lost On A Street Called Straight

After a 25 year postponement, Jeff Eubank's debut album, A Street Called Straightis finally seeing the light of day. This soft rock classic in the making, albeit it a bit late, is a record from another time and another age with Jeff Eubank tapping into his inner album oriented rocker to capitalize on the hip sound of the 80's. With an almost eerie California sound guiding the way, Eubanks taps into the dark recesses of his soul and throws sunshine on them. The result is a record that never gives an open appearance of just how soulful and thoughtful it's creator is.

Sounding something like a David Crosby, Christopher Cross hybrid, Eubanks sighs and lightly strums his way through A Street Called Straight. It's a lazy and heartfelt album that at times seems loaded with doubt but somehow manages to overcome it all to keep it together and rock on...gently. This is the music your parents would love, this is the true sound of yacht rock and that's what makes A Street Called Straighta long overdue welcome. While this is a genuine pop relic from an age long ago, Eubanks certainly has a refreshing place in today's environment because nobody at all is really doing stuff like this. Sure, Coldplay and the whole school of mopey rockers attempt to be like this, but they can't quite pull it off as convincingly as someone who actually recorded their album when the genre was at its most popular.

A Street Called Straight is a bit rough around the edges at times, but if offers plenty of psychedelic flourishes, gently swaying songs, and a general sense of being dressed in pastels on a boat on valium. This is the perfect de-stressed rock album that you would have gotten root-canals to circa 1983 and it's kitsch factor might be high now but this would have been a huge record if it ever found its way to record stores 25 years ago. Fascinating, folky, rocky, and genteel A Street Called Straight is a welcome release no matter how long-overdue it is. They don't make rock and roll like this anymore but if they did, I have little doubt that Jeff Eubank's would be on top of the world.

Hot Hot Heat Hark Back To Future Breeds

I'll be the first to admit that I kind of forgot about Hot Hot Heat. They went from appealing to the white belt crowd, to being on Sub Pop, to being on a major label, to basically losing all credibility. For whatever reason, the band fell off the radar for a few years but have recently resurfaced on the ever brilliant Dangerbird Records. Now on their own and allowed to pretty much do whatever they want with a great label backing them the band have taken a trip back to their humble beginning's on their latest album, Future Breeds.

The funny thing about Future Breeds is that it sounds like a combination of Make Up The Breakdown and their first record Scenes One Thru Thirteen, which really is not a bad thing at all. Future Breedsis an impressive effort that makes it seem as if Hot Hot Heat pretty much took all the commercial success they built up with their major label albums and threw it out the window. This is a rough, raw, and very cool record that's unafraid to be exactly what it wants. It's that carefree attitude that has allowed Hot Hot Heat to revisit what made them who they are and make a pretty darn good record as a result. With broken synths reverbing around, rough guitars grinding away, and Steve Bays characteristic vocals echoing around this record sounds as if it's the turn of the century all over again and the indie explosion hasn't happened yet.

I may have given up on this band, but Future Breedshas totally reaffirmed my belief in them. This is a great record that succeeds thanks to a sense of freedom and a sense of originality that had been seriously lacking from their last two albums. This is Hot Hot Heat remembering how good they used to be and recapturing that spirit. Songs like "YVR," show that the band still are melodic but have a renewed sense of urgency to them. It's post punk with a sense of a tune and it's fantastic. The band have found their souls again and they're running away with them. From the strange, "Times a Thousand," to the cracked synths of "JFK's LSD," you can't help but love the fact that Hot Hot Heat have gotten fantastic all over again. Future Breeds is a return to form and statement of intent and it's an album worth hearing repeatedly. Nice to have you back guys.

Cave's Pure Moods

Straight from the Can't Judge A Book Buy It's Cover department comes Cave. With a name that sounds dark, doomy, and too frightening for it's own good, comes a band with an EP named after a world famous chillout compilation, Pure Moods. Sounding like neither a dark doomy hole in a mountain or a yuppie-tastic chill out record, Cave crank up the hyperdrive on their space ship, turn up the Hawkwind and blast off into the Andromeda galaxy.

