Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Set Sail With Death Vessel's Island Intervals

If you were to look up haunted in a musical dictionary I suspect you would find a picture of the aptly named band Death Vessel next to the definition. Far from cheerful this spooky band takes chillwave and folk and a bit of necromancy to come up with something that sounds like a seance with a church chorus. Their album Island Intervals is an ancient and odd sounding record that has a frightening beauty about it that will peak your morbid curiosity while it plays tricks with your ears.

Barely raising a tempo that's traceable, Death Vessel sound like they are on a 33 minute long death march with a series of dirges in tow. Are their songs happy? Are their songs sad? It's hard to say because Island Intervals sounds so emotionally overwrought that it's hard to get a grip around it. The album has got this simplistic beauty about it that comes from the nearly broken vocals of Joel but has this depressing deep resonance to it that just feels like a musical black cloud. Death Vessel have come up with something that's endlessly fascinating because it's so weird, depressing, gloomy and yet utterly gorgeous. With found sounds, ghostlike instrumentation, the occasional catchy bit and a whole lot of strangeness Island Intervals is mesmerizing.

I really enjoyed how Death Vessel have taken gentle sounds and made them sound dark, medieval, and out there. Island Intervals is the strangest folk record ever recorded. It's gothy with out being gothy, it's folky with out being folky, it's chilled out with out being chilled out. It's haunting, bizarre and impossibly addictive. Listening to Island Intervals will leave you wondering what the heck Death Vessel are on about and what the heck they're trying to do. Whatever it is, I'm just glad they're doing it and hope they continue to do so.

The Notwist Cut Close To The Glass

The folks in The Notwist have been quietly kicking around for ages, always remaining just below the radar but always crafting consistently good pop. If any band was genetically related to Stereolab and Kraftwerk Notwist would be that band. Adopting a minimal approach that's experimental yet ridiculously accessible Notwist blend Krautrock, electronic, and drone principles with pop sensibilities and obtain extremely listenable results. This is especially true on their latest effort Close To The Glass.

Close To The Glass is a glitchy and gurgling electronic work that drones on but envelopes your brain with hypnotic pounding sounds. It's a bit brutal, a bit melodic, a bit chaotic, and a bit too organized. It's a study in contrasts with a beat. A song like the title track, for example, clangs and bangs at a snails pace but is followed by a blast of pop cheer that goes by the title of, "Kong." Such is the dichotomy and approach The Notwish use. Experimenting is a part of who they are but they never lose the site of a pop hook and how to take those clangs and make them memorable. It's all very post modern minimalism that really should annoy the heck out of you but thanks to the songwriting talent and their ability to bring you right up to that line and then suddenly pull you back Close To The Glass works.

Walking a fine line between enjoyment and annoyance The Notwist are master chemists with an electronic chemistry set. Blending chaos and organization together into something that's melodically accessible while still far out in left field takes talent and clearly this band has it. They may never rise above the radar of popularity but one can assume that The Notwist are fine with that as long as they can experiment and tinker with complete freedom. Close To The Glass is an excellent effort from a band that rarely does anything wrong...pretty amazing for a group of mad sonic scientists if you ask me.

Thumpers Galore

To use an old Bambi-ism, listening to Thumpers may lead to a bit of Twitterpation. This raw worldly dream pop band blends shoegazing, chillwave, and indie pop into a seamless mix of nearly flawless pop that sounds like Sleigh Bells making love to the Cocteau Twins. Their album Galore is a stupendous effort that sparkles in the morning sun like dew on leaves in spring.

Throughout Galore guitars shimmer and phase shift, drums stutter and drive and vocals sigh and yearn. The whole thing is a breezy experiment that takes the best of 90's gazing and welds it with noughties shades of darkness to create a sound world that's an ethereal experience all its own. Galore is charming, catchy, atmospheric, and utterly gorgeous. The way Thumpers manipulate their guitars and vocals to create such guazy, glittery, and glistening music will melt your heart. Sure the hooks are huge and the songs are instantly hummable but the whole thing is like a edgy impressionist painting that uses short strokes of musical color to create a stunning and giant picture.

Thumpers have impressed the heck out of me, Disney reference aside. Galore is a mathematical equation solved with ease. It's a complex work of art that sinks into your subconsciousness and takes over. It's a modern, distinct, and a fantastic listen. It truly is a record that will leave you twitterpated and yearning for more. Well played Thumpers, well played.

Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars' Musical Libation

Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars are truly a miracle success story. Emerging from a decade long adventure that saw them escape the hazards and squalor of refugee camps to wind up on the world's biggest stages, this group of inspired musicians illustrate the triumph of freewill. A decade in and the band continue to amaze and their latest album Libation is probably their best yet.

An honest, fun, yet aware album Libation is a celebration of their adventure and a respect of where it's taken them. Filled with passion, addictively catchy rhythms, African influences and a modern feel that sounds fantastic, Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars seemingly are able to overcome any obstacle placed in their way. While the band obviously has a social consciousness about them, it's not all seriousness throughout Libation. In fact, the band managed to slip in a few endearing pop flavored songs that touch on love, intimacy, and being jaded within a relationship. These lighthearted moments are almost humanely unifying in the sense that they reflect that despite all that they've gone through they still have the same problems that we all have with love, relationships, and our other halves. No matter where you go...failed relationships happen.

The Refugees have created an album that celebrates the 10th anniversary of the making of their first album in fine style. As they say within the liner notes, they've lived a life that once seemed unimaginable and through it all have shared their music and passion with thousands of friends and fans. And while they've become successful they've not forgotten their roots and Libation reflects that with traditional African rhythms, instrumentation and stories of struggle. It's a fine celebration indeed and it's an overwhelming display of pride on behalf of the band of where they come from and where they're headed.

Dum Dum Girls Know It's Too True

Okay, somewhere along the line I lost track of the Dum Dum Girls and everything changed. What the heck happened? Gone are the days of raw, simplistic garage rock. Where it rode off too is beyond me. However, it seems as though, with their new album Too True the DDG's have left the garage in a sleep sexy Ferrari purring on all cylinders.

