Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Black Keys - El Camino

Barely stopping to catch a breath, The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach bum rush through El Camino like cats in heat. The high-octane guitar, organ, drums and even bells and chimes all seem to move together, surging forward in adrenaline-riddled spurts. While the duo has always attributed their rhythmic focus to their mutual love for old hip-hop and R&B, these songs were dipped in pure rock and roll. “Money Maker” is hearkens to the bluesy side, while “Little Black Submarines” slowly builds from an acoustic ballad a la Blitzen Trapper to fuzzy metal riffage. Album opener, “Lonely Boy,” is the best of the bunch, a rollicking good time with raw edges. It’s as danceable as anything they’ve ever done.

Lamenting love gone wrong on nearly every song, the subject matter is nothing new. But it’s what these two do best, and when Auerbach howls “she's bound to break ya" on "Money Maker," you want to shake the hand of the gold digger who inspired such fiery feelings. "All this love of mine/And all my precious time/You'll waste it 'cause you/Don't know what you want," goes "Nova Baby," one of the few songs where Auerbach takes his guitar for a high-flying solo. Sometimes the lyrics swing and miss, like the gag moment on "Run Right Back," where Auerbach cries "She doesn't read too much/But there's no doubt/She's been written about/Finest exterior/She's so superior."

With the stinging attitude and upbeat grooves, though, El Camino surpasses all of its sad-sack tendencies. Each song is it's own piece of soulful groove. Throttling forward at full-force, this is The Black Keys’ most direct and consistent album yet. With the new audience the two have garnered from 2010’s Brothers, expect to hear these songs on everything from car commercials to the nearly extinct rock radio. There isn’t a bad song in the bunch, nor a moment to relax until you’ve ingested El Camino in full.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Washed Out - Within and Without

A few words on why you should listen to one of my favorite albums of the year:

More like blissed out. Within and Without captures the feeling of complete and pure contentment, and Ernest Greene holds onto this perfect state for more than forty minutes. Airy synthesizers wash over bloated beats, while his echoed vocals stretch over layers of gooey reverb. It’s a flawless dream, come to life.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Dr. Dog - Be the Void

In their most rockin’ album to date, Dr. Dog comes down from the clouds to unfurl their breezy pop from the ground. Infusing bluesy notes on “Lonesome,” and a high-pitched guitar riff on “How Long Must I Wait” that wouldn’t sound out of place on the last Black Keys album, the Philadelphia quintet finds a more distinct groove. The biting phrase “You destroy all that’s good here/at your will/there’s a part of me though that/loves you still,” comes out like venom on “Vampire,” a mid-tempo number where the narrator can’t help but be seduced by the evil monster in question. Much of the album has the same bite, thanks to its percussive jab that feels indebted to Elvis Costello.

Of course, as is always a highlight of Dr. Dog’s music, beautiful harmonies float like feathers atop frontman Scott McMicken’s punctuated vocals. “Do, do, do, trick, tr’ trick,” echoes through “Do the Trick” like doo wop making sweet love to The Beach Boys.

While 2010’s Shame, Shame took Dr. Dog on a more reflective, gloomier journey, Be the Void is the band’s reemergence into its escapist tendencies. The common ground lies in the glossy production, a far cry from early lo-fi recordings. It suits them, especially on “Heavy Light,” a foray into the islandy afro-pop popular with bands like Givers and Friendly Fires.

Seventies psychedelia chimes through the trippy “Warrior Man” and album closer “Turning the Century” (is that a sitar?). “Big Girl” is an epic barnburner that starts with a jagged guitar groove and culminates in the sort of keyboard-heavy climax that makes dreams come true. If these songs translate live, tour dates supporting Be the Void could be the most raucous we’ve seen Dr. Dog yet. It’s gonna be a fun ride.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Real Estate, I Love You

Dogs, grandma glasses, and guitars sunny enough to fit on a Fleet Foxes record? Goddammit, my love of hipsters has been renewed! This song, but really, the whole album (Days) is one of those that you can overplay times a billion, and still feel perfectly serene at each listen. It is gummy, glowing pop music with the perfect warmth. I could wrap myself in this music and all of a sudden everything in my life would come together in perfect harmony.

It may have a bit of a Rogue Wave vibe, and so maybe it's not groundbreaking. Maybe I'm settling into my old age (24, so freakin old guys, my back hurts) and I don't need avant garde controversy in my brain. Maybe I just want to sit and listen to a song called "Kinder Blumen" because the title reminds me of smurfs and it's the kind of instrumental that needs no explanation in it's simple, repetitive glory. It's a less harsh Avi Buffalo with the same level of heart. And that bridge!

If you're looking for some comfort music that's guaranteed to up your day, check this out. It's undeniable, the reece's pieces to my candy-loving self. You're going to want to be friends with these guys. Because how can they make it seem so easy to chill out perfectly?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Fanzine - Roman Holiday

What a way to start a Monday. Fuzzy, jangly, and what a hook. It should come as no surprise that Fanzine has been touring with bands like Yuck and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Two of the current bands with the ability to look back to the nineties without getting too cliche or being unoriginal. Fanzine is in the same pocket of awesomeness--a little guitar soloing, a little excess reverb, a lot of heart. This single is coming out November 22nd on Fat Possum.

Roman Holiday by Fanzine

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Wavves - Life Sux EP

The guys in Wavves are like your immature younger brothers, fooling around with a drum set and some guitars in the basement, annoying everyone in the house. But then one day, you actually go downstairs, and realize that the noise they’ve been making for all these years is quite tuneful, and you’re going to be humming these songs for the rest of the month.

The Life Sux EP takes the raucous energy found on certain tracks on King of the Beach, and instead of interspersing them with chilled-out lo-fi nuggets, retains a hefty punch for six consecutive tracks. The band is scoring the soundtrack for the new MTV series, “I Just Want My Pants Back” with songs like Life Sux’s “I Wanna Be Dave Grohl,” a growling gut-punch with a hooky chorus that’s going to plant the Foo Fighters’ frontman in the brains of kids across the country.

But the band is best here when mixing the murky roar of grunge music with the melodies of Oasis on “Poor Lenore,” a song that, like “Post Acid” on predecessor King of the Beach, is going to take hundreds of listens before getting old. Frontman Nathan Williams gets help from his girlfriend Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast on the beachy “Nodding Off,” and members of Fucked Up contribute their signature metal howls on “Destroy,” a fast-paced garage rock rumble. Perfect for the basement, the sleazy dive bar, and now, even the television.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ben Folds - The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective

In the first anthology of Ben Folds' career, the man behind the piano peels back some of the mysteries behind his brilliant songwriting, and listeners will have a hell of a time exploring the journey. The Best Imitation of Myself is available as an 18-song album or a 3-album set, including one with Folds’ greatest hits, another that stitches together his best live performances, and a B-sides and rarities disc. Best, though, are the extensive liner notes detailing the story behind each song, from “artfully ripping off” Elton John (“Zak and Sara”) to making lyrics out of his ex-wife’s bitter letters to him (“Smoke”). It’s a joy to get a sense of the person behind such heartfelt, often hilarious musical narratives, all while enjoying a well-tailored collection of songs spanning from his early years in Ben Folds Five to three brand new recordings made for this retrospective. “Tell Me What I Did” fits right in with the playful synth blasts on Rockin’ the Suburbs, “Stumblin’ Home Winter Blues” is a slow, sweet serenade, and “House” is painful nostalgia, on par with Folds’ best melodies. The joyous playfulness of Folds’ live improvisation, reflected in this set in full measure, is a true testament to what makes him an unstoppable force and ever-evolving artist.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Deer Tick - Divine Providence

For a rock band that prides itself on lighting dollar bills on fire inside their mouths in the middle of live shows, you would expect Deer Tick to strike forth with an album full of barnburners. Their purported badassery falls short, especially on “Now It’s Your Turn,” where John McCauley sounds more like a whiny Keane than Jagger as he pours his heart out to the girl who broke his. They make up for it with beer-soaked tirades (“Let’s All Go to the Bar,” “The Bump”) and growling licks atop loose-cannon percussion (“Main Street”). Best of all is “Make Believe,” a mid-tempo rocker with guitar solos that croak to perfection and imagery so believable that listeners actually might imagine themselves inside the “you cheated on me” narrative.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fleet Foxes Live Review - Louisville Palace

Fleet Foxes at The Louisville Palace, Louisville, KY, October 5th, 2011

The Louisville Palace is covered with ornate sculpture, and when you look up at the ceiling, you are immersed in a replica of the night sky, glowing stars shining down on the crowd. Yet when Fleet Foxes took the stage, their three- and four-part harmonies danced through their performance like rays of sunshine. Each note was incredibly tailored to perfection, yet effortlessly blended. There were moments that night where nothing—nothing—could pull you down.

