Friday, April 30, 2010

Reviews in Brief: Laura Marling, Dr, Dog, Nice Nice

Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can (* * * *)

To call Laura Marling's sophomore album, I Speak Because I Can, a sign of growth for the precocious songwriter might seem to undermine her remarkably accomplished first effort, Alas, I Cannot Swim. Yet as mature as her debut certainly was, her latest record shows a definite increase in the quality and depth of her songwriting and singing. I Speak continues Marling's penchant for emotionally weighty material, and here she has the added benefit of a more varied and intense instrumental selection, which - along with an impressive set of vocal performances - enhances the impact of her lyricism. From the fiery, Celtic-tinged opener "Devil's Spoke" to the gently rolling ballad "Darkness Descends," Marling borrows from many aspects of U.K. folk and pop music, but she never extends herself beyond her limits - another example of the considerable ability and artistic intelligence that marks I Speak Because I Can as a superb second album. MySpace

Dr. Dog - Shame, Shame (* * * 1/2)

Two songs into Dr. Dog's latest, Shame, Shame, I was convinced the record had already surpassed the band's previous release, Fate. "Stranger" and "Shadow People" are about stuffed with hooks, which I realize isn't really unusual for any given Dr. Dog song, but they somehow just seem to have more energy, more life than anything on their 2008 effort. Of course, the recipe used to create this new album is one you've heard from them (and others) before, but it's difficult to hold the group's lack of ambition against them when they're seemingly so intent on putting a smile on your face with their enjoyable retro-rock sound, which the boys have just about perfected here. There are a couple tracks here -"Later" and "Someday"- I could do without, but Shame, Shame succeeds well enough and often enough to be a valuable addition to your summer soundtrack. MySpace

Download: "Stranger"

Nice Nice - Extra Wow (* * * 1/2)

For those with short musical attention spans, may I recommend to you Nice Nice's Extra Wow. The Portland group's intensely unstable sound collages make for a consistently entertaining 51 minutes on their new record, which blends organic elements (vocals, guitars, drums) with all manner of digital wizardry in a spectacularly strange manner that is difficult to categorize or even describe. The band's eclectic, somewhat scattered approach gets a little disorienting at times, but it's never uninteresting, and the unusual way in which the songs are structured and executed should give the new album plenty of replay value for adventurous listeners. From the messy, raw "Set and Setting" to the shimmering "A Way We Glow" to the otherworldly funk of "A Little Love," Nice Nice provides ample reason to devote a the necessary time to properly dissect the inner workings of Extra Wow. MySpace

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

You Should Know: Linfinity

Dylan Von Wagner, lead singer of newcomers Linfinity, has one of those voices - a croon so distinctive and vibrant it just about demands your undivided attention. His vocals bring to mind Antony Hegarty at times and The Mimicking Birds (also new to the scene this year) at others, but there's really nothing just like it, and it sets Linfinity's debut, Martian's Bloom, apart. The band, now several years in the making, has released a striking first effort, a genuinely interesting album that slides smoothly between styles and approaches while still establishing an identifiable sound for the band. Much of the record has a mid-tempo vibe and an almost haunting quality to it - encapsulated by the lovely title track and the floating closer "Norm's Song" - but the group isn't afraid to get a little loud on cuts like the searing "Choo Choo Train to Venice" and the relatively muscular "MSG." The variance in tempo keeps things from becoming monotonous, and it gives the artists involved a chance to show off their considerable musicianship.

Wagner won't win everyone over with his unique warble, but the music's unusual beauty is certainly its greatest selling point for those who appreciate and enjoy things a little out of the ordinary. Also Martian's Bloom is an intelligently composed and well-executed debut that readily reveals the maturity and experience of its creators, revealing more with each thorough listen. Linfinity is off to a great start, so don't be surprised if you start hearing more from and about these guys in the near future. For a taste, download "MSG" below or check out the band's MySpace for more.

Download: "MSG"


Rufus Wainwright: All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu (* * *)

Much has been made of the simplicity and intimacy with which Rufus Wainwright approaches his latest album, All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu. A spare piano/voice style is the approach chosen here, and it’s sustained throughout the record’s 48 minutes, a welcome change in a career heretofore defined by artistic excess and drama. But whRufuile the minimalism of Wainwright’s sixth effort serves as an effective reminder of his considerable talent, most everything about the record is grandiose (down to that clumsy, lengthy title), revealing the man at his most stripped-down to be every bit the ambitious, flamboyant personality we’ve come to expect over the last 12 years. This isn't necessarily a bad thing—and it isn’t entirely unexpected, as Wainwright has long shown his love of opera and theater to be a core ingredient in his work—but All Days Are Nights feels overstuffed with ideas and ultimately overindulgent, even despite its spare aesthetic. This crowds the best material and hampers both the album’s accessibility and artistic value.(Continue Reading @ In Review Online)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Review: The Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild Hunt (* * * *)

