Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New Artist: Winter Gloves

Though indie pop bands aren't exactly a rare commodity, the good ones are always worth the work it can take to discover them. Winter Gloves, the Canadian-based quartet led by Charles F, make explosive, danceable synth-rock music that qualifies them as one such group. The band's debut LP, About A Girl, has recently seen a U.S. release and caught the attention of Spin, who offered two tracks by the band, their cover of LCD Soundsystem's "Someone Great" and About A Girl's first single, "Let Me Drive." Both are worth a download.

The new album is a brief (29 minute) blast of catchy choruses, spiky guitar lines, and fuzzy keys behind Charles F's theatrical tenor vocals. Aside from the aforementioned "Let Me Drive," highlights include the urgent opener "Factories," the electro-rocker "Invisible," and the appropriately named "Party People." The band also mix things up occasionally with some slower, more pensive numbers like "Glass Paperweight" and closer "Piano 4 Hands" that round out the album and give it some needed variation, resulting in a well-balanced record with no filler and plenty of killer. For indie pop addicts, About A Girl would make an excellent addition to your collection.

If you want to hear more, you can head over to the band's MySpace page. You should also check out their amazing flip-book music video for "Let Me Drive," which you can see at my previous post.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Great Lake Swimmers release new LP tomorrow!

This is very good news that you hopefully have heard by now, but for the unaware, Great Lake Swimmers have a new album out tomorrow entitled Lost Channels. The record is a followup to the band's excellent 2007 release, Ongiara. The new single, "Pulling on a Line" is an extremely infectious alt-folk tune with banjo and mandolin adding a sweet touch to frontman Tony Dekker's world-weary tenor voice. You can check out the video for the song below.

Keep an eye out for Great Lake Swimmers on tour in support of their new album, tour dates below as well.

Great Lake Swimmers Lost Channels US Spring Tour 2009:
Mar 31 - Seattle @ The Tractor Tavern
Apr 01 - Portland @ Doug Fir
Apr 03 - San Francisco @ The Bottom of the Hill
Apr 04 - Los Angeles @ Spaceland
Apr 05 - Tucson @ Plush
Apr 07 - Austin @ Stubbs Bar-B-Q
Apr 08 - Denton @ Hailey's
Apr 10 - Atlanta @ The Earl
Apr 11 - Asheville @ The Earl (all ages)
Apr 13 - Charlottesville @ Gravity Lounge
Apr 14 - Washington @ Black Cat
Apr 15 - Philadelphia @ Johnny Brenda's
Apr 16 - Northampton @ Iron Horse Music Hall
Apr 17 - New York City @ The Bowery Ballroom
Apr 18 - Cambridge @ The Brattle Theater
Apr 20 - Newport @ The Southgate House
Apr 21 - Chicago @ Schubas
Apr 22 - Minneapolis @ 7th Street Entry
Apr 23 - Madison @ High Noon Saloon

Review: Peter Doherty - Grace/Wastelands (* * * *)

Everybody grows up eventually, even self-destructive British rockstars. Peter Doherty, known as much for his constant battle with addiction as his work with The Libertines and spin-off Babyshambles, is beating the average 'wake up' age by a good margin. Just about in time for this 30th birthday, Doherty has released his debut solo album, entitled Grace/Wastelands, which he claims is one of the most frightening things he's ever done. Sobering up and mellowing out, Doherty worked with Blur frontman Graham Coxon to create a relaxed pop vibe for his latest offering.

The feel of Grace/Wastelands is unlike anything Doherty has been associate with before, with a style hovering between rambling folk-rock and dark, noirish pop. Opener "Arcady," shuffles along amiably on finger-picked guitar, while "Last of the English Roses" picks things up a bit with more percussion and some horns to back Doherty's quaint narrative. Both tunes have a warm, pleasant sound that Doherty continues on songs like the classic pop track "Sweet By and By" and the breezy "Sheepskin Tearaway." Other songs, like the string-heavy tunes "1939" and "A Little Death Around the Eyes," have a haunting, almost sinister edge to them, creating a dark pop moments beautifully produced and emotionally delivered. It's clear Doherty is still wrestling his demons, but this new approach feels both refreshingly mature and fascinatingly complex.

Some of the songs, especially during the middle of the album, tend to blend too smoothly with each other and the record can feel a bit slow if you're not paying attention. Fortunately, with enough moments like the simple, but effective "I'm the Rain" and the grittier penultimate track, "New Love Grows On Trees," Doherty proves himself to be a generally strong songwriter even if some of the material doesn't captivate so completely. Closer "Lady Don't Fall Backwards" feels like the perfect summation of the purpose of the record, a melancholy and broken, but hopeful song that ends with the softly sung line "come on and fall into my arms."

Doherty may not want to write of rock 'n' roll for good, but this detour ends up being much more enjoyable than some of his latest work and gives us reason to believe that he has plenty of great music left to offer.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mr. Fogg - Stung MP3

Mr. Fogg is among the latest wave of British electronica artists causing some serious buzz in the indie scene. The one-man band, based just outside of London, has recently finished recording his debut album, and you can get a taste for his excellent electro-rock sound by downloading the first single, "Stung," below. Mr. Fogg surrounds his earnest vocals with layers of gritty beats, soaring synths and vocal harmony that makes for an exciting four minutes and a track you should certainly check out. If the rest of the album is this solid, I imagine you'll be hearing more about him soon.

You can also visit his MySpace to hear a couple more songs.

Stung - MP3 Link

Review: Amadou & Mariam - Welcome to Mali (* * * * 1/2)

I tried to ignore this album but it found me just the same, and I can’t describe how glad I am that it did. It’s not that I actively avoided listening to it, but even with the stellar reviews pouring in last year, I never took the time to track it down and give it a chance. Fortunately, Welcome to Mali was just recently released in the U.S. and a couple weeks ago, a copy showed up in my mailbox. The time for ignorance was past. After about four minutes with the record, I had instantly fallen in love with these unlikely rock stars, Amadou & Mariam, the fifty-year-old blind couple from Mali. No, it’s not a gimmick, these two are making inspiring and legitimately fantastic music, combining influences from around the world in an amalgamation of all that’s exciting about rock, blues, soul, and pop.

Mariam’s warm and kind, yet strong and stern, voice takes the lead on about half of the cuts on Welcome to Mali, while her husband’s smooth, earnest vocals are more prominent on the rest, though the two musicians both contribute significantly to each track. Opener “Sabali” caught Pitchfork’s attention last year and was listed as number 15 on their top tracks of 2008, and for good reason. Mariam’s voice glides smoothly over layers of keyboards and drum machine in a retro-pop-meets-Afro-pop moment that is both surprising and magical. It’s the first of many genuinely awe-inspiring songs packed into the duo’s fifth disc, though it also stands out distinctly from the rest in terms of style.

Although the album’s fifteen songs explore so much territory and feature a generous amount of studio production, much of the record still feels tied directly to the couple’s traditional roots. Songs like “Magossa,” and “Djuru,” both Mariam’s, sound grounded and relatively simple, and it’s her half of record that holds more tightly to a generally familiar Afropop style which the producers dress up fashionably. A few tracks, like the funky “Unissons Nous,” a collaboration with blues singer/songwriter Keziah Jones, blend Mariam’s traditionalism with blues and soul influences for especially impressive results. Her appeal lies in her sincere delivery and overall sweetness that make her songs so easy to love and enjoy.

Amadou’s songs more frequently feature the stylish genre blends that help give the record such a universal appeal. In addition to singing, he contributes his stellar guitar skills throughout the record, claiming influences like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. His love of rock ‘n’ roll comes through loud and clear on most of his material, especially the incendiary “Masiteladi” and the poppy, infectious “Compagnon De Lavie,” the former of which more prominently feature his signature guitar work. Elsewhere, he explores funk and soul on “Africa” (featuring guest rapper K’Naan), classic rock on “Bozos,” and expansive chamber-pop on the English-language track “I Follow You.” With a team of talented musicians to back him up, Amadou confidently blazes through each track with flair.

