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.

Advertisements

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”.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

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!

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.