Pure Moods is a three song 12" EP of epic prog-rock jams from the outer reaches of our galaxy. Taking Krautrock and adding more Krautrock to it, Cave make the three jams on this record stretch for days and days in repetitive hypnotic bliss. It's awesome stuff that rolls on and on and on as if it were in perpetual motion. With synths gurgling, guitars droning and no song shorter than five minutes Pure Moodsis pure rock and roll from space. This is the sound of aliens who simply know how to RAWK.

If there's one thing you can say about Pure Moods is that it proves Cave can clearly play. And play they do. In fact, they play so well it's as if they have some serious issues bringing songs to a stop. Someone apparently forgot to tell Cave that songs at some point do indeed end and if they did, they clearly forgot because with "Brigette's Trip (White Light/White Jazz), being over thirteen minutes long this is a band that clearly doesn't understand the concept of three minute pop song.

Epic, mesmerizing and completely amazing, Cave's Pure Moods is a fantastic illustration of prog rock from the 23rd century. It's one trip into the future worth taking and it's one trip you might not want to comeback from. Awesome stuff.

Waitiki 7 Explore New Sounds of Exotica

Like a tropical cocktail, if you take one part diverse players with intense focus and killer chops, and one part neglected mid-century multi-ethnic hybrid music with orgins on America's harmononious island paradise, add a dash of Technicolor dreamscape, a twist of wild bird calls and there you have Waitiki 7. As their name might suggest, this group of skillful musicians takes the Exotica genre puts it in a Delorean and brings it Back to the Future. Their album, New Sounds of Exotica is a fantastically enjoyable trip down memory lane if you were born in 1961 and hung out with Peter Sellers at his Party.

Taking easy listening and adding a modern jazzy twist to it, The Waitiki 7 create a lush blend of sounds that oozes tropical breezes, tropical drinks, and doing absolutely nothing. The band's creativity, musicianship and ability to pay tribute to the past while moving things forward is truly awesome. These guys create an atmosphere that would make folks like Don Ho, Martin Denny, and Arthur Lyman jealous. By fusing Latin sounds, Asian sounds, folk, classical influences, and what ever else they could cram in their tiki glass The Waitiki 7 embrace what was once an American phenomenon and make it their own.

New Sounds of Exoticais a vacation on a five inch disc and after the last two years who couldn't use a vacation...aurally or otherwise. While the lounge music revival has come and gone, it's nice to see that The Waitiki 7 are keeping the fire burning for exotica and doing a bang up job of it. While at times the group does venture into something that could be a bit to Kenny G-ish for it's own good, most of the times New Sounds of Exotica is full on Hawaiian shirt bliss. I love this record and even my parents love this record. Being of the generation of the cocktail set New Sounds of Exotica is right up my parents alley and they could even name records that it sounded like. We bonded over this record!

If you've ever been to Maui, Waimea Bay, or wanted to be lost on Kuai, New Sounds of Exotica is the perfect album for you. The Waitiki 7 are fabulous musicians and dedicated exotica followers and it shows on each and every song of this record. New Sounds of Exotica is a labor of love and a whole lot of fun and if you're going anywhere near an island this summer, make sure you take this record with you.

Quiet Science Study With/Without

Florida group, Quiet Science make no bones about their religious views, but you would never know it judging by their music. This synthy based pop/rock band write massively hooky tunes that are guaranteed resistant to 200 lb test line and irresistible to the ears. And while they might be "religious," the fact is they're to busy kicking some serious butt to ever let that get in their way of writing quality tunes or having one heck of a good time being in a band. Their album, With / Without is quite potentially the best combination between commercial pop and indie rock I've heard in a long time and the fact that it comes from this state, says something about the continued potential of our area.