Kristian Matsson, Swedish folk singer-songwriter and lone artist behind the Tallest Man on Earth moniker, is a man that appears to eschew artistic excess of most any kind, musical or otherwise. Sure, many musicians keep things simple and record on a shoestring budget because they have to, but it’s clear on his full-length sophomore record that Matsson actually prefers to operate in a limited, sparse musical setting—and it truly would be difficult to imagine his songs presented any other way. As a result, his latest effort, The Wild Hunt, sounds much like his debut (2008's Shallow Grave), with Matsson writing, recording and producing the record entirely by himself and using a limited selection of instruments (guitar, banjo, piano) to compliment his somewhat harsh, Dylan-esque voice. It’s a testament to his ability and maturity that The Wild Hunt is not only a refinement of this young artist’s songcraft, but a real step forward from his first album in terms of emotional breadth and resonance. (Read the rest @ In Review Online)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Three for...Wednesday: The Laughing, Shark Speed, Monster Movie

The Laughing -

Austin-based band The Laughing make themselves a bit difficult to categorize. On their latest LP, Fever, the group makes a noisy, raucous indie rock sound starting with a traditional base of guitars, bass, drums and organ, which admittedly sounds fairly ordinary on paper. But along the way they throw all kinds of twists and turns in addition to a varying selections of instruments to a consistently entertaining and eclectic end. Singer Logan (no last names to be found) has a powerful, sometimes warbly voice that gives these tunes an almost eerie feeling, which is amplified by the dark, pulsating musical style that surrounds him. Fever's high-energy pace is infectious, and at its best - the driving "Runner," for example - these guys seem to have things down to a science, providing an experience that is both intensely emotional and consistently fun.

Download: "Runner"


Shark Speed -

My lack of involvement in the local music scene her in Utah will be painfully apparent when I admit that I'd never heard of Shark Speed - which formed in Provo less than two years ago - until recently when I received an email about them. I took a listen to their new EP, Education, and was thoroughly impressed, then felt a bit of regret when I found I had probably been given ample opportunity to hear them much earlier. But better late than never, I suppose. The boys play seriously catchy pop-rock, with uplifting, anthematic vocals, complex percussion and jangly riffs - a simple recipe but one that serves Shark Speed exceptionally well. The triumphant opener "King of the World" and the strangely cheery-sounding "Killing Kind" prove these guys to be both talented and intelligent pop artists, an unfortunately rare breed these days.

Download: "Killing Kind"


Monster Movie -

Monster Movie features Christian Savill of Slowdive and Sean Hewson of Eternal, which I'm sure will attract (and no doubt has attracted) some listeners - but the quality of their new album, Everyone is a Ghost, will likely impress even those unaware of the musicians behind it. The record was introduced to me as "fuzz-pop," which is probably as good a descriptor as any to explain mix of haziness and hooks that fill most of the songs and make the album both an interesting and accessible listen. Everyone is a Ghost ranges from dreamy acoustic balladry on "How the Dead Live" to dense, ambient rock on "Help Me Make it Right," though somehow Savill and Hewson are able to bring it all together into a cohesive whole. Monster Movie generally sacrifices grandiosity for an intimate, relatable simplicity, and the band's somewhat restrained approach leaves a truly lasting impression.

Download: "Bored Beyond Oblivion"


Monday, April 19, 2010

Reviews in Brief: White Hinterland, Broken Bells, One for the Team

In trying to play catch up, here's a few I've missed over the past couple months:

White Hinterland - Kairos (* * * 1/2)

Given my lack of experience with White Hinterland's previous work, I can't really speak to the differences that Kairos brings to the table, but most of what I read suggests this sophomore effort heads in a decidedly unique direction for the band. Fortunately, the album's intriguingly dark atmospheric sound feels like a natural extension of those making it - and the results of this confident approach are often striking. Simultaneously, however, it's clear that frontwoman Casey Dienel and company are enjoying exploring new territory, especially on the beautiful and spacious opener "Icarus," a clear highlight and the best example of the potential this swirling, hazy style has to offer. Not every tune is so beguiling, but the haunting harmonies and subtly thumping soundscapes create enough engaging and memorable moments to qualify Kairos as a success. (MySpace)

Broken Bells - Broken Bells (* * * 1/2)

The much-anticipated collaboration between producer Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) and The Shins frontman James Mercer could be described as one of 2010's most fashionable "indie" releases. Burton seems to have had a hand in just about everything over the past couple years (from Gnarls Barkley to The Black Keys) and The Shins remain an alt-rock staple, so of course Broken Bells has received its fair share of attention. In many ways, this new odd couple lives up to the hype - the songs are uniformly strong and pull from the strengths of both artists, even offering the occasional surprise. In short, it's mostly what you'd expect from two very talented musicians who seem to enjoy working together, and occasionally this pairing seems to be an inspired one. "The High Road," "Sailing to Nowhere" and "October" all lift the record past the the more bland moments and make the idea of more music from these two musicians a welcome thought. (MySpace)

One for the Team - Ghosts (* * * 1/2)

One for the Team may not be a familiar name to many of you, but was introduced to the group last year when they released their debut EP, and I've been looking forward to hearing their first full-length since that time. On Ghosts, the group play a somewhat noisy, unrefined variety of indie rock, one that uses many common elements (boy/girl harmonies, bright keyboards, crunchy guitars) yet still sounds fresh and inspired enough to be attention-grabbing - and it's a measurable improvement over their EP in terms of its distinctiveness and cohesion. The record's first half is easily the stronger of the two, especially the messy and muscular "Every Little Thing" and the equally loud but warmer and more melodic "Sorted Out." Ghosts doesn't hold up quite as well down the stretch, but these guys are off to a strong start and should turn some heads with this ten-track effort. (MySpace)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

You Should Know: Kris Drever

Known by some as the son of Ivan Drever, member of Celtic band Wolfstone, Kris Drever has now blazed a trail of his own, first as a guitarist with the band Lau (who I've admittedly never heard of) and lately with a couple of fantastic solo albums, the last of which was just recently released. 2010's Mark the Hard Earth was my introduction to Drever's enchanting folk music, though after listening I immediately sought out his debut, Black Water, which I found equally impressive. His clear, warm voice at times could be described as what James Taylor might sound like with an Scottish accent (which means, of course, that I love it), and his engrossing storytelling conjures striking imagery both modern and antiquated. Neither of his records break much new ground or aim to push boundaries, but each is thoroughly excellent and together they serve to establish Kris Drever as a noteworthy voice in the folk community.

For his latest, I recommend the bittersweet title/opening track, the bright and bouncy "Sweet Honey in the Rock" and the more lively duet "The Banks of the Nile," which has a slightly Decemberist-style edge to it. Each highlight perfectly exemplifies his seemingly natural melodic gift, his remarkable songwriting, and his most powerful weapon - that radiant and emotive tenor voice. I really can't lavish enough praise on this guy, he's incredible, so go listen!

I wasn't able to find a legit link to offer you a free download from the new record, but you can find a good selection of older songs to stream on his website and newer ones at his MySpace.



Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Review: Besnard Lakes - Are the Roaring Night (* * * *)

At first and even second glance, Besnard Lakes’ third effort, The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night, seems strikingly similar to their acclaimed sophomore one, The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horses. Obviously, the title structures are quite comparable, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg: the lengths of the respective albums are within a minute of each other; the 'wall of sound' stylistic approBach is much the same on both; and the songs on each record ebb and flow with a constantly dynamic intensity. Initially, these parallels seem to result from a lack of imagination, but those familiar with the duo must assume these consistencies to be fully intentional and in the best interest of the album and the listener. For the most part, this holds true on Roaring Night, with the record’s subtle differences somehow shining brighter amid the sameness, and the band showing clear growth in their atmospheric indie-rock approach. Even when the new album occasionally does feel a little too familiar, the strengths of their unique method make such a criticisms slight at best.(Read the rest @ In Review Online)

Review: Fang Island - Fang Island (* * * *)

It first seemed strange when, doing research on Fang Island, I found the band’s first two EPs filed under the "Children’s Music" section of iTunes. I doubt the label was intentional, given the band’s high volume rock‘n’roll style, but after becoming more familiar with Fang Island’s self-titled debut, the categorization does seem accurate in certain ways. The collective’s brand of indie-pop is endlessly energetic, noisy and joyful, blending soaring, chanted choruses with epic instrumentals for a deliriously fun experience the group describes as “everyone high-fiving everyone.” The music has an almost universal appeal; there's a youthful energy but also a great deal of impressive musicianship, and a unique ambition that begs attention and appreciation. To call it groundbreaking would be an overstatement; instead, Fang Island is just as fascinating and wholly successful a debut record as has been released in 2010.(Read the rest at In Review Online)