Crystal Castles: Crystal Castles
Label: Last Gang Records
Release Date: March 15, 2008
It is unusual that a band accidentally releases a single and then gets a record deal. Toronto duo Ethan Kath and Alice Glass managed to do just that. The MySpace leak, “Alice Practice”, eventually became the second song on their eponymous first album. “Alice Practice” landed in the second slot on the album, encouraging listeners toward their melodic, syncopated opening track “Untrust Us”. The first two tracks define the character of the album: divided into melodic, rhythmic pop beats and dark, noise-distortion heavy tracks. The weakness is the underlying lack of cohesion. Although variety is valuable, there isn’t a strong enough bond between the melodic tracks and the dark tracks. “Crimewave” and “Untrust Us” almost belong to one album, while “Alice Practice” and “xxzxcuzx me” might belong to another. Oddly, this disparity is also the strength of the album. There isn’t one second where the hooks try to hold you for too long, or where the next track is underwhelming. Like it or not, Crystal Castles has created a multi-lingual, looped, catchy-ass bunch of songs.
<3 The Elephant
Astralwerks and War Child , an award winning charity that provides humanitarian assistance to war-affected children in some of the most devastated regions of the world , have put together a really interesting collaboration album between music legends like Dylan and Bowie with a new crop of artists. The album features 16 awesome cover songs and is due out in the US on February 24th. Check out the Trailer ,
1. Beck (Bob Dylan – “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”)
2. The Kooks (The Kinks – “Victoria”)
3. The Hold Steady (Bruce Springsteen – “Atlantic City”)
4. Hot Chip (Joy Division – “Transmission”)
5. Lily Allen feat. Mick Jones (The Clash – “Straight To Hell”)
6. Yeah Yeah Yeahs (The Ramones – “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker”)
7. Franz Ferdinand (Blondie – “Call Me”)
8. Duffy (Paul McCartney – “Live And Let Die”)
9. Estelle (Stevie Wonder – “Superstition”)
10. Rufus Wainwright (Brian Wilson -” Wonderful & Song For Children”)
11. Scissor Sisters (Roxy Music – “Do The Strand”)
12. Peaches (Iggy Pop – “Search And Destroy”)
13. Adam Cohen (Leonard Cohen – “Take This Waltz”)
14. Elbow (U2 – “Running To Stand Still”)
15. The Like (Elvis Costello – “You Belong To Me”)
16. TV On The Radio (David Bowie – “Heroes”)
Release Date: February 17, 2009
Compilations are seemingly rare in indie music, I am not sure why. Or if that’s true. In any case, The National has curated a 2 disc compilation to be released by 4AD on February 16th. Just in case you aren’t aware of the internet and you haven’t already heard every track, I’m here to tell you that should you buy, not illegally download, this album. Not because it’s fantastic, but because profits from the venture will go to the Red Hot Organization, which raises funds and awareness for AIDs and HIV. Although true to form, anything the National touches is excellent. And if this isn’t enough to get you to go buy the friggen album, maybe this all-star cast will:
Antony + Bryce Dessner
Blonde Redhead + Devastations
Bon Iver & Aaron Dessner
The Books featuring Jose Gonzalez
Buck 65 Remix (featuring Sufjan Stevens and Serengeti)
Cat Power and Dirty Delta Blues
Dirty Projectors + David Byrne
Feist + Ben Gibbard
Grizzly Bear + Feist
Iron & Wine
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings
My Brightest Diamond
My Morning Jacket
The New Pornographers
Conor Oberst & Gillian Welch
Dave Sitek (TV On The Radio)
Yo La Tengo
Late Of The Pier– Fantasy Black Channel
Animal Collective– Merriweather Post Pavilion
Bon Iver-Blood Bank
Franz Ferdinand– Tonight: Franz Ferdinand
Von Bondies– Love, Hate, and Then There’s You
Morrissey– Years of Refusal
…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead – The Century of Self
MSTRKRFT– Fist Of God
The Decemberists– Hazards Of Love
Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend
Label: Xl Recordings
Release date: January 2008
Vampire Weekend, hot sh*t band of the moment, turn in 11 fun and inspired songs in just 34 minutes on their virgin effort. Inspired by what, you ask? Mostly by Paul Simon, with a taste of the Police for effect. And what is wrong with a fresh and interesting Graceland-era Paul Simon record for 2007? Nothing really, unless you don’t like Paul Simon…or derivative music. The remarkable thing about Vampire Weekend is that when they want to sound like the heavily African rhythm inspired Paul Simon, they REALLY sound like Paul Simon (“Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”), and when they want to sound like some early Police, they REALLY sound like some early Police.
