Thursday, May 29, 2008

"Burn After Reading" Redband Trailer

The Coen Brothers have a tendency to follow-up their "serious" films with lighter fare such as Raising Arizona, The Big Lebowski and Intolerable Cruelty. They're obviously taking a similar route with Burn After Reading, their highly anticipated follow-up to last year's Oscar winning No Country for Old Men. Based on the trailer alone, this looks like it may be their best straight comedy in nearly a decade, though trailers can be deceiving (The Ladykillers looked rather promising as I recall, and we all know how that turned out). If nothing else, this redband trailer is rather hilarious.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Love - Forever Changes (Collector's Edition) (*****)

Love's 1967 masterpiece Forever Changes was reissued once before back in 2001, which at the time actually saved the record from woeful obscurity. So it's true, a new edition of Forever Changes in 2008 wasn't really necessary - I would have much preferred a wider release for last year's limited edition Blue Thumb Recordings or maybe their early records - yet any reason to highlight and revisit one of the best records in existence is reason enough to celebrate it's continued availability. There's no real reason to get into any song specifics here, as every one of the original record's 11 tracks is a fully formed classic from first note to last. As far as I'm concerned, only two records from the era - Pet Sounds & Revolver - can claim superiority to Arthur Lee's paranoid psych-pop masterpiece.

If for some reason you've never experienced Forever Changes though, this is the edition to buy. For one thing, the original album is relegated to a single disc, excised of the bonus tracks that padded out the 2001 edition's single disc. Each of those tracks (save one) however - which include outtakes, alternate versions and tracking sessions - are thankfully preserved on this Collector's Edition's 2nd disc, along with the entire record in an alternate mix. There are only a couple of new tracks differentiating the two editions though, so in reality, if you own the 2001 version this Collector's Edition is ultimately unnecessary, unless of course the deluxe packaging and new liner notes are enticing enough to warrant a re-purchase. For everyone else though, this is the definitive edition of one of the greatest pop records of all time.

"Alone Again Or"

"The Red Telephone"

"Maybe the People Would Be The Times or Between Clark and Hilldale"

"You Set the Scene"

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


L.A. noise mavens HEALTH, in a nice companion piece to their strong 2007 self-titled debut, reemerge here with an epic remix album featuring a number of leading lights from amongst the blog-house underground. Unsurprisingly, HEALTH's best song (and one of Stereo Sanctity's '07 favorites), "Triceratops", is re-worked here 3 times, twice by Acid Girls and once by CFCF, all of which more or less rule. The Crystal Castles & Pictureplane remixes of "Crimewave" & "Lost Time" have each been floating around the web for a minute now, the former still managing to stand out amidst a number of highlights collected here. Pink Skulls and Thrust Lab also contribute.

HEALTH//DISCO is augmented in both CD and digital form by an enhanced DISCO+ section, which features 5 more remixes by the likes of Toxic Avenger and Lovely Chords. Ending this little bonus section though is an absolutely insane Captain Ahab mash-up of a number of HEALTH's highlights with Foot Village's mind-numbing "Protective Nourishment". Very good stuff.

Highlights: "Lost Time" (Pictureplane Remix), "Crimewave" (Crystal Castles Remix), "Heaven" (Pink Skulls Remix), "The Power of Health" (Captain Ahab Remix)

RIYL: Rebore Vol. 0: Vision Recreation, Crystal Castles, Justice, Simian Mobile Disco

"Lost Time" (Pictureplane Remix)

"Heaven" (Narctrax Remix)

"Perfect Skin" (Curses! Remix)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

"The Class" Wins the Palm D'or

In a typically out of nowhere win, France's The Class has taken top honors at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Many felt the race was down to Steven Soderbergh's 4-hour Che rough-cut, Clint Eastwood's The Exchange (formerly Changeling) or Three Monkeys, the latter of which ended up taking home the directing prize for Turkish-born director Nuri Bilge Ceylan.

