Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Update: Craft Spells' debut far from idle, laborious

Craft Spells - Idle Labor
Captured Tracks
-out now
3.5 / 5

The dream-scapes crafted by the Stockton, CA dream pop outfit well suit their name: they are well crafted, and sneak upon the listener like a spell. Evoking a demure Ariel Pink vocally, Craft Spells balances their tracks similarly, scooping in a big heft of guitar and synth that almost overpowers the shy, almost monotone vocals. While not exactly what we had in mind, there's no denying that "Party Talk" comes off sparkling and shimmering, "After the Moment" just as laid-back, with the overall effect suiting well your 80s high-school-crush flashbacks. We think fellow dream-poppers will adore this album, but the unusual sonic balance and washed-out color (not just on the cover) does take some getting used to. Still worth a couple spins to get into it, and worth a few quid to kick back and slow down all that rushing music in your head. Recommended.

Listen to "You Should Close the Door" at The Fader!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Concert Report: Ivan and Alyosha

(L to R, c Julia Markowitz: Tim Kim, Tim Wilson, Pete Wilson, Ryan Carbary) They're not just blindly and uplifting, nor depressing and goth, and sport a mean maraca. Leading with "I Was Born to Love Her" off their latest EP, Fathers Be Kind, acoustic quartet Ivan and Alyosha settled into the somewhat compact stage at Great Scott in Allston. Intimate, though tight, the venue proved ideal for harmonies, handclapping, and hushed melodies; also ideal for trying out a handful of new songs on the crowd. While we don't have a recording - and you're certainly going to have to wait until their debut LP next Spring to hear the new ones - let us just state that you missed moments replete with whistle solos and simple country hometown-ness (whatever that may be); a crowd giving in to claps and modest guitar solos; and brothers Tim and Pete Wilson sharing a mic, with the former attempting to kiss and embarrass the latter (c'mon, it's just one on the forehead!). Wrapping up with crowd-pleasing "Fathers Be Kind" and an especially playful "Glorify," their set, though brief, should betoken good things to come for the congenial, down-to-earth foursome. We suggest getting on this wagon early; and picking up a sweet signed tee, nice!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Great Scott! Ivan and Alyosha and Hey Rosetta in Allston!

(L to R, copyright Jose Mandojana: Tim Wilson, Ryan Carbary, Tim Kim, Pete Wilson) It's all acoustic. And with Ivan and Alyosha, that's all they need: the foursome from Seattle take wing upon crisp guitars, soulful harmonies, and general good feeling. With some good press on their side, we're feeling that their current Fathers Be Kind EP portends a similarly stunning debut full-length, due out early next year. Be sure to catch them in Allston, MA at Great Scott (11-30-11, doors at 9p), as it seems likely they'll need to try their new material on the crowd. Tim Wilson and co. trek through the rugged Montana terrain, traversing mountains, braving snow, and suffering dropped calls to give us updates on their nascent tour.

Matt Keefer: Your band name comes from a scene in Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov." [Obvious question:] Who is your favorite Russian author?
Tim Wilson: My favorite Russian author? I can honestly say I don't have one. It would have to be Dostoevsky by default.

MK: Fair enough. Where are you guys at right now? Your next concert's in Chicago, right?
TW: We're in Montana right now, we're driving to Chicago.

MK: How's the tour been so far?
TW: You know, this is the first day on the road. So: so far, so good. We've hit two snowstorms so far in about eight hours.

MK: That's impressive. Two snowstorms and you haven't played a gig yet? Awesome.
TW: Exactly.

MK: Who are your influences; who informs your sound?
TW: I mean, we're talking musically, right?

MK: Yeah. Well, you can talk any way about it, I guess, if you think there's another particular novel that struck you and influenced your music.
TW: I would say, musically, it's just whatever I've had on vinyl. Just, like, Elvis, Sinatra, Nat King Cole...
*static and dropped call*

TW: I'm sorry [about the dropped call].
MK: It's okay. You can't help that. Unless you put the satellites and the [cell] towers up. Then you could help it. We left off in the horrible, epic snowstorm, and you were describing your influences.
TW: Elvis, Sinatra, Nat King Cole. Harry Belafonte. As for new stuff, we love a band called Delta Spirit from Long Beach. Richard Swift has always been kind of a big influence. At the end of the day, I think everything goes back to the Beatles for us.

MK: Do you mind if I make a vinyl suggestion: do you have Stevie Wonder? I'm going on a Stevie Wonder binge right now
TW: Stevie Wonder: huge influence. I remember actually playing Stevie Wonder for the first time for my one-and-a-half year old, and he just kind of stood in front of the record player and just stared at it. It was pretty incredible. We took a picture of it. He just kind of stood in awe.

MK: One of my questions that I have written down is "do you have good tour stories," but I guess I would have to change that to "do you have good driving-in-the-car stories?"
TW: We've been on the road off and on for the last eight or nine months. But we don't do anything too crazy. We try to keep it pretty simple.

MK: I was hoping for something completely out of the ordinary. Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips has a crazy story about a rotund, sweaty guy attacking another band. I was hoping you'd match up to that, but you just kinda let me down.
TW: Sorry man. In order to stay sane on the road, we try to keep it pretty boring.

MK: Could you fill me in on your upcoming full-length?
TW: The new record we're still currently working on, and we've released an acoustic demo of a new song or two. The new record should be done by the end of January. And then will hopefully come out in the Spring.

MK: The next question I'd like to ask is a very easy one: how do you write your songs?
TW: [Laughs] Ummm... so... me in particular, it takes me a while because I develop either lyrical ideas... I kind of develop ideas in my head or things that I hear that I really like, and I want to try to capture a similar vibe. It usually starts with a song I'm inspired by, and you just want to try to write something in a similar vein.

MK: But make it your own.
TW: Yeah, exactly. So I feel like I kind of mull over stuff in my head a lot, and then, when I feel like there's something really good and interesting, then I'll sit down with a guitar and almost let it write itself a little bit. Very rarely do I sit down and write a song and just say "okay, I'm going to write a song now." It has to be something brewing.

MK: How do you start: with a riff, with the story of the song?
TW: I think it all starts with the melody. There will always be a lyric tied to the initial melody for the song. I feel that always has to happen first. Whatever happens underneath that is kind of secondary to whatever happens lyrically.
*dropped call*

TW: Sorry. Once again.
MK: Oh, you don't have to apologize. Unless you actually make the snow, in which case you would have to apologize for bad timing. Leaving off where we were at.
TW: I'm always looking for a good song and looking to write a good song...

*2 dropped calls later*
MK: Hello again, how's it going?
TW: It's good. We're gonna get through this.
MK: What should people expect from your Boston...
*another dropped call*

MK: You know, Tim, you have a very soothing [voice] message. Your voicemail is incredibly calming, even though I'm getting frustrated with the calls dropping all the time; I just listen to that voice, and it just soothes my soul.
TK: Dude, I'm glad. Okay, here's what people should expect. It's nerve wracking, but we try to go up there and have a lot of fun. You kind of have two choices: to go up there and be self-conscious, or just go up there and make an idiot out of yourself. Which is what we try to do; have fun, have a drink and play our songs.

MK: Good, spirited, clean fun. As opposed to Guns N' Roses kind of fun, where you brawl with people in the audience.
TW: And no brawling, you know. Although Pete almost fought a guy who was trying to get into our RV one time, which was pretty funny.

MK: Was he out of his mind or something?
TW: This guy names Sean in Dallas, TX - oh no, it was Shane - he had a little too much to drink, he was kind of a local. It was three in the morning, and he was trying to take some guitar pedals and run off with them. He was trying to get into the RV.