With / Without might be roughly influenced by bands like Radiohead, U2 and Mew, but the album ends up sounding something like Coldplay or Keane on overdrive. With / Without is so filled with epic pop that it's hard to believe Quiet Science were able to cram it all on one disc. Sounding as if With / Without should be a box set all its own, the songs that make up this disc soar for the skies in the most grandiose and sprawling way possible. Melodic to the point of insanity and written with the goal of filling every arena on the planet, the songs that make up With / Without are so calculatingly colossal that I'm truly amazed they were able to pull it off. But, some bands just have that knack and after a few listens to this album, it's glaringly obvious that Quiet Science clearly have that talent.

Even their ballads seem as though their as large and heart wrenching as the oceans. The tunes go on forever and seem so, pardon the pun, heavenly that it's truly as if they were blessed. With songs so infectious and so massive it's seriously impossible not to like With / Without. These guys have so tapped into that "Chris Martin epic songwriting skill set" that their songs undoubtedly will make people weep openly, their heart skip a beat, and their ears float on a cloud. One listen to their appropriately titled song, "Brilliant," and you'll catch my drift. The song is as it's name says and has a piano/synth/whatever riff that's so hypnotizing you'll sing it in your sleep. This is the sort of song that would make Keane blush for it's simple melodic power that's so convincing. It's impressive stuff to say the least.

With / Without is pretty much like that from beginning to end, it rarely stumbles and even when it does, it does so in grandiose fashion. From their tear jerking ballads to their power chord anthems, Quiet Science are anything but quiet. This is a band whose overpowering riffs and choruses are so mind numbingly good that their album almost serves as a kind of mind control. They've done an awesome job here and With / Without belongs in the same class of records that Keane's debut album, and Coldplay's sophomore effort belong.

Elisa Randazzo's Bruises and Butterflies

Elisa Randazzo is an American musician, songwriter, and clothing designer based in California. Her most recent release, Bruises and Butterfliesemerged out of breaks and sessions recorded when she wasn't working on her clothes line named in tribute to Dusty Springfield. Working with guitarist Aaron Robinsion and inspired by a 2007 meeting of legendary British folk artist, Bridget St. John, Randazzao pieced together the album slowly but surely and created a rustic folk record that brings together traditional British folk songs with California sunshine.

Bruises and Butterflies is a brooding effort that reflects the emotions and feelings that Randazzo experienced over the last four years. From a painful divorce and all that goes with that to being inspired by a family hero (St. John) the album is a reflection of all of this and an artist trying to piece her life back together and find a balance within it. For the most part the record is predominantly acoustic and sounds like traditional folk music, but, Bruises and Butterfliesdoes occasionally ventures into some California country rock territory with pretty decent results. In fact, I think it would be easy to say that Elisa Randazzo hits her mark on those kinds of tracks. "Colors," for example, twangs with the best of them and sounds as if Randazzo's heart is being torn apart lyric by lyric. It's nice stuff that's nearly gut wrenching in a tear jerked kind of way and it's quite touching.

While I'm generally not a fan of this sort of stuff, because I really don't like to be depressed or to wallow around in a quagmire of self-doubt, loathing, or misery, several songs on Bruises and Butterflies were rather nice. The previously mentioned, "Colors," "Wintersong," and "Circles," all show Randazzo to be capable of doing much more than strumming a guitar and whining. My only hope is that she explores that territory further and creates an album that's as dusty and dear as she's hinted she can be. Until then Bruises and Butterflies will serve as a reminder of the potential that Elisa Randazzo possesses.

Love Like Fire Stand In Your Shoes

The name Love Like Fire conjures all sorts of seductive imagery. Love that's so hot, spontaneous combustion occurs, love so tragic it all ends in a fiery ball of broken heartedness, the possibilities are endless and for this moody bunch of San Franciscans you get the sense that's just the way they like it. Summoning relationship drama from the depths of their souls and making it musical, Love Like Fire make dark soul searching pop that's sweeping, soaring and just about as epic as it comes. Their third record, Stand In Your Shoes, is a fantastic noisy exploration of the souls, hearts, and memories of it's members and the trials and tribulations that go along with them.

