Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Recommended Artist: I Was A King

If you're the type who scours the Internet for the latest and greatest indie bands, chances are you've come across Norwegian pop-rockers I Was A King. But, if you've managed to miss them thus far, I'll be glad to introduce you. The band, led by vocalists Frode Stromstrad and Anne Lise Frokeda, has been around for a few years and generated almost universal critical acclaim for their noisy, catchy pop sound. The quintet's collaborations alone should attract attention, as their self-titled sophomore album includes work with Sufjan Stevens, Danielson, and Ladybug Transistor, among others. However, it's the band's gloriously messy and unique pop presentation that really impresses, making the 31 minutes of their recent record a brief, but fascinating, musical experience.

The album's surprisingly diverse results came as the result of only a three day recording session, and the music definitely has a raw, loose feel to it that I find quite appealing. Pop tunes like "Step Aside" and "Golden Years" have infectious melodies topped with layers of rough guitars, clanging piano, and a host of other instruments that stop just short of 'noise rock,' but still add interesting textures and details to the songs. There's almost too much going on here to keep track of, but it's amazing that the group can fit so many ideas into 15 very short tracks without feeling completely unfocused, and even when they occasionally get a bit obtuse, the music is still fun and frequently great.

Other highlights include "Stay Warm," which opens with some country-tinged strings into a gloriously bouncy, upbeat verse, "California," an appropriately sunny 57 seconds, and "Norman Bleik," perhaps the most fully-formed song here (and one of the longest at almost three minutes), a jangly retro-influenced tune that's instantly likable. It's hard to really pick favorites, though, and I imagine everyone will have their own with so much variety to be found. To get better acquainted, head over to their MySpace page or to my earlier post for a couple downloads from I Was A King.

Hear Ben Harper and Relentless7's new album on MySpace now!

A week before Ben Harper's new record, White Lies for Dark Times, will be released in stores, you can take a listen to the entire thing over at his MySpace page. His most recent band, Relentless7, features Jason Mozersky, Jesse Ingalls, and Jordan Richardson and - from what I've heard so far - absolutely rocks.

The album is available to stream right now, and it drops May 5th on Virgin Records.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Review: A Camp - Colonia (* * * *)

A Camp's U.S. debut has been a long time in coming, to put it mildly. The trio, led by Cardigans front woman Nina Persson, released their debut album in 2001, though it never made it to the States. Eight years between records is obviously enough to dissolve any sort of momentum the band may have built (winning four Swedish Grammies), but Persson has earned the right to our attention whenever she unveils new material, and she's certainly got mine. Colonia is a charming collection of twelve quaint tracks carried by her beautifully relaxed voice, with husband Nathan Larson and Niclas Frisk (and some friends) helping to create a captivating atmosphere.

It's obvious, right from the beginning of the record, that these songs belong to Persson. She has more than capable musical assistance, to be sure, but it's her amazing voice and tremendous sense of melody that vaults these tunes into such lofty territory. "The Crowning" leads the bunch, a stately waltz paying false homage to some unnamed big shot with a soaring chorus that is absolutely gripping, while lead single, "Stronger Than Jesus," continues the effortlessly gorgeous melodic trend. In fact, though not every songs is spectacular, everything is at least decent, and usually better. Other highlights include the string-laced "Love Has Left the Room," the bluesy piano piece, "I Signed the Line," and a striking duet with fellow Swede Nicolai Dunger, "Golden Teeth and Silver Medals."

Though the record follows a fairly straightforward musical style, the musicians assisting on the album (James Iha, Joan Wasser, and many others) add their unique touch to the songs, expanding Persson's tunes and adding depth to her arrangements. "Here Are Many Wild Animals" combines a groovy, Beach Boys-esque opening with dark, churning guitars, while "My America" includes some fun horn arrangements that give the song a jazzy feel. In some ways, this is a simple pop rock album; it doesn't push borders or offer much that we haven't heard before, but the subtle stylistic variations combined with the obvious quality of the musicianship make it a solid effort and one you should take the time to hear.

If you still need some convincing, you can check out the band's MySpace page, or head over to Stereogum to download "Love Has Left the Room."

Review: Tinted Windows - Tinted Windows (* * * 1/2)

Supergroups come in all kinds of unexpected shapes and sizes, but Tinted Windows has a lineup that I'm fairly certain nobody saw coming. Comprised of of Taylor Hanson (of the brothers Hanson), James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins, A Perfect Circle), Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne), and Bun E. Carlos (Cheap Trick), Tinted Windows are on the quest to make the perfect pop album, or so it seems. Their self-titled debut is full of hooks and big choruses that are probably most similar to the work Schlesinger has done with Fountains of Wayne, though - unfortunately - with a little less personality and a more generic feel. Still, the record certainly has its moments and provides enough of a good time to be worth a listen for pop music junkies (like myself).

If it seems like writing an entire album about girls (loving girls, wanting girls, leaving girls) might not be all that compelling, you'd be half right here. Certainly the subject matter of songs like "Messing With My Head" and "We Got Something" has been done before (probably too many times), but the presentation is so undeniably catchy, you'll have a hard time complaining. Hanson's voice has just enough soul to be convincing, and these guys obviously know their way around a hook, so what you get is a blast of retro-influenced pop that's fun, accessible, and occasionally fantastic. "Can't Get A Read On You" features some fiery guitar work by Iha and an explosive chorus, while "Cha Cha" relies on a sunny, West Coast vibe that's equally appealing, and there are plenty of similarly enjoyable moments to be found throughout the disc.

It's too bad that Tinted Windows is hampered by too many unmemorable mid-tempo rockers that keep the album from achieving lift-off. "Dead Serious," Back With You," and Doncha Wanna" aren't bad songs, really, but they don't add much to the record either, and they feel like a bit of a letdown when you think about what this kind of group is capable of producing. However, unlike so many supergroups, these guys aren't out to prove themselves revolutionary or even become the next big thing, they're just using their collective experience to make great pop music, and that in somewhat modest - but respectable - goal, they succeed.

Super Furry Animals - Dark Days/Light Years

For the last week or so, I've been listening to Dark Days/Light Years, the latest from Welsh pop group Super Furry Animals. It's a fantastic album from a band that I admit I know little about - so I'm going to direct you to In Review Online, where you can read a review by Jordan Cronk, who's consensus I very much agree with. Here's his bottom line:

"Dark Day/Light Years, Super Furry Animals consistently strong ninth record, plays not only as an infectious return to form, but also as reiteration that our restlessly creative Welsh heroes are amongst the greatest of modern pop bands."

Read the rest of the review over at In Review, and check out the band's MySpace to hear the entire album for a most bizarre, yet strangely compelling listening experience!

Monday, April 27, 2009

New and Notable: Ice Palace

Ice Palace is a quintet from Minneapolis led by Adam Sorenson, who's been writing, touring, and recording with various bands for a long time now, but has finally found what seems to be the proper vehicle for his dark, brooding songwriting. The band have a new record out, their second, called Wonder Subtly Crushing Us. Recorded with help from Craig Minowa of Cloud Cult at his Earthology Records studio and featuring a talented group of musicians, the album is a remarkable combination of earthy folk-rock and classic indie music that should turn some heads.

'Wonder' doesn't often sound like a singer/songwriter album, but it certainly feels like one. Sorenson's world-weary baritone - delivering beautifully worn poetry - is always front and center, backed by a band that knows how to keep the focus where it belongs. Sorenson's vocals sound something like a combination of Eddie Vedder and Mark Kozelek, which - as you might imagine - is quite striking much of the time. Musically, the band channels a variety of rock styles using a palette of electric and acoustic guitars, piano, horns and some fantastic drumming, subtly branching out to make the record's ten songs feel fresh and varied, but never scattered. "Coliseum" and "Lily" have a classic rock feel to them, while the rugged opener "Phonebook Pillow" and the menacing "Outside The Gates" seem more inspired by early nineties grunge. Add some Pavement-eque indie rock into the mix, and you have an interesting recipe that produces consistent and captivating results.

