Monday, August 13, 2012

August 7 Releases

Totally forgot to publish this last week.

This week is a lot of music, so the review will go out late. In between albums, I’m listening to an awesome track from The Goat Rodeo Sessions featuring Aoife O’Donovan.

10 Years – Minus The Machine

2 of 5 stars

Fits squarely into the melodramatic metal space that I just have no tolerance for. I want to connect to an artist, and I just can’t connect with whiny “metal” like this. Combine vocals that sound on the verge of crying with a mediocre production, and you get this album. I’ll give an extra star to compensate for my bias against anything in this little sub-genre.

Antony & The Johnsons – Cut The World

3 of 5 stars

Well executed orchestral pop in a cabaret style. Emotive and evocative, but just a bit too heavily stylized to connect with the person behind it. Maybe I’m just not familiar with the genre enough to hear the nuance, but I hear more archetype than individual.

Ape School – Junior Violence

4 of 5 stars

Good songs, great arrangement. Hooks and grooves enough to keep things interesting. Songs have movement and interest with each section setting up the next very very well.

Buffalo Killers – Dig. Sow. Love. Grow.

4 of 5 stars

Simple and effective tunes with a timeless, big blues-rock production. There are so many layers in the recording (at least three guitars on some tracks) that it is hard to imagine what a live performance would be like. I suppose with such a big production in the recording, the live show must have an enormous amount of energy if it is to match.

Fergus & Geronimo – Funky Was the State of Affairs

4 of 5 stars

A clever little alien punk album. Fun songs interspersed with bits of spoken word interludes.

Los Straitjackets – Jet Set

5 of 5 stars

You can’t deny the power of good instrumental rock in the tradition of The Ventures. The melody is wonderfully forward, the bass has such fantastic grooves, and the mix is aggressive enough to really bring out the arrangement.

Niki & The Dove – Instinct

4 of 5 stars

Enjoyable electronic pop album. I particularly enjoy the juxtaposition of non-counterpoint, primitive vocal harmony with the synthetic texture beneath.

Opossom – Electric Hawaii

4 of 5 stars

Phantastic, bass-driven psych-pop. Songs move well. It’s a fun listen.

Redd Kross – Researching the Blues

4 of 5 stars

Solid rock album. Walls of guitars and vocal harmonies over a tight rhythm section drive the well-crafted songs.

The Reverent Peyton’s Big Damn Band – Between The Ditches

4 of 5 stars

I love the guitar work here. I only wish the vocals were anywhere near as pleasant; they just sound over-stylized and forced. It still gets almost a five in my book because the songs are great, the guitar is truly awesome, and the arrangements hold my interest.

Spider Bags – Shake My Head

4 of 5 stars

Hard-driving rock with punk flare. It’s a fun album with a good production aesthetic.

Stagnant Pools – Temporary Room

4 of 5 stars

Wall of cymbals and reverb-drenched guitar behind a brooding vocal. It stands out, and I like it.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

July 31 Releases

This week is much shorter than last week. I’m cleansing my palate with Say Hi’s Sister Needs A Settle off the 2011 album Um, Uh Oh.

Flats – Better Living

4 of 5 stars

Raw hardcore like I haven’t listened to in years. It isn’t pretty or refined in any way, and it isn’t supposed to be. It is expressive and the songs have plenty of movement and dynamic.

Nachtmystium – Silencing Machine

1 of 5 stars

Timid and lifeless. It seems that nearly every opportunity to introduce dynamics and movement is wasted. Some of the most uninspired work I’ve heard. Metal – as will all music – should evoke something; the only things this ever evokes are boredom and occasional annoyance at the abrupt and ineffective attempts at dynamics.

The Company Band – Pros & Cons

5 of 5 stars

High energy, dynamic hard rock with groove and plenty of hook. It keeps my interest and makes me want to sing along in my best epic rock voice with my hand held high. Wonderfully arranged, confident songs that demand attention.

Toadies – Play.Rock.Music.

3 of 5 stars

A really enjoyable album. Simple and effective rock and roll. Songs move well and leave a nice aftertaste. …At least until track eight. Gimmicky production of a less impressive song doesn’t add anything to the album. It is quite amazing how one track can bring the whole album down; the first seven tracks here are a four bordering on a five, but the whole album gets a three because it falls apart at track eight and it never quite recovers.

Pat Travers – Blues On Fire

4 of 5 stars

Hard blues that hits you in the gut. A great album to lift the spirits.

Monday, July 30, 2012

July 24 Releases

Okay, this is nearly a week late, but I have an excuse. I was obsessively researching guitars in order to find the right flatpicking guitar. Having listened to a lot of Doc Watson over the past year, and after all the festivals I went to this summer, I discovered that I actually really enjoy good flatpicking. I’ll try not to let things like this delay my listening again.