The most inspired stuff from what is destined to be the ubiqitous music of the next 6 months or so is also destined to be the most overlooked. “I Stand Corrected” is a fairly awesome bit of early 80’s pop, and “Walcott” is a straighforward bit of piano and drums driven indie pop (and with an unexpected and totally welcome baroque string section), but these are not the songs of our futures. The songs that will come to dominate the parties, get togethers, barbeques and idle time listening to the PA waiting for the next band to come on are the Sting channeling “A-Punk” and the Paul Simon meets that one college town jam band funk of “One (Blake’s Got A New Face)” and “The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance.” Not ideal, but things could be decidedly worse.
Iron and Wine: The Shepherd’s Dog
Label: Sub Pop
Release date: September 2007
I guess the thing that struck me most about The Shepherd’s Dog wasn’t the studio production (slick) or the effects pedals (lots of wah wah) or the plugged in-ness of it (Sam Beam went electric a long time ago). No, I guess it wasn’t the funk song (?), or the honky tonkin’ piano (“The Devil Never Sleeps”) or the lyrical imagery (Jesus, dogs, and birds are still hangin around in these songs). Yeah, I think that struck me most about The Shepherd’s Dog was the addition of the ethereal 10 cc-esque background vocals on “Innocent Bones.” Not that the album is not striking, both in it’s adherence to the traditional Iron & Wine formula and it’s stark change from said formula, but the angelic “ooohhh”s, they really stopped me in my tracks.
And what of the songs? Is it so much to NOT expect Sam Beam to be channeling Curtis Mayfield on “Wolves (Song of the Shepherd’s Dog)”? To NOT expect to hear a song that sounds exactly like it belongs right in the middle of the Iron & Wine Songbook (“Reserrection Fern”), but could possibly one of the prettiest songs of the year and definitely one of the most beautiful Sam Beam has ever written? The addition of the varietal of sounds & instruments to the sonic palette of Iron & Wine is certainly unexpected, but is surprisingly welcome. The storybook Americana that exists within the world of Iron & Wine is still populated with grandmas, star crossed lovers, sinners, saints, gamblers, harlots, Jesus, and, yes, lots of dogs. The songs still have lots of room to breathe, and the vocals still barely sound as if they rise above a whisper, but the song structures are no longer rooted in an Americana structure.
What differs, very pleasingly differs, is the literal jump from the rootsy folk-country foundation that Beam’s songs are usually built upon, this jump happening at the beginning of the record. Opener “Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car” begins with a very typical Iron & Wine acoustic groove, but sounds as if it’s being broadcast from an AM radio. When the strings (and drums & psychedelic guitars) kick in, the difference is apparent, and by the time the record ends (with the absolutely gorgeous waltz “Flightless Bird, American Mouth,”), the difference is welcome. By retaining what made Iron & Wine unique, and by embracing the studio and it’s many wonders (and musical instruments) and his singular vision & voice towards what a song means and can do, Sam Beam has crafted one of his best albums and has taken a step into uncharted territory. I literally have no idea what comes next for this band, and that’s exciting. Not knowing what the new Iron & Wine album is going to sound like is both pleasing and unexpected, and that newfound unpredicability makes The Shepherd’s Dog a giant step forward.
Label: Carpark Records
Release Date: February 26, 2008
Pop music from a haunted house? Beach House plys in the labor pool of the lazy, meandering melody that seems to have no obvious beginning or end, but is anchored and steered by the certain vocals and harmonic vocal resonance formerly held by the long forgotten Cocteau Twins, but there’s a real difference. These songs have actual lyrics. The songs on Devotion aren’t so enamored with their own moodiness or atmospherics. This lack of self-aware fascination is in part by the space left between the music and the listener. Devotion doesn’t jump out of the speakers at you; if anything, it takes a step backwards.
Buoyed by drum machines, lazy electric guitars & keyboards that fill most open space and yet remain sounding reserved, songs like “Some Things Last A Long Time” and “Turtle Island” bring a cold atmospheric feeling to Devotion, while a full and obvious melody thankfully avoids sharp turns on “All These Years,” a melancholy ode to the title of the album, devotion. “Gila” provides the most singular moment on the album, a guitar melody that anchors the song, one that adheres to the cool reservation of a Blonde Redhead-esque atmopheric and strikes it’s own singular chord as well. Beach House’s second album broadens the scope of their domain, and also cements them to the ground laid in their debut, the self titled Beach House. No better or memorable part on a song this year than that guitar on “Gila,” and no better record will come out this year to take a boat ride on a cloudy day, or to listen to the ghosts kick a jam at the old abandoned orphanage. Creepy and cool
Dr. Dog: Fate
Label: Park the Van
Release Date: July 22, 2008
On “Army of Ancients,” the vintage Band-esque 70’s horn-soaked ballad, Dr. Dog bassist and co-lead singer Toby Leaman screams “Oh, I’ve Got It” to anchor the soulful chorus. In this case, he might mean “Eureka!” With Fate, Dr. Dog “get it” in terms of ditching their old Lo-Fi aesthetic for the friendly confines of the studio, and come the closest that the band has so far to capturing what makes them such an endearing and enjoyable live band. Loving the studio, and tripling up on the harmonies, the horns, the guitars and the energy, Fate is easily the band’s best album. Maybe not necessarily the best set of songs, but definitely the best time you can have with a Dr. Dog LP at the crib.
To know Dr. Dog is to know the Beatles, and a bygone era of music. Far from 60’s worshipers like Robert Schneider of the Apples in Stereo, Dr. Dog are more like the flip side of a coin, coupled with tragic balladeer and Beatles successor Elliott Smith. But where Elliott Smith is the John/George side of the coin (the tails side), Dr. Dog is easily the Paul side. Check all the harmony oohs and aahs on, say, any song on Fate, but “My Friend” or “The Old Days,” or most notably “100 Years.” They’re Beatles, they’re E. Smith, they’re Beach Boys, they’re Dr. Dog and they’re awesome. The somber ballad, a la John, though, doesn’t exist in this world. Lots of bounce, lots of soul, lots of bass and lots of energy anchor the sounds Dr. Dog get on Fate. They don’t ape the 60’s/70’s sound, their band simply just sounds like that.
There’s a little three song arch early on, beginning with “The Old Days” and ending with “The Rabbit, the Bat, and the Reindeer” that affirm this new comfort and ease that Dr. Dog have with eschewing their Lo-Fi roots. While they once were a band that HAD to be seen live, this now isn’t necessarily the case. I heard “Wake Up” from Easy Beat, and wasn’t instantly drawn in. Live, though, the song takes a different energy, much of which is taken from the crowd and their energy. I “got it” once I was in that room, watching them play and hearing the crowd sing along; and could now hear the song in a different context once i’d had that experience. Fate suffers from no such dependence on checking them out live (though it certainly is never a bad idea to see Dr. Dog live if you have the chance.)
Wolf Parade: At Mount Zoomer
Label: Sub Pop
Release Date: June 17, 2008
Montreal’s Wolf Parade builds slightly upon a rigorous sound established in their first LP, illustrating a certain level of refinement. Distinctive vocals from dynamic duo Dan Boeckner & Spencer Krug (both nurturing successful side projects) give the otherwise right-brained audibles a healthy balance. Their maturity exists in what could be called a post-modern post-punk, “Soldier’s Grin” setting this stage from the get-go. Depth is built with added instruments and and hints of progressive rock, evident for the bulk of the album and peaking at “Fine Young Cannibals”. Gears switch periodically, “The Grey Estates” could be found on a Pulp album circa ’94 for example. Instead of venturing far from the womb, WP has stood close recounting both her eeriness and warmth. At Mount Zoomer results simply in a solid list of nine tracks, easy to listen for the easy to please.
Label: Matador Records
Release Date: June 3, 2008
Consider Rook essential summer listening. Like your “Summer Reading” list, Rook isn’t really “summer-y” at all. It’s heavy, dense, dramatic and beautiful and dark. Four of those five adjectives actually DO apply to summer, come to think of it, but i’m thinking more of the “essential summer reading” lists. Notice those books skew more towards Tolstoy than the Nancy Drew (or my personal favorite, Skinny Bitch in the Kitch), and I think summer listening should do the same. Nothing really works better than the antithetical when wrapped in the world of the iPod, wrapped and enraptured into whatever world you choose, and with Rook, the marked contrast from the world outside and the world inside, i.e. inside el cerebro, is simply divine. Divine Tragedy, but divine nonetheless.
The tragic and dramatic qualities of Shearwater jefe Jonathan Meiburg lie most obviously in the both soft, falsetto vibrato and the gigantic, shouting abandon of his voice. In all fairness, Meiburg’s voice is one that will make or break Shearwater for any listener (think 1 part Scott Walker, 1 part Morrissey & 1 part Will Sheff. Shake and Pour), like a Joe Pernice or a Joanna Newsom; in other words, singular and unique. And while Rook shares some qualities with his other band, Okkervil River (DRAMA!), it also is much larger and grand than the songs of Will Sheff. The vocal drama comes out, in both ways, on penultimate song “The Snow Leopard,” as verse one is built upon a sparse piano melody and Meiburg’s falsetto, and verse two turns on the drums, turns up the guitars and turns UP Meiburg’s gorgeous vocals. The musical drama comes out most emphatically on “Leviathan Bound,” and is my favorite dramatic piano reading since Midlake’s channeling of the theme song from M*A*S*H on “Roscoe.” “Leviathan Bound” sounds like the theme to an unrealized soap opera, but think along the lines of The Young and the Restless and you’re on your way; this song is also another soft/loud vocal opportunity for Meiburg to carry the melody.
In “Home Life” Shearwater paints a solitary portrait of youthful wanderlust, telling the narrator “you were tracing the lines on the globe with your fingers. Cool rivers, white waves, desert shores and the forest green, and a limitless life.” The limitlessness is heavily scored with flutes, violins, the ever dramatic piano and tasteful and dynamic drums. This portrait of isolation is emblematic of the songs on Rook, and while not sparse (the orchestra is a huge part of what makes these songs not only dramatic but achingly gorgeous), this isolation is akin to the heavy nature of these heavy tomes we pick up as summer reading. All summer listening should be as dense, challenging and rewarding as this record, and if you don’t make it this summer, Rook will keep until next summer and many summers after that.
My Morning Jacket: Evil Urges
Release Date: June 10, 2008
Almost three years have passed since the release of 2005’s moderately successful “Z”. During that time MMJ has formulated a plan for the future of rock and roll, upgrading their guns. From the outset, frontman Jim James relinquishes the reigns of lead vocals (the first time ever for a LP). The title track could be viewed as a summation of the album as a whole: kicked off with a deeper experimentation of synth-fused rock and falsetto vocals, transitioning to a trademark jam band solo. James explains it on the following track crooning, “I know it sounds confusing, but it makes a lot of sense.” The bulk of the album is constituted of more pop-friendly southern rock, channeling James Taylor on tracks like “Thank You Too” and placing string arrangements at the proper intervals. Most of which are likely candidates for expansive fifteen minute live solo odysseys. James gets personal with “Librarian”, and recalls earlier efforts with “Smokin’ From Shootin'”. However, the dark horse of the album is undoubtedly “Highly Suspicious” launched with an opening recalling Gary Numan and backed with Prince-esque vocals. When the dusts settles its explicitly obvious this is no quintet planning on digging in on one sound. MMJ is hungry, we haven’t seen the last.
The Presets: Apocalypso
Release Date: May 13, 2008
Shake off your raver pants and get your glowsticks out of the freezer. The Presets continue to indulge in putting a gritty new edge on accessible synth. Thirty seconds after hitting the play button will most likely prompt you to get up out of your seat or preform some fierce ’87 style head-bobs or both. While Kim Moyes & Julian Hamilton studied classical composition they excel in its antithesis. After joining recently successful Modular Records in 2003, home to such acts as The Klaxons and fellow Aussies The Van She, The Presets have issued a slew of EP’s and remixes and 2005’s full-length Beams. But, with Apocalypso its clear that perfection has come with some (brief) work. The early album barrage includes singles “My People” and “This Boy’s in Love” both of which clearly demonstrate The Presets’ knack for layering updated samples on handy rhythms. Some time is spent in an experimentation, and in genre style as on “Aeons”. This release most certainly satisfies from cover to cover. Its clear that The Presets are ahead of the eightball in the recent wave of electro from the land down under. Do yourself a favor and give this one a listen.
The Kooks: Konk
Release Date: April 15, 2008
Luke Pritchard wrote The Kooks’ hit song “Naïve” when he was only 16 years old, which after release in 2006 catapulted the debut album, Inside In/Inside Out into the UK Top 20 charts and introduced the band to the US. Three years later, the British pop band has released Konk, the band’s sophomore studio album produced by Tony Hoffer. Konk is a continuation of inside in/inside out. While it doesn’t propel the Kooks into any new musical territory, it still serves up some of the same catchy pop anthems that made their first album a success and confirms these blokes as more than one hit wonders. Initially, the title Konk, suggests the bands affinity for another British pop rock band, the Kinks, but it is actually the name of the London studio where they recorded. At its core, this is a pop album and that was the bands intent. These are songs written for girls about heartbreak and
love loss….and in such a way that you can double clap along to most of them. The first track, “See the Sun” is instantly catchy and is a good kick off for the album, but the singles, “Always where I need to be” and “Shine” are a bit of a disappointment and suffer when they pander to a mainstream audience. “Sway” stands out as one of the more memorable tracks for me with its heavier chorus that actually creates a swaying feeling. While lyrically, a lot of the songs are a bit bubblegum, Pritchard’s honest heartbroken voice saves the album and makes the band still seem interesting. And did I mention you can double clap to most songs?
Release Date: April 29, 2008
Santogold may just be the most exciting Philly export since Hall & Oates, her self-titled debut a testament. If after first listen you find yourself comparing much of Santogold’s (aka Santi White) debut to electronic peer M.I.A. then you’d be on the right track. The production work has been distributed to notables including the aforementioned M.I.A. and her Kala co-producer Diplo, explaining the great range in style from track to track. If not for the exceptional production, the vocals alone would transport you to a 1983 Cyndi Lauper show. She comes strong right of the bat with L.E.S. Artistes crooning, “Creep up and suddenly I found myself an innovator” over super-catchy indie pop beats. Before it’s all over she dabbles with dub on “Shove It”, nods to Eurythmics on “My Superman”, and revives mid-90’s alternative on “I’m A Lady”. At the end of the showing, she might as well clear her throat and state, “beat that” because this one is gonna be hard to top. If its implied that Santogold has something to prove, then she’s done it, and kicked us in the seat of our pants.
Label: Sub Pop
Release Date: April 8, 2008
This EP is both a warm up for the upcoming Fleet Foxes LP and a declaration of who they are, which is a musically more interesting version of the My Morning Jacket formula. All the atmospheric dude vocals are present, even the same vocal affectations, but musically this EP, song for song, is not mired in the Jim James songwriting formula, i.e., long assed stoned jams that don’t really work as stoner jams (i.e., not headphone friendly). Country rock, alt-country heavy (not light), the Fleet Foxes execute a totally listenable & extremely interesting counterpoint to a band that most seem to think wrote the book on modern CSN&Y rock. I love the balls, too. The Fleet Foxes are essentially 3M to the My Morning Jacket/Band of Horses school. They take what they do and do it better.
Small Black announced they will release their new album, Limits of Desire on May 14, 2013 via Jagjaguwar. They have shared the first single ” Free At Dawn” , along with the album art and tracklisting.