The National/Baths/ Thundercat

Trouble Will Find Me

Matt Berninger is a rarity in indie rock and revival music today. Why? He’s one of the few indie singers in the industry who sees value in a lower register, and when I think of The National, I think of a melancholy baritone croon. The group has been critical darlings since their record Alligator, and for good reason; the lyrics are sharp, the instrumentals are haunting and intricate, and the groups sound is as unique as Berninger’s use of the term “white girls” in multiple tracks. Trouble Will Find Me is the follow-up to universally acclaimed High Violet, so I was eager to see if it continues the trend of greatness that hasn’t ceased yet.

The intimacy of this record is immediately recognizable. The band feels much closer to the listener than on previous releases, and the tracks are much slower moving and contemplative than previous releases. It still feels like The National, but there is definitely an audible change in direction, and that does not diminish the sound in the least. The tone of the record is incredibly broad, and often channels the signature sounds of special guests Sufjan Stevens, Annie Clark of St. Vincent, and Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire. Amidst all these other flavors, however, none of the groups unique tones of melancholy Americana-tinged writing are lost.

Overall, the record is as refreshing as the last National release, and the guest appearances sincerely improve the experience without overshadowing the real stars of the show. The band has shown that they know how to write quality indie rock time and time again, and this record is no exception. Here’s my pick, “I Need My Girl”.

Obsidian

Glitch/IDM musician Baths first record Cerulean was an excellent, grooving release that won universal praise for its dreamy soundscapes and grounded, often glitchy beats with fairly sparse but wonderful vocal accompaniment. Recent release Obsidian is a radical change in both production and overall feel from the light-hearted airiness of the debut.

Obsidian as a whole is, you guessed it, dark. Weisenfields singer-songwriting takes much more of a forefront than in Cerulean, in which it was barely existent. The arrangements, most of which have abandoned bright synths for a few brooding piano lines, remind me of a darker and more reserved Passion Pit. There are still elements of broad atmospheres and glitching beats, but they are by far more of an accompaniment for the vocal melodies, harmonies, and lyrics that are obviously the focus.

Luckily, The vocals are pleasant and the intertwining harmonies are expertly arranged. The lyrical content is sexual, dark, and gritty, drawing a huge juxtaposition to the still reasonably bright instrumentals and vocal melodies (the most prominent examples of this being the track “No Eyes”). Despite the lyrical content, the songwriting is filled with more pop sensibilities and structure, and this departure from a more scattered writing found in Cerulean is not without its charm.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the record. Baths has certainly stepped out of his comfort zone, and this new direction, though jarring, worked in his favor. Here’s my pick, Ironworks.

Apocalypse

I saw Thundercat and his label owner/close friend Flying Lotus fairly recently, where I witnessed the unveiling of a few of the tracks on this record.     All that was revealed was excellent, and I couldn’t help but wonder of the collected package would be as fulfilling. The good news is in.

As  follow up to his first record Golden Age of Apocalypse, the record continues to deliver what Thundercat has claimed as his sound; that is, dreamy jazz fusion with impressive vocals and virtuoso bass lines that could melt the face off of any metal-head. The last record was excellent as well, but Apocalypse is superior in overall song structure, production, and general flow. Producer Flying Lotus’ signature spacey, astral touches can be heard on every track, but the really impressive feat is the fact that these touches overshadow what can only be expert songwriting and arranging by Thundercat.

If you like electronica, an active bass line, and good R&B/Funk, Apocalypse by Thundercat is the new release for you. Check out my favorite track “Tron Song”, which is about a cat.

Daughters/Fitz And The Tantrums/ Vampire Weekend/Paft Dunk

We’re back with some exciting new releases! Fitz and The Tantrums make their sophomore release with More Than Just a Dream, Daughter releases a full LP, and Vampire Weekend releases their eagerly anticipated third record. Also, Daft Punk’s equally anticipated Random Access Memories leaked early and was immediately released, so I’ve added it to the mix!

If You Leave

Elena Tonra formed the band Daughter from her folky solo act, adding creative input of guitarist Igor Haefeli and drummer Remi Aguilella. Signed to independent label 4AD (home of The National, Deerhunter, and Bon Iver), Daughter fits right in with folky, reverby guitar and vocal parts combined with both electric and acoustic instrumentation.  After releasing 3 EPs, the group finally released their first full-length on April 30th.

The band’s sound can most accurately be described as a workable mix between Florence + The Machine, The xx, and perhaps a bit of Ingrid Michaelson. Tonra has a lovely voice, and it’s a bit more bare and revealed in the EPs where her guitar playing is reminiscent of the indie folk sensibilities of Mumford and Sons. On the record, however, the more active (though still sparse) drum beats and echoing secondary guitar parts work to make a more full and united sound; Daughter is a band, not two musicians backing a songwriter.

The entire record has a very fluid feel, but many tracks are very similar. Tonra still takes prominence in her singing and guitar playing, but Aguillela and Haefeli create the world around her with ambient guitar work and thoughtful rhythms. The sound overall is much larger than any previous recordings, and those who fell in love with the more intimate nature of earlier works may feel a bit disappointed.

Overall, I enjoyed my listen through, but I can’t shake the feeling that this is one of those records that I forget about in favor of more articulate and noticeable acts within the same spectrum. Here’s my favorite track, “Smother”.

More Than Just a Dream

These guys blew me away with their debut release Pickin’ Up The Pieces. Their masterful blend of motown soul and modern indie pop was unheard at the time, and every song on the record is so damn catchy. I was so excited for this upcoming record, I picked up the single, “Out of My League” on Record Store Day. It’s a great single, albeit different, and I was eager to see if the rest of the record lived up to the greatness of of the debut.

