Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Radiation City Rides in the Median too Long

Radiation City - "Animals in the Median"
Tender Loving Empire
-out today
3 / 5

The Portland, Oregon's pop unit has some mixed blessings on their sophomore. Their sound is deliberate, their decisions intentional; there isn't much room for putzing about on the album. They know what they want and they go right for it. Unfortunately, some of these tracks are fairly sleepy, and that's perhaps the best way to put it. Every now and then, they drift a bit dreamily, and come out the worse for it. And what they go for isn't necessarily tight and focused, it doesn't always produce a brilliant listening experience, but let's start where they went right.

"Foreign Bodies" is the cheerful, buoyant single off this album. The flute bounces the listener along the pop single, and it's just sheer enjoyment that cascades off of it. Radiation City seems to know this, and follows up the track with a cool-down "Wary Eyes," which is one of a few throw-aways. We feel the band could come up with a dozen reasons why this track belongs on the album, none of which being that it is good on its own. And this seems to be a problem with the album, for as much as it strives to be excellent, there is always that artsy-reasoning behind the songs that causes them to go for moods that don't work instead of crafting songs for listeners to get into. The closer is a perfect example of what we're talking about, a track that just falls flat on its own, dreamy but somnambulant, and goes on for far too long doing nothing. The album is hungry for substance, and cannot afford transition pieces like "Entropia," but we do have to note that "Lark" takes the more arty feelings on this record and makes them work.

Nonetheless, the whole is a bit disappointing. We have a link to "Foreign Bodies" down there for you, but keep in mind it's really an exceptional track in that it's unlike the dreary stuff on the rest of the record. It comes from the right place, but just doesn't arrive there; take a pass.

Listen to that single right... here!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Paper Aeroplanes Don't Fly High Enough

Paper Aeroplanes - "Little Letters"
My First Records
-out now
3 / 5

We think the main thing keeping us from falling in love with Welsh duo Paper Aeroplanes' sophomore full-length is that it just doesn't come off all that new to us. We love the vocals here, and lead singer Sarah Howells certainly knows how to endow emotion into lyrics, but we have issue with the somewhat placid songwriting here. The storytelling isn't exceptional, and the melodies here are pretty, but also a bit ordinary. These are all the same songs you'd expect from a nicer Jenny Lewis or [insert girl band here]-styled album.

"Little Letters is the lead single, of course, and it's the most original song of the bunch. It's got a beautiful slow build which matches perfectly with Howells' deft and pretty vocals, and is just a stunner. Other tracks such as "Red Rover" are pretty, too, and each one makes it clear this album is just a reason to treat oneself to Howells' singing. And as much as we're having trouble coming up with a track that we really don't like, we're also having trouble coming up with a reason to get this album. The vocals aren't extraordinary enough (see Neko Case) or the songwriting strange enough (Cat Power) or the stories memorable enough (Jenny Lewis, "Acid Tongue") that we're going to tell you to rush out and buy this album right away. It's good, and it's nice to listen to, but we're expecting the band to come into a fuller understanding of song-craft in a couple more albums.

It's pleasant, and there are good performances, but we have to hold it to the "Should I spend $10 on this" test, and it comes up short by half. When we get an album, we expect it to bring something new to our collection, and this album just doesn't. Take an unfortunate pass.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Features Utterly Bland, Featureless

The Features - Self-Titled
Serpents and Snakes/BMG
-out tomorrow
2 / 5

You'd think by their fourth album Nashville-based pop band The Features wouldn't put you to sleep, But the foursome clearly has difficulty putting together dynamic-sounding songs, with verses and choruses that draw us in and should swim about deftly. Instead, these songs stay in the water and stagnate, they crust over and refuse to move from their opening riffs. We think there are a few culprits to the low rating; one, the writing, of course, and two, leadman Matthew Pelham's vocals don't ted to go beyond a dull recitation. Some vocalists can make reading a phone book like a beautiful song, and Pelham goes the extra steps to make these songs read like a phone book.

One of the exceptions to this rule is the lead single, "This Disorder," a brilliant and perfectly crafted little pop ditty. It's quick, Pelham stretches his vocals, and it's well-crafted. The next half-exception is "Won't Be Long," mostly based on the strength of the chorus. But otherwise the rest of these songs are sleepy, unbalanced, and just plain boring. Unfun. "Fox on the Run" is anything but a chase, just repetitive riffs and those phone-book vocals. "Regarding PG" vies with it for last place based on the fact that it perfectly conjures a dog lamely chasing its tail. We should also mention it's not just Pelham here who fall on his face, but it's a team effort, certainly.

We'd fallen in love with "This Disorder," and you may too, but the rest of this album is a disgrace. Keep away and take a far pass.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Patty Griffin's American Kid is Some Fantastic Folk

Patty Griffin - "American Kid"
New West
-out today!
4 / 5

She has a beautiful voice. But you already knew that. What you may not have known is that, on her seventh studio album, Old Town, Maine native Patty Griffin isn't slowing down a whit. Her latest collection of mostly new folkies is charming, powerful, and gorgeous, to say the least. Dedicated to her father, these songs come from a drifter's heart ("Ohio") or are directly pay homage to parents and their burdens ("Mom and Dad's Waltz"), and overall you get three things: great songwriting, Patty Griffin's beautiful vocals, and even Robert Plant (on occasion). There are a dozen songs here, and we're proud to say not a one is a throw-away, not one is a weak choice.

Starting with "Ohio," the first track to feature Plant, is possibly the best track on the album. It's a bit slow, pulsing and certain like a river, gliding through with harrowing harmonies. It's the reason to get this album, quite frankly. Add to that our second favorite, "That Kind of Lonely," which better showcases the power and gentleness of Ms. Griffin's stunning vocals. We could go through each track and mention something we like about them, but we don't want to waste your time when you could be listening to the album. On the flip side, possibly "Mom and Dad's Waltz" is a bit corny to our tastes, but even then it has a bit of country charm.

So check out that link under there; if it doesn't stoke your folkin' embers, then you're probably in the wrong place. A truly grand and fantastic album; well written, fantastic performances, and highly recommended.

Listen to "Ohio" and get blown away.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Beware of Darkness Rocks Orthodox, and Rocks Well

Beware of Darkness - "Orthodox"
Bright Antenna
-out May 7
4.5 / 5

The L.A. rock-and-rock-more trio is our first big album of the year. Finally. We were blown away for weeks by Howl off their EP of the same name, and now their debut has come. And it has come rocking. They've been compared to Led Zeppelin, and while they have one Zeppelin-esque riff, we think a better way to describe their sound is that it's depressed by the 90s, like if Nirvana and Pearl Jam weren't so heavy and distorted all the time, while infused with classic rock hooks and riffs. In fact, classic is key here: they've got the sound and attack of a truly great band.

We've got a stream of "Howl" off their EP down there; and while the opener is maybe 10% deficient in the original energy, it's still a great track to lead with. Our first listen these tracks were fairly unassuming, and we hope that won't put you off, because it's upon repeated listens that the hooks they've written really shine. And that's what really grabs us: not just their incredible energy, those vivacious vocals and the solid musicianship, but that these are tracks to grow on. They're each written well, and of course executed with that wild zest that lets you know you're putting on Beware of Darkness when you spin this up. You'll find several great tracks to enjoy right away, including "Amen Amen" and "My Planet Is Dead," and then several more which you will come to enjoy. (We're not a huge fan of a couple near the beginning, but we've got faith we'll come around to those, too.) It's not a perfect album, and we feel sometimes those vocals could be stretched a bit more in some cases, but it truly is fantastic and put together well.

These guys are the perfect band to go driving around this summer. You know, when you're not sure where to go, and driving is a thing to do. The twelve tracks are written very sturdily, and the gents comport themselves well on them. It's a great one now, and we think these three will come out with a truly classic album in the near future; highly recommended.