minor-ep-characters-cover Minor Characters – Minor Characters

★★★★½

Minor Characters’ debut EP is a mix of Girls and Death Cab for Cutie with a little bit of blues thrown in. However, one of the best ways to judge a rock band that uses the guitar-bass-drum combination these days is to test one thing: can they write a catchy love song? It’s something that Death Cab for Cutie, Girls, Wilco and any rock ‘n’ roll artist from Elvis Presley to present-day can pull off and still make it to feel new again. After listening to “Come Break My Heart,” it’s obvious that Minor Characters are part of the club.

“Come Break My Heart” is the single from Minor Characters’ self-titled debut EP. It should and very well could be on the radio, not just for its content and poppy goodness, but also for its value. On a studio-production level, this EP is so far from demos, DIY or GarageBand. “Come Break My Heart” starts off with that classic do-woppy, almost-1950s rock song, with its easily recognizable chord structure. Instead of trying to sound retro, though, the guys in Minor Characters take the best tricks from the oldies and pump them up with contemporary rock music. However, their strongest trait is that they are not vain with their music; they don’t push it over the top.

Minor Characters don’t beat the listener over the head. They sound more Girls on “Come Break My Heart,” but not as sluggish or predictable as they can be. They break that mold by transitioning from major dynamic changes from very quiet to loud. Lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Andrew Pelletier shows his vocal range with Pavement-style “ooh oohs” throughout the song, but you’d never guess it when you hear his low voice at the start of the song.

However, what makes the songwriting on “Come Break My Heart” so good is that the band refuses to stick to a verse-chorus-verse structure, and they try to spice it up as much as they can within the confines of conventional pop music.

Not only do these songs have a little bit more kick to them, but they also sound like the band is actually having fun playing them. Every single little hook and every bass riff can be highlighted to stand out is given its spotlight. The lyrics make you actually want to fall in love and be a crazy romantic. Lines like, “I’m so tired of losing girls to Cal-i-for-nia,” and, “I could swear I was in love in Lou-i-si-ana,” are two of the catchiest lines on this entire record.

The rest of the EP is four songs that are heavy on the single-picked guitar notes. Very clean and very upfront, there aren’t any muddy basslines or heavily distorted guitar chords that add pointless noise. Even the percussion sounds crisp and sleek, which is something a lot of bands forget to pay attention to.

In an era where everybody wants their band to stand out in the blogosphere, Minor Characters have found strength in quality songwriting instead of tricks. Most successfully, the EP has a clear beginning, middle and end. Minor Characters give hope to listeners that they’ll be able to deliver on more than an album that’s just some jams thrown together in a seemingly random order. This self-titled EP is a great preview to the band, and it gives promise of a successful transition from the EP to the LP.

 Minor Characters – Minor Characters tracklist:

  1. “Burden”
  2. “If I Were You”
  3. “Come Break My Heart”
  4. “Company Car”
  5. “Ladders”
Let's Make It Right Troubadour Dali – Let’s Make It Right

★★☆☆☆

One listens to some records and gets that strange feeling of déjà vu. It’s like all the sounds have happened somewhere, some place before—even though the reality of it is impossible because it’s a freshly pressed album. It’s for this sensation that Let’s Make It Right is saved. The album has an heirloom familiarity to it that makes listening easy.

Now, know that most of the work accomplishes nothing. That’s without mentioning originality or musicianship or sex appeal, merely that unquantifiable feeling that listening to a magical album gives you. Maybe it’s a sort of terror or awe at the artistic achievement. More likely, it’s love. Falling in love with a band is like falling in love with a person, at first wanting to know everything: you want its history, every way it has ever looked, and you never want to be apart. Let’s Make It Right has none of that magic. The album is the second studio release of Troubadour Dali—a band name as precocious and troubled as the sounds it represents.

The sounds accused are rotary vocals, lashing guitars, jumpy grooves and good deal of fuzz—elements not unwelcome in other contexts. Quite often, they sound like Thurston Moore, had he decided in his post-breakup haze to front The Brian Jonestown Massacre.

Troubadour Dali wears its influences on its sleeve, in really big badges. Psychedelic rock it is, with a penchant for quixotic exploration of space and sound that more often than not gets them in trouble.

So, if we’re pretending for a second it isn’t a parody of an age-old genre, despite the gospel harmonies and classic-rock progressions, it’s still underwhelming. The lyricism is immature and dallies around indolently without ever sticking. Take “Ducks In A Row,” a case study in self-pity: “Lost myself to the fate of man/I’m going to fight it.” Come on, does it get much more martyristic than that?

