Thursday, November 29, 2012
Magic Trick through the use of err magic have expanded from a one piece auditory experiment of Tim Cohen to a full on band. Moving on from the tapes Cohen used to create as a side project from The Fresh & Onlys, he recruited bandmates to not only play these experiments live but eventually record them as well. And since there's strength in numbers and additional audio possibilities with multiple members Magic Trick evolved from a one man band to a full fledged group recording records like their latest Ruler Of the Night.
Sleepy enough to the point where you have to wonder what these guys are on, Magic Trick sound like a strung out version of Tindersticks, a sedated version of Nick Cave's more poppier moments or a countrified Magnetic Fields. It's slightly rockabilly, slightly dramatic, melodic as all heck and lo-fi to the point where it sounds like the band crammed themselves into Cohen's bedroom to record. It's nice stuff all around and the melodic and nearly ethereal guitar work truly help the record work in the long term. With an intimate vibe and a low budget feel Ruler Of the Night still sounds like Cohen's solo stuff except that it's got a few more layers to it and an added dimension.
Ruler Of the Night is an honest and pure record; it's simplistic and unfettered by lack of production. The songs that make it up are packed with harmonies and strummy gauzy guitars that sound nearly broken. I guess you could say this is folk rock with a twist but unlike the rest of the genre this is actually listenable. Dreamy, hazy, and recorded on about a $10 budget Magic Trick casts a spell with Ruler Of the Night that will leave you enraptured.
If you're old enough to remember Sarah Records, The Pastels, The Loft and the joy of perpetual jangly pop, then you will absolutely adore Seapony. This power trio takes a trip back to the 80's, dresses it up in an anorak, and breaks out its K records collection with so much pride it’s almost embarrassing. Their album, Falling is a fizzy pop treat that's nerdy, awkward, lost at love, and an absolute joy to listen to.
Filled with sweet and sugary sighs, fuzzy guitars, and clever choruses, Falling is a fun filled romp through fields of heather in the summer and sleigh rides in the winter. Utilizing very little technology, three chords, and a minimal is more songwriting style, the band create twelve rushes of pop that are shy, shuffly, and under three and a half minutes long. Seapony have fallen into such a effervescent love affair with jangly pop on Falling; and it’s such a beautiful relationship you won't want to see it end.
Shimmery, sweet, and stupendously good, Seapony's Falling is easily one of my favorite albums of 2012. Indie pop doesn't get much better than this and I swear every time I listen to Falling I get lost in a c86 time warp. This record is so good and so recommended that I might just show up at your house and give you a copy or force the band to play in y our front yard!
David Ramirez makes Apologies on his latest album and after spending some time with his record, I accept them whole heartedly as I cannot listen to another album of alt-country/folk music. Apologies is an intimate, solo affair that's quiet, meandering, and unexciting. The record seemingly is a constant barrage of stream of conscious mumblings that only occasionally raises it's voice to let you know it's still alive.
After about twenty minutes I found myself hunting, searching begging for those moments. I needed a spark, some energy, something instead of a guy with a guitar moaning and rambling into a microphone. It's really only when Ramirez taps into his inner country star that Apologies is worth listening to. It's at that point that you discover the guy has a certain twang in his voice that lends itself to pedal steel and brokenhearted country rock. One can't help but wonder if he should just give up the folk career and take up country full time because he seems to be much better at it. Anyway, the countrified songs on this record show a spark within him that he needs no Apologies for as they're tolerable tunes.
As it stands though, those bursts of energy are few and far between and as a result Apologies is just hard for me to listen to. It's almost too boring for me to listen to all the way through but I managed. Thankfully, I'm fairly resilient. So, allow me to offer my Apologies David Ramirez, because I tried...but I just can't get into the whole intimate acoustic thing; I think I'm too chipper for that.
Boston's Debo Band are a sprawling and massive musical collective enthralled with Ethiopian and African culture. Heavily influenced by the sounds of Ethiopian popular music from the 60's as well as vintage American soul and jazz music, the Debo Band create a fascinating trans-continental mix that's hypnotizingly hip. Their self-titled album is a brassy, bright, and a fantastic record that's consistently soulful and technically blinding.
The Debo Band clearly can play and they mix this proficiency with a passion and imagination that gives the tunes on this album a sense of life; they're organic, free flowing and seemingly able to breathe. Filled with more horns than a big band as well as accordions, violins, traditional percussion, and even vocals Debo Band is consistently taking it's influences and pushing them in different directions making them more modernist than revivalist. This is a complex record that's still organic enough to keep those who aren't fascinated by the music theory behind it all fascinated. Debo Band is a kinetic, constantly moving, swinging, and blaring record. It's filled with resounding sounds that are arranged in creative ways to make your heart beat faster and your ears ring in all the best ways.
They might be from Boston but the Debo Band have seemingly captured the essence and soul of the Heart of Africa. Debo Band is a brilliant record of world music that's so much more than just a record from another continent. This is a living and breathing entity that pulsates with vibrancy, vigor, and originality. The Debo Band may be influenced from the sounds of the past, but is very cleverly all their own.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Unnatural Helpers are a band that simply don't waste time. This four piece band are in such constant motion that they can't even keep members long enough for them to collect royalty checks. They are the definition of perpetual motion and if you were to tal about bands that are energetic, frenetic, and chaotic this band would be on the top of any such list. These guys play with urgency, speed, and a reckless nature because who knows if they or their songs will be around tomorrow.
Seemingly straddled with ADHD, Unnatural Helpers are a spastic, jerky, punk group of musicians who seemingly blast their way through songs and plow through riffs as if they were butter. Their latest effort, Land Grab, is such a short record that it's almost over before it starts. With most songs on the album being under two minutes long there's not a second wasted on things like solos, bridges, or choruses; seriously. This record makes it's impact by sheer force of will; it's blistering energy, hyperactivity, and punk feel pretty much bashes you over the head and makes an impression and it leaves a welt until the very last song. What's crazy about all that is that even though the songs on Land Grab are under two minutes and fly by, every single one of them is awesome. These are short, efficient, effervescent shots of rock and roll that's all killer and no filler (exception being the strange, uncalled for 9:45 album closer..which is almost as long as the rest of the album).
Unnatural Helpers know that keeping things short, sweet, and simple is a good rule of thumb and that's exactly how Land Grab is built, as something that has very little time to spend on extraneous details. Far from a meandering and pointless record, Land Grab is sharp, to the point, and powerful. It's not extravagant and doesn't squander it's opportunities; it tunes up, plugs in, and goes full throttle til the very end in a burst of energy that could be likened to splitting the atom. Land Grab is awesome garage rock as a result of those outbursts and Unnatural Helpers are amazing at churning out timeless tunes with more energy than a nuclear reactor.
Think about how many times a day you cut and paste stuff. Think about it; you probably hit CTRL+C and CTRL+V more times in 24 hours than you can count. Now, imagine if every time you did that it was set to music. Imagine taking bits and bobs of songs and cutting and pasting them together into something bigger than the sum of its parts. Well, if you can imagine all those keystrokes than you pretty much have an idea of what Kids & Explosions are all about.
Kids & Explosions see the PC and editing software as the greatest musical gifts in the world and have no problem with pasting sample upon sample on top of a sample. They love the idea so much that their album **** Computer is a work of editing and computing genius. This record is a slice and dice, cut up, mash up, hatchet job set to a beat and it's nuts. Judging by the inside of the cover and its never ending thanks list, the band must have used approximately a gazillion samples in the making of **** Computer. Whether or not any of this was ever cleared and/or royalties paid is beyond me but you have everything from Eminem sitting next to Guns and Roses and just about everything in between. There's so much here it's almost impossible to keep track of and there are so many layers that picking through them all is half the frustrating fun. Not necessarily an exercise in pop sensibility but rather a lot of fun through reckless experimentation **** Computer is a crazy but worthwhile listen.
Kids & Explosion have made a low key piece or art that shows what people that have an inordinate amount of spare time can accomplish. They've made a record for people that have absolutely no attention span. Why listen to songs when you can listen to snippets? Apparently Kids & Explosions don't. With more samples than songs and more sounds that the BBC Radiophonic Workshop **** Computer is an epic catalog of sound collages smashed together in complex arrangements. Experimentally exceptional and fun to listen to, Kids & Explosions might have made this record on a **** Computer but it's far from being bad.
Can you imagine what The Decemberists would sound like if they were more chipper? Air Traffic Controller can because that's exactly what they sound like. Their album, the strangely titled Nordo, is indie pop the way it should be; jaunty, gleeful, and probably depressing as heck but cleverly disguised as the happiest thing on earth. Needless to say I've enjoyed listening to this little gem repeatedly since I've gotten it.
The first two songs ("Hurry, Hurry," and "If You Build It" on Nordo are quite simply two of the best indie pop songs I've heard in the last five years; they're huge, infectious as Ebola, and filled with gargantuan choruses that can barely contain themselves. They are simple slices of perfection served with a side of jangly guitars, hand claps, and smiles seemingly as big as Texas. From those two songs much of Nordo continues its stomp through jubilant riffs, sing a long’s, and everything in between throughout the course of its ten songs. This is simply a record so jovial that it's almost impossible not to like. From horns, hand claps, crashing cymbals, boy girl vocals, and jangly guitars it's truly all here and it's awesome. Unlike most Air Traffic Controllers, this Air Traffic Controller is fare from stressed or tense and Nordo is pleased as punch.
Probably one of my favorite records of the year, Nordo pleasantly reminded me of why I adore indie pop; it's that sugary rush of glee. In an age where things just are tough, rough, and grim Air Traffic Controller have come up with something that, for it's all too short forty minutes, is a constant source of happiness. Records aren't like this anymore and that's just a shame. This is the sound of joy, the sound of fun, and the sound of why music is such an awesome thing and it can be yours. So do yourself a favor and take off with this Air Traffic Controller in tow; because Nordo is a trip to the clouds and beyond.
Sometimes a CD shows up and despite having names all over it, you have no idea what the heck the name of the band is or what the title is. Such was the case with Cinema Cinema. These guys decided to cleverly place their name in a smaller font on the cover of their album and beneath the apparent title and larger font size Manic Children and the Slow Aggression. This pretty much would give one the idea that Manic Children and the Slow Aggression was actually the name of the band and Cinema Cinema the name of the album. Quite honestly, I think that Manic Children and the Slow Aggression just sounds cooler than Cinema Cinema but whatever.
Anyway, Cinema Cinema is a dynamic duo that seemingly hover between being a garage rock band and some sort of mopey post jam band lost in the late 90's. Manic Children and the Slow Aggression as a result is raw, under-produced and and almost a bit too lo-fi for it's own good. Songs that try to be dramatic and sweeping sound a tad bit underwhelming and ineffective leaving you kind of bored. However, when the band head back to the garage and turn it up a notch, they're absolutely fantastic at what they do. The rawness, underproduction, and shambolic nature of the band makes these songs sound good. It's at this time you begin to think that these guys have an edge and punkiness hidden about them that throws two sheets to the wind, cranks it up, rocks out and makes a complete mess of everything. Riffs reverb everywhere, pedals are placed in over drive and these tunes sound like something Kim Thayall would have recorded in his bedroom in 1991. It's post grunge garage rock with a bit of punk and pop thrown in for good measure and when it's on it's on and when it's off it's way off. Why these guys would choose to get schmaltzy at times is beyond me because the power of rock clearly compels them.
If Manic Children and the Slow Aggression were all...manic...this album would be amazing. The energy and a purity that pulsates through the rawness and punky moments of Manic Children and the Slow Aggression's save it from being bad. It's primal stuff that Cinema Cinema tap into at times and when they do they become mad men; it's something they should just stay locked into and make records while they're at it.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Skelethon is a progressive record that features excellent production that works well in any environment. The beats throughout are crisp and sharp and Aesop’s flows are just about perfect. His rhymes aren't the cliché bling and babes angle but far more quick, thought provoking and surreal. Yes, you read that right, surreal. Skelethon lyrics are about the human experience and Aesop’s place with in it. Its good stuff and hearing him weave his tales will hit you right between the ears.
About three songs into Skelethon it's easy to see why Aesop gets all the credit he does. The guy is just different and he takes a completely different approach to making hip hop. His songs have plenty of funk and beats within them but there's everything else mixed in there too. This is a guy who has a team behind him that's not afraid to mix things up, to push things further, and to challenge not only themselves but the genre as well. For this reason and the fact that rhymes flow faster than the speed of light, Aesop and Skelethon succeeds.
In an age where mainstream hip hop is a multi-billion dollar industry, it's nice to know that people like Aesop Rock exist. Skelethon is so far from cliché that most mainstream hip hop stars wouldn't even know what hit them. It's a progressive slice of hip hop that's outside of the norm; it's underground and credible but is still accessible. It's the sort of thing you should listen too, because you know people like Jay-Z do. So pick this up and help push things forward.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Detroit multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and songwriter Gerald Roesser is one heck of a talent. As The History of Panic he embraces his multitude of skills and channels them into stunning songs that are danceable, sugary sweet, and vivacious. History's album Fight! Fight! Fight! is no different and is packed to the gills with synthetic indie dance anthems that are bursting at the seams with and effervescence and catchiness that makes this record stupendous.
Fight! Fight! Fight! is a debut album twelve years in the making, two years recording, and was shaped by History's steady diet of Morrissey, Britpop, electronics and techno. It's a display of Roesser's adeptness at taking all that he knows and constructing masterful pop songs out of those elements. It's gorgeous seductive pop that's shimmery, melodic, and beyond catchy. Featuring a slew of special appearances from bands like Pas/Cal and Electric Six Fight! Fight! Fight! has a larger than life feel to it. It, in a word, is big-time. This is a record of perseverance, of the little guy winning and overcoming insurmountable odds. And how can it not be? It did take twelve years to come to fruition and two years to record afterall. Fight! Fight! Fight! is the definition of dedication and seeing things through and it's easy to understand why the album turned out as good as it did.
I absolutely love this record. Fight! Fight! Fight!'s synth pop styling, kinetic movement, and instantly memorable songs make it nearly impossible to walk away from. I mean the hooks on Fight! Fight! Fight! dig deep and just don't want to let go. For example, listen to, "The Chase," once and I'm willing to bet you'll have to listen to it again and again and still won't be able to get out of your head. Just about perfect, The History of Panic has put together one of the best indie dance records of 2012 with Fight! Fight! Fight! ; this one is easily in my top 25 for 2012.
Canadian band Elk, despite the rustic connotations of their name, are not backwoods fairy folksters. Oh no, this four piece are full on rock and rollers who snow plowed their way out of their garage into a recording studio and laid down the tracks that would eventually become their album Daydreams. Straight out of the rock and roll revival of the early 2000's and on to the scene a bit late, Elk turn up their amps, tune down the guitars and kick out the jams and jangles. Despite their tardiness, Daydreams is an energetic, 60's inspired record that's groovy and pretty darn good.
Utilizing a whole host of vintage sounds and influences Elk create this all out 60's vibe that alternates between pure rock and roll and paisley pop. Melodies are everywhere here and guitars either jangle or groove on demand while drums crash and carry the vintage vibes along. It's a fantastic record that sounds much older than it really is; it's the sort of thing that just feels like 1968.
Mixing garage, surf, psychedelic, and pop influences together so well that stylistically the lines are blurred between them all Elk approach songwriting with an open, albeit old fashioned, mind. I think that it's one reason why this band and Daydreams is so great, they're so versatile in their songwriting that they refuse to play by any one genre's rules.
Sounding a bit like The Drums in a fight with Hermans Hermits while in the Sonics garage, Elk get their 60's on while being completely modern about it. Daydreams is a fantastic record that's melodically awesome, musically inspired, and solid the whole way through. Daydreams is a great rock and roll record that doesn't pretend to be anything but and I think that's what's appealing about it; its honest and pure in all the best ways.
Cold Night's EP, My Dying Soul is a four track record of detached, departed, and devastating atmospheric death metal. Primarily ambient and utilizing a lot of synthesized sounds, Cold Night create a semi-gothic land in which the dead shall rise and the dearly departed float amongst us. This is the soundtrack to the afterlife and, in fact, when the vocals of one woman apocalypse Hypothermia kick in it sounds as if they were recorded from there.
My Dying Soul is an intriguing record filled with desolation, despair and the ghost-demon growls of said vocalist and creator Hypothermia. Haunting, detached, and vast My Dying Soul seems to stretch on for an eternity with your soul in tow. It's queitly disturbing, depressingly heavy, and devastatingly detached in a way that might just scare the bejesus out of those who catch wind of it unexpectedly. What more could you ask for in a four track EP? Death never sounded so out there.
Sometimes you discover cool things where you least expect them. Such is the case with my discovery of Domestic Genocide Records. I had no idea that this underground metal label was actually run by a co-worker of mine here at First Coast News just 100 feet away. It's absolutely nuts and kind of hard to believe...but it's true. And so Trevor Master of the Hub has opened up the gates of underground metal here at FCN and allowed Welicoruss to come across my desk.
Named after the guitarist and vocalist of the band, Welico Russ, the group creates operatic, gothic themed, black metal that sounds like a million Rubles. Their latest album, Wintermoon Symphony is an epic materpiece of guitar pyrotechnics, soaring operatic vocals, growls from the abyss and a record that is cold as ice. Wintermoon Symphony is an expansive all encompassing record that's as stark and brutal as the Siberian landscape. Melodic but brutal, Welicoruss find the perfect balance between atmospherics and heaviness and create songs that allow both elements to wash over each other. The result of all this is that Wintermoon Symphony sounds larger and feels bigger than life. It's a winter wonderland of mysticism and power that is nigh impossible to escape from.
Welico Russ and the rest of his band (Elias, Paularic, Sower, and Dizharmony) play the heck out of their instruments here which only furthers the impressive nature of this record. It's blatantly obvious they are masters of metal and have chops on top of chops. The riffs are brutal and yet technical while the drums churn heavy doses of destruction and the synths give Wintermoon Symphony an icy almost medieval sheen that will give you shivers. It's an amazing sounding record that's crisp, clean and deadly. Technically proficient, melodically masterful and brutally brilliant Wintermoon Symphony is a fantastic record that brings the icy coldness of the north into your living room (or television station in my case) and freezes it over (which is insane because it's already -38 in here).
Thursday, November 15, 2012
Arriving in Washington DC in 2000 Massama Dogo brought his native influences as well as his desire to meld African and American music into a concoction that paid respect to his native Togo while looking forward to sounds outside of his home. Eventually putting together the Afropop group Elikeh, Dogo brought his dreams to reality. Elikeh are a fascinating world music experience who take elements of Fela Kuti, reggae, jazz, and of course traditional Togolese music mix them altogether and come up with something refreshingly bright. Their album Between 2 Worlds is exactly that, a record caught between lands, times, traditions and influences.
While Between 2 Worlds is obviously rooted in Afropop it contains such an overwhelming vintage jazz influence that it's almost hard not to call this record a jazz funk album. Between 2 Worlds establishes a fantastic series of grooves early on and carries that rhythm throughout the entire record. With bongos, percussion, awesome horn riffs, and basslines that kill Elikeh prove themselves to be stunning musicians without even trying. So much of this record is just filled with incredible musicianship and such tight grooves and rhythms that it's hard not to listen with your jaw dropped. These guys are tight and they lay it all down throughout Between 2 Worlds and I love how the band work within traditional and modern environments and so easily flip flop between them. It's so complex and well mixed that you kind of need a score card to keep track of it all and I suspect that's one of the main reasons why I've thoroughly enjoyed listening to Between 2 Worlds.
Extremely well played and packed with seamless transitions Elikeh truly do operate Between 2 Worlds and our ears are the benefactors of this. From vintage sounding guitar workouts, Togolese vocals, killer bongo breakdowns and just about everything in between this is a fascinatingly brilliant record. It's hard not to like this album if you have any musical training at all because these guys just jam from the get go and really never slow down. Between 2 Worlds as a result is energetic, funky, jazzy, and superb; it's easily one of the coolest world music records I've heard this year.
Champions of melodicism, Motion City Soundtrack have returned from the global war on noise with their latest album Go in hand. Go sees the band continuing its quest of conquering the world through harmony and upbeat songs while still sharpening their sound and straying further and further away from their emo roots.
Sounding like a slightly punkier Weezer, Motion City Soundtrack have essentially left the screams, chug a chug riffs, and tons of angst behind and become a full on pseudo pop rock band. Go manages to do this because melodies bubble up everywhere, guitars jangle, crunch, and churn while Justin Pierre's vocals soar above it all like Rivers Cuomo on overdrive. Go is filled with pure pop mixed with just enough distortion and frustration to give it an edge.
Go isn't bad at all, truth be told, and the band have honed their skills so much they've become nothing short of a well oiled radio friendly tune making machine. With songs so happy, spiky, and melodic they are sweeter than a gallon of chocolate milk and resisting these tasty tunes is nigh impossible. "Timelines," for example, is so syrupy and so sweet it could draw ants, give you cavities, and keep the sugar industry in business.
Worshiping at the alter of harmony and melodies Motion City Soundtrack over the course of their brief career have become so proficient and at ease while creating sugary sweet pop treats that it's almost become second nature to them. You can hear that ability coming into play all over Go. Motion City Soundtrack have matured into this massive pop tune gobbling beast of a band that unleashes volley's of saccharine bombs they call songs. There's a reason why this band has steadily become bigger and bigger over time...they've got the songs people want to hear and they're ready to Go. Which begs the question; are you?
The rather strangely named Bon Death's latest single Dream Girl is a slab of glammy garage rock that kicks butt with a soulful vibe and a rock and roll heart. Sounding very influenced by the 60's the single has a two step beat with dramatic female vocals seductively singing like her out of the Duke Spirit. It's all very passionate and vivacious in a rather seductive way. The tune is a hit in the making and had it been released in 1966 it would have been massive.
Bon Death are awesome at creating groovy rock and roll, man, and having heard Dream Girl and that's it, I feel like a) I've been left hanging out to try and b) I need to hear like thirty more tracks. A single in the truest sense of the word, this is too little too early. We need more Bon Death and we need it now.
Black Marble are probably the coolest bunch of minimalist musicians to find themselves in front of keyboards in a very long time. Creating stark, bleak, cold synth pop the way OMD used to this dynamic duo hark back to the days when synthesizer technology was something relatively new and using it exclusively without guitars was almost considered experimental and odd. Their album A Different Arrangement is a perfect combination of that ancient technology and European detachment while still maintaining a degree of Brooklynite hipness.
Whether they're doing this stuff for the ironic nature of it or because they really love the early synth pop pioneers is a debate for another time, irregardless A Different Arrangement manages to be a fantastic album that sounds thirty years late to the party. Perhaps like a Magnetic Fields record played at 16rpm while layering 80's new wave on top of it, A Different Arrangement is a slow moving wave of synthetic pop that seems isolated, depressed and totally in touch with its psychological issues. Beats slowly pop while vocals sound off as if they were recorded in a hallway and the lush, minimal synths blanket it all in a chilly layer of opulence and aloofness. The songs, despite being rather un-energetic, are still memorable and danceable and Black Marble are so well versed at creating this stuff that they could very well be be OMD.
A Different Arrangement is the sort of record to get lost in a haze with and then never find your way out of. I love this record; it's clinical contemplation, lo-fi feel, and pseudo gothicism make it sound and feel amazing. Black Marble are awesome but in a brutalist, self destructive way. They don't sound happy, their songs don't feel happy, and their album is too sparse and subdued to actually be happy. None the less anyone in touch with their inner goth or Teutonic minimalist will absolutely love this record and find it an essential piece...like all that Bauhaus furniture.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Young Liars are a interesting band with enough international intrigue around them, that they could almost be a living spy novel. Their story begins in an Algerian bar underneath the streets of Paris and ends up in a studio in Canada. Intrigued? You should be because the result of that story comes to us in the form of their record Homesick Future EP.
Taking that intrigue of those Algerian bars, French culture, Canadian pop, and a world music vibe the band sound something like the best thing that Vampire Weekend and Hot Chip never recorded. It's a worldly pop music journey across the dance floor with jaunty rhythms, synthesized atmospherics, soaring vocals and melodies that melt in your ears. This is a great record that's bright, dancy, and extremely catchy. There's a wave like groove that crests about four songs in and carries you to the end and brings you home breathless but satisfied.
