Typically when bands release a best of compilation they are on the downside of their career or looking for a quick cash grab. That is NOT the case with The Places Between. This collection is a snapshot of a band still in its prime, looking back as well as forward. This two-CD, one DVD set contains a perfect mixture of hits and rarities to satisfy any old fan and create plenty of new ones. Classic tracks include the uplifting "Pounding," the updated R&B stomp of "Black and White Town," as well as the heart-wrenching "Cedar Room." Rarities such as "Friday's Dust" (Capitol Tower Session), "Almost Forgot Myself" (demo) and the brand new track "Andalucia" make this a MUST HAVE for any Doves fan!
Back in the day, before the Internet knew everything as it happened and watered down the universe, collaboration records were truly exciting things. Events, even. You’d hear rumors and maybe see a story in a magazine or hear a song or two on a 7” or your local college radio station, but not until the record finally hit the shelf did we really know what we were getting. And it was fun that way. Nowadays, though, things are different. We knew about this James Mercer (This Shins) and Brian Burton (Danger Mouse) – known together as Broken Bells – collaborative record long before its release date. We heard about it for so long that most of us went from excited to bored to hopeful to, well, kinda over it – all before the record hit shelves. But now the record has been out for a while, and I’d be lying if I said that – despite doing all I could to read up on Internet speculation – it’s not pretty much exactly what I thought it’d be.
And, in this case, it’s a good thing because Mercer’s writing and singing is damn good, at least as far as indie pop is concerned. It’s a good thing because Burton knows how to make beat-heavy pop songs fly. Sure, he’s as predictable – and reliable – as any machine as far as his output goes, but, when dealing with pop music, that’s not exactly a bad thing. Together Mercer and Burton make cleanly produced space-pop that is endlessly melodic and never too experimental. If you’ve heard Burton’s production work on Beck’s Modern Guilt and know Mercer’s work with The Shins, then, well, you can probably imagine what this record sounds like. Imagine the Gorillaz (for whom Burton has done extensive production work) if they were more melancholy, melodic and, well, indie.
Burton and Mercer started hitting the studio together following Burton’s 2009 collaborative album with Sparklehorse, Dark Night of the Soul, which featured Mercer on one track. Unlike Burton’s early production work, the songs on Broken Bells lack the dusty, sampled vibe his early sound was built on, at times feeling like computer creation. Mercer doesn’t even attempt to leave his comfort zone, seemingly handing guitar tracks and vocals over to Burton, who then builds varied backdrops that pull from a variety of influences. “Citizen” stands out, stacked with keyboards and flourishes, almost bringing to mind Grandaddy’s sometimes brand of prog-pop. This song, I’d guess, is where all the Brian Eno comparisons are coming from.
Opener “The High Road” starts out cartoon-y before pretty much becoming a super produced Shins outtake. Never a bad thing when the result is this good. “The Ghost Inside” will instantly remind of Burton’s Gnarls Barkley collaborations with Cee-Lo, Mercer even singing in a falsetto similar to Cee-Lo’s. To these ears, it’s one of the album’s lesser cuts, though I could easily see it being a solid crossover single. “Mongrel Heart” feels like it belongs over the opening credits of a new era Bond film while “Vaporize” gives off a Shins-with-beats vibe, alone warranting purchase for any Shins fan. The trippy “Your Head is on Fire” is another big winner, melodically perfect and deeply arranged and produced.
In short, these are dreamy pop tunes that demand no more than three listens to love. The ten songs are often beat-heavy at times and maybe a little too clean for comfort, but, when all is said and done, this is a perfectly fine record – better than I expected, for sure. Not a new classic or something to celebrate in any major way, but a worthy entry into the wide open Rock Collab Hall of Fame.
Originally an instrumental quartet, Six Gallery was most known for the finger-tapping riffs laid down by guitarists Will Vokac and Ben Schreiber. But, after a few years of growing up, and apart (replacing their original drummer), the band took a different direction and decided to bring in a singer. In 2008, vocalist Daniel Francis joined Vokac, Schreiber, bassist Alex Weinhardt and drummer Benji Miller, to help usher in the new direction the band would take.
With their debut release, Breakthroughs in Modern Art, the Ohio natives officially throw their name in the hat for Best New Artist in my book. Even though this album was originally released in 2009, it’s receiving a label upgrade and therefore a re-release…my advice, don’t miss out a second time!
Following in the footsteps of contemporaries like Minus the Bear, Maps and Atlases and progressive rockers Dredg, Six Gallery bring a lush landscape full of spacious guitar riffs and impassioned vocals that will grasp the attention of any avid fan of rock music. With the majority of the tracks on the album clocking in around the 3-4 minute mark, Six Gallery are able to display their strengths in equal parts - sprawling guitar soloing unified with warm, melodic vocals, all held together by a sinuous rhythm section.
There are no seismic shifts on this record; most of the songs flow uniformly to the next. I really enjoyed all the songs, especially the complexities of “Built to Last,” “Just Hey” and “Edie & the Marble Faun.” The only track that really shows a different face is the instrumental, “Fish Milk,” simply because… it’s instrumental! But, when you listen to the record as a whole, the track is almost just an extended intro, bleeding into the closer, “Smile Like a Switch.”
So, for a quick recap: if you’re into spacious, ethereal finger-tapping with lithe drumming and explosive vocals, then I strongly urge you to give these guys a listen and discover for yourselves everything I’ve tried to convey in words. Now go and check out a great new band!
I absolutely love it when a record comes out that is so uniquely different from anything I’ve been listening to recently, and makes me keep it on repeat for days and days. This really only happens every once in a while for me, and this album is included on that list. Gonjasufi is the creation of Sumach Ecks, a hip-hop artist and yoga instructor from Las Vegas. Produced by Gaslamp Killer (mainly), Main Frame and Flying Lotus, this record is a warp of sexy R&B, hip-hop beats, trippy Eastern world, funk, jazz, and druggy psych music, framed by Ecks’ scraggily, disorienting, poetic vocals. No two songs sound alike, and he definitely doesn’t fail to keep it interesting. You can hear how each track was carefully and beautifully thought out. It took eight months to mix and complete the album after it was recorded, and it paid off. Count this as my favorite album of the month.
A year or so ago a friend asked me to make him a Pavement greatest hits mix. “Gimme their best songs,” Mr. Friendly said. Three discs and 60 songs later, I knew I was still shortchanging both my friend and the band. Best. Band. Ever. (Not. Named. The. Beatles.) So when Matador Records announced that their recently reunited flagship band was going to issue a greatest hits record with a “surprising tracklist,” I was intrigued. And then I saw the tracklist. Hmm. Strange selections. But this is Pavement, a strange band.
Before I dig into the 23-song set, I feel the need to mention a few other things. One: the band will soon complete their reissue series with a big, shiny Terror Twilight offering. Extras galore. Two: Matador just released the band’s catalog on budget-priced LP. Awesome news. Three: The reunion and hits disc surely means that we won’t be hearing any of those two-dozen-or-so new Malkmus and the Jicks studio recordings anytime soon. Biggest bummer ever. Big enough that, dare I say it, screw this cash-in reunion crapola!
But whatever. Five guys in the band and only one of them making any real money = reunion time. This always happens, and Malkmus is a good guy for throwing his old pals (and fans) a bone. One more year with Pavement? Sure. Fine. Kick it off with the greatest greatest hits disc ever.
Let’s do the tally: five cuts from their classic debut, Slanted and Enchanted; two songs from their Watery, Domestic EP; five songs from their most popular record, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain; two songs from their weirdo cult classic, Wowee Zowee; four songs form their most-hyped (and most accessible) record, Brighten the Corners; one cut from their swan song, Terror Twilight(their only non-classic studio record); one compilation cut; and four songs from the band’s early EP collection, Westing (By Musket and Sextant). Not too bad. But for a band known for their b-sides and EPs, Quarantine won’t come close to representing the band’s best material. Kind of a bummer, considering Matador could very easily issue a convincing “best of” Pavement record full of only b-sides.
But I’m a super fan, full of super fan gripes. The truth is that you won’t find a better '90s-era pop/indie/hipster/college rock disc on the planet. When one of my super fan friends heard the news of a Pavement hits disc, he texted me: “don’t they already have five of those?” Touche, lover. Another friend joked that they could pick their worst songs, put ’em on a disc and still have a better “best of” than almost any band from the '90s. Agreed. That’s how good Pavement was.