As Robin Pecknold reminded us of strawberries in summertime in the echoed chorus of “White Winter Hymnal,” the gentle melodic guitars and cymbal-heavy percussion set the scene for a night of simple joys. Songs like “Battery Kinzie” and “Lorelai” were heavy on the guitar, at times covering up Pecknold’s liquid-clear crooning. But the blend of each of the six members’ instruments was most often on point, displaying a seamless sense of solidarity amongst the band.

Songs from the their second full-length album, Helplessness Blues, gave Fleet Foxes a chance to show off more of their musical prowess. “Sim Sala Bim” climaxed with an incredibly vivacious guitar hootenanny. But the crowd still went wild for the breezy folk tunes off the band’s self-titled debut. “Ragged Wood” incited howling from members of the audience in an effort to join the band in harmony, while the anthemic “Your Protector” stood its ground against the newer, more complex songs like “The Shrine/An Argument.”

When Pecknold came onstage to begin the encore alone, he stressed that he was dedicating “I Let You,” a new song, to the passing that day of legendary folk musician Bert Jansch.

“If you haven’t heard of Bert Jansch, don’t worry,” Pecknold explained, “Go to iTunes. Buy everything he’s ever done.”

The rest of the band joined Pecknold for the final three songs of the encore, “Sun It Rises,” crowd favorite “Blue Ridge Mountains,” and “Helplessness Blues.” All three songs served as a good representation of what made that night’s performance so unforgettable. Each sounded uniquely beautiful, and exuded power. This power, an overwhelming force, was not achieved through volume or effects, but a carefully-arranged layering of sounds, a wholly creative web of interwoven guitar, keyboard, rhythm and harmony.

Van Dyke Parks opened the show in his third performance alongside Fleet Foxes. Like Jansch, Pecknold couldn’t stop fawning over the vast influence Parks has had on the band. If you didn’t know about the connection between the two very disparate musical acts, you may not have ever suspected that Parks played such a strong role in shaping Fleet Foxes’ sound. His twinkling piano and rambling lyrics took us back to a different era in music. When he wasn’t singing about his favorite president (FDR), his chorus-less showtunes dealt with treacherous weather in Los Angeles.

Parks’ work as a producer and arranger has spanned decades, from his time working with the Beach Boys to Joanna Newsom. His blunt performance was stark and bold next to that of the Fleet Foxes, who keep their stage banter to a minimum.

Walking out of the Palace, into another blue, starry sky, it was almost a disappointment to step out of the breezy, artificial musical paradise, and back into the real world. But the next morning, when the sun shined through the clouds, the airy melodies playing back in my head were still as crisp as the autumn day.

Set List:

1. Plains/Bitter Dancer
2. Mykonos
3. English House
4. Battery Kinzie
5. Bedouin Dress
6. Sim Sala Bim
7. Your Protector
8. White Winter Hymnal
9. Ragged Wood
10. Montezuma
11. He Doesn’t Know Why
12. Lorelai
13. The Shrine/An Argument
14. Blue Spotted Tail
15. Grown Ocean

16. I Let You
17. Sun It Rises
18. Blue Ridge Mountains
19. Helplessness Blues

Real Estate - Days

I'm bringing back the blog. It's been a while, guys.

Real Estate's new album has me in a trance. Let's just say I'm sitting here at my desk with wet hair, a towel on my head, and my legs won't allow me to stand up and walk away from this computer. Because who knew Real Estate could totally rip on early Rogue Wave's blissful floating guitar riffs, or make me feel like I'm trapped in a room full of cotton candy and gumdrops? This is the sweetest, most sticky pop music I have heard in months.

Just when I think the next song cannot be as good as the last, it gets better. Although, nothing is quite better than "It's Real," which is rightfully the first single (I think). I wish I could dance around with ribbons (remember ribbon dancing?) and roll down huge grassy hills with this music soundtracking my pure stupidity. Instead, I'm working on balancing my checkbook. But it gives my finances a syrupy feeling of goodness, even if the numbers don't agree.

Guys! You can even go listen to this for free at NPR. I'll be back soon with an actual review, once I've gotten over my puppy love, and can start to appreciate the finer details.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ski Lodge - I Would Die to Be

I'm gonna take a break from my continuous 24 hours of Ben Folds joyous listening party (look for a review on his new greatest hits collection soon!) to show you this song. It reminds me of The Drums, but a lot less annoying. Little surf guitar riffs, easygoing vocals, and just generally the kind of song that you can just put on repeat while you pretend you're sitting on the sidewalk on a sunny day with a vanilla milkshake, talking to your best friend on the phone. You know, the kind of thing you do all the time (not).

Ski Lodge - I Would Die To Be by Dovecote Records

Friday, August 26, 2011

St. Vincent - Strange Mercy

All of St. Vincent’s best qualities are still inherent on Strange Mercy—the juxtaposition of screeching, dirty guitar blasts and angelic vocal melodies, the layers of swirling synthesizers, and the propensity to make heads bob. But there’s also jazz fusion madness (the climax of “Surgeon”), heavy metal fizz (“Dilettante”), and menacing couplets atop languid beats (“Year of the Tiger”). It makes for a complex web of an album, even more challenging than the dreamlands frontwoman and songwriter Annie Clark pieced together on her first two albums. “Cruel” is a treat, all grooving bass and spacey vocals. The band envisions the marimba as a bright undertone to Clark’s guitar shredding, rather than the quirky-cute foil. The subject matter on Strange Mercy is mostly grim, painting feelings of betrayal and protest, coupled with an immediate angst. “They could take or leave you, so they took you, and they left you,” Clark croons flatly. These grim stories are told in an entirely unique manner, in a symphonic style that’s uniquely St. Vincent’s. At times, the layers feel cluttered and claustrophobic. Yet the second half of the album is less noisy, with songs like “Champagne Year” quietly sliding by with muddled drums and slow-building synths. It’s the highs and lows, the harsh and posh, the heavy and heavenly—that juxtaposition—that makes Strange Mercy both expected and entirely unbelievable.

p.s. ridiculous. i can't even...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Gem Club - Twins

Simple and meditated, beautiful yet haunting. This is a song for the ages, a universal sad sigh, a long look backward, and a hesitant glance to the future. A drawn-out goodbye, a musical sponge, absorbing every last drop of a powerful memory, flaws and all.

It's the heaving chest, heartbeats slowing, aching for what should have been.

"Just your touch could cure my lonesome blood," it goes, slowly, pain rolled up into the piano in a hollow room, footsteps echoing from the wooden planks of the floor. Ending as it begins, jarring chords slightly altered, a slow descent into a new chapter.

