Monday, August 31, 2009

MP3 Monday: Themselves & WHY?, Josh Ottum, Stricken City, Langhorne Slim, Shelley Short

You know the drill, free music you need to hear (and legal too, for whoever it was that filed a complaint against my blog ;).

Themselves & Why? -
Canada (MP3)

Two Anticon heavyweights combine for this stunning track that you probably should have picked up by now (Pitchfork was on top of this song this morning, of course). Like the first single, "This Blackest Purse," from the upcoming WHY? album, "Canada" is mellow, but no less beguiling or strange than anything either band has provided over the years. WHY?'s Eskimo Snow will be out on September 22nd while Themselves' CrownsDown is set for release on October 20th. (WHY? MySpace - Themselves MySpace)

Josh Ottum - It's Alright (MP3)

Seattle musician Josh Ottum had compiled quite a few songs in his home studio over the last few years and finally decided to release a sort of 'best of' from all those solo recording sessions. The first single from the upcoming Like the Season is "It's Alright," a bouncy, melodic folk-pop tune that makes me more than curious to hear the rest of this album. More on this guy later, but for now make sure you get this track. (MySpace)

Stricken City - Pull the House Down (MP3 via The Fader)

Here's another band I don't know much about, but the UK indie-popsters have made a great impression on me with "Pull the House Down," the first single from their upcoming debut entitled Songs About People I Know. The record will be getting a Stateside release on November 3rd, but it's worth being ahead of the game on this one. With a sort of sexy, rhythmic style and a big-voiced singer in Rebekah Raa, this is a band worth keeping an ear on. (MySpace)

Langhorne Slim -
I Love You, But Goodbye (MP3)

Alt-country singer/songwriter Langhorne Slim is back with a new album to be available on September 29th, but you can download an early single here. The new record, Be Set Free, is Slim's third and will be followed by a fairly extensive two-month tour which you can find out more about on his MySpace page.

Shelley Short - A Cave (MP3)

Portland songstress Shelley Short is back with another helping of lovely low-key folk tunes on October 13th entitled A Cave, A Canoo. Her gently beautiful voice and pleasant piano riffs makes the record's first single, "A Cave," a definite keeper and reminds me that it may be a frustratingly long wait until we can hear the whole thing in a couple months. (MySpace)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Introducing...The Pinx

For those of you that can't get enough of classic rock or its many present-day variations, The Pinx are prepared to be your new favorite band. Adam McIntyre (vocals/guitar), Joe Giddings (vocals/bass) and Jim O'Kane (drums) play meat 'n' potatoes rock 'n' roll with just the basics - making raw, elemental music that's a nice breath of fresh air amid the torrent of indie music I'm generally surrounding myself with. The band's new album, Look What You Made Me Do, has earned them some accolades around the 'net and a spot on tour with Ben Harper, and the record has made quite an impression on me as well. Though best known for their explosive, violent performances, The Pinx manage to capture enough of that energy here on their debut to make it an enjoyably intense helping of soulful, blues-tinged garage rock just begging to be played loud and often during these last weeks of summer.

The Atlanta-based trio prefer to keep things simple, relying on their obvious instrumental talent, rough tenor vocals and raw production values rather than guest musicians and studio trickery. Cuts like the psychedelically-inclined "The Desert" and the scuzzy "That Is Free" sound live, fresh, and appropriately sparse as Giddings and O'Kane pound away under McIntyre's stellar guitar riffs and electrifying solos. In fact, though the vocals and lyrics are decent most of the time, the group sound best when they stick primarily to the music, especially on the record's mind-blowing instrumental track, "The Owl." Other highlights include "Impatience," which is all grit and fire, and "Am I Your Lover?," with it's sexy, falsetto-laden chorus. As a whole, Look What You Made Me Do shows a young band that still has some growing to do, but one that also has the instrumental chops and hard-working DIY attitude to accomplish bigger and better things. Don't be surprised if you hear much more about and from them in the future.

Download a tune below from the record and head over to the band's MySpace page for some of their best work.

Impatience (MP3)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Review: Megafaun - Gather, Form and Fly (* * * *)

With the recent and explosive success of Justin Vernon’s solo project, Bon Iver, it’s difficult to imagine many people asking about the fate of the other members of Vernon’s previous band, DeYarmond Edison [these people shouldn't be allowed to name bands -Ed.]. But the answer to the unasked question is one worth knowing as I learned recently. When their leader wandered off into the woods of Wisconsin to create his masterpiece (one of my favorites last year, if you count the re-release), the brothers Cook (Brad & Phil) and fellow Wisconsinite Joe Westerlund found a way to carry on without him by forming Megafaun, reinventing their sound and creating a solid – though generally overlooked – debut with 2007’s Bury the Square. The release did, however, catch the attention of Akron/Family – with whom the younger band shares some stylistic similarities – and soon the two groups were on the road together, with Megafaun both opening for and supporting Akron/Family on stage. (Continue Reading...)

Kaufman's Ballad (MP3)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Review: AM - Future Sons & Daughters (* * * 1/2)

I had only heard ABOUT singer/songwriter AM before a couple weeks ago when I listened to his most recent release, Future Sons & Daughters. I have yet to find the New Orleans-raised musician's actual name, but that may have something to do with my less than stellar googling skills and it doesn't matter much anyway I suppose. What matters is how enjoyable AM's groovy pop sound is as presented on this latest LP, which has made a great first impression on me. The slightly washed out album photo and even the psychedelic font give AM's intentions away right from the beginning. He combines breezy 70s rock, pop, and even bits of disco with his own modern twist, an approach that may not be completely unique but one he pulls off with style, hitting much more often than missing on the record's 11 tracks.

His gift for crafting memorable melodies and his attention to detail when writing these retro-pop tunes is what makes songs like the reggae-esque opener "A Complete Unknown" and the slinky "It's Been So Long" so appealing. AM's even, smooth voice glides over a selection of reverbed guitars, nimble percussion, and occasionally muted horns providing the appropriately funky backdrop for lyrics that mostly fit well into the intended time period, making Future Sons & Daughters a worthy tribute to the decade. Other highlights include "Fortunate Family Tree," which revels in its sunny simplicity and the brief instrumental "Jorge Ben," where AM shows some more than decent guitar chops around congas and trumpet riffs. The whole experience lasts a modest 36 minutes, which is just enough to be satisfying while keeping things light and lean.

Future Sons & Daughters is a record that, due to its purposefully low-impact nature, may not grab your attention immediately. Given half a chance, tough, AM proves to be an intelligent musician and a talented songwriter who understands his strengths as well as his limitations and uses them to create something fun, fresh, and quite groovy. Download the song "Grand Opinion" from the album below or check out AM on MySpace.

Grand Opinion (MP3)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Joshua James set to release sophomore LP, offers free tune

I've been a fan of Joshua James since his debut album, The Sun is Always Brighter, was released a couple years ago - a folk record with modest beginnings that eventually garnered a good deal of acclaim from those that had the pleasure of hearing it. James possesses a genuine and seemingly natural songwriting ability, and combined with his uniquely raspy, whispered voice it often makes his songs feel like the work of a man with much more wisdom and experience than would expect to find in a 25 year-old. He describes his inspiration in this way; "...there are contrasts to everything. You have to combine the sweet and salty, the ugly and beautiful. Music is very therapeutic for me. It’s all about making a connection with humanity, with the audience, in ways that I normally wouldn’t be able to."

His sophomore LP, entitled Build Me This, will be released on September 22, but he's giving you the opportunity for a preview by offering "Magazine" for free below. The track should give you a good idea of the direction Joshua is heading on this upcoming release, which shows louder, more rockin' side of him than we've heard before. Download and enjoy!

Magazine (MP3)

MP3 Monday (late edition): A.A. Bondy, E-603, Sunbears!, Keegan DeWitt, Daniel Johnston

So I kinda missed Monday, but I was close this week. Here are some great tunes by some artists you may not be familiar with yet and a couple that have been around for a while. Enjoy!

A. A. Bondy - I Can See the Pines are Dancing (MP3)

I first heard of A. A. Bondy a couple years ago and was very excited to get word about his upcoming record entitled When the Devil's Loose - set for release on the first of September. I've had a chance to listen to the album and I'm liking what I hear, especially this free single "I Can See the Pines are Dancing." Bondy's simple, melodic folk style and slightly rough voice make this one you should add to your collection. (MySpace)

E-603 -
Lights Out (MP3) and Dirtbag Baby (Mp3)

I'm not usually one that goes crazy over mash-ups, but I recently heard these two tunes from E-603 and I couldn't resist. Ethan Ward combines everything from Natalie Imbruglia to the Jackson 5 to hardcore rap (I don't know my rappers well) smoothly into slices of pop goodness that are easy to enjoy. Check out a couple tracks from his debut, Torn Up, which Ward released himself. (MySpace)

Sunbears! -
I'm Alive (MP3)

I'll admit I wasn't expecting much when I clicked on the link to listen to "I'm Alive," a song by Sunbears! from an EP titled Dream Happy Dreams. Fortunately, though the song certainly has the sort of overeager cheeriness you would expect from such a band and such an album, it's also quite good. I believe the EP has already been released, so give the rest of it a listen if you like what you hear here. (MySpace)

Keegan DeWitt -
Telephone (MP3)

Known for his beautiful film scores and lately for opening for the likes of Rhett Miller and M. Ward, Keegan DeWitt brings us a new album, this one a more pop-oriented set of tunes entitled Islands. "Telephone," the early single available here, is a nice showcase of Keegan's charmingly droopy voice and beautiful string arrangements and shouldn't be overlooked. (MySpace)

Daniel Johnston - Freedom (MP3)

Here's a name you may be more familiar with. Daniel Johnston is back with his first album in six years, entitled Is and Always Was. The record, to be released October 6th, is a collaboration with producer/musician Jason Falkner and will have a slightly more hi-fi sound than some of his previous releases. Download the short, punchy "Freedom" for a taste of the upcoming album. (Website)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Review: Wildbirds & Peacedrums (* * * *)

In an increasingly crowded indie music scene, those that produce anything genuinely unique are few and far between. However, 2009 has been a banner year for progressive music, and Wildbirds & Peacedrums is just more proof of this. Though perhaps not that well known yet, Swedish husband and wife duo Mariam Wallentin and Andreas Werliin have just released an often stunning sophomore album: The Snake is an ambitious record that unfortunately may not get the attention it deserves, but an accomplished and inspired work nonetheless. The band has been described as a "drums-and-vocals" duo (Wellentin singing and Werliin on percussion), and the two artists remain mostly faithful to that simple formula, removing guitar almost completely from the equation, and distancing themselves from the sound of bluesy rocker two-pieces like The White Stripes and The Black Keys. Instead, a more apt comparison may be to the likes of Natasha Khan or to the vocal ferocity of Bjork, whose influence is obvious during several songs on The Snake. (Continue Reading...)

There Is No Light (MP3)

Review: As Tall As Lions - You Can't Take It With You (* * * 1/2)

It's been a few years since As Tall As Lions made a big impression with their self-titled record, but though it's not completely unusual for bands to take some time between albums, this has been a trying period for the four New Yorkers. Fortunately, even after internal conflict, near break-ups, and drama surrounding the recording and producing of the album, the band have managed to overcome the trials, creating an album more ambitious and confident than the backstory might suggest would be possible. The record does, at times, feel less focused - which may be due to the scattered nature of the recording process - but the progress the band achieves generally overshadows their weaknesses and You Can't Take It With You contains some of the group's best work.

