Archive for the ‘Record Reviews’ Category

Shark?

April 11, 2011
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Hip Hop Hooray/You Don’t Love Me

[Oops Baby Records]

By Chris Brunelle » Shark? have released a slew of excellent digital EP’s over the last few years and have finally taken their garage pop to its rightful format of vinyl. Shark? kick ass. The songs are strongly written and effortlessly delivered. The vocals soar with unique character over a band that rocks in service of the greater good. There’s no bullshit.

A-side “Hip Hop Hooray” draws you in before you even drop the needle. Is this a Naughty By Nature cover? If not, what would a rock song sound like with that title? This gem starts with gnarly chord riff then leads into the grand full-band entrance as a snake charmer of a guitar line entrances, the bass rips under the bellow like a speedboat cutting through turbulent surf, and the drums rumble insistent on getting you out of your seat. Then Kevin Diamond modestly unleashes his vocal prowess. This guy can sing. His voice is full and strong while having that tinge of something a little strange and alien that sets it apart from your average bro crooner.

The B-side competes with the A-side. It may even beat it. If the A-side finds Diamond urging his love interest to own up to their feelings and run away with him, side B shows our hero accepting she’s lost that loving feeling. He plainly mulls over the relationship carnage with muted power. We’ve all been there, and Diamond paints it simply and perfectly. It’s understated yet speaks the whole story.

“Paramour” finds the band lying back during the verses, allowing the vocal to meditate over a propulsive rhythm section. The choruses explode with instrumental interplay. As the song closes, Diamond shows his bird can sing as he unleashes the true power of a howl, belting, “See me hidden in the shadows!” The hair on your forearms salute. Buy a copy of this very limited run before they’re all gone.

Originally published here.

Swans

October 15, 2010
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My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky

[Young Gods]

Swans never do what you’d expect. They are a band of sonic liberation. They’re unshackled from the rest of the music world and even from themselves. They don’t stick to a sound or style, as is the case on their latest effort, My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky. They embrace brash, violent, and heavy tonalities. They attack their music like it’s their enemy, like it’s the world around them for which they seem to have such disdain. But like any good paradox, with their music, they also find solace. There are many gentle numbers on this record that hold the same equilibrium of passion and worldly disdain.

The nakedness of the instrumentation on the softer songs yields to the vocals and lyrics, which ultimately give Michael Gira’s sentiments a more immediate, direct power. Indeed, My Father Will Guide Me… includes many pieces written within a traditional structure that at their core recall some variant of the Nick Cave songbook.

The album opens with “No Words/No Thoughts”, with chimes beautifully clanging like the dawn. Epic power sludge interrupts, conjuring the primordial soundtrack to the world’s birth. As the heavy-osity dissipates, the verse pulses and builds and slowly returns to power drenched heights. “Reeling The Liars In” plays like a Woody Guthrie campfire sing-a-long with near religious solemnity, while Michael Gira ringing out like a march to the gallows on judgment day for sinners of the tongue. “You Fucking People Make Me Sick” centers on the interplay of dulcimer and call and response vocals between Gira and the voice of a child, which mixes with haunting effect.

The closer, “Little Mouth”, plays like a sea shanty. The whimsical sway of the tide that drives the tune is a proper send-off for Swans, and reminds us that their journey is a tumultuous one.

 

Originally published in Impose Magazine.

TV Baby

October 5, 2010
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S/T Book and CD

OHWOW

TV Baby is the latest project from A.R.E. Weapons founding members and mainstays, Matt Mcauley and Brain McPeck. Despite having the exact same line-up and a shared instrumental sensibility, TV Baby and A.R.E. Weapons are very different projects. In the Weapons, McPeck leads vocally and with TV Baby, Mcauley takes the microphone reigns. A.R.E. Weapons vocals are often spoken or shouted, at times aggressively. With TV Baby, vocals follow a more traditional pop structure with melodic lines and words that are more lyrical, less matter of fact. T

So where McPeck may go aggro, Mcauley turns his darkness inward. He corrals a mix of careless positivity and a self-deprecating bad attitude that resonates a strong emotional chord in the gut. Matt Mcauley spits out some of the most engaging rock vocals in years, as his delivery careens effortlessly between intense, modest, heartfelt, icy, mellow, and charmingly flippant. Below Mcauley’s bountiful bellow, vintage drum machine tones sizzle with crispy and smooth propulsion. Thick buzzing synths and guitars that fly all over the map of sonic possibilities fill in the energetic musical meat.

When A.R.E. Weapons hit the scene back in the early 2000’s, they were considered part of the latest incarnation of the No Wave movement along with the Liars and the tri-Yeahs. With TV Baby, Mcauley and McPeck play with a sonic passion steeped in No Wave’s downtown history with hints of Suicide peaking through. In keeping with this history, the TV Baby album is part of an art book whose long list of visual contributors includes Jim Jarmusch and Alan Vega. Such a presentation emphasizes the importance of not only the effect of the art movement on No Wave, but also the creative perspective that is simpatico between these visual and audio artists. The book is full of television and TV Baby inspired art. The images deliver a queer and haunting effect, suggesting that the influence of television and pop culture touches all of us, but connects with many in a peculiar way. (We are affected by it and can’t escape it. When we are home alone it is our friend, even if we don’t enjoy what we end up watching.)

The book doesn’t overtly criticize television, it just explores the peculiar nature that comes from a world that is so connected and affected by an electronic device that primarily is used to entertain and sell stuff. The book and the album could easily stand separate but the resulting experience is much different. Together, you sense a reluctant celebration of what influences us. You may hear music influences in the music and it feels simultaneously celebrated and helplessly indifferent in the most captivating of ways.

The TV Baby album is a rare moment where a side project rivals the main project. Maybe the “side” effect has liberated all pressure for Mcauley and McPeck and allowed this excellent swirling mix of effortless and exuberant creativity to flow forth. TV Baby possesses the rare combination of a child-like playful creativity with the skill and fortitude of musicians who can deftly maneuver vocally and instrumentally wherever they like.


Originally published in Impose Magazine.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

August 12, 2010
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Say No To Love
[Slumberland Records]

The Pains have taken the tender idealism of teenage years spent in bedroom seclusion to the studio, the stage, and the world, for all shy outsiders and lonely types to hear, and that makes “Say No To Love” a quintessential message from a band that seems so happy to be sad.

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart are descendants in a long lineage of twee, shoegaze, indie-pop, college rock. They’ve broken through with a sound that’s bi-passed the margins of zine culture and late night college radio programs where many of their closest aural ancestors always remained. In that sense, they’ve expanded the culture, reinvigorated it, in part thanks to the internet’s ability to connect those shy and sensitive types who find The Pains’ music to be a warm pillow in a cold world.

Like moments on their debut full-length, “Lost Saint” delves into references of subtle Christianity. This is not a story of a teenager in love with Christ in heaven, but of Saint Heloise who experiences inner grief from family, school, and strangers. Kip Berman delivers his laments with the same fey whisper, behind that wall of lush power drenched pop, advising, “Wound him with impassive eyes, he knows his wasted life.”

“Say No To Love” is infectiously tuneful. Lyrically, it plays like a letter to a friend in a bad relationship with tenderness and suggestions of hope. Berman sings, “When everything he does is wrong, and all you want to feel is ‘gone,’ go on.” The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart may be the name of the band, but it could easily describe the arcs of the characters in Berman’s stories. It’s also the sentiment that draws in his like-minded audiences.

Originally published in Impose Magazine it can be viewed here.

Tender Trap

July 21, 2010

Dansette Dansette

Slumberland

Amelia Fletcher is as key a figure in Twee as Stuart Murdoch or Rose Melberg.  She’s had a series of bands like Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, Marine Research, and currently Tender Trap that all share similar sounds and sensibilities.  On the third LP from Tender Trap, Dansette Dansette, Amelia Fletcher and company bring another collection of infectious summery pop that is simultaneously cheerful and cheeky.  Like many of the Twee greats, below the gentle and precious veneer lays a sharp wit and fearless honesty.  On “Do You Want A Boyfriend,” Tender Trap question and answer, “Does he have to please you? Psychologically.  Does he have to tease you?  Gynecologically.”

Fletcher sings from the heart, frequently employing a playful and humorous brand of laid-back feminism.  She focuses her lyrical lens primarily on relationships and love. “Counting The Hours” stands out with whimsical nostalgia and reverb-rich atmosphere as Fletcher remembers the daily process of pining away after a meaningful love connection.  She recounts every step of romantic preoccupation so purely and effectively.  On “Fireworks,” Fletcher is once again lamenting unrequited love while deftly finessing a play on words with the chorus, “I should have know better than to play with fireworks.” Tender Trap is a modern update on Spector-era girl groups, neutralizing the helpless spirit of catering to the male that dominates the perspective of most of those oldies classics.  Like the character Bridget Jones, Fletcher’s got a lot of hearts and smarts but isn’t afraid to take the piss (in a delightful British accent of course).

Fletcher is an elder stateswoman in Indie Pop and Twee that has created a musical legacy that newer acts like The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Architecture In Helsinki, and the All Girl Summer Fun Band are all taking cues from whether they know it or not.  The importance of her perspective can’t be underrated.  Starting in the mid-1980s, she was singing and sharing feelings very matter of fact and direct in a way that reflects how people might talk to their friends.  It was an uncommon style of expression that was unpretentious and simultaneously meaningful.  She cut through the crap and delivered it with her sweet vocal charm and infectious melodic pop.  Things haven’t changed much and that’s probably a good thing.  It’s why we listen to her.  The Tender Trap project is serving her well with more multi-vocal interplay from her other lady band mates and solid jangley indie-pop instrumentation.  Many Twee-heads may never see anything she does in as high regard as Talulah Gosh or Heavenly, but they won’t be disappointed either.

Leeni

May 30, 2010

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8-Bit Heart

Leeni’s music takes you into another dimension, perhaps one with only two dimensions, depending where your video nostalgia begins and the real world ends. Leeni’s 8-bit world is so believable that you’d swear you were listening to Princess Peach crooning into a 4-track and awaiting the valiant Mario and Luigi. Of course, she’s not just a princess helplessly pining away, she’s writing in her diary and playing records in her room that’s decorated with New Order and Shangri-La’s posters.

The 8-bit sounds are grade school kitsch and are an unusual counterpoint to Leeni’s soulful, gentle, airy, and even mystical voice. Her words, though, are straightforward, thoughtful, heartfelt, and clever. “Raw Footage” is a bouncy, romantic tale that switches between first and third person. It’s as transitioning between dreams and reality are a conduit to a higher state, as if bliss can be achieved with a combination of both dimensions.

One of the many charming lyrics pleas, “Why can’t life be edited down and set to music?” “Perfection Interrupted” also uses film metaphors but this time to sing of someone’s shortcomings. It furthers the effect that Leeni truly lives in an 8-bit world, seeing her process human qualities in metaphors that never step outside of a television.

Leeni could do one show at Comic Con and start a cult with the fervor of Trekies, but she’d probably prefer the local coffee shop or record convention. Who thinks about fans and success when you’re trapped inside a two dimensional castle?

Originally published in Impose Magazine it can be view here.

Club 8

May 30, 2010

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Labrador Records

How wonderful it is for a band that is already really good to get even better.

Club 8 is a Swedish duo consisting of Karolina Komstedt and Johan Angergård, who’ve been releasing albums since 1995. Their music typically blends the whimsy of Swedish pop, the intimacy of twee, the sweetness of bubblegum, the personal lyricism that could give Stuart Murdoch and Morrissey a run for their money, and the strong hooks to match.

Despite the quality and consistency, they’ve seemed to allude grabbing any significant attention from the States. Maybe that’s because they refused touring and interviews. Their seventh full-length release, The People’s Record, takes their sound and songwriting a step further with an emphasis on percussion. This album is by far their most danceable, utilizing syncopation and driving beats that suggest influences from Latin and African music.

It is no coincidence that this is their first record Johan didn’t produce. Enlisting the help of Jari Haapalainen in the control room, they sought inspiration with a trip to Brazil and built up a record collection of 1970s Western African classics. To flesh out their new direction, the teamed up with percussionist, Jouni Haapala, a fellow Nordic musician whose spent time learning the heart of the beats on a spell in Cuba.

To balance all these cheerful aesthetics, Club 8’s lyrical tendencies still veer down the paths of dour and forlorn. With titles like, “Dancing with the Mentally Ill,” “My Pessimistic Heart,” “Be Mad, Get Ill, Be Still,” and “We’re All Going to Die,” Club 8 may be taking their tunes to the discothèques, but they haven’t checked their problems at the door. They are in fact celebrating these dark feelings, which very well may be the mark of maturity that has guided their artistic progression so effectively.


Originally published in Impose Magazine it can be view here.

Takka Takka

May 18, 2010

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Ernest Jennings Recordings

Although they inhabit the indie-rock world, Takka Takka have developed even stronger cues from both electronica and world-music since their first, indie and blues-based album, We Feel Safer At Night. With titles like “Monkey Forest Road,” “Lion In The Waves,” and “You and Universe,” these guys seem to have a (somewhat ironic?) fascination and respect for the power of the natural world that is further reflected in their sound. Likewise, the tracks build organically, whether they’re employing a guitar or a synthesized drum. The songs are heartfelt but not boastful, emotional yet muted.

Generally, there’s a grab for “atmospheric”, though the band’s dueling guitars battle out a contrast between pretty and dissonant under the ongoing swell, while the moments of melodic disruption are given enough breathing room in tempo and dynamic range to fully revel in their tonal tension. Takka Takka break the solid rhythm section groove occasionally like on “Lion In The Waves”, which consists of bare acoustic strumming and a haunting vocal that moves from his usual, straightforward delivery into a, dizzying, double-tracked delay that eventually recedes back into the sparse and simple. The effect is powerful yet understated.

Another mellow beauty is “Change No Change”, a track with gentle restraint that threatens to flare into a full on beat-driven peak but never does, as anticipation adds to suspense and the song simmers. It’s not their restraint that’s surprising, so much as the elements they use to keep their album on cruise control. Ultimately, this is a very different band. With Migration, Takka Takka have moved from the obvious trailmarkers of the Velvet Underground and Bob Dylan mixed with their early 90 fetishism of indie rock towards hypnotic songs that draw as much from “tropical” and “jungle” nuances as they do from a krautier, chunkier sort of rhythm. We’ll never know if these changes are natural, or trend-biting. Either way, the new Takka Takka is far removed from its past, less an indie buzz band under the wings of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, then something subtler, more mellow; it’s an atmosphere that might be one part Vampire Weekend, or two parts Yeasayer, but while those are still barnstormer bands of sorts, Takka Takka matches the effect of a satisfying day alone indoors with the faint sound of rain falling beyond the windows.

Originally published in Impose Magazine it can be view here.

Mirah “The Old Days Feeling”

May 18, 2010

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K Records

The Old Days Feeling retains that tender personal bedroom quality of her previous work that seems to mark all K artists in some way, and Mirah in particular. Mirah also retains her songwriting strength while widening her sonic palette.

“Slighted” dresses up a melancholy message with vintage reggae instrumentation. Like the old rhythm and blues sound of early Desmond Dekker and Toots, Mirah flexes the Jah muscle with ease and authenticity. “Don’t” brings the Phil Spector girl-group feel to the Dub Narcotic studio style and is the most obvious “hit” sounding track on the record. It’s the kind of song that’ll have you hopping on your vintage bike to trek down to the diner for a milkshake. “Don’t Go” kicks in heavier than we’re used to hearing Mirah, employing a power drenched chord ascension. It then transitions to the more familiar tender tone of a romantic plea that makes the case that her love is in danger of faltering when they’re not together.

It’s the only entrance of a truly heavy track. “Lone Star” uses Texan metaphors to describe the size and impact of the story’s muse in a mythic and tragic way. The clamoring refrain is infectious and seems to be in the tradition of songs like “Gigantic”.

Mirah’s songs put sexuality, love, confusion, and emotional gentility constantly side-by-side. She translates the complexity of any situation with ease and reminds you how much deeper a person’s feelings run than most art. She also explores sexuality not only from the point of experience but also culturally and socially, bravely putting herself in different shoes to see what it’s like. Like many great K artists, Mirah can weave a near-nursery rhyme with subversive sonic power and modern adult issues while retaining the sting of simplicity. She has the ability to make you truly feel like no other record you have could ever be as honest as this one.

Originally published in Impose Magazine it can be view here.

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.