Sunday, January 31, 2010

(Reposted) Review: Surfer Blood - Astro Coast (* * * *)

If there ever was a band that personified "college rock," Surfer Blood is it. As their bio states, these University of Florida students recorded their debut album "in a college dorm room, using musical equipment purchased with scholarship money." Supposedly, they rejected the version they had begun to record in the studio due to "the way the engineer was affecting their sound." This is certainly a very “indie” thing for a band to do, but the decision seems to have been an intelligent one in this case; Astro Coast is a more than solid rock 'n roll debut with an enjoyable DIY aesthetic. Like their name might imply, the boys carry on a sound quite prevalent last year, a sort of fuzzy surf-pop, but their spin on that style is considerably more interesting than that of their peers. Surfer Blood take that sunny, easygoing vibe of '09 and marry it to earnest power-pop, the results of which make for a consistently fun and thoroughly entertaining record which surprisingly lives up to the generous amount of hype that's gathered around it. (Continue Reading @ In Review Online)


Monday, January 25, 2010

Band of the Day: Givers

Because I write about music often, I find myself getting in a bit of a rut when it comes to describing the sound of various bands and I sometimes end up using a generic selection of terms for a wide range of styles. But Givers, an indie collective from Louisiana, have made that part easy for me. "Afro-beat, dancy pants, indie pop love music" is how the band describes their music on their MySpace page, and after giving their self-titled debut EP a listen, I think they've got it about right. Their fun and energetic personality combined with their ability to construct tight, hook-filled tunes has earned the group a good deal of attention over the last couple months, including a recent spot over at NPR on All Songs Considered, where I first heard about them.

The group released the EP last year, a collection of four upbeat pop songs (plus one remix) that should get just about everyone excited for their upcoming full-length due early 2010 sometime. The first two tracks are reason enough to label these guys as a band to watch; "Up Up UP" is a buoyant, sunny tune with boy/girl harmonies and "Meantime" finds the band delving a bit more into the Afro-pop side of their sound with excellent results. Both incorporate elements from fairly popular indie rock trends, but the band combines these somewhat familiar elements in an innovative enough way as to provide some fresh and interesting ideas throughout the 23 minutes of the album. Make sure you give these guys a listen asap, they're definitely worth a little of your time.



Sunday, January 24, 2010

Artist of the Day: Barton Carroll

Barton Carroll is likely to have had a hand in something you heard before, though you may be unfamiliar with his name. He's toured and/or recorded with a number of folk-rock bands such as Crooked Fingers, Azure Ray and Dolorean - and now he's got a sizable catalog of his own material, including his latest and fourth album, Together You and I. This is the first I've heard from Carroll and I have to say I'm thoroughly impressed, especially by his songwriting, which is sometimes emotive and personal, and at other times clever and witty, but always evocative. Highlights include the story of young love, "The Poor Boy Can't Dance," a tale of a younger brother's jealousy, "Shadowman" and the hilariously clever "Past Tense," though each of the songs add to the album's remarkably charming nature.

The ten tracks of Together You and I make for an enjoyably old-fashioned folk record that should definitely appeal to more than just genre junkies like myself, and at a pay-what-you-want price at his website, I recommend picking it up to give yourself an introduction to the considerably talented Barton Carroll.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Review: Surfer Blood - Astro Coast (* * * *)

If there ever was a band that embodied college/indie rock, Surfer Blood is it. The University of Florida students comprising the group recorded their debut album, as their bio states, "in a college dorm room using musical equipment purchased with scholarship money" because they rejected the version they had recorded in the studio due to "the way the engineer was affecting their sound." So indie, so cool, and fortunately, a wise decision as well as Astro Coast is a more than solid rock 'n' roll debut with an enjoyable DIY aesthetic. Like their name might imply, the boys carry on a sound that was quite prevalent last year, a sort of hazy surf-pop, but their spin on the style is the best I've yet heard. Surfer Blood takes the sunny, easygoing vibe common to the genre and marries it with more earnest power-pop to consistently fun and thoroughly entertaining results that live up to the considerable hype that has been built around the record.