Unsurprisingly, top acting honors went to Benicio Del Toro (above) for his portrayal of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara in the aforementioned Che (no word yet on whether Soderbergh is going to split the films in two like originally intended). He looks to be on his way to a sure Oscar nod. However, as much as I love Cannes, the top winners usually don't translate over to Oscar success. Last year's Palm D'or winner, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, barely made a dent anywhere outside of critics, while Gus Van Sant's great Paranoid Park, the winner of the '07 60th Anniversary Prize, had a small U.S. run of mild acclaim earlier this year.

Here's the list of this year's top winners:

Palm D'or:
The Class, directed by Laurent Cantet

Grand Prize:
Gommorah, directed by Matteo Garrone

Best Director:
Nuri Bilge Ceylan for Three Monkeys

Best Actor:
Benicio Del Toro for Che

Best Actress:
Sandra Corveloni for Linha de Passe

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Trailer

Here's our first look at David Fincher's wildly anticipated new film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton. Quality kinda sucks and it is in Spanish, but the visuals look fantastic and besides, it's all we have right now. I am always hesitant to consider anything Fincher does Oscar bound, but this looks like a film that should at least gather some tech awards and probably some attention for Brad Pitt, who is almost unrecognizable. (from Awards Daily via Cinematical)

Subtle - ExitingARM (****)

Subtle's ExitingARM, the third installment in a proposed trilogy documenting the travails of Hour Hero Yes, is yet another triumph from this uncompromising avant hip-hop collective led by the inimitable Doseone. In an even further move away from hip-hop than that recent Why? album, ExitingARM sees Subtle taking aesthetic cues from tourmates TV on the Radio, whose dense, heavily obscured pop tunes are the easiest point of comparison. Following 2006s landmark For Hero: For Fool, Subtle have retreated slightly from that record's more immediate structures, and with ExitingARM they've made a dark, claustrophobic and shape-shifting album that reigns in elements of shoegaze, minimal techno, avant-folk and, of course, experimental hip-hop. However, these genre excursions belie the fact that this may be Subtle's most consistent record to date.

The continuing saga Subtle has traced over their 3 records is well documented and, to be honest, it's gets harder each time out to keep up with the adventures of their protagonist Yes. They've dedicated an entire website to help expand on the themes and story of ExitingARM, and if you can navigate it, you have more patience than I. Yet Subtle, as a band or theory, simply wouldn't work if the music couldn't stand apart from it's concept, and ExitingARM is packed with multiple moments of stunning musical complexity and ingenuity. It's a virtual highlight reel throughout, yet the opening four track stretch comprises some of the most inspiring and disorienting music of the year, while lead single "Unlikely Rock Shock" stands as easily the band's most accessible moment to date. However, "Unlikely Rock Shock" is an anomaly on a record that sees Subtle nearly drowning in dense arrangements and overbearing sound sculptures - the hooks are there, you may just have to dig a little deeper to discover them. Nothing speaks to an album's quality better than repeat listens, and I've had ExitingARM on constant repeat since the moment I heard it. It's not something that you can say about too many band's, but Subtle reward that kind of patience.

Highlights: "Exiting Arm", "The No", "Sick Soft Perfection", "Gonebones", "Providence"

RIYL: cLOUDEAD, Odd Nosdam, Why?, TV on the Radio, 13 & God

"Exiting Arm"

"Day Dangerous"

"Take to Take"

Big Dipper - Supercluster: The Big Dipper Anthology (****)

Despite being a super group of sorts, Boston's Big Dipper - comprised of members of The Volcano Suns, The Embarrassment and Dumptruck - floated well underneath the radar, even way back in the late 1980s when bands like this were beginning to be snatched up by major labels at a generous clip. To be fair, Big Dipper did eventually get their chance in the spotlight when they jumped to Epic Records at the turn of the decade, but whereas bands such as R.E.M., Sonic Youth and the Replacements turned the exposure into larger audiences, Big Dipper flubbed their chance, releasing their worst record in 1990 and breaking up as a result. Their pre-Epic output on Homestead Records is the stuff cult heroes are made of however. And now, in a similar style (and I mean all the way down to the packaging) as Matador did last year with the Chavez catalog, Merge has gathered and remastered the complete independently released works of Big Dipper in an extensive 3-disc set.