Gem Club - Twins by hardlyartrecords

Monday, August 22, 2011

Friday, August 12, 2011

Beirut's Uncanny Nostalgia Trips

Nothing transports me quite like Beirut. Oftentimes, while listening to their music, I'm taken to foreign countries, pieces of my ancestry, a time before I existed. And, more often then not, into my own memories.

Listening to March of the Zapotec, I'm back in the Appalachian hills of Athens. I don't pack myself dinners for work, and I have no idea that I'm capable of a half-marathon. Life is uncertain, and the moments are more important than the end goal. Well, not really, I always was that kinda girl who's concerned about the future. But the moments, there were plenty.

I did best when I slept til 9, squeezed in bike rides between classes, never forgot to set my alarm. I never knew who I was going to meet that night, or where I'd end up.

Life is now routine, I pack my dinners, and my job requirement of listening to police scanners for 9 straight hours has lessened my desire for late nights of music listening. I come home. I want silence. It takes something pretty strong to waken my senses.

Beirut's new album, The Rip Tide, has already struck me with it's grandness. It could make me cry, its unabashed horns and bold gestures. It takes you to a place... a place more important than the current minute inner-workings of your world. Wall Street is a set of two words, and I don't even know what unemployment numbers mean -- let's just hold hands and forget about it for a few minutes.

The electronic effects we first heard Zack Condon release with Holland, the previously unreleased solo bedroom project that made up the second half of the March of the Zapotec album, sneak into songs like "Santa Fe." But halfway through the song, they're hidden beneath a behemoth of ringing trumpets. It's the best of both worlds. Very human in the midst of the technology Condon's unleashing.

The strum of acoustics on "East Harlem" is so twee and special sounding, like it was dreamed up for a child's birthday party. Condon's deep vibrato could pop the biggest balloon at the party.

Not a song in this collection is anything but beautiful and unique, a web of shimmering gems in a sea of Odd Future horribleness and Kanye West's ego. It so far transcends the moment in which it has been captured, just nine songs drawing strength from the beauty of their instruments played to the highest caliber.

Maybe it's not as grand as I'm making it out to be, but it's so easy to get lost in these moments, forgetting about the all-consuming, at-times horrifying details of everyday life. And getting lost in the moments can be more valuable than... well, anything.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Peter Wolf Crier - Garden of Arms

On their sophomore release, the Minneapolis-based duo adds a few new tricks to the haunting intimacy they know best. A cloudy layer of ambient noise disorients in “Right Away,” and heartbeat percussion punctuates high-octane guitar growls in “Krishnamurti.” “Beach” captures magic dust with a rainstick and lonely guitar. Just when you think it’s going to be a simple, pleasing piece of pop simplicity, standard time signatures are thrown to the wind and another contrasting guitar noodle adds new color. But Garden of Arms lacks the shuffling melodies and stark homemade craftwork of the band’s debut.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Neon Indian - Era Extraña

Summer is all about low-maintenance. It’s throwing on the lightest clothes you own, and getting from one place to the next with the least bit of effort, avoiding the sweaty mess the blaring sunlight will leave if you’re not careful. The weave of beats and smooth melodic tension of Era Extraña replicate the sluggish pulse of those hot summer days. Synthesizers creep across one another, splattering into bright, colorful patterns that sometimes feel more like interludes than songs. This is music best absorbed through lazy limbs. The target is less about provoking thought, and more about the instantaneous feelings it provokes.

Alan Palomo, the one-man band behind it all, is known as one of the pioneers of the chillwave genre. But Palomo could care less about labels, happier to spend his time tinkering with delay pedals and distortion kits, and finding inspiration in everything from Japanese electronica to the psychedelic pop of The Flaming Lips, who he collaborated with earlier this year.

Old-school video games come to mind with the bright, bumbling start of “Future Sick,” where Palomo’s voice echoes behind synth squalls coated with vibrato. More beautiful is the short, sweet “Heart: Decay,” the second of a three song set (“Heart: Attack” and “Heart: Release” open and close the album) that carries a nostalgic theme throughout. “Hex Girlfriend” and “Halogen (I Could Be a Shadow)” are spitfires with infectious choruses, while the title track screams ‘80s so loud that John Hughes protégés are squirming in their seats.

Neon Indian’s gauzy textures, circular rhythms, and light-as-air choruses are a pleasure. Long past beach weather, Era Extraña will take listeners on a virtual picnic, a sonic reality so plush and immersive that it’s enough to bat away the snow in your eyelashes and the bitter winds. Like summer heat, Era Extraña radiates with enough passion to make life more than a little woozy.

NEON INDIAN - HEART : DECAY from gorillavsbear.net on Vimeo.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Rapture - In the Grace of Your Love

DFA White Out Sessions - How Deep Is Your Love? by The Rapture from DFA Records on Vimeo.

Dance records are typically coated in layer after layer of sound, tracks of synth piled atop one another like a cake with so much icing that it oozes through the sides. The Rapture doesn’t subscribe to that philosophy. They never have. An undone quality washes over their songs, giving them some edge. “Come Back to Me” sets the dance party underground, in the sewers, where you can hear the water dripping between the sparse beats. What sounds like a street musician playing an accordion on a pitch-black night is adorned only by a series of hollow club beats and sets of lyrics where meaning is lost among the repetition. The title track has a similar simplicity, a sexy bass groove guiding a three-note keyboard pattern and frosty cymbal-heavy drumming. It builds to a climax, only to end with weakened vocals and a barely-there electronics. “Never Gonna Die Again” and “How Deep is Your Love” use the less-is-more format to The Rapture’s benefit, crafting hip-moving grooves that spring alive in all their disco glory. Elsewhere, however, The Grace of Your Love feels like a shell of a former dance party, bare and echoing through an empty room. There’s a demo-like quality on these songs instead of the immediacy required for total immersion. The album closes with “It Takes Time to Be a Man,” a slow-moving ballad that moves too slow with too little emotion. If growing into men is what this trio is attempting, they may be better off reverting to childish ways. Gone is the cowbell-crazy spontaneity that pounds through “House of Jealous Lovers” and “Whoo! Alright Yeah...Uh Huh.” Put this cake back in the oven; it doesn’t need more icing, but it could use more substance.

Friday, June 10, 2011

YACHT - Shangri-La

YACHT wastes no time letting their freak flag fly on Shangri-La. Opening with the one-two punch of “Utopia” and “Dystopia,” we’re taken from a hyperactive alien frolic, complete with bass on speed, to glitchy synths and end-of-the-world incantations, like “the earth is on fire/we don’t have no daughter/let the motherfucker burn.” Heavy statements are made into weightless fun with musical spontaneity that owes as much to the B-52’s oddball humor as it does to Of Montreal’s digital-future vibe. YACHT was originally the brainchild of Jona Bechtolt, but this is his second album (of five) featuring Claire Evans. It’s also the second on James Murphy’s DFA label, which is why it’s not surprising that Shangri-La is plastered with mantras and continuous trance-like beats that bring to mind Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem. “Beam Me Up” may or may not be a Star Trek reference, but when the fiery chorus begins, all nerdy references are excused by electro-funk madness. YACHT comes back down to earth on the title track, which closes the album with flat vocals, sixties sway, and an acknowledgment that “if I can’t go to heaven, let me go to LA.”

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Blitzen Trapper - American Goldwing

Blitzen Trapper is walking with a little more twang in their step on their sixth full-length. As the Portland-based sextet ages, so does their sound. American Goldwing may as well have been released in the early ’70s along with The Allman Brothers Band’s Eat a Peach. The stories here are the stuff of swamp rock legend; characters are drinking too much whiskey late at night, fantasizing about loving or leaving the finest women in town, returning home, and piecing together the wonders of the natural world.

