Saturday, February 28, 2009

Review: Marissa Nadler - Little Hells (* * * *)

Boston-based singer/songwriter Marissa Nadler has consistently impressed with her beautiful, yet haunting, brand of folk music over the past five years. Her ethereal voice and often dark lyrics make her unique among her peers and have brought well-deserved critical acclaim. Her fourth album, Little Hells, is set for release next week and includes guests Myles Baer, Simone Pace (Blonde Redhead), and Dave Scher (Farmer Dave).

The beautifully sparse "Heartpaper Lover" opens the album with Nadler's dreamy voice relating a lonely love ballad over only some quiet wurlitzer. It's simple, yet gripping, and the style is found all over the record, especially on cuts like the warmer, acoustic "Little Hells," the striking "Ghosts & Lovers," and the piano-led "The Whole Is Wide." Each of these tunes float gently along without percussion and few instrumental embellishments, leaving space for the songs to breath and the focus to remain on Nadler's heartbreaking stories. As captivating as these moments are, however, the album benefits from some welcome variation. Several tracks on the record add a full band's worth of accompaniment to expand Nadler's signature style and the results are equally great. "Mary Come Alive," with its fascinating combination of drums, synths, and programming is eerie and almost sinister, while album highlights "River of Dirt" and "Mistress" lean toward a more traditional folk-rock sound.

While Nadler covers quite a bit of dark territory on the appropriately titled Little Hells, the album succeeds because of the balance achieved from the (relatively) approachable, less dreary material. That's not to say that anything on the record could be considered 'light listening,' but as she sings 'goodbye misery' on the final notes of "Mistress," a welcome glimmer of hope breaks through the haze of loneliness and doubt, a contrast that enhances, rather than detracts from, the generally bleak feeling built up over the record's 42 minutes.

Marissa Nadler has made what is not only another solid album, but a step forward and up as she continues to sweep us gently away into a world all her own. Little Hells has quickly become an early favorite of mine in the folk genre for 2009.

Friday, February 27, 2009

New Artist: La Strada

La Strada is an orchestral pop group from New York who just released their debut EP this past week. The band of seven create beautiful music with a variety of instruments including accordion, guitar, cello, violin, and viola. The sound is something like indie rock presented through a classical lens and is slightly reminiscent of a few of my other recent favorites; Peter Adams, The Uglysuit and Pale Young Gentlemen, which puts them in very good company if you ask me.

La Strada's self-titled effort is a consistently great selection of six songs that showcase the band's talent in creating gorgeous arrangements and executing them flawlessly. Singer James Craft presents his quaint stories with his clear, delicate voice while the band send the music swirling around him, sometimes with a gentle, soft touch, as on "Loved You All Along" and occasionally with a much more epic flair like the grand closer, "Starling." Their music is definitely worth looking into, so check out their MySpace page, where you can hear a few tunes and see the music video for the lovely "The Sun Song."

Also, you can download "Starling" from!

EP Track list:

1. Orphan
2. The Sun Song
3. Flying
4. Loved You All Along
5. Mama
6. Starling

Review: Wild Light - Adult Nights (* * * *)

New Hampshire quartet Wild Light, the much buzzed-about indie rock band, are set to release their new album, Adult Nights, which will be available next week. The band's first single, "California On My Mind," became an instant hit around the blogosphere and their connection to Arcade Fire didn't hurt, either (Tim Kyle was one of the AF's founding members). So the group have set the bar high for themselves on their debut, which is both an exciting and often difficult position for a band to be in when you're expected to impress for an entire album and not just a single or two. Fortunately, I can safely say that they easily meet our lofty expectations with the melodic collection of 13 of indie-pop tunes that is Adult Nights.

Wild Light play a sort of classic indie rock reminiscent of the 90s but they dress it up so smart it all seems new and fresh. Layers of vocal harmonies, jangly guitars, and bright keys keep the music inviting and instantly enjoyable, and the three singers' (Kyle, Jordan Alexander, Seth Pitman - they all sound fairly similar until you pay closer attention) smooth voices and sharp lyrics have a bit of a Win Butler earnestness to them but with a more laid-back pop style. The result is an album that feels anything like a debut, but a well-formed, carefully constructed indie rock record. Melody is the focus throughout, especially on songs like opener "California On My Mind," which bursts from the speakers with it's casual guitar sound and sunny disposition that might fool you into thinking this is another of those 'California' songs...for about ten seconds until the refrain kicks in to inform you that Alexander is not exactly singing an ode to the golden state. The next track, "New Hampshire" continues with a slightly more subdued version of that same musical style, as do songs like the piano-led "Call Home" and the melancholy "New Year's Eve."

Elsewhere, the band branch out a bit with some U2-esque guitars on the fantastic "Heart Attack," and a little more upbeat rock on "My Father Was A Horse," but the pattern stays fairly consistent throughout the record. The strength of the album lies in the generally strong songwriting and attention to detail that differentiates each track and causes the album's 45 minutes to be consistently thrilling if not often surprising. Wild Light are strong musicians and nothing on Adult Nights feels half-baked or lazy. This is an all killer, no filler album that I expect will be one of the better debuts released this year.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Caroline Weeks of Bat For Lashes debut solo album 'Songs For Edna'

Caroline Weeks is a multi-instrumentalist and has been a part of Bat For Lashes over the past three years. While she is involved in a handful projects across a variety of genres, (a death-folk-roots trio and a Bulgarian folk choir to name two) she is also now releasing her debut solo album, Songs For Edna, on April 7th. The record is a beautifully sparse folk record with all lyrics borrowed from late American poet Edna St. Vincent-Millay. Caroline is a classically trained flautist and has taught herself numerous instruments including her favorite, a 3/4 size Spanish guitar with her own 'secret' tuning.

You can get a glimpse of the new album by downloading the gorgeous closing track, "Elegy", below.

Elegy (MP3)

Track List:

1. See Where Capella with her golden kids
2. What lips my lips have kissed
3. Wild Swans
4. Renascence
5. Oh, sleep forever in the Latmian cave
6. The return
7. Pity me not
8. I shall go back
9. Elegy

Recommended Artist: Soft Targets

Florida natives Soft Targets aren't exactly new to the indie scene, but it's quite possible that they've slipped under your radar thus far, which is a shame. The three-piece group released their excellent sophomore album, Heavy Rainbow, near the end of last year, a followup to their 2005 debut, Frequent Flyer, which is also worth a listen. Their sound starts with a classic indie rock template and adds instrumental flourishes (strings, horns, keys) as needed to enhance frontman Jesse Corry's emotionally charged lyrics and distinctive tenor voice. It's a winning formula that the band have refined from their first album to last year's more mature, focused effort.

What makes Heavy Rainbow such an interesting and engaging listen is Soft Targets' ability to provide a new twist on a familiar format. The difference can be mostly attributed to Corry's detailed, offbeat stories and his unique sense of melody that keeps the music from becoming too comfortable or relaxed. The band compliment his style with constantly shifting tempos and dynamics, resulting in songs that keep your mind at attention and offer more than a few surprises. "The World Looks Bigger Now" slides smoothly from a low-key verse to a funk-inspired chorus, "So Long, Baby Burns" goes from earnest and sincere to sinister and back again, and "Sirens" rides an arpeggiated key riff and some silky falsetto vocals in a refreshingly strange pop tune.