But do you need a hits disc from these slackers? Well, the cover art is pretty great and I’m sure there will be an essay or something by Rob Sheffield. But if you already have the studio albums, then, no, I suppose you don’t need Quarantine. This disc is made for the four Pavement members who need a paycheck. This disc is made for the new fans who will see the reunion shows and get caught up in the hype of the festival sets. The question now becomes, will these new fans’ heads pop off after hearing “Gold Soundz,” “Stereo,” “Shady Lane,” “Summer Babe,” “Range Life,” “Box Elder,” “Trigger Cut” and so on for the first time all in one spin? The question now becomes, will the band be able to play these shows with even half of the authenticity they had the first time around. Impossible.
Who cares. Buy the disc - Bob Nastanovich needs some track money and an extra Pavement disc on the shelf can‘t possibly be a bad thing.
"Mose Allison is really unique in all of jazz. Maybe in all of American music…he's still underrated, and one of the greatest of all American artists…a huge influence on the singer/songwriters of rock ‘n’ roll and the folk tradition." - Murray Horwitz, NPR Radio.
“The unhippest hipster you've ever seen and one of the most original, understated songwriters to ever tackle the mysteries of the blues." -L.A. Times
Every now and then, I find I've had the same CD in my player for days on end. Something about the disc has grabbed me, and held my attention so that I hear something new and enjoyable every time it plays. Most recently, this happened with the new Mose Allison recording, The Way of The World (ANTI-).
I'd been anticipating this disc for months, after reading producer Joe Henry had coaxed Allison back into the studio. Henry has been behind the board for several excellent-sounding recordings over the last decade, including last year's Grammy-winning A Stranger Here by Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Allen Toussaint's Bright Mississippi. There is a certain warmth in his engineering, where a clarinet sounds real, or a tenor sax has intimate dynamics, as if it was being played in your living room. If it wasn’t digital, you could almost call it organic.
Marking his 40th release since his 1957 Prestige debut, Back Country Suite, Mose Allison, in his esteemed half-century career, has also recorded for jazz label giants Atlantic, Blue Note and Columbia. The Tippo, Mississippi, native imbibes both the technique and spirit of Fats Waller, Erroll Garner and Percy Mayfield. A Rolling Stone critic once deemed him "the William Faulkner of jazz."
In The Way of the World, the great southern gentleman pianist sends you rollin' and tumblin' through a set of eight original songs and four covers, include legendary barrelhouse player Roosevelt Sykes' "Some Right, Some Wrong" and Bud Green's 1937(!) hit, "Once in a While." His daughter, recording artist Amy Allison, joins him in a beautiful rendition of (40's-era bandleader) Buddy Johnson's "This New Situation," an old song ironically relevant in today’s modern times.
Possibly the most catchy tune is the comical "My Brain," a clever re-work of Willie Dixon's boppin’ "My Babe." Here, the same guy that wrote "Young Man Blues" over 50 years ago tells you how it is now, from the soul of an octogenarian. If you know anyone getting up there in the years, it might help you relate. It's a foot-tapper, and features Allison's signature piano lines, a mixture of boogie-woogie, stride and bop styles.
Another whimsical effort, "Everybody Thinks You’re An Angel," features the resonating sound of a Weissborn, a Hawaiian guitar rarely heard on recordings today. Producer Henry’s "house band" includes session extraordinaires Jay Bellerose on drums, David Piltch on bass and Greg Leisz on guitar.
If you're new to Mose Allison, you'll likely be curious to delve into his past after hearing The Way of The World. I'd highly recommend the classic Mose Allison Sings (Prestige) and The Best of Mose Allison (Atlantic).
Mose Allison holds fort for a six-night run at Dimitrious' Jazz Alley this summer, July 27th - August 1st. No matter how cold they set the air-conditioning, it won't be as cool as Mose
Jules C. steps to the solo artist plate as ... Michael Jackson's tall, stoned, white hipster dude doppelganger? Okay, maybe that's something of a stretch (Have you ever seen the guy on stage? He literally cannot move!); but this, the Strokes' frontman's debut solo record, bares quite a few similarities to Jackson's seminal album, Thriller. Both records have short tracklists (Phrazes at eight tracks, Thriller at nine). Both records are full of long, elaborately produced songs. Both mix dance music and cheesy keyboards with rock and soul music. Both records feel pretty darn paranoid at times. Most importantly, both records are full of great hooks backed with fine production.