Eric Earley, the band’s songwriter and frontman, has always piled his literary influences on heavy, drawing from Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, the Bible, and old mythology. Never before has it fit so cleanly with the sonic undertones. “Love the Way You Walk Away” mesmerizes with subtle harmonies, swirls of pedal steel guitar, and choruses that swing as easy as a spring breeze. Earley sums up detailed narratives with clever couplets like, “When you find what you’re looking for/you want it less” without turning up clichés.

“Street Fighting Sun” takes a page from Jack White’s menacing guitar lurches. It’s pure grime, heaving with powerful stamina through groove after groove. Otherwise, Blitzen Trapper is more focused on the country drawl of the harmonica, steady putter of percussion, and the occasional old-timey piano tinkering. It makes for a solid album, if a fairly uneventful one. Nothing on American Goldwing is as memorable as the title track on 2008’s Furr or as adventurous as anything on last year’s Destroyer of the Void, which found the band injecting prog rock into their folk rock cannon. Blitzen Trapper has once again succeeded in crafting an album that fits with classics. But standing between The Allman Brothers Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival is a high task, and this time, it gets a little lost in between.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Rey Pila - S/t

Diego Solórzano hits his peak in the middle of Rey Pila, with dance rock anthem “No. 114.” Crunchy guitar riffs sizzle into a climbing solo that ascends into a maelstrom of a chorus. It’s one of the four Spanish-language songs on this bilingual album that the former frontman of Los Dynamite recorded in New York with producer/engineer Paul Majahan (TV On The Radio, Yeah Yeah Yeahs). Much of the rest of the album falls victim to thin vocals and dying disco beats. Solórzano would be better off abandoning the airy falsetto that clouds Rey Pila with weightless muck, instead focusing on his capable crooning.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

CSS - La Liberacíon

La Liberación is the international answer to Ke$ha. Trite lyrics almost being the point here, CSS is around to start the party, not the conversation. The fivesome from São Paulo, Brazil, is best when not taken seriously. Hedonistic, restless, and snot-nosed, La Liberación is pure club scene. Surging beats and blaring synths flow throughout showstoppers like “I Love You” and “City Grrrl,” which fans of Far East Movement would be absolutely silly not to embrace. CSS, though, is far less of a guilty pleasure. The international vibe on the album feels more cultured and less constructed than most of the Guetta-ized tunes currently playing the dance scene. Elsewhere, CSS (short for Cansei de Ser Sexy, or “tired of being sexy”) finds an island vibe on “Echo of Love,” and sways to a chilled-out reggae swing in “Hits Me Like a Rock.” On the latter, frontwoman Lovefoxxx’s speak-singing hearkens to M.I.A with a Portuguese accent. The title track, the only Spanish-language song on the album, is also the most immediate. Tight guitar grumble, infectious yelled choruses, and a punk rock fever leave the body as quickly as they enter. The delicate piano twinkling in “Partners in Crime” is a pleasantly jazzy surprise on an album meant for the rave.

Disappointingly, the second half of the album loses some of the sting. It gets embarrassing on “Red Alert,” a sultry, snake-like song featuring Brookyn electronic duo, Ratatat. Lovefoxx groans for a lover to meet her in the desert, where she’s “feeling the rhythm of casual love,” detailing a sexual encounter atop low-tempo syncopation. But again, it’s better to tune out the meaning, focusing instead on La Liberación’s ability to make every muscle in the body burn with an itch to dance. Above all, the point is liberation, freedom from caring, and a hell of a lot of booty shaking.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

sunday morning.

I really dislike reviewing records I don't enjoy. Forcing yourself to listen to something that makes you miserable multiple times, just so you can formulate words for your dislike. It seems silly and counter-intuitive. I'd rather dull recordings just go unsaid instead of insulted, but that's not the world we live in, is it?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Alexander Turnquist - Hallway of Mirrors

Well wasn't this a surprise?

My mom brought me this album when she visited me last week. (No, my mother does not have strange 12-string guitar obsessions or taste for independent music. Although that would be awesome. A publicist sent Alexander Turnquist's 5-song EP, Hallway of Mirrors, to my previous address.) I guess it had been in Cleveland for a while now. Last week, I put the album in my 6-CD stereo in my car. I was flipping around today, trying to goad myself off the new My Morning Jacket album for a hot second.

Is goad a word? Let's pretend it is and move on.

This instrumental EP is absolutely mind-blowing in the most calming sense. It's the kind of album that screams out to you when you're driving home from work at 11pm on pitch black highways and needing to space out after listening to police scanners for 8 hours. (Wait, that's just me? Oh, right. You have normal jobs and/or are students.)

Hallway of Mirrors sparkles with cinematic greatness. (Greatness in the sense of large and masterful, not Tony the Tiger "they're great"-ness.) Every song here evokes an almost overpowering feeling. The odd thing is the first adjective that came to my mind, before I even knew the EP's title, was sparkling. It's very organic sounding but also quite ornate.

The first song, "Running Towards," is curious, almost alien sounding. Sparkling spiders and cobwebs that shimmer in the night. The title track is one of those songs that makes you fantasize about having your own soundtrack. You know what I mean? Where you're like, "YES! This is the music that will follow me around for a day while someone makes a film about how tragic/brilliant/screwed up/dramatic my life is." In this case, the music has this elegance to it, yet a cluttered claustrophobia that puts you slightly on edge. I imagine myself floating around with my nose slightly turned up like a Victorian girl or smiling with a slight arrogance. (Not sure where I'm getting this impression - I swear the music is shaping it - because right now I'm recovering from surgery and my left eye is droopy and I feel anything but elegant and arrogant.)

And get this -- track 3, "Spherical Aberrations," actually made me feel like I was living on the prairie, on my way to enduring a very difficult task, such as carrying two huge buckets of water up a large hill on my way to telling the village elder that all the children are dying of malaria. (wtf? i know right?) But seriously, you have to listen to this song, and you'll understand. These songs put you into a story that you didn't even know was in your brain. Why else would I be having prairie fantasies at 12:15 on Friday morning?

Alright, so you're sick of my stories and you wanna know what this music actually sounds like? I can't explain it. Turnquist plays a 12-string guitar which is constantly being picked over like the knocked over contents of a pinata at your little cousin's birthday party. His fingers must literally be flying. And there are slight chimes that he's weaving melodically through the songs. And violin or some other string instruments adding emotion and texture to the seamless yet nonsensical compositions. No percussion, just this alien sound.

Wait. Is Turnquist a one man band? Let's google this. (I'm being very unprofessional tonight.)

I found this:
Like James Blackshaw, Jack Rose, Glenn Jones, etc, this could roughly be described as “raga” guitar, with its long, modal compositions and hypnotic overtone play.

But what in the world does that even mean? I'm not a guitar prodigy over here! Time to turn to Wikipedia.

Alexander Turnquist (born 1988 in Idaho) is an American guitarist and composer. He has released original albums on the VHF record label as well as limited released titles on the Kning Disk imprint and Textura record label. Turnquist's has had comparisons to Guitarists Jack Rose, Alex De Grassi, Kaki King, and James Blackshaw as well as contemporary composer Phillip Glass.

Turnquist's First widely released album "Faint at the Loudest Hour" (VHF Records 2007) was given high marks with an 8.2 in the Popular music review website Pitchfork [1]. His Second release with the VHF Records label "As the Twilight Crane Dreams in Color" was named the #6 out of The Silent Ballet top 50 Albums of 2009 [2].

