January 2009 Archives

Sex Vid - Communal Living

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Sex Vid - Communal Living (Dom America) [audio]

I wouldn't dare burden Sex Vid with the responsibility of meeting the standards set by Black Flag or Minor Threat way back when American hardcore was in its infancy, but this secretive and mysterious band from the rainy northwest comes really damned close. After a string of crushing singles, Communal Living marks their entry into album territory (well, if you can call 8 songs in 15 minutes an album). This is sweaty, loose, loud and blistering stuff and every second of it is flat-out brilliant.

Johnny Flynn - A Larum

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Johnny Flynn - A Larum (Lost Highway) [audio] [upcoming shows]

A Larum could pass for a modern collection of olde English folk songs, with lines like "To join the other flotsam with the ripped up queens and knaves" and instrumentation that sometimes evokes market day entertainment. Maybe it's the influence of Shakespeare (the album's title comes from his stage directions). But it's still modern—there's definitely an indie rock twist to everything. I wish there were more of his sister Lillie's sweet voice; at one point, she made me forget I was listening to a song about a hungry tramp.

Thunderheist - Sweet 16 EP

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Thunderheist - Sweet 16 EP (Big Dada) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Canadian duo Thunderheist first made a splash last summer with "Jerk It," an amateurish but extremely enjoyable single that sounds like Missy Elliott run through an indie filter. "Sweet 16" reveals a fuller sound, incorporating more vintage disco elements, and is hopefully an indicator of what their first album will be like when it's released in March. This is the kind of group it's hard to disparage, because their shortcomings take a backseat when the critic hat comes off and the music just plays.
Franz Ferdinand - Tonight: Franz Ferdinand (Epic) [audio] [upcoming shows]

For a band who seemed hopelessly trapped in a box with their sophomore album, Franz Ferdinand return recharged and vibrant with their latest. They still have a formula (groove-centric and danceable Scottish rock), but for the first time they seem heavily focused on riffs; the kind that stay in your ear for days at a time. "Twilight Omens" and "Ulysses" make great use of synths, but the rest of the album is all about the basslines (and the rhythm section in general). Saucy funk from an unlikely source.

Shirock - Everything Burns

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Shirock - Everything Burns (self released) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Everything Burns is a well-written and slickly produced album from the pop/alt-rock quintet Shirock. The strong vocal performances by Chuck and Pap Shirock contribute to this album's charm. Each is a talented enough singer to carry this album alone, but the interplay between the two is something special. The songs are well put together and can stand up to any comparison with the music of their contemporaries like OneRepublic. This is an easily likable album.
Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino) [audio] [upcoming shows]

I wouldn't be surprised to find out Noah "Panda Bear" Lennox had flexed more creative muscle here than in the past, because it's more a follow-up to his own Person Pitch than any Animal Collective release. It's exquisitely and densely melodic, with songs that wind around themselves in search of an end instead of simply arriving with no map. "Summertime Clothes," especially, makes no effort to obscure its pop song foundation. I really do like this, and I can't say that about other Animal Collective albums.

Marnie Stern - This is It...

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Marnie Stern - This is It... (Kill Rock Stars) [audio] [upcoming shows]

What Marnie Stern does to her Gisbons and Fenders is enough to make any aspiring—fuck it, established—guitarist go into the fast-food industry. She taps, she picks, she taps, she riffs, she taps, and she sings like an angelic pixie, sometimes a mile a minute in order to keep up with her busy hands. Meanwhile, Hella's Zach Hill sheds pounds trying his best to spazz out in time with her. Oh, and did I mention that for all the fancy fretboard punishment, there are 12 perfect songs here?

The New Year - S/T

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The New Year (Touch & Go) [audio] [video]

Yet another chapter of the glacier-like book the Kadane brothers have been composing since their Bedhead days. The blueprint is familiar; whispered vocals and the trademark minimalism slowly building into gentle cascades of guitar and piano scales. These end up coming at you from all angles, slowly crawling over you like a pack of spiders whacked on Valium. Prepare to reverse engineer your ears and brain, as you are programmed to work at a much faster pace than this delivers. It will get there. Did he just say orgies?

Built by Snow - Mega

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Built by Snow - Mega (self released) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Built by Snow's sound is not entirely unique, combining synth-pop sounds of bands like The Cars with alternative rock sensibility of bands like Weezer. What really stands out is just how well these catchy songs are written and performed on Mega. The band avoids the trap of releasing a formulaic album by creating diverse music with a lot of character. I find a lot of the newer pop-punk music to be rather monotonous, so hearing this enjoyable album is a refreshing surprise.

Little Death - S/T EP

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Little Death EP (self released) [audio] [upcoming shows]

If Little Death and bands like them have their way, the guitar will again become the centerpiece of indie rock. This too-brief EP resuscitates the dying half of the genre, where shambling, loud guitars run amuck all over clever pop songs—not dissimilar from '90s faves like Superchunk and Versus. "Baby, Can You Dig Your Man" even ventures cautiously into Pixies territory, and does so ably. I didn't realize I missed this stuff so much until I heard it again from a fresh voice.

A.C. Newman - Get Guilty

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A.C. Newman - Get Guilty (Matador) [audio] [upcoming shows]

As the leader of perhaps the most talented and prolific of all the Canadian "it" bands (outside of Bryan Adams), the other redheaded Alfred Cornelius Newman is so overflowing with musical output he needs to release solo records at just about the same rate as both Destroyer and Neko Case. Fans of The New Pornographers will love these songs, as they basically follow the same blueprint—no epic tracks, just charming, reverb-bathed orchestral pop that's just a little mellower than the moneymaker, plus lots of backing vocals of the female persuasion.
James Yuill - Turning Down Water for Air (Moshi Moshi) [audio] [upcoming shows]

James Yuill is a one-man Postal Service, doing both the laptop beat work of Jimmy Tamborello and the sensitive indie guy vocals of Ben Gibbard all by his lonesome. Turning Down Water for Air is surprisingly organic at its center; the songs are based on skilled and thoughtful acoustic guitars and the electronics take over only to enhance the sound. It's a curious and somewhat addictive brew. The sounds are familiar, but all the songs are new.

The Little Ones - Morning Tide

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The Little Ones - Morning Tide (Chop Shop) [audio] [upcoming shows]

There is something very Death Cabbish about The Little Ones, from the Gibbard-esque voice to the perfectly timed "whoa-ah-oh's". You may also be reminded of Jimmy Eat World or Vampire Weekend ...basically, it's nothing you haven't heard before, but it is more consistently captivating. Listening to the album in its entirety is the best way to appreciate Morning Tide, as it's surely bigger and better than the sum of its parts. It won't be long before you'll have one bouncy song after another stuck in that big dumb beautiful head of yours.
Dinosaur Pile-Up - My Rock 'N Roll 7" (Friends vs. Records) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Remember that all-too-brief period in the '90s when grunge had died down, before anything else really stepped in to take its place, and these bands like Weezer and Nerf Herder had free reign to make poppy, crunchy quasi-rock music with no agenda? Dinosaur Pile-Up does, and this debut single is dripping with nostalgia. "My Rock 'N Roll" is all fuzz pedals and crash cymbals, while b-side "Love is a Boat" is a little more introverted but no less fun. Eight minutes of win.

Various Artists - Sub Pop 300

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Various Artists - Sub Pop 300 (Mojo)

Twenty years after Sub Pop 200, Mojo continues the series with a reflection of all things Sub Pop. It begins with classics from Green River and Mudhoney, then shifts to oft-overlooked '90s bands like Tad and The Afghan Whigs. Then it goes crazy, making a bee-line for today's hit-makers Iron & Wine, The Postal Service (you'll NEVER guess which song!) and The Shins. With twenty-five minutes of unused disc space, it seems loopy to leave out Beat Happening, Soundgarden, Hazel, Nirvana, Dwarves...etc...etc...etc...

Thieves Like Us - Play Music

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Thieves Like Us - Play Music (Sea You) [audio] [upcoming shows]

Comprised of material that's been floating about since 2006, Play Music is the first official LP by the well-traveled Thieves Like Us. So adept at songwriting are Thieves Like Us that they create an impressionistic brand of electronic pop, where what's presented is minimal enough to allow the listener to layer imagined elements as the songs play. "Your Heart Feels" and "Drugs in My Body" are the most fully realized, but all nine others will pull you in when least expected.

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This page is an archive of entries from January 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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