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.