Archive for April, 2010

Sally Seltmann

April 28, 2010
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Sally Seltman , Heart That’s Pounding [Arts & Crafts]

“I wear my heart on my sleeve, I used to loose it on the breeze,” muses singer-songwriter Sally Seltmann on “I Tossed A Coin”.  Seltmann’s lyrics play like entries in her diary, gently evoking the spirit of a coffee house or poetry reading above warm and whimsical instrumentation that serves mainly as background.

Seltmann has a long pre-history leading up to this release. She co-wrote the hit “1234” performed by Feist and later the Muppets.  That’s when she went by the moniker New Buffalo, which leaned towards atmosphere-laden shoe-gaze. Not what you hear on Heart That’s Pounding, which has replaced her past with a direct, traditional kind of light pop-rock that you might hear in a feel-good romantic comedy.

Hailing from Australia, she enlists the producing talents of Francois Tetaz who has worked with the likes of Architecture In Helsinki and Lior. “Harmony To My Heartbeat” is the lead off single, with a humble verse that builds to a piano driven chorus anthem.  On “Set Me Free,” Seltman dreams of love over a show tune inspired piano march that plays like a gay parade of yesteryear.

Heart That’s Pounding is full of summery tones, emotional honesty, and optimism. In the title track, Sally sings “I want to feel a heart that’s pounding, I want to hear a beat that’s sounding, bigger than a leap that’s bounding, I was lost but now you found me.” She wants a world full of life, feeling, and ultimately love. Some may find Seltmann cheesy and sentimental. It certainly far too cleanly produced to have anything to do with current trends towards what’s considered “summery”.  Save her for a sunny spring day, anyway.

Originally published in Impose Magazine.

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The Evens

April 6, 2010

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Get Evens

Dischord

Ian McKaye is a very thoughtful man.  Because of this, I believe the aesthetics of his various projects are more intentional than other artists. I admit, if Mckaye wasn’t involved, I might not re-listen to this disc.  The godfather of indie-cred forces me to give it a second chance.  On repeated listen, a truly engaging effort emerges.  The Evens consist of Mckaye and current cohort Amy Farina.  This team continues the current trend that being a two-piece outfit is truly where it’s at.  We see McKaye in a context different from anything he’s done.  I attribute this to Farina.  As a collaborator, she balances and challenges him, and thus breaks him down into new ground.  McKaye’s left behind any sign of what he’s known for (except his voice) for an album that brims with easy-going confidence in a more light-hearted effort than we’re used to.  Get Evens is also a more classically pop oriented effort than anything McKaye’s done.  The instrumentation is stripped down.  Kind of like early Billy Bragg guitar without the reverb and played with very cleanly recorded drums. The tag-team vocals are harmonious, subtly soulful, and friendlier than Fugazi.  On “You Fell Down,” The Evens concoct a salty/sweet dish mixing a catchy tune with a story of disappointment.  “Pushed Against The Wall,” Farina leads us through a similarly themed song, about a protagonist facing challenges as they expel mistake-ridden effort.  “No Money” discussing losing control of “the bottom line.”  It’s a song lyrically told in strict financial terms, yet it can be easily interpreted in numerous figurative ways.  “All You Find You Keep” looms in a moodier direction describing, “Inspection of all transactions, erections for our protection, what more can we give you, you must be insane.”  It then refrains “you must be insane” soft and sweetly. On the title track, “Get Even,” they charm us with pop-hooks, a quicker tempo, and a slightly more rockin’ feel.  Get Evens is true DIY, with Farina and Mckaye splitting all performing, writing, and recording duties.  It might not appeal to the quintessential McKaye fan, yet anyone who can appreciate anything with the feel of a K Records release will enjoy the charms of this record.

Originally published in Impose Magazine.

The Broken West

April 6, 2010

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I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On

Merge

The Broken West sure seem like they make good music.  I’m not sure if I’m entirely convinced yet.  The response to this record has been fairly warm from what I can gather thus far, yet it doesn’t grab me.  The moments I enjoy the most on the record remind me too much of the songs and bands they were influenced by that I question whether they are actually direct quotes from those songs. “Down In The Valley” recalls Carl Newman while adding a dash of the heartland into the mix, yet fails to live up to the influence I’m hearing. The Broken West churns out a blend of laid-back power-pop that is heavily routed with country-rock and Americana.  Big Star is the strongest influence throughout each song, yet I can’t picture someone like Paul Westerberg to be inspired to pen a tune about one the Broken West boys. I will give the keyboard player his due.  With a tone that can be warm and overdriven or lushly delicate, Scott Claasen’s key work balances what is otherwise a fairly generic sound that has worn it’s heels down on many records before.  One highlight for me is the ethereal “Baby On My Arm.”   The closing number, “Like A Light”, meanders gently while continually hinting at the possibility of rocking out.  When the band finally kicks in, I’m disappointed in the payoff.  It’s a trick many bands employ to prove their intensity but these guys are just too tame and predictable to convince me they really feel it.   I could see many people out there really liking this record.  I’m just not one of them.