VOWS-Soon-Enough-Love VOWS – Soon Enough Love

★★★½☆

Summer has finally come for most of the country after an arduous winter that seemed as if it would never end. If there was ever a need for an album to send us into the dream-like state that summer brings it’s now, and VOWS has delivered it with Soon Enough Love.

VOWS sounds like a mix between the Flaming Lips and The Beach Boys. Its easygoing vibe is paired nicely with distortion and a psychedelic sound. Soon Enough Love is the third project from the Vermont/New Jersey band of James Hencken and Jeff Pupa. The group utilizes its full arsenal of synths, guitars, samples, and distortion effects to induce a carefree feeling. This album is best enjoyed outside or played in a car with the windows down on the way to a beach house after a tough work week.

The synthesizer, distorted guitar, and muffled vocals on songs like “Sound Island” bring about an ethereal feel and propel listeners into a floating state with its varying tempos.

Other songs, such as “Shrinking Violet,” use a copious amount of distortion on the vocals and guitars, straying from an unearthly nature and showing off the band’s versatility—bringing the listener back down, acting as a reality check.”Come To Your Senses” is more formulaic with minimal effects, sounding more akin to a classic surf rock song with its guitar riffs,upbeat drums, and poppy vocals. Regardless of the level distortion, all the songs create a very feel-good, positive aura.

The instrumentation really carries this album while the lyrics fall by the wayside. When they are not incoherent due to distortion, they speak of vague topics. “Candy” could be construed as a love song, but the nondescript lyrics leave much of the track up to interpretation. While the instrumentation is excellent and does its best to keep up the energy, lyrics are of vital importance, and they lack in this album. James Hencken said in an interview, “We usually record in the winter. This is actually the first record we’ve worked on during a summer in years, and I think the result reflects that. It’s a total fuzzy summer jam.”

VOWS places its energy in conveying the summer feel through solely instrumentation, while the lyrics do not hold the same power. Soon Enough Love is poignant, but the band should’ve searched for more cohesion to create an album that doesn’t need to be released in a certain time frame to be well received.

VOWS – Soon Enough Love tracklist:

  1. “Futuis Eam”
  2. “Day To Day”
  3. “Candy”
  4. “Sound Island”
  5. “Snake”
  6. “Shrinking Violet”
  7. “Letters From The Sun”
  8. “Come To Your Sense”
  9. “Kemps Ridley”
  10. “Nothing To Prove”
Album-art-for-Multi-Love-by-Unknown-Mortal-Orchestra Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love

★★★★☆

Unknown Mortal Orchestra has a very off-putting band name. Is this band a group of metal dudes who love orchestral music and old video games? One could surmise this or whatever else comes to the imagination. The truth is, though, that Unknown Mortal Orchestra isn’t any of the things listed above.

The band’s newest effort, Multi-Love, is a combination of all the best parts of R&B, like melodic bass lines, pulling some very obvious hints from funk music, specifically repetitious, dance-provoking rhythms. Multi-Love is a definite departure from previous albums, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and II. Both of these albums resembled much of the same in terms of what’s popular in indie right now: low-fi recordings, fuzzy guitars, and barely distinguishable vocals. Multi-Love has a clear vision; Unknown Mortal Orchestra had to have known what it was going for starting at the very initial writing process all the way to the studio.

“Acid Rain” could pass for something Prince wrote and performed in the late ‘70s. The distinct, staccato rhythm in this song is reminiscent of the funkier aspects of Prince’s catalog, like “Kiss,” but a little less melodic, or “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” but more erratic. This decision is intentional and guides “Acid Rain” down an irregular path, strange and cheesy (in a good way) keyboards and all. It’s a refreshing spin on a sound that can be poorly recycled in the age of DJs and sampling. Singer Ruban Nielson even borrows some of Prince’s singing techniques. Nielson’s voice definitely isn’t as high, but similarly soulful.

“Necessary Evil” is the chill-out, think-about-it song of Multi-Love. Nielson sings, “We’re in love/But I don’t get what you see in me/Loving me could be your fatal flaw/Just hanging in here trying to be your necessary evil,” a particularly sad and universally relatable feeling, but an aspect of love that isn’t touched on so often, at least not this tenderly and poignantly. “Necessary Evil” features a rhythm section, from bassist Jake Portrait and drummer Riley Geare, that’s strong and proves itself as the backbone of the song. Geare keeps it simple but consistent and Portrait accents the song at just the right moments. No one is stepping over each other.

Nielson’s voice is finally able to come out and enjoy itself in Multi-Love. Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s previous albums hid the fact that Nielson is actually a fantastic singer, mostly because of the muddled production quality. He has a specific tone to his voice; it’s warm but soft and breathy. It’s clear Nielson puts a lot of effort into writing lyrics, which is a hard thing to accomplish, especially for young musicians at the near-beginning of their career.

