Album-Art-for-Xiu-Xiu-Angel-Guts-Red-Classroom Xiu Xiu – Angel Guts: Red Classroom

★★★☆☆

On Angel Guts: Red Classroom, a full-length release that falls somewhere in the double digits of their discography, progressive art-rockers Xiu Xiu boldly shy away from convention.

If one is at all familiar with the band’s repertoire, “convention” probably doesn’t paint an accurate enough picture of Xiu Xiu’s esoteric, angst-ridden industrial-electronica. Yet this release pushes Xiu Xiu’s brand of New Wave experimental even further into alienation, challenging listeners with some of the most macabre and unsettling content thus far.

Angel Guts: Red Classroom alternately embraces and molests our notions of discomfort in its psychotic arms.

The album roils with disharmony. Xiu Xiu brandishes sharpened synthesizers like machetes, clearing the way deeper and deeper on a descent into a forest of madness.

Rarely does music do such a thorough job of blocking serotonin receptors and relegating listeners to a doomed ennui.

Save for a couple of more upbeat peaks in this looming mountain range of at-times-excessive tonal friction, the majority of the record swings on a downward arc, illuminating twisted visions in caverns on the path to the belly of the beast.

“I see it and I have no right to see it/I don’t even know what it is…/This might be the last time we ever feel love,” singer Jamie Stewart chokes out maniacally on “El Naco.” This track is a premiere example of how expertly Xiu Xiu can craft discomfort through masterful use of dissonance and spacing.

The song opens with distant church chimes plucking a lead that moves you to the edge of your seat, only to be elaborated on by atonal samples and a rising beehive of goosbump-inducing electronic fuzz.

A similar cataclysm of noise and ache are constructed on “A Knife in the Sun,” which crawls along the ground at funeral procession tempo. It’s unclear whether Stewart believes that the listeners are inching their way to a final resting place, or if they already reside in the land of the condemned.

Shrugging off taboo subject matter, Stewart proudly waxes poetic about psychosexual and violent musings.

His vampiric vibrato resonates as if broadcasted through an old radio, patched through direct from Transylvania. “Adult Friends,” which features ghastly samples of a squealing pig, conjures an aged portrait of the band corralling its mad carnival around a candle-lit alter.

Though the over-the-top noir of Angel Guts suggests a certain degree of injected shock-value, the band does pony up some seemingly impassioned melodies, like the synthesizer that lays the foundation for “Botanica de Los Angeles.”

The grisly chops and genuinely affecting horror-movie bits represent a real sense of urgency to communicate whichever level of Hell the songwriters feel trapped in. Those willing to delve into the cryptic lyrics and occult-leaning sonic textures will be rewarded will a surprising degree of relatability.

For new listeners to Xiu Xiu, plumbing the depths of its voluminous catalogue for a more accessible album to start with would be a wise choice. However, for devoted fans or those sound in resolve and not faint of heart, Angel Guts: Red Classroom is a lively tutorial from a band well versed in cultivating an ominous experience.

Xiu Xiu: Angel Guts: Red Classroom tracklist:

  1. “Angel Guts”
  2. “Archie’s Fades”
  3. “Stupid in the Dark”
  4. “Lawrence Liquors”
  5. “Black Dick”
  6. “New Life Immigration”
  7. “El Naco”
  8. “Adult Friends”
  9. “The Silver Platter”
  10. “Bitter Melon”
  11. “A Knife in the Sun”
  12. “Cinthya’s Unisex”
  13. “Botanica de Los Angeles
  14. “Red Classroom”
Modern Baseball - You're Gonna Miss It All Modern Baseball – You’re Gonna Miss It All

★★★★☆

Genres of music are cyclical. In some cases this is merely annoying—see the resurgence of worn out ,’80s-influenced electropop—but in others, it’s a blessing. Modern Baseball’s You’re Gonna Miss It All is a throwback to the emo era that sounds neither tired nor forced.

Reviving the emo scene of past decades and adding modern indie-pop elements is becoming an increasingly popular trend, and such passion is much needed to counteract impersonal popular music. Thank the music gods for that benediction.

Though it’s been going on for years now, emo-revival is peaking in both popularity and quality now. The most recent addition to the ever-growing list of instant classics from this genre is You’re Gonna Miss It All, which plays closely to The Front Bottoms and You Blew It!

Combining genuine lyrics with musical influences that range from garage-rock jams to acoustic ballads, Modern Baseball has a charming, intimate air that springboards its music into the heart of all who get drawn in by the quartet’s celebrated songwriting.

Thankfully, the group hasn’t changed almost at all since its popular debut release Sports. If anything, it’s honed in on its best qualities and capitalized on them this time around.

Brendan Lukens writes more honest, melancholy lyrics on You’re Gonna Miss It All, and still sings in his outlandish style; guitarist Jacob Edwards, bassist Ian Farmer, and drummer Sean Hubber complement his unique characteristics with a limitless arsenal of even catchier instrumentals. The band employs a tighter mix, more elaborate songwriting, and a wider range of styles.

