Hanni El Khatib- Moonlight

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Hanni El Khatib- Moonlight

Let’s get this out of the way immediately – the guitar on this album is absolutely incredible. Hanni El Khatib’s Moonlight, released January 20th, is the third effort from the San Francisco native gaining traction for his guitar prowess and catchy tracks. While his previous two albums can be categorized mainly as southern blues rock, Moonlight adds another layer to Khatib’s repertoire not previously shown his first two efforts. This is most evident in the album’s final track “Two Brothers,” which almost completely abandons the heavy guitar influence that dominates most of the album for an LCD SoundSystem/TV on the Radio style electronic-disco undertone. Another example of this transition is the album’s ninth track “Dance Hall” which lightens up the guitar and adds a steady drum beat to accompany Khatib’s light bluesy vocals. This transition shows Khatib is ready to make the jump from indie darling to mainstream success.

Although he has added some new tricks to his style, his signature blues heavy style is not fully abandoned. The album’s second track “Melt Me” is the perfect example of this with hard hitting solos scattered throughout the song’s entirety to grab the listener’s attention immediately. If “Two Brothers” is evidence of the range Khatib can show, “Melt Me” and “Moonlight,” are examples of why he gained a following initially. An interesting comparison would be the sound change made from the Black Keys’ Attack and Release to Brothers, they were able to adapt their sound to widen their audience while not completely alienating their core listeners. Khatib does an interesting job with this similar dynamic and is beginning to map his blueprint to success.

Recommended Tracks: “Two Brothers,” “Melt Me,” “Mexico,” “Home.” 

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Belle and Sebastian- Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance

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Belle and Sebastian- Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance

It was about three months ago that Scottish, indie-pop royalty Belle and Sebastian released the single, “The Party Line” giving listeners their first taste of what to expect on their new album Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance.

Immediately evident was the dancey, disco-funk vibe that the single exuded, not necessarily a staple of Belle and Sebastian’s lengthy catalog. Many attributed this new sound to the fact that the band was working with producer Ben H. Allen III, who has produced albums for bands Bombay Bicycle Club, Animal Collective and Matt and Kim, all of which are much more electronically driven than your typical Belle and Sebastian record.

This, among other things, is part of the reason that singles can be frustrating. Critics and fans alike are quick to project a drastic shift in the content of an entire album based off a single song that the artists may or may not have even chosen. Belle and Sebastian’s new album Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance does have its moments of funk and even disco themes, but at its heart it is very much a Belle and Sebastian record.

Aside from the undeniably catch “The Party Line”, “Enter Sylvia Plath” is the most disco-driven track on the album. Stuart Murdoch and Sarah Martin harmonize wonderfully over a myriad of synthesizers, and though not the most poetic song on Peacetime, Murdoch keeps the lyrics away from the droll predictability that categorizes most “dance” tracks.

Despite this stylistic change, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance will still satisfy the die-hard Belle and Sebastian fans who have waited four long years for this album. The second track, “Allie”, is an introduction to the character who Murdoch has stated is the main subject of the storytelling songs on the album. As always, Murdoch is able to create what seems like an entire character study within what amounts to six or seven songs.

“Ever had a little faith” is the most throwback song off the record, sounding like quintessential 90’s Belle and Sebastian. The song effortlessly combines a string section, light, acoustic guitar, and the ever-so-delicate vocals of Murdoch, with a hint of harmonization from Martin. There exists, in my opinion, no voice in pop history that matches so naturally with airy, upbeat guitar strumming than that of Murdoch, and thankfully he seems to enjoy implementing this for at least a few songs, no matter how funky the album is as a whole.

While there is both the dance and the more traditional Belle and Sebastian within Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, there is also a few tracks, namely “The Everlasting Muse” that fit into neither box comfortably. The first half of the song is not particularly noteworthy, with a baseline and basic drum pattern at its spine. It is not until nearly two minutes in, that the song evolves into a Beirut-esque polka song, equipped with a full sting and horn section, making it perhaps the band’s most musically intricate and layered song to date.

Belle and Sebastian have nothing to prove. Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, their ninth studio album, is not one trying to legitimize their place in the pop world, they have earned that through a consistency that rivals the greatest of all time. What this album does is shows that they are far from finished, are still evolving, and will continue to grace listeners for years to come.

 

 

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The Kooks- Listen

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The Kooks- Listen

     Simple, upbeat, and pleasant. Consistency has been the name of the game over the past decade for British rockers, the Kooks. Their latest effort, Listen, continues their cheery Brit-pop vibes shown in previous efforts with the insertion of new elements that set it apart from older projects. Listen starts off quick with “Around Town” and carries the energy for the entirety of the album all the way to the album’s final track “Sunrise.” “See Me Now” serves as a nice change of pace to what is a predominantly energetic album. There is a much stronger electronic influence in Listen than previous efforts, shying away from the guitar pop style that helped gain the group their initial popularity.

     While the Kooks are certainly not setting the world on fire with Listen they add another consistent piece of work to their already impressive catalog. The Kooks have made large strides since their debut album, Inside In/Inside Out, and continue to improve as time progresses with this album giving them a serious case to gain the mainstream attention they have always been lacking. Keep an eye out for tracks such as “Down” and “Westside” to make their way onto mainstream alternative radio in the near future. 

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Mirel Wagner- When The Cellar Children See The Light Of Day

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Mirel Wagner- When The Cellar Children See The Light Of Day

Open mic events usually consist of singer-songwriters who, if they have any original material at all, are simply refurbishing old cliches that have been played out by thousands of people, thousands of times, in a thousand different places. This is why it is so noteworthy when an artist is plucked from these settings and given the chance to be heard by a much wider audience.

    Mirel Wagner is just this lucky artist. The interesting thing is, her music is an old cliche. Stripped down bluesy guitar playing (mostly acoustic), somewhat basic song structures, and a melancholy lyrical style. The reason that Wagner was able to emerge from the bar rooms and coffee houses of Helsinki and into the recording studio of Sub Pop records is not an overly complicated one; she is just damn good.