Sounding something like Muse if it was fronted by a woman instead of Matt Bellamy the guitars on Stand In Your Shoessoar skyward in a blaze of distorted glory that sets the world on fire and not just the love. This is a huge sounding record that's powerful, dreamy, potentially traumatic, and most definitely stirring. With all that in mind, LLF create dreamy atmospherics that are riddled with choppy riffs, sumptuous warble-like vocals, and a driving beat that pounds it's way into your heart. Stand In Your Shoes is a beautifully thought out record whose compelling and forceful tunes make their presence known over and over again...kind of like your nagging ex.

It's hard to escape from Love Like Fire's songs. This is a band that's tapped into an emotional outburst and tied it to enough power chords to energize a city. Melodic and yet overwhelmingly powerful, Stand In Your Shoes ploughs it's way to the heavens setting things ablaze as it makes it's way there. I really enjoy how this band mixes the darkness with the light, the power with melody, and the tunes with the bombast. They're simply amazing and Stand In Your Shoes as a result is brilliant.

Whether or not this band is truly happily we might not never know, but we know that with Love Life Fire their emotions are guaranteed to be combustible. Pun aside, these feelings make for some darn fine music and whether or not they're searching for meaning forever is ok, as long as the continue to write songs like the ones on this record. Stand In Your Shoes is an impressive effort whose sweeping massive songs are a white knuckle ride of noise driven pop that may break your heart. Here's to love always being like fire.

VV Brown Travels Like The Light

VV Brown has finally made it to these shores and it's just in time. With winter over and the sun shining everywhere, the need for a perfectly upbeat, soulful, pop record is great and thanks to this already gargantuanly popular Brit, our wants and desires have been met. Travelling Like the Lightis the debut album from one of the most exciting artists to come along from tne neu-nu-neo-soul movement err since about six others from London. What makes VV great? Well you see this girl defiantly goes against the grain and mixes classic soul, rock and roll, indie, dance, pop and just about everything else to come up with an addictively sweet concoction that's groovy in a 60's kind of way.

Perhaps sounding like Kate Nash, Lily Allen, and Remi Nicole but dressed in neon and a quiff that Morrissey would die for VV is a superstar in the making. Her voice shifts from diva, to 60's soul goddess, and then to pop princess like a Porsche 911 Carera shifts gears; quickly smoothly, and oh so impressively. The girl has a set of pipes and she coats every song on Travelling Like the Light with her syrupy Northampton accent. She's brilliant and her songs are so stupendously catchy that you should probably stay away from them if your immune system is down.

Travelling Like the Light is the sound of the 60's stuck in the Tardis w/John Pertwee and let loose on the 21st century. Yes, the production is modern and crisp, but the approach and songs sound as if Holland, Dozier, and Dozier wrote them for VV Brown somewhere around 1967. From the somewhat appropriately titled, "Back In Time," to the near swing pop of "L.O.V.E," Travelling Like the Light is just pure pop goodness that's unspoiled fun. Like classic soul records from the past, VV Brown's simple but effective approach hits you right between the ears and after about three songs you're hooked like a crack addict. VV Brown's Travelling Like the Light is pretty much the classic soul revival album of 2010 and one of the better pop albums as well; fantastically fun stuff that has summer written all over it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The River City Extension Isn't Here

The origin of River City Extension is kind of like a true to life tale of growth and expansion. This NJ band came into being after founder Joe Michelini went from playing coffee houses to coming up with the idea of adding different elements to his music. Having the intention to write orchestral indie rock, Michelini knew he would had to expand and err...extend his band from consisting of one member to many. The band found itself expanding from one to a three piece acoustic outfit and then rapidly to a full eight piece band that lives up to Michelini's goal of orchestral indie rock. Perfecting their sound and stagecraft, River City Extension were hard at work until they self-released their debut in 2008. With the extension complete, in 2009 ,the band headed back to the studio after rigorous amounts of touring and recorded their debut album, The Unmistakable Man and waited. In early 2010 the band signed with XOXO Records and re-released the album.

