Sunday, April 24, 2011

The National - Exile Vilify single review

Videogames have come a long way since Pac-Man and the original Super Mario Brothers.  Today, videogames are immersive and compelling modes of storytelling, even sparking debates as to whether they can be considered works of art.  While modern games are no strangers to having big name composers create original music (Hollywood staple Hans Zimmer for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, for instance), we haven't really seen popular music break into games (unless the music actually is the game, i.e. Guitar Hero).

Portal 2, the sequel to the massively popular first person shooter/puzzle game Portal, is slated to have a song written exclusively for the game by Ohio bred, indie rock sadgasm, The National.  A spokesperson for the band had this to say:

"After I met with Valve and learned about the intricacies and story line of the first Portal game, I knew The National's music would fit beautifully in the sequel. The National's raw and emotive music evokes the same visceral reactions from its listeners that Portal does from its players."

The song, "Exile Vilify", is a piano driven ballad that will sound familiar to fans of The National.  The track doesn't ever really make its mark, meandering about without a sense of direction or purpose.  It lacks the unrefined immediacy of the rest of The National's catalog, which strips away most of the emotion, leaving it to flip flop between verse and chorus with a whimper. 

Taken out of the context of the game, "Exile Vilify" may lose some of its potency, but realistically speaking, this one is reserved for fans of the game and die-hard collectors who have a compulsion to own everything The National has ever recorded.

The National - Exile Vilify by the beat farm

Yeasayer - End Blood EP review

Yeasayer released an EP (more like a single) consisting of two previously unreleased songs for Record Store Day back on April 16th.  The band had this to say:

"We are releasing these two tracks to purge our brains and make way for new sounds/ideas."

The two songs are called "Swallowing the Decibels" and "Phoenix Wind", both of which can be heard below.  Apparently these songs were written during the Odd Blood recording sessions, but were left unfinished, that is, until now.  Upon listening to the tracks, one can easily imagine them being included on Odd Blood.  Despite the similarity in sound, neither song is particularly interesting or strong in comparison, which may explain why they were left off in the first place.

"Swallowing the Decibels" is an eerie, slow burning song completely with the heavy electronic accents that came to define Odd Blood.  "Phoenix Wind" is like listening to Yeasayer underwater, or in slow motion.  The vocals undulate like a slow rolling tide against the backdrop of a lazily plucked guitar riff.  This release is a companion piece to Odd Blood (hence the title, End Blood), however at the same time it posies some questions about the direction Yeasayer may take in the future.  Their debut saw the band experimenting with world sounds and indie pop, whereas their second effort was more accessible and electronic.  Will Yeasayer further redefine their sound?  It remains to be seen.

Yeasayer - End Blood by Stereo/Pirate

Girls Names - Dead To Me review

The tough-to-Google Belfast band, Girls Names recently did an interview with Ragged Words in which lead singer, Cathal Cully, claimed that his band was the only one making "this sort of music" in Ireland.   He went on to say, "Seriously, to the masses of Belfast this is not cool music. Due to the internet now, though, geography isn’t as important any more, is it?"

I can't speak for the music scene in Ireland, but I have to disagree with Cully on the issue of the importance of geography.  No one may listen to the lo-fi noise pop Girls Names proudly tout as being unique and original in Ireland, but the fact of the matter is that people do listen to it stateside.  When every other band that comes out of Brooklyn is also a fuzzy, washed out version of the band who came before it, you're going to be in for some stiff competition.

The debut album from Girls Names, Dead To Me, is here and it's...adequate.  The band garnered some attention by signing to U.S. label/indie music haven Captured Tracks (home of the likes of Beach Fossils, Wild Nothing, and a bunch of other bands that either formed or relocated to Brooklyn, NY), and even some kind words from Pitchfork.  The problem is that they sound just like Beach Fossils, et al.  Dead To Me is competent, but it is far from being interesting or unique.  In a genre that is so over saturated as it is, bands like Girls Names need to do something special in order to differentiate themselves from the crowd.

Unfortunately, Girls Names fail to do this.  Any of their songs could have easily appeared on a Crystal Stilts record and no one would be the wiser.  When your music is that interchangeable and virtually indistinct from your competitors it should be a red flag, but Girls Names seem oblivious to the fact that they are setting themselves up to be forgotten.  Cathal Cully's eerie croon and the scratchy, bedroom recorded guitars are indiscernible, with every song being buried underneath a hazy, muddiness that is meant to be passed off as atmosphere.  Instead, they only serve to obscure any subtle hooks or catchy melodies, effectively making every song a chore to listen to.  Granted, Girls Names are foreign and they came to the lo-fi noise pop rock party a little late, but its no excuse for being stale and unoriginal.

Girls Names - "I Lose" by Tough Love

Girls Names Dead To Me

Saturday, April 23, 2011

We Are Trees - Girlfriend EP review

Do you secretly wish that all of those lo-fi bands you love so much would start caring what their music sounded like and make clearer recordings?  Are you too timid to say so because you're afraid you'll tarnish your indie-cred?  Fear not, Virginia Beach band We Are Trees get you out of this precarious predicament by providing some much needed HI-fidelity recordings.

We Are Trees are made up of vocals/guitarist James Nee and percussionist Josiah Schlater (and occasional violinist Rocky Capizzi).  The comparison between Nee's vocals and Grizzly Bear's Daniel Rossen is almost impossible to ignore, but We Are Trees develop a natural sounding record all their own. The record is crisp and clear and you can pick out all of the instruments.  One can easily hear how the elements of the song come together organically in airy, yet sonically lush compositions.

There is a delicacy present in each one of the tracks on the Girlfriend EP (which comes hot off the heels of their Boyfriend EP), with songs like "Teenage Heartbreak" and "Colorado" perfectly balancing yearning, apprehension and elation.  While the lyrical content of the Girlfriend EP is familiar territory, We Are Trees manage to show off their range by bending genres in virtually every song.  "You" is a sugary sweet, finger-picked folk song, while the EP closer "I Don't Believe In Love" is a reverb drenched pop tune that will have you humming along with all of the "whooo ooohs" from the get go.

James Nee's vocals are sweet and captivating, while the arrangements and instrumentation are invigorating and fresh.  In a genre where so many bands either take the lo-fi, fuzzy-buzzy approach or try and shoehorn synths and keyboards into every track, We Are Trees go back to the basics with shimmering anthems that show off their impressive talent.

You can listen to all of the tracks on We Are Trees Boyfriend EP here.
You can listen to all of the tracks on We Are Trees Girlfriend EP here.

We Are Trees - I Don't Believe in Love by This Music Wins

We Are Trees Girlfriend EP 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Luyas/Twin Sister Split 7" review

Mellow, dream pop band Twin Sister and their close friends The Luyas have released a double A-side single in celebration of Record Store Day this past Saturday.  The split single features two brand new tracks, "Meet the Frownies" by Twin Sister and "When I Am a Woman" by The Luyas.

"Meet the Frownies" was originally recorded by Twin Sister in conjunction with the nonprofit Weathervane Music for their Shaking Through series.  It is what you'd expect for a Twin Sister song, in that it is a slow burning, contemplative little number.  The lyrics start with "Smoking weed with you / in the leaves, in the fall / in the yard with your dog, till the winter came".  It may sound like shoddy journalism, but to be completely honest, that's all you really need to know about this track.  It is a fuzzy, hazy tune that was reportedly written and recorded in under twelve hours, and I wouldn't be surprised if for the majority of those twelve hours the band was smoking weed themselves.

Canadian band The Luyas contribute the track "When I Am a Woman", and it is a trippy, unearthly song that resonates with you.  Jessie Stein's delicate, innocent vocals are surrounded by the swirling horns and jangly guitar before being shot off into the stratosphere with the haunting presence of the electronic organ.  It is a truly hypnotic track that is a good indication of things to come.