    She is able to take the themes of an old genre and give them new life because of how skilled her composition becomes as a whole. The songwriting is impeccable and gives you sense of sadness without beating you over the head with it. The instrumentation is simple yet interesting enough to keep one from dozing off, which is a legitimate issue with this kind of album. Wagner’s voice finds the middle ground between overly delicate and aggressively rough. This kind of balance is what it takes for a quiet album like When The Cellar Children See The Light Of Day break through the noise.

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James Supercave- The Afternoon (EP)

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James Supercave- The Afternoon (EP)

At first listen, James Supercave’s The Afternoon feels like the stream of consciousness of a band who hasn’t quite mastered the art of creating fully figured, compact pop songs. But over the course the album, this initially disheartening aspect of their musical style becomes what stands out on the Los Angeles based quintet’s debut release. The opening tracks, “Old Robot” and “The Right Thing” come on strong and begin with flourishes of intricate electronic arrangements that are as interesting as they are fleeting. As soon as you begin to characterize the melody, it will morph into something different altogether.

 

The all-over-the-map nature of the first half of the EP subsides a bit on “A Million Ways”, a more streamlined pop composition. It is the kind of work we can probably expect a little more of if the band releases a full length album as the momentum of the early tracks would be difficult to sustain for an entire album. The Afternoon takes a bit of patience, but is nothing if not intriguing, which should ignite a level of excitement for things to come.

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The Black Keys- Turn Blue

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The Black Keys- Turn Blue

The Black Keys are long past the time when they are going to catch anyone by surprise. Turn Blue marks the band’s eighth studio album and the first since 2011’s El Camino, an album full of more radio ready rock hits than nearly any in recent memory. This time around though, the duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney seem content to let their record unfold more gradually.

 

This is evident from the opening moments of the record. Just as “Lonely Boy” established the urgent attitude of El Camino, Turn Blue’s “Weight of Love” similarly sets up the tone for the remainder of the album. The six-minute-plus track builds as slowly as any Black Keys track in memory. In fact, it isn’t until over two minutes in that we first year Auerbach’s built-for-rock vocals.

 

“Bullet in the Brain” has an equally impressive build up, beginning with acoustic strumming followed by vocals, Carney’s immediately recognizable pounding drums, and finally the driving electric riffs the band is known for. The stark difference between the opening moments of the track and the final half brings to memory a song like “Little Black Submarines”, but instead of the immediate change the band takes a more layered, slowly growing approach.

 

One thing that is more evident than on any other Black Keys album is the growing influence of what has nearly become a third member of the band, producer and keyboardist Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton. Though this is the third album in which Burton has had a large role in the production, Turn Blue is no doubt the record where we see his auteur touch most prominently.

 

Turn Blue may also be the band’s most piano-heavy output to date, an instrumentation that was most likely pushed by Burton. Both “In Time” and “In Our Prime” contain piano heavy introductions before the familiar drum, guitar duo takes back control. The funky bass line that hovers beneath the surface, along with the constant back and forth of Auerbach’s voice from his usual gravely vocals to a more falsetto whisper, makes the song feel like a cover of a tune from Burton’s most recent project outside of the Black Keys, Broken Bells’ After the Disco.

 

All this talk of changes isn’t to say that the die-hard fans will be disappointed. For all their new found sound, the group never loses sight of what has made them one of the most successful rock bands going. The first single, “Fever”, released nearly two months ago, shows off the band’s most lasting skill, creating unbelievable catchy hooks and choruses that you just can’t stop listening to. “Fever” is the kind of song that will undoubtedly be played in excess on both radio and whatever commercial or sports broadcast can get their hands on it. Yet somehow, in only Black Keys fashion, it will resist becoming annoying or played out.

 

“Turn Blue” is another track that seems destined to garner radio plays and possibly single status. The steady bass line along with a repeated guitar riff keeps the song driving forward and allow Auerbach’s vocals to take center stage. The infectious chorus, “I really don’t think you know / That could be hell below” repeats throughout giving the song a much more somber tone than much of the album without becoming outright depressing.

 

The Black Keys have reached such a pinnacle of success that each record will be picked through with a fine tooth comb. Many will look for the moment when they can declare that the group has officially “sold out” or has become so entrenched in success than they no longer try anything new. This album shows neither of these characteristic and although far from a perfect album, the Black Keys have successfully added to their already impressive catalog with another solid record.

 

 

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Manchester Orchestra- Cope

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Manchester Orchestra- Cope

★★★★★★★★☆☆

 

 

Some bands can take what a quality, enjoyable sound is and rely so heavily upon it that it feels like it is being shoved down the listener’s throat. Manchester Orchestra has never been that band. Since their first album, I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child, Manchester Orchestra has been able to keep from becoming stale. This is in large part thanks to their frontman Andy Hull whose vocal range allows him to go from a passionate scream to a poetic whisper in a moment’s notice without seeming dissonant or out of place. 

 

The bands most recent effort, Cope¸ is their most aggressive work to date, an 11-song, 38-minute album full of abrupt, unapologetic rock-and-roll (compare this to 2011’s Simple Math which contains 45 minutes of music on only 10 tracks). The driving force that is evident from the opening track and one of the best songs on the record, “Top Notch”, is not an unintentional one. Hull divulged their objective to change things up for this record, telling Fit4ttalent.com exactly what they set out to make, “something that's just brutal and pounding you over the head every track”.

 

“Brutal and pounding” is no overstatement. The first 3 tracks come out of the gate quick and allow for barely a breath to be taken. The driving rhythm guitars backed by the steady drum beat provides a momentum that the band only hinted at in previous outputs. It’s not until the intro to “The Mansion” that Hull’s voice and lyrics become the centerpiece to the song. But even as this is happening we are still provided with a foot stomping back drop of heavy riffs on an electric guitar reminding us to enjoy this relative scarcity as it will not be long until the band is in full jam once again. 

 

Part of the reason why the band is able to successfully produce an album with such high intensity is the way that they have avoided such repetition on their albums in the past. Cope resists Manchester Orchestra’s tendency to include at least one or two songs which are essentially Hull, a guitar and his skillful storytelling lyricism (i.e. Mean Everything to Nothing’s “The River” or I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child’s “Don’t Let Them See You Cry”). This maybe be in part due to Hull’s two side projects, Bad Books and Right Away, Great Captain, both of which have released albums since 2012 that were almost entirely acoustic and lyrically driven. All this muted storytelling may have led to Hull’s need to fully explode in bellowing anger on nearly every single song on the record. 

