Friday, July 30, 2010

Introducing...Gold Motel

Trying to get back into the swing of things with blogging, and to start I have an excellent band to recommend to you:

Gold Motel

Gold Motel is an indie pop project fronted by Greta Salpeter (who currently performs as Greta Morgan), a name some of you may remember as being associated a few years ago with The Hush Sound. I was quite fond of The Hush Sound, especially their earliest material, so news of this new band (which also includes several members of This Is Me Smiling) came as a welcome surprise recently. The music of Gold Motel is--in many ways--similar to Morgan's previous group, but she gets the mic all to herself this time around and she makes the most of the opportunity on Summer House. With infectious guitar and piano riffs, big vocal hooks and a consistently sunny vibe, Gold Motel make a great introduction and Greta Morgan proves that she can handle a leading role just fine.(MySpace)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Review: The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang (* * * 1/2)

From some bands we expect consistent innovation and change. Such artists must evidence a legitimate step forward in one way or another with every album, something new and exciting which assures fans that the group remains inspired and worthy of their attention. New Jersey’s the Gaslight Anthem are not one of those bands. They represent a genre that creates an entirely different set of expectations, one centered around consistency and reliability rather than exploration. That’s not to say frontman Brian Fallon and Co. could afford to remain completely static, but it seems unlikely that they would feel the need for true reinvention at any point in their career. There’s nothing wrong with this; dependability is a value well suited to the band’s updated take on classic blue-collar rock and they’re damn good at what they do. In this light, their third LP, American Slang, is the perfect step for them to take, showing a few signs of artistic development while sticking primarily to what worked the last time around. Though the album doesn’t hit quite as hard as 2008’s The 59 Sound, it should still go some way in establishing the Gaslight Anthem as one of America’s most steadfast young rock bands. (Read the rest of this review at In Review Online)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Review: The Acorn - No Ghost (* * * 1/2)

It’s a risky move releasing a concept album early in your career, but Canada's the Acorn proved quite capable of doing just that with their 2007 sophomore effort, Glory Hope Mountain. That record chronicles the life of singer Rolf Klausener’s mother (whose journey from Honduras included a great deal of drama and adventure) over the course of twelve woodsy folk songs featuring delicate harmonies and intricate guitar signatures, revealing impressive musicianship for such a young group. The songs work both as part of the whole and are engaging individually—no small achievement given the source material—and the record showed the Acorn could be ambitious without overreaching. So while Glory Hope Mountain didn’t make overnight sensations of the band, they gathered enough fans that high expectations were instated for future endeavors. Their third album, No Ghost, appears uninterested in an overarching concept, and in fact feels more modest than their previous release despite its broader stylistic range. It doesn’t quite propel the band forward or equal the considerable quality of what preceded it, but No Ghost is at least an enjoyable entry in the band’s catalog. (Please read the rest of my review @ In Review Online)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

You Should Know: Steel Train

Steel Train is a name that isn't completely unknown, I suppose, but I find it is mentioned less often than I would expect, at least now that I'm familiar with the band's music. Though I'd heard of the group before a couple years ago, it wasn't until the recent release of their third and self-titled album that I took the time to listen to an entire record. One time through and I was hooked; Steel Train's brand of pop rock is impossibly catchy, consistently energetic and draws from a variety of influences and styles. I haven't yet made my way through their catalog, but I'm certainly eager to after this fine introduction.

Highlights on the new record range from high-strung rockers ("Turnpike Ghost") to hook-filled drivers ("You Are Dangerous") to quirky pop numbers ("Soldier in the Army"). The album never really settles into a groove, yet somehow it's all the more enjoyable for its unpredictable nature. Smooth harmonies, infectious guitar riffs and prevailing sense of fun all add to the album's considerable appeal; it's accessible enough to engage a mainstream audience yet odd enough to gain fans from the more indie crowd as well. It may take a little time for everyone else to stop sleeping on these guys, but if you're reading this you have no excuse not to give them a listen right away.

Download: Turnpike Ghost (MP3)


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Best Albums of 2010 So Far - Top 10

Before I change my mind again, here are my picks for the best ten albums of the year so far:

Top 10:

10: Wolf Parade - Expo 86

It's no secret that I love Wolf Parade. Their debut was one of my absolute favorite albums of the past decade and their sophomore effort I found to be nearly as enjoyable. Their third record, Expo 86, doesn't quite reach the heights of its predecessors, but it's perhaps the most cohesive work the band has yet created. Dual frontmen Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner are in fine form here, still splitting the songwriting duties but blending more seamlessly together as they craft a muscular rock 'n' roll epic that reminds me exactly why I loved them so much in the first place.

9: Fang Island - Fang Island

Perhaps the best way to introduce Fang Island would be to quote the band themselves when they described their music as "everyone high-fiving everyone." Their high-energy brand of indie rock 'n' roll focuses on heavily distorted guitar riffs, progressive arrangements, and joyously chanted choruses that make for a consistently awesome time on their self-titled album. It's an unusual yet infectious combination of musical intelligence and outrageously fun attitude that makes Fang Island an excellent breakthrough album for this talented young group. (Read My Review)

8: Patty Griffin - Downtown Church

Patty Griffin is a phenomenal singer and songwriter, but for Downtown Church she focuses primarily on the former, a risky move perhaps but an inspired one. The collection of gospel covers contains many of Griffin's best vocal performances, showing her versatility on everything from beautiful traditional hymns to soulful spirituals. She even throws in a couple tunes of her own, both of which fit perfectly with the older material. It's both an engaging genre tribute and a great record by any standard, even Griffin's own considerable catalog. (Read My Review)

7: David Karsten Daniels & Fight the Big Bull - I Mean to Live Here Still

I'll admit I'm not familiar with the previous work of David Karsten Daniels, but I found his latest effort to be a fantastic introduction. Recorded with Jazz collective Fight the Big Bull, I Mean to Live Here Still features the words of Henry David Thoreau sung over an intoxicating mix of folk, big band, and experimental jazz elements. The music switches between moments of melodic gentleness and explosive, fractured instrumentals (often in the same song), and though it can be a difficult listen at times, I Mean to Live Here Still is always captivating. One of 2010's best surprises so far.

6: The Black Keys - Brothers

After a few listens I think The Black Keys' latest--Brothers-- may be their best yet, though my love for Rubber Factory makes that difficult to say with certainty. Either way, it's a great album and their most successful in some time, proving these two still have plenty of ideas left to offer without resorting to the type of collaboration that resulted in 2008's Attack & Release. It's nice to have these two back together and operating at the highest level, cementing their status as one of the best American rock bands operating today. Hopefully they'll remain this sharp for years to come. (Read My Review)

5: Janelle Monae - The Archandroid

Janelle Monae has made one of the strangest and most interesting R&B albums in recent memory, so perhaps that's why I've been so taken with a record in a genre that generally doesn't find much space on my "best of" lists. But Monae's outlandish concept album (her full-length debut) is much more than just an entertaining oddity. This ambitious newcomer has a powerful voice and a head full of ideas that she ably executes over the album's 70-minute length. From the psychedelic ballads to the soaring pop tunes to the funky soul songs, The Archandroid is as spectacular as it is weird.

4: The Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild Hunt

The Wild Hunt, Swedish singer/songwriter Kristian Matsson's sophomore effort, is the most spare of folk albums, recorded with only guitar, vocals, and piano. Yet this modest setting is the perfect one for Matsson, who manages to imbue these ten simple, melodic songs with great depth. The record is similar in many respects to his debut as The Tallest Man on Earth due to the use of the same restricted instrumental palette, but the songwriting maturity and breadth of emotion on The Wild Hunt easily make this Matsson's most compelling work. (Read My Review)

3: Owen Pallett - Heartland

For his first effort after dropping his Final Fantasy moniker, Owen Pallett offers his most stirring selection of songs yet, combining his signature violin playing over fuller, more complex soundscapes than we've heard from him previously. The results aren't as immediate perhaps as his former albums, but the richness and unique beauty of these arrangements are striking, revealing more with each listen. It's hard for me to think of any album this year (save my number one pick) that I've enjoyed exploring so thoroughly. Heartland is the result of the perfect balance of ambition and ability. (Read My Review)

2: Josh Ritter - So Runs the World Away

Josh Ritter is one of my absolute favorite songwriters currently releasing music, so take his place so high on this list with a grain of salt if you must. But I'd argue that no matter your previous experience with the artist, you need to hear his latest creation, the wonderful So Runs the World Away. It's certainly Ritter's most expansive record, even more so than the rowdy The Historical Conquests Of..., yet somehow he manages to keep the enormous scope of the album and its various stylistic facets from escaping his grasp. Whether spinning one of his typically uniquely gorgeous stories or turning up the volume for a gritty folk-rock tune, Ritter is utterly convincing.

1: Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me

Making even the longest albums on this list seem brief in comparison, Joanna Newsom's Have One On Me is--simply put--epic. Three discs, eighteen songs and over two hours of music makes for an intimidating third effort from one of folk music's most intriguing and accomplished young artists, but Newsom has crafted a masterpiece that somehow needs every last minute to fully reveal its genius. And from the fantastical, winding tales to the simply gentle ballads, she creates an entrancing musical experience that repays the listener tenfold for any patience required to comprehend the album's immenseness.

Newsom sings her often otherworldly lyrics beautifully this time around, mostly dropping the child-like whine that earned her no small amount of detractors. She also introduces a broader instrumental selection, but she retains the unique elements of her sound that made her so remarkable in the first place, most notably her signature harp playing, intriguing storytelling, and knack for stunningly original melodies. Put simply, she manages to improve upon her the considerable quality of her previous work without sacrificing any of what makes her special. It's no contest in my mind, Have One On Me is the year's best album so far. (Read My Review)

Review: The Black Keys - Brothers (* * * *)

Over the past few years, Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach have done much in the name of progress. Working with Danger Mouse to produce their 2008 album Attack & Release, providing the rhythm section for the rap-rock experiment Blakroc, and taking the time to focus on side projects last year definitely served to shake things up for a duo that was previously known more for their impressive consistency than for their innovation. Yet somehow it’s their latest record, Brothers, that feels like the most ingenuous step forward for the band in quite some time—and tellingly, with this new effort the Black Keys needed little outside assistance to accomplish that. While Brothers may be considered a return to the basics for the Akron, OH natives by some, the spread of ideas here sets the album apart from the band’s earliest material while the quality of the songs themselves makes this recent collection their strongest in some time, rivaled perhaps only by 2004's excellent Rubber Factory. (Read the rest @ In Review Online!)

Review: Jamie Lidell - Compass (* * *)

Ordinarily, an artist doesn't release their breakout album after 30, but then, Jamie Lidell’s story is anything but ordinary. Formerly in experimental electronica (both solo and as half of Super_Collider), Lidell’s seemingly swift transition into soul was both surprising and totally successful—as his 2005 record, Multiply, emphatically proves. He distanced himself even further from his digital roots with 2008’s Jim, which doesn't match the explosive creative energy that defined his debut, but is a fine pop album in its own right, allowing him to flirt a little with mainstream success in the process. But if there were any who figured Lidell would attempt to complete his late-blooming transformation into a radio-ready pop icon on his third go-round, they would most certainly be wrong. Instead, we find the artist in a highly experimental mode on Compass, still churning out danceable, soulful tunes but with decidedly more exploratory edge that sometimes enhances and sometimes distracts from the quality of the songs themselves. Enlisting the help of Beck and Chris Taylor (of Grizzly Bear) as producers, along with a slew of other collaborators, Lidell’s latest is a fascinating though unfortunately not very successful effort. (Read my full review @ In Review Online)