Phrazes is a surprise - one that's sure to confuse fans, while also making new ones. That Jules is doing the retro thing is no surprise (that's his thing), but he's taking mostly from the sound of the '80s - as opposed to his usual '60s and '70s aping, which is something of a blindside. And I like that. I like that he seems relevant again, even if his appeal is brand new. I like that he stood on Letterman's stage and tried to dance while debuting his fantastic lead single, "11th Dimension."
After the release of their 2001 classic debut, Is This It, those Strokes were the band to love, follow, stalk and copy, Jules was in charge. The coolest charmed-as-hell rich boy to ever fake slum. He wrote the lyrics and told his band how to play their parts. The band's second album, Room On Fire, though very good by normal standards, was rushed and, compared to their debut, a bummer. From there, well, things got messy. Egos. You know the story. Jules began to let Fab and those other Fabs play bigger roles in the arranging, writing and recording process, and thus we had 2006's half-great First Impressions of Earth. Things haven't been the same since.
But now, with Phrazes, the hope is back. Julian is back at the controls and his stellar ability to make bulletproof pop songs is once again evident, even if the product is completely different. Sure, Phrazes has a few missteps, but, for the most part, it's the best thing from the Strokes camp since Is This It. Opener "Out of the Blue" sounds like "Is This It" with cleaned-up vocals and a little bit more rum in the coke. And, as with all of the songs on Phrazes, there's plenty of keyboards. There's even a very strong soul cut here with "4 Chords of the Apocalypse" and one of the best pop songs of the year in closer "Tourist" - a song that opens with a misleadingly awful intro. In fact, the only real problem with Phrazes is the occasional cheesy intro. And "River of Brakelights" ... that song is no good.
I know what you're thinking: If you're gonna release an album with only eight songs in this day and age, all eight had better be good. We like super-sized everything and we like it now. And I hear ya. But the seven worthwhile cuts here are all pretty darn epic. They're all longish and take a while to fully appreciate/digest - which will send this record right over the heads of many listeners. As is his reputation, Jules is a hard worker - not since the perfection of those early days has this attribute been so evident in his work. He worked long and hard on his Thriller, and, if you give it a few listens, you'll see that it's all worth it. Phrazes is not just a future retro blast of pop music, but one of the most interesting major label releases I've heard in quite some time.
A girl with a guitar, distortion pedal and drums. Simple. Sparse. With overproduction being such a prevalent force in the recording industry nowadays it was refreshing to hear Scout Niblett’s newest album when it came into the store.
She’s brave. She’s powerful. Her songs are laced with lonesome, insecurity and pain. No vocal overdubs, no prettying it up at the production table. Just straight and raw. And damn, does she know how to rock out on a guitar.
With a mix of blues, hard rock and hints of singer-songwritery folk, Scout Niblett takes you on an eleven-song trek through heartache and dark nights accompanied with a bottle of strong booze. On my favorite track, “Duke of Anxiety" - actually a cover by Swearing At Motorists - Scout croons, “Why would you think that you make me drink / I’m a drunk / Reasons I don’t need / Just like you.” Cover or not, she makes the song her own. Her vocals are angelic in a post-apocalyptic way; they cut through you yet lift you up on the same sword/chord she just pierced you with and still, everything is OK. Everything’s better; if only for the moment, only for the song.
She puts her feelings out on her sleeve in a wash of distortion and hard-hitting drums. She induces chills down the spines of the spineless. And after The Calcination is done you’re left only wanting more.
We already know all about the viral smash "F*** You," but what about the rest of the third solo jam by Gnarls Barkley/Goodie Mob member Cee-Lo Green? He describes The Lady Killer as his attempt at "picking up where Barry White left off," but it appears to be so much more. It's like a history lesson of the glory years of soul music. ... Continue
Um…oh, there it is! For a few seconds I thought the Dillinger Escape Plan abandoned its standard auditory assault, but no, it is there! Obviously, “Farewell, Mona Lisa,” the first track of their new album, Option Paralysis, doesn’t start off with the same face-shattering punch previous Dillinger albums have thrown; instead, we’re led in a by a few chords, much like lambs to the slaughter, to be awakened by Greg Puciato’s forceful vocals and the pummeling, stop-and-go blast beats from Billy Rymer. The ebb and flow continues as the song winds into a melodic breakdown where Puciato displays his ability to flex the pipes (sounding much like DEP collaborator, Mike Patton (Faith No More/Fantamos/Mr Bungle), only to be unwound and torn to shreds by the end of the song.