 

The issue with such similarity is the inevitable fatigue that a listener can experience when not given enough variance in sound. The reason why the past inclusion of more toned down songs was so effective is that it gave you a chance to miss the ups. This album gives you no such chance which can make the album feel longer than it is because by the end the repetition can simply become a bit tiresome. 

 

This relative change in sound is far from the only shift happening within Manchester Orchestra. This also marks the band’s first album with Loma Vista Recordings, as well as the first without bassist Jonathon Corley who left the band to pursue interests outside of music. It was also the first album recorded in the band’s brand new recording studio the band essentially built themselves in their home state of Atlanta. Perhaps it was all these firsts, and the nerves and excitement that come with them, that led to the adrenaline filled album that Cope became. 

 

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Lo-Fang- Blue Film

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Lo-Fang- Blue Film

By Sean Fennell

 

It’s hard to imagine the crippling excitement/anxiety that an artist must feel in the days and weeks following the release of their debut album. You could wake up in a couple of weeks and be the next big thing, or you could be one of only a handful of people who ever hear the work you put so much time and effort into. Of the millions of artists who have gone through this unique experience few have had the luck of Lo-Fang’s Matthew Hemerlein, who following the February 25th release of his first studio album will embark on tour with Lorde, one of the hottest pop acts in recent memory. This will no doubt increase the amount of people who will know Lo-Fang’s name, but will that lead to popularity and success? That will be determined by how audiences feel about the quality Blue Film, no matter the publicity or hype.

 

Considering the fact that Blue Film was originally intended to be a mix-tape/EP it has a very album-like feel, each song fitting in right where should (except perhaps the 8th track  “intro” which seems unnecessary). One of the first patterns you notice when listening through the record is the use of strumming, whether it be on a guitar or any other string instrument, as the beat that gives each song a unified feeling amongst the wide-variety of extravagant arrangements. This is exampled early on “Boris” which begins with a simple strumming pattern accompanied by Hemerlein’s haunting voice but soon evolves into a virtual orchestra of instruments, all without losing its identity.

 

Lo-Fang also borrows from the growing trend in indie rock, made popular by bands like The XX, of an understated sound, which focuses on the details. This means that Blue Film may take a more attentive than some are willing to give. One track that is definitely worth your attention is “#88”, which standouts as without a doubt the most polished song on the record. One of Hemerlein’s skills that becomes apparent on “#88” is his impressive vocal range. He is able to go from a deep melancholy tone to a high pitched whisper within seconds. This allows his voice to become just another tool in his instrument belt used throughout Blue Film.

 

Another highlight of Blue Film comes on “Animal Urges”. Primarily because of the catchy chorus which states, “Make no mistake, these are animal urges”, warning us that although he may seem refined, he is not completely squeaky clean. The record also features an interesting take on the Grease classic “You’re the One That I Want”. One that features such a slow tone that it transforms the song from a giddy jingle to a depressing break up song. It is not an album without its faults, one complaint being that many of the songs have such similar sound and structure as to become at some points, indistinguishable. This, however is not a huge issue because of how pleasing that repeated sound is to the listener.

 

It doesn’t take long to realize the niche that Lo-Fang is going for. Matthew Hemerlein is classically trained and that is evident from the get go. Blue Film, recorded entirely by Hemerlein, features bass, guitar, cello, piano and violin, all of which he mixes seamlessly throughout almost every track. The comparisons to other multi-talented indie rockers like Andrew Bird is a natural one not only because of the style of his work but also because of the overall quality. Blue Film is an impressively polished effort for a debut album and one that will surely garner attention, regardless of who Lo-Fang headlines for. 

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St. Vincent- St. Vincent

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St. Vincent- St. Vincent

★★★★★★★☆☆☆

 

 

To understand the transformation of St. Vincent’s Annie Clark, one only needs to look at the covers of her albums, all but one of which feature a portrait of herself. When her first album, Marry Me, was released in 2007 Annie Clark couldn’t have more perfectly captured the innocent, every girl look. Now 7 years later she again graces the cover of her newest self-titled work, but this time looks more like a character out of a Tim Burton film than the quirky pop-star she seemed destined to become in 2007. 

 

Despite this dramatic change in appearance, St. Vincent has not had to revamp her sound to continue to grow more and more successful. Not to say she hasn’t picked up bits and pieces along the way (most notably from collaborator David Byrne), but overall she has stayed true to her original ideals and has grown into a force in the indie pop scene. 

 

St. Vincent was recently awarded the 2013 Smithsonian Magazine American Ingenuity Awards in Performing Arts. This can be seen as both good and bad for St. Vincent as a musician. Good, because she is obviously being recognized for the innovative style that she brings to both her music and her performances. Bad, because many fans may see this less like recognition of good music and more like recognition of an artist who although skilled, may be too avant-garde or art-house for their liking. It takes only one listen to realize that the latter is not an issue, as St. Vincent is in equal measure accessible and brilliant. 
    

The album begins strong and stays so throughout, but “Birth in Reverse” is without a doubt the standout track of the front half. It might be the most pop-sensible song on the entire record. This despite lyrics which contain very un-pop themes such as “O what an ordinary day, take out the garbage, masturbate”. Another interesting songwriting moment comes on “I Prefer Your Love”, a song in which Annie divulges to us that she prefers our love (or whoever it is she is singing too) to Jesus Christ himself. Combine these two and one may assume this is an album in which the artist is trying to make some heavy-handed social statement, but something about St. Vincent really does not feel like there is much of a message. 

 

One of the aforementioned influences that can be heard on St. Vincent comes through heavily on “Huey Newton”, which contains an intro so Cake-like that you would think that John McCrea himself would be listed as a collaborator. St. Vincent would also draw comparisons to Arcade Fire’s most recent output Reflektor because of the implementation of a wide variety of instruments which seem to draw significantly from the world music scene, specifically the album’s single, “Digital Witness”. 


The best records are often the ones that are the hardest to qualify. St. Vincent, both the artist and the album, may be the most difficult music to put into words that I have experienced. All that you can truly get across is the fact that it is truly enjoyable, even if you can’t really pinpoint why. That might be her most refined skill of all, giving the world music that both delights and surprises the listener without making them feel like they’re not getting it.

