Friday, November 27, 2009

Three for...Friday: Golden Shoulders, Olafur Arnalds, General Elektriks

If you aren't too busy hitting the stores today for your Christmas shopping, check out these three fine artists/bands that may have escaped your attention thus far:

Golden Shoulders -

California indie-rockers Golden Shoulders are another of those bands that have flown under the radar for much of their 7-year existence. Their third album, Get Reasonable, has received more attention than their previous work, and for good reason, it's a solid rock record with slight retro leanings and an almost punk attitude that provides some undeniably great tunes. First single and opening track "Mountain" (available below) is a fine introduction that fits squarely in the middle of the band's sound. It's driven and rockin' one moment, then jangly and soulful the next, with singer/songwriter Adam Kline's scruffy tenor voice (like a rougher Brendan Benson or maybe that guy from SR-71) leading the way. In fact, Kline is really the only permanent member of this rotating cast - which at one time included the great Joanna Newsom - though it seems as if the band has congealed somewhat lately. But that hasn't stopped Get Reasonable from being an enjoyable varied selection of songs in which Kline shines brightest, creating unassuming yet compelling highlights like the spacey ballad "Golden States" and the power-pop track "Unconcerned Is Not Impressive Anymore."



Ólafur Arnalds -

I recently discovered Icelandic artist Ólafur Arnalds at almost exactly the time when I found out about fellow Icelander Ólöf Arnalds (who I featured recently over at In Review Online). The two names were so similar I did a double take, but the musicians have very differing styles and both are excellent. Ólafur Arnalds is a multi-instrumentalist that has apparently been involved in a variety of projects over the years, but currently creates beautiful instrumental music under his own name. His latest, a short album entitled Found Songs, was released a song at a time on Twitter with artwork from fans contributed through Flikr, a neat gimmick but one that isn't nearly as impressive as the music itself. Arnalds' intricate yet mostly simple neo-classic arrangements are striking, with delicate piano and stirring strings serving as his primary compositional elements, at least on this album. From the solitary piano of opener "Erla's Waltz" to the hopefully-hued violin duet "Ljósið," Arnalds casts a spell of quiet contemplation that consistently conveys more emotion than you might expect possible from such a restrained style. Truly beautiful.

Ólafur Arnalds - Ljósið (Official Music Video) from Erased Tapes on Vimeo.


General Elektriks -

Listening to the latest album from General Elektriks, Good City for Dreamers, it's not immediately clear that the project is the work of one man named Hervé “RV” Salters, a French national with a thing for vintage keyboards and danceable pop tunes. His sophomore effort is an eclectic mix of synth-rock, funk and R&B that sounds like it would have of necessity been inspired by more than just one man's musical influences. A look at his list of favorite albums - ranging from The Beatles' Revolver to The Beastie Boys' Check Your Head to Marvin Gaye's Here My Dear - may give his far-reaching approach some context, but the breadth of styles RV comes up with on Good City is head-spinning. There's groovy white-boy funk ("Take Back the Instant"), drowsy psychedelic ballads ("Cottons of Inertia"), and bits of dark retro-pop ("Rebel Sun") that somehow combine to form a whole that's still consistently satisfying. In addition to RV's signature keyboard playing, he uses string and horn arrangements, electric guitars, and even - on "Helicopter" - a children's choir to give life to these fun, fresh tunes. Definitely recommended for those indie kids who prefer the more dance-inspired side of the genre.

Take Back the Instant (MP3)


Monday, November 23, 2009

Review: Memory Tapes - Seek Magic (* * * *)

If you’ve never heard of Dayve Hawk, the lone man behind Memory Tapes, you’re sure to be in the vast majority. In fact, it almost seems as if Hawk purposefully decreases his chances at fame or any sort of personal recognition by obfuscating his name behind a variety of monikers, while producing similar music under each of them. The title Memory Tapes is itself a combination of two of Hawk’s other project names: Weird Tapes and Memory Cassette. For now it seems he’ll be sticking with this moniker, unloading a near-constant stream of musical output. You’ll nevertheless be hard-pressed to find much background info on Hawk, as even his blog is short on personal history, but it’s constantly updated with free singles, b-sides and oodles of remixes (including a version of Yeasayer’s new single, “Ambling Alp”). That music has always been consistently entertaining and interesting, but nothing ever really coalesced into a concrete album until now. His Memory Tapes debut, Seek Magic, feels both complete and significant as a true debut for this talented young artist. (Continue Reading at In Review Online)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Review: Julian Casablancas - Phrazes for the Young (* * *)