Adam Sorenson is making a good case for your attention with Wonder Subtly Crushing Us, and Ice Palace is a band you should be keeping an eye on. Check out their MySpace page to hear some tunes from the new record, or head over to my earlier post to download album highlight "Thoughts/Facts" for free.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Review: Great Northern - Show Me Where The Light Is (* * * 1/2)

Started several years ago as a side project for Solon Bixler - formerly of 30 Seconds To Mars - and Rachel Stolte, Great Northern soon became the duo's primary gig. The band's new record, Show Me Where The Light Is, is the follow-up to their 2007 debut, Trading Twilight For Daylight, which was a pleasant, but low-impact affair that went largely unnoticed. Their new material features a bigger, more epic sound with walls of guitars and layers of vocals that sometimes falls into generic alt-rock territory, but often creates some surprising and fascinating results. I imagine that this record will have a fairly broad appeal due to it's mix of familiar presentation with some more progressive elements.

Where The Light Is is the kind of record that took me a few spins to get into. After a cursory listen, I didn't find much that sucked me in, but a week or so later - after some more time with the album - I had discovered quite a bit to love. When the album stays into more radio-ready rock territory, the results are consistent but not especially interesting, as on the opening two tracks - the dark, intense "Story" and the more eerie "Houses," where the band seem sincere but perhaps a bit unoriginal. Still, some of their more mainstream cuts still hit pretty hard, like "Mountain" on the record's latter half, an emotional, explosive, and generally fantastic song that doesn't so much introduce a new idea as it plays to the band's strengths more interestingly than some of their other songs.

When the duo stretch themselves a bit more, the results are impressive and give the record some welcome variety. "Fingers" adds some fuzz and an haunting edge that clashes at times with the warm, inviting vocals, and "Snakes" features some synth and string flourishes that give the song a fascinating texture. Their slower numbers, the gorgeous duet, "Stop," and the folksy closer, "33," also can be counted toward the stronger half of the tracks, with some interesting production choices that lift and enhance the songs to become more than simply low-key ballads.

Though this is an uneven record, it's an album that shows Great Northern is a band with some creative energy and the musical chops to back it up. The group are anything but lazy, and Show Me Where The Light Is certainly feels like a hard-earned step forward. If they continue the trend, I think these two have plenty of great music left to offer us. If you're interested in hearing more, check out the band's MySpace page.

I Was A King head for the U.S.

Norwegian indie rockers I Was A King have set their sites on the U.S. for the first time, planning a Spring tour starting late next month, the dates of which you can see below. The band have been gaining some notoriety on sites like Stereogum and NPR with a catchy, organic power-pop sound that's both impressive and fun - and I've heard good things about their live performances as well.

The group recently released their sophomore self-titled album as well as a 7'' single for "Norman Bleik," which you can download below. I Was A King are certainly a band to watch, so make sure you get the single and check out their MySpace to hear a few more tunes.

Norman Bleik (MP3)

Tour Dates:

May 26: Chicago, IL @ Empty Bottle
May 27: Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Tavern
May 28: Philadelphia, PA @ M Room
May 29: Boston (Allston), MA @ Harper's Ferry
May 30: New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge
May 31: Brooklyn, NY @ Union Hall
June 1: Washington, DC @ Black Cat Backstag
June 3: Atlanta, GA @ The Earl
June 5: Denton, TX @ Hailey's
June 8: Phoenix, AZ @ Rhythm Room (w/ Constantines & Crystal Antlers)
June 9: San Diego, CA @ Casbah (w/ Constantines & Crystal Antlers)
June 10: Los Angeles, CA @ The Echo (w/ Constantines & Crystal Antlers)
June 11: San Francisco, CA @ Rickshaw Stop (w/ Constantines & Crystal Antlers)
June 13: Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge (w/ Constantines & Crystal Antlers)
June 14: Seattle, WA @ Neumo's (w/ Constantines & Crystal Antlers)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Sean Bones of Sam Champion to release solo record

Sean Bones (ne Sullivan) is probably best known as a member of psychedelic indie band Sam Champion, but is now set to release his solo debut, Rings, on July 21st. For his new material, Bones focuses on a more reggae-influenced pop sound that, has he said, "just happened." Several songs from the upcoming record are available at his MySpace page, including the breezy "Easy Street" and the groovy, "Sugar In My Spoon."

“I'm not closing any doors,” says Sullivan of his past projects, “but when the idea to record my own reggae single came to me, I was so excited I had to stand on my fire escape. It feels right to be doing this.” From what I've heard, it sounds alright to me too.


1. Easy Street
2. Cry Cry Cry
3. Coco
4. Act So Casual
5. Sugar In My Spoon
6. Instigator
7. Smoke Rings
8. Visions
9. Dancehall
10. Captain Tying Knots
11. Turn Them

Causes 2 out on May 5th

On May 5th, Waxploitation will release a compilation disc, Causes 2, as part of their ongoing benefit series for the crisis in Darfur. 100% of the profits from the release go to Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam America. The original Causes was released in 2007 and was quite the success due to fantastic contributions from some of indie's finest, and from what I've heard, this one will be just as solid.

In addition to supporting a good cause (pun not intended), you'll also be getting some quality tunes including rare and exclusive music from artists such as Black Moth Super Rainbow, The Decemberists, Devendra Banhart, Gnarls Barkley, LCD Soundsystem, My Morning Jacket, Matthew Dear, Neon Neon, and Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings.

For more information on the release and the cause itself - check out Waxploitation.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Review: Empire of the Sun - Walking on a Dream (* * * 1/2)

For those living outside of the U.S., or those who simply spend enough time perusing the online indie music scene, Australian electro-rockers Empire of the Sun may not be entirely new to you. Though the duo just recently released their debut album Walking on a Dream, in North America, the record has been available since 2008 in Australia and earlier this year in the UK - and has garnered no small amount of attention and acclaim. Their funky electronic sound has earned them copious comparisons to another popular duo, MGMT, for both their musical style and bizarre, over-the-top presentation on stage and in videos. While the two bands certainly have much in common, Empire of the Sun’s Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore have crafted a unique and ambitious collection of ten tracks for Walking on a Dream.

There are a great number of ideas packed into the album’s 43 minutes, but Empire of the Sun keep both the actual instrumental range and song structures fairly focused and direct. While several tracks, like the noisy “Delta Bay” and the groovy, oddball “Swordfish Hot Kiss Nite,” rely more on unusual sounds and strange effects to create unexpected detours, much of the record follows a relatively more uniform template that produces the best tunes. Both the album’s smooth, funky title track and the slinky “We Are The People” incorporate disco grooves, falsetto vocals, and a variety of guitars into mid-tempo synth-rock songs that serve as some of the more immediate album highlights. Elsewhere, the band turn up the bass for “Half Mast,” get psychedelic on “The World,” and throw in a cheesy 80s pop ballad, “Without You,” to close the album.

Though he has a similar high-pitched tenor as MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden, Steele uses a more dramatic, affected vocal style for most of the record, which can get a bit grating on more emotionally charged tracks like “The World,” but adds to the spacey, expansive presentation more often than not. The real star on most of the tracks is the music, however, which is generally sharp, expressive, and fun. One of the more interesting cuts on the record is actually the instrumental “Country,” in which layers of electronics and synths are added to create a fascinating, textured soundscape. Their musical explorations may occasionally misfire, but the duo prove that they deserve our attention.

Empire of the Sun are a band who sound well aware of their strengths and choose to capitalize on what they do best here, smooth, cool electronically-inclined pop music. They may not hit it out of the park with every swing, but there’s plenty on Walking on a Dream to make me inclined to keep an eye on these two. If you haven’t checked them out yet, head over to their MySpace page to hear some tunes!

Nate Ruess returns with Fun

For those who dearly miss indie pop duo The Format, I have very good news for you. Nate Ruess, the band's singer, is back with another project including members Andrew Dost from Anathallo and Jack Antonoff of Steel Train. Fun (or fun.) have only released one song to this point, the orchestral, anthematic pop tune "At Least I'm Not As Sad (As I Used To Be)," but it's excited enough people to get 80,000 plays around the 'net in the first 24 hours of being posted.