MK: You want to be careful with drinkers. My roommate in college got drunk once and urinated all over everything in the room. I had to clean up afterwards, too.
TW: That is horrible.

MK: Be thankful the guy didn't make it in and start urinating on various things in the RV.
TW: I'm really OCD, so that would've really pissed me off. I hope you got a new college roommate after that.
MK: [Pause] Eventually.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Hubbard reaches heights on "Pinnacle"

Freddie Hubbard - "Pinnacle: from Keystone Korner"
Resonance Records
-out now
4.5 / 5

Wow. Let's just say that first. One of the most blazing jazz trumpeters in the history of the music comes back from the vaults with this posthumous live release from San Fran. Next, let's get this out of the way: the sound quality is maybe 3.5/5. It's recorded live, some 30 years old. Get over it. Now, onto the juice of the matter: Pinnacle is pure gold. We don't feature jazz often enough, and Hubbard blasts through with "The Intrepid Fox," tearing a veritable hole in our eardrums - in a good, earth-shattering way - and simply does not relent. The weakest one here is probably "First Light," which is our favorite studio Hubbard release, and we'd probably put it at a mere four stars, mostly because the album version is still favored. But enough nitpicking: if you're looking to get into some serious jazz trumpetition, this is an excellent album to get you started on the Hubbard discography. More importantly, this concert MUST be in your Hubbard collection, and we're not kidding; it's no watered-down sad handful of songs. Get it, enjoy it, grow to love it more than your significant other. Highly recommended

Monday, November 14, 2011

White Denim D-livers in Boston

One of our favorite (relative) unknowns, Austin, Texans White Denim took the part of first opener to Manchester Orchestra. The rock quartet - that's how you know they're tough to describe, basically 'rock' must suffice - pounded out a graceful act, starting in on "Street of Joy," with vocalist James Petralli pulling from the mic, filling the air with the color in his voice. (Check out that awesome blur effect in the pic c/o Matt Lacorazza; L to R - Austin Jenkins, Josh Block, Steve Terebecki, James Petralli) The foursome cut a clean, gorgeous performance on this one, and drummer Josh Block enjoyed the heck out of bashing through "Bess St." And when Petralli gets down and dirty on a solo during "River to Consider," then we know we're in love. The brief set - a bit less than 30 minutes total - was certainly worth the catching, and included mostly songs from their new album D, as well as their older "Shake Shake Shake." We've got to be honest here: 30 minutes is not quite enough for these guys. We're hoping their upcoming tour will find a better audience than they found in the Manchester Orchestrites; the headliner, in our opinion, doesn't seem the most natural pairing in band dynamics and philosophies. And another moment of honesty: the dead serious MO (and The Dear Hunter, too) don't get our rocks off quite as the energetic, chameleon Denim does. Our verdict? If you appreciate dynamic songwriting that flits to-and-fro, and don't want another drummer banging on the beat, catch them with Wilco in the SW (wait, they're touring with Wilco?? holy cripes, time to relocate). Wonderful set, with our only regret being that they certainly needed more room to flesh out their solos. Oh, and hopefully they'll have time for some pieces from Fits.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Review: Cate Le Bon/ St. Vincent @ Royale (Boston, MA)

A long-haired brunette came on stage, dressed in a black, short-sleeved shirt, black tights. The stage lights accented her high cheekbones, cut softly, feminine yet harsh. A crowd of St. Vincent fans, ranging in their early 20s to 30s, seemed intent on the headliner, whose distinctive angular songcraft and wild rockstar attitude would  woo the crowd already desperate for her. But Le Bon, a relative unknown to the Boston crowd (already they were chatting, perhaps wondering who this woman was; when was Annie Clark's act to come on?) strummed the first few notes on her wood-grained electric guitar, strange, out-of-place notes except for their distinct sense of intention. And when she took the mic (perhaps a soft French accent, more pronounced in her casual speech), the audience had already judged: she was no St. Vincent, could we have the real thing?
And so it would have been, a nervousness behind the woman's singing, an almost alien, art-pop sense of songwriting, had not the wind shifted a few songs in, had she not relaxed after finishing the single she'd been promoting, "Puts Me to Work," and the crowd turned their ear and hushed - briefly - to hear her voice finally soar. "These are hard times to fall in love," she crooned, knocking its truth into the ticket-holders, and they responded, becoming, if only for a few more songs, her congregation. She pushes hair aside.
"I know you don't know who I am," she said. "This is my last song," she tells them, "and I'd appreciate if you could cheer for it." She starts again. "So, this is my last song - " hootings and enthusiasm overtaking her timid voice " - don't cheer for that!" She laughed and introduced her final song, and as quietly as she came left.
(Apologies for the lack of pictures - so we thought we'd try to paint one for all you out there. New album coming out early next year; and if you missed St. Vincent's enchanting performance, well, next time don't.)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Takes place in our living space

Basically, we like these guys. "Fits" was all over the place, just wild and cuh-razy; "D" was more melodic, less psychotic. And their latest EP from last month, "Takes Place in Your Work Space," is a shining example of what a reckless and crazy band can do with pop (shirts or no). Yes, the name of the game is White Denim, and they're coming to - of all places - Boston. The city that practically invented the six-way intersection. Reckless, indeed, and we think they'll fit right in.
This crew is opening (along with Dear Hunters) for the Manchester Orchestra at the House of Blues Friday, Nov. 12 (tics start at $16.25). We're going to go out of our way and say Manchester must have some musical taste to them; after all, Denim just announced dates opening for Wilco in the Southeast. Dying for a ticket? Thought so. Get your best freak-out on and rock out like a madman because, from what we heard, these guys put on a show a la nuts. Now get out there already!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Slow Club finds bliss in "Paradise"

Slow Club - "Paradise"
Moshi Moshi
-out now
3.5 / 5

We admit, we're a little slow to get onto this train, but we'll admit our shortcomings: Slow Club has a good thing going. Yes, we're still a fan of those slower ditties, "You, Earth or Ash" and "Gold Mountain," but on this release (the UK duo's sophomore) we think they hit upon a winning combination of rock, Rebecca Taylor's strong vocals, and Charles Watson's bangin' guitar (he also vocalizes a bit, too). The songs on Paradise run a strong gamut of rockers and ballads, just steaming on the kinda sexist "Where I'm Waking," ("I can see you staring at me/ You've got the brains, I've got the body," Taylor affirms), but heck, it's still good fun. There's nary a track here we don't like, and though we don't love-love to-have-and-to-hold this album, we suspect their next one will show a similar artistic growth. But for now, this one will most definitely do, and comes recommended.

Check out that kinda sexist video.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Cate Le Bon/ St. Vincent @ Royale, Boston 11-4

Like sandwiches? Cause Cate Le Bon + St. Vincent smacks of a good ole PB + J, in a strictly musical sense. Consider it an aural feast in indie pop-ness: Le Bon, like an early, lyrical Cat Power plus St. Vincent, the rock out, blast noise in your ear and make you bleed happy kinda girl. Yeah, we're looking forward to the duo... now, you know we appreciate Vincent's new one, and we just want to tease you about Le Bon's new one coming out early next year.
There's a link... right... about... here. This one off her single last month.
So, yeah, you guys won't be able to score tics at this point, other than from scalpers, or by stealing them from your Annie Clark-obsessed friends (how's that for a Halloween costume). But - you can still kick back to that single, check out Le Bon's "Me Oh My," and we'll keep all y'all posted on CYRK, her soon-to-be. Expect a good time and, of course, some post-concert pics. Laters,

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Deer Tick short of Divine, but full of rock

Deer Tick - "Divine Providence"
Partisan Records
-out yesterday
3.5 / 5

Deer Tick, one of our favorite bands from the Ocean State, has been cranking these albums out like it's a bad case of fleas. But there is good news here: if you have an itch for J. J. McCauley and Co., then you should scratch. Divine Providence, while not truly divine (see War Elephant, Black Dirt Sessions, or one of his many excellent collaborations) is still the same old grizzled, beer-guzzling, ditch-your-blow-up-doll-on-route-195-and-don't-look-back kinda band that rocks out your socks out. But this album isn't somber and gorgeous as BDS, nor is it as brilliant and barebones as War Elephant; still, as vocals go, "The Bump" starts off with some of his finest. Our biggest issue with this generally rockin' affair is its superficiality, both lyrically and sonically. But it's fun, almost divinely so, and comes recommended. (Just make sure you get those three other albums first!)