From start to finish, Multi-Love feels like a whole, calculated (but not formulaic) piece of art.

Every bit of this album fits together, and doesn’t feel random or piecey like Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s previous albums. Though Unknown Mortal Orchestra and II have substantial tracks (“How Can You Luv Me” and “Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark),” respectively) they don’t have the same fluidity in their homes as Multi-Love makes for its songs. It took Unknown Mortal Orchestra a few years to find its distinctive sound: funk with a twist of tawdry ‘80s pop (meant in the best way possible).

Unknown Mortal Orchestra is beyond what any other indie band is doing right now. All the kinks that once held it back have now been smoothed out. Now, it’ll be easy to tell an Unknown Mortal Orchestra song from the rest.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love tracklist:

  1. “Multi-Love”
  2. “Like Acid Rain”
  3. “Ur Life One Night”
  4. “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone”
  5. “Extreme Wealth and Casual Cruelty”
  6. “The World Is Crowded”
  7. “Stage or Screen”
  8. “Necessary Evil”
  9. “Puzzles”
Album-art-for-Expert-Alterations-by-Expert Alterations Expert Alterations – Expert Alterations

★★★☆☆

Expert Alterations’ self-titled EP became so popular when it was released in the summer of 2014 that it’s now been pressed as a cassette three batches over—an interesting and very old school choice. Though Expert Alterations is from Baltimore, Maryland, its music seems to be heavily influenced by UK pop music, similar to bands like The Fall, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Buzzcocks, a band Expert Alterations opened up for in April.

The band pulls things like fuzzy, noisy guitars and consistent drumming from its influences, thus bringing this once-popular UK sound into the present. Using these techniques, Expert Alterations crams everything it knows into five perfect, but unconventional, pop songs. But this doesn’t mean listeners should brush it off after a first listen—Expert Alterations is a band that would be quite hard to forget about.

One of Expert Alterations’ main influences is ‘70s pop band The Fall, and those influences run rampant throughout the EP, most notably in the vocals. Expert Alterations singer Patrick borrows a lot of techniques from The Fall’s vocalist Mark E. Smith, mumble and all. Patrick’s voice is monotone and soft, which can sometimes be overpowered by the music.

Perhaps it’s the word association, but “Midnight Garden” is extremely reminiscent of Siouxsie And The Banshees’ “Hong Kong Garden.” The guitars are happy and jangly, and the drums even push the song forward with a long drumroll that eventually ends the song. Expert Alterations somehow transported itself into the era of music it loves. “Midnight Garden” could have easily been an alternative hit in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s.

“A Bell” is the EP’s fan favorite, and understandably so. It has a surf rock element, especially in the guitar work: fast, loud, and driven. A catchy solo near the end of the song works its way up and down the fret board, and the reverb is heavy and welcomed. The drums are simple and fast; they’ll make people in a (goth or punk) bar get up and dance.

Regardless of Expert Alterations’ intentions as a band or song subject matter, its music is perfect to liven up a party.

Despite its hype aesthetic, the album seems to falter when it comes to dynamics. Sure, many of the bands that have influenced Expert Alterations have similar elements: fast drumming, loud guitars, murmured vocals. Still, Expert Alterations has plenty of space to make this genre its own.

“Venetian Blinds” explains this hindrance well with its long and repetitive nature. Expert Alterations has a lot of strengths as a band, but its music sometimes too easily blends in with bands that are striving for the same kind of sound.

Expert Alterations is bringing back a sound that originated on a completely different continent, a feat that is hard to argue with. It’s a young band with limited expectations and the promise of a long and successful career due to its clear vision and direction. Expert Alterations isn’t going anywhere.

Expert Alterations – Expert Alterations tracklist:

  1. “Venetian Blinds”
  2. “A Bell”
  3. “Midnight Garden”
  4. “Memory Glands”
  5. “Three Signs”
Album-art-for-The-Helio-Sequence The Helio Sequence – The Helio Sequence

★★★★☆

Indie-rock duo The Helio Sequence is reinventing the way it approaches music. Its eponymous sixth album, The Helio Sequence, came of a popular competition called “The 20 Song Game,” wherein a band attempts to hammer out 20 songs in one day. Originally created by an organization called the Immersion Composition Society, the game pushes musicians to create organically and on-the-spot, rather than spend copious amounts of time thinking about music and waiting to be inspired. Influenced by musician friends who had just completed the challenge, The Helio Sequence took it up, allowing one month to create an entire album.

