Monday, February 25, 2013

Desaparecidos at the Paradise Rock Club, Boston, MA

They stampeded through like buffalo to a water trough: dark clothed, long haired, fist-pumping punks. They muscled past me, almost angry that people lie between them and Omaha's Desaparecidos, a rougher, heavier rock take on Conor Oberst's many projects. They couldn't help it, seemingly, sense bereft, hungry after a somehow satisfying (though just blaring and loud) opening by California's Joyce Manor. Hard to make tattoos out in this crowd, though you can surely smell the ink in their sweat. Oberst and his heavy-haired crew sampled out the NRA-obsessed Ted Nugent, a Micke Mouse political caricature, anti-Obama slogans, and dosed out anti-consumerism to the writhing pack of hungry rockers. And lo, it was pounding, and it was good.
Desaparecidos started on their new single, "The Left is Right," and did not relent. There were moshers - and yes, the lackluster Joyce Manor had moshers - but these were crazed, fixated moshers. A man took to the skies and surfed the crowd deliriously - of course against house rules. But house rules were rules and rules were to be broken that night, with not stopping the surge of youthful life. What we'd always thought the weaker of his offerings became prime live material for Oberst, it became sterling, an anthem against modern forms of oppression: political radicalism, homogeneity, consumer goods. And it was glorious in its head-banging way, unlike Bright Eyes or the Mystic River Valley band, harder and more sure and more desperate. More of a need to rock out, to shout out somewhere. There is little wonder why the venue sold out so far in advance, and we strongly suggest picking up the last tickets available in New York, if you're that way. Rocking, raging, and an excellent blast of kinetic energy.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Ivan & Alyosha debut had some good times, some not so

Ivan & Alyosha - "All the Times We Had"
Dualtone Music Group
-out Feb. 26
3.5 / 5

Of all the times that this Seattle quartet has had, this is the most important one: the debut of their highly anticipated full-length. Ivan & Alyosha hit the NPR circuit and gained recognition for their pleasing harmonies; they've even been featured on other illustrious blogs of note. For all the press and ballyhoo and our own adoration of their two EPs aside, we're going to be the first to say All the Times We Had came off something as a buzzkill: yes, it has "Fathers Be Kind," but it's also lacking another real singable single off its eleven tracks.

Which is murder for this kind of album. Their melodies are potentially singable, and at a relaxed tempo that seems to promote singing, but the lyrics and supporting instrumentals aren't quite simplified enough for that. Take fellow Seattle-ers The Head and the Heart, who also specialize in harmonies and open, clear song construction: almost each of their songs strikes a particular chord that you can't but help to sing along. Ivan and Alyosha's songs here don't do that, they don't strike that emotional chord, so what's left is a medium-tempo album that's passable in most ways but certainly not a revelation. "Running for Cover" fails this way, as the chorus isn't something we'd like to hum along with, either in open or in our head; "On My Way" is more what the band should be aiming for, but doesn't often hit. Another dagger in the gut is that the stories they've written here are good concepts - the title track being a retrospective on a failing relationship - but the pieces they've brought doesn't quite stew together right, and the album falls a little flat in several places - just a pincha salt, please!

We still think the gents can pull something together for round two: with open harmonies, good clean guitar and instrumentals, and the general material here, it could easily have been a brilliant album. What they do have is passable yet, not the upper echelon of music, so we're going to go ahead and recommend it, though if you already have their two EPs you probably won't miss not having this album.

Get their second EP on their website.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Starfucker: walk, don't run, on Miracle Mile

Starfucker - "Miracle Mile"
Polyvinyl Records
- out Feb. 19
3.5 / 5

It's pounding, dance bass. Catchy synth and guitar licks. Whispy, dream-pop vocals. It's the return of Starfucker, which, after 2011's bursting with hep-ness Reptilians, is much welcome. Now enter Miracle Mile, the third full-length by the Portland, OR quartet; expect the same groove-on-down m.o., the same pop catchiness, except tuned to a slower, more confident beat. In fact, the foursome takes much of the Reptilians pop-formula and just slows it down, takes it in slower sips instead of chugging it down feverishly.

So this is the stuff we don't like about Miracle Mile: just because you have a working song style doesn't mean it will work the same at a slower bpm; you can open with a funky beat and pull into verses and a chorus, but it's got a different personality when the pulse is turned down. There are some lovely textures, like the instrumentals on "Beach Monster," yes, those are still intact; but the tracks here try to go for the same dance feeling as on Reptilians, and comes off less successful. Why can't it be more brooding? Or more introspective? Something different, because taking the chord progression from "Mona Vegas" and repurposing it for "I Don't Want to See" smacks a bit of "running out of ideas." The two tracks that excite us the most here are "Atlantis," an 80s-inspired sway-dance tune, and "Say to You," which is a densely layered pop song, a few steps from their dance routine. These are the tracks that we see Starfucker reaching out most as a band, not too much, but enough to change their mold. Still, most of the tracks don't stray in spirit that far from the more energetic Reptilians, ensuring that they're still pretty good, if not entirely inventive. It's decent stuff, not as good as their previous album, but we think you'll still like it all the same.

So go out and get that fantastic Reptilians first. Miracle Mile will serve as another dose of Starfucker should you need more, but it's a bit on the dry side comparatively speaking. Good enough for government work, though; recommended.