Today’s listening will be broken up by Annabelle Lee by Sarah Jarosz to allow each album to live in the same context.

Fang Island – Major

5 of 5 stars

Foot moving pop/rock with big harmony vocals. It’s hard not to be in a good mood listening to this. Tons of layers, melodies, and counter-melodies combine to make me want to dance like a happy fool.

Golden Retriever – Occupied with the Unspoken

3 of 5 stars

Continuous stream of interesting electronic textures. It almost feels like the whole thing is an introduction to something else. As it’s well executed, I’ll give it a three, but going beyond that would be like saying that a book of beautifully typeset lorem ipsum is on the same level as even a poorly printed copy of King Lear.

Grasscut – Unearth

4 of 5 stars

Many-layered modern pop. Textures and electronic grooves sitting behind mellow pop songs with a bit of post-rock style. It’s pleasant to listen to, but not earth-shattering. A very solid contribution to this space.

Lawrence Arabia – The Sparrow

5 of 5 stars

Fantastic grooves behind excellent songwriting. Dynamic and engaging arrangements that are perfectly suited to each song.

Micachu and the Shapes – Never

2 of 5 stars

Fills the sonic space up with a lot of transient-heavy sounds. The overuse of intentional dissonance, out-of-phased sounds, and tape effects distracts from what could have been decent songs and makes the album nearly unlistenable.

Passion Pit – Gossamer

4 of 5 stars

Hook-filled modern original programmed pop. Pop songs done the way songs should be done, with production that supports rather than detracts from the core of the songs.

Purity Ring – Shrines

2 of 5 stars

Overuse of reversed samples, too much reliance on sub-bass, and nothing noteworthy from the songs themselves… Not an impressive album.

Slug Guts – Playin’ In Time With the Deadbeat

4 of 5 stars

Raw and invigorating music. Brings something fresh to the conversation with a combination of heavily surf-influenced but dirty guitars, decidedly contemporary rhythms, and enough reverb to fill an olympic-size pool.

The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten

3 of 5 stars

Anthemic rock that balances a modern rock influence with classic stadium rock. It doesn&8217;t bring anything new to the discussion, but it isn&38217;t just a rehash of the same old. An fun and enjoyable album.

Young Moon – Navigated Like the Swans

4 of 5 stars

Simple interwoven lines produce movement behind evocative songwriting. Enough bell-like tibres and reverb to feel like I’m drowning in a glacial lake, but by some miracle, I don’t mind.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

July 17 Releases

Today’s new releases with be served up with a tune from one of my top 10 albums of 2011: Billy in the Lowground from Chris Thile & Michael Daves’ Sleep With One Eye Open. If you haven’t listened to this album at least 50 times, do.

3 Pill Morning – Black Tie Love Affair

2 of 5 stars

Generic modern hard-rock instrumentation, complete with over-processed drums. Overall, not good or bad, just entirely forgettable.

Alberta Cross – Songs of Patience

4 of 5 stars

Complex and very catchy tunes. The bass really does a great job here of laying down a solid foundation for everything else that goes on.

Baroness – Yellow & Green

4 of 5 stars

While producing music that is markedly metal, they add touches like beautiful counter-melodies and real locked-in rhythm section groove. So many bands in this market never stray from the same idioms which quickly become cliche, but Baroness is making music that brings in ideas from outside music that somehow manage to make it more and not less metal. The only thing preventing a five here is that the album as a unit wasn’t as strong as the individual tracks.

Dennis Bovell – Mek It Run

4 of 5 stars

Groove after groove. Perfect record to just have going on in the background of life. It’s not a record I think could ever capture my full attention, but I doubt there was ever any intention of that.

The Drowning Men – All Of The Unknown

4 of 5 stars

Wildly original music. Great arrangements bring out fundamentally strong songwriting.

Icky Blossoms – Icky Blossoms

2 of 5 stars

Dark and catchy dance pop. Starts with great promise but falls short as the album progresses.

Milo Greene – Milo Greene

4 of 5 stars

Fits right in with the latest trend of indie music: sweet timbres, driving rhythm (heavy on the one), full slightly non-western harmonies, ambient texture, and occasional use of acoustic instruments—banjo even—for extra texture. Pleasant and well executed, but nothing that makes it stand out from the crowd.

Old Crow Medicine Show – Carry Me Back

5 of 5 stars

Ambassadors for old time and surrounding styles of music to the rest of the world bring it again. I have a soft spot for Appalachian music, so it should come as no surprise that this album, being executed well, gets a 5 star review from me. On a related note, anybody else think that Wagon Wheel has become what Stairway to Heaven is in a guitar shop at a campsite jam?

Angus Stone – Broken Brights

5 of 5 stars

Head-bobbingly good folk rock. Dynamic arrangements really create movement in the songs to create an emotional response in concert with the songwriting. I could go on about the production for far too long, but I’ll hold back. The only aspect that doesn’t capture me is the just slightly over-Dylanesque vocal style; the vocals are on the edge of being more style than person.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

July 10 Releases Part II of II

Eleni Mandell – I Can See The Future

3 of 5 stars

Drowning in a sea of swirly reverb, the rich mezzo sometimes gets lost in more complex vocal passages, but boy is it pretty. The superposition of 60s surf and honky-tonk works really well behind her vocals, but puts her pretty squarely in a supersaturated market.

The Early November – In Currents

3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed the full band arrangements. They were very much in that pop-punk vein, but actually had movement and interesting arrangement. The acoustic tracks were losers. It seems that ever since Green Day put out Good Riddance (Time of Your Life), pop-punk bands have been putting a single acoustic track on every album. It worked for Green Day, but most of the time it just sounds like a pimply college freshman trying to impress the girls in the dorm. Without the acoustic tracks, this might have been a four.

Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan

4 of 5 stars

An album that truly elicits a physical reaction. Moments of dissonance and out-of-time playing serve to make the grooves pop. This dynamic album really captures the listener and holds him hostage to the whole production from bottom to top.

Delicate Steve – Positive Force

5 of 5 stars

Wonderfully expressive melodic lines over very solid grooves. Movement like this is not something many people are able to do with instrumentals.

Deep Time – Deep Time

4 of 5 stars

Great grooves pieced together with sharply contrasting changes between repeating phrases. Normally I would find this jarring style annoying, but the grooves make up for it, and the vocals are delightful.

Debo Band – Debo Band

4 of 5 stars

An utterly unique sound that moves so well, you just have to move along. It’s so massive, you can’t ignore any of this awesome album.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

July 10 Releases Part I of II

I found twelve albums this week to listen to, so I will review six today and six tomorrow.

Chatham County Line – Sight & Sound

4 of 5 stars

Tight playing of that high and lonesome sound with just a hint of contemporary style. Every instrument fits and fills its own space with confidence. About a third of the way in, the band really starts to put on a show, giving life to this live album.

Clare and the Reasons – KR-51

3 of 5 stars

Full of juxtapositions: high breathy-sweet soprano with dark arrangements, present acoustic with clean electronic instrumentation, moments of very sparse arrangement with passages of what seems to be every instrument under the sun. This all results in a pleasant if eerie sound with fantastic dynamic.

Dead Rat Orchestra – The Guga Hunters of Ness

4 of 5 stars

Strings and noise generators combine into a kind of music that could only exist today. Dissonance and noise underpinning profound melodies. Each movement emerges out of the last with sharp contrast along one axis at a time, resulting in a continuously changing stream of repetitive music.

Twin Shadow – Confess

3 of 5 stars

Another 25-30 year throwback. As long as I’ve been listening to music, there has been a trend towards throwing back about 25 to 30 years in pop music. Some acts do this really well like the psychedelic rock of Elephant 6 bands, others fail like the bands that sucked too much to remember. This album takes some of the better 80s cliches and adds some contemporary production touches to result in something that’s not too bad, but not exactly world-changing.

The Orwells – Remember When

3 of 5 stars

Well executed lo-fi rock and roll. I like the songs, and I like a good chunk of the sound, but some of the production really detracts from the end product. I know vocals are supposed to be mixed a little further back on a lo-fi track than normal, but they get lost in places. There was at least one guitar solo that sounded tacked-on, too clean, and too loud; a great reference recording on this would be the guitar solo in “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks. The transitions are cliches that distract from an otherwise quality song. This gets only three because of the production, otherwise I think it could have been a four.

Mission Of Burma – Unsound

5 of 5 stars

Big, raw rock and roll sound. This album has an edge and freshness to it. Every ounce here drips with confidence; it’s an entirely unselfconscious album that says to the world, “we could care less if you like it.” To which I must respond, “I love it!”

Friday, July 6, 2012

Casas by John Isaac Watters

This is the first of my utterly biased reviews. These are reviews where I have a connection with someone involved in the album, so my opinion is already set in their favor.

I’ve known Isaac since high school, though back then I played music with his brother Joel in high school jazz bands, and explored haunted hotels on Academic Decathlon trips with Isaac. Both Isaac and Joel started playing a lot of interesting acoustic music while out in California with their group Still Watters Run Deep. As this group dissolved with Joel’s moving away, the musicians and relationships have persisted.

In this second solo album, John Isaac’s unique vocal style and sophisticated songwriting really shine. As with much of the rest of his songwriting, these tracks really create vivid images of a stylized Southwestern life. In contrast to the first album, Parachute Tramps, this new work is stripped down to the bare minimum instrumentation, a move which displays the fundamental quality of the songwriting at play.

I’ll pay some money for this one when I get home tonight.