 

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Beck- Morning Phase

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Beck- Morning Phase

★★★★★★★★☆☆

By Takumi Otsuka

 

What makes a record great? Greatest records in history sometimes dared listeners. They pushed boundaries. They surprised you. They let you see different views you have never seen. They made you start listening to other genres.

When you take a look at Beck's discography, this man has been a master of "dare" since his sensational debut single Loser. The rest of his discography speaks for itself. Odelay, Mutations, Midnite Vultures, Guero, and Modern Guilt. While he smoothly crossovers between Rock, Jazz, Hip-Hop, Folk, Funk and Blues, he has become the definition of an alternative artist. In terms of creativity, there is no singer songwriter as successful as Beck Hansen in alternative category.

However, if you read his interview prior to his latest release, Morning Phase, you would realize this is not one of his signature "dare" albums. Or you might have noticed that when you heard his first single, Blue Moon. In the interview, he admitted that Morning Phase is the sequel of his 2002 masterpiece, Sea Change, which is a collection of his heartbreaking break up songs. Obviously there are lots of common grounds between two albums. After a short interlude, Cycle, virtually track 1, Morning will remind you of Sea Change's opening track, Golden Age musically and lyrically.

Although both albums are on breakups and its bitter process, Morning Phase isn't just the follow-up if you take a look at its sound production carefully. While Sea Change makes acoustic, synth and string arrangements very minimum, Morning Phase deliberately makes space between each sound and makes it sound more dimensional. It might be a trivial approach, but it makes huge difference in terms of depth. 

Great artists are always great collectors. What it means is that they are capable of taking ideas from others' or their own previous works masterfully. As Michael Stipe from R.E.M once said, "Vulnerability is the greatest thing any artist can possess", they are easily influenced, flexible and sensitive. In a sense, Morning Phase clearly proves that Beck is one of those greats. Songs like, Heart Is A DrumUnforgiven, and Waking Light would not have been written during Sea Change era.

As a whole, Morning Phase is such a enjoyable record from start to very end and it gets better and better as you listen more. I understand that trying something others have not done is always very crucial for artists to express themselves. But at the same time, us music fans tend to overlook the importance of the albums like Morning Phase. 30 or 40 years from now, when you look back his entire discography, probably this album would not be talked about over Odelay. However, by the end of day, when I go back to my bedroom, I can see myself making sure to put this record on the top of my collections. And it will stay there for a long time. 

 

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Bombay Bicycle Club- So Long, See You Tomorrow

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Bombay Bicycle Club- So Long, See You Tomorrow

★★★★★★★☆☆☆

 

So Long, See You Tomorrow marks Bombay Bicycle Club’s fourth studio album and if they have established any kind of identity as a band since their debut in 2009 it is that they do not like to stay in one place too long, both musically and geographically. Whether it be front man Jack Steadman’s travels throughout the world or the band’s tendency to rethink their sound with each new record, they seem a band that loves the idea of keeping things fresh.

My only experience with Bombay Bicycle Club prior to So Long was with the bands sophomore effort Flaws, an album done entirely acoustically. This was an album I fell in love with back in 2010, mostly because of the intriguing voice of singer and songwriter Jack Steadman along with the use of multi-layered acoustic guitars and muted drums. Little did I know, this style had been one long abandoned for a more electronic, world music flavor. At first the transition from what I thought was a more indie folk band to the band I was hearing was a bit jarring. But as soon as I was able to get over my preconceived notions about So Long, See You Tomorrow, I was able to hear it for what it was, another successful album for the North Londoners.

As I’ve said, the band ditched their folksiness for this album but with that came the emergence of a pop-sensibility that previously was not associated with the Bombay Bicycle Club. No more is this evident than in the first four tracks of the record. Each one containing a chorus that you memorize within only a few listens and can’t help but get stuck in your head. “It’s Alright Now” is the standout song and seems destined to be spun on college radio shows all around the country. I would be remiss if I did not give credit to English Singer-songwriter Lucy Rose who was featured heavily on the album, specifically on “Carry Me”, “Home by Now”, and the aforementioned “It’s Alright Now”. The back and forth between her and Steadman is infectious and is evidence of just another way that Bicycle Club took an artistic risk and struck gold. 

The album as a whole is catchy but somehow a little more forgettable than previous outputs. This is not all bad, as it may mean it more accessible for those looking for catchy fun rather than something they need to put multiple listens into.  

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Young the Giant- Mind over Matter

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Young the Giant- Mind over Matter

★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

by Jay Hahn

When bands like Young the Giant release a great debut album, it becomes hard to look at the sophomore album in the same light. We throw phrases like “sellouts” and “sophomore slump” around like curses at thanksgiving dinner. I mean, how can we not? How dare a band treat us to something so magnificent and then give us a cheap fix to get us by. I didn’t intend for musicians to sound like drug dealers, but it happened and let’s move past it. Don’t let my rambling fool you. I thought YTG’s second album Mind over Matter was an honest attempt to live up to the expectations. They even released the full album stream on iTunes a week before the release date. How generous.

 

I liked the album for what it was, I truly did. I am also very happy with their switch from Roadrunner Records to Fueled by Ramen, both subsidiaries of Warner. The former label containing weenie rock and metal bands like Alter Bridge and Nickleback was too large, whereas Fueled by Ramen is smaller with bands such as fun. and Twenty One Pilots. They were also able to work with producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen who’s produced for artists such as M83 and Neon Trees. A pretty good situation, wouldn’t you agree? We get some of what we expected on Mind over Matter. Sameer Gadhia’s vocals were amazing. He has a great voice and since he isn’t in a genre where he has to scream over chugging breakdowns, we can expect this to stay true. Jacob Tilley and Eric Cannata’s guitars were on point. They provide that signature Southern California sound on a majority of the album and compose great melodies and harmonies that kind of blow my mind. The rest of band did their part as well.

 

Let’s keep looking at the positives. They did a great job of arranging the positions of each song. From the first actual song, “Anagram”, to the last, “Paralysis”, there is a good pattern. There are some notable songs at the beginning, a good soft number in the middle to break the monotony, then we pick back up again. There’s nothing more annoying than an album that puts five awesome songs in the beginning and then six boring ones that leave me thinking that listening to a Skrillex album would have been time better spent. The compositions of most of the songs were well done. The guitars were innovative, the drums were well thought out, the vocals were good, and the lyrics to some of the songs were great. There are countless adjectives I could use but let’s move on.


