May 172010

Clearsignals, Stars Lost Your Name

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Artist: Clearsignals
Album: Stars Lost Your Name
Label: N/A
Release Date: Wednesday, 2010.3.24
Score: 9/10

So you really need to go check out this album. It’s called Stars Lost Your Name and the artist, John C. Worsley, bills himself for this album as Clearsignals. The album is full of spacey electronica that drifts seamlessly between the atmospheric and the tribal, without ever losing any interest or energy.

The album as a whole is remarkable in many ways, not the least of which is its pacing and arrangement, which take the listener from warped atmospherics (“cygnus ob2-12”), through rambling electronica (“bellatrix”) and a single melancholy vocal track (“beta lyrae”) and back again. The final track, “Eta Centauri” feels like the soundtrack to an infinitely long walk through a desert wasteland on an aggressively alien planet. And I mean that in the best way possible.

It’s a beautiful, haunting, cohesive work. It feels like music meant to accompany something, though I don’t really know what that something might be. I can say that it serves admirably as music to write to, as long as what you’re writing is strange and introspective. It also works great for coding to as long as the code you’re writing is arcane enough that you won’t find it in any patterns book.

However you feel about electronic music, the album is worth a listen. If you’re already a fan of electronic music and need music to chill to, or just something to soundtrack the work at hand, then this will definitely fit the bill. It’s at turns wistful, melancholy, plodding, and spacey, and the overall album flows naturally while still being rich and well-crafted enough that it never gets boring.

In short, it’s definitely worth a listen.

Apr 282010

The Shondes, My Dear One

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Artist: The Shondes
Album: My Dear One
Label: Fanatic Records
Release Date: Tueday, 2010.5.4
Score: 9.5/10

I’ve often harped on the importance of Sophomore albums. They’re easily important as first and last albums, and perhaps even more so if the band wants to have any sort of longevity. So it’s my pleasure to say that the second album from The Shondes is good. Really damned good.

Loyal readers (there have to be at least a few of you) will remember that The Shondes released one of my favorite albums of 2008. That debut (Red Sea) was one of the most original and important albums of the year. It was also awesomely fun and rocked pretty damned hard.

Well, The Shondes’ sophomore effort is about to hit the market and, thanks to the good folks at Fanatic Records, I’m happy to report that I’ve gotten my hot little hands on a copy. And it’s flat-out awesome. It’s every bit as excellent as their first album.

The instrumentation and pacing of the new album are much as they were in the last one. Energetic, mid-tempo rock songs with a lyrical focus and plenty of tasty instrumental hooks. (For the record, the violin/guitar/bass/drums instrumentation works far better than I would ever have imagined.)

The Shondes themselves claim that it’s a break up album. But I genuinely think it’s more than that. I think it speaks to a deeper, more visceral human experience. While most of the songs are framed in terms of the end of a relationship, I think that it’s really more of a heartbreak album. Heartbreak is a more universal human experience, and I think it’s one that My Dear One speaks to well extremely well. Songs like “Nothing Glows” powerfully evoke the sick, sad greying effect of heartbreak. The notion that one’s “bruises don’t turn black and blue” is a particularly effective image for the fact that it shows just how dulling heartbreak can be.

The lyrical focus of the Shondes’ sound lends itself particularly well to this album. Songs like “You Ought to Be Ashamed” profit from my lyrical breaks and a melody that’s carried (or at least matched) in the vocals. This is largely to the credit of Louisa Rachel Solomon, who provides most of the album’s vocals and whose dusky, dextrous voice is powerful and expressive throughout the entire album. (Though for a particularly good example, give a listen to “Miami”.) Also notable are the vocals that Elijah Olberman contributes to the album (“The Coming Night” and “All the Good Things”). Olberman’s smooth, expressive voice has a wonderfully androgynous quality.

As in the first album, Temim Fruchter’s drumming is rock solid. Fruchter reminds me of some of the best jazz drummers I’ve heard, adding energy and style to a song while never stealing the show. (Cf. “Fire Again” and Fruchter’s rambling, snare-heavy lines.) Solomon’s bass work is similarly solid and unobtrusive.

The only lineup change since the first album is the replacement of Ian Brannigan with an artist named Fureigh. Fureigh’s style is remarkably similar to Brannigan’s, and meshes well with the rest of the band.

My only major complaints about the album are with regards to the production quality. The whole album seems to have a flat, muted sound to it. This saps it of some of the energy it would otherwise have. This is particularly noticeable (unfortunately) on the lead title track. While this sound grew on me somewhat, I feel like the album could have profited from a brighter, cleaner sound and less post-production sophistry.

My Dear One is great rock album. It’s raw, emotional, and gutsy as hell. Songs like “Let’s Make It Beautiful” show how well the Shondes can take classic Rock forms and give them a unique sound and form to create something new and interesting. This album is well worth the price, both for fans of the first Shondes album and for people who love rock and want to hear something that’s genuinely new.

Mar 272010

New Dead Weather single and album

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Jack White’s latest band, the Dead Weather, recently announced the follow up to their excellent debut, Horehound. The new album is called Sea of Cowards and is slated for a May release. The single is a dark, rattling tune called “Die by the Drop”. It’s definitely worth a listen:

Dec 282009

A Short, Belated Review

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So the new Third Eye Blind album, Ursa Major, is alright.  I’ve tried hard to love it unreservedly, but I just can’t.  There are times where it tries too hard to be experimental.  Others where it tries too hard to be current and “relevant”.  All in all, the album feels like a band worried they’re losing their edge.

Exceptions to prove the rule are those few songs where the band lets its guard down.  “Bonfire” has an incredibly infectious guitar hook supporting classic Third Eye Blind power pop.  “Dao of St. Paul” is pretty good, if a little hokey and U2-ish.  And really, the only bad thing I can say about “Carnival Barker”, the instrumental closing track, is that it’s way too damn short.

This really makes the album a frustrating one.  There are moments of unmitigated awesome, but they’re diluted with that grinding sounds of a band trying too hard and sacrificing their music on the altar of being “current”.

Nov 192009

“Winds of change, they blow in my direction”

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A little birdy told me that Fitz and the Tantrums are giving away their debut EP plus a bonus track.  That’s right, giving it away!  As in free!

I’ve been all about these guys sense I heard them open for Flogging Molly here in Spokane a couple months ago.  They’ve got an awesome Motown-ish sound to them that I just can’t get enough of.  Seriously, go download the EP, you definitely won’t regret it.

Here’s the music video for “Winds of Change”, which should give you a good sense of the sort of delightful Motown kitsch you’re in for:

Nov 162009

A. A. Bondy, When the Devil’s Loose

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Artist: A. A. Bondy

Album: When the Devil’s Loose

Label: Fat Possum

Release Date: Tuesday, 2009.9.1

Score: 10/10

I’ve often ranted on this blog about the importance of the sophomore album.  While debut albums are, undoubtedly, critical, the second release from an artist serves as a predictor of possible staying power and is a better indication of an artist’s potential than any other album.  A lot of bands have great debuts.  Very few have great follow ups.  Those than have a good second release usually have a bright musical career ahead of them.

My fetishism for second albums, then, means that I’m often nervous to hear those produced by artists whose debuts I fell in love with.  In the case of A. A. Bondy, I really needn’t have worried, though.  Bondy’s sophomore effort, When the Devil’s Loose is a beautiful, well-crafted folk album, which does a great job of showcasing Bondy’s deft compositional talent and evocative lyrics.  From start to finish, it is cohesive, well-written, and masterfully performed.

The album’s thematic elements are established well by the opening track, “The Mightiest of Guns”.  This is true both of the songs complex, guitar-centered musical qualities, as well as its lyrical focus on chance and the inescapable nature of fate.  These lyrical images, especially those of fate, occur throughout the album, deftly woven into many of the songs, without ever feeling forced.

As with his last album, Bondy’s guitar work forms the musical backbone of the album.  And while When the Devil’s Loose features a more lush, layered sound than his first album, the guitar-centered aesthetic is still very much there.  This is probably best heard on the stripped-down, solemn tune “Oh the Vampyre”.  The solo, finger-picked guitar provides a bitter-sweet melody to support Bondy’s sad, self-effacing lyrics.

The somber solo guitar work of “Oh the Vampyre” is, however, the exception rather than the rule.  Probably the major musical innovation that Bondy displays on When the Devil’s Loose is his embracing of a full four-piece backing band.  This lends some much-needed depth to songs like the rambling, swaying “I Can See the Pines Are Dancing”, which benefits greatly from the musical layers that a full band provides.

The album closes on “The Coal Hits the Fire”, which is the slowest, most somber song on the disc.  While I wasn’t initially a fan of the track, it’s definitely grown on me.  Its slow, melancholy plod seems a strange choice to end the album, but after a few listens through, it does make a strange sort of musical sense.  Its evocative descriptions of departure and its lackadaisical pacing make a nice, fitting closer.

When the Devil’s Loose is a fantastic album that, along with its predecessor American Hearts, establish A. A. Bondy as one of the most promising voices of contemporary American folk music.  I highly recommend it, with no reservations whatsoever.  It’s a must-have for anyone who likes modern folk music, and definitely an album that everyone should consider adding to their collection.

Nov 042009

It’s with great pleasure that I find out that the Long Winters are getting ready to release their fourth studio album sometime around Spring of next year. In an interview over at the Text of Young America blog (the blog incarnation of the awesome Sound of Young America radio show) lead singer John Roderick talks a little bit about the creative process behind the album and what fans can expect when it’s released.  Roderick also has a YouTube channel where he’s recorded some videos talking about the new album and how it’s coming about and coming together.

In celebration, here’s “Blue Diamonds” off of When I Pretend to Fall. I love the surreal Lynchian (totally a word now) intro on this one. “Where is my band?” “They’re eating ice cream!”

Nov 042009

Pandora as Music Marketing Device

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Here’s a new (though arguably inevitable) use for Pandora.  Twee folksters The Swell Season are streaming their new album, Strict Joy on Pandora.  I’ve not previously been a huge fan of Markéta Irglová and Glen Hansard’s particular brand of breathy, mopey folk, but from what I’ve heard of the album, it’s pretty well done.  If you’re interested in giving it a listen before laying down your hard-earned ducats on buying it, you can hit up this link to hear it as a Pandora station.

On the one hand, kudos for The Swell Seasons for being innovative in getting their music out there for their fans to hear.  I hope that it works well for them and that their debut is a run-away success.  On the other hand, it’s curious that it took Pandora and artists this long to collaborate on something like this.  Pandora, as a platform, has been around for a few years now and they do streaming music in a robust and innovative fashion.  This sort of presentation has always been a possibility, and I’m curious why it’s only now seeing reality.

It is possible that this sort of collaboration has always been on the table, but that there have been practical considerations that kept it from happening.  Pandora’s history as a service has hardly been trouble free (thanks in large part to industry dinosaurs roaring and stamping around trying to avoid the epoch-ending meteorite that is the Internet).  So it’s possible that other artists have approached Pandora with an offer like this and that Pandora simply wasn’t in a position to make it work.

Still, glad it’s happening.  It seems like it’s win-win.  The Swell Seasons gets press and listeners for their new album.  Pandora gets more traffic.  It’s hard to see a downside for anyone.

Nov 032009

“These are the stars raining down from the sky.”

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This is one of my favorite tunes off the new A. A. Bondy album (review coming soon, I promise!)  It’s called “I Can See the Pines Are Dancing”.  I really think that this is a great example of what establishes Bondy as one of the most important voices in modern American folk.  The lyrical flow is perfect and the imagery in the song is amazing.  The guitar counter-melodies are slick and subtle.  And even while the song is simple in construction, it’s inspired in execution.

Nov 012009

Happy Birthday, PHM. Sorry I Didn’t Get You Anything

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I meant to blog this earlier, but we recently saw the 20th anniversary of the release of Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine.  The album was innovative in a number of ways, but more than its musical innovation it was historically significant because it was one of the first real commercial and critical successes by an Industrial artist. It also started launched the career of Trent Reznor, who is one of the smartest and most talented artists not only in the Industrial and Metal genres, but in music today.

So, in the interests of celebrating late rather than never, here’s my favorite track off the album, “Kinda I Want To”: