Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Alex Winston and King Con

I'm just going to come right out and say it; I absolutely adore Alex Winston.  She's so beguilingly cute and quirky and when you hear her voice you just kind of have to sit there and catch your breath.  She's truly a unique talent and sounds something like Bjork or Kate Bush would if she were from the Appalachian Mountains.  Her album King Con is an unpredictable and highly entertaining record from one of the most intriguing singer / songwriters on the planet today.

Winston has this strange wispy, mousey, high pitched voice that almost sounds like it could shatter glass but never quite gets there.  She manipulates that voice through a series of dramatic and almost theatrical songs that showcase her singularly brilliant vocal chords and her ability to write fantastic songs.  She may be a singer / songwriter but her music is so vast, so whimsical, and has so much thought sunk into it that it's anything but folky, acousticky, or lame.  King Con is a stunning record that's mesmerizing and so quirky that its grip on your ears is almost impossible to shake.

With uncommon arrangements, huge productions, and songs that sound like they bigger than life Alex Winston creates a strange world in which her voice can run around free.  And run it does; it runs around all over the place on King Con.  It’s with her warbles, screeches, high notes, and tender moments that her voice enchants and grabs your attention consistently.  While King Con features a whole host of instrumentation and arrangements it's really Alex's singing that draws you in and it's her singing that makes it hard to pull away from and if great songs and a talent voice doesn't make for a great debut I'm not sure what does.

The Black Belles Are Awesome

The Black Belles are a garage rock band who are friends with Jack White, released their album on his Third Man label and sound as if the White Stripes had become all female. Dressed in Victorian garb and rocking the socks off of all who listen to them The Black Belles self titled debut is a killer rock and roll record that defines what it means to seriously kick butt. These girls so easily take garage rock and mix it with metal and come up with a lethal and sexy concoction that it all seems like it’s second nature to them.

The Black Belles is a rough, raw, and rocking record whose riffs chug and churn while Siouxsie/Karen O like screams and bashed drums and bass lines power the album through every conceivable blockade put in front of them. These girls kick some serious bootay and while they may be Belle's on the outside the power of rock and roll has unleashed an unquenchable hunger within each member that is unstoppable. These girls are all about overpowering you by any means necessary and they’ll succeed. Trust me. This is fantastic stuff that is unrelenting and sounds like the soundtrack to the best and most violent movie Tarantino never made.

Taking 60's influences roughing them up a bit and then adding a bit of metallic spikiness to the mix has allowed The Black Belles to come up with a formula of rock and roll that they can call their very own. While the idea may not be completely original, the sound and songs they come up with is and it's simply awesome. The Black Belles is a deadly record filled with seductive songs, catchy choruses and powerful guitars played by one of the coolest bands to strut across the planet and in Victorian garb no less.

Rosie And Me Know The Arrow Of My Ways

Rosie and Me sound like they've been roaming the Heartland of America for their entire lives passing through small towns and country stores, driving through fields of flowers, taking lazy cruises down creeks and rivers and writing songs about it all. What's truly amazing about all of this is 1) they haven’t done that and 2) that Rosie and Me are about as far away from the American Heartland as one can be, you see, they're from Brazil. Originally just a duo, the band now consists of Rosanne Machado (vocals/acoustic guitars/banjo), Ivan Camargo (acoustic guitars), Thomas Kossar (electric guitars), Guilherme Miranda (bass guitars) and Tiago Barbosa (drums/perc). Together, the band blends simple, introspective lyrics with soft female vocals and the effect is just gorgeous. Their album, Arrow Of My Ways, is a pastoral, mellow, countrified record that believe it or not I quite enjoyed.

Arrow Of My Ways is good in the same way that Jose Gonzalez records are great; their intimacy, warm feelings, and heartfelt songs will warm the cockles of your heart and win you over. Rosie and Me have a penchant for writing unobtrusive material that's rustic, hushed, and so fragile that it sounds like the aural equivalent of fine china. This is delicate heartfelt stuff that's tranquil and rural and from the gently plucked banjos to Rosanne's soft whispers the record is a meandering thing of beauty. While I generally dread folk, Americana and the like there's something about the level of closeness and warmth Rosie and Me convey that makes Arrow Of My Ways so good.

Rosie and Me have taken something completely American and made it their own. It's a sound that's crossed borders and even continents and proves that music is the universal language. Fully in touch with their inner Camera Obscura and their love of Americana they've created a rustic and pretty landscape that's a joy to roam around in. Arrow Of My Ways is a pleasant record whose closeness, introspective nature, and quiet sounds are beyond charming.

Ariane Moffatt's Ma

Canadian singer songwriter Ariane Moffatt is not what you think. If you think this Quebecian carries around an acoustic guitar and yodels at a coffee house you'd be wrong. If you imagine her as a French speaking chanteuse who is slinky, sexy, and seductive you'd be on the right track. Ariane brings to mind the golden era of chanson music but modernized for today’s world. Her album Ma is a fantastic cultural synthesis of language and sounds.

Named after the concept of the ma, which refers to a sensorial experience of negative space or downtime the album is a bit personal and introspective but far from being down, negative, slow, or depressing. Oh no, Ma is an upbeat sounding record that was put together and produced by Adriane herself and you can hear the personal touches and sounds that each song has. While Adriane is a singer songwriter, nothing about Ma would indicate this. The songs here feature lush synths, atmospheric songs, and Ariane's lovely voice. This is about as close to being a singer songwriter album as Quebec is to Florida.

Ma is a rich tapestry of sound and creativity and the fact that Adriane did this mostly by herself is a testament to the fact that she's more than just another songwriter. If there's one solo artist album you buy this year, I'd invest some money in Ariane Moffatt's Ma. You can order the album here.

Underworld Issue A Collection and An Anthology

At this point in time if you don't know who Underworld is...you seriously are in need of a cultural shot straight to the ears. Pretty much defining the sound of stadium techno in the mid to late 90's Underworld were arguably the most recognizable face in dance music. Now twenty years into their illustrious career the band are poised to be the musical curators of the 2012 Olympic Games in London and have just released not one but two greatest hits collections; one an anthology and one a summarized collection. The albums gather all the songs you know and maybe even a couple of mixes or versions you don't and when listened back to back to back you have one mega mega party that could quite literally go on forever.

A Collection is a single disc rundown of the band's biggest hits and contains edited, radio friendly versions of those songs. In addition to the old classics recent collaborations with High Contrast & Tiesto as well as Brian Eno also make an appearance. If ever there was a perfect record this would be it. Underworld, over the course of this record, show time and time again why they are as gargantuan as they are. The group has constantly created songs that are as catchy as they are moving and there probably isn't a person alive who listens to dance music that doesn't know the refrain, "Lager! Lager! Lager!" From "Born Slippy," to "Two Months Off," it's all here in shortened form. While some songs are conspicuously absent on A Collection they do appear on the multi-disc anthology that’s also just been released.

Expectedly perfect and absolutely brilliant, A Collection is a solid introduction to one of the most loved and important groups in all of dance music. While the anthology is the collection I would purchase, A Collection serves as a great rundown for people who don't really need (or can't handle) nine minute versions of songs. This is radio friendly awesomeness of the highest order. Having listened to this quite a bit I'm left anxiously awaiting the Olympics not because of the sport but because I'm hoping Underworld turn the opening ceremonies into the largest rave ever. That would be "Mega Mega!"

Monday, February 27, 2012

Said The Whale Climbs Little Mountain

Said the Whale is an interesting proposition of a band, I don't think I've really heard anyone so successfully meld quirk with depression so well but that's exactly what this five piece have done. Sounding something like The Decemberists colliding with a broken heart, Said the Whale write indie rock that's slightly twee and oddly technical but still very listenable. Their album, Little Mountain is a folksy homey record that mixes art and love together to create a welcoming atmosphere of pop.

