Saturday, August 31, 2013
OK, the last time I came across No Age I thought my CD player was going to fall apart. This was a band so chaotic and so destructive I felt lucky to have survived listening to them. But, on their new album An Object, something's changed. While previous efforts were darn near deadly, this record is not as aggressive, noisy, or catastrophic; it was such a change that it made me do a double take.
Sure there's lots of atonal noise and angularity going on here but there are surprising attempts at harmonies and melodies; it's quite shocking! Nonetheless, An Object is still a great record that veers in to aggression and craziness occasionally but has no problems down shifting into something else. I guess you could say that while An Object isn't as aggressive as previous efforts it is weirder than their other records. Within this album there are moody riffs and almost atmospheric sections and passages that will leave you stunned. It's all rather intriguing and is a rather uncharted development for this band but it works and works pretty well.
No Age aren't like many other bands. They seemingly seem to shift between chaos, dissonance, weirdness, and harmony with ease. An Object is all of these things in measured doses and while other records may have made you fear for your own safety this one will have you doubting your own safety. Simply put, weird noise has never sounded so cool. There's truly no age that you can put No Age in and I suspect that's the way they want it.
Hawaii’s very own reggae stars are back; mixing Hawaii pride with Kingston vibes The Green embrace island culture with a bear hug. Their latest album Hawai'i 13 is a living testament to that pride and musical heritage and continues to see this band developing into something that's a mixture of their physical and spiritual home.
Positive and upbeat, the songs here are modern and energetic. Hawai'i 13 is influenced by rock and roll as much as traditional reggae, dub, R&B, and even Hawaiian music. It's enjoyable stuff that's catchy, groovy, and laid back. In other words, it's darn near the perfect reggae album and if you throw their positivity and thoughtfulness these guys are a rapidly approaching musical Nirvana.
Truly proving music is a universal language and reggae is about one love, The Green demonstrate that it doesn't matter where you come from or who you are but what's in your heart that matters and isn't that the message Mr. Marley sang about years ago?
With their latest album, It's Alive, Seattle's La Luz have cemented Link Wray's legacy as one of the most important guitarists ever. The simple fact is that without him, La Luz would not exist. Featuring riff upon riff of awesome garagey surf rock the album sound as if it was recorded using Wray's guitars, in Wray's studio, using leftover Wray riffs. The album is overflowing with twangy and jangly melodic tunes that sound as if Wray silently lent a hand on each one. It's magnificent stuff that reminds me of La Sera records lost in a sweater box underneath her bed or an old album found in a rotting VW Vanagong used during the filming of Endless Summer.
With organs, those guitars, multi-part harmonies, rawness and purity It's Alive is an honest to goodness rock and roll record steeped in history and tradition. The whole thing and especially those twangy surf rocking guitars, with gorgeous melodies and sparkly riffs, is simply amazing. It's Alive is a fantastic record that's about love, heartbreak, and simply being different; it's nothing complicated and doesn't need to be for you to fall in love with it. It's all a bit quirky and a bit retrotastic but it's a treat to just sit and lose yourself in.
As summer turns into fall, La Luz reminds us of the joys of the sun and sand, summer romances, and days lost to doing nothing in particular. It's Alive is an awesome record that's in love with the past but retroactively looking forward to the future. With harmonies that seem like they're from a dream, songs that are uncomplicated and catchy, and a sound that reeks of classicism what's there not to like? La Luz truly are alive and It's Alive proves it.
Saturday, August 24, 2013
Coastwest Unrest are yet another folky band that attempt to offer up something a little different. Their album High Times on Lowly Streets is a rustic, woodsy, folk, jam band kind of record that alternates between being something like Arcade Fire and the Dave Matthews Band. A strange combination, I know, but it's just got this hippified pseudo-bohemian feel to it that both frat boys and hipsters would seemingly enjoy.
With awesome baritone vocals that sound like Ric Ocasek lost in the mountains, Coastwest Unrest take all this Northwest log cabin-ish atmosphere and channel it into traditional arrangements and folky instrumentation. The results are songs that have a dramatic deep woods feel. Songs are laden with strings and deep vocal overtones and you can almost feel the foggy coldness and smell the hot coffee as this album progresses. It's all very rustic, arty and sweeping but still still feels intimate and emotional.
High Times on Lowly Streets conjures pastoral images and and a simple life. Wrapped in flannel and given depth with cello and violin Coastwest Unrest have created a homespun brand of folk music that's easy to latch on to. Their ability to weave jam band and arty pop elements into songs give them a widespread appeal that's bound to benefit them. High Times on Lowly Streets might be more suited for a woodsy environment than on lowly streets but that's OK.
I have to admit, Cherry Bluestorms didn't make an impressive first impression with me when I received their album, Bad Penny Opera. I mean look at that cover. It's horrible. It ranks up there with Cancer's To The Gory End as worst album covers ever. So with that image securely tucked away in my brain this band already had one strike against them.
Musically, they kind of swung and missed as well. While not completely folky, the band have this sort of slightly theatrical version of folk music that's not amazing, but not too bad either. What's weird about all this is that the first track on the album, “Bad Penny Overture,” is an impressive instrumental set up. Unfortunately, the album falls off a cliff soon after. Bad Penny Opera is a middle of the road kind of thing that's pretty mediocre. It' just of kind of plods along with an almost singer songwriter feel about it. I want to say that this is loosely some sort of concept album, but I wouldn't guarantee that.
Anyway, despite it's overwhelming sense of just existing there are a few good moments on this record. “Wear Your Love Like Heaven,” is a stomping, horn laden pop tune that's a thrilling rush in a sea of mediocrity. Bad Penny Opera clearly has potential and is on the cusp of something better it just never gets there. The Cherry Bluestorms have great tunes within them, they just struggle to set them free. Hopefully, they can let this Bad Penny Opera go and crank out a true opus.
Saturday, August 17, 2013
Miami's own garage indie rockers have finally released their self-titled debut album and it's a killer. Having dug through their parents Jesus and Mary Chain records and milked them for all their worth the Jacuzzi Boys have harnessed a sound that feels like the Reid Brothers leading The Drums in a rioutous. noisy, raucous tour of pop music.
Jacuzzi Boys is a chaotic, feedbacky, rough, and ragged record that is redonkulously catchy. These guys have a brilliant appreciation for what makes a great tune and they slather that appreciation all over the songs here. Catchy choruses, simple riffs that drill themselves into your skull, fuzzy walls of guitar noise that overwhelm you and an undoubtedly cool aura all contribute to this record being amazing. There's nothing complicated here and it's all pretty basic stuff but there doesn't need to be anything over the top because what these guys have done with their songs and their guitars is so pure and honest they don't need to bury themselves in those ideals.
When I lived in Miami a band like this could have never existed; it just wasn't possible.. because it wasn't Miami-bass influenced. So, It's amazing to see and hear a band like this doing well not only in the 305 but nationally. Jacuzzi Boys is a fantastic record that's got to be one of my favorites this year and the fact that it's from a bunch of local dudes made good is even better.
The Garifuna Collective are a group from Central America who create music that reflect the culture of the Afro-Amerindian Garifuna community. Their album Ayo is filled with hints of African and Caribbean influences throughout and despite being from Central America this collective has more in common with those influences then their geographical location would lead you to believe. Ayo is an intriguing record simply because of that struggle between location and influence and the songs reflect that constant conflict in a positive light.
Having lost the band's leader suddenly soon after their debut album the band was left without a direction. And while the easy thing would have been to just stop being a collective, the group picked up the pieces and emotions and channeled it all into a new album he would be proud of. Ayo is a soul stirring record steeped in in tradition but thoroughly modern in it's approach and creation. The record has plenty of authenticity and sounds but still finds time to occasionally be funky or groovy. Those occasional glimpses into the bands energy and emotions really give Ayo a sense of freedom that would undoubtedly make their former leader proud.
Steeped with history, tradition, and emotion The Garifuna Collective have found a way to take it all in and craft something beautiful. Ayo is a great record of laid back grooves, traditional sounds and a bit of funk for good measure. They may have lost their spiritual leader but The Garifuna Collective are in good hands here and Ayo is well worth a listen.
With deep tenor vocals that haunt each song like a ghost from beyond the whole thing sounds like it's enveloped in fog in a graveyard. If you add in sweeping atmospherics to the whole graveyard thing Me Moan becomes this chilling and stirring record that's bizarrely hypnotizing...like Dracula's eyes. The songs for the most part are dark but do stumble upon a strange pop sensibility now and again that makes this decidedly weird record quite listenable
Different in every sense of the word, Me Moan is probably the strangest record that will come across my desk that I'll want to listen to many times. Not weird for the sake of being weird, Me Moan sounds this way simply because of Daughn Gibson and his unique voice. Dark days and even darker nights have never sounded so spookily entertaining.
The idea of Barefoot Divas on paper looks absolutely amazing. Six singer songwriters of indigenous origin gathering together in the name of song. Not so bad right? With the divas coming from Austrailia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea it would seem like they would be singing traditional music from each of their island nations. What an unusual and awesome concept, unfortunately, that's not what these Divas do.
As the name might imply...these girls are Divas...as in proper divas. Rather than traditional songs and stories, the Barefoot Divas on Walk In My Shoes unleash a barrage of soaring vocal gymnastics and acoustic R&B that sound more like they came from auditions of The Voice than Papua New Guinea. These girls can sing and sing they do...they're pretty good at it and in an ideal world they'd be giving people like Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera a run for their money. And while there's some power and feeling behind each of these songs it's just not what I thought at all. Throw in the fact that this Walk In My Shoes is a live album and I'm left in total disappointment.
Walk In My Shoes is a record of vocal prowess and not much else. It's not what I was hoping for in any way shape or form and kind of left me hanging. Oh well. If you love The Voice tryouts or just vocal chords on parade you might enjoy these trans global Barefoot Divas but the rest of us not so much.
Sunday, August 11, 2013
Rose Windows seem to have emerged out of a coma recently. This band, who seemingly are from 1968, have awoken from their forty year slumber with a series of epic progressive psych gems under the name of The Sun Dogs. Their medical issues are apparently our gain because these guys have brought along their lava lamps, strobe lights, Orange amps, and guitar riffs of the gods with them straight from the past.
The Sun Dogs is twangy, folked out psych with loud guitar freak outs and eternally drawn out jams. This is a band that takes everything we learned in the 60's lets it float around for an eternity and then casts it out in a frenzy of musical mayhem. The Sun Dogs is awesome stuff that sounds something like Janes Addiction meeting Celebration to do the right drugs. Rose Windows are the sound of 1968 and they've come back to haunt us. These guys can play and play they do with massive riffs, spaced out atmospherics and a decent pop sensibility that steers them free of losing the plot. “Native Dreams,” for example is six minutes long but the song is actually catchy and memorable...whether you tripped out or not.
Rose Windows have manage to create an expansive and immense record that's heavy and yet easy on their ears. It's a record firmly entrenched in the past but able to see the future on the horizon. The Sun Dogs is the sort of thing that any self respecting music lover needs to have on while reading The Electric Koo-Aid Acid Test.
Despite sounding as if they've come straight from Carnivale, percussionist Scott Kettner is based in New York and has been studying drumming since his days at university. Little did he expect his studies and love of percussion to lead him to Northeastern Brazil to learn about maracatu drumming but thanks to legendary drummer Billy Hart that's exactly what happened.
Under the guise of Maracatu NY, Kettner has created a band and an album that's a stroke of percussive genius. Baque Do Brooklyn is the very definition of percussive music and while it's led with plenty of horns the album is truly all about the drums. This is the sound of Carnivale moving through the streets and is so rhythmic that it's perfect for marching. Baque Do Brooklyn blends Brazilian maracatu with New Orleans rhythms, funk, and blues. It's a globe trotting record that's all about movement, energy, and the simple joys of beats and brass.
If you love drums and percussion it truly doesn't get any better than this. Baque Do Brooklyn is simply a brilliant record filled with all kinds of rhythms and sounds that creates movement. It's rare to hear drums up front and taking center stage but it does here thanks to Maracatu NY and it's energetic and fun. Baque Do Brooklyn is so authentic that if it had whistles and lines of dancers to accompany it, it would be a street party.
Saturday, August 10, 2013
As one might expect with an artist who goes by their name, Ryan K Hamlin is a singer songwriter armed with a guitar and big songs. His EP Run is packed with country twinges, rock and roll influences, soaring harmonies and apparently a broken heart. The four songs here are all pretty well written and played and to say that they are ready for teary TV moments would be an understatement.
Run is a heart breaking, emotional roller coaster of a little record. With five songs guaranteed to make girls swoon and melodies that will haunt their souls Run is good for what it is. While I'm not a big fan of this sort of stuff I can totally appreciate what he's going after. I'll put it to you this way, if Ryan doesn't wind up with material playing in the background of some CW show in the near future there's clearly something wrong with the world.
As I opened this package I couldn't help but think that it's been six years since Hooverphonic last released a record! That's a lifetime in the music industry, so to actually see The Night Before come across my desk was a pleasant surprise!
Unlike their earlier works, The Night Before isn't so much a trip hop record as much as it's epic theatrical pop. The album is lush, sweeping, and sensuous stuff that will tear your heart apart. It's gorgeous lovelorn pop that's seductively sexy and slyly manipulative; vocalist Noemie Wolfs is determined to have her way with you on this set of songs and you'd be an idiot not to let her.
The Night Before is so dramatically beautiful that the whole thing comes off like a series of torch songs sung in a smoke filled dark room to an enraptured audience. Even at it's poppiest The Night Before is still opulent, textured, and breathtaking. It's obvious the effect of having previously worked with an orchestra has had on the band; the arrangements throughout are stunning and the orchestral sounds continue to contribute immensely in creating an extravagant atmosphere. The whole thing sounds like a John Barry soundtrack on overdrive; it's like a series of the best Bond anthems never written.
Sixteen years after their debut it's awesome to see and hear Hooverphonic carrying on. Overwhelming, emotional, and excellent, The Night Before is a welcome return to form from one of the best bands to come out of the trip hop movement. With music as strong as the songs on The Night Before it's easy to see them continuing on for another sixteen years. The Night Before is a fantastic record and probably one of my favorites of the year..
Adios I'm A Ghost, the third album by northwestern band The Moondoggies and it sees them continuing to explore the territory between Midwest and Deep South while remaining firmly in place up north. Adios I'm A Ghost is essentially west coast pop meeting the deep south in a rock and roll dust up. It's a record that easily switches between rock and roll and pastoral pop and leaves your ears in awe. This is a dusty countrified rock record that's laden with twangy hooks and huge melodies and comes with a sense of drama throughout. The record is expansive and rustic and blends the woodsiness of the Pacific Northwest with the homelike emotions of the Deep South with endearing results .
Adios I'm A Ghost comes off sounding like Chris Isaac in a gang fight with Kings of Leon, Mazzy Star, and The Tyde. The songs are dramatic and sweeping but intimate, rustic and rural. They're plodding but in a beautiful way and will bring to mind long winding roads and breezy drives through forgotten towns. It's all a bit swoonsome and romantic in a yearning for something comfortable kind of way. Adios I'm A Ghost is a great listen and quite a stirring effort. It's power lies in it's subtlety and swoony melodies and how it manipulates you into falling for it. It might not pop you on the top of the head with a hook, but the hooks do find a way into your subconscious and never find a way out; surely a sign of a good record and why you'll love being haunted by these ghosts.
Around this time last year, Kitsune released the nearly perfect Kitsune Soleil Mix to kick off summer. As per usual for the French label the record was monstrous and packed to the gills with brilliant electro, indie, and proper house tunes. As summer 2013 carries on in a blaze of sunshine and humidity, it's a welcome surprise that Kitsune has followed up Kitsune Soleil Mix with yet another slice of sunshiny perfection on Kitsune Soleil Mix 2.
Mixed by Gildas Kitsune and Jerry Bouthier, Kitsune Soleil Mix 2 is an absolutely massive mix that has sun and fun written all over it. The tag team of Kitsune and Bouthier are masterful here seamlessly blending and building tracks into a sexy electro house furor. This is proper dance music that's about as far removed from fratstep and the stuff that nu-metal kids call EDM as you can get. This is REAL dance music. Totally Ibiza ready, you can almost picture the blinding sunsets and massive DJ sets as each song ebbs and flows. Kitsune Soleil Mix 2 is packed with 20 brilliant tunes that absolutely conquer the season.
In the world of dance music few are as on top of their game as Kitsune is. Kitsune Soleil Mix 2 is proof of that. Whether it's their mix CD's, their singles, or even their clothesline, Kitsune is a world apart from everyone else. Kitsune Soleil Mix 2 is so well put together it gives me goosebumps every time I listen to it. Kitsune Soleil Mix 2 is pure musical escapism at it's best and easily one of the best compilations you'll hear all year.
Ya know there's just something about Canadian indie rock. It's just so vast, epic, and sweeping than it's American counterpart. While us Yanks tend to rock out, the Canadians tend to make this heady brew of artful, thoughtful, and emotionally draining stuff that soars above everything. We Are The City are just the latest in a long line of bands from the Great White North who do this and do this very well. Their album Violent is anything but, but it is a brilliant record that's another notch in Canada’s bed post of excellent bands.
Violent is herky jerky indie rock with obtuse rhythms and disjointed melodies. Think a bit Arcade Fire, Spoon, Modest Mouse and your kind of on the right track. It's got Northwest Indie splattered all over it and it sets them apart from everything making tracks on the east coast. I love the fact that they utilize organ sounds and keyboards on top of all these mathy stop/start jumpy riffs that kind of startle you in unlikely places. It's all very nervous and disjointed but it works because the songs on Violent catch you off guard and constantly surprise you. It's all very algebraic but with a strong sense of melody and place and it makes an impact simply because it all sounds so unpredictable.
Violent is an excellent album and We Are The City are a fantastic band. Their ability to fuse math fueled indie with an artful pop sense is remarkable. They seemingly run each song through a series of equations and come up with something that's complicated but still simple to latch on to. We Are The City have created an excellent angular and flighty record that's as vast as the Canadian frontier and something that is very easy to get lost in. Canada does it again.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
I have to admit Portland area band Hausu conjured up strange images about their name. I wondered what does it mean? Where's it come from? How the heck do you say it? What's it all about? Listening to their album, Total, didn't improve the situation. Where did that come from? Who's it sound like? And why?
While I have no idea about the name, as it turns out, much of Total revolves around thinking about things on a musical basis and being shaped by the small, indescribable elements that make their influences special. Acting like a band of mad scientists, what Hausu comes up with is a noisy indie rock record that hovers some where around the mid-90's. While you might shrug at that rather cliched summation, what's really striking about Total is how effectively Hausu has taken a band like Dinosaur Jr. and let it make a guitar based mess over and on top of The Cure. If slackers wore eyeliner and goth's were slackers you'd have Hausu in a nutshell. Total is noisy, depressing, twitchy, and fairly lackadaisical. It's got walls of churning guitars turned up to 12, bashed drums and apparently Robert Smith on lead vocals. This is the sort of record where guitars are shredded into wood chips, vocal chords are left in a shambles, and songs are somewhere between collapse and not caring. It's all very passive aggressive stuff that's simply fantastic.
Total is a dense, complex and freaked out record. It is a nervous and edgy record that's the very definition of post-slacker rock. If Dinosaur Jr. were thirty years younger this is the kind of record they'd make and heck might even still be making. It's an impressive homage to the past that pushes things in a anti-depressant fueled way forward. They readily admit that their record is an assemblage of observations made by four different people and collected in one place. Total is that place and it's one heck of place to be.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
With gorgeous almost classical guitar work and arrangements that are simply stunning Mon Pays is a record that will leave you breathless and filled with hope. A mixture of traditional vocal works and almost ambient guitar textures Mon Pays is a stunning reminder of how awesome Malian music can be. The instrumentals on this record are as amazing as the sunsets on the cover and as inspiring as Toure himself. Vieux Farka Toure is obviously a gifted musician and Mon Pays is a feast for your ears as his fingers construct and play works of pure genius.
Mon Pays isn't political, isn't controversial, or trying to make a statement. It's a point of reference for what can be and a love letter to the land that Vieux Farka Toure loves. It's filled with optimism, beauty, and hope. Yet, despite the intimate and personal attachment that Toure creates here this is Malian music anyone can enjoy. In a sea of struggle Mon Pays is a positive voice that can never be silenced.
Singer songwriter Cas Haley comes from a long line of non-Caribbean based folk who find themselves playing that most Caribbean of music...reggae. While that's not quite as unique as it was say 20 years ago it's still something that places a little doubt in your brain. "Is it going to be any good?" is the question I always end up asking myself. Because honestly, what could a guy from Paris, TX possibly know about reggae?
Haley's latest album La Si Dah isn't exactly a pure reggae album and that's probably a smart thing as it's almost impossible for a guy from Texas to even compete with pure roots rock reggae from down south. Instead La Si Dah is an almost jam-bandish take on the genre with dub influences mixed in to give the whole thing a feel of authenticity. While the record does hark back to traditional sounds and the legacy of artists who laid the groundwork for Haley, the album is still a modern interpretation of the genre. It's proof positive that the work Marley and his peers did decades ago to spread their music far and wide has worked.
Despite my misgivings and doubt, the whole thing isn't bad at all and La Si Dah comes off like a Sublime meets Marley soundclash. It's worth a listen for sure and their cover of The Smiths' "How Soon Is Now," is worth the price of the disc alone. Cas Haley proves that no matter where you are, no matter how far from the Caribbean you might be the soul of reggae can be found anywhere. It's pretty cool to think that reggae has found itself deep in the heart of Texas and that Cas Haley is leading the way.
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Gaudi is an interesting artist who has spent his career expanding his horizons. He's a producer who has always been one step of the ball game and as a result over the course of his relatively short career has become a go to guy in high demand. "Why," you say? Well he's one of a handful of artists who easily blend a variety of worldly sounds into something that sounds fresh, innovative, and ahead of the curve. In Gaudi's case he's taken reggae, dub, chill out, and house music and seamlessly mixed them into something that's far beyond all of them.
His latest album, In Between Times may seem like a reggae album on first glance but it really isn't. Rather, In Between Times is a dubbed out journey into the great beyond that pushes the genre and everything along with it forward. Gaudi has created an extremely dance friendly record that's so well thought out and produced it's just about unforgettable. In Between Times is huge, it's far reaching, and crosses over genres and sounds as if it were a normal thing to do. Need an example? Just look at the guest list, Lee 'Scratch' Perry, The Orb, Jahmai, it's truly all over the place. It's the sort of record that brings to mind the old idea of a Soundsystem. It's big, massive, vast, amazing, clashes with sounds and at times reminds me of a more chilled out version of Leftfield.
Synths sit next to reggae guitar riffs, vocals wash in and out, songs soar and glide and the whole thing is wonderfully out of this world. With brilliant bassline peaks and valleys and hints of all kinds of instruments from strings to horns the whole thing takes on this vibe about being in a constant state of movement; the songs just lift you up and carry you away. Gaudi has created a post-reggae dubbed out excursion that's inescapably brilliant. Having spent some time with In Between Times I can see why Gaudi has developed such a fantastic reputation and such a crammed calendar. Gaudi may be in between times...but they are times so far ahead of the rest of humanity we may never catch up.
Singer Song writer and multi-instrumentalist Carmen Souza has emerged from the Cape Verde area with an interesting approach to music. Breezily mixing jazz and Cape Verdean music she's established herself as part of a new generation of artists seeking to expand their horizons beyond there homeland. Her latest album Kachupada is an intriguing prospect that I'm not too sure of.
While Souza undoubtedly is talented and I really wanted to like Kachupada because of it's jazzy overtones I'm just not sure I can. The problem lies with Carmen's vocals; they're just a little to weird for me. What do I mean by that? Well Carmen seemingly talks her way through the songs here in an almost mousy and kind of creaky voice that's just a bit unsettling. It was just a bit too much for me to deal with and it kind of ruined the breezy feel of the record.
While musically Kachupada was a nice record it was just a bit to difficult to overlook Souza's vocal presence. Sometimes it just works out that way and while I have no doubt that she's hugely talented Kachupada just was a little to unusual for me.
While Souza undoubtedly is talented and I really wanted to like Kachupada because of it's jazzy overtones I'm just not sure I can. The problem lies with Carmen's vocals; they're just a little to weird for me. What do I mean by that? Well Carmen seemingly talks her way through the songs here in an almost mousy and kind of creaky voice that's just a bit unsettling. It was just a bit too much for me to deal with and it kind of ruined the breezy feel of the record.
While musically Kachupada was a nice record it was just a bit to difficult to overlook Souza's vocal presence. Sometimes it just works out that way and while I have no doubt that she's hugely talented Kachupada just was a little to unusual for me.
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
I think we can all admit that dubstep has gone mainstream. It's the new hip-hop. No longer underground, it's become the soundtrack of fratboys and Jersey Shore wannabees at this point. So if you're an artist within this genre and you're trying to keep it "real," you've really got to stand out. I mean, honestly, Skrillex is a nu-metal kid gone wrong and for every 50 of artists like him there's only one like King.
King is far from your usual dubstep artist and his album Koncepts is anything but a bog standard dubstep record. Where King differs from most is that he manages to take hip-hop production techniques and fuses them with dubstep flavors. The result is a sound that sounds like DJ Shadow trying to escape a prison of bassbins a mile high. King creates crisp instrumentals and tight beats and then layers that on top of minimal production that is almost reminiscent of someone like techno legend Joey Beltram. Koncepts as a result of this deadly combination is a very good and very different record.
Unlike most dubstep, Koncepts is anything but harsh; it's sparse and attacking and chooses it's approaches carefully without bashing you over the head. It's a fascinating record that given a touch of vocals here or there could be downright lethal. As it stands though Koncepts is a unique sounding record than most in the genre and it even feels different than most. Lost between worlds and stuck in the Matrix King has created an album that's almost like an audio map of his attempted escape route. It's a fun ride filled with thrills and drama and King's own unique way of bursting out from the underground.
CSC Funk Band's latest release Funkincense was released back on Record Store Day in April and apparently was an exclusive release. Seeing as though we're well over a month past that day whether or not this record is actually available or not could be in doubt. That being said, Funkincense is well worth hunting down as CSC have easily dodged the sophomore slump here and released a doozy of a record.
As its name might imply, Funkincense is extremely funky. Packed with extremely deep grooves, awesome horns and loaded with all kinds of subversive drug references the band plays up it's psych, rock, funk roots. This record moves and jerks and dances it's way all over the place and it all comes off as a barrage of psychedelic funk jams from the70's. It's awesome stuff that's just about impossible to not move to. The saying, "If this don't make your booty move your booty must be dead," easily applies to every song here as CSC fuses rock, psych, funk, and even jazz into a hypnotizing blend of never ending jams.
In listening to Funkincense you almost get the sense that the guys who make up the CSC Funk Band could go on forever. Songs seems to blend altogether and Funkincense is like a one hour long trip into the doors of funky perception. CSC are amazing at what they do and Funkincense is proof of that. With top notch musicianship, a desire to never stop jamming, grooves that are deep and songs that transport you Funkincense is an epic release that anyone who breathes needs in their life.
Mixing classic music from Africa and modern electronic music Prudence illustrates what can happen when traditional meets bleeding edge. This is a genre defying excursion across the continents complete with jazzy chilled vibes, big beats, tight grooves, and African influences. The record is composed of six energetic remixes of varying paces and approaches but all are a unique take on Cheick Hamala Diabate's already unusual sound. It's a fascinating and dizzying record that is constantly in a state of movement and it's energy throughout is infectious.
From funky guitars to blown out drum sounds it's all hear living in harmony with all sorts of overtones and global influences steering the way. This is an album that shows anything is possible and that modern and time-honored sounds can work together to create a new sound collage that's respectful and limitless. Prudence is the sort of record that opens peoples minds to what's out there and what's possible and one suspects that's the idea.
Iceland is obviously known musically for Bjork (and The Sugarcubes) and to a lesser degree Gus Gus but did you know there's far more than just those two artists on that tiny island? It's true. Really. In fact, there is a thriving music scene there and the Made In Iceland series is out to serve as the Rough Guide to this burgeoning scene. Now up to it's sixth installment, the series has brought many artists out of the ice and into the spotlight to thaw out.
About half way through this compilation and one thing is for sure Iceland is way more than just Bjork. Made In Iceland features nineteen artists playing artpop, chilled house, hip hop and even alt-country. Who knew that such a small island could be home to such a diverse scene? Well kiddo, they do and although several of the artists have unpronounceable names their songs are anything but unapproachable. In fact, a vast majority of Made In Iceland VI is excellent stuff and the fact that there are six volumes of this series should speak to how large and successful the scene up there really is.
While Made In Iceland highlights the diversity of talent in Iceland from one corner to the next it becomes glaringly obvious throughout this compilation that they are truly the masters of cool electronica. They just get it, they know how to write it and they create songs that are chilled to beaty perfection. Perhaps it's a reflection of their environment or their isolation but these guys are the masters of icy cool and I don't mean that in a bad way. Retro Stefson, Hjaltalin, Bloodgroup and Asonat all make impressive appearances here and they left me wanting to hear more...or at least book a flight to Reykjavik.
Made In Iceland is an awesome exploration of an island not often thought of as a musical hotbed. This is a brilliant introduction to a thriving music scene that's diverse, intriguing, cool, and far from ordinary. This little tourist guide to the island is well worth hunting down and spending some time with even if it isn't in the land of ice and snow.
Israeli keyboardist and composer Idan Raichel is a busy guy. From touring to releasing a live album, working with India Arie and even performing at the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony Idan has done more in the last four years than most artists get to do in their lives. And yet amongst all that he managed to put together his latest album Quarter To Six as part of his newly launched Idan Raichel Project.
Reflecting a quote from the famed Israeli witer/actor/singer Yossi Banai who was referring to the end of life, Quarter To Six moved Idan Raichel. As he notes, "People learn to accept this time of the day, to come to terms with their life, in peace." It's an interesting idea that quarter to six is a time that nears dark and in a sense the end of the day (or life as it may be). While this might not sound like the most uplifting inspiration for an album Raichel explores the positive aspects of reflecting on life throughout. As a result most of Quarter To Six is a mellow, introspective, near folk-like record that's quietly makes an impact. At times Quarter To Six actually sounds more like French Chanson than a reflective work from Israel and that's a tribute to Raichel's ability to create songs that are universal. It's very intimate and subtle stuff that features both male and female singers who seemingly play off of each others thoughts. Lush and beautiful while being introspective the album utilizes strings and textures and the aforementioned male/female voices to build drama and make an impact while remaining inherently beautiful. It might all sound depressing on paper but in reality it's anything but.
With a global guest list of artists and a host of sweeping sounds the album is reflectively brilliant. Quarter To Six is the sound of the middle east at peace and illustration that no matter how grim things may be there's always a positive to be found. Whether it's traditional or modern Raichel is a master of bringing it all together with intimacy, personality, drama and thoughtfulness. Quarter To Six is a reflection of that and as a result it's excellent stuff that will make you think.
The latest record from the Analog Players Society is a three song EP that goes by the name CKY to JFK. Quite simply put this is music for globe trekking (hence the airport codes in the title: JFK = New York, CKY = Guinea). The three songs that make up this record features all sorts of sounds and vocal approaches and the result is a record that sees West African vibes colliding with chilled out grooves in a burst of color and vibrancy.
CKY to JFK as they proudly state was recorded with state of the art 70's technology and features tons of traditional and electronic instrumentation grooving together. As a result of this one love strategy you have an EP that's more diverse and yet more unified than some bands entire output. It's a short but sweet record that packs one heck of a global wallop in the span of 18 minutes and further proves that Analog Players Society will leave no stone unturned for a cool song or a new sound. These guys are globe trekkers and preservationists searching the planet for unique songs and CKY to JFK is just their latest stopover on a never ending journey into sound.
Now on their third album, the perpetually mousey duo Still Corners continue their exploration of all things shadowy and seductive. Strange Pleasures is a haunting record that like previous efforts has a serious lack of urgency or frenetic pace about it. Rather, this is a record layered with ambient textures, disengaged vocals and a barely there or barely moving kind of approach. It's almost as if Still Corners are spirits who were sent back to haunt our dreams and lives with their beautiful sounds.
Strange Pleasures is gauzy, ethereal, and otherworldly. It's about as close to the Cocteau Twins as you can get without actually being them; in fact, if Robin Guthrie used synths instead of guitars Still Corners could very well be the Cocteaus. As if to prove the point Strange Pleasures washes over you in a wave of crystalline opulence that will leave you in awe. It's truly gorgeous stuff that's wispy, breezy, stirring, and haunting. Strange Pleasures is sound of stillness and shadows and it's as if the band follows you around whispering their songs into your ears. A more atmospheric, post shoegazing, and ghostlike band you are unlikely to find and a more fragile beauty than Strange Pleasures is just as unlikely to be heard.
This is a brilliant album in an ambient, chill out, post shoegazing, chillwave, ice queen kind of way. It's the soundtrack of The Sandman and the dreams you have at night. This is the sound of another time and another place outside of the realms of human comprehension and Still Corners are only too kind to allow us to be part of it. Strange Pleasures is a beautiful record that is easily one of my favorites this year and whenever I fall asleep I find I'm lost in Still Corners.
Monday, May 6, 2013
Chance Wiesner is pitched as a freak folk kinda guy. You know the kind of guy that plays strummy acoustic stuff but gets weird while doing it. But the truth is his album Takin' A Chance On Love is more along the lines of old 80's indie pop records than anything freaky much less folky. If you can imagine old TV Personalities songs being covered by Lawrence from Felt you kind of have an idea of where Chance Wiesner is coming from.
With twee-ish strums and boy/girl harmonies Chance Wiesner creates this intimate environment that sounds yearnful and earnest. The songs Wiesner creates are shy and shuffly and it's almost like Takin' A Chance On Love is a statement of his philosophy rather than a record he's listen to. It's all pretty good stuff and I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by it all because the second I saw that it was labeled as freak folk I almost tuned it out.
As it stands though, Takin' A Chance On Love is a funny, quirky, lo-fi ride through the trials and tribulations of Chance Wiesner. It might not be a big production but Takin' A Chance On Love is packed with honesty and heartache and what more could you want from a record now days? Here's hoping that Chance's chance never pans out...I mean we want more records like this don't we?
Saturday, April 13, 2013
It's hard to believe that The Bodies Obtained are on the fifth album already. Wow...that's scary but not quite as scary as their latest album Lower Than My Hand Will Go. This chaotic, noisy synth punk record is the sound of the early 80's beaten up with a mallet and the recorded for prosperity. Imagine Suicide in a knife fight with The Residents and you can kind of get a feel of where these guys are coming from.
This is synth punk and it's violent, random, and about as unmusical as it sounds. This of course makes Lower Than My Hand Will Go a fascinating record. The sheer difficulty of listening to the choppy rhythms, broken 80's synths, half developed ideas, weird song structures, and general disorder make getting through Lower Than My Hand Will Go a challenge. The whole thing reminds me of this sort of gothic synthetic theatrical event with a broken calliope attacking it's audience between the ears. It's strange and unlike anything you've heard. I'm pretty sure, in fact, it's the weirdest record I'll hear all year and I'm not quite sure whether or not I actually like it.
Lower Than My Hand Will Go is bizarre, dissonant, over the top and barely musical. Lower Than My Hand Will Go is the kind of record that befuddles, amazes, questions, and challenges. Is it music? Is it theater gone wrong? Is it listenable? It's worth a listen to try and figure those answers out and for the sheer craziness that's contained within but not really much more. In the end I was more intrigued by The Bodies Obtained and what they do than a fan of it.
British band More Like Trees are an interesting lot. Bursting out of the very competitive London music scene the band have only been together for two years and in that short time have made quite the name for themselves. Why? Well this three piece group do something very few groups manage to do...rock the heck out on acoustic instruments. Yeah, you read that right...these guys kill it on acoustic guitars.
Their album Roots, Shoots, and Leaves is an impressive effort that's so far away from what your thinking it's not even fair to think of it. The band and this record is beyond energetic and packed with sweeping drama and an almost mariachi like feel to it. It's quite jaw dropping when you think that all this ruckus is done with acoustic guitars and not much more. The band are exceptional musicians and their ability to strum the devil out of their instruments while playing like mad men is truly impressive. I don't know how many sets of strings these guys go through but I'm willing to be it's more than a few.
They might label themselves as strum and bass but Roots, Shoots, and Leaves sounds like a cross between The Coral and the Arctic Monkeys on a bit of a trip. I'm not really sure how else to describe these guys except to say that it's all slightly psychedelic with reggae, folk, flamenco and indie influences all crashing headlong into each other. I thoroughly enjoyed their approach and their ability to write songs that are emotional and kinetic is just awesome. Throw in their rather impressive cover of Intastella's hit, "The Night," and you have a record that touches on Britpop and coffee house cool all in one sweeping motion. They might only have acoustic guitars and might strum said guitars but this is one group who are seemingly mad fer it!
Roots, Shoots, and Leaves is an impressive effort that kicks the entire acoustic music genre in the butt and turns it upside down. This is what "folk" music should sound like. It's emotional but it has energy. It's thoughtful but has a sense of fun about it. It's music you want to listen to again and for a bunch of guys with acoustic guitars to do something like that is surely a sign of the apocalypse.
Saturday, March 30, 2013
Io Echo are a stunning duo from Los Angeles who have stumbled upon their (dare I say it,) parents record collection, fallen in love with it, and pilfered as many influences as they could from it. Labeled as an industrial tinged group their album, Ministry of Love is anything but. Instead they sounding more like a Creatures side-side project mixed with bucket loads of shoegazing sheets of noise. The result is something that has this early 90's feel to it and really has more in common with the sort of things that 4AD used to release than anything Einsturzende Neubauten has ever done.
With the vocals of Ioanna Gika sounding like Siouxsie lost within a seemingly endless fog and the reverbed and washed out guitars of Leopold Ross crashing together, the band create this ethereal world that they're obviously absorbed in. The whole thing sounds like a modern update of the Cocteau Twins in an invisible fight with The Heartthrobs, The Creatures, and even the Dum Dum Girls. Packed with loud, gauzy, and gorgeous soaring pop the record is all about being lost in its own little environment and not being able to find its way out. It's riveting stuff that's so rooted in the records I listened to in my 20's it scares me. This record hits home, it pulls at my heart and reminds me of all the cool sounds that blew me away when I was a kid. As if to illustrate that point "Stalemate," at times, sounds so much like The Heartthrobs, "Kiss Me When I'm Starving," it could very well be them circa 1992; it gave me goosebumps.
Ministry of Love is worthy of your heart. It's an amazingly emotional and pretty record that tugs at your ears and soul for 55 minutes. It soars toward heaven on the wings of an angel and is welcomed with open arms when it gets there. This is the sound of a dream you don't want to end. It's the sound of the greatest love. It's the sound of something awe inspiring. Ministry of Love's songs are beautiful and Ioanna & Leopold have truly created something magical here. This is without a doubt this one of the best records of 2013 and might just be my favorite record this year.
The rather complicatedly named Redtenbacher Funkorchestra have created one the most seriously groovy funk records you are likely to hear this year with their latest album entitled The Cooker. To put it succinctly the thing is fifteen jazz funk greats played with such intensity and down home funktasticness that if you don't find yourself at least tapping along to the record you must be dead. Overflowing with jazzy vibes, funky grooves and late 70's atmospherics The Cooker is a scorching hot release that knows how to get the heck down.
Packed to the rims with awesome bass lines, guitar runs, and enough B3 organ workouts this the sort of record that shows just how good Redtenbacher Funkorchestra are at letting their musical imaginations get the best of them. Throw in some ridiculous horn work on top of that imagination and you have a record that's just on a whole different level than anyone else right now. These guys can play and play they do on The Cooker and they're so good that they even make Happy Birthday sound like the grooviest thing since polyester. The Cooker is filled with movement and action and the songs are swinging, catchy, and impossible to forget.
There's no denying The Cooker and with a name like that how would that even be possible. This thing rocks, rolls, but never loses its soul. It's the sort of album that's perfect for car chases with Starsky and Hutch or running through the Streets of San Francisco. It's filled with energy, grooves, and a musicality that's hard to ignore. This record had to be called The Cooker because what else could you call something that's filled with so much hot stuff?
Vandana Vishwas is an Indo-Canadian artist who takes the best of traditional Indian influences and blends them with modern techniques in a gorgeous brew of sounds that are both hypnotizing and fascinating. Her album Monologues is the result of a collaboration between her and her husband and reflect the talents of both artists pretty well. It's an meditative, intimate, and beautiful record that uses instrumentation you know and instrumentation you do not to convey its free spirited yet firmly rooted songs.
Monologues is a record steeped in history and custom but unafraid to let other non-traditional sounds permeate it's songs. While sitars and tablas are pretty much the basis for most of the songs here, several songs utilize jazz-like arrangements to give the songs added depth and a modern feel. I found it fascinating and imaginative how the two different worlds mingle simultaneously and co-exist relatively well. Monologues is a record at peace and lost in ecstasy and after a couple of listens it's very easy to become lost in it's world as well. The songs on Monologues cast a spell over your ears with their subtle pace and ambiance. Vishwas' songwriting is as mesmerizing as her trembling voice and the way she's able to hold the listener in a trance is awesome.
Monologues is a great record whose strength lies in it's ability to take the ancient and modern and make them sound unique and fresh. The intertwining of the two influences give the album room to breathe and develop and allows it to be more accessible. This is a simple record that utilizes very few instruments or production techniques and Vandana Vishwas' ability to give it an authenticity and purity is refreshing.
Justin Ancheta is a busy guy. From being in four or five different groups that aren't his, writing socially aware songs, teaching and creating art, and recording records the guy probably doesn't have very much time to breath. Yet somehow this guy, who probably keeps 5 Hour Energy in business, single handedly has managed to release his own record under the name of Plant. Now, to say Plant is an interesting effort is to discredit it because you are not likely to hear another record like this one this year.
Taking the strange bedfellows of reggae and klezmer music and making them work together and sound good is an accomplishment in and of itself. The fact that Plant not only does that but throws in hip hop vibes and indie rock drama to the mix and you suddenly have one culturally and musically diverse affair. Plant is filled to the rim with a crazy combination of sounds that shouldn't work in any way shape or form but somehow Ancheta makes them functional and cool. He establishes awesome rhythms that are a perfect blend of his influences and just happen to have a clarinet of the klezmer variety sitting on top. It's really hard to describe effectively and it's something you truly have to hear to believe but Plant really is a very cool listen. The whole thing has political leanings and message driven songs but it's all wrapped up with this unique blend of tunes that are appealing and aurally mesmerizing...or should I say klezmerizing.
Plant is the sort of record that proves reggae's message of one love eleven times over. This is a globally influenced and aware record that has a message but knows that the music comes first. Ancheta's ability to mix all these sounds into something that makes sense is not only a reflection of his songwriting ability but his never ending workload and ethic. Say what you will but his constant on the go lifestyle has paid off here with these influences living together in musical harmony. Unusual but good, Plant is the sort of record I imagine John Zorn listening to while on vacation.
Danish dynamic duo No Hay Banda are a seductive synth group who are clearly in love with the classic sounds of the 80's and see no problem with bringing them into the 21st century by any means necessary. Their album Wow and Flutter is a lush experience that's by far some of the coolest music to come out of Denmark ever. With a darkly delicious palette of synthetic sounds, driving beats, and ditties that are depressingly danceable these guys are operating on a Teutonic dance floor straight out of the Cold War.
Wow and Flutter is an ultra cool record that takes Berlin's synthetic detachment and rams it into chillwave at high speed. The result is a record that's smoky and at times gauzy while finding itself lost in a hangover. Wow and Flutter is sexy and it's dark detachment is alluringly hypnotizing and comes complete with sirenesque vocals that could lure men to their doom. This is the sound of electronic seduction that wraps huge hooks around your ears, sucks you in and never lets go. They might only be a duo but No Hay Banda find a way to make this record that sound as if there were a 100 musicians assisting them. Synths wash over you, guitars crunch, beats sweep you off your feet and the vocals make you fall in love and there behind it all are just two people.
Wow and Flutter is impressive effort that very rarely falters. From the, "Riding on the Metro," vibe of, "Inventing A Machine," to the potential hit of, "Neurotica," Wow and Flutter is packed with stark, cool, and beautiful tunes that sound larger than life. No Hay Banda have done an excellent job here of channeling the ghosts of the past into something that's minimal, modern, and very very good.
Paperhaus are an interesting band simply because they seemingly pick a genre to work in and then record a record within that genre. A strange approach, I agree but it seems to work out for them. While their debut EP was an alt-country sort of affair, their latest EP Lo Hi Lo is well informed by their Smiths collection. Sounding alot like The Smiths at times, Lo Hi Lo is moody, jangly, and very easy to latch on to. The lead off track "All Through The Night," is the kind of song that would make Johnny Marr blush or Morrissey run out and get a lawyer if he should hear it. It's that good and it's kind of scary how they may have inadvertently out Smiths'd the Smiths.
Lo Hi Lo is moodily brilliant and while depressingly short at four songs they do make a rather deep impact rather quickly. If the dizzying Marr influences aren't enough then the second and third songs, "Helicopters," "Corazon," have even more of an 80's and 90's British pop influence running through them. With enough jangly riffs, gauzy feedback, dramatic vocals and a shyness that is criminally vulgar the songs hark back to much cooler time in music. Even the EP closer, "Twisted Tumble," has this vintage feel to it that harks back to a much better time. Lo Hi Lo is an impressive effort that makes you wonder why they even bothered with trying their hand at alt-country; it's so good it makes me want to force Paperhaus to record 100 more songs like these and never let them never utter the words alt-country ever again.
Another day another neo-soul singer. There are so many at this point I'm beginning to wonder if they're not grown in a vat somewhere and then released as older ones burn out. As the great pop conspiracy grinds on without us knowing about it, Canadian singer Joanna Borromeo is the latest artist to discover her parents old records and be influenced and guided by them. Her rather cool looking album Kaleidoscope is a jazzy, chilled and soulful record that's a bit more mature than many of her peers.
Joanna Borromeo is soulful for sure, but there's this jazzy undercurrent throughout each of her songs that kind of veer away from being R&B or neo-soul and kind of take her more into being a chanteuse of some sort. Kaleidoscope is the sort of record that would find a perfect home on a contemporary jazz station with it's horns, superb drumming, and stirring vocals. While she may be part of the whole neo-soul thing this girl clearly has aspirations to leave that behind and move into more "adult" territory. Borromeo can sing either genre pretty well, but the songs on Kaleidoscope tend to lend themselves to her more jazz inflected vocals and one can't help but wonder if that's where her heart lies. There's very little diva-tastic wailing to be heard. Instead there's deeply emotional lyrical play and even when she has fun on a song like, "Your Shoes," she still lets the jazzy influences shine through above and beyond the soul-funk.
Joanna Borromeo is far from a cliche neo-soul chick. Oh no, she's too powerful, to mature, and has songs that are stronger than steel to come from an assembly line. Borromeo is diverse and entertaining and while I'm not the biggest fan of the genre she's entertaining enough to make me want to listen to her sing.
At this point, I'm not really sure why I even bother writing about Kitsune records. I mean seriously, they can do no wrong. Everything they put out is simply fantastic. Their latest compilation, Kitsune America 2 picks up where the first volume left off and continues to search under rocks, in clubs, and in bedrooms across the nation looking for the hottest electronic talent in the United States.
They find it here, there, and everywhere in between. In fact I'm sure they've found so much of it they could probably issue twenty volumes of this series and still not be done. Anyway, Kitsune America 2 is a brilliant mash up of styles and genres; chillwave, electro, and even indie are all well represented on this compilation. From Tidus' downtempo acid trip of, "Say It," to the Italo Disco flavored influences of, Alison Valentine's, "Circles and Triangles," and even the indie stomp of Papa's "Put Me To Work," Kitsune America 2 is another dose of perfection. I don't know how they manage to be so consistent, but they are and this record is proof of it. It's kind of ridiculous at this point that they so easily issue records of such great magnitude and grooves and have yet to let me down.
From electro to downtempo, indie rock to house Kitsune leaves no stones unturned when searching for talent or tunes. Kitsune America 2 is evidence of that and should reaffirm anyone's belief in America's ability to produce brilliantly blinding dance music that isn't from Skrillex. There is life outside of EDM and Dubstep and Kitsune America 2 is a tribute to the scene that hasn't forgotten there's a lot more to dance music that brutality. Kitsune America 2 is a masterful compilation and I can't wait to hear Kitsune America 3!
With the temperature outside being 80 degrees, I think it's fair to say that Spring (or Pre-summer) has officially sprung. That can only mean one thing...dreams of spring break and summer vacation! And what goes better with vacations, holidays, and island getaways than a slew of new tropically influenced records. It's that time of the year for music as well...the market is about to be flooded with all kinds of reggae, soca, dancehall and island jams. Well, as fate would have it two such records have just shown up on my desk...it's as if it was planned! Going by the rather unusual names of Kobo Town and John Brown's Body, neither of these band are actually from the Caribbean but both their albums sound like they were recorded there and have a very authentic feel to them.
Kobo Town's Jumble In The Jukebox comes to us from that hot bed of island getaways...Canada! Yes, Canada. Despite the mandatory rolling of the eyes and all that goes along with that, Kobo Town actually create some rather amazing calypso. Seriously. I'm talking like Harry Belafonte like calypso. The record is packed with songs that are optimistic, energetic and upbeat while maintaining a level of intelligence about them. Kobo Town is rooted in activism and politics but cover it all with sunshine and love. Jumble In The Jukebox is the melding of island influences and modern musical techniques that sound authentic despite being uniquely Canadian. If anything, Jumble In The Jukebox illustrates the influence and prevalence of island music in the world. I thoroughly enjoyed this record; it's lighthearted feel and intelligence made it an absolute joy to jump in line with.
Just down the pike from Canada in that other hot bed of reggae music, Boston, comes John Brown's Body. This Bostonian band has one of the more unusual names for a reggae group and in fact actually don't have a member named John nor do they possess his body. That being said, their album Kings And Queens is a delightfully good straight ahead reggae record. Kings And Queens is incredibly catchy and summery which if you live in Boston in March is probably a good thing. All joking aside, the musicianship is top notch and the horn section is on fire throughout this record. In fact, I'm willing to say that the horns on Kings And Queens is what makes this album worthy of repeated listening; they totally give John Brown's Body another dimension. As if to prove that point the last tune on the record, "Searchlight," is a genuine pop hit that has vacation written all over it.
So, now that you have your bags packed and your flight booked pick up these albums, slather yourself in sun tan lotion and enjoy your vacation. Be sure to send the bands photos of said vacation because after all...it's still winter up in Boston and Canada!
I'm not exactly sure how hills can be like elephants, but for a band name Hills Like Elephants is among the more interesting ones I've heard in a while. The name has a certain late 80's, early 90's feel to it (think Echo & The Bunnymen) and so does the band's sound. They're an interesting combination of soulful songs, falsetto vocals, and classic alternative structures. They describe themselves as Motown with drum machines and while it's hard to find that on their album Feral Flocks I can see what they're trying to get at.
Feral Flocks sounds cool; it's unusual and doesn't sound like anything else right now. It's got this kind of early U2 vibe pulsating through it and at times vocalist Sean Davenport almost channels the soul of Bono into his voice. If you throw that stuff into the musical pot next to this ethereal indie dance thing they try to create you might understand where Hills Like Elephants are coming from. It's hard to describe and, honestly, Feral Flocks isn't the easiest record to get into. While it's hooks are fairly obvious and well structured I suspect most people would have issues with Davenport's vocals. They're just so, err, out there and un-indie rock that it's probably off-putting to your average hipster. Given time, however, Davenport's croon wins you over. You kind of have to think of Hills Like Elephants as an American blue-eyed soul group that's lost in their Style Council record collection; once you let that settle in Feral Flocks becomes rather enjoyable.
There aren't a lot of bands like Hills Like Elephants in the States. Their ability to take late 80's British pop mix it with an overabundance of soulful singing and get tolerable results. But much like Weller did with the Style Council, they manage to make it work. Spending time with Feral Flocks is essential; the more you spend with it the more you'll find yourself liking it and the more it grows on you. Hills Like Elephants clearly know how to write a good song, it's just getting used to their approach that takes some time.
Birds and Arrows are a Chapel Hill/Durham NC trio that play folk music. They are rustic, backwoods, folksy and truth be told rather boring. Their latest album Coyotes is a pastoral, quiet, strummy thing that has absolutely no verve to it. It's three people, acoustic instruments, some songs and that's it.
I'm not a fan of this genre at all and Coyotes made me want to howl like one as I begged for mercy. I wanted to like this record because the first tune, "Firefly," was actually pretty decent in a bedraggled lovelorn ballad kind of way. I thought to myself, "Hmm...there's actually some potential here." Then by the third song I was done. When, "The Rest Of Your Life," started and seemed to just be a girl and something being strummed in an altogether too earnest manner I had difficulty listening to the record. I'm sorry, I think I'm too hyper for music like this...it's just so slow and so meandering and so serious that it gets annoying.
Folk to me is like being behind the guy who does 45 mph in the fast lane of the interstate. Slow, annoying and mind-numbing. It stresses me out and I need to listen to something like Morbid Angel to reaffirm my belief in music. Life is miserable, we get it and we've all had our hearts broken...I just don't want to get mired down by it and wallow in it. Just move on. Please. Heck even the kings of mope, The Smiths, had a sense of humour.
Another Friday and another perfectly well timed album of globally groovy chill out. Its that time of the week when I'm overwhelmed, stressed out and ready to go home but thanks to Kaleidoscope Jukebox's album Infinite Reflection I think I'll be able to make it to 5:30. Thanks to the lushness and diversity of sounds on Infinite Reflection my tension is driven away and I'm allowed to get lost in it's ethnic influences and downtempo grooves .
Kaleidoscope Jukebox has created a world in which deep bass, sitars, percussion, stringed instruments, crisp beats all mingle together in harmony. Creating lush soundscapes and imaginative arrangements, Kaleidoscope Jukebox shifts genres and influences at the flick of a switch. It's pretty awesome the way that it's done and very cleverly carried out. One minute you'll be lost in India then the next in a gypsy like environment from the Balkans. Infinite Reflection is all over the place but so well put together that it all flows into one giant...err...infinite reflection.
Meditative, opulent, and varied in its approach, Infinite Reflection never gets lost in it's own trance like state. Kaleidoscope Jukebox not only knows how use it's palette of sound wisely it also knows that having a song sculpted around that palette is important. Infinite Reflection is catchy, deep, and endlessly fascinating and the sort of thing that's easy to listen to repeatedly no matter the day of the week.
David Starfire's Ascend is a wolf in a sheep's clothing. Disguised as a world music record with references to Bhangra and reggae Ascend buries what this record is all about deep within it. The first four songs of this album seem to hint at a Bhangra chill out record with global grooves permeating throughout the songs. It's all very chilled coolness and then it happens...
The bottom drops out. Somewhere around the fourth song Ascend turns into this face melting dubstep record. It leaves the chilled out vibes of the first three songs in the dust and turns into this brutal beatastic excursion into the darker recesses of electronica. It's almost as if David Starfire simply tuned on a switch and boom went the dynamite. It's a pretty drastic shift in dynamics that would probably scare the bejesus out of anyone who thought this was an Indian influenced chill out record. That being said Ascend is pretty awesome. I love both aspects of this effort...the global chill and the brutal bass. It's a slap across the face when it happens but it hurts so good and sounds ridiculously powerful.
