Friday, December 24, 2010

And big ole #1: Deer Tick

It's not the trashy mustache John McCauley usually wears (not pictured). It's not the raucousness during shows, the fact that he oversleeps for interviews, or even our shared RI connection. It's the fact that, after all's said and done, "The Black Dirt Sessions" is still one of the best alt-country albums we've ever heard. Composed of Ian O'Neil, Chris Ryan, and Dennis Ryan, their brilliant debut "War Elephant" put them on the national stage, and for all its merits, we're arguing "Black Dirt" is even better. With a mostly acoustic setup, it's dark, crushing, and absolutely fantastic. McCauley's agitated voice and a piano sounds, well, not all that desirable, but it works marvelously here, and if you don't give it a try, then we feel sorry for you. As strong now as it was when it kept us glued to the stereo months ago. Raise a Coors: happy holidays, John Joseph McCauley III.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

No.2: Horse Feathers

Justin Ringle is a nice guy. As the lead singer/ songwriter for Portland, Oregon's Horse Feathers, we are impressed not only with his general niceness, but with his delicate vocals, lush instrumentation, and sense of beauty on "Thistled Spring." Speaking of instruments, his band, which consists of Nathan Crockett, Sam Cooper, and Catherine Odell must have a couple buses of instruments between the three of them (that's Crockett bowing a saw in the yellow shirt). It's their collective talent that crafts a kind of folk that's so gorgeous, it's an occasion in and of itself to sit down and listen to it. "Starving Robins" and "Belly of June" are only a couple tracks that capture our imagination with an acoustic explosion of that startles and tingles the senses, and any fan of Iron and Wine's acoustic material will find an equal in Ringle's songwriting and performance here. Heck, any fan of good music should be able to put this in and think of a couple people they'd like to share this one with. Here's to a strong 2011, guys (and gal).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

No. 3: Chain Gang of 1974

It's funky, it's infectious, it's none other than Kamtin Mohager's Chain Gang of 1974 (see vampire at right). The Denver, CO native breaks out all the stops for a perfect blend of punk/dance/pop explosion that is the solo debut "White Guts." We've cranked up "STOP" on the sound system for more than half the year, a beat-driven psychediscopunkadelic opener that layers choruses and simply doesn't relent. While you're at it, you might as well put on "F'n Head," a bass-heavy, tangled mass of electronica that damn well makes you punk out your f-ing head. The ten tracks here play fun and tough throughout, and the only requirement to enjoy them is to have an open ear and a live pulse. Or maybe that last one's not a requirement (see vampire again at right). Regardless, we're so certain that anyone can pick up and enjoy this thrill-ride that we're willing to wager our collection of shiny pants and fuzzy dice on it. Not for the kiddies, due to that one track mentioned above, but they're too young to have this kind of fun, anyway. Keep in touch, Kamtin.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

No. 4: Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings

True soul singers are tough to come by. So when we finally heard about Sharon Jones and her Dap-Kings, we were a bit skeptical. "Yeah," we thought, "but can she really sing the part?" Thankfully, she can. Sophomore album "I Learned the Hard Way" is coursing through with soul, body, too, and is the kind of album we were dreaming of since Motown had its day. It's tough to pick only a few highlight tracks, considering the whole album truly is fantastic, but try on "Mama Don't Like My Man" and the title track. If you're still not convinced after listening to those tracks, then maybe you should have your ears checked. Seriously. Great, authentic soul music that'll always have a home in your collection.

Monday, December 20, 2010

No. 5: School of Seven Bells

If you've ever purveyed your local dance/ trance halls, you've probably noticed that there's much too much bad dance music. You know, the kind of stuff that requires that extra drink just so you can try out that new dress on the dance floor. With "Disconnect from Desire," the sophomore album from the trio composed of twin sisters Claudia and Alejandra Deheza, as well as former Secret Machines rocker Ben Curtis, you'll gladly get out and groove in a potato sack. The reason why is simply: good dance music grabs you and puts you on your feet. Whether it be "I L U" or "Bye Bye Bye," SVIIB puts the perfect amount of polish on these sonic gems, and if we were to make a comparison to, say, cars, it comes off feeling like a Porsche: it's svelte, it's intoxicating, and it makes you feel good just for being around it. Layered electric guitars, synth, and vocals makes for pure pleasure, and you can always check out "I L U" on the MySpace site above. Excellent job, gals (and guy).

Year-End Review! Yippee!

Hello all,
We're sitting around, mulling over which albums should be in our top 5. It's really tough, considering this blog has covered twice as many albums this year as last, and hopefully will cover two times more next. A select few haven't come through (Arcade Fire, for one), so keep in mind the scope of this tiny, teensy-weensy little blog. If you're really aching to know what our selections will be, we'll give you a little hint: The National doesn't make the list. Sorry to lovers of "High Violet," it's too monochromatic for our tastes.
Hopefully decisions will be made, and there's time for revisions which a minute needn't reverse. Thanks for keeping up, and if all goes according to plan, we'll get started today until X-Mas Eve (just to help with your last-minute shopping). Peace and holidays,

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Von Stetten's "Pyramid" could be built stronger

Kurt von Stetten - "Pyramid"
Static Motor Recordings
-out now!
3 / 5

Admittedly, it takes a few listens to get used to the Boston-based multi-instru-mentalist/ photographer's fifth solo release. It's probably Kurt von Stetten's authentic and organic approach to "Pyramid" that makes it an acquired taste, but our main complaint is that it still lacks that mysterious force that grabs you and makes you put his record on. There's no one way about it: memorable guitar hooks, catchy choruses, and strong power-vocals are among the common ways a band crafts a song that sticks with you. And, in a good way, there's nothing common about von Stetten's off-the-beaten-path indie approach; nonetheless, tracks such as "Aioki" and "1st Base" could benefit from a bit more sprucing-up in all three departments. "Come Correck" doesn't need this extra flash to pull it off: it's the most realized of the tracks here, easy to pick up on the first listen, and not lacking in depth and replay, either. A select few may be willing to sit down and appreciate the unusual song structures and general low-fi, low-key attitude, but overall, there are other albums in the style that deserve your cash more. Take a pass.

Listen to "Pyramid":

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Analog Moon ascends on "Secret There Below"

Analog Moon - Ascent and the Secret There Below
Circuit Rider Productions
-out now!
3.5 / 5

With a little twang of country does Asheville, NC's Analog Moon release their second full-length. On "Ascent and the Secret There Below," pop is ultimately the flavor of the day, especially on "Soda City," replete with falsetto in the chorus and a great, driving beat. The self-described "band of ideas" has good ones throughout, and has obviously taken time and care to hone them down. The moments of weakness are when the whetstone of editing (how's that for a metaphor?) has ground down a little too far, and not left enough room for these strong ideas to flourish a little bit. The proof is in the pudding right on the opening track, "True Secrets of the Wiser," which feels like it's missing a guitar lick and maybe a bit of instrumental layering. Otherwise, you get a track like "The Hillside Cries for Carmen Fry," with good balance, good vocals, and a good presence. A good, but not great, album; still recommended.

Listen to "Soda City":

Monday, December 13, 2010

Liz Janes doesn't anchor down her latest

Liz Janes - Say Goodbye
Asthmatic Kitty
-out now!
2.5 / 5

Liz Janes can be cool, Liz Janes can be smooth. But on Liz Janes' "Say Goodbye," her latest release in five years, she comes off slight and under- whelming. While the opener, "I Don't Believe," sways sexily with Rhodes and percussion (and we do adore that), much of the album comes off too pretty and music-box-y. "Bitty Thing" and Time and Space" fall into this description almost intentionally, with glockenspiel and whispery voices making the track a bit too saccharine. What makes that opening track so strong is the depth of personality it has, striking a fine balance between delicate and seducing; the next closest moment would be "Anchor," on which she colors her voice with a bit of aggravation in it. A track and a half, though, aren't quite enough to lift up an entire album, and one reason why it might not work for us is that these tracks don't spread their net wide enough in terms of diversity; another might be Janes' similar attack on the vocals. Pop in your favorite album, and probably your favorite track is the one where the singer gets out from behind her mic and really belts one out. Here, Janes doesn't have a moment where she steps into the unknown, and what begins with a promising start, simply doesn't follow through. Some moments, but not enough to recommend it.