You can hear the song at the band's MySpace page, or you can sign up for the band's email list and get the song for free! Either way, you should check this out - the track is definitely worth your time.

Also, the guys have a bunch of tour dates lined up, so pay attention!

April 21st Exit/In Nashville, TN
April 22nd 40 Watt Athens, GA
April 23rd Cat's Cradle Carrboro, NC
April 24th The National Richmond, VA
April 25th Ottobar Baltimore, MD
April 26th The Trocadero Philadelphia, PA
April 29th Bowery Ballroom New York, NY
April 30th Middle East Boston, MA
May 1st Water Street Music Hall Rochester, NY
May 2nd Mr. Small's Theatre Pittsburg, PA
May 3rd Grog Shop Cleveland, OH
May 5th Eagle Theatre Pontiac, MI
May 6th Skully's Columbus, OH
May 7th Mad Hatter Club Covington, KY
May 8th Subterranean Chicago, IL
May 9th Station 4 St. Paul, MN
May 11th The Record Bar Kansas City, MO
May 12th Marquis Theatre Denver, CO
May 13th Avalon Theater Salt Lake City, UT
May 15th El Corazon Seattle, WA
May 16th The Biltmore Cabaret Vancouver, BC
May 17th Hawthorne Theater Portland, OR
May 19th Bottom of the Hill San Francisco, CA
May 21st Troubadour West Hollywood, CA
May 22nd Voodoo Stage @ HOB San Diego, CA
May 23rd Club Congress Tucson, AZ
May 24th Clubhouse Tempe, AZ
May 26th Emo's Austin, TX
May 27th The Loft Dallas, TX
May 28th Walter's on Washington Houston, TX
May 29th Spanish Moon Baton Rouge, LA
May 30th Proud Larry's Oxford, MS
May 31st The Bottletree Birmingham, AL
June 2nd State Theatre St. Petersburg, FL
June 3rd The Social Orland, FL
June 4th The Social Orland, FL

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Blast from the Past: Split Lip/Chamberlain

Ten years before 'emo' rock erupted with the likes of Dashboard Confessional, Taking Back Sunday, and Brand New - there was Split Lip, who later became known as Chamberlain - one of the pioneering emotional rock/hardcore bands of the 90s. It's quite easy to see why Chamberlain's music was such an influential force on the emo movement that's still with us; their sound had all the intensity of punk and grunge music combined with heart-on-sleeve lyrics delivered with earnestness by singer David Moore in a reckless style that you can still hear echos of today. Though I've mostly lost my taste for anything emo, I found the group's recently re-issued sophomore album, Fate's Got A Driver, to be a gripping and enlightening discovery.

There's a sincerity to Chamberlain's music that few of their posterity ever managed to really grasp, and their intelligent lyrics and solid musical chops make the eight tracks of 1995's Fate's Got A Driver quite compelling. Opener "Her Side Of Sundown" crosses the rock attitude of Pearl Jam with messy, emotionally-charged vocals more common to the emocore scene, while the bouncy, energetic guitar lines of "Yellow Like Gold" sound something like the ghost of Taking Back Sunday past. Other highlights include the bass-heavy punk-rock of "Uniontown" and the explosive "Drums and Shotguns," which, fittingly enough, features some fantastic drum work.

Though much of the record focuses on hard-hitting rock 'n' roll, some less bombastic moments, like the slow-burning "Five Year Diary," and the soft, acoustic "The Simple Life" sound like they alone might have provided the inspiration for dozens of sensitive singer/songwriters that would follow. There are, certainly, other influences from which more recent emo bands have drawn, but for a group that lasted less than ten years and only released a few records, Chamberlain managed to have quite an obvious effect on modern alternative music. If you haven't previously had the opportunity, now would be a great time to introduce yourself to this influential Indiana-based quartet.

Take a listen for yourself at their MySpace page or head over to Doghouse Records, where you can find more information about the re-release of Fate's Got A Driver on LP, with previously unreleased and rare material.

Review: The Felice Brothers - Yonder is the Clock (* * * *)

Though I grew up in a home with a father who loves classic rock, The Band wasn't ever on regular rotation. So, unfortunately...or perhaps fortunately, I can't comment on the ubiquitous comparisons to New York folk group The Felice Brothers with any real authority. It is quite obvious, however, that the upcoming band's (notice the small 'b') new record - like their last one - has a classic folk-rock feel that can be related to any number of greats from Dylan to Neil Young, yet remains distinctive and fresh enough to be much more than simply a tribute to the genre. Yonder is the Clock borrows its title from a posthumously published Mark Twain publication of a decidedly un-jovial nature and conjures visions an angry and troubled America, though there's certainly some fun to be had throughout the thirteen tracks as well.

The three Felice brothers and two friends sound years removed from the anything modern, musically or otherwise, which - of course , is the point. Primary singer Ian Felice's cracked and world-weary voice rambles over acoustic guitars, accordion, and fiddle with a kind of raw emotion that gives life to his narratives. Much of the music fits into the down-tempo folk category, like the breezy opener, "Big Surprise," in which Ian's Dylan-esque vocals work their way under your skin subtly and carefully over hushed percussion, guitar, and piano. Similarly constructed are the drowsy, piano-led, "Buried in Ice," the heartfelt and heartbreaking waltz "Katie Dear" and a beautifully written folk anthem "Cooperstown." Though there may be too many melancholy ballads packed into the record for some, the writing and musicianship are so consistently great it's difficult to complain about the generally slow pace of things.

Also, Yonder is the Clock isn't without some upbeat rock 'n' roll moments. Here, the band let loose and lighten up, and the results are especially impressive; like the fantastic "Penn Station," which mixes religious imagery with stomping percussion, jangly guitars, and accordion, or the raw, messy "Chicken Wire." My personal favorite is the rollicking "Run Chicken Run," a burning Southern rock tune that wakes the second half of the record from it's sleepy tempo with Ian growling lines over blazing fiddle and guitar, proving that these five have plenty of energy and the talent to channel it into something genuinely exciting.

What ultimately makes Yonder is the Clock such a success is the way it feels so timely and relevant despite such a familiar and well-traveled method of delivery. The Felice Brothers may sometimes sound obsessed with the past, but their writing hits home with the state of America in 2009 the way their predecessors' music did with the American they knew forty years ago. This is the kind of record that probably won't affect such a great number of people due to it's withdrawn nature and lack of mainstream publicity, but that doesn't make its messages any less representative of the time in which we live. The Felice Brothers have very quietly made one of the better folk records released this year so far.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Review: Art Brut - Art Brut vs Satan (* * * *)

Art Brut is the kind of band that shouldn't be able to make three good albums. That's not to say they aren't talented, but the whole project should have worn out it's welcome by now. When they burst onto the scene several years ago with Bang Bang Rock 'n' Roll, the band's quirky post-punk style - combined with singer Eddie Argos' talk-sing vocals - was certainly fun and a breath of fresh air, but it never felt quite sustainable. Now, four years later, the boys are still doing pretty much the same thing, and I - for one - am still having a great time. Argos' whit is very much intact and the band continue to provide sharp, angular rock 'n' roll riffs that make their latest effort, Art Brut vs Satan, a solid return for these lovable and seemingly perpetual underdogs.

Lead track and first single, "Alcoholics Unanimous," has been in constant rotation for me for the last month or so and provides a fantastic kick-off for the record. Argos spends the time wondering about what exactly happened to him the night before while his friends shout out less than encouraging and often contradictory phrases during the chorus ("I've been making mistakes - lots of mistakes! I'm hiding it well - Not very well!"). Argos is still primarily dealing with his inability to properly manage his life and his penchant for causing awkward situations, but he's clever enough that it doesn't get stale. "DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake" is an enthusiastic ode to never growing up, "Am I Normal?" is all about romantic failures, and "Summer Job" discusses trading work for time with friends.