Check out a few tracks on their bandcamp site.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Atlas Genius' debut not too brilliant

Atlas Genius - "When It Was Now"
Warner Bros.
-out Feb. 19
3 / 5

It was love at first listen: a pop single like "Trojans" doesn't just fall into your lap every day. Sexy synth, grooving dance, catchy guitar hooks. We were stoked when Atlas Genius found us, welcoming everything the Adelaide, Australia group had to offer: confident energy, great, clean producing. We kept together for a while, but pretty soon things started popping up; loose toenail clippings, dirty dishes, well, Atlas Genius just started losing some of their lustre. A shrug now at any mention. What went wrong? Maybe it's the moments after that are best to piece out what went wrong with such a promising relationship -erm, music group.

They had us at "Electric." It's well-crafted, inventive, and drags you onto the dance floor firmly by the hand. As we mentioned, this album is produced well, so it sounds good at first listen. But upon repeated playings, it becomes quite obvious that the groovy pop group is actually scraping around for lyrics. Beyond those two quality singles, the rest of the tracks drop into generic love-song mode, with a highlight (or low-light, perhaps) coming from the chorus of "All These Girls": "All these girls are not the same as you." "If So" doesn't do much better. Ugh! Atlas Genius has wasted some quality riffs on their sub-par storytelling; it sounds good, until you really listen to it. A shame, indeed.

But you learn from things like this. You get older and wiser, less willing to fall for it. We're just hoping you don't fall for the same trap here. Take a pass.

Get a sample on their soundcloud site.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Sin Fang's "Flowers" stale, dry

Sin Fang - "Flowers"
Morr Music
-out Feb. 19
2.5 / 5

Icelandic singer/writer Sindri Már Sigfússon takes his third solo foray with Flowers, an intelligent and inventive exploration of pop. And explore is the operative word here: with a pastiche of everything you could imagine - hand claps, strings, synth - the sheer vision and balance of each element is artfully done, each piece rendered in perfect cohesion with each other. Tracks like "What's Wrong with Your Eyes" immerse with such pleasure and subtlety  that we had to take a step back to determine what were the elements that really held Flowers back.

The chanting of "Young Boys" hits it perfectly. It's a great, quiet, respectful track (strange to say about smoking in the woods, but it is). At its heights, Sin Fang renders unique thumbprints of tracks, blending together several different voices into a cohesive whole. Imagine a toy shop alive, each piece in intricate order and playing its unique voice. Flowers has this going for it, but the brilliance it possesses just doesn't stick in the gut; many of the songs don't travel well from the pen to the ear to the heart. They just don't trigger something uncontrollable, something instinctual, which is really what this music should be aiming for. The droning "See Ribs" and "Sunbeam" are the dark side of the argument: really dry, really esoteric, and lacking all the intricacies of the stronger tracks. While side A sounds mostly interesting, much of that side B peters out, and could simply use the brushup of a rewrite, as it is placid and lacking passion and direction. It's these tracks that keep Flowers from being a decent album.

We greatly appreciate his fresh take on the pop genre, and there is, at times, a clear, delicate and gorgeous balance. It's just that Sin Fang doesn't have the stamina or motivation to bring this vision beyond a few tracks, and for all our appreciation of the good work here, it makes the bad stuff that much worse. Spoiled potential; take a pass.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Jim James' Regions of Light vast and grand

Jim James - "Regions of Light and Sound of God"
ATO Records
-out tomorrow
4 / 5

Perhaps Jim James is aiming a little too high when naming his solo album "Sound of God." But honestly, he's the frontman for My Morning Jacket, a band we think is going to be the next U2. Just take one charcoal whiff of "State of the Art (A E I O U)," and you can't help but be impressed with all that beautiful slow-burn rock: it just smolders exactly where it should. And none too soon. Considering MMJ's rather unfocused Circuital from 2011, we're hopping onto the James bandwagon once more with Regions which puts all the pieces learned from that disappointment into place: it's slow burn, it's piano, it's anti-chorus, but it's still satisfying and great. The verse-chorus-verse philosophy is all but abandoned here, not unlike the ultra-heavy Circuital, but here, finally, James has come upon exciting and inspiring territory.

He's mostly put aside those failsafe hunks of electric guitar and pounding drum beats in favor of synth, strings, and the occasional acoustic plucking, and we like it: Regions is all spacy without being Pink Floyd, it's bright without being shimmery, it's deep without being dense. This solo venture allows James much more intimacy and simplicity than he finds with his MMJ crew, and it shoots straight for a different, more sublime crowd. Is that bad, you think? Well, we loved 2008's Evil Urges too, but after hearing the perfect balance of each celestial instrument on "Of the Mother Again," we expect you won't complain. That album title is apt, it perfectly conceives the grandness of his vision and its execution, a vast field where everything falls into place. In fact, if there's one word that describes Regions, and we're actually going to use two, these songs are "precisely-wrought"; the lightness of these pieces never once fall into the obvious danger of showboating, and James is confident enough to allow each song to stand close to its emotional core. He's written, and rewritten, and stripped them bare and written them again. It's all about the details here, and each of the few he has kept are spot on.


As we mentioned, he's playing to a different crowd here, but he's still in high form: each track, even the instrumental "Explosion," has emotional depth and heft here. The only reason we're not knocking this up another half point is we've only had a week for these songs to sink in, and these are the kinds of songs that need stewing; nevertheless, we expect you'll end up giving this album it's fair share on your music player. Subtle, deep, and just plain grand; recommended.