Get your download of "Main Street" on.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Classic Education doesn't blaze, smolders

A Classic Education - "Call It Blazing"
-out tomorrow
2.5 / 5

There are any number of ways to make a particular release stand out sonically: good hooks, powerful vocals, Robert Plant's exposed chest. Consider this, then, a backhanded compliment: A Classic Education is capable of making themselves sound like other bands. The vocals and song structure reminisce over Band of Horses, while early Yo La Tengo almost certainly inspires "Place a Bet on You." Now, the reality of these comparisons is that ACE doesn't really add their own to the mix here. At least, we hope not. Because the end result of Call It Blazing is a dreamy album that sounds like any other dreamy album, and, even worse, it drones without particular direction or drive. Call it uninspired, call it lukewarm, call it what you may; but we're calling them out on this one - don't call it blazing. Take a pass.

Listen to "Forever Boy."

Monday, October 17, 2011

My Brightest Diamond shines on "Unwind"

My Brightest Diamond - "All Things Will Unwind"
Asthmatic Kitty
-out tomorrow
4 / 5

We love this cover. Absolutely adore it. It's as vibrant, fun, and unusual as the work within; and considering Michiganian Shara Worden's penchant for unusuality (see Decemberists' rock opera "Hazards"), that's no minor compliment. What grabs us about All Things Will Unwind, other than the classical orchestration, other than the rock-ish song structure worked with a orchestral ear, is the depth of Ms. Worden's musical vision here. These songs, carried with her, at times, operatic voice (check out "Be Brave"), could easily be the mere eccentricities of an untrained, but curious ear. Yet, with each aside of the flute, with each strange little flourish, we find it difficult to hold back a sense of awe at her musical vocabulary, as delved in the classics as the currents. What to expect from this release: a trained ear, a sense of sophistication and fun, mixed perhaps with a je ne sais quoi - or maybe that's just the strings. Sensible, balanced, and an entirely difficult feat to keep it all strangely familiar and listenable; this one comes, naturally, recommended.

Stream this highfalutin album on NPR. Post-haste!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Brown Bird's album worth its Salt

Brown Bird - "Salt for Salt"
Supply and Demand
-out Oct. 18
4.5 / 5

It's not Rhode Island love that lights this reviewer's heart (the band is, after all, originally from Washington). And it's not that David Lamb's got to do vocals/ guitar/ bass drum simultaneously at shows. It's, quite frankly, the moody "Bilgewater" and the fire of "Cast No Shadow" that slay us. But, if a couple songs on the previous EP were all that caught our attention, we'd not've given this album such striking marks. As excellent as those two songs are, it's the entire mood of this album, an all-acoustic affair inspired by long-gone days of horse travel and demons (see "Blood of Angels"), all while maintaining a full sound with two-and-a-half members. As replete as it is with gypsy influence and energy, you might expect tales of evil and woe; and you'd be wrong if you thought these weren't danceable tunes, in a traditional gypsy sense. It is dark, it is simple yet deep, it aims for the gut and gets there. In short, Salt for Salt is well worth your time, and comes highly recommended.

Listen to the opener, and check out the EP, "Sound of Ghosts"

Friday, September 30, 2011

Lafarge's effort disperses on Middle of Everywhere

Pokey Lafarge and the South City Three - Middle of Everywhere
Free Dirt Records
-out now
3 / 5

Style. These guys are all about style. And Lafarge + 3 certainly have it: they've got spit-shine shoes and some knee-slapping grooves. On Middle of Everywhere, you get the pure distillation of early ragtime blues, crystalline, unadulterated, and most definitely traditional, in every and any sense of the word. And, having met this outfit, they dress the part incredibly well; all that's missing is a whistlin' of Dixie. But enough of that, you want to know why we adore these guys but don't quite obsess over their music. As faithful as Lafarge and his South City Three are to the genre, they feel - again, that word - crystallized: they don't alter, they don't take other influences and make this music their own. Instead, one feels the presence of a time capsule: ancient and quaint, valuable as well, but we don't want a history lesson. That's what the Library of Congress archives are for. We want something new and dynamic and exciting, and although Lafarge plays the role - and very well - there isn't quite a sense that he plays from the heart. Look at it this way - the blues have endured, and will endure, as long as there is someone to interpret them, not archive them (Muddy Waters, Hendrix, et al.). Try it because you're traditional and still living in the early 1900s, but otherwise, take a pass.

Listen to some tracks on their site. Right... around... here!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Free EP by Running in the Fog!

Wow! Luck to you guys; here's another freebie out there by Running in the Fog. What to expect (should we spoil it...?) well, consider it space-pop with ethereal female vocals. Enough description and blabbing about, we know what you really want - other than lawyers, guns, and money - that link is right here.
Tell us what you think! And if you like it, be sure to pass it along! Laters,

Friday, September 16, 2011

Portugal. The Man reaches heights on In the Mountain, In the Cloud

Portugal. The Man - "In the Mountain, In the Cloud"
-out now
4 / 5

We're big fans of Portland, OR's P.TM. Remember the sweet hooks and 60's choruses of 2009's The Satanic Satanist? Thankfully, they're back for In the Mountain, In the Cloud. Their sixth album in as many years (yes, it's a crazy number of releases) returns the rock/pop band to what we feel is their true element: polished, straightforward psychedelia replete with harmonies, highs and lows, and strange-ass lyrics. While we feel lyrically this album is a shade off of par with Satanist, fans of Portugal will find them musically in high form, especially on that smashin' side B. Their greatest strength lies in their ability to craft songs that newcomers can get right into; there're no 'figure out what's going on' spins when it comes to the former Wasillans. This is the kind of music that makes you want to drive around and pretend it's still summer. Try out "Once was One," or just about anything on the second half of the album, as the first half gears up towards it. Now sit back and enjoy; recommended.

Stream the album from their site! Sweet!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

St. Vincent cuts strange, mercifully gorgeous album

St. Vincent - "Strange Mercy"
4ad Records
-out today
4.5 / 5

We're not going to say that "Strange Mercy" is a whole step up from 2009's "Actor." We're also not going to say St. Vincent is a modern female Brian Eno. But what we will say is, this album rocks, in the bizarre, angular-electronic way that Annie Clark is getting known for. Add to that a pop sensibility, and you get the knock-out single "Cruel," which, if you could comprehend the strange lyrics, would make you sing along soulfully. The heart of this album is that it doesn't rest after that second track, and that Miss Vincent rightfully explores a warmer, more accessible (relatively speaking) sound in "Cheerleader," "Dilettante," all the way through to the end. Yes, you'll still get explosions of feedback/electronica ("Northern Lights"), and it's refreshing to hear an artist exploring poppier tracks with such an eclectic ear; that said, if you're looking for the perfect 3-minute pop song, all bets are off here. But fans will be greatly rewarded, and those with an indie ear searching for new talent should be as well - that is, if you were running from the law for a few years and somehow avoided her previous two releases. Pick this one up. And get "Actor," too while you're at it.