Sounding like the exact opposite of everything you would expect a band from New Jersey to sound like, River City Extension have more in common with someone like Arcade Fire than the Boss. Arty, pastoral, and rustic this group of eight musicians seriously sound as though they belong in the field on the cover or in a real Garden State. It's Americana but with a flare for the dramatic and orchestral. That's a good thing because if they didn't apply themselves in such a way to make such excitingly large sounding tunes, much of The Unmistakable Man would be so staggeringly dull I'd pass out from boredom. As it stands though, this is the sound of a group of cheeky urbanites who clearly want to get lost in the country.

The Unmistakable Man is a fun album that throws your bog standard Americana underneath a bus and then redefines the whole genre by mixing in sea shanty's, rockabilly, country, Vaudeville, and the Dust Bowl to their sound. In addition. River City Extension's orchestral-like arrangements turn up the theatrical aspect of the band which further enhances their non-Jersey credibility and give the album a sense of motion and action that's nearly effortless. While there are several quiet moments on The Unmistakable Man, the record is really driven by the jumpy pastoral pop that the band writes in abundance. This is the sort of record that only a band from New Jersey could ever hope to put together because it's like Americana if it were stranded in Trenton for a month and desperate to get out.

The Unmistakable Man is a rough and ramshackle record that proves that artful tunes can come from the strangest places. Beautiful and austere, River City Extension are a fantastic band that bring a feeling of the simple life to an urban landscape.

We Are Born By Sia

Sia quietly burst on the scene just over six years ago and since that time has amassed quite a following thanks to the consistently good songs and a set of pipes that are second to none. Sia is one girl who clearly knows how to use her voice as an instrument and she's spent the last six or so years perfecting her craft. Her latest album, We Are Born, was produced by Greg Kurstin, who is responsible for working with Kylie, Lily Allen, and more recently Ke$ha, and with contributions from Strokes guitarist Nick Valensi and Inara George from the Bird and the Bee Sia has created a polished album that shines like the Hope Diamond. What makes this record outstanding is that having already been nominated for Grammy's and lining up fans as far as the eye can see, with her previous albums she continues to innovate and create unique songs. It's this never-ending sense of freedom that allows We Are Born, to be the crowning achievement of her career.

Perfectly balancing what makes pop music fun...grooves, beats, huge hooks, choruses that are unforgettable with soul searching, downtempo. heart tugging ballads, We Are Bornis a modern post-American Idol pop album for those who want a little more depth and intrigue in their music. With her trademark voice and top notch production Sia has written a mesmerizing record that's populated with raw emotion and a sense of fluidity. Yes, Sia sings her guts out on We Are Born, but she has a ridiculous amount of fun doing it. In fact, she even has stated that this is the record she's always wanted to make but was never allowed to until now.

No longer pigeonholed as a downtempo artist where she had been residing for years, Sia has been set free and you can hear the glee beaming out of her. We Are Bornsees Sia spreading her wings and flying as high as the sun with soaring tunes, dance-pop floor fillers and a sense of wonder, freedom, and fun that quite honestly had been missing from her last two albums. We Are Bornis a gorgeous record that sets itself apart from the normal pop fare that pollutes the airwaves because of the maturity that oozes from every pore on the record. Sia can sing, she's not afraid to sing, and now that she's allowed to sing she tries to cram in as much vocal gymnastics as possible and she does a good job of it as much of We Are Bornserves as a CV for her ability to sing with the best of them. This new found freedom, sense of liberation makes, and a renewed voice make We Are Born seem like a regenerated album from a brand new artist.

