Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Review: The Twilight Sad - Forget the Night Ahead (* * * *)

Four-piece rock outfit The Twilight Sad are one of the foremost bands among what appears, to me at least, to be a recent explosion of Scottish rock 'n' roll acts emerging into the indie mainstream (for lack of a better term). That's not to say Scotland ever stopped producing noteworthy musical exports, but between this year and last, we've seen many young acts such as Glasvegas, Broken Records, and We Were Promised Jetpacks follow similar formulas - including big, loud guitars and even bigger-voiced singers - to similar amounts of acclaim and attention, especially in the UK. With their sophomore effort, Forget the Night Ahead, The Twilight Sad further establish their prominence among their peers with a strong set of songs that nearly reaches the bar set by their debut.

Though the band hasn't undergone any serious reinvention since a couple years ago, the music is decidedly darker and denser this time around, as well as slightly more polished, building on the already grandiose songwriting found on Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters. Songs like the dramatic "Made to Disappear" and the explosive "The Birthday Present" are good examples, with both the emotional intensity and production values taken up a notch or two for an arena-ready rock sound. And where their first album was obviously focused on memories from a miserable childhood, Forget the Night Ahead seems to deal with more adult concerns - though with singer/songwriter James Graham's frequently opaque lyrics, it can be difficult to tell exactly what's the matter. The feelings he conveys however - of regret, sadness, and longing - are clearly transferred from the band to the listener. It's not exactly difficult to imagine the despair behind lead single "I Became a Prostitute," shown as much through the group's characteristically bleak song titles as the combination of distorted guitars and desperate lyrics.

What looks on paper, and occasionally sounds in practice, to be the same stylistic approach used by many other bands is somehow more potent in the hands of The Twilight Sad. The boys seem to have a natural ability to create tension and genuinely dark emotion while rarely sounding over-dramatic or heavy handed. Their songs are dynamic, but not just in the start-quiet-end-loud kind of way. The layers of guitar build into fits of rage and then subside into muted melancholy, the drums enter as thunderous exclamation points at times and then stay absent for long stretches, and Graham's thickly accented voice is both charming and menacing throughout each tune. Also, some of these songs are just undeniably great; "I Became a Prostitute," "That Room," and "The Neighbour's Can't Breathe" are especially strong. Forget the Night Ahead is a clear avoidance of the sophomore slump and another solid addition to this exciting young band's small catalog.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Three for...Tuesday: Sissy Wish, Rose Melberg, A Hawk and a Hacksaw

Sissy Wish -

Siri Ålberg is Sissy Wish, a Swedish Singer/songwriter with a knack for danceable melodies and engagingly experimental music. I hadn't heard a thing about her until recently when I came across her new album, Beauties Never Die, and now I can't stop listening. The record is infectious and fun, hopping genres and combining them over the course of ten tracks, with Ålberg's uniquely high voice (almost whiny at times, really, but it works for her) confidently and eagerly spouting everything from pop ditties to dance anthems to lovely ballads. She fills her music with all sorts of instrumentation including unique percussion, layers of synth, and sweeping strings among the more standard guitar, bass, and keys. Each track is great, but the last three are particularly amazing: the punchy, funky "Dependence," the sparsely beautiful "Music On the Radio" and the fantastic, retro-pop-imbued "Book" for the grand finale. Beauties Never Die is among the best pop records I've heard this year - listen up.


Rose Melberg -

Folk songstress Rose Melberg has been a part of several bands I've not yet had the pleasure of hearing, including Tiger Trap, Go Sailor, and The Softies. If you're a fan of any of those groups, I suppose a new solo album from Melberg is great news, but even for those of us who haven't been introduced, Homemade Ship is very much worth a listen. Melberg's gentle, warm voice and intimate songwriting style over sparse, acoustic instrumentation makes for plenty of genuinely gorgeous moments on her new record and for folk junkies like myself, her charm is impossible to resist. Opener "Things That We Do" is a perfect example of her style, with only her acoustic guitar beneath her voice, occasionally double tracked for an ethereal effect, and a melody that's simply captivating. In fact, vocals and guitar are (with very few exceptions) the only noticeable instruments throughout the album's brief 32 minutes, but Melberg manages to keep things interesting for the record's duration by conveying a convincing array of emotion and depth. Other highlights are "Old Days," "Moon Singer," and "The Whistle Calling You," but each tune is worth your time.


