Monday, April 23, 2012

Regina Spektor - What We Saw From the Cheap Seats

Regina Spektor’s music seems to thrive in two modes. One is her up-and-down emotional roller coaster, where minor chords meet major and the loud and quiet mesh haphazardly. First single “All the Rowboats” demonstrates this with verve, ominous piano tinkering cutting through hollow percussion all atop biting vocals. It’s edgy, it’s thrilling, and it reminds us of the force Spektor can bring through the 88 keys on her piano. “Open” drops poetic fireworks with couplets like, “potentially lovely, perpetually human,” sung with such conflict and pain that it hurts so good. These songs go so many places all at once, taking listeners on voyages that they could never travel without Spektor’s guidance.

Then there’s the carefree, whimsical side, where even the craftiest phrases feel easy and flippant. “You’re like a party somebody threw me/you taste like birthday/you look like new year,” she croons in “The Party.” These are the sort of compliments Spektor seems to stumble upon seamlessly, but that color her already-vivid songs. It makes you feel young again.

But it’s the in between that seem to sink through the cracks on What We Saw From the Cheap Seats. Several beautiful tunes make up the mid-album slump, including the classical piano ballad, “Firewood,” and the requisite break-up song, “How,” which treads a little too closely to Harry Nilsson’s “Without You.” “Ballad of a Politician” begins promisingly with cunning lyrics that cut down the fantasy of a successful politician, but it never really builds to anything. Chipper orchestral pop is demonstrated with sweeping strings in “Oh Marcello,” which references Nina Simone’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” multiple times.

What We Saw From the Cheap Seats finds Spektor treading some of her most complex material yet, while keeping it fresh and accessible for listeners. There is much here to be thankful for, but nothing as immediately thrilling as past pop gems. Still, whatever mood is captured -- whether airy or cutting -- her ear for gorgeous melodies never wavers.

Patrick Watson - Adventures In Your Own Backyard

In a recent interview, Patrick Watson said the entire goal of his band’s third album was to give listeners “melodic goosebumps.” Mission accomplished. The orchestral pop that Watson layered together with three bandmates in his Montreal apartment (Get it? They never had to leave the backyard to fuel those creative juices!) is dreamlike in its beauty. Falsetto crooning, whimsical guitar strumming, European horn flourishes and woozy pedal steel float through these songs as if gravity was a thing of the past. The songs have weight, but they never seem to touch the ground, instead swelling into a cacophony of hazy sound. “Morning Sheets” is haunting, the tempo barely quickening as sleepy beginnings transform into a biting bridge. If you already have a hard time getting out of bed, avoid this album. Between the constant goosebumps and dreamy meanderings, that comforter never felt so good.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Cave Singers - Live at Zanzabar

Very rarely can a band make you feel like you're riding atop a galloping horse, tumbleweeds blowing in the wind. But when you watch The Cave Singers live, songs like "Black Leaf" have the lively sort of shuffling percussion that make it impossible to stand still.

Several of the Seattle-based band's more upbeat songs took the crowd at Zanzabar by storm Monday night. Rabble-rousers filled the set list, breaking up the club's calm with the perfect storm of liquid guitar picking and biting bass. Taking their cues in seemingly equal part from swamp rock grime and garage rock liveliness, The Cave Singers barely stopped for a breath once the show began. Just song after song from their three albums.

The new(er) songs from 2011's No Witch really lit fire. While magic and witchery isn't really what first comes to mind when you hear The Cave Singers, there is a sort of enchantment they put on the crowd that really doesn't come off on the recordings. Something about the urgency of songs like "All Land Grabs and Divinity Ghosts" is arresting.

Lyrics are indecipherable, but that's ok because it's more about the feeling anyway. Swept away, the melodies and galloping drum beats carried us away into the night... and will most likely have Louisvillians crawling back for more when The Cave Singers return to town.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Metric - Synthetica

The dark edge of Metric’s music does not hang like clouds over the band’s latest set of songs. It’s eerie and disconcerting, but grounded in a realism that the band calls its first attempt of “facing what you know is true.” So the Montreal foursome has come down from the skies of 2009’s Fantasies -- which wasn’t exactly a spritely dance through the heavens -- and landed on flat feet, in dark basements. Ten years together as Metric has by no means taken away the underground cool of its aura. Rather, the sound is growing sharper and tighter as it pulses into the night air.

“Youth Before Youth” is insanely catchy, an ode to the best of Depeche Mode, all buzzy bass and punchy percussion. Emily Haines gives rock stars something to aim for, her cunning hiss as powerful as the growl or garble we’ve come to accept as a strong vocal. Feedback hisses through the song like a tea kettle ready to explode, adding to the song’s unrelentless tension.

Nothing else on the album matches that energy, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking. “I’ll shut up and carry on/a scream becomes a yawn” echoes through the moodier ”Dreams So Real,” a quiet ode to repression where ringing guitars and subtle synths lull you into a stupor. Following it with “Lost Kitten” is brilliant, as the peppy, Cardigans-esque number brings us back to life with effervescent chimes and a chugging verse-chorus-verse that’s as close as Metric will ever get to cheerleading.

There’s something untouchable here that’s so, just, Metric. It’s not easy to pull off jagged guitar riffs that prompt reckless behavior and dance marathons all at once, all while maintaining an anthemic quality. As these four Canadians reach more people with a growing fan base, they’re not shying away from the same driving rhythms and melodies that color their earliest songs. They are just as edgy they always have been. And grounded in the truth, their songs are only getting better.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Langhorne Slim - The Way We Move

Raw honesty and fiery vocal-chord-shredding howls make Langhorne Slim what he is. Joined by a band equally touched with rock ‘n’ roll fever, The Way We Move may be the Sean Scolnick’s most passionate album yet. The Pennsylvania native adopted the name Langhorne after his hometown when he moved to Brooklyn to pursue music. He’s come a long way since, finding a way to express the pain of losing a loved one (“Song for Sid”) and the conflicting emotions of a break up (“Someday”) without dragging listeners through the slush of sappiness. In the latter, crafty banjo picking moves along lines like “Maybe someday you’ll be happy/and I’ll be happy, too/but I wish we could stay together/I love you.” Move is a stomping good time, recorded live to tape, but you wish they were live in your living room instead.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Robbing Mary - El Otro Lado

With a touch of twang, a slew of vintage guitars, and some heavenly male-female harmonies, Robbing Mary is ready to take Cleveland’s summer festival by storm. From gigs at The Barking Spider Tavern to Cleveland Metroparks Zoo’s Twilight at the Zoo festival, the nearly decade-old band likes to share their tunes in unique venues. On their first official full-length studio album, chugging alt-country seamlessly pours from the six-piece band. Drawing inspiration from their Cleveland roots, songs like “Halite” highlight the town’s skyline -- “it’s pretty/even through the haze, it’s pretty.” Organ melds with classic guitar solos in “Where I Am,” while Uncle Tupelo and Drive By Truckers’ influences can be felt in the rumbling heat of “Tell Me.” Funny enough, the album title is less serious than the subject matter. Spanish for “the other side,” El Otro Lado comes from vocalist Dan Mills’ experience taking a picture for the cover art. “When I took the picture of the chicken for the artwork, it sounded like it was swearing at me in Spanish,” explains Mills.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Dent May - Do Things

Joyous harmonies in the vein of The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, disco beats, and the spectacular cheese of ’80s synths swirl around Dent May’s second full-length like rays of sunshine. An album this shiny and bright is a complete departure from May’s debut. The Good Feeling Music of Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele is a collection of folk tunes with the aforementioned four-stringed instrument that charmed the hearts of many with songs like “College Town Boy,” where May crooned, "he's smoking reefer every day now/his tastes are awfully high-brow/college town boy/get off your ass and do something." But Do Things is a completely separate affair, full of bubbly dance numbers and the polish of a just-waxed dance floor. None of the charm is lost, though, in an album where lyrics are simple and to the point, and the beats are smoother than Jergens. “Best Friend” is a love song for that solid person in life that just can’t be replaced. “You and me is never gonna end/because you’re my best friend/honey, still my best friend” -- nothing deep, but undeniably relatable. And “Fun” could easily be your favorite spring anthem, crawling with rumbling bass, Of Montreal-esque hyperactive synths, and an infectious, hedonistic chorus that is so feel-good it hurts. Sticky and overblown, this could be an album that gets old after a few listens. Lucky for us, it just doesn’t.