First single and lead-off track "Circles" begins the album in a familiar manner, but with a slightly darker tone and a smoother, more produced feel. My first impression was that it sounded remarkably like Minus the Bear or newcomers This Town Needs Guns, with the active guitars, sharp percussion, and singer Dan Nigro's emotive tenor. And though over a couple spins the comparison seems less apparent, the styles occasionally still feel similar - especially on the shimmering "Go Easy" and early highlight "Sixes & Sevens." The band borrow from several other sources as well (the U2-esque guitars are mentioned frequently) but they manage to carve out their own niche by expanding their sound and simply trying a variety of approaches ranging from spacey psych-rock ballads to emo-ish rave-ups. As Tall As Lions are at their best when they keep the energy high, like the explosive "In Case of Rapture," which showcases the group's individual instrumental talent and their collective compositional abilities, with Nigro's soaring vocals ably leading the way.

When the pace slows, the results are uneven but at least interesting. The eight-minute centerpiece, "Duermete," drags for too much of its lengthy run time and "Sleepyhead" is pleasant but so subtle it's easy to gloss over, while the more fleshed out cuts like the title track and "The Narrows" are dynamic and gripping even with their more deliberate speed. The former weak moments on You Can't Take It With You aren't so much bad ideas as they sometimes feel just out of the group's grasp, but it's nice to hear a band push themselves even if they occasional stretch themselves too thin. Hopefully they can stick together and take another step or two forward on their next release because they've shown some serious promise here along with the ability to accomplish even greater things. Here's to perseverance.

Friday, August 21, 2009

New and Notable: Choir of Young Believers

I first heard Choir of Young Believers several months ago but was never able (or didn't try hard enough) to find much information about the band. Fortunately, they again crossed my path recently with the press surrounding the release of their debut album, This Is For the White In Your Eyes. In actuality, though there are several people included in the production and performance of the music, Choir of Young Believers is the brainchild of one Jannis Joya Makrigiannis - a Danish songwriter and composer that excels at writing beautifully orchestrated indie pop tunes. Under his direction, the band combine stirring string arrangements, pounding drums, and joyous horn accompaniment with Makrigiannis's clear, smooth tenor voice, which results in the creation of some dramatic and intriguing soundscapes on their first LP.

Though the band's title and instrumental palette might suggest otherwise, much of 'White In Your Eyes' is actually quite sparse, with Makrigiannis using the various elements sparingly and separately as to avoid the fully orchestrated sound of the likes of Sufjan Stevens. Tracks like the slowly building "These Rituals of Mine," the lonely "Under the Moon" and the haunting closer "Yamagata" all prefer open space to busy arrangements and crowded choruses. Even highlights like opener "Hollow Talk" and the single "Action/Reaction," while incorporating more elements into the band's sound, leave time for delicate and simple passages where the vocals are the clear centerpiece. The result is a sort of melancholy spirit that pervades the majority of the songs, though even with its deliberate pacing and often sad lyrical content, the record rarely drags or seems heavy-handed. Instead, the stark beauty that Makriaginnis and company create feels more effective and powerful for its restraint.

This Is For the White's In Your Eyes has enough strong material to suggest Makriaginnis has serious talent and a great deal of creative energy, though it's also clear he'll need to improve in order to make a more lasting impression. I'm betting he'll do just that, and in the meantime this is an album that deserves to be experienced and enjoyed, one that you can dive into and spend time with as it appreciates with repeated spins. You can download the song "Action/Reaction" below and/or visit the band's MySpace page to get an introduction.

Action/Reaction (MP3)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Review: The Lovely Feathers - Fantasy of the Lot (* * * 1/2)

After a three-year absence, Canadian indie-popsters The Lovely Feathers are back with a new record, their sophomore effort entitled Fantasy of the Lot, released earlier this week. Apparently, the album comes after the band declared an "indefinite hiatus" following the touring for the release of their 2006 debut, Hind Hind Legs, which managed to attract a decent amount of attention around the blogosphere. After exploring varying personal and professional detours, the members returned to record this follow-up; a quirky pop-rock album that's irreverent, fun, and quite unique despite the obvious influences (Unicorns, Arcade Fire) heard throughout. A late submission to what I might label as the "indie lover's summer albums list," but a welcome one anyway.

If you've heard anything from The Lovely Feathers chances are it includes Fantasy of the Lot's lead single and opening track "Lowiza," the story of the titular female character and her inept lover, Jimmy. It's more than a little bizarre, but with tight instrumental execution and a group-chanted chorus to compliment singer Mark Kupfert's slightly unstable tenor vocals, this tale of sexual inadequacy is among the record's highlights. The remainder of the album follows a similar pattern in that the songs generally remain short, the pace stays upbeat but not frenzied or hurried, and the lyrics are mostly snapshots of oddball characters in strange situations. The first half of the record has the majority of the highlights, like the folky jam "Fad," the key-heavy groove of the chorus on "Gifted Donald," and the almost Brit-pop-esque "Finders Fee." The group also dive into a couple less immediate tunes with the somewhat aimless title track and the constantly shifting "Loading Dock," but they're at their best when they keep things simple and (relatively) direct.

Fantasy of the Lot doesn't seem to head determinedly in any particular direction, which may keep it from making as much of an impact in such a strong musical year as 2009, but there's a lot of genuine charm and subtle pop hooks packed into the music here. The Lovely Feathers sound like the kind of band that could really make their mark in future years, but if you have the fortune of getting to know them now, you may very well enjoy hearing them work their way there.