A Hawk and a Hacksaw -

For many, A Hawk and a Hacksaw is not a new name, especially as it's been the main project of former Neutral Milk Hotel drummer Jeremy Barnes, but I imagine there are plenty of others who haven't yet actually heard the group's work and still need an introduction. Barnes and his collaborators make mostly instrumental music with a decidedly Eastern European feel, using accordion, violin and trumpet among other instruments I probably wouldn't be able to accurately identify. Their new record, Délivrance, may be the best I've heard from the band, a thoroughly entertaining display of virtuoso musicianship and progressive musical ideas combined with traditional European influences. The few vocal tracks on Délivrance are less interesting than when the group just let their instruments do the talking; the fiery, twisting "The Man Who Sold His Beard" and the quick stomp of "Turkiye" are particularly excellent. If you haven't before, now's the time to hear A Hawk and a Hacksaw.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Review: Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs (* * * 1/2)

If you’ve already read any reviews of Yo La Tengo’s twelfth studio album, you’re sure to have seen something like the following statement: Yo La Tengo has been around for a long time (25 years to be exact). And while that’s not exactly news, it’s actually worth mentioning – not only because it’s a remarkable accomplishment in and of itself, but because the band has been so incredibly consistent over the length of their career that any new material has a certain standard to live up. This past ten years the trio of Ira Kaplan, his wife Georgia Hubley, and James McNew have indeed continued to earn every bit of their considerable reputation, creating two excellent and acclaimed records (2000’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out and 2006’s I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass), one decent effort (2003’s Summer Sun), a compilation of film scores, and a garage-rock side project involving everyone in the band. (Continue Reading...)

Review: The Big Pink - A Brief History of Love (* * 1/2)

The Big Pink is a band following in the tradition of many a commercially successful brit-rock band. Like last year’s breakout act Glasvegas, The Big Pink have for about a year now been releasing singles (some in Japan only) and creating both a popular and critical frenzy in the process. They even won the Philip Hall Radar Award this year, the same honor Glasvegas received in 2008 at the NME Shockwave Awards, adding to the almost uncanny resemblance of the two bands' origin stories. And there are musical similarities as well; The Big Pink, comprised of multi-instrumentalists Robbie Furze and mil Cordell, make songs filled with thundering drums, walls of sound and epic choruses – though they often choose to substitute synthesizers for guitars and generally avoid Glasvegas’s melodramatic lyrical nature. I’ll stop with the comparisons; it’s obvious The Big Pink have leveraged themselves to an enviable position, making their debut album, A Brief History of Love, a release that's been almost impossible to ignore during these past few weeks. (Continue Reading...)


Review: Health - Get Color (* * * *)

Los Angeles quartet HEALTH's music is often labeled as a ‘noise-rock,’ but that’s oversimplifying to say the least, especially nowadays as the term continues to be questionably applied to current indie favorites such as Wavves or Japandroids. To be fair, though, it’s probably not laziness that inspires such frequently bland descriptions, but rather an inability to give any reference as to what the group’s sound may be compared. Indeed, HEALTH doesn’t make that easy; their explosive brand of rock n’ roll takes their instrumental attack to ear-assaulting levels with layers of manipulated sound and washed out vocals and can certainly be called noise, but their adventurous compositions and almost formless song structures put the band in a category all their own. With their true sophomore effort, Get Color, HEALTH follow their self-titled 2007 debut and its remixed companion album, 2008’s Health//Disco, with nine aggressively experimental tracks that expand the minimalist style of their earlier work while also achieving a more cohesive listening experience. (Continue Reading...)


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Review: Wild Beasts - Two Dancers (* * * *)

It's only been just over a year since Wild Beasts released their debut album, Limbo, Panto, which got a great deal of people - including myself - pretty excited about the young British quartet. Led by vocalist Hayden Thorpe, whose singular falsetto is both strange and thrilling, the group was truly one of 2008's most intriguing discoveries. So news of a sophomore effort so soon was a bit unexpected but certainly welcome, and though I've made no secret about my general wariness of new bands releasing albums with such little time in between, it's clear i had no need to worry in this case. Two Dancers doesn't so much present a huge leap forward for the group as it shows Wild Beasts tweaking their art-pop style - solidifying their sound and seeking for more cohesion over the course of an album. And it works, at least well enough to put these boys on a decidedly upward trajectory as far as musical maturity and craft are concerned.

Part of the new approach includes more time on the mic for bassist Tom Flemming, who only took the lead on a couple tracks on the band's debut. His appealingly dark baritone is a wonderful contrast to Thorpe's acrobatic vocals, and with more crossover between the two - the whole experience feels stronger and more consistently satisfying. The first single "All the King's Men" is a good example, with Flemming singing melody while Thorpe croons over and around him throughout, as is the two-part "Two Dancers," which both follow a similar pattern. Still, it's Flemming that shines brightest - especially on the gorgeous "We Still Got the Taste Dancin' On Our Tongues," a clear highlight. The music also a bit more restrained on the whole - perhaps as a result of the focus on quality over wild emotional expression, but though there's nothing so explosive or dramatic as "Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants" from Limbo, Panto, there's still enough theatricality here to keep fans happy and newcomers intrigued.