"Hi world, I'm Sia. Nice to meet you." Nice to meet you too. And truth be told, we really are glad to meet again because We Are Bornis a pop album that feels at home on the dancefloor, a dark room, a crisp night, anywhere happiness reigns supreme; it's as bright and crazy as the ribbons in her hair. She's made the album she's always wanted to and it shows because this is a record made by an overjoyed artist who has rediscovered the joy of making and playing music. While she undoubtedly hasn't forgotten her past, she's too busy looking forward to slow down and it's this frantic pace that's made Sia one heck of an artist. Here's to you girl...long may you be free!

Tobacco's Maniac Meat

Tobacco is yet another side project of the rather large sprawling musical entity that is Black Moth Super Rainbow. But unlike that band, this project is designed to challenge, stimulate, and push around what's accepted in the Super Rainbow. Embracing the approach that no sound is to small and no experiment to great, Tobacco spit out sounds and songs as if it were disposable chaw. It's frenetic, crazy, stuff that's like listening to a mad scientist play with Radio Shack science project toys hooked up to banks of synthesizers and amplification.

Maniac Meat is the follow-up to 2006's crazy misshapen perverted rap record, F****ed Up Friends, and basically crushes everything that held that record together. Rather than picking up where he left of on that last record, Tobacco just chucks it all out the window and rebuilt Maniac Meat from the ground up. Sounding something like Air in a fight with Daft Punk at Beck's house, Maniac Meat is a slightly atonal, angular, obscure trip through the heavens. It's blissed out, fuzzed out, trippy beat driven pop at a snails pace. Think of Maniac Meat is a dirty scummy chill out record and you'll kind of have the right idea.

Tobacco uses just about everything under the sun to create the manic sounds that populate Maniac Meat and if you listen closely you can hear your kitchen sink being run through four or five midi controllers and layered on top of the sun burning out. He's created a world in which someone like Wall-E would be familiar with. It's a downtrodden, lonely world with broken electro, busted hop, and songs that trickle to an end. Atmospheric to the point where this might actually be the sound of the world ending at the hands of Windows 7 Maniac Meat is a phenomenonally strange album that takes for more strange turns then mapquest could ever hope to keep track of.

With song titles like "New Juices From the Hot Tub Freaks," "Creepy Phone Calls," and "Nuclear Waste Aerobics," it's easy to see why this isn't your standard electronic album. Maniac Meat is the definition of ramshackle...but while most would think that's a band thing, Tobacco sees it as opportunity to take junk and make something interesting out of it. This is an album of destruction and reconstruction and Maniac Meat challenges the notion of what makes pop music pop? It's a strange record that will annoy some and fascinate others and isn't that what rock and roll is all about; annoyance and entertainment? Maniac Meat is a fine second effort from a one man band who strives to confront what's acceptable and palatable...he does a darn fine job of it here and proves Tobacco to be worthy of as much attention as Black Moth Super Rainbow; disorder hasn't sounded this cool in a long, long time.

Our Last Night Evovle

Our Last Night burst out of high school two years ago and set the world on fire. Hailing from the small town of Hollis, New Hampshire these fresh faced kids have taken the metal/screamo/emo world by storm and caused so much devastation that the band gave the world two years to recover. However, if you thought Our Last Night was just going to go away quietly, you would be wrong because after two years of rest and recovery, the band is back and as the title of their new album(We Will All Evolve) suggests, they've morphed into something even more brutal, heavy, and technical than ever before.

Our Last Night have a technical expertise that was once reserved for the most precise metal bands on the planet, but have taken those skills and ramped them up about three fold. Their songs on We Will All Evolve have more hooks and riffs than Bill Gates has dollars and it practically requires a math degree to keep track of all of them. Listening to We Will all Evolve is like listening to Sepultura if they were even better musicians and walked around with dyed black hair and skinny jeans. When you think that this band are all still underage and should be hanging out at home with their parents instead of writing gut wrenching guitar chuggers that could annihilate a small town if given the chance, it's absolutely horrifying to think at what this band could become in five years.