Disc 1 is given over to their classic Boo-Boo EP and Heavens full-length. Big Dipper's jangly, slightly sloppy pop-rock sound was certainly indebted to mid-80s R.E.M., yet with that thunderous rhythm section and screwy subject matter, they managed to carve a distinctive niche unlike just about any other band from the period. Early highlights included "Faith Healer", "San Quentin, CA.", "Easter Eve" and "Wet Weekend". There really isn't a low-point to found here, as these two records nicely summarize the best aspects of the Big Dipper sound - a sound they would clean up little by little from here on out.

Comprising the entirety of Disc 2 is follow-up LP Craps and 9 bonus tracks, including outtakes and a couple of demos. Craps saw the band growing into their sound and expanding their songwriting, resulting in more dynamic songs and a handful of their best moments, including "Meet the Witch", "Semjase" and "Hey! Mr. Lincoln". Towering above this entire collection though is Craps centerpiece "Ron Klaus Wreck His House", and instantly memorable morning-after anthem and for my money one of the best songs of the late 80s. Of the bonus tracks on Disc 2, only a few - "He is God" & "Which Would You Rather" among them - can match the heights of the album.

The unreleased tracks of note are saved for Disc 3, subtitled "A Very Loud Array". After Big Dipper dropped the ball for Epic with Slam, they set about writing a number of songs, none of which ever saw the light of day as a result of their untimely demise. According to the band, these 15 tracks comprise what would have been their next record, and with just a cursory listen it becomes painfully obvious that Big Dipper had more than enough gas to keep going. "Wake Up the King", "Restaurant Cloud", "Winsor Dam" and "Nowhere to Put My Love" can stand up with the best early Big Dipper material, and it's a shame that they never had a chance to fully compile an album. Taken together, Supercluster is an extraordinary compilation of material from a great, unjustly overlooked and mistreated cult band, who may never have broke through the way their contemporaries were able to, but - take it from me - it wasn't for lack of quality.

Note: Supercluster: The Big Dipper Anthology is limited to just 5000 copies

Video: Big Dipper - "Ron Klaus Wrecked His House" (reunion show; Boston, MA. 4/23/08)

"She's Fetching"

"Faith Healer"

"All Going Out Together"

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Islands - Arm's Way (**1/2)

As the Unicorns, and later as Islands, the core duo of Nick Diamonds and J'Amie Tambeur have crafted some of the most infectious, immediate and head-spinningly original pop music of the aughts. The Unicorns were one and done with one of the best pop records of the decade (2003s Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?), and after forming the epically inclined prog-pop group Islands, they went on to released Return to the Sea, a complex pop/rock/rap/calypso album with enough scope to reward hundreds of listens. Return to the Sea even made my top 10 list in 2006, yet in the back of my mind I always sort of hoped that Tambeur & Diamonds would once again hang up their current moniker, especially in light of a record that seemingly accomplished every goal it set out to conquer. Apparently Tambeur felt similarly, as he left Islands shortly after the release of Return to the Sea.

Diamonds persevered however, expanding the group to upwards of seven members, and quite boldly proclaiming that "Islands are forever". Well, if Islands are indeed forever, newest album Arm's Way will probably come to be seen as a transitional album for the group, as it retains almost none of the pop insanity that Diamonds and Tambeur built their names on, instead replacing it with indie-rock crunch guitars and a number of irritatingly straightforward arrangements. The themes & symbols of death, graveyards and ghosts that joyously peppered the best of Diamond/Tambeur's past songwriting has been all but been abandon here as well. Rather, the lyrics are just a whole lot darker, without that wincingly playful edge that worked so well as their proverbial spoonful of sugar. What's left is what can more or less be described as, well, an indie-rock record - and a rather mediocre one at that.