What's most assuring about Two Dancers is that while the album certainly has differences (and improvements) from the band's debut, the boys still sound appropriately confident in their unique sound. Thorpe's lyrics are still clever and often cheeky and the band's nimble instrumentation remains sharp and spacious, allowing room for the vocals to take their proper place front and center. Put simply - they know what makes them special and they embrace it. If you somehow missed these guys last year, don't make the same mistake now, this is a fantastic sophomore effort from a group you should know.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Three for...Friday: Real Ones, Alvin Band, The Ettes

Three more under the radar bands for you to know and love:


Real Ones -

Real Ones are a psychedelically-inclined indie pop quintet hailing from Bergen, Norway, which may not be a likely place to find a band that - according to their bio - incorporates styles from influences such as The Flaming Lips, Wilco, and The Band. Their folky Americana sound WAS a bit surprising to my ears given its origin, but the group make legitimately great rock 'n' roll music on their US debut, All for the Neighborhood, an album that I've been spending quite a bit of time with recently. What was especially ear-catching on first listen was Real Ones' combining of basic alt-country elements (guitar, banjo, piano) with a little bit of everything else (sweeping string arrangements, sitar, all sorts of percussion, etc.) resulting in a somewhat familiar but refreshingly varied set of tunes. Highlights from the record include the rock anthem "Outlaw," the plucky "Lonesome Town," and the bluesy pop song "Six in the Morning," but really is worth making your way through the whole thing. Check out a song from the album below!

Every Dog Has His Day


Alvin Band -

Alvin Band is the recording moniker for Miniature Tigers member Rick Alvin Schaier, who's side project is truly a one-man show. An a capella one to be exact, with Schaier singing songs over layers upon layers of his own voice providing the instrumentation. The music brings to mind both Beach Boys and Animal Collective (certainly not exclusive influences), and while that all may sound like a simple gimmick, it's anything but. His debut, Mantis Preying, is a truly exciting experimental record full of amazing pop hooks and delightfully strange wordplay that must be heard to be believed. In fact, when listening to tracks like the joyful, tropical "Temple Pressure" or the darkly funky "Lord of the Fly," you're likely to forget the novelty of the music and just get lost in the record's uniquely captivating slices of aural bliss. Seriously, check this out by downloading a track from the album below.

Temple Pressure
(zipped MP3)


The Ettes -

Coco Hames (vocals, guitar), Poni Silver (drums) and Jem Cohen (bass) are The Ettes, a punk-rock group originally from LA whose straightforward, hook-filled third album, Do You Want Power?, is out this week. I've heard a few Black Keys comparisons, and those seem to be at least somewhat appropriate as the band certainly has an ear for thick, scuzzy classic rock riffs, but they also throw in a few folky acoustic ballads which seem equally essential to their sound. Front woman Hames (with that seriously misleading first name) is impressive as she belts out both fiery insults ("Blood Red Blood") or lonesome pleas ("Love Lies Bleeding") with equally great results, and the rhythm section behind her stays sharp through it all. My personal favorites, aside from the highlights already mentioned, are "I Can Be Your Lover (But I Can't Be Your Baby)" and "No Home." Make sure to check this trio out asap.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Interview: Alison Sudol (A Fine Frenzy)

I recently had the opportunity to interview the lovely Alison Sudol, the talented signer/songwriter/pianist behind A Fine Frenzy. After we exchanged some greetings, we got down to the nitty gritty about her new album, touring, and future plans which you can read below. Enjoy!

Chewing Gum: Let’s talk about the new record first – Bomb in a Birdcage. In listening to your first album, One Cell in the Sea, and the new record – a lot has changed. Everything from the title to the cover to the music is very different – can you explain what you were hoping to accomplish with the new album?

Alison Sudol: Yeah, it’s super different. If anyone thought of themselves two years before and then added in traveling the world and having their lives changed and meeting so many new people, seeing so many musicians on the road, experiencing so much growth, moving away from home and being on the road – it’s not even a changing really, it’s just growing. And that’s how I feel about this album – all the things that came between the making of One Cell and the making of Bomb in a Birdcage just brought me to a different place -a really exciting place - and I knew what I wanted to do and what I wanted to be different and what I wanted to stay the same and that I wanted to have fun and I wanted the album to be lighter and more positive.

CG: Were there certain songs that led into the album and helped you establish what you wanted to do with the new record?

AS: Yeah, definitely “What I Wouldn’t Do.” Even though it wasn’t the first song chronologically, it was the first song that made me go, “Ok, I’m gonna make an album now, this is where we’re starting from.” And then I was heading towards making a pretty mellow folk record – very sweet, very spare, very folky – and then I wrote “Stood Up” and I thought, “What do I do with this?” But I also really wanted to be running around the stage and interacting with the audience. I’ve seen some great live shows and it’s so powerful to watch some of these singers and I thought, “I want to do that too,” and that shaped the arc of the album. It went from being really quiet to really loud and then we filled in the gaps in between.

CG: Do you have a favorite song from the album to perform?

AS: It changes every night because every audience is different and every time we play is different. Thankfully, otherwise playing the same songs every night would be torture, but every night it’s new and I get new things out of each tune. So it would be hard to say, one night it’s definitely a certain song and the next night that one was okay but I like THIS one better.

CG: How did you decide on the title for the album, Bomb in a Birdcage has a very different feeling than the more melancholy One Cell in the Sea.

AS: It’s a line from “What I Wouldn’t Do” – “With my heart ticking like a bomb in a birdcage I left before someone got hurt.” And that’s how I felt throughout making the whole album, this sort of weird fragile state that I was in just coming off of the road and not really knowing how to just “be” on a regular basis because I was all of a sudden home for a few months after I had been gone for so long and it was weird to interact. But at the same time, there was something uncompromising and explosive happening where I just felt like taking life by the horns and I’d never really felt like that before.

CG: How has touring been? You’ve been all over the world, which is obviously exciting. Do you like touring or is it just a necessity? What do you enjoy and what’s tough about it?

AS: I love touring; I’ve had some of the best moments of my life on tour. I’ve also had some of the worst. It’s like this incredible journey that you get to go on and you get to see amazing things. I mean, I can’t think of many people that get to go to as many cities as touring musicians get to go to. You don’t just go to the obvious tourist ones, you go everywhere and you see so many gems and meet so many interesting people. And to see a roomful of people so far away from home but so connected to each other and to you through music, it’s WOW, you know?

There’s also the flipside. I have a really strange diet where I don’t eat meat, so I eat fish and tofu, etc for health reasons and because I’m a big animal lover. And there are times when I’m in the middle of nowhere and I’m thinking “I’m just gonna eat a bun with some lettuce on it and some fries or something.” Or it’s lonely and I miss my family, my dog, my friends and if something upsetting happens on the road and I don’t want to talk to the band about it – that’s hard. And it’s tough being a girl amidst a bunch of guys all the time. But the cons don’t nearly outweigh the pros – you get to make music all over the world!

CG: Do you have a favorite spot that you’ve been to?

There are a few places. There’s a pop festival in Baden-Baden, Germany and we played this enormous venue there and it was marvelous – one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. And there’s a venue called the Kaufleuten in Zurich that’s also just spectacular and the audiences out there are really amazing. And then there’s a venue we played outside of Chicago with Rufus Wainright that’s amazing. So those are some of the spots but there are so many; pretty much every city has a spot whether it’s the venue or some other little gem.

CG: You’ve loved music for a long time and it’s obviously a passion for you, but when did you decided to pursue it as a career?

AS: Well I had sort of decided when I was 15 that I wanted to be a singer, but I think I didn’t really full decide to be a musician until I was 19 and I had started to play piano which I hadn’t done before. I wrote “Almost Lover” and a couple other songs that were on One Cell and then I felt like I could do it – actually do the whole thing. And it still took me a few years to figure out how to achieve the kind of music I wanted to make and it was all a process, but I committed at 19.

CG: Was there a moment when you knew that you had figured out how to do what you want, to really make it?

AS: Well, through the whole first album I thought, “Whoa, what’s going on” and then making the second one was when I was like, “All of this happened and it’s great and now you can choose what you want to do with your career and where you want to take it because you can go in a lot of different ways.” It wasn’t like a ‘knock you over the head’ moment, it was kinda subtle.

CG: Do you have anything in the future that you’re hoping to do? Or are you just taking opportunities as they come and making the most of it?

AS: It’s making the most of opportunities. I wrote a book last year and I’m looking forward to editing and releasing that. The rest of it is an adventure – but I want to make as much music as I possibly can; I think that will drive everything. And also to put on the best show that we can and enjoy the process!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Double Feature: Joshua James - Live Review

Concert Review: Joshua James w/ Cory Chisel - Velour (Provo, UT)

I was especially excited to see Joshua James play as I hadn't seen him perform in quite some time, and with the venue just minutes from my house, the opportunity was really too good to not take advantage of. The Velour is a small indie venue that plays mostly local and regional acts, James being perhaps the biggest name to come through in several months. The space is fairly small but it's more often cozy than cramped, and they artsy decorations add a nice bit of ambiance to the place. On this particular evening, the crowd took a while to fill in and it never got too claustrophobic unless you stuffed yourself up front.

My date and I chose to give ourselves some space from the throng and waited for the opening act - Cory Chisel & the Wandering Sons - to take the stage. I'd heard little about Cory Chisel, but it was enough to make me excited to see him perform live. From the first song, he greatly exceeded my modest expectations and he and his talented band played a strong set. Their Southern-influenced rock 'n' roll was better live even than the few recorded songs I heard, ranging from upbeat anthems to lonesome country ballads, all equally impressive. The crowd was gracious and warmed up quickly to the group, who struck a good balance between on-stage banter and getting through their set quickly enough to get everyone to the headliner.

And when Joshua James came on stage - the feeling in the room changed considerably. Despite all the equipment placed around him, James entered alone with his old acoustic guitar in the complete darkness - though a red light soon gave the room an eerie glow. He opened with a set of three songs I hadn't actually heard, which meant that they weren't on either of his full-length releases or included in the handful of non-album cuts I have. But each was beautiful and characteristically melancholy, a mood which prevailed through his entire set - even when the band joined Joshua on stage and the lights became brighter. James did seem to have a good time on a couple of the group's more aggressive rockers like "Black July" and "Coal War," both of which showcased the group's skill and James's ability to really let loose, though he had an ever better time covering The Doors' "People are Strange" which was absolutely fantastic.