Stream this great album at NPR. And then DL it at Amazon for four bucks!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Disco Biscuits make for soggy, stale dance

Disco Biscuits - "Otherwise Law Abiding Citizens"
Diamond Riggs
-out now
2 / 5

We appreciate dance music of all types, colors, beats, etc. But when it comes to this latest from the Philly, PA dance/trance group, we find these Biscuits need some sweeter jam. Their nine extended tracks here do fit the trance train, and certainly jam a bit, but these beats don't capture, they don't pound and soar like they should from an otherwise tight quartet. What's on this album is repetitive, not particularly engaging beyond the first couple plays, and not terribly dynamic enough to stick with you (or us, for that matter). The vocals are nice but don't inspire, and the songwriting is their Achilles' heel - it doesn't twist and turn, it doesn't bend about, but just stays in a particular groove and festers. As much as we'd like to enjoy the Biscuits' efforts here (and their playing really is tight, fairly dense) Law Abiding Citizens makes us want to throw bricks into windows. Take a pass on this one.

Still, try it for free in 128 kbs at their site!

Monday, August 29, 2011

A band called Wandas disappoint

The Wandas - Self-Titled
-out tomorrow
2.5 / 5

We like "Do or Die." We enjoy "Forever and Ever." And, if we were to liken their sound to anyone, it might strangely come close to Wilco's "Summer Teeth;" an alt-country feel, Tweedy-ish tone to the vocals, light and poppy (which is a good thing). But, ultimately, we're going to draw the line in the sand and say, unfortunately, The Wandas' self-titled release isn't our bread-and-butter. Why not, you may ask? Ask away: because, unlike "Summer Teeth," these songs are tragically straightforward, lacking the interesting lyricism or sonic departures that made Wilco a groundbreaking band. And, while The Wandas certainly shouldn't be Wilco, they still should be something different, a unique fish in the sea. With a song like "Mr. Mister," we're going to say we were hoping for something far more challenging, or uplifting, or angular and personal; perhaps all of the above, even. These songs simply come off too one-dimensional, too musically bland, and not terribly insightful. Sorry folks, but take a pass!

Still, go listen to "Do or Die" and possibly "Forever and Ever."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hallelujah just short of revelation

Hallelujah - Self-Titled
-out now
3 / 5

The Brooklyn octet, replete with a female choir, is self-described as "psychedelic gospel music for atheists." And as self-described "punkedelic anarchists," their description strikes a chord with us. Either that, or it's just the pure infective energy of "Old Time Sickness," which, we'll let you know right now, you can DL for free (see bottom of post). We dig that one something monster, as well as the rockabilly of "Taking It To the Grave." Though you do get songs like "Skinny Women," which just feels too apathetic and dull, we'd put this album as a whole just shy of a recommendation. Add to that the great price, though, and for five smackers, you can hardly go wrong with a couple solid songs.

Grab the first few songs for free here. Or just buy the album if that's your thing.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

This Sh!t's for Free!

Remember that Soft Collapse album the guys were giving away for free? Yeah, earlier this year? Well, here's their punk project, and you can get it right here.
Again, it's one of those 'pick your price' deals. Right away, we're going to kindly remind all y'all that music doesn't pay that much, unless you're Bono or Robert Plant. And also, that bike on the cover? They totally trashed it for this album.
So that last one's a lie, but if you like hard guitar and yelling, then maybe this is the one for you; just check out that opening track. And if you like it, why not pay what you think's a fair price? 'K, enough of that, hope you guys enjoy,

Monday, August 15, 2011

Missed Typhoon on Letterman?

So, you managed to miss these guys on Aug 4th. (Not a problem, we did, too). Here's to not having to miss an awesome, huge (13-man) band that, we're hoping, will blast away when they come up with their new full-length.
Oh yeah, that link's right here. And if you need to get your fix now, check out their latest EP, "A New Kind of House." Peace!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Newport Folk Fest 2011 - Sunday Report

 These guys' album has been stuck in my head the past week or so (photos courtesy of Marc Brigante):

Three clues: that's both of them, they're heavy but acoustic, and stationed in RI (currently). That's Brown Bird right there, and if you couldn't tell, well, I couldn't either; MorganEve cut off her hair! Thank god David pointed her out to me, or I never would've known. Their album isn't out until October, but if I were to take a guess, I'd say the audience liked it. And that's putting it blandly; there was a definite mosh-pit going on during "Ragged Old Town," and I grooved the heck out of "Bilgewater." A butterfly passing by landed on David's hair during "Town," though I'm pretty sure he didn't notice; I think that betokens more good luck for their album "Salt for Salt."

This next act we caught at the Narrows in Fall River, MA way back in aught-nine. The crowd then was appreciative (and I got a signed tee), but tragically small; this time around, they finally got the recognition they deserved:
Trampled by Turtles! Quite possibly one of the most brilliant names in the industry (and check out how they came up with it), you can see Dave S., Tim on the now- patched- up bass, and Dave C.'s arm on the left. These guys... well, let's just say if you like the kind of bluegrass playing that puts blisters all over your hand, these guys are the masters of that. Dave joked about the weather being conducive to breaking strings, but honestly, guys, if you're playing 16-th to 32-nd notes at, it must've been over 200 bmp, then yeah, expect to break some strings. And to re-tune after every song. That's like complaining about changing tires during the Indy 500. After their incredible performance of "Wait so Long," the crowd demanded they come back for an encore, which set the whole stage off by 10 min for the rest of the day. Jeez, what show-offs.

Elvis Costello. 'Nuff said.

A snap of the Civil Wars:

Joy was sweet as pie when I met her in the morning, and John Paul was just as nice when I caught him on the way to this set. Do we like the Civil Wars? I don't know, maybe a little. Tiny bit. We could only stay for a brief glimpse of this soulful duo, and I could hardly tell you what song it was they were playing, because they kept cracking each other up. But I know it killed me to have to cover the other acts during their performance, though "Barton Hollow" had my attention on the ride back.

Now these guys:

These guys were nuts. These guys were crazy. On the Quad Stage in the Fort, they didn't have the largest crowd at that stage, but theirs' was the most pumped; everyone knew who these guys were, and they were on their feet before they even picked up their instruments. Middle Brother, a collaboration of Taylor (Dawes), Matt V. (Delta Spirit) and John J. McCauley (Deer Tick - all D's) took it all out with material from their self-titled release this year. Why were these guys our pick of the weekend? I have no idea. Let's just say Matt V. jumped it up a notch (should be in the NBA, that guy) and was dancing with a lucky lady in the audience. No small feat, considering those four-foot photo barriers (how did he even get back?). These guys know how to party, and we're going to go out there and say we liked them first. We're not the huuuugest fan of guest Jonny Corndawg (not pictured), but he's pretty damned congenial and unexpectedly polite. All that crazy facial hair kinda threw me off. And he mistook me for a Trampled by Turtle'er, which doesn't hurt. I don't think I have that much beard, do I?