The couple’s willingness to embrace a wealth of seemingly incongruent ideas and explore new musical possibilities makes the album fascinating, but it’s their ability to reign in those influences with such apparent ease and confidence that takes the music to another level. The songs can occasionally feel weighed down under too much production, but the beautiful melodies and emotive vocals create something special in each song, a remarkable accomplishment for any musician. Though the duo sings primarily in French and Bambara, the music itself is so expressive it never matters much that you can’t understand what’s being said. Welcome to Mali is a superb album, illuminating, uplifting, and truly special.
Last Word: Amadou & Mariam return with their inspired and inspiring fifth record, a fantastic blend of influences gathered from around the World and presented with style and sincerity.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Recommended Artist: Arborea

Maine isn't known for its level of musical activity, but that's probably just fine with Buck and Shanti Curran, the husband and wife duo known as Arborea. The couple make beautifully sparse music that belongs in open, quiet spaces - natural, organic, and full of life. It's difficult to imagine music of this nature coming from a crowded concrete jungle or suburban neighborhood, it just feels bred from influences beyond what the big city has to offer. Only recently have I been introduced to the band, but their progressive, unique folk style has quickly won me over. The Curran's have released three records to date, the last of which was just unveiled this month, entitled House of Sticks.

Shanti Curran's voice has been described by NPR's Robin Hilton (a guy you can trust) as "hypnotically beautiful," and I really couldn't agree more. It's a gorgeous, delicate instrument that most of the duo's songs revolve around, with banjo, slide guitar, dulcimer, ukulele, etc. providing spare, yet captivating, backdrops. Though Shanti takes the vast majority of the vocal work, the two share writing, instrumental and production duties on all of their records, preferring to complete the recording process entirely by themselves.

House of Sticks, released on March 3, compiles a few of Arborea's previous tunes along with some new material in a striking collection of eight songs and just over a half hour of music. The record opens with the rolling banjo line of "River and Rapids," which crescendos slowly, adding hand claps and muted percussion as the pace increases before fading into the gorgeous"Beirut," my personal favorite on the album, where Shanti's ethereal voice simply entrances. Other highlights include the slightly groovier "Alligator" and the lovely "Onto the Shore." Occasionally the album swerves into much more experimental territory, like the simple instrumental tune, "Look Down Fair Moon," or the subtly shifting "House of Sticks," but while these tracks may be less immediate, they end up just as fascinating as the more straightforward songs after a few spins.

Make sure you get yourself introduced to Arborea if you haven't already. A good place to start is at their MySpace, where you can hear several of their songs, or head over to NPR to read Mr. Hilton's take on the work of these excellent musicians.

Paper Route to release debut LP

Alt-rockers Paper Route are getting set to release their full-length debut album, Absence, on April 28th. The band released a solid EP last year that caught the attention of Paste magazine, who labeled the quartet one of "4 to Watch." The group's sound is big and expressive, with waves of guitars, keys, and electronics surrounding singer JT Daly's vocals and open, emotional lyrics.

"We’re very sentimental, emotional, hopelessly romantic guys,” says Daly, "and that’s not cool. But we’ve found that when you are just brutally honest, people connect with that. A lot of things that people are running away from, we’ve always found ourselves gravitating towards.”

You can download their new recod's first single, "Carousel," below, which should give you a good taste of the band's signature style.

Carousel (MP3)

Deastro to release "Moondagger" LP on June 25

22-year-old Randolph Chabot is Deastro, a one-man electro-rock band making some big waves since the release of his home-recorded debut, Keepers, last year. His bedroom-pop style is remarkably full, with layers of electronics and organic instruments filling his sci-fi narratives with pop hooks. His confident presentation and soaring arrangements elevate his music past the league of lonely, insecure, pop artists emerging from similar backgrounds, and his infectious attitude is easy to love.

Deastro's new album, Moondagger, is due out on June 25th, and the psychedelic first single, "Paralellogram, " is out now, which you can stream over at his MySpace page. The single should be enough to get you excited to hear more from the new record, which expands Chabot's sound for an even grander, more explosive electronica sound to create music unlike anything you've heard before.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Review: The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love (* * * *)

If anyone were to make a folk-rock opera influenced by English metal, it would be the Decemberists; so I imagine when information about their new record, The Hazards of Love, was released several months ago, nobody was very surprised. Still, even for a band known and loved for their ‘olde-fashioned’ descriptive narratives involving suicide, war, and/or forbidden love, completing and offering such an epic and structured album always comes with some risk. True, the indie crowd is much more willing to invest in an entire record rather than a single or two, but there’s a limit to how intertwined the various parts of the story can be before some people start losing interest.

With seventeen tracks and nearly an hour of music, The Hazards of Love walks the line of over-indulgence carefully, offering a twisted, bizarre cast of characters in an equally strange story of a woman named Margaret, her shape-shifting lover, and the jealous Forest Queen (well, what did you expect?). Fortunately, while the convoluted tale might be off-putting to some, the songs also stand well enough on their own to make the album worth digging into.

The second track, “The Hazards 0f Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won't Wrestle the Thistles Undone),” sets the stage for the remainder of the story, but it’s also a classic Decemberists folk tune and enjoyable even when removed from its place in the narrative. The same can be said for the many of the songs on the album, especially the grand “The Hazards of Love 2 (Wager All),” the more traditional folk sounding “Annan Water,” and the melancholy, country-tinged closer, “The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned).” A few of the tracks serve as little more than segues into other sections of the album and there are several interludes to break things up, but with so much material, the record never feels short on ‘real’ songs.

Still, the album is meant to be listened through all together and in sequence, and the music is especially gripping when consumed as a whole; that is, if you bother to listen closely enough to figure out the story. The arrangements wind their way through the album, often appearing in several places and lacing things together in a way that enhances and underlines the lyrical narration. The record also benefits from perfectly cast guests; Becky Stark and Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) play the two female leads, lending their gorgeous voices opposite Meloy, who plays most every other role.

Musically, the record splits its time between acoustic folk balladry and heavy, pounding metal riffs, often in the same song. It’s head-spinning and occasionally comes close to crossing the line between novel and silly, but after a couple spins, some fantastic songs work their way out of the bizarreness and even the most over-the-top moments are surprisingly fun. Songs like the metal-meets-folk rocker “Won’t Want for Love (Margaret In the Taiga),” the epic, riff-tastic “The Wanting Comes In Waves /Repaid,” and the grinding “The Queen’s Rebuke/The Crossing” are a bit cheesy and might alienate some fans with their heavier sound, but the band’s new rock ‘n’ roll attitude is hard to deny and the execution is excellent. Plus, there’s plenty of the group’s familiar folk style to be found here as well.

The Hazards of Love is not a record I expect everybody to love, but I’m having a great time with it and I suspect I’m not the only one. The album is long, scattered, and crowded, but it’s also endlessly fascinating and very entertaining; a project that’s truly much more than the overly ambitious mess some have made it out to be. The Decemberists have expanded their sound and stretched themselves, a gamble that probably should have ended in disaster, but instead has produced something entirely fresh and remarkably satisfying. Here’s to taking chances.

Last Word: The Decemberists combine a wealth of musical influences and guest musicians into a fascinatingly deranged concept album that delivers great songs and an intriguing story.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Iceland's Lay Low preps new record, offers free song

Though Iceland has certainly given us some very worthwhile music in recent years, I don't believe I've heard any Icelandic artists that fit into the country/folk genre, which makes newcomer Lay Low unique among her peers (at least in my experience). Her sophomore effort, Farewell Good Night's Sleep will be released on May 26th, a followup to her acclaimed 2007 debut (a huge hit in Iceland), Please Don't Hate Me. Lovisa Elisabet Sigrunardottir, the single artist behind the Lay Low name, is a talented writer with a love for blues, folk, and Americana, which she delivers with a unique and fresh perspective.