Vocalist/guitarist Brandon Summers and keyboardist/drummer Benjamin Weikel usually create meticulously thought-out albums, but the time spent working the challenge produced 26 songs conceived without discussion of musical inspiration or themes. After a month, the band sent the songs to friends and family, asking them to create a Top 10 list of favorites from the sampling. The result is The Helio Sequence, a soaring album about forging ahead and moving forward, reflecting the band’s revitalized musical efforts in its lyrics and construction of the album.

Hints of the need for change are peppered throughout the album. Opening track, “Battle Lines,” begins with a series of reverberating synths, giving way to Weikel’s complex beat. Summers’ guitar comes in, echoing with each chord. Summers sings of movement—a fallen tree, a foaming sea, and “the shadow of another day.” The lyrics evoke imperfect imagery, whether it’s broken, agitated, or referencing drifting darkness.

As Summers sings, “I cut the tethers that are holding me,” it becomes clear he’s freeing himself and moving on from the past. He’s growing and changing, similarly to how The Helio Sequence is open to new ways of producing music. Throughout the song’s chorus, Summers sings, “Looking for a new direction/Looking for another way.”

The band was ready for something different, and it seems The 20 Song Challenge inspired it in more ways than one.

Although Weikel and Summers approached their creation processes differently, the new album retains the duo’s atmospheric tendencies, erring on the side of the band’s more fluid last album, Negotiations.

The track “Deuces” maintains an overall fuzziness and features Summers’ signature soaring vocals, but the disjointed electronic sounds that were more prominent in 2008’s Keep Your Eyes Ahead are mostly gone in the new album. In its place, loud drums and a melodic guitar set the stage for another track about moving on—after all, “deuces” means “goodbye.” In this case, Summers is saying goodbye to a relationship on his own terms: “It doesn’t matter how you want it all to be,” he sings. “And there is nothing more that you could say to me.”

Similarly, “Never Going Back” begins with a combination of electronic sounds, serving as background music. But it’s a departure, serving as a slower final track to close it all out. Light background fuzz, a crunchy beat, and melodiously ringing electronics are somehow harmoniously pieced together. Summers’ voice echoes one word into the next, adding a kaleidoscopic edge.

Another deviation in the album, “Inconsequential Ties,” features an acoustic guitar and steady tambourine alongside a lively beat with prominent cymbals. The songs don’t sound random, though; they add unexpected, refreshing twists in an album inspired by a game that supports creativity via snap decisions.

In “Never Going Back,” Summers sings of getting “away from shackles and away from restraint.” With The Helio Sequence, the duo loosened its grip, letting creativity reign.

The Helio Sequence – The Helio Sequence tracklist:

  1. “Battle Lines”
  2. “Stoic Resemblance”
  3. “Red Shifting”
  4. “Upward Mobility”
  5. “Leave or Be Yours”
  6. “Deuces”
  7. “Inconsequential Ties”
  8. “Seven Hours”
  9. “Phantom Shore”
  10. “Never Going Back”
album-art-for-Peanut-Butter-by-Joanna-Gruesome Joanna Gruesome – Peanut Butter

★★★★☆

Filled with fuzzy guitar riffs and the type of drumming that barrels through a crowd, Joanna Gruesome’s sophomore album, Peanut Butter, is like a heightened continuation of the band’s 2013 debut, Weird Sister. Joanna Gruesome’s sound—part Riot Grrrl-era punk, part dreamy nu-gaze—is louder, grimier, and sweeter on Peanut Butter, creating an album that, in all its clamor and commotion, reflects the tough and beautiful aspects of life.

Hailing from Cardiff, Wales, Joanna Gruesome is comprised of guitarist Owen Williams, guitarist George Nicholls, bassist Max Warren, drummer Dave Sanford, and vocalist Alanna McArdle, who all allegedly met via anger management class.

Joanna Gruesome was born of a class project involving the creation of art as a way to calm the nerves.

Peanut Butter certainly isn’t relaxed, though. The songs on the album fly by, literally and musically. Each track is around two minutes long, with just two songs hitting around three minutes. The album begins with a flurry of sounds with “Last Year.” A guitar rushes in, accompanied by upbeat drums and McArdle’s yelling voice, an effect to make her sound a bit gritty. It’s the kind of music that could elicit a mosh. And suddenly, the music changes about a minute into the song. One moment, McArdle is screaming, “I will not!” and the next, her voice becomes light and sweet. The tone of the song becomes sunnier with the addition of a more melodic guitar. It’s perhaps a bit bipolar, but Joanna Gruesome really captures the ups and downs of life—one moment, it’s angst-filled, and then, out of nowhere, something happens to make it all right. Somehow the tone change works, possibly because the song retains its fuzzy quality the whole time.

It’s as if the band cut and pasted two pieces of music together to create a mismatch made in heaven.