This opening track gives the listener a perfect synopsis of the entire album. Producer Steve Evetts (DEP/Poison The Well/Every Time I Die) does a beautiful job of arranging the songs, and helps the band push its own musical boundaries. The band adds a new layer to the mix by bringing in pianist Mike Garson (David Bowie/Nine Inch Nails/Smashing Pumpkins) to give some of the tracks an avant-garde jazz aesthetic.
“Widower” is a perfect example of this, opening with a methodic, pulse-like sample that gives way to soft piano keys and vocals. If you were just scanning the disc, you might think the band has gone commercial, but if you listen closely enough, the song is slowly building to a climax. Suddenly, the bottom drops and the beautiful mountain you were just climbing turns into a sheer cliff full of jagged riffs, assaulting vocals and thunderous drums. And just as you feel yourself succumbing, you’re teased with a sense of clarity, feeling as if you hit the bottom…not quite yet, there are a few more jagged rocks to hit before that happens!
The album isn’t lacking any of DEP’s rudimentary elements; cuts like “Good Neighbor” and the blistering “Crystal Morning” remind you of just how bad they can/will kick your ass. “Endless Endings” is another kick-in-the-teeth cut, but what sets this song apart is the guitar work – the instant shift from high-pitched noodling to streaking sirens is mindboggling! The precision and discipline the guitarists (the entire band, for that matter) display on this album is awesome.
Other tracks like “Gold Teeth on a Bum,” “Room Full of Eyes” and “Chinese Whispers” show how the band continues to progress and push the envelope. DEP’s average track length used to be two-and-a-half-minutes or under, now they’re pushing the four- and five-minute mark. “Room Full of Eyes” could easily be two completely different songs melded into one. The breakdown in the middle of this song literally goes silent for a second, then re-enters your eardrums at a much lower, sluggish pace, guided along by booming drums and growling vocals, but not quite reaching the furious fervor with which the song began.
“I Wouldn’t If You Didn’t” lashes out at you with a frantic pace of screeching guitars and machine-gun drumming. At a minute-thirty in, you’re spent, feeling as if you’ve just run a marathon in that short time! Well, I hope you packed your energy bars, because the song isn’t over yet. DEP pull off a beautifully orchestrated, jazz-like bridge, reminiscent of Candiria, transforming the song from a frenzied hardcore song into a more melodic, unhurried piece that eventually winds itself back up into a tornado of guitars and drums with the continuous chorus of …”suffering is love!”
The album ends on a pretty somber note with “Parasitic Twins.” Chiming bells and distorted string arrangements guide you into a very personal song. I feel it’s about a lost love, with lyrics like: “I need a strong pull from your little lights, or I’m going down/’cause I built it all from the inside, and you burned it down/’cause when you took your love away, you let go.” The sense of loss and despair in the vocals and the minimal instrumentation gives this song more of a NIN feel than that of any Dillinger cut. Garson’s keys accentuate the feeling of loneliness and longing.
If you’ve ever been curious about this mathcore band, now is the time to take that leap of faith and pick up this album. It’s the perfect cocktail, here’s the recipe: 2 parts Dillinger Escape Plan, 1 part Faith No More and 1 part Nine Inch Nails. Brutally and beautifully, Dillinger show you how niche bands can evolve and progress into more complex and dynamic bands if they have the desire to push those walls.
Fitz & the Tantrums
I’m not exactly sure what it is about 2010 that has altered my musical preferences, but I’ve been ambushed by a slew of pop releases this year. Band of Horses, MGMT, the Young Evils, they've all invaded my CD player, iPod and turntable this year, and now it’s time to add another album to that list ... Continue
I made every attempt to ignore the zebra print cover art for Beach House’s third record, Teen Dream, as I rescued it from its wrapper. Once inside the zebra carcass I found - surprise, surprise - two discs and two books. Bonus! I put the disc with the Easter blue zebra print on it in the player. Didn’t appear to play. Put the disc with the Easter pink zebra print on it. Also didn’t play. I looked at the pink zebra book then the blue zebra book. Stumped. And already tired of zebra. Then, finally, I put the blue disc back in … it worked. It had a bit of silence at the beginning before things got started, but, once the music fell from the carcass, it sounded big and grand. Immediately better than the band’s first two records. Turned it up.