You can download a song from her upcoming album below. "By and By" is a lovely pop-folk tune with a classic country edge and serves as a nice introduction to Lay Low if you haven't heard her music before. Grab that and head over to her MySpace to hear more. Also, Lay Low has a few upcoming tour dates which you can find below as well.

By and By
(zipped MP3)

Tour dates:

Thur, March 26 New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge (w/ Elizabeth & the Catapult)

Sat, March 28 New York, NY @ Hiro Ballroom (w/ Emiliana Torrini)

Sun, March 29 San Francisco, CA @ The Independent (w/ Emiliana Torrini)

Mon, March 30 Los Angeles, CA @ The Troubadour (w/ Emiliana Torrini)

Track List:

I Forget It's There
By and By
The Reason Why My Heart's in Misery
Last Time Around
On My Own
Farewell Good Night's Sleep
Why do I Worry?
Days Have Been
Little by Little
My Second Hand Heart
The Country Ballad

Review: The Boy Least Likely To - The Law of the Playground (* * * 1/2)

Cute’ is a word rarely used in a positive manner when it comes to indie rock, but there are a handful of bands that get away with it, including pop-folk duo The Boy Least Likely To. The English band, comprised of multi-instrumentalist Pete Hobbs and lyricist/singer Jof Owen, made a name for themselves with their uber-pleasant debut, The Best Party Ever, which included perhaps the most adorable cover art for any record not exclusively aimed at children. Their bright, sparkly presentation and simple, childlike worldview won the band a legion of converts (along with some detractors), and a fair amount of critical acclaim. The two artists seem sincere in their intent to bring pure musical sunshine to your speakers, and they continue to do so on their new album, The Law of the Playground. The record's artwork immediately enforces this, depicting an unidentifiable and, of course, cute red animal at the helm of a toy tank, complete with plunger-style canon.

The songs throughout Playground remain upbeat, playful, and occasionally silly, with Owen frequently slinging phrases about raisins covered in chocolate, "puppy powers," and being a "big fat balloon." On first listen, the tunes can seem too sticky-sweet to be palatable, especially for an entire album’s worth of songs, but music this affirmative and catchy is awfully hard to hate, and there’s often more than meets the ear to be found within these goofy narratives.

The magic in Owen’s songs comes from the positive, quirky way he deals with the issues and problems of everyday life. Some of the songs on the record are straightforward, like the all-too-obvious “When Life Gives Me Lemons I Make Lemonade,” and the underdog anthem “Every Goliath Has Its David,” but others are less direct. “A Balloon on a Broken String” explains the negative side of being ‘free’ from societal attachments and responsibilities, while “The Boy Least Likely To Is a Machine,” seems to warn of the dangers of finding substitutes for love and human interaction. While these are not exactly new concepts, the lyrics which enforce them help make Playground memorable.

Musically speaking, the album’s bouncy, sunny sound is infectious and fun throughout. Hobbs stays busy, giving Owen’s tales an added measure of whimsy and wonder with guitar, drums, keys, and a variety of other instruments and electronic flourishes, keeping the music entertaining even when the lyrics get a bit too cutesy. Highlights abound: opener “Saddle Up” fits its title with a western vibe provided by some well-placed violin and banjo; “The Boy With Two Hearts” rolls along at half speed on a tuba line (of all things), before layers of guitar, xylophone, and additional horns take over in the chorus; and “Stringing Up Conkers” rocks some handclaps and harmonica.

As much as I will defend the talent and intelligence of The Boy Least Likely To, I will also admit that their music is certainly not for everyone. The explosive pop melodies, shiny production, and peppy, straight-forward lyrics might just drive you nuts if you’re in an irritable mood, or if you can’t handle that much sugary gooiness in your musical diet. After repeated listens of The Law of the Playground, I’m ready to give it some time before I pick it up again. I’ll be back for more though, as this might just be the perfect soundtrack to accompany the approaching summer.

Last Word: The Law of the Playground is another blast of catchy, positive, and almost unbearably sweet pop-rock from The Boy Least Likely To, indie’s most adorably twee duo.

Review: DM Stith - Heavy Ghost (* * * * *)

When you think 'graphic designer,' 'musician' is not usually a word you would immediately associate with the term, but that's exactly how DM Stith (first name, David) got his start in the music biz. While working in Brooklyn, Stith befriended Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) and eventually ended up providing some design and recording help for her album Bring Me The Workhorse. In fact, Stith's creative journey centered much more around visual art and writing for the majority of his life, and though he is part of a very musically-inclined family and a gifted musician himself, it was only after writing some music around the time of Worden's recordings that his fascination with music returned and his debut album, Heavy Ghost, began to take shape. After Worden discovered his musical ability, she encouraged David to share his music with Asthmatic Kitty Records. Stith was invited (and coaxed) to write and record a full album after previewing just two songs, but I bet it would only have take one.

It's hard to imagine how anybody could have possibly kept such musical genius under wraps for so long. Stith's debut is a wonderful mix of the grandiosity of Sufjan Stevens with the intimacy of bands like Grizzly Bear and Shearwater, though he creates a sound all his own. The record's first single, "Pity Dance," is a good representation of his style, with his delicate voice somehow working its way through subtle, yet complex arrangements of guitar, strings, piano and layers of ethereal backing vocals. It's intriguing and inspiring all at once, and the album continually impresses with highlights like the eerie "Pigs" and the orchestral epic "Fire of Birds." With a little help from his friends (Stevens and Worden both contribute), Stith gets just about everything right here, with not a single weak moments among Ghost's twelve tracks and something to love at every turn. "Morning Glory Cloud" keeps things more simple, with warm acoustic guitar providing most of the background to Stith's captivating poetry before shifting into a noisy, haunting piano solo, and opener "Isaac's Song," (one of many Biblical/religious references) crashes menacingly and haphazardly around in a brief, but riveting narrative.

Even Stith's more abstract moments are much more than just interesting distractions. "Spirit Parade" is a fascinating mix of nonsense lyrics and messy instruments swirling around in a claustrophobic climax of noise, and "GMS" is a beautiful piano piece packed with more emotion than some artists get out of an entire album. "Wig" closes the record with a hazy bit of blurred violin and faint vocals that provides a beautiful end to a debut that is easily the most impressive I've heard this year. As shy as Stith seems to be, he confidently tackles a variety of song structures and arrangements without ever overreaching or seeming pretentious. His lyrics, which often center around his personal struggles with religious and ethical beliefs, are gripping and poignant, adding to the fragility of his music. Put simply, this guy is operating on another level.

Unpredictable, gorgeous, and endlessly enjoyable, Heavy Ghost is nothing short of a musical masterpiece and what we should hope is the first of many from DM Stith. If my ranting hasn't convinved you, check out his MySpace to hear some of my favorites from the album or his homepage to hear demos, singles, and more.

Monday, March 23, 2009

New Artist: Beast

French-Canadian electro-rock duo Beast have recently released their self-titled debut album in stores, though it's been available digitally for some time now. With Betty Bonifassi on vocals and multi-instrumentalist Jean-Phi Goncalves handling just about everything else, the band create an aggressive and unique combination of electronica, rock, and R&B that incorporates a variety of fascinating musical elements in a sound the band refer to as 'trip-rock." Their new record is an excellent showcase of the duo's talent, an expansive collection of 12 tracks that establish the band as one of Canada's most exciting recent exports.

The album's first single, "Mr. Hurricane," gives you a good idea of what you'll be getting yourself into with Beast. It's an in-your-face, bass and guitar attack with pounding drums and a gospel-esque choir behind Bonifassi's spitfire vocals. The band's sound works best when they let loose and keep things upbeat, as on the trance-like groove of "Finger Prints," the rap-rock attitude found in "Microcyte," and the frenetic, blues stomp of "Satan." The duo push hard to make their debut a memorable one, and they succeed more often than not. This is a band that should make an impact well beyond their hometown of Montreal.

