Sunday, November 30, 2008

Review: Right Away, Great Captain! - The Eventually Home (* * * *)

True or False: Conor Oberst is a musical genius worthy of emulation by ambitious singer-songwriters. If you answered "True," you should give Manchester Orchestra singer Andy Hull's side project, Right Away, Great Captain! a listen immediately. If you answered "False" or "Hell No," think twice. I find myself somewhere in the middle, for what it's worth. While it's a bit unfair (and lazy) to make such an outright association, Hull's new album The Eventually Home often sounds like a slightly more progressive version of early Bright Eyes, though you could probably also draw comparisons to numerous angsty folk artists (Joshua James, Rocky Votolato, etc.).

The Eventually Home is actually the second installment in a three-album concept about a 17th-century sailor. The first section, The Bitter End, follows the man's adventures at sea, while "Home" is about his return to his unfaithful wife and shattered life. Though the record has a central theme, the songs stand on their own and often feel quite personal. Sharing Oberst's love of explicit details and lonely confessions, most notably on the adulterous tale "Cutting Off The Blood To The Ten" and the heartbreaking closer "I Was A Cage," Hull puts his pain in plain view. His quavering voice is saturated with sincerity and despair as he sings lines like "I was a wave collapsing you" and "I could use a friend to say they love me," which could come across as pathetic but for his ability to unearth the feelings of utter loneliness we've all experienced.

While several of Hull's songs are long, detail-driven narratives, some of the most musically compelling moments come on his simpler, shorter tunes. "Devil Dressed In Blue" and "Memories From A Shore" both feature arresting vocal melodies (provided solely by Hull) and an unsettling intensity. "What A Pity" is a gentle, finger-picked song that's more on the wistful side of heartbreak, a welcome reprieve from all of the anger found throughout the other nine tracks. Hull's skillful guitar playing, both acoustic and electric, anchors the whole project and provides just enough variation to enhance and strengthen his tortured tales.

Though it is frequently reminiscent of several other grief-ridden folk projects, Hull's Right Away, Great Captain! contains enough personality to create a satisfying experience. The Eventually Home features strong songwriting and impressive musicianship, making it a very worthwhile singer/songwriter album.

Right Away, Great Captain!'s MySpace page

Friday, November 28, 2008

Review: Good Old War - Only Way To Be Alone (* * * *)

Former Days Away band members, guitarist/singer Keith Goodwin and drummer Tim Arnold, formed Good Old War along with guitarist Dan Schwartz after Days Away went on hiatus earlier this year. Whereas their previous work was focused on progressive indie rock with a bit of an emo vibe, the trio's latest effort and new band debut, Only Way To Be Alone, is a more straightforward acoustic rock album.

During the late 90s and early 00s, acoustic pop became a bit of a tired genre. Or maybe I just inundated myself with it until I couldn't take any more. At any rate, that style of music hasn't appealed to me for a while now. While almost the embodiment of the genre, Good Old War's recently released debut piqued my interest after I heard the first single "Coney Island," a clean, simple tune with well-placed vocal harmonies and tasteful percussion that hijacked my ears, making me hungry for more. After listening to their whole album, I found that while the band's sound is almost too familiar, their songwriting skills and musical talent make Only Way To Be Alone an instantly likable and thoroughly enjoyable record.

Starting with a basic pop-rock template, Good Old War add layers of harmony a la The Beatles or The Beachboys, simple, yet effective flourishes, and joyful melodies that brighten the room even with the occasionally melancholy lyrics. The band's two-guitar attack with plenty of fiery finger-picking provides the perfect backdrop along with Arnold's spot-on drumming. Aside from the first single, the rollicking "Just Another Day," the gently sad "I'm Not For You," and "Tell Me" would be my recommendations, though the album's subtle tempo and stylistic changes (some blues, a little twang) will probably provide different favorites depending on the listener.

Only Way To Be Alone, despite the primarily acoustic sound and folksy presentation, is a pop record at heart. It's a simple, yet effective collection of songs so positive and pleasant, even the most hardened music snob will find it hard to resist.

Good Old War's MySpace page

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Review: Anathallo - Canopy Glow (* * * *)

I had seen so much written about Anathallo's new album, Canopy Glow, around the blogosphere recently that I decided I better check it out. I was a bit surprised that I'd never heard of these guys; apparently they've released several EPs and a full-length debut a couple years ago that garnered them quite a few fans. Anathallo is a collection of multi-instrumentalists led by singers Matt Joynt and Erica Froman that remind me a more organic version of Stars. Their sophomore effort is a beautiful indie pop album with lush instrumentation and plenty of boy/girl harmonies.

Canopy Glow is a decidedly low-key affair, relying on vocals and percussion to drive much of the music, though complex horn, guitar, and piano arrangements fill out the songs and provide some needed variation. Even at their most urgent, Anathallo still sound almost too relaxed, but the weightless, delicate feel of the music has a captivating quality to it if you pay proper attention. Highlights include "The River," a slow-building orchestral anthem, the more straightforward "All The First Pages" and the appropriately titled "Bells." As I mentioned, the vocals are the real centerpiece here, with constant harmony and unusual, yet arresting, melodies.

Lyrically, Anathallo are out there, telling strange stories of being "baptized by a dollop from a Cool Whip bowl," and singing lines like "feed the roots and honor the tongues of the animals." Fortunately, the lyrics blend well with the music, creating fantastically imagined scenes with vivid, if sometimes odd, detail. The album definitely takes a few spins to fully appreciate, but the intricate and beautiful compositions are worth the investment.

Canopy Glow is a must-hear for fans of bands like Stars and New Pornographers, or anyone looking for an enjoyable batch of low-key, well-crafted indie tunes.