Through both the contemplative folk songs and the louder numbers, James was captivating - his emotional intensity creating an electric atmosphere in the room and the crowd was entranced for the entire set. Eventually, the band exited the stage and left their front man to close out the set like it began, with some solo acoustic numbers including a couple personal favorites - "In the Middle" from the new album and "Lovers Without Love," a b-side from his debut. Again, James created a sense of intimacy and closeness that I've experienced very few times at a show like this, and by the time he was finished, it almost felt wrong to applaud so reverent was the setting. Yet we cheered anyway - and loudly, and even though the band's encore was only one song, the heartbreaking "Dangerous," it was certainly a welcome few more minutes we all got to spend with this enigmatic but personable performer.

All-in-all, Saturday night was a great evening that at least met and probably exceeded what I had expected from both bands - I highly recommend the experience for fans of either group or even if you just want a good rock show. If you haven't been introduced, links are below to their MySpace pages, which should include tour dates as well.

Joshua James - MySpace

Cory Chisel - MySpace

Cory Chisel photo by St. Vincent Skeltis

Double Feature: Joshua James - Album Review

Album Review: Build Me This (* * * *)

Provo, Utah is not exactly the entertainment capital of the West, but it's where I and many others discovered the songwriting talent of folk artist Joshua James - a native of Nebraska who found some success here, as unlikely as that seems, and has been steadily expanding his influence ever since. James released one of my favorite folk albums of 2007, his debut entitled The Sun Is Always Brighter - which received more than a little deserved acclaim - and now he's back with an even more accomplished and impressive effort, Build Me This. By opening up the mostly solemn and withdrawn sound of his debut to included a bigger helping of rock 'n' roll, James covers more territory with convincing ease and emotionally powerful results on this sophomore effort, which again belies his youth (25 years old) with a remarkable sense of maturity and world-weary wisdom.

From the opening lines of the gospel-tinged "Coal War," it's clear that James has a more ambitious aim in mind for Build Me This. "Ain't cuttin' my hair 'till the good Lord comes," he sings - at first alone and then with several more voices backed my foot stomps and hand claps before the guitars and drums kick in for a full-fledged rock tune that shifts from moments of fiery indignation to melancholy musing and back again. Already he's set the bar higher for himself - and he doesn't disappoint throughout the rest of the record. The organ and piano-heavy "Magazine," the politically charged "Mother Mary," and his most intense tune yet, "Black July" show a different side of James during the album's first half than we've seen before , and it's electrifying. Of course, there are several of the melancholy folk ballads that filled his debut, like the lonesome yet sweet "In the Middle" and a bittersweet search for redemption, "Lawn Full of Marigolds," that's particularly heartbreaking. But even during the album's more sedate second half, the songs rarely stay quiet as James continues to add emphasis to to his songwriting with music that frequently expands into a bigger, noisier climaxes from their modest beginnings. "Daniel" starts with a haunting organ under Joshua's unique high tenor voice before erupting into a mess of keys, drums, and guitars for a forceful chorus, while "Wilted Daisies" opens as a simple, bouncy folk tune and ends as an anthematic rocker.

As a songwriter, James is still obsessed with religious quandaries, social change, and his personal demons, but he generally avoids cliches, preferring detailed narratives to simple, relatable declarations. His intense personality and vivid imagery are frequently captivating and set him apart from his more tame folk-rock contemporaries. Also, most everything he tries lyrically and musically on Build Me This works quite well, resulting in songs that are usually an improvement on his previous material and creating a diverse and intriguing set of tracks to dig into and explore. Once again, Joshua James has crafted an album that easily competes with the best folk music that the year has to offer - you don't want to pass this up.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Three for...Monday: Special Patrol, One Eskimo, Monogold

No reason to keep my new "Three for..." feature to Thursdays just for alliteration's sake, so here are three more bands I highly recommend:

Special Patrol -

I don't know much about Australian indie rock group Special Patrol (second Aussie group in a row for this feature, by the way), but while I can't give you much background, the music fortunately speaks for itself. The band recently released a new album last month entitled The Stranger's Dozen, a set of ten tracks of hook-filled, alt-rock music that's consistently compelling and fun. The boys generally keep things on the lighter, mellower end of the spectrum - but there's a lot of subtle variation here to make the 35 minutes interesting throughout. "In Between You and Me" opens things with an acoustic guitar and hand claps under singer Myles Mayo's earnest yet restrained delivery, while "Right On" features a choir of children and elegant strings to an equally impressive end. Other highlights include the groovier "New Year's Eve" and the countrified "My Reason," though as The Stranger's Dozen contains no actual weak moments - the entire album is highly recommended.

Download "Right On" and "New Year's Eve" HERE.


