Sunday, May 31, 2009

Magnolia Electric Co. - Josephine MP3

Jason Molina and crew are back with a new LP, entitled Josephine, due out July 21st here in the U.S. The upcoming album will be the first full-length from the group since 2006 and will once again feature Steve Albini as producer. The record is, apparently, a somewhat indirect but very emotionally heavy tribute to the life of the late Evan Farrell, the band's former bassist. Also, the new material showcases a more sparse, delicate side of the band's sound than they have previously explored.

The guys are offering the new album's title track for download below, a lonely folk tune brimming with regret and heartache. It's a nice introduction to the record which certainly sounds, so far, like it will be worth a couple month's wait.

Josephine (MP3)

Also, check out tour dates with The Donkeys:

7/10 Bloomington, IN @ Russian Recordings *
7/11 Chicago, IL @ Schuba's *
7/12 Chicago, IL @ The Hideout
7/14 Newport, KY @ Southgate House *
7/15 Pittsburgh, PA @ Andy Warhol Museum *
7/16 Buffalo, NY @ Mohawk *
7/17 Cambridge, MA @ Middle East *
7/18 Northhampton, MA @ Iron Horse *
7/20 Washington, DC @ Black Cat *
7/21 Chapel Hill, NC @ Local 506 *
7/22 Athens, GA @ 40 Watt *
7/23 Memphis, TN @ Hi-Tone *
7/24 Denton, TX @ Rubber Gloves *
7/25 Austin, TX @ Mohawk *
7/27 Tucson, AZ @ Solar Culuture *
7/28 Los Angeles, CA @ Echo *
7/29 San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill *
7/31 Portland, OR @ Doug Fir *
8/01 Seattle, WA @ Crocodile *
8/03 Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge *
8/04 Denver, CO @ Hi-Dive *
8/05 Kansas City, MO @ Record Bar *
8/06 Omaha, NE @ Waiting Room *
8/07 Minneapolis, MN @ Street Entry *
8/08 Dubuque, IA @ Busted Lift *

Review: Black Moth Super Rainbow - Eating Us (* * * 1/2)

Psych-pop group Black Moth Super Rainbow bring their hazy, vocoder-heavy rock style back again with Eating Us, the follow-up to 2007's bizarre folk album, Dandelion Gum. The band is known not only for their musical uniqueness but also for their eccentric performances and stage names (Power Pill Fist, Father Hummingbird, etc) which add another level to the group's strange mystique. It's not all just fancy tricks and gimmicks, however, BMSR create some truly interesting and compelling music and while Eating Us may not impress as thoroughly as their earlier work, it contains some very strong material within its twelve tracks.

Eating Us seems to have been made, quite intentionally, to defy most pop music conventions. Verses and choruses blend together if they occur at all, songs stick to simple structures that occasionally go nowhere, and rarely is there a strong hook, instrumental or otherwise, to be found among the record's 35 minutes. Still, the whole project is strangely compelling and fascinating as much because of the BMSR's odd musical identity as the album is in spite of it. The first half of the record is clearly the more consistent and engaging, starting with the relatively more substantial "Born On A Day The Sun Didn't Rise" and "Dark Bubbles," the former of which is among the tracks that follow a slightly more familiar song structure. My personal favorite is the pleasantly psychedelic "Twin of Myself," in which sparkles with layers of synths and keys and is perhaps the album's most immediate moment.

By the end of Eating Us, some of the songs may start to feel a little redundant, though the excellent, banjo-led "American Face Dust" gives the back end a much-needed kick. After a few spins, it's easier to differentiate the tracks and to enjoy the subtle, hazy style that Black Moth Super Rainbow has made all their own, so take the time to get familiar with the album if you really want to get the most out of it. Check out the material below for an album preview:

Download: "Born On A Day The Sun Didn't Rise"

Watch the interactive video: "Dark Bubbles"

Friday, May 29, 2009

Nurses offer "Caterpillar Playground" from debut LP

I realize that I'm constantly making recommendations about great new bands but I sincerely endorse each one that gets featured on this site. Some, however, get me especially excited to share; Nurses is one of those bands. The experimental folk trio are getting ready to release their debut album, Apple's Acre, on Dead Oceans in August, but I've got some preview material here that has captured my attention quite completely and I highly recommend listening up right now.

Nurses make music that's hard to classify, especially from just hearing a few tracks, but they combine elements of folk, pop, and psychedelia into delightfully strange and especially intriguing packages. Below you can find a download of the single "Caterpillar Playground," which should give you a good idea of what you can expect from these three. It's a quirky tune with whistling, keys, and light percussion all arranged in a way that's got me hooked. You can also hear a couple other similarly great tracks on the group's MySpace page or check out an acoustic live performance of "Lita," which has a Yeasayer sort of vibe to it. Whatever you do, get this stuff into your system quickly.

Caterpillar Playground (MP3)

Lita (Live Video)

Nurses on MySpace

Apple's Acre will be released on August 4th, to be exact, and if you happen to be over on the West Coast this summer, there's a chance you could catch these guys live - tour dates follow:

06/06/09 Portland, OR @ Holocene w/ Talkdemonic, Explode Into Colors, Gulls
06/14/09 Olympia, WA @ The Northern w/ Prussia
06/16/09 Oakland, CA @ TBA w/ Prussia
06/17/09 Fresno, CA @ Audies Olympic/Club Fred w/ Prussia, Capillary Action
06/19/09 Los Angeles, CA @ Knitting Factory w/ Prussia
06/20/09 San Diego, CA @ Che Cafe w/ Prussia

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Review: John Vanderslice - Romanian Names (* * * 1/2)

If the first five months are a good indication of what we can expect from the remaining seven, 2009 is shaping up to be a fantastic year for music, especially from some of indie rock’s heavyweights. Led by stellar records from mainstays Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear, the artists that we have all come to expect so much from have, for the most part, delivered; some creating career-defining albums in the process. Depending on who you talk to, John Vanderslice may or may not end up on that selective list of indie’s most important or influential songwriters, but I would submit that his impressive catalog has earned him a spot, especially with 2007’s superb Emerald City.