Whatever it was that caused The Strokes to go on indefinite hiatus in 2006, it looks to have not effected the individual members' capacity to create new music. Frontman Julian Casablancas is the fourth artist of The Strokes' quintet to release a post-Strokes record, joining guitarist Albert Hammond Jr., who's released two full-lengths during the band’s three-year-and-counting break. And while Hammond found success in retaining some of his band’s signature rock ‘n’ roll tendencies (albeit often with less bombast and more variety), drummer Fabrizio Moretti and bassist Nikolai Fraiture went in decidedly different directions. The former combined forces with Los Hermanos’ Rodrigo Amarante to create a charming, relaxed pop album under the name Little Joy, while Fraiture’s Nickel Eye side-project (decidedly the least interesting of the these off-shoots) is more folk-rock in nature. Each release has arrived with an inherent measure of hype, given its association with one of the decade’s most explosive young rock bands, but none has suffered the weight of expectation quite like Phrazes for the Young. (Continue Reading at In Review Online)


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Review: Hurricane Bells - Tonight is the Ghost (* * * 1/2)

So New York alt-rockers Longwave aren't exactly superstars in either the mainstream or indie community, but they're well-known and respected enough that you'd think if singer/songwriter/guitarist Steve Schiltz had decided to make a solo album, we'd have heard something about it. However, Schiltz created his new record almost completely in secret, writing, playing, recording and producing the entire project by himself before he let anyone know about it. In fact, there's a good chance you first heard his new moniker, Hurricane Bells, on the new Twilight movie soundtrack, which features a non-album track from Schiltz that should do wonders for getting his project off the ground. His solo debut, Tonight is the Ghost, has been recently released digitally and with almost no warning, possibly in order to capture the hype surrounding the soundtrack, but the record actually holds up very well on its own merit both as a DIY project and as an addition to the Longwave catalog, especially if you're a fan of the band in the first place.

In his primary gig, Schiltz's guitar usually spoke louder than his voice, with monstrous riffs and stellar solos packed into most every tune. But while he's a gifted shredder, and seemingly can't help himself on occasion here, Tonight is the Ghost has a more organic, almost folk-like edge to it than most of Longwave's previous material. Even when he takes some time to let loose and throw out a solo or turn up the distortion, everything sounds relatively grounded and simplified, which adds to the music's appeal. Mostly, Schiltz uses his signature instrument (often acoustic) to add texture and variety without relying on all his old tricks, though you're likely to recognize his electrifying handiwork on cuts like "The Winters in New York." As if to prove that this will not be business as usual, though, Schiltz kicks things off with a bit of dreamy pop on "This Year," which starts small and slowly grows into a rush of percussion and guitar before subsiding. Despite it's grandiosity, the track is refreshingly intimate and a little rough, as are other highlights like the spacey ballad "Tonight I'm Going to be Like a Shooting Star" or the driven yet gentle "Freezing Rain." It's this unrefined and personal quality that makes the album work as it does. Schiltz isn't really reinventing himself, he's just aiming for "epic" less often - and it suits him.

Tonight is the Ghost probably isn't strong enough to get Longwave fans comfortable with the idea that this could be a more permanent project, but despite its slight unevenness, the album is more interesting than just as a showcase for Schiltz's considerable musical talent (though it's certainly convincing in that way). The stylistic variance and raw, emotive nature of the music makes this an engaging album, one that was obviously labored over and carefully executed, but not over-thought or overdone, an accomplishment which seems altogether rare these days. Also, given the lack of foreknowledge we had about it, Tonight is the Ghost feels like a welcome surprise for Longwave fans and the uninitiated alike.

This Year (MP3)


Friday, November 20, 2009

@In Review Online: Unheard Of #3

The third installment of my "Unheard Of" column is up at In Review Online. As usual, it features some artists I've already covered along with some I haven't. I'll post some links below, but for the full article and free songs, check out the full thing HERE.

