Sunday, December 22, 2013

It's coming... April 8th

It's coming this spring: our first collection of short stories! We started up a Kickstarter to get a few books out there, and here are a couple stories in the collection (again):

"The Sentence"
"The Madness of the Gods"

We're going to print a (very) limited run so that we can do something crazy: give them away. Essentially. We're going to set up a message board for the traveling books so that you can ship out your book to Nowhere, Nevada to someone who wants to read it. Hopefully not to the two unnamed women of "The Sentence." All explained in our terrible iPhone-shot video (feel free to laugh at us), though note this: at least we have on a Typhoon shirt signed by all 11 members of the band. Plus their sound engineer. Just awesome.
Take that like, share it around. We need *points* you.
On a related note, we're also taking January off, or at least mostly off. We need the time to attend to the Kickstarter! Check it out, and feel free to tell us what you think about it, either here or at our email on the blog.
Many many thanks!

And the Number One of 2013

You must've been expecting it. We definitely went out of our way to make these guys and gals feel comfortable on our blog (which is no mean feat, considering there are this many:
Riders on the hill. Sun to their backs: strategic positioning.
of them). We absolutely love the 11-piece's orchestra rock, brilliantly written, full and vast. And writing is the strength of White Lighter, Typhoon's debut full-length: it is dense and mercurial, it is writing for musicians, it is writing that bursts like a wave's crest upon the sea, it challenges and envelops. It's the reason why we gave the Portland, OR outfit our much-heralded five-of-five. With songs like "Young Fathers," the post-apocalyptic "100 Years" and "Hunger and Thirst" - each of which is about three songs in one - we find ourselves truly impressed with how far each song carries in thought and development, many of them musings on mortality (which we love, of course). Can we tell you how many times we've spun this album up? No idea, but over fifty at least. And now we're telling you to spin this one up, too. It's well worth your time, a candidate for being a classic, and not only the album of the year, but of the last couple years.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Number 2 of 2013: And Now for Something Completely Different

Lovely as stained glass: Patty Griffin's voice is nothing short of beautiful.
You know us: sometimes we jostle around the numbers and fudge them in all kinds of ways. Well, we couldn't feel good about ourselves if we gave Beware of Darkness (a 4.5/5) a higher slot than Patty Griffin's American Kid, which is just so replete with beautiful, home-spun harmonies (with Robert Plant no less) and dinner-evening storytelling that it would be criminal to go just by the numbers. Besides, maybe we could've gone a little higher on American Kid - an homage to her late Irish father - but better late than never. On her seventh album she is laid-back, gorgeous, a total mother-folker of the highest proportions; achingly sentimental on a retake of "That Kind of Lonely," and restrained on the absolutely brilliantly-written "Ohio" with said Plant. Griffin has many strengths, but here, the key word perhaps is that one, "restrained": she knows that good folk is done in breaths and meaning, not in power vocals or technical flourishes. Which is unusual for a performer with a voice like Griffin's: we had the grace of catching her on tour, and the woman has indeed got pipes - serious pipes. It's her emoting and gut that guides these songs through, that and an underlying sense of joy, too, and the combination renders us speechless. Add to that another album released in 2013, the fantastic and previously unreleased Silver Bell, and we just found a new musician to hunt after. For the folked at heart, earnest and stunning, and a necessary album of 2013.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Number 3 of '13: Rocking with (Sombrero) Style

Next it's these LA'ers that we tip our hat off to. New to the scene, with just one full-length under their belts, we're still gaga we mean crazy over their classic-rock inspired, no-holds-barred debut. Without further ado,
Palm trees in a cemetery. How very LA of you.
we present Beware of Darkness. The best way we can describe Orthodox is perhaps this: remember when you read Kafka and channeled Poe's depression while blasting an emo Robert Plant while Christian Bale (who's just intense, always intense) tells you about the time between Batman movies that he went for a drink and fought off half a dozen Yakuza? Does that work? No? Well, it's dark-themed music ("Life on Earth," "All Who Remain") that hits all the right parts of your coal-blackened soul: desperation, great lyrics and choruses, passion and yearning for hope. The trio fills out an immense sound that few five-pieces accomplish, and while it may not be the most diverse playlist, what they do (rock out) they do very very well (very well). The real test of a rock band's longevity, however, is in their songwriting, and based on these dozen tracks, we expect Beware of Darkness to do very well over the next few years. Engaging, entertaining, and while not perfect, still a highlight of 2013.

PS - We didn't even talk about "Howl"! How could we forget the Zeppelin-esque riff on "Howl"? We'll let you check out the video, definitely the track of the year. Must... hear... song...!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Our Top of the Pops (and etc.) for 2013!! Number 4:

Sexy sexy. Yes. Twice.
It's a stunning retro-throwback to disco / funky R&B sexytimes that Sean Tilman, aka Har Mar Superstar, brings on his fifth full-length, Bye Bye 17. If you couldn't tell, Mr. Tilman doesn't take himself too seriously, but we certainly have to: he's got great rhythm, good pipes and a great ear for songwriting. Check out choruses like "Restless Leg" and "Rhythm Bruises"; "Leg" is too fun to keep you from smiling, and "Bruises" hits the opposite end of the spectrum, the kind of melody that you have to sing along to and realize you're just no good at it. Oh well, it was worth the shot, yes? That doesn't even bring us to our favorite song... have you seen Prisoner? Do you want to see Prisoner? The video with Juliette Lewis? Yes, yes you do. Tilman's innate goofiness cannot possibly overshadow the absolute perfection of this track, which screams pure pleasure from his vocals to every little supporting note by the horns. If you didn't get how much we love his dual-nature, go read up on our original review, which we still stick by 100%. Now go pick up this fun, fresh and musically fertile album.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

And now! Our Belated Top Two of Two-Thousand Twelve!

Hi y'all!
So we know we kept y'all in the dark on what we though were our top favorites of 2012. To be honest, we took a bit of a respite that year, so what we've compiled is a very, very brief list. In fact, it's only technically a list, one with two entries. What were they?
After a year of listening, we have to give our primary kudos to this guy:
Pocket watch, anyone?
The folksy, Dylanesque singer-songwriter who took it all to Chicago to record his first EP, Nation of Heat, and hasn't looked back since. His 2012 full-length, The Great Despiser, is one of those rare gems that spans so much - war veterans, a world in turmoil, and a cover of "Deep Dark Wells" - with such depth and grace, that we have trouble believing he's really 30. The songs are aged, his voice spot-on, and the stories he composes compelling; The Great Despiser, while a shade off from his debut EPs, is an album that is easy to cherish in its simplicity and beauty. Check out the opener, "Ours," or just about anything on this album, as they are all fantastic.
(And let us say we also look up to his marketing techniques - giving away EPs, selling tickets directly. Mr. Pug is a listener's musician, first and foremost.)

Now on to our number two:
Lilies? You can't kick butt with them, can you?
Who ever said Canadians can't rock? We could say ripping vocals from Caitlin Dacey is what this band is about, but then we'd be forgetting the slashing guitar, those power-pumped arrangements, and the kind of pulse you'd expect from those Olympic weightlifters whose veins jut out at odd angles when they life 2.3 thousand pounds. This band does just the same: they lift 2.3 thousand pounds of pure, awesome rock. Add to that the fact that they also had been giving their music away for free (sorry, not anymore!) but suffice it to say, this will be the best five dollars you're going to spend this year. We love their music, they're personally very personable, and they're working on a new album, too, which we hope kicks Holy Crow's arse (which, itself, already kicks some serious arse). They're for fans of classic smash-your-guitar-and-possibly-head kind of rock, and if you're into Zeppelin or anything that takes no prisoners, then this is your kind of rock.