While they occasionally playing more instruments than it sound’s possible Little Mountain never loses its accessibility or pop sensibility. This is quite a nice album that lilts its way across songs and gently massages its hooks into your consciousness. Said the Whale, despite the name, are not overbearing in their approach and instead utilize horns, multipart harmonies, some pretty good drumming, and a sense of innocence to work their magic and win you over. This is art pop supreme and it's all done very subtly and very well.

The songs on Little Mountain sound like stories and their whimsical and nearly twee approach is awesome. This is the sound of innocence and love and it's fantastic. Creating a sweeping setting in which to stage their songs, Said The Whale paint musical pictures with their songs and listening to them is like understanding what the picture means. They're always a bit off center but always very good. I thoroughly enjoyed this record because of it's quirky tendencies and winsome sounds. If you like things slightly homesick and forlorn, then listen to what this Whale says...it's worth it.

The Beautiful View Believes Life Is Beautiful

When you're from San Diego you're surrounded by beautiful views all the time (and I guess views of air craft carriers as well); it's a gorgeous city that could very well be the prettiest in all of California. It's really no surprise then that The Beautiful View is named after what surrounds them everywhere they look. Anyway, musically, this band specialize in jerky, angular, New Yorkish sounding indie that comes off like a west coast version of say someone like Interpol crossed with Foo Fighters. Their album, Life Is Beautiful, is a dramatic, powerful and shifty affair that takes some of the California sunshine and darkens it a bit.

Life Is Beautiful is noisy, brash, and obtuse recording that still manages to hang on to a sense of melody. The melodies on this record have to fight to be heard over the constant din and the sheer amount of music played but they eventually do win out and a song like, "Bells," is born. Complete with chunky riffs and a soaring chorus that's seemingly phase shifted at times, "Bells," sounds like the best thing Dave Grohl never wrote. Life Is Beautiful isn't immediately catchy, it's odd time signatures, jumpiness, and moodiness take away from it's being easy to latch on to, but if you sit with the album for a listen or two you'll start to discover it's subtle harmonies and grooves.

The Beautiful View are art-rockers that have crammed so much sound into Life Is Beautiful it's almost impossible to hear it all. They're very good musicians and whether it's angular post punk influences or stadium soaring power pop the Beautiful View seem to have it covered and almost have it too covered. Life Is Beautiful is a good record that takes some investment from the listener to enjoy but once that investment is made, the record will continually make an impact as a well played artful work packed to gills with musicality.

The Shrouded Strangers Are Lost Forever

The Shrouded Strangers are a rather bizarre little group of psychedelic loving folk, who may or may not be hillbillies. Recorded in the woods of Guerneville, California Lost Forever is a lo-fi drunken stupor of backwoods tales through undeveloped land. It's a crazy un-produced record that I'm not quite sure I like.

This is a fuzzed out, tripped out; hallucinogenic record that feels like it was pieced together utilizing duct tape, broken instruments, magic mushrooms, and loads of booze. It doesn't make much sense, it sounds like it could fall apart at any minute and listening to it might or might not generate some sort of contact high. With Lost Forever being so weird and so out there the songs seem to be, um, lost forever. There are melodies in these songs but you'll need a search dog to find them because they're out there in the woods somewhere.

Lost Forever is a bizarre ride through the boondocks of music fueled by something that probably isn't legal. It's a psychedelic hillbilly hoedown that hides it's musicality in its weirdness and lack of production. This was just a hard record to get into because it seemed so lost (sorry...I had to) in the haze that any potential for something to latch onto was missing. The Shrouded Strangers might actually be lost forever and it begs the question if a band records and album in the woods and no one hears it...are they still a band?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Shearwater Finds Joy In Animals

Several years ago, Shearwater was getting so much press it was ridiculous. They were like Bon Iver before Bon Iver ever existed. They were the indie band du jour for a while and to be honest I just didn't get it. I didn't enjoy their music at all and quite honestly thought they were way, way overhyped. But as Dylan once sang, "The times they are a changin'," and gosh darn it, so are Shearwater. While they seem to have survived the hype lapped on top of them and walked away from it, the band have receded to making music that is genuinely good and un-hyped and their latest record Animal Joy is worthy of a good solid listen.

With one of the most unique voices in all of indie rock, Jonathan Meiburg inflects every word he sings with a sense of drama and oddness that allows Animal Joy's songs to stand out. Sounding like a combination between ancient Irish folk songs and sweeping indie rock the songs Meiburg and his band create are lively, melodramatic, and unusual. While this album undoubtedly has a folk undercurrent to it, the band almost has more in common with say someone like Tindersticks, than someone more hushed, and manages to manipulate that influence in a strangely alluring way. Shearwater is the anti-folk folk band.

Animal Joy is a powerful, broody, darkly tinged album whose drama and unique sound catapults it ahead of the pack. The songs here sound old and rustic and Shearwater does a fantastic job of constantly conveying that dingy patina throughout. While many of these songs do indeed rock, there's a certain level of intimacy and agedness that makes them feel as though they were recorded specifically for you. Perhaps it's Meiburg's voice or the songs arrangements, I have no, idea but their closeness makes them exceptionally powerful and gripping.

From the churning, "Insolence," to the muted drama of, "You As You Were," Animal Joy is a surprisingly enjoyable record. I really didn't think I'd like this record at all, but I'm glad I spent some time with it as I've found it to be a turbulent but enjoyable ride. Rustic by nature, tense and dramatic by sound Animal Joy is an intriguing album that's truly deserves some kind of hype.

Memoryhouse's Slideshow Effect

Memoryhouse is the closest thing to being like an actual dream that I've heard in quite some time. Plenty of bands I review here are dreamy and play dreamlike music, but few, if any, sound like they ARE a dream. Memoryhouse's gauzy, lazy, partially ethereal tunes are like the state you lay in between consciousness and being out cold. It's a trippy state to be in and Memoryhouse have found a way to reside there permanently. Their latest album, The Slideshow Effect is the sound of pulling the covers over your head, fluffing your pillow, and heading back to the land of the sandman.

Absolutely beautiful, The Slideshow Effect is something like a post-shoegazing come down that never ends. The songs that make up The Slideshow Effect are cheery, unobtrusive, and genuinely pretty. It's all very fragile stuff that even at its poppiest is still wispy and delicate and sounds as though if the band isn't careful their songs might just shatter into a million pieces. This is an Ambien fueled nap and its shimmery haze sounds like the colors and sights that your mind creates as you drift off to sleep. Picture the Pale Saints with less of a noisy migraine and you kind of have where Memoryhouse are coming from.

Guitars jangle gently, vocals whisper there away across lyrics, drums sound as if their brushed or tapped, and nearly invisible basslines carry the songs along the waves of sleepiness. The whole effect is so peaceful, calming, and inconspicuous that if you're not careful most of The Slideshow Effect will slide on by. Memoryhouse are so mousey, so fragile, and so good that they're the sort of band you want to give a hug to; they're warm, inviting, and a joy to listen to.

The Slideshow Effect is a brilliant album of subdued pop music that's like a series of lullabies strung together. This is the sort of album that will lull you off to another world and leave you there forever. The Slideshow Effect is quite literally dream pop and that's why I think it's so fantastic. This is the soundtrack to the afterlife and Memoryhouse have created an album of total escapism and that's never a bad thing...especially nowadays.

The Toure-Raichel Collective's Fruitful Tel Aviv Session

The Toure-Raichel Collective is a collaboration between Vieux Farka Toure of Mali and Idan Raichel from Israel. The collaboration came together as a result of a chance meeting in a German airport and the friendship that developed across borders as a result. Those friendships eventually lead to deciding to play together live. After performing together in Tel Aviv in November 2010 they reconvened in Tel Aviv and had a bit of a jam session. That session became this recording, The Tel Aviv Session.

Sounding spontaneous, beautiful and so worldly you'd be hard pressed to guess where these guys were from The Tel Aviv Session is an absolutely amazing record of cross border world music. Fusing influences, regional sounds, and acoustic instrumentation The Toure-Raichel Collective create a record that's personal and traditional, while remaining completely modern. The combination of Malian and Israeli instrumentation and arrangements give this album a universal appeal that's just awe inspiring. The Toure-Raichel Collective are amazing musicians.

The fact that The Tel Aviv Session was recorded in such an improvised manner is a testament to all the artists involved and the level of talent they possess. The unique nature of the recording and the intimate, traditional and sometimes jazzy songs create a peaceful and serene atmosphere that's both subtle and transcendental. The Toure-Raichel Collective may have members from worlds apart but together they unite in music and create a gorgeous world within The Tel Aviv Session. Proving that music crosses borders, cultures, and traditions while respective all of the above, The Tel Aviv Session is stunning and sublime collaborations I've heard in a while.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Cardinal Returns With Hymns

Talk about long waits for second albums. It's been so long since Cardinal released their legendary debut album it was a century ago. So long ago, in fact, there are kids that will hear this album that weren't even born when their debut was released. Just how long was it? It was eighteen years ago, they released their legendary self titled opus and it seems like an eternity. If you were around in 1994, this album had such a huge buzz about that it was inescapable and its impact is still being felt today. An instant indie pop classic it laid the blueprint for bands that came to epitomize the chamber pop movement and make it their own (just ask Belle and Sebastian).

Now, in 2012, Richard Davies and Eric Matthews have reunited and released Hyms, a record that raises the bar once again and puts chamber pop back on center stage. With songs that are warm, fragile, and feature more multipart harmonies you could ever imagine Hymns is a melodic treasure. This is an album that gently rocks its way across the ten songs that make it up and proves that Davies and Matthews still have the ability to write amazing songs no matter how much time passes. It may have been eighteen years since their debut but it feels like yesterday and the songs are still strong, bright, and so good you have to listen to them twice. From strings to horns, to electric guitars to pianos and everything in between Cardinal utilizes anything at its disposal to give its brand of chamber pop emotional and musical impact. The sounds might be soft, but the hooks are huge and the songs are absolutely irresistible. Put it this way, this is what Burt Bacharach would sound like if he was indie.

Hymns is an amazing record. It's beautifully recorded, melodically solid, and tunefully unforgettable. The songs are packed with emotion and heart and have a fond affection of the lush productions and minor psychedelics of the 60's. Hymns is so well done and so endearing that it's hard not to love. If you were to ask me if it was worth the wait to have this album before me, my answer would be, "heck yes." That being said, I really hope it's not another 18 years before their third album is released as I'll be a card carrying member of AARP and close to retirement.

PAPA Is The Lion King

PAPA's latest single I Am The Lion King Reworked & Remixed is four songs or rock and soul taken out on the dance floor and let go. Consisting of four blindingly good tracks, I Am The Lion King Reworked & Remixed takes a bit of Jersey rock, electronics, and catchy chords combines them together and creates a jangly tune that reaches for the heavens with an open heart and just about gets there. The song itself is a romantic ode to longing after someone you love and how you'll just about do anything to making the longing become a reality. It's the sort of song that just about everyone can relate to.

Musically, PAPA kill it w/their version but the song is made unearthly and absolutely epic by St. Lucia who wash the tune in lush synths, 80's funk, and subtle beats making the song so heartbreakingly brilliant you'll be reaching to call your significant other by it's conclusion. Other remixes come from A Lull who ramp up the drums and lower the lush quotient turning it into a minimal nearly ambient work. Closing the single out is New Villager's remix which chills the song out a tad, removes most of the vocals and just lets the music flow; it's sunshiny stuff that has Balearic written all over it. All in all this is a ridiculously good single and what's truly amazing about it is you can get it for free off of their Facebook page. Hop to it people!

Jonquil Reach The Point Of Go

If you were to look up breezy indie pop in the Oxford Dictionary of Contemporary Music you would see a picture of Jonquil next to the definition. These Swedish sounding Brits play a light and airy brand of British pop that hasn't been heard in well over a decade. Their latest album, Point of Go is as light as oxygen and just about as essential. Retro-futurism doesn't get much jollier than this and for such a bleak time of the year, this is a constant ray of sunshine.

Point of Go is a wispy, jangly, bright pop record that seemingly doesn't have a negative bone (or riff) in its body. Joquil bring to mind mid-80's British pop like the Lilac Time, Icicle Works, Railway Children, Orange Juice and if you try hard enough the Smiths. The songs are soulful, fey, and bordering on being twee. While this all might sound as if Point of Go is so light it might float away its pop sensibility and strong songs keep it grounded.

Frivolous, lofty, and just about perfect Jonquil have released a stupendous indie pop album with Point of Go. It's lighthearted nature and delicate sounding songs are a joy to listen to. This is the sound of spring sunshine, warm days and picnic's in the park. Point of Go is a gorgeous record whose songs never get tiring and continually brighten things up. And if you can have a song called, "History of Headaches," and make it sound happy you're clearly doing something right. Jonquil maintains the long, long tradition of excellent bands coming from Oxford and Point of Go is easily of the 25 best records you'll hear all year. Well done lads.

Morning Parade Are The Hated & The Loved

Morning Parade's latest EP, The Hated & The Loved is a swirly, churning, and moody record that's got enough in common with Doves, older Elbow, and Friendly Fires where they should all have their guard up. These guys write anthemic and absolutely massive tunes that could fill up stadiums and they’ve pretty much done just that here. Guitars chime in with nuclear power and lift the vocals skyward in such a rapid ascent it's almost impossible to keep up with them.

The Hated & The Loved is massive. Its songs are widescreen and expansive and the sounds spread out across the songs and fill in every available gap with music. Moody and emotional, Morning Parade take gothic gloom and make it smile and shine; they turn that frown upside down. The Hated & The Loved is ridiculously catchy and heart wrenching stuff and I love it. From the soaring, "Us and Ourselves," to the angularity of, "Blue Winter," this is an awesome record that should be reverberating around stadiums throughout the world. Morning Parade is awesome at what they do and it's only a matter of time before the rest of the world finds this out.

The Maxines & Mount Eerie Are Single Again

Fresh off the presses are two brand spanking new singles from the fine folks at the mighty K Records. Straight from the International Pop Underground come The Maxines and Mount Eeerie who have just released two scorchers on vinyl and as a service to you our readers here we go with a little run down of both...

Up first are The Maxines. The Maxines play raw garage rock and roll with loads of chunky riffs, screamed choruses and a ridiculous amount of catchiness. There's nothing complicated, nothing glossy, nothing even professional on Drugstore. This is pure rock and roll being distilled without a filter and it kills. The whole single clocks in at less than eight minutes and gets down with its bad self four times over. Drugstore is awesome stuff whose power pop ploughs through the DIY production and rough edges here. If you like garage rock head on down to the Drugstore and hang out with The Maxines.

On the other end of the spectrum is Mount Eerie who constantly seem like they're lost in a dream. Their self titled 7" on K's Dub Narcotic Soundsystem imprint is a hazy cloudy pop record that's the first thing released from these guys in seven years. As the label name would seem to imply, this is a dubbed out, tripped out record whose sounds reverberate all over the place. If you can imagine lo-fi Andrew Weatherall productions with whispers for vocals you've got this record pegged. If there's such a thing as a post-hangover record I would have to say that Mount Eerie may have just released the ultimate one and this is a welcome return from a long resident of the K stable.

Ruby Fray Heads Home On Pith

Ruby Fray has been one busy lady over the course of the last five or so years. After her freak folk band Turf Surgery collapsed Ruby Fray's Emily Beanblossom packed her bags and moved to Olympia Washington. It was there that Ruby Fray began and spread roots while Emily grew both as a person and an artist. From running an art gallery to working in an apple orchard and inevitably winding up in several band's Emily has had her hands in everything. But then just as things were coming together she was called back to her family farm and moved back home. Ruby Fray, however, didn't cease to exist but rather came into it's own during this time. The songs she demo'd and recorded at home would eventually evolve into her debut album Pith.

