Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Blow - Self-titled

Punchy and direct, “Make it Up” starts off The Blow’s self-titled album brightly, with the kind of gusto that made 2005’s Paper Television gobs and gobs of fun. Glitchy samples, a chorus full of joyful harmonies, and an uptempo beat make for an infectious pop masterpiece.
But that energy is harder to find on the rest of the collection. Musing about unfulfilling relationships, unrequited love, and mortality, Khaela Maricich and Melissa Dyne tone down the rest of the album to less of a fever pitch. It’s reflective and expressive, but at times lacks the immediate power and hooky qualities of The Blow’s best songs. 
The pair worked together to sample acoustic instruments, turning them into robotic bleeps and synthy waves. These clips of sound are a backdrop to thoughtful lyrics and candid stories. Best is the conversational “I Tell Myself Everything,” where Maricich rambles about heartbreak being good for artist inspiration. She opens up with a revealing portrait of self-awareness, singing, “Here we come in a slow motion strut/It’s all four of me/The cool one, two more and the one careless whore of me.”

The Blow closes with a gorgeous ballad laced up with sweet guitar humming and a gentle melody. Using light and darkness as symbols for the fear involved in falling headfirst into love, “You’re My Light” is another example that this album not just about passion, but the thoughtful beauty behind it. Love and life are fragile, and these minimalistic songs reflect the delicate balance we must maintain to preserve both of them.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Blitzen Trapper - VII

VII gives you no indication that it was created after 1975. Blitzen Trapper’s seventh full-length continues in the band’s tradition of offering listeners a timeless blend of folk, rock, roots, gospel, country, and everything in between. Songwriter Eric Earley picked up his first string instrument when he was 6, and about 30 years later, he’s still paying tribute to the songs his father taught him, from John Denver to Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Some are good old-fashioned, twangy fun, like album opener, “Feel the Chill,” which tells the tale of the old neighborhood haunted house that Earley and his friends were afraid to approach as kids.  “Ever Loved Once” and “Don’t Be A Stranger” are folksy ballads that that slow the pace, reminiscing about love gone wrong. The former includes harmonies that would make CSNY proud.
Everything about VII is classic, from the stuck-in-a-desert feel of “Earth (Fever Called Love)” where you can all but feel the dried out sand crack beneath your feet, to the lively groove of the southern gospel of “Shine On.”
“I’ve been running so long/I can’t recall what it means to stay,” croons Earley in “Thirsty Man.” The frontman is no stranger to running. He has spent chunks of his life without a real home, traveling from place to place. That wandering quality is evident on these songs, filled with tales inspired by his own wayward adventures. It makes it just that much more fun to join Blitzen Trapper’s journey on VII.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tim Kasher - Adult Film

Consumed with mortality, infidelity, and coming to terms with expectations and their unparalleled realities, you may expect Tim Kasher’s latest solo album to be full of morose, droning songs. The subject matter may be dark and thoughtful, but this is no Cass McCombs. Tim Kasher, who also fronts both Cursive and The Good Life, has a knack here for turning murky subjects into full-on bombastic rockers.
Kasher’s talent lies in how he uses everyday concerns to tell unbelievably detailed stories, turning two- or three-line phrases into revelatory slices of insight. “Truly Freaking Out” regards the transience of life succinctly with lines like, “I was six years old, learning how to swim/Then I was 36, wondering how I sunk/Oh, it’s as if the record jumped.”
He tells a story of mistrust and relationship anxiety in “The Willing Cuckold” that’s so relatable and real that it makes the heart jump. With percussion that skips like the hooves of a racing horse, Kasher admits to feigning ignorance when his woman cheats. He cries out with such pain in the bridge that it’s as if you’re sitting in his shoes, wondering how the relationship lost its luster. There’s also pure fun in “Life in Limbo,” a song about all life’s possibilities wrapped in a circus-like organ.
But unlike Kasher’s first solo album, The Game of Monogamy, Adult Film is full of songs that stand alone. They are immediately accessible, and while the album flows from one song to another, each tale paints a clear, separate picture. He keeps it cohesive by incorporating similar musical elements; the opening and closing songs begin and end with a sort of backwards sigh, just tempting you to make it to the end of the album only to start it over again. “The future is a fiction we never wrote,” sings Kasher. After hearing Adult Film, you’ll be waiting for the next chapter.