November 2008 Archives

Songs - EP

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Songs EP (Popfrenzy) [audio] [upcoming shows]

The kick-off track "KC's in Trouble" is the finest two and a half minutes of bouncing indie-pop I've heard in longer than I care to remember. In fact, this all-too-brief ep from Australia's Songs seems at odds with lots of modern-day music. There are no weird Turkish instruments or ironic samples or looped beats; just guitars and drums and bass and straightforward vocals creating songs (wise move on that band name, then). Like fellow southern hemisphere greats The Chills or The Go-Betweens, Songs are doing everything right.

Maximilian Hecker - One Day

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Maximilian Hecker - One Day (Pastel Music) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Since Infinite Love Songs was released in 2001, poor Maximilian Hecker has been chasing his tail trying to live up to what was a spectacular debut. He continues working in pretty much the same vein—hushed vocals and relaxed soft-rock arrangements—but without ever again reaching that high mark. One Day, his fifth album, is unfortunately just another missed opportunity to reinvent himself, because now he's tumbling ever closer to the antiseptic adult-contempo hell he astutely dodged early on.
Death Vessel - Nothing is Precious Enough for Us (Sub Pop) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Joel Thibodeau, alias Death Vessel, has one of the most haunting, beautiful voices in today's folk scene. He brings his unique and mysterious arrangements to life on Nothing is Precious Enough for Us, his second full length produced by the ever-talented Pete Donnelly. At times his music is fun and poppy, at others slow and mournful. Together his songs create an overwhelmingly enchanting, lovely, and peculiar atmosphere that makes this album one of the best of 2008.

Guns N' Roses - Chinese Democracy

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Guns N' Roses - Chinese Democracy (Interscope) [audio]

After hearing the title track from Chinese Democracy, I was hopeful that this album might live up to the hype. Instead, the bulk of the album is mired in over-produced unapologetically long songs with somewhat sterile arrangements and musicianship. Axl Rose's vocal performance sounds great but fails to make up for the constipated arrangements. The funky song "If the World" is one of the more likable tracks, though it oddly sounds a bit like Jamiroquai. I wanted Appetite for Destruction, not Travelling Without Moving.

Guns N' Roses - Chinese Democracy

Guns N' Roses - Chinese Democracy (Interscope) [audio]

I really wish this day had never come, to be honest. Chinese Democracy was a much better album when it was still the music playing in Axl's head and none of the rest of us had heard it. But as it is, Chinese Democracy is an audio diary of what he's been doing since way back when and little more. Nothing here was worth waiting a year for, much less 17 of them. Furthermore, Guns N' Roses without Slash, Duff and Izzy is not really Guns N' Roses at all. It's something else. Something very bad.

The Rosebuds - Life Like

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The Rosebuds - Life Like (Merge) [audio] [upcoming shows]

The Rosebuds' sound is initially one of monotony, yet there is an inscrutable quality to their dreamy indie rock that reels you in and demands repeated listens. For Life Like, it's these repeated exposures that are necessary in order to bring out all the textures that the duo's fourth album has to offer. The bouncy square-dance feel of "Bow to the Middle", the post-punk synth of "Border Guards", and the folky campfire singalong feel of "Nice Fox" blend together to make a truly enjoyable album.
Unbunny - Sensory Underload: Uncertain Tracks 1996-2008 (Hidden Agenda) [audio] [upcoming shows]

This collection of rare and unreleased recordings featuring acoustic, lo-fi arrangements and fragile double-tracked vocals in the vein of Daniel Johnston or Doug Martsch. This amount of self loathing hasn't been heard since the suicide days of Lou Barlow. Still a fraud, a fake, self absorbed, can't be trusted, way off track, gave chances back, scared, quick to judge, slow to change—and that's just one song. Shit, dude. Sit back and take a sip out of your pimp cup, because these are great songs.

Bohren & Der Club of Gore - Dolores

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Bohren & Der Club of Gore - Dolores (Ipecac) [audio] [upcoming shows]

At its core Dolores is a dark and brooding jazz album infused with elements of ambient and electronic music. Moving at a slow and purposeful pace, the music has a simple yet elegant beauty. This is a great album to listen to while sitting on a leather chair in a darkened room and drinking a glass of single malt. The music hangs in the air like smoke that is waiting to enlighten you, or to snuff you out.

Palodine - Garden of Deceit

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Palodine - Garden of Deceit (Tarnished) [audio] [upcoming shows]

I should have lined this up to run on Halloween. Palomine has followed up their debut with another round of spooky gothic indie folk. You've got scars, graves, Cain running amok, and drowned bodies "floating naked and bloated." Yippee! Katrina Whitney's hypnotic voice, against layers of Michael Aryn's ominous guitars, conjures the atmosphere of an Edgar Allen Poe story. They'd do well on a double bill with The National Lights.
The Decemberists - Always the Bridesmaid: A Singles Series (self released) [audio] [upcoming shows]

The Decemberists are getting better with age, and it's the new material that is sounding more young and fun than ever before. In a three-part singles series, the gang is still offering their trademark melancholy beauty on songs like "Record Year" and "Raincoat Song", but also including a handful of dancey tunes like "Days of Elaine" and a version of The Velvet Underground's "I'm Sticking With You". The standout track might be "Valerie Plame", a song for the outed spy that's potentially as catchy as "16 Military Wives".

Kasms - Taxidermy 7"

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Kasms - Taxidermy 7" (Trouble) [audio] [upcoming shows]

If this were any hotter, the vinyl it's pressed on would liquify. "Taxidermy" pulls in equal measure from the uninhibited, paint-peeling wail of Bikini Kill and the menace of early Siouxsie & The Banshees—doom and gloom at its essence. "Elevator" and "Siren Sister" are likewise dark in nature, but dispense with the punk and aim at the "post" in post-punk. What Kasms would do with an entire LP remains to be seen, but this single indicates very good things are to come.
Various Artists - Rachel Getting Married Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Lakeshore) [audio]

I can only imagine how the music might be used in the story without having seen the movie, but it's an eclectic mix; many incidentals anchored by more complete songs, evenly splitting the running order. Robyn Hitchcock's two new originals rank with the best of his recent work. Sister Carol East provides a reggae bounce with "Dread Natty Congo". The best thing here, though, is the opener. TV on the Radio's Tunde Adibimpe (also a cast member) sings Neil Young's "Unknown Legend" a cappella, and it gives me a shiver.

Tunnels to Holland - EP

Tunnels to Holland EP (self released) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Listening to the self-titled EP from New Jersey band Tunnels to Holland is like going on a journey. Their style is like a roadmap of everything that is great about American rock & roll music. This stuff just oozes cool. Comparisons can be made to the music of The Doors, but listen more closely to hear inspiration from Tom Waits, Lou Reed, and more. But don't be fooled into thinking this is some sort of retro trip. This band is taking you somewhere new.

Dar Williams - Promised Land

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Dar Williams - Promised Land (Razor & Tie) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Dar Williams' music is a peaceful explosion of melodic folk americana. She has mastered melody with her alluring voice and continues over the years to entertain with her thoughtful lyrics. Dar's songs are like charming mini-stories, exploring topics such as relationships, aging, and the ups and downs of human nature while encouraging you to hum along. In "Buzzer", Dar draws parallels between daily life and a social psychology experiment of obedience and authority, and simultaneously delivers one of the catchiest melodies of the fall.

Ralph Myerz - Ralphorama!

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Ralph Myerz - Ralphorama! (Beatservice) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Ralphorama! reaches a height often unparalleled; a hip-hop/space age funk/disco tour de force that rolls on for an amazing twenty tracks without ever once spreading itself thin. Producer Ralph Myerz cooks beats thick and extraordinarily musical. But like most producer/performer albums, it's all about the cameos—and there are more cameos on Ralphorama! than a Jay-Z & Beyoncé Christmas Special. Notably, Devin the Dude and Talib Kweli deliver while Karin Park's Björk-like performance steals the show.

Peter Bjorn and John - Seaside Rock

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Peter Bjorn and John - Seaside Rock (Almost Gold) [audio] [upcoming shows]

This is one of those things that bands do. It's fine for jazz musicians, but why do indie rock bands even bother? I assume even good bands make mistakes. Mercury Rev did it this year with Strange Attractor. Is there a market for this? Can diehard fans, even impassioned geeky music snobs, honestly claim to give these albums repeated listens? Is it the band's initial concept for the album, or just a convenient packaging of scrapped and unfinished material? Why, oh why, do good rock bands put out instrumental albums?
Juliana Hatfield - How to Walk Away (Ye Olde Records) [audio] [upcoming shows]

The first time I ever heard Juliana Hatfield was in 1990, when a friend put "Cesspool" on a mixtape she made. Cut to 18 years later, and I'm hearing How to Walk Away. I never expected to be floored by another Juliana Hatfield album after a long (long) string of releases ranging from, at best, ambitious to, at worst, uninspired. But the whole of How to Walk Away just has a natural, effortless easiness about it, much like her earliest work—except now there's some hard-earned wisdom behind it all.
Two Cow Garage - Speaking in Cursive (Suburban Home) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Picking up where 2006's III left off, the Ohio band continues their rock n' roll manifesto which includes: writing great songs, putting out great records, and being one of the best live bands working today. The songs on Speaking in Cursive are heavily influenced from 70's rock, while still keeping that Two Cow sound. Stand out tracks include "Bastards and Bridesmaids", "Swing Set Assassin", "Glass City", "Your Humble Narrator", and "Sadie Mae". Unfortunately for TCG, they're the best kept secret in rock.
The Morning Paper - It's Getting Clearer (Skipping Stones) [audio]

Musically, The Morning Paper are more than capable of putting together gauzy, lighter than air songs with key shifts and chord changes that may induce goosebumps. Atmosphere-rich synths and heavy reverb make these eight rather simple, yet effectively direct, songs sound a lot larger than they actually are. The only weak link here is David Kyhlberg's voice, which needs more improvement than any amount of studio trickery can conceal. Comparable in most ways to M83's Saturdays=Youth, but with one unfortunate flaw.
Emmylou Harris - All I Intended to Be (Nonesuch) [audio] [upcoming shows]

From her early duets with Gram Parsons through her groundbreaking Wrecking Ball album and even now, Emmylou Harris has always granted her words a home within the most crystalline voice in American music. The songwriting quality sometimes ebbs and flows from album to album, but All I Intended to Be is exceptional in mood, atmosphere and a warm melancholy that doesn't beg, but rather demands repeat listens.
Jesus H. Christ & The Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse - Happier Than You (self released) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Imagine that Sarah Silverman never decided that saying "fuck" and shocking people was clever, and it actually made her funnier. And then while working on Mr. Show, Jack Black played her a Tenacious D demo and she decided to steal the idea and rework it as horn-laden power pop. That's basically what we've got here, and it is fantastic. Any album that teaches me a new song to sing for my 2 year-old, including the lyric "Like an anorexic needs self-esteem/you gotta have a dream" ...well, that's a winner.

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This page is an archive of entries from November 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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