Now, here’s my beef with the album. I am all for trying new sounds on albums to keep listeners interested. I actually enjoy that in bands. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” is an overrated saying. I get that some bands are appealing due to their distinct sound, but if we’re listening to that same sound over and over then there’s no room for growth in music. 


That being said, a slight transition needs to occur when making a change that YTG didn’t quite execute. For example, the song “Eros” was a great song. The guitar was catchy and it was very enjoyable, until the synthesizer started rearing its ugly head. Strange high pitched synth notes would whirl in on certain beats making me question why they were there in the first place. Title song, “Mind over Matter”, had a heavy synth fuzz playing throughout the whole thing. It made for an interesting song but it was like they were using it just to use it. Other songs like “Anagram” and “Crystallized” use it perfectly and it makes sense. Time and place are really what mattered to me on some of these songs. The only other gripe I have about this album is that there are some songs that become repetitive but as I stated before, they arranged the album in a way that kept me listening. 

Did Mind over Matter live up to the expectations set by Young the Giant’s self-titled debut album? No. But don’t let that take away the fact that it is a very listenable album. It is consistent for the most part and these musicians are very talented. Listen for the singles “It’s About Time” and “Crystallized” but this album definitely has some other great tracks that are worth your time.

 

 

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MODERN BASEBALL- YOU’RE GOING TO MISS IT ALL

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MODERN BASEBALL- YOU’RE GOING TO MISS IT ALL

Modern Baseball’s First Step towards Success

★★★★★★★☆☆☆

By Matt Attwell 

Following the releases of Dr. Dog’s B-Room and Man Man’s On Oni Pond, Modern Baseball is the next Philadelphia based indie group that seems ready for a breakout with the release of their newest album. You’re Going to Miss It All is Modern Baseball’s sophomore album following their 2012 debut Sports and features twelve short energetic tracks. Modern Baseball cites Gaslight Anthem as one of their driving influences and it is very apparent throughout the entirety of the album; with most tracks featuring lead singer Braden Luken’s nasally/unique voice over a clean, continuous beat.     

A hybrid of indie rock and pop-punk, Modern Baseball draws comparisons to 90s’ alternative/indie group the Dismemberment Plan with Luken’s vocals being very reminiscent to DP’s Travis Morrison. Luken provides an inner monologue over a steady beat to connect with his audience about his feelings of insecurity and self-doubt that most college age students struggle with as well (“I’ll admit I’m the same, caught in between my adolescent safety net and where the world wants me to be”). Modern Baseball has plenty of room to grow and evolve over the years but for now they are enjoying their status as a young band who found success very early.      


The lyrics center on the group’s state of limbo between keeping their youth and the realization that the working world is around the corner. Due to the nature of Baseball’s lyrics it is easy to peg them as an emo group, but their energetic tempo allows them to expand their horizons far beyond the niche audience that comes with the genre and has positioned them with a chance to break out onto mainstream radio. Modern Baseball is a young promising group with a tremendous upside. The band members seem to have an impeccable chemistry through interview clips and it is apparent in their music. Although the group has only been together for a short time, they have found quick success and it is very conceivable that they will find commercial success in the near future. For those who enjoy pop punk groups such as Say Anything and the Gaslight Anthem or alternative rock groups such as Weezer or the Dismemberment plan You’re Going to Miss It All is absolutely worth a listen.

 

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Malkmus and The Jicks- Wig Out At Jagbags

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Malkmus and The Jicks- Wig Out At Jagbags

★★★★★★★★★☆

 

Fennell

Stephen Malkmus turns 48 in May. This means that he is in no way new to the process of writing, recording, and releasing an album. His first band, Pavement, released their debut album Slanted and Enchanted in 1992, an album that immediately put them at the forefront of the early 1990’s indie rock scene. Since that time Stephen Malkmus, has released so many critically acclaimed albums under numerous pseudonyms that he has earned his place on the Mount Rushmore of indie stars. Part of this is not only because of his early success but his ability to maintain relevance in a genre that is so often concerned with the next big thing.

The release of Wig Out and Jagbags marks Malkmus’ sixth album with The Jicks. This is somewhat of a milestone because it means that he has now released more studio albums with the Jicks than he had with his two previous bands, Silver Jews and Pavement. As I mentioned earlier, longevity is often as impressive as any one single song or even album. Anyone can get lucky once or twice, the key to lasting is consistency. Consistency is exactly what comes to mind when listening to Wig Out and Jagbags. Many records, even great ones, can often have a lull where it seems that the artist could have revised or even removed one or two of the songs. Wig Out and Jagbags contains no such lull. From the opening track “Planetary Motion” to its finale “Surreal Teenager” the record will have a listener compelled throughout.

Malkmus is no longer a young man in the rock world, as evidenced by the single “Lariat” in which he speaks of the 80’s with longing, stating matter-of-factly “We grew up listening to the music from the best decade ever”.  Although this may come off as corny nostalgia if sung by some bands, Malkmus and The Jicks are able take this theme and keep it fresh and interesting. Another highpoint of the album comes later with what feels like a Dylan inspired track, “Independence Street”, on which he reveals such short coming as, “I don’t have the stomach for your brandy” and “I don’t have the teeth left for your candy”, another possible age reference.

Another skill that has led to Malkmus’ success throughout the years is his ability to keep albums from sounding too similar throughout. On “J Smoov” the band is able to deviate from the more punk inspired songs on the record and mark the midpoint of the album with what feels like an intermission of sorts.  The track is highlighted by a beautifully played trumpet, which underlies almost the entire song giving it a cocktail longue kind of feeling. Don’t expect this to last long though as the next track, a under two minute jam titled “Rumble at the Rainbo”, jumps right back into the rock as is expressed in the opening lyrics, “Come and join us in this punk rock tomb, come slam dancing with some ancient dudes, we are returning, returning to our roots”. This is Malkmus and The Jicks saying that although they may be long in the teeth, they have plenty of rocking left to do.

 

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Arcade Fire- Reflektor

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Arcade Fire- Reflektor

★★★★★★★★★☆

by James Embrey

Since the late 1990s, indie rock has surged in popularity. It has been progressively pushed more and more into the mainstream airwaves, while still managing to avoid oversaturation. It’s like that kid you knew in school who was just there all the time, in lots of places and respected amongst his or her peers, but never overly popular or talked about: somehow remaining in the shadow of the bigger scene.

In the early 2000s, one of the leading forces in this indie surge was Canadian-septet Arcade Fire.  The group first garnered critical acclaim and earned their positive reputation upon the release of their 2004 debut LP, Funeral.  With its rich blend of charismatic flair and somber moodiness, the album took many critics and indie rock fans by pleasant surprise, and ended up topping many year-end and decade-end Best Albums lists.

Since then, one may safely say the band has been traversing down a path similar to that of Radiohead’s: progressively gravitating toward more experimental music. That’s not to say the band has reached the point of Kid A- or Amnesiac- level obscurity (that is yet to be seen), but each new album seems to hint more and more at that, while still managing to retain the bands distinct indie/alternative rock sound.

With the band’s latest release, Reflektor, Arcade Fire continues down this path of sonic experimentation.  It picks up where they left off in 2010’s The Suburbs, and further broadens the range of musical textures they choose to utilize, clearly attempting to create a more diverse sound overall. The album is also a double-album—that is, a two-disc set. With this knowledge, we can infer that Arcade Fire is also attempting to pace the album’s listening experience better.  In having two separate discs, the listener has more breathing room to absorb all the album has to offer; it gives us the chance to take a break between sets and appreciate the songs on each set more.  This is in sharp contrast to The Suburbs’ massive sixteen-track list on a single album, which dragged the listening experience out and risked overwhelming its audience.

The title track, Reflektor, tosses us into a heap of different sounds, ranging from pianos to saxophones to various string instruments, even mixing in synthesizers and voice-effects, all amidst lyrics in which the singer is crying out as an individual desperately seeking a connection with others.  Together, these pack an oddly cohesive, yet also frenetic whallop. Then, there are other tracks such as We Exist and Flashbulb Eyes, which are more traditionally structured rock songs that hearken back to the New Wave sound of the 1980s. However, one of the album’s best tracks is easily Normal Person.  This track picks apart the supposed virtues of “normalcy,” and compares this to the world in which we currently live, where different and unique groups regularly face negative stereotypes, prejudice, discrimination, and segregation.

The first album half closes with Joan of Arc, which details the story of a man’s unrequited love for and idealization of a girl who he thinks of as a Joan-of-Arc-esque figure. The female of the story, however, does not see herself in the same way, and suggests that his perception of her nature may just be a reflection of his own helplessness and dire need for inspiration. It is tracks like this, scattered throughout the album, which use history and myth as metaphors and allegories to display and relate to personal moments within the band members’ careers, and to the whole of society and the material world.  It reflects on the world we are in, and the lives we all lead as a result of its influence on us.

On the second disc of the album, however, the band really takes a leap of faith.  It is there where they showcase a more atmospheric and concept-driven style. Here Comes the Night Time II opens the second set of songs by serving as an intro to the second half, and foreshadowing the mood we can expect from the remainder of the album. It bleeds into Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice), which, in turn, bleeds into It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus). These two songs tell a story of romance and tragedy, loosely based off the Greek mythology of Eurydice and Orpheus— one of the author’s personal favorite sections of the album, overall, it must be said. The two tracks complement each other in a profound way, both lyrically and musically, as Win Butler’s crooning Orpheus character is harmoniously balanced out by Regine Chassagne’s ethereal Eurydice.  Each of the duo’s voices richly emphasize the other’s, and seem to dance together harmoniously over a sea of musically atmospheric bliss. Through the crescendos and decrescendos of synthesized sounds and string instruments, and through the ambience of the track held together by electronic drum beats, Arcade Fire uses this melancholy romance to display just how deeply love can touch us, even after death, and puts on display this so-close-yet-so-far type of affair.

Following up is the track Porno. It opens with a funky style of guitar amidst an eerie barrage of moaning and sighing, accompanied by Win Butler’s somewhat disturbing lyrics which evoke images of a sinister stalker. The song effectively puts into perspective the lustful nature of man, creating a dark and haunting atmosphere, as though one were diving straight into the sexually-obsessed mind of Win Butler’s character. The truly scary part of the song is, he feels as though there’s nothing wrong with what he’s doing in constantly following her and being around her. The character gets so creepily lost in his sexual obsessions with her that “the line is lost;” he loses his sense of humanity altogether, and becomes somewhat of an animal in going after her. The lyrics claim that “love is a disease,” as is shown in the fact that the stalker’s emotions have infected him in such a corrupting way that he actually thinks what he feels is a deep, profound love, as opposed to the savage, barbaric lust it truly is.

Closing the second half of the album is a unique track, originally produced for the movie Her, titled Supersymmetry. This eleven-minute composition ties together the album’s themes of the introspection of our own characters, and the extrospection and observation of others and society at large.  It also exhibits further experimentation on the band’s part: the first half plays with instrumentation and lyrics before fading out briefly, and then fading back into play the music in reverse, sans vocals.

Overall, the trademark Arcade Fire sound is still there, but with a distinct facelift.  Ex-LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy is behind the album’s production, though he never overtly makes his presence felt.  Though it is clear he has pushed them to make subtle steps toward a more experimental sound, while also bolstering the band’s trademark style.

Reflektor is definitely a respectable album, and has some remarkable strong points. However, it is not perfect by any means.  It suffers from somewhat odd pacing, and the first and second halves of the album contrast in a slightly jarring fashion; this gives it a slightly imbalanced, hit-or-miss feel.  Yet despite this, the album displays ingenuity and solid craftsmanship, quite an accomplishment for Arcade Fire, who already have three critically-acclaimed albums under their belt.   It moves in bold new musical directions, while holding on to the edge which first brought them into the spotlight.

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Shearwater- Fellow Travelers

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Shearwater- Fellow Travelers

Shearwater Covers Their Tracks on Their Newest Album 

★★★★★★★☆☆☆

From the opening moments of Sub Pop Records newest album release Fellow Travelers from the band Shearwater you can tell it is going to be shaped by its front man, Jonathon Meiburg. Prior to writing these reviews I feel it is important to do a little research on the band. Before doing this investigation Shearwater reminded me heavily of two bands; The Magnetic Fields and Okkervil River. As it turns out, it was not just the similarity of voices that made me think of Okkervil when hearing Fellow Travelers. Actually, Meiburg is a former member of Okkervil River and Okkervil River’s front man, Will Sheff, is conversely a former member of Shearwater. They decided to go separate ways in 2008 after the success of both bands made it impossible for them to pursue both at the same time.
    Part of my pre-review research involves leafing through the material in and out of the album’s cover. Fellow Travelers’ cover is an interesting one too say the least. Inside is a booklet that, rather than housing the lyrics of each track, featuring a kind of log of their most recent tour. Anyone familiar with either Okkervil River or Shearwater knows the way that these songwriters fit so much description into each one of their songs, and this tour description only keeps with that trend. Perhaps the reason for such extensive description in the album booklet is because none of the songs on this record are actually written by Meiburg or any other member of Shearwater. The title of Fellow Travelers is not just a poetic ambiguous choice, it is because the album features covers from bands that Shearwater has traveled the country with throughout their years of touring. 
    The band does an excellent job, whether intentional or not, of kind of hiding the fact that this is a cover album. It wasn't until I did some research on Fellow Travelers that I found out it indeed featured songs originally done by other artists. One of these covers is Coldplay’s “Hurt Like Heaven” which they do a great job of making sound like a Shearwater song rather than just a Coldplay song done by Shearwater, which I believe is a testament to their unique personality as a band. One of the standouts on the record is “I Luv the Valley OH!!”, originally by Xiu Xiu, which is probably the most upbeat, rocking song on the album. 
    It’s an album that Shearwater themselves admit they never intended to make, and in a way that kind comes out in the work. It seems somehow unfinished like a first draft of what could have been a great album. But in their defense it probably pales in comparison to the importance of their next album for which they are in the studio currently. In the long run this will probably a footnote for the band as a whole, but not one that should be ignored.

 

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INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS- ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK

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INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS- ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK

★★★★★★★☆☆☆

 

It has been nearly 13 years since the release of the Grammy-winning, critically acclaimed O’Brother Where Art Thou original soundtrack produced by T-Bone Burnett. It was a soundtrack which had the unique ability of matching flawlessly with the Coen brother’s distinctive take on Homer’s The Odyssey set in 1930’s Mississippi, as well as being a standout folk album all on its own. This is why the soundtrack for the next Coen brothers’ film, also produced by Burnett, is gaining more attention than your average film soundtrack. 
    While O’Brother featured live music as one of its many, many subplots, Inside Llewyn Davis is a movie which revolves around its titular characters journey as a struggling folk singer in early 60’s New York City. This means that the soundtrack will naturally be as important as any of the main characters to the overall picture. It must have been a no brainer for Joel and Ethan Coen to immediately look to Burnett as the obvious choice to produce and arrange the many folk songs featured in the film. 
    Movie soundtracks have always interested me personally as I believe the difference between and really good movie and a truly great movie can sometimes be its music. Soundtracks can have a way to affect scenes or sequences that actors and plot just can’t. Elliot Smith’s work on "Good Will Hunting", or Eddie Vedder’s "Into the Wild" come to mind, or of course Simon and Garfunkel’s movie-shaping soundtrack to "The Graduate". What was unique about O’Brother’s was the fact that there was not really one artist who stood out but worked more as an ensemble of unknown folk singers who came together to make something altogether unexpected. What makes Inside Llewyn Davis so good is its ability to combine the idea of a singular artist with a group of songwriters. 
Oscar Isaac was the one chosen by the Coens as the lead in the movie. This means that he must not be able to carry the plot of the movie but also much of the soundtrack. Prior to landing the role, Isaac has toiled around Hollywood as a relative unknown, his biggest roles being small parts in 2011’s "Drive" and Ridley Scott’s "Robin Hood" interpretation. I have yet to see the movie but as to the soundtrack I don’t believe they could have found a better man to voice the character. Isaac shines on the album as someone who should surely take his music career as seriously as his acting. 
As I’ve mentioned, many of the O’Brother soundtracks contributors are relative unknown singer-songwriters. Perhaps it’s because of the success of that album that this time they were able to bring in much more established names. One of the songs that is a standout on the album is the traditional folk song “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)” featuring Marcus Mumford alongside Isaac, who voices go together with ease. Another song that features a famous face, namely Justin Timberlake who plays the part of Jim Berkey in the film, is the tongue-in-cheek novelty song that is performed in the movie called, “Please Mr. Kennedy”.
The movie has its share of original songs but I believe that it is its new takes on traditional folk songs that are its strength. It is a soundtrack that has songs that just can’t help but get lodged in your head and one that makes me very excited to see the movie it is based around.  

 

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The Head and The Heart- Let's Be Still

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The Head and The Heart- Let's Be Still

“Indie Folk” May Have Another Standout Star

★★★★★★★★★☆

 

Popular Indie Folk might have seemed like a bit of oxymoron ten years ago, but today it seems like it may be quickly becoming a stable of the Top 40 charts. Bands like The Lumineers and Mumford & Sons reached as high number 2 and 1 respectively on the Billboard 200. Years ago The Head and Heart may have been subject to a fate similar to bands like The Avett Brothers, who spent years toiling, releasing album after album only now beginning to get widespread recognition. It seems that The Head and the Heart might just be in the right place and the right time for their blend of folky harmonization to truly hit it big.     
    When they released their debut, self-titled album in 2011 there was no anticipation as they were relatively unknown. This time, though, things are different. After their surprising first album they have gained a substantial fan base who are no doubt excited to hear their follow up effort.  This brings me to said follow up, Let’s Be Still, which will leave any loyal fan, and I’m sure many new fans, more than satisfied. 
The Head and the Heart features three main vocalists; Jonathon Russell, Josiah Johnson, and Charity Rose Thielen. If one thing sticks out about this album over their first, it’s the voice of Thielen. The one complaint that I have of this record is the fact that she is only heavily featured in two songs, “Summertime” and “These Days are Numbered”. These songs really standout on the album because of Theilen’s crooning voice that somehow makes you feel like you are listening to a private coffee shop show. This album also continues their trend of harmonization that they established on the first record, trading back and forth seamlessly between Johnson and Russell on several tracks. 
I would be willing to put some money, not too much as I am a broke college student, that there are at least a few songs off Let’s Be Still that will I will certainly become sick of. Not because they are fleeting but because I believe they will be overplayed or featured in numerous advertisements, in the style of “Ho Hey”. The single, “Shake” as well as the catchy title track, “Let’s Be Still” definitely have this crossover potential. 
There are some gems on Let’s Be Still that will satisfy those who want to keep something for themselves and out of the spotlight of heavy radio play. “Cruel” can’t help but remind me of a song somewhere between The Avett Brothers “I and Love and You” and “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise” with its beautiful use of piano and harmony. 
For those who like to be the music fans who can say things like, “I knew them way before they were popular” your time to legitimately say this about The Head and the Heart is dwindling quickly. For those of you who just want to hear a quality album then it may be time to jump on this band’s bandwagon, because there are many more hits to come. 

 

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Of Montreal- Lousy With Sylvianbriar

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Of Montreal- Lousy With Sylvianbriar

Of Montreal's Most Recent Effort Sees Them Turn Down the Weird…A Little

★★★★★★★★☆☆

 

Of Montreal have no doubt been the wizards of weird for almost two decades now. From their live performances which feature lead singer atop a white horse, to their full embrace of every musical style from afro beat to twee pop. This is why it is a good idea to expect the unexpected when delving into an Of Montreal album. 
Their most recent output, Lousy With Sylvianbriar, continues this trend of being unexpected but in a way that sees the band mellow theirs songs rather than heighten the weirdness any further. Songs like “Sirens of Your Toxic Spirit” and “Amphibian Days” see the band take a more acoustically driven sound than Of Montreal fans may have come to expect. “Colossus” may be their most successful of the more low-key tracks on the album, driven mostly by piano and the somber, yet still eccentric lyrics of frontman Kevin Barnes. “Raindrop in my Skull” is another standout on Sylvianbriar, one so unexpected that it barely sounds like the same band as the rest of the album. This is partly because it features mostly a violin, guitar, and the voice of Rebecca Cash, who though a longtime member of the band is rarely used as the sole vocalist.  
Longtime Of Montreal fans need not fret, there is plenty of weird thrown in there to satisfy. Possibly the best track, “Triumph of Disintegration” keeps with the bands tradition of zany lyrics and quick changes of pace that make you feel like you’re listening to three different songs that have somehow been perfectly melded together. “She Ain’t Speaking Now” is the highlight of the second half of Lousy With Sylvianbriar. It starts off like it may be one of their relaxed songs, with only Barnes’ voice and a quickly strumming guitar, but soon the chorus hits taking the listener into the extravagant sound that has come to classify the band. 
Lyrically the album keeps with Barnes’ tradition of weird mixed with wit. Seemingly nonsensical story lines can still result in a few gems. For instance, “Belle Glade Missionaries”, chorus talks of “letting children get blown up in their schools today, so they can get them back into their factories”. A line, which coming from anyone else may seem like a not so well thought out social commentary, somehow has the ability to make you think. 
This is album that, although toned down a bit, is far from garnering radio plays or crossover success. It is exciting though, to hear them change it up a bit while still keeping the same old quirks that have helped them span nearly two decades. As for new fans, I think this is a good way to ease into Of Montreal without being completely blown away by the strangeness. I think Barnes himself summed the band up better than I ever could “Still there’s value in things unpleasant”. 

 

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Dr. Dog- B-Room

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Dr. Dog- B-Room

★★★★★★★☆☆☆

 

There comes a point in the life of a band when they are no longer an upstart band trying to find their sound or identity, Dr. Dog may have reached that point on 2012’s Be the Void. This realization must come with both its positive and negative aspects. On the one hand, they no longer have to toil to find how best to implement the talents of the band. On the other, you reach a point where you must test waters that before may have seemed much to treacherous. Dr. Dog has a very specific sound throughout it’s now seven album catalog. A sound, along with a raucous live show, that has gained them a significant following. The trick for a band reaching this stage is to avoid becoming stale. To avoid making songs that, although catchy and in some cases flat out good, just sound so similar to their older work that it makes listeners wonder why they aren't just listening to that. With Dr. Dog’s seventh studio album, B-Room¸ they encapsulate a band struggling with this idea. Overall the album comes across as a good representation of a band in transition between young, up and comers and seasoned vets trying to push the creative envelope.

The album begins with two songs, “the truth” and ”Broken Heart”, that sound like such classic Dr. Dog that I imagine they spill from the minds of front men Toby Leaman and Scott McMicken with little effort. Simple, yet incredibly catchy choruses along with the familiar harmonies that Dr. Dog fans have come to love. This led me off thinking that this would be a fairly cookie-cutter album. This theme continued on “Distant Light” which sounds almost identical to Be the Void’s less than thrilling “Big girl”.

As I've said, this is an album with transition traced all over it. No songs more encompass a band trying to blaze new trails for themselves than “Phenomenon”, “Long Way Down”, and “Twilight”. Dr. Dog’s early albums are pretty straight forward rock albums with your basic four instrument sets, but these songs all see the band delving into sounds they have never embraced. “Phenomenon” begins with an unprecedented banjo intro, something you would more expect to hear on the newest Avett Brothers’ album. “Long Way Down” is probably the most successful effort into a new sound that B-Room has to offer, featuring a steady horn section throughout. One can only imagine the energy this will take on in their live performance. “Twilight” sees the band take a stab at the all too popular indie rock trend of dreamy synth-pop. When you hear it it’s a little surprising that they haven’t tried this before, with the voice of Scott McMicken’s voice perfectly suited for the floating, trip like feeling for which they seem to be aiming. I imagine this may give us a glimpse into any kind of solo project that McMicken would pursue in the future.

Overall it’s an album that will satisfy Dr. Dog fans who just want to hear more classic Dr. Dog, but what excites me more is the indications we receive of what this band might eventually evolve into. It isn’t a perfect album by far, but they went for something out of their comfort zone, which in the current indie rock scene of repeat after repeat is refreshing. 

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