CAVEMAN: LIVE AT MERCURY LOUNGE 9/15

New York’s Caveman played a sold-out recordless record release party last week (9/15) for the digital release of their debut album “CoCo Beware” on Magic Man! Records (which you can get here).  Packed with psychedelic pop jams from beginning to end, we were ecstatic for the chance to catch these guys live.  Their show contained a visual component which was relatively nondescript, but which worked nicely to light the stage in a beautiful way while not distracting the audience from the focal point of the performance, namely the music. Frontman Matthew Iwanusa’s vocals contain traces of the nostalgia that seems to pervade every fuzzy shoegaze band since 2008…which is, of course, essentially every “new” band since 2009…but only ever so subtly and in hearing them live, I felt as though harmonically the vocals were aimed more at creating a mood than a mentality.  Anyone you speak to will tell you that if you like Grizzly Bear, you’ll like Caveman, however in a live setting, while a great deal of the albums texture does come through that invariably draws the Grizzly Bear references, I found Caveman to provide what was, for me, a significantly more engaging and exciting performance.  Iwanusa alternated between a standing drum and guitar and on songs such as “My Room” and “Great Life” launched into ferociously heavy tribalesque drum tirades turning the otherwise melancholic and hushed songs into truly dance-worthy jams.  It’s rare to find a band with such sweeping and beautiful sounds to also have the pop sensibilities that Caveman has, and perhaps the best example is “Thankful.”

It’s no surprise that Caveman are so quickly generating buzz instantly upon the release of their debut and have gained places opening with the likes of The War on Drugs, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, and the White Rabbits. These guys put on one hell of a good show. Abandoning the sold out crowd with a deafening reverb, Caveman returned to the stage to perform one last unplanned nonalbum song “Wasted Life.” Our recommendation, be sure to catch Caveman at CMJ next month, you won’t be disappointed.

 

JPL

ST. VINCENT: ST. VINCENT

[rating: 4.5]

St. Vincent: St. Vincent

Label: 4ad Records

Release date:  September 13, 2011

Annie Clark is a woman of almost painterly beauty who would, in all likelihood, cut a bitch if she needed to. Beneath her gracefully composed chamber pop lies a scratchy, violent underbelly. With Strange Mercy, Clark achieves the perfect balance of porcelain elegance and distorted ugliness she’s spent three albums working to hit. Serrated guitar and some seriously agitated synthesizers—the coda of “Surgeon” sounds like something off a particularly wigged-out Bernie Worrell record—rip straight through strings, woodwinds and Clark’s own crystalline voice, leaving fractures in the delicate arrangements that take on a skewed sort of loveliness themselves.

 

– Matt Singer

THE HORRORS: SKYING

[rating: 4.5]

THE HORRORS: SKYING

LABEL: XL Recordings

RELEASE DATE: August 9, 2011

Most bands wontedly mature with mileage, but rarely are they able to thrive with the same level of success as The Horrors. In 2007, the band released Strange House; an underrated debut album that has slipped into indie rock obscurity, sounding today, like it was written and recorded by a different group altogether. Two years later, The Horrors released Primary Colours, rightfully shuttling the group into musical notoriety andsetting the pace for their newest record, Skying.

As with most Horrors’ albums this is not necessarily an innovative or unique sounding album, but rather a loud one. This new batch of material leans heavy on an older rock n’ roll and garage rock aesthetic that the band has comfortably visited throughout their career. But on Skying, The Horrors magnify the familiar, and along the way, throw in a range ofother musical influences from shoe-gazeto dream pop, to psychedelia mixed withsome of today’s more prevalent synth jams.

There is a lot of sound on Skying, loud fuzzy guitars,  big riffs,  free-flowing percussion, waving strings, electronics, organic effects and Faris Badwan’s commanding vocals (which have also grown considerable dimensions); but it’s all glued together to complete one masterful puzzle that evades sensory overload. Between the powerful bookends, “Changing the Rain” and “You Said”, two of the band’s most addictive songs to date and“Oceans Burning”, a sprawling 8-minute epic there are no tracks on Skying that lull the album’s progression. Skying is so uniformly composed and tightly arranged that no one song is greater than the next. And because of the albums consistentcy, differentiating the lush atmospherics from song to song, while initally challenging, is one of the most rewarding virtues of the record.

Skying is an album where the parts not only beget the whole, but where the whole synthesizes the parts. It is a collection of songs that succeed individually but absolutely soar when heard as a group. Where, in order to truly unravel just how fantastic a track like “Still Life”is, requires familiarization with the entire album. As you acclimate your ears to thestrata of noise, you’ll find that while Skying follows a cohesive blueprint, it never recycles a singular idea. This is a very fine line, which The Horrors have walked beautifully. In a matter of just four years,The Horrors have recorded a definitive album; mature, focused, and proof that some bands really are better at growing up than others.

-Andrew Bailey

BON IVER: BON IVER

[rating: 5 stars]

Bon Iver: Bon Iver

Label: Jagjaguwar

Release date:  June 21, 2011

When Justin Vernon holed himself up in a remote cabin, writing For Emma, Forever Ago, there is no way he could have foreseen the span of impact his album would exonerate, nor could anyone else.  Like a folk story echoed from generations ago, the goal was to hibernate and purge a year of personal trouble, pain, lack of perspective, heartache, longing, love, loss and guilt into a deeply affecting nine-song avalanche of gorgeous, fragile catharsis.  A year later, he would be taking calls from Kanye West, summoned for an indie all-star team recording eighties inspired love songs, releasing an auto-tuned EP, and closing Coachella.