Essentially everything that made Sports so great was enhanced for the band’s sophomore attempt.

There are the moments on YGMIA that sound like they were pulled from Modern Baseball’s debut, specifically the single “Rock Bottom” and the exuberant “Broken Cash Machine.” Both have the quirky elements that have always made the Maryland quartet endearing, especially in the lyrics. Lukens shakily sings, “My head is on the verge of exploding/No amount of pizza or aspirin could help this from hurting,” over characteristically catchy, rhythm-heavy music.

But above all, You’re Gonna Miss It All has a lot of new experimentation. Songs like “Apartment” and “The Old Gospel Choir” have impressive, unexpected breakdowns that add entirely new elements to the music.

“Apartment” jumps from style to style seamlessly, opening with a slow, quiet riff and taking a running start into whirlwind verses and rhythmic breakdowns. “The Old Gospel Choir” runs much the same, slowing at the end in an epic, steady collapse.

There’s a bit of vocal experimentation as well, though it’s still predominantly similar to what fans have come to love. Single “Your Graduation” shows off Lukens’ sometimes hidden skills as a singer, exploring a more aggressive approach than he usually does. It’s a surprise, given his typically frail style, and a refreshing twist that makes “Your Graduation” one of the best tracks on the record. More variation like this would build on the band’s already wide scope and help intensify its dynamic catalog.

The most exotic song has to be the closing track, “Pothole,” which is nothing more than a soft acoustic elegy that perfectly ends the otherwise hectic tracklist. Lukens’ vocals sound more polished than usual, his lyrics more mature. It’s an unexpected turn of events, especially following the zany “Two Good Things,” but it fits impeccably.

You’re Gonna Miss It All is another first-rate release from a band that is proving to be one of the best in the emo-revival genre. Modern Baseball was able to fully realize its potential, releasing the rare sophomore album that outshines its predecessor.

Modern Baseball – You’re Gonna Miss It All tracklist:

  1. “Fine, Great”
  2. “Broken Cash Machine”
  3. “Rock Bottom”
  4. “Apartment”
  5. “The Old Gospel Choir”
  6. “Notes”
  7. “Charlie Black”
  8. “Timmy Bowers”
  9. “Going To Bed Now”
  10. “Your Graduation”
  11. “Two Good Things”
  12. “Pothole”
Album-Art-for-Dunes-by-Gardens-and-Villa Gardens & Villa – Dunes

★★★½☆

The new year did not arrive quietly. Thanks to subzero temps, it’s hard to think of anything but the weather, and how to survive wind-chill indexes and black ice. Through it all, music is the best coping mechanism, so it’s a relief when a record comes along that promises the changing season — whether it’s melting ice, warm breezes or fading leaves.

In name alone, Gardens & Villa evokes greener pastures. (In fact, the name comes from gardens the band members tend on Villa Avenue in Santa Barbara, Calif.) The five-piece group brings the warmth and laid-back nature of the Cali coast to its new album Dunes, but this is far from feel-good pop.

The guys packed sweaters along with synthesizers for their sessions in Michigan with producer Tim Goldsworthy (DFA). Gardens & Villa’s second LP is a moody, introspective affair — or maybe end-of-the-affair.

Chris Lynch has a smooth, elastic voice that’s comfortable in a high register. It hangs in the rafters through much of “Colony Glen,” the record’s standout second single.

Whether the Glen is a boyhood vacation spot or the site of a romantic tryst, he remembers it fondly, cooing along with a brisk signal of Adam Rasmussen’s synth noise that brings to mind a montage in a John Hughes movie: an angsty performance and a bittersweet melody that draws in the audience’s sympathies.

While nostalgia is a key theme lyrically, the music is no throwback. The tropical beats and heavy bass lines by Shane McKillop are manna for many a European DJ right now, including Mickey, Aeroplane, and Tensnake.

On “Avalanche,” Lynch remembers a fast-moving love affair from a post-mortem place. His chorus skids along on a few repeating lines of electric piano and drum, an extended jam that pushes forward without a direct path, like the snowy crumble that inspired it.

Much of Dunes comes from a place of reflection – remembering love; growing older; winter and death. “I was so caught up,” Lynch repeats in “Minnesota,” of a past love. He’s frozen with the phone in his hand, ready to call her.

Down-tempo numbers “Minnesota” and “Chrysanthemums” add a change of atmosphere, but don’t quite gain a foothold. It’s trance-like “Echosassy” and slow-building “Thunder Glove” that show Gardens & Villa’s knack for deeply reflective songwriting — shaking with paranoia in every memorable guitar hook.

Sonically, Dunes is a departure from Gardens & Villa (2011). It contains similar dark-pop elements, but this time with the shades drawn, letting light in.

With luck, the world will notice the brighter side of Gardens & Villa, and the shimmering “Colony Glen” and “Avalanche” will be all over radio, lifting us from this winter slump.

Gardens & Villa – Dunes tracklist:

  1. “Domino”
  2. “Colony Glen”
  3. “Bullet Train”
  4. “Chrysanthemums”
  5. “Echosassy”
  6. “Purple Mesas”
  7. “Avalanche”
  8. “Minnesota”
  9. “Thunder Glove”
  10. “Love Theme”
Album-Art-for-The-Astronaut-by-Wax-Fang Wax Fang – The Astronaut

★★★☆☆

Few bands seem to muster the confidence required to write blatant concept records.

Wax Fang, coming off a year of well-received single releases and some national attention via inclusion on the soundtrack of a major network television show, is a candidate for cultivating the necessary tenacity. The Astronaut, a three-movement “space-rock opera,” is certainly representative of the desire to create something big.

Wax Fang’s use of spatial dynamic on The Astronaut is one of the most full-blown displays of that aforementioned experimental swagger.

The duo lays down a frenzied path through the shifting, fractal plane on which its story takes place. The pulsing rhythms race along the aural landscape, ebbing and flowing over the course of the five tracks.

The album’s opener, “The Astronaut: Part I,” picks up momentum from the moment its initial fuzzed-out, psych-stoner lead gives way to a mounting tension.

This growing ripple of anxiety is narrated through Scott Carney’s shared vision of a weary space traveler confiding his doubts of purpose, place, and future, and imparting his experience of the intense loneliness that comes with hurtling in orbit.

As the 14 minutes of this first track fall away one by one, the musical curtain is peeled back further and with less care, a near seamless fabric colorfully illustrated by shifting rhythms and the addition of a vivid brass section that would make King Crimson jealous.

Electronic emissions and interruptions punctuate the sensation of being drawn toward a catastrophic break as we join the spaceman in his fever dream.

Two supporting songs, “The Event Horizon” and “The Singularity,” underline the band’s ability to rally the music around the message. Wax Fang demonstrates a curious penchant for not only harmoniously wedding concept and sound, but then properly delivering it to its listeners.

Tactical syncopation and clean, ear-grabbing drumming on the part of percussionist Jacob Heustis highlight the almost tribal quality taken on in the odd numbered tracks. This rhythmic bedrock serves to make some of the more erratic additional instrumentation much more palatable.

Wax Fang makes an honest run at making form follow content on The Astronaut.

By composing grandiose soundscapes that shimmer with wonder and painting a more than believable backdrop for such an outlandish and fantastic tale, the layout mirrors the story.

Rises and falls in mood, tempo, and even genre shifts all contribute to telling a lively story–namely that an astronaut separated from his vessel is swallowed by a black hole and must come to terms with his new existence as a super being.

The Astronaut is not without its fair share of camp. Certain lyrical choices and the degree to which the band’s tastes lean towards antiquated-sounding sci-fi rock at times brush dangerously close to the tonality of an overly-synthed New Wave groove.

Though not every moment on this release feels absolutely consistent, attentive audience members should have more than enough material with which to take away a memorable and artfully told story with some measure of depth.

In an effort to present a whole expedition of adventure from beginning to end, Wax Fang shot for the moon with this one.

Wax Fang - The Astronaut  tracklist:

  1. “The Astronaut: Part I”
  2. “The Event Horizon”
  3. “The Astronaut: Part II”
  4. “The Singularity”
  5. “The Astronaut: Part III”

 

Album-Art-For-Farewell-Young-Lovers-by-Crushed-Stars Crushed Stars – Farewell Young Lovers

★★★★☆

Even on its seventh album, Crushed Stars brings a refreshing spin to its signature indie pop. The group’s latest release, Farewell Young Lovers, is the musical equivalent of a calm, solitary, and utterly relaxing day at the beach. Most of the songs are gentle, soothing, and atmospheric, laid back but with a quiet energy.

Lead singer Todd Gautreau’s husky, crooning voice complements the soft, feel-good, indie-pop music that rolls in the background. Farewell Young Lovers is characterized by rich melodies, lush rhythms, and highly polished production.

“Poppies,” a bold, experimental instrumental track, is the most polished song on the album, and certainly stays true to its name; it could be the musical accompaniment to Dorothy’s drugged-out trip through the poppy field.

“Poppies” is a mishmash of soft, ambient soundscapes and vague, mystical, Eastern sounds all produced to perfection.

It might not be the most popular song, but it demonstrates that Crushed Stars has the caliber to push the musical boundaries.

While the album evokes a feel-good, relaxed tone, some of the songs ironically deal with heavy subject matter, especially “Haters” and “Flowerbomb.” “Haters” is, according to Gautreau, about “religious people” who are bigoted and hateful.

The fast tempo, syncopated drum beats, catchy guitar riff, and amazing, Nirvana-like chorus give the song a slightly harder edge that’s a pretty far cry from most of the album, especially following the tranquility of “Poppies.” Still, Gautreau navigates the harsh material by singing softly and passionately, not with blind anger.