Crap! Pitchfork found him before me! D'oh. Oh well. This guy rules. He's younger than me and he massages the guitar like it's a freakin labrador retriever. (Not sure what I mean by that, so if you do, I'm sorry.) You should check him out. (P.S. Check out the number of grammatical mistakes in that Wikipedia entry.) Goodnight.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Adam Torres covers Nick Drake

What can I say about Adam Torres that I haven't already said a billion times? It has actually been a while since I've written about this musical hero on my blog, so if you're just tuning in, I'll give you some background information.

I have been following Adam since my freshman year at Ohio University, where I would go to the Front Room (coffee shop) at the old Baker Center to watch open mic nights. Adam was so unassuming and wonderful. He would play his guitar in a pair of gym shorts, making witty, sarcastic comments between songs. And his songs, they were so powerful. From day one.

Adam also tells the best stories. One time, in an interview on my radio show, he told me about his process of creating his album art for his first album. He illustrated a design, and he wanted to give it an aged look, with frayed edges and a sun-soaked feel. So Adam bought a package at one of the dozens of tanning salons overtaken by shallow college ladies to "age" his art. I can't remember exactly how he told the story, but I know it involved a lot of embarrassment around said tanned ladies and a not-so-successful "tanning of paper" process.

Anyway, I'm getting off topic. Adam's album, Nostra Nova, was a seminal piece of my understanding and love of music. I can't count how many times I've listened to it. He sings so delicately and powerfully, all at once. His guitar playing is wholly original and personal, each song touching a different piece of the heart.

When he decided to take a break from writing new music for a while, I (along with countless others) was devastated. He's been adventuring around the world, though, and he's starting to reveal some of the music that various cultures have influenced.

I thought I'd share this video he created in Cuenca, Ecuador. The music and photography is all by Adam. Beautiful as always.

And if you enjoy it, I suggest you take a listen to the new songs he has posted on his bandcamp page.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My Haphazard Relationship with My Morning Jacket

My relationship with My Morning Jacket began after my freshman year of college. I went to Lollapalooza, my first ever music festival, that summer with three of my best friends. It was my first experience with the most heavenly days of life, those filled with back-to-back concerts, chasing from one field to another to catch the next show, standing until dehydration and exhaustion overtook my body.

We watched My Morning Jacket at the Bud Light stage, one of the two huge stages. You could see the Chicago landscape behind the stage, but my focal point was on this wasted lady in a long dress and heels, dancing off to the side of front pit, waving her arms in oblivion to the minutes-long jams into which each song eventually morphed. I could do without it. In fact, I grew bored, stared vacantly into the shade of the trees to the side of the stage. I couldn't for the life of me understand the appeal of My Morning Jacket. I've never been much of a jammer. Not sure if I lack a chemical in my brain or the capacity to injest mushrooms. Either way, I felt nothing.

My friends proceeded to travel up to Cleveland -- my hometown -- sometime that fall to catch another My Morning Jacket show. I stayed behind in Athens. Forget it, I said. No way I'm paying to see them.

My sophomore year roommate, Lauren, was on an MMJ kick. She would play "One Big Holiday" every morning as soon as we woke up. Along with that one stupid album by the Format that everyone except me loved. I would cringe when she played it, but eventually it became habit, and it kinda settled into the depths of me, and I accepted it. (And this is no dis to Lauren. She also played Paul Simon some mornings. She has lovely taste. To this day, the mix CD she made me before I went to Spain is the best mix CD anyone has ever made for me.)

I saw My Morning Jacket the next summer, once again at Lollapalooza. But this time, they played the opposite large stage, and we sat on the hill by the baseball field. The Chicago Youth Orchestra (I believe) came onstage, and it was sort of unreal. Yet I still didn't get it.

The moment I really heard My Morning Jacket was May of 2008, the first time I heard Evil Urges. This album was unlike any other MMJ album. Falsetto, Prince-like, or Winnie-the-Pooh-like. Spacey electronics, ambling love songs and an ode to a special librarian, tongue in cheek, so clever, so embraceable. "Highly Suspicious" was highly messed up, and one of the best weirdo songs I'd ever heard. I rated the album as my #3 favorite of 2008 (after Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver's debut albums). It was all over the place, the kind of sonic adventure that makes you want to dive off a cliff into musical oblivion.

I explored their older material, finding that even the songs that once irritated me were so incredibly magical. All that time, I had under-appreciated what was right in front of me.

When I decided to move to Louisville, I had no idea I was moving to the band's hometown. In fact, I knew pretty much nothing about Kentucky or Louisville or horses or the fact that it was on the Ohio River. I didn't know that My Morning Jacket recorded one of their live albums partially at Ear X-tacy, an independent record store here. I didn't know until I listened to that live album, which my friend Josh had just made me a copy of, and heard Jim James pledging allegiance to Louisville and the store. And then it was fate for me to love the band. And the city, for that matter.

I went to Ear X-tacy last night. They were releasing MMJ's Circuital at midnight. I wanted to see the excitement. At least a hundred people showed up. The town felt alive. On a Monday night, it was alive. The record has been on repeat all day, and I think it might just top Evil Urges for me. The first three... hell, every song has roped me in. "Holdin' on to Black Metal" is maybe more courageous than "Highly Suspicious," "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)" is completely devoted, and I can't even begin to get my head to stop spinning from the title track.

The band is playing at the Palace right now. I didn't get a ticket before they sold out, but strangely, Todd Haynes (I'm not gonna go off on too large of a tangent, but I kinda worship the guy. His short film about Karen Carpenter that I watched in a women's studies class made me cry. It was made entirely of barbie dolls that he carved to the point of emaciation. And those barbie dolls made me cry. That's how good he is.) is directing a live youtube streaming event of the concert. I've been watching it all night. The last song in their first encore? "One Big Holiday." Huh.

I'm about ten minutes from the venue, yet I'm sitting in my room, wondering how I fell so hard in love with a band that I once stood so strongly against.

Maybe I'm growing up. Maybe I'm growing weirder. Maybe, just maybe, I'm just riding the path that is my life, and as I travel farther, I grow closer to understanding all these things I've missed along the way.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Handsome Furs - Sound Kapital

The greatness of Handsome Furs lies in duality. Husband-and-wife team Dan Boeckner (of Wolf Parade) and Alexei Perry have the unrestricted energy of fiery lovers, which they display in full force during their onstage spit-swapping and bodily jerks in each other’s direction. That passion typically comes through their music when Boeckner’s steamy guitar squalls meet Perry’s infectious electrobeats. The dirty quality of his ax somehow meshes perfectly with the precise yet spontaneous rhythm of her synth blasts. Sound Kapital was written primarily on keyboards, and the result feels more club, less rock and roll. It has the same jarring claustrophobia as Handsome Furs’ previous two albums, but misses some of the impulsiveness. Still, their latest demonstrates more of a patience for song-craft than ever before. “What About Us,” the first single, meshes an intermittent bee-buzzing effect with a simple keyboard melody, only to break off with a spacey bridge where Boeckner begs the song’s subject to break his heart. “When I Get Back” works up a dance fever of the highest order, while “Damage” begins with fuzzy samples of radio broadcasts they collected while touring Asia. Sound Kapital is missing some of the duo’s bark, but it certainly maintains their bite.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Handsome Furs Get Hairy

Guys, I'm over the plagiarism. It was crazy, I got angry, I got over it. The rest of No Ripcord's staff was absolutely respectable and diligent in dealing with the situation, so I in no way desire to hold any grudges.

Moving on, let's talk about a new record I'm already so pleased to hear. A formal review will come later, but let's just discuss what makes Handsome Furs one of my most unlikely favorite bands.