I’m pretty conflicted, honestly. The album starts out with the single, which takes the bands’ original sound and augments its more intimate nature into that of a stadium sound. The whole record just sounds bigger and more anthemic. Unfortunately, this departure from the smaller, more nuanced sound only works on a few tracks on the record, and the others feel cheapened and more pandering to recent trends of popular indie pop.

The record also shows a new embrace of modern synth and electronic sounds. There are audible bass drops, soaring synth runs, and trance like snare/cymbal builds and swells reminiscent of modern EDM and dance tunes. This entwines with the anthemic new tone of the record, and it works with certain tracks better than others. The track “Fool’s Gold” is one example of an excellent blend between this new direction with the classic sound the band created. By far though, my favorite track is “6AM”. It has the original sound of male/female vocals and horn work that I love, but also incorporates an effected bass and a plethora of electronic synths and bleep-boop counter melodies. Unfortunately, my love for this track is not surpassed by any other on the record, and the remaining tracks just don’t live up to its energy.

Overall, the record is a mixed bag. I applaud the group for trying this new, bigger sound, but the results were not as glorious as I expected. My feelings for the record as a whole could be represented as a hill: a slow start, a peak at ‘6AM’, and a descent down by the final track. I do think if you like the original record, you should definitely give it a listen; they’ve earned that much.Who knows, maybe our opinions may differ (gasp)! Anyway, here’s my personal highlight track, “6AM”.

Modern Vampires of the City

I remember  listening to this groups’ debut in high school and thinking “When is this record going to slow down? When is there going to be a track that doesn’t match the others? When is the moment going to come where I hear my least favorite track and know it immediately?” That moment never came. Four years have passed, and I still haven’t figured out why Vampire Weekends’ first LP is so perfect in its writing, musicianship, and pure unadulturated catchiness. The sophomore effort, Contra, was great, but it was in no way equal to the self titled masterpiece that arguably changed the face of indie pop. After three and a half years of touring and writing, Vampire Weekend have released  the third record, and just in time for summer.

The record is incredible. Ezra and the gang managed to apply some incredibly refreshing stylistic changes (gospel choir arrangements & chord progressions) while still bringing their signature afro-cuban beats, eccentric lyrics, and mind-numbingly infectious vocal and instrumental melodies to the table. I’m not going prattle on about how much I love the album. If you like Vampire Weekend, or good indie pop, go listen. Right. Now.

Here’s my 2 (two) picks, “Obvious Bicycle” and “Everlasting Arms”, performed live.

Random Access Memories

There are few albums that have seen such hype and polarizing opinions in recent memory than this record. Daft Punk is the reason I and many of my peers got into electronic music, and my first real experience with the genre was watching the “One More Time” music video on Cartoon Networks’ Toonami block when I was 8. I can honestly say that their sophomore record Discovery is and always will be one of my favorite records of all time, and their album Alive 2007  is among my favorite live records. I have been excited beyond belief for this record since it was announced, and I downloaded at least five fake versions of “Get Lucky” before waiting for its official release. So when the record leaked, and all hell broke loose, and iTunes streamed/released it, and everyone was climbing and shouting their opinions of it from the top of their Twitter accounts, I just waited. I listened to it once and let it sink in. Then I downloaded it and realized I listened to it backwards the first time and almost wept. Then I listened to it again. And now, a week later, I have shaped my opinion of the record as it stands now.

First of all, for those of you looking for a purist electronica album, you won’t find it here. I’m baffled that so many ‘huge daft punk fans’ 1)expected an album with collaborations from Pharrell and NILE RODGERS to have a bass drop on every song and 2) expected a duo as innovative as Bangalter and de Homem-Christo to do the same thing twice. This record has what makes Daft Punk who they are, but this is overall a funky, genre-bending record. There are bits of rock, r&b, disco, electronica, house, funk, alternative, hip hop; almost any style you can imagine has its place.

It’s a good record. I like it. It’s slow at first, but once it picks up, it doesn’t stop. Tracks like “Touch”, “Get Lucky”, “Doing it Right” and “Lose Yourself To Dance” capture the essence of what the duo was trying to do (in my mind, at least) with this record; commemorate the disco genre and its contributions to the shape of electronica while also bring new sounds to the magic they’ve already created. Songs like “Within” and “Instant Crush”(this one was a big downer) just didn’t seem to channel that message or entertain me to the same extent.  These first few tracks are what I feel separate it from the love I have for their earlier work.

I really have no clue if this is my final answer to the question “What did you think of the new Daft Punk?”. I may look back at this review years from now and just shake my head in disgust for not appreciating some tracks while lauding less worthy ones. All I know is, I’m going to keep playing the record, and I suggest you give it a chance and let it breathe in the same way I will. Here’s my pick, “Lose Yourself To Dance”.

Review Update

Okay, change of plans. Every two weeks, I will post multiple reviews on the records being released in that time period.. I realize I’m doing this blogging thing wrong, and consistency is the most important aspect of these things. Thank you all who have put up with me and listened to the things I have to say about music, I really appreciate it. But enough of the sob story, here’s the reviews this week!