That's it for our 2012 wrap-up! Sorry it was so brief and late! Catch us this week for the top albums of 2013!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Self-Release Medwed Is Own Man on Free Man

Andrew Medwed - Free Man
-out now
3.5 / 5

The cover may not look like much, but inside Ukranian Medwed debuts a rocking, stomping sense of musicianship. We appreciate the diversity of his songs, even if we don't appreciate all of them, and the fact that he can go from garage-y swamp music to pop/rock in a track or two impresses us. We also appreciate the crafting of his songs: they're full, they're completely realized and written well. We're going to admit, there isn't anything here that surprises or astonishes us, other than the fact that this is a 100% self-release, but when we smell talent, it clogs our nostrils. Medwed has the musical potential and flexibility of half the indie releases we come across here combined (even if he does have some ways to go).

"Whiskey & Rain," the single off this album (and check out the video below) is a brilliantly executed Jack-White-ish rocker that pumps through heavy on the low-end and drives like a smoky pickup truck. Our next favorite, you ask? - would have to be "My Demons," the swampiest, garage-iest feel on the album, another Jack White-inspired track that pumps the smoke like a... a... mogwai spewing out gremlins. That sort of worked. Anyway, it's wicked and dark and delightful. One of the exceptions on this album is "Skyline," which is simply too poppy for our tastes here, and comes off too mainstream radio (ie punk-pop-ish). But still, for a full self-release, the tracks here are well-mastered, well-executed, and well worth your time.

We give Medwed our thumbs up here, and expect to see more of him in the future. And next time around, hopefully he'll give the big names more of a run for their money; recommended.

Check out the video for "Whiskey & Rain," and check out the album on Soundcloud.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Admirers Have Little to Admire on Debut

Admirers - Involuntary Memory
Ardent Music
-out now
2.5 / 5

Electro-pop Memphisians Admirers debut their dreamy near-dozen. Now, you know we love ourselves some SVIIB and dance music, but dance music that doesn't make you... well... dance? That we cannot tolerate. And yet Involuntary Memory is chock-a-block with tepid tempos, deflated beats, and just general averageness. These songs here all seem to borrow the same two-and-four beat, never changing, as reliable as the trains - moreso, jab at the MBTA. Which makes for exciting dancing, of course.

The tragedy of it all is that "Return," the opener-slash-single off the album, is really a great four-star bright pop with a super-emotive chorus. We admit, it's what drew us in initially. The next best track on here is "Rhythm Mirages," which is a whole step down: fairly satisfying, and at least it proudly declares us to "dance to the music." And after that, the rest of these tracks fall off the cliff as far as writing goes: they all blend into each other, lose their individuality, and end up as one gray mass of overcooked pasta. It's not as if they stopped trying, but Admirers stopped working hard. It takes a serious amount of effort to come off effortless; a great deal of thought to be spontaneous, and this dance album lacks both. It's a shame to get sucked in by one good song, but it's part of the music business, unfortunately.

Our excitement lasted the 4:42 of the first song and no further. This album is yet another drop in the ocean of mediocrity out there. Take a pass.

Check Admirers out on bandcamp.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sallie Does New England

Wed. 11-5-13, Columbus Theatre, Providence, RI. Doors @ 7p. $12
Thurs. 11-6-13, Lizard Lounge, Cambridge, MA. Doors @ 8. $12-14
Fri. 11-7-13, Calvin Theatre. With Mavis Staples. Northampton, MA. Doors @ 7. $25-45
She comes like a high-flying bolt of sexual rock energy. Situated in Portland, OR, Sallie Ford and her Sound Outside hit the road for their acclaimed second album, Untamed Beast, which is a mish-mash of rock, sex, and mashed potatoes. 26-year old Asheville, NC native Ms. Ford touched base with us via email to converse with us about Savador Dali, Billie Holiday, and Britney Spears.
(L to R: Ford Tennis (29), Jeffrey Munder (25), Sallie Ford, Tyler Tornfelt (25). Photo © Liz Devine)

Ravings: What bands do you feel inform your songs? I take it some of those classic power female singers (like Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, and Aretha Franklin)?
Sallie Ford: All sorts of bands inform my songs I suppose. On the first record, I loved jazz and blues. I listened to Billie Holiday, Cat Power, Regina Spektor and Etta James. Now I like some modern singers like PJ Harvey, Joan Jett and Blondie.

RM: Anything outside of music that informs your sound? Maybe a bit of Georgia O'Keefe, guessing from the cow skull on your cover?
SF: I watch a lot of film and television. I probably subconsciously get informed by the TV show Girls and I love me some Woody Allen films.
My fave artists are Egon Schiele, Salvador Dali and Frida Kahlo.
I don't read as much as I should, but I love everything by Kurt Vonnegut and Haruki Murakami.

RM: What one work do you admire endlessly? And what do you learn form it?
SF: The first time I heard the record Alice by Tom Waits I felt like it was made for me. He is just so weird and proud of it and his stories are so fantastical!

RM: There's a pretty distinctive change between this new album (Untamed Beast) and Dirty Radio. I think it's that Dirty Radio feels a bit older, a bit more like Rock and Roll, and Untamed Beast has more of a modern-sounding rock feel. What do you think it is?
SF: I think it was the sound of us growing up and becoming better musicians. I think it's a fuller sound and the genre is different, but genres have never been important to me. I plan to genre hop and bend and not let that hold me back. I hope to always keep a "rock n roll" sound, 'cause to me that's an energy level and not a specific sound.

RM: I also feel that Untamed Beast is a lot more overtly sexual. What do you think caused this dramatic shift to adding lyrics about... well... "Do Me Right," let's say?
SF: Well, on Dirty Radio, I also wrote about sex, lie "Against the Law" and even "Poison Milk." It was my idea from the beginning to write about things I like and relate with. Sex is especially fun to write about.

RM: Speaking of "Do Me Right," about those first lyrics: have you ever done the Mashed Potato?
SF: Haha, I may have done the Mashed Potato, but I can't think of what it actuall looks like. I have done a lot of swing dancing.

RM: This will likely come out of left field, but how do you draw the line between your sense of high energy and high sexuality on Untamed Beast, and that of, let's say, Miley Cyrus. I know, not a great question, and to be quite honest, I don't really know much about kid Cyrus other than she's kinda off her lid. Basically Cyrus, or Britney Spears, or other young female acts charged that way - what sets you apart?
SF: I think a lot of those pop stars have more of an "image" of sexuality than I would ever want. They are more image-driven in general.
I write music that is the voice of a modern gal. Untamed Beast was the voice of my peers and I. All of the lyrics came from a very real and honest place. One of my favorite parts of music is writing. I would never want someone else to write music for me or tell me what my image was. I like to write music that's honest and real.
I prefer Beyonce over Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus. Beyonce is proud of her sexuality, but sings a lot about being a powerful woman. I have also heard that she is her own manager and I think you can really tell by the videos she puts out that she runs the show.

RM: What kinds of games do you and the SOS play on the road? Or are you all just on your cells all the time (boring)!
SF: The boys like to play video games on their computers and I like to watch TV shows (like Seinfeld) on my computer. We have played poker together before and we drink lots of beer together.

RM: And lastly, your Public Relations guy told me your shows are intense and energetic. I caught you once at the Newport Folk Festival... but the power was out. So, on a scale of Flaming Lips (10) to Local Band's Second Show (1), where does the SOS fall? 70s Parliament Funkadelic (11)? Old Guns 'N Roses (7 with a felony assault)?
SF: Haha, I'd say we are anywhere from a 7-9 and 10 if we get real drunk. It all depends on the crowd for me. If there's a crazy crowd, I'm willing to get crazy, too.

RM: Okay, really lastly: any covers you enjoy doing for shows?
SF: We do "Whole Wide World" by Wreckless Eric and "Heart of Glass" by Blondie.

Check Sallie out on Soundcloud.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Body Parts Breath Fire on Debut

Body Parts - Fire Dream
Father/Daughter Records
-out today
3.5 / 5

Every now and then, we get completely sucked into a good dance/pop album. Fire Dream holds that kind of promise as an 80s inspired, uptempo pop album infused with catchy hooks, great choruses, and a pounding dance beat. We like it. Does it blast us out of our seat? Not quite; but the Los Angeles duo's debut does impress us with their singable songs, sexy synth, and darned groovy vocals. Fire Dream is the kind of fun you want to have when you go to the beach: no bugs or kids, cool drinks, all sun and rhythm and waves. In other words, the album is fun, enjoyable and really quite good.

One of the singles, "Be a God," is a hyper-dance beat-breaking contraption that serves only groove and send grooves. It's a great take on passionate love, it works, and it works quite well. The vocals are impeccable and infectious, and it's one of a few dance beasts on the album. Our next selection is the ballad "People"; with a simple and great guitar + bass hook, this track is more contemplative, a darker take on love falling apart. It states right away, "Maybe it's hopeless," a foil to the worshipful kind of love on "Be a God," and we love how dynamic Ryder Bach's and Alina Cutrono's songs are. The remainder of the album is strong, even though those are the two clear standouts, and in third place comes the screamin' dance beat on "Wash Over Me." Just blastin'.

If you like 80s interpretation on your modern pop, we strongly suggest picking up Body Parts. Unlike picking up actual body parts, you'll find this fun, creative, and a pure rush. Unless you're still coming off hard from your Dexter fix, in which case we still suggest you try this album out; recommended.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Not Enough Sugar in Diane Coffee Debut

Diane Coffee - My Friend Fish
Western Vinyl
- out Oct. 29
2.5 / 5

We love "Tale of a Dead Dog." It's absolutely gorgeous: with angelic vocals sings former Disney voice actor Shaun Fleming over melodic acoustic guitars. It's a truly precious song. But now-Foxygen-drummer Fleming has a whole album to fill out, and our verdict on it is less than glowing. It's not poorly executed, or dull in the writing; rather, it is simply unengaging. We have yet to find another song of the ten that gets us thinking ("Tale"), or dancing ("WWWoman"), or whatever one should be doing when you put on a song in this debut solo effort. Perhaps it was a bit early to change careers.

There are those who feel adding hot sauce makes everything better. To transplant the thought into musical terms, it's as if adding a low-fi feel to everything makes it better. We disagree on both counts, but Mr. Fleming, on the other hand, appears to be in accord with this ("Eat Your Love (with Sriracha)"). Example: "That Stupid Girl Who Runs a Lot" is so heavy on the faded vocals, that it annoys us. Example two: "All the Young Girls" also flattens the vocals, and when we hear things like that, it makes us wonder what the artist is trying to cover up. Not a whole lot here, but then again, we do feel these songs just don't come alive. They could be layered a bit more, denser. Or maybe the performances could pop a bit more. Or even the songwriting could jump out of the typical verse-chorus-verse mode. Whatever he can do, Fleming needs to kickstart to these songs and make them linger, make his listeners enjoy and unfold the songs. Give it a musical heart! As they are, the songs work, but not hard enough for our tastes.

There may be something to Diane Coffee in the near future. We're not certain; we can't predict that. But we do know "Tale of a Dead Dog" is where Fleming should be striving, and the rest of the album doesn't live up to that. Take a pass.

Listen to "Tale" right here.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Electricity Indeed on Chilton Bootleg

Alex Chilton - Electricity by Candelight
Bar None Records
-out now
4 / 5

It's a cold February night in NYC. Across from you is a legendary Memphis musician, reformed drug addict, and born-again folk singer. The lights go out - there is no electricity - and now it's you and him, back and forth, the both of you trying to discover "that perfect folk song" to round out the night. This is not perfect, this is not mastered beautifully, and it's not always the easiest to listen to. The audience and various noises overtake Chilton much of the time. What this is is one of those rare intimate moments caught on tape with Big Star's former frontman playing off the audience, taking requests, just generally enjoying himself. It is for fans of Chilton and Big Star, and here we suspect they will drown themselves in nostalgia.

By the time drummer Richard Dworkin comes in, Chilton's already onto Bossa Nova with "The Girl from Ipanema." It is safe to say there is a variety of songs here: from Beach Boys to Johnny Cash. And the performances aren't perfect, by any measure; see "Case of You," during which Chilton forgets the song and moves on. The songs are bare and beautiful ("Motel Blues"), fun ("Wouldn't it be Nice"), and special, though mostly to Big Star fans. The whole set is a gem in that sense, and while those who've never heard of Big Star (and we were one of those unfortunates, once) might simply pass this by with no further thought, do consider this release after you pick up their brilliant first album. And about his search for a perfect folk song, "If I Had a Hammer" is as perfect a way to end the night. We think you'll enjoy the improv on the lyrics in that one.

Recommended for Big Star fans. We suspect the rest of the world won't quite fall into this release, but as we do enjoy their albums, and therefore must MUST recommend it.

A four-song sampler on Soundcloud for you!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

World's End Press Not Quite Cataclysmic

World's End Press - Self-Titled
-out now
3 / 5

The Melbourne, Australian dance/pop quartet may funkify their beats on their full-length debut, but we are very picky with our funk bass. The chaps go all out, with a setlist a little over an hour, and while some of the tracks here are good, we don't find them especially brilliant. And when it comes to dance, it needs to be brilliant. The baker's dozen of tracks does show some life, and they groove right, but we don't find them to have quite enough energy or strong enough writing to truly captivate us.

Of the tracks we recommend, check out their single "Reformation Age." It has such a cool chorus that we don't mind it's not the danciest-beateriffic track on the disc. And on this disc, you will often find funkadilly-o bass ("Salvation," "Drag Me Home"), though certainly not up to the standards of Victor Wooten. Still, there are some enjoyable moments on here, some passable moments; and overall, we've found that in two weeks of listening, World's End Press does really leave much of an impression on us. It's not bad, but simply not worth the time or money, considering Franz Ferdinand's Tonight is only a couple clicks away.

So we're suggesting you pass on this debut. It's got some good things going for it, but ultimately it's not all that spectacular.

Check out the Australians on Soundcloud.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Silver Bell Rings a Different Kind of Tune

Patty Griffin - Silver Bell
A&M Records
-out now
4 / 5

Our first listen to the much-delayed Silver Bell was one of relative disappointment. Compared to American Kid, the Maine-born folk singer's latest release seemed less immediate, less pleasurable than the absolutely fantastic Kid. (Which we reviewed here.) Initially, we were thinking there was a reason it took thirteen years to get this album out there (you know, a negative reason), but again, that was our first listen. The reality of it is this: it's different. Instead of going country on Kid, Griffin splays a laid-back, down-tempo rock groove throughout. And the fact of the matter is this: it's good. It's a grower, but it's good.

Our favorite track, by and far, is "Sooner or Later;" a crooning, simple track that's just so groovy, it just blasts us away. Simplicity is beauty. And songs like "One More Girl" are deceptive: they're bare, they're dark and smoky, they're smooth like a good whiskey. These songs are direct, they're confident in their rocking, and for a third album, it's surprisingly mature. We still like American Kid and it's folksy country-ness a bit more, but Silver Bell is still quite good, just a different kind of horse.

It's got a different feel to it, but we're giving it our thumbs up. Recommended.

Listen to "Truth #2."

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Static Jacks' "In Blue" Lacks Even That Color

Static Jacks - In Blue
Fearless Records
-out now
2 / 5

This just in: the sophomore LP from Westfield, NJ rock quintet Static Jacks is more entertaining on their album cover than in their actual album. Why must we be so cruel? Let's face it: you're money is worth time, and when you spend forty minutes and fifteen bucks on a bland album like In Blue, now you know you've gotten hit twice. It's not awful and the end of the world, it's just the kind of album that leaves no impression upon us. It is not blue, or red, or even green; it is simply monochromatic, it is either playing or it's not, and there's not much difference either way.

"Horror Story," the opener, comes in and leaves like a ghost. And we don't believe in ghosts. By the time we get to "Katie Said" for the third time, it's clear that the Jacks' repertoire includes a handful of power chords, lyrics that might as well be toneless humming, and turning the amp up to eight - certainly not eleven. As badly as the band wants to be "it" (and they try all the tricks in the book), we've got to point out that the bands that stick rewrite the book. Sure, they've got "I'll Come Back," but as their strongest song, we can't find anything special about it. It sounds nice... move on. The rest of the album goes below par - not in the golf sense - especially in terms of songwriting. Like we said: we listened to this one a few times, and after each listen, there was never any reason to go back. Back to Typhoon instead!

A disappointing album, like that child who you knew was never going to be anything special and - lo and behold - turned out that way. Maybe there was a chance somewhere along the way... oh well. Send this one to the unemployment line and find a better way to spend your time.
(Gosh, we're cruel aren't we?) Take a pass.

Check out "I'll Come Back" on Soundcloud.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Deer Tick Hits Sour Note on Negativity

Deer Tick - Negativity
Partisan Records
-out tomorrow
3 / 5

The famed Providence-based rock quintet has come back. They've hit up Rolling Stone on several occasions, and make frequent pit stops on our regional radio over here, and here's the reason why: songs like "Christ Jesus," "Smith Hill," and "Ashamed." And now, on their fifth studio full-length in as many years, "The Rock." Leadman and writer John Joseph McCauley III is quickly gaining a reputation for quality (and quantity) rock - the man's been in side projects galore, including the absolutely brilliant collaboration of Middle Brother. And he's back, at least initially, but we can't lie here - McCauley's extreme prolificacy has caught up with him, at least here.

The fact of the matter is that these songs, comparatively speaking, lose their immediacy, their personal nature, closeness. "The Dream's in the Ditch" is one of these songs: a tame beat, not especially memorable lyrics, nor especially driving performances. Compared to "The Rock," where McCauley goes all out on his vocals, this album is a mixed-bag. And compared to the stunning War Elephant and Black Dirt Sessions (which was our album of the year), it means we've got to be extra harsh: you're going to want to get his first three albums far before you get to Negativity. We suspect Deer Tick fans will also find songs like "Mirror Walls" a bit plodding and not up to their usual standards of songwriting. It's simply not there, people.

So, for the first time in five years, we're suggesting you take a pass on a Deer Tick album. It's just not what its predecessors are; go through the back catalog (and Middle Brother) first.

But don't take our word. Check it out on Soundcloud.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Don't Wait on London Grammar's Debut

London Grammar - If You Wait
Columbia Records
-out now
4 / 5

It's simple, really: just have one gorgeous, haunting voice and support it with piano and light (light!) guitar, drums, and set it to simple but powerful melodies... well, now you've got the UK trio known as London Grammar. We're not usually one to nod along to such straightforward, well, bliss, but lead vocalist Hannah Reid just pulls, pulls us in, all without belting, all within a comfortable range. You can barely hear her stretching, which is all the more remarkable, considering that she makes us, the listeners, stretch. It's emotive, minimalist, direct and just unmitigated joy from edge to edge.

"Strong" is their lead single here. But if you think that their uplifting single is all they have, then be sorely mistaken. Each track has a great build, a great arc; "Sights" likely has the most developed song arc of all of them, and like half of the other tracks, is strong enough to be another single on its own. There are no throwaways here, and each track is written well; but make no mistake, we're here to enjoy Reid's voice here. This isn't one of those brilliant albums, not in a cerebral sense, but it's just pure pleasure - as music was made to be.

We're going to throw this at you as a recommendation. It's straightforward, down-tempo pop, but we just can't help but enjoy it. Check it out at the link below, then check it out at your retailer; recommended.

Check out these guys (and gal) on Soundcloud.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Brown Bird out of Touring for a Year for Medical Reasons; Need Your Help!

Hello all! Special weekend update here - While we're not always crazy about the music behind Brown Bird (they're 1-and-1 with us), we do appreciate their rough times right now. Mr. Lamb has undergone treatment for leukemia and has serious medical expenses; on top of that, he can't tour or work for a year due to recovery. Whatever you can pitch in will help:

Oh, and check out their Salt for Salt. It's worth its salt, definitely. Later!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Miniboone No Boon To Rock

Miniboone - Self-Titled
Ernest Jenning Record Co.
-out today
2.5 / 5

"I Could, I Could." Just so much fun. When the New York rock/pop quintet hit it on their debut, they really hit it. But our issue with this album is that a lot of the material is filler. There just isn't that much that begs replaying, despite the fun, vivacious style! Their tracks bleed youthfulness (often to the point of nausea); they rock out, albeit somewhat uncreatively; they shout their beliefs from the top of their lungs (the exuberance of 90s ska). And yet, there isn't really a whole lot to commend the gents here. This album simply feels like any normal rock band.

"Rollerskates" is one of those annoying, "we're young and going to complain" kind of songs that you really wish you didn't hear. Which is unfortunate; "I Could, I Could" is bright, poppy, layered fun. But time and again, Miniboone puts out a song that simply falls flat, that doesn't engage much of anything. We're thinking some of the elements just haven't lined up right: "Magic Eye" could be a real great moody piece, but comes off slow. "Gimme Gimme Gimme" isn't anthemic, but just kind of minor and unimportant. But that second great song here, "Baby, I Hope So," is that perfect groove pace, that perfect mix of laid-back and hip, drive and chorus, that we suspect there might be a second band working on the album. On the whole, however, the tracks are mediocre to plain whiny (lyrically and sometimes vocally), with two fantastic exceptions.

Therefore, on the whole, take a pass on this one. We do suggest listening to those couple tracks we pointed out (check "I Could, I Could" below), but we don't see this album being worth your ten shillings.

Miniboone's on Soundcloud! How unexpected!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Four or More!!

Nice slogan, yeah? You may have noticed some much-needed cleaning up on the links on the side; well, now you can navigate them much easier. We're going to clean up the interviews a bit later on, but the most important thing to know is our Four or More link on the right over there: it's our critically-acclaimed albums link, just on the side there. Why? So that you can sort through what we think you might like (musically speaking, anyway). It's all the stuff that we still have on our ipod, right now, even. Except for about two of them.
Hope y'all enjoy!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Paper Lions Just Another Paper Tiger

Paper Lions - My Friends
Fountain Pop Records
-out now
3 / 5

Pop-foursome Paper Lions sing clear, straightforward pop on their sophomore full-length. Hailing from Belfast, Prince Edward Island, (that's in Canada, in case you were wondering), their melodies are youthful, bright and polished, nostalgic and playful. It's not just the polaroid that reminds us of a guitar-centric Vampire Weekend - they're both pop lead by very clear male vocals. But we weren't huge fans of Contra, nor of My Friends here because these songs simply aren't dense enough, and don't quite bring their subjects to a precise and memorable point. Let's call that issue one. Issue two is the instrumentals, and we must've mentioned this before, notice the drums! they hit simple beats, which is just no fun. Half the time a melody is interesting enough to cover it up, but the other half, when the melody is bare, those drums are all you've got, and man, are they boring. The band works together, but they're not always entertaining.

Our picks here are "My Friend" and "Pull Me In." That first one shoots a clear 80s vibe on the keyboard; and then it drives right into a falsetto chorus. It's layered and produces a full sound, backing the otherwise weak-ish vocals by Rob and John MacPhee, filling out the speakers rather well. "Pull Me In" has one of those choruses that just sticks with you on random mornings, simple but fulfilling, a bit more of a rock song. The other songs here get pretty close to these two in terms of enjoyment, and they're really not awful, just not worth your 14 or however-many dollars. They play nice, they're fun, but we're kinda glad to get this one out of the way and move on to something else.

Some of the songs may be pleasant, but the whole of the album is still a disappointment. It's worth a few spins, but not really much more than that; take a pass.

Several songs on Soundcloud.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Pure Bathing Culture Flounders on Moon Tides

Pure Bathing Culture - Moon Tides
Partisan Records
-out Aug. 20
2.5 / 5

It's dream-pop the duo from Portland, OR makes here, and some of it ain't that bad. It's just that, that's all we get. The beats feel unspectacular, the vocals are good but certainly not great, and the music on the whole doesn't explore any new territory. From the point of view of "does this add something new to my collection," Moon Tides is a disappointment.

Take "Pendulum," the lead single/opener from PBC's debut full-length, and it's got a great 80's sway to it (in addition to a great chorus). But that's roughly the height here. "Ever Greener" is a drowsy half-sway in comparison, and the percussive backbone - how aggravating! - is nauseatingly light and unimaginative. We may have already said this about jazz, and sometimes it goes for rock and other genres, too: if the bass + drums are good, usually the music is good. PBC could have gotten past the lame rhythm section, but unfortunately they haven't. Especially on the rigid "Only Lonely Lovers," awkwardly puttering about.

This is yet more dream-pop for the enthusiast who can't get enough. But we're not really going to recommend it beyond that, unfortunately, as it's just too bland. Take a pass.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Typhoon's White Lighter Shines Brightly and Brilliantly

Typhoon - "White Lighter"
Roll Call Records
-out Aug. 20
5 / 5

This is it; we're calling it. The eleven-piece from Portland, OR get it right, gets it all right. Typhoon's debut full-length, White Lighter is nothing less than a epic journey through love and death and everything in between: it is brilliant, truly brilliant, dynamic, engrossing. It is rock tuned to an orchestral feel, with horns, violins, everything they can muster in almost a dozen musicians; it is rock that doesn't hold back, that goes on a journey with every song; it is rock in its highest form, vast, personal, operatic and yet humble. It is our second five of five here on the blog (the first one being almost three years ago) and while we might not get everything right, we do think we got this one right. Get it now.

"Artificial Light" is one of those stunning openers that lets us know how much this band loves music. We said dynamic, yes? - well this song is as good an example as any to show how fantastic Typhoon's writing skills are. This song drives right through, it makes you forget how many bridges you pass over, how many verses you come through, it shifts direction deftly and ably, it is a mini-suite all in five-and-a-half minute. AND THERE IS STILL MORE. "Hunger and Thirst" and "Young Fathers" are our favorites, though it took us another pleasurable listen through to make that tough decision. There is nothing extra, and every little space on this album has been filled with something small and precious. White Lighter is a grower, and by the time you piece out the lyrics from lead singer Kyle Morton, you know you've come across something rare and special. It is difficult to laud this one too much.

The whole of White Lighter is gorgeous; we got this one a month ago, and have listened to it every day since. Opinions may be opinions, but we're calling this one out to be a new classic ten years from now; and if not, it certainly has all the elements for it. Our only regrets are not having more room to talk about it; highly recommended.

Check out their Soundcloud, or just stream the whole album at NPR.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Photo Gallery: Newport Folk Fest Part III

Many sorries for the wait! Things came up, then other things came up after those, and so on and so forth: until the whole thing was one waiting carousel. Apologies!
We promised you a photo gallery of the Newport Folk Fest, and now here it is. Without further ado...

Rainy Friday at FASP. Copyright Lauren Burke

Friday morning: Last Bison. Copyright Lauren Burke

A Mountain Goat on Friday. Copyright Lauren Burke

Father John Misty on Saturday. Copyright Julie Markowitz
Also Sat.: Justin Townes Earle. Copyright Julie Markowitz

Lumineers in the crowd on Sunday. Can you spot them? Copyright Julie Markowitz
Wow! What a blast! Thanks for joining us this year, and looking forward to the next. We're gonna try to hit you with a few reviews this week, too, so keep in touch!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Top Five: Newport Folk Fest Part II

The Newport Folk Fest is an exceedingly difficult festival to cover, considering there are three main stages, two sub-stages, a little indentation in the fort for other acts... it's just a lot to cover. Trying to catch it all is nigh-impossible, or maybe wholly impossible. That's probably more accurate. So we've come up with a top five moments of the festival that we caught - if only we were an army of people planting down at each stage. Like NPR. Actually, you can still probably catch a lot of this stuff online, though unfortunately it is a tad less live. Anyway, let's start off with number five:

Orton going solo on Sunday. Copyright Julie Markowitz
There wasn't a huge turnout for Beth Orton's set, and some of the crowd seemed indifferent to her poignant lyricism and Joni Mitchel-styled guitar. We do feel she has a lot in common with the ubiquitous female folk-star, minus the wild, shifting vocals. But there is one thing we got from her set: that we like Beth Orton. She's not the most popular, and her voice is something husky, like Cat Power's Chan Marshall, but she still maintains an intensity - check her out on "Something More Beautiful" - a type of intensity that goes from soft lullaby to burning songstress and back again. It's mellow talent that she's got, something that's hard to pick out, and she's absolutely an acquired taste, but one definitely worth acquiring. We're sorry we weren't able to stick around longer.

Number four: It's in his name. You, at first, suspect it has to do with something else, someone else, maybe someone has given him a false nickname. But no, it is quite appropriate, and it sticks like glue.
And on Sunday, his mouth rests. For a minute. Copyright J Markowitz
Ramblin' Jack Elliott, you old coot. He's a man packed full of stories, and if we counted right, he got in four more of them than he did songs. We're not really sure about that, actually, but he was a hoot to listen to: stories about hitchhiking with a madman through Europe; stories about Woodie and Arlo Guthrie; stories about sailing backwards on a boat he purchased in Massachusetts; just stories, a lot of stories. Did you hear the one about the driving husky? AUGH! But you can't hold it against the man, he is, after all, quite old. He'd probably make a good grandfather with all his tangential ramblings. We'd strongly suggest checking out his set if you'd like to see how to banter with the audience; he's well-practiced at that.

Number three: We don't have a picture of this for you, because it makes for an awful picture, but Jim James' set... well. We adore his new album, and he played through quite a bit of it, for as long as we were watching. Still, something about a grown man, in a suit, dancing awkwardly with some black kerchief on his head... well, here he is minus kerchief:
Jim James, you handsome devil, you. Copyright J Markowitz.
Taking out his Sunday - erm, Saturday best, and taking out all his dance moves which is perhaps best described as waltzing with a woman-sized piece of sheetrock. Flat, I guess, is what we're trying to say. It was a bit unusual, perhaps, but Mr. James seems like an unusual (though not altogether nutty) guy. Yeah, we still like his music. Rock on, mate.

Number two: Deer Tick frontman John McCauley had a phenomenal set on Friday. Acoustic, out of his normal element: absolutely stunning. He played favorites, he played some Ellington, even played Margaritaville with his moms! All of this and more, except about the fourth song into the set - snap! - SH#T. We suspect it was one of those moments of drinker's clarity he must've had when he realized he didn't bring an extra string - or guitar, for that matter - and that he would have to chug along until someone rectified the situation. Like five songs later. Here's the chap tuning up on stage.
"I helped plan the festival, but can't plan to bring a few strings." Real quote. Copyright Lauren Burke
Poor McCauley! He asked for requests and kept having to reply "I need another string to play that one." But he managed to find a few on his five-stringer. It was our favorite of his, having seen him several times (actually, perhaps Middle Brother a couple years back...).

And number one, definitely the top dog here.
They're having just too much fun. Too much. Copyright J Markowitz
This is the Lone Bellow.
This is the audience on the Lone Bellow.
WOOOOOO! Copyright J Markowitz
Any qu- actually, this is only a couple songs in. These guys (and gal) absolutely nailed it. We were hearing all throughout the day, and the next, how the Lone Bellow absolutely killed their set on Saturday. For a band with a debut album, we were just blown away at their energy and what they whipped up in the audience. Spoiler alert: they actually got the audience...and me... to sing Edwin McCain. Folk style, yo. If it's still up YOU MUST CHECK OUT THIS SET. Here's one more shot of frontman Zach Williams inciting a riot here:
LISTEN! Does anyone have deodorant? Copyright J Markowitz
It was our first time hearing them and we came away with a signed tee... very happy.

We can't say it was the best year of the Folk Fest, we definitely can't say that. But was it worth our money? Certainly. This year was more a year of discovering new acts; and while all of them weren't great acts, we came away exhausted and pleased. Here's to a great Folk Fest, and we're going to dump some photos on you tomorrow. Hope you enjoy!
-Mgmt. +2

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ain't Misbehavin': Newport Folk Fest Part I

Our photographer is a bit more traveled than we are; she tells us of the wonders of the Beale Street Music Festival: rain, mud, general ruckus. By which we mean copious booze (and various smokables), drunks, total craziness... in short, one heck of a wild party. But we wouldn't know. We've never been.
Friday was a rainy day, mud and grumpy weather. People kept wearing these:
Another beautiful day! Copyright Lauren Burke
but didn't wear their crazy-masks. Or Victorian makeup or viking helmets or things like that, just there was no (or very little) craziness. No drunks shouting "Free Bird." They were quite sober, we assure you.

Saturday we were chillin', catching Justin Townes Earle, chillin' next to a Bostonite who'd been to the festival for at least ten years (maybe more, memory gets foggy). We didn't get him at all - we mean, at all - but we, photographer and I, caught up on past festivals, current festival, construction in Boston (bleh!), things, we tell you, just things in general. It was something Kerouac might have shined upon. Could that kind of thing happen at a Beale Street? Could you just sit down with someone you've never met and shoot the sh-err, crap, have a good time set to music?

Sunday, before the Wheeler Bros. took stage, we watched a couple of 20-something guys play with a baby, maybe two at the most. Whatever was in her hands - a pair of sunglasses, a bead bracelet - she kept smiling to the two guys and gave it to them. They took it well and didn't ebay the items, giving them back to her mother, who gave them back to the baby, who gave them back to the guys (who couldn't help but crack up at all this), and all you have to do is step outside and ask yourself: who'd bring a baby to a music festival? And what kind of festivals are good for that? Newport is first and foremost a local festival - just ignore the fact that we get Calexico and Feist and My Morning Jacket, other national acts - and consider that for a second. Part of the lineup has always been local - Newport Homegrown, John McCauley, the Low Anthem - but moreso than that, the NFF is a neighborhood festival. "Hi Neighbor," one might say, "have a folk fest!"
(That's the Narragansette Beer slogan, for those not in the know.)

And the NFF is more than local, too, it's a neighborhood festival; it's neighbor-to-neighbor interaction, whether you've been going for ten years or you're a newcomer. Whether you're on stage, in front of the stage, or behind it. It's where you can tell one of the guitarists from Nicki Bluhm's set what a kick-arse job he did (and no, it wasn't us, we were too slow to catch him!) while he passes by the local crafts tents. It's a different kind of festival, it's where you can chat up the Lone Bellow and rattle off in your head a quick approximation of their one-night drive from Atlanta to Newport (which is just crazy, even in relation to touring); where you can find a musician busking a few dozen feet from the stage, after his set (this time he only drew four people or so); where there's a collective sigh of relief during the final act, when musicians and stage crew alike congratulate each other on another successful weekend. It's not savage and crazy, fun without restraint, and we're not going to say it's the only way, or even the best way to take in live music. But we will say it's the most communal, it's not the typical "us and them" of music creators vs. music consumers. We will say that it's our favorite way to take it in, to be part of the experience and not a hindrance to it. We will say we like our part in it, as a tiny little music blog that covers these two-and-a-half days of the year.

And we will say this: our thanks to the people who perform, publicize, and put it together. You know the first two, so here's a quick reminder of production and volunteers:
Techs, specs and mus-eck on Sunday. Copyright Me
And of course, thanks to the festival-goers, who are quite groovy to chill by during Justin Townes Earle, even if he is completely above our head. Hopefully you'll enjoy our coverage. Speaking of which, join us later this week to get all the highlights of the Fest! Later gators,

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Dessa Flows on Sophisticated Parts of Speech

Dessa - Parts of Speech
Doomtree Records
-out now
4 / 5

We don't often cover rap, but we'll make an exception for this intelligent Minnesotan. Citing Greek mythology on her previous release, Castor, The Twin, Dessa makes full use of her Philosophy major in her music, paying special attention to lyricism and individual words. What she has on her third full-length, then, is more than just an intellectual discourse: there are real beats, real songs, and real grooves. Dessa shuns the crass "b**ches and hoes" rap for meaningful stories about ordinary people, if you couldn't tell by our description, and more power that it works so well.

"Fighting Fish" and "Warsaw" set her rap voice full tilt. "Fish" song burns right through, the hardest rapping of the album, and juxtaposing the verses with a sung chorus works brilliantly: no vocal fatigue, a nice release to the deep beats. "Warsaw" is as close as the album gets to looping anything, and even this mixes it up pretty well. We're going to mention that, even though we're calling this a rap album, and that Dessa is a rapper, it's probably more accurate to call this one "hybrid rap," should that exist; many of the vocals are sung, and there is actual instrumentation instead of beat machines. "It's Only Me" is further evidence of that, beautiful evidence at the very least, with strings and acoustic bass supporting her vocals. While the sense of music here still values rap and rhythm highly, certainly we're not going to fault her for a philosophical point (one that Dessa would likely win); this album takes the high points of each genre, and makes them flow effortlessly.

It's new. It's smart. It's rap that anti-rap listeners will appreciate. We like the sense of style here, the confidence, and the lack of stuffiness. It works, and it works well. Recommended.

Give it a listen on bandcamp.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Artwork for Keeper of Dreams Unveiled

So we've got a non-music announcement first: we're unveiling the cover art of The Keeper of Dreams: A Dozen Stories and Poems, beautifully done by RISD grad Matthew Vidalis (link to site right here). We don't have a release date for it yet, but it will likely be sometime in Nov.-Dec. Pretty sweet-looking, no?

Let's put up some links to stories, too: "The Madness of the Gods," penultimate draft, we should say; and "The Sentence," which is not for the faint of heart. The collection is a mix of flash-fiction, poetry, and, of course, short stories of various lengths. We'll keep you updated on it over the next few weeks.

Music announcement: there's still one day of the Newport Folk Festival available! Get your tics for Friday, and get out of work early - Elizabeth Mitchell starts at 1:00 in the Family Tent, other music starts at 2:25. Feist, John McCauley (ie Deer Tick), and The Low Anthem's local revue all hit our spotlight, and even though you can't hit tics to the truly amazing Saturday and Sunday shows, at least this will tide you over a bit. Hope to see you this coming weekend!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Fluffer's Debut a Bit Too Fuzzy

Fluffer - "Skopsi"
-out now
3 / 5

Bloomington, IN psychedelic rock trio Fluffer make a supreme effort here on their debut full-length. They've got their songs down, set up the drum set, and get rolling right into the thick of rock; they pound through almost a dozen, but despite their energy, we have trouble finding them compelling. They've written them well enough (see the rumbling, tumbling "Relic"), and they're spot-on with their instruments, but the songs here largely don't click with us. Compulsion is that element that takes a shrieking weird vocal and turns it into AC/DC classics, and we think that's the weakest point here: these vocals just don't elevate the instrumental part of the music, which is how these songs are written. Compare to Led Zeppelin or Guns and Roses, where Page-slash-Slash are equal parts in the songcrafting. Rock can rely on the vocals, but not somewhat limp ones.