Pith is an intimate almost whispered affair. This is the sound of Ruby Fray alone with a couple of instruments and not much else. The songs here are stirring, quiet, and almost scary at some points. Emily Beanblossom has written something on this record that's haunting, rustic and with the exception of Calvin Johnson appearing in a cameo role, is so sparse it's on the verge of non-existence. Utilizing what seems like just guitar, piano, and Emily's warbley but adorable voice, Ruby Fray create songs that feel so close you’ll want to reach out and touch them.

This album sounds about as close to traditional folk as one could ever hope to get. Emily's life, surroundings, and where she's at has had an unequivocal influence on Ruby Fray's songs. Pith is as dusty and dear as life on a farm can be. It’s pastoral and countrified feel is charming and rather pretty. Emily Beanblossom as Ruby Fray has moved far away from her freak folk beginnings into far more subtle territory and that’s a good thing. Her hushed songs and affectionate but folky manner makes Pith appealing to even those of us can't handle singer/songwriter stuff.

Kendl Winter Studies the Mechanics Of Hovering Flight

Holy mother of folk music.  If you thought Ruby Fray was rustic and countrified you should hear Kendl Winter.  This singer songwriter, who has a penchant for birds and flight, has constructed a pastoral and picturesque record that's austere and slightly twee.  Entitled The Mechanics of Hovering Flight the album is an ornithological delight set in the mountains of Washington State. 
Hovering between the realms of bluegrass and proper folk music, The Mechanics of Hovering Flight is a beautiful, woodsy album that's lost in traditional sounds and was probably recorded without any actual electrical input.  Utilizing a loop pedal, acoustic guitars, banjos and a piano Kendl lilts along in her songs creating captivating melodies that are warm and homey.  The Mechanics of Hovering Flight is really at its best when there are banjos being plucked and the pace picks up a bit; the bluegrass tinged songs seem uplifting and nearly spiritual in their aspirations and really grab hold of your heart.
A truly beautiful record; The Mechanics of Hovering Flight is simple in its approach and deep in its roots.  Mixing bluegrass, folk and even country at times Kendl Winter mesmerizes with her rustic style and nearly twee songs.  This is the sound of the simple life and it's heartwarmingly brilliant.

WrongKong Is So Electric

I don't really know a whole heck of a lot about WrongKong except that they make exceptionally stunning synth pop, they're German, and they're very good. Taking elements of New Order, German minimalism, Republica and a love affair for electronics the band are a Continental version of something like New Young Pony Club. Their album So Electric is as exactly as the name says and is charged with a surging energy that's hard to deny.

With funkified guitars, seductive vocals (in English), lush synths and a tad bit of pure pop energy WrongKong cast their spell on So Electric. There's no defense and no escaping the range of this spell as the band find a way to meld all these influences into something that crosses genres, scenes, and sounds. So Electric is polished pop perfection that persists throughout it's duration with massive songs and an enduring sense of what makes a perfect tune. WrongKong might have a bizarre name, but they have the ability to write hits down pat, in fact they practically have it down to a science. So Electric is filled with potential single after single of massive synth pop seduction and it's a bit awe inspiring.

While at times WrongKong are a tad too commercial, their ability to write songs with massive appeal is undeniable. So Electric is so good at laying down incessant grooves and then layering hooks on top of them that this record has the potential to be a worldwide smash. It’s clear to me that having spent some time with this record that WrongKong have tapped into the wellspring of uber-pop and it's only a matter of time before the rest of the world catches on.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Rapture Sail Away

The latest Rapture single, Sail Away is so far away from the days of jealous lovers that it will make you wonder if they are indeed the same band. While the vocal prowess of Luke Jenner remains unchained you can tell that the hands of the DFA have pushed The Rapture along in all the best ways. Sail Away is an absolutely amazing single that's so huge and has such a massive repetitive hook that it will brainwash you.

Made up of four tracks; the original, a kind of useless instrumental version, the Aeroplane Vocal Remix, and Cut Copy's so amazing it will make your feet explode remix the single is thirty minutes of non-stop energy. Totally leaving the guitars in the studio, The Rapture have become enraptured by keyboards and embraced as much electronic equipment as they could get their hands on. While their post punk stuff will always hold a special place in my heart the DFA's influence over this band has made them invincible dance floor warriors. Sail Away is a perfect single that's mind numbingly catchy and so ridiculously danceable I challenge you not to move while it's playing. It can't be done.

Band of Skulls Rock

Band of Skulls know how to rock. This should come as no surprise; after all, if you name your group Band of Skulls there's a certain level assumption that you kick some butt. Their new album Sweet Sour is a power chord overload of epic proportions that's a moody post-grunge masterpiece waiting to explode.

With humungous chunky riffs, massive choruses, and way more power than a power trio should rightfully have, Band of Skulls seriously kicks out the jams. And while they occasionally dip into the ballad bucket, for the most part they sound like a clash between The Kills, a metallic Manic Street Preachers and LA Guns. This is whiskey fueled rock and roll that makes its presence known whether you want it to or not. Taking bass, guitar, and drums and turning it past 11 these guys create murky slightly dark but ridiculously catchy tunes that sound like a bulldozer on a pop rampage. It's fantastic stuff whose huge riffs would make someone like Angus Young green with envy.

Sweet Sour is all about power; power chords, overpowered drums and powerful belted out vocals. When you combine all these elements together there's enough power to keep a small city under bright lights for an eternity. Sweet Sour is electric and it's charged with enough excess energy to blast you back a mile. This is an awesome record and its beautiful blend of pop hooks, gritty riffs, and metallic soul will grab you by the throat and never let go.

Band of Skulls might come from the sleepy British coastal town of Southampton but they have a sound that could conquer armies and with Sweet Sour firmly in tow they might just do it. This is such a fantastic record that if I was rich I'd buy you all a copy just so you could understand.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Porter Draw's California Widow

The Porter Draw is a band that I should hate. “Why's that?” I hear you asking. Well, Porter Draw plays alt-country Americana stuff that by its very existence should drive me up a wall. But rather amazingly, their album California Widow doesn't. As it is a cold day in heck, here I am sat listening to their album and not minding most of it one bit.

California Widow is like the best country rock album never released by anyone ever. Loaded with banjos, twangy guitars, twangy vocals, and enough depressing material to last a life time this is one dusty rough and tumble record. If country and rock can't mix don't tell The Porter Draw because they have apparently not gotten the memo and so brilliantly mix the two that California Widow has uber-crossover appeal. This is what Nashville should sound like.

Porter Draw is one band that knows how to boogie and it gets its cowboy boots scuffed and dirty throughout California Widow. It's that get down, "yeehaw," screaming vibe, and Country Bear Jamboree ho-down kind of fun that makes this record awesome. With more rockin' moments that slow ballady ones, the album rarely loses pace and your interest is given little time to fade.

The twangy rustic feeling of the songs mixed with the bands rock and roll influences truly make California Widow worthy of listening too. This is a heartbreaking pastoral record that's filled with sunsets, broken hearts, tears in your beer and enough depression to require a psychiatrist for help. It's all those things that make The Porter Draw's record so darn entertaining. I may hate the genre, but I love this record and The Porter Draw has proven themselves a fine band.

Sad Little Men Are Anything But

With a name like Sad Little Men you'd half expect this band to be made up of pensioners in walkers playing big band songs. Well if you expected something like that you'd be wrong. Instead Sad Little Men is actually a dynamic duo consisting of Dusty York and Justin Roberts and judging by the music that they play I doubt either of them are pensioners or even older than 40. Their album I'll Be the Octopus is an obtuse post indie record of jagged delights.

With a minimal use of instrumentation and an odd way of using it, Sad Little Men don't necessarily have an obvious pop sensibility about them. I'll Be the Octopus is a bumpy ride that takes the sparse use of drums, guitar and piano and attempts something greater than the sum of their parts. At times Sad Little Men succeed and plough through songs in a turbulent manner while at other times the songs seem to just float on by without much ruckus. I have to admit that more than once I found myself on track nine or ten without even realizing that the album was almost over.

By being a power duo with a different approach and letting Dusty York's warbling vocals take center stage the band, when they choose to, come up with some truly unique takes on indie. It's all a bit mathy at times and almost a bit too choppy to hold your attention but by applying some sort of formulae to the methodology the band reel you in. As mentioned before, it works most of the time, but some of the songs just need one or two extra elements to keep them interesting and grab your attention; it’s perfect spot for a third player. For the most part though, I'll Be the Octopus is a decent record that bashes its way through the track list. A different take on post-grunge, and far from sad, Sad Little Men's I'll Be the Octopus is an example of how minimalism can sound larger than life and succeed.

Manooghi Hi's Silence Is Mind Expanding

Among the more interesting band names I've come across, Manooghi Hi, has got to be one. A strange name only seems appropriate for a fittingly intriguing band and that’s exactly what Manooghi Hi are. Composed of six members this group fuse Asian influences, metal, chill out, and atmospheric sounds to create something that sounds like Trans-Siberian Orchestra would if it was from India. This is global music on a rock and roll tip and Manooghi Hi’s album Silence is a fascinating exploration of such a culture clash.

With vocalists Mehnaz Hoosein and Ava Chakravarti leading the way, Manooghi Hi create a swirling dizzying musical experience that’s old vs new. Mixing Indian lyrics and vocals with English ones they create a multi-lingual and open minded environment where old traditions and new ones are melded into one. It's pretty cool stuff that when you add one heck of band on top of that multi-lingualism you’re faced with a record that alternates between sounds so easily and so non-descriptly it’s hard to keep up with. There are tablas, distortion pedals, pianos, and everything in between all playing together in unity and harmony. It's an impressive effort and Silence as a result is anything but silent. While I enjoy the traditional sounds a bit more, their rock and roll side is just as impressive and their take on Led Zep's classic, "Kashmir," would make Robert Plant blush.

Silence is a diverse record that proves time and time again that the old world can mingle with the new world in harmony. This is a sweeping massive record whose instrumentation and vocal prowess is simply fantastic. Manooghi Hi are an open minded global thinking group and their songs coexist within eastern and western worlds and that's something you can't Silence.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Jealous Sound Issue A Gentle Reminder

If there's one band I'd never thought I'd hear a second album from it was the Jealous Sound. After seeing them over a decade ago and being completely impressed by these guys and then buying their debut album they disappeared, vanished, fell off the radar. And for the last ten years or so that's where they've been...off the radar. But as I've learned, expect the unexpected. So, to say that the Jealous Sound's return was a surprise would be an understatement.

Now, after being on the cusp of breaking it big time, reconnecting with former band members and enough of a back-story over the last nine years to write a book about it all the might Jealous Sound have released their sophomore album A Gentle Reminder. In a word it's awesome. This is such a welcome return that it's like reconnecting with your best friend after decades and nothing has changed. In a sense that's what this album is all about, reconnecting the past with the present and moving forward.

A Gentle Reminder is an emotional and beautiful record that's crisp, clean, and reminiscent of old Death Cab. The songs utilize the quiet / loud dynamic as if it were more important than air. Guitars chime and zoom in and out of walls of distortion as the drums roll along and Blair Shehan's vocals carry the whole thing along. It rises and falls on every inflection of this combination and the album progresses as if being caught in a constant ebb and flow. This isn't an immediate album as the songs are a bit more subtle than you'd expect but they do make an impact.

A Gentle Reminder is a fantastic return to form. The Jealous Sound has released a great album packed with subtlety and a renewed sense of purpose. This is an album that may be nine years late, but it's been worth the wait and they’ve more than made up for their absence. The Jealous Sound have reaffirmed their next big thing status with A Gentle Reminder; let’s just hope they stay around long enough to claim it.

Avan Lava's Flex Fantasy

Avan Lava knows how to get down. This three piece band have worked as producers, composers, mixers, stage performers and clearly know their way around the dance floor and they're only to proud to show that off. Their latest EP Flex Fantasy is an excursion into 80's electro funk that at times is reminiscent of Prince and at others sounds like Daft Punk thirty years ahead of schedule. It's awesome stuff.

Complete with falsetto vocals, thumping bass lines, funky as all heck guitar riffs, hooks larger than Texas, and the ability to make everyone move at the same time Flex Fantasy is a groove laden slice of perfection. It's retro-future funk that's from the best Classic Jamz station on the radio from 1985. Avan Lava has got the funk and it's overflowing here in that keytar and parachute pants 80's kind of way. Completely over the top, ridiculously catchy, and so dancey that you'll be breakdancing to this whether you want to or not, Flex Fantasy reminds me of every junior high dance I went to.

Flex Fantasy is a six song groovy treat that only begins to hint how good Avan Lava is. Here's hoping there's a full length somewhere in the near future...as my feet are having a hard time coping with only six songs.

Perfume Genius Put Your Back N 2 It

Mike Hadreas is the Perfume Genius. As Perfume Genius he writes lilting, fragile folk songs that sound so incredibly depressing they can't be healthy. His latest album, Put Your Back N 2 It is not at all what it would imply. Far from sexy or racy, or even innuendo Put Your Back N 2 It is an album of crippling quietness and fragility.

Put Your Back N 2 It is an atmospheric album that just sounds sad and really lonely. Incredibly intimate, lethargic, and hushed Perfume Genius seems almost as if he's struggling to let the songs flow out of him. Much of this record seems like an internal struggle between the personal and the public and despite the lush instrumentation and hushed tones it just feels so incredibly downtrodden it's hard to listen to.

Perfume Genius may have written a thing of beauty but my tolerance for music this unobtrusive isn't that high. I can't say that I really enjoyed this album. I can appreciate the ambient nature of it and the lushness behind it, but it just strings itself along at such a slow pace it’s hard to follow. This is folk music that feels down, broken, and reserved and it needs to Put Your Back N 2 It to give it some energy.

Of Montreal's Paralytic Stalks

Whatever happened to the little indie pop band Of Montreal? Way back around 2001 they were so good, so twee, and so poppy and so in love with the Kinks it hurt. Then something happened. I don't know what and I don't know why but that jangly quirky indie pop band that I'd come to enjoy was gone. Now Of Montreal is a strange psychedelic acidic rock band that's gotten lost in the outer reaches of our galaxy and don’t seem too interested in returning.

Their new album Paralytic Stalks is so out there I think it's gotten lost. This is a trippy, theatrical album that at times sounds like Queen if they never returned from a night at the opera or Styx if they never left Paradise Theater. They are truly a unique band and while they've not lost their pop sensibility, they've surrounded it by so much, "concept," that it’s sometimes hard to find. None the less Paralytic Stalks isn't too shabby...it’s just different.

Kevin Barnes has one of the most vivid imaginations in indie and his songs have always reflected this. They're intense, colorful and complex creatures. Nowadays his imagination has gone off the chain and no idea is left unused or ignored. As a result, Paralytic Stalks is a psychedelic dream that seems to have come to life. The album weaves in and out of moments of clarity and at times sounds as if Kevin and the band have gone off the deep end repeatedly. It works for them because, quite honestly, if Of Montreal wasn't partially insane they wouldn't be any good.

Intricate, weird, and different Of Montreal's Paralytic Stalks is a cool record that's not immediate as some of their past efforts. The bands ability to meld classic 70's sounds with psychedelic pop and abstract concepts is admirable but almost too weird for its own good. Paralytic Stalks might not be the easiest thing to get into but if you spend some time with this record eventually it will reward you with on heck of a psychedelic experience. That being said...I'd still love to see Kevin and his band come back to earth and return to their indie pop roots.