Soft Targets are certainly a band worth your time, so check them out on MySpace to hear a few tracks from each of their albums, or head over to their website for news, lyrics, and other info.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Swan Lake offers free MP3s, pre-order album download

In case you somehow missed the flood of new Swan Lake MP3s being offered exclusively at various sites (Pitchfork, Stereogum, last week, here's all three of them available for download right here:

Spanish Gold, 2044 (MP3)
A Hand at Dusk (MP3)
Spider (MP3)

Each song showcases the indie super-group's members (Carey Mercer, Spencer Krug, Daniel Bejar respectively) and their unique contributions to the project. "Spanish Gold" is a noisy, dramatic rock tune, "A Hand at Dusk" is gently swelling, piano-led piece, and "Spider" has a dark, creepy feel to it. The band's new album, Enemy Mine, will be released on March 24, but if you can't wait, you can now pre-order the album via SC Distribution and you will get a download link so you can hear the whole thing immediately!

Cursive set to release new album, debuts two songs

Cursive is back with another album, Mama, I'm Swollen, due out March 10 on Saddle Creek Records. In preparation for the release, the band are previewing two tracks from the upcoming record. The first is "I Couldn't Love You," which you can find at, and the second is "From the Hips," which you can hear at If these two songs are any indication of the quality of the upcoming record, it's gonna be good.

The band are also playing on Letterman on the 13th, so make sure you check them out there, and lastly, Cursive has a fairly brief tour scheduled, some of which is already sold out.

Tour Dates:


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Review: Gentleman Reg - Jet Black (* * * *)

Gentleman Reg is the recording name for Canadian singer/songwriter Reg Vermue, who released his fourth album, Jet Black, today. The record is only his second to cross the border and is actually the first time in five years that Vermue has released new material. Though I hadn't previously been exposed to his music, the wait was apparently worth it. Jet Black is a hook-filled pop album marked by the Gentleman's unique tenor voice and exceptional sense of melody and style.

On the new record, Reg transitions between low-key indie pop tunes to smooth rock 'n' roll all with a great deal of charm and wit. On the more (relatively) rowdy end, we're treated to the incredibly catchy "You Can't Get It Back," the stealthy, sleek "How We Exit," and opener "Coastline," which feels like a sunny west-coast pop number with backing vocals from Land of Talk's Elizabeth Powell. It's difficult to exaggerate the stick-in-your-head-for-days melodies and stylish presentation that makes these songs so fun and immediately enjoyable; you'll just have to hear it for yourself.

At every turn, Vermue throws in a bit of the unexpected without making any distracting detours. Notable examples include "We're In A Thunderstorm," which combines acoustic guitar with a techno-inspired beat, and "Everlong," featuring slinky keys and sparse percussion in a fascinating offbeat pop tune. Vermue also slows things down occasionally, making time for gentler tunes like the simply beautiful "When Heroes Change Professions" and the lovely duet "Rewind." Reg proves himself just as capable here, and the songs round out the record well, but I found the upbeat side of the album to have the majority of the best tracks.

Jet Black can feel a little schizophrenic at times, but the variety of tempos and emotions is held together by Vermue's wonderfully peculiar lyrics and obvious talent as a musician that makes him adept at covering so much territory with apparent ease. Even at the album's most intense moments, the music relies on subtle instrumental textures more than noisy guitar and drum riffs, and the unique approach keeps the music feeling light and fresh. Jet Black is an exciting and fun indie rock record and a very welcome return for (or introduction to) Gentleman Reg.

New Artist: Evening Magazine

Philadelphia musical collective Evening Magazine are one of several new bands I've been exposed to recently that are making music deserving of some serious attention. The group was founded by David Disbrow (guitar, vocals) and recording engineer Kevin Francis (synths) and now includes nine members playing everything from flute to harp. The band released their debut EP, A Ride Across Lake Constance, digitally this past January on Ohso Records, an impressive five-song set of beautifully restrained indie rock.

While you might assume that Evening Magazine's sound follows the complex, noisy pattern established by most bands of their size, the music on 'Lake Constance' feels, for the most part, relatively simple and direct. The instrumental flourishes are often subtle and never distract from Disbrow's engaging melodies, which helps keep things focused and cohesive. Opener "Apple Eye" begins with an explosion of brass but settles quickly into a drum-heavy groove with distant strings and some gentle synths, while "18 Wheels" features some pleasant boy-girl harmonies amidst droning horns, handclaps, and muted keys. Captivating closer "Everyone Can Hear You" floats softly along on acoustic and slide guitar before slowly adding a mixture of keys, harp, and percussion.

Everything works well enough on the EP to make this a great showcase of the band's talent. As an introduction, you can download the song "18 Wheels" below and you can find the full album on iTunes, Amazon, etc. Evening Magazine are certainly a group worth keeping an eye on.

18 Wheels (MP3)

Beast set to release debut retail album March 3

Beast is a new collaboration between musician/producer Jean-Phi Goncalves and singer Betty Bonifassi who have both been involved in several other projects in the Montreal music scene. Both artists hail originally from France but met in Canada where they immediately 'clicked' when working together on some of Goncalves unfinished work. The duo's heavy electro-rock sound is both undeniably catchy and refreshingly unusual.

Beast already released their self-titled debut digitally, which you can find on iTunes, etc., and are planning a retail release for next week, March 3rd. Get a taste of the new album by downloading the track "Mr. Hurricane" below.

Mr. Hurricane (MP3)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Review: Here We Go Magic - Here We Go Magic (* * * *)

Indie folk artist Luke Temple is unveiling his third album, recorded under the moniker Here We Go Magic, tomorrow, February 24th. The record marks a dramatic departure from Temple's previous folk sound into a darker, more experimental realm of pop music. According to his bio, he recorded the album by himself in his Brooklyn home with analog synths and a cassette 4 track which gives a warm, worn sound to his complex rhythms and subtle instrumental flourishes. The record is unexpected and often bizarre, but always fascinating.

As I listen to the album, the nine tracks seemed to be divided into three groups or parts. The first four tracks are one group, the second four are somehow connected, and then the last song seems to be in a world of its own. At least, that's the only way I'm able to make sense of what's going on. "Only Pieces" opens things up with a layered, synthesized rhythm and scattered guitar lines that slowly build behind Temple's hypnotic voice which blends smoothly into the music. The following three tracks are something like variations upon that same theme. "Fangala" explores an eerie, almost danceable groove, "Ahab" rocks a funky bass line through a haunting maze of vocals and synths, and "Tunnelvision" bounces subtly along on digital percussion and the phrase 'anything is possible' repeated quickly and quietly in the background.

While the entire album is full of Temple's unique and strange ideas, it's during tracks five through eight that things really get odd. Whereas the first half of the record is certainly unusual, the music has some familiar elements and contains enough substance that tracks can at least be recognized as songs. Starting with the subtle wash of fuzz and static on "Ghost List," the album takes a four-song detour into sonic textures, minute details, and waves of noise. "I Just Want to See You Underwater" features bleeps and bloops, some simple guitar, and faint vocals repeating the track's title, which are the only vocals you'll find in this section of the record. The other two tracks contain more layers of unrecognizable noise and weird sounds that challenge the idea of what you might actually consider music.

Stuck at the end of the record is the flamboyant "Everything's Big," the most straightforward and 'normal' track of the bunch. Temple lets his fantastic tenor voice soar above much more organic instrumentation as he decries greed, corruption, and gluttony. It's the last bizarre twist in an album that is defined by them and the whole project takes some getting used to. I'll admit that I was disappointed at first with the middle section of the record. After being immediately impressed with the first four songs, everything else just seemed frustrating and unnecessarily complicated. After some time, I've found the beauty in even the most abstract moments, though I still find myself wishing there was more substance here.

Those hoping for an indie folk album will only be half-satisfied with Here We Go Magic, but for those who can exercise some patience and keep an open mind, the music reveals itself in time to be very magical indeed.

White Rabbits to release new album in May!

Indie rockers White Rabbits are set to release their Sophomore LP, It's Frightening, on May 19th through tbd records. The album was produced by Britt Daniel of Spoon fame and you can check out the tracklisting below. The new record is a followup to the band's exciting 2007 debut, Fort Nightly, and was written after taking some time off from the constant touring of the last two years.