Introducing...Anna Ternheim

This may be something of a late introduction, but I imagine for many (including myself), Anna Ternheim is a new name. The Swedish singer/songwriter has released several albums, including a US debut last year, but now she seems to be making a more forceful attempt to break into the North American market which is why I had the pleasure of hearing her new record, Leaving On a Mayday. Ternheim creates dark, edgy music with plenty of beautiful and clever instrumental compositions enhancing her troubled romantic poetry, and her home country has taken notice, honoring her with numerous awards including several Swedish Grammys. Her latest collection of tunes makes it easy to hear what the fuss is all about, as Ternheim's talent produces some excellent results among the 44 minutes of delightfully quirky indie pop music.

Starting the record and released as the first single, "What Have I Done" immediately impresses with it's striking string arrangements and heavy bass line behind a mesmerizing vocal melody. Ternheim may often come across as bitter or angry in her lyricism but her silky smooth voice is nothing short of seductive, and the contrast is frequently quite intriguing. The dreamy "Terrified," the driving, tribal "Make It On My Own" and the melancholy folk number "Off the Road" are all highlights on an album that is not only consistent in quality, but feels remarkably cohesive as well. The songs feature a variety of instruments and are filled with subtle flourishes, but nothing ever feels overdone or unnecessarily busy, which brings a feeling of maturity to the album that can partially be accredited to the excellent production of fellow Swede Bjorn Yttling (of Peter Bjorn & John fame).

I would bet we'll be hearing more from and about this exciting artist soon as Leaving On a Mayday is yet another excellent record arriving from a country that has cemented itself as a steady source of worthwhile musical imports. If you haven't heard of Anna Ternheim by now, you would do well to check out the song "What Have I Done" below and head over to her MySpace page to hear more.

What Have I Done (MP3)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Review: Brendan Benson - My Old, Familiar Friend (* * * 1/2)

Though Brendan Benson has been around for some time now (well over ten years, in fact), he's most widely known as that one guy who plays with Jack White in White's side project The Raconteurs. That may seem unjust or unfair, but it's given Benson tremendous exposure as he wasn't just a role player in the band. For anyone familiar with his solo material, it's quite clear he brought a great deal of influence to the group with his unique songwriting style, and now it seems the time spent with White has affected Benson as well. His new record and fourth effort - My Old, Familiar Friend - is a little more brash and explosive that Benson's previous work, taking the breezy 60's pop-folk sound of his other albums and infusing a bluesy, rock 'n' roll attitude that brings about some exciting results, though the record's somewhat inconsistent nature may hamper it from receiving the accolades so often lavished on his other project.

The album is fairly frontloaded and gets off to a great start with the rockin' "A Whole Lot Better," the most Raconteurs-esque cut of the bunch. Over pounding drums, incessant keys, and layers of guitars, Benson throws out earnest pop poetry that's infectious and fun, and the energy continues with the smooth, jangly "Eyes On The Horizon" and the spectacular, retro-pop-flavored "Garbage Day." Benson's skills are sharp and his ambition more apparent here than ever before, with clever compositions and perfectly arranged instrumental flourishes that fill, but don't distract from, the majority of the songs. Benson's lyricism can seem tiring on the occasion that he gets a little to vindictive about his bad experiences with love, but he keeps things from getting too heavy-handed and My Old, Familiar Friend mostly avoids getting bogged down in the dreary relationship drama by keeping the pace quick and the hooks plentiful. It's unfortunate that none of the latter material measures up to the high standard set on the album, but there's much more than filler to be found, and by the end of the fiery closer "Borrow," the whole experience feels quite satisfying.

I wonder what kind of commercial impact My Old, Familiar Friend will have now that Benson has become something of an indie rock mainstay, but however his popularity as a solo artist has been affected, it's clear that he's making the most of his opportunities on this record by providing a mostly solid rock album for longtime fans and newcomers alike to dig into. And for Raconteurs fans, this should at least hold you over until White wisely decides to ditch that Dead Weather business and get back to recording with Benson and company.

MP3 Monday (Part II): AM, Grooms, Robin Guthrie, Headlights

Hope you're ready for more! Here's part two of today's MP3 Monday:

AM - Grand Opinion (MP3)

Singer/songwriter AM's name is a fitting one considering his unique brand of low-key indie pop with a decidedly funky retro feel that makes up the majority of his new album, Future Sons & Daughters, which was released digitally last week. "Grand Opinion" is the smooth, soulful single available for download, a pleasant trip to a groovier time and place. (MySpace)

Grooms - Dreamsucker (MP3 via Stereogum)

Grooms make the kind of noisy, mid-fi rock 'n' roll that I normally might not pay much attention to, but "Dreamsucker," from their upcoming LP, is simply awesome. I hate to send you through another site to get to the tune, but I promise it's worth it. The album, Rejoicer, will be out on October 13th on Death By Audio. (MySpace)

Robin Guthrie - Some Sort of Paradise (MP3 via Brooklyn Vegan)

Robin Guthrie, most commonly known as a member of Cocteau Twins, is set to release a new solo album, Carousel, on September 28th. Good new for fans of Guthrie's dreamy instrumental soundscapes, the most recent of which, "Some Sort of Paradise," can be downloaded here as a preview of the upcoming record. (MySpace)
Headlights - Get Going (MP3 via RCRD LBL)

Boy/girl indie poppers Headlights are giving us a glimpse of their upcoming effort with "Get Going," a lovely pop tune with sweet harmonies and shimmering guitars. I know I'm sending you all over the place to grab these tunes, but like the others, this is worth the trip. Wildlife is out October 6th on Polyvinyl. (MySpace)

MP3 Monday (Part I): Volcano Choir, Junk Culture, Port O'Brien, The Black Crowes

I have too much great music to fit comfortably in one post this week, so I'm doing a double feature MP3 Monday with EIGHT songs total. The first four are here for you to enjoy:

Volcano Choir - Island, IS (MP3)