Back to the song construction: "Relic" and "Southpaw" are rather epic, actually, when you break down the elements. They travel a long way from their initial theme, and in more capable hands, they could be absolutely brilliant. But the songs lack clear hooks, or at least memorable ones, leaving the pressure on the aforementioned vocals. So is it really bad? No, not really. The elements are there, almost all of them, but they haven't gelled quite. There are moments - the brief solos, like in "The Foundry" - where things come together, but we think the trio suffers perhaps 20% from playing for themselves, not for their audience. There is a roughness to it that we suspect some of our audience may enjoy, something of a "I'm going to play this and you're going to listen" to it, and for that, it's not too bad; but will you listen to this more than a dozen times? Even that? Likely not.

So they may not be the next Jim James, and we're not really crazy about it. We will say it is pretty good for a free album, though, and here's to hoping the next one knocks us off our feet.

Come download it on their bandcamp for free!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Har Mar a Superstar on Fifth Full-Length

Har Mar Superstar - "Bye Bye 17"
Cult Records
-out now
4 / 5

Don't be put off by the unappetizing white dude on the cover: Sean Tillman, aka the Superstar, aka guy who looks like he lives in his mother's basement, has an uncanny sense of retro-funk-soul in his soul. He'd fit somewhere between Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones on the retro-soul label Daptone - due to alphabetical sorting - and would do it with style, playfulness, sheer joy. Bye Bye 17, which clocks in just under 30 minutes, is quick but oh-so-good, is funky, down-to-earth, is indeed a white male Sharon Jones, does indeed channel Motown and groove with the best of them.

What's our favorite tune, you ask? It must be "Prisoner," a pure funk-blast of almost disco-stomping beats that strips us of the misconception that white men can't soul with the best of them. "Prisoner" is Tillman at his finest, but to say that is all he has to offer is disingenuous: the opener, "Lady You Shot Me," must be the single best powerhouse soundtrack for our imaginary movie about Lee Morgan, and add to that the infectious pop-infused, effortless "Restless Leg." There is much to recommend this album, not the least of which is the sheer variety of sound Har Mar's displayed here, in addition to the fun, sub-Sharon Jones (yet still quite powerful) vocals. These songs twist around a bit more, too, often whipping us around 180 degrees at the chorus - check out "We Don't Sleep" for what we're talking about. It's great, it's blissful fun, it's well-performed and doesn't take itself overly serious. It's what music is all about, except that it's a bit short... sigh...

We highly recommend you pick up this album. It's a great one for the speakers or the car, and we trust you'll enjoy Har Mar Superstar even if you think classic soul is all about crooning for love; fun, a lot of variety, and just a blast.

We've got links to "Lady You Shot Me," and more "Har Mar" on Soundcloud.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Rhye Crafts a Beautiful "Woman"

Rhye - "Woman"
Universal Republic
-out now
4 / 5

It takes an international duo - Canadian Mike Milosh and Danish Robin Hannibal - to make a great, understated symphonic pop album. Woman is all of these things and more: svelt, chic, gliding with controlled, velvety falsettos, minimalistic strings and piano. It is a brilliant debut from the now-L.A.'ers, with each song a lament of love, a sexy, adult take on subdued, smoldering passion. It's Rhye's understatement that sells these tracks, that makes them mature and relatable, each a masterful understanding of love; as opposed to crooning, over-the-top power-pop junk. These are the kind of songs that are good for more than a fad's lifetime.

If we were to describe how "Open" opens the album, you'd think it'd be ostentatious: horns (trumpets, trombones), strings, harp fading into finger-clicks. It's not (check out track below). What Rhye has done is toned everything down, given space for everything that they want in the track, and reduced it yet again. It's love for the thinkers, for the idle dreamers who sit and wonder. By the time they get to the upbeat, 80s hook of "3 Days," you haven't noticed they're taken it up a notch. It's subtle work they've done here, and while it's hard to point out two tracks that rise above the rest, we're going to say "Open" and the day-dreamy "One of those Summer Days" marks high upon our list. We're being modest in giving it only 4 of 5.

Woman is everything a love album should be: quiet, introspective, powerful. Rhye shows true restraint, yet with enough room for appropriate embellishment, and the end result is an album (we hate to use the word) utterly unique. The opposite of Marvin Gaye and yet just as seductive; highly recommended.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Book News! Flash Fiction and Stories and Poems, oh my!

Some of you who are especially astute may have noticed something different about the website. Look close. Closer. No, back up a bit, you're going to hit your forehead. It's at the top: we've got a dedicated fan page on Facebook! Why is this, you may ask? Well, we're going to release our collection of short stories and poems sometime this year, and we're making space for you to enjoy/ponder/criticize and despise said stories. Go check it out! We've got a couple stories posted up there right now, and hopefully they'll foment discussion such as: what is the proper way to execute a heinous criminal. And: what is that stuff they use to clean everything in a barbershop. All kinds of things you'll learn (though not that last answer)! Check back there for updates, because when we get the final draft, we'll be GIVING IT AWAY before sale! So be the first on the ground floor, though don't slip to get there! Now go and like us because we like you. Really. Thanks!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Rathborne Is "Soft" on Songcrafting on Debut

Rathborne - "Soft"
-out July 2
 2 / 5

We're not entirely sure where to classify Brooklyn, NY Luke Rathborne's debut full-length, but we think we can safely place it somewhere between rock and pop. It's very indie, certainly, and doesn't conform to the rules of the 3-minute pop song. These almost dozen songs have all the weaknesses of each genre: pop's simple structure, rock's straightforward execution. The execution of the almost-dozen songs also falters: the drums are indeed rock drums, and very basic hits, and the musical voice Rathborne has developed is as bland as his actual voice. It's easy to blame the young Rathborne for the weakness in song structures... and that's exactly what we're going to do. They're weak, they don't pull in with hooks and choruses, and they're just not compelling. But it's a double-team with the performances here, and a really great band could have taken these songs and made them lo-fi hits.

The two tracks we appreciate are the lead single "Last Forgiven," one of those urgent, three-minute pop songs, and the down-tempo  "Little Moment." Last things first: "Little Moment" is the odd man in the room, a slow song in a sea of quick pop-influenced tracks. It lacks that annoying percussion, and gives Rathborne room and time for his vocals to develop softer and fuller. It's quite good. "Last Forgiven" is the pop song that the rest of the album should have been: simple, up front, and, finally, a great chorus. The potential is there, but we think Rathborne just isn't ready for a full-length yet.

To sum up: dull song construction and poor performances make this one of those lame albums you can avoid. Take two good songs and leave the rest far behind: take a pass.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Today's a Good Day to Believe in Royal Canoe's Debut

Royal Canoe - "Today We're Believers"
 Roll Call Records
-out June 25
3.5 / 5

Take a sextet (tee hee) of Canadians, add strings and horns, and blend with pop until finely pureed: what do you get? Probably some sort of orchestral pop close to that of Royal Canoe. The Winnepeg, Manitobans have a winning combination on their debut full-length, one that combines deep, Megatron-like robotic voices, shouts, aforementioned strings and horns, claps, and just general joyousness; it's not unlike that raucous, singing frat party next door, but far less obnoxious and far more cultured. They shine splendidly, they keep their cool, they groove like snow tires on the open pavement, and most of all, they do it all brand-new. That is to say, they keep it fresh.