We Will All Evolve is packed with 10 songs of absolutely mind numbingly brutal yet melodic tuneage that teeters the line between being emo and being metallic to the point of being sub-death thrash. It's a tolerable teeter as you kind of get the best of both worlds throughout the album and when they alternate between the two it gives you just enough time to catch your breath before they churn out 800 more riffs. It's truly insane at how much this band packs into a song while still remaining somewhat melodic. These guys will make an impact on you and whether it's between your ears or your eyes is all up to you, but Our Last Night will conquer you and might just end up killing you.

We Will All Evolve is a hugely an impressive sophomore effort; there's no sophomore slump for this band. In fact, they may have put together an altogether more formidable effort than their debut. We Will All Evolve is a backbreaking, merciless effort that occasionally comes up for air with a glimpse of melody. For a band so young these guys clearly have the knowledge and ability to create top notch songs and have now done it two albums in a row. While I'm not necessarily a fan of the genre, I certainly appreciate that these guys can somehow manage to stuff 979,734,342 riffs into every song and still manage to make the thing stupendously catchy. A song like, "The Devil Inside You," for example, is insane with at least three different time changes, scruffy death metallish vocals, mosh parts, melodic vocals, guitarists throwing themselves all over the place, and a drummer that keeps time better than a Rolex. It’s impressive stuff that will pretty much snap your neck in two.

We Will all Evolve is truly good stuff and that doesn't get much better and for a group that probably has no one older than 20 years old in it, Our Last Night are clearly on top of their game; already. If you're a fan of anything approaching emo, screamo, metal, or just shredding guitars, Our Last Night is a band to check out and definitely a band to keep an eye on. If there was a definition of melodic grinding mayhem in the dictionary, Our Last Night and We Will All Evolve would be next to it.

Get In Line With Marching Band

Swedish band Marching Band in fact are not made up of 76 trombones but instead a couple of dudes who go by the name of Jacob and Erik. Rather than heading off to Gary, Indiana to record, this duo chose to write and record their album, Pop Cycle during an intense six month period of time in which the band chose to move, write songs without a home and then record them during the two worst months of winter. To say this wasn't a crazy time for the band and didn't influence the record would be grossly mistaken. Yet, somehow, the band managed to pull through, get their possessions out of storage, move into a new apartment and emerge with their second album in hand. While the band insist that all this chaos and cold weather caused Pop Cycle to be a dark record, I challenge you to find proof of that as Pop Cycle shines like a diamond the size of Scandinavia.

Sounding like the soundtrack to spring, Pop Cycle, could feature ten songs about morbid forms of dying but because the music is so bright, light, and cheery, you'd have no idea. Overstuffed with two-part harmonies and enough jangly guitars to make the Wedding Present give up, the band certainly hasn't damaged Sweden's reputation as world leaders of indie pop; if anything it's ramped up their credibility a few notches. Think of Pop Cycleas a post-shoegazing record that sounds like the best crossover between Doves and a cheery Elbow and you kind of get an idea of where this Marching Band is coming from. With massive pop tunes and choruses that are so addictive there are clinics to treat them, Pop Cycle is pop as only the Swedes could create.

Jumpy, slightly tweeish, and just about perfect Marching Band have come up with a magnificent album of indie pop that may have been recorded in the starkness of winter but is hotter than July . From the quirky, sugary sweet dual vocal power of "It Is Hidden," to the massive hooks and riffs that populate, "It's Not Your Dream (But His)," Marching Band have stumbled upon a template for fantastic pop and made it all their own. Pop Cycleas a result is a warm and joyous record that sounds so much larger than life it seems like it was actually put together by 76 trombones instead of the duo that call themselves Marching Band. Securing it's place in Sweden's lexicon of indie pop perfection Pop Cycle does not disappoint. Well done guys.

