Friday, July 31, 2009

Review: The Fiery Furnaces - I'm Going Away (* * * 1/2)

Of all the albums I’ve heard this year, none have differed from my initial impression or been more surprising than The Fiery Furnaces’ I’m Going Away. After one spin, the record was such a shock to my system I almost wrote it off and wouldn’t have cared to give it another shot had I not been reviewing it. Fortunately, on subsequent listens the charm and hooks revealed themselves to be more substantial than I had originally thought and I began to see the appeal in their newly simplified style. Whereas the sibling duo previously championed the experimental edge of the indie-pop scene, they now hearken back to their early days of more meat ‘n’ potatoes rock with a straightforward, organic instrumental approach. A curious decision perhaps, and one that indeed seemed underwhelming at first listen, but upon more careful consideration, I’m Going Away actually feels like a refreshing, if uneven, step in the right direction for the band. (Continue reading...)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Summertime listening: Delorean - Ayrton Senna EP

Though I'm new to the band, Barcelona quartet Delorean have have been around for some time and their Ayrton Senna EP is just the latest in a danceable, electro-rock canon. I'm now determined to work my way through their older material, but this new EP is a great place to start as an introduction to the band, with four songs of blissful, sunny-day pop that are as catchy and fun as almost anything released this year. Using synthetic percussion, keyboards, and soaring vocal harmony, Delorean combine electronica, rock, and pop into a joyful and entertaining whole.

"Seasun," the single and album centerpiece, is perhaps the best place to start here. The song begins with a stadium-sized vocal loop and compelling beat and then transitions into a more structured pop anthem, with layers of carefully composed electronics giving the track its infectious energy. "Moonsoon" is similarly excellent, a more rock-based tune with driving keys and percussion that inspire an immediate dance party whenever and wherever they're heard. The happily romantic "Deli" and the funky, shimmering "Big Dipper" round out the EP well, and though they don't quite reach the height of the other two tracks, the entire experience is one worth having. Don't go through the remainder of your summer without this.

Seasun (MP3 via Pitchfork)

Sean Bones gets reggae with 'Rings'

Although primarily known as a member of psych-pop band Sam Champion, Sean Sullivan is carving out his own path now under his performing moniker, Sean Bones. His debut album, Rings, was just released last week, a decided departure from his work with his full-time gig. The record is full of white-boy funk and reggae more related to G. Love or even Bob Marley at times, and Sullivan does well in providing a genuinely fun 39 minutes with some exceptional moments scattered throughout.

First single "Dancehall" should provide an excellent idea of the record's style, a dense, organ-heavy tune riding a bouncy, upbeat drum riff with some slick electric guitar solos thrown in for good measure. It can be downloaded through Pitchfork (link below) or you can see the music video if you haven't checked it out yet. Elsewhere on Rings, especially earlier in the proceedings, the music is lighter and more relaxed and the results are mostly great. Opener "Easy Street" is a solid reggae-pop tune, "Coco" is playful and lighthearted, and "Sugar In My Spoon" is enjoyably slinky. Though occasionally the songs don't differentiate themselves much from Sullivan's standard formula, the musicianship is solid and the album is consistently entertaining.

Visit Sean Bones on MySpace to hear more from this fun-loving side project and make sure you check out the goodies below:

(MP3 via Pitchfork)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Motel Motel cuts new video, offers free tunes

From their debut album, New Denver, Motel Motel have recently finished their video for the first single entitled "Coffee." The band's rustic alt-country sound serves as an interesting backdrop for the dark, eerie Adam and Eve tale that unfolds during the video's five minutes, which you can see below.

Motel Motel - Coffee (Official Video) - from Matthew Murphy on Vimeo.

Also, if you haven't previously been introduced to the group, you can download "Coffee" below as well as a non-album cut, "Cowboy." Both are excellent songs and should give you a good idea of why their debut has been so well-received. The band blend earthy folk with indie rock in a way that makes me think you'll be hearing much more about them in the future, so you might as well take the time to hear them now. If you need more info, check out MySpace or the band's recent Daytrotter Session which is fantastic.

Coffee (MP3)

Cowboy (MP3)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Introducing...The Lonely Forest

The idea of rock bands being stylistically stuck in the 90s does not, at this point in my life, appeal to me, but when I was recently introduced to The Lonely Forest, I found a notable exception to my rule. The Seattle-area natives released a very solid album earlier this year, provocatively entitled We Sing the Body Electric, a record that brings to mind the alternative rock of a decade (or so) ago blended with more modern 'indie' influences as well as bits of classic rock and psychedelia. The result is a dynamic and exciting set of fifteen tracks varying in speed and intensity but consistently impressing at every turn, which should help to extend the band's influence beyond their home state where they've made quite a name for themselves.

Immediate standout and first single, "We Sing In Time" reveals The Lonely Forest's appeal early in the proceedings. It's a fairly standard alt-rock song in structure, but the band hits all the right sweet spots and turn it into a clap-and-singalong tune of epic proportion. The frantic drums, chugging guitars, and singer John Van Deusen earnestly and melodically wailing one of this year's biggest choruses makes this an easy pick for best track on the album. The band follows a similar pattern on several of the record's tunes, especially the earlier cuts, though they try their hand a variety of stylistic variations with success. "Tomato Soup" is a gorgeous piano ballad and duet, "Borders and Towns" leans toward more straightforward punk rock, and the beautiful closer "Mt. Constitution" opens with a vocal-only intro before transitioning into a drum-heavy march.

We Sing the Body Electric is almost too grand in its ambition at a lengthy 53 minutes, but aside from a couple less than spectacular tracks, the material is very strong and worth taking the time to absorb in its entirety. These guys will definitely be on my radar going forward, and I suggest you get yourself introduced as well. Download "We Sing In Time" from the new album below and visit the group at MySpace to hear more.

We Sing In Time (MP3)

Monday, July 27, 2009

MP3 Monday: Neon Indian, A Sunny Day in Glasgow, The Temper Trap, Princeton, The Octopus Project

FIVE songs today from bands that have upcoming albums YOU should be excited about. Listen/download and check out more from these exciting groups.