After three years, Bon Iver, Bon Iver arrives into a world not only aware of it’s conception, but anticipating it’s birth with yearning. Thankfully, fans of Vernon’s lauded but comparatively skeletal predecessor albums, will not be disappointed. Bon Iver, Bon Iver masterfully combines the fruit of these labors,“bringing it all back home”. Like For Emma, Forever Ago, Vernon’s unmistakably earthy voice feels warm and personal amidst the minimalist composition residue lingering on this album; the organic sound of drumsticks bumping together, fingers sliding along a fretboard, all  nestled inside a new collection of quietly introspective folk songs like “Holocene” and “Towers”. The guitar at the beginning of “Holocene” is even reminiscent of Vernon’s pre-Bon Iver solo track “Hazelton” and there are post-rock echoes of Vernon’s experimental side-project Volcano Choir on songs like “Perth”, which transcends conventional verse and song structure. Even more, striking comparisons can be drawn to the Blood Bank EP, whose auto-tune legacy is, once again, re-visited with surprisingly tactful results.

But, Bon Iver, Bon Iver is built on a much more vibrant and lush linchpin than anything prior. These arrangements are more sophisticated and robust, and flourish from a consistent reciprocity of warm, beatific instrumentation consolidated by studio finesse. On the dramatic “Wash.”, Vernon’s virtuosic falsetto co-exists elegantly alongside the steady rhythm of keys before being tirelessly joined by separate layers of bold instruments punctuated by horns and synth.  The song titles on Bon Iver, Bon Iver are named for, or reference actual locations;  a wash of memories from places visited or dreams of places to go.  But unlike Band of Horses or Sufjan Stevens, these songs are less about the geography or culture of specific locations and more about breaking away to a state of mind;  living outside yourself and finding beauty in that space.

For an album written about escape, Bon Iver, Bon Iver puts forth a valiant effort at staying the course.

 

BATTLES: GLOSS DROP

[rating: 4]

BATTLES: GLOSS DROP

LABEL: WARP RECORDS

RELEASE DATE: JUNE 6, 2011

How many bands can you think of that lost their lead singer and didn’t completely fold? Probably not many. But for Battles, the show goes on after the departure of Tyondai Braxton, the central figure of 2007’s break-out album Mirrored. As you’d expect after such a line-up overhaul, Gloss Drop is noticeably different from its predecessor, though many of the qualities that made their debut such a hit are still at play: high energy, strong musicianship, and an abundance of addictive weirdness.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that Braxton’s presence isn’t missed here, because it is. But the remaining members of the band – Ian Williams, John Stanier, and Dave Konopka – have done a fantastic job of brining in outside vocalists to complement their groove-heavy, mathematical-leaning sound. “Ice Cream,” a track that’s been kicking around for a while now, is one of the best examples of this, welcoming Matias Aguayo to the microphone to lay down crisp, almost ska-inspired vocals that wildly flirt with the frantic, rhythmic instrumentation. Later, the band collaborates with Gary Numan, Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino, and Yamantaka Eye on the elborate closer “Sundome”. And remarkably, these guest spots rarely sound like guest spots at all. Each of these artists blends so well- maybe it’s the production, maybe it’s the way the record was arranged, or maybe Battles just have keen ears for what precisely fits their aesthetic- that Gloss Drop sounds every bit as cohesive as Mirrored (even if there are less vocals.) It also helps that these featured artists were used in moderation. Only a quarter of the tracks have outside hires and each guest appearance is nicely bridged by the group’s quirky instrumentation, which prevents the album from sounding like an off-beat collaboration.

Yet, while there is no distinctly weak track on the album, there are, at points, moments that repeat, or songs that go on for longer than necessary. To put it another way, at times, Gloss Drop plays like a jam band with experimental, math-rock tendencies. “Futura” is one track where this really jumps out. For more than half it’s duration, the track is intense and gripping. But at some point around it’s final two minutes, the song starts to lose traction. The rhythms and cadences of the instrumentation might actually be duplicating but it sure sounds like that’s what’s happening. By no means does this wound the album as a whole, but it does grow sort of tiresome; just as it can be exhausting to hear a band stretch a three minute song into a 10 minute song in a live setting. It’s a bit of overkill- especially when a track like “Dominican Fade” proves they don’t always need to go the excessive route.

Most bands ravaged by turnover would have simply fallen off the face of the Earth, but it almost feels like the remaining members of Battles thrived on the challenge of picking up the pieces and carrying on. Depending on your own personal metrics, it’s entirely plausible to discover that this record is actually better than the first. It isn’t flawless, to be sure, but Battles have surely survived the wreckage with minimal scarringl with a successful album that asserts there’s more to come.

-Andrew Bailey

 

DAWES: NOTHING IS WRONG

[rating: 4]

DAWES: NOTHING IS WRONG

LABEL: ATO RECORDS/ RED

RELEASE DATE: JUNE 7, 2011LABEL: ATO RECORDS/ RED

When Taylor Goldsmith rips into a staccato-laced solo toward the end of “Fire Away” on Dawes’ second LP, Nothing is Wrong, the band emphatically declares their expansion. With more time to write and focus their efforts, Dawes managed to honor their modern, Laurel Canyon country folk by adding moments of increased muscle and bright, new flourishes to their striking harmonies within a wider palette of sound. While“Fire Away” burns with more power live, here the track is subdued. Working withinthis template of reverent albums androcking live shows the band has, for the second consecutive time, created an album that crackles with pristine sound andcarries an instantly classic resonance in its powerful intimacy. Even the packaging and gatefold lyric book (in the vinyl version) echo the simple clarity that pulses through this band’s sound.

Nothing Is Wrong kicks off with“Time Spent in Los Angeles,” a nearperfect slice of quintessential Dawes that aches and echoes the struggle of sustaining relationships while living on the road. Lead singer and songwriter Taylor Goldsmith shines right off the bat, flaunting his uncanny ability to resolve a melody with the best. “My Way Back Home” is the first new example of a Dawes calling card on the new record. Plaintive, majestic and sincere, their ballads display an inherent musical patience. Couple this restraint with a vintage, honest heart andthe ability to craft warmly rich hooks, and surrender is only natural. Dawes couldn’t fake it if they tried.