The first single, "Swim," leans heavily toward the louder, more bombastic side of the band's sound and is an easy pick for album highlight and one of this year's best tracks so far (though it also recieved a good deal of attention in 2009). The muscular guitars churn out power-chord riffs while singer John Paul Pitts practically shouts the anthematic choruses in such an uninhibited and winning manner as to knock down any resistance the listener may have had prior to listening. Though the remainder of the record doesn't make such an immediate impact, the same hook-filled, guitar-heavy approach makes for plenty of fine pop moments, with enough variety to put Surfer Blood a cut above many of their garage-rock peers. Each tune succeeds at evoking a sort of casual, almost off-handed approach without ever coming across as lazy, a line which is rarely trod this well. Other great examples of the band's formula are "Floating Vibes," a melodic, laid-back jam, "Take it Easy," a lean rock tune with a tropical vibe, and closer "Catholic Pagans," a Weezer-esque bit of sunny pop.

Surfer Blood's space may be crowded and will likely continue to get busier, but Astro Coast is a great start at staying ahead of the curve. Providing these guys continue to stay ambitious, I expect a bright future for this fun-loving and genuinely "indie" bunch of rockstars.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Review: Vampire Weekend - Contra (* * * 1/2)

I wonder if Ezra Koenig and company didn’t intend for the opening line of the first track on their sophomore effort to be a direct affront to their critics: “In December, drinking horchata, I look psychotic in a balaclava.” This wouldn’t seem a declarative or confrontational statement out of context, yet given the amount of grief directed at the indie pop stars for their frequent references to hipster clothing and stuffy, upper class society, it might well be just that. But as the band transition into the sudden burst of tropical drums and the vocal refrain that follows soon after, there’s the feeling that this isn’t quite business as usual either. "Horchata" immediately becomes of a type with the entirety of Vampire Weekend’s second album, Contra. The record finds the group entrenching themselves further into their indie-rock-meets-afro-pop sensibilities, updating that style in a confident if less than truly adventurous way. With the aid of a bigger budget and more refined production, Contra should broaden Vampire Weekend’s already considerable appeal. But it doesn’t ultimately leave the same impact of their stellar debut. (Continue Reading at In Review Online)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Review: Animal Collective - Fall Be Kind EP (* * * *)

(This one got GOLD over at In Review Online)

Heaping praise on indie superstars Animal Collective is starting to seem too easy, unnecessary even. Don’t get me wrong; AC have earned their status as the preeminent boundary-pushing experimental group working today. This past year alone they released 2009’s best album and my personal favorite of theirs, Merriweather Post Pavilion. But the announcement of their Fall Be Kind EP almost prompted me to just say, “It’s Animal Collective, of course it’s amazing." Listen to it, love it, and then we’ll all move on. And if Fall Be Kind was just “good,” or even great in exactly the same way the LP that preceded it was great, maybe I could settle with that generalization. But in keeping with tradition, Animal Collective has crafted another distinctly superb and somehow progressive set of songs, noteworthy for its own merits and not simply as another strong addition to the band’s remarkable catalog. (Read the full review @ In Review Online)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Artist of the Day: Matt Morris

Here's a little cure for the Monday morning blues:

I've mentioned Matt Morris here before, but with the recent release of his debut LP, When Everything Breaks Open, I think his name is certainly worth bringing up again. Morris released his first EP a couple years ago, a collection of bare, acoustic tracks recorded, as the title says, backstage at Bonnarroo. But with his new full-length, Morris transitions into much more pop-oriented territory with five previously-released songs and nine new tunes presented with a full compliment of guitars, bass, drums, strings, and smoother production that he actually wears quite well. This diverse selection of tunes provides plenty of reasons to make this newcomer one that deserves our attention as 2010 gets on its way.

The most powerful weapon Morris holds in his arsenal is his high, smooth voice, which is equally effective on simple ballads and funky pop songs. He also shows genuine songwriting talent throughout the album, evident even on some of his more straightforward songs like "Money" or "Love," though, as is so often the case, he's best when he goes for the unusual. For example, the blend of strings and pounding drums on "The Un-American" gives the pointed social commentary an odd but somehow fitting backdrop, while the strange and soulful funk of "You Do it For Me" makes for a danceable, left-of-center pop tune. Hopefully, Morris will continue to build upon this knack for combining accessible hooks and more exploratory ideas as they form most of the record's best moments.