Now, with Romanian Names, we find the ever-restless Vanderslice shifting gears from City’s politically-charged edginess into a smoother, subtler sound focused on more personal – specifically relationship – matters. Vanderslice hasn’t exactly abandoned his love of twisted, descriptive phrases, but his new material feels open in a way that his albums never have before. “Fetal Horses,” the record’s pre-release single, sets the tone early on in the proceedings, a broken and ugly plea for a past lover to return despite less than ideal circumstances. Combining lines like “today, at least today, I wanted you,” with mention of fetal horses and seeing corpses is not exactly a shot at romance, it’s just a strange sort of honesty that makes Vanderslice seem remarkably unguarded and relatively accessible.

Musically, the greatest difference here is the production, which rounds off the sharp corners present during much of Vanderslice’s earlier work. Where before, rough electric guitars and pounding drums slammed political rants home with force, now slinky synths and smooth piano lines create a tense, but much less aggressive, atmosphere for Vanderslice to present his more introspective lyrics. “C & O Canal” bounces lightly along with soft keys over nimble percussion, “Too Much Time” has a distant, hazy sound that feels lonely and worn, and closer “Hard Times” uses only touches of synth and strings to compliment the plaintive vocals. One of the most surprising and excellent tracks is the all-too-brief acoustic ballad that is the record’s title track, which forgoes production almost completely for a simple sense of intimacy that’s quite compelling.

Unfortunately, while Vanderslice’s vocal performances are easily among his best and his musicianship is solid as always, something has been lost here among the gentler presentation. The new direction doesn’t so much feel uninspired or misguided as much as it seems uninteresting, at least when compared to his previous albums. The added measure of beauty and sincerity is certainly welcome and even intriguing, but when taken as a whole, the record feels a little insubstantial. The songs are consistently (with few exceptions) engaging enough on their own and there are a few stunners here, but Romanian Names too rarely rises to the level at which John Vanderslice has operated for so long.

However, even with my reservations, I can’t escape the feeling that in some way Romanian Names is a step forward for John Vanderslice. I suppose it remains to be seen whether or not this album will serve as a transitional piece, but it feels like this might be the beginning of an interesting musical phase in his career. He continues to explore new territory and stretch himself and it’s difficult to be too upset when such ambition results in material that isn’t quite as fantastic this time around as it has been in the past.

Last Word: John Vanderslice’s seventh record, Romanian Names, doesn’t live up to his own self-established standard, but there’s enough good material to be worth our attention.

You can download a cut from the record, "Too Much Time," below, and be sure to check out my earlier post for a download of "Fetal Horses."

Too Much Time (MP3)

New and Notable: Fanfarlo

Started in London by Swedish multi-instrumentalist Simon Balthazar, the six-piece orchestral pop group Fanfarlo has quickly started to amass popular and critical acclaim for their debut album, Reservoir, which was released this past February. The band marry the epic presentation of groups like Coldplay and Snow Patrol (stick with me...) with the imagination and musical prowess of Beirut and Arcade Fire, bands to which Fanfarlo has been compared numerous times. I have quickly fallen in love with Reservoir, an accessible, yet expressive and impressive collection of tunes that only increase in their enjoyability with repeated listens. I strongly recommend checking these guys out immediately.

My introduction to the band was during an NPR podcast when they played "The Walls Are Coming Down," an urgent, yet stately waltz beautifully produced with joyous horns, gorgeous strings, and sharp drumming behind Balthazar's strong tenor voice (indeed bearing some resemblance to Zach Condon). The song is an album highlight, as are the lovely, mandolin-led "Harold T. Wilkins or How To Wait For A Very Long Time" and the more upbeat, driving "Luna," though it's difficult to pick favorites with so much strong material to choose from. It could easily be argued that Fanfarlo doesn't exhibit all the depth and creativity of their indie superstar counterparts I mentioned earlier, but while that maybe true, Reservoir is a stunning and compelling debut that bodes great things for this group's future.

I'll be genuinely surprised (and disappointed) if these guys don't become the next big thing, so you might as well go get yourself acquainted now. Head to their MySpace to hear some songs, or over to Obscure Sound where you can download three tracks from the record.

From Belgium with love: Hitch

Belgian rockers Hitch are only recently making some waves in the U.S., but the band already have five albums under their belt, making them anything but new to the more hardcore side of the indie scene. Their hard-hitting brand of rock brings to mind The Paper Chase (it was actually mixed by John Congleton), who's record I just recently reviewed, but I also hear bits of The Jesus & Mary Chain and I'm sure those of you more familiar with the genre could probably fill in plenty of your own RIYL's. The band's new album, Clair. Obscur, is raw and urgent, using rough guitar riffs and edgy vocals to create a noisy, unpolished sound that makes for some great moments on the record and has served as a good introduction to Hitch.

Hitch keeps things fairly straightforward for most of the record, using brief blasts of punk energy with noise rock riffs for an explosive effect. Openers "Art Nouveau!" and "Carbon Wheels" set the tone, all spiky guitars and sharp percussion under singer Mich Decruyenaere's unhinged, shouted vocals. Occasionally, the band takes a stylstic detour, like the gloomy "This Is Where It Ends" or the bizarre, spoken-word tune "The Day Kid C Bit The Dust," but the music generally follows the pattern established by the first few tracks. Though many of the songs on Clair. Obscur are fairly brief, the record ends with the six-minute "Burn This Place" and the seven-minute "The Paper Beast," two of the better cuts that give Hitch more time to show off their ability to combine ambient and shoegaze elements into their more upbeat and immediate hardcore sound.

I don't believe I've heard much music originating from Belgium, but Hitch are certainly proof that some good things are happening there. To hear some of Hitch's latest tunes, head over to the band's MySpace page or check out their homepage for more info.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Review: The Paper Chase - Someday This Could All Be Yours, Vol. 1 (* * * 1/2)

The Paper Chase, led by music producer John Congleton, are back with a new record entitled Someday This Could All Be Yours, Vol 1, the band's fifth full-length effort and the first of a two-part series which will be completed next year. The group is known for their avant-garde hardcore sound that combines a wealth of disparate influences in a noisy, messy mix, putting the band in a league all their own and attracting general critical acclaim as well. The new album doesn't change the formula much, but since there wasn't much of one to begin with, This Could All Be Yours sounds familiar while maintaining its distinctness from the group's other releases.

It should be readily apparent from the opening jolt of "If Nobody Moves Nobody Will Get Hurt (The Extinction)," that you're in for a wild ride during the record's 46 minutes. The song crashes about with sinister string arrangements and thumping drums, teetering just on the edge of sanity where the record spends almost all of its time. Occasionally, some more pop-oriented tendencies show through the noise, like the almost sing-a-long chorus of "I'm Going To Heaven With Or Without You (The Forest Fire)" or the manic verses of "The Laying Of Hands The Speaking In Tongues (The Mass Hysteria)," but The Paper Chase are usually less concerned with melody and harmony than with dissonance and intriguing chord progressions to present their intriguing, cacophonous symphony.

From my description, it should be obvious that This Could All Be Yours is not for everyone. In fact, even the initiated might have a difficult time digesting the whole thing in one sitting, but it's also quite easy to appreciate the craft involved. The clamoring piano,thunderous guitars, and off-kilter tenor squawk combined with Congleton's spastic, doom-and-gloom lyrics make this anything but easy listening, but there is some true method to the madness. Patches of relative calm break up walls of noise and the songs crescendo into magnificent metal anthems and back into dark bits of paranoia (especially "What Should We Do With Your Body? [The Lightning]") in a way that keeps you glued to the speakers even when you're on the verge of insanity yourself.

I over-simplified in the first paragraph when I suggested The Paper Chase sound unlike anybody else, but until you hear for yourself, it's about impossible to describe the simultaneously awe-inspiring, frustrating, and genuinely intense experience that is This Could All Be Yours, Vol 1. With some patience and an open mind, this is a record that might surprise you with its impressive musicianship and boundary-pushing approach to hardcore alternative music.

Stream What Should We Do With Your Body? (The Lightning) on The Paper Chase's site for a preview of the record or check the tune out on MySpace.

Oneida offers songs from upcoming triple-album 'Rated O'

Experimental rock group Oneida is getting ready to release the second installment to their Thank Your Parents trilogy, a triple album entitled Rated O. The record follows the trilogy's first installment, last summer's Preteen Weaponry, and will be released this August on Jagjaguwar. The band is offering a preview of the album in the form of THREE free songs, which you can download below. The group's dark, brooding electro-rock sound has brought them consistent critical acclaim and if you haven't had the opportunity, take the time now to hear why. The psychedelic artwork you see above is the album cover, designed by Dan Schechter.

I Will Haunt You (MP3)

Saturday (MP3)

What's Up, Jackal? (MP3)

Review: White Rabbits - It's Frightening (* * * *)

A sophomore album from White Rabbits has felt like a long time in coming though it’s only been two years. Their debut record, 2007’s Fort Nightly, wasn’t a complete success, but the young band showed such promise I was eager to hear whether they could fulfill it on subsequent releases. Tunes like “Kid On My Shoulder” and “The Plot” showed an ambitious, talented, and occasionally explosive group of musicians that seemed to be on the trajectory to greatness, though it was also clear they had some work to do. With their new album, It’s Frightening, White Rabbits haven’t completely lived up to my lofty expectations, but they have created another solid, and perhaps more consistent, collection of songs featuring their unique, percussion-heavy rock sound.

The White Rabbits’ style hasn’t changed significantly; the active drummers (two of them), the pounding piano, and the often muted guitars all play similar rolls as before, but It’s Frightening has a more settled, grounded approach than that of their debut. The songs are slightly less bombastic with fewer noisy vocal eruptions and a greater measure of restraint, which at first listen seems to play against the band’s strengths, yet ends up adding to the record’s overall appeal after a couple spins. It’s unclear to me what portion of the change producer Britt Daniel was responsible for creating, but his fingerprints certainly seem to be all over the music. Songs like “They Done Wrong / We Done Wrong” and “Company I Keep” marry familiar White Rabbits piano riffs with a Spoon-esque acoustic snappiness that’s immediately satisfying, while “The Salesman (Tramp Life)” takes things further, leaving the bass and percussion at the forefront and removing the keys completely.

Not surprisingly, it’s the record’s first single and lead track, “Percussion Gun,” that has taken the lion’s share of the album’s recent attention. The track is an aptly titled drum barrage that starts things off in high gear followed by the slightly less spastic, but still aggressive “Rudie Fails,” which continues to channel the energy of the band’s debut. The more frenetic pace served White Rabbits well on Fort Nightly and continues to do so on It’s Frightening, but while the band sounds the most comfortable and confident with that familiar approach, it’s the group’s willingness to take a few detours that makes It’s Frightening a better and more interesting album than its predecessor.

After a fairly strong, but expected three-song opening set, the record slips into the murky, eerie “Lionesse,” a clattering mix of percussion, piano, and singer Stephen Patterson deliriously repeating the phrase “listen to me.” The track disrupts the momentum a bit, but it’s genuinely fascinating and adds some needed personality to the proceedings. The similarly dark, but more fully formed “Midnight and I” is among the best and most unique cuts here, a slowly burning, almost psychedelic tune that transitions smoothly into the more upbeat “Right Where They Left,” providing a fantastic one-two punch late in the album’s 35 minutes. Though it may take longer for some of these lower-energy moments to reveal their charm, the record benefits immensely from the band’s less direct stylistic presentation.

It’s Frightening closes on a somewhat sleepy note with “Leave It at the Door,” which is pleasant but not especially gripping, but the simultaneously more subtle and exploratory lens through which White Rabbits have chosen to allow us to view their material is generally very compelling. Admittedly, I miss the more frantic and fun songs from Fort Nightly, but the new, more curious and expressive outlook the band possesses is refreshing and entertaining in its own way. Most importantly, however, this record is obviously the work of a band looking to expand and improve themselves, which makes me again hopeful that the boys will produce something truly spectacular next time around. In the meantime, It’s Frightening can be appreciated as an enjoyable and accomplished step in the right direction.

Last Word: It’s Frightening is a solid sophomore effort from White Rabbits that shows the band taking a more adventurous and less direct approach to crafting a unique and exciting indie rock album.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Introducing...James Yuill

English singer/songwriter James Yuill has been making music for a couple years now, but his debut album, Turning Down Water For Air, is just being released today in the States. Yuill makes electronically infused folk music that's melodic and charming, fitting into territory that might best be described as 'mid-fi.' His acoustic-meets-synthetic sound isn't especially revelatory, but Yuill carves out a unique niche for himself within the genre, seamlessly blending seemingly diverse elements in a way that's both very accessible and refreshingly progressive.

Water For Air is a surprisingly (to me, at least) relaxed set, truly a folk record at heart. While so many of today's new electronica artists go for bigger, faster, and funkier, Yuill keeps things level and thoughtful throughout his debut disc. In fact, I kept expecting a danceable single to pop out at me halfway through my first listen, but the bright, fuzzy highlight "No Pins Allowed" was as close as I was offered. Generally, the tunes stay mid-tempo, occasionally flashing groovy beats but focusing on Yuill's somewhat cheesy romantic sentiments most of the time. The result is a set of songs that aren't always immediate but provide plenty of solid material to grow on you after several spins. Other highlights include the sunny "This Sweet Love," the beat-heavy "No Surprise," and the gentle ballad "Breathing In."

Yuill's sugary, simple lyrics may not be everyone's cup of tea, but he's got time to grow into the obvious musical talent he possesses. Though this release will no doubt be overshadowed by some of this year's biggest releases, make sure you take the time to give it a chance. Turning Down Water For Air is a remarkable first effort with an appeal that should garner this gifted young artist some well-deserved accolades. Below you will find two downloads from the new record, both highly recommended.

No Pins Allowed
(Zipped MP3)

She Said In Jest
(Zipped MP3)

Check out James Yuill on MySpace

Monday, May 25, 2009

Bachelorette's Electric Family

Bachelorette is Annabel Alpers, a singer/songwriter from New Zealand who will be releasing her third album, My Electric Family, tomorrow, May 26. Alpers makes quirky pop music incorporating elements of both folk and electronica for a varied and occasionally surprising sound that makes her new record one to get your ears on. Though she's slowly been gaining some traction in the States with her first U.S. tour last year, Bachelorette remains criminally undiscovered - but that may change if My Electric Family receives even half the attention it deserves.

Opening the record is the folksy "Instructions for Insomniacs," a gentle, guitar-led tune that climaxes into a swirling mix of synths, guitars, and ethereal backing vocals. The song falls on the more approachable and immediate side of My Electric Family, as do tracks like the electrifying, danceable "Her Rotating Head" and the dreamy "Donkey." Elsewhere, Alpers gets a little stranger, but no less fascinating with tunes like the slowly building "The National Grid," the slightly jazzy "Dream Sequence," and the sparkly closer, "Little Bird Tell Lies." Alpers enjoys blending beauty and tension both musically and lyrically, but she also remains focused on keeping the music accessible, making the melodies the first priority.

The whole experience is an eclectic, enigmatic, and - most importantly - entertaining one that I highly recommend you have. You can check Bachelorette on MySpace to hear a tune from the new record, "Mindwarp," as well as some of her older material.

New and Notable: Suckers

Suckers, the New York-based experimental rock quartet, have been making some big waves recently after releasing their self-titled debut EP a month or so ago. If you haven't been introduced by now, I imagine you'll start to hear much more about these guys in short while as they've got much of the blogosphere all worked up with their adventurous and delightfully strange electro-rock sound. The group is led by Quinn Walker, who a friend of mine has constantly insisted made one of 2008's best records, though all four members sing and play a variety of instruments. I've been hearing some '2009's MGMT' type of comparisons being made, and while there certainly are some stylistic similarities, Suckers are charting their own twisted pop music path that's just as compelling as any new band to come along this year.

The four songs of Suckers feature a variety of synthetic and organic instrumentation all wrapped around joyously delivered and emotionally charged vocals. The tracks generally shy away from outright danceable rhythms behind the melodies, instead they wind around constantly shifting tempos and stylistic transitions that keep the music consistently surprising and entertaining. Lead track "It Gets Your Body Movin' " slowly builds momentum with blaring horns, crashing cymbals, and muted guitar until it erupts in a cacophonous mess of instruments, while "Afterthoughts & TV" bounces along gently and melodically with the occasional burst of noise to shake things up. Personal favorite "Chairs" closes the EP with group chants and sparkly piano in an enjoyably bizarre rock tune.

Good stuff below to download and stream, so get a free song and check out the videos to hear more from this legitimately exciting band.

It Gets Your Body Movin' (MP3)

It Gets Your Body Movin' (Live Video)

Easy Chairs (Music Video)

Suckers on MySpace

Saturday, May 23, 2009

One For The Team Build a Garden

The title for this post is pretty unimaginative and I apologize, but it was just too easy. The band is One For The Team, and the album is Build a Garden, an EP the group have released prior to their upcoming sophomore effort scheduled for release later this Summer. The Minneapolis band led by Ian Anderson (no, not THAT Ian Anderson) make earnest, upbeat boy/girl pop music presented in an endearingly grounded and sincere way. The EP's eight tracks are addicting and catchy, but slightly less grandiose than the music of so many of their musical cousins (e.g. New Pornographers), making for a refreshing and enjoyable introduction to the group's sound.

The opening duo of "Questions and Panthers" and "Best Supporting Actress" best showcase the group's slightly rough pop sound, with mostly acoustic guitars backing Anderson and keyboardist Grace Fiddler's emotionally delivered lyrics that contain a bit of an emo tinge to them but never drift into self-destructive or overtly lonely territory. The group do branch out in a slightly noisier direction occasionally, like the reckless "Ha Ha," which adds a bit of a psychedelic, rock 'n' roll edge to their music and proves the band have more than one stylistic trick up their collective sleeve. What's most impressive about the music is One For The Team's ability to make what on paper is a somewhat tired musical approach feel fresh and engaging while still providing generous amounts of pop hooks and catchy songwriting. This is another band worth keeping an eye (or perhaps ear) on.

I've got a bunch of stuff to check out below, including an MP3 and live performance video of "Best Supporting Actress," my favorite cut from the EP. Give these guys a listen and be sure to also give their upcoming album, Build It Up, a chance when you can (it's available on iTunes now).

"Best Supporting Actress" (MP3)

"Best Supporting Actress" (Video Link)

Remix of Phoenix's "1901" (MP3)

One For The Team on MySpace

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Miracles of Modern Science - an Orchestral Space Odessy

Miracles of Modern Science formed in 2004 as a "sea-shanty-spouting string band at Princeton University", gradually evolving into it's current incarnation which explores the energy of synth-rock music with an organic blend of strings and percussion. No guitars, no electronics, just bass, violin, cello, mandolin, and drums. Lest you think the title above came solely from my own genius mind, I should inform you that it is simply a play on words from the band members themselves, who classify their music as 'orchestral space pop,' an oddly fitting description.

