Thursday, October 30, 2008

"Slumdog Millionaire" Trailer

Here it is, the long awaited trailer for Danny Boyle's much hyped Slumdog Millionaire. This doesn't immediately strike be as Oscar fodder, but the praise has been near universal. I for one am not about to bet against it. Youtube below, HD here.

The Sea and Cake - Car Alarm (***1/2)

If curiosity killed the cat, then surely consistency will kill the indie band, right? In this day and age when a masterpiece is expected every time out from even the most obscure of bands, it can be more than a little difficult to get excited about a band like the Sea and Cake, who have been releasing good to very good records for well over a decade now but don't have that one record that sits on every serious record collector's shelf. The band's eighth and newest album, Car Alarm, can get filed into the latter category though as it has unexpectedly nudged it's way into the band's top 2-3 records, maybe even equaling the exquisite Nassau from 1995.

At first blush, the title Car Alarm may seem rather dull, especially considering the band's run of evocatively titled records such as The Fawn and Oui. However, from the opening 80s college rock inspired riff, Car Alarm announces itself as the perfect title for the sounds contained within it's 12 tracks, as this is easily the band's most propulsive and, for lack of a better word, rock album to date. Coming a couple years after the more pop oriented Everybody, it was essential for Car Alarm to differentiate itself from the Sea and Cake's past records, which all had a tendency to blur together in a meld of clean guitar lines and softly executed drum patterns. Car Alarm's busier and more head-long tracks, such as the aforementioned "Aerial" and the title track, have the distinct feel of a bustling city life (in this case probably Chicago), and on the whole individual tracks tend to stand out from the pack, whereas past records tended to feel greater than the some of their parts.

This consistently is no doubt due to the fact that the four core members of the band are still in tact, with ex-Shrimp Boat members Sam Prekop and Eric Claridge joined by Tortoise's John McEntire and scene stalwart Archer Prewitt. Their lineup still reads like a who's who of Chicago post-rock, but most of the music made under the Sea and Cake banner stands outside of the genre, despite owing much to the ambient drift and long-simmering melodies most closely associated with the genre. McEntire, again working double duty as producer, has once again constructed a record of shimmering angles and pillow soft sounds. It helps of course when you have the inimitable Sam Prekop on hand to lend his delicate voice to the proceedings, and despite the sometimes heavier sounds of the band here, he continues to soothe with his lush register and melody-forming turns of phrase.

So yeah, it still sounds exactly like the Sea and Cake, yet maybe my memory is lagging because I don't ever remember the band leaning so heavily on electronics on past albums as they do here. They've always been there since The Fawn, but subtly so, cushioning tracks rather than propelling them. On Car Alarm though, electronics seem to come to fore much more often, with both "CMS Sequence" and "Weekend" in particular both sounding pleasantly inorganic. For a band that is so often thought of as stridently human and pure of sound, these few moments go a long way toward expanding an established formula. Car Alarm is easily the most diverse record the band has made since it's mid-90s heyday, and highlights abound (I haven't even mentioned the fantastic "Window Sills", which is probably the best single track on Car Alarm), making this the most rewarding Sea and Cake record for newcomers and die-hards alike.

Highlights: "Aerial", "A Fuller Moon", "Car Alarm", "Window Sills"

The Mountain Goats - Satanic Messiah EP (***)

Not many artists have built such a substantial career out of just two main instruments- and in such a compelling way - as John Darnielle has as the leader of the Mountain Goats. His creaky acoustic guitar has always played second fiddle that voice, a full bodied, high register quaver that determinedly sells his ultra-detailed and strikingly vivid lyrics, which over the last 15 years have ranged from high school football stars to an abusive father to chemical dependency to simple, universal loneliness. With his jump to 4AD a few years back, and his subsequent growth as an arranger - electric guitar, strings and drums have all filled out recent Mountain Goats records - Darnielle has seen his sound grow substantially, yet at the heart of every piece is still that disarming voice. In a slight retreat from the fuller sounds of this year's great Heretic Pride, the Satanic Messiah EP (limited to 666 vinyl copies, but also available for pay-what-you-want download) finds Darnielle stripping back, with two of the EP's four songs built mainly around his tried-and-true acoustic, while in a surprising change-of-pace, the two others are accompanied solely by sparse piano.

The title track and EP centerpiece is one of the very best modern Darnielle songs. Buoyed only by the light touch of ivories, Darnielle holds back on his more expressive vocal style, instead reading the song almost as a hymn, and "Satanic Messiah" works for the very reason that it is so understated and thematically ambiguous. It may be about a hyped rock star or the anti-christ, but no matter its meaning, the feeling of hushed intimacy and uneasy acceptance resonates deeply. Along with the title track, closer "Gojam Province 1968" is also a solo piano piece, and although its story of murdered tax collectors isn't as inherently poignant, the track is a firm reiteration of Darnielle's lucid storytelling ability.

The two other tracks, "Sarcofago Live" and "Wizard Buys a Hat", feature a bed of piano and light string draping respectively, although Darnielle keeps the songs moving with his brisk acoustic flutters. The former in particular is strong enough to have appeared on a recent Mountain Goats full-length, but fits perfectly here with it's understated atmosphere and vague yet sharp lyrical motifs. With only 4 tracks that barely surpass 12 minutes in length, Satanic Messiah is modest enough to overlook, yet make no mistake, this is one of Darnielle's best short form works in years, and a nice reminder of how excellent Heretic Pride was despite it's more diverse sonic palette. No matter the accompaniment, John Darnielle will always take center stage.

Highlights: "Sarcofago Live" "Satanic Messiah"

"Gojam Province 1968"

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Oxford Collapse - Bits (***)

Can the Oxford Collapse really afford to release a grower at this point in their career? I mean, even I, probably the definition of this band's key demographic (mid-20s indie-rock obsessive), had a hard time initially getting into their new record, Bits. It probably had something to do with the overwhelming desire for a follow-up to "Please Visit Your National Parks", which was featured on the band's last record, 2006s Remember the Night Parties, and currently stands as one of the decade's very best indie-rock songs. Perhaps realizing that they won't be able to scale that lofty peak once again, Oxford Collapse have instead embraced a subtler, less dynamic form of 80s college rock on this slow growing new record. So yes, Bits doesn't pummel you over the head with any out-and-out anthem, but it does unexpectedly worm it's way into your brain. For better or worse, Oxford Collapse are now coasting on good vibes and the always prevalent nostalgia inherent in each and every note they strike.

These guys still have that loose and tossed-off vibe of so many of their heroes, and when in service of well written songs, the band can still stumble upon some modest yet charming melodic ideas. These songs tend to blur together in a haze of beer, backyard BBQs and dorm room hi-jinks, but when they do happen to differentiate themselves from the whole - as they do on "Young Love Delivers", "Featherbeds", "Children's Crusade" and "B-Roll" - they pleasantly stroke forgotten pleasure centers of late night parties and carefree teenage living. With the absence of any true standout track though, Bits runs the risk of registering as a disappointment, when in reality it is more of a flat-line comedown from an incredible high point. For now, I'll go ahead and give a slight recommendation to Bits, while reiterating that in ten years Oxford Collapse could put out a heck of a retrospective comp.