Check out Beast on MySpace

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Review: Yeasayer - All Hour Cymbals (* * * * 1/2)

If you've noticed the date on this review, you may be thinking that discussing an album released in 2007 in 2009 is unnecessary, and generally I'd agree with you. Unfortunately, I missed out on Yeasayer the year they released their stunning debut, All Hour Cymbals, only catching up with them recently after hearing their fantastic new song on the Dark Was the Night compilation (go check it out, it's called "Tightrope"). Now that I've finally had the opportunity to hear the record that started it all, I felt that this review needed writing, simply to inform any who might not yet be familiar with this exciting band why this deserves your attention. Quite simply, All Hour Cymbals is one of the best, if not THE best psychedelic rock album in recent memory, a record that pushes boundaries while remaining approachable and immensely enjoyable.

In my experience, at least recently, most albums seem to be front-loaded with many of the better tunes, and All Hour Cymbals certainly follows that trend with an amazing three-song introduction. "Sunrise" opens with solid drum stomp with subtle keys and guitars behind singer Anand Wilder's semi-nonsensical phrases, then cruises along, building layers of instruments and vocal harmony before fading into "Wait for the Summer," a spacey, sitar-laced, psych-rock tune. "2080," the record's first single and the third track, sounds a bit more traditional at first, with Beach Boys-esque harmonies climaxing in a group-shout chorus that even manages to includes a choir of children without seeming gimmicky (well, as much as that's possibly, anyway). The band find an excellent balance between psychedelic experimentation and the familiar musical elements that keep the songs from becoming too abstract while still allowing them to remain fresh and interesting. The lyrics are kept simple and frequently repetitive, but while Yeasayer may not be great storytellers, they know their way around a great vocal hook or sing-a-long chorus.

The rest of the album doesn't quite reach the incredibly high standard set by the first three tracks, but the results are consistently great throughout. "Forgiveness" starts with a trippy, head-spinning introduction before settling into a rhythmic groove which shifts subtly a few times before fading out. "Wait for the Wintertime" is a noisier, angry, tune that uses horns and raw guitar to make an intense explosion of sound, and the superb closer, "Red Cave," is the most folk tune of the bunch, a more straightforward acoustic song featuring four-part harmony provided by all band members. The variation on All Hour Cymbals might be distracting if not for the group's ability to explore so many directions while maintaining enough of a signature sound that keeps the record focused and comprehensible.

At every turn, the band show remarkable musicianship and a love for the unusual that makes their debut such an exciting and surprising album. The music contains elements of the psychedelic rock of the sixties and seventies, but the band approach the songs with a fresh perspective and create something entirely their own. Yeasayer are currently in the works on a new record, but make sure you pick this one up, All Hour Cymbals is an album not to be missed.

Oh, and you should seriously check out these mostly acapella performances on La Blogotheque; fantastic.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Review: Swan Lake - Enemy Mine (* * * *)

While Dan Boeckner has been off visiting Russia and making electro-pop music with his wife, fellow Wolf Parader Spencer Krug has once again teamed up with Carey Mercer (Frog Eyes) and Daniel Bejar (Destroyer, New Pornographers) to record another indie supergroup album under the name Swan Lake. The band's new record, entitled Enemy Mine, is the second effort from the prolific indie singer/songwriters, and features three tracks from each member in an over-the-top, uninhibited 39 minutes of bizarre, offbeat pop music. Though the writing credits are divided between the nine tracks, the album has a more cohesive feel than their debut, Beast Moans, an album which caused some division among critics and fans.

One thing Enemy Mine is certainly not, is subtle. Starting with Mercer's "Spanish Gold, 2044," a messy mix of fuzzy guitars, clanging piano, and Mercer's signature wail, the three musicians rely on complex arrangements and bombastic presentation throughout the album rather than nuance or atmosphere. Not surprisingly, Mercer is the most heavy-handed here, offering two additional dark, cranky tunes, the angry "Peace" and the epically weird closer "Warlock Psychologist." Bejar is a bit less dramatic in style, and even offers something of a love song in "Heartswarm," but his pointed lyrics keep it from being anything like easy listening, while the chorus of "Spider" sounds like a nightmare brought to life. Krug gives us the most relaxed tunes, the relatively sparse, pleasant "Paper Lace," and the delicate penultimate track "A Hand at Dusk," but almost makes up for it with the noisy"Settle On Your Skin." Still, his small amount of restraint goes a long way to rounding out Enemy Mine and making it more approachable than the band's debut.

The interplay between some of indie rock's biggest stars also keeps the record fascinating throughout. Plenty of vocal harmony and layers of guitars and keys keep the musicians connected and involved with each other, preventing what could have simply been a three-part album. Because each has a very distinctive vocal style, their harmonies can take some getting used to, like Mercer and Bejar's duet on the latter half of "Warlock Psychologist," or Krug and Mercer backing Bejar on the untamed "Battle of Swan Lake, Or, Daniel's Song," but elsewhere, they blend much more smoothly for some surprisingly cohesive moments. It's that kind of creative, avant-garde style you should be expecting if you're at all familiar with the artists' other projects, and the results on Enemy Mine are consistently strong.

Supergroups of any sort have a habit of underwhelming, but Swan Lake have produced an enjoyable record that actually nears the heights of what you would hope these three obviously talented individuals could provide together. With an increased collaborative feel that was often absent on their debut and a simultaneous expansion on the differences that make their music so wonderfully unique, the trio feel much more like a band this time around, and the music benefits immensely.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Review: Harlem Shakes - Technicolor Health (* * * *)

While the name Harlem Shakes, along with the band's current lineup, may be new, singer Lexy (I can seriously not find last names anywhere) and drummer Brent have been making music together for some time now. With the addition of Kendrick on keyboards, Jose on Bass, and Todd on guitar, the group is getting off to a hot start with their full-length debut, Technicolor Health, due out next week. Their indie-pop sound, infused with bits of jazz, soul, and Latin rhythms, turned some heads back in 2007 when the band released an EP, and now Harlem Shakes continue to impress with another selection of catchy, hook-filled tunes.

The first two tracks alone make Technicolor Health worth your time. Opener "Nothing But Change Part II" begins with a slightly funky verse before exploding into a soulful, group-shouted chorus with charging horns and hand claps that lift the song skyward. The first single, "Strictly Game," follows suit, starting in a wash of fuzz and both programmed and live drums that soon becomes a frenetic mess of instruments under Lexy singing lines like "I'm sick of these sheep, I'm sick of vile shepherds, sick of dressing like a human when I'm feeling like a leopard" that he makes sound almost profound with his earnest delivery. My other personal favorite moment is during the latter half of "Natural Man," when the track blazes through a retro-influenced refrain with layers of vocal harmony. Throughout the record, the band never rest, constantly switching time signatures and tempos, adding quirky instrumental embellishments, and simply playing their hearts out for the entire 37 minutes. Occasionally their eagerness gets the best of them, but the songs are consistently strong and always at least entertaining.

While the album was influenced, in large measure, by the difficulties the band experienced collectively and individually leading up to the time of recording, Technicolor Health has an optimistic, sunny sound that feels more hopeful than dejected. The appropriately titled "Sunlight" has a bright, warm edge with plenty of guitars and more witty lyricism, while the slightly relaxed "Unhurried Hearts" and "Winter Water" use groovy rhythms and background vocals (oohs, ahhs, nananas etc.) for some particularly pop moments. The closer and title track is probably the most radical stylistic departure here, a relatively low-key electro-pop song with a hazy, filtered sound, but as packed with ideas as the ten songs are, the music usually feels focused.