No singles have been released from the new album, but you can hear some of the band's previous material over at their MySpace page, which I suggest you check out.

Track list:

1. Percussion Gun
2. Rudie Fails
3. They Done Wrong / We Done Wrong
4. Lionesse
5. Company I Keep
6. The Salesman (Tramp Life)
7. Midnight and I
8. Right Where They Left
9. The Lady Vanishes
10. Leave It At The Door

Review: M. Ward - Hold Time (* * * 1/2)

Fresh off his acclaimed She & Him project with actress/singer Zooey Deschanel, M. Ward returns with another solo album, Hold Time, his sixth effort and first release since 2006’s Post-War. Everyone’s favorite low-key indie folkster serves up generous helpings of sunny pop melodies, bluesy ballads, and breezy rock tunes with a slew of guests including Lucinda Williams, Jason Lytle, and, of course, Miss Deschanel. Once again, Ward combines a wealth of retro influences into something that doesn’t so much sound new as it does revitalized or refreshed.

Hold Time takes the pattern Ward established on Post-War and makes everything a little bigger and brighter this time around. He’s still occasionally lonely and usually contemplative, but rock ‘n’ roll tunes like “Never Had Nobody Like You,” the Buddy Holly cover “Rave On,” and album highlight “To Save Me” are more loose and carefree than you might expect. Some cuts work better than others, but the variety is enjoyable. Elsewhere, Ward plays classic country-folk songs such as “On Hundred Million Years” and the gorgeous “Shangri-La,” and his familiar delicate, hazy signature sound on tracks like opener “For Beginners (AKA Mt. Zion).”

There are few weak tracks on Hold Time, but while the songwriting is routinely strong, some of the record just doesn’t make much of an impression. The second half of the album includes some highs, like the previously mentioned “Shangri-La” and the instrumental closer “Outro (AKA I’m a Fool to Want You),” but also has a few snoozers, like the drowsy “Oh, Lonesome Me,” the edgeless “Fisher of Men,” and the beautifully written but uninterestingly presented “Blake’s View.” It’s fair to say that Ward’s relaxed style has always relied less on attention-grabbing musical hooks than on subtle details and textures, but there’s a fine line between effortless and boring, and Ward comes dangerously close to crossing it a few too many times here.

Having said that, Hold Time is still a nice record, a pleasant and occasionally wonderful selection of songs carefully arranged and beautifully adorned with Ward’s ever-present attention to detail. In perusing reviews on the web, it seems that many have found plenty to be enjoyed on the record, and I would agree that several songs hold up well against his best material. His signature vocal style, exceptional guitar skills, and unique charm have always made him a cut above many of his singer/songwriter peers and Hold Time is yet another showcase of these talents, but too many of the tunes simply fade too completely into the background or fail to get under your skin like Ward’s work has consistently done before. Hold Time serves as a decent introduction to one of folk’s most influential artists in recent years, but it doesn’t feel like much of a step forward.

M. Ward presents another likeable collection of songs on Hold Time but offers fewer captivating moments than were contained in his previous work.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Review: ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead - The Century of Self (* * * *)

Known for their unwieldy name and art-rock-meets-hardcore musical style, ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead have created a niche all their own in the indie music scene over the last ten or so years. The sextet released their sixth LP, The Century of Self, this past week, their first after leaving Interscope in favor of their own Richter Scale imprint. The album is also different in the way in which it was recorded. According to Billboard, the band tracked much of the record live instead of using extensive studio overdubs, though 'Century' still features complex layers of sound and noise in a sprawling collection of thirteen surging prog-rock tracks.

'Trail of Dead' aim for 'epic' throughout The Century of Self and hit the mark more often than not. Songs swell from intimate piano/vocal lines to thundering guitar riffs and back again, never settling into any one groove for very long. "Isis Unveiled" begins with a soaring metal riff before eventually slowing to a grinding stomp and then brings things full circle for an anthematic close. Other tracks, like the more relaxed "Luna Park" and the two-part "Insatiable," keep things subtle and refined, though no less ornamental or interesting. Elsewhere, the band get back to their punk roots on "Far Pavilions" and the first half of "Ascending," play straightforward rock on "Fields of Coal," and throw in operatic backing vocals into the bridge of "Halcyon Days." It may be difficult to wrap your head around the entire 54 minutes of grandiosity, strange orchestration, and unusual song structures, but it's an enjoyable exercise anyway.

What ultimately makes 'Century' a solid return to form for 'Trail of Dead' is the way the songs on the album feel connected despite the breadth of styles and sounds. The band manage to avoid unnecessary noodling around while still providing enough surprises to keep things exciting. It's loud, noisy, and over the top like the group have always been, but this album feels fresh and, most importantly, focused where their last couple albums seemed in dire need of direction. The Century of Self is a welcome comeback from some of rock's more inventive artists.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Review: Morrissey - Years of Refusal (* * * *)

This may shock some of you, but I've never really listened to Morrissey, or The Smiths for that matter. I know some of the hits, I recognize his amazing voice when I hear it, I suppose I just never gained the proper appreciation for Morrissey's talent as a singer and songwriter. So, Years of Refusal, his ninth post-Smiths solo album, might be an odd place to start, but perhaps that gives me a bit of a unique perspective. After several months of delay due to a search for a new U.S. label, the album was finally released this week among all of the excitement that accompanies the reception of new music from someone who NME described as "one of the most influential artists ever."

At this late stage in a musician's career, only the 'greats' manage to avoid, or at least hold off the almost universally inevitable decline in quality that comes with having released so many albums and simply being around the music scene for such a long time. The fact that Years of Refusal is a solid rock record, then, is a testament to Morrissey's well-earned iconic status. Opener "Something Is Squeezing My Skull" bursts confidently and smoothly out of the gates with driving guitars and Morrissey's tale of a life barely lived on unwanted medication, not exactly a unique subject, but a good indication that 'Refusal' is anything BUT one of those 'growing up and slowing down' snoozers that aging rockstars are all too prone to make.

Throughout the record, the band stay sharp and focused musically and lyrically. "Black Cloud" soars menacingly on some great guitar work by guest Jeff Beck, the lovely "I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris" is a unique take on the typical 'nobody loves me' tune, and "It's Not Your Birthday Anymore" combines an almost whispered verse and epic chorus for Morrissey's best vocal work on the album. Some tracks on 'Refusal' simply coast by without offering much of a real hook, but those moments are few and far between and the record provides enough variation to keep things entertaining throughout.

What impresses me most is Morrissey's ability to balance what feels like an effortless exercise in strong songwriting with perfect execution and a seemingly sincere delivery that makes the album so engaging and appealing. While I can't compare this to his earlier work, at no point during the record does Morrissey come across as tired or uninterested, instead, even as he approaches his 50th birthday this year, his energy, earnestness, and musical chops are here in full force. Years of Refusal is yet another accomplished record in a career already littered with them.

The Devil Makes Three announce tour, debut album

If you didn't know any better, you might think The Devil Makes Three originated from pretty much anywhere BUT Southern California. The drummer-less trio of of Pete Bernhard (guitar, banjo, harmonica, vocals), Lucia Turino (upright bass), and Cooper McBean (guitar, banjo, saw) make country folk music that sounds quite unlike anything made since about 1950 or so. Their old-school blues sound has a raw, rough edge and a light-hearted feel that makes for quite the musical experience. The group are set to release their third album, Do Wrong Right, on May 5 and will start touring in March.

For a taste of the upcoming record, download the opening track "All Hail" below and visit their MySpace to hear a few more tunes. Stay tuned for a full album review a little closer to the release date.

All Hail (MP3)

Tour Dates:


March 12: Club Fred - FRESNO, CA
March 13: Las Vegas Country Saloon - LAS VEGAS, NEVADA
March 14: The Green Room, FLAGSTAFF, CA
March 16: WXSW Festival - TUCSON, ARIZONA
March 21 - Submerged, Austin TX
March 18: Lovejoys - AUSTIN, TX
March 23: The Blue Door - OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA
March 26: Burt's Tiki Lounge: SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH


May 2: Great American Music Hall - San Francisco, CA . CD RELEASE
May 10: Downtown Brew - San Luis Obispo, CA
May 11: Downtown Brew: San Luis Obispo, CA
May 15: Mystic Theater, PETALUMA, CA
May 17: The Historic Ashland Armory, ASHLAND, Oregon
May 22: Stawberry Music Festival. YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA
May 26: WOW Hall, EUGENE, OR
May 27: Wonder Ballroom, PORTLAND, OR
May 28: The Crocodile - SEATTLE, WASHINGTON
May 30: The Other Side - MISSOULA, MONTANA
May 31: The FIlling Station - BOZEMAN, MONTANA

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Review: P.O.S. - Never Better (* * * * 1/2)

Disclaimer: I don't listen to rap music. Well, not usually anyway, but occasionally a rap artist comes along with a sound, a style...something that resonates with me and captures my attention. P.O.S. is one such artist. Born Stefon Alexander, P.O.S. is a Minneapolis-based rapper with punk-rock roots and an agenda based much more on social and political issues than self-aggrandizing braggadocio. Apparently, when Alexander was a teenager, he played bass, guitar, and drums in various rock bands before settling on rap, though he never lost his love for punk intensity and the underground scene. His third album, Never Better, was released on Rhymesayers earlier this year and has quickly become a favorite of mine this year across all genres.

The album's first track, "Let it Rattle," a dense, noisy tune, serves as something of an introduction to the record before the explosion of the appropriately-titled "Drumroll (We're All Thirsty)." The song features frenetic drumming and squealing guitar under P.O.S.'s spitfire rhymes that grab hold of the listener and refuse to let go for two and a half minutes. The punk attitude and production continue throughout the record, especially on the intense "Graves (We Wrote the Book)," the abrasive "The Basics," and a rap-rock song, "Terrorish," which features vocals from hardcore singer Jason Shevchuk. It might be something of an acquired taste for many, but I was immediately hooked.

Never Better also includes more standard rap fare, which P.O.S. does equally well. "Savion Glover" has an old-school hip-hop feel and "Goodbye" features more grandiose production while still maintaining an organic base, as does "Low Light Low Life," which includes several members of the hip-hop collective Doomtree that P.O.S. founded in Minneapolis. The softer-edged tunes balance the album and keep the 55 minutes from becoming tiresome or heavy-handed, though this is not a 'light' or 'fun' album. This is music intended not simply to provide a good time, but to deliver a message, a statement. At every turn, P.O.S. stays sharp, struggling with political issues, family matters, and the ills of society in a way that offers a great deal more than just fancy wordplay (though there's plenty of that, too).

P.O.S.'s unique background combined with his talent as a rapper and musician make for a record unlike anything I've ever heard before. It's gripping, fascinating, and challenging, an album that pushes boundaries and explores new territory with exciting results.

Throw Me the Statue release new EP, offer free MP3

Indie band Throw Me the Statue are back with a new EP entitled Purpleface, a four-song follow-up to last year's Moonbeams. The record features three new songs, "That's How You Win," "Honeybee," and "Ship," and one reworking of a previously released tune, "Written In Heart Signs, Faintly." The band are also recording a full-length LP to be released later this year (hopefully).

You can download the song "Ship," below, a beautiful, understated gem that holds up to singer/songwriter Scott Reitherman's best work on Moonbeams. With more material on the way soon, 2009 is looking good for Throw Me the Statue and those of us lucky enough to be familiar with their music.

Ship (MP3)

1. That's How You Win
2. Written In Heart Signs, Faintly
3. Honeybee
4. Ship

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Damien Jurado announces spring tour

Renowned singer/songwriter Damien Jurado will be touring in support of his most recent record, Caught In the Trees, which was released last year through Secretly Canadian. He will be playing solo and will be supported by Laura Gibson throughout most of the tour.

Jurado is a fantastic folk storyteller who has continued to give us great material throughout his career. If you haven't before, take the time to listen by streaming or downloading the song "Gillian Was a Horse" below.

Gillian Was a Horse (MP3)

4/1/09 Spokane, WA - Empyrean Coffee House
4/3/09 Boise, ID - Neurolux
4/4/09 Provo, UT - Velour
4/5/09 Denver, CO - Hi-Dive
4/7/09 Omaha, NE - The Waiting Room
4/8/09 Iowa City, IA - The Picador
4/9/09 St. Paul, MN - Turf Club
4/10/09 Chicago, IL - Schubas
4/11/09 Bloomington, IN - Russian Recording
4/12/09 Ann Arbor, MI - The Blind Pig
4/14/09 Toronto, ON - The Drake Hotel
4/15/09 Montreal, QC - Il Motore
4/16/09 Cambridge, MA - TT The Bear's Place
4/17/09 Brooklyn, NY - The Bell House
4/18/09 Philadelphia, PA - First Unitarian Chapel
4/19/09 Vienna, VA - Jammin' Java
4/21/09 Asheville, NC - Grey Eagle
4/22/09 Birmingham, AL - The Bottletree
4/23/09 Atlanta, GA - The Earl
4/24/09 Memphis, TN - Hi-Tone Cafe
4/25/09 Nashville, TN - The Basement
4/27/09 Norman, OK - The Opolis
4/28/09 Denton, TX - Dan's Silverleaf
4/29/09 Austin, TX - Cactus Cafe
5/1/09 Tucson, AZ - Club Congress
5/2/09 San Diego, CA - Casbah
5/3/09 Los Angeles, CA - Spaceland
5/4/09 Santa Barbara, CA - Muddy Waters
5/5/09 San Francisco, CA - Bottom of the Hill
5/7/09 Portland, OR - Doug Fir Lounge
5/8/09 Seattle, WA - Crocodile Cafe

Review: Max Tundra - Parallax Error Beheads You ( * * * 1/2)

Last year I began my first real steps into discovering the wonders of electronic pop music. I suppose I'm what you would call a late bloomer in that regard, but while I was certainly aware of the genre before, I had always dismissed it as "not my thing." Fortunately, I've been coming around and trying to make up for it by getting my hands on music by some of the more relevant and current electronica artists, including English producer and multi-instrumentalist Ben Jacobs who records under the name Max Tundra.

Jacobs' music includes some more organic musical elements, but his songs have a very digital feel. Last year's Parallax Error Beheads You, his third effort, is a veritable explosion of scattered synth and key arrangements behind colorful stories of love gained and lost. Many of his tunes are bubbly and bright, like the ode to finding love online, "Will Get Fooled Again," the funky, disco-tinged "Which Song," and "The Entertainment," which buzzes merrily along before the techno-inspired key work takes over. For several tracks on Parallax, Jacobs experiments with more abstract song structures and melodies, as on the piano-led groove of "My Night Out," the 'instrumental' "Orphaned," and noisy, grinding "Nord Lead Thee." The more unapproachable material actually rounds the album out well, though the pop songs are probably the most enjoyable.

I think what kept me from loving Parallax is the busyness and unrelenting pace of the music. The hyper-active arrangements are impressive and easy to appreciate, but if I'm not in the right mood, too much of the record grates a bit. I realize that this is probably a matter of perspective rather than simply stating whether or not the album is 'good,' but I found that this really is music made more exclusively for fans of the genre than for fence-sitters like myself. Still, the compositions and production are spotless and Jacobs seems to be simply unable to contain his wealth of ideas. The album would be far less interesting without Jacobs' unwillingness to show restraint, though it may have been slightly more palatable.