One EskimO -

One EskimO is a British band led by singer/songwriter Kristian Leontiou who has made a good first impression across the pond and who will be releasing his self-titled debut album tomorrow here in the States (9/22). The band's style is a kind of spacey folk sound that revolves around acoustic guitars, keys, trumpet, and simple percussion which usually leaves plenty of room for Leontiou's smooth, emotive tenor voice. Much of the new record is light and charming, like the atmospheric ballad "Astronauts," the delicately funky "Simple Day," and the carefree "All Balloons." However, while the group seems to specialize in heart-on-sleeve lyrics and somewhat sappy love songs - there's a darker side to One EskimO as well. "Given Up" is decidedly more gloomy and dramatic, and "UFO" explores heavier territory as well. These moments add some depth and texture to the album, resulting in another strong debut this year that's certainly worth exploring.


Monogold -

Brooklyn trio Monogold caught my attention recently with their new EP, We Animals, an engrossing 25 minutes of psychedelically-tinged indie pop. The band mix the haunting reverbed vocals of Grizzly Bear with a noisier, messier rock approach featuring guitars, bass, synths, and both organic and programmed percussion. They cover quite a bit of territory on We Animals, from upbeat rockers "Dead Sea Minerals" and "Foxglove" to the eerie, disconnected moments like "Pines" and closer "Yellow Blue June," making the most of their simple sonic palette and making me interested to see what the band accomplishes in the future. Definitely an 'under the radar' sort of band you would do well to get to know soon.

MySpace (listen to the entire new EP!)

Review: The Cave Singers (* * * 1/2)

Though The Cave Singers gained initial notoriety as an offshoot of art-punk group Pretty Girls Make Graves (and to a lesser extent Murder City and Hint Hint), it didn’t take long for their debut album, Invitation Songs, to make a deeper impression. I found myself only marginally drawn in to the band’s folky Americana style – uncharacteristic of their lineage – and while much of the critical reception reflected my lukewarm reaction, I never stopped hearing about the band during the last six months of 2007, as the boys quickly built a sizable fan base. The appeal certainly wasn’t difficult to hear; The Cave Singers make the kind of classic folk revival music that I’m typically a sucker for, with gritty tenor vocals, acoustic guitars and simple percussion providing a familiar but welcome template for the world-weary, quasi-religious songwriting that is at least decent and often better, even if the lyrics sometimes feel a bit tired. Though the music on their debut is consistently enjoyable, there isn't really anything new there, as Invitation Songs continues to sound like its stocked with lesser versions of preexisting songs, providing little that's novel or unique. Likewise Welcome Joy, a record that doesn’t really have much wrong with it, especially at first listen. In fact, the new album can be seen in some respects as a marked improvement for the band. (Continue Reading...)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Three for Thursday: Dappled Cities, Pictureplane, The Drums

Considering the oodles of great bands deserving your attention, I'm going to try and increase the number of acts that get featured here on my site. I only have so much time to write, so I figured I would introduce a new feature on Thursdays that showcases three bands/artists I think you should hear:

Dappled Cities -

Dappled Cities are an Australian indie group that have just recently released their third album, playfully titled Zounds. So they aren't exactly brand new, like many of the artists I might feature in this kind of spot, but they've flown under the radar enough that - chances are - you haven't heard about them yet. If you have, you'll know why I'm eager to get the word out; Dappled Cities have an infectious indie rock style that combines big vocals, sweeping strings, and rockin' guitar riffs with a big nod to 80s pop and an electronic twist. Their new record is an excellent showcase of what they do best - most especially on the "The Price," which features soaring string arrangements and a danceable drum/guitar combination, and "Answer is Zero," a more ballad-esque tune filled with detailed synth and beautiful harmony. I've got links below if you feel like (legally) hunting down both of the aforementioned tunes, but you should at least check out the band on MySpace.

The Price (MP3 via Spinner)

Answer is Zero
(MP3 via Stereogum - you have to sign up for "The Gumdrop" to get this one, but it's a very non-invasive email list)

Pictureplane -

Pictureplane is the recording and performing moniker of one Travis Egedy, an electronic musician and singer who has recently received some nods around the 'net for his sophomore effort, Dark Rift. Egedy's style is a sort of hazy electro-rock that's fits somewhere between bedroom pop and club-ready dance music, with a blend of synthetic instrumentation, samples, and his own frequently blurred voice creating a sound that's difficult to describe and quite unique to him. The new record is a beguiling set of 13 tracks stretched over 55 minutes and covering all kinds of territory, and it's mostly spectacular. Personal favorites include the sexy, thumping "Gang Signs," the spychedelia-meets-techno of "5th Sun" and the more noise-rock-esque "Cyclical Cyclical (Atlantis)," but I imagine I'll have new tracks to rave about tomorrow - it's just that kind of album. Make sure you take the time to give Pictureplane a listen, Travis Egedy is going places and you'll do well to follow him.

