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


Diamond Duke said...

Will you please upload the new Arizona album to Mediafire or Sendspace for me? I'd love to do my own review for my blog but nobody is hosting it!


Chris N said...

D.D. - Sorry, but I'm not willing to upload the album for you. If you're doing a blog review, you can probably contact their PR group to see if they'll send you a copy. Or, you could always do the old-fashioned thing and buy the album...