Anathallo's MySpace

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Review: The Killers - Day & Age (* * * 1/2)

Apparently, Brandon Flowers got all (or most, anyway) of the Springsteen out of his system on his band's last album Sam's Town and is back to focusing on synth-driven power-pop with an 80s vibe. Day & Age, The Killers recently released third album, shows the group at their most glamorous and shimmering, an over-the-top explosion of sound and hooks that seeks to capture the energy of their debut while still moving forward.

As always, The Killers sound strongest when things move along quickly. The first half of Day & Age has the album's best tracks, the first single "Human," the 80s pop anthem "Spaceman" and the sexy funk tune "Joy Ride." While the fun lasts, the record feels as fresh and exciting as anything they've done. Consistency has never been Flowers and Co's strong suit, though, and the album loses some steam by the end of the ten tracks with two snoozers, the epic-yet-uninteresting "The World We Live In" and the overlong closer "Goodnight, Travel Well." Fortunately, while the band miss a few, their continued unawareness of their own limits still leads to some worthwhile moments, like the vocal chant that begins "This Is Your Life" or the horn-heavy verses on "Losing Touch."

Day & Age might not be a tremendous success, but it's an entertaining 40 minutes of pop music that proves The Killers are back on track.

If you're quick, you can still catch a great deal on this album over at - Day & Age MP3 download for only 3.99! I don't know when it ends, so if you're interested, head on over.

Filter's Top 10 Album List

Filter just released their Top Ten Albums of 2008 List, so I thought I'd pass it on to see what everyone thinks. As for myself, I don't really get why everyone's getting all excited about MGMT (they're not bad, they're just not THAT good), but Fleet Foxes, TV On The Radio, and Bon Iver will make my top 10 this year. Thoughts?

Filter Top 10 Albums of The Year:

1. MGMT, Oracular Spectacular (Columbia)
2. Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)
3. Dr. Dog, Fate (Park the Van)
4. TV On The Radio, Dear Science (Interscope)
5. Foals, Antidotes (Sub Pop)
6. Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar)
7. She and Him, Volume One (Merge)
8. M83, Saturdays = Youth (Mute U.S)
9. Cut Copy, In Ghost Colors (Modular/Interscope)
10 The Dears, Missiles (Dangerbird)

Also, if you go here you can see individual staff top 10 lists which include mentions of a few more of my favorites like Wolf Parade, Johnny Flynn, and Sigur Ros.

Monday, November 24, 2008

MP3 Monday: Mason Proper, ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Frightened Rabbit

Three more tunes (and a video) for y'all to enjoy with MP3 Monday back on track.

Mason Proper

Mason Proper have been creating some serious buzz this year with the release of their most recent album Olly Oxen Free, a great record with a classic indie rock sound. The song "Fog" is a quirky, yet melodic tune and is a good example of Mason Proper's signature style. Also, check out the video for "Lock and Key" available here for download. Both songs are definitely worth a listen.

Fog (MP3)

Lock and Key (Video)

...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead

Our friends over at RCRD LBL have provided a new track from ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, a well-established progressive rock group from Austin, Texas. The song, "Bells Of Creation" has an epic, orchestral sound combined with the band's hard-edged guitar attack. They recently released an EP entitled Festival Thyme and are set to release a full-length in February of 2009. Give it a listen and remember to say "thank you" to RCRD LBL for providing us all with such fine music.

Bells Of Creation (MP3 download page)


Frightened Rabbit

Frightened Rabbit are sure to sit atop some "best of" lists soon with their sophomore release Midnight Organ Fight, a collection of heartbreaking tunes about love, loss, etc. that has turned quite a few heads (including my own). This track, "Last Tango in Brooklyn" comes from a compilation done by an Australian magazine called The Lifted Brow. The song is intimate and emotional like much of the band's work and serves as a great introduction to the band if you haven't heard them already. The track is available courtesy of Pitchfork, so head on over there to download it.

Pitchfork download page for "Last Tango in Brooklyn"

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Review: Butch Walker - Sycamore Meadows (* * * *)

Butch Walker's list of production and writing credits is about a mile long. Working with artists like Avril Lavigne, Fall Out Boy, and Pink, Walker has established a reputation (which includes Rolling Stone's 2005 Producer of the Year) that has allowed him to pursue his own career as a solo artist. His latest release, Sycamore Meadows, is named after the street in Malibu where Walker's house and studio (including all of his master recordings) were destroyed by wildfires last November. The album is a poignant and introspective collection of tunes, several of which address the loss and the fire directly.

Sycamore Meadows is a classic singer/songwriter record, one focused on well-written, relatable lyrics and bright, enjoyable melodies rather than pushing musical boundaries. "The Weight Of Her," "Closer To The Truth And Further From The Sky," and "Vessels" are solid pop-rock songs for highway driving, while "Going Back/Going Home," "ATL," and "Ships In A Bottle" are pensive and emotional ballads. It's everything you'd expect from Walker, with spot-on production behind cleverly told stories, but the album feels exceptionally personal, almost uncomfortably so as his narratives swing from reactions to the fire to losing his virginity to longing for his hometown. While occasionally a little awkward, his openness and honesty is refreshing and compelling.

At 60 minutes in length, the record somehow never feels long or overblown thanks to Walker's ability to cover a variety of topics and musical styles (pop, rock, folk, country) without getting carried away. His generous talent and experience coupled with his personal approach makes Sycamore Meadows an album easy to appreciate and enjoy.

Favorite Tracks: "The Weight Of Her," "The 3 Kids In Brooklyn," "ATL"

Butch Walker's MySpace

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Review: Wild Beasts - Limbo, Panto (* * * *)

Limbo, Panto is the debut album English art-rockers Wild Beasts. Their distinctive, flamboyant personality came, according to singer Hayden Thorpe, "out of a boredom and lack of interest in beer and testosterone rock. It concentrated us like a fruit." Like a fruit? However you describe it, their uniquely over-the-top sound, topped with Thorpe's theatrical falsetto vocals makes them a noteworthy and exciting new addition to the indie scene.

About ten seconds into Limbo, Panto's opening track, "Vigil For A Fuddy Duddy," you'll know you're in for quite a ride. Thorpe croons, howls, and yelps over the intricate guitar/bass arrangements and tasteful percussion which, throughout the album, always leave the vocals front and center. His voice might take some getting used to, but it's the most powerful and unique weapon in the group's arsenal. On many of the album's ten tracks bassist Tom Flemming provides smooth tenor harmonies that compliment Thorpe perfectly, though occasionally Flemming takes over on lead vocal duties, most notably "The Devil's Crayon" which is one of the album's best. His pleasant, even voice is a welcome element of normalcy in the midst of so much strangeness.

Wild Beast's music includes bits of seventies funk, eighties alternative, and plenty of classic pop melodies, often mashed together in the same track with shifting time signatures and tempos. Fortunately, the band prefer to stick to their basic guitar/bass/drums (and occasional piano) lineup instead of embellishing their music with string and horn arrangements, a wise choice that keeps the album focused and easier to digest. Beside the two tracks previously mentioned, highlights include the first single "Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants" and the melancholy closer "Cheerio Chaps, Cheerio Goodbye."

Unexpected, surprising, and ambitious, Limbo, Panto is a rock album without equal and what looks to be the beginning of great things for Wild Beasts.

Wild Beast's MySpace

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Review: Longwave - Secrets Are Sinister (* * * *)

New Yorkers Longwave could never be accused of complacency. The group have gone through several lineup, label, and stylistic changes, all before releasing their fourth album and most recent effort, Secrets Are Sinister. With new producer Peter Katis (Interpol, The National), Longwave take their indie shoegaze/alternative sound and make everything...bigger. Whereas the band previously changed the pace of their albums frequently, fluctuating both the tempo and the volume, they tightened the focus for "Secrets." The result is a solid rock record of arena-sized proportions.

While the band add the occasional keyboard flourish or digital programming, the wall of guitars, thundering bass, and gunfire drumming do all the talking here. Longwave aim for "epic" every time and hit it often enough to make for an exciting listen. Openers "Sirens In The Deep Sea" and "No Direction" start things off on a good note, with Steve Schiltz and Shannon Fergeson's guitars swirling around Schiltz's strong, clear tenor while the rhythm section of Jason Molina (drums) and Morgan King (Bass) pound away. "Satellites" continues with more of the same before subsiding into a radio-friendly sing-a-long chorus. Occasionally the band take a stylistic detour, like on "Life Is Wrong," a noisy, dense track, or the more relaxed, effortless "The Devil And The Liar," but the ten songs generally sacrifice experimentation for consistency, which feels like the right choice here.

Schiltz isn't exactly the world's most inventive lyricist, but he has a way of phrasing things in grand, gorgeous generalities (ooh, alliteration) that works just fine most of the time. Whether singing about looking for allies and satellites or finding "direction" in life, he sounds sincere, if a bit sappy. It's only on the slower "Shining Hours" when Schiltz's writing is left without an especially strong melody or guitar/bass line that the lyrics seem thin or forced. Fortunately, the closing number "Secrets Are Sinister" gets things back on track with beautiful vocals and more epic, sweeping guitar work.

Longwave may not reinvented any wheels with Secrets Are Sinister, but the album provides enough great alternative rock anthems worth blasting in the car and wailing at the top of your lungs that it doesn't matter much.

Favorite Tracks: "Satellites," "Secrets Are Sinister," "I Don't Dare"

Longwave's MySpace

Review: Glasvegas - Glasvegas (* * * *)

Scottish music industry mogul Alan McGee swears Glasvegas are the next big thing. He might know a thing or two about that, having discovered and worked with a plethora of successful U.K. musicians, most notably Oasis. Since forming in 2001, the band have only released one full-length album, this, their self-titled debut which was released this summer overseas and on iTunes in the U.S. with a physical release coming over here in January. The four-piece from Scotland have already reached superstar status back home with both fans and critics.

Glasvegas sounds something like the collaborative effort of The Jesus And Mary Chain and pop stars of the 50s and 60s. With their wall of guitars and drums lifting singer James Allen's thickly accented vocals to epic heights, the band create some stunning moments throughout the record's ten tracks. The opener "Flowers And Football Tops" features some old-school "whoa-whoaaaas" behind Allen's plaintive lyrics before the song ends in a blanket of fuzzy guitars while the words to "You Are My Sunshine" are delicately sung. It's an absolutely stellar song followed by the equally impressive "Geraldine," a song by a social worker promising to be "the angel on your shoulder." Other highlights include the anthematic rocker "Go Square Go" and the drum-heavy, miss-you ballad "S.A.D. Light"

Occasionally, Allen's open and honest lyrics come across as a bit simplistic or childish, as on "It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry" where he wails "liar, liar, liar, liar, liar pants on fire!" or the I-hate-you-for-leaving-us-dad downer "Daddy's Gone." By the same token, it's Glasvegas' all-out and honest approach to their music and lyrics that makes the group so exciting and memorable. It's a record only their collective genius could have produced, with plenty of gripping moments like the creepy, quiet recounting of "Stabbed," the story of a man running from a group of thugs over Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata;" a weird, yet compelling experience.

Perhaps more exciting than Glasvegas' successful and impressive debut is their obvious potential. It's a rare thing for a band to achieve this much critical AND popular success so soon, and this should open doors for them to continue making progressive, vital rock records for years to come. They've set the bar high for themselves, but I have a feeling they won't disappoint.

Favorite Tracks: "Flowers And Football Tops," "Geraldine" "S.A.D. Light"

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

MP3 Monday on Wednesday: Larsen & Furious Jane, Matt Duke, Anathallo

So I missed MP3 Monday, but that doesn't mean we can't all enjoy some free music later in the week, right? I've actually got THREE songs and one video for you to enjoy, so check them out.
Larsen & Furious Jane

The first two songs actually have to do with my latest post on Larsen & Furious Jane. Two more tracks have been made available for posting from their fantastic record, Zen Sucker, so I'm putting them up here because it's imperative that you take a listen. "Vietnamese Pool Boy" is a dark, edgy tune, while "Local Nobility" leans more toward mellow noise rock. Both are great.

Vietnamese Pool Boy (MP3)

Local Nobility (MP3)

Matt D

This next song comes from singer/songwriter Matt Duke. Duk is well-loved in his home town, Philadelphia, and has recently released his sophomore album entitled Kingdom Underground. The song, "Spilt Milk," is an emotional pop-rock ballad that deals with some heavy issues. Matt's new album is full of more weighty matters than love or heartache, as he explains;

“Love songs – I put those aside. I hear them on the radio so often. Writing about love and breakups is almost tired. The whole idea of your spiritual unrest, what you believe in and what you don’t, what you’re struggling with now and what you will struggle with for the rest of your life, were, for some reason, the things that were the easiest to write about."

Spilt Milk (MP3)


OK, so I'm cheating a little here. This isn't a track for download, but it's a song you should hear. Over at Pitchfork they have a video for the song "Bells" by the band Anathallo. The band have a rich art-rock sound full of gorgeous instrumentation and layers of harmony. Their new album Canopy Glow was released on Tuesday and is receiving rave reviews already. The video is odd, to say the least, but the song is wonderful.

Bells (Video)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Review: Larsen & Furious Jane - Zen Sucker (* * * * 1/2)

Larsen & Furious Jane are most likely the best thing to ever have emerged from the Denmark music scene. Easy for me to say, outside of Aqua and the Raveonettes, I haven't had any exposure to Danish music, but the band's third album, Zen Sucker is an absolute stunner and one of the year's best. The group, started by friends Torsten Larsen and Tore Johansen, has received critical acclaim in their homeland and with any luck, they'll break on through to the U.S. side soon.

I realize that Radiohead comparisons are often an obvious/lazy way to describe a band, and while Zen Sucker doesn't exactly sound like OK Computer, the album is compelling and fascinating in the way that Radiohead's albums always have been. The lyrics have a dark edge, similar to Yorke's, and though the music is sometimes deceptively warm and inviting, the beautiful melodies always seem underlined by an almost menacing feeling. Also, while the band experiment with a variety of sounds and effects, it's never at the expense of the music itself, resulting in a thoroughly captivating listen.

Larsen & Furious Jane's ability to create so much diversity while maintaining a sense of unity and connection between the songs is what makes Zen Sucker such an impressive and interesting record. "The People Person Is A Zen Sucker" and "A Car That Comes With The Job" have a sparse, yet delicate background for the clear tenor vocals (Larsen, I think) and bitter lyrics. On other, heavier tracks like "A Deathbed Conversion," "Snakes In The Grass" and especially "Vietnamese Pool Boy," the tone becomes considerably more sinister while Larsen channels dramatic singers like Ian Curtis and Interpol's Paul Banks. It's a wonderfully strange ride, one you'll hate to have come to an end after the gorgeous, haunting closer "Forbidden Fruit."

Zen Sucker unfortunately does not have a scheduled U.S. release date, though I do have one of my favorite tracks ("A Deathbed Conversion") here for download and their MySpace has a few more to check out. I'm interested to know what you think about these guys; if you like what you hear, send me a note and I'll put in a good word to see if we can generate some interest.

A Deathbed Conversion (MP3) [Once again, if you're having trouble playing this in the browser, just click on the link to download the song or play it outside this window]

Monday, November 17, 2008

Review: Anya Marina - Slow & Steady Seduction, Phase II (* * * 1/2)

The seed of Anya Marina's new album, Slow & Steady Seduction, Phase II, should attract some attention. On one fateful night in a bar in Burbank, she and Britt Daniel (of Spoon fame) were discussing music when Anya mentioned she hadn't been inspired to write much recently. She felt frustrated at her inability to write in the rhythmic style of her recent favorites like LCD Soundsystem and Public Enemy. Later, Daniel sent her a selection of beats and loops he had created which ended up inspiring a good deal (and the best) of Marina's new record, which features Daniel as producer for two tracks.

Even without knowing the story behind the music, it wouldn't be much of a stretch to compare Marina's music to that of Spoon, especially on songs like "Drop Dead Blues" and "Two Left Feet," which mix acoustic guitars with stomping percussion. It's a great sound to serve as the backdrop for Marina's sexy-yet-sweet vocal style and unconventional-yet-relatable lyrics. Highlights include the cocky swagger of "All The Same To Me," the first single, "Move You," and the perfectly restrained, "Vertigo." Marina maintains a sense of humor and a sharp wit throughout even as she deals with broken relationships and heartache.

Occasionally, Marina's confidence gets the best of her, as on "Afterparty At Jimmy's," a sleazy rocker which would feel more at home on a Pink record but just sounds awkward here. Most of the time, however, her quirkiness and expressiveness allow her to create something refreshing, fun, and all her own. Slow & Steady Seduction blends elements of folk and pop music in an unusual and exciting way that should turn some heads come December.

The album drops December 9th on Chop Shop, but you can download the song "Move You" for a sneak peek at my previous post here.

Anya Marina's MySpace

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Republic Tigers on Daytrotter

One of my favorite new bands this year are The Republic Tigers. If you haven't already, you owe it to yourself to hear their amazing debut album, Keep Color, which I stumbled upon a few months ago. With killer vocal harmonies and a balanced organic vs electronic instrumental attack, the album's smooth sound is immediately addicting. Check out some of their stuff on MySpace.