Justin Vernon, of Bon Iver fame, is releasing a collaboration with Milwaukee band Collections of Colonies of Bees under the moniker Volcano Choir. The group's debut was actually recorded before the production and distribution of Vernon's first solo record, but is just now getting a release on the 22nd of September. Check out the excellent first single, "Island, IS," above from the intriguingly titled Unmap. (MySpace)

Junk Culture - West Coast (MP3)

Deepak Mantena is Junk Culture, an electronic rock project recently signed to the Illegal Art label, home to Girl Talk and Steinski. His debut EP, West Coast, is set for release on October 27th - but you can get a preview by downloading the title track above. It's the only song I've heard thus far from Junk Culture, but it's a compelling first impression. (MySpace)

Port O'Brien - My Will Is Good (MP3)

Port O'Brien released an excellent and generally undiscovered album, All We Could Do Was Sing, last year and now the indie/experimental/folk band is back with Threadbare, due out on October 6th. If you haven't heard the group before, the new single "My Will Is Good" would be an excellent place to start. I, for one, am very much looking forward to this release. (MySpace)

The Black Crowes - I Ain't Hiding (MP3)

The Black Crowes have an interesting concept for their upcoming album, a two-part release called Before The Frost... and ...Until The Freeze respectively. The first part will feature 11 new tracks and will include the second album, a collection of eight new songs and a cover, as a free download and 'thank you' to fans. The psychedelically-flavored single "I Ain't Hiding," is from the first half and makes the idea of such a monster release quite appealing. (MySpace)

Review: Portugal. The Man - The Satanic Satanist (* * * 1/2)

From their unwieldy name (complete with obnoxious punctuation) to their less than conventional songwriting methods (music and lyrics are often written on the spot when recording), Portugal. The Man seem quite intent on doing things their own way. Fortunately, despite - or perhaps because of – the band’s numerous quirks, the psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll they create somehow coalesces into songs and albums that are remarkably solid. Even their previous effort, 2008’s Censored Colors, though less successful, revealed a band full of great ideas and hungry for progress. On their third album in as many years, the redundantly titled The Satanic Satanist, the band sound as if they’ve taken a step back and returned to form somewhat. They’ve also shaken things up a bit by opening their music to collaboration and, more importantly, by bringing some actual songs to the studio so that the focus can rest more on the individual tracks. The resulting set of songs is tighter and more cohesive than anything the band has previously produced, though by that same token it’s also a little less interesting. (Continue Reading...)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

New and Notable: Florence + The Machine

If you haven't heard of Florence + The Machine, you're probably in the minority. I'm late to the game too as I just recently heard about a group that's been earning some serious accolades for the last couple months, but I thought even now this band was worth bringing up. The Florence in question is Florence Welch, a London native and talented songwriter with a big, emotionally charged voice who records and performs from her skilled backing band, The Machine. Together they make some captivating indie rock music on their debut, Lungs, an album that has stayed at the number two spot on the UK albums chart for the past five weeks (impressive considering they're right behind Michael Jackson) and is receiving consistently rave reviews. Really, you can't afford not to pay attention to these impressive newcomers.

I'm personally not crazy about the album's single, "Kiss With a Fist," which was the first material I heard from the band, so it took me a little while to get around to all of Lungs. Taking some good advice and giving it a listen, however, I quickly realized what the fuss was all about. Welch's dark, melancholy songwriting combined with her powerful voice immediately grabbed my attention, and then with the addition of some fantastic instrumental arrangements, I was sold after just a couple songs. I'm reminded of Bat for Lashes at times, as songs like "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)" and "Cosmic Moon" - both highlights - feature similarly grand compositions and somewhat fantastic lyrics, and occasionally I hear American newbies Elizabeth and the Catapult in some of the more subdued moments like "I'm Not Calling You a Liar." But mostly these comparisons are just a product of the music I've been listening to most recently; Florence + The Machine's sound may be familiar at times but they've carved out a style all their own on this fantastic debut.

I could go on about the intriguing use of the variety of instruments found on Lungs or some specific examples of Welch's gloomily gripping lyrics, but I think it's best just to give an example - the video of "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)" - to check out below. Also, visit the band on MySpace to hear more!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Review: Patrick Wolf - The Bachelor (* * *)

Everyone familiar with Patrick Wolf knows drama is part of the Wolf experience. He's talented, certainly, and ambitious as well, but complimenting his mad pop genius is a love for the theatrical and grandiose that is endearing at the least and captivating at best. His emotionally unstable nature makes for some weighty and depressing songwriting, but for the most part it enhances his complex arrangements and remarkable vocal delivery, heard in a relatively joyful pop presentation on his previous album, 2007’s excellent The Magic Position. For The Bachelor, Wolf kicks things up a notch by further broadening his musical horizons, tackling social and political issues (in addition to more personal emotional traumas) while also embellishing his already eccentric style and taking it in several directions; traditional folk ballads and glam-rock epics are a big part of this set. Driven by both his ego and raging emotions, Wolf frequently gives in to his increasingly dramatic tendencies and has created a wildly uneven album. The Bachelor is both impressive and somewhat frustrating. (Continue Reading...)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Review: Malcolm Middleton - Waxing Gibbous (* * * *)

Malcolm Middleton has suggested that his latest effort, Waxing Gibbous, may be his last solo record for some time. The former Arab Strap frontman has remained quite active as of late, releasing five records since 2002, and though it's obvious his songwriting talent remains sharp, Middleton is ready to move on for a while before returning to his solo career, though we can only speculate now as to what project(s) he has in mind. It's fortunate, then, that his latest effort is a strong one, an engaging and enjoyable hour of well-executed pop that should give fans plenty to love in this semi-farewell. The pop-folk formula hasn't changed much but the songs are solid and Middleton's characteristically lonely lyricism combined with his engaging melodies is as winning as it has ever been.

Beginning the album are two clear highlights, the upbeat on-the-road-again song "Red Travellin' Socks" and the homecoming anthem "Kiss at the Station," both driving pop tunes fully stuffed with guitars, drums, and backing vocals to back Middleton's yearning lyrics. The songs are bright and sweet in their presentation, but sandwiched between the romantic longing are references to falling rain and the need for 'space,' so it seems clear that the Scottish songsmith isn't quite ready or willing to write simple love ballads. More obvious misery manifests itself in the spoken-word interludes on "Carry Me," the pleading "Ballad of F*** All," and the brokenhearted "Made Up Your Mind," and even with the hook-ier material like "Shadow" (complete with a do-do-do-do refrain) painting a less gloomy picture, the mood on Waxing Gibbous is decidedly disheartened. Fortunately, even for all his depressing poetry, Middleton rarely sound too heavy-handed or overly angsty, making this a record that can be enjoyed more often than during times of heartbreak and despair.

Best of luck to Middleton on whatever he chooses to do next, but I'm hoping he returns to making solo records sometime soon. Waxing Gibbous may not provide much in the way of the artistic growth that Middleton may be seeking, but it's another reminder of the genuine talent that has earned him the admiration of so many over his lengthy career. Check out a couple tunes from the album below or visit Malcolm Middleton on MySpace.

Carry Me (MP3)

Don't Want to Sleep Tonight
(MP3 via RCRD LBL)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

New and Notable: Imelda May

Last week I gave away a song (which you can find again below) by upcoming blues/jazz/rock singer Imelda May, but I feel like she deserves a more proper introduction. The talented crooner/songwriter boasts a strong, sultry voice and a great ear for melody which have earned her a spot on the Jooles Holland show, the admiration of Jeff Beck, and no small amount of converts in her native Ireland and throughout the rest of the UK. May is just now releasing her debut album in the U.S. where I imagine she will receive a warm welcome as well, combining classic blues, boogie-woogie, and plain old rock 'n' roll into a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining set of 12 tracks for her new record.

Opener and first single "Johnny Got a Boom Boom" sets the stage, with Imelda's smoldering vocals over an active bass line and some stellar stick work. The tune is the first of many examples of May's fantastic vocal ability with both aggressive rockers and delicate ballads, but it's readily apparent that the boys in the band are just as integral to the success of the album as their fiery frontwoman. Throughout the album they conjure up the appropriate backdrop for her bluesy poetry; "Feel Me" has some jazzy piano and a sweet guitar solo, "Big Bad Handsome Man" features delightful, squealing trumpet over a swingin' beat, and "Meet You at the Moon" slows things down for a smoky lounge ballad with all the right touches. It's gritty, sexy, and fun all at once, a record that makes for one spectacular debut.

Download the single below (or watch the video), check Imelda May and company out on MySpace, and get a hold of Love Tattoo as soon as possible - you'll be very glad you did.

Johnny Got a Boom Boom
(zipped MP3)

Monday, August 10, 2009

MP3 Monday: Wild Beasts, Mittens on Strings, Brown Recluse

Three for free! Enjoy these tunes and check back often because there's plenty more to come.
Wild Beasts - All the King's Men (MP3)

Fresh off their acclaimed 2008 debut, the excellent Limbo, Panto, Wild Beasts are back with a quick followup LP entitled Two Dancers. The album already has a good deal of press surrounding in the UK, and if you'll take the time to download the record's first single, "All the King's Men," it's quite easy to hear why. The band's dual vocalists Hayden Thorpe and Tom Flemming are in fine form and the band is more than up to the task of making this sophomore effort a step forward and up. (MySpace)

Mittens on Strings - Big Brother (MP3)

I don't know much about this band except that this single is excellent and they have a full-length album on the way that I'm excited to hear. Mittens on Strings will release Let's Go to Baba's on September 29th and "Big Brother" is the charming folk-rock single available above. If they can keep up the quality on the rest of their upcoming record, it should be more than worth a listen. (MySpace)

Brown Recluse - Contour and Context (MP3)

Brown Recluse recorded their debut EP, Soft Skin, several years ago, but Slumberland Records is finally bringing it to the light of day on September 8th - and it's a very good thing. The band have a somewhat retro pop vibe that brings to mind the Zombies, and with muted - but joyful - horn arrangements and jangly guitars making "Contour and Context" a song that provides a refreshing update on a classic sound. (MySpace)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Review: Ganglians - Monster Head Room (* * * *)

From the latest and greatest uber-indie label, Woodsist, spring Ganglians, otherworldly psych-rockers who sound very much at home with labelmates Woods and Kurt Vile (not to mention alumni such as Wavves and Crystal Stilts), though their intriguingly bizarre sound truly puts them in a category all their own. The band recently unloaded a lengthy EP and debut album on us almost simultaneously, apparently unable to wait to unveil all their new material, though considering the records share several tracks, the timing still seems a bit like overkill. It’s obvious from listening to Monster Head Room, however, that restraint isn’t part of the equation musically or otherwise for Ganglians; the band revel in their over-the-top brand of psychedelia with mostly excellent results, combining melodic pop hooks with strange twists and unexpected turns, and ultimately emerging with something utterly beguiling and quite fun. (Continue Reading...)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Review: Bibio - Ambivalence Avenue (* * * 1/2)

Having released his third and final album for Mush Records less than six months ago, Stephen Wilkinson, the artist and producer known as Bibio, would seem to be pushing his luck by unveiling Ambivalence Avenue, his Warp Records debut, so soon - especially considering the somewhat lukewarm reaction the earlier record received. Granted, it wasn’t a bad album or even a real misstep, but Vignetting the Compost felt light on progress, continuing Wilkinson’s penchant for manipulated guitar compositions over ambient electronic noises and the occasional vocal melody, an intriguing though not entirely engaging approach. Fortunately, this latest effort shows Wilkinson updating his signature sound by both diversifying and expanding his disparate musical influences, proving himself more adept at both ambient folk and funk-infused electronica than his previous work would suggest. The result is an album that suffers from several distinct personalities, but is also more structured and satisfying on a song-for-song basis than anything else in the Bibio catalog. (Continue Reading...)

Introducing...Holiday Shores

The mysteries behind many band names often stay unsolved for years, if they are ever found out at all, but Holiday Shores frontman Nathan Pemberton isn't shy about revealing the inspiration behind the title. The five-piece band's namesake is Holiday Shores Ct., the beachfront street in Florida where Pemberton spent his childhood. The sun and surf must have permeated deep into Nathan's psyche as his band's debut, Columbus'd The Whim, is a charming and summery set of noisy pop tunes that fit well into the current noise explosion taking over the indie scene. The boys combine a youthful energy with a remarkably mature ability to create subtle pop hooks and I, for one, find the group's new album to be refreshing and especially accomplished even among those records by some of their more spotlighted peers.

The magic of Columbus'd The Whim doesn't reveal itself all at once, but rather in layers and after a listen or two. That's not to say the music is unappealing at first glance or difficult to enjoy, but the mix of hazy guitars, sharp percussion and washed out vocals takes a more concrete shape once you've familiarized yourself with the songs bit. When it starts to sink in, the music becomes somewhat addicting as there seems to be more in the group's noisy compositions to love each time around. First single "Phone's Don't Feud" (download via The Fader below) is a great place to start, a brief, psychedelically-tinged tune that borrows some bits and pieces from several indie greats (Grizzly Bear's harmonies, Animal Collective's watery production, etc.) but doesn't really sound like anything else out there. Also available below (through Pitchfork) is the album's second single, "Edge Of Our Lives," a more upbeat track with messy guitars and a driving, almost Afro-pop rhythm. If you like those two, you'll likely enjoy the rest of the album as it follows a fairly similar pattern, though there's enough variety to keep the momentum going and the listener's interest level high throughout.

I've made it known before that I'm still not in love with noise pop, but Holiday Shores is another of those bands wearing down my resistance with music too good to ignore. Give them a listen on MySpace or track down the songs I mentioned earlier with the links provided. One way or another, make sure you get familiar with Columbus'd The Whim.

Phone's Don't Feud (MP3 via The Fader)

Edge Of Our Lives (MP3 via Pitchfork)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Review: Soulive - Up Here (* * * *)

Familiar to many but new to me, jazz/blues/rock trio Soulive are back with their eighth effort, Up Here, an exceptional instrumental (well, mostly) record that showcases not only the tremendous talent of the trio but the wealth of ideas the band bring to their music as well. The band members are Neal Evans (organ, piano, etc.), Eric Krasno (guitar), and Alan Evans (drums),though the guys collaborate to provide rich horn arrangements and a couple strong vocal performances by blues singer Nigel Hall. Tackling genres from acid rock ("Backward Jack" to soulful R&B ("PJ's), the group make Up Here thoroughly entertaining and consistently surprising while retaining a very accessible and effortlessly enjoyable style. Both fans and newcomers alike should be satisfied with this latest outing from these New York natives.

The tracks with vocals, like the so-sexy-it-hurts rocker "Too Much" and the James Brown-esque "Tonight" are great, don't get me wrong, but it's best when the trio allow the focus to remain on their virtuoso instrumentals. Opener "Up Right" appropriately gets it's name from the piano Neal Evans hammers on in between horn solos, while the guitar and percussion stay more in the background but are no less expertly played. "The Swamp" relies more on Alan Evans's drumming and "PJ's" is all about Krasno's weeping guitar, but the boys generally find a good balance, sometimes going the traditional jazz route and giving everyone a chance to shine on a single track (like on "Hat Trick," for example). This is fun, rockin' blues at its absolute best, and while there are a couple tracks that don't shine quite as bright as the best cuts, the record's 40 minutes contain no filler and plenty of killer.

I'm not much of a jazz junkie, but I imagine Up Here will have almost universal appeal, especially to those that appreciate intelligently composed and skilfully executed instrumental music. Even indie kids like me should have no trouble rocking out to this eclectic set. Eight albums in and Soulive show no signs of losing their edge.

Soulive on Myspace

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Review: Nurses - Apple's Acre (* * * 1/2)

A few weeks ago I got all excited about up and coming psychedelic pop/folk band Nurses, who caught my attention with the first single, "Caterpillar Playground," from their now recently-released debut album. The tune exemplifies what's best about the Portland duo of Aaron Chapman and John Bowers, who use a variety of instruments and off-kilter production to create strangely charming pop songs, often channeling several musical influences into their tunes but keeping the music quite unique to the band. Their new LP, Apple's Acre, is the work of men with plenty of ambition and some great ideas, and though the results aren't completely consistent, there's enough here to warrant serious attention.

The band revealed one of their highlights by giving "Caterpillar Playground" an early release, but they easily match its quality several places throughout Apple's Acre. Opener "Technicolor" and the bluesy, messy "Lita" are especially excellent, with manic vocal harmony over clanging piano and simple, steady drum beats. Like many of the record's most enjoyable songs, the two tunes are best appreciated through headphones or in a quiet room when you can hear the subtle nuances the band throw in to their music - a dash of synth here, some 'kitchen sink' percussion there - a little bit of everything but never enough to distract from the melody. The music is certainly never boring, and by the end of the psych-folk closer "Orange Cymbals," the group haven't exactly worn out their welcome, but you get the feeling that keeping the record at a trim 35 minutes was an intelligent choice.

Psychedelia's resurgence into the indie scene has felt a little tired of late, but though Nurses probably fall into that category, they avoid retreading old ground with their fairly novel approach, generally forgoing heavy, hazy guitar riffs and spaced-out vocals for a sort of piano-pop-meets-classic folk sound. With the addition of plenty of twists and turns stuffed into the ten brief tracks and some engaging (and occasionally bizarre) melodies, Nurses make Apple's Acre a solid debut from which they will hopefully build a successful career.