Wolf

Whatever your opinion of Tyler may be, you have to admit he likes what he does. Tyler and his crew Odd Future rose to prominence after the single from his last record Yonkers rose to the top of the charts, and from that spotlight other members of his OF gained more solid fan-bases. The most interesting thing about Tyler is his unique production style; after a few seconds listening to a beat, I can tell if he made it. He explores lots of almost corny midi-horn tones and dissonant piano riffs, which somehow work wonderfully with overstated 808 drums and simple grooves. Like many late records, however, Wolf shows that even some of the more interesting elements of an artist cannot be exploited for too long before they become dry. Tyler and Odd Future in general are known for using dark, violent, and disturbing lyrics on their records, and Wolf is no exception. ‘Colossus is about Tyler’s struggle with fame and his problem with some of the more obsessed members of his fanbase, and ‘IFHY is a dark exploration of emotionally abusive relationships. The songs hold my interest, but only just barely, and there are definitely duds on the album that drag on for me. However, tracks like ’48’, ‘Slater (featuring the wonderful Frank Ocean), and ‘Rusty all show off Tyler’s production and lyrical strengths and remind you why he is where he is. I like Tyler, but this record really was underwhelming for me and defines why I tend to favor his fellow OF members Earl Sweatshirt and Frank Ocean over him. His explanation of emotions on this record is heartfelt, but if you’re familiar with his material, he’s done it all before. Overall, there’s a few good tracks on the record, but the OF train is starting slow down for me. Here’s my favorite track, ‘Rusty’.

Shaking The Habitual

The Knife are an interesting group. Made up of Swedish Siblings Karen Dreijer Andersson and Olaf Dreijer, the electronic duo have done a lot of exploring with their sound, and their most recent record delves deeply into experimental territory. Their last record Silent Shout won universal acclaim for its experimental tendencies and mesmerizing soundscapes, and the new record delves more into the former. Now, for those unfamiliar with the experimental genre (which is often used as a blanket turn for many types of music), this is not one or two interesting instruments being utilized within a tradition song-writing setting. This is a genre based upon creating the most original and eclectic sounds possible with the equipment available . This is not an easy listening genre, but for those willing to search for substance within it, it can be incredibly rewarding. While much of the record explores this type of sound, a few tracks do stand close to the the original dark electro sound that I fell in love with. Tracks like ‘Ready To Lose and ‘Wrap Your Arms Around Me still fit the context of the record, but are accessible enough to be enjoyed by those interested in the dark electronica the group excels in. To conclude, though I don’t have much experience with this type of experimental music, I did enjoy my listen through, and those tracks mentioned above were wonderfully crafted towards outside audiences. If you’re a fan of The Knife, give it a spin. Here’s my track pick, ‘Ready to Lose.

Overgrown

In early 2011, James Blake released his self titled record. It received rave reviews for his minimalistic approach and a warm, dark production style, and his lyrics were branded as heartbroken genius. I listened to the record, and honestly I wasn’t impressed. I felt that the record dragged, and I had heard several other artists  similar in style (see SBTRKT) that simply do it better. I heard about Overgrown being released, and I figured I would give James here a second chance.

The record definitely picks up where his self titled record left off. It still has a somewhat trodding sound on some of the tracks, but James’ voice has taken on a somewhat different persona. Instead of the mopey quality I heard on the first record, I now hear a very R&B influenced style that really comes through on tracks like ‘Retrograde. This quality definitely livens up the record, but it doesn’t save it from the qualities that turned me off from the original release. However, there are a few other tracks, namely ‘Digital Lion (produced with world renown sound wizard Brian Eno), that really breathe life into a record and make it a more enjoyable listen. Also, for some reason I really like the final track ‘Our Love Comes Back, though it doesn’t stray much at all from the sound that I’ve been berating for the last paragraph.

Overall, if you liked his debut, James Blake’s Overgrown will undoubtedly be an enjoyable listen. If you’re like me, you’ll find a few stand-out tracks, but nothing revolutionary. Here’s my favorite track, ‘Retrograde.

Indicud

Kid Cudi had a huge impact on my own musical taste in high school. He is one of several hip hop artists that actually brought me into the world of hip-hop, and his first record Man On The Moon still holds a special place in my heart. However, his sophomore effort left much to be desired, and only a few tracks really stuck for me. I was excited to see what would be done on this record, considering Cudi’s recent departure from Kanye’s label G.O.O.D Music and his decision to self produce. Unfortunately, the end result breaks my heart.

Each track drags, and the beats are not very well produced at all. Sometimes Cudi’s voice is so muddled with the instrumentals, I can’t even hear him. Occasionally, there’ll be a rap verse, immediately followed by a vocal silence with only the beat repeating. The songs are structured almost sporadically, and some tasty verses by guests A$AP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar, and Wu-Tang member RZA can’t save the record from what can only be described as sloppy production and songwriting.

There are one or two upsides; Cudi has improved as a singer, and this record gives him some experience in production that he had not had before. Hopefully his next release allows him to learn from his mistakes, and perhaps take some tips from his excellent old producers Plain Pat and Emile. Overall, unless you are a diehard Cudi fan, you can skip this one. Here’s his track with Kendrick, ‘Solo Dolo Pt. 2‘.

Bankrupt!

I first got into Phoenix about two summers ago when they released their hit record Wolfgang Amadaeus Phoenix. After that, I was hooked, and eagerly devoured their entire discography. Contrary to popular belief, the group is pretty prolific for an indie/pop band, releasing three albums before they made the charts. For their fifth release Bankrupt!, they keep doing what worked so well with Amadaeus; create catchy upbeat pop tunes with some heavy synth thrown in for good measure.

The first single, ‘Entertainment’, picks up right where Amadaeus left off: it provides bright, danceable beats and warm, electronic lows with rhythmic layered highs from guitar, synth, and Thomas Mars’ recognizable croon. However, the deeper I delved into the record, the more I realized how prevailant the synthy textures were compared to the last record. This electronic core differs considerably from the mostly guitar-driven tunes of Amadaeus, giving the album a slightly different feel. Different doesn’t mean bad; each track definitely feels like Phoenix and is just as infectious as their other material.

