Friday, September 23, 2011

St. Vincent - Strange Mercy (2011)

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I became acquainted with St. Vincent about a year ago when I went to see tUnE-yArDs at Central Park Summerstage; completely indifferent to the fact that St. Vincent was the headliner. After witnessing her rousing live show, I decided to give her a real shot and have since bonded with 2009’s Actor after many extensive listens. So when news of a new album started to emerge I got incredibly excited; couple that with a pretty awesome promo campaign via Twitter, the revealing of the brilliant first single “Surgeon”, and an absolutely incredible article in Under the Radar and I was expecting the best album of the year in Strange Mercy.

For me, Strange Mercy was a definite grower. There are enough great ideas that it’s not quite a disappointment but the strongest songs on the album are those that we’ve already been introduced to before i.e. “Surgeon” and “Cruel”. The other songs require a certain amount of patient listening before you realize they're not just random throwaway songs. It would be easy for Clark to hide behind her big guitar licks or her pretty, shimmering vocals but this time out they’re tinged with enough real emotion – real hurt and real feeling – that you want to put in the work to understand them and that’s where the random line that makes it all make sense presents itself. In this Clark has created an album that compelling enough for multiple listens, despite the fact that not all the songs merit endless replays. Clark’s more emotionally intense tracks “Cheerleader” and “Strange Mercy” require way more effort than fast-paced jaunts “Chloe in the Afternoon”, “Northern Lights”, and “Hysterical Strength” while “Neutered Fruit” and “Year of the Tiger” only need about one focused listen before you get the point.

While Strange Mercy disposes of some of the aspects listeners might have loved about Annie Clark, it also introduces them to a side of her they’ve never seen before. Gone is the grand cinematic scope of Actor, the wry lyrical wit of Marry Me, and Clark’s flippant presentation of some rather dark subjects. Instead we gain a newfound intimacy that’s personal but not claustrophobic juxtaposed with the lovely melodies and coarse musical moments of St. Vincent past all contained within one complex, intricate tangle. Though every song on Strange Mercy isn’t exactly a masterpiece, they all stick to the overall idea of displaying a rawer, open Clark and the album as a whole definitely benefits from it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

ARMS reveal first new single

Yesterday Brooklyn quartet ARMS premiered their first single from upcoming album Summer Skills, "Fleeced" over at Paste Magazine. You might remember it as the song they used to soundtrack their first album teaser. Well now you can hear the track in all it's glory.

The new track is the first taste of the new batch of songs that were not previously featured on the EP released last year. It's a fast-paced rock jaunt that crackles with the memorable licks and otherworldly-evoking reverb that ARMS is know for.

Listen to "Fleeced" now:

Summer Skills is out November 8th.

Megafaun - Megafaun (2011)

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While North Carolina trio Megafaun has proudly accepted their freak folk label time and time again, on their fourth and latest album they shy away from it for what turns out to be the better. Megafaun is far more intimate than any of the album’s that preceded it, perhaps due to its main inspiration coming from music the band grew up with like Grateful Dead, Jackson Browne, and Paul McCartney. Instead Megafaun’s experimentation takes the form of its innovative arrangements like in “Isadora” with its distinctive pseudo-Latin flavor gained from brass and vibraphone.

And yet at no time does the album sound uncharacteristic of Megafaun, there’s still the certain jam-band quality that pervades the best Megafaun tracks (“Get Right”). Rather there’s a certain vulnerability that the band hasn’t showed before - particular in ballads “Hope You Know” and “Kill the Horns”. Megafaun’s trademark quirk isn’t completely expunged from the album: “These Words” which uses field recordings of a Balinese gamelan and rural sounds recorded by Joe Westerlund or the electronic jumble of “Serene Return” are the proof and manage to fit in with the other material quite well.

Megafaun is one of those rare bands that are not only able to release a new record on a yearly basis but also have each record be significantly better than the last. Their self-titled release is by far their best yet. Mature and finely developed but also bold and out there, it’s an album where there’s no shortage of risk-taking but also where the band really come into their own as songwriters. On Megafaun, perhaps for the first time in all four records, you are truly drawn to the lyrics as the emotions they conjure drive the songs.

