Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Listen: Laura Gibson - "The Cause"

A lot has changed in singer/songwriter Laura Gibson's life since the release of previous record La Grande nearly four years ago. Most notably Gibson's cross-country move from Portland to New York City by train to pursue a degree in fiction writing. It's the sort of stuff records are inspired by and luckily for us, it was. Her new record Empire Builder, though recorded with Portland friends Dave Tepper, Dan Hunt, Peter Broderick, and co-producer John Askew, draws more on the changes Gibson has made in the life (the album's title being the than she took from Portland to Chicago on the first leg of her trip) than the place it was recorded.

Considering her self-afflicted uprooting to busier, more boisterous environs, "The Cause" remains as peaceful as Gibson's past efforts. And yet beneath that surface calm Gibson's lyrics are more agitated than Gibson's calm delivery would have you believe.  Gibson tackes both love and self-sacrifice in equal measure - tossing and turning between the idea of belonging to the self versus serving others in a way that's properly thrilling. "You belong to the cause, you belong to us" Laura Gibson sings and it often feels like a reminder, as she balances "selfish" desires with that intimate self-knowledge. Gibson manages to marry the philosophical/psychological to a cohesive narrative in order to craft a complex but enjoyable feat of songwriting skill.

Laura Gibson's forthcoming fourth album Empire Builder is out April 1st on Barsuk (US)/City Slang (EU/UK). Pre-order is available now.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Listen: AURORA - "Conqueror"

After the success of her first single "Awakening" brought her enough attention to lure her to CMJ in 2014, Norwegian singer/songwriter Aurora Aksnes has certainly made the most of that momentum. Last year saw not only the release of her first record - the four song Running With The Wolves EP but also several singles ("Runaway", "Half the World Away", "Murder Song (5,4, 3,2,1))" that's attracted more and more attention from the likes of fellow Norwegian Sondre Lerche to even Katy Perry. And yet AURORA hasn't ever seemed in any particular rush to release anything which is exactly why the announcement of her debut album All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend is such a treat. It's the culmination of years of hard work for Aksnes and her band if first single "Conqueror" is any indication, they're in strong form.

"Conqueror" follows in the footsteps of "Under Stars", the rare "happy" song among Aksnes' darker folk pop tales. If AURORA have their eyes set on the pop realm, "Conqueror" hits that anthemic pop sweet spot. A happier effort than say "Runaway" or "Murder Song", Aksnes still manages to draw from the negative to craft her exhilaratingly infectious gem. "I've been looking for the conqueror but you don't seem to come my way" Aksnes offers and each time it reoccurs the seeming disappointment of that phrase becomes more freeing aided no doubt by the escalating energy. It's a subtly layered work with a heart-swelling sound and message that proves AURORA are growing into unstoppable popsmiths.

AURORA's debut full lengh All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend is out March 11th on Glassnote.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Listen: Whitney - "No Woman"

photo by Sandy Kim

It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows Julien Ehrlich or Max Kakacek's former bands Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Smith Westerns that the duo's new collaboration is so effortless timeless. Both of their former bands mainly relied on updating retro sounds and experimenting within to great success. And yet, "No Woman" finds Whitney capturing the magic in a completely different context that displays they're more than just a carbon copy of either of the twosomes former bands.

"No Woman" is a wistful slice of soft focus pop that somehow manages to recall Ennio Morricone and west coast 70's folk rock singer-songwriters in equal measure with a smoothness that belies its pining lyrics. Whitney manage to craft a lovelorn trek that doesn't let itself drag enough to be a outright ballad. It's a sonic cousin of Jessica Pratt's On Your Own Love Again but certainly stands on its own merits: Ehrlich's falsetto soothes like a tender caress, the arrangement is simple with bursts of lush layering and ornamental string and horn flourishes. Its plod is casual with expansive windswept stretches that compliment the ramble-ready tune. It's easily the soundtrack to everything from a head-clearing walk to a train ride taking you to new beginnings. "No Woman" doesn't insist too much on its lyrical narrative and thus gains a sort of all purpose utility from its chill, easy listening scuttle. Whitney have woven gold on "No Woman" and it'll be a pleasure to see how they grow their potential from here on: either inhabiting this introspective retro pop or merely utilizing as an excellent starting point.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Listen: Night Moves - "Denise, Don't Wanna See You Cry"

photo by Bryan Derballa
I say without a sliver of hyperbole that I have been waiting for a follow record from Minneapolis' Night Moves almost immediately after holing up with their debut album Colored Emotions and subsequent live video binge. Considering their wide range of influences and musical interests, what a follow up would sound like was pretty much anyone's guess. However with "Denise, Don't Wanna See You Cry", the first single from their recently announced sophomore record Pennied Days, fans have a least a hint of what to expect.

"Denise, Don't Wanna See You Cry" somehow manages to curb the band's countrified twang in favor of more streamlined pop hooks without actually seeming like that much of a change. A gradual pivot instead of a shark-jumping leap, Night Moves still have a trick or two up their sleeve that makes me truly excited for the record. The molasses-slow swagger of Colored Emotions is replaced with a insistent forward momentum and bit of harmonic pyrotechnics as John Pelant and Micky Alfano settle into fast paced interlocking grooves. No doubt aided by the duo's years of playing together, "Denise, Don't Wanna See You Cry" is a brisk jam that still manages to memorable and ear catching.

With "Denise, Don't Wanna See You Cry", Night Moves return triumphant and reinvigorated with their best foot forward in a move that bodes particularly well for the rest of Pennied Days. It might be a couple months until the album's release but "Denise, Don't Wanna See You Cry" is strong enough to instill the surest of confidence that it's going to be an absolute thrill ride and I'd expect nothing less.

