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.

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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!

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!

Concert Review: Radiohead

So, I spent almost a Benjamin to head up to Newark with a few of my friends to watch this weird British character named Thom Yorke “dance” around the stage to some obscure music.

It was the best show I’ve ever been to.

Every single song they played was magnificent, and the entire band was very together, played well, and expressed clearly that they were having the time of their lives; that expression carried around the entire stadium in every fans face, intoxicated or sober. Even the newer songs released after their most recent album The King of Limbs entranced the audience, but the true magic happened when the group touched on their past endeavors. An entire stadium singing Karma Police, Everything In It’s Right Place, The National Anthem, and Weird Fishes was nothing short of breathtaking to witness and take part in.The light show was absolutely phenomenal , and the engineers behind it obviously knew the music and how to communicate the intensity and varying moods to the audience visually.

All in all, Radiohead is one group who has not only excelled in the art of performance; they have perfected it. They can entertain an entire stadium full of people for without a break for two hours, and perform two encores. I would pay to have that experience again and again.

And who knows, maybe I’ll get something better than nosebleed seats next time.

Sigur Ros Announce Tour Dates

Icelandic Post-Rock group Sigur Rós have announced a North America tour to go along with their new album Valtari, which will be released on May 30th. For those of you who have never experienced Sigur Rós, you are missing out on an amazing group. The lead singer, who goes by the name of Jonsí, has an incredible powerful falsetto, and the instrumentation on many of their tracks is absolutely breathtaking. Their music has been featured on several different commercials, and this one is probably the most recognizable. Do yourself a favor and listen to Takk… all the way through.

For those of you familiar with the band, check out the new single.

Spine Hits – Sleepy Sun

Sleepy Sun is an apt name or this lazy California rock outfit, a fact that can be recognized from the first few seconds of their new release, Spine Hits. The guitar jams, the singers harmonize, and the drummer hammers along, each member adding to the overall calm, dreamy, summery feel that envelopes the album. Lead singer Bret Constantino channels both the Shins and Manchester Orchestra vibes, but the song structures varie from similarities to U2 to Soundgarden to a ‘Lucy in the Sky’ era Beatles. It’s an interesting mix, and not one to be passed off as another yawn-worthy indie band. For such a lazy band, they just can’t seem to stand still. In this case, that’s a very good thing.

Check out my pick Creatures. Note: All picks will now be linked to Spotify, a great free music streaming program available here.