Thursday, February 25, 2010

Shearwater finds themselves in Golden territory

Shearwater - "The Golden Archipelago"
Matador Records
-out now
4.5 / 5

Starting with a tender opening, to the final notes that fall, we have one thing to say about this epic concept album: wow. The sixth full-length from the Austin, Texas band, "Golden Archipelago" is one of those rare albums that do not benefit from distracted car-driving, nor from sweaty, gym-pumping; in fact, the best way to take in the first listen, we've found, is simply to kick back and let it spin. Delicate melodies pervade throughout ("Hidden Lakes" carefully unfolds) and the instrumentals here are not merely "played" or "performed," but orchestrated; the vocals, which alternate between powerful ("Black Eyes") and gentle, are first-rate. In all, this is the fully-fleshed out, wonderfully performed album the indie lover craves, with an incredibly strong album arc. Save for a bit of confusion towards the end (those last couple feel a bit out of place), this album is a fine and rare treat. Highly recommended.

Listen to "Black Eyes":

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Gentle Friendly ride anything but slow

Gentle Friendly - "Ride Slow"
Upset the Rhythm
-out now
3.5 / 5

This debut album from South London's Gentle Friendly utilizes a thick, woven mesh of electronica (keyboard, dense guitars) to form a dizzying fog of sound that has drawn comparison to Animal Collective. While Gentle Friendly doesn't have ACs' harmonies, nor do they match the intricacy of AC's sonic mayhem, they do have "Lovers Rock," a song with a cool drone/sway and cyclical instrumentals akin to older Yo La Tengo. Sonically, it is from this latter band that these songs derive, and fans of such will find themselves in familiar, but fresh territory. Where Gentle Friendly is lacking, however, is in the rollercoaster of up-and-down emotive moments that more polished acts evoke: there is no explosive moment on these quick fifteen tracks, nor are there typical song arcs (intro-build-chorus). As YLT's "And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out" holds a special place in our hearts, perhaps "Ride Slow" will find its place for some. Solid, outside-the-box song structure that appeals to the 90s droner. Recommended.

Listen to "Lovers' Rock":

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Motion turns it off on latest

Motion Turns it On - Kaleidoscopic Equinox
Chocolate Lab Records
-out now
2.5 / 5

Guitars ablaze comes punk shredders Motion Turns it On from the grand state of Texas. Akin to White Denim stylistically, though with two times the drive, "Kaleidoscopic Equinox" is some of the most furious, manic ra-tah-tattah to grace our fair site. The vocals are spare and brief, meant only to dress the long and winding guitar shreds, and while those shreds are impressive on their own, there comes a point where enough is enough. To bring it back to White Denim, Motion Turns it On is all thunder and bluster, lacking the former's idiosyncrasy and charm; the solos, while having good drive and direction, seem too frenetic to have a purpose, and appeal only to the rare segment of the population who like having their ears blown out on almost 50 minutes of self-content sonic rage. What's lacking here is the je ne sais quoi that makes an album stick in your mind, the kind of truth that makes art worthwhile. Add an extra star for the shredder, but otherwise pass.

Listen to "Give up the Ghosts":

Monday, February 15, 2010

Interview: The Antlers not just a trophy band

It's not all black and white. (L to R) Trumpeter/banjoist Darby Cicci, singer Peter Silberman, and percussionist Michael Lerner express ennui in front of depressing wallpaper.

Since last year's breakout “Hospice,” everything has changed for Brooklyn-born quintet The Antlers. As a concept album about a relationship between a hospice worker and a dying cancer patient, “Hospice” has grown an unusual amount of support and a word-of-mouth fanbase seemingly from the aether. With an upcoming concert at Boston's House of Blues (with the Editors, 2/18/10, $20-50,, headman/singer/multi-instrumentalist Peter Silberman found the time to discuss their unlikely album in a recent phone interview.