Highlights: "Young Love Delivers", "Children's Crusade", "B-Roll"

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Parts & Labor - Receivers (***1/2)

After four LPs of increasingly accessible experimental rock, it would be a misnomer to continue to qualify Parts & Labor as a noise band. Dan Friel's electronics still spark and misfire left-and-right, and there is the constant flurry of short circuiting amp buzz that defines the Parts & Labor sound, but the huge melodies that Friel and B.J. Warshaw graft onto these structures has become altogether anthemic. Their already quite good 2007 record Mapmaker was the band's first step in this direction, although they still made room for some tinnitus-inducing blast beats and shrieking guitar breakdowns. There is nothing quite so earsplitting on their strong new record Receivers, but their noise - while tempered to a degree - is utilized here to much better effect, more as a foundation for fully-formed songs than as afterthoughts to what, are at heart, extremely effective pop songs.

Mapmaker standout "Fractured Skies" ousted Parts & Labor as pop band, and taking cues from that career shifting moment, Receivers goes the distance, as nearly every song features a propulsive, fist-pumping chorus. Despite this being Parts & Labor's quote-unquote pop record, Receivers actually sees the band stretching out their structures quite a bit. There are only 8 songs on the album, two of which clock in at over 7 minutes, yet Receivers rarely loses momentum, instead opting to constantly built to occasionally dizzying heights, as on opener "Satellites", which steadily adds instrumentation until the absolute breaking point, eventually segueing into "Nowhere's Nigh", which stands as Receiver's answer to "Fractured Skies". They've hinted at this kind of song craft in the past, yet Receivers wonderfully splits the difference between their more outré tendencies and their desire to unite via huge sing-a-longs.

As always, there are a number of ways to approach a Parts & Labor record, as they combine traditional rock instrumentation with electronics as well as anybody. Electronics guru Dan Friel, who released an equally fascinating (and vastly underrated) solo record this year entitled Ghost Town, builds his unique and barely sturdy foundations through a tangle of wires and homemade noise boxes. Warshaw on the other hand, with the help of new members Joe Wong and Sarah Lipstate, provides the thunder, powering along within the confines of the song, but always teasing with the possibility of collapse. This newly formed four-piece certainly houses the most promise for future Parts & Labor records, as Receivers feels more like full band effort than previous records, but as of right now, this is the most accomplished and re-playable album the band has recorded thus far.

Highlights: "Satellites" "Nowhere's Nigh", "Wedding in a Wasteland", "Little Ones"

RIYL: Oneida, Japanther, HEALTH

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fucked Up - The Chemistry of Common Life (****)

Stereo Sanctity Album of the Week
(October 26 - November 1, 2008)

The one minute flute introduction that opens "Son the Father" should be evidence enough that Fucked Up's epic sophomore album The Chemistry of Common Life is no ordinary hardcore album. If by some chance that didn't convince you though, then maybe the female backing vocals from the same song will; or maybe the bongo-like percussion on following track "Magic Word" or the french horn and moog synth on instrumental interlude "Golden Seal" will help illuminate the fact that Fucked Up are no ordinary hardcore band. Things continue in much the same, unpredictable way throughout The Chemistry of Common Life, a record that takes the classic, pummeling sound of early 80s hardcore and applies it to much different ends, while at the same time staying frighteningly close to a long-abandon sound. Fucked Up are like a hardcore band that have studied their Stockhausen, and the resulting album is unsurprisingly a statement-of-purpose of the grandest and most ambitious kind.

When we last saw Fucked Up, they were turning in an 18 minute version of their "Year of the Pig" single (from one of their vast array of scarce 7" singles - now available via Matador), and while Chemistry doesn't hold anything quite so cathedral-sized, nearly every song does manage to stretch well past the 5 minute mark. This isn't your Minor Threat-like 45 second rape-and-pillage that is so closely associated with 80s hardcore, but something altogether bolder and more aspiring. The dense, more cacophonous tracks are sequenced up front, and the first half of the record can at times become a nearly overwhelming listening experience taken in one sitting. "Golden Seal" certainly attempts to lighten the mood, but it's just a brief respite from the onslaught, which resurrects itself promptly for the three-song barrage of "Days of Last", "Crooked Head" and "No Epiphany". The latter two songs loosen up the strangle hold Fucked Up apply for the record's opening quarter and lend a helpful hint as to what is in store for listeners on side 2.

Chemistry's second half begins with arguably the record's three best songs, the unhinged "Black Albino Bones", the beefed-up "Royal Swan", and the fist-pumpingly direct "Twice Born", which stands out immediately as Fucked Up's most welcoming and all-encompassing song (choice lyric: "Hands up if you think you're the only one who's ever been denied!"). The sound of the band is opened up considerably on these tracks, as they are easily the most dynamic on the record. Even vocalist Pink Eyes (other band members include 10,000 Marbles and Mustard Gas) shows some range beyond his Henry Rollins-derived growl, presenting call-to-arms hooks and head banging barks in equal measure to go along with the bevy of back-up singers scattered throughout the record. Ex-Death from Above 1979 vocalist Sebastian Grangier shows up to send "Twice Born" into the stratosphere, while all three Vivian Girls are cooing somewhere behind "Crooked Head" and it's stop-start wall-of-noise.

Few albums attempt anything as epic and zealous as Fucked Up do here, let alone a Canadian hardcore band that has a proclivity for covering everyone from the Ramones to Justice. The Chemistry of Coming Life may be one of the most smothering and claustrophobic of records you'll hear all year, but it is also very likely to be one of the best heavy records you've heard in ages. Taken in chunks, this pummeling 60 minute record can easily reveal nuance and an attention to detail that is almost unheard of in modern post-hardcore, a genre that has become an inbred joke of a scene and one which Fucked Up have emphatically (and thankfully) beaten into submission with this stellar piece of unrelenting hardcore punk rock.

Highlights: "Son the Father", "Black Albino Bones", "Crooked Head" "Twice Born"

"Twice Born"

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Headin to NYC...

...for the weekend, which means no more updates til Monday. This explains my frantic posting schedule this week, yet I'm still way behind. Next week (or soon after) should see reviews of the new albums from Fucked Up, Parts & Labor, Oxford Collapse, Mountain Goats and AGF. I don't think I can even force myself to review that new Of Montreal album though. I'll probably surface with some thoughts on it sometime next week, but in the meantime why don't you just go ahead and grab the band's last four records and play them all simultaneously. Then, and only then, will you come close to approximating the ridiculousness of Skeletal Lamping.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Women - Women (***1/2)

Some band's emerge fully formed. However, it's rather difficult to make a judgment on Women one way or the other since they so confidently pull from such a deep well of influences. On the one hand they are an indie rock band in the classic sense: sloppy, amateurish, blissfully unaware of their greatest strengths. On the other, they are a noise band: dense, unrelenting and opposed to tradition. But somehow this self-titled debut is at once the most purposeful indie rock record and the most methodical noise record of the year. It's this refusal to stand still that keeps Women from stagnating, and in just 30 short minutes, this Canadian four piece will have - at least at some point - tapped into one of your particular pleasure centers.