Will Stratton -
"...over the course of two records - particularly No Wonder - he's demonstrated a steadily increasing level of maturity and brought greater depth to his songwriting"

Lissie -
"Maurus' strong, slightly weathered voice aligns her with the likes of late-period Joan Baez or even Stevie Nicks, as does her emotive lyricism and all-encompassing folk style"

Capybara -
"'s the songwriting that really shines here; simple yet arresting melodies, constant harmonies and intriguing song structures combine to form many great moments on the record."

Brooke Waggoner -
"She uses her talents to compose intricate, elegant songs that primarily feature sweeping orchestral arrangements underpinning her signature instrument, a lovely, emotive voice."

Ólöf Arnalds -
"Arnalds' sound is like a cross between Sigur Ros and Joanna Newsom, as she makes mostly stark, acoustic music to compliment her high, almost childlike voice."

Full Article

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Three for...Thursday: Sleep Whale, The Dø, Bellflur

I apologize for my online absence - but there's some good stuff coming - I promise. That includes this selection of three noteworthy new artists of course:

Sleep Whale -

After a beautiful debut EP and an equally strong full-length both released this year, it was clear to me that Sleep Whale (originally known as Mom) were a band worthy of mention here. The (almost) entirely instrumental Little Brite EP (first released in 07) showed a band that could build gorgeous soundscapes that were both unique and accessible - utilizing guitar, cello, and various field recordings and digital effects. From this base they expanded their sound to include more vocal and percussive elements among other things on their first LP , Houseboat, which was just recently unveiled. At first I balked a bit at the transition to songs that were um, more song-like and slightly less abstract, but Sleep Whale's latest retains what made them special in the first place while showing remarkable growth in a brief period of time. Plenty of the tracks hearken back to the band's earliest work - like the thoughtful "Roof Sailing" or the shimmering "Icicles," but the vocal-led tunes are just as engaging, especially the appropriately watery "We Were Dripping." This is lovely, almost otherworldly stuff sure to captivate any willing to let it sink it.

Josh Likes Me (MP3) - from Little Brite

Cotton Curls (MP3) - from Houseboat


The Dø -

The Dø is a French duo comprised of Olivia Merilahti and Dan Levy, who wrote, recorded and produced their debut album, A Mouthful. The record is notable for several reasons, one being that this is the first album by a French band performing in English to reach #1 on the French music charts, which is impressive. But the music itself warrants even higher praise. The Dø are difficult to categorize as they are almost schizophrenic in their stylistic variance, ranging from twee-pop ("Playground Hustle") to tribal chants ("Unissassi Laulelet") to almost MIA-esque rap ("Queen Dot Kong") and utilizing everything from a choir of children to every percussive instrument you could name to support Merilahti's yearning, child-like voice. So the album may not be for those who prefer consistency, but for the adventurous there's plenty to love here - A Mouthful is one of this year's most joyfully exploratory pop albums. Highlights will probably depend on individual taste, but for me the three best tunes are the dark, poppy "On My Shoulders," the ukulele-led ballad "Stay (Just a Little Bit More)" and the more aggressive "Tammie."


Bellflur -

Washington DC band Bellflur first caught my attention with a song entitled "Grey Sparkle Finnish Pig," which I admit just made me curious initially but ended up making a very good first impression. The group has been around since 2001 and have released several albums, the latest of which is an EP called Last Quarter of the 20th Century Blues. If you, like me, haven't heard about the band before, I recommend get acquainted by taking a listen to their new record, which is a dreamy, psychedelic collection of tunes with post-rock leanings. Though Bellflur might be considered a vocal-centered band, the music they make is less about lyricism and more about complex instrumental arrangements and progressive song structures, using various organic and digital elements in composing their music. Their all-encompassing approach and obvious ambition makes songs like opener "Grey Sparkle Finnish Pig" - a menacing, shifting indie rocker - or "The Rhythms of Waking and Sleeping" - a fascinating blend of atmosphere and abrasion - such intriguing and compelling listens. These four are definitely worth keeping an ear on as I imagine you'll be hearing much more about them soon.

Grey Sparkle Finnish Pig


Friday, November 13, 2009

Three for Friday: Bobby Birdman, Keegan DeWitt, The Gideons

Bobby Birdman -

My introduction to Bobby Birdman came just recently with the release of his new album, New Moods, but he's been around off and on for eight or so years now, continually under the radar. The recently released record, which promises to be his "most complete musical effort to date," is an intriguing combination of bedroom electronica and freak-folk with traces of R&B throw into the mix. His laid-back vocal vibe often contrasts the fact that there's quite a bit going on with these tunes, but the contrast serves him well. Highlights from the album include the breezy pop-rock tune "Only For a While" (available to download below), the strangely funky "What You Say" and the bouncy "You'd Be Surprised," but even less accessible tracks like "Weighty Wait" - a mix of slushy electronics, hazy vocals and rambling acoustic guitar - have plenty to add to the album's overall effectiveness. If you haven't picked up anything by Birdman before, I recommend New Moods as a nice place to start.

Only For a While
(MP3 via RCRD LBL)


Keegan DeWitt -

I've mentioned Keegan DeWitt in passing before, but the film scorer-turned-pop artist deserves a better introduction here with the release of his new album, Islands. DeWitt has already earned praise for the music he creates for movies, but this time around he's showing his chops as a songwriter in addition to his compositional abilities. With an endearingly drowsy voice, a knack for intimate and engaging songwriting, and a more than capable band - The Sparrows - to back him up, DeWitt's latest is a lovely set of soulful, jazzy tunes that begs to be heard. From my introduction to the first single, "Telephone," a charming waltz, everything on Islands has impressed me, especially the sexy swing of "Stormy Weather" and the more rock-oriented "Come Celia." Whether it's the emotive string arrangements or touches of electric guitar, each detail on the record feels beautifully crafted and arranged, though knowing his background you would expect no less. Definitely worth a listen, links below:


Daytrotter Session (amazing)


The Gideons -

Fans of garage rock should look no further than Halifax's own The Gideons for two reasons. First, the young Canadian quintet have just released a double LP full of raw, energetic rock 'n' roll that's got its fair share of great tunes. Second, though the vinyl pressing is extremely limited - the band is giving away digital copies for free to absolutely everybody (link below, if you're eager). I'm certain there's at least a little something for all tastes on Oxford Street, which shifts between sloppy power-pop ("She Moves Me"), Southern-tinged classic rock ("Coke & Whiskey) and a few Beatlesque numbers ("Never Say I Love You") with ease. The album may be a bit uneven over the course of 20 songs, but not only is the price right, these guys have a simple, effective chemistry that is impossible to deny and enough talent to convincingly tackle such a broad range of tunes. So, I'm doing my part by passing this along to you - now you just listen and enjoy, easy enough?

Oxford Street (full album download)


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Live Review: Dirty Projectors @ In the Venue

In New York City, Dirty Projectors are set to play at Lincoln Center and the Bowery Ballroom. In Los Angeles, it's the Walt Disney Concert Hall. But here in Salt Lake City, Utah, it's the humble little joint called In the Venue that they're to perform at. To call this somewhat dingy club nondescript would be generous; still, I’ve seen some fantastic performances here (including Fleet Foxes last year), and expect this one to be no different. Arriving at what I’ve come to refer to as “concert standard time” (about a half hour after the show’s 7 p.m. opening), I expect to see some sort of line or crowd inside, but we're greeted instead with neither. The opening band is still ten minutes away from taking the stage, but even still, the paltry turnout is surprising. A few small groups mill about, but nobody is jockeying for position up front as there isn’t much competition—we're not complaining. (Continue Reading @ In Review Online)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Review: Will Stratton - No Wonder (* * * *)

It was all too easy to miss Will Stratton in 2007, as I found recently. I hadn't heard a thing about the guy before a couple weeks ago when I had the opportunity to listen to his superb sophomore effort - No Wonder. Being impressed, I tracked down his 07 debut - What the Night Said (which was - astonishingly - recorded just after his senior year in high school) - and then wondered why much more hadn't been said about this talented singer/songwriter over the past couple years. It's easy to name-drop just about everyone from Nick Drake to Elliott Smith when talking about Stratton, but while his finger-picked guitar lines are reminiscent at times of Drake's and his smooth voice a bit like a stronger, more confident version of Smith's, the comparisons are less in relation to Stratton's style than a compliment to his songwriting prowess. Despite his youth (barely 22 now), he is an excellent writer and musician that has just dropped his second notable album, one that shows an increase of maturity and depth over the course of 14 stylistically varied and emotionally intimate songs, further establishing his unique musical identity and gorgeous folk style.

In many ways, No Wonder follows the pattern set by Stratton's debut, comprised of mostly slow, thoughtful tunes that feature his guitar, piano, and voice with few distractions - though here, as on What the Night Said Stratton makes use of muted horns, sweeping strings, percussion, and the occasional burst of electric guitar to give additional life to his stories and enhance the emotional impact of his songs. Wistful opener "Who Will," the sparse title track, and the bittersweet "Your California Sky" sound much like the songwriter's early material though usually even stronger as he has definitely been refining his songwriting craft. But elsewhere he branches out into previously unexplored territory, getting into a sort of poppy garage rock on songs like the hopeful "You're a Real Thing," the moody "Nineteen" and the surprisingly (but still relatively) abrasive "If Only." The amount of variation is a little distracting, and there's no denying that the music is best when contemplative and quiet, but Stratton's reach rarely exceeds his grasp and these forays into more pop-oriented territory yield mostly impressive results. And with plenty of music on No Wonder, it's unlikely anyone will feel slighted by his need to push personal musical boundaries.

Lyrically, Stratton shows especial growth and maturation on this sophomore effort. Whether referencing J.D. Salinger character in "Franny Glass" or providing a strange and political spin on Robin Hood in "Robin & Marian," Stratton never settles for the typical or ordinary, and though he sometimes overdoes it a bit (on the religiously backwards "Judas, 1966" especially), the amount of spectacular songwriting on No Wonder is genuinely impressive. The clever and emotional depiction of a friend's funeral on "The Past Always Runs Faster," the love-sick narrative on "The Country Clear," and the sincerely sweet ode to his home state, "New Jersey," are just a few of the captivating moments on No Wonder, revealing a young man who doesn't necessarily sound wise beyond his years in every case, but who is able to so compellingly and honestly relate his ideas, fantasies and experiences that his music achieves a greater amount of personality than many artists ever manage to reach over the course of their musical career.

It'll be a shame if No Wonder flies under the radar to the degree of its predecessor, but I imagine it's only a matter of time until Will Stratton receives the amount of acclaim he's due even if it doesn't happen immediately. Really, he's just too good to be ignored for long and he's already showing the ambition necessary to improve with time. Enjoy a couple songs (highlights, in fact) from the new album below and get introduced to this talented young artist.

Who Will (MP3)

Your California Sky (Mp3)

Review: Weezer - Raditude (* *)

Chances are you don’t need a Weezer history lesson and providing one here would be particularly pointless, as there's really no need to create any kind of context in reviewing the band’s latest album, Raditude. One look at that flying dog and cheesy, lightning-style font on the cover can give you as good an idea as anything else as to what you can expect from this seventh effort by Rivers Cuomo and company, who have consistently baffled and too often underwhelmed fans and critics over the past ten years or so. It seems Cuomo wouldn’t have it any other way; the nearly 40 year-old man-child is anything but reserved when it comes to his music and apparently thrives on defying convention, logic and even at times good taste. So after opening the singing/songwriting up to his bandmates for 2007’s Red Album (with uneven results, to say the least), Cuomo now resumes full control (well, sorta) but somehow manages to make an even more eclectic record with Raditude, which is light-hearted and occasionally fun but flounders under the weight of its many scattered ideas and general excesses. (Continue Reading...)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Review: Devendra Banhart - What Will We Be (* * * 1/2)

Just this year, Devendra Banhart signed to a major label (Warner Bros.). It took seven years promoting himself on independents for this to happen, but the feat is nonetheless impressive considering the nature of the artist’s peculiar brand of folk music. Granted, the eccentric songwriter’s oddness rarely detracts from his ability to create charming and melodic songs, and his appeal isn’t difficult to hear, but Banhart’s off-kilter style and frequently over-the-top artistic choices (2005’s Cripple Crow is 22 songs long and clocks in at 74 minutes) make him seem an unlikely candidate for crossing over to the mainstream. But maybe I’m just not giving these bigger labels enough credit. Of course, such a move is sure to make Banhart’s long-time fans nervous—the list of artists that have disappointed in this situation is a mile long—but he mostly retains his strange and distinctive edge on his sixth full-length effort, What Will We Be, another welcome if somewhat uneven addition to an impressive catalog. (Continue Reading...)

Review: The Clientele - Bonfires on the Heath (* * *)

Few bands have managed to create as many accomplished and acclaimed albums with as little reinvention as The Clientele. Since 2000’s compilation Suburban Light (an exquisite collection of the band’s early singles), the London-based quartet have remained remarkably true to their sound, never straying from the hazy, reverb-drenched 60s-esque pop style that has enamored so many, myself included. There have been minor changes to the group’s approach throughout the past ten years, and an in-depth analysis of each album reveals a subtle, methodical evolution (more instruments, higher production values, etc.), but these changes are understated enough as to be easily dismissed or unnoticed on a casual listen. And so the trend continues for The Clientele’s latest and quite possibly last effort, Bonfires on the Heath, another generous serving of smooth, low-key pop that often sounds remarkably like what preceded it, though here (and more than any other time perhaps) the band occasionally attempt a livelier, more energetic sound for their rumored finale. That’s not to say Bonfires on the Heath is likely to surprise anyone, and there’s still plenty (too much, really) of the band’s characteristically down-tempo balladry to be found scattered throughout the 12 tracks, but the album does at times feel more progressively full-bodied and upbeat even than 2007’s God Save The Clientele. (Continue Reading...)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Three for...Tuesday: LAKE, Erik Gundel, The Lower 48


There's no shortage of boy/girl indie-pop bands. In fact, there's been such a saturation that recently that description is more likely to make me wary than excited. Still, some groups manage to rise above what have now become cliched aspects of a somewhat tired genre - LAKE is one of those bands. Led by singer/songwriters Eli Moore and Ashley Eriksson, LAKE has released a stunning new album entitled Let's Build a Roof, a sophisticated - yet melodic - set of intriguing pop songs. The tracks utilize various instrumental approaches while Moore and Eriksson trade off on the vocal duties (occasionally combining their voices), yet the album remains cohesive despite its many facets. Highlights include the beautifully executed "Gravel," with its busy horns and menacing piano, the light, keyboard-centric funk of "Madagascar" and the delightfully breezy ballad "Acorn." The record's low-key pace and all-encompassing pop style makes Let's Build a Roof an album you need to hear.

(MP3 via Pitchfork)


Erik Gundel -

Erik Gundel is perhaps best known for his guitar and pedal steel work with indie rockers Motel Motel, who's excellent debut album was just re-released this year, but recently Erik sent me a copy of his side project EP - simply entitled EP Gundel - and I quickly decided his solo work was very much worth becoming familiar with as well. The songs on EP Gundel bear little resemblance to the music of Erik's main gig, and the eerie, experimental pop sound (perhaps more akin to indie heavyweights Grizzly Bear, or even The Beach Boys at times) is well-composed and beautifully presented throughout the album's five tracks. Whether presenting avant-garde instrumental snapshots ("Turkulent Indigo") or sweeping, vocal-centered songs ("Lake on My Roof"), Gundel's substantial talent shines bright as he uses piano, guitar, percussion, vocal harmony, and atmospheric effects to create a wonderful balance between exploration and accessibility. This is uniquely gorgeous stuff - take a listen.

Lake on My Roof (MP3)


The Lower 48 -

After first listening and being intrigued by The Lower 48's debut EP, Everywhere to Go, I got a hold of the band's press release and was surprised to find that not only has the quartet only been together since January of this year, but every member is under the age of 20. The five folk tunes comprising the new EP certainly carry a sense of bright-eyed youthfulness, but the poise and talent with which this group executes their songs is nothing short of remarkable. Also, the sultry, smokey voice (something like an earthier version of Thao from The Get Down Stay Down or maybe Alison Sudol of a Fine Frenzy) belonging to the band's female lead could fool just about anyone. Highlights from the group include the simple folk duet "Transmission Pt. 1" and the emotive pop ballad "Bedroom," each tune showing a slightly different aspect to the group's sound and making me excited to hear what these four do next and - hopefully - soon. Give them a listen below.

Transmission Pt. 1 (MP3)