Justin Currie's Great War

You might recognize the name Justin Currie; he was the former lead singer of Scottish behemoth's Del Amitri. Now on his own (seems to be the popular thing to do), he will release his second solo album The Great War in May. Three years on from his debut solo album, What Is Love For, Currie continues to develop his songcraft on his latest album and proves that with age comes maturity and better songs with a sense of optimism.

For the most part, The Great Warisn't as depressing or violent as the title would make it out to be. Although in listening to it's somber sweeping tones, one can't help but wonder if the great war that Currie is talking about on this record is between his emotions and his thoughts, words, and songs. Despite being a bit more upbeat and less grim then his debut, Currie still ambiguously toys with his emotions and makes you wonder at the same time. It's fascinating stuff to just sit and listen to because Currie paints pictures with broad strokes utilizing melody, lush orchestration, and harmonies to help illustrate his tales of doubt and disappointment. Trust me when I tell you, it's not nearly as bad as it sounds as The Great War is a fine folk rock album that while bittersweet is still in touch with it's inner pop song.

One listen to "Can't Let Go Of Her Now," will confirm this as the song is reminiscent of Elvis Costello at his most lovelorn. Currie's arrangements, use of strings, a sense of drama, and softly reassuring vocals make the songs here endearing and instantly likable. "Can't Let Go Of Her Now," like much of the album, is something that anyone can relate to and his complex, tense lyrical phrasing help carry the message home; this song is the perfect balance between the dim and the upbeat. In fact, much of The Great Waris like that and it's Currie's ability to balance his emotions and channel them into his music that makes the record listenable. If this would have been a pure folk record, instead of this ornate work, I would probably have fallen asleep by about the third song, but thankfully Currie's years of pop stardom has taught him how to keep peoples ears glued and their mind alert.

Tense and potentially depressing, The Great Warisn't the feel good hit of the spring or summer and that's because it's not quite sure of how it feels. Justin Currie, takes all that he knows and creates an apprehensive world that's occasionally upbeat and uplifting and filled with gallons of gorgeous melodies that no matter how quizzical will stir your emotions. The Great Waris a reaffirming sort of record that proves this famed songwriter and former band leader still has about ten aces up his sleeve and can still construct one heck of a song. Nice job Mr. Currie.

Reno Bo Is On His Own

The oddly named, Reno Bo is a singer songwriter from New York City who now resides in Nashville and might be recognizable as a former member of famed garage rockers Mooney Suzuki. After years of touring, recording, and living with a band, Bo decided it was time to have a go of it on his own so he started his own project. His first solo album, Happenings and Other Thingsestablishes Bo as more than just a former member in a formerly big garage rock band but a proper songwriter in his own right. Taking the power pop template, that his former band mastered, and giving it a bit of heart, Reno Bo sounds like the best cross between Matthew Sweet, Big Star, Teenage Fan Club and Elvis Costello to ever cross the air waves.

With huge harmonies, lazy riffs, and a heart the size of Texas, Happenings and Other Thingsis the prototypical power pop record in love. Reno Bo has truly done a great job at creating stuff that's not at all like his former band while establishing the fact that he can clearly write a successful pop tune on his own. Much of Happenings and Other Things is infectious and even at it's most lethargic, it still manages to find a way to stick with you. This is a breezy summery sort of record that embraces the tradition of AM rock and roll but brings it up to date with crisp production and a bit of oomph.

Happenings and Other Things is a oversized rock and roll record whose songs never stop harmonizing or emphasizing their melodic elements so much, that you can't help but want to join the band as a back up singer. For a first effort, Happenings and Other Thingsis awesome. Then again this should really come as no surprise because having played in the Mooney Suzuki and Albert Hammond Jr.'s band, the spirit of rock and roll is practically genetically coded into Reno Bo's DNA. From the twangy countrified rock of, "You Don't Know," to the jumpy melodicism of "Higher Tonight," Happenings and Other Things reveals Reno Bo to be an artist destined for great things.