So we started this coverage with a bit of the stinky underbelly of the business yesterday. The musicians love it, certainly, but sometimes they come across someone who wants to love it a bit more. If there were budget for a "Man of the Hour" trophy on this blog, it would go out to Taylor of Dawes. No, we didn't really dig his album that much this year, but after overhearing a bit of a social, erm, faux pas on part of another apparently tactless media-type, right after his sweaty, heat stroke-inducing set, we're going to say he had a #@%-load of tact for holding his tongue and not flipping out at the woman in question. (Where was I? Waiting for a signature from the guy... trying not to overhear while he was venting at his fellow band members.) That takes - grandpa word - character, man, and though I probably shouldn't've caught it, well, I felt it appropriate to share that with my readers. So, like, 10 more people know. And after that, he jumped back on stage to jam with this dude:

(Love the photo, Marc!) He played a whole slew of songs from his "Hold Time," and did an encore, but I'm sure you guys can catch all that on NPR. He's a pretty big deal, I'm told.

So, what happened with that signature? He assured me I really wasn't being a dick for asking for it, and maybe we'll reveal where it's going to at the right moment...

So thanks for stopping by! Keep in mind, if you're in the Boston area and are traveling to any big festivals on the East Coast, we'd love to hitchhike with you, as there's no travel budget for the blog. Actually, there's no budget at all. And pay for my room and meals, too. Keep on truckin'!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Newport Folk Fest 2011 - Saturday Report

Myself and the photographer-for-the-day, Dave "Bizarro" Cordeiro - all photos copyright him, by the way - arrived on-site early enough to get the lay of the land before all music broke loose. We stumbled across a drummer bathing in one of the sinks, and were regaled with the typical tales of the touring musician: a pinch of sleep, warnings about body odor, and the scramble to cover hundreds of miles to the next gig.
I wanted to start this with a little perspective. I think every bit of pure fun should have a pound of that, lurking somewhere.
But despite the untold, rather grimy side of the life, this is the Newport Folk Festival, which is all about the more glamorous aspects: hanging out with your crew on a summer weekend; running into the random artist peeking through a telescope or catching their favorite act; and, of course, the music itself, thick and hot as the humid July air. Life is about making decisions, and having a rather limited (and admittedly lazy) staff to cover 21 hours of music this day, we had to make some. No offense intended.
This is where our day started:
This lovely lady with the cat-eye glasses came straight out of the 1950s - perhaps literally - with her rollicking brand of retro Rock-n-Roll. The quartet known as Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside (SOS) took to the Quad stage in the middle of Fort Adams, and we've got to say, she's got bounce and energy in that voice of hers. Remember the diner scene in Pulp Fiction? Tarantino would've died to get her in there, no joke. But not too far into her performance, the power cut on this bobby soxer. What's a girl to do? Strum on her un-electric guitar and keep on singing. Thank god it came back on for "Cage."

Now, these guys caught us off-guard:
Well, gals in the pic. Count that: two violins, one cello. On the left of the stage: two trumpets, a baritone horn. That's six, and not quite half of the baker's dozen that is Portland, OR's Typhoon. We were blown away by the grandeur of their sound, which is orchestral with indie vocals (a bit more straightforward than Sufjan Stevens, but long and well-paced), and can't wait to get their full-length when it comes out. They've got a new EP out now, and if you close your eyes and wish, maybe it'll sound like they're playing just for you. Or you can just catch them on David Letterman August 4th if you have patience enough.
The pics don't really do them justice; they're far cuter and nicer in person. (Call me!)

Here is Gogol Bordello:

And here is the crowd on Gogol Bordello:

I'm not sure we need to add a whole lot more. But just to humor y'all, they play the sweaty gypsy music you'd find pounding from the open windows of a basement bar in rural Europe. It's as intoxicating as the dark liquor they serve there, and Eugene's accent pours just as thick. We were almost tackled by some crazy What Cheer? Brigadiers who, unblamingly, were musically possessed backstage. Moving on.

These fine young chaps are Delta Spirit (well, 2/5 of them). That's lead-man Matt Vasquez with the hair in his eyes. Probably the most direct way to describe them is to say they play rock; pure, loud, unabashed rock. It's our first listen to the remaining third of the collaboration known as Middle Brother, and if you didn't feel the raw power of "Ransom Man" that day, alas, you probably never will. Needless to say, the guys laid it into the crowd after a few songs and Mr. Vasquez shred the bejesus out of "People C'mon" vocally. We'd love to say that was the highlight of our day but to be honest, it really belonged to this lass, and probably always did:
Ah, Gillian Welch, is there nothing you can't do with your plain-Jane vocals and a simple acoustic? She and David Rawlings (you can kinda make out his guitar on the upper left) took out most of their new album, maybe with a few handclaps added ("Six White Horses"), a sprinkle of self-effacement and perhaps some exhaustion in there, too. Having missed some acts we were dying to cover (Pokey LaFarge, Devil Makes Three, most of Tegan and Sara), Welch made that right again, as it was just refreshing to listen to something so simple and uncluttered by the sea.

So, you think you know what 10,000 music-goers looks like.
That's all of them. Can you spot me?
Come back for part two!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Emergency Newport Folk Fest Update!

So you don't have tickets to the sold-out Newport Folk Festival. But you still want to contribute/ party out. Well, here's your lucky chance.
These guys (see Deer Tick, above) are rocking out at our friends' joint, a little place we like to call the Newport Blues Cafe. They're pretty crazy (so much so it kinda irks us, but what the heck) and damn, do we love their albums. Anyway, entry is $10, and the proceeds go to the nonprofit organizer of the Newport Folk Fest. They be jammin' tonight (which is of little help, we know), but also Saturday night, before Mr. McCauley hits up the NFF itself as part of indie country group Middle Brother the next day. They're still probably rocking out through the morning as we speak, and will be on the stage 10:30 tomorrow night. Be sure to pay a visit, because Deer Tick is every bit as raucous and crazy as that homeless guy who drinks from a bag and tells you about the flying Jupiter aliens. Except their singing is good. (We aren't saying that because they're RI'ers.)
Peace out! See you this weekend!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Newport Folk Festival up-and-comers: Brown Bird

For a little Rhode Island pair, Brown Bird is doing well. Having opened for fellow Providence Americana band The Low Anthem, Connecticut's 26 year-old MorganEve Swain (left - just kidding!) and the 33 year-old Illinois native David Lamb (actual left) are, as they say, in it to win it. As part of Sunday's lineup at the Newport Folk Festival ( - sorry, tickets are sold out!), the gritty, down-the-river folk duo will display their chops in anticipation of their new album, October's "Salt for Salt," on the Harbor Stage. But, if you're really dying for a sense of Lamb's emotive vocals (and Swain's great backing), here's a link to their satisfying EP and a spoiler off the new album here. We scheduled for a Sunday (that happened to be Father's Day), but Swain was gracious enough to give the gritty on Lamb's rather paternal (but mostly feral) beard. (Photo by Mikael Kennedy.)

MK: I got your email. So who were the other bands you were jamming with on Father's Day?
MorganEve: When I was fifteen, I joined two different bands that were made up of basically the same group of people. They were all in their 40s and 50s, playing kinda Irish music, but mostly Grateful Dead and The Band covers. I've been with them for almost ten years... it's been three or four years since I've seen them.

MK: One of my questions was going to be how you two got into the real folk genre. I suppose Irish folk music isn't too far a jump from that.
ME: Yeah. That's true. For me, it's just the music that I've always loved. I mean Dave grew up - well, in his parent's church for a long time, so he really loved old gospel music and stuff like that. And then his first instrument was the drums, and he loved rock music. That was his first experience performing: playing in rock bands.

MK: What bands do you enjoy listening to?
ME: Right now, I'm listening to Them Crooked Vultures. We love Queens of the Stone Age. We love a lot of the heavier stuff. But we also listen to a lot of gypsy music, Romanian music, the Harry Smith Anthology of Folk Music. I don't know if you're familiar with that.

MK: Not really. What kind of Romanian music?
ME: We have several collections of Romanian/Ukrainian music that, I don't even know what the bands are, but they're really really great... A lot of violin, a lot of accordion, just really really soulful folk music.

MK: It's hard getting in touch with you guys. I'm guessing you keep 9-5s?
ME: Yeah, we have day jobs right now, but we're quitting them in September. We're going to be touring full time.

MK: Tell me a little bit about "Sound of Ghosts."
ME: Alright. We just released it in May. It was recorded over the Spring. It's four songs, and two of them I believe will be on our full-length in the Fall.

MK: Hints? Any particular two? Or are we just going to have to hang tight?
ME: I can tell you, if I remember what the songs are. One of them is Cast No Shadow, and Bilgewater is the other one.

MK: Awesome. I definitely love Bilgewater a lot.
ME: Thank you. Yeah, we love that one, too. It's our first release as a two-piece. It's also the first release where I'm playing upright [bass].

MK: Really? What instrument did you grow up on?
ME: Violin was my original instrument, which I happen to still play. I picked up cello a few years ago, and the bass a year ago.

MK: So two of the songs on the EP will be on the full-length; can you tell us anything more about your upcoming album? Can you sing a riff off of it?
ME: Can I what?

MK: Maybe I shouldn't ask you because you're driving, and I don't want you to crash.
ME: I won't crash. What can I tell you about the LP? I don't know. I mean, we're really excited about it. There's a couple of heavier songs that we cheerfully call our "metal songs." My brother is guest appearing on violin on one of those songs. He used to be in a band called Zox, he toured with them for almost ten years. It's been a while since he's done anything, so we're excited to have him on it [chuckles].

MK: So it's going to be acoustic? No heavy synth or electric bass twanging on it?
ME: No! It is a little more rocking than our past stuff, though. It's still acoustic, but there's some overdrive on Dave's guitar.

MK: So your brother plays violin. Did you come from a musical family?
ME: My dad played drums in a bunch of bands when he was younger. We're all musically inclined. I have a cousin who played in a hard rock band. Hardcore band, I mean. We're all musical.

MK: So I take it your cousin shows up with spiked hair, and you just shake your head and say "why?"
ME: Yes. Pretty much.

MK: My younger brother was in a ska band, and I think that's the only natural response to it. This coming from a jazz person, though.
ME: Yeah. It's not my thing, but my cousin's a really awesome drummer, so it's pretty fun to watch, anyway. The double-bass drum pedal and stuff.

MK: Out of this year's Newport Folk Festival lineup, is there anyone you're hoping to jam with?
ME: Umm, yeah, I mean, everyone? That would be awesome with Gogol Bordello, I love them, and I know they're doing an acoustic set. Emmylou Harris. And our friends The Devil Makes Three are playing - we just toured with them in April - they're playing a different day than us, but know knows. Maybe we can hop up on the stage with them. Or they can hop up with us.

MK: So basically you're going to try to jump up onto every stage that you possibly can.
ME: Yeah. I'm just going to walk around with my instruments and just guerrilla attack people and say "I'm part of your band now. Shut up!"

MK: There's going to be a ton of media coverage there, so you probably don't want to make too much of an ass of yourself while you're doing it.
ME: That's true. Maybe I won't do that.

MK: I have another really important question, and unfortunately I believe David isn't around to answer it.
ME: No.

MK: His beard is pretty fierce, I'd say, and that's a polite way of putting it. I wonder if you know who inspired it.
ME: I think it's just natural. There's no way around it.

MK: I definitely couldn't grow something like that. It's definitely more than [My Morning Jacket's] Jim James, and probably a little more than [Iron and Wine's] Sam Beam. It just seems like the kind of task that you do need a muse or some inspiration for.
ME: Yeah, I don't think that he would name anyone. I do know that he has an uncle who won a beard contest once, a long time ago.

MK: Are you making this up to mess with me?
ME: It's true.

MK: So what kind of things do you do to win a a beard competition? Put oils in it or something? I guess I just don't get the concept of it.
ME: I'm pretty sure it was judged by amount of hair per square inch.

MK: Oh just total mass. So he didn't have to put bows in it to win or anything.
ME: No, not that I'm aware of.

MK: I'd mentioned Iron and Wine in a beard instance, and wanted to know if, like the band, you'd consider going from acoustic to electric at some point in the future?
ME: Dave keeps talking about wanting to play electric guitar, and that's probably going to happen in the very near future. I'll probably keep my instruments acoustic for Brown Bird, but we'd also talk about doing a side project that would be a lot heavier, maybe get my brother on board. We'll see what happens.

MK: Oh yeah, one last question: where did David come up with the band name?
ME: He used to have a dog named Bird, who was brown.

MK: Oh, that's actually kind of random.
ME: Yeah. It is. It's random and kinda sweet.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Locksley release tepid album

Locksley - Self-Titled
Feature Records
-out today
2.5 / 5

Madison, WI is the hub of the Mid-West musical universe, as far as we're concerned. The capital is a fantastic crossroads for traveling bands, as well as home-grown groups such as punk-rock quartet Locksley. While they have seen some success, we're going to have to be blunt: this latest album is not the cat's meow. It's got pep, it's got pop, but it doesn't have much personality; if we were to put it on the scale of actors, we'd say this album ranks somewhere between post-Seinfeld Jason Alexander and Keanu Reeves with Christopher Walken's voice. And if you still don't get that, it's just bland. That's the blandest sentence this blog has ever produced. But enough of that, the sum of it all is that Locksley is like any other album you could possibly imagine and find by any other band in the punk/pop genre, and we can't put our seal of approval on this one. Take a pass.

Monday, July 11, 2011

London Souls need a bit more of that

The London Souls - Self-Titled
Soul on 10 Records
-out tomorrow
3 / 5

Rock + roll + soul = The London Souls. This talented trio know what their sound is, and should be, and confidently display their chops on their debut. When you get a song like the opener, "She's So Mad," a heavy rocker with Zeppelin-esque riffs, you know what you've been missing by listening to too much obscure cerebral indie (we love you, Antlers, but sometimes straight rock is where it's at). That's the good news, though, and here's the flip side to that: the Souls don't really bring much new to the genre. Unlike the Strokes' apathy-stricken debut, U2's soaring (and preachiness), or Led Zeppelin's brilliant hooks, this brash trio don't breath fresh air into rock, so much as the air that everyone else has been breathing. While not stale, The Souls don't charge their performances with crazy energy, shred with vocals and guitar, or lay in that perfect, laid-back groove; the end result is a good, but not particularly enduring, album. While that opener definitely rocks, the album peters out and you get things like "Country Road," which are merely passable. A good start, but there's no reason to toss aside those classics yet; take a pass.

Still, though, listen to "She's So Mad."

Monday, July 4, 2011

Sondre Lerche hits a poppy stride on his self-titled

Sondre Lerche - "Sondre Lerche"
Mona Records
-out now
4 / 5

Sondre Lerche's songs are, in a word, addictive. The Norwegian has a natural talent for pop that swims about into different-
Okay, metaphor on hold, we've just got to get this out first: "Private Caller" is the pop song of the year. Just laying it out there.
Yeah, that pretty much describes how we feel about the Norwegian's self-titled. That metaphor up there was going to describe something about his penchant for taking his listeners on a pop mini-journey, taking the opener "Ricochet" and "Go Right Ahead" as prime examples of his brilliant sense of diverse songcraft. But we know you just want to crank up that unbelievable single, that and "Domino," all day long. Much of the album is still good, with maybe a couple passable tracks of the ten, thus coming recommended.

Listen to "Private Caller" and/or "Domino."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Welch album far more harvest than harrow

Gillian Welch - "The Harrow and the Harvest"
Acony Records
-out today
4 / 5

Eight long years. Almost a decade, if you've been keeping track since her last solo release, "Soul Journey." The traditional folk duo of Welch and David Rawlings release a spare, bare-bones treasure trove of below-the-dixon-line croons, and if you're a fan of banjo and whiskey in the moonlight, then it's safe to say this album should be in your collection. There are several reasons, not the least of which are the haunted "Tennessee" and the sheer drive of "The Way It Goes"; we might site the clarity of the hard-luck images, the ease with which the performances flow; the fact that Welch and Rawlings aren't looking to impress or overwhelm, just to sit down and tell a story set to song. We admit, we're not often soft to traditional folkies, but her performance at last year's Newport Folk Fest (did we mention she's coming back, too?) was sublime enough to melt even our hardened, dance-beat heart. This album should do much the same, even if you don't consider yourself a grass-chawing river folk. Highly recommended.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Emergency post! Newport Folk Fest plug!

Hello all and (every)one,
We just received info that the Newport Folk Fest (July 30 + 31) is almost certainly going to sell out early for Saturday, and most likely for Sunday, too. If you're in the N.E. area, we're wondering what other things you could possibly do if you can't get a ticket:

-Complain about how the weather's hotter than Florida, just like a native (it's really not)
-Get pinched by a lobster when you try to put it in the boiling pot, then proceed to drop the crustacean and watch it scramble away
-Reminisce about how beautiful the fall leaves are, and complain (again) about the summer heat
-Get stuck indoors because it's really just pouring out for your VACATION WEEKEND (no, we're not bitter)

Actually, the Folk Fest is most fun when wet. But gosh darnit, if you want to show especially for Saturday, get those tickets ASAP. Especially considering they've got Elvis Costello, Gillian Welch, Middle Brother and an acoustic set by Tegan and Sara. And if you need to live vicariously through this blog (and that's just sad, plain sad) we've got some pre-and post-Fest coverage coming up, with pics C.O. the lovely and talented Allie Runnion. Will keep you New Englanders updated on this important story as it unfolds. Gotta find where that little red guy went to...

PS Don't forget the weekend after, which happens to be the always awesome Newport Jazz Fest (Aug. 5-7)!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cassettes won't listen, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't

Cassettes Won't Listen - "EVINSPACEY"
Daylight Curfew
-out June 21
3.5 / 5

After all's said and done, this is what Los Angeles-based Jason Drake has to show for his latest full-length: a handful of catchy, electronica/ pop pieces ("Perfect Day," "Wave to the Winners"), some hip-hop inspired beats, and a cease-and-desist. So certain famous actors don't appreciate the shout-out; we do, and here's why: despite Drake's demonstrated cheekiness, he's also got a good ear for pop, simple, enduring melodies, and a sense of joy and playfulness. Drake never bogs himself down with oversampling and overlayering (all the more impressive for the hip-hop producer), and each track maintains a clarity and directness about it, even with synth and bass and beats (amongst other electronica). The highlight here is that "Perfect Day," but to say we didn't also enjoy the dance beat of "The Night Shines" and "The Echoes." Enjoyable, breezy electronica that comes recommended.

Listen to "Perfect Day," and, what the heck, "The Echoes."

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mid-year recap!

It's that time of (mid-) year again! Keep in mind, we're something of a limited blog here; we haven't gotten TV on the Radio (thumbs up), the Decemberists (thumbs down), or Iron and Wine (definite up and up). But other than that, here's our picks based on our (admittedly) limited selection; still, there are definitely some you should check out - and avoid.

The Civil Wars, "Barton Hollow" - A gorgeous, tender album lifted with male/female duettery. But honestly, if you enjoy earnest, bare folk with vocals that strike deep, then this is your album.

Panda Bear, "Tomboy" - The much-awaited solo from Animal Collective's frontman has arrived. Delayed for a number of years, it's dense with their trademark electronic-layering and sonic depth, making it recommended. Though with a caveat: it's something of a difficult album to get into.

The Low Anthem, "Smart Flesh" - We'd forgive the weird title, and we'd forgive that it took three years to come out. But what we can't forgive is that our only favorite track is "Apothecary Love," and the rest is... sad and mopey. Kinda too much, even if you're an angsty teen, so you'll most likely keep their brilliant "Oh My God, Charlie Darwin" on your ipod instead.

Fleet Foxes, "Helplessness Blues" - While not as scintillating and titillating as their eponymous debut a few years ago, their sophomore is still a fantastic baroque-pop thrill-ride teetering with harmonies and violins and just general awesomeness.

Middle Brother, "Middle Brother" - A brainchild of frontmen from Dawes, Deer Tick, and Delta Force (wow, alphabetical order!), this little country peach is anything but warm and fuzzy. It's definitely one of our favorites so far, because, let's face it, each singer is in probably their best form. Ever. They complement and refract off of each other, so much so, that we're hoping they'll abandon their bands and stay together. Oh well, at least they're playing the Newport Folk Festival.
We didn't just plug them, right...?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Dawes struggles to find something right on "Nothing Is Wrong"

Dawes - "Nothing Is Wrong"
Ato Records
-out today
2.5 / 5

We're still reeling from brilliant folk collaboration Middle Brother which, we admit, led us to Dawes. Taylor Goldsmith's performance as 1/3 of Brother is certainly one of his finest ("Blood and Guts," "Wilderness") and now that we've calmed down from getting the Los Angeles band's second full-length, that opening, "Time Spent in Los Angeles," is certainly... definitely... something of a letdown. "Nothing Is Wrong" feels too complacent, too placid, especially in light of Goldsmith's serious vocal chops displayed earlier this year. Lyrically, Dawes is hit-or-miss, but our biggest complaint comes from Goldsmith himself, who doesn't stretch himself out on these vocals. And we know he can definitely belt one out (did we already mention "Blood and Guts?"). Yeah, we still like "Million Dollar Bill" on this one, and it certainly is written well, but even there, we've got to say Middle Brother caught him at the right place, right time; "Nothing Is Wrong" just seems to have caught him tired and off-guard. Take a pass.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Corea, Clarke and White revisit the band that will last "Forever"

Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, Lenny White - "Forever"
Concord Records
-out tomorrow
3.5 / 5

There's just such a breezy way that Chick Corea dabbles on those ivories that, we're certain, melts even the un-jazziest of hearts. And on this reunion album-slash-tour of his eternal Return to Forever band, it's all there: drummer Lenny White, bass virtuoso Stanley Clarke (btw, check out his "School Days"), and some jazz/ RTF standards (plus a handful of new ones). Replete with guests (Jean-Luc Ponty, "Upon the Wings of Music" for one), this album can't help but to measure itself again the catalog of 70s releases, and in that respect, "Forever" still meets the test. With a nimble band, light, delicate performances, there is little to complain about (though they forgot "Spain"! - can't win them all) on this live, acoustic two-disc set. It is, in fact, an excellent primer to those unfortunate enough not to have been introduced to one of the premier fusion bands of all time; furthermore, we're certain that you (the jazz-discerning part of our audience) will enjoy the precise, yet warm performances within. For neophytes or fans, we're most certainly recommending it, and especially urging a look (yet again) into their classic albums.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