Argos has some less than inspired moments scattered throughout the disc, like the boring public transportation anthem "The Passenger" or the tuneless "Slap Dash for No Cash," but he's on so much of the time the misfires don't stick out much. Adding to the record's consistency is the explosive mix of spiky guitars, frenetic drums, and backing vocals that always hit the spot. Art Brut may love punk music, but they can't hide their obsession with pop melodies and anthematic choruses. Albums these days are generally top-heavy, but Art Brut close 'vs Satan' with a fantastic three-song set, starting with the funky, danceable "Twist and Shout," continuing with the previously mentioned "Summer Job" and ending in the confused, catchy "Mysterious Bruises," the latter of which is well over seven minutes long.

Art Brut is a band that can take little getting used to, but Art Brut vs Satan is the kind of record that's easy to love and was made to be enjoyed. Featuring spectacular production from Pixies frontman Frank Black and a fresh, invigorated effort from the boys, this could be the perfect addition to your summer collection. I imagine these guys will have to grow up eventually, but while they keep making such great records, I don't mind that they take their time.

Oh, and be sure to check out the video for "Alcoholics Unanimous"

Review: Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz (* * * *)

Yeah Yeah Yeah are all about keeping us on our toes. 2006 saw the release of their relatively mellower and more acoustic release, Show Your Bones, which was quite the stylistic departure from their beloved debut, Fever to Tell. The new approach not only took many by surprise, but alienated a portion of the band’s fanbase as well. Of course, Yeah Yeah Yeahs aren’t a group that would be particularly concerned about that, and I imagine with the generally positive critical reception and amount of press attention, their popularity had significantly increased when all was said and done.

This time around, the band have traded in spiky guitar lines and bursts of feminine rage for layers of synths and…danceable pop tunes? When “Zero,” the spacey, electro-rock first single from was unveiled online, there was no shortage of tirades from angry fans convinced something must have gone horribly wrong at the studio. Fortunately, the backlash was very much unfounded; It’s Blitz is a great album, but it does represent another major stylistic shift in the group’s music. Now that everybody has had some time to settle down, the record has been receiving its proper dues as another exciting and innovative release from a band that continues to stretch their limits while retaining what earned them such respect and admiration in the first place.

Opening tracks “Zero” and “Heads Will Roll” have received the lion’s share of media and critical attention recently, with both being played on SNL, Letterman, etc. The tracks combine synths, guitars, drum machine, and live drumming, serving as a great introduction to the record and something approaching pop perfection. The songs are funky, sexy and pack quite a punch, with Karen O’s impressive vocal delivery. In "Zero," O demands that we get our “leather on,” while in 'Heads' she instructs us to “dance dance ‘till you’re dead.” So things have changed a bit since the days of Fever to Tell, but the band are still as compelling and exciting today as they’ve always been, and It’s Blitz feels like nothing less than a progressive work.

Though the electronically inclined sound feels fairly removed from much of their previous material, many of the songs have a familiar intensity to them. “Dull Life” couldn’t be more inappropriately named, with a low-key introduction soon exploding into a recognizable and organic Yeah Yeah Yeahs moment, with plenty of guitarist Nick Zinner’s rock riffs and a pounding drum beat courtesy of Brian Chase. “Shame and Fortune” similarly conjures the group’s signature sound with one of Karen O’s more impassioned performances in a burning rock ‘n’ roll tune that holds up well against their earlier material.

Though the upbeat tunes are probably the most accessible and certainly the most familiar, it’s the slower, softer half of It’s Blitz that contains the more surprising and inspired music. Prior to this release, few would likely cite Karen O as an artist they would like to sing them to sleep, but considering the intimate glow of this record's "Skeleton" and the swirling, beautiful closer, "Little Shadow," the idea of an O lullaby might be more appealing. That’s not to say these more delicate songs are boring; if anything, they are the most emotionally affecting cuts on the record, and though she tempers her voice and delivery, O’s passion is just as prevalent.

Add a little disco, with TV On the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe assisting with vocals on “Dragon Queen,” and an uncharacteristically romantic moment in the mid-tempo ballad “Hysterical,” and you have the recipe for a gripping, fascinating and impressive collection of eclectic tunes that somehow fit together cohesively. There are a few weak spots, like the somewhat uninspired melodies of “Soft Shock” or the sluggish verses of “Runaway,” but these concerns seem especially isolated, as the track's themselves hold up. And the album's strength's far outweigh any shortcomings.

The songwriting is as strong as it has ever been, the musicianship superb, and while the edgy rock ‘n’ roll sound of their previous work has definitely been softened, it turns out the band are just as adept at mining this new brand of synth rock as they have been at anything else they've attempted. It’s Blitz is a record that deserves more recognition than that of a transitional work; it’s a step forward and up for Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and an immensely enjoyable one at that.

Last Word: With their second dramatic stylistic transition in as many albums, Yeah Yeah Yeahs apply a more synth-based approach to their signature rock sound for some exciting results.

New Artist: Greycoats

Being categorized with bands like Coldplay and The Fray is not always seen as a positive thing in the indie scene, but those are the comparisons that first came to me when listening through Greycoats' fine debut album, Setting Fire to the Great Unknown. I find the band's music to be remarkably compelling and thoroughly enjoyable - and though their closest cousins (musically speaking, of course) might incite less than ecstatic responses from some, singer Jon Reine and company deserve your attention.

Combining the aforementioned influences with touches of Radiohead, U2, and Sigur Ros - Greycoats' pop sound is often nothing short of entrancing. Their grand presentation, with layers of guitars and swirling strings, serves as the perfect backdrop for Reine's enormous tenor voice, which slips effortlessly into falsetto and back again as he calls for revolution in troubled times. An excellent example is the first single, "Goodbye, Sweet Youth, Goodbye," which you can download below. The track certainly qualifies as radio-friendly, but in the best sense of the term, with solid musicianship, soaring vocals, and a larger-than-life melody lifting the song into a league far above that of the majority of mainstream alternative rock. Other highlights from the record include the beautifully sparse "Watchman, What is Left of the Night?" and the expansive "La Résistance."

Setting Fire to the Great Unknown is at times melancholy and dark, and other times hopeful and even triumphant. Through it all, the band always sound in full control of their music which causes the record to feel cohesive and consistent. Reine tackles some big issues here (war, greed, anger, redemption, etc.) with confidence and style and without ever slipping into lazy or recycled prose. It's refreshing to hear a band with such a universally appealing sound determined to make intelligent and thoughtful rock music. Greycoats may just have the beginnings of a revolution on their hands with Setting Fire to the Great Unknown.

In addition to downloading the song below, check out the band's MySpace page, which contains half the album to preview.

Goodbye, Sweet Youth, Goodbye

Lastly, make sure you take a look at their small Western tour that starts in a week or so:

04.30.09 – TBD – Omaha, NE
05.01.09 – Meadowlark – Denver, CO
05.02.09 – Atomic Cantina – Albuquerque, NM
05.03.09 – Modified Arts – Phoenix, AZ
05.04.09 – Soda Bar – San Diego, CA
05.05.09 – Knitting Factory – Los Angeles, CA
05.07.09 – Café Du Nord – San Francisco, CA
05.08.09 – TBD – Portland, OR
05.09.09 – High Dive – Seattle, WA

Monday, April 20, 2009

Review: Silversun Pickups - Swoon (* * * 1/2)

Still riding the wave of 2007's Carnavas, which produced the infectious and ubiquitous single "Lazy Eye," Silversun Pickups return with Swoon, which the band have labeled as a more varied album in terms of tempo and style than their previous efforts. The record does indeed have a broader range, going from raging rock 'n' roll tunes to melancholy ballads, though the band continues to channel the energy of several alternative rock bands of the 90s, most notably the Smashing Pumpkins (singer Brian Aubert sounding often like a restrained Billy Corgan). The ten tracks of Swoon contain some of the group's best work, even if the record is slightly uneven.

The early-release first single, "Panic Switch," appropriately established expectations for the new album. The bass-heavy verse, full of menace from Aubert's sinisterly signature vocal delivery, transitions into a wash of guitars in the chorus that's lean, mean, and ultimately gripping. The intense "The Royal We" throws some dramatic string arrangements into the mix, while "Sort Of" features an even more explosive rhythm section, but both tracks follow a pattern that Silversun Pickups focus on throughout the record. Much of the aggressive, edgy music is quite good, though the band's self-seriousness can get to you if you're not in the mood for something so dense and heavy. Only on "Substitution" do you get what feels like a more hopeful or pleasant mood - and it works well enough you wish the band would lighten up more often.