It is rare for such a young band,drummer Griffin Goldsmith is only 20, to play with such earnest focus and pitch perfect tone. Music seems to float effortlessly from their core. And lyrically, Goldsmith continues to build a reputation forbeing wise beyond his years. Singing ina plaintive call on “My Way Back Home:”“If I can place it all together /Make out the nature of the call / I start to feel the love and the silence / That was always at theroot of it all.”

“Coming Back to a Man” was originally played as a ballad at the tailend of the North Hills tour, but now hasmore of a barnstorming, country feel to it due to its punchy drum work. The bounce and the timeless harmonies of “How Far We’ve Come” signal a progression forthe band. Like the perfect soundtrack for an intimate pool-side barbecue, the song unfolds in such a delightfully ageless waythat its catchy phrases, warm piano, and buoyant hum simply feel like home. Letout a celebratory sigh as the band sings “The only point of clocks and maps / The only point of looking back / Is to see howfar we’ve come.”

“Moon in the Water” strongly suggests a nod to a 70’s singer-songwriter style reminiscent of Jackson Browne with more gorgeous piano work and a melody that slowly seeps in. It is a track that exemplifies Nothing is Wrong’s ability tofoster deeper appreciation after repeated listens. Because the strong songwritingrelies on traditional country rock structures,but imbues them with lucid, melodic work and incandescent harmonies, some songs only reveal their true powerin time. An easy-going playing style is afactor as well. Their style doesn’t try toimpress with technical flourishes, rather itslowly burrows into your pores with narya note wasted or misplaced.

Dawes’ talents have recently been stamped by two rock legends thattapped the LA youngsters as a backingband for hire. Robbie Robertson askedthe four-piece to help him promote Howto Become Clairvoyant, his first LP in 20 years, and Laurel Canyon-icon Jackson Browne lined them up to support him onan upcoming tour of Spain. Those gigs,coupled with an opening slot on Alison Krauss and Union Station’s “comeback”tour, rave reviews from national and underground publications, and a burgeoning reputation as a full throttle live band, has Dawes primed to thrive. With Nothing is Wrong’s ability to fire poignant and lasting musical arrows straight from a heartof gold, Dawes signals they are here tostay.

– Chirs Calarco

YACHT: SHANGRI-LA

[rating: 3.5]
YACHT: Shangri-LA
Label: PID
Release date: July 5, 2011

For me, YACHT has always beenone of those bands that is better in myhead than in reality. That isn’t a slight,mind you. See, Mystery Lights is a solidrecord, but it’s easy for judgment toremain unclouded when the phenomenal“Ring the Bell” and “The Afterlife” areyour memory’s sticking points. And so,with such great tracks as benchmarks,the excitement of gearing up to listento the band is often disproportionate tothe consistency of the catalog. But withShangri-La, that disconnect has fadedsignificantly. In fact, while moving at amuch steadier pace, YACHT has comeup with their best work to date.

With this new record, YACHThasn’t so much reinvented its sound,but rather, better channeled the old one.Shangri-La remains heavy on percussionand electronics, and retains plenty of popelements, but it has managed to mature;to bring them all together cohesively,while shaking off much of the band’s tendencyto meander off into filler-country.With “Utopia” and “Dystopia,” the first twosongs on the tracklist and two of the bestcuts the band has ever recorded, YACHT lays all the necessary groundwork forwhat’s in store, both sonically and thematically.A glimpse of the album’s coverhelps drive home the songs’ thematicelements. The cover is a map full of roaringterrain and flowing rivers titled Utopia(er, VTO PIAE), which, along with someof these tracks – not just the first two,though those are the ripest examples -highlights exactly what the band aims todo: to use their music as a vehicle for amake-believe spot on the globe wherethings are just a little bit brighter, and alittle less hostile. And, like watching themiles drop on your GPS, listening tothese tracks steadily builds toward thedestination.

In many respects, Shangri-La isa lot like those old drugged up hippierecords that have since become synonymouswith Woodstock and tie-dyedpeace symbols. Though there are a lotof religious references, the lyrics don’tpreach; instead, they offer a welcoming‘whoever-you-are-and-whatever-youbelieve.’“Tripped & Fell in Love” is allabout cherishing family values, whichfits in nicely with some of the brother/sister sentiment sprinkled throughout the LP. And while it isn’t the premiere songon the album, “Paradise Engineering” isthe most apt example of what’s happeningon Shangri-La. This is also the mostLCD Soundsystem-esque track from aband that has garnered comparisons tothe recently defunct outfit. On this track, Claire Evans rants and raves more thanshe sings, though her delivery is poisedand poignant. As the title suggests,she effectively spends this song layingout her proposal for a better livelihood,while inviting her listeners to join her.

YACHT has yet to fulfill all of itsenormous promise. But it’s taken marvelousstrides and formulated a brilliant poprecord; one full of imminently enjoyablemessages and melodies that no doubtdeserve repeated listens. And, if youare one of those people who look to thisband as a potential replacement for thenow-departed LCD Soundsystem, well,Shangri-La certainly instills hope. And ifyou aren’t, then, as this record suggests,you’re just as welcome so long as youcome in peace.

-Andrew Bailey

SHABAZZ PALACES: BLACK UP

[rating: 4.5 stars]

Shabazz Palaces: Black Up

Label:  Sub Pop

Release date:  June 28, 2011

Black Up is a hip-hop album that sounds unlike any other hip-hop album this year. Borrowing from African roots, jazz, ambient, electronic and dub-step and led by enigmatic Seattle based rapper Ishmael Butler aka ‘Palaceer Lazaro’, once ‘Butterfly’ of Digital Planets, Black Upis both dense and dissonant. This is a sonic move reminiscent of early Wu-Tang and J-Dilla mixed with the atmospheric magic of DJ Shadow, sounding at once throwback but some how still miles ahead.

CULTS: CULTS

[rating: 4.5]

Cults: Cults

Label: Columbia

Release date: June 7, 2011

When something seems too good to be true, it likely is – or so goes the old adage. When “Go Outside,” the debut single from New York twosome Cults, was unearthed back in February 2010, the track elevated Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion to instant hype band status – but the question of how they might grow after such an impressive start  remained. How could this pair, so heavily indebted to the bubbly radio pop of the 1960′s and 70′s, flesh out their sound and retain the same magic? Turns out, the answer is pretty simple: just stick to the script.

See, Cults aesthetic isn’t much of a mystery. Oblivion lays down the arrangements on a foundation of guitar and percussion, then rounds things out with an assortment of peripheral gear and technique that includes bells, xylophones, piano, and light distortion to simultaneously identify the sound with throwback hits of past generations and modern indie rock’s latest trends. Over all of this Follin’s sugary sweet voice floats, ripe with innocence and curiosity. Her style borrows from old Motown and  R&B singles, often replicating the stuff you’d hear if you dropped a couple of quarters into one of those table jukeboxes they have at retro diners. But this is obvious – it’s the same stuff we heard on “Go Outside” that made us question sustainability in the first place. The thing that sells the band, that really ignites and extends the magic, is the hidden evil lurking behind their pretty, peppy, cuddly outer shell.

“Abducted,” a single released in April that went a long way towards proving the band wasn’t just going to be a one-off outfit, begins with chugging guitar and the sound of far-off voices. Later, similar voices resurface in the aforementioned “Go Outside,” as well as “Most Wanted,” and, easily an album standout, “Oh My God.” These voices, as it turns out, belong to neither Follin nor Oblivion, but rather to famous cult leaders Charles Manson, Jim Jones, and Patty Hearst. Coupled with lyrics about growing up, daunting feelings about a relationship’s nebulous future, and even substance abuse, the contrast between content and sound gives the band the sort of inner turmoil we appreciate in the characters from our favorite movies. Their seemingly innocent, playful melodies paint Cults as well-intentioned folks, but like the songs, dig a little deeper and you’ll find skeletons below the surface. This isn’t glorifying darkness though, but rather a reminder that sometimes wonderful things are born out of tumultuous events.

But on an album of phenomenal tracks, perfect for summertime, the best comes in the form of “Bumper,” a he said/she said song that analyzes a crumbling relationship from the perspective of both inside parties. Follin’s voice is great, but the effect gained from tossing the microphone back and forth is what really sets this song apart, giving it a sound unique to any other on the record (though it adheres to the general blueprint). It’s also chock full of great quotes: “I threw his shit on the floor,” Follin sings with the sauciness of a tried and true diva, while Oblivion snaps back, “she rushed me out the door.” Later, it gets better, with Folin reciting “I’ve had it up to here/I can’t take this anymore,” only to have Oblivion fire back with the hilarious and identifiable “if she’s this crazy now/there’s no telling what’s in store.” In between each of these exchanges, Follin’s vocals flutter around in re-verb in the background, simply offering up “la la la la la.” Again, it’s a whole dynamic of pretty sounds laced with venomous subjects that gives the band not only it’s identity, but also a fountain of ways in which to stretch that identity.

Any apprehensions about whether or not Cults could turn “Go Outside” into a successful, full-length should hastily be put to rest. In every feasible way, Cults punctuates the discussion. Not only that, but it illuminates a promise that Follin and Oblivion may have many more indelible, pop treasures still to come.

 

-Andrew Bailey

 

MY MORNING JACKET: CIRCUITAL

[rating: 4]

My Morning Jacket:  Circuital

Label: ATO RECORDS / RED

Release date: May 31, 2011

Experiencing a band in a live setting is almost certain to change your relationship with their music. Of course, the way in which it might change isn’t static. A great show could ignite a long-lasting listening binge, while a sub-par outing could shelf a band’s records for a spell. But sometimes things can change in unsuspecting ways. For me, My Morning Jacket is an example of such a strange case. After seeing them play Merriweather Post Pavilion in May 2010 — a brilliant show by any measure — it become difficult to get back into their studio recordings. They have such a powerful live presence that, who knows, maybe listening to their albums couldn’t quite measure up. And so Circuital arrives in a unique way for me: a brand new album from a beloved band tasked with reigniting a love for all things studio, a record challenged by the lofty expectations of one sensational live performance.

My Morning Jacket named their new album Circuital because they viewed it as something of a return to a previous point in their careers. They returned to Kentucky — specifically a church gymnasium in Louisville — to record this one, landing them in a similar setting with familiar surroundings. Interestingly enough, depending on which song you’re listening to, the album sounds like one of two things: a quiet ode to the days of It Still Moves and Z or a confident respone to critics who dogged the exploratory sounds of Evil Urges. Even more interesting is that it’s the latter that leaves the biggest imprint, while the former mostly comes and goes without a whimper, sounding uninspired and repetitive.

“Victory Dance” is one track that reflects back on the band’s earlier days with success, building an entire song around triumphant horns that act as the soundtrack to a large scale celebration. But from then on, any attempt to replicate their past achievements seems fuzzy at best. The title track gets better and better with each listen but still can’t escape classification as a fairly standard Southern rock anthem, while “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” is a painfully cheesy slow burner that only highlights the way in which Jim James’ songwriting has changed over the years. Gone is the unbridled, unrivaled romanticism of “I Will Be There When You Die”, replaced by gushy swoons over places without disease and need for authority. The sentiment isn’t bad, but the way it’s all arranged makes it difficult to take seriously. Of course, at least it leaves a mark. “Slow Slow Tune” and “Movin’ Away”, which run out the album’s final nine-plus minutes, can’t say the same. A couple of other tributes to My Morning Jacket of the early-2000′s, these songs end the album doing what the band no longer does best. There was a time where the band was essentially James’ personal creative vessel, making the slower songs a lot more affective. Now though, as the band has grown and evolved, they’re much better suited for thicker instrumentation and grander arrangements. They can still knock a mellow tune out of the park here and there, but that’s not their predominant strength in 2011. For them to close out that way causes Circuital to fade away rather than burn out, an unfortunate turn for a band capable of so much more.

It’s not all disappointing though. In fact, there are some phenomenal songs on this album. Coincidentally, these are the ones where the band sounds as large as they’ve become, where they indulge their influences and play for a stadium rather than a smoky bar. “Outta My System” is a highlight, a compact radio-ready track with a defined climax and without wasted airspace. This one, unlike some of the slower throwbacks, operates with a pop aesthetic in mind, cutting straight to the point and crossing the finish line. It just feels like there’s less pretense going on. “Holdin’ on to Black Metal”, meanwhile, sounds like it could have come straight from the Evil Urges recording session, a potpourri track that takes some time to sink in, but ultimately winds up as one of the album’s most rewarding cuts. Along with “You Wanna Freak Out”, there are certainly highlights here. In fact, these three tracks are greatest hits material. The stuff around it though… well, that just mostly feels in the way.

Circuital feels like an album torn between two places. Clearly the group feel indebted to their roots, which means they’ve also got an appreciation for the fans that were with them from the start because of a certain sound. But at the same time, tracks like “Holdin’ On to Black Metal” (and everything they did on Evil Urges) suggest they don’t want to spin wheels either. They want to take their sound down different avenues — and clearly, they’re more than capable of doing it. It’s a difficult place for a band to find themselves in, loyal to home and intrigued by what the road has to offer. If Circuital is any indication, the time may have come to pack up once and for all and explore what the world has to offer.

-Andrew Bailey

THE ANTLERS: BURST APART

[rating: 4.5]

The Antlers: Burst Apart

Label: Fake Four Inc.

Release date: April 26, 2011

One of the biggest mistakes a band can make is trying to replicate a truly monumental album. For The Antlers, Hospice represents their mecca: a singular narrative made up of equal parts beauty and emotional wreckage encapsulated flawlessly in its own unique moment in time. And so with the band’s fourth full-length, there is no chasing of elusive ghosts. Instead, Peter Silberman and company have crafted an entirely different memento of near-equal magnitude. They’ve called it Burst Apart.

Instead of chronicling one tale from different perspectives as they did on HospiceBurst Apart is broken down into 10 smaller stories, some of which do borrow from common themes (references to dogs and teeth are prevalent). The songwriting certainly feels less ambitious than when we last heard from The Antlers, but that comes as a refreshing alteration rather than a frustrating one. Hospice was so affective that not only does the band need to step back from it, but listeners do as well. And to keep things in perspective, the writing on Hospice set the bar astronomically high. Still, the stories of Burst Apart stand as a testament to Silberman’s proficiency. “No Widows”, one of the many great sonic revelations on the album, sounds written from the perspective of a soldier isolated from family and friends overseas. “If I never get back home/there’s no garden overgrown/no widows in the walls/no widows left alone”, Silberman sings, as if the protagonist is trying to convince himself that not making it out of his situation and back home might not be so bad after all. As the song progresses, Silberman grabs the harmony by the shoulders and lifts it up, sending it soaring over the track. Indicative of literally every song here, there’s an otherworldly power to each note, vocal run, and arrangement.

With the stories pushed a bit to the background, the band have really put an impetus on expanding their sound. The biggest influence here, especially on the first two singles “Parentheses” and “Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out”, is Radiohead, which isn’t a likeness that gets accurately thrown around often. These songs don’t just sound bigger, but they actually take on a dynamic, alien quality unlike anything the trio has done before. But even though they’ve magnified their sound — thicker layers, heavier percussion — their ability to make a stripped down song into something mountainous hasn’t withered, especially on the last four tracks. On “Corsica”, Silberman’s voice and the gentle, romanticized guitar strums that run up beside it take on a gorgeous echo as if the song were recorded from inside an enormous empty coliseum. Self-produced by Silberman and bandmates Michael Lerner and Darby Cicci, this song replicates some of the things that made the narratives of Hospice work so well: even though the instrumentation is held at a minimum, it sounds completely cavernous and expansive.

On the band’s profile over at the Frenchkiss Records website, there’s a bunch of quotes about how the new album came together and what the benchmarks were. Towards the end, Cicci is quoted as saying something that not only frames the record wonderfully, but attaches the perfect wording to it. “We want to draw people into the world of the record,” he says. And when you listen to it, that statement really crystallizes. Its sound and content might be different, but that’s because Burst Apart is an entity all unto its own: a captivating world brimming with a ravishing, hypnotic magnetism.

-Andrew Bailey

 

PALEO: FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT

[rating: 2]

Paleo: Fruit of the Spirit

Label: Partisan Records

Release date: June 21, 2011

David Andrew Strackany is an experimental folk artist who performs under the guise of Paleo. More than a poet and musician, Strackany is a road warrior, putting on more than 700 shows since 2005. The running list posted to his otherwise minimal website is awe-inspiring. His music, on the other hand, is something of a mixed bag. Its smart yet challenging, personal yet detached.

Strackany is another in a long line of folk singers who weren’t born with the suitable means to be technically proficient singers. Such a list has too many names to list, but right there at the top is Bob Dylan, owner of one of the most cringe-inducing voices in all of popular music history. But like Dylan, Strackany gets by. His words are often a shield against the sandpaper abrasiveness of his voice and his instrumentation, though off the beaten path of traditional American folk, is regularly enough a nice distraction. “Lighthouse,” the opening track on Fruit of the Spirit, is a great example of this. This cut plasters Strackany’s strained voice over top of rugged acoustic instrumentation. You can hear his fingers against the fretboard as he switches chords, even amidst the constant fluttering percussion. There are moments almost identical to this scattered all throughout the album. But as many brilliant moments as Strackany sets up and knocks down, there are that many truly agitating ones waiting just around the bend.

“Poet (Take 1)” takes some of the most brutal instrumentation you’re likely to hear all year — the clunking, rhythm-devoid instrumentation isn’t experimental, its painful — and throws it over top of ironic lyrics about the fallacies of considering yourself a poet. In a sense, this song is like hearing Strackany rebel against himself. Taken that way it doesn’t seem like such a bad creation; artists don’t often skewer their own music and mock their songwriting so freely. But taken as simply another song amongst a collection of them, it represents a turn-off of staggering proportions. Strackany’s Kristian Matsson-meets-Jackie Greene-meets cheese grater voice isn’t intolerable (all the best singers have deficiencies, anyway) but is a challenge, so it would seem logical to make things sound as appealing as possible otherwise, not take the complete opposite course. And especially not twice — “Poet (Take 2)” is essentially the same architecture recycled.

While Fruit of the Spirit does have its charms — the aforementioned “Lighthouse,” “Over the Hill and Back Again,” and “In the Movies” are all worthy standouts — they are ultimately weighted down by its shortcomings. Its clear that Strackany doesn’t have a good voice, but what remains uncertain is whether or not he’s aware of this. Throughout the album there are moments where he strains too far, stretching out to latch onto notes that he shouldn’t even be thinking about. These instances tend to hurt. And while the instrumentation backing him up may maintain a certain level of consistency (save for those two atrocious “Poet” tracks), that simply isn’t enough to make this an album worth digging too deep into.

ANGLOPHILIA’S LATEST, GREATEST AND WHITEST HOPE: THE VACCINES

 


[rating:3.5]
The Vaccines: What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?
Label: Columbia
Release date: May 31, 2011 

You’ve heard this song before.
You’ve heard this album before.
You’ve seen this band live before, but it’s been so long – do you really care anymore?

The Vaccines are a UK band who, in the UK music press (read: NME) have been hailed as the new brit-pop darlings you must worship and adore lest you face the harsh ridicule of anyone claiming to be cooler than you.

Anglophiles both casual and fanatical will agree on this to a certain degree.
Anglophillia or the severe interest/obsession with UK bands (or as a Greek goddess once put it “lad rock”) has been going in and out of style since the very first British Invasion. For every Guided By Voices geek, there’s a Manic Street Preachers nutter just like there’s a Strokes devotee for every Libertines junkie.

Some years are better for anglophiles than others. American Indie Rock has been kicking serious limey ass for a while now that the British Hype Machine hasn’t successfully reached our radars since Tony Blair left office and Arctic Monkeys were still culturally viable.
Enter The Vaccines, a really young London foursome with a scrappy pub rock yet anthemic retro pop sound.

The Vaccine’s singer, Justin Young, has a strong, clear and distinctive yet still familiar voice (you might recall and compare to Doves, Embrace, Kaiser Chiefs, etc).
Most of their debut, What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? is comprised of short one-two-punch numbers that concentrate more on the release and less on the build. It’s the aural equivalent of several satisfying quickies ( If You Wanna, Blow It Up, Post Break-Up Sex, Norgaard) and at least one incident of premature ejaculation (Wreckin’ Bar).  Like I said, they’re still young.

The Vaccines found their man with the megaphone in Zane Lowe, who is no Tony Wilson by any stretch, but he is a BBC radio dj. Add to this, Tom Cowan of The Horrors is your older brother (Freddie, guitar) and multiply that by the fact that it’s one of the driest times in British music history for guitar bands and you start to see the stars align for The Vaccines.

Don’t get me wrong, What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? is a fun album but it’s upsetting that the band with the The Horrors connection gets this much attention for doing the same thing that virtually every other band both in the UK and here stateside is doing, which is playing tried and true bar band/pub garage rock with  pop sensibility (See: Airborne Toxic Event, Gaslight Anthem, Detroit Cobras, etc) and some might argue, much better.

 

NEW NUMBERS: VACATIONLAND

[Rating: 3.5]
New Numbers: Vacationland
Label: Musiques Primitives
Release date: March 8, 2011
The first time I hit play on New Numbers’ Vacationland, I did so with the volume cranked and the bass high. It was as instantly jarring as it was completely unintentional. “Death and Dying,” the frightfully-titled opening track, begins with the slow crank of gritty feedback backed up by subtle yet effective bass. It was sort of like experiencing a concert in reverse (because, you know, those things often end with stray instrumental noise even as the band has stopped playing and is exiting the stage). From there the band descends — or, more appropriately, ascends — into their own brand of pavement-smooth rock.

 

Those first moments of “Death and Dying” don’t only jar, but they kind of deceive too. From just those few seconds it’d be easy to expect something of the lo-fi, Times New Viking-meets-punk-rock concatenation. Rather, New Numbers are actually quite the rubbery outfit. There’s an unmistakable 1980’s aura on many of the songs (the vocals on “Verbal” are prime 80’s real estate), glimpses of standard issue, modern day indie rock, and even synthesizers blended in amongst the otherwise guitar and drum driven tunes. This may just be a debut — and a self-financed one at that — but its nice to hear that the band isn’t overly pushy with immediately establishing their own definitive sound. There’s a cohesion to it all, but the boundaries of such uniformity are pretty liberal.

Perhaps more than anything else, Vacationland is an album that makes you wonder — and much of that goes back to the whole self-financed thing. On this release, New Numbers seem poised and ready to make an impact. Hell, on tracks like “Islands” and “Creature Comforts,” they not only leave such an impact, but they do it better than a lot of label-supported artists. So the question then becomes: what if these guys had some backing? By no means is this the kind of record you’d easily fawn over, but its pretty easy to hear that the ingredients for such a thing. Just imagine if they had the resources afforded to many of the groups we switch in and out of our listening rotations. New Numbers could be a big thing.