-this music has groove, edge, and manic energy
-husband and wife duo spits on each other/makes out onstage
-they are the rawest people ever
-their music is pure exertion

It's not joyful music, necessarily. The past couple albums have dealt with heavy issues. Face Control explored the cruelties they learned of while touring Eastern Europe ("Radio Kaliningrad," check). They also seem to mock selfish consumerism with my favorite title, maybe, ever -- "All We Want, Baby, Is Everything." Sometimes this title is my mantra, when I'm feeling especially ambitious. Sometimes I just think I want everything. Everything and nothing at the same time. It's ridiculous.

The energy on their soon-to-hit-shelves Sound Kapital is so palpable you can feel it suction to your insides. Constant punches to the gut, obnoxiously squeaky synth blasting (I hate techno/I love techno - it's an anomaly), and of course, the dirty guitar growl.

Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry seem to have done it again.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

No Ripcord Update

The Cass McCombs review has been pulled from No Ripcord's website, and I received the following emails from them.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Plagiarism - NOT cool

A commenter brought to my attention that I've been plagiarized.

I published my Cass McCombs review on my blog March 1st.

This review came out on No Ripcord April 2nd.

This makes me absolutely sick to my stomach. ABSOLUTELY SICK.

I know this is just the internet, but in no way is it OK to steal someone's words.

Really Tom Roper? It was really that hard to formulate your own views and listen to the lyrics yourself?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Sad Mraz

I woke up this morning in a strange sense of disarray. A song had noodled its way into my brain - a song I had not heard in years. I leaned across my bathroom counter trying to remember it before the moment passed, hesitating to start brushing my teeth lest I lose it.

At first I could make out the word "absolutely." I knew it was slow, and beautiful. Zero. Absolutely Zero. Oh my blobinthesky, I had vintage Jason Mraz in my head!

I'm not sure how he got there. After all, I've been trying to forget about him for years. Jason Mraz went from a sad sack with the most beautiful songs of heartbreak to the most irritating ukulele-toting fedora-wearing man in the history of pop music. And all of this happened within the course of a few short years. Waiting for my Rocket to Come, the 2002 masterpiece, slowly disintegrated into 2005's mediocre Mr. A-Z, a sub-par effort where Mr. Mraz went from Awesome to a little too Zany. Then came 2008's We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. where the only track worth listening was track 7. It was a sad sack song. And I can't even remember its name.

And that's when he brought out his ukulele. The worst use of ukulele known to mankind.

Back to Waiting for my Rocket to Come. These songs are precious raindrops and morning dew. They are sensitive, and gentle, and everything great about waking up on a fresh morning. "Who Needs Shelter" has the sweetest sort of guitar plucking, while "The Boy's Gone" has a steady pace of contemplative lyrics and a simple-but-catchy guitar riff. "Absolutely Zero" is full of break-up sadness, enough emotion to somehow bury itself in the depths of my brain, only to emerge 9 years after I first heard it.

Sad Mraz, come back. You may have been miserable, and I may have been naive, but life was simpler back then.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

of Montreal - thecontrollersphere

Deception and camouflage color this mini-album, a batch of five songs where of Montreal manages to shroud its normal sound for that of its influences. “Flunk Sass vs the Root Plume” is straight out of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust period, “Holiday Call” falls into A. R. Rahman territory when it stretches on for five minutes in a a trippy Bollywood synth jam, and “Black Lion Massacre” is as frightening as it sounds, as the band forgoes its pop sensibilities for haunting techno noise with creepy robot narration. Of Montreal doesn’t actually sound like itself until “L’age D’or,” a great bouncy tune that would not be out of place in the same Harlem house clubs that inspired Madonna’s “Vogue.” Kevin Barnes croons “she’s just my party drug” in a falsetto that makes Ke$ha sound tame. Nothing here is must-hear, but true fans will enjoy sorting through of Montreal’s influences and musical thought process as they prepare for the next full album.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Head and the Heart - Self-Titled

Themes of traveling and packing bags are all over The Head and the Heart’s debut album, now being re-released by Sub Pop. “Ghosts” revolves around friends talking about leaving their hometown, “Rivers and Roads” takes listeners on an emotional journey, and “Down in the Valley” name checks California and Oklahoma amongst the places to hide away in a secret valley. After all, most of the six band members are recent Seattle transplants, and fresh off cross-state journeys to their new home. “Down in the Valley” evokes an incredible sort of emotion, as it builds from reflective, acoustic picking to piano that pulls on the heartstrings and violin that steals heat right from the center of the fire. It exemplifies what The Head and the Heart do best, and do often. Their glowing harmonies, sense of movement (both musical and lyrical), and emotional build capture the heart in ways other bands can only dream. Roll your car windows down, pack your bags, and sing along.

*By the way, this is currently my favorite album of 2011. That's how much I think you should listen to it.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Field Music - You're So Pretty

I'm going through old songs, making a playlist for tomorrow's 10 mile run. I cannot get over how many amazingly incredible songs I haven't heard in years. It's like walking into my own personal candy store after forgetting it exists... but nothing has gone stale.

My friend gave me data disc of music in high school, and it had 4 Field Music songs on it. This was one. I probably listened to those 4 songs 80 times each in my mp3 cd player. There's a quality here that is so absolutely naive and fresh and light. It's like growing up without growing jaded, where all the joys of childhood linger in the air. The harmonies are simply overwhelming in their happiness. When I hear it, I see bright colors and breathe in summer and everything else disappears.

I melt into a ball of soap, and bubble away.

There's a sort of timeless quality here, one that carries with it the feeling of forever bliss.

Come Back Into My Life

Kevin Devine, I miss you so damn much.

Friday, March 25, 2011

David Bazan - Strange Negotiations

David Bazan spent the better part of Curse Your Branches, the album that precedes Strange Negotiations, struggling with his conflicted feelings over Christianity. Whereas the music on Curse feels secondary to the lyrical content, his latest is a turn in the other direction. Biting guitars are much more direct here, and each song feels more like its own individual narrative. Bazan is still overcoming hardships every step of the way, whether it’s “feeling like a stranger” in his hometown on the title track or dealing with phony people in the rage-addled “People.” But he minimizes the glitchy electronics we heard on Curse for straightforward rockers. Simple riffs and lines like “you’re a goddamn fool, and I love you” bring a punch to the album opener, “Wolves at the Door.” It flows right into “Level With Yourself,” which might as well be a continuation of the first song. The middle of Strange Negotiations sinks into a contemplative lull with the slow-building, nostalgic “Virginia,” where the brushed drums come in almost two minutes into the song. It’s these quiet moments that demonstrate what the Seattle-based musician does best—paint a specific picture with words that put you inside his memories and minimalist melodies that tie them all together.

Badly Drawn Boy - The Shining

Seriously, how good is this song?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cleveland's Newest Piece of Awesome - Shoreway

I'm gonna forgive the fact that this band just stole one half of my potential band name (that is, if I ever learn how to play an instrument... which could be a while). BECAUSE THEY RULE!!

Shoreway is my new favorite Cleveland band, mostly because I'm obsessed with Matthew Rolin's music. If you don't remember, I blogged a lot about his last band, Casual Encounters. Shoreway is a mix of CE and another Cleveland band, Clovers.

It's a little more rawr in the guitar department, and less drippy hippy than Casual Encounters, and it rules just as hard.

Whoa my god, here are more details on their shows.

P.S. Matthew told me they're touring this summer.

Listen to them on soundcloud.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cass McCombs Flashback 2009

In light of my unfavorable review of the new McCombs album, I just found this old review of a McCombs/Walkmen show I saw two years ago at the Beachland Ballroom... guess I really did love Catacombs.