Opening track “Flowerbomb” describes a double-edged sword of a woman, who’s sweet yet explosive. The hard, fast-moving drum beats and simple guitar chords are reminiscent of Sonic Youth. Though rooted in punk tendencies, “Flowerbomb” is still light and melodious enough to have a natural place on Farewell Young Lovers.

Farewell Young Lovers is a beautiful album that has set a high benchmark in today’s pop scene. Crushed Stars’ approach to music is simple: keep it gentle, melodic, and upbeat, even when the subject matter is quite dark. The band has been around for more than ten years, but its unique approach to blending electronica and indie pop is as successful as ever.

Crushed Stars does have a distinct style in every song, which becomes a minor flaw with repetition. Each track starts with instruments in the forefront while Gautreau sings in the background. His vocals sound distant and filtered, which is not a bad thing—it’s quite calming—but it becomes a little stale by the end of the album.

Nonetheless, these flaws are minimal. Farewell Young Lovers is the perfect antidote for stress, and its delicate, personal sound makes it an album not to be missed.

Crushed Stars – Farewell Young Lovers tracklist:

  1. “Flowerbomb”
  2. “Fantastic Birds”
  3. “Our Interest In Claire”
  4. “This Happens Every Time”
  5. “Fly”
  6. “Poppies”
  7. “Haters”
  8. “Supernova”
  9. “Crocodiles”
Album-art-for-Youth-by-Wild-Cub Wild Cub – Youth

★★★☆☆

It’s always unfortunate when a band has skill, but is unable to reach its full potential due to lack of press. For most, this leads to a short-lived career with little success, but in the case of the Nashville indie electro-pop group Wild Cub, they’re getting a second chance.

Although the band received some attention following its 2012 debut LP Youth, even snagging the title of one of the “12 Acts To Watch” at the 2012 CMJ Music Marathon, the album had a small independent release that somewhat impeded its potential for success.

Now, a little more than a year after its release, Youth is getting a proper re-release via Mom + Pop with two new bonus tracks, and it’s going to make some waves.

Wild Cub stirred up a lot of talk in the electro-pop scene with its spacey, intricate tracks. Having five members plays well in its favor, allowing for a fuller sound with more complex subtleties that complement Keegan DeWitt’s droning, mellow vocals.

It’s nice to see some fresh music getting attention in a typically cookie-cutter genre.

Much of the electro-pop scene sounds overused and repetitive, but Youth features some great instrumentals and quality songwriting.

Take Wild Cub’s popular single “Thunder Clatter,” which features a bouncy guitar riff and sincere lyrics about the love of DeWitt’s life. Set to a playful melody, he sings of a woman who catches his eye, “I hear it all in the center of my heart/You’re the love of my life.”

Just like every track on Youth, it is a danceable, funky song that would fit right in at a party or club. What sets the album apart, though, is the group’s masterful balance between fun, energetic elements and lots of experimentation that makes the music enjoyable in a quieter setting as well.

Though “Thunder Clatter” is the most popular song on Youth, it’s nowhere near the best. While most of the album sticks safely to that same buoyant atmosphere, there are occasions when Wild Cub strays away from it, and the outcome is always preferable.

“Hidden In The Night” is a bit softer, but still has an upbeat feel; it sounds like it should be the soundtrack to a steamy make out scene in an ’80s movie. This is by far one of the best tracks on the record, mainly due to the killer guitar riff and incredible solo—features that are somewhat muted on the rest of the album.

On “Hidden In The Night,” the groovy guitar work is at the forefront, which is one of the big sellers for this album, seeing as most electro-pop is heavy on the electronic instruments. But even on tracks where the guitar is less prominent, it noticeably raises the caliber of the music.

Other notable tracks include the elaborate “Straight No Turns;” the solemn, violin-heavy “Streetlights;” and the dreamy ballad “The Water,” all of which see Wild Cub pulling slightly away from its characteristic party sound.

Both of the bonus tracks are worthy of attention as well, channeling the same energy that drives the rest of the album, but tweaking it to show off more songwriting chops.

And since they were written after the album’s initial release, they are a good indication of what Wild Cub will sound like in the years to come.

“Blacktide” is passionate and bold, showcasing some of DeWitt’s new, more vivacious vocal approach, while “Lies” is relentlessly fast from the start, bringing some life to the increasingly sedated end of the album.

While Youth is good for what it is, it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. It’s hard to come across groundbreaking material in the electro-pop genre, which is mainly intended to entertain and play as background music for parties, but Youth is a solid album when you take this into account.

Based on the new bonus tracks, Wild Cub will only get better from here on out. Let’s hope this re-release gives the band the boost it needs to keep the party going.

Wild Cub – Youth tracklist:

  1. “Shapeless”
  2. “Color”
  3. “Thunder Clatter”
  4. “Straight No Turns”
  5. “Wishing Well”
  6. “The Water”
  7. “Drive”
  8. “Hidden In The Night”
  9. “Jonti”
  10. “Wild Light”
  11. “Summer Fires / Hidden Spells”
  12. “Streetlights”
  13. “Windows”
  14. “Blacktide”
  15. “Lies”
Album-art-for-The-Age-of-Fracture-by-CYMBALS CYMBALS – The Age of Fracture

★★★★☆

Sounds of a crowded bar melting into hypnotizing dance pop kick off “Winter ’98,” the opening track of CYMBALS’ latest album, The Age of Fracture.

The London foursome’s new-age disco sound takes on a literary, outward-looking approach, revealing an intelligence comparable to Of Montreal, and a European sophistication lacking in its often spoiled and childish previous albums. Jack, Neal, Dan, and Luke are not the “badly rehearsed joke band” they were in 2011.

The title is derived from the award-winning book of the same name by Daniel T. Rodgers.

Singer and guitarist Jack Cleverly told British music site Broadway World, “It hit me that I often feel paralyzed by the feeling that everything is ‘too complicated,’ and that many people I know feel that paralysis. I realized that this way of thinking can be traced through these songs.”

This sense of stagnation is evident throughout the album, and it’s clear that the band is grappling with something larger than itself.

CYMBALS was inspired by Rodgers’ exploration of the late-20th century shaking of collective purposes and meanings that had provided a sense of social cohesion and consistency: citizenship, gender and racial identities, economic structures, and more. It’s heavy context for a very fun album.

Swirling over a gyre of electronics, “The 5%” makes the most direct references to Rodgers’ The Age of Fracture, declaring, “Time can be erased, you’re stupid if you try and stay in place.”

Produced by Dreamtrak (Hot Chip, Swim Deep), The Age of Fracture is largely in English with smatterings of Cleverly’s native French. Vocals throughout the album range from penetrating to airy, floating along with the rest of the music.

It features gritty, dance-worthy singles like “The Natural World” that push the six, seven, and nine-minute marks, including “Like an Animal,” CYMBALS’ ode to house music, with its sexy guitar riff and cool, upbeat disco. Short but sweet, “The Fracture of Age” is a brief instrumental interlude clocking in at nearly two minutes, a reprieve from the long, intense tracks that comprise the album.

The penultimate track, “The End,” rocks a synth line that belongs to an ’80s runway caricature; its smooth, French lyrics could easily be replaced by an onlooker shouting, “Work it, girl!”

This is in stark contrast to synth-led, brooding, dirge-like tunes like “This City” and the closing track “Call Me,” which is notable for its doleful bass line. The album concludes by collapsing and fragmenting into silence.

No longer self-centered, CYMBALS is exploring big ideas with beautiful, dance floor-ready electro-pop and indie disco. Bright, clean, and complex, The Age of Fracture is a breath of fresh air.

CYMBALS – The Age of Fracture tracklist:

  1. “Winter ’98″
  2. “The Natural World”
  3. “You Are”
  4. “Empty Space”
  5. “The 5%”
  6. “The Fracture of Age”
  7. “Like an Animal”
  8. “Erosion”
  9. “This City”
  10. “The End”
  11. “Call Me”
Album-art-for-Mind-Over-Matter-by-Young-the-Giant Young the Giant – Mind Over Matter

★★★★☆

With its sophomore album, Mind Over Matter, Southern California indie rock band Young the Giant has come a long way since its hit single, “My Body,” was featured in a Michelob Ultra commercial.

Singer Sameer Gadhia, guitarists Jacob Tilley and Eric Cannata, bassist Payam Doostzadeh, and drummer François Comtois are at it again with the follow-up to their 2010 eponymous album.

Mind Over Matter isn’t just 13 slightly altered versions of the group’s other chart-chopper, “Cough Syrup,” but a matured, orchestral variation on its nuanced, anthemic indie rock theme.

Producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen’s influence is evident in Mind Over Matter, which often takes on an atmospheric, synthesized sound reminiscent of M83. The dramatic, instrumental opening track, “Slow Dive,” sounds like it was cut out of a film score, and immediately gives the impression that this is a better, smarter Young the Giant.

The diverse album demonstrates the group’s range, including everything from songs that sound like lullabies (“Firelight”), to bitter rock (“It’s About Time”), to fun and dancey tracks (“Eros”), to pure, unadulterated pop rock.

If any tracks reach the height of “My Body”‘s popularity, it’ll probably be the infectious single “Crystallized.”

Gadhia’s penetrating vocals call, “When the beat of my drum meets the beat of your heart, you know I couldn’t love any other, any other” with the passion of a lyrical Marlon Brando shouting, “Stella!” Synth-pop mingles with Young the Giant’s mainstay indie rock sound to create a track that is dying to be hummed all day. The songs remain anthems, but on Mind Over Matter, they’re personal as opposed to stadium-sized.

While title track “Mind Over Matter” has been released with a lyric video featuring live-painted watercolor cameos, it’s definitely only indicative that the best music comes on the rest of the album.

Standout “Firelight” is a simple, beautiful campfire song that soothes with harmonic guitar picking and subtle vocals. Ethereal and dancey album closer “Paralysis” is in the running with “Crystallized” thanks to its floating, choral quality and addictive beat.

This deeply personal album highlights the band’s struggle with self-doubt, with lyricism that has a poetic, literary quality. The title track’s chorus rings with the insecure but hopeful line, “And if the world don’t break, I’ll be shakin’ it/’Cause I’m a young man after all!/And when the seasons change, will you stand by me?”

Gadhia told Rolling Stone, “Collectively as a band, the record does tell the story of us trying to hone in on ourselves… But individually, I think a lot of people can relate to the idea of being able to battle their own selves–their doubts, the obsessions that they have, the idiosyncrasies they have, the things that they do to run away or get away from.” Each track is evocative of this personal theme.

Mind Over Matter is not a rehash of what Young the Giant did very well with its first release. The band has taken a complex, heartfelt leap of faith with this work, and its work has paid off with this wide-ranging beauty of a sophomore album.

Young the Giant – Mind Over Matter tracklist:

  1. “Slow Dive”
  2. “Anagram”
  3. “It’s About Time”
  4. “Crystallized”
  5. “Mind Over Matter”
  6. “Day Dreamer”
  7. “Firelight”
  8. “Camera”
  9. “In My Home”
  10. “Eros”
  11. “Teachers”
  12. “Waves”
  13. “Paralysis”
Album-art-for-Occult-Delight-by-Mode-Moderne Mode Moderne – Occult Delight

★★★★☆

Mode Moderne caught some attention with 2009’s Ghosts Emerging, an admirable approach to blending shoegaze backgrounds with a soft drone of a voice, creating a goth-lined treasure trove of cloudy-day-at-the-beach music.

Vocalist Philip Intile may certainly bring thoughts of Paul Banks, or even more so Ian Curtis; it’s that familiar croon flowing through Mode Moderne’s dream-pop soundscapes that makes its newest release so noticeable. The melancholy is there, sure, but it is married to a calm fortitude that comes forth on Occult Delight.

Occult Delight is an album for the initiated, but the beauty of it comes from its increased embellishment of all things gloom.

That embellishment—which can, and usually does, become the main detraction to an album like this by turning an album of discrete songs into one long blend of guitar fuzz and jangle—actually draws out the group’s dynamism.

Lead single “She, Untamed” is the best example of Mode Moderne at its peak, as a groovy rhythm section dances around darker timbres of guitar and melody.

Opener “Strangle the Shadows” belongs as effortlessly in an ’80s alternative discothèque as it does in an indie dive bar on Brooklyn’s Bedford Avenue, almost like a scuzzed-out version of Real Estate’s stellar 2011 single “It’s Real.”

Its vast expanses of reverb layered on top of a driving tempo underline the gloom and doom orated by Intile: “No god in the sky, no devil beneath the sea, can force you into things/Your shadow must live and die, suffer beneath its own heavy sky/And they call that love.”

Even sprightlier efforts like “Baby Bunny” work well, buttering the gloom with jumpier, aerated guitar and synth work.

For the most part, Occult Delight does a good job of interlacing aural confidence with disparaging lyricism—a worthy emulation of so many groups that Mode Moderne most certainly looks to as forefathers.

“Does he like me? Oh well. Does she like me? I can’t tell anymore,” Intile laments on “Come Sunrise,” one of many Smithian snippets from Occult Delight.

While the album is as expectedly dour as any goth, emo, or mid-2000s indie group trying to replicate Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures is expected to be, there’s an undercurrent of freshness to Occult Delight that will hopefully translate to more exposure for this standout Vancouver outfit.

Between despairingly wonderful lyricism and a deft hand at manipulating an already long established sound, Mode Moderne may very well be on to something here. Let’s just hope that everyone else notices.

Mode Moderne - Occult Delight tracklist:

  1. “Strangle The Shadows”
  2. “Grudges Crossed”
  3. “Thieving Babies’ Breath”
  4. “Severed Heads”
  5. “She, Untamed”
  6. “Occult Delight”
  7. “Times Up”
  8. “Unburden Yourself”
  9. “Dirty Dream #3″
  10. “Baby Bunny”
  11. “Come Sunrise”
  12. “Running Scared”
Album-art-for-Vacation-Vinny-by-Grass-is-Green Grass Is Green – Vacation Vinny

★★★★☆

Though word of the current “emo-revival” has slowly clawed its way from the indie underground almost all the way to the top of the mainstream grapevine, it could be said that the real, honest comeback is being synthesized in the form of experimental and noise rock.

Records like Grass Is Green’s Vacation Vinny are solid testaments to this sentiment. Appropriately aggressive, distorted, and dissonant, the Boston four-piece presents a lo-fi and hook-encrusted package that keeps up the pace and guarantees interest for its full 30-minute duration.

Moments of Vacation Vinny document the band swinging fearlessly into dodgy spots rife with off-kilter, loose discordance.

In “I’m From Dot Too,” Grass Is Green clocks out for a brief respite about a quarter of the way through the record, indulging in a rhythm-driven pace frosted with disagreeing call and response guitars that implore you to bob along and cringe simultaneously.

The group succeeds in building sounds that encourage this type of counter-intuitive reaction at more than one interval on Vinny.

But, while this is a guitar-driven venture, the dark horse of the 10-track release may in fact be the bass (credited to both Devin McKnight and Michael Thomas), which accents the right corners of each progression and keeps the ball in play.

Somewhat ambiguous in tone, there is a willful feeling of catharsis in the band’s sound.

The way the fuzzy strings resolve themselves on “Big Dog Tee Shirt Birthday Weekend” is rewarding closure for a lyric like “you know you don’t have to lie to me/but I’ll miss your alibis,” with grit and a little bit of tenderness wrapped up in a you-can’t-hurt-me ribbon. Chord choices in tunes like “Disjoint” and “Tambo” employ an unhinged, punk element that feels channeled from early-’90s, sometimes-far-out-there, post-rock acts like Unwound.

Vocalist Andy Chervenak coaxes his throaty whisper-squawk to heights that are downright anthemic in “Sammy So-Sick,” the record’s opening and possibility most memorable track.

Certain stretches of sound are structurally reminiscent of Polvo’s Exploded Drawing in their rushing and accelerated tonality.

The band proves it can bare its teeth to reveal an almost The Jesus Lizard-level of pearly white intensity in the twangy clamor of some of its more cacophonous riffs. But at the same time, it juggles a capacity to filter the tumult somewhat, yielding a breezy and even pretty-sounding slackness in the songwriting. “B-Kind” exemplifies this with a relaxed vibe that rivals Pavement at its most lucid.

Grass Is Green manages to whet the appetite and achieve an admirable degree of infectiousness, all while knowing when to beg off a bit and not overstay its welcome.

The result is Vacation Vinny being accessible and enjoyable enough to likely garner some less weird-inclined, but open minded, ears and to shine a little light on Exploding In Sound Records, the DIY label responsible for the release. Those familiar with Ronson, the band’s 2012 full-length, will be pleased to explore this more focused and balanced effort that excels in remaining angular through and through.

Grass Is Green – Vacation Vinny tracklisting:

  1. “Sammy So-Sick”
  2. “Disjoint”
  3. “Big Dog Tee Shirt Birthday Weekend”
  4. “I’m From Dot Too”
  5. “Scattering Ram”
  6. “Spore”
  7. “B-Kind”
  8. “Another Song Called Supersoaker”
  9. “Tambo”
  10. “Vacation 2.0″
You-Blew-It-Keep-Doing-What-Youre-Doing-608x608 You Blew It! – Keep Doing What You’re Doing

★★★★☆

Although “emo” has been something of a dirty word in recent years, don’t let it deter you from checking out one of the best bands in the incredible emo-revival scene that’s currently at an all-time high.

We’re not talking of the ultra-whiney music that comes to mind with the word “emo”—no one wants to revive Hawthorne Heights—but rather bands like Balance and Composure, Foxing, or in this case, the prodigious Orlando band You Blew It!, which will blow listeners’ expectations out of the water.

Though the band toned down a bit with it’s second full-length, Keep Doing What You’re Doing, You Blew It! carries the same passionate, energetic vigor that drove its previous works into the forefront of the genre since its start in 2009, creating what is by far its best release to date.

Singer Tanner Jones still kills it lyrically and vocally, making use of his ability to sing sweetly or grittily to deliver his lamenting, heartfelt lyrics, and musically, the band is better than ever. Keep Doing What You’re Doing sounds like the group’s old material on steroids, possessing a fuller sound and superior songwriting.

A lot of the songs are still full of angst and hostility, as in the past—specifically tracks like “Match & Tinder” and “Rock Springs”—but the band expands its palate to a wider range of styles, as well.

“A Different Kind of Kindling” starts with Jones singing a cappella, then melts into a powerful instrumental transition. This song is constantly throwing curve balls, impulsively dropping the beat here and there, spontaneously blowing up vocally—all on top of catchy musicianship.

This is what You Blew It! does best: write singable, engaging, hybrid-punk jams.

Then there are the more mellow, earnest tracks that tug at the heartstrings with relatable lyrics and singable melodies. Jones is known for exploring emotional, pessimistic subject matter in his writing, singing a lot about disappointment, nostalgia, and regret. “Strong Island” and “You & Me & Me” are some of the best examples of that; Jones strips down and loses his gritty vocal style to lament on rocky relationships and inner turmoil.

But let’s not forget the signature You Blew It! sound, which makes an appearance on the second track. Hard-hitting instrumentals and honest lyrics drive “Award of the Year Award” into the spotlight, quickly proving to be a fan favorite—and as one of the more fast-paced gems on the record, it’s hard to ignore. Lyrically, it is one of the best songs Keep Doing What You’re Doing has to offer, with harsh lines like, “You can always consider me a friend, just strictly in the past tense.”

At the end of this incredible ride is the climactic finale, “Better to Best.” It’s a beautiful song with a monumental beginning that bursts into an empowering chorus of voices, only getting better as it goes along.

Starting with the line, ”Okay I’ll admit it, this past year I’ve been kind of an idiot,” “Better to Best” reflects on the past and sees the brighter side of things with a fittingly jovial melody.

The song decays into feedback, ending with Jones singing, “Maybe things aren’t quite as bad as I’ve let myself believe.” It’s a comforting ending to an album dominated by cynicism.

Making the best of its newfound stellar recording quality (thanks is due to Evan Weiss of Into It. Over It. for producing the album), You Blew It! did just the opposite of what its name suggests and exceeded expectations. The group really hit the nail on the head, crafting a colossal record that will stand the test of time.

Keep Doing What You’re Doing is a masterpiece, a must-listen for fans of the band and the emo revival genre as a whole.

You Blew It! – Keep Doing What You’re Doing tracklist:

  1. “Match & Tinder”
  2. “Award of the Year Award”
  3. “Strong Island”
  4. “Regional Dialect”
  5. “House Address”
  6. “A Different Kind of Kindling”
  7. “Rock Springs”
  8. “You & Me & Me”
  9. “Gray Matter”
  10. “Better to Best”
Album-art-for-Dirty-Gold-by-Angel-Haze Angel Haze – Dirty Gold

★★★☆☆

“I’m just making it for people who want to get lost,” says Angel Haze as she introduces us to her first studio album, Dirty Gold. Not even 10 full seconds pass before a synth-heavy beat cuts in, and suddenly Haze is spitting a mile a minute.

Known for writing narratives that ooze both power and honesty, her lyricism on Dirty Gold disappoints over mass-produced studio beats. This isn’t quite the Angel Haze that made jaws drop just over a year ago.

There is no denying that that Angel Haze is an amazing rapper, and the tracks themselves are indeed well crafted; however, Dirty Gold doesn’t do anything unique.

Up until this point, Haze has only produced wonderfully profound songs, but Dirty Gold is littered with pseudo-inspiration.

Haze has been through a lot, and one can hear her past seeping through her vague messages, but it all sounds shallow.

She spits with an aggression and venom similar to that of Eminem. Her reflective tendencies, depictions of her reality, and strong position are reminiscent of him; yet, she stands on her own as a female MC.

Haze made a name for herself with her 2012 mixtape, Classick. The connection to Eminem is inevitable, since she rapped over his 2002 track “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” and revealed how she was molested as a child. The track is heart-wrenching and raw, and while Dirty Gold has similar moments, none of them are nearly as powerful.

One of the tracks, “Black Dahlia,” has that same visceral vibe as “Cleanin’ Out My Closet,” but it’s not as engaging or breathtaking. “You should write a song where the concept is, you’re basically writing a love letter or, like, a piece of advice to your mother when she was your age,” suggests the start of the track.

Then Haze raps to her mother about how she loathes yet loves her, sees her mom in herself, and wishes she could have changed so much for her mom. The passion in Haze’s voice is rich, and as her emotion spills over with lyrics that manage to be both gritty and sentimental, it causes a deep-seated reaction in the listener, increasing with each play.

However, even the strongest lyrical moments can be overshadowed by the production on Haze’s album, which is oddly Top 40-esque. She dips into some dubstep, too, which is strikingly out of character.

Dirty Gold is disappointing and generic in quality, coming from one of hip hop’s most promising individuals. The album unfortunately lags because of the non-descript instrumentation. The duet with Sia on “Battle Cry” is precisely the type of hyper-constructed studio track, complete with vaguely uplifting lyrics, that makes the album feel played out even though it’s brand new.

“New York,” the final track on the deluxe edition, is also in various incarnations on Haze’s earlier work, like New York EP and Reservation. It’s an odd throwback, but also a reminder of how stellar Angel Haze can be when she’s not pandering to the masses.

Angel Haze – Dirty Gold tracklist:

  1. “Sing About Me”
  2. “Echelon (It’s My Way)”
  3. “A Tribe Called Red”
  4. “Deep Sea Diver”
  5. “Synagogue”
  6. “Angel + Airwaves”
  7. “April’s Fools”
  8. “White Lillies / White Lies”
  9. “Battle Cry”
  10. “Black Dahlia”
  11. “Planes Fly”
  12. “Dirty Gold”
  13. “Rose-Tinted Suicide” (Deluxe Edition)
  14. “Vinyl” (Deluxe Edition)
  15. “Crown” (Deluxe Edition)
  16. “New York” (Deluxe Edition)