Above all, Vacationland is exactly what the title suggests: an album chock full of fun cuts. There’s no overbearing pretentiousness or forced gimmicks. Its just a nice little do-it-yourselfer that deserves a spot somewhere on your summer soundtrack.

Andrew J. Bailey

YUCK + TAME IMPALA: LIVE AT WEBSTER HALL

Yuck and Tame Impala played a sold out show at Webster Hall on Monday 25.4.11.

For a band that formed only a little over a year ago, the London/Hiroshima/ New Jersey foursome, Yuck are quickly becoming one of the best new bands out there.  They might sound like they belong in the early 90’s but they are one of the more technically gifted guitar acts to tour in a long time, and prove themselves to be more than mere “Nineties revivalists” in concert. Drawing obvious inspiration from grunge and shoegaze bands from over a decade ago, they somehow manage to sound all their own, frontman Daniel Bloomburg channeling a bit of a young Dylan-esc stage swagger on a raw version of  “Georgia”, and the band showing a more melancholy dreamlike side on “Suicide Policeman”. Substance o

If you haven’t seen Yuck live yet, there are still Tickets available for their  Headline show at Bowery Ballroom on May 27th or you can head over and catch them play a free in-store at Other Music TONIGHT.

Aussie musical ensemble Tame Impala took the stage last and is a beast. Their 70 minute psychedelic hypno-groove melodic rock performance was packed with enough emotion and atmosphere to keep your head swirling around like the light show they project behind them.  With 9 flat screen monitors featuring a psychedelic light show rigged up to their guitars, the band tightly ripped through the entire Innerspeaker album, some lesser known tracks off their debut EP and even covered “Angel” by Massive Attack!  Check out the full setlist and some pictures from the whole show, below:

Tame Impala

 

CRYSTAL STILTS: IN LOVE WITH OBLIVION

[rating: 4.5]

Crystal Stilts: In Love With Oblivion

Label: Slumberland Records

Release Date: April 12, 2011

In Love with Oblivion is a lo-fi Brooklyn shoe-gaze garage rock album, every bit as potent as their debut, sounding less like Joy Division and more like a backyard acid trip; heavier on atmosphere, hotdogging the bands ultra-tight cohesion and aggrandizing the cult following of Brad Hargett’s tone-wary, reverb drenched bass voice.  So what is the deal with that voice? Either you love it or hate it. We, obviously, love it.  Take Ian Curtis of Joy Division or Paul Banks of Interpol, mix in some of The Velvet Underground and Jim Morrissey, and then lock them in a far away echo chamber drenched in reverb, and you have Brad Hargett. If you still don’t think any of that sounds like a bad combo, read on.

For a second album, Crystal Stilts succeed in stretching their noise pop schtick farther than their 2008 debut to create an even larger, darker,more  atmospheric record.  With leering and brash psychedelic organ swells, noisy guitars, sinister rockabilly riffs, and the echoy distance Hargett places between the instrumentation and the listener –  this is sinister American pop at it’s best, from a band that has the songwriting chops to pull it off. Their song craft is a force to be reckoned with here;  full of elliptical verses, scholarly pop savvy and an experimental energy that keeps the entire album fresh and effortless. From the stampeding instrumental opening track “Sycamore Tree”, to the more menacing but even more expansive “Half a Moon” , these are colossal songs occupying a vast sonic landscape for the listener to get lost in, forget who they are and fall in love with oblivion.

 

 

 

 

THE PASS: LIVE AT PIANOS/FONTANAS

Kentucky is not the first place you would expect to find a dance rock band of the caliber of The Pass, but these Louisvillians aren’t one to let their geographics tie them down. Which is lucky for us, considering we had two opportunities to see them play this past weekend in New York. Selling out venues across the country (twice selling out NY’s Pianos and even the 700 person Headliners in their hometown of Louisville), The Pass are nevertheless one of the more underrated bands of the scene. That was, perhaps, until Friday night when the line to get into Pianos stretched around the corner of the block and dozens of people that we spoke to were unable to get into see the band. For a young band still out to prove itself, there are certainly worse problems to have.

Drawing influences from Justice and LCD Soundsystem (R.I.P.), The Pass create a basement party kind of sweaty dance rock that packs crowds in and keeps even the most rigid hipsters moving. Recently featured on the CMJ and SXSW websites, big things are coming for this band who have found their music in primetime television and several CW and MTV televisions.

The sets at Pianos and Fontanas navigated the usual hits with all of the songs for which videos have been produced (except Criminal) making their appearance, but we were fortunate to be treated to two brand new songs, “It’s Less Dangerous” and “Hologram,” both of which were written in the last few weeks with kinks still getting worked out. The first of the new records had the anthematic quality showing the promise of that truly great record the labels are always looking for and the second displayed a really interesting wah wah kind of sound showing an exploration and development of guitar leads in their sound. Perhaps the tweet from Bank Robber Music said it best when they said “Wow. Suspicions confirmed at Pianos. @ThePassTheBand can’t write a bad song.” While they didn’t have the birdmen look this time, they put on a great show as always. In their feature, CMJ said “The courageous quartet pours passionate lyrics into a whirlwind of synthesizers and upbeat rhythms, all while catering to the perfect dance party environment” and notes that “the Pass’ music draws inspiration from dance parties, relationships, making out, the power of positive thinking and whatever rests in between.” It couldn’t be clearer from this week’s performances how true those statements are.

The Pass are definitely a band to keep up with so that you can be the guy or girl who knew about them before they blow up, and we’ll definitely be at the next performance (if we can get in the door).

Setlist:
Trap of Mirrors
Hologram
It’s Less Dangerous
Girl Don’t Wait
Treatment of the Sun
Crosswalk Stereo
How to Live
Colors
Vultures

The Pass: Live at Pianos

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Cassette Kids: Live at Pianos

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The Pass: Live at Fontanas

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XYLOS: XYLOS

[rating:4]

Xylos:  Xylos

Label: 1000x Records

Release date: April 5, 2011

Songs about love, lust, longing, and desperation are nothing new. These are tried and true subject matters that work well because they’re something that, to one degree or another, we can all relate to. But every now and again a band comes along and tightly grabs hold of these basic premises, shaking and twisting them in magnificent ways. With their self-titled debut, after three years of touring and video-making since releasing a five-track EP called Bedrooms in 2008, Brooklyn-based Xylos have, through stark romanticism and composition, done exactly that.
Xylos is a record that brings together and animates a vast assortment of sounds both complex and familiar, breathing new life into each individual strand of its genetics. Monika Heidemann doesn’t just sing on this record, she rakes herself across the hot coals of passion, both fondly recalled and forgotten, requited and unfulfilled. On “Darling Dearest” she plays the submissive role, calling out to her lover in desperation as jolts of electronics and percussion close in around her from every which way. And as great as this record sounds, with intricacies billowing from every track, its really these evocations that consistently propel this thing forward. Though she displays extreme longing on “Darling Dearest,” she later sings “I want to stay in bed all day alone” on “Second Order”, coos seductively across urgent instrumentation on “Not Enough,” and still manages to power her way through the album’s tail end with unrelenting power despite having run herself through the emotional wringer.
Though the griping emotion is its biggest selling points, there are really countless qualities to love about this album. Fans of shoegaze will find familiar artifacts sprinkled throughout. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Cocteau Twins, Kate Bush, and Malory have all left an impression on this band and this album. But there’s also the kind of sexual tension dished out by The xx and enough big-time pop melodies and moments to add variety and extend reach. “Mission,” for example, is a decadent anthem about innocence that bursts the album open behind exploding percussion and the soft howl of a powerful chorus. In an album full of impressive highs, this is among the tallest peaks.
As debuts go, this is about as good as they come. Xylos is the kind of record you can get lost in, either by getting entangled in the well-conceived songwriting, being swallowed by the saturating instrumentation that unveils a new dynamic with each additional spin, or both. Truly, this lascivious, refreshing collection of songs deserves undivided attention — and lots of it.

-Andrew J. Bailey

THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART: BELONG


[rating: 4]
The Pains of Being Pure At Heart: Belong
Label: Collective Sounds
Release date: March 29, 2011

Since forming in early 2007, The Pains of Being Pure At Heart have become one of the most buzzed about indie pop bands in years. Their distinctive retro sounding brand of noise pop is a tidy distillation of all the great late 80s/early 90s shoegaze precedents – with obvious nods to early My Bloody Valentine, House of Love, Pale Saints, Rocketship – but with that incredible exuberance and energy that the Pains bring to every song.  The kind of song energy that leaves me wondering whether the band is knowingly as naive as they project or incredibly emotionally complex songwriters.

On their new album Belong, the band uses their bookish lyrics and fuzzed out shoegaze sound to once again conquer the fine art of innocent romanticism mixed with semi-violent instrumentation, of emotional turmoil equaled by shimmering pop.

Read a more in depth album review from Discosalt contributing writer Andrew Bailey below:

Belong paints The Pains of Being Pure at Heart in the same complimentary light as those successful releases of two years ago. The overall sound is largely the same as well. The New York foursome is still heavily indebted to — and derivative of, to be perfectly honest — many of shoegaze’s greatest acts. All those comparisons to My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and modern descendants like Crocodiles and The Radio Dept. that were so prevalent around their previous releases still hold true here. But this new album reflects some growth as well. It only takes one listen to the opening track, “Belong”, to gather that these songs are a little bit heavier than their predecessors. The band utilizes more aggressive guitar riffs that seem influenced by the whole 90′s grunge movement almost across the board on Belong, emphasized on that title track as well as “Girl of 1,000 Dreams” later on. They’ve also adapted a new crystalline production, unhinging themselves from some of shoegaze’s gravelly traits, which allows their spin on the genre to feel just a little more fresh and individualistic. It also provides for some nice boundaries between albums, with the self-titled and Belong managing to feel very different despite subscribing to many of the same techniques.
Even if Kip Berman’s songwriting feels a little too soft here and there (“I wonder what it’s like to be liked”, he ponders on the otherwise wonderful “Even in Dreams”), these 10 songs are almost resoundingly sensational. That said, they’re also all very similar. The debut album actually seemed that way as well, but after repeated listens tracks like “Contender”, “This Love is Fucking Right”, and “Everything With You” — among others — really began to carve out their own unique identity. Its too early to tell whether or not Belong will develop in the same manner or not, but for now it is a little difficult to pick out the LP’s premier tracks. That’s one of life’s rare win-win dilemmas though: one or two songs might not jump out from the others, but that’s only because they all triumph equally. (Read More HERE)

-Andrew Bailey

Q + A: SUCKERS

Discosalt’s Rachel Covert sat down with the band Suckers in their Brooklyn recording space to discuss their new album Wild Smile; the epic debut following up 2009’s self-titled EP produced by Yeasayer‘s Anand Wilder. The album, available on French Kiss Records, is a rowdy mix of indie art rock and synth. Equal parts experimental and accessible, at times echoing some of the glam grandeur of Bowie. The three singers/ multi-instrumentalists Austin Fisher, Quinn Walker (Fisher’s cousin), and the mysterious Pan share some insight into their music, David Bowie, touring with Menomena, stories from the road, albums in heavy rotation and “Labryth Rock”, a term coined by album producer Chris Zane (Passion Pit, The Walkmen, Les Savy Fav).

Shot back in August, a small camera crew “SNAFU” led us to believe the footage was completely lost, but eight months later, the tape has miraculously resurfaced…

And now, the lost Suckers interview:

Interview with Suckers from Discosalt on Vimeo.