Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Brown Bird's Third Lacks Fits of Passion

Brown Bird - "Fits of Reason"
Supply and Demand
-out April 2
3 / 5

This is the Providence duo's third album; the one following our favorite Salt for Salt in 2011. Brown Bird has finally come back, thank God or that horned creature that keeps showing up on their album covers, and while we're glad they're back for another go at their Eastern-European influenced folk, Fits of Reason deflates our excitement. There are a few changes between Fits and Salt; here, there's the addition of electric guitar, and their sound goes more to European fiddling than the distinguished Americana of their previous album. First, our verdict on the guitar: too much. Brown Bird employs said fiddle and upright bass, and the guitar generally overpowers these and the vocals; it isn't in balance with the swinging gypsy-ness that they're trying to pull off. The slight departure from Americana would be acceptable, except we find them too often downtempo and not really stretching their vocals.

That's our main complaint: check out "Barren Lakes," with that guitar drowning out the acoustic parts, but also check out that MorganEve Swain and Dave Lamb don't really give this music a heavy go. Salt for Salt was thick with emotion, but on "Barren Lakes," the vocals are merely par. The album as a whole lacks their previously great vocal-dynamics, which is one of the main reasons to recommend their music. Without stretching their range, or even stretching their guts on this one, the flavorful writing of the tracks fall flat; they pass by without heart or soul, like errant ghosts. "Iblis" is one of the more successful tracks, not just because of its non-standard time shifting, but maybe because it's instrumental and Swain and Lamb just aren't on their game. There are good grooves here, and the effort is blandly passable: there is color and, as we mentioned, flavor in the unusual arrangements. You're not likely to find American folk influenced by Egypt and Lebanon elsewhere. But as a whole, they simply do not come together, and they've certainly had better.

Tragic indeed! Go for Salt for Salt, as that album had made our year-end list. Brown Bird's latest outing simply doesn't deliver fits of anything, and for that we're the poorer; take a pass.

Stream a couple songs at their website.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Charles Bradley No Victim of Age on Sophomore

Charles Bradley - "Victim of Love"
Daptone Records
-out April 2
4 / 5

You probably spotted him right away on the cover: yes, you're absolutely right. The fantastic Brooklyn-based soul singer indeed does take his cues from James Brown. A former cover singer of the songs of the famous "Hardest Working Man in Show Business," Bradley officially started his career at 62, and on this, his second full-length album, you get it: all the grit, all the passion, all the wear and tear and heart. In fact, you get soul. And that's not an easy thing to do.

Daptone, also the home of the famous Sharon Jones, has an ear for artists of classic soul. To describe Bradley's voice, we think dryness is the operative word here: none of those vibratos, no deep, filled-out Barry-White voice. It's dry, it's caked over with dust and dirt, it's less on the pretty and more on the gritty. It's also why we love this album. The entire album, orchestration, vocals, are a throw-back to that time when soul reigned, when funk was just making itself known in its older brother. So, stylistically, a check. Technically, Bradley is pitch-on despite the wear of age; the title track, a ballad, hits him on a high note, full voice, Motown backing vocals. It's what we live for. "Confusion" is where things get funky and modern, where the band comes into full swing. The eleven tracks hit it straight to the quick; they're fresh, newly minted from 1957, authentic in a rare way. Our minor complaint here is that we tend to prefer voices with a bit more power; we did, after all, fall head over heels for Sharon Jones. Comparatively speaking, he doesn't possess that amount of power, the thermonuclear amount, but those looking for a rough-and-tumble man with rough-and-tumble vocals will find themselves in at least one kind of heaven.

But not all soul is about putting a hole in the ozone. What you'll find on Victim of Love is a man in the throes of talent, real passion and love, and it's our reward. Soul never died; it was only a victim of delay. Recommended.

This man is "Strictly Reserved for You."

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Change that Becomes Wire is Old Age

Wire - "Change Becomes Us"
Pink Flag
-out March 26
1.5 / 5

Thirteen is an unlucky number for London punk rock quartet Wire, for in the thirty-six years of their musical career, they come off really flat. Their songs have stopped exploring, some of them mid-way, and the band has deposited some almost song-snippets here as a challenge of whether to their listeners as to whether they still need to keep innovating. On Change Becomes Us, they do, and they haven't. Their latest studio album is tired, dragging its feet to uninspired beats, each note old and depressed from what must be a carload of recycled drum hits and lyrics. Upon listening to any part of the album, one cannot help but get the image of a tired beast that should be put down.

The band is perhaps better on the short tracks than elsewhere. "Stealth of a Stork" goes by fairly painlessly, and quickly enough to boot, evoking their earlier punk roots with a driving punk beat, shouted lyrics. But it's not meat enough to sink one's teeth into; it's simply a transitional song where they shine the brightest. The track before it, "Re-invent Your Second Wheel," has a confusing smattering of mostly illogical letters as the verses, and one can get the sense of a lazy pen here. It sounds okay, but simply doesn't get up past the bedsheets far enough to effort a listenable song. "Time Lock Fog" seems to operate under the theory that simple bass and monochromatic vocals are enough to carry a song, ignoring the fact that it might possibly come off dead and/or arrogant and/or uninteresting. The album as a whole is infested with such tracks, and we decided to reinvent the word "effortless" to describe it, as in "proceeding without effort." That is the overall effect here.

Few bands have made thirty years fly by so fast, but on Change, we feel each creaking bone and arthritic hand beating out rhythms. It's the kind of album that you want to come off well, because you'd hate to kick a dead horse, but that's what they offered here, and we must oblige. Take a pass.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Swallow Key's sophomore as thin as a Ghost

Swallow Key - "Ghost Dancer"
White Wulf Records
-out now
2 / 5

In true San Fran tradition Swallow Key (the work of one Robert Eujene Ogden) is an eclectic, unusual electronica band part world music and part groove beats. The sophomore album, Ghost Dancer, employs everything from the sitar to the xylophone to samples from George W. Bush. It's ambitious music, yes, the kind that attempts to invade your cerebellum and still get you to boogie coolly to it, but in the end, we're left a bit cold; the music comes off too art bratty, too over-the-top and out-of-the-ballpark for our tastes. It's one of those albums you might bring to a close friend who shares a hatred of everything popular and indie and underground (and even under-underground) who must be one of a few dozen people to listen to any given set of tracks. In short, it's just too much.

The music lightly touches with sitar and hand-drums built under with electronic beats; that and hushed, half-whispered vocals. It likens itself to an indigenous chant much of the time, and while the effect is cohesive between these three elements, it comes off too cerebral to be comforting or entertaining. "Make Me An Animal" is the strongest electronic-feeling track, and where we feel some of you electronica readers might be most interested; even here the beats are too measured, too synthetic almost, and lack that spark of inspiration that lives in something truly divine. Eujene here is very precise in each of his movements throughout each of the nine tracks, but he's taken care to write music that is interesting to write rather than music that is interesting to listen to: it has bits and boops, but no body. We felt if Swallow Key were more outgoing, braver with their musical dictionary, Eujene might have made something better than this tepid stew of self-absorbed post-indie drivel.

Indeed, we are not putting our stamp on this one. We'll leave it to that friend-of-a-friend of yours living in the basement, still mucking over his tape reels and angry that you capitulated to buying CDs two decades ago to enjoy what is, for us, a hollow effort. Give up the Ghost Dancer and take a pass.

Listen up on Soundcloud.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Low hit a new high on The Invisible Way

Low - "The Invisible Way"
Sub Pop
-out March 19
4 / 5

The Duluth, MN trio has been around twenty years; and on this, their tenth album, it's easy to assume some sort of dulling in their craft. How often does a band keep itself around for two decades and keep itself fresh? While we cannot speak the whole of Low's discography, The Invisible Way, their latest release, is a slow, melancholy, mature album, aged like a glass of wine. It lets on like a funeral dirge with moments of bare sunlight shining through; it passes like a sad man on the streets, quiet and memorable. It is, in short, a great album, regardless of where Low may be at in their career, it is written for the contemplative, for those who think being sad is not necessarily a bad thing.