Listen to "I Don't Believe":

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sharon Jones is a queen among Dap-Kings

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings - "I Learned the Hard Way"
Daptone Records
-out now!
4 / 5

So you've been lamenting the end of Motown ever since you learned about the Temptations and the Four Tops. We'll, we've got good news for you: Motown is alive and well in Sharon Jones. The powerful singer belts in the tradition of Diana Ross, and her Dap-Kings back her all the way: horns, backup singers, strings and glockenspiel carry the tradition of the Supremes et al. It's no surprise that many groups of the Supremes' era have carried well over the years, as they contain powerful lead singers and harmonies, as well as deep, layered instrumentation that damn well grooves. Jones and her Dap-Kings have certainly done their homework with all the above, and the feel they produce here could easily have fit into the golden '60s. It's classic (and classy) music executed the way it should be: full-force, for the sheer love of it. This worthy visitation of a difficult genre makes all the hard stuff seem easy, just the way it should be. Recommended.

Listen to: "I Learned the Hard Way":

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Linfinity blooms on "Martian's Bloom"

Linfinity - "Martian's Bloom"
American Myth
-out now!
3.5 / 5

Dylan von Wagner's vocals haunt like Duncan's ghost on the sophomore release by New York quintet Linfinity. Spinning up this mixture of somber rock via David Byrne, we're reminded of the strong vocal presence of the National's and Shearwater's lead vocalists. There is no denying that it's Wagner's voice, take it or leave it, that supports Linfinity's efforts, but credit should be given to such tracks as "Choo Choo Train to Venice," which rocks like an iconoclastic surf-influenced punk, and "MSG," which feels inspired by the Talking Heads. While, lyrically, "Martian's Bloom" doesn't grip as tightly as we'd like it to, these tracks are sonically solid, and likely to please any fans of the aforementioned artists. What impresses especially about Linfinity is their attention to song structure (see "Morning Heights"), and their diversity of sound and mood; while that's no guarantee of a successful music career, we're definitely going to keep our ear out for the next release. Recommended.

Listen to "MSG":
Or listen to Linfinity live in Providence, 11/28:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Avi Buffalo balances art and uncouthness. Mostly.

Avi Buffalo - Self-Titled
Sub Pop
-out now!
3.5 / 5

The debut by Long Beach-native Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg begs the question: is there such a thing as beautiful crassness? Should vulgarity sounds so pleasant? Perhaps the answer lies in "What's in it For?" the clear, takeaway single from this collection of light, airy tunes. Nothing here hits harder than a light pluck, which is surprising considering some of the material ("Five Little Sluts," "Where's Your Dirty Mind"). While Zahner-Isenberg carefully straddles the line between art and outright disgustingness, generally he plays it just risque; our main regret on here is the song "Summer Cum," which is a needless overflow of... perhaps it needn't be mentioned. But other than that track, "Avi Buffalo" is indie pop strong enough to support itself. For the future, hopefully this act will show a bit more restraint and a little less juvenile impulse. Still recommended.

Listen to "What in it For":

Monday, November 15, 2010

Free Holiday music! And no more fever!

Sorry everyone,
I'd just been stricken down with a terrible bout of the lazies, followed up with a nasty cold. So these past two weeks have kinda been slow, and I felt it would be nice to give away some free music, courtesy of XO Publicity. Here's the link:

Tell me what you think! Hope you enjoy it, and Happy Holidays,

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Blizten Trapper captures classic-rock vibe on "Destroyer"

Blitzen Trapper - "Destroyer of the Void"
Sub Pop
-out now!
4 / 5

Since 2008's breakout "Furr," Blitzen Trapper has been (in personal opinion) a somewhat over-hyped band. But on "Destroyer of the Void," the Portland, OR rock group pulls out all the stops, culminating in a fine selection of songs that would enthuse even the strictest of rock listeners. The title and opening track hits such a strong classic-rock vibe, that this little blog believe it merits comparison to "Stairway to Heaven": with strong, rock-out guitars, it is Blitzen Trapper's height by and far, a dizzying array of musical themes whose structure feels at ease with Led Zeppelin's famous rock-suite. Will "Destroyer" be compared to "Zoso" years from now, Eric Earley to Robert Plant? Probably not, but damn, it is such a fantastic ride that Zeppelinites and those classic rock guys who say the art is dead (you know, all that "there is no good music anymore" garbage) will choke on their tongues. Listen to the title track and be impressed; the rest is also fantastic. Recommended.

Listen to "Heaven and Earth":

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Interview with Susan Cowsill

... is in the Newport Mercury this week. Pg. 12 has all the details. Check it out:
Peace out!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Slow Club's debut drags

Slow Club - "Yeah, So"
Moshi Moshi Records
-out now!
3 / 5

If every song from every band could be as intimate and quirky as "When I Go," the opener from Slow Club's debut, we'd be pleased as punch. The UK duo creeps into this track like a strange little She and Him, acoustic with a touch of sadness, and it comes off soaringly. But when the rest of Yeah, So picks up, the driving percussion and fevered pop energy aren't enough to carry through (but still check out the story on "It Doesn't Always Have to Be Beautiful"). Comparisons have been drawn between Slow Club and the White Stripes, and if there is a belabored comparison to be made, it is with a caveat: while one is sonically and lyrically cleaner, the other's grime and distortion speaks more effectively. Polish isn't necessarily a bad thing, but Slow Club has too much of it, which has the unfortunate effect of blanching out the personality to the music. The live tracks on the bonus bonus disc are nice, but not quite enough to give it a recommendation. Nonetheless, download that fantastic single, and check out the link below.

Listen to "It Doesn't Always Have to Be Beautiful":

Monday, October 11, 2010

Climber reaches new heights on "The Mystic"

Climber - "The Mystic"
Sparklet Records
-out Oct. 19 (DL available tomorrow)
3.5 / 5

The Portland, OR outfit's third release comes in the form of "The Mystic," a psychedelic rock-suite not unlike something the Flaming Lips might put out. Opening is "The Simians Speak," a sonically delightful tale that blends philosophy with - indeed - sign-language talking monkeys. Before you run out screaming, let us say this: the paired down psychedelia joined with a deep, meaningful statement (plus monkeys!) just plain works. Even without the apes are sonic and lyrical statements that you might expect from Pink Floyd ("Flying Cars") and Brian Eno ("I Have Seen Everything"), which makes for a varied and colorful album. The weakest aspect of The Mystic, other than the Jolly Green Giant (TM) on the cover, is that they play in a genre that is rife with such strong and bizarre talent, that it makes it difficult for Climber to make a strong statement that will stick. Consider that even Wayne Coyne covers himself in gallons of fake blood during shows, despite glowing critical reviews. Climber, then, may find themselves a bit too middle-of-the-line to breakout here, both in terms of their sound and lyrics (yet), but if the material here is any indication of their future, it won't be too far away. A pleasant and unexpected surprise, as well as recommended.