The band’s DIY aesthetic is heard elsewhere in the album, too. “Crayon,” interweaves its hard and soft sounds more seamlessly than “Last Year.” “Psykick Espionage,” aside from having a fun track name, succeeds at mixing grungier melodies with a lighter chorus. Glaring sound effects, such as messy guitar, distorted vocals, and feedback, are scattered throughout the songs, so even the album’s indie-pop moments have some edge. “I Don’t Wanna Relax” begins with harsh, effected guitar and intense, cringe-worthy feedback, which may not be pleasant to listen to, but does a good job at shocking the system. In true form to the song title, the effects create a kind of anxiety over the otherwise upbeat tune.

Joanna Gruesome’s songwriting can be unclear at times—McArdle’s voice tends to blend into itself word after word, and the music’s varied effects muffle them even more. Some bits and pieces can be ascertained, though, such as in “Jerome (Liar),” which, by referencing clichés, seems to poke fun at an artsy archetype. “You talk about the moon, you think about stars a lot,” McArdle croons. “You write about trees, impressions in sand.” The subdued lyrics go along with the band’s sound, but a better understanding of what Joanna Gruesome is trying to say within its music would be appreciated.

The band’s lyrics do lend some mystery to the songs, though. At the end of “Psykick Espionage,” McArdle repeats, “I want to avoid psykick espionage,” which will make imaginations run wild with ideas as to what the band is singing about.

Lyrically understandable or not, Joanna Gruesome knows how to combine the musically abrasive and soft, screaming against life as the band strums along to it.

Joanna Gruesome – Peanut Butter tracklist:

  1. “Last Year”
  2. “Jamie (Luvver)”
  3. “Honestly Do Yr Worst”
  4. “There Is No Function Stacy”
  5. “Crayon”
  6. “I Don’t Wanna Relax”
  7. “Jerome (Liar)”
  8. “Separate Bedrooms”
  9. “Psykick Espionage”
  10. “Hey! I Wanna Be Yr Best Friend”
Album-art-for-Sinking-As-A-Stone-by-Vaadat-Charigim Vaadat Charigim – Sinking As A Stone

★★★☆☆

Vaadat Charigim’s second album, Sinking As A Stone, is both a success and failure, depending on the listener’s perspective. As described by the band, the album is meant to distill feelings of boredom that accompany growing up in Tel Aviv. The Israeli trio has crafted an undeniably well-made, but ultimately hollow and suffocating album. Vaadat Charigim crib wholesale from the tricks of shoegaze godheads like My Bloody Valentine, Ride, and Cocteau Twins, with a healthy dose of modern post-rock’s operatic tendencies. The band’s songs skillfully languish in beautiful, dreamy spaces for minutes on end, but by the end of the runtimes, they always grind to a halt, all to repeat the same process over again.

Opener, “Neshel” appropriately establishes the arc of each of these songs—a droning surge building into a chorus and lots of pedal work all leading into a tidal wave. There’s plenty of the towering climbs up the fretboard, but over ten minutes, it all feels like too much of nothing.

More often than not, it’s about picking out a snatch of melody or a quirk to grab onto than really enjoying the album as a whole.

“Hadavar Haamiti” is more successful with its galloping drum beat and spin cycle guitars. Yuval Guttman makes every bass drum hit sound like a shotgun blast and has a welcome verve, effortlessly adding double-time cymbals and other flourishes. “Klum,” meanwhile, sounds like a cosmic prom anthem with its disembodied fingerpicking and yearning vocal melodies. Again, Guttman steals the show with a deep tribal drum solo right at the end.

But after those initial checkered successes, the album starts to feel pretty generic. “Imperia Achrona” is as achingly melodic as most B-level Ride songs with an appealing mysticism to its sound, but it becomes tired long before its seven minute plus runtime. Similarly, closer “Hashiamum Shokea” has the biggest opening ear worm with a winding, My Morning Jacket-like guitar riff at the beginning, but it soon switches to stale grunge power chord chugging.

Vaadat Charigim has said it wanted to communicate the boredom of waiting for something to happen, the boredom of being hopeful for change, a possibility of change that’s hung over the head of the band’s troubled home country. And true to its aim, Sinking As A Stone is conceptually successful and deliberate in its choices to let songs swirl and swirl until they find direction. And it’s equally brave of the band to sing all the songs in its native language of Hebrew.

But all the melodic texture in the world can’t change how much of this album just stands there without either thematic cohesion or structural pleasures.

This is clearly an immensely talented band that is familiar with the structures and dynamics of the pioneers. There’s the drift and swaying dreaminess of the genre along with the punishing low and high-ends, and there are disparate cultural elements that at least to this Yankee listener scan as unique, but all of this hero worship doesn’t really add up to anything. There’s nothing to hold onto in this impeccably chaotic slush.