Fortunately, the band throw in some more delicate, mid-tempo moments like the slow funk of "Growing Old Is Getting Old," the warm, orchestral "Catch & Release," and the eerie "Draining" to keep things interesting. Even the slower tunes eventually expand into up-tempo rockers after a few minutes, but the more subtle passages add some needed texture to the album and actually end up creating some of the more fascinating tracks.

Silversun Pickups certainly have the ability to craft a good melody, and they pack many of their songs with enough hooks that Swoon is hard to resist even when it feels a bit oppressive. Like Carnavas, the music here should have a fairly broad appeal, but though it veers close to mainstream alt-rock territory, there's no reason to dump this in a bucket with so much of the soulless, radio-ready pop-rock records on the market today. This is a talented bunch, Silversun Pickups, a band that is improving and expanding, and Swoon is the kind of record that bodes good things for their future.

Review: Papercuts - You Can Have What You Want (* * * 1/2)

Papercuts, or Jason Robert Quever and friends, are back with You Can Have What You Want, the group's third album and follow-up to 2007's acclaimed Can't Go Back. Quever's hazy pop sound blends retro influences in a slightly familiar, but refreshing style that has brought him out of obscurity and into favor with NPR, Pitchfork, and others. This latest batch of tunes shows Quever delving even further into foggy, atmospheric melodies - with layers of keys and electric guitars often fighting for attention with his soft tenor voice. The record has prompted a host of Beach House and Grizzly Bear comparisons, but Papercuts has a sound very much its own which the band cultivates throughout their new album.

Right from the beginnings of opener "Once We Walked In The Sunlight," Quever sets the tone for the record, with simple drumming underlining fuzzy keyboards and a pleasant, subtle melody with melancholy lyrics. The record continues at a similar pace and style throughout, though the band adds just enough variation to prevent things from getting too monotonous or tired. At its best, 'What You Want' conjures some evocative emotions with a sort of mystique that's difficult to describe. The fantastic "Future Primitive" allows Quever's vocals room burrow into our subconscious with a captivating melody, and "Jet Plane" floats by in a gentle, yet stirring, haze that feels both comforting and disarming.

'What You Want' is the epitome of a 'grower,' and with a little time, some wonderful discoveries can be made here, though even after several spins I still found myself feeling somewhat removed and distant from the material. Quever's
melodies can sometimes be difficult to follow as the layers of sound almost obscure his cloudy vocals - which cause tracks like "The Void" to make little impact. Still, though the music can be difficult to unwrap, it manages to work its way under your skin in a way that I found to be remarkably compelling.

Hill Country Revue set to release debut LP - offer free single

The name Hill Country Revue may be new, but you might have heard members Cody Dickinson and Chris Chew's other group, North Mississippi Allstars, or Daniel Coburn's band Dixie Hustler. Together, and with several other well-known Memphis musicians, the boys formed this new project - seeking to become the "the modern blues band for the new generation." The music is heavily steeped in classic Southern rock, with plenty of incidiary guitar riffs and a solid rhythm section making songs like "Alice May" an irresistable update of a timeless sound. Their debut album, Make A Move, will be released on May 12.

"The North Mississippi Allstars haven’t broken up,” Cody Dickinson says. “We’re just off doing different things. Hill Country Revue, for Chris and me, is like a big jolt of adrenaline. It changes our blood chemistry and has us firing on a whole different set of synapses. Also the input from the other guys in the band, both as musicians and friends, is amazing. So everybody gains!”

Download the track "Alice May" below, and check out the tour dates for this Spring and Summer:

Alice May (MP3)

04.24.08 – Backbeat Jazzfest Series/The Republic – New Orleans, LA
05.02.09 – George’s Majestic Lounge – Fayetteville, AR
05.16.09 – Batesville Springfest – Batesville, MS
05.23.09 – Summer Camp Fest – Chillicothe, IL
05.30.09 – The Jewish Mother – Virginia Beach, VA
06.05.09 – Wanee Festival – Live Oak, FL
06.27.09 – North MS Hill Country Picnic – Potts Camp, MS
07.05.09 – Rothbury Music Fest – Rothbury, MI
07.10.09 – All Good Music Festival – Masontown, WV
07.31.09 – Verizon Wireless Center – Noblesville, IN **
08.01.09 – Verizon Wireless Center – Noblesville, IN **

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Sunset Rubdown - "Idiot Heart"

If you haven't heard this, you need to do so right now. Sunset Rubdown are offering a free download of "Idiot Heart" from their upcoming album, entitled Dragonslayer, which will be released on June 23rd.

Quite simply, one of the better singles I've heard this year so far! Head to Pitchfork to stream and/or download the song. Oh, and new tour dates for North America below:

6/11/09 Cambridge, MA - Middle East Downstairs
6/12/09 Brooklyn, NY - Studio B
6/13/09 Philadelphia, PA - Johnny Brenda's
6/14/09 Washington, DC - Black Cat
6/15/09 Chapel Hill, NC - Local 506
6/16/09 Atlanta, GA - The Drunken Unicorn
6/20/09 Austin, TX - Mohawk
6/22/09 Tucson, AZ - Plush
6/23/09 Los Angeles, CA - Echoplex
6/24/09 San Francisco, CA - The Rickshaw Stop
6/26/09 Portland, OR - Doug Fir Lounge
6/27/09 Seattle, WA - Chop Suey
6/28/09 Victoria, BC - Sugar Nightclub
7/02/09 Calgary, AB - The Marquee Room
7/06/09 Minneapolis, MN - 7th St. Entry
7/07/09 Chicago, IL - Epiphany
7/08/09 Bloomington, IN - Jake's Nightclub
7/10/09 Toronto, ON - Lee's Palace
7/11/09 Montreal, QC - Il Motore

Yonlu - A Society In Which No Tear Is Shed is Inconceivably Mediocre

I'm going to take a bit of a departure from my standard review system for this one as it falls into a very unique category. Yonlu is actually the Internet screen name of the late Vinicius Gageiro Marques, who lived in the Southwestern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre as the only child of a professor and a psychoanalyst. At 16, Vinicius took his own life, leaving behind a collection of music he had written, of which 14 songs have been selected for the evocatively titled album, A Society In Which No Tear Is Shed is Inconceivably Mediocre. The record is a compelling collection of songs filled with emotion, and is a surprisingly sophisticated display of Vinicius ' obvious musical talent. Though I've foregone giving the album a rating, it's not for lack of great music, it just seemed irrelevant and perhaps inappropriate considering the circumstances.

Yonlu's music features an almost impossibly broad range of influences. Though Vinicius learned to read, write, and therefore perform in English, his music still feels quite grounded in the bossa nova and Tropicalia genres more prevalent in Brazil. He even covers a personal favorite of his, Vitor Ramil, on the beautiful "Estrela, Estrela." Songs like the smooth, groovy opener "I Know What's It Like," the easy-going "Ole Por Nos," and the brief, but lovely "Phrygian" fill the record with well-played guitar, pleasant vocal harmony, and melodies that hint at musical maturity well beyond his age. A variety of instruments make an appearance in the album, including bass and drums which Vinicius played and recorded himself in his bedroom-turned-studio.

Many of the more comprehensible lyrics (at least those in English) carry some serious emotional weight and deal with heavy subjects like loneliness, heartache, and death - as you might expect. The song "Suicide," written only a month before Vinicius took his own life, or the beautifully sad "Humiliation" more than hint at the pain this young man experienced and dealt with on a constant basis. Even the sunny, low-key "Little Kids" or the song for a friend "Katy Don't Be Depressed" feel underlined by a sense of anguish, though it's also clear that the joys of life and love weren't lost on Vinicius, just difficult for him to obtain.

