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”.

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”.

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!

Smashing Pumpkins- Oceania

Billy Corgans’ latest entry into the world of modern rock music is one of excellent pacing and songwriting, as well as more experimenting with what gives the Smashing Pumpkins their signature sound.

After the last album, which became a critical punching bag (with good reason, in my opinion), Corgan seems to have worked hard to expand his sound and take more risks. At times during my listen-through, I was reminded of more recent groups that have entered the scene later than the 80’s-born Pumpkins, especially alternative rockers Circa Survive. A lot of reverb and delay can be heard in the guitar work, and an occasional synth layer on a few of the tracks is refreshing to hear compared to the Pumpkins past work. What really makes this album shine though is the pacing. Corgan organized this title with flawless flow, from the slower acoustic songs to the more experimental tracks to the slick and distorted rock and roll that brought his band to prominence. Lyrically, Corgan retains his fluxuating dark and bright tone, and the more electronic aspects really click with his voice.

Overall, this record has earned itself a solid 8/10 with me. Although it isn’t as ambitious as Mellon Collie, or as experimental as Adore, it still has what I want to hear in a pumpkins album (good lyrics, crooning vocals, and both articulate and heavy instrumentals) while also adding something new. Corgan strove to start a movement back to album oriented rock with this record, and I think for the most part, he achieved his goal.

Check out The Chimera below!

Best Coast- The Only Place

Best Coast’s sophomore effort after the summery treat that was Crazy for You is noticeably less memorable. For one thing, the vocals have lost their dreamy and reverb-soaked charm, and it’s much harder to ignore the admittedly uncreative lyrics in each song. This direct lyrical style fit in the lo-fi, jangly surfing mood of the first album, but it seems out of place and boring in what can be described as an overproduced album. The duo has headed for a much poppier sound, and it’s not a change for the better. The charm of the punkish production and the exciting drive is gone, and the multiple harmonized vocal tracks remind me of  Taylor Swift.

Overall, if you are looking for a simple pop album to listen to, and you happen to like T-Swift (I don’t particularly care for her, but I don’t hate her either), give this album a listen. However, if you loved Crazy For You and expect more of the same summery greatness, you will undoubtedly be unpleasantly surprised.

Jack White- Blunderbuss

Jack White has always been a personal inspiration of mine, so this post may seem a little biased. Regardless, it has become a consensus that his ability to adapt the blues into a modern rock setting and make it sound refreshing is unparralelled. This being his first solo endeavor without the backing of Meg White, the Dead Weather, or the Raconteurs, I was curious as to how well he could recreate a genre he had so often breathed life into. I was not disappointed.

Right off the bat, the album opens with a bluesy organ groove in “Missing Pieces”, delivering something that feels like Jack White, and yet seems to delve further into the blues that inspired him. This is not the bass-empty, unstrained jams of the White Stripes, nor the mean, dirty, dark, whiskey-drenched blues The Dead Weather wreaks of. No, this is a cleaner, more refined blues (is that an oxymoron?), while still delivering that rock sound that can be found in anything Mr. White writes; this indicative rock sound is evident in “Missing Saltines”. While still ‘kicking out the jams’, Jack seems to take a softer tone towards the middle of the album by bringing in an masterful acoustic duet in “Love Interruption” and a string soaked ballad in the title track. He also seems to have take more of a fancy to the piano; It can be be heard in prominence in several tracks, especially “Weeping Themselves to Sleep”.

Despite all the inovations and creativity Jack White breathes into the blues, he never quite strays from everything that makes the genre. Very basic chord structures, a certain attitude, and raunchy lyrics permeate the album, and remind us that Jack is still still exactly what he was inspired by, and what he has always aspired to be: a blues musician.

All and all, Blunderbuss is a truly unique experience to anything else Jack White has every created, and you should go listen to it. Right. Now.