The two songs present on this split 7" single compliment each other well, and it is a great introduction to a couple of bands that should be on your radar, if they aren't already.  The chances of you scoring a physical copy of this 7" are pretty slim, so below you will find a link to download the Twin Sister track, free of charge. Enjoy.

The Luyas | Too Beautiful To Work from A Story Told Well on Vimeo.

Guillemots - Walk the River review

It seems hard to believe, but ridiculously named, Mercury prize nominated British band Guillemots (it's a kind of bird) released their second album Red, only three years ago.  I thought they had called it quits, probably because they haven't been on my radar for quite some time.  The album wasn't all that well received and to be completely honest, I thought that their critically acclaimed debut, Through the Windowpane, was kind of a snoozefest, save for a handful of tracks.  Anyway, much to my surprise, the Guillemots are back with their third studio album, Walk the River.

Apparently Guillemots frontman and chief songwriter Fyfe Dangerfield (with a name like that, how could you not be a musician?), released a solo album in between Red and this new effort, and even though I've never heard it, it seems as though some people did, and liked it.  Go figure.  Before I actually listened to this album I had noticed that some critics were saying that Walk the River was a return to the sound of their debut, which was funny because I thought their second album sounded exactly the same as their first.  After I listened to Walk the River, I could totally see what they were talking about.  Virtually all of the tracks on any Guillemots album are interchangeable with one another.

This isn't to say that the music is bad.  If you liked Guillemots' previous efforts, you will probably find a lot to like about Walk the River.  There are grandiose, life affirming anthems about love and loss and all of the other pop music cliches you can imagine.  There are delicate, sleepy little introspective numbers.  There are even some rollicking, puffed up radio friendly songs with plenty of "whoa ohhs" and electronic twinges to satiate fickle hipster audiences.  Guillemots don't exactly try anything new on this record, choosing instead to stick to familiar territory.

That being said, this album does sound more cohesive and mature than their previous efforts.  The songs are more complex, and I feel that with repeated listens, people could find a lot to like about this album.  The problem is the fact that there just simply aren't any immediately accessible songs.  Absent are the types of tracks that got the Guillemots noticed in the first place.  There is no "Trains to Brazil", no "Get Over It".  There are no tracks that capture your attention and even fewer that demand you to even notice them.  This is not an album you can haphazardly listen to, it is one that requires some patience to be appreciated.

Despite this, Walk the River is an immense step forward from their second album.  Red saw the "Trains to Brazil" from Through the Windowpane derail, and many people believed it was the last we had heard of the hard-to-pronounce band.  Lyrically it was weak, musically it lacked direction, and the end result was unfocused.  Walk the River finds Guillemots regaining their sense of direction with tighter arrangements and stronger songwriting.

Essentially, the Guillemots have made a more grown up version of their first two albums with Walk the River.  It is a sonically interesting and engaging album, however it runs the risk of boring people who don't have the time to give it a chance to grow on them.  Since Guillemots have already kind of disappeared, this album could have been a loud and raucous return.  Instead the band taps on the collective shoulder of music fans and whispers, "Hey, remember us?".

Trains to Brazil by Guillemots

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Pure X - You're In It Now EP review

Pure X, formerly known as Pure Ecstasy, is a trio out of Austin, Texas.  I'm not entirely sure why they changed their name, maybe it was because they felt that their musical styling were more akin to Plutonium-Uranium Extraction rather than Australia's party drug of choice.  Or maybe they really like laundry detergent.  Either way, they've been making some ripples in the hype ocean and their EP, You're In It Now is available now for preorder (see below).

The You're In It Now EP is comprised of four tracks, and it is an emotionally taxing 15 minutes.  Listening to Pure X is like being high on valium and standing outside in the pouring rain.  And your grandmother just died.  And your dog.  He's dead too.  Every song is just so damn depressing that after listening you don't know whether it was hauntingly beautiful or just simply soul crushing.

The southern American country twang is front and center on this release, but with a tempo that clocks in somewhere between sleepy town and napville.  Pure X is probably the lowest of all of the lo-fi bands I have ever heard, and that is no small feat.  Their sound is laid back and relaxed, however at the same time the songs themselves demand attention through their deliberate neediness.  When I listen to Pure X I don't know if I should be sympathetic or if I should just slap all of the band members and tell them to stop being such pussies.

This isn't to say that the band isn't talented.  I am all for gloomy, melancholic music that evokes feelings of pain, regret and despair, and the first track, "Don't Wanna Live, Don't Wanna Die" is a perfect example of how gorgeous Pure X can be.  The problem that I have with this release is the fact that it is so draining.  Listening to more than one or two songs in one sitting becomes a chore and a true test of patience.  While the murky and shimmering guitar work is impressive, the echoing vocals and the simplistic drumming patterns are uninteresting and do little to hold the listeners attention. 

I suppose if you were severely depressed you would have a ball with Pure X, wallowing in the same sort of self-imposed despondency and misery that the band seems to revel in.  If not, you're going to find yourself listening to this EP once or twice and then relegating it to the recesses of your vinyl collection, only occasionally popping up when you feel the need to lament the fact that the eggs in your refrigerator will never grow up to be free range chickens.

Pure X, "Back Where I Began" by The FADER

Pure X You're In It Now EP

Radiohead - Supercollider/The Butcher 12" review

Radiohead will be releasing their highly anticipated post-The King of Limbs material in a few short hours to Record Store Day-ready shops around the globe (except for the United States for some reason).  In an interview with Radiohead guitarist Ed O'Brien, BBC 6 has unveiled that "Supercollider" and "The Butcher" are the last remnants of the recording sessions that birthed The King of Limbs.  This of course meaning that we will not see a The King of Limbs part 2, like we did with their previous effort, In Rainbows.  Oh well.

"Supercollider" is a seven-minute piece of swirling and somewhat flighty pop music.  Echoing synths plink throughout the entire song, building gradually to a crescendo while serving to frame Thom Yorke's voice in a ghostly aura.  It is a moody song that relies on the ambiance it creates to carry you through to the end.  It isn't exactly the kind of track that you'll be yearning to spin over and over again, but it is an engaging and ethereal piece of work.

"The Butcher" is a graphic and evocative song that is a brooding and somewhat creepy tune.  Much in the same way "Supercollider" works, "The Butcher" creates an atmosphere, however this one is jarring.  The overlaying percussion is unnerving, giving the entire song a menacing and ominous quality.  Coupled with Yorke's hushed vocals, "The Butcher" has a disquieting undercurrent that runs throughout the entire length of the song.

Both tracks are heavily atmospheric, and neither rely on gimmicks or hooks to draw you in.  Instead, "Supercollider" and "The Butcher" showcase Radiohead creating nuanced arrangements that immerse you into their world of scary teddy bears, political exacerbation and decompression sickness.

Radiohead "Supercollider + The Butcher" by ianbhoy

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Beach Fossils & Wild Nothing - Gruesome Flowers: A Tribute to The Wake review

I'll just come out and say it.  I have never heard a song by 80s band The Wake in my life.  Regardless, this Record Store Day sees Captured Tracks labelmates Wild Nothing and Beach Fossils release a split 7" in which they cover two supposed classics from the influential Scottish post-punk band.

Perpetually sleepy Brooklynites Beach Fossils tackle the song "Plastic Flowers".  It is a jangly guitar driven tune that sounds as if you were listening to it through the telephone.  it is all very dreamy, which is not much of a stretch for Beach Fossils and they don't do much to deviate from the original version.  The song is charming enough, however once it gets past the two minute mark it starts becoming a little stale.  It simply fails to go anywhere, and doesn't deliver anything new in the latter half of the four minute run time.  Overall, "Plastic Flowers" is a blissful little lo-fi number that tends to overstay its welcome.  Listening to the same riff and lyrics over and over again is about as entertaining as watching someone jog in place while waiting to cross the street in order to keep their heart rate up.

One-man band Wild Nothing covers "Gruesome Castle", and it is about as riveting as sitting through a lecture on statistical analysis.  Jack Tatum's monotone voice wades through the reverb soaked arrangement in such a listless fashion that the song seems almost an afterthought to the idea of covering such a beloved piece of pop music nostalgia.  Don't get me wrong, there was a lot to like on Wild Nothing's debut album, but this cover is just boring.  While it retains the day-dreamy quality that has become Wild Nothing's signature, it lacks any sort of hook to engage the listener, although I guess that is partly the fault of the source material.

In summation, this 7" split release is interesting because, while it is a perfectly justifiable purchase, it really just made me want to go and check out The Wake.

Wild Nothing - Gruesome Castle by sleeptalkr

Beach Fossils & Wild Nothing Gruesome Flowers: A Tribute to The Wake

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Arctic Monkeys - Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair review

The Arctic Monkeys have released the lead single off of their upcoming fourth album, Suck It and See (to be released June 6th) and it's guaranteed to piss some people off.  "Don't Sit Down, 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair" (they do have a penchant for rather long titles don't they?), is slated for release on Record Store Day, April 16th, and it's an even further departure from the blistering, fast-paced songs of their debut.

The Monkeys last album, Humbug, was released to wide critical acclaim, with folks saying that the band had matured beyond the blog-buzzworthy singles that made it okay for hipsters to get up and dance.  With Queens of the Stone Age front man Josh Homme as a producer, the album was definitely darker.  Gone were the Arctic Monkeys who sang about blonde bimbos at bars and the plights of being young and British.  Humbug ushered in a more worldly Arctic Monkeys, they were now men who sounded like they banged the blonde on the grimy floor of some seedy nightclub bathroom.

This, of course, served to alienate some people, who scratched their heads while posting nasty diatribes in the comment section of Arctic Monkeys YouTube videos.  Some were confused as to why they had abandoned their raucous and infectious dancefloor ready tunes in favor of something that sounded almost sinister.

But I say good on them.  The change in direction is something that was absolutely necessary for the Monkeys to do.  The hype that surrounded them when they released their first album, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not could have easily served to inflate their egos and forced the band to churn out album after album that sounded exactly the same.  Instead the Arctic Monkeys have taken some risks and evolved.  In a time when consumers are so fickle about what they hear, they have done one of the things that most bands fail to do, stay fresh and interesting.

"Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair" is heavy.  It is dirty, smutty and sexy.  It oozes the confidence of a band who knows that they are good at what they do, and don't really give a shit what you think.  I think that we are going to find that most people, Arctic Monkeys fans or not, aren't going to want to sit down when they hear this one.

Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair by arcticmonkeys

Arctic Monkeys Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair

Monday, April 04, 2011

Wolf Gang - Dancing With the Devil EP review

Wolf Gang is the project of UK multi-instrumentalist Max McElligott.  A self-taught, bedroom Garageband wizard, McElligott crafts near perfect pop rock songs with incredibly catchy hooks.  Having been stationed firmly on my radar for the past few months after catching him at the Parklife Festival in Australia, I have been waiting patiently for a full length release.  With a tentative release date of "mid-2011" for the LP, Wolf Gang has satiated fans by releasing the Dancing With the Devil EP.

Comprised of five tracks, including previously released singles "Lions In Cages" and "Back to Back", the EP is centered on Wolf Gang's latest offering, the titular "Dancing With the Devil".  The EP also features an alternate version of "Dancing With the Devil" and a demo version of "Something Unusual".  

What is great about Wolf Gang is the fact that his songs are insanely fun.  "Lions In Cages" starts the EP off with a punchy chorus and a no-nonsense approach to songwriting.  There is no build up, just solid, flamboyant pop rock that is, in a word, infectious.  The track manages to capture a certain feeling, an aura, of unabashed joy.  You can't help singing along to this song and it is the perfect introduction to Wolf Gang's brand of David Bowie-esque pop rock.

The new single, "Dancing With the Devil" has been getting some coverage around the blogosphere recently, and while it does have a rollicking chorus that propels the song from beginning to end, it doesn't immediately arrest you in the same way "Lions In Cages" does.  This isn't to say that the song is weak, in fact it chugs along with the same epic sing-a-long pace.  While both songs share a strong melody and catchy pop hooks, "Dancing With the Devil" lacks the immediate attention grabbing quality of "Lions In Cages".

"Back to Back" dials the tempo down a few notches and provides for a nice break from the foot stomping, dance floor ready singles that have become synonymous with the Wolf Gang sound.  While it may not be the catchiest song present on the EP, it is a slow burning anthem with yet another memorable chorus that bounces around in your head for days after hearing it.

Following "Back to Back" is "Something Unusual", a synth heavy track that, while good, doesn't reach the same heights as the previous tracks.  Finally, the EP closes with an alternate version of "Dancing With the Devil" featuring vocals from up and coming London based artist Kyla La Grange.  It is a stripped down version of the song, and it translates surprisingly well from the boisterous and exuberant original version to this much more intimate affair.

Overall the Dancing With the Devil EP is an exciting release simply because it is a precursor to the upcoming debut album by Wolf Gang.  The EP itself is a fine collection of songs, and a great introduction to a very exciting new band.  The problem stems from the fact that most of the songs have already been released as stand alone singles, with the only new material being the title track.  Despite this, the EP is still exceptionally good, and it marks the beginning of a very bright future for Wolf Gang.

Wolf Gang - Lions In Cages

Wolf Gang Dancing With the Devil EP 

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Wye Oak - Civilian review

Even though Civilian is the third album from Wye Oak, a duo from Baltimore, Maryland, this is the first I have ever heard of them.  After listening to the album I was actually annoyed that they had flew under my radar for so long.  I like to think of myself as someone who is rather proactive in finding new music, but how I missed not one, but two full length albums by this band is distressing to say the least.

Civilian is one of those albums that is almost impossible to review.  I could deconstruct all of the songs and talk about the technical aspects of them but it wouldn't mean anything.  It would be a hollow shell of what the album is, and frankly it is just one of those records that you have to hear and feel for yourself.

On album opener, "Two Small Deaths", delicate and faint plinks on the keyboard and simple guitar plucking carefully nestle vocalist Jenn Wasner's wary voice throughout the song, creating the perfect introduction and setting the tone for the rest of the record.  Are there some missteps?  Yes, it is not a perfect record, and not all of the songs are immediately likable.  What this album is, however, is a wonderful example of what an album as a whole can do.

Wye Oak vocalist Jenn Wasner sings with such utter sincerity that she commands attention despite her hushed delivery.  The arrangements perfectly cater to the immediate desperation in her inflections, demanding that the listener sit on the edge of his seat in anticipation.  Each song gradually builds up tension, teasing you until the subtle electronic tinges swirl, bend and crash into the vocals beautifully.  Everything at play weaves together seamlessly, but at the same time there is a delicacy to each song, allowing a mysterious and otherworldly feeling to permeate each and every track on the album.  Civilian is the product of daydreams.  It is the product of apprehension and of exasperation.  It is the product of bewilderment and irrefutable joy.

Granted, this isn't the kind of album that you can throw on at any given time and in any given mood.  Wye Oak has carefully constructed an album that builds a unique atmosphere, and in my opinion, the album is best consumed in its entirety.  Sure there are songs that can be labeled as "singles", but to limit yourself to those songs would be doing yourself a great injustice.  Civilian is the type of album that grows and immerses you into its world.  You lose yourself in it whether you want to or not, and when its all over you'll not only be glad that you did, but you'll find yourself wanting to visit again and again.

Wye Oak - I Don't Feel Young

Wye Oak Civilian