Thursday, May 31, 2012

Regina Spektor - What We Saw from the Cheap Seats (2012)

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Long before ARMS or even Sondre Lerche there was Regina Spektor. My regular go-to gal and pinnacle of songwriting excellence and keeper of the eternal flame of my oppressive fandom. My experiences with Regina Spektor are decidedly long and storied and undoubtedly one-sided: A weekend trip to visit a recently displaced friend when I was in my early high school days was when I was introduced and while originally thinking her  silly and insane, I found that I had grown to like and respect her. Her songs were smart but not stuffily so and the more I listened the more I found I'd learn. The meanings were subtle but the narratives were engaging and entertaining, and her talent undeniable.

My love of Spektor's music soon grew to eclipse that of her current output and so I took to the web and discovered a treasure trove of live recordings of songs that she's yet to commit to tape. Recorded by fans at live shows spanning her entire career thus far, the collection was impressive; about 170 different songs if memory serves. I had joined message boards and even regularly visited a Livejournal group (despite not actually operating a Livejournal) just for the latest scoop on her and information about where I might obtain more recordings.

Despite not seeing a single live show of hers (due to being a high school student with absolutely no disposable income), I felt like I could personally vouch for the impressiveness of them because of the recordings. Her song "Making Records" seemed to all but agree with this as she seems to lament committing her voice to tape noting the machines ability to bring her vocals to a level of perfection she cannot humanely recall. In fact, my love of her was so strong that sensing the obvious bias one of my blog's first major tenants was that I was not allowed to blog about her.

And I remember exactly when the fires of my love were snuffed out: the release of 2009's Far. The album wasn't terrible, not by a long shot but my love of ska/punk music as well as my own distaste with what other kids around me were listening to had distilled in me a distrust of major labels - a distrust which heretofore had never been directed at Spektor despite her place on a Warner Records subsidiary.

"Laughing With" took all of the mystery out of her songwriting making it quite clear what she was singing about, not allowing me to discover for myself the serious tone of it. But even that was fine. The act of severe betrayal happened in the form of much beloved "Folding Chair" - a simple little love song that was quintessentially silly Regina but still serious, it was when the overproduced instrumentation and overproccessed vocals kicked in that I felt my fandom deflate, a suspicious shield of distrust erected in its place. I could never completely dislike her because quite frankly, the album was still packed with more than enough good songs and her back catalog still had the same effects on me. But I knew from that day on, I'd be dubious of any of her future releases.

When Regina Spektor announced What We Saw From the Cheap Seats earlier this year, I had mixed feelings. I remembered the sting of Far's overproduction and death of Spektor's simplicity but I was still curious and filled with hope. First single "All the Rowboats" though relying on production techniques did so inoffensively and my hope was renewed though with a heavy layer of mistrust. The first sign of a misstep would see me bolting never to return. Or so I thought: With the release of second single "Don't Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)" there's synthesized piano and drums which I wasn't quite fond of and yet, I stuck around and I'm certainly glad I did.    

Opener "Small Time Moon" proves like "All the Rowboats" that the studio perks that are afforded to Spektor aren't always bad thing, giving the track a bouncy, joyful flare that might not have come off before. "Oh, Marcello" sees the return of a quirkier, much missed Spektor as she fully adopts the character of a Italian woman, affect included, to spin a plot that could very well be out of Shakespeare or his contemporaries which she combines with a stolen set of lyrics from The Animals' "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" to create a bit of a quizzical anachronism. After "Don't Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas", Spektor finds a pretty spot on balance between her own talents (vocal percussion abounds) and those of the studio so that you don't have the same jarring experience ever again. You even get a very obvious peek to her likes and influences with the soulful "How" which recalls Billie Holiday plainly and simply without merely sounding reductive.

My problem with What We Saw From the Cheap Seats is exclusively from a place of privilege. I had heard many of the songs before a multitude of times before I suppose I was meant to. While Spektor has supported the recording of her songs and the sharing of her songs (in most cases, if they aren't detrimental to another person's vision), I essentially have undue knowledge I shouldn't have. Perhaps if I hadn't heard the live version of "Folding Chair", I wouldn't have been so offended by the album version or so distrustful of the computer-friendly "Ne Me Quitte Pas" (I will call it by its originally name forever), my ears might have still pricked up (not in a good way) when I heard both of these songs but who's to say.  And so my feelings while not to be totally disregarded aren't exactly the status quo. Even at her most overtly poppy, Spektor is at her most endearing. They may not give her the proper forum to display her impressive plethora of talents but they're hard to fault.

What We Saw from the Cheap Seats seems to be the foil to Far, featuring Regina Spektor at her most fun, thoroughly enjoying herself. Not that there's not fun songs on Far, but where songs like "Two Birds" and "Dance Anthem of the 80s" seemed more cute than anything, What We Saw from the Cheap Seats pulses with smile-inducing splendor even at its most serious ("The Ballad of the Politician", "Open"). It's fitting that Spektor returned to fan recordings to select songs for this album because they allow her a certain freedom she doesn't really take full reign of in her more recent songs. Rediscovery imbues in her a sense of wonder and playfulness.  The album's strongest tracks are in fact, the oldest "The Party" and "Jessica" don't really hold a candle to "Open" or "Patron Saint" and yet, the album's not a competition. Even the weaker tracks sparkle with Spektor's radiant charm.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Will Stratton - Post-Empire (2012)

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It's a marvel that I was introduced to Will Stratton purely by chance; a stray tweet from Knox Road advertising the upcoming release of Post-Empire piqued my interest and directed me to Stratton's Bandcamp where a two song preview wait for me. Honestly enough, on my first couple listens to the full album upon its release date, the tracks that most jumped out at me were the first two - the tracks that had hooked me in the first place.

And yet as I listened to the album again and again, I couldn't deny my enjoyment of the album as a whole. "You Divers" functions as a rather exceptional prelude to the collection of plainsy, windswept tunes of Post-Empire and "When You Let Your Hair Down to Your Shoulder" grabbed me with its Marling-esque inflections but the whole album is a rich, nuanced work of talent. As evidenced by the aforementioned "You Divers" with its almost 3 minute instrumental introduction, Stratton displays a careful attention to detail and patient plotting that benefits the album greatly in the long run. Post-Empire becomes an album that sort of sneaks up on you after catching you in its web of brilliant finger-picked melodies and bewitching vocal harmonies. Slowly you become aware of the man's uncanny ability for heartwarming poetic lyricism and Stratton's own tenor pleasantly initiates you into his realm of delicate folk hymns.

Post-Empire is an album that doesn't rely on catchiness at least not outright. It's undeniably memorable but not from a poppy approach. No, instead Stratton draws you in with the abundance of talent both compositional and lyrical that radiates from each song. Post-Empire is an album that does what it wants in exactly the time it wants to do so and manages to take its place as one of the best folk albums of the year as a result. While the foursome of "At The Table of Styx", "If You Wait Long Enough", "The Relatively Fair" and album closer "Mercury Id Blues" form a rather impressive lead out, the album takes its time getting there with the cascading riffs of "Tell Me, Where Do I Begin?" and the most notably story-driven track on the album, "Colt New Marine". It's these middle tracks where Stratton's lyrical prowess becomes the most important, driving the songs more than the arrangements. Will Stratton should certainly be proud of such a majestically aurally pleasing endeavor and we should all be in awe.

Listen to Will Stratton's Post-Empire here or on Spotify:

Watch: Andrew Bird - "Eyeoneye"

Can you believe it's almost been 3 months since Andrew Bird released his latest album Break It Yourself? After unveiling the first single right around the release of the album, it seems perhaps a little belated to offer up a video for it months later and yet, that's exactly what Bird is doing here. And when you see it, in all it's handcrafted felty goodness you really can't blame him. The result is perhaps a rather literal interpretation of the song and yet dripping with Bird's trademark quirk and affinity for cuteness.

And fitting for such a creative endeavor, Bird premiered the video on Etsy. Not bad, Mr. Bird, not bad at all.
Watch Andrew Bird's video for "Eyeoneye":

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Watch: Hundred Waters - "Sonnet" Live

A couple weeks ago, Gainesville Florida quintet and current soundtrack to my dreams Hundred Waters tweeted about recording an acoustic song for Portals out in Denver while on tour. "How?" I thought as the groups majestic awe-inspiring tunes are largely powered by their dizzying electronics. Of course I was intrigued. From their live set you could tell the group are tremendously talented and don't use their gizmos and gadgets as a crutch but more of an extension of their wealth of ideas and vehicle for otherworldly transportation, how would they stack up without them? Would they still be able to create dreamy tapestries? In case you're still pondering the answer to this question - the answer is yes. Swapping out synths for guitars, and adding in a muted trumpet alongside Sam Moss on glockenspiel, the band still have it; that magical ephemeral spark that makes you get lost in their quiet calm and Nicole Miglis and Sam's ethereal vocals.

Check out Hundred Waters acoustic version of "Sonnet" for Portals:

Their debut self-titled full length is out now, listen/buy/stream/love it here.

(via Portals)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pitstop: Lucius

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"You've never seen Lucius before? You're in for a real treat."

These words, spoken to me by Conveyor guitarist Alan, were my only warning before I was ushered completely uninitiated into the fantastic siren song of the she-beasts of Lucius. Donned in matching black dresses, knee-high boots, and bows in their hair, the synchronized style of Lucius' Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig is enough to throw you off the trail of their absolutely awe-striking vocals. As I watched them at their most recent gig at Cameo for Deli Magazine's Best Emerging Artists Fest, I was massively unprepared for what I would witness. Elaborately constructed, infectious and highly memorable pop-songs, the girls and their band of three similarly dressed gentlemen were a veritable force of nature. Each and every aspect mindbogglingly amazing - from their onslaught of percussion (almost each member had their own snare drum), their bewildering powerhouse vocals that exploded from the females with an intensity that was nothing sort of overwhelming, and a clearly talented band which helped frame it all. No one part overtook the other and yet, the girls vocals cut clear through all everything straight toward the audience's hearts and ears. Every man and woman at the show no doubt left a little more in love with Lucius than when they arrived.

Recording-wise Lucius are almost a completely different beast. Restrained but no less ear-catching, no less crush-inducing, their recently released self-titled EP is a far quieter taste of the Brooklyn band in a short but sweet set of four tracks. Sparse but not empty arrangements spotlight the gals uncomfortably good vocal chops while hitting a rather diverse palette of ideas and sounds from folk and 60s Spector pop ("Don't Just Sit There") to sassy noise pop a la Treats-era Sleigh Bells with far less actual noise ("Genevieve") with jazzy ornaments  thrown in for good measure, the girls manage to blend all these together to create an undeniably great style that's endearingly hard to explain. And with a more permanent roster of members like guitarist Peter Lalish and Dan Molad on drums, the band's clearly only going to get better and more dynamic in their recordings.

Did you hear that? Lucius have arrived and every band should quake a little in their shoes. Lucius, with their tempting blend of raw talent, insane live energy, and knack for pitch-perfect pop of the best kind, just might steal your fans away.

Get a taste of Lucius with their live version of "Don't Just Sit There" for The Wild Honey Pie:

You can grab Lucius' self-titled EP on iTunes as well as listen to on Spotify.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Listen: Tallest Man on Earth - "1904"

There doesn't seem to be any stopping Swedish folk guitarist Kristian Matsson aka The Tallest Man on Earth. After releasing not only his incredible sophomore album The Wild Hunt back in 2010 but his Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird EP later that same year, the man took what we all would agree was a well deserved break - although not really considering he toured a bit and released "Weather Of A Killing Kind" as part of the Adult Swim Singles Program last year. Turns out, that break wasn't even real. Matsson is gearing up to release another selection of what promises to be finger-picked guitar gems with his upcoming third album There's No Leaving Now next month.

While everything's been pretty quiet since the initial album announce, we can now hear brand new track "1904" which is more of that Tallest Man goodness we've come to love. It's a bit of a conundrum how the man can keep churning out tracks of his high caliber of songwriting while also improving his technique (both vocally and instrumentally speaking) but it's certainly appreciated. "1904" is almost bursting at the seams with hopeful splendor, a rolling surprisingly fast-paced (at least in the rather fluid guitar lines) track which is really just makes the album seem tragically far away.

Listen to The Tallest Man on Earth's "1904":

The Tallest Man on Earth's third album There's No Leaving Now is out June 12th on Dead Oceans.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Kishi Bashi - 151a (2012)

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It may have been a streak of determined Sondre Lerche fandom that first brought me into contact with Kishi Bashi last year but the man quickly won me over on his own merits. An utterly awe-inspiring one man band structured live show and the brilliantly eclectic debut Room For Dream EP, it's no wonder I fell in love with the violinist extraordinaire and the release of his debut full length 151a was at the very top of my most anticipated list - an album I and many, many others made possible through funding on Kickstarter.  A cursory listen to Kishi Bashi's EP (for the tragically uninitiated) is all the answer you need for why so many were clamoring to make K.'s vision a reality.

Given the cinematic scope of 151a, it's no coincidence that many of Kishi Bashi's songs make references to movies (or a novel in the case of "Manchester"), from "Intro" which leads right into "Pathos, Pathos", the album has an unceasing flow, thoughtful care obviously given not only to each track but also to their place on the album as each track slides virtually seamlessly into the other and builds upon the mood of its predecessor. Plaintive, introspective "Manchester" becomes the carefree flutter of "Bright Whites" then endearingly joyful "It Began With A Burst" with its abundance of man-made percussion and overflow of positive feeling. Each tonal shift and evolution is pleasantly familiar without being at all expected; a testament to K.'s gradual, organic growth of ideas and deft handling of them. When the album hits sparse, ethereal "I Am the Antichrist To You" with its frolicsome pizzicato, it's an inspiring moment of complete euphoria. The overwhelmingly beautiful track spirals into lushness while retaining its barebones simplicity that almost guarantees its place as the most emotion-stirring track on the whole album.

151a is an album after my own heart - clearly composed with a stunning delicacy and breathtaking intricacy while also having emotive tone-shifts. On 151a, K. effortlessly juggles fun ear-catching pop with serious orchestral flair and the result is a smile-inducing and earnest work of art. A soaring, heartfelt masterpiece grounded by artistic intent and sincere ingenuity.

Kishi Bashi's 151a is out now on Joyful Recordings. Give the stellar album a listen:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Watch: Ghost Lake - "Late Spring Morning Sunlight"

Henric Wallmark of Heart-Sick Groans may function as the groups co-songwriter and producer and created his own solo project but did you know he's also a talented video producer? Yes, clearly the man's dripping with talent. While he's mostly produced videos for others, it makes sense that with his solo project Ghost Lake, that he'd have a hand in that too. 

The video for "Late Spring Morning Sunlight" sees a bunch of masked dancers infiltrating a rather small apartment, packed into kitchens, bathrooms, dining rooms, and the like where they pulse along with the tracks rhythms and slowly devolve tanking on the characteristics of their monster masks. The change is subtle, as they sip tea and cook meals before filtering out into other parts of the dwelling where their dancing becoming more rigorous and wild. The coloring gives the video both the look of a home video while also casting things in a sort of otherworldly glow. 

A much more fitting video than any sort of literal interpretation of the track. Watch the video for Ghost Lake's "Late Spring Morning Sunlight":


Ghost Lake - Late Spring Morning Sunlight EP (2012)

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A couple months ago I was introduced to Heart-Sick Groans' Henric Wallmark's solo project Ghost Lake with the title track from his debut EP "Late Spring Morning Sunlight". Well, actually I was also introduced to the EP proper and while I made sure to post the aforementioned title track, the rest of the EP kind of fell by the wayside. A huge mistake, I assure you. 

Ghost Lake's Late Spring Morning Sunlight EP is a series of introspections where each song effortless invokes sunlight softly streaming into your bedroom window. Opener and title-track being the most obvious in this as Wallmark croons about the way the early morning sun shines on his lovers skin. Rowdier track "Music" recalls fellow Swedish pop purveyors Suburban Kids With Biblical Names with it's chorus: "All I care about is music, it's the only thing that means anything to me" that has a very "Loop Duplicate My Heart"-esque rejection of others.  On Late Spring Spring Morning Sunlight, Wallmark plays with a delicacy that imbues each song with a quiet sincerity while also creating a gratifying work of musical composition. 

Even stripping away the overtly pop dressing of Heart-Sick Groans, Wallmark still manages to create a set of delightfully memorable musical moments. The result is something that while a bit rough around the edges sounds very much like a well-kept secret. But do yourself and him a favor and spread it as far and wide as you can. Late Spring Morning Sunlight is a secret that doesn't need keeping despite what its heartfelt intimacy might suggest.

Give Ghost Lake debut EP a listen and make sure to spread the good word:

You can download the EP for free at THEM Records here

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Knickers - My Baby's Just A Baby EP (2012)


Turns out the day of the advert-fueled band formation are not a thing of the past - just ask Knickers, the British five-piece formed after bandleader Simon's Gumtree ad entitled "French Girl Wanted" was answered by Sarah Eisenfitz. After trading Simon's home recorded demos and adding Sarah's sultry but sweet vocals the group decided to form an actual band and from there Knickers were born.

The result is a band of 60s/70s invoking pop that makes their slot of retro-leaning Elefant Records a bit of a no-brainer, even covering Dave Davies' (of The Kinks fame) "Are You Ready Girl?" for their debut My Baby's Just A Baby EP. And yet there's more to the band than just a love of the music of yester-year. As the band infuse a sort of modern twist, most notably on title track "My Baby's Just A Baby (But I Love Him So)" as Sarah croons "He's not too clever, he's kinda slow" and other rather tongue-in-cheek examples of ways her man isn't really that great all the while affirming that she still loves him.

On "Darling", Simon's want for a French girl becomes all the more clear as Sarah slips in a couple French phrases that are guaranteed to make you fall in love. There's handclaps after a rather sparse old school rock n' roll bass riff before the track explodes into a jangly jam that practically radiates with charm.  

My Baby's Just A Baby is a delightfully sweet set that demonstrates Knickers familiarity with all things retro while not cling feebly to it. Knickers do more than imitate; rather making tunes you'll have a hard time putting down and won't simply think "Oh, this sounds kinda like...". And that is one of the greatest things a relatively young band like there's can do. Here's hoping there's a full length on the way because anything less would be downright criminal.

Knickers' My Baby's Just A Baby EP is out May 21st on Elefant Records, available on iTunes and limited edition red vinyl 7". Until then you can listen to some of their tunes to your heart's content on Bandcamp or below:

Parlovr - Kook Soul (2012)

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Since my discovery of them at We Listen For You's spectacular CMJ showcase to the release of their first new single, Parlovr have been very well within my sights. While their single "You Only Want It 'Cause You're Lonely" was certainly catchy enough to merit my paying attention, it was "Holding On To Something" which the band released as a sort of SXSW teaser that really won me over and had me practically salivating for their new album.

Kook Soul, the Montreal trio's sophomore record and their first under label contract with Dine Alone Records, is certainly not a departure from their rough-and-tumble ragged-edge rock pop but it's more than just the same old song and dance. A series of love songs, the real twist is that they're all filled with a sort of steely but not grim-faced violence that arises from keen self-awareness. No posturing or victim-playing here - the Quebec rabble-rousers offer up an astonishingly indelible set of songs that properly balances truth with pop. Opener "Do You Remember?" and "Just Marriage" have all the balls-to-the-wall energy of their self-titled debut but it's when the glorious strains of "Holding On To Something" where you truly become aware of the band's growth. Tight-knit pieces that feed off each other ravenously, "Holding On To Something" is about a perfect a pop song as the group's ever made: capturing their penchant for anthemic shout-vocals with intensely memorable melodies. "Now That You're Gone" continues with their delightful streak of dancey ear-catching pop tunes with just the barest hint of a retro-rock vibe giving the subtlest hint at a by-gone-era to keep things interesting.

"Married On A Sunday" is where the album trades in its momentum for a bit of a different track - starting with a bit of sing-talk before the track picks up and all the parts come properly together. It's a track you may not like on first or even second listen but which is poised to win you over on album listen after album listen. "You Only Want It 'Cause You're Lonely" also functions as a bit of a cool-down, slowly building up before it's big rock moments (which really aren't that big in comparison to the album's others).

"Bad Faith" functions as the album's sole ballad and to call it that is a bit of a misnomer perhaps - it's a slower more emotion-fueled song yes but it retains that trio's enthusiastic touch that keeps it from slowing things down too much.

Considering the amount of intense busy moments on Kook Soul, you have to regard the thing as a success. Is it perfect? No. But that's not really Parlovr's style anyway. Kook Soul is bold, brash, virtually unapologetic set of colorful pop songs. Some songs are better than others but none are completely unnecessary.  A charming album that gains whole new meaning when you realize it's essentially the thing that kept the band from breaking up. And considering it's dual composition - songwriters Alex Cooper and Louis Jackson essentially wrote their own songs by themselves and they remain relatively untouched by anyone but drummer Jeremy MacCuish- it's a wonder that the thing works as fluidly as it does. At no point can you tell "This is Alex's, now this is Louis'". Each of the songs all fit together in Parlovr's messy way. A solid follow up  all things considered. Here's hoping there will be more to come from the rather young Montreal threesome.

Get a taste of the album with arguable the best song on it, "Holding On To Something":

You can listen to Parlovr's Kook Soul on Spotify.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Friend Roulette - Hi, Hello EP (2012)

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While gearing up for the upcoming release of their debut full length which is my most anticipated album in life, if not solely the year. Brooklyn chamber pop ensemble Friend Roulette have decided to ease the wait with a less life-consuming release, their tragically short Hi, Hello EP released on Goodnight Records. Now if you were at their double release show with Matty Fasano last month, the May release date might seem a bit of a surprise for you, especially if you snagged one of their fancy limited edition 10" picture discs designed by the group's violinist/vocalist Julia Tepper, and yet here we are. Earlier this week marked the official release date of the EP and Goodnight Records certain makes it worth your while even if you've already gotten your hands on the EP.

If you've heard the group's self-titled debut EP, "Hi, Hello" shouldn't be too much of a shock for you. While wholly new, the track inhabits the same lush cinematic realm of "Or Berlin" or so it seems. The group's embrace of dark textures are checked so that the tune is teased just enough with them to give the barest hint of a nightmarish turn in the dreamy, picturesque opening track. Brilliant bolstered by heavenly harmonies and more or less grounded by resonant bass clarinet, "Hi, Hello" shows a side of Friend Roulette I wasn't sure existed, at least from their energetic live show. Thoughtful in composition and restrained in the use of its multitude of members. Friend Roulette has always been impressive for its diverse lineup but their ability to employ them all in a way that's not too overwhelming is the far more impressive feat here. "Hi, Hello" is a track that reveals more of itself listen after listen as quaint little moments establish themselves swiftly and seems to flitter away almost as rapidly. Just enough to make you want to hear them again and again.

Whereas opener "Hi, Hello" is light and dreamy, b-side "On Her Own Tonight" is very much its opposite. An airy yet spacey opening before the vocals enter, a busy-ness that never seems to stop whether in the oscillating bass line provided by John Stanesco on bass clarinet or the careful pitter-pat of Kyle Olson and Tlacael Esparza's percussion.  "On Her Own Tonight" has random bursts of brightness among its sea of frenetic dark landscapes - even as the track's rising, frantic pacing takes an abrupt stop for a virtually a capella moment before building and breaking into its previous tempo and reestablishing its unceasing forward momentum as the track swirls, glides, and otherwise gracefully reaches its end.
The digital version of the EP (which is really more of a double A side or something because it's only two songs) has two bonus tracks demo versions of "Dog Tambourine" (which I have never heard before) and "Or Berlin" so if you like what you hear make sure to buy either the vinyl picture disc or digital version (or BOTH!) via Goodnight Records here. The band's also hosting a second, more official record release party at Pianos in NYC on Saturday May 19th so if you're in the mood for something astonishingly wonderful make sure to drop by. (Tickets/Info)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Fang Island - "Asunder"

I distinctly remember when I had first heard of Brooklyn's Fang Island, back when Maps & Atlases was still on the Sargent House roster and I relied very much on Myspace to tell me what I should be listening to. And yet for some odd reason, and despite that during 2010 I had seen numerous publications talking about them, I filed them away for later and never really drew them out until today when a stray tweet featuring their new single from Under the Radar caught my eye.

What a mistake that was. While Fang Island has moved away from the purely instrumental rock of its early days but even as the words filtered in, the instrumentals have kept a noticeable and impressive level of importance. Fang Island is more than your dime-a-dozen Brooklyn band which makes the release of their third album, entitled Major, a calendar-marking event. New album cut "Asunder" sounds like it could be right alongside any Fang Island era track. And yet the track has a kind of newness to it, there's a wealth of ideas that the band properly channel to give it a multi-tiered level of enjoyment that's much more than it's ear-catching upbeat beat-driven jam. The melody versus counter melody in the guitars in the first instrumental break is one of those moments that just makes your jaw gape. If anything it just proves Fang Island's talent, taking their place among those instrumental rock titans like Explosions in the Sky and Collections of Colonies of Bees, a place that's they deserve.

Fang Island's Major is out July 24th on Sargent House. Mark your calendar, you don't want to miss it.

(via Under the Radar)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Watch: Knickers - "My Baby's Just A Baby (But I Love Him So)"

Considering I've been a fan of Mark West since his days in Fanfarlo, when he announced that in addition to his frontman position at the helm of The Lost Cavalry that he played organ in Knickers, well it was pretty much clear that I'd check them out. Add to the fact that the band seemed to have the most British of bandnames and I almost didn't care if they were good or not.

Thank goodness for me (and you) that they actually are. Knickers craft some retro-pop jams that are pretty much the cat's pajamas. They're the right level of old school without seeming all that reductive or been-there-done-that. And the band apparently has a sense of humor. Their video for "My Baby's Just A Baby (But I Love Him So)" features Knickers sole woman member Sarah Eisenfisz plays house with her bandmembers (though really just one of them, while the rest are banished to hang in her closet for later). All of whom appear to be very much dead. It's the most playfully fun handling of necrophilia that you're probably ever going to witness.

Watch Knickers' video for "My Baby's Just A Baby (But I Love Him So)":

Knickers debut My Baby's Just A Baby 7" EP is out May 21st on Elefant Records.

Pitstop: Matthew De Zoete

"I'm a musician who lives on a farm in rural Ontario with my wife and daughter"

Normally I avoid anything that sounds like too much of a gimmick for personal as well as aesthetic reasons and yet, this first sentence of introduction piqued my interest in Canadian singer/songwriter Matthew De Zoete. Maybe it's because it didn't actually sound like a gimmick but a sincere statement of introduction? Maybe it's because all my favorite music seems to come from rural-dwelling peoples? It's hard to say, but I knew upon reaching the end of that statement that I was hooked - pure and simple.

Matthew De Zoete's music is just that: simplistic, heartfelt, and wholly without fancy dressings even it does feature some pretty dynamite production. His music is the kind that stands by on it's own merits and Zoete's own nuanced songwriting and arresting vocals. Though Zoete's music isn't completely without innovation, his third and latest album Colour Film is designed with a short film in mind, a short film which to my knowledge doesn't actually exist. That's a feat - creating music as a sort of soundtrack that pretty much has to do all the dramatic heavy lifting itself.

Zoete's is a subtle touch, his songwriting revealing just what you need to know without telling you too much about the characters he's brought into being. Sure, their lives are fully on display on Colour Film but each song tells just the right amount while balancing it with just the right amount of raw emotion to keep Zoete's gears invisible; to keep the album from becoming too cerebral. The result is an album that isn't overbearing with its concept, an album that's enjoyable even if you don't know the concept and that you have very little to invest in order to claim your reward.

Matthew De Zoete's Colour Film is out now, you can listen to it via Bandcamp:

Lower Dens - Nootropics (2012)

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Baltimore's Lower Dens have never really been the type of band that strives for accessibility at least judging from their 2010 debut Twin-Hand Movement. So when the first single "Brains" off the sophomore album Nootropics came out, with it's catchy drive and far less chilly composition, I was a bit taken aback though not offput. Would the band's sophomore album be a more pop-oriented affair? It was anyone's guess even when slowburning second single "Propagation" came out. But with the release of the album of Nootropics a week ago we finally got our answer.

Five minute album opener "Alphabet Song" makes it incredibly clear that pop isn't even an option - as it winds and bends along with Jana Hunter's unaffected vocals. When "Brains" starts with it's slightly more cohesive, upbeat jangle it seems to be the only move that makes sense - even as it spirals out into "Stem", an instrumental track that builds on the prevalent riff in "Brains".

With Nootropics, Lower Dens continue to march to the beat of their own drummer and wonderfully so - a logical continuation of Twin-Hand Movement in that each song takes its time. A collection of jams that could very well go on forever but that they band restrain into 5 minute chunks - more freedom than majority of tracks on Twin-Hand Movement were given. A yet there's more to it than that, on their second album there's far more emotional depth achieved by Jana Hunter in songs like "Lamb", "Candy" and "Nova Anthem". It's an album in every sense of the word, with each song tied to each other by more than just its place on the album - each track makes coherent sense. There's no throwaway track here, not even 12 minute album closer "In the End is the Beginning".

Nootropics is an album that makes it own rules and benefits greatly from it - a sonically similar set of tunes that undoubtedly just work together. All the songs aren't as catchy as "Brains" but they're all highly memorable (especially more than almost every song on their debut). There's no if/ands/or buts about it, they album just fits and you'll be hard-pressed not to listen to the whole thing again and again on repeat.

You can listen to Lower Dens' Nootropics on Spotify. Also get a taste with the video for second single "Propagation":

Friday, May 11, 2012

Watch: Chris Holm - "When I Die"

I know what you're thinking: Didn't you just talk about Chris Holm's "When I Die" yesterday? If not, it's certainly what I'm thinking. Well, in the time it took me to discover Chris Holm, he's just had a music video made. By none other Mona Lerche (wife of the far more famous Sondre) who's quickly establishing herself as one of my favorite new video directors and certainly making an impressing name for herself as such.

The plot is simple enough: a young Equestrian rider mourns the death of her horse and remembers fond memories of practice and morning and mid-afternoon rides, caring for it and the like and is generally distressed by the death of her beast. But then there's an modern dancing man in a horse-head mask that I'm fairly certain is supposed to represent the spirit of the horse and she regards it with all of her affection which it returns as it's man-body allows. It has the potential to take on some creepy Equus like weirdness but I think their relationship is a purer less self-destructive kind of love. There's also shots of Chris Holm shredding alone on the guitar that are pretty much the definition of awesome. Another spectacular video from Mona Lerche.

Watch the video for Chris Holm's "When I Die" from his upcoming solo debut Kilos out in the Fall.


ARMS - "Shipbuilding" (Robert Wyatt/Elvis Costello cover)

It can never be said that Todd Goldstein is not a man of his word. After posting a video of Robert Wyatt performing "Shipbuilding" stating he would cover it or die trying (those are my words actually but I gathered that level of intensity from his simple promise) way back in March he's gone and done so. And amazing so. Recorded for Coke Machine Glow's Fantasy Covers: The 80's Part Two Podcast, I'm just glad it happened. Todd gives the proper ARMS spin to the track giving it just the right touch to make me love the track more. Get into it. And if you're a fan, check out a) more ARMS b) more Robert Wyatt and c) the rest of Coke Machine Glow's Fantasy Covers: The 80's Part Two Podcast here.

ARMS' version of "Shipbuilding" for your ears, folks:

Watch: The School - "Where Does Your Heart Belong?" + "Never Thought I'd See The Day"

Yesterday I thought to myself "Whatever happened to The School? They're about due for another album, I think". Seems like someone heard my inner musings and decided to pay up. Today British retro pop group The School offers up "Where Does Your Heart Belong?", the second single from their new album Reading Too Much Into Things Like Everything. The follow up to 2010's Loveless Unbeliever, seems like the new album is a continuation of the group's nostalgia-fueled love ballads. Which is more of a feat than anything- to resist the urge to royally shake things up or experiment with your winning formula too much. It might sound like a lack of risk-taking or stagnation but just listen to "Where Does Your Heart Belong?" or lead single "Never Thought I'd See The Day" and you'll anything but. Reading Too Much Into Things Like Everything seems to be more of the lovelorn ballads with top shelf arrangements that Liz and her crew do oh so well. That's not a bad thing. Not by a long shot. Watch the videos for the singles below.

"Where Does Your Heart Belong?":

"Never Thought I'd See The Day":

Seems like The School's Reading Too Much Into Things Like Everything is out May 15th on Elefant Records so be sure to pick it up.

(via Eardrums Music)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Watch: Bowerbirds - "Always An Ear to Bend"

Are you one of those unlucky souls who was completely in the dark about Bowerbirds' Record Store Day release? A limited edition 7" featuring "In the Yard" with b-side "Always An Ear To Bend". I picked it up and ravenously consumed it. But fear not. While gallivanting around Europe, the Bowerbirds stopped at Soul Kitchen in France to film a two video acoustic session. Well, kind of. The whole of the Bowerbirds aren't present - instead you get Phil Moore doing solo acoustic versions of their songs which is rather special in it's own right. So in addition to hearing brand new song "Always An Ear To Bend", you also get to see the Bowerbirds are they are rarely seen - without all of their members. Phil Moore solo. Up close, personal, and intensely intimate. Enjoy.

And just for fun, here's "Stitch the Hem" also part of the Soul Kitchen sessions.

Chris Holm - "When I Die"

As I mentioned in my introduction of Norwegian supergroup (for lack of a better word) Young Dreams, they bulk of their members have been apart of other successful bands and/or are distinguished solo artists in their own right. Their banding together could only result in something truly unique and we haven't been disappointed yet.

One of Young Dreams many many members, Chris Holm, is releasing a solo album Kilos in the Fall and he's got the first single up. "When I Die" combines a sort of R&B-esque beat with some sparse rather showy guitar licks. The track quiets when Holm enters and then builds bit by bit as it goes along which is a favorite compositional technique of mine.  "When I Die" is simple and yet irresistible catchy. Not at all surprising from an artist with ties to pop rock maestro Sondre Lerche. It's certainly making me excited for Kilos

Listen to Chris Holm's "When I Die":

Watch: Father John Misty - "This Is Sally Hatchet"

Up until now, Father John Misty's videos have toed the lines of cleverly-spun insanity while featuring a sort of poignant message. "Hollywood Cemetery Forever Sings" saw Aubrey Plaza acting out in what we all can assume was a fit of rebellious grief. "Nancy From Now On" was more or less a love story between J.Tillman and his dominating costar. If there's a simple resonating point in "Sally Hatchet", it's not quite that obvious to me. Which is not to say that it's not there or that the video isn't good. It's just the most out there of the videos Tillman's release so far.

"Sally Hatchet" features everything from pentagram-cut pizzas (I'm reminded of Jonquil's "It's My Part" video) to disfigurement, and there's a sultry vixen who ties it all together. Taking pity on Tillman's questionable sanity and recent handicap and letting her pal around with her as she goes to shoot off guns and be all around awesome. No sign yet of any simple underlying message in this video but it's certainly a good one. Featuring a sort of chaotic yet restrained crazy that few can do so masterfully. Essentially, I'm in awe. And a little scared. Which is exactly as it should be.

Watch Father John Misty's video for "Sally Hatchet":

Father John Misty's Fear Fun is out now on Sub Pop Records.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Watch: Regina Spektor - "Call Them Brothers"

Since the release of 2009's Far, I've more or less downgraded Russian-American piano songstress Regina Spektor from my favorite artist that I listen to religiously to artist I like and will listen to when the mood strikes me. Pair that with the fact that she's spent the better part of 3 years heavily engaged in some quiet composition for a musical slated for Broadway and I more or less forgot about her. With the release of her upcoming album What We Saw From The Cheap Seats, I'm hoping to recapture some of that love. The biggest problem with that seems to be a big budget studio sound she has access to. Which results quite sadly in some effects that are pretty much unnecessary - Spektor is an artist who's vocal power is best left alone with only the accompaniment of her piano or her frequent friends and collaborators.

So while each single has rolled out and I've more or less been at odds with my want to like them and my sadness that they are heavily produced ("All the Rowboats" being the exception since the production really flushes the song out), this latest release from Spektor: The video for "Call Them Brothers" has me changing my tune a bit. Originally recorded for Jack Dishel aka Only Son's sophomore album Searchlight, the two have essentially created a whole new acoustic version to be releases as a bonus track on the deluxe edition of What We Saw From The Cheap Seats. If any of the songs are as good as "Call Them Brothers" I have rising hopes for the album.

Watch the video for "Call Them Brothers" here:

And in case you missed (I pretty much did), Regina rolled out new track "Small Town Moon" not too long ago, listen here.

Regina Spektor's What We Saw From The Cheap Seats is out May 29th.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Esta Vivo - "Smile Back"

It's a bit surprising that I've yet to talk about Chicago musician Esta Vivo yet. I met him less than a year ago in the We Listen For You room during's heyday and was utterly charmed by Together We Step. Since then I've gotten to know the man on a more personal level and more or less forgot that I never did talk about his tunes. Until today. Earlier this month, Esta Vivo dropped "Smile Back" from his upcoming full length  Befitting Flesh.

"Smile Back" is a bright, effervescent, springy jam that belies its bedroom pop composition. It's the kind of sunny tune that's fitting either for a boost of much needed sunlight on a rainy day (like it happens to be here today) or for jubilant agreement with the oncoming warm, summery weather. Either way, "Smile Back" is a catchy gem that makes the wait for Beffitting Flesh seem all the much more torturous.

Have a listen to Esta Vivo's "Smile Back":

Marissa Nadler - "Apostle"

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better than her self-titled sixth album, Boston songstress Marissa Nadler proves that's clearly not the case with her companion to last year's self-titled titled The Sister. On "Apostle", Nadler continues with her airy dreamscapes and her intricate guitar patterns in a great display of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". That's not to say Nadler's a one-trick pony offering up the same thing time and time again. No, with "Apostle", which is noticeably more hopeful and chipper, Nadler adds a new tale among her collection of so many interesting and diverse ones that displays the poignant, poetic lyricism that is certainly Nadler's strong suit. How Marissa Nadler can pumped out what's shaping up to be a devastatingly beautiful set of songs so soon after the endlessly gorgeous Marissa Nadler is beyond me but far be it from me to complain.

Listen to  Marissa Nadler's "Apostle" here:

Marissa Nadler's The Sister is due out May 29th.

Conveyor - "Maine"

With the official release of Brooklyn foursome Conveyor's second single coming up next week, I realized I had neglected to actually share "Maine", the b-side from the release. While not the complete opposite of "Mane", it's more subdued and never quite rises to the level of sun-kissed revelry and exuberance that "Mane" does. That's okay.

Here's softer, folkier b-side "Maine":

In case you missed it, here's another chance to hear the lead track off Conveyor's upcoming 7", "Mane":

You can preorder the 7" for a very very low (and arguably so very worth it) price of $5 from Gold Robot records here.

Watch: Sondre Lerche & Lars Vaular - "Øynene Lukket"

In a year filled with collaborations and team ups that have quite honestly been nonsensical, puzzling, and in some extreme cases downright terrible, here's one of the collaboration that makes so much sense I'm surprised it hasn't happened before. Little know fact is that Norwegian wunderkind turned savvy wunder-adult Sondre Lerche has a cousin who's a successful rapper in Norway by the name of Lars Vaular. The two teamed up (along with frequent collaborator Kato Adland and Sondre Lerche's drummer Dave Heilman) to create a best of both worlds track. Lerche shines in his role a singer/guitarist (as he well should) and while I have very little idea what Lars is actually rapping since he raps in his native Norwegian, it's silky smooth and full of flow.

Watch Sondre Lerche & Lars Vaular's dynamite collaboration "Øynene Lukket" here:

Friday, May 4, 2012

Watch: Zulu Winter - "Silver Tongue"

Earlier today I was re-introduced to British five-piece Zulu Winter by none other than this video. Directed by Alex Turvey, the video features a tense car ride where the couple refuses to look at each other before things get a little weird. You're never quite sure what's real and what's not as the drive hallucinates all sorts of scenes while the passenger stares stoically out the window. Or maybe he's not actually hallucinating? The video does such a good job of blending the real with the supernatural that your left with the same confused expression on the drivers face at the end of the video. A kind of "What the heck just happened?" sort of moment that never seems to be answered regardless of how many times you watch the video. And somehow, that's all okay.

Watch Zulu Winter's video for "Silver Tongue":

Pitstop: Zulu Winter

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Featured on Listen Before You Buy's Best Songs of 2011 shortlist as well as their Ones to Watch for 2012 artist listing, I can't really explain why it's taken me so long to get into Zulu Winter. I remember hearing a song of there's a couple months back and being impressed enough to put the release of their debut album Language on my own personal list of upcoming album releases.

So what is it about Zulu Winter that had me decide to buy their album based solely on one song? Well, the London indie rock quintet play a sort of intricate, precisely layered rock that belies their rather short time together. Listening to any of their songs might remind you of other British rockers Wild Beasts but not in a copycat sense - more for the similar driving tempos with layers of instrumental complexity. Zulu Winter play the kind of perfectly balanced pop rock that's a favorite of mine to listen to. The kind that doesn't trade in the rock for a more accessibility and the potential for radio play. Mind you, Zulu Winter's music is very catchy and would be perfect for radio but their music is easily the kind that's worth waiting in line to see. Equally at home in intimate venues as well as the arenas they seem destined to play. Zulu Winter play the kind of guilt-free pop rock that I think everyone's looking for. Sure to become an instant favorite even if it does take you awhile to realize it.

Get a taste of Zulu Winter:

Their debut album Language is out May 14th in the UK and June 19th stateside so mark your calendars because you won't want to miss it.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Watch: Maps & Atlases - "Remote & Dark Years"

Chicago technical pop rock quartet Maps & Atlases recently dropped their sophomore album Beware and Be Grateful which is already shaping up to be one of my favorites of the year. They also dropped a video for "Remote & Dark Years" today that's a bit surprising. But not in the way you might be thinking. Maps & Atlases have always had creative ideas for music videos but this one takes the cake by far. A tale of love and grand larceny, a punkish couple break into a car and take it on sorts of wonderful nature-related dates. Throughout the video there's ominous flashes of a fiery explosion that adds some tension to the highly-illegal act turned cute recreation. I won't spoil the end but essentially, there's a twist that was pretty unexpected.

Watch the video for Maps & Atlases' "Remote & Dark Years":