Caterpillar Playground (MP3)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Discographer: Wilco (via In Review Online)

Over at In Review Online is a look at the entire studio catalog of Wilco, which you can read in its entirety or you can check out the reviews written by yours truly, the debut A.M. and the inimitable Summerteeth. Links below:

Review - Melody A.M. (* * 1/2) From the ashes of famed country-folk band Uncle Tupelo, both Son Volt and Wilco emerged; the former led by the initial band’s front man, Jay Farrar, the latter by Jeff Tweedy. While the details behind Uncle Tupelo’s breakup aren’t entirely clear, the drama between the two artists resulted in a split that was anything but amicable. Bitterly going their separate ways, both of the singers formed new groups and released albums quickly – Wilco with A.M. and Son Volt with Trace. Though Uncle Tupelo fans were undoubtedly interested to see which record would be the stronger of the two, the band members themselves looked at the releases as a sort of rivalry as well. It quickly became evident by both popular and critical reception that A.M. wasn’t the quality of record Tweedy and company would need to get out from under their previous bandmate’s shadow. (Continue Reading...)

Review - Summerteeth (* * * * 1/2) Following their 1995 debut, A.M., Wilco didn’t so much evolve as they intentionally transformed, barely resembling their twangy former selves as they dove headlong into rock ‘n’ roll on 1996’s double album Being There and then, two years later, turned their attention to arty pop song writing, producing 1999's sprawling Summerteeth. Though the band had started as a fragment of the disbanded Uncle Tupelo, Wilco sought to distance themselves from their former incarnation; and by Summerteeth, any resemblance to the former group would have been slight if not imagined. The new approach was largely defined by the more integral role that multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett played in the creation of the album. In addition to playing guitar, keys, and occasionally bass and drums, Bennett was responsible for much of the pop-oriented production of frontman Jeff Tweedy’s material. However, and in light of arguments which transpired between Bennett and Tweedy during the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot sessions, it’s clear that Wilco's metamorphosis has always been driven chiefly by Tweedy's ambitions. (Continue Reading...)

MP3 Monday (Tuesday Edition): Imelda May, Music Go Music, AU, The Black Heart Procession

Once again I'm a little late on the feature, but I've got some great stuff here, so hopefully you'll forgive me.

Imelda May - Johnny Got a Boom Boom (zipped MP3)

Irish rockabilly singer/songwriter Imelda May is set to release her debut album, Love Tattoo, in the U.S. next week, an old-school blues/rock/jazz record that that has people across the pond talking, including guitar legend Jeff Beck. The first single and lead track, "Johnny Got a Boom Boom" is an excellent example of May and company's infectious rock 'n' roll sound. (MySpace)

Music Go Music - Warm in the Shadows (MP3)

Dance collective Music Go Music will be releasing their first LP Expressions, in October, but the band have released the first single well in advance, the nearly ten-minute electro-funk tune, "Warm in the Shadows." Get introduced now before all the hype kicks in for this legitimately exciting new group. (MySpace)

AU - Ida Walked Away (MP3)

This is the only song I've heard from Portland duo AU, but it's a strong first impression. The intricate percussion blended with the noisy, messy guitar on "Ida walked Away" is an intriguing combination and bodes well for the band's upcoming Versions EP, also due out in October. Take a listen and you, like me, will probably want to hear more. (MySpace)

The Black Heart Procession - Rats (MP3)

Another group I've only recently been introduced to, The Black Heart Procession make music befitting their name; dark, slinky rock that gets under your skin and stays there. "Rats" is the first single from the band's upcoming album, Six, an unimaginatively titled album but one I'm excited to hear nonetheless. (MySpace)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Review: Drug Rug - Paint the Fence Invisible (* * * 1/2)

The path of indie retro-rock has been well traveled recently by the likes of Cold War Kids, Dr. Dog, Delta Spirit and plenty of others, but though the genre can occasionally feel tired, there's enough fresh material being produced that I, for one, still don't mind hearing more. Tommy Allen and Sarah Cronin, recording and performing as Drug Rug, are the latest to catch my attention with their recently-released sophomore effort, Paint the Fence Invisible. The album is a brief and mostly effective blast of psych-infused pop music hearkening primarily back to the late 60s, though the songs feel modern enough to make the duo seem like more than just a pair of rip-offs. Looking back at their self-titled debut, it's obvious that the basic formula hasn't changed much for the band's latest outing, but the new record is more consistent, tuneful, and features slightly smoother production, all of which add to the quality of experience.

Near the beginning of the album, Drug Rug reveal their best work; both the driving "Haunting You" and the groovy, shimmering "Never Tell," showcase the group's appeal, with constant boy/girl harmonies and appropriately simple instrumentals including guitar, drums, and keys. The formula isn't unique but the band successfully employ it to create songs that are expressive, fun, and just hard to resist. Though the music often follows the upbeat standard set early in the proceedings, the band take the occasional stylistic detour that livens things up, though sometimes at the expense of the record's consistency. The rough squall of "Hannah Please" and the gently groovy "Sooner the Better" are among those tunes that add some welcome variation to the album, while the lengthier, denser psych-pop tune "Noah Rules" and the uneven rocker "Passes On" feel more like missteps, but the overall approach works better than it did on the group's less focused debut.

Mostly, Paint the Fence Invisible is an enjoyable summertime album that aims to please and hits the target more often than not. Drug Rug are talented musicians that know their way around a hook which keep the record interesting, and they're smart enough to know not to overstay their welcome, holding the record to a brief 31 minutes. In the future, the duo will certainly have to diversify their sound to stay relevant and fresh, but for now their light, breezy version of retro-rock is a more than welcome addition to the genre.