The album is a sprawling one, covering nearly seventy minutes with its 14 songs. But though listening to the entire thing at once may seem somewhat daunting, Morris makes good use of the time in showcasing different sides of his musical personality and the result is an enjoyably varied debut. When Everything Breaks Open is very much worth your time to check out as I suspect its title will prove to be descriptive of Morris' career soon.

Watch Matt Morris perform a stripped-down version of "The Un-American":


Friday, January 15, 2010

Three for Friday: Oh No Ono, Horse Stories, Joey Ryan

Oh No Ono

I checked out Denmark's latest export, Oh No Ono, on a whim a couple weeks ago knowing almost nothing about band. It turned out to be time well spent however as the experimental collective's sophomore effort, Eggs, is one of the most enjoyably strange and genuinely fascinating albums I've heard so far this year. Over the course of ten tracks, Oh No Ono takes you on a psychedelic journey ranging from nimble pop tunes to hazy, meandering rockers that incorporate myriad musical elements and themes. The off-kilter, unsteady vocals and grandiose selection of strings, synths, and drums never truly establish cohesion on Eggs, but the unexpected twists and turns are all part of an experience you'll enjoy losing yourself in. Highlights from the album include the outlandish synth-rocker "Internet Warrior," the bouncy "Helplessly Young" and the watery "The Tea Party." The albums drops in the US on Jan 26th, but it's available digitally now.


Horse Stories

Horse Stories is the main project of LA-based Australian singer/songwriter Toby Burke, whose latest album and first in four years, November, November, is out next week. His thoughtful Americana style has earned him numerous comparisons to Bob Dylan, who no doubt has
been a big influence on Burke, though he certainly seems to be seeking to establish his own identity as well here. In just over a half hour, Burke offers more than enough examples of his considerable songwriting talent in a mostly mellow approach that doesn't need big choruses and loud guitars to make an impact. The gentle sway of "Standing in the Snow," the melancholy musings of "Hole in the Head" and the reverent finale, "The TV" all showcase the modest yet somehow enthralling melodies and insightful lyrics that make Horse Stories a name you should know. Get a taste of the album by downloading the opening track, "Hummingbird," below.

Hummingbird (We'll Be OK)
(Zipped MP3)


Joey Ryan

My first thought while listening to Joey Ryan's new EP, Kenter Canyon, was that he sounded quite a bit like Ryan Adams, which - in my opinion - is great company to keep. He also features some notable names on his new songs, including Sara Bareilles and Dave Rawlings, which caught my eye and should definitely help to further his cause. Fortunately, even without all the name-checking, Kenter Canyon (available on the 19th) is a great introduction to a truly talented new artist if you, like me, haven't heard the name Joey Ryan before. From the opening finger-picked guitar riffs of "Broken Headlights" to the bluesy folk rock of "Permanent," his earnest, rough tenor and personal yet relatable lyrics make Ryan's appeal quite obvious, and I'd be surprised if his name isn't one we'll start hearing much more frequently.

You can hear the entirety of the new EP on his MySpace
page and you can download "Permanent" through his website HERE.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Band of the Day: The Scruffs

The Scruffs have been around, in some form or another, since 1975. Led by (and sometimes solely comprised of) Stephen Burns, the power-pop pioneers have had quite a journey over the last 35 years and haven't exactly been prolific, but they're trying to make up for it with their upcoming release, Conquest, their fifth studio album. Admittedly, I didn't know The Scruffs' history until after I first heard their new record, when I was tempted to label the band as Arcade Fire's fun-loving younger brothers. This of course seems somewhat absurd now, though I think the comparison still holds, especially with The Scruffs' dramatic pop style and Burns' quavering tenor voice. And perhaps describing them as youthful should be taken as a compliment as the band sounds remarkably fresh and energetic throughout most of Conquest as they provide 44 minutes of hook-filled rock and an undeniably great time.

Highlights include the wistful ballad "The Radio Song," the jangly "Demon Mine," and the smooth rocker "All the Pharaohs ," though most every tune is a solid pop anthem showcasing the considerable talent and quirky personality that makes these guys so easy to enjoy. Whether you've been a fan for years or are just now being introduced, take time to check out Conquest.

