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":