Goth Star (MP3 via Pitchfork)

Trance Doll (MP3 via Pitchfork)

MySpace (it's a mess)

The Drums -

There seems to be a pattern this year involving bands releasing summer-worthy music a bit late in the season, and none typifies this better than Summertime!, the debut EP from The Drums. Their appropriately titled new album, released earlier this week, brings together shimmery indie pop and an obsession with the classic, fun-in-the-sun surf culture for a catchy, sunny, and energetic 21 minutes. The group's youthful spirit is familiar and their subject matter is kept fairly light and simple (girls, sun, surf...that's about it), but their ode to everything summertime is fresh and fun. Opener "Saddest Summer" is anything but mopey, with hyperactive guitar and drum lines keeping singer Jonathan Pierce's lyrics from sounding even mildly troubled, while "Let's Go Surfing" rocks a simple, frantic bass riff and background whistles for the perfect accompaniment to the activity in question. Consider extending your sunny season this year with Summertime!

Let's Go Surfing (MP3 via RCRD LBL)


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Review: Soulsavers - Broken (* * * *)

For their third album, the UK production duo of Rich Machin and Ian Glover, also known as Soulsavers, once again collaborate with Mark Lanegan (of Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age fame) for a dark, brooding album that takes the band's rock 'n' roll leaning even further. The guitars are more prominent, the songs fuller and richer, and Lanegan is in fine form here with his haunting baritone (something like a cross between Mark Knopfler and Nick Cave) taking the lead on most cuts, though Australian newcomer Red Ghost lends her vocals to a few tracks as do Mike Patton and Jason Pierce, among others. Soulsavers have continued to keep a fairly low profile, but they've also earned a decent amount of critical acclaim over the past few years, and Broken's gritty Americana sound seems to have earned the band more recognition this time around than ever before. It's not difficult for me to hear why; the sprawling (over an hour long) set of 13 tracks is an enthralling listen that has quickly become one of my favorite rock records this year.

Perhaps the most spotlighted tune on Broken is the epic, piano-led ballad "You'll Miss Me When I Burn," sung by Lanegan but written but alt-country mainstay Will Oldham. It definitely deserves recognition as one of the record's strongest songs, with its gently rolling piano and string combination giving the album a few minutes of unexpected poignancy, but there's plenty more to enjoy here aside from Oldham's notable contribution. After a brief instrumental opener, the album begins with two of its more aggressive numbers, the raw, smoldering "Death Bells" and the scuzzy "Unbalanced Pieces," both delightfully dark rock songs that start things off on a decidedly high note with the aforementioned ballad and the eight-minute, grandiose "Some Misunderstanding. For a duo often described as production or electronic artists, Machin and Glover give Broken a very organic quality, combining live percussion, strings, guitars, and synthetic instrumentation seamlessly and to great effect, with special attention payed to each detail. As a result, the heavier moments truly hit hard for a lasting impression while the album's many relatively delicate tracks are appropriately majestic and often quite gorgeous.

After a fantastic first half, the record flags a bit during the second, not in quality but mostly in its decidedly slower pace. A couple songs, such as "Praying Ground" have much less to offer than the album's best, and though there are no real 'weak spots' here, Broken may have been even more spectacular with a bit more editing. Still, when you consider the amount of truly impressive music on the record, it's easy to forgive its imperfections and simply enjoy the immense, absorbing monolith of rock 'n' roll that Soulsavers have constructed. It's soulful, ambitious, and exquisitely crafted - creating as genuinely satisfying a rock 'n' roll experience as I've had in some time.

Soulsavers on MySpace

Monday, September 14, 2009

Review: A Fine Frenzy - Bomb in a Birdcage (* * * 1/2)

Alison Sudol, recording and performing as A Fine Frenzy, captured my attention a couple years ago with the release of her debut album, One Cell in the Sea. The piano-playing songstress has a lovely voice and a knack for writing captivating melodies that made her difficult to ignore despite the explosion of like-minded female singer/songwriters over the past few years. Sudol's new record, Bomb in a Birdcage, takes her in a different, and decidedly pop-oriented direction - showing a stronger, sexier side of A Fine Frenzy than we've heard before. Even the album covers tell the story, the first showing the red-haired twenty-something looking coyly down at her feet, the second placing her in a more aggressive pose - eyes fixed on the camera and lips seemingly ready for the kiss. The 11 tracks of her sophomore effort occasionally hold to her previously delicate piano balladry, but allow for plenty of expansion into more adventurous areas of pop and even rock 'n' roll with some exciting results.

First singles usually seem a good place to start, and "Blow Away" certainly showcases the evolution of A Fine Frenzy's sound. It's a bouncy, guitar-led piece that kicks the album into high gear, with Sudol's strong, smooth voice soaring joyfully in a chorus that's as catchy as anything I've heard this year. Her characteristic piano is here either buried by the other instrumentation or simply non-existent, but you won't miss it. Her instrument of choice DOES appear more often than not, but even then there's usually quite a bit going on in addition (all kinds of percussion, guitars, strings, woodwinds, etc.), which helps give Bomb in a Birdcage more stylistic range and emotional variation than her debut. The songs are often excellent, like the breezy, yet bittersweet "Bird of the Summer" and the heartbreaking "Swan Song," and even though some tunes don't seem as suited to her talents ("Electric Twist," for example), Sudol's more exploratory spirit makes for an enjoyable and fun experience as a whole.

