March 2008 Archives

Tantric - The End Begins

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Tantric - The End Begins (Silent Majority) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Hugo Ferreira, Tantric's only remaining original member, has assembled a new group to record what may be deemed the band's strongest release to date. The sound is heavier than previous efforts and the addition of violinist Marcus Ratzenboeck gives the band's sound an affecting twist for a hard-rock album. Ferreira's occasional deadpan style of singing and some spotty guitar production can be somewhat deterring, but admittedly after several spins The End Begins has started to grow on me.
Harmonica - Miaow Miaow Bark! EP (Weewerk) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Harmonica made a ripple across mp3 blogs in 2006 with a couple of great sugary pop songs ("Boys & Girls" and "Friday Night"), so it's really disappointing that neither of them appear here. What's even more disappointing, however, is what does appear here. Two years was apparently just long enough to dull Harmonica's lustre, because these four tracks—buried under an ill-advised mall punk makeover of compressed guitars and painted-on sass—don't demand to ever be heard a second time.

She & Him - Volume One

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She & Him - Volume One (Merge) [audio] [upcoming shows]

The highest compliment I can pay Volume One by She & Him is that when I first heard the album, I assumed every song was a cover, when in fact only three are. The second highest compliment I can pay to Zooey Deschanel's musical debut as backed by M. Ward is that it's the first musical release by an actor that doesn't simply affirm their primary career choice. These are new standards in more ways than one.
The Seabellies - Wave Your Fingers to Make the Winters EP (self released) [audio] [upcoming shows]

My apologies to The Seabellies for discovering them so late, having just found out about the EP they released a year ago. It's the kind of music I usually find perfect for spring. Wave Your Fingers to Make the Winters collects six songs, spacious enough to allow room for a reluctant melancholy to coexist alongside the soaring choruses and spirited rhythms that aren't unfamiliar to fans of Broken Social Scene or The Arcade Fire. "Day of the Bees" steals the show, while the five remaining songs all share second place.
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Real Emotional Trash (Matador) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Yeah, we get it. You're too cool to wear tie-dyed shirts and go weeks at a time without showering. You have a job, after all. You'd never let your likewise cool friends see all those Dead and Phish bootlegs you have, so you keep them in a suitcase under your bed and only pull them out when your husband or wife is out of town. So how do you satisfy your inner hippie while simultaneously keeping up a non-stanky appearance? Listen to Stephen Malkmus albums. All the stoner jamz with only some of the guilt.
Angus & Julia Stone - A Book Like This (EMI) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Aussie brother/sister duo Angus & Julia Stone are like other familial groups in that there's a perceptible connection going on which doesn't exist in other musical line-ups, one that seems entirely organic and natural and adds a warmth to the music they perform. And speaking of that music, it's some pretty gorgeous folk pop with nary an ironic or hip leaning to be found. If only the Friedbergers weren't so busy screwing around with convention, The Fiery Furnaces might sometimes be half as listenable as this record is.

Cryptacize - Dig That Treasure

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Cryptacize - Dig That Treasure (Asthmatic Kitty) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Nedelle Torrisi had already proved she plays well with others on Summerland, and Dig That Treasure finds her working with strange, often atonal, completely anarchic pop structures in partnership with two men who aren't primarily known by their first names. The hit-to-miss ratio of these self-consciously fractured tunes is hard to overlook, but the album's not without passing charms. Nedelle still hasn't found quite the right musical match to compliment her voice, so this is just another approach she can scratch out.
Dark Captain Light Captain - Jealous Enemies/Mid-Session Interval 7" (Lo Alternative Frequencies) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Beats, acoustic guitars and angelic harmonies: people love to call it "folktronica" when these things get mixed together, but that sounds kind of stupid. Though it's thoroughly modern, "Jealous Enemies" is every bit as good as its folk-rock ancestors—songs by Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span—that once had the audacity to combine pastoral melody with pop tempos. You could group them with contemporaries like Tunng or The Memory Band, but you'll be listening to these dudes twice as often.
The Billionaires - Really Real for Forever (Too Soon) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Attention hip teenage indie popsters!!! If lyrics like "We're gonna get high after school" and "Let's go out and get fucked up to forget" speak to you, then this is the first record of 2008 you must buy. Or shoplift, you degenerate. The Billionaires are here to corner the market on catchy sing-a-long dance pop for the all ages crowd. Unfortunately, the immature lyrics can be particularly distressing when you consider the band's ability to produce some pretty serious harmonies in the same vein as The New Pornographers.

Crystal Castles - S/T

Crystal Castles (Last Gang) [audio] [upcoming shows]

One Facebook group for Crystal Castles describes the band as "a girl screaming over a computer game." I was never into online RPG games, but I'll confess to being addicted to this album, which develops repetitive beats and vocals of no consequence ("Untrust Us" appears to be in another language and "Crimewave" might as well be) to shockingly imaginative and fertile ends.. Several groups have skirted close to sounding like this, but none have achieved the level of success Crystal Castles display here. Get it? That was almost a video game joke.

Be Your Own Pet - Get Awkward

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Be Your Own Pet - Get Awkward (Ecstatic Peace) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Based on the spasmodic singles leading up to their first album in 2006, and that album itself, I falsely assumed Be Your Own Pet was too combustible to be anything more than a one-and-done type of band. I'm eating crow now, because not only did they make a second album (despite a line-up shuffle), but it's actually a better one. Jemina Pearl Abegg fronts the band more frenzied than ever and, though I'm old enough to be her dad, I wouldn't relish being the target of her displeasure (even if she is winking at the camera).
Jason Collett - Here's to Being Here (Arts & Crafts) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Here's to Being Here is Jason Collett's third album, and the 5,279th release from a member of Broken Social Scene. Where Collett differs from his brethren (and sistren?), though, is in the laid-back approach to writing and performing that throughout the album recalls everyone from Pavement to Steve Earle. Even when the music takes a somber turn, he still goes out of his way to relax the listener with charm and charisma. Here's to Jason Collett.

Dub Trio - Another Sound is Dying

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Dub Trio - Another Sound is Dying (Ipecac) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Dub Trio's brand of dub-rock is a refreshing alternative to the normal pretentiousness of art-rock instrumental albums. Like any decent instrumental album, there is plenty of studio experimentation with complex layers, sounds, effects and sometimes wandering arrangements, but the music is never presented in a way that seems over the average listener's head. They've also included the additional bonus of a guest vocal performance on the track "No Flag" by Ipecac Recordings co-founder Mike Patton. This one flat out rocks from beginning to end.

Kaki King - Dreaming of Revenge

Kaki King - Dreaming of Revenge (Velour) [audio] [upcoming shows]

In a post-Youtube world, it was inevitable that Kaki King would need to move beyond fascinating guitar-centric circus tricks. Dreaming of Revenge finds her approach to song writing far more eclectic than usual, with a surprising number of vocal tracks that do the best with her limited range. Are there coffeehouse-ready soul-searchers? Check. Is there post-rock Paul Newman-aping? Check. Are there inconsequential instrumental tracks weighing the whole thing down? Gang, it is still a Kaki King album.
Ipso Facto - Harmonise/Balderdash 7" (Disc Error) [audio] [upcoming shows]

"Harmonise" is haunted by spectre of The Velvet Underground & Nico. It's a droning, lumbering monolith of a song that's part "Venus in Furs" and part "All Tomorrow's Parties", but never beholden to its vintage trappings. Instead, it charges forward through decades of post-punk, shoegaze and goth rock to sound almost hyper-current. Hours after you've listened to the Hammond B-3 riffs in this song, they will come back and kill you in your sleep. The b-side "Balderdash" works the same ideas to a speedier, but unfortunately lesser, effect.
Various Artists - A State of Blue (Blue State) [audio]

This compilation takes a look at the present state of music in Rhode Island and also brings back the regional stars of the past. Hardcore legends Verbal Assault contribute a live version of "On", the subjects of an upcoming documentary Neutral Nation play the Rocky Point theme and the mid-eighties brought major label alternative rock from Rash of Stabbings. Representing the present is the buzzsaw punk of Benny Sizzler, The Masons, Hope Anchor, The Brimstone Assembly and others. One hour south of Boston is a place where music has always been flourishing.
Headlights - Some Racing, Some Stopping (Polyvinyl) [audio] [upcoming shows]

From the ashes of the beloved but neglected Absinthe Blind rose Headlights, bringing with them weak EPs and an ever weaker first album. But with Some Racing, Some Stopping, the band members finally remembered that 1) they used to be in Absinthe Blind and 2) they are still on Polyvinyl. The key is that they've reconciled both into this slender album. Midway through, "On April 2" and "School Boys" cement in a 1-2 punch everything the group is suddenly capable of, and what a dazzling advancement into fully-realized pop it is!
Natasha Bedingfield - Pocketful of Sunshine (Epic) [audio] [upcoming shows]

I would love to sit down with Ms. Bedingfield's representative at Epic and, over his morning breakfast of a bowl of paint chips drowned in mercury, discuss his decision to release her latest album on January 22nd, in the heart of winter. The summer of 2006 was owned by Natasha with "Unwritten" and "These Words", and I still love blasting those with the top down. Epic has two issues with the release of this record: 1) it's still freezing out, and 2) the album kinda sucks.

Grand Buffet - King Vision

Grand Buffet - King Vision (Fighting Records) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Oh Jumpin' Juggalo Jesus, where do I begin? Okay, that's unfair. You are NOT Insane Clown Posse, but you are a painfully caucasoid rap/pop duo from a different northern industrial metro with a transparent 'tude and an awkward handle on rocking the mic. The best things about King Vision are the tracks themselves, and each would be better served by remaining a melodic, lo-fi synth-heavy instrumental. When you rap you're clumsier than Paul Barman, and when you rock you sound like Smashmouth. It's a zero sum game.

High Places - 03/07-09/07

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High Places - 03/07-09/07 (eMusic Selects) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Brooklyn group High Places is taking listeners to, uh...oh boy...high places with this eMusic compilation. Collecting two 7"'s and a smattering of comp appearances (though not their stellar contribution to Esopus magazine—time to head over to Borders, gang), this "album" sounds fairly cohesive. The ethereal beats and exotic production is charming, and the duo effortlessly taps into subconscious grooves. The hypnotic songs found here invite repeat listens, like a wonderful mystery whose solution is just barely out of grasp.

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