The record also features several more experimental tunes that show a playful side to Yonlu's music. "A Boy and a Tiger" shifts wildly from passages of subtle folk music into moments of raging operatic rock and bizarre rap verses, while "Qtip" focuses on what sounds like a weather forecast over simple guitar lines. "Deskjet Remix with Sabrepulse" is a brief blast of instrumental electro-rock that is good enough you might wish the song had been expanded to feel more complete. Not all of the music makes much sense, and the record obviously feels scattered given its origin, but A Society In Which No Tear Is Shed is thoroughly fascinating and usually quite enjoyable as well.

To end, I'd like to quote an adaptation from an article that appeared in an issue of Rolling Stone Brazil:

Yoñlu is a disc that should have been a post card, but transformed itself into a testament. It’s the celebration of a life with the talent for a banquet that stopped at the appetizer. It’s a showcase of sound and poetry of the kisses that Vinicius never gave, the dreams he never realized, the anguishes he couldn’t get over, his passion for art and especially for music, like he expressed in the letter he wrote to his parents: “I believe that the right cadence and harmony at the right moments can awaken any sentiment, including happiness in the most somber moments.”

To hear some of Yonlu's music, check out his MySpace.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Low Anthem set to re-release debut LP, offer "Charlie Darwin"

The Low Anthem are a Rhode Island-based folk trio that make beautiful, haunting music that has won them some critical acclaim from the likes of Rolling Stone and NPR despite their very limited reach. Now, the group will re-release their debut album, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, on June 9th through Nonesuch Records in a re-sequenced and newly remastered package. The band are currently on the road over on the East Coast in support of the album and you can see dates below.

Also, the band are offering a free tune from the album called Charlie Darwin, which you can download here. The song features simple instrumentation underlining the absolutely breathtaking harmony and introspective lyrics. The three musicians use a somewhat unusual selection of instruments on the album, including a zither, pump organ, Tibetan singing bowl, and an oil drum, and their unique folk sound is, from what I've heard, consistently stunning.

Charlie Darwin (MP3)

Sat Apr 18 Boston, MA - Record Store Day - Newbury Comics In-Store
Fri Apr 24 Providence, RI - Lupos w/Elvis Perkins in Dearland & Deer Tick
Sat Apr 25 Burlingston, VT - Higher Ground w/Elvis Perkins in Dearland
Mon Apr 27 Montreal, QC - II Motore w/Elvis Perkins in Dearland
Wed Apr 29 Toronto, ONT - Horseshoe Tavern w/Elvis Perkins in Dearland
Thurs Jun 11 Manchester, TN - Bonnaroo
Mon Jun 15 New York, NYC - Bowery Ballroom

Pink Mountaintops share first song from "Outside Love"

I don't usually do this, but I'm going to go ahead and quote the email I received informing me about Steven McBean's latest album, Outside Love.

"Oh hello, internet. It's us, Jagjaguwar. We've been hanging out down by the fire, sipping brandy and anticipating sharing some Outside Love with you. The new song is called "Vampire", and we think it'll send shivers under your dress. Just don't take our word for it. Download here and post at your leisure. We love leisure."

Well, there you have it, Jagjaguwar wants you to hear "Vampire" and I wholeheartedly agree that you should take them up on a great free tune. The album will be released on May 5th, and will include ten tracks of Pink Mountaintops' signature expressive folk-rock style. Also, make sure you take a look at these tour dates:

6/02/09 - Montreal QC - Sala Rossa
6/03/09 - Portland ME - Space Gallery
6/04/09 - Boston MA - TT the Bears
6/05/09 - Brooklyn NY - Bell House
6/06/09 - New York NY - Mercury Lounge
6/08/09 - Philadelphia PA - Johnny Brendas
6/09/09 - Pontiac MI - The Pike Room at Crofoot
6/10/09 - Chicago IL - Empty Bottle
6/11/09 - Bloomington IN - Russian Recording
6/13/09 - Buffalo - Big Orbit's Soundlab
6/14/09 - Toronto - Horseshoe Tavern

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Review: Eulogies - Here Anonymous (* * * 1/2)

Originally intended as a solo project for guitarist/vocalist Peter Walker, Eulogies soon blossomed into a full band (first a trio, now a quartet) and released their self-titled debut LP in 2007, and now are following up with their sophomore effort, Here Anonymous. Eulogies make fairly simple, straightforward music using almost exclusively just guitar, bass, and drums to make no-frills pop songs that focus on melody and hooks instead of experimentation or showy musicianship. At times, the new record practically follows popular songwriting 101 guidelines, which, though the approach may be worn, actually yields some consistently great results.

When working with a limited musical palette, the tendency is for an album to become tired or samey if the artists behind the project aren't careful (or talented). Fortunately, Eulogies are intelligent and skilled enough to avoid this kind of pitfall, and the majority of Here Anonymous is fresh and enjoyable. Many of the songs, like opener "Day to Day" and the quaint duet "Two Can Play" show off bassist Garrett Deloian's slinky riffs over which Walker's smooth voice and unobtrusive guitars bounce along pleasantly. The approach works well for the album's generally upbeat tunes, which range from melancholy to hopeful in their emotional delivery. Like the music, the lyrics throughout the album are quite simple and direct, though Walker rarely comes across as uninspired or lazy, he seems to just prefer to be understood.

A few songs shake things up on Here Anonymous, like the appropriately titled "A Dark Place" or the danceable, more guitar-heavy "The Fight (I've Come To Like)," and the variety is welcome. Even with their strong sense of melody and style, Eulogies let a few of the songs get lost in the shuffle of similar bass lines and drum kicks, and the more exploratory moments are necessary to add some flavor that keeps the listener tuned in. Luckily, there aren't any true misfires here, and the strongest songs far outweigh any weaker or less defined material. Also, the album never outstays its welcome or tries your patience at a trim 41 minutes and 12 songs.

After a few listens, I've continued to enjoy Here Anonymous and am impressed by the band's direct approach to pop rock music, which is a bit of a relief from so many often unnecessarily complex indie rock records being made today. This is a band that has some serious potential, and if they do as Walker states - that is - keep their 'eyes on the prize,' I imagine they'll only get better from here.

Deer Tick share "Easy" from upcoming LP!

Once the work only of singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist John J. McCauley III, Deer Tick is now a full quartet, and they're back with a new record entitled Born On Flag Day (album art shown), which is set for release on June 23rd. I fell in love with Deer Tick's debut album, War Elephant, just recently, so I'm pumped for new music from one of folk's most talented young songwriters.

The band are offering a new song from the upcoming album, which you can download below. "Easy" is a more racous number than much of what you'll find on War Elephant, and as would be expected, the song has a more full rock sound, which I'm loving. I've got high hopes for Born On Flag Day, and June can't get here soon enough.

Easy (MP3)

Track List:

1. Easy
2. Little White Lies
3. Smith Hill
4. Song About A Man
5. Houston, TX
6. Straight Into A Storm
7. Friday XIII
8. The Ghost
9. Hell On Earth
10. Stung

And, last - but not least, tour dates:

Thu-Apr-23 Boston, MA Harpers Ferry
Fri-Apr-24 Providence, RI Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel #
Mon-Jun-08 Philadelphia, PA Trocadero %
Tue-Jun-09 Brooklyn, NY Music Hall of Williamsburg %
Wed-Jun-10 Boston, MA House of Blues %
Thu-Jun-11 Washington, DC 9:30 Club %
Fri-Jun-12 Carrboro, NC Cat's Cradle %
Sun-Jun-14 St. Louis, MO The Pageant %
Mon-Jun-15 Lawrence, KS Granada %
Wed-Jun-17 Omaha, NE Slowdown %

# = w/ Elvis Perkins in Dearland
% = w/ Jenny Lewis

Tinted Windows release debut LP next week!

Tinted Windows is a new pop-rock supergroup that spans musical generations, comprised of Taylor Hanson (yes, THAT Hanson), James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins, A Perfect Circle), Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne), and Bun E. Carlos (Cheap Trick). An odd collection of artistic personalities to be sure, but one that's gotten more than a few people very excited. Their live unveiling at SXSW must have been quite experience, and now the group are set to release their self-titled debut album next week, April 21st.