Starfire clearly is comfortable in any situation and this record proves it. His ability to layer hip hop, dubstep, electro, Bhangra and even reggae all with in a song is impressive. He can rip your head clean off with a brutal bassline but still make the song catchy enough to linger within your skull for days. "House of Bhangra," and "Knight Riddum," are perfect examples of this as the tunes are absolutely blinding and still capable of dance floor destruction.
Ascend is an impressive, cleverly disguised record that lulls you into a false sense of chilled security before it pulls the rug out from under you. While I'm not normally a huge fan of dubstep, I thoroughly enjoyed David Starfires globally influenced grooves. This is one dubstep record worthy of your attention even if you hate the genre.
Cherie Lily is a fitness instructor who takes her art, or exercise, so seriously she writes her own music for her work outs. It's a bit unusual to say the least but it explains why she's wearing a leotard on the cover of her EP, Dripping Wet. That aside, I'm sure the question you are undoubtedly asking, "That's great but is it any good?" Well, that's a good question and when you think about what these songs are probably used for...yes. If you think of it as straight ahead dance music well then it's as cliche as it comes and the whole thing reeks of something straight out of an American Apparel assembly line.
Dance music in work outs is supposed to motivate, energize, and pump you up and Dripping Wet does exactly that. It's all high energy stuff with pounding beats, motivational lyrics (albeit in a sexual way), and hooks that would seem to be totally in sync with some sort of exercise class. It's not bad for what it is...stereotypical dance music. But that being said...it's just packed to the brim with cliche's. Let's see...Sexy girl in leotard, check, picture of cleavage on the cover, check, the name Dripping Wet, a sound similar to a modernized C&C Music Factory, check, high energy fist pumping beats with build ups that are straight out of dance music 101, check. It's all here and as a stand alone dance music single it's hard to not to listen to this record with a grain of salt. I mean for the love of God, there's songs called, "Lotion," and "Get Sweaty." Yikes. Now, in the context of something to do the Insanity program to, this is PERFECT. I mean the song, "Total Body Workout," is so motivational it'll make your muscles sore from just listening to it.
Cherie Lily is undoubtedly talented; from exercise to choreography, writing music and rocking the dance floor Cherie has seemingly got it all covered. While Dripping Wet is a mixed bag from a pure dance music perspective her ability to motivate and create music to get healthy to is awesome. I enjoyed Dripping Wet. It is what it is and it makes no bones about it and you can't hate something for at least being honest. If you're looking for motivation and pumping beats next time you want to work out...pop this record on and you'll be Dripping Wet.
We Are Loud Whispers are the latest dynamic duo to emerge out of nowhere but unlike most, the members of this band haven't actually laid eyes on each other in over five years. Putting together songs in a Postal Service kind of way, We Are Loud Whispers pieced together their album Suchness through email. With one member in Seattle and one member in Honshu there were a few barriers to overcome like an ocean, occasional language issues, and the inability to physically play together but somehow, some way they overcame all that and created something magical.
Slightly twee and altogether delicate, Suchness is a gentle, meandering record that unobtrusively makes it's way through ten songs without raising it's voice once. Instead , Suchness is a dreamy and sleepy record that sounds like it's been stuck waking up and stretching for months. Slightly ethereal and minimal in it's construction, Sonya & Haitani weave this very fragile tapestry that's held together by Sonya's whispers and Haitani's gentle strums and washes. Using bare electronics and gently played riffs the whole album sounds like it could shatter into a million pieces if Sonya raised her voice or hit a high note. It's really all in their name if you think about it...they are indeed loud whispers.
Suchness is a hug-able record that's the very definition of twee pop cool. One listen to, "Western Town," confirms this; with it's horns, broken beats, adorable hooks and Sonya's sighs the song is simply almost to much for your heart to handle. Emotionally charged, but woozily motivated We Are Loud Whispers are lost in the miasma of indie pop, synth pop, and a catatonic state. Despite what you might think, it works for them as Suchness is dreamily perfect and the sort of thing that's near unforgettable.
Lapalux is the name of a British producer who was raised in rural Essex and while the only way may be Essex for some, Lapalux sought a way to escape and so he turned to music. Under this guise Stuart Howard embraced technology with a lean toward the atmospheric as a means of moving on and escaping his surroundings. His album Nostalchic is kind of a clever play on words that hints at where Lapalux has been and where he hopes to go; moving forward by looking at the past.
Nostalchic is a great record of minimal beats, opulent synths, and atmospheric hazes that create a chilled, pastoral soundscape that's about as far away from Essex as Lapalux could ever hope to be. Sounding more like something the Curiosity picked up on a sonoscope on Mars, Nostalchic has this archaic simplistic spacial feel to it that seems to move through your soul. It's a texturally rich record that, dare I say it, hints at a sense of comforting nostalgia while maintaining this futuristic and otherworldly space vibe to it. Call it chillwave, near-ambient, whatever you want it's glitchy brilliance can handle it and expound upon it.
Lapalux has created a world in which to get lost in with Nostalchic. It's minimalism, ambient textures, and hazy style is easy on the ears and rich for the imagination. While there's no standout single per-se, the album taken as a whole is a rich audio experience that's pastoral, futuristic, and electronically pervasive. If the Only Way Is Essex then it seems as though Lapalux how's found his way out and is headed to space with Nostalchic in hand.
Plena Libre are a high energy group of Puerto Rican's that helped bring their roots and music of their home island to the global stage. Through the mixing of native, Caribbean, and Latin influences this group creates a diverse sound that jumps between genre's like planes hop between islands. From meringue to songo and even Latin jazz and rock the band clearly is open minded to anything that enriches their sound. Their latest album Corazon see's this diversity placed center stage as the album takes the rhythmic core of Puerto Rican music and mixes it together with a seemingly limitless palette of sounds and textures.
Corazon is very rhythmic oriented and features a high degree of movement throughout each of the nine songs featured. This is a record that refuses to sit still and clearly loves the sound of the drum, conga, and other forms of percussion. It's fairly obvious about midway through the record that Plena Libra readily emphasize the drum with attention paid to influences outside of Puerto Rico. They're very skilled at this as the album segues flawlessly through sounds and outside influences and rolls in and out like the tide. The record's dynamics are enjoyable and they do a good job all around as much of Corazon is upbeat and danceable with the percussion leading the way.
I thoroughly enjoyed Corazon. It reminded me of being back home in Miami and anything that does that is a winner in my book. This is the sound of the Caribbean and while it might be from Puerto Rico you can pick out the diverse influences and where they came from without much effort. Corazon is the sound of history, tradition, and fun all wrapped up into one awesome record.
If we are in the middle of a 90's reunion clearly someone forgot to tell Shannon and the Clams. You see Shannon and her Clams are firmly entrenched in recording as if it were 1962. This is a three piece group that so fully embraces early rock and roll that you'd swear these guys were well into their 70's and somehow stumbled upon a record label to record them. Clearly in their 20's, however, Shannon and the Clams are obviously in love with the pure, simple sounds of early rock and roll and their album Dreams In The Rat House is a living tribute to it.
Much like the Pipettes, Shannon and the Clams are far from a novelty act; these guys have legitimately good songs and enough pop sensibility to write tunes that bear hug you with hooks. This is modern day doo wop and the sort of thing that would probably make their grand-parents proud of. Dreams In The Rat House isn't the sound of rebellion or angst but pure unadulterated fun and is seemingly from a time when rock and roll was subversive and new. Dreams In The Rat House is an awesome record that's the perfect blend of garage rock rawness, doo wop love songs, and swoony pop in a sugary rush of un-coolness.
Raw, under produced and ridiculously authentic sounding, Dreams In The Rat House channels it's inner Ricky Nelson perfectly. I love this record, it's simplicity, purity and goodness is simply irresistible. I wish more bands would discover the classic goodness of early rock and roll like Shannon and the Clams have and embrace a time when music was fresh and fun. It was a brilliant time of discovery, creativity, and honesty...something that the music industry and music in general is lacking today.