An album and a few extra bandmates later, Cass McCombs is a changed man. He’s not completely different; his jaded, sullen side still peaks through the darkness in his eyes. Yet last night’s performance was a far cry from the set McCombs’ played when he opened for Jose Gonzalez a year and a half ago. Rather than sneering at the audience, you could almost catch a glimmer of a smile every few songs.

McCombs’ newer material has a sunny side, and a full backing band was better able to express the depth of emotion McCombs’ carries in his vulnerable voice. There were times, though, that I wished the band would evaporate so you could hear his smooth garbling and the sweetly simple song construction.

His music has the retro feel of Brill Building pop, with subtle harmonies and an echoed reverb effect on his vocals. In “You Saved My Life,” McCombs hiccuped into little half-spoken phrases that almost sounded – gasp –Elvis Presley-esque.

Cass McCombs - Wit's End

If you judge a man by his music and stage presence, Cass McCombs may very well be one of the most depressed men to haunt your playlist. All sad waltzes and slow choruses, Wit’s End is a series of musical balloons, popped and lying tattered and torn across the floor. This album is further submerged in hopelessness than his past work. And that’s saying something, considering 2009's Catacombs wasn’t a particularly bubbly affair. But where Catacombs has glimmers of hope, like the nearly perfect “Dreams Come True Girl,” these songs sound like a suicide note.

“Buried Alive” starts promisingly, with faraway organs replicating a Jon Brion soundtrack. Lines like “waking up to the breath of the old/in a sea of black” haunt the hazy nightmare. By the end of the song, it’s almost as if McCombs has trapped his listeners in the tomb with him, twisting and turning us within medieval-sounding chimes. McCombs takes us back centuries with the same sort of bells and organs on “Memory’s Stain” and “Pleasant Shadow Song.”

Though littered with beautiful moments, Wit’s End feels suffocating in its repetition. Each song treads more heavily than the last, dragging the heart into a state of coma. In “Saturday Song,” even when he declares “she’s everything today” in what seems like a profession of love, the plodding piano and funeral march drones transform the song into a pit in the stomach, an indescribably terrifying bout of depressive murk.

It’s understandable that “County Line” was released as the album’s first single. It’s the only song here with a dynamic melody and sense of movement. Everything else drowns under its own weight, trapped in a haunted basement with cobwebs and rusty chandeliers. Unafraid of bursting your bubble, Wit’s End crawls and slithers slowly, unafraid to touch upon the darkest of themes.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Southeast Engine is Back

How do I write about Southeast Engine without being hugely biased? This band has embodied the feeling and the idea of living in Appalachia for the past 5 years for me – ever since I moved down to Athens, Ohio for college. They were the first concert I saw, and continued as one of my favorite bands through my entire Appalachian experience. They defined Athens. They defined the feeling of being home there. Their shows were common, and albums were released reliably. I remember the anticipation for a new album. Sitting in Cincinnati with my boyfriend at the time, he played me “Psychoanalysis.” We sat there with out mouths opened, positively high on the excitement we had for anything new and Southeast Engine.

I had a radio show. I interviewed local musicians. About three weeks into my show, I decided I needed to have Southeast Engine on the show. I hung up posters on every street corner in town, announcing that “Athens favorite rock band” would be on the radio. I was so star struck when I met them, I almost laugh at my own naiveté. Ok, I do laugh. It will silly. I was ridiculous. In the next four years, I saw them over and over again, realized they were real human beings, and they didn’t take themselves too seriously. I became friends with Adam Torres, my favorite band member… who is no longer with them. I found out he convinced them to let him in the band because they needed a keyboard player. He didn’t play keyboard. Once he was in, he played guitar. It makes me smirk.

My friends and I would go see Southeast Engine at the old Front Room, in the old Baker Center. That was before the school remade a new Front Room into a sterile box of coffee addiction. The old room was dark and dingy and the crowd sang along to half the show. It felt raw and alive, and it was a completely new experience. If you listen to Southeast Engine’s old material, it has a much more punk feel to it. It’s not polished, and the storytelling is not quite there yet. They were young. It is still some of my favorite.

Since then, the band has evolved. Its albums tell stories, and a theme unites them. You hear a lot more of the folk influence of Appalachia in them. And no album feels more Appalachian than Canary.

Here's my try at reviewing it........

This Athens, Ohio-based band takes us back in time for their latest release, recalling both the story and musical likeness of the Great Depression era. They stay true to what they know, though, steeping the songs in the kind of Appalachian folk that screams out with the occasional electric guitar, but mostly glimmers with organ and acoustic pickings.

Canary is a concept album that takes us along for a ride with a family stuck in a mining town with the worst kind of economic tragedy. Trombone and trumpet float atop “Cold Front Blues,” about snow’s devastating effects on a town dependent on natural resources, and ragged guitar solos rip through “1933 (Great Depression),” a track that captures a sense of hope despite hard times. Lines like “When church lets out her face is the one I see/ her dark blue eyes of mystery/are making me devout” build the multidimensional characters in Southeast Engine’s narrative. These are the sort of love songs that people stopped writing in the age of bling and Bieber.

We learn that the main character’s mother has died in “Red Lake Shore,” which starts with a faraway vocal echo. It builds with Leo Deluca’s shuffling drumbeat, and the spot-on vocal harmonies of frontman Adam Remnant, and his brother and bandmate Jesse. Billy Matheny cuts into “At Least We Have Each Other” with a hotter-than-the-Devil flame of organ, adding an old-timey feel to the chiming piano that accompanies it.

Through the album, it’s easy to develop a relationship with the family whose life Southeast Engine details. The theme rings out as especially meaningful today, with Appalachia still dealing with environmental disasters like mountaintop removal mining that wreak havoc on its communities. This is an album that finally seems to capture the feeling that Southeast Engine has been working toward since they formed in 1999. They’re writing about what they know, and the music resultantly falls right into place.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Letter to Sub Pop Records

Dear Sub Pop,

I love you dearly. You send me wonderful records every now and then, and you send them by mail! Do you even know how excited I am to receive records in the mail? It is my favorite kind of mail.

In exchange for your kindness, I do try to listen to everything you send and read all the press releases that come along for the ride. I do enjoy a musician's story, even when you puff them up to be something probably a little bit greater than they really are. But I like positive music journalism, so reading impassioned things about new music is encouraging.

However, I think you should get your act together on this Twilight Singers press release. I cannot read words strung together when every single sentence has one adverb: best.

I get it. You like this guy's new record. You even think it's better than the rest of his records. And, by golly, it might be the most impressive thing the man has done in his life.

But GET A GRIP. You're pretty much making it sound like this man invented the English language. Like this guy was the first person to make it sound like a guitar is attacking the air with its soundwaves. Like this guy invented all musical instruments and then taught all humankind how to use them. Like this guy is the only one capable of making a song worth listening to.

For all I know (and I don't know), Greg Dulli is a musical genius. Maybe he invented a genre. Maybe he climbed to the top of the pyramids with his legs tied together while the peaceful protesters of Cairo threw stones at him. Maybe he got stuck in between two mountains, cut his arm off, proceeded to compose a symphony with one arm, and then carried the remaining 1,800 sufferers of the Guinea Worm to Canada on his back to get them some better health care.

But for god's sake, TONE IT DOWN. I'm pretty sure the man is not god.

Much love, and sincere admiration for your record label,


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Papercuts - Fading Parade

I saw Papercuts once. The opened for Vetiver at a dive bar. I went with a boy I liked. I was bored out of my mind. The only thing I remember was too much fuzz (reverb, not alcoholz). I might have fallen asleep during their set, was I not standing for its duration.

I thought to myself, "Papercuts are way more boring than I thought! I will never care about them again!" And then they never occupied my thoughts again.

Until this week. Fading Parade, their latest (and forth) album, arrived in my little mail box. It was shoved in there, the envelope barely fitting. I took it out, I smirked, and I shook my head in disbelief. Sometimes the things you ignore come back to you in the most opportune times.

I popped the album into my car on the way to work. I was in awe. This stuff was way beautiful. It's Beach Housey. It's woozy in a "i slept in til noon and ate a dozen pancakes with my favorite person in the world" kind of way. It feels full and kinda bedhead and puffed out.

This Jason Robert Quever guy writes all the songs and plays all the instruments, and then he has some guys help him with his live show. I don't know how he went from pretty boring to superpretty and dreamy (in a good way), but he MASTERED it on this album.

The second song on the album is called "Do What You Will." The album is good from start to end, but I can't help but go back to this song. It doesn't really remind me of any specific music. Maybe a little bit of a 60's surf vibe, a little 00's lo-fi sleeper sound, a little chillwave? It's not that original, but it also doesn't sound like anything else I've heard lately.

This isn't going to be some mind-blowing album. It's not Mumford and Sons. It's not Tallest Man on Earth. It's just quietly sneaking into your brain, overtaking your thoughts, making your life a living dream. And a really good dream, at that.


Papercuts - Do What You Will

Ohhhh my lord. Just checked Sub Pop. He's on tour with Beach House. Ladies and gentlemen, if you live in a cooler city than me, you MUST go and be wooed.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Brown Recluse - Impressions of a City Morning

Anyone who emulates the Zombies and sounds this good doing it is fine by me.
Brown Recluse "Impressions of a City Morning" by Slumberland Records

It's Friday night, I just got off work, and I'm making Funfetti cookies with this song on repeat. Am I lame in a new city, or just damn awesome?

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Dodos - No Color

The Dodos have found their Avatar. Visiter, their 2007 sophomore release, may have been their Titanic, putting them on the charts. But two albums later, they are back with an opus that is so vividly three-dimensional, you don’t need glasses (or headphones). The San Francisco duo’s strength has always centered on a syncopated drumbeat that ropes its way into the body and around the heart. It sneaks into hidden pockets of their songs, shocking layers of guitar to life. Whereas Visiter has a more hollow, bare-boned core, and their 2009 follow-up, Time to Die, seems calming in comparison, No Color fleshes out the feral, tribal percussion with layers of guitar. The gaps and holes in the songs are gone, yet the ear can still catch every nuance without feeling extra clutter.

More than ever, the tone of the new record is menacing. Meric Long’s acoustic finger picking is coated with jarring bursts of electric fuzz. Simple vocal melodies are at the core of the best songs on No Color. “When Will You Go” is striking in its melancholy beauty. Logan Kroeber weaves a thumping backdrop to the verses, allowing them room to breathe, and aggressively thrashes forward between them. Long imitates Rodrigo y Gabriela’s dexterous guitar playing on “Don’t Stop” and “Companions,” fingers flying across the strings like a flickering fire.

With every measure, The Dodos contradict the album’s title. No Color has a bright vibrancy, a sense of movement rare in non-dance music. “Sleep” is the ultimate anthem for insomniacs, seemingly conveying the simultaneous frustrations and excitement of being awake long after everyone else. You get the idea these guys thrive on late-night ideas, channeling creative forces at odd hours. Rather than envisioning blue aliens, though, Long and Kroeber have found living, breathing incarnations of their musical compositions. And it’s an otherworldly pleasure.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


but when did the Dodos become Gabriela y Rodrigo?!

listening to an advance copy of No Color, and i seem to have fallen in love with the ridiculously quick guitar picking. the tribal drumming madness is a given, but THIS?! good, folks. good.

Zero Plans, Multiply Nostalgia by 7

There was a time I used to sit underneath my lofted bunk bed in a skinny dorm room in the corner of the second floor of a quaint building in Athens, Ohio. I mostly tried to adjust. It was the beginning of college... my roommate was spending time with her girlfriend, and I was usually alone. I had friends, but it was the beginning of this new journey for me, and on weeknights, I had to get some work done. I would sit there, a giant desktop computer that the school lent to freshmen taking up most of my space. The printer, which sat beside it, took up the rest of the desk. I used it as my coffee table. I would sit two water bottles next to one another on the printer, and the occasional cookie I had stolen from the dining hall.

I was never really a group studier. I spent most of those nights alone.

Music was my company, as it is today. Friday night, past midnight, I find myself once again in a new city with few friends.

Zero 7. I don't remember how I first heard of them, but I spent a lot of time with them those first couple years of college. Later, I would find Pitchfork, and read scathing reviews that belittle their work. It was a long time ago that I cared to do this, and I can't remember much except that they called Zero 7 lazy and boring. Point taken. I disagree. I was disappointed in that assessment.

You see, this was, to me, the perfect accompaniment for a lonely night. Slightly uplifting, contemplative... the music seems to hint that they are about to stumble upon something... it's an exploration of some sort.

"Somersault," I thought (and still do) was one of the sweetest love songs. Maybe it's a little cheesy, but I don't care. This is coming from a girl whose favorite love songs include the cheesiest - Stars' "My Favourite Book" and The Cardigans' "For What It's Worth." (I think I'm just focusing on female-fronted love songs at the moment, but you get the point.)

When I feel the unknown
You feel like home, you feel like home

You put my feet back on the ground
Did you know you brought me around
You were sweet and you were sound
You saved me

I mean, come on.

I remember getting a 4 track EP that previewed their 2006 album, The Garden. I was in a music meeting for ACRN, and I grabbed it before anyone else could. Sia sings "Throw it All Away." This song still gets me carried away.

I accidentally stumbled upon it today, and it was sort of a hidden blessing. Life repeats itself, and here I am, trying to sort things out again.

So I sit, at a white desk, in a cold room that smells vaguely of smoke, where the echoes of the baby that lives in the apartment downstairs sometimes travels up through the floor. I sit, with a small laptop, and bottle of water on the desk next to me, alongside a container of hummus and bag of crackers. I wonder what I'm going to do this weekend. I think about the work ahead of me. And somehow, I know it's all going to be ok.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hooray for Earth - True Loves

Sometimes I like music to be a little rough around the edges, and I think Sleigh Bells proved that to me this year. Hooray for Earth is this suddenly exploding machine of music makers. They sort of sound like they recorded this song in the middle of a cave with some electric razors and a really fun beat.

You need a song every now and then that you know you'd swagger to when walking down the street with headphones on. Now that I live in corporate America, on the busiest effing street in Louisville, I don't really anticipate myself walking around with headphones on the side of a 6-lane street... but you know, a girl can dream.

This song is as easily bad-ass as it is sensitive. Random piercing electronic noises spike up from a skittering beat. Vocals are kind of lethargic, the feeling is sort of communal (let's get all of our friends, stand on a beach, and start a drum circle... if you know what I mean), and it's spaced-out enough to create some kind of distance from the listener. Sort of cold. Which works in this chilling weather, I think.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Surprise Culture Shockwave

Hey! I moved South, but I kinda wish I moved East... all the way to Japan.

Check out this gooey twee pop goodness from Tokyo.

Shugo Tokumaru plays all his own instruments (wikipedia estimates about 100, but I doubt that) and he's kind of brilliant. I'm not going to lie, this isn't the first time I've wished I was Asian.

Come on, how does this not make you super happy?

And if you want to go to the other end of the spectrum and just feel really bummed out, check this shiz out.

Pretty sure it's impossible to hate on Dan Auerbach. I aspire to be his female version, minus the whiskey drinking, depression, and beard. Then again, if you're gonna be a bearded whiskey drinker, Dan Auerbach is really the way to go.