Now to the news. The Republic Tigers are featured over at Daytrotter with a live five-song set available for download. It's a nice introduction to the group as the article explains a bit about the history of each track and the band itself. I was impressed with their ability to remake their signature sound for a compelling live experience so I highly recommend heading over to give it a listen. Plus, it's free to keep if you like.

Daytrotter Set:
1. Feeling The Future
2. Buildings & Mountains
3. The Nerve
4. Fight Song
5. Golden Sand

and here's a few tour dates for ya...

US Tour Dates:
15 Denver, Co - Hi Dive *
16 Ames, IA - M-Shop *
17 Chicago, IL - Subterranean Lounge *
18 Madison, WI - The Frequency #
19 St Louis, MO - Billiken Club #
20 Des Moines, IA - House of Bricks #
21 Omaha, NE - The Slowdown #

* = w/Bishop Allen
# = w/ Malpais

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Review: Nickelback - Dark Horse (* 1/2)

I realize that Chewing Gum For The Ears leans much more toward the indie/alternative side of music, but I still dig a good rock 'n' roll record every once in a while. Back in high school, I enjoyed Nickelback's first two U.S. releases The State and Silver Side Up despite the fact that both were big, dumb rock records. Since that time, I always give the new Nickelback album a listen, just for old times sake.

The band's fifth album, Dark Horse, due out on Tuesday, raises the bigness AND dumbness to new heights. With songs ranging from sex-crazed rock anthems to uber-generic love ballads, the band aim low and hit the target squarely each time. Sure, the execution is great, these guys have this down to a science, but crappy songs executed well still suck. I'm confident this album will sell a billion copies or so, but this is soulless, mindless music, even for the mainstream scene.

I will say this for Nickelback, the band can rock pretty hard, like the ode to destruction, "Burn It To The Ground" or the high-class prostitute rocker, "Shakin' Hands." Also, guitarist Ryan Peake has discovered a love for solos, which show up on (and enhance) quite a few songs on the album (and even earned the record an extra half star; I'm a sucker). Unfortunately, despite a few fun moments, Dark Horse predominately switches gears from ugly and coarse to bland and forgettable. "Next Go Round" (basically a nastier rewrite of "Feeling Way To Damn Good") and "S.E.X." are all sleaze, while "Gotta Be Somebody" and "If Today Was Your Last Day" sound like 7th grade poetry, only it's not cute when 30-somethings do it. I know people have been writing about horniness and loneliness for a long time now, but Nickelback do nothing to make the subjects interesting or even tolerable.

I guess the saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" applies here. Nickelback have no reason to change the formula that made All The Right Reasons go seven times platinum in the U.S., but that doesn't make the music any less awful, either. I doubt I'll be tempted to give the next album a chance.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bon Iver to release new EP

Singer/songwriter Justin Vernon and his newly-formed band Bon Iver have announced they are releasing a new EP January 20th on Jagjaguwar. The EP is titled Blood Bank and will contain four new songs.

Bon Iver re-released his (it was just Vernon at the time) debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago earlier this year which has become one of my favorite records of 2008, so I'm thrilled to be hearing more so soon.

Blood Bank EP Tracklisting:
1. Blood Bank
2. Beach Baby
3. Babys
4. Woods

Bon Iver Tour Dates:
10 New York, NY - Town Hall *
11 New York, NY - Town Hall *
12 Brooklyn, NY - Music Hall of Williamsburg *
14 Boston, MA - Wilbur Theatre *
15 Philadelphia, PA - Trocadero *
17 Lousville, KY - Headliners *
18 Chicago, IL - The Vic *
19 Madison, WI - Barrymore Theatre *
22 Eau Claire, WI - State Theatre

* = w/ the Tallest Man on Earth

Thursday, November 13, 2008

New Artist: Yves Klein Blue

Yves Klein Blue are a four-piece from the Land Down Under just a couple years outside of high school who are already set to make some serious noise there and in the States. With a win at MTV's Kickstart competition in 2007, the band attracted enough attention to sign to Australian label Dew Process and release a stellar EP, Yves Klein Blue Draw Attention To Themselves. Their music draws inspiration from bands like The Libertines and The Clash, but Yves Klein Blue have a sound all their own, blending old-school punk, Brit-rock, and classic pop melodies.

Several tracks on their debut EP are noisy and raucous, especially the gypsy-punk tune "Polka" and the raw rocker "Silence Is Distance." On other songs, front-man Michael Tomlinson's conversational verses bounce along on jangling piano, bossa nova guitars, and horns before climaxing into energetic, earnest choruses. Yves Klein Blue pull it all off spectacularly, with intelligent (though sometimes irreverent) lyrics, great style, and an exceptionaly talented and confident presentation. I highly recommend giving these guys a listen; you won't regret it.

The band are currently recording their full-length debut album, though I don't know of a release date. However, you should waste no time in getting to their MySpace page, which is now streaming the majority of Draw Attention To Themselves. Also, the EP is available on iTunes, Amazon etc.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Black Keys to release Live DVD November 18

Produced and directed by Lance Bangs (R.E.M.’s Road Movie), the disc will include 17 live songs; original music videos for “Your Touch,” “Just Got To Be,” and “Strange Times;” and behind-the-scenes footage of the making of the band’s most recent album, Attack & Release. The live performance was recorded on April 4, 2008 at a sold-out show at The Crystal Ballroom in Portland, OR.

The Black Keys put on a rockin' show, at least that's what I'm told. Check out this live video "I Got Mine" and download the MP3!

I Got Mine (Live Video)

I Got Mine (Live MP3) (For some reason, the MP3 player isn't playing this song well, so just click the link instead of playing the track within the blog window, thanks!)

Also, the video can be purchased for a special low price here!

1. Same Old Thing
2. Girl Is On My Mind
3. Set You Free
4. ThickFreakness
5. Stack Shot Billy
6. Busted
7. You’re The One
8. Remember When (Side B)
9. Your Touch
10. Oceans and Streams
11. Strange Times
12. Psychotic Girl
13. 10 am Automatic
14. No Trust
15. I Got Mine
16. All You Ever Wanted
17. Till I Get My Way

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Review: Sleep Station - Blood Of Our Fathers (* * *)

Sleep Station front-man David Debiak has always been driven by politics, wars, and social change, and never more so than on his new album Blood Of Our Fathers. The record is being offered for free on Air and Sea Battle with the original intention of compelling people to vote in the recent election. Though Sleep Station has previously recorded as a more complete band, Blood Of Our Fathers has the feel of a solo album for Debiak, with his acoustic guitar and slightly rusty voice as his primary weapons.

It's readily apparent on his new album (right from the cover art, actually) that Debiak has a fascination with war's effect on society. Blood Of Our Fathers doesn't so much decry all conflict as it explains and explores the struggles of those who fight and give more than anyone else can appreciate or understand. "America" contains some of the record's most pointed lyrics, like "you won't realize you were blind, and gave away everything you owned" and "you'll send your boy to die, for your freedom way of life, to become a man so he can do his part, but America will leave him in the dark." Elsewhere, soldiers fight, pray, and struggle to make sense of their life after returning home. At times, he gets too heavy-handed, but the lyrics of Blood Of Our Fathers are often stirring and occasionally memorable .

Musically, Debiak covers no new territory here, shifting from Rocky Votolato-esque folk tunes (Blood Of Our Fathers) to country-rock (America, Leads Back Home). He's sounds comfortable and proficient throughout the album and creates a few shining moments, like the melancholy, broken-hearted prayer "Oh Mary" or the simple, affecting leaving song "Can't Shake This Town." Sometimes, however, the music lacks any real melodic or emotional hook and the album starts to feel a bit mundane.

As a whole, Blood Of Our Fathers is straightforward folk-rock that is consistently enjoyable throughout. I honestly can't think of any reason why you wouldn't go and download this to check it out for yourself.

New Artist: Paper Route

Last week I posted an MP3 from Paper Route, a band which I had only recently discovered. I've had the chance to give their recently released EP, Are We All Forgotten a listen, and I have to say I'm very impressed. "Empty House," the single I posted earlier, is perhaps my favorite on the record, though "Are We All Forgotten," with it's great drum and bass line and more immediate vocals make for a great listen also. The band's twist on atmospheric indie rock is captivating and after the slow, gorgeous "Waiting For The Final Leaf To Fall," I'm left wanting more.

I haven't been able to find any information regarding a full-length album, though I imagine it will be soon in coming. The band is also touring through November and December, so check out their MySpace page for dates and who they're with.

And, lastly, their new EP is available to purchase at iTunes for $3 (5 songs, not a bad deal).

Monday, November 10, 2008

MP3 Monday: Meaghan Smith, Audrye Sessions

Our first songs comes from Meaghan Smith, a singer/songwriter hailing from Nova Scotia of all places. Her debut EP The Cricket's Quartet is out now on iTunes, a classic, soulful record reminiscent of orchestral pop music from the 20s and 30s. On "Little Love," Meaghan's smooth, sultry voice is backed by a full band (horns, keys, bass, guitar, flute, etc.) and even some turntable scratches for a an extra kick. Take a listen; actually, just go ahead and keep it.

Little Love


Last, but certainly not least, we have an Elliot Smith cover performed by alt-rock band Audrye Sessions. Their self-titled debut EP is available at iTunes and in stores, with a full-length album due out in February of next year. The hauntingly beautiful atmosphere of "Waltz #2" makes it a cover worth getting your hands (or ears) on, especially because you won't find this on the EP.

Waltz #2

Lydia - Illuminate available for $1.99 on Amazon!

Lydia's recent release, Illuminate can be purchased in MP3 format on Amazon for only a buck 99 (through Nov 12). Lydia's music combines atmospheric indie rock with traces of emo and punk, featuring beautiful harmonies from vocalists Leighton Antelman and Mindy White. The band had the following to say about the album:

"Illuminate is an album, and our piece of art that we give to you. We also wanted the songs to illuminate something inside of people. Our lyrics deal with experiences and emotions, both amazing highs and crazy lows, that everyone can relate to in one way or another. We wanted people to listen to this record and be able to apply it to themselves and hopefully influence or affect someone's life in some way."

I haven't heard the entire album yet, but I like what I hear so far. If you need a preview, the band have put up several songs on their MySpace page.

Get the album here

Amazon has been having some great deals recently on MP3 albums. I got Keane's new one for $3 and Snow Patrol's for $4 (both deals are expired now). I suggest keeping an eye out for more music at great prices there.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Review: Cloud Cult - Feel Good Ghosts (* * * *)

If there's a word I use too often when I do reviews, it's "unique." Some of it stems from the fact that my music knowledge isn't as deep as perhaps it should be, and I suppose that occasionally it's just lazy writing, but I'd like to think that there are actually quite a few truly "unique" artists out there making music to which it is difficult to draw comparisons.

The problem with my overuse of the word becomes apparent when I run into an artist or band who leave me without any idea of how to accurately describe their music. Cloud Cult is one such band. The group, led by Craig Minowa, might best fit in the electronica-folk-indie-chamber-pop-rock genre, though I'm not sure if anyone else does (Polyphonic Spree, maybe?). That won't really give you an idea of what goes on through the 13 tracks of Cloud Cult's latest album, Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-partying Through Tornadoes). It's a genre-mashing set of songs that is at once weird, wonderful, inspiring, exciting, and strange.

Opener "No One Said It Would Be Easy" kicks things off with an arpeggiated piano line over synthesized bleeps and bloops before the acoustic guitar and drums take over to support lyrics about man's search for meaning in life. Eventually it all comes together in a tremendous, noisy climax; a Cloud Cult specialty. "Everybody Here Is A Cloud" continues a similar musical and lyrical theme before the album's first truly weird moment. "The Tornado Lessons" begins with an intense, minor-key intro featuring organ and electric guitar, and ends with Minowa rapping, the band shouting, and somebody's singing sped up so fast it makes the Chipmunks sound tame in comparison. It's over-the-top and borders on silly (also a Cloud Cult specialty), but insanely catchy and fun. Elsewhere, the band explore more organic (and relatively normal) sounds, such as on the orchestral folk tune "Journey Of The Featherless" and the gentle, acoustic "The Ghost Inside Our House."

Much of Feel Good Ghosts forgoes typical songwriting for a variety of unique (yes, I mean it) structures. The fantastic "Hurricane And Fire Survival Guide" starts with a long instrumental introduction that eventually explodes into a danceable electronica vocal chorus. "Love You All' is simply one line repeated as the music slowly climaxes and subsides. Minowa often keeps the lyrics simple and few, though he's certainly capable of telling a story or creating a character, as on "Story Of The Grandson Of Jesus."

Your ability to digest the often bizarre lyrics is what will ultimately determine your ability to enjoy Feel Good Ghosts. The writing is open and honest, though occasionally walks (or crosses) the line between clever and just plain odd. Lyrics like "I've had enough of hiding underneath my covers, I'm done with all of that poop that brings me down" or "you have a precious little mind, you paint a perfect little rainbow" might derail a song sung by anyone but Minowa, who always sounds completely sincere. Even "Love You All" which repeats "I love my mother, I love my father, when it's my time to go, just want you to know, love you all" somehow comes across as heartbreaking rather than silly.

Cloud Cult is a remarkable band who have made guessed it, unique album just as full of melodic hooks as mind-blowing experimentation. It's sure to end up at the top of several lists at year's end, but I imagine it will also find it's way to the bottom of others. Feel Good Ghosts will be both loved (by me, anyway) and hated, though I doubt anyone will find it boring.

Favorite Tracks: "No One Said It Would Be Easy," "Journey Of The Featherless," "Hurricane and Fire Survival Guide"

Apparently, Wikipedia has three songs available for download

Friday, November 7, 2008

Review: Brooke Waggoner - Heal For The Honey (* * * *)

Brooke Waggoner started playing the piano when she was four years old and hasn't stopped. A lifelong student of music, she recently earned a degree in music composition and orchestration before composing her debut album, Heal For The Honey. The unique qualities of the album can be traced to Waggoner's songwriting methods; "I approached the album like I approach all music - from the piano," she says. "I don't consider myself a lyricist. For me, every song starts on a solo piano and has to work that way, without anything fancy." [source: New York Post].

It's apparent that the music, especially the piano, and not the lyrics is the centerpiece of nearly all of Heal For The Honey, though Waggoner's talent in writing and singing shouldn't be overlooked. The opener "Lungs Speed, Lungs Sped" is a good example of her impressive compositional abilities and musical style. The song begins with a simple drum beat under bright piano and vocal melodies and swirling strings before abruptly switching gears for a piano/vocal-only bridge followed by an exciting emotional climax. Other highlights include the gentle "Heal For The Honey" and avante-garde piano-rockers "Tender Mending" and "Live For The Sounds."

Waggoner's love of dynamics and tempo changes is obvious as she frequently eschews traditional song formats for more complex arrangements. The songs rarely go where you would expect, which is both interesting and exciting. Though the music is probably too experimental for the more mainstream crowd, and too pop for the purely experimental crowd, those of us in between will find much to love on this album.

Heal For The Honey is unlike anything you'll hear this year. Amid contemporaries such as Sara Bareilles and Colbie Caillet, Waggoner's music stands out as artistically significant and musically vibrant. What impresses me most about the album is the feeling of complete independence coupled with a lack of pretension. This isn't music made to impress critics or to cater to general familiarity, instead, the album's enjoyable combination of pop sensibility and uniquely beautiful arrangements seem like a personal presentation of Waggoner's ideas and talents.

Favorite Tracks: "Lungs Speed, Lungs Sped," "Tender Mending," "Heal For The Honey"

I'm not sure if the offer still holds, but Waggoner was previously offering a free EP (of songs not included on Heal For The Honey) from her website, Heal For The Honey is available at iTunes or most digital music distributors.

Also, check her out on MySpace

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Review: Little Joy - Little Joy (* * * 1/2)

It's been years since The Strokes burst onto the indie scene and took it by storm, but it's been a case of diminishing returns after their first album. Luckily, The Strokes have produced a couple of very worthwhile side projects. Guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. already has two solo albums under his belt, and now we get Little Joy, the breezy, sunny, retro-pop outfit led by drummer Fabrizio Moretti.

Right from the start, Little Joy makes its intentions known; to provide the ultimate soundtrack for lounging on the beach or taking relaxing drives during warm, So-Cal afternoons. "The Next Time Around" is one of several album highlights, with smooth harmonies, a simple drum line and just a touch of reggae. Following is "Brand New Start," which employs some muted horns to round out a very classic pop tune with the cheerful chorus "ain't no lover like the one I got." Novel? Not exactly. Charming? Absolutely. And so it goes for 11 tracks totaling just over 30 minutes.

Not everything on Little Joy succeeds completely. The band sound much more comfortable on upbeat tracks like "No One's Better Sake" or "How To Hang A Warhol" than they do on snoozers like "With Strangers," but the diversity of tempo and style keeps things interesting, if occasionally sleep-inducing. Little Joy remind me of that beer commercial, you know, the one about the smooth taste that doesn't fill you up and never lets you down? The band have crafted an album that feels effortless and fun, making for an enjoyable half hour guaranteed to relieve some stress and put a smile on your face.

Favorite Tracks: "The Next Time Around," "No One's Better Sake," "

Check out the band's MySpace page

Monday, November 3, 2008

MP3 Monday: The Western States Motel, Paper Route, Anya Marina

It remains to be seen whether or not "MP3 Monday" will be a recurring feature, or if it will just be "MP3 [Insert Day Here]." Either way, enjoy not one, not two, but THREE free tunes.

This first song is from a relatively new band called The Western States Motel, which only features one actual band member, Carl Jordan. Jordan's music is full of sunny keyboards, laid-back vocals, and a pure pop melodies. This song, titled "Oh World," is one of five catchy tracks from his recent EP titled Painted Birds Flying in the Orange Mirror Sun.

Also, if you're lucky enough to live in L.A., check out The Western States Motel each Monday at 9 p.m. for free at Spaceland.

Oh World

Next up is another great tune from a band called Paper Route from Nashville, TN. Paper Route play driving, melodic indie rock reminiscent of Band of Horses and The Shins (or maybe a combination of the two). At any rate, this song from their July EP release, Are We All Forgotten, entitled "Empty House" is quite good. I have yet to hear the rest of the album, but it's on my "must listen" list..

Empty House

Songwriter Anya Marina hails from California and has already had her music featured in popular television shows such as Grey's Anatomy (I've never seen it, I swear!). Recently she has collaborated with the likes of Britt Daniel (Spoon) to craft what, at first listen, appears to be an excellent pop record, Slow And Steady Seduction, Phase II, out December 9th.

Combining a very organic folk element with catchy pop melodies and her sexy, slightly raspy voice, Marina's lead single "Move You" is a fine example of her unique charm and obvious talent.

Move You

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Reviews: Whitley, Fredrik, Arizona

Here are a trio of reviews of albums from impressive bands that you might not have heard. Even if you don't bother with the reviews, check out a free download from each artist. Trust me, it's worth your time.

Whitley - The Submarine (* * * *)

Whitley is the solo project of Melbourne native Lawrence Greenwood who has been making some waves in his home country. His debut album, The Submarine has only recently been released in the U.S., but already one of his songs has been picked up for a CW episode. His smooth folk sound, reminiscent at times of Elliot Smith or Conor Oberst, and his clever arrangements should garner him some serious attention in the States.

The Submarine opens strong, with the banjo and violin combination of "Cheap Clothes," a strikingly beautiful track that frames Whitley's forlorn lyrics and delivery. It's the first of many captivating moments on the album, which blends organic and digital elements to great effect. "The Submarine" and "White Feathers, Strange Sights" feature programmed drums and a variety of other synthesized sounds, while tracks like "More Than Life" and "I Remember" rely almost solely on Greenwood's guitar and voice. Nothing on the record feels forced or overdone, but manages instead to seem both natural and adventurous.

At just over 30 minutes long, The Submarine is barely long enough to be satisfying, and leaves me eager for more. No moment is wasted, however, and its ten tracks contain enough melodic and emotional hooks to keep me coming back time and again.

Download: "Lost In Time"
Whitley's MySpace page

Fredrik - Na Na Ni (*
* * *)

It seems like everything coming out of Sweden these days is remarkably good, and Fredrik is no exception. Started as a side project for pop musicians Fredrik and Lindefelt, the group grew to six, "featuring members of some of the very finest of the Swedish pop and experimental underground" according to their bio. Na Na Ni is their first album and one of the more inventive and fascinating folk records I've heard this year.

The opening two tracks from Na Na Ni, "Black Fur" and "Alina's Place" are a couple of the album's high points, melodic tunes featuring a variety of instruments and gorgeous vocal harmonies. Then comes the first of five instrumental tracks which make up half the album. "Hei Hei" has a an East-Asian vibe to it, "Angora Sleepwalking" slowly builds to a crescendo with acoustic guitars and both organic and programmed percussion, but the centerpiece here is the title track. "Na Na Ni" is a dramatic and intense tune that explores variations of a simple, repetitive melody and chanted chorus (using only the words in the title).

Fredrik definitely prefers style over substance, and Na Na Ni does feel a little light. "Ninkon Loops" and "Morr" sound fine in the context of the album, but don't offer much by themselves, and the "vocal" half of the album is so good you wonder why there isn't more of it. Still, music so full of ideas and executed so perfectly deserves a listen. Fredrik are a band I'll be looking forward to hearing more from.

Head on over to RCRD LBL to download "Black Fur" and "1986"
Fredrik's MySpace page

Arizona - Glowing Bird (* * * *)

Recently, it seems, there has been an explosion of psychedelic rock and pop music in the indie world. Maybe I just wasn't paying attention before, but 2008 has seen more than it's fair share of the genre. NYC band Arizona are a welcome addition to the scene, creating their own unique psych-rock sound on their sophomore effort, Glowing Bird, by introducing other classic rock and folk influences.

The tendency for psychedelic bands seems to be to over-explore and push their boundaries to the point of frustration, resulting in a somewhat uneven album. Some would say that's the point, but I enjoy a little more consistency. Arizona manage to temper themselves just enough that they play to their strengths throughout most of the album while still providing quite a bit of variation to keep things interesting. "Balloon" is a whimsical number about a balloon salesmen complete with french horn and cello, "Ghost" is a creepy, haunting (no pun intended, really) song sung from the specter's perspective, and "Otto The Eel" starts with heavy, fuzzed-out guitars before subsiding into a gentle folk song. Other tracks, like "Swimming Hole" and "Whiskey Or Wine" are slightly more straightforward folk-rock tunes.

With its broad range of topics and diverse instrumentation, Glowing Bird is always interesting and often spectacular; a truly unique record. Its oddities and quirkiness might be distracting to some, but for those who prefer their music a little "out there," Arizona should hit the spot.

Download: "Colors"
Arizona's MySpace page