Most songs groove on steadily, with mutlioctave vocals shadowing one another over a fuzzy bed of guitar noise. “The Fall” builds in an off-kilter spiritual or folk-song type of groove that’s infectious but ruined by trite vocal melodies. One of the most welcome moments on the album comes at the very end: the strange untitled instrumental is mostly joyful, but something is not quite right with it and in trying to figure out what, it unnerves the listener. A time under two minutes and lack of singing help, too. “The Prickly Fingers of Santa Muerte” deserves credit at least in creating a Western Gothic mood with its deep yet upbeat riffing. After a while though, even it withers into shoegaze.

The St. Louisian scene has long lauded the band, mostly on the strength of its live shows—the Riverfront Times bestowed them city honors of 2010’s best indie band. In fairness, the band is not totally out of its times. Both psych rock and noise punk have been championed in recent years by the Eastern Midwest, from Nashville to Cincinnati, but because these small-city scenes seem bent on staying insular or self-destructing, we may never hear the difference or the conversation between bands.

Troubadour Dali is a band that has wound itself up in a vital scene, and although Let’s Make It Right isn’t quite yet, that’s not to say this young group could refine and sharpen its sound into something deadly.

 Troubadour Dali – Let’s Make It Right tracklist:

  1. “Pale Glow”
  2. “Ducks in a Row”
  3. “Let’s Make It Right”
  4. “Au Tu Lado”
  5. “Fall”
  6. “Wash Away”
  7. “Dirge”
  8. “Prickly Fingers of Sante Muerte”
Maylene IV Maylene and the Sons of Disaster – IV

½☆☆☆☆

Overtly religious rock music has never been the easiest pill to swallow. While there’s nothing wrong with faith, it is rare that groups effectively blend their message into songs and keep it from being blatant worship music. After leaving metalcore darlings Underoath, singer Dallas Taylor formed Maylene and the Sons of Disaster in an attempt to continue pairing his Christian ethos with his metal lifestyle.

On Maylene’s first two full-lengths—the aptly titled I and II—the group was not all that different from Taylor’s alma mater. Both groups infused metalcore with pop choruses, only with Underoath finding more commercial success. It was on III when Maylene began to focus more on standard rock ‘n’ roll, something that IV continues.

“In Dead We Dream” opens the album, boasting metallic riffs that feel uniquely Southern. It’s as if Mastodon scaled back the technical prowess and focused on writing sing-along choruses. It’s not an ineffective track, but one that finds itself more closely aligned to modern-rock acts such as Breaking Benjamin instead of anything genuinely metal.

For most of IV, it adheres stringently to this form. There’s little differentiation between tracks. It’s a standard rock record that doesn’t come close to being mediocre. If anything, Maylene proves that consistency is important, and in this instance, it’s being consistently abhorrent.

Taylor is not one for metaphor or analogy, or so his lyrics would suggest. In Maylene, he’d much rather would wear his Jesus fish on his sleeve. When he sings of heaven, it’s not a reference; it’s genuinely him singing about how awesome heaven is. These lyrics are—at best—weak, but when they are brought to the forefront on substandard power ballads such as “Faith Healer (Bring Me Down)” and “Taking On Water,” it is all the more outlandish. On these ballads, Maylene comes dangerously close to paying homage to certain glam metal acts from the 1980s like Mötley Crüe or Posion.

Maylene’s IV isn’t poorly executed. Each musician is adept at his respective instrument. It isn’t even problematic that the group is paying homage to groups that would best be forgotten.

The true issue with IV is the fact that Maylene is not only trying to position itself in an irrelevant genre, but that the band is doing such a poor job of it.

By the time that IV finally comes to a close, there’s nothing worth remembering. It’s a wash of generic riffs, 3 Doors Down-esque choruses, and some really, really cheesy lyrics about Jesus. This record is watered down in an attempt to be palatable for a mass market, or so it would seem. Maylene was never all that great to begin with, but IV is a failure on almost every level.