With the indie pop goodness pushed out of the way, the Dum Dum Girls have arrived at their new musical destination with a seductive, polished and refined angularity in tow. Too True sees the DDG's maturing into something amazing that takes everything learned with previous efforts fine tuning them and honing them into something awe inspiring. The album is phenomenal the whole way through and channels the band's garage rock past into this sleek post punk future with pop hooks, dreaminess, and a level of sexiness that's never been so upfront. This record almost feels as if the Dum Dum Girls have emerged out of musical puberty as a supermodel.

Too True is dreampop lost in a haze and front woman Dee Dee's voice sparkles on every note and on every track. It's a spectacular turn of events here that has left me stunned. This is a jaded, lovelorn album that sees the Dum Dum Girls emerging from their youth into the peak of their seductive powers. Fantastic in every way imaginable, the DDG's have created what could potentially be our album of the year.

Mogwai Compile Rave Tapes

Mogwai are a band I want to hate. Simply put I can't stand the personalities of the people who make up this band; their pretentious dispositions and hatred of fellow musicians are annoying. And yet despite all that it never gets in the way of just how awesome a band Mogwai are. Ego's aside, these guys can play the heck out of a song and their latest album Rave Tapes is proof enough of that.

Rave Tapes is not a seventy minute album of bangers as the name might suggest, but rather an expansive tripped out voyage into a Nagel painting floating in space. Vocoders, keys, droned out riffs, driving beats all mesh together in a web of atmospheric sound collages that could rival anything by a 20th century abstract artist. The songs that make up Rave Tapes could seemingly go on forever in an endless repetition of amazingness and that would be ok. Hypnotic, potentially infinite, and ridiculously beautiful Mogwai in a single album proves that post-rock is as strong as ever. Mogwai have built a record so ensconced in expansiveness and ambiance that even Brian Eno would have to stop and shake his head at.

Rave Tapes is digital. Rave Tapes is analog. Rave Tapes is the future and it sounds amazing. Mogwai have swung for the fences and knocked it out of the yard with this record. It's not often you want to listen to an instrumental record over and over but this one of those occasions. Easily the finest droney album you will come across this year and it's only February; everyone else should just go home now.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Tiecolo Sissoko's Keme Borama

Tiecolo Sissoko's Keme Borama is another record of stellar Malian music in a long line of stellar albums. It's quality and dedication is a tribute to the musicians living in an insufferable political climate where music is banned and playing it can actually be deadly. It's somewhat unsurprising then, that Keme Borama is Sissoko's first published work. Dedicated to overcoming boundaries with honesty, purity, and beautiful songs Tiecolo Sissoko and his band have created a pure and simple work of gorgeousness.

Keme Borama is an acoustic album featuring Tiecoro's intricate guitar work and intimate vocals. With a minimalism that would make minimalism seem overproduced Sissoko is truly an amazing musician who doesn't need much to convey his message and music. His traditions and lineage are present all over this record and his role as a Griot and the protector of his history is reassured throughout. This is pure, uncomplicated, emotional and truly heartfelt this awesome record proves music can conquer any obstacle.

An admirable effort Keme Borama is the sort of record that anyone who listens to music needs to appreciate. Sissoko's dedication and honesty is beyond admirable and his ability to successfully do something that could end up killing him makes him a hero in my eyes. Simply put, Keme Borama is an essential listen.

Joe Driscoll & Sekou Kouyate Unite For Faya

A true transcontinental musical collaboration Joe Driscoll & Sekou Kouyate are a songwriting team that are as diverse and talented as the world is wide. Mixing American hip hop and Guinean Kora the artists bend genres, defy boundaries, and together create a unique musical language that's the very definition of open minded. Faya is a fantastic example of two minds coming together and being in total musical synchronicity.

Faya is percussive and minimal with both current and traditional approaches to production. The record sounds as American as much as it does African and as old as it does new. It wouldn't shouldn't work simply from a geographical standpoint, but it does. The clashes of cultures, sounds, and music mesh well together and the album as result sounds fantastic. From reggae, hip hop, percussion, traditional Guinean music it's all here and living together in perfect harmony.

Faya proves that music can bring society and cultures together. Joe & Sekou are amazing musicians and their ability to create something so evenly rooted in each others influence is simply awesome. Faya is a fantastic example of how hip hop, Afrobeat, and just about everything else can work together in symbiosis if given half the chance.

Rafi el Brings Diversity to Ay De Mi

Rafi el is a bit of a journeyman who was born in Israel, raised in Los Angeles and reared by Argentine-Jewish parents. This diverse up-bringing ended up steering much of Rafi el's life musically and it's reflected on his latest album Ay De Mi. Steeped in the sounds of three separate cultures Rafiel was exposed to a multitude of musical variables that inevitably lead him to create a fusion of all three.

While utilizing his wide ranging musical influences to his advantage, Rafi el also used a modern approach to create Ay De Mi. This is a record that is packed with Latin grooves and what sounds like an interpretation of Baille funk, smashes them together and runs away with the combo. Ay De Mi is what Bonde Du Role would sound like if they had a budget and kind of knew what they were doing. Mixing Spanglish with electro to create seductive tunes much of this record is energetic, sexy and so irresistible that if it doesn't make something, anything, move in your body it's criminal.

Language barrier aside this is an album that knows hips don't lie and it's crisp beats, dirty synths, retro feel, traditional influences and California via Miami Bass vibe make it a spectacular listen. Ay De Mi succeeds thanks to a unique vision and talent that was raised to be different from the very beginning. It's an amazingly open minded record that's a reflection of just how diverse America is becoming.

Gina Chavez Has Been Uprooted

Gina Chavez's album, Uprooted, is a result of the inevitable Targetization of Latin music. What do I mean by that? Well, the record is a quirky, diverse, and the perfect soundtrack to an inevitable fashion campaign for the big box retailer. It's loaded with commercial appeal but has just enough weirdness to give you a few goosebumps (just look at the cover).

Spanglish in nature and diverse in it's approach, Chavez uses her voice and an array of arrangements to make Uprooted an interesting album. From folk to easy listening, Latin to crunchy pop Chavez does it all and does it relatively well. While set up for campaign optimization, Chavez is a unique enough artist to let her songs stand up for themselves and they hold up pretty well.

If you love quirkiness with a bit of global edge then Gina Chavez is like Target giving you a shopping spree. She's a diverse singer songwriter that's creative in her songcraft and it allows her songs to be both catchy and unique while on the verge of being hugely commercial. It's that combination that lifts her out of the dull and boring category of girl with a guitar and makes her ready for success...retail or otherwise.

Sembeh Ma Fa Fe: Roots Volume Emerges From Stronghold Sound

The latest Stronghold Sound compilation, Sembeh Ma Fa Fe: Roots Volume, offers a bevy of sounds that thrill and amaze and come straight out of West Africa with passion, heart, and soul. The third volume of the ongoing explorations of the area by Stronghold Sound shows the region, despite it's isolation, embracing modern sounds while digging deep within from the vast musical history to once again come 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.

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 are still listenable. The tunes feature lots of percussion, chanting, and off kilter rhythms that are a bit skewed from western patterns and while that make it all seem difficult to latch onto it really isn't. Sembeh Ma Fa Fe: Roots Volume is a fascinating musicological study that is unfiltered and unhindered by any sort of constraints leaving you with an honest musical picture of West Africa.

While there are modern touches here and there, including electronics and remixes, they allow Sembeh Ma Fa Fe: Roots Volume to contrast where things have been and where they're going. This is the sound of the regions musical roots planted deep in the ground and spreading out further and further away into new areas. Sembeh Ma Fa Fe: Roots Volume is truly a fascinating exploration of culture and sound and how one influences the other. If you have any interest in traditional African sounds and how they came to influence 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. I can't wait for volume four!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Tacocat's NVM Is Amazing

Despite having one of the absolute worst names in all of pop music, Tacocat are anything but bad. In fact, their album, NVM is a fizzy, effervescent pop record that jolly, cuddly, cute and freaking awesome. Not overly complicated, it's simplistic approach and somewhat sloppy sound is what makes Tacocat so delightfully delicious.

Boy/girl vocals, power pop riffs, infectious choruses, garage rock grittiness it's all here and here in overstocked abundance. It's almost as if legendary Los Angeles band That Dog and Northen Ireland legends Ash had an illegitimate child, found out about it on Maury, and named it Tacocat. From the power pop fuzz of, "Bridge to Hawaii," to one of the more interesting anthems to Aunt Flow, "Crimson Wave," NVM is a garage indie pop classic. With bucket-loads of energy and songs that attach themselves to your brain like a parasite its simply impossible not to welcome Tacocat as your new best friend.

NVM is essential stuff and one of the best records of the year and we're only two months into it. Run out now, surf the crimson wave, build a bridge to Hawaii, do what you need to do...just get down to your record shop and buy this fuzz pop masterwork.

Shearwater's Fellow Travelers

I never jumped on the Shearwater bandwagon when it departed several years ago. I just didn't get it. I didn't understand why the blogspehre was falling over themselves in admiration for what I found to be just another average indie rock band. Then came Fellow Travelers. Wowzers in my trousers, this record totally steamrolled over me. Their previous efforts may have been absolutely lack luster, but this album is mind blowing.

There's just something so emotional about Fellow Travelers that it hits me right square in the heart. For whatever reason what they've constructed here works and works on a large scale. They've gotten epic and stadium anthem-ish like Snow Patrol or something but have maintained this grittiness, this worn down patina that makes it all sound even more emotional. Songs soar and rise up and the guitar sound sparkle across the songs like crests of waves in a vast ocean. This is big emotionally charged stuff that could go huge. And if all that emotionally draining pop wasn't enough they absolutely remake Folk Implosion's, "Natural One," in their own image and nearly destroy the original.

Amazing from start to finish, Fellow Travelers is the sort of record that will leave you in tears. It's a cathartic experience and at times difficult to listen to, but it's expansive and beautiful and hard to let go no matter how difficult in might be to listen to. Fellow Travelers is easily Shearwater's best effort and if ever there was a statement of intent from a band this would be it. Masterful, taxing, and awe inspiring bands like Snow Patrol & Coldplay will have to up their game if they hope to keep up with these guys.

Juakali's Feathers Too Bright

Appearances can be deceiving and in the case of Juakali this is especially the case. Judging by their album Feathers Too Bright's cover you would have absolutely no idea that this group create dark minimal electronically overbearing dance hall. I had no idea and the second I put this record on, I had to do a double take because this is not at all what I was expecting.

Loaded with hip hop crisp beats, dubstep breakdowns, and enough twerkable rhythms to make Miley Cyrus' rear end explode Feathers Too Bright is one heck of a record. Ridiculously catchy, the songs are all rude, ruff and very, very good. Minimal production makes the record throb, bounce and get dirty in all the best ways. Put it this way, this record is so rude that it could never ever be played in South Carolina, Kentucky, or most states of the Deep South. It's rump shaking beats and amazing basslines are a bit too much for those pure of heart and soul.

Feathers Too Bright is a brutally brilliant record that manipulates samples, creates bangers with next to nothing and levels every dance floor daring enough to come in contact with it. This is the most deceptively awesome piece of DJ hardware I've come across in a long, long while. Clangy, bangy, sexy, and hypnotic in it's approach if you want to liven up any party or summon Miley Cyrus' rear end drop a needle on this record.

Herb Records Sampler Anything But Cliche

Despite the obvious cliches that abound here the Herb Records 2013 compilation is an awesome chill out record. Deep lush vibes envelop you ears and the stereotypes that this record embraces with open arms slip away. What's left are chilled grooves, atmospheric washes, wondrous textures and a sound world that makes for an enlightening LP.

While I have no idea who any of the artists are on this burned CD, whoever they are are simply phenomenal at what they do. While most of the record is pure and simple chill out, some tunes veer into reggae territory but don't allow the overall atmospheric vibe of Herb Records 2013 to become too roots based. This is a nice varied record that slips between near ambient textures, occasional reggae vibes, and chilled out beats rolling in and out like the waves. This is a perfect pre-bar, Friday night, drive around album that's sensuous, adventurous and a decompressing sort of listen.

While I'm not the biggest fan of the label's name, Herb Records stable of artists have knocked it out of the ballpark on Herb Records 2013. I'm not sure if this is a promotional release only or commercially available. If it is commercially available it's well worth heading over to Amazon and picking this up and then tuning in and dropping out to it. Chill out doesn't get much better than this with or with out herbs and spices.

Love Will Keep Us Together If We Yell For Help

Yell For Help's EP, Love Will Keep Us Together, is fantastically dirty electro influenced pop adrenaline. A bit MIA, Def Leppard, trip hop and everything in between this short four song record is sexy, aggressive and yet somehow beautifully constructed. It's quite good stuff that hits you hard right between the ears and leaves you stunned and craving more.

Unfortunately, when the synths fade out, the autotune bits stop, and the beats crash that's it. As unfortunate as that is, there is also no cover of the top 40 hit that made Captain & Tenille famous; it could have been amazing to hear a synth pop version of the saccharine 70's hit. Regardless of it's depressing duration and leaving off an opportunity to turn a classic upside down, Yell For Help have created a fantastically fun record with Love Will Keep Us Together and while it won't leave you yelling for help it will leave you yelling for more.

Jadea Kelly Loves Clover

Singer songwriter's have left the coffee houses of the world and moved on to big box department stores. This once intimate genre has left the cliche's with the half and half and have gone the way of television advertising and has now been scientifically and analytically structured to make the most emotional impact possible. And yet, despite all this shifting and market research, 95% of all singer songwriters still sound exactly alike. It's a rare find when you come across one that truly offers something different; Jadea Kelly is one such diamond in the rough.

Heartfelt with a twist Jadea gives singer songwriting depth and warmth and brings it all back to something warm and intimate. Her album Clover is textural, interesting and expressive and uses a variety of instrumentation to create the rich world in which this album lives. If you can imagine someone like Patsy Cline writing songs with Feist you kind of have an idea of where Jadea Kelly resides within the musical spectrum. In addition to that, she's got an almost Suzanne Vega-like sense of experimentation that flushes out her songs in all sorts of aurally fascinating ways. While there's no, "Tom's Diner, " here there's enough unique arrangements, structures, and musical ideas to keep your ears permanently perked up.

While intimate and seemingly personal, Clover sounds huge and involves a clever of palette of sound. She might be a singer songwriter but Jadea Kelly things big and writes songs that while touching on an emotional level are bigger. Jadea is more than a diamond in the rough, she's a treasure that should be prized and Clover should be a worthwhile investment.

Let's Be Still With The Head & The Heart

The Head and The Heart quietly and unobtrusively arrived on the scene a couple of years ago and unassumingly gathered a rather nice size following. Originally quiet and subtle with a side order of depression the band have since grown into something of a soft rock monster. Lilting, sweeping, heartfelt and pastoral their new album, Let's Be Still is stunningly gorgeous.

In touch with it's soft rock heart as much as it is with it's country wanderlust, Let's Be Still makes alt-country extremely listenable. The Head and The Heart have left their quiet stirring behind and come up with something this go around that's folky with an edge. At times it sounds like the Cold War Kids in a tussle with The Decemberists while at others it feels like the soundtrack to a Dust-bowl romance. It's all very heartfelt, dramatic, and sweeping and it's hard to escape the emotional outpouring and off centered lyrics the songs encapsulate. As if to prove the point and maybe even show off a bit, the band have successfully written a song about grading papers; teachers of the world unite over the emotional trauma of checking answers for hours.

Joking aside this is a fantastic album and the maturity, depth, and beauty of The Head and The Heart's songwring is evident on every song on Let's Be Still. This is an exhaustive and resplendent effort that lets it's feelings run wild, it's lilt take over, and uses a variety of non-folky tricks to sweep you off your feet. I really, really enjoyed this record and loved how dusty and rustic Let's Be Still sounds. Secretly a pop band in disguise, The Head and The Heart make idyllic music sound like the coolest thing in the world.

Passafire Are Tangled In Vines

If reggae can rock and rock can reggae than Passafire are the reigning kings of the ability to do both. Their album Vines is the perfect blend of hard alternative and reggae blended in a 90's sort of way. They're a bit funk metal, a bit reggae and at times more Chili Peppers than Flea could hope to be. These guys bring a California vibe to the island sound and despite not being from either place Passafire make it all work and sound like they were stranded on an island w/instruments to keep them entertained.

Vines veers from being heavy and crunchy one minute to becoming chilled out, dubbed out, and lost in a haze the next. This record is straight out of the 90's hard alternative scene and gives Sublime a good run for their money with the whole American reggae thing. Truth be told Vines isn't half bad and despite it's retro feel, I believe the record works because Passafire have stumbled on the perfect combination of darkness and light, heaviness and mellowness, and crunch with catchiness. As a result of this delicate balance nothing ever sounds stale or too far into one musical genre and Passafire skirt the edges of it all like a tightrope walker.

Far from a cliche reggae record, Vines proves that reggae is a flexible genre and can genuflect in ways you might not expect. This is the perfect Spring Break record that every frat boy and college kid needs to have in his collection by March!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Gem Club Dwell In Roses

Sparkling like a darkened jewel in the land of the depressed, Gem Club have emerged from an anti-depressant fueled coma to create one of the most interesting albums of 2014. It's not often a record brings me to tears but In Roses did. This is a gut wrenching, overwrought journey into ones soul that might be difficult for some to hear and experience but it's the sort of thing that everyone should. This is an album about confronting demons, emotions, being down, being up, finding the beauty in everything and learning to deal with sorrow, joy and the human experience.

Let's just put it this way, the first two songs on In Roses are so over emotionally rendered that I just started sobbing. Introspective, heartfelt and almost painful in a good way In Roses is the very definition of sad core. This is a tear jerker, this is the romance coming to an end, this is letting go of someone you loved, this is trying to put it all behind you and it's painfully gorgeous. This album is like listening to eleven break ups in a row. In Roses should really be called In Memoriam because of the overwhelming emotion this record is loaded with. The emotionality of the band just pours out of them into the songs and it will make your stomach twist and give you goosebumps.

With piano, cello, and broken vocals In Roses is an intimate and touching recording. Atmospheric, impassioned, poignant and moving In Roses is the kind of record that you can't help but just sit and listen to. Stunningly gorgeous, emotionally draining records like this haven't been made since 4ad were on top of their game. This is This Mortal Coil, Red House Painters, The Hope Blister, and anything with a heart smashed together to create something so staggering it's almost impossible to deal with. In two words In Roses is simply amazing.

The Warlocks Celebrate Skull Worship

The Warlocks have been kicking around for what seems like eons. Coming to a somewhat high degree of prominence during the rock and roll revival in 2002-2003 the band almost became household names. But as with any scene created by the music press, it didn't last and either did their shot at stardom. Undeterred The Warlocks have carried on for the better part of a decade continually creating amazing jams.

Their latest opus Skull Worship sees the band creating epic psychedelic jams that are lost in the far reaches of the galaxy. This expansive set of songs seem to wander and roam around as reverb pedals and distortion fills every possible musical crevice, all the while drugged out vocals sag along sounding permanently dazed and confused. The result is an album that is so huge in scope, so filled with musical wanderlust, and so ridiculously good our puny human brains can barely comprehend it all. Skull Worship is expansive and infinite and one suspects given enough physical ability and storage space The Warlocks could make the worlds first infinite album. These guys are awesome at what they do and they seemingly do it all with such ease and alien influenced abandon that it's admirable.

Skull Worship may not make The Warlocks household names but it will blow your mind (and ears) away. If you were to look up 21st century prog rock in the Penguin Dictionary of Music, The Warlocks would be next to the definition in a cloud of haze. Massive and nearly incomprehensible Skull Worship is the kind of record Dr. Dre invented Beats headphones for. Tune in & drop out and let The Warlocks take you on a journey between time and space with the Mighty Boosh.

The KVB Minus One

Yet another band that has cruised under my radar to the tune of three albums is London's KVB. The audio/visual project of Nicholas Wood & Kat Day the band have been quietly releasing records overseas since 2010. Discovered Stateside by Anton out of Brian Jonestown Massacre, the band has finally washed up on our shores and this is a very good thing.

Their rather ambiguously mathematically themed album Minus One is a slab of dark distorted noise that's part goth and part Jesus and Mary chain. The release is atmospheric and gloomy with huge hooks and so much feedback it's like a wall of fog. The songs are depressingly cool in that Reid brothers dead pan kind of way. It's a perfect example of manipulating the quiet/loud dynamic in such a way to give near headache inducing joy to listeners. This is a loud, noisy, yet unreadable and murky album. Minus One is the sort of record that casts out riff after riff to create opaque sheets on noise than you can barely hear through, yet if you make it through the din and destruction there lies a tune that's chaotic and brilliant. Songs don't so much rope you in with a catchy chorus but lure you with a disorienting cascade of noise that most assuredly will lead to your doom. It's impossible to resist this sonic web that KVB casts out and your destruction is imminent the second you begin listening to Minus One.

Easily one of my favorite records of 2013, this is fantastic stuff all around. The KVB's ability to harness chaos and turn it into something kinetically beautiful is admirable. They make a lot of racket and may or may not have ears but in the end they find a song lost in all the noise they create. Minus One is a wonderfully distorted view of beauty and that's what makes it so special.

Weird Owl Are Healing

Despite the rather hokey play on words Weird Owl is NOT Weird Al under a thinly guised band name. Oh no, this rather amazing Brooklyn band has not one ounce of parody in them. Rather, this decade old unit have proved themselves with longevity in the New York psych scene and garnered international attention for their previous efforts. Despite considering myself pretty clued in, this is the first I've ever heard of these guys and I have to say I've been blown away. It may have taken me an eon to stumble upon them but upon discovering Healing it's a case of better late than never.

Playing absolutely awe inspiring raw psych dream pop, Weird Owl is caught in a musical vortex that swirls around in a haze of early 90's British pop and 70's California garage psych. On Healing they compose extensive dreamy riffs and ethereal atmospherics in a swirl of reverbed out riffs and clouds of vaporous vocals. It's all very nebulous, spatial, and angelic in it's approach. Think along the lines of early Sundial or a bit of Spacemen 3 and you're on the right track. Healing is fantastic stuff packed with cloudy and gauzy songs but it's disappointingly short at only five songs. You barely get a contact high from Weird Owl before the record is all over.

In listening to Healing it's easy to see why Weird Owl have had the longevity they have. Weird Owl remind you of everything that you originally loved about shoegazing; they're raw, far out, and lost in a cloud of something but still remarkably easy to latch on to. Healing is an awesome excursion into the unknown and ethereal and easily one of the best psych/nu-gazing records I've heard in a while.

Afrolicious Are California Dreaming

San Francisco collective Afrolicious and their funky blend of soulful tropical dance music are back for another musical excursion. Their latest album California Dreaming, is easily one of the funkiest records to come out in the last few years and maybe even the last decade. These guys emerged straight out of the seventies and seemingly live and breathe the groove that came from that period. These guys are the perfect blend of Studio 54 vibes and California chill and they play every song they have as if their life depended on the grooves never ending.

Huge horns, jazzy riffs, funky beats all live in harmony and share the spotlight. The songs on California Dreaming are brilliantly memorable and springier than a slinky. These guys are so funky that the phrase more bounce to the ounce was apparently created for these guys. Happily mashing reggae riffs, spliffed out vocals, and disco grooves California Dreaming is a record that simply doesn't know how to stop laying down groove after groove and with twelve members making up the band it almost seems too easy for these guys. Afrolicious are clearly a band that just love to jam. They riff off of each other throughout California Dreaming and the energy they create is infectious and I challenge you to not let it spread to every part of your body; it's nigh impossible.

California Dreaming is a perfectly constructed organic dance record. Laying down a solid foundation with basslines the size of California and then building layer upon layer of funk on top of them, Afrolicious have so much going on in every song it's almost impossible to keep up with. With an army of musicians and songs that are inescapably groovy Afrolicious is unstoppable in their quest to get everyone moving. California Dreaming is far from a dream, it's the clearest vision of a funky utopia that I or anyone else listening to it will ever see.

Alific Sirt Echoes From The Soul

Alific are easily the most unassuming reggae band I've ever run across. Nothing about their album Echoes From The Soul would seem to indicate these guys are on the ragga tip of things. Yet here they are with a unique blend of reggae and pop music. Imagine UB40 if they were more modern and dubbed out to the far reaches of the galaxy and you kind of have an idea where Alific are coming from.

Echoes From The Soul is an instantly memorable album and it's songs are so sticky it's like getting maple syrup in your ears. Dubbed out vibes cast a laid back, tripped out vibe with just enough sugary sweet pop to make the concoction almost too easy to digest. This is fantastic reggae that's artistic, chilled out, and very well played. Alternating between atmospheric excursions and pop tinged songs the band strike this balance between rootsy stuff and mainstream song structures that just clicks. They clearly have the knack for songwriting and over the course of the fourteen songs here Alific take you on a grand circle tour of reggae, dub, and pop with the expert knowledge of a local. They might be from DC but these guys sound as if they've lived their entire lives in Kingston.

Echoes From The Soul is a fantastic reggae record that both dedicated fans and casual fans will find entertaining. It's got Frat Boy appeal and rude boy vibes and the songs feel so authentic and easy on the ears you'll swear you're on a beach somewhere. Alific might be completely unassuming but something tells me that Echoes From The Soul might just force them to not be; it's too good to ignore.

Kitsune Maison Turns 15

It's truly hard to believe that Kitsune has released fifteen versions of the Kitsune Maison compilation! That's an amazing amount of music spread out across a ridiculously prolific discography and a brief history of dance music in the 21st century. If you've read this blog at all over the years you know my feelings about this label and the compilations that they release. If you don't here's a brief summary...they're just about perfect.

Volume 15 is yet another bumper crop of massive tunes but this marks the first time that some of the tunes are just ok. Hard to believe I know, but there's a slight chink is Kitsune's armor here and as the album draws towards it's close this usually flawless compilation starts to lose steam. Denitia and Sene's, "Casanova," for example, feels like a chillwave by numbers single lost in a Target ad. Still, fifteen compilations in and this is an essential source for amazing tunes. If you're too lazy for Hype Machine or hate reading Pitchfork Kitsune Maison is your go to guide to all the latest and greatest indie/electro crossover tunes. It's everything you need to know on one disc that might occasionally hit a snag of mediocrity but is still consistently brilliant and regularly released.

From the chilled, "Voices," of Go Wolf to the absolute floor devouring, "Moonshine," from Jake Bullitt most of volume 15 is solid gold. Even the worst tunes here are better than 99% of everything else out there. No one else on the planet blends indie, electro, and house like these guys and they never ceases to leave me in awe. I can't say enough about how Kitsune finds talent, releases amazing records, and leaves you wanting more. Having spent tons of quality time with this compilation I can't wait for volume 16.

At the Grand Bazaar With Bombay Dub Orchestra

Bombay Dub Orchestra's latest album Tales From the Grand Bazaar is music to align your chakras to; it mystical consciousness expanding music that was created over several years and throughout five countries. Originally started after a trip to Bombay, India ten years ago Andrew T. Mackay & Garry Hughes were so enamored with their experiences and working with Indian orchestras that they decided to pursue their own brand of the same. The result is an album of midtempo electronica dubbed to perfection.

Atmospheric and modern as well as rich and traditional this is the sound of old colliding with new to create beautiful results. Tablas, sitars, and dubbed drum machine beats intermingle in this musical marketplace, hypnotizing listeners and cleansing their souls. Tales From the Grand Bazaar creates a scene, sets the stage and then lets your mind run free within it; Bollywood or pre-colonial India the choice is yours. This is a record as vast as the Sahara and just as gorgeous. Intricate, layered, and filled with an array of sound Tales From the Grand Bazaar is a rich tapestry of influences that meet in the mystical Grand Bazaar like much of the east and west have been doing since 1461.

Tales From the Grand Bazaar is a very visual album and The Bombay Dub Orchestra do a fantastic job at creating the world it lives in. One can almost see and hear the bustle and noise of a busy market and the various experiences in each song. They do such a great job at creating this imaginary world that one would swear you could almost smell and taste the world in which these songs inhabit. Difficult to walk away from Tales From the Grand Bazaar is the kind of record that's relaxing, imaginative, and only gets better with repeated listens. With your imagination set free the Bombay Dub Orchestra takes you on a trip through the ancient and modern streets of the Grand Bazaar and you may never want to leave.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Peru Maravilloso Digs Deep For Vintage Treasure

Tiger's Milk Records presents Peru Maravilloso, is the direct result of many years of obsessively collecting Peruvian music. With a focus on 60's and 70's Latin and tropical sources this album features a selection of vintage cuts and unknown treasures from one of Peru's most exciting musical periods. This is a crate digging dream come true for rare Peruvian tunes and the album is teaming with vintage energy, vibrancy, and beauty.

While undoubtedly rooted in cumbia, guaracha and chicha Peru Maravilloso is also clearly influenced by soul-jazz, Latin-jazz, rock and psychedelia; you can hear this in just about every song here. It's energetic rhythms and endlessly fascinating structures are simply captivating. Multiple listens work their magic and reveal details and rhythms missed the first few go arounds; Peru Maravilloso reveals it's relevancy to the time by even including a Beatles cover. This is truly essential stuff for anyone who enjoys Latin-jazz or any of the other eight million other influences scattered throughout Peru Maravilloso. It's a wondrous experience to just sit and listen how sounds and influences convene in these songs from around the world; it truly proves that music is a global community and sounds from anywhere can be found everywhere.

Remastered from their original 7" and 12" formats the songs sound fantastic and this record marks the first time much of the material on Peru Maravilloso has been heard outside of Peru. This is classic and awesome stuff that's atmospheric and as vibrant as the era it came from. Well researched and pieced together with a lot of love and dedication Peru Maravilloso is a brilliant investigation into the sounds that steered a nation nearly fifty years ago.

Scary Cherry and the Bang Bangs Romp Through The 90's

Scary Cherry and the Bang Bangs are a blast from the 20th century rammed straight through to the 21st. This female fronted band smashes pop punk, glam, metal, and hard alternative into something that sounds like it would have been gargantuan circa 1993. Their album, Girl, is a huge affair with gargantuan hooks, upbeat tunes, and a ton of fun.

Scary Cherry looks the part, her band sounds the part and whatever you're thinking about them is exactly what you would expect of a band named Scary Cherry and the Bang Bangs. Slightly over the top in all the best 90's ways the band is sonically the real deal with songs that are big, catchy, and filled with an excess of pop energy they're just about unstoppable. The band seems to have an overabundance of those qualities and it makes for one entertaining album that's a fun throwback to when alternative broke. The whole things feels overly familiar and comfortable in that sort of you already know these songs the first time you hear them way. Girl isn't overly complicated or pretentious, it is, however, a rush of blood to the head and it's the sort of thing that probably translates so well live that it could be dangerous.

They may have stumbled in from the past but they've done it so convincingly well that Scary Cherry and the Bang Bangs will leave you homesick for simpler times. Girl is a campy, lively, and hyperactive romp through every three chord progression you've ever heard. It's not unique or challenging but it doesn't need to be, this is the sort of record that clobbers you over the head with massive hooks and choruses you'll never forget. It's simple but a riot to listen to and there's nothing scary about that!

Lizzie Davis Navigates Latitudes

After years and years of just really horrible, cliche, moaning singer songwriters and really boring folk music the cream of the crop has slowly risen above the fray and survived the battle for originality in a sea of triteness. Among the more pleasant surprises of this group is Midwesterner Lizzie Davis. Her album, Latitudes, is filed with lilting melodies, warm guitars, and stirring keyboard work. It's those elements that makes Latitudes far from the ordinary acoustic record and Lizzie clearly has the knack for writing songs that stick out.

Sounding like Kate Nash if she were lost in a Target ad, Latitudes is nice stuff that rolls over you in a sensitive wave of gorgeousness that's both creative and captivating. Lizzie's unusual voice is her ace in the hole as it has this sort of creaky, cute, on the verge of tears thing that lends itself to rainy days, love letters, and romantic hugs in the electronics department. The melodies she manages with her voice are riveting and it all sounds so emotive and compassionate you'll find yourself clinging to the record cover in a slightly creepy way. The songs on Latitudes are mesmerizing without being overly complicated and when you combine all that with unique spin on vocals the results are a stellar effort that's far from the norm.

Latitudes is a heavenly effort that's well worth searching out. Lizzie Davis is a unique talent that has the gift of a voice most singer's would die for. It's timber, pitch, and brokenness sets it apart; the second you hear her you're caught in her web of emotion and off kilter melodies. Having spent time with this album I'm left wondering why, oh why, can't more singer/songwriters be like this? A world of Lizzie Davis' would truly be a wonderfully romantic (and potentially gut wrenching) world.

Toy Soldiers May Be Boys

Toy Soldiers are an unassuming bunch, and judging by the cover of their album The Maybe Boys you'd never know what was going on in the inside. The Maybe Boys looks like it walked straight out Margaritaville and is ready for a little pick up basketball game. Complete with banana palms, guys in shorts, and the aforementioned basketball this doesn't even look like a record cover! But as the saying goes, you can't judge an album by it's vacation photo-like cover. What Toy Soldiers hide underneath this weekend trip picture is an album of swampy boogietastic blues and Delta influenced rock and roll that rocks incessantly up and down the Mississippi River.

Rooted in the blues this is the sort of thing you'd expect to hear all along Old Man River. It's truly amazing that these five unassuming guys are able to so easily create authentically awesome music. Put it this way, they don't even look old enough to find New Orleans on a map much less play music straight from Bourbon Street. These kids are impressive and the tunes they write feature everything from piano to accordion and harmonica to just about everything in between. The Maybe Boys as a result has this deep home, born on the bayou feel that's as tasty as a big bowl of Jambalaya! If you could imagine the Strokes in a bar fight with the Black Crowes on a paddle wheel boat lost in a swamp you have exactly where Toy Soldiers are making this brew of brilliance.

The Maybe Boys is a blues record for people who don't even know what blues records are about. Toy Soldiers rock, roll, get down and dirty and bring it all back to the sound that they love. This is a fun listen that features great guitar work, loads of organ goodness, and melodies that leave their mark. They may not look the part but Toy Soldiers sound the part and The Maybe Boys is probably the most unassumingly unhindered awesome blues rock record I've heard in a long, long time.

Tremor Rumbles Around The World

Despite the somewhat destructive name, Tremor are an intriguing and positive combination of electronics, folk, world music, and traditional Argentinian sounds. Their album Proa is like a trip around the World Showcase Lagoon at EPCOT because of the vast array of influences, sounds, and cultures mixed up on this record. Having dubbed themselves as a digital folklore band, Tremor are obviously an open minded bunch and have no problem mixing bleeding edge sounds with cultural influences spanning centuries.

Proa is a fascinatingly good album because of the creativity in which Tremor deploys. Their fearlessness at colliding Argentinian sounds with electronics and whatever else they could find laying around makes for a textural feast that ricochets around the musical spectrum like a ping pong ball. They are all over the place with 8 bit sounds crashing into dubbed out beats, multi-part harmonies meshing with acoustic guitars, experiments coming together with commonalities; Proa is a successful science experiment with sounds. As one might expect with such relentless experimentation its a bit chaotic, but always in a good way, and it's almost kind of like what Beirut would sound like if they were from South America.

Proa is wondrous exploratory stuff that offers endless hours of new sounds and musical ideas coming together into something cohesively entertaining. If music needed a passport one gets the feeling that it could use Tremor to get into about anywhere it needed to get to. Original, beautiful, and determined to be different Proa is the sort of world music record that never lets on that is just that...worldly.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

333's Bicameral Brain

The strangely named 333 have been making some of the strangest music you'll ever hear for longer than I can remember. This unit of post apocalyptic musicians create a world in which doom is the norm and abandoning hope the ideal. They make sounds that tend to drone on and on in an eternal and hopeless struggle to escape the underworld; happy campers they are not. Their latest album Bicameral Brain is an epic two CD set of ambient noodling that would seem appropriate for the final invasion and colonization of earth by aliens.

This is a huge, epic, all encompassing record that's so laden with atmosphere that it almost collapses from the weight of the songs. This is a record that washes over you like a never ending tsunami of depression. If you had to nail down Bicameral Brain in four words it would be thought provoking, doomy, and expansive. With songs that stretch beyond the outer points of our comprehension and riffs to go along with that Bicameral Brain is a record that could seemingly play in the background for the rest of humanity's existence without much notice. It's epic stuff that echos around your brain like a bouncing ping pong ball potentially giving you a migraine.

333 are not the type of band that's on a never ending quest for the spotlight, rather, they lurk in the shadows creating the ambiance of every day life and the end of it. Whether or not they're clinically depressed can be debated, but what can't be is that this group are experts at creating wandering atmospherics that are stirring, haunting and apocalyptic. If these are the end of days, than 333 are the house band for humanity's extinction.

Obits Beds & Bugs

I think if you were to look up rock and roll in the 21st century you’d probably find a picture of Obits next to the Penguin Guide to Music’s definition. These guys are uncomplicated and make no bones about what they do; they play rock and roll and that's it. Their latest album, Bed & Bugs is like a shot of gasoline straight to the heart; aggressive, toxic, but and absolutely amazing rush.

Bed & Bugs is raw and unrefined but doesn't let that hamper it from being quite good. This is post grunge mayhem with Stooges-like tendencies. Simply put Bed & Bugs is raw power (see what I did there??). Screamy vocals, bashed drums, wrangled guitars are all here and they’re powered by a rebellious spirit that got lost in the 50’s and has been trying to find it's way to the 21st century. It’s all very rough and ramshackle and sounds like it might all explode into a million pieces any second; how can you not love a record like that?

Obits are as pure as the driven snow…if that snow was grey and sludgy and covered in black ice. They make a mess out of every song but it works out pretty well and Bed & Bugs is one heck of a good sloppy record. There’s something to be said for guys who just plug in and just go. Obits are just honest and good and they play rock and roll the way it should be…as if every song could be your last. Bed & Bugs ain’t pretty but it is good.

Washed Out Cause A Paracosm

A few years ago, Washed Out was pretty much hailed as the savior of shoegazing. Their debut album was a slice of perfection that was clearly rooted in the past but modernized for everyone’s convenience. It was in my Top 10 for 2011 and it was a stunning statement that shoegazing was alive and well. Two years later and Washed Out have returned with their latest record, Paracosm as could be expected it’s not a let down.

Sophomore slump be damned, Paracosm, is a continuation of the exploration of sound that Washed Out embarked upon back in 2011. Much like Chapterhouse’s second album, Paracosm doesn’t quite have the same level of awe as their debut but it’s still worthy. While not as distorted and, um, washed out Paracosm is ethereal and textural and at times approaches Cocteau Twins levels of gaseousness. The record is packed to the gills with gorgeous riffs and sounds that envelope you in a cascading wave of beauty. Paracosm is the sort of record it’s easy to get lost in, wander around for a bit and never find a way out of. This album is a dream committed to sound and recorded in a sleep experiment in heaven.

Continually inspiration and gauzy, Paracosm is another impressive effort whose impact isn't immediate but rather more subtle. Washed Out is a master scientist who has studied everything folks like Robin Guthrie have done in an effort to perfect it and build off of. They’re getting close to achieving the perfect shoegazing record and it’s simply amazing to listen to them try. Essential stuff.

Atropolis Makes Transitions

Although from New York Atropolis and being firmly an American collective, this band take a global approach to keeping a dancefloor packed. With hints of cumbria, dub, dubstep, moombahton, and just about anything else with a groove their album Transitions is box fresh but rooted in world music tradition. It’s a pan global exploration of deep grooves, atmospherics, and sound collages that’s far greater than the sum of their parts.

Transitions is an exciting, energetic, and throbby record filled with great basslines that it rides like Kelly Slater does waves. This is the sort of album that it’s simply impossible not to move too. With buildups and comedowns bouncing off each other, modern production and old sounds working with each other and songs that are physically moving Transitions hits all the right notes, no matter where they are from.

In addition to the overwhelming amount of rhythm here, Atropolis has seen fit to allow vocalists from a diverse array of backgrounds to contribute to their already stunning album. These collaborations give the songs on Transitions added depth and emotion. While most people will never have heard any of these guests, trust me when I tell you they only make Atropolis’ songs stronger and more culturally diverse.

Transitions is a fantastic album that is colorful and full of flavor. It’s a diverse record that contains a bevy of electronic and cultural elements that combine forces to create something magical. With winter winding down this is the perfect record to wind it down to; if ever a record had sunshine and warmth written all over it Transitions would be it.