The band have already posted a couple songs on their website, the videos of which you can see below. It sounds as if these guys really have their act together; "Kind of a Girl" and "Messing With My Head" are fun, breezy rock songs filled with classic pop hooks that get me excited to hear the rest of the record next week.

Messing With My Head

Tinted Windows "Kind of a Girl"

The guys also have a few tour dates posted, with more on the way:

20 New York, NY Mercury Lounge
25 Edmond, OK Plunkett Park/University of Central Oklahoma
28 Los Angeles, CA Troubadour
30 Chicago, IL Double Door

2 Atlantic City, NJ Borgata Events Center - w/No Doubt
3 E. Rutherford, NJ The Bamboozle 2009 @ Meadowlands Sports Complex

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Review: The Thermals - Now We Can See (* * * *)

Fighting the powers that be isn’t exactly a new idea, but rock trio The Thermals have made a solid musical career out of it. Of course, it took much more than anger to bring upon the wash of critical acclaim that accompanied such releases as 2006’s The Body, The Blood, The Machine. The Portland rockers have become known for their rough, garage-rock sound, clever lyrics and catchy melodies-- all of which they've used in the past to express their dissatisfaction with Bush-era politics, religion and certain aspects of American ideology. With perhaps a little less to rant against, the band return with a new collection of 11 expressive, punk-inspired tunes dealing with the excitement of youth and the eventuality of death. Their (slightly) more hopeful outlook and less politically-charged approach are certainly welcome and produce some solid results on the group’s appropriately titled fourth disc, Now We Can See.

The first four tracks on the album contain what we’ve come to expect from The Thermals: brief blasts of pop-oriented punk rock that immediately grab hold of the listener, though the production is a little smoother and the feeling a little less sinister this time around. Opener “When I Died” is probably the strongest of the bunch, with talk-sing verse and a killer guitar hook that kicks things off spectacularly, though the title track is also undeniably great, including an unconventional, wordless chorus that shakes things up a bit. Fortunately, the band follow a consistent, albeit fairly predictable start with gentler ballad “At the Bottom of the Sea,” which continues frontman Hutch Harris’ trend of writing incredibly compelling lyrics that have always elevated his music above the typical low-fi indie rocker, this time in a more reflective and quite moment.

The second half of the record is similarly even, providing several more standouts. “I Called Out Your Name” is an earnest and fun pop-rock tune that’s impossible to resist, while closer “You Dissolve” ends things with one of the album’s strongest cuts, and an ode to the continuation of life through death, or, as Harris puts it, “just another way you exist, it’s just another way you survive.” A couple tunes add less to the overall appeal of the album, but there really aren’t any missteps here, and Now We Can See feels not only consistent, but also cohesive in its sound. As a result, there might not be a great deal of variation, but the songs actually become quite distinct and memorable after only a couple listens.

Making my way through the record, it quickly becomes clear that The Thermals are maturing, but rather than slowing down and mellowing out, they’ve found a way to evolve, making music that continues to be fresh and relevant. Featuring excellent lyrics, a tremendous sense of melody, and direct, no-frills rock ‘n’ roll, Now We Can See is another solid addition to the group’s catalog. It’s remarkable that a band still relying on a very straightforward and simple musical palette can avoid becoming tired or worn out, but The Thermals are anything but past it. Quite the opposite, in fact; the band feel just as energetic and determined as they ever were, they’ve just become a little older and wiser-- and they’re better for it.

Last Word: The Thermals return with a consistent and enjoyable rock album that retains the energy and attitude of their past releases while showing some maturity as well.

Recommended Artist: The Five Corners Quintet

Long the preferred genre of many a hipster, music geek, and...well, serious musician, Jazz is often considered the kind of music that everyone SHOULD listen to but nobody actually DOES listen to, which is a shame. I'll admit, as much as I say I enjoy jazz music and respect the musicians, I don't often sit down with a classic Duke Ellington record just for kicks; I'm usually too busy trying to get to the next big indie rock thing.

Still, when you're introduced to a band like Helsinki's The Five Corner's Quintet, it would be a real shame to just let them slip by. The group's refreshing take on traditional 'dancefloor' jazz is immediate, fun, and classy, an experience certainly worth having even if you're not fanatical about the genre. Their new album, Hot Corner, is comprised mainly of instrumental numbers, with Teppo Mäkynen (drums/bandleader), Timo Lassy (sax), Jukka Eskola (trumpet), Mikael Jakobsson (piano), and Antti Lötjönen (double bass) all contributing their solid musicianship to make for a thoughly enjoyable 45 minutes. Opener "Hot Rod" starts things off with a groovy bass line and some fantastic horn work, while "Skinny Dipping" relies on stellar drumming by Mäkynen and gives Jakobsson time for a great solo. Later on, the group gives us another pair of standouts, the funky, upbeat "Shake It" and the 70's groove of "Easy Diggin'."

The record features a number of cuts with vocalist Mark Murphy, who lends his stylish voice to liven up the mellow "Kerouac Days in Montana" and the darkly romantic "Come and Get Me." His presence shakes things up in a good way, though the group shine particularly bright when left to their own devices. Hot Corner is the kind of album that should have a particularly broad appeal, as jazz music goes anyway. The songs are varied in their tempo and intensity, and the group hits the perfect balance of a classic jazz feel and more expansive, progressive arrangements, so the record feels fresh and new without ever becoming unnecessarily abstract. Put simply, this is music made to be enjoyed by anyone and everyone.

Head over to the band's MySpace page to hear half of the new album and give these guys a chance, I'm willing to bet you'll be glad you did.

Constantines add U.S. tour dates

Canadian rock quintet Constantines are planning a little trip through the States in support of their new EP, Slow For Love, a bonus album that compliments their acclaimed full-length 2008 record, Kensington Heights. The EP features alternate takes of some of the band's hits, including four tracks from their most recent release, and is available for free with the purchase of that album (click here if you want more info).

I haven't had the pleasure of hearing the new stripped-down versions yet, but the album was one of 2008's best rock records, number one according to Alternative Press, so I imagine it's worth getting your hands on. Check out tour dates below:

6/2/09 – Newport, KY @ Southgate House *
6/3/09 – St. Louis, MO @ Off Broadway *
6/5/09 – Dallas, TX @ Sons of Herman Hall *
6/6/09 – Austin, TX @ Emo's *
6/8/09 – Phoenix, AZ @ Rhythm Room *^
6/9/09 – San Diego, CA @ Casbah *^
6/10/09 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Echo *^
6/11/09 – San Francisco, CA @ Rickshaw *^
6/13/09 – Portland, OR @ Doug Fir *^
6/14/09 – Seattle, WA @ Nuemo's *^
* w/ Crystal Antlers
^ w/ I Was King

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Review: Metric - Fantasies (* * * 1/2)

Any band associated with Broken Social Scene runs the risk of being held to a ridiculously high standard of musical accomplishment. Of course, it's not really fair, or even worthwhile to make such comparisons, but for bands like Canada's Metric, it's difficult to escape them. Frontwoman Emily Haines and guitarist James Shaw are both contributors to the famed Indie collective, but are primarily known for their involvement with this more accessible electro-rock project that has seen its fair share of both critical acclaim and indifference. After a four year absence, the band is back with Fantasies, a collection of ten songs continuing the quartet's signature sound, full of epic pop hooks and Haines' smooth vocals.

Opening tracks - the intense, dramatic first single "Help I'm Alive" and the driving, catchy "Sick Muse" set the stage for the remainder of the record. Haines delivers her pointed lyrics with extra doses of sincerity and sarcasm in equal measure while the drums pound out simple beats over which the layers of guitars form walls of noise that build to grand explosions of sound. It's not exactly revolutionary, but Haines has a keen ear for melody and the band ably back her with sharp execution throughout the record. Though the songs on Fantasies are a bit uneven, there are enough shining moments here to justify some quality time with the album. The synth-heavy rocker "Gimme Sympathy," the shimmering "Collect Call," and the sparse, distant "Twighlight Galaxy" all succeed admirably and with style.