Harlem Shakes may not be, and may not want to be, the Vampire Weekend of 2009, but I imagine this debut will at least push them more fully into the spotlight they deserve. Technicolor Health is a great record and a lot of fun, and if there's any justice in the world, Harlem Shakes should soon become a familiar name in the indie scene.

Download "Strictly Game" from the band's website!

New Artist: Pree

Pree is a new indie rock project featuring DC artist May Tabol, who previously toured with Le Loup. She and a shifting group of musicians collaborated to bring about the band's debut EP, A Chopping Block, which will be released next week. While only providing backing vocals for Le Loup, Tabol brings her slightly rough, yet charming voice and quirky songwriting center stage for Pree, with her band filling out the songs with a earthy mix of guitars, percussion, and strings. The results are excellent throughout the five tracks, making Pree a band we should all be keeping our eyes on.

Opener "Heaven is a Drag" keeps things light with limited percussion, slide guitar, and some woodwinds, allowing Tabol's vocals (at times reminscent of Joanna Newsom or folk newcomer Julia Stone) the perfect setting. The next tune, "In the Parlor" and the fantastic closer, "Speak Warmly," follow suit stylistically with a similar guitar-based, folk-rock stomp. The remaining tracks, my personal favorite "Lack of Flight" and the gentle "Light Fails" feature a more piano-heavy approach that generally eschews drums for hints of strings and well-placed backing vocals.

You can download the track "In the Parlor" below, or check out the band's MySpace page to hear a few more tunes.

In the Parlor (MP3)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Review: Bishop Allen - Grrr... (* * * 1/2)

The pop-folk duo of Justin Rice and Christian Rudder, or Bishop Allen, released their third album recently, the adorably titled Grrr... The record follows their solid 2007 effort, The Broken String, which was actually a collection of the best of an EP project the band had completed the year before. The album was better than it really had any right to be, a quaint, fun record that established the group as a band to watch. The two core members sing and play a variety of instruments in addition the support of a revolving cast of musicians that keeps the band's music surprising and fresh. According to the duo, the new record's pop sound actually feels more at home with their debut, Charm School.

Bishop Allen previewed two tracks from the upcoming album a couple months ago that gave a pretty good indication of what you'd find throughout the rest of Grrr... if you got the chance to hear them. Opener "Dimmer" was one, a bouncy, catchy pop-rock tune, and the other was "The Ancient Commonsense of Things," another equally bouncy, catchy pop-rock tune. And that's what you'll find throughout the rest of the record with very few exceptions, though the band throw in a few curves to keep things interesting and their sense of melody is enough to make for some great moments. Highlights include "True or False," which features some pleasant female vocals on the verse and well-placed horns on the chorus, "Shanghaied," which is just plain fun, with group vocals and xylophone rounding out the upbeat sound, and "Cue the Elephants," a more rockin' tune with urgent drum and guitar lines.

There are a few weak spots spread throughout the thirteen tracks, like the bland "South China Moon" and the snoozy "The Magpie," but the material is generally entertaining and well-presented with a variety of instrumental flourishes even when the songs aren't especially memorable. While the record doesn't contain the amount of standout tunes that were found on its predecessor, Grrr... is another decent effort from a band that I expect will continue to offer great indie-pop music for years to come.

Check out my earlier post to download two tracks from the album.

Review: Damion Suomi - Self Titled (* * * *)

Folk songwriter Damion Suomi will be releasing his debut album, Self Titled, in stores next week, though the record is already available at P is for Panda to download if you feel the need to get a hold of it sooner. Suomi makes emotionally charged folk-rock tunes, which he says were influenced by Irish culture, with the drinking, the pubs, and the drinking at pubs to deal with lost and broken relationships. The record feels grounded and familiar in the best possible way, "a mix of hope and despair," says Suomi, that makes for another of this year's solid singer/songwriter albums.

The record starts things off with a couple up-tempo acoustic rockers, the soaring "Archer Woman" and the intense, driving "Darwin, Jesus, The Devil, & Me," the latter of which finds Suomi dwelling intently on the point where faith, science, and reason collide. He explores similar philosophical territory in "Save Your Ass," a heartbreaking story of the loss of belief that mixes electric guitars, horns, and strings in a beautiful mess of emotion and melody. Apart from these few deeper, contemplative moments, Self Titled generally slips into more booze-induced territory about the frustrations of relationships, whiles the music stays simple and direct. The drunken 'friends with benefits' ballad "What a Wonderful Game," shows the sort of honesty that only reveals itself after a few too many beers, while "San Fransisco" is rowdy and lonely, featuring some jangling piano and pounding drums behind hazy vocals containing plenty of recklessness and abandon.

The sincerity embedded so thoroughly into each tune gives the album a raw, emotional edge and makes the music especially compelling. Depending on your mood, Self Titled may be too much of a downer to listen to all at one time, but Suomi knows how to tread the line between sadness and despair, always singing his songs with a sort of implied smile that lets you know he's hopeful despite the heartache. Also, even at the loneliest, dreariest moments, his writing, along with his wit, is generally quite sharp and his stories entertaining. Self Titled may be an album built from one man's experiences, but I imagine its message will ring true to many.

Check out Damion's MySpace page to hear some tunes from the new album.

Eulogies prep new album, add tour dates

Indie rock band Eulogies will be releasing a new album soon, entitled Here Anonymous, the followup to their self-titled 2007 debut. The quartet, led by guitarist/singer Peter Walker, are offering two songs from the Homespun Sessions, live acoustic renditions of tracks from the upcoming record that translate well from the studio versions. You can download both of them below, and you should check out the band's MySpace page as well, where you can hear more new music. The album will be out on April 7th through Dangerbird Records.

Bad Connection (MP3)

This Fine Progression (MP3)

Starting with SXSW, the band have quite the tour scheduled:

March 19th - SXSW @ The Ranch - Austin, TX (Official Showcase w/ Dappled Cities)
March 20th - SXSW - Austin, TX (+1 House Party)
March 22nd - Vaudeville Mews - Des Moines, IA **
March 23rd - 7th Street Entry - Minneapolis, MN **
March 24th - Bottom Lounge - Chicago, IL **
March 25th - Magic Bag - Ferndale, MI **
March 27th - Thunderbird Cafe - Pittsburgh, PA **
March 28th - IOTA Club & Cafe - Arlington, VA **
March 29th - Metro Gallery - Baltimore, MA **
March 31st - Pianos - New York, NY
May 1st - Bell House - Brooklyn, NY *
May 2nd - Valentines - Albany, NY *
May 4th - Bowery Ballroom - New York, NY *
May 5th - Johnny Brenda's - Philadelphia, PA *
May 7th - Black Cat - Washington D.C. *
May 8th - Diesel - Pittsburgh, PA *
May 9th - Grog Shop - Cleveland, OH *
May 10th - Skully's - Columbus, OH *
May 11th - Magic Stick - Detroit, MI *
May 13th - Lakeshore Theater - Chicago, IL *
May 14th - Blue Note - Columbia, MO *
May 16th - Hailey's - Denton, TX *
May 17th - Warehouse - Houston, TX *
May 18th - Parish - Austin, TX *
May 20th - TBA
May 21st - TBA
May 22nd - Casbah - San Diego, CA *
May 23rd - Echoplex - Los Angeles, CA *
May 24th - Independent - San Francisco *
May 26th - Douglas Fir Lounge - Portland, OR *
May 27th - Crocodile Cafe - Seattle, WA *

** w/ Middle Distance Runner
* w/ The Dears, Great Northern

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Review: Peasant - On the Ground (* * * *)

Peasant is the humble moniker of one Damien DeRose, a folk singer/songwriter from the quiet town of Doylestown Pennsylvania. He released an album last year entitled On the Ground, which I unfortunately missed initially, but was lucky enough to have the pleasure of hearing just recently. His simple, beautiful style revolves almost entirely around his guitar and voice, with only a few embellishments along the way to add some variance to the thirteen low-key tracks on the album. His music has been featured on a TV show or two and he's made some waves around the world of live music as well, but he remains largely (and criminally) undiscovered.

One of the things I enjoy most about the folk genre, and what is showcased so well in Peasant's music, is the clarity of the songwriting. Or, to describe it another way, the lack of interference from too many instruments, an over-active producer, or just experimentation for experimentation's sake, allowing the melody and lyrics to shine without distraction. That's not to say experimentation or production should always be kept to a minimum, it's just nice to hear something more focused on the basics occasionally. Much of On the Ground is delicate and sparse, like the captivating opener, "Wind," with some organ backing DeRose's simple guitar pattern and slightly reverbed tenor vocals. Following is another favorite, the smooth, graceful "Fine Is Fine," and later, the emotional closer "Impeccable Manners," which makes an impact far beyond the spare arrangement.

On a few tracks, Peasant broadens his horizons in a more pop-oriented direction, and the results are equally great. "We're Good" bounces along on drums, electric guitar, and keys, while "Not Your Savior" has a bluesy sound to it with piano and light percussion giving the (slightly) more upbeat tune the perfect setting. On "Missing All You Are," DeRose sounds a bit like Ben Gibbard in his delivery as he combines a light, airy sound with some distant drums that grab your attention on the chorus. The subtle stylistic changes pay big dividends on a record that might otherwise be a little too lightweight, but they never detract from the beautifully simple approach that generally defines the album.

On the Ground can fade easily into the background, but it deserves more than to simply be set aside as mood music. DeRose's lovely vocals and his talent in writing make this album another pleasant gem from 2008, and establishes Peasant as an artist to watch in 2009 and beyond.

Still Flyin' preps new album, adds tour dates

San Fransisco's Still Flyin' is less of a band and more of a mob, a group of fifteen (or more) musicians led by Sean Rawls that redefine the term party-rock. The group have a new album on the way, entitled Never Gonna Touch the Ground, which will be released April 21st. You can download "The Hott Chord is Struck" below, an electrifying, danceable groove with a bit of a disco streak featuring horns, layers of percussion, and a slinky bass line. You can also see the video for the equally great "Good Thing It's A Ghost Town Around Here." If the rest of the album is this solid, I imagine we'll be hearing quite a bit about these guys around the blogosphere soon.

The Hott Chord is Struck (MP3)

The band also have a tour starting tomorrow, dates below:

3/18 @ 7pm - Austin, TX Ms. Bea's / Todd P & NY Noise Party
3/18 @ 11:30pm - Austin, TX Club 1808
3/19 @ 5:30pm - Austin, TX Red House Pizzeria / Music For Listeners & Moshi Moshi Party
3/19 @ 2:40am - Austin, TX Ms. Bea's Yard (Thu. Night / Fri. Morning)
3/20 @ 2:45pm - Austin, TX Home Slice Pizza
3/20 @ 1am - Austin, TX The Independent
3/21 @ 1:10 - Austin, TX Side Bar / 40 Watt Party
3/21 @ 3:15 - Austin, TX Lamberts
4.3.09 Brooklyn NY Union Hall
4.4.09 Boston MA PA's Lounge
4.5.09 New York NY The Cake Shop
4.6.09 Philadelphia PA Johnny Brenda's
4.7.09 Baltimore, MD Zodiac
4.8.09 Columbus, OH Carabar
4.9.09 Lexington, KY Al's Bar
4.10.09 Chicago, IL Abbey Pub
5.8.09 Sacramento, CA Blue Lamp
5.9.09 San Francisco, CA Cafe Du Nord

Monday, March 16, 2009

New Artist: Violens

Indie rock quartet Violens (pronounced vy-lenz) are a Miami-based group who are releasing their self-titled debut tomorrow. The four-song set showcases the band's catchy pop sound, a new take on the classic Brit-rock style of the sixties and seventies. In fact, it would be easy to mistake the group for hailing from across the sea, as they conjure the spirit of bands like The Zombies and combine it with a post-punk vibe that immediately caught my attention. The songs on Violens are quite good, enough so to make me wish there was more to love than just a compact 11 minutes.

The EP starts with the smooth, Shins-esque "Already Over," that grooves subtly along with reverbed vocal harmony and a sharp bass/drum rhythm. Next up is my personal favorite, the dark, funky "Spectator & Pupil," which features an absolutely stunning retro-pop chorus bringing me back to the old days of digging through my Dad's oldies collection, followed by the pleasant, bouncy "Doomed." The record closes with "Violent Sensation Descends," starting with a noisy, fussy intro before sliding into something quite reminiscent of The Byrds, but with a slightly more sinister edge.

Check out the band's MySpace to hear a a few songs and get yourself introduced to a band that will surely be making some big waves soon.

The Drones begin U.S. tour with SXSW

Aussie rock group The Drones recently released their new album Havilah to general critical acclaim and are now taking the U.S. by storm, with a tour starting at SXSW. You can download "The Minotaur" from the new record (by entering your email address below) to get a taste of their intense, heavy rock sound that has has gotten so many people excited, and make sure to check out the tour dates to see if the band are playing somewhere near you.

Tour Dates:

3/15 - Aussie BBQ @ Echoplex - Los Angeles, CA
3/16 - Aarvark - Ft. Worth, TX
3/17 - ATP SXSW Event @ Emo's - Austin, TX
3/18 - Little Radio/Topspin SXSW Event @ Red Eyed Fly - Austin, TX
3/20 - Aussie SXSW BBQ @ Brush Square Park - Austin, TX
3/20 - Karma Lounge - Austin, TX
3/21 - Spider House - Austin, TX
3/26 - Aussie BBQ @ Bell House - Brooklyn, NY
3/28 - Black Cat - Washington, DC
3/29 - T.T. The Bears - Boston, MA *
3/30 - Union Hall - Brooklyn, NY *
4/1 - Johnny Brenda's - Philadelphia, PA *
4/2 - Piano's - New York, NY
4/7 - Schubas - Chicago, IL
4/9 - 400 Bar - Minneapolis, MN
4/12 - Sunset Tavern - Seattle, WA
4/13 - Someday Lounge - Portland, OR
4/15 - Catalyst - Santa Cruz, CA #
4/17 - Fox Theatre - Oakland, CA #
4/18 - Spaceland - Los Angeles, CA

* w/ The War on Drugs
# w/ Band of Horses

Review: Sara Lov - Seasoned Eyes Were Beaming (* * * *)

Singer/songwriters are a dime a dozen these days, and unfortunately the cream doesn't always immediately rise to the top, leaving scores of talented musicians with a very limited reach. Here's to hoping that doesn't happen with Sara Lov, the former Devics frontwoman who will be releasing her debut solo album, Seasoned Eyes Were Beaming, this week. Lov (her real name) is a gifted songwriter with a lovely voice that fills her beautifully composed songs with emotion and life. Her relaxed pop-folk style is at times haunting, and on other occasions simple and sweet, but always effective at gracefully working its way under your skin and into your heart.

Lov's backing band, led by producer Zac Rae, give her melodies the appropriate accompaniment throughout 'Seasoned Eyes,' leaving empty space when necessary and occasionally enhancing her tunes layers of subtle instrumentation. Opener "Just Beneath the Chords" is a soaring waltz (a common time signature on the album) with keyboards, drums, and guitar providing a big, full sound, while "Animals" keeps things more sparse, using finger-picked guitar, cello, and soft percussion as a backdrop for a duet featuring guest Alex Brown Church (of Sea Wolf). The record closes spectacularly with the melancholy ballad "Fountain," which showcases Lov's way with relatable, yet unique and expressive lyrics. Each tune feels carefully crafted and each line sincerely written, which gives the album a very personal and unrestrained edge. The open nature of her music makes Love's stories much more interesting and emotionally affecting.