Night Moves' sophomore record Pennied Days is out March 25th on Domino. The record is available for pre-order now.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Pitstop: Mothers

One of the greatest discoveries I made during CMJ 2015 wasn't a band I had seen at CMJ at all. Not that I didn't want to. Considering I saw their name countless times both before and during the week, I was certainly intrigued by Athens, GA quartet Mothers but managed to, in several cruel twists of fate/horrible displays of time management on my part, just miss every set of theirs I set out to see.

When I returned home and finally got a chance to check them out, it wasn't hard to see why the young band was getting so much attention. Mainly the songwriting vehicle for Kristine Leschper, Mothers combines Leschper's unique vocals and intimate lyricism with complex, angular instrumental work. Leschper's distinct yodel, reminiscent of Angel Olsen at times, is a surprisingly winsome fit for the interlocking, occasionally heavy rock and yet both Leschper and Mothers prove their versatility with tracks like "Too Small For Eyes", the opening track to the foursome's forthcoming debut record When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired which swaps out jangly guitars for Leschper on mandolin and string arrangements.

That versatility is fully on display when you go from the sparse "Too Small For Eyes" to the fiery "Cooper Mines" or insistent fervor of "It Hurts Until It Doesn't". Leschper's vocals lend themselves effortlessly to the emotive and Mothers put that smartly at the forefront. But Mothers is more than just Kristine Leschper; the band evolving from a solo project into a tight knit machine capable to fusing the raw sincerity of Leschper's vocals with a relentless head-banging forward momentum. In just three simple songs Mothers display without a shadow of a doubt a maturity and confidence in their own sound that most bands would kill for. It's enough to get you properly excited for their full length record even as each track reveals itself to be wholly different from the other.

Mothers' debut full length When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired is out February 26th on Grand Jury. You can pre-order the album now.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Listen: Eliza Hardy Jones - "Criminal"

After years of being a supporting fixture in the Philly music scene, classical pianist turned multi-instrumentalist Eliza Hardy Jones is finally going solo and it's about damn time. While she's played with Strand of Oaks, Nightlands, and even with Grace Potter, there hasn't been a band that drew out her innovative lyrical prowess like Buried Beds. And yet with "Criminal", the first single from her solo debut Because Become, Jones proves she has plenty to say all on her lonesome. "

Criminal" strives for and ultimately achieves a balance of Jones' former bands' styles and yet isn't just a distillation of her work elsewhere/the work of her peers. Rather, she's offering a peek into her own musical growth - Jones' gifts lie in simplicity both in her melodies and her sincere lyrical construction but she's not afraid to shake things up compositionally.

A straightforward piece of introspective pop whose parts spread outward instead of predictably in - there's brutal rock-tinged blasts of noise that keep everything from going down too easy and hint at the nuance of Eliza's seesawing lyrics. Instead of distracting however they enhance, engaging different parts of the aural palette to draw you underneath the surface of Jones' gorgeous vocals. "Criminal" is a wonderful introduction to Eliza Hardy Jones' solo endeavors; showing she's not just a talented pop songsmith but an artful arranger.  

Eliza Hardy Jones' debut record Because Become is out this Friday January 15th. You can pre-order the record now.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Listen: Radiation City - "Juicy"

Portland's Radiation City has always seemed to exist at a sort of musical nexus point - their influences and interests varied enough that the resulting tangle is largely undefinable. One part sensual doo wop croon, one part infectious minimal electro pop, Radiation City has more or less made a career out of blurry the boundaries and retracing the lines between retro and future pop and "Juicy", the lead single from their upcoming third album Synesthetica, falls deeper down that rabbit hole.

Lyrically Radiation City has always veered on the side of the surreal - placing their narratives either as further away from the sudden collapse of realism or right at the precipice as they see fit, all the while setting them in catchy pop dressings and a casual delivery that belies the some absolutely bonkers developments.

Considering it's expansive build, it's hard to imagine "Juicy" as anything but an album opener yet it's the second track and a very obvious album standout. "Pay your payment to me" Lizzy Ellison drawls out honey sweet and slow as molasses and it's enough to instantly hook you. The lyrics are only half the journey as they do very little to quell the questions raised by Ellison's sultry entrance. "Juicy" is Radiation City at their most blatantly pop and it's incredible. Ellison's vocals have always elevated their songs to absolute showstoppers but on "Juicy" each part works in tandem - the layered harmonies, those dirty rock & roll guitar riffs, hard-hitting drums all arranged on a floor of synths that occasionally whip up into ornaments flares. Lyrically "Juicy" arouses the appetite only you leave you wanting more but compositionally it's a pitch perfect work of songcraft - gathering up the potential energy from its continuous ebb and flow before converting it into a climactic explosion.

Radiation City's third album Synesthetica is out February 12th on Polyvinyl. You can pre-order the album on digital, CD, cassette or limited edition white LP here.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Listen: Pree - "CLOAK"

They may have just released Rima, the follow up to their brilliant debut album Folly, but DC experimental pop quartet Pree are apparently already in the mood for new music if their new single "CLOAK" is any indicator. Released just before Christmas Day, the new single is a perfect cure for your upcoming seasonal effective disorder as it's a warmer take on the wintry holiday-friendly song. "CLOAK" with its passing Santa reference is vague enough to function year-round and not just as a sort of anti-Christmas song. In "CLOAK" May Tabol continues her building block style of lyricism, subtly altering words to shift the meaning of her repeated phrases as she strings them along to make a seasonally appropriate narrative.

Like most of Pree's best songs "CLOAK" feels too short - it's narrative giving out before the infectiousness of its hooks. It's a song that even with its full band instrumental breaks feels like it should go on much longer than it does as Pree opt to leave you craving more instead of wanting less. While it's not exactly clear if Pree have any other new songs prepped to share, "CLOAK" is a delightful placeholder until then.