Vaadat Charigim – Sinking As A Stone  tracklist:

  1. “Neshel”
  2. “Hadavar Haamiti”
  3. “Klum”
  4. “Ein Li Makom”
  5. “Imperia Achrona”
  6. “At Chavera Sheli”
  7. “Hashiamum Shokea”
Album-art-for-Ratchet-by-Shamir Shamir – Ratchet

★★★★☆

Shamir is a lanky queer kid from north of Las Vegas with a septum piercing, dreads, disco beats, an impeccable falsetto, and an absolutely stellar debut album. His new album, Ratchet, is made up of deep house dance tracks, intimate ballads, and pop anthems that give insight into the 20-year-old’s persona through his unique singing voice and wildly clever lyricism.

Three previously released tracks appear on Ratchet, “Darker,” “Call It Off,” and “On the Regular.” While all of Ratchet is an open portrayal of Shamir’s personality and style, “On the Regular” appears halfway through the album and establishes a more formal introduction. “This is me on the regular, so you know,” he sings on the chorus, which is sandwiched between rapped lines over a cowbell-heavy (yes, cowbell), club-ready beat. Shamir’s lyrics are witty and on-point, such as in the line, “Don’t try me/I’m not a free sample,” which is easily the Best Comeback 2015.

What’s most striking about Shamir is his voice: high pitched with just a hint of graininess. Most likely a first listen would lead one to believe that Shamir is female. He has spoken a lot about his own gender ambiguity, in his voice and identity, expressing his embracement of complete fluidity. In a way, this makes Ratchet more vibrant, and not strictly because androgyny makes it more intellectual or enigmatic, but the quality of Shamir’s voice is so distinct that it makes the album more entrancing.

With his very R&B/pop singing style, Shamir has production that is DFA-esque in style, but like Beyoncé, takes us from ballad to banger.

Sonically, Ratchet is a bouncy blast with passionate pauses. At times, it’s slinky, such as on the sax-filled opener “Vegas.” Other times, it’s throbbing disco, such as “Call It Off.” There’s a hint of RuPaul-iness to “Hot Mess” because of the theme, production, and dramatic introduction. Even on slower tracks, Shamir maintains a style that keeps Ratchet cohesive.

While the bulk of the album is upbeat, Shamir takes us to a more intimate place when it turns emotional. “Demons” is a love song of sorts. Shamir begins the track with, “The honor roll is all I’d known ’til you took me over to the dark side/The thrill was good, together we stood/Like a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde.” “Darker” is also one of the more impassioned tracks, crooning the track to a close with, “You can’t contain the truth.”

It is very exciting to see where Shamir will be in the coming years, while he hasn’t fine-tuned his skills yet, there is potential to be a pop music game-changer. Currently, he is leaning into his aesthetic and personality, using his stylized persona to brand himself, and it works wonderfully. Once he has matured as an artist a bit more, he will be a more powerful force.

Shamir’s personality is magnetic—not simply because of clever lyrics, but with Ratchet, one gets a sense of his entire self. The album is fun yet meaningful, and very intentional. While one can note what it sounds like at moments, Shamir isn’t easy to pin down, a clear part of his personality.

Shamir – Ratchet tracklist:

  1. “Vegas”
  2. “Make A Scene”
  3. “On The Regular”
  4. “Call It Off”
  5. “Hot Mess”
  6. “Demon”
  7. “In For The Kill”
  8. “Youth”
  9. “Darker”
  10. “Head In The Clouds”
Album-art-Imager-by-Barbarossa Barbarossa – Imager

★★★☆☆

Snare drums and bass aren’t often paired with soulful lyrics and sensitive vocals, but Barbarossa’s new album doesn’t see why not. Imager is the second album from Barbarossa, aka James Mathé, following up his 2013 album Bloodlines. Before his full transformation into solo artist Barbarossa, Mathé was a folk musician in more background roles. He worked with the likes of Johnny Flynn and Jose Gonzalez before releasing his more electronically-infused debut album Bloodlines as Barbarossa. After toying with electronic production on tour, he has a full metamorphosis into electronic artist completed.

Imager is indeed growth from Bloodlines—the beats are more polished, yet the influence from his folkier projects is still strong. While Mathé swapped old school instruments for digital mixing programs and an iPhone app that simulates drums machines, the tracks on Imager embody a similar vibe to the work he did with Gonzalez’s band Junip: airy, a tad psychedelic, and danceable.

The album’s instrumentation is dynamic, but also satisfyingly simple at times. The opening/title track “Imager” has a pulsating rhythm that’s catchy with a subtle funk and lyrics that echo the soulful groove. There’s a fine line the album straddles between slow, ballad-like moments, and more up-tempo ones.

There’s always some funk, but it’s controlled, never blowing up into an all-out dance track, nor does it turn down to the point of slow and sorrowful.

“Nevada” is precisely this type of track. It engages listeners’ bodies and ears with its bass drum and snare, and continues to stimulate with the tension from the slower, more impassioned vocals.Mathé sings, “Sometimes I need to talk about it/Sometimes I need to laugh a little/Sometimes I’m drowning/Sometimes I’m calling,” with a light strain in his voice. These two elements seem at odds, but complement each other very well. As the track continues to develop, a bluesy keyboard steals the spotlight before listeners are reimmersed in the original rhythms.

Barbarossa is in the same lane as a Chet Faker-type, applying more expressive and emotional vocals to digital beats. One can’t help but make a comparison between these two Brits. Barbarossa stands out because his vocals are often taken to a more ephemeral place, particularly when paired with the production.

His folk background is heard in the vocals. The style of the lyrics and the way in which he sings all reflect his indie folk roots. The marriage between these vocals and the electronic production makes Barbarossa a unique act. While the lyrics are not particularly revelatory —thought-provoking, but not saying anything terribly new—the style in which they are sung and their minimalism do complement the instrumentation nicely.

Imager is indeed a development for Mathé, but does seem to lack some level of depth. What’s lacking is not musicianship or artistry, but perhaps Mathé hasn’t quite found his niche yet. There is a lot of potential for growth, and Barbarossa can become an innovative project in due time; however, in the meantime Imager is solid, insightful, and engaging.

Barbarossa – Imager tracklist:

  1. “Imager”
  2. “Home”
  3. “Solid Soul”
  4. “Settle”
  5. “Nevada”
  6. “Dark Hopes”
  7. “Silent Island”
  8. “Muted”
  9. “Human Feel”
  10. “The Wall”
Album-art-for-Tundra-by-Lakker Lakker – Tundra

★★★☆☆

Noisy, bass-heavy, glitch-ridden tracks swell on Tundra, Lakker’s latest album. The Dublin-based electronic duo, composed of Ian McDonnell and Dara Smith, mixes more ambient and subtle electronica with aggressive composition and nuanced percussive elements. Tundra’s unique sound presents distinct beats, but lacks enough luster to leave an impression; while the tracks are captivating in the moment, they aren’t stimulating enough to go back for more.

The album begins with a smooth, echoic introductory track, “Echtrae,” that sets a more relaxing, yet rhythmic tone, with gentle synths and subtle coos. The atmospheric vibe on Tundra is engaging from the beginning, but changes quickly as the beats become more abrasive. Periodically the album shifts back to a more mellow and melancholic sound, such as on “Halite,” a track loaded with high-pitched percussive notes and a rhythm similar to a creepier part of an 8-bit video game. Still, the majority of Tundra is driven by deep bass and soft grooves, such as on the title track, a standout of the album because of its textural and visceral accents.

Lakker uses abrasive sounds, which enhance the sonic landscape of each track, and seem to function as a trademark of sorts for Tundra. The consistent presence of intentionally uncomfortable sounds makes each track unique; it’s as though Lakker is trying to use these more distinct qualities as if they were pleasing to the ear.

The album becomes more interesting because of these nails-on-a-chalkboard-like sounds.

The foremost sounds on “Tundra” are pops that sound like hot grease in a a pan, right in listeners’ ears with a discomfort that distracts from the foggy drone and drum kit kicks. That popping textural sound becomes increasingly aggressive and grainy as the track builds—to say it becomes noisy is an understatement.

Another form of grainy and oppressive accent stands out in “Mountain Divide,” and is accompanied with higher-pitched screeches, with a steady bass rhythm and minor details in the background. While the track ebbs and flows, it still feels as though nothing happens. All of the different sonic layers combine to make a track that still sounds one-dimensional. Much of Tundra is composed of tracks that have very dynamic elements that simultaneously seem to go nowhere.

While Tundra is in interesting album, and Lakker creates engaging music, it isn’t memorable. The album doesn’t leave an imprint on the listener, even after many listens. While immersed in the album, the dynamic beats catch one’s attention, but it’s fleeting.

The tactile elements are unique; the kinds of sounds used emulate a tangible quality. The actual songs aren’t anything particularly special with their conventional structures and the like. If the rhythms were more complex or distinct then Lakker could take its use of visceral sounds and channel it in more interesting work. Tundra is indeed an experiential album, but it’s the musical equivalent of molecular gastronomy—interesting concepts, uncommon qualities, but doesn’t stick to your ribs or leave you full.

Lakker – Tundra tracklist:

  1. “Echtrae”
  2. “Milch”
  3. “Mountain Divide”
  4. “Three Songs”
  5. “Ton’neru”
  6. “Halite”
  7. “Tundra”
  8. “Pylon”
  9. “Oktavist”
  10. “Herald”

 

Album-art-for-1000-Palms-by-Surfer-Blood Surfer Blood – 1000 Palms

★★½☆☆

Surfer Blood’s 1000 Palms is the resulting bitterness and frustration that consumed the band after signing to Warner Bros. Records. After parting ways with the label, Surfer Blood wrote and recorded this album on its own. Home recording freed the band from major label finger pointers and directors, and freedom is a nice thing to have. Sometimes, though, a little direction is needed to push boundaries and get musicians out of their comfort zones.

Surfer Blood’s music is usually driving and extremely fun, but the band seems to have taken a completely different course. What was once exciting about listening to the band, like the obvious but unique take on ’60s pop music, has taken somewhat of a downturn. Surfer Blood has been known for creating fun, inoffensive, and carefree rock, no matter who the listener is. 1000 Palms is a step away from what the band is used to, branching out to explore new territory.

The opening song “Grand Inquisitor” is a strong and lively beginning to 1000 Palms. The theme of having open arms and an open mind runs through it. It’s a positive note to start on, but musically, a particularly brave choice. “Grand Inquisitor” isn’t exactly sing-along worthy, but that’s okay. The guitars are choppy and jagged, and its rhythm section is ferocious.

Starting an album with the least relatable (at least musically) song is a bold move.

Pitts can certainly sing; his voice has an innocent and soft, but throaty quality, and can actually accentuate the softer moments in the album. Most of the time, though, Pitts’ vocals are a miss completely, compared to what he’s proved he can do with past albums. The melodies Pitts sings hardly strike that sweet spot in pop music that is very hard to catch, which takes the form of a song that constantly replays in someone’s mind. The fog of words Pitts sings seems to settle under the good playing all the musicians display. Pitts has so much potential as a vocalist, but if the melodies aren’t there, it’s hard for a good voice to shine.

The album’s single, “I Can’t Explain,” is about finding romance on New Year’s Eve—what Pitts describes as an ineffable experience. A new and unfamiliar romance is intimate and personal, and though a New Year’s Eve fling is, well, just a fling, it’s different for everyone. Pitts should’ve taken the opportunity to describe what this moment felt like to him, but he fails to let listeners immerse themselves in his story.

1000 Palms‘ strongest song, “Saber-Tooth and Bone,” is reminiscent of a song the Beach Boys might have written, but with a little more edge. The song breaks away from what’s expected at the end of each verse, when the melody takes a turn and strikes a minor chord. It’s the interesting changes like this that keep listeners on their toes—it’s also when Surfer Blood is at its best.

Taking chances and pulling away from a familiar spot is something that’s very appealing to Surfer Blood, but oftentimes, the band doesn’t base its decision-making on gut instinct, and 1000 Palms is an example of that. There are very little dynamics to the songs, and when they happen, they are usually subtle, like when an instrument drops out of a song for a brief moment. 1000 Palms regularly feels like a straight line that keeps going and going until the line just simply ends without an indication of when or where it ceases.

Sure, Surfer Blood has taken a detour from what it’s used to, and 1000 Palms certainly isn’t its most defining work. The album is, undoubtedly, the biggest effort Surfer Blood has ever put into its music. Breaking free from a safe place seems to be worth it for Surfer Blood to gain some creative independence.

Surfer Blood – 1000 Palms tracklist:

  1. “Grand Inquisitor”
  2. “Island”
  3. “I Can’t Explain”
  4. “Feast/Famine”
  5. “Point Of No Return”
  6. “Saber-Tooth and Bone”
  7. “Covered Wagons”
  8. “Dorian”
  9. “Into Catacombs”
  10. “Other Desert Cities”
  11. “NW Passage”
Tallest-Man-on-Earth-Dark-Bird-Is-Home The Tallest Man On Earth – Dark Bird Is Home

★★★★☆

The Tallest Man On Earth is Swedish-born Kristian Matsson, known for his folksy, acoustic guitar-driven songs, and gravelly voice. On his fourth album, Dark Bird is Home, Matsson brings in more instrumentals than usual, adding depth to his sorrow-tinged songs about living with and overcoming fear.

Matsson’s past albums feature a solo act, so Dark Bird Is Home may disappoint fans expecting more of the same. But the extra instrumentals peppered throughout the album don’t have to be a bad thing—he still stands out from Iron & Wine, Bon Iver, and others in the indie-folk crowd.

Many of the album’s songs stay true to Matsson’s one-on-one sound, with perhaps the addition of a synthesizer or banjo. Dark Bird Is Home may mark a turning point in the musician’s career, but it still sticks to Matsson’s roots while pushing ahead to different territory. The album keeps loyal fans at bay by delivering some solo tracks, and the new instrumentals don’t take away from The Tallest Man’s uniquely personal quality.

Even the subtler musical additions add a lot of feeling, like in “Fields of Our Home,” which mostly features Matsson and his guitar. As he croons, “What if you’d never been through the last sorrow, wailing alone/What if you’d never seen through that, to the fields of our home,” a somber synthesizer comes in, adding an extra layer of emotion. By the end of the song, the music builds up to include backup vocals and louder synthesizers, creating a tune that surrounds the listener with emotion as Matsson sings about how overcoming challenges is an essential part of living and growing.

It may be a universal theme, but Matsson’s songwriting adds beauty and honest emotion to a normally stale topic.

Matsson’s unique voice, which has drawn comparisons to Bob Dylan, is his power, and it comes in close and clear throughout the album. His singing may not be quite so gritty here in comparison to his previous albums, but that clarity creates the feeling that he’s in the room (albeit one with awesome acoustics) with the listener, singing directly to them.

That intimate quality adds depth to lyrical themes that might otherwise be common. One of the best examples of this is in “Beginners,” where Matsson sings about choosing his own “wild and wonderful” trail with his love. Playing solo on a bright acoustic guitar, he sings about making up life as he goes and living in the moment, a notion that reaches out to many 20-somethings, particularly newly graduated students about to enter real life this May. “We have no idea, but then what else do we know?/We let it out to let it ride,” he sings with so much hope that listeners are bound to feel confident in their own winding paths. It’s like musical therapy for those of us trying to find our way through life’s uncertainties.

With Dark Bird Is Home, Matsson finds a way to expand his sound in a way that supports his originality and adds musical depth on par with his usual, courageous songwriting.

The Tallest Man On Earth – Dark Bird Is Home tracklist:

  1. “Fields of Our Home”
  2. “Darkness of the Dream”
  3. “Singers”
  4. “Slow Dance”
  5. “Little Nowhere Towns”
  6. “Sagres”
  7. “Timothy”
  8. “Beginners”
  9. “Seventeen”
  10. “Dark Bird Is Home”
Born-Under-Saturn-Django-Django-Album-Art Django Django – Born Under Saturn

★★★★½

Born Under Saturn is the second effort from British, genre-defying band Django Django. In the group’s short existence it has already received national attention for its self-titled debut in 2012. Riding that wave, the band took its time to explore musicianship while making this album. Born Under Saturn builds on Django Django’s versatile reputation.

The band could be considered a rock band with their utilization of guitar, bass, and drums; however, most songs include a synthesizer. Samples are scattered throughout the album, as well. Regardless of differing styles, the songs feature catchy melodies courtesy of the synthesizer, guitar, and tambourine. Django Django’s sound might be described as dissonant or cacophonous, but the band has mastered the art of layering and controlled experimentation. Django Django is very comfortable testing out new sounds, like with the saxophone solo in “Reflections,” or the electronic samples in “4000 years” or “Vibrations.”

While the album’s instrumentation is vital to its stellar upbeat themes, vocalist Vincent Neff takes them to another level.

His vocals are somewhat distorted, but still light and airy. The layering of multiple melodies from pianos, synthesizers, percussions, and electronic samples on songs such as, “Pause Repeat” and “Reflections,” are definite factors in their catchiness, but without Neff’s vocal shifts in pitch, the tracks wouldn’t be the earworm it is.

The lyrics in “Born Under Saturn” follow the same theme of experimentation the other elements of the album do. Most songs speak of nonsensical topics, holding no apparent meaning, like, “We work these mines for far too long set our lives in stone/The tracks that led us down are overgrown,” in “Reflections.” The lyrics might have been an afterthought, and the emotions of the band might be truly communicated through the production. Even though Django Django doesn’t speak of heartbreak or political issues, the lyrics are still catchy.

Django Django embraces its lack of genre classification, seeing it as a freedom to try new things and not be reprimanded for sonically venturing out. The band still has a distinct sound—one that’s upbeat and playful in tempo.

Django Django – Born Under Saturn tracklist:

  1. “Giant”
  2. “Shake and Tremble”
  3. “Found You”
  4. “First Light”
  5. “Pause Repeat”
  6. “Reflections”
  7. “Vibrations”
  8. “Shot Down”
  9. “High Moon”
  10. “Beginning to Fade”
  11. “4000 Years”
  12. “Breaking the Glass”
  13. “Life We Know”