Download "Treasure Girls"


Sunday, January 10, 2010

@In Review Online: Top 25 Songs of 2009

Well, this is a little late in coming, but it's certainly worth a look. We've just posted our collective "best songs of the year" post over at In Review Online, and there's a little of everything on there. I contributed to the list, but it's very different than my "songs" list would have been (had I submitted one), which is a good thing.

Read the full thing HERE.

Here are the songs I included:

Dirty Projectors - "Stillness is the Move"

Animal Collective - "Brother Sport"

Miranda Lambert - "Airstream Song"

Bill Callahan - "Jim Cain"

Sunset Rubdown - "Idiot Heart"

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Skeletons"

Harlem Shakes - "Strictly Game"

Tiny Vipers - "Dreamer"

Friday, January 8, 2010

Three for Friday: Mike Coykendall, White Pines, Silent Paper Radios

Alright, I'm trying to get back in the groove after an unfortunately long absence, so I thought I'd start with three more under the radar singer/songwriters you might enjoy.

Mike Coykendall

You may not have heard the name mike Coykendall before, but you'll know the artists and bands he's recorded or performed with over the years, including M. Ward and Blitzen Trapper. Coykendall has also released his own music with various bands and even under his own name for years, though much of his stuff is apparently hard or impossible to find. I count myself lucky, then, that his latest effort, The Unbearable Likeness of Being, crossed my path recently as it's sure to go unfortunately unnoticed by most this year. On his new album, Coykendall's lo-fi pop sound covers territory ranging from psychedelia to folk to bluesy Americana in a brief but efficient 33 minutes that's consistently surprising and often fantastic. With highlights like the trippy haze of "Spacebaker Blues" and the alt-country balladry of "First Shot, Best Shot," he offers a generous amount of subtle yet impressive pop hooks and quirky, introspective songwriting that makes this record an enjoyably and genuinely unique experience.

You can hear/buy the album HERE.

White Pines

I'm a sucker for a good folk song, and Joseph Scott, recording as White Pines, has made several on his EP, A Face Made of Wood, released last year. Scott is a member of several bands (Canada, That's Him! That's The Guy!, and Saturday Looks Good To Me) that I haven't had the pleasure of hearing yet, but if this folk project of his is any indication, they're probably worth checking out as well. After extensive touring with his other groups, Scott took the time to record music as White Pines and then toured again for a while under that name with fellow indie folksters Cotton Jones. With its gentle, often sparse approach, this EP allows Scott's strong songwriting to shine over the acoustic guitars, banjo, and simple percussion that make up the instrumental backdrop to his introspective stories. Each of the five songs comprising the 22 minutes of the album are thoughtful and compelling, and if you haven't heard them already, you owe it to yourself to do so.


Silent Paper Radios

Dan Gubbins is a singer/songwriter out of London quietly making some truly beautiful music under the moniker Silent Paper Radios. After becoming disillusioned with creating electronic music, Gubbins fortunately turned to folk where he hopefully will spend some time as he's obviously found something in which he excels. With just a small assortment of acoustic instruments and his stirring tenor voice, Gubbins manages to captivate quite completely on his new and second EP, The Willow Tree, which he is releasing this month. Songs like the cold, dark "Upon Those Fields" and the more wistful "Willow Tree" have the kind of lonely, isolated sound you might hear on a Bon Iver record, though Gubbins more often sticks to the traditional side of folk for these five songs. He's still very undiscovered, but that's a fact I expect to change soon, so you might as well take a listen now to introduce yourself to this talented newcomer.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

@In Review Online: Top 15 Albums of 2009

Our combined staff list of the best albums of 2009 is up now at In Review Online. It's quite different than my personal list, but there's also a decent amount of overlap on some of the top stuff. Anyway, check out the 15 albums that made it along with some honorable mentions (also great) along the bottom of the feature.

Full Article

I'll go ahead and post the top 5 here:

5: Fever Ray - Fever Ray
4: The xx - xx
3: Sunn O))) - Monoliths and Dimensions
2: Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca
1: Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion