Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Belushis - Shaker
Chained Lightning Records
- out now
3 / 5

Our hearts have been already been stolen by other Canadian rockers, which puts this Vancouver quartet in some tough competition. Taking cues from AC/DC and other classic rockers, The Belushis (love the name, by the way) pound their way through each of their dirty dozen, the way classic rock should be done. These songs don't stray too far from the time-tested formula of "sex + drugs + rock/roll," and while that isn't necessarily a bad thing, these Belushis don't have a whole lot more to add to that. When you consider what makes classic rock truly classic, it's not the simple beat or blasting guitar; it's what that rock band has that no other does. AC/DC, Guns N' Roses - inimitable vocalists. The Guess Who - un-rock song concepts. Led Zeppelin - an out-of-tune guitarist, violin bows?? Regardless, the most successful rock acts develop an instantly recognizable musical voice (has a band ever successfully written another "Battle of Evermore"?), and in this genre, you also need a brilliant vocalist. Check those classic bands above: any group nowadays would kill - probably literally - to get any of those vocalists, sober or not. As such, we don't immediately connect with the tracks here, as hard and kick-arse as they are; a few spins later, and all the 'rock out and die' anthems here are about as enduring as they're going to get. These guys aren't particularly bad or anything, but your time and money are worth something, and we can think of other ways you could better spend either of those. Take a pass on this one.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Kitty Clementine pulls out all the stops (and horns)

Kitty Clementine - Self-Titled
Clumpty Records
-out now
4 / 5

Who'd've thunk an Aussie from Sydney would bring gypsy charm and Big Easy stomp to, we don't know, rock? Big band? We're not too sure, but in either case, she's got big brass - horns - on her debut here, and how we appreciate horns. The dozen tracks here get dirty, in a foot-stomping, down-but-not-out blast-you-off-your-[butt] kinda way. It is pure pleasure being inundated with the personality, frustration and joy of this self-described "magician's daughter." Whether it's a straight-rocker like "We Should Know Better" or "It's Been Real," born from some muddy back alley in New Orleans, Clementine reels us in, hook line and sinker: she's got voice, color, and a great ear (and pen, too). And that spoken last track, "Who Be Brave," clinches it for us; how often does a musician's prose come off engaging and personal?  In short, she's got it here and in spades. Add to this the fact that you probably don't own an album this dense with character, and "Kitty Clementine" suddenly becomes an album you should check out. Totally under the radar, even for us, and certainly recommended.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ivan and Alyosha - Free Download

Okay, so we don't exactly have the album here. But allow us to introduce you to this website: NoiseTrade. We kinda like it on both fronts: helps smaller artists get out there, and helps you (the listeners) find them. For free. And if you like it and can afford a tip, more power to ya.

So then, Ivan and Alyosha have their debut full-length coming out later this year. (We're still dying to confirm a review on it, so fingers crossed.) In the meantime, head up to that website, and they'll throw an I + A sampler at you, "The Cabin Sessions." While you wait for the full-length, check out that website a bit more; some gems we've grabbed in the last year: Delta Spirit's fantastic EPs; Marketa Irglova live; Civil Wars live set. Can be a mixed bag, but it's a great way to find what you enjoy listening to.
And those albums don't stay up forever! So grab it while you can!
Peace out girlscouts,

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Best of 2011! Several months later

Hello all! We figured we'd throw out a much-belated 'best of 2011' kind of list. It is nice to figure out what music from 2011 really rocked out, with enough time for it to settle in and really prove itself, as much as an extra 6 months will allow. So, here are our picks, in no particular order:

Brown Bird - "Salt for Salt":  The now-RI duo really know how to crank into a full-on, heavy gypsy groove with their new(ish) lineup. MorganEve and David (plus the occasional friend/relative) form as tight a unit as any duo we've seen, and even though they're waaaay off the radar - and the tempo's not 100% on a song - the music here is so different and diverse, we guarantee you'll be aching for more. If you can't appreciate the dark color of "Bilgewater" et al, then perhaps you should stop listening to teenybop and just grow up already. This is what grownups listen to.

St. Vincent - "Strange Mercy": This is what grownups listen to when they want to impress other grownups. On her third full-length, "Miss Vincent" has tamed some of her wilder electronic bizarr-ity and throws in a small handful of so-called "pop" genre into the mix. One of the results is "Cruel," which is the kind of song we sink our teeth into: a blipping, blasting electronic fuzz that's fun, catchy, and singable. We absolutely love that "Strange Mercy's" lineage comes from weird songwriting (the opener is titled after an old French film) and conquers that vague space of "pop/rock" from what should be an impossible angle. Incredibly fresh.

Gillian Welch - "The Harrow and the Harvest": Just plain gorgeous. Rest of review: Welch here is a master of simple, pared-down folk. Without a doubt. The fact that a banjo, guitar, and two voices captivate us on everything from "Hard Times" to "Tennessee" is simply astonishing. The music is low-key, very understated, and grabs your heart and soul. It begs experience to appreciate it. It ages like wine. Our only regret is not rating it higher than we did.

Middle Brother - "Middle Brother": They've hit it here. It's perfect. It's fantastic country. That is to say, it swaggers: it's arrogant and insincere and touching and deep. It's that annoying a-hole who lives in the bar, and this album is that one night you listen to him and understand him for the hour. Vasquez, McCauley and Goldsmith complement each other like fire complements ice complements some other basic, essential element. It is important music of the decade, and it's so enjoyable that you'll probably not notice how brilliant it really is.

Wilco - "The Whole Love": We didn't review this one. We tried desperately to get it. So we're going to break our "end of the year" rule and throw it in the top albums - it isn't, after all, the end of the year anymore. Some other music review stated that it was their best album since "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," and even though they're as trustworthy as a music review service (think "used car salesman"), they're absolutely right. "The Whole Love" is Wilco's best album since "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot." We're not positive this latest one is a classic (you know, a classic), but considering that our favorite song on here is the devastating 12-minute closer, just give it a couple years.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Ryan Monroe's Painting doesn't paint a pretty picture

Ryan Monroe - A Painting of a Painting on Fire
RCM Records
-out now
2.5 / 5

We've got a few criteria for how we rate albums here - gut reaction, technical prowess, memory. Ultimately, when you buy an album, you want one that you'll play again and again, possibly find yourself humming a few tracks to yourself (hopefully not to your embarrassment). We were stoked to get Ryan Monroe's debut solo album (of Band of Horses fame), but honestly, we haven't spun this one up more than a few times over the same number of weeks. What gives? There's one absolute blow-out track: "Any Way, Shape, Or Deformity," which is 110% fantastic. Absolutely fun, fresh, groovy and phenomenal. But the other ten here, we can't remember a single phrase from the bunch. Not one. Those songs are passable, as in you won't severely disagree with your friend playing them in the car, but that's certainly no way to buy an album. Get that one insanely stellar track, RIGHT NOW, but as for the rest, they aren't worth the hard cash. Take a pass.