Maylene and the Sons of Disaster – IV tracklist:

  1.  ”In Dead We Dream”
  2. “Save Me”
  3. “Faith Healer (Bring Me Down)”
  4. “Open Your Eyes”
  5. “Killing Me Slow”
  6. “Taking On Water”
  7. “Fate Games”
  8. “Come for You”
  9. “Never Enough”
  10. “Cat’s Walk”
  11. “Drought of ’85″
  12. “Off to the Laughing Place”
Lou Reed & Metallica - Lulu Lou Reed and Metallica – Lulu

☆☆☆☆☆

After sharing the stage at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th anniversary concert in 2009, Metallica and Lou Reed wanted more. They wanted to build upon the experience. After the show, the group decided their washed-up and worn-out sounds would work great in collaboration and that an album should be made.

The deformed brainchild was set to be conceived.

With everyone in agreement, the two parties headed up to Metallica’s studio in northern California to begin their work together. And after a 24-month gestation period, the world is now to be victimized by Reed and Metallica’s mutant offspring, Lulu. What was originally going to be a cover album of deep tracks of Reed’s turned into a 90-minute, two-disc assault on every naïve listener willing to press “play.”

To summarize the onslaught: Reed’s quivering howl over Metallica’s backtrack sounds like the deranged ramblings of a weak senior citizen straining to rant over his grandson’s music.

It’s frankly unbearable.

Reed’s lyrical irrelevancy was relevant when it was driven by opiates but now, when mixed with decades of being disconnected, it manifests itself into, well, this album. A man with a firmly grounded iconic class and financial stability had no business making this album, unless the goal was to embarrass himself. But given Reed’s renowned asshole-ish nature and colossal ego, he must have figured the tracks on this album actually sounded good, which only proves his being disconnected and egotistical—not to mention the self-indulgent second disc that is only four tracks yet 47 minutes long.

As for Metallica, Lulu is just another misshapen, unidentifiable chunk among the regurgitated sick that the group has been turning out. The majority of ex-Metallica fans have stopped waiting for the band to return to the days of Kill ‘Em All and Ride the Lightning and have accepted the fact that their heroes of yore are dead.

And now Reed is following in Metallica’s footsteps.

Lou Reed and Metallica – Lulu tracklist:

  1. “Brandenburg Gate”
  2. “The View”
  3. “Pumping Blood”
  4. “Mistress Dread”
  5. “Iced Honey”
  6. “Cheat on Me”
  7. “Frustration”
  8. “Little Dog”
  9. “Dragon”
  10. “Junior Dad”
Tom Waits-Bad As Me-Album Cover Tom Waits – Bad as Me

★★★★☆

Tom Waits exists in a spectrum of music all his own. In the 38 years since his first album, Waits has been making music his own way, everyone else be damned. He has become known for his gritty voice, experimental fusion of blues, jazz and rock elements and flair for dramatic, dark storytelling in songs. This is all still true for his first collection of new material in seven years, Bad as Me, and although it might not be much of an artistic evolution since his last endeavor, it’s still a very solid record.

The album starts strong with “Chicago,” a lurching locomotive of a song where Waits growls out a tale of a man hopping town to find a better life in, surprise, Chicago. It’s a great introduction to the album because it really captures Waits at his best: using his fevered screams and blending a myriad of genres to craft a statement, a character and a world that is entirely fascinating.

When he’s at his best, Waits’ music could be literature.

After “Chicago,” another highlight is the first single and title track, “Bad as Me,” an upbeat cabaret shuffle where Waits swings both hot and cold—yelping crazily one moment, calm and collected another. “I’m the blood on the floor/The thunder and the roar/I’m the boat that won’t sink/I just won’t sleep a wink,” Waits barks.

Unfortunately, not every song on the album is as great; some of the slower songs fall a little flat. The main offenders are “Last Leaf,” whose sparse, downtempo composition contrasts with some of the more manic songs but ends up uninteresting; and “New Year’s Eve,” the slow album closing track. Both songs are supposed to be slow and sad, but they end up dragging quite a bit because they don’t ever go anywhere, making it difficult for the listener to become emotionally invested.

But not every slow song is a dud. “Kiss Me” elegantly captures the sounds of a film noir bar scene through the subtle tinkling of the piano keys and carelessly sparse strumming of a guitar. The light instrumentation lets the song focus on Waits’ voice, which is comparatively smooth, genuinely tender and heartbreaking. “I  want to believe our love’s a mystery/I want to believe our love’s a sin/Oh, will you kiss me like a stranger once again,” Waits cries.

“Kiss Me” nicely recreates a scene for listeners to experience, and this is one of the things Waits does best with his music. He uses it to craft stories and create places that feel real.