Listen to "I Have Seen Everything":

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A new feel for Sufjan's new "Age"

Sufjan Stevens - "The Age of Adz"
Asthmatic Kitty
-out Oct. 12
4 / 5

Perhaps a more appropriate title for Detroit-native Sufjan Steven's latest album might be "Sufjan Battles the Pink Robots." That is to say, there are certainly Flaming Lips-ish space-a-delic themes both lyrically and sonically throughout on his seventh full-length album (excluding Avalanche), and those attuned to Beck's electronica will almost certainly enjoy themselves here. The downshot is that fans of his breakthrough album Illinois may find themselves surprised, and not always in a pleasant way, as to this new direction; stepping back, Stevens still provides an excellent sense of the pop dynamic, as well as several layered and gorgeous songs ("Too Much," "I Walked," and the title track, to name a few). The only real sense of disappointment comes in contrast to 2005's Illinois, his previous album of original pop material, which is soaring and majestic; Age of Adz approaches this height, albeit a bit more distractedly. Nonetheless, any other electronica musician would proudly list this album under their accomplishments, and Age of Adz certainly is an accomplishment. A melding of the synthetic and acoustic, Steven's latest opus is absolutely recommended.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Kings Go Forth as royalty

Kings Go Forth - "The Outsiders Are Back"
Luaka Bop
-out now!
4 / 5

Take Earth, Wind and Fire, add dense layers of percussion and a female lead vocal, and you might come close to Milwaukee's retro-funk-soul outfit Kings Go Forth. With uplifting melodies and soulful harmonies, Kings brings back everything you loved about the 70s scene (shiny suits aside) on their debut release. And if you forgot what some of those things were, "You're the One" will certainly remind you again: singable choruses, bright, danceable rhythms, lyrics that transport you straight back to back-seat first-kiss nostalgia. Our favorite, "High on Your Love," is so pure and gorgeous that even the bitterest cynic must surrender and put on a smile. On it, Black Wolf declares "Let's make love on Jupiter/ While the Earth sleeps tonight," and if there's one thing this album does on each track, it is to make love. Enjoyable, refreshing, new (and old), and definitely recommended.

Listen to: "High on Your Love":

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Frontman Wayne Coyne approaches the tour at his own pace.

Few could predict that an indie punk group from Oklahoma City would have such an innovative presence in the music world. At 49, Wayne Coyne (center) and his quartet of space-a-delic freaks, including bassist Michael Ivins (right) and drummers Steven Drozd (left) and Kliph Scurlock, have earned a Grammy, covered Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” in its entirety, and toured relentlessly across the world. Currently on tour for their first double-album Embryonic (excluding Zaireeka, their 1997 four-album experiment), the self-deprecating Coyne delivers about the not-so-glamorous side of touring, as well as about future projects. And definitely feel free to check out their 10-10-10 concert in Austin, TX (,, which promises to drench you in 100% authentic fake blood.

M: Thanks for your time. Do you mind if I record the interview?

WC: Sure. I don't expect you to write it all down and remember it. I'm not doubting your ability to remember, but, see, I just talk. It might be a lot easier for you to say, 'Nah, that fucker goes on too long.'

M: At 27, being 49 seems like a long way to travel.

WC: I remember when I was 27, I would think about someone who's almost 50 years old: 'Dude, are you alright?' I don't ever get the feeling that I'm any different. It's only when I look in the mirror sometimes that I think, oh wow, I look like a weird old guy. I don't feel different to myself. It's a strange phenomenon.

M: How's your tour for Embryonic going so far?

WC: We're never really on tour for very long. We'll go out for maybe about ten days, play some shows, then we'll go home for ten days... we're always doing everything at the same time. Since we're playing some shows in the summertime, you always run into other groups, and we ran into a group, Trombone Shorty, just last night. They're almost into their third consecutive month of playing. That can beat you down. I already did that several times - when I was your age - and it can be such a mind-fuck, you're so torn away from your life that you're trying to build, the people that you knew. Like I said, I'm 49 years old, and the other guys, they're not as old as me, but they're not in their early 20s. I think they don't want to be taken away from their families and their lives for that long. And you can almost go endlessly the way we're going. You can almost never stop, because we're going full-time. Doing the Flaming Lips tour is kind of like working at Target: it just kinda is. It's not too hard, you just get up and go to work.

M: I know some musicians that have kids, and touring must be rough on them.

WC: Especially for musicians. The reason I say musicians is that they have a sensitivity about them, or they probably wouldn't like music. And all these things that play into human dramas and emotions are just a little bit more, either enjoyable, or a little bit more painful. Sometimes I think groups try to say 'we're going to play for six months straight,' and then take three years off. You know, that's easy to say, but a lot of things happen to people in six months that you cannot reverse. Especially if you have young children. Six months, they'll be completely different little creatures by then. We don't want that. We want to make our music, do our performances, do all these things because we love what we do, not put one thing that we love on hold so we can have another. We want to have it all at the same time.

M: On the positive aspect of that, do you have any good tour stories?

WC: (Laughs) I don't know, a lot of times there's not that much crazy shit going on. When we played at Bonnaroo about a month ago, you play into the night pretty long, and there's a lot of young people there that are doing drugs and stuff. So those [gigs] always play more into the good old rock and roll stories. After we got done, it was about ten minutes after three in the morning, I went over to the LCD Soundsystem stage, where they had just started their set - and I sort of Tweeted about it the day afterwards - but this big, naked guy sort of attacked the stage. Me and, what's this comedian's name, Aziz Ansari? - this giant, freaked-out naked guy, had to be doing some acid or something, simply attacked the stage, and we sort of had to hold him down until the security guards could take him away. It was a very strange, charged moment, where that doesn't happen to you every day. You know, where you're suddenly assailed by a 300-pound, naked guy, and he's all sweaty and he's drenched. That's probably the last phenomenal rock-and-roll moment that happened to us.

M: I guess at that moment you're glad that you pump iron five times a week.

WC: I don't do that much, but I do yoga almost every day. So, yeah, you're glad that you have energy and you can react and you don't feel intimidated. I know you're saying that jokingly, but I mean it. To be in a group, and to do all these things; you wouldn't want to do it if you don't have a lot of enthusiasm. So yeah, I jumped right to task. We didn't really want to. The guy was very strong but he was pretty slippery, because he was so sweaty. The slipperiness made it impossible to grab him. It's a good trick. If you're ever going to run from the cops, strip yourself naked and be slippery.

M: Sure. I should probably carry some cans of grease, too.

WC: (Pauses) Then their only solution is to taze you.

M: You've also toured Europe and around the world. Any places you’ve enjoyed outside of the US?

WC: It's all pretty great when you're a group like the Flaming Lips. Most everywhere that we would go nowadays, we're invited to play by a group of enthusiastic 'freaks.' We just recently went to Croatia, and we played the Glastonbury Festival (in UK) and got to see Snoop Dogg, meet Mick Jones from the Clash. Hang out with Damien Hirst. There's a lot of great things that can happen to you simply because you're just traveling the world all the time. But the other side of it is that you spend a lot of time in airports and on airplanes. Sometimes you get done playing at two-o-clock in the morning, and you have to get to the airport at four-o-clock in the morning. Running from one show to the next, everything is 'hurry hurry hurry' all the time. Sometimes I think it's too many experiences. It'd be like having to eat twenty meals in one day. There's just no way you can enjoy all the things that are happening.

M: Do you have anything new on the horizon?

WC: We're always - I don't know if 'contemplating' is the right word - but you're always considering new musical ideas, new things that you want to play into. We're always doing little movies and little videos. I just shot an ending of a video for a song on Embryonic called "See the Leaves." We were shooting this guy on the north side of Oklahoma City who has a big acreage where he's burning a bunch of his brush that he had chopped down. So we saw this giant fucking bonfire. We shot for an ongoing piece in our storyboard there. So it's always a kind of combination of everything: new music, and new movies, new videos, new things for our website, new toys, new t-shirts. Everything is a Flaming Lips creation. The great range of things that you can do readjusts your focus on music.

M: Last question: Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs made a brief appearance as a frog on Embryonic. Would you consider a fuller collaboration with her?

WC: These are definitely collaborations of a sort. I don't know. For me, I'm more comfortable doing these types of collaborations, where I have the song written, and I have the arrangement, and I just simply call Karen and say 'All you have to do is be you, and I'll do all the work.' A lot of artists don't really want to collaborate in the sense that people think they do. The art is a lot of times just made very intensely. You simply say, 'I like this and I don't care what you think.' That is in a lot of ways how art is made. And when you're collaborating with someone that you love and admire, the way that I was working with Karen O, it's not so much a collaboration, as it's me giving her a format for her to be her pure self. And that's different than us writing a song or writing lyrics or writing an arrangement together. So, I don't know. If whoever called me up and said, 'Hey, do you want to do this,' I would always be open for it. I'm open to new experiences and new failures or successes. But I could understand how a lot of people wouldn't be. It's nerve-wracking; it's not always very pleasant. I try to make ours as easy, as quick, and as pleasant as possible. They simply can do this little thing, and be part of this bigger thing. That's why most artists would want to do it in that way, more than a 'Hey Henry (Rollins), why don't you write a song today?' A lot of people will do that to us. I'll say 'not really, but I will, if that's what we're doing.'