Review: Late Of The Pier - Fantasy Black Channel (* * * *)

British quartet Late Of The Pier released their debut album, Fantasy Black Channel, overseas last year to critical acclaim and have recently brought the record to the U.S., though I've heard little about it, press wise. The band, comprised of Samuel Eastgate, Andrew Faley, Sam Potter, and Ross Dawson are out to have a good time and to ensure that you do the same. Their ultra-hyper blend of electronica and rock make for an invigorating collection of danceable, in-your-face tunes that is fresh and undeniably fun.

After a brief, instrumental opener, Fantasy Black Channel, wastes no time in taking care of business with a white-hot guitar riff over a groovy bass line on "Broken" that informs you the party has arrived. The dance-rock sound continues into the following track, "Space and the Woods," a synth-heavy tune that combines techno and rock seamlessly. Other highlights include the messy, avant-garde "The Bears Are Coming" and the epic, soaring "Focker." Part of what makes 'Fantasy' such a great listen is Late Of The Pier's willingness to take chances and push boundaries. Layers of sound; guitars, keys, synths, etc. fill every song to the brim while generally managing to keep the music from feeling overwrought or unecessarily noisy.

For fans of the dance-rock genre, or anybody looking for something for a good soundtrack for a night out, Late Of The Pier has created an album you won't want to miss.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

New Artist: Audrye Sessions

I've written briefly about this up-and-coming band from California, but with their debut LP out today, I thought a more formal introduction would be appropriate. Audrye Sessions was founded in 2002 by singer Ryan Karazija and guitarist (now bassist) Alicia Marie Campbell and currently includes Michael Knox and James Leste on guitar and drums respectively. The group released their eponymous debut EP last year in October, and now bring a full-fledged album (also self-titled) to the table.

The most powerful weapon in the band's arsenal is Karazija's voice. His striking vocals sound, at times, remarkably similar to Muse singer Matthew Bellamy, and thus something like Thom Yorke of Radiohead. Audrye Sessions occasionally channel the emotion and energy of these bands and others, but the group's alt-rock sound contains a unique identity just the same. Their debut is equal parts bombastic rockers and slow, melancholy ballads, both of which they do well. "Turn Me Off," "Julianna," and "The Paper Face," all from the first half of their new record, feature driving guitars, epic choruses, and Karaija's voice raised into a near-wail resulting in a dramatic and emotional ride.

However, while the louder rock tunes make for some great moments, the group's more delicate songs really shine. The second half of the album has several beautiful ballads, like the slow-building "New Year's Day" and the simply gentle "The Crows Came In," and some songs that combine intensity with elegance in a engaging mixture that shows the band's versatility. Audrye Sessions is a promising album and a nice start from a band that should soon be getting some well-deserved attention, so check these guys out on MySpace, or two of my earlier posts for a couple of free songs to get you started.

Papercuts offer free MP3 from new album

Jason Quever, the artist known as Papercuts, will be releasing his new album, You Can Have What You Want, on April 14. The record will be a follow-up to his acclaimed 2007 effort, Can't Go Back, which brought the following praise from Pitchfork, "It takes a few seconds of Papercuts' second album, Can't Go Back, to think that maybe you've stumbled upon something special, a delicate mood piece made to slice through the din and chaos of modern life."

You can download "Future Primitive" from the upcoming album below. The track is a ear-pleasing update of vintage pop, with hazy vocals and guitars fighting their way through a booming drum/bass rhythm. If this is a good indication of what we can expect from You Can Have What You Want, then you won't want to miss out.

Future Primitive (MP3)

Track list:

01 Once We Walked In The Sunlight
02 A Dictator's Lament
03 The Machine Will Tell Us So
04 A Peculiar Hallelujah
05 Jet Plane
06 Dead Love
07 Future Primitive
08 You Can Have What You Want
09 The Void
10 The Wolf

Stereogum offers "Love Has Left The Room" download from A Camp

Swedish trio A Camp, led by former Cardigans member Nina Persson, are set to release their sophomore effort and US debut, Colonia, in April. For a taste of the new album, Stereogum is offering an exclusive download of the excellent track "Love Has Left The Room." Click on the link below to go to the download page where you can also find out a bit more about the track from the Nina herself:

'Gum Drop: "Love Has Left The Room"

The new record features 12 songs and guest appearances by James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins, Kevin March of Guided By Voices, and Joan Wasser of Joan as Policewoman. In Sweden, the album is currently #2 on the charts, right behind Bruce Springsteen!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Review: Asobi Seksu - Hush (* * * *)

With their previous release, Citrus, Asobi Seksu grabbed hold of the shoegaze banner and proclaimed themselves the new royalty of the genre, which, while still influential, has become fairly diluted of late. Admittedly, I'm not shoegaze's biggest fan, but the band's beautifully shimmering sound is hard to resist, and their new album, Hush, is another gorgeous collection of tunes with an even bigger, warmer, and brighter sound than its predecessor. While the duo of Yuki Chikudate (vocals/keyboards) and James Hanna (guitar/vocals) take a slightly different approach for Hush, their signature sound remains ever present throughout the record.

The appropriately titled opening track, "Layers," builds into a wall of sound of keys and guitar behind Chikudate's breathtaking vocals that should have shoegazers (is that what you call them?) drooling. About half of the album follows a similar pattern and feels fairly familiar, like the soaring "Sunshower," the airy "Mehnomae," and the lovely duet, "Blind Little Rain" which closes the album. Although many of these songs offer little in the way of progress or exploration, the duo's musicianship make for some spectacular moments among them.

The other half of the record shows Asobi Seksu branching out with a less claustrophobic, more open pop sound. The second track and first single from the album, "Familiar Light," has a harder edge with its machine-gun drumming and a slightly louder and more direct guitar line. The more rock-tinged songs throughout the album are some of the highlights, including the straightforward "Sing Tomorrows Praise" and the driving, bass-heavy "In The Sky." Occasionally, stripping away the layers of sound has less interesting results, like "Glacially," which feels a bit awkward and empty, but the careful shift in sound generally seems like the right move on Hush.

The attention to detail throughout Hush is admirable; each sound carefully chosen and arranged with nothing out of place, and the vocals and guitar work continue to impress. Whatever you call their particular brand of music, Asobi Seksu have created another uniquely beautiful album

Review: Deer Tick - War Elephant (* * * *)

Chalk another one up for " 2008 albums I should have heard but didn't and now that I have I'm realizing how much great music was released last year." Actually, Deer Tick's debut album, War Elephant, was originally released in 2007 but was re-released near the end of last year through Partisan Records, complete with the slightly bizarre cover art you see pictured here. Deer Tick's story is an interesting one, and while the band is now four members, War Elephant was recorded solely by singer/songwriter John McCauley III.

McCauley, just 19 when the album was written and recorded, creates music well beyond his years. His world-weary, slightly nasally voice, broken stories, and classic folk sound feel like the work of someone with a great deal more life experience. In fact, you may wonder whether McCauley could possibly understand the amount of pain and loneliness contained within War Elephant or whether he simply knows enough to spin a good yarn. Either way, the lyrics throughout the album are both intelligent and emotional. Stories like "Dirty Dishes" and "Christ Jesus" are filled with melancholy, while songs like the lover's plea, "Spend The Night," take themselves a bit less seriously.

