Thursday, January 31, 2013

Schnauss' "Fall" a slight stumble

Ulrich Schnauss - "A Long Way to Fall"
Domino Records
- out Feb. 12
3 / 5

We're not often to come upon electronic artists, but Berlin's Ulrich Schnauss has a few things going for him that we do appreciate: a sprawling sense of musical arch, the development of his sonic concepts, musical depth. Schnauss takes care that his songs arrive at a completed moment, aren't just silly snippets; but, of course, this is expected when the tracks are 6 min on average. We should say the whole excursion of A Long Way to Fall clocks in half a moment over an hour, so at the very least you're getting your musical quantity.

It is difficult for us to come at this type of album with less familiarity in electronic music than our favored indie rock. We admit this. But there are clearly things Schnauss does right here; the melding textures, the balance of his layers (not overwhelming, just the right amount). "Her and the Sea" is a prime example of when he's "tuned in" to his muse: playful, quietly majestic, bells and synth and various percussion. His music, at its strongest, evokes very clear images (some sort of fish, perhaps a Mermaid) and does it so clearly it's bliss. It crosses over boundaries; it forms in the gut. But at his weakest, such as "A Long Way to Fall," and his music stops searching; a build, more layering, but no further development of his initial premise. "I Take Comfort in Your Ignorance" fails, too, in that it gets harder but doesn't move from where it started. The result here is, instead of fluid imagery, he paints a very static image, cutting out potential dimensions and musical direction. This occurs a handful of times on the album, where his climax is essentially reached within the first phrase, and it lends a morose, dragging quality, frustrating us much too often.

Again, we're naturally biased in some ways (can't be helped!), and we can see diehards digging into this kind of stuff. It's long form, lush, and engaging (mostly). But we've got other considerations, such as our lovely general indie audience (whom we love) as well as the more sophisticated listeners who need a deep, satisfying fix of electronic music (it's not quite one). So then, take a pass.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Unknown Mortal Orchestra are only mortal on number two

Unknown Mortal Orchestra - "II"
-out Feb. 5
3 / 5

There's a subdued simplicity about II, the second full-length from New Zealand trio Unknown Mortal Orchestra. A simple backbeat, half-hushed vocals, one guitar hook and a chorus; somehow all this suffices for "So Good at Being in Trouble," a crazily simple track that can easily fly under the radar the first few listens. The chaps stamp this almost shy approach on each track, sort of an unconscious decision to hold back, ultra lo-fi, and this is their greatest asset as well as hindrance. It gives II the distinction of not trying to try, almost to the point of pain.

"One at a Time" is an exception to the rule; the funk rules it, seeps through despite the low-seeming production values, and this is how their music works at its best: good songwriting bleeding through all the lo-fi. It works for good punk, and it's what's supposed to work here. One track later, "The Opposite of Afternoon" is the opposite of what they should be doing: it's superimposed in lo-fi, it drowns in the deluge and can't come back up for air. It's a throw-away, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra has a few of these throughout this album, as well as a few more standouts.

It's wobbly terrain here. The Orchestra, which is really just guitar, bass and drums set to vocals, is maybe a bit too set on their sound when they need to really have standout knockout songs; which they do, just not an album's worth. We're going to add "Faded in the Morning" to the list of great tracks, and leave it there; otherwise, take a pass on this sophomore.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Emergency Newport Folk Festival 2013 Annoucement!!

We know it's way early to be hitting up the NFF annoucements, but we got a panicked email from their PR. It goes something like this:

"Newport Folk Festival 2013 is on its way to a complete sell out! While we could not be happier in the incredible faith shown to us by our devoted fans, something occurred to us: we did this without a lineup announcement and without a single press release."

Ack! We weren't prepared for musical Armageddon quite yet, and we're struggling coming up with ways to make you look at those tickets without a lineup. Waa-waah.

But we have come up with this:

This is Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes' fame (Sat. 2012), and he wants you to prevent forest fires, we mean, he wants you to remember all the good times we've had. And probably he doesn't like forest fires, either.
We've been cracking this nut for a few years, and while it's difficult to put together our topmost highlights of each year, we've got some that definitely crack the top five. 2012, let's get going:

- We met up with M. Ward! He's a very, very busy guy. Just about every second someone was talking to him, and for three of those seconds, it was us! We wanted him to sign our shirt, and he was polite without trying to run in how little time he had for shenanigans. We felt, needless to say, a bit jerkish. What the heck, though, how often do you meet M. Ward?

2011 - Johnny Corndawg made us out for a member of Trampled by Turtles. He wanted tour info. It was all the beard stuff. That made us pretty stoked. (No, we didn't actually string him along, unfortunately).

Another one, why not. Sallie Ford signed an album for our onetime photographer, Allie Runnion. She wrote out her name, and paused for a second (cause it was spelled almost exactly the same). Kinda cute, we say.

2010 -Meeting up with Andrew Bird, who is a weird cat. Unusual. Seems like the kind of person who might prefer the company of fellow birds a bit more, but he is congenial on the phone. He, naturally, had no memory of our phone interview, though we can't really fault a busy guy for that.

2009 - Fleet Foxes on stage. These guys are seriously bearded. While between songs, some (obviously) crazy woman yells out "I want to live in your beard!" Not that she couldn't, but, you know, you kinda need to know someone a bit before you let them live in your beard.

2008 - We met up with Convertino and Burns and the rest of the Calexico crew, and we asked them to sign our shirt (still have it!). One of them did the right breast area, and the other, we believe Joey Burns, reflected his sig on the left. They were totally stoked about the giant, childish "CHAN" from Chan Marshall on the bottom.
(Oh yeah, remember this little article from the Mercury?)