Bomb in a Birdcage does sacrifice some consistency for experimentation's sake, but there's nothing here so out of place that it distracts much from the best material - which is plentiful. And by cutting nearly 20 minutes off the length of her debut (leaving behind some of the pleasant, but less interesting mid-tempo piano rock), Sudol makes her sophomore album both more interesting and manageable. It all feels like a necessary step for A Fine Frenzy and for Alison, who proves herself a versatile and ambitious young artist with the kind of restlessness that bodes well for her career down the line.

You can hear a good chunk of the album on her MySpace page if you're interested - which you should be.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Concert Review: fun. @ Kilby Court (SLC)

For their first stop on their headlining tour, frontman Nate Ruess and company (Andrew Dost of Anathallo, Jack Antonoff of Steel Train and a couple others) were met with a sold out crowd at one of Salt Lake City's most beloved (and tiny) indie venues - Kilby Court. This was my first experience in the garage-turned-concert hall (mostly just an empty shed with speakers), but at least a couple of the band members had been through before, which wasn't surprising given their involvement with other projects. A good setup so far, but while they were definitely the band the crowd was there to see, they had to do without openers Miniature Tigers - who were very unfortunately deterred by van problems and unable to make it. By the time fun. started, a very antsy group awaited them, most having stuffed themselves into position an hour or so before the music began. To be honest, fun. is such a newly formed group that I hadn't heard a thing about their live performances, so I didn't know exactly what to expect.

30 seconds into the show, however, and it became clear that any reservations on my part were unfounded; it was also clear that the crowd came well prepared. As Ruess began the first lines of the first number, "Be Calm," it seemed as if everyone in the place not only recognized the song, but knew it by heart - despite the fact that the band's debut album had been released less than two months ago (even the band looked impressed!). What followed was something like a frenetic sing-a-long in which the band and audience connected like I'd never seen before. The boys (and girl) on stage were sharp, with Ruess flailing around with the mic, squarely hitting even the highest notes (and that's saying something) while the rest stayed busy behind him on keys, drums, bass, guitar and more, easily making up for the lack of orchestration found throughout most of the album cuts. The leaner versions of the songs were just as energetic and lively, and whenever Ruess needed a backing choir - the crowd was there to help him out. At one point, during "Barlights," he ambitiously had the audience singing THREE distinct parts, and what's more spectacular is that it actually worked, creating an atmosphere that was nothing short of euphoric.

fun. played through their entire debut (ten songs), an appropriate Format cover ("The First Single") and one new number, which was the only three minutes during which Ruess was able to sing alone. Highlights from the evening included the single from the debut record, "At Least I'm Not as Sad (As I Used to Be)," "Walk the Dog" and their two-song encore, the intimate and romantic "The Gambler," and finally "Take Your Time Coming Home." An hour didn't feel long enough, but the band didn't exactly have much more material to play, so we had to be satisfied with what we were given - and despite its brevity, I think everyone felt their $10 had been well earned. I hadn't had such a fun (pun intended, but accurate) time at a show in quite a while and was left with a renewed belief in the power of pop music - I highly recommend fun. to you as fantastic live act.

I won't provide you with any of the pictures I took as I couldn't get a decent shot (or really even see the band most of the time), but you can take a look at the set list below, and see their MySpace page for tour dates.

1. Be Calm
2. Benson Hedges
3. I Wanna Be the One
4. Walking the Dog
5. Stitch Me Up (New Song)
6. The First Single (Format Cover)
7. Light a Roman Candle With Me
8. All the Pretty Girls
9. At Least I'm Not as Sad (as I Used to Be)
10. Barlights


11. The Gambler
12. Take Your Time (Coming Home)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

In Review Online: Unheard Of #1

This is a feature I will start doing for In Review Online every so often. Some of these bands have been featured on the site before - some have not, but they're all worth checking out.

For indie music enthusiasts, discovery is what drives us, especially as modern technology makes it so much easier for artists to create and disseminate music to the masses. While you could argue that the magic of finding your new favorite band is lessened by the simple fact that it can happen multiple times a week, the abundance of cheap, high quality music so readily available has created opportunities for both musicians and music lovers alike that never existed previously. Still, it’s impossible to find all the “good stuff,” even by following tastemaker websites, perusing internet radio, or keeping company with fellow junkies – there’s just not enough time in the day to hear it all. And, as fun as it is to discover new and notable musical talent around the web, it’s almost as enjoyable sharing what you’ve found and discussing (or even arguing) about the band’s legitimacy as “the next big thing.” No longer is it hip (as long as you’re older than 16) to keep your musical treasures to yourself; if you’ve found a diamond in the rough it’s your solemn obligation to make it heard! In this spirit, I’m presenting five artists or bands that I feel are worthy of your attention and that I’m guessing you haven’t heard before – so take a look and a listen and let me know what you think. (Full Article)

Featured Bands:


Holiday Shores

Sonya Cotton