White Denim's latest is "D" bomb

White Denim - "D"
-out now
4 / 5

We never realized how much we loved White Denim's previous "Fits"; their wild, rambunctious sense of punk and pop ignites like a wildfire. And here, on D, there is a sense that some of the fire has died down a bit: no worries, though, because the wild half-yelling has been replaced with thoroughly impressive instrumentals. Think of it more as an exchange: the jarring punk aspects have matured into a more melodic, more assured sense of song structure. You will like this album, that much is sure; but will you love it, will you devote your waking moments away from the ones you love to air-guitaring along? Perhaps not. There is still a beautiful sense of laid-back, almost sensual sonic depth, and if you don't manage to absolutely love the pure pop gorgeousness of "Is and Is and Is," well, then, we don't love you. Just kidding. But seriously, this one comes recommended.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Barton Hollow civil and powerful

The Civil Wars - Barton Hollow
Sensibility Music
-out now
4 / 5

There is little as refreshing as an intimate male/female duet; Swell Season knows it, and Fleetwood Mac certainly knew it. Joy Williams and John Paul White must sense something special in their debut studio LP, because without flash and without pomp, we can say "Barton Hollow" is a delightful, gorgeous slice of Americana. Their romantic tracks here are pared down, sporting rhythmic guitar and sometimes banjo/piano, because who wants to hear anything else when the vocals are so soothing and beautiful? We dig the title track especially, but there's nary a weak one here, which is all the more impressive considering Williams and White have nearly no instruments to hide behind. What else is there to say? It's delicate, it's straightforward, it's passionate; pick this one up and play with wine. Certainly recommended.

Connect to the Civil Wars site, and download their previous album!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

"Rocket Science" still comes natrually to Flecktones

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones - "Rocket Science"
Entertainment One Music
-out now
3.5 / 5

After an excruciating, nearly twenty-year hiatus, self-described blu-bop quartet the Flecktones have released another space-themed dozen tracks, seemingly from out of that same inky nowhere. For those stranded under a rock these past few decades, the best way to describe the Flecktones may well be this: add one part world-renowned banjo master (Mr. Fleck), one part bass virtuoso (Victor Wooten, ever happy to hear), harmonica and crazy futuristic drummer, and shake together with a tinge of world/jazz/bluegrass fusion; the result is one of the lightest, most talented groups you're likely to find outside of Corea's Return to Forever. We should probably mention Chick has toured with Bela, right? In any case, "Rocket Science" isn't as complicated as it sounds, and that may be due to the Flecktones' natural ability to present technically complex phrases without the look-what-I-can-do pretension. Fleck-heads will get their (space) rocks off here, but our one regret is that these tracks don't seem as if they're challenging the foursome. Take our favorite albums, "Live at the Quick" and "Outbound," which craft stupendous, melodic tracks: those albums showcase the self-same top-notch musicians foraying out of their comfort zone into poppier material. We've also heard "Flight of the Cosmic Hippo" is another fan favorite, and our main quip is that as good as "Rocket Science" is, we find it tough that someone might single this one out as their best. But it's still excellent, it's still Bela, and still comes recommended.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sam Roberts Band hits a wall on "Collider"

Sam Roberts Band - Collider
Rounder Records
-out today
3 / 5

Sam Roberts certainly can find a groove. The opener to the band's fourth studio full-length hits a great stride, with a loose, loping guitar and the right amount of bounce to the rhythmic vocals. In all, "The Last Crusade" displays the kind of understated musicianship from the band as a whole that shows a steady head/hand at work. Collider, from this vantage point, would be the perfect pop/jam band album to cruise to ("Let It In": eat that, Phish), except that it's missing a couple things. First, the vocals: Roberts voice, despite a great sense of rhythm and clarity, lacks a compelling element. See Robert Plant, Joe Strummer, John Fogerty et al. Okay, so those comparisons are a bit unfair, but the point is still valid: Roberts voice is too much backdrop to the solid instrumentation of his band. The second complaint is that the excitement seems to deflate about halfway through the album."Streets of Heaven (Promises, Promises)" drags a boring 1-2, 1-2 percussion and the on-the-beat guitar makes this track swing as well as Frankenstein's monster. Past this point, the lightness and joy so well established through the early tracks gives in to blander, straightforward pop/rock. It's just a slight, but noticeable shift in the band, perhaps taking a back seat to Roberts halfway through who, unfortunately, is not enough to carry the show. A great, light, understated start, but it doesn't quite carry through far enough for a recommendation.

Ed.'s note: Phish be damned, anyway. Oh-verated.

Listen to "The Last Crusade."

Monday, May 9, 2011

Delay on getting Delay Trees' debut

Delay Trees - Self-Titled
Friendly Fire Recordings
-out tomorrow
2.5 / 5

Mixed with a bit of shoegazery comes Delay Trees' debut full-length, a dreamy, laid-back affair with a soft spring of pop in its step. And while "Cassette 2012" is a good start, with carelessly tossed vocals, soaring chorus, and a strong musical arc, it's not enough to bring this album into your home. The fact of the matter is that here, the Nordic quartet doesn't shock, doesn't surprise, doesn't pull themselves into uncomfortable territory. There are certain, almost 'aha' moments, when a band pulls the rabbit out of the hat and the audience wonders how it was done. The problem with this debut is that they feel content enough to pull that rabbit out of the hat, not questioning whether they should try to pull, say, a Siberian tiger, or use a mixing bowl instead of a hat. In other words, Delay Trees feels too conservative, too middle-of-the-line, too afraid to try something that hasn't been tried. Instead, we get fairly basic guitar riffs, decent but not surprising vocals, and just a tepid album overall. Take a pass on it.

But listen to that cool single: "Cassette 2012."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

No sophomore blues for Fleet Foxes' "Helplessness"

Fleet Foxes - "Helplessness Blues"
Sub Pop
-out May 3
4.5 / 5

As one of the most anticipated albums of the (indie) year, the Fleet Foxes have their work cut out for them. Having delayed the release of Helplessness Blues since announcing the sophomore album last year, critics and fans alike have been wondering: is this second release going to be as brilliant and polished pop-perfect as their self-titled debut? The answer to that question, is this: Helplessness Blues is good. Quite good. Rife with their celestial male harmonies (which are most of the show) and clean, classic guitar, Helplessness Blues will repay fans itching for more Foxes and undoubtedly satisfy the newcomer. While this release may come up half a step short of their debut in terms of song polishing (a whole step in lyrics), the Foxes make up for that by reaching out a further in their song construction. With "The Shrine/ An Argument," the eight-minute mini-epic on side B, fans (and critics, too) can't help but to prickle with the potential of this band. Does this track betoken a longer form for the Foxes? Will they consider, perhaps, a concept album? Hopefully yes and yes, but regardless of what that future outcome might be, there are still plenty of fantastic baroque pop pieces here, certainly enough to highly recommend the whole.

Stream "Helplessness Blues" on NPR until the release.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Jazz Month - Al Di Meola

Al Di Meola - "Elegant Gypsy"

Jazz fusion in the 70s was rife with guitar talent. John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny, and this guy (see glasses, left). Di Meola is a one-man band, and on Elegant Gypsy, he showcases his out-and-out rock-jazz style, never rushed, and chock-a-block with insane Yngwie Malmsteen-speed guitar riffs. This man's talent makes us sick. So does his shredding ("Race with the Devil on Spanish Highway") and, you'd've never guessed it, acoustic duet with Paco de Lucia on "Lady of Rome, Sister of Brazil." At this point in his career, Di Meola had come off the breakup of star-studded Return to Forever, and we wanted to make sure you'd never run out of albums by RTF and its members. But seriously, this is a fusion masterpiece, and even if you've forsworn fusion in favor of acoustic jazz, this album is worth your time. One of our Jazz Albums You Must Own.