Silicon Ballet Live In Utopia

Silicon Ballet are not a bunch of software engineers who dance in tutu's. No, this band is a sophisticated chamber pop group whose new release, Utopia is a beautiful work of ethereal art. With willowy songs, subtle hooks, and a feeling of warmth Utopia's six songs work their magic quickly and quietly without you knowing it.

Using a variety of instrumentation including but not limited to strings, bells, guitars, percussion of all kinds, whispered vocals and arty arrangements Silicon Ballet make songs that are quirky and slightly dark. Subtlety seems to play a huge part of what happens on the Utopia mini-album. Nothing jumps out and makes itself obvious, rather the sounds and songs creep around in the background gently making their ghostlike presence felt. The record is strangely haunting stuff that's lush, gorgeous, and just weird enough to pique your interest.

Utopia doesn't sound like it was recorded there. Instead, it's a chamber pop record with a dark secret that it doesn't want to tell. Silicon Ballet has created a mysterious and beautiful record whose mysteries may or may not be unveiled after repeat listens. If ever a band was an enigma...Silicon Ballet would be that band.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Life And Times Challenges You

The Life and Times of today are indeed interesting whether you’re a musician or just a person. If you’re Allen Epley the life and times of a musician are so interesting that they're worth singing about. The former front man of Shiner has recently pulled together his resources, written a bunch of songs and put together a new band that just so happens to go by the name...The Life and Times.

Taking post rock infusing it with some geometric formulas and then adding a sedative of post grunge, The Life and Times create music that's a hazy comedown from outer space. Their album No One Loves You Like I Do is a complicated formula of riffs, distortion, angularity, and songs that are gauzy and obtuse. At times sounding like Alice In Chains if they were more technically proficient and at times sounding as if they were from another galaxy, The Life and Times create a strange, but entertaining amalgamation of complicated atmospheric sounds.

Power chords collide with one other, drums roll and fill, and the vocals sound as if they've been sedated and when No One Loves You Like I Do is done you're left breathless and confused. This is a technically challenging album and fairly removed from being pop. However, deep within it's mathematical equations lies a smidgen of pop sensibility that allows for several songs on No One Loves You Like I Do to be more than just endless jam sessions. It’s these moments of memorability scattered amongst the sea of riffs, distortion, and haze and that keep your mind focused on what’s going on around it.

The Life and Times are extremely good at what they do. Epley and his band lackadaisically create cascades of pillowy noise and songs that might give waves of ecstasy and some a headache. No One Loves You Like I Do is filled with these moments and if you like feedback, bad dreams, cold sweats and know Pi to 12 places then you will love this record. This is calculator rock and it's a formula for awesome.

Howler Tell America Give Up

Minneapolis has always been a hot bed of rock and roll. From The Replacements to Prince and everything in between this Twin City knows how to rock. It should really come as no surprise then that the most rocking band of 2012 come to us from that rather freezing city. Howler is their name and their album America Give Up is a raw trashy rock and roll record that sounds like it was recorded in a basement somewhere in deep with suburban Minneapolis.

America Give Up is a rough and tumble ride through the rock and roll darklands. Reminiscent of The Raveonettes, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and The Drums Howler have the distorted surf thing down pat and run it through enough drunken escapades to make you stagger. This is no frills stuff that sounds like it was recorded on a boom box late one Friday night after consuming several bottles of something. It's rough around the edges, punky, sloppy, filled with ego and quite honestly very good.

America Give Up is an album covered in tarnish and lacks any hint of polish. It's gritty, grimy, skeevy and doesn't really care what anyone thinks. Its melodies are fractured, its songs are duct taped together, the production is anti-production and the overall feeling is that Howler might just self-destruct before the end of the record. They are awesome. Whether it's broken hearted washed out love songs or spiky amphetamine fueled punk songs Howler have a way about things and they get it done on America Give Up and that's why it's utterly fantastic. This is the sound of rock and roll when the chips are down and it doesn't get much better than this.

Superman Lovers Groove Between The Ages

After a time away Guillaume Atlan has returned as his alter ego, Superman Lovers, and has apparently brought the party with him. Born in the 70's, in love with the 80's, and making music today, The Superman Lovers cross the space time continuum with synths and sequencers in hand and seek to get the party rockin’. This is one group who love a good dance party and that’s apparent on just about everything they produce. Their new album, Between The Ages is no different as it is a non-stop, never ending Friday night on the dance floor.

Between The Ages is a funky disco house record that explodes out of the gate and never stops getting down. The grooves and funk oozes out of every pore of every song here and it's so infectious that one listen and you are hooked. Sounding like Daft Punk, Calvin Harris, Green Velvet, and the Scissor Sisters all at the same time this is one record that's covered in day-glo sparkly grooves and it kicks like a mule. Awesome to the point of it not being able to be any more awesome, Between The Ages is a fantastic dance record that's so retro-futurist it's as if it were beamed down from the mothership.

Atlan as The Superman Lovers clearly knows how to bring the funk and he dishes it out by the ladle full throughout Between The Ages. This is one record that knows how to move and isn't afraid to show it. This is the funk and its excellent stuff. If you like your house funkified, discofied, electrofied, bright, and glittery Between The Ages is your album of the year.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Novalima Make Classic Sounds Modern

Peruvian natives, Novalima have just released their third full length album entitled Karimba. Karimba is a journey through history and the travels of Afro-Diaspora of sound and struggle. As usual the band takes classic Latin influences and mixes them with modern sounds to create an enjoyable mix that's instantly classic.

Taking Afro-Peruvian influences and fusing them together with electronic, dub, and modern Afro-beat Karimba turns songs into timeless works of art that span the decades. It's gorgeous stuff that is rhythmically brilliant and will work on just about any dance floor out there. With its electronic undercurrents Karimba is perfect for the club while its classic sounds and percussion is perfect for hot sweaty nights on a packed dance floor. These two dynamics are awesome together or on their own and Novalima uses both of them perfectly to create seductive global grooves.

This is an energetic record that features traditional Peruvian instrumentation such as the Cajon as well as horns, accordions, multiple vocalists, and more percussion than you can shake a stick at. It’s all here and sounds so well together that it will leave your ears in ecstasy. These guys are ridiculously tight and the kinetic nature between members penetrates the songs. You can not only hear but feel how the songs here are vivacious, sexy, and very, very good.

Novalima have taken classic sounds modernized them and made them more relevant than ever. They've given their native sounds cross-over appeal and a global vibe. Karimba is an awesome album that features top notch musicianship, songs, and grooves. It’s so good, in fact, that this is your summer soundtrack four months ahead of schedule.

Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves Of Destiny

Some artists are run of the mill, some are mainstream, some are weird and some are so unique you're left wondering what they're thinking. Beth Jeans Houghton is one of those artists. She's a most unique singer songwriter who along w/The Hooves of Destiny create art and music that's closer to something like a musical or a cabaret show then anything like pop music. Their album, Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose is a unique experience that will challenge and thrill listeners.

With a set of pipes that rivals Maria Callas and Janis Joplin's and songs that are angular, weird, and theatrical Beth Jeans Houghton creates a strange, fanciful, and bizarre environment with Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose. This is not a pop album but more like a performance art piece with movements, acts, and scenes all playing with the parameters of a four minute song. While all the standard musical instruments make an appearance the arrangements and sounds the band come up with is captivating. Its mixture of indie, theatre, and art and when combined is entertaining to say the least. In fact, it's easy to say that Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose is truly a unique and fascinating recording to just sit and listen to.

Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves Of Destiny live in their own world where trends and currents in music are not followed. They inhabit a world in which their vision is the only vision they see and a world in which Beth Jeans Houghton is allowed to roam free and do what she wants. She does just that on Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose and it benefits greatly from this because no one is making music as challenging, dynamic, and individual as this. A visionary and talent with an unequalled voice Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves Of Destiny have released one of the most engrossing records of 2012.

