Monday, February 28, 2011

This Middle Brother doesn't suffer syndrome

Middle Brother - "Middle Brother"
Partisan Records
-out tomorrow
4 / 5

We make it little secret here that John Joseph McCauley III is, indeed, absolutely fawned upon. With Middle Brother, the Deer Tick frontman joins with Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes and Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit to produce some inspired country (not "inspired" inspired, no). Starting with the takeout single, "Me Me Me," which rockabillies all the way to Tennessee, you have to notice that there is some serious jam in these guys; so much so that one must wonder how McCauley can maintain so many projects over these past couple years. Nonetheless, "Middle Brother" isn't a frazzled, frantic side project by some guys who just want another album (and definitely doesn't fizzle like "Monsters of Folk"). Rather, this album is a cohesive unit, despite having three equal contributors. Check out "Blue Eyes" or the Beatles-ish "Someday" if any doubts linger about the sheer fun of good country. There's nary a weak track here, and we highly recommend this one, even if you still think all country musicians are drunken hicks (McCauley doesn't seem far off).

Listen to: "Me Me Me."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Smith Westerns choose right color on "Dye it Blonde"

Smith Westerns - "Dye it Blonde"
Fat Possom Records
-out now
3.5 / 5

Chicago, IL's Smith Westerns give a bit of glam to their cluster-f*** pop. We mean that gently: these instruments don't sing or soar, but meld together like that Nutella stuff you used to be addicted to. Minus the sick feeling afterwards; that told, "Dye it Blonde" works on the simple principle that it's simply enjoyable to listen to. It's something of a mystery to us how it works, but listen to "All Die Young," and you get the Westerns at their apex on this album. The depth of their layering may, at times, leave you digesting a large lump of sound, but the fact of the matter is that there are good bridges, good choruses, and just generally good writing here. While we generally prefer music to be a bit cleaner and less like an overgrown wheat field (yes, somehow that analogy makes sense), stick it through, and you may find yourself enjoying a fun, playful, mucky little album. Recommended.

Listen to "All Die Young."

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bright Eyes unlocks poppiness with "The People's Key"

Bright Eyes - "The People's Key"
Saddle Creek
-out now
4.5 / 5

According to NPR, "The People's Key" is Conor Oberst's best album; no minor statement, considering Bright Eyes has seen 2007's "Cassadaga" and 2005's "I'm Wide Awake It's Morning," let alone Oberst's various side projects ("Monsters of Folk," "The Mystic Valley Band"). Take him or leave him, Oberst is doubtless one of the most skilled lyricists of his generation, and on "The People's Key," he does not disappoint. He is still capable of drawing up strong, concise images, such as in "A Machine Spiritual (In the People's Key)": "And little Hitler sat in his giant's chair/ While dreaming of nowhere." While this may be no news to fans of Bright Eyes, what is new the groove of "Shell Games"; for all that Oberst is known for, perhaps it's these damned catchy choruses that caught us most off guard. The sheer ease of these tunes, when matched with such depth, is simply... well, we're at something of a loss to describe. But be assured, if Bright Eyes' obtuse lyricism may be, to some, off-putting, then the choruses on "The People's Key" merit giving Oberst another chance. It may be a bit premature to say this is his best album, but it wouldn't be far off to say it is one of his strongest, and certainly worth your time. Highly recommended.

Check out the video for "Shell Games."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Julianna Barwick's Magic Place lacks magic, is a place

Julianna Barwick - The Magic Place
Asthmatic Kitty
-out. Feb. 22
2.5 / 5

The ambient nature of The Magic Place makes Julianna Barwick's latest a bit tough to place. The tones here are celestial in nature, with strings and vocals that map out a sacred - indeed, magical - scenery. On the other hand, the cyclical, repetitive nature of these ambient tones gives it little form. We're going to go out on a limb here (the one in the album cover, right over there) and suggest that Ms. Barwick add some spoken lyrics to her work, as that would help give The Magic Place form, story arc and direction. While The Magic Place may satisfy the ever-elusive self-actualized, crunchy-granola hippie, we're going to pass on giving it a recommendation because, let's face it, those self-actualized hippies have no sense of musical taste (not to slight Barwick's intriguing take on music, though). So take a pass, and let's hope the next one has more variety and arc to it.

Listen to "The Magic Place."

Monday, February 14, 2011

Low Anthem feels low and bummed out.

The Low Anthem - Smart Flesh
Nonesuch Records
-out Feb. 22
3 / 5

Since RI's wunder-quartet released 2008's "Oh My God, Charlie Darwin," they've toured with Iron and Wine, played several festivals, and, in short, became a national act. But on their new album, Smart Flesh, we're going to argue they've hit their sophomore slump (and this is their third album). While it gets off to a good start with the bluesy "Apothecary Love," most of the album falls somewhere between a foggy London day and an out-and-out funeral dirge. "Matter of Time" has the pulse of a doomed hospital patient, and "Burn" has a similar diagnosis (despite their ingenious use of cell phones). While somber isn't necessarily bad, you probably shouldn't be reaching for that bottle by an album's end. Smart Flesh plays a single note for too long, and while it can be pretty at times, it drags too much to give it a real recommendation. Pick up the brilliant "Charlie Darwin" instead.

Watch the music video to "Ghost Woman Blues."

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

And another album stream...

This time from a band called Laetoli Steps. Their album's from 2010, but heck, music's music, right? You can check out their self-titled album here. Hope you guys enjoy this one, too, and feel free to shoot comments at us. Don't worry, we'll be getting reviews up in no time. Peace,

Bright Eyes streams latest on NPR

Because you need to know:
Bright Eyes is Conor Oberst.
Their last album was the brilliant "Cassadaga."
Their latest album is streamed on NPR here.
That is, until the release on Feb. 15.