Musically, the album swings between finger-picked ballads - like the simply beautiful opener, "Ashamed," and the more fleshed-out, "Diamond Rings 2007" - and folk-rockers, especially the aforementioned "Spend The Night" and the dirty, gritty "Sink or Swim." The variety helps the 14 tracks and 48 minutes to pass without feeling as long as it might otherwise and McCauley's skill with a guitar and keys add subtle layers and a few surprises to the music and keep things interesting throughout. "These Old Shoes" includes a messy, noisy electric guitar solo, "Baltimore Blues No. 1" has an almost reggae feel to it underneath the southern rock exterior, and the fantastic "Art Isn't Real (City of Sin)" has some strings and slide guitar thrown in that give the song the feeling of being lifted directly from an old country western album.

It looks as if Deer Tick have big plans for 2009, including at least one new album on the way, but War Elephant is a solid debut that ranks among the best folk records of 2008 and certainly deserves your attention. You can download "Long Time" at my previous post, or check out the band's homepage for more info.

Max Tundra: Tours with Junior Boys, free MP3

Max Tundra is Ben Jacobs, an English multi-instrumentalist who released his third album last year, the oddly titled "Parallax Error Beheads You," to general critical acclaim. Owen Pallett (Final Fantasy) says, "What sets Max Tundra apart from any other band in the world is his attention to detail. This album is impossibly full of ideas, seeking out every imaginable sound in the world and giving each their own curtain call." Quite the endorsement...

You can download "Which Song" from the album below, an excellent electro-funk track that should serve as a good introduction to Max Tundra if you haven't had the pleasure already. You can also watch the video for "Will Get Fooled Again."

Which Song (MP3)

Max Tundra will be touring with Junior Boys, tour dates below:

03.18 - 03.21 - Austin, TX SXSW
03.28 - Toronto, ON - The Mod Club *
03.29 - Toronto, ON - The Mod Club *
03.31 - Cleveland, OH - Grog Shop *
04.01 - Pontiac, MI - Cro-Foot (Pike Room) *
04.02 - Chicago, IL - The Metro *
04.03 - Minneapolis, MN - TBA *
04.04 - Winnipeg, MB - Pyramid Cabaret *
04.06 - Saskatoon, SK - TBA *
04.07 - Edmonton, AB - Starlite Room *
04.09 - Calgary, AB - The Warehouse *
04.11 - Vancouver, BC - The Biltmore Cabaret *
04.12 - Seattle, WA - Crocodile Cafe *
04.14 - Portland, OR - Doug Fir *
04.16 - San Francisco, CA - Bimbo's 365 Club *
04.19 - Phoenix, AZ - Rhythm Room *
04.22 - Denver, CO - The Bluebird Theatre *
04.24 - Kansas City, MO - Record Bar *
04.25 - St. Louis, MO - Billiken Club *
04.28 - Newport, KY - Southgate House *
04.29 - Columbus, OH - TBA *
04.30 - Lexington, KY - The Dame *
05.01 - Nashville, TN - Mercy Lounge *
05.02 - Atlanta, GA - The Earl *
05.03 - Carrboro, NC - Cat's Cradle *
05.05 - Washington, DC - Black Cat *
05.06 - Philadelphia, PA - First Unitarian Church *
05.07 - New York, NY - Webster Hall *
05.08 - Cambridge, MA - Middle East Downstairs *
05.09 - Montreal, QC - TBA *
05.10 - Ottawa, ON - TBA *

* = w/ Junior Boys

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Review: Vulture Whale - Vulture Whale (* * * *)

Vulture Whale are an Alabama-based rock quartet who recently released their sophomore (and second self-titled) album. The band have gained some well-deserved praise from a small selection of online mags and blogs, but have somehow managed to fly well under the radar so far, which is unfortunate for those of you not yet exposed. Their new record should do something to change that; with a southern-tinged rock sound that brings to mind a host of classic influences combined with plenty of punk swagger, the whole project feels messy, effortless, and fun.

Vulture Whale is, for the most part, delightfully simple. Some bands seek to expand a genre or create a new one, but these guys know their limits and choose to work within their strengths. With little exploration or invention, the band focus on creating solid rock 'n' roll music with plenty of hooks and a unique touch that makes the record much more than just a rehash of their influences. Right from the beginning of the opening track, "Teedy," the driving guitars and singer Wes McDonald's earnest yelp sound both familiar and fresh, an ode to classic rock by a band less interested in imitation than channeling the sound into their own style.

First single, "Sugar," is an immediate highlight, all attitude and fiery riffs in an impossibly catchy four minutes. "Tote It To Cleveland, AL" and "That's Cold" contain similar amounts of sexy, funky swagger in which McDonald confidently howls his way through twangy narratives backed by spot-on grooves from his bandmates. There's a little variation here, like the blistering southern punk tune "Guillotine," and the slower, more melancholy "What Do," but the band cruise most of the way through the record in the same energetic, yet slightly restrained, gear. Vulture Whale contains no filler, and only a few tracks that dip below the group's own high standard.

Vulture Whale have made another great rock album for 2009, a genre that is already stacking up to have a fantastic year. Check these guys out on MySpace to hear a few of their tunes, or look up my previous post for a free download of "Sugar."

Friday, February 13, 2009

Riverboat Gamblers: album details, song download

Austin rockers Riverboat Gamblers have a new album set to be released on March 10, and you can download the first single, "A Choppy, Yet Sincere Apology" (and an exclusive b-side) by simply submitting your email address on their MySpace page. You can also stream that track and another from the upcoming album for a taste of the band's melodic punk sound.

The record is titled Underneath the Owl and will be released through Volcom Entertainment.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Review: Heartless Bastards - The Mountain (* * * *)

Heartless Bastards is a misleading name for the Ohio-based trio led by Erika Wennerstrom, who don't seem to be heartless and at least one of whom can't technically be a bastard. Though the inaccurate title would suggest that the band have a humorous side, they take their music quite seriously and have been creating gritty, grunge-inspired rock 'n' roll for several years alongside former label mates and fellow Ohio-ans the Black Keys which has earned them some well-deserved acclaim. The group just released their third album, The Mountain, with two original members, Jesse Ebaugh and Dave Colvin, returning to the band for bass and drum duty.

Right from the start, Heartless Bastards' greatest strength is revealed when Wennerstrom's powerful voice takes off midway through opener "The Mountain." It's a voice that bears little resemblance to many female singers, an emotionally charged howl (for lack of a better word) filled with sadness, anger, and longing. Songs like "Early in the Morning" and "Out At Sea" have a driving, intense rhythm that allows her to let loose, creating turbulent rock tunes and some of the album's most striking moments. However, while the spotlight may be on Wennerstrom’s vocals, the music the band creates deserves recognition as well. These louder, grungier rock songs follow the basic guitar/bass/drum template which the band has perfected over the years and the delivery is simple, raw, and effective.

The Mountain has much more to offer than just straightforward rock ‘n’ roll, however, and while the heavier and more direct moments are fantastic, some of the slower, mellower tunes shine just as bright. Fortunately, while she often sounds a bit wild and untamed, Wennerstrom knows her limits and understands when to go big and when to restrain her voice to fit the record’s more subtle songs. "So Quiet" is a lovely folk tune with plucked acoustic guitar backed by some gorgeous string arrangements, "Could Be So Happy" saunters along at half speed with a soulful blues sound, and "Had To Go" is an epic seven and a half minutes of slow-burning rock with banjo and violin setting the mood. The breadth of the album is firmly rooted in the band's signature Southern-tinged rock sound, but the increased level of exploration pays big dividends on The Mountain.

The record is nicely balanced and well produced, and even at a length of 50 minutes, the music never outstays its welcome. Through dense walls of sound and moments of emotion and fragility, Heartless Bastards create a more personal brand of rock ‘n’ roll that is as relatable as it is exciting. Also, Wennerstrom proves herself a more than able songwriter, and has her lyrics are given the opportunity to shine above the generally noisy rock sound, and the results are impressive. The Mountain is big, bold, and at times, beautiful, with a style all its own. Heartless Bastards are the real deal and we should all be paying attention.