Neon Indian - Terminally Chill (MP3)

Alan Palomo's new electronic project, Neon Indian, offers a sexy, psychedelic bit of electronic funk from their upcoming album, Psychic Chasms. The debut will drop on October 13th, but you should familiarize yourself now with a band that has already turned some heads and will undoubtedly turn many more come October. (MySpace)

A Sunny Day in Glasgow - Ashes Grammar/Ashes Math (MP3)

Back with their sophomore album on September 15th, A Sunny Day in Glasgow are offering the dual single "Ashes Grammar/Ashes Math" from the new album, also titled Ashes Grammar. The song is a beautiful dream-pop ballad that should get fans and newcomers alike looking forward to more. (MySpace)


The Temper Trap - Down River (MP3)

Indie pop group The Temper Trap have been getting a bit of attention due to their song "Sweet Disposition" which is featured in the popular romantic comedy "500 Days of Summer." Both the aforementioned tune and the excellent free download here can be found on their debut album, Conditions, due out October 13th. (MySpace)

Princeton - Calypso Gold (MP3)

Another up-and-coming band with a debut only a couple months out, Princeton have made an fantastic introduction with the first single "Calypso Gold," with swaying strings, jangly guitars, and sharp percussion that is already a new favorite of mine. Cocoon of Love drops September 29th. (MySpace)

The Octopus Project - Wet Gold (MP3)

Austin quartet The Octopus Project are gearing up for another tour and a new EP, entitled Golden Beds, due out tomorrow! The band is offering the new single for free and we should all be grateful, their compelling boy/girl pop harmonies and shimmering presentation make this one you won't want to pass up. (MySpace)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Review - Skygreen Leopards - Gorgeous Johnny (* * 1/2)

Donovan Quinn and Glenn Donaldson, core members of low-key pop group Skygreen Leopards, have teamed up with Jason Quever of Papercuts for their latest album, Gorgeous Johnny. The collaboration isn’t much of a surprise given the musicians’ previous work together, and considering the stylistic overlap of the two projects, making this new record sound awful familiar: breezy folk rock as jangly retro-pop. It’s not necessarily a bad template, but it would seem the group is pushing their luck by sticking to such a familiar and basic musical style after returning from a three year hiatus. The good news is that existing fans should find something to enjoy and will know what to expect; the bad is that with such little progress, there isn’t much here to entice newcomers. (Continue Reading...)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Review: Dead Weather - Horehound (* * *)

In advance of The Dead Weather's debut, Jack White, apparently tiring of the limelight, claimed to have more of a supporting role in the project. As the frontman of The White Stripes and one of the leading members of supergroup The Raconteurs, it makes sense that the increasingly recognized rock icon would take a backseat role for a change, perhaps in an effort to explore new artistic avenues or simply to have another group of musicians to jam with. Horehound marks White's third release in as many years (following a decent if less than masterful record with The Raconteurs in '08), and this time he's joined by The Kills' vocalist Alison Mosshart, multi-instrumentalist Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age) and Raconteurs bassist Jack Lawrence, while White himself sticks primarily to the drums. (Continue Reading...)

Friday, July 24, 2009

New and Notable: jj

Sporting a difficult-to-google name and shrouded in mystery, jj is still managing to make some waves around the 'Net with their low-impact electro-rock. Connected to Swedish label Sincerely Yours, jj has been the subject of some speculation regarding the artists behind the moniker (is it really Tough Alliance? - could be) though no official word has been written thus far - the creators apparently wanting the music to speak for itself. And that it does; the group's new album, jj n° 2, is brief (only 27 minutes long) but more than makes up it in engaging music ranging from club-ready, slow-dance jams ("Ecstasy") to acoustic ballads ("Are You Still In Vallda?") and everything in between in only nine tracks. The songs are consistently great, with especial attention to detail and a knack for pop hooks manifested in the shimmering beats and soothing female vocals.

Much of jj n° 2 has a kind of understated world music sound, like the two strong opening tracks, "Things Will Never Be the Same Again" and my favorite, "From Africa to M├ílaga," both featuring exotic synthetic percussion and subtle electronic layers behind angelic vocals sharing simple, but enjoyable, stories of romance and heartbreak. Throw in some acoustic guitar and soaring string arrangements and you have the recipe for a successful, attention-grabbing record that might even bring these people out of hiding eventually. Until then, anonymity is fine when the music is this excellent.

To get a preview, head over to Pitchfork to hear "Ecstasy"

Thursday, July 23, 2009

You Should Hear: Laura Tsaggaris

Those jonesing for solid singer/songwriter pop-rock should look no further than the music of Laura Tsaggaris. A Pittsburgh native who now calls D.C. home, Tsaggaris (pronounced, as she's fond of pointing out, suh-GAIR-iss) has made a strong impression both around the web and in touring throughout the country, using sharp hooks and insightful lyrics as her weapons of choice. She recently released her sophomore album, Keep Talking, a decidedly upbeat affair that's catchy and fun but still makes time to discuss weightier matters within its pop boundaries. Though it might be easy to lump Tsaggaris in with her many female songwriter peers, and while her sound certainly has a very familiar, radio-ready sheen, she proves herself worthy of distinction by tackling an eclectic set of songs with generally great results.

Highlights include the bouncy opener "Warning Signs," the driving rock tune "The Politician," and the lovely "Get Yourself Right." Incorporating dashes of synth, slide guitar, and other subtle embellishments into the basic guitar/bass/drums/piano formula, Tsaggaris gets good mileage out of the record's 40 minutes, never settling into any one groove for very long and keeping things interesting throughout. It's obvious she prefers rock 'n' roll to dreamy balladry, and though there are certainly some restrained, quiet moments, they don't always last long - as evidenced by closer "Pilots," which begins as a slow acoustic track before erupting into electric guitar solos and crashing percussion. In listening to the 13 tracks, Keep Talking often sounded like the work of an artist still attempting to establish her identity, but as Tsaggaris figures herself out musically, the material she produces along the way is easily strong enough to make for a very effective introduction.

Make sure you download "Get Yourself Right" below and check out Laura Tsaggaris on MySpace to get better acquainted.

Get Yourself Right

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Review - Magnolia Electric Co. - Josephine (* * * 1/2)

Over the course of nearly fifteen years, Magnolia Electric Co's Jason Molina has been there and done that already, and by 'there' and 'that' I mean everywhere and everything (just about), constantly churning out albums under various monikers and involving himself in a number of collaborations. After finally allowing himself a little time between studio releases, Molina and company are back with Josephine, a low-key country folk album among the more simple and relaxed of the prolific artist's works (specifically his earliest material), but there's a subtle, yet distinct sense of progression that reveals itself throughout the 47 minutes. Though the album has perhaps more than its share of inconsistencies, Josephine is nonetheless a welcome return for this talented songwriter.

Josephine is a meandering affair, with the band slowly working its way through mournful ballads and heartbreaking hymns with Molina's usual moodiness manifested in lyrics like 'I lived so long with the shadows, Lord, I became one of them' from the title track or 'I've been as lonesome as the world's first ghost' from highlight and opener "O! Grace." Though the album can feel a bit too weighty and downtrodden by its end, there's a sweetness here that works as a salve to Molina's frequently deep cuts. Given the album was inspired by and dedicated to the life of late Magnolia Electric Co. bassist Evan Farrell, however, that bittersweet emotion is both expected and welcome. Aside from the previously mentioned tracks, highlights include the harmony-heavy "Hope Dies Last" and the especially lonesome "Whip-poor-will," in which Molina searches in the dark of night for comfort and answers in song. With the lovely (and all too brief) closer "An Arrow in the Gale," the band both brings things full circle and leaves the listener with a positive, hopeful feeling looking forward - a sense that the adventure must continue and life be experienced to the fullest, the good and the bad, the joy and the pain.

Josephine does drag a bit toward the end and even with no especially weak songs, the record seems like it might have been more effective with the exclusion of a couple tunes for brevity's sake. Molina is on enough of the time, though, that the emotion imbued into the songs hits home consistently while the strong musicianship of all involved is evident in each tune; the raw guitars, gentle piano, and shuffling percussion give life to the music without ever seeking to take the spotlight from the excellent songwriting where it belongs. Ultimately, the record's strengths provide compelling reasons to give Josephine more than just a cursory listen and the more time you spend, the more beauty can be found here.

Josephine (MP3)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

MP3 Monday (Tuesday Edition): Why?, Fool's Gold, Owen

Alright, maybe I can stay on top of MP3 Monday for now (I know, I know, I'm a day late this time) - especially if I've got this much great material to share with everyone. Here are another three songs from three great bands/artists that I highly recommend you check out if you haven't already:

Why? - This Blackest Purse (mp3)

Returning well under two years after their last release, Yoni Wolf and crew are returning with Eskimo Snow, due out later this year. The album was recorded at the same time as last year's Alopecia, though the new tunes feature a far less rap-centric style as evidence by the single's more mellow, indie rock feel. Fortunately, the songwriting is still excellent and "This Blackest Purse" has me excited to hear the rest of the record.

Fool's Gold - Surprise Hotel (MP3)

Billed as a cross between afro-pop, krautrock, and 80's dance music, LA collective Fool's Gold has been receiving some generous attention for their all-encompassing, infectious pop sound. With the band's new single, "Surprise Hotel" from their upcoming, self-titled debut LP - it's easy to hear their appeal. Driving percussion, active guitar, and Hebrew lyrics (seriously) make this tune both fascinating and enjoyable, a celebratory blending of styles and cultures unlike anything you're likely to have heard before.

Owen - Good Friends, Bad Habits (MP3)

Mike Kinsella, emo pioneer and brother to Tim Kinsella (of Joan of Arc fame, among other things) continues his solo project, Owen, with a new record set for release September 22nd. "Good Friends, Bad Habits" is the album's first single and a sign of some maturity, which Kinsella explains:

"Being a lot more settled has freed up space in my mind that was once occupied by frivolous romantic social interactions to be used for thinking critically about broad social interactions and issues."

Review: Nomo - Invisible Cities (* * * 1/2)

Though my introduction to Nomo started with their latest release, Invisible Cities, a quick foray into their back catalog reveals why many consider them to be one of the most important instrumental bands operating today. Melding an eclectic variety of styles and instruments into a progressive jazz/afro-beat sound that subtly shifts with each release, the eight-piece collective has continually impressed throughout the past ten years. The group now delves even further into traditional jazz musicianship with Invisible Cities, though the music retains Nomo's exploratory nature and unique rhythmic lines that made the band so fascinating in the first place.

The record's title and opening track kicks things off with a bang, with twisted, manipulated electronics and guitar over various forms of percussion quickly exploding into a swinging, brass-heavy jazz tune. On the surface, the virtuoso solos and driving tempo might seem a common formula, but the magic is in the details - like the swirling undercurrent of noise subtly shifting behind the melody and the way the rhythm section blends together so smoothly with its disparate elements. It's an excellent example of the more approachable and arguably best material on Invisible Cities, which includes the funky, sexy "Waiting" and the more down-tempo, afro-beat-esque "Crescent," the latter of which leaves out the horns found throughout much of the album.

The record's first half is consistently great and the second starts strong as well, though when Invisible Cities gets into messier, more abstract territory near the album's end, the results are interesting but they also break up the momentum before the gorgeous closer, "Nocturne." Fans of more avant-garde instrumental music will likely not mind the diversion, but though the quality of the musicianship remains high, the album feels less cohesive after the 42 minutes are through. Still, there's plenty of obvious tallent showcased here and Nomo creates some legitimately exciting moments that make Invisible Cities worth digging into.

Invisible Cities (MP3)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Trevor Giuliani - Singer, Songwriter, Adventurer

A recent Oregon transplant by way of New York by way of Connecticut, Trevor Giuliani has seen quite a bit in his journey to find somewhere to put down roots. As he puts it, "New York City from 18 to 22 can provide good incubation space, but now I want a garden and actually know my recycling is being recycled." The open space and greenery have, apparently, done wonders for his creative side as his debut album, Subcontrario (In Stereo) is an engaging and dynamic set of pop folk songs with a subtle experimental streak. Though he only briefly studied musical composition at NYU, Giuliani's carefully constructed tunes show a more in-depth and involved musical approach than many of his singer/songwriter peers. Songs range from breezy pop singalongs to slowly building, avant-garde numbers - usually finding a good balance between accessibility and intrigue.

Favorites from the record include the sunny first single, "Wasting Your Town," the nerdy folk-rocker "Nubian Forest," and the retro-pop-flavored "Janessa." All of these fit among the more upbeat of Giuliani's songs, which are his most immediate, though the emotional, tense "All Nights Rest" and the lengthy closer "Predicated Ground" show the songwriter as being equally adept at more gently paced indie rock. Subcontrario (In Stereo) is a record that takes a few spins to fully reveal all of its charm, but it's an album worth spending time getting to know. Download "Wasting Your Town" from my previous post and go head to Trevor Giuliani's MySpace page for more.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Review (republished): Deastro - Moondagger (* * * *)

I already posted this review, but this one is new, improved, and just better written - full thing at In Review Online.

'Spiritual space-rock' may be odd musical terminology, but it's perhaps the best way to describe Randolph Chabot's unique brand of electro-pop. The 22 year-old prodigy recording under the Deastro moniker draws inspiration from church choirs, 80s synth-pop and any electronic or organic instrument he can get his hands on. Having created music in his bedroom from a very young age, Chabot apparently racked up quite the collection of tunes and a selection of ‘hits’ from this early material was released last year as the compilation Keepers, becoming something of a surprise success for the eMusic imprint. Now, Deastro returns as a proper band for proper debut Moondagger, a feverishly upbeat and effortlessly enjoyable blast of catchy pop music with an endearingly geeky sci-fi edge. (Continue Reading...)

Review: Discovery - LP (* *)

(Full review at In Review Online)

Combining minds from two of the more buzzed-about new indie bands may seem like an easy recipe for success, but I think we’ve all learned that collaborations and supergroups of any variety should be approached with reservation. Having said that, I enjoy both keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij’s Vampire Weekend and singer Wes Miles’ band Ra Ra Riot, so I maintained some excitement about their new project, Discovery, though I was worried a bit when I heard the two early-release singles, “Orange Shirt” and “Osaka Loop Line.” The cheesy keyboards and layers of synthetic percussion seemed harmless and fun but not especially substantial or even very interesting, so I waited with some trepidation to hear the whole record. Now, revealed in all its auto-tuned, synth-tastic glory, LP has confirmed Discovery as one of the most baffling and unnecessary side projects in recent memory. (Continue Reading...)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

From Australia with love: Summer Cats

Australia's Summer Cats may currently be weathering whatever sort of winter they have Down Under, but their sunny full-length debut, Songs for Tuesdays, has arrived with perfect timing here in the States. The band's name is appropriate for their upbeat style, fitting somewhere between the spastic pop attitude of Los Campesinos and the noisy rock of bands like label mates Pains of Being Pure at Heart. The group's boy/girl harmonies and love of melodic hooks makes the 32 minutes of their debut a simple, direct, and - best of all - fun pop record as effortlessly entertaining as anything you're likely to hear this summer.

Songs like "Hey You, It's Me (Oh My)" and "Camel Cords" follow a recipe of raw guitars, driving keys, and pounding drums while main man Scott Stevens sings/shouts his way through the tunes with a sort of infectious exuberance that's quite winning. The 'mid-fi' sound walks the line between retro-pop accessibility and recent noise trends well, channeling the energy of classic garage pop and adding the band's own twist in the process. Most of the songs only last about two and a half minutes, with only the breezy "Wild Rice" crossing the three minute threshold, causing the 13 tracks to fly by quickly. The brevity is welcome given the sheer amount of musical sugar packed into each tune, and Songs for Tuesdays is enjoyably frantic without going overboard. Also, the band mixes up the tempo and song structures enough to keep things light and occasionally unexpected.

Download highlight "Hey You" and watch the quirky video for "Lonely Planet" below, and if that's not enough to convince you, check out Summer Cats on MySpace to hear more.

Hey You

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Introducing....Little Tybee

Little Tybee is an experimental indie group hailing from Georgia who recently release their excellent debut EP that you should take the time to hear soon. The three musicians comprising the newly established band have been involved in a variety of musical collectives over the last few years - most of which you've probably never heard of (I haven't, anyway) - and their individual musical experience is quite evident on I Wonder Which House the Fish Will Live In. The collection of seven songs features beautiful instrumental compositions and delightfully strange high tenor vocals recorded in their simplicity in band member Brock Scott's apartment over a four-day period.

Stunning violin floats above equally gorgeous piano and guitar riffs with strangely synthetic percussion filling in the rest in a combination that is as bewildering as it is engaging. The music's appealing oddness is actually quite immediate in its enjoyability, but repeat listens will uncover even more to love. It's difficult to pick favorites, but the lovely "Fallen Bird," with its gently rocking pace and the more spare title track are current high points for me. Though it's only an EP, I Wonder Which House the Fish Will Live In feels more like a fully realized album in the way that it's constructed and because the somewhat lengthy tunes produce almost 27 minutes of music. With songs as strong as these, the news that the band is now working on their debut LP should be very good news.

I know I probably say this too often, but these guys are more than deserving of a listen, so download a free tune from the new album below and head to MySpace to hear the majority of the EP.

Glass Brigade (MP3)

Review: We Were Promised Jetpacks - These Four Walls (* * * *)

So far, I'm not burned out yet on earnest Scottish rock bands, though I feel like my limit can't be far off. Fortunately, We Were Promised Jetpacks is among the best of the country's recent imports, and their debut, These Four Walls, is a strong introduction to a band that looks to have a bright future. As has been mentioned around the web, 'Jetpacks' share much in common with labelmates Frightened Rabbits, though 'Jetpacks' style is of a much more bombastic rock 'n' roll persuasion where their musical cousins prefer a folk-based approach. The flair for dramatic relationship narratives and thickly-accented wailing remains a common thread, though, and These Four Walls is packed with emotionally charged tunes and catchy pop hooks.

The best tunes on the record are the catchiest, when We Were Promised Jetpacks keeps the energy high and the songs focused on the hooks. Opener "It's Thunder and its Lightning" and the equally incendiary "Quiet Little Voices" are long as pop tunes go (well over four minutes each), but they pack a genuine punch musically and lyrically. The band easily swing through different tempos while creating interesting loud/soft dynamics that keep the listener entertained while also offering the occasional respite from singer Adam Thompson's sometimes blaring vocal delivery. Their slightly more artistic and somewhat unique approach gives the band the ability to follow in the footsteps of both past greats and current peers without retreading TOO much old ground. Occasionally, they get a bit over-dramatic, as on the "Keeping Warm" (which title immediately brought to mind Frightened Rabbit's 2008 hit, "Keep Yourself Warm"), which features an unnecessarily long introduction on an album that should be giving in more to its pop tendencies.

Overall, however, We Were Promised Jetpacks succeeds much more often than they falter and the good tunes on These Four Walls effectively mask the few times when the music feels a little less than inspired. The band's raw instrumental selection and their confidence in tackling both loud rock 'n' roll tunes and more delicate acoustic ballads makes this a debut that stands well with the best new bands this year.

We Were Promised Jetpacks on MySpace

Monday, July 13, 2009

Review: Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band - Outer South (* * *)

Preface - This review, like some to follow, will be posted in full at In Review Online, so click on the link at the end of the paragraph to read the entire article. Thanks!

Conor Oberst, known to many by his moniker Bright Eyes, seems to have ditched his solo gig, as well as the majority of his emo-leaning songwriting, and now performs with a full-on rock group, Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band. Whether it was therapy, an early mid-life crisis, or simply the need to have some fun that brought about this change in his career doesn't really matter; the new direction Oberst has taken suits him far better than many of us would have expected. Shedding the Bright Eyes brand for last year’s album (simply titled Conor Oberst), the artist took a step away from his established, moody sound and toward something much more free-spirited and fun, a sort of breezy alt-country style full of jangly guitars and clamoring piano. (Continue Reading...)

Archeology - purveyors of pure indie pop

Portland, Oregon band Archeology came across my radar recently and caught my ear with their low-key, hook-filled indie pop tunes. I was immediately reminded of Bishop Allen when I heard the bouncy "MCMXIV" and the appropriately titled "Lovejoy" from their debut EP, Change of Address, though the band's influences obviously encompass a variety of pop styles as shown by the nine tracks the boys have released as a band so far. Both Change of Address and The Wildwood Hymns were release this year, and the band have plans to release another three EPs before the end of '09 that should hopefully garner the band some deserved attention.

And as for the name - the band explain it thusly:

"After we had figured out a musical direction we were then faced with the challenge of choosing a band name that captured who we were. We didn’t want to over think this process or make it into a philosophical pursuit, so Daniel and I just chose the name of our other interest besides music…archaeology."

Below you can find two tracks, a favorite from each of the EPs, for download. The first, "Knots," is an upbeat, summertime track, while "Violette" is a melancholy ballad that immediately impressed me upon first listen. Both are worth a listen, so go ahead and take advantage! For more info/music, check out Archeology on MySpace.

Knots (MP3)

Violette (MP3)

MP3 Monday: The Rural Alberta Advantage, These United States, Black Mold

MP3 Monday is almost becoming a one-man inside joke in its infrequency, but occasionally I just have too little time and too much great music to pass on to pass up an opportunity to dig the feature out of the trash and give it a chance to shine. Enjoy FIVE songs from three exciting new or upcoming albums.
The Rural Alberta Advantage

The recently released debut, Hometowns, by The Rural Alberta Advantage is one you may have missed in the shuffle this year but should take the time now to give a listen. After reading some very favorable reviews, I gave the album a shot and was pleasantly surprised at the folk-influenced, indie pop style that RAA presents in an infectious, hook-filled way throughout the record. Two tracks from Hometowns are available for download below, the lonesome, earnest "Don't Haunt This Place" and the danceable "Frank, AB." Both are excellent cuts from what is certainly one of this year's sleeper hits.

Don't Haunt This Place (MP3)

Frank, AB (MP3)

These United States

The latest album in a prolific career from These United States, Everything Touches Everything, will be released September 1st. Anyone familiar with the band's previous material should be excited for more from these talented alt-folksters, and if the rockin' first single, "I Want You to Keep Everything" is any indication, the band will continue to impress. Download the song below and keep an eye out for the record in a couple months.

I Want You to Keep Everything (MP3)

Black Mold

Black Mold is the unappetizing new monicker for Chad VanGaalen, who is using the name as a way to present his new electronically-inclined instrumental album, Snow Blindness is Crystal Antz, which will be released on August 11th. The music seems to have more in common with Dan Deacon's work than with Van Gaalen's previous efforts, but is just as compelling and genuinely fascinating. You can download "Tetra Pack Heads" through Pitchfork and stream "Metal Spider Webs" over at Stereogum for a preview.

Tetra Pack Heads (Pitchfork MP3 download)

Metal Spider Webs
(Stereogum Stream)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Review: Broken Records - Until the Earth Begins to Part (* * * 1/2)

Maybe it's just me (it usually is) but the influx of Scottish bands has picked up a bit as of late. Last year we had Glasvegas and Frightened Rabbits (most notably), while 2009 has brought us newcomers We Were Promised Jetpacks, Bricolage, and a couple others I can't be bothered to remember right now. Each of these bands have built up a sizable amount of hype with their respective releases (mostly debuts) and most of the music has been quite good. Whatever the reason for the recent Scottish invasion, it's more than welcome as far as I'm concerned. Like many of their countrymen, Broken Records have already created some serious buzz in the UK with their debut, Until the Earth Begins to Part, which has been lauded for it's beautiful orchestral arrangements and exquisite execution.

What primarily separates Broken Records from their peers is their sheer size, both literally and musically. The Edinburgh band is comprised of seven members playing everything from guitars to glockenspiels led by big-voiced singer Jamie Sutherland, who's grandiose style makes each tune into an almost operatic epic. Combining the big guitar sound of Glasvegas with the indie musicality and instrumentation of bands like the Arcade Fire, Broken Records create some truly stunning moments on their debut, though the ten tracks definitely reveal a new band with plenty of promise that still needs to tweak and refine their sound in order to create something worthy of their ability.

Opener "Nearly Home" sets the appropriate stage for the rest of the album, beginning slowly and quietly, with muted strings and horns slowly swirling as Sutherland begins to wail triumphantly, his voice occasionally breaking into a soft falsetto for dramatic effect as the band continues to add layers of instrumentation until it finally tapers off for the next track. "If The News Makes You Sad, Don't Watch It" is one of a couple fiery rock numbers, an excellent showcase of the band's skills as the menacing strings and melancholy horns add an intense dose emotion to the song's already high-strung structure. From this excellent start, the band keeps things interesting and occasionally surprising, hitting a few highs as well as a couple lows, though the album actually feels quite consistent.

By the time you reach the end of the album's forty one minutes, you're likely to be worn out by Sutherland singing like it's the end of the world while his band supports him with equal grandiosity, but the band has enough charm and talent that there's more to appreciate here than just the immensity of the proceedings. The basic template of big, brash choruses and full, lush arrangements is followed throughout, and though tunes like the album's title track feel too heavy-handed and sappy to be taken seriously, the traditional Scottish flavor on songs like "If Eilert Loevborg Wrote A Song It Would Sound Like This" and "A Good Reason" provide plenty reasons (no pun intended) to enjoy the band's signature dramatic flair. The group's youthful energy works to their advantage more often than not, and what could perhaps be considered some pretension on their part most often just comes across as necessary confidence.

Ultimately, Until the Earth Begins to Part is certainly a notable release if only to introduce a band that should continue to improve and expand as they mature, which is an exciting concept for a group like Broken Records. That's not to say the record isn't enjoyable in and of itself, but I'm hoping the future holds even better things for these talented newcomers. Make sure to download a track from the record below:

If the News Makes You Sad, Don't Watch It (MP3)

Bagheera make their debut with the Hollow Home EP

Remember Bagheera...from Jungle Book? Perhaps not, but the black panther from Rudyard Kipling's classic novel served as the inspiration behind the name for an upcoming three-piece indie band comprised of students at the University of Liverpool, and that itself should be giving the name additional meaning soon. The band have only a four-song EP to their name, but Hollow Home is an excellent introduction to their ear-catching style and I imagine it won't be long before people are taking notice.

It's easiest to name-check Grizzly Bear in association with Baheera's sound, and though they wear that along with several other influences on their collective sleeve, the band's music is quite good and unique enough to be deserving of attention. The four songs showcase the trio's excellent vocal ability as well as their more than capable musicianship in composing truly gorgeous tunes, my favorite of which ("Old Machine") you can download below - though I recommend checking out MySpace for the entire EP. Bagheera certainly know how to make an entrance into the music scene.

Old Machine (MP3)

Review: Tiny Vipers - Life On Earth (* * * *)

There's something oddly fitting about Seattle musician Jesy Fortino's recording and performing moniker, Tiny Vipers. Listening to her music, there's no doubt about the number of people involved (namely one) or about the deeply personal nature of her sparse folk songs, yet the plural, serpentine namesake appropriately describes the slowly building emotional climaxes and subtle nuances found throughout her sophomore effort, Life On Earth. The new record is a remarkable, hour-long journey through love, loss, and other of life's mysteries with little more than Fortino's voice and guitar to guide you. The lengthy, deliberate tunes can take a little time to unveil their full beauty, but patience will be richly rewarded in one of this year's most stunning folk albums.

Fortino's especially spare, delicate style brings to mind the vocal characteristics of Joanna Newsom and the simple, winding songwriting of Mark Kozelek, though both of those comparisons can only be taken so far. With so little going on, instrumentally speaking, it's difficult to describe in writing what makes this music so captivating, but it's obvious that the magic in Tiny Vipers lies in Fortino's own unique presentation of what, on paper, is a fairly standard folk template. "Dreamer," the best and most emotionally charged track on Life On Earth, is a good place to start in understanding Fortino's strengths as a songwriter, with her signature acoustic guitar plucked gently but purposefully to support her thoughtfully melancholy lyrics. Her voice is soft, but not weak, and occasionally she pushes herself below her comfortable register into a low, dark whisper which she then rises above into a beautifully sad climax during the final minute, crying "I'm dying for a way out" in such a way as to break your heart on the spot.

Though variation isn't the focus on Life On Earth, Fortino introduces the occasional flourish, like her double-tracked vocals on "Development" or more forcefully strummed guitar on "Time Takes" to add some subtle texture to the album. Mostly, however, she creates the palpable atmosphere on the record by keeping things especially simple and uncluttered. Because of the plodding pace and bare instrumental approach, listeners might be tempted to pick a track or two to skip in order to make the whole more comprehensible and digestible (mine are "Young God" and "Untitled"), but the experience is better if time is invested to take in the entirety of Fortino's vision. The first half of the album is easily the stronger of the two, though the back half includes the epic, ten-minute title track which is quite excellent and even my aforementioned least favorites hardly feel like missteps, they just don't grab hold as completely as her best material.

Life On Earth is a truly gorgeous album worth losing yourself to if you're willing to expend the effort requires to dig into it. That's not a criticism, just an observation and perhaps a warning to those who insist their music be of the immediately gratifying variety. Jesy Fortino isn't about making this an easy experience, but a enriching and rewarding one for those who seek it.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Best of 2009 so far: Albums

(note - the full article appears on In Review Online)

As much as I enjoyed the music of 2008, it would be difficult, if not impossible to argue that the first six months of 2009 have already surpassed the previous twelve in terms of both quality and quantity of exceptional releases. While the spotlight last year was taken, in large par
t, by newcomers like Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes, the best of this year focuses much more on the triumphant returns of some of indie rock’s most notable acts. By that same token, 2009 feels like a year of reinvention and progression for those same bands, with groups like Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs all taking stylistic steps away from their previous successes and all creating the best albums of their careers in the process. That’s what great bands do, evolve and improve, and we’ve seen the best of that principle in action this year.

But what is perhaps most refreshing about the year so far is the relative lack of disappointment I’ve felt when it comes to those bands who I’ve been counting on to impress. Certainly I’ve been let down a time or two, but looking over the following list, it’s readily apparent that the majority of those groups I’ve been expecting big things from have delivered in an even bigger way. For whatever reason, through the aligning of the stars or will of the gods or what have you, 2009 has delivered an absolute explosion of superb music, a trend that we should hope will continue over the remaining six months.

For a more
detailed description about the albums, check out my article on In Review Online (second half of the page)



Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion (Review)

"...despite the many words of praise that have already been heaped upon the album, the masterpiece that is... Merriweather Post Pavilion continues to live up to every ounce of hype and thus far maintains its spot on the top of the list of '09's best albums."

Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca (Review)

"Bitte Orca’s inimitable blend of pop melodies and expansive experiments mark a high point for the band and for music this year."

DM Stith - Heavy Ghost (Review)

"Heavy Ghost feels like the kind of record from which a distinguished and notable musical career could be launched, and if Stith can continue to provide music of this caliber, I imagine that’s exactly what will happen."

Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest (Review)

"Filled with ghostly vocal harmonies and intricately arranged instrumentals, Veckatimest is an album built of mostly ordinary parts organized into an almost otherworldly whole that’s truly gripping and frequently astonishing."

Neko Case - Middle Cyclone (Review)

"Throughout its 14 tracks, Middle Cyclone frequently feels so comfortable and effortless that it’s easy to forget how rarely an album comes together this well. The record is both approachable and refreshingly unique, a reminder of why we all fell in love with Neko Case years ago."

P.O.S. - Never Better (Review)

"Alexander’s politically-charged lyrics remain sharp throughout the album, and the conception, execution and production of Never Better are all exceptional, resulting in an ambitious and exciting rap record."

Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Review)

" get what you came for: perfectly executed pop music with a big heart and even bigger choruses, and in providing that, the record succeeds completely."

St. Vincent - Actor (Review)

her sophomore album expands on the promise of her debut, Marry Me, and further establishes Clark as one of indie rock’s premier songwriters."

Sunset Rubdown - Dragonslayer (Review)

Back at the helm of what can hardly be considered his side project, Sunset Rubdown, Krug and his band have created a monstrously great rock album that marks the group's best work to date, and showcases some of Krug's most impressive material."

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz (Review)

It’s Blitz is a step forward and up for Yeah Yeah Yeahs and an immensely enjoyable one at that."


Now go read more about my picks and see In Review Music Editor Jordan Cronk's picks HERE.

Have a list to share? Please do!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Cory Chisel & the Wandering Sons - "Born Again" MP3

I don't know much about Cory Chisel & the Wandering Sons, but I recently heard the first single "Born Again" from their upcoming debut, Death Won't Send a Letter, and felt it was my responsibility to share such an exceptional song with you. Chisel's soulful voice combined with pleasant acoustic guitars and joyful organ is nothing short of captivating as he delivers a heartfelt folk tune that makes me want to hear the rest of the album as soon as possible.

You can find the link to download the song below along with a link to check out the video, which premiered on Paste. More information on these guys forthcoming!

Born Again (MP3)

Visit Paste to see the video

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

New and Notable: Hatcham Social

There seems to be no shortage of bands seeking to bring back the energy and excitement of previous UK sensations like Orange Juice and The Pastels these days, but those that get it right are few and far between. Enter Hatcham Social, the fun-loving, hook-delivering quartet that doesn't so much relive the glory days as they channel them into a lean 32 minutes of pure pop on their debut, You Dig The Tunnel, I'll Hide The Soil. Following a path well traveled, the boys rely on simple, but effective instrumental riffs and clever, quirky lyricism to make their ten songs stick. Their infectious melodies and strong songwriting make this a record worth your time and attention even among the shower of great albums arriving this year.

What's most enjoyable about You Dig The Tunnel is the no-frills approach the band takes to make tunes like opener "Crocodile" and the delightfully spooky "Murder in the Dark" so entertaining without feeling gimmicky. The rhythm section is sharp throughout while the guitars switch between the back and driver's seats to shake things up a little. The pace stays fairly constant throughout, getting a little more intense on cuts like "I Can't Cure My Pure Evil" and only giving a couple minutes of respite on "Superman." The formula for the album is simple and the results are quite consistent, hitting the spot often enough to make the record a fun experience from start to finish.

Devoid of pretension or arrogance, You Dig The Tunnel, I'll Hide The Soil is a great debut by a band I'll certainly be keeping an ear out for in the future. Check out the band on MySpace to hear some tunes.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Introducing...Leslie Mendelson

New York transplant Leslie Mendelson has become a well-known folk songwriter in the Manhattan area, impressing with her breezy folk style that recalls classic pop artists like Carole King (perhaps her most obvious influence) and Laura Nyro. After self-releasing an album in 2005, Mendelson returns having won a label contract with Rykodisc and is releasing a second debut, of sorts, called Swan Feathers. It's a lovely singer/songwriter album that employs the likes of producer Rob Mounsey (Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Brian Wilson), guitarist James Maddock (Wood) and drummer Aaron Comess (Spin Doctors), but the focus remains on Mendelson's smooth voice and emotionally charged songwriting.

Swan Feathers travels between groovy pop songs and delicate acoustic ballads, opening with a couple of the former. Both "I Know You Better Than That" and "So Far So Bad" are among my favorite tunes, filled with subtle, sexy instrumentation under Mendelson's catchy melodies. She gets a little melancholy on "Rest of London," turns up the romance on "Easy Love," and gets down to basics on the simply gorgeous closer "Goodnight." She sounds confident and calm throughout, and though she gets perhaps a little too relaxed too often, Swan Feathers is a good showcase of Mendelson's appeal and contains some solid material.

Check out Leslie on MySpace and make sure you watch a studio session performance of "I Know You Better Than That" below.

A Fine Frenzy previews new single, "Blow Away," on Myspace

For those of you who heard A Fine Frenzy's debut album several years ago, One Cell in the Sea, new music from promising singer/songwriter Alison Sudol should be great news indeed. Sudol's fine voice, piano skills, and songwriting ability are all still in play here, but "Blow Away" is a louder, more rambunctious affair that can be found on most of her debut. The song is the first single from her upcoming album, A Bomb in a Birdcage, which will be release on September 18th and which Alison promises is something of a new direction for A Fine Frenzy. In her own words:

"I think some people may be surprised. They think that I’m all fragile and ethereal—and that’s lovely, it’s flattering. It's all I've really let anyone see, up to this point. But I have a wild side too. I like to bang on things and cause a ruckus every now and then. I’m a quiet person with a loud streak. I like both. This record is a testament to that.”

Sounds great to me; check it out for yourself on MySpace.

Track list for A Bomb in a Birdcage:

1. Wouldn't Do
2. New Heights
3. Electric Twist
4. Blow Away
5. Happier
6. Swan Song
7. Elements
8. World Without
9. Bird Of The Summer
10. Stood Up
11. Beacon

Saturday, July 4, 2009

New Death Cab for Cutie video: Little Bribes

From their recent EP, Open Doors, Death Cab for Cutie have released a video for the upbeat single "Little Bribes." The unique, stop-motion video was directed by Ross Ching, a self-proclaimed Death Cab fan who apparently made the video himself, posted it on his website, and caught the attention of the band who loved it so much they decided to make it the official music video for their song. It's certainly worth a look, so check out the link below.

Little Bribes (video link)

Also, here's a list of tour dates you might be interested in:

July 5 - Hollywood Bowl - Los Angeles, CA
July 11 - Greek Theatre - Berkeley, CA
July 12 - Grand Sierra Resort & Casino - Reno, NV
July 13 - Red Butte Garden Amphitheatre - Salt Lake City, UT
July 14 - Red Rocks Amphitheatre - Morrison, CO
July 16 - Pacific Coliseum - Vancouver, BC
July 17 - Edgefield Manor - Troutdale, OR
July 18 - Marymoor Park - Redmond, WA
July 19 - Marymoor Park - Redmond, WA

Thursday, July 2, 2009

New and Notable: Elizabeth and the Catapult

My introduction to the debut album from Elizabeth and the Catapult came after a fair amount of avoidance on my part, though I can't say exactly why. Perhaps it was my lukewarm reaction to the record's first single or the sheer amount of female pop albums being thrown my way of late, but until a copy showed up in the mail I was missing out on Taller Children, a more than solid album from an exciting new band. Fortunately I've caught up and I'm passing on the good word to you; Elizabeth Ziman and company are a group you should hear whether you, like me, have passed on the opportunity or simply missed any mention of them so far.

During my first listen, Taller Children surprised me by being much more of a classic pop album than I had expected after hearing a couple early tracks. Though there are some quirky 'indie' moments like the bouncy "Race You" or the aforementioned "Taller Children," much of the record is of a more vocal-centered, singer/songwriter persuasion. Ziman's crystal-clear voice breathes life into the more settled, gentler pieces, especially the gorgeous "Apathy" and the subtly sexy "Rainiest Day of Summer," though she's especially alluring on the group's Leonard Cohen cover "Everybody Knows." Meanwhile, the band more than earn their 'Catapult' namesake, giving each of their frontwoman's tunes a welcome lift by covering territory from folk ("Complimentary Me") to orchestral piano rock ("Hit the Wall") with apparent ease and obvious talent.

Though Elizabeth and the Catapult may occasionally sound a bit too much like any number of their female songwriter contemporaries (Sara Bareilles, Fiona Apple, etc.), their inventiveness and more exploratory nature sets Taller Children apart as more than just a simple retelling of a familiar stylistic story. You can download a track from the album below and make sure you check out the band's MySpace page to hear more.

Taller Children (Zipped MP3)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Review: Freeland - Cope (* * * 1/2)

Adam Freeland, DJ/Producer extraordinaire, takes a stab at synth- heavy rock 'n' roll with his latest record, Cope, bringing a host of friends along for the ride. For the band, Tommy Lee is on drums and Twiggy Ramirez on bass, with Joey Santiago of The Pixies and Tony Bevilacqua of Distillers on guitars. Additionally, while new Freeland frontman Kurt Baumann gets a few vocal cuts, Brody Dalle of the Distillers and Gerald V. Casale from Devo each get a chance to shine on the record as well. The result is an album that's made both for the openness of an arena and the intensity of a club, bold, dark, and entertaining, with some truly electrifying moments to be found within the twelve tracks.

First single and lead track "Do You" is an immediate highlight; danceable and sexy, the song should serve its simple purpose in getting you to move right from the start. "Under Control" and "Strange Things" follow suit, though they expand the lyrical content slightly, the former sounding something like an LCD Soundsystem cover, the latter a gothic-tinged rock tune. From there, the record gets a bit less consistent, with a few songs like "Mancry" adding little to the proceedings (though the drumming is quite excellent), and others, like the guest spots "Borderline" (Dalle) and "Only a Fool" (Casale) sounding fresh and appropriately fun. When all is said and done, the record as a whole comes across as intelligently produced and enjoyably decadent, with a little something for everybody to be found with in the album's nearly hour-long run time. Fortunately, as eclectic as Cope may feel to some, it also has a remarkable cohesiveness.

Allowing the focus to remain on the vocals without sacrificing the attention to detail and texture found on any decent electronica record, Adam Freeland pulls off what might have been an awkward combination of genres gracefully. Though not every song succeeds completely, Cope has the feel of a project heading in the right direction and Freeland, the band, that is, is a group I'll be excited to hear more from in the future.

Take a trip down to the Freeland website to hear the whole album and watch a video for "Do You" below:

Freeland 'Do You' UK Live Tour Video from Freeland on Vimeo.