M: You're definitely right: you talk a lot. But it works with interviews.

WC: (Laughs) I know I paint it like it's going to be torture, but I'm trying to give you as much a lay of thinking about me as you can. Make me sound cool.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fake Problems make for (a few) real grooves

Fake Problems - "Real Ghosts Caught on Tape"
One Side Dummy
out now!
3 / 5

Pure adrenaline pop/rock is the order of the day when it comes to the Naples, FL indie outfit Fake Problems. Perhaps some of the best direct comparisons would be the bands Fun., the Gaslight Anthem (downtempo, without echo on the vocals) and perhaps Motion City Soundtrack (without the extreme sugar rush), and that does fine with us; it's that opener, "ADT," that pulls us in. Then why the long face? Well, (thanks for asking), it's that Fake Problems doesn't present particularly fresh material. Scrabbled together from a handful of catchy guitar licks, a few cliches ("Hold out your weary hand," "When you think it can't get any worse") and some familiar-sounding songs (the opening guitar riff and backup vocals to "Soulless"), "Real Ghosts" doesn't have enough substance to haunt everyone's CD collection. But there's enough energy and drive here to recommend it for the pop enthusiast.

Listen to "Soulless":

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Haunted Graffiti is spooky good

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - "Before Today"
4ad Records
-out now!
4 / 5

Nah nah naaaah naaah... so sorry, we've just been grooving to Ariel Pink's latest retro-80s offering. The LA-based group mashes together all the 70s funk bass and falsetto you can take on a platter of 80s synth-pop (with just a dash of surf-music harmonies), and the result is...well, far less confusing than that sentence. Like a mad scientist shooting his creation with electricity, Ariel Pink's album jazzes and boogies to life; if you doubt us, go ahead and check out "Round and Round," the best thing to hit late-night driving since the invention of the make-out session. Infectious and just a little bit full of itself, there's no doubt "Before Today" will find a permanent home in your collection because, let's face it, music was born to be as fun and blissful as this. Our only regret is that some of the earlier tracks could be a bit more engaging, but there's enough good material on this release to merit your time. So buy it, steal it, borrow it from a friend and forget to return it (and if he asks, just put on your shades and shake your head), as it's definitely recommended.

Listen to "Round and Round"

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Margot and So and Sos just so-so

Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos - Buzzard
+1 Records
-out Sept. 21
2.5 / 5

With a name like "Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos," you can't really go wrong, can you? And the third original release from the Indianapolis indie-rock band doesn't seem to go exceptionally wrong, either. But the one question that it doesn't seem to answer is how their sound distinguishes it from the pack. Consider the following: Fleet Foxes has a classic, baroque feel to it; Wilco has great, laid-back guitar solos; My Morning Jacket has, well, Jim James. On "Buzzard," Margot strikes too middle-of-the-line: the choruses aren't quite singable enough, the song construction is pretty standard, the lyrics (apart from "Tiny Vampire Robot") are sadly unmemorable. And while kidnapping Jim James would help them out, "Buzzard" would still run into the problem of lacking a unique, distinguishable musical voice. (Which is strange, considering their debut material is so strong - check out their MySpace.) The end result is an album that is too conventional and bland for the average indie rock fan. Pick up their earlier stuff instead.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"No Ghost" could use a bit more spirit

The Acorn - No Ghost
Bella Union
-out now!
3 / 5

As the fourth album from the Ottowa, Canada indie rock group The Acorn, No Ghost is a pleasing little album. With enough charm to win over some of the rock crowd, the only thing No Ghost lacks is more musical personality. We admit it's written well enough to work, but what makes it stand out from the crowd? While we enjoy the downtempo of "On the Line," much of the album is spent in a near-middle pace; what we look for is whether an album makes a strong, if not bizarre, statement ("musical statement," not Lady Gaga "fashion statement"). And while calm and composed works on songs like "Bobcat Goldwraith," and "No Ghost," we feel the average listener might be at a loss as to how to describe the mood and style of this album to their friends: "It's something like [rock band A] but not quite [rock band B]." We could waste more time making comparisons, but it comes down to the fact that it's simply more fun to listen to something out of the typical mold, even if it does share Phoenix's vocals (rock band A) and Wilco's pacing (band B - without unusual lyrics). Good, but probably not a go-to album on your player.

Listen to "No Ghost":

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dead Confederate quite alive on latest

Dead Confederate - "Sugar"
Razor & Tie
-out today!
3.5 / 5

With great grungy pop songs such as "Run From the Gun" and "Giving It All Away," it's not difficult to imagine a world in which Athens, GA rock group Dead Confederate could hold their own against My Morning Jacket and other top current rock acts. While "Sugar" doesn't quite measure up to MMJ's "Evil Urges," still the above tracks showcase a band capable of jamming, crafting songs, and performing memorable songs. While "Run From the Gun" and "Giving it All Away" are the exceptional tracks here, there are moments where the material lags, such as "Father Figure," which shows a band that needs more experimentalism and consistency (easy enough to pull off, right?). Nonetheless, these two tracks are worth the admission, especially for fans of post-grunge, Nirvana, and the like. We're hoping this band will take its strong, fairly mainstream-friendly sound and develop it, as they certainly have the potential to make waves in the long term. A great second album, and a band to look at a couple releases from now. Recommended.

Listen to "Giving It All Away":

Monday, August 2, 2010

Newport Folk Fest - A review (with pictures!)

As you may have recalled last year, we'd reviewed the Newport Folk Fest on Saturday. Well, this year, things are a bit different (it's still just a Saturday). We'll show you what we mean:
Taken by the lovely and talented Allie Runnion (www. allierunnion .com), we're now able to provide you with concert photographs. As some of you may know, this particular artist is the lush and political-minded Nneka (percussionist Gary Sullivan, bassist Emmanuel Pokossi), who opened on the main stage with her Marley-tinged "Your Request." Note that she's wearing a sweatshirt over that dress; it really was a bit cool to start. We were able to meet up with the chilly musician back stage, and she is as sweet and polite as she appears, which is unusual given the often haunting nature of her music. Though the day threatened to rain (again, if you recall 2008), we believe it was in part Nneka's plea for peace and love that kept harsh streams of water from pouring through the festival. Thanks, Nneka!

Surviving random attacks by Providence's What Cheer? Brigade (Susan on a vicious trombone) and frequent run-ins with Jim James (who was either watching every performance, or maybe had clones), there were three stages of folk, rock, and even some Girl Scout rap ("Dough for Dough" by Liz Longley). Here are the highlights:

Horse Feathers, who we interviewed for the Mercury, was genuine and amicable before their performance. With a packed crowd on the third stage, they were probably second only to Jim James (shoulder to shoulder - we couldn't get close enough for a picture) in drawing a crowd away from the main stage. While it was tough to make a decision during the Calexico/Horse Feathers/ Yim Yames trifecta, we found some time to catch the Portland, OR band play a few off of their 2010's Thistled Spring. Asking for more high-end from the engineer, here's Justin Ringle's quote of the day: "You don't hear people say 'more banjo.'" No, you don't, Justin, and that's why the world's in the trouble it's in.

(L to R: Jocie Adams, Mat Davidson, Ben Knox Miller, and Jeff Prystowsky) On the main stage, Providence's The Low Anthem performed some dark new material off their album-to-be (hopefully early next year). If you want a mini-spoiler, it will include a song about pill-popping, some brass in the form of a tenor horn, and cell phones; Ben Knox Miller called himself and played the interference off of the cell phones into the mic. If you want to know what it sounds like, it's akin to the sound in a 50s film when you see a UFO take the screen; a spacy, whistle howling, and we're quite excited to see what they've come up with for their next release.

The birds came out for Andrew Bird, perched atop the fort wall, apparently to catch one of the most impressive performances of the Festival. Mr. Bird strutted about his one-man show, recording and looping for the better part of an hour. Actually, there were two people in his band, Mr. Bird and the guy who kept straightening his double-gramaphone (it really spins!). It's featured on his video of "Imitosis," which you can spy on YouTube.
By the time Calexico joined him, he'd octupled his number onstage for "Skin, Is My," and a few others. (We should probably mention the real quote of the day at this point, during Caleixco's set: guitarist Joey Burns to an especially loud and annoying woman in the front - "Nice to hear you. Thanks for coming.") Let it be said that the pairing of the two, Calexico and Andrew Bird, was, in our opinion, the highlight of the day, as Spanish-tinged horns just seem to work with Mr. Bird's eclectic electronic stylings. It was, in a word, fantastic.

Thanks for joining us this year, and we hope you enjoyed our coverage of part of the (as always) fantastic Newport Folk Festival. Take it from us: buy or finagle your way in, because it's worth it. Or you can catch it slightly less than live on NPR, at We'll leave you with a bit of Where's Waldo a la Newport-style:
Hint: look for the guy who looks like a critic. Thanks again, and catch you next year!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

And speaking of Andrew Bird...

He's performing at the Newport Folk Festival this year. Here's the relevant information for you:

Friday, Tennis Hall of Fame, doors 6:30p, music 8p
Sat. and Sunday, Fort Adams State Park, parking 8a, doors 10a, music 11:30a

For line-up and more info, visit

It looks like an incredible line-up (Jim James, Calexico, Richie Havens and Levon Helm, to name a few), and here are our top five reasons to show:

5. Because the line-up is incredible. And you're in New England. Duh.
4. American Idol's off for the night, and it's time to get your fill of real music. Don't worry, we won't tell.
3. Brandi Carlile needs YOU to be out there clapping for her. She requested specifically.
2. So you can meet this infamous blog-owner mushing it up with all the great musicians. And knock him one for the bad review.
1. Because you want to make right to Yim Yames for being an arse a couple years back. Oops.

So bring your blanket and cooler (no glass!) and come sit out in the blistering sun. We're also a huge fan of the Newport Jazz Festival the weekend after (HUUUGE fan), but we're going to be off for that week. Feel free to email your stories at the email provided in the title, we'd love to hear them. Peace, love, and good music,

New article: Andrew Bird!

My article on Andrew Bird is in the Newport Mercury ( so go and check it out! It's pretty good, this one.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tragedy stikes Vampire Weekend

Okay, so not "tragedy" tragedy, but still something pretty quite bad:

Turns out someone forgot to get permission to use that Polaroid as their cover art. Costly mistake, it may turn out to be.
Though we didn't really dig the album too much, here's no hard feelings. Just wondering if the model on the cover (one Ann Kirsten Kennis) wouldn't first try to right the wrong without going to court. It's her right to, of course, but I'd think it'd be nice to get her manager in contact with the record label to see who dropped the ball on this one. That's probably what I'd try to do first.
Though, come to think of it, you're always supposed to get permission when you use a photo/ likeness/ caricature for commercial purposes. It might not seem like much, but it's a pretty glaring omission, to be quite frank about it. It's like not paying a band for their music on one of those "Now this is Music #137" compilations.
As Karen O might put it, "Heads will roll." Oops.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Still B-b-b-b-bad to the bone

Hey y'all, check out the new article in the Newport Mercury on George Thorogood (aka Thorogross):

Hope you all enjoy,

Friday, July 9, 2010

School of Seven Bells connect with "Disconnect"

School of Seven Bells - "Disconnect from Desire"
Vagrant Records
-out July 13
4 / 5

When dream-pop trio School of Seven Bells mix fluid beats with ethereal vocals from twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza, the result is the easily accessible "Disconnect from Desire," their second full-length attempt. The group has a natural way about establishing flow, utilizing synth effectively to the backdrop of guitar and percussion, and while easy to pick up, there's no reason to assume that this album is simple. "Dust Devil" helps to highlight the careful layering of effects, not drowning the listener in an overabundance of sounds, but filling the sound with only what's necessary to support the song. "I L U," with a strong retro feel, would be destined for cheesiness in less able hands, but instead shows that SVIIB can sway gentle pop melodies without fumbling. It's an impressive trick, and to use a horrible, bland word to describe it, it can be very pretty: pleasant, enjoyable, and not overgushing. It's a fine balance that the group maintains, and will doubtlessly claim quite a few fans in the genre. Fun, able, and recommended.

Listen to "Windstorm":

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Chap's done a good (but not great) job

The Chap - "Well Done Europe"
Lo Recordings
-out now
3 / 5

The most infectious of these beats, "We Work in Bars," has such a strong chorus that it props up the song just a bit too long; the opposite is the case with much of the rest of "Well Done Europe," London-based The Chap's fourth album. It is good, certainly, but is it great? We're saying no, and while its whimsical instrumentation and somewhat sordid lyrics can etch out a smile here and there, the final verdict is this: there just isn't enough material here (sonically, lyrically) to pull you in and leave a lasting impression. The fondest impression it leaves is, at best, fleeting, but there are still moments to this album: "Nethertheless, The Chap," with its Fol Chen pop-beat, whistling and harmonies; "Obviously" and its retro dance feel. But, as with every review we do, ultimately we've got to decide whether this album is worth your dollar (quid, yuan), and the best measure of that is memory. Not much sticks out here as sheer brilliance, despite the strong effort, and if you had to put "Well Done Europe" in a lineup with Fol Chen, the Talking Heads, and other off-kilter electronic-based bands, The Chap is, well, just another chap. Good, but not good enough for a recommendation.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Mid-Year Review!

Wow, another six-month has passed! And somehow musical overload hasn't set in - whew! - so let's get right to what's at hand. As with all the albums here, feel free to go to that sidebar on the left and read the original review. Our first selection is a rather popular one:

OK Go, "Of the Blue Colour of the Sky" - Absolutely brilliant poppy album by the folks who brought you that crazy treadmill video a few summers ago. And this time, they've set up a Rube Goldberg machine, but to be honest, they don't really need shenanigans to promote this music. Our selections stay the same, "All Is Not Lost" and "White Knuckles," as these tracks still get the play button even now. Fantastic album.

Chain Gang of 1974, "White Guts" - Not as brilliant as OK Go's album, but you don't need sheer brilliance when the beats are this infections. Still blows you away even months after you pick it up. It got a 4 out of 5 on this site, mostly because it could be a bit tighter in areas, but DAMN does it groove for a long time. Absolute sheer fun.

Shearwater, "The Golden Archipelago" - A beautifully crafted little album, it's only weakness is that it's just a hair too short. But the vocals slay us, and Shearwater certainly knows what they're doing with these tracks. Even though this album gets the fewest spins of the four presented here, it's still a delight to give it a spin. Worth your money.

Deer Tick, "The Black Dirt Sessions" - Now this one's been spinning nonstop for the past 2-3 months since we've gotten it. Absolutely crushing in its emotional depth, especially with the redo of "Christ Jesus." If you told us John McCauley would strike it up solo at a piano, we'd tell you you're out of your mind, but the results here speak for themselves. We feel it's in contention for album of the year on this site. At least until Fleet Foxes releases their latest.

And now a few albums that might be making other lists:

Vampire Weekend, "Contra" - Poppy, upbeat, and catchy, what we feel this album lacks is a bit of longevity. Like their previous self-titled release, it just doesn't last long enough with you to merit a high recommendation, though if you enjoyed that first album, then you still should consider "Contra." Good, but not absolutely necessary.

The Ruby Suns, "Fight Softly" - We gave this one a 4.5, but on second thought, it maybe merits a bit less than that. It's no Animal Collective, but it get close with a few of these songs. The main weakness is that it meanders a bit too much, but if you're still waiting for the next AC release (and who knows when that'll be), then the Ruby Suns should tide you over until then.

Thanks for stopping by this mid-year! Keep in mind there were some albums that didn't come in (Yeasayer, The Dead Weather) so keep your ears peeled for the latest in aural entertainment. Miss you madly,

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Horse Feathers Interview in the Mercury!

Totally forgot about this one. Check out the Mercury ( on page 11 to spy my article on Horse Feathers. Great band, good article. We'll be in touch,

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mid-Year review! Well, not quite yet...

So this week we'll do our Mid-Year review fer ya; but before we get there, here are five long-players that you'll play for a long time:

My Morning Jacket - "Evil Urges": Still their latest full-length release, "Evil Urges" is (so far) the apex of Jim James' alt-country effort. But without the country touches. Plain and simple, it's rock, pure rock, and destined to be a classic years from now.

The Flaming Lips - "The Soft Bulletin": Already considered a classic by any self-respecting indie mag, the trio's taken beautiful orchestration and pop to such heights that it's... well, dizzying. You'll find gorgeous textures, emotional depth, and "What Is the Light," which is beautiful for its sheer simplicity. It took us a few spins to really get it, but each spin afterward only gets better.

TV On the Radio - "Dear Science": We never really "loved" TVotR until "Dear Science" came out. In fact, we held something of a grudge ever since a live concert (one jerk fan, one broken guitar string). But this album make us take it back and love them again, and this is why: pure blissful disco-dance happiness. It's a great addition to your low-range collection, those albums you put on in your tricked-out Impala, and it's still got enough depth and color for you to put it on your regular stereo. Excellent lyrics, driving beats, and sheer inventiveness make this recent release stand out.

Wilco - "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot": Every time we write up a review we try to reference this gem. But there's a good reason: Jeff Tweedy is in top form here (despite what everyone says about his current releases), and as poignant as he's likely to ever be. The lyrics here are so shattering and unique, that we could write an essay about them; but of course, it always comes down to the music. Distortion and an untuned toy piano make this a little harder to get into, but again, we've been playing this one for almost 8-9 years.

Iron & Wine - "The Creek Drank the Cradle": Sam Beam's first release is still our favorite. That's not to say "Our Endless Numbered Days" or "The Shepherd's Dog" are lax, uninventive, or boring; our preference is still for those bare-bones, man-and-guitar folk that made him the go-to indie poet. And as much as we like Conor Oberst, we still feel "Creek Drank the Cradle" accomplishes all that without really trying. It's simple, mature, understated, and 110% truthful; the only drawback is that it's deceptively easy to skip over. So just don't.

I know, we're tingling with excitement, too; see you later this week,

Friday, June 18, 2010

Hancock summons music stars, placidness on "Imagine"

Herbie Hancock - "The Imagine Project"
Herbie Hancock Records
-out June 21
3 / 5

Herbie Hancock is a veritable jazz god. There is no overstatement on our part; "Maiden Voyage," "Head Hunters," "Takin' Off," "The Joni Letters": there is no dearth of creativity in the man. His pinky could probably quash us with its wink. But on this latest effort, spangled with stars from diverse genres of music (Pink, Los Lobos, Dave Matthews), there's a lack of challenge, and a bit of tameness has crept in. "Space Captain," featuring Susan Tedeschi, feels a bit flat for Hancock and Tedeschi, and there is little interplay between them. To make a point, "An Evening with Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea" demonstrates how two musicians interact, challenge each other, even spar a bit, and while Hancock may no longer be a spry youth, he feels like the backing band to the other performers. "Tomorrow Never Knows" also suffers from this, though the title track is solid. Overall, this project, as well-intentioned as it feels, simply lacks a little magic, and could belong easily in a Starbucks display; good for the album, but not for jazz aficionados. Take a pass.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Enigmatic Fol Chen delivers, well, enigmatic (but good) album

Fol Chen - "Part II: The New December"
Asthmatic Kitty
-out June 22
3.5 / 5

While still listening to the opening two tracks of "Part II: The New December," we should remind you that Highland Park, CA's Fol Chen takes experimental/ electronic pop very literally. There doesn't seem to be a note that isn't a bit off-kilter, a chord or chorus that doesn't drop you off in a slightly unusual place. That said, back to those first two tracks: "The Holograms" is a playful, energetic romp with a few twists and turns, while the following song "In Ruins," is an absolute explosion of pure pop bliss. Fol Chen's follow-up to "Part I: John Shade, Your Fortune's Made," "Part II" is in total a sublime work of subtlety and, somehow, lack of subtlety; when every piece is in place, the result is a carefully choreographed dance of sounds and effects that knocks you in a different orbit. Yet, when the pieces are just a hair mis-calibrated, the show seems a bit of a let-down, such as "Men, Beasts or Houses," or "This is Where the Road Belongs," which share a dark, industrial feel. While these two tracks are still passable in their own right, they are clearly outshined by the brightness of the exquisite poppier pieces, leading to somewhat dragging moments. Though the work is not as bright as it could be, that's still a good sign for the band: it's this kind of experimentation in voice that, we feel, will pay off especially in an album or two. As a result, "Part II" feels like a transitional, though still recommended, album.

Listen to "In Ruins":

Friday, June 11, 2010

Pernice Brothers' "Killer" surprisingly tame

Pernice Brothers - "Goodbye, Killer"
Ashmont Records
-out June 15
3 / 5

We want to like the Pernice Brothers, from Dorchester, MA, and there is something to like here. The sixth studio album is enjoyable, standard fare indie-rock not unlike Jim O'Rourke's solo work ("Insignificance" in particular), with drums, electric guitar and vocals. In this setup, everything's based on the quality of songwriting and lyrics, and at least the lyrics are pretty good. Listening to this album again, though, it's hard to say what reactions Joe and Bob Pernice are trying to evoke from their audience; while good, the lyrics don't strike any special chords, and several songs don't musically strike us as original. With minimal experimentation in terms of song structure, the album tends to come off a bit bland sonically speaking. One of our favorites, "Something for You," hits with a good chorus, but even then, the Pernice Brothers doesn't seem like a pop act waiting to reach the chorus. What they should be is that little poetic indie group, like Wilco or Yo La Tengo, where they can summon images that strike you flat with their truth and beauty. But that doesn't happen here, and what this album amounts to, then, is a passable, though not particularly memorable collection of new, but not surprising, tracks. You're time's better spent elsewhere; take a pass.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Galactic Cowboys don't stir galactic ruckus

Galactic Cowboy Orchestra - "Lookin' for a Little Strange"
New Folk Records
-out now
2.5 / 5

Twin Cities based Galactic Cowboy Orchestra take bluegrass to different dimensions on their first full-length release, "Lookin' for a Little Strange." Yet, for a bunch of cowboys, this instrumental release seems to lack the energy needed to rustle up galactic cattle and really hoe-down. Part of it is in the track mixing; this album opens with what feels like a cool-down piece, and the next track, "Minor Scrape," could fit well as a closing track. But the mixing is only a minor issue, as many of these tracks seem to work in one style: solo and backing musicians. There is little room for interplay here, no call-and-response or duets where these musicians would truly get to play off of each other. To compare it to a master in the field, Bela Fleck and his Flecktones, Fleck plays in every little crevice, mimicking solo licks and jamming even while playing support. The GCO lack that cohesion, and here tend to drag their feet when they should be stomping them. The strongest of these tracks is "Iron Range Knee High," a country-blues guitar solo in a lemonade-on-the-porch-way, and "Gypsy Grass Stomp," on which this band feels like they really come together. Still, for the price of admission, we'd hoped to stumble upon some serious crazy virtuoso stuff, and the fact of the matter is that there isn't the feeling of challenge between the players, and without that lack of drive and innovation, it falls flat. Hopefully their live shows find this energy, because we can't really recommend this one. Take a pass.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Grime, depth, and beauty in "Black Dirt Sessions"

Deer Tick - The Black Dirt Sessions
Partisan Records
-out June 8
5 / 5

Neil Diamond. Mark Russel. John Joseph McCauley III. Three musicians you don't want to meet solo in front of a piano. And yet, that's the risk Providence, RI's Deer Tick takes on their third studio album in as many years, "The Black Dirt Sessions." It is, in short, a beautiful album; painstakingly crafted and executed gorgeously, these are among the finest performances the band has offered to date. McCauley here mellows out the tone of his voice, loosening some of the aggravation in his two earlier releases, and when paired with a mostly acoustic setup (organ, guitar, piano and bass), the result is a mature, more rounded-sounding package. There isn't a weak track in the mix, but if we had to pick the stronger ones, "Mange" and the redux of "Christ Jesus" are up there. To compare the closer to its predecessor, it is miles ahead in terms of impact, depth, and memory; all too often are singles remixed just to sell more (Lady Gaga, innumerable Hip Hop acts), and this particular risk pays off into what feels like a new and original track. Our first impression on this beautiful, devastating album was to listen to it, then listen again, then give it yet another spin; we'll be surprised if you don't feel the same way. "The Black Dirt Sessions" belongs in your collection, even if you're not a fan of Americana/Country nor Deer Tick, and comes highly recommended.

Listen to "Twenty Miles":

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Be a good boy and listen to What Laura Says

What Laura Says - "Bloom Cheek"
-out June 22
3.5 / 5

Phoenix, AZ must be humming constantly with harmonies and spacey keyboard according to the second and latest offering by What Laura Says. There are several upbeat influences here, and the latest of them seems to come from Grizzly Bear; Bloom Cheek shares some of their structure, their sense of harmony and quirky, lush instrumentation. Right from the opening, the single-note guitar-build and rhythmic vocals of "Training" shows that this is not a precise, calculated band, but one that is meant to be enjoyed. Many of these tracks are enjoyable, including the intimate keyboards and Conor Oberst vocals of the title track, but throughout there is a sense that they're borrowing a bit too much from their influences. Which, in addition to Grizzly Bear, is a pastiche of 60s-70s pop bands (from America to The Zombies with Beatles' cheekiness a la "Her Majesty") Mississippi-inspired rock/blues ("Gardener of Wonder"), to psychedelia ("I'd Dance for You"). It is fair to say they cover a fair range, and rather well; but as well-read as What Laura Says is, it's perhaps their greatest weakness here, as a few licks feel a bit too familiar. Still, it's bloody good stuff, and definitely recommended.

Listen to "Training":

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Blackmarket doesn't have enough to sell it

Blackmarket - "St. Vincent Decor"
-out now
3 / 5

Power-pop group from AZ Blackmarket definitely sound like they're enjoying a rush from beginning to end of their second full-length album. And it's a good ride, too: there are good songs, good lyrics, good vocals throughout this album. But on a second and third spin, Blackmarket ends up lacking what's so vital in the crowded music market, which is individuality. They sound like most any other power-chord rock group, and while they're good at what they do, what they do is not particularly special, in terms of style or flavor. "Blue Lemon" is a perfect example; an excellent single with a memorable chorus, it could easily fit on an album by an acoustic Motion City Soundtrack or a more upbeat Alkaline Trio. Other than this, there's plenty to recommend it, but ultimately, what's going to keep it in your stereo is that it's good and different from all the other junk you've got. Which it's not, unfortunately. Take a pass unless you really need a quick pick-me-up.

Listen to "Blue Lemon":

Friday, May 21, 2010

Sollee and Moore make for good "Companions"

Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore - "Dear Companion"
Sub Pop
-out now
3.5 / 5

It's bluegrass, Jim. And what more could you expect from Kentuckians Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore on their first collaboration (along with producer Jim James of My Morning Jacket); of course they're going to pick up a jug, a jig, and start jiving. Meant to put a spotlight on Mountaintop Coal Mining in the Appalachians, Sollee and Moore compose these folk/bluegrass songs with honesty and simplicity, which here, make for good companions. "Only a Song" is the most political of these tracks, yet the basic guitar chords and cello backing aren't overbearing, nor are the lyrics. Whether you're politically minded or not (and we hate hippies, here at the blog), what it comes down to is the good music that comes from these musicians, and most listeners should find it new, clean and fresh, and articulate, unlike a hippie. Our complaint is this: that many of these songs don't stick with you like a treehugger to an oak (excuse us for the cheap shot), so you might find yourself digging out your favorite folk albums after the 6-8 spins that this will grant you. That, and we we're joking about having a jug in there (unfortunately). Still, a good listen, worth your time in the genre, and recommended.

Listen to "Only a Song":

Monday, May 17, 2010

Join Tift Merrit "On the Moon"

Tift Merrit - "See You on the Moon"
-out June 1; UK May 24
4 / 5

It's strange that such an unusual song as "Mixtape" - with its staggered, clustered vocals and soft, intimate lyrics - would be so effective to open Tift Merritt's fourth solo studio. In stark contrast to her "Another Country," which at times plays by the book, the Houston-born singer-songwriter ventures into different musical flavors, darker hues of orchestration, violins, slower tempos, piano and acoustic guitar. Fans here will find a slight shift in color, but will rejoice with the title track and the trembling cover of "Danny's Song"; those unfamiliar with the young singer will find an excellent sampling of an artist stretching her musical voice. "Feel of the World," we find, is an excellent example of Merritt tapping into instrumentally heavier material than she normally explores, and probably our favorite selection. Expect a more sober, contemplative side to this versatile musician; that and well-crafted, enjoyable music. Recommended.

Listen to "Mixtape":

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mid-year review coming up!

Which means:
-We're going to return to the albums we're still listening to
-A review of some CDs we might've missed earlier in the year
-It's finally time to break out the flip-flops and chicken-stained beaters

Okay, so we're not passing out food-stained beaters to our staff over here. But it's almost summer, and man, it's been one heck of a year of music! Unfortunately, we missed most of it...
Like "Surfer Blood," Yeasayer, Heligoland, a couple others. If you or someone you know (that smelly, mid-30s guy who lives in his mom's basement) has a CD out this year that you want reviewed, feel free to send it here. That email's up at the top bar.

Time to get back to work (hopefully Dead Weather will come through!). Thanks for keeping up with this little 'ole blog, and feel free to post comments! Even if you totally disagree (though I'm always right, 'natch). Peace out,
-The Mgmt.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sandoval shows good timing on "A Time for Love"

Arturo Sandoval - "A Time for Love"
Concord Records
-out today!
4.5 / 5

It is to Mr. Sandoval's credit that his style is never forced, his tone always gorgeous, his timing impeccable. His latest album, "A Time for Love," selects several American classics as well as a handful of classical pieces; the first of these, "Apres un Reve," shows such a tender side of Sandoval, that it might pull you from the cookers on his magnum opus "Trumpet Evolution." While our preferences lie just partial to "Evolution," these love standards here are so well-crafted and honed that it's difficult not to kick back and pop open a bottle of wine. "Oblivion (How to Say Goodbye)" featuring Monica Mancini, showcases the highlight of the album, with Sandoval's muted trumpet playing off of Mancini's delicate vocals; our personal favorite is "Speak Low," a groovy little number that sizzles just a little while maintaining all the cool, casual charm that might come from a trumpet-playing Sinatra. "A Time for Love" is an excellent, intimate album that begs a special occasion and someone to share it with. Recommended.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The National lacks musical color on "High Violet"

The National - "High Violet"
4ad Records
-out May 11
3 / 5

This is a tough cookie for us at the blog: following their breakout 2007 album "Boxer," the Brooklyn, NY band release their fifth album to anxious indie crowds. The verdict is... well, we'll get to that in a bit. Here's what we hear, though: droning, monotone vocal range, excellent backing instrumentals, and similar-sounding, monochromatic songs. Their music is an acquired taste, one that we don't have yet, and while we don't want to write off The National, the first 3/4s just don't pull you in. What we do appreciate is the explosion of sound and emotion starting at "Conversation 16"; it is vibrant and upbeat, and more importantly, breaks the vocal drone established in the preceding eight tracks. The album feels as if it were slow build to this coda, and while an interesting concept on paper, it makes you appreciate the last few tracks far more than the rest of the album; the whole should sound more like "England" than what they have leading up to it. If you're already a fan of The National, or don't mind Matt Berninger's lack of vocal variety, it works well enough; otherwise, it slips from getting a recommendation.

Listen to "Afraid of Everyone":

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

New Pornographers bring it "Together" again

The New Pornographers - "Together"
- out today!
4 / 5

The first thing to notice on the fifth album by Vancouver's New Pornographers is the heavy, deep cello and guitar providing the opening bassline to what is, for many, a highly anticipated return. To judge that this particular release is more "Together" as the name suggests, is to overlook the groups already gorgeous sense of balance and musical coherence; in fact, "Together" is just slightly less so than their previous (and wonderful) album "Challengers." While that cello provides satisfying contrast on "Crash Years," it seems slightly overbalanced on that opener "Moves," and on "Your Hands (Together),"earning "Together" just a hair lower than we'd give "Challengers." Are we complaining? I hope not, because this still is a fantastic album, and a breath of joy to anyone unfamiliar with the Pornographers. Recommended.

Listen to "Crash Years":

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Minus the Bear not lacking on "Omni"

Minus the Bear - "Omni"
- out May 4th
3.5 / 5

So the electronic instruments tend to be heavy-handed; that's not a huge problem for Seattle-based pop band Minus the Bear. Their latest is chock-a-block with singable lyrics and choruses that would please even the toughest of Motion City Soundtrack and Owl City fans. Blasting immediately into the opener "My Time," MtB right away hooks you up with their strongest song concepts. This album feels fresh and fun, strongly edited, polished, and sonically different enough for an album that is generally satisfying on most levels. What holds us back is a somewhat cluttered feeling coming from the instrumentals (check out "Secret Country") and that, at times, makes "Omni" appear to be working too hard. Still, a very satisfying experience, and one that will grab fans and newbies alike. A good, pop-bursting summer album; recommended.

Listen to "My Time":

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Chain yourself to 'Gang of 1974

Chain Gang of 1974 - "White Guts"
Golden Gold
-out April 27
4 / 5

The pure, blissful retro glee of the opener "STOP!" rides this Denver-based funk- contraption of club music all the way through. Chain Gang's debut album is, in one word, hypodiscofunkatelikinetic; meaning, its pure drive and energy are enough to fuel several rocket ships and put you on the moon. We're not going to lie and tell you these are the deepest of songs, lyrics that'll get you wondering about life, the universe, and everything (to quip Douglas Adams), but Chain Ganger Kamtin Mohager knows the crowd he's playing to, and those who appreciate a good night clubbing on the town will be inundated with deep beats, catchy choruses, and an explosion of electronic effects. While it should be noted this album has explicit lyrics (especially in another favorite, "F'n Head"), you'd probably want to put the kids to bed when you're out on the town. Our only real remorse here in grading the album are some of the more repetitive choruses, especially on "Hold On," which paces a little over eight minutes. That and we want to leave room for the next album's improvements. Highly recommended.

Listen to "STOP!" :

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

La Strada comes just short of home

La Strada - "New Home"
Ernest Jenning Record Co.
-out April 20
3 / 5

To be honest, "New Home" isn't a bad album. Brooklyn's La Strada has a penchant for orchestration and energetic, boisterous rambunctiousness a la Fun. But what Fun. has over La Strada is the ability to fashion good, singable lyrics and choruses, which is vital in the game of pop. The stronger songs on this album tend to be the simpler ones, such as the celebration of a baby in "The Wedding Song" and "Mean that Much." While many of these songs have interesting twists and turns, they remain just interesting, and aren't honed enough to pull you in. Another confusing point is the direction of the album: starting off bright and cheery, there are a couple songs in there that are dark-toned that throw off the pitch of the remainder. Still being honest, all this album could use is a brief tune-up, a slightly adjusted sense of direction, and a couple more clear, simple songs that make you want to throw up your hands and get into them. This appeals to fans of Fun. and fun in general, but comes just short of a recommendation.

Listen to "Wash on By":

Monday, April 12, 2010

Horse Feathers won't ruffle yours

Horse Feathers - "Thistled Spring"
Kill Rock Stars
- out April 20
4 / 5

This folk/ Americana outfit from Portland, OR sways like grass in the breeze. With strings, banjo, and guitar, "Thistled Spring" evokes Iron and Wine's smooth simplicity and emotiveness, eschewing distracting speed riffs and complicated structure in favor of a more straightforward approach. "The Drought" is simply gorgeous, with an ambling banjo and Justin Ringle's aching vocals; "Starving Robins" brings a flowing, celestial guitar that explodes into uplifting violins. While just a step below Iron and Wine in terms of emotional power, Horse Feathers accomplishes much with very little, and for that reason, we feel this one belongs in your collection. Recommended.

Listen to "Cascades":

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Plants and Animals make for a good team

Plants and Animals - "La La Land"
Secret City Records
-out April 20th
3.5 / 5

It's still buzzing in our brains, the absolutely breezy take-out single, "Kon Tiki." With a summery, Caribbean bluster it gently sways and cools on the musical palate. And when the upbeat, bubbly pop of "The Mama Papa" hits, we're definitely sold. The rest of the effort from this Montreal trio is strong indie-rock (vocals, guitar, nothing out of the ordinary), but cools a little more than necessary. Take "Swinging Bells" or "Game Shows;" both tracks lack only that special little sparkle or distinguishing mark that might keep it in your player months from now. Still, what is here is a worthy effort, and you will find tracks to hold close and dear. "La La Land" will merit your money overall, and is a good, confident, laid-back way to start winter's thaw.

Listen to: "The Mama Papa":
Stream "La La Land":
More Plants and Animals:

Monday, April 5, 2010

"Initiate" doesn't start you up

Nels Cline Singers - "Initiate"
-out April 13
2 / 5

As the lead guitarist for Wilco, there's the fear that some of the former's style and sensibility might rub off and assimilate Nels Cline's offshoot. Unfortunately, that is not the case here: Cline successfully breaks off from the Wilco tag with a 110% focus on extended jams and solos, making for the ultimate jam-fan album. Potentially. But "Initiate" often falls into those lukewarm, eccentric and nonsensical guitar mashings that produce less structure and more noodling, moreso than you can shake a Trey Anastasio at; "Floored," the opener on the studio side of this double album, hits all kinds of angles except the right ones, and leaves a feeling of bewilderment and egotism. A few tracks fall into place, "You Noticed" for feeling like a celestial Weather Report, and "Blues, Too," which could be a good Russel Malone piece. But for a double album, much of its time is spent on partially constructed moods and do-no-wrong, guitar-god posturing, rather than on creating full, lush musical thoughts that someone other than the bandleader might enjoy. Try it if you're desperate for spacy, go-nowhere solos, but otherwise, just pass.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Vacation from the blog!

Hello all,
So we're going away for a couple of weeks! Whew! Been a lot of blogging of late; luckily, you'll still be able to view all the older episodes, such as:
-Where Tiger City is reviewed
-When we get an interview from the Antlers
-The one where Joey gets a puppy
So it's all there in the backlog; dig in and enjoy. Me, well, I'll be out cruising on Route 66, exploring new towns, beating up bad guys, and saving the hapless inhabitants. Actually, I'll probably just sleep in the whole two weeks. Catch you later,

Monday, March 15, 2010

Josiah Wolf lags just a little on latest

Josiah Wolf - "Jet Lag"
-out tomorrow
3 / 5

Josiah Wolf of Oakland Bay's indie outfit Why? has struck out on his own with his first solo album. Sonically, this album takes greatly after Jim O'Rourke's solo albums, in vocal pitch, as well as in the unusual choice of lyrics ("The way we communicate makes me feel like a snake," from "The New Car"). His strength here lies not in the hushed and somewhat warbled pitch of the vocals, but moreso in the lyrics and instrumental choice of bells, xylophone, wood block, etc. While the album is vibrant sonically speaking, it lacks a definable pull; each track passes by with quirk and charm enough, but leaves little stuck in the memory. Sometimes the sign of a good song is that it gets stuck in your head, and while that can sometimes be frustrating (Britney Spears et al.), you probably won't find Josiah Wolf humming to you during the day, which is unfortunate, as this outing would otherwise fit a great slot in your collection. Great for the diehard indie, and especially for Jim O'Rourke fans; but not memorable enough for a general recommendation.