Download Yonlu's "I Know What It's Like"

I might be a little late on this one, as The Fader has had this download available for a while now, but I thought it would be important to share. Yoñlu is the Internet screen name for teenage songwriter Vinicius Gageiro Marques, whose debut album, A Society in Which No Tear is Shed is Inconcievably Mediocre, will be released on April 14th. You can download a song from the upcoming record, entitled "I Know What's It's Like," below.

I Know What It's Like (Zipped MP3)

The background behind the writing and releasing of this record is quite a story, and I'll let the following quote from do the explaining:

"Teenage Brazilian songwriter Yoñlu aka Vinicius Gageiro Marques is about to release his debut album A society in which no tear is shed… on Luaka Bop in April, and it is full of quietly epic little pop songs like this one. He follows pretty directly in the footsteps of legends like Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso with softly sung and strummed odes to life, but the context is entirely flipped from what we all expect from Brazilian artists — carefree and convivial and just looking for the next good time. Yoñlu took his own life at the age of sixteen and these songs are the ones his parents found in his absence. That shouldn't take away from the beauty of some of his work, only that there will never be more of it."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Review: Or, The Whale - Light Poles and Pines (* * * 1/2)

Or, The Whale is a California-based country band featuring seven members in total, playing a variety of instruments from accordion to guitar to saw, and six of whom are listed as singers (at least in the liner notes). Frontman Alex Robins leads the group on a wide-ranging journey through alternative country music that showcases the band's talent and sense of melody on their debut, Light Poles and Pines, which was re-released this past January.

"Call and Response," a rolling backwoods rocker, opens the album with an explosion of guitar, banjo and edgy lyrics that immediately captures your attention. When Or, The Whale keep things moving quickly, the results are consistently strong, as evidenced by tracks like the bluegrass-tinged "Threads," the pop-country "Fixin' To Leave," and "Gonna Have To," where one of the band's female members shares vocals duties. While Robins' takes the vast majority of the lead vocal on 'Light Poles,' he seems in danger of being overshadowed by those of his bandmates who possess stronger voices, especially on the more gentle, melancholy tunes like "Rope Don't Break," and "Isn't She Awful." The group blend so well together, though, that no matter the singer, the best moments are always those filled with plenty of harmony.

The music of Light Poles and Pines is what holds things together and causes the album to work as well as it does. Each song is filled to the brim with spot-on instrumentation that is ear-pleasing without ever feeling overdone. I'm a sucker for a good banjo line and some jangly guitar, a combination which Or, The Whale have down to a science, and with each bit of slide guitar or keys thrown into the mix, I'm a little more hooked. It's not exactly groundbreaking, but it is fun, expressive, and entertaining music with an immediate impact.

The band do feel a little bit unfocused at times, though the album's variety is certainly interesting. With a wealth of talent and ideas at their disposal, Or, The Whale have a good thing going, a solid base upon which they can build. This is their first album, and I imagine it will only get better from here.

Deer Tick offers extended tour dates, free song

Deer Tick is John McCauley III, a New York singer/songwriter who wrote and recorded his debut album, War Elephant, entirely by himself at the age of 20. An impressive feat considering the quality of the folk-rock music contained therein. The record was re-released near the end of last year, and the band is already finishing up their sophomore effort to be released later in 2009.

You can download "Long Time" from War Elephant below, a melancholy tune that rolls along with McCauley's Dylan-esque vocals backed by some simple, yet effecitve, guitar and drum work. More news on the new album is forthcoming, so stay tuned. To hear some more songs, check out Deer Tick's MySpace page.

Long Time (MP3)

Tour Dates:

Fri-Feb-13 New York, NY Bowery Ballroom *
Sat-Feb-14 Northampton, MA Iron Horse #
Sun-Feb-15 New Haven, CT Café Nine #
Mon-Feb-16 Albany, NY Madison Grille
Wed-Feb-18 Ft. Wayne, IN The Brass Rail
Thu-Feb-19 Rock Island, IL Ribco
Fri-Feb-20 Chicago, IL Empty Bottle &
Sat-Feb-21 Bloomington, IN Cinemat
Sun-Feb-22 Jamestown, NY Labyrinth Press Company
Mon-Feb-23 York, PA First Capital Dispensing Co.
Tue-Feb-24 Boston, MA TT the Bears %
Fri-Feb-27 Philadelphia, PA World Café Live %
Sat-Feb-28 Pittsburgh, PA Club Café %
Sun-Mar-01 Washington, DC 930 Club %
Mon-Mar-02 Cleveland, OH Beachland Ballroom %
Wed-Mar-04 Toronto, ONT Horseshoe Tavern %
Thu-Mar-05 Buffalo, NY Mohawk Place %
Fri-Mar-06 Columbus, OH Skully's %
Sat-Mar-07 Cincinanati, OH Southgate House %
Sun-Mar-08 Asheville, NC Orange Peel %
Mon-Mar-09 Charleston, SC Tin Roof ^
Wed-Mar-11 Tallahassee, FL The Engine Room
Fri-Mar-13 Louisville, KY Headliner's %
Sat-Mar-14 Nashville, TN The Mercy Lounge %
Mon-Mar-16 New Orleans, LA Clever
Tue-Mar-17 Houston, TX Rudyard's
Mar 18 - 21 Austin, TX SXSW
Tue-Mar-24 Birmingham, AL Bottletree $
Wed-Mar-25 Atlanta, GA Drunken Unicorn $
Thu-Mar-26 Durham, NC Duke Univeristy Coffeehouse $
Fri-Mar-27 Baltimore, MD The G-Spot $


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Audrye Sessions debut LP out next week, free song while you wait

California quartet Audrye Sessions are set to release their self-titled debut on February 17, but you can download "New Years Day," from the upcoming album, below. The songs is delicate and beautiful, reminiscent of some of Radiohead's earlier work and is very much worth your time to give it a listen. Previously, I gave away the band's equally gorgeous cover of Elliot Smith's Waltz #2.

New Years Day (MP3)

Also, check out these tour dates and see if the Audrye Sessions is playing somewhere close by:

Feb 10 * Black Cafe * Stockton, California
Feb 11 * Blue Lamp * Sacramento, California
Feb 12 * WOW Hall (w/ Helio Sequence) * Eugene, Oregon
Feb 13 * The New Frontier Lounge * Tacoma, Washington
Feb 15 * Neumo’s (KNDD Valentine’s Show) * Seattle, Washington
Feb 18 * The Troubadour ( w/ As Tall As Lions) * West Hollywood, California
Feb 19 * Bottom of The Hill ( w/ As Tall As Lions) * San Francisco, California
Feb 20 * Amoeba Records Instore * Berkeley, California
Feb 20 * The Venue * Los Gatos, California
Feb 21 * Jensen’s Mainstage * Santa Barbara, California
Feb 22 * Detroit Bar * Costa Mesa, California
Feb 23 * Modified Arts * Phoenix, Arizona
Feb 24 * Casbah * San Diego, California
Feb 26 * Jerry’s Pizza * Bakersfield, California

Review: Benjy Ferree - Come Back to the Five and Dime, Bobby Dee Bobbe Dee (* * * *)

Concept albums can be tricky beasts. There's a great deal of artistic credibility associated with many of these projects, but also a general feeling that these records are less likely to succeed from a musical standpoint. Personally, I tend to avoid albums with an exceptionally strong concept or story running through them; I'm just not frequently willing to wrap my head around the often obtuse tale being conveyed to me over 10 or 12 tracks. I can think of some notable exceptions, however, and Benjy Ferree's latest, "Come Back to the Five and Dime, Bobby Dee Bobby Dee" can now be added to that short list.

Ferree has crafted what could be considered a tribute to the late Bobby Driscoll, the child star who portrayed Peter Pan in the 1953 Disney movie and then faded into obscurity, poverty, and drugs after being discarded as a less marketable teenager, eventually dying at the young age of 31. A strange concept, to be sure, but one that is carried out with style and confidence. The album's unique story, quirky production, and gritty rock presentation make for a fascinating musical journey unlike anything you've heard before.

While I don't pretend to understand the wealth of references and odd lyrical phrases, some of them are fairly obvious. Peter Pan, "In the name of lost boys everywhere" and Pinocchio, "My conscience is a cricket, every time I curse you know he gives me a ticket," are both referred to in opener "Tired of Being Good." Elsewhere, Ferree refers to the ruthlessness of showbiz in "Big Business" and "Blown Out," the awkwardness of youth in "When You're 16," and "Whirlpool of Love," and a general feeling of frustration and loneliness throughout the record.

Ferree's keeps the emotion in the record palpable with his fresh and exciting rock sound, pushing things forward even when the lyrics become too obtuse to be worth figuring out. Quite a bit of the classic rock 'n' roll genre is covered in 'Bobby Dee,' like the honkey-tonk rock of "Big Business," the bluesy "Fear," complete with soulful choir vocals, and the White Stripes-esque "Great Scott!" Ferree's voice, which hovers somewhere between Freddy Mercury and Jack White, delivers even the most absurd of lines in a convincing manner, and his arrangements keep you on your toes. He's also quite the musician, crafting raw guitar hooks that make the music immediate and intense.

'Bobby Dee' is probably too bizarre and complex for some listeners to love, but Ferree has managed to create something that is not only unique, but also easy to appreciate and, most importantly, enjoy in a more casual way. However you present it, rock 'n' roll music this good is worth experiencing.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Review: Liam Finn - I'll Be Lightning (* * * *)

I've heard it said that 2008 was a bad year for music. I'm not sure that I ever agreed, and my resentment of that statement grows with each musical gem I find that somehow went undiscovered (at least by me) during last year. My latest find, Liam Finn, is the son of Crowded House member Neil Finn, which garnered him some attention last year, though too little in my opinion. Finn's debut, I'll Be Lightning, is a sprawling pop-folk record that is packed with well-crafted tunes and a fresh style. The album was released in January of 2008 in the States, and earlier in New Zealand and Australia.

The opening track, "Better To Be," combines a fuzzy bass line, shimmering guitars, and soft falsetto harmonies in one of several Beatles-esque pop moments found on the record. Yes, I understand that many people sound like the Beatles, or want to sound like the Beatles, but Finn manages to harness the spirit of classic pop music without sounding like a tribute band. Like the aforementioned song, Finn's music is sometimes upbeat and direct, such as the driving, haunting "Second Chance," the freak-folk number, "Lead Balloon," and the rocker, "This Palce Is Killing Me." Much of the time, however, he dabbles in folk-centered, psychedelically-tinged pop that moves along at a somewhat slower pace. "Gather To The Chapel" is a graceful piece with acoustic guitars, brushed drums, and subtle electric guitar effects swirling lightly around Finn's crisp tenor voice, while "Lullaby" eschews common instruments for an a eerie, yet gentle a capella choir (probably all Finn) backed by just a touch of strings near the end.

Highlights and personal favorites of mine include some of Finn's less experimental moments, though there truly are no weak tracks on 'Lightning." In fact, what makes the record interesting is Finn's need to make what could be easily accessible music just a tad harder to digest. However, when the melodies the and lyrics shine clearly through the haze (as they tend to do here), the results are fantastic. The mid-tempo folk tune "Energy Spent," which bounces along on a great drum/guitar combination seems endlessly re-playable, and "Wise Men," is a beautiful song both sweeping and intimate full of hooks that stick with you.

At 14 tracks and 53 minutes, the album is probably too long, but I'm at a loss to suggest which tunes should go, so I'll be more than satisfied with the excess. Liam Finn shows remarkable songwriting and musicianship on I'll Be Lightning, which, when combined with an abundance of musical ideas, makes for one thoroughly great record.

New Vulture Whale video, free MP3

Indie rockers Vulture Whale released their self-titled, self-produced second album last week, offering more of their punk attitude and pop sensibility throughout the record's 11 tracks. The Alabama-based band have a hilarious new video for their song, "Sugar," which you can watch below. You can also download the track, which has a bit of southern rock vibe carried by singer Wes McDonald's raw, yet melodic vocals.

Sugar (Zipped MP3)

Track list:

1. Teedy
2. Thought Eyes
3. Head Turner
4. Guillotine
5. Sugar
6. Sum Yung Scientist
7. Tote It To Cleveland, AL
8. The Waves
9. What Do
10.That’s Cold
11.Ever Body

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Review: Dan Auerbach - Keep It Hid (* * * *)

Apparently, releasing one of the better rock records of 2008 wasn't cause enough for Dan Auerbach to take a break. The singer/guitarist, and one half of The Black Keys, is back already (this time without drummer Patrick Carney), making his solo debut with an LP entitled Keep It Hid. Last year's Black Keys full-length, Attack & Release, saw the duo expanding their gritty, blues-tinged rock 'n' roll with the help of Danger Mouse in the producer's chair. The results were generally fantastic, though a number of diehard fans were disappointed by the quirky flourishes and embellishments which were layered upon the band's signature guitar-and-drum attack. Here, Auerbach generally forgoes fancy studio trickery for a more traditional and straightforward blues sound, which he creates with help from a full backing band.

The decision for Auerbach to go solo for this record seemed a strange one to me, since I wasn't sure exactly how this would be significantly different from anything he'd done previously. As such, I was pleasantly surprised to find that, despite his unmistakable style, Keep It Hid is not simply a Black Keys record by any other name. The album is a sprawling collection of rock 'n' roll songs coming in all shapes and sizes; soulful ballads, raw rockers, and everything in between, connected by Auerbach’s unique presentation and gift for channeling the energy and spirit of classic rock.

"Trouble Weighs A Ton" starts things off on a melancholy note, with just acoustic guitar backing the brief, lonesome story. It's one of several subdued, gentle tunes on the album, along with the uncharacteristically tender "When The Night Comes" and the homesick closer "Goin' Home." The latter of which rolls along on banjo and slide guitar, demonstrating a side of Auerbach you may not have heard before. The quieter material suits him well, especially when balanced with the hard blues-rock he does best.

The second track, "I Want Some More," kicks things into a more familiar stomp. You'll think you've heard it before until Auerbach drifts into a spacey, touch-and-go solo for a minute before bringing the song back in focus. His exploration of guitar effects and styles is something of a theme throughout the album. Though none of the songs are longer than five minutes, Auerbach takes time to noodle around a bit more than usual, like during the long outro to "Heartbroken, In Disrepair" and the extended, fuzzed-out solo on "Streetwalker." He keeps the songs focused, though, and the majority of the attention is on his ever-impressive guitar riffs and earnest vocals, just shy of a primal howl. Songs like "Mean Monsoon," "When I Left the Room," and "The Prowl" are all swagger and dirty, distorted grooves that rock in the most pure sense of the word.

Keep It Hid succeeds primarily because of Auerbach’s style. The man exudes rock 'n' roll attitude like nobody in the business, and his guitar chops remain sharp throughout the record. It's obvious that Auerbach feels comfortable and confident with all of this material, and though one could argue that he's not stretching himself much here (and that may be true), he covers so much territory so gracefully that the album's songs feel like a revitalization of the rock genre, rather than just a retread of better days.

Though Keep It Hid offers nothing that could be considered groundbreaking, Dan Auerbach's talent as a musician and songwriter make for an exceptionally enjoyable rock 'n' roll album.