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

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”.

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!

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

Image

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!