While we're not going to say Canoe is brilliant, they are confident and outgoing. On "Hold On to the Metal," they've got rhythm, and they definitely got music. Throughout the Today We're Believers, they play with rhythms and pop not unlike Dutch Uncles (who we really like, by the way), and all we're going to say is that some of the tracks are great, and some are just above-average. As in they sound good, but there's not quite that connection that bands like Deer Tick and Yim Yames always seem to get. But even though this music doesn't quite stick, it's still a lot of fun to sit back and get pulled through one like "Bathtubs," which opens up into a full on blasting chorus. Yeah, we think that's a good word to describe Canoe. Fun.

So have some fun with their incredibly layered sound. We think these guys know what they're doing already, and will only get better in the coming years. Not a necessary album, but enjoyable and recommended.

Come listen to a few tracks on Soundcloud.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Not Enough Matter on Dave Nelligan Thing's Dark Matters

The Dave Nelligan Thing - "Dark Matters"
-out now
2.5 / 5

The folk-pop that is the Dave Nelligan Thing reminds us of Chris Knox for some reason. The vocals are different, and Knox is a bit more outgoing in the instrumentals, but in both there is something organic, low-fi, self-described DIY, somehow. It's playful, it's unusual, it's that strange kid in the back of class who draws pictures of chocolate tribbles because the idea amuses him. And that's what we get from Dark Matters, the first album under The Dave Nelligan Thing from the Cork, Irelander. It's an unusual journey, but not necessarily one worth repeating.

We think the main strike against this album is the vocals. Mr. Nelligan isn't the strongest singer, and therefore for each song he must double/ triple up his vocals to give them some weight. His voice has something of a drone to it, and adding a few more layers of that only exacerbates the problem. Now, true, this isn't an album that lives or dies by the quality of the vocals; it's very dependent on lyrics and songwriting. And there, the Thing is passable. You get strange snippets of concepts, like "Hell Is a Waiting Room," the main idea of which is pretty self-explanatory; strange lyrics, "My head's full of marbles rolling around" (from "Feelings Unlike Words"). It's not quite up to Jim O'Rourke standards, and not as poetic as Wilco, but it's striving for the same thing. Sonically, it's hit or miss: "Noughts and Crosses" works, and "Dark Matter" is just too esoteric to really relax as a song. Again, we think stronger vocals would help open up these songs a lot, and likely "Been Burned" works the best of the bunch.

For a total indie, it's a good effort. There are serious decisions made lyrically and in the direction of the music. But we don't feel The Thing is at the level of some-Thing you absolutely should hear. We've still got a link at the bottom, so try a couple songs; otherwise, take a pass.

Check out the full album on the bandcamp page.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Treetop Flyers Don't Shake the Earth with "Moutain Moves"

Treetop Flyers - "The Mountain Moves"
Partisan Records
-out June 25
3 / 5

We think Treetop Flyers wins the "sounds most like Fleet Foxes" award this year. It's all about that opener for us, "Things Will Change," with its cheery guitar and constrained harmonies, acoustic perfection. Where, then, have all the pieces gone after that song? That's the question we'd like to put to the London quintet, because the rest of what they've presented here is merely average teetering on just above, passable but certainly not exceptional. They dropped the ball! And that's dangerous to do from the treetops.

To compare to the Foxes, both debuts use similar instrumentation, talent and song stylings (vocal-driven, harmonies, folk skeleton). In fact, if we were to get a computer to analyze the two, it'd probably put them on an level playing field. But they're not. What do the Flyers lack? It's that rare quintessence of music, it's the reason why we listen to music: the why. "Why" puts pure joy into performances, it makes a flatly written song engaging, it gives drive and purpose; and, no, while the gents do not lack this altogether, they lack so much of it that what could have been a brilliant album is simply... meh. Shrug. Compare the opener to "Postcards." The latter should be on the same level: it's strange, it's got shoobie do-wahs, it's new and inclusive of older styles, but they don't pump it with the same kind of lifeblood, and therefore it doesn't breathe and flex and show how great it really should be. Maybe they got tired, or maybe they got lucky with the first track. In any case, we're disappointed to have an okay album here.

The Mountain Moves does all those boring expected things a folk/pop album should do. We suspect you'll pick up on this, too, and we just have to give it a pass.

Check out many songs on their soundcloud page!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

And a new look!

Come check it out! Nice, huh? Thought we'd surprise you and all. Yes, those are our records (impeccable collection, no?). Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

More Ravings for Ya - About the Blog

Hello ones and all!
We just wanted to address some things about our blog. Yes, it's been a good three or so years of running it, and we still haven't really addressed y'all that well about how we go about doing things. So better late than never, though in this case maybe never would come off cooler.

So then, the stars (actually they're just numbers): we feel that an album must be above and beyond average to merit your time. Hence, 3 un-stars doesn't cut it, but 3.5 just barely does. We often award around the 2.5- 3.5 range because we've found that most albums, by and large, are somewhere in the average range - slightly above or slightly below. Why do we do this? Furthermore, why do we feel this is right? We've found that, with all this fancy-schmancy producing and mastering-trickery, that most songs tend not to go too low on the listenability scale. We get a lot of music through, and for the most part, we're not getting the kind of stuff where someone flatulates (yes, that is not a real word) on a low-quality mic and loops it 1700 times for a five-minute track. It is almost always a high-quality mic.

Number two: we get a whole lot more emails than you can shake a recording stick at. At least fifty a day on weekdays. So we go through and listen to singles, drop the ones that really don't interest us, attempt to enjoy the ones that mildly do, and spring for the very very few that we think are worth our time. If we could, we would find the time to review everything that comes our way. But we don't get paid for it, save in music, so we're going to try to get the best music we can with as limited time as we've got. So when you see something panned like that review of The Features (which we held such high hopes for!) it's often there because the single was great, but the rest of the album just sucked upon delivery. We also get the occasional ultra-indie band doing their own PR, (that's Public Relations, the people who intermediary for bands and magazines), and we try to do all the full-length albums the small guys send our way. We've found a couple (Bella Clava, Bury Me a Lion) that were worth our time.

So what is our feeling on reviewing? We feel a lot of music is just plain average right now. It's mixed and put together well enough that none of it - or very little - is truly pathetic, and that it generally satisfies some sort of itch that someone out there might have. But ultimately, if a lot of the stuff is average, you're still only going to have $7.39 and two worn buttons to spend on music for a year (if you're like us). So we want to put all that average stuff aside, and get you to listen to the above-above average albums, stuff like Dutch Uncles and Beware of Darkness. That's where we feel we do a service to you guys. And gals.

But we want to hear more from you! Is there anything you want us to review? We'll do it (granted that the album comes in)! Are there reviews that you felt were unfair, or just way off-target? Well, you're wrong, but let us know about them anyway! We know we're not charging you a thing - money or time spent on ads that aren't there - but we want to get you the best reviews that we possibly can, and that starts with your input. Where else do you go? What do we do right/wrong/really really right? What are the most efficient ratios of the sides of an isoceles triangle to maximize area given a limited perimeter? (That one's tricky - it's an equilateral triangle!) So feel free to give us your feedback in any form, and we're generally sad enough to respond individually to all of you. Each and every one.

We know we don't have the pull of a Paste or Elmore, but where we feel we do better is that we don't laud every crummy little indie band that's out there. Seriously. Haven't you noticed that almost everything covered on Pitchfork is transcendent and brilliant and illuminating and really pretty good? That's really not the case, especially if you have less than infinite money to spend on music. (That and a lot of places just post up all those PR releases that we get, too - way to be impartial.) Go forth, support your indie blogs, and find good music, young man. And young woman, too.