This genre hopping tendency is mapped out pretty clearly over Women's first three tracks. 60 second opener "Camera" is an acoustic and Casio ditty; second track "Lawncare" is anything but, the guitars more closely approximating a busted mower trampling some half watered sod; and in the third hole, "Woodbine", a thickly layered drone that wouldn't have sounded out of place on the first half of Cryptograms. Most every proceeding song has some resemblance to one of these three tracks, and as Women romp raucously through their ideas, they strike upon numerous moments of near greatness. Standout track "Black Rice" is quite easily the most fully formed and instantly likable track on Women, with it's jangly strum and upfront, deadpan vocals, but it's hardly the most rewarding. "Group Hall Transport" brings their late 60s psych-pop influence to the fore once again, and at barely a minute in length, you'd still be hard pressed to forget it's sunny melody.

It's not all good vibes and clean guitars though, as the Women's final quarter takes it's cues from the aforementioned "Lawncare" to bring the noise even harder. "Upstairs" begins as a light tambourine-backed strum-along but soon devolves into tuneless thwacking, while the vicious "January 8th" flirts most dangerously with a Liars-esque thud. Closing track "Flashlights" is a formless mess and the only song here that really seems expendable, but Women aren't about to give an inch on this striking debut album, so in the end it feels almost inevitable that the band would leave the listener with a feeling of uncertainty. Women is a record that rewards close listens as it slowly peels back it's lo-fi layers to reveal four guys who may not know where they are going, but they most assuredly know how to get there.

Highlights: "Lawncare", "Black Rice", "Ground Hall Transport"

RIYL: Liars, Times New Viking, Deerhunter, No Age

"Black Rice"

"January 8th"

"Group Hall Transport"

Dungen - 4 (***)

Where does a band go after something as fantastically disorienting and out-of-left-field as Ta Det Lungt? If you're Swedish psych-rock outfit Dungen, you reconcile you wildest tendencies and release a decent follow-up in the form of last year's Tio Bitar. I guess you could say that there was only so much Gustav Ejstes could do on his own and go ahead and give him the benefit of the doubt. I mean, he's recorded nearly all of the prior Dungen material all by himself (with just slight guitar assistance from Reine Fiske on Tio Bitar), and his one-man band arrangements may have just simply hit a wall. For his fourth record, 4 (natch), he has wisely enlisted a number of Dungen's touring musicians to help pick up the slack in the studio, and the resulting record is appropriately loose and lively.

What hampered Tio Bitar wasn't necessarily the sound of the record, but it's lack of any standout songs. 4 remedies this situation with "Det Tar Tid", Dungen's most gloriously catchy song since Ta Det Lungt's duel-standouts "Panda" and "Festival". 4 opener "Sätt Att Se" nearly matches "De Tar Tid" as it rides in on a jaunty violin line and sways comfortably between folk and psych-rock poles. 4 generally stays in this middle ground and is by some distance Dungen's most restrained effort to date, yet that doesn't mean there isn't room for some of the old feedback, which two-part suite "Samtidigt 1 & 2" amply provide. And lest we forget, Ejstes, who focuses mainly on piano this time around, still has those killer pipes, which despite being in Swedish still carry the best of these songs over the top.

4 does fall into a somewhat particular pattern of vocal track-instrumental-vocal track, but in a nice change of pace (at least compared to Tio Bitar), a majority of these instrumentals do occasionally standout from the crowd. So I guess it's a good thing that 4 leaves the listener wanting more - more noise, more vocals, more left-turns - but if for no other reason than future returns, the record seems to have breathed a little life back in Ejstes. 4 ultimately may be a transition record, but the crumbs of psych-goodness Dungen have laid here is enough to keep hopes reasonably high.

Highlights: "Det Tar Tid", "Sätt Att Se"

"Sätt Att Se"

Mount Eerie With Julie Doiron and Fred Squire - Lost Wisdom (***1/2)

This, as the saying goes, is what you've been waiting for. Following his retirement of the Microphones banner in 2003, acoustic lo-fi mainstay Phil Elverum adopted the Mount Eerie moniker (which happened to be the name of the last Microphones record) and lazily (but persistently) released a glut of music, none of which could touch the fragile beauty of the last three proper Microphones records, and in particular the landmark The Glow Pt 2 from 2001. His odd release patterns and impractical format choices (Mount Eerie Pts 6 & 7 was released with a massive picture book) rewarded only the most devout of fans. It wasn't until this year that Elverum adopted a modicum of modesty and released a strong comeback EP entitled Black Wooden Ceiling Opening, which recast a number of old Mount Eerie tunes into even darker shades than in their original incarnations (he even referred to it as his black metal album). And judging by his new record Lost Wisdom, Elverum hasn't slowed down on the release front, which follows hot-on-the-heels of Black Wooden Ceiling Opening, but thankfully clocks in at a lean 24 minutes.

Lost Wisdom opens up Elverum's sound considerably, although in ways you wouldn't usually associate with that descriptor. This mini album is a collaborative effort between Elverum and Julie Doiron (of the great Eric's Trip) and guitarist Fred Squire. Despite the added personnel, Lost Wisdom may be Elverum's most sparse and haunting collection to date, as it features nothing more than two guitars (one acoustic, one electric) and two voices (those of Elverum and Doiron). As with Black Wooden Ceiling Opening, a couple of these songs have appeared on prior Elverum releases, and a couple are even said to appear in different form on the next Mount Eerie LP, but this doesn't take away from the magic that these three seemed to have captured as if by accident. This is a loose recording, played live in the studio, with little if any post production work, and the intimate feel of the voices coupled with the thin hum of tape hiss give Lost Wisdom the unique atmosphere of happening upon some distant voices in an uninhabited forest.

The opening 3 song set is among the strongest Elverum work since his Microphones days, as each hushed duet takes on an heart-warming life of it's own ("Voice in Headphones" even nonchalantly appropriates the chorus of Bjork's "Undo"). As the titles would suggest, "Who?" and "What?" are near mirror images of each other, as Doiron and Elverum each respectively take a lead vocal to document a life with and without a lover's touch. Penultimate track "O My Heart" provides appropriate climax for a record that is sometimes painfully honest with emotions, a far cry from Elverum's usual fascination with the elements. With only ten tracks clocking in at 24 minutes, there is little reason to pick apart tracks, but even still, "Flaming Home" and closer "Grave Robbers", while equaling the other tracks in sheer beauty, don't quite feature the same enticing melodies as the best moments here do. What Lost Wisdom as a whole has done however, is reestablish Phil Elverum as an important voice in modern folk. For the first time in years, I can say that I am genuinely excited about what he will do next.

Highlights: "Lost Wisdom", "You San Go On", "With My Hands Out", "O My Heart"

"Voice in Headphones"


Monday, October 20, 2008

Max Richter - 24 Postcards In Full Color (****) / Hauschka - Ferndorf (***)

Stereo Sanctity Album of the Week
(October 19 - 25, 2008)

Concept album. Is there is more offensive 4-letter word in modern independent music? The word alone conjures such grotesque images as the most indulgent of 1970s prog and the most pretentious of singer-songwriter albums. Countless concepts have crippled great artists, and their devotion to unifying themes and/or story lines often times distracts from what is truly important: the music. Two recent modern classical records from composers Max Richter and Hauschka have tiptoed the concept route, but both have surprisingly emerged unscathed with beautiful works that stand apart from their loose connective tissue. 24 Postcards in Full Color, and to a lesser extent Ferndorf, have each used conceptual backdrops to guide prospective listeners, but each has succeeded on their own terms without the optional guideposts.

Düsseldorf-based prepared piano musician Volker Bertelmann (aka Hauschka) crafted Ferndorf - his most fully fleshed and dynamic record to date - as an ode to his titular home town. Each of the twelve tracks apparently are based on Bertelmann's memories of Ferndorf, and the evocative soundscapes and stirring arrangements on the record cast the town as an uplifting community full of warm feelings and peaceful wanderings. What's more, each song relates somehow to a specific place within the town, and fittingly, the record wanders through peaceful meadows, across glistening lakes and down wholly evocative city streets. Opener "Blue Bicycle" announces a new path for the Hauschka project, as swelling strings and light horns fill out the sonic field, a place previously reserved for his solo piano works. The most impressive display of Hauschka's new found techniques is "Freibad", a blissfully melodic piece of minimal piano and sweeping orchestration. Not every piece on Ferndorf could possibly speak to the listener the way it does to Bertelmann, but there is enough growth and movie-ready scene-setters presented here to warrant close listening.

Max Richter - also a proponent of the ivories, but who utilizes them to much different ends than Hauschka - and his heavenly new record, 24 Postcards In Full Color, similarly hangs on a concept, yet is so potentially polarizing that I'd almost rather not describe it for fear of tossed-off presumptions. The 24 short pieces on Postcards were each composed as ring tones, yet hearing any moment of this 32 minute wonder of a record anywhere but headphones would be doing a disservice to one of this generations most accomplished composers. Despite the choppy sequencing of any record hoping to cram 24 songs into barely half an hour, 24 Postcards flows surprisingly well, with an ambient pacesetter, ultra-brief interludes and fully formed pieces of supremely ominous chords, strings and drones. Just as with Ferndorf, 24 Postcards represents the most textured and varied palette of colors Richter has painted with yet. "In Louisville at 7" and "A Song for H - Far Away" each feature prominent guitar motifs which lightly spray drops of moody sound across the brief canvases that Richter has laid end-to-end.

If you're new to Richter or Hauscka (or modern classical music in general), I'd more readily recommend Richter's genre-solidifying The Blue Notebooks, but you can't really go wrong with either of these records. Taking into account that these artists, and most especially Richter, have sidestepped the pitfalls that frequently present themselves to artists crafting concept records is commendable in and of itself. The fact that many of the pieces between these two records represent some of the most spectral of modern classical music puts these artists in a league of their own.

RIYL: Stars of the Lid, Library Tapes, Eluvium, Fennesz

Max Richter - "H In New England"

"Berlin By Overnight"

Hauschka - "Friebad"

Hauschka - "Blue Bicycle"

Jay Reatard - Singles '06 - '07/Matador Singles '08 (***/***1/2)

Jay Reatard eats, sleeps and bleeds punk rock. His adherence to the genre is evident in every note he strikes on his Flying V guitar, but it's not only manifest in his sound and aesthetic, but also in his loyalty the singles format and it's inherit small-run distribution. This conscious decision to remain true to the past belies that fact that he released one of the best pure rock records of the last few years with 2006s Blood Visions. The only real knock you could make against that record was it's uniformity - it often sounded like nothing more than simple variations on the same 2-3 chords, repeated ad infinitum and played furiously for 13 tracks with nary a pause. It was through his singles though that Jay has been allowed to spread his wings into the not-so-punk territory of acoustic guitars and jangle pop. For those of you who had Jay pinned as nothing more than a couple of chords and a faux British accent, then his two recent singles collections are examples number 1 & 2 that this punk-bred three piece have more ideas and better ways to carry them out than most bands of their ilk.

Jay's two year run of singles for the In the Red label were collected earlier this summer as the band's final release for the label, and seeing as how Singles '06-'07 covers the same period in which the band wrote and recorded most of Blood Visions, it should come as no surprise that this particular compilation includes various demos and unreleased versions of tracks that wound up on the full length. The core sound of '06-'07 doesn't vary much from Jay's well established sound either, as a majority of these tracks fall in line with the band's core influences of late 70s British punks such as The Damned, The Buzzcocks and Wire. "Night of Broken Glass", "Feeling Blank Again", "Don't Let Him Come Back" and "Let It All Go", are all top tier Jay Reatard tracks, their simple melodies and infectious energy working together to form wonderful approximations of classic punk rock. Considering a quarter of this compilation is made up of Blood Visions demos though causes me to rank this slightly below it's parent album, but the quality on display throughout is frequently astonishing.

Earlier this year Jay and his band made the jump to indie powerhouse Matador Records, and credit must be given to the label for allowing Jay to work within his preferred format, as he released a series of six 7" singles over the course of six months. Thankfully Matador has made these stellar singles more readily available to those listeners who aren't crate diggers with the similarly titled Matador Singles '08. This is the collection where the growth of Jay Reatard is on full display, as a few of these tracks throw in acoustic guitars and bring to mind bands who were punk in spirit yet anything but in sound, such as The Clean and The Soft Boys. What's even more special about these Matador singles though, is that the easily recognizable punk sound of the band is ironed out and presented in probably it's most impressive state thus far. Songs such as the fantastic opener "See/Saw", the hugely melodic "An Ugly Death" and the self-explanatory "You Mean Nothing to Me" all feature the typical verse-chorus-verse mayhem of prime Jay Reatard, but also add in some nifty bridges and counter hooks to make these songs feels much more epic than they appear to be.

It is with their last and most recent 7" though, the "No Time b/w You Were Sleeping" single, that Jay will leave you with the nagging question about where this band will go next. These two songs (in addition to the closing bonus track "I'm Watching You") are built primarily around the acoustic guitar and bear little in common with the frantic 2 minute punk blasts that the band made their name on. The A-side is probably the highlight of Singles '08, and is probably the closest these guys have come to a proper ballad. The only real blemish on this collection is the overlong and overly faithful cover of Deerhunter's luminescent "Fluorescent Grey". Beyond that though, there is nothing but direct hit after direct hit. The young, flamboyant punk in Jay Reatard may or may not have run its course, but as these 3 years of frighteningly consistent singles proves, there are very few artists as dedicated to the form as Jay Reatard.

Highlights: "Night of Broken Glass", "Hammer I Miss You", "Let It All Go", "See/Saw", "An Ugly Death", "No Time"

RIYL: King Khan, Mark Sultan, The Black Lips, The Damned, The Buzzcocks

"Night of Broken Glass"

"Don't Let Him Come Back"


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Video: Jeff Mangum & Julian Koster - "Engine" (Live in Pittsburgh)

So this is what it's come to. An almost pitch black two minute video of the legendary Jeff Mangum emerging from his over-ten-year-old self-imposed exile to play a Neutral Milk Hotel b-side with Music Tapes' Julian Koster on the E6 Holiday Surprise Tour last night. Yeah well, holy crap!

Updated with better video courtesy of vimeo (via P4k)

from Engine on Vimeo.

And the same song the next night in Columbus. whoop whoop!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

signing off for the week...

I'll be out of town most of the weekend (collaborating on a screenplay if you can believe it), so there won't be any updates around these parts until at least Sunday. I have a back log of reviews to get to though. In the coming weeks you can expect reviews of the latest albums from Hauschka, Max Richter, Jay Reatard, Fucked Up, Oxford Collapse, Women, Of Montreal, Dungen and Jeremy Jay. And hopefully movie reviews of W, Happy Go Lucky and Changeling. My fingers hurt just thinking about it. Cheers.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Rodriguez - Cold Fact (Reissue) (****)

Sixto Rodriguez is the very definition of a cult star. As a Mexican folk singer playing the seedier strip clubs and dive bars in and around his hometown of Detroit, Michigan in the late 1960s, Rodriguez wasn't exactly a viable commercial commodity. His association with Mike Theodore and Dennis Coffey, the latter of which had ties with Motown, seemingly could have given him the inroad to success, but Impact, the label he recorded for at the time, wasn't in the business of promoting and selling an artist as left-of-center as Rodriguez. He recorded two records for the label, releasing his debut album Cold Fact in early 1970 to little if any exposure in America. A funny thing happened with Cold Fact as it traveled overseas however, as it became something of a rallying cry for the White South Africans living during the Apartheid movement, not to mention in Australia, where it was also met with widespread cultural acceptance. Until now though, Cold Fact had never seen release on CD in the States, instead circulating quietly between bootleggers of psychedelic folk and acoustic music.

If Rodriguez stood in opposition to the sounds of late 60s Detroit, which was knee deep in the proto-punk of The Stooges and the MC5, he still bore much in common with the bi-coastal folk movements of Greenwich Village and San Francisco. Armed with just an acoustic guitar, Rodriguez spit raw tales of urban decay, sexual passion and political disenchantment with a clear and forceful voice. His sound and lyrical acumen wasn't unlike Bob Dylan to be perfectly honest, but his sound was fully fleshed out in the studio by a cast of musicians including both Theodore and Coffey. This led to the infectious orchestration of Cold Fact opener (and should-have-been hit) "Sugar Man", as well as the fuzz guitar soloing of the following track "Only Good for Conversation". Rodriguez gets ample time to par things down considerably as well with the dual protest songs of "Hate Street Dialogue" and "This is Not a Song, It's an Outburst: Or, the Establishment Blues", the latter of which is almost a note for note rewrite of "Tombstone Blues". There's no reason any of these songs couldn't have become anti-establishment anthems in the Nixon-era, if only Impact had the means and Rodriguez the drive to peddle his life affirming music to willing listeners.

Time is known to correct mistakes and often times can rewrite history, and as a result Rodriguez has managed to sell out huge venues in both South Africa and Australia over the past few decades, where his records are textbook music knowledge right alongside his more renowned contemporaries. Thanks to the saviors at Light in the Attic (who are prepping a reissue of Cold Fact follow-up Coming From Reality for 2009), we here in the U.S. can now savor the cross-genre sounds of one of the era's most unique folk artists. Cold Fact is one of the few "lost classics" that actually deserves it title, and if there's any justice in the world, this reissue will run it's course for American audiences over the coming years, just as our more adventurous listeners across the Atlantic knew it could all those years ago.

Highlights: "Sugar Man", "This is Not a Song, It' an Outburst: Or, the Establishment Blues", "Hate Street Dialogue"

"Sugar Man"

"This is Not a Song, It' an Outburst: Or, the Establishment Blues"

"Like Janis"

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Calexico - Carried to Dust (***1/2)

I came to Calexico a little later than most. My first exposure to the Southwestern folk-rockers was via their cover of Love's "Alone Again Or", which was later released on the 2004 Convict Pool EP. This band had done something intriguing with their mix of mariachi horns and guitar twang though, taking on a song which I previously felt was all but untouchable and transforming it into something utterly unique and their own. As the years have gone by and I have further explored their back catalog, that particular cover choice doesn't seem quite as odd. In fact, it seems down right inevitable. "Alone Again Or", and early Love in general, isn't a bad comparison to a lot of what Calexico has done over the past ten years or so. "Victor's Jara's Hands", the opening song on Calexico's new record Carried to Dust, in particular sounds an awful lot like what you'd expect Arthur Lee to be doing had he lived to see 2008, with it's mix of Spanish and English vocals, a big, blaring horn part and an infectious wordless hook. Calexico reestablish their beloved ad-hoc mixture of Mexican & Southwestern sounds just seconds into Carried to Dust, signaling a slight return to their roots after the more indie rock oriented Garden Ruin from 2006.

Garden Ruin alienated many long time Calexico fans, as band leaders Joey Burns and John Convertino seemed to be aiming for widespread acceptance as opposed to simply following their musical muse. Hindsight shines a nicer light on Garden Ruin, as I see the record more as a one off experiment (and a successful one at that) than a complete change of heart for the band. As a result, Carried to Dust kind of splits the difference, both in terms of aesthetics and quality, between the more indie friendly Garden Ruin and the eclectic platter that was Feast of Wire (2003). So it's a compendium album of sorts, but only a compendium of the best kind. Following "Victor's Jara's Hands", Carried to Dust segues into a run of some of the strongest Calexico material to date, with the light "Two Silver Trees", the swooning "News About William" and the buoyantly catchy "Writer's Minor Holiday" all standing out. These are all relatively subdued songs, as Carried to Dust feels like one of the more comfortable entries in the bands catalog, but a couple numbers bring a more rock fueled flavor, in particular "Man Made Lake" and it's feedback enhanced guitar bridge.

The guest list of Carried to Dust is impressive as well and should entice curious onlookers, as Iron & Wine's Sam Beam provides beautiful backing harmonies on "House of Valapraiso" and the inimitable John McEntire (Tortiose) shows up on ghostly closer "Contention City". A band as consistency wonderful as Calexico runs the risk of being taken for granted, and this band unfortunately carries a much heavier burden than many bands. They rarely show up on top ten lists despite widespread critical acclaim (and despite what I am tell you, this won't show up on my top ten either), while their fan base even seems to have become complacent with the fact that every few years another solid Calexico record will come down the pike. But that is neither here nor there, and fortunately for Calexico they carry their status confidently and without pretense. This is a band that will probably be better appreciated years after the fact, but I have no problem championing Carried to Dust in the here and now.

Highlights: "Victor Jara's Hands", "Two Silver Trees", "The News About William", "House of Valapraiso", "Red Blooms"

"Victor Jara's Hands"

"Two Silver Trees"

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Mogwai - The Hawk Is Howling (**)

Mogwai are the most frustrating of post-rock bands. After debuting with the now seminal Young Team in 1997, they have spent the last decade-plus barely meeting expectations (at best) and horribly disappointing (as worst) in nearly equal measure. Unfortunately, their intermittent successes have been overshadowed by their unwillingness to grow, whether that be musically, stylistically or both. The Mogwai formula has grown so stale by this point that each new release isn't met with the same shattering disappointment as some of their initial post-Young Team records were, but instead with downright indifference (which I'd argue is an even worse reaction). I continue listening though because it's Mogwai, and I know that they have it in them to scale great heights once again. Their failed attempts at "growth" - which for them has meant nothing more than compacting their huge compositions while layering electronics beneath the noise - has yielded very little in the way of extra emotional pull or atmospheric enhancement, two things which the Scottish band used to exude effortlessly. So it goes that Mogwai's new disc, The Hawk Is Howling, does a little of what every previous Mogwai album has done, at times lulling, while at others explosive, but never in the service of whole songs, let alone a complete record.

One thing Mogwai haven't lost over the years is their amazing way with song titles, and the Hawk Is Howling features some scathing descriptors. "I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead", "The Sun Smells Too Loud" and "I Love You, I'm Going to Blow Up Your School" all immediately enter the pantheon of classic Mogwai titles, but little in the music - outside of the cacophonous final minute of "School" - registers even remotely as memorable as those titles would suggest. First single "Batcat" cuts out the build-and-release tactic that Mogwai perfected ten years ago and jumps straight to the release. The chugging guitars and thunderous low end could even be classified as metal, but ultimately the self consciousness of the grind cripples the intended effect. In fact, the ear-scraping climax of "School" is the only loud moment on The Hawk Is Howling that feels organic - if only the preceding 6 minutes weren't so laborious. And despite the fact that Mogwai do their best work in long form, ending the record with three 6+ minute snooze-fest kills whatever momentum "School" manages to build up.

While there are no egregious errors on Hawk- and I'll readily admit that there a numerous moments of pure beauty to be found here - the record as a whole still features the least amount of quality material on any Mogwai record yet. As Mogwai continue to mine the same territory that they pioneered in the late 90s, the returns continue to diminish, to the point where The Hawk Is Howling is merely a forgettable artifact from a dwindling band rather than a disappointment from an important act. Someone needs to send these guys the memo that post-rock is dead, and copy Explosions in the Sky, Mono and A Silver Mount Zion while they're at it.

Highlights: "I Love You, I'm Going to Blow Up Your School"

"I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead"

"I Love You, I'm Going to Blow Up Your School"

Friday, October 10, 2008

Antony & the Johnsons - Another World EP (***)

This review is featured at Music In Review Online

I don't envy artists who are burdened with the task of following up a critically beloved album, and in the case of androgynous diva Antony Hegarty, I'm even more sympathetic, as his heavenly 2005 album I am a Bird Now still stands as one of this decade's most special records. As many artists tend to do following a breakthrough album, Antony has recorded an EP's worth of material in advance of his wildly anticipated Bird follow-up, The Crying Light. Unsurprisingly, the Another World EP falls in line nicely with the fragile beauty of Bird, at times feeling (for better or worse) like nothing more than an extension of that near-perfect album.

In comparison to Bird, the five songs on Another World are more sparse and delicately arranged, with most every song built around just Antony's otherworldly vox and accompanying piano. Opener and standout track "Another World" is perhaps the most ghostly and minimal song Antony has recorded thus far. The song's themes of death, the afterlife and rebirth are part and parcel for Antony at this point, but the track's ominous piano chords combined with the singer's always vivid vocals position this as the EP's biggest selling point. Following the title track is the compact "Crackagen", which along with penultimate track "Sing For Me", are solid Antony B-sides.

Antony throws his biggest stylistic curve ball yet with centerpiece track "Shake that Devil", which begins as an a capella piece before subtly adding droning static as a foundation for Antony's expressive quaver. Halfway in though, big drums and free jazz sax enter the mix, building a sleazy strut for this propulsive and surprising track. Antony has proven time and again, whether through his collaborations with Bjork or his vocal work on the new Hercules and Love Affair album, that his voice is a malleable instrument, easily transferable between seemingly disparate poles. "Shake That Devil" stands apart from what is generally associated with the singer, but it is one of the most successful experiments he has yet attempted.

Closing track "Hope Mountain" returns to the spare beauty of the title track, and it ends the EP on an appropriately ambiguous note as it quietly fades into nothingness. Another World does what any good EP should do, and that is to solidify the past while hinting at the future, and these 5 tracks effectively trace the entire trajectory that Antony has charted through the decade. It's a luminous stand alone piece of work, but as an appetizer for the forthcoming Crying Light LP, it more than satiates.

Highlights: "Another World", "Shake That Devil", "Hope Mountain"

"Another World"

"Shake That Devil"

"Hope Mountain"

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Stream: The Notwist - "Boneless" (Panda Bear Remix)

I'll keep this short and sweet. This track, originally from the Notwist's surprisingly overlooked new album, The Devil, You + Me, was already an album highlight and a nice continuation of the work they did on the landmark Neon Golden. Panda Bear has now gotten his paws and the track and transformed it into something utterly soothing and awe-inspiring. Very little remains from the Notwist original, which is certainly far from a bad thing, particularly when the track in question falls perfectly in line with last year's game changing Person Pitch (Stereo Sanctity's #1 album of 2007). This is one of 2008s best songs so far. (courtesy of P4k's imeem page)

Department of Eagles - In Ear Park (***1/2)

This review is featured at Music In Review Online

There is no way I can definitively prove the following statement, but I think it is safe to assume that if it weren't for Grizzly Bear's breakthrough record Yellow House, there wouldn't have even been another Department of Eagles album. It's a two way street though, because if Yellow House weren't such a creative leap forward for both Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen, then the new Department of Eagles record, In Ear Park, probably wouldn't be a strong as it is. To be clear, Daniel Rossen's Department of Eagles - a five piece band including both Grizzly Bear's Chris Taylor & Chris Bear - was actually around before Grizzly Bear, so it's not exactly fair to call it a side project, but you'd be forgiven for making the mistake.

In fact, the sound of In Ear Park isn't too far removed from Grizzly Bear, as it kind of splits the difference between the subtle folk songs of Yellow House and the slow burning rockers on the Friend EP, with a little late 60s So Cal pop thrown in for flavor. The lead-off title track is cushioned on a bed of intricately plucked acoustic guitar that sounds like James Blackshaw traded in his twelve string guitar for a six string, while "Around the Bay, "Floating on the Lehigh" and hypnotic closer "Balmy Night" all play coy with the listener, asking them to give themselves over to the hidden beauty stitched into the fabric of each of these numbers. The more immediate tracks, such as the Lennon-esque "Teenagers" and the slim and direct "No One Does It Like You", provide easy access for those unfamiliar with Grizzly Bear, and it's with these tracks that Rossen really infuses this project with an identity of their own.

On the whole though, In Ear Park is an earthier and more modest affair than recent Grizzly Bear material, despite the fact that both "Phantom Other" and "Waves of Rye" would have made better inclusions on Friend then that slew of questionable remixes that padded that release. This is music that reveals itself slowly and over time - casual listeners need not apply. These are quietly labyrinth arrangements that Rossen has constructed here, and he rarely confines himself to verse-chorus-verse structures. Meanwhile, his band provides a sturdy backdrop of strings, banjo and horns, weaving each together into a seamless whole but reigning in whatever showy tendencies they may have in favor of Rossen's fragile voice, which gives this record it's light and breezy feel.

In Ear Park is surprising for a lot of reason - not least of which is that it's so strong as a complete listen - but the fact that it doesn't lower itself to holdover status until the next Grizzly Bear album proper really makes it feel important. Department of Eagles is it's own living breathing unit, and a unique and special one at that. They also happened to have unexpectedly dropped one of 2008s most pleasant surprises.

Highlights: "In Ear Park", "No One Does It Like You", "Teenagers", "Herringbone" "Floating on the Lehigh"

RIYL: Grizzly Bear, Akron/Family, Papercuts

"No One Doesn It Like You"



Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Week That Was - The Week That Was (***1/2)

Really now, who would have thought that perennially underrated post-punkers Field Music would house within their ranks two genuinely fantastic songwriters? With Field Music on what could turn out to be a permanent hiatus, David and Peter Brewis have gone out on their own, David with his guitar pop experimentation project School of Language and Peter with a symphonic pop group he has dubbed The Week That Was. While School of Language's Sea From Shore saw David staying relatively close to the Field Music home base of influences (not a bad thing), which included XTC and Gang of Four, among other post punk linchpins, The Week That Was pulls from a much larger lineage, one that includes Kate Bush, Genesis, Electric Light Orchestra and even solo Peter Gabriel. That may read like AOR schmaltz on paper, but Peter, with the assistance of a very competent band which does in fact include his brother David, manages to extract the very best elements of said influences, while infusing it with small traces of the slicing guitar chords that he is more commonly known for.

So yes, there is heavy prog influence at play on this self-titled debut, but only on album centerpiece "Yesterday's Paper" does it overtly reveal itself (and even there it is done tactfully). Most everything else here is relatively compact, especially considering that these songs feel so grandiose, with healthy doses of strings and stadium-sized drums anchoring nearly every song. Opener "Learn to Learn" retains the most evidence that this man was indeed in Field Music, yet even it would stick out as a highlight on one of that band's two solid albums. The record's strongest song is "The Airport Line" though, which proves Peter has been studying his pop-era Brian Eno records. As is the case with many songs on this debut, "The Airport Line's" restraint with its hook is commendable. Even the appropriately titled closer, "Scratch the Surface", which is probably the most straightforward track here, features an audiophile’s worth of interesting accompaniment under it's irresistible melody.

As alluded to before, The Week That Was packs a lot of ideas into its compact 32 minute runtime. In fact, it feels like a stronger and more substantial release than Sea From Shore, despite the fact that the latter is 7 minutes longer. This speaks to the writing and arranging talents of Peter Brewis, that he can take just 8 songs and paint a complete musical picture, one which updates the past by carefully integrating ideas that many felt had no place in modern pop. With each subsequent release, it's getting harder and harder to think of two more consistent pop songwriters than the brothers Brewis. Each of the four albums that they've had they're hands in are essential listening at this point, and The Week That Was may very well be the most accomplished of the lot.

Highlights: "Learn to Learn", "The Airport Line", "Scratch the Surface"

RIYL: Field Music, School of Language, Genesis, Kate Bush, Brian Eno

"The Good Life"

"Scratch the Surface"

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Vivian Girls - Vivian Girls (***1/2)

As diametrically opposed as 1950s girl groups and late 80s shoegaze seem on paper, they've actually always had quite a bit in common. Scene progenitors The Jesus & Mary Chain were hugely indebted to girl groups, as they hid heavenly harmonies behind ear-grinding feedback. Even My Bloody Valentine, while not as overt with their channeling of these groups, still maintained an undeniable feminine mystique. As shoegaze faded in the early 90s, small boy-girl groups kept the tradition alive in more pop oriented ways as they traded tapes amongst the underground. Twee-pop luminaries such as Cub and Beat Happening had distinct 1950s influences, and although they kept the distortion to a minimum, at least compared to those aforementioned shoegaze acts, they did indeed carry the torch into the second half of the 90s, where the genre lay somewhat dormant.

In the new decade though, there have been no shortage of shoegaze-inspired acts, except that more often than not these groups (A Place to Bury Strangers for instance) construct impenetrable masculine facades similar to those of Ride or even Swervedriver. On the other hand, we've seen literal updates of the 50s girl group phenomena in the form of The Pipettes. What emerging NYC all-girl trio Vivian Girls have done then is kind of split the difference between noisy outbursts and pop nuggets. In other words, their debut record doesn't break any new ground, but it's been such a long time since a band put these two genres together so effortlessly that it feels surprisingly fresh.

Vivian Girls then, is a ten song, 22 minute tantrum of punk energy, effects pedals wizardry and beautifully layered vocal harmonies. When the songs hover around the 90 second mark (which they often do), that is when their nosier punk edge is more readily noticeable. As they stretch their songwriting legs for a two song, mid-album breather though, that is where you'll find the best traces of pop gold nestled within the fuzz of Vivian Girls. So while nothing here is close to filler, "Tell the World" and "Where Do You Run To" still tower above the other 8 tracks. Despite these centerpieces though, this is a well balanced record, as the songs move in an arc from quick blasts to three dimensional pop songs and back again. So as much as you may want more moments in the "Where Do You Run To" vein, repeated listens make clear that the Girls will only tip their hand so much. This works wonders for them, as these tight and instantly memorable gems will leave you salivating for more.

Highlights: "All the Time", "Tell the World", "Where Do You Run To", "No"

RIYL: Beat Happening, All Girl Summer Fun Band, The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Breeders

"Tell The World"

"Where Do You Run To"

Monday, October 6, 2008

Gentleman Jesse & His Men - Gentleman Jesse & His Men (****)

Stereo Sanctity Album of the Week
(October 5 - 11, 2008)

This review is featured on Music In Review Online

It's going to prove near impossible to read a review of the debut album from power-pop combo Gentleman Jesse & His Men that doesn't name-check The Exploding Hearts, the beloved (and much missed) Portland-based band whose one album run came to an abrupt end in 2003 following a van accident in which three of the groups four members were tragically killed. As you can probably tell, I'm not going to try and skirt the similarities either, but what makes Gentleman Jesse's self-titled debut so flat-out likable is, just like The Exploding Hearts' Guitar Romantic, it's unabashed infectiousness and straight-forward presentation. There isn't a whiff of pretension for the duration of the record's entire 32 minutes - a half hour chock full of some of the most instantly memorable pop hooks of the decade. What seems to get pushed under the rug in modern music criticism, at least when it comes to power pop, is just how much there will always be a need for a band such as The Exploding Hearts or now Gentleman Jesse & His Men. Music like this will never go out of style, and when it is as accomplished and exuberant as it is here, it can, in it's own way, put just about any other style of music to shame.

Now, with that being said and to continue the comparisons, The Exploding Hearts retained a unique punk sensibility and sharp edge, from their leather-clad look on down, that presented the band as a fully formed package. Gentlemen Jesse don't go in for that sort of thing - in fact, they look rather normal - but they more than make up for it with a record bursting at the seams with insanely simple but endlessly catchy melodies. This is guitar pop played for the sole reason of playing guitar pop, no more, no less (their Myspace page breaks it down in even simpler terms: "We started a band and play music for humans and stuff".)

This isn't a band copping from a single source however. To their credit, the band's musical acumen runs a little deeper than that. The whole Modern Lovers and Soft Boys vibe is unavoidable to be sure, yet they channel each with a verve and moxie that feels immediately fresh and free of guilt. Even the album cover, an obvious Elvis Costello homage, registers as a charming tip of the hat rather than self-important grandstanding. This is a band that knows it's forebears well, and makes no bones about their love for all things pop, yet it's that very attitude which elevates the record above the level of mere pastiche. They aren't trying to necessarily write another "Roadrunner", "I Wanna Destroy You" or even "Modern Kicks", but regardless of intention, many of these 12 songs come frighteningly close to perfection.

The formula is simple: two or three chords, verse-chorus-verse structure, and a universal sentiment usually involving booze, a girl or some combination of both, slapped together and run through with an enveloping energy - and all in 2 1/2 minutes. Every song here warrants a spotlight paragraph, yet somehow the constant momentum and gradual build of the record gives it the feel of being greater than the some of it's already fantastic parts. Since my first exposure to this record, I've rarely felt the need to listen to anything else (always the sign of something great). Once playing, I dare you to eject it from your CD player or skip a single song on your iPod. It is, quite simply and whether you care to admit it or not, the most flat-out contagious power-pop record since, well, Guitar Romantic.

Highlights: "Highland Crawler", "The Rest of My Days", "Butterfingers", "You Don't Have To (If You Don't Want To)", "You Got Me Where You Want Me"

RIYL: The Exploding Hearts, The Modern Lovers/Jonathan Richman, The Soft Boys/Robyn Hitchcock, Elvis Costello


"You Don't Have To (If You Don't Want To)"


Friday, October 3, 2008

Scorsese and Deniro to Reunite!

Now this is some good news going into the weekend (and thanks to Awardsdaily for pointing it out). It looks like the long awaited reunion of director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert Deniro will finally come to fruition, 13 years after their last collaboration, 1995s Casino. And it's a crime movie! Can't get much better than that, right?

Based on the Charles Brandt novel of the same name, I Heard You Paint Houses will star Deniro in the role of Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran, who is apparently the guy who killed Jimmy Hoffa. The great screenwriter Steve Zallian is adapting the book for the screen, but outside of that, few details have surfaced (like who will play Hoffa?). It's rather inconsequential though. They already have my ten bucks (and probably my 20 for the Blu-Ray).

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Horse Feathers - House With No Home (***)

Portland, Oregon's Horse Feathers issued a slept-on commercially but critically well liked debut album in 2006 called Words Are Dead, and in the two years since they've added third member Heather Broderick, brother of multi-instrumentalist Peter. As a result, they're sound has been slightly fleshed out on sophomore album House With No Home, as the band incorporates acoustic guitar, banjo, violin and cello to soothingly morose effect. There's still no percussion in sight, but singer-songwriter Justin Ringle's songs still feel broader than the debut's ultra sparse arrangements. Every instrument is still spaced in the mix just right, allowing Ringle's light-as-air vocals to dance softly above the Americana-steeped instrumentation. Horse Feathers conjure a dark and cold sound on House With No Home, perfectly represented by the beautifully evocative cover art.

For better or worse though, the Iron & Wine comparisons still prove apt. Ringle's voice sometimes skirts eerily close to Sam Beam's gentle quaver, while the vast, empty landscapes that the music brings to mind has a similar feel to that of The Creek Drank the Cradle. Even with the added instrumentation, and this being only their second album, Horse Feathers haven't experienced the musical growth that Beam hasn't exhibited over the course of his last couple records. Still, this is a record filled with a chilling atmosphere and subtle melodies that slowly reveal themselves over close listens. Opener "Curs in the Weeds" is probably the best Horse Feathers song to date, beginning sparsely, only to slowly add quietly soaring cello and strings under Ringle and Heather Broderick's whispered harmonies. Songs that stick to this slow build and coast formula work best, as "Helen" and "Heathen's Kiss" so nicely demonstrate. Beyond these standouts though, the uniform mood and sound of House With No Home force these songs to blend into blurry whole. The haunting melodies and ominous sound of the record are enough to separate this band from the fold though, and as sophomore album go, this one is solid.

Highlights: "Curs in the Weeds", "Heathen's Kiss"

RIYL: Iron & Wine, Vetiver, Bowerbirds

"Curs in the Weeds"

"Rude to Rile"

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Nothin much goin on....

Today is a rather slow day on all fronts. It's for the better I suppose since the Angels are on in 30 minutes, and I won't be leaving the couch. There is however the rather sick looking new Microcastle artwork that the band finally decided on. I guess you can do whatever you want when the record isn't officially in shops yet. Personally, I love it. This is much more in tune with the Deerhunter/Atlas Sound visual palette, as opposed to the Physical Graffiti-ish artwork that adorned the download release. I never truly felt it fit. This feels right though.

Looking ahead, there will be lots of new reviews coming at you, including write-ups on the new albums from Horse Feathers, Gentlemen Jesse & His Men, Deerhoof, Jay Reatard, Antony & the Johnsons and hopefully some reissue reviews of Rodriguez's cult classic Cold Fact LP, and that new Liquid Liquid compilation (this one could take a couple weeks though).

Anyway, keep a look out and continue to check back here and at FIRONLINE.