As good as much of Fantasies is, the latter half of the record feels scattered, as songs like the scuzzy "Front Row" and the noisy, messy closer "Stadium Love" contribute little toward what should have been a stronger finish. Here, the music feels forced and the lyrics lean toward more vapid generalities that leave the songs feeling strangely empty. Fortunately, the few misfires don't derail the entire project, and the record retains some decent replay value with Haines' crystal clear voice and edgy attitude holding things together. At times it's sexy, other times angry and bitter, but Fantasies is always catchy, confident, and just about crowded with hooks. Metric seem to be on an upward trend here; let's hope that holds.

Review: Cymbals Eat Guitars - Why There Are Mountains (* * * *)

Everyone loves the idea of discovering the next big thing, but for every significant find, there are countless false alarms. When chatter started to build around the blogosphere about unsigned newcomers Cymbals Eat Guitars, I had enough on my plate and figured that a couple weeks would be enough time to let the buzz die down a bit. Of course, the buzz didn’t die down; it escalated quickly, with stellar reviews pouring in and comparisons to Modest Mouse, Pavement, and Built to Spill being thrown about with abandon. So I arrived a little late to the party, but I quickly came to realize what all the fuss was about. Why There Are Mountains is truly an exciting debut that lives up to the majority of the hype surrounding it, and Cymbals Eat Guitars have what appears to be a bright future ahead of them.

The music does often sound much like the sum of the aforementioned influences, but the band never takes too much from any one source. Instead they use what they borrow to build a foundation from which they create something that is very much their own. The nine tracks of Why There Are Mountains come in a variety of shapes and sizes, some emphasizing the group’s bombastic tendencies, some showing remarkable restraint, and most including a little of both. Opener “And the Hazy Sea” explodes from the speakers with crashing guitars and pounding drums before subsiding into a more delicate verse punctuated by bouts of shouting and noise that come and go throughout the track’s six minutes. It’s intense, raw, and unusually structured, with plenty to discover upon repeated listens.

From there, the record jumps into a more immediate number, “Some Trees (Merritt Moon),” which blazes through two minutes of gritty alternative rock after a slow-building introduction. “Living North” follows a similar pattern, with blaring guitars underlining singer Joseph D'Agostino’s earnest yelp in a brief blast of punk-inspired rock ‘n’ roll. Most of the songs, however, follow the pattern established on the opening track, with dynamic, seemingly formless songs transitioning from moments of tranquility into messy, noisy climaxes and back again. The fantastic “Cold Spring” rambles along with swirling strings adding a nice touch before the song takes off in a blissfully frenetic eruption of sound, while “Wind Phoenix (Proper Name)” blends bouncy pop melodies with moments of screamed nonsense.

Cymbals Eat Guitars also create some standout tunes with some of their quieter, subtler numbers. “Share” gently floats along on layers of distortion under D’Agostino’s faint, hazy vocals, slowly taking on additional layers of trumpet, percussion, and acoustic guitar until the joyous, upbeat finale finally takes off. “What Dogs See” feels almost removed from the rest of the album, with eerily reverbed backing vocals creating a claustrophobic, intimate feeling which transitions smoothly into the next track, and though it works best within the context of the album, it’s a worthwhile detour just the same.

Whatever the stylistic approach, Cymbals Eat Guitars match their youthful eagerness with serious musical chops and a sense of exploration that bodes great things for their future as a band to watch. Why There Are Mountains is not a flawless album, but it’s close enough to provide for 45 minutes of thoroughly compelling music. Confident, talented, and just a little uncool, these guys indeed have ‘the next big thing’ written all over them.

Last Word: With remarkable talent, a wealth of great ideas, and a love for 90s indie rock, Cymbals Eat Guitars have created one of the most solid debuts of 2009.

Hockey to re-release "Mind Chaos" this summer

Hockey, a four-piece dance-rock band from Portland, are getting set to re-release their debut album, Mind Chaos, this summer after having self released the record last year. The group's infectious pop sound takes the funk and danceability of classic soul and pop music and combines it with synths, drum machine, and a gritty rock 'n' roll attitude that make songs like the first single, "Too Fake," such a compelling listen. These guys seem poised to conquer the indie scene, so do yourself a favor and get familiar with them now.

You can watch the video for "Too Fake" below and you should head over to the band's MySpace to hear a few more tracks. Also, check out this article on in which Hockey are quite literally listed as the next big thing.

Too Fake (Video)

The band are heading overseas to conquer Europe after a few dates in California:

4/14 - Detroit Bar - Costa Mesa, CA *
4/15 - The Loft @ UCSD - San Diego, CA *
4/16 - Cellar Door - Visalia, CA #
4/17 - Rickshaw Stop - San Francisco, CA #
4/24 - The Roundhouse (MTV "Camden Crawl") - Camden, UK
4/25 - Bristol University - Bristol, UK *
4/27 - Manchester Academy 2 - Manchester, UK *
4/28 - Wulfrun Hall - Wolverhampton, UK *
4/29 - Waterfront - Norwich, UK *
4/30 - Forum - London, UK *
5/1 - Southampton University - Southampton, UK *
5/2 - Digital - Brighton, UK *
5/3 - Custard Factory - Birmingham, UK *
5/5 - Leeds Met University - Leeds, UK *
5/6 - Studio 24 - Edinburgh, UK *
5/7 - OMU - Glasgow, UK *
5/8 - Red Room - Nottingham, UK #
5/11 - Black and White @ Plug & Play - Reading, UK #
5/12 - Clwb Ifor Bach - Cardiff, UK #
5/13 - The Cellars - Portsmouth, UK #
5/14 - The Great Escape - Brighton, UK #
5/16 - The Great Escape - Brighton, UK #
5/24 - Sasquatch Music Festival @ The Gorge - Quincy, WA
6/11 - Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival - Manchester, TN

* w/ Friendly Fires
# Headlining date

Monday, April 13, 2009

Review: Doves - Kingdom of Rust (* * * *)

It's been four solid years since Doves dropped their last album, Some Cities, on the world. One could argue that a four-year absence doesn't qualify their new record, Kingdom of Rust, as a comeback album, but for whatever reason, it FEELS like a comeback album. Fortunately, the trio of Jez Williams, Jimi Goodwin, and And Williams seem determined to make the most of this opportunity, returning in a big way with another confident display of songwriting and musicianship wrapped in their signature alt-rock sound that's even bigger and more brash this time around.

Admittedly, this album had to overcome the initial bad impression I had with the first single and lead track,"Jetstream," which I've since learned to enjoy but was at first a little bored with. Fortunately, not only has the album grown on me, but many of the songs made quite the impact upon first listen. The title track is especially captivating - dark, stylish, emotional, and perfectly produced with haunting strings complementing the worn, but hopefuly lyrics. It's the sound of a band on top of their game, playing to their strengths without simply rehashing earlier material. What follows is an album that generally meets, and sometimes exceeds, what we've come to expect from Doves.

Other highlights include the intense rocker "The Outsiders," the smooth, grand "The Greatest Denier," and the explosive "House of Mirrors." On these more uptempo numbers, the trio sound just as sharp as they've always been, but with a grittier, more organic edge that makes the rock 'n' roll style really hit hard. Also impressive is the amount of variety on the album. Though much of the music still follows the dramatic, melancholy presentation Doves have become famous (or perhaps infamous) for, there are more than a few interesting detours here. "10:03" starts as a slow, orchestral pop tune before climaxing slowly into a frenzied guitar and drum attack, while "Compulsion" plays like a dance-rock number, funky, slick, and edgy. The stylistic flavor adds some welcome spice to an album that could have been too weighty or self-serious without it.

Closer "Lifelines" finishes things off spectacularly and epically, a seeming testament to the fact that Doves have plenty of life left to enjoy and music to offer. Kingdom of Rust is the kind of album you hope a talented band would produce after four years of silence - consistent, well-executed, and full of ideas. Doves may have lost the spotlight, but it's apparent that they haven't lost their edge. Let's just hope it doesn't take so long for the next record.

You can hear the entire album over at the band's MySpace, though I'm not sure how long the offer holds.