Producer Jeff Tweedy, of Wilco fame, seems to have a strong hand in the album: the sound is pared very sparsely, drums, piano, vocals all used only for the strongest emotional impact. It's simple, it's efficient, it's focused, in some ways brilliant and uplifting. One of our favorites, "Plastic Cup," is one of those songs written so brilliantly that we cannot get over it: the story of sobering up and taking drug tests (hence "plastic cup"), it's the perfect opening to a sober and complex album. Next on our list is "Just Make It Stop," one of the peppier tracks (relatively speaking) that is so addictive we're afraid to call it poppy. It's just too... too... low for that! These are the two tracks that shine above all the others, and out of the eleven, we're just not enthused about "Waiting" and "Amethyst," one which feels a bit incomplete, and the other which just about really is a funeral dirge. But the album on the whole is produced, of course, in high fashion: it's clean, it's crisp, it's gorgeous at moments. It's the only album appropriate to play on a cloudy, miserable kind of day, and it's got that moody kind of charm that lifts you up from it.

We haven't spent enough time on Tweedy, so let's just mention Low's songs here seem strongly influenced by "One Sunday Morning" off of Wilco's latest album. All these tracks have that clean attack, that directness, that beauty in their simplicity that we greatly appreciate because it's so rare to get it done right. Congratulations here, lady and gentlemen; highly recommended.

Come listen to "Just Make It Stop" on soundcloud.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Tickets almost gone at Newport Folk Fest!

We're sorry, they're almost all sold out! The Newport Folk Fest has been on a run these past couple years, and it's a good thing they expanded their lineup to include Friday again, cause that's all that's left right now. In years past, Friday was reserved for a single group in the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, and that's likely what will happen again this year. This is the reason we haven't included a picture; who's it going to be? There's already Jim James and Andrew Bird announced for the Festival, but we don't even know which days they'll be on; will one of them hold a solo concert on Friday? Will it be some as-yet unannounced group? ACK, THE PAIN!!

It's an even harder sell than our previous post, because we can assume their Sat and Sun lineup is always good. But will you like Friday? We don't know. We're hoping those in charge will make an announcement on who'll play Friday in time for y'all to get tickets, but we can't guarantee that. Still, the venue is a great place and past musicians have included BRIAN WILSON (yes, he's a bit weird), and Wilco, so yeah, big names. You probably won't have to worry about flipping the tickets if it's not your thing. Our suggestion? Keep an eye on Friday; follow the NFF on Facebook and/or Twitter, as that's where they're making their announcements on the Fest. We suspect it'll sell out as soon as they land someone for Friday SO KEEP AN EVER-GLARING EYE ON THEM ACK THE PAIN AGAIN. Hopefully they won't sell out before that, but we don't have a whole lot of info on these tics right now.

Hopefully you got your weekend passes, and we'll see you in too many several months!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Night Moves color emotions with Crayolas on debut

Night Moves - "Colored Emotions"
Domino Records
-out now
2.5 / 5

Minneapolis threesome Night Moves manages no minor feat in their pop: they make music that sounds good and is instantly forgettable. How do they do that on their debut? We think one of the problems lies in the fact that their songs don't really cleave that far from each other: they each have backing guitar, dreamy Avi Buffalo-sounding vocals, whispery synth, all the tools you'd need to make a pretty neat pop album. We're going to blame vocalist John Pelant for over layering and drowning his vocals here, as that's the main culprit in these songs' homogeneity.

And yet they're not bad! "Only a Child" has great drive on the chorus and the title track is actually a rather brilliant mood piece; sexy 80s bassline, sultry synth. But that comes all the way at the end, sort of a prize for putting up with a mediocre, faceless album. The rest of these tracks blend into each other, and the real problem is personality; it has none. We've had this album on our iPod for several weeks, and no time seemed a good time to play it. The gents simply need to expand their musical vocabulary to make a full-length foray, because here they've only come up with one color of emotion: blue. That's the disappointment we feel every time we spin this one up.

The sum here is somehow less than the parts. Simply not interesting enough to spend your time on it, even with that sexy bass on the title track. Take a pass.