The record features two tracks previously released on Sara's The Young Eyes EP, the hopeful, warm title track and the delicately gorgeous "New York," along with a very worthy cover of Simon and Garfunkle's "Old Friends." The older tracks blend seamlessly in with her new material for a solid album with few weak moments and a handful of fantastic songs. Lov's music is genuine and refreshing, and Seasoned Eyes Were Beaming is a record that deserves to be heard.

Check Sara Lov out on MySpace

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Joan of Arc offers new song from upcoming 'Flowers'

Experimental indie rock collective Joan of Arc, led by enigmatic frontman Tim Kinsella, are set to release a new album, entitled Flowers, on June 9th. Kinsella has always been about the only constant in Joan of Arc, releasing a stready stream of albums since the late 90s with a different band lineup and musical direction for each one. Shifting time-signatures, complex arrangements, and a health dose of musical exploration make Joan of Arc a band unlike any other, and Flowers seeks to continue the group's journey even further into the outer reaches of their psychedelia-tinged folk-rock sound.

You can download "Explain Yourself #2" below for an early taste of the upcoming record. The oddball pop tune is one of the more direct songs on Flowers, with some funky percussion and organ as the backdrop to Kinsella's off-kilter lyrics that only pop up on about half of the album. You can also check out the band's MySpace page to hear more music, or head on to their home page for additional information.

Explain Yourself #2 (MP3)

1. Fogbow
2. The Garden of Cartoon Exclamations
3. Flowers
4. Fasting
5. Explain Yourselves #2
6. Tsunshine
7. A Delicious Herbal Laxative
8. Explain Yourselves
9. Table of the Laments
10. Fable of the Elements
11. Life Sentence / Twisted Ladder
12. The Sun Rose

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Review: This Town Needs Guns - Animals (* * * *)

UK band This Town Needs Guns have been impressing critics and fans overseas with the release of their debut album, Animals, which has been out in the UK since October, but is only just now being made available in the States. The appropriately named record features 13 tracks with animals for titles (Pig, Elk, Crocodile, etc.) that, as the band stated in an interview, was the result of an original way to label songs with working names and an inability to give them proper titles later on. So, no true 'concept' album here, but an impressive collections of well-crafted indie rock tunes nonetheless featuring some exceptional talent from this young band.

The most immediately noticeable aspect of Animals is Tim Collis' complex guitar work that dominates the instrumental nature of the record. Blistering, yet clean, subdued riffs swirl constantly around singer Stuart Smith, resulting in a sound something like an over-active version of Minus the Bear guitarist Dave Knudson. The style keeps the songs feeling restless, and when combined with Smith's earnest tenor vocals, the effect is head-spinning and electrifying. Occasionally, Collis could stand to cut back a bit, but more often than not, the songs work exceptionally well, and while the rhythm section of Jamie Cooper and Chris Collis generally takes a back seat here, their playing is no less admirable.

Opener "Pig" is one of the better examples of the group's ability to allow the melody to shine through the instrumental activity, with a driving beat and story of a worn relationship that packs an emotional punch. Most of the album varies slightly from that same theme, with highlights including the instrumental, horn-laced "Elk," the more direct alt-rock tune "Panda," and the relatively relaxed "Crocodile." While Smith's vocals have a bit of an emo tinge to them, as do the lyrics (which can take some time to divine), he's never whiny or so self-depreciating that he becomes tiring, and his sense of melody is generally sharp. The band work in elements of jazz, blues, etc. into the music subtly and it may take a few spins before the songs fully differentiate themselves, but a little patience will be well rewarded.

It's refreshing to hear a young band explore new territory with such strong results, and Animals is good evidence of what looks to be a bright future for This Town Needs Guns. The group's blending of math-rock technicality with a more emotional and approachable edge makes their music both easy to appreciate and enjoy, and it makes me excited to hear what happens next.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Pete(r) Doherty to release solo debut on March 24

Having just hit his 30th birthday, the famously unstable (musically and otherwise) Peter Doherty will release his solo debut album, Grace/Wasteland, on March 24. The album shows a more relaxed and laid-back side of Doherty than we've seen before with Libertines or Babyshambles, mixing folk, blues, and classic pop in a charming set of 12 tracks, all of which you can hear on his MySpace right now! His new, more mature, style should once again make Doherty the subject of scrutiny, but hopefully the attention will be focused more on the music than his personal life this time around.

You can also download the song "New Love Grows on Trees" from the upcoming album by providing some info at EMI. Either way, make sure you take the time to give Grace/Wasteland a listen.

Track list:

Last Of The English Roses
1939 Returning
A Little Death Around The Eyes
Through The Looking Glass
Sweet By and By
Palace Of Bone
Sheepskin Tearaway
Broken Love Song
New Love Grows on Trees
Lady, Don’t Fall Backwards

MP3 Friday: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Crystal Stilts

In the past I've tried to do these kinds of things on Monday, but I couldn't wait to offer MP3s from two bands quickly making a name for themselves in the indie scene. Both bands have single 7'' being released on March 31st through Slumberland records.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - "Young Adult Friction"

This quirky pop tune is from the band's self-titled debut album that was released earlier this year. The New York quartet make melodic indie rock with a noisy, retro feel that has brought a generous amount of praise from the likes of Pitchfork and Cokemachineglow. You can download the track below, and you should check out their MySpace to hear more.

Young Adult Friction (MP3)


Crystal Stilts - "Love is a Wave"

Like 'Pains,' Crystal Stilts have a noisy, hazy pop sound (albeit with a more punk edge) that dazzled a great many people with last year's record, Alight of Night. The band's new single "Love is a Wave" is a recent favorite of mine and wasn't featured on their previous album, so make sure you download it below. Also, their MySpace has a few more tunes worth checking out.

Love is a Wave (MP3)

Both bands have upcoming tour dates:


Mar 13 2009 Bell House Brooklyn, New York
Mar 18 2009 4:35pm - Red 7 - Force Field PR / Terrorbird Media Party Austin, Texas
Mar 18 2009 8:30pm - Ms Bea's - Todd P + NY Noise Austin, Texas
Mar 19 2009 1:00pm - Radio Room - Brooklyn Vegan Party Austin, Texas
Mar 19 2009 3:45pm - Malverde - Iamsound + Sup Magazine Party Austin, Texas
Mar 19 2009 10:00pm - Opal Divine's - Green Label Sound Showcase Austin, Texas
Mar 20 2009 2:00pm - Emo's Main Room - Pitchfork Party Austin, Texas
Mar 20 2009 3:45pm - Fader Fort Austin, Texas
Mar 20 2009 6:30pm - South Salina Street - After The Jump Party Austin, Texas
Mar 20 2009 11:00pm - Emo's Jr. - Slumberland + Cake Shop Showcase Austin, Texas
Mar 21 2009 1:00pm - Waterloo Records Instore Austin, Texas
Apr 01 2009 Spaceland Los Angeles, California
Apr 24 2009 American Legion Wallingford, Connecticut
Apr 25 2009 Risley Hall - Cornell University Ithaca, New York
Apr 26 2009 Iron Horse Hall Northampton, Massachusetts
Apr 27 2009 The Bug Jar Rochester, New York
Apr 28 2009 Lee's Palace Toronto, Ontario
Apr 29 2009 The Pike Room at Crofoot Pontiac, Michigan
Apr 30 2009 Beachland Tavern - All Ages Cleveland, Ohio
May 1 2009 The Summit Columbus, Ohio
May 2 2009 The End Nashville, Tennessee
May 3 2009 The Earl Atlanta, Georgia
May 4 2009 Local 506 Chapel Hill, North Carolina
May 5 2009 Talking Head Club Baltimore, Maryland
May 6 2009 The Barbary (Early Show) Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
May 7 2009 Champion Ship Lemoyne, Pennsylvania
May 12 2009 Bowery Ballroom New York, New York
Jun 18 2009 Cake Shop New York, New York
July 18 2009 Pitchfork Fest Chicago, Illinois


Mar-14 Brooklyn, NY Music Hall of Williamsburg
Mar-15 Washington, DC DC9
Mar-16 Lexington, KY Al's Bar
Mar-17 Jackson, MS 121 Milsaps
Mar-18 Houston, TX Rudyard's
Mar-19 - 21 Austin, TX SXSW
Jun-18 New York, NY Cake Shop

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Review: White Denim - Exposion (* * * * 1/2)

Austin-based art-punk group White Denim are, unfortunately, flying well below the radar, which made them easy to miss in 2008. The band started selling CD-R copies of their debut record, Exposion, last year and eventually made the release official in a digital format from their website (no, you can't find it on iTunes). Their unique and energetic blend of a variety of genres combined with a raw, rough presentation makes their music fun, exciting, and just strange enough that it stands out amid a plethora of like-minded groups. While the band remain something of a secret for now, I imagine it won't be long before people take notice.

