I usually get about 1 or 2 music submissions every week. Given my lack of free time I haven’t had a chance to do detailed reviews on every record that passes my ears. In an attempt to “catch up” on reviews, here’s another multi-album music feature.
Woodsman – Rare Forms: A layered, expansive, experimental record with enough structure to avoid self-aggrandizing guitar noodling. As the 5th release from Woodsman in 2 years, it reflects the group’s progress thus far and builds anticipation for the next record. Top track: Serfer
A. Tom Collins – OH NO!: Dirty jazz meets piano meets a whiskey-soaked delivery from a former member of the now-defunct band Machine Gun Blues. The record swings from track to track, slowing down on the intro to “Be My Baby,” picking up again on the laughter-driven “Ants.” Top track: Oh No!
FLASHLIGHTS – Hidden Behind Trees EP: A reverb-drenched electro-pop record that blurs the lines between pop and electronic music, Trees marks FLASHLIGHTS first release on LA-based Binary Records (out June 6th). The 6 tracks mastered by Tjutjuna’s Brian Marcus, mix Sam Martin’s retro synth sounds with Ethan Converse’s aural vocals. Top track: Holidays
Thrifty Astronaut – Caffeine Heartache: If Bob Dylan and Neutral Milk Hotel had a baby it would be Thrifty Astronaut. Distorted acoustic guitar, bright toy-keyboard tones, and lyrics about girls (who have lip rings and like boys who huff glue), and middleclass suburban drudgery mix into a sometimes delightful, sometimes heart wrenching experience. Top track: Middleclass Suburban Teenager Blues
Fingers of the Sun – Fingers of the Sun: If the 1960′s had never ended, there might be more bands that sound like Fingers of the Sun. Expanding from their debut EP, the self-titled Fingers of the Sun LP features sunny instruments and lyrics that would fit well in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of years gone by. Top track: Cup of Tea
One of the best parts of my spring break trip to SXSW in Austin was the chance to see a bunch of new acts that I had never heard before. Apart from apparent similarities in style, I recognized another interesting trend: many of the bands I found most intriguing were from Canada. Memoryhouse, GOBBLE GOBBLE, Two Bicycles, and BRAIDS were just a few that had come down from the wintery north to play the festival. This week’s review will take a look at several releases from the aforementioned groups.
BRAIDS – Native Speaker: Clean, shimmery instruments match singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s soft-yet-potent voice throughout this 7-track record. Album opener “Lemonade” uses tap-delayed guitar to build into beautiful and catchy chorus. Title track “Native Speaker” is the other stand-out song with more soft piano and subtle electronic features.
GOBBLE GOBBLE – Lawn Knives 7”: Probably the wildest set I saw at SXSW, GOBBLE GOBBLE is known for their energetic live show. “Lawn Knives” and B-side “End of Days” are recorded proof of this group’s energy. A cacophony of electronic blips, beats, and vocals keeps this single bouncing along with a vigor that demands a replay.
Memoryhouse – Caregiver 7”: While the A-side to this single is good, it was B-side “Heirloom” that got me in to Memoryhouse in the first place. A mix of 80’s pop sensibility, modern shoegaze, and strong female vocals show up on nearly every Memoryhouse song in a way that is both haunting and beautiful. Also check out Memoryhouse’s EP titled The Years.
Two Bicycles – The Ocean: An instrumental record from the Teen Daze side-project Two Bicycles, The Ocean is an hour of music that sounds like it could be the soundtrack to a great indie-film. “I’m Not Afraid To Wait For You” breaks from the ambient nature of the record to focus on warm guitar and layering that build into a semi-crescendo.
This week we’re going to take a trip back in time. The year is 1986: the Russians have launched Mir, Ronald Reagan is president, the Miami Vice-look still has a stronghold on fashion, and a post-Garfunkel Paul Simon just released a new record titled Graceland. It’s quite unlike anything we’ve heard at the time: a mix of pop, African-influence, zydeco, and a healthy dose of Simon’s knack for stellar songwriting.
From the opening track “The Boy in the Bubble,” it becomes apparent that this is not your average 1980′s pop record. Using the correct proportions of accordion, clean electric guitar, and African roots the songs manage to ebb and flow while remaining cohesive as a whole record. My personal favorite tracks come in the middle of the album- “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and “You Can Call Me Al.” “Diamonds” begins with a soulful delivery from Ladysmith Black Mambazo and continues into a bright story of optimistic love.
