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”.

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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!