Arm's Way shoots for the same epic feel as Return to the Sea, yet as the painfully long compositions here prove, without those odd, genre hopping transitions, there isn't much to entice listeners beyond each song's initial 2 1/2 minutes or so. That means no left-field rap breakdowns or Caribbean rhythms to jostle the ears between the sweet pop hooks - and there are some good hooks here. Unfortunately, they are diluted by the dull instrumentation, less-than-stellar arrangements and an ungodly runtime of over 1 hour. If Diamonds & co. can learn to graft some of these new rock moves onto their lighter pop sound, then perhaps a third Islands record would be welcome gift. As it stands now though, I have similar feelings, albeit for completely different reasons, as I did after their first album: go ahead and breakup and start anew.

Highlights: "The Arm", "Abominable Snow"

RIYL: Unicorns, Architecture in Helsinki, Sunset Rubdown, The Fiery Furnaces

"The Arm"

"Abominable Snow"

"Life in Jail"

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Death Cab For Cutie - Narrow Stairs (*1/2)

In retrospect, it was no surprise that Death Cab for Cutie, following their fifth (and arguably best) album, 2003s Transatlanticism, would make the jump to the majors. Their sound has always been universal to some extent. The resulting album, Plans, also quite predictably underwhelmed, but not before launching the band to super stardom on the back of a weak lead single ("Soul Meets Body") and a much better follow-up ("I Will Follow You Into The Dark").

Well the good news first: new album Narrow Stairs is better than Plans - or, let me clarify, a little more distinctive than Plans. The bad news? This is still Death Cab for Cutie, a band that refuses to grow - musically, lyrically, whatever - whatsoever. Their sound has never been original enough to sustain more than a few records to begin with, especially on the back of Bed Gibbard's low frequency vocals, and while their first 3 albums are rather beloved among the indie-pop die hards, nothing they have ever done really registers as anything more than innocuous.

So, the Rolling Stone's of the world will tell you that Narrow Stairs is Death Cab's "experimental" album, but for the life of me I can't find a single sound on this record that grates, annoys or could possibly even ruffle a feather. My grandmother would love it. There is an 8 minute song though, so I guess that passes for "out there" nowadays. What sets Narrow Stairs apart slightly from it's predecessors is it's relative heaviness. Not heavy in the Mastodon sense mind you, just heavy for Death Cab, which means a little more distortion and a more driving sound, particularly on the first and last few tracks, which still haven't left enough of an impression for me to make any effort to remember the titles. Like always though, it's all very sweet and tender, which should ensure some nice TV placement, and it will obviously sell millions and go to #1 (wait, it already did that). And your girlfriend probably likes it, so there's that. Me? I'll take that Fuck Buttons record.

Video: Death Cab For Cutie - "I Will Posess Your Heart"

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Quiet Village - Silent Movie (***1/2)

Radio Slave's Matt Edwards and former film editor Joel Martin, working together under the name Quiet Village, have assembled a cold-chillin' debut album from the scraps and remnants of obscure LPs, pillowing their myriad samples under a layer of smooth electro and quasi-disco. Silent Movie is a crate diggers dream, as each of these 11 tracks hold untold numbers of vintage samples amid their Balearic inspired grooves. Parsing the veneer of each clean-cut piece is half the fun here, yet thankfully Quiet Village's unassuming nature - not to mention their attention to melody and pacing - keep this from being just another sampedelic show-off experiment. Oh yeah, and "Circus of Horror" is the jam.

Highlights: "Circus of Horror", "Free Rider", "Can't Be Beat", "Gold Rush"

RIYL: Studio, A Mountain of One, The Tough Alliance

"Circus of Horror"

"Free Rider"

"Too High to Move"

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Replacements - Twin/Tone Reissues

Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash (****)

Stink EP (***)

Hootenanny (***1/2)

Let it Be (*****)

Stumbling their way out of Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1979, the four teens performing under the name The Replacements somehow managed to (perhaps accidentally) chart a booze-filled course throughout the entire 1980s, filling a discography with everything from petal-to-the-metal hardcore to sleazy punk rock to tongue-in-cheek piss takes to heart-on-sleeve ballads that could make even the toughest hardcore kid shed a tear. Of course, they would go ahead and weave these strands into every single album they ever recorded, sometimes falling flat on their face, but never with the shame to not at least attempt to hit one out of the park with the very next song.

