Friday, January 30, 2015

Listen: Lower Dens - "To Die In L.A."

Baltimore experimental rock quartet Lower Dens are back! There's been a few changes - namely the departure of guitarist Carter Tanton since the release of their sophomore record Nootropics in 2012 but if they're still chugging along just fine without him it seems. "To Die In LA", the first single from their upcoming third record Escape From Evil, might very well be band's most pop-leaning turn but it feels earned and not just a pandering jumping of the shark. I mean Nootropics' "Brains" and non-album charity single "Non Grata" certainly showed the band was adept at a more universal sound that still retaining Lower Dens understated slow burning buildups.

In a lot of ways "To Die In L.A." follows that rather natural progression from the nascent pop melodies of Twin-Hand Movement's "I Get Nervous", Jana Hunter is growing more comfortable with exploring those more accessible conventions without conforming completely to them. Despite it's catchier dressings "To Die In LA" really is a showcase for Hunter's songwriting and vocals which she's also growing more and more comfortable with - replacing murky unsure whispers to full on belting. The track's pacing allows for Hunter to proceed with surer footing. Never one for too many words, Hunter instead lets her lyrics slowly coalesce - surging forward to its triumphant harmony-laden choruses.

If I've learned anything from Lower Dens, it's that you never really know what to expect from them so while "To Die In L.A." might be a pop song through and through, there's really no telling the rest of Escape From Evil will sound anything like it. That's exciting though and at least for now we can all enjoy the sheer positivity and radiant melodies of Lower Dens' return.

Lower Dens' upcoming third album Escape From Evil is out March 31 on Ribbon Music. CD and limited edition purple LP available for pre-order now.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sean Rowe - Madman (2014)

When first introduced to Troy, New York singer/songwriter Sean Rowe through his ANTI- debut Magic, I would never imagined him making a record like this year's Madman. Madman, his third full length record with ANTI- and his follow up to 2012's The Salesman and the Shark finds expanding his sounds outside of the folk aesthetic. Rowe's genre flirtations on The Salesman and the Shark are taken to their logical conclusion in what is arguably his most pop-oriented to create an album that's not just melancholic rambles cemented by Rowe's booming baritone.

Considering the majority of Rowe's early days as performer was covering soul and blues tunes in small local bars (which his voice is perfectly well suited for), it's refreshing that he turns his sights towards those sounds on Madman. It allows Rowe to flex his songwriting chops in a way that wasn't quite afforded to him in his purely folk turns. Just look at lead/title track "Madman" or the Barry White funkiness of "Desiree" - Rowe's allowing himself to have fun on this album but not at the expense of any of his obvious talent. It's another album like The Salesman and the Shark that points affectionately towards Rowe's record collection while allowing Rowe to expand as a talented songwriter/performer in his own right. And yet Rowe knows exactly when to recenter the album as less of a full band and more as a proper narrative showcase.

It's no surprise that the enjoyable tracks on Madman are those in which Rowe let's his hair down. The album is an eclectic metamorphosis through styles but is anchored by Rowe's confident delivery. While Rowe has never the risk of not being accessible, there's no denying Madman's universal appeal as many of the album's best tracks are when Rowe allows himself to blend in with the rest of his full band - who are talented in their own right. Those little moments of musical excellent are what really elevate the album to awe-inspiring levels; those moments that perfectly capture a frenetic live fervor - like the jazzy tinkling keys or shrieking baritone sax in "Shine My Diamond Ring" or the sludgy din of garage rock distortion on "The Real Thing". Madman is a record that gives an interesting glimpse into the man who made it not through any revealing lyricism, Rowe's done quite enough of that already, but through showing just what inspired and excites - an excitement that is clearly contagious, that'll sweep the listener up and bring them along for the full ride.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Listen: Friend Roulette - "Strange Girl"

With the release of their Grow Younger EP last year, Brooklyn experimental chamber pop outfit Friend Roulette essentially caught up with themselves. Filled with songs even older than those of their debut self-titled EP as well as ones they've been playing since before their debut full length I'm Sorry You Hit Your Head, Friend Roulette no longer have that daunting chasm of unreleased tracks. Or so I thought.

With Friend Roulette gearing up to release their anticipated sophomore record, they're bringing another older track out to trot in "Strange Girl".  And yet, there's no doubt Friend Roulette have trussed it up a bit in what is rapidly becoming their trademark fashion. After a tone-setting instrumental intro, Julia Tepper's vocals are given full freedom to soar in the mid-tempo jam but there's plenty of room for the rest of the band to do their thing; swelling up during the choruses but always clearing up for Tepper's narrative verses. One of the most interesting things about Friend Roulette is not only how they warp typical songwriting conventions but also the interplay between the band's six members. There's melodies and countermelodies and harmonies all happening concurrently and one particular awesome musical moment in "Strange Girl" occurs  when a sort of hand-off between Tepper's vocals and John Stanesco' EWI before there's a call and response between Tepper and the rest of band at the song's climax. It's a track with a subtler touch as the track focuses rightfully on its narrative - dark and mysterious and just as inventive if not a bit more forthcoming with its plot elements than the standard Friend Roulette track. With two EPs, a full length and one of the way, Friend Roulette are settling in a sort of groove - their sound uniquely their own but not afraid to fuss around with their own songwriting structure.

Friend Roulette is one of those rare bands that don't have to try to be interesting; they just are. "Strange Girl" is a testament to that - recalling the nonsensical quirk of "Kitty Song", "Just Woke Up", and "Sailing Song" but with the cohesive storytelling of "I Guess" or the winsome "Or, Berlin" for a sort of happy medium.

Friend Roulette's sophomore record I See You. Your Eyes Are Red will be out later this year but you can listen to first single "Strange Girl" now:

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Listen: Pearl and the Beard - "You"

                                                   (photo by Shervin Lainez)

Well this has been a long time coming - since being introduced to Pearl and the Beard (after an irrationally long time of putting them off) in the summer of  2013 at The Wild Honey Pie's Welcome Campers, I've been fiending for the new Pearl and the Beard record. Fans of theirs had the opportunity to pre-order the record  - titled Beast, and were given the gift of a stream/download while the band got all their ducks in a row with all the particulars of the new record. But for me, that wasn't good enough. Pearl and the Beard, from the moment their music crackled on my skin like static electricity, were a sharing band.  "Have you heard of 'Pearl and the Beard?" I would ask my similar musically inclined friends, casual acquaintances, strangers I had just met at parties. It was getting ridiculous but such is the strength of their new songs and I wanted everyone to hear them.

"You", the first taste of Beast, is a perfect introduction to the band for the uninitiated and a lovely roaring return for those fans waiting, patiently, for the band's follow up to 2011's Killing Your Darlings. It's a bliss-inducing burst of pop filled to the brim with insistent fervor. "Can you hear me? Got a megaphone on my forever beating heart/Come on get it through your skull that I want you and all of your flaws" - Jocelyn Mackenzie roars right out the gate. "You" may invoke the feelings of all-consuming love but Mackenzie establishes first and foremost that it's a love that true; not that sort of easy infatuation where you're completely blind to the hidden depths of a person. The love in "You" in bold but understanding and Pearl and the Beard ride that wave pretty agilely keeping up with the sheer insistence of the zealous lyrics with rapid pacing and grand swelling choruses. "You" is the perfect preview of Beast because it's bound to stay in your ears until the trio see fit to let their next track free and luckily for both them and us - it's a damn good to keep us company.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

All Around Sound's Favorite Albums of 2014

2014 was an odd year - on one hand it seemed like the amount of notable releases were as plentiful as ever before while on the other, a lot of those releases ultimately did not live up to the hype. 2014 was the year a multitude of artists not only reserved for their follow up records but also seemed inclined to pack full of releases - artists like Sondre Lerche and Steve Gunn had more than one album out this year. Lerche offering up the soundtrack to the movie The Sleepwalker he wrote music in addition to return to original songs after his first ever live album while Steve Gunn pursuing two collaborations in addition to his own full length follow up to last year's brilliant Time Off. While every genre and music type was represented this year, 2014 in my humble opinion, was the year of the singer/songwriter. From releases from The New Pornographers, Cold Specks, Hiss Golden Messenger, and dozens more, the singer/songwriter's seemingly dominated this year delivering on the potential of their releases in a way that bands didn't seem quite able to. Despite this, it's been a year of surprises all across the board so without further ado here's my favorite releases of the year in no particular order.

Kevin Morby - Still Life
It's funny that in a year with not one, not two, but three albums from Steve Gunn that the album that most resembled the simple narratives of Time-Off was actually that of Los Angeles' based songwriter Kevin Morby's sophomore record Still Life. But where Gunn's lyricism sprang from a sort of deductive observationalism, Morby's seem like ready additions to the folk canon if not for their experimental twists. Where Gunn's folk rock rambles were aided by his jazz background, Morby relies on his psych and garage rock past to give his songs and extra bit of flavor. But Morby is more than Steve Gunn's foil; Morby's songwriting is undoubtedly his own - it's a free-flowing candor that doesn't detract from its moments of poignancy. Morby's lyrics are plainspoken but articulate; casual but intelligent and in moments like "The Jester, The Tramp, & The Acrobrat" or its callbacks elsewhere on the album ("The Dancer"), it's obvious Morby knows a thing or two about songwriting structure - able to build upon them in ways that are understatedly great.

Angel Olsen - Burn Your Fire For No Witness
There's no denying that last year's sneak peak of Olsen's sophomore album Burn Your Fire For No Witness in the form of the fiery, rock "Forgiven/Forgotten" got a lot of people amped up for the album but ultimately Olsen subverted expectations by making that the lead single - while relying far more frequently on electronic guitar on the album, it's not quite as incendiary as the single would lead listeners to believe. Olsen's still ruminates beautifully in her introspective heartfelt tunes. Burn Your Fire For No Witness is a patient album, especially in its second half as Olsen gets sparser and more intimate but there's little doubt of Olsen's songwriting or ability to make an effecting album. It's an album of arresting beauty where Olsen lays herself completely bare even amid growling guitars.

Landlady - Upright Behavior
When I first discovered Landlady at SXSW, I was so taken with their incredible live energy and commitment to audience participation in "Above My Ground" that pretty much everything else about the band failed to register. It's not until you sit down with Upright Behavior, the sophomore record for Adam Schatz and company that you realize just how much Landlady have going for them. In addition to having an impressive roster of musicians, and engaging live performances - Adam Schatz is a gifted songwriter. His topics are eclectic - from the universal feelings of loss and existential dread ("Above My Ground", "Dying Day") to the zany and specific ("Girl","X-Ray Machine") but what's pervasive in all of Schatz songs is that quiet need for connection, Landlady's songs are the kind that seem to force a sincere reaction out of you - not through any sort of introspection; the reaction seems surprisingly incidental. And yet, that's part of Schatz skill. His songs profiting from both a pop universality and also his occasionally comic wit. Landlady is a good a band as any to fight what was previously a losing battle against irony and cynicism. Landlady's songs, seem unaffected and unassuming but they stir something in you, drawing a wellspring of feelings in their tragically short run times and yet, it's 30 minutes of earnest response that might not have existed without them. Landlady are a band rebelling against a increasingly normalized response against sincerity but if Upright Behavior is any indication they just might win.

It says a lot about the Baraboo, WI septet and the trust they have in each other that they can make an album as understated but enjoyable as their self-titled full length debut. That's not surprising considering PHOX's members have known each other for years before shacking up together and forming a band but seven members is a lot of people to account for if you don't exactly know what to do with them. Luckily for PHOX this is never the case and their eclectic instrumentation - clarinet, banjo, flute, flugelhorn/trumpet, in addition to the standard guitar/bass/drums helps separate them from the pack. It's an album that resists the siren song of the Mumfordized folk that's become wildly popular. Each song has distinct melodies, unique narrative subjects, and utilizes its multitude of members ably. Monica Martin may be the group's mouthpiece but there's no doubts PHOX is a full band affair. PHOX spends a significant amount of time pursuing the melancholic but even then doesn't lose it's lightness of step and arrangement. They never reach off-putting levels of sadsackery, hitting just the right amount of emotion required. PHOX take the scenic approach to folk pop, rarely giving you those monumental, catchy moments right up front and it's a welcome reprieve from the in-your-face nature of your garden variety indie pop act.

Brooklyn Rider - The Brooklyn Rider Almanac
10 years after their initial formation, New York based indie classical string quartet Brooklyn Rider have settled into a comfortable groove of sorts: their release schedule is surprisingly consistent - more or less releasing an album a year since 2008's Passport. There's touring schedule And yet while falling into a comforting rhythm, Brooklyn Rider has strived and succeeded at avoiding to be predictable. Just take this year's release The Brooklyn Rider Almanac; the essence of what drives the foursome at it's epicenter, it's a release that simultaneously breaks down and relies on Brooklyn Rider's familiarity. "Morris Dance" and "Exit" introduce vocals to what has for the longest time been a mostly instrumental endeavor for the quartet while tracks like "Dig the Say" and "Necessary Henry" absolutely requires their years of rapport to navigate the intricate improvisatory layers. Normally building the album around an reinterpreted classical work, The Brooklyn Rider Almanac instead is formed from the contribution of all living composers who themselves sought inspiration for the Almanac's pieces from other artists/composers. The Brooklyn Rider Almanac is not only a strong, interesting experiment but also one  that challenges and reintroduces the quartet's own mission statement - making for one of the most exciting and engaging albums they've released.

Lewis & Clarke - Triumvirate
Lou Rogai is nothing if not patient - it's reflected in everything that makes Lewis & Clarke worth listening to - their song's leisurely pace, the instrumental efficiency in the arrangements, the steady but surefootedness of Rogai's lyricism. It's virtually no surprise that the band's full length follow up would come years after their last; 7 if you're counting the time since Blasts Of Holy Birth, 5 from the sign of life that was 2009's 4 song Light Time EP. And in that time Rogai has grown more patient still. Triumvirate is a wide-sweeping sprawl of melancholic flourishes and meditative introspection. Triumvirate, Lewis & Clarke's third album, is a stunning work of beleaguered beauty; lush but complex in tone and overall mood; it's a record that contains a remarkably human breath. From it's melancholics flourishes to its meditative introspection, Triumvirate unfurls at a realistic rate of growth and decay. Nothing here is rushed - plodding casually through the philosophical brush instead of relying too heavily on the visceral, Rogai invoking emotion through a sort of learned response; he never directly appeals to the heart but engages each sense equally over the course of his long-form art-pop compositions until you find yourself responding in earnest.

Wye Oak - Shriek
While the latest record from Baltimore duo Wye Oak received its fair share of hype, it was arguably for wrong reasons. Lauded as the guitarless Wye Oak album, Shriek comes after quite a bit of Jenn Wasner dabbling in her other musical projects like Dungeonesse and Flock of Dimes and the influences from those fair more mainstream pop efforts have seeped into Wye Oak for the better. There wasn't anything wrong with Wye Oak's past incarnation as an indie rock band of note but the Wye Oak's synth pop renaissance provided a palette cleanser that Wasner has stated needed to continue to feel invested in the band and it's resulted in some of her most honest songwriting moments amid Shriek's dancier flights of fancy.

Sea Wolf - Song Spells No. 1: Cedarsmoke
It's a marvel that the latest Sea Wolf album, Song Spells No. 1: Cedarsmoke isn't actually considered to be a full blown effort by singer/songwriter Alex Brown Church. The album, the first in what is hopefully an ongoing collection of songwriting experiments pursued between official albums is basically meant to keep fans sated until Church and company have a "proper" full length effort prepped and potentially keep Church's songwriting chops sharp. Song Spells No. 1: Cedarsmoke achieves both those goals but also succeeds in being an incredible effort in its own right housing one of Alex Brown Church's strongest and most immediate songwriting efforts in "Young Bodies".

Sylvan Esso - Sylvan Esso
It sounded almost too much like a novelty - two folkies Amelia Randall-Meath of Mountain Man and Nicholas Sanborn who I had known from his run as a member of Megafaun's touring band team up for an electronic project. The only thing I didn't really count on was the versatility of Amelia's voice or the fact that Nicholas Sanborn is actually a skilled electronic producer. Sylvan Esso wasn't a project that was supposed to exist and yet, no is wishing it didn't. The duo, unlikely as they might seem on paper/without all the fact, creates a sort of charmingly easily accessible brand of electro-pop that it's hard not to get behind. With Sylvan Esso there's no gimmick, just the strength of the songs which happen to all be ridiculously good. It's a record that plays off of each person's obvious strengths and a few hidden ones for good measure while capitalizing on the duo's obvious creative chemistry and an undeniable urge to dance.

Blake Mills - Heigh Ho
While Blake Mills continues to make a name for himself a session musician everyone wants to work with and album credits continue to lengthen, this year saw the return of Mills to his solo project/main songwriting vehicle for the first time since his 2009 debut Break Mirrors and it's an album that's certainly worth the wait. Undeniably the more accessible record, it's ironic that it's also the record where Mills explores and experiments with various guitar tones and techniques far more openly. Mills has learned a thing or two about pop music to level up his songwriting and the results while lyrically broad - the magic comes from what Mills doesn't quite say, what the listener infers like on Fiona Apple featuring "Don't Tell Your Friends About Me". Mills has a talent that still percolates through his broadest moments like "Before It Fell" and "Curable Disease" which are contain the album's most impressive and effecting lyrical agility.

Tiny Ruins - Brightly Painted One
It's rather fitting that Brightly Painted One is the first album from Hollie Fullbrook's Tiny Ruins most Americans will hear. Based on the strength of lead track "Me at the Museum, You in the Wintergardens", it exemplifies everything Fullbrook has to offer - a stunning simplicity built around wonderfully evocative imagery and artful musical moments. Fullbrook is a breath of fresh air in the guise of a folk singer; finding inspiration in unexpected subjects and avoiding obvious tropes, Brightly Painted One is a scenic amble with an ever-changing focus but whose effect remains wholly the same. Fullbrook and her band are the only constant - an angel-voiced Scheherazade navigating the listener around mountains, across seas, and through time with a surprisingly fluidity and lilting gait.

Adult Jazz - Gist Is
When people listen to Adult Jazz - their knee-jerk reaction might be to compare them to the Dirty Projectors. It makes sense to an extent: they both strive to create music that is simply more than a catchy melody. It's music that stimulates the senses but challenges the listener and the performer alike. But the comparison distracts exactly from what Adult Jazz has going for it. Gist Is, a debut that is equal parts auspicious and criminally underrated, Adult Jazz prove themselves as precocious innovators. Take album opener "Hum", first an a capella introduction to the distinct vocals of frontman/songwriter Harry Burgess before undergoing an organic metamorphosis. It's an introduction to the band that's surprisingly apt - rarely does the Leeds four-piece sit on a single thought but neither do they haphazardly rush from one idea to the next; Adult Jazz are both restrained and restless; their creative flow resembling a tangent more than a leap but without all the clutter. Adult Jazz are many things - experimentalists with a meticulously polished creative vision; musicians with an inherent desire for chaos and subversion of expectations. There's no doubt a natural poppiness to Adult Jazz's songs and yet they rebel against that very notion in both theory and practice. It's an album of considerable thought and forethought that also embraces a improvisatory stream of consciousness; it's polished and precise but at times purposefully rough and effectively human.  Adult Jazz is a band of contradictions but those same contradictions are both what give the band its creative power and sets them and their debut album Gist Is apart from all the rest.

Elizabeth & The Catapult - Like It Never Happened
Elizabeth Ziman is a mainstay in New York City's singer/songwriter circle and with her third album Like It Never Happened it's not hard to see why. Ziman manages to perfectly balance a sense of playful ease with honest and effective lyricism in a way that's refreshing in absolutely every single way. A pop aficionado, Ziman's most winsome moments both on Like It Never Happened and in general are when she's able to imbue her personality into her songs. Like on the titular "Like It Never Happened" where Ziman offers up the wry lyrics with a rather straight-faced delivery that makes it doubly enjoyable. Ziman's strength comes from her unique approach to the singer/songwriter genre - she's a purveyor of love songs but there's no sense of whimpering inactivity from Ziman. She's a woman of action, aware of her own romantic weaknesses and pursues the for the narrative mileage without letting herself be solely defined by them. Like It Never Happened's appeal is that even at it's most poppy, it never comes off as cutesy. It's a sincere record where Ziman shows off the best parts of herself; owning her personal weaknesses in a way that make them quite flattering without her having to spin them as such. From it's arrangements to Ziman's shifting instrumental focus (guitar versus piano), Like It Never Happened shows Elizabeth & The Catapult at her very best. Everything is polished but not to the point of being overly produced and it's a collection of songs that really demonstrates what Ziman's capable of.

Kishi Bashi - Lighght
When K. Ishibashi decided to embark on a solo career after countless years as an ensemble player for artists like of Montreal and Regina Spektor he did so with pretty much everyone's blessing. In a lot of ways his initial releases (his inaugural Room For Dream EP and debut full length album 151a) were made with what he learned from his collaborators balancing practiced patience with bursts of unheralded ingenuity. On Lighght, Kishi Bashi overcame any notion of the sophomore by leaning more into his influences than on his previous releases - jazz fusion and progressive rock explode Kishi Bashi's established cinematic scope with pyrotechnic grandeur. K.'s straight forward pop efforts "Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It!" and "Carry On Phenomenon" are almost infuriatingly infectious while other songs "Bittersweet Genesis For Him AND Her" and "Q&A" flourish from their emotional resonance. It's an album leagues stronger than his already superb debut that imbues the studio work with Kishi Bashi's intensely affable live energy and ever-growing technical prowess. It's an album that only Ishibashi himself could've predicted he could make but one where the amount of hard work is evident despite it's effortless delivery.

SoftSpot - MASS
Brooklyn art-rock trio SoftSpot are not a singles band. That's not to say they're albums don't possess standalone songs on them but SoftSpot are a band with a considerable knack for the album medium. The treat it with a sacredness that pretty much ensures that they'll be rewarded for their piety. SoftSpot's debut was such a fully realized effort with a total cohesion of ideas, for their follow up it was never a question of whether it would be so; merely what would those ideas be and how would the band implement them? On their sophomore record MASS, SoftSpot dial back the intensity of Ensō in order to create a work that stands separate from it. MASS is far more languorous record than Ensō and yet, there's no denying its ideas gestate far more quickly. On MASS, SoftSpot may condense their gestation of ideas but not its flow relying far less on sprawling track lengths than before. It's surprisingly at odds with SoftSpot's deceleration but fitting ultimate making their more vivacious efforts like "You/Yours" and "Crosswinds" much more effective. There's no question SoftSpot has ideas in spades but MASS proves sometimes all you really have to do with them is let them simmer.

Sondre Lerche - Please
One of the most exciting things about following the career of Norwegian singer/songwriter Sondre Lerche is how absolutely committed the man is towards finding new ways to tackle pretty universal topics. That in a nutshell is what Lerche brings to his approach towards pop music - it's how Lerche can, after a decade-long career still dip into the well of love songs but still put out something that seems fresh. On Please, Lerche's seventh studio album, Lerche takes his one chance to handle something as less inclusive as his divorce and manages to imbue in it not only a sense of broad appeal but avoid the usual trapping of a break up record in the same stroke. Lerche doesn't allow himself the luxury of a pity party on Please, nor does it pretend that he hasn't gone through something life-altering but true to form, he finds a way that's better than the expected to reach that sense of commonality - by creating a record that's downright celebratory. A celebratory of his flaws, her flaws, our flaws in general; Lerche's not pulling any punches but he's mature enough not to play the blame game and in that regard he's able to play off of and play with his undeniable charm and avoid the dangers of sentimentality.

Hundred Waters - The Moon Rang Like A Bell
When Hundred Waters unleashed their debut self-titled record into the world, it was an unfathomable work of art; completely separate from the notion of genre with an artistic vision that was light years ahead of what was currently happening in the musical industry on the most epic of scales. So when Hundred Waters announced their intention not only to follow it up but rather quickly doing so - it was anyone's guess what the hell that would even sound like. How could Hundred Waters build on a sound that was so absolutely unique and yet incredibly difficult to pin down? And yet, Hundred Waters managed to do so. The Moon Rang Like A Bell while leaning far more heavily into their almost all of the various genre slashes you might use to describe their sound - electronic, art, rock, pop while still not entirely adhering to any of them. Their sophomore record continues a sort of creative narrative you weren't entirely sure Hundred Waters were creating until the work emerged - they've tightened up, lasered in, and ironed all the seams - the result is a work that explores Hundred Waters' interests - their grand artistic moments even grander - hushed and solemn but unfettered; their pop leanings more leaned into. It's a work no one could have predicted they'd make and yet, fits so perfectly among their previous album that demonstrates their ability to channel the magic of their collective creativity as they see fit. Their fully realized debut wasn't just the alignment of their creative energies, it was only a peek into the hivemind and a benchmark for which they could easily surpass. The Moon Rang Like A Bell leaves you with only one question at it's quietly satisfying conclusion: what the hell are Hundred Waters going to do now?

Pattern Is Movement - Pattern Is Movement
On their sophomore record All Together, Philly experimental pop duo Pattern Is Movement planted many of the seeds for what would become their self-titled record and yet, it's a record that probably wouldn't exist as it does now if not given the time they put between it and the 2008 record. Quietly inspired by hip hop & R&B in the past (both singer/keyboardist Andrew Thiboldeaux and drummer Chris Ward come from hip hop backgrounds), Pattern Is Movement is the record where they let those influences really come through while avoiding treating it like too much of an affect. From Ward's J Dilla inspired drumming to the subtle use of autotune on Thiboldeaux's normally unaffected vocals, Pattern Is Movement lean heavy into their R&B roots but through their pure reverance of the genre as well as the reliance on their own ideas, Pattern Is Movement comes off as a properly honest effort and less like a part of the culture-biting trend.

A Spotify playlist featuring full streams of all the albums on this can be reached here. Thanks for reading~
Honorable Mentions:

Damien Jurado - Brothers And Sisters Of The Eternal Son

Frankie Cosmos - Zentropy

Friend Roulette - Grow Younger EP

Grandma Sparrow - Grandma Sparrow & His Piddletractor Orchestra

Mirage - Blood For the Return EP

Saintseneca - Dark Arc

Salt Cathedral - OOM VELT EP

Steve Gunn - Way Out Weather

White Reaper - White Reaper EP

Wild Beasts - Present Tense

Will Stratton - Gray Lodge Wisdom

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Pepa Knight - Hypnotized Vol. 1 (2014)

When I first discovered that Jinja Safari co-frontman/songwriter Pepa Knight was embarking upon a solo career, I could barely contain my excitement. Though he and songwriting partner Marcus Azon both draw from various regional musics, Knight is often the one manning the instruments procured from their travels - harmonium, sitar, reed flute, they all have a place in Knight's at home studio. Essentially what I expected from Knight's solo venture was more of the same with a wider array of instruments and Pepa Knight's first ever single "Rahh!" seemed to offer that up in spades.

It's not until you get into the nitty-gritty of Knight's debut solo EP Hypnotized Vol. 1 that you get a real sense of Knight as a solo artist. Beginning with the epononymous "Hypnotized" Knight commits heavily toward the album as a cohesive medium. Where "Rahh!" introduced us to Knight's solo effort by throwing fans and new listeners alike right into the deep end, "Hypnotized" takes a much more languid approach with a notable exception - like "Rahh!" or any of the other singles released ahead of the EP, Knight paints his songs in vibrant technicolor. Even with it's unfurling development, we're introduced to a bright, dynamic lushness before the first words are ever sung.

Without the full weight of Jinja Safari's five person manpower, Knight is freed up a bit for a much more subtler approach. The layering is carefully arranged, providing a sense of widescreen openness - reminiscent of the wide open plains Knight calls home in his native Central Coast, Australia. Similarly to Jinja Safari, it's easy to get lost in the immersive radiance of the album, swept along in the kaleidoscopic vision and diverse textural palette and not realize that in terms of actual songwriting, Knight has a unique but subdued voice. Pepa Knight takes not only what he's learned as a band member and intrepid world traveler but also as an adult human being for lyrics that stripped free of their resplendent poppy dressings are quite affecting. Each song builds on the idea of coming into your own and it's a theme that's given as much time to gestate as it does to actually do so - with album tracks substituting for years. "Do you feel alive?" Knight posits in "Hypnotized" before offering answers in each subsequent track from the subtle ("Fortress", "The Desert Guide") to the extreme ("Rahh!", "Clams").

Pepa Knight's debut solo EP Hypnotized Vol.1 is available on cassette, limited edition 12" vinyl as part of a deluxe bundle, or digitally through Knight's website or via the standard digital retailers. You can stream the album here:

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

All Around Sound's Favorite Tracks of 2014

While 2014, in my opinion, resulted in a lot of albums that amounted to nothing all that special the same can fortunately not be said for the individual tracks. From one-off singles, to that album-centering track, to even the exceptional b-side, 2014 was a year of welcome surprises in terms of singular musical output. It was a year of anticipation (whispers of Joanna Newsom finally releasing the follow up to 2010's Have One on Me intensified this year in particular) and managed expectations that ultimately delivered if you just stopped the guesswork and let everything unfold how it was meant to. There were a lot of stand along songs released this year but here's some of my favorite songs to come out this year - the one's I found myself returning to again and again.

Julie Byrne - "Prism Song", Rooms With Walls And Windows
I'm always on the lookout for new singer/songwriter and folk music in general so when not only one but two of my friends suggest I give Julie Byrne's album a spin I took to it with an almost abnormal sense of propriety considering it usually takes me months if not years to heed musical advice. What I found in Julie Byrne's music - specifically "Prism Song" was a charming simplicity and an engaging sense of sincerity. Byrne's vocals are beautiful but more importantly her lyrics sound with a beguiling honesty. Byrne manages to draw out all of emotion effectiveness from her "I never would've known what you could have meant to me" with not a ounce of drama; a simple heartfelt reflection.

Mimicking Birds - "Owl Hoots", Eons
I've said it before and I've said it again but I am totally terrible at listening to suggestions from friends. When I went to SXSW earlier this year, Dave Greenwald from Rawkblog suggested I hit up a Portland music showcase - firstly because I like a lot of bands from Portland. Secondly for one band in particular - Mimicking Birds. I told him I'd think about it and then got carried away on the deluge of other music, tacos, and BBQ that I totally forgot to give it a second thought. And then a number of publications started writing about Mimicking Birds as one of the festival's standouts. I had missed a prime opportunity to be a part of history. When I finally sat down to listen to Mimicking Birds it was exactly the kind of thing I knew I would've enjoyed live. On Eons, I was immediately taken with frontman Nate Lacy's lyrical specificity. It was similar but not congruent to that of The Heligoats' Chris Otepka and relies on a similar slow build. "Owl Hoot" is easily the Eons' standout track, not surprisingly chosen as the album's first single, is a perfect showcase of what exactly Mimicking Birds have to offer. The trio play their cards close to their chest - gently unfurling the song's rich textural tapestry in manner belying the specter of insistence that threatens to catapult everything into greater action. And yet, "Owl Hoots" manages to keep everything firmly restrained, steadily building energy and urgency while damming those very things that would undo them. The band take their cues from Lacy's vocals but even as his vocals rise both in volume and fervor, there's an admirable sense of control that is never quite lost.

Ólöf Arnalds - "Half Steady", Palme
While the Icelandic singer/songwriter pushes her boundaries and standard practices on all of Palme, there's no greater display of Arnalds stepping out of her comfort zone than "Half Steady". Working with Gunnar Örn Tynes of múm Arnalds essentially distorts her sound like that of a fun house mirror. While Arnalds still sings with a very human cadence, there's hints of her going for more clipped, inorganic imitation of the track's more electronic elements. It's the most dramatic display of Arnalds pushing her sound when the rest of Palme aims for a subtler balance of synth and Arnalds more traditional folk oriented sound.

Damien Jurado - "Magic Number", Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son
There probably isn't a more pitch perfect way to kick off Damien Jurado and Richard Swift's second collaboration Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son than "Magic Number" - immediate but mysterious; it's a proper bit of musical world building for an album that relies almost purely on a world of Jurado's creative imagination that also demonstrate just what Swift's been able to draw out of Jurado during their shared time together. Jurado's intricacy of lyrics carries over to the song composition - like the entrance of the booming brass and swelling strings central in establish, before Jurado's first words are even uttered, an intriguing sense of uneasiness.

Olivia Quillio - "Easy Killer", The Bomb
The road to Albany based singer/songwriter Olivia Quillio's debut studio album seems like a far longer one than it's been. But while it's only been three years since I stumbled upon her while attending a show of mutual acquaintance, the lack of a true album from Quillio stung purely because she's such a consummate live performer she is - her blend of jazz, soul and folk giving her a distinct voice on top of her electric live presence. No one sound be able to draw so much sensuality from the ukulele and yet, Quillio does so. The Bomb leans a little harder into Quillio's jazz background than any of her previous efforts or she generally gets live due in part to the her talented musicians but the record isn't without it's eclectic tendencies and "Easy Killer" is perfect display of what Quillio brings to the table in addition to being a favorite live staple.

Salt Cathedral - "Rainy Days"
Why Salt Cathedral considered a song as great a "Rainy Days" to be a b-side I don't know. While it's true that it doesn't fit with the retooled vibe of their OOM VELT EP, "Rainy Days" is a jam and the first taste many listeners got to their shifting electronic setup. "Rainy Days" was a happy medium between the intricate tropical-infused rhythms of Salt Cathedral's il Abanico days and the self-titled EP they released last year and the paired down sample-laden synth-pop of OOM VELT and it was for all intents and purposes their best song (before the OOM VELT EP streeted and "Tease" could be sampled). If Salt Cathedral considers a song like "Rainy Days" to be a throwaway track, then every band needs to worry because some bands would kill to have a song as effortlessly dynamic, so obsession-inducing catchy as this one. It would be the keystone of an entire album but Salt Cathedral believed they could achieve better but also saw enough of it's greatness to at least let it out into the world to be enjoyed instead of shelving it. And for that we owe Salt Cathedral the most sincerest gratitude.

Milagres - "Terrifying Sea", Violent Light
It's an achievement for the Brooklyn experimental pop quartet Milagres that on Violent Light, they were not only able to power up their sounds - leaning far more heavily into synth pop and glam rock influences but also retain quite a bit of heart. Kyle Wilson's vocals have always had the ability to be affecting regardless of if he was singing about sherpas or terrifying beasts so when he turns his lyrics inward toward feelings of love and validation like in "Terrifying Sea", they pack an extra wallop. There's grandiose pop moment packaged around the sincerest of intentions at its core and it resonates deeply in a way that's beyond the purely enjoyable majestic delights of Violent Light.

Slow Club - "Complete Surrender", Complete Surrender
Sheffield duo Slow Club have certainly come a long way from the cute folk-pop days of Yeah So. Complete Surrender, their third album, find the twosome growing up and growing into a sleeker and more blatantly pop sound that's definitely rooted in the retro pop aesthetic without allowing it to be just that. The title track is perhaps the best encapsulation of the band's flirtations with decadence, building off Rebecca Taylor's drum loops and blending her and Charlie Watson's voices in a way they haven't really allowed themselves to in bit. It's raw emotion with polished pop sensibilities. "Complete Surrender" is a vocal showpiece even despite the orchestral flourishes, with Taylor going in on a dramatic, big voiced delivery befitting of a true pop star. The arrangements simple but effective, "Complete Surrender" establishes the take-no-prisoners emotive power that the band (now expanded into  four piece) go for with the album's ballads and tales of woe. It's definitely one of the album's standout moments of opulence but classically so - like a cocktail dress or eye-drawing piece of flair rather than a full on spectacle.

Skrillex - "Coast Is Clear" ft Chance the Rapper &The Social Experiment, Recess
Well, this is a surprising development. So often we respond with a knee jerk reaction to certain pop culture trends that we aren't totally aware we might be shutting down something valid. I hadn't listened to Skrillex before but somehow got swept up in the collective opinion (at least of non-club kids) that his music wasn't worth paying any attention to. It wasn't until blog faves Hundred Waters signed to his label OWSLA that I realized there was some sort of superficial cognitive dissonance at play here and so with Hundred Waters' in my mind I set out to at least give Skrillex's first full length effort Recess a shot. It was a record I found myself unexpectedly enjoying despite a wary suspicion of dance music. There were moments on the album where I knew if I was in a club or bar I would've started outright dancing to, if not simply tapping my foot. One of the album's not-so-hidden treasures is a collaboration between Sonny Moore and Chance the Rapper. It's a track that eschews the social politics Chance dips into for a much more beguilingly silly romp as Chance plans his escape from the club for a potential one-night stand. On the production end - there's a fairly balanced blend of the electronic and the other all happening at rather impressive gallop. Consistently rapid beats and trumpets swells give way to a break down where everything is pulled back to rebuild everything bit by bit from just beatboxing and a solo piano line. There's all sorts of little tics in the song's construction but it's almost immaculate how the whole thing proceeds at a sprint. It's as much of a testament to Moore's skills as a producer as to the musicianship of all involved - Chance and The Social Experiment included.

Emily Reo - "Peach" (Yalls Remix), Olive Juice Remixes
I'll be honest, whenever I see the word remix I immediately roll my eyes and move on. It's not about seeing the remix as a less valid form of music but rather that I'm almost always unimpressed with the results. It takes a really really good remix to make me take notice and congruently one that is seemingly forced on me. The fact that I heard Yalls update on what's arguably my favorite track from Emily Reo's full length debut was pure coincidence. It played during a between set DJ session from Yalls at this past SXSW and it was enough to make me stop in my tracks. While friends used the set switch over to catch up and make plans for later during the day/week and make notes, I focused my energy on getting closer to the DJ booth so I could ask: "What is this?" A part of a larger effort put together by Reo to remix several of her album tracks, I found myself returning to this remix over and over despite the multitude of options on the remix album. I was fascinated by Yalls ability to manipulate Reo's voice in a way not unlike she does herself. It was a pitch perfect amount of give and take - Reo's fluid melodies endured while Casey clipped and glitched up her vocals.

The Antlers - "Surrender", Familiars
From the ruthlessly heartbreaking Hospice, to the art-pop experimentalism of Undersea, The Antlers have made it a point to challenge themselves both lyrically and aesthetically on every release. Though Hospice was their breakout record, the seeds of their innovation were planted as far as 2006's Uprooted - Peter Silberman's folky solo jaunt under the Antlers moniker. Familiars works well as the summation of all of The Antlers' work so far -  combining the strengths of each album with the band's desire to push forward. The Antlers' open up their sound, enlisting the aid of more brass than Darby Cicci's trumpet and cello. Familiars proceeds at glacial thaw, somber instead of just outright sad. "Surrender" however is a notable bright spot. It features less of the album's ethereal sprawl and functions more as a full band showcase - there's a borderline jazzy undercurrent; a nascent groove accompanying Silberman's gentle vocals that swells up during the instrumental breaks. The Antlers have always excelled not only at full album concepts but smaller scale narratives but "Surrender" appeals to those that just like the band being a band. It has the right amount of pop momentum, bringing in the album's new additions while building them around the core trio.

Jessica Pratt - "Back, Baby", On Your Own Love Again (forthcoming)
At the very start of this year every music lover worth worth their salt was a buzz with anticipation and delight when out of the blue a new tune by the name of "Game That I Play" popped up from San Francisco singer/songwriter Jessica Pratt. It was the first signs for many of Pratt making any moves to follow up her enchanting 2012 self-titled debut. It was a tune that disappeared almost as mysteriously as it appeared however with the most recent announcement of her sophomore record On Your Own Love Again, we got a consolation prize of sorts in the form of the surprisingly lush "Back, Baby". It, with it's slight tease of a poppier direction, hinted that the new album would not just be more of the same from Pratt without completely upending the delicate simplicity of Pratt's songs. While we've got to wait until next year to see how that actual pans out, "Back, Baby" does fit into the effortless timelessness Pratt conjures up so well.

Panda Bear - "Mr Noah", Mr Noah EP/Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper (forthcoming)
It's hard to imagine that there was once a time when I didn't listen to Panda Bear but that time was actually not that long ago when it was strongly recommended I give Person Pitch a dedicate listen. One of the exciting things about Panda Bear (and the Animal Collective crew in general) is that he's constantly making tweaks and adjustments to his own music making process. No two songs sound similar despite the similar method of construction and the differences between albums is magnitudinous. Whether or not you liked Tomboy, there's no denying that on "Mr. Noah", Lennox is putting his best foot forward. It's a delightfully poppy jaunt that doesn't trade in any of Lennox's trademark textural play. My favorite thing about Panda Bear is the ease in which he appears to arrange a track's multitude of layers and there's no shortage of that on "Mr. Noah" - our first peek at his upcoming full length return. It's a track strong enough to singlehandedly sell me on the record and one that Lennox feels strongly enough about to anchor a whole other set of songs with.

Tiny Ruins - "Me at the Museum, You at the Wintergardens", Brightly Painted One
It's almost unfair how good of a songwriter Tiny Ruins' Hollie Fullbrook is. Take "Me at the Museum, You at the Wintergardens" - instead of an elaborate conceit it's sole driving force gestates from a desire for togetherness. It's a love song but one so effortless in its pining, so breezy in its delivery; so uncomplicated in its presentation. The track's simplicity suits Fullbrook and elevate "Me at the Museum, You at the Wintergardens" not only to one of Brightly Painted One's tracks but one of those songs you can't help but go back to again and again once you've heard it. It helps that it's a brief 2 minutes and change - offering just the right amount of narrative closer and giving you more bang from your obsession-based repeat buck.

Sondre Lerche - "Bad Law", Please
While my favorite song on Norwegian singer/songwriter/guitarist extraordinaire Sondre Lerche's seventh studio album pretty much changes depending on the day, there's a special place both in my heart and my ears for "Bad Law". The lead single from the mercurial dance party that is Please, it's so dramatically unlike anything Lerche had previously done that it has an almost jarring appeal. Ear-catching and infectious have always been a hallmark of some of Lerche's most popular jams but he's never allowed himself to go as downright dance-y as he does on "Bad Law" to it's great strength. It's a stylistic shift that fits both the renaissance spirit of Please and Lerche's own songwriting that expands his textural palette in a way listeners wouldn't ever have expected. A rebellious swagger and a frenetic energy combine in a passionate blend that finally captures Lerche's electric live performance for the first time on a studio record that's incredibly exciting and endearingly refreshing.