The five-piece recorded their self-titled debut EP in "dorm rooms and basements," and now they're presenting it to you, for FREE, which we here at Chewing Gum for the Ears think is quite admirable and perhaps stupid considering how great the music is. The four tracks are an explosive combination of pop hooks and classical presentation that sounds remarkably, well...modern, especially given the musical palette the band has chosen to work with. My personal favorite is opener "MR2," a dramatic tune that showcases the band's love for epic choruses and their rock 'n' roll attitude that makes their new EP such an enjoyable twenty minutes. Miracles of Modern Science have a great thing going and I'm already looking forward to whatever they come up with next.

Download the record and be prepared for a very good time.

David Mead offers "Blackberry Winters" from upcoming album

Well in advance of his new record, Almost and Always, which will be released in August, David Mead is offering the song "Blackberry Winters," which you can find below. It's a lovely folk tune that marks the first new material from Mead in over three years since his acclaimed Tangerine album. The gentle, melancholy collection was affected, in part, by Mead's own struggles, which he details:

“I had to take some time away from touring. I had basically been in a rental car by myself for eight months of every year since 2000 and I was just fried. And perpetually broke. It wasn’t fun anymore.” After spending 2007 living in Brooklyn, Mead separated from his wife and returned to his native Nashville in early 2008, initially landing in a room in his father’s basement for a few months. “The change was a little paralyzing. I had left pretty much every- thing but my books and a few lamps in Brooklyn, and there I was, back in Nashville, well into my 30’s, doing manual labor and wondering what was supposed to happen next.”

Blackberry Winters (MP3)

Track list for Almost and Always:

1. Rainy Weather friend
2. Little Boats
3. Blackberry Winters
4. Mojave Phone Booth
5. Twenty Girls Ago
6. From My Window Sill
7. Sicily
8. Gramercy Vaudeville
9. Last Train Home
10. Almost and Always
11. Love Don’t Leave Me Now
12. Sleeping In Saturday
13. Home

Deastro - New single and free EP

Randolph Chabot, the driving force behind Deastro, is gearing up to release his full-length debut album, Moondagger, on June 23 - but you can hear a preview of the record by heading over to Pitchfork to stream the second single, "Vermillion Plaza." It's one of my favorite cuts from the record and a good indication of what you can expect come June. Chabot's hyper electro-pop sound is entrancing and a breath of fresh air that you should experience for yourself.

Cover: Photographed by Eric Ogden for USA Network's 'Character Project' @ The Heidleberg Project Archives - Detroit, MI.

Also, while you wait, download Deastro's free EP, Grower, below, an instrumental (to use the term loosely) selection of non-album tracks Chabot said was inspired by those closest to him:

“This EP is inspired by Detroit and my friends there who I feel are a light in it. The title of it Grower represents what I feel is growing inside of peoples hearts and minds there. It is about human growth, so sometimes it can be messy or tragic all though I am not going to limit human experience to two adjectives or claim that I know the first thing about it."

Grower (Zipped album)

Oh, and tour dates:

05.23 Detroit, MI @ Ghostly 10 Year Anniversary: Detroit
06.10 New York City, NY @ Mercury Lounge
06.12 Brooklyn, NY @ Studio B
06.13 Montreal, QC @ Le Divan Orange
06.15 Cleveland, OH @ Bside Liquor Lounge
06.17 Chicago, IL @ Double Door
06.18 Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Avenue Entry
06.21 Vancouver, BC @ Media Club
06.23 Portland, OR @ Holocene
06.24 San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill
06.25 Los Angeles, CA @ Spaceland

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Robert Gomez offers us Pine Sticks and Phosphorus

To call Robert Gomez's musical past colorful would be an understatement. A guitarist from a young age, Gomez made his first real introduction into pop music in college with underground mambo band Latin Pimps which lasted only a short while, after which he recorded a jazz album under his own name, got bored, started singing, and eventually produced his first singer/songwriter record. After that, he toured with the circus for a while (no, seriously - click on 'about'), released another album and then toured with Midlake for a bit. That brings us to 2009, where Gomez has recently released his third album, entitled Pine Sticks and Phosphorus, a quirky, low-key pop album that strays far from Gomez's jazz/mambo background into more experimental indie folk territory.

I haven't had the opportunity to check out Gomez's earlier work, but if it took all those musical adventures to lead him to where he is now, they were certainly worth the time and energy. Pine Sticks and Phosphorus is a lovely, understated gem full of subtle emotion and exquisite textures, featuring some stunning instrumental arrangements that make for a very unique singer/songwriter album. Many of the tunes on Phosphorus actually include Gomez's guitar as just another part of the background for his soft voice and gentle melodies, like opener "On This Day," which is carried by a simple piano line and percussion, or the ethereal "Hunting Song." His skills with the six-string are evident if one listens closely, however, and they occasionally come to prominence on cuts like the noisier "Behind A Green Rosette."

The album's most gorgeous cut is the lovely duet, "Fireflies," a late highlight presented with appropriate simplicity and restraint. It's the best representation of the talent Gomez possesses for songwriting and arranging that makes Pine Sticks and Phosphorus a genuinely great record. The music may take a few listens to fully differentiate itself, but offers plenty of rewards in return. Hear some music from Robert Gomez on his MySpace page and download "On This Day" and "Middle of Nowhere" below.

On This Day (MP3)

Middle of Nowhere (MP3)

Review: Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career (* * * 1/2)

Starting when I was about about eight or nine years old, my love of music was directed with fervor at our local oldies station, playing the best of all those feel-good, sugar-coated songs that I played repeatedly to the point of my parent’s exhaustion. Though I’ve come a long way since then, I’ve never really gotten over my love of pop music’s simple pleasures. As a result, it’s almost impossible for me to dislike throwback albums like My Maudlin Career, the fourth effort from one of Glasgow’s most beloved indie rock bands, Camera Obscura. Though the album is somewhat inconsistent, the infectious mix of jangly guitars, ornamental string arrangements, and sappy lyrics channel the feeling of classic 50’s pop and make for some genuinely charming and pleasant moments.

At their most inspired on My Maudlin Career, Camera Obscura remain as quirky and compelling as they’ve always been. First single and opener “French Navy” bursts from the speakers with a delightfully sunny drum stomp before transitioning into a smooth, jazzy Indie tune. Following is the similarly excellent “The Sweetest Thing,” complete with a fantastic Beach Boys-esque vocal intro and joyous strings for the perfect touch. Both songs are packed with hooks and are so much fun you can forgive lyrics like the regrettably cheesy “You make me go ooh-ooh with the things that you do,” though later on the record, similar lines start to grate a bit. There are several other highlights scattered throughout the disc, but perhaps the best track on the record appears right at the end. The energetic, horny-heavy “Honey in the Sun” kicks things back into high gear for a final blast of lovely pop goodness that might make you wonder if Camera Obscura decided to literally save the best for last.

Between the strong start and finish, however, the results are less even. “James” is enjoyably lonely and “Forest and Sands” adds a nice bit of twang to shake things up slightly, but many of the songs can’t fulfill the promise of the first couple tracks. “Away with Murder” takes the generally sad lyrics into uncomfortably depressing territory, while “Careless Love” slows the tempo into an unnecessarily drippy ballad devoid of any real energy or emotion. The production continues to be exceptional and the band sharp with their delivery, but Campbell’s songwriting becomes distracting after more than a few listens. You might wish she’d stop simply hoping to be happy as she sings “I don’t want to be sad again” and just lighten up a bit, as too often her heavy dose of despair wrapped in sunny melodies feels heavy and tired when the arrangements could be used more often to express a less bleak sentiment.

Still, it’s difficult to deny the expertise with which Camera Obscura navigate their way through familiar pop territory while providing a welcome update on the classic genre. The occasionally overstuffed presentation is consistently fun and when the mood is less mopey, Campbell creates some exceptional tunes. My Maudlin Career doesn’t hit the spot like Let’s Get Out of This Country, but while the new record isn’t a complete success, it certainly can’t be considered a failure either.

Last Word: My Maudlin Career contains a few of Camera Obscura’s best tunes but is ultimately hampered by too much uninspired and dreary songwriting.

Ball of Flame Shoot Fire get wacky in Jokeland

Ball of Flame Shoot Fire are a group of friends from Pittsburgh making a push to become your new favorite freak-rockers. Following the steps of bands like Animal Collective and Man Man, Ball of Flame enjoy pushing boundaries with their unique brand of alternative music and have created a solid album in the process, Jokeland, which the boys self-released late last year. The record covers all sorts of bizarre territory in 46 minutes, combining bits of classic rock, progressive pop, and a heavy dose of strange in an attention-grabbing debut that deserves some consideration even among the more established and respected acts in the experimental rock genre.

What I immediately appreciated about Jokeland was the confidence and talent with which Ball of Flame work their way through an especially eclectic set of songs. The musicianship is sharp and it's obvious the guys work well together. As you hear singers Jess Tambellini and Winston Cook-Wilson's manic voices bouncing off the unique mix of guitars, drums, horns, and keys with flair and gusto, it's apparent that these boys take their craft seriously; that craft just happens to be creating oddball pop songs with titles like "Da Vinci Toad." Early highlights "Mugs" (Tamblellini) and "Bertie Hey" (Cook-Wilson), the latter of which has a kind of spacey Doors-esque feel to it, are good places to start. Also recommended are the earnest and more approachable closers, "Patience" and "Turn the Screw."

Jokeland is a difficult album to wrap your head around, but give it some time and even the more abstract songs reveal some fascinating and entertaining moments. What's most exciting about the record is the promise it shows for these five young musicians comprising Ball of Flame Shoot Fire. The music is brimming with ideas and contains enough ambition that to ignore it would be a real shame. Check out the band on MySpace and head over to Obscure Sound where you can download several of the album's best tunes.

Review: St. Vincent - Actor (* * * * 1/2)

Like her choice of album art for her sophomore solo effort, Actor, Annie Clark’s music is often beguiling, though her experimental pop style has won her more than a few fans since her debut in 2007. The former Polyphonic Spree member’s decision to go it alone under the moniker St. Vincent seems to have been an excellent one, as her new album expands on the promise of her debut, Marry Me, and further establishes Clark as one of indie rock’s premier new songwriters. Apparently, Clark’s more orchestral style stemmed from using Apple’s Garage Band to write many of the songs, which were then fleshed out with her signature guitar playing, strings, woodwinds, and more to give her often eerie narratives the proper background. Whether it was the unique songwriting approach or simply a series of great musical ideas, Actor is a truly exceptional record even by Clark’s own high standard.

She wastes no time in getting things off the ground with “The Strangers,” a relatively sparse tune with her gorgeous voice floating over synthetic beats, keys, and the occasional burst of heavily distorted guitar. It’s a striking song that ushers in a sense of immediacy and urgency that continues throughout Actor despite the album’s relatively mid-tempo nature. On many of the songs, the vocals are introduced almost immediately (and no later than thirty seconds in), serving as a constant reminder that as abstract or strange as the music may occasionally be, this is primarily a songwriter’s record. Clark’s lyrics stir up a mixture of emotions that are often slightly unsettling, made more so by music that’s consistently beautiful but never predictable or stationary. Especially eclectic are “Marrow,” which starts eerily with soft vocals over simple synthesizers before erupting into a distorted plea for help that’s genuinely startling, and “Black Rainbow,” which gently carries on until it begins to devolve into a noisy, hazy climax of guitar, drums, and sinister string arrangements.

Sitting squarely and appropriately in the middle of the record is the hauntingly elegant “Laughing with a Mouthful of Blood,” the perfect combination of Clark’s love of both dramatic arrangements and simply stunning melodies. The following half of the album, aside from the aforementioned “Marrow,” is slightly more relaxed but no less compelling. “The Bed” churns slowly and thoughtfully, “The Party” is refreshingly approachable in its gentle pop presentation, and closer “The Sequel” is a brief and lovely final thought. By the end of the record’s 39 minutes, you’re left with what I’ve found to be a rare feeling of real satisfaction, unmarred by weak or distracting moments that plague so many albums by promising and talented artists. That’s not to say that Actor is perfect, but it’s certainly great enough to warrant the high praise it has received.

The production, the sequencing, and the presentation on Actor are all top-notch. In fact, it can be accurately said that Annie Clark doesn’t so much show promise now as she realizes and fulfills it. Of course, she has so much time to continue to impress us that we can’t cap her potential here, but Actor should receive its proper dues as much more than just a transitional piece leading to future greatness. St. Vincent has arrived, and everyone should be getting on board.

Last Word: Actor, Annie Clark’s sophomore effort as St. Vincent, is a mature, complex, and remarkably gripping blend of intriguing experimentation and beautiful melodies.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Review: Iron & Wine - Around the Well (* * * 1/2)

Rarities and b-side collections are tricky beasts. On the one hand, fans should be thrilled about new material from one of their favorite artists. On the other, nothing says 'avoid me' like a selection of tunes that didn't make the cut on previous records. The age-old conundrum is presented once again with Iron & Wine's latest release, a two-disc album spanning 23 songs and 90 minutes comprised of unreleased material, covers, and non-album singles from one of indie's most adored folksters. While the record may be a mixed bag by definition, Sam Beam presents a hefty amount of solid material on Around the Well, which should be of interest to even moderate Iron & Wine fans.

The project gets off to a shaky start as the first disc of Around the Well is the decidedly less impressive of the two, with the majority of the tunes coming across as blander versions of Beam's earliest work. There are certainly a few highlights, like the opening pair of "Dearest Forsaken" and "Morning" or the gentle, down-tempo covers of Postal Service's "Such Great Heights" (which we've all heard before) and Flaming Lips' "Waitin' for a Superman" (which you probably haven't), but the disc makes too little impact to be truly compelling when digested all at one time. Recommended for diehards (Iron & Winers?) or for picking and choosing your favorite moments.

The second half of Around the Well is MUCH more interesting and consistent, featuring a varied selection of Bean's different musical styles. On the simpler folk side is the spectacular New Order cover "Love Vigilantes" and the gripping "God Made the Automobile," both stronger than anything found on the previous disc. Even on these lighter numbers, Bean asserts himself more powerfully, giving his voice a bit more muscle and keeping the melodies sharper. Later on, we're treated to Iron & Wine's more experimental tendencies for several great tunes, especially the slinky, Arabian-esque "Serpent Charmer," and the darkly emotional "Arms of a Thief," which feels most at home with Beam's music on Shepherd's Dog.

The whole project is brought to a close with the nearly ten minute epic, "Trapeze Swinger," a familiar tune to many fans, but a welcome addition just the same and another good reason to consider Around the Well as a worthwhile release despite its inconsistency. Plus, for a reasonable nine or ten dollars, you're getting plenty of bang for your buck.

Download "Belated Promise Ring" from the record's second disc for a preview.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Andy Shauf brings Darker Days

Andy Shauf is a talented new singer/songwriter from Canada who is just releasing his debut album, Darker Days, tomorrow. Though he's fairly young (21), Shauf has been making music for some time, recording bedroom demos and hiding the majority of his songs from his friends and family - until recently. The new album is a collection of his favorite tunes written during that period of private recording sessions, re-imagined in the studio and presented as an engaging collection of pop-folk songs.

Shauf prefers the one-man-band approach, playing all of the instruments himself (guitar, bass, drums, banjo, etc) with only the occasional guest spot on backing vocals. The resulting sound is delicate and sparse throughout much of the record, like opener "For Your Heart," which relies on a joyful mix of guitar and light percussion, or the lovely "Crushes," which gets by on vocal harmony, guitar, and a touch of banjo. However, while Shauf generally keeps things uncluttered, he adds the appropriate flourishes to diversify and expand his simple pop style. "You Remind Me" includes some well-placed harmonica, "Gone" features gritty electric guitar, and "The Greatest Moments" rocks a funky bass line.

The album's title serves as something of a theme and is mentioned in at least half the tracks, though the material is often less dour than you might expect. It's an interesting and unusual way to keep a record cohesive, but Shauf makes it work here and the music flows smoothly from beginning to end. The first half of the album is the most enjoyable, when the tempo is more upbeat and the mood often lighter. Later, some drowsy folk numbers slow the momentum a bit too much, but the promise Andy Shauf shows on Darker Days is quite obvious. His ways with a hook and love of pop melodies makes him an artist to watch, so I recommend you get acquainted.

Check him out on MySpace or head over to P is for Panda where you can download the album for a measly five bucks.

Josh Reichmann returns with the Oracle Band

Former Tangiers member Josh Reichmann has continued to be quite prolific after the band's dissolution, initially through his solo project, Jewish Legend, and now with the Josh Reichmann Oracle Band which released its debut LP, Crazy Power, last week. The record follows the group's first EP, Life Is Legal, which introduced the world to Reichmann's new sound - a blend of psychedelia, soul, and funk wrapped in a layer of eccentricity that's fresh and fun. The ten tracks of the new record reveal a band that feels comfortable and confident despite being a recently formed collective, and Crazy Power certainly has its share of great moments.

Opener "Spirits Don't Leave" should give listeners a good idea of what they're getting themselves into, with jazzy keyboards, stomping percussion, and Reichmann's dramatic tenor voice blending together into a messy, exciting pop tune. Continuing the compelling zaniness are songs like the frantic "Trade Names," the psychedelically inclined "Aztec Hive," and the sleek "Fractal Web." Not everything succeeds as completely as the best material, but the Oracle Band hold the project together with serious musical chops to compliment their fearlessly weird leader's eclectic songwriting and Crazy Power is worth your time if you're at all interested in the pop music's more bizarre and theatrical side.

Hear a good chunk of the album over at the band's MySpace, and continue below to download Reichmann's cover of Bat for Lashes' "Daniel," which he's offering for free in support of the new record.

Daniel (Bat for Lashes Cover)


Perhaps the title of the post shouldn't imply that I know much about the experimental indie pop duo BoomSnake, because I'm a little hazy on the details. I do know that the group consists of Gabriel Rodriguez (vocals/guitar/sampler) and Nathan Aguilar (bass/vocals/keyboards) and was formed in the Fall of 2008. It's the California duo's music, however, that clearly deserves the attention. The band has released two long EPs (or perhaps short LPs) in the last year and a half, Give and Take and Vitamins, both of which offer a consistently great set of offbeat indie folk tunes.

Vitamins is raw and simple, with acoustic guitars and dark, lonely melodies filling the majority of the 27 minutes. Songs like "Totem tale Blues" and "Ritual of Union" are a little reminiscent of Bon Iver or the more gentle side of Yeasayer, with high harmonies and subtly sinister lyrics shining through the rough production. Give and Take isn't far removed from the Vitamins spare folk sound, but the production is clearer and the sound fuller, giving the boys room to show off a bit more. "Be Where How" is a delightfully strange pop song while "Honey" is a folk ballad on the more accessible side of the group's spectrum. Other highlights include the bizarre, upbeat "In Da Ground" and the shimmering "Excuses (Ghost Toast)."

I highly recommend checking out the band's MySpace page to get a better idea of what I've described as words obviously won't do the trick. I imagine it won't be long before we start hearing much more from BoomSnake, so you might as well get yourself introduced now.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Review: Casper & the Cookies - Modern Silence (* * * 1/2)

Casper & the Cookies is a new name to me and maybe to many of you, but we all should be quite familiar with front man Jason NeSmith's (moniker: Casper Fandango) earlier band - Of Montreal, which he was a part of in 2004 and 2005 (it has yet to be determined if Casper Fandango and Georgie Fruit are at all related). NeSmith and company (currently - Kay Stanton, Jim Hicks, and Joe Rowe) make indie music with a flair for both simple hooks and bizarre, offbeat presentation. Their latest record, Modern Silence, is a sprawling collection of 18 tunes and an astounding 68 minutes of somewhat spastic pop that covers all sorts of territory but is thoroughly entertaining and fun despite it's slightly unfocused nature.

Much of Modern Silence falls under the fairly straightforward indie pop category, like opener "Little King" and the similarly paced "Sharp!" - two brief, high-energy tunes that might fit well into an Apples In Stereo record. Elsewhere, and most especially when bassist Kay Stanton takes over on vocals, the music gets much stranger. The sinister "Pete Erchick Bicentennial Service Area" and the more playful "Little Lady Larva" are really out there, with Stanton painting weird lyrical pictures over shifting tempos and instrumentation. The two singers give the album a mild case of schizophrenia, but the record is so diverse anyway, it seems oddly fitting. Out of the lengthy track list come some very solid tunes, including the more gentle "Cloud of Bees," the scuzzy "Moldy Flower," and the goofy, funky "Keep Talking."

For those suffering from musical ADD or those who simply love to be surprised, Modern Silence is just what the doctor ordered. For the rest of us, there's still plenty to love here, but what that is just might depend on your taste or even your mood at the time. The band's unwillingness to self-edit is sometimes frustrating, but it's also what gives the record its character and personality, and it's difficult to feel too upset when you've been presented with this many options done - for the most part - very well. Casper & the Cookies are a unique, quirky, and genuinely exciting band, a group certainly worth introducing yourself to if you haven't done so already.

Casper & the Cookies on MySpace

Download: Little King (MP3), Peter Erchick Bicentennial Service Area (MP3)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Recommended Artist: Auld Lang Syne

I was fortunate enough to be introduced recently to the music of Auld Lang Syne, so now I'm passing the good word on to you because this is a group people should know (and love). The New York-based band is comprised of Timothy Dick, Mike Bushen, Joe Bushen, Jonathan Miller, Tim Gallogly, and Dick's wife, Kathy, and though they just recently released their first album, the music speaks of a much higher level of maturity and depth than you'd typically find on a debut. The album, entitled Midnight Folly, is an earthy folk-rock record filled with emotion and darkly beautiful lyrics that cut right to the soul. The songs are heavy with heartbreak and sorrow, and the music slowly paced, but the whole experience is full of a musical intensity that is absolutely captivating, making for one of my favorite folk albums of the year thus far.

Through the nine songs of Midnight Folly, a variety of styles and approaches are presented, yet everything feels cohesive and connected. Opener "Long Ago" is a gritty rock number, featuring low, growled vocals sounding something like a combination of Nick Cave and Jim Morrison, while personal favorites "My First Soul" and "Where My Fortune Lies" are weary, yet somehow uplifting folk ballads. The group also throws some twang into the mix with "Four Rivers" and "Rusty Prayer," two lonesome cuts that channel the feeling and energy missing from so much of modern country music. Throughout the album, the band consistently hit the mark with the instrumentation; plenty of guitars, piano, harmonica, accordion, and the occasional string arrangement keep the often lengthy tunes from becoming too tired or samey. The real focus here, though, is the songwriting, which is remarkably compelling in its downtrodden, world-weary way.

Auld Lang Syne definitely deserve your attention, so check out the band on MySpace to hear a good chunk of the new record and also head over here to read a brief interview with the band.

Review: Bricolage - Bricolage (* * * 1/2)

Scottish pop-rockers Bricolage are the latest in a steady stream of great bands to emerge from Glasgow over the last few years. Graham Wann, Wallace Meek, Darren Cameron, and Colin Kearney make fun, sunny music with impossibly catchy choruses and a generous amount of charm on their self-titled debut album, which was released earlier this week on Slumberland records. The record is much less concerned with experimentation than it is with providing hummable melodies and fantastic vocal harmony, and Bricolage succeeds in creating an appropriately energetic set of tunes for ushering in the approaching summer.

It would be easy, and probably true in many regards, to call Bricolage's pop sound derivative (Orange Juice, anyone?), but you'd have to be a real scrooge to let it bother you much. Plus, the guys are smart enough to combine their influences into something that feels fresh despite its familiarity. Songs like the bouncy "Footsteps," and the light, playful "The Spoilsport's Retort" are pure sugary goodness, with harmony in all the right places and more than competent musicianship to back up Wann's delightfully accented vocals. The band slow the tempo for a couple tracks, shaking things up with the drowsy (pun somewhat intended) "Sleepwalk To Me" or the Tropicana-tinged "Plots are for Cemeteries," but the pace is - thankfully - kept in high gear for much of the record. The songs falter a bit near the end, but there's enough solid material here to qualify for repeated and enjoyable listens.

Bricolage is, at the least, a good showcase of the quartet's talents and an indication that we can expect more from them in the future. Their sense of melody is impeccable and they've got pop music mechanics down to a science, which they use to make a sound that's deceptively easy and - much of the time - irresistible. It would be a shame to let these guys fall through the cracks, so check them out on MySpace or head over to my previous post for a song download and video.