Another example of this done right is “Hell Broke Luce,” which comes late in the record. In it, Waits creates a protagonist, bitter at the world of politics and war, and through the lyrics, he really delves into the psyche of his character. Aggressively punctuated bursts of words make up the chorus, an interesting stylistic choice that really helps enforce the intense and spiteful nature of the song. Those looking for deep and meaningful storytelling are not going to be disappointed by Bad as Me.

It’s because Waits is such a strong weaver of tales that this album really works. Although his music may seem an oddity for newcomers, Waits fans will know that it is mostly more of the same. But each story, each character, each scene and each emotion is so real and vividly realized that listeners can’t help but enjoy themselves.

Tom Waits – Bad as Me tracklist:

  1. “Chicago”
  2. “Raised Right Men”
  3. “Talking at the Same Time”
  4. “Get Lost”
  5. “Face the Highway”
  6. “Pay Me”
  7. “Back in the Crowd”
  8. “Bad as Me”
  9. “Kiss Me”
  10. “Satisfied”
  11. “Last Leaf”
  12. “Hell Broke Luce”
  13. “New Year’s Eve”
Danny Brown - XXX Danny Brown – XXX

★★★★½

As far as rap name goes, Danny Brown might be the most innocuous of them all. Unlike Rick Ross, who borrows his name from coke dealer “Freeway” Ricky Ross, the only people who share a name with the Detroit emcee are football players—American and English versions.

But when dropping the digital needle on his latest mixtape XXX, it’s obvious that Brown is anything but conventional. With a voice that lands somewhere between Aesop Rock and Jello Biafra, suffice it to say he has an unconventional style. In fact, before the he finishes his first bar on the opening title track, most listeners will likely write him off as some sort of gimmicky fringe act, not a serious MC.

Brown, regardless of any other subjective criticisms thrown his way, is undeniably weird.

It’s beneath these layers of quirks and oddities that Brown reveals his true gifts as a rapper: his eschewing of typical rap game swagger, focus on lyrics and establishing his thematic interests from track to track, and a derisive sense of humor delivered with his ferocious flow.

This last component might be the most intriguing. Tracks such as “Radio Song” are aimed squarely toward industry absurdities, and Brown isn’t above mocking those to adhere to them, chanting, “I got that income tax swag,” on the end of “Lie4,” a song about rappers who are prone to hyperbole when discussing their fiscal affairs.

Derision isn’t his only interest, however. Some of the album’s best moments come when Brown drops the attitude and delves into his own experiences. “Scrap or Die,” which flips the hook from Young Jeezy’s “Trap or Die,” details the days in which he’d strip houses of scrap metal and sell it to factories to get by. Although the subject matter may be more serious, this doesn’t stop Brown from riding a capriciously crafted beat, which has the bubbly drum patterns popular in today’s growing lo-fi hip-hop style.

Sometimes, Brown can be outright chilling in his lyrics, such as on the song “Monopoly.” It has an unruly, three-minute verse in which he growls things such as, “Nigga that’s bland, fuck you and ya mans/Smack you like a bitch nigga, that’s open hand,” and, “I done served fiends on they menstrual/Ain’t even had pads, stuff they panties with tissue!”

But just when you think he has a fondness for wickedness (like those rapscallions in Odd Future), Brown will come back with songs such as the infectious “EWNESW,” a clever and effortlessly likeable joint about regionalism in hip-hop, or “Bruise Brigade,” a shameless party anthem about swilling cheap beer, bolstered by one of the best one-liners to hit a track this year (“I’m higher than Swizz Beatz hairline”). What seems like a lack a focus is anything but; rather, Brown never wants the listener to feel comfortable. Guessing where he’ll go next is part of XXX’s appeal. There are truly few rappers as lively and engaging as Brown, if only because of his refusal to be normal.

Admittedly, it’s a shtick that might not last long. But for right now, XXX is one of the most compelling rap releases this year.

Danny Brown – XXX Tracklist:

  1. “XXX”
  2. “Die Like a Rockstar”
  3. “Pac Blood”
  4. “Radio Song”
  5. “Lie4″
  6. “I Will”
  7. “Bruiser Brigade”
  8. “Detroit 187″
  9. “Monopoly”
  10. “Blunt After Blunt”
  11. “Outer Space”
  12. “Adderall Admiral”
  13. “DNA”
  14. “Nosebleeds”
  15. “Party All the Time”
  16. “EWNESW”
  17. “Fields”
  18. “Scrap or Die”
GhostTown_LP_Jacket_PRINT.indd Owen – Ghost Town

★★★★☆

On Ghost Town, Mike Kinsella (aka Owen) has dramatically changed his sound into a more progressive-heavy-metal dubstep hybrid … gotcha!

At this point, we’re all pretty much expecting the same thing from Owen: some complexly arranged acoustic-guitar numbers that are pulled off with an almost childlike perfection. We’re expecting some slightly introspective lyrics with enough tongue-and-cheek wit to make us cringe and squirm with how close they get to crossing the line of being a guilty pleasure. This album doesn’t do any of that, as it does perfect dives instrumentally and merely treads water lyrically.

On Ghost Town, the addition of many more folk and string instruments on a majority of the songs helps break this album apart from just another acoustic-rock album from one of the Kinsella brothers. (Mike and Tim Kinsella have worked together in several Illinois-based acts such as Joan of Arc and Cap’n Jazz.) Also, the addition of these strings and folky arrangements give Owen’s classic acoustic “sad-bastard rock” (said as a die-hard Kinsella fan) a new, full-bodied taste. And the strings aren’t added as a last resort to make certain songs stick out from the others like some bands are forced to do when they run out of material.

From the first song, “Too Many Moons,” we hear a standard finger-picked acoustic-guitar diddy with Kinsella singing your standard Owen lyrics in a typical Owen fashion, but with small background strings slowly stirring in the background until about a minute into the song, the guitar and lyrics drop and the strings come in full force to the front of the song as the leading instruments. At this point, the listener realizes that the guitar isn’t the focus of the song as we’re used to. The strings are their own entity like in Cursive’s Ugly Organ. They are fully realized and a being all their own.

In addition to that, “Too Many Moons” also reveals one of Ghost Town’s new instrumental strengths to be the acoustic-guitar arrangements. They are produced individually, and even someone who isn’t an audiophile will be able to tell the difference in production style for each song with ease. This helps someone who isn’t the die-hard fan tell the songs from one another because this helps show each song’s individual flavor. Owen has taken the acoustic guitar ”silent shredding” style and brought a more flamenco touch to it, and it makes each riff zing a little bit harder than it normally would.

Ghost Town brings all of Owen’s strengths to the plate. It is like what Conor Oberst probably thought Cassadaga sounded like, or what it could have been, if it were less country and had loads more effort and originality put into it.

Lyrically, this album feels a bit redundant. There isn’t a single song that has a chorus that has the power that “Good Friends, Bad Habits” did, and definitely nothing worth singing along to with your friends. However, instrumentally this album is better than any Owen album to date, which is something the fans needed.

And honestly, did anyone really think Kinsella had anything more interesting to say about Chicago he hadn’t already said in an album called Ghost Town anyway?

Owen – Ghost Town Tracklist:

  1. “Too Many Moons”
  2. “No Place Like Home”
  3. “O, Evelyn …”
  4. “I Believe”
  5. “The Armoire”
  6. “An Animal”
  7. “No Language”
  8. “Mother’s Milk Breath”
  9. “Everyone’s Asleep in the House but Me”
russian_circles_empros Russian Circles – Empros

★★★★☆

Russian Circles’ Empros begins as a cloud-dappled sunrise and ends in a thunderstorm punctuated by an onslaught of lightning that pierces midnight skies like javelins thrown down from the gods. And actually, each track follows a similar pattern: a slow build and an explosive, orgasmic conclusion, followed by a simmering, distorted, sonic dénouement. With the six lengthy excursions contained in Empros (only the concluding cut, “Praise Be Man,” clocks in at less than five minutes), Chicago’s “instrumetal” auteurs explore a full range of dynamics, from the meditative and ambient “Schiphol” to the guitars-in-a-blender rawk onslaught of “309.”

Surprisingly, “Mládek” actually begins downright U2-esque, with its Edge-like jangly guitar introduction (think “Where the Streets Have No Name”), but by the time it’s done, the sound is reminiscent of being chopped apart by a gigantic industrial exhaust fan.  “Schiphol” starts by being meditative and ambient, but it quickly (if “after six minutes” can be considered quick) culminates in an orgasmic miasma of guitar shredding and monstrous drum propulsion. It resolves by constructing some leisurely spires of guitar feedback, and after a lovely refractory period, the song perfectly melds into the next adventurous excursion in “hammered by the gods” guitar rock. In other words, to understate things quite a bit, the electric guitar is rather key to the sound of Russian Circles.

On first listen, it’s no surprise that Brandon Curtis from Secret Machines produced this record, and Russian Circles can also be likened to their contemporaries such as fellow Chicagoans Disappears (although not as math-rocky), Austin’s Explosions in the Sky (although not as laid-back), Scotland’s Mogwai (although not as post-whatever) and Sacramento’s Hella. Hell, “Batu” even brings to mind the metal pounding of Tool (whom they’ve opened for in the past).

Likewise for “Schiphol,” which builds for three and a half minutes before kicking out the jams. In fact, if there’s one criticism of this record—with the exception of the kick-off cut “309,” which has a relatively brief introduction—all of the compositions seem to follow that silent then LOUD formula, punctuated at the end of each cut by the band trailing off into the nethersphere.

It would be nice to hear Russian Circles stop a cut on a dime from time to time, without fading out, and likewise it would be cool to hear them begin with the pedal to the metal more often.

The only track with vocals is “Praise Be Man,” the concluding cut, and given that, it’s hardly a surprise that it’s also their most Secret Machines-like. It starts slowly and quietly and vamps for almost three minutes before applying a thick layer of guitar sludge asphalt. But given that “Praise Be Man” is also the shortest track, compared with the other five compositions, it’s over too soon, despite the obligatory sonic settlement sinking in.

If all one had to go by were these six compositions, it would be clear that Russian Circles is one of those bands for which earplugs are a necessity if ever witnessing their live show. In addition, although the band has some antecedents with their sound, they are making music that stands on its own, and Empros is an engaging, compelling and propulsive listen from end to end.

Russian Circles – Empros Tracklist:

  1. “309″
  2. “Mládek”
  3. “Schipol”
  4. “Atackla”
  5. “Batu”
  6. “Praise Be Man”
Florence and the Machine - Ceremonials Florence + the Machine – Ceremonials

★★★½☆

There’s a certain flow through Ceremonials that is distinguished and precise. This isn’t to say every song sounds the same, though. It’s just that the producers who put together Florence + the Machine’s latest release did a stellar job of connecting each piece flawlessly and smoothing out every potential interruption to its groove.

For this band to achieve such wide mainstream success last year might have been a compromise for both the public and the band. The style of Florence + the Machine is not typically heard on the radio, but some songs were so well produced that they deserved the limelight they earned. But the band doesn’t traditionally don a top-40 label. Its indie-pop energy is still a bit too obscure to be recognized by the public at large.

It must’ve been difficult to choose a first single and also easy to see how producers made the wrong decision by picking “What the Water Gave Me,” which was slow and slumpy. “Shake It Out” would have been a better fit, with its chantlike beat that has a much more appealing hook to it.

After the quick shot of brilliance in its start (a flash of piano with the words “And I had a dream …”), we really don’t get into it until after the lovely chiming intensity of “Never Let Me Go.” Tracks such as “Breaking Down” and “Lover to Lover” will tame listeners and inspire with their faster rhythms while “No Light, No Light” will attract a more mediating mood that will help the listeners understand what the band was going for. These songs could get you to the place where you dance like a fool simply because you are free. This is to be embraced.

Later, “Heartlines” represents an emotional journey as its poetry connects brilliantly with the music. The poetic wisdom continues with “All This and Heaven,” clearly the leader of the script along Ceremonials. It breathes, “And I will give all this and Heaven, too/I will give it all, if only for a moment/That I could just understand/The meaning of love.”

So to judge Florence + the Machine’s latest, it’s best to consider it the band’s recent contribution to indie music. And with that, it’s really not bad. At first listen, it will either be overwhelming or underwhelming, but listeners will be stunned by its dedication to its message on the second or third time around. This is especially true because the energy along Ceremonials asks for listeners to become accustomed to it.

It’s an acquired taste that is only strengthened toward the end of the album.

Critics might not like Ceremonials because they’re expecting to hear another “Dog Days Are Over” or “You’ve Got the Love.” But true Florence fans will understand that the new record fits right along with the intermediate work of 2009’s Lungs. It has no sure pop hits on the horizon, but this effort stays true to everything the band has worked for since its beginning. While the effort here wasn’t fully formed, at least Florence + the Machine still has its dignity.

 Florence + the Machine – Ceremonials Tracklist:

  1. “Only if for Night”
  2. “Shake It Out”
  3. “What the Water Gave Me”
  4. “Never Let Me Go”
  5. “Breaking Down”
  6. “Lover to Lover”
  7. “No Light, No Light”
  8. “Seven Devils”
  9. “Heartline”
  10. “Spectrum”
  11. “All This and Heaven Too”
  12. “Leave My Body”
Real Estate - Days Real Estate – Days

★★★★½

First off, Days is bliss. Anyone who says differently is wrong. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but not this time. Days is an unbelievably soothing and enjoyable album. It’s so unobtrusive one would be hard pressed not to like it. That’s it. As a matter of fact, don’t read the rest of this review.

New Jersey quartet Real Estate, led by singer/axeman Martin Courtney, has been on the scene for a couple of years now, gathering a good deal of hype. Days is its second album. The band boasts a one-of-a-kind aesthetic that uses shimmering, reverby guitars to create washy harmonies. It’s forehead-slap simple and at the same time untouchable.

Real Estate has honed and continues to hone, a bittersweet sound, big and passionate, with an eye for the past that is perhaps the nonpareil among its contemporaries. There are songs with words, and there are times when they would only cheapen the moment. The bucolic “Kinder Blumen” is the epitome of the melodic, warm feeling Days stirs.

Like a memory, Days has all the inexplicability, sentimental glow and missing details of the mind’s eye.

The one legitimate shot critics take at Real Estate is that it’s so fuzzy, so hypnotizing that it fails to elicit any lasting impression. And really, if that’s the worst to be said—that’s not bad at all. “All the Same” is a droning, seven-minute dreamer that eventually falls back on its own logic: “because the night is just another day.” Days is kind of like a novel if there were no conflict—or, if there were, only small trifles—just fleshed-out characters, scene and narrative. Hell, it’s a lot like the suburbs.

There are so many bad “suburban novels” in circulation today that when one hits below the belt (I’m not sure whether this has happened yet), sticking with the reader long after the first read or transcends its genre altogether—you’ll never forget it. What makes Real Estate’s little couplets wring the ol’ ticker is their simplicity. The dullness of lines such as, “See the cars out on 95/Cut through them like a sharpened knife,” has all the yearning of bad adolescent poetry, a life seen through car windows.

But when your life is concerned with banalities, those banalities mean everything. In “Younger than Yesterday,” Courtney says it himself: “It takes all summer long to write a simple song.” Rather than expatiate on a thousand little subjects or tackle a life’s scope in an album, Real Estate keeps Days obsessed with, well, the everyday. If it does tackle a lot, it’s many variations on a theme.

Real Estate – Days tracklist:

  1. “Easy”
  2. “Green Aisles”
  3. “It’s Real”
  4. “Kinder Blumen”
  5. “Out of Tune”
  6. “Municipality”
  7. “Wonder Years”
  8. “Three Blocks”
  9. “Younger Than Yesterday”
  10. “All the Same”
Mekons Ancient & Modern Album Art The Mekons – Ancient and Modern: 1911-2011

★★★★☆

Nearly three and half decades from The Mekons’ inception, the prolific British octet has dabbled in every genre from its roots in punk to American country, pop rock and English folk in its incredible 26-album discography. It’s been about four years since Natural, “the right gestation period for the Mekon animal,” said vocalist Sally Timms. The band returns with Ancient and Modern: 1911-2011, a shining example of manifold inspiration and aspiration.

Ancient and Modern plays out like a concept album, drawing parallels between the then and now, as the subtitle (1911-2011) suggests.

The album travels back in time a hundred years to England’s Edwardian era before the First World War and highlights historic events, such as the bombing of the L.A. Times building. The Mekons successfully gather inspiration from a century ago and make it valid in the modern age.

The album begins with lackadaisical acoustics in “Warm Summer Sun,” as it strums along with a sort of melancholic serenity into nightmarish visuals: “I look out on corpses, skeleton trees/an unimaginable hell in front of my eyes.” The second song quickly builds up momentum in the form of “Space In Your Face,” an energetic post-punk scorcher and one of the most easily accessible. These two first songs flow from lethargic to manic and demonstrate the album’s overall energy equilibrium.

“Geeshie” successfully captures the musical zeitgeist of the pre-WWI era. It summons images of elderly music halls and rickety pianos. Timms sings, “It is my intention to forget,” and, “Nothing happens twice,” an intriguing connection when compared with the album’s suggested theme of repetition in the cyclical nature of time.

The band’s ambitions culminate in the album’s grandiose, seven-minute title track, a concentration of theme and purpose. The three vocalists—Jon Langford, Tom Greenhalgh and Timms—team up for this divergent ballad spliced with spoken word and closed with a radiant and inspirational chant. It’s songs such as these that prove The Mekons are still paving their own way through the music world, and they’re better for it.

The Mekons’ Ancient & Modern is a solid, cohesive addition to a legendary band’s repertoire. Perhaps the two extremes of the album’s title would be more at home on a mobius strip than a straight timeline after all. Making music for a third of the century, The Mekons can say it better than most: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Mekons – Ancient & Modern: 1911-2011 tracklist:

  1. “Warm Summer Sun”
  2. “Space in Your Face”
  3. “Geeshie”
  4. “I Fall Asleep”
  5. “Afar and Forlorn”
  6. “Honey Bear”
  7. “The Devil at Rest”
  8. “Arthur’s Angel”
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yelstin-Tape Club-Album Cover Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – Tape Club

★★★☆☆

After three moderately successful full-length albums, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin (SSLYBY for acronym or brevity lovers) decided to release a compilation record of songs included on earlier albums. That compilation is called Tape Club, but it’s not really a traditional compilation album. Although it does have its fair share of older SSLYBY songs, it also has a few new ones for hardcore fans to dig into.

Hardcore fans will probably eat Tape Club up because it is a very solid reflection of the band’s established style. Those unfamiliar with SSLYBY will find it to be a more traditional indie pop/rock outfit that isn’t particularly daring but that does have a knack for cute and catchy songwriting. Most of its songs are dreamy, mellow or laid-back and are fun to casually listen to but don’t really beg for thorough examination.

As with many compilation albums, the band’s style can seem all over the place. Although every song has clearly been written and recorded by the same band, there are some definite stylistic shifts between songs. Some earlier songs could easily be described as lo-fi pop, while others sound extremely smooth. Rougher songs such as “Lower the Gas Prices, Howard Johnson” clash a little with sweet and soft songs such as “New Day.”

Both styles have merits—and including both ends of the spectrum shows the band’s versatility and evolution over its career thus far—but ultimately the rougher, less-produced songs end up being easily the most enjoyable tracks on the album. Some of the more-produced songs are just too silky and harmless to really contain any meat or replayability, and the band is just much more likable and more honest when its music has a little fuzz or slightly off-kilter vocals.

Twenty-six songs are spread over Tape Club’s hour-and-10-minute running time, meaning that the average song length is just more than two and a half minutes long. This is an interesting stylistic decision to make, but it’s one that really works in the band’s favor. A lot of the album’s songs work well as short, sugary bits but would really drag if fleshed out into the more traditional four-minute pop song. The few songs that do last more than three minutes tend to be the weakest on the album, so the band probably made the right call in recording so many one- or two-minute jams. Because songs tend to be rather hit-or-miss, it also means that the miss songs pass rather quickly.

Deep down, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin is a cute, harmless indie pop band, and Tape Club is an excellent reflection of what it’s about: being fun and lighthearted. It might be worth a listen if it’s your kind of music, but it isn’t going to be the sort of album that shocks, surprises or defies expectations. It’s just a cute, nice little album that passes quickly. And that’s fine.

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – Tape Club tracklist:

  1. “The Clod and the Pebble”
  2. “Let’s Get Tired”
  3. “What’ll We Do (Demo)”
  4. “Song W+Song L”
  5. “Sweet Owl
  6. “Spinning Sea”
  7. “Tin Floor”
  8. “Lover the Gas Prices, Howard Johnson”
  9. “Go Upstairs”
  10. “Bigger Than Yr Yard”
  11. “Half-Awake (Deb)”
  12. “Not Worth Fighting”
  13. “New Day”
  14. “Coming Through”
  15. “Dead Right (Wilmington Demo)”
  16.  ”Can We Win Missouri”
  17. “Same Speed”
  18. “Cardinal Rules”
  19. “Chili Cook-Off”
  20. “Song 1000″
  21. “Phantomwise (Demo)”
  22. “Back in the Saddle (Demo)”
  23. “Yellow Missing Signs”
  24. “Letter Divine”
  25. “Bended”
  26. “Bastard of Rome”