Tuesday, May 31, 2011

White Denim's latest is "D" bomb

White Denim - "D"
Downtown
-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."