I suppose the easiest way to classify White Denim is to call them a rock band, because they do rock...hard, but it doesn't really describe the frenetically paced selection of tunes on Exposion. The group keep their sound fairly straightforward, using a basic guitar/bass/drum combination, but stylistically, they're all over the place throughout the album's 36 minutes. Opener "Don't Look That Way At It" is an oddball indie punk song that features singer/songwriter James Patrelli's acrobatic vocals and fiery guitar and bass riffs, while follower "Transparency" leans much more toward classic rock, as do the soulful "All You Really Have To Do" and the restless "Heart From All Of Us." Closer "Sitting" finishes things spectacularly with joyous horn arrangements over a melodic pop-rock tune that turns into messy explosion of noise before fading. Patrelli proves himself to be both a versatile singer and guitarist, which keeps the record consistently surprising and fun, and the band more than ably backs him up at every turn.

Some of the more interesting tracks on the record are actually the handful of instrumentals thrown in, especially the 'single' "Shake Shake Shake," which rocks some sweet riffs between shouted nonsense at the beginning and ending. "Migration Wind" shows a (slightly) more settled side of the band with layers of acoustic guitar over the simple bass and drum line before the volume goes up, while "WDA" is a constantly shifting arrangement of ear-pleasing rock 'n' roll that doesn't need vocals to entertain.

While Exposion may feel a little scattered, you'll have such a good time that it's unlikely to matter much anyway. The music is simply presented and exceptionally played, and there's not one dud to be found among the 11 tracks, a remarkable achievement considering this is the group's first go-round. White Denim are making rock music fun again, and they're doing it with obvious talent and a great deal of style.

Check out some of White Denim's tunes on MySpace or head over to their website where you can purchase the record (the only place, as far as I know).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Review: Handsome Furs - Face Control (* * * *)

The husband/wife duo of Dan Boeckner (of Wolf Parade fame), and writer Alexei Perry released their sophomore album, Face Control, this week. Admittedly, I've been a fan of Boeckner's for some time now, though I didn't care especially for the couple's first disc, 2007's Plague Park. Fortunately, Handsome Furs are back with a lean, mean, collection of 12 songs combining Boeckner's signature vocals and raw guitar over his wife's fuzzed-out electronic beats for some impressive results. The new tunes were inspired by their travels through Eastern Europe and show marked improvement over their previous set with a fresher, funkier, electro-rock sound.

The combining of the two artists' styles takes some getting used to, with Perry's synthetic drum sounds bouncing coldly off Boeckner's emotive vocals and gritty guitars, but the songs are consistently strong, and as you become acclimated, you'll find more and more to love. Through much of the album, the squealing guitars take center stage for a relatively more organic sound, as on the rockin' "Talking Hotel Arbat Blues" and the solid first single "I'm Confused." Other songs, like opener "Legal Tender" and the slow-burning "Officer of Hearts" leave the focus on the beats, creating equally entertaining, if less immediate, moments. As interesting as the stylistic clashes and variety of approaches are, however, the best songs are those where the duo mesh more smoothly, as on the upbeat, epic "All We Want, Baby, Is Everything" and the especially fantastic closer, "Radio Kaliningrad." It's probably no coincidence that these tunes also sound the most like Boeckner's work with Wolf Parade, but it's here that the music really takes off.

Not every track on Face Control excels, like the two marginally interesting instrumental detours, but so much of the material is exciting and fun enough that the weak spots don't distract much from the overall greatness of the album. Handsome Furs have created a unique record with strong songwriting, some fascinating experimentation, and a rock 'n' roll attitude that makes this side project one of the more interesting in recent years.

Download: I'm Confused (MP3)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Recommended Artist: Quiet Company

Quiet Company is an indie rock band from Austin led by former (and brief) Eisley band member Taylor Muse that just released their new album, Everyone You Love Will Be Happy Soon. The band makes infectious 90s-esque piano-rock packed with melody and a positive outlook that makes the record's 15 songs a great soundtrack for ushering in sunnier days and warm summer nights.

Songs like the first single, "It's Better To Spend Money Like There's No Tomorrow Than Spend Tonight Like There's No Money," and "Our Sun Is Always Rising" are power-pop tunes with bouncy piano lines, jangly guitars, and Muse's musings (har!) on love, life, and happiness. Throughout the record, he takes few detours, turning up the volume on "The Beginning Of Everything At The End Of The World," adding a little twang with slide guitar on "On Modern Men," and presenting a fuzzier, noisy pop sound on "How To Fake Like You Are Nice & Caring," but the strength of the album lies less in variety than on sheer energy and melody. Occasionally, the band take a break for a ballad, as on the gentle, acoustic "Red & Gold" or the sparse, instrumental piece, "When I Am Empty, Please Dispose Of Me Properly." Even then, the tunes are fairly saturated with pop-oriented, sugary goodness, which might be too much for some listeners to handle. It's so likable, however, that you're much more likely to have a tough time turning it off.

Everyone You Know Will Be Happy Soon is a fun, breezy record, a blast of sunshine in a world that could certainly use some, and Quiet Company are a band that deserve some attention from your ears. Check out Quiet Company on MySpace, head over to their site where you can buy the album for a respectable seven bucks, or look below for their music video for "It's Better To Spend Money Like There's No Tomorrow Than Spend tonight Like There's No Money."

Kath Bloom tribute album arrives in April

American singer/songwriter Kath Bloom will have an album released in her honor on April 7. Loving Takes This Course: A Tribute to the Songs of Kath Bloom is a two-disc collection, one of covers, another of the original folk songs that cause these people to say such nice things about her:

"One of the most heartbreaking singers ever. Beautiful." - Devendra Banhart

"I consider myself her biggest fan." - Josephine Foster

"I've never enjoyed sharing a bill with anyone as much as I have with Kath. She's wonderful and lights
up the room wherever she goes." - Mark Kozelek

Those three artists, along with a varied selection of 13 others have recorded generally great reinterpretations of Bloom's gentle, emotionally charged songs. The album was compiled by Chapter's Guy Blackman and San Francisco filmmaker Caveh Zahedi over the past two years and serves as a decent introduction to Bloom's work if you haven't had the pleasure of hearing her music already.

Track List, Disc One:

1. Come Here - Marble Sounds
2. The Breeze/My Baby Cries - Bill Callahan
3. When I See You - Laura Jean
4. Finally - Mark Kozelek
5. Window - Mick Turner (Dirty Three) & Peggy Frew
6. Forget About Him - Devendra Banhart
7. I Wanna Love - Scout Niblett
8. Biggest Light Of All - The Dodos
9. Look At Me - Josephine Foster
10. Ready Or Not - Mia Doi Todd
11. Fall Again - Corrina Repp
12. It's So Hard To Come Home - Marianne Dissard & Joey Burns (Calexico)
13. In Your School - Amy Rude
14. If This Journey - Tom Hanford
15. There Was A Boy - Meg Baird (Espers)
16. Come Here - The Concretes