Dominant Legs Offer An Invitation

Dominant Legs started out as a duo between Hannah Hunt and Girls guitarist Ryan Lynch. They recorded on EP as a two piece but have recently expanded to a full band in an effort to accommodate the breadth of their debut album Invitation. Sounding like a world, folk, indie pop band fused together Dominant Legs mix a variety of dynamics rather effortlessly to come up with stuff that’s breezy, jangly, and pretty darn good.

At times reminding me of the Style Council or even Talking Heads, Dominant Legs seem to encapsulate several of the more obscure ends of 80's pop without even trying. Their airy, wispy songs float by on rays of sunshiny guitars, boy/girl vocals and the occasional worldly vibe. Invitation, as a result, is a thoroughly enjoyable album that's got so much spring in its step it's practically running.

Exuberant on the outside and quirky about love on the inside, Dominant Legs go their own way throughout Invitation and it’s a path you’ll want to follow. They've created a great album filled with whimsical, catchy, day glo pop that's as in lust with the 80's as it is in love with today. Ryan Lynch and Hannah Hunt's songwriting prowess is growing more confident and you can hear this as Invitation progresses. Their songs are catchy, dynamic, and embrace a variety of influences all while dressed in pastels.

I've taken Dominant Legs' Invitation and I'm glad I did. They throw one heck of a party and have one heck of an album here. If you were smart you’d RSVP to their Invitation and come along. You won't regret it.

Rough Trade Shops Electronic 11 Is Essential

Rough Trade Shops Electronic 11 is not packed with absolutely massive tunes! It's not a clubbers guide to anywhere but someone’s bedroom. It is not a chart intensive album. Oh no, what this is though, is a record packed to the edges with imaginative electronic works more than likely produced in a bedroom on a very low budget. We're talking a compilation of chiptunes, broken house, witch house, IDM, and the like. It might not pack out the Ministry's dance floor on a Saturday night but among those with more discerning tastes this might just be the album of the year.

Composed of twenty two songs, this is a gargantuan album that glitches, bleeps, blurbs, and gurgles across a fractured dance floor or at least someone’s basement. This is the underground and it contains no big breakdown, no huge hook, and at times no melody whatsoever. With the odd moment out for an actual proper dance tune, most of Rough Trade Shops Electronic 11, in fact, would terrify most mainstream clubbers. This compilation isn't easy stuff to latch on to and with so many songs sounding like a pack of Dalek's on patrol the word "catchy," should be using sparingly. That being said, believe it or not, Rough Trade Shops Electronic 11 is fantastic. There's so much variety here, so much imagination, and so many broken grooves that it boggles the mind.

This is a massive record in the sense that there's just too much music to handle. From atmospheric compositions to chill wave and everything in between Rough Trade does what it does best, finds the best and cuts out the clutter. From Hercules & Love Affair's straight up floor burner, "My House," to the noisy machine talk of Alva Noto's, "Uni Deform," this intense but brilliant listening. Rough Trade Shops Electronic 11 may not have a glitzy TV campaign behind it, or scantily clad women gyrating on the bass bins but this is one record that wraps up the more fascinating aspects of 2011's electronic scene in fine fashion. As per usual if it's on Rough Trade it's essential.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Barry Adamson Will Set You Free

Barry Adamson is a bit of a musical legend. As a member of both Magazine and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Adamson has been part of some of the most instrumental cutting edge music of our time. From post punk to theatrical murder ballads Barry Adamson has truly seen and done it all. He's had a long and fruitful career and to this day continues to make seminal music. His tenth album, I Will Set You Free is a funky, theatrical, loungey work that's imaginative and sounds like a Tom Jones record if he were living on the dark side.

With a jazzy feel, smoky sounds, and a element of darkness pulsating through it I Will Set You Free puts to use the knowledge of 34 years of musical experience. The results are stunning dramatic pieces that shows Barry's dark and seedy side as well as his atmospheric pop side. The ghosts of rock and roll bands long since past still haunt Adamson's soul and these songs are permeated by their spirits in the orchestrated, angular and expressive nature in which they exist. A song such as lead single, "Turnaround," illustrates this perfectly; it's loungey, sly, and teeters on being a noirish pop masterpiece.

I Will Set You Free is an awesome album that's so filled with thematic ideas, cinematic overtones, and just enough jazzy funk to keep your feet moving. From a blazing horn section to the deep soulful vocals that cover this record like syrup and everything in between, Barry Adamson has it covered and covered well. Atmospheric and melodramatic, I Will Set You Free is one heck of a record that proves this old dog still can learn a few new tricks.

The Doozies Release One

Straight out of the garage and into the gutter come The Doozies. These garage punkers consisting of just two members, the Van Dusen Brothers, record, produce and play everything themselves. Their recently released album is a severely raw, under-produced lo-fi affair that sounds as if it were recorded on half a four-track with a blown channel and the inability to regulate volume. These foibles and apparent lack of quality makes this debut album absolutely amazing.

With choppy riffs, distorted production, screams, bashed drums, and surprising melodies in odd places The Doozies pack a wallop of garage rock into 38 minutes. The Van Dusen brothers tap into their inner primal rock star and crank out churling riffs that chug along only occasionally taking time to catch their breath. With most songs lasting under two minutes this is a live fast die fast kind of record with the brothers sloppy but great, guitar work blazing the trail to the finish line.

The Doozies sounds like it's going to fall apart at any minute. The production sounds as if the whole thing may or may not have been recorded on an old BASF cassette from 1989 and rolls and rolls of duct tape were used to hold it all together. Despite that sounding horrible, that's half of its charm; it’s a mess of a recording but so incredibly honest how could you not like it? The Doozies are rock and roll in its purest unrefined state and they are awesome. They're rawer than sushi and have better songs. Imagine the Sonics in a bluesy fist fight with The White Stripes on a five dollar budget and you kind of have an idea of where The Doozies are coming from.

Honest to goodness rock and roll doesn't get much better than this. The Doozies pack a punch of unrefined riffs and coarse melodies throughout their debut and it's those characteristics that help the band stand out. This is brotherly love as recorded on a Radio Shack tape deck with a cracked cassette and it's awesome.

Hunters' Hands Are On Fire

I don't know a lot about the Hunters.  What I do know is that this is one group that clearly knows how to rock.  Their EP Hands On Fire is a raw punky three chord floor burner that's aggressive and refuses to take any bull.  Hovering somewhere around the punk rock/post-grunge genres Hunters stalk their prey over the course of their five song EP eventually unleashing it all upon their victim.  Their death is quick and painless.
Hands On Fire sounds like it was done on four track and has very little in the way of production value but it still manages to kick like twenty pack mules.  This is powerful stuff that's lead by a female vocalist (whose name I don’t know) who would make Chrissy Hynde or Karen O. blush.   Throw in fuzzed out guitars, bashed drums and an impending sense of doom and you have Hunters wrapped up in a nutshell.  Entertaining stuff to say the least Hands On Fire is indeed hot as hell and shows no mercy throughout it's duration.  Hands On Fire is great stuff that hopefully leads this band from garage to studio and from studio to one heck of record.   

Norse Horse Gallop Across Grids

Norse Horse's latest EP Grids is a psychedelic sun drenched pop record that's about as far from being Norse as Norway is from California. Sprightly, jangly, and melodically brilliant Grids is an indie pop treat of tiny proportions. Clocking in at just four songs this is a small grid, so to speak, in which Norse Horse has to work...but after a listen or two you come to realize something is most definitely better than nothing.

This is a vibrant record that whose riffs glistens like sunshine and charm with 80's jangle as the songs wash over you like a warm summer wave. At times sounding like The Wake at others The Strokes, Norse Horse create a dizzying array of styles within each song that keeps things entertaining. And entertain it does as Grids is a great single that shines the whole way through and leaves you breathless wanting more. Springs arrived early and it's Norse in origin.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Classic Education Release A Classic

The first thing you come to realize about A Classic Education is that they're NOT British. No, A Classic Education is actually Italian but you'd never, ever know that based on their songs. While one member is actually Canadian, the band hails from Bologna but sounds as if it were lost in NME's C86 cassette all those years ago. Their album Call It Blazing is a fantastic indie pop album that's indeed classic; so classic in fact, that had it been released in 1986 it would have entrenched itself at the top of the Indie charts.

Call It Blazing sounds like the best record that Sarah Records never released. Imagine The Field Mice, The Sugargliders, The Go Betweens and say someone like Biff Bang Pow and you kind of have an idea of the sound that A Classic Education are after. It’s a sound they pretty much capture and make their own throughout this album and that’s a good thing. Jangly guitars, reverbed guitars, echoy ghostlike vocals, airy songs, and wistful lyrics give Call It Blazing a classic indie feel that sounds so British it makes it difficult to remember that these guys are Italian (uh and Canadian).

A Classic Education are amazing at what they do. They've so successfully tapped into that classic mid-80's British pop sound that it will leave you in awe. Call It Blazing is the sound of 1986 and it's songs are so achingly awesome, brilliantly twee and yearning to be British that it's impossible not to like them. This is a great record from a great band and regardless of where they might be from their hearts and songs will always belong to old Blighty.

Water Liars Have A Phantom Limb

St. Louis via Mississippi's Water Liars are a fascinating study in contrasts. This two piece band takes Americana and roughs it up a bit with some old fashioned rock and roll and then records it on a five dollar tape recorder. Their songs are intimate and rough, raw and quiet, dark and light and it's those opposites that makes this record and this band fascinating. The results of this constant tussle for control and sound can be heard on their debut album Phantom Limb.

Originally, unplanned the album was recorded on a whim in three days with exactly one microphone. As you might expect, this record isn't polished or even produced very well; what it is though is just two guys having one heck of time making music. It's that honesty and that purity that makes listening to Phantom Limb tolerable because as you know I can’t stand folk. It of course helps, as well, that there are the odd moments of rock and roll respite which will remind you of old Black Keys or My Morning Jacket records.

Overall though, Water Liars have created a quiet, melancholic, and haunting Americana record that sounds just like it seems; a lo-fi jam between friends. Phantom Limb was a unique moment in time that's been captured on tape for everyone to enjoy. This is a record that illustrates the power of song and if you like dusty heartbroken acoustic tunes this is one record you need to own.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Hit The Lights Are A Hit

Hit The Lights latest album Invicta is a soaring epic emotastic record that's so massive that stadiums would have a difficult time holding the songs contained herein. Say what you will about the genre but once bands tap into the Endless Meloditron 3000 it's almost impossible to look back. With vocals that are so harmonically perfect and songs that will quite literally melt young girls hearts Hit The Lights shine brighter than a 1000 suns.

Invicta is awesome for what it is...a clear example of how melody and harmony shape music and how with just one little hook you can reel in anyone. This album is filled with tons of such examples as the whole album is essentially one giant melody. Invicta is packed with the kinds of songs that will bring tears to the eyes of the broken hearted, depress those than can't handle love gone wrong, and have you wishing for a hug. Elevating all these harmonies and all this emotion are chunky guitar riffs, pounding drums, and driven basslines; it's all very crunchy, distorted stuff that contrasts with the vocals perfectly.

Hit the Lights ability to balance the heavy with the emotional is exceptional and Invicta’s songs reflect this ten times over. This record is packed with strong songs and mature musicianship and shows Hit The Lights developing into a monster of a band. This is a group that clearly knows how to play, write gargantuan songs, and melt the hearts of their female audience when needed. With its huge choruses, those soaring melodies, and incredibly large hooks there's so little wrong with Invicta it's not even worth mentioning. Invicta is easily one of the best emo records you'll hear all year.

Mean Creek Are Not Hemophiliacs

Mean Creek is a Bostonian band who take folk rock and post-grunge, smash those sounds together and come up with a fantastic collision of quiet/loud dynamics and huge songs. Their latest EP Hemophiliac is loaded with chunky riffs, boy/girl vocals, and songs which feel like aural rollercoasters. A bit like Bob Mould at times, Mean Creek write emotionally drenched songs that seem to rise and fall on waves of distorted, crunchy, and hazy guitar work. It's all pretty driving stuff that powers its way through each of the four songs that are here.

With the strong interplay between vocalists and those power chords churning away in the background Hemophiliac is powerful stuff that sounds like the best album I never got to play on college radio in 1993. There's an air of classicism about Mean Creek that I like. They've taken an angle and an approach and are slowly but surely manipulating it to make it their own. This is a band who I've heard over the course of two records master the quiet / loud dynamic and Hemophiliac is their latest playground in which to display their talents. And after listening to this about five times in a row, here's hoping the stumble into a bigger playground soon.

Big Pink's Future This Week

Wow. If ever I wondered if the music I listened to in the 90's would leave a lasting legacy my doubts have been answered singularly by The Big Pink. This band so readily and so happily embrace the British pop scene from the years 1990-1992 you'd almost swear that they were from that time period. If you can imagine Curve with a male vocalist instead of Toni Halliday than you kind of have an idea of where The Big Pink are coming from. Their album Future This is a record so lost in miasma and baggy beats that it only makes sense that legendary mixer Alan Moulder worked on the record and gave it an authentic early 90's sheen to it.

Instantly accessible and incredibly good Future This will hold your attention for the duration of it's 45 minutes. With shimmery guitars, electronic beats, ethereal vocals and songs that seem to whisper by Future This is a sweeping, vaporous album that's simply mesmerizing. With riffs rattling around empty spaces in your head and invisible hooks holding your ears firmly in place once The Big Pink get started they simply will not let go of your attention span. That's fine as far as I'm concerned because this is such an amazing post-shoegazing album that it deserves my constant attention.

Future This is just about perfect. The Big Pink's admiration of the early 90's, the use of Alan Moulder and Paul Epworth, the hazy songs, the reverberating and semi-gothy overtones all propel this album to starry heights. Future This proves time and time again that despite being lambasted in the music press Shoegazing was one of the most important movements in British pop over the last thirty years. The Big Pink have tapped into that and made it their own with Future This. It might only be January, but this is easily going to be one of my Top 25 albums of 2012.

Music From the Motion Picture Chronicle Is Super

Chronicle the movie seems to be like a lost episode of Heroes. Three boys stumble upon something mysterious that gives them superpowers. And like Spiderman they learn that with great power comes great responsibility...but being young and dumb it takes them a while to learn this. The album that corresponds with this movie Music From the Motion Picture Chronicle is also filled with great power...but it's power that has no responsibility just one heck of a punch.

Half the fun of listening to this album is to actually find where in the movie (if at all) the songs are used as it's always interesting to see how the producers were thinking when they chose the artists they chose for certain scenes. I’m not sure where the songs are yet, but the producers must have had their heads in the clouds as Chronicle features a host of artists that like the characters in the film have superpowers. From The Longcut to Deastro to Simian Mobile Disco, Congorock to Class Actress to M83 and a whole bunch in between this is an album that is packed with heavy hitters.

While I'm not sure how good the actual movie is/was I do know that the music from it is fantastic on its own right. It's so good, in fact, that Music From the Motion Picture Chronicle would stand on it's own two legs even if it were not attached to a blockbuster movie. And while these sorts of records usually contain a smattering of tracks that are any good Music From the Motion Picture Chronicle simply doesn't have one duff track. This is truly all killer and no filler. From the bedroom to the disco and back again, this is one album that takes you on a whirlwind trip of the current indie in electro scenes faster than a speeding bullet.

A fantastic compilation of cutting edge music that’s seemingly ahead of the curve Music From the Motion Picture Chronicle is the sort of thing you should buy regardless of what it’s designed to promote. It may not grant you super powers upon listening to it, it will give your ears a work out. For a soundtrack record…that’s pretty amazing.