The pink book revealed that the pink disc was in fact a full-length DVD full of videos for every song on the album, each video directed by a different filmmaker. The first director’s name? Sean Pecknold. Hmm. Pecknold, as in Fleet Foxes Pecknold? Yep, the brother of the head Fox. Seemed odd to me, considering my first thought as Teen Dream’s opening song played was “it sounds like these guys have been listening to the Fleet Foxes since their last album.” Weird. The closing video was directed by Broken Social Scene frontman Kevin Drew. But no, Teen Dream doesn’t really sound too much like BSS. More on the videos later.
The first thing you need to know about the music side of Teen Dream is that it is a very big sounding record. Band members Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally took the R.E.M. approach while following up the success of their 2007 breakthrough, Devotion, this time recording in a converted church. On board for the recordings was producer Chris Coady, a studio whiz known for helping bands (most notably TV on the Radio) sound bigger than life. The result is a record that sounds like a mix of Devotion, the Fleet Foxes, the most recent M83 record and Mazzy Star. The sound is dusty and dreamlike. Vintage in a really hip soap opera sort of way, if you can imagine such a thing.
Both books are full of creative imagery, giving Teen Dream the feel of a full-blown art project. Music. Film. Art. Some of the images in the blue book would’ve made for great album covers. (Anything but zebra print.) The songwriting here is good. Almost as good as the ornamentation, production and soulful, almost creepy, vocals. Nothing profound or hugely creative, but surely the kind of material that will dig its hooks into a fair share of arty college-age girls (and sensitive boys with silly glasses). Also recommended to the future soap-watchers of the world.
Needless to say when speaking of Beach House, this is very dramatic sounding music, but in a cool way. Not quite Antony Hegarty Johnson dramatic, but in that ballpark. And the videos are a nice bonus, even if much of the work probably belongs on YouTube with all the other filmschool videos out there, rather than on a nationally distributed DVD. But that’s not the point. The point is that this is very theatrical, visual music, so who cares if the videos are all big on production and short on concept and execution. Sean Honey’s video for “Lover of Mine,” in particular, is a success. Beach House singer Victoria Legrand’s video for “Silver Soul” is another winner, even if her work clearly struggles to find a balance between subject and style. Oh, and let’s not forget director Allen Cordell’s half great work on the video for “Walk in the Park.” Some beautiful cinematography on that one.
So, for a very modest price, you get a great new set of dream-pop music, a disc full of video art, two books and some zebra prints. Not bad. The main event here, obviously, is the music. And while the full presentation does enhance the experience, in the end, we just have the tunes. And they’re great. Teen Dream is the new cult classic of the uber-dramatic, endlessly cinematic and wholly effeminate Sour Times genre. If you like Low, the Cocteau Twins, Portishead, Mazzy Star or even the Fleet Foxes and shoegazer stuff like Ride, chances are Teen Dream is going to be a very big record for you.
Actor-turned-singer Zooey Deschanel is undeniably cute. She dresses cute, she makes cute faces, she has a cute voice and the words she sings are downright adorable. It’s almost too much to take, and there’s no way her sweetness could ever be enough to carry a career in music. Enter M. Ward, ace in the hole.
Together Ward (who handles most of the arranging, playing and recording) and Deschanel (who writes, sings and plays piano) make dreamy and sweet pop music that could sound right at home on any late-50s or early-60s AM pop station. Ward starts with layers of multiple Deschanel vocal tracks on each song, creating a one-person girl group vibe. He and Deschanel then put together often simple, always inviting arrangements built around Zooey’s dewy, dream girl voice. Trying to find something bad about the songs on Volume Two makes me feel like a bully. This is sweet, happy, friendly music. There’s nothing too complex. There’s nothing too deep. Nothing to dislike.
And, in all honesty, those first two paragraphs could also work if describing the band’s 2007 debut, Volume One, one of this writer’s favorite records of that year. There’s a Phil Spector vibe here, as was also the case with Volume One. But, like Albert Hammond, Jr. did with his sophomore record, She & Him create a near carbon copy of their first release, a record that many, many people loved. The guests are the same and the liner note design follows theme, as does the way Deschanel and Ward worked out the songs and formatted their record (11 originals, two covers).
And maybe that’s the only problem here. Not so much that these two cuties aren’t reinventing themselves, but more so that they seem almost uptight - or maybe just too comfortable - about their creative process. That said, the sound is slightly different, even if the approach isn’t. Ward seems more adventurous here, drawing from not just '60s pop music, but also country, folk, soul, girl group and jazz. Even getting Zooey to leave her vocal comfort zone on a few songs.
What we end up with is a more diverse record than the first, surely. Varied enough that, at first listen, it feels much less immediate. Much less approachable. Hang in there, Volume Two pays off in a major way. It’s a feel good record for listeners who don’t mind the cutesy. Perfect for summer and fall afternoons where lips pucker and smile lines dig their deepest. This is the indie version of soft rock, and damn if it’s not a fantastic listen, front to back.
Every time I listen to Misson of Burma, I feel like I’m hearing the best rock band on the planet. I feel like I’m hearing my new favorite band. This is mostly due to the undeniable fact that a handful of my favorite bands take at least 50 percent of their shtick from early Mission of Burma. It’s also because Mission of Burma, a 30-ish year old band that disappeared for the middle 20 years of their so-far existence, are one of the only bands who can convincingly make punk music sound genuine.
These guys may be in their 50s at this point, and their classic debut EP, Signals, Calls and Marches, may have come out almost three decades ago, but their records still sound like it’s 1982. Pre-college rock, post-punk rock. Mission of Burma, armed with their fourth studio album (they also have a classic live LP), are the anti-Rolling Stones - a time machine that actually works.
If you don’t yet know the Burma and consider yourself a rock connoisseur of some taste, watch out. They play punk. They play rock. They play pop. They may have invented indie rock and, to many, they defined college rock for a very long time. Oh, and they most certainly invented the initial Matador Records sound (even if they weren’t trying to do so). Hearing their new record, as mentioned above, makes me think they should be my favorite band right now. I put their records on, fall in love, then take them off and hide them from myself. I don’t want that responsibility. I don’t want to have to rework all the mix tapes I’ve ever made for friends. I don’t want to have another band whose every lyric I must hang onto. I’m too old to still be hand-crafting entire sets of T-shirts based on a single band’s lyrics.
But, since I did listen to The Sound, The Speed, The Light once, I’m more than happy to report my findings/hysteria. (One listen works for Burma records; theirs is an instant sound.) First off, you might want to get a few beers before you push play. You’ll also want to make sure that there aren’t any neighbors or kids or parents around who are going to be bothered by the loud volume you’ll inevitably be playing these 12 rough-cut songs at. Okay, now we’re ready. First song starts - we’re really doing this.
Sounds like it was recorded in a basement. Maybe an attic. Definitely on the wrong side of the street. This is a good thing. There’s a raw energy here that makes me believe this record was recorded live-in-studio, maybe even all first takes. Instantly, The Sound is better than a new album by another landmark college/punk/rock band who came out around the same time as the Burma, a band called Sonic Youth. Probably not as good as the recent Dinosaur Jr. studio record, but a good chaser.
The songs keep coming, one after another. All good. Some great. Punky pop songs that have staying power. And if that description sounds like The Ramones to you, rest assured that Mission of Burma do not; they have their own thing going on. Rock songs that will make both the beard and the blood fans happy.
Same as it ever was, with The Sound, The Speed, The Light, Mission of Burma continue to be the band I crush on. Torture myself with. Good to know these records - and this band - is around, releasing consistently great pop-punk of the ragged variety. One day, Burma. One day.
I always just sort of figured that Quentin Tarantino was on drugs. Hard drugs. Not heroin, but definitely coke and maybe speed. Absolutely marijuana. Then I read that the famously fast-talking, hard-working auteur supposedly hates drugs. Hates them. Likewise, I always thought that Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum was the most gentle, kind, simple and honest man to ever swim the streams of indie rock. Then I read his book, which is either titled Dawn or Winter Journal or Dawn (Winter Journal Edition). He might be kind and he’s definitely honest, but gentle and simple? No. Absolutely not. In fact, he’s quite the opposite. Brutal. Complex. Almost scary in some ways.
Dawn, a set of voice-and-guitar songs Elverum wrote while living alone in a remote area of Norway through the winter of 2002-03, was actually released in 2008. It was released only on vinyl, and quickly became almost impossible to find. Soon after its release came news that the record was in the planning stages of a second release, this time in the form of a CD/book combo that would include the journal/novel Elverum wrote while staying in Norway. Also included would be an explanation as to why Elverum retreated to Norway at the height of his fame (this right after his signature work, The Glow, Pt. 2 was hitting every best-of list on the planet), a handmade map, some photos of his time in Norway, a few drawings and some very stellar packaging. It’s still not the easiest thing to find - and it’s not exactly cheap - but, damn, it’s pretty amazing.
For starters, Elverum, who wrote this journal/novel/whatever at age 24, is a strong writer who isn’t afraid to dig deep and spill his findings for anyone interested. He writes about the reasons he left, how he ended up in Norway, how he spent his time and much more. Explains Elverum: “I only had two real tasks [while in Norway]: gathering dead trees to burn from the surrounding small forest and getting water from a hole in a frozen stream. The rest of the time I wandered around, obsessed over my life dramas, stared into space, read books, wrote letters, made up songs, went crazy and eventually snapped out of my misery and noticed the dawn.” You just got served, Bon Iver.
But I’m no book critic. I’m here to talk about the record. The first thing you should know is that many of these songs (which, mind you, were written years and years ago) have appeared on various Elverum projects, usually as fleshed-out band cuts. Here we get what I’m calling the “Norway Versions.” Nineteen songs that Elverum describes as “songs about my own metaphorical adventures and wrestling matches with big questions.” We hear a guitar and we hear a voice. We hear holes here and there - ghosts, almost. The work is sparse and often cryptic, but it’s also very strong and personal stuff. The insides of a man going through something. It’s obvious that Elverum is a fan of Neil Young, even if he sounds nothing like him in voice. He sounds a bit like Little Wings and Mirah, but, mostly, he sounds like the Phil Elverum we know from last year’s much acclaimed Lost Wisdom record. We learn that Elverum was a great songwriter even back in 2002 - back when most people thought of him as a really interesting producer with a lot of wild ideas and an endless number of talented friends who were willing to do anything for him. The writing is bare and confessional, abstract and telling. It’ll haunt you.
And if you listen to the record while reading the book, Elverum will change you. No longer will you expect so little from artists and albums and projects. You’ll forever be searching for the insides of the strange people who write the strange songs you hum in the shower. Don’t expect to find much. For this reason, Dawn (Winter Journal Edition) is a special record. It’s the rare handful of music that you’ll never forget getting to know. Better find this record before it disappears again.
We all fall into our old habits now and again, glancing at an album and automatically thinking we know what it sounds like. So we just leave it, not really taking the time to explore the record and prove ourselves wrong. Sometimes we’re right, but many times when we finally hear the record and love it, we wonder how we missed it in the first place!
Katatonia may run into this indiscernible human trait with their new record, Night Is The New Day. Some will decide not to listen after seeing the cover art. But, I’m stepping in to help steer you in the right direction and to ignore this familiar fault.
Formed in 1991 by vocalist and original drummer Jonas Renkse and guitarist Anders Nyström, this band has weathered 18 years of the Swedish metal scene, evolving from doom metal into a more melodic, synth-driven gothic sound. The album has an overwhelmingly melancholic feel, more so because of Jonas’s vocals; no longer able to produce the guttural growl he displayed on earlier records, he now sings with an unexpected softness.
For the first twenty seconds of “Foresaker,” the music lives up to the doom-y image on the cover and then, in a split second, things change, as the vocals wash over your eardrums like a warm blanket. Juxtaposed with cold, mechanical drums and chugging guitar riffs, Katatonia turn in a beautiful song, which sets the mood for the remainder of the record. Additional tracks like “Liberation,” “New Night,” “Day & Then the Shade” use this same pattern – they first pull you in with blazing guitars and thundering drums, then lull you into a hypnotic state of calmness.
The two standouts are “The Promise of Deceit” and “Nephilim.” The first, with its pulsing bass, blinking guitars and driving drums, feels like you’re being led along a dark, cavernous corridor, chasing the dots of daylight just ahead, only to be lost, deeper inside the darkness. “Nephilim,” which is Hebrew for “fallen ones” (and in some references attributed to giant fallen angels), feels exactly like it should, like you’re falling. Anders' and Fred’s dropped-tuned guitars are really spectacular - and really slow - on this track; you feel like you’re being dragged down with each note, and no matter how reassuring Jonas’s chanting may be, the distorted bass lines and pounding drums during the closing minutes let you know you won’t land softly.
The album does end on a softer note with the help of Enter the Hunt vocalist Krister Linder and string/keyboard arrangements from Frank Default. “Departer” displays a fragility not present in the rest of the tracks. It’s a beautifully crafted song and a fitting end to a record that is more influenced by Bauhaus/Love and Rockets than Candlemass.