For whatever reason, however,  I was not as taken by the album as a whole in the same way I was with the previous outing. There isn’t too much variation in tempo or tone, which unfortunately makes every song very similar. I was struck by how similar the record is structured compared to its predecessor, in that they both have a longer song smack dab in the middle that separates two parts. The difference between these 6+ minute songs may be the defining factor in my experience;’Love Like A Sunset’ off of Amadaeus is just a better track than this record’s self titled track, which spans 7 minutes and is mostly just a yawn-worthy synthesized anecdote. It doesn’t contribute to the album much at all and  takes away from some of the better tracks on the record that follow. ‘Love Like A Sunset brought the previous record together perfectly, and the key component it held for the album experience is absent in Bankrupt!.

Overall, I do enjoy the record. I think I may be being unrealistic by expecting another record like the last one, but the shadow it casts is there whether I mention it or not. Though not as catchy or grabbing as Amadeus, Bankrupt! is still a solid entry in the Phoenix discography. Here’s my favorite track, ‘SOS in Bel Air’.

There you have it folks- the last couple weeks most prominent releases. I’ll be back next week for both Fitz and The Tantrums, Daughters and Vampire Weekend!

Double Review: The Comeback Kids/Comedown Machine

This week, I listened to two artists that have returned to this place we call the music industry after at least a five year absence: David Bowie and Justin Timberlake. I thought it’d be fun to offer my thoughts on these wildly different artists whose only similarity is the proximity in which they released long overdue new material. Also, The Strokes! Here We Go!

The Next Day

David Bowie has been around the block a few times. Throughout the years, he’s been an actor even when there weren’t any cameras in front of him (there usually were); his various personas always reflected the musical styles he flawlessly captured in his records. In The Next Day, it feels like all these personas were blended into one Bowie to Rule Them All (please humor me). Elements of glam guitar and stadium rock and roll permeate the album, but he still retains some of  the sentimentality and piano-driven songwriting found in records like Heroes.

Bowie takes full advantage of the recording effects of the digital age that were previously unavailable to him  to more effectively implicate his smaller idiosyncrasies in arranging and orchestration, and the record sounds beautiful production-wise. His vocal stylings and memorable lyrics are as present as ever, and the records overall theme of feeling left behind as the world continues to turn is especially heard in tracks like “Where Are We Now?”. A gorgeous and mounting ballad, the instrumental tracks sound as reflective and hauntingly beautiful as the lyrics and delicate vocals. On the other side of the coin is a quirky, fast-paced, almost progressive rock sound on tracks like “If You Can See Me”, which at first made me check to make sure a Yes track hadn’t snuck its way into my playlist. Tracks like these, I realized, were necessary to prevent the monotony that would have ensued, considering the mid-tempo nature of the majority of the record.

Overall, David Bowie’s unbeatable song-crafting abilities have benefited from the new technology available to him; his various music styles and lyrical strengths, unlike many of his contemporaries, have proved resilient to the test of time .   Here’s my favorite track (also the first single) “Where are We Now?”


The 20/20 Experience

After a five year sabbatical from the world of music –despite some SNL shorts– Justin Timberlake is back to doing pop music the right way. Much of the crisp, flowing, and utterly refined sound of both this release and Futuresex/Lovesounds is thanks to the brilliance of producer Timbaland, but to give him all the credit would be a diservice to J-Tim’s catchy and often clever lyrics, along with a wonderful set of pipes and all the right sensibilities.

The record starts off with an orchestrated hurricane of strings that descends into a delightfully infectious groove in “Pusher Love Girl”. The otherworldly production and catchiness continues in first single “Suit & Tie” before descending into some deeper cuts. Similar to his last release, Justin seems to craft each song with a formula of intro,verse, interlude, then back to the verse, all seamlessly compacted into 7-8 minute packages. Each section is unique (feeling more like movements of a classical piece than parts of a pop song) but still holds pieces of the greater whole; this lengthy formula is unheard of coming from any other pop artist.

20/20 surpasses the already stellar Futuresex/Lovesounds in the pure variety of the record. While “Suit & Tie” and and “Don’t Hold The Wall” incorporate danceable beats and spacey instrumentation, tracks like “Pusher Love Girl” and “That Girl” bring bright guitar riffs and soaring vocal harmonies to a slightly more halting tempo. Beyond that, tracks like like “Spaceship Coupe” and the introspective “Blue Ocean Floor” offer something more in terms of brooding reverb and swelling synths. The two constants through all this variety is the exceptional vocals and production that sets Timberlake’s records apart.

All in all, Justin Timberlakes 20/20 experience is one of the most refreshing records I’ve heard this year and has, in my opinion, surpassed his previous works. If you want to hear a modern R&B/pop masterpiece, give this record a spin; you won’t regret it.

Here’s my favorite track (this was painful to choose), “That Girl”.

The Comedown Machine

They’re back. Before I continue, I just want to let you know, valued reader, that I love all of their material. Yes, that includes the less well-received First Impressions of Earth and their most recent album before this Angles. I am a huge fan with a huge bias, so take this review with a grain of salt.

The most prominent thought I had throughout my listen-through of the album was this;”these guys have come a long way.” Each track, like Bowie’s record, seems to embody different periods in the groups career. 50/50 felt like Angles vocals collided with some of the slower tracks from First Impressions like “Ask Me Anything”, and “80’s Comedown Machine” feels almost like a Room on Fire B-side. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like these tracks live up to the entities they emulate, but the important thing is that every track is easily branded with a Strokes insignia.