Homesick Future is an impressive effort that shows quite evenhandedly that indie and dance are so fused together at this point it's pointless to even think of them as separate. With that fusion firmly in place its easy to understand why there's not a bad song here. It's globally influenced, optimistic and its energetic feel makes the record fun to listen to. At seven songs Homesick Future is a brilliant primer of the band's potential and there's a lot of it; it leaves you wanting more and I suspect that's just the way they want it.
You know some things should never be touched. Some albums are just so sacred they should never be altered, covered, or even touched. And say what you will, Thriller is one such album. It's a record that pretty much defined and owned pop music in the 80's. It was huge back then and is to this day. It's legendary and the one work (next to Off The Wall) that MJ will be remembered for. That being said, I'm immediately skeptical of any sort of album paying tribute to this classic. Do I really need it? Can anyone bring something better to the table? I doubt it, I really do but nonetheless people continually release things trying. That's where the Easy Star's Thrillah compilation comes into play.
Rather than just doing a run of the mill tribute album Easy Star's put a whole different spin on the idea by doing a reggae version of Thriller. While not capable of competing with the original or even hoping to sound the same, the Easy Star's stable of artists attempt to bring something different to the idea of a tribute. They almost do a great job. Thrillah, truth be told, isn't too bad but it's the sort of thing that after about two songs has you reaching for the original. Essentially replicating the original album in it's complete order Thrillah has pop reggae influences, dub, instrumentals, and chilled vibes running throughout each of the songs. The Easy Stars do a cool job of keeping the original framework of each song but then taking it on a tropical tip and attempting to make it unique. "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin," and "Beat It," are probably my favorite tunes on the record simply because they almost lend themselves to the dubbed out grooves makes them up.
Thrillah isn't bad at all. It's just the sort of thing that unless you're a covers collector or mega MJ fan you don't really need. Don't get me wrong, it's cool, it's just not necessary when you can always just listen to the original. While the Easy Stars did bring something new to the table and make a tribute record out of the ordinary, it's just hard to sit through Thrillah when you could be listening to Thriller. You can't beat the original so that begs the question...why even try?
After creating several albums of sheer mellow beauty, it was time for Richard Hawley to take the gloves off. And on his newest album, Standing At The Sky's Edge, he's done just that and apparently rediscovered the power of his guitar while remaining true to his sound. Seemingly an album battling for control, Hawley lets mellow songs duke it out against guitar heroics and pyrotechnics. It's a spectacle to behold as his Britpop past comes back to the front and is then mellowed by his current sound; it's all a bit taming of the beast.
At times, turned up to 11 and armed with enough effects to make Kevin Shields jealous, Hawley proves he hasn't lost it over the years and is still armed to the teeth with enough psychedelic riffs and power chords to make your mind explode. The guy truly is an amazing guitarist and his work here is phenomenal; perhaps his best in ages. It's no wonder that the guitar features so prominently on the cover/liner notes of Standing At The Sky's Edge. And while there's that aggressive element pulsating through this record there's also Hawley's more mellow, toned down and heartfelt side that at times overwhelms that aggression. The result of this is an absolutely stunning and beautiful record that seems almost commonplace for Hawley; the guy is nothing but pure talent and whether it's psychedelia or dramatic soulful pop he's able to write songs that fit moods with ease.
Standing At The Sky's Edge is excellent. Hawley's ability to channel his past into his future is impressive and his songwriting, playing, and technicality is truly awe inspiring. He may be Standing At The Sky's Edge but he's so far beyond that point it's almost impossible to keep up with. Easily one of the best guitar records of 2012, Standing At The Sky's Edge is an essential selection if there ever was one.
There's neo-soul and then there's neo-SOUL...and I'll give you three guess which the The Heavy are. Straight out of the heart of Memphis via Bath, UK comes this dirty, thick, and groove laden group of musicians who only know one thing...that good music comes from the heart. Armed to the teeth with enough low end and grooves, The Heavy sound like the best Southern Soul band to emerge from a 40 year coma...ever. Their third album, The Glorious Dead picks up exactly where The House That Dirt Built left off. This is the filthiest and purest record to ever emerge from the city known more for it's Roman Bath Houses than soulful rock and roll.
The Glorious Dead essentially takes the template that the Sonics invented way back when and then lops a massive helping of pure soul on top of it. The results are a punky, disheveled record that oozes emotion out of every pore and sweats more than Right Guard could ever hope to handle. This is awesome stuff that has an angry spirit about it and once it kicks off never slows down. The Heavy have made a remarkable effort here and The Glorious Dead ends up loaded with groove after groove neatly arranged in an order that will leave your feet begging for mercy and your ears begging for more.
When The Who coined the phrase, Maximum R&B little did they know that The Heavy would be the living embodiment of that sentiment nearly four decades later. Taking Sam & Dave and mixing them with garage rock is what The Heavy sound like and as a result this is a band that doesn't know how to play at any less then 200% maximum volume with 1000% maximum effort. Whether it's a ballad or a rocker the band have the simple desire to leave you in tears but with a smile on your face. These guys are unbelievable and an anomaly in a sea of mediocre neo-soul wannabes. The Heavy and their album The Glorious Dead are living proof that raw, uncompromising, emotional music will always be the best kind of music. It might be 2012, but The Heavy clearly never got that memo because in their hearts and minds it's still 1968; this is a very, very good thing.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Consisting of a mandolin, cello, violin, guitars, and drums Darlingside have self proclaimed themselves as a String Rock quintet. That's find and dandy but they're so much more than that. This is a band that fully grasps the grandeur and power of sweeping rock and so easily create songs that lift you up that it's as if they were spiritual rock and roll preachers. Their album Pilot Machine is a massively dramatic huge record that would easily give Snow Patrol's discography a run for it's money any day of the week.
While Darlingside use a variety of instruments in a variety of ways, they still manage to frame it all within a pop sensible framework that allows the songs breathe, expand, and overtake just about everything. Pilot Machine is simply a massively dramatic piece of melodic stadium rock. These guys not only bring stringed instruments to the forefront of their sound but they do so with the intention of making them so impressive and so huge sounding that they, along with the songs, are larger than life. Pilot Machine is superbly written, ridiculously well played, and sounds like a million bucks. Darlingside are technical musicians and as a result write complex passages while still maintaining this all conquering sound that just envelopes the listener with meldocism. It's truly impressive stuff and the fact that you can hear all these stringed instruments in action so clearly throughout the turbulent drama of each song is awesome.
While they may use instruments outside of the normal rock and roll parameters, Darlingside don't let that stop them. Pilot Machine is a reflection of the bands adaptability, technicality, and brilliance at writing complex yet accessible pop songs. These guys are so huge sounding that your ear buds may not be able to contain the songs on Pilot Machine. If you love songs with a flair for the dramatic then Pilot Machine will find it's way into your head and lift you to the heavens. Anyone who thought the sweeping stadium pop movement was dead clearly hasn't heard Darlingside.
When you name your band Crypts you kind of set yourself up for certain critiques. I mean I think it's pretty safe to assume that these guys are not shiny happy people nor do they play paisley pop from the West Coast of California. With a name like Crypts, you've got to be dark, really dark, nearly dead or at least pretty close to shuffling off your mortal coil and thankfully for these noise punks they are. Taking no wave turning it upside down and beating it up with synth punk and chillwave, Crypts come up with the sound of the dead rising from their graves to destroy the planet.
Their self titled album is like Suicide mixed with Crystal Castles in a knife fight with The Faint. It's violent, noisy, disturbing and the sort of thing that will scare those around you if they catch wind of it. This is the sound of the end, this is what the Mayan's envisioned on December 21st; it's chaotic, shambolic, and a complete wreck but it's amazing. Imagine if you will a world in which Trent Reznor actually acted on all those violent impulses he's had over the last twenty years; that's the kind of world Crypts operates in. Crypts is loaded with synths on overload, duct taped drum machines, smoke machines spewing forth pollution, vocals that sound like they were recorded in a barrel and am overall sense of doom. What's not to like? Crytps are not merry men and actually seem excited to be providing the soundtrack to the end of days.
Crypts isn't pretty, doesn't sound crisp and isn't catchy in the slightest. That being said, it's apocalyptical sounds are mind numbingly brilliant. This is a violent, aggressive, punishing record that will either kill you or make you more resilient. If anything has encapsulated mankind’s destructive nature better than Crypts has I'd be really surprised. Until the end comes I suggest you spend some time in Crypts.
Meklit & Quinn are a unique songwriting duo who toss genres aside, blend influences, and mix sounds as if they were gourmet chef's. Their self-titled album is a mellow, chilled out blend of jazzy influences and folky sounds pasted on top of songs that you already know. It's a joyful, optimistic release that's upbeat and arranged so well that it's hard to find fault with.
While a vast majority of these songs are alternative oriented covers, Meklit & Quinn give them an adult oriented feel. Instead of the pop or rock sensibility that would normally be present on most of the songs have been swapped out with music so well played and constructed that the tunes are airtight, professional and and almost unrecognizable. In fact, I have to admit that I had no idea this was a covers record the first time I listened to it. With such varied influences pulsating through it, Meklit & Quinn is an imaginative record that takes something you already know and re-shape into something completely different. It's crazy to hear MGMT, Arcade Fire, Talking Heads, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, and Sam Cooke crafted into something completely different while remaining the same. Meklit & Quinn is awesome in that sense because they take their favorite songs, experiment with them and then make them the duo's own. Throw in a couple of originals from the duo and you have an album that's just about one of the coolest chill out records to come across our desk in ages.
Covers records are a dime a dozen and it's really only the ones where something is done differently that ever stand out. Meklit & Quinn is one such record; it's so unique sounding that it disguises the covers and makes them sound like original compositions. It's an impressive effort all around and the few originals that appear also give a peek into the world of Meklit & Quinn and shine some light into where their musical backgrounds are coming from. Hopefully their next record will feature those backgrounds in a full album of original material; until then this record is definitely worth a listen.
Monday, November 12, 2012
Jon Lindsay is an Oregon born, North Carolina raised singer/songwriter/multi talented musician who has released two critically acclaimed EP's, a debut album and another debut for his side project The Catch Fire. To say this guy is busy would probably be an vast understatement. So, how in the world he found time to record his latest solo album Summer Wilderness Program is beyond me. Yet, he did and it's a underground gem of power pop perfection.
With a bevy of instruments and a slightly vintage sound to them, Lindsay at times gets in touch with his inner Elvis Costello while finding some deep rooted Athens indie pop influences as well. The result is that the album is filled with extremely catchy, upbeat and almost shiny songs that glisten like gold. It's a fantastic record that's heartfelt, well written, and engaging. Pianos, sleigh bells, organ, horns, it's all here and then some and Lindsay crafts and shapes all these sounds into something that's as sweet as candy. Take all that and combine it with awesome melodies and harmonies and you have something pretty special. The guy can clearly write a tune and his ability to craft most of Summer Wilderness Program himself is truly impressive.
It might be fall and gorgeous outside, but I'd much rather take part in the Summer Wilderness Program. Jon Lindsay, despite being busier than a head of state, has taken the time to create a fantastic, effervescent indie pop record that's easy on the ears, easy to remember, and just plain good. There's not a lot to find fault with here and the fact that Lindsay did most of this himself while juggling seventeen thousand other projects is a sign of dedication to his art and his ability to turn out great songs whenever they are needed. Summer Wilderness Program is most definitely an impressive solo effort and one worthy of your time.
There's math rock, there's spazzcore, there's post rock, there's post punk and then there's the Future of the Left. Crazy to the point of needing to be committed, this group of musical nutters is literally all over the place and refuse to compromise on controlling the chaos around them. Their album The Plot Against Common Sense is a frenetic, kinetic, and nervous ball of energy that builds up into an explosive sub genre of rock and roll that's the Future's own.
Perhaps sounding like Black Dice meeting The Fall in a knife fight with the Locust and An Albatross, Future of the Left make a racket; a lot of racket. Guitars seem to tear tear themselves apart, vocals shrill, scream, and scrape, drums bash, grind, and explode and The Plot Against Common Sense is quite possibly the soundtrack to the end of the world. The Plot Against Common Sense is not a record you listen to, to unwind. Oh no. This is a record to get wound up to, to excise your aggressions with, to not go quietly with. It's a record that's out of control played by a band who may or may not know what that word means. It's awesome stuff and it's mixture of every post-genre known to man combined with it's sense of aggression is so overwhelming it will crush you.
The Plot Against Common Sense is mayhem and it is awesome but it might be too much for some. You see the Future of the Left are not an easy band to get into. If you're remotely organized, polite, quiet and unassuming then The Plot Against Common Sense will scare you to death. If, however, your life is a disorganized disaster and coould come unraveled at any point then these guys will inspire you.
With an almost Smithsian grandeur about them, Goodbye Labrador take on their latest EP A Thousand Times Before. And truth be told, they do a bang up job with creating sweeping, majestic, and dramatic pop that's slightly ethereal, crystalline, and in the end utterly gorgeous. Coming together in an almost transcontinental express-like fashion Goodbye Labrador cross borders with a sound that's jangly, lovelorn, filled with drama and sounds like it came straight out of Manchester circa 1986.
A Thousand Times Before is a brilliant record. Its six songs sound and feel vintage despite being brand spanking new. Their lilting, shuffly, and ridiculously catchy. This is the sound of the Independent Top 20 brought bang up to date and it's marvelous. If this EP is anything to go by the bands next album should be spectacular in every sense of the word. If you like sweeping, majestic and swoonsome pop these guys are your new best friends and I bet even Morrissey likes them.
The Idjut Boys have been making, tweaking, and reworking dance music for nearly two decades. Their work is legendary, their remixes are awesome, and they're always up to something that's good. Unbelievably though the Idjut Boys have never taken the time to record a studio album...seriously. Well that is, until now. Entitled, Cellar Door the record is quite the departure for the boys and steers about as far away from the club as possible. It's almost as if they were headed back underground.
Cellar Door is a peak into the minds of the Idjut Boys and it's an interesting look that sees these guys developing a far more diverse sound than one would imagine. While there are some undoubtedly club oriented moments on the record, a vast majority of this seems chilled and dare I say it experimental. It's almost as if the Boys decided that they finally had some time for themselves so why not have some fun, even if it's all a bit bizarre. And despite it's nature, it is fun to listen to. In fact, the band themselves say that, "You stick it on your stereo, have a cup a coffee and read the paper." So, they even admit that this is not a club oriented record but rather just a good listen. With sensual vocals, acoustic instrumentation, chilled vibes and an almost early morning feel how could this album not be?
Cellar Door is an album that comes at you from left field and leaves you mesmerized with it's atmospherics and subtle rather than overbearing grooves. This is a strange and unexpected record from a group who normally make bangers like they were going out of style. It might not be the most catchy thing on the planet and it's definitely not a floor filler, but I think I have found my early morning soundtrack for the next couple of months and I couldn't be happier.
Straight out of the big school of rock and roll comes Suite 709. Graduating with honors they've learned the lessons of huge songs, bigger hooks, and soulful singing from the masterclass of radio friendly tunes. They're such masters that their album Night & Day is like the best thing that Maroon 5 never released! Happily sitting in the middle of the road, Suite 709 are waiting for the world to catch up to them and make them the rightful stars they should be.
With a bit of funk, a lot of soul and a whole bunch of rock and roll Suite 709 have a little bit of something for everyone. They have songs that soar, songs that kick a little butt, songs that are unforgettable, and ballads that swoon. It's all here and it's over flowing with massive potential. These guys are clearly on the verge of becoming something like a Coldplay, Hootie, Dave Matthews; a massive crossover band that sells out every enormodome on the planet. Just listen to "Life Won't Let You Down," and you'll see exactly what I'm talking about. Serious, these dudes are destined for big things.
Night & Day is a big record with big aspirations. This is the sort of thing that's destined for radio play somewhere constantly. Suite 709 have just begun to tap into their potential here and one suspects with a few bucks and some time these guys are going to realize that potential. So, my advice to you is if you like mainstream rock and roll/pop get on the ground floor with Suite 709 because they'll be moving on up.
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
One of the nine million reasons why living in Florida is great is that we very rarely have long winters, if winters at all. It's pretty much some degree of summer here every day of the year which makes listening to the latest Kitsune compilation a year round kind of possibility. Entitled, Gildas & Jerry Kitsune Soleil Mix, this is the soundtrack to the summer wherever or whenever you find yourself. It's Ibiza wrapped up into a 5.25 inch disc and it's amazing as an island sunset.
Gildas & Jerry Kitsune Soleil Mix is packed to the gills with twenty blinding electro, house, and synth pop tunes that are blended to sunshiny perfection by Gildas & Jerry. This is a massive journey in 4/4 synthesized sunshine that's so ridiculously groovy there isn't a dance floor on the planet that wouldn't be packed out if this mix were to be played. Filled with huge names from the Kitsune roster including M83, Citizens!, Jupiter, Gigamesh, Metronomy, RAC as well as smaller artists such as Like Woah!, Reflex and Moon Boots it's got a little bit of everything under the sun. Amazingly, there's not a duff track amongst them all. It's twenty tracks of pure non-stop bangers that have hooks the size of Jupiter, beats as crisp as a new $100, and a vibe that is nothing but celebratory and excitable.
Gildas & Jerry Kitsune Soleil Mix is yet the latest installment in Kitsune's incredible track record of awesome releases. While the rest of the world has made dance music so aggressive it's become metal, Kitsune have never forgotten that it doesn't need to be like that. They're the home of the hook, the masters of massive tunes and home to incredible artists. Gildas & Jerry Kitsune Soleil Mix proves that twenty times over.
The concept for Jazzanova's latest album was very simple, producers Stefan and Axel went into the studio with their seven piece live band, took vocalist Paul Randolph with them and recorded the set. Entitled Funkhouse Studio Sessions the record sounds like a perfect session of top notch musicians riffing off one another and playing a soulful, funky, and jazzy set of tunes. The whole thing just seems to flow out of all that are involved; it feels tight and yet spontaneous and that's the sign of a band that's truly on top of their game.
Sounding at times like an Al Jarreau record Funkhouse Studio Sessions is perfectly chilled jazzy funk that's light, airy, and filled with enough bright brass to blind a man. The songs are organic and free flowing and even vocalist Paul Randolph sounds like he's half improvising through the record. Funkhouse Studio Sessions is just packed to the rafters with top musicianship the whole way around; the cd can barely contain it all. And while this might be their first "live" album it sounds like they've recorded a hundred of them and that they've been playing together just as long. Riffing through favorites from tours past, fan favorites, and their greatest hits, this is a cool journey through the past and present of Jazzanova with a live flair.
Funkhouse Studio Sessions is a fantastic record that's sure to please anyone who has ever liked Jazzanova. If you've never seen these guys pull this stuff off live, this is like the next best thing as you can hear just how good the band really is. From chilled out jazzy tunes to funky jams, Jazzanova just goes with the flow and impresses throughout the Funkhouse Studio Sessions.
Saturday, November 3, 2012
One of my favorite bands that no one knows about has just released their latest album and as per usual it's a doozy. Shout Out Out Out Out's latest masterwork, Spanish Moss & Total Loss
Shout Out Out Out Out in the span of three albums have gone from quirky song titles and an out of control sense of humor to spaceship captains on the Starship Raverprise. SOOOO utilize synths to create atmopsherics from beyond our galaxy but bring them back to earth with beats that your feet and brain can relate to. They then polish it all with a brilliant sheen that makes their songs glisten like gold and as a result are so shiny and bright that their amazingness just about blinds you. From the Eno-ish soundscapes to brilliant post punk funk the record is all about atmospherics and creating an abundance of it.
What makes Spanish Moss & Total Loss such an awesome record is the fact that it's much more than just a record. It's not just a collection of songs, it's a journey. This is an album that starts off slowly and inconspicuously but builds itself up into a massive frenzy of funky, vocoded, synthed out brilliance and then after it's all over gently brings us back down to earth to recover from the last hour. It's a trip to the spiral bands and back in less then 80 minutes that will leave you breathless.
I really don't even know what else to say about this record except if you like anything remotely related to funk, synth pop, dance music, or just moving this record is a heady trip that's like the best night IN you've ever had. You need this record in your life, like you need food; it's pretty much essential stuff.
Husky are a quartet of Australians who sound like they're more from the Outback than any city on the continent. Rustic, rural, and a bit countrified this band not only keeps it in the family (a few members are related) but they just about keep it to themselves and out of the music scene altogether. Their album Forever So is an intimate, lonesome, slightly psychedelic, dramatic work of musical art that's pleasant enough.
With acoustic instruments, pianos, horns, and slightly out of tune but sleepily cool vocals it's kind of like Husky play a unique style of sad core that's not all that depressing. It's almost as if Low were on happy pills. The songs aren't energetic or hyper, rather, they're calm, peaceful, and almost stoic in nature. Thoughtful to a point but never wallowing in what they dwell on Husky make Forever So seem all too brief. There are elements of Arcade Fire within the band and you can hear them getting in touch w/their inner Mark Kozelek as the album progresses which kind of goes back to the sadcore thing. It's all rather nice stuff that's sweeping and as dramatic as a storm moving across the Outback.
Forever So is a beautifully created album of near isolationist ballads. It's an emotional, exhaustive journey through quiet songs and ephemeral sounds. It's the sort of record that your mind gently drifts off to while deep in thought and never comes back to. It's a nice journey that could potentially last Forever So.
Ok...I love garage rock, I'm a mod after all so it's almost like a requirement. But not every garage rock band is good. Not everyone can be as good as The Sonics or The Mummies some bands are just, um, not good. That's kind of where Apache Dropout comes into play. They try they really do but they're just a little to "garagey" to be that good.
Their album Bubblegum Graveyard is raw like botulism, rough around the edges, and sounds like a very young band taking their first steps away from practicing in their house. Sure, there are some moments where they click but for the most part much of Bubblegum Graveyard sounds like a bunch of guys learning to play as they record at the studio. I tried to like the record, but I think it was just a bit to roughshod and un-polished for me to get over; and I'm not 100% sure I liked the vocals.
If you like hearing messy, sloppy, rock and roll recorded by guys who may or may not know what they're doing then Apache Dropout is for you. While they do have a few eureka moments on Bubblegum Graveyard much of this effort is just difficult to listen to. Sorry guys...but I think from the garage to the bubblegum graveyard isn't the best move.
Friday, November 2, 2012
Remember Smoosh? You probably don't because you were as young as they were when they were around. In case you don't know or don't remember, they were the severely underage indie pop band that made quite a splash a number of years ago and blew every one away in the industry. If you want to talk youthful effervescence Smoosh defined it. But as time goes on kids grow up and projects end. Well Asya out of Smoosh did just that and somehow found herself working with Dave Einmo. The results of that work became known as Daydream Vacation and let's just say that they're not your little sister's Smoosh.
Their debut album Dare Seize The Fire is an awesome synthetic romp through the pop world that's just about perfect. Aysa's voice has matured into that of a synth siren and she sighs her away across many of the songs here with a seductive cool that's confident and convincing. Much of Dare Seize The Fire is like that. This is an album that sounds well beyond a "debut album." The electronics generate grooves with ease, Dave and Aysa's voices tag team off each other and the hooks are super tight. This is a record that's almost instantly memorable and the first single from it, "Clever's Not My Best Excuse," is easily one of the best tunes of the year. Dare Seize The Fire is synthetically sugary sweet and easy on the ears; it's not complicated, not difficult, just consistent synth pop jams that will have you shuffling around the house.
While I wasn't too much of a fan of Smoosh, Daydream Vacation is a whole different ballgame. These guys kill it on Dare Seize The Fire and I honestly haven't stopped listening to this record for two days. Huge hooks, massive melodies, and endless grooves make Dare Seize The Fire easy to get down to and easy to seize control of. One of my faves of the year...easily.
The masters of weird have returned! The Liars are back and as per usual they're lost in their own world where music theory, reason, and pop music does not exist. As if to prove that point the title of their new album, WIXIW seemingly makes no sense at all.
WIXIW is strange, there can be no doubt of that. However, the band have found themselves lost in their own world playing something like a post apocalyptic version of Radiohead. Sure things still make no sense at all, but the band have discovered an apparent taste for melody as this record kind of sleepily and hazily wonders its way through atmospherics, strummy guitars, and a sense of fragility. It's all a bit shocking to be honest because while it's weird it's actually listenable. Dare I say it, I actually found bits of WIXIW, pleasant! I know that's hard to believe, but the music here isn't grating, angular, or jarring it's almost 100% tuneful.
As I sit here in awe of this strange, uncanny, atmospheric post punk record with off center melodies and a sense of melodic experimentation I can't help but think of bands like Clinic shaking in their boots. Liars are unstable as it is, but give them a sense of tunefulness and this band of kooks could become dangerous. WIXIW is a shock to the musical system in a good way. With a nearly ambient and experimental approach the band have constructed a unexpected masterpiece that might just be the best of their career.
The meteoric rise of Silversun Pickups, I have to admit was a bit unexpected several years ago, but totally deserved. A cooler more genuine band you will not find so to say I've been a fan since the get go makes me pretty happy. Their latest album Neck Of The Woods leaves behind most of the post shoegazing elements that they built their sound on and sees the band veering into a bigger more expansive and slightly poppier sound. The new album is, of course, great but that's to be expected because if there's one thing this band is, it's consistent.
Neck Of The Woods doesn't necessarily forget where it's come from but Silversun Pickups gives their original sound so much depth, texture, and complexity that you can tell this band is growing up. Songs bounce all over the place with reverb pedals in tow, post grunge riffs churning away, and those hazy lackadaisical vocals reach all kinds of crescendos. This is the one band in America that can kind of get away with almost being led by an almost falsetto-ish vocalist. Neck Of The Woods soars in all the right places, is as bright and crystalline as you'd expect it, and still manages to cram huge pop hooks amongst it all. These are songs to fly along to. They shoot straight for the sun and just about get there as guitars phase in and out and songs come in and out like the tide. It's all very cool, melodic, and intricately pieced together. Neck Of The Woods is the sound of a band at the height of it's prowess; there's seemingly nothing Silversun Pickups can't do.
Neck Of The Woods might be the best record of Silversun's rather short career. The songs are huge, overreaching, grandiose and sound like a zillion dollars. These guys are quickly becoming beasts when it comes to songwriting and this record shows off their maturity in fine fashion. Post gazing has never sounded so big or bright. There's a reason why this band has become as big as they have; their songs are simply awesome. You'll want to be in Silversun Pickups neck of the woods and pick up this record.
Thursday, November 1, 2012
Shawn Lee's latest album is a bit misleading. Named Synthesizers In Space you would think that the record would be full of synthetic sounds, synth pop grooves, and danceable fun. If you thought that, however, you would be wrong. Instead of sounding like it was rooted in 80's new wave pop, Synthesizers In Space sounds more like it came from a 60's or 70's crime thriller.
Packed with instrumentals, samples, jazzy bridges, Hammond organ grooves (synthesized?), groovy basslines and a whole host of other things that would make you think that this record isn't from space but was pulled from The Streets Of San Francisco. Shawn Lee has a field day here creating moving, kinetic, instrumental pieces that are atmospheric and imaginative. While there are synthesizers undoubtedly pulsating throughout this record it is not the dominant force here; Synthesizers In Space is far too organic for it to be cold, plastic, and fake. I really like how Shawn Lee has built this little world within this record...it's good enough to get lost in and I suspect that while his synthesizers may be in space, his heart is in the city and it's alive and well.
Synthesizers In Space is an awesome record that jolted my imagination and had me recreating scenes from Bullitt. It's a crazy ride through the dark side of the city and it's filthy grooves, atmospheric organ work, and jazzy influences give the record a vintage feel. I love records like this because not only are they good musically speaking they get your mind going at the same time. Synthesizers In Space is a full sensory experience and it's awesome.
Parallel Thought is an independent hip hop group that have been making the rounds appearing on all sorts of records. Fresh off their latest collaboration with Dell the Funky Homosapien the band has finally had time to release their first true solo effort. Entitled The Art of Sound, it's exactly as the title says, a piece of hip hop artwork.
Complete with instrumental hip hop, atmospheric grooves, chilled out rhymes and an almost ambient approach to constructing tunes, The Art of Sound is anything but your usual hip hop record. This album truly is a work of art that's creatively pieced together using lush synths, downtempo beats, jazzy and soulful influences and enough sampled sounds to keep crate diggers busy. If you can imagine a more abstract DJ Shadow you're kind of on the right track when it comes to Parallel Thought. Crafty and inventive, The Art of Sound is a fascinating excursion into the world of instrumental and angular hip hop.
Having spent a fair amount of time with The Art of Sound, I think it's ok to say that Parallel Thought should spend more time constructing and piecing together their own records instead of others. The Art of Sound is an ingenious effort and is filled with intriguing rhythms, dark beats, and lush soundscapes all put together within the confines of hip hop. This is the sort of record that breaks down barriers and inspires folks to experiment; it's what these guys are seemingly doing here and it works well for them. The Art of Sound is a gorgeous record and it's opulent and innovative nature helps it stand head an shoulders above it's peers.
Holy folk music Batman...how much can one man take? Seriously, someone has got to stop the insanity before the world becomes terminally depressed and loses the will to live. I love a rustic day in the country as much as the next guy, but it seems like most of the independent music community have hopped on to their fixed gear bicycles and headed out the countryside with acoustic guitars in hand. While a vast majority of these folks/artists/bands are so trite it pains me to even think of them, there are exceptions. One of those exceptions is Cory Chisel & the Wandering Sons.
Cory's album Old Believers is a windswept, dusty, countrified rock and roll record that sounds something like a alt-country version of Fleetwood Mac, Wilco if they were rednecks, or Kings of Leon on lithium. It's all lilting shuffly stuff that's pastoral, picturesque, and emotionally charged. Loaded with pedal steel guitar, strings, quietly humble girl/boy vocals, and gorgeous melodies Old Believers is a completely listenable record that's firmly in touch with it's country roots while not being afraid to let their hair down a bit.
If you love things that are woodsy, intimate, and endearing you'll love what Cory Chisel & The Wandering Sons have done here. Old Believers is an entertaining record that's austere and lost in a prairie. Not necessarily the catchiest thing on the planet, Old Believers still manages to stay riveting thanks to it's down home musical stylings.
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
The Black Swans latest album Occasion For Song leaves the question...what's the occasion? Because despite the title, I can't really find the reason/occasion for these songs. This is a countrified album of songs that are quietly intense, slow paced, and sound like Jason Molina lent his identity to yet another band. It's not terribly bad in any way shape or form, it just lacks a certain energy that makes me want to listen to this record again and again.
In a way this kind of makes sense as The Black Swans seems to be going through the process of healing throughout Occasion For Song. Having lost a founding member during the whole process it's commendable that this album even exists, that they even want to hear this album again much less still exist as a band. So there's a strong reason for this record almost sounding to difficult to listen to and if you can make it all the way through I commend you. The emotion that is contained within the songs here borderlines on being too much to handle but who can blame the band after losing a friend? Want to talk about emotional weight just ask these guys.
With a rustic feel, minimal instrumentation, talkative singing, and a sense of despair and healing The Black Swans have seemingly created a cathartic experience with Occasion For Song. The feel good hit of the year this is not, but it's been therapeutic for the band and if you've been through anything rough it kind of can work for you as well. Cleansing, heavy, and done with a heavy heart Occasion For Song is an album that's about as genuine as genuine gets.
Holy blues rock Batman, Redgrave have just had a blues explosion all over their latest record National Act. This five track EP of heavy chords, churning drums and bass, and vocals that sound like Grace Slick at her finest is one stormy rock and roll record. National Act is a power chord feast that chugs along slowly but devastatingly so; crushing all who stand in it's way. Redgrave know how to tune down, turn up, and kick out the jams and they do just that through the five tracks that blew up here.
Not terribly catchy but overwhelmingly heavy National Act makes it's impact by simply forcing itself upon you. This is a surge of unstoppable willpower that's going to have it's way with you whether you like it or not. My suggestion is to let it do just that because otherwise you'll suffer a broken skull and ruptured ear drums and that's going to hurt far more than their amps turned up to 11. National Act is rock and roll that's pure, simple, powerful, and the sort of thing that would make Jack White think about retirement. If you like raw unfiltered rock and roll then Redgrave are the National Act you've been searching for.
Producer and trumpeter Wil Magid has deep roots in jazz, dance music, and traditional music from around the globe. He fuses these influences into a heady blend of grooves, sass, and coolness that's partly chilled and partly hyper active. His latest EP reflects this not only in its name, Midnight High, but also the music that is contained within it. From Latin vibes to deep house grooves Midnight High takes us on a six song whirlwind trip around the globe
Magid is a diverse and open minded musician and you hear this throughout the record. With samba's colliding with electronic elements and dubbed out vocals mixing with funeral dirges and just about everything in between this record is quite literally all over the place; globally and musically. While trumpet obviously plays a role here he doesn't grant the instrument total billing and allows the albums atmospherics and grooves to carry us away rather than the horn. He's constructed a gorgeous record that's a stroke of jazzy crossover brilliance. Chilled to perfection and as diverse as the world itself Midnight High is a busy but fun listen that will have you reaching for your passport!
Sunday, October 28, 2012
The latest Stronghold Sound compilation, Sembeh Ma Fa Fe, offers a bevy of sounds that thrill and amaze and come straight out of West Africa with passion, heart, and soul. The San Francisco based musical collective traveled to Guinea Conakry to record music in what was once the Mandeng Empire and to find Mandeng roots music and then revisit sounds from Guinea Conakry. This is the second volume of those explorations and shows the region, despite it's isolation, embracing reggae, hip hop, and r&b and coming up with something rather unique.
Sembeh Ma Fa Fe is filled with modern production techniques and sounds but still sounds raw, traditional and rustic enough to make it feel pure. You'll have no idea what any of the artists are singing about, but one guesses that it's about the isolation and struggles that each of these artists have faced in their homeland. The passion that's here is genuine and the tunes teem with enthusiasm and authenticity. Each of the artists on Sembeh Ma Fa Fe are impressive and much better than I would have expected. The songs are very good and even with the language barrier could and should be heard everywhere. From reggae and dancehall call and response, to hip hop beats and minimal production Sembeh Ma Fa Fe is truly a fascinating exploration of culture and sound and how one influences the other.
This is an album of artists paying their dues and who are honest, positive, vibrant, and good. Sembeh Ma Fa Fe is a fierce listen of pure, raw, genuine music from a region of the world that may have limited resources but has artists who have desire and never ending drive to overcome. If you have any interest in traditional African sounds clashing with modern ones you'll find this record an absolutely gripping experience. Stronghold Sound are rapidly becoming the African music equivalent of Numero Records; finding and unearthing the coolest sounds no one has ever heard but totally need to.
The oddly named band Shmu play odd music for slightly odd people. Their album Discipline/Communication is a Spinal Tap-like odyssey into realms of rock and roll few bands ever reach for much less get there. Combining post shoegazing, post rock, jazz, prog rock and just about everything else these guys create their own little world which they've hesitantly invited us into.
Sounding like a stranger version of Aloha, Shmu have technical skills that put most indie rock bands to shame. These guys can play and I suspect that's half the reason why they write such challenging and intricate music in their own little world. They're ability to shift between genre's and write complex music while in each one is truly a tribute to their ability as musicians and songwriters. Discipline/Communication is an awesome record of musical prowess and complex construction. Utilizing all the usual instrumentation but layering in electronics, beats, backwards sounds, and lots of other fun stuff this is one record that never ceases to peak your curiosity and make you ask, “How'd they do that?”
From jazzy interludes to electronic space jams and primitive percussion gone awry these guys experiment with everything and find musical inspiration in unlikely places. It's not necessarily the poppiest or catchiest thing you'll hear in 2012, but it's easily one of the more intriguing records to come out this year. Whether it sounds like a washed out My Bloody Valentine tune or a Pat Metheney jam Discipline/Communication has something for everyone.
Nickodemus has been bringing global dance grooves to the floor since he started spinning at the Giant Step parties that rocked New York in the mid-90's. Since then he's founded additional parties and mixed all kinds of sets with live musicians. Of course that's never enough, so aside from DJing around the world Nick has also managed to produce records that are worthy of their own right and stand on their own two feet (or sides I suppose). Of course, that's what brings us here today is Nick's latest album Moon People.
With enough world music influences to fill the globe, and enough global grooves to last a lifetime Nickodemus spares no expense when it comes to constructing his songs. With chilled out beats, accordions, jazzy influences, dubbed basslines and just about anything else he can find Nickodemus builds songs that come at your from every corner of the planet. No stone is left unturned and as a result his tunes are open minded, expansive, and thoroughly listenable. Most of Moon People hovers between chill out and downtempo house like jams and the jazzy, dubbed out, gypsified influences create this otherworldly feeling that's hard to beat. This is atmospheric and brilliant stuff that's in touch with it's global surroundings and only too happy to show it.
Moon People is a fantastic journey around the globe that you can take from the luxury of your own living room. He's awesome and with so much experience under his belt it's no wonder that Moon People is so blindingly brilliant.
Thursday, October 25, 2012
Jaill is one of Sub Pop's best kept secrets. Quietly this indie rock band has put together quite the little discography of proper good old fashioned American style indie rock. And while their last album was shambolic, chaotic and noisy it's quite apparent about five minutes into Traps that their new album is nothing of the sort. Somewhere in between their last album and this one the band discovered their Apples In Stereo, Elf Power, and Olivia Tremor Control records and decided to head down that path. This was a good decision.
Traps is packed to the rafters with jangly, frivolous, melodic, and fun indie rock that at times you'd swear was a long lost Apples In Stereo record. The songs are all sugary sweet, instantly memorable, and shuffly enough to stir any indie club dance floor. The melodies are sharp, the guitars are jangly and fun, and the whole thing sounds like the best thing that should have come out in 1998 but didn't. Traps is really that good and it's awesome how the band totally slammed on the breaks, switched directions and cranked out something that's as good, if not better, than their previous efforts. Put it this way there are a few melodies on this record that will have you swearing they were removed from Pet Sounds and pasted in the middle of this album. No, really.
Jaill have created a indie pop work of art here. With joyous melodies, jolly guitars, and a overwhelming sense of happiness Traps is an enjoyable listen. Whether it's Apples in Stereo, early Of Montreal or the whole host of old Athens bands, Jaill has taken pages from their books and written their own story with them. Traps will win you over without the use of any such devices...just really good songs and a lot of fun.
Cadence Weapon is back with another intelligent rhyme fest that takes things from the club to the library back to the club then a spin around current events and seemingly everything in between. His latest album Hope In Dirt City is a fantastic return to form and sees Cadence rapidly securing his place as one of independent hip hop's most dignified stars. From jazzy tunes to electro pop, club bangers to straight forward hip hop it's all here and Cadence Weapon uses words to pepper each of those songs to create missives, rants, and raves. It's all very good and very different from what litters the airwaves and clogs the charts under the guise of “hip hop.”
Hope In Dirt City is a raw and powerful record but that should be expected because with a title like that it almost has to be. And yet despite the powerful nature of the rhymes and beats herein the hope pulsating through the title lends a positive aspect to it all and drives the thing forward. These may be dark times but there are glimmers of positivity and this album proves it. As if to make like of that, Cadence has a dark sense of humor and a quick wit which allows him to shove quirky lines here and there and make you ask yourself, "Did he really just say that?" Chances are he did indeed.
If all that wasn't enough it's not every day you hear a hip hop artist (or any artist) reference Tesla, but here's Cadence Weapon dropping the scientist as if it were no big deal. While the guy clearly has a head on his shoulders he also knows how to have fun and he does throughout the record. Whether it's his sense of humor, chilled jams or all out club bangers Cadence Weapon realizes variety is the spice of life; check "Hype Man," for a clear example of his ability to make Outkast blush.
Hope In Dirt City is a varied and exciting record that proves that this Cadence Weapon is deadly. The guy can wrap rhymes around any beat and make them work and sound like they were meant to be. He can sound like he's rapping a term paper one second and then drop something that's bound to fill a dance floor the next. How could that not be impressive? He's good, he's really good and it's only further proof that the independent hip hop movement does things that commercial hip hop is too afraid to try. Needless to say there is Hope In Dirt City.