“You Can Call Me Al,” on the other hand, is one of those songs that you can’t help but dance along with. It has a great 4-on-the-floor dance beat with plenty of 80′s synth and horns. Oftentimes I find myself humming “If you’ll be my bodyguard I can be your long-lost pal…”
In 1986 Graceland won the Grammy for record of the year (back when that award might have actually meant something). Recently, in 2007, it was added to the US National Recording Registry and has come back into vogue as African-infused beats and clean electric guitars have again become popular in mainstream music. While they may not readily admit to it, bands such as Vampire Weekend owe a lot to Graceland for helping to define a sound that has a certain timeless quality. Take a trip back in time and hear the record that has been inspiring musicians for the last 25 years- borrow your parent’s copy, dust off the turntable, and enjoy.
Listen to Graceland below.
Electro-pop (e-p) is an interesting creature. The seminal e-p record was 2003’s Give Up from The Postal Service. It was a somber reflection on life matched with 8-bit bleeps-and-bloops, synthesizers, and danceable beats. Owl City moved the genre on to more accessible grounds with 2009’s Ocean Eyes using ultra-sugary lyrics about lightning bugs and dentistry. It is on from this backdrop that I will introduce Galaxies- an electro-pop project headed up by Colorado musician and Act So Big Forest cohort Dillon Groeneman.
With regards to the aforementioned spectrum between sobering and sugary, Galaxies falls somewhere in the middle- which I would say is a good thing. The trouble with overly-morose electro-pop is that the lyrics undermine the fun instrumentation and my issue with overly-sweet lyrics is that they’re just cheesy. Galaxies manages to find balance between serious and fun with song like “Lost at Sea” and “At The Zoo With You” (along with other songs about zoos and animals). My favorite song is certainly “Kite Song,” which features beautiful airy female vocals.
Instrumentation is where Like A Lion really shines. In addition to synthesizers and samples, Galaxies uses live drums, ukulele, and guitar. The album’s BandCamp page claims it has been “years in the making,” a statement which shows a dedication to polished and cohesive sound. At the end of the day I would say that Like A Lion really shows Galaxies’ potential and ability, so give it a listen- you can stream this entire record below.
With South By South-West (SXSW) last week, the last month has been a bombardment of showcase announcements and stories about “must-see” acts. Among the throngs of hipster-fodder is one band that keeps rising to the surface: Toro Y Moi. To be technically correct, Toro Y Moi is really just the stage name for Chazwick Bundick, a South Carolina native who has helped define the obtuse faux-genre “Chill-wave.” (Editorial note: With the exception of 1980′s “New Wave,” I find it difficult to take any modern “-wave” genre seriously).
Tags aside, there is a reason Toro Y Moi has persistently shown up on my radar. Apart from the marketing campaigns and associated buzz, the new record Underneath The Pine is a fresh and accessible collection of laid-back dance songs with smooth overtones.
There is a certain vintage feel to Pine, as each song draws from classic-sounding instrumentation and traditional beats (there’s no trip-hop on this record). “New Beat” stands out for its contemporary take on disco, but don’t worry, there’s nothing cheesy here, just 70′s synths and maybe a few bongo samples.
While other “wave” groups such as The XX, MillionYoung, and STRFKR have markedly darker, more electronic sounds, Toro Y Moi maintains a certain air of warmth. That warmth is what sets this band apart and is the reason they have come into vogue. Rather than being strictly dance music or exclusively ambient and “too cool,” Underneath The Pine comes from a collective nostalgia.
Toro Y Moi will play the Larimer Lounge in Denver on March 31. Watch the video for “New Beat” below.
Hindershot, like many groups from our fine city, exists within a context of intersecting musicians and styles. While half of the group plays for alter-ego band Amazing Twin, Hindershot is lead-man Stuart Confer’s chance to take the limelight. Their songs are perhaps more focused, nostalgic, and slightly reminiscent of “yacht rock” groups from the 70’s and 80’s. Overall their sound can be described as modern indie-pop; everything has a touch of reverb and the drums don’t stray far from a dance-able four-on-the-floor beat.
On their newest release, a 7” EP called It’s Only Blood, Hindershot keeps things interesting by not sticking to the same format for every song. On the opener/title track “It’s Only Blood” a constant march builds into a strong chorus. “The Mark” gets funky with falsetto’ed vocals and syncopated guitar while “Not Ready To Go” is a laid-back dance number. “Twisted Tongue” closes out the EP by asking, “Would you give me your iron lung? Would you please tame your twisted tongue?”
It’s Only Blood is perhaps a representation of larger trends percolating through Denver right now. It’s catchy but doesn’t sacrifice production value or sincerity. Musically speaking the instruments sound natural and the vocals have a mix of 90’s DIY aesthetic combined with a healthy dose of reverb.
Hindershot will officially release It’s Only Blood on 7” vinyl at the Hi-Dive on February 26th. Achille Lauro and Ken Arkind will also make appearances at that night’s “beach party” themed show.
The music of Sam Beam, better known as the motivating force behind Iron & Wine, is known for its soft beauty and constant reinvention. Over the last decade Iron & Wine has moved from acoustic lo-fi recordings to full band pop songs. As with any musical progression, the hope is that while fidelity may increase, the heart behind the songs might remain the same.
Kiss Each Other Clean is the group’s first LP of new material since 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog and it continues on the trend of mixing traditional folk songs with a few eccentric sounds. Overall the record has a cohesive tone that is somewhere between the experimentalism of the 1960’s and the funky feel-good vibes of the 1970’s. Case in point: “Rabbit Will Run” feels like a Cat Stevens tune layered on the keyboards of The Doors.
However, Sam Beam’s breathy vocals are the real star of this album. Just as his voice enchanted listeners on his early recordings, new songs like “Godless Brother in Love” will cause people to fall in love yet again with Iron & Wine’s harmonies. While the lyrics are also well-thought, it is their presentation that sets the tone of each tune.
Perhaps what is most refreshing about Kiss Each Other Clean is that it seldom feels self-indulgent or stuffy. This may be a modern pop record; however it has a certain timeless quality and replay value similar to classic albums such as James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James or Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years. That said, Iron & Wine successfully mixed innovation with nostalgia to create something that is uniquely relevant to current tastes while remaining appealing to older generations.
Stream the entire record below
I have observed an interesting phenomenon. It seems that people occasionally define their musical tastes in terms of what genres they avoid. On more than one occasion I’ve heard the words “anything except rap, pop, country… etc.” spoken as though the speaker were proselytizing.
In the modern age we can thank Michael Jackson for the idea that the greatest records transcend simplistic genre-tags. When he released Thriller in 1982 it paved the way for innovative pop music that could draw from a wide swath of the musical world. Fast-forward nearly 30 years: Kanye West finds himself standing on the shoulders (and in the shadow) of the late Jackson.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy topped many 2010 end-of-the-year lists from music critics at all levels. Ego, Twitter, and PR stunts aside, West managed to put together a record that has more thematic intrigue than anything else on the Top 40 stations.
This is not your run-of-the-mill hip-hop record; it has orchestral, rock, indie, spoken word, and electronic elements with a slew of guest appearances to match. While several songs are poised to be radio singles (“POWER,” “All of the Lights,” and “Monster” to name a few), it is the overarching drama of Fantasy that makes it a full-album experience. Prior it its release, Fantasy made the jump to a visual medium; the nearly 10-minute “Runaway” served as the apex for West’s 40-minute art-film of the same name.
Lyrics about fame, loss, regret, pride, and uncertainty thread their way through the record as styles shift from track-to-track. The album closes on what I would personally consider to be the best song of 2010: “Lost in the World.” Beginning from Bon Iver’s “Woods,” West builds tribal beats into a four-on-the-floor dance. Winding in lyrics from Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” the circle comes back in on itself as West orchestrates a denouement that pays homage to his predecessor while maintaining a striking air of modernity.
Overall it’s the kind of record that should seriously make genre-limited listeners reconsider their stuffiness. Even if hip-hop isn’t your style, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy may change your mind.
Watch the short film Runaway below
The unpolished demos of those original songs quickly spread throughout the internet and soon everyone was talking about “sail-rock” and “the next big thing out of Denver.” For Denver locals it came as a bit of a surprise: not many people in Denver had ever seen Tennis live since it was really an overnight affair. Following a fall tour with The Walkmen and getting signed to Fat Possum Records, Tennis prepped for the release of Cape Dory- a collection of polished songs out earlier this month.
For those who were familiar with their demos and 7″-releases, Cape Dory came as no surprise. Most of the songs on the record had already been released in one form or another; however the versions appearing on the full-length were certainly different than previous renditions. While songs like “South Carolina” or “Baltimore” were delightfully fuzzy and loose on the demos, their LP-counterparts were more polished and tighter.
Cape Dory is an excellent set of summery songs about the sea; however it was the rawness of the original songs which attracted me to Tennis in the first place. For those interested in hearing what everyone has been talking about, Cape Dory provides an opportunity to hear all of Tennis’s ocean-inspired tunes in one place.
Stream “Take Me Somewhere” below
There must be something in the water. I am unsure if this phenomenon occurs elsewhere, however it may be safe to say that Denver has had its fair share of bands consisting of 10 or more people. In the past we’ve seen Everything Absent or Distorted, Pee Pee, and other groups with big bands and big sounds to match. Enter All Liver No Onions, a group with at least 15 people.
Mix a little Neutral Milk Hotel with a bit of mewithoutYou, toss in more horns and youthful bliss and you’ve got Dolphin Dreamz, the new demo from All Liver No Onions. The four tracks swing from soft horns to loud raucous sing-a-long choruses and return back. Perhaps what makes this release so charming is that it is unpolished- rather than investing all of their energy into over-production All Liver No Onions used their momentum to record a handful of delightful tracks.
Listen to Dolphin Dreamz below and download it here.