That being said, unlike the majority of previous releases, the record grooves. A lot. Some of the funky electronic qualities that first manifested in Angles are even more effectively incorporated in tracks like “50/50″, “Slow Animal”, and “Partners in Crime”. Some may see this as a departure from what makes The Strokes great, but I see these advancements and occasional delving into something closer to Julian’s solo material as a welcome freshness.

This record is similar to Angles in that I feel like there is a track on here for everyone. Whatever you may feel for the Strokes, Comedown Machine has at least one track that will appeal to you. Even a poor misguided soul who was looking for a breezy jazz ballad in a Strokes record will find one in the final track “Call it Fate Call It Karma” (No, I’m not kidding). I enjoyed all of it thoroughly, and maintain that Julian, Albert and the boys still have something to offer to the world of music. Here’s my pick (and an excellent first track), “Tap Out”.

The Update

Wow, I’m actually posting something? What is going on? Well, I’m posting to tell you that I’m a new man, and one of my new policies is to update this thing at least every monday with a review or some news or what I’ve been listening to or a picture of a dinosaur. I like dinosaurs.

Anyway, I’ve missed a lot in the last two months, so this post is going to fill you, o’valued reader, in on what Josh has been listening to for the last two months he was farting around.

JANUARY

The Joy Formidable- Wolf’s Law

The first song I heard from these guys was “Whirring” off their first major release, The Big Roar. What impressed me was not the technical playing or performance, but just the very idea that this huge shoegaze/loud alternative sound was coming from three people. This ‘roaring’ rock sound continues through in Wolf’s Law and is complimented by a perfect mixture of swelling, powerful guitars and incorporations of light ambient synths that blend excellently with an otherwise Rock and Roll sound. Ritzy Bryan has proved herself to be an excellent presence when surrounded by these bombastic soundscapes, and whether her voice is distorted or clean, it always cuts through and dominates the track. If you liked The Big Roar, or just need something with pure rock sensibilities and a kick-ass female lead singer, Wolf’s Law takes the cake so far this year. Here’s “This Ladder is Ours”, the first track on this exceptional album.

Foxygen- We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic

Okay, let’s get one thing straight. I don’t like the Rolling Stones. Not that I have any sort of problem with them; they just don’t really do much for me. I can’t deny the allure and majesty of songs like “Gimme’ Shelter”, but other than that I’ve never found a motivation to fanboy over Mick or Keith or any of the others. When listening to this record, however, I hear an uncanny resemblance to the stones sound and for some reason I am not deterred; I am attracted to it. It may be that Foxygens’ sound also has sprinkles of The Velvet Underground, psychedelic era Beatles and Bob Dylan (all of which I enjoy), but it’s the Stones attitude that made this record stand out like it does. Maybe this is the breaking point. Maybe this is when I start to understand why Paint It Black is a good song. Anyway, Foxygen’s psychedelic and interestingly named debut has a welcome place in my library, and it may have just opened doors in my own musical intelligence I didn’t know existed. Check out “No Destruction” below.

FEBRUARY

Coheed & Cambria- The Afterman: Descension

Coheed moves triumphantly forward with their new Afterman project while still incorporating the melodic and lyrical aspects that made me fall in love with them in the first place. If someone told me this record had a song with horns in it, I would have assumed the worst, but the track in question was refreshing while still maintaining the sound I can’t get enough of. If you like Coheed, especially the stuff before No World for Tomorrow, give this a listen.

Foals – Holy Fire

Foals is an interesting band. A blend of dance indie acts like Friendly Fires and Two Door Cinema Club, more traditional alternative acts like Interpol, and a bit of electronic introspection the likes of Caribou and even recent Radiohead releases, Foals brings something new to the table. Most tracks in their first release Total Life Forever almost adopted a post-rocky building structure, and this release uses the same idea more effectively; the pieces of the build are more interesting, and they move faster towards a grand climax. Also similar to their first release, many of the tracks are danceable and catchy, and lead singer Yannis Philippakis brings a bluesy grooving feel to match the tribal drums and syncopated guitars. Check out  their single “Inhaler” below.

Jim James- Regions of Light and Sound of God

My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James sure knows how to groove. His crooning voice reminds me eerily of Dirty Projectors lead singer David Longstreth at some points, and his moving piano lines and bouncing drum beats keep you paying attention. I unfortunately don’t have much of a background with MMJ, but this introspective and bright endeavor has just motivated me to do my homework and see what I’ve been missing. Here’s “Know Til Now”, my favorite off the record.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds- Push the Sky Away

Nick Cave has been around for a while. His group The Bad Seeds have been around since ’83. I have not explored his music before, but like the Jim James album mentioned above, this release has motivated me to see what I’ve been missing. Drifting between an Avante-Garde spoken word sound and orchestral alternative rock, Nick Cave seems to produce haunting melodies and chilling spoken poetry with the same ease as a more tradition rhythm and melody. His music, much like predecessor Tom Waits, tells a story, and although the instrumentals are excellent, it’s the lyrics that really makes Cave superior to some of the other similar acts that have formed after him. Here’s a good sample of his sound (for this album at least), “Wide Lovely Eyes”. The video also does an excellent job of highlighting Cave’s lyrical complexities.

Atoms For Peace- Amok

Finally, back to familiar territory. For those of you unaware, Atoms for Peace is a supergroup of sorts formed by Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke with his producer and long time friend Nigel Godrich, Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame, Drummer Joey Waronker (who works mostly with Beck), and Brazilian percussionist Mauro Rafosco. Put them all together, and you get a delightfully spacey and beat-laced release that incorporates the electronic themes of Radiohead’s last effort on a whole other level. The record is sample heavy and very polyrhythmic, but Thom’s simple and ensnaring vocal melodies keep each track grounded so you know when to bob your head. On previous singles and unreleased tracks, I hadn’t noticed how much Mauro contributes to the sound, but his varied arsenal of percussion brings unexplored timbres and new flavors to an otherwise familiar Thom Yorke (dare I say it) masterpiece. Overall, the record is solid, especially if you enjoy the electronic and ambient textures found on In Rainbows, King of Limbs, and Thom’s solo effort The Eraser. Here’s the excellent video for  “Ingenue”.

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Welp, that’s all I got. I will be updating mondays, so keep coming back to see if I post a dinosaur picture. Seeya then!

Best Albums of 2012

Remember me? After a long semester and indefinite hiatus, I’m back right on the cusp of the new year to make sure you don’t miss the best of the best from the last 12 months. I’ve reviewed some of my favorites already, but there are a few in here that I missed the first time around, or that were released while I was (supposedly) advancing in my education. I’ll give you a top ten with a variation of genres, and wrap it up with a list of honorable mentions. Happy Listening!

P.S. These are in no particular order.

10. Sweet Heart Sweet Light- Spiritualized

Spiritualized is one of those bands that puts something out every couple of years, and constantly tops themselves. Led by the ingenious Jason Pierce, this most recent installment had me close to tears. Beautiful choral and string arrangements, lyrically poignant and indescribably flowing, the record is a must-listen all the way through. He also sounds uncannily like Lou Reed. Here’s one of the singles, if you’re still not convinced to listen to the whole thing.

9. Channel Orange- Frank Ocean

The best song wasn’t the single, but you weren’t either.

To be completely honest, if I had to pick one album from this list as the definitive Best Album of 2012, it would be this. Fortunately, I like to appeal to those with varying tastes, so I will not favor this album over any other. Even though it is my baby.

Mindless praise aside, Odd Future house singer Frank Ocean blends electronic and acoustic tastes of R&B in a whole new way on his debut LP. The entire album grooves, and we see excellent guest work from the likes of Earl Sweatshirt, Andre 3000, and John Mayer. Each song is perfectly tailored with pop sensibilities,  and his lyrics varie from comical quips and clever rhymes to deeper introspection and social commentary. The production and performance is spot on as well, and the way Frank meshes with anyone he shares the sound waves with is nothing short of amazing. I strongly encourage even those who tend to avoid R&B to give it a chance. You won’t be able to turn it off.

Here’s the Stevie Wonder-esque Sweet Life.

8. Blunderbuss- Jack White

I believe I’ve already blabbed enough about why Mr. White’s solo album is wonderful, and worthy of a spot. Check out my Blunderbuss review here.

Here’s the last track on the record performed live, which really defines all the tones Jack explored.

7. Until the Quiet Comes- Flying Lotus

FlyLo has had on hell of a year. His dark ambient beats and mellow electronica that have been permeating Adult Swim announcements and underground clubs for years have gained some popularity , he started his rap career as a mysterious Captain Murphy alongside Earl Sweatshirt, and he’s released my (as well as many other critics) favorite electronic record this year. The album has a constant, beautiful flow to it, and female vocal samples from the likes of Erykah Badu improve on Lotus’s mostly instrumental past. Earlier works such as Los Angeles and Cosmogramma are almost designed for a constant listen through, but Until The Quiet Comes is much more flexible. Each song is a complete thought, but it also improves upon the track following it. The record still feels like Flying Lotus, but new tones and song structures make this one of his most refreshing releases. Check out See Thru To U below, and let it take you away.

6.  Lonerism- Tame Impala

Tame Impala. If you’re looking for modern psychedelic rock, it doesn’t get much better than this. Couple flangy, reverby guitars with a bombastic drummer and a singer that sounds like Paul McCartney, and you have all the essentials in summery vibes and head bobbing grooves. Their previous release Innerspeaker had become my favorite record of the psychedelic variety, and I didn’t expect this to top it. I was very wrong.

Everything that made Innerspeaker great is utilized exponentially. A very prominent and driving bass line, use of both acoustic and electric keys with a variety of “trippy” effects, and soaring vocals permeate every track, and the album builds upon the successful elements of it’s predecessor in the most effective ways. The group really capitalizes on walls of sound to get their message across, and this is without a doubt one of the best records with a psychedelic tinge to be released in the past 10 years. If you like, rock, flange, the Beatles, and good music, give Lonerism a spin. Heres’ my favorite track, Music To Walk Home By.

5. Good Kid, m.a.a.d City- Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar has always been lyrically brilliant. His October release Good Kid, M.A.A.D City tells a story of an adolescent struggling in the inner city, caught between gang violence, drugs, sex, and his obligation to his faith and family. Each track has an excellent beat, articulate lyrics, and most importantly, a place in the overarching story. Smooth, grooving bass and synth work really pulls this album together without taking away from the true star: Kendrick and his biting, witty, and reflective lyrics. Check out his track with Drake, Poetic Justice.

4. Boys and Girls- Alabama Shakes

Alabama Shakes unique rock, motown, and bluesy blend more than earns it’s place on this list. Check out the full review here.

3. Celebration Rock- Japandroids

Japandroids is the group that has given me the most energy this past year; they just make me want to move. Blocky fuzzy guitars, bombastic and driving kit work, and straight forward lyrics of love and vulnerability makes the duo one of the most powerful forces in garage rock history. If you haven’t checked out the first record Post Nothing, I highly recommend it, but this little number from Celebration Rock hooked me.

2. Love this Giant- David Byrne and St. Vincent

This has to be one of David Byrne’s greatest works, and though I do like St.Vincent as a solo artist, she flourishes with Byrne. Check out the full review here.

1. An Awesome Wave- Alt-J

I don’t know how to describe Alt-J to you, reader. Tribal indie rock? Electronic folk? I think you better decide for yourself. All I have to say is this is one of the most refreshing records from a new band I’ve heard this year. Enjoy Fitzpleasure below.

Welp, that’s all folks! Here’s a list of honorable mentions that I also enjoyed this year!

Church of Rock and Roll- Foxy Shazam- Check out my concert experience here.

Mr. M- Lambchop- old fashioned Americana/folk/Alt-country with a little bit of a bite.

Port of Morrow- The Shins- Not as good as previous endeavors, but still a very good release.

Valtari- Sigur Ros- Sigur Ros’ most recent release is very much reserved compared to the last record, and it is beautiful.

Oceania- Smashing Pumpkins- Billy is back to his roots, and Oceania is a welcomed departure from Tarantula. Check out my review here.

Periphery 2- Periphery – If hardcore/djent/metal is your cup of tea, this should be your AOTS.

Gossamer- Passion Pit-  Michael Angelakos brings a solid sophomore effort out of production hell and mental instability. Check out the review here.

Swing Lo Magellan- Dirty Projectors- An excellent follow up to Bitte Orca. Check out the double review with Passion Pit above!

Shields- Grizzly Bear- Shields brings in a more electric and heavy side to a usually softs-spoken Grizzly Bear.

Cruel Summer- G.O.O.D Music- Kanye’s label puts out some solid tracks on this group LP.

The Money Store- Death Grips- An angry, politically charged mc, a drummer, and a keyboard player get together  for some grungy lo fi experimental hip hop.

No Love Deep Webb- Death Grips- their second surprise release this year after, apparently done without the label’s permission. Much more produced, but probably                                                                           my favorite release  from them thus far.

Visions- Grimes- An electronic outing with Claire Boucher is not one you’ll likely forget.

Habits and Inhibitions- Schoolboy Q- Some of the most chill beats to be released this year, each caressing Schoolboy’s insightful and hard hitting rhymes.

DOUBLE REVIEW 3

I began this review yesterday, but the lack of decent wi-fi and my boneheaded choice to not save my draft resulted a blank slate. I hope you enjoy this review of the new xx record and the David Byrne/St.Vincent collaboration, because I’m writing it (a second time) through gritted teeth.

The xx- Coexist

The xx blew many people away with their debut record, hooking audiences with simple grooves, reverb-soaked riffs, and compelling male/female vocal interplay. This new release, to be completely honest, is simply the second cd if the group had decided to release the debut as a double album. It’s a side B. The songwriting is the same almost to a fault, and all of the elements from the first record are there without any major changes.

Some may see this as a lack of creativity; I simply see it as a young band putting out more music they know people will like. The lack of any major changes works, because, well, their original sound works. One change I did notice this time around was a more fluid transition between tracks. I recognized and consciously separated tracks in the first record, while I felt a constant current-like smoothness between tracks this time around, which I felt was refreshing.

Overall, the album feels like part 2 of the debut, with a slightly more fluid track list. I grudgingly enjoyed it, but the group is going to have to do something different to keep my attention for their next effort.

Best Tracks: Angel, Chained, Try

David Byrne/St.Vincent- Love This Giant

I haven’t been this excited for an album in a very long time, and I was more than pleasantly surprised with this release from singer/songwriter St. Vincent and former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne. The songwriting is eclectic, charming, and curiously horn driven. Each artist wrote their own lyrics, with one exception being the Forest Wakes, which Byrne wrote. The album is simply delightful, still carrying the weird eclecticism that both artists channel, but in a little funkier, “saxier” (dear lord) fashion.

Overall, I can’t recommend it enough. You’ll be hooked.

Best Tracks: Who, Dinner for Two, Ice Age, Outside of Space and Time…all of it.

DOUBLE REVIEW 2

Welcome to Round 2 of my Double Review extravaganza. This week, two albums were released: Stars’ “The North” and Animal Collective’s “Centipede Cz”. Both groups have made impressive releases in the past, so I went into these reviews with fairly high expectations. Let’s see how they fared.

Stars- The North

The first thing I thought when the first track began was “This is different”, which is not a bad thing in the slightest. Stars has an uncanny ability to encapsulate me with one song or section, only to put me to sleep the next. Stylistically, The North goes for  a more concise and traditional song form without sacrificing the effortless mix of strings, synth, guitar, and both live and electric drums. With this songwriting formula, as well as the excellent  male/female lyrical counterpoint I’ve come to expect from Stars, you would assume that this is their best album yet. It isn’t to my ears.

Though this record merits multiple enjoyable listens, with a growth factor measured in, it still does not live up to the best tracks of Heart or  records like In The Bedroom After the War or Set Yourself On Fire. There’s just a lack of energy and emotional sensitivity in The North that was displayed in spades in earlier endeavors. That element that kept bringing me back just isn’t there.

Now, this isn’t to say that the record is bad. The songwriting and structure are still superb, as is the production. I enjoyed listening to it. I just don’t feel that it has the longevity of previous works.

Best Tracks: Title Track, Theory of Relativity, A Song is A Weapon

Animal Collective- Centipede Cz

Deakin is back. After the critical acclaim of guitarless record Merriweather Post Pavilion, an excellent album in its own right, Deakin has returned from his hiatus to bring back some punch and texture, as well as his own peculiar style of songwriting. Those not familiar with AC’s earlier work may be a bit apprehensive to hear things get a little ‘weird’, but I personally love the input that the returning member had in Strawberry Jam and Feels.The real question remains; Did I enjoy his input on this record, and did I enjoy this record in general?

It’s a complicated answer to a simple question. It’s hard for me to listen to a musical group that has had such an impact on me previously, because I’ll have a heavy bias on those earlier works (some of you probably already know this from previous reviews). The simple answer is yes, I did enjoy it. However, I was not impressed with the songwriting and didn’t really notice any dramatic improvement in the bands’ execution. When I say improvement, I simply mean that nothing jumped out at me as original, and I didn’t notice any sections or stylistic touches unlike anything I’ve heard on their previous records. Call me crazy, but I feel like they were playing it safe.

Overall, a few songs popped for me, but not in the same memorable way that I’m used to when listening to these creative musical minds.

Best Tracks: Apple Sauce, Monkey Riches, Father Time

These reviews are obviously a week late, and they’ve been sitting on my desktop for the last 5 days. To make up for lost time, I’ll be reviewing The XX’s new release Coexist and the St.Vincent/David Byrne collaborative record Love This Giant tommorow. I’ll also be making a new page that includes my personal favorite albums of all time, just to give you a clue into my tastes and let you decide if you want to listen to me blab any longer. Ciao!

DOUBLE REVIEW

Well it’s been a crazy summer, and after my random unannounced hiatus, I’m here to deliver two mini-reviews for the albums I told you I was going to review and proceeded to never do. I will be much more active and strict in my update schedule now that I’m back to the grind/at school, and I hope you guys can look to me for your latest music cravings! For now, on with the reviews.

Passion Pit- Gossamer

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What began as a dedicated EP for a soon-to-be ex of band leader Michael Angelakos has become one of the most energizing and exciting electro-pop acts on the scene. The groups’ sophomore effort, Gossamer, has much of the same catchy, synth-soaked appeal of the debut Manners, but with a much darker lyrical tone.
Angelakos was going through a lot of emotional crises during the creation of this album. Fits of depression, self hatred, and world-weariness were experienced on a daily basis, and the emotional responses to these difficulties is heard clearly in both vocal lines and the lyrics themselves. What makes this tone so vivid is what juxtaposes it; a bright synth, a danceable beat, and a major tonality. There were elements of a darker Michael in some of the the lyrical content of past works, but never with such prominence can they be heard than in Gossamer. However, there are still rays of hope that shine though the dreary, and it’s all sunshine in one of my favorite tracks, “I’ll Be Alright”.
As much as I enjoyed this album, it really didn’t live up to my expectations. Maybe I was expecting the same catchiness that has hot-glued numerous Manners tracks to my brain, and maybe that was too much to ask. Overall, the album is still an enjoyable ride, but it may take a few more listens to fully appreciate what I expected to hook me from 00:01.

Best Tracks: I’ll Be Alright, Constant Conversations

Dirty Projectors-Swing Lo Magellan

After Bitte Orca, a sun drenched, vocal harmony driven wonder of an outing, I think the Dirty Projectors wanted to move in 5 different directions. They wanted to mesh everything that they could into their sound without sacrificing what made them great. In my opinion, they did exactly that with Swing Lo Magellan.
What initially blew me off my heels was the integration of a more electronic sound. The first track has something like 808s, ladies in gentlemen. On the other side of the spectrum, the use of strings from past endeavors (including their work with Bjork) has taken a larger prominence, but they still have that distorted guitar to cut through and bring a rock attitude into all the other layers.
To put it simply, I love the album. Haley, Amber, and David take their harmonies and vocal prowess to new heights, and the disjointed-and-yet-whole guitar melodies and strumming are complimented by a wonderful rhythm section who are doing something new, while still maintaining the character I’ve come to love. For fans of previous works from the Dirty Projectors, I have one statement; If you like that, you’re gonna love this.

Best Tracks: Dance for You, Swing Lo Magellan, OffSpring Are Blank

So that’s that. I’ll be back tomorrow with the review for the newest Animal Collective album, Centipede Cz. Thanks for reading!

Concert Review: Foxy Shazam

Foxy Shazam is one of those bands that gets it right. They remind you of some of the greatest musical moments of the past and add a little kick of novelty. So when I heard from a variety of sources that they put on one of the greatest live experiences in the music world today, I had to drop the 20 dollars and hour and a half drive to see for myself.

If you’re unfamiliar with this wonderful new rock act reminiscent of Queen, check out these two videos before reading further.

The entire show was spectacular. Unfortunately, the opening band who sounded mysteriously like The Fall of Troy took an extra hour, which consequently shortened Eric Nally’s presence. But when he did enter the building, the energy didn’t leave until he did.

Let me just say, Foxy Shazam has one of the most powerful combination of stage personalities in the business. The bass player balances his bass on one finger, the keyboard player stomps on his instrument and plays it while crowd surfing (I helped  hold it up), the drummer alludes to coitis with the trumpet player with theirs, and Eric eats lit cigarettes and hits notes most girls can’t afterwards. There was not a moment of their 40 minute set that I wasn’t entertained, and I would gladly pay twice the price to do it all again.

Overall, my only complaint was that there was no encore. If you ever get the opportunity to see this big ball of energy in your own town, don’t hesitate. In the words of lead Singer Eric Nally,” Wham, Bam, Thank You Foxy Shazam.”