The Replacements released four records on the local Twin/Tone imprint over the first half the 80s, beginning in 1981 with their guns-blazing debut, Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash. Over the first couple of years as a touring band, the Mats built up a sizable number of songs, and the 18 song Sorry Ma bears this out. The guitar & bass duo of brothers Bob and Tommy Stinson, along with drummer Cris Mars, weren't ever the tightest of units - in fact, they were downright sloppy, which lends their early recordings a nostalgic sense of charm. Their manic energy is what put this band, and particularly Sorry Ma, over the top though. Their debut is home to a number of indelible songs, including "Takin' a Ride", "Kick Your Door Down", "Johnny's Gonna Die" and "Raised in the City". The diamond amid all the tomfoolery has always been "Shiftless When Idle" however, perhaps frontman Paul Westerberg's first unquestionably great composition. With so many loose ends and restless musicianship though, where could the Mats possibly go next?

The band decided to drop an EP between their first two full-lengths, and judging by it's title, the band probably wasn't taking it too serious either. Stink, while probably the least essential Mats release, actually serves a dual purpose of all but defining the band's attitude during their early years. The song titles alone - "Fuck School", "God Damn Job", "White and Lazy" "Dope Smokin Moron" - are all pretty self-explanatory, while "Stuck in the Middle" could, in retrospect, sum up the band's entire career. Stink is essential for two reasons however: "Kid Don't Follow" and "Go", the former of which is all but canonized, while the latter remains one of Westerberg's most underrated tunes. Stink certainly doesn't carry with it the clout of other early Mats records, but as far as stop-gaps go, it's pretty friggin' entertaining.

Their sophomore album, Hootenanny, followed in 1983 and showed the band branching out a bit more musically, incorporating rockabilly and other early-rock moves into their typical slash-and-burn attack. It's easily their most diverse and disparate release, yet the highs it hits are amongst the best the band ever managed. "Color Me Impressed", "Willpower" and "Within Your Reach" all speak for themselves, while deep cuts such as "Buck Hill" and "Hayday" are under represented gems. If Sorry Ma left unanswered questions about the future of the Mats, Hootenanny must have bewildered anyone within ear shot. They weren't really ever hardcore; they weren't even punk anymore. They were simply The Replacements, and they were about to get serious.

1984s Let It Be is one of the single greatest records to see release in my lifetime. It took a group of bored, intoxicated youngsters and catapulted them into the realm of flat-out great rock groups. Despite what it's Beatles-aping title insinuates (seriously, what band has the balls to do that nowadays?), it's blatantly obvious from the opening moments of "I Will Dare" that nearly everything about the band had changed between their second and third records. The band was tighter and the arrangements were more dynamic, with song after song complete with verses, choruses and, what do ya know, bridges. Westerberg's lyrics were consistently acute and frequently heartbreaking, while his range improved dramatically without losing that instantly identifiable rasp and grit.

Of course, this being the Replacements, they still had room for songs like "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out" and "Gary's Got a Boner", yet even those songs are light years better than what the band was doing around the time of Stink only a couple years earlier. The classics come at a breakneck speed: "Favorite Thing", "Androgynous" and "Black Diamond" showoff the band's newfound range, while "Unsatisfied" is the creative and emotional apex of The Replacements storied career. They even set aside the time to take a jab at mainstream rock on "Seen Your Video" with it's immortal lyric, "I've seen your video, it's phony rock n' roll!", as well as invite some females fans into the fold with the beautiful "Sixteen Blue". Let it Be is probably the most perfectly imperfect record in existence.

Those were the indie years, but the Mats wouldn't end there. They went on to release two more classic records - their commercial peak Tim in 1985 and late-career stunner Please to Meet Me in '87 - for major label Sire Records, both of which, along with their final two albums, are currently in the works to be reissued as well. The spirit of The Replacements is captured and preserved across these four records however, and Rhino has done a typically great job padding out each disc with a bevy of bonus cuts, most of which are previously unreleased. In fact, some of Westerberg's best early acoustic songs are scattered across these bonus cuts, most of which are legendary among Mats bootleggers but foreign to the casual fan. It's all here on single disc reissues now, all of which are more than welcome improvements over the early-CD releases. In the end though, these songs speak for themselves. Their's was a classic rock career full of sneering attitudes, drunken infighting, sloppy count-offs and innumerable hangovers. They were brilliant.

Video - The Replacements - "Kids Don't Follow" (live 1981)

"Takin' a Ride"

"Shiftless When Idle"

"Color Me Impressed"

"I Will Dare"


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Tallest Man On Earth - Shallow Grave (***1/2)

The mysterious Swede behind the Tallest Man On Earth moniker releases his first full-length following a well liked 2006 self-titled EP, and it's a similarly striking study in simplicity and understatement. Utilizing a a setup consisting of no more than a single stringed instrument (usually an antique sounding acoustic guitar), The Tallest Man On Earth manages to make the most if it, frantically picking away at his intricate chord progressions with a gentle ease. As the melodies fly by, his nasal vocals squeak and squawk over top as his lyrics bring to mind the pre-rock folk singers of the 40s and 50s. Shallow Grave really does sound like very little modern music that I can think of. It's a timeless sound though, and one that will probably never catch on with large amounts of listeners, yet The Tallest Man On Earth's intimate ruminations about everyday concerns seems tailer made for a cult audience.

Highlights: "I Won't Be Found", "Pistol Dreams", "Where Do My Bluebird Fly", "The Sparrow and the Medicine"

RIYL: Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan, Django Reinhardt, Devendra Banhart, Will Oldham

Video: The Tallest Man On Earth - "The Gardener" (live)

Video: The Tallest Man On Earth - "I Won't Be Found" (live)

"I Won't Be Found"

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Jamie Lidell - Jim (***1/2)

Modern soul man Jamie Lidell follows his breakthrough 2005 album Multiply with Jim, a tighter, more immediate record that once again uncannily re-creates that late 60s r&b vibe that seems so intently tied to a certain time in music history, yet Lidell manages to channel his heroes with such passionate conviction that criticisms of pastiche simply refuse to hold water. Lidell's roots in IDM (he was one half of Super_Collider with Christian Vogel) have completely fallen by the wayside yet again, and he doesn't seem in any hurry to return to them anytime soon, as each of these ten cuts expertly navigates vintage r&b sounds as if Lidell's contemporaries were Otis Redding and Stevie Wonder and not other out-of-time crooners such as Antony and Rufus Wainwright. Jim does lack Multiply's frequent standout moments, as well it's sense of discovery, yet it may be a more consistent record on the whole. And if nothing else, Jim can at the very least remove a listener from their everyday doldrums with 40 minutes of carefully orchestrated and warmly nostalgic soul music.

Highlights: "Another Day", "Out of My System", "Little Bit of Feel Good", "Rope of Sand"

RIYL: Otis Redding, Stax Records, Stevie Wonder, Sam Cooke, Sly Stone, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings

Video: Jamie Lidell - "Little Bit of Feel Good"

"Another Day"

"Green Light"

"Figured Me Out"

Monday, May 12, 2008

Matmos - Supreme Balloon (***1/2)

The unremittingly cerebral electronic duo Matmos have made a career out of odd concepts. Everyone of their records so far has hinged on some sort of conceptual premise around which the duo of M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel attempt to craft an entire LP, whether that be to record songs made up completely of surgical samples (A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure) or as tributes to homosexual cultural figures (2006s fabulous The Rose Has Teeth In The Mouth of a Beast). For their newest and relatively straight-forward record, Matmos have laid out but one seemingly simple parameter: to build Supreme Balloon from the ground up, with only the use of synthesizers. This being Matmos however, and knowing that these two have an endless knowledge of classic electronic music, every synth both vintage and modern, from Moog to Korg to Roland, was utilized here to help create a sort of Matmos pop record.

Interestingly, Supreme Balloon is sequenced in the spirit of a mid-70s art-rock album, split between two distinct sides and featuring an epic centerpiece on side 2. The first side sticks to the 3 minute pop format however, and features easily the duo's most instantly accessible work to date. I'd be lying however if I said that the 24 minute title track didn't kill a little of the momentum that side 1 builds through it's concise song craft. Taken as it's own entity however, "Supreme Balloon" is a fascinating piece of music for Matmos at this point in their career, as it's multiple movements shift subtly but significantly over the course of it's lengthy runtime. There aren't many groups, let alone electronic groups, as consistently interesting as Matmos, and Supreme Balloon registers as yet another distinctive album in a career built around limitations.

Highlights: "Rainbow Flag", "Polychords", "Exciter Lamp and the Variable Band"

RIYL: Autechre, Boards of Canada, Ekkehard Ehlers

Video: Matmos - "Exciter Lamp and the Variable Band"

"Rainbow Flag"

"Supreme Balloon"

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Animal Collective - Water Curses EP (***)

With Water Curses, Animal Collective continue their trend of releasing hold-over EPs between their increasingly amazing albums. Water Curses' first three songs were recorded during the same sessions that birthed the jaw-dropping Strawberry Jam (Stereo Sanctity's #2 album of 2007), yet oddly, none feel particularly wedded to the sound of the finished product, which may very well explain why they were excised. The title track is the gem here, and worth the price of admission on it's own. It's one of the best pure pop songs the band has written thus far and further evidence that this band is working on a completely different level than just about anyone currently going. The final three tracks aren't nearly as immediate, yet each should yield long term rewards given the time. "Street Flash" and "Cobwebs" are patented AC slow-burners in the Feels vein. The former has been a staple of live sets for years, so it's nice to finally have an official version, complete with disorienting stereo-panning rhythms and Avey Tare's guttural screams. The latter follows a similar formula to different ends, with unidentifiable samples engulfing Avey's refrain of "I'm not going underground...". The EPs final track, "Seal Eyeing", is a hypnotic piano piece that flows between burbling water noises and a hymn-like vocal track. Like most everything Animal Collective does, Water Curses is a pure delight, and while most of these tracks are leftovers and won't convert the naysayers, it will more than satisfy the converted.

Video: Animal Collective - "Water Curses"

"Street Flash"


"Seal Eyeing"

No Age - Nouns (****1/2)

As figureheads of the now-thriving Los Angeles art-rock scene, No Age haven't exactly been in a hurry to deliver their debut full-length. The last couple of years have scene the lo-fi punk duo play hundreds of shows (many at The Smell, the epicenter of this scene), release a steady stream of singles and EPs (collected on their CD debut, last year's fantastic Weirdo Rippers) and build a cult following around their completely self-sustained community of artists, which includes other equally exciting bands such as HEALTH, Abe Vigoda & Mika Miko.

Nouns, their Sub Pop debut, retains their signature blend guitar fuzz, amp buzz and noisy ambiance, but adds a series of more immediate hooks and melodies, cramming everything that is great about rock into 12 fire-breathing songs, few of which surpass the 2 1/2 minute mark. So at 30 minutes in length, you'd figure this album would unapologetically go-for-the-throat at every opportunity, yet Nouns is absolutely huge, with Dean Spunt and Randy Randall constructing spacious epics from miniature parts, laying back into beautiful instrumental passages only to jab through the din with sharp riffs and fist-flying hooks. Nouns is a record that feels perfectly suited for and indebted to the classic Sub Pop sound of the 1990s, a time when bands nonchalantly tossed-off noisy pops gems like they were going out of style, yet No Age seem perfectly natural in 2008, working within their modest goals to achieve something far greater than the some of their parts. Nouns is the definitive document of the current L.A. sound, and rousing proof that two chords and a defiant attitude will never go out of style.

Highlights: "Eraser", "Sleeper Hold", "Cappo", "Here Should Be My Home"

RIYL: Times New Viking, Deerhunter, Abe Vigoda

Video: No Age - "Sleeper Hold" (live @ the L.A. Central Library)



"Here Should Be My Home"

Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight (***1/2)

Glaswegian indie-pop band improve exponentially on their slept-on debut Sings the Greys with a follow-up that's both sonically fuller and emotionally grander, while at the same time retaining their biting wit. Singer Scott Hutchinson has one of those over-emotive voices that is completely perfect in it's imperfections, helping to highlight the miserablist tendencies of his lyrics which depict post-relationship fallout in sometimes devastating detail. The music on the other hand is playful and exuberant, with every square inch of the sonic spectrum bursting with insistent strumming, driving drums and a nice underpinning of piano lines. The band has yet to really master any kind of dynamic range however, causing the last quarter of the record to kind of blur together in a haze as they attempt to reign things in. The band would have been well served to trim a couple of late songs off the running time, resulting in a tighter, more consistent record. As it stands though, The Midnight Organ Fight is yet another great pop record from fertile land of Scotland, and proof that Frightened Rabbit have the hooks and the smarts to stick around for quite a while.

Highlights: "The Modern Leper", "Fast Blood", "The Twist"

RIYL: The Twilight Sad, Arab Strap

Video: Frightened Rabbit - "Heads Roll Off"

"The Modern Leper"

"Fast Blood"

Monday, May 5, 2008

"The Dark Knight" - Trailer #2

As if Michael Caine's recent quote about Heath Ledger's turn as the Joker - “the most murderous psychopath you’ve ever seen on screen” - wasn't enough, this new trailer for Christopher Nolan's ridiculously anticipated Dark Knight has somehow raised the stakes even higher.

HILOTRONS - Happymatic (***1/2)

Ottawa dance-pop band HILOTRONS have been toiling away in almost complete obscurity north of the border for a number of years now, cultivating a loyal local fan base, but not much else. Their new record, Happymatic, may not launch them to stardom, but it's another killer dose of jubilant pop frenzy from a part of the world that seems to have an endless supply of quality artists. Rather than setting impossible, Arcade Fire-sized goals of transcendence, HILOTRONS instead opt for intricate song writing, tight interplay and infectious hooks over the course of 11 consistently strong tracks. With the slightest promotion or, god forbid, some major label dollars, it's not hard to imagine nearly any song on Happymatic storming the pop charts, yet bands such as HILOTRONS seem destined to float just outside of even the indie scene's increasing view. One listen to Happymatic however, and it's glaringly obvious that this destiny is no fault of this well accomplished band.

Highlights: "Dominika", "Lovesuit", "Emergency Street", "Big Plans"

RIYL: Devo, Talking Heads, The Faint

"Lost in Yichang"

"Emergency Street"



Friday, May 2, 2008

Hayden - In Field & Town (**1/2)

Seventh and sleekest album yet from cult hero Paul Hayden Desser continues in the vein of 2004s Elk-Lake Serenade, which saw Hayden incorporating slightly fuller arrangements to pad his previously sparse sound. In Field & Town is Hayden at his most comfortable, at least musically, while his lyrics take the failed relationship route, which is par-for-the-course for the Canadian singer-songwriter. What In Field & Town never quite achieves, or really attempts to, is push Hayden outside of his comfort zone. It doesn't demand attention or give the curious much of a reason to listen. But like most everything he's done, it is quite pretty and even comforting at times. Yet there's little here that will shock long time fans, which should ensure a healthy reception for the record among his fan base, while leaving everyone else feeling oddly underwhelmed. This is safe, predictable coffee house soft rock, enjoyable in small doses or to pass the time, but not something that will leave a lasting impression. Fans of Hayden will find a few hidden gems, but ultimately In Field & Town will be seen as one of Hayden's lesser works.

Highlights: "More Than Alive", "Worthy of Your Esteem", "Where and When"

RIYL: Randy Newman, Jose Gonzalez, Starbucks

Video: Hayden - "Where and When" (live @ Danforth Music Hall)

"The Van Song"