Remember the good times we had? The lineup these past couple years has been as strong as it's ever been, and, yes, we're trying to sell you on a mystery package, but also yes, it has been fantastic in the past and it's ALMOST SOLD OUT. The past couple years will attest to why that is. Check out our reviews here, it's really a fantastic melting-pot festival, and we hope you'll give it a looksee. Peace, love, and music,

Monday, January 21, 2013

Dreary debut by Adam Green and Binki Shapiro

Adam Green and Binki Shapiro - Self-Titled
Rounder Records
-out Jan. 29
2 / 5

The Civil Wars. Slow Club. The White Stripes (though they're related). There are certain dynamics that come out in a guy-girl duo, whether you're singing ballads or slashing rock, and on Mr. Green's and Ms. Shapiro's debut here, we're just not getting that. We're not saying they have to kiss or anything crazy like that, but there's such tepid chemistry in their music together that we wonder if we're missing something big here. We're also going to fault Adam with some of that in particular: his unemotive baritone is frustratingly bland. Binki isn't exceptional here, but better, though the end result is we're left with such songs as "Casanova" and "Just to Make You Feel Good," both of which plod around like annoyed hippos. We suspect they're trying to work some strange vocal dissonance vibe between their two vastly differing styles, but all we're left with is a bit of a shrug and a question mark. What keeps these two making music together? They're cute, we guess. We haven't more to say on this, though Slow Club did get off to a slow start with their debut, and we hope this duo's next one picks up some serious traction. Take a pass.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Almanac a sore chapter for Widowspeak

Widowspeak - "Almanac"
Captured Tracks
-out Jan. 22
2 / 5

Rock and Roll duo Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas roll out their second album here, a dreamy-sounding, laid-back rocking affair. While they have a flair for awesome western-frontier enrobement (as evidenced by their cover), we're not huge fans of their rocking and rolling here. The tracks have enough solid guitarwork to recommend that aspect, as on the opener "Perennials" and "The Dark Age," but we have to fault the sweet lass on lackluster vocals; a Stevie Nicks she is not. She comes off dull instead of sparkly-dreamy, and her voice doesn't pull us in, entice, make us wonder what else is going on. And while we admit our rather offensive preference for more stuff of a more rollicking nature, perhaps Widowspeak could have used some of that here. The album we have here is a chill one that doesn't gel, not confident but slow and dreary, and overall uninspired. Which is a shame, because we really like vests with watch-pockets. In any case, we'll recommend you take a pass on this surprisingly tame release.

Stream the album most conveniently at NPR.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Trixie Whitley solo debut doesn't turn the Fourth Corner

Trixie Whitley - "Fourth Corner"
Strong Blood Records
-out Jan. 29
3 / 5

The opener captivates us: "Irene," a metallic, steam-engine of a track hits all the right notes that a power female vocalist should - passion, drive, soul. Belgium-born Whitley has a strong voice and presence on her debut solo, intimate, immediate, and capable, but we're going to shy from giving it our full-on approval. Yes, she's got pipes, and yes, she knows how to use them; yet, as good as her performances here, we feel she's a bit too in control. These songs are here to showcase her vocals, which are composed of equal parts wisdom and wild. So then she shorts us half: where are the shrieks, the nigh-screams, faintness of breath, total loss of control? Whitley is more than capable of belting one out, but we need to see her go just half a step more, to the places that shake her core, because it's not enough to just shake the earth for its sake. Fourth Corner comes short of something fantastic, though we'll keep her eye on her for next time; take an unfortunate pass.

Take a listen to "Breathe You In My Dreams."

Monday, January 7, 2013

Give in to On an On's dreamy pop-debut

On an On - "Give In"
Roll Call Records
-out Jan. 29
3.5 / 5

As much as we held out against On an On's debut, our will has finally collapsed and we are officially fans of the Chicago electronic pop group. It's slow, dreamy, at times celestial-inspired pop that comes on more subtly than our usual bang-a-drum rock tastes, but that's a good thing. Those tastes are somehow sated with the ELO-tinged vocals on "The Hunter," a joyous, bang-a-drum pop song that seems like it should be slow as molasses, but blasts smoky, infectious sound wrapping us not unlike a pig in a blanket. Much of the rest of the album is half a notch down, energy-wise, but the trio still charms us through tracks like the blaring "Bad Mythology" and "Cops," which has a subterranean feel, should that make sense. We do wish On an On had a stronger personality in their songs, perhaps something weirder and more idiosyncratic, as it's hard quite to piece down what exactly their style is and what makes them innovative; but their effort here is strong enough that we can (and will) recommend this release.

Watch the video of "Ghosts" on their website.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Dutch Uncles in touch with good pop

Dutch Uncles - Out of Touch in the Wild
Memphis Industries
-out Jan. 14 (UK)
4 / 5

We're glad that the first album of the new year comes from the fresh and funky Brits Dutch Uncles. It's a shame that these guys are all the way over on the other side of the Atlantic, but we're suggesting that you make that trip, especially if you're a fan of  electronic orchestral pop. Like Field Music (and last year's Plumb) expect a smattering of electronica, strings and other traditional instruments, funky rhythms, and a general brightness in music making. Take all these, and shake - not stir - and they come up with pop gems like "Fester," a xylophone-loving off-kilter piece. The Uncles make vivacious, quirky arrangements more straightfoward than the more experimental Field Music, but that doesn't make us love them any less: all that extra freshness and groove comes off light and airy, like a more sophisticated ELO. We greatly appreciate their bright color and sheer joy, culminating in "Flexxin," even if we don't quite get their rationale behind their song titles. Get that song down at the link below, and be not disappointed; recommended.

Take a quick trip to the UK right here.