MK: How has “Hospice” taken off, as far as touring, interviews?
PS: It's been interesting, and sort of unbelievable. Well, completely unbelievable. I don't think, in our wildest dreams, we expected any of what has been happening in the past several months. We're on tour pretty constantly right now, and I remember a year ago, that was not the case. It's kept us going, it's helped get the record out to more and more people, and, it's weird, it's sort of taking on a life of its own, the more time that goes on. It's been very weird to get to the point [of having] ... large numbers of people coming out to the shows, knowing the record, knowing who we are before we meet them. That kind of stuff is kind very hard to [get used to].

MK: On the aspect of weird, “Hospice” is a very weird record. It's about cancer and death, and it references Sylvia Plath. How do you think this became popular?
PS: I think the reason it's become popular is because, at its core, it's a record about relationships, and it's not really about any of those specifics. It talks about cancer, it talks about illness, and it talks about Sylvia Plath, and it talks about other characters named Sylvia; but those are sort of environmental. They're context. I think that was sort of what I wanted to figure out with this record... what I was most curious about with this record was ...if other people had had this kind of experience non-specifically, just an emotionally abusive relationship, or just a dysfunctional relationship that is not necessarily the kind that is always talked about. That's not as well understood as physically abusive relationships. I expect the amount of support that's come from it and the amount of people being able to relate to it is really encouraging. It's really surprising.

MK: I'd like to ask where the idea of “Hospice's” narration came from.
PS: It came from a lot of places. I mean, in trying to write about that kind of relationship, I was trying to make an analogy. The one that sort of fit perfectly was one of hospice care, and sort of taking a job that is so completely selfless, and then sort of imagining that as not just a job, it's a relationship between the hospice worker and the patient. In a way, our culture depicts terminally ill people as perpetually hopeful or optimistic, or feeling as if they have a new lease on life, and I think realistically, there is also the attitude of bitterness, feeling cheated out of life. Not having any desire to see that bright side. If there is a bright side; maybe there's not. When those two things collide, selflessness and bitterness, the results are interesting, to say the least.

MK: I noticed that the narration is well-written and fleshed out. Have you painted or written stories before you got into music?
P: I was sort of raised in a family of writers, surrounded by literature all the time. I do a little bit of writing myself, though it's never things that I've finished or put out there in any way, shape, or form. As far as writing goes – songwriting - it's found more inspiration in literature than necessarily other music. Sonically, I think music is the inspiration, but lyrically, I think...

MK: It comes from a more literary place?
PS: I think so. I think that could be attributed to the fact that there's so many lyrics in “Hospice,” but at the same time, I think there's a way to do it more sparingly and more minimally. I think there's a lot of freedom there.

MK: Speaking of freedom, you'll be touring Europe again in March. Anything you want to see?
PS: The best part about Europe is how unfamiliar it all is. America is great to tour in, but we know how America works, we all grew up here. Europe is all very unusual, in a really great way, because you feel like you're absorbing a lot, even if you don't fully understand what you're absorbing. We've often become attached to some places overseas, kind of places that feel very homelike... London and the UK, Dublin... it's good to feel cities along the way that you feel can be your second home.

MK: I'm going to shoot a stupid question at you.
PS: Okay.

MK “The Antlers”: is it moose antlers, deer antlers? Some kind of trophy?
PS: I don't know at this point. The thing I always go to is this Microphones song called “Antlers,” and I think that might've had something to do with it. But I don't have a very good memory of that period of time in my life, so I don't really know how this name came about. I just remember thinking “that's fine, it'll stick,” and it stuck. Band names are really tricky, because it's pretty likely that you end up hating your band name. I've been in a lot of bands, and I've had a lot of band names, and I've hated them all, and what you want more than anything is a band name... that you can just come to ignore. Something that you don't cringe when you are stuck with it for ten years.

MK: What band names have made you cringe?
PS: Ooo. Let me think, there's so many... I was in bands when I was really young, so those were especially bad. I think when I was probably about 12, I was in a band called Nemesis, but we spelled it totally badass-like, “NEMASYS.”

MK: You were just a kid. You can't really blame yourself for that.
PS: That's true. In retrospect, it might've been cool at the time. Looking back on it now, not so cool.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Joe Pug's "Messenger" a bit lax

Joe Pug - "Messenger"
Lightning Rod Records
- out Feb. 16
3 / 5

Chicago-based folk singer Joe Pug has been stirring the pot with his old-school Dylan-esque brand of one-man folk. And we might as well come out and say it: here at the blog, we love his EPs "Nation of Heat" and "In the Meantime," which he'd been giving away for free. But somehow, the magic hasn't translated as well on his first full-length, and here's why: all the gritty emotional content, the incalculable lyricism has been replaced with the addition of drums and bass. To put this in terms of Dylan, it's as if Pug has hit his 80s tailspin, striking a more mainstream-friendly, and less vital country sound in his music. The depth in his voice, which carried his two breakout EPs, simply is lacking, showing on the placid title track, though "Bury Me Far (From My Uniform)" is the most immediate and intimate of these tracks. Overall, the greatest disappointment comes from the anticipation of what could've been an authentic and necessary folk album. Pass, but pick up those EPs while you can.

Listen to "Messenger":

Monday, February 8, 2010

Post Harbor: at least they can't hurt you

Post Harbor - "They Can't Hurt You if You Don't Believe in Them"
Burning Building Records
- out Feb 16th
2.5 / 5

Whether you run a mile or twenty, it's all about pacing. This is the theory behind Seattle slow-rockers Post Harbor in "They Can't Hurt You if You Don't Believe in Them," a drawn-out, spacey guitar affair. Anyone familiar with a tortoise will find that both band and reptile lack the ability to change chords in less than four seconds; and while that which Post Harbor strikes out here isn't altogether bad, much of what they utilize to get there (ponderous, repetitive power chords, distorted vocals) isn't all that new or unique. The outcome is somewhat similar, somewhat engaging, but not entirely new nor challenging in the genre: what they need here is more structural complexity (like a tortoise's patterned shell) and less sluggishness (like a tortoise's walk). Unless you don't mind memorizing a few seconds of sound, you might not enjoy hearing the same guitar cycles on this longwinded one. Pass.

Listen to "Ponaturi":

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Oh, my head...

Hello peeps,
I don't know if it's all this extra work I've been doing, but I'm getting a monster headache. Don't worry, I've got a few posts for next week (an interview, too), but I've been considering the following:
No one emailed to write for me.
How crazy is that!? Not only do you get the satisfaction of a job well done, but you don't have to deal with W-2s and 1099s because, best of all, YOU DON'T GET PAID. It's practically like getting paid in and of itself, except without the money. I bet you're thinking about those forms now that it's tax season.
As far as the free music goes, I guess there's a lot of random stuff out there that could be boring to listen to. God knows I've come across some.
Guess I gotta sift through all these press emails... see you next week,

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The fields are alive with the sound of music!

Field Music - "Field Music (Measure)"
Memphis Industries
- out Feb. 16
4 / 5

Since the dawn of time have musicians attempted the double album: Led Zeppelin, Electric Light Orchestra, Donna Summer, The Flaming Lips. In many cases, there simply isn't enough interesting material to flesh out the more or less 80 minute requirement to hit that magical mark. Now enter Field Music: the Sunderland, England trio's attempt is no "Blonde on Blonde," nor is it a "Use Your Illusion." Thankfully, it hits a strong classic rock vibe, with a Queen-ish tinge to some of the harmonies, while some guitar licks (the title track "Measure") could have come from an acoustic Doobie Brothers album. That said, there is good stuff here; "The Rest is Noise" smacks a bit of prime ELO in the vocals, and that title track again is gorgeously executed. The album as a whole is varied and diverse, and in our scrupulous scrub for fluff material, we've come up a bit shy. To be sure, this is strong like an ox for a double album, but it's also got to be lithe like a tiger (or maybe a liger, for that matter), of which it comes shy. A lot of varied, good material, but lacking the je ne sais quoi that keeps it in your player for the next three months. Still, recommended.

Listen to "Measure":