The album is currently streaming at Rolling Stone here.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Pitstop: Little Tybee

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What could be gleaned from my love of Typhoon, Oryx and Crake, and Lost in the Trees (among numerous others) is that there's a very special place in my heart for the folk orchestra. There's a certain untouched majesty and epic grandeur that comes with having a large cast of musicians all working to create music that is not only performed well and arranged spectacularly but also wonderfully accessible without losing any of that masterful touch. Atlanta, Georgia's Little Tybee is another one these bands.

What separates Little Tybee and it's fluctuating group of members apart from the multitude of other bands that are essentially doing the same thing is that they aren't. Their phrases flexible, the arrangements handled with marked equality; and Brock Scott's vocals, with its folksy lilt, form the basis for what is Little Tybee. But their spark of individuality is gained from how they handle their songwriting. The Nirvana Kelly's violin isn't just relegated to delicate flourishes but soulfully accompanies Scott and his acoustic guitar. The bass and drums much more than mere beat keepers, getting their own opportunities to shine. Each member of the band gets a important and noticeable place to show their talent, but it's handed with such subtlety and modesty, that you can't help but smile.

Get to know Little Tybee with the live video for "History":

Friday, September 16, 2011

Caveman - CoCo Beware (2011)

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It’s pretty much a given now that anything ARMS-related, I will check out. So when We Listen For You sent out that fateful tweet a week ago that mentioned ARMS and New York City quintet Caveman’s new albums, I was all aboard.

Caveman’s debut album CoCo Beware was among the multitude of album released this past Tuesday (9/13) but it shouldn’t be buried underneath the pile of other records. While most of the other records had tons of songs that were hit or miss, Caveman’s debut is full of psych-pop gems from beginning to end. Though some of the songs are short, they go exactly where they need to go in their short duration, establishing easy breezy melodies filled with dreamy synths and primal, ever-present drums. Yet despite its psychedelic leanings, it’s an album that’s as richly engaging as the various sounds it is filled with like hazy, instrumental track “Vampirer”. Not to mention there’s one of my favorite album effects: The lead in. In a time where the concept of an album is spotty at best, two tracks linked together by a cool effect or melody that leads from one to the other will always be a good decision in my book.

CoCo Beware is an album where there’s rarely a slowdown. From the moment you hit play, it speeds along, albeit at its’ own easy-going but never boring leisure. Caveman is like a drum circle in band form. However, instead of dragging along like jam bands are apt to do, they keep things simple, precise, lucid; but also loose – allowing you to get lost in their otherworldly haze and locked in vocal harmonies. A definite must listen, must buy, and must repeat.

Give Caveman a listen with this live video of "Great Life" for Yours Truly SF featuring an actual drum circle (composed of ARMS drummer Tlacael Esparza and Hospitality bassist Brian Betancourt, to name a few):

Caveman "Great Life" is from Yours Truly on Vimeo.

CoCo Beware is also streaming on Spinner, listen here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Anna Calvi - "Suzanne & I" video

Just this year Anna Calvi released her self-titled debut album. And since it's January release, Calvi has been going strong with numerous worldwide tours and shows and now she's released the third single from the album "Suzanne & I".

The video has to be the coolest use of sheets I have ever seen. A dancer being pulled off a bed by the blankets alone, traversing through a cloth forest, and scenes of Anna Calvi and her band playing while blanketed figures dance behind them are but a few of the awesome effects in the video. There's also some pretty awesome dance scenes. While initially fighting the two dancing girls then become inseparable even as group of male dancers come and literally tear them apart, taking them through a series of aggressive turns, spins, and lifts.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

New track from Yes Lord Sugar

Almost a week ago, Liverpool powerpop quartet Yes Lord Sugar revealed a brand new song. The new song "This Good Life" starts out slow and balladic before launching into an intense happy jaunt. It's nice to see the young band showing off their versatility early.

Yes Lord Sugar - This Good Life by YesLordSugar

Monday, September 12, 2011

Now Streaming: Megafaun - Megafaun

North Carolina folk rock trio Megafaun have given glimpses of their latest self-titled album throughout the summer and now, with the release of Megafaun a little more than a week away, they're giving listeners the chance to stream the whole thing.

You can stream the whole album in it's entirety at Rolling Stone here.

Hospitality sign to Merge Records

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As mentioned in my intro post on Brooklyn quartet Hospitality, one of the common ties between them and the headliners at July's Mercury Lounge show was that they were all sitting on soon to be announced albums. Well good news for Hospitality. They just recently signed with Merge Records alongside a slew of awesome artists like She & Him and Telekinesis. Which means that the release of their debut album is within reach. Set for a release in early 2012, it's only a matter of time before fans can have Amber Papini's distinct floating vocals and the band's driving rock accompaniments.

Get a taste of the new album with new song "Friends of Friends":
Hospitality - Friends of Friends by MergeRecords

Sondre Lerche - "Go Right Ahead" video

For his latest video release, Norwegian singer/songwriter Sondre Lerche, hands over the reins to an unexpected source: his wife Mona. Though she has appeared in the vast majority of Lerche's music videos, "Go Right Ahead" marks her first time behind the camera as the director.

The video for the punchy rock track "Go Right Ahead", mashes up shots of Sondre along with those of two teenage girls. Panning over a doll house and My Little Pony figurines and scenes of bedroom dancing in leotards, there doesn't seem to be much of a problem. Until they leave the safety of their bedroom, then it becomes abundantly clear that the girls are different people. The brunette while sort of in your face isn't to be found among the blonde girl's friend and is left to her own devices. While the blonde makes out with boys in the park, the brunette practices making out with herself in the mirror. It's the kind of video that makes you go back and really listen to the video of Lerche's sugar-coated pop arrangements because there's obviously much more conflict than you realized.

Watch the video for "Go Right Ahead":

Go Right Ahead (uncensored version) from Sondre Lerche on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Fanfarlo release new video and announce tour dates

About a year ago, British indie-pop quintet Fanfarlo retreated from their globetrotting to write a record. And now with their album finished and set for release early next year, the band have made their triumphant return with new song/video "Replicate". While Fanfarlo has hinted at a more pop-centered sound for the new record, "Replicate" is more routed in the sounds of an indie orchestra than anything deliberately pop sounding.

The band is also embarking on a small world tour this Fall to tide fans over until the album's 2012 release date.

9/30 Hoxton Hall - London, England, UK
10/25 Brighton Music Hall - Boston, Massachusetts
10/27 Mercury Lounge - New York, New York
10/29 Red Palace - Washington DC
10/30 Glasslands - Brooklyn, New York
11/1 Johnny Brendas - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
11/13 Auditiorium - Tenerife, Spain
11/15 Heinekin Music Selector - Madrid, Spain
11/16 Bikini - Barcelona, Spain
11/18 Heineken Music Selector - Circulo de Arte - Toledo, Spain
11/19 Heineken Music Selector - Sala Imagina - Cadiz, Spain

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Megafaun offer another peak at new album with "Get Right"

This summer we've been gifted with not only a new album announcement from North Carolina folk rock trio Megafaun but with previews of two of the album's track. While the other two made significant use of electronics and samples, their latest track "Get Right" shows that Megafaun is not done with straight up folk rock just yet. In fact clocking in at 8 and a half minutes it's a throwback to old jam-band style rock, that's far more song than it is lyrics.

Megafaun - Get Right by All Around Sound Blog

Megafaun's latest eponymous album is due out September 20th. Pre-orders are available here.

Andrew Belle - "The Ladder" video

After literally months of hinting about it, Chicago singer/songwriter Andrew Belle offers up his second music video off his debut album The Ladder.

The video, directed by Emily Wormley, finds a cartoon Belle embarking on a grand expedition after a troublesome fox that steals one of his magic keys. There's globetrotting adventures across sea, desert, and even outer space before Belle is able to reclaim the key from the thieving fox. It's an excellent pairing of music and animation and while not a literal rendering of the song's lyrics, still rather well. There's even a reference to Belle's previous video for "Static Waves" with the appearance of song lyrics as actual objects in the video.

Watch the video for "The Ladder":

Monday, September 5, 2011

Laura Marling debuts new song on WNYC

With a new album just on the horizon, Laura Marling still shows no signs of stopping. Around the same time her album stream appeared on the NY Times website, another live set appear on WNYC. Her third set for WNYC, it also marks the appearance of a brand new song.

The new song, still untitled, proves that Marling isn't done mining tales of good women doing bad things. She could probably create a whole other album on the subject. But where Marling's women have admitted their shortcoming and feelings of guilt before, the figure in her new song seems to be completely besides herself on how to be good, resigning herself to the advice and prayers of her lover.

It's the most fragile, Marling's allowed herself to be. And all the more better because of it. Enjoy the new untilted track from the prodigious Marling:

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Laura Marling - A Creature I Don't Know (2011)

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After the release of such a masterful album like I Speak Because I Can I expected a rather lengthy break from British songstress Laura Marling. And yet she quickly offered up a new batch of songs all connected by the rather dark emotions that were merely hinted at on I Speak Because I Can.

"The Muse" with its jazzy piano accompaniment and engaging semi-anecdotal style sets A Creature I Don't Know to be an entirely different animal than its predecessor. With its bluesy swagger and heavy piano chords, Marling wastes no time in introducing the thematic Beast.
"Don't Ask Me Why" and dramatic foil "Salinas" function as question and answer. In "Salinas" no one seems to ask why things are the way they are and Marling’s questions are unanswered while "Don't Ask Me Why" asserts that you don't really want to know the answers.
“Night After Night”, the album’s main emotional key piece, does a much better job of illustrating the album’s major theme than “The Beast”, eloquently summed up in the lyrics “Oh, I should just leave you instead of deceive you/But I don’t”.
“The Beast” serves as Marling’s first candid reference to lust (veiled allusions to it being in “The Muse” and “Sophia”). Dressed up with abrasive electric guitar riffs, the purpose of "The Beast" seems to serve as major plot point. In its narrative, the narrator means to invoke Sophia (Goddess of Wisdom) but is sidled with an uncontrollably beast whom she cannot seem to overcome. Marling’s advice is merely to look away.
Despite its kids-pop title, “My Friends” is about much more: The one true moment of apology on the album or rather of openly displayed guilt, “My Friends” is a mysterious and confusing tangle of characters and situations. Quickly asserting that she would leave “you” for them, it’s not quite clear who she intends to leave for the other: her friends or her lovers or the reason for the guilt.
With the album’s various references to mothers and motherhood, “Rest in the Bed” is the first track to put it in context of Marling’s age. A mother’s song to her unborn baby, the mother grants the use of her body under the promise that the baby will keep her warm and good. An odd mix of selfishness that’s kind of touchingly sweet.
Laura Marling’s knack for witty one-liners reaches a whole new level on “Sophia”: transforming simple actions into dramatic statements. In “Sophia”, the album’s hints of rage come bubbling to the surface in a startling display of denouncement. A refined denouncement tinged with kerosene-and-a-burning-match fury.
Leading perfectly into “All My Rage”, a truly joyous moment on a fairly dark album, where the narrator sets aside all her anger and fury despite a rather impressive set of offenses. But in her celebration, the narrator reveals a darker part of her character: “Stole my children, left my son/Of all of them he’s the only one/ Who didn't that mean that much to me” and ponders if it’s all a cosmic joke before accepting it for what it is. Marling’s narrator doesn’t make any promises to be better though. She merely decides to set her anger aside regarding her unfortunate circumstances. And so while jovial and triumphant, you’re left to wonder.

Whereas I Speak Because I Can was grounded and artfully mundane, A Creature I Don't Know calls upon angels, devils, goddesses, and other beings of mythic proportions for Marling's introspective character studies. While it's not clear how much of Marling's songs are inspired by her real life, her songs, with their careful handling of symbolism and metaphor, are brilliantly novel-esque and yet completely relateable. Marling's women aren't as completely blameless as they appeared on I Speak Because I Can. In a lot of ways A Creature I Don't Know is about balance. Sure there's the obvious balance between good and the darker parts of human nature but Marling also balances her women stupendously. They aren't overemotional or irrational, they aren't saints, but they also aren't weak. It says a lot about Marling's songwriting prowess that she can create these three-dimensional characters that even while admitting their failings and vices, never come off as excessively feminine or tragically weak. While I originally had doubts about how good the album would be (based pretty much wholly on Marling's ability to create as brilliantly conceptualized an album as I Speak Because I Can), I see now that those doubts were unnecessary. Marling's superior lyricism and musicianship has guaranteed an album worthy of praise.

You can now stream Laura Marling's third album before it's September 13th release(if you're in the US or Canada) on the NY Times website here.

The Drums - Portamento (2011)

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After the departure of guitarist Adam Kessler, The Drums didn't really see themselves recording a new album and yet that's exactly what happened. Inspired by feelings of disappointment and betrayal, the band wrote "What You Were" and the rest is history.

On Portamento, The Drums employ a heart on your sleeve approach that certainly ups the ante from their kinda-sad-but-still-kind-of-fun self-titled debut. And yet the band sticks to its strengths: a surf pop band first and foremost, the trademark beach-y jangle is always there in some form or another even as the band adds in synthesizers and samples. Even with these rather foreign elements, the band integrates them into their trademark style rather than a complete overhaul.

Even with its graduation to more mature themes, Portamento still contains a similar if not congruent form of poppy goodness that The Drums are known for. Failure, heartbreak, and lust are but a few of the themes explored on the album but aren't handled as deftly as they could be. When Portamento really shines is those moments where the composition doesn't take a backseat to the songwriting. The band is certainly skilled and it's nice to see that every once in awhile like "Money" and "I Need a Doctor". Proving that they can write songs with substance, The Drums' next challenge is to balance substance with delivery.

The album is now streaming in its entirely (albeit not in proper track order) at the New York Times website. Give it a listen here.

Portamento is out September 6th in the US.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

BOBBY - BOBBY (2011)

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Slap the label psychedelic or experimental onto a band and I’ll admit I get incredibly suspicious. It doesn’t matter how many times such suspicions are refuted; it’s a sort of knee jerk reaction from hearing a lot of crap. So the first couple times I’ve seen Vermont music collective BOBBY referred as such turned me off to them. And then I chanced upon a 7 minute live video of the band performing “It’s Dead Outside” on NPR, shrugged my shoulders, and watched the whole thing. Then I grabbed the album.

The thing that really appeals to me about BOBBY is that it’s remarkably listenable. The way the band handles their rather gargantuan cast of players and almost equally large track lengths is nothing short of astounding. Minimalistic sprawling soundscapes and dreamy otherworldly vocals are the formula they stick to and yet each song remains fresh and vivid with exciting musical sounds. Perhaps it’s because their experimentation doesn’t have that everything-and-the-kitchen-sink or random-things-that-sound-cool vibe, instead their decisions come off as balance of intelligently methodical and richly organic. There’s no excess on BOBBY, each track coming to complete development in the time it is allotted. At no time does a song appear to be dragging or do you wish it had gone on longer; each track reaches its full potential and then gives way to another well-crafted creation. It’s an album that plays like a dream: the tone consistent throughout linking each song where its sounds and lyrics may not.

So for all those who might be scared off by labels like I am occasionally, another definition might be necessary. BOBBY creates masterful pieces that artfully weave together elements of folk with synthesizers and other electronics while also maintaining a sort of sparse, untouched melodic truth. If you haven’t listened to it yet, give their self-titled debut a listen, it is no doubt bound to be an enriching experience.

Get a taste for BOBBY with the same video that introduced me to them featuring "It's Dead Outside":

Friday, September 2, 2011

Daniel Hart - The Orientalist (2011)

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This post was inevitable – only a matter of time, really. When St. Vincent played Central Park Summerstage, a hundred or so eyes were transfixed on the petite fashionista rocking out on the guitar and cooing sweetly over dark arrangements. Mine were on violinist/multi-instrumentalist Daniel Hart; my own affinity for string instruments wholly to blame. So of course when I found out he had a solo project, I was all over it. When not touring with St. Vincent or John Vanderslice, he could be found leading the ranks of The Physics of Meaning but earlier this year Daniel Hart released his first album, The Orientalist, under his own name.

Inspired by Hart’s travels and adventures in India, it’s clear from the rather groovy string-centric intro of “Van Gogh Sher Gil” that you’re about to hear something truly special. What Hart offers is a completely three-dimensional album – in stripped down acoustic ballad “Happy Together”, in noisy rhythmic “I Took the Western Rail to Ahmedabad”, or instrumental intros “Pink Walls Gather No Dust” and “Elizabeth Russell”. For being first and foremost a violinist, Hart finds a wonderful balance between strings and everything else. The Orientalist is not without its elegant string arrangements but Hart isn’t afraid to pair them up with bombastic electronics and gritty guitar riffs all the while never decreasing their beauty.

While Hart was no doubt inspired by his time in India, The Orientalist with its slick pop sensibilities proves that such experiences can no doubt be universal. You don’t have to cross an ocean or take foreign public transportation to connect with Hart’s songs. Aside from the intro to “God of Small Things”, the Indian influence is merely hinted at in song titles and offhand references. In doing this, Hart has avoided the pitfall of perceived hokey-ness.

You can listen to the whole album at Daniel Hart's Bandcamp: